2:20 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. Happy Valentine’s Day.
QUESTION: Happy Valentine’s Day.
MS. HARF: I know we all want to spend it together here. Quick things at the top, and then we’ll open it up for questions.
Just a quick readout of Secretary Kerry’s meetings in China: On February 14th and then extending into tomorrow, Secretary Kerry visited China, met with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li, State Councilor Yang, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. In Beijing, Secretary Kerry stressed that the United States is committed to building bilateral relations based on practical and tangible cooperation and constructive management of differences. He reiterates that the United States welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China that plays a responsible role in world affairs.
The Secretary raised human rights concerns as well, as we always do. The Secretary discussed regional issues, including our shared commitment towards a denuclearized North Korea, and had a frank and honest conversation about maritime issues in the East China and South China Seas. The Secretary emphasized the importance of U.S.-China collaboration on climate change and clean energy. Tomorrow he will be in Beijing, and then of course continues on to Jakarta.
And I think we have some photos for today’s athlete of the day. It’s cross country skier Kikkan Randall of Anchorage, Alaska. Sochi marks her fourth appearance as a competitor in the Olympic Games. She’s one of the most accomplished American women in the history of her sport. In 2009, she won the silver medal in the individual sprint at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, becoming the first American woman to medal at a world championship, which is great. In 2013, she won the gold medal in the team sprint at the world championships. When she’s not competing, she’s a leader with Fast and Female, an organization focused on encouraging girls to stay involved in sports, link them with positive female role models, and empower them with inspiration and confidence.
On Tuesday, Kikkan missed a chance to compete in the medal round of the women’s individual sprint by .05 of a second, but she’s looking forward to February 19th, when she’ll compete in the team sprint, where I’m happy to say the Americans are among the favorites. So she’s our athlete of the day.
MS. HARF: With sparkles on. I like it.
QUESTION: It’s Valentine’s.
MS. HARF: It’s Valentine’s Day. Get us started.
QUESTION: All right. Sparkly topic of ambassadors.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Two questions: One, Senator Begich of Alaska says that the State Department is prepared to name an ambassador for the Arctic region. I just wanted to get your comment to confirm if that’s true, and who is it?
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I know it’s a topic we’ve been focused on. I don’t have any personnel announcements to make, but we may very well at some point soon. But nothing to announce at this point.
QUESTION: Do you think that will come today? He seems to think it’s coming today.
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to announce at this point, but hopefully we’ll be able to say something soon.
QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, the American Foreign Service Association – I’m sure you’re aware of the group --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- is preparing four guidelines on nominations of ambassadors to make sure that ambassadors are fully qualified and to make sure that their qualifications are apparent writ large publicly. As I understand the process now, some of the nominees’ qualifications, or their CVs, anyway, go up to Senate Foreign Relations, and it’s not always public exactly what their full qualifications are, for lack of a better term.
MS. HARF: Hmm.
QUESTION: Anyways, the group is very careful to say this is not pegged around any one particular nominee. However, obviously, with the nominees to Argentina and Norway being in the news recently, it does raise some questions over how are these people selected? To what extent is campaign contributions a factor in their nominations? And so first, I want – just wanted to see if, one, the State Department has received those four guidelines, and if – what they are at this point, and then two, how can the State Department ensure that the public has confidence that people who are nominated for these important jobs are really the best people for them?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. Well, a few points. Obviously, ambassadorial nominations are a process that the White House drives, right? These are White House nominees. So in terms of process points, right, they’re a key part of this process. Obviously, they represent the State Department overseas as well. Not to my knowledge have we received these guidelines that you mention. I actually wasn’t aware of this, and I can check with our folks and see.
But we believe when an ambassadorial nomination is announced by the White House, they put out information on their background that’s pertinent to the job that they are being nominated for, whether that’s business experience, a whole host of private sector think tanks, whatever that experience is. That’s released publicly. And then they, of course, also have a hearing – an open, public nomination hearing, which is a chance for the committee to ask them questions.
So again, we’ve talked a lot about this. This is not a new topic. It seems like every Administration gets asked why sometimes some of your ambassadorial nominees have been involved in fundraising in the past. It’s not a new issue. We stand by our nominees – the President does, and the Secretary does. And I would say that either giving or not giving money doesn’t affect either way. It doesn’t make you more or less qualified, right? I understand why it’s interesting to focus on for some folks, but we believe all of our nominees are incredibly qualified.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION India. Of course, Ambassador Nancy Powell met with Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. My question is that – was she carrying any letter from the President or Secretary, a kind of paper visa for him to invite the – to the U.S., or any policy change in the U.S. mind as far as you --
MS. HARF: No. No. She – as we’ve said for several days now, this was a meeting as part of her broader and the embassy’s broader outreach to a whole host of political actors in India. So I think we’ve made that very clear for a couple days now, and that’s certainly been consistent.
QUESTION: But in the past, he was not welcomed, or nobody ever went to meet with him, or they were not willing to meet with him. But his party leaders at the highest level, including the president of BJP and the secretaries and among other peoples, and from the BJP and from the Congress Party, they all visited by U.S. But he was invited at three occasions here to speak at the University of Pennsylvania, also by the Gujarati community, but he was denied visa or he was not welcome to the U.S.
