Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – March 18, 2015

1:26 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.

QUESTION:  Hi.

QUESTION:  Hello.

MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Good afternoon.  I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.  We welcome Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic and Minister of Defense Bratislav Gasic’s visit to NATO headquarters today to finalize Serbia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO.  This represents an important step in the growing cooperation between NATO and the Republic of Serbia.  Serbia has been a valued member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program since 2006, and the finalization of the Individual Partnership Action Plan agreement will allow Serbia to enhance its cooperation with NATO on issues of common interest and mutual benefit. 

The United States – on Georgia.  The United States does not recognize the legitimacy of the so-called treaty signed today between the Russian Federation and Georgia’s occupied region of South Ossetia.  Neither this agreement nor the one signed with Abkhazia in November 2014 constitutes a valid international agreement.  The occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are integral parts of Georgia, and we continue to support Georgia’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.  We are especially concerned that the signing of this so-called treaty occurred on the same day the Geneva international discussions on the conflict in Georgia – the same day of the international discussions on the conflict in Georgia – excuse me – which seek to achieve concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues.  We call on Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement.

On the OAS, the United States congratulates former Foreign Minister Luis Almagro of Uruguay on his election today to serve as secretary general of the Organization of American States.  Deputy Secretary of State Blinken was at the OAS to vote and congratulated Mr. Almagro.  We look forward to working together with the new secretary general to reform and strengthen the OAS and preserve its leadership role in advancing our regional commitment to democracy, human right, development, and security cooperation in accordance with the principles enshrined in the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter

I also wanted to make sure all of you had seen, finally, the statement we put out from the Secretary on the attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunisia as well today, so that should be in all of your inboxes.

With that, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION:  Sure.  There’s a lot to get to today, and I want to get back to Georgia, but let’s start – why don’t – can you, just for the record, read the statement from Secretary Kerry?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  “The United States condemns” – and this was in his words – “in the strongest possible terms today’s deadly terrorist attack at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, where gunmen killed 19 people and wounded more than 20 others.”  I will just note those numbers were based on the prime minister’s numbers he gave at his press conference.  “We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones.  We commend Tunisian authorities’ rapid response to today’s wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm.  The United States stands with the Tunisian people at this difficult time and continues to support the Tunisian Government’s efforts to advance a secure, pperous, and democratic Tunisia.”

QUESTION:  Okay.  So before getting into broader questions about what this might mean for U.S.-Tunisia relations, can you – are there any implications security-wise for the embassy or American Government personnel in Tunisia as a result of this attack?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you may have seen that we also put out an emergency message from our Embassy to inform them – to alert U.S. citizens to an ongoing security situation around the Bardo Museum in downtown Tunis.  The Embassy remains open and is located 10 miles from the museum.  All – excuse me – employees have been accounted for, informed of the situation, and urged to avoid the museum and surrounding vicinity.

QUESTION:  And to the best of your knowledge, none of the victims of this attack in the museum, or connected to the museum attack, were American citizens.  Correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  We’re not aware of any U.S. citizens being among those killed or injured in today’s attack.  I would also note that the prime minister said during a press conference earlier today that German, Italian, Spanish, and Polish tourists were among those killed.

QUESTION:  Okay.  More broadly, Tunisia has been considered for some time a success story, one of the few to arise from the Arab Spring.  It was the birthplace of the whole – of the Arab Spring.  And I’m just wondering if this attack gives you pause in holding up Tunisia as a success story.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, this horrific attack, Matt, happened just this morning.  There haven’t been any claims of responsibility at this point.  Obviously, while we mourn those who are lost, I don’t think we’re at the point of drawing conclusions about what it means.  Certainly, we also would commend, as I did – or the Secretary did in his statement, the rapid response of the authorities in this case as well.  Certainly, we’ll be continuing to engage with authorities there and our counterparts there to discuss what this means moving forward.

QUESTION:  It has been pointed out, though, that Tunisia is the source of quite a few recruits to ISIS or ISIL.  And I’m just wondering if this – if you don’t suspect or see any link between that fact and this attack.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we just don’t want to draw any conclusions at this point.  Tunisian authorities and the government have the lead.  Certainly, we’ll be in touch with them and hear more about what their findings are.

QUESTION:  Jen, from a security point of view, is the United States treating this as an isolated incident or as part of a pattern that is likely to grow?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, Said, this just happened this morning.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  There have been no claims of responsibility, so we’re not going to draw any conclusions at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But up to this point, was, let’s say, Tunisia or Tunis – Tunisia was considered as a high-risk area for U.S. diplomats or medium?  I don’t know what.  Medium-security risk?  How do you – how do you do it now?  How do you treat it now?

MS. PSAKI:  I think, again, Said, we put out information out publicly.  We make that available. We haven’t changed or re-categorized or anything along those lines in response to the attacks.  We obviously do provide emergency messages or put out emergency messages whenever incidents like this occur.

Any more on this before we continue? 

QUESTION:  Second thing —

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  — having to do with security is this news coming out of Tokyo about alleged threats against Ambassador Kennedy.  Can you say any more than what you said in your earlier comments, written comments?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more to convey.  I’m happy to repeat those or reiterate those.

QUESTION:  Sure.

MS. PSAKI:  We take any threats to U.S. diplomats seriously.  We take every step possible to protect our personnel.  We are working with the Japanese Government to ensure that necessary security measures are in place, which is something we would do and continue to do around the world.  We’re not going to comment on the specific details of any threats or steps we take to address them.

QUESTION:  Can you not at least say – confirm what the Japanese reports are that whatever threat this was or whatever it was happened last month and is not something that is recent, like within the last day or two, and more specifically after the attack on Ambassador Lippert in Seoul?

MS. PSAKI:  I certainly understand your question.  I would have to check with our team and see what we can confirm from this end.  Obviously, we often defer to host governments, but we also are very careful about what information we provide in order to protect our diplomats.  But I can check on that and get back to you after the briefing.

