The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
12:29 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Happy Friday. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have something to read at the top, and then happy to open it up to your questions.
The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist bombing inside a mosque today in Diyala province in Iraq. Attacks against innocent people are reprehensible. That this attack occurred in a place of worship and during the Holy Month of Ramadan is especially despicable and cowardly and exposes the nature of those perpetrating these attacks. Our condolences go out to the victims of these attacks and their families.
And with that, Deb.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple. There’s a report that Robert Lady – who’s a former station chief, the CIA station chief in Milan, who was in Panama being detained on a conviction in reference to a rendition case out of Italy – that he’s on a plane bound for the United States. Is – do you know what his status is, and you can you tell us what his situation is?
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding that he is, in fact, either en route or back in the United States. But beyond that I have no further details.
QUESTION: Do you know when he left?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any further details.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And they are saying that he was sort of – I think they were using the word "threatened," threatened him with – okay, if they don’t give up Snowden, well, we’ll do this. So what’s your reaction to that?
MS. HARF: Well, while we don’t normally comment on private diplomatic communications, in this case, this characterization of their conversation is completely false. The Secretary made no reference in his conversation with the Foreign Minister as to what our response would be if Venezuela were to assist Mr. Snowden or receive him. Instead, Secretary Kerry conveyed to the Foreign Minister that Mr. Snowden is accused of serious criminal offenses and should be returned to the United States to face those charges if he were to come into Venezuelan jurisdiction. Should Venezuela assist Mr. Snowden or receive him, we will consider what the appropriate response should be at that time.
QUESTION: The media reports were pretty detailed, though. I mean, it – maybe it wasn’t characterized as a threat, so to speak, but I mean, they were saying things like, well, maybe we can curtail some sales of gasoline to Venezuela or maybe we can expand the list of narco traffickers from the Treasury Department, or --
MS. HARF: Again --
QUESTION: -- I mean, it’s pretty specific.
MS. HARF: -- I’ve seen those reports. Again, the Secretary made no reference in his conversation as to what our response would be if Venezuela were to assist Mr. Snowden, I’m categorical in saying.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you clarify, the Kremlin today said it’s unaware of any plans for Snowden to seek Russian citizenship. Have you got – and then the Interfax agency actually said that Snowden’s request for Russian citizen will be processed, from a Kremlin spokesman. Do we know what the status is? Has the U.S. followed up? Has the Ambassador spoken to them?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on Mr. Snowden’s status on those reports other than to say that we continue to have diplomatic conversations about our position on Mr. Snowden. That hasn’t changed. But I don’t have any update on those reports for you.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Russia a bit?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any further comment on the jailed opposition leader in Russia and whether the Ambassador – at what level has this been taken up with the Russians? Has the Ambassador expressed his – or put out a statement that said – or expressed his opinions on it on that side?
MS. HARF: Well, we expressed our opinion quite clearly yesterday from here. I can check on what level the engagement’s being done on the ground. We do note the provisional release of the opposition leader and his co-defendant today pending appeal but remain very disappointed, of course, by the conviction and sentencing.
QUESTION: Because there have been protests against this disrupting the – well, it’s not disrupting – at the G-20. Would one think that – would the U.S. be seeking a retrial of this, or how do you think that this kind of thing could be resolved?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we remain troubled with the failure to respect the rule of law in this case. And again, like I said yesterday, this is really the latest example of a disturbing trend. We’ll continue to call on the Russian Government to cease its campaign of pressure against individuals seeking to expose corruption, and of course, to respect the rule of law. So I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about what that might look like other than to say that we were very clear yesterday that we’re disappointed by the verdict.
Anything else on Russia?
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. HARF: New subject?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: A lot has been going on since, of course, Secretary Kerry was in India, and after that now Vice President leaving this week, and he’ll be there three, four days. And yesterday he was speaking at the George Washington University, and today they had some conference call. Everybody’s talking about a lot is going on between U.S. and India on many fronts and talks and all from the bottom to the higher.
