Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 7, 2014


Index for Today's Briefing
  • EGYPT
    • Egypt / UN Human Rights Joint Statement / International Human Rights Obligations
    • Condemnation of Terror Attacks
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
    • Jordanian Role in the Peace Process
    • Pivotal Point in Negotiations / Framework Agreement
    • Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas' Meetings with President Obama
    • U.S. Position on Israel as a Jewish State
    • Final Status Agreement
  • INDIA
    • Mr. Modi's Visa Case / Relationship with India
  • JAPAN / IRAN
    • Joint Plan of Action / Installment Plan
    • Russian Role in P5+1
  • SAUDI ARABIA
    • Dialogue Encouraged to Resolve Issues
  • MALAYSIA
    • Anwar Ibrahim Trial / Application of Rule of Law
  • RUSSIA / UKRAINE
    • Engagement with Partners / President Obama's Call with Japanese Prime Minister Abe
    • Trade and Economic Relationships with Russia / Sanctions
    • Discussions between Russia and New Ukrainian Government
    • Paralympics Games in Sochi / Presidential Delegation
    • Referendum in Crimea / Ukrainian Constitution / May Elections
    • Misinformation / Concern for Rhetoric / Fact Sheet
    • Visa Ban and Sanctions
  • TURKEY
    • Internet Law / Social Media Site
  • SYRIA
    • Movement of Chemical Weapons / OPCW Report / June 30 Deadline
    • Assad's Reign / Magnet for Terrorism
    • Role of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia
  • EGYPT
    • Freezing of Assistance / Concern for Human Rights
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Fulfillment of AFSA FOIA Requests / Average Time to Process FOIA Requests
  • EGYPT
    • Detention of Medea Benjamin by Egyptian Authorities / Privacy Act Waiver
    • Turkey / Consular Access / Treatment for Injuries Sustained
  • HAITI
    • UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti / Submission of Brief / Immunity from Suit
    • Cholera Outbreak


TRANSCRIPT:

1:10 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Dana Hughes, welcome back. She had a baby, everyone. She looks fabulous. Just for the – let the record note. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Plus her baby is very beautiful.

MS. PSAKI: Her baby is also beautiful, so that’s good. If the baby wasn’t beautiful, we wouldn’t say anything about it, so that’s how you know. (Laughter.) Okay.

So in all seriousness, I have one thing at the top on Egypt and the UN Human Rights Council joint statement. The United States remains concerned about the climate for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association in Egypt. To underscore that concern, we cosigned today a cross-regional joint statement on Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which was read by the Icelandic delegation. We were pleased to join 27 countries to reiterate our common concern for the universal rights – universal human rights of all Egyptian citizens. In addition, and separately, the international community clearly condemns the reprehensible terrorist attacks that have taken place in Egypt.

The statement also reflects a broad consensus that restrictions to peaceful assembly, association, and expression run counter to Egypt’s pursuit of stability and democracy, and that a free press is an essential pillar of any democratic society. It further expresses our concern about the disproportionate use of lethal force by security forces against demonstrators, noting that even when faced with persistent security challenges, security forces have a duty to respect and observe Egypt’s international human rights obligations and commitments.

With that, let’s get to your questions.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I have a long laundry list of housekeeping things --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- but I won’t start with them because I have a feeling people have more broadly – things of broader interest --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- to talk about. So I’ll begin with – not with Ukraine, but with the Middle East, actually.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So the Secretary was in Aqaba earlier today. As he was in Aqaba, WAFA, which is the Palestinian news – official Palestinian News Agency, was putting out comments made by President Abbas to a group of young Fatah people in which he said there was no way he’s ever going to accept a Jewish state and there’s no way that he – and he – there’s no way he’s ever going to accept a capital of an eventual Palestinian state on a piece of or a part of land in East Jerusalem.

Given the Secretary’s and now the President’s recent and upcoming involvement --

MS. PSAKI: Meeting, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on this issue, what does this say about the Palestinians on this side, but more broadly, both sides preparing their people for the kind of compromise that’s eventually going to be needed if you’re going to have a peace agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say first that obviously, Jordan has played a historic and of course recent important role in the peace process, as we all know, and just as a reminder, the Secretary has engaged very closely with King Abdullah, with Foreign Minister Judeh over the course of the last several months as these negotiations have gone on. And as – and of course, the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-On Committee has played an important role, hence part of the focus of his visit. I think --

QUESTION: Right, but that wasn’t my – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: I understand, but I just wanted to repeat that.

QUESTION: I was just pointing out the – that while the Secretary was there --

MS. PSAKI: I understand. I’m getting there.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, we’re – we’ve all been clear that we’re at a pivotal point in these negotiations, that there’s no greater evidence of that than the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas are both here within weeks of each other to have meetings with President Obama. And we fully expected – I should say the Secretary fully expected that as we reached a point where there was a discussion about highly contested issues, about issues that have decades if not longer years of history, that there would be statements made, there would be concerning comments made by both sides. And we have seen that over the past couple of weeks. It’s not unexpected. We still firmly believe that both sides are committed to pursuing this process, and as you know, President Abbas has a meeting with President Obama in just about 10 days from now.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, being convinced that both sides are committed to pursuing a process is one thing, but being convinced that both sides are willing to make the compromises needed to get the process to actually accomplish anything is something that’s completely different. Explain to me how the last nearly eight months – seven months, to be more specific, have gotten the two sides – when you see comments like this from Abbas, explain to me how the last seven months of intense negotiations or intense U.S. involvement has brought, in this case, the Palestinian side any closer to reaching a deal or to even reaching a framework. Because if the framework we’re going to have is lay out all these things and then each side is going to say, “Well, we reject completely this, this, this, and this,” which are all issues that you know have to be compromised on, I just – I don’t understand what you have done, where you have gotten in the process.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I know to the frustration of you and many others we haven’t laid out a day-by-day update on what progress has been made behind the scenes. We do feel progress has been made, otherwise we wouldn’t still be engaged in the process. Of course at this point in the discussion, there’s going to be a debate about the most challenging issues, the most contested issues. And if you look at the issue of a Jewish state and whether Israel will be called a Jewish state, that’s been our position, as you know, for a long time, but that doesn’t reflect what the parties will agree to, which I know you know, and of course there are many issues like that that are being discussed as part of the framework.

So to us, it is not a surprise that at this pivotal point in the discussions, as we’re getting down to the later end of the nine-month timeframe, there would be heated rhetoric and language by both sides about what they are and aren’t willing to make compromises about.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t think that an abject refusal to even consider compromise on either of those two issues means that they won’t, in the end, end up compromising?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we will see where we land. As the Secretary has said many times, it’s like a mosaic. There are compromises about give-and-take on a range of issues, and we’ll see where we land at the end.

QUESTION: So, wait, wait, the last – just the last one on this. So you don’t find his comments particularly concerning?

