Daily Press Briefing - March 19, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Closure of Syrian Embassy in the U.S. / Individuals Impacted
    • Custodian of Mission / Vienna Convention
    • Political Solution / Engagement with Russia
    • Bashar al-Assad / Future of Syria
    • Regional Instability / Spillover Violence / Ceasefire between Israel and Syria
    • Russia's Use of Force in Crimea / Ukrainian Military Officer Killed / Seizure of Ukrainian Military Bases
    • Sanctions
    • Escalatory Steps / Rhetoric from President Putin / Future of the Region
    • OSCE / International Observers / Special Monitoring Mission
    • Military Escalation
    • Referendum and Annexation / Russian Interests in the Region
    • Working with Russia on Syria and Iran
    • Political and Diplomatic Solution
    • Secretary Kerry's Conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov Yesterday
    • Steps Taken by U.S. / Economic Impact on Russia / Annexation
    • UN Security Council Vote and China / Isolation of Russia
    • Ukrainian Restraint / Russian Aggression
    • Israeli Defense Minister Ya'alon's Comments / Secretary Kerry's Phone Call with Prime Minister Netanyahu
    • U.S.-Israeli Security Relationship / Regional Threats
    • Missing Flight / Malaysian Government is Coordinating Body
    • President Museveni's Enactment of Anti-Homosexuality Act / Group of Experts / Treatment of Ugandan LGBT Community / Suspension of Stipends / HIV/AIDS
    • Attacks on Media Figures in Hong Kong
Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 19, 2014


1:06 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. So I just have one item for all of you at the top. You may have seen because we just sent this out, but in response to some of your technical questions about the closure of the Syrian Embassy, I wanted to point you to the information we just made public and kind of do a little overview of that, just to make sure everybody has what they need on that.

So in there we stated that the State Department is prepared to consider on the basis of reciprocity the appointment of a third-party state to which the Syrian Government may entrust the custody of the premises of its mission, together with its property and archives, and the protection of its interests. Alternatively, the Syrian Government may seek the Department’s approval of its assignment of these responsibilities to a member of its locally employed staff who is either a citizen or a legal permanent resident of the United States.

So this was in response to the question about the facilities and how they would be managed. In our view, the United States having a – playing a custodial role is the option of last resort. So we have to approve who the third-party custodian would be, but – and we haven’t received that yet – but that would be the next appropriate step.

In addition, I know there was a question about the number of individuals who would be impacted, and we did some – a more intensive looking through on that question yesterday. And the estimates are more along the lines of over a dozen Syrian nationals, a handful of third-party nationals. There are no U.S. citizens employed who were employed at the embassy, as I’m sure comes as no surprise. And those would all be in Washington.

QUESTION: Well, before we move on, just a couple things.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So that means that there are no U.S. citizens. Were there any permanent U.S. residents? I mean, because it --


QUESTION: Oh, there were. So, okay, so that other option is actually a valid option.

MS. PSAKI: It is up to them to propose that, but yes.

QUESTION: Right. And you say on the basis of reciprocity, but isn’t there already reciprocity? I mean, you have a protecting power in Damascus.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. But I was just --

QUESTION: They’re allowed the Czechs to do that.

MS. PSAKI: -- that is the basis of it. So I wasn’t --

QUESTION: Right, okay.

MS. PSAKI: That was the technical language --

QUESTION: So there is reciprocity. I mean, there is reciprocity, right?

MS. PSAKI: Right. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you could – you would be in a position to reject a choice? If they chose like North Korea or something, you could say, “No, that’s not a good idea.”

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m not going to get into a hypothetical, but we do need to approve the choice.

QUESTION: All right. Because then --

QUESTION: Can I just carry on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said there were a handful of third-country nationals.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are they obliged to leave, too? If they’re not Syrians and they’re not Americans, do they have to go, too? Is that your understanding?

MS. PSAKI: If they’re not legal permanent residents, yes.

QUESTION: So even if they have a visa – because their employment would be – their stay would be contingent on their visa, which would be contingent on their employment.

MS. PSAKI: Well, this gets very technical, so obviously, it depends on the individual. I don’t have any more details beyond that to share with all of you. But --

QUESTION: Okay. And can I just – staying with that, the decision to close the embassy is obviously creating some waves in Damascus and in Russia. The Syrian Foreign Ministry has said that it is illegal and arbitrary and a violation of the Vienna Convention, and I wondered if you could address that. And then the Russians – the Russian Foreign Ministry is saying in a statement that this means that Washington’s effectively renounced its role as a co-sponsor in the Syria peace talks.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it will come as no surprise that I disagree and completely refute all of those claims. We are abiding by not only the law but every aspect of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. As I mentioned, and as mentioned in the materials that we put out, the State Department will assume responsibility for ensuring the protection and preservation of the premises of the Syrian mission, together with its property and archives, if such arrangements have not been finalized or approved by the Department, as suggested by the government, by March 31st. So that is not a statement or a claim based in fact.

