2:13 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello.
MS. HARF: A little thin crowd today. (Laughter.) Welcome. I won’t take it personally. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have two things at the top, and then we will open it up for questions.
The first is a travel update. Today, Secretary Kerry arrived in Amman, Jordan where he had a courtesy meeting with King Abdullah II. He is currently meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. We also, I believe last night, or today, this morning, put out the next travel announcement for the Secretary’s travel. I’ll just go over that very briefly.
Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Brussels, Algiers, and Rabat from April 1st through 5th. While in Brussels, Secretary Kerry will attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Foreign Ministerial. He will meet with fellow foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Council to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and preparations for the upcoming NATO summit in September. He’ll have a whole host of meetings while in Brussels as well. We’ll also hold bilateral meetings with foreign counterparts, as well as a trilateral meeting with EU High Representative Cathy Ashton and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, where they will discuss Ukraine, developments in the Middle East, and other issues.
While in Algiers, Secretary Kerry will meet with senior Algerian officials and co-chair the U.S.-Algeria Strategic Dialogue with the Algerian foreign minister. The dialogue, launched in October 2012, demonstrates our close coordination with Algeria on a range of bilateral and regional issues, including political and security developments, boosting economic ties, and strengthening civil society.
While in Rabat, Secretary Kerry will co-chair the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue with the Moroccan foreign minister as well and will meet with senior Moroccan officials to discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues. This strategic dialogue was launched one month earlier in September 2012 and focuses on a wide range of issues, including political affairs, economic and security cooperation, and educational and cultural issues.
The only other thing I have at the top is, I’m sure many of you just saw the President’s speech, which focused much of it on Ukraine, focused on the world speaking with one voice about the truth about what’s happening there, and bringing international community together to make clear what is happening.
So you’re going to see two photos behind me. As part of our commitment – you might recognize these two gentlemen. As part of our commitment to mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine, we are coordinating with our partners and allies a global social media campaign with the hashtag #unitedforukraine. We are asking the world to show their support for Ukraine on social media by using the hashtag, as I just said, #unitedforukraine. Take action by sending U.S. officials and Department accounts tweets with pictures showing how committed we are to this. As the President said, no amount of propaganda can make right what the world knows is wrong. So our goal with this campaign and everything else we’re doing is to make sure the world knows what is happening, what is the truth, and making sure people come together again and are united for Ukraine.
So you’ll see Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel and our coordinator for IIP Macon Philips. These are already on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting. I already have been. A lot of other people will be. But it really underscores our commitment to getting out through social media, through the press, through every way we can, the truth about what’s happening, how the world has indeed come together to say that what Russia’s done is not acceptable and that there will be further consequences.
So with that, Lara.
MS. HARF: Kick us off. And we can go back – we can leave these up or we can go back to the maps.
QUESTION: I’d like to start with Mideast, please.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: So at the beginning of these negotiations, the Palestinians agreed not to undertake action at international organizations, and the Israelis agreed to release a number of pre-Oslo prisoners. Obviously, this is a complicated issue that is being worked through with the parties even as we speak. I’m not going to have more details to share about specifics on those agreements and what they looked like and who those prisoners might be. As I said, these are complicated issues; they’re being worked through, and just won’t have a lot more to share.
QUESTION: Okay. As you’re aware, I’m sure, the Palestinian viewpoint on this is that some of the prisoners that were up for release at the end of the week are Israeli Arabs. Is that not the understanding that the U.S. has?
MS. HARF: I just, unfortunately, am not going to have a lot more about our understanding or what the discussions look like on these issues today.
QUESTION: Okay. Were you able to find out whether or not any of these things were ever documented?
MS. HARF: Again, I know this is going to sound like a broken record: don’t have more details for you to share about how these discussions or agreements were reached.
QUESTION: And I understand Secretary Kerry talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier. Do you have a readout of that?
