Daily Press Briefing - March 11, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- 10th Anniversary of Madrid Train Bombings
- Reports of Detained Political Activists Beaten and Abused in Egypt Yesterday
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- List of Questions / Russia's Preparedness to Discuss De-escalation
- Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov's Engagement
- Sanctions Flexibility
- Crimean Referendum
- Contact Group / Forum for International Engagement
- Secretary's Travel
- Sanctions / Executive Order / Process for Determining Targets and Notifications
- IRAN / ISRAEL
- Ship Containing Iranian Weapons
- Prime Minister / U.S. Continues to Support Democratically Elected Government
- Journalist Killed in Kabul
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
- Recent Violence / Allenby Crossing Incident
- Secretary Kerry's Commitment to Middle East Peace Process
- Anti-Homosexuality Law
- EL SALVADOR
- Presidential Elections
- U.S. Procedures for Vetting Passengers
- Detention of Medea Benjamin
1:05 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: I just have a couple of items at the top. Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Madrid terrorist train bombings which killed 191 people and injured many more. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and friends. The United States and Spain are close allies, and we continue to work together to prevent future acts of terrorism and build a more secure world for generations yet to come.
We also are deeply concerned about reports that detained political activist Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel were abused and beaten by security forces prior to yesterday’s court session in Egypt. If true, there is no justification for such treatment. We look to the Egyptian Government to ensure the safety of all those arrested or detained. We also look to the Egyptian Government to ensure that all those arrested or detained are afforded due process and fair and transparent trials and that the law is applied equitably and free of political bias. We have seen reports that the Government of Egypt plans to conduct an investigation into this incident, and we urge that the investigation be thorough and transparent.
And finally, I want to welcome the group of students in the back here, in D.C. for a spring break class – it’s a wild and crazy spring break day for all of you – with their professor, Charles Bierbauer, who is the Dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. He has been an active delegate also for our U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Sub-Working Group on Mass Media, so how relevant to today.
With that, let’s go to your questions, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. Let’s start with Ukraine and the Secretary’s phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Russian Foreign Ministry readout of it wasn’t particularly specific or enlightening. Can you be more specific and/or enlightening than your Russian colleagues? And I’ll – I’ve got a – I have a follow-up to that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So just to dial back a little bit to what this was a follow-up to, on Saturday, following a discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov, Secretary Kerry posed a list of questions in writing related to the topics that have been discussed over the course of the last couple of days prior to that, that we talked about yesterday. The focus of those questions was whether or not Russia is prepared to discuss a de-escalation of the crisis by taking specific steps to create the time and space for diplomacy and create an environment for negotiations. In addition, the questions focused on whether Russia was willing to engage with a contact group that would take steps like facilitating direct discussions, coordinating economic support, and the disarming of irregulars. So that was how we got to today.
So we received a response from the Russians last night to these questions. The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning as a follow-up to the receipt of those answers. The answers largely were stated positions that we heard or the Secretary heard from Foreign Minister Lavrov in Paris and Rome during their discussions last week. Secretary Kerry, during their call this morning, made clear that any further escalatory steps will make the window for diplomacy more difficult. He also reiterated his willingness to continue to engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov, including this week, but that the environment has to be right and the goal must be to protect the immunity and sovereignty of Ukraine. And we didn’t see that, obviously, in the responses that we received back.
He also raised concerns about reports of what we’re seeing on the ground and stated that it is unacceptable that Russian forces and irregulars continue to take matters into their own hands.
And finally, he conveyed that, as we often do, there is an off-ramp here. We respect Russian interests, and as we have said all along, we respect the fact that Russia has interests particularly in Crimea, but those interests in no way justify military intervention or the use of force.
They ended the call by agreeing to continue to engage and talk in the coming days.