My question is here that they are talking about today when at the Pentagon that Asia Pacific – they are talking about the – changes are taking place in the Asia Pacific as far as U.S. presence is there, and India is going to be major player there. Question is that: What role you think India is going to play in the future in the region as far as all these high-level visits are concerned? And you think there is a timeline and new chapter is going to be written between the U.S. and India relations? And finally, China is not very happy whenever there’s a good relations between U.S. and India. So where do we stand?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been clear that our partnership with India is an incredibly important one. Again, you noted some of the high-level engagement and discussion of this issue. On a broad range of issues, economically speaking, clearly we’ve talked a lot about that. As you know, recently we had the U.S.-India CEO Forum which discussed our economic ties going forward. Of course, we’re going to continue that cooperation. We’ve talked about this on a number of issues, and I again would say that will continue.
QUESTION: Finally, like yesterday, Vice President also said that he led the foundation for a new India-U.S. relations and when he said that there will be rebalancing in the South Asia Pacific in the region. And he was point to point. He covered almost every issue that might be going on between the two countries. My question is: Is there more beyond that what he didn’t say or Secretary Kerry didn’t say, or we don’t know anything, which is hidden agenda any between the two countries?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything additional besides what the Vice President said and certainly what the Secretary has said. We have a broad cooperative relationship with India on a host of issues and we’ll continue to do so going forward.
Next topic. Yes.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any updates?
MS. HARF: I do. So today, as you know, the Secretary met with Saeb Erekat, with – again, like you said, in Ramallah with President Abbas, and has had phone calls with both sides on the issues. Again, like I said yesterday, things are happening hour to hour. I believe the Secretary will be making some comments soon, so I would not want to get ahead of him on that other than to say that he’s been engaged with both sides. Obviously, this is something he cares about very deeply, and I will leave it to him to give a further readout later today.
QUESTION: I have a question on Afghanistan. There has been some reports appearing in Afghanistan media about U.S. working the Taliban for divisions of (inaudible) Afghanistan as a country. Is there some truth in that? What kind of – do you see – have you read those reports?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not exactly sure what reports you’re referring to. I would say that our position on Afghanistan has been clear and has not changed, that we are committed to a peaceful, democratic, and united Afghanistan, that that’s the goal, that progress has been made. But obviously, clearly we have some more work to do. But I would underscore the peaceful, democratic, and united Afghanistan.
QUESTION: And is there any update on the talks with Taliban? Is it still suspended?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on that.
QUESTION: Just to follow quickly, Washington Post reported yesterday that – is there some kind of dispute between Washington and Kabul or especially the President Karzai? He is seeking more – some kind of damages and all that and he’s not very happy what’s going on in his country. Is there any --
MS. HARF: Are you referring to the piece about the truck issue?
QUESTION: Yes, madam.
MS. HARF: The transit issue?
QUESTION: Among others, yeah.
MS. HARF: Okay. So for details of those shipments specifically, I would refer you to the Department of Defense, of course. I think it’s also worth pointing out that we are committed to working with President Karzai – excuse me – and that we’ve said our goal is a stable, peaceful, united Afghanistan. As you know, there’s much more work to do there, but we do feel that some progress has been made, but we will continue working on it going forward.
QUESTION: And finally, Washington has faith and trust in him to run the country or to bring stability and peace and freedom?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been working with President Karzai. He was elected as president of Afghanistan. We will continue working with him. As you know, there are also elections coming up next year. So we will work with the elected Government of Afghanistan on these issues going forward.
QUESTION: And the BSA talks still remain suspended?
MS. HARF: The – let me see. Well, the formal negotiations have been suspended. We continue informal discussions with the Afghans on a bilateral security agreement. As the President said in January with President Karzai, we have two goals going forward. These discussions are going to be part of what that looks like post 2014.
QUESTION: These informal talks –
MS. HARF: Discussions.