MS. PSAKI: We’re --

QUESTION: Or are you concerned about them?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we don’t find comments by either side surprising expressing concerns or their political challenges on a variety of the issues that are being discussed. Our focus is on moving the discussion forward.

QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- on the issue of the capital? The capital, apparently in the framework agreement, designates an area called Beit Hanina, which is really closer to Ramallah than it is to Jerusalem. We don’t know how that came about. So in your opinion, should the Palestinians accept an area that is not really part – historically a part of East Jerusalem as their capital of Jerusalem?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m not going to go down this road with you --

QUESTION: Okay. But is this --

MS. PSAKI: -- or negotiate here from the podium on the details.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the issue of the Jewish state --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I don’t know if you looked at, let’s say, the Haaretz editorial today. And they lay out how the Palestinians have already recognized Israel time and time again – Arafat did; Abbas did; the PNC, which is the Palestine National Council, did and so on – that in fact have done everything in terms of recognizing the state, as it has been recognized by every other state. So do you – will you insist in this framework agreement that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I just addressed this, but our position --

QUESTION: But --

MS. PSAKI: -- let me finish – our position, as you know, has been for quite some time --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- that Israel is the Jewish – that Israel is a Jewish state. That doesn’t reflect, of course, what the parties are going to agree to.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: That’s our view. So I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. It’s not about demands. The parties have to agree to what will be in a framework and what will be a part of the path forward for negotiations.

QUESTION: Okay. But why is it the responsibility of the Palestinians to recognize Israel different than any other state that already recognizes Israel? I mean, Israel can be a Jewish state or whatever it wants to call itself, as the Palestinians say, but in terms of recognizing Israel, they will do what the United States has done or what France has done or what Britain has done. They are willing to do that. Why should they do it differently?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I follow your question completely.

QUESTION: Okay. My question to you is: Why the Palestinians are obligated to recognize Israel as a Jewish state when all the other states that have relations with Israel and have recognized Israel since day one did not do the same?

MS. PSAKI: No one is talking about an obligation. We’re talking about a discussion and what’s being compromised as part of a discussion on a framework for negotiations.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you don’t see this as a precondition, then?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’m done with your line of questioning.

QUESTION: Do you see it as a precondition?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you see it as a precondition?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I think we’re moving on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just following up on this – both lines of questioning, the issue is, is that Netanyahu has called it a minimal requirement for peace, and as Matt mentioned, Abbas just said he in “no way” would consider calling Israel a Jewish state. So I think what the real question is, is because that gap is so large, do you, the U.S., recognize the importance of this one issue for the continuation of negotiations for even a framework? Because when you say that you’re working on a framework for --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the continuation of negotiations, surely if they can’t agree on that one issue, what’s the point of --

MS. PSAKI: Well, the negotiations have not been concluded. There isn’t a final framework. And it’s not about what’s important to the United States. It’s about what’s important to both parties. They have different priorities that are important to both parties. They’re discussing those now. But I’m not going to litigate it further in public.

QUESTION: Well, but how do you feel about the fact that they are litigating it in public and saying that – again, one is saying it’s a minimal requirement for peace, fundamental to the agreement on the peace accord, and the other is saying we absolutely won’t do it. They’re – this isn’t in private. They’re doing it in public.

MS. PSAKI: Well, negotiations are about discussing the issues where you disagree. So we’ll let those continue and we’ll see where we end on the end.

QUESTION: Is the framework completed? Did you complete it?

MS. PSAKI: If you – if we did, you’d know, wouldn’t we – wouldn’t you?

QUESTION: Yeah, because some press reports said that --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- the President gave a copy of it to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Secretary gave a copy to Mr. Erekat.

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of reports out there. There’s a range of options, a range of paper. So I would caution you from believing everything you read. There’s no document that the sides have both agreed to, and if there was, you would know.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go ahead, Samir.

MS. PSAKI: Did you have another one?

QUESTION: Will you present the framework in a written document, or it’s going to be a verbal --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I expect there would be something that would be public if the sides agree to a framework.

QUESTION: What was the urgency behind Secretary Kerry’s sort of detour into Aqaba to meet with the King of Jordan?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, you know because you don’t see me here that often, but that he enjoys the personal diplomacy and spending time in person, discussing and negotiating tough issues. And there are a range of issues we work with Jordan on. Certainly Middle East peace is one of them.

QUESTION: So the framework on the Middle East, will it be entirely public?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ll cross that entire bridge when we get to it, Michael. Do we have --

QUESTION: Enjoys the personal diplomacy? That’s why he’s coming?

MS. PSAKI: He thinks it’s effective.

QUESTION: He thinks it’s useful, or it’s a matter of enjoyment?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and he enjoys it as well. Both.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: New subject.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Middle East peace?

QUESTION: I got one.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: When the Secretary announced the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, was it his hope that they would have an actual peace agreement by April 29th?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s what he said at the time, yes.

QUESTION: And is it fair to say that he has abandoned that hope by that deadline and that what he is now aiming for is the framework for negotiations by that date?

MS. PSAKI: No, it’s not.

QUESTION: So he still hopes to get an agreement by the 29th of April?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus here, Arshad, is on the framework for negotiations, which will outline the path forward for both parties.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: When we reach that point, if we reach that point, we’ll determine what the next steps are.

QUESTION: But does he still hope to achieve a peace agreement by – within the nine-month timeframe?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, if there’s a framework that’s reached, it would take some time to agree on a final-status agreement. But beyond that, we’re taking this week by week, and we’ll see where we are if there’s a framework and when there’s a framework.

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t he hope to get a peace agreement by that date?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I know you know from covering many of these in the past that historically, the – a full treaty, which has a lot of legal components, is a lengthy document, can take a significant amount of time. So that’s not something that you can typically put together overnight. But again, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, when there’s a framework.

QUESTION: Well, is it not – is the correct answer not, “Yes, he hopes that he can still meet that target date that was originally set but that just given the way things are, that is becoming less realistic” --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not as --

QUESTION: -- “to meet the target”?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I was trying to give kind of a more nuanced answer in the sense that if there’s a framework, it’s not – historically, there is no final-status agreement, no treaty that’s been agreed to in the course of days. So, no, that would be challenging --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- with the timing. So – but we’re focused on the framework. We’ll see where we land and what the next steps are.

Do we have any more on Middle East peace? Okay. New topic?

QUESTION: I had a couple of questions on South Asia, starting with India.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Recently released Human Rights Report by the Secretary accused India of widespread corruption in the Indian Government and also --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible). My question is: Recently Assistant Secretary Madam Nisha Biswal was in India, and if she had discussed this Human Rights Report with the Indian officials there? And second, if she or anybody, including the ambassador, met with the fighting against corruption Mr. Kejriwal, while also was the chief minister of Delhi? Now he’s also going throughout India for – fighting for the Lok Sabha elections?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on her trip than what she’s announced and what she’s talked about in public comments. Obviously, we raise human rights issues whenever we can in a range of countries, but we’ll see if there’s more we can report back to you.

