Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: August 4, 2014
2:28 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience. I know we’re late today. A bit going on in the world.
Let me just start with a quick update for all of you or just an overview of what’s happening in the building. As you all know, we kicked off the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit this morning. This is a historic opportunity to strengthen ties with our African partners and highlight America’s longstanding commitment to investing in Africa’s development and its people. The summit theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” reflects the common ambition to leave our nations better for future generations by making concrete gains in peace and security, good governance, and economic development. There’s long been bipartisan support for U.S. engagement with Africa, and the summit will build on that record.
The summit opened this morning with a civil society forum to underscore our longstanding investment in strong democratic institutions and Africa’s next generation of leaders. We support the aspirations of Africans from our open and accountable governance and respect for human rights. And we are deepening our connection with Africa’s young leaders who are promoting positive change in their communities.
There are also signature events today on investing in women for peace and prosperity, there’s a working luncheon on that issue, and investing in health, investing in health, investing in Africa’s future, and sessions on resilience and food security in a changing climate, and combating wildlife trafficking.
The day opened with the 13th African Growth and Opportunity – AGOA ministerial. AGOA, as you know, is our most generous trade preference arrangement. And finally, tomorrow will be a landmark U.S.-Africa business forum, which will provide opportunities for increased investment and trade between America and the continent. Africa, home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies, wants American investors who are looking to Africa like never before. In doing so, they’re creating new jobs and opportunities for Americans at home and abroad. Today’s challenge is to ensure these gains are expanded and spread to benefit of all of Africa’s people.
I have some readouts of the meetings. I can hold those for now and see if there’s interest, and those – with that, hello, welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Matt —
MS. PSAKI: — go ahead.
QUESTION: So this is my colleague, Desmond Butler. He has some —
QUESTION: May I pull up a chair?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So I’m going to defer to him before we get into the Middle East and Ukraine —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — and everything else.
QUESTION: Jen, is it – does the Administration think it’s okay to use HIV clinics, health clinics, as a front for political activity in other countries?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would refute your description. I did read your story. Congress, as you know, funds democracy program in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. This workshop I think you’re referring to enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention. And we do programs, as you know, around the world that promote democracy and promote access to this type of information.
QUESTION: What’s a health clinic doing in a political program in an unfriendly country?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think this is specifically a program that was promoting civil society engagement and allowing people to have access to information that they may not have otherwise had.
QUESTION: And did the participants know that this was a political program when they were invited to do an educational seminar on HIV/AIDS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the program – I, of course, was not a participant – but I think the program provided information and training about HIV prevention. That was a secondary benefit.
QUESTION: But the contractor said in the documents that this – they called it the perfect excuse for recruiting activists for a political program. Is that okay?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think – again, I think it’s important to take a step back here about the kind of programs we do around the world, which again, as you may be aware but I think others aren’t, is – are programs that we inform Congress of. The Congress is aware of our efforts to promote everything from civil society engagement to engagement in countries where people don’t have the benefit of open society as is they – as in a place like Cuba. There was a secondary benefit here which was providing information about these programs.
QUESTION: So in sum, you think it’s okay? Because a lot of health organizations who have seen what happened with the CIA’s program in Pakistan that has set back vaccinations and probably led to deaths —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would hardly group all of these issues together. I know it’s enticing to do so, but there are a range of programs that this contractor – it’s important to note – was supporting. The HIV prevention workshop was part of a broader attempt to work with people about things they care about, yet independent of the government. So this was a small example among many. There were community cleanups, cultural activities, tree plantings. There was one HIV workshop and information was provided, which was a secondary benefit on an issue that people were concerned about.
QUESTION: And the contractor called it a success story in a report for USAID. Is that how you view it? Is that a success story?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note that we have civil society engagement programs around the world, including in Cuba, and this is a program or these types of programs are programs that Congress is certainly familiar with.
QUESTION: And what about sending young people into Cuba with very little training after Alan Gross? Is there any pause in doing that sort of thing? It seems very risky.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the grantee provided assurances that it had appropriate security protocols in place, would strictly enforce those protocols. As you know, there were steps that were taken at the time, but certainly the security and safety of individuals participating in programs is certainly something to be cognizant of.
QUESTION: The details that we discovered certainly didn’t suggest that the security of the young people who were sent in was really thought through very well.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I know you were looking at some publicly available information that wasn’t classified. I don’t know that I have much more to add on it.
QUESTION: It wasn’t classified, but also far from publicly available.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think others could have found it. But —
MS. PSAKI: Do you have other questions, or shall we move on to a new topic?
QUESTION: I have one just on this. Why shouldn’t the Cuban Government, which has accused you of trying to – accused you of promoting regime change activity in – on the island, why shouldn’t they see this as that, as such an effort?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the USAID, as many people know, including governments around the world, have a longstanding history of supporting democracy and human rights. There are places some of these programs, including programs in Cuba, are operated in a discreet manner to help ensure the safety of those involved. This was not a program – this was a program that made information available. It wasn’t engaged with – it was engaged with local issues independent of the Cuban Government. So that was the focus of it.
QUESTION: Right. But you understand, given the U.S. history in Latin America, particularly with —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — in terms of regime change in the past, why shouldn’t the Cubans be suspicious? Why shouldn’t they think that this is something that is aimed at not simply educating their people but in fact changing and overthrowing their government?
MS. PSAKI: Because I think the facts about what the program are focused on are inconsistent with that view.
QUESTION: Don’t programs such as this actually endanger the work of people who are engaged in health and education and other humanitarian work under the USAID flag?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Roz, I think there are a range of programs that USAID oversees. Again, these programs are fully – Congress is fully briefed on these programs, and they promote a range of information sharing in countries around the world. And this was obviously a program and this contract was one that was approved through that process.
QUESTION: But doesn’t anyone in the U.S. Government understand that this is undermining the very credibility that is needed in order for these programs, which are run directly by USAID and through other contractors, namely NGOs, who are counting on the goodwill extended toward the U.S. Government in order to do their work effectively?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re jumping a bit to a conclusion there, Roz. I think there are programs around the world that are oriented towards developing a more vibrant and capable civil society consistent with democracy promotion programs worldwide. And obviously, this contract was in line with that.
QUESTION: But I have heard from others who do this kind of work who say that when USAID deviates into an area that is better suited for another agency – and we’ll just leave it unmentioned here – that it makes it more dangerous for their employees to carry out the work that they are trying to do. Wouldn’t it be simpler to put up a firewall?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just stop you there for a second, because I would hardly compare this to the work of other agencies. This was not a covert program. There are programs that are done discreetly in order to protect the safety of the people involved.
QUESTION: But the mission of the program undercuts the work which NGOs tell me that they are trying to conduct because the first thing that people will ask them is, “How do we know that you’re not CIA?”
MS. PSAKI: Well, strengthening a civil society and empowering a civil society to be more capable is something that that was the focus of this program. And that’s again, I think, what’s being communicated with any who have concerns.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary comfortable with this apparent mixing of missions?
MS. PSAKI: We would disagree with that characterization.
Did you have another on this, Nicole, or should we go on?
