2:14 p.m. EST
The first – and we put a statement out from Jen this weekend, but just to reiterate to folks that the Secretary will be traveling from February 13th through 18th. He will visit Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta, and Abu Dhabi to meet with senior government officials and address a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. This is the fifth trip to Asia for the Secretary in the past year. We put out more details about what he would be doing in each stop over the weekend, but I just wanted to flag that first at the top.
Second: Tonight, Secretary Kerry will attend an event this evening hosted by the Vietnamese Embassy to mark the 20th anniversary of normalized U.S.-Vietnam trade relations. There has been tremendous growth in U.S.-Vietnam relations over the past 20 years, including in business and trade ties. Twenty years ago, bilateral trade in goods was only 451 million, and today it’s more than 25 billion. Looking to the future, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will enhance U.S.-Vietnam trade by opening up markets, raising standards on labor, environment, and intellectual property rights, creating jobs, and promoting growth on both sides of the Pacific. Vietnam is a priority market and President Obama’s National Export Initiative and U.S. businesses are on track to meet the goal – the target of doubling U.S. exports to Vietnam in five years. Again, that’s happening this evening.
Third, a statement on the detention of activists in Cuba: We are deeply concerned about the recent increase in arbitrary detentions, physical violence, and other abusive actions carried out by the Cuban Government against peaceful human and civil rights advocates. This past week saw the detention of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, also known as Antunez – excuse me – and the reprehensible behavior apparently meted out by state security to his wife.
These are the – but the latest examples of the Cuban Government harassment against the government’s critics. Freedoms of expression and assembly are international, recognized human rights, and the Cuban Government remains the outlier in the Western Hemisphere with its lack of respect for these rights. We condemn the Cuban Government’s continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly, and intimidate independent civil society. We urge the Government of Cuba to end the practice of arbitrary detentions and to allow Cuban citizens to express their opinions freely and to assemble peacefully.
Last item at the top: We’re doing this now, Jen started it on Friday – to highlight our Olympic athletes, we’re doing an athlete of the day. So today’s athlete, I think we have some photos coming up hopefully – they should be – is Evan Lysacek. Evan’s a two-time Olympian and the reigning gold medalist in men’s figure skating. Originally from Chicago, he’s a former world champion, two-time national champion, and was the 2012 James E. Sullivan Award winner as the United States amateur athlete of the year. Off the ice, Lysacek is actively involved with – oh, I can see it up here, too – with figure skating in Harlem, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Unfortunately, due to injury, he’s unable to defend his title this year. However, he is still representing the United States in Russia. We’re proud to announce that from February 15th through 18th, Evan will travel to St. Petersburg as a sports envoy, where he’ll conduct youth clinics and speak to Russian university students in commemoration of the introduction of modern figure skating to Russia by an American 140 years ago. This will mark Evan’s second sports envoy program, having traveled to Belarus and Sweden in 2012. And for all of our viewers out there, this men’s – this year’s men’s figure skating competition takes place Thursday and Friday.
QUESTION: That’s sport envoy for the State Department, not for the --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. For the State Department.
QUESTION: -- not for the Olympics?
MS. HARF: Yeah. For the State Department. So that’s today’s athlete of the day. And with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Actually, I have a question on Cuba, but we’ll --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- it’ll wait until the end of the briefing, because I want --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- to start with events in Switzerland not having to do with either women’s curling or women’s hockey, which we had a --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- mixed record on today.
MS. HARF: Let’s all try and work the Olympics in as much as possible.
QUESTION: Exactly, that’s what – that was my intent. Geneva II. I see that the UN has announced that on Friday – on Valentine’s Day, in fact – Brahimi, the Russians, and Wendy Sherman are going to get together. You’re aware of this meeting?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, given the slow walk that’s been going on in terms of – from the Syrian Government side in terms of humanitarian aid into Homs as well as the talks themselves, which don’t look like they’re going very well at all today – why are you having this meeting four days from now? And doesn’t there need to be something to jumpstart this between the three of you – U.S., Russia, UN – the main initiators of this whole process, to get some results?
MS. HARF: Right. Well, a couple of points on that. Today already in Geneva, Brahimi, Special Joint Representative Brahimi, has met individually with both sides today to restart the negotiations. They’ll continue discussions today and tomorrow. Look, we know this will be a slow process and that it’s hard to get the parties to the table to talk through these issues. We were happy that we could last time, and we’re working towards that this time.
Ambassador Ford is on the ground in Geneva leading the U.S. delegation, obviously working with the opposition to help do exactly what you said: jumpstart the talks. So really, it’s a UN-led process. The Under Secretary, when we have more to talk about in terms of her meetings in Geneva, we will. But we’ve said if we need to raise the level of participation to work through some of the issues, we’re happy to do that. But it’s really a UN-led process, and they are starting to make progress in these negotiations just by being there, quite frankly, and they’ve only been there for a few hours.
QUESTION: Right, but --
MS. HARF: So I wouldn’t make any broad sweeping generalizations quite yet about this round of talks.
QUESTION: Okay, well, without making any generalizations at all, I mean, do you not think that scheduling a three-way meeting like this for Friday, when today is – I mean, that doesn’t really speak to the urgency with which the humanitarian situation is deteriorating.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think those things are related, right? It’s not an – we’re incredibly concerned about the urgency of the humanitarian situation. That’s why we talked a lot about the situation in Homs and elsewhere, and Ambassador Ford is there right now on the ground working with our team, with the Russian team, with the UN team, to try and get movement. So I would not in any way take this as an indication that somehow we don’t see this as urgent. We schedule meetings when they make sense, but we’re engaged right now at a very high level.
