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State Department Daily Press Briefing

18 March 2014

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
12:52 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Jen Psaki, Spokesperson

SYRIA
-- Closure of Syrian Embassy in the United States
-- Status of Syrian Mission to the United Nations
-- Treatment of Syrian Diplomats in the United States/Harassment of U.S. Diplomats in Syria
-- Legal Status of Syrian Diplomats in the United States

MALAYSIA
-- Malaysian Govt. Leading Investigation/U.S. Working in Close Collaboration with Malaysian Government to Locate Missing Plane
-- Status of USS Kidd

MIDDLE EAST PEACE
-- Ongoing Negotiations

-- No Travel Plans to Announce

UGANDA
-- Anti-homosexuality Act
-- U.S. Evaluation of certain Assistance
-- Deliberate Look at Next Steps/Considering a Range of Options

VENEZUELA
-- Third-Party Mediator

UKRAINE/RUSSIA
-- Status of Crimea
-- Possibility of Additional Sanctions
-- Secretary Kerry’s Engagement with Russia
-- Costs and Consequences of Illegal Actions
-- Assets of Sanctioned Individuals

PAKISTAN
-- Dr. Afridi/Reduction in Sentence

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

TUESDAY, MARCH 18, 2014
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

12:52 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy you all survived the dramatic snow day yesterday. I don’t have anything at the top for all of you, so let’s go to what’s on your mind, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I’m sure there’s a lot people have on Crimea --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- but let me just start with the news. I just want to get some clarification about your – the news that came out of this building this morning on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The effect of this order is what?

MS. PSAKI: Well, for any of you who did not see, so just to reiterate, we put out a statement this morning from our special – our new special envoy as of yesterday about the suspension of Syrian Embassy operations, which is what Matt is, of course, referring to. So that means that the United States first will no longer regard accredited embassy personnel as entitled to any of the diplomatic privileges, immunities, or protections. It also requires the suspension of operations of Syria’s honorary consulates in Troy, Michigan and Houston, Texas in addition to here.

And as was noted in the statement, the Syrian Embassy in Washington just last week – so March 10th – on its website announced it would no longer provide consular services. That’s, of course, different from closing an embassy, but we felt, as the statement noted, that given that, this was a necessary step for us to take.

QUESTION: A necessary step. But not just an appropriate step?

MS. PSAKI: An appropriate step.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering – I mean – well, I’m just curious. It’s only because they announced that they were not going to be – basically be doing anything anymore that you decided to do this? Or was this going to come even if – in other words, if they had not suspended their own consular operations, would you have taken the step, or would this have been a necessary or appropriate step in that instance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s hard for me to look back and make that determination. But as the statement noted, in addition to the steps that were taken by the Syrian Embassy, it was also – by the Syrians, I should say – it was also, of course, in consideration of the atrocities of the Assad regime. But they stopped providing consular services to citizens --

QUESTION: Okay. All right. But the net effect is that the Syrian Embassy in Washington, which had been operating without an ambassador --

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and under very --

MS. PSAKI: Limited staffing. Yes.

QUESTION: -- very limited staffing and services to anybody --

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is now closed?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Yes?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: And --

QUESTION: Can I also follow up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: When you said despite the differences the United States continues to maintain diplomatic relations with the state of Syria, can you please just explain that to me?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are only three countries, as I’m sure you know that we don’t have diplomatic relations with: Cuba, Iran, and North Korea.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: And Crimea. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Ha, ha, Matt. He’s been saving that all day – or days. So it doesn’t constitute, as you noted, severing our diplomatic relations. We still have hope for our future relations with the people of Syria. So it’s not that step. It’s just a step of closing the embassy.

QUESTION: And then how many personnel are involved --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time.

QUESTION: Just – sorry. How many personnel are involved or will have to leave the country? Do you know? Can you estimate?

MS. PSAKI: It’s a limited number. I certainly understand the reason for the question. I just didn’t want to give a specific number because there are a handful of staff, obviously family members. Let me just give you a specific – just in case this is someone’s next question. Diplomats and their families will have until March 31st to get their affairs in order and depart. Administrative staff will have until April 30th to appropriately shutter the mission before they must depart. Typically, it’s 30 days for administrative staff, so obviously it’s longer than that, and typically 10 days for diplomatic staff.

