1:16 p.m. EST
As you know, the Secretary is en route to Seoul right now. We’ll endeavor to do some travel updates at the beginning of the briefings, as we’ve done in the past. No other updates besides that.
Continuing in our Olympic theme, today’s athlete of the day – I think we have photos, yes? Okay. Today’s athlete of the day is short track speed skater Emily Scott. She was featured in our “We Are All Athletes” video that I previewed in the room here a few weeks ago. Emily turns 25 on Sunday. She comes from Springfield, Missouri and is an accomplished gymnast and inline skater as well.
Last year, after her monthly stipend from U.S. speed skating was cut, she raised about $50,000 from nearly 700 donors to support her Olympic dream. Yesterday, Emily was the lone American to qualify for the quarterfinals of the ladies’ 500-meter race to be held tomorrow at 5 a.m. Washington time. So I think if we have a snow day there’s a reason to get up early and watch at home. She’s also scheduled to compete in the 1000 and 1500 meter races – distances in which experts consider her a threat to win a medal. So today’s athlete is Emily Scott.
With that, Lara.
MS. HARF: Hi.
QUESTION: I wanted to start by asking about the Embassy employee in Cairo who was arrested for his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood. First off, what is the reaction of the State Department? What’s being done, I assume, to have him released, if he hasn’t been released already? And then if you could talk a little more broadly about whether or not the State Department or the Administration believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, and what this says about dealing with a government in Cairo that is refusing to recognize such a significant part of the population in Egypt.
MS. HARF: Absolutely. So we can confirm that a locally employed staff member of the U.S. Embassy was detained on January 25th and that, as far as we understand, he has been held without charges since then. We have been in touch with the Government of Egypt and have requested additional information about his case. The locally employed staff member was detained, I think, over a weekend on January 25th while off-duty, as I think maybe you mentioned.
The United States does not – has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. We have been very clear in Egypt that we will work with all sides and all parties to help move an inclusive process forward. We’ve also repeatedly, both publicly and privately, called on the interim government to move forward in an inclusive manner. That means talking to all parties, bringing them into the process. We’re not saying what the future government should look like specifically other than that it should be inclusive. That, of course, includes the Muslim Brotherhood. We will continue talking to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of our broad outreach to the different parties and groups there.
QUESTION: So if he was arrested or detained anyways off-duty, is it your understanding he was – he is being detained because of his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood, or was there another reason to your understanding?
MS. HARF: Let me see if we have more clarity on this. I’m not sure we have entire clarity about the reasons for his continued detention. Let me check with our folks and see. Again, I’m not sure if we know exactly why he’s being detained.
QUESTION: Because otherwise, I mean I’m sure other employees at the Embassy are – would be reluctant to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood or any opposition groups that the current government in Cairo seems to not look upon favorably. And --
MS. HARF: Let me see – oh, sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. No, and so I just wonder, as you say, how the Obama Administration and the State Department is going to continue reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood. How will they do that if employees are being arrested and there’s certain penalties that people have to face in doing so.
MS. HARF: Well – yeah. No, it’s – to be clear, I’m not saying that that was the reason for his detention. I would need to confirm that with folks.
MS. HARF: I actually haven’t heard that, so let me check and see that.
Again, he was a locally employed staff member. Our folks that are on the ground there have been talking to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups as well. So let me see two things if I can get a little more clarity about the reason for his detention and also what his job was at the Embassy. I just don’t have all that clarity.
QUESTION: Okay. So would an American official at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo be able to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood? I assume they have been.
MS. HARF: Well, they certainly have been. Absolutely.
MS. HARF: And again, I’m not sure that was the reason for his detention. So before we sort of take this – I’m happy to check and see if we just have some more clarity on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: To be clear on this point --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- you’re saying that you have not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization?
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: And you’re saying – are you – when you say “we are liaising with the Muslim Brotherhood” --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- are you having regular meetings with them, you are meeting their leadership, you’re discussing the political situation in Egypt?
MS. HARF: Absolutely, as we have said from the beginning of, certainly, this current period of what’s been happening in Egypt, but going back many, many months.
QUESTION: Has there been any expression of alarm or disapproval by the Egyptian Government to your contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Said, but I’m happy to check with our folks on the ground in Cairo and see if there has been.
QUESTION: And finally on Egypt, today – I think now both Field Marshal al-Sisi and the Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy are in Moscow visiting with the Russians.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have more analysis about what they’re doing.
QUESTION: And do --
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if we have --
QUESTION: Yeah --.
MS. HARF: -- if we just sort of know what they’re talking about – obviously, we’re not a part of the discussions – or if there’s any further analysis.
QUESTION: But would you – considering that the United States is the main supplier of arms to Egypt, would you discourage the Egyptians from seeking an arms deal with the Russians?
MS. HARF: Well, I think – again, I’m not entirely sure that’s what they’re doing. I’m happy to check with our folks before I do analysis on the visit.