QUESTION: I want to go back to the idea of mixing of missions, because in the wake of the CIA’s activities in Pakistan we did see health workers killed and we have seen disease rates gone up, so it’s hard to refute the idea that using health missions as a cover for other activities, whether they be admirable ones like democracy promotion or not, has a really damaging effect on some U.S. priorities. Does – is that not recognized here in the building?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, Nicole, broadly speaking of course, the safety and security of health workers is certainly something that we’re not only focused on, we do a great deal of work to ensure that with a range of other agencies across the federal government. But what I’m trying to convey here is that this program, which is through a contact through USAID, was done in a consistent manner of promoting information, making it available through civil society groups, separate from the government. And I would not compare the two.
QUESTION: So you don’t think —
QUESTION: But Jen, you said it yourself that this served a dual purpose, and one of those purposes was not disclosed to the people. So why shouldn’t people be suspicious all over the world when USAID does this programs? They didn’t even declare this was USAID for that matter.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, there are programs around the world that are focused on supporting independent youth groups, promoting more information to civil society, strengthening civil society around the world. I just wouldn’t – our view is we wouldn’t categorize it in that way.
QUESTION: This was a – you’re saying that overall it was a democracy-promotion program, a program to promote democracy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I think there are a range – promoting a capable civil society is obviously – has a range of benefits.
QUESTION: Right. But promoting democracy is one of them? I mean, you guys do not regard Cuba as a democracy, do you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think that there are —
QUESTION: So if you’re promoting something that is – that you say is antithetical to the Cuban Government’s way of ruling, governing, then clearly it’s aimed at regime change, no?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I stated it was separate from the Cuban Government, that the purpose was to provide a range of interests – information that was of interest to the Cuban people.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: But you’ve essentially said that a health workshop organized by USAID secretly in Cuba had a political purpose that was not declared.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said.
QUESTION: Yeah, it —
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re ready to move on to the new topic.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Gaza —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. One moment. Go ahead, Nicole. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I just would like confirmation on reports that Alan Gross has refused to see the new U.S. head of mission there and to ask if you’ve heard from his family about his decision. I think his spokesman put it that he’s just decided it is not worth living anymore. The U.S. Government has not gotten him out; I’m sure not for lack of trying. Do you feel like you could have done more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Nicole, let me first say that Cuban authorities have unjustifiably kept Alan Gross in prison for more than four years merely for helping Cuban citizens gain access to the internet, a goal the Cuban Government now espouses. We keep his case at the forefront of discussions with the Cuban Government, make clear the importance the United States places on his welfare. And we engage also with a range of our foreign counterparts at the highest levels and urge them to advocate for his release. So we urgently reiterate our call for the Cuban Government to release him immediately.
Absent written authorization, there’s really not more information I can share about those specific reports. We’ve seen the same ones you have seen.
QUESTION: Can we go —
QUESTION: All right. Can we go to the Middle East, if we’re done with Cuba?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that one, one more.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: In view of the Alan Gross case, was it wise to continue these type of programs in Cuba?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think as I stated previously, the security arrangements were – and I think I answered this a few minutes ago. The security arrangements are something that we receive assurances from by those we work with. That was the case here too.
QUESTION: Middle East, yeah. Just on your – well, first of all, on the broader situation, I’d like to get what the Administration thinks about what’s going on right now. But before that, I want to get into your statement from yesterday on the UNRWA school. It was a pretty tough statement. I don’t think anyone can deny that or would argue with that. You certainly wouldn’t, would you? I mean, I can’t recall there being this kind of harsh criticism of Israel coming from certainly this Administration, but I can’t remember going back many years. So you clearly felt very strongly about what happened here.
And what I’m wondering is whether or not after – in light of this statement, and in light of the disgraceful shelling, as you called it, of this, if the Administration is prepared to do anything to back up these strong words with some kind of an action, a demonstrable action against or towards Israel. In other words, this – you supply Israel with weapons and ammunition all the time. Is there any discussion about limiting that?
MS. PSAKI: No. I think I would just reiterate that the statement was specifically about our concerns about the shelling in the neighborhood of the school, as you know. It was the seventh such attack. As we know, we’ve seen hundreds of individuals displaced in Gaza. We’ve seen – more than that I should say, but related to the schools, dozens have died in these incidents, and this was a reflection of our view that there’s more that Israel can do to prevent civilian casualties. That was what it was speaking to.
It does not change the fact that Israel remains an important security and strategic partner of the United States. We believe they have the right to defend themselves. While in that – while they have the right to defend themselves, there is more they can do in that regard to prevent events like those that happened just yesterday.
QUESTION: Right. But this – people have criticized this statement for – or criticized the Administration for being hypocritical and putting out a statement this strongly yet, at the same time, supplying Israel with weapons and armaments – weapons and ammunition that it uses in these attacks that you’re condemning. You don’t see a problem – you don’t see an issue there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think not just because of these events, but we still believe that our primary goal and objective here is to prevent the indiscriminate rocket attacks and terrorists coming up through tunnels into Israel. We haven’t – our concerns about that haven’t changed. It doesn’t mean that we can’t also call for a different type of approach or actions as Israel is defending itself.
QUESTION: All right. The – people on the pro-Israel – in Israel and on the pro-Israel side have also accused you all of hypocrisy, particularly for this line that says the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put the risk of so many – risk – put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. Is the – the United States has been conducting drone strikes and other strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen for years in which innocent civilians have been killed and –
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —
QUESTION: — collateral damage. Does this kind of statement from the State Department apply to – would you say the same thing to the Pentagon across the river?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we have – and Afghanistan is a good example, and we have used that example of a place where the United States has had to take steps over time, of course, to prevent civilian casualties, and we have done exactly that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t see any difference – any dissonance between telling Israel that just the suspicion of militants being nearby isn’t enough to put at risk the lives of innocent civilians and what you’re —
MS. PSAKI: I think —
QUESTION: — what this government does itself?
MS. PSAKI: In fact, we’re saying we hold ourselves to a high standard, and we’ve had to keep ourselves to a high standard over time, and Israel should do the same.
QUESTION: Jen, let me just ask you on the statement themselves, because you said you’re appalled, and then Samantha Power, the Ambassador at the UN, called it horrifying. You both called for Israel to do more to stop.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In the interim, in past 24 hours since this thing happened, have you seen that Israel has really scaled back these attacks and have become more careful as a result of your statement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I just don’t have an analysis of that. I think we’re talking about how to approach things moving forward and not just in a couple of hours.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me ask you: Why don’t you have analysis? I mean when you say we want you to do this, how do you measure it? Do you have a gauge that you go by so you can look to see whether your statement –
MS. PSAKI: I think we can all measure it –
QUESTION: — has an effect –
MS. PSAKI: — publicly, and obviously we have our own means of gathering information. I just don’t have any more to share with you from here.
QUESTION: Okay. Now you keep repeating that Israel has a right to defend itself. Do you believe that doing such a strike, conducting such a strike, is part of Israel’s self-defense?
MS. PSAKI: I think our statement spoke to it yesterday, Said. That doesn’t change the fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization that has been attacking, launching rocket attacks, coming through tunnels. That is still our primary concern here.
