12:18 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. So before we get started, if Jill looks up from her phone, I’m going to make her come up here to the podium with me.
QUESTION: Oh, you’re kidding.
MS. HARF: Nope. (Laughter.) Come up here.
So for those of you who don’t know, today is Jill’s last day at CNN after 30 years with the network. She has been the Moscow bureau chief, White House correspondent, a State Department correspondent – has done amazing, amazing work. And today, she leaves CNN to go to Harvard, where she will be doing research on Russia, which is her specialty. I think she could probably teach people at the State Department a few things about Russia. And we just want to say, from the Secretary, from all of us, that we will miss you, we will miss your tenacious reporting, we will miss your presence in the bullpen and in the briefing room, and above all, I think your grace and friendship.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you very much, Marie.
MS. HARF: So it’s fun up here, right? It’s a different view.
QUESTION: It is, yeah. I feel very powerful. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: So we have some custom Georgetown cupcakes for all of us to enjoy --
QUESTION: Oh, boy.
MS. HARF: -- after the briefing, which is incentive to stick around, and a gift in this that you can open later from all of us, all your friends here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Oh, that is so nice.
MS. HARF: So congratulations, yes.
QUESTION: I really appreciate it, and I appreciate all the help. And I respect the people at the State Department very much, both here and in the field.
MS. HARF: And in the field. And I know you’ve dealt with a lot of them over 30 years at CNN, so we will go ahead – I will give this to you, it’s – well, here, can you get it?
QUESTION: All right, I got it. (Applause.)
MS. HARF: We can even put them up here if you want. So there’s chocolate and vanilla.
QUESTION: Oh, it’s great. All right.
MS. HARF: It’s just incentive to stay through the whole briefing, everyone. (Laughter.) But we are, on good and bad days, even though we are on different sides of the podium, a little family here. So we will miss you very much, Jill.
QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.
MS. HARF: I know your colleagues feel the same way, and it won’t be the same.
QUESTION: We certainly will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: So I told you I wasn’t going to embarrass you.
QUESTION: Then I’ll just – I’ll do one thing.
MS. HARF: Oh, yeah. I love it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Oh yeah.
MS. HARF: Can we get this on video?
QUESTION: I decided to – use that, because that --
MS. HARF: I’m the one pointing at --
QUESTION: Because it’s so cold in the room, is that what – (laughter) --
MS. HARF: I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. How appropriate.
QUESTION: Can we take a picture of that right now?
QUESTION: Yeah. Later, later. Let’s do the briefing. We need news.
MS. HARF: And Jill is headed to Harvard, as I said, as a fellow to continue working on Russia, and I think has a documentary airing soon on Russia, so --
QUESTION: Right before the Olympics.
MS. HARF: -- right before the Olympics, a topic we all obviously focus a lot on in here. So we will get down to business now, but I wanted to make sure to properly honor her at the beginning of the briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: You are welcome.
On to more serious endeavors, a quick update on the Secretary’s travel: Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu met this morning in Davos, Switzerland to discuss the ongoing negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The meeting focused on efforts to agree on a framework for negotiations that would address all of the core issues. This evening in Davos, Secretary Kerry delivered a speech, which I think most of you probably just saw, about our commitment to engagement in every region of the world and about our commitment to diplomacy as a first resort.
He focused on our efforts, along with the EU and the P5+1, to achieving a comprehensive agreement with Iran to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the beginning of a long process of implementing the Geneva communique on Syria, and the ongoing negotiations, again, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He also, I think, made a very strong case that the myth of disengagement, particularly the notion that the U.S. is pulling back in the Middle East, is not only false but flies in the face of major diplomatic initiatives we have ongoing right now that are driven by crises in a lot of situations, again, including our efforts on Iran, on the nuclear issue, on Middle East peace, and of course on Syria.
Two more statements at the top and then we will get on to the briefing. On Egypt: We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks that took place in Egypt today. These crimes should be investigated fully and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. We extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and we hope for the quick and full recovery of the survivors. We urge all Egyptians to exercise calm and restraint ahead of the third anniversary of Egypt’s revolution. The Egyptian Government and people are navigating their political transition in a challenging security environment, and violence aimed at undermining this transition has no place in Egypt. We continue to support the people of Egypt and urge them to move toward – forward peacefully with the transition, respecting the rights of all Egyptians.
And the second statement at the top: We note the recent statements of senior UN officials on the violence in northern Rakhine State in Burma, and share their deep concern about the situation there. We are deeply disturbed by reports that at least 40 people have been killed, as well as the disappearance of a police officer, and we reiterate our call for the Government of Burma to launch an immediate, credible, and independent investigation into the violence and hold accountable those responsible. We continue to encourage the Government of Burma to work toward a durable solution that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in the state to create the conditions for sustainable peace and development. The United States stands ready to assist in these efforts.
