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Government News : United States : Federal Government : Department of State : Daily Press Briefings

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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 19, 2013


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 19, 2013


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • EGYPT
    • Economic Support Fund / Security Assistance / Review of All Assistance Programs
    • Legal Review and Policy Review
    • Relationship with Egypt / National Security Interests / Regional Stability
    • Mubarak Trial / Internal Egyptian Legal Matter / Path to Sustainable Democracy
    • Secretary's Contacts / Coordination and Cooperation Among Partners
    • Inclusive Process Moving Forward
    • Arbitrary Arrests / Security Concerns
    • Condemnation of Violence / Sinai Peninsula / Christian Institutions / Muslim Brotherhood Prisoners
  • UNITED KINGDOM
    • U.K. Law Authority Operation
  • INDIA / PAKISTAN
    • Dialogue between Pakistan and India / Kashmir
  • SYRIA
    • Refugees Crossing into Iraq / Coordinated Efforts
    • Geneva 2 Planning / Political Solution / Under Secretary Sherman and Ambassador Ford to Meet with Russian Officials
  • ZIMBABWE
    • SADC Communique / Electoral Process / U.S. Sanctions Policy
  • LEBANON
    • Condemnation of Attack


TRANSCRIPT:

1:34 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday in August. I’m impressed you’re all here, joining me here today. I don’t have anything for you all at the top. I can bet what’s on your minds, so let’s start there.

QUESTION: Okay. Let’s start with Egypt, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: So to start with, this New York Times story of yesterday, which cites Administration officials as saying that the State Department has put a hold on financing for economic programs --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that directly involve the Egyptian Government. Just so we’re clear, as I understand this story, that’s talking about the approximately $250 million – some subset of the $250 million in economic assistance. Is that true? Has the State Department put a hold on financing for any of the economic assistance to Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for your question, Arshad. To be clear, we have not made a policy decision to put a blanket hold on economic support – on the Economic Support Fund, ESF assistance. Clearly, that review is ongoing, as we’ve talked about in here quite a bit. That review includes military assistance, security assistance, and it also includes economic assistance. But we have not made a decision to put a blanket hold.

QUESTION: Let’s drop the blanket, like, minus --

MS. PSAKI: Hold, a hold.

QUESTION: But on any – on any of the $250 million in economic assistance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve said from the beginning, we’re going to abide by legal obligations and we will make adjustments as needed – as needed in the future. The review is still ongoing. Let me give you just a little bit more because I think – I know there’s been a lot of confusion on this and what applies to what.

So funding that goes – broadly speaking, funding that goes to nongovernmental entities in Egypt would not be affected, regardless of whether the restrictions were triggered, and is being continued. Programs with the government designed to promote free and fair elections, health assistance, programs for the environment, democracy, rule of law, and good governance can also continue in cases even where a legal restriction might apply.

So to the extent where there are ESF programs that would benefit the government, which is obviously a section, we are reviewing each of those programs on a case-by-case basis to identify whether we have authority to continue providing those funds or should seek to modify our activities to ensure that our actions are consistent with the law.

QUESTION: Okay. So how much money does that represent?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of the programs that are specific to the government?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an exact breakdown. Some of these programs are still being determined in terms of where funding will go.

QUESTION: Ballpark?

MS. PSAKI: A large portion goes to nongovernmental entities as well as governmental entities where it would be appropriate to continue assistance, as the ones I listed.

QUESTION: More than half goes to NGOs?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to put a percentage on it, but a large majority.

QUESTION: Well, how – a large majority? So more than half?

MS. PSAKI: Say a large chunk.

QUESTION: But is it a majority or not?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s fair to say more than half would be in the category where it wouldn’t apply to those that --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: -- are being reviewed on a case-by-case.

QUESTION: So The New York Times is wrong, then, when it says that you have put a hold on financing for economic programs that directly involve the Egyptian Government?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: You’re identifying – correct? So that’s just flat-out wrong?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: We are reviewing programs – and I know this has been a very confusing process, as funding programs often can be. So we are reviewing places where adjustments need to be made, and we will make those as needed.

QUESTION: Okay. So excellent to have dispatched with that apparently erroneous report. Can you take the question of – and it’s a question I think is perfectly reasonable to ask, because you are yourselves trying to figure this out – exactly how much of the $250 million in economic assistance falls into the category of assistance that benefits the government, and therefore that you are reviewing for whether you can continue it or not continue it under the law?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look into this. I know it seems like there would be an obvious answer, but it’s a question I asked in anticipation that you all may ask. There wasn’t an easy answer --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- so let me see if there’s an easy answer or information more that we can provide to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. Then, second, if I can continue on the --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- second set of questions related to this: The restrictions that obtain here on the economic funds, totally separate – I mean, this is the question – are they totally separate from those that could apply to the $1.3 billion under section 7008?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yes?

MS. PSAKI: So there are separate pots, right – there’s economic assistance, there’s security assistance. Security assistance includes FMF military assistance, which we’re all familiar with. It also includes law enforcement, nonproliferation, and antiterrorism programs. They’re reviewed in the same manner, with the same restrictions.

QUESTION: So just so I’m clear, though, does any of the $1.3 billion in military assistance fall within this review?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: The specific review of whether you – I’m talking about non-section 7008.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In other words, totally outside of that, do you still have to go through and scrub the $1.3 billion to see if any of that might also be restricted?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as the President said on July 3rd, we’re reviewing all of our aid, so all of those buckets.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) I know that.

MS. PSAKI: Right?

QUESTION: But I’m – what I’m trying to understand is whether the review that is being conducted on the $250 million or so also applies on the $1.3 billion.

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re different programs --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- right?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So if it were to apply, section 7008, as you know, is a restriction on the obligation and expenditure on certain funds to the Egyptian Government, and we have carefully reviewed all assistance for Egypt with that legal authority in mind. So whether it applies, we’re still undergoing that review, but obviously, the review is of all the assistance.

QUESTION: Sure. No, I’m afraid I feel like you’re not --

MS. PSAKI: I may not be understanding your question --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I’m just --

MS. PSAKI: -- so why don’t you try it again?

QUESTION: Okay. So leaving aside the review that is --

MS. PSAKI: The legal review?

QUESTION: Leaving aside the question of whether you were to choose to determine that a military coup has occurred, and therefore whether you would then be obligated to cut off the $1.3 billion, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are there additional regulations similar – or rules similar to the ones that are requiring you to review the $250 million in economic assistance that would apply to the $1.3 billion as well, or not?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of any, but let me check into that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you ask? Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Yep, I’m happy to. I’m happy to.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MS. PSAKI: Let me – can I – oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Please. Oh, no, no, go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to give – I know there’s also been some confusion about the FMF funding. So --

QUESTION: That was my next question, so go ahead. Yep.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. So of the $1.23 billion FMF financing, so Foreign Military Financing allocated for Egypt in FY2013, $650 million has been transferred to the Egypt account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At no time are the funds transferred to full Egyptian control. That’s standard operating procedure.

After sequestration withholding, approximately $585 million remains unobligated. So that is the amount that is unobligated. That – appropriated funds are obligated and expended on a rolling basis, so this isn’t a FY2013 issue, this happens in other cases as well and has happened in past years. But it would be inaccurate to say that a policy decision has been made with respect to the remaining assistance funding.

QUESTION: So here’s my next question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- directly pertinent to that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You told us and you reiterated it last week, but you told us going back to when Deputy Secretary Burns briefed the Hill, and you reiterated that it was still the case last week, that you did not intend to make a determination as to whether Section 7008 applies.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we did not – we did not intend to make a determination as to whether it was a coup.

QUESTION: Yes, a military coup.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And there are – well, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is that still your policy that you do not intend to make a determination as to whether it’s a military coup?

MS. PSAKI: That is correct.

QUESTION: Okay. So then --

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s important to note, as we said at the time, because we are abiding by our legal obligations, as we’ve talked about from the beginning, obviously, the legal review and what that means and how it applies and working with Congress on applying it has been a multiweek process here and it’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MS. PSAKI: There is also a policy review, right, as it relates to our broad relationship with Egypt. That’s also ongoing, because as you know, it is not about whether a determination is made as to what our aid is; we can make other decisions related to our aid. But at the time when we said that we were not going to make a determination and we made clear that that abided with our legal obligations, we also talked about how there are national security interests, there are interests related to regional stability, and we fully believe that Egypt can return through a rocky path to a sustainable democracy. And there is an implication by naming one side or the other that you’re taking sides, and that has been a policy priority for us not to do that.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS. PSAKI: But we’re still abiding by our legal obligations.

QUESTION: So here’s what I don’t get, then.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Paragraph four of the Times story says whether to cut off the remaining $585 million in military aid available to Egypt this year was one of the questions that awaited President Obama as he returns to Washington from Martha’s Vineyard. But you’re telling me that the policy is unchanged, that you do not intend to find – you do not intend to make a determination.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. However --

QUESTION: Yes?

MS. PSAKI: -- there are still the review of what is applicable legally, also the policy review of our relationship broadly with Egypt, including all forms of aid, whether that’s FMF or ESF. That is ongoing.

QUESTION: Okay. So you could – so in other words, you’re opening up the – you’re making clear that you – that the President has the option, should he wish, of cutting off some or all of the remaining $585 million, whether he does so under Section 7008 or not; in other words, as part of the policy review he could reduce, cut, eliminate that if he wished?

MS. PSAKI: The President has a range of options, absolutely.

QUESTION: Including those, to cut some or all of that?

MS. PSAKI: Including those. And now, it’s not as simple as that, given there are – there is a process, just hypothetically speaking, which I don’t like to do but I’m trying to be very clear with this or as clear as possible. There is a wind-down process. There is no decision that’s been made, so any reports saying a decision has been made are inaccurate. That review is ongoing, as we said last week. And it’s important to note, obviously, events on the ground last week but moving forward will be taken into account as we consider our relationship. So I just wanted to be fully clear.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: Explain to us, what does unobligated mean? You said unobligated. What does that mean, $585 million?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obligated means it would have been --

QUESTION: All the aid is obligated.

MS. PSAKI: Let me – I’m answering your question, I think, Said.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: If not, you can ask another question. Six hundred and fifty million – there’s been some confusion, I’m not necessarily saying from this room, on what it means. I made the important point, or what I think is an important point, that at no point are funds transferred to Egyptian control. They’re transferred to an Egypt account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That would be – the next step would be to transfer the remaining unobligated $585 million to that account.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: So Jen, just to be super precise --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the President, without saying it is or it is not a coup, could put aid to Egypt on hold based on this policy review?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has always had a range of options from the beginning. The best way I can explain it is there is a legal review and there’s a policy review – legal, it’s abiding by our legal obligations. And as I mentioned – and sorry to go back through this, but I think it’s important here – there are certain programs – in ESF, there are some programs in there as an example that we’d have to – we have to – we might have to adjust, depending. But that review is ongoing. But the President can certainly make decisions regarding – related to our relationship with Egypt and funding that we provide, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. Because this is kind of a big – now a very important moment here where you’re saying he can avoid making any decision on a coup but he could still stop the aid in one form or another. I mean, it might not be all, whatever.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t want to get too ahead of it, but to be as clear as we can here, there are separate questions here, right? Determinating – determinating, that’s not a word. Determining whether or not it’s a coup, you are very familiar with our position, as we’ve stated in here many, many times. But more broadly speaking, our ongoing review of our relationship, all of our programs, all of our aid, is, of course, part of our ongoing review of our own broad relationship with Egypt.

QUESTION: Jen, just to follow up on --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what I was asking on the $1.3 billion that is actually military.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, most of it, as I understand it, goes back towards buying F-16s and tanks and equipment and so on, and all this. Do you have a breakdown of that? That goes back to American U.S. manufacturers; isn’t that true?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right that only the defense – this is getting into the weeds, but since we’re there – only the Defense Finance Accounting Service may draw on the funds held in the Egypt Federal Reserve account. In coordination with the Government of Egypt, they may draw on the account for payments on contracts between defense contractors and the Department of Defense on behalf of Egypt. In terms of what percentage goes back to defense contractors, I would point you to the Department of Defense for any breakdown. I’m not sure what they have available.

QUESTION: Does that in any way gnaw at the leverage of the U.S. --

MS. PSAKI: Can you say that one more time, Said?

QUESTION: Does that minimize or actually mitigate the leverage that the U.S. could have in terms of threatening to cut off aid, because a lot of it goes back to U.S. manufacturers? Does that in any way compromise the leverage that you could have by saying we could cut off the aid?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, there are obviously a range of issues that are discussed. As you know, there’s this internal discussion on what steps should be taken next.

QUESTION: Oh, another weeds question.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sorry, Deb. We’ll go to you next.

QUESTION: Sorry, just a very --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- just a clarification. When you say “benefits the government,” what does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: Tell me again which context I said in that.

QUESTION: You said – well, remember back about 10 minutes ago you were talking about programs that might benefit the government, as opposed to some of the earlier ones like nongovernmental entities, et cetera --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that wouldn’t be stopped, but ESF that would benefit the government might be. What is that exactly?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I gave you some, kind of – the way I would view what I said is there are certain programs with the government that would not be impacted. So those that promote free and fair elections, health assistance, programs for the environment, democracy, rule of law, and good governance can all continue. So those are sort of the exceptions, for lack of a better term. In terms of specific programs, I’d have to check with our team and see if there’s an example that might be useful to all of you.

QUESTION: Okay. Two questions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any reaction to the court ruling that Mubarak might be freed or could be freed? And secondly, back on the funding thing --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is there any fear that if you reduce the military aid, or even the economic aid, that the Egyptian rulers at the time now will lessen the protection of the U.S. Embassy there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me do the first one first, as chronologically makes sense, so that’s nice. As we’ve long said with respect to the Mubarak trial – and I would point you back to many comments long before my arrival here with all of you – this is an eternal – internal Egyptian legal matter that is working its way through the Egyptian legal system, and otherwise we would refer you to the Government of Egypt for any further details.

On the second question, can you repeat that one more time?

QUESTION: Is there any fear that the reduction of aid in any form, military or economic --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- would – do you all fear that the ruling generals would somehow lessen the protection of the U.S. Embassy there?

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: In retaliation, so to speak. Okay, you’re not going to help us; then we’re not going to provide protection for you.

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we would hope that would not be the case. Obviously, this is a hypothetical, given we haven’t made decisions yet. But --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the decision-making process?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re getting several steps ahead in a hypothetical on a decision we haven’t made yet, so I just don’t want to speculate on any of that at this stage from here.

QUESTION: Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal has said yesterday that to those who have announced they are cutting aids or their aid to Egypt or threatening to do that, we say that Arab and Muslim nations are rich and will not hesitate to help Egypt. And he expressed his concerns over the West’s criticism of the Egyptian Government, saying you will not achieve anything through threats. Do you think he’s talking to the U.S.?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speculate on that. Obviously, every country makes their own decision about whether they’re going to continue to provide aid, what aid they will provide, and we’ve certainly seen that. As you know, we’ve worked with a range of regional partners who have supported different sides or both sides in this – these issues going on in Egypt and will continue to do that. But we’ll make our own decisions here, based on our own national security interests, our own concerns about regional stability. And that review is ongoing.

QUESTION: What do you think about the Saudis’ position that – towards what’s going on in Egypt?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything more for you on it.

QUESTION: Are you --

MS. PSAKI: Every country is going to make their own decisions about aid and what they will or won’t provide.

QUESTION: Are you on the same page with them or two different pages?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we work closely with them, as we do with many regional partners. We share a belief that we need to return to a productive, stable path forward. And beyond that, I don’t have any more for you.

QUESTION: Yes. Can we expect a U.S. decision on cutting or not cutting the aid to Egypt in the coming weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Again, of course, the review is ongoing, but I wouldn’t want to get ahead of and box in the President on his own decision-making.

QUESTION: And just back to the Mubarak question --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- how would you take the fact that Mubarak may be freed and that President Morsy faces more charges, including criminal charges since this morning?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t conflate the two. We’ve been clear on what our position on Mr. Morsy is. That is the same. And beyond that, I would point you to the Egyptian Government on the Mubarak case.

QUESTION: Still on Egypt or --

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Sure, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Still on Egypt?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: In the determination of the coup, what part of the aid would be – would have to be cut?

MS. PSAKI: In the definition of a coup?

QUESTION: No. If a determination was made that it was a coup.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can – I’m sure I can get you the legal breakdown on the specifics of that.

QUESTION: Broadly.

QUESTION: Isn’t it the whole $1.3 billion?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on it. We’ll see if there’s a legal breakdown for it that (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Broadly speaking.

QUESTION: Just for the sake of clarity --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- historically for – in recent years, the military portion has run at $1.3 billion. The reason that you referenced $1.23 billion for this year is because of the cuts --

MS. PSAKI: Sequestration withholding.

QUESTION: -- that were obliged under sequestration?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Super. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Exactly.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You mentioned that there are two reviews are going separately, I assume, or maybe what you call it, parallel ones, legal review and political review. And as much as I got from your explanation and answering the question, the legal review is based – the answer is that if it’s a coup or not. I mean, I assume so.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not about whether it’s a coup or not.

QUESTION: The legal one.

MS. PSAKI: It’s about abiding by Section 7008.

QUESTION: Which is based --

MS. PSAKI: A restriction on the obligation and expenditure of certain funds to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And if that’s the case for the legal review, what are the criteria of the political review? Based on what, then?

MS. PSAKI: The policy review? Well, I think it’s --

QUESTION: About what happened or what’s going on now?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. They’re all factors. Our national security interests. We have a long – decades long relationship with Egypt that we hope will continue. We fully believe that Egypt can return to a sustainable democracy, or they can continue on the path, I should say, to a sustainable democracy. We know that takes time. We know that Egypt plays an important role in regional stability. These are all factors. There are a range of factors and that’s, of course, why it’s an ongoing review and an ongoing discussion.

QUESTION: My second question is related to the contacts. Seems that in the last two days most of the things are coming through press or media --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- whether it is the Egyptian side or the American side. Since Thursday, which was the last time you appeared on this podium --

MS. PSAKI: That is true.

QUESTION: -- yes – any kind of contacts was – is going on? And in these contacts, are there other partners or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we remain in close contact on the ground, but let me read out for you the Secretary’s contacts. He spoke with Interim Foreign Minister Fahmy twice on Friday. He made clear our concerns about the actions on the ground last week. He encouraged, as he has publicly, as we have publicly, the interim government to continue to move forward on a posture toward reconciliation. He passed on concerns he’s had, he’s heard from members of Congress of varying degrees. As I’ve said from here before, the Secretary speaks regularly with many members of Congress, and pass that along. And he made clear that we, of course, condemn all violence regardless of the side it’s coming from, but reiterated that the interim government has a preponderance of power and it plays a unique role. So he spoke with him.

He also spoke with Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan. They talked about a range of issues, including Egypt, as well as Middle East peace and Syria. And he spoke with the Emirati Foreign Minister just yesterday and reiterated many of the same concerns and discussed, of course, our ongoing review of our relationship.

QUESTION: Yes. Regarding the Foreign Minister Fahmy --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- he had a press conference the day before yesterday, I think --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and the – one of the things he raised is the issue of this – according to his description of, which is internationalization of the Egyptian case --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- which was based – I mean, somehow related to the question of raising the issue to the UN Security Council.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any view about that? Do you have an attitude about that? I saw it was a – I know it was a closed session, and the only quote was attributed to Samantha Power, was like one line. It was not even clear what was the U.S. attitude toward this raising the issue in the Security Council. Do you have something about it?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the UN here for anything specific. Broadly speaking, we, of course, support ongoing coordination and cooperation and dialogue between our many partners. As you know, the Secretary – I mentioned some of his recent calls, but as you know, because we’ve talked about it in here, he’s also been in touch with EU High Representative Ashton in the past weeks on a regular basis and many different officials on that.

QUESTION: So another – somehow the trend which is in Egypt and according to the official announcements there, whether it’s somehow the spokesperson or the advisor of the President --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and others, it was – it is a matter of 24 or 48 hours, they are talking about dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood or even the political party of it. Do you have any comment about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen those reports. As we’ve consistently said from the beginning, we believe any process moving forward needs to be inclusive and include all parties and all sides. That continues to be our public and private message.

QUESTION: So that means banning the Muslim Brotherhood is not a good idea?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: No, just one --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s finish Egypt, and then we’ll go to you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, you mentioned a legal review and a policy review. I was wondering if there was a potential judiciary review, or where that would fit in, and if the U.S. is able to discern if Egypt’s judiciary is functioning adequately in this crisis, and also if it’s maintaining some sense of impartiality with the rulings in both the Mubarak and the Morsy cases.

MS. PSAKI: I think those are – the reviews I mentioned are the reviews that are ongoing. Of course, we’re watching closely everything happening on the ground. And we have stated in the past, and let me reiterate today, that we have concerns about arbitrary arrests. We have said that we believe there should be a process put in place taking into account security and other concerns for Mr. Morsy and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. That remains the case today and our position has not changed. And obviously, we look at all components on the ground as we continue to discuss and review our relationship with Egypt.

QUESTION: The Egyptian prosecutor said that Morsy would need to be detained for 15 days because he was inciting violence. Do you agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s not for us to determine or to make determinations, but we – our position has been clear, which I just stated, and obviously, we’re looking at all components of what’s happening on the ground.

QUESTION: Jen, has anyone been in touch with Baradei since he went to Vienna?

MS. PSAKI: With – I’m sorry, with whom?

QUESTION: The former Vice President, Mohamed Baradei --

MS. PSAKI: With Baradei.

QUESTION: -- in Vienna. Has anyone been in touch with him?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary – I think I spoke about this last week. I’m not sure when he arrived in Vienna. But the Secretary did speak with him a number of times last week.

QUESTION: So who is taking the lead on this? I know that the Secretary is the top guy here, but who’s taking, let’s say, day-to-day events, or the point person --

MS. PSAKI: From the Administration?

QUESTION: -- from the Administration on the Egypt thing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is an issue that we’re closely focused on, and it’s one that’s discussed by the entire national security team. And so I would say many different players are in touch with many different counterparts, whether they are officials from other governments who have a stake in the region, or whether it’s Egyptian officials.

QUESTION: And finally, I know that the buck stops with the President and looking back – and I know you don’t do retrospect, but in retrospect, was it a mistake to have McCain and Lindsey at the same time as Burns was there? And it seems that all reports point to a close-but-no-cigar kind of a deal, that was basically sort of confused by the presence of the Senators. Do you agree do a retrospective in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re right, I’m not going to do a retrospect on that. I know we spoke about it a bit last week. I just don’t have anything further to add on it.

Do we have any more on Egypt? Is yours Egypt, Jill, or no?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: One more on Egypt. Would suspending aid be a propaganda victory for the Muslim Brotherhood?

MS. PSAKI: Would it be a propaganda victory?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: No. We’re reviewing it with a number of factors in mind, all of which I’ve outlined. But again, it’s a hypothetical because we’re not at that point.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt, in the back?

QUESTION: Yeah. Jen, do you have any comments on the situation in Sinai --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- especially after today, 24 soldiers have been killed and attacked by an extremist militia? And a follow-up question: In case that the U.S. decided to stop the military aid to the Egyptian military, do you think – do you – don’t you have any fears that it will affect negatively on the role of the Egyptian army to fighters, especially the United States, it’s – when you consider it the main supporter for the Egyptian army? What do you think?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll preview you for you that I’m not going to get into the second question, given it’s a hypothetical, but I can say that we, of course, strongly condemn today’s attack against Egyptian Central Security Force officers in the Sinai. We extend our condolences to the families of those who have been killed. The Sinai Peninsula remains an area of concern, and the current situation in Egypt has not improved the situation. A number of loosely-knit militant groups have formed in the Sinai. The United States, of course, continues to support Egypt’s ongoing efforts against terrorism and growing lawlessness in the Sinai, and we continue to cooperate with Egypt in these efforts.


If I may, there have been, unfortunately, a number of instances of violence, so let me just go through a couple of those as well.

We also condemn the attacks and violence that continue to occur across Egypt, including we deplore in the strongest terms the reprehensible attacks against over 40 Coptic Christian churches and other Christian institutions, including schools, social service societies, and businesses by extremists bent on sowing interreligious strife, when the vast majority of Egyptians reject such behavior. We’re also deeply troubled by the suspicious deaths of Muslim Brotherhood prisoners in a purported prison escape attempt near Cairo.

We, again, urge all those in Egypt to refrain from violence. There’s absolutely no place for such violence in Egypt. We call on all Egypt’s leaders and the international community to condemn such attacks without equivocation.

QUESTION: Why are those suspicious? Why have you judged those are suspicious?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of details that aren’t clear. But we’ve, of course, seen the reports and had some questions about that.

QUESTION: And have you raised it with the Egyptian authorities?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not – well, I know the Secretary’s last calls. I’m not sure beyond that. I know we’re in touch closely on the ground.

QUESTION: Can you check whether you’ve raised that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m happy to check what the last contacts have been.

QUESTION: And if so, at what level?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Related to this last point you made, the statement --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- do you still believe or consider the pro-Morsy protestors peaceful protestors or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve consistently condemned all violence from either side in here. As the Secretary said last week in his statement, the interim government obviously has a large portion of the power in this case, but regardless of where the violence is coming from, that’s something we would condemn, and we don’t think there’s any place for it in Egypt.

QUESTION: Other subject?

QUESTION: Sorry. Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Any more?

QUESTION: -- I was wondering if I could just quickly clarify what you were saying before.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the legal and policy review, the – both of which are ongoing, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And the legal review consists of essentially making a determination on whether there was a coup or not? Is that --

MS. PSAKI: No. It is – Section 7008 is a restriction on the obligation and expenditure of certain funds to the Egyptian Government. I would point you back to the President’s statement on July 3rd, where he asked all of Administration officials to undergo a review of our aid. And certainly, as we’ve said from the beginning, our – one of our primary goals here is, of course, to abide by our legal obligations while we are still looking at the broad spectrum of our national security interests, regional stability, and our own belief that Egypt can return to a sustainable democratic path.

QUESTION: Okay. But and then aside from that --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- there’s also the policy review, under which only the $585 million that remains to be obligated is subject to that review. Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Again, our broad relationship with Egypt, including all forms of aid, is part of any review. And that’s why the President asked six weeks ago – I think – I hope I’m doing my math correctly there – for all departments to review. So I wouldn’t partition it into one component. It is a broad review. Those discussions are ongoing.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Final point.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just I think I might have missed it, when you were talking about the $650 million --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that was transferred to the Egypt account at the Fed --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and you said that that doesn’t really go under Egyptian control. It goes --

MS. PSAKI: FMF funding doesn’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: There’s – and there’s often confusion about this, because it’s – it can be confusing. It goes – doesn’t go to full Egyptian control. It goes to the Egypt account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And then through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Government of Egypt will work with that entity moving forward.

QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, because --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if I understand it right, you have a veto. In other words, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service – the money doesn’t get dispensed unless the U.S. Government agrees.

MS. PSAKI: No withdrawals may be made from the account without the Defense Finance and Accounting Service consent.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one other thing. I’m a little perplexed about one thing.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: When you talk about the legal review --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- under 7008 --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but you’ve made your decision that you don’t plan to make a determination, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And that has not changed?

MS. PSAKI: That has not changed.

QUESTION: And are you reviewing that decision?

MS. PSAKI: I believe we’ve made a decision. Obviously anything we can review. But there’s no plans for that.

QUESTION: But to your knowledge, you’re not actually reviewing the decision not to make a determination?

MS. PSAKI: No. And what the point I was trying to make earlier – so let me just reiterate it now – is it’s important to note that when we announced we weren’t making a determination, we talked about our broad national security interests. It’s always been about the Egyptian people determining their path forward, and not making a determination was in part because we did not want to send a signal that we were taking sides. That’s an important component of working with Egypt and working with them as they try to get on a path back to sustainable democracy.

QUESTION: Yes, please, just a --

MS. PSAKI: Is this still on Egypt?

QUESTION: Yes. Clarification.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Are these numbers that you mentioned related to the Fiscal Year 2013, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Not 14?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s FY2013.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt or on a --

QUESTION: Yes, Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Egypt. Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name’s Ahmet from Turkey.

MS. PSAKI: Hi, Ahmet.

QUESTION: Turkish Radio and Television.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, nice to meet you.

QUESTION: Turkish Ambassador to Egypt Huseyin Avni just is recalled to Turkey and he has briefed the cabinet on developments in Egypt. And then the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan kept up pressure on Egypt and said – and calling the violence a shame for Islam and the Arab world. And he described inaction for the international community on Egypt crisis as shameful. So do you share these comments on the issue?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to every comment that comes from a foreign leader, and especially those that are close – we work closely with. I think I’ve stated clearly what our position is. The review is ongoing. Of course, we’ve condemned very clearly the violence that’s happening on the ground, and certainly when hundreds of civilians are killed, as they were last week, it’s not business as usual. You heard the Secretary say that last week, and the discussions are ongoing in the Administration, but I have nothing to announce for you today.

Let – is it Egypt?

QUESTION: No. Different subject.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s go to Jill. She’s been patiently waiting for a new topic.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Finally. Concerning Glenn Greenwald --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and his detention by the British – I’m sorry – his partner’s detention, David Miranda.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- did the U.S. actually request the British Home Office to do that, to detain him and to confiscate his electronic equipment?

MS. PSAKI: So we – of course, as you know, this is – this was U.K. law enforcement operation. We do have a close law enforcement and intelligence relationship with the U.K. and we were informed in advance, but we did not ask U.K. authorities to undertake this operation.

QUESTION: But isn’t it correct that now the U.S. actually does have access to his laptop and mobile and all of that?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything – any further information for you than I just portrayed.

QUESTION: Did you suggest it? Even if you didn’t ask, did you say: hey, this might be an idea?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more for you than I just conveyed, Arshad.

QUESTION: Does the United States support his detention?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you than I just conveyed.

QUESTION: On – in Pakistan today --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Pakistan?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister today made a major speech since his inception, and he was underlining the importance of maintaining peace in South Asia --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and said that Pakistan and India should not waste their resources on fighting wars. Instead, they should fight poverty, illiteracy, and bring development to their people. Do you have any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that speech. I’m happy to take a look. As you know, our position remains the same, that we believe that Pakistan and India can work through any issues through dialogue, and we encourage that to, of course, continue.

QUESTION: Especially in the backdrop of tensions that have been simmering in the disputed Kashmir region, and he also said that Kashmir remains a vital outstanding dispute which must be resolved.

MS. PSAKI: And our policy on Kashmir has not changed. We still believe that the pace, scope, and character of India and Pakistan’s dialogue is for those two countries to determine.

QUESTION: But will you continue to encourage both capitals to return to peace talks and --

MS. PSAKI: We certainly continue to encourage further dialogue.

QUESTION: Jen, Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The UN has announced today that more than 30,000 people or Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq from Syria --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in the last five days. Do you have any reaction, and how do you view this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, are aware of reports that as many as 30,000 Syrians have crossed from Syria into Iraq since August 15th. We understand most of the refugees are from Aleppo, Afrin, Hasaka, and Qamishli. Reports are that the crossing reception and processing of the new arrivals have gone smoothly, thanks to the coordinated efforts of the UN, the International Organization for Migration, NGO partners, and local government officials. We also appreciate the efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government to open the border, and remain deeply grateful to Iraq and other countries in the region that are providing protection, assistance, and hospitality to the nearly two million refugees who have fled the violence inside Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new for you. I think we’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. Let me check with our team and see where we are on that question.

QUESTION: One more on Syria. A Russian official has talked today about a U.S.-Russian meeting next week in The Hague to cooperate or to talk about Geneva 2.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any announcement?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I do, actually. We have long agreed with Russia that a conference in Geneva is the best vehicle for moving towards a political solution. We all agree the talks cannot become a stalling tactic, and Secretary Kerry has been very clear on this point with the Russians. As you know, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel met August 9th, so just about 10 days ago, with their Russian counterparts on a range of bilateral and global issues, including efforts to build more momentum towards Geneva. They agreed to have senior members of their teams meet to continue to make progress on Geneva planning.

So Under Secretary Sherman, Ambassador Ford – and Ambassador Ford will meet in The Hague with their Russian counterparts to discuss this effort next week.

QUESTION: So it’s not at the level of, let’s say, with Secretary Kerry and Lavrov? It’s not at --

MS. PSAKI: Well, they – as you know, they speak on a regular basis, including just 10 days ago, and they talked about building momentum towards a Geneva conference. But these conversations, working through the logistics, have happened at this level throughout the process.

QUESTION: Okay. So that has not in any way sort of taken the urgency out of the process?

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. I’ll remind you that in the meetings that have taken place with the UN and with Russian counterparts, Under Secretary Sherman and either Ambassador Ford or Acting Assistant Secretary Jones have been typically the representatives from the United States.

QUESTION: And at that level, will they discuss countries that may be or may not be invited to the Geneva conference?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly continue to discuss participation, and that will be part of the discussion next week.

QUESTION: Do you know who’s going to represent the Russians?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that information. I will check and see if we have any clarity on that point.

QUESTION: Okay. And did --

QUESTION: Do you know which date?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have the date yet, just next week. That may still be being worked out.

QUESTION: And should we read into the fact of this meeting that there may be some progress on holding Geneva 2, notwithstanding that all public indications suggest that there’s been no progress for the last several months?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So should we, from the fact that there’s going to be this meeting, conclude that there has been any progress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you can take from it that during the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov this was a prominent topic of conversation. They agreed and reiterated their belief that this is the appropriate mechanism. They would like to move forward with it sooner rather than later, but in terms of what that means, that’s part of the discussion that will happen next week. Of course, the Russians and the United States, as we all know, are not the only players. We’re still continuing to encourage the Syrian opposition to develop a unified delegation able to present solid ideas, and that’s part of the calculus as well.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, have the – has President Assad’s government sent any recent signal suggesting that it is open to a Geneva 2 gathering?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that for you, but certainly expect that will be a part of the discussion next week with the Russians.

QUESTION: Jen, I think last week --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Minister Lavrov was very critical of your position that suggested that the Syrian Government does not want to go to Geneva. So what made you, at the time, say that the Syrian Government is not desirous of going to Geneva?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, if they indicate they would like to go to Geneva, that would be a positive step, and we’re in touch with the opposition and encouraging them to develop a unified delegation as well.

QUESTION: But the Syrian Government does say that. I mean, time and again, they say, “We want a political resolution to this conflict.” Isn’t that an indication they want to go?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve said a range of things, Said. So the question is: Where are we now, and can we move this process forward? And as you know, the Russians are in close touch with them and I’m certain will be a part of the discussion next week.

QUESTION: Jen, Jordanian Prime Minister --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is talking about help providing by the U.S. to Jordan to protect itself to prevent any chemical weapons war --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on Syria. Can you talk to or can you tell us about this cooperation and what help are you providing to them?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly can. As you know, we have provided a great deal of assistance to Jordan in the past. Let me see. I know I have something for you in here. Let me see if I have it. Thanks for your patience. Let me get back with you right after the briefing. I know I have something on that for you, and we’ll give it to you right after the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: I’m going to have to wrap this up shortly here, but Scott.

QUESTION: On Zimbabwe.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The SADC alliance has called on Western nations to lift their sanctions against Zimbabwe. Is that an opinion shared by the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we understand, of course, as you reference, that SADC, in its August 18th communique, assessed Zimbabwe’s recent elections as free and peaceful. The United States stands by our assessment that these elections, while relatively peaceful, did not represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people due to serious flaws throughout the electoral process, as highlighted by the regional and domestic monitors. So our position, of course, is not the same.

QUESTION: The SADC chair, the Malawi President Joyce Banda, says the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough and that’s why she believes that those sanctions should be lifted. Does the United States believe that the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough?

MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, let me first say that SADC has played a very positive role in supporting democratic reform in Zimbabwe, and its continued involvement will be important to consolidate and advance still-needed reforms. We remain committed to working with them and our concerns were around the serious flaws highlighted by SADC’s own observation team.

In terms of sanctions and our own review, our own look at that, as I believe is your question, we have made clear to the Government of Zimbabwe and the region that a change in U.S. sanctions policy will occur only in a context of credible, transparent, peaceful reforms that reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. That is how we make our decisions and the prism we, of course, make them through. Of course, we are always concerned about the suffering of any people, certainly the people of Zimbabwe, but that’s how we make our decisions. And if those changes are made, then we’ll certainly conduct a review.

QUESTION: So it’s conceivable that you could change your sanctions policy on Zimbabwe if Mugabe were to undertake credible, transparent reforms that reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people?

MS. PSAKI: It certainly is feasible. But our targeted – our program of targeted sanctions will remain in place as long as these conditions continue to exist in Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: One other subject?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary in the building today or is he on vacation?

MS. PSAKI: He is not in the building today.

QUESTION: So does that mean he’s on vacation?

MS. PSAKI: He is.

QUESTION: Anything on the peace process? Do we know any – about the next round of talks? When is it going to be?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t --

QUESTION: The Jericho talks?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an update for you. As you all know, the next step here was scheduling the meeting in Jericho. That’s still being worked through, so I don’t have any announcement for you.

QUESTION: Just --

MS. PSAKI: Just a few more. Go ahead, Jill.

QUESTION: -- a quick one?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Al-Qaida leader Adam Gadahn’s threats urging attacks on American diplomats, if you had any response to that? And also, Senator Graham is saying he’s allied himself with al-Qaida, therefore the U.S. should use lethal force against him. Do you have any legal – has the State Department looked at this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that these – this was – this report just came out this morning, as I understand it, so we, of course, have seen them. We’re looking into them more closely, and as we have more, I’m happy to share that with all of you.

QUESTION: On the subject of intimidation, Glenn Greenwald says now that his partner’s been detained, he’s going to unleash more aggressive reporting. Is this – is he trying to intimidate the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that. You know where we stand on the release of classified information.

QUESTION: If – now, see, I feel like we need some kind of analogy, so I thought maybe it was like a baseball question.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll think about an analogy, and maybe I’ll have one for you tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS. PSAKI: I think let’s just do two more here.

QUESTION: In reaction to a booby-trapped car exploding in Beirut on Thursday, I think --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. Ambassador in Beirut condemned everything, but she stopped short of calling the – calling this a terrorist attack. Are there rules to call attacks terrorist or not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we do note a group calling itself Aisha, the Mother of Believers Brigades for Foreign – let’s see – Missions has claimed responsibility for the attack. We have condemned it in the strongest terms. As you’re right, I don’t have any more for you on it. We’re obviously still looking into the details of what took place.

QUESTION: But you’re not calling it terrorist?

MS. PSAKI: I am not at this point.

QUESTION: And how do you look at the return of the car bombs phenomena to Lebanon after this bomb? Two days ago they found another car.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, we, of course, strongly condemn any violence in Lebanon, this incident and any others. We urge all parties to exercise calm and restraint and to desist from actions that could contribute to an escalating cycle of sectarian retribution and violence. We reaffirm our commitment to a stable, sovereign, and independent Lebanon and support the Lebanese Government’s efforts to restore stability and security in Beirut.

Last one.

QUESTION: I’ll make it very quick, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Now that the CIA has formally made public its role in 1953 in the overthrow of Mossadegh, will the U.S. be offering any expression to the Iranians, anything even up to and including an apology?

MS. PSAKI: I would point – I know it’s a CIA report and I would point you to the CIA on that. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)

DPB # 140

2013-08-19

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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 23, 2015


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 23, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:10 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Friday.

MS. PSAKI: Friday. New scarf. Okay. I have a couple of items at the top. As all of you have seen on the news, the Secretary is in Davos, Switzerland today to attend the World Economic Forum. He's meeting with the world leaders from government, business, and civil society. In addition to addressing the forum, which he already has done, he met with Cypriot President Anastasiadis; Dr. Klaus Schwab, who is the founder of the World Economic Forum; and he will be attending – he may already be attending a dinner hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on sustainable development.

We also put out – I believe it should have gone out – a note on additional travel to announce. The Secretary will travel to Lagos, Nigeria – he also mentioned it in his remarks this morning – on January 25th, which is Sunday, to emphasize the importance of ensuring the upcoming elections are peaceful, nonviolent, and credible. The Secretary will meet with the candidates President Goodluck Jonathan and Major Buhari, Retired Major General Buhari, while he is there.

And last item, we remain deeply concerned by the increasing violence and bloodshed in Eastern Ukraine which has resulted from a surge in Russia-backed separatist attacks against the ceasefire line in what appears to be a general offensive in complete violation of the Minsk agreements. Ukraine has implemented ceasefire after ceasefire, but the Russia-backed separatists have responded with violence, carrying out 1,000 attacks since early December resulting in the deaths of 262 people in the last nine days.

Russia is actively supporting the separatists by supplying them with heavy weaponry and vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery pieces, as well as providing military personnel for exercising ongoing tactical support. Not only have we seen no commitment by the separatists or Russia to implement the January 22nd Berlin Statement on upholding the Minsk Agreement, separatist leaders have publicly stated their intention today to take more territory.

We again call on Russia to denounce its separatist patrons, withdraw all support to them, and stop the flow of heavy weapons, fighters, and advisors, and restore Ukraine’s control along its side of the international border and allowing OSCE monitoring all along both sides of the border. Russia holds the keys to peacefully resolving a conflict it started and bears responsibility to end the violence which has devastated the lives of so many innocents in Donetsk and Luhansk.

And I have a meeting I have to go to at 2:00, so let’s just get to as many as we can.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Great. Well I’m sure we’ll get back to Ukraine –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- a little bit later, but I want to start with what – the travel announcement.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Because I’m a little confused. Yesterday here you said in regards to Prime Minister Netanyahu that it’s a matter of longstanding practice that neither the President nor the Secretary of State meets with candidates in close proximity to their election so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country. Is there an exception for West African countries that begin with the letter N and end with the letter A, or what’s going on here?

MS. PSAKI: They’re entirely different scenarios in our view, Matt. I mentioned why the Secretary is traveling there, which certainly there are concerns about violence, about the implementation of the elections. Obviously, he’ll be talking about all of that, the importance of enforcing the electoral process, and he’ll underscore international concern about serious post-election violence or destabilizing – or a destabilizing, fractious outcome.

That’s something we’ve done other places as well, most recently in Afghanistan. It’s something past secretaries of state have done as well. Israel in the situation with the prime minister’s visit – which, again, we’ve said we welcomed – we’re just not meeting with him as a policy because it’s different. There’s a difference between hosting a meeting exclusively with one candidate in your own country and visiting a country and making clear to all candidates and all parties about the need to keep – reduce violence, about the need to see the electoral process through.

QUESTION: So is he going to meet with the 12 other candidates in the Nigerian election?

MS. PSAKI: He’s meeting with two candidates, as I mentioned. He’s only going to be there a short period of time. But it’s not a situation where we’re hosting one candidate or another in our country or he’s meeting to support one candidate or another.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’s not out of the Administration’s control to invite some other Israeli politicians to come at the same time as Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I believe, in fact, some will be here for the big conference.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we’ve made a decision which the White House announced yesterday and we echoed about our plans as it relates to this visit. We remain in close contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as many other officials in Israel.

QUESTION: And the Afghanistan exception scenario that you mentioned, that was a case in which the Secretary was trying to broker a deal after the election; am I correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he was there before as well. I mean, obviously, the upcoming elections in advance of the elections were a key part of his message as well.

QUESTION: On Israel specifically, there were some quotes in a couple reports today from unnamed officials, U.S. officials, one of which says – this is attributed to a source close to the Secretary, “The bilateral relationship with Israel is unshakable, but playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.” And I believe that referred specifically to the – at the United Nations.

Is that accurate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak – I’m sure that it won’t surprise you – to unnamed anonymous quotes from the podium.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, take it from me; I’m going to say it right now. Playing politics with the U.S.-Israel relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender. Am I lying or am I correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as the Secretary said himself, certainly the way that Israel went about announcing this trip or confirming the trip was unusual. Clearly, we’re going to – the trip is going to happen. He has remained engaged with Prime Minister Netanyahu. There’s a great deal that he does behind the scenes to support Israel. I’m going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: But does that mean that the Secretary’s enthusiasm for defending Israel could somehow be blunted?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary spoke to this himself just a couple of days ago. I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: A couple of days ago?

MS. PSAKI: Yep, two days ago.