QUESTION: And can --

QUESTION: So is it correct – have these people – the Syrians among these remaining employees have essentially been PNG’d?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’d call it that. But obviously, the embassy has been closed so they no longer have their – are recognized as diplomats.

QUESTION: Can you just tell us when the ambassador left? Do you have that information?

MS. PSAKI: When the Syrian ambassador left?

QUESTION: When the Syrian ambassador left, yes.

MS. PSAKI: I believe it was last year. I’d have to double-check on that.

QUESTION: But not more than that? A year?

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: At least a year and a half since --

MS. PSAKI: A year – we can check on that specific for you, Jo.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask --

QUESTION: From a practical standpoint, what happens to the building?

MS. PSAKI: Why don’t you let Jo finish and then we can go to you next?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Oh, well, actually, that was my question.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure.

QUESTION: What happens with the building and who is now responsible for securing it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. That’s a good question. Let me see if there’s any specifics on that. Obviously, it does not mean – I know this is not your question – but that any other Syrians would move into the building. It does not mean that. But I will check and see in terms of security of the building or who would be managing the building.

QUESTION: And I had one other question on the --

QUESTION: You would.

MS. PSAKI: Presumably. But we’ll double-check that.

QUESTION: -- on the UN – the Syria mission to the UN.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This doesn’t mention this, and under the agreements that you have with the United Nations, does that – are you obligated still to ensure that the diplomats accredited to the UN remain?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. So this continues – we continue to respect our obligations as host to the United Nations and the Syrian mission in New York.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Jafari still limited to the 25-mile radius for travel?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. That hasn’t changed, as we announced, I think, two weeks ago.

Michael. One moment, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a very quick follow-up.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Just on the number of personnel --

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Syrian personnel who have to leave the country. If you don’t want to provide a precise number, can you give us like an approximate – is it less than a dozen? Is it two dozen?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. It is. It’s a handful, so --

QUESTION: Is a handful less than a dozen?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, it is.

QUESTION: And that’s for the embassy --

QUESTION: It depends on how big your hand is. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And that’s for the embassy and the two consulates?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm. The consulates are honorary, so they’re not staffed in the same way with diplomats.

QUESTION: So these are a dozen embassy personnel, doesn’t include family members? You’re talking about --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s – and it’s less than.

QUESTION: Less than a dozen?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: And I will see if there’s something more specific. I certainly understand the question.

QUESTION: I want to ask a technical question on the locally employed staff.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Some of them – maybe some of them are U.S. citizens. Others certainly are alien residents of the country. Now will they continue to receive their pay from the U.S. – the Syrian Government? Is that – or are they disallowed from receiving that?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Because I understand that you’re still paying your local staff in Damascus, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. My understanding, Said, is that there was a very limited number of personnel who were here, so I’m not even sure your question is applicable to what the services or what was being provided by the embassy.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me clarify it. I mean, I know some of the local staff. They work in the embassy. They dispensed services until today, whatever. But they also receive pay in exchange for their services. Will they be allowed to continue to receive their monthly pay, their salaries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me check, Said, because I’m not sure what number or who you’d be referring to.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: So let me circle back with our team and see what the answer to that question is.

QUESTION: And on – my final question of this issue.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Was it the Syrians that gave the deadline the 31st of March, or was it you?

MS. PSAKI: So typically, as I mentioned, there’s a certain number of days when an action like this – which is, of course, rare – is taken, typically 10 days for diplomats and their families. We obviously gave – are giving longer than that. And typically that’s from the United States point of view. Obviously it’s an action taken by the United States.

Do we have more on Syria or this specific question? Jo, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more on Syria. Just to make sure or clarify, that means that there’s nowhere now in the United States where there are any Syrian consular activities being offered? So if somebody wants to get a visa --

MS. PSAKI: Well, they had already cut off their consular activities. That was not a decision the United States took. That was an announcement they made last week.

QUESTION: Right. But there are no other consulates anywhere else where –

QUESTION: The UN.

QUESTION: Apart from the UN?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Sorry. Jen, I have a quick one.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Now the property that the embassy owns, for instance, the ambassador’s home, which is really quite – a very nice home and so on – now these things were not or at least there are no plans to, let’s say, give them to the opposition, as was done, let’s say, in France or --

MS. PSAKI: No, I think I just said that. No, there’s not.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: And someone asked a question as to who would maintain security over that, and I’m happy to check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Because you know we’ve had an example. I mean, the Iranian Embassy has been closed for decades, right.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So it will be in the same kind of situation?