QUESTION: Okay. Now on the issue – on the efforts to conduct or to do a ceasefire there, a lot of talk now that maybe they’re on the verge of doing a ceasefire. Are you involved in this process at all, or is the Secretary of State completely now disengaged, after being so frustrated with his efforts?
MS. PSAKI: No, quite the contrary, Said. I think the Secretary has been engaged through the course of the weekend with the same counterparts and interlocutors he was prior to the weekend, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, including the Qataris, the Turks, the Egyptians, others who have been engaged in this effort. Our objective here hasn’t changed. There needs to be a prolonged ceasefire in order to have a negotiation about these key issues. Otherwise it’s difficult to see how there can be stability and peace in the region.
QUESTION: Will the Secretary forego his ideas that he introduced to add to the Egyptian proposal and go back to the Egyptian proposal, since both Qatar and Turkey have been completely nixed out of the process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first I’d refute a couple of things you said. One is what we’re talking about here is a prolonged ceasefire where the difficult, key issues could be discussed. Obviously, there’s fighting that’s ongoing. There was a short ceasefire that happened today. The Egyptians have indicated an openness to hosting. Frank Lowenstein returned overnight. He’ll be back later this evening, but he’s prepared to return. But that doesn’t change the fact that that’s a – we feel is an important part of how to resolve the situation here. The Secretary will continue to be involved and engaged, because he wants to see an end to the violence on the ground.
QUESTION: And my last question. Early on in this conflict, I asked you at what point it becomes – Israel’s actions become – be termed as a genocide or a collective punishment and so on. Do you feel that by now that after maybe 11 – 10,000 injured and maybe 2,000 killed and so on, that it has gotten to that point?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to —
QUESTION: Is there —
MS. PSAKI: We’re going to —
QUESTION: Is there a figure that at which point will you say enough is enough?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, even one civilian casualty is horrific. Obviously, there have been many more than that. I think the strength of our statement yesterday speaks to our concern, and they need to do more in this regard.
QUESTION: Is there any plan to replace Ambassador Indyk and have another senior negotiator?
MS. PSAKI: Frank Lowenstein has taken —
QUESTION: Sorry, what?
QUESTION: He has been replaced.
MS. PSAKI: Frank Lowenstein has taken his place. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And —
MS. PSAKI: We won’t show him that part of the transcript. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: About this. Netanyahu have said during the last hours that there is a country that is helping all the situation, and he mentioned Qatar. He said there are some countries that are helping Hamas in taking all these weapons. Also he mentioned Iran. Is the U.S. talking with some of these countries to see what’s going on in their relation with Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have certainly been talking to the Qataris. We have not been talking to the Iranians about this, no. The Qataris have been an important interlocutor, and they were through the course of last week, not because they need to be in the middle of it, but because they have a relationship – an influential relationship with Hamas. And certainly we can sit there and talk with the countries that we all agree with, but that hardly creates a successful negotiation. So that’s why we’ve been engaged. The Secretary remains engaged with the Qataris and the Turks, and I expect that will continue.
QUESTION: But the U.S. agrees with the Israelis that the Qataris is helping Hamas in getting all these weapons that they are using to throw to Israel?
MS. PSAKI: I think that we – our view is that the Qataris can play a role here and that they have a relationship with Hamas in working towards a resolution.
QUESTION: I have just one more.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Qatar is providing Hamas with weapons?
MS. PSAKI: I did not state that.
QUESTION: I have another one.
QUESTION: You’ve been pretty explicit in ascribing responsibility of this latest UN attack – school attack on the Israelis. Not to split hairs here, but the statement released over the weekend was a little less explicit, saying that the shelling was disgraceful, but it doesn’t actually directly ascribe responsibility to the Israelis. So from what you’re saying, can we understand that the State Department does ascribe blame or responsibility for this latest shelling to the Israelis?
MS. PSAKI: No. I was saying, look, we can’t – we don’t have all of the independently verifiable information here. We do know that there were coordinates that were provided. We have seen the context of the history here, and we’ve seen, of course, the shellings of six other UNRWA schools. We want to see a thorough investigation of this incident as well as the other six that have happened.
QUESTION: But it seems that this was the most vocal and tough, as other people have pointed out, statement condemning – not ascribing causality to what happened to the UN school, but condemning the Israelis for what they have done. So —
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a range of information that’s out there that you’re familiar with, including that we’ve talked about, which is the fact that they had the coordinates. But again, that’s why there are investigations about these incidents, and we’ll – we certainly support that.
QUESTION: And one final on this. Has Secretary Kerry communicated these concerns to Prime Minister Netanyahu since this latest attack?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he spoke with him briefly yesterday morning, and their phone call was cut off. I think there was some communications issue. But he has raised the – our concern about civilian casualties in the past, and certainly that’s consistent but not this specific —
QUESTION: Did he raise the questions about Israeli spying, for lack of a better word, on his telephone calls?
MS. PSAKI: There’s just nothing more I have to read out from the call.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What kind of communication error? Did Netanyahu hang up on him?
MS. PSAKI: Sometimes —
QUESTION: Was that the —
MS. PSAKI: Sometimes calls get cut off. You – it was a brief call, is what I’m trying to convey. Expect they’ll —
QUESTION: Well, was it – yeah, but your —
MS. PSAKI: There were —
QUESTION: — communication error —
MS. PSAKI: There was nothing —
QUESTION: — wasn’t one side slamming the phone down on the other, was it?
MS. PSAKI: There was nothing that interesting about it, no. That was not the case. That was not the case.
QUESTION: Okay. Did – in that brief phone call or in any conversations that other people in this building – Frank, I don’t know – or in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem since your statement – I mean, presumably, this conversation that you talked about that was interrupted was before the statement came out. Yes?
MS. PSAKI: I believe, yes.
QUESTION: Since the statement has come out and since Israelis and their supporters have reacted quite angrily to your rather harsh words, has there been any contact, conversations that you’re aware of between people in this building, including the Secretary, and the Israeli Government?
MS. PSAKI: Not the Secretary. And Frank’s been on plane. I’m certain we’ve probably been in touch on the ground, but I just don’t have any other readouts.
QUESTION: So in other words, you – you don’t know or there haven’t?
MS. PSAKI: Honestly, we’re – as you know, Ambassador Shapiro and others are in very close contact. I haven’t heard any readouts. We don’t typically get those.
QUESTION: Right. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has not been.
QUESTION: Have you – are you aware of the criticism of your statement that’s come – that is coming from Israel and the pro-Israel community?
MS. PSAKI: Of course, I’ve seen information out there —
QUESTION: You are?
MS. PSAKI: — in news reports, Matt, but —
QUESTION: Okay, so the former ambassador – former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Oren, was on one of those shows earlier today and said this is not just – not the way that friends and allies treat each other. They don’t – what do you say to criticism like that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our concern here is not a reflection of our strong relationship with Israel. It’s about these specific incidents and the fact that they can do more to hold themselves to a high standard, one that they have put up there.
