Daily Press Briefing - May 1, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing:
12:53 p.m. EDT
MR RATHKE: Hello, good afternoon.
QUESTION: Happy Friday.
MR RATHKE: And likewise. I have a couple of things to mention at the top. So first is press freedom – which, as you know, we’ve been talking about all this week at the top of the briefing. Today, we wrap up the Free the Press campaign with two final cases.
The first comes from Uzbekistan, where a newspaper editor named Muhammad Bekjanov has remained in prison since 1999, the longest ongoing incarceration of a journalist in the world, by some accounts. His newspaper, Erk, which means freedom, published articles advocating for democratic reform. And he is thought to have been arrested for his public criticism of President Karimov’s administration and for his affiliation with a peaceful political opposition party. We call on the Government of Uzbekistan to release Mr. Bekjanov and to take the steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to work without fear of violence. We also urge the Government of Uzbekistan to allow international observers to visit prisons and to grant all citizens access to full due process in accordance with international commitments.
And for our last Free the Press campaign case, we are highlighting the country of Nicaragua. Nicaragua suffers from a restricted media environment that includes censorship, self-censorship, and examples of harassment. We urge the Government of Nicaragua to recognize and support the vital role of independent media and the free exchange of ideas as critical components of a free and democratic society.
And one additional note, although it’s unrelated to that campaign. I also want to express on behalf of the United States our sympathy to the family of Somali journalist Daud Ali Omar and his wife, who we understand were killed by gunmen in Somalia on Wednesday. Somalia remains one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist.
Next, Italy. We are proud to announce the launch of the USA Pavilion today at the Milan Expo 2015. The six-month World’s Fair will attract over 20 million visitors and address how to feed the world’s growing population in a healthy and sustainable way. Our private sector partners, the Friends of the USA Pavilion, in coordination with the U.S. Mission to Italy, created a pavilion that showcases American cuisine and innovation and highlights the critical issue of food security. We thank our Italian hosts for this extraordinary global platform to discuss key policy issues and celebrate good food, and I encourage all of you to check out www.usapavilion2015.net for more information on our representation there.
Next item, Slovakia. The United States welcomes the April 29th announcement from the Slovak ministry of defense that the government of the Slovak Republic intends to procure nine Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters. These helicopters will be fully NATO-interoperable, will strengthen Slovakia’s defense, and improve its capability to deter regional threats. This enhanced, upgraded capability also supports our Wales NATO Summit commitment to ensure that NATO remains a strong, ready, robust, and responsive alliance capable of meeting current and future challenges.
The next item – next to last item, just to keep you – your attention, Nepal. The U.S. Embassy continues to contract private helicopters to search remote locations for U.S. citizens who may be stranded. Embassy officials working with the U.S. military service members evacuated seven U.S. citizens from the Gorkha region today. We have been able to verify the welfare of more than 1,000 U.S. citizens who have made contact with the U.S. Embassy or their concerned loved ones. U.S. citizens continue to depart Kathmandu, and there are fewer than 70 U.S. citizens now staying at U.S. facilities in the capital.
Based on assessments made by the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team and the U.S. military Joint Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team, the Department of Defense is preparing to deploy helicopters to Nepal to support USAID efforts to conduct humanitarian assessments and to deliver critical supplies to hard-hit areas outside Kathmandu. The U.S. military is preparing to assist with airfield and logistics operations at Kathmandu’s airport, and in order to expedite cargo offloading operations, this will be done in support of the Nepalese Government in order to increase the flow of emergency supplies into the country and ensure that it reaches remote areas.
I would also highlight that the Secretary just a few minutes ago spoke by phone with the Nepalese foreign minister, Foreign Minister Pandey, and he expressed the U.S. condolences and they talked about U.S. assistance to Nepal after the earthquake.
QUESTION: Was that on the plane?
MR RATHKE: Yes, because they are – yes, they are still en route.
And the last thing to mention is that Secretary Kerry is traveling today to Colombo, Sri Lanka. This will be his first trip to the country and the first visit by a Secretary of State since 2005. Tomorrow, Secretary Kerry will meet government leaders, civil society members, and other representatives from the country’s diverse communities to hear and express U.S. support for their vision for a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous future for its people. He will also join his hosts for the celebration of the Buddhist holiday of Vesak.
So Matt, over to you.
MR RATHKE: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and a slightly different take. Today is – you didn’t note, but I’ll note for you – Foreign Service Day, or foreign – right?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Is it not? Assistant Secretary Jacobson gave a talk to the retirees or all those who attended the meeting, and she was in – at the end of her talk, she answered some questions, and one of the questions was about Iranian involvement in the Western Hemisphere, which is her bailiwick.
MR RATHKE: Right.
QUESTION: And I want you – if you could, I want to – bear with me for a bit because I just want to tell you – read what she said. She said, “We pay extremely close attention to Iran in the Western Hemisphere. The involvement of Iran in the Western Hemisphere is never benign.” And then she said, “I want to underscore that: it is never benign.” She noted that Iran had signed an enormous number of agreements, this is a quote: “Iran signed an enormous number of agreements with countries in the region, almost none of which have come to any real fruition or benefit for those – for the countries of the hemisphere.”
She said at the beginning that there was great excitement about these agreements that the – that – in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Argentina because they thought that Iran would actually follow through on them, and the Iranians haven’t. One of the reasons she said they hadn’t followed through on them was because it was increasingly – quote, “increasingly impossible under Iran’s economic situation, sanctions, et cetera.” She said that frankly, more and more countries throughout the region have cottoned on – interesting word – cottoned on to the fact that those agreements are relatively meaningless, except for some countries. She said that they’re – that the United States does not actually find that there is a growing influence of Iran in the hemisphere, but that there is a persistent desire for Iran to be present that is monitored extremely closely. And then she finished the answer by saying, “I do think that there are fewer countries that get kind of – that kind of get hoodwinked by Iran.”
So I’ve got two things I want to ask about this. One, if you all are so – I presume that Assistant Secretary Jacobson was – position – what she’s saying is the position of the Administration. If you all think that Latin American countries are getting hoodwinked by Iran and signing deals with them, why on Earth do you think that the nuclear agreement is going to be any different? I don’t have a follow-up because I expect I know what the answer to that’s going to be.
MR RATHKE: Okay. Well, so I haven’t seen the full text of her remarks. I didn’t see them.
QUESTION: I just read them to you, so --
MR RATHKE: Is that --
MR RATHKE: And then – but I think the thing I would highlight is that we’ve talked extensively about Iran’s regional role, about Iran’s international activities, about its support for terrorism, all of which cause the United States great concern, and on which we take action, including through sanctions, including through working with our international partners and international organizations. So that is, I think, consistent with the words you described from Assistant Secretary Jacobson – that is, we have concerns about Iran’s regional role and its global activities. We take steps to address that. That is a separate issue from the nuclear talks which are focused on Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Well, I think you missed the point of my question, which was if you have watched and seen Iran --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- sign and then not follow through on numerous agreements with countries in this hemisphere, which you’re a part of --
MR RATHKE: Well, but it’s very --
QUESTION: -- why do you think that they are at all interested in following through on any kind of nuclear agreement that you might have?
