1:30 p.m. EST
Today, Secretary of State Kerry visited the Holy See, where he met with Secretary of State Pietro Parolin at the Apostolic Palace. They discussed mutual foreign policy priorities, including Syria and the Pope’s commitment to the Geneva II process. They also discussed the Pope’s upcoming visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories and Jordan this coming May. Secretary Kerry lauded the Pope’s commitment to speaking out about peace in the Middle East and continuing to bring the two parties together. They also discussed a couple of other issues, including South Sudan.
The Secretary is currently en route to Kuwait City, Kuwait, where tomorrow he will attend the Kuwait donor’s conference to discuss how the United States and the international community can further address the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Deb, kick us off.
QUESTION: Can we start with the spending bill?
QUESTION: Excuse me. On this --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Is it on the travel?
QUESTION: Yeah. Is he planning to --
MS. HARF: And then we’ll go to the spending bill.
QUESTION: Is he planning to go to Israel, or there is no decision yet?
MS. HARF: Nothing. Nope, nothing else to announce at this point with travel.
Go ahead, on the spending bill.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. Do you have anything on the spending bill? According to the House Appropriations Committee numbers we have, it talks about money for embassy security going up. I think there’s other indications that it might be going down. Can you clarify what’s going on there?
MS. HARF: Yes. So I know there’s been some conflicting reports about that issue, and embassy security funding, I think, comes from a couple of different pots. So I’m trying to get specific numbers from our folks.
In general, just a couple points on that and the bill overall. Given the general constraints on the federal budget, we greatly appreciate the work of the Appropriations Committee. While we did take a few cuts in a few areas, we appreciate that Congress continues to support our engagement in the world and provides a range of tools that we will use to carry out our mission successfully.
Regarding State operations, our initial impression is that the bill provides funding above the request level – again, our request level – for security for our personnel and facilities worldwide. The bottom line is we’re happy with the numbers that were put forward in the bill in terms of embassy security.
I’ll get the exact numbers about going up versus going down. Every year is different, sometimes for different reasons, so I’ll try to get the exact numbers for you. I don’t have them in front of me.
QUESTION: Also, there’s some --
QUESTION: That would be great. Can you circulate them to everybody?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
MS. HARF: And again, sometimes they’re higher in certain years for certain reasons, if there’s new construction --
MS. HARF: -- something like that. But in – the bottom line is we’re happy with the funding in the bill for embassy security.
QUESTION: And it also talks about Egypt, money for Egypt -- and aid for Egypt, but it doesn’t have any numbers.
MS. HARF: So – right, yes.
QUESTION: It just says that if they do what we want them to do then the aid will be forthcoming. But --
MS. HARF: Well, Congress did lay down parameters and conditions for continuation of assistance to Egypt. Pending passage of the bill, we would, of course, determine whether those conditions are being met. This doesn’t imply any immediate change with regard to October 9th assistance decisions. Obviously, we were clear about that at the time. And if and when it passes – I understand there might be a vote later this week – we will take a look at the Egypt part and all of it.
QUESTION: There wasn’t any numbers though in this information, nor back in October, you all didn’t give any.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: So --
MS. HARF: Is there a question?
QUESTION: Yeah. What are the numbers?
MS. HARF: Well, there are no numbers there for a reason. There’s just no numbers to outline right now. We were very clear about our assistance at the time, what was continuing, what was not. There’s just been no change since then. I’m happy to see what the current numbers are, but nothing’s changed in this bill, and no immediate changes at this point.
QUESTION: Could you see what the current numbers are?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And just – you said we were very clear at the time. But as Deb rightly points out, you guys didn’t specify the exact amounts of aid that were --
MS. HARF: The exact breakdown.
QUESTION: -- and the – or even to give, beyond the rough estimate I think of a couple hundred million dollars, I don’t think you actually gave a sense of how much money was truly being suspended.
QUESTION: Yeah. We had it calculated ourselves. We figured out how much a plane cost and said, oh yeah, it was probably between --
MS. HARF: I know you have to do your own calculations.
QUESTION: -- this math.
QUESTION: Well, but it’s the public’s money.
QUESTION: It’s not an unreasonable question.