QUESTION: One of the – he said – he also said that you – that he would expect and that Israel should be able to expect more from its main ally. Do you – you don’t share that sentiment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no country in the world I think that supports Israel’s security more than the United States, and that is evidenced by the amount of funding we give to the Iron Dome, by a range of steps we take. That hasn’t changed. I think we still – the strength of a relationship is often shown by the ability to express concerns when you have them, and this is a case.
QUESTION: All right. And then just getting back to the provision – the provision of U.S. military equipment to Israel. Because – given this statement that you made yesterday, that as back drop, does the Administration have any concern that weapons that it has either sold or given or transferred some other how to Israel is being used in what you call a disgraceful shelling of a UN school or similar incidents?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I just don’t have that level of information. I mean, certainly we expressed concern about the incidents here because we think there’s more that can be done. But as you know, these requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and don’t expect that will change.
QUESTION: Right. But there are those who would say that the U.S. – that you have condemned something here that the U.S. is actually complicit in because it is providing so – the support that you just talked about in answer to my previous question – providing that to Israel. You – the Administration is not concerned that the stuff that’s it’s sending to the Israelis is being used in military operations that you condemn as appalling and disgraceful?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we made clear that having military targets in an area doesn’t justify it. So I think the statement speaks to some of the concerns we had about materials that were used wherever they came from.
QUESTION: On this issue, Jen, your ally, Great Britain – Mr. Cameron – is doing a review of the arms that they are supplying to Israel to make – just for that very purpose – to see whether the ammunition or the arms were actually used on these schools attack. Are you – will you be doing the same?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we —
QUESTION: Is that something that you are considering?
MS. PSAKI: — already review all requests for military assistance on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: No. I’m not talking about the requests. He’s reviewing the whole package whether – to see whether their – these arms have been actually used in this particular incident, as they were called by —
MS. PSAKI: There’s no other review I have to read out for you.
QUESTION: Now when you mentioned high standard, the terrorists are shooting from hotels, they are shooting from schools, they are shooting from houses, which is a high standard to fight against terrorism. What kind of – how can you explain that?
MS. PSAKI: The terrorists are shooting from – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yes, from hotels. Today I saw pictures today from the IDF showing that they are shooting from hotels, they are shooting from restaurants, they are shooting from many crazy places that are civilian places. Do you have an idea of what is a high standard to combat terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’m going to leave it at the statement we issued yesterday.
Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: I want to go back to something that happened on Friday and then happened a couple of weeks before earlier in the conflict.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: When the first Israeli soldier was missing, the Israeli Government quickly said Hamas has captured him, we want him back. The U.S. echoed the message. Same thing happened on Friday and in both cases it turns out that both soldiers, sadly, were killed in action. What was the independent intelligence that the U.S. had in order to say, backing up Israel, Hamas, you have the soldier, give the soldier back? And then when it developed that the soldier was, in fact, killed in action and was buried on Sunday, there was nothing from this government. It brings to mind the Pat Tillman case.
MS. PSAKI: I would hardly make that comparison. We acted on information that was provided by not just Israel but also the UN. Obviously, there sometimes is information that isn’t yet verified from the ground, but if there was a risk of a – that an Israeli soldier was kidnapped, which was the information that we had available at the time, we certainly have no regrets about calling for their release.
QUESTION: Can you say what that information was? I mean, it’s very sensitive to say —
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I’ll —
QUESTION: — or to accuse anyone of having captured a soldier.
MS. PSAKI: It was based on information we received from Israel as well as the UN.
QUESTION: But the important thing is it was basically the Israeli narrative. I mean, Hamas kept saying we don’t have the soldier, we did not capture a soldier. They kept yelling out since the very first moment, but you bought into the Israeli narrative and you acted on that premise, in essence giving Israel a green light —
MS. PSAKI: Said, it was based on information we received from both Israel and the UN.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Can I just ask a question that we’re hearing —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — about a possible ceasefire coming from the Islamic Jihad? Do you know anything about that? Palestinian Television has an interview with one of their top people.
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports. I think we all saw there was a brief ceasefire today. Obviously, our view is there needs to be a prolonged one so there can be an opportunity for negotiation. I can check and see if there’s more that we have on that.
QUESTION: There’s also word that the Israelis may be considering what had been discussed in Cairo, this proposal from IJ and from Hamas.
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, if all sides agree to a ceasefire and a prolonged ceasefire and there’s an opportunity to have a negotiation about the key issues, we’d certainly support that. There’s been a range of conflicting reports over the last several days and weeks, so let’s see what the facts are and we can look into those.
QUESTION: Yes, please. There are reports —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — in the region that possibility of DAS – the Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns be – play a role in this process. Is there any confirmation or denying (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there were original – we were originally considering having him go out to Cairo. Obviously, after the events of the last couple days, I think it’s safe to say that’s currently on hold. I have mentioned Frank Lowenstein returned – is returning. He should be back later this evening. He is prepared to go back. And of course, we’ll assess if there are more individuals we should send should things resume on the ground.
QUESTION: So the Bill Burns issue is completely out of picture now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, obviously, we’re assessing day to day what’s happening on the ground and what the needs are. And just like any senior diplomat, he’s prepared, as any – as Frank Lowenstein is prepared, if the situation on the ground warrants. But that’s not where we are at this particular moment.
QUESTION: Jen, on North —
MS. PSAKI: More on this particular issue?
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s a (inaudible) topic.
MS. PSAKI: New topic?
QUESTION: No, not on North Korea.
QUESTION: Same topic.
QUESTION: Still the same thing.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We’ll go to North Korea next (inaudible).
QUESTION: One, are you aware of the senior – a senior Iranian official saying that Iran helped Hamas improve the – its missile or rocket capability? And even if you’re not, I presume that you think that or your intelligence assessment is that Iran has supplied Hamas and others with this kind of thing. Do you have anything to say about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have long known that Iran provides weapons training and funding to Hamas. I don’t really have any more, and that remains a concern of ours. Obviously, as you know, our focus remains with Iran on the nuclear program and the nuclear negotiations. It doesn’t mean we don’t have existing concerns outside of that.
QUESTION: All right. And then just back on the one question – I think, was it Nicole who said – that you have zero to say at all about this report, this Spiegel report about the Israel spying or eavesdropping on the Secretary’s calls? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to comment on intelligence reports. Some have asked sort of what precautions we take —
QUESTION: Well, how about commenting on a German magazine report? Do you want —
MS. PSAKI: A German magazine report on an intelligence report. Just so you are all aware, and I think many of you are, but the Secretary and his senior staff and everyone in the U.S. Government is aware of the threat posed by potential intercepts of publicly available and unencrypted communications. We have at our disposal tools such as secure phones and computers for highly classified communications, but there are also times we communicate less sensitive information via open lines to world leaders and others. We’re fully aware of the possible risks. We will continue to utilize open communications channels when appropriate and secure communications channels when necessary.
QUESTION: Are you aware of that being a particular risk or a similar risk to other countries in Israel? Does that apply – what – your statement that you just read there, does that apply to every country in the world?
MS. PSAKI: Applies to a range of countries.
