Daily Press Briefing - May 27, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing:
12:52 p.m. EDT
MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. I just have one thing at the top for you all. So Secretary of State John Kerry will travel Abuja, Nigeria on May 29th to lead the official U.S. delegation on behalf of President Obama for the inauguration of Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari. The Secretary will travel later that day to Geneva, Switzerland to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on May 30th as part of the ongoing EU-coordinated P5+1 nuclear negotiations.
Secretary Kerry will then visit Madrid, Spain from May 31st to June 1st. He will meet with King Felipe VI, President Rajoy, and Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues.
Secretary Kerry will then travel to Paris, France on June 2nd to lead the U.S. delegation to the Counter-ISIL Coalition Small-Group Ministerial. Coalition partners will review progress on the full range of our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL, while affirming our support for Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi campaign against ISIL. While in Paris, the Secretary will also meet with French Foreign Minister Fabius and other counterparts to discuss regional and global issues.
That’s all I have at the top, so Brad, I’ll hand over to you.
QUESTION: And then can we have a follow-up on – just on your announcement after that?
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
MR RATHKE: Sure. On the email filing, yes, we’ve – we’ve made our filing yesterday as – and last Tuesday, as you’ll recall, the court directed us to propose a schedule of rolling productions of Secretary Clinton’s emails. And so we provided the court with more information on our proposed schedule for that rolling production. The Department proposed that it make its next production of the emails by posting them on the State Department’s FOIA website on June 30th, 2015, and that we would make rolling productions in the same way every 60 days thereafter.
QUESTION: So June 30th when, in theory, the Iran nuclear agreement will also be sealed by June 30th, correct?
MR RATHKE: Well, that’s a different process, but that’s --
QUESTION: Busy day for this building.
MR RATHKE: Yes. But there’s two reporters from AP, so you can cover that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Very good.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can I – so in Nigeria, is he going to have bilats at all, or is this just a quick visit? So is he meeting the new president or --
MR RATHKE: I think it’s a pretty quick visit. I can check and see if there’s anything more in detail to offer on the schedule there. I think as we get closer to departure, maybe we’ll have more. I’ll look and see if there’s more that – that we can share afterwards about the schedule there.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- does that include any of the other P5 members? Is it just --
MR RATHKE: This is a meeting – it’s part of the ongoing P5+1 negotiations, but I believe it’s just a bilateral. Again, I’ll check and – on that.
QUESTION: And is this kind of essentially the – I mean, we know that there’s – at the political level there’s been a discussion. But this is the first time – given that you’ve got a month before the deadline, is this kind of the last stretch for these talks?
MR RATHKE: Well, we’re focused on June 30th as the deadline, and that’s – that’s what we’re devoting our efforts to. So this – this fits into that plan. Of course, there’s been an active schedule of meetings at the expert level, at the political director level, and also the Secretary will – this meeting follows also in the context of the nuclear negotiations. So certainly, we’re going to be focused on this for the – for the month of June.
QUESTION: One more story – one more thing on this. You saw the story today, France’s comment saying it’ll block any deal between Iran and the six powers, unless – unless there’s – all the necessary installations are in place, as they call it – installations. Was – is that a – would you consider that a necessary thing just before the month is – gets into the last month of talks?
MR RATHKE: Would I consider what necessary?
QUESTION: Those kind of comments. I mean, it’s – France has always been against – well, not against – but has always taken a harder line than any of the other P5 members. Is this is a concern for the U.S.?
MR RATHKE: Well, the P5+1 remain united in our efforts to reach a final deal by the end of June, and we believe that if all parties work – work in good faith we can achieve that goal. So the P5+1 remain united. So I don’t think there’s anything --
QUESTION: Jeff, can I ask on --
MR RATHKE: -- anything there. Yes.
QUESTION: Sorry, just to butt in. The Iranians today said that they believe the talks would stretch beyond June 30th. And there were also – there was a meeting yesterday at the Atlantic Council with the French, British, and German ambassadors, at which they also kind of predicted there could be something around July the 6th. Is the United States – would the United States be adverse to, as we did in Lausanne, to the deadline stretching beyond June 30th?
MR RATHKE: We’re not contemplating an extension beyond June 30th. Again, we’re united among the P5+1 that our efforts are to reach a final deal by the end of June. So that’s – that’s where our --
QUESTION: But given these are very complicated and the technical conversations are going on right now as we speak in Vienna, my question was: Would you be adverse – not whether you’re contemplating it, but would you be against any kind of extension beyond – if you’re already in the talks?
MR RATHKE: Well, in Lausanne, of course, we reached a framework understanding, and we’re working on completing the technical details and elements of that understanding now. So we won’t have a deal until those technical details are done, and – but – and we expect the pace of the talks to continue unabated. But we think we can achieve – achieve that goal.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you more about the --
MR RATHKE: Yes, Brad.
QUESTION: -- the 30th in Geneva. What is the format? You said they meet one-on-one. Are they just going to have a dinner together, or what, an hour-long meeting or something?
MR RATHKE: To be honest, I don’t have details of the format. I’ll check and come back to you afterwards.
QUESTION: So what is the goal of the meeting?
MR RATHKE: Well, of course, the Secretary talks to Foreign Minister Zarif in the context of these negotiations. There are always a variety of meetings – some bilateral, some multilateral, some the full P5+1 with Iran. So I wouldn’t characterize it in any way different from those types of meetings they’ve had in the past.
QUESTION: So there’s no goals?
MR RATHKE: Well, no, the goal is to reach an agreement by the end of June on a nuclear --
QUESTION: Where are you on the --
MR RATHKE: -- (inaudible).
QUESTION: Hold on. Where are you on the technical talks? Under Secretary Sherman is going to Europe to meet with Iranian officials as well?
MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve had expert-level talks over the last couple of weeks. Those – those were in New York on the margins of the NPT Review Conference. Those continued beyond – again, an additional week. We may have more announcements to make later today about other – other contacts in the P5+1.
QUESTION: So you wouldn’t expect the Secretary, for example, to convey to Foreign Minister Zarif the concerns of the GCC about Iran’s reputed nuclear program and about the progress of these discussions?
MR RATHKE: Well, which concerns are you referring to? Of course, we’ve been briefing our GCC partners --
MR RATHKE: -- including at the Camp David summit on the --
QUESTION: But you --
MR RATHKE: -- on the nuclear talks with Iran.