MS. HARF: And mine too.
QUESTION: You’re a member of the public. I’ll give you that.
QUESTION: It would be better to get it from you.
MS. HARF: I remember at the time we outlined some of the amounts for some of the pots of money, and we did talk in some generalities. So I’m happy to refresh my memory and see what I can do, Arshad. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Afghanistan too, okay.
MS. HARF: On money?
MS. HARF: Specifically about what on Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Well, it says here that the money will be given to Afghanistan if they sign the BSA.
MS. HARF: Well, I think --
QUESTION: It doesn’t say how much.
MS. HARF: Right. I will check on that. It is my understanding that in terms of the foreign assistance to Afghanistan in the bill, I think it’s – the proposed cut is by about half, which we are concerned about, particularly going into 2014 as we draw down our military. Obviously, the foreign assistance and things we do at the State Department will obviously increase as we draw down on the military side, so that’s something we’re concerned about. I’m happy to check on the exact numbers.
QUESTION: And the minister of defense of Israel is quoted today as saying --
MS. HARF: Wait, is there anything else on the budget?
QUESTION: Yes. I have one more.
MS. HARF: I have to finish budget and then I’m --
QUESTION: Okay, all right.
MS. HARF: -- going to you next on Israel, I promise.
QUESTION: But there was also, I believe, language about Libya as well, that there would be a freeze on funding to Libya unless the Secretary states publicly that they have been cooperative with the investigation into Benghazi.
MS. HARF: So --
QUESTION: Is that something you would welcome, or --
MS. HARF: I’ll check into that specifically. Again, this just came out, I think, late last night. Our folks are going through all the specifics in the bill right now. If we have further to say about certain specific things, I’m happy to get a little more information.
QUESTION: And just on the numbers, I mean --
MS. HARF: We might know a little more tomorrow.
QUESTION: I was passed something from our Congress people, which says that on page 1,280 --
MS. HARF: I haven't gotten there yet. I’m reading it.
QUESTION: You haven’t gotten to that --
MS. HARF: I know, it’s surprising.
QUESTION: -- that up to 975 million would be made available – this is to Egypt – if the Secretary of State certifies that the referendum is democratic, and a further 576 million-plus would be made available if Secretary Kerry certifies that the government has held parliamentary presidential elections that are proven to be democratic as well.
MS. HARF: I --
QUESTION: Is that not your understanding, because you’re saying there’s no figures?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I’m sorry, I haven't – I honestly haven't gone through the whole budget. It’s a large document. Our folks are looking through it right now. In general, on Egypt, I do know that Congress laid down parameters and conditions for continuation of assistance. I’m happy to check on those numbers, guys.
QUESTION: Can I ask one follow-up on that?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yeah.
QUESTION: Just because the actual language says, “has held parliamentary and presidential elections, and that a newly elected Government of Egypt is taking steps to govern democratically.” And the interesting thing about that that people have pointed out is it doesn't actually require the Secretary to certify that the elections that have been held have in fact been free and fair and democratic. And it – the democratic simply has to do with the way in which the successor government, which could be elected in a completely fraudulent election is governing democratically, so --
MS. HARF: Yeah. No, I take all the questions. And again, this just came out. Our folks are looking through it. I’m happy to check specifically on Egypt, what we can and can’t do, how we’re working with Congress, and what our position is on that. I am sure I will have more tomorrow.
QUESTION: And will you have further details on Afghanistan tomorrow? Because that would --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you said that you’re deeply concerned – you are concerned about this.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I am happy to get more on Afghanistan as well. There’s just a lot in this bill as you all know, but I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: I just have one quick follow-up on the money. You said there’s a few cuts in a few areas. Can you just – any more detail about that?
MS. HARF: Well, I just outlined the – on Afghanistan foreign assistance --
MS. HARF: -- that’s certainly one of them.
QUESTION: That’s one. Okay.
MS. HARF: Let me see if I have more details on that. There are other – there are a couple other foreign assistance accounts which were cut – development assistance and economic support funds. Those are just two other examples. I’m happy to see if there are other examples we want to highlight.