QUESTION: Let me just see if we can put a fine point on this. You did not see anything, either in the responses that you received last night or in the Secretary’s call with Lavrov today, that would indicate the Russians are prepared to do or willing to do to take de-escalatory steps. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they have not taken de-escalatory steps. However, I would say it’s not as black and white in that, in our view. They’re continuing to engage, and part of this is a back-and-forth about a forum for the contact group, where, how, who, and a discussion of that, and as well as steps we think need to be taken or need to be discussed that we haven’t seen yet.
QUESTION: All right. Did they discuss at all this idea coming out of the Crimean parliament today that instead of joining Russia they might just declare independence and become their own country? Was that raised? And whether it was or not, does the U.S. believe – does the Administration believe that that is something that is kind of a middle way or a path that could represent some kind of de-escalation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the way that it was talked about on the call, from all of the information I have available, is that the Secretary reiterated our belief that the referendum wouldn’t be – wouldn’t abide by the Ukrainian constitution, which you’ve heard us say many times publicly. I’m not aware that that particular piece was discussed. But our view remains that any discussion about the future of Crimea needs to be – needs to take place with the new Government of Ukraine at the table, engaged in it, participating in that conversation.
QUESTION: So you do not believe that pro-Russia people in – or a pro-Russian parliament have the constitutional right to declare – unilaterally declare independence?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding is that would not be in line with the Ukrainian constitution.
QUESTION: Okay. But the Russian argument is that, well, you declared independence from Great Britain and that was unilateral.
MS. PSAKI: Whoa, we’re dialing back quite a few years here.
QUESTION: Well, that’s – they’ve actually made this case. So anyway, you don’t agree with it?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t.
QUESTION: And you would think that – and so either the referendum or a declaration of independence is escalatory and not good, in your view?
MS. PSAKI: From everything I know about the declaration of independence, it still does not abide by the Ukrainian constitution.
QUESTION: Change topics?
QUESTION: Can I just ask on the --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: You said that during the call Foreign Minister Lavrov largely restated the positions you’ve already heard.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I was referring also to the answers that we received back to the questions that were posed. And so the call this morning was a discussion about that as well as the path forward, of course.
QUESTION: So on the issue of the contact group, which perhaps is maybe one of the paths forward on this off-ramp you keep mentioning --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- was there any discussion from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Moscow might be prepared to now join in with some kind of contact group?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak on their behalf on what they are or aren’t willing to do. But obviously, the contact group and a forum for the international community engaging, for Russia and the Ukrainian Government talking, is a primary part of what we’re talking about here. So certainly, that’s a part of what’s being addressed and the principles and the follow-up questions, and as well as the conversation this morning.
QUESTION: But it would suggest if they’re largely restating their position that they didn’t actually go down that road; they did not say yes, we will join in now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not set up a meeting. You would know if we had. But that conversation is ongoing, and I expect they’ll be talking again soon. I don’t have a scheduled call yet, but I expect they’ll be closely engaged, I should say.
QUESTION: Was the Secretary disappointed by the tenor of the conversation? Was the hope that there might be more positive steps made forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary is an optimist. He also is a realist when it comes to cases like this. And certainly, he understands that there is a long, historic connection. We understand – and as he reiterated on the phone call – Russia’s connection to Crimea, their interests in Crimea. But his goal here is to continue to take steps forward each and every day, and he’ll remain committed to that in the coming days.
QUESTION: Jen, when you say that any further escalation of what Russia is doing would make diplomacy difficult, are you – is this some kind of pointed at – that you would be ready to move to fully-fledged sanctions? And what do you mean by "that would make diplomacy difficult"?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we always reserve – on sanctions, that implementation process is ongoing in terms of a discussion of targeting. We also remain – the way that the executive order was written gives us flexibility to expand the targeting of sanctions if we so choose. So that is always an option we have in our back pocket.
In terms of what I meant by – or what he meant, I should say, by the window closing, what he means is the international community is committed and engaged to this. We want to have a diplomatic process and discussion with the Russians and the Ukrainians. But the longer this goes and the more escalatory steps that are taken, the more challenging it becomes. And he was simply stating, I think, something that we all know is true.