MS. HARF: Let me see if I have the call list. He did. I don’t have a readout of that yet. Let me see if I can get you one. As we said yesterday, he’ll have phone or video conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the same time that there are discussions with President Abbas. So let me see if we can get you – the traveling team might have more of a readout at the end of the day.
QUESTION: Okay. And then one last question. I’m sure you saw the reports out of Israel that potentially that Jonathan Pollard could be released as part of these negotiations. I saw that – the statement that said that that was not under consideration, and I understand that he comes up periodically in terms of whenever we’re talking to Israel and the Palestinians. But I’m just wondering if there’s anything that would suggest in any part of this negotiation that Jonathan Pollard’s release would be in play. I just find it curious that he keeps being brought up.
MS. HARF: Well, as you said, the topic has come up for years, not just this part of these negotiations, obviously.
MS. HARF: As the statement says, there are no plans to release Jonathan Pollard. He was convicted of espionage against the United States, which is a very serious crime. He was sentenced to life and is currently serving his sentence. I’m not going to say – get into any specifics one way or the other about what may have come up during discussions one way or the other, not confirming or denying what may be a part of the discussions. But again, on this he’s serving his sentence. It comes up from time to time, but nothing more on that.
QUESTION: I mean, I understand it gets brought up by the Israelis, but my question more is: Is this brought as kind of a carrot by the U.S. to get the Israelis to --
MS. HARF: I’m not going to go into anything that’s being discussed on this or any other topic privately.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the release of the prisoners? Did you mean that the release of prisoners was part of the agreement between the Israeli and – the Israelis and Palestinians to relaunch negotiations, or not?
MS. HARF: What I said was at the beginning of these negotiations the Palestinians agreed to not undertake actions at international organizations, and the Israelis agreed to release a number of pre-Oslo prisoners. These are obviously very complicated issues, even within those issues, right? They’re being worked through right now, and just don’t have more details about any of those discussions to share.
QUESTION: But we didn’t get if the release was a part of the agreement or not, because the Palestinians are --
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to have any more details for you on these issues to share. Those are private discussions that I’m not going to be able to read out from the podium.
QUESTION: The Palestinians and Saeb Erekat, when he was in Washington, said that there are two different agreements – one on the negotiations and one on the release of prisoners.
MS. HARF: Again, as I just said, I don’t have any more details that I can share with you on the discussion around these topics or on anything related to the negotiations.
QUESTION: Can’t you say if it was a bilateral agreement between the Palestinians and the U.S.?
MS. HARF: I can’t share any more details for you on any of these issues.
QUESTION: Why? Do you think it will affect the negotiations now?
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said from the beginning, we are not going to get into the details of any of the conversations we’re having on any issues in the negotiations. We’ve said that from the beginning. That hasn’t changed. You’ve been frustrated every time I’ve had to say it again, but this isn’t new. We’ve been very quiet about the conversations we’re having here.
QUESTION: But it’s important at this time, since Israel decided not to release prisoners on Friday.
MS. HARF: Well, I would defer to Israel, but I haven’t seen them make that announcement. Have they?
QUESTION: News reports said that they won’t release them.
MS. HARF: There are lots of news reports out there. What I would say is we think the best way to give these talks a chance to succeed is to keep them private. That’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’ll continue to do.
QUESTION: So two things related to same issue. I’m expecting you to say that you don’t have more details, but I have to ask.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: First, there were four batches of – the three of them were done and the last one is the obstacle. Why? You have any idea?
MS. HARF: Nothing on the specifics of the discussions going on right now.
QUESTION: Is Secretary Kerry still in Jordan?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Still in Jordan.
QUESTION: And what’s the next stop?
MS. HARF: I just at the beginning read out a long travel advisory --
QUESTION: But --
MS. HARF: Right now he’s in Jordan.
MS. HARF: Or – yes, he’s in Jordan, Amman – excuse me – meeting with President Abbas, having phone conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We announced a trip from the 1st through the 5th to Brussels, Algiers, and Rabat. And when we have more details about his travel, we’re happy to share them.
