:24 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. A quick travel update at the top, then I’m happy to open it up for questions.
Today, Secretary Kerry continued his travel in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Later today, he is scheduled to travel to Vietnam. Tomorrow, he will visit Ho Chi Minh City, where his meetings will emphasize the growth of our bilateral trade relationship and education’s empowering role. This trip to Asia will be his fourth to the region since becoming Secretary of State. The Secretary’s travel to Vietnam and the Philippines demonstrates the enduring U.S. commitment and his personal connections to the region. The Secretary’s visit to Vietnam will highlight the dramatic transformation in the bilateral relationship over the years and our growing partnership in many areas.
And with that, Deb.
QUESTION: On the North Korean leader’s execution of his uncle, is the U.S. worried about increased instability there on the peninsula? I mean, we’re probably going to see more purging of officials coming up. And also, is this – what does this say about the prospects for any kind of diplomacy work on the nuclear issue?
MS. HARF: Well, as you know, our core policy on North Korea remains unchanged, that we remain focused on the need for North Korea to denuclearize. We’re going to increase our discussions with our allies and partners in the region about the internal situation in North Korea.
I would say a few points. I’m obviously not going to speculate on internal North Korean decision making or the motivations of the leadership. I know there’s been some questions about that this week.
But I think what this is indicative of is really the values of the regime, their low regard for human life, what’s probably one of the worst human rights records in the world. I think you saw our statement last night that – and I would challenge anyone to characterize it in a way different than what we did. So we’re going to keep talking to our allies and partners in the region. Our emphasis going forward will be to continue our collaboration, to deepen our collaboration with our regional allies and our five-party partners as well because we think this is an incredibly important issue.
QUESTION: You said “increase discussions.”
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Like --
MS. HARF: Deepen, increase.
QUESTION: Who are you talking to? Who’s doing the talking?
QUESTION: Coming up, like --
MS. HARF: Who on which – who are we talking to, what countries or who on our side --
QUESTION: Who – both.
MS. HARF: -- or all of the above?
QUESTION: Both, both.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any specific – I can see who on our side. Obviously, we have a range of officials who engage on this issue. We talk to, of course, our regional allies, South Korea and Japan, our five-party partners, obviously including Russia and China as well. So we’re going to continue those conversations going forward.
QUESTION: But is it like a stepped-up effort or something that --
MS. HARF: Just deepen the collaboration and cooperation on this issue. Obviously, we’re going to keep evaluating the situation and how best to move forward. But this, I just again think, underscores the horrific human rights record of the North Korean regime.
QUESTION: Do you – just picking up on Deb’s question, when you’re talking to Russia but perhaps particularly China, are you asking them to convey messages to the North Korean leadership that now is not really a time for instability which purges would suggest that would lead to?
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t think any time is really a good time for instability. Certainly, stability on the Korean Peninsula is very important to us. If you remember, we’re talking about Secretary Kerry’s trip to Asia. If you remember back months and months ago when he first got here, the trip he made at another time when there had been heightened tensions in the region as well. So I think he has a history of working on this issue.
But it really is that we’re at a point – and we do talk to the Chinese about this quite a bit – we’re on the same page in terms of urging the North Koreans to come back in line with their international obligations. But what we really see is that North Korea has a choice, right, between continuing down a path of isolation and impoverishment for their own people, or meeting its obligations and coming back into the international system. That’s certainly what we talk to the Chinese and others about, and the point the Chinese are making with the North Koreans directly as well.
QUESTION: And Marie, one of the key concerns about that is the provocative act by the military in DPRK to South Koreans, and South Koreans are saying that they are consulting closely with the United States. Do you share this concern with them?
MS. HARF: Well, which concern specifically?
QUESTION: The fear of the provocative act from DPRK to South Korea.
MS. HARF: Certainly, it’s something we’re always concerned about. We constantly talk to the South Koreans, the Japanese, others, the Chinese in the region about it as well. Certainly, it’s something we’re concerned about, and we would urge the North Koreans not to take provocative acts, not to do so going forward, because it’s not in the interests of regional stability.
QUESTION: Do you have any insights you can share with us about what the United States’ assessment is of what’s actually happening internally in North Korea?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I’m not sort of going to speculate or do an internal analysis of what’s going on inside the North Korean regime. Obviously, this was an incredibly brutal act, as I said last night in the statement, and we’ll keep following developments to see where the regime goes from here.
QUESTION: But do you have any indication perhaps that he carried out this act because there is some kind of move against him, a move to try and oust him?