In terms of – I’m not sure what the other one was.

QUESTION: The Russians are saying that this means that you’re renouncing your role as a co-sponsor, because you’re effectively – although you said yesterday that you’re still having diplomatic ties with Damascus, you’re effectively cutting off an avenue to have those ties through.

MS. PSAKI: That is absolutely false. We are – continue to be committed to and focused on seeing a political solution reached here through the Geneva process, through a diplomatic process. As we’ve said many times, a political solution is the only solution that will end the crisis on the ground in Syria. And this is an issue that Secretary Kerry has been speaking with, of course, not only the Russians but his counterparts around the world on, and we remain an active and committed partner in that process.

QUESTION: Have you actually seen the Russian Foreign Ministry statement?

MS. PSAKI: I have not --

QUESTION: Because it seems – at least the one that I saw, and maybe it’s been corrected since, but it was a bit confused. It was – it’s talking about the suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, not about the suspension of --

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the specifics of it.


MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the full statement.

QUESTION: That’s the --

MS. PSAKI: As you know, our embassy – that is a long-ago news story. So --

QUESTION: Yeah. That’s why I was surprised by the date on this story, unless they’ve since corrected it.

All right. Can we move on?

QUESTION: No. Are you still cooperating or coordinating with Russia regarding Syria?

MS. PSAKI: We are.

QUESTION: What are you doing?

MS. PSAKI: We’re in close contact with our counterparts on that. This is an issue that the Secretary has discussed with Foreign Minister Lavrov, even over the past couple of weeks, even with the events in Ukraine going on. You – I would point you to the statement he made when he was in London this weekend about their discussion of the importance on continuing to work together on these tough issues. We work through the UN, of which we’re both P5 members, and we remain very closely engaged on it.

QUESTION: And are you still planning to go back to Geneva 2 to bring the Syrians back to Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that – there’s a hiatus, as you know, right now. But we’ll determine what’s next in coordination with the UN and with the Russians and with other partners who have a stake in this process.

QUESTION: There’s some suggestion out there that by maintaining that you still have diplomatic relations with Damascus, that that’s a tacit recognition of Bashar al-Assad as the head of state.

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. I think we haven’t been more clear about our belief that there’s no future for Bashar al-Assad in Syria, that anyone who brutalizes their people, as he has, has no future in their country.

QUESTION: Hold on a second.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand the premise of the question. But are you saying that the United States does not consider Assad to be the head of state?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t believe that he has a future. It was a tacit recognition of his --

QUESTION: But he is the head of state.

MS. PSAKI: He is, yes, the head of state. But we’re saying –


MS. PSAKI: I’m answering the question on the premise as I understood it, that it was an acknowledgement or a view that we thought he had a future there.

QUESTION: That he was legitimate. That he has some --

MS. PSAKI: That he was legitimate, exactly.

QUESTION: Well, that he has some credibility to run the country.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, right.

QUESTION: But you can’t – you don’t deny that he is the head of state, do you?

MS. PSAKI: No, but that wasn’t the question that was asked.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it kind of was. I mean, you never said that he’s not the legitimate – I mean, you never said he is not the head of state of Syria, have you? You’ve just said his days are numbered and you don’t think that he should be.

MS. PSAKI: We have said he’s lost his legitimacy, that anyone who brutalizes their people, like he has, has no future in Syria.


MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Syria?


QUESTION: On Syria, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: How can you say you are cooperating with Russia on Syria with today’s statements from Moscow shows that you have extreme contradiction between your position and the Russian position on what’s happening in Syria, especially after the Syrian army took over the city of Yabroud. You know they are praising the regime and Hezbollah for that action.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as has been the case for weeks if not months, there are cases where we have disagreements with the Russians, and we’re happy to speak publicly about those as they come up. But there are still cases where we are working with them, including the implementation of the chemical weapons process, including seeing if there’s a diplomatic path forward. It doesn’t mean we agree on every piece. We don’t and we haven’t throughout the process.

QUESTION: How do you view the falling of the Yabroud area in the hands of the regime?

MS. PSAKI: I know I’m not in the position, as you wouldn’t expect, to give, of course, battleground reports. I know we’ve seen these reports over the past couple of days. We’ve long said that there would be ups and downs in this crisis on the ground, that there’s – only a political solution can bring an end to the crisis. That certainly hasn’t changed. Beyond that, I don’t have any military analysis for you.


QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: This was related to the embassy. It’s a little bit technicalities.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You said that in principle you are looking for a third party or you will be the custodian. When this thing is going to be effective? I mean, you didn’t set a date for it. I mean, it’s going to be after 20th – 31st of March?

