Daily Press Briefing - May 22, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Condemnation of Terrorist Attack in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China
- Coup Declared / State Department Determination / Review of Bilateral Assistance / Embassy Emergency Message / Contact with Thai Military Leaders / Contact with Countries in the Region
- Terrorist Attack in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China
- Use of Chemical Weapons / OPCW / Remaining Eight Percent
- Daniel Wani and Meriam Ibrahim Case / Embassy Engagement
- Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom / Nominations / Promoting Religious Freedom
- Images of Atrocities / UNSC Vote / ICC Referral / Russia and China / Broad Support in International Community
- NORTH KOREA
- Provocative Threats / Russian and Chinese
- Reported Shelling of South Korean Vessel
- Reports of Contract to Build at Bushehr
- Coup Declared / State Department Review
- Upcoming Elections / Conditions on the Ground / Attacks in Eastern Ukraine / Separatists / U.S. Condemnation / OSCE Observers
- Detained Journalists
- Russian Troops along the Border
- Reports of Turkey Shipping Kurdistan Oil to World Market / Iraq Stability / Contacts with Iraqi Officials / Concerns over Impact
- Death of Miners / Investigation / U.S. Offer of Assistance
- Purchase of U.S. Products / Export Licenses / NATO Ally
- Escalation of Hostilities Kidal / President's Commitment to Dialogue
- Shooting Incident
- Attack of Israel Journalist
- Contacts over Bilateral Issues
- Increased Engagement between India and Pakistan
- Case of Andrew Tahmooressi / U.S. Engagement
- Kidnapped Girls / U.S. Team / Interagency / Chad
- Territorial Disputes with China / Dialogue
- Injured U.S. Embassy Employee and U.S. Citizen in Moscow
- Possible Visit of Narendra Modi
- Egyptian Judicial System / U.S. Concerns
- Coup Declared / Contact with Thai Military Leaders / Review of Bilateral Assistance
Daily Press Briefing
1:49 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
QUESTION: Happy Thursday.
MS. PSAKI: Happy Thursday. I have two items – actually, one item at the top. The United States strongly condemns the violent terrorist attack today, May 22nd, against innocent citizens in a market area near People’s Park in Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. We offer our deepest condolences and sympathies to the victims, their families, and all of those affected by this tragedy.
Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. I’m sure there will be questions about the China attack, but I want to start with Thailand. I think we were probably all impressed with the alacrity with which you guys came out and decided to – and called this a coup d’etat. Before we get into the practical implications of what that means, can you explain why it was that you were so quick to make this determination, given the more – last couple of coups have not been labeled such? Is there a new foreign policy team running the show now? Do all the – did all the lawyers have – take today off? What’s the explanation? Or was this just too obvious that it couldn’t be not called a coup?
MS. PSAKI: Well, every circumstance in every country is different. Obviously, there’s an interagency process that looks at each of these situations. And the determination was made, as you know, by the Secretary’s statement.
QUESTION: Okay. But he said there’s no justification for this military coup. Does that mean that there – some coups are justified?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s a statement, Matt, to make clear that it’s unacceptable, what’s happened on the ground.
QUESTION: Can we go to an antecedent matter, just to make sure that it’s absolutely crystal clear?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So this is, indeed, the Administration’s formal legal determination that a military coup transpired in Thailand, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Matt.
QUESTION: So can you explain to me the difference between what happened in Thailand as opposed to what happened in Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not going to do an analysis of different countries. We look at each situation differently and separately, and obviously, there are different circumstances in each country.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. PSAKI: So this was the determination made about the events in Thailand, and hence, it was stated in the Secretary’s statement this morning.
QUESTION: Well, can we go back to college days for a second here and compare and contrast, what are the differences between what happened in Thailand and what happened in Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do an analysis of the events in different countries.
QUESTION: Is that because there is no – because there is a lack of consistency in terms of how the government makes these determinations?
MS. PSAKI: It is not. There are very different circumstances with different events that have happened, and we look at each of them separately.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Jen, why did you decide – I mean, you’re well aware that, in the case of Egypt, you ultimately decided not to make a determination, and Secretary Burns went up and briefed the Hill to say that. Why did you make the decision this time to make the determination? I know the circumstances are different. What I’m interested in is what is it that is different in this circumstance that made it compelling for you to make such a determination?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not about being compelling. It’s about looking at all of the events on the ground and looking at the information that’s available. That’s what we did in this case, that’s what we do in each case, and so that’s why we made the determination.
QUESTION: But it’s – that doesn’t explain why you made the decision here when you chose not to make a decision the last time for --
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to do a comparison from the podium about events in different countries in an internal interagency process.
QUESTION: Okay. So does that mean that everyone – well, I guess it does mean the entire – everyone – the whole of government is united in this decision and the whole of government wasn’t united in an Egypt decision? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: I am not suggesting that at all. This was – the Secretary’s statement conveys the view of the United States Government.
QUESTION: What’s --
QUESTION: Can we talk about the implications of it?
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s – what’s the --
QUESTION: How much money gets cut?