QUESTION: He spoke to the idea that his enthusiasm --

MS. PSAKI: He spoke to his views on the prime minister’s visit.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just looking – I’m just trying to find out if it is correct that the Secretary might be less enthusiastic in his defense of Israel at international fora now because of the “unusual” nature of the prime minister’s upcoming trip.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the reason I pointed to what the Secretary said is that he spoke to the fact that he remains engaged with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that there’s a range of issues we work together on.

QUESTION: I understand that. But either the relationship is unshakable or it’s not unshakable. And if it is unshakable, then it would seem to me that a – that the annoyance or whatever, the surprise with which you view the prime minister’s upcoming visit would not potentially – does not have the potential to blunt the Secretary’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s --

MS. PSAKI: The relationship is unshakable. That hasn’t changed. I’m just not going to speak further to unnamed quotes.

QUESTION: Well, but – okay. Forget about the unnamed official saying it. I tried to put this in my mouth, so it’s me --

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, we’ve already --

QUESTION: Me saying it. Am I right or am I wrong?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve already addressed this extensively, so I’d leave you – leave it – you with those comments.

QUESTION: Let me just take the flip side of that. Is there an absence of sort of an outrage from this Department, I mean, the Secretary of State being the top American diplomat and this is really a foreign policy issue. This is a foreign leader who is basically intervening in the American process. Shouldn’t have been there a sort of a stronger perhaps reaction to this thing by the Secretary of State?

MS. PSAKI: I understand your desire to weigh into this further, Said. I’m just not going to weight into it further.

QUESTION: No, because – and by the way, I think there was precedent, an Israeli precedent for meeting before elections with Peres back in ’96 – I mean, you can look it up – by President Clinton right before the election.

MS. PSAKI: And you should look up who criticized that at the time.

QUESTION: And I think it was – yeah, when Netanyahu criticized him tremendously at the time. But the point is, I mean, there is a lot of talk around this town that this was basically, I mean, a blatant and basically crude the way it was done. Don’t you think that should have sort of caused perhaps a stronger expression of annoyance --

MS. PSAKI: Said, we’ve spoken to this extensively. I’ll leave the analysis to the analysts, including yourself. Do we --

QUESTION: Can I ask about a factual bit?

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: Is it correct that the Secretary met with Ambassador Dermer for two hours the other day, and this – the subject of the prime minister’s visit was not --

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: That is correct? And was the Secretary surprised after learning of the invitation and the prime minister’s acceptance that Ambassador Dermer did not mention this to him?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s safe to say.

QUESTION: It is? Okay. So why is – if that’s safe to say, why is it not – why can’t you address the other part of it, or my initial question about potential blunting of his enthusiasm for defending Israel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, clearly not only the Secretary but others in the Administration, including myself, have spoken to this repeatedly. I just think there’s no benefit in speaking to it further from the podium.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary has been in touch with the ambassador since, or is he now kind of persona non grata?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any calls – I mean, he’s been – obviously, he left on this trip, as you know.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe – I’m not sure if he’s spoken with him since then. I can certainly check on that.

QUESTION: And where was that meeting? Here?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In --

MS. PSAKI: In the State Department.

QUESTION: In the State Department.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Israel before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Inaudible) that the Administration essentially would be looking for some sort of payback against the Netanyahu government for this visit. Is that something that the Secretary would endorse – payback?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not even sure what that means, and I’m not, again, going to speak to an anonymous quote. The Secretary spoke to his views on this two days ago.

Do we have any more on Israel?

QUESTION: Just one last – yeah. Did the Secretary play any role in putting off the meeting from the 11th of February back to --

MS. PSAKI: No, we had no role in that whatsoever.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: The anti-ISIS coalition. The Kurdish President Masoud Barzani – I’m not sure if you’ve seen his remarks.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I did see this, I think, what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Yeah. He slammed the West for not inviting the Kurds. He said it’s disheartening. What do you – what’s your response to his criticism?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say --

QUESTION: The London conference, I mean.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I know what you’re referring to. I’d say a couple things.

We have enormous respect for the courage the Kurds have shown and the tremendous fight they have taken to ISIL to recapture territory. We’ve seen consistent and continued gains by Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish forces in recent weeks in coordination with the Government of Iraq. The United States and the coalition have been very supportive of Iraqi Kurdish forces and will continue to do so.

London was an opportunity for a small group of coalition members to work directly with the Iraqi Government to identify areas where we can enhance our assistance and cooperation, including to the Kurds, even as we continue to apply pressure on ISIL to end its siege on the Iraqi people. As head of government, Prime Minister Abadi was the representative of the Iraqi Government at the conference.

QUESTION: So you believe because Prime Minister Abadi was there, there was no need for the Kurdish president to --

MS. PSAKI: He was – as the head of government, he was the representative. I would also remind you – as you probably know, because you cover this closely – General Allen and Ambassador McGurk have met directly with senior officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government on every trip they’ve taken to Iraq, and they will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Jen --

QUESTION: Was it the – sorry. Was it the United States’ decision to not invite the Kurds?

MS. PSAKI: I would not put it in those terms. I --

QUESTION: Because the United States is leading the coalition.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish, let me finish. As appropriate, the head of government attended to represent all of Iraq. The Kurds are part of Iraq, and so they represented their interest. As you know, they work together – as we work with all of them – to defeat ISIL.

QUESTION: I know, Jen, and you know very well Iraq is about basically two states – it’s Kurdistan and it’s Baghdad. And you have militarily and politically worked with both of them independently. So --

MS. PSAKI: Kurdistan is a part of Iraq, as you know.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you have – like, you have provided them arms --

MS. PSAKI: In coordination with the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: With Iraq. So now they are really angry because they believe, as the most probably effecting fighting force on the ground, they haven’t been even – no representative of their – of the Kurds have been invited.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our actions --

QUESTION: So don’t you think their criticism is fair?

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. Our actions over the course of several months, including supporting them in a range of ways with material support --

QUESTION: But on this specific issue --

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer – in cooperation with the Iraqi Government answers that question. We also have many meetings with them. But they are a part of the Iraqi Government. I understand the views of some and your personal views, but that remains the case. President Abadi remains the – Prime Minister, excuse me, Abadi remains the head of the Iraqi Government. We’re going to move on.

QUESTION: Just one more question. One more question.

MS. PSAKI: No, no. We’re done. We’re going to move on.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There were reports that the two Japanese hostages have been killed by ISIS. Do you have anything on that?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen those reports. I believe you are referring to reports on Twitter. We don’t have any confirmation of those reports. I’d certainly refer you to the Government of Japan, but I don’t believe they’ve put anything out specifically. We certainly strongly condemn ISIL’s threat to murder Japanese citizens. We continue to call for the immediate release of these civilians and all other hostages, and we’re of course, fully supportive of Japan and continue to coordinate closely.

QUESTION: About 200 --

MS. PSAKI: On Japan?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: About $200 million demanded by the ISIL, so what do you think or what the United States think about the currency ISIL wanted?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. Our position on ransoms is well known. We believe that granting such concessions puts all of our citizens overseas at greater risk for kidnapping. That’s something we’ve spoken about publicly frequently, and I don’t think there’s any secret about that.

Japan? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Have you analyzed the video at all and have any questions about its authenticity, whether it was made – actually made inside or outdoors, or those kind of questions?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Government of Japan. We’re obviously very supportive of their efforts and in close contact, but I don’t have any independent analysis from here.

QUESTION: Can I have one more?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you said that you’re prepared to provide any support you can. Does that include like military support or intelligence sharing?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into diplomatic exchanges that we have with Japan and the government.

QUESTION: You said the other day the U.S. support efforts of Japan in this matter, but what actions actually are U.S. taking (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think that’s similar to your colleague’s question. I’m just not going to detail our private conversations. We remain in close contact with the government. They’re a close friend and a close partner. Obviously, this is a terrible situation but I’m not going to detail that more publicly.

Do we have any more on Japan before --

QUESTION: On Saudi?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: So I’ve seen the statements put out by the Secretary and obviously by the President as well following the death of King Abdullah. I don’t know if you’ve seen that there are already some heads of government, foreign ministers, who are going to go to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Is there any change in the Secretary’s travel plans, given that he’s already on the road?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any travel plans to announce. You saw, and I’m sure you’ve all seen, the statement that we put out from the Secretary last night about the death of his friend King Abdullah. As you know, the Secretary – and I just announced – has a planned trip to Nigeria on Sunday, so nothing further to announce at this point in time.

QUESTION: And I wondered if you could speak to the announcement of the new king, King Salman. Do you think this is a – he will be somebody who will steer Saudi Arabia well? Do you foresee any kind of changes in the close ties, although sometimes complicated ties that you’ve had with Riyadh?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we look forward to continuing the close partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman. Obviously, they’re in a period of mourning right now, but there are a range of issues that we have worked together on, whether it’s the Arab Peace Initiative or it’s the campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL. We have a long history of cooperation. We don’t have any indication that that cooperation will change.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Do you have any indication that the – or they say that the new king will – he objects less to some sort of a deal with Iran. Can you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis, Said. I think, obviously, the king passed away yesterday. They’ve been an important partner. I’m not going to analyze Saudi politics from here.

QUESTION: Also a very close ally – a very close ally within the Saudi system, Mohammed bin Nayef has been named as a deputy, I guess, deputy crown prince. Is that something that you look at with --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we will continue to work with a range of officials, senior officials, leadership in Saudi Arabia, in the weeks, months, years ahead. Obviously, we’re going to have the period of mourning at this point in time, but I think it’s safe to assume we’ll remain in very close contact on the ground and through the Secretary as well.

QUESTION: But what role --

QUESTION: How confident is the --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Roz. What role do you see for the new Saudi king or the new Saudi Arabia under the new king in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: What will we see in Yemen?

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, are you talking to the new – I assume that you are – the new king and the new administration (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would remind you that he was named king yesterday.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: King Abdullah passed away yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: The funeral is today.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So obviously, we will be in close contact. But I’m not going to analyze what their role will or won’t be in different conflicts around the world. We expect our close cooperation to continue.

QUESTION: But the collapse in Yemen continues.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) given that he was crown prince for several years before his half-brother passed away, what is this building’s assessment of King Salman’s views on human rights, on freedom of expression, on the ability of women to participate fully in Saudi society?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to analyze his personal views from here. I would say, Roz, that as you know, we have a long history of cooperation on a range of issues. I mentioned a few of them – the effort to degrade and defeat ISIL, the Arab Peace Initiative, a range of conflicts around the world.

As you know, as is true with many of our important partners, there are still issues where we have disagreements on, and issues like human rights, freedom of speech, equal rights for women, are issues that certainly we’ve raised in the past with Saudi Arabia. It’s not that our concerns have changed, but we’re going to give them, certainly, a period of time before we engage in diplomatic discussions with them.

QUESTION: Have U.S. officials actually engaged with Salman while he was crown prince on these human rights issues?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know there are a range of officials who are in meetings when the king has meetings, so I would leave it at that.

QUESTION: But you would expect though that your – that there would not be any change in your raising these issues and concerns with --

MS. PSAKI: Correct. Exactly. That’s what I’m conveying. We expect we’ll continue to work on the same issues.

QUESTION: All right. Can we go next door to Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So last night it was revealed that the embassy staff had been reduced further, although it does not appear that there was any kind of an evacuation.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering what the status is there right now, and how – whether or not you believe that the upcoming, I guess, parliamentary – emergency parliamentary meeting on Sunday is actually – is a good thing, and where you see this transition going.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, on the security piece, the information we put out last night, just to reiterate for everyone here, in response to the changing situation – security situation in Yemen, the United States Embassy in Sana’a has further reduced its American personnel working in Yemen. Our Embassy in Sana’a has been on ordered departure since last September. The embassy remains open and is continuing to operate. We may continue to realign resources based on the situation on the ground. We’ll continue to operate as normal with reduced staff. And we’ll also continuously assess the situation on the ground for its impact on our staffing levels. There’s no new update beyond that since last night in terms of staffing or changes to a security posture.

On your second question, as you noted, we understand there’s a plan for a meeting – an emergency session on Sunday to decide whether to accept President Hadi’s resignation. When that meeting takes place, the constitution provides that the speaker of parliament will become acting president until an election can be – if they accept his resignation, I should say – that the speaker of the parliament would become acting president until an election can be scheduled in the next 60 days. If a majority vote fails to accept Hadi’s resignation, President Hadi will remain president for an additional 90 days. If President Hadi submits his resignation again in 90 days, parliament must accept it. That’s just some technical details of how their process works.

We’re in touch with a full spectrum of political leaders in Yemen, both to hear from how they believe the political transition can move forward as well as to make clear that we will oppose any continuation of the violence we have seen in recent days, and that we expect that the parties will observe the constitution, UN Security Council resolutions, and the provisions of the GCC initiative in determining their next steps. That’s the next step in the process. Clearly, the situation is very fluid on the ground, but we’ll be watching closely over the course of the next coming days.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any preference as to whether they accept or reject his resignation? And in the interim – so today and tomorrow up until the meeting – do you still regard him as the president?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. President Hadi remains the president. It’s up to the Yemeni people to determine what the future is.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any preference as to whether they accept or reject – I mean, you would think that you – that if you’re calling for a peaceful – if you’re calling for things to calm down, that a rejection of the – of his resignation would be what – a preferable – would be preferable than – would be more preferable than an acceptance of it, but I don't know. Is that not correct? You don’t care one way or another?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’re in a position to assess what the impact would be, Matt. I understand why you’re going down that road. But our focus is on encouraging a reduction in violence and abiding by the constitution and the GCC initiative and the national – and the UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: All right. And then my last one, this has more to do with the security. Does the Administration believe that the Houthi rebels and their military pose a direct threat to U.S. interests?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have made public statements that indicate otherwise. Obviously, we expect and call on them to abide by them. In the meantime, we take every precaution to keep our men and women safe and secure.

QUESTION: Right, but what I guess I’m – is it the judgment of the Administration that these guys are not a direct threat or do not – or don’t have the intention or desire to attack the embassy or U.S. personnel or other --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand what you’re saying, but they’ve said that they don’t. Now obviously, we watch the situation on the ground. There’s a great deal of violence. It’s very fluid. So we still watch that very closely.

QUESTION: But they do on occasion chant “Death to America” and that kind of thing. So it’s not as if they haven’t expressed anti-American sentiment in the past.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, Matt, as I mentioned, we continue to assess our security needs every day, regardless of what’s been said. But it is important to note that just this week, they stated that was not their intention.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Have U.S. officials spoken directly with President Hadi?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve been in touch with a range of political leaders. I’m not going to get into details of whom we’ve been in touch with.

QUESTION: Can you say whether the U.S. ambassador is still in Sana’a?

MS. PSAKI: He had prior planned leave and he will be returning, I think, in – later this week or early next.

QUESTION: And then are the employees who were moved from the Embassy, are they staying in the region for the time being? Are they coming back to the United States?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on their status. Some may be relocated where they can better do their jobs. But I’m not going to give you an update on where personnel may be moving to.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But you – but you’re clear that the Embassy is still open for business?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how the staff who were – were evacuated?

MS. PSAKI: They were not evacuated. They’ve been leaving – departing voluntarily. It’s a reduction in staff. I’m not going to get into details of how, for security purposes.

QUESTION: Just so I can understand clearly, when you talk about what you’d like to see – you don’t expect the situation to go back to the status quo and to, let’s say, before the resignations and before their takeover of Sanaa, do you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what do you mean by that exactly?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) By that I mean there is a new order in Yemen. Obviously, there are new forces that you might have to work with. So it is something that you would consider.

MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly – Said, clearly there have been a range of events that have happened over the course of the last weeks.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: We’re not naive about that.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, there are also, as I outlined, a number of steps that parliament will take, that will be taken through the constitutional process, that we’re going to see that process play through.

QUESTION: But seeing how they are – the Houthis are really fervent opponents of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, you would like to see some sort of coordination or cooperation with them continue or occur, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Houthis are a legitimate political constituency in Yemen and have a right to participate in affairs of the state. We urge them to be a part of a peaceful transition process. That said, we condemn their use of violence and are concerned by their noncompliance with agreements they have been signatories to. So we certainly have concerns, but I’m not going to get ahead of where we are in the process.

QUESTION: And finally, I have a very quick question. Now, it seems that the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh still plays a major role in this thing. I wonder if you have a comment on that, or if you have any contact with him and his forces?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve spoken to the former president, and as you know, I’d point to the fact that the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on him just last November for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen. So I don’t have anything more specifically on his engagement.

QUESTION: Yeah. The reason I ask this is because Yemenis say this is basically Ali Abdullah Saleh going back to power in a different dress, in a Houthi dress. That’s their description, not mine. So a new reality.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think when we put sanctions in place because of our view that he was engaging in acts that threaten the peace, stability, and security of Yemen, I think that clearly illustrates what our concerns were at the time.

QUESTION: Can I ask: What’s the U.S. position currently on the territorial integrity of Yemen? It used to be two different countries; of course, they were united. There are some indications or perhaps observations that there could be a split again between south and north. So what is the U.S. position?

MS. PSAKI: We continue to support the unity of Yemen and Yemen’s legitimate institutions. That’s what we feel is in the interest of the Yemini people.

QUESTION: But if there was a move towards a split --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there --

QUESTION: -- are there circumstances under which you would support that?

MS. PSAKI: There’s been a range of chatter out there. Our view continues to be that we support the unity of the country.

QUESTION: No, but you know in reality on this very point – I mean, four big governors in the south seceded, basically. They conduct their affairs autonomously and they control a very strategic area. I mean, now you have Iran’s influence in the Strait of Hormuz and in Bab al-Mandab as well.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve – I’ve spoken over the last couple of days about our concerns about Iran’s influence.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) tribal Anbar leaders are reportedly here. I’m not sure you if you have talked about them in the past --

MS. PSAKI: Tribal Anbar leaders --

QUESTION: They are in Washington.

MS. PSAKI: -- are in Washington?

QUESTION: Yeah, they’ve been here for a few days.

MS. PSAKI: Let me see I have anything on it. If not, I’m happy to talk to our team and we can see if we have anything specific. And then let’s just finish Yemen before we move on to the next topic.

QUESTION: Given the events of the last 24 hours, how worried is the U.S. about its ongoing counterterrorism operations inside Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think that is one of our primary objectives, as you know, and our partnership and cooperation with the Yemini Government. It has been. We hope it will continue to be. It’s ongoing. So at this point, I don’t have any concerns to express, but obviously it remains a priority and remains one of the reasons we feel it’s important to have a strong presence there.

QUESTION: As you’re assessing the security situation (inaudible) though, are you also reassessing the counterterrorism strategy in the way it has played out in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: In what capacity? What do you mean by that?

QUESTION: The U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the way it’s been in effect so far, are you also assessing how you can conduct that counterterrorism strategy right now?

MS. PSAKI: Do you mean with whom or with – in what way?

QUESTION: Given that there is no clear government right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned, we’re in touch with a range of officials. I’m not going to get into more details on that. Our cooperation on that front is ongoing. Obviously, it’s something that we feel is a priority and we hope it will continue.

QUESTION: Is the Yemeni national security apparatus intact?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no question, Roz, that there’s tensions and a great deal of violence on the ground. It’s an incredibly fluid situation and we’re watching very closely, but I’m not here to proclaim what is or isn’t. Obviously, institutions have been at risk over the last couple of days. You saw the submission of – or the resignation of the prime minister. There’s no question this is a challenging situation.

QUESTION: Is it – who is running the country? Do you have any idea who is running – I mean --

MS. PSAKI: President Hadi remains the president of Yemen.

QUESTION: Well, I mean who is administering the country. I mean --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, parliament called an emergency session on Sunday. Obviously, this is a fluid period of time. We remain in touch with a range of officials.

Any more on Yemen before we continue? Go ahead.

QUESTION: What can you say – yeah, what can you say about the relation between the U.S. and the Houthis? Are you cooperating with them? Is there any relation with them?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no meetings I have to read out for you or to confirm for you. There haven’t been.

QUESTION: Could the shared concern or distaste for AQAP possibly be the basis for a relationship between the U.S. and the Houthis, should they come to power?

MS. PSAKI: We do have that shared concern. There are countries we have shared concerns with that we don’t engage with as well. So as you – as I noted just a couple of minutes ago, or not even that long ago, we – the Houthis are a legitimate political constituency. We encourage them to be a part of a peaceful transition. We still have concerns about their – the involvement in violence, and certainly we continue to make that case.

QUESTION: Have you been able to ascertain the extent of their relationship with the government in Tehran?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any assessment of that. I’ve spoken about our concern about the history or recent history of their engagement. We didn’t have – I don’t have anything new in terms of their recent engagement or anything to confirm for you.

Let’s just finish Yemen. Yemen or a new topic?

QUESTION: Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Yemen, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. Any backchannel talk with the Houthi?

MS. PSAKI: No, there’s no meetings to confirm or read out for you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The newly appointed chief executive of the BBG said his agency faces a number of, quote-un-quote, challenges – Russia Today, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram – all in one sentence. Would you call those remarks appropriate or inappropriate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, let me note that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. Government-supported civilian international media. I’d certainly point you to them for specifics. I think the broad point is the U.S. Government – would the U.S. Government put those three in the same category? No, we wouldn’t. However, there are concerns, I think, that our – we agree with in terms of the fact that the – Russia’s own independent media space is shrinking and the Kremlin continues to apply pressure on the few remaining outlets. And while RT is available to many viewers in the United States – you’re here in the briefing room today – many Russian authorities have curtailed the ability of BBG broadcasters to broadcast there. So those are challenges and certainly concerns that I think the new head of BBG was expressing.

QUESTION: Do you have – just to clarify, do you have any problem with the way he put it?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’d point you to them, and I just stated that wouldn’t be the way that we would state it from here.

QUESTION: How would you state it?

MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t state it in those terms.

QUESTION: Well, the Secretary of State is a member of the BBG.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I just stated the concerns we have, which we agree with.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I would state it in that way.

QUESTION: Okay. So you would not, then, put RT in the same category as Boko Haram and --

MS. PSAKI: That’s what I just said two minutes ago.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you would agree that it is a challenge and --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, I said both of those things.

QUESTION: Can we stay on – roughly on this subject, I’m just wondering if you have – on Ukraine, you had some pretty strong comments at the top. And I wanted to know if you had any further information about the bus incident.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any further information, no.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know – and I suppose that this is probably better addressed to Secretary Kerry --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I do have one thing. This may have been out there, Matt, but I didn’t talk about it yesterday. Yesterday’s report from the OSCE established the trolley bus was likely destroyed by a mortar or rocket coming from a northwestern direction. Based on this information alone, it isn’t possible to definitively conclude who was responsible. Obviously, we would condemn, of course, the attacks, the impact on the local population, and certainly we continue to call on all sides to take every precaution to prevent the loss of lives.

QUESTION: Do you know if Secretary Kerry has any Ukraine-related meetings?

MS. PSAKI: Bilateral meetings?

QUESTION: Phone calls?

MS. PSAKI: Let me see if there are any calls –

QUESTION: Given – I mean, just – your comments at the top were very – were quite strong, and it evinced a more particular concern perhaps than you have had in the past for that situation, so --

MS. PSAKI: As you know, he met with EU High Representative Mogherini yesterday, and certainly they talked about --

QUESTION: Right, but I mean with Russian or Ukrainian officials.

MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t have any calls I have to read out. He’s also had a pretty back-to-back schedule over the course of the last two days.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Do you have any more on Ukraine before we continue? New topic? Happy Friday?

Go ahead. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Sorry, very short.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could you give us an idea of the status of the dialogue between the normalization of diplomatic relations between Bolivia and the United States, please?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, sure. I think you’re referring to – and tell me if I’m correct here – some comments that were made by Bolivian Government officials. We welcome the recent comments by the Bolivian Government concerning their interest in strengthening the bilateral relationship. There are a number of areas in which we find common ground with Bolivia, including the environment, commerce, rule of law, and education.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the impeachment of the former Thai prime minister and the ban on her participation in politics?

MS. PSAKI: I think I have a little bit of something. Let me see. We have previously expressed our concerns about the political situation in Thailand. In that context, the United States takes note of the appointed legislative body’s decision to impeach retroactively former Prime Minister Yingluck. We also have noted the separate criminal charges that have been filed against her this week. We believe that the impartial administration of justice and rule of law is essential for equitable governance and a just society. We believe it is a matter for the Thai people to determine the legitimacy of their political and judicial processes. Assistant Secretary Russel is visiting Bangkok next Monday where he will meet with political leaders on all sides, civil society leaders, and others and will also discuss our current – our concern for the situation in Thailand directly with the government.

QUESTION: I believe that his trip will be the most senior – he will be the most senior U.S. official to visit since the coup. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: That may be right, Matt. I’m happy to double-check with our team if that’s correct.

QUESTION: Can you, and can you also – I’ve forgotten what the consequence was or whether there was any for U.S. assistance --

MS. PSAKI: Well, there were some impacts on assistance.

QUESTION: Could you just --

MS. PSAKI: We can certainly recirculate that to all of you if you’d like.

QUESTION: All right. And then I just have one more, and apologies if you have addressed this previously.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But do you have – does the Administration have any thoughts on this case of this Argentine prosecutor who was --

MS. PSAKI: I actually have not addressed this. I would keep your expectations low.

QUESTION: Never.

MS. PSAKI: We are aware of the allegations against President Kirchner, but as this is an ongoing investigation, we have no comment on the specifics and refer inquiries to the Argentine Government. The United States and the international community continue to work with the Argentine Government as well as victims of the AMIA bombing and their families to seek justice.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I’m less interested in what you had to – what you think about what the prosecutor was saying than about his sudden and untimely death apparently at the hands of someone other than himself.

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s an ongoing investigation that remains applicable as well, Matt. I would say, just since you’ve given me the opportunity, we express our deepest sorrow for the tragic death of Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman and extend our most sincerest condolences to his family. He courageously devoted much of his professional life to pursuing the perpetrators of the 1994 terrorist attacks on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and injured hundreds. Judicial authorities are investigating his death, and we call for a complete and impartial investigation. For over 20 years, the United States, we have continued to work closely with the international community and the Argentine Government seeking justice.

QUESTION: As you know, there’s widespread suspicion that Iran had played a role in this attack. Does the United States share that?

MS. PSAKI: There’s an investigation by Argentine authorities. We’re just not going to weigh in or speculate.

QUESTION: And does that include any potential Iranian hand in his death?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to speculate in any aspect of his death.

QUESTION: Any quick update on the Cuba talks?

MS. PSAKI: On the Cuba talks?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. PSAKI: Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson gave a press conference today. She gave one yesterday. So I would certainly point you to both of those for more specific details.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: One on Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Forgive me if you already addressed this, but this barrel bomb today in – just outside of Damascus in (inaudible), have you issued any statement or any condemnation?

MS. PSAKI: We haven’t, but it’s a good question. Let me talk to our team so we can get you all some comments on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Okay? Great. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)

 
 

2015-01-23


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 22, 2015


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 22, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:12 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Said is back. Uh-oh. (Laughter.)

Okay. I have two items for all of you at the top before we get started. As all of you have seen, the Secretary is on travel today in London to consult with the United Kingdom and other counter-ISIL coalition partners on our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. His schedule today included meetings with UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, French Foreign Minister Fabius, with EU Special Advisor Cathy Ashton, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, and with the counter-ISIL coalition’s small group steering committee, as well as a meeting on Libya. He also had a press availability a couple of hours ago with Foreign Secretary Hammond and with Prime Minister Abadi.

You may have also seen this yesterday, but I just wanted to bring to your attention the statement that was put out by Alex Lee, our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Yesterday, January 21st, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss technical issues related to the Migration Accords of 1994 and 1995 between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban delegation was chaired by Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal Ferreiro. Alex Lee led the delegation for the United States. The United States hosted the last round of these semi-annual talks in July 2014 in Washington.

During these meetings, the United States and Cuba restated their commitment under the Migration Accords to ensure that migration between the two countries remains safe, legal, and orderly. They also agreed to regularly review the implementation of these accords. Continuing to ensure safe and legal migration between Cuba and the United States is consistent with our interest in promoting greater freedoms and increased respect for human rights in Cuba. The productive and collaborative nature of yesterday’s discussions proves that, despite the clear differences that remain between our countries, the United States and Cuba can find opportunities to advance our mutual shared interests, as well as engage in a respectful and thoughtful dialogue.

In addition to discussing the bilateral implementation of the Migration Accords, our teams also exchanged ideas on other aspects of safe migration, such as the return of Cuban excludable aliens, the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program, and the monitoring of repatriated Cuban nationals.

As you’ve also seen, Assistant Secretary Jacobson arrived in Havana yesterday. Yesterday, she met with the Jewish community as part of her engagement with civil society groups in Cuba. There was a working delegation with – working dinner with delegations at the chief of mission residence yesterday evening. This morning, she has been meeting with the Cuban delegation to discuss the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. She’ll also be having a press availability on the ground to discuss that as well.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I want to start somewhere further afield than Cuba, and that would be Yemen, where the government has evaporated, essentially. There’s no president, there’s no vice president, there’s no prime minister, there is no cabinet. What’s your take on the situation, realizing that this is just happening now?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It just happened. We’ve, obviously, seen the reports. Our team is seeking confirmation of all of the reports. We continue to support a peaceful transition. We’ve urged all parties and continue to urge all parties to abide by the PNPA – the Peace and National Partnership Agreement – the GCC initiative and its implementation mechanism.

As I think you also saw, there was a reported agreement last night between the Yemeni Government and the Houthis. This is a potentially positive step to de-escalate violence in Sana’a and return to established processes of dialogue. There’s no question that implementation of that by the Houthis and taking specific steps, including the immediate release of the presidential chief of staff, pulling back of armed Houthi forces, and steps to get Yemen’s political process back on track are key to determining the success of that.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but that’s kind of OBE, as we would say – overtaken by events. There is no government now.

MS. PSAKI: I don't think we look at it in that way, Matt. We’re still seeking confirmation, but we’re also assessing what that would mean.

QUESTION: Right. But you’re referring to an agreement that came out yesterday between a government that no longer exists and a rebel force that appears to have control of – not just appears, does have control of the capital. So I’m wondering how it is that you can continue to support a peaceful transition. I mean, a transition to what?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, again, we don’t have confirmation of it. But we haven’t yet assessed – we’re not going to jump to conclusions about what it means until we have a confirmation and we have time to assess, working with the Yemenis, discussing internally what it means.

QUESTION: In terms of – well, okay. But – I understand that you need the time to assess what it means, but I don’t understand the lack of confirmation, because it’s pretty clear that it’s chaos, that there is no government right now. So I’m not sure that – when you say you continue to support a peaceful transition, are you saying that you continue to support an agreement that was reached yesterday between a government that no longer exists and the Houthis?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, broadly speaking, of course we continue to support a peaceful transition. There have been dialogue, there has – dialogue that we expect and hope will continue. And that’s the only way, in our view, to de-escalate the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: All right. And in terms of the embassy --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what’s the status of that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted yesterday, but it’s worth repeating, of course the safety and security of our personnel are of paramount importance. We are prepared to adjust our presence if necessary, but there has been no change in our security posture.

QUESTION: So there hasn’t been any change? So basically, anarchy is not enough to get you to adjust your presence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, with all due respect to your assessment as an AP reporter --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. PSAKI: -- we have the United States Government and our team on the ground --

QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine.

MS. PSAKI: -- assessing what is needed.

QUESTION: I’m not --

MS. PSAKI: And we take it very seriously, and we’ll make changes if we need to.

QUESTION: Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that you should or that I think you should. I’m just wondering what it – what would it take, because it seems pretty bad right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve all seen the images on television, and certainly we’ve seen violence escalate over the last several days. There was a lull in that a bit yesterday. But we want to assess what’s needed, and we’re certainly prepared to take steps if we need to.

QUESTION: All right. Last one: Do you know when the last contact was between a U.S. official or State Department official and the now ex-president?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that for you. I can see if there’s more we can offer.

QUESTION: So you don’t agree with the assessment that there’s anarchy in Yemen, then?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’d put it in those terms, so I’ll leave it in my own terms.

QUESTION: What would you describe the situation as, then?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think – I’ll leave it as I just described it, Jo. We’re obviously – there’s news that’s been breaking. We’re assessing what that means. We’re looking for confirmation of that. We’re continuing to encourage and support a peaceful transition. And obviously, we’re not in a position – and I don’t think any of you are, either – to assess what it means at this point in time.

QUESTION: But I just wondered if you had any further updates on the investigation you said was going to take place into the attack or the shooting of your diplomatic vehicle at a checkpoint yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates on that at this point in time.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Can – is it on Yemen, or – just so we --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, on Yemen. Yes, absolutely.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: First of all, you are not opposed to the principle that the Houthis can actually be part of the government, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a discussion – this has been a discussion happening between parties on the ground. We support that effort, but we’re not making a decision or assessment of that.

QUESTION: Because, although there are different factions and different political agendas, there are mainly two groups, basically. And ultimately, they would have to somehow – to coalesce to form a government. You would support that kind of effort, right?

MS. PSAKI: I think we have to see how this all goes. Obviously, it’s in our interests to have a return to – or a peaceful transition, and we certainly support that, as I’ve stated, Said. But I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. There’s no question it’s a very fluid situation on the ground. Violence has been increasing. It’s something that, certainly, there have been ongoing discussions about internally within the Administration.

QUESTION: The United States and Yemen had very close relationship in fighting terrorism --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- especially al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and that presumably will continue to be the case.

MS. PSAKI: You’re right.

QUESTION: Who are you talking to? I’m sure there are – I mean, you said that there were no contacts or – in response to Matt’s question – at the level --

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say there were no contacts. I said I didn’t have an update. We have remained in touch, certainly, on the ground. I’m not going to outline for you the specific contacts. I will say that our top priority in Yemen remains the counterterrorism effort, where we’ve been targeting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula for a number of years. That’s ongoing. We targeted – we’ve been targeting AQAP for some time now.

QUESTION: Okay. And my last question is: Are you in contact with the Houthis in any way or at any level on security matters?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more. I will say for you – say to you, Said, and you know this already – that the Houthis don’t want to see the rise or success of al-Qaida in Yemen either.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So certainly, counterterrorism is an effort that is ongoing, but I don’t have any assessment of that at this point.

QUESTION: So that can be construed as common grounds between the United States and this group, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to assess it further.

QUESTION: They may not have an interest in seeing AQAP gain ground, but they do have an interest in a – basically creating an Iranian ally. Is that not of concern?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I spoke to this a little bit yesterday.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I think we remain troubled by the long –

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the history of work between the Houthis and the Iranians. Now, we don’t assess that there is – or don’t have information on sort of new cooperation on that front.

QUESTION: All right. And I don’t expect you to be able to answer this because literally these reports are just coming in.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: But apparently, the Yemen parliament has rejected President Hadi’s resignation. Realizing that you’re not aware of this – or probably not aware of it since it literally just happened – is that the kind of thing that you would like – it called for an emergency session tomorrow. Is this the kind of – would this be the kind of thing that you would encourage?

MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, we – I just have to talk to our team. I mean, they’re assessing this as we speak, so I just don’t have any analysis at this point in time.

Any more on Yemen before we continue?

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: What kind of international law could there be for Yemen, I mean, for the next sort of – next phase now, I mean, as things happen now? Or what your ally would say, like Saudi Arabia, and people who brokered the deal to begin with for Yemen – the GCC. What are they doing in terms of --

MS. PSAKI: Well, as I noted, I think there are proposals and initiatives – the GCC put forward one – that have been out there, and certainly we would support the implementation of. I think there are many countries that you mentioned, and certainly the United States, who have a stake in seeing a peaceful transition. So I’m sure this is a topic that the Secretary and others will continue to discuss with his partner – with his counterparts.

QUESTION: Do you know if it will be raised at all since some of the Gulf countries were at the meeting in London? Was – do you know if it was – any – was there any part of the Secretary’s discussions there --

MS. PSAKI: Let me talk to the traveling team. I hadn’t asked them that specific question, but I can see if it was raised and – on the margins. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll check.

QUESTION: See if Yemen was raised?

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Yemen, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on Syria, but before that, is there any way who can give us a perspective about Secretary Kerry’s visit to Britain with regards to anti-ISIL coalition you just talk about? What is the current – what is the aim of the visit? Is there any way you can --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just point you – the Secretary gave extensive remarks and also did a press availability, so I would really point you to that. He outlined the purpose why he was there, what they accomplished, and spoke about it pretty extensively.

QUESTION: You were not asked about this, I believe, yesterday, that the President’s Union of – State of Union speech and his reference to Syria, many people take it as – let me ask this way: Does the U.S. Government still ask Assad to step down at this moment?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure why anyone would have a different assessment from the President’s State of the Union speech. We maintain our belief that Assad has lost all legitimacy and must go. There can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under his leadership. We’ve said that since August of 2011.

QUESTION: Just today, Fred Hof, a former State official, wrote a piece and he was arguing that the current Assad regime terrorizing attacks on civilians still continue after three years that you have been calling. And Mr. Hof’s argument is that U.S. does not give strong message to Iran and Russia to make sure that they put pressure on Assad regime to stop at least attacking civilians with barrel bombs – just happened today in Hasakah, I believe, killing 65 people.

What would you say to that? Are you putting enough pressure to Russia and Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, our discussions with the Iranians are focused on the nuclear negotiations, and that’s our primary focus there. As it relates to Russia, the Secretary, as you know, speaks with Foreign Minister Lavrov on a regular basis. Often Syria is a topic of discussion. We certainly understand that their relationship with the regime is different from our relationship with the regime. We’ve spoken publicly, privately countless times about our concerns about the Assad regime’s attacks and deplorable actions against civilians. There are – the Secretary also had recent meetings on his last trip with de Mistura about his efforts and his initiatives. So we’re really discussing and supporting any option that could reduce the suffering in Syria.

QUESTION: It’s more than a difference. You don’t have a relationship with the Assad regime.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough. That’s a more clear way of stating it.

QUESTION: And are you saying, based on your answer to the first – the State of the Union question, are you saying – and then your response about Assad having lost legitimacy, are you suggesting that certain people may have over-interpreted what Secretary Kerry may or may not have said in Geneva with Envoy de Mistura?

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s an accurate assessment, yes. And I know Marie spoke about this quite a bit --

QUESTION: She did.

MS. PSAKI: -- last week.

QUESTION: But can I just ask --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on that point, there – the Russians are putting together talks early next week in Moscow with the Syrians, and some of the Syrian opposition have said they won’t go, some have said they will go.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What is your feeling about these talks? And what is your advice at the moment to the opposition, with whom you’re in touch?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you noted, this is a Russian-led initiative with Syrians. At this time, the United States has not been invited to participate, nor have we been involved in the planning. I think that’s – we’ve spoken about that many times in the past. We welcome any effort to make progress toward addressing Syrians’ core grievances, and anything that would produce a sustainable solution to the conflict. Time will tell whether this meeting is a forum that will make any progress on that front.

On this topic of the opposition, we have been in touch with the opposition. We certainly conveyed we’d support them attending the meetings, but it’s their decision to make.

QUESTION: And you say that the United States hasn’t been invited. Would you like to be invited? Do you think there’s a role for the United States at such talks?

MS. PSAKI: I think there are a range of options, a range of talks under discussion. I don’t think it’s something that we are angling for an invite to.

QUESTION: You’re not sitting by the phone waiting for the call? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Or you could say it that way.

QUESTION: And you don’t think it – but I mean, considering that the United States has had such an investment in – certainly in the Syrian opposition, would it not be helpful at least to have some kind of observer status at these talks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain in close touch with the opposition. They know they can call us. We call them. We’re in close touch with them. We’ll see what comes out of these talks and discussions and what the next step is.

We have been in touch with Russia over the course of the last two years about what role we can all play in a political transition. We’ll see if there’s anything that comes out of this meeting.

QUESTION: And the Assad regime – government has seemed to make it clear that what they want to talk about is an end to terrorism and not really about an end to – or not really about a political transition away from the Assad government.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So given that, do you really believe or do you think that this could actually address what you call the Syrians’ core – the Syrian opposition’s core demands?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not just the Syrian opposition’s call. If you dial back to a year ago and the meeting of, I think, more than 60 countries and entities in Geneva, it was the call of the international community to have a political transition consistent with the principles of the Geneva communique, which are, by mutual consent, a transition of the government in Syria.

Of course, terrorism remains a concern. Obviously, ISIL is a concern that many countries, including the United States has. But that needs to be the objective of these discussions and negotiations and that remains our view.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jen, reconcile for us, if you can, all these statements that you make. On the one hand you say that he lost all legitimacy, knowing that Assad represents a large minority in the country, there is a huge number of people that actually look to Assad as their representative. And on the other hand, you’re saying you want a political solution. How could you reconcile these divergent positions, in essence?

MS. PSAKI: I frankly don’t see – think they contradict, Said. It’s long been our position that when you have a dictator who has --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- killed tens of thousands of his people or tens of thousands of people have died on his watch, he no longer is the legitimate leader. But we believe that transitioning through a political process is the right way to move forward.

QUESTION: I understand, but, I mean, he’s not going anywhere. He’s been around for a long time. This killing will continue to go on, and obviously the best solution would be to bring all these groups together. So wouldn’t it be wise and prudent for you to encourage the opposition to go to these meetings in Moscow and elsewhere and perhaps restart some sort of talks, maybe Geneva 3, like you said.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said --

QUESTION: Sixty countries participate and so on.

MS. PSAKI: -- I know you often like to bring up Geneva 3, and you’re a fan of that. But --

QUESTION: I’m not a fan of that. I’m a fan of any country that would --

MS. PSAKI: -- I would say, Said, that again, we support – there are a range of discussions and mechanisms by which talks can happen. It’s up to the opposition. We conveyed to them we would support them attending. They’ll make those decisions.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Were you able to get a U.S. reaction to the Israeli killing of the Iranian general on the Golan Heights?

MS. PSAKI: There’s just nothing I’m going to add to what I said yesterday on that.

QUESTION: Could we stay --

QUESTION: But you condemn – you condemn --

QUESTION: -- on that same topic?

MS. PSAKI: Hmm?

QUESTION: I want to stay on Israel for a second.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, in his press conference, the Secretary quoted an unnamed Israeli – senior Israeli intelligence official as telling a congressional delegation that new sanctions on Iran, quote – imposing new sanctions on Iran now would be like, quote, “throwing a hand grenade into the process.” It – the way that he presented it – the Secretary – it sounded as though whoever this senior intelligence official was was opposed to sanctions. It now emerges that this official may have, in fact, been either supporting the sanctions because they want the talks collapse and then resume with more pressure on the Iranians. So I’m wondering, does the Secretary believe that whoever told him about what this intelligence official said was misleading him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speak – I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you – to – further to private discussions that happen with Israeli intelligence officials about intel assessments other --

QUESTION: Well, he brought it up, not me.

MS. PSAKI: Well, other than to convey it was a discussion of assessments, not policy recommendations. Intelligence agencies do assessments; they don’t make policy recommendations.

QUESTION: But the way the – the context in which the Secretary said this was that even the Israelis think that it’s a bad idea for – or even an Israeli intelligence official thinks that it’s a bad idea to impose sanctions. And that does not seem to be the case.

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me unpack that a little bit further. We are quite familiar with the views of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the policy advisors within the Israeli Government about sanctions and what they view as – whether they should take place and when they should be put in place. We agree that sanctions have helped get us to the point we’re at. We have a disagreement about the way to achieve our shared goal, which is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I’m not going to confirm or speak further to conversations members of Congress may have had with intelligence officials other than to convey they were about intelligence assessments; they’re not about what their view is on policy. We know what the Israeli Government’s view is on sanctions.

QUESTION: Well, the official in question – or at least who has released a statement about what he told the Congressional delegation – says that what he meant to say or what his hand grenade reference to was the fact – was that his assessment was that if new sanctions were introduced, the Iranians might walk away, but then it would be temporary and that they would eventually come back to the table and that you – meaning the P5+1 negotiators and in particular the U.S. – would be in a better position to negotiate with Iran than you are right now. It seems from the context that the Secretary used this quote yesterday is that the Administration is trying to suggest that there is daylight or a rift or some kind of a gap between what Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks and what the Mossad – what the Israeli intelligence – at least this one official – thinks. That does not appear to be the case. So I’m wondering if you can say whether the Secretary was misled into thinking that that was actually the situation.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have an assessment for you on what was or wasn’t discussed during the meeting with Congressional officials. What I can convey is that there are many around the world who have assessed – whether you want to call it a political assessment or what you want to call it – including a range of European leaders who put out an op-ed today in the Washington Post – that if we move forward with sanctions, that could blow up the negotiations and could even destroy the international sanctions regime as it exists. So whether or not that specific assessment was made during a private meeting, I don’t have any confirmation of that.