QUESTION: Does —
MS. PSAKI: Certainly not going to list them.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to list them all, but should – does it apply to all countries in the world?
MS. PSAKI: That was not a country – that was not a how-we-handle-things answer broadly – specific to – I’m sorry. It wasn’t specific to Israel. It’s broadly our policy.
QUESTION: I know. Well, all right. Well, fair enough. But I mean, does it apply to every country in the world? I mean, does it apply the same way in Canada as it would in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Depends on what you’re discussing, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, so that would seem to be a global – that would be a global policy that you’re talking about right there.
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s safe to say that we talk on classified lines sometimes —
MS. PSAKI: — and unclassified lines other times.
QUESTION: But the risk or the concern of eavesdropping exists everywhere in the world, including in Israel, including in Senegal, including in Australia. Yes or no?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, I’m not going to get into that level of specificity.
QUESTION: One more on this very point.
QUESTION: Why then – can I just —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Nicole, and then we’ll go to you, Said.
QUESTION: Why use unsecure lines at all, unless perhaps there may be a value to using them? Perhaps you don’t mind being overheard. But why not always use secure lines?
MS. PSAKI: Because there are places and times where that’s just not possible, and there are a range of conversations that we certainly feel comfortable having over unsecure lines.
QUESTION: So you’re not surprised that the Israelis were spying on unclassified phone calls?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I have no confirmation of those reports. I’m just speaking broadly to the precautions we take.
QUESTION: Well – but were you surprised by the reports?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Were you surprised by the reports? Since it was – he was conducting the peace talks at the time.
MS. PSAKI: I just – I’m not going to have more specifically on the reports, Said. I will say that the range of times that the Secretary was in the region and the number of meetings he had, regardless of the reports, it’s hard to see what wasn’t said during those meetings.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question. Avigdor Lieberman suggested today that perhaps making Gaza a ward of the UN, as it were, having it under international control similar to Bosnia or the earlier British mandate in Palestine, might be the way to resolve the conflict long term. Is that a realistic proposal from the U.S.’s view?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those comments. I’d point you do the UN. I’m happy to check and see if that’s something we’re advocating or supporting or have views on.
QUESTION: If you could, that would be great.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Do we have any more on this topic, or should we go to a new topic?
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s – yeah. It does follow up.
MS. PSAKI: More on this topic. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — in the part of the comparison, diplomacy, as we said, it was mentioned the issue of Egypt and if it’s compatible to the supplying Egypt to the – with arms is the same like Israel. And it was – it seems that this is reflecting back at the Egypt. And over there the – your counterpart in foreign ministry of Egypt is describing different words about unacceptable, ignorance, and all these thing. Do you have any comment about that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that, obviously, we were in Egypt just two weeks ago. For about a week we lived there as they were hosting the Secretary for – as we tried to work through a ceasefire. We have a long and enduring strategic partnership with Egypt that will continue. But there are comments that we have made over the course of the last several months or longer, as Egypt has gone through this transition, when we’ve had concerns about issues, whether it’s freedom of media or arbitrary arrests, or our view that there’s more that they can do to continue to take steps on the path to democracy. And the comments made last week were completely consistent with that notion, so I would point you to that.
And I’d also say that we’ve long acknowledged that Egypt not only has a – faces a significant and growing threat from extremist groups, particularly in the Sinai, but that Egypt has an important strategic and security relationship with the United States. And one of the reasons we resumed, excuse me, an additional tranche of security funding just a few months ago was, one, that there were certifications that were met, but also because the security partnership and relationship is one that’s of vital importance to the United States.
QUESTION: So the issue is not how I understand it or accept it or realize it. It’s the issue of how the – your counterpart or the officials over there are understanding, especially when it was mentioned, according to them, it was mentioned that F-16 or Apache are not used against Egyptian people, as they said. Do you have anything to say about that? Because just Marie said that words. It’s like those weapons are not – are hold because Egypt using those weapons or Egyptian Government are using this weapon against their own people.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, I would just point you to the fact that there is certain funding that we have resumed with Egypt. There is additional funding that – there are additional steps as Egypt continues on its transition to democracy that Egypt needs to take. The comments made were completely consistent with concerns we’ve expressed.
But I just wanted to reiterate the importance of our strategic relationship and partnership. And we have continued throughout the past year to provide military equipment. So I think that speaks to how important we think that relationship is. I’d also note that the prime minister is in Washington this week, we certainly welcome here, for participation in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which will proceed over the next couple of days.
QUESTION: Do you – are you going to discuss this issue with him?
MS. PSAKI: I would defer to them if these are issues they want to discuss, but I think there are a great number of topics that we can spend our time with the Egyptians on, whether it’s our security partnership or our work with them on the pursuit of a ceasefire in Gaza.
QUESTION: I have something.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead. North Korea? Oh, Elliot, did you want to go?
QUESTION: No, no, no. That’s fine. I had my questions answered already.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, all right.
QUESTION: On North Korea and on the —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, can we – let’s just finish the ceasefire. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. There were reports that Deputy Secretary William Burns was in Cairo over the weekend. Can you confirm it?
MS. PSAKI: He did not travel to Cairo over the weekend, no. Frank Lowenstein was there —
QUESTION: And is there any plans for him to travel there —
MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to assess —
QUESTION: — for this —
MS. PSAKI: — based on what the situation is on the ground, but he has no plans to travel there today.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. On North Korea, the possibility of the North Korea using biological weapons – does the State Department have any report on that? Because of last week reported by State Department on this. You have more detail on that?
MS. PSAKI: Can you repeat your question? Or what was your – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Possibility of North Korea using biological weapons, more than that, nuclear weapons, but they’re more wanting to – North Korea using biological weapons.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve expressed and have continuously expressed our concern about not only the threats from North Korea, but the recent set of missile launches by North Korea. This is an issue we’ve referred to the UN and continue to be engaged with discussions with them. I’m not aware of a new concern that’s –
QUESTION: Can you take the question about these issues, they’re using biological weapons instead of nuclear weapons?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m not aware of that specifically, but I will see if there’s more to say.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have another question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: North Korea is – continue threatening United States and South Korea with their missiles or nuclear weapons.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What is your – United States reaction on – to do right away?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we would, once again, urge North Korea to refrain from taking provocative actions, and instead fulfill its international obligations and commitments. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the defense of our allies, including – and we will continue to coordinate closely with South Korea. As you know, we’ve spoken out in the past about how such provocative actions continue to heighten tensions in the regions and our concern about that.
QUESTION: But UN remain the sanctions, it does not work North Korea. But do you have a new action to do?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think these actions have been referred to the UN, and I would refer you to them if there’s more to say.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Uh-huh.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you think the Secretary will be willing to meet with his North Korean counterpart if North Korea asks for such a meeting —
MS. PSAKI: No, there’s no –
QUESTION: — bilaterally?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no plan for that, nor do I anticipate that’s something that would take place.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s – can we finish Asia —
MS. PSAKI: And then –
QUESTION: Can we move to Asia? Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Is this – I’m sorry. I want to make sure I’m referring to the right thing. You said Japan has named – can you say this one more time?