QUESTION: Is he going to stay in Jordan tomorrow?
QUESTION: But we still --
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details for further scheduling from here.
QUESTION: So the same question – the same issue, not the same question. You mentioned that the two sides are involved in discussion and you don’t want to be, as from the beginning, there was a principle not to talk about it. But I assume U.S. is involved in these negotiations, right?
MS. HARF: Between the two parties?
MS. HARF: Yes, of course.
QUESTION: To come to an agreement about these prisoners. Or you don’t --
MS. HARF: Oh, on the prisoner issue. Well, we are talking to both parties about all of the issues related to the negotiation, all of them.
QUESTION: Including the prisoners.
MS. HARF: All of them.
QUESTION: Do you expect the release of the prisoners on Friday?
MS. HARF: I have no predictions to make for you.
QUESTION: So Secretary Kerry’s not going back to Rome to meet with the President and the Pope?
MS. HARF: I think that’s my understanding. I just – the travel team obviously has the most up-to-date schedule. That’s my understanding, but who knows if it will change. I don’t think it will.
MS. HARF: But I know that was something he was very much looking forward to doing.
MS. HARF: So I don’t think that’s changed. I just want to make – and I want to talk to them and make sure that the schedule is still the same.
QUESTION: Well, one more on this. The Arab Summit strongly refused today to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. How do you view this to affect the negotiations and President Abbas’ statement on this regard?
MS. HARF: Well, I did see the statement from the Arab League. Just give me one second here.
Look, obviously, these are private discussions going on directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so I don’t want to guess what an Arab League statement – how that might affect it. You know that the United States’ position on this has been clear. President Obama and Secretary Kerry have both spoken to it in the last several months and for many months. But I’m not going to sort of do analysis on how it might impact the direct negotiations.
QUESTION: But how do you view the statement?
MS. HARF: I don’t have personal views on the statement. You know what the United States’ view is, and we’ve been clear about that, that Israel is a Jewish state. The President said it. The Secretary said it. That’s what our view is.
QUESTION: Were you expecting them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state to support President Abbas in these negotiations?
MS. HARF: I don’t have, I think, more analysis for you on the Arab League or what we were or were not expecting. What we’re focused on isn’t what the Arab League says on this at this point. It’s what the two parties are saying to each other and seeing if we can move the process forward.
QUESTION: So related to Arab summit --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- or Arab League Summit or Arab Summit, you were expecting – not – I mean, U.S. was expecting that during it, it (inaudible) to be solved a little bit or lessen the tension between the Gulf states.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that? As a matter of fact, nothing came out of it related to this issue. Or you think that there is something happened?
MS. HARF: Well, the Arab League did pledge to work to end rifts between the member states. As we’ve said for a long time, we enjoy strong relationships with all of these countries and think there are good outcomes that can be had for Gulf security and prosperity by them working together. It’s in their interest for them to work together. We also would welcome their pledge to press for an end for violence in Syria and their pledge to support the Geneva diplomatic process. So obviously, we think they need to work to repair some of these rifts, and they’ve said that they would like to do that.
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, but I’m not talking about Syria at all. I’m talking about --
MS. HARF: I know, but I addressed your question in the first half of my answer.
QUESTION: Which is like general statement, right?
MS. HARF: That they pledged to work together to try to bridge these gaps and end some of these rifts that you referenced between the countries. They, I think very clearly, said that was important to them. Obviously, these are – some of them – these are bilateral issues they need to work through together. But we’ve said very clearly there are benefits for the Gulf countries to work together – for their security, their prosperity, for regional issues. So hopefully, they’ll be able to do so.