MS. PSAKI: Or – Ukraine. Go ahead, Elise. Then we’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Yeah, I want to know about these questions. And I understand that it’s about whether Russia is willing to engage and willing to take --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Why are they posed in the answer of questions? Why are these not posed in the realm of this is what Russia needs to do to avoid sanctions or to further – stop this from further escalating? Why is it posed as a question if this is Russia’s international responsibility?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the truth is we’re sharing more about what happens behind the scenes. You all know this. You’ve all reported on these and many other issues for many decades. But typically, we don’t go into this level of detail. So there are a range of tools that you can use to try to see if there’s common ground. We have a responsibility – the Secretary feels we have a responsibility to pursue that, to engage in the diplomatic process. And we felt that would be a productive way to see if we can reach common ground.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: I still don’t understand, though. I mean, usually these are put forward in a set – I understand like in a set of ideas or a proposal or a plan, but I very rarely hear it posed as a series of questions to ask Russia whether it’s willing to play nice with Ukraine or do any of those things.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not – I think, again, I wouldn’t over-focus on the questions or even the principles that we talked about yesterday. Those are part of a diplomatic effort that includes many calls the President has made, the Secretary has made, his engagement with Foreign Minister Lavrov, meetings in person. This is simply a mechanism for discussing what we know the core issues are here. The questions addressed what the core issues are, and also those were the same core issues addressed in the principles that were exchanged just two days earlier. So it’s just a mechanism for discussion.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Don’t --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Don’t you think that the Russians are buying time through the – these discussions while they are tightening their control on Crimea?
MS. PSAKI: Well I think, again, obviously, we would love to have this resolved yesterday, of course. But we have a responsibility to engage diplomatically and see if we can come to a conclusion here that’s satisfactory to all of the parties. We’re not dealing in a fantasy world here; we’re dealing with the reality of a challenging foreign policy situation, and that’s why the Secretary is so engaged in it diplomatically.
QUESTION: Yeah, but, Jen, you just said --
MS. PSAKI: We’ll go to you next, Said.
QUESTION: -- earlier – sorry, this is just based on one of your – you said that any further escalation, provocation, whatever, would make the window for diplomacy more difficult.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: On – three days ago on March 8th, a senior official on a background readout of a Kerry-Lavrov call said, "At the same time, he," Kerry, "made clear that continued military escalation and provocation in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine, along with steps to annex Crimea to Russia would close any available space for diplomacy, and he urged utmost restraint." Are you softening – is the language softening from "would close," meaning it’s all over, to "make the window of diplomacy" --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think either put a specific timeline on it, nor do we have a timeline.
MS. PSAKI: We do feel we have a responsibility to engage diplomatically here, so we’re not closing the window. Obviously, we keep talking about this day by day, week by week, and circumstances change. So I can’t predict, not that you’re asking me to, where we will be in a week. I don’t know. But the point he was making is we need to move this forward now, because right now the international community is engaged, the Ukrainian Government is engaged.
QUESTION: Right, but the --
QUESTION: How can you just be suddenly closed for diplomacy, though? I mean, unless you’re going to go to war, which obviously you’re not --
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t suggest it was closed.
QUESTION: Well, this – apparently, this official said that it would, as Matt was saying, saying that this would close the space for diplomacy. But how can – I mean, I understand that it makes diplomacy more difficult, but how could it ever really close the door to diplomacy if diplomacy is the only solution?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I think the words I used today were "make it more difficult," and those were the words the Secretary used on the phone this morning.
QUESTION: Right, but the – in the – the readout of the call on the 8th suggested that the closure was more like a slam and not a gradual lowering of the window. So I just want to make sure you’re not intending to back down, or you’re not intending to ease the pressure on the Russians over this.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not intending. I think it was a turn of phrase in both cases.
QUESTION: All right. Okay, fair enough.