Another point that our experts have pointed out to me on the bill is that we were given maximum flexibility to provide nonlethal assistance to support civilians in Syria, so basically, a lot of the assistance that we give to civilians – not to the SMC, but to others – it has no – basically no restrictions on it, which we think is a good thing, obviously, given the dire circumstances.
Yes. You’re next. I promised.
QUESTION: Yes. The minister of defense for Israel is quoted today as saying that Secretary Kerry is aggressive and messianic and let him – I’m quoting him – let him get the Nobel Prize for peace and leave Israel alone, and that the paper on which the security plan of the United States, as far as the Jordan Valley is concerned, is not worth the paper it’s written on. Do you have a reaction?
MS. HARF: We do. If these comments are accurate, we find the remarks of the defense minister to be offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States has done to support Israel’s security needs and will continue to do. Secretary Kerry and his team, including General Allen, have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the Secretary’s deep concern for Israel’s future. That’s precisely why the Secretary and his team have been working so hard here. To question his motives, to distort his proposals, is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally, and again, if accurate, I think we’ve been very clear that we would find these comments offensive and inappropriate.
MS. HARF: I think I just did.
QUESTION: Well, what do you think --
QUESTION: No, I mean to the government.
MS. HARF: I can find out.
QUESTION: Marie, on this – what do you --
MS. HARF: Hold on. Let me finish up this, then we’ll go to Japan.
QUESTION: What’s behind this statement made by Israeli defense minister, do you think --
QUESTION: Yeah. Marie, do you have any information on the Japanese parliamentary senior vice minister for the foreign affairs, his visit to the United States?
MS. HARF: I do, a little bit.
MS. HARF: So Deputy Secretary Burns will meet January 15th – I believe that’s tomorrow, if I’m correct – in Washington with the Japanese senior parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs. They will discuss a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, reflecting the strength and breadth of our alliance with Japan. We may have more of a read-out after the meeting takes place.
QUESTION: I wonder, some media coverage shows you guys may talk about Abe’s visit to the shrine. So will you talk about it?
MS. HARF: Well, they’ll discuss a wide range of issues. I don’t have more details to provide to you about what topics they’ll discuss. But as part of these discussions, the Deputy Secretary will reiterate our longstanding position that we believe good relations among Japan and its neighbors benefit everyone in the region, are in the interests of them and certainly the interests of us as well.
QUESTION: And also, as we know, it’s already been about a couple of weeks since Abe’s visit to the shrine. And I remember you said you were going to talk with them about the issue. So I wonder, specifically, have you had any diplomatic exchange with the Japanese side?
MS. HARF: I can check and see what the latest is. As we said, we raised this privately; I’m happy to check and see what the latest is.
MS. HARF: I have a brief one. Let me see what I have. Deputy Secretary Burns met with Chinese Ambassador Cui at the State Department on January 13th. During their meeting, they discussed matters – a range of matters of bilateral and regional importance. I don’t have more of a detailed readout for you than that.
QUESTION: Is that the regular meeting, or it’s like mainly about U.S.-Japan?
MS. HARF: No. It’s my understanding this is just a regular consultation. Yeah.
In the back, yes.
QUESTION: Back to Nigeria. I asked a number of questions yesterday about the situation there and you said you’d be able to give more information on the situation. I was wondering if you have more information on the situation.
MS. HARF: So you’re asking for more information.
MS. HARF: What specifically are you most interested – here let me pull that up.
QUESTION: Well, you mentioned – I asked about inconsistent – that law being inconsistent with international legal obligations.
MS. HARF: Oh yes. Let’s do international law first. So Nigeria is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the ICCPR. The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act not only prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria, it also includes broadly worded provisions implicating the rights to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association that are set forth in the ICCPR. So when we were talking about international law, that’s what we were referring to.
In terms of – what other questions did you have? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: It’s also – I also asked before if – who was it from the State Department who talked with the --
MS. HARF: Who’s raised it.
MS. HARF: Yeah. So our folks from the Embassy in Abuja, Consulate Lagos, and visiting U.S. Government officials from Washington have regularly consulted with respect to human rights leaders and senior human rights officials to work with them to chart how we can best support the LGBT community there and to help Nigerians who are opposed to discrimination against members of the LGBT community – also a variety of officials both on the ground and visiting from Washington. I don’t have more specifics, but a variety of officials have continuously raised this since the law was first proposed in draft form.
