1:10 p.m. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Friday. New scarf. Okay. I have a couple of items at the top. As all of you have seen on the news, the Secretary is in Davos, Switzerland today to attend the World Economic Forum. He’s meeting with the world leaders from government, business, and civil society. In addition to addressing the forum, which he already has done, he met with Cypriot President Anastasiadis; Dr. Klaus Schwab, who is the founder of the World Economic Forum; and he will be attending – he may already be attending a dinner hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on sustainable development.
We also put out – I believe it should have gone out – a note on additional travel to announce. The Secretary will travel to Lagos, Nigeria – he also mentioned it in his remarks this morning – on January 25th, which is Sunday, to emphasize the importance of ensuring the upcoming elections are peaceful, nonviolent, and credible. The Secretary will meet with the candidates President Goodluck Jonathan and Major Buhari, Retired Major General Buhari, while he is there.
And last item, we remain deeply concerned by the increasing violence and bloodshed in Eastern Ukraine which has resulted from a surge in Russia-backed separatist attacks against the ceasefire line in what appears to be a general offensive in complete violation of the Minsk agreements. Ukraine has implemented ceasefire after ceasefire, but the Russia-backed separatists have responded with violence, carrying out 1,000 attacks since early December resulting in the deaths of 262 people in the last nine days.
Russia is actively supporting the separatists by supplying them with heavy weaponry and vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery pieces, as well as providing military personnel for exercising ongoing tactical support. Not only have we seen no commitment by the separatists or Russia to implement the January 22nd Berlin Statement on upholding the Minsk Agreement, separatist leaders have publicly stated their intention today to take more territory.
We again call on Russia to denounce its separatist patrons, withdraw all support to them, and stop the flow of heavy weapons, fighters, and advisors, and restore Ukraine’s control along its side of the international border and allowing OSCE monitoring all along both sides of the border. Russia holds the keys to peacefully resolving a conflict it started and bears responsibility to end the violence which has devastated the lives of so many innocents in Donetsk and Luhansk.
And I have a meeting I have to go to at 2:00, so let’s just get to as many as we can.
Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Great. Well I’m sure we’ll get back to Ukraine –
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — a little bit later, but I want to start with what – the travel announcement.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Because I’m a little confused. Yesterday here you said in regards to Prime Minister Netanyahu that it’s a matter of longstanding practice that neither the President nor the Secretary of State meets with candidates in close proximity to their election so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country. Is there an exception for West African countries that begin with the letter N and end with the letter A, or what’s going on here?
MS. PSAKI: They’re entirely different scenarios in our view, Matt. I mentioned why the Secretary is traveling there, which certainly there are concerns about violence, about the implementation of the elections. Obviously, he’ll be talking about all of that, the importance of enforcing the electoral process, and he’ll underscore international concern about serious post-election violence or destabilizing – or a destabilizing, fractious outcome.
That’s something we’ve done other places as well, most recently in Afghanistan. It’s something past secretaries of state have done as well. Israel in the situation with the prime minister’s visit – which, again, we’ve said we welcomed – we’re just not meeting with him as a policy because it’s different. There’s a difference between hosting a meeting exclusively with one candidate in your own country and visiting a country and making clear to all candidates and all parties about the need to keep – reduce violence, about the need to see the electoral process through.
QUESTION: So is he going to meet with the 12 other candidates in the Nigerian election?
MS. PSAKI: He’s meeting with two candidates, as I mentioned. He’s only going to be there a short period of time. But it’s not a situation where we’re hosting one candidate or another in our country or he’s meeting to support one candidate or another.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’s not out of the Administration’s control to invite some other Israeli politicians to come at the same time as Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I believe, in fact, some will be here for the big conference.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’ve made a decision which the White House announced yesterday and we echoed about our plans as it relates to this visit. We remain in close contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as many other officials in Israel.
QUESTION: And the Afghanistan exception scenario that you mentioned, that was a case in which the Secretary was trying to broker a deal after the election; am I correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he was there before as well. I mean, obviously, the upcoming elections in advance of the elections were a key part of his message as well.