MS. PSAKI: No. I think I answered this a few minutes ago.

Roz, did you have a --

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just not clear, when did the Syrian Government stop providing all consular services? Do you have an exact date?

MS. PSAKI: They announced on March 10th on their website that they would no longer provide consular services.

Do we have more --

QUESTION: Let me ask a question --

MS. PSAKI: So let’s finish Syria, and then we can go to the next question. I’m betting yours is not Syria.

QUESTION: No, it’s not Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask that – because last week the Lebanese paper – and I asked a senior official here last week about it – that Damascus had announced that it was closing embassies in Washington, Riyadh, and Kuwait.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And they claim that there had been mistreatment of their diplomats in the United States. Do you have any --

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I mean any suggestion, of course, that we harassed any Syrian diplomat in the United States is completely false. Our treatment of members of foreign diplomatic missions is, as you know, guided by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. And despite our differences, we have continued to meet our international obligations with respect to the treatment of Syrian diplomats.

In contrast, just as you know from history, the Syrian regime subjected our diplomats in Damascus to relentless intimidation and harassment before we suspended our U.S. Embassy in Damascus in September of 2012. I don't know the specifics of that announcement. I know they posted their plans to bring an end to – no longer provide consular services, so I’m not sure if that’s what it was a reference to.

QUESTION: And then is this in any way – I’m just asking for any update. Is this in any way coordinated with any other Western country, or is this just a U.S. step?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. Obviously, each country will make their individual decisions, and we certainly keep countries abreast of our decisions. But I expect they’ll make their own.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – you said harassment and intimidation of U.S. diplomats. I remember at the time that Ambassador Ford was being actually physically harassed. But do you regard other things such as, like, surveillance to be harassment or intimidation?

MS. PSAKI: I was more referring to – well, the fact is our embassy staff work under constant and intrusive electronic and physical surveillance. So that was happening.

QUESTION: As do diplomats in Washington, D.C., apparently, right?

MS. PSAKI: But I was referring broadly, Matt, to the incident that you’re well aware of that I’m sure you wrote about at the time.

QUESTION: With Ambassador Ford.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: To come back – maybe it’s a legal question that you can’t answer right now, but you just said in response to one of Matt’s earlier questions that they’re not PNG. If they’re not PNG, then what is their legal status?

MS. PSAKI: Well, their diplomatic status is no longer recognized. We’re closing the embassy. So --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just a quick follow-up. Now you said something about closing the embassy, but not severing diplomatic relations.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Explain to us, how does that work? Legally, what is --

MS. PSAKI: I think it works exactly as you stated it. In what capacity do you mean?

QUESTION: I mean, obviously, you don’t have an embassy there. They don’t have an embassy here. Do you still have diplomatic relations? How do you diplomatize – whatever the word --

MS. PSAKI: That is, as I stated earlier, an indication of the fact that we still value our relationship with the Syrian people, but this decision was made for a range of reasons that I’ve outlined and are in the statement we sent out this morning.

QUESTION: Was this contemplated before the embassy’s announcement on the 10th?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Often, things are discussed, but I don’t – obviously the decision was in part because of that, as our statement noted.

QUESTION: Can you find out how early the idea of perhaps sending people home once Ambassador (inaudible) left the U.S. was contemplated?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to pull the curtain back on that level of detail.

Do we have any more on Syria? Or --

QUESTION: No more on Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead?

QUESTION: Can I make a question related to the most important blockbuster news in all the media worldwide --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that is related to the plane that disappeared?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What the U.S. is following on this? What messages do you have for the world? Did – all the embassies worry about this. What’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I certainly – we certainly understand that. As you, I’m sure, know, the Malaysian Government has the lead in the investigation. U.S. officials have been, continue to be in Kuala Lumpur working closely with the government on the investigation. This is – no question is a difficult and unusual situation. We’re working very hard in close collaboration with the Malaysian Government, and we remain fully committed to the task of assisting the Malaysians and working with our international partners to find the plane.