QUESTION: -- discussions are through the same principals who are holding the negotiations?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure what the makeup is of those discussions other than to say that they’re – they continue.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea when these talks – negotiations will resume formally?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to speculate on that.
QUESTION: Just a quick one more on Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thank you. Since elections will be in Afghanistan next year, elections will be in India next year, and U.S. wants India to play much more larger and better role in Afghanistan, what do you think U.S. wants to – what kind of role U.S. wants in the future to India to play in Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been clear, broadly speaking, that we want all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, everybody in the region, to play a constructive role to help Afghanistan as it moves towards a, again, peaceful, stable, democratic, united system. So we’ve been clear about that and will continue to be, no matter who wins the elections going forward.
MS. HARF: Hi.
QUESTION: I have a question about – Congressman Wolf claims that trusted sources have told him that the State Department has demanded that its DSS agents and other survivors of the Benghazi attack sign additional nondisclosure agreements about their involvement. And I know he sent a letter to the Secretary. Can you confirm his claims? And if so, why was it necessary to sign new forms as early – as recently as this summer?
MS. HARF: So as part of their employment, most Department employees sign the classified information nondisclosure agreement; however, the Department has not asked employees – I would stress not asked employees – to sign any separate nondisclosure agreements regarding events in Benghazi. And I will repeat again that the Department has not and would not prevent any employee who wants to tell their story to Congress from doing so.
QUESTION: Sorry for being late.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I know I missed the talk about Secretary Kerry. But let me go back to it, if I may.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And ask you, if the Palestinians, as they tell me that they are quite adamant on the conditions that they are placing that they be release of the prisoners, that there would be some sort of recognition of the ’67 borders – what is the Secretary hoping to accomplish by going to Ramallah and meeting again, as he is doing now?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I said he is in Ramallah meeting with President Abbas and met this morning with Saeb Erekat as well. Broadly speaking, we’ve been clear that the goal at some point is to get everybody back to negotiations. But I also mentioned that the Secretary will be making some remarks, I believe, shortly, so I don’t want to get ahead of him in those specifics.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, Prime Minister Netanyahu always invokes the fact that he has to contend with a coalition that represents different political orientations and points of view. Abbas has the same problem. He has to contend with Palestinian factions that are from the far left, the communists and the popular front and so on, to the Islamists and all these things. So he is unable to convince them. Is it – why is there – or why there seems to be an understanding to the political sensitivity among Israelis and not so for the Palestinians?
MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary has been clear throughout this process that he believes both sides, that both leaders are working with him in good faith. Obviously, he understands they each have their own political situations to deal with. But his focus has been on the fact that both of them are working with him in good faith and want him to continue engaging on this. So I wouldn’t want to characterize it in the way you have other than to say that he’s been working with both sides in that way.
QUESTION: And lastly, to sort of augment that good faith, why can’t the Secretary get the Israelis to agree at least to stop settlement in the outposts, things that the United States historically has taken a staunch position on?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics of what the discussions are privately happening right now between the Secretary and each of the sides. Again, he’ll be speaking shortly and will discuss those issues. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where he will be.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: He will be speaking from Jordan or Ramallah?
MS. HARF: I believe he will be speaking from Jordan, but I don’t have all the specifics. I know it’s a continually moving situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Does the United States have any schedule to talk with the Cuba Government regarding the issue of Panama North Korean ships?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on those discussions.
QUESTION: I want to follow up. A Reuters investigation has shown that the – has found that the Thai navy security forces were complicit in the smuggling of the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, and the navy has strongly denied this and hinting that other security forces might be involved. Human Rights Watch has called, saying that this – demanding a strong investigation from the Thai Government. I was wondering if you’d seen those reports and if you have any comment on this, and if it’s similar to what you guys have found in – because State looks at people trafficking.