MS. PSAKI: I think I would point you to the – exactly – the information that real we – we released, pardon me, that if such arrangements have not been finalized or approved by the Department before March 31st there’s a certain number of days I outlined yesterday that certain categories of personnel have to vacate. But of course, proposing a third-party state to be the custodian is certainly our preference, and we’ll see what happens next.

QUESTION: The second question is related to the raised issue about the reality on the ground. It seems that even if even you are repeating that you want to find a political solution, still there are preparation going on in Syria, Damascus in particular, to – for the rerun of Bashar al-Assad. Do you have any comment about that?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to this a number of times about how we don’t see – including just a few minutes ago – about how we don’t see a place for him or legitimacy for him in the future of Syria.

QUESTION: One more on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What’s your assessment of the attention on the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel?

MS. PSAKI: You mean in terms of the reports over the last couple of days about the back and forth?

QUESTION: The shelling, yeah. The bombs.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we’ve been very clear about our concerns over the regional instability caused by the crisis in Syria, and that Assad’s desperate efforts to cling to power increases the propensity for spillover violence. Israel has a right to defend itself. We continue to call upon the regime to avoid any action that would jeopardize the long-held ceasefire between Israel and Syria and urge all parties to abide by the 1974 Disengagement of Forces agreement.

We reiterate our unconditional support for the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights and call on all parties to cooperate in good faith to enable it to operate freely and ensure full security of its personnel.

We also express our deep appreciation for the willingness of countries to continue to contribute troops to UNDOF.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Move on?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Ukraine, Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: First, can you give us what the Administration’s line is? Because I don’t think the Vice President spoke to it precisely. I may be wrong, but I don’t think it had all been – happened yet, but of the – these takeovers of these bases in Crimea by --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- Russians or Russian --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we strongly condemn Russia’s use of force in Crimea. The Russian military is directly responsible for any casualties that its forces, whether they be regular uniformed troops or regulars without insignias, inflict on Ukrainian military members in Crimea. Reports that a Ukrainian military officer was killed yesterday are particularly concerning and fly in the face of President Putin’s claim that Russia’s military intervention in Crimea has brought security to that part of Ukraine.

And we, of course – I would add the continued efforts by Russian forces to seize Ukrainian military installations are creating a dangerous situation. We condemn such actions. Russia should immediately begin discussions with the Ukrainian Government to ensure the safety of Ukrainian forces in the Crimean region of Ukraine. And diplomacy, in our view, remains the only acceptable means of resolving this crisis.

QUESTION: All right. There was a suggestion made by a rather large number of members of the Duma --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that the United States should go ahead and impose sanctions on all of them. And I’m just wondering – it seems to be an interesting kind of challenge here, because they basically asking – they’re asking you to impose sanctions on them. And one, I want to know, is that something that is even feasible? Could you or do you have any interest in doing it?

And secondly, if you don’t do it, how do you defend yourself from the charge that Senator McCain and others – many others – have made that the response is weak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, be careful what you ask for. But our executive orders that have been signed by the President give us broad authority and flexibility to sanction a range of officials, institutions. Obviously, there are a range of options under consideration. I’m not going to get into what we are or aren’t considering. You saw seven government officials sanctioned just a couple of days ago. The question at this point is not if we will do more sanctions; it’s when.

QUESTION: Right, but I guess I’m not asking you if you’re considering it or not. I’m asking you if it’s logistically possible to do it. I mean, seven people or eleven people total is one thing --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but there’s several hundred members of the Duma.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: You’re saying it’s – it can be done?

MS. PSAKI: Technically, Matt, I’d have to check with our sanctions team --


MS. PSAKI: -- but of course, we’re considering a range of options. I’m not going to detail them further.

QUESTION: Jen, do you know about any meetings with – there are a group of U.S. businesspeople that have sought some meetings with Defense Secretary Hagel – anything – to express concern about sanctioning – sanctions that would affect them as well – obviously, any transactions with Moscow. Is there anything that the State Department knows about this, and has that group --

MS. PSAKI: About the U.S. businesses?

QUESTION: Have the U.S. businesses expressed concern to the State Department about this?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of this meeting that Secretary Hagel is having. I’m happy to look more deeply into it and see if anyone from here is meeting with them as well. Do you have any idea who the companies are, or --

QUESTION: No. I don’t know offhand.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But – so nothing’s been expressed to the State Department from business – from these businesses?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not familiar with this meeting or anything along those lines, but I can check into it. I’m happy to.


MS. PSAKI: Nicolas.

QUESTION: One more on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you go back to the conversation Secretary Kerry had yesterday with the students?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I may be wrong, but it seems to me that he was pretty worried about the crisis with Russia. He used some very strong words like “egregious” against Russia. He made a lot of historic references about the World War II, the Cold War.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So is the Secretary and is the Administration worried about the prospect of a confrontation with Russia about this crisis with Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: I think what the Secretary’s words represented yesterday were a strong concern about the continued escalatory steps that Russia has been taking, the rhetoric that we heard from President Putin yesterday, and the fact that his language didn’t match the facts on the ground, and a question about what Russia actually saw and wanted from the future of the region.