QUESTION: Right. But the problem with that is that the Secretary himself raised it. He is the one who said it. He did it unprompted and the context in which he presented it was to suggest that there is some – there is disagreement that Israel – the Israeli Government and its – elements of the Israeli Government are not united about this, and in fact think that new sanctions – some of them think that new sanctions are wrong. So that’s why the question arises to you, and I realize we probably should be asking him. But the second thing is is that you say – you point out this op-ed that the Europeans wrote, but yesterday in the press conference with the external affairs – or whatever her title is now --

MS. PSAKI: EU high representative.

QUESTION: Right. When – after the Secretary said that his opinion was that new sanctions would hurt rather than hinder – would hurt rather than help the process and blow it up, she pointedly said – and I recognize that she’s not in these negotiations, but she said she couldn’t offer any prediction about what sanctions would do. So there seems to be a disagreement in --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you those who are on her staff who are in the negotiations feel that it would have a detrimental impact, and that’s what they’re conveying.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Staying on this --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Suppose there is that rogue element; suppose that the Mossad has gone on its own in opposition to Netanyahu. Is that a good thing? Would that be, like – would that augment the call for no more sanctions, do you think?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your desire to go down this road, but I’m not going to journey down it with you.

QUESTION: Okay. And let me ask you another question on the same topic.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the Israeli prime minister is completely focused on his re-election and come what may? I mean, they go, they strike in Syria, they do all kinds of things basically to sabotage whatever chances for a deal. Are you – is that the feeling in this building?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have an assessment of the prime minister of Israel’s views on his election.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the prime minister of Israel is basically doing all he can to obfuscate any effort in terms of reaching a deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, we have – we agree on the objective, which is to prevent Iran --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We disagree on the way to get there. There are many who agree with where we are, which is that putting new sanctions in place would be incredibly detrimental to the process and could even destroy the international sanctions regime.

QUESTION: So --

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure when the prime minister comes here and visits the United States he’ll talk about this, and we’ll continue to have a discussion and debate.

QUESTION: Okay. By the way, when he comes here to the United States on February 11 --

QUESTION: No, no.

QUESTION: No?

QUESTION: It’s March.

QUESTION: March. Okay, all right. March 11th.

QUESTION: It’s March 3rd.

QUESTION: March 3rd. Okay, that’s AIPAC. Yeah, right. Anyway, let me go back --

MS. PSAKI: We should just get a calendar out here on upcoming events. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: The White House has said that the President – that President Obama will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he comes. Will Secretary Kerry see him? Is there some prohibition against that kind of thing, given the election?

MS. PSAKI: He will not, and just for the benefit of everybody, let me just repeat the reasons why. I know some of you have seen the White House statement. But as a long – as a matter of longstanding practice and principle, we typically – the President obviously does not see heads of state or candidates, and neither will the Secretary of State, in close proximity to their elections so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country. So the White House announced the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and neither will Secretary Kerry when he’s here.

QUESTION: This expression, this entire expression --

QUESTION: Does that apply to lower-level officials?

MS. PSAKI: I think it’s – I think the --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’m just curious. I mean, he is a – he’s not a head of state, actually. He’s a head of government. But --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, sorry.

QUESTION: But when --

MS. PSAKI: We were saying a general --

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- a general – if it were others as well, Matt.

QUESTION: I understand. But when a head of state does come here, there is some coordination usually --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- just security-wise or whatever.

QUESTION: You’re right. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So I mean, are you saying that there will be no contact at all between Administration officials --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of plans for other meetings, Matt, but I can certainly check. I don’t think there will be.

QUESTION: And this – you make this an emphatic expression of basically distrust in the American position by the Israeli prime minister saying and despite repeated announcement by the President and by the government that we have Israel’s back, we will continue, we will not throw it under the bus, to use the term that they use and so on. But they are relentless. He is relentless in saying no, no, no, no, and so on, that in spite of saying --

MS. PSAKI: Do you have a question in there?

QUESTION: My question is --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- do you think that he’s basically driving his own political agenda on this issue and not really the nature of the talks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to do political analysis on the Israeli election from here.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- specifically on Keystone. Sorry to --

MS. PSAKI: Can you – we finish Israel? Is that okay?

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. PSAKI: And then we’ll go back to Keystone. Any more on Israel before we --

QUESTION: Yeah, regarding the Palestinians. I mean, Israel and the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s do one more and then we’ll go to Keystone. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, because I have some questions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Today, the Israelis authorized the building of 62 – 66 housing in an illegal settlement basically on – that is in the courts. Do you have any position on this or do you know anything about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our settlements on – our position on settlements are well-known. I had not seen that report. I’m happy to follow up with our team on our specific view on that if there’s anything additional to add.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on the issue of aid to the Palestinians, we know that in the bill that was passed, I think in December and so on, calls for cutoff of aid for the Palestinians. And we know that the budget, the 2015 budget does not include a waiver clause in it for the President to basically do aid. So if the – if Congress decides to cut off the aid, what is the next step for you, knowing that the Palestinian situation is very precarious and very critical?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s exactly right, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. But like --

MS. PSAKI: But why don’t we get you some more specifics on where things stand.

Keystone?

QUESTION: Okay, and my last question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. My last question is between now and let’s say the election, do you have any plans to meet with any Palestinian officials?

MS. PSAKI: We remain in touch, as you know, on the ground and over the phone with Palestinian officials, absolutely. I don’t have any meetings to read out for you, but --

QUESTION: So at least for the time being, you are reconciled to the fact that they did file with the ICC, they may try again at the --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say reconciled. Our view is well-known. We’ve stated it many times on this position. But it doesn’t mean we don’t maintain contact. We do.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask – today up on the Hill, the Canadian ambassador, Gary Doer, was up there supporting in a press conference the bill to authorize Keystone XL. He said a couple of things which were perhaps a little bit undiplomatic – I’m not sure – of saying that he had heard the President’s speech at the State of the Union in which he talked about science. He says the science in the State Department report backs up the – giving approval to Keystone and says it’s our job to correct the facts and correct the myths that have been established around Keystone, basically making a plea for the Keystone.

Do you have a reaction to that? Does the science in the State Department report back up having a – giving approval to the pipeline?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re all familiar with the view of the Canadian Government on this issue, and they have spoken about it quite frequently. And we have an ongoing dialogue with them about a range of issues. The fact is, and what we certainly convey to any official in Canada, is that there is an ongoing process. As you know, last week – but we were on the trip, so just to update those of you who didn’t see it – the Department of State – we notified the eight agencies identified in the executive order that they have until February 2nd to provide their views on the national interest with regard to the Keystone pipeline permit application. Obviously, what will be taken into account is all of the information and the studies that have been under – that the agency and others have undergone over the past several months, and certainly responses by the eight federal agencies listed in the executive order are part of our internal process.

So there’s an internal process. There’s lots of information that comes in and will continue to come in, and we’ll look at all of that as we make an assessment.

QUESTION: And have you given yourself a deadline beyond the February 2nd to determine, to come up with the State Department’s determination on this?

MS. PSAKI: No, there’s not another deadline. That needs to be looked at an assessed. That’s the next step in the process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes. Do the actions of the Ukrainian Government comply with the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to something specifically or --

QUESTION: Yes, using heavy artillery, shelling residential areas.

MS. PSAKI: And where are you referring to that happening?

QUESTION: In areas near Donetsk. Is it – is it not happening? Are you suggesting that it is not happening?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just asking because, obviously, there was a terrible attack, as – and I’m not sure you’re referencing this – at a bus stop in Donetsk --

QUESTION: There have been a few days of shellings. No, that – including --

MS. PSAKI: -- this morning. Okay.

QUESTION: Please go ahead.

MS. PSAKI: And there’s an investigation on that particular incident that is ongoing by the OSCE. And certainly, we call on all sides to assist with the process. We understand that they have visited the scene and will produce a report once it’s concluded its fact-finding. And this incident certainly goes the heart of why we must see immediate implementation of the agreement made at yesterday’s Normandy format meeting in Berlin, which included Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany.

I would say that we’ve seen a preponderance of violations by the Russians and the Russian-backed separatists, whether that’s the movement of artillery or military equipment, or – and I’d also remind everyone that the country is Ukraine, so Ukraine is defending their own territory. There are a larger number of political prisoners.

QUESTION: I didn’t mean --

MS. PSAKI: So there are a number of steps that Russia and the Russian-backed separatists need to take, but we certainly expect both sides to abide by it.

QUESTION: I didn’t mean just this incident. There have been a few days --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- of shellings. Do these actions comply with the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, without speaking generally, because I always think there’s a danger in that if you’re not talking about specific incidents – in general, Russia has illegally – and Russian-backed separatists – have illegally come into Ukraine, including Donetsk. Ukraine has a responsibility and absolutely the right to defend themselves. Now, we certainly expect both sides to abide by the Minsk agreements. We have not seen that happen. We’ve seen a lot of talk, not a lot of backup, from the Russian side. If there are specific incidents, I’m more than happy to talk about them.

QUESTION: I’m specifically asking about the actions of the Ukrainian Government. Can you give a more definitive answer whether or not they comply with the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: You’re not talking about a specific incident. I think I’ll leave it at what I said.

QUESTION: Well, wait. Go ahead.

QUESTION: With the Minsk agreement, do they comply? You pass a judgment that Russia is not complying with the agreement. Can you assess whether Ukraine is complying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I listed a range of specific ways that Russia is not complying, and those are all public information. So if there’s a specific incident where Ukraine is not, let’s talk about it.

QUESTION: Yes, there is. Well, under the agreement --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- sides must avoid deploying and using heavy artillery. Isn’t it what the Ukrainian Government is doing right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, let’s start again with the fact that Russia is – has illegally intervened in Ukraine and come into a country that was a sovereign country.

QUESTION: I’m asking specifically about the actions of the Ukrainian Government --

MS. PSAKI: So I’m not sure if you’re proposing that a sovereign country doesn’t have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION: -- veering off and toward Russia.

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you just specifically about the incident this morning with the bus.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: What was your – you said it’s under investigation?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: But can you not at least condemn whoever it was that did it?

MS. PSAKI: Of course, of course. We condemn the further violence in eastern Ukraine at a bus stop in Donetsk this morning, which claimed at least a dozen innocent lives. Absolutely.

QUESTION: And that means that you would condemn if it was the government that did it, right? The Kyiv government.

MS. PSAKI: Of course. The loss of lives --

QUESTION: And you would condemn it if it was the separatists who did it?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you say – but at the same time, you’re saying that the Government of Ukraine has the – I think you said the right and – the responsibility and the right to defend itself. Do you see actions like that, like the shelling – or this shelling of the bus as being within the – being within that purview?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speculate on that, Matt. We don’t have information on the specifics here. Obviously, when it’s the death of innocent civilians, that’s something we would condemn in Ukraine or anywhere around the world. The point I was making was a larger point about whether or not Ukraine should be able to use military equipment in their own country.

QUESTION: Well, okay, understandable. That – I understand that. But the problem is that you seem to be – you’re condemning the separatists for doing things that presumably you also don’t have full investigation into.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a range of incidents we certainly have seen --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- exactly what’s happened. So broadly speaking --

QUESTION: But when --

MS. PSAKI: -- the preponderance of violations are on the Russian --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- and Russian-backed separatist side.

QUESTION: And – which may be the case, but I don’t – I can’t say that. I don’t know that. But this – it just seems to be that when the Government of Ukraine is accused of shelling, of bombarding civilian targets when they are – that accusation is made, you refrain from – you don’t take – you say let’s have an investigation into it. And when there are incidents that you ascribe to the separatists, there’s an immediate condemnation. So I think that’s where these questions are coming --

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say that’s exactly what’s happened. There are times where it’s clear who is responsible. This is a case where there’s going to be an investigation.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: There are also violations like the failure to release certain prisoners --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: -- the fact that they are moving military equipment across the border, things that are violations that don’t involve attacks.

QUESTION: But this bus incident happened in a place that’s controlled by the separatists, and it’s probably unlikely that the separatists would bomb themselves. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll let the investigation see itself through, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But it would seem, just if you were, like, looking at it from the outside, that this was not a self-inflicted wound; that it was done in the course of what you say is the right and responsibility of the Government of Ukraine to defend itself. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand why you’re putting together different details to come to that point, but we’re going to see the investigation through.

QUESTION: All right. It’s pretty obvious, though, isn’t it, no?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll let the investigation --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- see itself through. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Pakistan --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- there are reports about two organizations, Jamaat ud-Daawa and Haqqani Network, being banned by Pakistan. Have they informed you or have they really been banned?

MS. PSAKI: Can you say this one more time?

QUESTION: Jamaat ud-Daawa and Haqqani Network, the two terrorist organizations, have they been banned by Pakistan? Have they informed you about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve certainly seen the reports, and there have been a range of reports.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: The Pakistani Government has made clear in both private conversations and public statements that it’s in Pakistan’s own interest to take steps against all militant groups in Pakistan, and explicitly to not differentiate between such group. We support this commitment and believe that it’s fundamental to addressing terrorism and ensuring attacks such as the horrific one that happened just weeks ago at the – that impacted the Peshawar schoolchildren never occur again. We recognize that Pakistan is working through the process of implementing measures to thwart violent extremism, including the national action plan. We don’t have any confirmation of specific steps.

QUESTION: But at the same time, they are having a huge march later this week. How do you see that? On the one hand, they have banned organizations; the other hand, the leaders are roaming around in public.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have – do you have more details on the march and the purpose of it? I don’t have details on that.

QUESTION: I can send you the details.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay, great. More on Pakistan or India?

QUESTION: One more on Ukraine. I’m sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure that it’s clear.

MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Ukrainian Government is using heavy artillery in residential areas, is it not? Isn’t it a violation of the Minsk agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, as I’m sure you’re aware, there was an agreement for Russia to pull back their heavy artillery yesterday as part of the agreement made in Berlin. I would go back to the same point I made. Without getting into speaking to generalizations, Ukraine is a sovereign country.

QUESTION: It’s a specific question. It’s not a generalization.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish – let me finish my answer, please. Thank you. There – they have the right to defend themselves. If you’re talking about specific incidents, then I’m happy to speak to them, but I’m not going to answer your questions on broad generalizations.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I got two more on Syria. One is that these two Japanese hostage, as far as I know, deadline is tomorrow. Do you have any update? Do you talk to Turkish Government on this specific issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have updates on conversations with the Turkish Government. Obviously, as you know, we have a range of conversations with the Turkish Government about Syria and other issues. I talked a little bit a few days ago about the Secretary’s conversations with Foreign Minister Kishida and others about how horrific this is, the video, the threats. I unfortunately don’t have any updates on the status.

QUESTION: On this. Okay. The second one is about the train and equip program. Last time, I believe we were told that this program should kick off in March. We are almost end of January. Do you still think this timetable is going to work?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to my colleague, Admiral Kirby, over at the Pentagon who spoke to this extensively last week --

QUESTION: Okay. I will see --

MS. PSAKI: -- in terms of the timing and the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And I think that might help you in terms of where things stand.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Japan?

MS. PSAKI: On Japan? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Did you have any advice for them about regarding the ransom that they were (inaudible) to pay?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re all familiar with what the view of the United States is on ransom payments – that it puts citizens at risk, and it certainly is not a policy that we here in the United States implement or we support. So that certainly is something I think Japan knows our longstanding position on that issue.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How confident are you that Japan will abide by U.S. position on ransoms? And if it doesn’t, how will this affect U.S.-Japan relations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, I’m not going to get ahead of the process here. Obviously, our view is known. The reasons for our view is known. I don’t have any assessment of Japan’s plans.

QUESTION: Do you know, though, if you’ve had contact with the Japanese to tell them of your position or to suggest to them that it might not be a wise idea to pay a ransom?

MS. PSAKI: We have conveyed privately our position and they’re familiar, certainly publicly, of course, with our position as well.

QUESTION: And your position is that in this specific case that if Japan paid a ransom it would put other Japanese citizens at risk?

MS. PSAKI: Well, and all citizens. Yes.

QUESTION: And – right. But you’re --

MS. PSAKI: For kidnapping, and only sustains the terrorist organizations.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Japan?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So if there’s any – is there any specific coordination or supports that the U.S. has provided to Japan or is willing to provide?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get into specific details about our private diplomatic conversations. As you know, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Kishida just two days ago, I believe, and certainly we’re prepared to provide any support we can.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of topic. Qatar?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And admitted al-Qaida operative in the United States, Ali al-Marri, was released last week from federal prison and then transferred to Qatar. What was the State Department’s involvement in his transfer?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any details or specifics I can confirm on that. I think it’s more of a question for DOJ and others, but I can certainly follow up and see if there’s more we can offer.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, that is called the million march. It’s to be held in Karachi on Sunday, and it’s a call being given by Hafiz Sayeed of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. This is a protest against the publication of cartoons in the latest issue by Charlie Hebdo issue.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to talk to our team about it. Did you have a specific question about it? What our view is or --

QUESTION: No. If there is a ban on the organization, how come they are having the public rally of millions march?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not – I don’t know enough about the march to know if there’s a specific connection there.

QUESTION: And coming to India about – after Secretary’s trip where he met the prime minister, and now President is traveling, did Secretary get a chance to brief the President on his India trip?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary has certainly been over at the White House for a range of meetings over the last couple of days. I know, obviously, they plan to discuss his meetings while he was in India, and the Secretary’s had lunch with – I believe just a few days ago with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. So he’s certainly seen the President quite a bit about a range of topics, but he certainly has passed on his meetings and his assessment of what happened there.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: I just – I wanted to bring it back to Yemen for one second.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There are some reports of secession, the possibility of secession in southern Yemen. Is – would the U.S. support that as part of its support for a political – peaceful political transition, or would you have specific comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know there were a range of proposals – I think this is what you’re referring to – that were kind of being worked through in the political agreement between the Houthis and the Hadi government. I don’t have any particular assessment of particular components we support or don’t support. In general, we support de-escalation, we support a peaceful transition. I can see if there’s anything we have particular concern with.

QUESTION: Well, actually I think it’s the security directorate in the Aden – the port has – is expected to make an important announcement later.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well --

QUESTION: And we’re not sure this is part of the deal between --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, separate issue then. Okay.

QUESTION: If she’s referring to the same thing.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Is that what you’re referring to? Okay, we’ll look into that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a clarification on Iran deadlines?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In his testimony at the Committee on Foreign Relations, Deputy Secretary Blinken mentioned that for a political agreement, we’re looking for a conclusion by the end of March.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But Senator Menendez was talking about March 24th for some reason. Is March 24th a specific deadline as well, or is it March 31st?

MS. PSAKI: March 31st. It’s approximately four months past the timing of the last meeting. So we know there has been confusion, and we wanted to be a little bit more clear about how we’re looking at the timelines.

QUESTION: So March 24th was just Menendez’s personal question?

MS. PSAKI: I think it was just adding four months, but March 31st is the timeline.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a question on Cuba.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You began by talking about Cuba. Today, apparently, the talks began on the issue of diplomatic exchange and so on.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So if this happens, what is, like, the timeline? I mean, when is it likely that a Cuban embassy would be opened in Washington and vice versa, and people begin to travel?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have an exact timeline for you. It’s something that we’ll continue working on over the coming weeks. And the Secretary spoke a little bit yesterday to some of the specifics that would need to be worked through, including lifting travel restrictions on diplomats, lifting caps on the number of diplomatic personnel, unimpeded shipments for our mission, free access to our mission by Cubans. Those are all issues that are being discussed on the ground, and Assistant Secretary Jacobson is doing a press avail as we speak, perhaps, to talk about these issues.

Now, we didn’t expect that this would all be worked through or determined. It’s just a beginning of the discussion. And clearly, we hope that the speed at which these issues are resolved will escalate now that we’re engaging in dialogue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just back to Qatar, are you saying the State Department had no involvement in this transfer?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- to offer for you.

Okay. Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: I have just one more which is --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- completely different from everything else.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Which is, I believe the Turkish Government has invited leaders to the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli remembrance ceremony. Does Secretary Kerry plan to attend? If not, is the U.S. sending anybody else?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I believe that is in April, if I’m correct about the timing of it --

QUESTION: April 24th, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: -- which, believe it or not, is about a century away in travel. So I don’t have anything to announce. Approximately. It’s a figure of speech, Matt. Matt is rolling his eyes at me up here. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You mean it’ll be in 2115?

MS. PSAKI: You’re so exact. It’s quite some time away in how we do travel plans, so I have no travel plans to announce for the Secretary or any other official here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: An eon, perhaps, not a century.

MS. PSAKI: An eon? I think that’s longer than a century, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Whatever. I got two really brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: First is on Bahrain.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t know if Marie last week spoke to this at all or if you have been asked this before, but I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on the conviction of Nabeel Rajab – the sentence that he was given and the travel ban that was imposed upon him.

MS. PSAKI: I believe we have – well, maybe not. Let me repeat --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- some points here, and I apologize if this is repetitive. We’re disappointed by the sentence. It is our understanding that Mr. Rajab may appeal the case. As we have consistently say around the world – as we consistently say around the world, the United States does not agree with the prosecution of individuals for crimes of peaceful political expression. As we said last October, we urge the Government of Bahrain to drop the charges against him.

QUESTION: Okay. And release him, presumably?

MS. PSAKI: Presumably, yes.

QUESTION: All right. And then the second one is on Egypt. First is a logistical one.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And I don’t even know if this is possible, because I don’t know if President al-Sisi is going to be in Davos when the President – when the Secretary gets there or not. Do you know --

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure they’re overlapping, but --

QUESTION: Well, okay. Do you know if there are any plans for him on his current trip to see any Egyptian officials, whether it’s the president or not?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check. Not that I’d seen on the last schedule, but I’m happy to check --

QUESTION: All right. The --

MS. PSAKI: -- where the bilats sits right now.

QUESTION: Yesterday – this is a little convoluted.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, in his meeting with the Australian foreign minister, do you know if the Secretary raised the case of the Al Jazeera journalist – the Australian Al Jazeera journalist who’s being held in Egypt? Did that come up at all, do you know?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that was a part of the discussion they had at – they had a few minutes one-on-one, but not in the meeting that I was in. Obviously, I would just reiterate it was not a very long meeting, because it was between the meeting with EU High Representative Mogherini and he had to get to a meeting at the White House, so it was a bit condensed.

QUESTION: Right, okay. But it is safe to assume, though, that your position on the jailing and the prosecution of these journalists in Egypt is something that --

MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And it’s something --

QUESTION: -- you’re opposed to?

MS. PSAKI: -- we’ve talked about in the past and we certainly talk about at a range of levels.

QUESTION: That you’re opposed to it? That you think that they should be released?

MS. PSAKI: The Al Jazeera journalists?

QUESTION: Right, yes.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: I have a very quick question --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- Iran-related. Yesterday, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sent a letter or addressed a letter to Western news, telling them not to prejudge Islam. Is that – is he within his right to do so? And did he breach any protocol by doing that? Or what is your reaction? Have you read it?

MS. PSAKI: I --

QUESTION: And then maybe you can comment on Deflate-gate. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly seen that letter. I don’t have a comment on it, including any breaches of protocol or otherwise.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)

2015-01-23


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 21, 2015


Jen Psaki
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 21, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

12:19 p.m. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. We tried to do this briefing as early as we can today so we can get to as many topics as we can before our bilateral meeting at 1:00 p.m.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: I have one item at the top. We strongly condemn today’s stabbings on a bus in Tel Aviv. There is and can be no justification for such attacks against innocent civilians. We continue to urge all sides to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path forward toward peace. And as many of you know, the Secretary will also have a press avail with EU High Representative Mogherini as well after his bilateral meeting.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: U.S.A. hockey – that’s the scarf today.

QUESTION: Yes, it is.

MS. PSAKI: To note for transcript. Go ahead.

QUESTION: U.S.A. hockey. Of course, this was for the Olympics and then they didn’t --

MS. PSAKI: It’s almost the anniversary.

QUESTION: Exactly. Let’s start with Israel since you started with Israel. I’m curious to know if you share the view of the White House, your – of your colleague, Mr. Earnest, that Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month is a – was a – or is a breach of protocol, and whether or not the Administration – I’m also interested in knowing whether or not the Administration opposes or would not support Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think I haven’t seen my colleague’s comments, but certainly, traditionally, we would learn about the plans of a leader to come to the United States separately from learning from it – about it from the Speaker of the House, which is how we learned of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to come and speak to a joint session. Now, he has spoken to a joint session many times in the past. That’s certainly not something we have opposed nor do we oppose it in general in this case. We don’t have information at this point on what he’ll be speaking about. Obviously, we have ongoing discussions – the Secretary does – with Prime Minister Netanyahu about a range of issues – security, the ongoing tensions. Those will certainly continue.

QUESTION: So despite the fact that it – you say it was a breach of protocol, you’re not against the idea. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn’t – exactly.

QUESTION: Okay. And you said you don’t know what he is going to speak about. Well, the invitation is pretty clear that he – the invitation from Speaker Boehner that wants him – Speaker Boehner wants him to discuss Iran and the threat of radical Islam. Is that --

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t have more details on what he’ll say. I think we can all make a guess, but what I’m conveying is there hasn’t been a discussion about that at this point in time.

QUESTION: Does the Administration have any view as to whether Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress on his well-known positions about Iran and about militant or radical Islam is necessary or helpful to the discussion going on about --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think --

QUESTION: -- how to respond to (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: -- it’s no secret, Matt, that we have a different point of view as it relates to the benefit of ongoing negotiations with Iran and our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken to that extensively. So that’s – but there are many leaders who have spoken to joint sessions in the past and there will be many in the future. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has on many occasions.

QUESTION: You said that there’s a – you both share the same aim, right, which is to prevent or keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: That’s right, and we’ve talked about that as well in the past.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll cede, but I want to stay on Israel.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the timing of the invitation?

MS. PSAKI: The timing of the invitation?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any analysis on that I’m going to do from the podium.

QUESTION: After the day of the presidential – of the President’s speech yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on when the invitation was made or accepted.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about the reported Israeli strikes in the Golan Heights that killed an Iranian general and apparently the son of Imad Mughniyeh?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details to speak about on that, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the result of this strike, whoever did it, is that a good thing or a bad thing in the view of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, I know our view on a range of issues that these reports take into account, whether it’s the engagement of Hezbollah, their destructive engagement from the outside is well known. Obviously, the details haven’t been specifically confirmed by many of the parties so I’m just not going to speculate on them further.

QUESTION: Well, but let me – the Iranians have said publicly that one of their generals was killed. They had a massive funeral for him today in Tehran. And Hezbollah itself has said that Jihad Mughniyeh was killed. So --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Now, others haven’t --

QUESTION: -- there are some details. Do you have reason to doubt those?

MS. PSAKI: No, I’m not suggesting that.

QUESTION: Oh.

MS. PSAKI: But others haven’t confirmed the specifics of what happened here or the alleged Israeli action. That’s what I was referring to. I don’t have any particular comment on the outcome or anything beyond that.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean the Administration doesn’t have a point of view of whether it’s good thing or a bad thing that these two, and others, actors were taken off the world – or the stage of (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I just reiterated the fact that we’ve long believed that Hezbollah plays a destructive role. We condemn their direct intervention; that’s consistently been our view. I just don’t think I’m going to add too much more to it than that.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that Hezbollah was preparing for some kind of an operation against Israel?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more I can speculate on that.

QUESTION: Can I also stay in Israel --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and just ask about the attack today by a Palestinian on a morning bus?

QUESTION: She --

MS. PSAKI: I spoke to it at the top.

QUESTION: Oh, you – sorry, I missed that.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details at this point. If that changes – I just condemned, obviously, the action. But if more becomes available we can speak to that later.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So what’s the latest on the security situation around the embassy? Have you had any change of heart about a possible evacuation? What’s the security situation there?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you know, Justin, the safety and security of our men and women serving overseas is a top priority for the President, for the Secretary of State, certainly for everyone in the State Department. We’re continuing to not only monitor but, I think you’d all expect, to discuss internally the situation on the ground in Yemen, as well as developments in Yemen, and we will adjust to the embassy security posture response in accordance to the situation on the ground.

As you also know, following the – the embassy has been operating with reduced staffing and heightened security since ordered departure happened in late September, but there has not been a change at this point in our security posture on the ground.

QUESTION: So what’s your assessment of whether or not a coup has actually occurred? Do you feel there’s been a shift in power? Is it too difficult to say? What’s the status of the Yemeni Government’s control?

MS. PSAKI: The legitimate Yemeni Government is led by President Hadi. We remain in touch with him. He is in his home. Clearly, we’ve seen a breakdown in the institutions in Yemen, and obviously, there’s a great deal of violence and tension on the ground. We’re certainly closely monitoring that and continuing to encourage the parties to continue dialogue, and they are talking.

QUESTION: Do you think the President has lost control? Do you worry that he will? I mean, because there was this – the question is: If he loses control, will you lose your counterterrorism ally in the region?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s getting a few steps ahead of where we are at this point in time. I would say that throughout the last several weeks and days, and long before that, our ongoing counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen has continued. As you know, we believe that’s it’s in our national security interest to have a presence there, and a strong presence there, which is one that we continue to have. But obviously, we weigh the safety and security of our personnel as – very highly in this internal discussion.

QUESTION: Jen, don’t you think it’s a bit disingenuous to say President Hadi is in his home?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re continuing to --

QUESTION: He’s in his home because he’s surrounded by Shiite rebels who are – who may or may not want to kill him.

MS. PSAKI: And he remains the legitimate president of the country, and we remain in touch with him, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, all right, but there’s a – there are cases where legitimate leaders are not in position in to actually exert their legitimate authority or what you think is their legitimate authority. So I mean, I fear that we’re leading down a path where you guys are going to start twisting yourself into pretzels again, like in Egypt, over whether this is a coup or not. Who does the United States believe is in fundamental control of the Yemeni Government and military, if anyone?

MS. PSAKI: President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of the Yemeni Government.

QUESTION: Yeah, but does he actually have authority? Can he --

MS. PSAKI: He remains the legitimate leader, Matt.

QUESTION: If he gives an order, do you think that the government or the military will carry out his order while he’s under --

MS. PSAKI: Matt, clearly --

QUESTION: -- while he’s relaxing at home, as you seem to suggest?

MS. PSAKI: Clearly, Matt, this is a very fluid situation on the ground. It’s a challenging situation on the ground. As I mentioned, the parties are talking. We’re continuing to encourage that, having discussions about a ceasefire; obviously, that hasn’t been abided by. But we’re not going to get steps ahead of where we are. Things continue to develop every single day.

QUESTION: Does the Administration see the hand of Iran in what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have talked in the past about the fact that we believe the Houthis have concerning relations with Iran, and we’re certainly aware of reports of a variety of support provided by Iran to the Houthis, but I don’t have any more details or specifics on that at this point in time.

QUESTION: And then, this is just – takes it a little bit more – makes – brings it in a little broader perspective here, given the testimony that was on the Hill from Deputy Secretary Blinken this morning. You see – you have – you say you have concerns about an Iranian hand in Yemen. An Iranian general was killed in the Golan Heights, where you say you have also concerns about Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Given the fact that you believe Iran to be a bad actor, if that’s the right word, why on Earth would you possibly think that Iran can be trusted to negotiate or to abide by a nuclear agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, it’s never been about trust. As you know, the nuclear negotiations are about the nuclear issue. If we reach an agreement, it doesn’t mean the other issues are resolved. As you know, there are a number of sanctions and restrictions on Iran related to other issues, but we have a fundamental belief that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is in the interest of the United States and the global community. That’s why we’re continuing to pursue it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Let – can I say one more thing? And our belief is that it is not – Iran is not engaged in these negotiations as a favor to the United States or to the Western countries. They’re engaged in them because of the crippling effect of sanctions. And so we believe that this is an opportunity to finally bring an end to their ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I don’t think anyone denies that the – you have a – that the U.S. or the Administration has a fundamental interest in preventing Iran from getting a bomb, and I also don’t think that anyone disputes that Iran is in this not for the hell of it, but because they want relief from sanctions. So I don’t think that taking issue with those ideas or suggesting that people disagree with them makes much sense. So I mean --

MS. PSAKI: They’re important contextual points, so I thought I’d share them.

QUESTION: Fair – well, okay, fair enough. But I mean, I don’t think anyone’s challenging those points.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: What the question is, is that you have observed and seen – the Administration has – Iran acting in what you believe to be a nefarious way in places – very far-flung places, but places very close to their own territory. Why is it that on this one issue you think that they can be trusted? And the verification is a separate issue. They have to think that they have to actually agree and then be serious about an agreement, right?

MS. PSAKI: You’re right, it’s trust but verify and verify again. It’s not about trust. It’s about having requirements in the JPOA, which they’ve abided by for the last year-plus, and then any agreement that are verifying, that are monitoring that they’re abiding by their agreement.

QUESTION: But I’m talking about in the run-up to where you get to verification. And then let’s leave verification aside, whether or not you believe that that can actually be done or not, the verification part. But in the run-up, do you believe – or you believe that so far, since the – and where did this JPOA thing from?

QUESTION: Yeah, can we stick with J-P-O-A? I noticed that the deputy secretary was saying JPOA on the Hill and --

MS. PSAKI: I’ll let the deputy secretary of State know that Arshad from Reuters would like him to change how he refers to the Iran agreement. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not just him. Other people --

QUESTION: Yes, Matt --

QUESTION: But I – it’s the run-up to actually getting an agreement. You have to trust them to negotiate in good faith, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve always said – and I – we could go around and around on this, I realize, but there are requirements – the verification part is very important. It’s essential. You can’t have an agreement that’s workable without it.

QUESTION: But you believe that the Iranians have shown to date enough good faith that you can continue to trust them to negotiate in good faith?

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put it in those terms, but they have abided by the J-P-O-A, the JPOA, whatever you would like to call it.

QUESTION: Jen, follow-up on this issue --

MS. PSAKI: On Iran? Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Don’t you see that the Iranians are benefitting from the negotiations with the P5+1 and with the U.S. to expand their influence in the region in Yemen, in Syria, elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI: And how do you think that’s the case? In what capacity?

QUESTION: Because look what happened in – or what’s happening in Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: And what’s the connection that you draw between the ongoing negotiations and their engagement with the Houthis and others?

QUESTION: There are negotiations – they are negotiating with the West, with the P5+1 at the same --

MS. PSAKI: Correct, they’re happening at the same time. What’s the rest of your connection?

QUESTION: Look what’s going on in Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: Right. You’ve talked about --

QUESTION: Expanding their influence in Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: You’ve mentioned two events that are happening, not a connection between them.

Do we have more Iran?

QUESTION: I’d like to ask where we are in the talks, actually.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: What’s happening now? I mean, they were meeting – the P5+1 was meeting the weekend in Geneva.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are they still meeting? Have they wrapped up? What’s the next stage? Was there any progress made? What happened?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. They – last week’s – the meetings have wrapped up. Under Secretary Sherman is back for a couple of days and she has quite a bit of travel planned. I don’t have any announcement on the next round. I expect we’ll have more details on that in the next 24 to 48 hours, Jo, if sooner than that. We’ll make it available. Last week’s discussions were serious, useful, and businesslike. We’ve made progress on some issues, but gaps remain on others. Clearly, there are going to be more rounds of negotiations.

As you’ve seen, and the Secretary has talked about, certainly we anticipate he’ll meet with Foreign Minister Zarif again in the coming weeks. I don’t have anything specific on that yet at this point.

QUESTION: You said she has a lot of travel upcoming. Is that with regard to the Iran negotiations or --

MS. PSAKI: No, not necessarily. I just mean she’s here, but I don’t have anything more on her travel schedule to announce today.

QUESTION: Can I ask – there has been this idea of a – sort of a framework deal by March.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And the President actually referred to that in his State of the Union Address last night, talked about by spring there could be something in place. Can you sort of – is there a sort of date for that? And what exactly are you hoping will be pinned down in March, and then what do you expect will be --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: -- left towards the end after those negotiations?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. So Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke about this a little bit during his hearing, but let me reiterate some of the points he made. So on the deadline question, which I know you’ve had in the past, the P5+1, coordinated by the EU and Iran, agreed to extend the nuclear talks until March 31st to reach a political agreement, and then June 30th to reach all of the technical details. So a political agreement means, in our view, a political understanding on the elements of a deal so that we can use the remaining months to work out the technical details by June 30th.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. And --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, just after these talks.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So we’re now January the 21st, so that’s kind of nine weeks away --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- from March 31st. How are things going?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more assessment to add, other than the short readout I just gave you of last week. There’ll be ongoing talks, gaps remain, we’ve made some progress, but clearly, there’ll be many more rounds of discussions and negotiations.

QUESTION: Is – do you believe that there could be talk of another extension?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. It’s only January at this point. So I just laid out kind of what our points are that we’re looking ahead to over the coming months.

QUESTION: Jen, can we go back to Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you view any role that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been playing in the latest events in Yemen?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any speculation on that.

QUESTION: I have a question on Yemen.

MS. PSAKI: On Yemen? Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, great. I just want to follow up on some of the line of questioning, all right? I mean, the Houthi leaders called for constitutional changes to increase its power. We have the president, the prime minister surrounded; aviation college, missile base all taken over. Why is there such reticence by the United States to call this a coup?

MS. PSAKI: We don’t just throw out words just to make all of you feel better. There is a legal --

QUESTION: It’s not a question of feeling better, though.

MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. There is a legal analysis that would be done in any circumstance regardless around the world. This is a scenario where President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of Yemen. We remain in touch with him. There are discussions and negotiations between the parties. We’ve seen reports of ceasefire talks. We continue to urge all parties to abide by the terms of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, the GCC initiative and its implementation mechanism.

That’s where we feel – is it easy? No. But that’s how we feel is the best path forward. Those are the discussions we’re having with the parties on the ground.

QUESTION: So with regard to the legal analysis, again, this seems similar or reticent – or reminiscent, rather – of Egypt and that same reticence to call it a coup. I mean, why is that? Is it because of the U.S. counterterrorism efforts that are there? Is that what this is about?

MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different situation. Every country, every situation is different. That, you were talking about military engagement. Obviously, at that time, our policy teams, our legal teams looked at that scenario. If it warranted, we would look at it here, but we’re not at that point at this point in time.

QUESTION: So what is the legal analysis that is making this a concern why there is (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: There’s no legal analysis. President Hadi remains the legitimate leader of Yemen.

QUESTION: But you said it was legal analysis that is making this --

MS. PSAKI: I said in any scenario around the world, we would do that if it warranted. We’re not at that point at this time.

QUESTION: Jen, can --

QUESTION: Can I just ask, there was – there have been reports that the prime minister has been allowed to leave his house, unlike the president. Have you any idea where he may be? Have you heard those?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on that. We can certainly check if we have more details, Jo.

QUESTION: You said that you don’t throw words around just to make us feel better. Well, let me tell you what would make me feel better: knowing where the Administration stands on what’s going on in Yemen, and what – whether or not the millions of dollars in counterterrorism assistance and other aid is going to continue to flow. I mean, I think that that – I don’t think that’s a question of just making us feel better.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you haven’t asked that question, Matt. I’m happy to answer it.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Good.

MS. PSAKI: On counterterrorism operations, I think I mentioned in response to maybe Justin’s question that that cooperation and work is ongoing, and it has been for weeks and days and months before that.

QUESTION: So you don’t anticipate or foresee a situation where you would have to reduce or end your assistance, your cooperation with the Yemeni Government and military?

MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly, we don’t make predictions about weeks and months in the future. I know you’re not asking me to.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) today, right now.

MS. PSAKI: But I think it’s important to note at this point in time, it’s ongoing. We see, certainly, value in having a strong presence in Yemen, in part because of our continuing work on counterterrorism efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. But the question is being asked not to feel better, but to know what exactly it is the Administration thinks about what’s going on and what it’s going to do about it, if anything. And right now, it sounds as though you’re going to wait and let it --

MS. PSAKI: Well, what are you confused about? Our security situation? What we want the parties to do? Which piece do you not feel you have an answer on?

QUESTION: I’m confused about whether the Administration is comfortable, for lack of a better word, for continuing its cooperation with a government that seems to be – and a president who seems to be teetering on the brink, if not hanging on to the little branch on the side – off the side of the cliff.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, just like many scenarios and places where there is violence on the ground, where there’s tension on the ground, we’re working with the legitimate government, which we believe is President Hadi, to continue to ease tensions, work toward ceasefire talks, see if we can make political progress on that front. That’s what our effort is focused on at this point in time.

QUESTION: Do you know – has there been contact between U.S. officials and President Hadi --

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: -- as he’s relaxing in his home, completely at ease?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, we’ve been in – we’ve remained in contact. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You have?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you know who it is? Is it the ambassador?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an official. I can see if there’s more details on that.

QUESTION: And do you know if that’s been by phone, by radio, by smoke signal? Have you actually gone to the residence?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure we’re going to get into that level of detail, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you know --

MS. PSAKI: I can certainly see if there’s more.

QUESTION: Do you know if he’s gone or if someone – U.S. have officials have been – gone to and been able to get in to see him in person?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to get into that level of detail, Matt.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to see, though.

QUESTION: And then there was an incident, apparently, yesterday or the day before in which a vehicle was shot.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have --

MS. PSAKI: There was. It was last night. So last night their time, morning our time, an attack on a U.S. diplomatic vehicle occurred at a checkpoint in the vicinity of the embassy. Houthi gunmen at the checkpoint opened fire on the vehicle, but no injuries were sustained during the incident. There is an investigation, of course, that’s – will happen into this incident.

QUESTION: Okay. So Houthi gunmen, who are backed by Iran, opened fire on a U.S. diplomatic car – vehicle, and I guess that’s --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details on it, Matt, and I’m not going to --

QUESTION: That’s okay?

MS. PSAKI: -- get ahead of the conclusion of the investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but you – the conclusion? The conclusion is that Houthi gunmen supported by Iran opened fire on a U.S. diplomatic vehicle. Isn’t that a problem?

MS. PSAKI: I understand your views. We’re looking into it. We take our – the safety and security of our men and women very seriously, but I won’t get ahead of an investigation.

QUESTION: Jen, there was this picture – real quick on this, there was that picture that was all around the internet yesterday of that Toyota 4Runner – I’m not sure what model it was, but was that the car?

MS. PSAKI: I – sorry, yesterday was a bit of a busy day. I didn’t have a chance to see the footage on TV, but --

QUESTION: No, no, there was a picture --

MS. PSAKI: -- but I’m confirming the detail. I’m not aware of another incident like this.

Any more on Yemen before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. What’s the difference between what’s happening in Yemen and what you considered a coup?

MS. PSAKI: I think I just answered that. I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said that you were having discussions with all the parties on the ground. Are you in contact or have any of the rebels reached out to be in contact with you and/or members of the military?

You also said that you’re working with the legitimate government to ease tensions and – toward ceasefire talks. Does that mean that you’re working as a sort of go-between between --

MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t suggesting that. We’re supporting their efforts – thank you for the opportunity to be more clear. We’re supporting their efforts to reduce the tensions on the ground. That’s certainly something we support.

Any more on Yemen before we finish? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did President Hadi, like, ask for your help or support through any, like, possible --

MS. PSAKI: Well, President Hadi has been a partner on these efforts as legitimate leader of Yemen. I’m not going to get into more details than that.

QUESTION: But, like, for the current crisis, now that he’s, like, surrounded and in his house --

MS. PSAKI: No, I understand your question. I’m just not going to get into more details. We remain in close contact.

I have to go in a few minutes, so let’s try to get to some other topics.

QUESTION: Russia?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, Russia.

QUESTION: I wondered if you’d got a response to the response from Foreign Minister Lavrov on the State of the Union Address last night. He says the Americans are – want to dominate the world, they’ve set a course for confrontation; America’s saying we’re number one and the rest of the world should acknowledge that. Could I have the U.S. response to that, please?

