Daily Press Briefing: May 13, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- SUDAN / SOUTH SUDAN
- Secretary's Conversations with Salva Kiir and Riek Machar
- Readout of Secretary's Meeting with Cypriot Foreign Minister Kasoulides
- Readout of Secretary's Meeting with French Foreign Minister Fabius
- Congressional Subpoena for Secretary Kerry's Testimony
- Chemical Weapons
- Resignation of UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi
- London 11 Meeting
- Syrian Opposition
- Espionage Reports
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
- Secretary's Upcoming Meeting with President Abbas in London
- Reports on Extension of Talks
- Whereabouts of Ambassador Indyk
- U.S. Assistance to Nigeria in Search for Missing Girls
- Video Released by Boko Haram
- U.S. Surveillance Flights
- State Department Elements of U.S. Assistance Team
- SAUDI ARABIA / IRAN
- Saudi Arabia-Iran Relationship
- P5+1 Meetings
- Reports of Iran Circumventing Sanctions
- Narendra Modi / Visa
- MERS / State Department in Touch with World Health Organization
- Cooperation on Space Program
- President Biden's Son Affiliation with Ukrainian Gas Company
- Readout of Secretary's Call with Foreign Minister Wang
- South China Sea Disputes
- Congressionally Proposed Sanctions / Dialogue Still Offers Chance for Resolution
- Reports of Persecution of Woman for Conversion and Marriage
Daily Press Briefing
1:26 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I just have a couple of items for all of you at the top. Secretary Kerry yesterday spoke separately with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to thank them for the agreement they signed Friday in Ethiopia, and to strongly urge them to fulfill their commitment to stop the fighting, make progress toward a transitional government, and allow humanitarian access.
The Secretary said that we are working with the UN to revise the mandate of the UN mission in South Sudan to facilitate a quick deployment of peacekeepers from the region and to support the work of monitors from the IGAD.
MS. PSAKI: IGAD. The Secretary also this morning, as you know, met with the Cypriot foreign minister. During the meeting, Secretary Kerry expressed his continued support of efforts to end the decades-long division of Cyprus. He reaffirmed his full support for the Cypriot-led process under the auspices of the United Nations Good Offices Mission, and he reiterated his willingness to assist in any way the parties would find useful. He also stressed the importance of making real and substantial progress toward reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
Secretary Kerry also met with French Foreign Minister Fabius this morning for a wide-ranging conversation about current international challenges. They discussed Ukraine, the importance of supporting its government’s preparations for the May 25th presidential elections, and further coordination on sanctions. They also focused on our close coordination on Syria, including the removal of chemical weapons, Iran, and other areas in the Middle East and Africa.
With that, we’ll go to you, Matt.
QUESTION: Just on call that he made to the – Kiir and Machar, did the issue that was brought up yesterday that you didn’t have an answer for, the issue of an apparent threat from the Ethiopians to lock them both up until they – unless or until they sign this deal, did that – was that in his call?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that coming up on the call.
QUESTION: All right. Do you know if – the agreement was signed on Friday, but there – it seems to not have lasted longer than about five or 10 minutes before there was fighting, or maybe it was longer than that, but not – surely not very long. Did the issue of ceasefire violations come up in the call?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, as I said yesterday, and the Secretary reiterated on his call, we’re watching closely, and certainly we’re concerned about any reports of violence on the ground. There were several components that were agreed to last Friday, including, of course, abiding by the cessation of hostilities, but also steps to allow for humanitarian access and moving towards a transitional government. So, all of those were part of the conversation.
QUESTION: All right. Well, did the Secretary express disappointment that it seems to have – there seem to be violations almost instant – almost the instant – you don’t – all right.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not – again, how I read it out is the readout of the call. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then on Cyprus, the Secretary mentioned that he would hope to be going there in weeks, but it’s going to be a little longer than weeks, right? He’s not going to go there before the Vice President, is he?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any trip plans to announce for the Secretary.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t expect him there in May, this month?
MS. PSAKI: I would not expect him there before the Vice President. That’s fair to say.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: And that is: Yesterday, there seemed to be some conflicting statements coming from the Hill and then from you about the subpoena issue. Has this been resolved in a way that is agreeable to both sides? Because the committee spokesman seemed to say that you guys had said, “Well, let’s just reschedule Secretary Kerry for after he returns from Mexico,” but then your statement suggested that Secretary Kerry might not be the most appropriate witness at all.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So can you enlighten us as to where you are on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as both of our statements noted, we’ve been in close touch with the Hill. We’ve noted several times from here that Secretary Kerry was previously scheduled to be in Mexico on the day he was subpoenaed to testify, and we have not yet made arrangements for a hearing date. Obviously, satisfying the request and the needs of the committee is an utmost priority for us and has been for months, but no, there hasn’t been a resolution at this time.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so when you said that there – you’re – you want to work with the committee, but the committee seems to be – at least this committee in this instance seems to be focused on document production issues.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You suggested yesterday in the statement that the Secretary’s time would – he’s spending most of his time conducting important foreign policy business, and that perhaps – or not perhaps, but there might be – there would be a more appropriate witness. Is that still your position? And if there would be a more appropriate witness on document production issues, who might that be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any specifics on that. Obviously, that’s part of our discussions we’ll continue to have with the committee. And there’s been some issues around which committee has oversight over these types of issues, so we simply want to be responsive to the committee, but the person who testifies and what information we provide, of course, will be dependent on a range of factors on their end.