MR RATHKE: I think there’s a difference between the types of agreements you’re talking about. You’re referring to agreements – I don’t have a list of those agreements – but agreements on economic cooperation and other such things. What we’re talking about in the nuclear context is, first of all, a situation where there is a unified international community where there are international sanctions, a wide variety of them, UN sanctions, United States sanctions, European Union sanctions, as well as others, that put pressure on Iran and also that make it in Iran’s interest to deal with those sanctions and to negotiate on the nuclear program.
QUESTION: Right, but if they routinely – and for lack of a better word – screw other countries in this hemisphere on agreements that they have negotiated with them, why would you expect that they would go ahead and --
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to draw parallels between the kinds of agreements that may be aspirational, they may not – that are of a different nature from the nuclear agreement we’re negotiating.
QUESTION: My follow-up then is that one of the reasons that Assistant Secretary Jacobson said that they had not followed through on these things was because of the sanctions and because of the sanctions and the penalties imposed on them, quote: “We do not actually find that there is a growing influence of Iran in the region, but there is a persistent desire for them to have” – they have this desire. And I’m just wondering – the sanctions relief that will come as a result of this will free up billions of dollars in aid – in money, in frozen assets and other such things for Iran to use. Money is fungible. Are you not concerned at all that what you don’t see now in terms of a growing Iranian threat in the Western Hemisphere will become a concern if Iran suddenly has a windfall of billions and billions of dollars in money?
MR RATHKE: Well, as we’ve said all along, the priority in addressing the nuclear issue with Iran is because the nuclear issue is the most direct and the greatest perceived threat to deal with. And there is a separate – we have separate ways of dealing with other problematic behavior by Iran, whether it’s in regional context, whether it’s support for terrorism, and so forth. So that’s why we’re focused on the nuclear issue. And if Iran meets all of its required steps under an eventual joint comprehensive plan of action, then the world will be a safer place because of it. And --
QUESTION: But so you’re not --
MR RATHKE: And then – and if there are other problematic behaviors, we have other tools that remain at our disposal to deal with those.
QUESTION: Right. But you’re not concerned that a windfall of billions and billions of dollars, whenever it comes, whether it’s instantly or whenever the implementation is verified, that some of that money will help Iran realize its aspirations to have a greater presence or influence in this hemisphere, which Assistant Secretary Jacobson said is never benign?
MR RATHKE: Well, we remain concerned about those – about Iran’s activities and we will remain vigilant about them and we retain the tools to deal with them.
QUESTION: Jeff --
MR RATHKE: Go ahead, Lucas.
QUESTION: You might not be as concerned about this influx of cash that Iran might get, but the Vice President sounds like he is. Yesterday at the Washington Institute he said, quote, “Despite good reasons to think that most of it will go to urgent domestic needs, some or all of it may fund further mischief in the region.” Just a caveat on Matt’s point: If the Vice President is concerned, are you saying you’re not concerned?
MR RATHKE: No, and I didn’t say that we aren’t concerned in response to Matt’s question. I said we’re vigilant about those – about those concerns and we retain other policy tools to deal with them.
QUESTION: And another example of Iran’s malevolence yesterday or this week was the seizure of the Maersk Tigris. Has the United States Government asked the Government of Iran to release the ship?
MR RATHKE: So an update on the situation regarding the ship. Our understanding is that as of this morning the Maersk Tigris remains in the custody of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy and currently is anchored off the northeast coast of Larak Island, Iran. We continue to monitor the situation. We are in touch with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which as you know is the flag nation for the ship. We’re also in touch with Maersk, the shipping company. And so at this stage our contacts are with both of those entities.
QUESTION: But has the United States Government asked directly or indirectly for Iran to release the ship?
MR RATHKE: We’ve been – again, we’ve been working with the – we’ve been working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands and with Maersk to understand the facts of the situation.
QUESTION: Do you think Iran --
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any other contacts to read out.
QUESTION: Do you think Iran is holding this ship ransom? This is – an Iran appellate court yesterday said that Maersk owes it $3.6 million because of an incident that happened in 2005 involving 10 containers that were left on the docks for 90 days and per policy they dumped them. Do you agree with the Iran court?
MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t seen their judgment and I’m not going – again, we – there have been conflicting reports from Iran. They provided various justifications for this action, so it’s not entirely clear the basis on which they have acted. I would say that, going back to the activity of the ship, that redirecting a ship that is exercising the right of transit passage through the Strait of Hormuz – redirecting that ship to a different destination would not be consistent with the International Law of the Sea.
QUESTION: But can you strengthen that a little bit potentially? I mean, didn’t they take this crew hostage? Didn’t they – isn’t this an act of piracy? Didn’t they seize the vessel?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, what I’ve said is that the actions are not consistent with the International Law of the Sea. We are working with the parties concerned to determine the facts of the case and then to try to move forward.
QUESTION: Why don’t you just tell Iran to stop, stop this harassment of vessels, stop taking vessels hostage? Why don’t you just tell them right now to stop?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we think that the detention and the redirecting of the ship is inconsistent with the Law of the Sea, and so we’re trying to resolve the situation now.
QUESTION: But you cannot right now just tell Iran to cease its activities?
MR RATHKE: Again, we’ve heard differing justifications. We’re unaware of a clear explanation.
QUESTION: So the U.S. military is now going to be escorting U.S.-flagged vessels. Why are only U.S.-flagged vessels getting this escort? What kind of message does that send the U.S.’s allies that we’re only looking out for U.S. ships and not foreigners?
MR RATHKE: Well, the U.S. Navy, as you well know, Lucas, maintains a robust presence in the region to deter destabilizing activities, also to safeguard the vital maritime links in the region which are important to the international community. I think my colleagues at DOD have talked about the additional information that they are accompanying U.S.-flagged maritime traffic. For more specifics on the scope of their activities, I’d refer you back to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: But this is maybe a small analogy, but isn’t this akin to putting like a Band-Aid on somebody who has cancer? I mean, you’re going to escort these vessels, but why don’t you just tell Iran to cut out its activities? The Navy would probably save a lot of money.
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think we’ve been very clear about the importance of freedom of navigation and of freedom of maritime traffic in the region, in the Straits of Hormuz, through internationally accepted water – sea lanes.
QUESTION: So you just can’t tell Iran to cut it out, release the ship, stop harassing vessels?
MR RATHKE: Again, I think we’ve stressed the importance to the United States of not harassing shipping and of maintaining the open sea lanes. I think we’ve been clear about that.