But it wasn’t – I wouldn’t express it in the term of worry as much as there is a shared concern with many of our international partners about their rhetoric, their escalatory steps, and what they’re doing. And I think that’s pretty clear, given the responsive steps we’ve taken, the EU has taken over the past couple of days.

QUESTION: We talked a bit about – in London about the buildup of the forces, the Russian forces on the borders of eastern Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Has the Administration yet seen any move of those forces into the country?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on military movements on the ground. Obviously, it’s something we’re watching closely and we’re concerned about any additional step. We spoke a little bit earlier to – in response to Matt’s question – about their movements into certain Ukrainian bases. But certainly --

QUESTION: In Crimea, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: In Crimea. Certainly, we’re watching it. It’s a concern we’ve expressed directly to the Russians publicly and privately. But I don’t have any update in terms of what we’re seeing on the ground.

QUESTION: What do you expect from Ban’s visit to Russia tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: From Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Russia?


MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the UN for that.

QUESTION: Do you have any expectation or are you sending any message?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we’ll be in close touch with them, but I don’t have any update for you on that.

QUESTION: Jen, has the U.S. noticed any further exercises by Russian forces along – I think it’s the north – the northern part, which seem to be aimed at NATO allies? Any – nothing like --

MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have any updates for you from here on movements on the ground or what we’re watching on the ground.

QUESTION: Then there are – there’s a letter from a bipartisan group of senators that’s just come out asking for international monitors to be placed in eastern and southern Ukraine to monitor the situation.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Would you support that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly strongly support that. We understand that the OSCE has deployed international experts to conduct a human rights assessment throughout Ukraine. In addition, international representatives are still on the ground in Ukraine at the invitation of the Ukrainian Government under provisions of the OSCE’s Vienna Document of Confidence and Security-Building Measures.

We strongly support the Swiss OSCE chair’s proposal for a broader OSCE special monitoring mission that can operate throughout Ukraine, and have negotiated in good faith in Vienna to garner consensus for such a mission. As of this morning, 56 participating states agreed to this proposal, including, of course, the United States, and only Russia has objected.

QUESTION: And the OSCE operates by consensus, right?

MS. PSAKI: Right, is my understanding.

QUESTION: So there is no consensus?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So there actually aren’t any monitors?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have deployed them. But obviously, because of Russia’s opposition --

QUESTION: But they can’t do it. They have no mandate, right?

MS. PSAKI: -- they haven’t been able to do what they need to do on the ground.

QUESTION: Right. They can’t do anything, so --

MS. PSAKI: Right. So what?

QUESTION: I mean, what good are they if they can’t do anything?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they would be much more effective if they were able to do their job on the ground.

QUESTION: Not “much more.” They would be effective at all.

MS. PSAKI: And if Russia feels as strongly as they do about their concerns about the treatment of minorities, then they should let them in.

QUESTION: I mean, obviously, you’re watching this very closely and you must be planning for a wide range of scenarios.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How likely is it, in the Administration’s assessment, that we could see armed conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces?

MS. PSAKI: I’m certainly not going to make an assessment of that.

QUESTION: But I mean, you can – I mean, it must be something that you’re planning for possibly in the back of your mind.

MS. PSAKI: Well, no one wants to see, Jo, as you know, a military escalation in this case. And Russia – President Putin himself has spoken about an end to violence and has spoken about respecting that. Obviously, steps like going into the Ukrainian bases in Crimea fly in the face of that. But I’m not going to make a prediction of what will happen between two countries. Certainly, that’s not our hope and that’s not what we want to see happen on the ground.

QUESTION: I have two very brief things. Today, President Putin appointed the Secretary’s good friend, Foreign Minister Lavrov, to be the rapporteur for the legal entry of – or the legal reunification of Crimea with Russia. I’m wondering: One, do you – well, I only have one question on that. I have a second question. On that, I’m assuming that you don’t buy Putin’s argument that he made yesterday that this is simply like East and West Germany reunifying and that you would object to the idea that this is reunification?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, we – of course, we, as you know, objected to every step of this --


MS. PSAKI: -- the referendum, the annexation – so certainly we would object to steps to implement that.

QUESTION: Right. But there – the Russian rhetoric has changed from annexation to, well, this is just reunification, which you have supported in the past with the Germanys, which you presumably support with the Koreas. You don’t accept that?

MS. PSAKI: No, we don’t.

QUESTION: All right. And then the second thing is that when you were answering the question about the Secretary’s comments yesterday, you said something about questions about what Russia actually saw and wanted in the region. What – could you be more specific --

MS. PSAKI: Their motivations.