There was an announcement – I believe it was in the last 24 hours by DOD, who I’d certainly point you to – about steps they were taking to work – continue to work with international partners to find the plane. Our focus now is on these new search areas announced by the Malaysian prime minister over the weekend, which are based on a detailed, highly technical and innovative analysis of the potential flight path. And then therefore as a result of that, DOD announced yesterday that the U.S. Navy is repositioning the P-8A’s Poseidon to Perth, Australia to conduct searches along the southern corridor. And additionally, P-3C Orion will continue to conduct its mission to search west of Indonesia. And they’ve also made the determination that the USS Kidd’s capabilities did not match current task, and it has been reassigned.

So there are a couple of steps that Administration-wide we are taking. Obviously, a great deal, if not all of these assets, are DOD. But our personnel are in close contact, and we are working hand in hand, as many other countries are, with the Malaysian Government.

QUESTION: Related to that, which countries are helping in all these investigation, and which countries are still not giving information? Because I read that there is 260 passengers, and there are some countries that are not providing all the information related to the passengers.

MS. PSAKI: Again, I would – I don’t think the United States is in a position to speak to that. The Malaysian Government has the lead on this. A range of countries are assisting. Obviously, on our part, in addition to assets from DOD, FAA, and NTSB are the ones really coordinating closely as well, but I’m not in a position to outline who is or isn’t helping.

Said.

QUESTION: Change topics?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: The visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to town today, the lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat gave a ringing endorsement, of course, and lauded all the efforts by the Secretary of State and so on. But in the same instant, he basically was suggesting that there is no progress. Could you update us on this? I mean, what is the source of the confusion here?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think it’s natural that at this point in the discussions and the negotiations, when they’re talking about tough issues with a long history of emotions behind them, that we’d be at a time where there are a lot of things said. But they had meetings yesterday. We put out a readout of that meeting – those meetings. Those discussions have been ongoing today with our negotiating team, with Secretary Kerry as well. And I don’t think there’s a point of confusion. It’s just that these are difficult issues.

QUESTION: Okay. Because yesterday in a press encounter with reporters, Erekat suggested that – I mean, the same positions that you would consider to be hard positions or hardened positions and so on, on the issue of refugees, on the issue of Jerusalem, on the issue of – on all of the issues, basically – on the issue of the Jewish state, he said this was not ever part of the final status points and so on. But yet he keeps saying, and he kept repeating today as well, that you could conceivably arrive at a resolution or a framework resolution by the 29th of April, suggesting that they, the Palestinians, would not go one day more in these negotiations.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it always becomes more difficult as we get closer to the deadline and the timeline.

QUESTION: Deadline?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a deadline.

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

MS. PSAKI: As we get closer to when tough decisions need to be made. We’re all familiar with the fact that the next tranche of prisoner releases is at the end of March. There obviously is pressure around that timeline. But again, we’re working day by day on this. The President had a meeting yesterday which the Secretary participated in with President Abbas. It was an opportunity to take stock of where things stand, discuss what the difficult issues are, and we’ll keep proceeding day to day.

QUESTION: I’m glad you brought up the issue of the 29th of March that – the prisoner release – because Erekat keeps saying that this is a separate agreement altogether brokered by Secretary Kerry. So that is really independent of whatever negotiation that’s taking place. Do you agree?

MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, there have been a range of discussions about – throughout this process about tough choices and brave choices made by each side. That’s a part of that. But I’m not going to re-litigate what’s been discussed in the past.

QUESTION: So one of the things that President Abbas said at the White House was that, “we are hopeful” that the prisoners will be released and that will allow us to going. Does the United States have any reason to believe or any reason to be concerned that the prisoners will not be released as envisaged by the initial agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would ask President Abbas what his exact meaning is. Obviously, this is important to the Palestinians.

QUESTION: No, I know what his exact meaning is. I want to know what – if you think that there is some reason that this is not a – if there’s a concern that what was agreed to back in whenever it was, June, whatever – that this part of it might not happen.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s obviously for the Israelis to implement, I should say.

QUESTION: But is there a concern – does the United States have concerns that the Israelis might not implement it and that if they do not that there will be some kind of drastic consequence to the whole process?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead to two weeks from now, when the timeline is planned for. Obviously, everybody’s familiar with the date of when the next tranche of prisoners is scheduled to be released.