QUESTION: Jeff, just a couple of small things on this.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: You referred to Maersk as the owner of the ship. Are you sure about that?
MR RATHKE: I didn’t say they were the owner.
QUESTION: I thought you did, but they (inaudible) --
MR RATHKE: If I did, I didn’t mean to. I know they’ve said --
MR RATHKE: They’ve clarified that there is another owner.
QUESTION: Yeah. And then one other thing: Do you have any readout of the expert-level talks with Iran in New York, and do you have any further detail on the next round of higher-level talks?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. There have been meetings this week in New York at the expert level, as you say, Arshad, among the P5+1 members with the EU and Iran, and they’ve taken advantage of the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference to hold those talks. I don’t have any upcoming travel or meetings to announce, but of course, you can expect that we will have a robust schedule of negotiations between now and June 30th.
QUESTION: Jeff, two small things on the ship.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: One, you talked about how this is inconsistent with the International Law of the Sea. The U.S. is not a party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, is it?
MR RATHKE: Signed, not ratified.
QUESTION: So you’re not a party to it, correct?
MR RATHKE: Right, but we abide by it.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but other people don’t abide by it. I’m just wondering if the U.S. not being a party to the convention in any way hinders or complicates your trying to --
MR RATHKE: I don’t think so.
QUESTION: -- win the release of a ship before – because it was seized in a way that’s inconsistent with a treaty that you’re not a party to.
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t think so.
MR RATHKE: And let’s go back. First of all, it’s not a U.S.-flagged vessel. It’s a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. It’s also --
QUESTION: That’s the second point that I want to get to, but go ahead.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm, okay. And also, it is operated by a company that is not a United States company. So the United States has a role here because of our relationship with the Republic of the Marshall Islands and because of our interest in freedom of navigation more generally.
MR RATHKE: But I don’t see that as getting in the way of our engagement on this issue. So your follow-up?
QUESTION: Well, you mean you don’t see not being a party to the treaty --
MR RATHKE: Correct.
QUESTION: -- as being – getting in the way. All right.
And then secondly, maybe this is a question for the Pentagon, but the Navy is escorting only U.S.-flagged ships? What about other Marshall Islands ships for which you have responsibility? And there are other countries, particularly in the Pacific island nations that are also under compacts similar to the Marshall Islands. Are they escorting all vessels for which the United States has responsibility?
MR RATHKE: I would refer you to them for the details of that. Of course, yes, we have a variety of agreements out there.
QUESTION: But just the U.S.-flagged vessels was the announcement from the Pentagon today.
MR RATHKE: Yeah. I don’t have anything to add to the Pentagon’s announcement. If you have questions about --
QUESTION: But why not escort other vessels? Why are – what message is the U.S. sending by saying Japan, Panama, other flagged vessels, you’re on your own?
MR RATHKE: I don’t think anybody has the sense of their being on their own and the United States not being engaged in the region, and certainly in international waters of the seas that are necessary for maritime commerce.
QUESTION: But all except for one ship, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Change topic?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Earlier in the week, the ASEAN summit put out a statement expressing concern about Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea saying it might undermine peace, security, and stability in the region. It didn’t name China by name, but that’s what it was referring to. I was wondering if the U.S. shares those concerns.
MR RATHKE: Right. Well, we certainly have seen the ASEAN statement, and the statement offers a clear and compelling message that land reclamation in the South China Sea has eroded trust in confidence, and we share those same concerns. We certainly welcome ASEAN’s call for negotiations toward a code of conduct; they’ve been calling for that for some time and we’ve supported those calls as well. And we welcome their call for this to be intensified. We think an effective code of conduct would reduce tensions arising from territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
QUESTION: Are there any steps you can update us on in terms of your efforts to hasten the code of conduct being formed, or --
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any specific steps to outline. Again, these are negotiations between ASEAN and China. We’re – we support them, but I don’t have specific steps to mention.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. concerned specifically that this land reclamation work might also lead to the formation of an Air Defense Identification Zone over the South China Sea?
MR RATHKE: Well, let me stick with the land reclamation first. We’ve – as we’ve said before, China’s extensive land reclamation in the South China Sea has eroded trust, it’s eroded confidence in the region, it’s contributed to rising tensions, and the addition of hundreds of acres of reclaimed land is a drastic change to the status quo, and it’s not conducive to diplomatic progress or to reducing tensions, in our view. So we certainly want to see tensions reduced, and that’s our view on the reclamation.
QUESTION: Okay. But no fears about an ADIZ, because you guys were – spoke out pretty strongly about that when it happened in the East China Sea.
MR RATHKE: We certainly did. I don’t have a – any indication right now that that’s in the offing, but certainly I think our views on the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone should be – should remain in everyone’s minds. And in the same way that we’ve talked about land reclamation, unilateral efforts to change the status quo, they do not contribute to diplomatic progress or to reducing tensions.
QUESTION: Just last one on this. Today, there were reports that the Chinese naval chief said that the islands that it’s building might eventually be used for humanitarian work, and that the U.S. might be granted access to them when the time is right, I think was the phrasing he used. Does that ease your concerns at all? Does that give you any kind of peace of mind about China’s intentions?
MR RATHKE: Well, building facilities on reclaimed land in disputed areas will not contribute to peace and stability in the region.
QUESTION: Regardless of what (inaudible) --
MR RATHKE: This is true even if, as some Chinese officials have stated, the facilities in question were used for civilian disaster response purposes. Now we support all countries, including China, contributing to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, but building facilities on reclaimed land is not going to contribute to peace and stability.
Now, if there is a desire to reduce tensions, China could actively reduce them by taking concrete steps to halt land reclamation; clarify its nine-dash line claim in accordance with international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention; and conclude a code of conduct on the South China Sea with ASEAN. We also encourage China to work with existing multilateral mechanisms for humanitarian and disaster relief, such as the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center, and – to increase the possibilities and the likelihood of regional cooperation.
QUESTION: But would the U.S. accept that invitation?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think it’s quite clear. Building – we do not see building facilities on reclaimed land in disputed areas as a way to contribute to peace and stability in the region. I’m not aware of any invitation to make use of the facilities, but again, we’re talking about territory – about features that are disputed among many countries in the region.
QUESTION: And also another issue, according to recent Reuters exclusive report, during Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the U.S., U.S.-Japan military are – is actually considering joining the U.S. air patrol to the South China Sea. So was this a topic of discussion when President Obama or Secretary Kerry met with their Japanese counterpart?
MR RATHKE: Well, of course, we had a series of meetings with Japanese officials, including with Prime Minister Abe, and just a couple of days before that we had the 2+2 meeting between Secretary Kerry and Secretary Carter with their Japanese counterparts. We’ve put out extensive fact sheets on all of those meetings, including on the revised defense guidelines. I can check to see whether that specific element is contained in them. I don’t have that at my fingertips here at the moment.
Anything more on China, South China Sea?