QUESTION: No, no. My question is not about – I’m not suggesting that you don’t see it as urgent. I’m suggesting – I’m asking: Are you comfortable with the UN apparently taking its time to schedule these kinds of meetings when the situation is so dire on the ground and it doesn’t look like anything – it looks like it will be major progress if Brahimi can get the two sides in the same room together from this morning – this round. And so I just wonder, is the United States – does the United States believe it’s appropriate for the UN to be scheduling meetings for Friday to talk about the process and how the talks are going to go when it’s now – it’s only Monday now and things don’t look good.
MS. HARF: Right. I’d say a few things. I think you’re focused on one meeting, which is an important one, but it’s not the end-all be-all here, and there’s a lot of meetings going on right now.
I think, second, there are telephones, and Wendy Sherman can pick up the telephone and talk to her Russian counterpart or Special Joint Representative Brahimi about these issues as well. So again, it’s not like that’s her only or our only engagement at that level is this one meeting, and I would turn it around and say maybe the fact that we’re scheduling meetings for Friday and are confident that we’ll still be at the negotiating table in five days should be a good sign and not a bad one.
QUESTION: Maybe, but we’ll see. Okay.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. On Syria.
QUESTION: And this meeting is coming after the Russian deputy foreign minister has proposed today that the Americans and the Russians participate in the negotiations in Geneva and the meeting with the two parties and Lakhdar Brahimi.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is this meeting is part of this proposal?
MS. HARF: Well, in general, we’ve always said that if additional meetings like this one or like the one on Friday under UN auspices will help the negotiations move forward then we’re, of course, open to them and ready to consider those.
Obviously, the most important element in these discussions happening in Geneva is having the Syrian delegation start on detailed discussions. So obviously, we are happy to play any role in having discussions with the Russians or the UN about how to move the process forward, but the real talks that matter are the ones between the Syrians themselves.
QUESTION: But does that mean that you will be part of the discussions with the two parties and Lakhdar Brahimi, or not?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to preview what will happen over the next few days. Obviously, these things are very fluid and it’s up to the UN to set the agenda and determine who’s in what meetings. Again, Ambassador Ford is on the ground with our team and happy to support in any way that the UN feels it’s appropriate.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What do you expecting as an outcome from these meetings? At the beginning – because it seems at the beginning you were talking about political transition, and now we are talking about three issues, which is refugees, humanitarian aid, or similar exchange of prisoners, of whatever you – prisoners or this that. What you are expecting from these meetings at this --
MS. HARF: Well, those aren’t – yeah, right. No, that’s a good question. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I think a lot of those issues, including humanitarian aid, is also in the Geneva communique. So when we talk about the eventual end goal being implementation of the Geneva communique, it includes things like humanitarian access, for example. So obviously, our overall goal is a negotiated political transition that leads to a transitional governing body chosen by mutual consent. That has not changed.
Now, that doesn’t mean that’s going to happen today or tomorrow. We know this is a very complicated process. I think for us it was important that in the last round, the two sides were at the same table together, in fact, exchanging ideas about what that transitioning body might look like. So that’s still the ultimate goal. In the meantime, we are also discussing those specific issues you mentioned, particularly humanitarian access. And it is incredibly disappointing to us that the agreement that had been reached to allow humanitarian access into Homs to start getting some progress in Homs fell apart. So we’re still trying to get all the facts about exactly what happened, but that’s a key part of the Geneva talks as well.
QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong. You mean that at this time, those three issues were –are the main point of discussions and nothing is talking about – nobody is talking about political transition?
MS. HARF: No, no, no. Not at all. I did not mean in any way to indicate that. We are certainly talking about political transition. As I said, one of the encouraging signs that came out of the last round was that, in fact, we started to have those discussions. We’re discussing all of it, right? It’s not just one or two issues. We’re having discussions about all of it.
QUESTION: And regarding the – it was reported recently, or maybe today or maybe yesterday, that a UN resolution proposed by Saudi Arabia and others. Do you support this UN resolution? Do you have anything about it?
MS. HARF: Which UN resolution are you referring to --
QUESTION: Regarding --
MS. HARF: -- because there have been a couple?
QUESTION: Regarding the Syria conflict that expected to be raised in UN regarding the exchange, I think, or this refugee status.
MS. HARF: Well, the one I’m – and maybe we’re talking about two different UNSCRs. I’m happy to check. The one I’m familiar with is the one we’ve been working on with our partners to develop a draft resolution about humanitarian access.
MS. HARF: Is that the same one? Okay.
We have developed a draft resolution. We feel it includes provisions that go beyond the October 2nd Security Council presidential statement to really inform the need for greater humanitarian access. Obviously, we’re having sort of informal discussions and circulating that draft, so we’re not too far down the road in terms of the process. But we know it’s challenging to get things done in that forum, but we have seen when we could in the past with the chemical weapons UNSCR. So we’ll keep having discussions about how we can move forward on this.
QUESTION: You are participating in the formulation of this –
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Of the draft. And I think what we’re waiting for is Valerie Amos will be briefing on February 13th, which I believe is Thursday, a readout of the Rome meeting that she had to talk about sort of the current state of play, what more could be done. And that, I think, briefing will really inform where the draft goes from there.
QUESTION: When was the Rome meeting?
MS. HARF: It was – hold on. The Rome – I have this here somewhere. Last Monday, a week ago today.
QUESTION: And she’s not briefing until the 13th?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I just don’t understand this. Why --
MS. HARF: She’s obviously had discussions, but she’s formally briefing the Security Council.
QUESTION: Yeah. I understand. But it doesn’t – it seems like the UN is the – doesn’t see the urgency in this if they’re having – they have a meeting on a Monday and they wait almost two weeks to have a briefing about it to decide what – about – on a humanitarian resolution? Is the United States conformable with the pace that the UN is setting here on both the Geneva II talks and the humanitarian situation?