QUESTION: -- about that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. What I was --

QUESTION: Are you saying that the Administration did not – the Administration had questions about whether Putin had designs on parts of its – parts of the former Soviet Union?

MS. PSAKI: What we’re saying, Matt, and what the Secretary was saying yesterday, is that they say one thing and do another. And so if they say they respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine --


MS. PSAKI: -- their actions don’t match with that. So --

QUESTION: Right. So then doesn’t it – then how does it make sense for you to take them at word, like, five years ago?

MS. PSAKI: Take – related to Georgia?

QUESTION: Related to any part of the – I mean, if you – there were – you said that it raises questions about what Russia actually saw and wanted in the region. Haven’t those questions been answered now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what I was referring --

QUESTION: That’s what I’m getting --

MS. PSAKI: What I was referring to, Matt, is the fact that they say one thing, they do another; that their interests in the region – obviously, they have historical ties and historical backing, as the Secretary said yesterday. But certainly – I don’t think we’ve just been abiding by believing them at their word. We’ve been watching closely. We’ve taken steps in response and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: One thing, Jen. You said that the Russians say something and do something else. How can you trust them in dealing with Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not about trust.

QUESTION: But if they --

MS. PSAKI: Most of these issues are not --

QUESTION: If they say something --

MS. PSAKI: Let me answer your question. This is a case where I think if you ask the Russians, I think they’d pretty clearly tell you they don’t want to see chemical weapons living across – not living, but a – chemical weapons across Syria. They worked with us on that end. They agree and they’ve said publicly they see a political solution and a political end to the crisis in Syria. They’re not working with us on Syria, or Iran for that matter, as a favor to the United States. They have their own interests in those regions and seeing an end to that – the conflict in Syria as well as seeing an end to Iran taking steps to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: You mentioned the word or expression “political solution” for the Syrian issue.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think there will be or there is a chance to find a political solution or a diplomatic solution for the Crimea issue?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for Ukraine, yes, absolutely. That’s what we’re working toward.

QUESTION: You are working with whom?

MS. PSAKI: With Russia, with our international counterparts around the world. That’s part of our process. We think a political solution, a diplomatic – excuse me – solution to this is the only path forward.

QUESTION: Yes, please. And yesterday, you mentioned that – even the day before yesterday – that the Secretary was in touch with Foreign Minister Lavrov. After that criticism that he did at yesterday in the town hall meeting, he – was there was a chance to talk to him or something, or --

MS. PSAKI: He spoke with him yesterday morning.

QUESTION: That’s it.

MS. PSAKI: They’ve been speaking regularly.

QUESTION: But nothing today?

MS. PSAKI: They did not – they have not spoken today.

QUESTION: So I understand that the political-diplomatic solution would be ideal in this case, but so far, diplomacy has failed to yield a result. Sanctions are sort of being shrugged off or laughed off by the Russian side. Is the U.S. considering at all at this point any kind of use of force or threat of use of force to try to get the Russians to back down?

MS. PSAKI: That is not – we’re continuing to pursue the political solution – a political solution, which includes a diplomatic solution, political pressure, economic pressure. They’re actually – regardless of what is said by any Russian officials, there is a huge economic impact that we’re seeing on the ground in Russia, and that is partly in response to the political steps we’ve taken, but also some of the anticipation of the economic steps. Let me just give you a few examples.

Russian stock indexes lost around 17 percent just a couple of days ago, on March 14th, hitting their lowest level since 2009. Russia’s 19 richest people lost $18.3 billion due to stock market volatility on March 3rd, the first day of trading after the beginning of Russian military intervention in Crimea – that was the day of that. Despite the intervention of the Russian Central Bank, the ruble is at a five-year low against the dollar. More capital has already fled Russia this year than in all of 2013. And finally, forecasts for Russia’s 2014 growth rate hover around 1 – under 1 percent. Some even predict a negative growth rate. So we’re seeing specifics here. And as I mentioned yesterday, the deputy econ minister said that Russia’s economy is in crisis.

So there are impacts. We will see what happens over the coming days, but our focus remains on a diplomatic, on a political, solution.

QUESTION: So in other words, it’s not being looked at?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not – we are – I just stated what our focus is on.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from all the statistics you just reeled off that the Administration is pretty happy with itself, pretty chuffed. Is it a gloat-free zone or are you just trying to make your point?

MS. PSAKI: No. Matt, no one is happy with --


MS. PSAKI: -- having to take steps, but what I am conveying to all of you is that there – we have seen a strong economic impact on the ground. So anyone who states there hasn’t been, in Russia or outside, is incorrect.