QUESTION: Are you – beside these words from the podium, what kind of contacts do you have between – with those countries on the ground or --
MS. HARF: Well, the President’s going to Saudi Arabia this weekend, so I think that’s a pretty high-level contact. We have wide range of contacts – very high level and, of course, our folks on the ground as well. And these are issues that really do need to be worked out between the countries themselves, but obviously, we have strong relationships with all of them and talk to them about how important it is for them to try and mend some of these rifts and actually work together.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Where we missed the word “seriously?” Were you all guessing “very nonchalantly,” “very -- ”
QUESTION: Well, figured it wasn’t “entertaining.”
MS. HARF: Right. (Laughter.) You could play Mad Libs with the statement. Yes, you saw the statement.
QUESTION: So do you have any feeling as to why they did this? A lot of people are speculating that it was a reaction to the Obama-Abe-Park trilat, but --
MS. HARF: I think I probably gave up long ago trying to guess why the North Koreans do things, and I don’t say that in a joking way. I say that in a quite serious way. Guessing motivations behind their actions is something that I probably wouldn’t even want to try to do. It doesn’t appear that they issued, as I said in my statement last night, any maritime notifications providing warning, which I think – don’t quote me – I guess you can quote me on this, but I’d have to triple-check – I think they’ve done in the past at times.
So this comes on the heels of two recent launches of medium-range ballistic missiles and this is a troubling and provocative escalation that we’ve seen over the past several weeks. We take it very seriously. We’re working with our partners in the region. And we’ve been very clear that we think it’s important for South Korea and Japan to have a better relationship and to work together both directly and trilaterally.
So that’s a very high priority for us and we think in no way should result in action like this, and I don’t even know if that was the cause.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication as to – so the statement mentioned appropriate measures that you’re considering in consultation with allies.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense – can you give us any sense of what those appropriate measures might comprise?
MS. HARF: We’re talking to our partners on the Security Council particularly right now, but also our other regional allies to determine what the best way is to move forward.
QUESTION: So should we expect another Security Council resolution in the --
MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions to make. I think we’re talking to them about what the most appropriate response will be.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just last, to follow up, so – I mean, this is kind of like an escalation, as the statement noted.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And that’s despite repeated urgings by the U.S. to refrain from taking these kinds of actions.
MS. HARF: And others.
QUESTION: I mean, do you – this is kind of like a restatement of my previous question, but do you see any kind of way that the U.S. can exercise leverage to prevent this other than just using words?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve done more than use words. We have incredibly tough sanctions on North Korea. We have said that North Korea has a choice. It can take steps to end escalatory actions. It can take steps to denuclearize. It can take steps to stop committing gross human rights violations and rejoin the international community and give its people the future they deserve. But those are choices the North Korean Government has to make, and we’ve been clear that the sanctions, the diplomatic isolation, the economic isolation, the political isolation – that will all continue as long as they don’t.
So, yes, you’re correct in that they did launch these missiles, that they’ve escalated their actions quite a bit over the last few weeks, but they still remain incredibly isolated in all of the ways I said and will continue to be, which is certainly not good for the people of North Korea. These are decisions that the North Korean Government could take today to help improve the lives of their people, and they’re not doing it.
QUESTION: So do you think further sanctions against North Korea should be taken?
MS. HARF: Further – I think I just addressed that – that we’re talking to our Security Council partners right now and our regional allies to figure out what the best response will be, what the most appropriate response will be. And if and when we have further policy decisions to make, we will, but nothing to predict.
QUESTION: So the Japanese will have direct meetings with the North Koreans on March 30th?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Given North Korea’s recent provocations, would the State Department view these – the timing of such talks as productive?
MS. HARF: Well, as you know, we consult frequently with Japan on North Korea and a wide variety of other issues, but specifically on North Korea. And I don’t have details about the timing. Obviously, we and Japan are committed to the goal of denuclearization on the peninsula, to working together to isolate North Korea towards that end. And I would refer you to the Japanese Government for why they chose this specific timing.
QUESTION: So will the State Department reiterate the importance of Six-Party – or of negotiating this issue within a framework of Six-Party talks to the Japanese, or --
MS. HARF: We’re all on the same page. Nothing’s changed in terms of the way – the path forward here if North Korea chooses to take it and the diplomatic mechanisms we would use to do that.
