1:17 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. It’s a packed room today. Happy Friday. I have just one thing at the top, which I think most of you are aware of, and then I’m happy, Matt, to open it up.
As you saw this morning with our statement, today, due to the deteriorating security situation and out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State ordered the departure of most remaining U.S. Government personnel from South Sudan. The U.S. Embassy is therefore only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Republic of South Sudan. Due to the drawdown of our personnel in Juba, we recommend the U.S. citizens who are in need of emergency assistance in South Sudan first contact the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. In the coming days, we’ll continue to work to keep our remaining diplomatic personnel safe, to help Americans seeking to leave the country, and to support regional and international efforts to bring the fighting to an end.
As I said in my statement this morning, even as we draw down our personnel, we continue to be engaged in and strongly support regional and international efforts to bring the violence to an end. Secretary Kerry and other senior officials have been in touch repeatedly with leaders in the region and in South Sudan. And our ambassador there, Susan Page, does remain in Juba, where she is in constant communication with South Sudanese officials and her foreign counterparts.
Just one more official to note: Our special envoy, Ambassador Donald Booth, is in Ethiopia for talks between the two parties as well.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Can – just on that, do you have any idea how many, if any, Americans are still in South Sudan who want – who wanted to get on the evacuation flights that you had and might not have been able to? I’m not asking about total number or about --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- or about people who are there intentionally and they’re --
MS. HARF: Who don’t want to leave.
QUESTION: -- there because of the situation --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- but people who actually had expressed a desire to the Embassy to want to leave.
MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer. I’m happy to look into that. Just updated numbers on that: We’ve evacuated over 440 U.S. officials and private citizens and more than 750 citizens of at least 27 other countries on eight chartered flights and nine military aircraft. This morningthere were two more DOD C-130s.
The answer is I don’t know. We’ve had, as I said, a bunch of flights going out, but I’m happy to check and see.
QUESTION: And will those continue, even though you are – have limited – presumably, some of these people who are being drawn down were helping in these evacuations flights. Is that correct?
MS. HARF: It’s people who had remained at the Embassy. Let me see what – if I have any --
QUESTION: Does this – does the drawdown mean that those – that there will be any impact on future evacuation flights if there had been any --
MS. HARF: We’ll keep looking, and if we need to do more, we’re certainly open to doing that, as we’ve been throughout. Who remains: the ambassador, a few key personnel, and of course, security at our facility there, both ours and DOD. But I think we’re certainly open to doing more evacuations if there’s a need, depending on the security, of course.
Matt, anything else?
Is this going to be the shortest briefing in history? Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: A truck was stopped at the Turkey-Syria border with lots of arms in it. It turned out that the Turkish authorities prevented its official search. And then it turned out that in Turkey, intelligence officials were involved in transferring whatever it was in that truck. Do you – are you familiar with the situation? Any comments on that?
MS. HARF: I’m not familiar with that case. I’m happy to take a look at it and ask our team if there’s some sort of comment on it. I’m just not familiar with it.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m still hoping for an answer about the Turkish journalist who was abducted in Syria.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I’ll see if our team has anything. I hadn’t heard anything about that, actually. I’d probably refer you both to the Turks and see if they have anything, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Lucas.
MS. HARF: Not an update from yesterday. I know we talked about this a little bit. Let me see what I have in here.
Obviously, as I said yesterday, a number of our folks on the ground and in Washington remain in touch with all of the different parties in Iraq. I think I’d make the points I made yesterday that our overall point is to encourage moderates on all sides and isolate extremists on all sides, support the government in our fight against al-Qaida – a fight, as you know, we share – and help them learn from the lessons that we learned from fighting this. Obviously, we know the situation is very serious. No update on that today, but it’s something we’re very concerned about.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you indicated that Syria was to blame for the increase in violence.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you stand by those comments?
MS. HARF: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, largely to blame. Obviously, there’s a lot of factors at play here. We know some of the recent history in Iraq with some of the sectarian tensions. I’d note that we are pleased that different political leaders have called for calm and have taken steps to try to move away from this kind of violence. But Syria obviously is an incredibly destabilizing force, not just in Iraq but elsewhere.
QUESTION: Would you say al-Qaida is a part of this destabilizing force?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I think it’s sort of what you asked yesterday. There are different either affiliated groups with al-Qaida in the region or groups that might take ideology from al-Qaida that aren’t official affiliates. Certainly, we’re concerned about that. We have been in Iraq for a long time, as you know, with the al-Qaida affiliate there. But I’d say there are extremists on both sides here, and there are moderates on both sides, and that’s why we’re encouraging the moderates to step up increasingly and show these extremists that that’s not the way forward for Iraq.
QUESTION: How would you define al-Qaida?
MS. HARF: In general, or in Iraq?
QUESTION: Just in general.
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, what we’ve talked a lot about, I think, is – we talk a lot about al-Qaida core in here, right, and the success we’ve had in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the al-Qaida core group, which, quite frankly, is today a shadow of what it was, certainly on 9/11 but even after. At the same time, over the past few years, we’ve made it clear that we’re increasingly concerned about either official affiliates like AQAP or al-Shabaab, AQ in Somalia or elsewhere, but also concerned with extremist groups who may claim ideology with al-Qaida but aren’t official affiliates, and also concerned with sort of the lone wolves that are out there that may go on the internet and see extremist ideology and want to act on it.
So that’s why I think you’ve heard the President speak about this most recently at NDU, when he talked about the way forward and the threat we face and how we’re going to fight it.
QUESTION: There was a UN report that was just released that said there were over 8,000 civilians killed in Iraq over the last year --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- the most deadly year in Iraq since 2008. And critics of the Administration’s policies would say their policy in – your policy in Iraq would say that we abandoned the country. Can you respond to that?
