Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 21, 2014


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • U.S. Opposes Turkish Government's Blocking of Social Media Sites
    • U.S. Congratulates Lebanon's New Government Receiving Parliament's Vote of Confidence
  • TURKEY
    • Freedom of Speech / Social Media Sites / U.S. Concern
    • Prime Minister Erdogan
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Attack on Kabul Hotel / Death of Journalist / Condolences to Families
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Negotiation Process / Release of Prisoners
    • Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon
  • ISRAEL
    • U.S. Visa Denials / Visa Waiver Program
  • JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA
    • Relations Between Countries / Strategic Issues / President's Travel
  • SAUDI ARABIA/QATAR
    • Recent Decisions By Saudi Arabia / Travel to Region
    • Muslim Brotherhood
  • EUROPE REGIONAL
    • Ongoing Dialogue with Europe / Natural Gas Exports
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
    • Sanctions
  • UKRAINE
    • U.S. Economic Assistance / Secretary Kerry's Conversations with European Counterparts
  • IRAN
    • Comments Made by Iran Supreme Leader
  • EGYPT
    • Ongoing Review of U.S. Aid to Egypt
  • MISCELLANEOUS
    • Remote-Piloted Aircraft


TRANSCRIPT:

1:22 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. All right. I just have two items for all of you at the top.

The United States supports freedom of expression in Turkey and opposes any action to encroach on the right to free speech. We urge the Turkish Government to unblock its citizens’ access to Twitter and ensure free access to all social media platforms. As President Obama has previously underscored, democratic governments must accept the challenge to, quote, “listen to the voices who disagree with us, to have an open debate about how we use our powers and how we must constrain them.”

An independent and unfettered media is an essential element of democratic, open societies and crucial to ensuring official transparency and accountability. This action is contrary to Turkey’s own expressed desire to uphold the highest standards of democracy and efforts to attract foreign investment.

Also, the United States congratulates Lebanon’s new government in receiving the parliament’s vote of confidence. We look forward to working with the Salam government and seeing this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections proceed on time and in adherence with the constitution.

With that --

QUESTION: Follow-up on statement, Turkish statement?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Have you talked to any of Turkey – officials from Turkey about the ban?

MS. PSAKI: About the --

QUESTION: About the ban on Twitter?

MS. PSAKI: We have. Our ambassador on the ground has been closely engaged, and we’ve expressed our concerns through those channels.

QUESTION: So Turkish officials basically – ministers arguing that Twitter blocked to prevent abuse of rights. What do you say to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I pretty clearly stated that we support and believe in freedom of speech, whether that’s through the media or through individuals’ rights to freedom of speech. And certainly, Twitter is a newer tool of communicating.

QUESTION: Many are criticizing recently Turkish Government about its authoritarian tendencies – increasing authoritarian tendencies. Are you worried about that?

MS. PSAKI: When we have concerns, we express them. As you know, Turkey is an important ally, it’s a NATO ally, we work with them on a range of issues, but this is an issue we were concerned about, hence we expressed our opinion.

QUESTION: Same issue. Same issue, Jen.

QUESTION: Well, I just want to – I’m presuming that your opening statement – which I missed and I apologize for, I don’t want to ask you to repeat it – but you take a dim view of --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. That is correct.

QUESTION: That is correct?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Are you – we’re just going to go – continue on Turkey and we’ll move through that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, one question. The Secretary said many times that Turkey’s a modern democracy --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- for the Muslim world. Does the Secretary thinks the same after the closure of Twitter and as – and other social media?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I just stated, I think actions like this are contrary to Turkey’s own expressed desire to be a model of democracy to uphold the highest standards of democracy.

Do we have any more on Turkey? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the details of this ban? Because recently, Istanbul had a panel court – stated that this ban is not originated from a courtroom, it’s an executive branch decision. Are you aware of this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. I know there have been public statements made. I think that’s what we were referring to, and obviously, actions taken. But in terms of the specific steps internally in Turkey how we got here, I don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: Turkish Government blamed, actually, the Twitter company for not cooperating with Turkish Government for this kind – some kind of request to remove some content on Twitter. Did they ask your help for this legal process, the Turkish Government ask any help from the U.S. Government to communicate with Twitter company?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, and again, I think I pretty clearly expressed our concerns about the announcement and the decision to ban Twitter.

QUESTION: Because it’s a legal process for an American company to – Twitter company right now – Twitter is represented by Turkish lawyers right now and they are negotiating with the Turkish Government too, and it’s about an American company at the same time. Are you any – somehow involved with this conflict?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not, no, we’re not.