QUESTION: I think it’s not that there hasn’t been; it’s just whether Putin – President Putin is just willing to soak up the pain, which he seems to be at the moment. There doesn’t – none of the – the threatened sanctions and then the sanctions themselves have done nothing to head off his annexation of Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: At the moment, yes. But my point is that there is real economic pain. And if President Putin cares about the economy in his country, cares about the economic impact on the people of his country, cares about his place in the world, then those are all factors that should be looked at. But again, we’re looking at this day by day.

QUESTION: But do you seriously think that the Russian – that Russia, the Moscow Duma and President Putin, are now going to renege on their absorption of Crimea? It’s written into their law now, isn’t – I think, if I’m right, that they’ve gone that far ahead.

MS. PSAKI: I understand what the steps – the steps that have been taken. But we don’t recognize the results of the referendum or the step – the follow-up steps on annexation. Many, many other countries in the world don’t recognize it. So this is an ongoing conversation.

QUESTION: Jen, you seem to think that you’re able to change Putin’s calculus by pointing to his role in the world. He seems pretty happy with his role in the world right now. And when you said he was on the wrong side of history in Syria, that didn’t do anything. So I’m just wondering why you still think that he cares.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t get into his mind, not that you’re asking me to.

QUESTION: I’m not. I just don’t understand --

MS. PSAKI: But we do think --

QUESTION: -- the U.S. looking at this --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- why the U.S. thinks it was – it would be productive, helpful, or conducive to getting him to see things your way by repeating this over and over again – oh, you’re going to be on the wrong side of history; oh, you’re going to be isolated internationally – when he’s – he doesn’t – has not ever, as far as I know, but certainly not in the last several years, shown any inclination that that kind of isolation or that kind of dismissal or loss of any place in the world is going to change his mind.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’ll see and we’ll take it day by day. There are real factual impacts. That was the point I was making.



MS. PSAKI: More on Ukraine?


MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Ukraine, and then we can go. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask one on Ukraine about the position of China?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How do you evaluate their position emphasizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity at the same time abstaining to vote in Security Council and being praised by President Putin?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m going to let China speak for themselves, but obviously, given China’s history, I don’t think – we don’t anticipate that they’re going to get in the middle of the disagreement on this issue between Russia and many other in the international community. I don’t have any particular analysis for you, other than to say that the fact that Russia is the – was the only vote against the UN Security Council resolution this weekend, that there are many countries around the world, across Asia as well, lining up against the steps that Russia has taken just shows you how further isolated that they are.

QUESTION: Jen, there are multiple reports that are coming in just now, which I won’t expect you to really have an answer --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but that say that the Crimeans are going to withdraw their troops – I mean – the Crimeans – the Ukrainians are going to draw their – withdraw their troops from Crimea. So far at this briefing, you focused your comments on the Russians --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or the Russian – I don’t – the Russian speakers --

MS. PSAKI: Aggression?

QUESTION: -- the Russian – no, the Russian – the guys with guns who speak Russian and you think are operating under the Kremlin’s aegis. Is this move – would a Ukrainian withdraw from Crimea be – what do you think of that? Would that be acceptable, or was that – does that give in to what you say is an illegal annexation?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have all the details on this, so I’m happy to touch base with our team.

QUESTION: Right. Fair enough.

MS. PSAKI: I will say, broadly speaking, the Ukrainians have been very restrained throughout this process. But let me check with them and get more details.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Any details for the meeting between Deputy Burns and the Saudi deputy defense minister.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that. Let me see if we can get a short readout for all of you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Please. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: You tweeted several hours ago, “Stop the shooting in Simferopol. Clear that Russia shot first.” And I’m just curious, what is this clarity based on? What are the facts behind this statement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Russia entered a Ukrainian base, and that’s clearly an act that we have concerns about and shows their level of aggression in this case. So I think events on the ground seem pretty clear in our view, and we were just expressing – I was just expressing a concern about the reports we’re hearing on the ground.

QUESTION: But now you said – you talked about entering a base. But in the tweet, you were saying that it’s clear that it actually fired a shot first, and that’s a pretty serious allegation. So what does this information – where is it coming from? Because there’s been plenty of conflicting reports on what actually has been happening in Simferopol. So we’re just curious as to --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t see – let me just say we don’t see how it’s possibly true that the Russian claim that they were – they were not – that someone else was the aggressor, that the Ukrainians were the aggressor, can possibly be true, given they entered the Ukrainian base.

QUESTION: They’re not saying that. They’re saying it’s a provocation, whereas you’re saying that it’s very clear and you’re --

MS. PSAKI: They have said that a little bit. I think we’re ready to move on.

Do we have another topic?


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: This goes to Middle East.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Middle East, okay.

QUESTION: You are familiar or aware of the comments that the Israeli defense minister has made this week?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What do you think of them?

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, his comments were not constructive. Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, and he protested to him his concerns about these comments.