MS. HARF: Are you going to make me re-answer all the same questions? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no, no. I have a very specific question. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m sure you probably addressed it --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- but my point is on the release of the prisoners. Do you expect any kind of delay in the release of the prisoners that may scuttle the talks?
MS. HARF: What I said was I don’t have any details for you on any of these issues. Obviously, the Secretary is talking to the parties right now.
QUESTION: Okay. So as he talks with them, what are the plans, let’s say, for the remaining 30 days?
MS. HARF: No details for you on any of those plans.
QUESTION: Okay. Are we likely to see whatever announcement or whatever deal would come out, let’s say, in a press conference, in a statement, in like a summit conference? What format is --
MS. HARF: No predictions at all. No predictions at all for you on what this might look like.
QUESTION: What about predictions if the prisoners are released to the satisfaction of the Palestinian authorities? Do you think that – or does – will the U.S. see that as optimistic or a good step forward to extending negotiations?
MS. HARF: I really just don’t have any predictions to make for you on what’s going to happen.
QUESTION: On --
QUESTION: Did the Israelis submit to you like a quid pro quo, we would release those Israeli citizens that were supposed to be released among the Palestinians, for Pollard?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I don’t have any predictions to make for you about what’s going to happen. Separately, on Jonathan Pollard, as I did say earlier as well --
MS. HARF: -- there are no plans to release Jonathan Pollard at this time. Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage against the United States. He is sentenced – was sentenced to life and is currently serving his sentence.
QUESTION: Can I unpack that a little bit, though?
MS. HARF: We unpacked it a little bit earlier, but --
QUESTION: Well, but when you say – I’m sorry if you did --
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: When you say “at this time,” that does not – that just says that you’re not planning to release him now. But what you’re not saying, and if you could unequivocally say, that Jonathan Pollard is not part of the current discussions between – on the table as part of any type of negotiations.
MS. HARF: As I said when Lara asked me about this 10 minutes ago --
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) That’s okay. We can just do it – do all the same questions twice today.
QUESTION: You said it’s a thin crowd. I mean --
MS. HARF: I know. There was a thin crowd. I was disappointed. (Laughter.) No, look – I’m not going to get into any specifics confirming or not confirming one way or the other if any topic is on the table in these talks. We’re just not going to get into those discussions or those details. What – we’ve made clear our position on Jonathan Pollard, and beyond that --
QUESTION: You – no, you have not made your position clear on Jonathan Pollard. You continue to say that there’s no current plans to release him.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But can you envision --
MS. HARF: I can only speak for what’s on the table right now.
QUESTION: I understand. But can you see, envision if he is serving a life sentence for a crime of such proportions, can you envision any scenario where Jonathan Pollard would be released for anything that has nothing to do with this case?
MS. HARF: I have nothing to predict about any of these issues going forward.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MS. HARF: Yes, Elise. You can change the subject. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: So the – one of the principal owners of the NBA – of the Brooklyn Nets is Russian.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: And President Putin has pushed Russian businessmen in recent weeks to de-offshore companies owned abroad and bring them home, pay Russian taxes, and help grow the economy. So now the principal owner of the Nets is now saying that he may do this and move the principal ownership headquarters to Russia. And I was just wondering if you have any thoughts on that.
MS. HARF: Isn’t there an – and I’m asking this, actually, because I’m not sure of all the details – I think there’s an NBA process for how that would have to take place, and that’s not --
QUESTION: There is an NBA process --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- but I’m just wondering, in terms of Russian ownership of companies in this country, particularly franchises that are beloved in this country, whether you think that’s a good idea?
MS. HARF: Are you a big Nets fan?
QUESTION: I am.
MS. HARF: I can look into it.
QUESTION: I was a bigger fan when they were in New Jersey. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I have just sort of seen some of the articles. I haven’t actually talked to our folks about their thoughts on this kind of --
QUESTION: Could you take the question?
