1:44 p.m. EST
Deb, start us off. Last briefing of 2013.
QUESTION: Okay. Let’s start – okay. Let’s start with the Middle East, if we could.
MS. HARF: Yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You guys have – about the settlements, Israeli settlements, you guys have said these are not helpful. You’ve urged Israel to show some restraint, and yet you guys are just completely silent on this latest round that’s going to come up on the settlements that everybody says is going to really be a problem for moving the negotiations forward. So why are you guys so silent on this?
MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a few points. The next thing that’s coming up is a prisoner release this evening, I believe, Monday evening Israel time. I’d make a few points on that and then we can talk about settlements, that the Secretary expresses his appreciation for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to release the third tranche of prisoners. I know that’s happening tonight Israel time, so we’ll all be following that.
The Israeli Government’s commitment to release Palestinian prisoners helped enable the start, as we all remember, and the continuation of the final status negotiations, and we believe this is a positive step forward in the overall process. So that’s sort of the next step that’s coming here.
I know there have been various media reports about possible other announcements to come in the future, but right now we’re focused on what’s happening tonight. The Secretary’s going back there this week, and we’ll continue the discussions going forward.
QUESTION: Now, following up on what Deb --
QUESTION: So --
MS. HARF: Wait, Deb – hold on, Said. Let me finish up with Deb and then we’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Well, it’s obvious that they’re going to make this announcement. I mean, everybody has said it.
MS. HARF: Well, again, I’m not going to --
QUESTION: Even he said it, I believe.
MS. HARF: I am not going to put words in anyone’s mouth here.
QUESTION: So I mean, is the U.S. --
MS. HARF: I leave it up to the Israeli Government to make announcements if and when they do.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. encouraging them not to do this?
MS. HARF: Again, we’ve made it very clear throughout this process what our position is on settlements, and we encourage all sides to take steps to create a positive environment when we’ve had issues over these past few months. At times we’ve said so, but we’re keeping the discussions of these negotiations private for the reason that we’ve always said, which is to give them the best chance of success.
QUESTION: How do you characterize his trip going back this time?
MS. HARF: How do we characterize the trip?
QUESTION: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
MS. HARF: Well, as folks know – just to give a little background on it – he’ll be going to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and to Ramallah to meet with President Abbas. In these meetings, he’ll be focusing on the permanent status negotiations, as we have in the past. During this trip, the Secretary will discuss with both leaders the proposed framework for negotiations. As we’ve said, this framework would serve as guidelines for the permanent status negotiation and would address all the core issues.
This is a detailed consultation with the leaders, continuing to work to bridge gaps between the parties, obviously continuing to encourage both sides to take constructive steps, as we said, including the prisoner release this evening in Israel as well.
So these consultations will be going on for a few days. And I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of the discussions, and we’ll talk more about them, I’m sure, as they’re ongoing.
QUESTION: Can you just --
MS. HARF: Let me go to Said, and then I’ll come up.
QUESTION: Yeah. Could we – would you say that there is a pattern? Every time they release prisoners or a tranche of prisoners, as you call them, of 26, we hear about 15 – 1,200 new housing units. Is there a pattern there? Do you detect a pattern?
MS. HARF: Said, I’m not going to characterize it in that way. Throughout this process, when one side – either side has done something we see as constructive, we say so. When there have been issues, we’ve said so. And we certainly have these discussions privately. I don’t want to put a label on it. These are complicated issues. We believe that the best place to resolve them is at the table through final status negotiations.
QUESTION: We understand. But one cannot help but notice that over the past three tranches of prisoners release, every time they were released there was also an announcement of settlements. So you don’t notice that this has been some sort of a pattern?
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to use that word, Said. We – every time we move this process forward, we talk to both sides about how it will go forward and what will happen, and I don’t want to get ahead of what’s happening here now.
QUESTION: Okay, and on the framework or the – what did you call – framework agreement and so on, would you say that – would you agree or concur or tell us whether it is predicated on three sort of phases – three stages, one that maintains actually Israeli presence, Israeli military presence right along the Jordan Valley?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into any of the details at all of the discussions around this proposed framework. We’ve been very clear that we’re not going to discuss those details in public while the ongoing negotiations are happening.
QUESTION: And finally, today Mr. Netanyahu insisted that the Palestinians must do two things, which is: recognize Israel as a Jewish state; and second, give up the right to return. Would you agree with him that these should be conditions that should be put forward for --
MS. HARF: I appreciate your persistence, but we’re just not going to get into the details of the discussions we’re having.
QUESTION: Marie, I’m trying to back up a bit because the framework agreement, the language has now entered into the discussions and the conversations that you’re having following the talks that were given in the Saban Center earlier this month. What is the actual purpose of a framework agreement, and how does this lead us towards what you – what are you trying to achieve at the end of April? What will that be?
MS. HARF: So it would serve as guidelines. The framework agreement would serve as guidelines – and I don’t know if I would use the word agreement; I would use the term “proposed framework” because it’s only a proposed framework at this point – would serve as guidelines for the permanent status negotiations. This framework would address all the core issues.
So it’s not – some people say this would be an interim agreement. No, that’s not the case. It would address the guidelines around all the core issues that are part of the final status negotiations.
We’ll see how much progress we can make this time. The framework would be a step in the efforts to achieve the permanent status agreement, again, that addresses all of the issues outlined in the framework. So we’re hoping to make progress in narrowing the gaps on this trip, but don’t want to predict whether we’ll reach agreement on this framework during these few days on the ground.
QUESTION: And why is it being decided that you now need a frame – a proposed framework towards the eventual final status agreement?
MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it as a new decision. We just haven’t always talked about these discussions publicly. It makes sense as part of negotiations – and we can go back at some in history on this as well – that you have to have guidelines around the issues. If you start with nothing and you know all the issues are on the table, it makes sense to put some guidelines around the discussions of each of the final status issues to drive the process forward. It sort of just is the natural progression of these talks, and hopefully we’ll continue narrowing the gaps and get a framework soon.
QUESTION: So is the idea still to reach a final status agreement by the end of April, early May?
MS. HARF: The Secretary’s been clear what the timeframe is. The parties have agreed to sit down for that nine-month period. We’ll see how much progress we can get made during this trip, and we can talk more about how much all of this takes. Obviously, we know it’s a complicated process, but we’re still operating under that nine-month timeframe.
QUESTION: Because there was some reporting over the weekend I saw that the idea was in late April, early May, at the end of the nine months, you would get an agreement for a further year of talks. Is that correct?