MR RATHKE: And so we certainly – we’ll be focused in all of our meetings, including in the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif, in advancing the nuclear deal forward.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t --
MR RATHKE: I’m not going to lay out the particulars of those private conversations that haven’t even yet happened. But of course, the purpose of the meeting is to move us forward to achieve a deal by the end of June.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t expect the Secretary to convey to Minister Zarif what the concerns are that have been expressed already by the GCC members both in Paris and here in the United States?
MR RATHKE: Well, the GCC members also maintain dialogue with Iran. So I’m not going to suggest that the focus of the meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif is only on what we’ve been talking about with the GCC. I mean, there’s a shared international interest in Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon. That’s – that’s the point of view of the international community, not just the GCC countries and other countries in the region, also the United States, our partners in Europe, our partners in the P5, China, Russia, et cetera. So this is a – this is a shared effort and we all have the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Jeff --
QUESTION: So it does --
MR RATHKE: Yeah, one more on this.
QUESTION: But it does beg the question then: Why have this meeting at this point? I mean, certainly, figuring out an agenda for the last four or five weeks of talks can be worked out at a lower level. Do they actually need to be in the same room to talk to each other?
MR RATHKE: Well, we certainly find it important and useful for the Secretary to talk to his counterpart about the key issues in the negotiations. So certainly, it’s valuable. And as you saw in the – in Lausanne in the meetings that went before it, it was also important to have that kind of high-level contact in order to reach the framework understanding. So this is all part of our effort to drive forward towards – towards a deal that verifiably cuts off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon by the end of June.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the sanctions. Suppose there is a deal and it’s signed on the 30th. How are these – I know we ask this question time and again. Will it be done right away, the lifting of the sanctions? Will it be stretched over, let’s say, four or five months? I mean, will there be, let’s say, specified sanctions that will be lifted and others that are not? How is that going to work out?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have new announcements to make about sanctions relief. As we’ve always said, sanctions relief will depend on completion of the key nuclear-related steps, and that’s what we’ve been saying ever since Lausanne, and that remains our position.
QUESTION: So do you expect that once the deal is announced, that the following day or the following week Iran can have access to its own funds that have been frozen?
MR RATHKE: Again, I’d go back to what I just said in answer to your question. The sanctions relief depends on verifiable completion of the key – of key nuclear-related steps. So that’s the way we look at it.
Yes, Pam. Same topic?
QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to circle back to the comments from earlier today from the deputy foreign minister in Iran and also from the French ambassador to the U.S. yesterday in their suggestions that there could be an extension of the deadline. You said that the United States is focused on the 30th as the deadline. Is there consideration of two things: first of all, a relatively short extension two or three days beyond the 30th, and also is there any consideration of a more prolonged extension?
MR RATHKE: We’re not contemplating any extension beyond June 30th. So that’s where we are.
QUESTION: Good. Because two or three days beyond that is a holiday weekend.
QUESTION: Well, but the thing is that if both the Iranians and the French --
QUESTION: And you’ve pretty much said that there are not going to be any negotiations on July 3rd, which is a federal holiday, or July 4th which is a national holiday?
MR RATHKE: If you’re making that request, I’ll take that back and ensure that --
QUESTION: I’m not making that request. I just think that this line of questioning is a bit unusual considering the fact that it’s a holiday weekend. There would have to be a break if there was going to be – is that not correct?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have the days of the week and when July 4th falls in my head, Matt. So that --
QUESTION: July 3rd is a Friday, and that’s the holiday.
MR RATHKE: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: July 4th is a Saturday. That’s --
MR RATHKE: Okay. Duly registered. Thank you.
Yes, Matt. Did you have – I thought you were just – I thought there was more beyond the interjection on the --
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, well, there is.
MR RATHKE: -- calendar.
QUESTION: Well, it’s a bit strange that the U.S. is so focused on their deadline and that you’re not contemplating, but yet Iran and the French are saying, well, you need the best deal, and if it goes beyond that, then that would be fine.
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we remain united with our partners in these negotiations, and we believe that if we work in good faith that we can achieve that date and achieve that goal, and certainly we’ve had a robust schedule of meetings in the last few weeks. Those meetings are continuing, and the Secretary’s trip is clearly a central part of that. So we are focused on working to get this done by the deadline.
QUESTION: Well, hold on. Perhaps you could remind the French that they also have a holiday – national holiday, kind of a big one around the 14th of July, I believe.
MR RATHKE: I seem to recall something about that.
MR RATHKE: But again, we’re not – we’re focused on June 30th. Any holidays on June 30th that you --
QUESTION: Not that I’m aware of.
MR RATHKE: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m sure there is one.
MR RATHKE: We’ll come to you in a second.
QUESTION: Just so we don’t --
MR RATHKE: Okay. Go ahead.
MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to preview of that sort. Again, the Secretary meets frequently with Foreign Minister Zarif, and these discussions are focused on the nuclear issue. Of course, as we’ve said before, we take every opportunity to raise with Iran the U.S. citizens who are detained or are on trial or, in the case of Robert Levinson, missing. So we – certainly we will raise the cases of Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini as well as Robert Levinson.
QUESTION: The Secretary will definitely?
MR RATHKE: Well, we always do, so I don’t have any reason to believe --
QUESTION: In his meeting with Zarif? He will?
MR RATHKE: -- that it won’t come up this time.
QUESTION: Okay. With special attention to the fact that the Rezaian – he’s on trial now?
MR RATHKE: Well, of course, and we talked about that yesterday.
MR RATHKE: Yes. Said.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR RATHKE: Anything more on Iran?
Okay, then go ahead.
QUESTION: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Tony Blair is not the head of the Quartet.
QUESTION: I mean – whatever. He’s the envoy --
QUESTION: -- to the – sorry --
MR RATHKE: Well, he was the Quartet --
QUESTION: He --
MR RATHKE: -- representative.
QUESTION: -- the special envoy of the Quartet – I don’t know what his title is – the peace envoy of the Quartet resigned today. Do you have any comment, first of all, on his resignation?
MR RATHKE: Well, Tony Blair has been a valued partner and friend in our effort to bring peace to the Middle East, and as Quartet representative, he’s worked tirelessly and passionately to advance economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza over the past eight years. And so we deeply appreciate his efforts and we’ll continue to value his support.
QUESTION: So you assess his tenure over the past eight years as a successful tenure by the Quartet? Have the goals of the Quartet been achieved under the sort of the auspices of Envoy Blair?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think the Quartet’s goals haven’t been achieved, of course, because we’re working towards a two-state solution in which Israel lives side-by-side at peace with a Palestinian state. So until that’s achieved, I don’t think any of us can say that we’ve succeeded.