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points – and I didn’t hear a question, but let me just make a few points. That’s actually not true. Our current consul general in Mumbai and previous CGs have met with Chief Minister Modi, so to say no American officials have actually isn’t correct. And in terms of his visa, as we have said repeatedly when individuals apply for a U.S. visa, their applications are reviewed in accordance with U.S. law and policy. That would be the case here, as it would be with anyone else.
QUESTION: Let me ask you one more finally, quickly.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Was there any policy against or about Chief Minister Modi not to visit the U.S.? Any kind of policy ever?
MS. HARF: Visa applications are – which is what, obviously, we would talk about here – are looked at on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with the regulations that govern them, and that has been the case in the past and will be going forward as well.
QUESTION: And now, after meeting with the ambassador, is he welcome now to the U.S.?
MS. HARF: Again, this is part of our broader outreach in India to a host of political actors – NGOs, others – leading up to the elections, and we will work with whoever the Indian people choose.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When will he be making his policy recommendations to the President? He made the point that he had not as yet.
MS. HARF: Well, I think people are reading a lot into those comments, so let me tease them out a little bit. It’s – throughout the entire crisis in Syria, we are consistently and constantly reevaluating our policy. It would be crazy to think that we’re not, right? It has to – whether it’s what we’re talking about in terms of the Geneva process, whether it’s what we want to push for at the Security Council, I mean, these are ongoing policy discussions, right? And he’s in constant communication with folks at the White House, including the President, about the way forward in Syria. So I think people are maybe overplaying what he said a little bit to say that there’s a specific policy review underway and everyone is going to present three policies, and then we’re going to make a decision. That process is constant, and it’s been constantly ongoing, and he’s been engaged in dialogue for – since he’s gotten here, certainly, and even before.
QUESTION: Yeah. He said that there’s the evaluation that’s sort of rolling there, but he also made the point that when – and he said, when the President calls for the options, there will be discussion; no presentations yet.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: So that says it’s not just a rolling process, that there is actually --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s both.
QUESTION: -- something to be presented.
MS. HARF: No, no, no. I think you’re reading a little bit too much into what he said. It’s both. Right, there is a rolling process. But, look, if the President calls and says, “Give me three options to deal with X,” right, then of course we’ll give options. But it’s also a rolling process. There are constantly meetings, as you can imagine, with senior people to talk about what our options are in Syria.
QUESTION: So he doesn’t plan to make some new recommendation from the State Department on policy proposals in the next days or weeks?
MS. HARF: We’re constantly making new proposals on what we should be doing – what we should do coming out of Geneva II, this round; what we should do going forward. It’s – again, it’s an ongoing process that’s underway right now. And I don’t know if he will be making any new proposals coming out of this round of talks. We may be. But again, that would not be unusual.
QUESTION: But he did suggest, though, that there’s a kind of fork in the road in terms of a recognition that there needs to be some type of – whether it’s policy review or a new policy, and this also comes on the heels of his discussions with senators in Munich and congressmen in Munich where he was quite candid about the fact that he feels as if the situation on the ground has gotten away from the policy.
MS. HARF: Well, I think, in terms of Munich, the way his comments were characterized was wholly at odds with what he actually said. So (a) --
QUESTION: Even if his comments were --
MS. HARF: No, no, no, but (b) I don’t think that’s what he was meaning to convey, that there was some fork in the road coming. Obviously --
QUESTION: Today, you mean?
MS. HARF: Correct. Yes, yes, correct. At his press conference today. Look, the President was clear and the Secretary’s been clear that we haven’t – we are nowhere close to getting where we need to be, that we have to try new things and see how we – what we can do differently to try and get this resolved. I really don’t think that he was trying to convey that there’s some moment coming up where we have to do A or B. Obviously, we’re reevaluating all the time what we’re doing. And if we come out of this round of talks and haven’t seen progress, obviously we need to reevaluate what we’ll do going forward. That’s always has it works.
QUESTION: But even if his comments were misconstrued in Munich --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- several congressmen that were in the room said that Secretary Kerry expressed the feeling that the policy was not working. I mean, whether it was exaggerated that he said failure or whatever, there was a candid discussion about the fact that this policy is not working and that the U.S. needed to seek new policy options.
MS. HARF: Again – well – and it’s – everything the Secretary says has been consistent with what you saw the President say in his press conference with President Hollande this week, that clearly diplomacy hasn’t gotten us where we need to be yet. Nobody’s – I mean, we’re looking at a situation where we have a diplomatic process in place that hasn’t achieved the outcome. So yes, by definition, that hasn’t worked yet.
But we believe that the process we are pursuing, that we are committed to through the Geneva II diplomatic process, is the right one.
MS. HARF: Nobody’s questioning whether or not that should be the right one going forward.
QUESTION: What makes you think it’s the right one, given that the last two rounds the regime has really failed to engage on what you call the – and the opposition calls the main kind of goal of this process, which is to talk about a transitional government?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: To my knowledge, they haven’t even acknowledged that a transitional government is something they’re willing to consider.
MS. HARF: Well, I think a few points. The first is that we actually are not – you can’t judge the success of these negotiations by one or two rounds. We’ve always said this was going to take time, and if you look historically at other negotiated diplomatic settlements to conflicts, this takes a lot of time.
I think what I said two days ago, if I remember now, is that getting the two parties at the table together actually was progress. Getting other folks around the table committed to the Geneva communique is also progress. But it also – something I said very clearly earlier in the week, that when you have a regime that’s willing and able to kill its own people, this takes time.