MS. HARF: I know there’s lots of reports out there about what may or may not happen. What we’re focused on right now is the Secretary’s trip this week, working on the framework, working to narrow the gaps, and we’ll just move forward from there. There’s a lot of rumor – some true, some not – out there, and we’re just not going to fact-check them publicly.
QUESTION: But at the moment, you’re still targeting end of April for final – or May, correct?
MS. HARF: That’s always – yes. Nothing’s changed in terms of our timing, and we’ll see how much progress we can make this week.
QUESTION: And can you break down the framework – the proposed framework into chapters, like security, housing, settlements?
MS. HARF: I mean, I said it addresses all of the core issues. We all know what those are. I’m not going to go further in terms of outlining what the framework might look like. Again, it’s just a proposed framework. We have to talk to both sides about it. Obviously, this is their process to
drive forward. And so I just – we’re not going to outline further what that looks like.
QUESTION: Other subject?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we stay on this subject?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Two questions just to follow up.
MS. HARF: Just a few more on this and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: The first one is since you’re talking about the final status issue, there was reports that actually the Israelis are focusing only on security. So do you discount that this is actually – this agreement is going to only be on security as a first step, and then after that you’ll follow on the final status issues?
MS. HARF: As I just said, the framework would address all of the core issues. Obviously, security is a huge part of this for everyone, but the parties agreed to sit down and restart final status negotiations on all of the issues. That has in no way changed.
QUESTION: But the focus will not going to be on security?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s a huge focus, of course, but there’s a number of issues, as we all are well aware of, that are part of these negotiations. And the framework would address all of them.
QUESTION: On – second one, just on settlements.
MS. HARF: One more. Yes.
QUESTION: Apart from stating the U.S. position always that it’s obstacle to peace, et cetera, are you in a position to influence Israeli behavior over the years, I mean, apart from the first Bush administration of using the loans as a threat? Is this anything that you can do apart from condemning it from the podium?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re oversimplifying what is a long and very deep relationship, quite frankly, that is very focused on the peace process but is focused on other issues as well. We work very closely with the Israelis on a whole number of issues, including as part of these peace talks. But at the end of the day, as we’ve made very clear and the Israelis have also said, these are decisions that are up to them to make and the Palestinians to make. We can facilitate the discussion and we can play a role, as we are, but these are decisions for the Israeli Government to make. They have both sat down at the table and taken courageous decisions, including tonight’s prisoner release, to move the peace process forward. It’s complicated; there’s a lot at play here. But we’re just going to go back to work later this week and see what we can do.
QUESTION: But my point is you just raise it privately, as you’re saying, and you condemn it publicly here, but has not altered Israel position over the years.
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not – we clearly have a close relationship with the Israeli Government. We talk about a host of issues. But these are decisions for them to make. We make our positions clear, as you said, publicly and privately.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) also say that the talks between Secretary of State Kerry and the prime minister involve Jonathan Pollard and his possible release. Could you comment on that?
MS. HARF: I think we’ve been very clear what our position is on Mr. Pollard. I’m not going to go into fact-checking rumors in the press one way or the other. I’m just not going to do that from the podium.
QUESTION: Okay. So – but you deny from this podium –
MS. HARF: I just don’t --
QUESTION: -- you deny from this podium any connection between the two?
MS. HARF: Said, like I said, I’m not going to fact-check. I’m not going to get in the game of fact-checking all the rumors that are out there. You know what our position is. I just don’t have anything more for you on that.
QUESTION: There is a report though --
QUESTION: Well, I haven’t actually been in a briefing – sorry, Deb.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I haven’t been in a briefing where Pollard was raised, actually, because I’m relatively new too, so could you restate the American position on what --
MS. HARF: We’ve been very clear throughout the years about what our position is on Mr. Pollard. We know what he was convicted of. We know where we’ve stood on this very publicly many people before me from this podium. Again, I know there have been a lot of rumors out there, and I’m just not going to get into the details of fact-checking whether those are true or not.
QUESTION: So is the U.S. position --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. position that he should serve his sentence?
MS. HARF: Yes, that is the U.S. position.
QUESTION: Okay, so one more question, one more follow-up on that. The American ambassador, Dan Shapiro, though, he said to one of the Israeli press, he said there’s no direct link between Pollard and the peace negotiations, okay? Does that mean like never will be, or just not right now, or --
MS. HARF: I think I’ll let the ambassador’s words speak for themselves. I’m just not going to talk about this any further. I think I’ll let those stand on themselves.
Jill, change of subject.
QUESTION: No, I had one more. Sorry.
MS. HARF: Last one on this, and then we have to move on.
QUESTION: Fair enough. Do you have a timeframe for reaching the proposed framework?
MS. HARF: We don’t. As I said, we’re going back this week. We’ll see how much progress we can make. I don’t have a specific timeframe for you.
QUESTION: You now have two sets of agreements that you’re working on --
MS. HARF: Well, no, it’s not actually two sets. It’s all part of the same.
MS. HARF: It’s a process. This is just a step in the process. It’s not a separate process. It’s all part of the same process. So we’ll see how much progress we can make this week.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: As we know, this New York Times article which came out with a lot of, I guess, gray areas as opposed to black and white, is there anything in that report that the State Department sees that changes the equation about the investigation or any substantive information that really is new that would cause the investigation or conclusions from the ARB to be done differently?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. The investigation is ongoing, and that’s FBI’s lane, as everyone, I am sure, has heard me say ad nauseam in this room. And more than a year ago, the independent Accountability Review Board thoroughly examined what happened on the ground. Much of what’s in this in-depth investigation that you mentioned tracks with what the ARB found and with our understanding of the facts. I am happy to talk through some of the specifics if folks are interested.
I’m obviously not going to go line by line and fact-check the report. But I think what’s been clear from the ARB, certainly what’s clear from this and other press reports throughout many, many months, is that this was a complicated situation, that things could have been done differently, that it’s not black and white. We’ve been clear about that. And since the tragedy, we’ve taken a number of steps, many outlined in the ARB, to further improve diplomatic security and better protect our people. That’s certainly been where our focus has been here at the State Department. Obviously, the FBI is conducting the ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: Could I just take one of the main points --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yeah.
QUESTION: -- which is this issue of al-Qaida?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The New York Times, in essence, is saying that al-Qaida was not – let’s say al-Qaida did not carry out this attack.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I know there are a lot of caveats in that, but does the State Department agree with that?
MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a few points on that. The investigation is ongoing, (a). But at this point, we have no indications that core al-Qaida, which I think is what most people are referring to when they talk about, quote, al-Qaida, directed or planned what happened in Benghazi. No indications at this point that core al-Qaida directed or planned what happened in Benghazi.
We do know, as we’ve said from the beginning, that extremists were involved. These folks don’t carry ID cards. They don’t come out and wear a t-shirt that says, “I belong to al-Qaida,” right? We know some of them may have taken inspiration from al-Qaida ideology, certainly. That’s what the investigation is looking into right now: Who did this? What were these groups? Who were these people following? Who directed and planned it? That’s what the investigation is looking at, so I’m not going to get into a sort of what we think is the latest in terms of actual culpability.
But what I will say again is that core al-Qaida, which I think is what people generally refer to when they’re talking about al-Qaida, we have no indications at this point that they directed or planned it. And I think that’s a key point that’s worth, as I just did, repeating a couple times.
QUESTION: But you do agree that they do all use the same rhetoric, the same dogma, they espouse the same theories, they propose the same thing?
MS. HARF: I think that’s a gross oversimplification and summary --
QUESTION: It’s not. But that’s --
MS. HARF: Well, let me finish, Said. In some respects. Obviously, they all – these groups all espouse a certain kind of extremist and terrorist ideology. Clearly, these were violent folks on the ground. There are four Americans who are no longer with us who I think can – would speak exactly to that fact, right? These were clearly terrorists.
I think I would make the point, though, that words matter and facts matter. And a lot of people in Washington for the last many, many months have said we want facts, we want details. Well, it actually matters whether you say core al-Qaida directed and planned it or they didn’t, or just some folks that were affiliated with a local group or militia or terrorist organization – that’s what we’re looking into right now – whether they took some inspiration from some sort of similar ideology. That distinction actually matters. And for everyone that says they want to know all the facts about Benghazi, I think it’s worth their time to look into all these accounts, to look into in-depth stories like this and others, and really take that all into account before going out and making blanket statements that the facts just, quite frankly, don’t back up.
QUESTION: So to be clear, is it your latest understanding that this group, Ansar al-Sharia, is not linked to core al-Qaida? Is that an accurate statement?
MS. HARF: So it is not the U.S. Government’s assessment or position that Ansar al-Sharia is an affiliate of core al-Qaida. We don’t recognize them as an affiliate of core al-Qaida. As folks may or may not know there is sort of an official, for lack of a better term, process for affiliates to claim allegiance to core al-Qaida. We’ve seen it with other groups, long ago with AQAP and others. So I don’t believe they’ve even said that they’re – gone through the official process, and we as the U.S. Government do not consider them to be an official affiliate.
That being said, that doesn’t mean they’re any less dangerous and it doesn’t mean that we’re any less concerned about them. We’re gravely concerned about them, in fact. We’re gravely concerned with their activities. There’s a couple different Ansar al-Sharias floating throughout that region, and we’re concerned about all of them. But again, it’s the facts and the words we use that matter. Whether or not they’re affiliate doesn’t mean we’re any less concerned about them.
QUESTION: And just one more quick question on another conclusion from that New York Times report was the role – resurrecting the idea that the video did, in fact, play a large role. Do you feel – does the Department feel somewhat vindicated in light of that conclusion, just – I mean, still, what is your latest understanding of the role of the video, I guess?
MS. HARF: No, it’s a good question. And I don’t want you to use that term. I think – a couple points on this. The first is that it was clear to anyone watching what happened around the Muslim world on that day that the video clearly in places inspired protests – and violent protests in some places, if we look at Tunis, if we look at Khartoum. And we know that extremists throughout the region sought to take advantage of the video, including in Libya. The investigation’s looking into now exactly what role that played.
This was a very complicated situation. There were a number of folks involved in this attack, some of which – some of whom, excuse me, were there for different reasons. Not everyone was there for the same reason. But we know – it’s just common sense – you could see the protests around the world – that the video was clearly being used by extremists as some sort of rallying cry against the United States. What role that played in the attack, that’s obviously all part of the ongoing investigation. But we certainly always said from the beginning that this was complicated, there was a lot at play here, that the video clearly inspired anger and, in some places, violence. And you could see that just from watching the news accounts of it, quite frankly. So it’s just more of a common sense argument, I think, at this point.
QUESTION: We also had that arrest, apparently, of the Ansar al-Sharia of Tunisia in Libya, Mr. Ben Hassine.
MS. HARF: Let me check on this. Yes.
QUESTION: What can you tell us? Because I know the Defense Department said U.S. forces were not involved in that.
MS. HARF: That’s true, yes.
QUESTION: But where do we stand on this?
MS. HARF: Let me pull that up. My colleagues at the Defense Department are correct that U.S. forces were not involved in any operations involving an Ansar al-Sharia leader in Libya. This is actually the Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia affiliate --
MS. HARF: -- who was arrested in Libya. Again, different groups – same ideology, but different groups. I’d refer you to Libyan authorities for any additional questions. Just that we weren’t involved, so --
QUESTION: But can you confirm his arrest?
MS. HARF: I’ve seen the reports. Yeah, I think I’d refer you to them. We just – the U.S. wasn’t involved. I don’t have independent confirmation. I can check on that.
QUESTION: Does this give you a --
MS. HARF: I don’t have reason to believe it’s not true, though.
QUESTION: Does this give you a confidence in the Libyan authority now that they are able to arrest people who are – been wanted on the list?
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve talked about a lot in this room, we’ve certainly worked over many months to help improve their capabilities. And they understand that they want to have these capabilities to protect their country from these extremists on their own. We’ve kept working with them, and we will keep doing so.
QUESTION: Would you like to interview this guy related to this --
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything more for you on him. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s more.
QUESTION: Another subject?
QUESTION: Are you going to come back to that? You’re not confirming that he’s actually been arrested?
MS. HARF: No. I don’t have independent confirmation of that. I have no reason to believe it’s not true. I’ll check with our team and see.
MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll double-check. I just don’t know. I just know we weren’t involved, but I can’t confirm it independently, no.
QUESTION: Do you – no. Can we start, just stay with – in Libya? Sorry.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah. And then we’ll go to Syria.
QUESTION: Excuse me. Just over the --
MS. HARF: I promise you’re next.
QUESTION: Are there any more details you can give us about this mysterious arrest of four U.S. military personnel over the weekend in Libya who’ve been – they were arrested, briefly detained --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and then released? But it wasn’t really clear under what circumstances they were arrested.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There were reports that there had been some gunshots fired. Was anybody injured? Do you have some more details on that?