And with that, Jill, I’ll let you kick us off today.
MS. HARF: It was.
QUESTION: And then also – yes, so we didn’t get the punch line.
MS. HARF: Sorry about that.
QUESTION: So where do we stand? We were just talking about this. Neither side seems to be accepting this proposal or whatever by the Secretary.
MS. HARF: In Syria?
QUESTION: Where are we?
MS. HARF: Neither side in terms of Syria? Are we talking about Syria or Middle East peace?
QUESTION: No, I’m sorry. Middle East peace.
MS. HARF: Sorry.
MS. HARF: See, we have so many diplomatic efforts ongoing --
QUESTION: Yes. It’s true.
MS. HARF: -- that I don’t know which ones you’re talking about. As I said, he met today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, met earlier this week with the Israeli negotiating team, and next week we expect the Palestinian negotiating team to be here. And there’s really no update. We are right now trying to get a framework agreed to. We’re making progress. We continue to have discussions, and hopefully we can do that soon, but it’s not easy, and we are making progress, but we do have much more work to go. There’s just not a lot of updates. I think this process, as we’ve all seen, is one of sort of baby steps along the way, chipping away until you get to where you need to be, and I think that’s what you’ve seen him doing.
QUESTION: But right now, you don’t think that it is stymied?
MS. HARF: No. No. I don’t think that it’s stymied. I think that it’s – the closer you actually get to a framework, the more difficult the decisions are at the end, right, because the easier decisions have all already been agreed to, right? So at the end, there’s always going to be very, very difficult decisions both sides have to make. But I wouldn’t characterize it as being stymied.
QUESTION: If I may follow --
MS. HARF: You may, Said.
QUESTION: Top Palestinian officials like Yasser Abed Rabbo are saying you basically gave them a framework agreement, and the framework agreement states it deals with the issue of the refugees, that they could probably be settled in – be resettled in Canada and places like this, or keep them where they are and so on, allow symbolic numbers to return; on the issue of borders, maintaining some sort of security, perhaps U.S. security. I mean, quite detailed. It’s not just a framework agreement. Could you please clear that point for us?
MS. HARF: Yeah, well – uh-huh. Well, a few points: A, this is not an American plan. The framework that we are in discussions with is based on our discussions with both sides and the parties leading up to this point. Because when we restarted these negotiations, they hadn’t agreed on anything except to sit down together. The framework would be significant because it would set the left and right, for lack of a better term, which were the outside parameters that will guide the discussion on all of the issues going forward.
Now, I’m not going to get into what specifics are being discussed as part of the framework, but suffice to say, it would be significant because the two parties would have, for the first time, agreed at least on the outlines of some of these issues and how the discussion will go.
QUESTION: But you know, framework in English is one thing. When you translate the word in Arabic, it’s another thing altogether. When you say the word in Arabic, it’s just like throwing everything in there without any detail. However, what comes out and what is being claimed by the Palestinians is really a very detailed plan. Could you explain that to us?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not saying that there’s not details in it. In fact, the framework will have details setting the parameters for the discussion on all of the issues. We’re not saying it will be an incredibly general document. We’re just not going to discuss the details of it until it’s agreed to.
QUESTION: Let me ask you something on the settlement. Did the Secretary raise the issue of new announced – newly announced settlement activities with the Prime Minister?
MS. HARF: Today? I don’t know, Said. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Could you – yeah, could you find out whether he did --
MS. HARF: Yeah, I just don’t know.
QUESTION: -- or not? And next week, when the Palestinian negotiators come in, is there anything specific that you would be focusing on? I mean, why the trip? Is this part of, like, the continuation of a negotiation that has taken place there --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and now it is taking place here? Will there be any meeting under your auspices between the Palestinians and Israelis?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge on the third, I think, question in that, to the last question.
QUESTION: Yeah, there were quite a few.
MS. HARF: It is just – I know, I lose track sometimes – it is just a continuation of the negotiations we’ve had up until this point. Again, I said we met with the Israeli negotiating team. We’ll do the same with the Palestinians. It’s just a continuation. I don’t think there’s anything special about the location.
QUESTION: So what is hoped to be achieved, let’s say, at the end of midweek after the meetings and so on?
MS. HARF: Well, the next goal that we’re working towards is agreement on the framework. So I don’t want to say that we’ll come out of this meeting next week – I’m not at all saying that or predicting that – but that’s the next goal that we have on the horizon that we need to work towards.
QUESTION: And in terms of the timeframe, the nine months as we inch our way towards April 30th and so on, now the Palestinians are issuing conflicting statements. One day Erekat says that we are not going to go for one day extra, and then another day says that it’s basically – this is the beginning of a negotiation that is really a lengthy process. Could you clarify that for us?
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: What is your position?