MS. HARF: We have seen the reports. We’re aware of these reports alleging that the Thai navy is helping to smuggle Rohingya migrants to Malaysia, many of whom become victims of human trafficking. We urge the Thai Government to conduct a serious and transparent investigation into the matter. We, of course, remain deeply concerned about the safety of and humanitarian conditions for vulnerable communities in Burma, including refuges and asylum seekers on Burma’s borders and elsewhere in the region.
The Department raised this specific issue in our 2013 TIP Report, which the Secretary released in June. We continue to engage with Thailand to improve efforts to combat human trafficking, including thoroughly investigating and punishing, as appropriate, reports of government complicity.
QUESTION: Staying on Burma, the President was in Paris and today stated in an interview that he was not preparing himself to run in the next 2015 presidential election. Would you consider that to be a good step, a – any comment on --
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those comments. I’m happy to take a look at it and get back to you.
QUESTION: Just to follow quickly on Burma, what is the future of the Freedom and Democracy Act on Burma that’s supposed to be through? And Kachin and other 30 Burmese organizations are calling on the Administration to act on this Freedom and Democracy Act, and also calling more freedom in Burma.
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything specific for you on the Act. As we’ve said many times – and again, I’m happy to look into that for you. As we’ve said many times, that we have welcomed the steps Burma has taken, but also underscore that there is, of course, more work to do.
QUESTION: And finally, quickly on Bangladesh please.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Any update on those building – rebuilding lives lost and also factories and all that, between – the government is calling this very important for the survival of the democracy in Bangladesh, to enhance all those factories, because thousands and thousands of lives are at stake because of those unsafe workplace.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any updates for you on that. Obviously, it’s an issue that we are tracking and concerned about, and we’ll work on going forward. I don’t have any updates, though.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S. companies doing business in Bangladesh, they will be helpful or they will be putting some help in those – building the factories?
MS. HARF: Again, I don’t have any updates for you on that, but I’m happy to look into it.
QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Today, the Turkish Foreign Minister warned the Kurdish north of Syria not to exercise any sort of semi-autonomous or independent assertion of their power, which they have, basically threatening – the undercurrent of what he was saying, that they may take some sort of military action. Do you have a response to that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a response to those specific comments. Clearly, we remain deeply concerned about the situation on the ground, about the possibility of sectarian issues and sectarian violence, but nothing beyond that in response specifically.
QUESTION: Are you aware that more and more of the Kurdish area is becoming more autonomous and more connected with the autonomous region of Iraq?
MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of these reports, but again, don’t have anything further for you on that, other than to say that we remain deeply concerned by the level of violence on the ground, particularly when it’s sectarian in nature.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you all have any reaction to the President of Venezuela lashing out at Samantha Power for what he said was despicable criticism of Venezuela’s human rights record?
MS. HARF: Well, first I would say that Samantha Power is an incredibly competent and outstanding nominee. We fully stand by her. And generally speaking, consistent with U.S. principles, we will continue to encourage respect for fundamental freedoms and democracy around the world. When it comes to Venezuela, we will continue to voice our strong support for strengthening democratic institutions, respect for freedom of expression, protection of civil society, and improved national dialogue. And along with others in the international community, we will express our concerns when there is credible evidence that fundamental freedoms are not being respected in any country.
QUESTION: You guys are having a tit-for-tat again with Venezuela. Is this – I mean, the U.S. was kind of hoping maybe they could improve relationships between these two countries, or --
MS. HARF: Well, we continue to --
QUESTION: -- how are we doing on that?
MS. HARF: We continue to seek a functional and productive relationship with Venezuela, and we remain open to a dialogue on a range of issues of mutual interest. Those include counternarcotics, counterterrorism, and the commercial relationship, including energy.
QUESTION: These two things – like, Snowden and this – and it just seems like they’re just exchanging barbs.
MS. HARF: Well, again --
QUESTION: That’s not much of a relationship.
MS. HARF: Well, again, we continue to seek a productive relationship with them. As with any – many relationships, there are ups and downs. But our goal is a functional and productive – excuse me – relationship with Venezuela, and we remain open to a dialogue with them on a range of issues.