MS. HARF: Well, first let me say that it’s the UN who, for the first time since this conflict began, got both sides to sit down together at the table. That is not an easy feat. We all wish this process could go faster. We all wish the political transition could, we all wish the humanitarian access could. For a variety of reasons, mostly because of what the Syrian regime has done, it’s been very hard to make progress.
So look, this is not something that if you – we all wish we could snap our fingers and make this go more quickly. We are confident that the UN is playing a role in the Geneva talks. It’s moving them forward under very difficult circumstances. And the humanitarian challenge, just because we’re not having a briefing from her until Thursday doesn’t mean we’re not working on it every day.
QUESTION: Well, no, but didn’t you just say that the resolution – it would wait until after her presentation?
MS. HARF: Well, what I said is we are – we have circulated and are working on draft text right now. The presentation she gives on Thursday will further inform that so we can hopefully move forward with something. We’re not, not working on it.
QUESTION: I’m saying you’re not. But I mean, if you’re not going to put the resolution in blue or bring it to a vote until at least after Thursday, I mean wouldn’t you be happy – shouldn’t this have been done three weeks ago, three months ago, three years ago, maybe? I mean, what’s going on?
MS. HARF: Again, we would have liked to make progress on all of these fronts, yes, three weeks, three months, three years ago. There are a variety of reasons that we’ve talked about a lot in here about why it’s really hard to make progress here. But we are committed to doing so and to try to move the ball in any way we can.
QUESTION: How do you see or foresee the possibility of coming to a conclusion that you are referring always that it has to be by the Syrians for the Syrians?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And as much as is reported, I’m not sure you can make – correct me – it’s that people are not sitting together. I mean, are you playing mediating role or --
MS. HARF: The UN is really playing the mediating role. And they – we saw at the last round in Geneva where the two sides did sit down at the same table together and start talking.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) today, right?
MS. HARF: Not – they haven’t so far today. Mr. Brahimi met with both sides individually to talk – which is also a helpful forum, right, to get each of their ideas without the other one in the room. Sometimes that’s very helpful. So yes, we don’t play the mediating role, right? We are there to assist in any way we can, particularly with the opposition, to be able to work with the opposition as it goes through this negotiating in the same way, quite frankly, that the Russians are with the Syrian regime. So we’ll keep talking to folks on the ground to see how best we can play a role.
QUESTION: So just maybe the last one. Without the scheduling thing for the UN resolution, not referring to it, what do you – how do you expect or how do you see that it’s going to help what’s going on in Geneva II, this resolution?
MS. HARF: Well, the – what’s going on in Geneva II is sort of related, right? Because we’re obviously very concerned about humanitarian access. That’s one of the topics we’re talking about, particularly the situation in Homs. But it’s a little separate process. This is a UN-led process to negotiate the implementation of the Geneva communique. An UNSCR about humanitarian access would be part of that – a subset of one of the issues of the Geneva communique, but not address comprehensively what we’re trying to do in Geneva.
QUESTION: Just – I’m sorry that --
MS. HARF: No, no. That’s okay.
QUESTION: -- if it’s too many questions. What is the latest with the chemical weapons status?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yeah. So just one quick update. The OPCW has reported that a third shipment of chemical weapons material took place from Syria today. Like the first two shipments, this material represents a small amount of the material Syria is obligated to bring to the port of Latakia for removal. As the director-general of the OPCW said today, a significant effort is needed to ensure that the chemicals that still remain in Syria are removed in accordance with the concrete schedule without further delays and consistent with the obligations the Syrians themselves signed up to both when they acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention but also under an OPCW ruling and a UN Security Council. So we’re ready to help. We’re ready to move forward to destroy them. It’s up to the Syrian regime now.
QUESTION: Just – but just to clarify --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- when you say the third shipment, so how many percent of the whole thing was transferred now?
MS. HARF: I can see what the percentage is. It’s a small amount, a small amount. Let me see if I can get a number for you. I honestly don’t know, but I’m happy to see if I can get a number for you. I actually just don’t know off the top of my head.
QUESTION: One – one more.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see those comments. Was he speaking specifically about something or just in general?
QUESTION: In general, what they achieved in Iran and in Syria through their diplomacy.
MS. HARF: Well, broad – again, having not seen those comments, we have said that while we have many differences with Russia, we have been able to work with them in two key areas. One is through the P5+1 on getting the Joint Plan of Action in place and implemented with Iran. And just in a few short days, we’ll be going to Vienna to begin the comprehensive negotiations that include us and the Russians. So again, while we have differences on many issues, we’ve been able to work together on Iran’s nuclear program.
On Syria, we clearly have many, many differences on what’s going on in Syria, but on the chemical weapons side, through diplomacy, have been able to negotiate a plan for them to get rid of them. Now, we know there are complications there because of the Syrian regime’s actions. We’ve asked the Russians to push the Syrian regime to fulfill their obligations. The onus is really on the regime, but we need the Russians to help. So we’re working with them there too. Even though at times we have divergent interests, we have been able to diplomatically work together on a number of these issues.
QUESTION: Do you expect them to change their position and support the UN expected resolution on the humanitarian access?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know if they’ve taken a formal position on a potential Security Council resolution. Again, we came together to get unanimous support for the resolution in the Security Council on chemical weapons destruction. We know the history there, though, that the Russians have used in the Security Council at times to prevent things from going forward. So I’m not aware that they’ve taken a position --
QUESTION: Yeah, they spoke against --
MS. HARF: -- an official position yet. I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: -- the ambassador.
QUESTION: They spoke against it.
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not sure that they’ve – that we’ve actually circulated an official text, so that’s why we’re working with our partners on the Security Council to get a text that people could agree to. So again, we’re waiting to see what happens in the briefing on Thursday on the humanitarian situation, and hopefully, we can get a text that people would agree to. That’s the goal here.