Michael?

QUESTION: Can you give details about her visit there in India?

MS. PSAKI: There have been pretty extensive details put out and she’s done a number of press conferences or made some public comments, so I’d point you to those.

QUESTION: Staying with India --

QUESTION: Can I just – yeah, I’ve got an India follow-up.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Okay.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you’d got a reaction to the question you were asked yesterday about the cricket match.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I don’t have any comments on that.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Biswal was quoted – was asked in a television interview whether Modi would be granted a U.S. visa as prime minister of India, and she replied, “I would just say that the United States has welcomed every leader of this vibrant democracy and that a democratically-elected leader of India would be a welcome partner.” Is that – does that mean yes, that they – that Modi or basically anybody else who is elected, democratically elected prime minister of India, would get a visa to come to the United States? Or does it just mean that they’d be a welcome partner; they might not be welcome in the United States, but you’d be happy to be their partner over the phone or elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we don’t speculate on visas, of course, and our position hasn’t changed on this case. And I think she was just reflecting the strength of our relationship with India. Obviously, the elections haven’t taken place at this point, but our position hasn’t changed on this, which is that Mr. Modi is welcome to apply for a visa, and obviously that would be considered through the normal process.

QUESTION: So it shouldn’t be taken, then, as it has been by some, as a suggestion that --

MS. PSAKI: As a --

QUESTION: -- he would indeed get a visa?

MS. PSAKI: Well, and we wouldn’t make a sweeping prediction for anyone, right --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- given visas are confidential.

QUESTION: So that’s not what she meant to suggest there?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: You wouldn’t make a sweeping prediction for anybody?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, what I mean is that we don’t talk about --

QUESTION: What about – yeah, what about – (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI: -- the visa processes. There are some, perhaps, that may be easier than others.

QUESTION: One --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on India?

QUESTION: Yeah, one more, quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Modi had said several times that he will not apply for the U.S. visa, but question again comes over and over and over: If he becomes the prime minister of India tomorrow – I mean after the April and May elections – then what happens?

MS. PSAKI: I think that was Arshad’s question.

QUESTION: No, I’m – that’s what he said, Mr. --

MS. PSAKI: And Nisha Biswal spoke to it.

QUESTION: He will not apply for U.S. visa.

MS. PSAKI: So I would point you to that. Do we have – go ahead.

QUESTION: Just two – yeah, just two question on sanctions, and the second will --

MS. PSAKI: In --

QUESTION: -- segue into --

MS. PSAKI: Sanctions where?

QUESTION: All over the place.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: This – the second one will segue into Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Japanese Government deposited $450 million for the purchase of oil to the Central Bank of Iran this week.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was visiting Tokyo, welcoming renewed trade ties. Do you have any concerns with that? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: There’s zero connection.

QUESTION: Zero connection?

MS. PSAKI: This is implementation of the JPOA. There are certain deadlines that are available, I think, on the White House website. There was an installment on March 1st confirming that Iran has completed dilution of half of the stockpile of near 20 percent. There was another installment today, March 7th, which is the second tranche, which is kind of a separate part of the installment plan.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: Was that your question?

QUESTION: Well, my question was --

MS. PSAKI: He was asking about the March 1st money and whether there was a connection with Japan in terms of his visit.

QUESTION: Well, no, he was asking about Japan putting money – buying Iranian oil.

QUESTION: Yeah, well the 450 --

QUESTION: Isn’t that what you were asking?

MS. PSAKI: No, he asked about the 450, which is --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- part of the installment plan. There’s – we’re not, obviously, going to get into the details of the mechanisms, although you’ve seen some of them publicly --

QUESTION: Okay. Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- but it was part of the agreed-to payment with reaching the half of the 20 percent dilution. And there was also another payment separately today.

QUESTION: Okay. The second question I have is, in terms of Russia, do you have concerns or fears that sanctioning of Russia will in some way or another affect – for its invasion of the Ukraine – its part in the unified front against Iran --

MS. PSAKI: Iran?

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) to the P5+1? And if I could just elaborate on that, you have said multiple times that the unity of the P5+1 is a top priority for you.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And obviously, you’ve told Congress that anything that may fray that unity is something that you’d like to avoid, so --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We do not. We don’t agree with Russia on every issue. We don’t agree with China on every issue. We don’t agree with a range of countries on every issue. But Russia is not a part of this in supporting it because they’re doing it as a favor to the United States. They also have been – have publicly spoken about their concerns about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. And so we fully expect, and evidence of the last week shows you this, that they will remain an active partner at the negotiating table.

Any more on Iran? Iran, Iran? No.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Today Saudi Arabia designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. We haven’t made that designation. So --

QUESTION: Is that likely to sort of widen the gap between one of your allies, Qatar, and the rest of your allies in the Gulf, which is the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to analyze that from the podium, Said.

QUESTION: Is that – but let me ask just what I asked yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So this really comes on the eve, almost, of the President’s visit there.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that likely to complicate his visit, or in any way sort of put it off or cancel it or whatever?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s why we’re encouraging – broadly, we’re encouraging dialogue to resolve these issues, but beyond that, I don’t have anything more for you.

QUESTION: So you’re not suggesting (inaudible) the Muslim Brotherhood, are you? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that, not at all.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Yes, let’s move to Asia.

QUESTION: I’m just suggesting --

QUESTION: Can I ask you about what – I don’t know, it seems to be the world’s longest running criminal prosecution, the sentencing today of the Malaysian opposition leader Anwar.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I believe I do. One moment. Well, we of course, given how lengthy it has been, have followed the trial very closely over a long period of time. The decision to prosecute Mr. Anwar and his trial have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the courts. In this high-profile case, it is critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently, and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy and judiciary.

The ruling also comes on the heels of the February 21st conviction of another opposition figure, Karpal Singh on sedition charges that also raise concerns. While we have a strong partnership with Malaysia, we have raised, of course, the Anwar case with Malaysian officials and emphasized that fairness, transparency, and the rule of law are essential to have the confidence needed in their judicial system.

QUESTION: So do your concerns extend beyond what you seem to be saying are concerns about political motivation to the actual offense that he has been convicted and sentenced of? You seem to have strong opinions about anti-sodomy, anti-gay laws in places elsewhere like Uganda. Do you make the same case with the Malaysians?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have all the details of what he’s been sentenced on. I mean, I’ve read a little bit about it, but not, probably, enough. And obviously, I think --

QUESTION: When he was first arrested, you were probably too young to know what it was – I mean, this goes back. I was a much younger man; you might have been in grade school still when this first – this whole thing started. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Thank you for that, Matt.