QUESTION: Marie, it was last month actually where Secretary Kerry was in Guatemala and had spoken to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister and said that there was going to be – they were going to work on a series of – to try to improve relations, a series of contacts that would lead to, perhaps, further talks. Have those – has that – have those talks started taking place, or have they stopped, given the tensions over Snowden and everything else?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any additional readouts of that to give to you today. I can check and see what the status is. I think the Secretary made clear that we’re open to having a productive relationship with Venezuela going forward. There are complex issues that we’re dealing with. Certainly some of them aren’t easy. But I think he remains committed to working with them going forward, but I don’t have any update for you on those contacts.
MS. HARF: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Okay. Some people are suggesting around town, now that you have a civilian government – in fact, many of the members come from the former government, and so on – that this actually could spare you sort of the critical position of having to define what happened in Egypt as a coup. Is that the thinking now, that the military does not really control, that there is an interim government? Is that how – is that what is likely to happen?
MS. HARF: Well, in terms of the determination on that, that’s still ongoing. That process is still ongoing. We’re going to continue to say the same things we’ve said about what we are pushing for in Egypt, which is, of course, sustainable, inclusive democracy.
QUESTION: But you do see what is happening as a transition political entity, correct, rather than a military entity?
MS. HARF: Rather than what? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Rather than a military entity. It’s a political, civil entity, the current transitional government, and not a military one, not controlled by the military.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to put labels on it. We are working with the interim government because they are the ones who are tasked with quickly getting us back to a democratic process. I know that that process is ongoing, and it’s not going to be easy. But again, we’re working with the interim government because they’re the ones who can do this most quickly, of course.
QUESTION: Okay. But following on that definition, wouldn’t that spare you having to define this as a military coup or a nonmilitary coup?
MS. HARF: Well, that determination, as I said, is still ongoing. At some point it will be made, but I have nothing new on that to announce today.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- can I go back to the former CIA guy – or maybe he’s still CIA – that is on his – en route back. I was wondering, is – are the U.S. authorities preparing to talk to him when he gets aside, or is the U.S. going to cooperate with the Italians on this? I mean, is he – in what form is he coming back, just as an ordinary citizen or somebody to be questioned?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any additional details for you on that.
QUESTION: On Egypt further, Secretary Kerry said yesterday – he suggested that the removal of Morsy could have averted a civil war, which seems to be something moving in the direction of characterizing it as something other than a coup. Should we be perceiving these comments – should we be – does this indicate that he’s moving away from characterizing it ultimately as a coup, saying that this actually could have avoided military action?
MS. HARF: Well, as the President said on July 3rd, we were deeply concerned about actions that the Egyptian military took. That hasn’t changed. I wouldn’t read anything into the Secretary’s comments about the determination on the language that we’re going to use. We’re in no way saying that the military’s actions were justified. The Secretary wasn’t saying that.
But it’s also true that we were concerned about the situation on the ground in the days leading up to July 3rd and that millions of Egyptians had legitimate grievances with the way the Morsy government was governing. So what we’re focused on now is working with the interim government and pushing them to quickly return to a stable, sustainable – excuse me – inclusive democracy.
QUESTION: So the feeling in this building was that Egypt was on the precipice of a civil war? The United States --
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to characterize it in those terms. Of course, we were concerned about the situation on the ground prior to July 3rd and note that, again, millions of Egyptians were out in the streets expressing legitimate grievances with the way the Morsy government was governing. But again, that’s in no way justifying the actions. We made clear our deep concerns with the actions the military took. But right now, we’re focused on going forward and how we get to a place with a sustainable democracy.
QUESTION: I guess I raise this issue in reference to what just was raised a minute ago about the Secretary saying that it diverted a civil war. So it was that enormous?
MS. HARF: Again, I don’t know the exact words that he used. I don’t know if he was that definitive.
QUESTION: I can read it to you if you want.