QUESTION: So my – okay. So my last one on this: So you will provide someone, a witness of some – an appropriate – what you would consider an appropriate witness to the committee to answer their questions? Is that in response to their --
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we’re open to doing that. We haven’t made a determination yet in terms of how this will be resolved.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ll pass.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So there’s a couple of bits of news around Syria this morning. Foreign Minister Fabius, in a press conference that he gave separately from his talks with the Secretary, talked about 14 incidents of chemical weapons use since October by the Syrian regime. They believe small amounts of agents, such as the use of chlorine gas. Does this fit in with what you are being told from your intelligence on the ground? And if so, what are you going to do about it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously I’m not going to get into intelligence from here at all. We saw, of course, his press conference. They did discuss during their meeting the importance of removing the remaining declared chemical weapons, but they did not discuss the specifics of what the foreign minister announced from his press conference. We obviously have a range of ways that we are in touch with the French and our international partners, and as in any case or any allegation, we take it seriously. We certainly, along with many of our partners in the international community, would support any effort to look into allegations. As you know, there’s an ongoing process that the OPCW is leading at this time, and we continue to support that.
QUESTION: So this is new information to you? This was not shared with the Secretary during their talks that you just said --
MS. PSAKI: I just conveyed it wasn’t – that the specifics weren’t discussed during their meeting. However, I’m not going to get into intel discussions or sharing, and obviously we do that with a range of partners.
QUESTION: And Foreign Minister Fabius also said in his press conference that France regretted that the President and this Administration did not go ahead with the military strikes as had been threatened in the latter half of last year, saying he believed it could have changed things on the ground. What is your response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view continues to be that what we were discussing at the time was a response to the horrific acts against the Syrian people that occurred last August. There was broad agreement in the international community, including the French, about the step that was taken through the UN Security Council, through the OPCW. At this point, 92 percent of declared chemical weapons have been removed, and we think that’s an important step. It doesn’t mean that’s the totality of our approach to Syria. Not at all. As you know, the Secretary is leaving tomorrow for London.
But we continue to believe that our goal was to resolve – do everything we could to resolve through peaceful means even more than the military strikes promised, which was to remove these lethal, terrible weapons from the hands of the Assad regime, and we’ve taken some significant steps towards doing that.
QUESTION: But by not taking the more – the sharper step of actually going ahead with a military strike against certain Syrian facilities, did you not signal to the Syrian regime at that time that they could basically act with impunity, and that these attacks would not be in any way punished by the international community?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would strongly disagree with that, Jo. Obviously, there are a range of requirements in the UN Security Council resolution that we all supported last year, that was broadly supported by the international community. We’re continuing to implement that. There are not options – and we’ve said this consistently since then – that have been taken off the table.
But clearly the removal of 92 percent of declared chemical weapons in Syria is a step that we think is an important step forward, and one that we continue to stand by as the right step and the right process we took last September.
QUESTION: Do you continue to believe you have the full extent of the chemical weapons stockpile that the Assad regime has?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ve spoken to this a little bit before, but we will continue to support the OPCW’s verification and inspection efforts to ensure the accuracy and completeness of Syria’s declarations. And ensuring that the declared does represent what they have is an important part of Syria abiding by their agreement as part of the agreement last September.
QUESTION: Does the resignation of Mr. Brahimi sort of end the diplomatic effort for now?
MS. PSAKI: Not at all, Said. As you know, he played an incredibly important role during a challenging time in the ongoing situation on the ground in Syria. We certainly support and will work with whomever the UN decides to put in place in his place.
QUESTION: So you feel that the role of a mediator is an important role, that there has to be some sort of a mediator that can go in between the regime and the opposition, even in view of, let’s say, the upcoming election in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: We continue to support – we believe that the Geneva process was an important moment for the international community to show support for the opposition. And, again, we’d, of course, support any step by the UN to appoint a successor.
QUESTION: Were you aware of his resignation before today?
MS. PSAKI: I think there have been many reports out there. I’m not going to get into that level of a detail.
Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. support someone such as Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia, to be the envoy? And I guess the larger question is, is it appropriate for someone who does not come out of the UN auspices to act as a mediator – someone who might come in without some of the baggage that both sides might have been able to play upon?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on choices the UN may or may not make. Obviously, I’d point you to them for anything they want to say about his successor.
