Daily Press Briefing - March 6, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Status of Privacy Act Waiver for Detained U.S. Citizen
    • Proposed Crimean Referendum
    • Visa Bans / Sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians
    • Energy Supply in Ukraine and Europe
    • EU Meeting
    • USS Truxtun
    • Past U.S. Sanctions on Russia
    • Legalities Surrounding Visa Ban / Identifying Individuals
    • Encourage Regional Officials to Engage One Another to Resolve Issues
    • Democratic Transition
    • AFSA FOIA Request regarding Ambassadorial Nominees
    • Processing of FOIA Requests
Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 6, 2014


12:37 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Well, I know there’s already been a bit of news out there today, and the Secretary’s about to have a press avail, so let’s get to what’s on your mind and get to as many topics as we can.

QUESTION: All right. Let’s see if we can make this very short. I have – my housekeeping item from yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- still stands. Have you gotten a Privacy Act waiver signed?

MS. PSAKI: No, we have not.

QUESTION: You have not? Okay. So everything is – you’re sticking – staying with this – with what you said two days ago?

MS. PSAKI: I have no new information on that case to provide.

QUESTION: All right. Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’ve seen – I expect the Secretary to be asked about this as well, so it probably will be bumped, but --

MS. PSAKI: I’m completely comfortable with that – (laughter) – and fully expect it.

QUESTION: All right. Can you – are you in a position to be able to say that the United States or the Obama Administration will not recognize the result of any Crimean referendum on independence or joining Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, we – the premise that Crimea could hold a local referendum or a vote in their local parliament to secede from Ukraine and join Russia is completely illegitimate under Ukraine’s constitution. Under the Ukrainian constitution, the region of Crimea may hold local referendums, but those local referendums must be consistent with Ukraine’s constitution. And the constitution specifically states that any issue altering the territory of Ukraine must be decided by an all-Ukraine national referendum.

So in our view, you can’t move forward and certainly, we wouldn’t recognize this violation of the Ukrainian constitution. And we believe that the legitimate Ukraine Government needs to have a seat at the table, and naturally, be a core part of any discussion.

QUESTION: Okay. So just to put a very fine point on it, should the voters in Crimea vote to join Russia, you would not recognize that vote as legitimate?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s completely illegitimate under Ukraine’s constitution.

QUESTION: But if --

QUESTION: But even if, like Matt said, if you have all or a majority of the population voting for that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the constitution, as I just mentioned, specifically states that any issue altering the territory must be decided by an all-Ukraine national referendum. That’s not what this is. Also, obviously, the legitimate new government needs to have a part – be a part of the discussion, have a seat at the table. And that’s not been the case in this case.

QUESTION: So did the --

QUESTION: Just for the --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time.

QUESTION: Can I just say one thing?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Sorry. Just to make clear, the mere holding of such a referendum is completely illegitimate, or the outcome is – would be completely illegitimate, or both?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the outcome certainly is illegitimate. It doesn’t – it’s not recognized by the constitution. So that is, I think, the most important and main point here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, I wanted to follow up. I mean, if there were a move by the Ukrainian authorities in Kyiv to organize a referendum, that, you would consider would be legitimate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to predict what they may or may not do. I leave that to the new government to determine. But again, this isn’t what is abided for by – what – this does not abide by what is in the constitution.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go back to the question, the issues of the sanctions that were (inaudible) this morning?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Why were they released today? Was this in any way linked to the news about the referendum vote or not?

MS. PSAKI: No. It is not linked in any way to the referendum vote. These have been under discussion and in the works for several days now, and today, they were final and ready to be released. And obviously, there’s been an internal discussion in the Administration as well.

QUESTION: And I wanted to ask, on the call it was stressed that there was no list of names. Can you just – as yet for visa bans --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- being targeted by the Administration. But I do see some reporting that – for instance, saying that President Putin has not been singled out, which would seem to be correct if there’s no list of names, but it would also suggest that there is a list of names somewhere.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. So there’s two different things that were announced. One was the visa bans. The separate was the executive order that provides the authority to issue sanctions on individuals and entities. The visa bans – there is a list – a list by law we cannot make public – that includes Ukrainians and Russians. We’re not going to outline that further in terms of who is or isn’t on that, though the individuals who are on that certainly are or will be notified that they are on that list.