QUESTION: The Quartet by and large is the brainchild of the United States of America. Has the time come to really perhaps change it or create something different to get the process going?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any speculation of that sort to share or to offer. We – the Quartet will continue its work in promoting a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I don’t have any further details to read out about that.
QUESTION: Is there any particular person that you’d like to see in that position that could perhaps have better relations with the Palestinians, because there was a bit of tension between Mr. Blair and the Palestinian Authority all along?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any speculation of that sort. I’m not aware of current plans to replace Tony Blair as Quartet representative. So I don’t have names or speculation to offer in that regard.
QUESTION: Does that mean that he might not be replaced?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not aware of current plans to replace him.
QUESTION: I understand that. But would the United States like to see – does the United States believe that that position has value?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, as we said, Tony Blair was active and --
QUESTION: No, no, not Tony --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I don’t want to – I’m not personalizing it. I just want to know, does the United States believe that it is – that having a Quartet representative such as Tony Blair is something that’s worthwhile? Or is it something that doesn’t – the position doesn’t really matter?
MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve – I would separate those things, because first, as I said, we certainly value --
QUESTION: Well, the Quartet --
MR RATHKE: -- Tony Blair’s contributions. But whether the position will be filled, I don’t have a current position.
QUESTION: The Quartet existed for five years before there was this – I mean, it was basically --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- created – maybe not for him, but he was the first one. And the Quartet had been around for some time before there was this position. So --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- do you think that it should – that this position should remain a position?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to say --
QUESTION: You don’t.
MR RATHKE: -- beyond the – that I’m not aware of plans to replace him currently.
QUESTION: Let me just --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- follow up on the Quartet for a little bit. During the nine-month negotiations led by Secretary Kerry, there was really no role for the Quartet. So in your view, in your assessment, what role is there for the Quartet in any kind of future negotiations?
MR RATHKE: Well, the Quartet plays an important role in keeping the partners – the EU, Russia, UN, the United States – engaged, up to date, and supporting the goal of the two-state solution. I’m not going to get into a detailed analysis of the Quartet and its working practices. But certainly we think the Quartet is an important format to support, work toward an Israeli – solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I’m not going to do an analysis of organizational arrangements.
QUESTION: But, Jeff, you must agree that during the nine-month negotiation period, the other Quartet members, were – really had insignificant roles to play. It was the United States. So it is the United States that can get the negotiation going or not going at any given time. With that perspective in mind, what role or what value does the Quartet have?
MR RATHKE: Again, the Quartet plays an important role supporting the goal that is shared of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m not going to offer further analysis.
QUESTION: But --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: But when you say that it plays an important role, surely you have some kind of reason to say that. Right?
MR RATHKE: Well, yeah. As I said, the members of the Quartet all have important roles to play. The Quartet brings them together, allows them to share views, to ensure that any opportunity that can be taken to promote --
QUESTION: Will be missed.
MR RATHKE: -- Israeli-Palestinian peace will be taken full advantage of --
MR RATHKE: -- to complete your sentence in a slightly different way, Matt. So it certainly plays an important coordination role.
QUESTION: Well, I understand how it might play an important role, but realistically, going back since it was created in 2002 – so 13 years – can you name a single accomplishment that the Quartet has – I mean, they presented – they came up with George Mitchell and the roadmap, but it was never implemented. I mean, what exactly has the Quartet done to further the cause of a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
MR RATHKE: Well, look, as I said in response to Said’s question, until the goal of a two-state solution has been achieved, then you can’t say that there’s been success. So that applies to --
QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but as far as I can tell – and correct me if I’m wrong – is the Quartet, when it was meeting regularly, got together every couple of months or whatever and issued a statement which – pretty much the same statement that they first issued in 2002, 2003, with the dates changed. It never actually – nothing that it proposed was ever actually achieved. Is that not correct?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have all the Quartet statements going back to 2002 here in front of me, so I’m not going to do a compare and contrast. Again, we think it’s important that the Quartet exists and that the Quartet brings together key parties to support the negotiation process and the outcome we all desire.
QUESTION: Jeff --
MR RATHKE: Yes, Michel.
QUESTION: Was Prime Minister Blair receiving any salary from the Quartet?
MR RATHKE: I would refer you to I believe the UN on those kinds of administrative arrangements.
QUESTION: Jeff --
MR RATHKE: Okay. Then I think --
QUESTION: -- on the Palestinian-Israeli thing.
MR RATHKE: Okay, yeah.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up: Yesterday I asked you if you knew anything of apparently a new proposal by Prime Minister Netanyahu to get the talks going, but to begin with which settlement blocks the Israelis can keep and – or which settlement blocks they can expand and so on. Do – did you follow up on that?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to add on that.
QUESTION: Well – yeah, apparently he told this to the EU envoy Federica Mogherini. Are --
MR RATHKE: I’m familiar with the reports and with your question.
QUESTION: But you have no --
MR RATHKE: I just don’t have anything --
QUESTION: You have no comment on --
MR RATHKE: I don’t have anything to add to what we discussed yesterday.
QUESTION: You have no comment on the content or the substance – alleged substance of the --
MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have anything to add to the discussion yesterday.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. be willing to entertain any talks in which the existing settlements would be basically rolled into a final separation deal?
MR RATHKE: I have nothing to preview about that or a reaction to these reports which – that – I don’t have anything beyond what I said yesterday.
Justin, go ahead.
QUESTION: One more, please?
QUESTION: When was the last meeting for the Quartet? Do you know?
MR RATHKE: I’m happy to check and find out. I don’t know offhand when the last meeting was.
QUESTION: Was there not a meeting of Quartet officials in Brussels today on – as part of the ad-hoc liaison committee meeting?
MR RATHKE: I don’t know off the top of my head, Matt. If you’re --
QUESTION: The answer would be yes, but --
MR RATHKE: Okay. All right, then.
Justin, go ahead.
MR RATHKE: So I think this question was asked yesterday as well. I don’t have anything to announce --
MR RATHKE: -- in that connection.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have anything to say, though, about whether you’ve discussed anything with them about extending the travel ban? We don’t need any announcement. It doesn’t have to be an official announcement.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. No, I don’t – I simply don’t have anything to read out.
Yes, go ahead.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: U.S. and South Korea, Japan hold a nuclear envoys talks in Seoul. Do you have anything read out on that?