QUESTION: On Israel specifically, there were some quotes in a couple reports today from unnamed officials, U.S. officials, one of which says – this is attributed to a source close to the Secretary, “The bilateral relationship with Israel is unshakable, but playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.” And I believe that referred specifically to the – at the United Nations.
Is that accurate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak – I’m sure that it won’t surprise you – to unnamed anonymous quotes from the podium.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, take it from me; I’m going to say it right now. Playing politics with the U.S.-Israel relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender. Am I lying or am I correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as the Secretary said himself, certainly the way that Israel went about announcing this trip or confirming the trip was unusual. Clearly, we’re going to – the trip is going to happen. He has remained engaged with Prime Minister Netanyahu. There’s a great deal that he does behind the scenes to support Israel. I’m going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: But does that mean that the Secretary’s enthusiasm for defending Israel could somehow be blunted?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary spoke to this himself just a couple of days ago. I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: A couple of days ago?
MS. PSAKI: Yep, two days ago.
QUESTION: He spoke to the idea that his enthusiasm —
MS. PSAKI: He spoke to his views on the prime minister’s visit.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just looking – I’m just trying to find out if it is correct that the Secretary might be less enthusiastic in his defense of Israel at international fora now because of the “unusual” nature of the prime minister’s upcoming trip.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the reason I pointed to what the Secretary said is that he spoke to the fact that he remains engaged with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that there’s a range of issues we work together on.
QUESTION: I understand that. But either the relationship is unshakable or it’s not unshakable. And if it is unshakable, then it would seem to me that a – that the annoyance or whatever, the surprise with which you view the prime minister’s upcoming visit would not potentially – does not have the potential to blunt the Secretary’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s —
MS. PSAKI: The relationship is unshakable. That hasn’t changed. I’m just not going to speak further to unnamed quotes.
QUESTION: Well, but – okay. Forget about the unnamed official saying it. I tried to put this in my mouth, so it’s me —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, we’ve already —
QUESTION: Me saying it. Am I right or am I wrong?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve already addressed this extensively, so I’d leave you – leave it – you with those comments.
QUESTION: Let me just take the flip side of that. Is there an absence of sort of an outrage from this Department, I mean, the Secretary of State being the top American diplomat and this is really a foreign policy issue. This is a foreign leader who is basically intervening in the American process. Shouldn’t have been there a sort of a stronger perhaps reaction to this thing by the Secretary of State?
MS. PSAKI: I understand your desire to weigh into this further, Said. I’m just not going to weight into it further.
QUESTION: No, because – and by the way, I think there was precedent, an Israeli precedent for meeting before elections with Peres back in ’96 – I mean, you can look it up – by President Clinton right before the election.
MS. PSAKI: And you should look up who criticized that at the time.
QUESTION: And I think it was – yeah, when Netanyahu criticized him tremendously at the time. But the point is, I mean, there is a lot of talk around this town that this was basically, I mean, a blatant and basically crude the way it was done. Don’t you think that should have sort of caused perhaps a stronger expression of annoyance —
MS. PSAKI: Said, we’ve spoken to this extensively. I’ll leave the analysis to the analysts, including yourself. Do we —
QUESTION: Can I ask about a factual bit?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.
QUESTION: Is it correct that the Secretary met with Ambassador Dermer for two hours the other day, and this – the subject of the prime minister’s visit was not —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.
QUESTION: That is correct? And was the Secretary surprised after learning of the invitation and the prime minister’s acceptance that Ambassador Dermer did not mention this to him?
MS. PSAKI: I think that’s safe to say.
QUESTION: It is? Okay. So why is – if that’s safe to say, why is it not – why can’t you address the other part of it, or my initial question about potential blunting of his enthusiasm for defending Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, clearly not only the Secretary but others in the Administration, including myself, have spoken to this repeatedly. I just think there’s no benefit in speaking to it further from the podium.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary has been in touch with the ambassador since, or is he now kind of persona non grata?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls – I mean, he’s been – obviously, he left on this trip, as you know.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – I’m not sure if he’s spoken with him since then. I can certainly check on that.
QUESTION: And where was that meeting? Here?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: In —
MS. PSAKI: In the State Department.
