Daily Press Briefing: June 20, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Terrorist Bombing
- Secretary's Travel to Middle East & Europe
- Comments by Sistani and McGurk
- Immunities for Non-combat and Advisory Forces / Chief of Missions Protections
- U.S. Calls for Cohesion and Unity / U.S. Outreach with Iraqi Leadership
- Formation of Government / Maliki Must Take Additional Steps / Beecroft and McGurk Meetings
- U.S. Support for United Sovereign Iraq vs Breakup of Iraq
- Hostage Crisis
- IRAQ / FRANCE
- Secretary Kerry Discussions with Foreign Minister Fabius
- EGYPT / JORDAN
- Media Restrictions
- Anti-LGBT Concerns / U.S. Funding and Sanctions Outlined
- U.S. Support for LGBT Rights
- New Travel Warning / Embassy Personnel
- Secretary Kerry's Trip Details
- Resolving Issues with Republic of Korea / Kono Statement
- Reports of Oil Rig in Disputed Waters
- Civil Nuclear Agreement Update
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- U.S. Outreach to All Parties
- Two Palestinian Fatalities in West Bank
- U.S. Calls for Restraint / #BringBackOurBoys
- Russian Deployments / Russian Refugee Claims
- U.S. Calls for Laying Down of Arms
- Latest U.S. Sanctions of Individuals
- Personal Attacks
- IRAQ / RUSSIA
- Maliki Call to Putin
- Foreign Minister Zarif Comments on P5+1 Talks
- ISIL Seizure of Degraded Chemical Remnants at Weapons Facility
1:35 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hello, everyone. Happy Friday.
QUESTION: Happy Friday.
MS. PSAKI: I have a couple of items for you at the top. First, the United States strongly condemns today’s suicide terrorist bombing at the Internal Security Forces checkpoint on the Damascus-Beirut Highway, where at least one ISF officer was killed and many others injured. We extend our deepest condolences to the victims and their families, and we wish a full recovery to those wounded in the bombing.
The United States stands firmly with Lebanon’s leaders and its state institutions, including the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Internal Security Forces as they combat terrorism and work to provide the Lebanese people with calm and security, and we support the authorities’ efforts to bring those responsible for the attack to justice. These attacks threaten the principles of stability, freedom, and safety that the people of Lebanon are working hard to uphold, and we urge all parties to refrain from retaliatory acts that contribute to the cycle of violence. We remain committed to our strong partnership with the Lebanese people and the Lebanese security forces to advance the goals of peace and stability.
Also, I have a trip announcement. Secretary Kerry, at the President’s direction, will be traveling from June 22nd through the 27th to the Middle East and Europe to consult with partners and allies on how we can support security, stability, and the formation of an inclusive government in Iraq, to discuss Middle East security challenges and to attend the NATO foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels.
In Amman, Jordan, Secretary Kerry will hold consultations with Foreign Minister Judeh. The Secretary will also travel to Brussels, Belgium, as I mentioned, to the NATO foreign ministerial, which will discuss preparations for the NATO summit in September, as well as the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. In Paris, France, the Secretary will meet with regional partners and with allies on Middle East security challenges, including Iraq and Syria.
With that, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Let’s start with Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I ask something on the – just on the travel thing?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Ha ha. On the regional partners, that means European regional partners, or that means Middle Eastern/Gulf regional partners?
MS. PSAKI: Both.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: You will have seen, I’m sure, the comments, the speech made today by Ayatollah Sistani. I’m wondering what you all make of it. I noticed that Brett McGurk seems to have thought it was important enough to call attention to social media.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will echo his comments and of course let the comments of His Eminence speak for themselves, as in Sistani, not Brett McGurk. But I also note that beyond his comments on government formation, he asked that the Iraqi people form more cohesion towards each other and for all Iraqis to work to reduce the suffering of displaced families caused by violence. Obviously, as you know, one of our primary messages, both publicly and privately, to Iraqi leaders is that now is the time to be unified against the shared threat that they face.
QUESTION: Okay, and while I’m sure you don’t mean to take away from Brett McGurk’s eminence –
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- why are you calling Sistani “His Eminence” now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is the title that he has and we’re using properly.
QUESTION: But Grand Ayatollah is his title. Is there some reason that you now have decided to elevate him to --
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t overanalyze, Matt.
MS. PSAKI: We were just using it in a respectful manner.
QUESTION: Okay. And then this question came up over at the Pentagon a little while ago, and the answer was not really – I mean, I’m not sure they had a specific answer to it. And that is: What is the agreement under which these advisors are going into Iraq under in terms of immunity? Are they like the security guys who went in – or I assume the security guys who went in to help with the Embassy are under chief of mission authority. What is the – is there a temporary SOFA or something like that that’s in place for these 300?
MS. PSAKI: It does not require a SOFA. I’m not sure what my colleagues over at the Pentagon said, and of course, they’re their personnel --
MS. PSAKI: -- so they would be the appropriate entity to answer.
QUESTION: The answer was – I think the answer was like, don’t worry about it, it’s taken care of, something like that, which has not met, I think, with great – did not meet a great response. I’m just wondering if you have details --
MS. PSAKI: Well, we currently have, as you know, and before these announcements, have had military advisory personnel in Iraq. They have the necessary protections they need. We’re confident these forces will as well.
QUESTION: Do they have diplomatic immunity? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the – I had thought that the military – the U.S. military personnel who are in Iraq in an advisory capacity since the withdrawal of U.S. forces were at the Embassy and under chief of mission authority and had diplomatic immunity. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: There are some that have been. I’m just not going to have more details on this. These are DOD personnel and so I would point you to them for any explanation they’d like to offer.
QUESTION: But our – my colleagues have been told to ask at the State Department to find out what are the immunities and what are the circumstances under which the forces are going to operate there. And I think it’s a reasonable question to ask because as the President himself pointed out, the Iraqis didn’t grant the immunities that you wanted for U.S. forces to remain such as --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s an entirely different circumstance. We were talking about a couple thousand of military noncombat forces at the time. I’m not saying it’s not a completely justifiable question. There aren’t other details to share. I can huddle with my Pentagon colleagues and see if there’s more of a clear explanation we can give all of you.