QUESTION: But so can you check to see if you have raised the issue of the actual law that he has been convicted and sentenced of, as I understand that there are the political concerns, too, but that’s --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yep.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: You didn’t – I mean, you talked about the importance of things being handled apolitically. It used to be the U.S. Government’s position that the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim was politically motivated. Is that still your view?

MS. PSAKI: It is.

QUESTION: Okay. And then when you say we have raised his case, obviously it’s many, many years --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- did you raise it today following this ruling?

MS. PSAKI: I can check on that. It would have happened on the ground for ambassador, so I’ll check and see if that was something that happened today. Sure.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: Can I stay in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And this will dovetail into Ukraine, which might --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- others might questions on, too. The White House Sent out a readout of President Obama’s call with the Prime Minister of Japan --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- noting that they agreed that Russia’s actions are a threat to international peace and security, and that they committed to work to insist that Russia abide by its obligations and commitments to Ukraine’s sovereignty. The readout from the Japanese side is rather different and does not mention Russia at all, just mentioning that President Abe supports President Obama’s efforts to resolve the Ukraine crisis. How do you explain this discrepancy?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak to their readout, and I would point you to my colleagues in the White House, but broadly speaking this call was about engagement and broadening our engagement with a range of our close allies and partners about the situation in Ukraine. Obviously, Japan is an important global partner, and so discussing with them what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, why international unity is important, was the purpose, but I don’t know that we have concerns about that difference in the readouts.

QUESTION: How would you characterize the state of – or the state of coordination between the U.S. and Japan on this issue, specifically?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would let you – I would point you to Japan on how – on their engagement and level of engagement.

QUESTION: But from your perspective.

MS. PSAKI: But of course, they’re an important global partner, and that’s why the President called them, called the prime minister, to talk to him about what we’re doing. And that reflects our relationship, it reflects what an important player they are on the global stage.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. You’ve said – I mean, you’ve said previously that disagreements between the U.S. and Japan happen, it’s part of being such a close partner and ally and that when you do, you express them. But would you say there are some --

MS. PSAKI: I would characterize this as a disagreement at all.

QUESTION: But would you say that there are some disagreements or some tensions regarding this issue, I mean --

MS. PSAKI: What – with whom?

QUESTION: Well, Japan has --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say with Japan.

QUESTION: No, with Japan on the issue of how to approach the Ukraine crisis.

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say there was disagreement.

QUESTION: No, I know. I’m asking you --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- if you would say that there are disagreements or if there are some tensions with Japan on how you approach this issue.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I would point you them if they have concerns or disagreements, but not that I’ve seen or that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: So – okay. Just finally, are you concerned that Japan’s higher demand for fossil fuels post-Fukushima, which Russia is a very prominent supplier of, is – represents kind of an obstacle in presenting – in approaching the Ukraine crisis with Japan and with other allies who are also consumers of Russian goods?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, there are a range of countries that have greater trade and economic relationships with Russia than the United States does, and we certainly recognize that. Our preference here is not to keep hyping up sanctions; our preference here is to find an end to this conflict that’s happening through engagement, through discussion – Russia can take the off-ramp. So we recognize that, but we also think it’s important for countries to be unified given what’s happened here in Ukraine and that’s certainly what the President and Secretary are expressing to a range of our global partners.

QUESTION: Staying with that --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- in the phone call last night between the presidents – between the two presidents, there was some suggestion from President Obama about some kind of mediation --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that the Russians and Ukrainians need to sit down together. Does he have any idea of or is there any idea within the – percolating within the Administration as to what kind of structure or who should lead the mediation?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, there’s – Secretary Kerry talked a little bit about this yesterday. But that’s part of the discussion, is what – there are a range of formats that are possible. Certainly the United States is happy and willing to be a part of that. The issue here is getting Russia and the new government in Ukraine at the same table, having a discussion, and there are a range of partners and players in the international community that can be a part of that. So that’s what’s being talked about now.

QUESTION: But I mean, would you see it more in a kind of formal setting, such as through the United Nations, or would this be something that, perhaps, like you said, maybe the United States would be willing to be a partner to that, but would Russia necessarily want the United States involved in a mediation of this nature?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. It’s a good question. It’s what’s being talked about now. It doesn't necessarily have to be through the UN. The UN has obviously been engaged what’s been – with what’s happening on the ground and they’ve been on the ground. But there are also a range of partners who have been very closely engaged in this in Ukraine as well. So that’s all what’s being talked about right now.

QUESTION: Did you see the presidential – the Russian president spokesman’s comments about the idea of Western mediation? I think Dmitry Peskov said, “This makes us smile.” He seemed – essentially seemed to find the idea risible, laughable, ridiculous. He evoked no interest in it whatsoever. Do you – is that constructive from your point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that doesn’t reflect the discussions that have been happening with the Russians, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, with other officials about a range of options for a contact group and for a discussion with the new Government of Ukraine.

QUESTION: I mean, you do see the difficulty? The Russians are obviously wary of European involvement given the history of Ukraine and why the Russians stepped into all this. And then, obviously, they’d be perhaps a bit leery of any kind of U.S. involvement. So that kind of leaves you – well, who would be in this contact group and who would be leading it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Jo, the --

QUESTION: Anwar.

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) Though Russia is fairly isolated here from where the international community is, so there are not a lot of options for partners or members of the contact who have not stated that the steps they’ve taken are illegal and inappropriate, there are still partners who would be willing to and happy to be a part of bringing an end to this through diplomatic channels regardless of that. So we’ll see what happens. But that’s what was – the President was referring to in the statement.

QUESTION: Can you – on Russia --

QUESTION: Ukraine’s new prime minister --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time.

QUESTION: Related --

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Okay.

QUESTION: On Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You were talking about Russia is isolated and so on. Today began the Paralympics and, in fact, 48 countries are participating in Sochi. The largest team is the American team. It has, like, 80 members, followed closely by Russia. So how is that – how does that work into this equation of isolation and so on, and sanctions?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the White House announced this, Said, I think a couple of days ago. But the United States is no longer sending a presidential delegation to the upcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi. Of course, we continue to strongly support the U.S. athletes and we certainly don’t want them to be hurt by this process, but they will participate. We wish them great success, but we won’t be sending a presidential delegation which does send a strong message.

QUESTION: Okay. But in a way – I mean, no presidential delegation was sent. I mean, I understand that the President for the Winter Olympics designated a team led by, I suppose, a lower level.

MS. PSAKI: That’s true, but that was before this all happened, and that was unrelated to this.

QUESTION: Did you see, then, that the Ukrainian team decided to – not to pull out of the Paralympics because they decided they wanted to have a presence there?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t see that, but that’s interesting and --

QUESTION: Well, they wanted to show that they – according to their statements, they wanted to show that Ukraine is in – a sovereign nation, and as a sovereign nation, should take part in the Olympics.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And certainly, we all support the athletes, our athletes as well. So --

QUESTION: Ukraine’s prime minister said on Wednesday that Ukraine’s ridding itself of nuclear weapons in agreements with Russia in part invited this intervention, and that the international community’s failure to protect Ukraine was harming efforts, nuclear nonproliferation efforts. He specifically pointed to what Iran would be learning from this. Do you have a comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I actually haven’t seen those comments, so I’ll check and see if we have anything to add.

QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov since they met and since he said he was taking ideas back to Putin? And if he hasn’t, are there any calls scheduled, and --

MS. PSAKI: He did speak with him this morning, but it was right before I came down, so I didn’t have a chance to get a readout of the call. But we can get something around to all of you once that’s available.

QUESTION: And that would have been from the plane?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, from the plane, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: To Bangladesh?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish – do we have any more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, in the back.

QUESTION: What’s the current thinking on the response if the referendum in Crimea goes ahead? There’s been strong language about that proposal.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there a different or slightly separate set of options that are being considered if it happens?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we’re taking this day by day and week by week. I think you heard the President, Secretary Kerry, a range of officials say yesterday that it’s – that step is not recognized by the constitution. It wouldn’t be legitimate, according to the constitution of – the Ukrainian constitution, and that our view is that the new government needs to be a part of any conversation or discussion.

There is some irony here in that the Russians are not supporting the elections in May, or they’re against the elections in May, which would be the most widespread democratic step that could be taken that reflects the views of all of the people of Ukraine. So I don’t think that should be lost on anyone. But what I would – we’re taking this day by day, and so obviously, our focus now is getting the Ukrainians and the new government of Ukraine and the Russians back at the table, and there are a range of formats and options for that. We’ll see where we are at that point.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: And just one more?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Putin’s spokesperson has just said they fear ethnic cleansing in Crimea. What’s your response to that? And what is the U.S. doing to verify these repeated claims coming from Russia?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there is evidence of that. I know that they have been making accusations about far right ultra-nationalists and what steps they’ve been taking. Some respected organizations in the United States, including the Anti-Defamation League, have expressed their concerns about rhetoric being used, and we certainly condemn that. But again, I wouldn’t – I think we’ve seen a range of comments made that are not matched with the facts on the ground.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think that – and forgive me if this came up --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- at some point this week and I missed it, but you all but called President Putin a liar in your fact sheet the other day. You accused him of making “false claims.” You talked about comments of his that were fiction.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why is that helpful to your effort to secure a diplomatic solution here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I think the most powerful antidote to false information is the truth, and while of course we have continued to – and in every statement that’s made publicly – offer an off-ramp to the Russians, there’s also a range of information – misinformation that is out there. And so it’s important in our view to communicate what the facts are, and that needs to be a starting point or an important point in the process as we litigate this further. Again, I don’t think that anyone is really offended by a piece of paper. This really was used to convey accurate information to a range of people and a range of countries, because there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

QUESTION: I think the Russian foreign ministry was offended by the piece of paper. People can be offended by a single word. And I – the reason I asked is simply whether you think this has in any way – and it may not have – made your diplomacy harder, particularly with Putin since you called him out by name.

MS. PSAKI: Not at all. Not in a – for a moment. There are multiple paths that we need to take, and we’re doing that beyond that one document, including the announcement yesterday about sanctions and visa bans. And putting that necessary pressure on, we feel is essential while at the same time pursuing the diplomatic path.

QUESTION: But wait. You’re saying that you don’t think gratuitously insulting the president of Russia is in any way – in any way makes your job – makes the diplomatic job harder?

MS. PSAKI: I think we were putting out accurate information when there was a range of misinformation that was out there --

QUESTION: Right. Understood, but I mean --

MS. PSAKI: -- and there was a void of the actual facts.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you did go out of your way, and I think you were quite – not you, maybe not you personally, but the building itself was quite happy and pleased with itself over – with the Dostoevsky quote and this kind of thing. I mean, it was clearly something that there was some glee behind it. And I guess I’m asking, are – you say absolutely not, you don’t think it’s made the diplomatic work any more difficult, in response to Arshad’s question. I just wonder how you can say that, that you don’t believe that insulting someone like this is going to hurt.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we look at it that way. We laid out the specific facts of what’s happening, given there’s a great deal of misinformation out there, Matt. At the same time, there were discussions and negotiations that were happening on the ground in Paris and Rome. At the same time, we made a decision to put in place a visa ban and move forward with the authority for sanctions.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: This is not a unilateral exercise here where we’re just taking one step at a time.

QUESTION: Well, I – yeah, and I understand that. But in the middle of all this very serious work that’s going on, you guys come out with a statement that takes – let’s call it what it is, it takes pot shots at the guy and insults him, which is not – which is entertaining, certainly, but not always the way, or not, certainly, in keeping with the kind of staid diplomatic striped pants kind of language and conduct of the past. So I’m just – you stand by this – you stand by – behind your statement that, no, that you don’t think that this has made things – this has made the atmosphere more difficult?

MS. PSAKI: Discussions and engagement has continued --

QUESTION: Continued despite --

MS. PSAKI: -- throughout the course of the last couple of days.

QUESTION: And do you know, in your conversations with Marie or with anyone else on the plane --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- has Lavrov mentioned this to the Secretary at all?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that.

QUESTION: You don’t know?

QUESTION: And you probably don’t know this either --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and you are probably too smart to comment on it, but I wondered if it came up in President Obama’s --

QUESTION: Try. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I wonder if it came up in President Obama’s hour-long conversation with President Putin.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Arshad, but we’ll let you all know if there’s more to report.

QUESTION: A quick one on Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have more information on past U.S. sanctions against Russia other than – was it Magnitsky List that you mentioned yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: No, there’s not – not since then. Obviously, there’s a long history, and I’m sure you can find that information, but not since then.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Ukraine just before we move on? Okay, Turkey. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Just two quick questions. In Turkey, more than 500,000 people, including senior government officials, journalists, and business leaders have had their communications tapped and disseminated on social media. I was wondering if you had any comment on that, and also how the Administration would react to a similar situation, if you could, at all, say anything about that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say, as we’ve previously said a number of times, but it’s worth repeating, we share the serious concerns raised by the OSCE and others that the recently amended internet law has the potential to severely restrict free expression, freedom of the press, and access to information over the internet. That’s something we remain concerned about, and obviously we’ve seen, to your point, that manifest itself in some ways.

I didn’t really understand your second question.

QUESTION: It was just if you could comment on how – I’m not sure we even got the first question, just if you had any comment on the fact that more than 500,000 people have had their communications wiretapped and disseminated on social media. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Oh. I haven’t seen the report on that, so no, I don’t have any comment on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Syria, sure.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: Turkey. Turkey. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Prime Minister Erdogan said that the Turkish Government will take some necessary steps about – regarding social media, including banning – shutting down YouTube and Facebook. What’s your remarks to this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we are concerned by any suggestion that social media sites could be shut down as the internet law is implemented. We’re looking to Turkey to uphold its commitment to respect the fundamental freedom of expression. Independent and free media are essential to an open society and an accountable system of government. We believe that all democracies are strengthened by the diverse voices of their people and a free and unfettered press.