QUESTION: In the State Department.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Israel before we continue?
QUESTION: Yeah. (Inaudible) that the Administration essentially would be looking for some sort of payback against the Netanyahu government for this visit. Is that something that the Secretary would endorse – payback?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not even sure what that means, and I’m not, again, going to speak to an anonymous quote. The Secretary spoke to his views on this two days ago.
Do we have any more on Israel?
QUESTION: Just one last – yeah. Did the Secretary play any role in putting off the meeting from the 11th of February back to —
MS. PSAKI: No, we had no role in that whatsoever.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: The anti-ISIS coalition. The Kurdish President Masoud Barzani – I’m not sure if you’ve seen his remarks.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I did see this, I think, what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Yeah. He slammed the West for not inviting the Kurds. He said it’s disheartening. What do you – what’s your response to his criticism?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say —
QUESTION: The London conference, I mean.
We have enormous respect for the courage the Kurds have shown and the tremendous fight they have taken to ISIL to recapture territory. We’ve seen consistent and continued gains by Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish forces in recent weeks in coordination with the Government of Iraq. The United States and the coalition have been very supportive of Iraqi Kurdish forces and will continue to do so.
London was an opportunity for a small group of coalition members to work directly with the Iraqi Government to identify areas where we can enhance our assistance and cooperation, including to the Kurds, even as we continue to apply pressure on ISIL to end its siege on the Iraqi people. As head of government, Prime Minister Abadi was the representative of the Iraqi Government at the conference.
QUESTION: So you believe because Prime Minister Abadi was there, there was no need for the Kurdish president to —
MS. PSAKI: He was – as the head of government, he was the representative. I would also remind you – as you probably know, because you cover this closely – General Allen and Ambassador McGurk have met directly with senior officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government on every trip they’ve taken to Iraq, and they will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Jen —
QUESTION: Was it the – sorry. Was it the United States’ decision to not invite the Kurds?
MS. PSAKI: I would not put it in those terms. I —
QUESTION: Because the United States is leading the coalition.
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish, let me finish. As appropriate, the head of government attended to represent all of Iraq. The Kurds are part of Iraq, and so they represented their interest. As you know, they work together – as we work with all of them – to defeat ISIL.
QUESTION: I know, Jen, and you know very well Iraq is about basically two states – it’s Kurdistan and it’s Baghdad. And you have militarily and politically worked with both of them independently. So —
MS. PSAKI: Kurdistan is a part of Iraq, as you know.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you have – like, you have provided them arms —
MS. PSAKI: In coordination with the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: With Iraq. So now they are really angry because they believe, as the most probably effecting fighting force on the ground, they haven’t been even – no representative of their – of the Kurds have been invited.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our actions —
QUESTION: So don’t you think their criticism is fair?
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Our actions over the course of several months, including supporting them in a range of ways with material support —
QUESTION: But on this specific issue —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer – in cooperation with the Iraqi Government answers that question. We also have many meetings with them. But they are a part of the Iraqi Government. I understand the views of some and your personal views, but that remains the case. President Abadi remains the – Prime Minister, excuse me, Abadi remains the head of the Iraqi Government. We’re going to move on.
QUESTION: Just one more question. One more question.
MS. PSAKI: No, no. We’re done. We’re going to move on.
QUESTION: There were reports that the two Japanese hostages have been killed by ISIS. Do you have anything on that?
MS. PSAKI: We have seen those reports. I believe you are referring to reports on Twitter. We don’t have any confirmation of those reports. I’d certainly refer you to the Government of Japan, but I don’t believe they’ve put anything out specifically. We certainly strongly condemn ISIL’s threat to murder Japanese citizens. We continue to call for the immediate release of these civilians and all other hostages, and we’re of course, fully supportive of Japan and continue to coordinate closely.
QUESTION: About 200 —
MS. PSAKI: On Japan?
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: About $200 million demanded by the ISIL, so what do you think or what the United States think about the currency ISIL wanted?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. Our position on ransoms is well known. We believe that granting such concessions puts all of our citizens overseas at greater risk for kidnapping. That’s something we’ve spoken about publicly frequently, and I don’t think there’s any secret about that.