QUESTION: Marie, is there any reason why the U.S. Government should not consider the detention of this employee, who, according to many reports – not just one news agency’s reports, according to many reports – was responsible for doing this kind of outreach in particular with the Muslim Brotherhood. Is there any concern or any reason in this building why his detention should not be considered a sort of interference with the U.S.’ ability to conduct foreign policy, and has that message, if it is indeed the building’s view, been conveyed to the Egyptian Government that this should not happen again?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I’m not – I have nothing to confirm that’s the reason for his detention. I’m not saying that hasn’t been out in the press. I’m saying I will check with our team in Cairo and see if that’s what the ground truth is, right? I don’t want to get ahead of what the ground truth is and start making pronouncements about what’s happening if I actually don’t know that to be the case. So let me do that first before I say anything else about that.
I did say we have been in touch with the Government of Egypt about this case and about his continued detention. And if I can get a little more clarity on what those discussions have looked like, particularly if we know why he’s being detained, I’m happy to provide that.
QUESTION: Has there been any concern about local diplomats’ contact with the Muslim Brotherhood or with any other political organization that the Egyptian military does not like or has taken action against? Is there any concern about what they’re doing, how they should be conducting themselves? What should they do if they are, in fact, challenged by the Egyptian Government about those contacts?
MS. HARF: Again, I’m sorry I don’t have more answers on this at the moment. I’m happy to check with the Embassy in Cairo and see what guidance they give to our locally employed staff who do undertake efforts for us when working for us there. I don’t know if there’s been concern. Obviously, we know it’s a very sensitive and complicated political environment right now in Egypt. So let me just get a little more clarity for you guys on all these questions. They’re important ones, and again, I apologize I don’t have more clarity at this point.
QUESTION: And then can you also find out, if you don’t already know, what is the range of protections that locally hired employees have, especially when they are involved in policy work, which this person reportedly was engaged in?
MS. HARF: Reportedly, right. And I’ll check and see if that’s the case and I’ll check on – I will take all of these, guys. I’m really sorry about this, but --
QUESTION: But do we know for sure that he’s an Egyptian citizen, he’s not a U.S. citizen, he’s not a green card holder or an alien card --
MS. HARF: He’s a locally employed staff member.
MS. HARF: Let me see if I can check about his – I am assuming he’s an Egyptian citizen, but I --
MS. HARF: I don’t have that in front of me, so I want to make that crystal clear and be sure about that.
QUESTION: Marie, since his arrest in January, the State Department doesn’t know what’s the purpose of his arrest, or you don’t know?
MS. HARF: I don’t know. The people that briefed me on this didn’t indicate that they knew, so let me check and see if our folks in Cairo have more clarity on that.
QUESTION: And one more on Egypt. Are you concerned about the rapprochement between one of your main allies in the region, which is Egypt and Russia?
MS. HARF: Oh, I think it’s with the question Said asked. Obviously, we know a lot of countries have interests in Egypt and want to build relationships with Egypt going forward. I don’t want to say by definition those are either always bad or always good. I just want to look into the specifics of this visit and see if we have more details on that.
QUESTION: Because --
MS. HARF: I think our Egypt team will have some follow-up work to do after this briefing.
QUESTION: This is the first visit that General Sisi or Marshal Sisi makes to a – to Russia, and he will be the future president in Egypt.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we know what the outcome will be in Egypt whenever they move forward with a political transition away from the interim government. I don’t think he’s actually said if he’s running yet. Again, I am happy to check with our folks and see if we have more to say on the visit to Russia.
MS. HARF: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Okay. First of all, is there anything that you could update us on with regard to the talks?
MS. HARF: Nothing new.
QUESTION: Is there any talks ongoing now?
MS. HARF: We’ve said that the talks have been ongoing. I don’t have any specifics to outline for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, there has been a great many leaks and so on about the nature of the framework agreement and so on. I want to ask you specifically on the issue of the Jewish state, which you apparently are demanding of the Palestinians. Does it say that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a home of the Jewish people? Is that what --
MS. HARF: I, again, appreciate your persistence in asking about details, but we’re just not going to talk about any of them from here.
QUESTION: Okay. Also, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was saying that whatever proposal Mr. Kerry is getting ready to sort of announce should stick to international norms and regulations and laws. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: I don’t, Said. I think we’re engaged in these negotiations. We hope to get a framework soon to continue the process. But beyond that, I’m just not going to litigate it in public.
QUESTION: So do you take his statement, Erekat’s statement, as an implicit suggestion that maybe Secretary Kerry is not adhering to the international perception of this long problem?
MS. HARF: That’s not how I take it, and I don’t think people here are in the business of trying to read hidden meanings into what people say publicly. What we’re focused on and our team is focused on is the private discussions we’re having with the two parties to see if we can make progress on a framework.
QUESTION: And finally, on the issue of the proposal, I know that the Secretary of State said that each side has the right or holds the right to submit reservations on each side. So what value would this framework agreement, if each sides comes up with like 20 or 15 or 30 reservations on this agreement? What kind of a Plan B you have?