MR RATHKE: Yes. So our special representative for North Korea policy, Sung Kim, held in-depth and productive trilateral discussions in Seoul today with his counterpart from the Republic of Korea and his Japanese counterpart. This was, in our view, an important opportunity to continue to strengthen our coordination with our two allies in Northeast Asia on a wide range of issues related to North Korea. This follows on separate bilateral meetings that Sung Kim had with Special Representative Hwang from the Republic of Korea and Director-General Ihara on May 26th. So he had bilateral meetings yesterday with each of them, and then they had a trilateral meeting today. And these are the latest in a series of ongoing consultations with all of the Five Party partners, all of whom remain united in our pursuit of the shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea.
QUESTION: Sung Kim made the remark to his news conference, said United States keep the – all diplomatic options on the table. He mentioned that. Do you have any particular visions for --
MR RATHKE: Keeping all what? Options?
QUESTION: Oh yeah – all diplomatic options --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- on the table. So do you have any particular diplomatic options --
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything to offer beyond what he said in his press conference. I think I’d refer you back to his comments there. I don’t have further elaboration to make on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: I’m sorry, same topic?
QUESTION: Yeah, same topic. Is it true that the U.S. is now willing to consider linking North Korea’s human rights record with the ongoing denuclearization talks? There were some reports coming out of Mr. Sung’s meeting suggesting that that was the case.
MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that, so I – again, I would refer you back to his transcript in Seoul. He spoke after his meetings there. So beyond what I’ve said and his transcript, I don’t have anything to add.
QUESTION: Does United States considering North Korea as terrorist country again?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any – you’re aware, of course, that they are not currently on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. I don’t have anything to add beyond that.
QUESTION: But Congress – last week at Congress, Senate, considering about re-list to this terrorist list, the North Koreans.
MR RATHKE: Well, I simply don’t have any comment on that. I’m aware of that report.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: There’s a big discussion in Germany about the collaboration between the secret service BND and the NSA. I know that the German Government officially asked the U.S. Government to give the permission to provide the German parliament with the so-called list of selectors used by the NSA. Has the U.S. Government given any answer to this request yet?
MR RATHKE: Well, as I think I’ve said from this podium before, we don’t comment on intelligence-related matters, so I really don’t have anything to offer in response to your question.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly, can you just sort out all this confusing statements coming from every which way on the role of the Iraqi army, how they conducted themselves during the fall of Ramadi, and so on? Today another person from the Pentagon saying that basically they cut and run. There are statements that are really contrary to that. Just walk us through what is the U.S. position. Is the Iraqi army or the Iraqi Security Forces worthy of all the support, and both material and training and all these things, that they are getting if they – every time there is a confrontation with ISIS, they just fall back?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think we talked about this a bit yesterday as well. Let me just start --
QUESTION: The story just will not go away.
MR RATHKE: Let me just start, though, with the situation on the ground. We are encouraged by reports that Iraqi forces have begun to consolidate and reorganize and counterattack on ISIL around Ramadi. We also welcome the news from Prime Minister al-Abadi on the counteroffensive, and we’ll continue to offer support to our Iraqi partners as they work to push ISIL out of their country.
Now, as for a battlefield assessment, you can talk with the Iraqi Government. We, of course, from our part in the coalition, are supporting the Iraqi Government with airstrikes in conjunction with them on targets, ISIL targets in Anbar and in other parts of Iraq. Now, the question that you’ve asked about the – we’ve always said that our strategy in Iraq, which is a – on the one hand it has a military component, also has non-military components. But the strategy, the military strategy relies on a well-equipped and well-trained partner on the ground. So we are, of course, helping to provide them with the capabilities they need and the support so that they can win this fight, and we’re supporting them to that end.
QUESTION: But the United States has been training an Iraqi armed forces for the past 12 years at least – 12 years, not at least – for the past 12 years, spending a lot of money and a lot of training and so on. But looking back, even when there was the Awakening and so on, it was really the American forces that did whatever fighting there was. So there is no record of this army that you have trained and spent so much time and effort at, standing up and doing what it’s supposed to do. Why do you think that is?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think if you look at quite a few places in Iraq, you see where Iraqi forces have been successful in pushing back and in pushing ISIL out of territory that they previously controlled. There are certainly areas where ISIL has made gains in recent days. Ramadi is, of course, one we’ve talked about, as well as Palmyra, in Syria. But if you compare this to nine months ago, when ISIL was on the offensive in many places in Iraq, we also see places where they’ve been forced to retreat; they’ve lost areas that they used to dominate from Babil to Diyala, also Nineveh and Kirkuk province. So ISIL has been defeated at Mosul Dam, at Mount Sinjar, also in Tikrit. So there are – I think there have been a lot of areas – populated areas where ISIL had been in control and has been pushed back.
QUESTION: Sorry to belabor the point, but even the examples that you cited – Tikrit, Babil, and the north and so on – it was either the Peshmerga or the popular committees, the Shia militias and so on in Tikrit and other places. There is no – I mean there’s no stark example that says this national Iraqi army has stood its ground, is there?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we take a view of that, Said. We – if you look at those areas and others where the Iraqi forces have pushed ISIL back, we see a much different picture, and we see the Iraqi forces committed to defending the country.
QUESTION: You haven’t seen that the counteroffensive has actually begun yet, have you? You said something to that effect earlier, but they’re still regrouping. They haven’t actually started going back into Ramadi, have they?
MR RATHKE: Well, for a battlefield analysis, I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon or to the Iraqi authorities, but they have been regrouping and counterattacking around Ramadi and not in the city --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: -- itself, as far as I understand.
QUESTION: Just yesterday --
QUESTION: Yeah, you – well, you --
QUESTION: -- Roz asked you about the name of the operation, which is --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- “Labaik Ya Hussein,” which is really a call on the prophet’s grandson, who was also saintly among the Sunnis but it has – in this particular case, it has sectarian connotation. Do you have any reaction to that? The Pentagon stood against it.
MR RATHKE: Well, I think I was asked about this yesterday, and I gave a response. So I don’t have anything beyond what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: They changed the name today.
MR RATHKE: Well, yes, I’m aware of those reports. But Said’s question was our point of view about the name.
QUESTION: Do you have reaction to them changing the name?
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m aware of the report. We’ve said that anything that heightens tension is something we would be concerned about. But that was – yes, Roz.
QUESTION: So you don’t --
QUESTION: Let’s --
QUESTION: You don’t have any reaction?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think, again, this announcement yesterday if – it was my understanding it wasn’t an official announcement about this name.
MR RATHKE: So I think there’s been a clarification of that.