QUESTION:  Jen, given – excuse me.  Given that the First Lady arrived today in Tokyo and these reports emerged today, although I believe they were – the threats were made previously, last month as Matt said.  Has it changed in any way the security posture surrounding the First Lady?

MS. PSAKI:  I would point you to the White House and I think it’s unlikely they’d discuss the First Lady’s security posture. 

QUESTION:  In the embassy, though.

QUESTION:  The embassy.

MS. PSAKI:  The embassy?  No, there has not been changes to our embassy security posture.

QUESTION:  Has there been any change in the security posture at the embassy post the attack in Seoul on Ambassador Lippert, any sort of review of these low-threat posts?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Justin, we evaluate day by day, week by week, separate from the awful attack against Ambassador Lippert.  We don’t discuss that publicly because that would defeat the purpose of doing a security review or making any changes as would be necessary.  If there are changes that are necessary, we will work with host governments to put them in place.

QUESTION:  Can you put this maybe in perspective to us?  I mean, from what we take from the reports, it was basically a caller who made threats.  Does this happen a lot at U.S. embassies?  I mean, is this just one we happen to be hearing about, in other words, where you get these types of threats?  Is this an unusual threat in any way?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to confirm what the threats are or are not, just as a matter of policy.  I certainly understand why you’re asking the question.  Obviously, we deal with threats around the world every day.  That’s something that we are prepared to do and our diplomats serving overseas are prepared to do, but I’m not going to analyze it more further. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  So you’d you say that, for example, similar phone calls aren’t being received in Ouagadougou or Abuja?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, Roz, it’s clear that there are parts of the world that pose a higher threat where diplomats are living and working.  And certainly, they’re aware of that when they go take those positions, and that’s something we talk about frequently here.

QUESTION:  Does she have security when she leaves the embassy?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details I can share about the ambassador’s security.

QUESTION:  Not even to say that she has security?  I mean, because one of the criticisms about Lippert was that he had one unarmed guard, local guard.  So you couldn’t characterize that she even has security?

MS. PSAKI:  I can certainly check if there’s more we’d like to discuss about the ambassador’s security.

QUESTION:  It is correct, though, that neither Seoul nor Tokyo is considered particularly high risk?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  Yes, that’s right.  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Can I just check since we’re talking about threats, I understand there was some news just happening as we were coming in that the embassy in Djibouti has been closed.  Or —

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have —

QUESTION:  — or shuttered or some – I’m not exactly sure – services suspended?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything on that at this moment.  Jo, I’m sure we can get you something immediately following.

QUESTION:  It’s tomorrow and they say that it’s – they’re going to close to the public to review their security posture.  So the question that I think that we would like answered is:  Was there a specific threat at the embassy or is this just a – I mean, embassies do this relatively often —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  — just routinely close down.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  But they also sometimes do this when there is a threat.

MS. PSAKI:  Understood.  I will check and I’m happy to take that question.

QUESTION:  And then following up on that, we also had the – we’ve had for the last few days the Embassy in Saudi Arabia has been closed. 

MS. PSAKI:  In Saudi Arabia?  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Has there been any change in that position?  Is it reopening?  Can you tell us anything?

MS. PSAKI:  They put out a new security message – I believe it was two days ago, on the 16th – making clear that it will continue to be closed.  They will put out a new one when they reopen.  I don’t have any prediction for you in terms of when that will be.

QUESTION:  Change topics?

QUESTION:  Yeah, let’s go to the Israeli election.  So —

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.  I bet that’s what you want to ask about, Said.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  The Secretary’s phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu, can you elucidate us?  Is that the right – I don’t know if that’s the right word.  Can you —

MS. PSAKI:  Justin is shaking his head over here.

QUESTION:  It’s not —

QUESTION:  Fact check, I don’t know.

QUESTION:  No, I don’t – I think that’s wrong.  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  Google that.

QUESTION:  Can you give us a readout of what I’m sure was a very warm and lengthy congratulatory phone call with the Secretary?

MS. PSAKI:  It was a brief phone call.

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Secretary Kerry called the prime minister this morning to congratulate him.  Given there is an ongoing government formation process, they did not discuss substantive issues.  So the purpose of the call was to congratulate him on the election.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So you contradicted me when I said it was lengthy.  I also said it was warm.  Would you care to dispute that?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to characterize the tone of the call, Matt.  I was not on the call with them.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I understand.  But still, I mean, did he just say – I mean, did he just call to say, “Hey, congratulations”?

MS. PSAKI:  That would be a pretty accurate summary.

QUESTION:  “And please believe me when I say that I’m congratulating you”?

MS. PSAKI:  (Laughter.)  I think he called to congratulate him.  That was the purpose of the call.

QUESTION:  Can you give us any indication of what the prime minister’s response was?

MS. PSAKI:  I am sure you can ask that question of the Israeli Government.

QUESTION:  Well, I – right, I’m sure we will.  But I mean, was this a – was this call welcomed by the prime minister, or is it one of those things that he was like, “Oh, God, I’ve got to take this call from Secretary Kerry”?

MS. PSAKI:  I think most congratulatory calls are welcomed, but I could be wrong, though —

QUESTION:  But, Jen, in the past you have described various other calls to other people who have been elected as warm.  I mean, “We warmly congratulate.”  Why would the —

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t —

QUESTION:  — adjective be missing this time around?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t read into it, Jo.  It’s just a simple congratulatory call.  Those are typically meant and happen after elections.  It was not more extensive than that.

QUESTION:  Is there any reason why —

QUESTION:  Beyond congratulations, Jen, now that Mr. Netanyahu won, presumably on – by a decisive mandate, on the premise of not ever allowing a Palestinian state, what – one, what is your plan on this track and on the peace process?  And second, when the Palestinians go before the United Nations, as they will, will you cast a veto or will you not cast a veto?

MS. PSAKI:  Well —

QUESTION:  Seeking recognition from the international community.