MS. HARF: Well, a few points. Obviously, we’ve condemned this violence in the absolute strongest terms. But let’s be clear who’s responsible for the violence. It’s the terrorists who were behind it. That’s why we are partnering with the Iraqi Government very closely to fight this shared threat, because at the end of the day we can certainly help them fight it, but we also want to help them build their own capability to do so themselves, because ultimately that’s the best way forward for Iraq. So I don’t think we need to relitigate policy decisions that were made however many months ago. But today, what we’re focused on is the relationship, how we work together very closely on this issue, and fighting this challenge, certainly, together.
QUESTION: Bottom line, would you say the threat of al-Qaida is increased in Iraq and Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I would say both in Syria and Iraq – well, certainly – let’s start with Syria. I think the threat of terrorism and extremism has increased as a direct result of the atmosphere the Assad regime has created in Syria, the fact that they have decided to engage in violence against their own people and really create a security vacuum has led to a very serious situation where terrorists like al-Qaida affiliated or people that claim ideology with al-Qaida can flourish. Obviously, that’s why we’ve said that we need to move quickly to end the civil war there even though it’s very, very complicated and hard to do.
QUESTION: Doesn’t the al-Qaida threat in Syria, the al-Qaida presence, come from Anbar province in Iraq?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that’s an oversimplification of sort of the al-Qaida picture in the region. I think that there are extremists and terrorists operating in both. I don’t know what the flowchart looks like necessarily or where all the fighters are coming from when we look at Syria. I’m happy to check with our experts and see, certainly, where they come from and how they get to Syria. But we’re concerned about it in both places, quite frankly, and that’s we are encouraging moderates within Iraq – in the government, in Anbar, and elsewhere – to step up and say this is not what we want for our country, to learn some of the lessons we learned, and to move forward, hopefully, with a less violent future.
QUESTION: Can we agree that the threat of al-Qaida has increased in the Middle East?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t – when you say “the threat from al-Qaida,” that’s sort of an overly vague and broad and almost without-meaning term.
QUESTION: Well, the source of these attacks --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- in Iraq came from al-Qaida.
MS. HARF: I think in some places, the terrorist threat has gotten worse. Like I said, in Syria, certainly as a direct result of what the Assad regime has done, the security situation, certainly the threat of either al-Qaida affiliated or ideologically affiliated groups has gotten worse. But when we take about, quote, “al-Qaida,” I’m not sure if you’re referring to al-Qaida core, which actually we don’t think has the reach into these places that it did in the past or that some people might think. It doesn’t mean they’re less dangerous, but when you’re talking about how to confront these groups, it matters where they take their direction from, quite frankly. And when you use the term al-Qaida, it matters what that means.
QUESTION: Well, from the podium you’ve mentioned foreign fighters --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and having – going towards Syria responsible for attacks against the Assad regime. Part of these flood of foreign fighters do come from Iraq --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- and from Anbar province.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And over the last year in Iraq, we’ve seen 8,000 civilians killed. I think it’s fairly self-evident that violence has increased and the cause of that increase in violence is the al-Qaida franchise.
MS. HARF: Well, I think the use of “franchise” is a helpful caveat. But again, who’s giving direction, operational direction, operational planning to the folks that are perpetrating this violence in Iraq? I’m happy to check in with our folks and see specifically what part of the terrorist org chart that is. Because again, it matters not just in the words you use but in how you fight it, something we’re working with the Iraqi Government to do all the time, and the Lebanese Government, as we talked a lot about, and others in the region as well.
QUESTION: So lastly, you will not say from that podium that the threat of – from al-Qaida is increasing in the Middle East?
MS. HARF: Well, I would say the threat from al-Qaida core has significantly decreased because of our efforts over the past several years. The threat of – from al-Qaida affiliates in some places has increased, certainly in Syria – we’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about that in Yemen. Each country is different, each group is different, and we will evaluate the threat each place differently. It’s just a little more complicated than that.
QUESTION: Without relitigating the decisions that were made in the last term or over the past couple years, can you just address the suggestion in one of the earlier questions that the United States abandoned Iraq?
MS. HARF: Well, I would fundamentally disagree with it. Just because we don’t have troops on the ground doesn’t mean we don’t have a continuing close partnership with the Iraqi Government. You see that all the time from the assistance we give them. We talked a little bit about it over the Christmas holiday, I think, some of the additional military assistance we’ve given them. So we don’t define a relationship with a country based on boots on the ground. In fact, it’s the opposite. We very much have a close and continuing partnership and we’ll keep working with them on this joint threat.
QUESTION: Was it not the Administration’s preference to keep a number of troops on the ground in Iraq?
MS. HARF: I’m really not going to relitigate the --
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to relitigate it; I’m just --
MS. HARF: Can I finish?
MS. HARF: Thank you. I’m not going to go back into internal deliberations about whether we were going to and wanted to put a new SOFA in place, something that happened, what, two years ago now, two and a half years ago now? I just don’t think that’s a beneficial discussion to have from this podium. The President was very clear when he came into office that our goal was to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home. I just don’t think it serves any purpose to re-litigate those discussions from, what, 2011, in 2014.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to relitigate it. Was the Administration not interested in concluding a SOFA with the Iraqi Government?
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to go back down that road. I don’t --
QUESTION: Well, the answer is yes, okay? And I don’t see why you can’t say --
MS. HARF: Do you want my job, then? You want to answer?
QUESTION: No, but I would prefer that you not try to sidestep. I mean, it’s a pretty --
MS. HARF: I’m not trying to sidestep it.
QUESTION: Yeah, you --
MS. HARF: We’re focused on 2014 and where we go from here. A discussion or debate about what we may or may not have --
QUESTION: His question was, “How do you respond --
MS. HARF: -- about what we may or not have wanted in 2011 --
QUESTION: Hold --
MS. HARF: -- is not relevant to the discussion today, Matt.