QUESTION: The new one, or whatever --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, does it matter to you guys?
MR RATHKE: Well, what we’ve always said in our support for Prime Minister Abadi is the central element of our strategy and his strategy is to govern Iraq in a way that is nonsectarian and that brings Iraq together. And so it’s consistent with that, that we would want to see – avoid anything that would raise sectarian tensions.
QUESTION: Well, let’s set aside whatever it is the Shia militia are calling this counteroffensive. Let’s talk about their behavior. Both the Secretary and General Allen have in recent months condemned their behavior once they liberated certain parts of Iraq, basically engaging in sectarian violence and alleged human rights violations. Sine you stressed from the podium yesterday that these militia are acting on orders from Baghdad, has this Administration made it very clear to Abadi’s government that human rights violations by these militia will not be tolerated and should be actively discouraged from the very beginning?
MR RATHKE: Well, our point of view on this hasn’t changed. We believe that Iraqi forces have to make concerted efforts to protect local populations and property and to secure the human rights of all Iraqi citizens, indeed, as guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution and as the Prime Minister himself and other Iraqi leaders have pledged. So our point of view on that remains the same, and we talk regularly with our Iraqi counterparts about those issues.
QUESTION: But I’m asking whether there’s a particular emphasis given that there are so many people who are trying to get out of Ramadi and who basically are being told that unless they have family in Baghdad that they’re not going to be allowed to leave Anbar province and cross over Bzebiz Bridge – I knew I was going to get that wrong – to try to get to Baghdad and to try to get to safety, in part because they’re afraid of potential repercussions by these militia.
MR RATHKE: Well, again, our point of view on this is as I just stated it. We believe that Iraqi forces have to make every effort to protect local populations and to protect the human rights of Iraqi citizens.
QUESTION: So what happens if they – if such violations do happen? What can the U.S. do to make certain that those responsible are held accountable?
MR RATHKE: I’m not going to speculate about things that haven’t – you’re talking about things that could happen in the future. I’m not going to speculate about that. But the – this is an important, important issue and one in which we remain in contact with our Iraqi counterparts.
QUESTION: Two questions. Yesterday you said that the State Department was looking at scheduling opportunities for the 2014 Human Rights Reports. Can you confirm that the reports have been completed and are just waiting to be released at this point?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update on the Human Rights Report. If I get more I’m happy to – happy to share that, but I don’t have anything further to say than yesterday.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Administration is going to release the reports before the Administration finishes negotiations over the TPP or the Iran nuclear agreement on June 30th?
MR RATHKE: Again, it’s the same question you asked yesterday. I don’t have anything further to say beyond yesterday.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the world’s top news story today, which I can’t believe nobody’s asked you about yet?
MR RATHKE: Please, go right ahead.
MR RATHKE: Well, you can call it either. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So I want to ask about the huge campaign to – the huge corruption investigation against FIFA and the arrests of six FIFA officials in Switzerland. First of all, at a press conference just a few hours ago, it was confirmed that the United States is seeking the extradition of these officials. Can you confirm that yourself from the podium and --
MR RATHKE: Well, I think the Attorney General --
QUESTION: Attorney General said that, yes.
MR RATHKE: -- has spoken to this. So --
QUESTION: Do you have an extradition agreement with Switzerland?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have a list of our existing international agreements. I’m happy to check and come back to you. I just don’t know off the top of my head. But of course, we – as the Attorney General said, this – and I think you’ve probably also seen the comprehensive statement that the Department of Justice has issued. So that, I think, contains the essential facts.
We have a strong bilateral relationship with Switzerland. We have a dialogue with them on a variety of issues. I don’t have comment on specific diplomatic conversations. But of course, you’ve seen in her statement the Attorney General thanked Swiss authorities for their assistance, so I think she was pretty clear about that.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch individually with any of the countries that these individuals come from to sort of tell them about the investigation and to update them on what is going on?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have contacts, diplomatic contacts to read out about those. If I get more information about those, I’m happy to share that. But --
QUESTION: Okay. And I just wanted to ask you also: Russia has, just about a half an hour ago, came out and said that this investigation and the arrests were an example of the United States – “another case of illegal extraterritorial use of United States law.” In other words, they’re accusing the United States of illegally applying its legal force far beyond its own borders. What would your reaction be to that?
MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, I think if you read the Department of Justice complaint, it’s quite clear the basis on which they’ve issued their charges and the connection to the United States. So I don’t have a specific comment on the Russian reaction, but I think our – our statement today from the Department of Justice lays out quite clearly where the connection is.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have any role in this at all?
MR RATHKE: In what?
QUESTION: In this case.
MR RATHKE: Well, as you’ll appreciate even if you --
QUESTION: The questions – the answers to the questions so far seem to answer the original question or the original statement, about why no one had asked about it here --
MR RATHKE: Well, you’ll --
QUESTION: -- because you clearly don’t have anything to say about it, right?
MR RATHKE: Well, as you’ve – you’ll be familiar with, we don’t talk about the specifics of extradition requests and cases.
QUESTION: I’m not asking that, Jeff.
MR RATHKE: But as a general matter – as a general matter, the Departments of State and Justice share responsibility for international extraditions for the United States. So that depends on the exact nature of the agreements --
MR RATHKE: -- that are in effect for a particular country.
QUESTION: Did the Department of State play any role in this?
QUESTION: In what happened overnight in Zurich, Switzerland?
QUESTION: In the extradition.
QUESTION: Did the Department of State play any role at all? Whoops.
MR RATHKE: You okay?
QUESTION: Ouch. Yeah.
MR RATHKE: Ruined the dramatic effect. (Laughter.) So again, I don’t have any – I don’t have anything from our diplomatic conversations.
QUESTION: So the answer is no, or the answer is you don’t know? Or the answer is you do know but you can’t say? What – did --
MR RATHKE: I simply don’t have anything further to read out from our diplomatic conversations.
QUESTION: I’m not asking – I’m just asking if you had any role at all.
MR RATHKE: Right. And I’m saying I don’t have anything further to add to what I’ve said.
QUESTION: Which is nothing, right? I mean, you basically – you have just gone back and cited the DOJ press conference and indictments and statements, correct?
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: So you haven’t – so the value added from this building here to his story is pretty much nothing, right?
MR RATHKE: Well, I haven’t said that. And --
QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying to find out. I mean, does --
QUESTION: If there are extraditions, it will have a role.
QUESTION: Did the Department play any role at all in what happened overnight in Zurich?