MS. HARF: You did ask that question and I’m sorry I did not get an answer to that. I’m happy to check in again with our team.
Another question you asked, and maybe just let me address it here – and if you have any follow-ups – that we are deeply concerned by some of the recent developments we have seen in Africa with respect to the human rights of LGBT individuals, including passage of the “anti-homosexuality bill” by Uganda’s parliament, and also increasing arrests of LGBT individuals in countries such as Cameroon and Zambia. Human rights are a cornerstone of our foreign policy. We say this all the time, and we will continue to support the efforts of human rights defenders in Africa and across the globe who are working to end discrimination against LGBT persons. The President and Secretary has been very clear that LGBT rights are human rights. We treat them as such and we fight for them wherever we can.
QUESTION: And this kind of touches on that, but I’d like you to respond to it directly. The Associated Press is reporting today that dozens of individuals are being arrested in Nigeria for being affiliated with gay rights organizations. I was wondering if you had a response to that.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re trying to confirm those reports. I’ve seen them. We don’t know if they’re true or not. If they are true, that would obviously be very troubling. Again, our team is continuing to check on the ground to get the facts and see what’s actually going on.
QUESTION: And can you predict any conversations between the State Department and Nigeria on this issue?
MS. HARF: One thing I’ve, I think, learned not to do is make predictions from the podium about anything. Again, like I said, I don’t have anything to announce about any conversations. We regularly raise it. I have been very clear from here about our position. If we have any updates to that, I’m happy to let you know.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Can I guess?
QUESTION: Libya. Yes. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You referred me yesterday to the ARB and I took a look at it this morning.
MS. HARF: Some light reading this morning?
QUESTION: Yeah, some light reading. On page five, it says, “Special Mission Benghazi’s uncertain future after 2012 and its non-status as a temporary residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult and left responsibility to meet security standards to the working level in the field with very limited resources.”
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So going back to my question yesterday, if that was the case, if the special mission was so temporary, why was a lease – a one-year lease signed before the attacks in 2012?
MS. HARF: I can check on the specifics of the real estate question you’re asking. In terms of the ARB and some of those recommendations and findings you’re referencing, obviously, we have worked very hard and addressed nearly all of the recommendations insofar as resources, staff training, all of that, security in terms of the ARB. We’ve hired more security personnel and enhanced their training, we’ve been working with DOD to establish 35 additional Marine security guard detachments to increase the size of a number of existing detachments. Obviously, there were a lot of recommendations made in the ARB, most of which we have taken action on.
So again, I don’t have specifics on the lease. The ARB’s very clear in laying out a number of issues that were going on that contributed to what happened that day, and we’re taking steps right now to address them so we can do everything we can to prevent this from happening again.
QUESTION: So if the ARB did say the special mission was temporary, is it wrong or not complete when this lease was signed – the ARB?
MS. HARF: What do you – was what wrong or not?
QUESTION: Was the ARB not complete --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- when it called it temporary?
MS. HARF: No, the – I have no indication that the ARB wasn’t complete. I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at here with the lease question, but the ARB – independent Accountability Review Board – we obviously have taken into account what they have said and taken action on their recommendations.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: Does the report say that it was a temporary mission or does it say that it was classified as a temporary mission?
QUESTION: It says it was temporary.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to see if there’s some significance. I’m not exactly sure what your question is getting at.
QUESTION: It’s a temporary residential facility.
MS. HARF: I’m not exactly sure what the crux of your question is, but I’m happy to check in again with our folks and see if there’s some significance to that that we’ve addressed subsequently.
QUESTION: Just that 11 times in the ARB, the word “temporary” is used in association with the special mission, and my question was: If it was temporary and that was known, why was a one-year lease signed? I guess we’d have to define “temporary,” but if a one-year lease was signed --
MS. HARF: And I am also trying to figure out, I think, the relevance to the larger Benghazi question. I’m not trying to hide the ball here.
MS. HARF: I just don’t know the answer and I’m trying to figure out, I think, what the bigger relevance is here.