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Should all --
MS. HARF: I can say what our position is. I don’t know if I’m going to parse --
MS. HARF: -- what Dr. Erekat has said. But I think President Abbas actually spoken to this as well. What we’ve said is we are still working under a nine-month timeframe. We hope to get the framework done well before that, and then we will determine – make a determination about how long it will take to finalize what would come next to get the peace treaty or whatever the term is done here. But we’re still working on a nine-month timeframe, but if we need to go longer in the interests of getting this done, I think folks would be open to that. I think the Palestinians have said they’d be open to that.
QUESTION: And finally – I promise this is my final question --
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: -- Abbas, during his visit to Moscow, basically requested a – more engagement from the Russians. Do you welcome that, or do you think that is unnecessary, or is that part of a – sort of a heightened or accelerated diplomatic process, their involvement, Russian involvement?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly – I don’t know anything about – specifically on Russian involvement. We’ve certainly encouraged other countries around the world, whether it’s – or organizations, whether it’s the Arab League, whether it’s the Europeans, other countries who adhere to the same or believe in the same principles we want to see come out of this to, if they can, play a positive role in the process. I don’t have any specifics on what we might want Russia to do, certainly, but that’s, I think, been our position generally speaking about other countries.
QUESTION: Another quick one from the Secretary’s speech.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: He said he would be going to Asia, I believe, within weeks.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any details about that --
MS. HARF: I love when he announces travel.
QUESTION: -- (laughter) – that trip for us?
MS. HARF: I don’t.
MS. HARF: That’s why I love when he announces it. We’ll have some more details in the coming days.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Could you update us on the meetings that took place today?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I mean, there was supposed to be a meeting, then a non-meeting --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- then a declaration. Can you talk about that?
MS. HARF: Yep. So I think the secretary general or some – or Special Representative Brahimi might have just spoken to this. So I will reference those comments. I just saw them coming out.
The talks are ongoing between Special Representative Brahimi and the parties separately today. He has met with the opposition. President Jarba and the entire opposition delegation were in that meeting – also has a meeting planned – or I don’t know if it’s taken place, I will get an update from our folks there – with the regime, and then I believe that he just announced tomorrow there’ll be a meeting with all three of them sitting down together.
(Coughing.) Excuse me.
We’re taking this really hour by hour and day by day. We are there in a role to support the negotiations in any way we can, but we are not a direct party to the negotiations. It’s really the two sides and the UN. We are there to help in any way we can, but these meetings today have really been focused on the two parties and the UN, and we do look forward to this meeting happening hopefully soon. I think it’s – the UN said it would happen tomorrow between the three parties all sitting down together.
QUESTION: So this is a trilateral negotiation between the Syrian regime, the opposition, and Lakhdar Brahimi. Does that mean that you are completely disengaged, or is there is a presence in the corridor, so to speak?
MS. HARF: Definitely not disengaged at all. We are just not a negotiating party, but we are very deeply engaged. As I said I think earlier this week, we are committed to putting the full diplomatic weight of the United States behind getting a political transition in Syria. Ambassador Ford and our team are on the ground there, working very closely with the opposition, helping as we go through this negotiating process, and really doing anything we can and playing any role we can to help move the process forward. So we’re very deeply engaged, just from the appropriate position.
QUESTION: The opposition is a bit annoyed with your suggestion, or the Secretary’s suggestion, that perhaps we should bring in the militant element and have them part – be part of the negotiations and the delegation. Could you comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is that there needs to be one opposition delegation, which there is. We have said we are open to talking to some Islamist groups that are not terrorist organizations as part of getting to a political transition in Syria.
I think one thing that’s important to stress, and it’s sort of what I just said when I said we’re taking this very much hour by hour and day by day, is that we need to figure out where the negotiations go from here. They’ll stay on the ground in Geneva for a while, and then, I’m guessing, will return back home. And then we’ll have to determine the modalities of what that looks like – who’s included, who’s not, where it is. All of that will need to be decided as part of this negotiation.
QUESTION: Yeah. On the Geneva I principles, I mean, we went – I went through the Geneva I principles yesterday point by point. There is nothing in there that really calls for Assad to step aside.
MS. HARF: That’s not true. That’s not true.
QUESTION: Show us where it is not true.
MS. HARF: The clause that says a transitional governing body based on mutual consent. The opposition will never, ever, period, agree to a transitional governing body with Assad as part of it, period.
MS. HARF: There is – so there is no way that clause is compatible with Assad remaining in power. There’s just not.
QUESTION: And the flip side of that is that the regime could take exactly the same position as – we will never, ever cede power to the opposition --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- with which we disagree totally.
MS. HARF: Again, this – we know the negotiations are very messy and very complicated and that this will take time. So I’m not saying that it’s easy, but I – what I was doing was taking issue with the notion that there’s nothing in Geneva I that outlines a future without Assad. There absolutely is.