MS. HARF: I don’t think – I think those reports were inaccurate about gunshots. I’m happy to check into that again. I don’t have more beyond what we said over the past few days. They were operating as part of security preparedness efforts. As you know, in many places around the world we have folks helping in these efforts from the Department of Defense. And beyond that, I don’t have any more details. I’d refer you to DOD.
QUESTION: You still don’t know why they were held?
MS. HARF: I – I know we’ve discussed it with the Libyan Government. Obviously, I’m happy to check with our folks. I don’t have anything new on that.
QUESTION: And are they still in the country, or have they left?
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding they’re not, but let me double-check. I want to make sure I have the latest on that.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I promised Syria next, and then I’ll go around.
QUESTION: It’s actually Syria and Turkey.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: One of our reporters from Turkish daily Milliyet, Bunyamin Aygun, was abducted by a al-Qaida-affiliated group over a month ago. I was wondering if you’re aware of the situation, if the Turkish Government has asked for help, or if you’re involved at all with the rescue efforts.
MS. HARF: I don’t know anything about that case. I’m happy to take it as a question and figure out what we know or don’t know.
Let me go around up here. Yeah.
QUESTION: On India?
MS. HARF: Hold on, let me go --
QUESTION: Can we go with Syria?
QUESTION: Can we --
MS. HARF: Syria? Okay. Yeah, we’ll finish Syria. Yeah.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: There were reports over the weekend that Syria’s not going to be meeting its end-of-the-year deadline for transporting chemical weapons. So I just wanted to know if you could confirm that you’ve seen – confirm the veracity of those reports, and do you have any reaction? Also, related to that, how prohibitive in changing that milestone, they call it, is the idea that rebels along the transport lines could be responsible for absconding with some of these weapons? I mean, how confident are you that those lines of transportation are secure enough?
MS. HARF: Right. Well, let me make a few points on that. First, that it’s the Assad regime’s responsibility to transport the chemicals to the port safely to facilitate their removal, and we expect them to meet that obligation. That’s the next step in this process here. They have to get to the port for removal from the country. The – I would note that the OPCW and the UN Joint Mission cited security and weather concerns as the reason for the delay.
We always knew this was going to be a complicated process. What we’ve always said is that these are target dates, or milestones, as you said, and as long as we see forward progress, that’s what’s most important here. And we have. I think it’s important to note some of the things that we’ve done. All of the – for example, all of the essential elements for the – of the removal and destruction plan have been identified consistent with the schedule set out. The OPCW confirmed the functional disablement of all Syria’s declared production, mixing, and filling equipment, which basically means they can’t take the chemicals they have and weaponize them, right?
So we continue to make progress, which has been the important part here. They’re milestones for a reason. It was always an ambitious timeline, but we are still operating on the June 30th timeline for the complete destruction and are actively supporting the OPCW and the UN as we work towards that goal.
QUESTION: So do you --
MS. HARF: Said. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. So do you believe that when the Secretary General of the United Nations says that everything is on target, that’s what he’s talking about? That these milestones have been met?
MS. HARF: (Cough.) Excuse me. I haven’t seen those comments, so I don’t know what he was referring to. But I can speak for the State Department and say that we know this is an ambitious timeline, but we have made significant progress. If you think, just six months ago they didn’t even admit they had chemical weapons, and now we’ve basically made it so they can’t weaponize any chemicals they have. I’d say that was progress. So we’ll keep working on this and moving forward with it.
QUESTION: As the year ends, do you have any reason to doubt that the 22nd Geneva II conference would be held on time, or not on time?
MS. HARF: No. We’re certainly still tracking towards that date. I don’t have anything new to announce on that front, but certainly that’s still what we’re working towards.
QUESTION: And between now and then, do we have any kind of trilateral meetings set up?
MS. HARF: I can double-check. I’ll see if I can get some specifics.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: We haven’t had a briefing since the hostage video came out.
MS. HARF: I know. I know you all miss these briefings a lot.
QUESTION: We – so ABC interviewed his wife and his daughters, and they said, of course, they miss him, it’s very hard. They also said that they felt like there was nothing that can be done to get him released because his captors had not said anything about what they wanted. So my question is, I guess: What’s your reaction to that? And is there anything that can be done?
MS. HARF: Well, our first reaction is that we said over the past few days, when this video first came out, we called on al-Qaida, who’s holding him, to release him immediately and return him to his family, and conveyed our deepest thoughts and prayers to his family and friends because it’s another holiday season where he’s not with them. We have called immediately on the terrorists holding him to release them. We also continue to actively work with the Pakistani authorities to try to secure his release, as we’ve said, over the months that he’s been held.
Obviously, this is a heartbreaking and terrible situation. We’re going to keep working with the Pakistanis, working behind the scenes, and the FBI of course is involved as well – because he’s an American citizen being held – to try to secure his release. And we’re certainly committed to doing that as we all are with all American citizens who are being held overseas.
QUESTION: I think that video sort of conveyed a message that they wanted al-Qaida prisoners released. Is – would the U.S. ever negotiate with al-Qaida, with the people holding Warren Weinstein?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve long said that we don't make concessions to people who kidnap U.S. citizens. That’s not something we do. We’re not in the business of doing that. We’ve called on those who are holding him to release him immediately. We’ll keep working with folks to try and achieve that goal.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The bombings that have happened over the last few days – does this put security in doubt for the Olympics and are you concerned about the safety of Americans traveling to Sochi?
MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a few points, as we did when the first one happened and then of course after this one, that we condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks in Volgograd. We send our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and stand in solidarity with the Russian people against terrorism of any kind.
In terms of security for Sochi, U.S. citizens planning to attend should remain alert regarding their personal security at all times. I think our security experts has said that criminal activity in Sochi is similar to other cities of comparable size. Obviously, major events such as the Olympic Games are an opportunity for thieves or for other folks who want to cause mischief. Again, people should also be reminded that threats have been made against the Olympic Games and acts of terrorism, including bombings, continue to occur in Russia.
So obviously, this is an exciting, positive, happy international sporting event, but people going there do need to maintain vigilance and watch out for their own security and safety. Our diplomatic security personnel have been working with the Russians for many months on security. They obviously work with our team, with high-level officials. Also, we provide U.S. citizen services to folks that’ll be traveling there, so we’re ready to support in any way we can to help with the security situation.
QUESTION: Have there been any additional measures that diplomatic security has taken since these bombings happened?
