Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 13, 2014.
1:08 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: I hope everyone visited the Chili Cook-off.
QUESTION: Yeah, I did.
MS. PSAKI: I know Said did.
QUESTION: I sure did.
MS. PSAKI: All right.
QUESTION: You bet.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. On a serious note, a couple of items for the top. The Secretary is in Amman, Jordan today, where he participated in bilateral meetings with Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh, Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and Jordanian King Abdullah II. Right now he’s also in a trilateral meeting with King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The meeting will focus on ways to restore calm and de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem. The Secretary will be doing a press availability after the meeting, so we will point all of you – the readouts of those meetings to his comments there.
With that – oh, actually, one more to list at the top. We put this out publicly, but just wanted to note for all of you that Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk will travel to Paris November 13th through 14th to meet with the French Government and military officials to discuss international coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. Over the past six days, Ambassador McGurk has also traveled to the UAE, Iraq, Turkey, and Denmark to meet with a range of government and security officials to review coalition cooperation across several lines of effort, including the next phase of the global campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL.
On November 14th General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will travel to the UAE to participate in the Sir Bani Yas Forum, an annual high-level gathering for world leaders and thinkers to discuss critical issues of peace and security. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will hold – will also hold a series of bilateral meetings and consultations with other leaders in attendance on global coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Recognizing that you’re going to punt all the – or punt is the wrong word – you’re going to refer most questions or almost all questions about the situation in Israel and the PA to the traveling party and the Secretary, I just want to – this meeting that’s going on right now that you mentioned, was there any thought or idea of having President Abbas join this meeting? Because it seems to me that if you’re trying to reduce the tensions and calm the situation and stop the incitement that everyone has talked about so much, that you – it would be natural or advisable to have the president of the Palestinian Authority there. Does that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, obviously, the leaders would certainly decide if they would engage in a meeting together. That wasn’t on the planning on our front– It wasn’t in the planning on our front and wasn’t the purpose of the visit. It was for the Secretary to meet, certainly, with President Abbas, with King Abdullah of Jordan. Obviously, we added the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, given his relationships with the leaders.
QUESTION: Right. But wouldn’t it make sense, if you’re trying to de-escalate the tensions, to get the leaders of all – well, at least the two main leaders here, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, into a meeting with the King and the Secretary, given all of their roles? No?
MS. PSAKI: That was not in the plans.
QUESTION: But I guess the question is then: Why not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, as I mentioned in the first answer I gave to you, is that they would decide if they were interested in meeting together. Obviously they haven’t made that decision, but we did not engage in a discussion about having a meeting like that either.
QUESTION: And is that because the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas right now is not in a good state?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, clearly, there are increasing tensions on the ground. I would point you to them and their staffs to answer questions on whether or not they would meet, why they wouldn’t, et cetera.
QUESTION: Can I just ask —
QUESTION: Jen, can I —
QUESTION: Jo, let me just —
QUESTION: Could I just ask it this way, then —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: It was – so you – it was never raised? You guys never raised the idea?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it being raised.
QUESTION: That was my question, whether you actually directly asked, because President Abbas, obviously, as you mentioned yesterday, has a home in Amman.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That’s where he met with the Secretary. And the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu was added at fairly short notice, I believe. So did you actually ask the Prime Minister and the President if they were interested in meeting together?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of it being raised.
QUESTION: So just to follow up on Jo’s question —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — what has transpired? I mean, as of yesterday, when I asked you, you said there were no plans to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu for the —
MS. PSAKI: I said yesterday, Said, just to be clear – let me finish, and then you can go to your next question – that obviously the decision to go to Amman took place just in the last 48 to 72 hours. As you know, President Abbas has a home there. Obviously, King Abdullah lives there. And I said there’s, obviously, other options or possibilities that could be added to the schedule. That ended up being the case.