MS. HARF: Well, those – I’ll take the first question, part of that, because I think it’s the relevant one. We’re working towards a framework because we need to set a process and sort of parameters around the major issues we’ll be talking about and negotiating going forward. When the parties sat down together, oh so many months ago, they didn’t agree on anything, right? They didn’t come to a conclusion on anything. They just agreed to sit down and talk. So we’re working towards a framework so we can have a path forward to discuss the variety of issues that will still need to be discussed between the two parties. And we think this is – would be an important step in moving that process forward, and hopefully we’ll get it soon.
QUESTION: To follow on that, so in other words, the framework is not binding, right? I mean --
MS. HARF: What do you mean by “binding”?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, if the framework says X, Y, and Z, and each side submits some papers of reservation saying – one side might say I object to X, the other might say I object to Y. I mean, what kind of – I guess if parts of the framework are being objected to, and yet they still agree to go forward, have they, in effect, de facto agreed to that part, the framework, even though they’ve objected to it?
MS. HARF: I think we’re thinking about it a little bit in an incorrect way, in part. If we could agree on everything then there would be no reason to continue negotiating, right?
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. HARF: So we need to put a framework in place that sets the parameters around the issues that we’re going to be talking about. Even if there are reservations, it would at least put in place a framework for how the negotiations will move forward. Again, even if there are some places where the sides won’t agree – which there will be – I mean, that’s the point of having more negotiations. So we do think it would be a breakthrough in terms of moving the process forward if we can get this framework done, and say okay, on all of these issues, here are sort of the left and right parameters – for lack of a better term – even if there are some reservations in parts of it.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me just make it more specific then. If part of the framework were to include, hypothetically, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and the Palestinian side says absolutely we will not recognize that but we will agree to move forward, have they, in effect, agreed that Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state because they’ve agreed to move forward?
MS. HARF: I think I probably don’t want to get even into a specific example about what that would mean in terms of how the negotiations would move forward. What we’re focused on, quite frankly, at this point, is getting a framework in place so we can move the process forward. I don’t want to get into specifics about well, if they take a reservation here what would that mean, would it mean they are accepting X or Y. I think that’s probably just not a useful exercise to undertake when we don’t even have a framework yet.
QUESTION: But if they don’t agree on a framework agreement, how they will agree on an agreement, a full agreement?
MS. HARF: Well, we hope to get a framework in place soon. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re tracking towards right now. And then there’ll be more to negotiate. Obviously, these are complicated issues. If this were easy, it would have been done decades ago. But this is the next sort of step in the process we’re looking towards.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense that either the Israelis or the Palestinians are doing any of the tough political work domestically to prepare their people for an eventual peace deal, or is it too soon for it?
MS. HARF: Well, I think the answer is probably yes to both questions that you just asked, because I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think we have seen both sides over the – first, in restarting the talks and then in doing a – both sides in taking a number of steps, the Palestinians by not going to the UN or other international organizations, the Israelis with the prisoner releases. They have undertaken some tough domestic political steps because they are committed to moving this process forward.
I do think that there will be – need to be more work. The peace process is tough, and there will be tough decisions that need to be made on both sides. And I think both leaders have come to the table committed to making those tough decisions. At the end of the day, we’re all going to have to work to get towards some sort of comprehensive final status agreement that addresses all of the issues. And that will take a lot of work, including some of what you mentioned.
QUESTION: How likely --
MS. HARF: But we’re not there yet, obviously. There’s still time.
QUESTION: How likely is it that the Secretary will stop in the region at the end of his trip next week to meet with both sides to listen to the objections that are being raised to this apparent framework?
MS. HARF: Well, you know the Secretary is always happy to fly to the region if he thinks it will help move the process forward. Nothing to announce on travel. He’s obviously just starting a fairly lengthy Asia trip, where he’ll be discussing a variety of issues and then, of course, going on to Abu Dhabi after that. So we’ll see.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up on the issue of the framework.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: How is it envisioned, I mean, by you, by the State Department, by the Secretary of State, indeed, if you could share with us? Once the framework is announced, then would he give, like, a period of time for both sides to arrive an at an agreement – maybe two years, maybe nine months, maybe one year and so on? How is it envisioned in this building?
MS. HARF: Well, I think those are discussions we’re having right now, right? That if we can get a framework in place, then what happens and what would that look like and how would we talk about it publicly, and would there be another set period of time that we outline? And those are all, quite frankly, issues that are part of these discussions right now about the framework and how you move the process forward.
So I think the Secretary and I think both sides have said time is not on our side here --
MS. HARF: -- but we also want to take the necessary time to do this right. And I think both of those things are sort of in the Secretary’s mind, certainly, and our team’s mind as they say we need to make progress and we need to show progress fairly quickly, but again, if these were easy issues you could solve quickly, we would have already done that. So that’s, I think, infusing our thoughts on this.