MS. HARF: Well, we obviously don't discuss specific security posture, but needless to say, folks are very focused on it, as the Russian Government is too, I would note.
QUESTION: And then I just have one more thing. We were curious if – what’s our ability to bring in our own sort of security personnel into Russia for --
MS. HARF: In terms of Diplomatic Security?
QUESTION: Is that how it works? I mean, if we wanted to send people to protect the U.S. team or send more people, would it be Diplomatic Security --
MS. HARF: That’s – uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- already in Russia doing that, or would we be able to send anybody else into Russia?
MS. HARF: Well, in general, Diplomatic Security from the State Department is responsible as the security lead for the United States, obviously in a liaison role with the Russian Government. It’s standard operating procedure. I don't know – I mean, I think we send folks as we need them. I don't have anything in terms of specific numbers to give you, but they’re playing the lead in that role, and will continue to as we head into the Olympics.
QUESTION: Will there be more people going --
MS. HARF: I don't – I just don't know the details. I’m happy to look into it more.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: I’m sure we’ll talk it more leading up to Sochi. I’m going to go around the room.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Wait. I’m going to go around the room.
QUESTION: -- on this Russia thing.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you believe that makes the situation urgent that you do cooperate with the Russians in fighting – in counterterrorism activities?
MS. HARF: We always cooperate with the Russians on counterterrorism. I think we talked about this a lot in terms of the Boston bombing.
QUESTION: But do you believe that the Russians are less forthcoming in terms of cooperating with you?
MS. HARF: I think the Russians are very focused on security leading up to the Olympic Games – excuse me – and we’re cooperating very closely with them on it. I do.
QUESTION: Marie, can I go --
MS. HARF: I’m going to go around the room here, guys.
QUESTION: Still on Russia.
QUESTION: On --
MS. HARF: Still on Russia. One more on Russia, and then I’m going to go around the room.
QUESTION: You mentioned that there have been threats made against the Games.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Were any of those threats made against Americans specifically?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy – I don't have all the details on them. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: On India.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
MS. HARF: We have received the paperwork from the United Nations. It is currently under review, and I don't have anything further for you on that except that we’re taking a look at it and when we have something more, we’re happy to share it.
QUESTION: Normally, it’s done within a few days, one or two days. What’s – why the --
MS. HARF: I’m not sure that’s actually true. I can check our folks and see what the normal processing time is. I’m just not sure that’s actually the case.
MS. HARF: I don't know. I can double-check on that. I’m sorry, I don't know.
QUESTION: Also, the Indian Government informed you last week that when she was arrested she was indeed a member of Indian delegation to the United Nations. Do you believe that’s – that gives her that necessary diplomatic immunity from being arrested?
MS. HARF: As I said a few days ago, I think in response to a question on this – it might have been yours or someone else’s – we have seen those reports, we’re looking into it right now. Our folks are taking a look at that issue. Still looking into it, don't have any update on that. I’m happy to check in with them again.
QUESTION: And a few other questions on some reports happening in the Indian media that the U.S. Embassy in India is not paying enough salary to the security guards, Indian visa officers. For the security guards, it’s less than around $200 per month; for Indian visa officers, around $300 per month. Do you think U.S. Embassy in India is violating any laws of the land over there as per the --
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports, but our standard practice – and I have no reason to believe that’s not the case here – is to pay folks that work for us in countries around the world in conjunction with local law, with local practice. I’m happy to look into those specific reports, but I have no reason to believe that that’s not the case for our folks in India right now.
QUESTION: But when they work for the Embassy in India, would they receive the U.S. minimum wage or the Indian minimum wage?
MS. HARF: It’s my – and let me double-check on this because I’m not an expert on it. It’s my understanding that it’s an – that at a minimum it comports with local law and local practice, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not beyond that, so I’m happy check and see what our practice is across the board.
QUESTION: Can you also check that the reports about U.S. Embassy in Delhi --
MS. HARF: Which is actually what we were asking her to do in this case as well. I’m just --
QUESTION: Okay. Also, having – running full-scale commercial facility like shopping centers and beauty salon – and there have been reports about violating local tax laws over there. Can you check on those?
MS. HARF: Again, I can check on that. I haven't seen those reports, but I have no reason to believe that our folks have done anything wrong on that. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Marie, can we go to Japan?
QUESTION: Staying on India --
QUESTION: Talk about Japan?
QUESTION: Let’s stay in India.
QUESTION: No, let’s stay in India.
MS. HARF: Okay. Just a few more on India, though.
QUESTION: On a technical issue --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I think I asked it before --
MS. HARF: And then we’ll go to Japan.
QUESTION: -- before the holidays: If the immunities change – if her status is changed to a UN diplomat, does that include reviewing whether there are any pending charges against her in the United States?
MS. HARF: I think there are a variety of scenarios depending on if immunity status has changed or not. There’s not a yes-or-no answer, as much as I try to get one for you all on these questions, so on that I think it just depends.
QUESTION: And what about on the issue – does she – if she does get UN immunity, will she be absolved from --
MS. HARF: The charges don't – as Jen and I think both said, the charges don't go away.
MS. HARF: But again, there are a variety of scenarios that could play out here.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Oh, yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: On this issue, I mean, does the U.S. really want to pick a fight with India over this diplomat? Is it not better to just send her back to India?
MS. HARF: Well, I think what you’ve heard from me, certainly, and from the Secretary and others is that we don’t want this to negatively impact our relationship, that we work on a broad range of issues together. Our bilateral relationship is too important. And we said repeatedly that we don’t want it to. We’ve had some good conversations with our Indian counterparts, and that’s why what we’re doing right now is letting that process play itself out and focusing from our end on moving the relationship forward on the ground and here as well.
QUESTION: How quickly do you want – is this review going to take? I mean, the longer it does drag out, there is uncertainty.
MS. HARF: I don’t have a timeframe for you. These processes take time, but I just don’t have the specifics on timeframe.
MS. HARF: And then we’re going to Japan. Just a few more on India.
QUESTION: Okay. A few, yeah. I have a list.
MS. HARF: Just a few. (Laughter.) I’m going to impose some discipline today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: On this UN visa review issue which is going on for more than a week – you received it, I think, late Friday night – not this Friday, the Friday before.
MS. HARF: I can double-check. I don’t – can’t confirm that. I’ll double-check to see if that’s accurate.
QUESTION: And there is a negotiation process also which is – has been started with India. There is a list of demands the U.S. is putting out to India. Can you give us --
MS. HARF: Who in the U.S.?