QUESTION: -- practical effect?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, absolutely. Well, first, at this point, what we’re doing is we are reviewing our military and other assistance to the Government of Thailand. We’ve taken preliminary steps to suspend military engagement and assistance while we consider the facts on the ground. This is a standard part of the process that would take place. So right now, there’s a comprehensive review of that going on.
The State Department and USAID provide approximately $10 million annually in bilateral assistance to Thailand, only a portion of which is assistance to the Thai Government. Bilateral funding does not include funding from global accounts, which vary, of course, by fiscal year.
QUESTION: So how – do you – does that mean that it – the sum total is 10 million and some of the 10 million will be legal – you will have to suspend, legally, not all of it? Is that what you’re trying to say?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is being reviewed right now. So as we review it and we have a final determination made about if there will be some that will still be --
QUESTION: Okay. For us, writing this right now, is it accurate to say up to 10 million could be suspended because of the determination?
MS. PSAKI: That is accurate, yes.
QUESTION: That is accurate?
QUESTION: Wait, wait. No, no. But I thought that – and the way the law is written says no assistance may be given to a country whose government or whose head of state has been – et cetera, which mean that it should not just be the bilateral assistance, but also potentially money from the global accounts that is also implicated, correct? And that is not included in the approximately 10 million bilateral.
MS. PSAKI: That is the bilateral money. Obviously, we look at every component of how the law applies. This just happened today, as you know, so our legal teams are reviewing. And certainly, we will be implementing it to the full letter of the law.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: But it could be more, though, right? In other words, it’s not just the bilateral assistance. The global accounts like the health money and stuff, can’t that – isn’t that also credible?
MS. PSAKI: Where it applies, we will apply it. I don’t have an analysis of that at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
QUESTION: No, no. But I just wanted --
QUESTION: -- is it more accurate than --
MS. PSAKI: Just – can we just do one at a time here?
QUESTION: Hold on, Arshad. Just – then it is more accurate to say, given the points that he’s just made, that up to $10 million in bilateral assistance plus an unknown – as yet unknown amount of money from different pots would be cut?
MS. PSAKI: If it’s applicable from other pots. I don’t know that it is yet. Obviously that review is – will be – is ongoing and will be underway.
More on Thailand?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lucas.
QUESTION: What precautions, Jen, are you giving Americans that are in Thailand?
MS. PSAKI: The Embassy has issued an emergency message alerting American citizens to developments. It’s something we do on a standard basis, as you know. We’re not, at this time, advising American citizens to depart. We urge travelers to consult our website. And as you know, we review the security situation in every country on a regular basis.
QUESTION: And if you had a honeymoon or a bachelor party planned for Thailand, would you recommend going through with that?
QUESTION: Or a bachelorette party. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Or a bachelorette party. Thank you, Matt.
MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for the clarification. Again, we have not – we’re not advising American citizens to depart. I would – I’d advise any bachelor or bachelorette to consult our website, depending on the timing of their weekend plans or week plans, whatever they may be.
Go ahead, Nicolas.
QUESTION: Were you caught by surprise by the decision of the Thai military to do a coup d’etat? Because you said this week that you had conversations with the Thai military. So was it a surprise? And given your historic ties with Thailand and with the Thai military, you have no leverage to tell them this is a bad idea?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of prior notice. I haven’t asked that specific question, but I think I’m not aware of it. We have called Thai military officials – we call on them, of course, to immediately restore democracy and civilian rule. We’re trying to make contact with Thai military leaders at this point in time.
QUESTION: Who is? Is that being done by Secretary Kerry or by Secretary Hagel? Who is the person?
MS. PSAKI: Department of Defense is obviously the appropriate building for that.
QUESTION: Okay. So is there any contact with the formerly civilian government in this building, do you know?
MS. PSAKI: We have been in touch, but we’re working to maintain contact with the interim civilian government.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Clearly, things are very fluid on the ground.
QUESTION: And yesterday, you made a point of noting that martial law was, in fact, allowed by the Thai constitution. Presumably you then believe that suspending the constitution is not constitutional. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I think that is fair to assume. That would be a unique constitution that allowed that.
QUESTION: That would be – right. That would be a – something of the obvious, which wasn’t the – I realize you don’t want to get into comparisons, but I believe the constitution of Egypt was also suspended when that non-coup coup happened. Do you recall?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Matt, I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m not going to compare.
Do we have more on Thailand or a new topic?
QUESTION: Yeah. One more.
MS. PSAKI: One more. Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you. As far as the ASEAN nations are concerned, it’s very important for the U.S. – the President must – probably goes always for the ASEAN meetings. Are you in touch with the ASEAN nations? Because they are so worried about this – whatever happened in Thailand – and so much is already going on in the region as far as South China Sea and all that. So what is the future of – now?
MS. PSAKI: I – certainly we are – remain in close contact with neighbors in the region, and that is the case today as well.
QUESTION: Hey, Jen. One more on Thailand.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What is the global amount of money that the U.S. Government gives the Government of Thailand, regardless of what accounts it comes from? Do you have that number?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our team and get that number for you.
QUESTION: Did you try to get it and did they not have it, they couldn’t tell you? They usually can’t.
MS. PSAKI: I will check with them and see if there’s more to provide in response to your question.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Xinjiang?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So just to clarify, it is the determination of the State Department that this was a terrorist attack?