Separately, the executive order authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine. That is a process. Now the next step is, of course, to have an interagency discussion about that in terms of implementation and what individuals and entities will be targeted. So that is a separate piece and that has not been implemented yet. Implementation is the next step.

QUESTION: Okay. So if you have a list of names of the visa bans, I understand that you by law can’t tell us, but you could tell us if somebody wasn’t on it, presumably. I mean, was --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’re going to do a who’s on or isn’t, or who is on it or isn’t on it because --

QUESTION: Really? Because I have the Moscow phonebook right here and I would like to go through each – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: We could. I don’t know that we’d be done before the press avail, so that would be challenging. I will say, Jo, that obviously, taking a step like that against a head of state is – would be a significant step, and it is not what we are leading with here in this process.


QUESTION: Could you just clarify something that you answered Jo on? On the issue of the referendum, if it was organized by Ukraine, and Crimea chose to, let’s say, join Russia, then would that be okay with you?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m not going to speculate. My point is that the new government, the legitimate government, needs to not only have a seat at the table; they need to be a primary component of this. They were not. I will let them determine what steps they may or – may take in the future.

QUESTION: Okay. And as a result of this action, this referendum, what is your recourse? Would you go to the United Nations, will you go to The Hague? Where would you go? I mean, how would you go about it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction of that, Said. Obviously, we’re taking a look at the events that happen as a whole, and our focus is, of course, encouraging the Russians to get to the table with the Ukrainians and engage in a discussion.

Do we have more on Ukraine? Okay.

QUESTION: Oh, I got one.

QUESTION: I have one.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, one – okay. Jo, you go ahead. Go ahead and then we’ll go to you next.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about something that came out of one of the hearings this morning in the House, I believe.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: There was some discussion about whether the United States, as part of its measures to help Ukraine, could try and snap its dependence on Russian oil, particularly since, I believe, Moscow’s now made a threat to increase the prices again, and whether the United States would be prepared to do – lifting restrictions on sales of gas to – lifting restrictions on American gas to the Ukrainians.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I haven’t seen that specifically, but I will say we understand that European gas inventories are well above normal levels due to a milder than usual winter, and could replace a loss of Russian exports for several months if necessary. Naturally, we take the energy security of our friends very seriously and we’ll continue to monitor it closely. I can check with our team and see if there’s anything along those lines under consideration. I’m not sure who made those comments this morning, but --

QUESTION: It was Chairman Royce.

MS. PSAKI: Got it, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Could you read – I’m so sorry, could you read the first part of that again, that thing you read?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, happy to. Our understanding is that European gas inventories are well above normal levels due to a milder than usual winter, and they could replace a loss.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’re in close contact with them as well as Ukraine about how to fill the gap as needed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I just was wondering, obviously the U.S. would have liked to announce the sanctioning of Russian officials in conjunction with an effort by European allies. Is the State Department disappointed at all that the European allies weren’t there to support that effort today?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. We are in close step – we’re working in lockstep with our European allies. Secretary Kerry has had a range of meetings this morning, he had a range of meetings yesterday, and President Obama has been in close touch with a range of European allies. We’ve kept them briefed on what steps we’re going to take, and they have not held back in publicly stating that Russia needs to be held accountable.

So our goals here are shared. We think that officials involved in this effort need to be held accountable. We need to take steps as an international community to put proper deterrents in place and we need to leave an off-ramp. And we’re working on all of that together. Obviously, the EU has a meeting today, and we’ll see what transpires over the next 24 hours.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. currently pressing them to also adopt these sanction measures?

MS. PSAKI: They’re going to make decisions about what they’re going to do on their own, but we are certainly in close discussions with our European allies about the best ways to exert necessary pressure and to deter further action by the Russians.