QUESTION: Right. But my question is: Is anything happened in the last, let’s say, 12 or 24 hours that warranted bringing Prime Minister Netanyahu to Amman to meet with the Secretary of State and with the King of Jordan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain extremely concerned about escalating tensions recently across Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. And obviously, having an opportunity to discuss these issues in person, discuss how tensions could be reduced, is certainly the purpose of the discussions and the meetings.
QUESTION: So just to be sure, these discussions will focus on the situation in Jerusalem and in the area of al-Haram Sharif, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, there’s particularly been tensions surrounding Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and so we would expect that would be a part of the discussion.
QUESTION: And the reason I ask this is because also Frank Lowenstein is with them, who is trying to play – or perhaps reignite some sort of talks or peace talks and so on. He was the envoy to the talks. So is there any potential for these talks? I mean, just to get outside the —
MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, we’ll let the Secretary read out the meetings —
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: — when he does his press availability. But the focus is really on the escalating tensions in the region. Could other topics come up? Sure.
QUESTION: Can I just go back and finish what I was going to ask? I wanted to ask, more broadly – I don’t know if you’d seen today that there was some suggestion that the Israeli side might be thinking of reinstalling metal detectors at al-Aqsa, outside the entrances of al-Aqsa Mosque. Have you seen that? What’s —
MS. PSAKI: I had not actually seen that report. I mean, our view is – continues to be that we believe it should go back to the status quo of the – of what had been observed from both sides.
QUESTION: Is —
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, that would be a new component, but I’m happy to talk to our team —
MS. PSAKI: — about any particularly concerns we have about that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: The status quo ante.
MS. PSAKI: Fair enough. Okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just to follow up very quickly, also on the violence in Jerusalem and so on, Israel has taken a step further, going back to a policy that has not been implemented in eight years, which is to demolish the homes of suspected terrorists and so on. I wonder if you have a comment on that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we believe that punitive demolitions are counterproductive to the cause of peace and exacerbate an already tense situation. Beyond that, I don’t have any additional details on their plans.
QUESTION: Do you think this is something that may come up in the discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see.
QUESTION: Or that are going on now?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see, Said.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the Secretary read out the meetings.
Do we have any more on this issue before we move on? Okay. Should we move on to a new topic?
MS. PSAKI: Mexico?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Jen, you were concerned about Mexico yesterday, and a couple of questions: Has the U.S. offered – or Mexico requested – any help in addressing the disappearance of the 43 students?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just – since you gave me the opportunity, let me just reiterate that we extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the victims. The heinous and barbaric crime must be thoroughly and transparently investigated and those responsible be brought to justice without delay and punishment – without delay and punished, sorry – consistent with due process and respect for the rule of law. We urge all parties to remain calm through the process.
I’m not aware of any specific requests from the Mexican Government for U.S. assistance. I can certainly check with our team and see if anything has changed on that front since yesterday.
QUESTION: Please. Also, the – is there a concern by the U.S. Government – I know that Mr. Shannon met with Ambassador Wayne this morning. Is there any concern about the stability of the Mexican Government, given the violence, the lack of confidence on state and federal government, that maybe Mexico is sliding towards a failed state situation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that’s a concern we’ve expressed. Obviously, we’re concerned about tensions on the ground. That’s why we’re continuing to urge all parties to remain calm through the process, and obviously why we’re engaged, also, closely with officials there. We have recently put out a new travel advisory to U.S. citizens who are living there, and, obviously, we continue to provide them updated information.