MR RATHKE: Right. And as – as I started off by saying, we don’t comment on the specifics of specific extradition issues. In general, the State Department and the Department of Justice work together on extradition cases.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MR RATHKE: I’m not going to go beyond that in this one.
QUESTION: Did Jo ask you maybe if anybody had filed any formal complaints? Any other countries filed any sort of complaints with the State Department about the way it’s handling this investigation?
MR RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of, no. No.
QUESTION: Yemen? Yemen?
MR RATHKE: Anything on this same --
MR RATHKE: Same topic? Samir.
QUESTION: What do you say to critics about the timing of this investigation and the action before the elections of the FIFA?
MR RATHKE: I really don’t have any – any comment on that. Again, this is a department – I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for the details of their investigation and the details of the case that they’ve released.
QUESTION: Can we go back --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. support any candidate for FIFA presidency?
MR RATHKE: No. No, we don’t have – we don’t have a candidate. Are you offering one?
QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.) But there are two. There are two now, the Jordanian prince and the current president.
MR RATHKE: No, we don’t have a – we don’t have a view on --
MR RATHKE: -- on those sorts of issues.
MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly, is there any truth to the story that the United States has revoked passports of United States citizens of Yemeni origin that are in Yemen? Do you have any information on that?
MR RATHKE: Do you have – do you have something specific --
QUESTION: That you have confiscated --
MR RATHKE: -- in which case about which you’re asking?
QUESTION: There are Americans, U.S. citizens in Yemen, who claim that their passports have been revoked or taken away from them under the pretext of stolen identity or to guard against stolen identity. Can you comment on this? Do you have any information?
MR RATHKE: Well, as you know, our embassy has suspended operations in Yemen, so --
MR RATHKE: So I don’t think there’s any recent --
QUESTION: No, but you can – you can revoke a passport without – without having an embassy there.
MR RATHKE: This – yeah, this is an issue that we’ve been asked about before in the briefing room. I’d refer you back to previous transcripts. I don’t have anything new to add – to add on that.
Yeah, go ahead, Pam.
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: President Maduro has sent out sort of mixed messages concerning the progress of talks with State envoy Thomas Shannon. He said the talks have been going well, but he has also said that he would not allow the talks to be sabotaged by what he called far-rightists in the United States. First, what’s your reaction? And secondly, what is your overall assessment of the talks?
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m going to answer your second question. I’m not going to react to the first one. But I would point out that President Maduro first invited Ambassador Shannon to Caracas in early April. They met on April 8th. And following the Summit of the Americas, Ambassador Shannon was invited again to Caracas. They had another conversation on May 12th, so just a couple of weeks ago. These conversations were positive and productive, and they will continue. But beyond that, I don’t have further to say on the – on those discussions.
Do we have the same --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Or Thailand and Burma. And these overflights that the Pentagon says that they’re doing for the Rohingya, for migrants in the --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any – and this is being asked at the Pentagon as well. But does this building have any update on that? Is it – are you running into any problems with the Thais about these overflights that the State Department might be involved in?
MR RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of, in answer to your second question. Going back to the first one, as we discussed yesterday, the United States has operated flights – specifically, I mentioned that on May 24th we had a P-8 flight that operated out of Malaysia and was conducting maritime surveillance to locate and mark positions of boats that might possibly be carrying migrants.
QUESTION: But so nothing – nothing new since yesterday?
MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have anything – I don’t have – I don’t have a new update on – on the flights. But clearly, we see this as a contribution to trying to deal with the situation, in some cases a very dire situation that people face at sea.
MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead Jo.
QUESTION: Apologies for being so British today. I’m not usually. But I wanted to go to the --
MR RATHKE: I’m not sure what you mean by that, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I wanted to go to the announcement from the government in – well, from the Queen and the government in London that they will hold a referendum, as David Cameron had promised in his campaign speech for re-election. Is there a U.S. reaction to that? What would be your thoughts about holding a referendum on leaving the EU?
MR RATHKE: Well, if you’re asking a question about a referendum or the mechanism or how the British Government pursues its policies, I don’t have a comment on that.
QUESTION: No, but what you want to see happen?
MR RATHKE: If you are – as we’ve said before, we think that the UK’s relationship with the European Union is a question for the British people and the British Government. We value a strong UK voice in the EU. The European Union is a critical partner on global issues, and we welcome an outward-looking European Union with the UK in it. We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe. So the UK we see as an important player in the world and a longstanding, important friend of the United States, and we’ll always enjoy a special relationship.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: Sure.
Yes, go ahead, David, and then we’ll come back.
MR RATHKE: Sorry. Oh, I’m sorry, not David.
QUESTION: All right. I have two questions. One is about Ramadi. There are reports about Iraqi special forces retreating from the city because they received instructions from someone close to former Prime Minister Maliki or Maliki himself. Are you aware of those reports?
MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with those reports. I don’t have any comment on that.
MR RATHKE: Are these reports from today, or how recent are these reports?
QUESTION: I think it came out today from one of those human rights organizations, Syrian local groups.
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not in a position to verify or substantiate such reports. They – but those reports are consistent with the brutality that ISIL has shown in all of the places where it’s been active and where it’s controlled territory. So it would be a – yet another sad reminder of the brutality that ISIL has brought and the reason that we, along with our Iraqi partners and an international coalition, have – are committed to working with the Iraqis to push them out of Iraq, and also working to degrade and defeat ISIL in Syria as well.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Syria --
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- okay, and NATO and the Turks and so on. The Turks still insist that they have agreed with the United States that they will give some sort of air cover to about 15,000 who are being trained now in many a place, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, of the sort of moderate Syrian opposition. Could you clarify that for us? Are you --
MR RATHKE: I don’t have any comment beyond what I said yesterday. This – we welcome Turkey’s role in the train and equip effort. The other questions such as you’ve alluded to --
QUESTION: Other questions --
MR RATHKE: -- are questions that we remain under discussion, and I’m not going to offer details of those private discussions.
QUESTION: So you have no – I mean, just to reiterate what you said yesterday, there has been no change in the U.S. position opposing, basically – you opposed in the past any kind of no-fly zone, so --
MR RATHKE: As I’ve said many times in the past, this – we are aware of this interest of some of our coalition partners. These are complicated issues; we continue to discuss them. I don’t have anything new to say.
QUESTION: My last question on this: A lot of the groups that – or the two main groups that Turkey supports, which is Jabhat al-Nusrah and Jaysh al-Put you have placed on the terror list. So how do you see eye to eye on who’s – who do you train, who do you send across the border, how you ferry them and so on, what kind of supplies you give them? Because they find – the Turks seem to sort of support these groups that you oppose.