Japan? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Have you analyzed the video at all and have any questions about its authenticity, whether it was made – actually made inside or outdoors, or those kind of questions?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Government of Japan. We’re obviously very supportive of their efforts and in close contact, but I don’t have any independent analysis from here.
QUESTION: Can I have one more?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you said that you’re prepared to provide any support you can. Does that include like military support or intelligence sharing?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into diplomatic exchanges that we have with Japan and the government.
QUESTION: You said the other day the U.S. support efforts of Japan in this matter, but what actions actually are U.S. taking (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think that’s similar to your colleague’s question. I’m just not going to detail our private conversations. We remain in close contact with the government. They’re a close friend and a close partner. Obviously, this is a terrible situation but I’m not going to detail that more publicly.
Do we have any more on Japan before —
QUESTION: On Saudi?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: So I’ve seen the statements put out by the Secretary and obviously by the President as well following the death of King Abdullah. I don’t know if you’ve seen that there are already some heads of government, foreign ministers, who are going to go to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Is there any change in the Secretary’s travel plans, given that he’s already on the road?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any travel plans to announce. You saw, and I’m sure you’ve all seen, the statement that we put out from the Secretary last night about the death of his friend King Abdullah. As you know, the Secretary – and I just announced – has a planned trip to Nigeria on Sunday, so nothing further to announce at this point in time.
QUESTION: And I wondered if you could speak to the announcement of the new king, King Salman. Do you think this is a – he will be somebody who will steer Saudi Arabia well? Do you foresee any kind of changes in the close ties, although sometimes complicated ties that you’ve had with Riyadh?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we look forward to continuing the close partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman. Obviously, they’re in a period of mourning right now, but there are a range of issues that we have worked together on, whether it’s the Arab Peace Initiative or it’s the campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL. We have a long history of cooperation. We don’t have any indication that that cooperation will change.
QUESTION: Do you —
QUESTION: Do you have any indication that the – or they say that the new king will – he objects less to some sort of a deal with Iran. Can you comment on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis, Said. I think, obviously, the king passed away yesterday. They’ve been an important partner. I’m not going to analyze Saudi politics from here.
QUESTION: Also a very close ally – a very close ally within the Saudi system, Mohammed bin Nayef has been named as a deputy, I guess, deputy crown prince. Is that something that you look at with —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we will continue to work with a range of officials, senior officials, leadership in Saudi Arabia, in the weeks, months, years ahead. Obviously, we’re going to have the period of mourning at this point in time, but I think it’s safe to assume we’ll remain in very close contact on the ground and through the Secretary as well.
QUESTION: But what role —
QUESTION: How confident is the —
MS. PSAKI: What will we see in Yemen?
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, are you talking to the new – I assume that you are – the new king and the new administration (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would remind you that he was named king yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: King Abdullah passed away yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: The funeral is today.
MS. PSAKI: So obviously, we will be in close contact. But I’m not going to analyze what their role will or won’t be in different conflicts around the world. We expect our close cooperation to continue.
QUESTION: But the collapse in Yemen continues.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) given that he was crown prince for several years before his half-brother passed away, what is this building’s assessment of King Salman’s views on human rights, on freedom of expression, on the ability of women to participate fully in Saudi society?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to analyze his personal views from here. I would say, Roz, that as you know, we have a long history of cooperation on a range of issues. I mentioned a few of them – the effort to degrade and defeat ISIL, the Arab Peace Initiative, a range of conflicts around the world.
As you know, as is true with many of our important partners, there are still issues where we have disagreements on, and issues like human rights, freedom of speech, equal rights for women, are issues that certainly we’ve raised in the past with Saudi Arabia. It’s not that our concerns have changed, but we’re going to give them, certainly, a period of time before we engage in diplomatic discussions with them.
QUESTION: Have U.S. officials actually engaged with Salman while he was crown prince on these human rights issues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know there are a range of officials who are in meetings when the king has meetings, so I would leave it at that.