QUESTION: Right. But – okay, would you say that you share President Abbas’ sentiment that he is hopeful that the prisoners will be released?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly because it’s part of what was agreed to between the parties, we would support the prisoner release, of course.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Jen, the thing is that today, the Israelis said that they might not carry out a final stage of their prisoner release unless President Abbas commits to prolonging the peace talks. Is that the condition here?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I think you’re referring to the comments of Justice Minister Livni, I believe, right?

QUESTION: Correct. Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Look, this is a tough, tough period, a pivotal period of the negotiations, and certainly both sides are looking at what issues are of greatest importance to them. And that’s why you’re hearing a lot of public talking from both sides. But I’m not going to discuss what’s going on behind the scenes. You are all familiar with the range of issues being discussed. You’re all familiar with the timeline of the end of April, the timeline of the next prisoner release, and beyond that it’s safe to say we’re working on this several hours a day.

QUESTION: Is there any reason why extending the period for this negotiation shouldn’t go ahead? Why wouldn’t that be an easy thing to encourage the Palestinians to agree to?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: If it’s a show of continued good faith that they’re going to continue to be at the table, not just have their people come home and then there’s nothing else to induce them to come to the table.

MS. PSAKI: Well, both sides have committed to remain at the table through the end of April. That hasn’t changed. We’ll decide day by day, week by week, what the next steps are, but I’m not going to predict six weeks from now where we will be or what we’ll be discussing.

QUESTION: Jen, both the Israelis and the Palestinians in these talks seem to be tough customers. But let me ask you, because Erekat also said that since the beginning of the talks, the Israelis have added 10,589 housing units in settlement, and he said that it’s four time the growth of New York City in the same period. So they seem to be harping on this issue of settlement, settlement, settlement. He also suggested that – or said that Secretary Kerry met with President Abbas something like 46 times – I mean, an incredible number and so on. And they raised these issues with maps and so on.

So what is your position? How has your position – as you watch this process of expanding settlements so closely, how did your position evolve or morph towards the settlements?

MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed, Said. We don’t recognize the legitimacy of settlements. We’ve encouraged both sides to take steps that are conducive to a path to peace.

QUESTION: So does that mean, when you say we don’t recognize the legitimacy, that in any final peace deal, that all these settlements must be dismantled or turned over to the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict for you or outline what will be in a final peace deal that would be agreed to between the two parties.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: I have one more on that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to return to the region very soon to push the two parties or to submit the framework agreement?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any travel to announce for all of you today. As you know, there was a meeting with President Abbas, and the Secretary met with him on Sunday and then again after. It is safe to say that they are talking on the phone quite regularly with both parties and that we have had our negotiators on the ground. But I don’t have any travel for the Secretary to the region to announce for you at this point.

QUESTION: On meetings today, is that with Ambassador Indyk and Lowenstein? You said meetings are ongoing today with the negotiating team?

MS. PSAKI: Well, meetings internally. There are discussions over the phone, so that’s what I was referring to.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: But the entire team is actually in Washington, the entire negotiating team currently?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of --

QUESTION: In terms of Ambassador Indyk and his team. They’re all here, all in --

MS. PSAKI: They are in Washington.

QUESTION: Some – they’re conducting --

MS. PSAKI: They were in Washington for the meeting yesterday --

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and they’re still here today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Scott.

QUESTION: Can we go back to a question from last week --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: -- about Uganda and your opinion of the high court legal challenge to the anti-homosexual act?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Sure. Well, just to reiterate, as we’ve said, the enactment of the homosexuality act was a step backward for Uganda. The law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It reflects poorly on the country’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.

As we said a week or a couple of weeks ago, this is – has caused us to take a look at our relationship, and there’s no question it has impacted our relationship. Now that the anti-homosexuality act has been enacted, we’re continuing to look closely at the implications of the new law, and where appropriate, we have adjusted some activities and engagements while we are doing that.

So let me give you an example: We currently fund or we have been funding the salary top-off, so additional salary to pay for – to help pay 18 health officials, senior health officials. That expired last month. That is something where we are no longer providing that top-off payment. Obviously, these are not individuals who are implementing – the worker bees, for lack of a better phrase. These are individuals at the top who are speaking on behalf of and implementing the policy. So that’s one example.

We’re also looking at our assistance programs to evaluate the ability of our implementing partners to carry them out effectively in a nondiscriminatory manner, and the legal implications of the act on our programs on the ground. So all of those pieces are pieces we’re evaluating.

