6 May 2014

Africa: State Department Daily Press Briefing


Excerpts relating to Africa from the U.S. Department of State daily press briefing:


MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Well, I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. I'd like to extend a warm welcome to the nine students from Ohio State University who are all sitting in the back. The students are participating in the Students Scholars Program. They're visiting Washington for two weeks to explore how their majors fit in with their possible future careers. So welcome to all of you.

I just have two other items on issues of interest for the top. The United States notes with concern efforts by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk in Luhansk to organize a bogus independence referendum - a bogus independence referenda on May 11th. We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine. This is the Crimea playbook all over again. No civilized nation will recognize the results; and if Russia takes the next step to reenact its illegal Crimea annexation in eastern or southern Ukraine and sends more forces over the border, harsh U.S. and EU sanctions will follow.

We want to underscore what has been our position all along: The future of Ukraine is up to Ukrainians to decide. The upcoming May 25th elections are an important moment. And Russian efforts in the east to destabilize the situation run contrary to the Ukrainian people's aspirations for an election in which they can choose the direction of their country. All of us in the international community should support Ukraine's effort to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to vote, to run for office, and to do so in peace.

One other item for all of you: This morning, Secretary Kerry called Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to reiterate our offer of assistance. President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry's offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can best support Nigeria in its response. In addition, our Embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell, an interdisciplinary team - and this is what they discussed on the call - that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations, and hostage negotiations, help facilitate information-sharing, and providing victim assistance. It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that can be - that may be helpful to the Nigerian Government in its response.

The President has directed that we and the Secretary and the State Department do everything we can to help the Nigerian Government find and free these young women. The President and Secretary Kerry have their regular meeting this afternoon, and this will certainly be a prominent topic of discussion.

With that, Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I wanted to ask you about Ukraine, but if anyone wants to go for on Nigeria first.



QUESTION: I have a few on Nigeria. First, the Pentagon was telling us that there has been no request for any assistance from Nigeria for any military assistance. What would this military assistance under this coordination cell look like? Who would these personnel be? Are they already at the Embassy in Abuja? First off, some practicalities: who are they?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, some of that is still being determined, Roz. Obviously, this is a conversation they just had in the last couple of hours. The Secretary, again, will be discussing this with President Obama this afternoon. And certainly, there have been ongoing interagency discussions. So it could be a combination of personnel on the ground, and if others are needed to be sent it, I'm sure we'll - we will deliver that.

QUESTION: And then on the formation of the cell itself, it's been several weeks since these girls were first abducted, and then there are subsequent reports of more abductions. Is the forming of a cell really what's necessary at this point? Isn't the time for immediate action already gone?

MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with that. One, we've been engaged with Nigeria, as you know, long before the tragic events of just a couple of weeks ago to coordinate and assist them in the fight against terrorist organizations, including Boko Haram. There's a range of assistance that we have provided to them in that regard, and we've been in close touch. Certainly, we welcomed the openness of President Jonathan to this type of a coordination cell, this team that could help provide some of the assistance that may be useful for them at this difficult time. And we think absolutely this can be useful in the process moving forward.

QUESTION: There were reports over the weekend from some of the relatives of the kidnapped girls that the first lady - Patience Jonathan I believe her name is - may have been behind the arrest of some of these relatives who were demonstrating, trying to raise public awareness. Is the U.S. aware of these allegations of high-level interference, for lack of a better expression? And did the Secretary say anything to President Jonathan about the need to be sensitive to these families' concerns and worries at this time?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, obviously, addressing all aspects of what is the situation on the ground, including - and I think what I mentioned in one of the areas that would be - we'd be assisting in is assisting with victims' assistance. And as you know, there are some girls who have returned home, and obviously, working with them as they are returned is part of our effort as well.

We have not been able to confirm the specifics around the arrests of the protestors. I don't have anything new on that today. But the focus of their discussion was really on how the United States can assist and our openness, again, to sending the team I outlined.

QUESTION: And then my final question: Given that Boko Haram is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, how does the fact that it is claiming responsibility for these abductions affect how the U.S. can proceed legally in trying to resolve this crisis? In other words, does the U.S. feel that it has a legal grounds for doing more than providing assistance to the Nigerian Government? Can it do anything because this is affecting one of its allies and because it does involve a group that the U.S. considers a threat to its own security interests?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION: Is there anything that the U.S. can do, given Boko Haram's FTO designation, that could increase the - its ability to look for these girls?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we've already - before this offer that the Secretary made this morning to President Jonathan, we had already taken a number of steps, given that Boko Haram is a designated terrorist organization and one that we have had increasing concerns about, as you know, from our report that we issued last week. And we have up - leading up to now taken a range of steps, including providing counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria that's focused on information sharing, improving Nigeria's forensics and investigative capacity. We're also working with the Nigerian Government to strengthen their criminal justice system, increase the government - the confidence, I should say, in the government by supporting its efforts to hold those responsible for violence accountable.