MS. PSAKI:  — we are not going to get ahead of any decisions about what the United States would do with regard to potential action at the United – UN Security Council.  I will reiterate that it has long been the position of the United States under Republican and Democratic presidents, and it has been the position of successive Israeli governments, that only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both peoples.  A two-state solution is the only way for the next Israeli Government to secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.  We believe that it’s in the best interests of the United States, Israel, and the region. 

The prime minister, as we all know, in his comments earlier this week indicated that he is no longer committed to pursuing this approach.  Based on the prime minister’s comments, the United States is in a position going forward where we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to achieve a two-state solution.  Obviously, I’m not going to prejudge at this point what that means.

QUESTION:  I understand.  But will you be a part of, let’s say, an international effort in this case to realize a Palestinian state?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to prejudge what that means, Said.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Let me —

QUESTION:  Can I —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  — just follow up very quickly on a couple more issues —

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  — on this thing.  Now, the Palestinians are really considering dissolving the PA simply because it is bankrupt and it’s unable to pay any salaries or anything or even to perform its function.  So in this case, what do you advise the Palestinians to do?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we remain very concerned about the continued viability of the Palestinian Authority if they do not receive funds soon, either in terms of the resumption of monthly Israeli transfers of Palestinian tax revenues or additional donor assistance.  The election just happened yesterday, as all of you know, so obviously we have not yet had the chance to discuss these issues with them.

Roz.

QUESTION:  That was going to be my question.  The lead Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told anyone who would listen yesterday that it’s basically – the Palestinians basically have no choice now except to try to pursue recognition for an independent country outside of this framework, this negotiating framework.  Have there been any discussions in the last 24 hours with President Abbas, with Mr. Erekat —

MS. PSAKI:  No.

QUESTION:  — with anyone else?  Are there plans to have discussions about how to proceed, given that any such conversations realistically can’t be held with anyone in the Israeli Government until a new government has actually been seated?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to make predictions.  Obviously, Roz, we have regular discussions with representatives of the Palestinian Authority just like we have regular discussions with the Israelis.  I’m also not going to prejudge what we would or wouldn’t do depending on what actions are taken.  So it just – the elections just happened yesterday.  I’m sure we’ll continue to discuss where we go from here.

QUESTION:  Is there an opportunity to reestablish some level of trust among the Palestinians that the U.S. is concerned about their aspirations to have an independent homeland?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think we’ve consistently stated that that is our position and that is our view, so there really should be no confusion about that.

QUESTION:  But is it not correct to say that given the prime minister’s stance that he unveiled in the last few days before the vote, that would seem to make it much more difficult now for your two-state solution to come into being?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think that’s why I just stated that given the prime minister’s comments, we’re in a position going forward where we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to achieve a two-state solution.  Now our position remains that we continue to believe that the preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly.  But certainly, while that’s been our position, obviously the prime minister’s position has changed.

QUESTION:  So how are you going to do that without Israel on board?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to prejudge what we’ll do.  The election was yesterday.  Those comments were made two days ago.  So I’m sure we’ll continue to discuss.

QUESTION:  When you say you’re going to reevaluate the approach to how best to bring about a two-state solution, implicit in that, I think, but I just want to make sure, is that you are still going to push for a two-state solution.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION:  How exactly are you going to do that if one of the parties to the two-state solution is pushing back?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, we’ll remain in touch with key stakeholders to find a way forward.  We’re not quite there yet.

QUESTION:  Well, no kidding you’re not there yet.  You’re further away from it now than you have been probably ever before, because now you have a prime minister who’s been reelected or is about, looks like he’s about to form a government, who says that a two-state solution is not what is in the best interest of Israel.  So how —

MS. PSAKI:  I understand that.  That’s why I said we’re going to be evaluating.

QUESTION:  But I mean, trying over and over and over again the same approach which doesn’t work and is not going to lead to your – it was often said during the last iteration of peace talks that the U.S. can’t want a solution more than the two parties do.  And now —

MS. PSAKI:  That remains true.

QUESTION:  Well, right, but it doesn’t look like – one of the parties now says it’s absolutely opposed to that.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, we’re aware.  That’s why I addressed those comments.

QUESTION:  But I don’t understand.  What’s the point of reevaluating it then if you’re – if there’s no way you’re going to achieve it?  Or are you hoping that the prime minister maybe changes his mind, that this was just some kind of campaign rhetoric that he used to drum up support?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m just not going to outline the options, Matt, but obviously, we’re aware of the comments.  Certainly, the fact that he’s changed his position is – has an impact and we’re certainly aware of that.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then more broadly, we’re now in a situation where the Government of the United States and the Government of Israel are diametrically opposed on two extremely significant security – national, international security issues: the Iran negotiations and the Middle East peace process, such as is, was, or will be.  Are you concerned at all that this is – that we find ourselves in a situation where the President and the prime minister of Israel are at such loggerheads on two of the most – two issues that the U.S. has traditionally regarded as being extremely important?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, I think no matter what government is formed – that’s obviously the process that they’re in now – we will continue our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel.  This close security cooperation is essential to the security of the Israeli people and it certainly is in the interests of the United States.  We’ve been long familiar with the views of the prime minister on Iran.  We don’t think that his win has impacted the Iran negotiations or will.  Certainly, his recent comments on opposition to the Palestinians having a state have caused us to evaluate our approach moving forward.  But beyond that, there are issues we work together on that we will continue to.

QUESTION:  So the security relationship will stay the same regardless of this?  That’s what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Did you answer – in response to the question earlier if the United States would continue to – given these two huge disagreements now, will the United States continue to be Israel’s protector at the UN and other fora?  You may have answered that, or in response to the earlier question.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, what I said was we’re not going to prejudge what steps – any decision about what the United States may do at the UN.  Obviously, Said has asked in the past about the ICC.  We’ve said previously, we’ve made clear our opposition to Palestinian efforts to join the ICC – to join the statute of the ICC.  This does nothing to further the aspiration of the Palestinian people.  We still believe, obviously, that a negotiation between the two parties is the preferred outcome.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  But we’ll continue to discuss these issues moving forward.