QUESTION: But if you agree that the ideal outcome of this whole process is some sort of a transition --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- with elections that are representative of the Syrian people, you certainly agree that the regime does represent a good portion of the Syrian population, don’t they?
MS. HARF: I don’t agree with that, Said. I think that certainly President Assad and his top deputies and the folks who have helped him carry out his brutality against the Syrian people cannot claim to represent the Syrian people. They can’t. You cannot drop barrel bombs on kids, you can’t use chemical weapons indiscriminately, you can’t look at those photos from Syrian prisons that have happened at the hands of the Assad regime, and in any universe claim that they represent the Syrian people. You just cannot.
QUESTION: Okay. Just if you indulge me one more --
MS. HARF: Always.
QUESTION: -- on the issue but --
MS. HARF: Every question is one further away from the cupcakes.
QUESTION: Okay. Great.
MS. HARF: That’s all I’m saying.
QUESTION: All right. So what – I’ll make it very short. (Laughter.) But the regime is really a political party. The Ba’ath Party has maybe millions of members and so on. Does that also exclude – what you’re calling for is excluding the Ba’ath Party completely, as we have seen in Iraq de-Baathification?
MS. HARF: I am in no way arguing for de-Baathification here, Said.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MS. HARF: What I am saying is that the Assad regime, the president and the folks in the regime who have put their people through what we’ve seen over the last years cannot claim to represent them. I was not in any way making a statement about the Ba’ath Party as a political party. But when you start killing your people like this, you go – certainly for Assad and his top deputies – from being political leaders to being something very different.
QUESTION: So that would be Assad, his family, and his close circle?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to outline how far that circle extends in terms of that question.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah, and then I’ll go up to you, Jo. Yeah, go ahead. Yeah. Don’t look so surprised.
QUESTION: We still didn’t know the trilateral meeting was planned today. We still didn’t know exactly what happened --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- that it was postponed and the State – and for the State Department to issue the statement about the cancellation, we took it as --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not our meeting, right? So Joint Special Representative Brahimi, I think, made a statement and said that more time was needed to prepare for a Syrians-to-Syrian negotiation. That time, I think, was today, when he met individually with each side. And that’s why tomorrow I think they’ll be meeting. They just need a little more time.
QUESTION: You were well aware about Minister Muallem statement was quoted by New York Times as saying we will be leaving tomorrow, Saturday, unless, quotation, “a serious talk begin immediately.” Is that did play a role? Do you see any trace of Iranian – the Iranian problem, the referring – I’m referring here to the invitation. It was canceled for Iran and --
MS. HARF: In terms of what’s happening now?
MS. HARF: On the ground? No, I don’t think it’s related in any way. No, I think we dealt with the Iran issue days ago, and what’s happening right now on the ground isn’t related to that, certainly. And you saw, I think, the UN come out and say a trilateral meeting will happen tomorrow. So, hopefully, that will happen.
MS. HARF: Okay. Syria?
QUESTION: Just one more. It’s kind of a little bit broad, but I think it really needs to be asked. When you look at – there are a lot of stories now in which you see that people – terrorists who are going to Syria are now being trained in all sorts of explosive devices and how to blow things up. They’re worried at the Sochi Olympics about people from Central Asian groups who have gone to Syria. And this almost seems to be falling into the prediction that you did have from the Russians and others early on that even if the West does not intend this, in reality that is what’s happening, that there right now is a festering sore that’s attracting everybody in the neighborhood who is a bad actor, who is going there to be trained. And so even in the midst of trying to get rid of Assad, you have this gap that’s being filled by people who are really dangerous and now who are spreading out to other places.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: So what do you do, realistically, about this?
MS. HARF: Well, realistically, it’s a good question. I would back up years now – and I think this is a point sometimes we forget – that none of this was inevitable, right, that the Syrian people started protesting peacefully, like we have seen in many other countries around the region, and it was only when the Assad regime chose the path of brutally cracking down that the security situation really became a magnet for terrorists. I mean, we know the Syrian regime has long supported terrorist groups and worked with terrorist that they’ve been designated since 1979, so that’s not new. But it was really when they started cracking down, which then led to this festering civil war that led to a security situation where terrorists could flourish there.
It’s really hard to do. We’re working with other countries in the region to counter the threat together, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s Jordan, whether it’s Lebanon, because of course there are a lot of potential transit points going out of Syria towards these other places where they could do bad things. So we’re working with other countries there. We obviously cooperate on counterterrorism with countries all over the world to try and track exactly what you’re saying, the possibility of terrorists being trained there and going other places.
I think a lot of what we’ve seen, quite frankly, is terrorists who were there staying there and fighting there, or sort of staying in the region, if you look at Iraq or Lebanon. But it’s something we’re concerned about. And it’s why, again – I sound like a broken record here, but we need a political transition here, we need to stop the fighting, and we need to bring some stability and security back to Syria, not just for the people of Syria, although that’s top priority, but for exactly that reason. The instability that the security situation has created is just terrible for the region and for many other parts of the world as well, absolutely.