QUESTION: A follow-up on the Abe question, actually.
MR RATHKE: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on the Abe question.
MR RATHKE: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, he’s going back to Japan over the weekend. I just wonder if you have any closing thoughts on what he was able to accomplish while he was here. Do you think it was a successful trip?
MR RATHKE: We thought it was a great visit by Prime Minister Abe. We – as I just mentioned, there were a number of concrete achievements: the revised defense guidelines that started off the week with a reaffirmation of the U.S.-Japan alliance; a joint vision statement at the White House when President Obama and Prime Minister Abe met. We also appreciated Prime Minister Abe’s constructive message – excuse me – about reconciliation in U.S.-Japan relations and his tribute to Americans who lost their lives in the war. So those are all important outcomes. I don’t have much more to add because it’s been – there’s been a lot already put out about the visit, but we’re certainly very happy with his visit to the United States.
MR RATHKE: With ASEAN.
QUESTION: With ASEAN, yeah, specifically. Are you suggesting that the primary reason that a code of conduct has not been concluded is because China hasn’t engaged forthrightly in negotiations or are you saying that – are you saying that – basically that the onus is on China more than any other country --
MR RATHKE: Well, I think this is – these are negotiations that the ASEAN countries are carrying out with China. You also started us off in the region by asking about the ASEAN leader’s statement, and we certainly share the concerns. So we welcome ASEAN’s call to intensify negotiations toward a code of conduct and we certainly think that Chinese engagement toward that end would contribute to reducing tensions, but I’m not going to analyze every particular step along the way toward a code of conduct --
QUESTION: You weren’t saying that --
MR RATHKE: -- but we certainly think it’s important to engage.
QUESTION: You weren’t saying that Chinese – that China is the reason that it hasn’t happened so far. You weren’t meaning to imply that?
MR RATHKE: No. I would simply highlight that the ASEAN countries have called for intensified negotiations. We certainly welcome that call.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: The South Korean foreign ministry put out a statement yesterday expressing disappointment that Abe didn’t go far enough in acknowledging the comfort women issue in his address to Congress. Obviously, this has been a priority for the U.S. trilateral relationship to get Japan to acknowledge in a forthright way the sins of World War II. Is there any disappointment on the U.S.’s side that Abe wasn’t more forthright during his address?
MR RATHKE: Well, at the press conference over at the White House on April 28th, Prime Minister Abe reaffirmed that his cabinet upholds the Kono Statement, has no intention to revise it – we certainly take note of that point – and also that he upholds the views of previous prime ministers in that regard, but I don’t have anything more to add on that.
Same topic, Laura, or --
MR RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I was wondering – you said – been able to verify the welfare of more than 1,000 American citizens. Do you have a better sense, now that a few days have gone by, of how many, if any, Americans are in the missing category?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have updated numbers on that. Again, we continue to work through as we hear about American citizens who were in Nepal or are in Nepal – we work through those, but I don’t have a number to share.
QUESTION: So is the Embassy then, are we to understand, still receiving calls about Americans whose welfare hasn’t been verified?
MR RATHKE: Well, some of those calls come in here in Washington because they’re from family members who are in the United States who are concerned about their loved ones. So between the State Department and our Embassy in Kathmandu , yes, we continue to receive calls. But I don’t have a number of calls per day or – to sort of explain whether they’re increasing/decreasing and by how much.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Nepal.
MR RATHKE: Yeah, just a second.
QUESTION: I actually have another one real quick on that.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I asked yesterday – Marie – whether there was Embassy or State Department involvement in locating the Americans that were rescued by U.S. forces yesterday. Do you have an answer on that?
MR RATHKE: Yeah, just a moment. Let me – so now – and which Americans were – was this in reference to?
QUESTION: There was the U.S. Special Forces operation that rescued three Americans. I know there was another – a Nepali operation as well. I guess either of those were – I guess put together because of intelligence from the State Department or --
MR RATHKE: Well, of course, our operations out there are all coordinated. We have an embassy with the USAID disaster assistance team, as well as the elements of the U.S. military that have come in to assist. So they’re all operating as part of one effort. So I’m not sure what this – what the particular question is.
QUESTION: My question is just when people are calling to ask about the welfare of a family member, whether it’s calling the State Department or calling the embassy, is that what led to the location of these Americans? Or was it just they happened upon these Americans?
MR RATHKE: I see. Yeah. That I don’t have a further answer on where – what the precise source of the information was that led to their location and rescue. That I don’t have.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just a brief question on the helicopters. These privately contracted choppers, are they coming from in-country or are they being flown in from neighboring countries?
MR RATHKE: I don’t know whether they have come in or whether they’re – have been there since before the earthquake. That I don’t have in that level of detail.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Question about Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: No, can we stay on Nepal just for one brief second?
MR RATHKE: Okay, we’ll come back. Yeah.
QUESTION: I just – I hadn’t heard this before. You said there were fewer than 70 Americans staying at U.S. facilities. What facilities were they staying at?
MR RATHKE: So this is the embassy – our chancery as well as the – I believe it’s the American Club. Just a moment.
QUESTION: I’m just curious. I mean, are people like camped out in sleeping bags or are there rooms for them?
MR RATHKE: No. From my understanding it was basically a camping out situation --
QUESTION: Is this --
MR RATHKE: -- for people who did not have a place to stay.
QUESTION: Is this – is that normal? I mean, does that (inaudible)?
MR RATHKE: Well, this isn’t a normal situation. So it was --
QUESTION: No, no. I understand that. I’m saying --
MR RATHKE: No, it was sort of an emergency measure because --
QUESTION: Right, and I’m not criticizing it. I just want to know --
MR RATHKE: No, no, I didn’t take it that way.
QUESTION: I mean, has this happened before in natural disasters where the – where people are allowed to --
MR RATHKE: I can’t think of an example, but there may well be examples. But anyway, the thing I also want to highlight in that regard is that the airport remains open in Kathmandu, so some American citizens continue to depart. There are still – there’s still space available on commercial flights. We’re still facilitating American citizens who want to leave by commercial means.
QUESTION: Jeff, at the top of the briefing you said that DOD is giving some helicopters or lending some helicopters to the efforts.
MR RATHKE: Yeah, so I would refer you back to them for more details. But the Department of Defense is preparing to deploy helicopters to Nepal, and they are also preparing to assist with air field and logistics operations at Kathmandu’s airport.
Is this the same topic?
QUESTION: Yeah, on Nepal. Do you just have an updated number on the amount – number of dead Americans who died in the earthquake, or no?
MR RATHKE: No change. There are four American citizens who died in the earthquake.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Regime and military control of Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region will hold parliamentary elections this Sunday, May the 3rd, despite the calls and warnings from the international community that this may harm peace efforts and ongoing negotiations for peaceful settlement of the conflict. And now, needless to say, there’s no country or international organization that recognizes this entity, and several countries and international bodies, including Turkey, European Union, Organization of the Islamic Conference, and always the Minsk Group, of which the U.S. is a co-chair, have expressed their disapproval of the elections. Do you have a reaction on the part of the Administration?