QUESTION: Can I -
QUESTION: Well, I have one more on this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: But I mean – so what is – I know you’re saying you don’t have a timeline, but what is the kind of trigger for more sanctions or more punitive measures? Is it that if this referendum goes ahead on Sunday? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: We look at a range of issues – certainly whether there’s military escalation on the ground, whether Russia is engaging or not engaging, steps that are happening that are unhelpful, including their support for a referendum. There's not one silver item, but of course we look at all of these items and we reserve the right to move forward with additional sanctions if we choose.
QUESTION: What if the – what if you have a – I think we talked a little bit about this yesterday on this, but what if you had a situation like you did in Transnistria where this region voted to join Russia, but Russia said, "No thank you. We like you and want to be – have good relations with you, but we respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Moldova"? If Crimeans vote and Russia does not accept them to join Russia, is that something that Russia would be punished for?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on that, but that doesn’t seem like it’s a likely outcome at this point.
QUESTION: Jen, a quick follow up on this point.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that the referendum will not take place on Sunday? And what is your plan B once it takes place? What is your plan on Monday?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t predict for you what our plan is on Monday. We look at all of the circumstances on the ground. I don’t have any information to suggest it’s not going to take place on Monday, but that’s all the information I have on it.
QUESTION: But you agree that all indicators point to it taking place on the 16th, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe that’s what's been announced --
MS. PSAKI: -- so I don’t have information that conflicts with that.
QUESTION: So – but do you have, like, a plan, an urgent or a contingency plan that begins to take effect on Monday the 17th?
MS. PSAKI: We – Said, every day, we evaluate day by day what steps we have at our disposal, what we can – what steps we can take. We’re trying to balance here between pressure and engagement and diplomacy, and so we have discussions and meetings and make decisions about this every single day.
QUESTION: So shortly after the call ended, the Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement which said that the Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement which said that the Russian Foreign Ministry deems the Crimean parliament decision absolutely legitimate and Russia will respect the results of the referendum. Do you regard that as escalatory rhetoric?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to define, every item, what we feel is or isn’t. Obviously, there are things that are fairly --
QUESTION: Well, it’s not moving in the right direction, is it?
MS. PSAKI: That is not moving in the right direction, certainly.
MS. PSAKI: But we’re continuing to have this discussion. So I just won’t evaluate day by day.
More on Ukraine, or something else?
QUESTION: Iran. Iran.
QUESTION: I have one on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Go ahead, Jo, and then we’ll go --
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to take it back to the idea that there is no deadline on this, or you have no timeline. I mean, surely Sunday is your timeline. I mean, once the vote takes place --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, what I meant by that is that we’re not – it’s not a day where we shut down diplomacy that’s marked on a secret calendar with a red X. That’s what I mean. Obviously, we’re evaluating day by day what we need to do, what steps we need to take, whether that’s more phone calls or visits or sanctions or whatever it may be. So what I mean is I can’t predict where we will be on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, because we evaluate day by day. But obviously, diplomacy is something we feel we have a responsibility to engage in at this time.
QUESTION: Yeah, no, I understand that. But on Sunday, there’s a vote taken in the Crimea, and if it goes largely in the way that it would suggest to be going, which is that the Crimea Peninsula votes to join the Russian Federation, then you have a fait accompli on the ground, which is going to be very difficult to roll back.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what the Russians need to be aware of is that the United States and many members of the international community won’t recognize that. So --
QUESTION: But does that matter?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see day by day.
QUESTION: Do you think they care at this point?
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, I think --
MS. PSAKI: I think they do care about steps that we have taken, we will continue to take, and other members of the international community will take.
QUESTION: So I guess that goes back to Said’s question, which is: On Monday, do you then intend to have a program of action to hit back on the vote on Sunday?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re taking this day by day. I’m not going to make any predictions or announcements about where we’ll be on Monday.
QUESTION: Can I just have one more?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: We were talking about an invitation from Foreign Minister Lavrov --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- which was extended to Secretary Kerry, which hasn’t been taken up so far. Was that invitation extended again in their phone call and – or if not, is the Secretary still thinking perhaps he might go at some point to Moscow?
