Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Transcript for Briefing on Assistant Secretary Nuland's & Ambassador to Ukraine Pyatt's Call

This is part of the transcript for the Press Briefing on Assistant Secretary Nuland's & Ambassador to Ukraine Pyatt's Call 

Jen Psaki, Spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC
February 6, 2014

QUESTION: … so before we get into the actual substance of this conversation, this call that was recorded and released, can you say whether you – if this call is an authentic recording of an authentic conversation between Assistant Secretary Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to confirm or outline details. I understand there are a lot of reports out there and there’s a recording out there, but I’m not going to confirm private diplomatic conversations.
QUESTION: So you are not saying that you believe this is a – you think this is not authentic? You think this is a --
MS. PSAKI: That’s not an accusation I’m making. I’m just not going to confirm the specifics of it.
QUESTION: Well, you can’t even say whether there was this call – that you believe that this call – you believe that this recording is a recording of a real telephone call?
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say it was inauthentic. I think we can leave it at that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re allowing for the – you’re allowing the fact that it is authentic.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Do you have a question about it?
QUESTION: Yes, okay. Yes, I do --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- now, once we get into it. Quite apart from the colorful language that is used in reference to the European Union, the conversation appears to – well, doesn’t appear to suggest, it does – the conversation shows that the United States certainly has – or at least officials within the U.S. Government have certain opinions about certain Ukrainian opposition leaders and others. And I’m wondering how that squares with your repeated insistence that every – all of this is up to the Ukrainians to decide themselves.
MS. PSAKI: It’s not inconsistent in the least bit. It is no secret that Ambassador Pyatt and Assistant Secretary Nuland have been working with the Government of Ukraine, with the opposition, with business and civil society leaders to support their efforts, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that at any point, there have been discussions about recent events and offers and what is happening on the ground. And as you know, Assistant Secretary Nuland is on the ground right now continuing our efforts in that regard.
It remains the case that it is up to the Ukrainian people themselves to decide their future. It is up to them to determine their path forward, and that’s a consistent message that we’re conveying publicly and privately.
QUESTION: All right. And I’ve got two more and then I --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- but they should be both brief. Specifically --
MS. PSAKI: On Ukraine or --
QUESTION: Yeah, on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: As related to Assistant Secretary Nuland’s comments about the European Union, do – are the United States and the EU on the same page on what to deal – how to deal with the situation in Ukraine and how best to resolve the crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously, we work incredibly closely with the EU and with representatives of the EU, and Assistant Secretary Nuland certainly does as it relates to Ukraine. And she’s been in close contact with EU High Representative Ashton. Also, let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course, has apologized. But --
QUESTION: What did she apologize for?
MS. PSAKI: For these reported comments, of course.
QUESTION: So you’re not confirming that the comments are accurate? She’s --
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to a private diplomatic conversation, Arshad, but I’m obviously speaking to the content of the reports.
So she’s been in touch with them, and clearly, we’ve been working closely with them on what should happen on Ukraine, what should happen – what kind of package that – as you know, as we’ve been discussing in here, we can discuss for a government once it’s formed. And if we have frustrations, we express those privately as well, but it’s important to note how closely we work with them and how aligned we are on this issue.
QUESTION: Do you know who she apologized to? Was it Catherine Ashton or --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of specificity, just that she’s been --
QUESTION: All right. And then my last one on this is: Your colleague at the White House made mention – pointed out quite obviously – or made a point of noting that an aide to a Russian – a senior Russian official was, if not the first, one of the first to draw --
MS. PSAKI: Was the first, yes.
QUESTION: -- draw attention to this.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Well, I believe that – if you don’t know who posted the thing on YouTube, correct?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a fair point, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So that would be the first drawing of attention to it, correct, the actual posting of the video with the audio in it, right? But among the first, if not the first, was this aide to Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin tweeting about it.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you think, does the U.S. Government believe, that Russia was behind this bugging and release? And if you are not willing to go that far, are you concerned at all that officials in the Russian Government seem to be wanting to point – to draw attention to this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft in terms of publicizing, posting. I don’t have any other independent details about the origin of the YouTube video. You’re right. This has clearly happened overnight and is relatively new. But this is something they’ve been actively promoting, posting on, tweeting about, and certainly that we feel that represents a new low.