MR RATHKE: A reaction to what?
QUESTION: To the elections that are being held.
MR RATHKE: Well, I would say a few things. First, the United States does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent sovereign state, and accordingly, we will not accept the results of the elections on May 3rd as affecting the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the context of a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, we recognize that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh will play a role in deciding their future. But – and we also stress that we in no way prejudge the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the negotiations to bring a lasting and peaceful settlement to the conflict.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: All right. Yes, Samir.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Syrian opposition leader Khaled Khoja after his meeting yesterday with Secretary Kerry told me that the U.S. program to train and equip the vetted Syrian opposition is currently not appropriate for their needs, current needs now. He said they are capable to fight the ISIL and the regime at the same time, and all they need now, their urgent need now is to get protection to the Syrian people from the daily, systematic barrel bombs and air force attacks. Is the U.S. – can the U.S. do anything to ease these daily attacks against the people?
MR RATHKE: Well, I would say that first of all, we continue – we remain committed to strengthening the moderate opposition so that it can serve as a counterweight both – against both extremism and the Assad regime. And we continue to go to great lengths to ensure that we are supporting the moderate opposition. And we’re encouraging other countries to support aid to moderate voices as well.
With regard to the question of no-fly zones, if that’s what you’re really getting at, the creation and enforcement of no-fly zones and other militarily enforced zones would present significant challenges, including military, humanitarian, and financial challenges that would have to be considered in the context of our broader Syria policy. We are constantly evaluating options for supporting the moderate Syrian opposition. Of course, our train and equip program is just getting underway. My colleagues at the Department of Defense would have more specific details about that. And we are also committed to the success of the people we train through the train and equip program, and so we still – we are continuing to finalize the full complement of support that we might provide to the forces who have gone through the train and equip program.
QUESTION: But beside the no-fly zones, is there anything the U.S. can help to ease these barrel bomb attacks?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I would say we are looking at the full complement of support that we can provide to the forces that we train under train and equip. I don’t have additional details to outline right now.
QUESTION: So I don’t – you’re committed to the success of the people who you train? That’s why you haven’t been training them for however long? That’s why this has been – taken so long?
MR RATHKE: Well, no. There’s been a number of logistical and organizational issues to work through in terms of getting the training started. That’s – and again, that – the training will be commencing very soon. And so that’s separate from the point I was making in response to Samir’s question. His question was about support that the forces who have gone through the train and equip program would be able to rely on once they are through the training and --
QUESTION: Yeah. But, I mean, it’s got to begin. You have to start training them before you can say – I mean, you can say you’re committed to their --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- to the success of those who you train all you want to, but if you’re not – if you haven’t yet started training them, it’s hard to see what the commitment is.
MR RATHKE: Again, I think that’s --
MR RATHKE: -- it’s starting – it’s commencing shortly.
QUESTION: All right.
MR RATHKE: So --
MR RATHKE: Yes, Michel.
QUESTION: On this issue, Dr. Khoja has asked the U.S. to help in establishing security zones or secure zones in Syria. What was the Secretary’s answer?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think I’ve outlined the – it’s similar to the question about the no-fly zones. Any kind of military-enforced zones present significant challenges, and we need to consider that in the context of our overall policy toward Syria. So we are constantly evaluating options for supporting the opposition, but I don’t have any new initiatives --
QUESTION: That means they won’t get --
MR RATHKE: -- to outline right now.
QUESTION: That means they won’t get any help from the U.S. Government, this issue?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I say – as I said, we are constantly evaluating potential options. I don’t have any decisions to outline.
QUESTION: But you’ve been evaluating this since the start of the uprising four years ago.
MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to announce, Michel. That’s – we’re aware of that interest. As I said, there are – it has significant implications, and we continue to analyze those. And we remain in dialogue with our partners in that regard.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: The military challenges to this are what? The Syrian air defense?
MR RATHKE: Well, I said there are military, humanitarian --
QUESTION: Right, but specifically --
MR RATHKE: -- financial challenges --
QUESTION: -- the military ones, can you go in – or is that something you would defer to the Pentagon?
MR RATHKE: I’m not going to detail them, but I think you can surmise.
QUESTION: Has Iran insisted that there’s no – no-fly zone be put in Syria?
MR RATHKE: Excuse me, has who?
QUESTION: Has Iran insisted that a no-fly zone doesn’t --
MR RATHKE: You’re welcome to ask the Iranian Government that question. That’s not something we’re talking to them about.
Go ahead, Ilhan.
QUESTION: On Syria. Recently opposition fighters took over Idlib and also very recently Jisr al-Shughour, very near another – within the – Idlib, close to Aleppo as well. Some experts like former U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford argue that the Damascus regime might be shakier than expected. My question is: Are you – this U.S. Administration is supporting current campaign of the opposition forces coming from the Idlib to the Damascus?
MR RATHKE: Well, if you’re talking about the campaign of extremist groups like Nusrah and others of that ilk, no, we are not supporting their campaign. That’s quite clear, isn’t it?
QUESTION: So just to make it clear – so you are currently supporting the Assad regime against the al-Nusrah? What is your --
MR RATHKE: No, no, I think – I don’t think anybody who’s paid attention to a word that’s been said from this podium over the last year could draw that conclusion. No, that’s not the case.
Yes, Elliot, go ahead.
QUESTION: On this?
QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead. No, I have a different topic, so you go.
QUESTION: Are you aware that some Syrian opposition fractions are getting TOW missiles from some U.S. allies maybe in the region?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any comment or any information on that.
Go ahead, Elliot.
QUESTION: Did you happen to get any response to the question I asked Marie yesterday about the seizure of assets of Prime Minister Poroshenko’s candy company in Russia?
MR RATHKE: Well, I would refer you to the Russian and Ukrainian governments to get more detail on that. I don’t have anything to add to it.
QUESTION: The Russians say it’s tax fraud; the Ukrainians say it’s politically motivated. You don’t have any take on it yourself?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything more to offer on that.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you want to wade into this criticism of the Turkish police again today with the protestors? Do you have any reaction to --
MR RATHKE: Wait, are you talking about the May Day --
MR RATHKE: Okay, so not Syria-related, but --
MR RATHKE: -- just Turkey. Okay.
QUESTION: I meant in the region.
MR RATHKE: Right, I understand.
So the United States fully supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest, as fundamental to any democracy. We urge the police to exercise restraint and we also urge those demonstrating to exercise their rights in a peaceful manner. We don’t condone attempts to provoke violence by any party.
QUESTION: Other than the ambassador photoshopping his hair blond in response to the Ankara mayor’s tweet about Marie or comments about Marie, are you aware that there was any other – any kind of communication between the U.S. and Turkish governments about this?