And for us, the best solution out of this is a diplomatic solution. There’s no military solution here. I mean, if you think of all the options militarily, those would bring incredible – even more incredible suffering on the Syrian people. The best way to end their suffering is actually through a diplomatic solution. But we’re not naive about the fact that this will take some time.
QUESTION: Marie, what you’re saying seems a bit at odds with what the Secretary said today in terms of things getting remarkably worse in recent weeks --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and what the UN ambassador said yesterday --
MS. HARF: No, we --
QUESTION: -- which was that there’s a huge cost. In fact, she said – Ambassador Power said 5,000 people have been killed in three weeks.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: She called it the most concentrated period of killing in the entire duration of the conflict.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: That was her quote. That was from when Kerry cut the ribbon in Montreux to kick this thing off.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: So there’s been actually a cost to the diplomatic process. I mean, one could argue that diplomatic cover has been given for Assad regime to further its strategy on the ground.
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points on that. The first is that, precisely because of the situation on the ground, as the President said and the Secretary said, because it’s been getting worse, this is why we need to end the conflict. This is why they need to get humanitarian access in and this is why we need a diplomatic solution here. Because if you look at the other options, right, beyond a diplomatic solution, what could have been done to prevent this killing, there aren’t a lot of good options here, right? The most durable one that is the best interest of the Syrian people is a diplomatic solution.
And yes, it is horrific that in the time we are negotiating more Syrians are being killed. But that’s not because we’re negotiating. We’re negotiating to end it. It’s because you have someone in charge of Syria who is willing and able to brutally kill his own people.
QUESTION: But what incentive does he have – I mean, obviously he doesn’t care about the Syrian people or --
MS. HARF: Clearly. Yeah.
QUESTION: So what I’m saying is what incentive does he have to negotiate or to stop the killing, given that you’ve very publicly taken the threat of military action off the table?
MS. HARF: That’s not true. We’ve said that all options still do remain on the table --
QUESTION: Well --
MS. HARF: -- that there’s no long-term military solution here.
QUESTION: But, I mean, given the – what incentive does he have to negotiate, when all really he sees are rhetoric and tweets and things that – absolutely no pressure. I mean, you said that even though you weren’t going to launch these strikes, which admittedly were to deal with the chemical weapons issue, that you were going to keep the pressure up on the regime to stop it from killing its people in other crude ways, outside of chemical weapons. So what pressure are you putting on the regime right now, other than sticks and stones?
MS. HARF: Well, one thing we’ve tried to do quite actively is work with the Russians, who do exercise quite a bit of leverage over the Syrian regime, to push them to stop the killing, to push them to negotiate, to push them to allow humanitarian access.
And one of the sort of premises that the Geneva negotiations were based on was that we would work with the opposition and the Russians would work with the regime to push both of our sides together. And you’ve seen the opposition come to Geneva, acting – cohesive, serious of purpose, and committed to moving Syria forward. We are asking the Russians, quite frankly, to do much more, because there aren’t that many countries that have leverage over the regime.
QUESTION: But don’t you – do you think that the Russians are just playing for time to allow the regime to continue its brutal crackdown on its people?
QUESTION: Using diplomatic cover?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MS. HARF: Well, again, we – I don’t want to guess what the motivations are the Russians are. We have said very clearly that if the Russians come out and talk about the importance of humanitarian access, they need to back up those words with actions. And that really involves, if we talk about the UNSCRs possibility --
QUESTION: Where is that? Where is the process in --
MS. HARF: We’re still in negotiations. Obviously, we think that the text we endorsed is the correct one. We’re working with the Russians and the P5+1 and other – or the – excuse me, the P5 – not talking about Iran here – the P5 and others to see if we can get a text.
But part of this is incumbent upon the Russians to push the Syrians to help move the negotiation process forward. And at the same time, we’ve kept options on the table and we are constantly reevaluating to see if there’s more we could do. We’re supporting the opposition. We’re working with them every day. But again – this is not just a line – there are no easy answers here. We’re trying to do everything we can to try and move the process forward.
QUESTION: Marie, when the Secretary says that President Obama has asked aides to develop new policy options, does he mean that the actual policy has failed? That’s why the President has asked for a new policy?
MS. HARF: No, I think that’s what I just said. We’re constantly reevaluating what we’re doing. We haven’t gotten where we wanted to be in terms of humanitarian access. We haven’t gotten where we wanted to be on the diplomatic side yet. And we’ve seen the CW process – progress – excuse me – stall a little bit. So the President and his national security team are constantly asking the members of the team to take a look at what we’re doing and present new options if they think they would be better.
QUESTION: You think that there are still new options? Do you have options? Or what kind of options are you considering?
MS. HARF: Well, what I’ve repeatedly said is there are no easy options here and no easy answers here, and people who on the outside say, “If we just did x or y, we could solve it,” it’s just intellectually dishonest at best. But we’re not going to detail the kind of internal conversations we’re having about additional policy options we might consider.
QUESTION: Do you think – one more on Geneva II.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you think that you made a mistake in convening Geneva II, bringing the Syrians to Geneva, before solving the difference between Russia and the United States regarding the Geneva communique?
MS. HARF: I think the fact that we have both parties at the table for the first time since this conflict began is, by definition, a good thing, and we wanted to get this process started as soon as it was feasible to do so. If we had resolved everyone’s differences, there would be no reason for a negotiation, right?
QUESTION: But the Russians are still insisting to discuss terrorism or fighting terrorism in Syria, and you are insisting on creating the transitional body?