QUESTION: But obviously, the U.S. will want to know --
QUESTION: What makes you think a third UN Arab League Special Envoy would have any greater success than his two, or her two, previous successors, who were also in their own right seasoned diplomats?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, again, I’m not going to speculate, and I don’t have any insight into who the UN might pick for his successor. Obviously, the situation on the ground and the horrific suffering of the Syrian people is continuing. And so we still continue to believe that this is a role that can be played and one that can be productive in bringing an end to the crisis.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Jo’s question, do you prefer someone who could represent the Arab League and the UN at the same time --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to – I am not --
QUESTION: -- such as --
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m not --
QUESTION: I can give you some names, like (inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: I am not going to speculate on names and I am not going to speculate --
QUESTION: Or would you like to see like a UN veteran --
MS. PSAKI: -- on specifics. Let’s --
QUESTION: -- like Mr. (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I am not going to speculate, Said.
Do we have any more on Syria?
QUESTION: Well, on --
QUESTION: Well, let’s go back to Jo’s question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: What is the point, then, of having an envoy, if both sides are simply going to do whatever it is they feel like doing, particularly the Assad regime? I mean, what’s the point?
MS. PSAKI: Roz, we continue to believe that the only way to resolve this crisis is through a political process. And obviously, there’s a role that can be played by somebody who’s representing the UN. We’ll see what happens over the coming weeks.
QUESTION: But is a process where one side in particular comes in and does not act in good faith a process worth having?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Roz, I think we continue to believe that both sides, of course, need to be part of any political solution. We continue to work with the international community to push that process in that direction, but we’ll see what happens. This is a new announcement, so I don’t have any more speculation for all of you.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just – you said you don’t want to talk about names, but let’s talk about one name: Lakhdar Brahimi. And has been noted, I mean, he’s not the first person to try and fail at this. But I’m just wondering how – why it is that you say he played an incredibly important role – those are your words – at a challenging time. What exactly did he do other than organize very expensive conferences in European cities at very nice hotels? What exactly did he do?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, we continue to believe that the discussions that the regime and the opposition – and more so really the bigger meeting, also, with so many members of the international community that showed strong support for the opposition – was an important moment. Obviously, things are on a hiatus now, and we continue to press in many directions to see how we can resolve the crisis on the ground.
QUESTION: Well, I understand. But what – if you go back and look at his tenure in office – not that anyone else’s tenure in office has been much different, but you say he played an incredibly important role. I mean, can you name – is there any tangible positive result of him having had this job?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, no one is satisfied with where things stand in Syria. That’s why we’re continuing to work on it. But he did convene a range of meetings. He was an important mediator between those and a facilitator with many other members of the international community, and we’re grateful for his leadership.
QUESTION: Well, okay, but even the Secretary General, when he announced the resignation, said this is a failure for all of us.
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: And so I’m just wondering if you can point to anything that wasn’t a failure during his watch --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt --
QUESTION: -- or, actually, the watches of the previous people.
MS. PSAKI: Clearly, the Secretary is going to London tomorrow and he just met with the opposition and our – a range of White House officials are meeting with the opposition because we believe there’s much more work that needs to be done. But that doesn’t mean that the work that we’ve done in the past or other officials have done in the past isn’t an important part of it.
QUESTION: Right, but I mean – okay, so he’s – there’s going to be this meeting tomorrow; it’s going to be in London. So it’s just --
MS. PSAKI: On Thursday.
QUESTION: -- or whatever. He’s leaving tomorrow; on Thursday the meeting is – but why is this not just another conference? And it’s not even a conference that brings the – it’s not even an attempt to negotiate or to find a political solution. Am I correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to believe that intensifying and improving our cooperation with the international community, with partners and backers of the moderate opposition, is a valuable step. And we want to – that’s a part of what the effort will be when we’re in London. So that’s why the Secretary is traveling there.
QUESTION: In light of the allegations that Foreign Minister Fabius as well as Human Rights Now, I believe, have made about Syria’s use of chemicals since the agreement was signed, is it vital in the U.S.’s view that there be an envoy in order to maintain some sort of opening into the Syrian Government? And if so, why? If not, why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Roz, the process of looking into the use of chemical weapons is led by the OPCW. And that continues, and obviously they have contacts on the ground, in order to effectively carry out their mission. We still continue to believe, as I’ve noted a couple of times, that there is a role to play for a special envoy, and we would, of course, look forward to working with a successor.
QUESTION: But does having the envoy there add an extra level of leverage, as it were, or will the OPCW possibly be hindered because there is not this outside person who can bring to bear the need for the Syrian Government to be open?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t view it as the OPCW being hindered. They have their own means of implementing. Obviously, there’s a broad network of the international community that’s supporting their efforts.
QUESTION: Jen, SOC President Ahmad Jarba has said yesterday evening in Georgetown University that Friends of Syria core group has promised the opposition before Geneva conference to increase its military capacities to change the calculations on the ground in case the negotiations in Geneva fail. Have you ever made this promise to the opposition?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, we continue to work with our international partners to take steps to support the moderate opposition, including vetted members of the armed opposition. I’m not going to get into any other conversations that anyone from the London 11 may or may not have had.
QUESTION: Do you think the meeting in London will discuss this issue and will fulfil the promise?
MS. PSAKI: The meeting in London will discuss a range of issues, including how to best support the moderate opposition and their needs at this time.