QUESTION: The U.S. to India if they – and that they are ready to stamp her status if India agrees to this, this, this.
MS. HARF: Well, I would say a few things. We obviously have discussions with the Indian Government. I’m assuming that my colleagues at the Justice Department or the Southern District – I don’t know which – are having conversations as well. And I’m not going to outline what those diplomatic discussions look like.
QUESTION: Okay. So – and over the weekend, there was a story in the Indian media about the intelligence review. And I got a statement from the NSC spokesperson yesterday, and --
MS. HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to disagree with her.
QUESTION: And – yes, but it is being led by the State Department, so the ball is in your court. So can you give us some more details about that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details. We’ve talked about it a lot throughout this process. I just don’t have any more details for you.
QUESTION: Okay, the last one. The – and what is the average time you take to give this visa? And will it be soon, before her case starts rolling? And then can we have the answers with the questions that you have taken?
MS. HARF: A, I will look to get them as soon as possible. Some we may not be able to take, or not – might not be able to answer, excuse me. I don’t have a timeline for how long it takes the process to play itself out. I can see if we have an average. I don’t know that we do, but I can check.
QUESTION: Is there a – can you also please --
MS. HARF: Last one.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you just please check --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- in the history of this, have you ever denied anyone this --
MS. HARF: I would – I can check. I would caution anyone from comparing this to any other case. They’re just --
QUESTION: For historical reasons, if you can check --
MS. HARF: I can check, yes.
QUESTION: -- if anybody has been denied this.
MS. HARF: I will check for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On --
MS. HARF: Japan, yeah. Last one.
QUESTION: Can you walk us through the process once you receive the application? Not in this particular case. In general, once you receive the application, what’s the process you go through?
MS. HARF: I can’t give you a lot more details about it. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s more I can share.
MS. HARF: Yes, Japan.
QUESTION: So I just have a few --
MS. HARF: Wait, wait, (inaudible) and then I’m going to you.
QUESTION: -- questions about Japan.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and China said on Monday that Chinese people don’t welcome him. Any comments from the State Department?
MS. HARF: Well, you saw – I think folks our statement, and I’ll repeat it, that Japan is of course a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, in this case, we were disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors. We hope, as we always do, that both Japan and its neighbors will find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues from the past, to continue improving their relations, and to promote cooperation in advance of all of our shared goals in the region.
QUESTION: And according to The Washington Post, he says his visit was a provocative act. And there is news about Secretary John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel advised Shinzo Abe to avoid ratcheting up regional tensions by visiting Yasukuni Shrine in October. So does the State Department communicate with – this issue with Japanese Government before and after his visit?
MS. HARF: We do communicate with them. I can check. I don’t know if those reports about October are true or not. It’s from a few months ago. I’m happy to check on that. I think we’ve made very clear what our position is, and I just don’t have much more for you on this.
QUESTION: And last one.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Some media reports that U.S. officials from State Department discussed with officials from White House and finally chose the word “disappointed” rather than “regret” or “concern” to express a stronger or tougher tone. I mean, what kind of message does U.S. trying to send to the Japanese Government?
MS. HARF: Well, I think our message is very clear from the words we chose. I don’t know those reports about interagency communications. Obviously, we talk to our colleagues at the White House all the time. I think we’ve made very clear that we were disappointed, that we think this will exacerbate tensions. I think those words are very clear in their meaning, and I wouldn’t probably wordsmith them any further to try and get deeper meaning out of them.
QUESTION: So you have no differences between “regret” --
MS. HARF: Us and the White House?
QUESTION: No, I mean the differences between “disappointed, “regret,” or “concern.”
MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to get a dictionary and look up what the difference is. I think it’s pretty clear what I mean when I say “disappointed.”
QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe at the same time announced his statement. He didn’t mean – he prayed for war criminal, and he visited – pray for – just for sacrifice, for loss their life --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- for their country. And at the same time, he’s also saying he – it is not his intention at all to hurt the feeling of the Chinese and the Korean people. But what do you think about this?
MS. HARF: Well, we definitely took note of the prime minister’s expression of remorse for the past and his reaffirmation of Japan’s commitment to peace. We have a close partnership with the Japanese Government. They’re a valued ally and friend, as I said. So we’re going to keep talking about this issue with them. One of the, I think, hallmarks of a strong partnership is the ability to talk honestly with each other when there maybe are differences that we need to express. So I think we’re focused on the relationship moving forward and how Japan and others in the region can work more constructively together.
QUESTION: And disappointment – the U.S. Government and the State Department also announced the United States is disappointed. This disappointment is about – this is about his visit to Yasukuni or the result or the consequences --
MS. HARF: Well, the --
QUESTION: -- and the reaction from the China and the South Korea (inaudible).
MS. HARF: That Japan’s leadership took an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors. I’m not going to probably parse that further.
QUESTION: Does this --
QUESTION: What’s the difference between this time and a former prime minister’s visited many times and we had a really strong reaction from neighbors, but the United States never commented, but this time you show the disappoint.
MS. HARF: I think every situation’s different. I wasn’t here for those. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there is a difference, but every situation’s different. We were commenting on something at a certain period in time that we thought would hurt tension in the region – or increase tension in the region, I should say, and I think that’s probably all I have to say on that.
QUESTION: Does this visit give you any doubts in this – in Abe administration and may affect your relationship with Japanese --
MS. HARF: As I said, they’re a valued ally and friend. We’re close partners on a range of issues. That won’t change. And we’ll continue talking about areas where we disagree going forward.
QUESTION: Will it going to affect --
MS. HARF: Just a couple more on this, guys. I’m going to --
QUESTION: Yeah. Will it going to --
MS. HARF: I know I was late for this, but I’m on a little bit of a schedule.
QUESTION: Will it going to affect --
MS. HARF: I’m going to get to everyone’s questions.
QUESTION: -- President’s coming visit in April, estimated, of countries --
MS. HARF: I have – I would refer you to the White House, I think, for that. I have nothing at all on that.
QUESTION: On the (inaudible) do you have a comment on the violence happening in Xinjiang province in China?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Okay, just give me one second. We are closely following reports of continuing violence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. We will continue to monitor the situation closely. We continue to call on the Chinese Government to permit its citizens to express their grievances freely, publicly, peacefully, and without fear of retribution. We also call on Uighurs to not resort to violence, for the Chinese security forces to exercise restraint, so we’ll keep monitoring it. If we have further comment, I’m happy to share.