Syria. Anything else?
QUESTION: So we’ve all seen the statement that Jen put out, or that you put out under Jen’s name, yesterday. Do you have – well, a couple things. One, for the record, does former Ambassador Donald Gregg’s apparent visit to North Korea – is it at the behest of or does he in any way represent the United States Government?
MS. HARF: No. It’s a private delegation, did not travel on behalf of the United States Government.
QUESTION: Okay. And so he’s not making any representations for you while he’s there?
MS. HARF: Correct. He is not.
QUESTION: Second, do you have any understanding of why the North rescinded the invitation to Ambassador King?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. They’ve obviously done this before. So I don’t have more details about why that offer was rescinded.
QUESTION: Well, was the statement – Jen’s statement from yesterday made mention of the military exercises and how the – did they tell you that that was the reason?
MS. HARF: So – not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check with our team. We wanted to make --
QUESTION: But that’s what you think?
MS. HARF: Well, we wanted to make clear, in case there was any confusion anywhere, that the military exercises that were referenced are, again, regularly scheduled, transparent, not aimed. They’re defense-oriented, I think, is the term we used. I can check if there was a more specific reason given. I think we just wanted to make that crystal clear if there was any confusion.
QUESTION: Okay, but what about the (inaudible) the two things for several weeks? I mean, they’ve been trying to link everything, it seems like, to the --
MS. HARF: Exactly, and I’ve sort of given up guessing about what the motivations of the North Korean regime are.
QUESTION: Would you at least check for us whether they did mention it?
MS. HARF: I can check on that, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And whether they gave any reason whatsoever in rescinding the offer?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What about the (inaudible) flying to that area?
MS. HARF: Sorry, I couldn’t hear you because she was talking. You go first. One at a time.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. HARF: I’ll get – go first, go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. What about the (inaudible) flying to the North Korean peninsula? Is it – is that one of the reasons for rescind by North Korea?
MS. HARF: Again, I don’t have a lot of clarity, and I’m not sure anyone does, on why the offer was rescinded. I’m happy to check with our team.
QUESTION: On – I think North Korea linkages everything in – like, family reunion, North and South, also Kenneth Bae release. I don’t think they can release in – anything about the North Korean authority said at the – Germany and North Korea embassy. He said they’re not going to release Kenneth Bae at all, so --
MS. HARF: Well, our position on Kenneth Bae hasn’t changed. He should be released immediately and returned to his family. We are concerned about his health, as you saw the statement over the weekend, particularly now that he’s been transferred. And we will keep pushing for his release in any way we can.
QUESTION: But does the U.S. have any other options to take it – pressure to North Korea for release of Kenneth Bae? Do you have another option?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have additional details for the kind of diplomatic pressure, efforts we’ve been putting forth. We’ve said repeatedly that this is a top priority for us, and we’re going to pursue all avenues to have him released.
QUESTION: Marie, there are particular previous examples of very high-profile dignitaries traveling to North Korea to secure the releases of Americans held there. Is that being considered as an option in this case?
MS. HARF: Well, for example, at the request of the Bae family, we – I think people are aware that Reverend Jackson – Jesse Jackson – had offered to travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission focused on Bae’s release. We support the efforts, of course, of the family, but also of Reverend Jackson to bring Kenneth Bae home. So again, we want him to come home. The North Koreans should release him. And we are – we stand ready to send our folks in, certainly – our folks, Ambassador King – if they reissue an offer.
QUESTION: Has State had contact with Jesse Jackson about this? Have there been any plans made in terms of a trip that he might make there or --
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly support the efforts. I’m happy to check and see if we’ve had contact. I don’t know the answer.
QUESTION: You’ve seen, I’m sure, the quotes attributed to Mr. Bae that were published in a Japanese newspaper. And I am told, but I have not myself seen, what has been described to me as video of an interview with him, I think, in the presence of the protecting power. I’m not certain of that, though. Do you believe that the quotes, either in the video or in the newspaper, are bona fide and that they were un-coerced, as it were? Or are you suspicious of the circumstances under which he is quoted?
MS. HARF: Well, we did note – and I think he included an apology, I believe, if I remember correctly – we noted the statements that he made. I’m happy to check and see about the coercion issue and if the protecting power was there. I’m just not entirely sure. Again, what we said last week is that the last visit that the protecting power had was February 7th when we learned that he had, in fact, been transferred to the labor camp. I’m happy to check and see if there’s more on that.
QUESTION: The North Koreans didn’t say anything about why they not release the – Kenneth Bae, reason why?
MS. HARF: They haven’t told me.
QUESTION: They didn’t have any official or anything through the channel?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our folks and see if we have more clarity on that. We’ve been very clear that there’s no reason to keep him incarcerated.
Yes. Anything else on this? Scott.
QUESTION: Yeah. Given all these difficulties, how does the Secretary hope to advance the cause of Mr. Bae’s release when he’s in the region this week?
MS. HARF: Well, as the note we put out about his visit to the region in Seoul, he will meet with senior government officials; reaffirm, of course, the strength of our alliance; also will meet in Beijing with some senior folks to talk about the relationship. Obviously, it’s not a – right, it’s not the primary focus of the trip. We have a broad range of issues to discuss. But anytime we go to the region, obviously, it’s something that we’re asked about, and it’s a top priority for us.
So if there’s any other ways we can try to advance the cause of getting him released, we’re happy to do so, but I think these meetings are really focused on bilateral issues mostly, as far as I know.
QUESTION: Might one of those ways be speaking with the Chinese?
MS. HARF: Well, of course the Chinese enjoy a special relationship with the North Korean Government that has proved helpful in pushing some of our mutual goals, right – whether it’s denuclearization of the peninsula, getting North Korea to stop taking provocative actions. Certainly, if there would – could be a role – again, I don’t know that there is, but if there could be, I’m sure we’d be happy to have that conversation.