QUESTION: Given Minister Fabius’s comments about what the United States maybe should’ve done a year ago, is there any – what’s your reaction to the perception that his comments in public on – during his visit to the United States suggests that there’s a shift in cohesion and agreement on what the U.S. has done on Syria since the UN Security Council resolution was passed?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that was what he was conveying at all. I would ask – I would suggest you ask the French if that’s what they were conveying through his comments.
QUESTION: Do you think we could move on to Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Are we done with Syria?
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. PSAKI: One more on Syria. Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: First of all, do you have any reaction to the Kuwaiti minister’s resignation, the one who was allegedly funding the Syrian opposition?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen those reports. As you know, we’ve expressed concerns in the past about any assistance that’s not funded through the moderate opposition. But I don’t have any specific reaction to that report.
QUESTION: Do you have any other – I mean, like, other names or other officials in the region that they are funding?
MS. PSAKI: Again, this is an issue we’ve expressed concern about in the past. But I don’t have any other details to share. Let’s move on.
QUESTION: All right. There is something related to the Syrian opposition. During the last few months, always it was mentioned that arming is a concern because it may reach wrong hands. And secondly, it was always mentioned that the Syria opposition is divided, not united, and all these concerns. Do you think when you meet them now these concerns are not there anymore or still there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have had the same concerns about particular systems and weapons systems, and those haven’t changed, because we have a concern about the proliferation risk. That’s consistently been our position. The opposition, in our view, has taken great strides in the last couple of months to continue to strengthen their leadership and have a cohesive message. And obviously the meetings the opposition had here this past week have been an important part of that and part of what we’ll discuss in London on Thursday.
QUESTION: Just --
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve got to move on here, but --
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, just to follow up.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, you have one more? Okay.
QUESTION: To clarify.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: When you say the wrong hands, it’s not just was the wrong hands. So all the – issue was the issue of the rise of the fundamentalists and Islamists in particular.
MS. PSAKI: The wrong hands, but also the proliferation risk are both concerns. Okay. Let’s move on to a new topic.
QUESTION: Great. So last week, there was a report in Newsweek, quoting unnamed officials, saying that Israeli spying on the U.S. has been prolific for decades. The quote was that the spying was “unrivaled and unseemly.” Israeli officials responded. They said that it is unequivocally incorrect. But I’m wondering if you have a response or a denial or --
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we don’t comment on intelligence matters, including in response to specific news reports. But what I can tell you is that we have a close intelligence partnership with Israel and value our cooperation with them in this field because it serves our mutual interest. And Intelligence Minister Steinitz’s visit and meetings in the Department just over the last couple of days are the latest example of this cooperation.
QUESTION: So do you deny that there is actually prolific espionage by Israel on the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to add to what I just said, Said.
QUESTION: Do you know who he – his meeting with – are they over?
MS. PSAKI: Steinitz?
MS. PSAKI: He met with Deputy Secretary Burns. I’m not aware of the rest of his schedule, but --
QUESTION: There had been some talk in Israel that he was coming here – or maybe not talk in Israel --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- but talk in Washington that he was going to complain or make a formal protest. Are you aware if there has been a complaint lodged by the Israelis through diplomatic channels about what these unnamed officials are saying?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other details, Matt. I’m happy to see if there’s more there to --
QUESTION: Can you just find out if they have complained --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and – well, yeah, if you could find out that, that would be nice.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: In your statement yesterday about the meeting between --
MS. PSAKI: With President Abbas?
QUESTION: Yeah. With President Abbas. You said you wanted to look into the whole relationship – I mean, not word-for-word, I’m paraphrasing. What does that mean? Explain that to us. I mean, when you say you want to look into the whole relationship with the Palestinians.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it means that the Secretary’s visit to London, the primary purpose is to attend the London 11 meeting.
MS. PSAKI: But we have a long relationship with the Palestinians. The Secretary and President Abbas have been friends for decades. And so while he’s there, he’ll have a meeting with President Abbas to discuss a range of issues. And I would expect they talk about everything from Syria and the London 11 meeting to the ongoing Palestinian political developments during their conversation.
QUESTION: Would that --
QUESTION: Sorry. Are you sure they’ve been friends for decades?
MS. PSAKI: I will double-check when they’ve met, Matt.
QUESTION: Because that would be more than 20 years. I just want to make sure.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Fair enough. I know you’re a math expert up here.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Since we’re on Israel, I asked you yesterday about reports in the Palestinian press that there have been secret negotiations in Amman and Jerusalem and a secret agreement to extend the talks. What can you tell us about that?
MS. PSAKI: I think if there was an agreement to extend the talks we would know that publicly. But I don’t have any other details on those reports.
QUESTION: So can you deny that there have been any kind of negotiations going on behind the scenes in Amman?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to both of them. I don’t have any other details.
QUESTION: Can I just --
QUESTION: Can you confirm if the team that was negotiating, Martin Indyk’s team, is still the same as it was before or has it been dissolved, or are they functioning out of this building? What’s going on? What is the status of the team?