QUESTION: And the Secretary would certainly like to see an agreement arrived at before the end of his tenure as the Secretary of State, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I think the Secretary has said that time is not on our side here in terms of getting a final status agreement in place, not because it’s tied to his time here but because it’s in the best interest of the Israelis and the Palestinians.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: What else? Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: About – can you give us the update about the UN resolution being under --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- discussion --
MS. HARF: I can.
QUESTION: -- in New York --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- with respect to Syria?
MS. HARF: Yes, in the humanitarian situation, correct?
MS. HARF: Yes. So, the United States strongly supports Security Council action based on the principle that all barriers preventing humanitarian access to all parts of Syria and all civilians should be removed immediately. Yesterday, Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg circulated a draft resolution on humanitarian access. The United States strongly supports the current draft resolution. I think Ambassador Power just said last week that we, in fact, do support Security Council action based on these principles on humanitarian access.
So the Security Council also met yesterday to discuss the draft. Russia and China both attended the meeting as well. So we’ll keep working with our partners to see if we can get some action done at the Security Council on this issue.
QUESTION: Are you optimistic?
MS. HARF: I think we’re realistic. I think we’re pragmatic about the difficulties but also about the importance of, quite frankly, getting some action at the UN that can help bolster the efforts in a parallel fashion of what’s happening in Geneva right now.
QUESTION: And do you have any backup plan in case that resolution wouldn’t be able to pass in the Security Council?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that – the Russians, for example – this is one of the reasons people think it might not pass – have publicly said they’re concerned about the humanitarian situation, and I think we would argue that if you say that publicly, you have to back up your words with actions and this is a good way to take steps to help improve the humanitarian situation on the ground.
This is a parallel process to the process that’s happening in Geneva, where the focus is not humanitarian access but it’s part of the discussion, whether it’s talking about Homs or other places. So we think that there are multiple ways to try and get more humanitarian access in, including the Russians pushing the Syrian regime to allow the UN and others to do so.
QUESTION: The Russians are also saying that any humanitarian resolution in the Security Council should not be a cover to sort of – to be involved by the United States or its allies militarily in Syria. How do you interpret that?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not really sure how I would interpret it, except to say that providing humanitarian access to starving children, to people who are literally dying because they don’t have access to food, they don’t have shelter, it’s freezing there, should in no way be used as a political pawn in this process here. We should pass a Security Council resolution to help the citizens of Syria. We can have broader debates about what we should or shouldn’t be doing there, what other countries should or shouldn’t be doing there. Humanitarian access is a separate issue from those conversations, and if the Russians want to have those conversations with us, do it someplace else.
QUESTION: And also, on the issue of ISIS – I-S-I-S --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and Jabhat al-Nusra, there were reports that the United States is considering mulling over some – perhaps some countermeasures, perhaps drone strikes against the concentrations of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Could you – do you have anything on that?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports and quite frankly haven’t heard that being discussed. I’m happy to check with our folks, but I don’t think that’s in the cards.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the rise in extremism and the rise --
MS. HARF: It’s concerning. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and the number of, let’s say, extremists in certain locations in Syria does concern you to the point --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- where, in fact, the President said it is an American national security interest, correct?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. He said that yesterday. He also said there’s no military solution here, that we need a diplomatic solution to move Syria forward. But we are concerned about the rising terrorist threat there, absolutely.
MS. HARF: I can check. I know the Vice President did.
QUESTION: Yeah, right.
MS. HARF: I’ll see if anyone’s going out to Sunnylands. I don’t know. I’ll check and see here who else may have met with him.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just because of the impact on what the Jordanians say is their overstressed infrastructure, their ability to provide emergency housing and food --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. And we’ve been working very closely with the Jordanians by providing some assistance and helping because they are not just with Syrian refugees but, as we know, with other refugees as well.
QUESTION: Can I follow (inaudible)? You just said, and DNI Clapper has said, and I believe others have said that – in various hearings over the last couple of weeks that the extremists in Syria have created the rise of and a threat to the homeland – to the United States homeland. I’m just wondering what evidence supports that.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see specifically what evidence supports the homeland aspect of this. Obviously, we have for a long time been concerned particularly about sort of one or two-off lone wolfs that go to a place like Syria, go to a place like Yemen, even go to a place like the Fatah and aren’t part of a large multifaceted attempted attack on the homeland, but could do something like try to do a small-scale attack again in more of a lone wolf – the Times Square bomber’s a good example of that, the attempted Christmas Day bomber also an example of that as well. So clearly we’re concerned about it, concerned about the spillover effect in the region, but also about possibly someone being trained there and coming here.
QUESTION: I just find it intriguing because violence has been up in Iraq, for example, for some time and yet you don’t hear that kind of language coming out of the Administration, that the threat in Iraq is now a potential threat to the homeland. And so I wonder what it is that makes Syria --
MS. HARF: Different.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our folks and our analysts and see what the answer is there.