QUESTION: Jen, just a quick follow-up. Do you have any comment on reports that the USS Truxtun is on its way to the Black Sea to join in exercises with the Bulgarians and Romanians? Is that, like, upping the ante?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the USS Truxtun is scheduled to cross the Bosporus tomorrow, March 7th. It is planning to make a previously scheduled port call in Romania. And in accordance with the Montreux Convention, the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet provided notification of this passage to Turkey on February 5th, which of course was well before the Russian actions in Crimea.

QUESTION: Another one on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Just for --

QUESTION: The Montreux Convention?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, Matt. Do you not know of that one?

QUESTION: I do not. Is that like the Budapest memorandum?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, all right. Well, tomorrow we’ll test you and see if you’ve learned about it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: I’ll provide something to you all in writing after the briefing, Arshad. (Laughter.)

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just for clarification purpose, when was the last time the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia? Like, can you give us like a brief history?

MS. PSAKI: On individuals?

QUESTION: Just – yeah. Individual --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we’ve taken a range of steps. I mean, there was the Magnitsky List we released at some point last year. I’d have to check if there’s something more recent than that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: But on the – just going back to your point about you can’t by law reveal names. The Magnitsky List, they did – the Administration, I believe, did unveil some names later on.

MS. PSAKI: So, no. So this is a good question. There are different rules for different steps. And so with the visa bans, we would not by law release that list. Once sanctions are decided on, that list would be public. And obviously, there’s a whole process in terms of notifying institutions. So obviously, the next step is the implementation of that, and that’s why that list is not yet public.

QUESTION: But there will never be a list made available of actual – just a visa ban itself?


QUESTION: And that’s a privacy concern, is it? That’s a --

MS. PSAKI: It’s by the nature of the law that it’s under.

QUESTION: Do you know, just on that, if – assuming at some point there actually is a list, do people on that list – will they be notified --


QUESTION: -- that they aren’t – they will be notified, or it’s just when they show up to apply for a visa, if they do, they’re told, “Sorry, you’re on the list”?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Two different things. They people who have – are on the visa ban list, yes, will be notified. Yes. The other list, the sanctions list, yes, but it will also be made public. The visa ban list would not be made public.

QUESTION: I understand that. Right. But these people you – the United States Government or the State Department or the Embassy or whoever is going will get in touch with these president and say, “Don’t bother to apply, you’re on the list” --

MS. PSAKI: The people on the visa ban list. Yes.

QUESTION: Correct?


QUESTION: So, just – sorry, to --

MS. PSAKI: I know. It’s confusing. Go ahead.

QUESTION: It was an early, confusing morning. So there was also a point which said that at the moment, you’re going through the process of deciding which individuals and institutions to target. This is for the sanctions ban --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and not the visa?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: The determination has already been made on the visa ban.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but the visa list, there’s some flexibility. It can always be expanded.


MS. PSAKI: So that is an ongoing process. But in terms of the implementation of the executive order on sanctions, yes, the next stage is the implementation and determination about individuals and entities.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Great. Do we have any other topics?


MS. PSAKI: Said, of course. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Today, Egypt withdrew its ambassador from Qatar, so now we’re seeing like a grouping, if you will. You have Qatar and Oman and maybe Kuwait on the one side, and then the rest of your allies on another side.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you expect this to be escalated? And is it in anybody’s interest, and is it in your interest to isolate Qatar?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think as, obviously, our ambassador remains in Qatar --


MS. PSAKI: -- so that gives you an indication of where we stand. And we continue to encourage officials from all of these countries to engage with each other and hopefully resolve these issues as quickly as they can.

QUESTION: So, but this coming on the eve of the President’s visit to Riyadh --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- a couple weeks before and so on, does that concern you, in a way, that this issue must be resolved and relations restored before then?

MS. PSAKI: I’m – we’re continuing to encourage them to resolve these issues.

QUESTION: In what way? I mean, what are you doing?

MS. PSAKI: Through dialogue, through engagements which we have a robust dialogue with all of these countries on the ground.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

Oh, Samir. Okay. Two more.