QUESTION: Is the State Department considering asking Dennis Rodman to go and negotiate Mr. Bae’s release?
MS. HARF: Not that I have heard. And it’s funny; I did a talk this weekend at my--alumna for my university and I got asked about Dennis Rodman, and they said, “I bet you never get asked this,” and I said, “Oh, believe me, I get asked about Dennis Rodman a lot, and I can assure you he’s not there representing the U.S. Government.” (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: We – schedules sometimes permit certain places for certain reasons. Obviously, Japan is a key ally. I believe Deputy Secretary Burns was just there. No specific reason that I know of.
QUESTION: It doesn’t reflect the – any of the tensions in the relationship?
MS. HARF: Not at all. In no way.
MS. HARF: He’s going to Abu Dhabi.
QUESTION: Abu Dhabi, sorry.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: What’s the specific reason?
MS. HARF: To meet with senior Emirati officials to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues. Obviously, we know that we work with them quite a bit on a number of issues, including Syria, including Egypt, including other issues, so --
QUESTION: But you’re not aware if there is a larger – if he’s going to meeting with people other than Emirati officials. In other words, like another Arab League Follow-on Committee meeting or a London 11 or a --
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details on the schedule. It’s still a few days away. When we have more details, we’re happy to share them.
QUESTION: When you mentioned Syria and Egypt, did you mean to suggest that those were two of the primary areas of interest?
MS. HARF: I was just giving examples of times we’ve talked --
QUESTION: Okay, so it wasn’t --
MS. HARF: It wasn’t specific to these meetings.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you know if these meetings are likely to be particularly focused on Iran?
MS. HARF: I can check. Obviously, that’s another topic we talk to the Emiratis a lot about. I really just don’t have a good sense for what the meetings will be focused on yet. I think that’s probably still being worked out.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think there’s any magic timing to why the trip is happening now. We’ve been looking forward to doing a longer trip to Asia. I know the Secretary has been. So I don’t think there’s a specific reason why.
QUESTION: Japan is any – one of the reasons? Is it sort of one of the reason – joint military exercise. It’s going to start very soon.
MS. HARF: I don’t know if it’s tied to that. I think honestly we’ve just been tracking towards an Asia trip early this year. There were a number of countries we wanted to visit, including Indonesia. We’ll be talking a lot about climate change, quite frankly. So I think there’s just a lot of business we need to get done and he wants to spend Valentine’s Day in Asia. What I can I say?
QUESTION: And at the same time, China – recently China is kind of really frustrated by the U.S. criticize, especially about the ADIZ and the South China Sea issues or the Senkaku issues. So how the Secretary Kerry talk about U.S.-China (inaudible) bilateral relationship in terms of new model of major power relationships?
MS. HARF: Well, I think a few points. I think I would point you to Assistant Secretary Danny Russel’s testimony last week on maritime disputes in East Asia. I think it was before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. He actually talked at length about how we see what’s going on in the South China Sea, particularly right now the freedom of navigation issues and quite frankly, our strong interest in the fact that countries need to advance peace and security in the region and not undertake actions that could threaten that. So he spoke quite at length about this. I think the Secretary will be reiterating those thoughts.
I think he’ll be picking up on the meetings that our presidents had at Sunnylands that really kicked off this phase of the U.S.-China relationship, talk about all of the ways we’re working together. I mean, we’re working with China in the P5+1 on Iran, we work with them on North Korea. But also, we do have a number of issues, particularly in these disputes in the region, where we have some honest conversations we need to have. And I think that’s the – shows the strength of a partnership that you can have those and keep working together on all the other issues.
QUESTION: Can I follow up that, please?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson just criticized Danny Russel’s statement, that all the maritime issues Danny Russel said is inconsistent with the international law, but Chinese strongly said that it is very consistent, so he’s wrong. Do you have any comment to that?
MS. HARF: Well, he did speak at length about some of these issues in terms of international law, so I’d point you to his more fulsome comments about this. Sorry, Matt. I used “fulsome.” Sorry.
MS. HARF: I would point you to his comments. But in general, what he said was that parties should refrain from provocative actions, should refrain from the threat or use of force to advance their claims, and that any dispute should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law. What he went on to say is that while no one claimant or country is solely responsible for the state of tensions, the provocative nature of some of China’s actions have raised concerns in the region about China’s long-term objectives. He also said that under international law, all claims to maritime space in the South China Sea, such as China’s nine-dash line, which I think is part of what folks have been focused on in the press, must be derived from land features in the manner set out under the international Law of the Sea as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, and that international law should be the sole basis for making and enforcing maritime claims in the South China Sea.
So I would probably dispute the spokesperson’s comments I didn’t see, but I don’t want to get into dueling spokespeople, either.
QUESTION: Okay, one more?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: President Obama, related to upcoming visit to Asia trip, when Asia today, he were visit the South Korea, but he – today White House Jay Carney said that he didn’t decide yet. But when Secretary Kerry visit to South Korea, when he talking about President visit to South Korea?
MS. HARF: I think when we have decisions about the President’s schedule, the White House will announce them.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes. Anything else --
MS. HARF: Yemen? Okay, sure.
QUESTION: An official Yemeni panel has decided to divide the country into six provinces or regions under a federal system. How do you view this decision, and do you support a federal regime in Yemen?
MS. HARF: Well, I hate to admit that I haven’t seen that, actually. I’m happy to take it as a question and see if we have an opinion on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yes.