MR RATHKE: Assistant Secretary Nuland and Ambassador Bass have raised the inappropriate comment with Turkish officials. I don’t have further comment on those discussions, but they’ve both raised it.
QUESTION: Are you expecting any kind of response or an apology or anything like that?
MR RATHKE: I don’t know. We’ll see what – if there’s a response, they’ve raised it. I don’t have a further readout to share.
QUESTION: All right. And the last one --
QUESTION: Can we go back to the use of force? Do you regard the Turkish police or other security forces’ actions as – which included both the use of tear gas and water cannon – as an excessive use of force in putting down and dispersing the protests?
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to categorize specific steps by the Turkish authorities in general, but I would say that – I’m not going to categorize them in specific, sorry. But in general, we urge the police to exercise restraint, as I said. At the same time, there is the need for the protestors to exercise their rights peacefully.
QUESTION: But you can’t say generally whether you believe that there has been excessive use of force on the part of the (inaudible) the police?
MR RATHKE: I’m not going to an analysis of – again, we --
QUESTION: But you’ve – it’s not analysis. You guys have made comments on this, including (inaudible) Turkey, including responses by police and security forces to protestors. So I’m not asking for analysis; I’m asking if it’s the U.S. Government’s position that there has been excessive use of force. You may not have a position on that; that’s fine, but it’s not an analytical question.
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t have anything to say beyond the fact that we urge restraint by the police in this matter.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you also stated that violence should not be with the protestors as well. Have you seen any kind of violence from the protestors coming out today?
MR RATHKE: Again, we’re urging the police to act with restraint. We’re urging also the demonstrators to act peacefully, and we are speaking out against any attempt to provoke. I don’t have – I’m not going to characterize further those actions.
QUESTION: Do you see today’s events in Turkey is isolated incident or it is a broad trend that a couple days ago Freedom House issued latest report and again its press not free. And in other standards, in democratic standards, Turkey seems to backsliding, everything, the entire nation democracy indexes. Do you see these events, today’s events, is isolated incidents or it is a trend, part of a trend in Turkey?
MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve spoken publicly from this podium and elsewhere about the concerns raised within the international community and by Turkish citizens about recently passed security legislation as an example and the importance of protecting fundamental freedoms. This is a topic we continue to discuss and raise with Turkish officials – the importance of safeguarding due process and the fundamental freedoms that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.
QUESTION: On the --
MR RATHKE: Yeah. Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: -- subject of protests.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: You mentioned in your opening the Milan. There was also protests and demonstrations and violence in Milan today coinciding with the opening of the Expo. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR RATHKE: I did – I did hear about – hear about that. We are aware there have been some protests in connection with the opening of the Expo. We support the rights of people to protest as long as they do so peacefully. I would refer you back to the Italian authorities for specific details on the protests.
QUESTION: And then also on protests, the Ukrainian authorities are preventing people from demonstrating in Odessa on the anniversary of the fire that Marie talked about yesterday. Do you have any comment on that?
MR RATHKE: I hadn’t seen those reports, so I don’t have a specific comment on the decisions they may have made.
QUESTION: You would then --
MR RATHKE: Of course, again, as we’ve talked about in a couple of other contexts, we support the right of people to demonstrate peacefully. But I’m not aware of a specific decision made in that case.
QUESTION: And that – okay. But that would include people in Odessa who don’t necessarily agree with your viewpoint?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t know the circumstances under which these demonstrations --
QUESTION: Well, I’m just looking – I mean, if you support free protest, peaceful protest anywhere --
MR RATHKE: Right.
QUESTION: -- surely that includes --
MR RATHKE: We support the right of people to demonstrate peacefully and express --
QUESTION: -- in Odessa --
MR RATHKE: -- and express their views --
QUESTION: -- as --
MR RATHKE: Yes, that would include it.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: All right.
MR RATHKE: All right. Yes?
QUESTION: I’ve got more.
MR RATHKE: Okay, go ahead.
MR RATHKE: Yes, we’re all at rapt attention.
QUESTION: Well, has someone else got something else?
MR RATHKE: Okay, we’ll let Lucas --
QUESTION: Okay, sorry. I’m – go ahead.
MR RATHKE: Lucas, fill the gap.
MR RATHKE: So there are a couple of points I’d like to add. So first of all – now is your question – your question is about U.S. --
QUESTION: Is this report accurate?
MR RATHKE: -- about U.S. – okay. Well, the United States, along with our partners, we remain in close coordination to mitigate the threat that could be posed by former Guantanamo detainees. This is a principle in our decisions to transfer detainees and it remains a topic of ongoing dialogue.
QUESTION: Is this an admission that these Taliban Five were engaged in any kind of nefarious activities, communicating with their colleagues back in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that you’re concerned that they’re going to go back to the battlefield?
MR RATHKE: Well, no, it’s not a confirmation of anything. I’m simply saying that we remain in close contact, as we would in any circumstance where we transfer detainees. I’m not going to get into the details of our diplomatic discussions with Qatari authorities with respect to these particular individuals.
QUESTION: Last one. If you’re not concerned about their re-engagement with the Taliban, why not --
MR RATHKE: I didn’t say that I was – that we weren’t concerned. I said that it remains --
QUESTION: Oh. Why not let them leave then?
MR RATHKE: -- that we remain in dialogue with authorities in countries to which Guantanamo detainees are transferred to mitigate any potential threat that they could pose.
QUESTION: So you’re not worried about – I mean, if they’re – if you’re not worried about – if you’re worried about them re-engaging, is that why you’re telling them to stay in Qatar under the government?
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not detailing the – whatever the particulars of our diplomatic exchange are. But again, we take steps to mitigate the risks of recidivism. And I think if you look at the record of recidivism among detainees who have been transferred over the last few years under this Administration, it has been substantially lowered.
QUESTION: But just lastly, are these Taliban Five detainees going to be leaving Qatar soon, or are they going to be staying there?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details to add to what I’ve said. We’re in discussions with Qatari authorities to mitigate the threat --
QUESTION: So you can’t confirm the report that they are going to be --
MR RATHKE: I’m not going to confirm those details.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that today, anything new?
MR RATHKE: Do you have a specific element of it you’re interested in?
QUESTION: Well, in particular, you were asked about – or Marie was asked about protests near the embassy. It was my understanding, as it was Marie’s, that they weren’t protestors. My understanding is that they’re several hundred Burundian students who are seeking the protection of the United States Embassy by camping out there. This isn’t a situation like it is in Nepal, but is the U.S. Embassy – do they have any reasonable – should they have any reasonable expectation of U.S. protection or assistance in – if they’re attacked by police or whoever?
MR RATHKE: Well, we reiterate that the path of dialogue and peace and nonviolence is the only path through which Burundi can find its way forward in the political crisis that exists there. Yesterday evening, United States officials visited the approximately 600 students who were seeking shelter and security outside the walls of our Embassy in Bujumbura.