QUESTION: He did, yeah.
MS. HARF: No, no. I’m not sure that he was that definitive. What he was saying, and what we’ve said all along, is that we were deeply concerned by the actions the military took on July 3rd. That hasn’t changed. We’ve been clear; the first statement the President put out was clear on that point. So this was in – the Secretary was in no way justifying those actions. Again, we were concerned about the situation on the ground, about the deep polarization in Egypt prior to July 3rd. So going forward, we remain concerned about polarization. That’s why we’re encouraging a return quickly to an inclusive process that gets us back to sustainable democracy.
QUESTION: But he did say that. He did say that. I mean, you said it wasn’t definitive, but that is definitively what he said.
MS. HARF: He was expressing the notion that we were deeply concerned with the situation on the ground prior to July 3rd. We’ve been clear about that. But again, I don’t think there’s any confusion that the U.S. Government was concerned by the actions the military took. The President said so in his statement that day. This is no way changes that.
QUESTION: The Turkish --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Would not make such an assertion unless they – he had the proper intelligence that may have pointed to the fact that Egypt, indeed, was very close to a civil war, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we were – I’m not going to use those kind – that kind of terminology. I’ll let the Secretary’s words stand on their own. I will say that we made clear that we were concerned about the situation in Egypt, about the polarization, about violence. And again, that’s not a justification. That’s a concern that we certainly had before July 3rd.
QUESTION: The Turkish Prime Minister today accused the U.S. and other Western nations of double standards when it came to that, because it wouldn’t say that the overthrow was a coup. Any reaction to that? I mean, was this a --
MS. HARF: We’ve been clear that the determination process in that– in terms of that language is ongoing. I have nothing new to announce on that. But I think, stepping back, we’ve made clear our concerns with the actions the military took. We’ve been concerned about that all along. That hasn’t changed.
I think it’s important to remember that what we’re focused on, going forward, is that we have a situation now, as Deputy Secretary Burns said, where Egypt has a second chance to get back on a path towards sustainable democracy and that what matters now is what happens next. And it’s in the best interest of the Egyptian people to move away from the polarization that we saw both before and after July 3rd, to move away from that violence, and to get back on a path toward sustainable democracy.
QUESTION: But how do you expect the Egyptian people to move past what happened in what happened with the overthrow of Morsy if you have a whole section of the population that feels like they have not – that their voices weren’t heard and that their president that they democratically elected wasn’t honored? I mean, isn’t there something where there has to be some acknowledgement of what happened and some remedy one way or the other to be able to move forward?
MS. HARF: Well, this is exactly the reason why we have pressed the interim government to make this a truly inclusive process. It has to be, going forward, that there’s no other options; it’s in the best interest of the Egyptian people to do so. Again, what term we use or not use is an issue that’s ongoing, and I will say it again that we made clear our concerns with what the military did on the 3rd, but also that there were legitimate grievances that millions of Egyptians had. So our focus, for exactly those reasons, is to get back to a truly inclusive process that takes us back to a place of sustainable – and I would put emphasis on the word sustainable – democracy.
QUESTION: Do you agree with the Muslim Brotherhood’s claim that an election that was deemed – or termed by the entire world to have been a fair and transparent election were – actually they were robbed of that election? Do you feel that they feel that the world is really taking a double standard on this issue?
MS. HARF: Again, we would express our concerns with the actions the military took, but also acknowledge the legitimate grievances that millions of Egyptians had. I’m not going to respond one way or another to that characterization.
QUESTION: Okay. Have you issued a statement on the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which actually determines this thing, so we are – all can be clear on how you determine whether something is a coup or not a coup?
MS. HARF: Again, that process is ongoing. I can double-check on what where that stands --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) The language that exists on the book.
MS. HARF: -- on the actual language. I’m sure it’s also available out there in the public as well, and everyone’s taking a look at that. They’re looking at what the legal issues are and the facts on the ground in making a determination.