QUESTION: Can we go to the – General Allen’s trip, ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. There were reports earlier today that the President is reconsidering his strategy, and people include as part of that strategy to bring down the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And then we heard Ben Rhodes from the White House say there has actually been no change in the strategy. Could you sort of set us straight on where the strategy is? Has there been any change, or has there been reconsideration on how to move forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a number of my colleagues have spoken to this, but I can certainly reiterate that there’s no formal review of strategy for our Syria policy. Are there hard questions being asked? Yes. Is there a discussion internally about how we should continue to adjust and consider a range of options? Of course. Syria is one of the most challenging crises we face, and it should come as no surprise that we’re engaged in an ongoing discussion and debate about a range of options. But of course, frequent meetings and discussion doesn’t warrant a – doesn’t – is not equated to a new review. There’s not a new review.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary of State been under increased pressure from countries in the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia, to sort of target Assad forces, and especially their air assets or air defense assets and so on, as some Arab diplomats are claiming?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, it doesn’t require me conveying what’s been communicated by many countries in the region. They’ve spoken publicly and on the record about their views. We’ve also been clear about our view, which is that our focus is on ISIL. We are obviously working to boost the capacity of the Syrian opposition through a train and equip program, through providing them with a range of assistance. We fully expect that the materials and the training we provide to them will be used to counter Assad. There’s no question about that. And as we discuss our strategy and internal discussions which the Secretary participates in, certainly we have to adjust to what happens when the opposition is trained and they have a greater capacity, and how does that work into our strategy of our airstrikes that we’ve been undergoing for the last couple of weeks.
QUESTION: And finally, Senator Bob Corker said yesterday that any strategy, he hopes that it would include an Assad compound. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: An Assad compound, similar to, I mean, other compounds. Basically a place of residence.
MS. PSAKI: An Assad compound?
QUESTION: Yes. He said that strategy ought to include – in other words, the message conveyed is that that strategy ought to include targeting Assad personally.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry, I hadn’t seen Senator Corker’s comments. As you know – and our view as an Administration is – continues to be that there’s no military solution, there is only a political solution. Certainly, we continue to discuss ways to get to a political solution.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: But did —
QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said that there’s no formal review – there is no formal review of our Syria strategy. Can I ask you one question? Why not?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no new – there’s no new formal review.
QUESTION: Right. Why not?
MS. PSAKI: Because there’s an ongoing discussion.
QUESTION: Is everything going the way —
MS. PSAKI: No, Matt —
QUESTION: — you want it to?
MS. PSAKI: — but I think there’s a difference between conveying that there’s a new formal review and the President has asked for a new range of – launched a new formal review, and the fact that this is an ongoing discussion for months and we will continue to adjust and make decisions about any additional options we’ll consider.
QUESTION: Right, but – fair enough. But I mean, if there is no – if the President has not asked for a new formal review, I won’t ask you to speak for him. But if he has not asked for a review, why hasn’t he asked for a review unless he thinks that everything is going along just fine as planned? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, no one is satisfied with where things stand. I think that’s clear.
QUESTION: Okay. So why not ask for a formal review?
MS. PSAKI: Because there’s a difference between conveying, as you all know because obviously no one would be asking about it if it wasn’t stated in the way it was – asking about or announcing there’s a new formal review in an ongoing process that we have had in the Administration – meetings multiple in a week that the Secretary participates in about our ISIL strategy, about our Syria strategy. That’s been ongoing.
QUESTION: So —
MS. PSAKI: There have been a range of decisions that have been made along the way.
QUESTION: So when you say ongoing, is this going back three years, four years now —
MS. PSAKI: Certainly.
QUESTION: — since the beginning of the conflict?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly. But also, of course, with our new airstrikes that we started doing several weeks ago, of course, we believe we have more leverage. We’re also engaged in a different way. There’s a different discussion we’ve having than we were having six months ago.
QUESTION: So the bottom line is you’re saying that there hasn’t been a decision made by the President or the Secretary or anyone that you report to that what you’re doing needs to be – is wrong or is bad or not effective and needs to be fixed? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: It’s not – our view, Matt, is that it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about continuing to discussed and adjust to the situation on the ground, which has been ongoing. It’s not a new process.
QUESTION: But is it correct to say that there is a new push, perhaps, by the Secretary to find some kind of political solution, that he’s been talking in his travels over the past week, 10 days that he’s been talking with leaders particularly in the Gulf about ways of trying to find some kind of political solution, a transition government in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: It wouldn’t be correct to say that is a new process. He’s been having those discussions for months and months now, even before we started doing airstrikes in Syria.