QUESTION: The relevance would be to have – to staff it and to have security measures in place, as would any facility that would be the host of a U.S. ambassador.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, certainly, and it’s a fair question. Again, I’m happy to check on the lease status and how that plays into, if it does at all, our security posture. Clearly, the ARB laid out a number of areas where our security fell short. I think to anyone who hasn’t even read the ARB, it’s clear that our security fell short that day, and that’s why we’re taking steps right now to rectify that.
QUESTION: Thank you. And finally, Senator Feinstein told the Hill today that, “I believe that groups loosely associated with al-Qaida were involved in the attack.” Do you have a comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, we have no information at this point that core al-Qaida, which I think is probably what the senator was referring to, was involved in planning or directing this attack. Ansar al-Sharia, who – we came out this week and – as we designated, said was involved, we also made very clear is not an affiliate – an official affiliate of al-Qaida core. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some affiliations between some people in Ansar al-Sharia and some people who may be affiliated with al-Qaida.
But let’s be very clear that we don’t have evidence – which I think we should all rely on evidence here – in our investigation that links core al-Qaida to developing, planning this attack at this point.
QUESTION: But Marie --
MS. HARF: I don’t think those things are inconsistent, actually.
QUESTION: Right. Senator Feinstein was pretty clear. She didn’t use core al-Qaida. She said groups loosely associated with al-Qaida --
MS. HARF: Well, loosely – well, she said al-Qaida, which I think when people say al-Qaida, in general, they tend to refer to core al-Qaida in general.
MS. HARF: Well, okay. Words matter here, and if you’re referring to an affiliate, usually I think people say so. Again, I can’t parse her words for her, but she says loosely affiliated with. That can mean a variety of things, right? She didn’t say that core al-Qaida or al-Qaida directed or planned the attack. She definitely didn’t say that, so that’s certainly – we share that assessment, and we said we can’t rule out the notion that some people involved with Ansar al-Sharia, the group we think was involved with al-Qaida, have some loose affiliations to some people involved with al-Qaida. These are very sort of fungible and loose groups. So I don’t think there’s any disagreement in our position. I think people are reading into her statement something that’s just not there.
QUESTION: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that she thinks there’s groups loosely associated with al-Qaida when, weeks after the attack, the narrative coming from the State Department was quite different.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know what narrative you’re referring to coming from the State Department. I wasn’t here then. What I can say is what we know to be true as of this moment: that we don’t have indications that al-Qaida directed or planned this attack; that it is possible that members of Ansar al-Sharia, who we said were involved with this attack, have loose affiliations – to use her word, I think – with people who may be associated with al-Qaida. These groups – again, there is not specifically delineated lines between groups. Nobody is saying that. So I don’t think it’s inconsistent, actually.
QUESTION: Since you weren’t here, maybe this will be an easy answer. Can you say looking back that the State Department was wrong to not call this a terrorist attack two weeks after the attack?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re misrepresenting the facts from the time. I think the President came out the day after in the Rose Garden and called it an act of terror. I think everybody from the President and Secretary Clinton on down – I can pull back up the timeline here about who called what when, but I think the notion that we didn’t call it a terrorist attack is just not correct and not borne out by the (inaudible).
QUESTION: Well, the president of the United Nations weeks after the attack still referenced a video that according to witnesses --
MS. HARF: They’re not mutually exclusive. They’re not mutually exclusive. You can think all of the above. The President was very clear when he came out and called it an act of terror. I can see if I have more about what Secretary Clinton said.
QUESTION: No, correct; they’re not mutually exclusive.
MS. HARF: They’re not mutually exclusive. Yeah.
QUESTION: They are grouped together.
MS. HARF: No, they’re not mutually exclusive. You can say both and they can both be accurate as of your knowledge at the time.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yep.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Or somewhere else?
MS. HARF: Yeah – no, let’s go to Iran and then we’ll go around the room.
QUESTION: So the IAEA says that Iran has asked for a postponement of some of their technical talks which were originally to take place on January the 21st and that they’ve asked for them to postpone to February the 8th.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Are you --
MS. HARF: Those are separate from the implementation of the JPOA.
