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State Department Briefing by Jen Psakai, April 22, 2014


Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 22, 2014.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • QDDR Review / Upcoming Town Hall
    • Celebrating Earth Day / Secretary Kerry’s Activities
    • Deputy Secretary Burns’ Travel to London / Agenda
  • QDDR
    • Focus on More Narrow Range of Issues
    • Allegations of Chlorine Gas Attack
    • OPCW Prohibitions on use of Chemicals with Intent to Kill or Injure
    • Assad Regime Using Variety of Methods to Harm Syrians
    • Investigation of Alleged Chemical Weapons Use / Access
    • Syria’s Agreement to Join Chemical Weapons Convention
    • Ongoing Brutality by Assad Regime
    • Elimination of Declared Chemical Weapons in Syria
    • Investigating Chemical Weapons Use
  • MEPP
    • Parties Discussing ways to Extend Talks
    • Visa Waiver Program / Range of Requirements / Reciprocity
    • Banning of Mustafa Dzhemilev / Advocacy for Human Rights of Crimean Tartars
    • Countries Condemning Illegal Annexation of Crimea
    • Photos / Russian Connection to Armed Militants in Eastern Ukraine
    • Death of Volodymyr Rybak
    • Ukrainian Counter Terrorism Operations, Amnesty Bill / No Useful Steps by Russians
    • Tools Available to Implement Range of Sanctions
    • Journalists Kidnapped or Held Hostage
    • Ukrainian Steps to De-escalate / Need to see more Steps by Russians
    • Ukrainian Energy Needs / U.S. Interagency Team Traveling to Region to Assist
    • OSCE Monitoring Mission / Request for Russian Participation
    • Troop Numbers / BSA
    • Ongoing Deliberative Process
    • Killing of Hundreds of Civilians in Bentiu
    • Radio Broadcasts of Hate Speech
    • Sanctions / Tools Available for Further Steps
    • Concerns about Targeted Killings / Call to Cease Attacks
    • Yasukuni Shrine / Encourage Japan to Work with Neighbors to Resolve Concerns Over History
  • D.P.R.K.
    • Reports of Possible Activity in North Korean Test Site
    • Visa Waiver Program / Criteria



1:13 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry announced – well, actually today, this morning – the formal launch of the second QDDR. The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement. It will focus on emerging policy and management priorities and the organizational capabilities needed to maximize the impact and efficiency of this nation’s diplomacy and development investments.

The review will guide the Department and USAID in becoming more agile, responsible, and effective in the face of traditional and emerging challenges, as well as increasing its ability to identify new long-term opportunities. Secretary Kerry has appointed Tom Perriello, former congressman, as the special representative for the QDDR. He will work with QDDR chairs, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah to shepherd the review and foster a participatory process. They’re also doing a town hall tomorrow afternoon.

As you all know, today is Earth Day. We proudly – we will have a statement from the Secretary, but the United States is proud to join countries around the world in celebrating the 44th annual Earth Day. Today is part of the Department’s Earth Day celebration. Secretary Kerry visited the Greening Diplomacy Initiative Earth Day Expo downstairs in the Exhibit Hall. He learned about some of State’s renewable energy sourcing, water conservation efforts, and about Department efforts to incorporate sustainability into many of its programs.

Yesterday, as part of the Department’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative, we also screened five films in the environment film festival – in an environmental film festival. And tomorrow, we have invited the public to join us in a 6k Walk for Water, recognizing the importance of clean water and symbolizing the average distance that many around the world have to walk to get drinking water. You’re all familiar with the oceans conference announcement we made yesterday.

Finally, Deputy Secretary Burns, as you know, is on travel. He is meeting – one item to add to his agenda is he’s meeting this evening with EU High Representative Ashton in London to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine, efforts to assist the Government of Ukraine, and coordination between the United States and the EU on next steps. They will also discuss ongoing negotiations with Iran and the P5+1 talks, which will resume in May.

We also have some USAID interns in the back, so hello and welcome to all of you as well.

With that, Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have one very brief one on the QDDR.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Off the top of your head, can you identify one tangible achievement that the last QDDR resulted in?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously it’s an extensive, expansive process.


MS. PSAKI: We’re looking at how it was done last time.

QUESTION: Just one.

MS. PSAKI: I know. I’m making an important point here.


MS. PSAKI: The Secretary wants it to be focused. It’s going to focus on a more narrow range of issues. It’s always to look at how we can improve things, and we’ll see where we come out on the end.

QUESTION: So can you, off the top of your head, identify one tangible achievement that was – that resulted from the last QDDR?

MS. PSAKI: I am certain that those who were here at the time, who worked hard on that effort, could —

QUESTION: One that – since you’ve–

MS. PSAKI: — point out one.

QUESTION: — that since you’ve come on board that you’ve noticed, that someone has said – that you noticed, that you can point back saying, “Wow, the first QDDR identified this as a problem and dealt with it.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, I’ve only been here since it was concluded.


MS. PSAKI: So I’m sure there are a range of things that were put into place that I’m not even aware of were a result.

QUESTION: I won’t hold my breath.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria, please, just for the —

MS. PSAKI: We can.

QUESTION: I just want to know if there’s anything more you can say about the chlorine that apparently was used that you talked about yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new to update you on. We have been in touch with the OPCW. I should say our ambassador to the OPCW has been in touch. Beyond that, I know you asked a couple of questions yesterday, technical questions —


MS. PSAKI: — outside of broadly – what’s happening with this specific process, and I wanted to just give you a few answers on that, if that’s useful.


MS. PSAKI: So one is the Chemical Weapons Convention, which as you all remember is – was part of what Syria was required to join as part of the September agreement. It does – prohibits the use of any toxic chemical, including chlorine, with the intent to kill or incapacitate people, regardless of whether it’s specifically listed or not in the schedule of chemicals. So obviously, when people were asking yesterday about whether – if there was a use to be – if there was a use found of chlorine, whether it would violate – what it would violate, the use with intent to kill or intent to injure would violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, and obviously that was a part of what was agreed to in September. So that was one of the questions yesterday. I don’t know if there were other technical ones, but if not —


MS. PSAKI: But I can do my best to address them, or we can also continue to work through this over the coming days.

QUESTION: Well, the technical one was – you said that it – yesterday – that it wasn’t on schedule A or 1 or 2 or whatever it was, A or B. But it is covered, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: Was it covered in the agreement that was reached in Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Okay. So let me try to explain it again in a better way. The chemical – Syria was required to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.


MS. PSAKI: So the use with the intent —


MS. PSAKI: — is covered in the – by the Chemical Weapons Convention, so – that they were required to join last September.


MS. PSAKI: So it’s covered in that degree.