QUESTION: Perhaps not a new process, but a new focus on trying to get some kind of political situation (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not a new focus.
QUESTION: It’s not a new focus. Does the – wouldn’t the outcome on November the 24th with the Iran nuclear deal perhaps pave the way for a different kind of focus involving Iran in this process?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have plans to coordinate militarily with Iran. That’s not going to change. Obviously, our focus remains on the nuclear process.
QUESTION: But not militarily, but on the political side would you be looking perhaps to Iran to try and exert some pressure on President Assad to move aside or allow some kind of transitional process to start?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, with any political process – and this is true in our efforts to work with Russia as well – we know that we and a number of the countries in the Gulf don’t have influence over the regime. We’re very clear-eyed about that. And so there will certainly need to be pressure exerted on the regime by those who have influence. What form that will take, we’re just not at that point yet.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the tape that allegedly made by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that he’s alive and well? Have you —
MS. PSAKI: I’ve certainly seen the reports. I don’t have any new information about his status.
QUESTION: On more on —
QUESTION: On Syria, I’m sorry —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the tape which is attributed to him. The voice says a lot of things, including that the so-called caliphate has now extended to substantial additional countries, including Saudi Arabia. It calls for Sunnis to attack, I think, both the royal family and Shia citizens in Saudi Arabia. It calls for Yemeni Sunnis to attack Houthis. It is, in effect, incitement to violence. Do you have any comment on the substance of what is said?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without – which I know you’re not asking me for, but without being able to confirm the validity or confirm the voice – the authenticity of it – clearly, there – the brutality, the rhetoric, the efforts to incite by any leaders of ISIL has not – is not a new phenomenon. It certainly is a reminder to everyone in the region and around the world of what their intentions are.
Fortunately, we have been working with countries in the region to combat this effort, to fight back against their claims that they represent Islam, that they represent people throughout the region. And I expect we will continue to increase those efforts over the coming weeks.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, you can’t confirm that this audio recording is authentic?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t confirm it, no. Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: On Syria, so did the sources in the Administration lie to CNN? Because the report says that President Obama decided Assad’s removal is key to defeating ISIS.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak to anonymous sources. As you know, there are thousands of people who work for the United States Government. Many speak to the media. That’s what happens in a society where there’s a free press. But I can just convey to you what our strategy is and what’s accurate, and I think I just did that in response to Said’s question.
QUESTION: Just a more general question: In what way Assad’s removal would help in the fight against ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s an interesting question in the sense that we continue to believe that Assad is a – the chief magnet for terrorism in Syria, and that, obviously, a political transition would contribute significantly to greater stability in the region. But we don’t believe that there’s anything but a political solution to that. And obviously, there needs to be a process by working with a number of countries in the region to get there, and we’re just not there at this point in time.
QUESTION: But you do think that his removal would help in the fight against ISIS?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve said from the beginning, we continue to feel, that he continues to be the chief magnet for terrorism. And if you don’t have the chief magnet for terrorism, we think that certainly would help. We’ve long believed that he’s lost his legitimacy in the region, and – but we believe there needs to be a political process that plays out, and we’re certainly just not at that point right now.
QUESTION: Well, it is an interesting way of turning things around, though, because a couple of weeks ago you were talking more about the U.S. strategy was first to get rid of ISIL and deal with that threat and Syria will come later. So what has changed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that hasn’t changed and – actually, at all. And I didn’t contradict that, I don’t believe, in any way, shape or form. Ultimately, since we believe that President Assad is a magnet for terrorism, obviously a political transition that would change the leadership in Syria would be a positive step. But we continue to support, back, and believe that an Iraq-first strategy is absolutely the right way to go about defeating and degrading ISIL, because in Iraq we have a partner. We don’t have a partner in Syria, because in Syria we can – we’ve obviously taken steps to target certain strongholds or – and take advantage of opportunities like in Kobani. But in Iraq, we have a partner that we can boost up so that they can be the ones fighting back against —
QUESTION: I thought you did have partners in Syria, just not the Assad regime.