QUESTION: Yeah. But are you – but a big part of this whole process is Iran working with the IAEA.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: Is it --
MS. HARF: And on January 20th, the IAEA will still issue their report on the current status of Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Right. Yeah.
MS. HARF: That doesn’t affect this in any way.
QUESTION: I understand that. My question is whether you are concerned at all that Iran would be seeking to postpone a meeting with the IAEA.
MS. HARF: No. And I’ve seen the press reports. I’d refer you to the IAEA. Obviously, we’ve strongly urged Iran to address the issues directly related to the possible military dimensions, which I think this meeting deals with, of Iran’s nuclear program in the next steps under the November 11th IAEA-Iran Joint Statement. But again, there’s a lot going on around the same time, including the start of implementation of the JPOA. So it’s not a concern.
QUESTION: No? Even though it’s about possible military dimensions?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah, it’s not – it’s just – it’s not a concern.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I’ll tell you when I’m concerned about things.
QUESTION: On Iran?
MS. HARF: On Iran. Let’s stay on Iran. Yep.
QUESTION: Iran’s chief negotiator has said yesterday that there is an informal 30-page text that contains key elements of the agreement. Do you know what is he talking about and are you aware of this?
MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a few points. The deputy foreign minister – I believe is who you’re referring to – came out today and said that his comments – and I’m not quoting him directly here – but were not entirely accurate, were misconstrued. Let me be very clear there’s no secret agreement here. The documentation associated with the implementation agreements tracks completely with what we’ve described, which are technical plans submitted to the IAEA.
As you know, this is not solely a U.S. process. These understandings were reached with our P5+1 partners, with the EU, the IAEA, and Iran. We will make the text available to Congress and the public, but we must work with the parties on when and in what format the information will be released, and we hope to do that very soon.
But let me be very clear there is nothing secret here. Nobody is – I’ve used this already once today – nobody is trying to hide the ball here. We’re just working with our partners on getting that released.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes, going to Egypt?
MS. HARF: Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: One more on Iran?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have any comments or reaction to President Hassan Rouhani’s tweet where he said, “In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will”?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any comment to that. We’ve been very clear that in negotiating the Joint Plan of Action, which I think is what you referred to in #Geneva, to use your words, that we looked for very specific things about what Iran will do. Those are laid out in the JPOA which we’ve talked about publicly. And they’ve looked for specific things from us. I think it’s significant to note that on January 20th the – Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to progress, it will be rolled back in some key areas. And we’ve been very clear about the difficulties of negotiating a comprehensive agreement, but also why it’s so important.
QUESTION: Was Secretary Kerry offended when yesterday his counterpart Foreign Minister Zarif laid a wreath at the tomb of a Hezbollah commander associated with the Beirut bombing in 1983?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t spoken to the Secretary about that specific situation. I think we may have some more comment on that later today.
QUESTION: Marie, can I ask you – just following up on that – what happens now on the diplomatic track?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The agreement comes in – implemented from January 20th. But obviously, now you are trying to negotiate a fully comprehensive agreement.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So could you spell out how that’s going to work, the process?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Some of those details are still being worked out. Very shortly after the 20th – and when we have more to announce, we will – our folks will begin negotiations on a comprehensive agreement. I think the first step in that will probably be us and the P5+1 sort of working it internally amongst ourselves about how we want to address the comprehensive negotiations, and then sitting down very shortly after with the Iranians. I don’t have more details on sort of at what level and when. Obviously, there’ll be a political director component to this, as there always is, and a technical component with our experts. I just don’t have more details yet.
QUESTION: And the aim is to agree something within six months.
MS. HARF: Yep. That’s certainly the goal. We know this could take longer, and there’s written in a way for it to possibly be extended if that’s the case. But we’re going to get to work and see what we can get done.
QUESTION: And you anticipate the hub of the talks will still be in Geneva?
MS. HARF: I don’t know, actually. I don’t have any reason to think it won’t be. I just haven’t heard.
MS. HARF: I do. I think – are you referring to David Satter?
MS. HARF: So we are disappointed that Russian authorities denied a visa to RFERL – so Radio Free Europe – advisor David Satter. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has raised our concerns on this case and the treatment of journalists and media organizations in general with Russian authorities. As we’ve said many times before, hindering the free flow of information undermines the kind of open environment for free debate and discussion that supports innovation and dynamism, and we’ll continue to monitor the case.