QUESTION: But do you think that --
QUESTION: Well, what do you mean – can I follow up, please?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: What do you mean by this is a new low in Russian tradecraft? Tradecraft is a word typically that refers almost exclusively to espionage activities. Are you saying that you regard this as an act of Russian espionage, that this conversation was recorded and broadcast?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, if it was recorded and broadcast, that that would be that – that it would be violating a private conversation.
QUESTION: But you said this is a new low in Russian tradecraft.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That means you think that the Russians, in fact, recorded and made available this broadcast.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I just stated, I don’t have any independent or new information on that, but obviously, they promoted this and were the first to tweet about it, so that’s what I was noting.
QUESTION: So that’s your suspicion, that you didn’t – I mean, you said this is a new low in Russian tradecraft. That implies that you believe it is their responsibility.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I was pretty clear in answering Matt’s question that I don’t have any independent information on the origin of the YouTube video, but obviously, they were the first ones to post on Twitter about it, which is an indication. But again, I don’t know – I don’t have any independent --
QUESTION: So when you’re --
QUESTION: And then – wait, sorry, can I keep going?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Because they’re – look, the Russians have repeatedly accused the United States Government of interfering in Ukraine’s politics.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The U.S. Government has, to some degree, made reciprocal claims about Russia. Does not the fact that U.S. diplomats purportedly are discussing who should and should not be in a Ukrainian government hint at some possibility of U.S. interference here?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. There – it should be no surprise that U.S. officials talk about issues around the world. Of course we do. That’s what you do, that’s what diplomats do, and discuss especially issues where we’ve been closely engaged. The Secretary met with the opposition this weekend. He stopped by a meeting with the foreign minister. It’s up to the people of Ukraine, including officials from both sides, to determine the path forward. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are discussions about events on the ground.
QUESTION: This was more than discussions, though. This was two top U.S. officials that are on the ground discussing a plan that they have to broker a future government, and bringing officials from the UN to kind of seal the deal. This is more than the U.S. trying to make suggestions. This is the U.S. midwifing the process.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, you’re talking about a private diplomatic conversation. Those happen all the time. Of course as part of private diplomatic conversations, there are discussions about what involvement the UN can have, what involvement or engagement should happen on the ground. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course, these things are being discussed. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s up to the people on the ground, it is up to the people of Ukraine to determine what the path forward is.
QUESTION: But you’re clearly trying to influence what they decide. I mean, one of the quotes is – and this is attributed to Ambassador Pyatt: “I think you reaching out to him” – Klitschko – “helps with the personality management among the three, and it gives you also a chance to move fast and all this stuff and put us behind it before they all sit down. And he explains why he doesn’t like it." That’s not – that’s not oh, let them figure this out. That’s gee, let’s try to do this so that he won’t decide he doesn’t like this plan.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, it’s not a secret that we’re engaged with what’s happening on the ground. I mean, the Secretary met with the opposition this weekend. He also met with the foreign minister. As part of those discussions, you engage with what’s happening, what the recommendations are. They’re going to choose to do it or they’re not. But that’s, of course, what you discuss in any meeting or conversation regardless.
QUESTION: I want to go back to --
QUESTION: But the bottom line here --
QUESTION: He does actually --
QUESTION: -- is that you do have an opinion about what certain people should – what role certain people should – what role you think is best for certain people to play, correct? I mean, you do have – that is an opinion of the United States. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to foist that or force it on the people of Ukraine, but you do have an opinion, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I would caution everybody --
QUESTION: Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: One moment. We’re talking about a couple of minutes from a recorded call.
MS. PSAKI: That doesn’t reflect every conversation that’s happened --
MS. PSAKI: -- every debate that’s happened, every internal conversation that’s happened.