QUESTION: Just --
MS. HARF: It’s a tough problem, though, Jill, and there are no easy answers.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the phrase, a magnet for terrorists --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- so is the suggestion here that once we have a transition, these groups will just leave? They’ll go back?
MS. HARF: No. No, it’s not that simple. You can’t just turn off the tap. I’m not saying that.
QUESTION: Okay. Because --
MS. HARF: But, if – what happens when you have a transitional government we’ve talked about with – if you continue reading the Geneva communique, as I know you just did again – with full executive authority? So we need to start to bring – and this is obviously farther down the road than we would want, but when you have a transitional governing body, you can start to bring some stability and some security back with some of the state institutions who can help bring some normalcy back to Syria if we can stop the fighting and get a transitional government in place. It doesn't mean that the terrorist threat will go away by any means, but if you can do that, if you can bring Syria back somehow and try to build the Syrian people’s ability to move past this, quite frankly, it’s a tough challenge and it won’t go away overnight. We’ve seen in Iraq the challenge, of course.
QUESTION: Yes, absolutely. So you do expect that once there is a transition that the Syrian army will have to continue its fight against the terrorists, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to outline sort of what that will look like. Obviously, that’s way down the road and I have no idea what this transitional government will look like in any way, but we do – the chaos the Assad regime has brought down on its people and its country will go on for a very long time. It will outlive him. They will be dealing with this for a long time to come, which is why we know we need to start this transition as soon as possible, for the Syrian people’s sake more than anyone else’s.
Yeah, go ahead.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- do you follow the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: They’re having shootouts along – ongoing shootouts --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- line of contact and Azerbaijani-Armenian border. And also the foreign ministers met today in Paris and the Azerbaijani foreign minister reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s stance on territorial integrity, which is in full compliance with the UN security resolutions. So what’s the plan for the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group --
MS. HARF: Of the Minsk Group?
QUESTION: -- for 2014?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, just a few points. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports and regret any loss of life anywhere, but certainly here as well. And our position remains that the use of force will not resolve this conflict. We call on all parties to refrain from the use or threat of force. And as you mentioned, the U.S. is a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. We remain deeply committed to working with the sides to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict. That’s certainly our goal. That hasn’t changed. We know it’s difficult, but we’ll keep working on it.
QUESTION: Anything new for 2014 on part of the U.S.?
MS. HARF: Nothing that I have to announce. I’m happy to check with our folks and see, but I think – I don’t know of anything new at this point.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s a series of attacks in central Cairo and I think the death toll is now at five. Your reaction to that first?
MS. HARF: So I did a statement at the top, which --
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: It’s okay. No, no, no.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. We’re all --
MS. HARF: That wasn’t --
QUESTION: I apologize.
MS. HARF: No, no, no, no.
MS. HARF: I just wanted to note for you that I think we’ve now put it out as well, hopefully --
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Great.
MS. HARF: -- if things are working as they should.
QUESTION: And then, I --
MS. HARF: But I will say that obviously we do strongly condemn the terrorist attacks that took place today, strongly condemn any form of violence, whether against security forces, whether against peaceful protesters. And we call on all Egyptians to unequivocally condemn all acts of violence. We do know this is – there’s an anniversary coming up, obviously. And I think what we’ve said along is that the Egyptian people didn’t try those many years ago, it seems like now, to take control of their future to end up in a situation where violence like this was part of their life.
And so we have called on all parties to go into this anniversary and refrain from violence, to work together peacefully to move Egypt forward. And they have an opportunity now, since the constitutional referendum, to keep making progress.
QUESTION: All indications show that General Sisi really prepared himself to run for the elections. Would you sort of advise him against doing – taking such a step?
MS. HARF: We don’t take positions on who should be elected as leaders of countries. That’s for the Egyptian people to decide, certainly, and that’s not something I think it would be wise to take a position on from here.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t see this as --
MS. HARF: But you’re going to try to get me to.
QUESTION: Yeah. You don’t see this as unadvisable, so to speak, when generals put on civilian clothes and so on and still rule the country with the same kind of militaristic or martial law kind of grip, as we have seen in Central America, South America, and many parts of the Arab world?
MS. HARF: Well, what we’re saying is that all of Egypt’s leaders need to govern inclusively, they need to work with all parties and all sides to move Egypt forward, and that it’s up to the Egyptian people to decide who will lead their country. And they do need to hold free and fair elections, though. That is an important step that needs to happen on their path back towards democracy.
QUESTION: Egypt being such an important country for you and a strategic ally and so on, wouldn’t you advise him that history teaches us that when generals take that position, it’s not good for the country?
