Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 21, 2015.
12:19 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. We tried to do this briefing as early as we can today so we can get to as many topics as we can before our bilateral meeting at 1:00 p.m.
MS. PSAKI: I have one item at the top. We strongly condemn today’s stabbings on a bus in Tel Aviv. There is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians. We continue to urge all sides to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path forward toward peace. And as many of you know, the Secretary will also have a press avail with EU High Representative Mogherini as well after his bilateral meeting.
With that, Matt.
MS. PSAKI: U.S.A. hockey – that’s the scarf today.
QUESTION: Yes, it is.
MS. PSAKI: To note for transcript. Go ahead.
QUESTION: U.S.A. hockey. Of course, this was for the Olympics and then they didn’t —
MS. PSAKI: It’s almost the anniversary.
QUESTION: Exactly. Let’s start with Israel since you started with Israel. I’m curious to know if you share the view of the White House, your – of your colleague, Mr. Earnest, that Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month is a – was a – or is a breach of protocol, and whether or not the Administration – I’m also interested in knowing whether or not the Administration opposes or would not support Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think I haven’t seen my colleague’s comments, but certainly, traditionally, we would learn about the plans of a leader to come to the United States separately from learning from it – about it from the Speaker of the House, which is how we learned of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to come and speak to a joint session. Now, he has spoken to a joint session many times in the past. That’s certainly not something we have opposed nor do we oppose it in general in this case. We don’t have information at this point on what he’ll be speaking about. Obviously, we have ongoing discussions – the Secretary does – with Prime Minister Netanyahu about a range of issues – security, the ongoing tensions. Those will certainly continue.
QUESTION: So despite the fact that it – you say it was a breach of protocol, you’re not against the idea. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t – exactly.
QUESTION: Okay. And you said you don’t know what he is going to speak about. Well, the invitation is pretty clear that he – the invitation from Speaker Boehner that wants him – Speaker Boehner wants him to discuss Iran and the threat of radical Islam. Is that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have more details on what he’ll say. I think we can all make a guess, but what I’m conveying is there hasn’t been a discussion about that at this point in time.
QUESTION: Does the Administration have any view as to whether Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress on his well-known positions about Iran and about militant or radical Islam is necessary or helpful to the discussion going on about —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —
QUESTION: — how to respond to (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: — it’s no secret, Matt, that we have a different point of view as it relates to the benefit of ongoing negotiations with Iran and our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken to that extensively. So that’s – but there are many leaders who have spoken to joint sessions in the past and there will be many in the future. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has on many occasions.
QUESTION: You said that there’s a – you both share the same aim, right, which is to prevent or keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?
MS. PSAKI: That’s right, and we’ve talked about that as well in the past.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ll cede, but I want to stay on Israel.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the timing of the invitation?
MS. PSAKI: The timing of the invitation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis on that I’m going to do from the podium.
QUESTION: After the day of the presidential – of the President’s speech yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on when the invitation was made or accepted.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about the reported Israeli strikes in the Golan Heights that killed an Iranian general and apparently the son of Imad Mughniyeh?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details to speak about on that, no.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the result of this strike, whoever did it, is that a good thing or a bad thing in the view of the Administration?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, I know our view on a range of issues that these reports take into account, whether it’s the engagement of Hezbollah, their destructive engagement from the outside is well known. Obviously, the details haven’t been specifically confirmed by many of the parties so I’m just not going to speculate on them further.
QUESTION: Well, but let me – the Iranians have said publicly that one of their generals was killed. They had a massive funeral for him today in Tehran. And Hezbollah itself has said that Jihad Mughniyeh was killed. So —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Now, others haven’t —
QUESTION: — there are some details. Do you have reason to doubt those?
MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not suggesting that.
MS. PSAKI: But others haven’t confirmed the specifics of what happened here or the alleged Israeli action. That’s what I was referring to. I don’t have any particular comment on the outcome or anything beyond that.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean the Administration doesn’t have a point of view of whether it’s good thing or a bad thing that these two, and others, actors were taken off the world – or the stage of (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I just reiterated the fact that we’ve long believed that Hezbollah plays a destructive role. We condemn their direct intervention; that’s consistently been our view. I just don’t think I’m going to add too much more to it than that.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that Hezbollah was preparing for some kind of an operation against Israel?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more I can speculate on that.