MS. PSAKI: They’re still here. Ambassador Indyk is in Washington. But as you know, we have – Ambassador Shapiro and CG Ratney are on the ground, and they continue engagements on a daily basis.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- onto my – the question --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- from before, if you could take it please, which is – the question I’m referring to is whether the Israelis asked for or complained about these reports. But your response to Michael’s question was – did not have a denial in it, which is what the Israelis, I think, were looking for. So can you at least publicly --
MS. PSAKI: That’s simply because --
QUESTION: I don’t know if they asked you to clarify or to correct the record or if you feel – or if the Administration feels the need to correct or clarify the record. But so I want to know – if you could check, find out if they did ask – if they did complain, one, and whether or not they complained or not, did they ask for some kind of statement from either you or the intel – the DNI saying that – categorically putting this to rest saying that, no, this is not an issue, and Israel isn’t doing this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, given we don’t talk about intelligence matters, I will keep your expectations low that it’s unlikely I will have anything more to add to what I said.
QUESTION: Okay, but they have pointedly said – some Israeli officials have said that this is incorrect and they want you to – maybe not you personally, but want the Administration to say “No, this isn’t happening” to clear – to straighten this all out, and it doesn’t sound – correct me if I’m wrong – doesn’t sound as if you’re prepared to say that.
MS. PSAKI: I’m just restating the strength of our intel-sharing relationship with Israel.
MS. PSAKI: If there’s anything to add, we’ll make that available to all of you.
QUESTION: Right. But having a strong intel relationship isn’t a denial that Israel is spying on it, and I think – I mean, that’s what I think that the Israelis are looking for.
MS. PSAKI: If there’s more to add, we’ll let you know.
Go ahead, Michael.
QUESTION: Just on not commenting on intelligence matters, this is – is it intelligence on another country’s intelligence? Because I think you do comment on that quite often. Or take for example --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to add on this particular line of questioning. Let’s go to another topic.
MS. PSAKI: Nigeria?
QUESTION: -- and Iran?
QUESTION: I wondered if there was any updates you could give us on the search for the school girls. Yesterday there was – a senior Administration official was saying that there are manned assets which are being flown over Nigeria with the government’s permission. Could you give us a little bit more update on what those are about – whose planes, who’s flying them?
MS. PSAKI: U.S. Let me give you a couple of updates on Nigeria. The search is ongoing, as you all know. The Nigerians continue to be in the lead. We’re playing a supporting role and bringing our capabilities and expertise to bear in supporting their efforts and complementing their efforts. Our interdisciplinary team – the entire team is in place on the ground at the Embassy to provide military and law enforcement assistance as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support. We’ve provided commercial satellite imagery and are flying manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft over Nigeria with the government’s permission. We’re also working closely with international partners on the ground broadly about the entire effort, including with the United Kingdom and France. In New York, we’re continuing to press for additional multilateral action, including UN Security Council sanctions on Boko Haram. As you know, of course, this is a difficult mission, and we’re looking for the girls in an area roughly the size of New England. So we continue to work with the team on the ground on that effort.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what kind of aircraft you’re using?
MS. PSAKI: They are manned DOD fixed-wing aircraft.
QUESTION: More than one?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I believe so. I don’t have any details, and I don’t think I’ll –
QUESTION: Can you tell us how many missions you’ve flown so far?
MS. PSAKI: Probably not, but I’ll check and see if there’s more detail.
QUESTION: And do you have a Nigerian team with you on those flights? I mean, is it just purely U.S. military who are flying these, or is there --
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check and see if we’re going to get into any greater level of detail than what I’ve just laid out.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Has the U.S. intelligence been able to --
QUESTION: Will you support the Nigerians if they --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Will you support the Nigerians if they go ahead and negotiate with the Boko Haram?
MS. PSAKI: I addressed this yesterday. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Did you say where the flights are originating or where the planes are coming from, what country?
MS. PSAKI: No, I didn’t get into that level of detail. I don’t think we’re going to. So – go ahead. More on Nigeria? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Has the video been authenticated by U.S. intelligence?
MS. PSAKI: We’re still continuing to look into that as our intelligence experts mentioned yesterday – or as I mentioned about what they’re doing. They’re continuing to comb through every detail of the video for clues that might help in the ongoing effort, but I don’t have any new updates on that today.
QUESTION: The local governor is saying that he was able to show the video to some of the parents and they were able to identify their children. Has that information been provided to whoever’s doing this verification for assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was publicly broadcast, but I don’t have any other additional details in terms of our efforts.
QUESTION: Well, in the town where they happen to be living, they don’t have internet. And so they had to actually put together a viewing for them so that they could take a look at it.
MS. PSAKI: I am aware. We’ve seen those reports.
QUESTION: Right. Yes.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other – what I’m conveying is that what – the story you’re telling right now was publicly broadcast, so I think everybody’s aware of it. But I don’t have anything new to convey in terms of our specific search or the video.