QUESTION: I had a question regarding FATF plenary meeting that will be holding this week in Paris. This Financial Action Task Force committee, it’s a body which has funded by – under umbrella of OECD to combating money laundering and terrorism finance. One of the agendas of this meeting is the status of Turkey, because Turkey is under the risky countries category in terms of this combating money laundering and terrorism finance. And I’m wondering, what is your assessment on this issue and the status of Turkey? I know that Treasury Department people who are in charge with this, but there are some U.S. department people in the delegation, too. Do you have any assessment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of a meeting that – (cell phone rings) – hasn’t happened yet, or your phone call. You can take it if you want. I would refer you, though, to the FATF’s October 2013 public statement on Turkey, which placed Turkey on the list of jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies, I think is the word they used, in complying with the international standards on anti-money laundering and combating terrorist financing. The task force did welcome significant progress by Turkey in improving the counterterrorist financing regime, but it also noted some concerns that needed to be addressed. So we obviously have a close counterterrorism partnership with Turkey writ large. I think the FATF’s last statement was in October 2013, and we’ll see what they say at the upcoming meeting.
QUESTION: What will be your tendency during the meeting in terms of the status of Turkey?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to preview. I’m happy to see if there’s more of what our thoughts are to preview before this meeting. I just don’t have anything more for you.
QUESTION: In general, the steps that Turkish Government took in terms of this combating money laundering and terrorism finance are satisfied for the U.S. Government?
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not making a statement about what the U.S. Government thinks. I was referencing the multilateral FATF report from 2013. I’m happy to check and see if our assessment is different in any way.
QUESTION: Because this is an issue between the U.S. and Turkey, too.
MS. HARF: I understand it’s an issue. I just don’t know what the answer is.
QUESTION: The U.S. Treasury Department released an announcement last week regarding some Iranian activities in terms of the support supplied to al-Qaida (inaudible) Syria through Turkey, for example.
(Cell phone rings.)
MS. HARF: Someone really wants to talk to you.
QUESTION: So I’m wondering if – what do you think of this relationship with the Iranian activities, Iranian support going to – to Iran and Syria?
MS. HARF: I think I’ll let the designations speak for themselves. And again, I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s more I can share. I just don’t have more for you.
QUESTION: Does that mean – because I had asked Jen a couple questions last week about Turkey and deeper concerns about terrorism financing and stuff like that. Was there not an answer to those questions?
MS. HARF: Well, this – I think – I don’t think she had all of this last week.
QUESTION: No, she didn’t, because that was FATF.
MS. HARF: Yeah, this --
QUESTION: Mine was not related to FATF.
MS. HARF: Well, but the – I think the FATF is what we are relying upon to sort of give the baseline assessment on this issue, to note that there has been some progress but there are still some concerns that remain. Again, I’m happy to see if we diverged from it in any way. I don’t think necessarily that we do, but I’m happy to check. And there is this upcoming meeting that we can talk more about.
In the back, yes.
QUESTION: Hi. I want to ask you about the recent EU regulation regarding visa reciprocity that makes it possible for the European Commission to impose visas on Americans if the U.S. does not lift the current visa requirements for countries like Romania and Poland. So my questions would be, first of all, what efforts are being made at the level of the State Department to admit those countries in the Visa Waiver Program, and what impact would the imposing of visas on Americans have on the transatlantic relationship?
MS. HARF: It’s a very good set of questions. I’m not familiar with that specific issue or proposal that you’re referencing, so let me check with our folks and I will get you an answer.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And it cited a fault that – how Secretary Clinton and Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy at the time were allowed to select the members for the ARB. How do you respond to that?
MS. HARF: I didn’t see that report, so I’m happy to – the report you reference. I’m happy to take a look at it. I mean, we’ve stressed very clearly that the Accountability Board was an independent body. I think if anyone in the House would like to question the credibility of Ambassador Pickering or Admiral Mullen, they can do so, but we stand by the independent Accountability Review Board’s findings. We’ve been implementing many of the things they suggested.
QUESTION: But isn’t it the law –
QUESTION: Isn’t it the law that the Secretary --
QUESTION: That the Secretary of State decides.
MS. HARF: Sure. That’s what the law says, I guess.
QUESTION: And --
MS. HARF: To be fair, I’m – having not been here through all of that, I’m not aware of how the ARB was selected. It sounds like from the first row that the law says that, but let me double-check so I don’t just rely on Matt and Arshad, although I do know they know a lot of the history here. But again, if that’s the case, then I don’t know what the follow-up is.
QUESTION: Marie, can I ask you about implementation?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Well – which I think she had a follow-up.
QUESTION: Yes, I do. Well, just looking at this as an example, how can you have, like – for example, you have a company and they are deep under water, and then those executives choose their own review board to look at them. So how can you have --
MS. HARF: I don’t see the comparison, quite frankly. And I think that nobody who reads the ARB could say in any way that it was not very tough on what the State Department did and what we needed to do better.
Nicole, do you have a follow-up?
QUESTION: I have one more.
MS. HARF: Oh, you have one more?
QUESTION: Yes, one more.
MS. HARF: On Benghazi?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And on this report. So in this report, it also says that Secretary Clinton was very aware of the al-Qaida affiliates that were in Libya. Do you have anything else to say on that?
MS. HARF: I mean, we’ve said that we knew the security situation wasn’t great in Libya. Nobody has said otherwise. But what we’ve said repeatedly over weeks and months is that there was no specific threat that was – that led to the attack in Benghazi. So again, you can only prevent something if you know specifically when it’s happening. We knew the security situation was a difficult one, but we don’t take these jobs just to serve in places that are totally safe and secure. That’s actually our job, to get out to places all over the world and do the really tough work that our folks were doing there.
QUESTION: But she was aware of these – of the al-Qaida affiliates in that area.
MS. HARF: Well, again, I think we need to be careful when we use the term al-Qaida affiliate, what’s an official affiliate and what’s not. There are some groups that were operating in Libya, and some that continue to, that may take guidance, that may be ideologically affiliated with al-Qaida, but aren’t official affiliates, designated as such by al-Qaida itself. So when we use those kind of terms, we need to be very careful about what we’re talking about, and very specific, when we’re talking about those groups and not just use terms for political reasons that aren’t actually based in reality, which on this issue, unfortunately, gets thrown around a lot.