We maintain – the United States maintains an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. President Obama has provided an all-time high level of security assistance to Israel, including critical Iron Dome and missile defense funding, even during times of budget uncertainty, to provide Israel with unprecedented capabilities and options that help Israel better deal with regional threats and challenges. And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said that the breadth of our security cooperation is unprecedented.

So it is certainly confusing to us why Defense Minister Ya’alon would continue his pattern of making comments that don’t accurately represent the scope of our close partnership on a range of security issues and on the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel.

QUESTION: Well, what does it say to you about your allegedly – I’m going to say now – close and enduring partnership when the defense minister of your top ally in the Middle East runs around making – insulting the Secretary of State and criticizing the President for being a wimp, essentially, and not defending Israel’s interests? Does that really – is that reflective of a close – and maybe enduring, leave that out of it. I that indicative of a close relationship with either the defense minister himself or the Government of Israel, which employs this guy?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it reflects the view of the Government of Israel, and I think it doesn’t reflect, naturally, our relationship.

QUESTION: Okay. What did – are you able to tell us anything about what the prime minister’s response to Secretary Kerry was when he protested Defense Minister Ya’alon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that conversation.

QUESTION: Do you have a --

MS. PSAKI: I’d point you to the Israelis.

QUESTION: Do you – from his call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, do you get the sense that Prime Minister Netanyahu agrees with his defense minister?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to characterize it. But I think I will just clearly say that I think there’s a recognition and a support for the strong security relationship between Israel and the United States by the Government of Israel. And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said that many times before.

QUESTION: Okay. So Prime Minister Netanyahu – his comments to the Secretary are indicative of the understanding in Israel that this is a close relationship? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to his specific comments --


MS. PSAKI: -- but he has said many times in the past publicly about his support for the strong relationship.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary ask – then forget about Bibi’s response. Did the Secretary ask for either the prime minister to go out and make some comment and say something publicly? Did he ask the prime minister to tell the defense minister to go and make some comment – kind of comment publicly?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary is – has a tough skin and is happy to move on beyond this --


MS. PSAKI: -- but did feel it was important to express his concern about the comments.

QUESTION: The problem is that this seems to go beyond just him and his – whether he has tough skin or not.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The defense minister seems to be – is questioning the very essence of the relationship and suggesting that the United States does not have Israel’s security at its – as a policy anymore. That seems fundamentally at odds with everything that you have been – that this Administration has been trying to say.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it a good idea for this guy to still have this job?

MS. PSAKI: And does not – that is not something I would speak to, Matt.

QUESTION: What does it say about Prime – if Prime Minister Netanyahu is not prepared to publicly rebuke the defense minister or fire him or at least say – to say something publicly, to say that he does not agree, what does that say about the relationship?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to what he is or isn’t prepared to do. I just outlined what specifically the facts are, which you’re very familiar with, about our security relationship. The comments of the defense minister are completely inconsistent with that. So that’s what I would point you to.

QUESTION: Well, would you like an apology?

MS. PSAKI: That is not – we’re ready to move forward and keep talking about the peace process, Matt.

QUESTION: Can we stay on this for one second?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You just said that you don’t think he was speaking for the Israeli Government when he made his comments, but have you received that assurance from the Israeli side?

MS. PSAKI: I think many, many Israeli officials have spoken publicly, including the prime minister, consistently over the last weeks, months, and years about the strength of our security relationship and the importance of our – the enduring bond between the United States and Israel.

QUESTION: Sure. But I mean previously, when – I mean, in other cases, when members of a country’s government make certain statements --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that seem out of line or somehow inappropriate --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d point you to the Israeli Government. You can ask them this question.

QUESTION: -- they – somehow they – sometimes those kinds of – the governments of those officials make it clear to you that it’s – that they weren’t speaking for the government.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for the Israeli Government, so you can certainly lob that question to them, if you’d like.

QUESTION: But does it concern you that you haven’t received that assurance from them?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve addressed this question. Next question?

QUESTION: On the missing flight?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. The missing flight, sure.

QUESTION: Do U.S. and China – what kind of cooperation do U.S. and China have in sharing the information about the flight?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re both – we’re all working – I think the Chinese as well – we’re working with the Malaysian Government. They have the lead on this investigation. I’m not going to go into more details about what information is being shared, but obviously, we’ve put forward a number of resources toward this effort, and I would point you to the Chinese on what resources they have put forward. But the Malaysian Government is – has the lead and is the coordinating body.

QUESTION: Do the U.S. and Chinese officials or investigators have any direct contact on the issue?

MS. PSAKI: U.S. officials and?

QUESTION: And the Chinese officials.

MS. PSAKI: Again, the Malaysian Government has the lead, so I don’t have any further details for you on other forms of coordination.