MS. HARF: Again, I don’t want to do that kind of analysis from here. I know it’s something that folks on the outside and internally are looking at. I just don’t have any new analysis on that for you, but we’re going to keep watching it and seeing what happens, certainly.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. HARF: Yes. Well, I think more on North Korea and then we’ll --
QUESTION: When you talk about the brutality and the human rights, how does this affect your sanctions in the future?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything new in terms of outlay. Obviously, we have an incredibly strong sanctions regime in place on the North Koreans right now. We are very, very concerned about the human rights record there. That’s why there are a host of sanctions in place. I don’t have anything new to announce, but certainly, it’s something we’re very concerned about.
QUESTION: Jang Song Thaek was in charge of the economic reform in North Korea, but now he’s – he was executed. So – and at the same time, he also was in charge of the negotiation with China. He played an important role before. But how do you analyze North Korean coming – North Korean economic reform and openness to the world? Do you concern about that?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been very clear. I just mentioned the impoverishment of the North Korean people, in part because of decisions the North Korean regime has taken. There are sanctions in place that right now have led to this dire economic situation that we see in North Korea today, and it’s up to the North Korean regime to take steps to come back in line with their international obligations and provide the economic space for their people to come out of this horrible situation. Obviously, we haven’t seen them do that yet.
You asked about China as well. Obviously, China and the regime in Pyongyang have an important relationship. It’s an important part of the discussions that we and our partners have with North Korea about the possible paths forward. And that I think, of course, will continue.
QUESTION: Do you have some movement at the border of China and North Korea after the execution?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check into it.
QUESTION: Iran. As you’re well aware, the experts talks have ended in Vienna. The Russian foreign ministry has explicitly said the U.S. Administration’s decision “goes against the spirit” of the November 24th first-step plan of action. And the Iranians have also suggested that yesterday’s designations are going to make it more difficult to reach an agreement on implementation.
Was it a good idea to do additional designations while you were in the middle of those implementation talks?
MS. HARF: Well, let – it’s a good question. Let me make a few points. We did just finish four days of technical discussions in Vienna. We do believe we made progress in these discussions and considered the atmosphere to be constructive throughout the discussions as well. These are complicated issues. There were always plans for teams to return to their capitals for further consultations, so this is certainly not out of the ordinary.
In terms of the designations, we have been very clear with the Iranians throughout the entire negotiating process – and indeed gave them notification that these new designations would be occurring – that we would continue to enforce existing sanctions, including by designating additional entities or individuals under them. Now, and in the Joint Plan of Action, it’s very explicit that there should be no nuclear-related sanctions, but we were very clear that current sanctions would be enforced through designation.
So that’s certainly our position. We are prepared to complete the work we started this week in Vienna as soon as possible and get implementation rolling.
QUESTION: Do you think the designations announced yesterday have made more difficult the work in Vienna?
MS. HARF: I think it was always going to be difficult. These are complicated --
QUESTION: I know it was always going to be difficult. That wasn’t my question. My question was: Did the --
MS. HARF: That wasn’t my entire answer either, but --
QUESTION: Well, but let’s --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Were the – do the new designations make it harder to do the work in Vienna?
MS. HARF: Again, these are very complicated issues. I’m not going – I don’t actually think that that’s a fair statement to make, in part because we’ve been clear throughout the --
QUESTION: It’s not a statement. It’s a question.
MS. HARF: Can I answer it, then?
MS. HARF: That we have been very clear throughout the entire negotiating process with the Iranians that we were going to continue with designations. They knew that. They signed on to the Joint Plan of Action knowing that. And so therefore, it was well known to everybody that this would continue happening. So no, I don’t think that’s the case. They know what our position is. They signed up to the Joint Plan of Action knowing that. And we’re looking forward to moving ahead with implementation.
QUESTION: So you don’t think – just so I’m – you don’t think it’s the case that this has made it more difficult?
MS. HARF: No, I don’t. I think it was always going to be very complicated.
QUESTION: And do you have any timing for the next round of implementation talks?
MS. HARF: We don’t. I know that the EU, who obviously organizes them, is working on scheduling. Lots of schedules, it’s the holidays, but hopefully as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And then one other thing that I had asked about yesterday, which is when you – earlier just now, you said you gave the Iranians notification that these --
MS. HARF: Pre-notification.
QUESTION: -- yeah – that these new designations were going to happen. When did you tell them that?
MS. HARF: Yesterday in Vienna on the sidelines of the experts meeting, but before they were made public here. Again, it wasn’t all the details of what would be in this, but that we would move ahead with notifications, as we’ve done throughout the negotiating process.
QUESTION: And – I’m sorry, say that again. As you’ve done throughout the – you’ve given them pre-notifications for any other designations?
MS. HARF: I don’t know of any other, certainly, but it’s my understanding that that has been the case. I can double-check on specifics.
QUESTION: And so you told them before it was announced publicly --
MS. HARF: That there would be additional designations coming.
QUESTION: But not the specific ones?