QUESTION: And I’m very sorry. You are quite right, and I misstated it, that it was a visa denial.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: So Egyptians have become a two-day vote on a constitutional referendum, and there are reports of violence with at least five people dead. Is the State Department concerned about these reports?
MS. HARF: We are. And as you said, the referendum is ongoing. We look forward to hearing from Egyptian and international independent observers on the technical merits of the ongoing referendum and obviously don’t want to get ahead of that process. I think today’s the last day folks can vote.
We strongly condemn all violence. It should be clear to all Egyptians that violence has not and will not move Egypt’s political transition forward.
And again, regardless of whether the constitution is approved in the referendum, it will be important for the interim government to foster a positive environment for civil society – excuse me – and to protect the rights of political activists and groups to peacefully express their views on the country’s future. I’m sure we’ll talk about this a little more in the coming days as we get towards the end of the process.
Yes. I’ll go to you, and then (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah. I have two questions concerning a possibility of a no-spy agreement with Germany. And the first question would be: How seriously interested is the United States in coming to such an agreement with Germany?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re open to discussions with our close allies and partners about how we can better coordinate our intelligence efforts. We’ve been clear about that since the beginning of the situation. At Chancellor Merkel and President Obama’s direction, we have undertaken extensive, close consultations on our intelligence cooperation in recent months, which have resulted in a better understanding, I think, on both sides of the requirements and concerns that exist.
Again, we already cooperate closely with our European allies, and we will be having further discussions with various countries bilaterally on these issues. Again, the President, I think folks know, is speaking soon – this week – on the NSA situation and what goes forward here in terms of our intelligence collection. I don’t want to get ahead of that, but again, we’ll continue to have these conversations privately.
QUESTION: There’s some newspaper reports in Germany that state that the German negotiators are very – if not to say extremely unhappy with the way the conversations or the talks are going. What is your point of view? What’s your comment to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I can’t speak to those reports. I haven’t seen them. But the goal of these discussions has been to further intensify and strengthen cooperation between U.S. and German intelligence services. The U.S. and Germany already cooperate extensively in the areas of security intelligence to address global threats that we all face. I can see if there’s a further readout from our folks. But again, it’s a very close relationship, and I have no reason to think that won’t continue.
QUESTION: So you would say – last question. You would say that the rumors that are spread in medias in Germany, that those talks are coming into a dead end, to a dead end, are wrong from your point of view?
MS. HARF: I don’t have specifics on the talks. I haven’t seen those reports. I’m happy to check with our folks. But we do have a very close relationship and expect that to continue.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: News reports coming from Damascus talked about a poisonous gas attack carried out by the regime air force in Daraya, south Damascus, in the past few hours, killed three people and injured 13 others. Do you have any information or confirmation of this attack?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously we take any alleged report of any kind of chemical weapons use seriously. I’ll look into it to see if we can get more facts. I don’t have anything to confirm that, one way or the other. We always look into these reports and see if we can get more information.
QUESTION: And if that information is correct, do you expect any consequences on the Syrian regime?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. I don’t know that it’s correct. But we’ve been very clear about the regime’s use of chemical weapons and that it’s unacceptable. That’s why we’re working so hard to destroy it right now. Again, I just don’t have anything to confirm that report.
QUESTION: Hey, Marie, just so we’re clear, have you checked and you don’t have anything to confirm the report or --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Good. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Staying on Syria.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The SNC officials are saying in certain media reports that the U.S. is rethinking aid to the SNC if they do not attend Geneva II. Can you confirm or deny this?
MS. HARF: That is not – the Secretary did not – I think it’s based on some of the Secretary’s comments. That’s not correct. The Secretary did not indicate the United States was planning something like that. The Secretary did make clear privately in his meeting with President Jarba, as he has many times publicly, that there are high stakes at play for the SOC and that the international community strongly believes that it’s in their interest and the interest of the Syrian people for them to be present at the table and to send a representative delegation. But those – some of those reports were just not accurate.