QUESTION: I just don’t --
QUESTION: Why --
QUESTION: Just one more on this from me.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Doesn’t every single American soldier who is going to a foreign country deserve the immunities that you would have wanted if you had left several thousand? I mean, just because it’s 300 and not 10,000 --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I would first reject the tone and tenor of your question. Of course the United States Government wants to protect the rights and the immunity of any soldier, man or woman, proudly serving us overseas. But again, there are a range of means that that can be under. I don’t have more details to share with all of you. I will – I’m happy to go back to my DOD colleagues and see if there’s more clarity that we can provide.
QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on it, the question is: Why – what is it that makes you confident that they will enjoy the immunities that you think that they should? Because it is a question that’s made relevant by the fact that there was no SOFA in the first place and that’s why a residual force was not left there. So it – but if you’re saying that these 300 can go in and enjoy the immunity under some kind of agreement that would apply to a visiting general or something like that as someone who is just coming in, then I mean, that’s one possible explanation, I would think.
MS. PSAKI: It – mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But the question is: Why do you have the confidence now that a group of 300 Special Forces will have the immunity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I again don’t want to speak out of turn here.
MS. PSAKI: I want to get the exact legal understanding for all of you. But I would remind that you that in this – in 2011, there was agreement that they would not stay and there wasn’t agreement on what – on the circumstances needed for them to stay. Now there is desire for support and help from --
MS. PSAKI: -- Iraq – from the United States.
QUESTION: Right. Well, but that doesn’t mean that they – that there is something that you have in writing, which I would assume that you would want, that they --
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question.
QUESTION: And then --
MS. PSAKI: I will venture to see if there’s more clarity we can obtain.
QUESTION: And then I just want to make sure that I am correct in thinking that the people that went there earlier before this 300, before the Embassy – they are covered by chief of mission, right?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to get that level of clarity. They have the protections that are needed. I can see if there’s more we can spell out on that front.
QUESTION: Follow-up on the Sistani?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But before that, I think it’s our understanding, that the Marine detachment that protects U.S. diplomatic facilities have immunity. The others, they must have some sort of special arrangements. So special arrangement --
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re asking the same question Matt and Arshad asked, and --
QUESTION: And that’s just – that’s my understanding. I want to ask you on --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- Sistani: Did you sense in his speech or in his words and so on incitement or sort of sectarian incitement that can – is kind of balancing the rhetoric coming from the Sunnis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we sensed exactly as we stated, Said. So I’m not sure I have much more to add to my comments.
QUESTION: But do you see that his speech came sort of in many ways to echo what the President Rouhani said the other day at the border of Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t compare the two. What I’m – what we – what I conveyed very clearly, I think, about his comments is that he called for more cohesion among the Iraqi people, and certainly that’s a message we also support.
QUESTION: Well, Imam Sistani has always held to the notion that Iraq should be united and should fight foreign fighters and so on. But he also wields a great deal of power. If he wants to sort of recruit volunteers, for instance, they would flock in the tens of thousands. Are you concerned that this speech could be a watershed event in terms of mobilizing and perhaps really igniting full-blown civil war?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been pretty clear in the supporting what he said, which was calling for more cohesion and unity from all sectors, all sects of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: And on the issue of Iraq and the partition of Iraq, because for all practical purposes it seems like it has been partitioned in three parts. Today, the Israelis received their first oil shipment from Kurdistan. Do you have any comment on that – without going through the central government?
MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with our view here, Said – which has not changed – that these sales and exports need to go through the central government. There’s been an ongoing negotiation over that that hasn’t been resolved.
QUESTION: Can I just (inaudible) for a second?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Because now the Pentagon says that the U.S. is seeking a written agreement with the Iraqis. So if – anything more you can add to that would be much appreciated.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. I think the answer will likely come from the Pentagon, but I will circle back with them after the briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: Just back to the whole Sistani idea. I mean, in the past, the U.S. really hasn’t had much conversations with Sistani. Do you see this – as you’re sending your advisors in and as the U.S. will certainly be involved in not dictating but helping the Iraqis with their political process, do you see this as part of a potential working together? I mean, for the first time it does seem maybe that your interests align with Ayatollah Sistani.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wasn’t predicting a change in that aspect.
QUESTION: Do you --
MS. PSAKI: I just – I was asked about the specific comments, and so I was answering that specific question.
QUESTION: But do you anticipate any – have you reached out to him to any of his representatives or anything to try and have a dialogue as Brett McGurk has been meeting with politicians from across the political spectrum?
MS. PSAKI: We have reached out across the spectrum. I’m not aware of specific outreach here. I’m happy to check and see.
QUESTION: Can you check? Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry. Not aware of specific outreach to Sistani? How about to Chalabi?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our officials have met with a wide range of Iraqi officials and community leaders, including Dr. Chalabi, who is, as you know, an elected member of Iraq’s parliament. That should come as no surprise. Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk has been on the ground now I think for about two weeks and has met with officials across the spectrum.
QUESTION: Did --
QUESTION: Is that --
QUESTION: Sorry. Did he meet specifically with Chalabi?
MS. PSAKI: He – Chalabi – yes, he did. Chalabi requested – recently requested a meeting with him and the ambassador, and they met with him as they have with other Iraqis to discuss the current situation in the country.
QUESTION: Can you address the persistent reports and suggestions that the U.S. Government is trying to find a way or is encouraging or would like to see the Iraqi political establishment ease Maliki from power?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m happy to, and I’d also point to the fact that the President and the Secretary addressed it yesterday. It’s up to the Iraqi people, not the United States, to determine the future of their leadership. They’ve had an election. Certainly, in these meetings Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk and Ambassador Beecroft have been encouraging the quick formation, the urgency of the formation of a government. But they’ve made clear it’s not our role or our choice to make in terms of who the future leaders will be.
QUESTION: But certainly – can I – but certainly, while that’s true, you certainly have made no bones about the fact that you don’t think that Maliki has fulfilled his kind of responsibilities to form an inclusive government. So implicit in what you’re saying is, you are kind of sending the message to Iraqis that maybe you should think about some new leadership – while, of course, the U.S. wouldn’t dictate who the Iraqis – who the Iraqis choose.