MS. HARF: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask you why you felt it was necessary to unveil those designations yesterday when you were in the middle of complicated talks in Vienna? You could have chosen to have held off for another week or 10 days, which would have allowed you perhaps to have got a date for the start of the implementation of the six-month deal.
MS. HARF: Quite frankly, as these designations come forward – and they’re not just State, they’re mainly Treasury, but also State as well – we believe it’s important to continue enforcing sanctions. We’ve been very clear, as – for example, as we go to Congress and say, “No new sanctions,” because we’re continuing to vigorously enforce the current sanctions, that that’s part of it, and because we’ve been clear with the Iranians and our partners throughout that we will continue with designations. I know there’s been a lot of talk about timing and why these came when. I know yesterday that was actually a question about Congress.
But it’s just – as these things come forward, for a variety of sort of logistical and bureaucratic reasons – they happen at certain times – but we think that we will move forward as soon as possible on the implementation, and look forward to our experts all getting together again and working out some of the issues.
QUESTION: But presumably, you could have – what difference does it make to unveil the designations yesterday as opposed to, say, the 2nd of January, start of the new year, 2014, let’s start with some designations? What’s the difference?
MS. HARF: I can check with the team and see if there’s actually a substantive reason. I don’t actually know the answer to that, if there’s a reason why you designate things at certain times. But I think it just underscores the notion – again, I sound like a broken record today – but that we’ve always been clear we would continue with designations. But we also believe it’s very important to move forward as quickly as possible with an implementation agreement laying out how this will all be put into place.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So if you’ve been so clear with them all along that you would continue with new designations, were you surprised at all that they would react this way to these?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I would take a little issue with the “react this way.” We always said that at the end of this round of implementation talks, folks were likely going to have to go back to capitals for additional consultations. That’s not surprising. So I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: I mean, there were comments about it saying that it violates the spirit of the agreement in Geneva. If they’ve – they don’t seem to like this, but if you told them it was coming, did it surprise you at all?
MS. HARF: I mean, I don’t think it surprised – I don’t want to characterize whether I was surprised or not by someone’s comments.
MS. HARF: I think what we’ve been very clear about, quite frankly, with everyone, is that we would continue doing designations, and that’s exactly what we did. And I think that, again, we look forward to all getting together as soon as possible with the rest of the experts in moving forward.
QUESTION: And I think the last comment that we had on when this would all wrap up was Secretary Kerry saying in the coming weeks it would probably be done. Does this push that back at all, or are we still on track for in the coming weeks?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, it doesn’t. Obviously, these are complicated issues. There’s a big holiday in the middle, lots of schedules to coordinate, of course, and other issues going on as well. But no, I think we’re still tracking towards that and hopefully can do it as soon as possible.
QUESTION: I’m just checking. If you pre-notified the Iranians, I’m imagining you also told your P5+1 partners that these were coming, too.
MS. HARF: I have no reason to believe that’s not the case.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Iran?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned that it’s – came to the – I mean, its end at the four days of technical consultations. What’s the next step?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ll – everyone will get together, I think, probably back in Vienna to continue the technical talks about implementation, and as soon as we can, be able to say this is the date, the six-month start, this is exactly the timeline for certain parts of implementation in terms of what the Iranians have to do, what we have to do, and lay out a real plan for how the Joint Plan of Action will be implemented. And then, of course, we begin on the comprehensive negotiations.
QUESTION: When you say “we” – I mean, because I’m trying to figure out – who are participant in this technical consultation?
MS. HARF: It’s – so it’s all of the P5+1 member countries with the EU leading it, and Iran. So – and technical experts are folks – are nuclear sanctions experts, the folks that have been part of the delegation negotiating the overall agreement, but it’s the expert side of the house that are there, or that were there.
QUESTION: The IAEA is participant?
MS. HARF: IAEA is part of it. That’s part of the reason it was held in Vienna, because they will be doing the verification and monitoring aspect of implementing the joint plan. So they absolutely are a key part of this.
QUESTION: And this issue – but not the issue that my fellow colleagues raise it – with the designation and the sanction – in the same time that you were trying – Administration was trying to tell the Congress, “Slow the pace of sanctions or more sanctions,” these designations come. Can you explain to us or anybody what’s the difference between those two things --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- not as a word “designation” and “sanction”?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Because at the end, it looks like punishing somebody or like threatening somebody, “If you don’t do this, I will do this.”