QUESTION: But you would expect though that your – that there would not be any change in your raising these issues and concerns with —
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Exactly. That’s what I’m conveying. We expect we’ll continue to work on the same issues.
QUESTION: All right. Can we go next door to Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So last night it was revealed that the embassy staff had been reduced further, although it does not appear that there was any kind of an evacuation.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering what the status is there right now, and how – whether or not you believe that the upcoming, I guess, parliamentary – emergency parliamentary meeting on Sunday is actually – is a good thing, and where you see this transition going.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the security piece, the information we put out last night, just to reiterate for everyone here, in response to the changing situation – security situation in Yemen, the United States Embassy in Sana’a has further reduced its American personnel working in Yemen. Our Embassy in Sana’a has been on ordered departure since last September. The embassy remains open and is continuing to operate. We may continue to realign resources based on the situation on the ground. We’ll continue to operate as normal with reduced staff. And we’ll also continuously assess the situation on the ground for its impact on our staffing levels. There’s no new update beyond that since last night in terms of staffing or changes to a security posture.
On your second question, as you noted, we understand there’s a plan for a meeting – an emergency session on Sunday to decide whether to accept President Hadi’s resignation. When that meeting takes place, the constitution provides that the speaker of parliament will become acting president until an election can be – if they accept his resignation, I should say – that the speaker of the parliament would become acting president until an election can be scheduled in the next 60 days. If a majority vote fails to accept Hadi’s resignation, President Hadi will remain president for an additional 90 days. If President Hadi submits his resignation again in 90 days, parliament must accept it. That’s just some technical details of how their process works.
We’re in touch with a full spectrum of political leaders in Yemen, both to hear from how they believe the political transition can move forward as well as to make clear that we will oppose any continuation of the violence we have seen in recent days, and that we expect that the parties will observe the constitution, UN Security Council resolutions, and the provisions of the GCC initiative in determining their next steps. That’s the next step in the process. Clearly, the situation is very fluid on the ground, but we’ll be watching closely over the course of the next coming days.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any preference as to whether they accept or reject his resignation? And in the interim – so today and tomorrow up until the meeting – do you still regard him as the president?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. President Hadi remains the president. It’s up to the Yemeni people to determine what the future is.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any preference as to whether they accept or reject – I mean, you would think that you – that if you’re calling for a peaceful – if you’re calling for things to calm down, that a rejection of the – of his resignation would be what – a preferable – would be preferable than – would be more preferable than an acceptance of it, but I don’t know. Is that not correct? You don’t care one way or another?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’re in a position to assess what the impact would be, Matt. I understand why you’re going down that road. But our focus is on encouraging a reduction in violence and abiding by the constitution and the GCC initiative and the national – and the UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: All right. And then my last one, this has more to do with the security. Does the Administration believe that the Houthi rebels and their military pose a direct threat to U.S. interests?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they have made public statements that indicate otherwise. Obviously, we expect and call on them to abide by them. In the meantime, we take every precaution to keep our men and women safe and secure.
QUESTION: Right, but what I guess I’m – is it the judgment of the Administration that these guys are not a direct threat or do not – or don’t have the intention or desire to attack the embassy or U.S. personnel or other —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand what you’re saying, but they’ve said that they don’t. Now obviously, we watch the situation on the ground. There’s a great deal of violence. It’s very fluid. So we still watch that very closely.
QUESTION: But they do on occasion chant “Death to America” and that kind of thing. So it’s not as if they haven’t expressed anti-American sentiment in the past.
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, Matt, as I mentioned, we continue to assess our security needs every day, regardless of what’s been said. But it is important to note that just this week, they stated that was not their intention.
QUESTION: Have U.S. officials spoken directly with President Hadi?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in touch with a range of political leaders. I’m not going to get into details of whom we’ve been in touch with.
QUESTION: Can you say whether the U.S. ambassador is still in Sana’a?
MS. PSAKI: He had prior planned leave and he will be returning, I think, in – later this week or early next.
QUESTION: And then are the employees who were moved from the Embassy, are they staying in the region for the time being? Are they coming back to the United States?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on their status. Some may be relocated where they can better do their jobs. But I’m not going to give you an update on where personnel may be moving to.