QUESTION: A month ago, when there was this attack in Tiananmen Square, you said the same thing and you were evaluating --
MS. HARF: I’m nothing if not consistent.
QUESTION: -- any conclusion. So what’s your reaction to someone saying you have double standard here? While you are condemning the terrorist attack in Russia immediately, and on the other hand, you were evaluating the situation in China for two months.
MS. HARF: Well, every situation is different, quite frankly.
QUESTION: So what’s the difference?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re still trying to gather all the facts about what’s behind it. We do our own gathering of those facts, and if we have anything specific further to say, we will. But I think, suffice to say, we don’t just jump to conclusions or call things by a certain name if we haven’t gathered all the facts ourselves.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq? Iraq?
QUESTION: Wait, just one more on --
MS. HARF: Yeah, just one more on Japan.
QUESTION: Yes. There’s a news report that the Japanese Government informed the United States only one hour before his visit. Is that true or --
MS. HARF: I can double-check. I don't know.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you --
MS. HARF: Yeah, let me go to Iraq. And then I’ll go --
QUESTION: That’s all right.
QUESTION: Today, a number of parliamentarians have resigned and the government continued to pound areas in Ramadi and Anbar and so on, and at the same time, you have already sent in some drones and other material to fight terrorism. Do you have any comments on that?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re tracking the events in Anbar closely. We’re concerned by the reports of soldiers and civilians who have been killed in clashes. We, from the U.S. side, have been intensely engaged from both Baghdad and Washington with Iraqi leaders on all sides. We’ve been urging restraint, dialogue, and certainly for all sides to take steps to de-escalate and not to further escalate the situation. We’ll continue to gather facts on the ground and continue to engage with Iraqi leaders as this moves forward.
QUESTION: Yeah. Are you talking to the – to people, like, from the Iraqiya and the dialogue like (inaudible) and so on who have just withdrawn, including the speaker of the parliament and --
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’re still gathering facts on that, Said. I saw some of those reports before I came out. I think all the facts aren’t entirely clear. Suffice to say, we’re talking to folks from all different sides that are involved in this.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the government may collapse?
MS. HARF: I think you’re getting 15 steps ahead of where we are. What we’re calling on folks to do is to de-escalate the situation on all sides.
QUESTION: Don’t you think that the security forces has overreacted in dealing with the protestors in Anbar?
MS. HARF: Again, we’re still looking at the situation to get all the facts on the ground. I just don’t want to go further than that before we know exactly what happened. We’ve called on all sides to show restraint. That includes, certainly, the security forces and other folks as well. So we’ll see what exactly happened and go from there.
QUESTION: And on what level are you talking to the prime minister?
MS. HARF: I can double-check and see if there’s some specifics I can share about what level.
QUESTION: A quick question on scheduling: Before the – we went for the holidays, there were no briefings, we were told that Secretary Kerry was supposed to make a phone call to his Indian counterpart --
MS. HARF: I think she said he was – at some point may.
MS. HARF: I don’t think she ever said it was scheduled.
MS. HARF: I don’t believe it’s happened. I can double-check. I don’t believe that it’s happened over the holidays, but let me double-check.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I think this might have to be the last subject.
QUESTION: Oh, dear.
MS. HARF: Use your time wisely, my dear.
QUESTION: Come on. You guys have to be fair. You haven’t given us a briefing for more than a week. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I know. I know. I take – I completely take the point.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- what phone calls have been made to get the ceasefire going? Number two, how optimistic are you that there will be a ceasefire in the next few days and that the sides will come together? And number three, what kind of other – we had today the Ugandan President Museveni saying that the region should move in to defeat the South Sudanese. That could mean military, it could mean a bunch of other things. What is your reading of his comments?
MS. HARF: Yeah. So a few points – just a couple calls, just facts here to read out, and then I’ll talk a little bit about them: That Secretary Kerry and other senior Administration officials have been in regular contact with leaders in the region and in South Sudan to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities to allow for a mediated political dialogue and critical humanitarian access for populations in dire need.
The Secretary has spoken with South Sudan President Kiir and former South Sudan Vice President Machar, both of them on Saturday, December 28th; both of them on Thursday, December 26th; both of them on Tuesday, December 24th. He spoke with President Kiir as well on December 23rd, 21st, and 20th. I know we read a bunch of these out, but just so they’re all in one place. These are ongoing discussions. Special Envoy Ambassador Donald Booth is in the – has been in the region all week, is in Juba today attempting to work with both President Kiir and former Vice President Machar to finalize the details of a political dialogue, hopefully to arrange for negotiations to begin in the coming days, working through the Intergovernmental Authority for Development nations. There’s a number of nations that are a part of this that are working to help move these negotiations further.
And I didn’t see those comments. I’m happy to look at them. I don't know what he meant, quite frankly.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. feel that this is moving closer to resolving itself, or is it still very tentative and not – I mean --
MS. HARF: Well, I think probably a little of both, right. I think that’s why we have folks on the ground encouraging the parties to come and start negotiations in the coming days, but it’s a very complicated, tenuous situation. Obviously, our first priority is keeping our folks safe, helping them leave the country.
Just a quick update on that: So far, we’ve evacuated more than 400 U.S. officials and private citizens, and approximately 700 citizens of at least 27 other countries on seven chartered flights and six military aircraft. So that work is ongoing.
QUESTION: And the 400 is private as well as the --
MS. HARF: Correct. More than 400 U.S. officials and private citizens, and approximately 700 citizens of at least 27 other countries.
QUESTION: Is this, in your view, a tribal war that has taken on political dimensions, or a political conflict that has taken on tribal dimensions?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to put a label on it. What we’ve said is that there’s no place for violence here, that the sides need to take a step back and move towards a mediated, negotiated political dialogue here. So I don't know if I’d put any of those words on it. I think suffice to say, we’ve made very clear what our position is.
QUESTION: I guess my question is: When the Secretary of State talks to Machar, for instance, who apparently commands an army of 25,000 people that are ready to attack, according to accusation by the president of the country, what does he tell him? What is --
MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary has clarified in these conversations that any effort to seize power through the use of military force will – excuse me, I’m tripping over my words here, it’s been a week – will result in the end of longstanding support from the United States and the international community. He also has noted that all parties in this conflict have a responsibility to prevent atrocities. Those that violate international law, commit atrocities or other serious human rights abuses will be identified and held accountable.