QUESTION: So you’re not aware of any contact between the U.S. Government, particularly your social media people, and Twitter or any other social media companies about the situation in Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check and see if there’s any contact.

QUESTION: There is – it has happened before --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, I understand that.

QUESTION: -- in the case of Iran. I also had a kind of --

MS. PSAKI: We’re not engaged in a legal case, is what the question --

QUESTION: Right, okay. Also I had a kind of question about the logistics, and I realize this might be – you’re going to say that it’s sausage making, but I’m curious as to why a full 12, 14, even 16 hours after this came out, the Embassy in Ankara was still – was – their response to this was recycling year-old quotes from the President.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, I provided – we provided a statement last night to those who asked. Nobody asked me about it yesterday, but --

QUESTION: It was – well, that’s because I’m not sure people were yet quite aware of it yesterday. But even the statement that was provided to the people who asked last night was pretty weak tea, no?

MS. PSAKI: I think I pretty clearly --

QUESTION: Is it your --

MS. PSAKI: -- conveyed our viewpoint here, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. But your statement today, you would admit, is much stronger than your statement from last night. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: It’s perhaps more expansive.

QUESTION: But it’s stronger, right?

MS. PSAKI: Look, Matt, I think we pretty clearly conveyed our concerns about --

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just curious as to why it took so long for you guys to come out with something that was stronger.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not an indication of our concerns or level of concern. It’s not an indication of how we’ve expressed those to the Government of Turkey.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: If I could just ask more broadly, this is one of a series of moves that we’ve seen by the government of Prime Minister Erdogan, including – we had a whole bunch of police officers who were arrested or moved from their posts, judges who were moved from their posts amid this corruption scandal against him. More broadly speaking, is the United States worried that perhaps the government of Prime Minister Erdogan is moving in the wrong direction, i.e., away from democracy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think any time an action like the banning of a social media site, unjust arrests, the steps taken to block the ability of journalists to do their jobs, we express our concerns. We’ve seen a couple of incidents of those in Turkey, you’re right, but we continue to work closely with Turkey. They remain a close ally. And I’m not at the point of outlining a further impact.

QUESTION: And again, I’m sorry I missed the beginning as well. Did you say that you raised the concerns, your concerns directly with the Turkish Government?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We have, yes.

QUESTION: Are you able to tell us what their response was?

MS. PSAKI: No. I would point you to them on that.

QUESTION: Will you give – did you ask for any assurances that the block on Twitter would be removed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we pretty clearly conveyed our belief that there shouldn’t be a block on Twitter. So obviously, they’re going to make their own decisions. But we conveyed privately, as strongly as we’ve spoken publicly.

QUESTION: They didn’t give you any of those assurances?

MS. PSAKI: I’d point you to them on what they are or aren’t willing to do.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the question about the recent removing security officials and the judges and prosecutors --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you also worried or concerned about those removings in Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we express concerns when we have concerns. We’ve done that around countless incidents about – rather, I should say, a range of incidents over the past several months. We don’t engage in, as you know, Turkish internal politics, and some of those events are – fall into that category. But when there are efforts taken to block the ability of journalists or individuals to exercise their freedom of speech, we certainly make our concerns known.

QUESTION: And one last question: Prime Minister Erdogan has been consistently arguing that this is a plot by the foreign powers. And yesterday he actually argued for a long time that these corruption charges and all those leaks done by the foreign powers, that is why he’s taking the measures he’s taking. Do you have any respond to that?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen those comments. Clearly, our – the United States is not engaged in any sort of effort underway in Turkey, and any notion that we are is false.

QUESTION: Jen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Turkey, or do you have --

QUESTION: Jen, I have a second question.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You raised your concern on this ban, and you raised your concern about the (inaudible), et cetera. In general, what is the main concern of U.S. Government on Turkish – the government on Turkey? Rule of law, press freedom, authoritarian tendency of prime minister – what is the main concern?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t – I don’t think I made a sweeping statement. I think I said that we convey our concerns about incidents that occur when they come up. We’ve done that today and we’ll continue to do that when we feel it’s warranted.

Do we have any more on Turkey?

QUESTION: Jen, one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Have you seen the – President Gul’s tweet?

MS. PSAKI: I have not seen that, no.

QUESTION: He wished that this block will be lifted soon. Any comment on it?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any comment on it. I think we’ve expressed what the view of the United States Government is.

QUESTION: Again, to just follow up, you just stated that it is – you condemn or you express your concern when the incidents come up. Do you think a trend on that, or this is just individual particle incidents happening?

MS. PSAKI: We express concerns when incidents come up. Again, Turkey remains a close NATO ally and we work with them on a range of issues.

QUESTION: So you don’t see any kind of trend towards the authoritarian --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do analysis on that.