QUESTION: It’s completely relevant --
MS. HARF: It’s just not.
QUESTION: -- to the question that he asked --
MS. HARF: I disagree.
QUESTION: -- which was that critics– his question was critics suggest or say, claim, accuse the Administration of abandoning Iraq. And --
MS. HARF: And I disagreed with the premise.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m asking you --
MS. HARF: Because I said --
QUESTION: Was the Administration interested in concluding a SOFA with the Iraqi Government or not back several years ago?
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to – I’m not going to go back down that road. What I’ve said is that you don’t define being --
QUESTION: Okay. You’re looking for a – you think that I’m trying to set a trap for you, and I’m not. I’m just trying to get a straight answer, and it’s a historical fact that you were involved in negotiations with the Iraq --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. I’m not saying we weren’t involved in them.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, what’s wrong?
MS. HARF: But you were asking what we wanted, what we didn’t want, what the content of the discussions were.
QUESTION: The whole point of the SOFA was the same point as the BSA in Afghanistan, which was to allow --
MS. HARF: They’re actually quite different.
QUESTION: I understand that, but it was to keep some presence --
MS. HARF: So don’t make that comparison.
QUESTION: -- to keep some presence on the ground in Iraq.
MS. HARF: Again, they’re very different situations.
MS. HARF: Very different situations.
QUESTION: They are. But the suggestion if you deny that the U.S. abandoned Iraq --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. Because I don’t think it’s defined --
QUESTION: -- then you might want to explain --
MS. HARF: -- by boots on the ground.
QUESTION: Then you might want to explain to people that the Administration did try to conclude a SOFA with the Iraqis that would have allowed --
MS. HARF: I just don’t think that’s a helpful discussion to have today.
QUESTION: It’s the answer to the question, though.
MS. HARF: I don’t think it’s a helpful discussion to have today --
QUESTION: And if you --
MS. HARF: -- and I think I would define our engagement with Iraq not by boots on the ground.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
QUESTION: But after 8,000 people are killed, that’s also not a helpful way to define our involvement in the country.
MS. HARF: Well, certainly we’re doing what we can to help them build their capability. We have been very clear that we are partners with Iraq in this shared fight, but we also were very clear about – the President was when he came into office about ending the war there, about building a new relationship going forward, and focusing on other security threats going forward.
So again, this isn’t something we’re going to relitigate here, something that happened in 2011. What we’re focused on now is how we continue building the relationship and building their capabilities.
QUESTION: But to Matt’s point in – for the Administration to end the war in Iraq, did you all perhaps forget to leave behind some tools that could aid them in defeating adversaries?
MS. HARF: Absolutely not. Again, you don’t define a relationship with a country by boots on the ground. That’s just ridiculous.
QUESTION: But some would define the relationship about peace, and they define the relationship --
MS. HARF: Well, again, we can’t impose peace on people. I think that’s --
QUESTION: But you give them tools to aid them.
MS. HARF: Which is exactly what we’re doing. But it’s a tough fight and it’s a hard challenge, and these issues aren’t easy. If they were easy they would have been dealt with years ago. So it’s not like if we just flipped a switch and did x, y, or z, the terrorist threat in Iraq would go away. That’s just not how the – that’s not how it works.
So we’re helping them build their capability. We’re helping provide them with the tools, the guidance, the assistance, as they fight this fight. But it’s really up to them, in conjunction with us helping them, to push out the extremists, to encourage moderates, to learn the lessons we all learned from the years we were there when we did have boots on the ground, and try and move the situation forward in a better way.
Said. I’ve missed you.
QUESTION: Said --
QUESTION: Happy New Year.
MS. HARF: We’re going to go to Said next. Happy New Year.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up – happy New Year to you. I wanted to follow up on Iraq. So you agree with the tactics that the Maliki government is using? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. HARF: That’s not what I’m saying --
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: -- at all. We’re obviously --
QUESTION: But you said you’d leave it up to them how they want to conduct this operation.
MS. HARF: Well, that was a broad statement. So we’re obvious following – if you’re talking about Anbar --
MS. HARF: -- we’re obviously following the events in Anbar. We’ve been encouraged by efforts by several of Iraq’s political leaders to contain the crisis in Anbar and unite forces against extremists. Obviously, we’re in close contact from the ground by Ambassador Beecroft here, from Brett McGurk and others, with the Iraqi Government at all levels to discuss the way forward. We’re following the situation there and helping in any way we can.
QUESTION: Now, seeing how the United States is also sending drones and so on to strike terrorist camps in Yemen and other places, why not do the same thing in Iraq?
MS. HARF: Each country is different. Each situation is different. And we provide assistance with counterterrorism in different ways everywhere. They’re just not always comparable situations.
QUESTION: Is that because there is a lack of agreement on these things between you and the Iraqi Government?
MS. HARF: There’s just different situations. I would hesitate from making any generalizations or analysis of it. They’re just all different.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
MS. HARF: Iraq? Wait, let’s go to – yeah. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But don’t you think the guy – I mean, the Prime Minister Maliki is picking the right – the wrong fight by fighting with this Sunni leader in Al Anbar?
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to --
QUESTION: Not with the terrorist al-Qaida Sunni, with the tribe leaders in Al Anbar.
MS. HARF: Well, I’ve seen some reports of the Prime Minister actually calling for Sunni members of parliament to remain in government. We’ve been encouraged and pleased by those comments, and we do believe it’s important for these members of parliament to participate in the process by representing their constituencies.
Obviously, we’re not going to litigate internal Iraqi politics; that’s not our job. But we are going to help the government, talking to all parties, all folks there, about how best to fight the extremists and the terrorist threat.