MS. HARF: Well, those are part of the Security Council discussions, but to be clear, the discussions in Geneva are between the regime, the opposition, and the UN. We and the Russians are serving as – I mean, advisors is too strong a term – but working with the opposition and the Russians to help them in the negotiations, but we’re not a party to those negotiations.
QUESTION: But how long can you call this a negotiation, if there’s no real negotiating going on? And how --
MS. HARF: There absolutely is. Today Special Representative Brahimi met with each side.
QUESTION: He met with each side, but --
MS. HARF: Yes, those are discussions. I mean, what, do people think that a three-year-old civil war, we have two rounds of meetings at the Intercon in Geneva and, oh, suddenly, it’s going to be solved?
QUESTION: No, but I consider that both parties need to be there willing to engage on the issues --
MS. HARF: Well, in a perfect world --
QUESTION: -- that are on the agenda. I mean, what would --
MS. HARF: -- that would – in a perfect world, of course that would be the case. We have both parties in Geneva at the table. Today, they met separately with Mr. Brahimi; he’s deciding where to go from here. But again, this will not happen overnight. This will take months. This will take a very long time.
QUESTION: But people are dying. People are dying.
QUESTION: Look, even Brahimi himself had said – has voiced frustration with the process, and there is a real serious doubt over whether he thinks he can continue. And --
MS. HARF: So the alternative is doing nothing?
QUESTION: I – it’s not my job to come up with the alternative. I’m just questioning you on your policy.
MS. HARF: No, I’m just – and I’m saying why we believe our policy, while the situation is very difficult, is the best one forward.
QUESTION: How long do you think you can cite getting them in the same room and sitting at the same table as progress if there’s no progress from there?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we aren’t part of all the discussions. They are talking about a lot of the issues on the table. And what we’ve said is we will reevaluate coming out of this round how we move forward. That’s exactly what Special Representative Brahimi is trying to determine right now – coming out of this round, what do we do next? Where do we meet? When do we meet? All of that.
So again, it – we are invested in diplomatic process because, while difficult and while imperfect, we believe it is the best chance we have and the most durable way we can get a transition in Syria, that there are no easy policy options that could solve this. We believe this is the way to do so. And there are going to be many, many, many bumps in the road, but we believe it’s important to try and to be a part of it, even though we don’t see as much progress as we’d like to. So it’s either are we there at the table or are we not, and those are the two questions, right? Right now, we believe it’s important to invest in this process.
QUESTION: But is the status quo an option? Like when Secretary Kerry said options may or may not exist, and he said that today --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- that also suggests that this – there may be no other option available, that this may be the policy --
MS. HARF: Well, this is the policy.
QUESTION: -- while you have this rolling evaluation. There may not be another option.
MS. HARF: Well, what he said and what we’ve said – and I know we’re parsing the Secretary’s words quite a bit, but – is that we have a policy. We are committed on the diplomatic side to the Geneva process. We are constantly reevaluating that policy because, as you rightly point out, it hasn’t gotten us to where need to be. We have not made as much progress as we should have.
So those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. We’re committed to our policy, but it’s incumbent upon us, quite frankly, and the rest of the international community to constantly be reevaluating that policy to see if there’s something better or more we could be doing.
QUESTION: And at what point does this Geneva process just become a fig leaf for being forced to do something else?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a good question. I think I don’t want to make predictions about that and what this might look like going forward. I think right now what we’re focused on, what we think is important, is Special Representative Brahimi determining how to – what to do next, quite frankly. And we are taking it, in some ways, day by day.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov was critical indirectly of the U.S. today --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- saying that the Geneva talks shouldn’t focus only on the transitional governing body. I mean, and he’s supporting the Syrian side. I mean, how is Brahimi going to launch a negotiation if the Russians are not cooperating with you --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- on what the negotiation should focus on?
MS. HARF: Well, I think his comments were, quite frankly, a little puzzling because Russia came to the table in the Geneva talks also committed to implementing the Geneva I communique. So that’s our goal. We’ll continue having conversations with the Russians, but I think they were, quite frankly, a little puzzling.
QUESTION: Well, why not – I mean, obviously, terrorism is a problem --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- not just that the regime is concerned about, but it’s a problem that you’re concerned about.
MS. HARF: I don’t think the regime is concerned about it. I think they say they are to use it as cover for killing their own people.
QUESTION: Okay, well, why not test that theory? And if that’s the one thing that is a problem for everybody, why can’t you talk about terrorism and have that be some common ground to build upon?
MS. HARF: Because when we say terrorism and they say terrorism, we mean very different things – that we talk about the terrorist threat that is a direct result of the security situation the Syrian regime has allowed to fester and happen inside its own country. The fact that they have started brutalizing their own people and allowed these terrorist groups to flourish in Syria is a direct result of their own actions. They often use the term “terrorist” as cover for anyone on the opposition.
QUESTION: But it seems --
MS. HARF: So when they use the term and we use it, we use it very differently.
QUESTION: It seems as if ISIL is – or ISIS or whatever they’re calling themselves, is the one common enemy of everybody, though. So why not talk about --
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say that ISIS is a – I don’t think the regime necessarily sees ISIS as a common enemy. In fact, I think some of the things they’ve done have allowed ISIS to flourish, quite frankly, which the Secretary has spoken to as well.