MS. PSAKI: Not in the government we don’t.
QUESTION: Right. But —
MS. PSAKI: It’s a difference.
QUESTION: Right. Now – so Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey were on the Hill. And they’re saying that you’re looking at finding 15,000 moderate Syrians to fight?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new beyond what they conveyed.
QUESTION: My question is: Do you think that there are 15,000 moderate Syrians that you could —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think our Secretary of Defense and chairman would state that if they didn’t think we could find 15,000 moderate Syrians to train and equip, yes.
QUESTION: So you think that that’s a realistic – that that is realistic?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I take it back to the —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — proposal by the envoy – the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — about the ceasefire in certain areas of Aleppo or perhaps in all of Aleppo? Is that something that you support? Is that – was that something that you would actually support and encourage and perhaps sort of rally support for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I said this a little bit the other day, but let me just repeat it because I think it’s worth repeating. Certainly we support the efforts of Minister de Mistura to find a political solution, and certainly he’s been working very, very hard at that. We have had concerns about the way, in the past, these ceasefires have been managed or dealt with, and specifically they have led to – they’ve more closely resembled surrender arrangements as opposed to genuine sustainable ceasefire agreements. So what we need – I think the international community, not just the United States, would need to see considerably more than a few words to demonstrate genuine regime interest in implementing this proposal, because support for any effort to save human life would represent a shift in the Assad regime’s approach.
QUESTION: So from your point of view, such a proposal is doable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll see. There isn’t a history that conveys that, Said. But we’re certainly supportive of de Mistura’s efforts.
Go ahead, Abby.
QUESTION: One more on Syria.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you issued a – or the State Department issued a Travel Warning which warned of the potential use of chemical warfare against civilian populations. Is there a new cause for concern in that area, or what was the reason for including —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I believe – and I’m happy to check with our team that issues those, but – that we update it every six months or so when we provide relevant information from what’s been – what’s happened in the interim. There isn’t a new report or a new concern. Obviously, you’re aware of both what happened over a year ago as well as concerns about the use of chlorine that the OPCW continues to look into.
QUESTION: Just somewhat related to – well, not related to this at all, but in Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you seen reports that the Kurds and the Iraqis – or the government in Baghdad have reached an oil agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes, I have.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to that?
MS. PSAKI: We welcome the announcement that an agreement has been reached between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to take initial steps at finding a fair and comprehensive solution on the management of Iraq’s hydrocarbon resources. We urge that these steps be taken as soon as possible to build trust as Iraqi leaders continue to discuss remaining issues in the coming days toward a just and constitutional solution that will allow all Iraqis to benefit fairly and equitably from Iraq’s hydrocarbon sector.
We are encouraged by this development and the willingness of officials in Baghdad and Erbil to address these complex issues directly and earnestly. We understand that this is the first of many steps that will be required to reach a comprehensive agreement, and the United States will continue to serve as a neutral broker and facilitator to the extent desired by the leadership of both Iraq and the KRG.
QUESTION: Do you know or can you speak to what the U.S. involvement as a neutral facilitator was in getting to this point? Do you know?
MS. PSAKI: I – that’s a great question. I’d have to talk to our team about our involvement in the last couple of days. Obviously, we’ve been encouraging both sides for some time to resolve this issue, but I can see if there’s more on that front to report.
QUESTION: Ambassador McGurk was in Iraq. Did he play any role to facilitate this agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Say that one more time?