QUESTION: Yeah, but is he fighting in Anbar the tribe – Sunni tribe leaders, as the – all the news reports from Iraq say.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re --
QUESTION: He’s fighting the leaders.
MS. HARF: We’re taking a look at those reports and we’re trying to get all the facts on the ground. There’s a lot of conflicting reports actually out there about what’s actually happening in Anbar. And what we’re trying to do is talking to our folks there, getting more information, and determining the best way to assist and provide help going forward, certainly.
QUESTION: And especially those awakening. You remember the awakened --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Those people who you work with in 2006 or 7, I think, the guy is in fight with them now.
MS. HARF: Well, and what we’ve said broadly, one of the things I’ve referenced repeatedly, is that we all need to learn the lessons that we learned when we were there and take forward some of those lessons into this fight. Absolutely, when you mentioned the awakening and how in 2006-2007 the forces of moderation did isolate the extremists and pushed them out, that’s exactly what I’m referring to when I say we need to remember the lessons we learned, we need to take those lessons forward, and we need to see these extremists pushed to the sidelines. Again, not because we want it to happen, because it’s what’s in the best interests of Iraq’s future going forward.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Washington Post editorial was addressing the U.S. Government and saying that the Obama Administration should be pressing Mr. Erdogan to respect the rule of law and give police and prosecutors the opportunity to present their cases in court. Do you agree with that, or what’s your reaction?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve continued obviously to follow the investigations going on in Turkey. We’ve certainly over months and years made concerns known to the Turkish Government about freedom of the press, about some of the – freedom of – some of these issues that I think were mentioned there. I don’t have any, I think, any further analysis on that other than to say we have a close relationship with Turkey. We’ll keep raising these issues as we think it’s appropriate. And again, this is an internal matter in Turkey, and we’ll follow it, but this is something for them to deal with.
QUESTION: So you have been repeating some of the norms – universal norms here, transparency and judiciary and all that.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And due process --
QUESTION: Due process.
MS. HARF: -- effective access to justice, all of that. Absolutely.
QUESTION: So over three or four weeks that the hundreds of police officers and prosecutors also – the one that launched the case – removed from the case. Do you think that the Administration’s handling the cases over the months is --
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any comment on the specifics of the cases. Obviously, we would reiterate again that we expect Turkey to follow and meet the highest standards for transparency, for timeliness and fairness in its judicial system. But I don’t have any specific comments, again, on these cases.
QUESTION: So last week the Prime Minister Erdogan basically said that this corruption case is a plot, is planned in the U.S. in April. Did you guys hatch such a plot to overthrow the Turkish Government?
MS. HARF: Absolutely not. We find this attack baseless. We’ve made it known to Turkish authorities our concerns about these kind of allegations regarding American officials just completely baseless. Again, this is an internal Turkish matter. We’ll keep following it, but don’t have much more on it than that.
QUESTION: The Administration argues that there is planned movement. It is an Islamist – the Islamic movement is behind these cases that tried to overthrow the government. Do you know anything about this? Do you have any comment on this?
MS. HARF: I mean, I’ve seen some of those reports. I don’t have a comment on it. I’m happy to check with our folks to see if there’s more that we can share.
QUESTION: Would you be able to define the current U.S.-Turkey relationship under the circumstances?
MS. HARF: Well, I think broadly speaking, they are a very important NATO ally, as we know. We work together on a host of issues very closely, including on regional issues like Syria and other issues as well. I think as I said about a number of countries, the sign of a close partnership is the ability to speak frankly when you have disagreements, which we do. And we’re focused on working together on all these issues going forward. I don’t think I have much more analysis on the bilateral relationship than that.
QUESTION: Any development on the U.S. ambassador so far? Is he staying or is he --
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything new to announce on that. I’m happy to check, but I don’t have any update on that.
QUESTION: And lastly, yesterday there were some trucks in Turkey confiscated and then let go. Do you have anything – do you know anything about the trucks?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports. I’m not sure if they’re the same thing you’re asking about, but I’m happy to look into them.
MS. HARF: Yes, in the back. Hold on and then I’ll come up. Yes.
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have. I know this is obviously a fast-moving situation and this is what I mentioned, Ambassador Booth is in Ethiopia for talks between the parties. As I’ve mentioned – let me pull up a little information on the talks if I have that. These are the IGAD discussions. The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development nations are supporting this political dialogue in Addis. We do understand that delegations representing both the South Sudanese Government and former Vice President Machar have arrived in Addis to discuss an immediate cessation of hostilities and consider a political way forward.
We are grateful to the Ethiopian Government for hosting these discussions, welcome the leadership of the other countries involved. I will check and see what the latest is in terms of the exact negotiations. I know this is a ongoing and moving situation, and that’s sort of the latest I have. But as we have more to share over the weekend, I think we’ll be happy to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on Kiir or Machar getting a lot of help from Bashir, president of North Sudan?
MS. HARF: I have not heard anything about that. I’m happy to check with our team. I just don’t know the answer, Said. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: On Israel, Senators McCain and Graham expressed concern today about Israel’s footing going forward in the negotiations. I’m wondering, is the Secretary finding them a source of help or complication during their combined presence of --
MS. HARF: The senators?
MS. HARF: Okay. Didn’t know who you were referring to there. Well, Secretary Kerry did meet with a congressional delegation this morning in Israel. They discussed a range of issues, including the direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, also Afghanistan and the ongoing civil war in Syria. He’ll continue to engage with them. As you know, he spent 30 years in the Congress and on the Foreign Relations Committee and is a big believer in the role of Congress in traveling to other countries, contributing to the foreign policy dialogue, certainly.