Syria?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you had any response to this Reuters report that Syria is going to miss its deadline to destroy its chemical weapons production facilities.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure. Well, after weeks of inaction, we note that the Syrian Government has moved additional chemicals over the last week. I think the OPCW put out a report in terms of where they stand.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: Twenty-six percent or so, I believe. As we sit here today, though, less than one-third of Syria’s chemical weapons materials have been removed from Syrian territory via the port of Latakia. We remain deeply concerned that the Assad regime has missed two intermediate milestones established by the OPCW Executive Council last November for removal of chemicals. They have fallen woefully behind the schedule for destruction. Recent shipments are encouraging signs that Syria is accelerating CW movements to Latakia, but the regime’s previous lack of action has put the June 30th deadline for elimination of Syria’s program at risk.

They presented, as you may know, a 65-day plan, which is an improvement of the previous 100-day plan, but still doesn’t take into account recommendations by the OPCW which would allow for the removal of all chemicals in just 37 days. So we still think it could be moved more quickly.

It is imperative, of course, that the international community – and we’re certainly a part of this – continue to maintain and exert pressure on the Syrian regime to live up to its obligations and continue to expedite the movement of chemical weapons.

QUESTION: And when you say the June 30th deadline is at risk, are you saying you’re doubting that that deadline will be met?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just – I’m saying it’s at risk. The OPCW – obviously member states can make their own recommendations, but – they will convey publicly what their views are on that, but because they’ve missed some of these deadlines, it puts it at risk, and not quite at the point of missing, but at risk.

QUESTION: But (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Burns yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: No Deputy --

QUESTION: Yeah, said --

QUESTION: -- Burns said exactly the opposite, that it could still be met, I mean, that – maybe that – he didn’t say that it wasn’t at risk, but he said in response to questions on the Hill --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I didn’t say it would – it’s not going to be met. I said it’s at risk, so --

QUESTION: Right. But here --

MS. PSAKI: -- because they’ve missed some deadlines.

QUESTION: But the question – your question you got was about a report that said they will not meet the deadline.

QUESTION: That was a – it’s – just so we’re clear, it’s about --

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know --

QUESTION: -- an intermediate – it’s an intermediate deadline, not the June 30th deadline.

MS. PSAKI: Right. It’s not the June 30th deadline. It’s a deadline that --

QUESTION: So you believe that the June 30th deadline could still be met, bottom line?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, but it’s at risk.

QUESTION: It’s at risk? Got you.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, but the report does say that none of the 12 facilities that Syria declared have been destroyed, but are you – do you think there is a chance that still they can speed up the process before the June 30th deadline?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a very important part of the process and what they agreed to. But again, there are steps they can take to expedite the actions on their end. We’re continuing to press them to do that.

QUESTION: So it still can be met, (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: It remain – it’s at risk, given they’ve missed deadlines, including the one --

QUESTION: But it could be – can still be met?

MS. PSAKI: Right.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Syria? Or some – Syria?

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Also following up from the meeting on the Hill yesterday, I wondered if you had any comment to a couple things that struck me during the testimony. One was – one of the experts said that there is a possibility that this war could actually go on for another decade --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which obviously pours kind of – all kinds of cold water over the peace efforts that the United States is engaged in. So I wondered if you could comment on that, whether you feel that that’s actually a realistic prospect for the people of Syria.

And then the second question was: I think it was Deputy Secretary Burns asked whether now the United States believes that it’s better to leave Assad in power, given the fact that with all these extremists on the ground, he’s the better of two evils. And I wondered if you could answer that. I mean, Deputy Secretary Burns said no, we still believe that he has to go and that he’s a magnet for all these foreign fighters and a magnet for terrorism into the region. But do you still stand by the assertion that Assad’s days are numbered?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I agree with Secretary – Deputy Secretary Burns, no surprise, and that’s something Secretary Kerry has said multiple times. So no, we don’t think it would be preferable or better for him to stay.

On the first question --

QUESTION: But are Assad’s days still numbered? That was the assertion a year or so ago.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that is, of course, what our focus is, is bringing an end to the Assad reign – the Assad regime’s reign in Syria. Obviously, there are many challenges and many events that have happened over the course of the last year. But we continue to believe that he is a magnet for terrorism, that he is not – he’s a brutal dictator who has killed his own people, and there’s no place for him now or in the future of Syria.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t answer the question about whether his days are numbered.

MS. PSAKI: They are, Jo.

The first question: In terms of what was stated, as I understand it, there were a range of experts that spoke who were not speaking on behalf of the Administration. Of course, we know why there are such grim predictions, because for three years Assad has not only refused to heed the call of the Syrian people to step down, but the regime’s campaign of horror has been bankrolled and supported by Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia, and the regime has fostered the growth of violent extremists. So those are the events that have happened over the course of the last year, as you all have covered very closely. I’m not going to make a prediction. Of course, our focus remains on ending the blood – ending the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people as quickly as possible. And that’s why we’re working on multiple tracks.

QUESTION: When you say “fostered the growth of extremists,” you don’t – are you suggesting that it might be intentional? Or are you saying that just their actions have unintentionally – you’re not --

MS. PSAKI: Their actions, his presence. He’s been a magnet for terrorism.

QUESTION: There’s been – right. Fair enough. But there’s been – there have been suggestions from around town and around different places that Assad might actually be in cahoots with some of the extremists and that – so that’s not what you were saying?

MS. PSAKI: What I was saying --

QUESTION: You were saying --

MS. PSAKI: -- was the first. Yes.

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So, Syria? Did you have one on Syria or something else?

Go ahead, Dana. Dana.

QUESTION: I have two things, actually. One on Egypt and the other as a housekeeping.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Egypt and the cross-statement, is there any indication that with all these statements that the Egypt Government’s actually listening? I mean, what happens after this statement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s hard for me to evaluate, but it doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s still essential and important to express concerns and raise concerns when we see them. And obviously, we have taken steps in terms of freezing certain assistance, and – but speaking out when we see human rights abuses or where we see brutality is something that, as the United States Government, we feel is incredibly important. Whether or not they’re listening, I can’t make an evaluation of that.

QUESTION: Well, they haven’t said – no one’s come to the United States and said anything about – like they haven’t responded to not just the statement of --

MS. PSAKI: The Human Rights Report? The report I mentioned?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, obviously there’s a range of discussions that happen every day, and as a part of that, certainly they could have, but I don’t have anything to read out for you in terms of that.