QUESTION: Can I also stay in Israel —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — and just ask about the attack today by a Palestinian on a morning bus?
QUESTION: She —
MS. PSAKI: I spoke to it at the top.
QUESTION: Oh, you – sorry, I missed that.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details at this point. If that changes – I just condemned, obviously, the action. But if more becomes available we can speak to that later.
QUESTION: Can we talk about Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So what’s the latest on the security situation around the embassy? Have you had any change of heart about a possible evacuation? What’s the security situation there?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you know, Justin, the safety and security of our men and women serving overseas is a top priority for the President, for the Secretary of State, certainly for everyone in the State Department. We’re continuing to not only monitor but, I think you’d all expect, to discuss internally the situation on the ground in Yemen, as well as developments in Yemen, and we will adjust to the embassy security posture response in accordance to the situation on the ground.
As you also know, following the – the embassy has been operating with reduced staffing and heightened security since ordered departure happened in late September, but there has not been a change at this point in our security posture on the ground.
QUESTION: So what’s your assessment of whether or not a coup has actually occurred? Do you feel there’s been a shift in power? Is it too difficult to say? What’s the status of the Yemeni Government’s control?
MS. PSAKI: The legitimate Yemeni Government is led by President Hadi. We remain in touch with him. He is in his home. Clearly, we’ve seen a breakdown in the institutions in Yemen, and obviously, there’s a great deal of violence and tension on the ground. We’re certainly closely monitoring that and continuing to encourage the parties to continue dialogue, and they are talking.
QUESTION: Do you think the President has lost control? Do you worry that he will? I mean, because there was this – the question is: If he loses control, will you lose your counterterrorism ally in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s getting a few steps ahead of where we are at this point in time. I would say that throughout the last several weeks and days, and long before that, our ongoing counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen has continued. As you know, we believe that’s it’s in our national security interest to have a presence there, and a strong presence there, which is one that we continue to have. But obviously, we weigh the safety and security of our personnel as – very highly in this internal discussion.
QUESTION: Jen, don’t you think it’s a bit disingenuous to say President Hadi is in his home?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to —
QUESTION: He’s in his home because he’s surrounded by Shiite rebels who are – who may or may not want to kill him.
MS. PSAKI: And he remains the legitimate president of the country, and we remain in touch with him, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, all right, but there’s a – there are cases where legitimate leaders are not in position in to actually exert their legitimate authority or what you think is their legitimate authority. So I mean, I fear that we’re leading down a path where you guys are going to start twisting yourself into pretzels again, like in Egypt, over whether this is a coup or not. Who does the United States believe is in fundamental control of the Yemeni Government and military, if anyone?
MS. PSAKI: President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of the Yemeni Government.
QUESTION: Yeah, but does he actually have authority? Can he —
MS. PSAKI: He remains the legitimate leader, Matt.
QUESTION: If he gives an order, do you think that the government or the military will carry out his order while he’s under —
MS. PSAKI: Matt, clearly —
QUESTION: — while he’s relaxing at home, as you seem to suggest?
MS. PSAKI: Clearly, Matt, this is a very fluid situation on the ground. It’s a challenging situation on the ground. As I mentioned, the parties are talking. We’re continuing to encourage that, having discussions about a ceasefire; obviously, that hasn’t been abided by. But we’re not going to get steps ahead of where we are. Things continue to develop every single day.
QUESTION: Does the Administration see the hand of Iran in what’s going on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have talked in the past about the fact that we believe the Houthis have concerning relations with Iran, and we’re certainly aware of reports of a variety of support provided by Iran to the Houthis, but I don’t have any more details or specifics on that at this point in time.