QUESTION: Do you have any Tunisia --

MS. PSAKI: See, everybody popped up at the end. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Tunisian Government lifted today the – what do you call it – the emergency --

MS. PSAKI: I did. I saw that. Mm-hmm. Sure.

QUESTION: -- which was imposed for three years.

MS. PSAKI: It was. We welcome this positive development and will continue to support Tunisia as it moves forward with its democratic transition. As you know, Secretary Kerry was just there two weeks ago and he feels they have great potential for their future growth and development.

QUESTION: I have to ask about the Palestinian-Israeli process --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- the peace process. Do you have any comments on the suggestion by Prime Minister Netanyahu that he’s willing to barter this Palestinian state with a more vigorous or stronger U.S. policy towards Iran on the nuclear issue?

MS. PSAKI: Which comments are you referring to, Said?

QUESTION: He made a comment a couple days ago. Not at AIPAC, but he made the comment --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I saw that exact comment.

QUESTION: But you don’t see any connections between the Iranian nuclear program and the Palestinian --

MS. PSAKI: The connection we see is that both – resolving both are vital to Israel’s security.

QUESTION: Okay. And I’m sorry, very quickly, are you denying visas to certain Mossad agents and some Israeli security personnel? Are you aware of that?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of what you’re referring to. As you know, as is the case with Ukraine, we sometimes outline specific visa bans we put in place. But I’ll check on that and the specifics.


QUESTION: The American Foreign Service Association said yesterday that they were going to be filing suit against the State Department if, by end of business today, you don’t provide certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees. So I just wanted to know if you had any reaction to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, AFSA submitted a FOIA request on July 29th 2013 to our website – this is just some details for all of you to be aware of – seeking certificates of a demonstrated competence for every ambassador from January 1st 2013 to the present. We receive, as many of you know, about 18,000 FOIA requests per year. Generally – we generally process requests on a first in, first out basis. So we’re currently actively processing the request in accordance with the statute and the Department’s regulations, which applies to the specific release they put out yesterday.

In terms of broadly speaking, obviously, in nominating ambassadors, we look – the Administration looks for qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life and who show true zeal for serving their country, and we’ve received interest and recruited talented people from all across the country and all kinds of professional backgrounds, whether they are Foreign Service – well, that’s – they proceed through a different process, there, of course, but political appointees who may be from the business sector, who may be from a public service sector. We feel that this kind of diversity helps represent who we are and the United States around the world.

So long story short, we are reviewing their request. We process requests as they come in. Certainly we welcome the comments of anyone and views of anyone on these sorts of issues, but I think it’s important to remind everyone of what we look at when it comes to ambassadorial nominees.

QUESTION: Jen, they submitted this request in July? How many months ago?

QUESTION: January.

QUESTION: No, July 29th, she said.

QUESTION: I thought you said January.

MS. PSAKI: For every ambassador from January 20 --

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.

QUESTION: So how long should they expect to wait until you finish processing your request? And why should they even have to submit a FOIA request for this? Why wouldn’t you just – if they asked for it, why wouldn’t you just turn them over?

MS. PSAKI: They were asking for specific documents that are --

QUESTION: Right. But this is not an organization that has a questionable interest in this. It’s an organization that, in fact, represents – I mean, it is the – basically the union for Foreign Service officers, so it’s not really an outside party.

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentimes, Matt, there’s a processing aspect that needs to take place with these requests, so --

QUESTION: Right, I’m sure that – I’m sure everyone is thrilled, everyone who’s ever filed a FOIA request to the State Department or any other government agency is thrilled, but I think that --

MS. PSAKI: There are many people who do. That’s part of the challenge in processing them.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, so you just threw this in the big pile, in the in-box with every single other request, even though they clearly have some – they have demonstrated interest in this subject. I don’t understand --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say we threw it in a pile, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, you did. You said you get 18,000 requests a year, so – and --

MS. PSAKI: We do. We process them.