MS. PSAKI: We still keep the option open of meetings, wherever they may be, with Foreign Minister Lavrov or other officials. And we haven’t made any decision about that at this moment.
QUESTION: But the – was the invitation extended again?
MS. PSAKI: I believe they did discuss it. It’s not as formal as, as you know, that. But certainly, they discussed continuing to engage --
QUESTION: So the time is --
MS. PSAKI: -- in a range of ways.
QUESTION: The time is not right for the Secretary to be getting on a plane, say – well, I know we have the meeting tomorrow of the prime minister of Ukraine coming to the White House, so presumably he wouldn’t want to go anywhere until Thursday anyway.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we evaluate day by day. So at this moment, there’s no planned travel. But again, we look at this day by day.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering – sorry, I have one more, because you happened to mention that --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- there will be – the Russians will not like steps that you would take in this. How have the Russians reacted to the sanctions and other steps that you’ve taken for their continued occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we didn’t do sanctions in that case, as you know.
QUESTION: Aha. So Crimea, then – can we assume that Crimea is more important to you?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t assume that. I think that was, what, six years ago, if my math is correct, and --
QUESTION: Well, no, but it continues today. I mean, they’re just – we just had the Georgia strategic dialogue ten days ago in the midst of the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, and it was raised again that Russian – that you object to Russia’s continued occupation of these parts of Georgia’s territory. But if you – but if the Russians see no sanctions coming from that, why should they have any reason to believe --
MS. PSAKI: Because we announced last week that we – the President signed an executive order to allow us to put sanctions in place.
QUESTION: Okay. So Crimeans should regard themselves as being viewed as more important by the Administration than South – people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting we look at each country, each situation differently.
Ukraine, or something else?
QUESTION: When the Secretary called Mr. Lavrov --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm?
QUESTION: -- is he still discussing Syria with Mr. Lavrov?
MS. PSAKI: He certainly does. It wasn’t a topic of this conversation today, but he certainly continues to discuss Syria, of course.
QUESTION: In the past week, though?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to double-check on that. Obviously, Ukraine has taken a great deal of prominence in their conversations, but I believe there was a call a week or so ago. But I’ll check on that for you, too.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have one last one on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: How do you address concerns that the Administration might be taking too long on sanctions, that it might be too late by this weekend, given the vote is on Sunday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would remind people that we announced the executive order last Thursday, which is five days ago; that there’s a process that needs to be put in place in order to determine targets and notifications; that visa bans are sanctions as well. We put those in place weeks ago as it related to officials from Ukraine, and we announced those as it related to officials from Russia last week. So we’ve already taken steps, and we’ll continue to move forward with the internal process that’s required.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Your counterpart at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Marzieh Afkham, described the whole ship episode and the press conference that took place – the ship that was allegedly going to Hamas – as a farce. And she described it in very graphic terms like Mr. Netanyahu is trying to sort of complicate whatever efforts you’re having in the negotiations. Could you comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I would stand by the comments I made yesterday about the ship containing Iranian weapons. I spoke extensively to that yesterday. So I don’t have any --
MS. PSAKI: -- I think the facts are the facts in this case.
QUESTION: So let me ask you again. You have your own evidence, your own gathered evidence that this ship was laden with arms.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve obviously been working and coordinating with them closely.
QUESTION: But your own independent evidence – do you have any independent evidence on --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to add to you on our information, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. There’s also someone – Al Jazeera English is claiming that it has interviewed someone by the name of Abolghasem Mesbahi who was the intelligence guy responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, and he’s saying that Iran was actually, in fact, responsible for the bombing and not Libya. Do you want to revisit that issue?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Iran? Okay. New topic.
MS. PSAKI: Libya? Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: I know that just happened about an hour ago or so, or I’ve seen the reports about an hour ago. We’ve, of course, been closely following the developments in Libya since the start of its revolution and throughout its ongoing democratic transition. We know political transitions take time, and especially from a four-decade dictatorship to a truly democratic system, we recognize that the Libyan Government and the Libyan people are facing significant challenges in their democratic transition. This is not surprising. So we will continue to support the democratically elected Libyan Government and its people. We appreciate the leadership of the prime minister who navigated a fragile time in Libya’s transition, and we’ll continue to monitor and be in close touch on the ground about the situation as well.