QUESTION: Ambassador Brett McGurk was in Iraq a few days ago.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, he was. It’s a great question. I don’t have any details on his involvement. Obviously, this was largely negotiated between the KRG and the Government of Iraq. We’ve certainly been encouraging them to resolve this for some time. I can see if there’s any more to read out about his involvement.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: May we move on Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let’s finish Iraq and Syria, if that’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. One more in ISIL. David Cohen, the Under Secretary from the Treasury, was on the Hill this morning and he said basically that thanks to the strikes against the oil refineries in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. has seen a decrease of oil revenues from ISIL. So can you elaborate on that so without giving us a balance sheet? I presume that at least some accurate figures to back up what he said. And given the fact that the oil revenues from ISIL are part of the black economy, how the U.S. could be so sure that the revenues have decreased?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, it’s a great question. Obviously, Under Secretary Cohen is the one in his team who tracks this most closely, so why don’t we follow up with Treasury and see if they have any specific statistics on this? Obviously, when we made our initial targeting decisions, part of it was, of course, going after the refineries because of this specific issue, and there’s, I think, a calculation about how much oil from each of the refineries they’re able to use and sell. But we can see if there’s more specifics on numbers.
Do we have any more on Iraq or Syria before we move on? Okay. Why don’t we go to the back? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. So today the Russian military defense minister – they told that Russia plans long-range bomber flights near U.S. shores in Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. So – and previously in September, we had this incident in Alaska when the United States intercepted Russian aircrafts and we saw a lot of rumors about Russian ships around Australia. So any comments about this military activity Russia?
MS. PSAKI: I do have something on this. Let me see if I can find it while we’re here in the briefing and I will answer your question hopefully before we complete the briefing, if that works.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back. Russia?
QUESTION: Yeah. It’s about the nuclear security. So I wondered if you had any comment about Russia’s decision to limit its participation in the joint effort with the United States to secure nuclear materials (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: We have seen that report, which I think came out just right before the briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’ve been cooperating with Russia on this issue for some time now. In terms of a specific response or a reaction as to the impact, I will have to get you something after the briefing since it just posted before we came out, but we’re already pursuing it.
Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Yeah, quickly. Madam, as far as U.S.-India trades are concerned, both countries were locked at the WTO, but finally yesterday, the recent agreement in Geneva – World Trade Organization. And also later this month, U.S.-India trade forum summit will be held in New Delhi, India. Any comment on these two issues, please?
MS. PSAKI: I think, obviously, we feel that trade and economic engagement with India is an important part of our strategic relationship, and certainly we look forward to what can be achieved there.
Let me get to your question. Sorry about the delay on that.
As you may know, Russia frequently engages in out-of-area air activities, and these activities trend up and down periodically depending on a variety of factors. While we recognize the need for routine military training activity, we have noticed an increase in the number of these flights near North America in recent months. Any such activity must be consistent with international law and conducted with due regard for the rights of other nations and the safety of other aircraft and of vessels.
We note the defense minister’s comment that “In the current situation, we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.” We don’t see security environment as warranting such activity.
Do we have any more on Russia?
QUESTION: They are complying with international law. You said that they should comply with international law. So you’re – at the moment, you believe that these flights do comply with international law?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct, is my understanding.
QUESTION: So you’re not overly concerned about them; you just don’t see a need for them?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. And obviously, out-of-area activities is something that we certainly look at and make evaluations about.
QUESTION: Can I ask why you don’t see the need?
MS. PSAKI: About which?
QUESTION: Why do you not see the need for Russia to do this? I’m just —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t think that there is a current situation in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific or the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico that warrants additional flights in out-of-area territory.
QUESTION: By the Russians or by anybody?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think there’s a military situation there, Matt.
QUESTION: No, I know. I mean, you don’t see the – I mean —
MS. PSAKI: Depends on —
QUESTION: — what is it that you – you don’t like this idea, clearly, right? I’m just wondering what you object to about it. There’s nothing – it doesn’t seem like there’s anything you can do to stop it because it’s perfectly legal, right?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t convey otherwise.
QUESTION: I know. So your objection is that you just don’t – you think it’s not necessary because there’s no reason for it?
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t seem necessary, that’s correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Did – you conduct flights, surveillance flights of the – and the like around areas that the, say, the Chinese don’t particularly like. But you see a need for that, right, even though there’s no active conflict going on there?