QUESTION: So is it your assessment, then, that that is the total of your reaction, or you are continuing to review your assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the way I would think about this is we’re taking a thoughtful, deliberate look at next steps in light in enactment of the law. So, some of those pieces are how to send the strongest message. Specifically, the topping off of the salaries of these health officials is one way.

But we’ve also been in touch, and have been for some time, with Ugandan LGBT activists since this legislation was actually first introduced in 2009. They’ve specifically asked that the United States not cut off aid to the Ugandan people. As I talked about a little bit last week, and as you know, Scott, a lot of the aid that we provide goes to ensure services for things like lifesaving health and medication for HIV/AIDS, to bring justice to those responsible for atrocities, like the LRA. So we want to make sure that actions we take don’t have a detrimental impact on the Ugandan people who need those health services, et cetera. So we’re all looking at all of that.

QUESTION: What’s the dollar amount of the – the implication in dollars for the --

MS. PSAKI: For the 18?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll – I’d have to check on that for you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know how much it is exactly.

QUESTION: Well, exactly. But I mean it’s more than, like, five bucks a month or something like that, isn’t it?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, it is more than five bucks a month.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it would be helpful to know --

MS. PSAKI: I understand.

QUESTION: -- what exactly the consequence is --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- in dollar terms.

MS. PSAKI: I understand why you’re asking. We will check on these --

QUESTION: How long have you been paying it? I mean, why – just – I don’t quite understand why you’d be topping off salaries.

MS. PSAKI: Well, because we wanted to – they wanted to attract and augment the services they were providing and – but now a number of these individuals have, of course, been implementing and speaking out on behalf of the law.

QUESTION: And do you know how long you’ve been paying them, the top offs?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I’m happy to check on that for all of you.

QUESTION: Has there been any consideration about, perhaps, restricting the ability of those government officials who helped spearhead this legislation from traveling to the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of – obviously, we’re considering a range of options, but I don’t have anything else to announce for all of you.

QUESTION: Last week, I know Secretary Kerry mentioned that the U.S. was sending experts to go --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and talk? Who are these experts and what were they – I mean, the law is enacted. Were there any --

MS. PSAKI: Well, my understanding is it’s health – in the pool of health experts, but I can check and see if that’s happening or who might be in that group and if that’s moved forward.

QUESTION: From the way – from what he said, it was experts to do with the law, I mean, in trying to refine ways of doing law, or did I misunderstand it?

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and if that’s actually be implemented or is moving forward.

QUESTION: I move you to Venezuela.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The unrest continues. There is still going on a lot of problems there, and there is no dialogue. Any comments of the U.S. following all these disaster in Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to seek a constructive bilateral relationship with Venezuela, as we’ve spoken about a bit in here. There are steps that have been taken, including the kicking out of three of our diplomats and heightened rhetoric that has occurred consistently over the last several weeks that has certainly caused us pause. We’ve said – and I said yesterday, so I don’t have anything necessarily new to add – that we’d certainly support a third-party moderator. There are a range of options for that to be an unbiased mediator between the opposition and the government, but that’s basically --

QUESTION: I’m not asking about the bilateral relation within the U.S. and Venezuela.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m asking about the Democratic Charter that Kerry mentioned that the U.S. can call in the OAS. Do you think that is the moment, maybe, to call again to the OAS to review all these situation in Venezuela? What’s going to be the next move of the U.S., based on the Democratic Charter?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I was answering what we think the next move should be, which is a third-party mediator, who can have – can bring both parties together, the government and the opposition. They need to agree on someone who’s impartial, that both parties would be comfortable with.

QUESTION: Can I move to – I’m a little surprised that – yeah – Crimea --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- is way down on the agenda list here.

MS. PSAKI: Surprisingly. And the Secretary’s about the start the Town Hall, too, so --

QUESTION: Yeah. So let’s – I – my question is --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- because I think most of everything has been said --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- that’s been – going to be said, I think, today already. But I have a technical question.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Will the U.S. Government even make the allowance that the sovereignty of Crimea or its nationhood or whatever it is, is in dispute, or is it going to be something that you continue and will always continue to say is part of Ukraine? In other words, there are places that you – in maps and in policy – refer to as “disputed” --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or “sovereignty is disputed,” like the territories in the South China Sea. Is that something that Crimea might – is being – like that kind of status being considered for Crimea, or, to the United States, will it always be part of Ukraine no matter what the Russians or the Crimeans say?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, where we are is we don’t recognize the outcome of the referendum or the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russians. We don’t recognize the results of it or the outcome.