I think what he’s focused on is the role we’re playing in these direct negotiations. He’s in meetings today. He was with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, President Abbas this evening, this evening Israel time. And I think that what we’re focused on right now is discussing the framework, seeing if we can make progress in narrowing the gaps between the two sides, and seeing where we go from here. Again, he’s happy when other folks contribute to the dialogue, but we’re focused on the work at hand and seeing what we can get done.
QUESTION: Being evening now, do you know anything about the meeting?
MS. HARF: I don’t, no. I’ll check with our team on the road. I know that they were headed into the dinner with President Abbas. I’m happy to check on the latest.
QUESTION: And what was it that the senators were concerned about in terms of Israel being pushed into this negotiation?
MS. HARF: I think you’d have to check in with the senators for them to explain their own words. Obviously, we’ve said that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have taken courageous steps and chosen to come to the table for direct negotiations. So I am not going to parse the senators’ words for them, but what we’re focused on is actually the negotiations and what we can get accomplished.
QUESTION: So did I hear that right, that the Secretary welcomes the comments of the lawmakers?
MS. HARF: I said – did I say welcomed?
QUESTION: I don’t know.
MS. HARF: I don’t think I said welcomed.
QUESTION: So he doesn’t?
MS. HARF: He obviously is a big believer in senators being part of the foreign policy dialogue.
QUESTION: Right. But a hallmark --
MS. HARF: I don’t know how he feels about their exact comments. I haven’t spoken to him since they made them.
MS. HARF: But in general, he did meet with them today and welcomes them and other senators and members of Congress being engaged in the dialogue on foreign policy.
QUESTION: Okay. So he does welcome it?
MS. HARF: I don’t know --
MS. HARF: I don’t know what his personal feelings are on these specific comments.
QUESTION: Well no, but you said welcomed. But anyway --
MS. HARF: I said he welcomes people in general being part of the dialogue.
QUESTION: Right, okay. But a hallmark of this negotiation has been that he has made it very clear that he doesn’t want anyone else to talk and that the two sides have agreed that he is going to be sole, lone spokesperson for this whole process. So does he find it – the original question: Does he find it helpful or problematic that the senators are speaking out about this?
MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t spoken to him since they made these specific comments. In general, I know his feelings on senators or members of Congress being part of the foreign policy dialogue. I’m happy to check in with the team --
MS. HARF: -- and see if there’s more.
QUESTION: And then, is there any change from yesterday in terms of the U.S. wanting or in terms of the Administration offering any kind of opinion as to whether Prime Minister Netanyahu’s complaints about the Palestinians glorifying these prisoners as heroes – the released prisoners as heroes – is there any change, or do you still want to stay mum on --
MS. HARF: I think I will still let the prime minister speak for himself.
QUESTION: But seeing how the Secretary was the force behind, or the – in advocating the release of these prisoners, did he have a --
MS. HARF: Well, the Israeli Government makes decisions for themselves.
QUESTION: Right. Of course, the Israeli Government makes the decision and so on, but it seems that the Secretary put his prestige behind the release – the continuing release --
MS. HARF: And he certainly thinks it’s a courageous decision, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. I take that back. Seeing how he was instrumental in reaching these agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, including the release of the prisoners, did he express any kind of complaint? Did he complain to Abbas about welcoming the prisoners as heroes?
MS. HARF: Again, they were just going into a meeting this evening. I’m happy to check and see if there’s more details. We’ve said that we believe there are partners for peace on both sides, that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have both made courageous decisions and are at the table negotiating in good faith. That hasn’t changed. I don’t think I probably have more details about private discussions to read out for you.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, you talked about partners for peace seeing – or listening to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. He basically said that the Palestinians were not partners for peace.
MS. HARF: Well, again, I’ll let him speak for himself. But what I would note is that we had a good set of meeting with him yesterday, a good set this morning. Clearly, the process is moving forward, and what we’re focused on is those negotiations and what comes out of them.
QUESTION: And then, it was – almost it could – immediately by Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, who came out and said that the Israelis really don’t want to go forward with peace and that the whole thing is basically a cover for settlements and so on. Do you have any comment? It seems --
MS. HARF: I don’t think --
QUESTION: -- since he is the chief negotiator, I mean --
MS. HARF: Yeah, but you ask – every week it seems like there’s some report, someone in the press talking about this. We’re not focused on words in the press. We’re focused on actions at the negotiating table, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. The two parties are at the table. We are engaged in serious negotiations. We’re at a critical point. The Secretary said yesterday --
MS. HARF: -- that very soon, if not now, we are at a point where both sides are going to have to make tough decisions --
QUESTION: Does that --
MS. HARF: -- and we are focused on those discussions squarely.
QUESTION: Does that mean that we are close to a deal, or at least a framework agreement?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to look into the crystal ball.
MS. HARF: I don’t want to look into a crystal ball. The framework is very important. If and when that happens, we certainly think that would be a breakthrough in this process. But there are tough issues, and no one underestimates how hard it’s going to be. I don’t want to look into a crystal ball – because I can’t – to see when we might get some sort of agreement on a framework.
QUESTION: You say that you don’t want to talk about words in the media or words in the press, but my questions yesterday and some of the questions here today have not been – they’ve been about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments standing next to the Secretary of State, saying that the Palestinians aren’t interested in peace and it’s – and the proof of that or the reasoning behind that is because of this incitement that he claims is still continuing. Does the Administration not think that being an honest broker, that being a facilitator of these talks, means in some way to be a referee and calling fouls or penalties on both sides whenever they do things that – when they do things that are unhelpful?