QUESTION: And my second question is just a follow-up from my colleague’s question yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on whether you’ve given the certificates of demonstrated competence to the AFSA representatives?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We have – as I mentioned yesterday, there were two different FOIA requests. So we have fulfilled the requests meeting the July FOIA. That was from – requested from January – January 1st, 2013 to the present time, meaning to when it was – when the process of looking at it began, which means it’s through November. So that is a request we’ve met. The February request is separate. We just received it last week. As I said yesterday, and as is the case in any FOIA, we’re working to process that.

QUESTION: Now, when you say fulfilled, does that mean that you agreed and handed over those certificates --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- unredacted?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that, but just to – and I know somebody asked this question yesterday, but it’s an important note here because I looked into this. These documents that they’re asking for are about a page or two pages long.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: They are certainly not reflective of the qualifications or even that extensive of a background or any – of any of the individuals.

QUESTION: Right, which kind of begs the question as to why it took so – if they’re only a page or two long, why it takes so long to go – anyway. But --

MS. PSAKI: Well, they only --

QUESTION: -- when was --

MS. PSAKI: To answer another one of your questions, Matt --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- because I aim to please here --

QUESTION: Uh-huh, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- the request was not made informally or through any other channels --

QUESTION: Before?

MS. PSAKI: -- but through the FOIA. Correct, through the FOIA process.

QUESTION: Would they – oh, I suppose this is a hypothetical question, but would – does it – are – could they have gotten it through an informal request? Or do you – would you have demanded that they go through the FOIA route to get them?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t answer that question. I mean, it’s impossible to answer.

QUESTION: Right. And then --

MS. PSAKI: But we do try to provide information --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and work closely with AFSA.

QUESTION: And when was it fulfilled as – the way --

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to double check on that. I believe it was this morning, but let me double check on that and make sure that’s true.

QUESTION: It was this morning. So you missed their deadline. You were hoping for a little leeway, kind of like the Israelis and the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll check and make sure, Matt. Well, they certainly know when we met it or didn’t meet it, right?

QUESTION: Well, right. I know. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a secret to them.

QUESTION: So we need to ask them if they’re satisfied with --

MS. PSAKI: And I can check – well, I can check too when – if it was last night or this morning.

QUESTION: How many tickets – how many tickets were there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any numbers for you. It was any that were applicable in that timeframe.

QUESTION: Do you have in front of you – and I know the building has put these together, but I don’t know if it’s made its way to you – the response to the question that I asked yesterday, just to get it on the record, for how long it takes on average to respond to FOIA requests for the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: I do, Arshad.

QUESTION: I am delighted. Let’s --

MS. PSAKI: Get excited, it’s a Friday.

QUESTION: Let’s put this on the record. (Laughter.) Excellent.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. In Fiscal Year 2013, the average time to process a simple request was 106 days. In the same fiscal year, the average time to process a complex request was 533 days. To show just a factual point here on efforts to improve, in Fiscal Year 2013, the Department received over 18,000 FOIA requests and processed over 21,000. So we processed more than we received, meaning we’re trying to speed up the process.

QUESTION: So – and I had one other question about that, which is that implies that there is a big backlog that you were able to – right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you trying to get rid of the backlog and are you trying to speed up the responses? I understand that there are issues of whether information is classified and whether there’s personal information and so on, but more than 500 days for a complex request is a year and – it’s a lot of time. So --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we always make an effort to move things more quickly, and that’s evidence of it. I will say, though, in terms of – because you asked about this yesterday too – the order question.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: It’s a little more complex, so I’d ask that question in terms of what that means. So we use multiple tracks to process requests based on a variety of factors, including, of course, the complexity of the search and review --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: -- all those factors that you mentioned needed, the sensitivity of the records and the need for internal and external consultations, which for some are needed. So – but yes, we always make an effort to be as responsive as possible, and the fact that we processed 21,000 in a year we received 18,000 means we did take some steps to catch up to a backlog.

QUESTION: Do you know if the days that you gave, are those calendar days or workdays?

QUESTION: They’re dog days.

MS. PSAKI: Dog days. Isn’t every day a workday, Matt?

QUESTION: Or leap days? Well, some people consider Saturday and Sunday not to be workdays.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I can get some clarification --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- whether 106 is calendar or work days.

QUESTION: And the 500-and-some.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, of course. Yes.

QUESTION: As long as we’re dealing --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- with housekeeping things, I’ll give you my two. One, I understand that Medea Benjamin has signed a Privacy Act waiver now and that you will be able to tell us precisely what happened on the ground in Cairo that fateful day.

MS. PSAKI: I certainly can. Get out your pen.

QUESTION: Did you fax it to her, Matt?

QUESTION: No, I would have, though. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: He was active on Twitter about this. We can confirm that Medea Benjamin was – so because she signed a Privacy Act waiver, we can confirm that she was detained by Egyptian immigration authorities upon her arrival in Cairo on March 3rd, 2014. Egyptian authorities reported to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that they were holding a U.S. citizen around 3:00 a.m. local time on March 4th. A consular officer attempted to contact Ms. Benjamin directly multiple times. The consular officer was unable to make contact with her prior to her deportation at 11:53 a.m. that same day, but was able to talk to immigration officials and several of her friends as well as inform U.S. consular staff in Turkey. While in Turkey – because she was put on a plane back to Turkey – on March 4th, Ms. Benjamin was contacted by phone by a consular officer at 8:30 p.m. local time to check on her welfare and to arrange a visit the following morning. The U.S. Embassy in Ankara also requested that the Turkish authorities grant Ms. Benjamin humanitarian parole to allow her to seek appropriate medical care for the injuries she sustained in Egypt. She was transported to a local hospital, where she received a medical examination and treatment for a dislocated shoulder. A consular officer then visited with Ms. Benjamin at the airport the next morning at 10 a.m. She was given a Privacy Act waiver to sign, but she deferred, as we all know, stating that she wished to consult with her legal team first. She was then deported, arriving in the United States the evening of March 1st. And she signed --

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS. PSAKI: March 5th, sorry.

QUESTION: March --

MS. PSAKI: March 5th, and she signed – that would be reversing – that would be time travel and backwards – and signed a Privacy Act waiver, which was delivered to the Department of State just today.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

QUESTION: Bravo.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for that, and thanks, CA, for it.

MS. PSAKI: I will.

QUESTION: Do you know, was the – let’s talk about Cairo.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Because she herself has been very complimentary of the Istanbul embassy and – sorry, consulate, and its active – but she alleges that in Cairo, basically she was ignored. Originally, when this question was asked, you said that there had been contact between her and a consular officer.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right.

QUESTION: That was not correct.

MS. PSAKI: I was incorrect.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And there were obviously several steps in this, hence my confusion, but --

QUESTION: Do you know, was there an effort made to get to see her in person in Cairo, and if there was, why that didn’t happen?

MS. PSAKI: So a consular officer did attempt to make contact with Ms. Benjamin on several occasions, calling --

QUESTION: Right, by phone.