QUESTION: Last – okay. So in other words, if it was proven that they had used chlorine with the intent to kill or injure, they would be in violation of the agreement that was reached in Geneva, because it would violate the OPCW, which they were required to join because of that agreement.

MS. PSAKI: That is a long, extensive – yes. But – and to be more —


MS. PSAKI: — broad about it, not just chlorine – I know, again, we’re of course looking into this – but the use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation of the convention.

QUESTION: Right. But – so in other words, when – but you haven’t yet determined whether or not it was chlorine and whether or not it – if it was, who used it. Is that —

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: — correct?

MS. PSAKI: And as you know, but it’s worth repeating, there are several possible mechanisms for investigating a possible violation. The OPCW Technical Secretariat’s international group of experts on CW will almost certainly be involved in that. Point being, it wouldn’t be the United States, as you all know, but it’s worth repeating —


MS. PSAKI: — going in and investigating. There would be an international mechanism. There’s a range of ways that could take place.

QUESTION: Well, at the moment, I’m less interested in – although others might be – in how exactly it will be determined whether it was chlorine and who used it. But I am a little bit confused if there is even the suspicion or there are indications that chlorine was used and that the regime was behind the use of it, how it is that people are still going around saying that the agreement reached with the Russians back in Geneva is worth anything. If it violates it not just in the spirit but also in the letter of the agreement, which required them to join the OPCW, how can people, the Secretary included, this morning say that this is a success and it’s something that you’re working well with the Russians on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, just a brief update on that. The percentage of declared chemicals removed is now at 86 percent. As you know, there are different categories of chemicals.


MS. PSAKI: The point that I was making is that obviously any use of any toxic material with the intent to injure or kill is something we’d be concerned about. We’re not at the point of there – we’re obviously in touch with the OPCW, we’re in touch with our international partners. I don’t have any new updates on that.

QUESTION: Were they required to declare chlorine stocks, stocks of chlorine gas? Because I mean, if 86 percent of what – appears not to include any – or it doesn’t include chlorine. And if they’re going to get – I don’t understand.

QUESTION: Does it include chlorine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again – so let me just – on the Chemical Weapons Convention, just to be clear here, the schedule of chemicals are intended to facilitate – its declaration inspection regime are not intended to be an exhaustive list of all toxic chemicals.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Isn’t it —

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer. Chlorine, as you all know, is a globally produced industrial chemical with many peaceful uses. Obviously, the intent – the use of chlorine with the intent is a different category.

QUESTION: But isn’t this one of the problems with the agreement as it stands, and that we talked about at great length at the time of the agreement? That just because you have this limited agreement to remove some of the most deadly chemicals, that Assad was not going to – was going to start killing his people in other crude ways, such as barrel bombs, and now we see possibly barrel bombs with chlorine. I mean, you said this was all – I just don’t understand, like, where U.S. policy in Syria has done anything to change effectively on the ground if he’s skirting – just because he doesn’t use mustard gas and sarin doesn’t mean he’s not able to kill his people in other ways.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, I would say first, again, just, it’s worth repeating, that we’re still investigating what happened here. We’re looking —

QUESTION: But isn’t it —

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. We’re looking closely at the allegations. I just want to be very clear.

But second piece, I don’t think anyone would question that removing priority one and two harmful chemicals is still not a positive step in terms of what the Assad regime has access to. We’ve removed now 86 percent of those chemicals – not we, the OPCW process. Certainly, regardless of chemicals and regardless of what’s been found here, there are remaining concerns about the brutality of the Assad regime, about what they have done and continue to do to their people. They’ve been using access to food as a weapon. We all are familiar with this. Those concerns have not changed, but we still feel it is positive to remove the most harmful chemicals.

QUESTION: But is it – has it stopped in any way the kind of percentage of people that are dying? I mean, I think it was horrible if even one person died of a chemical weapon, but when you look at the numbers of ways that he’s killing his people, I mean, certainly there are tens of thousands more people killed in other ways and there are indications that – indications, anyway, that he’s still using other types of chemicals.

I just don’t – yes, it’s good that you got that out, but how is it really changing the balance on the ground in any way?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, again, we’re horrified by any effort, any step the Assad regime has taken to brutalize, to kill his own people. There’s no question about that. We’ve never said that this was going to solve every issue of what’s happening on the ground. That’s why we’ve continued to pursue other avenues. But what the point is here is that we’ve removed 86 percent of the most harmful chemicals; that still is a positive step. Is there more work to do? Absolutely. And we certainly take every allegation seriously, which is why we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: If I could – just one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: If I could go back to the actual chlorine incident itself, I mean, isn’t it indications that this was delivered by a barrel bomb or some kind of canister by the air in which the opposition doesn’t have access to that type of aircraft?

MS. PSAKI: There was indications, as I mentioned yesterday – I don’t have new information to share with all of you from here – of the use of a toxic industrial chemical.

QUESTION: Delivered by the air?

MS. PSAKI: Probably chlorine. I don’t have any other additional details in terms of how, why, if, by whom. That is, of course, what we will be continuing to look into.


QUESTION: Can I follow-up with just a couple of things?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I’m clear, chlorine is not included in those – in the sum total of the most dangerous chemicals, of which 86 percent have been removed?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Second, are you certain that the declared stocks of the most dangerous chemicals represent all of Syria’s such stocks? Or is it possible they didn’t declare some?

MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first question, I think I answered it. And just to repeat: The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of any toxic chemical, so including chlorine.

QUESTION: I get that. I get that. I get that.

MS. PSAKI: In terms of – what we’re talking about here is the declared chemicals, obviously we continue to explore this. I don’t have any other additional updates. I will talk to our team and see if there’s more we can share.

QUESTION: So you can’t say whether you’re confident or certain that the declared chemicals, indeed, captures the total universe of those chemicals?

MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team and see if there’s more that I can convey. I certainly understand your question.


QUESTION: Okay. And then one – and then —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: — sorry, one more, if I may. How – two more – how long do you think it will take the OPCW to establish the facts of this incident? And secondly, do you believe that the OPCW will receive unimpeded access to be able to do this on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the second question you asked is a big factor in answering the first question. So the time required to conduct any investigation of alleged CW use would be dependent on the circumstances surrounding the investigation, not least of all the cooperation of the host country. And again, they have not announced – obviously, they would be – broadly speaking, they would be a key player in all likelihood in any investigation. They have not announced that. They are pursuing that. We’re in touch with them, as are a number of international partners, and we’re continuing to work closely.

QUESTION: But – so, in other words, you can’t say how long it might take, and you can’t say whether you’re optimistic, given the agreement with Syria and Russia, that the Syrians will, in fact, provide access?

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: You just – those are unknowns?

MS. PSAKI: Those are unknowns. That’s exactly correct.

Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION: Jen, the President had threatened the use of force last year – cruise missile attacks – because Syria had used chemical weapons against its own citizens and killed a large number of people. And then there was a diplomatic activity that took place that resulted in the agreement to remove the precursor chemicals, but also led Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, as you just pointed out. Two things happened.

If it’s established that Syria used – the Syrian Government used chlorine as a weapon of war, would that violate the assurances that led the President to withdraw his threat of force?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly think it’s a good question, but I’m not going to speculate on what may or may not happen before we know what the facts are. And obviously, we’re working to determine that now, working with the OPCW and others, to see how we can determine that. But I don’t want to speculate on what we might do —

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking a question on facts.

MS. PSAKI: — and whether – mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m just – I’m asking a question on policy. Does the Administration, does the State Department, does the White House consider that the use of toxic chemicals as a weapon of war violates the basic diplomatic accomplishment it achieved, which prompted the President to withdraw the threat of force?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t want to get ahead of the process, Michael. I understand your question. I will talk to our team and see if there’s more we can convey more clearly on that.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You agree that chlorine is commercially available in many markets around the world, right?

MS. PSAKI: I do.

QUESTION: And conceivably, people can – with rudimentary equipment can produce allegedly a toxic weapon, correct? Am I —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, Said —

QUESTION: You have anything to —

MS. PSAKI: — I think I’ve already addressed the fact —


MS. PSAKI: — that it’s a globally produced industrial chemical with many peaceful uses. Obviously, the use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation. That’s what we’re talking about here.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any military use for chlorine as a weapon in the past?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly there’s a history, as I’m sure you’re familiar with.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. But we know that this happened in Kfar Zeita, which is an area under the control of the opposition, correct? This —

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, I’m not going to speculate on the details that we’re still under the process of looking into.

QUESTION: But just going back to some – to the assertion that it was an aerial bombardment – are you sure that this was an aerial bombardment? Or could have it been, like, maybe an artillery shell or —

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t confirm any details, and obviously, we’re still looking into that.


QUESTION: I’ve asked you yesterday about this, too. Does the use of chlorine in Syria violate the UN Security Council resolution in this regard, or not?

MS. PSAKI: I think I addressed it, but let me try – if I can do it more clearly. As part of the agreement in September, Syria agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. The use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation of the convention. Obviously, that’s broadly speaking. We’re still looking into the details here, so I don’t want to speculate beyond that.

QUESTION: In the morning, Secretary Kerry has said that there is a big progress in Syria regarding the chemical weapons. Why he didn’t mention the use of chlorine in Syria? And does he consider this as a setback?

MS. PSAKI: Because we have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical. We’re looking into those indications. But again, there is a process that we’d have to – that would be – we’d undergo to do that. And certainly, as I stated earlier, the removal of the most harmful chemicals that have been moved to the port of Latakia is still, we feel, a positive step.

QUESTION: And will there be any consequences in case the regime has truly used the chlorine?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speculate on what we – what steps we may take until we have the facts.


QUESTION: But surely, though, even the indication or having indications of the use of a chemical agent that would violate a treaty would – is troubling, no?

MS. PSAKI: Of course. That’s why I talked about it yesterday.

QUESTION: Because had they been – so – I mean, had they – had the Syrians been following or – their agreement, you wouldn’t have these indications at all. Isn’t that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we don’t —

QUESTION: I mean, the opposition – I mean, in the tiny percentage chance that it was the opposition, that this happened and that the opposition was behind it, they are not actually bound by the agreement that Syria signed with the Russians. I mean, with you and the Russians. Right? I mean, they should be; everyone should be. But they’re not.

MS. PSAKI: Well, any – we’ve said this long before that agreement —


MS. PSAKI: — any use would be of concern.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the opposition – the SNC is not a party to that agreement. So if it was proven to be – if it was chlorine and it’s proven to be used by the regime – I mean, by the opposition – they wouldn’t be violating this agreement. As bad as it would be, it wouldn’t be – they wouldn’t be in violation.

It’s – the point – the problem is that you seem to be presuming – and not just this agreement, with other – but with other agreements that you have reached – that you’re negotiating a gentlemen’s agreement and expect the other side is a gentleman and will go along with it, when in fact they’re showing you time and time again that they’re not. That’s the question: Are you still confident in this agreement that was reached in Sept — last September with the Russians and the Syrians, that – are you still confident that it is holding?

MS. PSAKI: We – I just conveyed that we’re at 86 percent removal of declared chemicals.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that doesn’t include chlorine, and it doesn’t include god-knows whatever rat poison if they start to – if they start doing that. You substitute one chemical agent for another that might not be as dangerous – does that really matter? Are the – can you still hold the agreement up as a – an 86 percent success?

MS. PSAKI: We – I think we can, Matt. But beyond that, I think – and this speaks to Elise’s question before – it has never changed our concerns about the ongoing brutality by the Assad regime using a range of other tools, whether it’s weapons or whatever it may be.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: There’s – but this would indicate – just to follow up on Matt – I mean, that they’re just kind of skirting the agreement to, like, be implementing it to the quote-unquote “letter,” and maybe not even so, if they’re using it as a weapon of war. But do you think that your policies to date have kind of signaled to them that as long as they – well, as long as they don’t cross some specific provision, that they’re okay? And even if they do, I mean, the fact that the President laid out this redline and they crossed it anyway – it doesn’t seem as if your agreements with them, that they hold that much – they can implement some of it, but they don’t have to.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would strongly disagree with that. And this goes with – to some of Michael’s question as well in that the threat of the use of force, which obviously the President made, the Secretary made – our strong view – and the Secretary has said this publicly – that we are eliminating a greater percentage of chemical weapons, of what has caused the horrific tragedy of what happened last August, by taking these steps and by implementing this agreement. Yes, it would’ve perhaps been more satisfying to some had we moved forward with the use of force. However, we were able to secure an agreement, pursue a diplomatic path that now has eliminated 86 percent of declared chemicals.

So I don’t think that saying we went back on what we said we would do is an accurate depiction of what happened.

QUESTION: Jen, to clarify: you seem to be defining your agreement very narrowly. You just pointed out the agreement has two components. One is the removal of the precursor chemicals, but the other is an action by the Syrian Government to join the CWC and then assume the commitment not to use chemical weapons and including toxic chemicals. So if they have, in fact, used these toxic chemicals, they are in violation of the agreement that you reached with them last fall. The agreement has got two components, you said.

MS. PSAKI: By violating the CWC —

QUESTION: The CWC accession by Syria and the removal of the precursor chemicals – the use of chlorine would violate that very fundamental understanding you reached with them.