QUESTION: So when they --

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’re working to review their request and see how we can meet it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But specifically they asked for it to be by the close of business tonight. Otherwise, they’re going to take their – take this to legal action.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you will not be able to get it to them by end of day tonight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Just – can I have one --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Where – you are now processing this specific request, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re actually looking at it and trying to satisfy it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. If you get 18,000 FOIA requests a year, what is the typical time lag for processing a request? Is it, as in this case, I guess, eight months or – is that typical or is it less, is it more?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific time breakdown for you. I’m happy to see if there’s anything like that we can provide.

QUESTION: And was this one --

MS. PSAKI: We’re – they’re about to start the press avail, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Was this one jumped to the front of the queue for any reason or no? It was processed --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are cases where – and they asked for expedited processing, and some cases that question is asked. This didn’t satisfy the specific laid out standards for that, but we’re still working to see if we can process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But it was not – was it jumped ahead or no? Or it --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re still working to see if we can process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: No, no, that’s not my question, though. My question is whether it got – I understand that they may have requested expedited processing --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and did not – denied it because they don’t meet the standards, which happens to a lot of people.

MS. PSAKI: And at the same time, we’re still working to expedite – to process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Right. Right. Right. No, but I’m sure you’re doing that with the other 17,199, right? I mean, the question is whether you are doing this faster.

MS. PSAKI: Specifically with this one, we are --


MS. PSAKI: -- working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But quicker than everything – others’ stuff?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t work in that exact way, but we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.


QUESTION: And Jen, they said that – AFSA said that they also filed a second FOIA request on February 28th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So did they express to you their – because I know there was discussion between counsels.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So was that part of the aspect, that they didn’t feel that the July request had been processed or addressed within a – expeditiously enough so that --

MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask them that question. I’m not sure if they are basically about the same thing or not. So I’m happy to check, and you may want to check with them and see what the reason was for the second one.

QUESTION: These documents are – what they’re seeking or these certificates are not classified, are they?

MS. PSAKI: No, but they’re still internal files, and so obviously we go through a process --

QUESTION: Fair enough. But they’re for a very small number of people, 50. Do you have any idea how many pages one of these things is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s every ambassadorial nominee for the last 14 months.


MS. PSAKI: So --

QUESTION: And how many – well, actually, it wouldn’t have been originally --

MS. PSAKI: 15?

QUESTION: No, because they filed it in July asking for every one that went back to January. So --

MS. PSAKI: But when you meet it, you’re abiding by what the FOIA request --

QUESTION: Fair enough. How many pages is one of these things?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of pages for you.

QUESTION: It seems to me like this is a very limited request from an organization that’s got a very, very important interest in this subject, and that frankly, they should, if they ask, should be allowed to see – without having to go to through the FOIA processing. Was there any – did – do you know – are you aware if they asked outside of FOIA to get this – to get these documents?

MS. PSAKI: They are closely engaged with our chief of staff and deputy secretary of state, and have a range of meetings. So I know that all of these issues have been discussed. In terms of this specific request, I can check if there’s anything we can share on that.

QUESTION: So in other words, you said no. They asked, you said no, you have to submit a FOIA? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that’s how it all went down. I’m saying they have many channels for having discussions with people in the Administration. And if there’s more to share on whether they made this specific request outside of the FOIA request process, I’m happy to check into that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea if there is a chance, even a remote chance, that the processing will be finished by 5 o'clock this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict when it will be finished.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but --

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is there a possibility that it could be done by 5 o'clock?

MS. PSAKI: There’s always a possibility.

QUESTION: There is. Okay.

QUESTION: How many nominees are we talking about? Have you got a figure?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a figure.

Last one, go ahead.

QUESTION: Regarding implications of a Pakistan-India cricket match, it might sound oxymoronic, but a group of Kashmiri students from the disputed Kashmir region who were studying in – at an Indian university, they have been expelled for cheering for the Pakistani cricket team, which ultimately won the contest. Do you have any reaction to that? And --

MS. PSAKI: I have seen that. I don’t, but let me see if there’s anything our team would like to add on that.

QUESTION: And then the university is also planning to proceed with sedition charges against those Kashmiri students.

MS. PSAKI: I know, I’ve seen the story and the reporting, so let me check with them and see if there’s anything we’d like to add.


MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)