MS. PSAKI: That is what I stated in my statement.
QUESTION: And is the State Department getting concerned – because this latest attack seems to be part of a pattern of escalating attacks within the province, is there a concern that there are going to be further attacks or the implications if this continues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, based on the information reported by the Chinese media, this appears to be an act of terrorism targeting random members of the public. We don’t have further information about the attack, so I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusions about its meaning.
QUESTION: And lastly, has there been any anti-terror cooperation with the Chinese or any plans to engage in it?
MS. PSAKI: We engage with the Chinese on a range of issues. I don’t have anything specifically new to announce today.
QUESTION: Except for cyber security.
MS. PSAKI: We do – we – our preference is to engage on cyber security.
Let’s go to a new topic.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Margaret.
QUESTION: Jen, at the OPCW today, the U.S. raised some concerns about lack of follow-through with treaty obligations on the part of Syria. Tail end of the statement, the ambassador pointed out that – the phrase was: “Information continues to accumulate on toxic chemicals being used in chemical weapons attacks.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That suggests that in this accumulation there is new information. Is the U.S. any closer to making a determination about what happened in these recent attacks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Margaret, and we’ve spoken about a bit in here, there are recent reports the Secretary has spoken to that are concerning about the use of chlorine. The OPCW, which is the appropriate international entity to look into those reports, is looking into them. That is certainly a process we support, but I don’t have any new announcements or information to provide today.
QUESTION: Because the Secretary did say publicly – I think it was a week ago – that he had looked at some of the raw data. Is that a process that he’s regularly checking in with as this information continues to accumulate?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we and the OPCW and other international entities look at a range of information available, as was the case last summer as well. But I don’t have anything new to report today on these cases.
QUESTION: And just to clarify – I don’t remember if the Secretary spoke to this or not, but I know he had months previous – but with this enforcement of the last 8 percent that the U.S. raised concerns about in addition to the production facilities and underground components, is there any military force still being used as an option to get follow-through here for this foot-dragging that the U.S. accuses the Syrians of carrying out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus at this point – and we, as you know, haven’t – the President has never taken options off the table – but obviously, in this case, the remaining 8 percent is an issue that we are concerned about, hence we speak about it frequently, we’re working with the international community, with the OPCW, with the UN. You’ve seen the UN and the OPCW say they would do everything possible to get to that site, so we continue to support those efforts. But that certainly is not the point we’re at at this point.
QUESTION: But if that June 30th deadline comes and goes as the statement from the U.S. ambassador today raises concerns about – it being almost inevitable at this point – that option remains on the table for a lack of compliance?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’re not at that point. I’m not going to predict where we’ll be at that point. We do feel there is more that can be done between now and June 30th by the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: Daniel Wani, who is the husband of Meriam Ibrahim, has publicly stated that he is a U.S. citizen. Yesterday, Senators Blunt and Ayotte sent a letter to Secretary Kerry and the DHS Secretary Johnson that said of Meriam Ibrahim: “She is the wife of U.S. citizen Daniel Wani.”
My first question is: Is that a true or a false statement – specifically, that Daniel Wani is a U.S. citizen and that Meriam Ibrahim is his wife?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver in this case. I will say that – so I can’t speak to that. I will say, and just to remind everyone, through our U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, the White House and the State Department have communicated our strong concern to the highest levels of the Government of Sudan over this case. We’ve also joined with other embassies in Khartoum to express our concern in a widely distributed public statement. U.S. Embassy officials have been engaged in the case from the earliest days. I can’t speak to specifics, though, because of the reason I outlined.
QUESTION: So even though Mr. Wani has publicly stated in the press that he is a U.S. citizen, he says he’s come to the State Department specifically to ask for help to bring his family here to the United States where he claims to be a citizen, you cannot say whether or not he is a citizen and whether this is his wife?
MS. PSAKI: I’m abiding by the law.
QUESTION: It’s – it would be illegal for you to acknowledge that he’s telling the truth when he tells reporters he is a U.S. citizen?
MS. PSAKI: A Privacy Act waiver has not been signed.
Okay, let’s move on.
QUESTION: Okay. If in fact he were a U.S. citizen and this was his family being held in jail in Sudan because they’re Christians, would it be the policy of the U.S. State Department that this family of a U.S. citizen should be allowed to come here to the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. Obviously, we’ve expressed concern because of how horrific these reports and this case is. And we have done everything we can and everything possible as a U.S. – our U.S. Embassy has done on the ground.
QUESTION: So he needs to sign a written document saying that you can agree that he’s a U.S. citizen?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Right. I’d like to welcome my colleague to the anti-Privacy Act waiver campaign. Does he – is that enough? Or does she have to sign one as well?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously to speak to – broadly speaking, any individual – to the media --
MS. PSAKI: -- all of you --
QUESTION: So even if --
MS. PSAKI: -- they would have to sign a Privacy Act --
QUESTION: So even if he signed one and you were allowed to – you could only speak to him, you could not speak about his – her? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s correct.