QUESTION: But you – but you’re clear that the Embassy is still open for business?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how the staff who were – were evacuated?
MS. PSAKI: They were not evacuated. They’ve been leaving – departing voluntarily. It’s a reduction in staff. I’m not going to get into details of how, for security purposes.
QUESTION: Just so I can understand clearly, when you talk about what you’d like to see – you don’t expect the situation to go back to the status quo and to, let’s say, before the resignations and before their takeover of Sanaa, do you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what do you mean by that exactly?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) By that I mean there is a new order in Yemen. Obviously, there are new forces that you might have to work with. So it is something that you would consider.
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly – Said, clearly there have been a range of events that have happened over the course of the last weeks.
MS. PSAKI: We’re not naive about that.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: But obviously, there are also, as I outlined, a number of steps that parliament will take, that will be taken through the constitutional process, that we’re going to see that process play through.
QUESTION: But seeing how they are – the Houthis are really fervent opponents of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, you would like to see some sort of coordination or cooperation with them continue or occur, right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Houthis are a legitimate political constituency in Yemen and have a right to participate in affairs of the state. We urge them to be a part of a peaceful transition process. That said, we condemn their use of violence and are concerned by their noncompliance with agreements they have been signatories to. So we certainly have concerns, but I’m not going to get ahead of where we are in the process.
QUESTION: And finally, I have a very quick question. Now, it seems that the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh still plays a major role in this thing. I wonder if you have a comment on that, or if you have any contact with him and his forces?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve spoken to the former president, and as you know, I’d point to the fact that the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on him just last November for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen. So I don’t have anything more specifically on his engagement.
QUESTION: Yeah. The reason I ask this is because Yemenis say this is basically Ali Abdullah Saleh going back to power in a different dress, in a Houthi dress. That’s their description, not mine. So a new reality.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when we put sanctions in place because of our view that he was engaging in acts that threaten the peace, stability, and security of Yemen, I think that clearly illustrates what our concerns were at the time.
QUESTION: Can I ask: What’s the U.S. position currently on the territorial integrity of Yemen? It used to be two different countries; of course, they were united. There are some indications or perhaps observations that there could be a split again between south and north. So what is the U.S. position?
MS. PSAKI: We continue to support the unity of Yemen and Yemen’s legitimate institutions. That’s what we feel is in the interest of the Yemini people.
QUESTION: But if there was a move towards a split —
MS. PSAKI: Well, there —
QUESTION: — are there circumstances under which you would support that?
MS. PSAKI: There’s been a range of chatter out there. Our view continues to be that we support the unity of the country.
QUESTION: No, but you know in reality on this very point – I mean, four big governors in the south seceded, basically. They conduct their affairs autonomously and they control a very strategic area. I mean, now you have Iran’s influence in the Strait of Hormuz and in Bab al-Mandab as well.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve – I’ve spoken over the last couple of days about our concerns about Iran’s influence.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) tribal Anbar leaders are reportedly here. I’m not sure you if you have talked about them in the past —
MS. PSAKI: Tribal Anbar leaders —
QUESTION: They are in Washington.
MS. PSAKI: — are in Washington?
QUESTION: Yeah, they’ve been here for a few days.
MS. PSAKI: Let me see I have anything on it. If not, I’m happy to talk to our team and we can see if we have anything specific. And then let’s just finish Yemen before we move on to the next topic.
QUESTION: Given the events of the last 24 hours, how worried is the U.S. about its ongoing counterterrorism operations inside Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think that is one of our primary objectives, as you know, and our partnership and cooperation with the Yemini Government. It has been. We hope it will continue to be. It’s ongoing. So at this point, I don’t have any concerns to express, but obviously it remains a priority and remains one of the reasons we feel it’s important to have a strong presence there.
QUESTION: As you’re assessing the security situation (inaudible) though, are you also reassessing the counterterrorism strategy in the way it has played out in Yemen?
MS. PSAKI: In what capacity? What do you mean by that?
QUESTION: The U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the way it’s been in effect so far, are you also assessing how you can conduct that counterterrorism strategy right now?
MS. PSAKI: Do you mean with whom or with – in what way?