MS. PSAKI: Implicit in those comments – which are right, we’ve consistently made – is that Prime Minister Maliki needs to take additional steps to be more inclusive, to rule in a non-sectarian manner. We’ve been encouraging him to do that publicly and privately, but again it remains up to the people of Iraq to determine their future leadership, and that’s part of our message as well.
QUESTION: But you are kind of sending the message to Iraqis – not so subtly – that you feel that they deserve better than the leadership that they’ve had.
MS. PSAKI: It is not about specific individuals, Elise. It’s about the way that we believe Iraq should be governed. And --
QUESTION: And it’s not being governed the way you feel – or the Iraqis – you feel the Iraqis deserve it to be going.
MS. PSAKI: And we’ve made no secret of the fact that we think more needs to be done to be more inclusive and acknowledge the legitimate concerns of the Sunni and Kurdish populations.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up on Ahmed Chalabi. The meeting with Chalabi, does that mean that he’s been rehabilitated into the good graces of the United States, considering that almost a warrant for his arrest was issued by the American army?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as we’ve been reading out periodically, Ambassador Beecroft and Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk have been meeting with a range of officials across the board over the course of the last several weeks.
QUESTION: Okay. Would you support Ahmed Chalabi, because he threw his hat in the ring apparently for the premiership. Ahmed Chalabi or Bayan Jabr, both of whom are very, very close to Iran – would you support either one of them to replace Maliki?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not the role of the United States to support any candidate. We’ve been --
QUESTION: Would you oppose – would you oppose – suppose that --
MS. PSAKI: It’s not the role to support or oppose, Said, so we’ll let --
QUESTION: Except in Syria, of course.
MS. PSAKI: I know you – well, I think we’re talking there about a brutal dictator --
QUESTION: Or in Iraq, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: -- who’s killed tens of thousands of his own people.
QUESTION: Or in Ukraine.
QUESTION: To follow up on Elise’s questions, are you saying – is the Administration saying that strikes in Iraq are contingent on the Iraqi Government changing?
MS. PSAKI: I think we made very clear yesterday when we announced – when the President laid out his plans moving forward that the factors we’re looking at are what we believe are in our national security interests; threats that may face our personnel, our facilities; threats coming from ISIL; and whether targeted action would support the stability of Iraq and prevent a descent into sectarian conflict. There are a range of factors. Now, at the same time, while it’s not contingent upon the success of Iraq, the stability of Iraq is very much dependent on the Iraqi leaders taking steps to be inclusive, rule in a nonsectarian manner, and support and boost up the security forces.
QUESTION: But haven’t you told the people of Iraq that we won’t help you unless you change your government?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President’s speech yesterday was pretty clear that we’re not talking about contingency. We’re talking about steps that are necessary in order to have a successful outcome.
QUESTION: In September 2012, President Obama said, “Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did.” Yesterday, President Obama said, “Well, keep in mind that wasn’t a decision made by me; that was a decision made by the Iraqi Government.” How do you reconcile that?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s pretty easy to reconcile, Lucas. In 2011, we did not have the requirements we needed to protect our men and women serving; that was a decision made by the Iraqis at the time. The President has made no secret, as have a number of other current Administration officials, about their views on the decisions made to go into Iraq. That hasn’t changed. But we’re at the point we’re at because we have a national security interest here in the stability of Iraq, in the success of its people, and the stability of the region. So that’s why we’re talking about our engagement at this point in time.
QUESTION: But in 2011, I mean, the Administration was quite proud to say that you ended the war in Iraq and that’s what the President meant by saying, “We did.” He did end the war in Iraq, and now yesterday he seemed to put the blame solely on Prime Minister Maliki.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, I think there’s a difference between bringing combat troops home and whether you have the protections you need to keep a small contingency on the ground. And so there’s a difference between the two. Regardless, we’re ending the war in Afghanistan as well. But we’ll have – given candidates have – have both said that they would support a BSA, we’re in a slightly different circumstance.
QUESTION: But if – in Afghanistan, this Administration has been trying very hard to get a bilateral security agreement signed. Why wasn’t there the same impetus in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: There was. There’s a different circumstance; different countries are different. But again, at the time we didn’t have the security – I mean, the requirements we needed in order to protect the men and women serving.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) --
MS. PSAKI: Can we, Said, go, just because we haven’t gone to a couple of these other guys.
QUESTION: Sure, sure. (Inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Michael.
QUESTION: Thanks. So the President – just following up on Lucas – has said multiple times that al-Qaida is on the run due to proactive counterterrorism operations led by his Administration. Is the Administration’s priority the – is to preserve the integrity of the Iraqi Government, or is the priority to diminish the operational capacity of ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Because if it were the latter, surely you would be considering strikes in Syrian territory, and this goes to comments yesterday by a senior Administration official speaking on geographic space not being a factor here.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that Administration official, if I remember correctly, made clear that we don’t restrict potential U.S. action to a specific geographic area. We’re talking about going after ISIL. Obviously, there hasn’t been a decision made yet, so we’re getting a little ahead of where we are on strikes, but our focus here is – and I would point you to before a couple of weeks ago, when the President gave his speech and he talked about going after the threat that we face, which has certainly changed over the course of time – yes, we have taken steps to decimate core al-Qaida, but there are affiliates, as you know, that we’re concerned about. We’re concerned about the growth of terrorism in various parts of the world, including this part of the world, and it’s about going after the threat where we face it and taking an approach that’s effective in that capacity.
QUESTION: Right. So that’s why I ask if you’re prioritizing one over the other, the preservation of the integrity of the Iraqi Government versus an active – a proactive policy diminishing the operational capacity of ISIS. Because if that was the priority, how long as the President been considering strikes against ISIS in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear here. We’re not talking about one leader or even the government. We’re talking about the Iraqi people and the stability of Iraq and the stability of the region. And that’s the prism through which the President and leaders in the Administration look at this. Syria, as you know, we’ve been increasing our assistance over the course of time. We expanded the scale and scope over a year ago. We have taken steps to support legislation that includes – that would include the authorization of the Department of Defense to train and arm the opposition, so there are a range of steps that we’ve taken to increase our capacity and our focus there as well.