MS. HARF: I love when you make these sweeping generalizations and compare different --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, okay. Not a sweeping --
MS. HARF: Every country is different. And look, that’s not – I’m not downplaying your question, your point. I think it’s an interesting historical question and issue that you raise. What we are focused on in Egypt is what Egypt looks like today, what Egypt itself needs to do, not comparing it to any country in history, but what they need to do to get back on a path to keep making progress, to govern inclusively. And free and fair elections is a huge part of that, absolutely.
QUESTION: The reason I ask this question is because the narrative that the Secretary of State adopted, which is the military saved Egypt from falling into the abyss of a civil war.
MS. HARF: I think you’re grossly over-generalizing, Said.
QUESTION: I did not. The --
MS. HARF: We made very clear that we had issues with the --
QUESTION: The Secretary said you – they saved Egypt from civil war.
MS. HARF: We made very clear from the Secretary on down our very, very serious concerns about the way the military took power. You saw with our decision on assistance that was reflected in our concerns. So I think that our policy is just a little more nuanced than what you just outlined there.
QUESTION: Can I just ask --
MS. HARF: Oh, yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- how today’s events have impacted the embassy, if they have at all, if there’s any change in the security posture there?
MS. HARF: All of our U.S. Embassy personnel and family members are accounted for, are safe. I don’t know – I think we have been sending out messages to American citizens warning that there might be some violence, but no – nothing from Main State in terms of travel warnings or anything. I mean, we already obviously have one in place, but nothing new.
QUESTION: Nothing new. And then there are reports that an American filmmaker has been detained in Egypt.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on that?
MS. HARF: We are aware that an American citizen was detained. I think this is sort of just happening. We will, of course, provide any consular support needed. For privacy reasons, we can’t further discuss the situation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Okay. Nicolas.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So the situation on the ground is not getting better. The talks between the opposition and the president have failed. Apparently, the regime has lost control of parts of west of the country. So do you see any way to get out of the crisis? And on the diplomatic front, France and Germany have summoned the Ukrainian ambassadors. Is there any plan from the U.S. side to do the same or to send a U.S. official to Kyiv?
MS. HARF: Well, we have said all along that a peaceful resolution of the crisis is key to satisfying the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. We were encouraged by reports that President Yanukovych is meeting with the three main opposition leaders. We do fully support substantive discussions and we have said that we urge the Government of Ukraine to seize the opportunity that these talks represent and to move quickly to take the first steps towards national reconciliation. This is obviously a tough situation, but the government does have a chance to do – to take positive steps, I would say, and to continue in these discussions.
Obviously, we’re monitoring it. I don’t have anything new to update you in terms of U.S. official engagement. We have been quite engaged at the local level with Ukrainian officials, and I can check and see in terms of if we have anyone from here who’s been particularly engaged.
In terms of – you asked about some of the government buildings in the western part. We can confirm that protestors have occupied some regional administration buildings, and of course, would reiterate our call for all protestors and government forces to refrain from violence and the destruction of property on both sides.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. HARF: And then I’ll go back to you.
QUESTION: On Japan and China. Actually, yesterday I’ve already asked this question that you sent me to check with your folks. I just want to know whether you have any update. The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials are seeking assurance from Japan side that Prime Minister Abe will not repeat a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that has already made China and South Korea angry. Do you have any --
MS. HARF: Well, I think we made our views publicly and privately very well known at the time of the visit, and just don’t have any updates for you other than that.
Yeah. Go here, and then I’ll go to you. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yeah. Some media reports State Department has warned American athletes not to wear uniform outside Sochi venues --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- during the Winter Olympics.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any detail?
MS. HARF: Yes. So I think there was a little bit of confusion with those reports. This was the U.S. Olympic Committee, I think, had discussed with its athletes as part of how to sort of stay safe and things to look out for as part of the Games this issue about just being careful about where you wear U.S. logos or things like that. This isn’t unique to Russia, to be clear. We generally give this kind of guidance around big international events, particularly if there is some kind of threat like we’ve seen here. This was based on discussions with the State Department, but it’s my understanding that it was actually the U.S. Olympic Committee who passed that along to the athletes.
But we are – setting aside the details, we are in very close contact with the U.S. Olympic Committee on issues related to security, and in general, it’s not unusual for us to recommend that athletes or people around the world be careful where they wear certain things and just be careful of their surroundings. So I think there was a little --
QUESTION: One more on Sochi, because – that’s one part of it. But there also are – well, let me ask the first question. Has the U.S. decided on what delegation will go to the official Opening?
MS. HARF: Yes. We announced it a few weeks ago.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Because, I’m sorry, I’ve been traveling and have missed.
MS. HARF: No, no, no.
QUESTION: But is there any update? Who’s the highest official?
MS. HARF: Janet Napolitano will be leading the delegation.