MS. HARF: Well, so the difference between new sanctions and designations under existing sanctions are – there is a set of existing sanctions under either executive order or congressional action or international sanctions through, for example, the UN Security Council. So there are all these different sanctions that are already on the books. And you implement those sanctions by designating entities or individuals that are in violation of them. So for example, if a sanction says, “A company cannot provide material assistance to Iran’s nuclear program” – I’m totally generalizing, I don’t know if one actually says that --
MS. HARF: -- I’m sure it does, but let’s say that’s the sanction. Now, you implement that by designating companies or individuals that are in violation of that sanction. That’s what the designations are. New sanctions would be saying – putting in place actual new, “We’re going to sanction people for doing X or Y.” And that’s what we’ve said should not move forward in the Congress, that we will enforce the existing sanctions on the books – and that means designating people if they’re in violation of them – but that we do not think this is the right time to put new sanctions on the books. And in fact, that’s part of the Joint Plan of Action language in it, that we won’t do so for six months.
QUESTION: But it’s not going to have an economic impact, which is like all these wishes that were there to make a bargain about it.
MS. HARF: What do you – it’s not going to – what you do you mean, “It’s not going to have an economic impact”? In what way?
QUESTION: I mean, to make a designation of the form of the rules or regulation that came out. Even if it’s like old sanctions and just – you are designating people, it’s going to have impact, right?
MS. HARF: Correct, yes. And we were very clear throughout the entire negotiating process that we would continue enforcing those sanctions, and that means in practice – and we’ve been very explicit with our partners and with the Iranians – designating any new entities that are in violation of the existing sanctions.
QUESTION: And from – if you said from – Iranians already the first reaction were that this is somehow changing the rules of the game. Is it changing the rules of the game?
MS. HARF: Absolutely not. Again, we negotiated a Joint Plan of Action that stated very clearly, “no new nuclear-related sanctions.” At every step of this process, we were very clear that we would continue designating people under existing sanctions. There’s not a lot of mystery here. Again, folks have gone back to their capitals to consult, and we have every expectation that we will move soon to put in place an implementation plan and go forward with negotiations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I have one more on this?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Why – you guys often use the phrase, “It’s complicated,” but pretty much everything the State Department deals with, I think, is complicated. Why would you give the Iranians any excuse not to carry out the agreement? Why not at the very least try to get the implementation portion of the agreement nailed down before doing additional designations?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I would maybe just take issue with the premise of the question. We actually don’t think this is an excuse to not implement the JPA, because throughout the entire process we were very clear with them that we would do this. And they signed up to the JPA knowing that. So we just don’t think --
QUESTION: They may not view it the same way. I mean, the things that they’ve said – I mean, I think it’s interesting to – this is so – this is – the deputy foreign minister said, “We’re evaluating the situation and Iran will react according to the new sanctions imposed on 19 companies and individuals. It is against the spirit of the Geneva deal.” And then the foreign ministry spokesman said – criticized it as “unconstructive, repetitive, and useless measure,” and said it was in contrast to efforts to dissuade U.S. lawmakers from adopting – from enacting new sanctions or passing new sanctions legislation.
So what I don’t get – I mean, just as a tactical matter, even if you told them and even if they had every reason to expect this and even if you gave them a bit of warning the day of, does it not risk upsetting the apple cart?
MS. HARF: Well, I think a couple points: The first is that actually, one of the arguments that we – the Secretary and everyone else – has made to Congress to not impose new sanctions is that we will continue enforcing the current ones. So I would take a little bit of issue with the notion that somehow – I think one of the quotes you read – that we actually think this is part of saying to Congress, “Look, we’re still going to keep up the pressure. We just don’t want any more at this point.”
But again, I’ll let the Iranians speak for themselves in terms of their thinking on this. We have every expectation and are planning to move as soon as possible to get everyone back together and continue forward on the implementation path. That’s why we, as we negotiated this agreement, were very explicit with them about the fact that we would continue designating but that there would be no new sanctions. So again, it’s an ongoing conversation. I’ll check in again with our team and see if they have any more insight. But when we have something to announce on moving forward with implementation, I think we will hopefully do so soon.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. HARF: Hold on one sec.
QUESTION: One more on (inaudible)?
QUESTION: You’ve had some closed-door briefings, but did you communicate with Congress that these were going to happen – about them happening, these designations –
MS. HARF: The designations?
QUESTION: -- before you announced them?
MS. HARF: I’ll check. I don’t know.
QUESTION: I just have one other question. Do you know whether the Iranians are still enriching?
MS. HARF: As we speak?
QUESTION: As we speak, there is no deal. They could do –
MS. HARF: I can check.
QUESTION: I mean, and if they do, presumably that’s okay because there’s no deal.
MS. HARF: Well, let me check on what the status is today. I think whatever the answer is – and I just don’t know, but let me check – I think it underscores the importance of moving quickly to put in place the first step and move towards a comprehensive agreement, because obviously the goal is for them not to be able to make progress on their nuclear program, which this first step does.
QUESTION: Related to Iran, can I ask you about Mr. Levinson? Obviously, the AP story has come out, and we’ve interviewed his family’s lawyer, who says he wants the Administration to refocus on bringing him home and also says that his case has taken a back seat to other issues with Iran in recent years. Do you have a reaction to that?