Do we have any more on Turkey?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a small technical thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How did you express concerns? Was this embassy to --

MS. PSAKI: Our ambassador in Turkey expressed that directly to government officials.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Which government official?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that level of detail.

Do we have any more Turkey? Okay, new topic. Matt, did you want to – anything on your mind here today?

QUESTION: No, I’m sorry, I’m watching basketball.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to interrupt the basketball game. (Laughter.) I understand it is a Friday afternoon.

QUESTION: Well, not the actual game. The scores.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, I apologize.

QUESTION: Can we edit that whole thing out? I don’t want --

MS. PSAKI: Do you want to share with the group? What if other people want to know the basketball score? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You can skip me. I do have something, but it can wait.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I go to --

QUESTION: It can wait.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I want to go to – I’d like to go to Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There was an attack yesterday on a hotel in Kabul in which nine people were killed. Among them was AFP’s local correspondent Sardar Ahmad, his wife, and two children. His baby boy is still in the hospital being treated for injuries. I believe there was also possibly an American Bangladeshi who was killed. And I just wanted – this is another in a series of attacks, attacks we’ve seen in Kabul, and I just wondered if (a) if there was a U.S. reaction, and going forward what kind of hope could you give to these families?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Jo, I’m incredibly sorry – and you’re going to make me cry. I’m incredibly sorry for – and we’re all incredibly sorry, the Secretary is incredibly sorry for the loss that AFP has experienced. And certainly our heart and our condolences go out to the family of that reporter. And obviously, we know reporters go out every day and risk their lives in countries around the world, and it’s an incredible service to not only communicating what’s happening in a country like Afghanistan, but the fact that they put their lives at risk is certainly commendable.

We did put out a statement from our Embassy strongly condemning the recent senseless attacks of violence against the police station and the Serena Hotel in Kabul. The perpetrators of these attacks have needlessly shed the blood of both Afghans and their international partners at a time when citizens are celebrating Nowruz and preparing to vote in historic elections. The barbaric nature of these events reminds us of the total disregard the insurgents have for human life and their fear of a free vote for the future of Afghanistan.

We offer our deepest condolences, again, to the families of the deceased and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. We will continue to stand with the Afghan people and the government in pursuit of a stable, prosperous, and democratic Afghanistan, where all life is respected.

In answer to your specific question, one U.S. citizen was killed in the attack. We have no further information that we can provide at this time about that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that the key to the prison – meaning the release of the prisoners on the 29th – lies in Abbas’s hands, that he would have to give a commitment to continue in the negotiations, basically, post April 29th. Do you have a comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as you know, this is an incredibly complicated issue, as is – as are many issues involved in the negotiations. We’re at a pivotal time, as we’ve said before, but I’m just not going to speak to every comment and analysis coming from both sides from the podium.

QUESTION: Now, the Palestinian negotiator insisted again that this was a separate deal struck with Secretary of State John Kerry on the 19th of July, even before the start of the current negotiations, that these prisoners would be released. Now, the last – the fourth tranche is the 29th of this month, not the 29th of next month.

MS. PSAKI: Again, we have seen three rounds of prisoners released. I’m not going to speak further to what was agreed to between parties. It’s a complicated issue. We’re obviously at an important time in the negotiations, but because of that I’m not going to speculate further.

QUESTION: Okay. There is a very thorough study done by a Palestinian think tank in the West Bank that says if the talks collapse and if the Palestinian Authority were to sort of dismantle and so on, that you will have chaos, violence, crime and so on, and the spread of, I mean, very, very bleak conditions. Do you do your own – do you conduct your own studies and analysis of what is likely to sort of be in the aftermath of a failed negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Look, Said, our focus is on working towards an agreement between both parties. That’s where we put all of our efforts and energy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on that, or should we move on to a new topic?

QUESTION: I have --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: -- one question about this. The Moshe Yaalon saga does not seem to be over. Have there been any further contacts since the – that you’re aware of since the – his phone call with Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry’s call with Prime Minister Netanyahu about this subject?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I would note, of course, that naturally, our officials on the ground are in close contact with a range of Israeli officials every day. So I don’t have that level of detail. We are disappointed with the lack of an apology from Defense Minister Yaalon’s comments. His comments, as we’ve stated a couple times, don’t reflect the true nature of our relationship with Israel.

And as I noted yesterday, and certainly this hasn’t changed overnight, for the Secretary, while we’re focused on our engagements with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Ambassador Indyk and our team are working closely with the negotiators on the ground, we still have concerns and he still has concerns about the pattern.