MS. PSAKI: By phone.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: But obviously that’s a step in the process. Unfortunately, they were unable to connect. However, the consular officer was able to connect with her friends, as you know. It’s not standard practice – and I just learned this too – for a consular officer to visit a U.S. citizen who was not given permission to enter a country. However, we – because we couldn’t reach her – I mean, it was – and we had reached through Egyptian authorities. There wasn’t a way to make contact about the next steps in the process.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, who was not given permission to enter the country?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re saying that she did not have an Egyptian visa?

MS. PSAKI: She did have a visa, but a visa doesn’t give you --

QUESTION: Oh, oh, oh. I see what you’re saying.

MS. PSAKI: -- permission to enter a country.

QUESTION: So if you’re stuck in limbo, kind of, if you’ve been detained at the airport, that doesn’t – that’s not the same as --

MS. PSAKI: Well, it allows you to travel to a port of entry, like an airport.

QUESTION: Right, but that’s not the same in consular terms as someone being arrested for, I don’t know, hitting some – theft, and going to an actual jail. Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Right. The – well, or going --

QUESTION: So if you’re --

MS. PSAKI: -- or exiting the port of entry. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: If you’re in immigration limbo --

MS. PSAKI: Yep.

QUESTION: -- you – consular access isn’t required?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, the host country doesn’t have to provide.

MS. PSAKI: And consular – yes. Consular access also requires cooperation, and, of course, permission from the local authorities. So permission to visit her was not granted in time to perform a welfare and whereabouts visit before she was deported.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And my last one on this and hopefully this will be it forever, is: Do you – in your original answer to the question the other day, you said that she had been provided all appropriate consular access. Speaking just about Cairo, does that story – what happened in Cairo, do you stand by that?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, because we attempted to reach out to her.

QUESTION: That she received all --

MS. PSAKI: I was incorrect in stating that they had reached her. Obviously, officials reached her in Turkey and provided assistance in Turkey.

QUESTION: Right, right. But I’m talking about the second part of your original statement, the “all appropriate” --

QUESTION: “All appropriate assistance.”

QUESTION: -- she was provided with “all appropriate assistance” in Cairo. You stand – is that part correct, or is that incorrect?

MS. PSAKI: That is correct.

QUESTION: That is – but you’re talking about Turkey, right?

MS. PSAKI: No. I’m talking about – obviously, there were attempts to --

QUESTION: So you’re basically --

MS. PSAKI: -- reach her.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Those were not successful.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: That happens from time to time.

QUESTION: Well, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say you tried to provide her with all appropriate consular assistance, but you were unable to get through to her? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. That is a fair statement.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

QUESTION: Could I just ask --

QUESTION: My – sorry.

QUESTION: Sorry. I just wanted to ask, and I don’t know if you’re able to answer this --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- Ms. Benjamin has alleged that her dislocated shoulder came about as the result of her treatment by the Egyptian authorities. Is that your understanding of what happened as well?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t have – I can’t confirm the cause of her injury or details on that. She was, as you know, because I just stated it, treated in Turkey for her dislocated shoulder. But we’d refer you to her and refer you to the Egyptian police for any other details on what happened.

QUESTION: And has there been any – sorry, Arshad --

QUESTION: No, go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- has there been any representation made from the Embassy in Cairo to the Egyptian authorities about any perceived unnecessarily rough handling of Ms. Benjamin?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check on that and see if there has been.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’d be interested also whether Ms. Benjamin asked for you to raise that issue with the Egyptians. I mean, if she’s claiming it’s a result of her treatment or mistreatment, or – then, did she ask you to raise it, and have you done so?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: All right. So my last housekeeping one is to – that --

MS. PSAKI: We have – let me just add one thing.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: We have contacted the Egyptian authorities to clarify what she was told in terms of our outreach or whether a consular official had reached out and why we were unable to schedule a consular visit with her as well.

QUESTION: In Cairo.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And just – and one other thing – what – when you – obviously, some people don’t have international phones. I have no idea what is her case. But the effort to contact her, was that just calling whatever is her cell phone number, or was it calling Egyptian authorities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I said, we were in touch with both, all of that.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah. So --

MS. PSAKI: And her friends, which we were also – friends and family, which we were also in touch with.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I would think the people most able to put you in touch with her were probably the people detaining her, right?

MS. PSAKI: Right. And we were in contact with the Egyptian authorities as well.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: My last housekeeping thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Today is the deadline, apparently, for the State Department to decide whether it wants to file a brief in this lawsuit that’s being brought by some Haitians against the United Nations. Has the Department decided whether it will file a brief in this case, and if it has, is it in support of the UN or is it in – which wants the case dismissed – or is it in support of the people bringing the case? Or is it just neutral?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, my understanding is DOJ, of course, would file the brief, right, not the State Department. But we did – the U.S. Government filed a statement of interest and suggestion of immunity yesterday, asserting that the United Nations, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Assistant Secretary General for UN Peacekeeping Operations are immune from suit in the case of – in this case.

The cholera outbreak resulted, as we all know, in a tragic loss of life just when Haiti was struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake from 2010. We, of course, first and foremost, express our sympathy for the victims of the epidemic. But in cases like this, we don’t file a brief out of a lack of empathy. We – the United States has legally binding treaty obligations that require it to afford the UN immunity from suit and also provide immunity for UN officials. That’s why it was important to file the brief and why we filed the brief.

QUESTION: So you believe, along with the UN, that this case should be dismissed because they enjoy immunity?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe that they should enjoy immunity, and this brief was submitted based on the legal analysis of that issue.

QUESTION: Right, but does not immunity apply to criminal cases? This is not a criminal case.

MS. PSAKI: That’s true. You may be beyond my legal depth on this particular issue.

QUESTION: So the position of the U.S. Government, of the State Department, as presented to the court by the Department of Justice, is that the UN and individual UN officials cannot be subject to civil lawsuits?

MS. PSAKI: You’d have to check with DOJ on this, Matt. And I will check with them, too.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I think we have to wrap this up.

QUESTION: Bangladesh, yeah. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, last one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My question is about the recent elections and violence in Bangladesh.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Many people in Bangladesh are very angry at the word being used, Islamists were behind the violence, because what they are saying is, of course, Islam is a religion of peace, not violence. My question is here that those people who are against violence and killings of ethnics and all those were militants and terrorists. What is the position of the U.S. Government now as far as a recent democratically elected government in Bangladesh?

MS. PSAKI: Goyal, I’m happy to connect you with our experts. I know we put out statements on this, but I don’t think I have anything further to add.

QUESTION: And finally, quickly, on Nepal. Recently, Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal also visited Nepal – one, whether she has invited the newly elected prime minister to the U.S., and also, any statement? We didn’t see anything from her visit.

MS. PSAKI: From her visit? I’ll check with our team and see what they provided, and make sure you get that.

QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)

DPB # 42

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - March 7, 2014]