MS. HARF: Well, yes, and thank you for the question. I’d make a few points here. For the six and half years that Bob Levinson has been missing, it has been a top priority for the U.S. Government to find him, to help him return to his family. That has not changed in any way. It has remained consistently a top priority. You saw President Obama raise it in his conversation with President Rouhani. Secretary Kerry has raised it with Foreign Minister Zarif. We have consistently raised it, as we have with the other two American citizens who we would like to see returned home from Iran. We do this and we raise this on a daily – or not daily, excuse me – on a regular basis. I’ll rephrase that. So it’s always been a top priority for us.
Since Bob disappeared, we have vigorously pursued and continue to pursue all investigative leads as we would with any American citizen missing or detained overseas, and we’ve committed countless hours to this investigation, and of course want to do everything in our power to ensure that he is returned to his family.
QUESTION: Do you have any new leads? I believe the last one was a video a couple years ago.
MS. HARF: Well, obviously we – there’s an ongoing investigation, which is very sensitive, and we can’t talk publicly about what that entails, what leads they may or may not be looking at. Obviously this is of great concern to us and something we’re very, very focused on.
QUESTION: Does the State Department view the recent talks with Iran over the nuclear issue as a potential opening for further talks on Mr. Levinson? And is this a strategy that the U.S is pursuing to bring him home?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly pursuing all avenues to bring him home, and we’ve said repeatedly that we raised this with the Iranians on the sidelines of the P-5+1. Secretary Kerry raised it with Foreign Minister Zarif when they first met at UNGA, if we all remember this. And we raise it consistently with the Iranian delegation, again, because as we know, he went missing while visiting Kish Island in Iran. So we, as we have called on since the beginning, have asked the Iranian Government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family, because the government had previously offered its assistance in this matter. And so today we would reiterate to the Government of Iran, to anyone else who has any information about his whereabouts, to undertake efforts to ensure he returns home to his family.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You’ve had the unusual situation of high-level officials being out on the streets in the demonstrations. Ms. Nuland, the Assistant Secretary, the German Foreign Minister was involved. You’ve had protests now over the last couple of days from both Russia and I think Ukrainian officials, and one Russian official – I believe it was Mr. Pushkov from the Duma who said: What if we had one of our officials go to demonstrate in the United States like if Mr. Rogozin were outside the White House in an anti-Obamacare demonstration --
MS. HARF: It’s a free country.
QUESTION: -- saying the President should be impeached because his reforms are going to kill people by depriving them of their insurance or something like that? Wouldn’t there be a diplomatic demarche from the United States on this interference in an internal matter in which the population is divided?
MS. HARF: Well, let me make a few points about what the situation is today in Ukraine. I’m happy to answer more questions as well. We continue to urge the Government of Ukraine to listen to the voices of the Ukrainian people, the majority of whom clearly want peace, justice, and a European future. This includes bringing to justice those responsible for the violence on November 30th.
We are disappointed the discussions that began today between the President and the opposition were apparently unproductive. Going into the weekend, it is absolutely imperative that this weekend’s protests be allowed to proceed peacefully. So we’ll certainly be watching what happens over the next few days. That’s certainly our position, where we stand now. You were right, Assistant Secretary Nuland was there on the ground, had a variety of meetings with Ukrainian officials, civil society. You mentioned the opposition as well. So, obviously, we believe it’s important to engage at a high level on this issue.
QUESTION: The impression was, however, that the presence on the Maidan was in support of the demands of the demonstrators, some of which were that the president should go rather than simply a matter of wanting to discuss with people who happened to be there. Is – did they get the wrong impression about the purpose that Ms. Nuland or –
MS. HARF: Well, she was certainly meeting with a wide variety of Ukrainians to hear from them directly about what they want their future to look like. We do believe in a democracy, in a democratic country, in a country that aspires to a European future or anywhere, quite frankly, that peaceful protests need to be allowed to move forward without interference, that they be allowed to protest peacefully for whatever they want to protest for, right?
And so Assistant Secretary Nuland was meeting with some of these folks, hearing from them directly. And we’ve been very clear that we believe the government needs to listen to the voices of the protestors, that the President still has an opportunity here to move forward on a path towards European integration, which is, again, what these folks out in the street are demanding. So we hope, again, this weekend will move forward without violence. We hope the protests will go forward peacefully. And I’m sure we’ll all be talking about this more in the coming days.
QUESTION: And on the EU, it has been repeated here time and again that if Ukraine entered the European Union, they would benefit economically from this.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I have not been able to understand this, given the fact that most of the countries that have joined the EU – and many of the East European countries did it not so much for economic reasons but because of fear of Russia, which I think is also motivating many people in Ukraine – that they’ve had to really impose austerity on their own populations. Some have had to eliminate their nuclear power plants because they weren’t in accordance with the EU demands, things like that, so that there’s a long period of suffering that’s usually involved with the European Union. How can you say that they’re going to have advantages economically? Politically, I can understand it.