QUESTION: Given that there is no clear government right now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, we’re in touch with a range of officials. I’m not going to get into more details on that. Our cooperation on that front is ongoing. Obviously, it’s something that we feel is a priority and we hope it will continue.
QUESTION: Is the Yemeni national security apparatus intact?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no question, Roz, that there’s tensions and a great deal of violence on the ground. It’s an incredibly fluid situation and we’re watching very closely, but I’m not here to proclaim what is or isn’t. Obviously, institutions have been at risk over the last couple of days. You saw the submission of – or the resignation of the prime minister. There’s no question this is a challenging situation.
QUESTION: Is it – who is running the country? Do you have any idea who is running – I mean —
MS. PSAKI: President Hadi remains the president of Yemen.
QUESTION: Well, I mean who is administering the country. I mean —
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, parliament called an emergency session on Sunday. Obviously, this is a fluid period of time. We remain in touch with a range of officials.
Any more on Yemen before we continue? Go ahead.
QUESTION: What can you say – yeah, what can you say about the relation between the U.S. and the Houthis? Are you cooperating with them? Is there any relation with them?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no meetings I have to read out for you or to confirm for you. There haven’t been.
QUESTION: Could the shared concern or distaste for AQAP possibly be the basis for a relationship between the U.S. and the Houthis, should they come to power?
MS. PSAKI: We do have that shared concern. There are countries we have shared concerns with that we don’t engage with as well. So as you – as I noted just a couple of minutes ago, or not even that long ago, we – the Houthis are a legitimate political constituency. We encourage them to be a part of a peaceful transition. We still have concerns about their – the involvement in violence, and certainly we continue to make that case.
QUESTION: Have you been able to ascertain the extent of their relationship with the government in Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any assessment of that. I’ve spoken about our concern about the history or recent history of their engagement. We didn’t have – I don’t have anything new in terms of their recent engagement or anything to confirm for you.
Let’s just finish Yemen. Yemen or a new topic?
MS. PSAKI: Yemen, okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. Any backchannel talk with the Houthi?
MS. PSAKI: No, there’s no meetings to confirm or read out for you.
QUESTION: The newly appointed chief executive of the BBG said his agency faces a number of, quote-un-quote, challenges – Russia Today, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram – all in one sentence. Would you call those remarks appropriate or inappropriate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, let me note that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. Government-supported civilian international media. I’d certainly point you to them for specifics. I think the broad point is the U.S. Government – would the U.S. Government put those three in the same category? No, we wouldn’t. However, there are concerns, I think, that our – we agree with in terms of the fact that the – Russia’s own independent media space is shrinking and the Kremlin continues to apply pressure on the few remaining outlets. And while RT is available to many viewers in the United States – you’re here in the briefing room today – many Russian authorities have curtailed the ability of BBG broadcasters to broadcast there. So those are challenges and certainly concerns that I think the new head of BBG was expressing.
QUESTION: Do you have – just to clarify, do you have any problem with the way he put it?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’d point you to them, and I just stated that wouldn’t be the way that we would state it from here.
QUESTION: How would you state it?
MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t state it in those terms.
QUESTION: Well, the Secretary of State is a member of the BBG.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I just stated the concerns we have, which we agree with.
MS. PSAKI: I would state it in that way.
QUESTION: Okay. So you would not, then, put RT in the same category as Boko Haram and —
MS. PSAKI: That’s what I just said two minutes ago.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you would agree that it is a challenge and —
MS. PSAKI: Correct, I said both of those things.
QUESTION: Can we stay on – roughly on this subject, I’m just wondering if you have – on Ukraine, you had some pretty strong comments at the top. And I wanted to know if you had any further information about the bus incident.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further information, no.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you know – and I suppose that this is probably better addressed to Secretary Kerry —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I do have one thing. This may have been out there, Matt, but I didn’t talk about it yesterday. Yesterday’s report from the OSCE established the trolley bus was likely destroyed by a mortar or rocket coming from a northwestern direction. Based on this information alone, it isn’t possible to definitively conclude who was responsible. Obviously, we would condemn, of course, the attacks, the impact on the local population, and certainly we continue to call on all sides to take every precaution to prevent the loss of lives.