QUESTION: All right. And then did you – were you ever able to get answers to the questions that I had about this case a couple days ago about the senators’ request or urging the U.S. to grant her asylum? Is it possible, either just logistically or legally possible, for you to grant someone asylum who is imprisoned – who is not on U.S. territory?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again Matt, this – as I mentioned the other day, is obviously under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. They would be the appropriate outlet to speak to that, so I would point to them.
QUESTION: Is it – but is it not your understanding of the asylum law that they have to present themselves either in the United States and ask for it or at least to an embassy that is technically U.S. – an embassy or consulate, something that is – is that your understanding?
MS. PSAKI: That is typically how it has worked, but I am not an expert on asylee requests.
QUESTION: Okay. So the question, I guess – and maybe it is best directed at DHS – even if you wanted to grant someone asylum, you wouldn’t be able to? Is that – unless they --
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would --
QUESTION: -- unless they showed up?
MS. PSAKI: I would point anyone to DHS for the across-the-board rule on that front.
Do we have more on Syria just before we move on? Syria?
QUESTION: No --
QUESTION: Just a quick one on Syria. Real quick just a follow-up to that --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Lucas.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are firmly committed to protecting and promoting religious freedom around the world. The White House and the State Department are actively working to nominate someone as soon as possible. Promoting religious freedom is a whole-of-government effort. President Obama, Secretary Kerry, various ambassadors, and other senior U.S. Government officials routinely raise religious freedom concerns in their interactions with foreign governments. And that will continue even when we have someone in place.
QUESTION: This position has been vacant for eight months, and the President himself said he wanted to see someone nominated. How long does it take to nominate somebody?
MS. PSAKI: It remains a priority. There are certainly plans to. And in the meantime, senior officials will continue to raise these issues.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the thing – the conversation or the representations made to the Sudanese Government? Do you know at what level this is? Is there an ambassador in Khartoum now, or is it a charge or --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the level, Matt, that the communications were done.
QUESTION: And is this something that Secretary Kerry would take up with the Sudanese foreign minister? I mean, the Sudanese foreign minister is, I believe, not among the people who you are banned from talking with, like Bashir, so --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to speculate on that, but I can check and see if there’s more clarity we can get all of you on that.
QUESTION: Okay. So if any – if there’s been any contact between the U.S. and Sudan from Washington and also at what level? And does it just go the foreign ministry? Do you go to the presidency? Do you go to their justice ministry or whatever? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Syria? Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. Anadolu Agency has obtained a new set of photographs demonstrating systematic torture committed by Syrian regime against the opposition. It shows like corpses with gouged eyes and body parts set next to them. I don’t know if you saw those pictures or not.
MS. PSAKI: The Caesar photos?
MS. PSAKI: The – what are the photos called?
QUESTION: It’s – I think I sent you a link, like, to those photos. It’s about Syrians oppositions, like dead bodies, corpses like with their eyes gouged and they have like body parts set next to them. It seems that pictures from – for Syrian opposition, like members, being --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say there’s been a range of horrific photos out there. And as the world looks at these photos and the range that have been out there, these atrocities are exactly why we have supported efforts like the one that occurred in the UN Security Council today, which was a vote on a resolution to refer the Syrian regime to the ICC.
QUESTION: Yeah. But – and it seems like Russia and China has blocked the referral. So as the United States like supporting the efforts of the Syrian opposition, what – are you planning to do anything about that? How --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re extremely disturbed by Russia’s and China’s vetoes and lack of support for holding perpetrators accountable for the atrocities committed in Syria. Despite this veto, we will continue supporting practical steps that we can take to lay the groundwork for accountability and transitional justice processes, including supporting efforts by Syrian civil society and the international community to gather evidence that could help to hold accountable at a future date those responsible for atrocities in Syria.
And so we felt that it was – strongly – that it was important to make clear that those who are responsible should be held accountable, which is why we supported this effort. And we will continue to look for other efforts to support.
QUESTION: One more thing. Do you think, like, the world is, like, turning their backs, like, to Syria? I’m just worried, like, after, like, with all those events, like, flowing around the world, like – at some point Syria will became another Iraq – Saddam’s attack the Kurds in the 1988, like, with chemical weapons, and nobody, like --
MS. PSAKI: Well, there was broad support for this resolution today, despite – aside from the veto by Russia and by China. And there is broad support in the international community for bringing an end to the horrific acts of the Assad regime.
Do we have more on Syria? Syria? New topic? Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: North Korea.
QUESTION: Yeah. Recently between the North Korea and Russia established their economic cooperations, and also the China and Russia as well. What is the United States view of these two big brothers surround beside North Korea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I spoke to the China and Russia relationship yesterday, so I’d point you to that. I’m not aware of what you’re referring to as it relates to Russia and North Korea.
QUESTION: It seems like increasing of the North Korean power that the concern of a rebalancing in Asia, so is --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you’re specifically referring to, so maybe you can elaborate on what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Because of increasing of North Korean power because the Chinese and Russia is surround by more power to North Korea, so kind of sanctions --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been working with China and Russia as well, but certainly China has been an important partner in putting the necessary pressure on the North Koreans, and especially given their provocative threats and provocative actions. So they are one of the partners in the Six-Party Talks we continue to work with.
QUESTION: I have one on North Korea. Do you have any comment on the shelling by the North Koreans of a South Korean vessel?