MS. HARF: Well, right. No, I’d make a few points. The first is I’m not an economist, but I think the correlation you seem to draw, the one to one between membership in the EU and economic, like, I just think that analysis may be a little bit oversimplified. What we’ve said is that in order to sign this association agreement with the EU, Ukraine has to undertake a number of reforms, many of which they already have, including economic reform.
We’ve also said – and we’ve welcomed these efforts. I was asked yesterday about an IMF agreement, and I double-checked on this for you. And we do, and would welcome a successful Ukraine-IMF agreement. We continue to urge the Government of Ukraine to work in good faith with the IMF, and adopt reforms sufficient to achieve economic sustainability and secure IMF support.
So again, the reforms the IMF have recommended – and some of the reforms, they’ve discussed with the EU as part of this association agreement discussion – are part of programs that would be necessary for Ukraine’s long-term economic health. That’s certainly our view. That’s the view we keep discussing with the Ukrainian Government, and we’ll continue, of course, to do so.
QUESTION: And indulge me one moment. You equate European identity, apparently, with membership in the European Union. However, in addition to these major demonstrations in Kyiv, you also have demonstrations in Rome, you have demonstrations in Lisbon, demonstrations in Athens. They want out. They attack the EU, but they can’t do it because they have caretaker governments which are imposed there.
So why is EU membership a criteria – the criterion for European identity? And secondly, is Russia a European country? It’s not part of the EU.
MS. HARF: Again, I think you’re doing a lot of analysis of the European political situation.
MS. HARF: I know, and you’re making a lot of statements about different countries in the EU, which I think some of which maybe – are – have more truth to them than others. And I’m not an expert on the EU or European politics. But we would say, obviously, we work very closely with the EU on a whole host of issues. I’ve talked a lot about Cathy Ashton, the High Representative, in this room. We believe it’s an important body representing these European countries, and we think it’s important to work together going forward. And of course, it’s up to each – the people in each of these countries to make their views known on the European Union. That’s certainly not up to us or for me to say.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: No, no. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: I wanted just to further – go a bit further, though, whether the United States would actually be prepared to help support the Ukraine application to the IMF.
MS. HARF: We certainly support in it its economic reform efforts, and would welcome an agreement. I’m happy to check what that looks like in principle sort of logistically.
QUESTION: What kind of steps --
MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m happy --
QUESTION: -- the United States would --
MS. HARF: I’m happy to look into that. I’m just not sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Hi, Lucas.
QUESTION: Hello. And there’s a recent Pew poll, earlier this month, that found that Americans’ view of their country as a global power is at a historic low. A majority of these Americans now feel the U.S. is less important and powerful as a world leader than it was a decade ago. Some experts, including those in the Council of Foreign Relations, have pointed out that – what they say are mixed and confusing messages from your Administration in regards to foreign policy, Syria being one example. What is your response to that and to these poll results?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen that poll specifically. I’m happy to take a look at the numbers and see if I can speak to it specifically. But in general, because I haven’t seen it, I think a few things. I think there’s no question that whether it’s economically, politically, diplomatically, militarily, that we play an incredibly strong role around the world. If you look at all the different places just we at the State Department and the whole Administration are engaged in, the issues that Secretary Kerry is deeply engaged in, whether it’s Syria – yes, it’s complicated, but it’s a really important issue that we are very deeply engaged in, both to destroy their chemical weapons but also to, hopefully, get a political transition there that ends the bloodshed.
Again, on Iran, we work with our partners, but we take a leadership role. And we were able, for the first time in nearly a decade, to negotiate an agreement that would halt the progress of their nuclear program.
I don’t think there’s anything else you can say in response to that kind of activism globally than that we’re heavily engaged in the most important national security issues we all face, and indeed are taking a leadership role.
Economically, we are leading the drive for free trade agreements, for TPP – excuse me – for TTIP, for these very important trade agreements that will help not just our economy but other economies around the world, and help all of us grow together.
So on all the issues across the board, we are playing a leadership role. We’ve been very clear where we stand, and we will continue to do so. All you have to do is look at what Secretary Kerry has done in his almost year that he’s been here at the State Department, what the Defense Department’s done, and what others in the Administration have done as well.
QUESTION: That’s great. Why do you think people think that the --
MS. HARF: Well, I – you know, Lucas, I gave up a long time ago trying to guess why people answer questions in polls certain ways. I’m certainly not a polling expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think that people, when they look around the world and they say it’s a very complicated place, people aren’t naive about that. People know that these are tough issues, but they also know that their government is overseas representing them, fighting for our interests, fighting for our values, fighting for our national security, every day, even when it’s hard. And they see the tangible results of that all the time.