QUESTION:  All right.  Well, that’s on the ICC.  What about on a Security Council resolution that would call for a two-state solution?

MS. PSAKI:  As I said, we’re currently evaluating our approach.  We’re not going to prejudge what we would do if there was a UN action.

QUESTION:  So you’re leaving open the possibility that the United States – this Administration – would not use its veto to protect Israel from a Security Council resolution that the Israeli Government thinks is harmful to its country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the prime minister’s recent statements call into question his commitment to a two-state solution.  I think we all agree on that point.  But that doesn’t mean that we’ve made a decision about changing our position with respect to the UN.  I have nothing to outline for you on that today.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So —

QUESTION:  Can we talk about some of the language that was used during the campaign two days ago, three days ago?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  And Netanyahu complained about the number of Arab Israeli citizens who were going to vote?

MS. PSAKI:  I spoke to this yesterday.

QUESTION:  Yes, well, I wanted to follow up on this.  Your colleague told reporters while traveling with the President – and I’m quoting Josh Earnest – “The U.S. and this Administration are deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens.  It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the U.S. and Israel together.”  He went on to say that he did not know whether Secretary Kerry, in his brief phone call, had conveyed the U.S.’s concern about this kind of language.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that sounds similar to what I said yesterday, and perhaps he wasn’t – they weren’t asked about it at the White House yesterday, and I can reiterate that from here.

QUESTION:  No, this is on today’s trip.

MS. PSAKI:  Secretary – I know, but —

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  — I addressed this issue —

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  — the same issue yesterday, is what I’m referring to.

QUESTION:  Right, but do you – but —

MS. PSAKI:  And let me finish.

QUESTION:  Sure.

MS. PSAKI:  And what Josh said is consistent with what I said yesterday.  So that’s the point I’m making.  Second, as I said, the Secretary’s call was to express congratulations.  It was not a call where they discussed substance.

QUESTION:  But is there a plan to actually discuss this kind of language?  It has angered many people, both Arab and Jewish, inside Israel as well as alarmed people in the region.  Does the U.S. intend to raise this point with Prime Minister Netanyahu about whether this is actually helpful to leading his country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Roz, I’m sure there will be additional calls and I’m sure we’ll do readouts of them at the appropriate time.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Jen, just a quick follow-up.  Having listened to what Mr. Netanyahu said about the two-state solution, do you still consider him a partner for peace in this operation?

MS. PSAKI:  I think I’ve addressed this question, Said.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Let me just ask you one last question on this issue.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you still consider the West Bank to be militarily occupied territory?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve addressed this in the past too, Said.

QUESTION:  Do you – I’d like to hear it again.  Do you still —

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve addressed it.  Do we have a new topic?

QUESTION:  South Asia?

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Why don’t you go ahead in the striped shirt there.

QUESTION:  Okay.  On Crimea, yesterday, you issued a statement, but can you —

MS. PSAKI:  On Crimea?

QUESTION:  On Crimea, one-year anniversary since —

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — Russia’s annexation.  Can you repeat the message and then what’s the U.S. position on this annexation of Crimea?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we continue to believe that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.  Ukraine is a sovereign country, and we believe the respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and all of its people is central to the discussions that are ongoing now.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  On South Asia?

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  A number of questions, starting with Sri Lanka.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Indian prime minister was in Sri Lanka, and as far as rebuilding Sri Lanka is concerned, he committed hundreds of thousands of homes to be built and also millions of dollars from the Indian community and the Indian Government.  What is the U.S. position as far as, under the new government in Sri Lanka, rebuilding ethnic communities, and of course, in the whole Sri Lanka?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have details on this in front of me.  Obviously, we’re supportive of efforts to rebuild communities.  We can see if there’s more to convey.

QUESTION:  And one on Pakistan.  As far as —

MS. PSAKI:  I think we have to move on.  Go ahead, Pam.

QUESTION:  At the ALBA summit in Venezuela, Latin American leaders, including Raul Castro, voiced their support for Venezuela’s rejection of the new U.S. sanctions.  First of all, what is State’s reaction?  And then secondly, what is your reaction, especially considering this comes at a time when we are in the midst of trying to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the focus of the discussions with Cuba during the ongoing efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations and to discuss the reopening of the embassies are on those exact issues.  We understand several regional leaders met yesterday in Caracas to discuss the U.S. sanctions and the executive order released March 9th.  We have outlined the reasons for this action, and that is something we convey publicly and privately, that it was an appropriate exercise of U.S. sovereignty with respect to our visas and our financial system.  The sanctions are directed at individuals who committed human rights abuses and undermined democratic government, not at the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan economy, and that’s certainly what we will continue to convey.

QUESTION:  But does this kind of public support muddy the waters in terms of Cuba’s statements, considering it’s coming at a time when you’re trying to re-establish ties?

MS. PSAKI:  Does it muddy the waters in what capacity?

QUESTION:  In terms of U.S. negotiations with Cuba, in that Cuba is also voicing support for Venezuela and taking a stance against the U.S. sanctions.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the focus of our discussions with the Cuban Government are on reopening our embassy.  They’re on re-establishing diplomatic relations.  That’s what the discussions were focused on when Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson was there for talks two days ago, and that’s what we expect them to continue to be focused on.  It doesn’t mean we agree on every issue.

QUESTION:  Is there an update on the situation with the number of U.S. diplomats in Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s not an update.  I know there was a deadline, so to speak, earlier this week.  But there are ongoing discussions, so there isn’t a public update at this point in time.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to know if you were able to get a fuller readout of the talks in Havana that ended —

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details to add.

QUESTION:  — and whether or not the issue of Venezuela was raised during them.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more to add.