QUESTION: And then, this is just – takes it a little bit more – makes – brings it in a little broader perspective here, given the testimony that was on the Hill from Deputy Secretary Blinken this morning. You see – you have – you say you have concerns about an Iranian hand in Yemen. An Iranian general was killed in the Golan Heights, where you say you have also concerns about Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Given the fact that you believe Iran to be a bad actor, if that’s the right word, why on Earth would you possibly think that Iran can be trusted to negotiate or to abide by a nuclear agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it’s never been about trust. As you know, the nuclear negotiations are about the nuclear issue. If we reach an agreement, it doesn’t mean the other issues are resolved. As you know, there are a number of sanctions and restrictions on Iran related to other issues, but we have a fundamental belief that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is in the interest of the United States and the global community. That’s why we’re continuing to pursue it.
MS. PSAKI: Let – can I say one more thing? And our belief is that it is not – Iran is not engaged in these negotiations as a favor to the United States or to the Western countries. They’re engaged in them because of the crippling effect of sanctions. And so we believe that this is an opportunity to finally bring an end to their ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone denies that the – you have a – that the U.S. or the Administration has a fundamental interest in preventing Iran from getting a bomb, and I also don’t think that anyone disputes that Iran is in this not for the hell of it, but because they want relief from sanctions. So I don’t think that taking issue with those ideas or suggesting that people disagree with them makes much sense. So I mean —
MS. PSAKI: They’re important contextual points, so I thought I’d share them.
QUESTION: Fair – well, okay, fair enough. But I mean, I don’t think anyone’s challenging those points.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: What the question is, is that you have observed and seen – the Administration has – Iran acting in what you believe to be a nefarious way in places – very far-flung places, but places very close to their own territory. Why is it that on this one issue you think that they can be trusted? And the verification is a separate issue. They have to think that they have to actually agree and then be serious about an agreement, right?
MS. PSAKI: You’re right, it’s trust but verify and verify again. It’s not about trust. It’s about having requirements in the JPOA, which they’ve abided by for the last year-plus, and then any agreement that are verifying, that are monitoring that they’re abiding by their agreement.
QUESTION: But I’m talking about in the run-up to where you get to verification. And then let’s leave verification aside, whether or not you believe that that can actually be done or not, the verification part. But in the run-up, do you believe – or you believe that so far, since the – and where did this JPOA thing from?
QUESTION: Yeah, can we stick with J-P-O-A? I noticed that the deputy secretary was saying JPOA on the Hill and —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll let the deputy secretary of State know that Arshad from Reuters would like him to change how he refers to the Iran agreement. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Not just him. Other people —
QUESTION: Yes, Matt —
QUESTION: But I – it’s the run-up to actually getting an agreement. You have to trust them to negotiate in good faith, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve always said – and I – we could go around and around on this, I realize, but there are requirements – the verification part is very important. It’s essential. You can’t have an agreement that’s workable without it.
QUESTION: But you believe that the Iranians have shown to date enough good faith that you can continue to trust them to negotiate in good faith?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in those terms, but they have abided by the J-P-O-A, the JPOA, whatever you would like to call it.
QUESTION: Jen, follow-up on this issue —
MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Don’t you see that the Iranians are benefitting from the negotiations with the P5+1 and with the U.S. to expand their influence in the region in Yemen, in Syria, elsewhere?
MS. PSAKI: And how do you think that’s the case? In what capacity?
QUESTION: Because look what happened in – or what’s happening in Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: And what’s the connection that you draw between the ongoing negotiations and their engagement with the Houthis and others?
QUESTION: There are negotiations – they are negotiating with the West, with the P5+1 at the same —
MS. PSAKI: Correct, they’re happening at the same time. What’s the rest of your connection?
QUESTION: Look what’s going on in Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: Right. You’ve talked about —
QUESTION: Expanding their influence in Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: You’ve mentioned two events that are happening, not a connection between them.
Do we have more Iran?
QUESTION: I’d like to ask where we are in the talks, actually.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.
QUESTION: What’s happening now? I mean, they were meeting – the P5+1 was meeting the weekend in Geneva.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are they still meeting? Have they wrapped up? What’s the next stage? Was there any progress made? What happened?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. They – last week’s – the meetings have wrapped up. Under Secretary Sherman is back for a couple of days and she has quite a bit of travel planned. I don’t have any announcement on the next round. I expect we’ll have more details on that in the next 24 to 48 hours, Jo, if sooner than that. We’ll make it available. Last week’s discussions were serious, useful, and businesslike. We’ve made progress on some issues, but gaps remain on others. Clearly, there are going to be more rounds of negotiations.