MS. HARF: I can take the question, yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I will take the question.
QUESTION: On Russia.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Did you address what the President said yesterday about Russia being a regional power? Was that addressed today?
MS. HARF: No, it wasn’t addressed today.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, but does that classify it as, let’s say, Iran and Israel and Turkey – is that what is meant by it, or is it intended --
MS. HARF: Well, did you just hear the President’s fairly lengthy speech he gave?
QUESTION: Okay. Yes. Right.
MS. HARF: I’d point out – and I think putting it into some context of what we he said yesterday – let me just read from what he said. And this is in the context of pushing back on this notion that there is somehow a new Cold War, right? He said, “This is not another Cold War. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology. And nor does the United States or NATO seek any conflict with Russia.” So I think it’s speaking to the same point, right, that Russia has quite a bit of pride and nationalism, and that’s okay, that’s good. We have no – we don’t want to in some – any way take that away. But that – and they have long cultural, economic ties in Ukraine. But that doesn’t mean that, as he said, they can run roughshod over Ukraine or they can choose the future of Ukraine for the Ukrainian people. So I think putting his comments into context about what he said today – this isn’t the Cold War, this isn’t the Soviet Union; we’re not fighting proxy wars all over the world anymore. We are talking about a violation of another country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, a violation of international norms that just several weeks ago we all took as fact.
QUESTION: But that’s not really answering the question, though, about --
MS. HARF: It is.
QUESTION: -- whether Russia is a regional power versus a global power, which you seem to be – to consider them one when you need them for dealing with stuff, whether it’s Iran --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- or Syria or nuclear disarmament or arms control or other things.
MS. HARF: I think what he was referring to was – in terms of global versus regional – was what he said today: They don’t lead a bloc of nations. This isn’t spheres of influence that we used to have. This is a very time than we were then, and that’s why – for many reasons, but one of the reasons why – we don’t believe Russia should get to send troops into other countries, not let the Ukrainian people decide their own future – as the President said, run roughshod over one of their neighbors.
QUESTION: So you’re not discounting that they are a global power in addition to being a regional power in Eastern Europe?
MS. HARF: I’m not – I guess I’m not further parsing the President’s words.
QUESTION: Well, but what he seemed to be doing was making a dig at President Putin --
QUESTION: -- to say that he wasn’t a kind of global superpower along the lines of what they used to be. He was calling him like a little rinky-dink regional power.
MS. HARF: Did he use the term rinky-dink?
QUESTION: He didn’t, but that was certainly the implication --
MS. HARF: Well, I think what the --
QUESTION: -- and that’s how everybody interpreted it.
MS. HARF: And I’m actually not – I’m saying that today’s comments actually put his comments yesterday into context, right, that when he said that it’s – it is no longer a situation where the Soviet Union has a bloc of nations all over the world. It’s just a very different situation that we’re in today. This isn’t a new Cold War. This isn’t where we were 30, 40, 50 years ago. And I think, yes, Russia’s an important player – they are. But that doesn’t mean they get to break international law and flout international norms.
QUESTION: So that isn’t – what he said today is not really retracting what he said yesterday --
MS. HARF: No, not at all.
QUESTION: -- because as Elise said, I mean, the implicit, the caveat, whatever you want to call it, was to belittle Russia, I mean, and on a day that the U.S. astronauts basically used a Russian rocket to go into space. So --
MS. HARF: I love sometimes how you bring two things together that have nothing to do with each other.
QUESTION: No, I mean, but that – I mean, do you consider it as a global power or do you consider it as a regional power in the league of, let’s say, Iran, Turkey, Israel?
MS. HARF: Why are you choosing those three countries, Said?
QUESTION: No, I’m not. I’m just saying --
MS. HARF: Those are an interesting three countries --
QUESTION: -- when you talk about regional powers in my part of the world, that’s what we talk about. That’s all. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I fully stand by what the President said. And what he was – and he was – and again, I keep going back to today’s comments, but I think it actually illustrates the notion that he was saying yesterday.