QUESTION: Yeah. There were I think – what is it – 158 islands or so, and as you know, there’s some disputed islands.
MS. PSAKI: Of course.
QUESTION: Japan has named a handful of them, five of them on Friday I believe, and China has denounced it. And I wondered if you had any comments about that.
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our team on that. We’re happy to get you a comment on it. My apologies.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t have that with me here today.
Go ahead. Let’s finish Asia. An Asia issue? Okay. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d say that Mark Lippert, who has been the chief of staff at the Defense Department, has been a close advisor to the President, has served proudly his country in the military. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on several occasions. I think his qualifications speak for themselves and he – South Korea and the United States would be well served having him there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: India, sure.
QUESTION: I hope you had all good time spending two days in India. What we would like to know, beyond joint statements that this was the historical visit by the Secretary under the new government of Prime Minister Modi, what do we get out of this year’s – this under the new government, strategic dialogue? Have we achieved anything, U.S.-India relations under this convention?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, it was the highest-level visit of a member of the Obama Administration to India since Prime Minister Modi was inaugurated. In addition to the strategic dialogue, he did have a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister, and it was the Prime Minister’s first cabinet-level meeting with a U.S. official. And discussions during that meeting covered a wide range of topics with considerable focus, in large part, on Mr. Modi’s economic vision, how the United States can help to advance that vision, including through support to the energy sector and through clean energy initiatives.
There was also significant discussion of the WTO, with the Secretary reiterating our position that unraveling the Bali Accord was not in India’s interests and was not in keeping with Mr. Modi’s vision of opening the economy. They also discussed Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as India’s Look East policy. So I would hardly see this visit as an ending or a conclusive visit as much as a beginning of an important relationship with a new government and one that has great strategic value to the United States.
QUESTION: You think the Secretary has melted the ice from the past between the two countries, what had been going on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was certainly a warm visit and a warm meeting, so hopefully that will melt the ice.
MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) He set it up for me.
QUESTION: Afghanistan, quickly. (Laughter.) Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Almost 15 years ago, people of Afghanistan were very thankful to the U.S. for getting freedom from the Taliban and al-Qaida. Again today they are asking the international community or the U.S.’s support or UN help to have a relief because they are still in the limbo – I mean, as far as this presidential election and all those things, and al-Qaida is still coming back and all that. So what is the future they are asking now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would – I’m not sure what I can speak to what they’re asking as much as where things stand now. The Secretary has been very engaged in this, as you know. He recently visited Afghanistan. We have senior officials who’ve been consistently on the ground. After a break for the Eid holiday, the election audit has resumed, and notably, both candidates are participating and sent candidate agents to observe the process. The IEC, along with the UN, has continued to improve the audit process so it will move forward more quickly and efficiently. We remain confident that the two candidates and their supporters will be able to work together effectively in the government of national unity. I think, of course, the people of Afghanistan want to see the conclusion of this process so that they can move forward. And the United States will, of course, continue to be an important – play an important supporting role of the Afghan – for the Afghan people.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Jen, could I ask a quick question on Lebanon?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, can we go to Russia?
QUESTION: Sure, sure.
MS. PSAKI: Ladies first, and then we’ll go to Lebanon.
QUESTION: Of course. I’m sorry. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: I did.
QUESTION: Oh, I didn’t hear it.
QUESTION: A couple of briefings ago, Marie said that you guys continue to see weapons shipments from Russia into Ukraine. I’m wondering what, if any, detail you can give us on what you’re seeing, where you’re seeing it going, when you saw it go.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: I will see, Nicole, if there’s any other details we had beyond what we have – we do continue, of course, to see evidence that Russia is supplying the separatists with arms, materiel, and training. I think Marie noted evidence last week that the Russians intend to deliver heavier, more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine. Since the shootdown of the MH17, multiple rocket launcher activity at – there has been multiple rocket launcher activity – sorry – at a Russian site in southwest Russia. That has continued, and multiple rocket launchers continue to depart and return to this site at irregular intervals. Further, we think that Russia may be preparing to transfer heavier multiple rocket launchers to the separatists. Those are the recent updates that we’ve really had in terms of our concerns about the transfer and supply of weapons and movement on the ground.
QUESTION: Are you saying that that’s new today, or that’s what she said – that sounds remarkably similar to —
MS. PSAKI: That’s – I’m not sure if she outlined all of that last week. I’d have to check back. That’s the latest I have. I’m not aware of new information. It’s something we’re still seeing ongoing on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. And when you say “lots of activity” in this southwestern area of Russia, what do you mean?
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: Would you – is it being moved across the border, or is it being moved – like what, if you can say what —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve expressed concern about that in the past. Obviously, providing —
MS. PSAKI: — supplies to the separatists would, in most likelihood, require that in some capacity.
QUESTION: Right. I’m just trying to understand the language.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: You’re concerned. You’ve seen lots of activity. I’m just trying to get more exact language about what that activity is.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have obviously been reports of troops gathering. There have been reports of movement of supplies and individuals and materials across the border. So it’s all of those.
QUESTION: It looks like today the biggest movement of supplies and troops across the border was actually from Ukraine into Russia. Do you have – what do you make of that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not actually sure which piece you’re referring to, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, several hundred Ukrainian soldiers crossed the Russian border today, according to numerous reports and officials. And I’m just wondering what you think.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s —
QUESTION: Presumably you would have asked the Ukrainians —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — what’s going on with their troops.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, I don’t think that they were invading Russia. But —
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s fair to assume.
QUESTION: But what were they – what’s going on? I mean, this is just bizarre.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are conflicting reports, and we really don’t have verification one way or the other. The Russians claim they deserted. The Ukrainians claim they were forced across the border due to heavy fighting and are being held by Russia. We’re unable, at this point, to confirm either of those accounts.
QUESTION: All right. Well, when you say you don’t have verification, can I ask you what the verification is for the other troop movements that you just – or the movements of the multiple rocket launchers and – around the base, the Russian military facilities in the southwest?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a range of information that we have available. I don’t think I’m going to detail it further.
QUESTION: But you’re not prepared – but – so you’re not, at least at this point, prepared to make that public? You don’t have – I mean —
MS. PSAKI: We have been making information public —
MS. PSAKI: — as we can. If we can make more information public, we will certainly venture to do so.
QUESTION: Could you – yeah, well could you try to get this latest? Because the last time that you put out the – so which was, what, a Sunday, two Sundays ago, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I mean, it was immediately – people went over it with a fine-toothed comb. I think some – I don’t know how – what their expertise was in looking at the satellite images, but they were less than compelling to some people. And frankly, the calls for more evidence, particularly on the plane, the downing of the plane, have been coming from a lot of different corners. So we eagerly await more.
MS. PSAKI: Duly noted.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On this —
QUESTION: What about reports that the Russians may be conducting a vast military exercise along the border with Ukraine, including about 100 different fighter jets, Sus and MiGs?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are deeply concerned by Russia’s plan to conduct a large military aviation exercise this week in areas bordering Ukraine. Exercises of this kind are provocative and only serve to escalate tensions. Russia has repeatedly called for a peaceful solution to the situation in Ukraine and must match its words with deeds by ceasing the flow of weapons, fighters, and money into Ukraine, and by moving its military forces away from the Ukrainian border.