MS. PSAKI: Let’s see. We are closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula in coordination with our South Korean allies. We urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions that aggravate tensions and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments. We continue to urge North Korea to exercise restraint and take steps to improve its relations with its neighbors.
Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: Once – we have a story out in Moscow quoting a source that’s saying that Russia and Iran may sign a contract this year for Russia to build additional reactors at Bushehr. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the story. There have been reports of that for some time. Obviously, that would be something that would be an issue of concern. We’ve raised it in the past, but I can check with our team and see if there’s any new response to that specific report.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to Thailand for one --
MS. PSAKI: Thailand? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. I was – you mentioned earlier that you had taken initial steps to suspend military engagement and assistance. I was just wondering if you could go into a little bit more detail and flesh that out a little bit.
MS. PSAKI: Well, these events just happened in the last 16 to 24 hours, so what I mean is we are beginning the process of reviewing and taking a look at both the assistance and what is applicable, any other military partnerships there would be. I think the Department of Defense has spoken to this a little bit. So we’ll have updates, I’m certain, on a daily basis. But obviously, these events are fairly new.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if there’s any update at all on the preparations for the election on –this weekend in terms of you’re concerned or not concerned about the conditions on the ground and the – especially given this incident with a – where eight Ukrainians were killed.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, first, according to reports, which is what you referenced at the end here, at least eight Ukrainian servicemen were killed and dozens injured when separatists attacked a checkpoint outside of Donetsk. A separatist attacked a Ukrainian border guard detachment in Luhansk; six border guardsmen were injured. Separatists also reportedly killed a Ukrainian national guardsman and injured two more in a clash elsewhere in Luhansk, and border guards claim to have fired on three cargo trucks and a car that had attempted to illegally enter Ukraine from Russia.
We condemn the attacks today in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists that killed a number of Ukrainian troops and wounded dozens more. Calls by the separatists for Russian military intervention to protect civilians are ridiculous, considering it is the separatists who are perpetuating violence. At the same time, the vast majority of the country remains calm. The Ukrainian Government’s preparations for Sunday’s elections are otherwise on track. The Central Election Commission has made special accommodations, as I’ve talked about a bit in here, to enfranchise voters from Crimea and areas where pro-Russian separatists are working to disrupt voting.
But certainly the separatists – the efforts by the separatists to perpetrate attacks in specific targeted areas or even a minority of areas on election offices in Donetsk and Luhansk is concerning, and we certainly call on – we condemn these actions and certainly call on these to stop.
QUESTION: Is it – apart from the actual violence and people being killed being concerning, I assume, are there additional concerns? Are you concerned that the separatists are trying to create an environment in which the election cannot be held and that they might be doing this on orders from someone or might be being instigated by some – by people outside?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve long viewed – we’ve long believed there to be a strong connection, as you know, between Russia and the Russian separatists, and so that hasn’t changed. These are happening in a small number of areas. We do have a substantial security effort on the ground where we’re assisting wherever we can the efforts by the international community. As you know, there are a thousand observers on the ground as well. So we’re going to take every step we can take in the coming days to ensure people can vote across Ukraine.
QUESTION: But even with the violence that you just talked about and condemned, you think that the conditions are okay to have – in those specific areas, you think the conditions are okay to go ahead with the election?
MS. PSAKI: Well, even in Donetsk and Luhansk, where some of these took place, pro-Russian separatists have only taken a few dozen individual buildings in Slovyansk, and this is an area with a population of over six million people. So there are, again, a range of steps that are being taken by the OSCE monitors on the ground. We’ll continue to support those.
QUESTION: And you’re convinced that the only instigators here are the separatists? There’s nothing coming from the pro-Kyiv side? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve seen in the incidents that we seem talk about on a daily basis, they seem to be the source every time.
QUESTION: One of the things the Russians have talked about, complained about, is the composition – well, not the composition – the placement of the observers, the OSCE observers. Are you aware of these complaints?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of those complaints.
QUESTION: All right. Maybe you could take the question. I believe that they are concerned that there are more observers in the east – more observers have been deployed in the east than in the rest of the country, but I could be wrong on that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly it shouldn’t be a surprise that in areas where there has been more volatility, there would be more observers.
QUESTION: All right. And then my last one on this. Is there any update on these detained journalists? Have you reached out to the Ukrainians? Have you – have they responded? Is there any greater clarity on whether you would consider them to be legitimate journalists?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a great deal of new information, but the Ukrainian Government did today release the British reporter they had detained on May 20th.
MS. PSAKI: He’s publicly said he was treated well by the Ukrainian authorities prior to his release. I don’t have any additional updates on the other two.
QUESTION: So there’s – okay. So you have not heard back – as far as you know, you have not heard back from the Ukrainians about what their – why they’re holding the other two and whether or not they’ll be released, because --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s the same reasons we’ve talked about over the last couple of days, but I don’t have any updates on release plans or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: Okay. Right. But what I’m asking is: Have the Ukrainians gotten back to you to – you did say the other day, I think, that you had reached out to the Ukrainians to find out what had happened and what was going on. Do you know if they have gotten back to you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we encourage them to look into --
MS. PSAKI: -- to investigate the incident. As far as I know, that is ongoing and there hasn’t been a conclusion reached yet.