In just the last year alone, we have provided approximately $3 million in law enforcement assistance to Nigeria, including assistance to develop Nigerian capacity to search, identify, mitigate, and dispose of IEDs and related materials, a resident legal attache, and FBI agents have assisted Nigerian authorizes investigating bombings, training for Nigerian law enforcement officials on basic forensics, interview, and interrogation techniques.

So my point is that there are a range of steps we've taken long before the tragic events of the young girls who were kidnapped, and those efforts will continue. But this is obviously a new effort to offer a coordination team.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just - you said that you appreciate his openness to - on this - on Secretary Kerry's offer, and you spoke about what the U.S. is offering to do and that the Embassy is prepared to set up this coordination cell. But can you just go further? I mean, did the - did he say he would consider it and let you know? Did he say yes, let's get going? Are you - are people getting ready to go? I mean, what is the status of the offer?

MS. PSAKI: He welcomed the offer.


MS. PSAKI: This conversation was just a couple of hours ago.


MS. PSAKI: Secretary Kerry will speak with President Obama about this and how we can continue to step up our efforts to assist the Nigerians in this effort. And of course, naturally want to get this doing as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But you said you would - it seems like it's all contingent on the Nigerians saying - to saying yes, let's get going, let's pull --

MS. PSAKI: Well, President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry's offer, so obviously --

QUESTION: Did he accept the offer, is what I'm saying, and are you preparing a team to get ready to go?

MS. PSAKI: We're having discussions about the team that - what this would entail, and who's on the ground, who would need to be sent, and what we need to do to ensure all the resources --

QUESTION: I understand. I'm just trying to nail down whether this is an offer that has been accepted and now you're getting the logistics together, or is this an initial offer that he said he would consider and get back to the Secretary?

MS. PSAKI: I think by conveying he welcomed it, Elise, I'm conveying that he is open to this team that we've offered. I don't have any other details at this moment, just because this is so new, in terms of when and how and all of that. We'll be working those specifics out over the coming hours and days. But obviously, we want it to happen as quickly as possible.

Catherine, go ahead.

QUESTION: About how large would the team be, and can you talk a little bit about the interagency cooperation and who would be running point on that? And then also, following on Elise, is there a follow-up call scheduled with President Jonathan to actually confirm-confirm this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't - I'm not trying to be too cute here. I think he welcomed it, so obviously, the offer of this coordination team is something that they're open to, will continue to work through the specifics on. Our Embassy in Abuja is going to be forming the coordination or the interdisciplinary team. Obviously, because I mentioned there are - there could be representatives from - to provide expertise on intelligence investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials, this would be something that would cross several agencies, absolutely.

QUESTION: And the size?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have that level of detail at this point.


QUESTION: But - I mean, I'm sorry to press this point, but --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- you're deliberately not saying that the Nigerians have accepted the offer. And it seems as if that, while the U.S. is willing to kind of pull out all the stops and do whatever it takes and whatever the government would want and would ask for, that the Nigerians have not necessarily accepted U.S. help.

MS. PSAKI: I'm not meaning to imply that. I think when I say he welcomed it, obviously, we'll work through the specifics of how this will work. But --

QUESTION: You can welcome in an offer without accepting it. You can say, "That's a very nice gesture, thank you. I'll get back to you," or whatever. But --

MS. PSAKI: That - what you're stating is not what I'm trying to imply here, Elise.

QUESTION: Then can you just say that he said, "Yes, thank you, and let's work out the details"?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this happened just a few hours ago. I don't have that level of transcription from the call this morning. But I think the Secretary came away from the call with an understanding that this is something we'd work with the Nigerians to implement.


MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Might this be a good question to ask - to pose to the Secretary himself when --

MS. PSAKI: Might be.

QUESTION: -- a little later?


QUESTION: Okay. Is it - is this the first time that an offer of assistance has been directly communicated to the Nigerian Government? My understanding was that it had been offered by lower level people before. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. This is obviously a team that would provide expertise on a range of issues, so --

QUESTION: No, no, no. But I mean the offer of assistance to Nigeria, had this not been made before? Or am I wrong on that?