QUESTION: Were you aware about this move?
MS. PSAKI: Were we notified in advance?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, but I’m happy to check on that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: As I understand it, it was a vote of no confidence in the --
MS. PSAKI: -- in the – with the general national congress. So I’m not sure how we would be alerted in advance of that. But I will check on that regardless.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I had a question on Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you’ve seen the reports that there was a Swedish-British journalist that was shot dead in Kabul in what seems to be a cold-blooded murder in the middle of the day – Nils Horner. Did you have any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’ve seen those reports and our heart, of course, goes out to his family and his friends at this difficult time. We don’t have any information, of course, on this incident and certainly the Afghans would be the lead on determining the cause.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Israeli bombed Gaza, killing three people in Rafah. They also killed a Jordanian citizen – Jordanian judge crossing the Allenby bridge. They also killed another Palestinian in the West Bank. There’s been an escalation of these incidents. Are you concerned that these somehow might obfuscate the process itself or cast difficulties for the process?
MS. PSAKI: For the peace process?
QUESTION: For the ongoing negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we’ve seen reports of each of these incidents. As you noted, there are several different incidents with different circumstances --
QUESTION: Right, within --
MS. PSAKI: -- for each of them.
QUESTION: -- a 24-hour period.
MS. PSAKI: Well, but they all have different circumstances.
MS. PSAKI: So I would caution anyone against linking everything in – to one group.
We express, of course, our condolences to the families of the deceased and call upon the parties to take steps to reduce tensions and avoid actions that could make violence more likely.
We also note, in the case of the incident at the Allenby crossing, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu offered regrets. He had a public comment – statement he made and has agreed to a joint committee to investigate the incident. We’re not going to analyze or speculate how every event may impact events. I would just simply reiterate that, of course, our thoughts are with the families and we certainly encourage investigations into these cases.
QUESTION: Are you concerned or would you caution the Israelis against attacking Gaza, let’s say, while Abbas prepares to come to Washington or during his visit?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly encourage both sides to continue to take steps that are conducive to a peace process.
QUESTION: Okay. Also, the Israeli Democratic Institute did a – not – a survey, and they found out that 64 percent of Israelis do not trust Secretary Kerry, that whatever motivation, according to them, he has, it is personally motivated and it’s not for the good outcome of the two-state solution. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have not seen that poll and I’m not familiar with the polling data. But let me just reiterate to anybody who has concerns or is skeptical out there: Secretary Kerry is committed to this process because he has worked and known many people in the region, Israelis and Palestinians both, for his 30 years in public service. He thinks that the future for the region will be greatly benefited by a final status agreement between the parties, whether that’s the security of the Israelis or the economic prosperity of the Palestinians and the future of the region. And that’s why he’s engaged in it, so hopefully people will remember that when they feel skeptical.
QUESTION: Okay. Is the president of the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, expected to meet separately in this building with the Secretary of State?
MS. PSAKI: Said, we’re still figuring out the schedule for Monday. I know we had a separate meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I’m sure if time allows --
QUESTION: I know, exactly. That’s why I’m asking.
MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’ll have more on that later in the week.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about this report in an Israeli paper – your favorite Israeli paper, I believe, Maariv – that the U.S. now has some kind of a presumption of denial for visa applications from Israeli intel and military types? And I’m – I want to make it clear I’m not asking about any individual visa case.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m asking in terms of a broad policy.
MS. PSAKI: I have seen that and it was flagged for me, and I actually didn’t have a chance to ask the appropriate people, so let me do that after the briefing, Matt, for you and anyone else who’s interested in that.
QUESTION: And this will go – maybe a few days back I think it was raised --
MS. PSAKI: It was – okay.
QUESTION: -- on this issue and --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We’ll look at it a few days back.