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand and I’ve laid out also the details of what would violate. So I’m not disagreeing with your point. I’m just conveying, obviously, those are the facts broadly speaking, but we’re going to look into this, see what happened, get down to the facts and the details, and allow that process to —

QUESTION: But it would seem that you can’t say that by removing the 80-plus percent precursor chemicals, by that activity alone Syria is in compliance with your understanding with them from last fall, because if they’ve in parallel carried out attacks with toxic weapons, they were in violation of one element of that agreement.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we don’t know the details yet of what happened, so that’s why I’m just speaking broadly about the Chemical Weapons Convention.


QUESTION: How do you go about determining what exactly happened and who used what in your view?

MS. PSAKI: I think I did answer it, Said. But just briefly, there are several mechanisms. Obviously, the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s experts would be likely involved. There are a range of ways that we could look into what happened.

QUESTION: We know that the Syrian regime is answering the question of coming from OPCW regarding this chemical weapons stockpile. I know – I understood that you’re not including this chemical agent to the most dangerous stockpile, but in the last questioner, according to the news reports, the Assad regime answered all the questions sent by the OPCW. Should —

MS. PSAKI: You mean last year, or when are you referring to?

QUESTION: After the agreement in fall.

MS. PSAKI: In the —

QUESTION: In last September —

MS. PSAKI: Last – okay.

QUESTION: After the agreement, they sent additional questions to regime. And according to the press reports, regime answered all these questions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But was this questioner including the chemical agent like chlorine, or just you focused on the most dangerous stockpile?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I answered this. But the use of any toxic chemical to cause harm or cause death would be a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Obviously, there are a range of industrial chemicals, including chlorine, that have many peaceful uses, so it wouldn’t be in the list of the – the chemicals included in the CWC Schedule of Chemicals is not exhaustive to include all toxic chemicals. So —

QUESTION: So you are not aware of the chlorine stockpile in the hand of regime right now, at least as far as —

MS. PSAKI: Again, it has a range of peaceful uses. Obviously, the use for harm or death would be of great concern.

QUESTION: And the last one, back to Michael’s questions. Is chlorine – I mean, to ask this more directly, actually: Is chlorine included to the redline of the President, Mr. President?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to the President’s redlines. I would just repeat what I’ve said a few times that the use of any toxic chemical, including to harm or cause death, would be a violation of —

QUESTION: I don’t want to parse this thing. If you – if a toxic chemical which is not classified as a chemical weapon because it has some civilian uses as well is used to cause harm or death, is it then considered to be a chemical weapon?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, Matt. It’s beyond my depth of chemical weapons expertise.


MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to take it and see if there’s more we can convey on that point.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. delivered TOW anti-tanks missiles to the Syrian opposition lately?

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this question last week. I don’t have anything new to detail for you in terms of assistance.

QUESTION: Okay. If not – or I’m not sure what was your answer. But if not the U.S. directly provided the opposition with this kind of missiles, did one of your partners or friend consulted the U.S. before delivering this kind of American weapons to the Syrian opposition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m certainly not going to provide details of private diplomatic discussions with foreign governments. What I said last week and I’m happy to repeat is we are committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition. As we have consistently said, we’re not going to detail every single piece of our assistance.

QUESTION: And do you consider that TOW missiles can build the capacity of the opposition?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on this particular line of questioning.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli talks?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Do we have any more on Syria? Okay, go ahead. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yesterday your statement about the prospect of resolving the Palestinian Authority is grave and extreme and so on, it caused quite a stir, and to the point where the Palestinian negotiator went on Jordanian television and denied such a thing. However, Abbas in a meeting with Israeli journalists, he put three conditions for the continuation of the talks: the release of the prisoners, the last tranche, including those with Israeli citizen; second, that they will go into the negotiations for three months provided they talk about borders; and third, to stop all settlement activities.

Do you agree with these parameters as reasonable for continuation of the talks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into details of what the discussions are, obviously, as we’ve stated a few times in here. But the parties are discussing ways to extend the talks. Obviously, part of that would be improving the conditions for the discussions, but I’m not going to outline for you what that means.

QUESTION: Because as it seems, there is now – ongoing now, as a matter of fact – a meeting with Ambassador Indyk that is supposedly to discuss these issues. Do you expect that out of this meeting will come some sort of an announcement that the talks will be extended?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make any predictions or confirm any more meetings.

QUESTION: And on the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, do you have any statement?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to convey.

Go ahead, Lalit.

QUESTION: Palestinian – on the same —

QUESTION: I’m sorry, on the same topic, if I may.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that the Israelis have suggested to you that they will treat Palestinian Americans with less scrutiny in exchange for waiving the waiver or whatever it is, the visa waiver. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we talked about this a little bit last week, and —

QUESTION: Last week. Yes, I know. But this is something new today.

MS. PSAKI: No, no, I understand. I’m just – just to give a little – in case people want to look at the past —


MS. PSAKI: — how we’ve talked about this.


MS. PSAKI: The tourist visa refusal rates – there are a range of requirements that any country that is applying to be considered for the Visa Waiver Program needs to meet. The tourist visa refusal rate is one of the many requirements. Israel also doesn’t satisfy most of the Visa Waiver party – Program statutory requirements, including full issuance of e-passports and certain data-sharing agreements. And any country interested in participating in the Visa Waiver Program must meet the statutory requirements for inclusion.

So ultimately, if a country has satisfied these statutory requirements, it may be designated for participation in the Visa Waiver Program at the discretion of the U.S. Government. But any country is required to meet those requirements in order to be considered. So these are prerequisites; these are not post-requisites. They are requirements that any country would be required to meet before being considered.

QUESTION: Okay. But —

QUESTION: You say Israel does or does not meet most of those requirements?

MS. PSAKI: Does not.

QUESTION: Does not, okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you do expect the Israelis to treat Palestinian Americans exactly like as they treat all of our American citizens?

MS. PSAKI: No, thank you for raising that. Certainly – we certainly do expect that, and certainly, that is something we’ve, as you know, conveyed on a regular basis.

QUESTION: I’ve got a lot of questions on this subject. I was going to wait until after people had dealt with perhaps more —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — urgent affairs like Ukraine. But I’m more than happy to start asking now —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: — about this. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: One, I believe that I understand from what you just said that a promise or a pledge from Israel to start treating Palestinian Americans in the same – as they – as other Americans are treated is not enough?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: They actually have to meet the criteria beforehand. So how long – they have to have a record, a demonstrable record of no – of reciprocity, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, and there are a range of —

QUESTION: A demonstrable record of reciprocity, not of no —

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of additional steps that they’re required to meet as well.

QUESTION: Right, but in terms of the other – the visa overstay rates, the visa refusal rates are all things that can be addressed apart from reciprocity? In other words, as that letter that was sent to Representative Lowey said last week, you were willing to work with Israelis —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — to lower their overall refusal rate, right? Are you also willing to work with them on any way of easing your reciprocity requirements?