QUESTION: But Marie, that does not preclude the United States from taking preemptive action, let’s say on Syrian soil, if it learned through intelligence reports that extremists are planning or training for some strike against the United States or its interests, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what we may or may not do, but we’ve been clear --
QUESTION: But looking at the track record, you would say that --
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been clear that we will take appropriate measures to counter terrorists if we have actionable intelligence that they’re trying to attack the United States. I don’t want to outline what that might look like.
QUESTION: Marie, the trilateral meeting in Geneva will be happening tomorrow or Friday?
MS. HARF: I think it’s happening tomorrow now. Under Secretary Sherman left a day early because of the weather, so we’ll be putting out a travel notice for her travel later today, but she wanted to get out of D.C. before the snow hits tonight and tomorrow.
QUESTION: Marie, Senator McCain has been tweeting all morning very graphic pictures of some of the atrocities that have been going on, some fatalities among children and older people. I’m curious to get a sense of what you guys would make of that strategy of – it seems not – of getting people aware --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- not necessarily condemning the regime, which is obviously also what he’s doing, but --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- is this an effective method of raising awareness?
MS. HARF: Well, in all honestly, I haven’t seen his tweets from today, but we absolutely believe that not just people in the United States but around the world need to be fully aware of the horrific atrocities the Syrian regime is perpetrating on its own people. And whether that’s through photos, whether that’s through firsthand accounts, we actually do think that that’s an important way to make very clear to the world why we need to push the Syrian regime to allow access, why we need to work even harder to get a diplomatic solution here and end this conflict, because it is a very – I mean, you heard the President say yesterday the pictures are horrific. And we need to make sure that people around the world know why this is such an important challenge that we need to confront.
QUESTION: And along with his tweets, he put out a statement, part of which reads – and I’m quoting here – we look – that as this horror is unfolding before our eyes in Syria, the thought that haunts him, he says, is “that we will continue to do nothing meaningful about it,” and that “it calls into question the moral sources of our great power and the foundations of our global leadership.” I know you say haven’t seen it, but --
MS. HARF: It won’t surprise you that I disagree with that statement. And I would take issue with the first part and the second part. The first idea – what was the first part, that we’re doing nothing?
QUESTION: That we’re doing nothing meaningful about it.
MS. HARF: Okay. So I think we’ve been doing quite a few things that are meaningful. We have put the full diplomatic weight of the United States behind getting a political, diplomatic transition here in Syria. We have worked with the UN and the Russians to get both parties to the table. Today, they sat down at the table together. This is progress. There’s so much more work to be done, but we are heavily engaged in a very complicated process. So I would really take issue with the notion that we’re doing nothing. On the humanitarian side, we are the leading donor of humanitarian aid. We have pushed to get the UN to do something. We’ve pushed to get the Russians to push the Syrian regime to do something. And we’ve also negotiated an agreement to get rid of their chemical weapons. Again, this is hard, right? When a regime is willing to do what the Syrian regime has done to its own people, there are no easy answers. And I would challenge someone like Senator McCain to say what we should be doing. Because the alternatives, quite frankly, don’t present a lot of good options either. So we are undertaking what we think we can do diplomatically with the international community to help resolve this issue, while, as Jen said, I think yesterday, not taking options off of the table.
What was the second part that I disagreed with, remind me?
QUESTION: And it was sort of more of a philosophical argument that “it calls into question the moral sources of our great power.” So I was just curious to get your take on that assessment.
MS. HARF: Well, without trying to guess what he actually means by that, I think right now you see the United States deeply engaged in three intense, in some cases crisis-driven negotiations in the Middle East peace right now precisely because we are standing up for our principles and for our values and for our interests, whether that’s with the Syrian conflict, trying against the incredibly difficult odds to get a diplomatic solution here; whether it’s with Iran, where next week we go to Vienna to try and get a diplomatic solution to one of the biggest challenges we face today; or with Middle East, to try, after decades and decades, to make progress to finally bring peace to this region, to Israel, and to get a Palestinian state. I think that the notion that the United States is not exercising moral authority in the region is just not in any way based in the facts there happening.
QUESTION: Would you think that – do you think that anything short of massive airstrikes by the United States of America against the Syrian regime forces would be meaningful enough for Senator McCain?
MS. HARF: I don’t even want to guess what would be meaningful for Senator McCain. What I know is the people in this building, the people on the ground, are doing what we can to help resolve this conflict, to support the people of Syria, and to move the process forward. It’s painstaking, it’s complicated. It – at the end of the day, on the diplomatic side – is a UN-led process, but we are putting our full diplomatic weight behind that effort.
QUESTION: But isn’t there anything you or your allies can do to make the regime stop using barrel bombs and air force to bomb the civilians?
MS. HARF: Again, we have been very clear in condemning this action. We have asked the Russians to push the Syrian regime not to do these kind of things, because in fact, they do have some leverage over the Syrian regime. But again, at the end of the day, we can’t impose outcomes here. We can try and move the process forward – because, quite frankly, when a regime is willing and able to brutalize its own people, you don’t have a lot of really good or easy options, which is why it’s a complicated process and it’s taken so many months to even get the two sides to the table. We will be very clear in condemning this action when it happens. We will speak up against it when it happens. We will work with the international community to end this crisis for exactly that reason, because it needs to stop.