MS. PSAKI: It depends on where it is, Matt, and whether there’s a need. And every country can certainly justify their needs.
QUESTION: Okay, but it’s just like if someone else does it it’s not okay, but if we do it is okay. That’s what —
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t make that generalization.
QUESTION: No, no, wait – but that’s what it sounds like. So do you know is this a mil to mil thing that you do with the Russians? Or is it a diplomatic thing?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of what? Engagement on it?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, I presume you’ve told the Russians that you think that this isn’t unnecessary.
MS. PSAKI: It would be mil to mil, I would expect.
QUESTION: It’s not like —
QUESTION: And so you have raised it with the Russians, have you?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to DOD on that.
Yeah. Go ahead, Abby.
QUESTION: This may be something that you’ve addressed a while ago. It’s an older news item, I think, but there were reports out that in the upcoming – or in next month’s Russian military doctrine, a new military doctrine, that they were going to change the designation of the United States and NATO from external military dangers to threats or adversaries. Is – do you have a response to that or is —
MS. PSAKI: I had not seen that. We can check with our team and see if we have any particular response to it. Do we have any more on Russia?
Okay. Go ahead, Scott. And we’ll go to you next. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Azerbaijan —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — says that it shot down an Armenian helicopter that it claims had attacked Azeri position. Are you aware of this report? Does that concern you? Have you had any communication with either or both of those governments?
MS. PSAKI: We are aware of the report and we regret the loss of life as a result of yesterday’s, I should say, downing of a helicopter along the line of contact. We extend our condolences to the families of those killed or injured. These events – this event is yet another reminder of the need to redouble efforts on peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including reducing tension and respecting the ceasefire.
In terms of – we obviously are engaged, certainly, with both countries and, as you know, have a diplomatic presence in both, but I don’t have any updates on whether we’ve been engaged over this specific incident.
QUESTION: Both this and these two Azeris who are held in Nagorno-Karabakh seem to indicate that the direction of this conflict is not moving toward reducing tensions. So anything that the Obama Administration thinks that it can do to help push that in the direction you’d like to see it go?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, we certainly remain committed to helping both sides. Obviously, we are engaged through diplomatic channels with both sides about our belief that they need to redouble efforts to get back to a peaceful negotiation. And naturally, retaliation, further violence, escalating tensions certainly does not help that effort, but we will continue to work through our contacts on the ground to see if we can move closer to a resolution.
QUESTION: On this, I just wanted to know if you – is what you just read the same thing that you said at the Foreign Press Center yesterday? Has there been any —
MS. PSAKI: Yes. There’s no new update.
QUESTION: No change to it?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Do you acknowledge that it was Azerbaijan which violated the ceasefire yesterday, and also violated one of the main principles of peaceful settlement of the conflict, which is no use of force? Do you acknowledge this part?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis of the exact events on the ground. We’ve seen the same reports. There are obviously comments and claims from both sides, but I don’t have any analysis beyond that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Azerbaijan shooting an Armenian vessel, then it’s pretty clear which party is violating the ceasefire.
MS. PSAKI: We understand there are views by both sides, but I don’t have any comment from the U.S. Government on it.
QUESTION: You keep eye on this and then maybe come back with any updates later on?
MS. PSAKI: If we have an update, you can – we can keep having this dialogue. That’s fine.
QUESTION: Let me go back one quickly on Russia, please.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, Goyal.
QUESTION: Any comments on Russia and China big $900 billion oil deal, despite all these sanctions against Russia? Any comments on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously we expect every country to abide by the sanctions that are in place. I don’t have all the specific details of that. Certainly, countries have a range of relationships with one another, including Russia and China.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Do we do a new topic? Is everyone all questioned out?
QUESTION: Thank you
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Well, I had a question on —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: I just wanted to know if there’s any update on this situation in Ukraine from your point of view.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Samantha Power made some comments about this yesterday. I would certainly point you to those. But there’s no new specific update beyond that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)