QUESTION: So you’re not – you’re – it doesn’t sound like you’re saying that a goal that any – the goal is really to preserve the integrity of the government. It’s just to preserve the stability and security of the country for the Iraqi people.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s the sovereignty of the government, certainly, but I – when you say “integrity of the government” --
QUESTION: No. But the sovereignty of the institution of government, but not necessarily – basically, the question is: Are you – are the steps you’re taking trying to help further Prime Minister Maliki assert control over his country, personally?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary addressed this during an interview earlier this week, where he said it wasn’t about Prime Minister Maliki. This is about the Iraqi people, the stability of the country, the sovereignty of the country, and the national security interests of the United States.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up on the issue of integrity. I know that the Administration makes repeated pronouncements about its commitment to the unity of Iraq. But if partition is amicably arrived at by all three different groups to have three different countries, would you support it, considering that there are actually real champions in this Administration, no less than the Vice President of the United States of America, who actually advocated an independent Kurdistan?
MS. PSAKI: Said, that was quite a long time ago. As you know, that’s not a focus or the policy of the Administration. So our focus here is on a unified, sovereign Iraq.
QUESTION: But if such an outcome would lead to this violence and people living --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on a hypothetical.
QUESTION: What was a long time ago?
MS. PSAKI: The Vice President’s --
QUESTION: Oh. It was even longer that the border was drawn.
QUESTION: When he was senator.
MS. PSAKI: Correct, it was before he was vice president. So he even had a different title at the time.
QUESTION: Right, but it was --
QUESTION: Well, he was in a different branch of government at the time.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: So this government does not think federalism is the way to go in Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: We – that’s never been our position.
QUESTION: Right, but --
QUESTION: But there’s a lot of talk about it now, given what’s happening in the country, that – and even to overcome the sectarian tension there would need to be more autonomy given to the various regions of the country.
MS. PSAKI: Our focus right now is on the threat that they all face. I’m not going to speculate on what would happen --
QUESTION: So you believe – so you’re going to double-down on the – what some call the anachronistic British imperialist-imposed border that now exists? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure if I would put it in those terms, Matt, but --
QUESTION: Post-World War I border of Iraq, the existing – that’s what you are intent on keeping. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re --
QUESTION: Not – maybe not you, but that’s what you support. You do not support any revision to the current borders of the – Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed in our view. Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to say the same thing. I was going to ask it very simply. I mean, would you oppose a breakup of Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on that. It’s never been our position, so I’m not going to speak to a hypothetical that we’re not currently looking at.
QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical. People are generally inside the country talking about it too. I mean, it’s not totally hypothetical. I mean, there are moves for people to move in that direction.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not the position or the view or the support of the United States Government.
QUESTION: So you disagree with --
QUESTION: Can you say no? Can you say you don’t want Iraq to break up?
QUESTION: -- the notion that --
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re done with this question.
Go ahead, Michael.
QUESTION: Just what --
MS. PSAKI: Said, we’re going to go on to the next.
Michael, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m just following up back on the geographic space issue, because the President said yesterday that ISIL could potentially be a threat to the United States. He said “potentially.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is – would the Administration only consider a strike on ISIL targets in Syria if it were a – if they came to the conclusion that they posed a direct threat to the United States, or --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to box the President in or out here. I think I outlined what the factors are that we’re considering.
MS. PSAKI: I do not have any update for you. Obviously, our – we remain concerned about these hostages as we have been. We’ve been in touch, of course, consistently with the Government of Turkey, but I don’t have any specific update for you.
QUESTION: Has the Turkish Government asked any kind of help? Last time you said you would check for it.
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any update for you on it.
QUESTION: It looks like the first Kurdish oil, I think, is waiting at Israel via Turkey, is about to be delivered as far as we see from the reports. Do you have any --
QUESTION: It already has.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. I think I addressed this one. Said asked the --
QUESTION: To Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Same question.
QUESTION: I want to turn to Africa, a human rights issue --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, do you want – let’s just finish Iraq. And then we’ll go on to a new topic, if that works.
MS. PSAKI: Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Any update on any contacts you have – you may have with the Iranians about Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: No, no new contacts.
MS. PSAKI: He did speak with Foreign Minister Fabius this morning. Let me just pull up the quick readout of that. One moment.
And I expect he’ll continue with calls over the course of the weekend. They talked about the – our shared concern about the threat from ISIL. The Secretary talked about his plans to return to the Middle East and Europe to consult with partners next week. They also talked about Ukraine and President Poroshenko’s peace plan and declaration of a ceasefire today. So that was the thrust of their conversation.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we – well, you can go to Africa first, but – then Ukraine.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- on readouts. Has the Secretary spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu or anyone on --
MS. PSAKI: He has not spoken with him today, no.
QUESTION: I have one more on Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You have been encouraging Turkish Government and Iraqi Government – Maliki government to cooperate on regional issues, as well as this crisis in Mosul. Do you know of any kind of cooperation or any kind of phone talk between these two allies?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates for you. I’d point you to the Turkish Government. Do we have any more on Iraq? Iraq? Go ahead.
QUESTION: One last question. The – have you heard the reports that Iraqi television channels that have – reportedly critical to Maliki – being taken off the air in Egypt or Jordan?
MS. PSAKI: I have not actually seen that report. I spoke a couple of days ago just to some concerns we’d seen about social media being pulled back, but I’m happy to check and see – you said Jordan and where was the other country? I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: In Egypt. Okay. We’ll check into that. Do we have any more on Iraq?
Ukraine? Or a new topic.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to – but let’s go to Africa.
MS. PSAKI: Or you guys can pick the topic. Sorry.
QUESTION: No, someone had an Africa question, I believe.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Yes, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you, first of all, do you describe that as a set of sanctions? Or is it just a set of actions? And secondly, what motivated the actions at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we announced several months ago when this legislation was enacted that we would be undergoing a review. So this is the conclusion of that review. I think we would categorize it accurately as a set of actions, because while there were visa bans included in there, there were additional steps taken related to – including related to funding for the Ugandan – discontinuing funding, I should say, for the Ugandan police force, and shifting of certain funding that supports salaries, travel expenses, and other health-related items at the Ugandan ministry of health. And also relocating a planned public health institute, which we were providing $3 million for to another country in Africa, and also canceling plans. So it was a range of actions that were taken after a review that the Administration underwent.