Any more on Cuba before we continue?  Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION:  One on Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  What will the focus of the talks when the Secretary hosts Afghan president and CEO next week?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I expect we will be doing a preview call, probably on Friday, so I will point you to that.  Obviously, it’s an opportunity to have discussions about a range of issues, including our strategic, our security, our diplomatic, and our economic relationship, but we’ll be previewing more substantially on Friday.

QUESTION:  And will there be any participation from Pakistan’s side in these talks?  Is there any level of participation from them?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t believe so, no.

QUESTION:  I wondered if you could just answer the question about why it was decided to hold the talks in Camp David.  Was there a particular reason?  I mean, it’s unusual.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s certainly —

QUESTION:  It’s beautiful in the Catoctin Mountains in spring.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Yes, I’m sure it is beautiful.

MS. PSAKI:  And a beautiful drive.  It’s —

QUESTION:  A not-so-beautiful drive.

MS. PSAKI:  It is an opportunity, I think, and it’s been used, as you know, historically many times in the past to have dialogues about a range of important issues.  So it just certainly signifies how important we think this relationship is and how vital we think these talks will be.

QUESTION:  So do we expect some historic results out of these meetings (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  I wouldn’t put it in those terms.  I think, obviously, Abdullah and Ghani – sorry – coming to the United States and the United States hosting a couple days of meetings next week is significant and is just an indication of how important we see the relationship is and how committed we are to the future of Afghanistan.

QUESTION:  I have one more question on —

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Would you expect, just on Afghanistan —

MS. PSAKI:  To host it at Camp David?

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI:  I’m fascinated by the focus on this, but I think it’s just – it’s been used, as you all know, many times historically for a range of discussions about a range of topics.  And certainly, we supported the idea and were part of the discussion in terms of where to host the meetings.  The Secretary will be hosting the meetings on Monday at Camp David on behalf of the President.  Obviously, there’ll be additional meetings, and as I mentioned, we’ll be previewing those later this week.

QUESTION:  And do you expect the troop levels to be sort of a main topic of discussion?

MS. PSAKI:  I think there’ll be a number of topics discussed, including the strategic relationship, including the economic relationship.  Obviously, as I mentioned, again, we’ll be previewing this later this week.

QUESTION:  What is the State Department’s view on the drawdown of troops?  Because the President is reviewing right now the pace, the pace of the drawdown of troops.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as many of you know, President Obama and President Ghani have had regular discussions on the security transition and peace and reconciliation processes in Afghanistan, and obviously, we’re planning for President Ghani’s upcoming visit to Washington next week.  President Ghani has requested some flexibility in the troop drawdown timeline and base closure sequencing over the next two years, and we’re actively considering this request.  General Campbell – and this is all known – but has developed recommendations to enhance the training, advising, and assisting of the Afghan National Security Forces, the maintenance of appropriate counterterrorism capabilities, and ways to manage the – ways to manage in a way that prioritizes force protection for our troops.  These discussions remain ongoing.  No decisions have been made.  Next week is an opportunity to continue to have discussions.

QUESTION:  But the Secretary is open to the idea of being flexible on troop levels in Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I think these are proposals that have been put out there by General Campbell.  This is a decision the President of the United States would make.  I’m not going to further preview or lay out any discussions happening among the national security team. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  One more.  One more.  Have the Afghans raised any concern about their potentially being at risk of being infiltrated by ISIL recruiters?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think the Afghans themselves have spoken to this, so I would point you to their comments.  We believe that the nascent presence of ISIL in Afghanistan represents a rebranding of a few marginalized Taliban, but we’re still taking this potential threat with its dangerous rhetoric seriously.  We’re working closely with the Afghan Government to evaluate the dynamic nature of this fledgling network.  And the potential emergence of ISIL represents an additional opportunity to bring the Afghans and the Pakistanis together to confront this common threat.

QUESTION:  You just used the word “fledgling.”  You mean in Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  It certainly isn’t fledgling in Iraq and Syria.

MS. PSAKI:  I mean in Afghanistan, yes.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION:  On Syria —

MS. PSAKI:  On Afghanistan?  Well, let’s —

QUESTION:  Yeah, just quickly.

MS. PSAKI:  I think we have to keep going here.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION:  Sorry —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I didn’t hear, but that’s my fault —

MS. PSAKI:  It’s okay, go ahead.

QUESTION:  — did you – your response to Lalit’s question about whether there’d be any Pakistani involvement in the talks next week?

MS. PSAKI:  Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  So members of the Syrian military are claiming they shot down a U.S. drone over Latakia.  Is there any official clarification from the Syrian Government about that?  Are they really claiming they shot this down?   The Pentagon hasn’t been able to confirm that it was, in fact, shot down.  Do you have anything on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can confirm, as I’m sure you may have from the Pentagon, and certainly they’d be the lead on this, that yesterday U.S. military controllers lost contact with an unarmed remotely-piloted aircraft operating over northwest Syria.  The Department of Defense is looking into the incident, will provide more details when available.  Obviously, I don’t have more in terms of the Syrian Government’s comments or public comments or what they may mean.

QUESTION:  Right.  Because people see it as a little odd, because Syria – the Syrian military has taken sort of a passive approach to U.S. air presence in the region.  So it would come as a surprise to you, would it not, if they had in fact shot this out of the sky?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we don’t have any confirmation at this point.  As you know, the Department of Defense would be the ones who would issue that.  Of course, we’ll continue to look into the incident and the circumstances surrounding it, and we, of course, reiterate our warning to the Assad regime not to interfere with U.S. aerial assets over Syria. 

More on Syria?

QUESTION:  Iraq.

MS. PSAKI:  Iraq?  Sure.

QUESTION:  Well, just —

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION:  Then you’re issuing a warning not to do that, so if it’s —

MS. PSAKI:  We would reiterate.  It’s something we’ve done many times. 

QUESTION:  You – okay.  So if they did in fact shoot it down, what does – what comes with that warning?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Justin, there’s no confirmation of that, so I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole with you. 