MS. PSAKI: I frankly haven’t seen Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments today. I’m happy to take a look at them. I think it’s unlikely I’ll have a specific response to them.

QUESTION: Okay, but just on that – when you’re taking a look at that, can you ask – the President, somewhat proudly last night in the State of the Union Address, said that the – that president – that Mr. Putin thought that – there were some who said that Mr. Putin was acting very wisely and sagely and showing his – and then he said that now the Russian economy is in tatters, as if this was a great accomplishment. Is that what the Administration considers to be a great accomplishment, to have the Russian economy to be in tatters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the context of what he was conveying is stating that President Putin is out there touting his leadership of a country where the economy is in tatters. So I’m not sure I would – I heard it or read it the same way you did, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not the way I read it; it’s apparently the way Foreign Minister Lavrov took it --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, well --

QUESTION: -- and the way others in Russia did as well. So when you’re looking into that and see if there is any reaction to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s press conference and comments, I would appreciate if you could --

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: On Russia still – on Russia, the – Poroshenko – Ukrainian President Poroshenko has said today that there are more than 9,000 Russian soldiers currently backing the pro-Russian rebels in the east. Does that – is that something you would agree with? He was speaking in Davos. Is – are those the figures that you --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of the figures. I’ve certainly seen the comments he’s made. There have been an increase – there has been, I should say, an increase in separatist violence, including renewed attacks – excuse me – on the Donetsk airport in recent days, and separatist seizures of more territory. We’ve also seen reports that two tactical battalions – Russian tactical – Russia has moved two tactical battalions into Ukraine. I don’t have additional information or independent confirmation of that, but we’ve certainly seen that.

We can confirm, as we’ve been talking about a bit, that Russia continues to move tanks, armored vehicles, trucks, artillery pieces, and other military equipment to deployment sites near the Russia-Ukraine border which serve as staging points before transporting military equipment to pro-Russia separatists. That is something we’re seeing; I don’t have any confirmation of his specific comments.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: DPRK?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: As we know, last week --

MS. PSAKI: Okay, let’s do that and then we’ll do you, and then I may have to go here.

QUESTION: Okay. Jen --

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, sorry.

QUESTION: As we know, some former U.S. officials and experts and some DPRK diplomats had a meeting in Singapore to talk about the nuclear issue. And even after the meeting, the DPRK’s chief negotiator for the Six-Party Talks, he still emphasized that he wanted the United States to suspend the military trio with South Korea. As I understand, last week you have already rejected the proposal suspending the military trio. But I wonder, it looks like during the meeting they explained the intention and the purpose of the proposal. So I wonder if you have changed your position or if you are considering making some changes about the position.

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed on our position and we’re not considering making changes to our position.

QUESTION: And also according to some media coverage, the chief negotiator of the Six-Party Talks, he said this time it’s the first time he proposed no precondition to return to the negotiating table. So what do you think of this approach?

MS. PSAKI: The chief negotiator from North Korea?

QUESTION: The DPRK.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the important point here is that the view of the United States, as well as our Six-Party partners, is that the – North Korea would need to abide by their international obligations, including the 2005 joint statement. And so we – the ball has long been in their court, but we certainly reject new proposals that don’t have any backing.

QUESTION: It looks like this is a positive signal sent by him. So are you still going to just passively waiting for their – to fulfil their commitment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we don’t take threatening rhetoric and empty proposals as a positive signal.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Russia, and forgive me if this isn’t new, but apparently they ended officially in December an agreement to work with the U.S. to protect their nuclear stockpiles and prevent them from being stolen, which is apparently a major breakdown. Is this – do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to look into that. It may be something that I talked about back then or we did, but I’d have to talk to our team about specifics on that.

I can do one or two more here.

QUESTION: I’ve got two really brief ones.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. And then we’ll go to you right there. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, have her go first.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh. I wanted to go back to the Iran (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: First, one thing going back to the deadline: Deputy Secretary Blinken said that an extension was possible if they didn’t dot the Is and cross the Ts of the technical details by the June deadline. But is there a similar consideration of an extension if the main components aren’t met by March?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think right now what we’re focused on is what our goals are and our objectives are. And I laid out what we want to try to achieve by March. I’m not – certainly – I certainly agree with what the deputy secretary said, of course, but at this point in time we have about two months, if my math is correct, a little over two months until we get to the March timeline. So we’re not going to get ahead of what would happen past that.

QUESTION: And then there was also a lot that came up in this hearing about whether the State Department and the Administration were adequately consulting versus informing Congress about the progress of these talks. Can you weigh in on any of the specifics of who you’re regularly in touch with on the Hill?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a range of officials on the Hill. As you know, many of the discussions and briefings we have with members of the Hill, and even their staff, are done in a classified setting, given the sensitivity of these negotiations. But those are ongoing. Over the course of the last week, I know just from morning meetings here that everyone from Under Secretary Sherman to, I believe, Secretary Kerry to other senior officials have been doing a range of calls with members of the Hill, so it’s not just about briefings. There’s person-to-person contact that’s happening as well.

QUESTION: And then one more quick one on this.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Senator Menendez at one point said that what he’s hearing from the Administration on the progression of these talks sounds more like talking points coming from Tehran. Do you have any kind of reaction to that statement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not quite sure what that means. I think our objective has long been to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I don’t think that’s their talking point. So certainly you have hearings, and we sent our deputy secretary to have this debate and have this discussion. And we respect the views of Congress, but I don’t really have more analysis on what he meant by that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So first of those two brief ones – on Burma: Do you have any reaction or comment on the rape and murder of these two Kachin teachers by the Burmese – members of the Burmese military, particularly as it happened around the same time as the U.S. and Burmese military were meeting to discuss human rights protection?

MS. PSAKI: I have a little bit on this, Matt. And if there’s more we can address, I’m happy to go back to our team. We are aware of reports that two volunteer teachers with the Kachin Baptist Convention were murdered in a village in northern Shan State. We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. We call on authorities to investigate this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice in a credible and transparent manner. The Government of Burma has informed us that they are looking into the case. The facts are still being determined, as far as we know, at this point in time.

QUESTION: And then the second brief one is on France specifically, and Europe more generally. It doesn’t have to do with James Taylor though.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Has it raised any concerns in this building or within the broader Administration, the steps that the French Government and, in fact, some other governments in Europe are taking to – in response to the terrorist attacks in terms of what appears to be curbing freedom of speech?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, a discussion of this is something that’s continuing on the ground with our Embassy. But I would say that certainly any government, including the Government of France, takes steps to protect their people, and certainly we hope and expect that that will be done with a balance of human rights and media freedoms. But I’d have to look more closely on the specific piece you’re looking at and talk to our team about concerns if we have them.

QUESTION: Well, there have been a number of cases reported where people have been detained or arrested or questioned over speech that stops short of actually violating any particular law; that they’ve been accused of encouraging or promoting or glorifying terrorist attacks without actually having done anything. Is that problematic?

MS. PSAKI: Well, each case is different, Matt. I know there have been a couple cases reported out there. I don’t have any concerns to express at this point, but I’m happy to talk to our team and see if there’s any were have on the ground.

QUESTION: And then the city of Paris, the mayor has said that she is going to sue Fox News for reports or this commentary that they aired about the no-go – alleged no-go zones. I mean, is that the kind of thing that the U.S. thinks is worthwhile or is something that a foreign – even though it’s a municipal government, that a foreign government should be spending its time and money and effort doing?

MS. PSAKI: I would leave that between the mayor of Paris and her office and Fox News.

All right, I’m sorry, guys. I have to go to the bilateral meeting. Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:53 p.m.)

 

2015-01-21


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 16, 2015


Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 16, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

2:07 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody. I imagine many of you were also watching the press availability at the White House, so understand why we’re a little bit late today. I have a couple of things to mention at the top – three, actually, to be precise.

First, Ukraine. It is one year to the day since Ukraine’s former government passed the so-called Black Thursday laws, draconian laws that denied the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech. Ukraine has come an enormous distance since then to meet its people’s aspirations. And the current government remains committed to advancing important reforms, despite ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. These steps include last year’s free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, and a focus on anti-corruption efforts, including this week’s move by Ukraine’s parliament to increase the independence of the judiciary. These are critically important steps to help the country move forward, and we congratulate the people of Ukraine on how far they have come in such a short time, especially on this significant anniversary. And we continue to stand with them as they press forward on critical reforms.

Second item is Libya. We welcome yesterday’s announcement that the UN-led talks in Geneva will continue next week, and we applaud those Libyans who are participating. We reiterate our strong support for this UN effort and urge all parties invited by Special Representative Leon to engage in dialogue aimed at producing a unity government that the international community can support. The United States remains committed to working with the international community to help the Libyan people and the government build an inclusive system of governance to address core needs, to provide stability and security, and to address the ongoing threats.

And then the last item, the Secretary’s travels. As many of you have seen, Secretary Kerry was in Paris today where he met with Foreign Minister Fabius and President Hollande to offer condolences after last week’s attacks. He also laid wreaths at Hypercache Market and the Charlie Hebdo office with Foreign Minister Fabius. And the Secretary also laid a wreath at the site of the fallen policeman near the Charlie Hebdo office. He then met with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and they both gave remarks. So a very moving day expressing U.S. support and underscoring our deep ties and ongoing, intensive cooperation.

Before leaving Paris, the Secretary met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif who was also in town for previous scheduled meetings, and they followed up on the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Geneva.

That’s what I have at the top. Brad.

QUESTION: Since you just brought it up, do you have a fuller readout of what the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif spoke about?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a further update on or details on the conversations. Of course, they’ve met a few times this week in Geneva, and then they followed up today. Of course, the focus is on the nuclear talks. I would also highlight, of course, that as we’ve said many times when asked if other topics come up in these conversations, we always mention our concern for American citizens in Iran. And so in that regard, nothing different to report.

QUESTION: So there were already reports from Iran that the Secretary and Mr. Zarif spoke specifically about the Washington Post reporter. Do you know what the Secretary said or what he – what sentiment he --

MR. RATHKE: I don't have that level of granularity. But of course, we continue to call for his immediate release – that is Jason Rezaian – as well as the immediate release of detained U.S. citizens Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and for the Iranian Government to assist us in locating Robert Levinson so that all can be returned to their families as soon as possible.

Okay. Anything on that topic?

QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran?

MR. RATHKE: On that topic? Yeah..

QUESTION: You saw the President say today there’s a 50-50 chance of a diplomatic deal. Given the discussions over the – I mean, Paris was the second meeting this week. How would you describe those talks going?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of exactly what they discussed. Of course, the Secretary is focused on the Iran nuclear issue, and that’s why he went to Geneva for those to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif. There was an opportunity today because they both happened to be in Paris and so they held another meeting, but I’m not going to characterize further the nature of the discussions.

QUESTION: So this is a matter of taking advantage of --

QUESTION: Any plans --

MR. RATHKE: Just – yeah.

QUESTION: So it was simply a matter of taking advantage of the timing to keep talking? There wasn’t any sense that there was an urgency for this meeting? I mean, people can coincidentally be in the same place and not need to meet.

MR. RATHKE: Right. No, but they both happened to be in Paris. They took the opportunity to meet. I wouldn’t go further beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you know if they said they’d meet again or when they would meet again?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any details like that. Of course, they’ve met a number of times in the past. But I don’t have anything to preview as far as when the next meeting might be.

QUESTION: Do you have more of a readout on the ongoing discussions in Geneva?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the discussions in Geneva are ongoing, as you say, Roz. There have been bilats over the last couple of days, not only bilateral meetings with Iran but since other P5+1 countries are there, there have been U.S. bilats with other countries that are involved in the process. I don’t have details to read out of those. And then Sunday is the day when there will be a meeting in the P5+1 format. So those are ongoing. I don’t have details to read out from them.

QUESTION: So you’re not able to say whether they’re focused on any particular technical issues or dealing with any reports of efforts to, for example, try to enhance the capability of Bushehr reactor?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any readout to give from the talks that are ongoing in Geneva.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Bushehr? Because I asked Wednesday, and I think Marie said at the time that she would look into it. Do you have a response to the talk about two additional reactors coming online at some point?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re aware that there was an announcement, and so we’re reviewing the details that surround it. I don’t have a specific comment on that. But in general, the construction of light-water reactors is not prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions, nor is it in contradiction to the JPOA. And we’ve been clear in saying throughout the negotiations that the purpose of these negotiations is to ensure that – to ensure verifiably that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for civilian and peaceful purposes. So the talks that are ongoing are focused on closing off the possible pathways to acquiring a nuclear bomb. That remains our focus. But I don’t have more specific reaction on that particular announcement.

QUESTION: I’m a little confused because – are you saying that a light-water reactor can have no effect on a potential military nuclear program? Because you’re saying that your goal is to close off all pathways, and then you say light-water reactors are essentially okay.

MR. RATHKE: No, I didn’t say that – I didn’t say that it’s okay. I said that it is --

QUESTION: You said it is not --

MR. RATHKE: -- not prohibited, not prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions, nor does it violate the JPOA. That’s --

QUESTION: So you’re not concerned by them increasing their – you’re not concerned by this activity?

MR. RATHKE: I didn’t say that we weren’t concerned. But I said --

QUESTION: Are you concerned by this activity?

MR. RATHKE: What I would say is that the whole purpose of the negotiations with Iran is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for civilian and peaceful purposes, and that that is verifiable. So I’m not going to get into one part or another of the dialogue happening in the negotiations, but just to reiterate that our point is closing off the pathways to acquire a nuclear bomb. I’m not going to offer a technical --

QUESTION: Hasn’t part of that effort been to --

MR. RATHKE: -- analysis of light-water reactors from the podium.

QUESTION: Hasn’t part of that effort been to lower Iran’s enrichment capacity that was seen as a major breakthrough of the JPOA?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to get into details of the negotiations --

QUESTION: I haven’t even asked the question yet.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, if you --

MR. RATHKE: I can see where you’re going, but go ahead.

QUESTION: If you want to deny that the JPOA was --

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, finish.

QUESTION: Okay. Doesn’t – I mean, if they’re building two new reactors, wouldn’t that imply that they need more enrichment to feed them?

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: I don’t see how this is – you have such a neutral position on this, given that it seems to go against all your efforts.

MR. RATHKE: All I’ve simply outlined is the Security Council resolutions which have certain requirements and are – anyone can read, also the JPOA, that in our view the construction of light-water nuclear reactors is not prohibited by those two documents. That’s separate from saying whether it’s a matter of concern and whether it’s an issue of discussion. I’m not going to get into what’s being discussed in the room either in the bilateral talks with Iran or in the P5+1 talks.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask you that. I mean, I’m only talking about what’s been publicly spoken about by the Iranians, not what’s been conveyed in the room.

MR. RATHKE: Right. And what I’ve said is that we’re aware of the announcement and we’re reviewing the details. So we’re looking at this. I’m not offering a final position on what we think about that announcement. We’re aware of it and we’re reviewing it to understand it better.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: During this Vibrant Gujarat event where Secretary Kerry was in attendance, there was a delegation led by one of the top advisors of the Iranian president. What is the U.S. view on the cooperation and the business deals that India and Iran are going ahead with? Are they not coming under the sanctions, or we are just turning a blind eye to whatever is going on?

MR. RATHKE: I wouldn’t suggest we’re turning a blind eye to anything. But I’m not familiar with that report. And of course --

QUESTION: It’s not a report but a --

MR. RATHKE: Of course, Vibrant Gujarat was an event organized by the Indian side, so I would refer you to them for any – for any details about participation. But beyond that, I don’t have – I don’t have in front of me an analysis of Iran-India ties, so I don’t have feedback on that.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for the participation. The participation and the – Prime Minister Modi’s pictures with the Iranian guy are all over on his website, on Indian external affairs, everywhere, with the flag of Iran and India behind them. I’m asking that if the – whatever comes out of this meeting and there is a business cooperation that is – do these cooperations falls under the U.S. sanctions, or not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t know the details of whatever discussions are that you were referring to, Tejinder. So I’m not in a position to analyze them from here. But of course, our – the existing sanctions, both the UN sanctions as well as U.S. sanctions and sanctions by many other partners, remain in effect. That’s part of the JPOA approach. But I’m not going to get into the – into analyzing agreements to which the U.S. Government might not be privy and certainly which I’m not familiar with.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the aftermath of the attacks in Paris?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There have been very serious clashes in Pakistan, Karachi, outside the French consulate. Three people have been injured, including an AFP photographer. One, I’d like to have your reaction to that; two, does the U.S. share the concerns or the anger sometimes of some Muslim populations about these cartoons; and would you advise the French authorities and maybe the publisher of Charlie Hebdo to be super cautious for the circulation and distribution of this newspaper?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to Karachi, we’re aware of these reports. I don’t have any details that I can confirm from here, but we certainly urge all to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law. For further details, I would refer you to the Pakistani authorities and to the French Government for details of what precisely happened.

Now on the question of the cartoons, I think this is something we’ve spoken about, I know Marie addressed the last couple of days. And I think we stand by that point of view. First of all, no act of legitimate journalism, however offensive some might find it, justifies an act of violence. That’s, I think, an important starting point. Now there is content published around the world every day that people might take issue with, but that doesn’t mean that we question the right of media outlets to publish information. Our view is that media organizations and news outlets often publish information that’s meant to cause debate, to stir debate. And while we may not always agree with any particular judgment or every item of content, the right to publish that information is one that we – that is fundamental and that we see as universal. So I think that’s about as far as I would go in commenting on that.

QUESTION: Apparently there are more and more clashes. There have been clashes also in Niger. So do you fear that it could trigger more violence in the Muslim world?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have an analysis to offer on that, I think, though our view on freedom of speech and freedom of the press is clear.

Anything on the same topic?

QUESTION: On the investigative side --

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the raids in Belgium overnight, the ongoing reports of arrests of people who may be co-conspirators in the Paris attacks – what cooperation is the U.S. Government providing to the French and Belgian Governments as they try to run these cases down?

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, of course we are aware of the reports from a number of countries about police operations. We’re monitoring the situation in Belgium very closely. Belgium certainly has our full support and solidarity in its counterterrorism efforts. Now, you didn’t ask, but just to make it clear, the U.S. diplomatic presence in Brussels, they are – they all are open – maybe they’re not open now, since it’s later in the day. But anyway, they’re open for business as normal and we are coordinating with our partners. But I’d refer you to the Belgian Government for details. We, of course, are supportive and we’ve got active and ongoing law enforcement and information sharing arrangements with our allies in Europe, and naturally those contacts continue, especially given what’s been going on.

QUESTION: So you’re helping? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to read out any specific information sharing or so forth, but we are supportive and we stand with our Belgian allies in their counterterrorism efforts.

QUESTION: What about the content of the AQAP video? Have there been any more efforts to --

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to add to what’s already been said about the video.

Yes, Abbie.

QUESTION: Going back to Niger and the protests that he was mentioning, the U.S. Embassy in Niamey tweeted out: “Protesters burn churches, French flag, and other items in Zinder, chanting ‘Charlie is Satan. Let hell engulf those supporting Charlie.’” Is that cause for concern? Are there – is there any concern with people down there at the Embassy or is there anything on that situation?

MR. RATHKE: I wasn’t aware of that report, so we can certainly check and see if we have anything more for you. But of course, I would go back to what I said in response to Nicolas’ question – we certainly call on everyone to exercise restraint and to express their views peacefully, and we certainly reject any kind of violence.

QUESTION: Is there any expectation that the general Travel Warning that went out in recent days might be updated in light of these protests outside U.S. installations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any updates to that to announce. For those who are familiar with that worldwide caution, which was updated just recently, it’s quite detailed. And so I’m not aware of any move to change it in any way, but certainly it’s comprehensive and tries to give American citizens the best information and advice before going overseas.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation of – apparently, the Saudis have postponed the flogging of the activist?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, we’re aware --

QUESTION: Apparently, they postponed it on medical grounds, that the doctor who carried out a pre-flogging checkup said – recommended that he does not go ahead.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we are – we’ve seen the reports, and to our knowledge, they’re accurate. I don’t have anything to contradict them. I would go back to what we’ve said on this all along in our January 8th statement: We are greatly concerned that human rights activist Raif Badawi started facing the punishment of 1,000 lashes in addition to serving a 10 year sentence for exercising his rights of freedom of expression and religion. So we call on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and the sentence.

QUESTION: Do you have anything – the BBC is reporting that the case of this blogger has been referred to the supreme court by the king’s office.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to confirm that. I wasn’t aware of that.

Anything on this topic, or a new topic, Nicolas?

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: We have reports coming from N’Djamena, Chad about army vehicles sent from Chad to Cameroon. And apparently, the Chad parliament has voted for supporting Nigeria and Cameroon in their fight against Boko Haram. Does the U.S. – were you notified in advance about this, and do you support this regional military response?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re not in a position to confirm precisely what sort of support Chad has offered. And – but we certainly support a regional solution to the problem of Boko Haram, and in particular through the establishment of a multinational taskforce. And now, there is additional security assistance to countries in the region in the fight against Boko Haram. That’s under full consideration. And I don’t have any detailed updates to provide about that, but it’s certainly something we are considering. And so that’s our view on the assistance. We certainly support regional approaches.

QUESTION: So Jeff, are you talking about that you support the creation of a new force, a regional force? Because you got the Ghanaian president today talking about considering creating a military force to fight Boko Haram. It’s unclear whether that’s a regional force or whether – I doubt he’s talking about a Ghanaian one.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have details on that. I haven’t seen that report. So we can see if there’s more that we have to say and get back to you about that.

QUESTION: And do you know, perhaps, what the Secretary was talking about, about the – a new – the possibility of a new British-U.S. initiative to fight Boko Haram that he mentioned yesterday?

MR. RATHKE: Right. I don’t have anything new to read out about that.

Yes, Scott.

QUESTION: There was some concern about the conduct of Chadian troops in the Central African Republic when they intervened in that crisis. Does the United States carry any of those concerns into potential Chadian involvement in Nigeria?

MR. RATHKE: Well – I see. Okay. So you’re asking about Nigeria, though, in this particular case. I don’t have any views to offer on that. I understand the point you’re raising, so let us check into that and come back to you.

Brad.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the ICC preliminary probe in the Palestinian territories?

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Well, as we’ve made clear over the last couple of weeks, we are deeply troubled by Palestinian action at the ICC. Our position on this is clear, and we don’t think that the Palestinians have established a state, and we don’t think they’re eligible to join the International Criminal Court. I would highlight that many other countries share this view, and we’ve put out a lengthy position paper on that to which people can refer. So our --

QUESTION: But wasn’t there – I mean, this is a prosecutor of the --

MR. RATHKE: Right. That’s – so that’s – no, I wanted to start, though, just to remind.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. RATHKE: So to be clear, what the prosecutor announced today is not an investigation. It’s a preliminary examination. Now, I don’t have any further comment on it, and in general, as we’ve long said, the United States strongly opposes actions by both parties that undermine trust and create doubts about their commitment to a negotiated peace.

QUESTION: Okay, but --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, wait --

MR. RATHKE: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Your comment – except for “no comment,” the rest was extraneous to the question, right?

MR. RATHKE: This – well this has just happened in the last couple of hours. I don’t have any further comment to offer on the announcement by the ICC prosecutor.

QUESTION: Would you hope that, if the prosecutor moves forward, he would examine the possibility of infractions by both sides and not just one side?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t think we’re in the position of giving advice to the ICC prosecutor on that score.

QUESTION: Even on impartiality you don’t give advice?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we – going back to where I started, we don’t believe that the Palestinians have formed or established a state, and we don’t think they’re eligible to join the International Criminal Court, so --

QUESTION: But I don’t think this investigation necessarily hinges on that, because they still haven’t joined and this prosecutor is investigating regardless. So that comment – that notwithstanding, your point’s noted on the Palestinians, they’re not a member, and this thing has been opened nevertheless. So what’s your position on the investigation, not – or the preliminary examination, not the Palestinians’ course of action?

QUESTION: Is it an illegitimate preliminary examination?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to characterize it. Again, this has just happened, so I’m not going to characterize it further at this point.

QUESTION: Both the Israeli prime minister and the foreign minister have condemned the ICC’s decision to open this preliminary exam. Would it be fair to say that the U.S. Government shares their view?

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, our view on the Palestinians joining the ICC I would go back to, so I’m not – I haven’t seen those particular statements by Israeli officials, so I’m not going to say anything one way or another about them. Again, this is an announcement that has just taken place. We’re looking at it. Our view is – on the broader question of the ICC, we don’t think the Palestinians have met the necessary requirements to be a part of it.

QUESTION: I’m not sure that’s the broader question. I think that’s a completely separate question, but --

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think --

QUESTION: -- I don’t quite --

MR. RATHKE: -- it’s certainly related, so --

QUESTION: Is it conceivable that the U.S. will appeal to the ICC to drop the preliminary examination?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to speculate about anything like that. As you know, we’re not a member of the ICC, but I’m not going to speculate about any particular steps.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever asked the ICC not to look into any particular case involving human rights violations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have that at my fingertips, Roz. I’m happy to look, but I don’t have that.

QUESTION: Yeah, if you could, please.

MR. RATHKE: Tejinder.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate or – but this is a subject that’s being discussed in Delhi, and – that Delhi has a thick fog in the mornings. And usually – and so when the Air Force One goes, is it going – how is it going to land if there is a fog on that day? Will it go to Ahmedabad or Islamabad?

MR. RATHKE: It won’t surprise you that I’m not going to comment on the air operations of Air Force One. I’d refer you to the White House if you’ve got questions about that.

QUESTION: But this – I raised it here because it is being discussed in the State Department.

MR. RATHKE: It won’t surprise you that we are not going to comment on air operations of Air Force One for obvious reasons, I think.

Right. Nicolas.

QUESTION: Last question about the country we never talk about, Switzerland.

MR. RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Is – do you have views about the surge of the Swiss franc, which apparently rocks the global currency market? Is it a source of concern for U.S. interest and American tourists going there?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not aware and I don’t think we normally comment on currency issues in that respect. I’ll --

QUESTION: You’re not aware of conversation between the two governments?

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: You put out a statement yesterday that Ambassador Sung Kim, the deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea --

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- he will be traveling to Brussels next week to attend Japan trilateral forum. And Spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a Foreign Press Center briefing that this will be a key forum for discussion on trilateral cooperation between U.S., Korea, and Japan. Can you explain what this forum means and what it’ll be discussing, who else will be participating, and how it is related to Korea-Japan cooperation?

MR. RATHKE: Okay. I think, yeah, there are two different things here. Let me make sure and I want to highlight – I think Marie said this yesterday, but I can go over it again. So Ambassador Sung Kim, who is the special representative for North Korea policy – he’s also deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea – he’s traveling to Brussels in the next few days, January 19th and 20th, and he’s attending there the Japan trilateral forum. This is an event organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. It was established with the purpose of bringing together policy makers, intellectuals, journalists, business leaders from Japan, Europe, and the United States, and for dialogue on matters of mutual interest.

There is separately a – there will be a trilateral in Tokyo for Special Representative Sung Kim. He mentioned this in his testimony earlier this week. And if you’re interested in the details of the scheduling, I’d refer you to the Government of Japan. At this point, we don’t have details on that to announce right now.

So there are two different events. There is the event in Europe, which is not a government-to-government multilateral meeting. It is a meeting that brings together policy makers as well as people from outside of government. It’s Japan, Europe and the United States. Then there will be a trilateral in Tokyo, and that’s what Special Representative Kim was referring to in his testimony on the Hill earlier this week.

QUESTION: So the meeting in Brussels, that has nothing to do with Korea, right?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t put it that way. There – he will be – of course, security in Northeast Asia is an important part of our relationship with Japan, as well as with our other allies and partners in Northeast Asia.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: A new subject, or --

QUESTION: No, same subject.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to ask just about one that we already discussed here, and that is a – today, there were two analyses on – saying that last year was the Earth’s warmest on record. Given the Secretary’s interest in this, do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: Right. There – we, I think, have just released a statement by the Secretary on this, and if you haven’t seen it, I’m happy to quote it for you. It’s fairly short.

The – in the Secretary’s words: What’s surprising is that anyone is surprised that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The science has been screaming at us for a long, long time. We’ve seen 13 of the warmest years on record since 2000. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are at an all-time high, which we know leads to a warming planet. And we’re seeing higher than ever occurrences of extreme weather events like catastrophic droughts, storm surges, and torrential rain. These events are having devastating economic, security, and health impacts across the planet. So this report is just another sound in a steady drumbeat that’s growing increasingly more urgent. And the question isn’t the science. The question isn’t the warning signs. The question is when and how the world will respond. And as the Secretary closes: Ambitious, concrete action is the only path forward that leads anywhere worth going.

QUESTION: So how do these analyses bode for an important year in climate talks that – and they hope to reach in a – or efforts to reach a deal in December?

MR. RATHKE: Well, certainly, it only underscores the urgency. And the Secretary, of course, has been actively engaged. I would also refer you to the press availability over at the White House today where this was also discussed. So this only reminds, if any reminder was needed, how important it is to work toward the goals that the Administration has set.

Tejinder.

QUESTION: Do you have any readouts or confirmations of any talks with the Belgian counterparts or the EU counterparts in Brussels about this after the attacks --

MR. RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: -- and the arrests?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any specific meetings or exchanges to detail, but certainly, we stand in support of and solidarity with our partners in Europe. And as I said before, we have active security cooperation and information-sharing arrangements with them, and it’s precisely at a time like this when those are most important.

QUESTION: And was there any contact with --

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any details to read out about those.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)

2015-01-16


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 15, 2015


Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 15, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:03 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. HARF: I have a couple items at the top, and then you two can fight over who gets to start.

First, a trip update: The Secretary began his day in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he met with UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, who was also in town at the same time. Then he met with the Bulgarian president, prime minister, and foreign minister. His meetings in Sofia focused on security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship, also highlighted the importance of rule of law and helping Bulgaria to realize its full potential as a vibrant European democracy.

He is now in Paris, where he will have meetings tomorrow with French President Hollande and Foreign Minister Fabius. The full details of his schedule are still being worked out, and we’ll have the traveling team get those to folks when they’re ready.

And one more item at the top. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be leading a delegation to Niger from January 20th through 21st, 2015. While there, Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield will participate in a ministerial conference hosted by Niger to discuss steps in the fight against the terrorist organization Boko Haram, threats to security in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, and activities of the Multinational Task Force, the MNTF. She will also hold high-level bilateral meetings on related topics of concern.

With that --

QUESTION: So I was going to go first --

MS. HARF: And my mother’s here. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yes. I was going to say, is there somebody you would like to introduce to the rest of us? (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: My mom, Jane Harf is here. It’s her second briefing, she’s been to, so everyone has to be really nice today, not that you aren’t always.

QUESTION: We’ll certainly give it a go.

MS. HARF: Lesley, go for it.

QUESTION: Well, I was going to start, but given that you mentioned Boko Haram --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- perhaps my colleague from AFP --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you, Lesley.

MS. HARF: So polite.

QUESTION: Thank you. Since you mentioned Boko Haram, yes.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So the Secretary in Sofia talk about a British-U.S. initiative against Boko Haram. So if you could elaborate on that. And the Secretary mention also that what Boko Haram is doing is a crime against humanity. Does it mean that there will be legal consequences in the U.S. against this group?

MS. HARF: Well, first, not a whole lot more details beyond what the Secretary said. We’re talking to the British, but also to others, about ways we can do more to help the Nigerians and others in the region fight Boko Haram, so nothing new beyond what he said. But it’s certainly a topic we’re discussing very closely with the British. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to note Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield’s upcoming travel related to this threat.

In terms of the accountability question, no more details to share on that, beyond what the Secretary said. I think what he was conveying was the horrific nature, of course, of what we’ve seen, particularly the escalation in attacks and the number of casualties, but also underscoring the Nigerians’ need to move forward with their elections, even despite what has been a pretty significant amount of violence.

QUESTION: A follow up to that. Given that the cooperation between the Nigerians and the U.S. has not really been effective on the ground in curbing the activities of Boko Haram, obviously you’re looking further afield. And what could those plans look like? What sort of cooperation do you think you need to go to to really have an impact?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – a few points. It’s primarily the Government of Nigeria’s responsibility to take the steps it needs to to protect its citizens. We know this is a very significant threat and a very challenging one for the Nigerians. That’s why we’ve offered to work with them; we have done some joint training; we have a security cooperation relationship. But more broadly in the region, we’re working with other partners – whether it’s Cameroon, Chad, or others – to fight this threat, because it is a regional threat. That’s certainly been ongoing.

I would also say the Secretary has, on a diplomatic level, engaged with the Nigerian president and with others to try to increasingly work with them to fight this threat.

What else? Any on this?

QUESTION: Anything on --

QUESTION: Just on Boko Haram, has the Nigerian Government sought any kind of additional assistance from the U.S.? They stopped that training program in December.

MS. HARF: They did, unfortunately, stop that training program in December. We do have an ongoing security cooperation relationship. I’m not aware of additional requests from them. But we’re constantly talking to them about what more we are willing to provide and what might make the most sense.

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports that President Jonathan may, indeed, have traveled to northeastern Nigeria today as a show of support for the people in that region?

MS. HARF: I saw that right before I came out, and I can’t confirm it. But if true, obviously – look, would be a show, I think, of – an important show to his people about how seriously he certainly takes the threat. But I just saw it before I came out.

QUESTION: Would it be too much to suggest that this building might consider that a little too late, given the ongoing rise in violence in the past year?

MS. HARF: I think anytime you can demonstrate to your people that you take a terrorist threat seriously, no matter when, is probably important.

QUESTION: You also said that you think that the – you continue to think that the elections should go ahead.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But how can it go ahead when many people cannot vote, and especially an estimated 20,000 that have been forced to flee the country?

MS. HARF: Well, we have been working – the U.S. Government has been working with the Nigerian Government, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, which, I think, is a separate body handling the elections, and civil society to emphasize the need for a clear and well-coordinated election security plan and to offer assistance specifically on that front. Obviously, it’s the responsibility of the Government of Nigeria to protect and enfranchise its citizens. But a key pillar of our elections engagement strategy is the importance of enfranchising displaced voters, what you were asking about. I know the INEC has embraced that point. They understand the importance of it. We’ve urged the Nigerian Government to provide adequate security, improve security coordination, and to make arrangements for these internally displaced persons to be able to vote where they are.

In terms of the U.S. support, a U.S. Government election security expert had visited Nigeria in the fall, has been consulting with Nigerian counterparts in the intervening months, and will embed with INEC for a week in mid-January, and then return for election day in February to help on the engagement side. USAID is also exploring ways, through their Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project, to assist IDPs with voting.

Look, this is a challenge. We’ve talked about this in other countries who’ve had elections in pretty significant security-challenging environments. But we are assisting. We’re offering it, certainly, yes.

QUESTION: Still on Boko Haram, are you seeing any kind of cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS, any kind of collaboration there?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge. Operationally, Boko Haram has really been focused regionally and not really externally, like we’ve seen other terrorist groups. Obviously, it’s a concern we watch for.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’m Tyrel Ventura with RT America. With the release of the Amnesty photos this morning that kind of showed that destruction and devastation up there, has that changed at all the State Department plans in dealing with that region? Has it sped things up? Has it – what is the --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say it’s --

QUESTION: Has it had an effect, that evidence?

MS. HARF: -- changed it. I think it underscores what we have seen for some time, really the brutality and the scale and scope of Boko Haram’s attacks. We can’t independently confirm some of the numbers, and just want to caution people that we don’t always have a good way of doing that. So it’s not a precise figure that I think – we don’t have one we can put out there. But I think it just underscores the threat. We are constantly engaged on it, though.

QUESTION: Would one of the areas that the U.S. be looking at and that we haven’t really seen, because it’s difficult to track the financial flows of an organization like this – but is one of these plans maybe looking at intensifying or trying to come up with efforts to sanction this group and its leaders?

MS. HARF: I can check on the financial piece of this. I don’t have the details about where they’re financed or how they’re financed in front of me. I just don’t know that. Let me see if I have anything else in here on the economic piece. I don’t think I do. So let me check with our team and see if there’s more on that.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Go ahead, and then I’ll go back to you. Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: Today’s announcement on Cuba --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which is a major development.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The one thing I was wondering about was were these various steps discussed with the Cubans and agreed with them beforehand.

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding – and I’m checking with our team – that, given these were changes to U.S. regulations, this was really steps the Commerce and Treasury Department took on their own. They’re certainly completely in line with the discussions we had with the Cubans, right, in general about the policy change. To my knowledge, they weren’t specifically discussed with the Cubans, but I’m checking on that just to make sure.

QUESTION: So I guess the question now would be whether the Cubans would allow a lot – some of this to take place on their side, or is that not really an issue?

MS. HARF: I don’t – I haven’t heard that it’s an issue, but I’m happy to check further on that.

QUESTION: And then when you come – my last question is: When you get to – given that the talks are next week, is there any other announcements that you expect could come from this side ahead of it? And how do you see the announcement today playing into as a gesture of confidence ahead of those talks?

MS. HARF: Not that I – I’m not aware of any other announcements coming before the talks. Obviously, things can change. I think I would put it in the context of we announced we spent many, many months negotiating both the spy swap and then decided on our new policy from our side. There are a series of milestones that will have to be a part of this moving forward, and one of those was the prisoners being released, one of them was announcing the new regulations, one of them will be this first set of normalization talks, and then we’ll keep hitting milestones as we go. So this is all part of a process not geared towards the migration talks – the upcoming talks – but geared towards the longer-term policy change.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you expect to reopen your embassy immediately after the talks, or it will be a longer process?

MS. HARF: There’s a process that has to occur. I don’t have any prediction for you. We’ll see how the talks go. But I don’t – I have no prediction on when that might happen.

Yes.

QUESTION: About this, the regulations, do you know if it’s like – if President Obama has reached the limits of his executive power? Or in order to do more, will he have to have the cooperation of Congress?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly, that’s a question I can ask my legal team about. We – there are a number of steps we can take and we have taken on Cuba, even before the policy change, through executive action. I can check and see if there’s more details on that. But obviously, in terms of the embargo, there would have to be a congressional piece to that. We’re consulting with Congress, talking with Congress about all of those issues.

On this still, Elliot?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: One of the things that was announced was a general license authorizing transactions with Cuban official missions and their employees in the United States to, I guess, facilitate the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. I guess I was a little bit confused about the actual practical impacts of that and how it helps you guys from your end. Can you go into a little bit more detail?

MS. HARF: I can certainly check with my colleagues and see if there’s more detail on that.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: I just don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Do you know whether that has anything to do with the banking issues that the interests section had last year?

MS. HARF: I’m wondering if it does. Probably, but let me double check with our experts on that.

QUESTION: And then, on – regarding the fact that building materials can now be exported to Cuba for private homes, houses of worship, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, realistically, how much does the U.S. expect can be provided to people in Cuba?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if we have an estimate for that. I’m happy to check. I haven’t seen one.

QUESTION: There was also a line in the fact sheet regarding unlimited – I don’t know the exact words now – can’t think of them. It’s basically unlimited financial transactions for humanitarian projects. Can you say a little bit more about that? What kind of humanitarian projects?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure I have more details on that. Let me see if I do. I have a lot of Q&A on this, obviously. You’re asking specifically on the – what – humanitarian projects?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: So this is where OFAC – it has now issued a general license, as we’ve all talked about. We don’t need a specific license anymore. These authorized humanitarian projects include medical and health-related projects, construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups, environmental projects, projects involving formal or non-formal educational training within Cuba or off-island on the following topics: entrepreneurship and business, civil education, journalism, adult literacy, vocation skills – sort of things that we’ve talked about a lot. Grassroots projects, small-scale private enterprise, agriculture – those are all things that fall into the humanitarian projects.

QUESTION: Journalism?

MS. HARF: It says journalism here.

QUESTION: Oh, that’s interesting. Okay.

MS. HARF: There you go.

QUESTION: There’s been talk before that these things have been discussed in general during the talks before the President’s announcement. How eager were the Cuban negotiators to have this kind of assistance provided to their citizens, whether it’s the building materials or the funding for humanitarian aid or the ability of Americans who are there for any reason to be able to use credit cards? How interested were they in having these sorts of things made available to U.S. citizens going there?

MS. HARF: I think I would probably let them characterize how they felt during parts of the negotiations and probably aren’t going to outline all of that publicly from our side.

QUESTION: Will President Obama meet with Raul Castro, perhaps in April in Panama, or --

MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to ask the White House questions about the President’s schedule.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: Anything else on – you’ve been waiting very patiently. Go ahead. Yes.

QUESTION: So diplomatic records of bilateral negotiations between U.S. and Japan were disclosed today in Japan, and the documents show that a speech by then-Japanese Prime Minister Sato in 1965 was revised under U.S. pressure to emphasize the important role of Okinawa in its security. Given that there is a strong opposition against the U.S. military base in Okinawa, can you tell us how the U.S. Government views the importance of a U.S. military base in Okinawa?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. and Japanese officials have both worked together, I would say, pretty extensively to sustain the presence of U.S. forces in Japan. We’ve talked a lot about the relocation of the Marine Corps air station, which will reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of a significant amount of land back to the people of Okinawa while continuing at the same time to sustain the U.S. military capabilities vital to the alliance and also to peace and security in the region. So look, these are meaningful results of many years of sustained work between the U.S. and Japan, really a critical step toward realizing our shared vision of a realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa. And I think, beyond that, probably my Defense Department colleague can speak a little more to the specifics.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The same – this Department records also says in 1970, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Laird told the Japanese defense chief Nakasone that there was constitutional problems in terms of national defense, and he showed an interest in Japan’s constitutional – I’m wondering if U.S. Government still see that there is a constitutional problems in terms of national defense in Japan, and if U.S. Government expect to see an actual constitutional revision in Japan.

MS. HARF: Well, I – we’ve certainly see the historical reports, and, I think, are looking into those for a little more detail. But in terms of today where we are on that specific issue – look, we’ve encouraged and we support Japan’s efforts to play a more proactive role in contributing to regional peace and security, including by re-examining its interpretation – the interpretation of its constitution relating to the right of collective self-defense. So obviously, that principle is recognized in the UN Charter. We’ve supported expanding the role of Japan’s self-defense forces within the framework of the alliance, specifically, and also appreciate Japan’s outreach to explain its security policies, including by sending its officials to foreign capitals in a very transparent manner. So that’s, I think, where we are on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Cuba for one second?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Specifically Guantanamo.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Jacobson prepared to discuss the future status not just of the military prison, but of the naval station at Guantanamo Bay during next week’s talks?

MS. HARF: I do not know the answer to that question. I can ask.

On Guantanamo specifically, if folks saw the Department of Defense release last night, that five detainees had been transferred to third countries – four to Oman and one to Estonia. So I just, on Guantanamo, wanted to update people on that. I can ask about that.

QUESTION: Yeah, that would --

MS. HARF: That’s obviously a Defense Department issue, but let me check.

QUESTION: Right. But because there have been a lot of tensions about the presence not just of the prison but of the base itself --

MS. HARF: I absolutely understand the question and why you’re asking. I just don’t know the answer. Let me check.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: While we’re back on Cuba, can I just ask one more as well?

MS. HARF: Let’s – yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. The – one of the other measures announced was a general license to authorizing foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain trade in Cuba. A while back, there was a case of a ship that was detained in Panama after docking in Cuba that was carrying --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- military equipment from North Korea.

MS. HARF: North Korea, yes.

QUESTION: Was that case --

MS. HARF: That was one of my first briefings at this podium, by the way, to remind people.

QUESTION: Okay. It was like a year and a half ago, I guess.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was that case sort of – factoring that into consideration, is there any concern that this measure would sort of lead to smuggling of that kind of contraband into the U.S. or the – more flow of that kind of thing? Is there any particular additional restrictions being placed to prevent that from happening?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. Not that I’ve heard of, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian issue?

MS. HARF: Yes we can, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Today – just now, as a matter of fact – the Security Council called on Israel to unfreeze the tax funds that they have frozen in the past that amounts to about $106 million. Is that a position that you also take? Do you urge them to sort of release the funds because of the hardships the Palestinians are facing?