QUESTION: But the U.S. – so just to be absolutely clear, the U.S. will remain steadfast in its support for the opposition, regardless of whether they attend or not?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. Absolutely. Again, the Secretary made clear that this is a very important moment for the opposition; there are high stakes here. But that’s absolutely the case.
QUESTION: So there are no consequences to them for not --
MS. HARF: I didn’t say that either. We’re just not – I don’t want to get ahead of where we are here. We’ll remain steadily – steadfastly – I think that was your word – committed to the opposition --
QUESTION: In its support for these --
MS. HARF: In our support, yeah.
MS. HARF: And again, I – we have every indication and are confident that they will send a delegation.
QUESTION: Can I just ask --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And then I’ll go to you next.
QUESTION: -- the Turkish President Abdullah Gul has come out today saying that there needs to be some kind of shift in his government’s policy towards Syria because of the – he says: “I am of the opinion that we should recalibrate our diplomacy and security policies given the facts in the south of the country,” which he’s referring to Syria there. And he’s just saying that today’s situation represents a lose-lose scenario for everyone. I wonder if you’d comment on that or --
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen those specific comments. Obviously, we work very closely with Turkey on regional issues like Syria. I just haven’t seen those and can’t really characterize them further.
QUESTION: In the past, Ankara has been quite vocal in calling for Assad to step down.
MS. HARF: As have we.
QUESTION: If they’re shifting their position now, would that complicate things for the United States?
MS. HARF: Well, our position certainly hasn’t changed. Let me check and see with our folks who focus on this and see if – what’s happening with those comments. And obviously our position has been very clear. And I would remind everyone that the communique, the Geneva I communique, very clearly states that there needs to be mutual consent from both sides for the transitional government, which obviously cannot include Assad.
QUESTION: And forgive me if I’ve lost this in the mix --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- of various different stories. But do we – do you know yet who’s going to meet the regime delegation to the eventual talks?
MS. HARF: Let me check and see if we do know that. I’m not positive. It might have gotten lost in the mix of things I’m looking at as well. Let me check.
QUESTION: On Syria. There is an extreme human suffering in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp, and it remains closed to the humanitarian and UN access. And this raises the concerns even more that Assad regime is trying to cover up the human tragedy and its crimes there. What’s your comment on this? And will you make any effort, any steps to address this issue?
MS. HARF: Well, absolutely. We think the humanitarian situation there and elsewhere in Syria, because of the regime’s brutality, is horrific. And that’s why yesterday we talked a little bit about conversations the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Lavrov, asking the Foreign Minister of Russia to use their influence with the Syrian regime to try and get humanitarian access to some of these areas, because the situation is so dire.
This is clearly a top concern for us, but it’s very difficult when we can’t get access in the middle of an ongoing civil war. That’s why we’ve asked Russia – and I think there’s been some willingness there – to push the Assad regime to allow access, because ultimately they’re the ones that control it.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Dennis Rodman’s visit last week, Jen was saying that she would try to find out for us if he may have violated sanctions by – either by bringing something into the country that he shouldn’t have. Do you have anything more to report to us on that?
MS. HARF: Let me see if I have – let’s see what I have on that. U.S. regulations implementing UN sanctions – I think it was about luxury goods, if that’s correct --
MS. HARF: -- to the DPRK are administered by the Department of Commerce and certain related U.S. sanctions are administered by Department of Treasury. So they would probably be the best folks to answer whether or not those could violate that.
QUESTION: If there was a violation, what would be the next – in general terms, what will be the next action proceeding?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure exactly what the process is in terms of possible sanctions violations for luxury goods. I’m just not sure. I can try and get some more. Treasury or Commerce might be able to help as well.
MS. HARF: Yes. In the back.
QUESTION: Could you please confirm that the Greek finance – foreign minister will meet with Secretary Kerry this Thursday? And could you please tell us what are the issues that are on the agenda from the State Department’s point of view?
MS. HARF: Let me see. I don’t have the Secretary’s schedule in front of me. I know – I think there was a question about this yesterday. Let me double-check and see exactly what our timing is there, and I’m happy – I know – I’m sorry, I think you asked this yesterday – I’m happy to check.
Anything else? Great. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)