QUESTION: About the pattern from this official?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This specific – and when you say that you’re disappointed with the lack of an apology, had you actively sought an apology? Or not you personally, but on behalf of the Administration, did officials such as Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel specifically say an apology is warranted in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they very clearly expressed their displeasure with the comments, and an apology would be a natural next step in response to that.

QUESTION: Okay. I have more on the same issue, but not on Yaalon.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Yaalon --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: On the Yaalon issue, are you aware that when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked him to tone it down, actually, because he’s been doing this week after week, he basically told him to take a hike, more graphically, and told him that he will explain to the Americans what he means when he meets with you? So will you be receiving him to hear his explanation?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know how anyone has that level of detail between private conversations between the prime minister and the defense minister, but I’d you point you to the Israelis on that.

QUESTION: Well, that’s according to the Israeli press. I mean, I’m not privy to their conversation.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that --

QUESTION: I read it in their press.

MS. PSAKI: -- but I would point you to the Israelis on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you, then – let me rephrase my question. Would you sort of receive Mr. Yaalon to this building to have him explain exactly what he meant by that?

MS. PSAKI: I think – look, our focus is on working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the negotiating team, on the peace process. So I’m not entertaining a hypothetical meeting. And Secretary Kerry isn’t even his counterpart, so --

QUESTION: Okay. Do you feel that he is jeopardizing the peace process because he has political aspirations of his own, perhaps to replace Mr. Netanyahu?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of that. That’s an internal Israeli issue, Said. Again, you’re familiar with who we work closely with on the peace process.

QUESTION: Jen, when you say that you still have concerns about a pattern of behavior, that’s pretty damning --

MS. PSAKI: A pattern of comments, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah, of comments. That’s a pretty damning statement about a member of the prime minister’s cabinet. Is there a concern that this continued behavior could have a negative impact on the security relationship between the U.S. and Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I’d point you to the Department of Defense on that. He is the counterpart with Secretary Hagel. And obviously, what was so confusing about the comments was that it doesn’t reflect, and we don’t feel it will reflect in the future, the strength of our security relationship with Israel, the amount we work together. And a range of other officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, have made many, many comments about how important that relationship is. So --

QUESTION: But would it be fair to say that, from this podium, the U.S. Government is sending a signal to Prime Minister Netanyahu, you need to get this guy in line?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re sending a signal that we have remaining concerns about the pattern of comments. I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Jen, what do you think the pattern indicates – a lack of discipline within the government or a sort of loose cannon aspect to the defense minister?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to – I’ll let all of you do an analysis of that. The pattern is a reference to this is not the first incident of comments that were – didn’t reflect our relationship and were, frankly, offensive. So that’s what I was referring to.

QUESTION: And how do you explain the lack of apology?

MS. PSAKI: With the lack of – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Of apologizing, from the United States.

MS. PSAKI: I would ask the Israelis that question. I can’t answer that for you.

QUESTION: But you cannot read anything on that?

MS. PSAKI: I would have you ask them that question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for the Secretary to meet any of the negotiating teams in the coming days?

MS. PSAKI: It is something – they’ve been in very close contact as you know, because we talk about this pretty regularly over the phone. Whether or not there are meetings next week, that is certainly possible, but we’re still working through the schedule. And I expect for all of you we’ll have announcement on travel this afternoon, hopefully in the next hour or so.

QUESTION: So on Israel but not Yaalon, yesterday I asked about concern on the Hill about the visa denials. Did you get an answer on --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I did, Matt.

QUESTION: Excellent.

MS. PSAKI: I like to be responsive. So to give you some statistics, over 90 percent of Israeli applicants for tourist visas to the United States are approved. For young Israelis, over 80 percent of visa applicants are approved for a visa. As I noted yesterday, all visa applications are reviewed individually in accordance with requirements, of course, of U.S. immigration law.

In terms of statistics, in FY 2013 the visa refusal rate for B-visas – so tourism and business, as you know, but other people may not – was 9.7 percent.

QUESTION: Nine-point-seven?

MS. PSAKI: The refusal rate --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- was 9.7 percent. In FY 2012, it was 5.4 percent. In FY 2011 it was 6.9 percent. It’s natural that there are fluctuations, and obviously, every individual application is evaluated differently.

QUESTION: Does that – does the percentage change between – well, the percentage change each year – is one of the factors that goes into the difference the number of applications received? In other words, if you get one year 100,000 applications, and then the next year you get 300,000 applications --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Does it impact the percentages?

QUESTION: -- does it follow that the percentage goes up, or no? Because I think the argument and the concern being expressed on the Hill is that the number has gone up, that the percentage of refusal has up at – not at a corresponding rate to the increase, if there even was one, in applications.