Moving on. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. I was just wondering if you could update us – if not now, at some point – on how --
MS. HARF: Implementation.
QUESTION: -- implementation of the ARB has been going.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I can check and see what the latest is. I know I had a bunch of this when the Senate report came out recently. I’m happy to actually take that as a question. We released an updated fact sheet on the status of the implementation – let me see the date – in mid-January, right around the time the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report came out. So I’m happy to send that fact sheet around again. It has updates on all of the implementation as it was happening. I don’t know if there’s anything new since then.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Can I ask one quick one on –
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Has the Department changed any of its policies, practices, or procedures with regard to the use of mobile phones since the last week’s release of the purported transcript of Secretary Nuland’s comments?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: Can you check that?
MS. HARF: I don’t think we have, but I will double-check. And I know Jen did a little bit of this last week about mobile phones, so --
QUESTION: But you’re not – is a review or anything like that? I mean, is it being even considered, that you are aware of?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I don’t think so.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I’ll start with Guyana and this threat --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- that the Embassy there --
MS. HARF: Thank you.
QUESTION: -- talked about from a – they – Guyana – Georgetown this week is – the capital of Guyana --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- rather than the --
MS. HARF: I know.
QUESTION: -- section of Washington --
MS. HARF: Not --
QUESTION: -- not my team --
MS. HARF: Not your team.
QUESTION: -- is hosting something called a Meeting of Heads of Islamic --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- Cultural Centers and --
MS. HARF: It’s a conference, yeah.
QUESTION: -- I can’t read my own writing – of Latin America and the Caribbean.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Does this – is this warning in any way --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- related to that --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- meeting at all?
MS. HARF: No.
MS. HARF: Not to our knowledge in any way, no.
MS. HARF: No information that it is.
QUESTION: Okay. So could you --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- just for the record here restate what the warning is --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and then, if there is any additional information about it, could you provide us with that?
MS. HARF: Yes, I can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: So on February 9th, the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, as Matt said, issued a security message to inform U.S. citizens – this is one of the security messages our embassies send out to folks there – that the Embassy has received unconfirmed threat information relating to Caribbean Airlines flights destined for the United States departing on Monday, February 10th – so, today.
Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy advised all U.S. citizens in Guyana traveling on Caribbean Airlines to the United States from Monday, February 10th through Wednesday, February 14th to make alternate travel arrangements. Again, this is out of an abundance of caution. This is an unconfirmed threat information. I think – again, this is partly because of the no-double-standard policy that requires the Department to share information about credible, specific, and non-counterable threats with both the official and nonofficial U.S. community, and again, not related to this conference.
QUESTION: Did you say non-counterable?
MS. HARF: Yeah, Matt.
QUESTION: Are you still on this?
QUESTION: Yeah. So this threat, you believe, was – or the potential threat was non-counterable? I just want to make sure, because you put that out there as a --
MS. HARF: That’s what the standard is for the no-double-standard policy, yes.
QUESTION: So in that case – so because --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- so you don’t believe that whatever this threat was, it could’ve been – it could be stopped or prevented? It was not able to be countered?
MS. HARF: Right. And those terms we use --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. HARF: -- fairly – we take a broad definition of them because we want, actually, to over-share when it comes to this kind of threat information. And again, this is unconfirmed information.
QUESTION: Well, in that spirit of over-sharing, if it wasn’t – if it’s not related to this meeting that’s happening in Georgetown, can you tell us what it is related to?
MS. HARF: I don’t think we have any more indication about what it was related to other than a threat on this day on this airline.
QUESTION: And it pertains solely to Caribbean Airlines flights from Georgetown to the United States?
MS. HARF: Correct. That is my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: Can I follow on Matt’s question?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The – there have been numerous occasions in the past where there have been unconfirmed threats against U.S. airlines on international flights, and the State Department hasn’t seen fit to caution or – the word – advise U.S. citizens not to fly on those flights. Is there something about the – is Guyana not living up to its international obligations for security here?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say that. Every threat is different, and we look at each threat differently and address each threat differently. So I wouldn’t make any broad generalization about Guyana’s ability to counter these kind of threats. When we have something, again, that we think is credible and specific, then we take precautions.
QUESTION: But there’s no double standard? If this had been a U.S. airline flying that same route, you would’ve made the similar type of recommendation?
MS. HARF: If it was the same kind of threat, I have no reason to think otherwise.
QUESTION: Just as a matter of practice and policy, does the State Department – on threats that emanate from within the United States, it’s not the State Department’s responsibility to warn people, is it?
MS. HARF: It’s DHS. It’s, I think, TSA, DHS.
QUESTION: Yeah. But if you had a warning of a threat from – on an American airline from New York to Georgetown, it would be the FAA or DHS issuing the warning, correct?
MS. HARF: And TSA, yeah; DHS, yeah. But we all obviously work together and talk.
QUESTION: I understand. But, I mean, it’s not --
MS. HARF: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: I have another Caribbean question unless --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And Marie, in light of that, is it problematic that these flights were still able to take off despite these unspecified threats? I believe they were allowed to take off and land at JFK.
MS. HARF: Again, we share threat information with U.S. citizens when we have them. It’s not up to us to not have flights that aren’t under our purview take off, right? Obviously, we also talk to the government and to the airline through the appropriate channels about mitigating these kind of risks.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any other steps that they’re taking to investigate these --
MS. HARF: In terms of Guyana?
MS. HARF: No. Caribbean?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Several months ago, the Cuban interests section said that its banking – that M&T Bank was going to be closing its accounts.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I understand that --
MS. HARF: That was a while ago.