We commend the students and the police outside the embassy for carrying out – or for behaving in a peaceful and professional manner thus far. We call on the government to ensure that there is space for peaceful protests and to respect freedom of assembly. We and our embassy in Burundi continues to urge the Burundian Government to reopen the universities so that students can return to their studies. We think that their plight reflects the desperate circumstances that confront Burundi as a result of lack of dialogue and by restrictions on the media and communication and freedom of expression. So we certainly are urging that they be – that they have the opportunity to return to their studies, and we are not requesting that they – that those students leave the vicinity of our compound as long as they remain peaceful and calm.
QUESTION: Right. But they’re – you’re not able to assure them that – I mean, they went to the embassy because presumably, they see the United States and its outpost in Bujumbura as being a safe place to go to --
MR RATHKE: Well, I think it’s also – I think the embassy is located right in the middle of where the university is located. So I think it’s also in the direct vicinity of where many of these students are studying and living.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, Bujumbura is not very big. I don’t – I can’t say that I’ve been there, but it’s not a very huge city. And I think the embassies are all – I mean, they’re not at the Chinese embassy looking for protection. So are you able to – has the embassy told these students that if – in the event of the worst-case scenario that they’ll be allowed in, or that there will be some kind of action that the United States takes on their behalf?
MR RATHKE: Well, again --
QUESTION: Or is their trust in the U.S. misplaced here?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, our – we have urged the government to reopen the universities. We – in our view, the students are simply seeking a place to shelter after the universities were closed, and we’re urging the authorities to take steps to address their concerns.
QUESTION: All right. I have one more.
MR RATHKE: Yep.
QUESTION: But it can be the last one. I don’t – if there are others.
MR RATHKE: Okay. We’ll make it the stunning conclusion. Yes, Ilhan.
QUESTION: Jeff, on the Marie Harf question, Ankara mayor’s tweet, so this Ankara mayor has 2.5 million followers on Twitter and very close to palace of Mr. Erdogan as well as the government party, and his tweet is still on Twitter. He did not issue any kind of apology or anything. During the discussion of Ambassador Bass raising the issue, is this episode closed for you or do you expect anything further from Ankara mayor?
MR RATHKE: As I said, U.S. officials have raised this with Turkish officials. I don’t have any further details to provide you.
MR RATHKE: Yes, he was.
QUESTION: And then --
MR RATHKE: He and our ambassador were – there were others with them, but they were the two senior officials who went out to speak with them.
QUESTION: Gotcha. And then yesterday, Marie had said that there was approximately 200. Was that just a misunderstanding of the number or has it – had it grown since the briefing because (inaudible)?
MR RATHKE: I think at the time of the briefing, it was just happening. Our assessment is around 600. So I don’t have the impression that that has been changing in a dynamic way. I think it’s – my understanding is that it’s a group of about 600 people.
Yes. John, then we’ll go into the back.
QUESTION: Just a Camp David summit question. The New York Times reported this morning that the UAE was pressing the Obama Administration earlier last month for a defense pact and – ahead of the summit, and in exchange, President Obama sought the UAE’s support for the Iran nuclear deal. Is – are we expanding our entangling alliances in the Middle East in exchange for support for an Iran nuclear deal?
MR RATHKE: Well, let me say two things. First, for any details of the President’s discussions with his counterparts, certainly would refer you to the White House. I’m not going to speak to those from here. The second point is we have a range of partnerships and alliances in the region. Those are extremely important to us and we continue to work on those. So I don’t have any announcements to make, but we have security partnerships with many countries and we are committed to stability in the region, even as we pursue a nuclear deal with Iran and, in fact, because we think a nuclear deal with Iran will contribute to stability, but I don’t have anything further to read out than that.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, a new topic. Two questions about Honduras. It’s actually been three years since four unarmed people were killed and several others injured during a joint U.S.-Honduran anti-drug operation near Ahuas. There is an ongoing investigation – pardon me – joint DOJ and Department of State. What’s the status of that investigation? It’s been going on for almost a year now.
MR RATHKE: So the investigation into that incident is still ongoing. As you said, it’s a joint investigation. It involves the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department as well as the inspector general from the Department of Justice, but since the review is still ongoing, we don’t have any comment on the incident or the investigation.
QUESTION: Any anticipation of when it will be completed?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have a timeline for conclusion. We’re still working on the investigation.
QUESTION: One other quick one on that.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There was a memo that came to light during the case of a whistleblower in the Office of the Inspector General, State Department indicating that Under Secretary of State William Brownfield was not forthcoming in relation to this incident and gave the impression that he believed State should not investigate. Do you have any comment on that?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any comment on purported documents. Again, this is an ongoing investigation so I’m certainly not confirming the document or the view expressed in it. This is an ongoing investigation, and when it’s concluded we’ll have more to say.
Yes, David, then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: I haven’t been here the past couple days, so I’m sorry if I missed this, but do you have anything about – has the U.S. been taking part in Nigeria’s release of the – they released the numerous girls, hundreds of girls.
MR RATHKE: What do you mean by “taking part in?”
QUESTION: I’m – I know the U.S. has been supporting Nigeria in those efforts.
MR RATHKE: We certainly have, yeah.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you believe that your efforts have led to the release of these girls.
MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly have been providing support to Nigeria in a variety of ways, including through information-sharing and other steps. I don’t have the details of specific exchanges that led to this result, but we’re certainly glad to see some of the hostages released. Of course, the problem remains large and there are a lot more out there.
Matt, do you want to end – wrap this up?
QUESTION: Yeah, I got one brief one – extremely brief. And that – and then I’ll – a slightly longer one, but it’ll still be brief. In your opening comments, you talked about Slovakia and its purchase --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- of these nine Sikorski helicopters. Are they paying for them or is this stuff that was being essentially given to them or given – or provided to them at a deep discount?
MR RATHKE: So my understanding is that the Slovakian Government intends to procure them. Whether they’re – what exactly the financing arrangement is we’re happy to look into and provide.
QUESTION: You said that the – you said that they were just – their – one part of their – of – one reason they’re getting them is to help counter – one reason you’re pleased they’re getting them is to help counter regional threats. Can you be more specific about what regional threats Slovakia faces?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a detail to provide, although I think it’s important to put this in the context of the Wales summit commitments of all NATO members to continue to focus on NATO’s response and deterrence capabilities. So I think it’s in that context that you should look at this procurement.
QUESTION: Well – okay. But you mentioned regional threats, and I’m just wondering what that means, considering the countries that are – that border Slovakia don’t seem to be particularly hostile at the moment. But anyway, be that as it may --
MR RATHKE: Well, NATO is an alliance that deals with the --
QUESTION: Gotcha – no, no, no.
MR RATHKE: -- entire North Atlantic space, not just the borders of a particular member state.