MS. PSAKI: I would have to check on the specific numbers of applications and see if there was a major change from year to year. I would note that the 90 percent approval of Israeli applicants is very high comparatively to a number of countries. So that is an indication of how many are accepted. But I can check and see on that specific --

QUESTION: Can you give us some grounds of comparison?

QUESTION: Can you – go ahead. I just wondered – very high compared to – can you give an example of an allied country where it is lower? I mean, maybe you don’t have that with you, but I won’t --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me see if that’s something we want to entertain. But – (laughter) --

QUESTION: Well, look, I don’t want to get into a comparison between the refusal rate in Israel and the refusal rate for – and I’m not trying to cast aspersions on any country, but on, I don’t know, Papua New --

MS. PSAKI: Really? I think you’re looking at a map behind me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I am. I’m trying to figure out a post that’s –

MS. PSAKI: I’m trying to figure out what he was looking at. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I can give an example that won’t be considered offensive by some. But certainly, there are countries that are less well-off, where there is – where people who are seeking to come here may have a greater reason to want to overstay their visas than Israel, right?

MS. PSAKI: I will --

QUESTION: So if the comparison could be not to Country X in continent X, but rather to a country that is similar in its status as an ally to U.S. and its status as a developed democracy.

MS. PSAKI: Well, my understanding, and I will double-check this, is that the data on B-1 – on B-visas is public. So you could look up and compare it to other countries.

QUESTION: And then I’ll let – I have one more on this, but if Nicole want to ask --

QUESTION: I defer.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just – these statistics that you just cited, the refusal rate for 2013, ‘12, and ‘11, those are compiled as part of but not exclusively – a part of the – for the – for qualifications or criteria for the Visa Waiver Program? Or these figures have a role to play in whether a country – whatever country it is – meets the criteria for VWP. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I know – obviously, there are a range of criteria, so --

QUESTION: But that’s one of them, right?

MS. PSAKI: -- they’re required to meet a range of requirements.

QUESTION: Or no? I don’t know. I’m just --

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m just looking to see if I have information on this with me. Let me --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Let me just double-check. I just don’t want to speak out of turn on that, Matt --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- in terms of whether that’s a specific criteria --

QUESTION: And then my last one is just that – is the Administration’s position on the legislation on the Hill that would basically require you to put Israel in the Visa Waiver Program, has that changed at all? As I recall, you had some concerns about it and actually opposed it because a mandate from Congress to include any country, but this case Israel. Can --

MS. PSAKI: Well, legislation-wise, I’d – I’m happy to check with our Hill team and see if anything’s changed. I’m not aware that anything has changed. I will say that, as you know, Visa Waiver Program participants are required to meet a number of statutory requirements. At this time, Israel does not comply with many of the Visa Waiver Program – it’s a mouthful – eligibility requirements. And also, reciprocal visa-free travel privileges for U.S. citizens is among the requirements for a Visa Waiver Program. So --

QUESTION: Right. And does --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no. Finish, please.

MS. PSAKI: The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just given those concerns, that – those concerns don’t play any role in considering visa applications from Israelis young, old, or in the middle?

MS. PSAKI: No. They’re all considered on an individual basis. That’s just requirements for the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: Okay. So, it is still the – and I’ll stop after this – it’s still the Administration’s position that – concern on the Hill and elsewhere, that there is some kind of presumption of denial --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- particularly for young Israeli visa applicants, that’s just wrong?

MS. PSAKI: It’s false. There’s no such policy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Asia?

MS. PSAKI: Asia?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: President Obama is having trilateral meeting at The Hague with Japan and South Korea. Could you describe a little bit at – the focus of the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know my colleagues over at the White House are about to do a briefing on the upcoming trip, so I will let them do that briefing and outline what meetings they may or may not be having, as well as the purpose.

Broadly speaking, we believe that good relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea are in the best interests of the two countries themselves, of the region, and of course, of the United States. And we have continued to encourage both countries to work together. That’s something Secretary Kerry did when he was in the region recently a couple of weeks ago, to work together to take steps that would contribute to reconciliation. We also believe that continued trilateral coordination among other (inaudible) countries, particularly on security issues such as the D.P.R.K., is crucial for regional peace and stability.

But otherwise, I would refer you to the White House given it’s the President’s trip and they’ll be previewing it over there.

QUESTION: Let me try to press on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you think the historical issue could be the agenda at the meeting?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I would point you to them for the agenda. Obviously, finding a way to work together on all of the important strategic issues that those countries have in common is certainly part of a – the importance of them continuing to engage.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the President’s trip?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You may want to defer this to --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the White House too. But there was a report in The Wall Street Journal yesterday or last night, late, that there had been a summit planned with the GCC members in Riyadh, which has now been canceled because of the divisions between the GCC. Is that something that you can talk to?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it is hard to cancel a meeting that was never scheduled, so I know that they will be previewing what the President will be doing over there, and I believe that’s coming up shortly.