And the crux of my question is: It would seem to me to be incumbent on the United States when the prime minister of your – one of your biggest allies, potentially the biggest ally in the Middle East, comes out and says that his negotiating partner is inciting violence against the – Israel and not preparing his people for peace. Either you think that’s wrong – and if you do, I think you have an obligation as – do you think you have an obligation as an honest broker to say that it’s wrong? And if it is right, don’t you equally have the obligation to say that we agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Abbas, do something about this?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we see our obligations as an honest broker to have honest discussions, in this case in private. When we think one side has done something helpful, when we think one side has done something less helpful, we make that plainly clear to the sides directly and privately. And that’s why the Secretary has repeatedly said that these discussions are happening privately. We’re not going to read out those discussions publicly because we don’t think that’s helpful.
I said very clearly what our side – what our position is: that we believe that both sides are negotiating in good faith and that we do believe there are partners for peace on both sides. And it think the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu was at the table last night and again this morning shows that he’s still invested in the process despite his public comments.
QUESTION: Okay. So if you think that speaking out about this is unhelpful, surely it cannot be helpful when Senator McCain gets out there as a leading member of Congress and says that the Israelis’ concerns are legitimate.
MS. HARF: Again --
QUESTION: How is that neutral?
MS. HARF: I didn’t say it was helpful. I said that we respect – the Secretary respects the right of Congress to play a role in the foreign policy dialogue. And we’re not focused on what the senators are saying; we’re focused on what the parties are saying at the negotiating table.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Marie, Israeli reports say that part of – the Israelis suggested as part of this framework agreement that the triangle area, which includes some old Palestinians town, that are in Israel and that where the people are citizens of Israel to move them, actually, in exchange for the settlement. It’s called the triangle area and it also includes 300,000 people that would be moved from being Israeli citizens to being Palestinian citizens. And allegedly, they claim that the Secretary is against that because it is – it’s very close to ethnic cleansing. Could you comment on that?
MS. HARF: Said, I appreciate your tenacity in repeatedly asking about specific rumors about specifics being discussed.
QUESTION: Right. It’s not a rumor.
MS. HARF: It’s – that’s very specific what you just said.
MS. HARF: We are not in any way going to confirm one way or the other any of the specifics being or not being discussed in these negotiations.
QUESTION: Are we going to get some sort of a scorecard or a yardstick or some – like status report anytime soon?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure exactly what you’re looking for, but I think how you can judge it --
QUESTION: Well, how far have we gone since the beginning of these negotiations?
MS. HARF: Well – right. I think a couple points: We’re still at the table engaged in serious and sustained discussions. We are focused right now on this framework, seeing if we can get something finalized that outlines the parameters and the guidelines for the discussions going forward. So obviously, that’s something we’re looking forward to hopefully getting done. I don’t know how else really to score it other than the fact that everyone’s still at the table talking in a serious and sustained way.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask one last question on this issue. I know that we asked Jen – it was last month – about the nine-month period. You guys don’t believe that the nine month is strictly nine months. It can go beyond the nine months, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re still operating under the timeline that the Secretary laid out when we announced the resumption of final status negotiations.
MS. HARF: Obviously, these are complicated. We know they’ll take time. But nothing’s changed in terms of – in terms, excuse me – of the timeline at this point.
QUESTION: So the nine month could conceivably stretch into 12 months or 14 months?
MS. HARF: I mean, I’m sure there are a lot of hypotheticals that could eventually happen, but we’re still tracking on the same timeline the Secretary laid out.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Lucas.
QUESTION: Does Secretary Kerry believe that Senators McCain and Graham are helping the negotiations?
MS. HARF: Like I said, I think that he, in general, believes that it’s important for Congress to play a role in the foreign policy dialogue. They obviously don’t have a role in the actual negotiations, right? Their – I think their visit there just demonstrates the very close U.S. relationship with Israel writ large. But in terms of the negotiations, they don’t have a formal role. So we’re happy to hear their views when they make them, but we’re focused on the actual negotiations.
QUESTION: But would he rather them visit it maybe another time than --
MS. HARF: The timing was totally coincidental, honestly. They’re on a longer congressional delegation trip overseas. The Secretary’s trip only came together kind of last minute. It’s totally – and he did meet with them this morning. He worked with them. There were three senators, I think Barrasso as well, that – he’s worked with all of them very closely.
QUESTION: So he’s not the least bit annoyed by the timing?
MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t spoken to him, but the timing was totally coincidental, and I don’t think so, Said.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And I think – I believe they’re going to discuss North Korean nuclear issues.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And I believe in these couple of days, the U.S. position has not changed. But at this time, what do they discuss on these issues exactly?
MS. HARF: Well, seeing as the meeting hasn’t happened yet, I can’t – don’t have anything to preview. Obviously, they’ll talk about a wide range of regional global issues. North Korea’s certainly one of them. There are others as well. I just don’t have a bigger preview than that. I’m happy to see what’s on the agenda and see if we can share more. But I’m sure we’ll have a readout afterwards.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: The ball, that is still on their court?
MS. HARF: On the accord?
QUESTION: I mean they’re playing – the tennis court that --
MS. HARF: Oh, the tennis court. I don’t have any idea. I’m happy to check with our folks.
QUESTION: Oh, but – no, I’m talking about --
QUESTION: The ball is in their --
MS. HARF: Oh, the ball’s in their court.
QUESTION: Ball on their court.
MS. HARF: In the North Koreans’? Yes.
QUESTION: North – on North Korean court. So it hasn’t changed the position.
QUESTION: Tennis or basketball?
MS. HARF: Basketball, maybe.
QUESTION: Or volleyball? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: North Koreans are --
MS. HARF: Football? My Buckeyes are on tonight.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: There’s no court, though.
QUESTION: But U.S. position has not changed and the --
MS. HARF: I think it’s probably safe to say it won’t.
QUESTION: -- North Koreans’ position has not changed, which means nothing has changed.
MS. HARF: Right, no --
QUESTION: So what is the perspective?