QUESTION: Do you know if Secretary Kerry has any Ukraine-related meetings?
MS. PSAKI: Bilateral meetings?
QUESTION: Phone calls?
MS. PSAKI: Let me see if there are any calls –
QUESTION: Given – I mean, just – your comments at the top were very – were quite strong, and it evinced a more particular concern perhaps than you have had in the past for that situation, so —
MS. PSAKI: As you know, he met with EU High Representative Mogherini yesterday, and certainly they talked about —
QUESTION: Right, but I mean with Russian or Ukrainian officials.
MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t have any calls I have to read out. He’s also had a pretty back-to-back schedule over the course of the last two days.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Do you have any more on Ukraine before we continue? New topic? Happy Friday?
Go ahead. Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Sorry, very short.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure. I think you’re referring to – and tell me if I’m correct here – some comments that were made by Bolivian Government officials. We welcome the recent comments by the Bolivian Government concerning their interest in strengthening the bilateral relationship. There are a number of areas in which we find common ground with Bolivia, including the environment, commerce, rule of law, and education.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the impeachment of the former Thai prime minister and the ban on her participation in politics?
MS. PSAKI: I think I have a little bit of something. Let me see. We have previously expressed our concerns about the political situation in Thailand. In that context, the United States takes note of the appointed legislative body’s decision to impeach retroactively former Prime Minister Yingluck. We also have noted the separate criminal charges that have been filed against her this week. We believe that the impartial administration of justice and rule of law is essential for equitable governance and a just society. We believe it is a matter for the Thai people to determine the legitimacy of their political and judicial processes. Assistant Secretary Russel is visiting Bangkok next Monday where he will meet with political leaders on all sides, civil society leaders, and others and will also discuss our current – our concern for the situation in Thailand directly with the government.
QUESTION: I believe that his trip will be the most senior – he will be the most senior U.S. official to visit since the coup. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That may be right, Matt. I’m happy to double-check with our team if that’s correct.
QUESTION: Can you, and can you also – I’ve forgotten what the consequence was or whether there was any for U.S. assistance —
MS. PSAKI: Well, there were some impacts on assistance.
QUESTION: Could you just —
MS. PSAKI: We can certainly recirculate that to all of you if you’d like.
QUESTION: All right. And then I just have one more, and apologies if you have addressed this previously.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
MS. PSAKI: I actually have not addressed this. I would keep your expectations low.
MS. PSAKI: We are aware of the allegations against President Kirchner, but as this is an ongoing investigation, we have no comment on the specifics and refer inquiries to the Argentine Government. The United States and the international community continue to work with the Argentine Government as well as victims of the AMIA bombing and their families to seek justice.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I’m less interested in what you had to – what you think about what the prosecutor was saying than about his sudden and untimely death apparently at the hands of someone other than himself.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s an ongoing investigation that remains applicable as well, Matt. I would say, just since you’ve given me the opportunity, we express our deepest sorrow for the tragic death of Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman and extend our most sincerest condolences to his family. He courageously devoted much of his professional life to pursuing the perpetrators of the 1994 terrorist attacks on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and injured hundreds. Judicial authorities are investigating his death, and we call for a complete and impartial investigation. For over 20 years, the United States, we have continued to work closely with the international community and the Argentine Government seeking justice.
QUESTION: As you know, there’s widespread suspicion that Iran had played a role in this attack. Does the United States share that?
MS. PSAKI: There’s an investigation by Argentine authorities. We’re just not going to weigh in or speculate.
QUESTION: And does that include any potential Iranian hand in his death?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to speculate in any aspect of his death.
MS. PSAKI: On the Cuba talks?
MS. PSAKI: Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson gave a press conference today. She gave one yesterday. So I would certainly point you to both of those for more specific details.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Forgive me if you already addressed this, but this barrel bomb today in – just outside of Damascus in (inaudible), have you issued any statement or any condemnation?
MS. PSAKI: We haven’t, but it’s a good question. Let me talk to our team so we can get you all some comments on that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay? Great. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)