QUESTION: Marie, after the trilateral meeting yesterday, Brahimi has said that the U.S. and Russia have promised to help to push forward the negotiations.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: First, what are you planning to do to help these negotiations? And second, how can Russia help to push this – these negotiations too?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, the sort of premise of this is that we would work with the opposition and the Russians would work with the regime to help as they negotiate with each other, and we’re willing to --
QUESTION: Yeah, practically --
MS. HARF: Practically – well, that is both theoretically and practically. That’s why Ambassador Ford and team are there on the ground right now literally – and Ambassador Sherman – literally talking to the opposition. We are constantly pushing on the Russians to push the regime, because there’s only so much we can do, right? They are really the ones who have influence over the regime. So practically speaking, that’s what we’re doing on the ground.
And the real question that I was speaking to with Elise is what comes next, and I think Brahimi needs to make some decisions about what will come next, and we’ll make decisions as well.
QUESTION: And to what extent the Russians are cooperative with you and with Brahimi to push the regime?
MS. HARF: I think that it’s kind of a mixed bag, quite frankly. There are some ways we’ve been able to work with the Russians, but clearly, the Russians need to push the Syrian regime much more than they have. So I think we are waiting to see if they’ll do so.
QUESTION: And final question for me: Do you think that the U.S. has run out of options towards Syria?
MS. HARF: No, I don’t think the U.S. ever runs out of options. We have the most diplomatic, military, and economic tools of any country in the world to bring to bear on these kind of crises, which I think should demonstrate how difficult this one is, that with all of our tools and the international community’s tools, it’s a really tough problem to solve.
So we never – the United States doesn’t ever run out of options. It’s about picking the best tool for this particular conflict. So each conflict is different. Different tools we think are more important, or more effective, I should say. And what we’ve said is it’s pressure through the international community, through Security Council resolutions, through sanctions, through working with the Russians, it’s trying to get humanitarian access in, it’s supporting the opposition, and it’s trying to push the diplomatic process forward. That’s the best way we can help at this point.
QUESTION: But where’s the pressure, though? I just don’t see where the pressure is. I mean, there was pressure two and a half years ago when you were continuing to put on sanctions and those type of things. But I think that – I mean --
MS. HARF: Well, the Syrian regime, to be clear, is incredibly diplomatically isolated. I mean, if you look around the table at the Geneva II conference, every single party at that table except for the regime supports the Geneva I communique – the entire region, countries throughout Europe, the rest – so Syria basically, right, works with Iran and works with Russia at this point.
QUESTION: Well, don’t you --
QUESTION: But militarily, it is not isolated.
MS. HARF: Actually, I think the Syrian regime is quite isolated at this point. Obviously, there’s no military solution here, because they do have, as I’ve said repeatedly, the ability to kill civilians. That’s just a fact, right, which is why we don’t think there’s a military solution here. We think the only solution is diplomatic, as tough and as piecemeal as this is going to have to be.
QUESTION: Marie, the way you’ve been characterizing these – the gradual and ongoing discussing of the options --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- really does jibe. And I know we’re parsing his words, but that’s what we have to go on. So it really does jibe with the Secretary’s characterization of this as these options have not been presented and they will. So why do you account --
MS. HARF: No. New options that he was thinking about in his head in response to a question haven’t been presented, but do you think the Secretary for months hasn’t been presenting options to the White House about what he thinks we should do? That’s his job.
QUESTION: So but rhetorically, though, how do you account for the difference in the way you’re charactering it, and the way --
MS. HARF: There’s not a difference. I just don’t think there is one. I think you’re reading things into his words that quite frankly just aren’t there.
QUESTION: There’s a report now on the wires that the UN is worried that the regime is preparing to launch a huge attack on a city called Yabroud --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- military Yabroud.
MS. HARF: I can check with our folks and see if we think that’s something --
QUESTION: Is there anything that the UN and the United States can do to prevent more killing?
MS. HARF: Let me see if – check with our team. I haven’t seen those reports. I’m happy to look into it.
Yeah. Syria? Syria? New topic?
MS. HARF: It is.
QUESTION: -- and so everybody seemed to agree that the national reconciliation talks have failed, but the repression continues. And the U.S. is criticized by human rights groups for not doing enough in Bahrain to try to resolve the crisis, so what is the state of you conversation with the regime there?
MS. HARF: Well, without getting into details about what we talked to the regime about, just a few points here. We do – we have seen the opposition at many times be receptive to initiatives, working with the government in terms of resuming a dialogue in Bahrain. Obviously, we believe that dialogue is the critical mechanism to move beyond the current period of unrest, and we would encourage all parts of Bahraini society to participate in such a dialogue.
Look, a few other points. Obviously, we would call on security forces to exercise restraint as we see some of these demonstrations, but also would condemn all acts of violence in Bahrain. And we are concerned that some Bahrainis have embraced a path of violence at the expense of this dialogue process that we think is so important. So we would encourage both sides to refrain from violence and show restraint, and try to move the dialogue forward.
QUESTION: I have another one.
MS. HARF: On Bahrain?
MS. HARF: Okay.
MS. HARF: Yeah, which as I think --
QUESTION: Just wondering if there’s any update. Is the threat over?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. It was just for a few days. My understanding – I’ll check with our folks, but I took it out of my book today, actually, because it was just for I think three days where folks should not take certain airline flights to the United States. It was, I think, specific to those dates and don’t know that it’s been extended.
MS. HARF: On what, I’m sorry?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: There were stories about a military coup and a military leader asked for a new government and for new election. Do you have anything on this?