QUESTION: Did you ask them to investigate the incident of the British reporter?
MS. PSAKI: I think we asked them to investigate --
QUESTION: Investigate all of the --
MS. PSAKI: -- all of the incidents.
QUESTION: All of them. So they released the Brit, but the other two are still – and you don’t know why.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any – one moment. Do we have any more on Ukraine?
Go ahead, Catherine.
QUESTION: Do you have an update on the Russian troops on the border with Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since yesterday. Obviously, we – as I said yesterday, there had been some reports of movement, but it was too early to say what that specifically meant or to conclude that that meant they were moving away.
QUESTION: And that’s still your conclusion? You just don’t know; you can’t tell?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
Any more on Ukraine? Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go – let’s go to Turkey and then Scott, and then we’ll go to India. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen these reports and we’ll discuss their implications with our partners in Turkey and in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Our most immediate concern is for Iraq’s stability. We’ve had a longstanding position on this issue, as you know, that has not changed. And Iraq is facing a difficult situation. We’ve been clear that it’s important for all sides to take actions to help the country pull together and avoid actions that might further exacerbate divisions and tensions. So we’ll be in touch with both sides.
QUESTION: Have you talked to Baghdad over this recent decision?
MS. PSAKI: Have we talked --
QUESTION: -- talked to the Maliki government on this particular issue?
MS. PSAKI: We will be in touch, I’m certain, with them as well. We’re in touch with them on a regular basis. But again, I don’t have any specific updates on contacts. But go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you see this shipping to the world market of Kurdistan Regional Government’s oil – is this a factor for division, contribute to division of Iraq? Is this your assessment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our position has long been that we don’t support exports without the appropriate approval of the federal Iraqi government, and certainly we do have concerns about the impact of those continuing.
QUESTION: Going back to Turkey, more than a week ago you called on Turkish government to do investigation and you called also accountability. Over the week – what’s your assessment? Do you think that 301 people – miners’ killing are being investigated as you called?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new assessment today. Obviously, it’s natural that they would be in the lead. As we’ve noted many times, our heartfelt condolences go out to the families. To our knowledge, the Government of Turkey has – while they’ve expressed gratitude for our offers of assistance, they have not – they have said that if they need it, they will ask for it. They have not asked for it at this point. But again, we’re following it closely and in close touch on the ground.
QUESTION: One last point – question: As you know, protests have been going on, and you commented on this a couple days ago. A few months ago, Amnesty International called on U.S. not to sell tear gas and other armored vehicles. Do you have any reassessment of that policy right now? Selling to Turkey.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Turkey is a NATO ally. We have approved export licenses to allow the Turkish government to purchase U.S. products, including tear gas. These products are intended for law enforcement to use to save lives, maintain order, and protect property, and they’re held to a certain standard as well.
QUESTION: A couple days ago you were asked about these comments allegedly made – comments and behavior, allegedly, by Prime Minister Erdogan. Has that – have you pursued that at all with the Turks? Has anyone reached out to him or to the foreign minister?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any further clarification of them. We’re clearly in close touch with them, but I don’t have any – nothing new to provide on that particular topic.
QUESTION: Move to the Middle East, Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Can we go to Scott, first?
QUESTION: Oh yeah. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Scott.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there were also – we put out a statement, obviously, prior to some of the events over the last couple of days. And so let me just reiterate here – or state here, I should say, that we’re distressed by Wednesday’s escalation of hostilities in Kidal, and particularly by the loss of life and injuries that happened earlier this week, but also on the 21st, which was just yesterday. This renewed violence came as the international community was working strenuously to encourage the MNLA to relinquish government facilities. We do welcome the president’s commitment in his public address that his priority is dialogue, and we are certainly hopeful that that will be the case moving forward, but those words have not been supported by actions to date.
QUESTION: The actions to date are the withdrawal of government forces from the town and AQIM re-seizing control of that territory. So how does that fit --
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a range of incidents, though, over the past couple of days. So what we want to see is consistency and a focus on dialogue, and not escalation every couple of days here.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. taking any active support to try to help Malian forces or the French forces in Mali to retake that territory?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of our level of involvement on that level. I can check and see if there has been any.
QUESTION: Yeah, Middle East. So yesterday I asked you about this shooting incident in which the Palestinian teens were killed, and your reply has caused a little bit of commotion. I wanted to give you the opportunity to clarify if you wanted to whether or not the phrase “their soil” or “its soil” referring to Israel was what you meant to say.
MS. PSAKI: Well, if I would have stated it – I would state it differently if I were to state it again today. As we know, the events took place in the West Bank. What I was meaning to convey, which I did several times, is that naturally Israeli – Israel has the lead in any investigation.
QUESTION: Okay. And have you been in touch – do you know if you have raised this, the shooting issue, with the Israelis? Have they gotten back to you in terms of an investigation? Because the foreign minister was not – as we talked – discussed yesterday, the Israeli foreign minister was not exactly appreciative of the call for an investigation.