So I think – and President Obama said this in his statement – that South Sudanese leaders have a choice here. They can choose to end the violence. They can choose to work to resolve these tensions peacefully. And now is the time for all of these leaders who have helped with this process of creating a new nation to take the right steps and make the right decisions, and they still have an opportunity to do so.
QUESTION: Could you tell us anything about the role of the Africa Corps or Africa Command?
MS. HARF: AFRICOM?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have anything on that. I’m happy to check, Said. I don’t – let me see if I have anything. I’m not sure I do.
QUESTION: Because there were something like 250 soldiers that were deployed --
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. DOD probably has more details, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: One other thing?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: One way to force these sides to come together is to also say – is a withdrawal of aid, number one, the foreign assistance; and number two, the possibility of sanctions. Have any of those been raised with them?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. But I think what I said is that the Secretary made clear that if there is a use of military force to seize power, we would obviously not look on that favorably. I don’t want to further outline what those detailed diplomatic conversations look like. I think what the Secretary and Ambassador Booth and others are focused on right now is getting the parties to the table and not talking about those kind of things.
QUESTION: Well, what would that look like? Do you have any idea of where they would meet?
MS. HARF: I don’t.
QUESTION: How they would meet?
MS. HARF: I don’t.
QUESTION: Who would be around the table?
MS. HARF: As I said, IGAD, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, is a group of countries in the region that would arrange for negotiations to begin in the coming – to begin. I don’t have details. I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: Would it be U.S. and UN involvement, or --
MS. HARF: I don’t know. I will check.
QUESTION: And you said – and you just repeated that any effort to seize power through military force would result in an end to the longstanding support of the U.S. and international community. And that’s been expressed to both sides, has it, both to --
MS. HARF: I can check.
QUESTION: And what does it mean, exactly? I mean, would it be an immediate cutoff of --
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have further details about that to outline, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: Do we have time to talk about Egypt?
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood?
MS. HARF: I do. I’m going to send you all to my next meeting in my place. I do, Said. Just give me one second.
We are concerned about the interim Egyptian government’s December 25th terrorist designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the ongoing detentions and arrests, including for peaceful demonstrators, civil society, and political activists. We remain deeply concerned about all of the politically motivated arrests, detentions, and charges in Egypt. As we’ve said, these actions raise questions about the rule of law being applied impartially and equitably, and do not move Egypt’s transition forward.
Secretary Kerry reiterated these concerns during his last phone call with Foreign Minister Fahmy on December 26th.
QUESTION: Do you still have faith in the current military junta, whatever you want to call them, in carrying forward with the – with the referendum --
MS. HARF: I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “faith.”
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, I’m using it.
MS. HARF: What we --
QUESTION: So I --
MS. HARF: Right. What we’ve said is that the onus is on them to move the process forward and to create a climate that’s inclusive for all parties and groups in Egypt. There’s responsibilities on other sides as well to protest peacefully. We’ve talked about that a lot, too. We need to see the process move forward. As we know, there’s the constitutional referendum coming up. It’s up to the people of Egypt to decide how to move this forward.
QUESTION: Now, we know that the Secretary of State spoke to his counterpart, Fahmy. Did the Secretary of Defense talk to his counterpart, Sisi?
MS. HARF: I can double-check. You might want to check in with them. I’m not in the business necessarily of confirming the Secretary of Defense’s phone calls. Check in with them, and I’m happy to see if I can get more on that.
MS. HARF: Yes, okay.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the increasing violence there? And the opposition leader has been put under house arrest before the January 5th elections.
MS. HARF: We believe it’s more urgent than ever for the major parties to redouble their efforts to engage in constructive dialogue to find a way forward to holding free and fair elections that are credible and reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people. As we’ve said repeatedly, violence is not acceptable for a number of reasons, but in part because it subverts the democratic process. And we have called on it to stop immediately. That’s certainly our position. We know there’s a lot of work still to be done there, but hopefully we can see some progress being made.
QUESTION: Have any phone calls been made from this building to the Bangladesh leaders?
MS. HARF: I am sure some phone calls have been made from this building. I am happy to check and see what our outreach has looked like.
QUESTION: And you believe that Bangladesh, in present circumstances, are headed towards free and fair and credible elections, or you see --
MS. HARF: Well, we, I think, issued a statement a few days ago on this. We’re disappointed that the major political parties have not yet reached a consensus on a way to hold free, fair, and credible elections. We are prepared to reengage our efforts and in particular our observation efforts at a later time if there is a more conducive environment, but we are disappointed that so far they haven’t done so.
QUESTION: Do you support the move for a caretaker government which the opposition parties are demanding right now?
MS. HARF: I haven’t – I quite frankly haven’t seen those reports. I’m happy to see if there’s a response from our team.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything new to say. I think I can restate our position, which is that we welcomed the Loya Jirga’s overwhelming endorsement of the BSA and our – and their continued partnership with the United States, and we are prepared to sign the agreement. We believe this is an opportunity to strengthen and sustain our partnership between the United States and Afghanistan. And as we’ve repeatedly said, if we cannot conclude a BSA promptly, we will be forced to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan. Obviously, planning is not a decision; we all know the President hasn’t made a decision. But there are consequences to every day that passes without a BSA being signed, certainly consequences for the Afghan people most of all in terms of knowing what comes next.
QUESTION: So when --
QUESTION: Just to --
QUESTION: So when does the U.S. plans to restart this review process planning forward during all the talks?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve already – obviously, the review has been ongoing about what a troop presence will look like after 2014. Suffice to say, I think folks in many parts of the government are looking at a variety of options for what might happen, and we’ve made clear that a BSA needs to be signed promptly as part of that discussion.
QUESTION: And how long is prompt? Is it a week, two weeks?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to set that kind of timeline on it. I think we’ve said, again, every day that goes by without one there are consequences. And that’s why we think it should be signed as soon as possible. We are ready to sign it.
QUESTION: You must have a date by which you have to cut off the calls for them to sign it and then make a decision.
MS. HARF: I can check if there is one. I know that planning is underway for a variety of options. But I can check and see if there’s a date.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) The – most of the Indian media is still harping on the point that Secretary Kerry did call and express regret, but they are saying there is no apology. Do you think this is under consideration any way? What is the latest on that? What’s your --
MS. HARF: Again, we’ve done a lot of wordsmithing in here today. I think we’ve made very clear that the Secretary and all of us regret what played out here. And that’s a strong statement that we expressed personally and as representatives of the State Department and the U.S. Government, and just don’t have anything more for you on that. What we’re focused on is moving the relationship forward.
Thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:39 p.m.)
DPB # 210