MS. HARF: Let me – Said, I hadn’t actually seen those reports out of the UN. Let me check and see the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. And now while we’re still on the topic of the aid to the Palestinians, could you update us on the situation of American aid to the Palestinians? Is that still ongoing? What’s in the pipeline keeps ongoing, or is there any kind of hold? I know there was a threat to withhold aid if they went ahead with – but they did.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said we’re looking at what our obligations are under U.S. law given the recent events. To my knowledge, there’s been no change. Let me check, though.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re aware that Senator Rand Paul introduced legislation, I think it was, last week that – to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. You don’t support the senator?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly know that assistance to the Palestinians has been beneficial, certainly, on a number of fronts, as we’ve talked about. But look, I – let me check and see where we are on that. I want to get the latest.

QUESTION: Okay. And just a couple more on the Palestinian issue.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: There is also – the Palestinians are saying that they are going to reintroduce another UN resolution, perhaps, on a different draft with different elements and so on. Have they discussed that with you? Are you discussing that with them, or would your position remain the same, so to speak?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly aware of those reports. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals at the UN. I would say that we do not think that another Security Council resolution at this time would be constructive. We’re obviously in constant contact with our partners there to talk about the path forward, but don’t think that would be constructive at this point.

QUESTION: And finally, I wonder if you have a comment – the Israelis have just taken the decision that the Swedish foreign minister is a persona non grata, that she cannot come to Israel – she was planning to go there this week – because they recognized the Palestinian state back on October 30th. And we have seen a number of countries that did that afterwards, including France and so on. One, do you have any comment on that or – and second, do you expect the Israelis – that they will do this with France and other countries?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports. Let me check.

QUESTION: But what is your position on declaring her a persona non grata?

MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen those reports, so let me check with our team and see what our position is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s – just actually moving over to Iran --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: We’re watching the Jeffrey Sterling trial on the – in that trial that’s going to come out about CIA Operation Merlin, where they were trying to give, essentially, incomplete nuclear weapon plans to Iran to kind of slow down their development of a nuclear weapon. Could the information coming out in this trial at all affect the ongoing talks between Kerry and Iran?

MS. HARF: Well, given I’m not familiar with the specifics of that trial, and I’m not sure our team that’s talking right now in Geneva is either, look --

QUESTION: It’s just kind of out in the public.

MS. HARF: We’re --

QUESTION: Anyone can pick it up, and I just (inaudible).

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, so look, I’ll check with our folks. But broadly speaking, we are moving forward with these nuclear negotiations, with the P5+1, and with us, with our partners. Their teams are meeting right now with Wendy Sherman and the other negotiators for a couple days of bilateral talks, and then with the rest of the P5+1. That process is moving forward, and hopefully we can continue making progress. Obviously, there’s a lot of history here. We all are well aware of that. What we’re focused on now is what happens going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the current bilats?

MS. HARF: I don’t have one yet. I don’t have one yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: You said yesterday U.S. remains open dialogue with North Korea.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And what is the United States preconditions for the direct talks with North Korea? Do you have any guidance?

MS. HARF: Well, look, the U.S. has offered the DPRK and continues to offer the opportunity for meaningful engagement and improved bilateral relationship provided it demonstrates its willingness to uphold its international obligations and commitments. Unfortunately, North Korea continues to rebuff or ignore these offers while instead preventing us with the kind of – presenting us with the kind of false choices and a series of provocations we’ve just seen even recently. So we’re open to talking, certainly, but haven’t seen that reciprocated.

QUESTION: But are you not upset that the North Korean offered that if U.S. have a temporary suspending of joint military exercise with South Korea, then are they – if you accept that, then North Korea would – willing to direct talk with the United States about that? What is the U.S. position?

MS. HARF: Well, the offer, as I understand it, which we see as an implicit threat, is for the U.S. to stop doing something that is routine, that is transparent, that is defensive in nature, and that is annual that we do every year, in exchange for the North Koreans not doing something that is prohibited under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and that they are not supposed to be doing. That’s really a false choice here. They’re not equivalent in any way.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran?

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to go to you. Yes, we can.

QUESTION: The case of Jason Rezaian.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about what he’s been charged with? Have the Swiss been able to meet with him? Does he have a lawyer? What’s – what is his situation right now?

MS. HARF: Well, during the meetings yesterday, Secretary Kerry raised U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s case. They discussed the report stating that his case had been referred to a court. The Secretary reiterated our call for his immediate release, as well as for the immediate release of detained U.S. citizens, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and of course, for the Iranian Government to work cooperatively with us in locating Robert Levinson, as we always do.

This is a discussion we have with them very frequently. I don’t have many more details than that. Of course, we continue to monitor the situation closely and are seeking further information about what might come out of this move to refer the case to the court. I know The Washington Post – one of their editors also said they hope this is a way the judicial process can be moved forward and Jason can be returned to his family. We certainly share that sentiment.

QUESTION: But you’re not aware of whether there have been any contacts between Jason and Swiss officials?

MS. HARF: I can check. I’m not aware of any, but I’m happy to check for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. HARF: Yes, Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. Yesterday, you were asked about a situation regarding press freedom in Turkey, but just within day a few developments happen. Some of the columnists who published this cartoons, French cartoons, are under threat. Newspaper (inaudible) is now – there’s an investigation launched just this morning. And also Prime Minister Davutoglu gave some remarks and said that basically this newspaper, (inaudible), had it coming.

My question is: Are you following this situation in Turkey or are you concerned with the situation?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly following it. There’s been a lot of debate about these cartoons – not just in Turkey, I would say. And what I’ve said over the past few days certainly stands. There are very strong feelings about these cartoons. It should be up to media organizations to make the decisions about what to publish and whether to publish them. These are very complicated decisions. I know you all have probably had these conversations with your news organizations. But the way to respond to speech you don’t like isn’t with violence, it isn’t with threats; it’s with more speech. That’s what we believe very strongly here, I know the French believe, and others believe. So clearly, we think that media organizations should have the right publish what they want. Doesn’t mean they have to to prove that they can. It’s obviously a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: Just today, European parliament passed a resolution condemning the ongoing raids on press freedom in Turkey. There is still a journalists and there is new legislation just passed that gave more authority to police and more authority to detain, all these developments. Just yesterday former Ambassador Ricciardone gave a remark and said that Turkey and U.S. do not share values anymore; we share interests. Would you agree with this statement?

MS. HARF: Well, these aren’t about U.S. values. We have repeatedly urged Turkey, as our NATO ally and friend, to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s own core values and democratic foundations. And we’ve made clear in the past that we have concerns about government interference in freedom of expression. It’s an ongoing conversation with them, certainly.

QUESTION: So when you say “sharing values,” it is the universal values. Do you still think that U.S. and Turkey share these --

MS. HARF: Turkey is a close friend and NATO ally. These are conversations we have with them all the time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you know – on the issue of sharing values, it’s a point that I raised the other day. I mean, you don’t really share these values with any other country. I mean --

MS. HARF: We don’t agree with anything any other country’s --

QUESTION: -- but we know that --

MS. HARF: -- right, everything.

QUESTION: -- there are other countries in Europe, Western democracies and so on, that do have laws in place because of their past history and so on, which we don’t have in this country. So you don’t expect, let’s say – I mean, we don’t have any laws against speech, period, in America. So you don’t expect --

MS. HARF: Well, that incites violence, we do. But --

QUESTION: That incite violence.

MS. HARF: -- I’m not an attorney, so I don’t want to go too far down that road.

QUESTION: Right. So you don’t expect Turkey to adopt the same thing.

MS. HARF: We expect countries around the world to uphold the basic fundamental human freedoms that include freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to be able to choose your own future and say what you want and speak your mind, even if that speech is offensive to some people. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to say things that are offensive to prove you can. These are individual decisions for people and organizations to make.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Let’s go here. And then Roz, I’ll go to Pakistan.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. HARF: Syria, yes.

QUESTION: Did you get in touch in the last 24 hours with the Syrian opposition? And if so, did you urge them to attend Moscow talks?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein just returned from a trip overseas to a number of countries in Europe, I think including Turkey and others, where he was continuing his routine engagement with international partners and Syrian opposition members about efforts to advance a negotiated political solution – against ISIL, of course – and to expand our support to the armed opposition through the launch of DOD’s train and equip program. So he was – had some meetings there. Special Envoy Rubinstein and Major General Michael Nagata met earlier this week with a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition and civil society leaders in Turkey to talk about a number of things, including the train and equip program.

QUESTION: So did you urge them, or not?

MS. HARF: Oh, on Moscow. Look, this is a decision for the Syrian opposition to make. They can make it on their own.

QUESTION: Because the Secretary yesterday spoke in a way that he implicitly urged them to attend.

MS. HARF: He did not. He said --

QUESTION: He said they won’t lose anything if they attend.

MS. HARF: He said, “We hope that the Russian efforts could be helpful,” quote. And as I said yesterday, in an extended exchange, I don’t know what he would have said instead – that we hope they’re not helpful? That seems to just defy logic. So we hope any effort to advance a political solution in Syria could be helpful. It doesn’t mean we’re saying the Syrian opposition should or shouldn’t go. It’s a decision for them to make.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: But going along with to what you said yesterday, that all along you have said that there’s only a political solution basically to the Syrian crisis, I mean, holding the conference at the end of the month is a good thing, isn’t it? It would be a good thing and you will do all you can to make it happen, wouldn’t you?

MS. HARF: Well, this isn’t our conference.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: This is a Russian-led effort.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: So the Syrian opposition can decide if it wants to go. There’s also talks in Cairo. We hope any effort aimed at achieving a political solution could make progress and be helpful, certainly. But we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Okay. Envoy Staffan de Mistura also said today, I think, or yesterday, that people agree that we must resolve the Syria issue politically this year. I mean, I know everybody wants to resolve it yesterday, I mean. But he’s saying, like --

MS. HARF: I couldn’t agree with that more.

QUESTION: He’s saying as if there were some sort of a common agreement that everybody’s going to do their best to do this, including the opposition, including the United States, including the Russians. Are there any things that you are doing or conducting with the Russians to facilitate their meeting, to make it inclusive, to make it really happen, and go to the next step?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re not working with them, to my knowledge, on this specific meeting. But generally speaking, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have had numerous conversations at their level, certainly at other levels as well, about how we can work together to get to a political solution, separate from this upcoming round of talks in Moscow.

QUESTION: Now, let me just follow up very quickly. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview, and he said basically that you – the fight against ISIS by the West, by the American-led coalition, is basically – it’s like just window dressing, not real substantive. Can you comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that the ISIL terrorists who have been at the receiving end of U.S. bombs probably don’t feel that way.

QUESTION: Okay. But so he’s saying that there’s – more effort needs to be done and more coordination, and that Syria has been at the receiving end --

MS. HARF: We’re certainly not coordinating with the Assad regime. We’re coordinating with 60 coalition partners, including Arab states, to fight ISIL.

QUESTION: Okay. But considering that they are probably the larger target of these attacks by ISIS and other terrorist groups – al-Qaida, al-Nusrah, and so on – wouldn’t it make sense to coordinate at one point how you can perhaps direct a more devastating blow to ISIS and other terrorist groups?

MS. HARF: Not with the Assad regime, Said. Look, they talked on the one hand about fighting ISIL and on the other hand they allowed them to grow. So we are coordinating with over 60 coalition partners. We’ve conducted with our coalition partners over 1,600 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since August. They continue on a nearly daily basis. We’ve taken out their fighters, their commanders, hundreds of vehicles and tanks, nearly 200 oil and gas facilities – the infrastructure that funds their terror – as well as more than 1,000 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings. This is a long fight, but it’s a sustained one that we’re very focused on.

QUESTION: General Allen will return from his travel to the Middle East?

MS. HARF: General Allen. Special Presidential Envoy General Allen and Deputy Envoy Ambassador Brett McGurk met today with the Dutch foreign minister and other Dutch national security officials in The Hague. Following their departure from Iraq, they actually delayed their return to the U.S. to have some consultations with Dutch leadership on countering ISIL, got added to the schedule. They thanked the foreign minister for the Netherlands’ ongoing coalition contributions, including their F-16s flying tactical missions in Iraq, their planned train-and-advise support for Iraqi Security Forces, and their leadership on countering the flow of foreign fighters. It is my understanding they are then returning to the United States.

QUESTION: Back on Syria, I have a question.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon gave an interview today to a television, revealed that he met with some leaders from the Syrian opposition trying to help reaching a political solution in Syria. Were you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Let me check.

QUESTION: Marie, what --

MS. HARF: I just – I hadn’t seen those reports.

QUESTION: What is the (inaudible)? What is your reading on the motivation of the Russians to have this meeting unless you can have both sides there?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure I’m probably well positioned to judge Russian motivations. I’ll let them speak to that. It’s my understanding, though, this is an intra-Syrian meeting helping the Syrian coalition – or the Syrian opposition better coalesce. That needs to be an important part of how we eventually get to a political solution. So that’s my understanding that that’s the point. But I’m not – I mean, motivations, who knows? We talk to the Russians a lot about advancing a political solution and working together on that. So I’m guessing it would help play into that effort.

QUESTION: And if the moderates who the U.S. supports do not go, I mean, is there any – I don’t – I mean, what is the value of the meeting?

MS. HARF: Well, as the Secretary said, we hope this meeting could be helpful in advancing a political solution. We’ll see what comes from it.

(Phone rings.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MS. HARF: Hello.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the same question, please?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry’s remarks widely read as U.S. is supporting Moscow talks, so you are saying --

MS. HARF: Well, I would say they’re widely misread then.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I just read you exactly what he said. We certainly hope they can be helpful. I’m not sure what the alternative language would have been. We don’t hope they’re helpful? We hope they’re unhelpful? That’s sort of crazy and defies logic.

QUESTION: Do you think if the Assad regime may – will go to Moscow, it looks like, they should be at least doing some – take some steps? Do you have any precondition for Assad regime to participate this kind of conference?

MS. HARF: These are not our talks. Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: The Russians invited Iran to attend the talks. How come they didn’t invite the U.S.?

MS. HARF: Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: And one more. You talk about train and equip --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- program that U.S. team met with the Syrian opposition. Is there any update on this?

MS. HARF: Not really. The Department of Defense has announced that we begin – we expect training to begin in early spring. As we’ve talked about, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have agreed to host training sites. We’re working right now with the interagency and foreign partners to identify recruits for the program. Once we identify personnel by name, the vetting process begins, and that can take around a month, depending. But obviously, we need to vet people before we start training and equipping them.

QUESTION: And the final question is semi-Syria. The Hayat – this one of the partners of suspect or killers in Paris, Hayat – I don’t remember her --

QUESTION: Boumeddiene.

QUESTION: Okay. She – do you have any update on her whereabouts?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: Did you talk to Turkish Government? You got any information during her stay in Turkey?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any – anything to share on her today.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan?

MS. HARF: Yeah, let’s do Pakistan, then Afghanistan. Sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reports that the Pakistani Government may, in fact, be outlawing the Haqqani Network? And if so, when was the U.S. Government notified, and is the U.S. being asked to help sustain the new status quo?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So we welcome reports that the Government of Pakistan plans to outlaw the Haqqani Network, I think 10 or 11 additional organizations linked to violent extremism. This is an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity in Pakistan. Obviously, the Secretary was just there and had a wide-ranging conversation with the Pakistanis about counterterrorism, certainly. He emphasized that we’re committed to deepening our security partnership with Pakistan, and obviously had many conversations with Prime Minister Sharif and others. I don’t have many more details than that. I know this was just an announcement that this is planning to happen. I don’t have more details on when it might.

QUESTION: And when the Secretary talked about deepening commitment, does that mean more military advisers? Does that mean weapons? Does that mean money? All three?

MS. HARF: Don’t have many more details. He did announce the over 250 million that’s allocated for the relocation, shelter, and food and livelihoods of those affected by the counterterrorism operation – so to help the Pakistanis with this IDP issue they have because of ongoing counterterrorism operations. That was an additional 250 million. I don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, Ashish. Yes.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Haqqani Network question, Admiral Mullen had said – described it as a veritable arm of the ISI.

MS. HARF: I remember those comments.

QUESTION: Is that a description that you agree with, and are you seeing those linkages – an end to those linkages?

MS. HARF: Well look, we have a long history of close cooperation with Pakistan on counterterrorism efforts. We’ve been very clear with the Pakistani Government that they need to crack down and go after all terrorist groups that threaten them, threaten their people – their people are, unfortunately, the victims of more terrorist attacks than, I think, people probably anywhere else. So it’s an ongoing conversation, certainly, but this would be a very important step.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that the State Department spent four billion on counternarcotic initiatives in Afghanistan. Despite this, the United Nations reported that Afghanistan set a record for producing opium in 2014 and that 80 percent of the total opium production in the world comes from Afghanistan. Was it the goal of the United States Government to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan while we’ve had forces there for 13 years?

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks. Obviously, while we’ve had military operations underway in Afghanistan, we have focused on other issues, including the narcotics trade. Certainly, we’ve talked about this a lot, and I know we have put a great deal of effort into helping the Afghans grow their capabilities to crack down on this. Let me check with our team and see. I hadn’t that SIGAR report.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that: The Congressional Research Service says, “After 2014, the State Department does not plan to have a permanent counternarcotics presence outside Kabul.” Has the U.S. Government given up on trying to stop post-war Afghanistan from being the opium production capital of the world?

MS. HARF: Well, I can certainly answer your second question and say no, obviously. In terms of staffing and where people are located, I can check and see if there’s a specific reason for that. But clearly, we have people in Afghanistan and back at the State Department very focused on this issue – very focused.

And then you, yep.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more about the authentication of the AQAP video?

MS. HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: About the content?

MS. HARF: The content – I don’t. We continue to look into the investigation about the claims in the video. That is ongoing, so I can’t confirm any of those. The intelligence community is still looking at that. No update there.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about Sri Lanka?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: After the elections, there were reports that President Rajapaksa had asked the army to help him stay in power, but when the army refused to do so, he stepped down. Did the U.S. convey any messages to the president at the time to – or the army to respect the outcome of that vote?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen those reports, and I don’t think we’re going to have any comment on those; would refer you to the Government of Sri Lanka. As Secretary Kerry said in his phone call to the new president, obviously we’re looking forward to working with the new administration to achieve its goals.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Today, a woman convicted of killing her stepdaughter was beheaded in public. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports.

Anything else? Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the video?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: So it means that you are still not sure that AQAP is behind – is responsible for the attack against Charlie Hebdo?

MS. HARF: Correct. We’ve assessed that the video was made by them, distributed by them, but we cannot confirm all of the claims they made in it about their possible involvement.

QUESTION: And what about the other attack? Do you believe that Coulibaly was part of the Islamic State?

MS. HARF: We’re still looking into all of those pieces. I know there’ve been a lot of different reports out there. Nothing to convey on that.

QUESTION: And nothing – no update about the fact that he was apparently on a U.S. terror list?

MS. HARF: No update on any of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)1:03 p.m. EST

 

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS. HARF: I have a couple items at the top, and then you two can fight over who gets to start.

First, a trip update: The Secretary began his day in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he met with UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, who was also in town at the same time. Then he met with the Bulgarian president, prime minister, and foreign minister. His meetings in Sofia focused on security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship, also highlighted the importance of rule of law and helping Bulgaria to realize its full potential as a vibrant European democracy.

He is now in Paris, where he will have meetings tomorrow with French President Hollande and Foreign Minister Fabius. The full details of his schedule are still being worked out, and we’ll have the traveling team get those to folks when they’re ready.

And one more item at the top. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be leading a delegation to Niger from January 20th through 21st, 2015. While there, Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield will participate in a ministerial conference hosted by Niger to discuss steps in the fight against the terrorist organization Boko Haram, threats to security in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, and activities of the Multinational Task Force, the MNTF. She will also hold high-level bilateral meetings on related topics of concern.

With that --

QUESTION: So I was going to go first --

MS. HARF: And my mother’s here. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yes. I was going to say, is there somebody you would like to introduce to the rest of us? (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: My mom, Jane Harf is here. It’s her second briefing, she’s been to, so everyone has to be really nice today, not that you aren’t always.

QUESTION: We’ll certainly give it a go.

MS. HARF: Lesley, go for it.

QUESTION: Well, I was going to start, but given that you mentioned Boko Haram --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- perhaps my colleague from AFP --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you, Lesley.

MS. HARF: So polite.

QUESTION: Thank you. Since you mentioned Boko Haram, yes.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So the Secretary in Sofia talk about a British-U.S. initiative against Boko Haram. So if you could elaborate on that. And the Secretary mention also that what Boko Haram is doing is a crime against humanity. Does it mean that there will be legal consequences in the U.S. against this group?

MS. HARF: Well, first, not a whole lot more details beyond what the Secretary said. We’re talking to the British, but also to others, about ways we can do more to help the Nigerians and others in the region fight Boko Haram, so nothing new beyond what he said. But it’s certainly a topic we’re discussing very closely with the British. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to note Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield’s upcoming travel related to this threat.

In terms of the accountability question, no more details to share on that, beyond what the Secretary said. I think what he was conveying was the horrific nature, of course, of what we’ve seen, particularly the escalation in attacks and the number of casualties, but also underscoring the Nigerians’ need to move forward with their elections, even despite what has been a pretty significant amount of violence.

QUESTION: A follow up to that. Given that the cooperation between the Nigerians and the U.S. has not really been effective on the ground in curbing the activities of Boko Haram, obviously you’re looking further afield. And what could those plans look like? What sort of cooperation do you think you need to go to to really have an impact?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – a few points. It’s primarily the Government of Nigeria’s responsibility to take the steps it needs to to protect its citizens. We know this is a very significant threat and a very challenging one for the Nigerians. That’s why we’ve offered to work with them; we have done some joint training; we have a security cooperation relationship. But more broadly in the region, we’re working with other partners – whether it’s Cameroon, Chad, or others – to fight this threat, because it is a regional threat. That’s certainly been ongoing.

I would also say the Secretary has, on a diplomatic level, engaged with the Nigerian president and with others to try to increasingly work with them to fight this threat.

What else? Any on this?

QUESTION: Anything on --

QUESTION: Just on Boko Haram, has the Nigerian Government sought any kind of additional assistance from the U.S.? They stopped that training program in December.

MS. HARF: They did, unfortunately, stop that training program in December. We do have an ongoing security cooperation relationship. I’m not aware of additional requests from them. But we’re constantly talking to them about what more we are willing to provide and what might make the most sense.

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports that President Jonathan may, indeed, have traveled to northeastern Nigeria today as a show of support for the people in that region?

MS. HARF: I saw that right before I came out, and I can’t confirm it. But if true, obviously – look, would be a show, I think, of – an important show to his people about how seriously he certainly takes the threat. But I just saw it before I came out.

QUESTION: Would it be too much to suggest that this building might consider that a little too late, given the ongoing rise in violence in the past year?

MS. HARF: I think anytime you can demonstrate to your people that you take a terrorist threat seriously, no matter when, is probably important.

QUESTION: You also said that you think that the – you continue to think that the elections should go ahead.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But how can it go ahead when many people cannot vote, and especially an estimated 20,000 that have been forced to flee the country?

MS. HARF: Well, we have been working – the U.S. Government has been working with the Nigerian Government, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, which, I think, is a separate body handling the elections, and civil society to emphasize the need for a clear and well-coordinated election security plan and to offer assistance specifically on that front. Obviously, it’s the responsibility of the Government of Nigeria to protect and enfranchise its citizens. But a key pillar of our elections engagement strategy is the importance of enfranchising displaced voters, what you were asking about. I know the INEC has embraced that point. They understand the importance of it. We’ve urged the Nigerian Government to provide adequate security, improve security coordination, and to make arrangements for these internally displaced persons to be able to vote where they are.

In terms of the U.S. support, a U.S. Government election security expert had visited Nigeria in the fall, has been consulting with Nigerian counterparts in the intervening months, and will embed with INEC for a week in mid-January, and then return for election day in February to help on the engagement side. USAID is also exploring ways, through their Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project, to assist IDPs with voting.

Look, this is a challenge. We’ve talked about this in other countries who’ve had elections in pretty significant security-challenging environments. But we are assisting. We’re offering it, certainly, yes.

QUESTION: Still on Boko Haram, are you seeing any kind of cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS, any kind of collaboration there?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge. Operationally, Boko Haram has really been focused regionally and not really externally, like we’ve seen other terrorist groups. Obviously, it’s a concern we watch for.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’m Tyrel Ventura with RT America. With the release of the Amnesty photos this morning that kind of showed that destruction and devastation up there, has that changed at all the State Department plans in dealing with that region? Has it sped things up? Has it – what is the --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say it’s --

QUESTION: Has it had an effect, that evidence?

MS. HARF: -- changed it. I think it underscores what we have seen for some time, really the brutality and the scale and scope of Boko Haram’s attacks. We can’t independently confirm some of the numbers, and just want to caution people that we don’t always have a good way of doing that. So it’s not a precise figure that I think – we don’t have one we can put out there. But I think it just underscores the threat. We are constantly engaged on it, though.

QUESTION: Would one of the areas that the U.S. be looking at and that we haven’t really seen, because it’s difficult to track the financial flows of an organization like this – but is one of these plans maybe looking at intensifying or trying to come up with efforts to sanction this group and its leaders?

MS. HARF: I can check on the financial piece of this. I don’t have the details about where they’re financed or how they’re financed in front of me. I just don’t know that. Let me see if I have anything else in here on the economic piece. I don’t think I do. So let me check with our team and see if there’s more on that.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Go ahead, and then I’ll go back to you. Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: Today’s announcement on Cuba --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which is a major development.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The one thing I was wondering about was were these various steps discussed with the Cubans and agreed with them beforehand.

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding – and I’m checking with our team – that, given these were changes to U.S. regulations, this was really steps the Commerce and Treasury Department took on their own. They’re certainly completely in line with the discussions we had with the Cubans, right, in general about the policy change. To my knowledge, they weren’t specifically discussed with the Cubans, but I’m checking on that just to make sure.

QUESTION: So I guess the question now would be whether the Cubans would allow a lot – some of this to take place on their side, or is that not really an issue?

MS. HARF: I don’t – I haven’t heard that it’s an issue, but I’m happy to check further on that.

QUESTION: And then when you come – my last question is: When you get to – given that the talks are next week, is there any other announcements that you expect could come from this side ahead of it? And how do you see the announcement today playing into as a gesture of confidence ahead of those talks?

MS. HARF: Not that I – I’m not aware of any other announcements coming before the talks. Obviously, things can change. I think I would put it in the context of we announced we spent many, many months negotiating both the spy swap and then decided on our new policy from our side. There are a series of milestones that will have to be a part of this moving forward, and one of those was the prisoners being released, one of them was announcing the new regulations, one of them will be this first set of normalization talks, and then we’ll keep hitting milestones as we go. So this is all part of a process not geared towards the migration talks – the upcoming talks – but geared towards the longer-term policy change.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you expect to reopen your embassy immediately after the talks, or it will be a longer process?

MS. HARF: There’s a process that has to occur. I don’t have any prediction for you. We’ll see how the talks go. But I don’t – I have no prediction on when that might happen.

Yes.

QUESTION: About this, the regulations, do you know if it’s like – if President Obama has reached the limits of his executive power? Or in order to do more, will he have to have the cooperation of Congress?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly, that’s a question I can ask my legal team about. We – there are a number of steps we can take and we have taken on Cuba, even before the policy change, through executive action. I can check and see if there’s more details on that. But obviously, in terms of the embargo, there would have to be a congressional piece to that. We’re consulting with Congress, talking with Congress about all of those issues.

On this still, Elliot?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: One of the things that was announced was a general license authorizing transactions with Cuban official missions and their employees in the United States to, I guess, facilitate the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. I guess I was a little bit confused about the actual practical impacts of that and how it helps you guys from your end. Can you go into a little bit more detail?

MS. HARF: I can certainly check with my colleagues and see if there’s more detail on that.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: I just don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Do you know whether that has anything to do with the banking issues that the interests section had last year?

MS. HARF: I’m wondering if it does. Probably, but let me double check with our experts on that.

QUESTION: And then, on – regarding the fact that building materials can now be exported to Cuba for private homes, houses of worship, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, realistically, how much does the U.S. expect can be provided to people in Cuba?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if we have an estimate for that. I’m happy to check. I haven’t seen one.

QUESTION: There was also a line in the fact sheet regarding unlimited – I don’t know the exact words now – can’t think of them. It’s basically unlimited financial transactions for humanitarian projects. Can you say a little bit more about that? What kind of humanitarian projects?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure I have more details on that. Let me see if I do. I have a lot of Q&A on this, obviously. You’re asking specifically on the – what – humanitarian projects?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: So this is where OFAC – it has now issued a general license, as we’ve all talked about. We don’t need a specific license anymore. These authorized humanitarian projects include medical and health-related projects, construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups, environmental projects, projects involving formal or non-formal educational training within Cuba or off-island on the following topics: entrepreneurship and business, civil education, journalism, adult literacy, vocation skills – sort of things that we’ve talked about a lot. Grassroots projects, small-scale private enterprise, agriculture – those are all things that fall into the humanitarian projects.

QUESTION: Journalism?

MS. HARF: It says journalism here.

QUESTION: Oh, that’s interesting. Okay.

MS. HARF: There you go.

QUESTION: There’s been talk before that these things have been discussed in general during the talks before the President’s announcement. How eager were the Cuban negotiators to have this kind of assistance provided to their citizens, whether it’s the building materials or the funding for humanitarian aid or the ability of Americans who are there for any reason to be able to use credit cards? How interested were they in having these sorts of things made available to U.S. citizens going there?

MS. HARF: I think I would probably let them characterize how they felt during parts of the negotiations and probably aren’t going to outline all of that publicly from our side.

QUESTION: Will President Obama meet with Raul Castro, perhaps in April in Panama, or --

MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to ask the White House questions about the President’s schedule.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: Anything else on – you’ve been waiting very patiently. Go ahead. Yes.

QUESTION: So diplomatic records of bilateral negotiations between U.S. and Japan were disclosed today in Japan, and the documents show that a speech by then-Japanese Prime Minister Sato in 1965 was revised under U.S. pressure to emphasize the important role of Okinawa in its security. Given that there is a strong opposition against the U.S. military base in Okinawa, can you tell us how the U.S. Government views the importance of a U.S. military base in Okinawa?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. and Japanese officials have both worked together, I would say, pretty extensively to sustain the presence of U.S. forces in Japan. We’ve talked a lot about the relocation of the Marine Corps air station, which will reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of a significant amount of land back to the people of Okinawa while continuing at the same time to sustain the U.S. military capabilities vital to the alliance and also to peace and security in the region. So look, these are meaningful results of many years of sustained work between the U.S. and Japan, really a critical step toward realizing our shared vision of a realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa. And I think, beyond that, probably my Defense Department colleague can speak a little more to the specifics.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The same – this Department records also says in 1970, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Laird told the Japanese defense chief Nakasone that there was constitutional problems in terms of national defense, and he showed an interest in Japan’s constitutional – I’m wondering if U.S. Government still see that there is a constitutional problems in terms of national defense in Japan, and if U.S. Government expect to see an actual constitutional revision in Japan.

MS. HARF: Well, I – we’ve certainly see the historical reports, and, I think, are looking into those for a little more detail. But in terms of today where we are on that specific issue – look, we’ve encouraged and we support Japan’s efforts to play a more proactive role in contributing to regional peace and security, including by re-examining its interpretation – the interpretation of its constitution relating to the right of collective self-defense. So obviously, that principle is recognized in the UN Charter. We’ve supported expanding the role of Japan’s self-defense forces within the framework of the alliance, specifically, and also appreciate Japan’s outreach to explain its security policies, including by sending its officials to foreign capitals in a very transparent manner. So that’s, I think, where we are on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Cuba for one second?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Specifically Guantanamo.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Jacobson prepared to discuss the future status not just of the military prison, but of the naval station at Guantanamo Bay during next week’s talks?

MS. HARF: I do not know the answer to that question. I can ask.

On Guantanamo specifically, if folks saw the Department of Defense release last night, that five detainees had been transferred to third countries – four to Oman and one to Estonia. So I just, on Guantanamo, wanted to update people on that. I can ask about that.

QUESTION: Yeah, that would --

MS. HARF: That’s obviously a Defense Department issue, but let me check.

QUESTION: Right. But because there have been a lot of tensions about the presence not just of the prison but of the base itself --

MS. HARF: I absolutely understand the question and why you’re asking. I just don’t know the answer. Let me check.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: While we’re back on Cuba, can I just ask one more as well?

MS. HARF: Let’s – yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. The – one of the other measures announced was a general license to authorizing foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain trade in Cuba. A while back, there was a case of a ship that was detained in Panama after docking in Cuba that was carrying --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- military equipment from North Korea.

MS. HARF: North Korea, yes.

QUESTION: Was that case --

MS. HARF: That was one of my first briefings at this podium, by the way, to remind people.

QUESTION: Okay. It was like a year and a half ago, I guess.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was that case sort of – factoring that into consideration, is there any concern that this measure would sort of lead to smuggling of that kind of contraband into the U.S. or the – more flow of that kind of thing? Is there any particular additional restrictions being placed to prevent that from happening?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. Not that I’ve heard of, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Israeli-Palestinian issue?

MS. HARF: Yes we can, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Today – just now, as a matter of fact – the Security Council called on Israel to unfreeze the tax funds that they have frozen in the past that amounts to about $106 million. Is that a position that you also take? Do you urge them to sort of release the funds because of the hardships the Palestinians are facing?

MS. HARF: Let me – Said, I hadn’t actually seen those reports out of the UN. Let me check and see the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. And now while we’re still on the topic of the aid to the Palestinians, could you update us on the situation of American aid to the Palestinians? Is that still ongoing? What’s in the pipeline keeps ongoing, or is there any kind of hold? I know there was a threat to withhold aid if they went ahead with – but they did.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said we’re looking at what our obligations are under U.S. law given the recent events. To my knowledge, there’s been no change. Let me check, though.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re aware that Senator Rand Paul introduced legislation, I think it was, last week that – to cut off all aid to the Palestinians. You don’t support the senator?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly know that assistance to the Palestinians has been beneficial, certainly, on a number of fronts, as we’ve talked about. But look, I – let me check and see where we are on that. I want to get the latest.

QUESTION: Okay. And just a couple more on the Palestinian issue.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: There is also – the Palestinians are saying that they are going to reintroduce another UN resolution, perhaps, on a different draft with different elements and so on. Have they discussed that with you? Are you discussing that with them, or would your position remain the same, so to speak?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly aware of those reports. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals at the UN. I would say that we do not think that another Security Council resolution at this time would be constructive. We’re obviously in constant contact with our partners there to talk about the path forward, but don’t think that would be constructive at this point.

QUESTION: And finally, I wonder if you have a comment – the Israelis have just taken the decision that the Swedish foreign minister is a persona non grata, that she cannot come to Israel – she was planning to go there this week – because they recognized the Palestinian state back on October 30th. And we have seen a number of countries that did that afterwards, including France and so on. One, do you have any comment on that or – and second, do you expect the Israelis – that they will do this with France and other countries?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports. Let me check.

QUESTION: But what is your position on declaring her a persona non grata?

MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen those reports, so let me check with our team and see what our position is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s – just actually moving over to Iran --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: We’re watching the Jeffrey Sterling trial on the – in that trial that’s going to come out about CIA Operation Merlin, where they were trying to give, essentially, incomplete nuclear weapon plans to Iran to kind of slow down their development of a nuclear weapon. Could the information coming out in this trial at all affect the ongoing talks between Kerry and Iran?

MS. HARF: Well, given I’m not familiar with the specifics of that trial, and I’m not sure our team that’s talking right now in Geneva is either, look --

QUESTION: It’s just kind of out in the public.

MS. HARF: We’re --

QUESTION: Anyone can pick it up, and I just (inaudible).

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, so look, I’ll check with our folks. But broadly speaking, we are moving forward with these nuclear negotiations, with the P5+1, and with us, with our partners. Their teams are meeting right now with Wendy Sherman and the other negotiators for a couple days of bilateral talks, and then with the rest of the P5+1. That process is moving forward, and hopefully we can continue making progress. Obviously, there’s a lot of history here. We all are well aware of that. What we’re focused on now is what happens going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the current bilats?

MS. HARF: I don’t have one yet. I don’t have one yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: You said yesterday U.S. remains open dialogue with North Korea.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And what is the United States preconditions for the direct talks with North Korea? Do you have any guidance?

MS. HARF: Well, look, the U.S. has offered the DPRK and continues to offer the opportunity for meaningful engagement and improved bilateral relationship provided it demonstrates its willingness to uphold its international obligations and commitments. Unfortunately, North Korea continues to rebuff or ignore these offers while instead preventing us with the kind of – presenting us with the kind of false choices and a series of provocations we’ve just seen even recently. So we’re open to talking, certainly, but haven’t seen that reciprocated.

QUESTION: But are you not upset that the North Korean offered that if U.S. have a temporary suspending of joint military exercise with South Korea, then are they – if you accept that, then North Korea would – willing to direct talk with the United States about that? What is the U.S. position?

MS. HARF: Well, the offer, as I understand it, which we see as an implicit threat, is for the U.S. to stop doing something that is routine, that is transparent, that is defensive in nature, and that is annual that we do every year, in exchange for the North Koreans not doing something that is prohibited under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and that they are not supposed to be doing. That’s really a false choice here. They’re not equivalent in any way.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran?

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to go to you. Yes, we can.

QUESTION: The case of Jason Rezaian.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about what he’s been charged with? Have the Swiss been able to meet with him? Does he have a lawyer? What’s – what is his situation right now?

MS. HARF: Well, during the meetings yesterday, Secretary Kerry raised U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s case. They discussed the report stating that his case had been referred to a court. The Secretary reiterated our call for his immediate release, as well as for the immediate release of detained U.S. citizens, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and of course, for the Iranian Government to work cooperatively with us in locating Robert Levinson, as we always do.

This is a discussion we have with them very frequently. I don’t have many more details than that. Of course, we continue to monitor the situation closely and are seeking further information about what might come out of this move to refer the case to the court. I know The Washington Post – one of their editors also said they hope this is a way the judicial process can be moved forward and Jason can be returned to his family. We certainly share that sentiment.

QUESTION: But you’re not aware of whether there have been any contacts between Jason and Swiss officials?

MS. HARF: I can check. I’m not aware of any, but I’m happy to check for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS. HARF: Yes, Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. Yesterday, you were asked about a situation regarding press freedom in Turkey, but just within day a few developments happen. Some of the columnists who published this cartoons, French cartoons, are under threat. Newspaper (inaudible) is now – there’s an investigation launched just this morning. And also Prime Minister Davutoglu gave some remarks and said that basically this newspaper, (inaudible), had it coming.

My question is: Are you following this situation in Turkey or are you concerned with the situation?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly following it. There’s been a lot of debate about these cartoons – not just in Turkey, I would say. And what I’ve said over the past few days certainly stands. There are very strong feelings about these cartoons. It should be up to media organizations to make the decisions about what to publish and whether to publish them. These are very complicated decisions. I know you all have probably had these conversations with your news organizations. But the way to respond to speech you don’t like isn’t with violence, it isn’t with threats; it’s with more speech. That’s what we believe very strongly here, I know the French believe, and others believe. So clearly, we think that media organizations should have the right publish what they want. Doesn’t mean they have to to prove that they can. It’s obviously a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: Just today, European parliament passed a resolution condemning the ongoing raids on press freedom in Turkey. There is still a journalists and there is new legislation just passed that gave more authority to police and more authority to detain, all these developments. Just yesterday former Ambassador Ricciardone gave a remark and said that Turkey and U.S. do not share values anymore; we share interests. Would you agree with this statement?

MS. HARF: Well, these aren’t about U.S. values. We have repeatedly urged Turkey, as our NATO ally and friend, to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s own core values and democratic foundations. And we’ve made clear in the past that we have concerns about government interference in freedom of expression. It’s an ongoing conversation with them, certainly.

QUESTION: So when you say “sharing values,” it is the universal values. Do you still think that U.S. and Turkey share these --

MS. HARF: Turkey is a close friend and NATO ally. These are conversations we have with them all the time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you know – on the issue of sharing values, it’s a point that I raised the other day. I mean, you don’t really share these values with any other country. I mean --

MS. HARF: We don’t agree with anything any other country’s --

QUESTION: -- but we know that --

MS. HARF: -- right, everything.

QUESTION: -- there are other countries in Europe, Western democracies and so on, that do have laws in place because of their past history and so on, which we don’t have in this country. So you don’t expect, let’s say – I mean, we don’t have any laws against speech, period, in America. So you don’t expect --

MS. HARF: Well, that incites violence, we do. But --

QUESTION: That incite violence.

MS. HARF: -- I’m not an attorney, so I don’t want to go too far down that road.

QUESTION: Right. So you don’t expect Turkey to adopt the same thing.

MS. HARF: We expect countries around the world to uphold the basic fundamental human freedoms that include freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to be able to choose your own future and say what you want and speak your mind, even if that speech is offensive to some people. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to say things that are offensive to prove you can. These are individual decisions for people and organizations to make.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Let’s go here. And then Roz, I’ll go to Pakistan.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. HARF: Syria, yes.

QUESTION: Did you get in touch in the last 24 hours with the Syrian opposition? And if so, did you urge them to attend Moscow talks?

MS. HARF: Well, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein just returned from a trip overseas to a number of countries in Europe, I think including Turkey and others, where he was continuing his routine engagement with international partners and Syrian opposition members about efforts to advance a negotiated political solution – against ISIL, of course – and to expand our support to the armed opposition through the launch of DOD’s train and equip program. So he was – had some meetings there. Special Envoy Rubinstein and Major General Michael Nagata met earlier this week with a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition and civil society leaders in Turkey to talk about a number of things, including the train and equip program.

QUESTION: So did you urge them, or not?

MS. HARF: Oh, on Moscow. Look, this is a decision for the Syrian opposition to make. They can make it on their own.

QUESTION: Because the Secretary yesterday spoke in a way that he implicitly urged them to attend.

MS. HARF: He did not. He said --

QUESTION: He said they won’t lose anything if they attend.

MS. HARF: He said, “We hope that the Russian efforts could be helpful,” quote. And as I said yesterday, in an extended exchange, I don’t know what he would have said instead – that we hope they’re not helpful? That seems to just defy logic. So we hope any effort to advance a political solution in Syria could be helpful. It doesn’t mean we’re saying the Syrian opposition should or shouldn’t go. It’s a decision for them to make.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: But going along with to what you said yesterday, that all along you have said that there’s only a political solution basically to the Syrian crisis, I mean, holding the conference at the end of the month is a good thing, isn’t it? It would be a good thing and you will do all you can to make it happen, wouldn’t you?

MS. HARF: Well, this isn’t our conference.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: This is a Russian-led effort.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: So the Syrian opposition can decide if it wants to go. There’s also talks in Cairo. We hope any effort aimed at achieving a political solution could make progress and be helpful, certainly. But we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Okay. Envoy Staffan de Mistura also said today, I think, or yesterday, that people agree that we must resolve the Syria issue politically this year. I mean, I know everybody wants to resolve it yesterday, I mean. But he’s saying, like --

MS. HARF: I couldn’t agree with that more.

QUESTION: He’s saying as if there were some sort of a common agreement that everybody’s going to do their best to do this, including the opposition, including the United States, including the Russians. Are there any things that you are doing or conducting with the Russians to facilitate their meeting, to make it inclusive, to make it really happen, and go to the next step?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re not working with them, to my knowledge, on this specific meeting. But generally speaking, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have had numerous conversations at their level, certainly at other levels as well, about how we can work together to get to a political solution, separate from this upcoming round of talks in Moscow.

QUESTION: Now, let me just follow up very quickly. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview, and he said basically that you – the fight against ISIS by the West, by the American-led coalition, is basically – it’s like just window dressing, not real substantive. Can you comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that the ISIL terrorists who have been at the receiving end of U.S. bombs probably don’t feel that way.

QUESTION: Okay. But so he’s saying that there’s – more effort needs to be done and more coordination, and that Syria has been at the receiving end --

MS. HARF: We’re certainly not coordinating with the Assad regime. We’re coordinating with 60 coalition partners, including Arab states, to fight ISIL.