MS. HARF: Well, I’ve seen the statement by this gentleman. He also in his statement assured viewers, I think – or maybe it was a recorded statement as well – that there was no military coup taking place. So he himself said that. Our understanding is that he Libyan Government remains intact, functioning as always. Again, there have been also many Libyans from across the political spectrum that have stepped forward to reject his announcement, so he said it wasn’t a coup, the government’s function is normal, so I think we would just encourage all Libyans to work together on their democratic transition, but don’t have much more on it than that.
QUESTION: Do you support the formation of new – of a new government in Libya?
MS. HARF: A new government? I mean, this is obviously a Libyan process, and we believe they should continue with their democratic transition under the rules that they’ve laid out for it, certainly. So we’ll work with them in any way we can, but obviously, this is a Libyan decision and a Libyan process.
In the back, yes.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Japanese Government is making an effort to request that a meeting be held between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s president, Mrs. Park, in March when those two leaders travel to The Hague to attend the Nuclear Security Summit. What is the State Department’s reaction to this move by the Japanese Government? And has there been a U.S. role in encouraging these two leaders to meet in The Hague next month?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I can check with our folks and see if there has been. What we’ve said, generally speaking, publicly is that we support improved relations between countries in the region, and certainly believe that it’s important, particularly for two of our closest allies in the world, to work to concentrate on areas of cooperation and to continue to move their relationship forward. So we very publicly said that, and I can check on the meeting in The Hague, but obviously, that would be something between the two of them.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Oh, stay on Japan, please?
MS. HARF: Oh yeah, we’ll stay on Japan. And then we’ll go to Venezuela; I promise. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So February 22nd is Takeshima Day in Japan, and a Japanese central government official has said that he would be attending the ceremony. So --
MS. HARF: What date?
QUESTION: February 22nd.
MS. HARF: February 22nd.
QUESTION: So --
MS. HARF: You’re ahead of us by like a week here.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) But does – Kerry is in – Secretary Kerry is in Asia right now trying to calm regional tensions. So doesn’t this kind of show that relations will not be improving any time soon?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly hope they will be. I am not familiar with that date. Let me check with our folks and see if we can get you something on that.
QUESTION: On the continent, China? Sorry.
MS. HARF: Sure, we’ll do – no, let’s do Venezuela, and then we’ll do China. I promise.
QUESTION: You took a question yesterday --
MS. HARF: I did, and I got answers for you.
MS. HARF: Yes. Do you have a specific or do you just want me to give you some answers?
QUESTION: I’ll do the specific to see if you give me something different.
MS. HARF: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The government accused you of --
MS. HARF: I didn’t give you anything yesterday, so it’s all going to be different.
QUESTION: Yeah, yesterday was a bit embarrassing, right? (Laughter.) So --
MS. HARF: I’ll make sure our folks who are supposed to give me guidance on this know that.
QUESTION: -- Latin America, we’re very close to you.
MS. HARF: Believe me, I wish I had answers on it to. Ask your question.
QUESTION: So the government accused Washington of being involved in these – the protests.
MS. HARF: It’s not true. It’s not true.
QUESTION: They didn’t accuse you?
MS. HARF: No. We are not involved in them.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MS. HARF: They may have accused us; we’re not involved in them.
QUESTION: And they’re also accusing an opposition leader. Do you think this is a step up in the regime’s --
MS. HARF: Are you talking about Mr. Lopez?
MS. HARF: Yes. So we are deeply concerned by rising tensions, by the violence surrounding these February 12th protests, and by the issuance of a warrant for the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. We join the Secretary General of the OAS in condemning the violence and calling on authorities to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of peaceful protestors. We also call on the Venezuelan Government to release the 19 detained protestors and urge all parties to work to restore calm and refrain from violence.
QUESTION: One Colombian channel that was broadcasting the protest was cut out. Do you have any comment regarding press freedoms in Venezuela?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Let me see what I have on that. Well, certainly, as we do everywhere, we support press freedoms, citizens’ rights to freedom of expression. Obviously, this includes press freedom. We – I haven’t seen the thing about the Colombian TV station. We do understand that some newspapers are having difficulty securing newsprint, ink, and other supplies to publish, and that some have reduced their pages to conserve newsprint or to stop publishing completely. Obviously, we believe the government should take actions to fix the solution, that it’s not okay, that press freedom is a cornerstone of what we think is important both in Venezuela but also around the world.
QUESTION: On Russia?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There are some interesting posts out there from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia saying that they’ve demarched the U.S. Embassy over a gentleman named Yaroshenko. I guess he’s a convicted smuggler of cocaine into the U.S. He’s serving a 20-year drug term here.
MS. HARF: In the U.S.?
QUESTION: In the U.S.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: They say that the U.S. authorities bear full responsibility for his life and health. They’re claiming that he seems to be in duress and he may not live till Monday, but the U.S. is refusing him --
MS. HARF: Hm. Okay.
QUESTION: -- medical care. Anyway, they’re tweeting at you now, so --
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I hope they’re tweeting me right now – (laughter) – at the risk of being embarrassed by not having an answer.
QUESTION: It’s out there.
MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks.
QUESTION: It’s an odd story. I’m wondering what’s going on.
MS. HARF: It is – sounds odd. I’m sorry, I just don’t know the details. But I’ll check with our folks and see.