QUESTION: I don’t think it has been raised in this briefing.
QUESTION: Yes, it was.
MS. PSAKI: That issue?
QUESTION: On the – on Israeli intelligence and Mossad agents and so on disallow – being denied a visa, yes, it was.
MS. PSAKI: I think you are right, so I have a responsibility to get back to all of you.
QUESTION: Did you – but did you have an answer then?
MS. PSAKI: I did not.
MS. PSAKI: I did not, so that is on me. Thank you, Said.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: I have seen that. I didn’t have a chance to speak to our lawyers about that specifically. You know how concerned we are and continue to be about this law and the implementation of this law and the negative impact it has on the country and on LGBT people around the world. And you heard the Secretary speak pretty passionately about this just two weeks ago. We have our own ongoing review of our own options. There isn’t anything to announce at this point, but let me see if I can circle back with our lawyers and see if there’s anything specific from our end on that.
QUESTION: You’ll know that following President Museveni’s decision to sign that law, several European countries immediately suspended their assistance. Has – the United States has not yet taken any action, then?
MS. PSAKI: We have not. And I think, as you know, Scott, but – a great deal of our assistance goes to programs like health services and programs that very much help the people of Uganda, and so you always have to weigh that when you’re making decisions.
QUESTION: Yes, on El Salvador, there were presidential elections last Sunday and the outcome was very tight. They’re still counting the votes, but one of the candidates has already asked for a recount. I wanted to know if you have an opinion on this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we, of course, applaud the Salvadoran people for exercising their democratic right in peaceful elections that international observers called free and fair. We urge patience as El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal finalizes the results of this election. Preliminary results from El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal indicate a very close election, as you mentioned. We encourage the use of established electoral procedures to reach a peaceful conclusion to any disputes. We look forward to working in close partnership with the candidate chosen by the people of El Salvador to be their next president. So naturally, we will allow this process to see itself through.
Great. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Malaysia, to follow up on the passport issue raised yesterday, has the U.S. expressed concerns either to Interpol or to any international partners about the potential for a security breach with more than 40 million travel documents stolen or lost since 2002?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I talked a little bit yesterday about the steps we take. Let me give you a few more details on that.
Since 2008, prior to departure, Customs and Border Protection vets all travelers for inbound and outbound flights to and from the United States as well as any flight that travels through United States airspace through the Advance Passenger Information System and does a thorough review of all relevant domestic and international criminal databases, including Interpol databases for any issues of concern, including reports of stolen documents. Multiple law enforcement agencies play a role in airline security, certainly wouldn’t be the State Department having the lead on that. And DHS, of course, works extensively and is really the point on many of these issues. I don’t – I’m not aware – I mean, I don’t have any details on your specific question in terms of whether it’s been raised. Obviously, we’ve been in close contact with a range of counterparts around the world. I’m happy to see if there’s more to report on that front.
Great. Thank you.
QUESTION: No, I have one more.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: And I hope this is the end of it all.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, here we go.
QUESTION: But given the fact that you opened – one of your opening statements was about the treatment of people in – by authorities in Egypt, wondering if we can end this on the Medea Benjamin thing. Did you, have you, or do you plan to say anything to the Egyptians about your concerns over her alleged mistreatment?
MS. PSAKI: So we did receive – yesterday, we did receive a request from Ms. Benjamin to inquire, and we have done that. But I don't have any updates on what we’ve heard back.
QUESTION: Sorry, to inquire --
MS. PSAKI: To inquire with the Egyptian authorities about the treatment.
QUESTION: As to?
MS. PSAKI: Her treatment.
QUESTION: To – but not to – not to necessarily protest it, but to ask about what happened to her?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Okay. Is that – that seems to be different than – you talked about reports about these Egyptians that are on trial, saying there were reports that they were beaten up, and you said: If true, there’s no justification for this kind of treatment. Would that apply in her case as well?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly if any American citizen or any citizen is mistreated we wouldn’t find that acceptable.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)