QUESTION: Right. But do you allow that there is a dispute over it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s where we stand. That’s where most of the international community stands. So we’re not – I certainly am not going to predict where we are in the future, but that’s where we stand. We have strong views about that and I don’t expect that to change.

QUESTION: All right. I have one more, if other people want to stay on Crimea, but I have to get this one question in.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask on --

MS. PSAKI: Do we have more on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s go to you two and then – go ahead.

QUESTION: Your colleague over at the White House, Jay Carney, just said that there are likely going to be more sanctions to come.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I wondered if you could outline what your thoughts are in that direction.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, there’s no question that yesterday, and what we announced yesterday, represents the beginning and not the end, and we are preparing additional sanctions. The power of the executive order yesterday is it provided us additional flexibility on who we would be able to sanction, what institutions we would be able to sanction, and we are considering and preparing that. So I believe that’s what he was referencing.

QUESTION: So then he was preparing for the signing ceremony at 8 o’clock Eastern today?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?

QUESTION: Was – we all knew, as of last night, that Putin would be addressing his government. Was there an expectation in this building that a treaty signing was going to happen at the very end, or did this government think it would take perhaps a few more days?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give a – or any – outline any details of what we did or didn’t know behind the scenes.

QUESTION: And then just before we came in here, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel said they still believe that diplomacy was the way. Since this is the house of diplomacy, where --

MS. PSAKI: The house of diplomacy.

QUESTION: This building. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And pancakes is next door. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you – is there – are there any plans again for another meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov or any talk of Kerry making further phone calls on – in any of this?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the Secretary did speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. I don’t have a readout of that yet. It just happened shortly before we came down. But this is a part of our ongoing – his ongoing engagement and discussion.

But let me be clear here: A big part of the message that the Secretary is sending is that this – steps that have been taken are illegal, they are unacceptable, we don’t accept them, and there will continue to be costs and consequences. So yes, I think everybody would like to see an end to the situation on the ground, but we’re continuing to be clear about what steps we’re prepared to take as well.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – in the sanctions that were unveiled yesterday, there were a number of senior Russian officials who were sanctioned.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you did not go as far as to sanction President Putin, who by all accounts is the person who’s actually driving this policy of absorbing Crimea back into the Russian Federation. Why is that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it is a highly unusual and would be a rather extraordinary case for us to sanction a head of state of another country. Obviously, the individuals who were sanctioned – as you know, because we provided the bio and you probably knew most of them – were people who had close ties, government officials who had clearly engaged in this effort. But again, we are continuing to consider, prepare additional sanctions, and we haven’t taken options off the table.

QUESTION: I realize it would be an unusual step; but surely, if the person who’s driving this policy is the head of state and you really want to make your sanctions felt, wouldn’t it be best to actually sanction the head of state in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, again, this was an announcement of a round of sanctions. We have – we are preparing additional sanctions. I’m not ruling anyone in or out, but the executive orders that have been signed provide broad authority.

Michael.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to Michael. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’d just like to take another --

MS. PSAKI: Sure, okay.

QUESTION: -- quick stab at a question I posed yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) I asked if any of the seven Russian officials who are designated for sanctions actually had assets in the United States. And it’s been argued that the Administration cannot get into this in detail because this might reveal sources and things of that nature. So I’m not asking which official has what assets where. What I’m asking is: Do any of the seven officials who were sanctioned – designated for sanctions yesterday, do any of them have assets in the United States? I would think that would be a question that you could answer while protecting your sources and methods.

MS. PSAKI: We just aren’t going to outline that, and we would refer to our Treasury colleagues on any specifics on that, regardless.

QUESTION: I mean, why are you not outlining – why not, since you’re emphasizing so much that there’s a cost to these individuals, why can’t you outline it? And is it because they don’t have any assets here or because – why can’t you simply address that simple fact?

MS. PSAKI: It is extremely rare when we outline that. I understand --

QUESTION: It’s been done.