As you’ve seen, and the Secretary has talked about, certainly we anticipate he’ll meet with Foreign Minister Zarif again in the coming weeks. I don’t have anything specific on that yet at this point.
QUESTION: You said she has a lot of travel upcoming. Is that with regard to the Iran negotiations or —
MS. PSAKI: No, not necessarily. I just mean she’s here, but I don’t have anything more on her travel schedule to announce today.
QUESTION: Can I ask – there has been this idea of a – sort of a framework deal by March.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And the President actually referred to that in his State of the Union Address last night, talked about by spring there could be something in place. Can you sort of – is there a sort of date for that? And what exactly are you hoping will be pinned down in March, and then what do you expect will be —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — left towards the end after those negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke about this a little bit during his hearing, but let me reiterate some of the points he made. So on the deadline question, which I know you’ve had in the past, the P5+1, coordinated by the EU and Iran, agreed to extend the nuclear talks until March 31st to reach a political agreement, and then June 30th to reach all of the technical details. So a political agreement means, in our view, a political understanding on the elements of a deal so that we can use the remaining months to work out the technical details by June 30th.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. And —
QUESTION: Sorry, just after these talks.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So we’re now January the 21st, so that’s kind of nine weeks away —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — from March 31st. How are things going?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more assessment to add, other than the short readout I just gave you of last week. There’ll be ongoing talks, gaps remain, we’ve made some progress, but clearly, there’ll be many more rounds of discussions and negotiations.
QUESTION: Is – do you believe that there could be talk of another extension?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. It’s only January at this point. So I just laid out kind of what our points are that we’re looking ahead to over the coming months.
QUESTION: Jen, can we go back to Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you view any role that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been playing in the latest events in Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any speculation on that.
QUESTION: I have a question on Yemen.
MS. PSAKI: On Yemen? Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, great. I just want to follow up on some of the line of questioning, all right? I mean, the Houthi leaders called for constitutional changes to increase its power. We have the president, the prime minister surrounded; aviation college, missile base all taken over. Why is there such reticence by the United States to call this a coup?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t just throw out words just to make all of you feel better. There is a legal —
QUESTION: It’s not a question of feeling better, though.
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. There is a legal analysis that would be done in any circumstance regardless around the world. This is a scenario where President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of Yemen. We remain in touch with him. There are discussions and negotiations between the parties. We’ve seen reports of ceasefire talks. We continue to urge all parties to abide by the terms of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, the GCC initiative and its implementation mechanism.
That’s where we feel – is it easy? No. But that’s how we feel is the best path forward. Those are the discussions we’re having with the parties on the ground.
QUESTION: So with regard to the legal analysis, again, this seems similar or reticent – or reminiscent, rather – of Egypt and that same reticence to call it a coup. I mean, why is that? Is it because of the U.S. counterterrorism efforts that are there? Is that what this is about?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different situation. Every country, every situation is different. That, you were talking about military engagement. Obviously, at that time, our policy teams, our legal teams looked at that scenario. If it warranted, we would look at it here, but we’re not at that point at this point in time.
QUESTION: So what is the legal analysis that is making this a concern why there is (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no legal analysis. President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of Yemen.
QUESTION: But you said it was legal analysis that is making this —
MS. PSAKI: I said in any scenario around the world, we would do that if it warranted. We’re not at that point at this time.
QUESTION: Jen, can —
QUESTION: Can I just ask, there was – there have been reports that the prime minister has been allowed to leave his house, unlike the president. Have you any idea where he may be? Have you heard those?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on that. We can certainly check if we have more details, Jo.
QUESTION: You said that you don’t throw words around just to make us feel better. Well, let me tell you what would make me feel better: knowing where the Administration stands on what’s going on in Yemen, and what – whether or not the millions of dollars in counterterrorism assistance and other aid is going to continue to flow. I mean, I think that that – I don’t think that’s a question of just making us feel better.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you haven’t asked that question, Matt. I’m happy to answer it.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Good.
MS. PSAKI: On counterterrorism operations, I think I mentioned in response to maybe Justin’s question that that cooperation and work is ongoing, and it has been for weeks and days and months before that.