MS. PSAKI: For any country applying – and let me just state for folks who are interested in this – requirements include but are not limited to enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States, issuing e-passports, having a visitor visa refusal rate of less than 3 percent during the previous fiscal year – visa refusal rates are posted, as you all know, on the Department of State website – timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports; maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.

Obviously, there are additional criteria. That’s a list of them. That’s criteria for any country applying to the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: I’m missing the reciprocity in there.

MS. PSAKI: That is also a requirement, as I’ve stated, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. There is legislation on the Hill now pending, though, that would allow – that would change that, the refusal rate to go up to – between 3 and 10 percent. You’re familiar with that, I know. But so – in other – what I’m – the point that I’m making is that the rest – those things that you just said, with the exception of reciprocity, which you didn’t say, which I —

MS. PSAKI: I stated earlier.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the things that you just listed there can all be dealt with in different ways. Reciprocity has to be dealt with by treating everyone the same. In other words, all Americans, whether they’re Palestinian Americans or Arab Americans or Muslim Americans not from Palestine or not from the Palestinian Territories, have to be treated the same as other Americans, and is for Israelis to be treated the same here in the United States, coming into the United States. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So not – so a promise just to treat Palestinian Americans the same has to be – that’s not good enough? They actually have to do it, but it also has to be more than just Palestinian Americans. It’s got to be all Americans, regardless of where they’re from or their background, their religion, et cetera.


QUESTION: Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: And as much as there are criteria that’s specific that I’ve listed, there’s also a process, once they’ve met the eligibility requirements, of looking at it from a more comprehensive perspective.

QUESTION: All right. Now what about this – and this is in terms of getting into Israel, correct? This is in terms of if you’re – if someone is a Palestinian American or an Arab American and they’re wanting to go to Israel —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — this is the requirement? What about because there is no other way into the West Bank legally than through Israeli immigration, do these standards apply – do the criteria apply also for them wanting to go to somewhere in the West Bank?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. Presumably that’s the entry point, but I can check with our team on that.

QUESTION: Well, they have to go through – but in other words, I guess the question is: Will anything less than any Palestinian American or Arab American being treated – wanting to go to, say, Bethlehem in the West Bank – if they are treated anything less than an Israeli tourist wanting to go to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is that good enough?

MS. PSAKI: I mean, reciprocity is one of the most basic requirements of the Visa Waiver Program and —

QUESTION: The letter that was sent to the Hill talks about this working group, and there is a concern among many – the story in the newspaper talks about the working group going to be meeting in July – that somehow the Israelis will be able to do something less than offer full reciprocity to get into the program.

MS. PSAKI: Nothing about that letter is an indication of a reduction in requirements to the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: All right. And then, is it – can you – is this in any way at all related to the peace talks?

MS. PSAKI: We were responding to a letter submitted by a member of Congress about —

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. No, no. I mean, this whole – it appears that things are moving, and moving rather quickly on this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me —

QUESTION: And I want to know —

MS. PSAKI: Let me be clear here.

QUESTION: I want to know if this has anything —

MS. PSAKI: This is a question you asked the other day, but I think it in part answers this. There are about 17 countries that – I think you mentioned this – but who are – have expressed an interest in applying to the Visa Waiver Program. Some are NATO allies, some are not. We are working with all of those countries, whatever you call it, to see if they meet the criteria, to see if there are steps that they can take. It’s incumbent upon these countries to take the steps. It’s not something the United States can do on their behalf.

So we do work with a range of countries outside of Israel to see if they can meet these requirements.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so do other countries – how long do they have to prove that they – how long do they have to have demonstrable evidence to show that they have treated American – all Americans —

MS. PSAKI: On reciprocity?

QUESTION: — on reciprocity?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s see. Let me see if there’s a specific amount of time. Obviously, there is —


MS. PSAKI: — on some other particular pieces.

QUESTION: Because it’s one thing for a country – and I don’t want to single out Israel here, but I mean, clearly they do have some significant national security concerns, and perhaps unprecedented national security concerns that come to that.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But the point is, is that other countries that treat American – different Americans differently aren’t asking to get into the Visa Waiver Program. You have similar – your warnings for or your advice for people going to China, for example, have similar things about dual – what was regarded to be dual nationalities and that kind of thing, and – but they’re – the Chinese aren’t looking to get into the Visa Waiver Program.

And so I guess what people are looking for is an assurance from the Administration that the criteria for the Visa Waiver Program is not going to be in any way altered for any specific country.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: That is correct.

MS. PSAKI: I can confirm that, yes.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine? Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today, Crimean Tatar community leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, who has been in Washington couple weeks ago and had meetings here in this building, gave some alarming remarks. And he said that – warned today that possible bloodshed in Crimea and southern Ukraine is coming up, and he also stated that some of the FSB officers from Moscow who hope to promote new deportation of the Tatars.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And one more question on that, but you go ahead if you have any —

MS. PSAKI: So I’m sorry. What was your question specifically about it?

QUESTION: Do you have any assessment or any kind of information regarding some kind of bloodshed or clashes in Crimea?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new updates in particular. Obviously, any bloodshed we’re concerned about. I think – were you asking about Mustafa Dzhemilev?


MS. PSAKI: Yes. So we’ve seen, of course, his comments. We’ve also seen reports that he’s been banned from Russia and occupied Crimea for five years —

QUESTION: Yes, that was another question. Yes.

MS. PSAKI: — which he’s spoken to, I think you were referring to. He’s condemned, as you know, the courageous – condemned – I’m sorry – the occupation of his homeland and is legendary for his courageous advocacy for the human rights of his people. This ban, if true, is particularly disturbing, given the history of deportation of the Crimean Tatars 70 years ago.

So certainly we’re – we’ve seen those reports. We’re watching them. I don’t have any additional ground reports from Crimea. I haven’t seen those specifically. I can follow up and see if there’s more to report on the ground.

QUESTION: Have you talked to Dzhemilev or —

MS. PSAKI: Have we spoken with him?


MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of whether our team on the ground has been in touch with him. We’ve obviously seen the public comments he’s made.

QUESTION: And I have one more follow-up on the same issue. Today, I look at countries who supported annexation of Crimea, and there are like half a dozen countries, such as Cuba, and North Korea, Syria, and also there is Armenia. I just want to see whether you still consider Armenia as ally. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously expressed – the vast majority of countries – I think you’re talking through the UN – have strongly stood with the United States and the international community in condemning the illegal acts. There are a handful of countries that did not. I think we’ve spoken to that.