QUESTION: Fair enough. And then my last one has to do with a question I’ve been asking. I asked yesterday, I asked Friday, and I’m still trying to find out whether or not this has to do with the Clinton Foundation donations.
MR RATHKE: Right.
QUESTION: I’m still trying to find out whether or not the department has an issue with the fact that some of these donations that were supposed to have been reported were not reported. I mean, if you don’t have an issue, that’s fine, but I’m just wondering. I mean, Marie said yesterday that the department would have appreciated it had all of them been flagged or notified to – notified to the department. And – but I’m just wondering – are you following up with the foundation? Is – do you think that there is a problem with this, with the lack of reporting – not to say that there was any kind of – there was a conflict of interest, but you can’t tell if there was or there might have been at the time if they were never reported. And so I’m just trying to find out if – is this something you’re following up with with the foundation, or is it something that you just don’t think is an issue?
MR RATHKE: Well, if I understand correctly, there were two specific foreign government donations that were not reported and that were then subsequently highlighted by the foundation.
MR RATHKE: So that’s my understanding of --
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about these other things, these things that have come to light since then.
MR RATHKE: But are you talking about foreign government donations or are you talking about something else?
QUESTION: Well, they’re donations. I’m not sure that they’re foreign government donations. But they may not have been covered. This is what I’ve been trying to find out. The Boston Globe had this big story yesterday about the health access initiative or something like that and on these donations that were given to them. And I just want to know – is that – did that contravene – did not disclosing those donations contravene the agreement that there was? And if they didn’t, fine, whatever. But if they did, I’m just wondering if you’re following up, if the building is following up to see whether they would have been problematic?
MR RATHKE: So perhaps this will help. I’m sure you’ll tell me if it doesn’t. The – to avoid conflicts based upon former President Clinton’s compensation for speeches and consulting, there were – and in the MOU overall there were three – there were three elements. There was an ethics undertaking, which was a formal letter which was agreed to by Secretary Clinton which showed that she committed not to participate personally and substantially in matters where the Clinton Foundation or the Clinton Global Initiative were specific parties to matters that would have a direct effect on President Clinton’s compensation, and the MOU set out commitments. The foundation agreed to publish annually the names of new contributors such as through a public website, and the foundation committed to submit information to the State Department about foreign government donations if an existing contribution – if an existing contributing country – excuse me – elected to increase materially its commitment or if a new contributor country elected to make a donation. That covers foreign government donations.
QUESTION: It does not cover individuals or foreign charitable organizations; is that correct?
MR RATHKE: That’s – that’s correct. It did not cover individuals and – that is nongovernment contributions.
QUESTION: So that suggests to me then that the only two donations that the State Department finds problematic are the ones that you already know about, the ones that were --
MR RATHKE: Well, as the foundation has identified, there were two donations that fell under those requirements that were not reported at the time, and they subsequently reported them.
QUESTION: So none of the stuff that has come out after that in these reports, such as the one in The Boston Globe, is a problem or --
MR RATHKE: Well, and I believe also I’d refer you back to the foundation, but I believe they are also addressing the question of the first element that I mentioned, which is publishing annually the names of new contributors. And --
QUESTION: Well, so is this – so is this a problem for the State Department or not? Is it something you’re following up with with the foundation to get them into – if they weren’t in --
MR RATHKE: This is – the foundation is working to --
QUESTION: If they weren’t in compliance at the time, are you pushing them to get into compliance ex post facto?
MR RATHKE: I think the foundation is undertaking to do that. I’d refer you to them.
QUESTION: Yeah, I know.
MR RATHKE: And so they’re addressing – they’re addressing the need to publicize it.
QUESTION: Yeah, but is it a problem for – but is it a problem for the State Department that this is having to happen? I mean, I just want to know. Did – was – if there wasn’t – if it wasn’t a problem, that’s fine. I just want to know if it was or if it wasn’t. That’s all. I think it’s pretty simple question, right?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, again, I don’t have anything further to add to what --
QUESTION: Well, can someone please find out whether this is an issue for the building or not, because this is an MOU that – I mean, and again, if it’s not a problem, then fine. But if it is, I would like to know about it, right?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Did I understand you correctly to say that the MOU required annual disclosure of all new donors?
MR RATHKE: The MOU contained a commitment for the foundation to publish annually the names of new contributors.
MR RATHKE: And separately there was the commitment to submit information to the State Department --
MR RATHKE: -- about new or substantially increased foreign government donations.
QUESTION: Is it problematic – I understand that the submission of information to the State Department pertains solely to foreign government donations, right?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But along with Matt’s question about whether it’s a problem that they did not, in the two instances that you cite, submit that information to you, I would also like you to ask if you can get an answer to the question of whether it is a problem for the State Department that the foundation did not submit all new donors, and specifically that the health portion of the foundation – which was spun off separately, but which has said it was still obliged, under the – it still had an obligation to report all donors – new donors, on an annual basis – did not do so? In other words, it’s not – the question is not just are you – was it problematic that it failed in those two instances to tell the State Department about foreign government donations, notwithstanding a commitment to do so, it is also: Is it a problem to the State Department that it failed to disclose all new donors, as it had committed to do so?
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, I’m happy to take that back. Again, I would highlight, though, that these voluntary agreements, which included the ethics undertaking letter, which I described at the start – these were voluntary agreements to enhance transparency that in many ways go beyond existing requirements. I don’t have any more for you than that.
QUESTION: Right. But (inaudible).
QUESTION: But what good are they if you don’t adhere to them?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Yeah, exactly. I mean, it was voluntarily entered into, is what you’re saying, but once entered into it wasn’t voluntary to comply, right? No one is suggesting or saying – asserting that there was some kind of a violation or a conflict of interest. We just want to know if, in fact, they – your – they did or did not comply with the voluntary agreements, and if they didn’t, is it a problem for you now? Does it raise questions at the building – within this – within the department?
MR RATHKE: Right. I understand the question.
QUESTION: Can I ask one last one --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
MR RATHKE: Well, there is an organization of private sector partners called the Friends of the USA Pavilion, and so they have been responsible for the pavilion. They’ve worked with our U.S. mission to Italy in that regard. I don’t have the list of donors, but I would encourage you to check out the – their page, which I imagine has information about the Friends of the USA Pavilion.
QUESTION: And to your knowledge, did any U.S. Government funding go into this?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have that data at my fingertips. We can check and see if there is any U.S. Government funding. Not that I’m aware of --
QUESTION: Could you – yeah.
MR RATHKE: -- but we’ll look at it.
QUESTION: So I wasn’t sure – exactly sure of my geography when I asked that Slovakia question before, but now that I’ve managed to pull it – so Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine. So what’s the threat? Is it Ukraine or is it to the east of Ukraine?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, NATO is a transatlantic alliance; it has responsibilities for security in the entire transatlantic space. I’ll leave it at that, Matt.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)