QUESTION: So you don’t anticipate or foresee a situation where you would have to reduce or end your assistance, your cooperation with the Yemeni Government and military?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we don’t make predictions about weeks and months in the future. I know you’re not asking me to.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) today, right now.
MS. PSAKI: But I think it’s important to note at this point in time, it’s ongoing. We see, certainly, value in having a strong presence in Yemen, in part because of our continuing work on counterterrorism efforts.
QUESTION: Okay. But the question is being asked not to feel better, but to know what exactly it is the Administration thinks about what’s going on and what it’s going to do about it, if anything. And right now, it sounds as though you’re going to wait and let it —
MS. PSAKI: Well, what are you confused about? Our security situation? What we want the parties to do? Which piece do you not feel you have an answer on?
QUESTION: I’m confused about whether the Administration is comfortable, for lack of a better word, for continuing its cooperation with a government that seems to be – and a president who seems to be teetering on the brink, if not hanging on to the little branch on the side – off the side of the cliff.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, just like many scenarios and places where there is violence on the ground, where there’s tension on the ground, we’re working with the legitimate government, which we believe is President Hadi, to continue to ease tensions, work toward ceasefire talks, see if we can make political progress on that front. That’s what our effort is focused on at this point in time.
QUESTION: Do you know – has there been contact between U.S. officials and President Hadi —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: — as he’s relaxing in his home, completely at ease?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we’ve been in – we’ve remained in contact. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You have?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you know who it is? Is it the ambassador?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an official. I can see if there’s more details on that.
QUESTION: And do you know if that’s been by phone, by radio, by smoke signal? Have you actually gone to the residence?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure we’re going to get into that level of detail, Matt.
QUESTION: Do you know —
MS. PSAKI: I can certainly see if there’s more.
QUESTION: Do you know if he’s gone or if someone – U.S. have officials have been – gone to and been able to get in to see him in person?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to get into that level of detail, Matt.
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to see, though.
QUESTION: And then there was an incident, apparently, yesterday or the day before in which a vehicle was shot.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have —
MS. PSAKI: There was. It was last night. So last night their time, morning our time, an attack on a U.S. diplomatic vehicle occurred at a checkpoint in the vicinity of the embassy. Houthi gunmen at the checkpoint opened fire on the vehicle, but no injuries were sustained during the incident. There is an investigation, of course, that’s – will happen into this incident.
QUESTION: Okay. So Houthi gunmen, who are backed by Iran, opened fire on a U.S. diplomatic car – vehicle, and I guess that’s —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on it, Matt, and I’m not going to —
QUESTION: That’s okay?
MS. PSAKI: — get ahead of the conclusion of the investigation.
QUESTION: Well, but you – the conclusion? The conclusion is that Houthi gunmen supported by Iran opened fire on a U.S. diplomatic vehicle. Isn’t that a problem?
MS. PSAKI: I understand your views. We’re looking into it. We take our – the safety and security of our men and women very seriously, but I won’t get ahead of an investigation.
QUESTION: Jen, there was this picture – real quick on this, there was that picture that was all around the internet yesterday of that Toyota 4Runner – I’m not sure what model it was, but was that the car?
MS. PSAKI: I – sorry, yesterday was a bit of a busy day. I didn’t have a chance to see the footage on TV, but —
QUESTION: No, no, there was a picture —
MS. PSAKI: — but I’m confirming the detail. I’m not aware of another incident like this.
Any more on Yemen before we continue?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. What’s the difference between what’s happening in Yemen and what you considered a coup?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that. I don’t have anything to add.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You said that you were having discussions with all the parties on the ground. Are you in contact or have any of the rebels reached out to be in contact with you and/or members of the military?
You also said that you’re working with the legitimate government to ease tensions and – toward ceasefire talks. Does that mean that you’re working as a sort of go-between between —
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t suggesting that. We’re supporting their efforts – thank you for the opportunity to be more clear. We’re supporting their efforts to reduce the tensions on the ground. That’s certainly something we support.
Any more on Yemen before we finish? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Did President Hadi, like, ask for your help or support through any, like, possible —
MS. PSAKI: Well, President Hadi has been a partner on these efforts as legitimate leader of Yemen. I’m not going to get into more details than that.