QUESTION: And there were a number of individuals who will be subject to a travel ban. I don’t know the legal ins and outs of it, but why can’t you name those individuals to sort of send a message that you do with other more sanctionable individuals.
MS. PSAKI: It’s just a policy that we don’t, so in this case, I don’t have any names or numbers for you.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And there are several other African countries where there are laws and actions against gay rights. Is there a case for saying why is Uganda the focus when there are so many other problems in Africa, not least in Nigeria? And are there plans to follow-up with more action to try to send that message to those countries?
MS. PSAKI: To be clear, this isn’t just a Uganda problem; it’s not just an Africa problem. Anywhere where we see LGBT rights being trampled on, we are – we often speak out about our concerns there. So in Nigeria, we’ve spoken out against the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition act and engaged – and we’ve also engaged extensively at the highest levels of government with the police and with regional and local officials to press the message of nonviolence. We are also providing technical assistance to civil society, and we’re monitoring closely the implementation of SSMP and its impact on the LGBT population in Nigeria and community. We’ll take appropriate actions as needed. We evaluate country by country and take steps when they’re warranted.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just on the visa ban – have there actually been Ugandan officials who have been notified that either their existing visa will be revoked or has been revoked or that they will be denied if they apply for a new one? Or is this just something that is coming down the pike, as it were?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re taking steps to restrict entry. I’d have to check, Matt, on the exact steps.
QUESTION: But you don’t know if anyone – if it’s actually had any effect on any Ugandan official who was planning or was already in the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we just announced these steps yesterday.
QUESTION: I know.
MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s anything more specific. I know some of this is subject to confidentiality laws, of course.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t think that would be – if it, in fact, it’s actually had an effect on someone.
MS. PSAKI: Well, but typically we wouldn’t give names or numbers. So I would check and see if there’s more we can provide.
QUESTION: Well, you have given numbers in the past. I know that you haven’t given names unless or until someone affected speaks out publicly or complains about it, in which case you have had a history --
MS. PSAKI: And that has happened. Yes.
QUESTION: -- of confirming it. But I’m just – I’m not even asking for the number. I just want to know if --
MS. PSAKI: You’re asking if it’s been implemented yet.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: If anyone has actually gotten told --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- they have to leave because their visa has been revoked or whatever.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. You got it.
Uganda or a new topic?
QUESTION: Oh, no, no, no.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: The new Travel Warning, the relocation of some staff from the Embassy, can you be at all more specific about who these people are, where they’re going?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me just pull this up so I have the language in front of me. One moment. Let’s see where this is at. I think the Travel Warning noted that (1) it’s important to clarify that this has been a long review of our security measures and steps that need to be taken in Kenya. We’re all familiar with the Westgate attack, and obviously there have been a range of attacks over the course of time. This is applicable at this point to individuals who have regional responsibilities, so it’s unlikely to impact our bilateral responsibilities that we have.
QUESTION: So the Somalia office?
MS. PSAKI: Hmm?
QUESTION: When you say regional responsibilities, do you mean that these are people that are working on Somalia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re working on a range of regional issues. I don’t have that level of specificity, and some of it is still being – we’re still working through the details of these changes. And they’ll just be moved to a different area. It doesn’t mean that these responsibilities will discontinue, if that makes sense.
QUESTION: Are they going elsewhere in the region or are some of them being brought back to the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that. I’m fairly certain elsewhere in the region, Arshad. Obviously, there’s (inaudible) important priorities, so it’s elsewhere in the region is my understanding.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Kenya? Africa?
Okay. Go ahead in the back.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Related to the Secretary Kerry trip to the Middle East and Europe, I mean, it was reported today in Egyptian – some of the newspapers that Secretary Kerry may go to Egypt on Sunday. Is it something expected or it’s just a rumor?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any trip details beyond those I announced to announce at this point in time.
QUESTION: So the other question related to the trip: When the Secretary yesterday mentioned he was going to meet the Gulf states people, is he going to met – to meet them in Paris or where?
MS. PSAKI: He’ll be meeting, I think --
QUESTION: Or in Amman?
MS. PSAKI: -- a range of officials in Paris at the end of the week.
QUESTION: And so it’s – Amman is just for Judeh?
MS. PSAKI: And as more details of his trip become available, we’ll make those available as well.
Go ahead. Let’s just tick around here a little bit. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that the apologies extended by the previous prime minister and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono marked an important chapter in Japan, improving relations with its neighbors. We take note of chief cabinet secretary – the chief cabinet secretary’s statement on June 20th that the position of the Abe government is to uphold the Kono statement. As you know, we’ve consistently encouraged Japan to approach this and other issues arising from the past in a manner that is conducive to building stronger relations with its neighbors, and that remains our focus.
QUESTION: But do you think it’s necessary for Japanese Government to take this review? Because this is a very sensitive topic to South Korea and China.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as President Obama said during his visit to Asia, because Korea and Japan – South Korea and Japan have so many common interests, it’s important that they find a way to resolve the past in the most productive manner and look to the future and how they can work together on issues they share.
QUESTION: And when President Obama – when he was in Japan, he has been calling Japan to take more proactive steps to address this issue. So do you think Japanese Government has been following his advice?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what he said when he was there is that they need to look to the past and look to the future, and obviously part of looking to the future is determining a way to work together and put events of the past behind you.
QUESTION: But it seems Japanese Government is looking back, not the future.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re encouraging them to look forward.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the same topic --
MS. PSAKI: Sure, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- so you don’t believe that the review itself undermines the Kono statement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’d point you to the cabinet – chief cabinet secretary’s statement that the position of the Abe government is to uphold the Kono statement, so --
QUESTION: But if you look at --
MS. PSAKI: -- I’d point you to that.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: If you look at the conclusion, which is that the South Koreans and the Japanese have cooperated, some people believe that that in and of itself creates doubt about the Kono statement. Do you agree with that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d point you to the position of the Japanese Government, which they’ve clearly stated.
QUESTION: Do you believe that this is an unhelpful step?
MS. PSAKI: I think our focus is on encouraging them to work with South Korea on the issues that they share concern about.
Go ahead. Or – still in the region? Or --
QUESTION: Still in the region.
QUESTION: Sorry, one more.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, go ahead. I’d like to move on.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So – sorry.