QUESTION: And just one more.
QUESTION: And if the Russians – sorry – if the Russians didn’t deliver – and they didn’t so far – what are you planning to do?
MS. HARF: Obviously, we are always deciding what we’ll – what kinds of policies we’ll undertake, and we’re looking at what options we have. We’re focused right now on the diplomatic side in Geneva II and that process, in possibly getting a Security Council resolution on humanitarian access, and on moving that process forward. We’re committed to that right now. But we’re always looking at the situation, seeing if there’s something else or something more we could be doing.
QUESTION: This came up during the aftermath of the chemical weapons attacks, but what about the responsibility to protect, something which Ambassador Power has long championed? What is it going to take for the United States and its allies to stop a government from attacking its own citizens under the guise of trying to restore order or, crassly, to stay in power?
MS. HARF: Well, quite frankly, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do by getting a diplomatic solution. I would turn the question back and say: What would people suggest the international community do? A full-scale military invasion, operations? That’s not – responsibility to protect is a principle that does not predicate a certain outcome or a certain policy response. Part of responsibility to protect is how you end conflicts quickly. We think the best way to do that is at the negotiating table, and we don’t think there’s a military solution. So while I know it’s easy for people to say, “Oh, but you believe in R2P and you’ve spoken very forcefully for it,” yes, that is true, but part of that, incumbent upon that principle, is figuring out the best way with the least suffering, hopefully, to end these kind of conflicts. We believe that’s diplomatically. We believe that it’s the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Marie, the --
QUESTION: But now we’re going into the fourth year, and so it kind of begs the question. Certainly, the whole notion of R2P came out Rwanda, in which in a very short amount of time tens of thousands of people were killed simply because they were of the wrong ethnicity. Now we’re talking about a war that is going into its fourth year. We’ve seen chemical weapons used. Now we’re seeing conventional weapons that are pretty devastating in their impact. What else is it going – are we going to see here?
MS. HARF: Until what?
QUESTION: Until --
MS. HARF: There’s not a magic answer here.
QUESTION: Until it stops. Until it stops. I mean, it doesn’t seem as if --
MS. HARF: But that’s a theoretical question. That’s not a policy suggestion. That’s a: Oh, well, why can’t you snap your fingers and do one thing? And if you guys were just doing X you could stop this. This is not – these are not the same things. Rwanda is not identical to Syria, is not identical to any other situation. Each situation requires different policy tools.
We believe here that the best policy tool we can use is diplomacy, backed by a credible threat of force and – which we did in terms of chemical weapons. We talked about it a lot. That’s how we believe we can move this process forward. These are very different situations. And I know it’s easy to say we believe in a principle, therefore we should be doing X. Although, quite frankly, I don’t hear anyone saying what X should be, other then we should fix it --
QUESTION: But, Marie --
MS. HARF: -- which is not an easy or realistic answer.
QUESTION: -- you’ve just said that because of the military threat you were able to achieve an agreement on the chemical weapons.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Why don’t you use the military threat to stop the barrel bombs, too?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that all options remain on the table for dealing with this. But we believe the best policy we can pursue is a diplomatic solution here, that getting entrenched militarily in another country in the Middle East isn’t actually promoting our interests or our values. What we need to do is get a diplomatic solution to stop what’s happening on the ground, and that’s what we’re committed to right now.
MS. HARF: Yes, we can. And I – just a couple more.
QUESTION: Yeah, a couple more very quickly. Ali Salehi, the Iranian negotiator, challenged the IAEA today to present --
MS. HARF: Which Iranian negotiator?
MS. HARF: Yes. Sorry. I missed the beginning of that.
QUESTION: He said – right. So he challenged the International Atomic Agency to present any evidence that they are – that Iran is not abiding by international protocols and so on. Do you have any response to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see his specific comments. We’re obviously focused on going to Vienna next week and starting the comprehensive round of negotiations on the 18th. Obviously, the IAEA is a huge component of this. They’ve been working with the Iranians. As part of these comprehensive negotiations, we’re going to talk about all the issues, all of the international community’s concerns, which are well spelled out by both the IAEA and in UN Security Council resolutions and elsewhere. So we know what the issues are, we know how much work we have to do, but we’ll see what we can get done starting next week.
QUESTION: The negotiations in Vienna – how long? Is it only two days or it’s going to be --
MS. HARF: I think we’re scheduled to be there for a few days. We’ll see what’s happening on the ground. The past rounds usually lasted for a few days, then we’d come home and then go back. So I don’t have specifics on timing, but I expect we’ll be there for a few days.
MS. HARF: Oh, I’ll go here, and then to you, Roz. Sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. Okay.
MS. HARF: You haven’t gotten one yet.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can we move to Central Africa?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. We can.
QUESTION: On Iran, please.