QUESTION: Okay. But considering that they are probably the larger target of these attacks by ISIS and other terrorist groups – al-Qaida, al-Nusrah, and so on – wouldn’t it make sense to coordinate at one point how you can perhaps direct a more devastating blow to ISIS and other terrorist groups?

MS. HARF: Not with the Assad regime, Said. Look, they talked on the one hand about fighting ISIL and on the other hand they allowed them to grow. So we are coordinating with over 60 coalition partners. We’ve conducted with our coalition partners over 1,600 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since August. They continue on a nearly daily basis. We’ve taken out their fighters, their commanders, hundreds of vehicles and tanks, nearly 200 oil and gas facilities – the infrastructure that funds their terror – as well as more than 1,000 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings. This is a long fight, but it’s a sustained one that we’re very focused on.

QUESTION: General Allen will return from his travel to the Middle East?

MS. HARF: General Allen. Special Presidential Envoy General Allen and Deputy Envoy Ambassador Brett McGurk met today with the Dutch foreign minister and other Dutch national security officials in The Hague. Following their departure from Iraq, they actually delayed their return to the U.S. to have some consultations with Dutch leadership on countering ISIL, got added to the schedule. They thanked the foreign minister for the Netherlands’ ongoing coalition contributions, including their F-16s flying tactical missions in Iraq, their planned train-and-advise support for Iraqi Security Forces, and their leadership on countering the flow of foreign fighters. It is my understanding they are then returning to the United States.

QUESTION: Back on Syria, I have a question.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon gave an interview today to a television, revealed that he met with some leaders from the Syrian opposition trying to help reaching a political solution in Syria. Were you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Let me check.

QUESTION: Marie, what --

MS. HARF: I just – I hadn’t seen those reports.

QUESTION: What is the (inaudible)? What is your reading on the motivation of the Russians to have this meeting unless you can have both sides there?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure I’m probably well positioned to judge Russian motivations. I’ll let them speak to that. It’s my understanding, though, this is an intra-Syrian meeting helping the Syrian coalition – or the Syrian opposition better coalesce. That needs to be an important part of how we eventually get to a political solution. So that’s my understanding that that’s the point. But I’m not – I mean, motivations, who knows? We talk to the Russians a lot about advancing a political solution and working together on that. So I’m guessing it would help play into that effort.

QUESTION: And if the moderates who the U.S. supports do not go, I mean, is there any – I don’t – I mean, what is the value of the meeting?

MS. HARF: Well, as the Secretary said, we hope this meeting could be helpful in advancing a political solution. We’ll see what comes from it.

(Phone rings.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MS. HARF: Hello.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the same question, please?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry’s remarks widely read as U.S. is supporting Moscow talks, so you are saying --

MS. HARF: Well, I would say they’re widely misread then.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I just read you exactly what he said. We certainly hope they can be helpful. I’m not sure what the alternative language would have been. We don’t hope they’re helpful? We hope they’re unhelpful? That’s sort of crazy and defies logic.

QUESTION: Do you think if the Assad regime may – will go to Moscow, it looks like, they should be at least doing some – take some steps? Do you have any precondition for Assad regime to participate this kind of conference?

MS. HARF: These are not our talks. Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: The Russians invited Iran to attend the talks. How come they didn’t invite the U.S.?

MS. HARF: Ask the Russians.

QUESTION: And one more. You talk about train and equip --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- program that U.S. team met with the Syrian opposition. Is there any update on this?

MS. HARF: Not really. The Department of Defense has announced that we begin – we expect training to begin in early spring. As we’ve talked about, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have agreed to host training sites. We’re working right now with the interagency and foreign partners to identify recruits for the program. Once we identify personnel by name, the vetting process begins, and that can take around a month, depending. But obviously, we need to vet people before we start training and equipping them.

QUESTION: And the final question is semi-Syria. The Hayat – this one of the partners of suspect or killers in Paris, Hayat – I don’t remember her --

QUESTION: Boumeddiene.

QUESTION: Okay. She – do you have any update on her whereabouts?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: Did you talk to Turkish Government? You got any information during her stay in Turkey?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any – anything to share on her today.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan?

MS. HARF: Yeah, let’s do Pakistan, then Afghanistan. Sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reports that the Pakistani Government may, in fact, be outlawing the Haqqani Network? And if so, when was the U.S. Government notified, and is the U.S. being asked to help sustain the new status quo?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So we welcome reports that the Government of Pakistan plans to outlaw the Haqqani Network, I think 10 or 11 additional organizations linked to violent extremism. This is an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity in Pakistan. Obviously, the Secretary was just there and had a wide-ranging conversation with the Pakistanis about counterterrorism, certainly. He emphasized that we’re committed to deepening our security partnership with Pakistan, and obviously had many conversations with Prime Minister Sharif and others. I don’t have many more details than that. I know this was just an announcement that this is planning to happen. I don’t have more details on when it might.

QUESTION: And when the Secretary talked about deepening commitment, does that mean more military advisers? Does that mean weapons? Does that mean money? All three?

MS. HARF: Don’t have many more details. He did announce the over 250 million that’s allocated for the relocation, shelter, and food and livelihoods of those affected by the counterterrorism operation – so to help the Pakistanis with this IDP issue they have because of ongoing counterterrorism operations. That was an additional 250 million. I don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, Ashish. Yes.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Haqqani Network question, Admiral Mullen had said – described it as a veritable arm of the ISI.

MS. HARF: I remember those comments.

QUESTION: Is that a description that you agree with, and are you seeing those linkages – an end to those linkages?

MS. HARF: Well look, we have a long history of close cooperation with Pakistan on counterterrorism efforts. We’ve been very clear with the Pakistani Government that they need to crack down and go after all terrorist groups that threaten them, threaten their people – their people are, unfortunately, the victims of more terrorist attacks than, I think, people probably anywhere else. So it’s an ongoing conversation, certainly, but this would be a very important step.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that the State Department spent four billion on counternarcotic initiatives in Afghanistan. Despite this, the United Nations reported that Afghanistan set a record for producing opium in 2014 and that 80 percent of the total opium production in the world comes from Afghanistan. Was it the goal of the United States Government to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan while we’ve had forces there for 13 years?

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks. Obviously, while we’ve had military operations underway in Afghanistan, we have focused on other issues, including the narcotics trade. Certainly, we’ve talked about this a lot, and I know we have put a great deal of effort into helping the Afghans grow their capabilities to crack down on this. Let me check with our team and see. I hadn’t that SIGAR report.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that: The Congressional Research Service says, “After 2014, the State Department does not plan to have a permanent counternarcotics presence outside Kabul.” Has the U.S. Government given up on trying to stop post-war Afghanistan from being the opium production capital of the world?

MS. HARF: Well, I can certainly answer your second question and say no, obviously. In terms of staffing and where people are located, I can check and see if there’s a specific reason for that. But clearly, we have people in Afghanistan and back at the State Department very focused on this issue – very focused.

And then you, yep.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more about the authentication of the AQAP video?

MS. HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: About the content?

MS. HARF: The content – I don’t. We continue to look into the investigation about the claims in the video. That is ongoing, so I can’t confirm any of those. The intelligence community is still looking at that. No update there.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about Sri Lanka?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: After the elections, there were reports that President Rajapaksa had asked the army to help him stay in power, but when the army refused to do so, he stepped down. Did the U.S. convey any messages to the president at the time to – or the army to respect the outcome of that vote?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen those reports, and I don’t think we’re going to have any comment on those; would refer you to the Government of Sri Lanka. As Secretary Kerry said in his phone call to the new president, obviously we’re looking forward to working with the new administration to achieve its goals.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Today, a woman convicted of killing her stepdaughter was beheaded in public. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports.

Anything else? Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the video?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: So it means that you are still not sure that AQAP is behind – is responsible for the attack against Charlie Hebdo?

MS. HARF: Correct. We’ve assessed that the video was made by them, distributed by them, but we cannot confirm all of the claims they made in it about their possible involvement.

QUESTION: And what about the other attack? Do you believe that Coulibaly was part of the Islamic State?

MS. HARF: We’re still looking into all of those pieces. I know there’ve been a lot of different reports out there. Nothing to convey on that.

QUESTION: And nothing – no update about the fact that he was apparently on a U.S. terror list?

MS. HARF: No update on any of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)

 

2015-01-15


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 14, 2015


Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 14, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:16 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing, everyone. I have two items at the top, and then I will open it up to your questions.

First, a trip update: The Secretary is on travel today. Earlier this morning, in Geneva, he met with UN Special Envoy for Syria de Mistura, where they discussed, obviously, Syria, specifically the situation in Aleppo. He also, of course, met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. He will soon be in the air en route to Sofia, Bulgaria, where he will have a full program tomorrow to discuss security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship.

On Friday in Paris, Secretary Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Fabius and then with President Hollande to reiterate the support of the United States for the French people and our ongoing commitment to providing any assistance needed. The rest of the schedule is still being determined.

And finally, we have a group of visitors in the back from Miami University in Ohio. It’s a group of students. I know we’ve talked a lot about Ohio this week. I’m sure you all saw the President called Coach Urban Meyer today.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Big news, big news. But welcome. I hope you enjoy the briefing and we’re happy to have you here.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: Can we start with the Secretary’s trip?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Firstly, on Syria --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- he seemed to be a lot more forward-leaning on the Russia-proposed talks than you have been from this podium. He said they could be helpful. Can you explain what you might be hoping to --

MS. HARF: He said, quote, “We hope that the Russian efforts could be helpful.”

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I think – I’m not sure what the alternative would be. We’ve said from this podium we welcome any effort that could be helpful toward advancing a political solution. That is in no way different than what I have said from here, and he was in no way indicating something different.

QUESTION: So does that --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure what the opposite would be, that we would hope – we would be hopeful they would not be helpful, right? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I --

MS. HARF: I think that’s exactly in line with what I said this week about those talks.

QUESTION: If you think so, great, but --

MS. HARF: I think the words actually bear that out as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain why you haven’t asked, then, the Syrian opposition to participate if you hope they’d be helpful?

MS. HARF: Well, we leave those decisions up to the Syrian opposition to discuss their participation, sort of whether they believe these meetings would be productive. That’s a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: Can they be helpful without the Syrian opposition actually attending?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a variety of pieces of the Syrian opposition, as we know – different groups, different leaders, different members. I know they are talking right now about who can attend, and as the Secretary said, we are certainly hopeful that they could be helpful. We would say that about any possible set of discussions that could move the process forward.

QUESTION: So do you hope that a broad array of the Syrian opposition would then attend?

MS. HARF: We hope that a broad array of the Syrian opposition will participate in advancing a political solution to the crisis in Syria. What that looks like – whether it’s the Cairo talks, the Moscow talks – that’s up for the Syrian opposition to decide.

QUESTION: And do you believe the Russians actually have the right objectives at heart with this proposed conference? Do they want to advance a political solution that leads to Assad leaving power?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve talked a lot about the Geneva Communique. Obviously, we worked on that with the Russians, which lays out a plan for a transitional governing body. The details are what’s always been the issue, right. So I think we all agree that there broadly needs to be a political transition, but the disagreement or the issues remaining to be discussed are what that might look like.

QUESTION: How could it be helpful, then, if you don’t even know what the Russians actually are – or the Syrians for that matter, the Syrian Government – actually hopes to get out of this?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ll see. As the Secretary said, we hope that these efforts would be helpful. We would hope that any efforts would be helpful. I’m not passing judgment on something that hasn’t happened yet, and certainly, neither was he.

QUESTION: But compared to the U.S. involvement in the Geneva talks, I mean, you’re barely – are you sending anybody to these talks?

MS. HARF: At this point we are not. I don’t believe we’ve been invited.

QUESTION: That does not show much confidence in the talks and appear to be something that you could work with.

MS. HARF: Well, these are intra-Syrian talks designed to bring the opposition – to coalesce them more and to bring them more together. If there was a role we could play in any of these or that we think is – would be helpful, we could have that discussion, but at this point we’re just not a part of them.

QUESTION: Have there been any conversations between U.S. and Syrian officials?

MS. HARF: Syrian Government officials?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Ever? Recently? About this?

QUESTION: Recently, about the ongoing civil war, about the need for some sort of political resolution. I mean, there is still a diplomatic relationship.

MS. HARF: There is.

QUESTION: Yeah. Have there been any recent conversations, or to put it more frankly, what has the U.S. been doing to try to help end the civil war in Syria?

MS. HARF: Let me check and see about the – if there have been conversations with regime officials. Throughout this diplomatic process, we’ve been focused on working with the Syrian opposition to help them coalesce and get them to the table. The Russians are the ones who have been working with the Syrian regime to help get them to the table. That’s generally how the tasks have been broken down, but I can check on this specific question.

QUESTION: And can you also find out what specifically has the acting ambassador, Mr. Silverman, been working on in terms of trying to help resolve the political crisis in Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, Daniel Rubinstein is our special – and I don’t know if his exact term is “Special Envoy.” I can get his exact term for you. But he’s the one who works primarily with the Syrian opposition, is Daniel Rubinstein.

QUESTION: You mentioned --

MS. HARF: So I can check on what his latest efforts have been.

QUESTION: You mentioned about the diplomatic tie, diplomatic relationship with Syrian Government.

MS. HARF: We don’t – right. No, go ahead, sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I will let you finish.

QUESTION: Is there any diplomatic relation other than --

MS. HARF: We have not cut off diplomatic relations with Syria. Obviously, we don’t have diplomats at an embassy in Syria, and they don’t have any here either, but we still have a diplomatic relationship.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the last time you said that during this campaign, the military campaign, you informed the representative of Syrian Government --

MS. HARF: We did, at the UN.

QUESTION: -- through UN. Is there any other channel other than UN?

MS. HARF: I’m sure we have a variety of ways of talking to them. I’m happy to check if there are more details.

QUESTION: Marie, just to be clear – so is the U.S. advising the moderate Syrian opposition to go to these talks?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re in conversations with them on a constant basis about possible avenues for making progress. I’m probably not going to get into more specific details about these – any one set of talks, these talks, or the Cairo talks, or anything. But we’re having an ongoing conversation with them.

QUESTION: Wait, but I don’t understand. You’re saying and the Secretary says that these – you hope these talks could be helpful.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: But you won’t say whether the Syrian opposition should go?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s a decision for them to make.

QUESTION: But then how – I mean, but how could you hope they could be helpful if you don’t hope that they attend?

MS. HARF: I didn’t say that I hope they don’t attend.

QUESTION: Well, I’m asking.

MS. HARF: I said we are having private conversations with them, and it’s really a decision for them to make about their participation.

QUESTION: Do you hope that they attend?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if there’s more we can share publicly. We’re having private conversations with them, Brad. We don’t always outline all of those publicly.

Yes.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: While the Secretary was in Geneva, or still is in, discussing the nuclear program with his counterpart --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- here in Washington yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton made some very strong remarks about the U.S. policy regarding these talks. He said that the Administration’s policy has now led to a, and I quote, “a dangerous farce.” He had very, very strong words. And he wants the Administration to cease all – he said the Administration has been giving concessions to Iran and he wants it to stop. Do you have any comments on this?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that I strongly disagree with those comments. This Administration’s policy has led to a place where Iran’s nuclear program is frozen for the first time in a decade. The diplomacy we’ve put in place has led to that happening and that outcome, and has led to us negotiating whether we can prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon through diplomacy, which I think many people, most people agree is the most durable, best way to do so. So that’s what we’re engaged in right now.

We have to be assured through this process that we cut off the pathways for Iran to get to a nuclear weapon. There are a variety of ways to do that technically, and that’s what we’re working on right now, so --

QUESTION: He suggested the military option, and he said that maybe Congress should offer the Israelis some surplus B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs so they could use it if they want to. Have you – has the Congress been in touch with you in this regard?

MS. HARF: I don’t believe we’ve received any specific correspondence from this Congress on that topic. Otherwise, I don’t think I have much more to say on members’ proposals that they float publicly beyond that.

QUESTION: Just a few on the senator. He seemed to imply that the goal of a sanctions effort isn’t to strengthen the Administration’s hand, as it were, which has been the argument of many sanctions proponents, but actually to scuttle the negotiations completely.

MS. HARF: The new sanctions, you mean?

QUESTION: Yeah. He basically voiced support for ending all negotiations and said we should get back to regime change as a policy. Is this something you feel has been the goal all along of some of the sanctions proponents?

MS. HARF: Well, I’ll let individual members of Congress who support additional sanctions at this time explain their rationale behind doing so. I know they’ve spoken about that publicly. I certainly don’t want to speak for them. But what we’ve said is that new nuclear-related sanctions at this point would not only be a violation of the Joint Plan of Action that could encourage Iran to also violate it, restart their nuclear program, but that could very well lead to a breakdown in these negotiations. So we’ve been clear about the outcome we think could happen if indeed new nuclear-related sanctions are passed.

QUESTION: And regime change is not a U.S. policy on Iran at the moment, is it?

MS. HARF: It is not. I can assure you of that.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the talks so far from Geneva?

MS. HARF: I do, I do. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif met this afternoon in Geneva to take stock of where things stand, provide guidance to their team in advance of the next round of negotiations, which begin tomorrow. They had substantive meetings for approximately five hours today and discussed a broad range of issues with a small group of staff from each side. On our end that included Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and the NSC Senior Director Rob Malley; technical experts from a range of areas also joined the conversation as necessary; and the Secretary met then with the negotiating team after that before departing Geneva to talk through what we hope to accomplish over the next few days.

QUESTION: Was it all strictly focused on the nuclear talks, or did any other issues – ISIL, the status of the situation in Syria and Iraq, anything else – or was it just on nukes?

MS. HARF: As you all are aware, these conversations that we have are only on the nuclear issue. On the sidelines of these, we, of course, always raise the American citizen cases. I don’t know if that was raised in the Secretary’s meeting. I’m happy to check and see if we can share on that. I know it will be raised at some point during this round, as it always is, but these are focused on the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: Still on Iran --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh, and then --

QUESTION: Are you familiar with – I think President Rouhani made some reference to building new nuclear plants to feed Bushehr.

MS. HARF: I didn’t see those comments.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you take a look at them and --

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: -- and then just see if you would think that’s consistent with JPOA freezing obligations?

MS. HARF: I will, I will. Yes, I’m going to go to Justin Fishel in the back. Welcome to our briefing room. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’ve been here before. It’s been a while --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- so I appreciate you calling on me. Do you have any reason to doubt the claims in the new AQAP video that they are, in fact, responsible for the attacks in Paris and that the now deceased Anwar Awlaki made arrangements with the attackers, and that the plan was ultimately approved by al-Qaida leadership, Zawahiri specifically?

MS. HARF: Well, I just before coming out here got a note from my colleagues in the intelligence community, who have assessed that the AQAP video claiming responsibility for last week attack – last week’s attacks against Charlie Hebdo is authentic. That process had been ongoing since the video was released. But as I said, the intelligence community has now determined that the AQAP video is authentic. This, we believe, likely came from AQAP’s media wing. The latest example of the brutality that is really AQ’s calling card, certainly how AQAP is the most dangerous affiliate associated with AQ core, particularly in terms of external plotting outside of their region where they’re located, and that they’ve perpetrated these kinds of attacks. I would note that the day – the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack, we believe AQAP attacked and killed over 30 Yemenis, many of whom if not all of whom were probably Muslim, who were gathered to join the security services and to serve the Yemeni people. So clearly, AQAP remains a threat.

In terms of your second part of your questions, we’re still looking at every piece of information to determine exactly the links here between the attackers and AQAP, particularly specific members of AQAP like you noted, Anwar al-Awlaki. That investigation is clearly ongoing. And so if we have more to share about financing or training specifically, we will do so.

QUESTION: So the video is authentic, but not everything in the message may be accurate, as far as you know?

MS. HARF: We’re still going through all of that right now, but we do believe the video came from AQAP’s media wing. Clearly, again, all of the details are being gone through right now.

QUESTION: Is it notable that Amedy Coulibaly was not mentioned in this video?

MS. HARF: Our analysts are looking at all of that right now. I’m happy to see if there’s more specifics they have in terms of that analysis.

QUESTION: Are you looking at also the involvement of ISIS in this incident?

MS. HARF: Certainly, we’re looking at anything that might have inspired these attackers to undertake their activities in terms of this specific time, this specific place. Obviously, there’s questions about where they might have been trained and where they might have gotten funding, but who inspired them. And as I think we’ve said in the past few days, it’s possible they were inspired by a number of different terrorist groups, not just one.

QUESTION: So as of now, you don’t hold AQAP responsible for the attack?

MS. HARF: Well, we hold the attackers responsible for the attack, clearly. We’re still trying to get complete fidelity on the exact links. I know there have been a lot of media reports out there about the brothers, possibly one or both of them, traveling to Yemen. That’s all being looked over right now. But if true, I think just underscores again the threat AQAP has posed, certainly how focused they have been on external operations, and why we decided to really focus our counterterrorism operations on AQAP.

QUESTION: Do you see any kind of collaboration between AQAP and ISI, ISIS?

MS. HARF: Operational collaboration?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Not that I have heard of. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: On this particular attack.

MS. HARF: I know our folks are looking at all of that right now.

QUESTION: Does the United States see ISIS as a bigger national security threat than al-Qaida?

MS. HARF: Well, al-Qaida core, al-Qaida in Yemen, in general, a threat to who?

QUESTION: To --

MS. HARF: In general?

QUESTION: To U.S. national security, al-Qaida in general with all its branches all over the world --

MS. HARF: Well, I think --

QUESTION: -- and ISIS.

MS. HARF: I think that’s a little bit simplistic way of looking it. They are both very significant threats. As I said, AQAP is the most dangerous affiliate that’s affiliated with AQ core, particularly when it comes to external attacks and looking at Western Europe or the United States. We’ve seen them attempt terrorist attacks on the U.S. with the Christmas Day bombing, the cargo plot, and others. AQ core also clearly remains a threat, as we’ve talked about; ISIS is a different kind of threat, as we’ve also talked about, which is why we’re going after them in Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: But you have dedicated more resources to fighting ISIS. Doesn’t that --

MS. HARF: Than al-Qaida?

QUESTION: Is that fair? No?

MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree. I would strongly disagree with that.

QUESTION: No, I mean recently. Recently, recently, recently.

MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree with that. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Over the past few months?

MS. HARF: I can guarantee you the people that work on our counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida-core and al-Qaida in Yemen are very focused and are contributing a lot of resources to that --

QUESTION: But every day, more than $70 million goes for fighting ISIS, according to Pentagon.

MS. HARF: Okay, well I can guarantee you a lot of money is going to fighting al-Qaida. Just because it’s not on the front page of the paper doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION: What other terror groups do you think they could have been influenced by? You mentioned that you’re not ruling anything out. I mean, is there any realistic link between them and anyone else besides AQAP?

MS. HARF: Some of them have talked, I think, publicly or there have been some social media reports about them maybe being inspired by ISIS. But we’re just not sure at this point – in terms of inspiration, not operational links.

QUESTION: What more can you say about – assuming that AQAP, in fact, was responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack, what more can you say about its funding sources, about its ability to train people, whether it has people in different parts of Western Europe, as an example? What more can you say about their capabilities?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. We’re obviously always concerned about “sleeper cells,” that people who may have gone overseas, received training, are inspired to commit terrorist activities and return to their countries of origin to plot and plan. That’s something we’re very focused on. We’ve been very focused on that for a long time, quite frankly. That’s not a new threat that we’ve been focused on.

In terms of AQAP, we have committed a huge amount of resources towards going after them, taken a number of their operational commanders off of the battlefield, including Anwar al-Awlaki, who had tried to kill Americans by plotting and planning a number of attacks against us. So there’s been some success there, but I think this also underscores that it’s a tough challenge and that it’s something we’re constantly focused on, and that’s why we’ve been relentless and haven’t let up on this fight.

QUESTION: Well, let’s talk a little more about the money. I mean, AQAP has been around for at least a decade now. Zawahiri was known to the U.S., certainly, in the wake of September 11th, so we’re coming into the 14th year. There have been any number of sanctions, any number of rewards for justice. Where are they getting the money to carry out these operations?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our financial folks and see. I mean, some of you are familiar with the AQAP history when they relocated to Yemen, after the Saudis actually had a great bit of success against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, who had focused targets in Saudi Arabia. So there’s been an ongoing fight that we’ve working on with our partners, and we’re working very closely with the Yemenis, I would say, on this. They’ve really built their capacity up quite a bit. It is a tough fight for them as well, but I’ll check and see if there’s more on the funding.

QUESTION: Marie, are --

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’ll go to Justin again.

QUESTION: You say that the video and the recordings are authentic, but do you believe that the claim is true that they did it?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re clearly going through every piece of that. It’s not as simple as just saying “they”. What does that mean that they did it, right?

QUESTION: Well, yeah.

MS. HARF: Did they –was there ideological guidance? Was there money? Was there training? Those are the specific claims that we’re still going through, so I’m not authenticating every substantive piece of that video.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: We do believe though that the video came from AQAP. Clearly, that is significant. So as we can confirm pieces of that – and again, that’s an ongoing investigation, so we want to be a little careful there – we will.

Justin, yes.

QUESTION: My question was very similar. You say you hold their attackers responsible --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- but now that you’ve seen this video, do you also hold AQAP responsible?

MS. HARF: We’re going through all the claims in the video right now, and if we have more to say on that, I’m happy to do so at a later time.

QUESTION: Do you believe that there was a lack of cooperation, international cooperation to (inaudible) these suspects, which was already determined by U.S. intelligence, according to the sources? Because you blacklisted these brothers, but they traveled several time to Yemen between 2009 and 2011, according to the reports. You believe that there was a lack of cooperation – international cooperation?

MS. HARF: I just don’t have more analysis to do on reports of where they may have traveled or how they traveled for you today.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: On related issue?

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Fourteen years ago you send your troops to Afghanistan. At that time, it was only focused on Taliban and al-Qaida only in Afghanistan parts of Pakistan. But now, having spent billions of dollars, hundreds of U.S. soldiers have lost their lives, so much investment, 14 years later all expanded to entire Middle East, North America, North Africa (inaudible). What went wrong with the U.S. policy?

MS. HARF: Well, I would note that nobody is arguing that these terrorists went to Afghanistan, so let’s just separate out threats here. If you look at the success we’ve had against al-Qaida core and Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, we have actually had a large amount of success against the people that we went there to find – the people that attacked us on 9/11. It doesn’t mean there’s not still a threat, it doesn’t mean we’re not worried about other groups operating, whether it’s the Haqqani Network, the TTP, or others.

But what we went there to do when it came to al-Qaida core, in large part, we have done. And if you look at Afghanistan’s government, I mean, we talked yesterday a little bit about this new cabinet being nominated. Afghanistan has a chance for a different future now, and it absolutely – our men and women in uniform have endured incredible sacrifices over this fight, the longest war in America’s history, certainly, to give – to help give Afghanistan a different future. And they have that today.

QUESTION: But why you --

MS. HARF: It won’t be without challenges.

QUESTION: But why you have not been able to prevent the spread of these terrorist organization, affiliate organizations, right?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s, I think, an unrealistic standard, to try and prevent every single attack of terrorism from happening anywhere in the world. That’s certainly, I don’t think, something that’s possible. We have always said that as al-Qaida core was weakened, that we were increasingly concerned about the affiliates, about al-Qaida leaders going to Yemen, the Maghreb, other places. We talked about al-Shabaab a lot in this room. It’s become a much more diffuse threat, and it’s not just from these groups, but also the Lone Wolf threat, which is also very serious, which is very hard to detect. So it’s a complicated picture.

QUESTION: Marie, just to make something clear --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- can you say that – the point that you made earlier about the resources you’ve spent to fight al-Qaida – can we say since ISIS emerged in June, let’s say, in Iraq – since these attacks in Iraq, you have spent more resources on other terrorist organizations than ISIS.

MS. HARF: I would – I don’t have a dollar figure in front of me. I would feel absolutely comfortable saying that our focus on AQAP and AQ core has in no way changed or lessened because we are also now focused on ISIL.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes. Let’s move on. Brad.

QUESTION: A related question to the Charlie Hebdo incident and --

MS. HARF: Okay, last one. Then we’re moving on.

QUESTION: Yeah. A court in Turkey today blocked any access to a website publishing the Charlie Hebdo latest cover featuring the Prophet Muhammad. So do you have any --

MS. HARF: Well, as I said yesterday, media organizations should use their independent professional judgment when determining what they publish. These are complicated issues, I think, as we all know, but ultimately, ones that journalists should be able to make themselves. Certainly, freedom of expression is something that is enshrined in the Turkish constitution, and we believe it’s important not just in Turkey, but everywhere.

QUESTION: Because the deputy Turkish prime minister today said that – described, actually, the – publishing this cover as provocation or agitation.

MS. HARF: Well, we clearly know there are very strong feelings held by many people about the publishing of these kinds of depictions. But again, this is decisions that each independent press organization should be able to make on their own.

QUESTION: Do you --

MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more to say on it than that.

QUESTION: Can we wrap up on --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- France-related?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The president of Syria, who you have diplomatic relations with, as we established again – he said in an interview with Czech media that he had sympathy for the Paris victims, but he put the blame on Western support of terrorism. Do you reject those comments? What do you take on them?

MS. HARF: Wholeheartedly reject them.

QUESTION: And then just returning to something we talked about yesterday, you said you would look into the comments that the Turkish president had made regarding the visit of the Israeli prime minister to France.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have comments now on those?

MS. HARF: Well, I commented yesterday on – are there specific comments that he made that you’re asking for a response to? Because he’s made a lot of comments and I just --

QUESTION: Well, you pick the ones you want to address.

MS. HARF: I think maybe I’ll let you pick the ones you want me to address, and I’m happy to answer specific questions if you have them.

QUESTION: There was particularly the criticism of the Israeli prime minister for having visited France.

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: That would be first.

MS. HARF: We certainly believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s presence in Paris, along with other world leaders, sends a meaningful message of solidarity with the people of France and against acts of terror. As I said yesterday, we disagree with President Erdogan’s characterization of the state of Israel – I think those are also some of the comments you’re probably referring to – and don’t have much more on it than that.

QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister tweeted that no world leaders had actually condemned Erdogan for his comments. Is this something that the Secretary or others in the government – other, let’s say, leaders of the government – are going to address soon?

MS. HARF: I don’t know of any else planned to say publicly, although I know folks certainly share my strong disagreement with those comments as well.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the Iran official news agencies has been quoting – or is quoting a prosecutor saying that the detained Washington Post journalist has been indicted and will stand trial. Do you know if this is – have you been informed of this?

MS. HARF: We’re looking into those reports. I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. We obviously believe that all of the American citizens detained in Iran should be released. As I said, it’s something we do raise when we meet for the nuclear negotiations, and I will check and see if we can confirm that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: One more on Iran.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Just one more. When the team – the U.S. negotiators get back, how soon do they plan to brief the Congress on the results of the talks in Geneva this time around?

MS. HARF: As soon as they can. We do after every round. We also often have individual phone calls with members from the talks. Secretary Kerry certainly has done so, as have other members of our team, and we’ll get it on the schedule as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Do you think this discussion’s going to be much more difficult this time with the new Congress?

MS. HARF: I think that we’ve heard a lot of different points of view from Congress – not just in the new Congress, but since we started these negotiations – and certainly welcome that input. This is an important enough issue that we want to hear from as many voices as possible, certainly, and we’ll look forward to updating them on the negotiations and where we get at the end of this week.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: India. Well, the – we’re talking about the prime minister here. Do you have any comment on – a federal judge in the U.S. today ruled that Prime Minister Modi will not have to face a U.S. lawsuit claiming he failed to stop anti-Muslim rioting in 2002?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I’m happy to check with my colleagues at Justice and see if we’re saying anything.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Wait. Let’s just do one at a time. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, U.S. Congress made decisions that the United States will impose sanctions against – all kind of sanctions against North Korea.

MS. HARF: The U.S. Congress did?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: What specific sanctions take to North Korea immediately?

MS. HARF: I can check.

QUESTION: You can check. Okay. I have another --

MS. HARF: Okay. We obviously announced our executive order and our sanctions – the Treasury Department and the State Department’s – recently, but --

QUESTION: Okay. Also yesterday, North Korean Deputy Ambassador Ah Myong Hun said that North Korea want direct talk with the United States. Do you – have you received any of these proposal from North Korean authority, or --

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen the most recent remarks that you’re referencing, and our position on the offer from the DPRK has not changed: that it’s an implicit threat. Linking something that is by definition defensive, annual in nature with something that they would possibly do that is a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions is just an implicit threat. We’ve always said we’re open to dialogue with the DPRK. That hasn’t changed, and I’m – they can do as much explaining as they want about this offer, but our position is what it is.

QUESTION: Okay. North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism will be (inaudible) – redirected?

MS. HARF: Well, that review is ongoing. No updates on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on North Korea --

QUESTION: Taiwan?

MS. HARF: Oh yeah. Let’s do one more on North Korea and then --

QUESTION: Just quickly, were you able to get a response to the question I asked yesterday about reports that Kim Jong-un will be traveling to Moscow?

MS. HARF: Yes. Let me see what I have on that – not a whole lot. Let me see. There may be back here – we are aware of reports of a possible visit to Moscow by DPRK leader Kim Jong-un. We of course maintain regular contact and consultation with Russia on DPRK-related issues, including the nuclear issue, of course, and closely coordinate with our allies and partners, including Russia, to counter the threat to global security that is posed by the DPRK. I don’t have further information on the announced visit yet. The Russians may, but we don’t have it yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry. China has announced that they will implement four new flight route in Taiwan Strait on March, and Taiwan has expressed a strong opposition. And I’m just wondering, because they say – the Taiwan Government say that it’s the – especially the M503 is too close to the middle line of the Taiwan Strait and – which is – belong to the Taipei flight information region. Did you see that report, and do you have any comment on it?

MS. HARF: We note the reports that China is preparing to declare new air routes over the Taiwan Strait. Our primary focus is on maintaining and enhancing international aviation safety. That’s obviously our primary focus when we talk about air routes, which is in the interests of all countries and regions around the world. We do encourage China to engage and consult with the parties affected by the newly declared air routes in the Taiwan Strait to ensure that air safety concerns are addressed. Obviously, that’s of utmost importance to us.

QUESTION: Do you see there is any violate to the American interest in that region?

MS. HARF: I don’t have much more analysis than what I just said. Obviously, we believe that the safety issue is the primary one.

QUESTION: Could I ask a follow-up on a question yesterday regarding the lawyer for the Saudi man who was being flogged?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Apparently, he has gotten five additional years to his sentence. What can you say?

MS. HARF: We are troubled by reports that Saudi Arabia’s court of appeals, on recommendation from the specialized criminal court, sentenced the human rights lawyer you’re referencing to a full 15 years in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. We’re talking to our folks on the ground and I think we’ll have more to say on the case later today.

QUESTION: And do you – I mean, now the question came up about what are you going to do regarding the man who was being flogged for the next 19 weeks; one week of floggings has already happened. This sort of compounds that. Are you worried that this is becoming an escalating problem and nothing’s really being done?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly troubled by these reports and we’ll continue raising it publicly and privately. I don’t have anything additional to share on it at this point.

QUESTION: As far as you know, this man is not going to be flogged though, right?

MS. HARF: That is my understanding.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I raise – a change of subject? What we raised yesterday on Pakistan and the hangings – while John Kerry was there, seven men were executed by hanging. This follows a trend, an ongoing trend in which Pakistan has been hanging some of these – some prisoners that had nothing to do with Peshawar attacks. Do you have any comment on --

MS. HARF: Not a whole lot. Of course, we believe that Pakistan, as we say about every country, should uphold the rule of law when it comes to proceeding with these kinds of cases. We fully support Pakistan in its efforts to find those responsible for those horrific attacks and bring them to justice. I don’t have much more specific comment than that general comment about these hangings at this point.

QUESTION: And as a matter of principle, you don’t have problems with countries exercising the death penalty, even by hanging? It’s just as long as the --

MS. HARF: Rule of law is followed, there’s a process in place, a judicial process that’s fair and transparent.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you also have got the feedback on the establishing of military courts in Pakistan? You --

MS. HARF: I didn’t get – let me check on it. I didn’t get anything on that yet.

Yes.

QUESTION: Nigeria?

QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan.

MS. HARF: Yeah, staying on Pakistan.

QUESTION: Six U.S. citizens were killed in the Mumbai attacks.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And they gave a bail to one of the men accused, and the two of the men accused are roaming free. Secretary Kerry was in that country. Was this issue raised? Specifically this issue, not just the counterterrorism talks – this particular issue.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve publicly said we were concerned about the bail, certainly, given to one of the alleged masterminds. We’ve talked about this publicly. Let me see if it was raised specifically in the meetings; I’m not sure.

Yes, Roz.

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: On the ongoing search for the Chibok schoolgirls, Pentagon says that it has fewer than 20 military personnel providing advice and doing intelligence work, and that occasionally there are surveillance flights to try to see if they can locate the girls. Given the recent uptick in violence carried out by Boko Haram, is the U.S. actively considering augmenting the assistance that it’s providing to the Nigerian military?

MS. HARF: I can check with our team and see if that’s something we’re considering. We’re always in a conversation with them about how they can fight this threat. The Nigerian Government knows this is a challenge, and obviously I think knows it needs to do more to fight this threat given what we’ve seen. But I don’t have anything else to preview today on this.

QUESTION: Have they, have the Nigerians asked for more military advisors, more intelligence advisors?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Have they --

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check, but not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I think we stand ready to provide assistance in any way we can, and I can check if there are more conversations.

QUESTION: Is there a particular sense of alarm given that Boko Haram went ahead and attacked a Cameroonian military installation earlier in the week, and that some sort of more robust intervention from the U.S. might be required?

MS. HARF: Well, I think what that shows is that Boko Haram is clearly a regional threat. It’s not just a threat to Nigeria. And we have seen other folks in the region step up and really take the fight to Boko Haram, which I think has been – had some success in some places. I’ll check and see if there is anything else about U.S. assistance to share.

QUESTION: Can you also find out what conversations have been had between this building and Cameroonian authorities?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, I can.

QUESTION: I have a HR question.

MS. HARF: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: There was a report that the State Department was considering ending domestic partner benefits. Are you aware of this?

MS. HARF: I am not aware of that.

QUESTION: Can you check if that is accurate and --

MS. HARF: I can.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: I can.

And just to follow up on something, because we were on Africa for a second, that we talked about yesterday, we can confirm that Dominic Ongwen was transferred from U.S. custody to the custody of the AU’s regional counter-LRA task force. It took place this morning, local time. I just wanted to give folks an update on that.

QUESTION: What time, sorry?

MS. HARF: This morning, local time.

Yes.

QUESTION: Cuba?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more to preview about Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s trip to Cuba next week or the agenda for those talks? I know they were already kind of on the schedule, but given recent announcements, do we expect some of the more concrete details of how U.S.-Cuba relations will change to come out of these talks? Is there a specific area where you’re hoping that those details will get worked out?

MS. HARF: I think we’ll probably preview it as we get a little closer to the trip. But broadly speaking, you’re right, these were previously-scheduled migration talks, but will be much broader now, starting really the normalization of diplomatic relations process. As we’ve said, we will also, of course, talk about human rights. It’s always on the agenda. Nothing really more than that to preview today, but certainly we’ll probably do so in the coming days.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the Korea – South Korea and Japan and United States Six-Party representative talks in Tokyo this month?

MS. HARF: Between North and South Korea, or involving the U.S.?

QUESTION: No, U.S. – three party – U.S., South Korea, Japan.

MS. HARF: Oh, U.S., South Korea, Japan.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: I don’t have any update on that. Let me check with our folks.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Let’s go in the back, yes.

QUESTION: Also on Cuba, is it still days – I’m sorry, weeks, not months, that we can expect normalization to occur? Was that what the previous timeline was?

MS. HARF: I don’t think that’s what we said – I mean, normal – in terms of normalization, but I can double-check. Obviously, we want the process to proceed as quickly as it can, but there are a lot of pieces here that have to be worked out. Obviously, we expect to publish regulations soon from the Commerce Department, from the Treasury Department about some of the pieces that will move the relationship forward.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry, just since normalizations don’t happen that often, is there a congressional action that has to occur in order for normalization to be made official?

MS. HARF: I do not believe so.

QUESTION: And then when normalization is made official, is that the day that the interest section becomes an embassy?

MS. HARF: I can check. I would guess, but let me check.

QUESTION: Isn’t it just an exchange of letters?

MS. HARF: It’s an exchange of diplomatic notes, I believe, but let me just double-check on all of that for you.

Yes.

QUESTION: There was a report in the Indian media – actually, it originated from here, not PTI – that one of the Pentagon official was – did not get his visa, his passport was lost by the – so the visa-issuing mechanism of the Indian embassy is – looks like there is a lot of improvement needed. And this being a reciprocal issue, have you looked at it? Have you talked to them, the suffering that the U.S. citizens are facing?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I am not familiar with that report. Let me check for you.

Yes, Justin.

QUESTION: Marie, forgive me if I missed this towards the top – there are reports that The Washington Post journalist detained in Iran was indicted today. Did we talk about this?

MS. HARF: I just said we can’t confirm those independently. We obviously believe he and the other Americans detained should be released immediately. We’ll let you know if we can confirm it.

QUESTION: And what does it say that this happened on the same day that the foreign minister was meeting with the Secretary?

MS. HARF: We’ll see. I’m not sure yet. I don’t know if – I want to confirm the reports first, and then if there’s any analysis I have to do, we’ll do it then.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the American citizens who are on trial in Bali for allegedly killing the woman’s mother?

MS. HARF: Yes. Not a whole lot. Let me see what I have here. We understand the Indonesian authorities have completed their investigation into the murder of Ms. von Wiese; aware of reports also that the trial began on January 14th. And the Indonesian police, I think, will have more information regarding the investigation. We obviously, where any U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, make every effort to gain prompt personal access to the U.S. citizen as part of our consular obligations, and that’s something we take very seriously.

QUESTION: Do you know how many consular visits the two defendants have had so far?

MS. HARF: Well, absent written authorization, we’re unable to share details about individual cases.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)

 

2015-01-14


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 13, 2015


Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 13, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:15 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Good afternoon and welcome to the daily press briefing. I have a much shorter set of items at the top today for everyone.

QUESTION: Is that because of Ohio State or because of --

MS. HARF: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: But what a great game. Did you see the President congratulated the Buckeyes?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: I knew that would be mentioned.

MS. HARF: Yes, and also the quarterback from Oregon – from Hawaii.

So a trip update: The Secretary is on travel, began his day in Islamabad, Pakistan. He gave remarks at the U.S.-Pakistani Strategic Dialogue with Pakistani Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Aziz, and the two did a joint press availability. He then participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and met with the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel. He is currently en route to Geneva, Switzerland, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.

And finally, on Ukraine, we condemn continued attacks by separatists as they attempt to control additional territory in violation of the Minsk agreements. Today’s vicious and repeated attacks on the Donetsk Airport and the shelling of a bus that killed 10 people and wounded 13 are just the latest egregious violations of the commitments made by the Russia-backed separatists. We again call on Russia to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements, which include ceasing its substantial military support to the separatists, restoring Ukrainian sovereignty over the international border between Ukraine and Russia, releasing all hostages, and working towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

And I think that’s it. Brad.

QUESTION: Well, why don’t we stay on Ukraine since --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- you raised it already. You mentioned that these are violations by the Russian-backed separatists.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And then you called on Russia to adhere to the Minsk agreement.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you see these acts of violence as directed by Russia or have Russian acquiescence, or are you merely just reiterating that in light of the violence?

MS. HARF: Well, I mean, nothing’s changed. These are separatists that are clearly backed by Russia. We’ve talked about arms going to them, actually Russian soldiers fighting with them. So clearly, there are commitments that Russia made under the Minsk agreements that it’s not living up to, that the separatists and Russia, who has great control over them, also could be – could actually implement if they wanted to.

QUESTION: Do you see this latest spate of violence as somehow another attempt to destabilize Ukraine – a new attempt, if you will, at trying to cause problems on the eastern frontier?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s certainly been an ongoing attempt, I would say, by Russia and the separatists it backs to destabilize Ukraine. Certainly, we are, though, concerned, as I noted at the top, about this increased separatist violence. We’ve seen an increase in violence over the past week. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has recorded over 150 ceasefire violations, so clearly, we’re concerned about the uptick there.