QUESTION: Well, change the subject?
QUESTION: No, actually, can I do a quick follow-up on this?
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- talks with Iran or the Geneva talks with Syria, will all this fall apart if – since this – there’s this schism between Russia and the U.S. relations right now? Some analysts have suggested that in terms of the Syria part of that, it doesn’t really matter because that process is dormant right now, to use a kind word, I think. Would you agree with that analysis, that the U.S. really doesn’t need anything from Russia at this point in terms of trying to negotiate a ceasefire or a transitional government with the Syrian --
MS. HARF: In Syria?
MS. HARF: Well – and we can talk – let me say a word about Iran too after Syria. But it’s not that we need anything from Russia. I mean, the Secretary, when he spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov – what was it, two days ago now? – one of the things they talked about was pushing the Assad regime to keep sending the chemical weapons to be removed from the country. So it’s not that we need something from Russia. It’s that the Syrian people need the Russians and the Iranians and anyone else with influence over the regime to keep pushing them. And quite frankly, we have been able to work together on Syria, on things like chemical weapons, even when we very strongly disagree with other parts of their Syria policy, certainly.
So we haven’t seen it impact that, but you’re right; the Geneva process, not because of anything that’s happening in Ukraine, but because of the Syrian regime’s own intransigence, is at the moment suspended, for the moment. And that process – dormant is maybe a good word for it – but again, that has nothing to do with what’s going on in Ukraine.
In terms of the P5+1, led by the EU, when we were there last week in Vienna, it didn’t impact the talks. They were business as usual, very businesslike, very routine talks with us and our Russian counterparts and everyone else around the table, and we hope that will continue. It’s in Russia’s interest, quite frankly, that Iran not get a nuclear weapon. They’ve been very committed to this, and again, we hope that will continue.
QUESTION: But Russia, time and again, I think, has vetoed Security Council resolutions --
MS. HARF: On Syria.
QUESTION: In Syria, yeah. On Syria – has sent arms to --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- the regime, hasn’t been the most reliable partner in terms of --
MS. HARF: Oh, exactly.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: So I mean, I think the point that some analysts --
MS. HARF: It’s not like everything was perfect and now it’s all going to fall apart because of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Right. I mean, so the analysts are saying is this is really a loss, basically. I mean, is this something we need to be worried about, since they weren’t really ever --
MS. HARF: Well –
QUESTION: -- they weren’t doing much in the first place?
MS. HARF: Loss is just not the right way to, I think – we hope it won’t impact our ability to work together, particularly on chemical weapons, because we have actually – that has been one place where, unanimously, we got, with Russia, Security Council approval on the chemical weapons deal. So we hope it won’t impact that. We’re still pressing the Russians, because again, the Russians have interests in getting chemical weapons out of Syria separate and apart from everything that’s going on in Ukraine, right? That’s a totally separate issue. And so we hope the tone between us right now won’t affect that.
We also – but you’re right, we have all these other differences on Syria that we’ve always had. We’re trying to work through them. We have tried to work through them through the diplomatic process. That hasn’t changed either. So I just don’t see it impact – we hope it won’t impact it. We haven’t yet seen it impact it, and we hope that it won’t going forward.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
QUESTION: Marie, can I ask you a follow-up?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Specifically on Syria. As far as I understand, you just agreed with the premise that Russia was not one of your most reliable partners in Syria.
MS. HARF: That’s not what I said.
MS. HARF: I said that on chemical weapons, we worked together to get a unanimous Security Council resolution, that there have been times when we very vehemently disagreed about our policies in Syria. But we’ve also worked together on the Geneva process. As you know, we and the Russians and the UN convened the Geneva conference together twice to help move the diplomatic process forward. So what I’ve said is we have worked together quite closely. We’ve also had very strong differences, as we’ve said repeatedly. But that’s why I underscored that we’ve worked together, we’ve had differences, and we hope the conflict in Ukraine doesn’t change that.