MS. HARF: Okay, one more on Iran. Yes.
QUESTION: Treasury said last week that it designated a person who works for al-Qaida in Iran.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And with knowledge of the Iranian authorities. Has ever this issue come up during meetings and between officials from the U.S. and Iran, like Under Secretary Sherman?
MS. HARF: Well, the additional designations, or this one specifically?
QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to see if you ever talk to the Iranians that they are knowingly – knowing about the al-Qaida working from Iran. And what do you say to them?
MS. HARF: Well, the conversations that Under Secretary Sherman has with the Iranians are on the nuclear issue. We’ve been very clear publicly that we will continue to designate Iran – under currently existing sanctions Iran for its human rights violations, support for terrorism. I think those are some of the designations you saw last week. We did pre-notify them before we took these designations last week. But Under Secretary Sherman’s conversations have just been about the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: Do you have any further comments on the relationship in between Iran and al-Qaida?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more analysis on this for you at this point. I know it’s been a little bit of a complicated history. I’m happy to see if I have more to share.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Go for it.
QUESTION: The United Nations and Amnesty International used very strong words to describe the situation on the ground. They say that an ethnic cleansing is taking place.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The French president was here yesterday said himself that the French military were there to prevent a genocide. So, one, does the U.S. share their views? I mean, in other words, you’re seeing that an ethnic cleansing is taking place there? And two, do you support the Central African president, who said that they will go to war against the Christian militias?
MS. HARF: Well, we reiterate, and I’ll reiterate today, that we are deeply concerned by attacks on both Muslims and Christians. This violence, this cycle of violence, needs to stop. We, along with the French and the MISCA forces on the ground, are closely monitoring the situation. We will continue to work with the transitional president, with international humanitarian and human rights organizations, to prevent further violence. Again, we’re going to continue – excuse me – to carefully monitor the situation, and when we have more to share about our assessment on that, I’m happy to do so.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on India. The – today and tomorrow there is – there are hearings going on on the trade and on solar products and all, and there’s (inaudible). How do you see that these trade disputes affecting your efforts to bring the two countries together?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not familiar with exactly you’re referring to, so let me check with our folks and see if they can give me some details on this.
QUESTION: And do you have any update on the agenda of the ambassador’s meeting?
MS. HARF: No updates from yesterday.
QUESTION: Oh. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Just do a few more, because then I have to, unfortunately, hop off.
QUESTION: U.S. military in Kabul is saying that unless something changes at the last second, 65 fighters are going to be released from Afghan prison tomorrow, and they are extremely concerned because they say that these men should be tried for attacking coalition forces, for attacking Afghan forces and civilians. They’ve been engaged in a very public campaign --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- to try to keep these men locked up --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- as well as criticizing the Afghan Government for not doing more to actually make good on trying these men for their alleged crimes. What have U.S. diplomats been saying to Kabul about the situation, and does the U.S. believe that there is an increased threat now that seems to be on the horizon, especially to U.S. personnel who are in country?
MS. HARF: Well, we have expressed our concerns over the planned release of these individuals. These individuals are dangerous. They pose threats to the safety and security of the Afghan people and the Afghan state, which is what I would say in terms of the threat that they pose. There is information linking each of them to terror-related crimes, including the use of improvised explosive devices, which, again, to turn it around from the U.S., are the largest killer of Afghan civilians.
So we have been concerned because of how the cases were considered by the Afghan criminal justice system. We’ve made that very clear publicly and privately. And again, I know nothing has happened yet, but we’ve been very clear about our position on this.
QUESTION: On the lack of prosecution of these men --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- even though the Afghans have argued we don’t see the evidence, we don’t see any reason why they should be held, does the U.S. feel at this moment that the years of trying to develop, as part of civil society, a functioning judiciary has been a waste of time if the political will isn’t there to actually put it to good use?
MS. HARF: No, we would not say that it’s been a waste of time. It’s certainly been a priority for us. I wouldn’t sort of draw broader conclusions about our efforts to build up the judiciary there. This is a case where there are folks that they’re planning to release and we believe they should not be because they pose a threat.
QUESTION: Is there any way of holding the government of Hamid Karzai responsible if, in the coming days and weeks, there is an uptick in violence that affects coalition forces, Afghan citizens, Afghan Government officials that can somehow be linked to the release of these men?
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I’m happy to check with our folks and see. Obviously, that’s a concern of ours, so we’ve made very clear that if they’re released, there is a potential that they could harm Afghan citizens, which, of course, should be a concern, I think, for the Afghan Government.
QUESTION: Can we stay on the continent?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Ambassador Kennedy is in Okinawa.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to tell us about the meetings she’s been in?
MS. HARF: A little bit. Let me see what I have. She’s visiting Okinawa from February 12th to 14th. Today she met with the governor and other leadership, laid flowers at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, and engaged in cultural and people-to-people activities, including visiting a high school. Tomorrow, Ambassador Kennedy will meet with U.S. military leadership, and tomorrow night she will return to Tokyo.