QUESTION: But, like, for the current crisis, now that he’s, like, surrounded and in his house —
MS. PSAKI: No, I understand your question. I’m just not going to get into more details. We remain in close contact.
I have to go in a few minutes, so let’s try to get to some other topics.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, Russia.
QUESTION: I wondered if you’d got a response to the response from Foreign Minister Lavrov on the State of the Union Address last night. He says the Americans are – want to dominate the world, they’ve set a course for confrontation; America’s saying we’re number one and the rest of the world should acknowledge that. Could I have the U.S. response to that, please?
MS. PSAKI: I frankly haven’t seen Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments today. I’m happy to take a look at them. I think it’s unlikely I’ll have a specific response to them.
QUESTION: Okay, but just on that – when you’re taking a look at that, can you ask – the President, somewhat proudly last night in the State of the Union Address, said that the – that president – that Mr. Putin thought that – there were some who said that Mr. Putin was acting very wisely and sagely and showing his – and then he said that now the Russian economy is in tatters, as if this was a great accomplishment. Is that what the Administration considers to be a great accomplishment, to have the Russian economy to be in tatters?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the context of what he was conveying is stating that President Putin is out there touting his leadership of a country where the economy is in tatters. So I’m not sure I would – I heard it or read it the same way you did, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, it’s not the way I read it; it’s apparently the way Foreign Minister Lavrov took it —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, well —
QUESTION: — and the way others in Russia did as well. So when you’re looking into that and see if there is any reaction to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s press conference and comments, I would appreciate if you could —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: On Russia still – on Russia, the – Poroshenko – Ukrainian President Poroshenko has said today that there are more than 9,000 Russian soldiers currently backing the pro-Russian rebels in the east. Does that – is that something you would agree with? He was speaking in Davos. Is – are those the figures that you —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of the figures. I’ve certainly seen the comments he’s made. There have been an increase – there has been, I should say, an increase in separatist violence, including renewed attacks – excuse me – on the Donetsk airport in recent days, and separatist seizures of more territory. We’ve also seen reports that two tactical battalions – Russian tactical – Russia has moved two tactical battalions into Ukraine. I don’t have additional information or independent confirmation of that, but we’ve certainly seen that.
We can confirm, as we’ve been talking about a bit, that Russia continues to move tanks, armored vehicles, trucks, artillery pieces, and other military equipment to deployment sites near the Russia-Ukraine border which serve as staging points before transporting military equipment to pro-Russia separatists. That is something we’re seeing; I don’t have any confirmation of his specific comments.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: As we know, last week —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s do that and then we’ll do you, and then I may have to go here.
QUESTION: Okay. Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, sorry.
QUESTION: As we know, some former U.S. officials and experts and some DPRK diplomats had a meeting in Singapore to talk about the nuclear issue. And even after the meeting, the DPRK’s chief negotiator for the Six-Party Talks, he still emphasized that he wanted the United States to suspend the military trio with South Korea. As I understand, last week you have already rejected the proposal suspending the military trio. But I wonder, it looks like during the meeting they explained the intention and the purpose of the proposal. So I wonder if you have changed your position or if you are considering making some changes about the position.
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed on our position and we’re not considering making changes to our position.
QUESTION: And also according to some media coverage, the chief negotiator of the Six-Party Talks, he said this time it’s the first time he proposed no precondition to return to the negotiating table. So what do you think of this approach?
MS. PSAKI: The chief negotiator from North Korea?
QUESTION: The DPRK.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the important point here is that the view of the United States, as well as our Six-Party partners, is that the – North Korea would need to abide by their international obligations, including the 2005 joint statement. And so we – the ball has long been in their court, but we certainly reject new proposals that don’t have any backing.
QUESTION: It looks like this is a positive signal sent by him. So are you still going to just passively waiting for their – to fulfil their commitment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we don’t take threatening rhetoric and empty proposals as a positive signal.