MS. HARF: I think I still have it. And the Closing Ceremony, the delegation will be led by our very own Deputy Secretary Burns. Let me see if I still have the delegation in here. I may, I may not. Yes, I do.
So the Opening Ceremony delegation will be led by former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, feature former Olympian Brian Boitano, former Olympic coach Billy Jean King, Deputy Secretary of State Burns, and former Olympians Caitlin Cahow, Eric Heiden, and Bonnie Blair will represent the U.S. at the Closing Ceremonies.
QUESTION: Do they go and stay for a few hours and then leave, or do they stay overnight?
MS. HARF: I don’t – I assume they would stay overnight. It’s kind of a long day trip, but I just don’t know in terms of travel plans and the logistics. I’m happy to check with our folks. But I would assume they would stay overnight.
QUESTION: Marie, you said that the suggestion to play down – not to wear their Americanism on their sleeves, so to speak, and to play it down a little bit is something that you do with every Olympics. You did that in British Colombia?
MS. HARF: I can check. It’s all about sort of keeping a low profile. It’s obviously different around different events.
MS. HARF: It is general guidance that I know is not just specific to this Olympic Games. We have given it in the past in many places around the world. We encourage people to keep a low profile, particularly if there’s a security risk.
QUESTION: And could you clarify to us whether the Russians have requested officially that you do cooperate with them to provide some –
MS. HARF: In terms of specifics?
QUESTION: Yeah. There was a report late last night, I guess --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Russians have requested equipment and so on, eavesdropping --
MS. HARF: Yeah, I can’t confirm any of those specifics. If we can, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: Bird flu?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Is the State Department issuing any cautions about that --
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those. Yeah.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) have any concerns about that?
MS. HARF: Let me check on that. I hadn’t seen those.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: And there was also a case in Egypt.
MS. HARF: Oh, okay. I’ll check on – I’ll check with our experts on that.
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have.
MS. HARF: I think I have something. Deputy Secretary Burns, along with Assistant Secretary Danny Russel, met today in Tokyo with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide, Foreign Minister Kishida, the defense minister, the vice foreign minister, and members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. In all of his meetings, the deputy discussed a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, reflecting the strength and breadth of our alliance with Japan, as well as the depth of our economic relationship.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: And just to follow-up on that, did they talk at all about how to strengthen relations with its neighbors in the region?
MS. HARF: I mean, in general, the deputy says, as we always do, that we believe that Japan and other countries in the region should resolve disagreements through peaceful means, through dialogue. I’m sure that position was reiterated today.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday --
MS. HARF: And then I think I’m a little tight on time, so we’ll do a few more and then – yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly. Yesterday, the speaker of the house – the speaker of the Iraqi parliament Usama al-Nujayfi gave a speech at Brookings. He gave a very bleak picture of what’s going on in Iraq, and he said that we are at a turning point, at the fork of the road, so to speak, alluding to the next elections, suggesting that Maliki should not run for a third term. Would you advise the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, that if he runs for a third term, that would be more decisive to the country?
MS. HARF: Again, Said, this is – got to your question on General al-Sisi – we don’t take a – well, don’t be frustrated. It’s our position. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay, I’m – okay, that is your position that --
MS. HARF: We don’t take a position on who should lead countries.
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details about our discussions with the prime minister about the upcoming elections. We’ve said that the upcoming elections are an important step in Iraq’s future – that we will work with whoever the leader is of Iraq.
QUESTION: But also, the U.S. was really instrumental and sort of crafting the constitution. And he specifically addressed Article 142, which remains to be a very decisive article among all Iraqis. Would the U.S. also provide technical and legal advice on how to amend that article?
MS. HARF: I don’t think we need to tell the Iraqis what to do with their own constitution. Obviously, we provide a range of diplomatic and political, military advice to the Iraqis, but I just don’t have anything more on that.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I believe at the confirmation hearing, he was asked a question by Senator McCain and seemed very ill-prepared to answer it, and was wondering (A) if you wanted to clean up some of the statement that he had to say – I think he said there was a president in the country and called one of the partners in the coalition a fringe group. It’s been in all the press over there.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, just a couple points on that. President Obama nominated our nominee to be Ambassador to Norway George Tsunis – I think is how you say this name – to serve as ambassador because he has the unique combination of experience and skills to successfully represent our national interests in Oslo. He has the full support of the President and the Secretary, and if confirmed, is looking forward to representing the U.S. in Norway. His years in the private sector and his management experience have prepared him well to represent our interests there. Of course, as Norway being a key NATO ally and global partner, he – just a little background on him – is a member of the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Leadership Committee, its Metropolitan Leadership Council, a director of the Don Monti Cancer Research Foundation, and a host of other foundations and academies that he is affiliated with, and of course, his nomination is pending right now.
Okay. That’s all I got on that.