QUESTION: Can I ask you the same question I asked yesterday? How, exactly, would – what do you mean by “authentication” and “verification” of this video?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Are U.S. officials looking at this to be – with the eye – with an eye toward saying, “Yes, these are the girls who” – “are some of the girls who were kidnapped,” or are they looking at it – because I don’t know how the U.S. would have the ability to authenticate or verify this video, unless you had photographs of each – so --
MS. PSAKI: What I said yesterday, Matt, was we have no reason to question the authenticity.
QUESTION: Right. No, I understand that. Are they looking at it to try and say, “Yes, this is real,” or are they looking at it to try and see if they can locate or see if there are any clues in the video that might indicate where exactly these people are?
MS. PSAKI: They’re looking at it for any clues or information that would help in our search.
QUESTION: All right. And then, recognizing that the overflights are all a DOD thing – I think, right? It’s a – this is a DOD operation; it’s kind of not – we’re asking the wrong person if we’re asking you for details on these flights, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, but I’m happy to still follow up on it.
QUESTION: But do you know – in terms of the State Department, in terms of what this building’s role or the Embassy’s role is, can you elaborate a little bit on – like, are there people from State who are in these planes that you can – that you can speak to what they’re doing? What – are there people on the ground and up in the north from the Embassy who are doing coordination?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are five State Department officials that --
QUESTION: But what are they doing? That’s --
MS. PSAKI: I’m answering your question.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. PSAKI: They are – two strategic communications experts, a civilian security expert, and a regional medical support officer are on the ground as part of the team. Obviously, this entire team is working together, whether they’re from DOD or DOJ or the State Department.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that, but --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- since you speak for the State Department, I’m just wondering if – I mean, what does a strategic communications person do in this instance?
MS. PSAKI: Well obviously, Matt, there are a range of steps that need to be taken here, including the Nigerian Government’s efforts to communicate their needs and what’s happening on the ground, including efforts to address what’s coming in from the outside. So we put together a team that covers a range of capacities, and that’s – those are the five people from the State Department.
QUESTION: Now, it just so happens that the AFRICOM commanding general, General Rodriguez, was in Abuja for a pre-scheduled visit, and he ended up having a meeting, I understand, with Assistant Secretary Sewall as well with the ambassador.
MS. PSAKI: He’s – Under Secretary Sewall – he’s traveling there with her on a prior scheduled trip.
QUESTION: Can you – do you have a readout on the meetings that they had with their Nigerian counterparts, given the enormity of this current situation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I can check with their – with Under Secretary Sewall’s team and see if there’s more. I’d point you to DOD for General Rodriguez’s schedule and any readouts.
Scott, in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: How much of this was part of this morning’s conversation with Foreign Minister Fabius, especially as the French have taken more of a leadership role in the Trans-Sahelian terror fight against AQIM?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they certainly share a concern about the girls and their location and our efforts to fight terrorism in the region. The meeting they had was about 45 minutes, and it covered a broad range of topics, so no topic took an enormous chunk of the meeting.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more on these overflights? I appreciate it’s a – should be a DOD question, but since we have you here as captive in front of us --
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I’m here. I’m captive.
QUESTION: You’re captive. Are any of these – are these flights just solely concentrated on the Nigerian territory, or are you also looking into other countries, given that you had said last week that you feared some of the girls might have been moved across the border?
MS. PSAKI: They’re – as I understand it –I’m happy to check on this with the pool of other questions – but they’re flying over Nigeria with the government’s permission. So I’m not aware of other areas, but we can double-check that as well.
QUESTION: Can you check and see if you’ve sought permission from the neighboring countries, particularly Chad and Cameroon, where you said that you thought --
MS. PSAKI: I will see if that’s a detail we would like to share.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Nigeria? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Also, I think you should congratulate Scott on getting Trans-Sahelian into the transcript. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Yes. He is our resident expert on the topic.
QUESTION: The Saudi foreign minister has expressed the kingdom readiness to negotiate with Iran to solve the differences between the two countries and invited Mr. Zarif to visit Saudi Arabia any time. How do you view this development between these two countries?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen the new reports. I don’t have any particular comment on them. Obviously, there have been reports of this in the past, so we’ll see what happens.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. played any role in easing the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Michel.
QUESTION: Is this likely to help the process, the Vienna process that is ongoing?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Is this likely to help reaching a deal with Iran, do you think?
MS. PSAKI: The process is ongoing on the ground, as you know. Today, there’s the meeting. There are internal P5+1 meetings and the meeting between EU High Representative Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif. The first plenary sessions and meetings will occur through Friday and they will conclude at that time, but I don’t have any speculation as to the impact. Obviously, these negotiations are ongoing, they have been, and this is just an announcement of a possible meeting, so --
QUESTION: So you don’t see this as a softening of the opposition of Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel to the negotiated settlement?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more speculation to offer.
QUESTION: Is it a positive step you think?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more comment to add.
MS. PSAKI: Sure? Iran.
QUESTION: There was a UN report that was leaked that suggests that Iran has figured out how to circumvent sanctions and has outsmarted the UN-backed sanctions regime. Do you have any comment?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that report. I can talk to our team and see if we have a comment on it.