QUESTION: Do you have any further contacts between the State Department or this building and its officials and the interim government? I mean, what are those discussions – what do they entail right now?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything specific to update you on. I know that our diplomats on the ground are in constant contact with the interim government, with all groups and parties, as we’ve said they will be. I don’t have any specific meetings to read out, but those conversations very much mirror what we’ve been saying here, that there are specific steps, parts of the process that need to be taken, that we need to get back towards a democratic process. We’ve seen some progress in this – in these areas. We’ve talked about some of that from here. But again, we are stressing the fact that it really needs to be inclusive, because we remain concerned about the political polarization in Egypt currently.
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the speech by the interim president, yesterday?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any specific reaction to the speech. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Yeah. On the CIA Panama case, are you in contact with the Italian authorities to – or will you be to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?
MS. HARF: I have no further details for you on that case.
QUESTION: Are you concerned this might happen again somewhere else?
MS. HARF: I have no further details for you on that case.
QUESTION: How do you characterize the stubbornness of the Italian authorities in pursuing this case?
MS. HARF: I’m going to say it again: I have no further details for you on that case.
QUESTION: Is it – is this a big problem or not in the bilateral relations with Italy? Do you have --
MS. HARF: Do you just want me to keep saying it? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: I have nothing further for you on this case. Let’s move on, thank you.
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything specific on that particular legislation. I’d have to check into that and get back to you. Clearly, sanctions, both multilateral and unilateral sanctions, are a key part of our policy vis-a-vis Iran. We think it’s one of the main pressure levers that we have to get them back to the table, but I don’t have a specific comment on that legislation.
QUESTION: Would you be more willing to just wait and see how the new President responds to, like, the P-5+1 talks or --
MS. HARF: Again, nothing specific in response to that legislation. Of course, we’re waiting until the new president’s sworn in. We will see how he – what he does once in office. We don’t want to prejudge that at this point. But the overall point is that the Iranians know what they have to do. We had a meeting last week of the P-5+1. As you know, Wendy Sherman was there. We remain unified on this issue. We’ll continue to apply pressure, but I wouldn’t want to get ahead of an inauguration that hasn’t happened yet for their president.
QUESTION: But generally, are you wanting to hold off on putting more sanctions on, or --
MS. HARF: I don’t want to characterize it one way or the other in terms of when new sanctions might or might not be applied.
MS. HARF: I actually haven’t seen his letter. Again, I told you what our policy was and I wouldn’t want to speculate on how we’ll respond, but clearly we are committed to working closely with Congress on this issue going forward.
QUESTION: So do – how many State Department employees – how common is it to sign a nondisclosure agreement?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a number for you. I don’t – wouldn’t want to guess at a percentage. I think it’s probably fairly common.
QUESTION: In addition to security clearances?
MS. HARF: So all – most State Department employees – I will characterize it that way – most State Department employees sign the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement. Most employees here sign that.
QUESTION: And no one signed it recently relating to their Benghazi --
MS. HARF: The Department has not asked employees to sign any separate nondisclosure agreements regarding events in Benghazi.
QUESTION: Is there anything that the Department could do to bring this Benghazi issue to an end, or do you expect to be responding to this issue day after day through the next two or three years?
MS. HARF: Well, what we’re focused on right now, and we talked about this a little bit yesterday, is the importance of embassy security going forward and securing our people and our facilities around the world. We are continuing that conversation with Congress today. We will continue working with Congress as questions about this issue arise, of course. But in terms of what our focus is on going forward, it’s really how we best secure our people in the future.
QUESTION: Are there any concerns about Congress cutting the budget for the State Department? Currently, that is like in their current --
MS. HARF: Well, I made some of those concerns clear yesterday, and I’m happy to do it again today. We were concerned about – and we remain concerned about the proposed budget cuts, which we would consider devastating to the State Department budget. As I said, it would include a 41 percent cut to economic and development assistance, which could impact our assistance programs all around the world in very negative ways. So our concern on that remains. I don’t have anything further other than that.