QUESTION: Now.

MS. PSAKI: It’s right now. But again, this is – it was never scheduled, so --

QUESTION: It was never scheduled. Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Well, look, I mean, I guess we’ll let the national security advisor talk to this in detail, but when you say it was never scheduled, doesn’t mean it was never considered, correct?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll let them speak to that, and obviously you consider a range of options and meetings. And I’ll let them discuss what was considered and what they decided on.

QUESTION: So Jen, if I can ask – because I know we’ve touched on it a bit, but we haven’t really talked about it that much – about the divisions which are emerging in the GCC. Is that alarming to you as an ally of all of these countries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, are following with concern the recent decisions made by Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Bahrain, with respect to their ambassadors to Qatar, and we take this issue very seriously. We have strong relationships, the United States does, with all of these countries, and we continue to encourage them to resolve their differences as soon as possible for the benefit of regional security and cohesion. So, certainly, given the role they play working together on regional security issues, how we work with them, either as an entity or as individual countries, is why we’re very – watching it very closely.

QUESTION: Did they inform you before they withdrew their ambassadors to Doha?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that. I’m not sure if there was a prior notification. Not that I’m aware of, but I will check.

QUESTION: And have you been in conversation with them about this, whether it was a wise step or not?

MS. PSAKI: We have been in touch with them about this – these issues and our desire to see it resolved quickly.

QUESTION: So you’d like them to put their ambassadors back into Qatar?

MS. PSAKI: We’d like them to engage in a dialogue and determine how to move things forward.

QUESTION: Well, you said, though, that you had – you have concerns about the withdrawal of the ambassadors. Do you also have concerns about the reasons that these countries said that they withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar? In other words, do you – if you have concerns about the withdrawal of the ambassadors, do you also have concerns about Qatar’s behavior, which – alleged behavior, let’s say – which led to these countries withdrawing their ambassadors?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know one of the issues that has been mentioned is the issue of private donations to extremists – and that’s something that some have mentioned – operating in Syria and elsewhere. It remains an important priority in our high-level discussions, and one that we also certainly raise with all states in the region, including Qatar, including the Government of Kuwait, wherever we have concerns. So it doesn’t mean we don’t have concerns about issues; it means that engagement and cooperation between these countries is something we think is important moving forward.

QUESTION: Are you mediating between them, between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and Kuwait?

MS. PSAKI: No. Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: Is it --

QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to travel with the President to Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ll have a travel announcement out in the next hour or so, but yes, he will be traveling with the President for several portions of his trip, and we certainly look forward to a robust program – bilateral program in Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Is it cynical to suggest that because the President is still planning to have his meetings with the king and with other top officials in Saudi Arabia, that the U.S. is in effect taking sides in this regional dispute?

MS. PSAKI: It is too cynical. Saudi Arabia is an incredibly important and powerful partner in the region, and it is – we will have – the President will have a robust bilateral program while he’s there, and the Secretary will be, of course, participating in that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS. PSAKI: To Syria?

QUESTION: On the same topic, I mean, one of the issues between the GCC countries has been support or some of them banning outright activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, or recognizing them as a terrorist organization. What – I know you were asked about this a few days ago, but what is your view for the U.S.? Are you still maintaining relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, or do you recognize them as a terrorist organization?

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed about our view.

Said.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Which is, yesterday, Bahrain’s foreign minister said that we do not recognize them as a terrorist organization, yet obviously, other countries in the region have. What are their concerns as addressed to you about the Muslim Brotherhood? Do you think it’s important for the U.S. to maintain relationship --

MS. PSAKI: What are Bahrain’s concerns as addressed to us, or – sorry, I’m not understanding your question.

QUESTION: Sure. The countries that have declared them as a terrorist organizations, have they addressed their concerns to you that you should follow suit, perhaps?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a range of conversations with a range of countries, including Bahrain. I’m not going to outline the specifics of those.

QUESTION: Well, is it vital for the U.S. to maintain that dialogue, that relationship, with either the organization or members --

MS. PSAKI: Dialogues, absolutely. We’re going to make our own decisions about who we do and don’t designate.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I have a very quick question on the Syrian embassy.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, the Syrian foreign ministry issued a statement yesterday saying that it is in fact you who violated the Vienna Convention by not granting visas to two diplomats to replace the current diplomats at the beginning of the month. Hence they felt no option except to withdraw their two diplomats that are remaining. Could you please explain?