QUESTION:  We’ll check back.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  We’ll keep talking about it.

QUESTION:  Maybe first on Syria and then on Iraq. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  On Syria, I think last week, State Department’s officials met with one of the Syrian Kurdish representative, cantons’ representative to Europe, Sinem Muhammed.  Do you have anything?  What was the result of the – those meetings?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t.  I can certainly check with our team and see if we have any readout of it.

QUESTION:  But you have met with her on discussing the humanitarian —

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

QUESTION:  Okay.  On Iraq, it’s been for five days the U.S. presidential envoy General Allen and Brett McGurk were in Iraq talking about the stabilization efforts.  And General Allen is – he was talking about that there will be a working group will be formed by Germany and United Arab Emirates to working on this stabilization effort.  What is this stabilization (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me get you a little bit of – let me go through a little bit of a readout of their meetings in Germany and Turkey, so let’s start there.   Today Special Presidential Envoy General John Allen and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy Ambassador Brett McGurk were in – participated in the inaugural meeting of the Coalition Stabilization Working Group.  Today’s discussion centered on ways the coalition can support Iraq-led efforts to prioritize, plan, and sequence recovery and stabilization efforts that will follow clearing operations as Iraqi communities are liberated from ISIL, including the urgent need for police and security forces, humanitarian assistance, and restoration of essential services like medical care, water, and electricity.  So there’s the focus of what their first meeting was on, to answer your question.

General Allen and Ambassador McGurk also had a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Steinmeier to broadly review coalition efforts.  Last night, they also had constructive talks with the under secretary in Turkey in Ankara on our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL.  General Allen welcomes Turkey’s support in training vetted Syrian opposition, noted recent Turkish actions to increase border security and restrict the flow of foreign fighters, and thanked Turkey for its geneity in hosting Syrian and Iraqi refugees displaced by violence.

General Allen also reiterated that the United States position on Assad has not changed.  The United States believes that he has lost all legitimacy to govern, that conditions in Syria under his rule have led to the rise of ISIL and other terrorist groups, and that we continue to seek and negotiate a political outcome to the Syrian conflict.  They also discussed a number of ways in which the United States and Turkey can enhance our cooperation.

QUESTION:  This stabilization effort, is it an Iraqi-led operation, or it’s international or it’s U.S.?  What is this?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think this was the first meeting.  I can certainly see if there are more details to share with you.

QUESTION:  And there is – he mentioned – (inaudible) quoted at General Allen’s speech:  “Stabilization operations can be expensive and require dedicated resources.  We applaud the inclusion in the budget of $2 billion for the recovery funding and support for the displaced Iraqi.”  This is $2 billion U.S. money or Iraqi money?

MS. PSAKI:  I can certainly check on more details of this.  Do you have any more questions?

QUESTION:  No, that’s it.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I want to return briefly to the whole email and attendant – former Secretary Clinton’s email and attendant issues.  One, are you aware or do you know if the Department has responded to this letter from the National Archives?

MS. PSAKI:  I believe we just received it, so I’m not aware of a response yet.  I’m sure that we will be responding.

QUESTION:  Can you answer the question – well, it’s not really a question, but the – apparently, the – one of the sentences in it is that NARA, the National Record – Archives, is concerned that federal records may have been alienated from the Department of State’s official recordkeeping systems.  Is that concern warranted?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure what that’s a reference to.  I’d like to talk to our team and see if there’s more we can say in the response to the letter.  I’m sure we’ll be responding to the letter formally.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then just – I’m just wondering if you were – if you’re able today to go back to – even back beyond two previous secretaries on the separation statement matter.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve looked into, as I mentioned, recent secretaries.  I’m not sure we’re going to be delving that much farther.  But I can give you a little bit more information on the context here.  Secretary —

QUESTION:  This would – sorry, this would be why it was not required or mandatory for secretaries of state to —

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, correct.  Secretaries of State often do not sign this form, as it is a step to revoking their own security clearance.  There’s a long tradition of secretaries of state making themselves available to future secretaries and presidents, and secretaries are typically allowed to maintain their security clearance and access to their own records for use in writing their memoirs and the like.  Hence, this is not a form that many would have signed.

QUESTION:  Well, how long does that last for?  Like, does former Secretary Kissinger still have his security clearance from 1970 —

MS. PSAKI:  You’d have to check with former Secretary Kissinger, though the Secretary of State currently does enjoy speaking with him about a range of issues.

QUESTION:  Right.  No, I know.  It’s not a joke question.  I’m —

MS. PSAKI:  I understand your question.  I can’t speak to whether or not every past secretary still maintains, but it is something that there’s a long tradition of, and certainly we think it’s valuable to the American people.

QUESTION:  And does that apply to other officials other than the Secretary of State, other senior officials like deputies?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m just referring to the secretaries of state.  I don’t have more information beyond that.

QUESTION:  Well, you’re – okay, let’s take you as an example.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  You’re about to leave the State Department.  You expect to sign a separation paper, but you will not have your security clearance revoked or surrendered because you’ll presumably still have it when you – at your next job.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not leaving the federal government, so I’m not sure I’m the best example.

QUESTION:  Okay, so – all right, so – okay.  Let’s – you’re right, you’re not the best example.  (Laughter.)  So let’s come up with employee X —

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — who is in a position that is similar grade-wise, seniority-wise, rank-wise to you.  Does that person have the option not to sign one of these things so that he or she may go off and write his memoir, however much it might be – there might be interest in such a memoir?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, with all due respect to employee X, I think this is specific to a certain category of individuals.  I don’t have any more characterization of it than what I’ve offered.  Obviously, secretaries of state is an obvious category.