QUESTION: On this same issue. Have you been talking to Armenian officials over their support? Because I saw that they – there’s a phone call initiated by the Armenian president to put into support this annexation. I just want to make sure —

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of calls to Armenia from this building about this topic.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the pictures that we talked a lot about yesterday. NBC spoke with the mayor of Slovyansk – I don’t know if I’m saying that correctly – and he told us that the reason we’re seeing military there is not because they’re on specific orders from Moscow, but rather he called – he’s former military, he called his buddies to come help the cause. And that’s why they’re in these eastern towns in Ukraine and it’s, I guess, a different interpretation of the photos than —

MS. PSAKI: Well, there were a range of photos and – not just a range of photos, the Ukrainians presented a range of photos in Vienna just a few weeks ago. There have been a range of photos available in international media, available on Twitter and social media sites that have portrayed a range of events. I think you’re talking about one photo. We still feel confident that there is a strong connection between Russia and the armed militants in eastern Ukraine across the board. It’s – we’ve seen similar steps that – or similar behavior we saw in Crimea just a couple of weeks ago. And we are obviously watching what is happening on the ground very closely.

QUESTION: So you’re saying this is just one isolated —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the details of that particular photo in front of me. What I would say is there are hundreds of photos out there of what’s happening on the ground. There are hundreds of reports of what’s happening on the ground. We look at a range of information, whether it’s publicly available information, information through our own sources, to make determinations about what we think is happening. You’ve heard many others, not just the United States, speak to their beliefs about the strong connection between Russia and the armed militants, and we certainly stand by that.

QUESTION: I guess yesterday, Jen, you said: We’ll let some people draw their own conclusions. Can you, today, with any of the other information that you have that may not be publicly available, say in any stronger terms that Russia is behind these armed —

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve not only been strong, the President of the United States has been strong, the Secretary of State has been strong about the strong connection we feel between – the Vice President has been strong about the strong connection we feel between Russia and the armed militants in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Do you believe that Russia or Russian agents may have been behind the reported torture and killing of Mr. Volodymyr Rybak? He’s a member of the acting president of Ukraine’s party, and his body was found with what local authorities say are signs of torture before he was killed.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that particular incident, Arshad. I’m happy to talk to our team about that and see if there’s any conclusions we’ve drawn.

QUESTION: Okay. The acting president has called for a resumption of what he described as the anti-terrorist operations undertaken by the current Ukrainian Government in eastern Ukraine in response to this particular incident. Those, using his words, anti-terrorist operations were largely suspended after the Geneva agreement to see if the agreement would be abided by. Do you think it’s a good idea for the Ukrainian Government to resume such operations in eastern Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, Arshad, when all sides agreed to it, they all agreed to take steps. The Ukrainians have actually taken steps to date. Of course, one was freezing those counterterrorism operations. One was moving forward with a variety of different amnesty bills, and that process is still moving forward. But we’ve also seen no useful steps by the Russians. You saw the Vice President convey clearly that Russia needs to stop talking and start acting, that its failure to fulfill its commitments made in Geneva will lead to more costs and greater isolation. So certainly our preference here is to see all sides continue to take steps. But again, the Russians – the thrust of what needs to happen is on the Russians to implement.

QUESTION: So given that you’ve seen no useful steps by the Russians and that we are now a full four days since that agreement was reached, is there any reason why the Ukrainian authorities should not act to protect, for example, politicians like this man? I mean, why should they not resume their operations, given that, to use your words, there have been no useful steps by the Russians? Why shouldn’t the Ukrainians resume the operations, particularly if they see it as a way of protecting their people in eastern Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve never said they don’t have a right to protect their people. But I think one of the reasons is that de-escalation is very much in the interest of not just the Ukrainian Government but the Ukrainian people. Clearly there need to be steps taken by the Russians in the coming days. We’re not on an open-ended process here. But we will continue to press that. The Vice President pressed that. The Secretary pressed that with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And we will see if they are willing to take any useful steps in the coming days.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say – because the term “days” I think was used by the Secretary in his Geneva news conference also. Is it fair to say that this can’t slide into a second week?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to put a deadline on it. Days obviously has a range of meanings. We’re watching closely. We are certainly prepared to put in place additional consequences, and we’ll let our internal team make that decision.

QUESTION: Let me see if can just ask that —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: — a little bit.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have the update on sanctions for us? As Arshad did say, last Thursday we saw the agreement. You all have been saying days not weeks. How do we define this going forward?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional update on sanctions. It has not changed, that we still have the tools necessary to implement a range of sanctions, whether it’s individuals, whether it’s businesses, whether it’s sectors. We still have that ability. Those discussions and preparations have been ongoing internally, but I don’t want to make a prediction for you at this time.

QUESTION: Jen, do you have any comment on the Vice reporter that apparently has been detained in Ukraine? Simon Ostrovsky is his name.

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen a range of reports. Obviously, there has unfortunately been a range of journalists who have been detained or held hostage over the last couple of days. We, of course, condemn the taking of hostages. I don’t have any additional information on this reported individual.

QUESTION: Vice is saying that they have been in touch with the State Department about that and they’re helping them out with this. Can you confirm that there has been communication about this issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other details on it.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Can I ask about another journalist, Irma Krat?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on her? I know the Secretary raised her case specifically with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that she’s still being held?

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding, yes, as of my time coming down here.

QUESTION: And has the Secretary had any further calls to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MS. PSAKI: Not today. No, not since the call that I talked about yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes. May I – Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Regarding what has to be done by both sides, I mean Ukrainians and the Russians, are you happy? Or let’s say more or less I know what you feel about what Russians are doing. What do you think Ukrainians are doing? Enough or not enough, or what they can do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke about this a little bit yesterday. But we have seen the Ukrainians take a range of steps, not just in response to last week but in advance of it. They have taken steps to be more – to take unifying steps for the country moving forward. They have passed a range of amnesty bills – or they’re working on passing an additional bill. They passed one last week. They took steps to pause their CT operations. They have taken steps to de-escalate. What we need is for all parties to de-escalate. And there are a specific range of steps that Russia agreed to last Thursday, and we need to see more action on their behalf – on their part.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking because it’s more – the steps are more related to long-term commitments, which is mainly when you mentioned that what you call a constitutional reform, for example, it’s not going to be done in days, anyway, or I assume so.

Second, another question which is related to that, two days ago the prime minister of Kyiv or Ukrainian prime minister was stressing many times the word “Novo Rossiya” was used by the new Russia – used by the Putin regarding Ukraine. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. PSAKI: I would say – I don’t think I do in particular. I would say that to be specific, I outlined a couple of the steps the Ukrainians agreed to take. The Russians – they agreed to use its influence over separatist groups in eastern Ukraine to have them stand down, disarm, and accept the amnesty offered by the Government of Ukraine. This was the public commitment Russia made in Geneva on April 17th, yet in eastern Ukraine, as we’ve all seen and some of you have noted, armed militants say they have not – heard nothing from Moscow telling them to disarm. And we’ve also seen no action by Russia to support the OSCE, another commitment made in Geneva. So there are very specific steps that can be taken, and that’s what I’m referring to.