QUESTION: Marie, some of these people in the poll are experts in foreign relations. The Council of Foreign Relations, 64 percent of the council believes the United States is a less powerful country than it was a decade ago.
MS. HARF: I don’t even – I wouldn’t even venture to guess what that even means. I haven’t seen the poll results. I’m happy to take a look at them. Experts can also disagree, but having --
QUESTION: It’s self-evident what it means.
MS. HARF: I’m actually not sure what that means. Having a front row seat to this and just getting a little window into it that I have here, believe me, our level of engagement, our influence, our sheer determinedness to get things done, whether it’s Syria, Iran, Middle East peace, the economic – our economic growth in Asia, all of these issues, we are incredibly engaged in, we’re taking a leadership role on and working with our partners and allies on all across the world. So again, I see what I see every day – the work of the people in this building taking a leading role on this all around the world, and that’s certainly what I can speak to.
QUESTION: On the --
QUESTION: Asia real quick. Is it the goal of the Administration to be less involved? Is this all part of the --
MS. HARF: What – I don’t even know what that means, Lucas. No – certainly, we’ve been very clear in all regions of the world, on all issues – again, economics, diplomatically, militarily – that we are taking a leadership role. Now what that leadership role looks like, we can debate and discuss, and this is the point of what we do partly in this room. What that means, how we best promote our interests in a certain place, how we best promote our values in a certain place, is obviously what goes into policymaking, right?
But certainly, we have remained incredibly engaged all over the world, and just are even getting more engaged. If you look at the Asia pivot, that was all about and continues to be all about getting more economically invested, getting more diplomatically invested in a region we already cared quite a bit about. But we’re doing even more of that. No one can argue that we’re not invested and engaged in the Middle East. No one can argue that we’re not engaged and invested in the most serious national security issues we face today. It just defies logic.
QUESTION: Does globalization play a role in that, perhaps?
MS. HARF: I think globalization probably plays a role in every single thing we do at the State Department, absolutely.
QUESTION: Two things. Are we back to calling it a pivot?
MS. HARF: Well, I just called it a pivot.
QUESTION: Oh, I know. So – I mean, I didn’t know that we --
MS. HARF: It’s my strategic decision today, Elise.
MS. HARF: The rebalance, the pivot, whatever word you want to use.
QUESTION: Okay. And then also, you said that you wouldn’t speculate why people answer poll questions the way they do.
MS. HARF: That’s true.
QUESTION: Are you suggesting that perhaps people were not – really didn’t feel that the U.S. has lost its influence?
MS. HARF: No. I just – again, having done a little bit of work in this part – this version of the world, dealing with polls, who knows, right? You can look at the poll results, you can probably read them 15 different ways. You can read the numbers different ways, I’m sure. Again, I haven’t seen these and I’m happy to look at them. But I think it’s an important topic to debate and discuss, but I don’t know how much you can really draw out of how people answer a poll question.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Maybe it’s another way of saying the same words. But politics or diplomacy is a perception issue, I mean, whether we like it or not. I mean – and whether you are trying to say that there is – a poll is done. Because a lot of times from this podium or other places, the polls were used to convince people that there is something going on, we have to follow it. So I’m trying to figure out, from your perspective, why you think that the people have that perception. Because if anything in the world is selling and buying, and always we say the buyer is – if I sell something and the buyer’s not getting it, there is something wrong with the product or the selling/marketing process. So what do you think it’s?
MS. HARF: I think, actually, you would be hard-pressed to go overseas and ask folks if they thought that the U.S. was somehow engaging less in the key national security challenges we’re facing. I really would. And again, I don’t want to speak for everyone everywhere.
But I think that there’s been a lot of discussion about what our policy should look like overseas. Just because we don’t have hundreds of thousands of troops committed in different countries overseas doesn’t mean we’re less engaged. We’re engaged in a smarter and more strategic way, we would argue. So it’s all about what the engagement looks like, how you do it, and I think certainly the Secretary, the President, folks across this Administration believe we have to keep engaging at a very high, very consistent level on all of these issues. And we are going to continue to do so, absolutely.
Yes, in the back, and I’ll --
MS. HARF: I did.
QUESTION: -- on very controversial comments by the ambassador to-be, hopefully.
MS. HARF: And you wanted to see if I followed up on it?
QUESTION: I’m sure you did. I just want it for the camera. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I did. So during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, DAS Whitaker was specifically asked about the removal of the Bogota mayor by the Colombian inspector general. I think this was the question, right?