MS. HARF: Well, all joking aside, certainly we do still believe the onus is on North Korea, that they have to live up to their international obligations. They’ve committed on multiple occasions to denuclearize. It is – it’s a key topic of discussions with the South Koreans, will be next week, but there are a host of other issues we work on together as well. I think those are – all probably be on the agenda, but certainly it’s up to North Korea now to take steps to come back in line with those obligations.
QUESTION: But the military drill is going to come in – going to start the next month or in March, so probably they – some reports say that North Korea is going to take provocative action. So are you concerned about this?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly said that the North Koreans should not take provocative actions; they should do the opposite. They should refrain from doing so because it’s not in their interest and it’s not in the interest of security on the peninsula or in the region. So I don’t want to prejudge or guess about what might happen or what they might do in the next few months, but it’s clear to say that we are encouraging them not to take those kinds of actions.
QUESTION: So what – why at this time, at this – on this moment, the foreign – South Korean foreign minister and the Secretary are if he doesn’t --
MS. HARF: Why now?
QUESTION: Yeah, why now?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure if there’s a specific reason for now. I’m happy to check and see if there’s a specific reason for now. It may just be scheduling, but I’ll check.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There’s a video in circulation on some of the social media sites about the strip search and arrest of the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. I don’t know about the authenticity, but it’s spreading very fast. Do you – have you – has the State Department seen it? Can you say it’s authentic video or not authentic video?
MS. HARF: This video, which we are aware of, is absolutely not footage of Ms. Khobragade. Obviously, we’re aware of the footage. It’s – we would call it a dangerous and provocative fabrication. This hoax video, which I think has appeared on some news websites without, obviously, confirming its authenticity because it’s not, we find it deeply troubling, irresponsible, and reckless, and condemn again this dangerous fabrication. I want to make very clear this is not video of her.
QUESTION: But is this the way normally when it – someone is arrested, this is how they are strip-searched?
MS. HARF: Well, we spoke with the Marshals about this issue and they did confirm – and they can speak more for themselves – that the footage in question does not depict U.S. Marshal employees, obviously that the search methods depicted in the video are not U.S. Marshals policy. Again, I’d leave it to them to speak more to this. I haven’t watched the video myself, but I want to be very clear in saying this is not how we do things here.
QUESTION: Is it about some different incident or --
MS. HARF: I honestly don’t know. Again, it’s a fabrication. It may be a couple different – I’ve heard different rumors out there. But it is in no way Ms. Khobragade.
QUESTION: Do you – are you looking into who concocted this?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know. Maybe.
QUESTION: I mean, it seems as though you’re concerned that this has been put together to foment --
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to guess why it was put together --
QUESTION: -- or to incite --
MS. HARF: -- but we do think it could be potentially dangerous if people think it’s real, which it’s not. We certainly don’t want people to think that it is.
QUESTION: Potentially dangerous how?
MS. HARF: Because there could be security concerns. People – it could cause people to react in a certain way. Obviously, we don’t want false information like this out there.
QUESTION: And have you – are you looking into the origin of this?
MS. HARF: I think that’s what Matt just asked. I’ll check with our folks and see if anyone here or elsewhere is. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Another question is Indian prime minister noted that in his 10 years rule the U.S.-India nuclear deal was the best moment in his life. But the U.S. industry is still not happy with the deal with India dragging its feet on implementation, liability cases. So where does the deal today stand?
MS. HARF: I don’t know what the latest is. I’m happy to check with our folks.
MS. HARF: Yep.
MS. HARF: I have a couple – well, not on the investigation, which the FBI is doing. I just got a couple of answers to people’s questions yesterday.
MS. HARF: The San Francisco Police Department is providing 24/7 coverage at the Chinese Consulate while the investigation continues. Beyond that, we don’t discuss specifics about security posture. I think that’s the biggest update. Oh, the only other question I got an answer to from yesterday, do we wait for an investigation to conclude before we determine if there are more security needs, the answer is no.
MS. HARF: That’s a separate process. We would not wait for an investigation to conclude. We’re looking into whether more security is appropriate. As I said, the police department is providing 24/7 security. FBI may have more on the investigation.
MS. HARF: Yeah, uh-huh.
QUESTION: This – another news report about Assistant Secretary Biswal postponing her trip to India next week because of the tensions between the two countries. Is it true?
MS. HARF: The assistant secretary certainly looks forward to visiting India as soon as possible. It’s my understanding there was nothing locked in stone on the calendar. I know there were some rumors out there. When it works in her schedule, she’s very much looking forward to traveling there to the region and talking to folks on the ground.
QUESTION: But do you have any timeline for that?
MS. HARF: I don’t, no.
QUESTION: Is she also planning to travel to Sri Lanka?
MS. HARF: I can check and see. I don’t have any travel to announce, but I’m happy to check and see what those travel plans might look like.
QUESTION: And do you have any further update on the review process of the applications?
MS. HARF: Still ongoing.
QUESTION: Still ongoing?
MS. HARF: John.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout --
MS. HARF: And then we’ll go to Syria.
QUESTION: -- any readout on any phone calls? No phone calls?
MS. HARF: No readouts. No readouts.
QUESTION: And you say the discussions are going on, the negotiations. So are they going on on – from your embassy? Because if there --
MS. HARF: Negotiations? What are you referring to? I don’t think I used the word “negotiations.”
QUESTION: You said – not negotiations. You said that the discussions to take it forward. So are they going on without any phone calls, like --
MS. HARF: Well, clearly, we talk with our folks in country quite a bit, also here. I don’t have any phone calls from the Secretary to read out. I’m happy to see if other senior officials have made calls. I know people have been engaged on it at high level.