QUESTION: And given the violence that you mentioned, the bus attack and Donetsk Airport --

MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- does this make the Administration reassess in any way its opposition, up to now, to provide defensive military equipment to the Ukrainians?

MS. HARF: Well, our position on that hasn’t changed. We obviously have an ongoing conversation with the Ukrainians about how we can help, but nothing new on that front. On the monetary side, though, today the Treasury Department did announce just – I want to draw people’s attention to it – a loan guarantee of one billion dollars to the Government of Ukraine in the first half of 2015. If Ukraine continues making concrete progress on the economic reform side – I know that’s not what you asked about – but on the economic reform agenda, we would be willing, working with Congress, to provide an additional one billion. So we think there are ways to assist Ukraine that doesn’t include lethal assistance. Obviously, we continue talking to them, though.

QUESTION: So I’m just wondering – so you said there was the one billion, and then you’re talking to Congress about giving an additional one billion.

MS. HARF: In late 2015, so if they – if Ukraine continues making concrete progress – excuse me, I was up a little late last night – progress on its economic reform agenda, we will consider giving them another one billion in the later half of 2015. We obviously work with Congress on that. They have to do things like continue to overhaul the energy sector, repair their financial system, tackle corruption, things like that, that if they keep making progress on, we will provide an additional loan guarantee.

QUESTION: And I would assume that additional money also would be contingent on a deal with the IMF?

MS. HARF: I can check on that. I know that on – what I have here is that our additional loan guarantee would be contingent on them meeting these conditions, but I can check on the IMF piece of that.

QUESTION: And then has there been direct contact or, say, between the – Secretary Kerry and Lavrov to express your anger at the continuing violence?

MS. HARF: Not – the Secretary has not spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past few days. I know other officials have been in touch with the Russians. I don’t have specifics for you, though.

QUESTION: Since you mentioned the Russians, there were calls from Russia recently to restart counterterrorism working group or counterterrorism talks. Is that being – are you positive to that?

MS. HARF: I can – let me check with our team. We’ve talked to the Russians, including the Secretary with Foreign Minister Lavrov, about counterterrorism, just in their normal bilateral discussions. Certainly, the Russians are very focused on it, as are we. But in terms of that specific dialogue, let me check.

QUESTION: I think it was canceled because at some point, it was found not to be very useful in the broader context of --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the kind of breakdown in relations. I mean, have relations repaired enough that this would be something fruitful for both sides?

MS. HARF: I’ll check on this specific dialogue. I do know that counterterrorism is one of those areas – we always say there are areas we can work with the Russians on, despite our disagreements on other things. So let me check on that.

QUESTION: Staying on terrorism, today the head of the European Union Police said that about 5,000 European Union citizens have gone or participated in terror activities in Syria and gone to the jihadi groups. Does that give you pause, perhaps – all this aid that was going almost unchecked to the Syrian rebels, quote/unquote, is backfiring now? I mean, is there – are you doing anything to sort of stop that unchecked flow of volunteers, arms, money into Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, let’s pull out a couple of pieces of what you asked there. The people we give assistance to in the Syrian opposition we vet.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Obviously, we know there’s always a risk that something could fall into a bad actor’s hands, but we do vet who we give it to. In terms of foreign fighters, we absolutely know there is a very significant problem going in and out of Syria and Iraq. We’ve worked with countries in the region, including Turkey and others, to really help them crack down on those borders. I mean, we have updated – or the newest foreign figure fighters in terms of foreign fighters and U.S. people that may have gone to fight with ISIL or in Syria in general, and we know there’s a huge challenge here, certainly.

QUESTION: Not – and I know you dealt with this issue. Sorry for missing so many days. I wasn’t so --

MS. HARF: It’s okay. I haven’t briefed since right around Christmas, so you know --

QUESTION: Anyway, so – but today the police sources in Paris say that the weapons came from outside the country, so – and the money came from outside the country. And at the same time, there is a terrorist group, who was well known, posted all over, was able to travel, go through Turkey, and go on to Syria. I mean, what is your allies, like Turkey and other countries – what are they doing and really to stop this kind of criminal activity?

MS. HARF: Well, they know it’s a huge challenge. And I would remind people we now have a UN Security Council resolution in place, calling on all member-states to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, really helping to break up some of these networks, whether they start elsewhere and try to move to Syria. It’s a huge problem, though, and these borders are very large; they’re often very porous. And so we’re working with Turkey and others to identify foreign fighters and try and cut off that flow, but is really – it is very difficult to do.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: So you feel – just one last one.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Do you feel that Turkey is actually doing what it should be doing in terms of controlling its borders?

MS. HARF: They certainly know what a huge challenge this is. And believe me, Turkey’s affected by this more than almost any other country, given their geographic proximity. So they know this is a threat and a problem, and they’re working very closely with us to try and really close down those borders.

QUESTION: Given – just going back to Said’s question, yes, there’s a Security Council resolution, and I think that was September 2014. Does that make you think that mistakes were made in not pushing harder on this from, say, the middle of 2011 through 2012, 2013, 2014?

MS. HARF: Well, this – our efforts didn’t start with the Security Council resolution. I just was pointing to that as a sort of milestone. We have interagency teams – folks like DHS and DOJ, Treasury, FBI – who have been working with countries, particularly in Western Europe but elsewhere too, for many, many months now to try and put better practices in place. It is a tough challenge, though. But we’ve been focused on it certainly for a long time.

QUESTION: Well, what’s holding it up? What’s the problem? Is it lack of will? It seems like you’re saying it’s not, but then what’s there – what’s the --

MS. HARF: Well, I mean, you know just geographically the huge – these are pretty big borders and a lot of them are fairly porous. And I think the countries that are surrounding Syria and Iraq know that they had to do better. I’m not saying everything has been perfect. Certainly, I don’t think they would either. But it’s just a sheer manpower challenge. It’s just a tough challenge. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to – and also, trying to identify people coming from Western Europe – I mean, you don’t just talk about the countries around it, right? We’re working with Western European countries to identify people who may travel to Syria or to Iraq or identify them coming back.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up. Seeing that these video tapes, for instance, these horrific video tapes that we have seen of the beheadings and so on – and a lot of these citizens, they come from England, they come from France, other places, and so on.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think that perhaps these people, the inclination of their governments to aid the Syrian rebels gave them sort of a greenlight to go ahead and join, perhaps, and that --

MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s anything that could ever greenlight doing the things we’ve seen these people do – nothing that justifies it, nothing that greenlights it. I mean look, the longer-term challenge, which I think is what your question is getting at --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: What makes someone who grows up in one of these Western European countries so radicalized that they want to turn to this kind of violence? That’s a longer-term question, right? That’s a generational question. It’s one that’s very important, but it’s one there are no easy answers to.

QUESTION: Could it be the drumbeat of aiding the Syrian rebel or the Syrian revolution effort, let’s say?

MS. HARF: I’m not sure how --

QUESTION: By these countries --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure how helping people in Syria who just want to help determine their own future – have a better future would possibly give justification to anything like that.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on this man in Bulgaria who’s been arrested?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I know the French, obviously, are – have the lead on the investigation. If there’s any details to share on that, I’m happy to. I don’t have anything. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

QUESTION: Stay on Turkey, to stay on the investigation?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah.

QUESTION: So I know that the French have the lead on the investigation.

MS. HARF: They do.

QUESTION: But is it correct that Mr. Coulibaly, one of the gunmen, was for a while on the U.S. watch list?

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t confirm publicly who’s on those kinds of lists. As I said yesterday, we have had information on these individuals, including on their travel activities, that we have been sharing with our French counterparts. I don’t want to get into the business of selectively confirming one thing or another that’s been out there, certainly. But we’re working very closely with them. There is often a lot of information out there about people, but in terms of precise timing and warnings, that’s a very different thing.

QUESTION: Well, why not make that public if he’s dead?

QUESTION: He’s dead. Why not – yeah, he’s dead.

MS. HARF: We don’t generally make public individuals who are on watch lists, just as a general matter.

QUESTION: After the fact, I mean. Could you acknowledge after the fact?

MS. HARF: As a general matter, we just don’t do that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: And I’d refer you to my law enforcement colleagues.

QUESTION: Well, given that all three of the men in these attacks were French citizens, given that it doesn’t seem that there’s any evidence that they were ever on U.S. soil, why would U.S. intelligence be tracking their behavior?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t – I think it’s – without confirming that we were or were not tracking these individuals, we don’t just track people who might step foot on U.S. soil. We obviously are concerned about threats, people who may be plotting or planning attacks to our allies or to the U.S. who’ve never come here – again, without confirming anything.

QUESTION: Can --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just on that --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: More broadly, in the context of the recent attacks in Paris, so is it true – I asked the question yesterday – that the U.S. asked the French to better protect the Jews and that you raised your concern about the rise of anti-Semitism? It’s what appeared in Israeli and U.S. reports.

MS. HARF: Right. I think we’re a little perplexed about some of those reports. I mean, we – separate and apart from this specific attack, we’ve, broadly speaking, expressed our concern about anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. We have a special envoy who monitors and combats anti-Semitism here at the State Department, who meets regularly with foreign counterparts, including in Europe. But no one could sort of – knew what they were referring to something specific right before the attack. It’s an ongoing conversation.

QUESTION: Well, I wrote one of those reports on that and asked about it.

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, no one was familiar with what you wrote about, so – (laughter) --

QUESTION: Well --

MS. HARF: Enlighten the room, Mr. Wilner. I’m not casting doubt on it. I just – no one was exactly sure.

QUESTION: Well, I had a conversation --

MS. HARF: You know I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m not saying it’s wrong.

QUESTION: I’m happy to answer it.

MS. HARF: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Ira Forman --

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is the envoy --

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: -- that you’re speaking about, and I had a --

MS. HARF: Who I’ve worked with for a long time.

QUESTION: -- conversation with him in November.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He was at the Berlin conference at which Ambassador Power said had record low attendance, which is a question I wanted to ask you about. But one thing in the conversation we were discussing was how in his words these sites, these Jewish sites, desperately need security. This was back in in November --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and – which everyone in the Jewish community you ask – says there was a sense of foreboding of an attack like this.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve seen anti-Semitic attacks --

QUESTION: Certainly.

MS. HARF: -- in parts of Europe over the past few months.

QUESTION: Right. Not all have been fatal, but there have been dozens.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: So what I’m asking you is: Now that France has increased security significantly with the army, in addition to law enforcement, would you like to see Germany do the same? Would you like to see other countries in which anti-Semitism is – has spiked, would you like to see that sort of --

MS. HARF: Let me check with our team. Obviously, that’s an individual --

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: -- decision for each country to make, how best to protect those kinds of sites. I’m happy to check with our team. What I was saying we weren’t familiar with was a specific warning, like in the days before, the weekend before, that we gave to them about anti-Semitism on the rise, which I think was your question. But of course, we’ve had an ongoing dialogue – Ira’s been at the head of it – particularly in Western Europe as we’ve seen these anti-Semitic incidents rise, certainly. I can check on the security piece.

QUESTION: But it’s not just the rise in incidents against Jewish businesses, Jewish schools, Jewish communities. There’s along with it a growing political acceptance of anti-Semitism in the national politic. You see it in the UK; you see it in France. You see it notably in Germany. Does the U.S. believe that its allies are doing enough to try to deal with this kind of extremist thought on the right?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure what you’re talking about in terms of acceptance. If you talk to President Hollande or Prime Minister Cameron or any of the leaders of those countries, I think they would absolutely reject the premise of the question. And certainly have --

QUESTION: Well, let me counter it with --

MS. HARF: Well, certainly have --

QUESTION: Well, let me counter it with the fact that --

MS. HARF: Okay, I won’t answer your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, that for example the UK has parliamentary elections coming up in May, and a right-wing party, UKIP, is going to be taking part in those debates.

MS. HARF: That’s how democracy works, Roz. And the beauty of democracy is that we all believe in it, that the right ideas eventually will prevail, and that the voices that speak out against anti-Semitism or – obviously, I’m not commenting on internal elections – but the voices that stand up and speak up against anti-Semitism or politicians that might espouse those views will eventually win out.

QUESTION: But there is a legitimization of this kind of thought that basically gives support to a bias that one person or another might have.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think --

QUESTION: And so it is – it’s not just a one-off problem what we saw happening outside Paris on Friday. There – this seems to be a growing, endemic problem in the country – so much so that the Israeli prime minister was saying to Jews in France: Come to Israel, you will be safe; we don’t know that you can be safe in the country of your birth. That’s a very, very sad comment on the body politic.

MS. HARF: Well, let’s just take a step back for a second. First, I think that in a democracy you don’t get in the business of banning political parties, even if you find some of their views despicable. That’s not how this works. So you can speak up against them, and look, there’s clearly a challenge of anti-Semitism, particularly in parts of Western Europe. We’ve spoken up about these incidents. I don’t want to say there’s not or to indicate that we don’t think there is. But you hear voices standing up against it, and you hear national political leaders standing up against it whenever one of these happens.

So look, that’s unfortunately in a democracy sometimes you get people who say awful things that you vehemently disagree with.

QUESTION: You also hear to a certain extent in some corners, explanation that this anti-Semitism is rooted in Israeli policies or anger towards Israeli activity in the West Bank and the like, and Gaza. You had Erdogan just yesterday say that it was hypocritical of Netanyahu, who heads a terror state, which you may want to comment on, to --

MS. HARF: Pretty vehemently disagree; I’ll just jump in right there.

QUESTION: -- to attend the Paris rally. You had Jimmy Carter, a former president, say today that one of the explanations for the kosher supermarket attack was Israeli policy. I’m not sure if you want to comment on that. And then you have the prime minister of France coming out and saying that in France he sees a trend of anti-Zionism being anti-Semitism. I don’t know if you want to comment --

MS. HARF: Well, I would say a few things. Generally speaking, there is never any excuse for anti-Semitism, period. Never in any form, not when people make anti-Semitic remarks. You can disagree with certain policies that a country promotes and not take that so far as to go in into anti-Semitism. Absolutely, we reject anti-Semitism in all forms, no matter who says it and no matter where it shows itself – so period, right. And there’s no justification for any violence, again, no matter how vehemently you disagree with someone’s politics or what someone’s printed in a cartoon – none at all. So that, I think, answers all of those statements you just --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I’ll just --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Let’s all just do – let’s just do one at a time.

QUESTION: No, no, no. We’re not doing Turkey. Come on.

QUESTION: The one point --

MS. HARF: Maybe we just do one at a time.

QUESTION: The question becomes where you draw the line, where you end up defining anti-Semitism.

MS. HARF: Right, of course.

QUESTION: And France has done – has had an interesting debate in the past several days about that line, and the prime minister did draw this line saying that a radical opposition to the existence of the Jewish state is anti-Semitic.

MS. HARF: Well, I am probably not prepared today to give you what a definition of anti-Semitism is. I’m happy to condemn statements we think are anti-Semitic or incidents that we think have an anti-Semitic possible motivation to them. But I also – I just don’t think that’s helpful dialogue. There – but you’re right. There is an interesting discussion and debate about this, not just in France but in the United States and Germany and other places as well. But there’s never any justification for violence, certainly, no matter what the motivation is.

Yes, Brad.

QUESTION: Since Charlie Hebdo has come out with its latest cover --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- do you have a response to that, since you just said no cartoon should promote – inspire violence --

MS. HARF: Right – I mean, what we’ve said since the beginning, that we all – in France, in the United States, and in many places around the world – support the freedom of journalists, of artists, of creative people to freely speak their mind. Even if you may vehemently disagree with what they’re saying or if you don’t, that’s the beauty of the countries we live in and what is so important to be protected in the wake of these kinds of incidents.

QUESTION: So in previous statements by the Administration and the past administration, there have been condemnations with that, criticizing depictions of Muhammad --

MS. HARF: I don’t think – I think “condemnation” might be a little strong.

QUESTION: I think the term from the State Department in 2006 was “we condemn,” so --

MS. HARF: Not in this Administration, though. This Administration --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: No, I’m just – yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: So what is your position on the depiction of Muhammad as it stands last evening --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- in Charlie Hebdo?

MS. HARF: Right. I think – a couple things, Brad, that are important. Regardless of what anyone’s personal opinion is – and I know there are very heated personal opinions about this – we absolutely support the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish things like this. Again, that’s what happens in a democracy, period.

QUESTION: Do you – in previous statements, you’ve also made – not you personally, but this Administration and previous administrations – with that freedom comes a responsibility, that you should exercise this right responsibly and take into account the sensitivities of others. Do you still call on Charlie Hebdo and similar publishers to do that?

MS. HARF: I think we would call broadly on news organizations to take into account the factors they think are important. They – there are a variety of factors, I’m sure, that go into decisions to publish, whether it’s journalistic freedom, whether it’s sensitivity, religious sensitivity, which I understand, and I understand how important it is to many people. That never justifies violence or hatred, but there’s a variety of factors that go into any publication’s decision to do this, and we absolutely support the right of these organizations to publish freely, period.

QUESTION: You don’t see these – the depiction of Muhammad in itself, or these in particular, as anti-Muslim, do you?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly understand that people, particularly Muslims, have very strong personal feelings about these kinds of depictions. Nothing justifies violence, nothing justifies hatred, and nothing should stand in the way of freedom of expression.

QUESTION: But there’s --

QUESTION: Just very quickly, a follow-up on --

MS. HARF: Okay, let’s just do one at a time. Said.

QUESTION: I mean, would that be termed as a part of hate speech? I mean, we may – in this country, we certainly have no laws against hate speech in America. But I think in France and other places --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- they do have certain legislation. So would that be a sort of crossing the line? I mean, some of these cartoons – I’m not saying good, bad, or indifferent. I’m saying, in your view as – we live in this country where there are no laws against hate speech.

MS. HARF: I think as a general premise, Said, that you’ve heard the Secretary and the President speak about the importance of not legislating or prohibiting freedom of expression --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: -- as a general premise.

QUESTION: Yeah, we agree. Now, let me just follow up on Michael’s line of questioning. Also there were some in Israel that actually were saying that the European Union taking Hamas off the terror list or even France recognizing the state of Palestine in the UN Security Council, also sort of created an atmosphere or aided in creating the atmosphere for such attacks. Do you agree with that premise?

MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s any justification for violence at all.

QUESTION: Right, right. But you don’t – you feel that maybe lifting or taking Hamas off the terror list sort of helped create or promote such an atmosphere?

MS. HARF: I just don’t have more analysis of it to do for you.

QUESTION: Marie, just on Erdogan’s statement, you said you vehemently disagree with what Erdogan said about Netanyahu, but he said a lot of things. Which one do you disagree with?

MS. HARF: Well, I was just referring to the one thing Michael asked about.

QUESTION: The terrorist state – he describing Israel as a terrorist state. You just disagree with that?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Do you disagree with --

MS. HARF: I didn’t actually see all the comments, and I don’t want to get into the business of commenting on how you all --

QUESTION: I have seen them.

MS. HARF: -- I’d like to see them myself, and not just how you all portray them to me. So I’m happy to take a look at them and see if we have more comments.

QUESTION: For example, the – basically, the basis of what he was trying to say – he basically said that it was wrong for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go to Paris to attend that demonstration because his state had killed, I don’t know, hundreds of Palestinians. So do you also disagree with him or disagree with him that Prime Minister Netanyahu should not have been there?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to look at his actual comments and get you more of a response if we have one.

QUESTION: Would you comment --

QUESTION: Well, what do you --

QUESTION: -- on a foreign leader visiting a foreign country?

MS. HARF: In general, Said?

QUESTION: I mean, this is --

QUESTION: What about the terror state? Do you describe that as anti-Semitic?

MS. HARF: I don’t think it’s probably helpful for me to get into sort of an intellectual debate about the definition of anti-Semitism. I disagreed with those words. I’m not going to put a label on them.

Let’s move on. Elliot, yes.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question about a foreign leader visiting another foreign country.

MS. HARF: Great, bring it on. I’m ready. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Kim Jong-un apparently, according to South Korean media, has accepted an invitation from the Russians to attend a 70th anniversary of WWII celebration in May in Moscow.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: That invitation had been made public, I think, by the Russians earlier.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any response to it.

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t seen that. I know there are a lot of these historical commemorations coming up around the 70th anniversary. I hadn’t heard about that one specifically, so let me check.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have – I know it’s still quite a bit – quite a ways away, but do you have any indication as to what – whether the U.S. will send someone and at what level?

MS. HARF: I don’t. Let me check.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Follow-up with North Korea?

QUESTION: Related to this question, today the Russians said --

MS. HARF: And then I’ll go to you, Lesley, next.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the Russian president said that he will not attend the 70th commemoration of Auschwitz and – because they did not receive a diplomatic official invitation from Poland. And it’s kind of odd because it was the Soviets that really liberated Auschwitz and they lost --

MS. HARF: I am aware of that. I actually – it’s my understanding that it was the foundation, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation that issued the invitations, not the Polish Government. So I’d check with them on invitations.

QUESTION: The Russians are claiming that the Polish – they don’t want to get a backlash of some sort if they invited Putin. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, again, I don’t think it was the Polish Government that issued the invitations.

Let’s go to Lesley.

QUESTION: Okay. On Pakistan.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Human rights groups are today raising the issue of Pakistan’s hanging of seven men during John Kerry’s visit there. According to them, it’s that a lot of these executions are going on are related to the Peshawar attacks, but that a lot of these prisoners are not even part of that attack. In total, they talk about 17 people, prisoners, to date that have been hanged, none of whom have any connection to the Peshawar attacks. Have you raised this? And apparently, a lot of these human rights groups have written to John Kerry about it.

MS. HARF: I wasn’t familiar with all of that detail, so let me check.

QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) --

MS. HARF: You can. I’m sorry, I’m just – I don’t have all the detail there. Yes.

QUESTION: Related question on Pakistan setting up military courts for trial of these terrorists. Last week, you had said that you have asked – sought some more information from the Pakistan Government. Have they responded to you and --

MS. HARF: Let me see if – we may have gotten more during the trip.

QUESTION: And have they addressed your concerns on those issues?

MS. HARF: Let me check with the traveling team. They just departed Pakistan, so let me see if I can get you all some more.

QUESTION: Without going into numbers and details --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- was the issue of these death sentences and the actual hangings raised?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. Let me check.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes? Uh-huh. And then your – Roz, next.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Starting with India. Secretary was in India, of course, and if he --

MS. HARF: He was.

QUESTION: -- carried any baggage from the President about his visit to India to be the special guest on the Republic of India. And if he did, if he left some of those baggage in India, making the way for the President’s visit.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m happy to check with our team and see if there are more details to share.

QUESTION: And then he had an unannounced visit to Pakistan, according --

MS. HARF: He did. And he just left a few hours ago.

QUESTION: And – all right. One, if those funds, which Pakistani spokesman quoted the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan that $533 million were, or will be, released to the Pakistan. But so far, I understand other day he – I was told that those funds have not been released or Congress had not been asked. But since Secretary was in Pakistan, if those funds were – they talk about those funds?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I have a lot of questions to talk to the traveling team about, given they just left Pakistan. The Secretary did announce a $250 million today, separate from what you’re talking about, that would go towards assisting internally displaced persons in the FATA affected by counterterrorism operations. So that’s going to NGOs.

QUESTION: And talking about counterterrorism, one – another person was named, according to the press statement – Mullah and LET from Pakistan.

MS. HARF: That we designated.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And what I’m asking is: Number of terrorists are still in Pakistan wanted by the U.S. and there’s a bounty of $10 million and also wanted by India. If those talks were – took place or not between when Secretary was there.

MS. HARF: Well, certainly one of the biggest topics of conversation the Secretary had when he was in Pakistan was about counterterrorism. That was a huge part of the dialogue. It wasn’t the only part – economics, other things were as well. The Secretary was clear and we all have been clear that Pakistan has to target all militant groups that target U.S. coalition and Afghan forces and target people in Pakistan and elsewhere. So that was part of the conversation, certainly, but not much more to share than that.

QUESTION: And Madam, finally, Sri Lanka. Quick one on Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MS. HARF: Wait, let’s all --

QUESTION: -- follow up on Pakistan?

MS. HARF: Okay, yes. So no --

QUESTION: This 250 million has been announced for internally displaced people.

MS. HARF: Correct. The Secretary announced that today.

QUESTION: Yes. And U.S. has provided them aid for this purpose earlier also. Do you know what’s the total amount so far for FTPs – IDPs in the FATA region?

MS. HARF: I do not. I will take it and ask.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I just wanted to find out, since Mullah Fazlullah was made commander of TTP --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- back in – at the end of 2013, what took so long to sanction him?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a process in terms of putting people on the terrorist designations list as specially designated terrorists under certain executive orders. There’s just a process that’s in place. It doesn’t mean we weren’t concerned about him before. Obviously, people were, but this is the outcome of the process.

QUESTION: And how realistic is it that he has any property, any bank accounts, any business dealings here in the United States? What light can you shed, or is that just a pro-forma ban on – or freeze on any potential assets?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, we do – this is something that goes along with being designated for every terrorist we designate. We don’t get into specific assets they may or may not have. Some have more than others, but we don’t get into specifics.

QUESTION: Is there any indication that TTP and other groups in Pakistan might be getting any financial support from U.S. persons?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly if there is any indication we would want to cut it off. That’s why we designate these people and these groups. But I don’t have more details.

QUESTION: Can we move to (inaudible)?

QUESTION: I have one --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I have one follow-up on Mullah Fazlullah.

MS. HARF: Okay. Let’s finish.

QUESTION: Pakistan has been saying that Mullah Fazlullah is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan. And Pakistan has been asking Afghanistan to cooperate and help in finding out, handing over to Pakistan. Was this an issue discussed when Secretary was there talking with the Pakistani leadership?

MS. HARF: I’ll check if this – if he specifically was raised.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: One more on Sri Lanka, right, and then I’m moving on.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

MS. HARF: I know. I promised. I keep my promises. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. As far as these recent elections in Sri Lanka, it was --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- a surprise for the millions of people in Sri Lanka, because since the --

MS. HARF: That’s the beauty of elections.

QUESTION: -- current president was criticized, including by the UN and global community as far as human rights and violations against the minorities, especially Sinhalese. My question is here, one, if U.S. is sending anybody higher for the inauguration; and second, what changes do you think it will bring as far as investment – U.S. investment – in Sri Lanka is concerned under the new president, who is more for the opening of the global market and also for the minority rights and a president for all Sri Lankans?

MS. HARF: Well, first, as you probably know, the Secretary spoke with the Sri Lankan president on Sunday after the election, and I don’t have much more than that. Let me check with our folks and see if we can get you an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Brad, yes.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the status of Dominic Ongwen --

MS. HARF: I do.

QUESTION: -- what you will do with him, when you will --

MS. HARF: Yes, I do.

QUESTION: -- do what you do with him, and how you are going to do it?

MS. HARF: Well, as we said, the taking of Dominic Ongwen into custody earlier this week was a major step forward toward securing the future of the LRA-affected areas of Central and Eastern Africa. Obviously, the removal of one of the LRA’s senior leaders from the battlefield is a fairly visible symbol of our successful partnership with the African Union’s Regional Counter-LRA Task Force – that’s the AURTF.

All parties have agreed that Ongwen should face justice for his alleged crimes, and we commend the governments of the Central African Republic and Uganda for their collaboration and cooperation in this process. We can confirm that, per an agreement between the AU and the governments of CAR and Uganda, Ongwen will be transferred to the custody of the AURTF. The decision to transfer to the AURTF was made after careful consultation with all relevant states and institutions. The United States understands that the governments of CAR and Uganda have consulted and are in agreement that Ongwen will then be transferred to the ICC to face justice for his alleged crimes.

QUESTION: Can --

QUESTION: So they’re not going to be – he’s not going to be transferred to the CAR?

MS. HARF: He’s going to be transferred to the AURTF. There’s an agreement between the AU and the governments of CAR and Uganda. He’ll be transferred to the custody of the Ugandan People’s Defense Force contingent of the AURTF, but it’s under the AU umbrella, and then to the ICC. And soon, so --

QUESTION: How promptly? Oh, soon. Thank you.

MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics than that, but I’ve been told soon.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: Now what about the $5 million reward which the Seleka rebels say they should receive because they captured Ongwen and then turned him over to U.S. forces? Are they qualified to receive this reward, and if so, how long would it take to make this possible? What are the legal barriers to their not getting the money?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re aware of reports that several individuals who’ve identified themselves as part of a Seleka group may have been involved in this sequence of events. DOD will have further details. Obviously, they are the ones who took custody. We – the United States considers awards based on various factors. U.S. officials, including federal, state, or local, or foreign government officials who furnish information in the performance of their official duties are not eligible for awards, for example. That’s just part of the legal issue. For reasons of security and of confidentiality, we do not publicly disclose whether war crimes rewards program payments have or have not been made.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the ICC?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Can I – yeah --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Oh wait – yeah.

QUESTION: Since we were admonished yesterday for paying paltry attention to the massacres and Boko Haram --

MS. HARF: I know. Twitter --

QUESTION: -- which I will say is --

MS. HARF: -- found my comments interesting.

QUESTION: -- we could say is reflective of this Administration’s balance in attention, but that’s another issue.

MS. HARF: Took you 24 hours to come up with that one.

QUESTION: Did you learn more from the ground yesterday on the atrocities, the level of the violence, the death toll, et cetera?

MS. HARF: So we’re still trying to get more confirmation of the death toll. I would say, though – I talked to some of our team yesterday – that there has been a sharp escalation in the number of reported casualties. I think the numbers tend to be from about 2009 to 2013 there were a little over 1,000 casualties. I mean, we’ve obviously all seen the reported numbers just this week – which we can’t confirm exactly, but it clearly shows there’s been a sharp escalation. I think Lesley asked yesterday – we do think that the election is probably a factor. As I said, we believe the election should still go forward, even in the face of this pretty horrific violence.

We haven’t seen Boko Haram focus beyond the region, but I think what we’ve seen even just over the past 24 hours in Cameroon is that Boko Haram is clearly a regional threat.

QUESTION: Without getting into numbers, and I mean --

MS. HARF: Yeah, they’re just hard to confirm.

QUESTION: That’s fine.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, but you are convinced a massacre of serious proportion has occurred here?

MS. HARF: I don’t have information to indicate otherwise.

QUESTION: And then you mentioned yesterday the breakdown in the training operation.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What else are you guys doing with the Nigerians right now?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Because, I mean, obviously this is horrific violence and the scale’s incredible.

MS. HARF: It is, and Boko Haram has taken operational control over an increasing amount of territory as well, so it’s not just these attacks that we’ve seen, but they’re more able to do them because they have more territory they’re able to control.

QUESTION: Doesn’t this raise questions --

QUESTION: So, what – wait, wait.

MS. HARF: Well, I want to ask – answer his question.

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: So we have a bilateral security cooperation relationship separate and apart from that piece I talked about being postponed or called off yesterday. But we also support regional efforts to combat Boko Haram with our regional partners, including the Lake Chad Basin’s multinational task force. We work with the Nigerians, we work with others in the region, we maintain high-level diplomatic contact with Nigeria. I was referencing some of this yesterday. Secretary Kerry most recently spoke with President Jonathan on the phone on December 30th. They also had a long conversation a couple weeks before that on the 6th. So we’re engaged sort of at a broad range of levels to help them fight this. But it is a very serious problem for Nigeria, and we’re helping them build their capacity, but there’s still a pretty serious challenge ahead.

QUESTION: Is it time to step it up given that – the incredible attention you are giving to foreign fighters, and perhaps rightly so, but here we’re talking about death untold times greater.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: Is it time to now engage in a more serious and sustained military effort?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s – we certainly view our efforts as serious. I think the question is how best to help the Nigerians build their capacity and how to work with them, and I know that’s an ongoing challenge, certainly, given the threat from Boko Haram. I’ll see if there’s any more our folks have on anything additional.

QUESTION: They – I mean, but the Nigerians have been dealing with this threat for several years unsuccessfully.

QUESTION: Really?

QUESTION: The capacity building is a long-term – I mean --

MS. HARF: I agree.

QUESTION: If these reports are as – are true, and these massacres were as grave as they seem, don’t they need immediate, heightened assistance and not long-term – along with the long-term capacity building?

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks, Brad. I know some of what we are providing is immediate, but let me --

QUESTION: Can I have – yeah, just to follow up on that --

MS. HARF: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you said the election is a factor – isn’t a factor because they’re trying to get a stronger hold of the region? Or is it that the government has decided that it’s not going to focus on this region where, anyway, it has lost control?

MS. HARF: It’s because Boko Haram has tended to, particularly around something like an election, used political issues or sensitivities to try and enflame tensions, that they – we’ve seen that as one of their tactics, and that’s why it’s so important to move forward with the election, because we believe it’s important.

QUESTION: But then you wouldn’t have a free and fair election in an area like this.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to prejudge. We’ve seen successful elections go forward in places that have pretty significant levels of violence still, some places – other places around the world. So we believe the election should go forward. We know there are security challenges, clearly.

QUESTION: So how do you ensure that people in this region can vote?

QUESTION: Can vote.

MS. HARF: I can check with our folks and see if there’s more to share on that. We do know it’s a challenge, though.

QUESTION: Do you think the Nigerians are doing all they can to really fight the Boko Haram?

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: Because they are being accused of being lax in their --

MS. HARF: Well, I think that clearly, given what we’re seeing from the atrocities, more – everyone who can do more needs to do more to fight Boko Haram. Let’s put it that way.

QUESTION: So why do you think the Nigerian Government is saying that the numbers are a lot less, they’re like a fraction --

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- of what, let’s say, Amnesty says?

MS. HARF: To be fair, we can’t confirm those – we can’t confirm the Amnesty numbers. We just can’t confirm those, period. But if the reports are even close to true or partially true, it’s still a pretty significant escalation from what we’ve seen over the past years.

QUESTION: So you think the Nigerian Government’s trying to sort of play down the enormity of this thing?

MS. HARF: I think the Nigerian Government understands the severity of this threat.

QUESTION: Can I go to Kurdistan? Two questions.

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. John Allen was in Kurdistan yesterday.

MS. HARF: He was.

QUESTION: Can you – do you have any update, anything about that?

MS. HARF: No. I said a little bit about it yesterday. Let me see. So yesterday, I said he and Ambassador McGurk had met with the IKR President Masoud Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani to discuss the progress by their forces and the ISF forces in the fight against ISIL. They praised the recent success of these operations which have been supported by coalition airstrikes. They are in Baghdad today. General Allen, I believe, will hold a press availability tomorrow in Baghdad, where he’ll talk more about his meetings as well.

QUESTION: General Allen’s visit comes a day after foreign – sorry, defense minister of Germany was there.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And she promised to step up the military assistance to the Peshmerga. Of course, that’s in the wake of the attacks in Paris. And she says she will send 100 more trainers to the region. I’m just asking whether the United States is also considering to step up assistance to the Peshmerga because --

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve continued to step up assistance to the Peshmerga. I would say that just one example of that, the Pentagon announced earlier this month that the training of Iraqi Security Forces has begun at al-Asad and Taji, and that work on two additional training sites continues. This mission overall is designed to train 12 total brigades, three of which will be drawn from Iraq’s Kurdish area. So we are giving assistance, weapons, help across the board.

QUESTION: But what, like when I talk to the Kurdish officials what they need, that’s what they say. For example, heavier weapons such as Apache helicopters, things like anti-tank missiles that the United States has been reluctant to provide or the United States has kept saying that we can only do that through Baghdad, and Baghdad is delaying the transfer of those weapons.

MS. HARF: Well, I would disagree with that notion. Since – as of December 11th, the coalition had provided more than 3 million pounds of equipment through more than 55 airlift missions to bolster Kurdish defense capabilities. We’ve been doing this since late summer. Obviously, we coordinate via the central Government of Iraq, but we have sent a great amount of assistance to the Kurdish fighters as well.

QUESTION: Marie, Senator John McCain told Bloomberg last – by the weekend that a lot of these weapons is finding its way into the hands of Shiite militias backed by Iran. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: I can certainly check with my Defense Department colleagues. I know that Prime Minister Abadi has spoken very publicly about regulating militias and understands the issues posed by the unregulated militias. And I – my understanding is the equipment is getting to the security forces we’re supporting, but let me check with DOD.

QUESTION: So – okay. On the issue of equip and train and so on --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- are you fine if some of these weapons are basically given by the Iraqi Security Forces to, let’s say, Shiite militias? Would that be something that is acceptable to you?

MS. HARF: I think we want the assistance and the weapons we give to go to the people we give them to.

QUESTION: I had another question about Turkey, but I didn’t get a chance to ask.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: While Erdogan has been making all these inflammatory remarks about America, Israel, like he has been making them, I don’t know, since the Davos in 2007.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And also practically, Turkey is now hosting Hamas’s office. I wonder whether beyond words what else has the United States done in response to what Turkey has been doing.

MS. HARF: Well, I would remind you that Turkey is a NATO ally who we work very closely with. They also have offered to host one of the training sites for the Syrian opposition. So I would encourage you to look at the whole picture when it comes to Turkey.

When it comes to Hamas, we have raised our concerns on that issue with Turkish officials, and we’ll continue to. Our --

QUESTION: But you haven’t done anything practically?

MS. HARF: Well, I would say raising – raising our concerns with Turkish officials --

QUESTION: Like Hamas is --

MS. HARF: -- is doing something.

QUESTION: But Hamas is designated --

MS. HARF: What would you recommend we do?

QUESTION: I can recommend, for example, a lot of things. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: Okay, I’m happy for you to give me a list of your policy recommendations.

QUESTION: Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the United States.

MS. HARF: I am aware of that designation.

QUESTION: And Turkey is hosting a terrorist group that you --

MS. HARF: And we have raised that with the Turks.

QUESTION: Why don’t you, for example, remove the PKK, which has never attacked a U.S. target?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more for you on those issues.

QUESTION: A couple more Middle East.

MS. HARF: Let’s – yeah, let’s --

QUESTION: That’s a good recommendation, isn’t it?

MS. HARF: I will take your recommendation back. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just can you --

MS. HARF: Brad.

QUESTION: In Saudi Arabia, the lawyer for the man who is being flogged, apparently on a regular basis starting now, he has gotten five more years to his sentence.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on that?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Let me check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And I think you took a question yesterday regarding the flogging, whether U.S. officials had witnessed it or had --

MS. HARF: Oh, I didn’t get an answer to that. We have raised it privately and also, clearly, publicly.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just on Libya – I apologize – there was a question yesterday about – I think it was my question about a reported kidnapping of Christians.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment --

MS. HARF: We – I don’t – we still haven’t been able to confirm that, I don’t think. Let me check. Yes.

QUESTION: Just to Iran?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: A State Department official yesterday said that sanctions have not stopped the advance of Iran’s nuclear program; negotiations have done that.

MS. HARF: True.

QUESTION: True, but a little simplistic maybe, because certainly negotiations – perhaps you disagree --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- negotiations came to fruition after years of --

MS. HARF: Also true.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So is that line not an argument for simply the continuation of talks in perpetuity or --

MS. HARF: It’s not.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I agree with you. Sanctions are one of, if not the biggest, reason we are at the negotiating table with Iran, because of the pressure we put on them, and that we have been able to move forward with diplomacy. I think what that official was referring to is the fact that sanctions alone do not stop Iran’s nuclear program. It was through negotiations that we got to the Joint Plan of Action that we put in place that have halted the advance of its program.

QUESTION: Did accepting Iran’s right to some sort of peaceful nuclear program, if verifiable, also help bring about negotiations and an agreement?

MS. HARF: Well, that was – the issue of whether Iran would have a domestic enrichment program was part of the negotiation, certainly.

QUESTION: But when you first started talking publicly about accepting that notion --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in 2011, 2012, did that have anything to do with the diplomatic breakthrough that’s happened? Or was it all sanctions?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – I’m sorry, I guess I don’t understand exactly what you’re asking. Certainly all of --

QUESTION: Well, I’ll explain what --

MS. HARF: Sorry. Yeah. I’m --

QUESTION: The proponents of sanctions would have you believe that their pressure was the only thing that produced Iranian flexibility and talks that led to the JPOA --

MS. HARF: Understood.

QUESTION: -- while there are others who seem to suggest that the Administration also showed flexibility.

MS. HARF: Right. So what I would say to that is the sanctions clearly put pressure on Iran, but that was part of a dual-track policy – one part pressure, one part saying we are open to a diplomatic conversation, if you are willing to have one that’s serious and that could get us to an agreement where you will not be able to get a nuclear weapon. So certainly, sanctions helped get us to the table. But once you’re at the table, there was a lot of work that went into getting the Joint Plan of Action – it was, by no means, preordained – that this Administration went through to get to that Joint Plan of Action. Certainly, a huge part of that was saying Iran can have a limited domestic enrichment program, as long as we are confident it’s peaceful, absolutely.

QUESTION: I want to ask you, though, what’s happening on the Hill --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- because Ambassador Power said that it would – a bill right now, a new sanctions bill, would dramatically – maybe you read the quote – she said it would disrupt the negotiations.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: What’s being discussed on the Hill is a trigger sanctions bill that would not – intentionally framed around the JPOA language.

MS. HARF: Well, we could – might disagree on that.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Well, I’d love to hear that as well.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

QUESTION: But they argue that it intentionally recognizes the JPOA language and avoids implementation of new sanctions during the life of the JPOA and the life of these negotiations. And only after negotiations either fail or expire or there’s a violation – only after that point are new sanctions implemented, and therefore --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- it’s not a violation of the JPOA. Is your position and is Ambassador Power – is what she was expressing that a bill is a violation of the JPOA or a violation of the spirit of the JPOA?

MS. HARF: A sanctions bill, trigger or not, that is passed and signed into law by the President – which we have said we will not do – but in your hypothetical, right, even if there’s a trigger, to the Iranians, to the rest of the world, and in our minds would be a violation of the JPOA; that even with a trigger, if there’s a bill that’s signed into law and it is U.S. law, in our mind that is a violation of the Joint Plan of Action, which as we’ve said could encourage Iran to violate it, could encourage Iran to start moving its nuclear program back forward, and that we believe we have to give this diplomatic process, as Ambassador Power said, time to see if we can get to an agreement. And if we can’t, we can put sanction – additional sanctions on in 24 hours. I’m sure you know that from your talks with folks on the Hill. So that we are clear – just to be clear on where we are on that, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And madam --

MS. HARF: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I’ve been wanting to ask about the ICC.

MS. HARF: Okay. Go on.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he told him that they disagree that – with the Palestinian effort at the ICC, of course.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: But he also said that they are not eligible for that. But --

MS. HARF: They’re not what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: They’re not eligible. The Palestinians are not --

MS. HARF: Eligible, yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: Eligible, excuse me. Not eligible, okay.

MS. HARF: Not eligible, yes.

QUESTION: Not – that’s what I said. Okay. I’m not being legible, I guess. All right, so – he say that they are not. So --

MS. HARF: And that’s our position.

QUESTION: And that’s your position. But the United Nations seems to disagree. They say that they do have a right to --

MS. HARF: Well, the view of the United States is the Palestinians have not yet established a state.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: So neither the steps they have taken, nor the actions the UN Secretariat has taken that we’ve talked about a lot in this room, warrant the conclusion the Palestinians have established a state or have the legal competencies necessary to fulfill the requirements of the Rome statute. That is our legal position here.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But they can, actually, through the avenue of the (inaudible) Geneva Convention they can actually pursue that.

MS. HARF: Well, we do not believe that they have taken the steps necessary.

QUESTION: Because conquering a country cannot change the demographics and the geography of the conquered territory --

MS. HARF: Our position is what it is.

QUESTION: -- and that would be a war crime under the Geneva Convention.

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything more for you, Said.

Let’s go to the back if someone who --

QUESTION: Yeah, North Korea. North Korea deputy ambassador to UN, Mr. Jang, will hold a news conference today in regard to cyber hacking to Sony Pictures and that he’s – he announced – said that North Korea has not accepted U.S. sanctions against North Korea. Any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see those comments, but I don’t think – the way sanctions work isn’t that countries have to accept them. I don’t – I think that’s just sort of --

QUESTION: It’s like (inaudible) membership.