QUESTION: And what more can you say about the impact on sanctions? Apparently, one of the Russian budget airlines today suspended all operations because it’s afraid that it won’t be able to either enter markets that are now honoring the EU/U.S. sanctions.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view, as you know, is that the sanctions – the United States sanctions, the sanctions from the EU – have had a range of impacts on the Russian economy, whether it’s capital flow or an impact on the market. And certainly, we’re seeing that continue. I can check, Roz. I know we regularly update on this sort of data. We can see if we can get some more for you and I’ll have ready for tomorrow as well.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem as if it’s changing the decisions within the Kremlin on how to engage politically or militarily regarding Ukraine. Is this a long-term exercise that the U.S. and the EU are engaged in?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen impacts already, significant impacts on the economy. Whether or not President Putin decides that the economy and the well-being of the economy of his country matters is a decision for him to make.
QUESTION: Jen —
MS. PSAKI: But certainly we’re seeing an impact of the steps we’ve taken.
QUESTION: — did you happen to see the President’s interview in The Economist, where he called – Russia doesn’t make anything, he basically reduced it to a third-world country that cannot deal with the economic situation, he doesn’t see people running in droves immigrating to Russia and so on? What do you make of that? Does that indicate that relations between Russia and the U.S. really are at their lowest point?
MS. PSAKI: I think it indicates – I don’t know if you want to list out the natural resources that Russia has that they’re —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, the question is —
MS. PSAKI: — they used to export, Said. But I think there are issues —
QUESTION: Because the question was the —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. There are issues that we continue to work with Russia on, including the P5+1 negotiations and an effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There are issues where we have disagreements. We also make clear where we feel there are challenges that they have in their economy of – many caused by our sanctions, but it’s important to remember that these are having an impact and the decisions by President Putin are having an impact on his own people.
QUESTION: Is a deteriorating Russian economy a cause for celebration or concern for the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think our preference is to see an end to the conflict in Ukraine. We think President Putin has the ability to bring an end to these challenges that are being posed to the economy by the sanctions regime process.
QUESTION: Specifically on this Russian military exercise which you’ve said is provocative, is that – and only serves to exacerbate tension —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — is that because of the conflict that’s going on in the east?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: So in a normal time when there wasn’t this, you wouldn’t have any problem with the Russians doing an exercise like this; is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’d have far less concern, Matt. And they have had exercises in the past, but obviously, the context and the situation on the ground is, of course, relevant information.
QUESTION: Okay. But you might call it a conflict, but it’s certainly not a war per se, right?
MS. PSAKI: That’s why I called it a conflict.
QUESTION: Right, exactly. But there – I just, I don’t know – the consistency is odd because when the North Koreans complain about you guys and the South Koreans doing military exercises – and there still is, although it’s not a state of war, but the war, the Korean conflict, never ended. There is actually a war and North Korea has nukes, and you dismiss and brush aside their concerns when you do these military exercises with the South Koreans in the midst of this state of limbo where the conflict still exists. So I guess I just don’t understand why it is that you think that the Russians shouldn’t be able – shouldn’t do a military exercise on their own land —
MS. PSAKI: Because our focus here and a focus that they have stated publicly they support is to de-escalate the situation on the ground. And obviously, actions speak to that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you think that this is intentionally provocative trying to further destabilize the situation in Ukraine; is that correct – this exercise? Is that the reason?
MS. PSAKI: Well, whether it’s intentionally or unintentionally, it certainly has an impact on the perception on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, of course.
QUESTION: Back to Africa and the Nigerian announcement that there’s been another case. Can you tell us anything about the doctor, how he was exposed, perhaps whether this ZMapp is going to be part of the treatment – the serum again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will just make clear that, of course, the CDC and our health colleagues are going to be the most appropriate outlets for providing updates on the health of any individual. We are certainly working with the World Health Organization, other international partners, to help governments that are impacted in Africa and to contain the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa as quickly as possible.
You referenced Nigeria. I believe I have something on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Just give me one moment.
We are aware of the new confirmed and suspected cases in Nigeria. Senior-level U.S. Government officials have been in touch with key Nigerian Government officials and have discussed the current Ebola situation in the country, preparedness efforts, and the necessary response measures. These conversations are ongoing.
QUESTION: Anything about the patient himself, the doctor, how he was exposed?
MS. PSAKI: I just – I’m not – we’re not the appropriate briefer on that particular type of information.
QUESTION: I’m not here all the time, so maybe you can help me —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — date back to when the State Department got involved in the whole Ebola thing. And does Secretary Kerry sign off on the various responses and actions that are taken here out of the building?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s certainly kept updated and appropriately briefed. The role the State Department plays is to coordinate with local authorities within governments. We often serve as a liaison with families who are impacted, whether in this case or other cases. As you know, there have been past health cases, whether it was SARS in 2003 or drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2007, where American citizens were impacted. So those are the roles the State Department plays. Obviously, the CDC in cooperation with DHS, but really the CDC ultimately is the lead on a range of the steps that —
QUESTION: When did the State Department get involved in this, the current instance of the Ebola outbreak, though? Is there a date or —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a particular date. I think it’s safe to assume we’ve been engaged from the beginning, given there’s been engagement with foreign governments and local authorities, and especially when American citizens are involved.
QUESTION: And does it make sense right now to bring patients to the United States for treatment, if the idea is to keep this contained in place?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, I’d refer to my – our health colleagues who have quite a few more degrees than I happen to have, but they – the CDC has been clear that it’s very unlikely that Ebola will spread to the United States. We continue – and they made clear that they continue to believe air travel is safe. As an appropriate precaution, we – the State Department continues to work closely across federal agencies and with our African partners to make sure appropriate procedures are in place. DHS, of course, and other agencies have the lead on things like screening. But we work, of course, with countries, as is the case with Nigeria, in order to play any role we can play.
QUESTION: I have a hypothetical on Ebola. The —
MS. PSAKI: Uh-oh. I love how you pose it that way. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, this —
QUESTION: Ebola hypothetical.
QUESTION: The two Americans who have been confirmed – the doctor who’s already back, the volunteer who was said to be coming back on Tuesday – apparently have been treated with this highly experimental, not cleared for general use yet, serum. If indeed there were a determination from the CDC and others in the U.S. Government that this medicine could be useful in stemming the spread of Ebola, is that – is there a legal role for the State Department to facilitate the transfer of this serum to other countries? Or is this strictly done between health agencies and one government and another?
MS. PSAKI: That is a big hypothetical with lots of steps. I think the State Department, if we had any role, would be very far down the road. So I’m just not going to entertain that hypothetical. I think the CDC is probably the most appropriate place for that question.
QUESTION: Are you aware on this in Liberia of a small U.S. military team maybe working out of the Embassy or with the Embassy on Ebola-type issues in Monrovia?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on that, Matt. We’ve been engaged —
QUESTION: I’ll ask at the Pentagon (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah, there is.