QUESTION: Yeah. And it was extended, then they delayed it, and it was extended and so they were – they’re now stopping the service on March 1st, which means that by February 17th this week, that’s when the Cubans are going to have to close down their consular services because, as I was informed this morning, this situation has not been resolved. At the time that they first announced it, I believe that you or Jen came out and said – and that the line from the State Department was we’re going to try and work to fix this –
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yeah.
QUESTION: -- either with M&T or to try and get another bank to take --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- to take these accounts. That hasn’t happened. So can you tell us what is going on?
MS. HARF: Let me check. Let me check. I don’t know the answer, but I do remember when this first came up and how we had talked about that, so I’m happy to see what the backstory is.
QUESTION: On the peace process, since Said is not here today --
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) He will be happy that you’re representing in his honor --
QUESTION: Can I --
MS. HARF: -- and you don’t ask 15 questions – no.
QUESTION: No, I have only one. King Abdullah of Jordan is in town and the Israeli prime minister will be here in the near future. Can we understand that the U.S. is getting ready to announce the framework agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
MS. HARF: We’re still working on it, still working on it. We are working towards a framework. I would be careful about reading tea leaves into any visits by folks here. So we are working on it, trying to make progress, and hopefully we can get something done soon.
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) for a second?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just regarding the --
MS. HARF: That was very un-Said-like. There was no follow-up. (Laughter.) There was no – you’re not holding up his end of the bargain.
Go ahead. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. It’s just – regarding the IG report from December that was publicly released today, there was a section in it where they talk about how the U.S. Embassy Kabul declined to provide its contingency plan in the event that a BSA is not signed to the IG. Is there a reason for that? And can you provide any details of what their contingency plan would be?
MS. HARF: For embassy operations?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: But the IG report is about planning for the transition.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I saw some of the reports. I just don’t know that specific answer.
QUESTION: Well, is it not the case that you’re not – that you’re still hoping for BSA?
MS. HARF: Well, of course, yes. The answer, broadly speaking, is that we still think President Karzai should sign it. But we’ve said very clearly that without a BSA, we cannot have troops in Afghanistan. So --
QUESTION: So the question, then, is: How can the IG conduct its – conduct a full, thorough audit of these plans if you won’t share them with --
MS. HARF: I know that we have worked with the IG very closely on a number of issues in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I’m happy to check and see what the backstory is behind that.
QUESTION: Right. But the planning – okay.
MS. HARF: I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Well, that’d be great. Because the planning would include case A where there is one, and case B where there isn’t one.
MS. HARF: Well, it would, obviously --
QUESTION: And if they’re --
MS. HARF: -- affect the embassy differently than it would affect military planning or any other kind of --
QUESTION: Right. I understand that, but maybe – I mean, I don’t know if this is the case or not, but is it the case that there is no plan for no BSA because you’re insisting that it’s still going to happen?
MS. HARF: I honestly don’t know the answer.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: KRG President Barzani was supposed to be in town after an invitation which will be coming to U.S. Government to meet with the President and other U.S. officials. But there is some disagreement between U.S. and KRG lately according to the press reports. And the Kurdish sources are claiming that this problem is related to visa problem. I mean, the U.S. side is not providing visas to KRG people, et cetera. So --
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard about any of that back and forth. I’m happy to see what the details are. I just haven’t heard of it.
Yes, in the back. You in the back. Sorry, almost the back.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: How there --
MS. HARF: Well, at least one of us in here has. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: A lot of us read it.
QUESTION: How there was – (laughter) --
MS. HARF: Go ahead. No, no, no.
QUESTION: Okay. How there was grave security conditions and that that was known. So how do you respond to that, that you weren’t able to protect people --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- if it was known that there were grave security conditions?
MS. HARF: Again, I keep going back to the points we’ve talked about quite frankly for months and years now, which is that we were very – we have been very clear that things could have and should have been done differently with security. Obviously, nobody is standing up here and saying everything was done the right way. We’ve also said that if there were just one thing we could have done differently that would have prevented this, that would be in some ways a more comforting answer, but it’s actually not borne out by reality.
So what we’ve focused on isn’t playing politics with it repeatedly, over and over and over again. It’s saying: How can we do better? How can we secure our facilities? How can we prevent this from happening again? That’s the way we think it’s best to honor the people that we lost there, is to prevent this from happening again, to see what could have done better, and do it better. That’s certainly what we’re focused on here. We’ve been very clear from the beginning that that’s what we need to do. And again, we are happy if there are members of Congress who are willing to constructively work with us towards that goal. That should be their focus as well, quite frankly.
QUESTION: Consultation --
MS. HARF: Is this a Benghazi follow-up?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I think that’s going to be in D.C. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what the State Department’s role is on that.
MS. HARF: I don’t know what the State Department’s role is. Let me see. I don’t think I have anything in here, but I’m happy to – obviously, I think this is mostly a DOD issue, but let me check with our team and see if we have a role. We very well may.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Any comment on – there’s reports that Anas al-Libi in Tripoli was captured in October 2013. So obviously, we’re going back a while, but this was --
MS. HARF: This is what we talked about at the time, ad nauseum, I think, about that operation.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know if it was ad nauseum.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Well --
MS. HARF: Okay, fine. In the way we talk about some things. We talked about this at length.
QUESTION: So I believe the news here is that there’s a video that’s emerged.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. I’ve seen --
QUESTION: Any comments on that?
MS. HARF: I saw those reports right before I came out.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MS. HARF: Do I have any comment on the video?
QUESTION: Yeah. The fact that it’s out.
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen it. (A) I haven’t seen it, (b) I don’t know if it’s real. I really – I’m happy to take a look at it and see if we have further comments. I unfortunately haven’t seen it. Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)
DPB # 26