MR RATHKE: Well, as to the people who are being trained in our train and equip program, that’s something we work on jointly with the Turkish authorities, so that’s something that we work through with them.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Ukraine. There was heavy shelling by the Ukrainian army in the town of Gorlovka in the Donetsk region on Tuesday. Three civilians died, including an 11-year-old. Is that all right under the Minsk agreement to use heavy artillery in residential areas like that?
MR RATHKE: Well, let’s take a step back and look at the situation in eastern Ukraine, because there’s a whole lot more to it than this report that you have mentioned, which I’m not able to confirm and I’m not familiar with. If you look at the OSCE’s reports, and the OSCE has the responsibility for monitoring under the Minsk agreements, the OSCE reports that violence continues in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, notability in and around Shyrokyne, which is outside the ceasefire line on the Ukrainian side, near Mariupol; also near the Donetsk international airport and in Avdiivka, where shelling threatens the lives and livelihoods of thousands of workers at a coking plant.
So we remain very concerned about the level of violence, including the use of mortars and heavy artilleries and tanks, all of which were supposed to have been withdrawn by the separatists and backed by Russia under the Minsk agreements. The overwhelming majority of the ceasefire violations have been conducted by combined Russian-separatist forces attacking Ukrainian positions on the Ukrainian side of the line of contact, which is clearly contrary to the Minsk agreements.
QUESTION: Are you --
MR RATHKE: So we, again, call for a full cessation of hostilities and for full implementation of the Minsk agreements, including unrestricted and safe access for OSCE monitors so they can monitor and verify the ceasefire and the heavy weapons withdrawal.
QUESTION: Are you aware that the Ukrainian army has used heavy artillery on – in residential areas on a number of occasions in recent weeks? And is that – how is that consistent with the Minsk agreements that everybody should abide by?
MR RATHKE: Well, as I just said, the overwhelming majority of the ceasefire violations have been conducted by the Russian and separatist forces.
QUESTION: But the one that – I heard what you said. The one that I just mentioned that happened yesterday, and then there were others including one on May 19th where an army shell hit an apartment building – are those actions consistent with the Minsk agreements?
MR RATHKE: Well, you’ve cited reports with which I’m unfamiliar, so I’m not going to comment on them. As I’ve said --
QUESTION: You give – you give a broad picture --
MR RATHKE: Our view is that the overwhelming majority of the violations are coming from the separatist and Russian side, and I don’t have anything further to add to that.
QUESTION: Can you say the Ukrainian Government is abiding by the agreement – by the Minsk agreements?
MR RATHKE: Again, as I’ve said, the overwhelming majority of the ceasefire violations are coming from --
QUESTION: Are you saying --
MR RATHKE: -- the Russian-separatist side.
QUESTION: I understood. I understood. Are you saying that the shelling by the Ukrainian army is justified?
MR RATHKE: Look, you’re cite – you’re citing reports with which I’m not familiar, so I’m not going to comment further on them. Yes.
QUESTION: How closely do you follow with what’s happening in eastern Ukraine? Do you read daily reports from – or only what the Ukrainian Government is telling you?
MR RATHKE: Look, as I’ve said, the OSCE plays a monitoring role on the ground, and if you look at the OSCE’s reports and what the --
QUESTION: They do report about those shellings.
MR RATHKE: They also report the violence that I’ve described, which continues on the Ukrainian side of the ceasefire lines. So that’s --
QUESTION: If the Ukrainian – the Ukrainian Government thinks that the other side is violating the agreement, and they do think that, does that make it all right for the Ukrainian Government to violate it some more?
MR RATHKE: Look, I’ve – our position is we call for full implementation of the Minsk agreements and the – again, the --
QUESTION: By everyone, right?
MR RATHKE: Yes, and --
QUESTION: Does that include the Ukrainian Government?
MR RATHKE: And again, the primary source of violations of the Minsk agreements and the ceasefire come from the separatists and the Russian side.
QUESTION: Perhaps you could look into and familiarize yourself, or have someone do it, with the reports that she’s mentioning, and then come back to us and tell us whether or not you think that they were violations or if they’re totally in line – I mean, in line with – if both sides are implementing Minsk. But you’ve said several times that the overwhelming majority of violations are from --
MR RATHKE: Right.
QUESTION: -- the separatists.
MR RATHKE: That’s right.
QUESTION: But overwhelming majority isn’t all, is it? So there are some violations by the government – the Kyiv government, correct? I mean, it would stand to reason.
MR RATHKE: Well, yeah, it does stand to reason. Again --
QUESTION: I mean, it might be 99 percent to 1 percent, but you’re still --
MR RATHKE: I don’t have a percentage to affix to it. But --
QUESTION: Right. Whatever. But it’s not all – not all the violations are happening on the separatist side, correct? Is that the Administration’s line?
MR RATHKE: Well, correct in – but again --
QUESTION: So there are violations. All right.
MR RATHKE: I think as I’ve said, it’s quite clear to us where most of them are coming from.
QUESTION: Right. But most is not all, right?
MR RATHKE: I think I’ve agreed with you, but --
QUESTION: Okay. So I wanted to ask you related to this, the Vice President --
QUESTION: One more – just one more. Sorry --
QUESTION: Well, this is about Ukraine as well. But if it --
MR RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: May I?
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: From what you were – you’re saying, one may think that Kyiv has a completely hands-off approach in that conflict. Is that how you see it?
MR RATHKE: I’m not sure I understand what you mean by --
QUESTION: That it doesn’t do anything there. It’s all just happening and Kyiv has nothing to do with all of that. That’s what comes across from what you were saying with “overwhelming majority of violations” and all of that.
MR RATHKE: That isn’t what I’ve implied, and it’s not what I’ve said. Again, the situation in eastern Ukraine --
QUESTION: How do you evaluate the Ukrainian Government’s actions at the moment? Do they abide by the agreements? Do you approve of everything that they’re doing?
MR RATHKE: Look, the Ukrainian Government is committed to implementing the Minsk agreements. Of course, the Secretary and the Vice President have been in recent contact with President Poroshenko, and so we remain focused on --
QUESTION: But using heavy artillery in residential areas, is that implementing the Minsk agreement?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, there have been – there are withdrawal provisions in the Minsk agreements, and unfortunately if you look at the Russian separatist side of the line where the OSCE has been unable to verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons, it’s very difficult to verify. So --
QUESTION: So you’re saying their potential violations –
MR RATHKE: No.