QUESTION: No, you’re right.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You’re absolutely right. But you do have – here is a case where an official – two officials are talking about a preference for what one opposition or several opposition leaders should do, whether they should be in or stay out of the government; is that not correct? So you do have an opinion about what you think would be best.
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: And I’m not sure that that’s so --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not --
QUESTION: -- that’s bad --
MS. PSAKI: We have opinions about a range of issues.
MS. PSAKI: That shouldn’t be a surprise.
QUESTION: So here’s my – so I would just then – so when you get a question --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- about whether you think it would be good or bad for Politician X or Y in Country X or Y to run for office, for any office, I don’t think that it is honest for you to say no, we don’t have an opinion and that’s completely up to the people of Country X.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, there’s a --
QUESTION: And I specifically mean in this case I’m talking about Egypt.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me just --
QUESTION: Because you do have an opinion.
MS. PSAKI: -- make one comment here. There is a difference between private discussions that happen in the interagency process, in the building, and what we convey publicly as a U.S. Government. And we have a responsibility to convey what our position is. Of course, you’re discussing a range of options on a range of issues.
QUESTION: But if --
MS. PSAKI: That’s what you do as --
QUESTION: But I’m sorry --
MS. PSAKI: -- as a diplomat.
QUESTION: If you’re saying privately behind the scenes that you’re cooking up a deal, and then you’re saying publicly that this is up for Ukrainians to decide, those are two totally different things. I understand that diplomatic discussions are sensitive and you don’t want everything to come out, but those are two totally different – totally different positions.
MS. PSAKI: Elise, what do you think happens behind closed doors when people are discussing issues internally through the interagency --
QUESTION: This is not discussing issues. This is talking about a deal that the U.S. was cooking up with --
MS. PSAKI: I think I would disagree with you. I think you’re overstating and overqualifying a couple of minutes from a privately recorded phone call.
QUESTION: I want to go back to the issue --
QUESTION: So it was a privately recorded phone call now?
MS. PSAKI: I’m done, Arshad. Next?
QUESTION: I want to go back to the issue of your divergences with Europe --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and what to do about Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, obviously, the language that Assistant Secretary Nuland used suggests a fairly high degree of frustration. So what is behind that? What is it that you want to be done that the Europeans are not falling in line with?
MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered this. I mean, obviously, we work very closely with the EU and specifically on this issue in recent weeks, as given how much prominence it’s received but how important it is, a priority to us and a priority to the EU. So we’ve been in close discussions with them, we’ve been working closely with them. These reported – this discussion is about events that happened days and days ago, so just remember that for contextual purposes.
QUESTION: Just last week --
QUESTION: Well, last week is not really days and days. I mean, it is days and days ago, I suppose --
MS. PSAKI: Technically, it’s days and days ago.
QUESTION: It’s not like it’s ancient history. This is very recent.
QUESTION: But she says – she says – I’m not going to repeat what she said, but she’s obviously angry with the European Union. So despite the fact that you might be discussing this at a level, what is it that was making her angry with them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t overanalyze one – a couple of words that were used on a phone call as to having larger meaning about some sort of ongoing issue. There are, of course, moments in every diplomatic relationship where you have small frustrations, where you agree, you disagree, you work through the issues, you talk about what the best step to take is, and that certainly has been the case here, which should be no surprise. And that’s why you have debates about what to do next on challenging issues.
QUESTION: So I wondered whether it went to the heart of the issue of sanctions, for instance, because I know the United States has been talking about and possibly preparing another level – a level of sanctions if things go drastically wrong in Kyiv.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is this perhaps a track in which your European allies are not in agreement with you?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it’s – I would defer to them on what their views are on that, but it’s not an indication of that at all, and as you know, that wasn’t even discussed. So you know what our position is – it’s that we’re open to considering sanctions. That hasn’t obviously moved forward, or nothing has changed about our view right now. But this isn’t an indication of anything more than that.