QUESTION: Russia --
MS. PSAKI: Iran or – Russia? Sure.
QUESTION: One on Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: I know – yeah, I know we’ve --
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to India and then Russia. Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: I know --
QUESTION: Talk about Mr. Modi’s visa, all about it. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: As Matt said, we’ve been down this road before, but I need to ask it again.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm, okay.
QUESTION: It looks as if Mr. Modi may be able to declare victory as early as Friday. Given that the outgoing ambassador met with him in March before she left New Delhi, is it fair to assume that, in a phrase, “All is forgiven,” and that if he is indeed confirmed as the new prime minister, that he will get a visa to come to the U.S. to do official business?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, we don’t talk about visa applications. We’re looking forward to working --
QUESTION: Unless you want to.
MS. PSAKI: -- with the new Indian government when they’re elected. But I’m not going to speculate on that given, obviously, the results haven’t been announced yet.
QUESTION: Now, what is the policy of the U.S. Government when it comes to all fairly installed foreign leaders? Do they automatically qualify for a visa to come to the U.S. on official business? Is that U.S. policy? And if not, why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, heads of state and heads of government are eligible for A1 visas – visa classification under the INA. No individual automatically qualifies for a U.S. visa. U.S. law exempts foreign government officials, individuals – including heads of state and heads of government – from certain – for certain potential inadmissibility grounds. I’m not going to get into any greater level of detail.
QUESTION: So you’re not suggesting that the answer to this question will be if we see – if Mr. Modi does win and become the prime minister, our – the answer to our questions will come if and when he shows up in the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not speculating. Obviously, I’m not going to speak to visa applications.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you one more question. Particularly --
MS. PSAKI: You’re welcome, Elise, for answering your question in the past. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Particularly because India is quite sensitive to how its diplomats and government officials are treated by the United States, is it standard practice for all foreign heads of state or heads of government to sit down with a consular official and apply and be interviewed for a visa?
MS. PSAKI: Well, anyone can apply for a visa, Roz, but beyond that, I don’t think I have more to add to your question.
QUESTION: Can you check on that, please?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there’s anything to check on. I don’t have anything more to add on visa applications.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: On MERS, this virus, I understand the President has been briefed on it, but do you have any new advisories that you’re considering for travelers, given that it originated in Saudi Arabia and now some health workers have been infected by some of the people in Florida, in particular?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we’ve been watching it closely and in close touch with our health experts, but we typically don’t predict those. I will check and see if there’s anything I can convey to all of you about that.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: In response to the latest round of sanctions --
QUESTION: That’s spring fever. Sorry.
QUESTION: No problem. In response to the latest round of sanctions, Russia said it would bar the United States from using Russian rockets for U.S. military satellite launches. They’ve also said they reject the United States insistence on using the International Space Station past 2020. Does the State Department have any reaction to this news?
MS. PSAKI: Can you – sorry, can you repeat your question one more time? I just want to make sure I’m answering the right way. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. No problem. Russia said it would bar the United States from using its rockets on U.S. military rockets. Do you have a reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we’ve had a long cooperation on our space program with the Russians and we’re hopeful that will continue. We still continue to cooperate on a range of issues. We do have a number of materials of the same kind that we can use in the future, so we’re just hopeful we’ll be able to continue our work with the Russians on this issue.
QUESTION: You don’t want to go back to the Apollo-Soyuz days?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, you’re a comedian today.
QUESTION: You remember – you remember that – those days?
MS. PSAKI: We’re – Matt, you’re a comedian today. Go ahead. Any more?
QUESTION: I have – actually on Russia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Press TV had a report that said that the Russians have been seeking counsel with the Iranians on how to handle Western sanctions. Are you still confident that Russia will stay at the table and – in the P5+1 talks and the like?
MS. PSAKI: We are. And from – obviously, the talks are again beginning tomorrow, but that was certainly our experience during the last round of talks.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- but it’s more Ukraine. And I know that this question was raised at the White House briefing --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and it was – the question was referred to the Vice President’s office. But I’m wondering if the State Department has any concerns or any thoughts about the Vice President’s son joining the board of directors of this Ukrainian gas company? Does – in particular, I understand why the White House would refer this to the Vice President’s office, but does this building, diplomatically, have any concerns about potential perceptions of conflict or, slash, cronyism, which is what you have often accused the Russians of doing?
MS. PSAKI: No, he’s a private citizen.
QUESTION: I – okay, but then so the – you consider that the Russian oligarchs who control – or the Ukrainian oligarchs who control these, they’re all private citizens as well, correct?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly wouldn’t put them in the same category, Matt.
QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that – I’m not – and I’m not suggesting that it should be in the same category, but I’m wondering if there are concerns from this building about the perception of – about how the Russians and/or the Ukrainians would perceive the involvement of a son of the Vice President of the United States in this, especially given the situation.
MS. PSAKI: No, there are not.
QUESTION: None. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I go back to MERS, actually?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You said you were in touch with your health experts. What are you --
MS. PSAKI: From the WHO, obviously.