MS. HARF: Not a lot. It’s my understanding that we still have not been given a reason from the Government of Egypt why he has been detained and continues to be detained. One follow-up that folks had asked, I think, yesterday – the Government of Egypt has never contacted the Embassy discouraging us from meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s a question I think I took yesterday. I just wanted to make sure whoever asked it actually got an answer. But again, nothing – no charges have been filed to our knowledge, and nothing new in terms of what – why he’s been arrested.
QUESTION: But again, given the fact that at least, albeit anonymously, Egyptian officials are saying that this in response to his communications with the Muslim Brotherhood as a liaison for the U.S., does that give you --
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen any anonymous official call out the Muslim Brotherhood. I’ve seen them talk about working with groups.
QUESTION: Okay, working with groups. But does that --
MS. HARF: Well, I mean --
QUESTION: -- does that give you – does that make you concerned about your diplomats and your – do you think that this is an implicit warning and are you nervous?
MS. HARF: I don’t know if I would take it that far. What we’ve said – and sort of generalize it to our folks – what we’ve said are two things – that they need to tell us why he’s been detained, and they need to say so publicly, officially. And the second is that we have been concerned about the climate in general in Egypt for political discourse and discussion based on a lot of the things the Egyptian Government itself has done. So --
QUESTION: Have you instructed your Foreign Service nationals not to have communications with the Muslim Brotherhood while this has been worked out?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I don’t believe so. We’ve said we’ll continue working with them.
QUESTION: Including with Foreign Service nationals?
MS. HARF: That’s my understanding. If it’s different, I will – happy to let you know. But I don’t think it is.
QUESTION: I mean, but won’t this have a chilling effect for the Foreign Service nationals who are working for the United States in some of these conditions where they think that they can be arrested, detained, held indefinitely without charges, and just for doing their job basically?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we’re not sure – I mean, we all have speculation on why we think he was detained and remains in detention without charges being filed, but that’s why we’ve said very clearly they need to tell us why, because we do have suspicions, and we don’t want it to have a chilling effect, absolutely.
QUESTION: What are they telling you why they won’t provide that answer?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure they’re telling us why they won’t provide the answer. I’m not sure. I just don’t think we’ve gotten an answer.
QUESTION: Is this being done just through the embassy or senior levels in this building?
MS. HARF: It’s definitely being done through the embassy. I’m not sure if folks in this building have been engaged as well. I am happy to check.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On Egypt, how do you --
MS. HARF: You’re moving around.
QUESTION: Yeah, I went out and came back.
MS. HARF: You’re mixing it up here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: How did you feel when President Putin announced that Marshall Sisi will be running for election in Egypt?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I addressed this yesterday when I said it’s --
QUESTION: Yeah, but your feeling?
MS. HARF: I don’t think anyone cares what my feelings are. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Not your, personally, the State Department’s
MS. HARF: By personal – I don’t have very strong personal feelings about anything Vladimir Putin does probably. But generally, look, it’s not up for President Putin, it’s not up to the United States, it’s not up to anyone outside of Egypt to say who should be the next leader of Egypt. It’s up to the Egyptian people. And that’s been our position throughout, and certainly our position in response to his comments.
QUESTION: Even after the U.S. stopped drone attacks and this – terrorist attacks are still going on. People get killed in Pakistan almost every day, and Taliban talks are failing, and Nawaz Sharif’s government had said that if these talks fail, said he will strike – a military strike against those Talibans. So is the U.S. worried about this since the Secretary is in China and the Secretary is about to visit also Pakistan in the near future? Are they going to talk about these issues in China, the Secretary is and Chinese --
MS. HARF: I don’t – I haven’t heard the Secretary will be discussing Pakistan in China. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if it comes up. Broadly speaking, we said of course we’re still concerned about the terrorist threat in Pakistan, as is the Pakistani Government, because, as I think I say every time we talk about this, it’s Pakistanis themselves that have been affected the most by terrorism inside Pakistan. And so we’ll keep working with the government on helping them build their capacity to go after these guys.
QUESTION: Over 50,000 people – civilian Pakistanis – have been killed so far, and they have been killed every day, one after another terrorist attacks. And that’s why the Pakistanis are asking what the U.S. is really doing or working with this Nawaz Sharif government.
MS. HARF: Well, I’d say a few things. First of all, the Pakistani Government understands it has a responsibility to work to protect its citizens. We’ll be a partner with them, certainly, on counterterrorism, but it’s not up to the U.S. to fix counterterrorism problems all over the world. So we’ll keep working on it.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I asked the other day if you have any message for the newly --
MS. HARF: Yes, the newly-elected prime minister.
MS. HARF: Yeah, minister – prime minister Sushil.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Any --
MS. HARF: The U.S. congratulates the people of Nepal on the election of their new prime minister. We think this is an important milestone in the peace process that began in 2006, and the U.S. continues to support Nepal on its democratic path.
QUESTION: This is the same brother of Mr. Koirala, the past prime minister.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there any problem with the U.S. to work with this government? And also now they are going to work with the new constitution, which will be a democratic constitution. In the past, because (inaudible) problems were there and they were not working with the government, and communists are now almost out of the government. The U.S. has a new – have the approached the U.S. for any kind of help in the future for the new constitution?
MS. HARF: Well, I know that the assembly’s primary task now will be to draft a permanent constitution, which is also an important part of the peace process that ended Nepal’s civil war, as I said, in 2006. So we’ll continue to be a partner with them, but obviously this is a Nepalese process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Israel.