MS. PSAKI: We have been in touch. Our understanding is that is the plan. But I don’t have any additional details on it.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the – I asked also the other day, I think two days ago, about an attack on an Israeli journalist by Palestinians. Did you --
MS. PSAKI: You did. I actually do not have any new information on that, but let me venture to follow up on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just more broadly in terms of the whole peace process or peace non-process I guess now, is there any movement since the Quartet movement at all? Has there been any contact between senior U.S. officials on – and officials on either side?
MS. PSAKI: There is regular contact about a range of bilateral issues, but I don’t have any updates on contacts specifically about the peace process.
QUESTION: Bilateral. Okay. So you’re not aware of anything happening on the peace process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a range of contacts and conversations with both the Israelis and Palestinians, so I can’t rule out that it’s ever been discussed, but there’s nothing new to report.
MS. PSAKI: India, sure.
QUESTION: Madam, Mr. Narendra Modi will take the oath of the office of the prime minister of India on Monday 26th. He has invited all the neighboring SAARC leaders, including the prime minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif. Any comments on this gesture before even becoming the prime minister and reaching out --
MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to this the other day, Goyal, and I said we welcome increased engagement between India and Pakistan and their leaders. And this is certainly an example of that.
QUESTION: But one more quickly. Any decision at the higher level from here? Anybody attending this ceremony?
MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this. Nothing’s changed, no plans to send a representative, standard for events like this in India.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Mexico and then Nigeria. Margaret, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Well, since – let me first state that since his arrest, Mr. Tahmooressi has been visited 11 times by consular officers. We have raised any concerns we might about his treatment with the appropriate authorities. The consulate and embassy have talked to numerous Mexican officials regarding his case, including the authorities at the prison and the Mexican foreign ministry about the case. So we’ve been very engaged. And the Secretary did raise this issue yesterday during his meetings, but I don’t have anything to update you on beyond that.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Kerry ask for leniency?
MS. PSAKI: Again, he raised the issue, as we’ve been consistently raising for some time.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry also said on his visit there is mutual respect between the United States and Mexico. And if such mutual respect exists, if a young man fails to exit properly and misses his exit and goes to another country, isn’t there a difference between error and malice?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, this is a case, Lucas – and you’re probably familiar with the details here, but within a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States. Obviously, this is a case we’ve been concerned about. Hence, we’ve raised it, and we visited him 11 times. So we’ll continue to press the case.
QUESTION: And when Secretary Kerry mentioned there was an increase of guns going from the United States to Mexico, did he have this case in mind?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s an issue that has been raised for quite some time, long before this case has been an issue.
I think we’re going to Nigeria.
QUESTION: Nigeria, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Nigeria, White House notified Congress yesterday about these 80 airmen who are going in to assist with the search. Since State Department has the lead on this, I’m wondering if there’s any decision to change the makeup of the team – the non-military team that’s assisting in the search – make it bigger, send them to Chad, do anything?
MS. PSAKI: It’s something we continue to evaluate, and obviously we have an Embassy on the ground in Chad, and we’ve been engaged from the beginning of this process. I’m not aware of any plans to change the makeup of our specific team.
QUESTION: So no --
MS. PSAKI: But our team is an interagency team that has people from every agency, so it really depends on decisions made by agencies, but -- each agency through the coordinated process.
QUESTION: So there’s no State Department – or part of this team is not going to Chad along with this introduction of this predator base.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have an Embassy on the ground there already, and so we have a range of senior officials who can assist as needed.
QUESTION: Well, yeah. But the capital of Chad is way, way, way far away from where these people are supposed to be going, isn’t it? Are they going to the capital?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if there – if there’s a need, my point is that we have officials on the ground. I mean, what I mean is in the country, Matt --
QUESTION: The officials in Chad, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Who can assist as needed. There may not be, because this is obviously military officials, but they’re all closely coordinating with each other.
QUESTION: But do you know if there have been – I mean, maybe I’m just completely barking up the wrong tree here, but do you know if officials from the Embassy in Ndjamena have gone to wherever it is that these 80 people are going?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware that they have. I can check and see if that’s been necessary or needed in this case. It may not be.
QUESTION: One on Vietnam. We have a story out of Hanoi quoting the Vietnamese prime minister as saying that Vietnam will take various steps to defend itself in the territorial disputes with China, including potentially taking legal action under international law. The Administration has long taken the position that this should be resolved through international law. Is taking some kind of legal action the kind of thing you’d like to see Vietnam do?
MS. PSAKI: I have not had a chance to talk to our team about this, Arshad. As you know, our belief – bottom line here is that dialogue between the parties is the right path forward. But it’s a fair question and I will check with them and see if we have anything further to convey.
QUESTION: Jen, I have two quick ones. One, I don’t know if you will have seen – there’s apparently been a gas explosion in western Moscow that has reportedly injured one U.S. diplomat. Do you have anything on that?
MS. PSAKI: I do. A U.S. Embassy employee in Moscow was injured in a reported gas explosion at an apartment building in Moscow earlier today. The employee has been hospitalized and is receiving medical treatment. Other employees who lived in the building have been evacuated. Our thoughts, of course, are with the Embassy employee and her family. We appreciate the support we have received from Russian authorities, including first responders. And beyond that, of course, there are just few details available about the cause.