QUESTION: On Russia, and forgive me if this isn’t new, but apparently they ended officially in December an agreement to work with the U.S. to protect their nuclear stockpiles and prevent them from being stolen, which is apparently a major breakdown. Is this – do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look into that. It may be something that I talked about back then or we did, but I’d have to talk to our team about specifics on that.
I can do one or two more here.
QUESTION: I’ve got two really brief ones.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. And then we’ll go to you right there. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, have her go first.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh. I wanted to go back to the Iran (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: First, one thing going back to the deadline: Deputy Secretary Blinken said that an extension was possible if they didn’t dot the Is and cross the Ts of the technical details by the June deadline. But is there a similar consideration of an extension if the main components aren’t met by March?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think right now what we’re focused on is what our goals are and our objectives are. And I laid out what we want to try to achieve by March. I’m not – certainly – I certainly agree with what the deputy secretary said, of course, but at this point in time we have about two months, if my math is correct, a little over two months until we get to the March timeline. So we’re not going to get ahead of what would happen past that.
QUESTION: And then there was also a lot that came up in this hearing about whether the State Department and the Administration were adequately consulting versus informing Congress about the progress of these talks. Can you weigh in on any of the specifics of who you’re regularly in touch with on the Hill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a range of officials on the Hill. As you know, many of the discussions and briefings we have with members of the Hill, and even their staff, are done in a classified setting, given the sensitivity of these negotiations. But those are ongoing. Over the course of the last week, I know just from morning meetings here that everyone from Under Secretary Sherman to, I believe, Secretary Kerry to other senior officials have been doing a range of calls with members of the Hill, so it’s not just about briefings. There’s person-to-person contact that’s happening as well.
QUESTION: And then one more quick one on this.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Senator Menendez at one point said that what he’s hearing from the Administration on the progression of these talks sounds more like talking points coming from Tehran. Do you have any kind of reaction to that statement?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not quite sure what that means. I think our objective has long been to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I don’t think that’s their talking point. So certainly you have hearings, and we sent our deputy secretary to have this debate and have this discussion. And we respect the views of Congress, but I don’t really have more analysis on what he meant by that.
QUESTION: So first of those two brief ones – on Burma: Do you have any reaction or comment on the rape and murder of these two Kachin teachers by the Burmese – members of the Burmese military, particularly as it happened around the same time as the U.S. and Burmese military were meeting to discuss human rights protection?
MS. PSAKI: I have a little bit on this, Matt. And if there’s more we can address, I’m happy to go back to our team. We are aware of reports that two volunteer teachers with the Kachin Baptist Convention were murdered in a village in northern Shan State. We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. We call on authorities to investigate this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice in a credible and transparent manner. The Government of Burma has informed us that they are looking into the case. The facts are still being determined, as far as we know, at this point in time.
QUESTION: And then the second brief one is on France specifically, and Europe more generally. It doesn’t have to do with James Taylor though.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Has it raised any concerns in this building or within the broader Administration, the steps that the French Government and, in fact, some other governments in Europe are taking to – in response to the terrorist attacks in terms of what appears to be curbing freedom of speech?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, a discussion of this is something that’s continuing on the ground with our Embassy. But I would say that certainly any government, including the Government of France, takes steps to protect their people, and certainly we hope and expect that that will be done with a balance of human rights and media freedoms. But I’d have to look more closely on the specific piece you’re looking at and talk to our team about concerns if we have them.
QUESTION: Well, there have been a number of cases reported where people have been detained or arrested or questioned over speech that stops short of actually violating any particular law; that they’ve been accused of encouraging or promoting or glorifying terrorist attacks without actually having done anything. Is that problematic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, each case is different, Matt. I know there have been a couple cases reported out there. I don’t have any concerns to express at this point, but I’m happy to talk to our team and see if there’s any were have on the ground.
QUESTION: And then the city of Paris, the mayor has said that she is going to sue Fox News for reports or this commentary that they aired about the no-go – alleged no-go zones. I mean, is that the kind of thing that the U.S. thinks is worthwhile or is something that a foreign – even though it’s a municipal government, that a foreign government should be spending its time and money and effort doing?
MS. PSAKI: I would leave that between the mayor of Paris and her office and Fox News.
All right, I’m sorry, guys. I have to go to the bilateral meeting. Thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:53 p.m.)