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this about two days ago, Said --

QUESTION: Oh, you did? Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- so I’d point you to my comments then.

QUESTION: Sorry, I missed it.

MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. No problem. I can send them to you, too.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have – Syria?

QUESTION: One – German Chancellor Merkel has said today that the European countries are seeking to diversify their energy sources by importing gas from the United States, but she signaled that the United States must first build the infrastructure to export. Do you have any plans on exporting gas to Europe, and what can you say about that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we are, of course, engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Europe and many countries in the region, and Ukraine as well, about how they can meet their energy needs. Europe had a warmer than expected winter, and they – we expect they’ll be able to meet their needs and perhaps even fill any potential gap that Ukraine has.

In terms of natural gas exports, which I think is what you’re asking about, those are – we right now don’t have facilities to export natural gas in that capacity. There are facilities being worked through. I think the earliest we think this could happen is 2015. Right now, that can happen with countries we have free trade agreements with. There are some exceptions that can be granted by the Department of Energy, but they have the call on that in terms of making those exceptions. But the point being it’s not an immediate solution, and it is correct that we don’t have the facilities at this point in time to export natural gas.

QUESTION: Also, the crisis with Russia, are you planning to expedite the work in building this infrastructure thing?

MS. PSAKI: Again, in terms of the specifics of how quickly that could be done, I would point you to the Department of Energy for that. Certainly, we all feel that it’s important to support Ukraine and support countries in Europe at this important time. There are a range of ways to do that. We’ll continue our dialogue with them. But I – I don’t have any details about what capacity we would even have to expedite it.

QUESTION: Since you brought up Ukraine, Mr. Putin signed the treaty that formally annexed Crimea today and then suggested that perhaps any retaliatory sanctions or other diplomatic moves might not be forthcoming from his government. Is there a reaction to it?

MS. PSAKI: I believe his spokesperson came out and then said that there may be more. So I would point you to them on what is accurate or what their plans are.

Our view continues to be, regardless of what they say, they need to back up their words with actions, and if they want to see protections for minorities in Ukraine, they can let the OSCE monitors in. If they want to see an end to sanctions and consequences from the United States and other countries, they can de-escalate their military steps. So there are steps they can take, but beyond that, that’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Is there an early assessment of the impact of the sanctions? There’s some reporting that not just the Bank of Russia but other Russian banks are feeling the brunt of the sanctions.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know I gave some statistics the other day, so let me give a few more, updated on what we’re seeing in terms of the cost for Russian activities in Crimea, including those imposed by the United States and our partners. Russian stock indexes lost around 17 percent on March 14th – that’s just a couple of days ago, or a week ago – hitting their lowest level since 2009. Yesterday, despite the – or not yesterday, sorry – despite the intervention of the Russian Central Bank, the ruble is at a five year low against the dollar and more capital, as I mentioned the other day, has already fled Russia this year than in all of 2013. Forecast for Russia’s 2014 growth rate hover under 1 percent. The S&P came out yesterday and now made their own announcement about their status. So we’ve seen a range of steps – S&P and Fitch, I should say. Let’s see. Russia’s credit rating outlook was cut to negative by S&P and Fitch ratings, and Russian stocks traded in New York fell sharply yesterday as well.

So there are impacts that are being seen on the ground by the steps taken not just by the United States but our European partners. Again, sanctions are not our preference, but we are seeing an impact of the steps we’ve taken.

QUESTION: I have to say, I find it interesting that you’re citing S&P and Fitch ratings as something big, because when they were threatening to lower the credit rating of the United States, the entire Administration was like, “It’s doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t really matter at all.” So now all of the sudden when it’s on Russia, it does matter? It’s a big deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it was a data point from yesterday, Matt. I’ve listed a range of other very specific data, economic data, that points you to the impact we’re seeing.

QUESTION: Can I ask a Ukraine question?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The President made a real point yesterday in his remarks of urging Congress to get moving on aid for Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I’m wondering about the degree of concern about the fact that Congress hasn’t moved yet, whether there’s outreach from this building to the Hill about acting more quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we want Congress – we have wanted Congress to move forward quickly for weeks now, and economic assistance to Ukraine in the form of the $1 billion loan guarantees is certainly a way to help infuse some assistance that is very much needed on the ground. So we’re continuing to convey that from this building. I know the Secretary regularly speaks with a range of his colleagues on Capitol Hill, and that has continued. As you know, he was up there – was it last week – testifying, where he talked a bit about Ukraine. But it is certainly an immediate step that Congress can take to help provide some necessary assistance on the ground, and we’re continuing to press that.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any phone calls to any of his European counterparts, or more particularly, has he spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the last 24 hours?