Just a couple more. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: I think we’re a full party to it. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: So --
MS. HARF: I don’t – I think we’re a full party to the Vienna Convention.
QUESTION: So the very fact that Texas didn’t’ enforce it, right – so it means that it’s up to the state to enforce it or not to enforce it?
MS. HARF: Well, there are a lot of different parts of the Vienna Convention. This one involving consular access for foreign nationals when they are incarcerated or detained overseas is just one part of it. Obviously, if someone is incarcerated by a state, then it is up to the state to enforce it. And we have worked with states on this.
Just to follow-up quickly on a couple of questions people asked yesterday: In the Avena case, it wasn’t just Texas. There were other states – California, Illinois, Arizona, Arkansas, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Oregon. And we would note that some states have dealt with Avena defendants in a manner consistent with both the ICJ’s judgment and their own judicial and legal processes. So I don’t want to paint a completely bleak picture of this. Obviously, this case, we regretted how this played out.
QUESTION: I am asking this because Houston has a lot of foreign consulates.
MS. HARF: Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: A lot of countries have their missions there. So would the VCCR be enforced in Houston – I guess it’s up to the state government to implement it or not implement it?
MS. HARF: Well, this is one case, right, and there are several other cases as well. We certainly are actively working with the state of Texas to ensure that it does comply with our international obligations. We’ve also said that’s why this piece of legislation I mentioned yesterday needs to be passed by the U.S. Congress to put another layer into the process of confirming that we do uphold our international obligations.
QUESTION: It’s up to the government of Texas to implement it or not to implement it?
MS. HARF: I think I’ve addressed this now. If someone is incarcerated by a state, obviously, they have jurisdiction. We work with the states to get them to enforce it, believe me, as much as possible. And we’ve made the case – it’s because we need to protect our people overseas.
Yeah. Last one.
QUESTION: I have two, actually.
MS. HARF: Last two.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry for being late. I’m sure you’ve already --
MS. HARF: You missed when I – we talked about Jill. And there’s cupcakes.
QUESTION: I plan to partake in the cupcakes --
MS. HARF: So, last two.
QUESTION: -- for – to celebrate Jill’s wonderful --
MS. HARF: Last day.
QUESTION: -- move.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: We did.
QUESTION: Okay. Have you discussed whether or not the Administration is – has been considering or is now considering stepping up any kind of military aid to Egypt in light of more violence?
MS. HARF: We did not discuss that. I’m not aware of those discussions. Obviously, we’re monitoring the situation and have a partnership with the government. We talked a lot about aid, I think, when we made the decision months ago, now. I’m not aware of any new discussions on that, but we have continued to monitor it as we make decisions about where our assistance will go from here. I’m just not aware of anything new coming down the pipeline.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, because as sectarian violence, or – actually, it wouldn’t be sectarian, but just violence in general really starts ramping up, I mean, I would assume that the U.S. would start rethinking --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- what kind of assistance or partner it wants to be with Cairo.
MS. HARF: Well, that’s – we’ve been rethinking that, quite frankly, since what happened in July and since the assistance decision, and we have said when we made the assistance decision that one of the things we care deeply about is our counterterrorism cooperation, particularly in the Sinai. So I think that’s one thing that even as we made the assistance decision, we made clear was something we wanted to continue a very close cooperation on.
QUESTION: Okay. But Sinai’s far away from Cairo, so --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. Absolutely. No, absolutely. I just was mentioning it because it was on the forefront of our minds then. And I’m sure those discussions will be ongoing if we do see more violence.
MS. HARF: And then you get the last one.
QUESTION: Detroit? Motor City?
MS. HARF: Yes. Yes. I have an answer for you.
MS. HARF: So I think what the mayor’s talking about here is taking a category of visas that exists and changing it to be used for a different purpose, which I think would require a change in legislation, so – which falls under the general rubric of comprehensive immigration reform. And as you know, the President is committed – firmly committed to passing common sense immigration reform in 2014. Our immigration system is broken, our country needs comprehensive reform that creates an earned path to citizenship, continues, of course, to strengthen border security, and bring our system into the 21st century. So that would have to be a part of that, I think what he’s talking about specifically in terms of that visa category, which is what we would deal with here.
QUESTION: Right. So he – in other words, State, or DHS really can’t do anything about this. It can’t do --
MS. HARF: Not in the way he’s suggesting it, unless there’s a change in legislation.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday, China released some new information about its national security commission. Now, the Chinese president will be the top leader of this commission. Obviously, this is a very high-level commission, and the Chinese premier will also act as the deputy head of this commission. So I want to know: How do you comment this, and how do you see the possible cooperation between U.S. and China in this field?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any specific comment on that announcement. We’ve said that we will continue to cooperate and talk to China about a range of issues, including in this field. But just no comment on that specific announcement.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
DPB # 16