QUESTION:  So employee X is pretty much screwed if he or she wants to write a book based on his or her official correspondence, having access to it, if they have signed the separation paper and had security clearance —

MS. PSAKI:  I can’t speak to employee X.  I’m sure we deal with these things case by case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can we go back to the NARA letter?  You said – I just wanted to clarify.  You said that you’d just received it.  It looks like it was dated March 3rd.  Do you mean in the press office you’ve just received it, or the State Department has just received it?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details on it.  I can check on see.  We respond to these letters; I’m sure we will do that in this case.  I don’t have more details or more comment on the letter.

QUESTION:  Gotcha.  Well, it does ask that the State Department submit a report to NARA by April 30th.  So can you say whether that report is in the works, or —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that April 30th is over a month from now.  I don’t have any more details on what the report will be, what we will do.  I can see if there’s more we can offer.

QUESTION:  I think it’s actually a couple weeks from now, but —

QUESTION:  April 30th?

MS. PSAKI:  April —

QUESTION:  I’m sorry, April 3rd, I think.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I don’t have more details on the letter.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Do you know if it was delivered in a hard copy, or was it emailed?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have more details on that either.

QUESTION:  Because if it was emailed, then it might have gone – who knows where it might’ve —

MS. PSAKI:  Depends on when it was emailed, Matt.

QUESTION:  Can I ask about another letter that —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  — that was sent yesterday to Secretary Kerry by a group of nonprofit organizations concerned with government transparency and accountability?  They also expressed concern about Secretary Clinton’s email use and ask that the State Department undertake – first of all ask Secretary Clinton and her folks to turn over the emails in the electronic format that they were, I guess, generated in, and then also ask that the State Department personally or through a third party review all the emails to determine which ones were business-related.  Do you have any response to that?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve addressed these questions extensively from here.  I’m sure we will respond to the letter, but I don’t have any more comment on the letter, nor have I seen that letter.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then I just have one more on this.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The Center for Effective Government this week rated the State Department as the lowest-scoring federal agency in providing access to information.  Their report said that 17 percent of FOIA requests that were submitted to the State Department in 2013 were processed.  Do you have any reaction on that?  Is the State Department doing enough to respond to FOIA requests generally?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can give you a couple of things on this.  And I think this was from last week, if I recall, so we can see if there’s more of a substantive response we can offer.  One, often the State Department becomes the agency of first resort as it relates to any FOIA requests on national security issues.  There’s a great deal of interagency consultations that need to happen because there are many stakeholders that often are impacted by these type of requests.  That takes some time.  As you know, our process is typically “first in, first out.”  As you also know, we’ve had a number of requests we’ve had to address, including from members – from Congressional committees which we’ve been incredibly responsive to.  So that’s what I have to offer at this point in time, and we can see if there are more details we can offer.

QUESTION:  You might describe it as being incredibly responsive, but there are others, I think, who would disagree with that.  Whether they’re right or wrong, I’m – it’s not for me to judge, but I mean, really, “incredibly responsive?”  Is that what you —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think dozens of hearings, more than 40,000 pages of documents —

QUESTION:  You’re speaking of Benghazi here?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Oh.  So the list of organizations and groups filing FOIA requests for Secretary Clinton’s emails keeps getting longer and longer and longer.  I mean, today, I think it’s Friends of the Earth has filed one, seeking any emails about Keystone.  So everyone’s got their issue that they’re FOIA-ing things for.  Is this going to put an unbearable burden on the people who do this kind of thing?  Because there’s just going to be more and more and more of them.  Are you planning to hire anybody new or add staff, pull them off other things to go through these requests and go through the emails to make sure that you are responsive and you get off the list of deadbeat agencies when it comes to responding to —

MS. PSAKI:  I can check, Matt, and see if there’s any plan for that.  Not that I’m aware of at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Can we ask a quick question on Iran?  Do you have any readouts from today’s session?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have and I don’t expect that we will be giving day-by-day readouts, Roz.  As we have described earlier, the bilateral meetings have been difficult by constructive.  On the technical side, the discussions have been professional and fruitful in terms of identifying the technical issues – clarifying them, sharpening them, and looking at the options on the table for a potential agreement.  I don’t have anything else further to read out at this point in time.

QUESTION:  There’s one report quoting the Iranian foreign minister as saying it probably won’t get done this week, assuming that something is going to get done.  Would the U.S. concur with his assessment?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as I had mentioned yesterday, we are pushing forward as much as we can now to see what we can get done this week.  There are still a couple of days left.  As we’ve also said, the deadline is the end of the month.  That’s what we’re working toward.

QUESTION:  Can I just ask following up on Roz’s question?

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The Iranian foreign minister actually said that it was unlikely because otherwise you’d have all the other foreign ministers flying into town into Lausanne.  Is that your understanding that if there is a deal you will have a meeting with all the other P5+1 foreign ministers in town, wherever it might be?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t want to make a prediction of that.  We’re not at this point.  But certainly, it’s – it would be a discussion with the entire P5+1.  They’ve been a part of this process throughout.  So obviously, we’re not at that point yet.

QUESTION:  So the fact that there isn’t a discussion planned, as far as we know, for the next couple of days would indicate —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, they’re there for the next couple of days, so I don’t want to go out on a limb on what it indicates or doesn’t indicate.

QUESTION:  But there has been no call for a P5+1 foreign ministers meeting?

MS. PSAKI:  Not that has been announced, obviously.  Yes.

Mm-hmm.  Iran?

QUESTION:  No, human rights violations. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  There’s a report just came out today from the Human Rights Watch talking about the militia attacks destroyed villages.  It’s their reports about after liberation came destruction.  And I know that you’ve answered that question about that and the human rights abuse by the militias in Diyala and other areas, and U.S. sent delegations in the past to Baghdad and Erbil to check on that.  Have you got any result on those investigations that Prime Minister Abadi said he will conduct investigation on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, one, we understand that the prime minister’s office has responded to the Human Rights Watch report, noting that the legal measures were taken against individuals who committed human rights abuses in Amirli such as the destruction and looting of civilian property as well as those accused of kidnapping civilians.  So there has been action taken in that regard.  Obviously, there are newer reports we’ve spoken to recently that they are certainly looking into.