MS. PSAKI: He has not spoken with him. He spoke with him yesterday morning, but he hasn’t spoken with him today.

QUESTION: Any other calls?

MS. PSAKI: He spoke with Foreign Secretary Hague. He also spoke – we spoke a little bit about his conversation with Foreign Minister Fabius. So he has spoken with a number of European counterparts and colleagues as we make an effort to engage and coordinate all of the steps we’re taking.

QUESTION: But to be clear, those calls happened today?

MS. PSAKI: No, those step – those calls were yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay. But nothing today?

MS. PSAKI: Not – no European calls.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And just to follow up on that, and what we were talking yesterday about a possible meeting between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov in The Hague – has that been set up, scheduled yet?

MS. PSAKI: We are still finalizing the details. Perhaps while I’m up here things will be more finalized and it should be more clear in our trip announcement.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment or observation about the supreme leader of Iran’s Nowruz message to the Iranian people in which he was not very kind either to the United States or to Israel, to put it mildly?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t actually read that closely, Matt. I will do that.

QUESTION: Okay. I would be interested if you had any comments about what – about the speech, and then specifically if you think that it might have any impact given that he’s the guy who makes all the decisions there that – whether this – you believe it will have any impact on the negotiation, nuclear negotiations.

MS. PSAKI: Let me take a look at it. What I will say broadly is from time to time over the past couple of months, we’ve seen comments made that are in response to the political needs on the ground in Iran while the negotiations have continued. So I’m not aware of any concern about an impact of comments on the negotiation.

QUESTION: Okay. The political needs on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: Well, political, the – their own politics on the ground.

QUESTION: Their own politics. Not democratic politics, though?

MS. PSAKI: There are many forms of politics.

QUESTION: I believe in that same speech he also again voiced doubts about the existence and the scale of the Holocaust, so I’ll be interested in your reaction to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And let me take a closer look and we can get something around to all of you. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just quickly about the Apaches to Egypt yesterday. Haaretz was reporting that Israeli officials were lobbying on behalf of Egyptians for the U.S. to continue its supply of aid, including specifically the Apaches, to Egypt. Do you have an update on --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update. We’re continuing our ongoing review.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. South Korea. The South Korean Government has announced that President Park is going to join the trilateral meeting on next Monday with Japan and the United States. What’s the comment on this decision from President Park?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think probably as we speak right now, the national security advisor is previewing the President’s trip, so I would point you to that and her comments on his planned meetings.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But as for – in terms of the trilateral relationship --

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. Well, as I said earlier, we feel that engagement and ongoing discussions, given the important strategic roles these countries play, is important, and so we would encourage that. But I’ll let them announce any specifics of the meetings.

All right.

QUESTION: Ah, one more.

MS. PSAKI: Oh. Okay.

QUESTION: From yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m sure that you are dreading – probably dreading this – but it has to do with the drones.

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not dreading it, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, you got an answer.

MS. PSAKI: Fully ready for you.

QUESTION: Okay, excellent. So you want me to repeat the question from yesterday, which was essentially --

MS. PSAKI: I think your question – go ahead. Let’s see what your question is.

QUESTION: Well, let’s see if I can remember it. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I think it was: Would the United States support a discussion of the use of drones in a broader resolution about human rights, or is it something that you think is a taboo subject for that kind of forum?

MS. PSAKI: So the answer is: Yes, and we have --

QUESTION: Yes what?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, we would support the – a discussion of the inclusion of remote-piloted aircraft, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, is that the new word for – or old --

MS. PSAKI: We have engaged on this issue in the wider context of counterterrorism and human rights. Let me give you some specific examples. So we have engaged fully on the text of this year’s Human Rights Council resolution on counterterrorism and human rights, which mentions remote-piloted aircrafts. We also co-sponsored a similar resolution on counterterrorism and human rights, which also mentioned remote-piloted aircrafts, in last year’s UN General Assembly. This specific resolution, our view is it was too narrow, it’s duplicative, it’s covered in other resolutions, but we certainly have supported in larger resolutions a discussion.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you – are you able, physically, to use the word “drone”?

QUESTION: Wouldn’t you prefer it?

MS. PSAKI: I do like the ring of remote-piloted aircrafts. So – (Laughter.)

QUESTION: How about in relation -- can I get you to use it in relation to bees?

MS. PSAKI: To bees? Drone bees. Yes.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: True.

QUESTION: We’ll get you to say it.

QUESTION: What about Matt’s questions?

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) This is tricky. Getting to be a silly Friday afternoon. All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)

DPB # 50

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - March 21, 2014]