QUESTION: Do you want to revisit your comments yesterday regarding Uganda, what the United States Government has or has not done in response to the anti-gay laws?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, in response to your question and the questions of others, we’ll have a answer that’s sent out broadly to everyone. One question – let me address first – about the group that the Secretary has spoken about may travel in – as part of the discussion they’ve been having. Sorry, that was confusing, what I just said.

As you all know, President Museveni has publicly stated that his views on the innate nature of human sexuality informed his decision to support adoption of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, but he also expressed openness to discussing the scientific basis for these views with experts from the international community. We believe that facilitating such conversations may lead to more informed decision making on issues related to the bill and the treatment of Uganda’s LGBT community generally, and we are in the early stages of working to make such conversations possible. So there is – that’s still in the very preliminary planning stages.

Also in the comments I made on the 18 senior health ministry officials was this – these renewing stipends expired in January. They were paid to government employees to compensate them for extra time and work they expended over and above their normal duties in managing cooperative agreements. The suspension of these stipends is also part of a larger discussion with the Government of Uganda about whether it should assume greater responsibility for government functions associated with the HIV/AIDS response, including the supplemental stipends. So none of these funds – none of the funds supporting these contracts were used to – just a little more detail – were used to purchase or distribute anti-retroviral drugs, and the expiration of these contracts will not directly impact PEPFAR’s ability to deliver lifesaving medications in Uganda. But this was an ongoing process before the signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

QUESTION: So you are in the very early stages of putting together a team of – who, like psychiatrists and mental health people who are going to Uganda and try to convince Museveni that he’s wrong on – when he – in his conclusion – educated, I’m sure – in his conclusion that homosexuality is a choice? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I’ve mentioned, I would – to discuss the scientific basis for his viewpoint or lack of a scientific basis. I can’t determine what the outcome will be, but it is of our view --

QUESTION: Good luck.

MS. PSAKI: It is of our view that it’s worth pursuing. So --

QUESTION: Okay. But now – how about physicians?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the list. It’s so preliminary, there’s no list of exactly who this would be --

QUESTION: Is it so preliminary that it actually might not happen?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying there hasn’t been --

QUESTION: Well, I mean – right.

MS. PSAKI: -- there hasn’t been a group put together yet, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But I mean, it hasn’t happened, it’s very preliminary, and frankly, you don’t know if it’s actually going to happen. Do you know if you have approached President Museveni and said, “Hey, would you be willing to hear our group of – a group of people from the U.S. or from a group of people we put together?”

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know what level of the process we’re at.


MS. PSAKI: It’s in the preliminary process.


MS. PSAKI: Scott, did you have another question?

QUESTION: So these salary top-ups not related to the anti-gay legislation?

MS. PSAKI: It was a process that was ongoing, yes.

QUESTION: So has there been any action by the U.S. Government taken in direct response to this legislation?

MS. PSAKI: So we continue to be in the same place we’ve been in where we’re taking a thoughtful, deliberate look at next steps in light of the enactment of the law.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, did you – hold on. Did you have another Uganda? Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Yes. I just wanted to say Secretary Kerry said himself --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, Uganda. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said himself yesterday at the town hall that he’d spoken with President Museveni about this, and Museveni said that he would welcome a team of experts.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there you go.

QUESTION: But I have to say that I think most of us --

MS. PSAKI: That may have been when I was running upstairs from here.

QUESTION: Most of us would – I mean, I just don’t understand how a team of experts would be able to persuade somebody’s mind, given the – perhaps the level of prejudice.

QUESTION: Especially given the person that you’re trying to convince.

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it is always worth putting the effort forward.

QUESTION: Will you – could you proactively – I hate that word – but could you, when this team is put together and when it’s about to go --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, let you all know?

QUESTION: -- could you let us know? Because I’d like to – I think there are some people, at least some of us, would like to talk to them and ask them how exactly they intend to try to convince Museveni that he’s wrong.

MS. PSAKI: We will keep that request in mind, Matt.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Still it’s confusing for me from yesterday how, when you say we are going to cut the fund or freeze the – cut the fund for the medicine practitioners, and that’s – this (inaudible) when it’s not going to have an impact on the services – they have services they are giving to the patients. I mean – how it comes, I mean?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of other – dozens of other health officials who work directly with – to provide those services. So that’s what I was referencing.

Great. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: No, no. I have one more.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: There have been several recent incidents in Hong Kong that have raised some concerns about press freedoms there. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about those.

MS. PSAKI: I do. The United States is concerned about news reports about what appears to be another attack on media figures in Hong Kong. While the details of the most recent attack are not completely clear, we are troubled by a series of incidents over the past year that seem to target Hong Kong media figures. Hong Kong’s well established tradition of respect for the rule of law and internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press, remain crucial to Hong Kong’s longstanding success and reputation as a leading center of global commerce. We expect Hong Kong’s law enforcement authorities will fully and transparently investigate these incidents.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)