QUESTION: The other question, related follow-up somehow, because it’s today – Vice President Biden was – there was fact sheet coming regarding assistance.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And many things that – but over the last five days or at least a week now, nobody is talking about the energy problem of the Ukraine. I don’t know if – how it’s going to be handled – you know, it’s like not on a long term – in the coming days when we – because from this podium raised the issue of how the price is rising and it’s going to be kind of putting pressure on Ukraine. So how it’s this handled, this (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: It’s an incredibly important issue, and just because we don’t talk about it every day doesn’t mean we’re not working on it every day. Over the coming weeks, expert teams from several U.S. Government agencies will travel to the region to help Ukraine meet immediate and long-term energy needs. Our team – senior officials in the building are in touch every single day about this issue. A U.S. interagency expert team is in Kyiv right now to help Ukraine secure reverse flows of natural gas from its European neighbors. The team will continue on to Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia in the coming days to work on the details of these arrangements. And U.S. technical experts will also join the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others in May to help Ukraine develop a public-private investment initiative to increase conventional gas production.

And as you noted yesterday, the Vice President – this was one of the issues he was discussing when he was on the ground there. So energy – access to – improving Ukraine’s energy security continues to be one of the important issues we’re working with the Government of Ukraine on.

Do we have any more on Ukraine? And then we’ll go to Scott or Lalit.

QUESTION: One quick one?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The team that is now in Ukraine and will then go on to all those other countries, does that include State Department officials?

MS. PSAKI: I am fairly certain, but let me double-check that for you to make sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: But I’m fairly certain it does.

Ukraine or – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Igor from Russian newspaper. You mentioned that the OSCE mission have started working in eastern Ukraine, and I’ve seen reports that they have held negotiations with people who occupy buildings in eastern Ukraine. Are there any details of how these talks go? And who is – represents U.S. in this OSCE mission?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well – and this was a good question asked yesterday. And part of the agreement last week was about supporting the OSCE mission. And the United States has contributed 10 monitors to the special monitoring mission. These monitors are non-U.S. Government experts participating in the monitoring teams. And we have been consistently supportive of the expansion of the special monitoring mission. We’re in the process of identifying additional U.S. monitors in addition to the 10 who can participate.

One of the questions – one of the asks the Secretary had for Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday was to send a senior Russian diplomat to participate in the missions that go out and are going out to the cities in eastern Ukraine. And the reason is they have obviously a unique role to play in implementing the joint statement from last week and conveying to the armed separatists the need to move out of the buildings.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Are we – okay. Lalit, go ahead.


MS. PSAKI: Ukraine or —

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah. One on Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just want to be clear. My question was: What is your position regarding Armenia’s support of the annexation as a country who receives one of the largest per capita U.S. foreign aid?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything additional. Obviously you know where we stand. We work with dozens of countries around the world on this issue. But I don’t have an additional comment for you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, has U.S. assessment changed after the Afghan – successful Afghanistan elections the number of troops U.S. would have after 2014?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for decisions on troop numbers, I would certainly refer you to the White House, given that’s a decision the President would make. That said, until we have concluded a bilateral security agreement, we would not expect to announce any potential troop numbers. As you know, should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan Government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core al-Qaida is something certainly we still support. We think it’s in our interest, it’s in the interest of the Afghan people, and we will continue to encourage that.

QUESTION: Yeah. After the first round of elections, you were very highly appreciative of the role that Afghan national security forces played in the largely peaceful elections there. Has that changed your assessment about the number of troops that U.S. could have in Afghanistan after 2014?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to —

QUESTION: Would this have any implications on the decision?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. I understand your question. I’m not going to get an analysis of the factors impacting troop numbers. Obviously that’s a decision the President will make. I’m sure he’s considering a range of factors. We remain fully supportive of our partners in the Afghan security forces. We continue to proudly work side by side with many Afghans who continue to work to ensure the stability and prosperity of their fellow citizens. Clearly, there’s an ongoing deliberative process that is taking into account a range of factors.

QUESTION: And is there any fresh effort to sign the BSA with President Karzai?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve been pretty clear. We’ve expressed an openness to having one of the – not one of the, the future president, whenever that process is seen through, sign the BSA. Obviously we have an interest in seeing that happen.

QUESTION: Yes. Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Do you have any plan or policy to be in touch with Taliban? Or you just concede this is an Afghani process?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we’ve – continue to be supportive of Afghans talking to Afghans. It would be a process they would run. I don’t have any updates on that for you today.



MS. PSAKI: Any more on Afghanistan? Could we go to Scott in the back? Is that okay? And then we’ll go to Japan. Sure. Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: South Sudan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As you know, the United Nations has said that more than 200 civilians have been killed in areas recently taken by rebels opposed to the government in Juba. Has there been any action under the sanctions that you’ve announced on South Sudan, but not identified who they might apply to, in regards to this violence?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, let me first say that the United States strongly condemns the recent targeted killings last week of hundreds of civilians in Bentiu based on their ethnicity and nationality. Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable. We’re also alarmed by reports of Radio Bentiu FM being used to broadcast hate speech.

In terms of specific sanctions action, as you know, the President signed just about two weeks ago an executive order providing us with the tools. No individuals or entities have been sanctioned under this new authority yet. Well, as you know, we don’t predict or comment on future action, but we consider – continue to have the tools available, should we choose to take those steps.

QUESTION: Those rebels identified by the United Nations today are denying their involvement in that killing. Do you – what is your understanding about what happened there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of reports coming from the ground. We’re still looking into them. We don’t have any independent confirmation at this point of the cause or those responsible. But certainly, our concerns about what appears to be targeted killings. So we are continuing to look into it, and as we have more information available we will venture to —

QUESTION: How does that fit into your calling on both sides, both the government in Juba and the rebels, to take actions to de-escalate the situation and get back to the talks that you are trying to organize in Addis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we continue to call, of course, on all parties to cease activities – cease attacks on civilians, to cease activities that violate the cessation of hostilities. And we know there needs to be partners in order for this process to move forward. Certainly, as we have more information available and if that warrants additional steps, it may.

Go ahead. Japan.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on a visit by Japan’s internal affairs minister and about 150 members of the Diet to the Yasukuni Shrine?