QUESTION: Israel. The Secretary’s brother published an op-ed in the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth defending him against charges of anti-Semitism.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Just given that that’s kind of an unusual move, I just wanted to know if the State Department has any --
MS. HARF: Why is it unusual?
QUESTION: Has any other brother --
MS. HARF: For a brother to defend his brother?
QUESTION: That’s very nice, but I think at the Secretary of State level --
MS. HARF: If people accused any of us of being anti-Semitic --
QUESTION: I would hope my brother would do the same.
MS. HARF: Exactly.
QUESTION: But in terms of --
MS. HARF: No, without being glib, I think that his brother was, quite frankly, upset by some of the comments we’ve seen lately – all of us have been, including the Secretary – and I think wanted to do something to stand up for his brother, particularly on this claim that he is anti-Semitic. And what we’ve said broadly speaking is that we need to create a positive environment around the talks, and that when people speak up and say things that don’t do that, particularly really offensive things like this, we want to defend our folks – and who better than his brother?
QUESTION: And do you know if there was any – did he reach out to the State Department to --
MS. HARF: His brother?
QUESTION: Yeah, did you guys know this was --
MS. HARF: I think – I’m sure we worked with him. Obviously we talk to them, his family, quite a bit. Yeah, I’m sure that this was something that we knew about and discussed with him. But again, this was his initiative and we fully support it. Not too much more to it.
MS. HARF: Do you think I’m going to give you a different answer?
QUESTION: No, it could be a different --
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Give it a shot.
QUESTION: Many people are puzzled in India and also here that, one, when an ambassador going to meet with a chief minister – not the prime minister – in a – of the state of India --
MS. HARF: She’s met with a host of officials in India.
MS. HARF: You’re focusing on one meeting that’s part of a series of meetings she’s done.
QUESTION: The question is that was this a clear message from the ambassador, of course from the President and from the Secretary from here, that U.S. is ready to work with mister – not Mr. Modi, but maybe the future prime minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, that the U.S. is willing to work with him in the future?
MS. HARF: We have said we will work closely with whatever government the Indian people choose in the upcoming election.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Lara – oh, go ahead. No.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you know why that is?
MS. HARF: I do, yes, and I have a little bit of information on that. I think they will lose their ability to place deposits with their current bank on February 17th, and will see all services discontinued on March 1st. They announced, I think themselves, in early December that this would happen.
Since last summer, the State Department has been actively working with the Cuban Interests Section to identify a new bank to provide services to the Cuban missions. We have reached out to more than 50 banks and understand that several may be currently exploring whether to provide the mission with banking services. We don’t know, at this point, whether they will have a new bank by the first of March. But we will continue to work with the Cuban mission as they seek to identify a long-term solution.
We do this will all missions in the United States, right? We seek to help foreign missions that are otherwise unable to obtain banking services, because we think, obviously, it’s a good thing to help people who want to be represented here in the States.
QUESTION: So I’m a little new to this issue, but as I understand it --
MS. HARF: As am I.
QUESTION: -- it’s M&T Bank that had been representing the section.
MS. HARF: I don’t – to be fair, I don’t have the name of the bank on this piece of paper.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea why they are no longer offering services to --
MS. HARF: I don’t. I’m happy to check with our folks. Obviously, I’d refer you to them.
QUESTION: Can you take it?
MS. HARF: I’m – I can take it and check with them.
QUESTION: Yeah. Please.
MS. HARF: I don’t know. Again, we’ve been working with them since last summer to try and identify a new bank, and we’ve talked to over 50 banks. So we’ll see if we can get a little more.
QUESTION: So any of those 50 banks – why are they saying they are not going to provide those services?
MS. HARF: I honestly don’t know. I can check with our folks and see if there’s more. We think a couple may be considering it, and we just don’t know if we’ll be able to get a new bank by March 1st.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Marie. So in the Secretary’s remarks, when he was --
MS. HARF: More Secretary’s remarks.
QUESTION: Yes, I know. When he was talking about the South China Sea he said the Chinese have made clear that they need to be resolved according to international law and that process. But the Philippines have brought their dispute, their claims to the UN, and China has refused to participate. So what exactly is the United States understanding of what the Chinese mean by international law? Or is there some sort of progress that’s being made that we don’t know about?
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I don’t want to speak for the Chinese, obviously. I’m happy to check with our folks who are with the Secretary to see if we can get a little more clarity around those comments.
MS. HARF: Obviously, I can’t speak for the Chinese.
QUESTION: Yeah. I know, but I wanted to get your --
MS. HARF: No, no, no. It’s a good question, quite frankly. And I can see if I can get a little bit more.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Marie.
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports. I know there are a lot of rumors out there about, again, anonymous sources saying one thing or the other about the framework. We’re still engaged in active discussions and negotiations, so to my knowledge that hasn’t changed.
What else? Yes?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So the French Government has announced that they’re sending 400 additional troops to the country. Does the U.S. have a reaction to that?
MS. HARF: Let me see if I have anything new on that. Obviously, we’ve been concerned by the continued violence in the Central African Republic, have supported certainly France’s and other efforts on this. I don’t have a specific response to that, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: How engaged is the U.S. Government on this issue? And were there any consultations with the President Hollande when he was in Washington, D.C.?
MS. HARF: Let me check. I’m guessing there were. We talk to the French about a range of issues, obviously support very much what they’re doing there and elsewhere on the continent. But let me see if there are some specifics.
Anything else? Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)
DPB # 30