QUESTION: Was this a apartment building that houses a lot of American diplomats, or --
MS. PSAKI: There are some who also live there, and those have been evacuated. I don’t have a specific number for you.
QUESTION: Is this person a Foreign Service officer?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. They are a Embassy employee and a U.S. citizen, but --
QUESTION: But you don’t know if they’re actually – if they’re – you don’t know what their – what branch of U.S. Government they’re actually in? Just a --
MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: I have quick one on India. Back – going back. Mr. Modi also said that after he becomes prime minister, his first visit as prime minister of India will be Japan, not U.S. Any comments on that, because of his business – pro-business and investment in India from the Japanese?
MS. PSAKI: Well, President Obama invited him to visit when he – sometime this year, so we’ll look forward for that when that can be arranged.
QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Catherine.
QUESTION: I’m wondering about the reports of an Egyptian teen – he’s 17 – who traveled to the U.S. for a engineering fair. He is now reportedly seeking asylum in the United States. And I was wondering if the State Department had any contact with him, his legal representation, or the Egyptian Government.
MS. PSAKI: It would be the Department of Homeland Security, if that’s what he’s seeking. I’ve seen those reports as well. So that wouldn’t be under our purview here.
QUESTION: Just speaking generally, I mean, what does it say about the state of the Egyptian Government that this 17-year-old is fearful of further prosecution if he goes home?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve clearly stated our concerns about what’s been happening with the judicial system in Egypt in a range of cases, hundreds who have been sentenced to death, and we’ve made no secret of that. I don’t want to venture to analyze based on the reports of one individual what that means, because we’ve made no secret of our concerns in the past.
QUESTION: Quick follow-up on Thailand. You mentioned the United States suspend military cooperation. I know you know this happens in this 10 hours, last 10 hours, so it’s just beginning process. But I’m just wondering, are you, United States, considering another step if the situation getting worse? Under what kind of condition or situation United States is going toward next step or something?
MS. PSAKI: Well, right now, again, we are focused on trying to make direct contact with Thai military leaders. We are working to maintain contact with the interim civilian government. We’re reviewing our military and other assistance to the Government of Thailand. That’s really our focus right now, so I don’t want to get ahead of that.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Kerry make a phone call to his counterpart in Thailand?
MS. PSAKI: He has not, no.
Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: Just to check, you said that you’re trying to make contact with the Thai military. Are they not taking your calls?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it would be – the appropriate counterpart is the Department of Defense, so I mean as a government, but we haven’t been in contact. We’ve reached out. So I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
QUESTION: And then you said you’re trying to maintain contact with the erstwhile civilian government. Are you unable to reach them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the situation is clearly very fluid on the ground. We have been in touch, but again, obviously, maintaining contact through this time is an important priority.
QUESTION: But it – since the coup, have you not been able to reach them? Is that the correct inference to draw?
MS. PSAKI: No, we have been. We have been.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not correct.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: I just have one question about Egypt. Since they talked about, like – there’s this Egyptian – sorry, an American citizen who’s held in prison in Egypt. His name is Mohamed Soltan. And he’s been on hunger strike, like, for over 100 days now. And have you tried to contact the Egyptian authority about his release? I mean reports saying that he’s in a very, very bad medical condition.
MS. PSAKI: Well, in any case where a U.S. citizen is detained, we would use all appropriate consular services. I don’t have any specific update on this case, but I can talk to our team and we can get one to you.
QUESTION: Can you take that for me?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you know if that gentleman is a U.S. citizen?
MS. PSAKI: I said broadly speaking, any U.S. citizen --
QUESTION: So you cannot reveal whether that person in Egypt is a U.S. citizen?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to get you a copy of the Privacy Act law. It may be useful to you, it seems.
QUESTION: I just wanted – you’re not certifying that he’s a U.S. citizen, the man in Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just informing you of how this process works, and what – we’re happy to get you the documents if you need to educate yourself on how it goes.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more? Go to a new topic?
QUESTION: Can I have one on Iraq? I’ve been having problem, like I’m writing a story about the Jewish – Iraqi Jewish documents, and everybody refuse to talk about it. So I would love if you say any comment about it. There has been, like, efforts, like, to keep those documents in the United States. The Iraqi Government want the documents back. And you’ve been, like, trying to find a solution in between. I’m just trying to understand your position, like your actual true position about those documents. Are you going to return them to Iraq? And if you’re going to return them, like, to Iraq, when are you going to do them, please?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m hearing frustration in your voice. We will look into this issue. I don’t have the details on the issue. So I wish I could give you a satisfying answer, but we will venture to do that.
QUESTION: Can you take that?
MS. PSAKI: I will look into it. I’m happy to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A week or so ago – and forgive me if you answered it since, but I’m just recalling now – it just has to do with the Syrian election and voting. Did you ever – did we ever get an answer to that question about – there were complaints from the Syrian Government that they were being – that it was being made difficult in Europe and in the United States for expatriate Syrians to vote in the presidential election?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe we did get you an answer to that, unless it was emailed to you. But I will --
QUESTION: I don’t remember getting an answer to this.
MS. PSAKI: -- we will put that on the list as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:42 p.m.)