QUESTION: There are also reports that she met with the mayor of Nago --
MS. HARF: She did meet briefly with the mayor prior to a reception I guess they were attending.
QUESTION: Yeah. And he asked her – the reports are that he asked her to convey the Okinawan people’s strong opposition to the relocation of the base to President Obama.
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details about their discussion. Let me see if I can get some more.
QUESTION: So the newspapers of Okinawa also wrote editorials strongly expressing their opposition to the relocation. And one of the points they made was that, given that Ambassador Kennedy tweeted her opposition to the drive hunting of dolphins, that why shouldn’t she not also be concerned about the endangered species that are threatened in Henoko Bay if the base is built? What’s your response?
MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks about the environmental impacts and the questions that you say are raised in these editorials. I know we’ve been in discussions about relocation for a number of reasons for a long time. Let me just check and see if I have more on this.
QUESTION: Last question on that.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Is there any more thinking at the State Department about how to overcome the opposition within Okinawa to the base removal? I think the last poll --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- was 70 percent of residents are opposed to it.
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, we’ve been working with the leadership there to try and get this relocation done, so I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s more on this. And we can talk it about tomorrow either here or over the phone if it snows.
QUESTION: That would be great. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Yes. I just have time for a few more. I’m sorry. Lara.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: You might actually have fun with this one.
MS. HARF: This has all been fun. What are you talking about?
QUESTION: This will be really fun. Apparently, there was a decision made by the State Department protocol office for the seating of last night’s state dinner --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- that put Stephen Colbert two seats down from President Hollande, even though Colbert made some pretty withering remarks --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- recently about the French president’s love life. I don’t know why I’m looking at you when I --
MS. HARF: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: We talked about this in person. (Laughter.) Anyway, I’m just – apparently, this has upset some people in France.
MS. HARF: Really?
QUESTION: Apparently. And so I’m just wondering --
MS. HARF: I was not aware – I am sorry to say I was not aware of this. I’m happy to check and see how seating was done. Is that what you’re asking?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: If you could please ask what – how that decision for the seating was made.
MS. HARF: Well, the White – I will check, but honestly, the White House, obviously, this is their state dinner. I think they’re the ones who do seating, so --
QUESTION: They kicked it to you.
MS. HARF: So I’m going to kick it back to them.
MS. HARF: But no, I’ll talk to them and see what I can do. I hadn’t heard that.
QUESTION: I wonder about that --
MS. HARF: Two more.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you believe that there is an unfair – maybe unnecessary amount of Russia bashing, Putin bashing, Sochi bashing, that in a way undermines the accomplishments which are really fantastic of American athletes thus far?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not really sure what bashing you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Well, by U.S. officials and the media, and so on.
MS. HARF: Well, we have – we certainly --
QUESTION: There is a great deal of negative stuff.
MS. HARF: I don’t think any U.S. officials that I’ve heard have been bashing, to use your term, the Olympics or the Russians. We’ve actually said quite candidly that we’ve been working with the Russians on security, that they’re in charge of security --
QUESTION: Well, not only security. I mean, almost every – in every aspect they have been (inaudible) --
MS. HARF: Well, I’ll say a few things.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) conditions, there’s been some reports of snarkiness, right?
MS. HARF: Some – I would never be snarky. I just want to go on record as saying that. Look, we’ve been very clear that we’re working with the Russians. This is a huge honor to host the Games. We’re very proud of our athletes. Every day I get up here and talk about a different one. But we’ve also – when we’ve had concerns about thing like the LGBT law, we’ve made that clear too. So obviously we’re proud of the Olympics, we’re proud of being a part of it. I would certainly say that we’ve worked with the Russians very closely on making sure these Games are safe. But at the end of the day it’s up to the Russians.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
MS. HARF: I know of Reporters Without Borders, yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So it’s a media watchdog. They have issued today their so-called World Press Freedom Index --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- and the U.S. is criticized, singled out mainly for the Snowden WikiLeaks controversies, and also for the secret seizure of phone records from the Associated Press.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: So do you believe that’s --
MS. HARF: Now you’re pointing at Lara. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Do you believe that it’s a fair assessment of the state of the press freedom in America?
MS. HARF: Well, having not seen the report, I’m happy to take a look at it. Obviously, press freedom is enshrined in our Constitution and it’s something we take very seriously. And without being too glib, I mean, we come up here for a reason every day, because we think it’s important, right, to talk to the press about the whole host of issues, even when the questions are difficult and uncomfortable sometimes.
In terms of Snowden and WikiLeaks, we also take oaths and obligations as government employees not to disclose classified information. We believe there should be an open and honest discussion about these issues, but there is a legal way to do so and that you don’t get to break the law just because you don’t agree with something. So that’s not – in our minds, that’s not a press freedom issue, that’s a legal issue. Again, it’s enshrined our Constitution. It’s one of the things we talk about all over world. So those are probably my initial assessment of that, but I’m happy to take a look at it and chat more about it tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)
DPB # 28