MS. PSAKI: So polite all around. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So South Korea says that it’s going to do --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: South Korea says that it’s going to do its own assessment of the review’s outcome and take action with the international community. Is this something that you would support?
MS. PSAKI: I think I would point you to what I’ve just stated – that we believe South Korea and Japan have a range of issues and concerns they share and we encourage them to focus on those moving forward.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen those reports.
QUESTION: I think two were near Taiwan. One I think is just outside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. And the third one – the fourth one, I can’t remember right now. But --
MS. PSAKI: Right. In our – we are of course aware of the reports that China’s towing additional oil rigs to different locations in the South China Sea. As Arshad mentioned, there’s – I think there’s not a great deal of information at this point as to where they’re headed. If a rig were placed in disputed waters, that would be a concern. And we certainly have a national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the region. So at this point we don’t have enough information about the intended destinations of these rigs, so we’ll hold back judgment until we know more.
QUESTION: I think they have posted the latitude and longitude locations.
MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that before I came down, and I’m happy to see if there’s more we want to convey on this issue.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: But it’s okay with you if the oil rigs are within the Chinese continental shelf?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our concern all along here has been when it travels into disputed waters and some of the aggressive actions that have been taken. So we will be watching closely, and if we need to speak out further about it, I’m certain that we will.
QUESTION: And I wondered, do you have any reaction, given that the Chinese Councilor State Yang Jiechi just visit Vietnam, but it seems there was – no progress has been made between China and Vietnam on the oil rig issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we support diplomatic means of resolving these issues, and we certainly hope they will continue until they’re resolved.
QUESTION: Jen, when the first – sorry, when you – the first Chinese oil rig was deployed off the coast of Vietnam, you said it was – I can’t remember if it was you or Marie – but you said it was a provocative and destabilizing move.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Yes.
QUESTION: Would you say that these most recent actions – would you use those same words to characterize these most recent actions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I want to know more about where they are and what they’re doing, and we stand by the comments we’ve made and I think we’ve both repeated those. So we’re certainly encouraging Chinese and both sides to refrain from provocative actions.
Arshad, do you have another in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen the article. But we’re not – it’s one report, I believe – we’re not in a position to speculate on its conclusions. We remain fully committed to the terms of the 123 Agreement and to enhancing our strategic relationship. Nothing to be provided – nothing we provide to India, under the civ-nuke agreement, may be used to enhance India’s military capability or add to its military stockpile. But we don’t have enough information or confirmation of the report to speak to that.
QUESTION: Great. And I’m sorry, you’re right. It was one report, the Jane’s report, that I was referring to.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Am I not correct though in understanding that such military facilities were explicitly excluded from the Indian civil nuclear agreement? So in other words you have no right or ability to – the Indian civil nuclear agreement doesn’t apply to such military facilities, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, my understanding of it, Arshad, is that nothing provided to India can be used to enhance their military capability. I’m not certain – obviously, that would be high speculative about this, given there’s only one external report that’s not --
MS. PSAKI: -- a reflection of a U.S. Government report. So --
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Since we spoke last, has anything changed to sort of convince you that what Israel is doing is collective punishment?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to add to what I’ve stated over the last couple of days.
QUESTION: Okay. And you’re aware that maybe 200 more have been arrested since then? Homes been demolished, they raided the university, they raided a refugee camp, they destroyed a nursery today, they killed a 16-year-old Palestinian, injured many others. That does not, as far as you’re concerned, fall under collective punishment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as I’ve said over a couple of times, but it certainly worth repeating, we have been in touch with both parties. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and avoid steps that could destabilize the situation. We’re concerned by the death today of two Palestinians in the West Bank, and seeking additional information on the incidents that took their lives. And we’ll continue to offer our full support to the efforts by Israel and Palestinian Authority to find the three missing teenagers.
QUESTION: So do you consider what they – what Israel is doing to be proportionate to the search for the three missing young --
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve made our position clear here, Said. I’m not going to have more to add to the comments I’ve made.
QUESTION: I have one last question on Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Israel was elected to head the committee on decolonization at the UN. Do you advise the Israelis to begin by decolonizing the West Bank?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t even seen that report, Said. If there’s more to say, I’m – I’ll happy to check.
QUESTION: Just on this, and realizing that you’re not going to go into – or I don’t think you’re going to go into whether or not you think that either side is showing restraint, but do you think that either side is listening to you and heeding your calls for restraint?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I’m not going to do a day-by-day analysis. We continue to call for it because obviously more restraint is needed.
QUESTION: And – more restraint is needed from both sides or just from one side?
MS. PSAKI: It’s important that they continue to keep that in mind as they deal with this difficult situation on the ground.
QUESTION: All right. And you said you were seeking more information about the deaths of two Palestinians from --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Just happened today.
QUESTION: Right. From who –
MS. PSAKI: From the Israelis, I believe.
QUESTION: From the Israelis. But are you also seeking it from the Palestinian side?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, from any side that has information. I believe any investigation would likely be run by the Israeli side.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. And then there are some Israeli officials who are pointing their finger at a Hamas operative who lives in Turkey as being the mastermind of this incident. Do you have any reason to suspect that – to think this is correct or this is incorrect, or do you have any reason yet to be 100 percent confident that, in fact, Hamas is behind this?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new information beyond what we have stated over the last couple of days.
QUESTION: I’ve – I know what you’ve said over the last couple days, but do you consider, just holistically, Israel’s actions justified, as you’ve seen them play out thus far?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to characterize it further. We’ve continued to call for restraint, and obviously we have conversations through our own diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m not sure if you’ve put out anything on this or if you’ve been asked about this. If you have, I apologize, but --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. It’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- the hashtag, #BringBackOurBoys, is there any – have you tweeted that out? Do you plan on it, do you support it, do you sympathize with it?
MS. PSAKI: I have not personally, but --
QUESTION: Would you --
MS. PSAKI: -- certainly the effort to take every step to bring the three missing teenagers home I would support, we would all support, and we’ve offered our assistance to do everything we can.
QUESTION: Has there been – has anyone asked for the assistance that you offered?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of, but we’ve just offered to be helpful if we can be helpful.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Earlier today the Russian ambassador to the United Nations denied that Russian armed vehicles were crossing into Ukraine. How do you respond to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I have a couple of updated details here, so let me run through those for you.