In responding to Senator Menendez about the situation, Mr. Whitaker stated that Colombia has a vibrant democracy in which political pluralism is essential. He also recognized the availability of legal institutional recourse, which he noted was evidence of the vitality of the Colombian democracy. So again, this is – I have what he responded, and that’s our response to the question that I was asked yesterday.
QUESTION: Right. Actually, his response was a bit more controversial, and that’s why the Colombian foreign minister had a few things to say. When this happens, is it fair to say that maybe Mr. Whitaker wasn’t representing the U.S. Government’s point of view?
MS. HARF: No, not at all. Again, this was – the crux of what he was getting at was what I just stated – that Colombia has a vibrant democracy in which pluralism is essential. I’m not going to further parse what he said or didn’t say, but certainly that was the crux of what he was trying to convey. Excuse me, I almost sneezed.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: I don’t, specifically anything on that. Obviously, broadly speaking, we take every effort to minimize civilian casualties in counterterrorism operations – broadly speaking, without speaking to this one specifically.
QUESTION: I mean, you are trying to diplomatically or whatever channels to explain to the Yemenis what’s going on, or it’s going to be – now it’s Africa. Before it was Asia, Pakistan, the issue. It’s a diplomatic issue or it’s like the other issue?
MS. HARF: I just don’t have anything additional for you on this. Obviously we, broadly speaking, talk with the Yemeni Government all the time about a host of issues including counterterrorism. I just don’t have anything on this specific incident.
QUESTION: Can I --
MS. HARF: Yeah. Yep, we’ll go – go ahead. Or go ahead, Deb.
QUESTION: Is there any – are we any closer to a decision about restarting the nonlethal aid in northern Syria?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no. Nothing’s changed on that.
QUESTION: Do you have any further details about what exactly happened?
MS. HARF: Uh-uh, no. Nothing other than what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have one --
MS. HARF: Wait, I think we have a few more.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I wondered if you were aware of a case of a young guy from Minnesota called Shezanne Cassim who has been imprisoned in the UAE since April to – of this year for posting an amateur comedy video on YouTube, and I believe it’s very amateurish.
MS. HARF: Right. Let me see. I do have something on that.
QUESTION: He’s being charged with endangering UAE national security under a federal cyber crimes law.
MS. HARF: You are right that he has been incarcerated since April 7, 2013 for his involvement in creating and posting a parody video on YouTube. He was incarcerated for five months before he was notified of the charges against him and eventually charged with national security violation. His trial is ongoing. Obviously, the protection of U.S. citizens overseas is one of our highest priorities. We, both here at the Department of State and at the U.S. mission in the UAE, are troubled by the prolonged incarceration of him. We are providing him consular services. Both U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi and U.S. Consulate General Dubai personnel have visited him regularly and attending all his court hearings. We’ve also, on the ground, engaged with UAE counterparts to urge a fair and expedient trial and judgment.
QUESTION: But I mean – oh, go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: No, I was just going to ask: The Secretary was obviously there not so long ago. Do you know if he raised the case – his case specifically?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know.
QUESTION: And you say you’re troubled, but I mean, it would seem that this is rather overstated charges for putting up what is a very silly video on YouTube.
MS. HARF: Again, we’ve been expecting a verdict since September 30th. There have been five delays. We are continuing to engage with the UAE authorities on this and are troubled by his prolonged incarceration. We are encouraging them to move swiftly with a verdict and a judgment.
QUESTION: Well, but –
QUESTION: Do you know if any of the – sorry. Do you know if any of the people who made the video have also been arrested and charged? I believe there was a number of people –
MS. HARF: Not to my – I’m happy to check. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: I mean, I understand that the UAE is an ally, but in other cases where there’s been an arrest of a U.S. citizen on charges that don’t necessarily match up to the actual act committed, you’ve spoken out very forcefully that you don’t think that this was a legitimate or lawful detention. Do you think that his arrest was justified?
MS. HARF: I’m not going –
QUESTION: And do you think that a parody video of people in the UAE is a threat to that country’s national security?
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to do a legal analysis of the UAE from here. We’ve raised the case, we are troubled by it, and again, we have encouraged them to move forward with the trial and the judgment.
QUESTION: I mean, I can’t remember the name of this Egyptian blogger, but he did very similar things and was arrested by the Egyptians, and you spoke out very forcefully about his arrest and the fact that his detention made him, in effect, a political prisoner. Do you think that’s the case here?
MS. HARF: Again, every case is different. We’re raising it –
QUESTION: Well, it’s basically pretty much – he was actually doing pretty much the same thing, only this one was even more of a --
MS. HARF: We’re raising it with the UAE Government directly. We’re certainly raising it directly. Every case is different, every trial is – everything is different. We raise them individually with countries when we have concerns, which we do here.
QUESTION: But you’re not asking for the charges to be dropped?
MS. HARF: I can double-check what exactly the message has been. I’m just not sure, quite honestly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)