QUESTION: Okay. But what are you in touch with them specifically about? Like, why would – in terms of the State Department, is that about like --
MS. PSAKI: I just mean we’re in touch in an ongoing basis. I don’t have any update, but I’m happy to check for you and see if there’s more we can convey.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, can you specifically check about whether there’s concern about Americans traveling or whether this could affect --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- visa – and not talking about any individual ones, of course, but whether this would be a – something to consider in visa applications or in terms of just any type of tourists coming to America, please?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I will check and see if there’s anything to report on that front.
QUESTION: Sticking with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s go to Russia and China. And I have to go momentarily here, so can we actually give a few other people? Why don’t you go ahead?
QUESTION: Sure. So yesterday, the State Department provided a readout of Secretary Kerry’s call with Foreign Minister Wang of China.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
QUESTION: And they discussed – what prompted the phone call yesterday, actually?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we remain in touch with China on several levels about a range of issues. We put a pretty extensive readout out last night about the call and what they discussed, and I’m happy to reiterate some of those points. They certainly discussed our commitment to working toward North Korean denuclearization. Secretary Kerry raised our strong concerns about North Korea’s recent threats to carry out further provocations, and they also discussed our concerns about recent developments in the South China Sea. And the Secretary said China’s introduction of an oil rig and numerous government vessels in waters disputed with Vietnam was provocative.
I would also note that he also spoke with Vietnamese deputy prime minister and foreign minister as well – let me just check what day that was. He spoke with him on Sunday and he emphasized during that call our strong concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea and stated our view that China’s unilateral introduction of an oil rig and numerous government vessels disputed with Vietnam was provocative, just as he did on the call with China. He urged both sides on both calls to de-escalate tensions, to engage in high-level dialogue, to ensure safe conduct by their vessels at sea, and to resolve the dispute through peaceful means.
QUESTION: And did the Secretary outline any specific measures that the U.S. would take in response to further provocative actions from China?
MS. PSAKI: That – I don’t have any further – anything further to add from the readout of the call we provided.
Let’s just do two more here in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up on this – it seems that Chinese foreign ministry wasn’t quite happy with what the Secretary said, because last night during their press conference, and I quote here, the Chinese foreign ministry said, they are not taking – those provocative action were not taken by China. “It’s nothing but the wrong words and actions made by the United States,” and the U.S. “have emboldened some countries to take provocative actions,” and the U.S. needs to “think hard.” So will you? And will the U.S. consider to change its behavior in the South China Sea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, what we’re referring to here is unilateral action that appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed areas in a matter that, in our view, undermines peace and stability in the region. And we certainly think any member of the global community has a right to express concern over that, though we don’t take a view of the – a position on the sovereignty over this area.
QUESTION: How do you characterize the atmosphere of the phone call?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything further to add.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) take this if you don’t have an answer. There have been some complaints on the Hill going back a couple days, or actually more than a couple days – in the last week about Venezuela and the State Department holding up or opposing the – excuse me – sanctions. Can you respond to those complaints?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Matt, we – and I think Roberta Jacobson was up on the Hill just last week --
MS. PSAKI: -- speaking about --
QUESTION: And I think that’s where the – that may have been where these originated.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view – obviously, there are a range of members who have proposed sanctions and they have every right to do that. While Assistant Secretary Jacobson was up there, she made the point that the U.S. Government should not undermine the current dialogue while it still offers a chance of progress, and that remains our view. She noted that members of the opposition participating in the dialogue have also made that point to us, and obviously we want to continue to give this process an opportunity to work.
QUESTION: And you’re not aware of the opposition changing its mind or saying that, in fact, no, we never said that we thought sanctions were a bad idea?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. But let me just reiterate: We share the concerns expressed by many in U.S. Congress regarding the situation in Venezuela. We believe no option should be off the table when it comes to sanctions, but timing is key and this current dialogue in Venezuela is still fragile.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, is it not correct that a bill that would allow the Administration to impose sanctions does not actually impose sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on the bill.
QUESTION: I mean – right. But I mean, you would have the option, once such a law is passed, to hit them with sanctions or not hit them with sanctions. So I guess I just --
MS. PSAKI: Well, but, as you know, sometimes it sends a strong message when you do that, as was the case --
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s the perception of the --
MS. PSAKI: We want to give the opportunity for the current dialogue to work.
QUESTION: Does the State Department want to react to critics who called the Administration a selfie-taking, hash-tagging, teenage Administration?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have any comments on that.
QUESTION: What about – I mean, this was in the pages of The Wall Street Journal today, and David Ignatius a few days ago called on President Obama to quote, “suck it up.” Any reaction?
MS. PSAKI: I think our actions and our engagement in the world speaks for itself.
QUESTION: Which one, which part?
MS. PSAKI: I have to wrap this up.
Go ahead. Michel, last one?
MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I have anything on that, and I’m happy to take it and talk to our team about our concerns here.
I don’t have anything on that specific – Michel --
QUESTION: Can you take that question, please?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:14 p.m.)