We are confident, as we said last Friday, that Russia last week sent takes and rocket launchers from a deployment site in southwest Russia into eastern Ukraine. We have information that additional tanks have been prepared for departure from this same deployment site, and that’s more recently. We also have information that Russia has accumulated artillery at a deployment site in southwest Russia, including a type of artillery utilized by Ukrainian forces but no longer in Russia’s active forces, and believe Russia may soon provide this equipment to separatist fighters.
And we are obviously closely watching what we are seeing on the ground. I would also point you to the comments of NATO Secretary General Rasmussen yesterday, who said we are seeing a new Russian military buildup of at least a few thousand more troops deployed at the Ukrainian border, and there are troop maneuvers near the border with Ukraine.
And separately, we have our own information that Russia has redeployed military forces to its border with Ukraine. This is the closest Russian troops have come to the Ukrainian territory since their invasion of Crimea.
So that is our view from the United States.
QUESTION: The Russians say that the troop buildup that you and NATO have spoken about is simply a border guard reinforcing and that they need to have – they need to be reinforced because of the flow of – in some places, the flow of people – refugees, some of them – across the border. You don’t buy that? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think one step we’ve been asking President Putin and the Russians to be supportive of is securing the border, and what we’re seeing is a flow of individuals into Ukraine with materials and equipment and tanks, as we’ve been speaking about. In terms of the refugee numbers, we’ve looked into Russian reports of large numbers of refugees fleeing Russia and have seen no evidence to --
QUESTION: No, no, no. Fleeing Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Fleeing for – fleeing to Russia, sorry, fleeing to Russia, and have seen no evidence to substantiate them. According to the Russian Federal Migration Service itself, just over 5,000 people from Ukraine have applied for asylum in Russia since January. And the numbers – some Russian sources are claiming numbers more like 100,000. So we’re talking about the last six months, I guess, since January. And many ethnic Russians from Ukraine have family in Russia. Some may be staying with them, but neither Ukrainian border guards nor international organizations operating in the area have reported any large outflows of refugees to Russia to substantiate their claim.
QUESTION: Okay. So but – excuse me – apparently there was a meeting this morning of their – whatever the Russian Government committee is that deals with refugees, and they’re talking – I think they – unless I’m wrong, I think they were talking about 9,000 or something like that. But to the best of your knowledge, you’re saying that you have seen the only – you’ve seen nothing like this, that there is no mass exodus or even close to thousands that are crossing the border from Ukraine into Russia, fleeing their homes or fighting? Is that --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. And it’s not – obviously, just to clarify, though, it’s not the – we’re not monitoring this ourselves, obviously. But the Ukrainian border guards are as well as international organizations who are in the area.
QUESTION: Okay. Does that mean that you don’t have any concern about the situation in terms of what it means for civilians in the east right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think certainly we have concern, and – but we think the most effective and powerful step the Russians can take is to call on separatists to lay down their arms and to help secure the border. And obviously those are the steps that we think would reduce the violence and tension in the east.
QUESTION: Okay. Earlier today a senior official was telling people that in addition to what you just said about more tanks, additional tanks being prepared for – to be transferred to the separatists, that some, in fact, as of yesterday had actually moved away from this – from the site in southwest Russia. Do you know (1) how many, and (2) in what direction they were moving – I mean, and moving toward Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, we have information about – which I referred to specifically – about preparing for departure from the same deployment site. We’ve seen reports about additional Russian tanks, rocket launchers, and other military equipment crossing the border into Luhansk. I don’t have specific numbers, and those are reports. The other details are more confirmed internally.
QUESTION: But – okay, I’m a little confused now. So you don’t know that there are – that the tanks have actually left this site in southwest Russia?
MS. PSAKI: There are reports that they have. We know that they are preparing to depart, so – but the reports are reports. I don’t have anything in --
MS. PSAKI: -- confirmation of those. There are reports out there that we’ve seen.
QUESTION: In his conversation with Foreign Minister Fabius, you said that Secretary Kerry talked about the Poroshenko ceasefire, which he has now ordered a start of. The Russians have come back just within the last half hour or so and said that this looks like an ultimatum and doesn’t really look like a ceasefire. Can you be more – can you elaborate on – more on what you think, what you – what the Administration thinks of the ceasefire proposal, whether it’s an ultimatum or it’s a challenge and not really a ceasefire?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a unilateral ceasefire, and certainly they need a partner in order to – for it to be effective. But these are steps taken by President Poroshenko and the Ukrainian Government to provide a path to de-escalation. Obviously, the Russian separatists – or Russian-backed separatists – would need to be a partner in that, as would the Russians, in order to – for it to be effective on both sides.
QUESTION: Okay. And then have you seen since – recognizing it’s only a couple hours old now – but have you seen any indication from the Russians that they’re willing to now take steps to – that you think would de-escalate the situation?
MS. PSAKI: We have not seen new steps, and, in fact, I’ve pointed to some escalatory steps.
QUESTION: So in fact, they’re doing the opposite of what you say they should be doing?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: All right. And still – there’s still no trigger, though, for these sectoral sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know we announced the sanctioning of seven new individuals this morning. Early next week, as I noted, the Secretary will be at the NATO ministerial meeting where Ukraine will be a big part of that conversation, and there will also be a range of meetings among Europeans next week, so we certainly expect these issues to be a big topic of conversation.
QUESTION: So is this ambassador – this Russian ambassador to the United Nations, is he lying?
MS. PSAKI: I will let you put labels out there, Lucas, but I conveyed to you what we know as the United States.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I don’t know that you’ll be able to answer this, and you may want to just --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- refer it to Treasury, where I’ve already asked the question --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- and not gotten an answer. The seven individuals who were identified in the Treasury release and in a separate kind of fact sheet about them, and it has information like dates of birth, in some cases places of birth. Only one of the seven – for only one of the seven is the citizenship of the individual specified. That person is Russian. Who are the other – what is the nationality of the other six?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. I don’t know it off the top of my head. I will follow up with them and see if that’s information that we can provide. As was noted in there with the details in the press release, it’s more related to the actions, and some of them are Russian-backed, so – but I will see if there’s more we can provide.