QUESTION: -- justify the Ukrainian Government’s violations? Is that what you’re saying?
MR RATHKE: I really don’t have anything to add beyond my statement earlier, that the overwhelming number of violations are coming from the Russian separatist side in eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the Vice President, who I believe speaks on behalf of the Administration –
MR RATHKE: Correct.
QUESTION: -- as you do, correct? You maybe saw or heard his remarks at Brookings --
MR RATHKE: I haven’t because I think the speech started just --
MR RATHKE: -- before I came out.
QUESTION: All right. I wanted to ask you two --
MR RATHKE: I know he was giving a speech today at Brookings.
QUESTION: Right. I wanted to ask you two questions about things he said related to – about Ukraine and related to Russia. One was that he said that until Minsk is implemented or once Minsk is implemented, the sanctions can be lifted, which has been a pretty standard line.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: But he did not, in that sentence that I head – and maybe I missed it – talk about the Crimea-related sanctions. It’s still the position of the Administration or it’s still the stance of the Administration that until the Crimea annexation is reversed that the sanctions that were imposed upon – the sanctions that were imposed –
MR RATHKE: Those that were imposed in connection with –
QUESTION: -- will remain?
MR RATHKE: -- the illegal occupation –
QUESTION: Implementation of Minsk will not have any effect on the Crimea-related sanctions. Is that correct?
MR RATHKE: Yeah, that remains.
QUESTION: The other thing that he said was that we will not recognize any sphere of influence. And I’m presuming that he was talking about Russia in that. But is that really the case? Is that really – does the United States really not recognize any sphere of influence, or does it just choose not to recognize other countries’ – rivals’, perhaps – spheres of influence?
MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what you’re trying to apply --
QUESTION: Does this apply – well, I’m trying to – what I want to ask is – he was speaking to this situation that we have now with Russia and Ukraine, but my question is: Is this a broader policy, that the United States does not recognize any sphere of influence?
MR RATHKE: Well, let’s start with the specific and then we can go to the general. With the – in the particular case of Ukraine, the situation is one in which the Ukrainian people have expressed a desire to shape their own future.
QUESTION: And to join the European sphere of influence. Right? That’s your argument.
MR RATHKE: No. No, not --
QUESTION: That they wanted to be more European than they wanted to be – they wanted to look West rather than East. Isn’t that the position?
MR RATHKE: Well, the orientation of the Ukrainian people is fundamentally an issue that has to be decided by the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: Right, but your --
MR RATHKE: And so that is --
QUESTION: -- interpretation of that and what they wanted was to look West rather than East, right?
MR RATHKE: Well, to go back through the history, it was the association agreement with the European Union, and that’s a free choice of --
MR RATHKE: -- a country to make. But I don’t --
QUESTION: But isn’t that a --
MR RATHKE: -- call – I don’t call that a – no, I don’t call that a sphere of influence.
QUESTION: You don’t call that a sphere of influence?
MR RATHKE: Are you saying the European Union is – that every country that is in the European Union is part of a European Union sphere of influence? They’re simply a member of the European Union for those countries that are members. It’s not a sphere of influence.
QUESTION: But if you’re not a member of the EU, which Ukraine is not --
MR RATHKE: Correct.
QUESTION: -- if you join an association agreement with the EU, doesn’t that put you under a – you might want to use a different term for it, but it’s still a European or a Western sphere of influence, is it not?
MR. RATHKE: Well, you’re sort of looking at – I think this is kind of a zero-sum way of looking at it. And I don’t think we see that as a sphere of influence. It is a --
QUESTION: You don’t think that --
MR. RATHKE: It is a decision by Ukrainian people and their political leadership about the direction in which they want their country’s policies and development to go. So – but anyway, did you have a more general question about that?
QUESTION: Well, the more general – well, I mean, I think the Vice President’s – does the Vice President’s comment about not recognizing any sphere of influence apply elsewhere, other than just far Eastern Europe and Russia? Does it apply with, say, China and its relations with the ASEAN countries? Does it – do you recognize a U.S. sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere, notwithstanding the fact that apparently the Monroe Doctrine is dead, according to the Secretary?
MR. RATHKE: You seem to regret that.
MR. RATHKE: Because you mention it --
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MR. RATHKE: -- every once in a while.
QUESTION: You mentioned it a couple years ago.
MR. RATHKE: So --
QUESTION: Do – so you don’t agree with – the United States doesn’t agree with any sphere of influence anywhere? Is that correct?
MR. RATHKE: Look, what we see – what we see when we look around the world are places where we desire to improve our contacts with countries, either where we have existing alliances or where we want to build stronger ties. And we also see, in the case of the one that you mentioned, China and Southeast Asia – we see China also expanding its economic ties and other ties with ASEAN and with ASEAN member countries. What – what is important is that – that those – those relations develop on the basis of mutual interest, mutual respect, without coercion, and to the benefit of the peoples of the countries involved. So that’s why I don’t really think the description of that as a sphere of influence is particularly --
MR. RATHKE: -- apt in those kinds of cases.
MR. RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead, Jo --
QUESTION: Sorry to go back to this --
MR RATHKE: -- and then Justin, then I think we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry to go back to this. Just – and it’s perhaps a little hard for an answer – I don’t know. But the judge in the Clinton email case has just ruled that the State Department should produce monthly releases of the emails and set up percentage goals for the regular – for the postings as well. I’m not exactly sure what percentage goals it’s talking about. Do you have a reaction to that, or --
MR. RATHKE: Well, you’ve got me at a disadvantage.
MR. RATHKE: I don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: Could you --
MR. RATHKE: Of course, I’ll take a look at that. And I think as we said last Tuesday, the – we respect the court and we – we had – when the judgment was issued last Tuesday, we said that we would comply with that – with that ruling. So I’m not able to comment on the specific ruling --
MR. RATHKE: -- but of course, we respect the role – the role of the courts.
QUESTION: Okay. So if you could get back to us with a comment on --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah. We’ll come back to you with more on that.
QUESTION: Well, it’s essentially --
MR. RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- that was my question, too. And it’s essentially the same thing you proposed. So, except for the fact that it’s cutting in half the time from 60 days to 30 days on your sort of gradual rollout of – in batches, can you handle that is really the question, that change?
MR. RATHKE: Yeah, that I’d have to – I’d have to look at the specifics of the ruling and if there are any implications beyond.
So okay, thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)