We can’t confirm the allegations in the Human Rights Watch report regarding potential abuses, but we agree that the long-term solution to the instability Iraq faces right now requires the political leadership to make the kinds of decision that’s – decisions that will unite the country and not promote sectarianism.

QUESTION:  One more question on Kurdistan.  I asked you about the arrest of several journalists in the city of Dohuk by the Kurdish authority.  One was released, another one is still being held by security forces.  Do you have any update?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve talked about this a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t have any update, but —

QUESTION:  I think you said you will get back to me, and I have not got any response.

MS. PSAKI:  We’re happy – we usually do, I think.  And you still ask the same questions even when we give you answers, so —

QUESTION:  But no —

MS. PSAKI:  — I’m happy to follow up on this and we’ll get you an answer —

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  — and we’ll see if you ask the question again. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, madam, thank you.  I had a quick question as far as the ethnic communities – number of communities in Pakistan are under attack, including Sindhis, Kashmir – Pakistan (inaudible) Kashmiri communities and also Hindus and Christians, of course.  What the U.S. is doing as far as these communities are concerned and for the first time in Geneva at the Human Rights Commission, Pakistan at world community, Kashmiris held demonstrations and they’re asking U.S. help and UN help.

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure we can have you connect with one of our experts on this issue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, madam.

QUESTION:  Just a quick question.  Do you have any comment on the shooting death of Dr. Afridi’s lawyer in Pakistan yesterday?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve certainly seen those reports.  I don’t have a comment in front of me.  Obviously, we can get something around to all of you.  It’s certainly something I think we would like to speak to.

QUESTION:  Sorry, I’ve just thought of something as well.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I know we’re wrapping up, but there was some fairly critical statements made in the Philippine parliament this week about U.S. involvement in an operation which saw several troops, I believe, killed.  I just wondered – I don’t believe – and excuse me if you’ve addressed this already —

MS. PSAKI:  No, it’s okay.

QUESTION:  But I don’t believe there’s been a U.S. reaction to those comments. 

MS. PSAKI:  I think we have provided it to some who have asked.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  But I – we haven’t done it broadly.  You’re absolutely correct, so let me take an opportunity to do that now.  One moment.

The United States has worked closely with the Philippines over the past 12 years on counterterrorism issues.  The purpose is to advise, assist, train, coordinate, and coordinate information and surveillance, and conduct joint exercises.  At the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, personnel serving in the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight.  The operation was planned and executed by Philippine authorities.  Any United States assistance or involvement was provided in accordance with the Philippine Government.

We, of course, offer our heartfelt condolences to the families – family members of those who died trying to bring peace and stability to Mindanao.  This operation was planned and executed, as I mentioned, by the Philippine authorities, so we’d refer you to them for more specifics.

QUESTION:  So you reject the accusations made in the Philippines saying that the United States bears its share of responsibility for what happened?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re working in coordination with the Philippine authorities.

QUESTION:  Was there – there wasn’t any State Department involvement in this, was there?

MS. PSAKI:  It was, again, the Joint Special Operations Task Force, so —

QUESTION:  Right, but there’s also – but there are some parts of the Department that do have programs in the Philippines related to INL and that kind of thing, and I just – that was – there was no involvement from —

MS. PSAKI:  Not that I’m aware of, Matt.  We can certainly check.

QUESTION:  And when you said that any U.S. support was in accordance with the Philippine Government, in other words it was part – I’m not sure what that means.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, specifically, as I mentioned, we responded to assist in the evacuation of casualties after the firefight.  That was the role.

QUESTION:  After they asked?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, mm-hmm.  After the request of the armed forces of the Philippines.

QUESTION:  Right, right.

QUESTION:  So you weren’t involved in the initial coordination – in the coordination of the initial operation, which I think was what their contention was?

MS. PSAKI:  It was Philippines-led.  That’s all the information I have at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION:  One other on Southeast Asia. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  This week, the Malaysian defense minister proposed an international peacekeeping force for the South China Sea as a way to reduce tensions.  Is this something that in principle the U.S. would be supportive of as a way to reduce tensions in that region?

MS. PSAKI:  I did see those comments.  We welcome collaborative efforts to bolster maritime security in the Asia Pacific, including efforts by ASEAN and between individual ASEAN member states.  We’re not aware of any plans or of real proposals by ASEAN countries to develop a combined maritime force at this point in time.  Obviously, those were comments but I don’t think we’ve seen more details.

QUESTION:  We —

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Oh, no, she can go ahead.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Do you have anything on the Secretary Kerry and Defense Secretary Carter visit to South Korea next month?  (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any trips or travel to announce at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  I just want to go back to your statement at the top on Georgia.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, sure.

QUESTION:  You say, as you say with Crimea, that the United States does not recognize this so-called —

MS. PSAKI:  The legitimacy of the so-called treaty.

QUESTION:  The legitimacy of it, right.  What is going to be your response to this, then?

MS. PSAKI:  In what capacity, Matt?

QUESTION:  Well, when the Russians annexed Crimea, you imposed sanctions on them.  So can we expect more punitive measures for what they’re doing in Georgia?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to predict at this point in time.

QUESTION:  Well, I – the reason that I ask is because while you and your allies keep demanding or insisting that the annexation of Crimea is illegal and against international law and you’ll never recognize it, it’s not going back to Ukraine anytime soon it looks like.  And so here is a situation that predates, well predates the situation in Ukraine with Georgia.  I’m just wondering if the – how it is that you can say – continue to say that you don’t recognize this when in fact it is de facto what has happened and you don’t – and you seem unable or unwilling to do – to take steps to have your – what you believe is the right thing done.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Matt, I don’t have any additional steps to predict.  I think it’s still important to note that the United States and many other countries don’t recognize the legitimacy of the so-called treaty.

All right.  Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)