MS. PSAKI: This specific coordination?

QUESTION: No, not this specific offer --

MS. PSAKI: In general? Coordinate --

QUESTION: -- the offer of we will do whatever --

MS. PSAKI: I believe we have made offers of assistance before, yes.

QUESTION: Related to this incident?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, this is something that's new and specific to this. But we have had a range of assistance we've provided, we've offered, that have been connected to it, just given who is responsible.

QUESTION: All right. Any more on Nigeria?

MS. PSAKI: I think Scott and then Catherine may have - go ahead. Or Scott, why don't you go? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you seen President Jonathan's comments, which I believe may have happened when the Secretary was in Angola, that appeared to react skeptically to President Obama's concerns about the human rights conduct of the Nigerian military in operations that Boko Haram - in areas where Boko Haram operates, saying essentially if President Obama has evidence that the Nigerian military is mistreating people, he should come forward and make that clear? Does the United States Government maintain its concern about the conduct of some Nigerian forces in the hunt for Boko Haram?

MS. PSAKI: We do. That has not changed in terms of our concerns. I am not aware that the Secretary and President Jonathan got into that level of discussion this morning. I'm happy to circle back and see. Obviously, beyond those concerns our primary focus, as all of you know, is on doing everything we can to get these girls home. And - but that doesn't change our ongoing concerns we've expressed in the past.

QUESTION: Because past assistance has had that element in it.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There's always been a phrase about ensuring that support for the Nigerian military is related to its safe conduct with civilians. I didn't hear that in your announcement this morning.

MS. PSAKI: I'm not aware, given this is a team that would be comprised of U.S. officials that would be working with the Nigerian Government - I can circle back and see if that's a piece that is included.

Go ahead, Catherine.

QUESTION: I just want to make a distinction or specify here. It seemed like a lot of the things that we've been hearing about building up forensic capabilities, for example, are part of the larger U.S.-Nigeria CT cooperation that's been going on for some time.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So this offer of assistance today seems like the - one of the first thing that the United States has offered to do that would be specifically connected to the 200-plus girls.

MS. PSAKI: That's right.

QUESTION: Am I correct -


QUESTION: -- that there was not as specific -

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: Do you see what I'm asking?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I think I do.


MS. PSAKI: From the beginning - and I think there's a bit of a crossover here, which is what I was trying to convey, because obviously, the range of assistance that we've provided in the past on counterterrorism efforts or in terms of steps to increase accountability and their law enforcement capabilities are all applicable here, right?


MS. PSAKI: Because those are all of the tools that have been used in Nigeria to try to get the girls home. But this specific interdisciplinary team or coordination cell that has a range of officials and resources from the interagency is specifically related to this incident.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I just - sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Just a quick question on the forensics that you mentioned.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you able to give us any detail, even generally, on how forensics could help in the search for these girls?

MS. PSAKI: No, and the reason I'm not is because there are a range of capabilities and assistance that obviously we would discuss - we have been, we will discuss with Nigeria and any government that if we outline publicly, that defeats the purpose of the benefit. I will check with our team and see if there's anything that we can share, but that is my understanding as of now.

QUESTION: And this is something that you've used in previous situations, is it, though - forensic science?

MS. PSAKI: As far as I understand it. I don't have a history on that, but I understand the interest, and we can see if there's more we can share on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: I just want to get more on what is the Secretary - what is he going to talk to the President about on this issue? Are they going to meet with - is that something that the President has asked --

MS. PSAKI: They have a regular - no, they have a regular meeting weekly whenever the Secretary is in town. And so given the events in Nigeria and given their shared interest in resolving this situation, I just am conveying I expect this will be a major topic of discussion.

QUESTION: So what other topics will the President and the Secretary be talking about in their meeting since you're so eager to get their agenda out there today?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to outline it further, Matt. There's quite a bit going on in the world, so --

QUESTION: Okay. I have a very brief one --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and it's not Ukraine. I just want to know, has the - one, will they be talking about the Benghazi issue and the subpoena? And two, has there been an accommodation reached with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on his appearance or nonappearance?

MS. PSAKI: All I have on the detail is - of course, what they'll talk about is Nigeria - I wouldn't expect that to be a topic of conversation, if I were to guess. I spoke with - as you know, in terms of what's happening with the request, as you all know, Secretary Kerry returned late last night from his trip to Africa. Obviously, while we were there, we spent far more time on South Sudan and the ongoing process in the Great Lakes than on the process in the latest effort to reignite a debate on - about Benghazi on the Hill.