QUESTION: Jen, who’s taking escalatory measures, the Russians or the Russian separatists?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly the Russian separatists. But again, there’s no question in our view that Russia has the ability to call on them to lay down their arms and to secure the border, and there’s more that they can do to promote a de-escalatory process.
QUESTION: Could I --
QUESTION: On Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Oh --
QUESTION: I have one more on Russia.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead. Go ahead, Ali.
QUESTION: In Russia, in the region, there was sort of the latest example of Russia’s fabrication of stories. I would also defer to Matt on this line of questioning, because it involved him, but –
QUESTION: I just wanted to stay clear of it, but go ahead.
QUESTION: But I just want to get your take on it, and what do you make of that story that was out there today.
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, and I used social media to tweet about this earlier today, but there was a report about comments I made that were comments I never made, and so I would first clarify that. But I would say broadly speaking that the tactics of fabricated news stories and a range of vicious personal attacks that I and others have been a victim of are not steps you take when you’re operating from a position of strength. And there’s no question that the more we talk about our support for a strong, sovereign Ukraine, the greater the attacks become, so I will leave it to others to draw their own conclusions on that front.
QUESTION: On Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: One more on Russia (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that there’s a readout from the Kremlin today that Prime Minister Maliki called and had a conversation with President Putin, and President Putin offered his support to the country of Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen some of those reports. I obviously am not in a position to provide details of their conversation.
QUESTION: But would you support Russia’s efforts to help stabilize Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: To help stabilize Iraq and support the governing in a nonsectarian, unified manner? Certainly, but I don’t have any more details of their call.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- on the sanctions legislation that’s been passed --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- from Congress. On the Vienna aspect of this, Zarif had some pretty harsh words today. He used the words “unreasonable” and “unacceptable” for the Western demands going into the talks. He said there were indications that the P5 is not serious. He said that Iran is planning to maintain a resistance economy in the expectation that sanctions won’t be lifted, so on and so forth. He said that the U.S. has some difficult decisions to make. Do you have a response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, I know there was a background briefing that was provided on the ground, which answered a range of questions. Our view is that if Iran is open to having a peaceful program and they are as concerned about their – the impact of their sanctions as they’ve said, then it should be easy for them to make some of these tough decisions. I think as was noted in this briefing, we’re at a crucial moment in these negotiations, and while this week was constructive it was also tough, and the discussions were long, they were intense, and obviously we have more gaps to narrow here. Our team will be working around the clock. I believe the next round has been announced with political directors meeting in Brussels next week and the talks resuming July 2nd. But again, we’re focused on the July 20th timeline, and we’ll be working around the clock leading up to that point.
QUESTION: And the second question on sanctions legislation, there was a letter sent by members – the leaders of the House Foreign Relations Committee Engel and Royce – that was open for signatures. And what they were saying to the President was that there is no such thing as nuclear-related sanctions in U.S. law, and that this idea that we have demarcated nuclear-related sanctions from drug trafficking, terrorism, human rights, and the like, is simply not a part of the legislation. So is that something that the Treasury Department has done? Is that a different reading of the law by the State Department? What – how do you respond to this bipartisan letter?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen the letter. Did it come to the State Department or just to the White House?
QUESTION: It went to the President.
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the White House, and I can circle back with our team and see if we’ve analyzed the letter, if there’s more of a response we can offer.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the IAEA report that was revised today, that showed Iran is actually moving forward on getting rid of all its enriched uranium?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen the new report. I’m sure I should’ve taken a look at that. A lot going on today, but we can look at that as well.
QUESTION: But that – you wouldn’t consider that to be a step in the right --
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take a look at the report and see exactly what it says.
Go ahead, Lucas.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to congressional correspondence.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Have you gotten a reply to the letter that was sent to the select – the Benghazi select committee? Do you know?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a reply back. I can check on that, too. I think we just sent the letter --
QUESTION: Yesterday --
MS. PSAKI: -- two days ago, so --
QUESTION: Two days ago. Okay.
QUESTION: Back to Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there any comment about the discovery of Sunni extremists taking over Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons facility?
MS. PSAKI: So I know there’s been a lot of confusing information about this. Let me speak to that if I can. One moment. We’re certainly concerned about ISIL seizing this complex. But let me be clear on what this is: This material that is there dates from the 1980s. It’s been stored in the bunker since the dismantlement efforts in the 1990s, and reinforced by the UN Monitoring, Inspection, and Verification commitment in the 2000s. And it contains two bunkers that hold degraded chemical remnants, which don’t include intact chemical weapons – and there certainly is a difference – and would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely use this for military purposes or, frankly, to move it.
So we’re certainly concerned, but I think the context of what this is and what this is not is incredibly important here as we assess the concern.
QUESTION: I thought Saddam Hussein didn’t have chemical weapons.
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a complex that has some remnants from back in the ’80s that we’ve known about for some time, so it wasn’t a new piece of information.
QUESTION: Yes, please. The same issue. I mean, so you think – your assessment or you understand that this is – it is not harmful?
MS. PSAKI: It is – it poses serious health hazards to anyone attempting to access the bunkers and that is certainly the case, but these are not intact chemical weapons, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use them in a military capacity.
QUESTION: Well, if it were to pose severe health hazards, maybe you should be encouraging ISIL to go into them, no? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: That’s a military tactical approach. We’ll know where the letter comes from.
QUESTION: Can we go to Libya very quickly?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Libya.
QUESTION: Can you update us on the status of Ahmed Abu Katallah? Is he in transit?
MS. PSAKI: He --
QUESTION: Is he heading towards Washington, D.C.?
MS. PSAKI: He has been. I don’t have any specific updates on arrival. He’s been aboard a ship, so I don’t have any new details to provide to you.
QUESTION: Now, the story that apparently he told was really a story that almost – it goes along with what was initially stated by the Administration that it was – the whole thing was ignited by the burning of the Qu’ran and whatever, that is – or the video, actually – that it was in response to the video. So do you think that once he’s in a court setting that this story will be sort of taking stock again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll have to see what happens in a court setting, Said.
QUESTION: Quick question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Is there no one in this room who has nothing better to do on this lovely Friday afternoon?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, good question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:39 p.m.)