QUESTION: Not discussed in this reported phone call, you mean?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: I’d like to go back to the Russian involvement. While you did – while you were talking about the statecraft and the idea that this Russian assistant of the deputy prime minister tweeted out, you said that you didn’t have any solid evidence that the Russians were involved, but you did say that there’s – that the fact that the Russians were so quick to have this video and tweet it out, that it’s an indication of their possible involvement. Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that is an indication that they’re promoting it – I mean, not just an indication. It’s evidence that they’re promoting a privately recorded phone call.
QUESTION: Not that they’re promoting it, but that they had a hand in obtaining it.
MS. PSAKI: As I said, and this hasn’t changed, I don’t have any independent information about who posted the YouTube video. So --
QUESTION: But you believe the fact that they had it early and are promoting it so much is an indication of their possible involvement in obtaining it. Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more information on it, Elise. I will let you all draw your own conclusions, but I don’t have anything in addition about the source of the YouTube video. But obviously, they were the first to post it on Twitter.
Go ahead. Or do we have any more on Ukraine? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one thing. You did say that this was a conversation that happened days and days ago. Where was Secretary – Assistant Secretary Nuland?
MS. PSAKI: This was an issue being discussed days and days ago, as you know, in terms of who would or wouldn’t join the government. But go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, we’d seen the conversation was actually a few days ago as well because events have now moved on from the report --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure.
QUESTION: -- the events that are referred to in the conversation. I wondered if you could tell us where Assistant Nuland was when this conversation was made. Was she in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on that. She obviously is in Ukraine now. She wasn’t there before yesterday. So --
QUESTION: But I think the conversation goes back several days, to last week, as Matt mentioned.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on where it took place.
QUESTION: Can I just ask – unless you want to --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: How pervasive is – do you think the sentiment that Toria has apologized for – how pervasive is that within the State Department, within the Administration?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it is at all.
QUESTION: Is it going to be the new rallying cry of the EUR Bureau or of the State Department itself?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Are you going to get t-shirts made with this phrase on it?
MS. PSAKI: You all know Toria pretty well. You may know the story of how she lived on a Russian boat for about eight months when she was 23, and she learned how to perfect perhaps certain words in a couple of languages, so perhaps it speaks to that more than a pervasive viewpoint.
QUESTION: So it’s her fault that she worked on a Soviet fishing vessel that she uses such language?
QUESTION: They taught her to cuss?
QUESTION: Are you – wait, are you suggesting that she has a – you’re not suggesting that she has a predisposition against Russia?
MS. PSAKI: No, I was suggesting that she learned Russian curse words and curse words on the fishing boat.
QUESTION: This was in English.
QUESTION: But this was in English.
MS. PSAKI: She – I was making a joke --
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MS. PSAKI: -- about her learning curse words on a fishing boat.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just one other thing. Is there any concern in the Department that if there is a Russian hand in this, that her – that Assistant Secretary Nuland’s relationship with the Russians, which – and Russia is part of her portfolio now – is going to be hurt? I recall when she was sworn in, the Secretary told a little story about how Foreign Minister Lavrov had said to him that he was glad that he finally got rid of that Nuland woman --
MS. PSAKI: I was there for that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- and the Secretary replied – said he replied to Lavrov saying, “No, I didn’t fire her. I promoted her.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So there seems to be a little bit of tension there. Are you concerned that this alleged Russian hand that you are suggesting is going to make things worse?
MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t think that’s our view at all. This is – and Toria has been working on issues related to Russia, as you know, for many, many years, and she is the last person who is to be naive about areas where we agree and disagree and concerns we have and things we can work with them on, and I don’t think this will impact our relationship moving forward.
QUESTION: All right. And then the – my last thing, and then just --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- first to your reference to her working on this trawler. Are you trying to suggest that she has the mouth of a sailor here?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t want to say that in case her mother reads the transcript, but those of us who know her – (laughter) --
QUESTION: Mothers sometimes watch it live. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: That’s true.
QUESTION: Her mother is a big fan of Arshad’s, actually.
MS. PSAKI: I heard she’s a big fan of Arshad. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Who among us is not? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: All right.
QUESTION: Ah, the levity.

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