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to this yesterday. I don’t have anything particularly new. You know as we have indicated many times, we encourage Japan to continue to work with its neighbors to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue. We believe the strong and constructive relations between countries in the region promote peace and stability and are in the interest – are in their interest and the interest of the United States. I don’t have anything particularly new since yesterday on this topic.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Staying in the region, a South Korean defense spokesperson announced that they have noticed some activity in a known North Korean nuclear launch site.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And they suggest that North Korea could be preparing for either a test or pretending to be preparing for a test. Is the State Department monitoring the situation, and do you have any concern you wish to express about this?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we have certainly seen the press reports you are referring to regarding possible increased activity in North Korea’s nuclear test site. We’re closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the defense of its allies and continues to coordinate closely with both South Korea and Japan. We continue to urge North Korea to refrain from actions that threaten regional peace and security, and to comply with its international obligations and commitments.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: All right? Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Last week you were asked about that Bank of Utah, that Utah bank plane that was – ended up in – flew into Tehran.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you referred the question to Treasury. But apparently, the bank says that it’s talking to you guys about the whole situation. I’m just wondering if that’s correct and what it is – what the State Department’s involvement is in this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you a liaison with Treasury, or what’s the —

MS. PSAKI: Let me – I don’t have anything new on this today. I’m happy to take the question and see where we are with this. I know it’s been a couple of days since we spoke about this.

QUESTION: Right. And then I just – I’ve got to go back to the visa waiver thing —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — but it’s very brief, just for one second.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Have the Israelis been told that the visa refusal rate is the most important – is the main obstacle to them getting into the program? Or —

MS. PSAKI: I think that the criteria has been clearly conveyed to them. I’m not sure if there’s —

QUESTION: But the criteria is —

MS. PSAKI: Reciprocity —

QUESTION: — is included? And – is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Yes.

QUESTION: They have been told that that is —

MS. PSAKI: I think the criteria has been clearly conveyed, yes.

QUESTION: And I just want to make sure that I understand reciprocity correctly the way you’re using it. That means that the Israelis would not be able to discriminate against any particular American citizen; they all have to be treated equally whether they’re Palestinian American, Arab American, Muslim American, whatever.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: So reciprocity —

MS. PSAKI: That is where our concern lies.

QUESTION: Reciprocity means no discriminatory treatment; is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding of what it means.

QUESTION: And it applies not just to process but actual treatment at entry – at entry points; is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I would have to —

QUESTION: There have been – the reason I’m asking is there have been complaints about Arab Americans arriving in Israel being forced to open up their laptop computers —

MS. PSAKI: Yes, at borders and checkpoints. Yes.

QUESTION: — and exactly. So it applies to discriminatory treatment; in other words, one group or one part – one group of Americans are singled out for different treatment than another?


QUESTION: So treatment and process – discriminatory treatment and discriminatory process are equally important and they’re both reciprocity —

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if I can state this in a clear way, if that’s useful.

QUESTION: Well, just —


QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this is because there seems to be some confusion. I think that there are some, perhaps, officials in Israel who are trying to suggest that reciprocity – that promising to do away with discriminatory behavior is enough as long as the visa – as long as the visa refusal rate is lowered to get into.

MS. PSAKI: I think I made pretty clear that reciprocity – and what I mean by that is one of the concerns we have, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, is the reciprocal – is the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints. And reciprocity, as I noted, is one of the most basic conditions of the Visa Waiver Program.

QUESTION: Okay. And this isn’t going to turn into something like, no, no, no, we’re not considering Jonathan – releasing Jonathan Pollard; no, no, no, we’re not, and then all of the sudden we are at the end – this reciprocity thing is not going – is not subject to debate or negotiation. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve pretty clearly stated it on the record.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I just – I want to follow up on that —

MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: — because Matt phrased a question about this that I would like to return to.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: He asked you whether you were going to change any of the criteria for potential admission of a country into the Visa Waiver Program. Rather than just – and you said no, you would not change any of the criteria. My question is more pointed: Will you apply the existing criteria in an equal-handed manner to all countries that apply to join the Visa Waiver Program? Or do you leave open the possibility of – to the extent that there is room for maneuver or discretion within the law – the possibility of favoring or going easier on certain countries rather than on others?

MS. PSAKI: There is specific criteria – I outlined some of it; it’s publicly available for anyone to find – that countries need to meet in order to meet the requirements to be considered. Once a country meets the requirements, then it is up to the discretion for a range of other factors of the – of whether that country is going to be admitted as part of the Visa Waiver Program. But there are specific requirements – I read a few of them earlier – that countries are required to meet to be considered.

QUESTION: So my – wait, can I just finish with this? So – but I understand that you’ve said that you’re not going to change the criteria for any one country or another, that the criteria are the criteria. My question is not that. My question is whether, having satisfied the criteria and then entered into the realm where it is at the discretion of the U.S. Government whether or not to grant admission, whether you can say from the podium that the U.S. Government will not unduly favor or disadvantage particular countries – in other words, that you will make your decisions in an even-handed way and treat sort of each country, once they’ve met those criteria, in an even-handed manner so that countries that are in similar situations get the same treatment on whether or not they enter —

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, but every country is different. So what I’m getting at is that there are a range of criteria – of requirements that any country needs to meet. Assessments of eligibility for Visa Waiver Program designation encompasses careful analysis of a number of factors, including those requirements, including security and policy considerations, that must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. And that is up to the discretion once those requirements are met.

Now Israel has not met those requirements. That is what we’re talking to them about.

QUESTION: But you can’t – you don’t get to the discretionary phase of it until you actually —

MS. PSAKI: Meet the requirements.

QUESTION: — meet the requirements and have a record, a track record able to prove that you’ve met those requirements, right?


QUESTION: Can I – can you just confirm – and this should be very easy – the – some of the things in the report – one, that the working group is going to be meeting in July? Do you know if that’s correct?

MS. PSAKI: I – it will be an easy thing to confirm if I had the details on that. I’m not —

QUESTION: Okay. And then, just the other: Can you confirm that you have gotten a letter from the Israelis saying – or some kind of either oral, written, or whatever kind of assurance – that they are going to end discrimination?

MS. PSAKI: I actually don’t have that confirm.

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MS. PSAKI: I know we’ve seen the press reports —

QUESTION: Can you —

MS. PSAKI: — but I will check and see with our team if we have.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that they have made a formal request to join the Visa Waiver Program?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, as have a range of other countries.

QUESTION: Right, but this is – this request goes back some time now. It’s not just recent. It’s not just in the last couple months.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe it’s recent, no.

QUESTION: All right. Great.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) address the Yasukuni Shrine issue yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: But I looked at the transcript, and there are two references to Japan – one on whaling, the other on the defense posture.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right. I’m sorry. I addressed it after the briefing —


MS. PSAKI: — I believe with one of your colleagues.


MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry, I – it was all running in together.

QUESTION: No problem.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:22 p.m.)

Source: state.gov


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