We did talk with him about it. He'll spend - he'll be engaged with his team here in the coming days to discuss the request from HOGR. He was surprised to see that after serving 29 years in the Senate and working with both parties for decades that he was sent a subpoena before a request to testify.

He committed, from the beginning of this process, as some of you have noted, to be cooperative in providing briefings and materials to Congress. And after seven investigations, 13 hearings, dozens of transcribed interviews, and more than 50 briefings, the numbers speak for themselves. But at this time, there are still questions related to - that members need to determine within their own caucus about who has jurisdiction over these issues. There's been HOGR, there's been the Armed Services Committee, there have been reports of a select committee, of course. Obviously, I would point you all to statements that have been made by Speaker - or by Leader Pelosi and by others in Congress, and they'll, of course, work through those.

We remain - our belief remains that there's little evidence that a select committee is going to be a legitimate vehicle for congressional oversight. And our focus remains in the Secretary's view, from talking with him about this, is that the focus of Congress should be on continuing to take steps to protect the men and women who are serving overseas in high-threat posts where we have requested assistance, we've requested effort - or help in implementing - continuing to implement the ARB. And that's what his focus is on.

QUESTION: Okay. That was a very expansive answer, thank you. But all I really wanted to know was if there had been an accommodation reached with the committee about the subpoena and his possible appearance. And if not --


QUESTION: -- has there been any contact between the - his staff and the committee staff to see - I mean, has the conversation begun?

MS. PSAKI: Our team has obviously been engaged with the Hill as would be expected, but there's no specific updates I have to provide today.

QUESTION: So at this point, he still plans to be in Mexico on the 21st?

MS. PSAKI: He does, yes.

Go ahead, Lucas.

QUESTION: Last evening, Congressman Trey Gaudi called on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify. Would the State Department support her testimony?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Secretary Clinton is a private citizen, but she also testified, I believe, for about five hours on this case. And again, I'd point you to the level of cooperation both under Secretary Clinton and under Secretary Kerry with Congress, so --

QUESTION: Also, last evening a seven-page email was released with the title, "Fox News: U.S. officials knew Libya attack was terrorism within 24 hours, sources confirm." This email was sent out approximately September 27th. Are you aware of this email?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure. I don't have that specific email in front of me, Lucas, but --

QUESTION: Is it common when news breaks that emails go out with the source, CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC?

MS. PSAKI: We do have a clips process in the Administration, where we track what all of you report, yes.


MS. PSAKI: Every outlet.

QUESTION: In hindsight, does the State Department still say intervention in Libya was a good idea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, our position hasn't changed. Are you getting at a specific component, or what is your specific question?

QUESTION: Just in hindsight - the Administration ran on a policy of not intervening in other countries, and this kind of intervention in Libya was seen as something the government would not do. And I'm just wondering, in hindsight, would the State Department support going into Libya again?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, I would point you to those in the White House about what the President ran or didn't run on, despite the fact that I was personally there. But I don't think there's any belief that they would change what efforts they've supported. Obviously - and this is a point I was making in the last point I made in response to Matt's question - you look at, and there have been, because of the number of investigations and the ARB process, there have been steps taken to ensure that our men and women serving overseas are better protected, that we're requesting the kind of resources and financial support we need, that that is all taken into account, so certainly that we have reflected and the changes we've made since then.

QUESTION: Despite all the testimony and all the questions in the ARB, one of the questions that remains, is still out there is: Was it the State Department or the White House that briefed Susan Rice before she appeared on the talk shows?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Lucas, I would have to tell you that from participating in a number of briefings for Sunday shows, it can have a range of officials, and that shouldn't come as a surprise. And as many have stated, the information provided was the best information provided by the CIA to members of Congress, same talking points, that we had available at the time.

QUESTION: Right, but so nobody knows to this day who briefed Susan Rice and suggested that this line about the video was something she should go out and talk about?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Lucas, I would point you to Mike Morell's testimony where he conveyed that's the information we had available at the time, and that's what the intel community assessed at the time.

QUESTION: But he mentioned demonstrations; he never mentioned the video.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not - I don't think I'm going to play much further into looking back into the rearview mirror on this.

Do we have any more on this topic?


MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No. It's not on this specifically.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. New topic?

QUESTION: It's - well, it's - I presume, even though you don't want to say 100 percent, that Ukraine will also come up in the discussion between the Secretary and the President --

MS. PSAKI: I'm sure there'll be a range of topics of - out there in the news today, Matt; Ukraine, certainly......

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