MS. PSAKI: It has been done, I think, in one occasion that we can recall. I understand why you’re asking --

QUESTION: But what’s your --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- just once for the record, what’s the reason not to respond directly to that question.

MS. PSAKI: As a matter of policy, Michael, we don’t provide that level of detail. There are rare occasions, as you mentioned, that we have done it. We decided not to in this case. However there are still significant impacts. If you just look at – even prior to yesterday, what’s happening with the Russian economy – the Russian deputy economy minister said that the Russian economy is in crisis.

QUESTION: That’s a separate question. I’m just asking a factual question.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. I understand. As a matter of policy, we don’t typically provide that information in terms of somebody’s individual assets, and we don’t have any plans to at this time in this case.

But in this case there are impacts, even on the individuals, because when an individual is put on that list, typically foreign institutions, financial institutions, make decisions not to do business with those individuals. Their names are public and people know who they are. And they find great difficulty accessing financial services outside of the United States as well.

QUESTION: Haven’t you sanctioned in the past heads of state in which you had diplomatic relations with?

MS. PSAKI: Have we provided sanction – have we --

QUESTION: No. I mean, have you – you say that you don’t sanction heads of state, but you have, haven’t you, in the past?

MS. PSAKI: It would – I said it would be a significant step to sanction a head of state. But I didn’t rule out options in the future.

QUESTION: Would it be --

QUESTION: There is precedent for it.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, you just spent the beginning --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say there wasn’t.

QUESTION: -- of this briefing talking about how you still had diplomatic relations with Syria --

QUESTION: With Syria.

QUESTION: -- and Assad has got sanctions on him.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I didn’t say there wasn’t precedent. I said there was – it would be a significant step.

QUESTION: I have to get in --

MS. PSAKI: I think we can do --

QUESTION: Listen, I have to get in one --

MS. PSAKI: -- just a few more here because – go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Your – you’ve seen this Washington Post report that came out shortly before your – about the --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if I’ve seen it or not. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, it’s just – it’s the latest in the Snowden revelations about the NSA having a surveillance system capable of recording 100 percent of a foreign country’s telephone calls going back for a month. I’m just wondering, one, if you have any comment on this at all, and two, if there are any concerns that you have that this is going to dramatically increase the already rather vivid and vibrant uproar over the whole surveillance program in general, and will that complicate your relations with people?

MS. PSAKI: Let me talk to our team about it because I haven’t --

QUESTION: You’re not aware of it – you haven’t seen it?

MS. PSAKI: -- seen it yet – hadn’t seen the story yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s do one in the back and then I have to go.

QUESTION: Still on Crimea.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So far the sanctions that have been announced have been met by the Russians with what could be kind of described as a collective shrug.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if that gives you pause as you consider your next move, whatever it may be, that sanctions may not be the way to go to apply pressure that the Russians will actually respond to.

MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that a combination of political pressure and economic sanctions is actually an incredibly effective tool. This was the beginning not the end, as I mentioned. And to answer your question which, to Michael’s point, didn’t quite address his, but let me get these statistics out. There – we have already seen an impact largely from the political steps, largely from the unity of the G7, largely from the isolation that Russia’s feeling. And that includes the fact that the ruble is down sharply, the stock market is at a five-year low average. We’ve seen far more money leaving Russia than coming in. These are all factual – that’s factual economic data that tells you what the impact is. But we’re going to continue to evaluate day by day, as are the Europeans on what the appropriate steps are.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s do one more, Lalit, and then I have to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: -- then you can have to – get to watch the town hall.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say on the Pakistani court decreasing – reducing the sentencing of Dr. Afridi?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We have seen the reports that Dr. Afridi’s sentence was reduced from 33 to 23 years. While the reduction in the sentence is a positive step, our concerns about Dr. Afridi’s arrest and conviction remain unchanged, as 23 years is just as unjust and unwarranted as 33 years.

We are continuing unabated the efforts we’ve had underway since Dr. Afridi was first arrested, which is to state unequivocally and consistently to the Pakistani Government that the prosecution and conviction of Dr. Afridi sends exactly the wrong message about the importance of our shared interests in counterterrorism and in particular bringing Usama bin Ladin to justice.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry. We have to go.

QUESTION: Okay, let’s --

MS. PSAKI: We’ll do this again tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:32 p.m.)