QUESTION: Yes, on China’s human rights – on China human rights activist. You said here yesterday that Chinese – U.S. Government has openly urged China to release immediately the prominent scholar and human right activist Dr. Xu Zhiyong, I think.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you received any response from China or have you raised this issue with China – to China?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details on that, at this moment, other than what I said yesterday.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Just to follow up quickly. Have you had a chance to look at Senator Rubio’s letter to the Secretary calling for certain reactions and actions on both the D.P.R.K. and Cuba? And does the Department intend to respond, or have they already?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update from yesterday. I haven’t seen the letter. Broadly speaking, of course, we are committed to the process that’s undergoing right now. There’s a process underway that is a UN-led process to determine what violations potentially occurred with the ship that was interdicted in Panama. I don’t have anything new on that. Clearly, we’re committed to seeing this process go forward, but I’m not going to speculate on what outcomes that process might lead us to.
QUESTION: Rubio’s letter speaks to more than just the UN process. It speaks directly to U.S. policy towards Cuba and whether there should be a cutting back on people-to-people programs, whether there should be a cutting back on engagement. I understand you said you haven’t seen the letter yet. Do you have any idea – are you waiting till Secretary Kerry gets back for him to look at the letter – when you might respond to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have a timeline for when a potential response might come. In general, we believe that it’s important to increase people-to-people ties between the United States and Cuba, because it’s in the U.S. national security interest to do so. So broadly speaking, that guides our policy. We’ll continue going forward.
QUESTION: But the other day you said that there was going – that Panama had asked for U.S. assistance in this issue. What does that assistance look like here?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any further details for you on that today.
QUESTION: So are you waiting for the UN process to be completed before you – I mean, it’s just unclear to me what that assistance would be if yesterday you said there was not a team that had gone down to help them. What possibly can it do – can the U.S. be doing if --
MS. HARF: Well, the U.S. has broad capabilities that we could possibly use to assist – technical capabilities, expert capabilities. Again, I don’t have any specific details for what that might look like in this situation.
QUESTION: Mr. Rodman visit to North Korea, and he have a mission to bring out Kenneth Bae from North Korea. Do you have any information about his mission, why he had to go to North Korea? Did he – any discussion with the State Department or government officers?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details for you on that. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Do you have any information on Ramzi Mowafi, who is believed to be the leader of the jihadists operating in the Sinai Peninsula, and who is believed, according to the Egyptian security forces, to be involved in the prison break in which former President Morsy escaped and some other Muslim Brotherhood senior members?
MS. HARF: So we’ve seen those reports – I know you asked about this yesterday – but we’re unable to confirm this information at this time.
MS. HARF: We continue our close coordination with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the SMC in the field, but there are no immediate plans for opposition leadership to come to Washington at this time.
QUESTION: Do you know if he’s going to New York, or is that not --
MS. HARF: I believe that --
QUESTION: -- part of your invitation?
MS. HARF: I believe that the details of a potential visit to the UN in New York are still being confirmed. I would refer you to them for more details on that.
QUESTION: But the opposition sources do claim that he is coming next week.
MS. HARF: Coming to New York or Washington?
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, again, like I said, I know of no immediate plans for opposition leadership to visit Washington at this time.
QUESTION: A Syria-related question: Last week, there was a question about the presence of Pakistani Taliban fighting with the Syrian rebels, and Jen had said that the U.S. is looking into those reports. Has the U.S. been able to find out, are there Pakistani Talibans fighting in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any updates on what she said last week. I know that she spoke about this. Clearly, we’ve seen the reports. We’re concerned about any type of those – any type of militancy that would be coming from that region, but I don’t have anything to update you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you. Okay.
QUESTION: Also on Syria?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I know I asked yesterday, but is there any update on the Geneva 2?
MS. HARF: No, no update.
MS. HARF: That’s it? Thank you. Everyone have a great weekend.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)