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on the specifics.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have them in front of me.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask on Azerbaijan and Armenia a borderline —
MS. PSAKI: Do you mind – I promise I’ll get to your question.
MS. PSAKI: I just want to finish Ebola, if that’s okay.
Go ahead, Ali.
QUESTION: On the specific plane in which this new Nigerian victim was, the other passengers were, per the Nigerian authorities not – excuse me – not screened or not – there were no precautions taken to make sure that they hadn’t been infected by the individual who perished from Ebola that got off that plane. Are there any concerns at this time that the State Department has that there were Americans on that flight who may be vulnerable to the infection at this time, given that someone else after the fact has contracted Ebola from that specific flight?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Ali. I’m happy to check on that level of specificity. I think it’s important to note – I know this wasn’t your question but I think in the interest of getting public information out there – that we take – the U.S. Government has a range of steps that the U.S. Government takes to make information available, to make sure individuals are properly screened to ensure minimal risk. These are steps that we take across the interagency. The State Department doesn’t have the lead on most of those steps, but I think that’s important to note as American citizens are thinking about this issue.
QUESTION: Since we’ve got the African summit underway, can you kind of characterize how much of a presence the Ebola discussion is having here?
MS. PSAKI: I would say minimal, at this point. I would remind you that we’re talking about a handful of countries, of which there are more than 50 represented. Obviously, it certainly is an issue that is on the minds of the individuals from the countries that are impacted. As you know, many of these leaders were not able to come as they stayed home to address the situation. But I sat in a handful of bilateral meetings with the Secretary this morning. The focus of the conversations was much more about our economic partnership, their desire to have businesses engage with their economies, their need for investment in infrastructure, security concerns, cooperation on those issues. And that’s really been the thrust of the discussion.
QUESTION: Did they have to go through a special screening – these participants – before departing and upon arrival in Washington?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say first – obviously, there’s steps that are taken at ports of entry that DHS certainly has the lead on. But to our knowledge, no one entering the United States for this conference this week was prevented from entering at U.S. ports of entry. There are obviously a range of steps that are taken to protect the health and well-being of United States citizens.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. given any consideration to allowing additional Ebola patients, whether American or non-American, to come to the United States for treatment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re aware of the additional American citizen who, of course, we’re working on evacuation – medical evacuation for. Beyond that, I’m not aware of any other considerations. Again, I think the CDC would probably be the more appropriate entity for that, but I can see if there’s more to share on that front.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jen, we saw the statement over the weekend on the fighting Azerbaijan and Armenia borderline, and at least 13 Azerbaijani soldiers are killed. What is – and also the press reports that President Putin will be hosting the summit between Azerbaijan – the meeting between the Azerbaijan and Armenian presidents. What’s your reaction to that, and does the United States support this Russia-negotiated meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we express first our deep concern about the escalation of violence along the lines of contact that has resulted in significant casualties since July 31st, and we certainly extend our condolences to the families of those killed or injured and call on the sides to take – call on all sides to take immediate action to reduce tensions and respect the cease-fire. There can be no military solution to this conflict. Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to bring about a peaceful settlement. We remain committed, as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, to helping all sides reach a lasting settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In terms of the specifics of the meeting, I haven’t talked to our team about that specifically. I’m – we’ve traditionally been supportive of meetings to have a dialogue about these issues.
QUESTION: Approximately a month ago, U.S. Special Envoy James Warlick – he laid out the U.S. policy regarding Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and it was believed that the next round of meetings of the peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be taking place in United States – a summit in (inaudible), Moscow, and the next will be United States. What happened there? Did the United States initiated to hold these peace talks? Did it fail? And where is the OSCE Minsk Group? Is it completely out of the scene? Is the United States co-chair even participating in these talks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not – I mean, Russia has also expressed its concerns about the recent violence. I’m not aware that that was formally planned, or it certainly wasn’t announced. I can check and see if there was a meeting that was planned or down the road in planning. It may have just been a rumor out there.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: About the gains that ISIS has been making in – against the Peshmerga. Do you have any specific concerns – and you don’t need to repeat the statement that you made yesterday, unless you really, really want to. But I’m just wondering, do you have any concerns about this dam that they seem to have taken over, and the possibility that they might use it for some kind of nefarious purpose?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are, of course, monitoring the situation closely. We know that the dam – the Mosul Dam has been in the sights of ISIL since its offensive began in June to further threaten and terrorize the Iraqi people. While the situation is fluid, our understanding is that the Peshmerga remains – forces remain in control of the dam. Certainly, we would be concerned if that changed.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you have anything to add to the statement from yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, though I’m happy to —
QUESTION: Well, just that there seem to be a lot of minority – religious minorities fleeing – or not seem, there are. And I’m wondering if you have any update on that, any – or any update on conversations that you all have had with the Iraqis about helping – boosting assistance to the Kurds (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Beecroft, of course, remains our point on the ground. Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk is working in close partnership with him, so U.S. officials from here and in Baghdad have been in contact over, of course, the last 24 to 48 hours with Iraqi officials in Baghdad and Erbil to discuss a coordinated response to the humanitarian situation you mentioned. There have been populations, including many vulnerable minorities, who have fled areas where ISIL has been attacking. That, of course, is of great concern to us and is an issue that we are closely watching and, of course, facilitating cooperation and direct assistance between Baghdad and Erbil as part of our focus.
I’m sure – you may have the statement made by the Government of Iraq and their efforts to support with air power – with airstrikes what is happening. We certainly welcome the statement made from officials in Baghdad that Iraqi security forces will provide air support to the Peshmerga as they counter this latest ISIL offensive. The Peshmerga have played a critical role in addressing this threat, and the focus of all parties needs to remain on enhancing cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil to not allow further advances. So that certainly is what we are focused on from here and in Baghdad.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are using all available channels to call for the release of those detained. We’ve requested consular access via our protecting power Switzerland to provide appropriate consular services. We’re not able to comment further at this time due to privacy considerations, but, of course, we are making – taking every step we can.
QUESTION: Well, when you say you’ve requested consular access, does that mean you haven’t gotten it yet? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: As I understand it, there’s not an update we can provide on that. I’ll see if there’s more specifics we can get into.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, when the Swiss do get – finally get in to be able to see them, can you assure us that they will be offered the chance to sign a Privacy Act waiver so we can stop this back and forth —
MS. PSAKI: That is a standard operating procedure, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — Azerbaijan —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Has the State Department restricted travel of diplomats in those countries to the border area? Have there been any sort of safety precautions put into place?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check, Nicole, if there’s been any travel advisory or anything like that that’s —
QUESTION: Not for citizens, but for diplomats.
MS. PSAKI: For travel? Let me take it and see if there’s anything specific on that front.
QUESTION: And just going back to Iran, is there any concern in the Administration that this move has – that these detentions are in any way aimed at trying to – a move by the hardline people in Iran to sabotage the nuclear talks?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re ascribing motivation at this point in time.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that. It’s actually – our focus remains encouraging cooperation and continued coordination between the ISF and the Peshmerga forces. And again, I just spoke to the statement by the ISF today about their plans to provide air support to the Peshmerga, and we certainly support that effort.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)
DPB # 135