QUESTION: A follow-up to the question you were asked yesterday about two more investigations pending. Do you know --
MS. HARF: Pending investigations – again, we – every case is different, first of all. I’m not aware of any other pending investigations. That doesn’t mean there aren’t. But as a general matter, we would not be able to share details about any ongoing or pending investigation if there was one, which, again, I don’t know if there is. That’s just not – we can’t do that, I think, legally.
QUESTION: And the prime minister also said in his remarks in response to a question from Washington Post that this episode has resulted in a hiccup in the bilateral ties between India and U.S. Do you agree with the assessment?
MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’re focused on and what I repeatedly is how to move the relationship forward and get it back in a place that is best for both countries. Clearly, I mean, when you hear the Secretary express regret about something, that means that everything hasn’t gone as it should. And what we’re focused on now is getting the relationship back on a really strong footing. We just have too much important work to do together going forward on a host of issues in the region and around the world.
QUESTION: As the diplomatic talks continue, is it headed towards resolving this issue, or do you think it’s going to linger on for some time?
MS. HARF: Well, again, there’s a judicial process, a legal process, underway. And I don’t have any estimates for how long that will all take to play out. There’s also our diplomatic discussions as well. Just nothing new to announce or guess about here today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Syria? Yeah. With less than three weeks to go for the Geneva II conference, is there anything that you can share with us as to the progress, what is going on?
MS. HARF: Anything new?
QUESTION: Anything new?
MS. HARF: No, nothing new.
QUESTION: Does --
MS. HARF: We’re continuing to work with the international community, our partners, in preparation for the conference on January 22nd. Nothing really new to announce on that.
QUESTION: So does that mean it’s all smooth sailing from here on in?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that no one expects that this will all be smooth sailing. We’re trying to get a negotiated conference together about an ongoing civil war, so I think it would be crazy to think it would be smooth sailing. But we’re moving forward --
QUESTION: No, I mean as far as holding the conference.
MS. HARF: Oh, certainly that’s – we’re still planning, tracking for it. No changes at all on that. These are complicated issues. We know that we still need a delegation from the opposition side, but we’re tracking towards that. Preparations are on way.
QUESTION: And is --
MS. HARF: Ongoing.
QUESTION: Ongoing. And it’s --
MS. HARF: Or underway. One of the two.
QUESTION: It’s safe to assume that Ambassador Ford is working with the opposition very closely --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- in terms of sort of putting together a delegation?
MS. HARF: As he always does --
QUESTION: Okay. What about --
MS. HARF: -- on every – on all --
QUESTION: What about Iran’s participation? Have you changed your position on Iran?
MS. HARF: We haven’t. And it’s my understanding that no decision has yet been made on that.
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have on that. We – the United States deeply regrets the recent loss of life in Cambodia during violent clashes between protestors and government security forces. We condemn violence as a means to achieve political or other objectives and urge all sides to exercise maximum restraint and show respect for the rule of law. We have urged workers unions and the government to work together towards a peaceful resolution of labor disagreements, and we’re actively engaging the Royal Government of Cambodia, exporters, buyers, the International Labor Organization, and Cambodian workers organizations on these issues.
QUESTION: Can you be more specific about the active engagement?
MS. HARF: In terms of who?
QUESTION: Well, in terms of what – how is it – who’s – yeah, who and what is --
MS. HARF: Well, in terms of the message, we’re urging respect for workers’ rights and safe working conditions in general. I’m happy to see who is actually doing the engaging.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I would presume it’s the embassy.
MS. HARF: I would presume that as well, but I don’t want to make a statement as fact when I don’t know that to be the case.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: May I go back very --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Now, the Secretary does not agree with the senators that Israel’s concerns are legitimate, does he?
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: In terms of the negotiating, because he always said this is a good thing for Israel that we hold – we have Israel’s back. I mean, those were his words and so on.
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been very clear that we believe these issues are best negotiated at the negotiating table --
MS. HARF: -- as part of a final status agreement, that both sides are there operating in good faith. And that’s what – that’s certainly what he’s been operating under since the beginning.
QUESTION: So he does not agree with the senators that --
MS. HARF: I didn’t see all the comments the senators made and I don’t want to speak to say if the Secretary agrees or disagrees. I can just say what his position is and how he’s going to these negotiations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I had asked a question about India deploying around 150 police persons outside the U.S. Embassy New Delhi. Was there any fresh security threat or this is – what is the assessment about that?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve welcomed statements from the Ministry of External Affairs that India is fully committed to ensuring the safety and security of all diplomats in Delhi and elsewhere, and we appreciate the efforts of the Indian police outside of our facilities. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into a lot of specifics about our security posture, but certainly, we appreciate the police’s efforts, and we’ll move forward from here.
QUESTION: So you are satisfied with the steps taken by the --
MS. HARF: We appreciated these, and we have noted that the governments – that they’re committed to maintaining security, and we have no reason to think otherwise. Thanks.
QUESTION: Have you been asked – forgive me if this has been asked before, and I don’t know if you would have any comment on it – but have you seen this situation in Egypt where this puppet has been --
MS. HARF: I haven’t been asked about this.
QUESTION: You have not? Do you have any --
MS. HARF: I have not. I’ll check on it.
QUESTION: -- comment on a puppet being investigated for terrorism?
MS. HARF: I will check. We’ve said – I don’t have anything specific on that. We’ve said from the beginning we’re concerned about due process of law and politically motivated arrests and investigations. Happy to check into this.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, as a general rule --
MS. HARF: I just don’t have a comment.
QUESTION: -- as a general rule, do you believe that inanimate objects can be rightfully accused of fomenting terror? Or would it be the person behind the puppet --
MS. HARF: I am happy to see if we have a specific comment from our team.
QUESTION: -- the puppet master if – as it were, who might be in charge.
MS. HARF: I’m --
QUESTION: Has the Embassy taken note of this? Have you guys?
MS. HARF: I will check on it.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)