MS. HARF: That’s not how they work. We’ve been clear that we – the investigation the FBI worked with others on – we’ve been clear that we believe North Korea is responsible, and that’s why we put additional sanctions in place.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: You may.

QUESTION: I heard that – I’m sorry I don’t have the information in front of me, so if it’s a little off, sorry, but I heard that Kim, Sung is traveling to Asia. And do you know anything – details about that, when, where?

MS. HARF: So – yes. He was actually up testifying on the Hill today. We don’t have more details about travel yet. When we do, we will make them known.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have one on Afghanistan.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Afghan president and CEO announced the formation of the new cabinet.

MS. HARF: Yes, they did.

QUESTION: It has been – it’s after more than 100 days after they came back – came to power. Is it an issue of concern to you they have been so slow in the cabinet formation itself?

MS. HARF: Well, let – I think you’re still focusing on the negative, even after some good news.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: We, of course, welcome the nomination of the cabinet of ministers by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The U.S. looks forward to continued close cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan.

As Jen said last week, government formation takes time to do it. And he was very clear that he wanted certain things out of his cabinet, and now he has nominated one.

QUESTION: But 100 days for government formation? (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: You’re too glass-half-empty on me today.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: We’re moving forward with an Afghan Government here.

Yes, Abigail.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Earlier today Senator Graham spoke on the Hill and offered new concerns about the release of Guantanamo detainees following the attack in Paris, saying that this proved a recidivism in extremists and the difficulty in monitoring. Do you have any new concerns about the release of Guantanamo --

MS. HARF: Well, as we have repeatedly said, under this Administration when we came into office we put in place more stringent regulations for Guantanamo transfers to third countries. Under those regulations, the recidivism rate has actually dropped quite significantly. I used to have all the numbers in here, and I still may or I may not, and I can email it to folks. But I have all the numbers that – we’ve released them publicly, and the recidivism rate has dropped quite significantly under this Administration. We take this process very seriously and very carefully – it’s not just the State Department, but others as well, of course – and believe it’s important for America’s security and our standing in the world to close Guantanamo.

QUESTION: Would it be fair to assume that the Administration would oppose the legislation which he, Senator Ayotte, and Senator McCain are cosponsoring, which would ban this Department from working on transfers of detainees still at Guantanamo?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen the legislation myself, but from how you described it, certainly we – that’s not something we think is going to help us close Guantanamo. I think some of these folks have actually spoken out in the past previously about the importance of closing it, which I think may be a little change in tune today. So I know it’s something that we work closely with Congress on, but we believe we need to be able to work with other countries, as we have, to transfer detainees who are cleared for transfer by a panel that has to clear them based in part on security. So that’s what we’re focused on, and we’re focused on getting it closed.

Anything else? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)

2015-01-13


Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - January 12, 2015


Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 12, 2015


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TRANSCRIPT:

1:11 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing, my first of 2015. I have a bunch of things at the top, so bear with me and I’ll get through them, and then, Brad, we’ll go to you.

First, a trip update. The Secretary is on travel today in Pakistan after attending the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in India. You probably saw his press availability this morning. Since departing Washington on Friday night, he landed in Munich, Germany where he met with Omani Sultan Qaboos before continuing on to India for the summit.

During his India visit, Secretary Kerry met with Prime Minister Modi on the margins of the summit. He also participated in a round table with Indian and U.S. CEOs, toured a new Ford manufacturing plant, met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Bhutanese prime minister. He also visited Gandhi Ashram and met with a group hosted by Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell. He’s now in Islamabad, where he today he met with Prime Minister Sharif and National Security and Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz. The Secretary will remain on travel through the end of the week going on to Switzerland, Bulgaria. And as we announced today, he will travel to Paris on Thursday.

A readout from General Allen and Ambassador McGurk’s trip. They met this morning with Kurdistan Regional Government officials in Erbil. They met Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani as well to discuss progress by IKR and ISF forces in the fight against ISIL. They praised recent successful IKR and ISF operations supported by coalition airstrikes and reiterated the U.S.’s support for Iraqi Security Forces. They will have further meetings with Iraqi officials tomorrow in Baghdad, and I understand General Allen will actually have a press availability in Baghdad on Wednesday to read out those meetings.

Moving on – just a couple more guys. Sorry. But some good news out of Croatia. We congratulate Croatian President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic – Kitarovic – I think I did that right –on her victory in Croatia’s January 11th presidential election, and the people of Croatia for the election of their first female president in Croatia’s history. Croatia is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we look forward to working with the president-elect and deepening our partnership in the years to come.

Two more quick ones.

QUESTION: Sheesh.

MS. HARF: Two more, I know. We have five today. You may have already seen, but the Cuban Government has notified us that they have completed the release of the 53 political prisoners that they had committed to free. We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment. These political prisoners were individuals who had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban Government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.

During our discussions with the Cubans we shared the names of individuals jailed in Cuba on charges related to their political activities. The Cuban Government made this sovereign decision to release those individuals as Raul Castro indicated in his December 17th speech. I know there’s been a lot of questions about the list. It’s been delivered to the Hill, to a number of folks on the both the Senate and the House side, both Democrats and Republican leadership and chairs and rankings of our key committees.

And finally, today we remember those who tragically lost their lives in the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th, 2010. It was five years ago today. On this occasion, the United States reaffirms its long- term commitment to support the Haitian people as they build a more prosperous and democratic future.

With the help of the international community, including the U.S., Haiti has made significant progress since 2010, including positive economic growth, improved basic health indicators, job creation, increased access to primary education, shelter for the earthquake displaced, and improved overall security. More remains to be done, and further progress depends on good governance by Haiti’s leaders, in particular of holding of overdue legislative and local elections, and a sustained focus by the international community to assist the Government of Haiti with its development. Secretary Kerry also released a video message today on this if you have not seen it.

QUESTION: So could we start with --

MS. HARF: Sorry. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- Cuba? No, that’s fine.

MS. HARF: Yes. A lot of business happened over the weekend.

QUESTION: I will address one of the five points you --

MS. HARF: Great.

QUESTION: -- started with. On the Cuba --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- do you feel that this release, now that you say it’s completed, vindicates the path forward that you’ve – you opted for last month? And does this also kind of remove any questions about the migration talks and kind of the normalization process that’s supposed to start?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. We are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment they made to undertake this sovereign decision. So clearly, we think this is a good thing. I think we have always believed, since we made this change in policy, that it was the right thing to do for a variety of reasons. We know there are going to be challenges that remain in terms of, while there may be fewer longer-term detentions, we’re concerned about short-term detentions. So we know there are going to be human rights concerns we still have when it comes to Cuba, but we are very pleased that they followed through on this commitment and are looking forward to Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s trip later this month.

QUESTION: So why not make the list public at this point, given that they’re all free? And if they’re all political prisoners, as you say, shouldn’t their name being out there be not helpful?

MS. HARF: We fully support it being out there. We have shared it with Congress, as I said, including the full list. We fully expect it will be in the public domain. I think it’s a little, first, unusual to print a list like that on a U.S. Government website. So it’s not something we would stand – or do under standard procedure. We’re happy for it to be in the public domain, but we also don’t want to leave the impression by posting it, for example, on a government website, that these are the only ones we care about or that this was the only checklist by which we would judge Cuba’s human rights situation. So we’re happy with the names being out there, and I’m sure Congress will provide it if they haven’t already. They do have it now.

QUESTION: Can I ask another one?

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: You said you shared the list. Have – was that this morning that you shared that list?

MS. HARF: Yes, it went up. It should have been delivered to everybody by now. It’s being delivered on the Senate side to Majority Leader McConnell, Democratic Leader Reid, the chairman of Foreign Relations – or, excuse me – yes, Foreign Relations on the Senate side, Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Menendez, and then Chair Graham and Ranking Member Leahy on Appropriations. And then on the House side, of course, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader McCarthy, Democratic Whip Hoyer, and then HFAC Chair and Rankings Royce and Engel. This actually started with a letter they had sent to us, so we responded but also expanded the distribution. And Chair Granger and Ranking Lowey on Appropriations as well.

QUESTION: And when you say you expected it to be made public, you expect them to make it public?

MS. HARF: We’re happy if they do. We have no problem with it being out there. It just – we’re not going to be posting it on a U.S. Government website because, as I said, that’s a little unusual. And also, we don’t want people to think that it’s just the only checklist or the measure by which we are judging Cuba’s human rights. But happy for the names to be out there, certainly.

QUESTION: Can you clear up how many of these 53 were still imprisoned at the time of the deal last month?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Because we --

MS. HARF: Yeah, I can.

QUESTION: -- we’ve been doing our own count and we have a small discrepancy on the numbers.

MS. HARF: Yep. So – and we can go back through more history if you want. But a small number of the 53 prisoners identified by the U.S. side have been slated for release during the period that the spy swap negotiations were taking place. They were released as scheduled in the summer and the fall. So we have gone to the Cubans with a list. We shared those names this past summer. So a small number of the people on the list we gave them during the summer were slated for release and then were released as scheduled in the summer and fall after we had shared the list.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: The Cuban Government released a few additional prisoners before December 17th; but in the period since then, which is when we announced that this had been finalized, the Cuban Government has released all 53 persons whose names were shared by the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: And is it your understanding that all 53 – not only are they released from – they’re not under house arrest, they don’t have limits on their freedom of movement, they don’t have other restrictions on them now?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more details on that. It’s a good question, Brad. Certainly, we would hope they don’t. I just don’t have details on that. I can check on that.

Anything else on Cuba? Great.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Can we address one of the five points you mentioned?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: On France and Paris --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I’d like to ask an explanation about the absence of the top-ranking U.S. official at the march. I know that Secretary Kerry addressed that at his press avail in India. I know also that the President and the Secretary went to the French Embassy on Thursday and Friday.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But still, Eric Holder was in Paris on Sunday.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And so do you have an explanation why there was no top-ranking official in Paris?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple of points. First, I think there should be no question at all among the French Government or the French people that the U.S. has done anything but stand squarely by our very close ally, our oldest ally, during and since this attack. And I the French – actually, including the French ambassador – have been out on the record speaking about that, that they felt nothing but support during this.

As you mentioned, Secretary Kerry spoke directly to the French people in French the day of the attacks. He and the President both went to the French Embassy to sign the condolence book, and Secretary Kerry will be going there on Thursday night. As we said, he was in India for the pre-scheduled trip. If he could have been in Paris, he would have been. The ambassador, Hartley, was honored to represent the United States.

But I would also underscore what the Secretary said this morning, that no one event or one day represents the breadth of a relationship like we have with France. This was a very important march. We were honored to be represented there. But we have stood side by side the French. They’ve said so publicly since this horrific attack.

QUESTION: So you don’t find the criticism coming from the U.S. press and also from some members of the Congress, you don’t feel that this criticism are fair?

MS. HARF: I don’t feel that it’s fair. And I would, again, let the French speak for themselves, and they have at this point, saying there is – they know we’ve stood by them, they know they’ve had our full support. I’ll let them speak for themselves. But again, we have a very strong relationship with the French that goes beyond, certainly, any one day or any one event. And that will absolutely continue.

QUESTION: But nobody’s --

QUESTION: Can you just pinpoint --

QUESTION: No one is disputing that. I mean, obviously, you stand by the French and it’s a very close ally, which makes it even kind of weirder that when 50 – the leaders of 50 nations were there why there wasn’t top-level representation. We’re not disputing – no one, I think, is disputing the close relationship or that the U.S. stands by France, but it just kind of just doesn’t make sense. So if you could explain why.

MS. HARF: Well, as I’ve said, Secretary Kerry would have liked to be there, of course. He was in India for this pre-scheduled trip. But there are more ways than just this march to show our solidarity with the French, and I think that’s what I would underscore. The President of the United States going to the French Embassy and signing the condolence book, the Secretary doing the same, the Secretary going to Paris later this week – this isn’t the only way to show solidarity. It’s certainly an important way, but it’s not the only way.

QUESTION: Don’t you think that an opportunity was missed here? I mean, you had, for example, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel standing within 10 feet of each other. It’s about the closest you could have gotten them in years. You had world leaders at the highest level. Where – why not send someone of similar stature?

MS. HARF: Well, we make decisions like this based on a variety of factors that --

QUESTION: Such as?

MS. HARF: Such as – we’ve talked about security, for example. Obviously – and the White House, I am sure, is speaking more to this right now. I think my colleague is briefing there. Obviously, for the President, there are very specific security concerns that go along when he travels. There are just a variety of factors we take into account here. And as I said, for us, this was an important march, and that’s why we wanted our ambassador there. We also had folks at the march in Washington, but it is not the only way to show solidarity. And the Secretary certainly would have been there if he could, and he’s looking forward to going there on Thursday.

QUESTION: I mean, were there any discussions about sending not the President – the Vice President, the Secretary of State, someone going and where – was this debated actively within the Administration?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into what our internal conversations look like.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Well, he’s – he said --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to characterize it.

MS. HARF: -- was it debated inside.

QUESTION: Was it, or wasn’t it?

MS. HARF: As we’ve said on the record, the Secretary’s schedule didn’t allow it. As he said, if he could have been there, he would have been. Look, there were a variety of conversations, but I think what I’m trying to emphasize is that since this happened, we have shown solidarity with the French in so many ways that demonstrates our relationship, and that it is not defined by any one event; no matter how important the event is, it just isn’t. And I understand why there’s some attention being paid to it, particularly in Washington. I actually don’t think there’s much attention being paid to it in France, but people can correct me if I’m wrong. But what we’re focused on isn’t who’s at a march, although important. It’s how we work together to address this threat together, and that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: Was --

QUESTION: Marie, can you speak to the timing on the announcement of Secretary Kerry’s trip to Paris? Because it seems like it was tacked on after the criticism started arising about him not participating in the march

MS. HARF: I understand the timing seems that way. We were considering a trip to Paris. The Secretary was trying to determine if he could add it on to this trip. As you know, he does that on pretty much almost every trip he goes on. He was trying to determine if he could put it onto the end of this trip. So we were considering a trip to Paris before some of the criticism you mentioned. We announced it when we could have it confirmed and finalized, so it was in no way in response. I understand how the timing could have looked that way, but it – you all who travel with the Secretary know he’s always looking for ways to get to Paris under – usually under happier circumstances, but we were trying to fit this onto the trip prior to yesterday’s march.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Did Assistant Secretary Nuland participate in this --

MS. HARF: She was in the Washington march.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Not --

MS. HARF: She was in D.C. Mm-hmm. Yep, she was in Washington.

QUESTION: Well, what about Mr. Holder? Apparently, he was in Paris.

MS. HARF: He was.

QUESTION: Why did he not march?

MS. HARF: I think his folks have spoken to this. His team has said it was a scheduling issue that he had to leave after his last meetings with the French Government. I’ll let them speak more to that, but I think that’s what they’ve said to reporters.

QUESTION: Can we move on to the investigation?

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: There’s some surveillance video that just emerged of Hayat Boumeddiene kind of slipping, not actually on the border, but showing that she was on her way into Syria. Can you talk about how – what you’re learning about how she did that, especially since in recent months with the campaign against ISIS, there has been a lot of attention being paid to foreign fighters going into Syria?

MS. HARF: Absolutely, and we are – remain very concerned about the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria. And we’re engaging with our coalition partners, including Turkey, on that issue. We’ve seen the reports. Obviously, the intelligence community right now is running down every lead to see if they can provide any information to the French on her and her whereabouts and how she might have gone places. The French have the lead on this. They’re also working with the Turks directly. Not much more to share than that at this point, though.

QUESTION: But I mean, it just seems as if this goes to the critical – like, it’s not kind of a separate issue --

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in terms of the fight against ISIS and foreign fighters going in and – like this one. I mean, do you think that as you’re looking at your campaign to stop foreign fighters that clearly critical ones are falling through the cracks here?

MS. HARF: I think it underscores the challenge, the really significant challenge here. Obviously, I, at the top, I think before you came in, mentioned General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are in – overseas meeting with different folks, and they’re in Iraq today talking about all the lines of effort; this is clearly one of them. And you’re absolutely right, it shows that there is a real threat here.

QUESTION: Marie, it seems that the Kouachi brothers was red flags in – on the list of U.S. flight list. And is this the case for the Hayat Boumeddiene, too?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more information on her to share. As I said, the intelligence community is working very closely with the French to run down any lead they may have that is related at all to the investigation of what happened here, including anything about her. But nothing more to share.

QUESTION: Have you contacted with the Turkish officials because – before her arrival in Turkey, or after?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more information to share about her.

Anything else on this? Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on communications between this building and Yemini authorities regarding the status of the Kouachi brothers as having stayed in Yemen?

MS. HARF: Not on communication. I can confirm that we have information – we, the U.S. Government – on these individuals and their travel activities that we have been sharing with our French counterparts. Obviously, this is their investigation. I don’t want to undermine it by sort of getting into specific details that have been out there in the press and confirming them one way or the other. But clearly, separate and apart from this case, we have an ongoing counterterrorism dialogue in this building, but also with our intelligence colleagues, with Yemen about this threat, about the threat that AQAP has posed. You know how focused we’ve been on them for many years.

Yes.

QUESTION: In the wake of the French attacks, some security analysts have pointed to France’s maintenance of so-called no-go zones, which amount to large enclaves of Muslims where central state control is notably diminished. What view does the United States --

MS. HARF: In what countries? Where is this?

QUESTION: In France and Sweden is what --

MS. HARF: Okay. I’m not familiar with those. I’m happy to check into that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: And related to Michelle’s question, there was an analyst who cited specifically Birmingham in the UK, I believe, as being a place where there are no American citizens and is specifically Muslim.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: There’s been a lot of backlash among commentators in the UK about kind of what they say is how erroneous that view is --

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- and I’m just wondering if the State Department has any --

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I’m not familiar with it. I think you can probably find a lot of security analysts to say sort of anything these days in the wake of these kinds of attacks, but let me check. I’m not familiar with that specific issue.

What else on this? Anything else on this?

QUESTION: It’s – no, it’s --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- kind of on Saudi.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Could you speak about jailed blogger Raif Badawi and his sentence of 1,000 lashes by flogging?

MS. HARF: Well, Jen spoke about this at length last week; obviously said that it was something that we did not support and called on the Saudi Government to do a few things. I don’t have any update for you. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there is one.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, right now there has been so much talk and a world is kind of speaking out after this Charlie Hebdo attack in terms of the right to free expression.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And it kind of seems a little bit ironic that right now – that this blogger is getting 1,000 lashes when the world is speaking up in terms of free expression.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. That’s why we have publicly said that we take issue with this sentence.

QUESTION: And are you talking to the Saudis about it?

MS. HARF: I can check on what the communication is.

QUESTION: Sticking with Saudi Arabia --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- are you familiar with a report by a semi-respected news wire – a very respected news wire --

MS. HARF: Which one of these two is it? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- that said --

MS. HARF: They’re both looking at you accusatorily.

QUESTION: -- I’m teasing, I’m teasing – a Saudi cleric saying that snowmen are anti-Islamic? You know they had snow in the northern part of the country.

MS. HARF: I do know they have – I saw --

QUESTION: Is that the view of the State Department as well?

MS. HARF: I saw that this morning. I have no idea the facts behind that, but clearly, I fully support anybody’s right to make a snowman, so --

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. HARF: -- I can go on the record as saying that.

QUESTION: Did anyone from the embassy watch the incident at the Saudi Arabia regarding this lashing ceremony?

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know the --

QUESTION: I mean, this gentleman is supposed to receive now, what, 50 lashings a week until the 1,000 lashings are done. I mean, are you going to do anything to try and stop this punishment from being fully executed?

MS. HARF: I think publicly saying that this is something that we do not believe should go forward is a fairly strong statement. I agree with you.

QUESTION: I mean, not believing it should go forward and reaching out to the Saudis and making a big deal and demanding that it not be – this sentence not be implemented is something different.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we’re in the business of demanding things, but I’m happy to check and see what the diplomatic outreach has been.

QUESTION: Change --

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I just don’t know, Elise.

QUESTION: This is not something you’d demand that they reassess? I mean, they’re --

MS. HARF: Well, Jen was very clear how strongly we felt about this and that we did not believe it should go forward.

QUESTION: But yet it’s still going forward.

MS. HARF: And I agree that it shouldn’t, Elise. I don’t have anything to add to this other than what we’ve already said.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Saudi Arabia the king, who is a close U.S. partner --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- can step in and probably address this.

MS. HARF: I will check on what the diplomatic outreach has been around this so that I can share.

QUESTION: Can you – can we stay in the region?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Do you have comment on this bathhouse trial in Egypt?

MS. HARF: I do, I do.

QUESTION: Which seems to have been readdressed, at least.

MS. HARF: Yes. We welcome the court’s decision that brought this case to a just conclusion; obviously continue to stress the importance of protecting the human rights of all Egyptians.

QUESTION: Are you worried that despite the acquittal, that these types of prosecutions – I could say persecutions, too – are going to continue without kind of clear legislation that says the rights of people will be respected regardless of sexual orientation?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know if legislation is the answer, so I don’t want to comment on that piece. But clearly, we have ongoing concerns about the space for people in Egypt, whether it’s to express themselves freely in terms of freedom of speech – for journalists, we’ve talked about a lot in this room – but sort of across the board. Obviously, protecting human rights is something we care very much about and do have ongoing concerns.

QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on ISIS and Iraq, Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, criticized the slowness of the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS in providing military support to his army. And he said the international coalition is very slow in its support and training of the army in Iraq. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. HARF: Well, obviously we all wish that this fight with ISIS could go more quickly. We all know it’s a long fight, though, and I know Prime Minister Abadi has spoken to that as well. We have continued to provide support to the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces, I think just last week announcing another large tranche of support to them. We’re standing up the training missions, we’re on the ground helping them, so obviously, we know this is going to be a long fight. We wish that it would not be, of course, but we know that it will be, and I know Prime Minister Abadi has spoken to that as well.

QUESTION: Do you think that his criticism is baseless?

MS. HARF: Well, without commenting on everything he said, we work very closely with him and his team and his security forces, the forces both on the Iraqi and the Kurdish side, to fight this threat together. So that is ongoing, and certainly will continue.

QUESTION: Do you agree the view of many Iraqis that Iran has been the major supporter of Iraq’s fight against ISIL/ISIS, as opposed to the United States so far?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that it is clear to anyone who’s been watching this that the U.S. has unique and valuable capabilities they can bring to this fight that have helped the Iraqis, whether it’s specific arms or weapons or other capabilities that we’ve brought to bear that no other country can. Clearly, Iran and Iraq will have a relationship. They have a historical relationship, they have a geographical boundary, but I think it’s important not to overstate that relationship, and again, going back to all the things we provide Iraq that, quite frankly, nobody else can, that we will continue doing.

QUESTION: Given that you’re providing what you say you’re providing, are you worried that you’re losing at least the public relations battle and that Iran is being perceived as kind of the country rushing to Iraq’s support as opposed to the United States?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think I probably have a good way to judge the public relations battle inside Iraq, but I will say what we’ve heard from Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum is how closely they want to work with the United States, how valuable they know our contributions are. We hear it from average Iraqis too, so – a lot of this is anecdotal, but I do think that we’ve heard from people across the spectrum how much they value our working on this together.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Iraq?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Yes. Prime Minister Abadi is touring in the region, and recently, he was in Egypt too, and he’s going --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to other places. And one of the things beside Iraqis discussing the possibility of or the – I don't know, as a suggestion of a political solution for Syria. Is there anything on the table, or it’s just like he has to play a role or – in a political solution?

MS. HARF: Are you talking about Prime Minister Abadi for Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, yeah, I mean, or – Iraq or the region countries.

MS. HARF: Well, we have had on the table the Geneva communique, obviously, which laid out the basis for a political solution. Now obviously, we’re a long way away from that. We need a variety of actors to step up and play a constructive role, and certainly, if the Iraqis can, that would be helpful. Obviously, it’s the Syrian opposition that’s most important, as well as the Assad regime getting everybody to the table to talk about a political solution. We’re very far from that, but certainly, if regional players can help and play positive roles, we would welcome that.

QUESTION: Why there was this UN proposal, or – let’s say in the same time, there are some reports in the region the last few days about a plan or a process to make a Moscow one or similar things.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you opposing it or are you --

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: -- encouraging it, or what?

MS. HARF: So there’s two different sets of upcoming talks with the – internally in the Syrian opposition, so I’ll just lay those out for you. The first is January 22nd in Cairo. They’re a welcome step in the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s efforts to engage with other opposition groups. We obviously continue to encourage them to reach out to as broad a swath of Syrian society as possible. We’re grateful to the Egyptians for their hosting. This is an independent effort from Moscow, which I believe is January 26th through 29th. It’s a Russian initiative that focuses on intra-Syrian negotiations. Obviously, we’re not involved in the planning here, but we believe that any kind of efforts that can get us closer to a real political solution here that makes genuine progress towards addressing these core grievances and providing a sustainable solution would be helpful. We’ll see what comes out of this.

QUESTION: Let me continue this, because it’s like there are some puzzling pieces there.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First of all, are you interested – or, let’s say, are you attending or somehow monitoring or following these things, or not?

MS. HARF: We’re certainly following them. We are not at this time participating in them.

QUESTION: And the second question, as a principle – I mean, as an issue – some of these suggestions are suggesting part of the deal or the solution is Assad regime included. Do you oppose it?

MS. HARF: Well, we know the Assad regime has to be a part of the negotiations to get to a transitional governing body. You obviously have to have them at the table. That’s why they were part of the first two rounds in Geneva. What the eventual agreement would look like, we have no idea at this point. But we have been clear that Assad must go; he has lost all legitimacy. But as you’ve seen from the previous rounds in Geneva, obviously the regime has to be at the table. We’re not there yet, though.

QUESTION: Can we wrap up the Islamic State threat, unless you want to continue --

QUESTION: On this one, have you encouraged the Syrian opposition to attend Moscow’s conference?

MS. HARF: I can check and see. As I said, we believe anything that gets towards real progress is good. I can check and see.

QUESTION: Because when you said Assad regime – for few months, you were saying from this podium that future Syria is without Assad. Are you changing your position?

MS. HARF: No. The future – President Assad cannot be part of the future of Syria. We have not changed. But when it comes to who’s at the negotiating table to get there, we’ve always been clear the Assad regime has to be at the table, because there’s – you have to negotiate with them to get there.

Yes, Brad.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the apparent abduction of a lot of Christians in Libya?

MS. HARF: We’ve seen it. We’re looking into the reports. Obviously, if true, would condemn this in the absolute strongest terms. We’ll see if we can get some more information on it.

QUESTION: And then, do you have any comment on what seems to be a growing allegiance, or at least sympathy, to the Islamic State in parts of southern Afghanistan now?

MS. HARF: Yeah. We’re also following that, and at this point – I have a little bit on this. We’ve seen the rhetorical messages of support. We continue to watch for signs that these statements could amount to something more than just rhetorical support. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant; but when it comes to counterterrorism efforts, trying to see if this actually amounts to more, and are obviously concerned with a number of extremist elements already operating there, whether it’s al-Qaida, the Haqqani Network, the TTP. So we’ll continue watching.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go back to France for a minute?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Is it correct, Marie, that some U.S. officials expressed their concerns over the weekend or just before the attacks in Paris about the rise of anti-Semitism in France and about the fact that the Jews need to be better protected? It appeared in some Israeli and U.S. reports.

MS. HARF: Over the weekend? I’m happy to check. I mean, we’ve spoken very publicly about our concern about anti-Semitism. There’ve been some attacks, as you know. So we’ve spoken about this for a number of months. I can check and see if there was something specific over the weekend – not that I’m aware of. It’s an ongoing concern.

QUESTION: Marie, can I also just go back to Cuba, please?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Now that we have the list of names, apparently. It didn’t take long --

MS. HARF: See, I could’ve bet by the time I was done briefing it would be out. Yes.

QUESTION: The attention turns to those that Cuba refused to release during the negotiations or refused to have on the list during the negotiations.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: How many prisoners were there in that group, please?

MS. HARF: So we went to them initially with a list of names. They released a significant majority – significant majority – of the names we provided them with. I’m not going to give you a number for how many we provided them with. But for the small number of cases we were unsuccessful on, we will absolutely continue to pursue their release. We – and as I said to Brad, we recognize there are fewer people in the category of long-term prisoners now, but we are very concerned about the pattern of short-term detentions, intimidation, and harassment, and so we’ll continue to press on that as well.

QUESTION: Can you specify “small number of cases”?

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I can’t. I – we’re just not going to --

QUESTION: Small in comparison to 53, or small in comparison to the island population?

MS. HARF: Small in comparison – I don’t know – to 53. Small, small.

QUESTION: So as you’re focusing on these more difficult --

MS. HARF: But wait – but that’s part of the reason we didn’t want to just say, “These are the only 53 we care about,” and give that impression.

QUESTION: How important is it for trust building going forward that Cuba now releases more of these difficult cases? And I gather all those that you had on the list and that they didn’t want to discuss are also political prisoners, right?

MS. HARF: I can check on that and see. I’m sure there are some, and we will keep pressing for their release. And that’s one of the reasons why we believe normalization is the right policy here. Having an ambassador and a embassy there will give us more ability to press on some of these issues.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we digress to one other issue --

MS. HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: -- which is the – again, the march. While you’ve been up here, your colleague at the White House said that the White House should’ve sent someone more high-profile to attend the march. So in light --

MS. HARF: I certainly don’t disagree with my colleague at the White House.

QUESTION: So in light of that – I know we’ve discussed a bit about the internal conversations that went on, but I’m wondering if you can shed any light on whether there was a – the State Department offered to send Secretary Kerry to the march.

MS. HARF: There was no logistical way Secretary Kerry could go.

QUESTION: He could’ve canceled his Munich trip.

MS. HARF: He could’ve – well, he was already on his way, first of all, to India. He went through Munich. We have long committed for – Prime Minister Modi, obviously – India is an incredibly important economic partner. This was an economic conference. And then we’ll – of course, once he was in India, he was going to attend this because he thinks it’s a very important relationship. So there was just really no way for him to get there. He’s looking forward to going on Thursday.

QUESTION: How is he already on his way to Cuba? The attacks happened --

MS. HARF: Cuba? No one’s going to Cuba yet.

QUESTION: India.

QUESTION: To India. The attacks happened last week.

MS. HARF: Well, when we --

QUESTION: The march was well in advance.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The march was already planned.

MS. HARF: Right, well --

QUESTION: So how – I mean, what --

MS. HARF: It was being planned and was being finalized. And when there were discussions about who would attend --

QUESTION: So it was too late based on the timing of your discussions, not based on the timing of --

MS. HARF: Well, it came together sort of – not at the last minute, but obviously planning was ongoing, and who was going to attend, other world leaders – I don’t think any of that was finalized until the end. So the conversations were ongoing, but he did not want to cancel an important trip to India about economics with the new prime minister of India.

QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t think the trip to – I mean, if you thought – if you think the attacks happened, what, Wednesday and then Friday – sorry, am I getting that right?

MS. HARF: Right, he left Friday.

QUESTION: Right. And then --

MS. HARF: Right, and --

QUESTION: -- he could have easily gone from Munich – I mean, the whole thing with going to India happened much later than everything’s already been established.

MS. HARF: Well, the planning, obviously, was ongoing for the march. And I don’t think all – everyone who was attending was clear until very late in the planning. That’s not a reason, I’m just saying that they’re – as a – as you know, when the Secretary is going someplace, particularly on a trip like India that we’ve had planned for a long time around an event with Prime Minister Modi, that’s very hard to turn off, and he didn’t want to. He has said – look, I think everyone who knows him knows if he could have been in Paris, he would have been.

QUESTION: That’s why we asked, because was he specifically told not to go to Paris --

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: -- considering he would have wanted to go to Paris, as you (inaudible).

MS. HARF: No, he was not told not to. There was the India trip. It was just not feasible in his schedule. But believe me, he’s looking forward to going on Thursday.

QUESTION: So was the offer of him attending this rally never on the table?

MS. HARF: To who?

QUESTION: To the White House, because clearly they have expressed some regret about not sending someone high-profile.

MS. HARF: It’s not about offering. It’s about a discussion about who should attend. And the – I think, because everyone knew about the Secretary’s trip to India and knew how important it was, that it was just not an option.

QUESTION: Okay, so it didn’t factor into the conversations about who was going, whether (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to characterize our internal conversations more than that.

QUESTION: Why did it matter who was going from the other countries? I mean --

MS. HARF: I’m just saying all the --

QUESTION: -- the U.S. is a leader in the world, isn’t it?

MS. HARF: Of course, but this isn’t about us, Brad.

QUESTION: I mean, shouldn’t we just go?

MS. HARF: Not everything is about us. I know that our media and the Washington talking heads like to think so. We have shown our solidarity with France in a number of ways, including the Secretary. So the conversations about the march and the planning was ongoing until the day of. There were discussions internally about who should go from the U.S. Government. The Secretary was never an option given he was going to India for this important economic conference with Prime Minister Modi.

QUESTION: Yes, but --

MS. HARF: That’s the best way I can characterize it, I think.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to follow up this issue, do you think – so from your perspective, you think that it’s a non-issue for the French people or France?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to speak for the French people. I think the French have been doing interviews and speaking about how vital they know our support is, how we’ve spoken up and stood with them, and I will let them speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Because part of diplomacy, as you know, is attitude and appearance and show.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. And I think that everything we have done in this Administration and since these attacks demonstrates the deep level of cooperation and friendship we have with the French Government and the French people, and Secretary Kerry is certainly at the forefront of that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) questioning about the attitude or – of presence or absence. It’s a matter – did the Secretary call the French partners to talk about this when the --

MS. HARF: About --

QUESTION: -- before the march and that I’m not coming?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check. Again, I think everyone is very focused on this one moment in time. He has had ongoing conversations with the French starting the day of the attack, speaking to Foreign Minister Fabius, going out and speaking in French, going to the French Embassy. I know we’re all very focused on this, but our relationship is much broader than a short march.

QUESTION: Moving on --

MS. HARF: Thank you, Brad.

QUESTION: -- while the Marquis de Lafayette rolls in his grave, will – can we go to Africa? I’m just teasing.

MS. HARF: I’m not even sure how to, like, take that transition. But yes, we can. And are you asking about Boko Haram?

QUESTION: I was going to ask you about that. That was one of my two items.

MS. HARF: Okay. I just – I would like to see how many minutes we spend on Boko Haram compared to a march. I just want to point that out to people.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask you because last week --

MS. HARF: I know, I know. I’m just pointing it out, making a little commentary there.

QUESTION: -- there was a report of a lot of massacres, a lot of people massacred. And you said at the time you didn’t have much information on it, but you were pursuing. Have you been able to confirm Amnesty’s report, or do you have your own information that’s different?

MS. HARF: We’re still – it’s really hard to get information from the ground to confirm some of these reports. We are still working that. Of course, seeing the horrific reports today of young girls being used to conduct suicide attacks, we’re trying to confirm those independently as well. We obviously condemn these attacks in the strongest terms. Boko Haram is a huge threat, remains a huge threat. All you have to do is look at what’s happened over the last week to know that. And we are trying to get some more information about numbers and all of that.

QUESTION: What is your reading about why these attacks have increased? Is it something tied to the election?

MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I know our analysts are looking at that right now. I’m not sure if we’ve come to a conclusion about why, but I’m happy to check with them again.

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: Boko Haram.

QUESTION: No, no, can we stay on Boko Haram?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: If – on Boko Haram, how is the – the U.S. military is being meant to be working with the Nigerian. Is that cooperation ongoing, or – we haven’t seen or heard much on --

MS. HARF: Yeah. If folks remember last – or I think in November, maybe, the Nigerian Government terminated the third phase of a training that the Nigerian army battalion had been doing with the U.S. Government. And at that time, I said from this podium that we regretted the premature termination of this training, which is designed to strengthen the Nigerian army’s capacity to counter Boko Haram. So we have a relationship with them, we are trying to help them improve their capacity, but obviously, that was not an ideal development that we saw late last year.

We also think that, of course, even in the face of these horrifying attacks, that this must not, I would say, distract Nigeria from carrying out credible and peaceful elections, that – I know it’s difficult, we know it’s difficult, but they need to go forward with those.

QUESTION: So given the termination of that, and it doesn’t look like a very solid relationship right now between the two, what about efforts to work closely with the neighbors?

MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary – actually, Secretary Kerry and others have been directly engaged with the Nigerians to talk about this issue, to improve our ability to work together, and I do think actually have had some success over the past few months since this – since the third phase of this one training was terminated. So we’re trying to get back on track here and I think have had some success, but let me see if I can get you more specifics from my DOD colleagues about the cooperation military-to-military.

QUESTION: And also, given the increase in these attacks, what kinds of diplomatic efforts are going on between the U.S. and Nigeria to try to stop this?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me see what I can get you on that.

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: Just one more on Africa?

MS. HARF: Yeah, one more on Africa, then we’ll go to North Korea.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on Dominic Ongwen, what’s happening to him right now? We know the Ugandans want to try him in their own court.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. He remains in the custody of the U.S. forces deployed to the Central African Republic in support of the AU’s regional counter LRA task force. He remains in that custody. We are working with the AU RTF to determine the next steps for this individual who has identified himself, as we have mentioned multiple times, and we don’t have anything to announce. Obviously, we believe it’s important he’s held accountable and that we should work with the relevant institutions and states to determine the proper method.

QUESTION: Do you believe that Uganda’s judicial system is up to the task of trying him?

MS. HARF: We’ll work with the relevant states to determine the method of accountability. I just don’t have much more for you than that.

QUESTION: I mean – and do you have a kind of understanding – I know you’re not a member of the ICC, but the ICC’s warrant notwithstanding, who – like, who’s judicial system should take precedence in this case?

MS. HARF: That’s what we’re working through right now.

QUESTION: And how fast do you want to make this decision?

MS. HARF: I can see if there’s a timeframe. I’m guessing probably as soon as possible, given we want him to be held accountable. But what does that mean? I don't know.

QUESTION: Marie, on Syria --

MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to go to North Korea. One more on Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah. The German weekly Der Spiegel reported last week that President Bashar Assad has rebuilt Syria’s nuclear weapons infrastructure with help from Iran and North Korea.

MS. HARF: We’ve --

QUESTION: Can you confirm these reports?

MS. HARF: We’ve seen those reports, are seeking more information, certainly cannot confirm them.

QUESTION: Do you have any update with regard to the training and equipment program that you are trying to reach an agreement with the Turks?

MS. HARF: On the Syria train and equip program?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Well, my colleague at the Defense Department spoke at length about this last week, certainly, so I would refer you to him. But DOD has announced that we expect training to begin in early spring. In addition to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also agreed to host training sites. Again, we’ll – going through the process right now, but expect the training to begin in early spring.

QUESTION: Do you expect any ceremony, any signing ceremony?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything more.

QUESTION: Because when we talked to DOD officials, they referred me to the State Department because of the (inaudible). You are referring --

MS. HARF: And I just told you what I know.

QUESTION: But if there will be a signing ceremony, there will be a State Department probably --

MS. HARF: Well, I have no idea how we will handle this when we actually – when the Defense Department, I should say, actually begins the training. We’ll keep you posted.

QUESTION: On the Spiegel story, you said you’re seeking – who are you seeking more – I mean, you know – you should know this area better than anybody --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- certainly better than a German, although highly respected, news magazine.

MS. HARF: I would agree with you that we probably have information they don’t.

QUESTION: So who are you seeking information from or are you --

MS. HARF: Seeking internally or from our partners to see what more we can – if we can cooperate this, but again, not sure we can.

QUESTION: Is that – well, you couldn’t corroborate it because of intelligence reasons or because the story’s false and you want to leave it out there?

MS. HARF: We don’t know yet. We just saw the reports and we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Will you discuss this issue with the Iranians in the upcoming talks?

MS. HARF: No. The upcoming talks are about the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if they are helping the --

MS. HARF: Yes, but we don’t discuss other issues with them at those talks, as you all know.

QUESTION: But if they are --

MS. HARF: Let’s move on to North Korea and let’s --

QUESTION: But if they are helping the Assad regime to build a nuclear facility --

MS. HARF: I just said we’re not going to. I’m not sure what you don’t understand about that. We’re moving on to North Korea.

QUESTION: Just two questions about North Korea.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: A few days ago, we know North Korea said if Washington canceled a joint annual military exercise with South Korea, it would halt nuclear tests. Any comments on that?

MS. HARF: Yes. The DPRK statement that inappropriately links routine U.S.-ROK exercises to the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea is an implicit threat. A new nuclear test would be a clear violation of North Korea’s obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions, would also contravene North Korea’s commitments under the 2005 Six-Party joint statement. Our annual joint military exercises with the Republic of Korea are transparent, defense-oriented, and have been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years. We call on the DPRK to immediately cease all threats, reduce tensions, and take the steps toward denuclearization needed to resume credible negotiations. And we do remain open to dialogue with the DPRK, as we’ve said, with the aim of returning to these credible and authentic negotiations.

QUESTION: But it seems every time when the joint military exercise starts, it creates some tensions in Korean Peninsula.

MS. HARF: Well, it shouldn’t, given that it’s defense-focused, defense-oriented, transparent, and regularly every 40 years[1]. I’m not sure what is a surprise about it.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you interpret the North Korea statement as an implicit threat? Are there any plans for the U.S. to respond to that?

MS. HARF: I think I just did.

QUESTION: I mean with more than words.

MS. HARF: Well, we’re going forward with the planned exercises, so I’m not sure – which usually take place in late February or early March. No specific date yet. But nothing else that I know of.

QUESTION: So which means the joint military exercise will continue?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So you don’t think it will – because the United States won’t like to talk to North Korea. I mean --

MS. HARF: I just said we remain open to dialogue with the DPRK.

QUESTION: Okay, but it seems that although you open dialogue, but you don’t think this military exercise creates some tensions in this --

MS. HARF: No. A military exercise that is transparent and defense-oriented has no reason to.

QUESTION: Marie.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the report that former Special Representative for North Korea Policy Steven Bosworth, he and other – some other American security experts have all been meeting with North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator and some other senior diplomats in Singapore?

MS. HARF: I wasn’t aware of that. I wasn’t. Let me check. Obviously, they’re not current U.S. officials, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay. One more question on Korea.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: South Korean President Park Geun-hye, she has said she’s open to a summit with North Korea and she has no preconditions for holding such a meeting. Any comment?

MS. HARF: Well, we welcome ROK efforts to improve inter-Korean relations and urge the DPRK to reciprocate in kind.

Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MS. HARF: Elliot, yeah.

QUESTION: This just happened before the briefing, I know, but --

MS. HARF: I love those the most.

QUESTION: Do you have anything you can say on the apparent hacking of CENTCOM’s Twitter?

MS. HARF: I saw it. I’m sure someone’s looking into it there and other places. I’m happy to check after the briefing.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: I had seen that right before I came out.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Could you expand on what you mean by you hope North Korea reciprocates President Park’s proposal?

MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more to add to that.

Yes, Ali.

QUESTION: CENTCOM acknowledged like an hour ago that they had been hacked, their social media account’s been --

MS. HARF: I think that’s what Elliot just asked.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Elliot. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I said – it happened right before the briefing. I have no idea. I’m sure someone is looking into it. But I will let you know if we have anything else.

QUESTION: I had a couple loose ends.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I think a week ago the Israeli foreign ministry said that their understanding was Qatar had expelled Khaled Mashal, and now Qatar says they haven’t and he’s a dear guest of the emirate. Do you have a comment on that and do you think the political chief of a foreign terrorist organization should be dear guest of a close U.S. ally?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any comment except to say our position on Hamas has not changed, and I don’t have any comment on reported locations of people like him. But if anything changes I’m happy to let you know.

QUESTION: Well, has your position on Qatar changed? If --

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation --

MS. HARF: Consistent positions.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation if he is in Qatar or we can say Turkey? Or you don’t have --

MS. HARF: I am happy for the Qataris to speak to that. I’m not going to get in the business of confirming where people are that aren’t in the U.S.

What else? Anything else? Everyone, on a lighter note, root for the Ohio State Buckeyes tonight. I’m wearing scarlet and gray. I’m going to be in a very bad mood tomorrow if they lose. So buckle up, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

 


[1] The annual joint military exercises between the United State and Republic of Korea have been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years.

2015-01-12