QUESTION: I heard wrong. Sorry.
MS. HARF: Yep. And if I misspoke, I’m sorry. That’s not – I didn’t intend to say that. I think I was more clear when I answered you.
QUESTION: What – on Syria?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: What’s the next step now in the absence of the Geneva talks --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and the political solution? What’s the next steps you will be doing?
MS. HARF: Well, on the status of the Geneva II talks, they’re currently on recess, and that’s because of the regime’s refusal to engage constructively on the Geneva communique and its refusal to agree to Joint Special Representative Brahimi’s proposed agenda. So he has made it very clear, I think, in his briefings that he is prepared to start a third round of talks if there is agreement to discuss agenda items of importance to both sides. We can’t just talk about terrorism, as the regime wants to. And until that changes, quite frankly we don’t see a convening of a third round of talks. But that being said, we believe the only solution here is a diplomatic solution. The question is what that looks like, what format that takes, and right now this is where we are with Geneva.
QUESTION: So the --
QUESTION: No, I mean, so if (inaudible) need for a third round of talks --
MS. HARF: We say we don’t see that we can convene a third round of talks right now in this circumstance.
QUESTION: Well, but then you also continue to say what’s the alternative, so --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- basically if you’re not having any Geneva talks and --
MS. HARF: At the moment, we aren’t convening a third round, but we’re still working with the opposition and the Russians, and I think the UN is working with the Assad regime to see if we can get back to a good place and have talks.
Did you have a follow-up, Samir?
QUESTION: No one talking. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: My – same topic.
MS. HARF: Don’t look so sad. (Laughter.) Yes.
QUESTION: But there’s no political solution, so --
MS. HARF: That’s true. That’s true.
QUESTION: There’s no political solution, then the military solution is the game on ground.
MS. HARF: No, we stay there – no, we still – the only solution is a political diplomatic solution, just right now --
QUESTION: Yeah, but there is no --
MS. HARF: -- it looks a long way away--
QUESTION: Well, okay, but what are you going to do to get to the – what can you do to --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- get to the point? I mean, this all goes back to what the Secretary said when he first took office – that he wanted to change the --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- calculus on the ground, to change Assad’s calculus, so that that would pave the way for a more conducive political negotiation. So if you’re not having political negotiations and the U.S. isn’t – and its partners aren’t really doing anything substantial to change the calculus on the ground, then where are you?
MS. HARF: Well, I would take a little notion with the second question, but on the first question, we are having discussions. We’re just not in a Geneva II format right now – or Geneva III, I guess it would be.
QUESTION: But what other format do you have?
MS. HARF: Well, so Joint Special Representative Brahimi is talking to both parties and to us and the Russians to see if we can get back to negotiations. We’re having talks all the time. We’re working with the opposition. Our new special envoy was just in Istanbul meeting with the opposition. And the Russians, I’m sure, are talking to the Assad regime about how we can all get back to the table. So it’s not just we’re sitting here thinking, “Oh, no, we can’t do it.” We’re trying to get back to the table. We’re just not there yet.
QUESTION: Marie, the U.S. (inaudible) --
QUESTION: You said III, Geneva III. Is that a new designation now? We have a --
MS. HARF: I said if we were to get to a next round of talks.
QUESTION: Does that mean that Geneva II is completely now suspended over long term --
QUESTION: She said a third round.
MS. HARF: I just said that Geneva II is currently on recess.
QUESTION: Completely done – on recess? So it could --
MS. HARF: Better listen when I say things.
QUESTION: I’m listening. I --
MS. HARF: I said Geneva is currently on recess.
QUESTION: Recess – that means it could resume, right?
MS. HARF: Right, but if there were a third round of talks --
QUESTION: But then you said Geneva III.
MS. HARF: -- wouldn’t it be the Geneva III conference, not Geneva II --
QUESTION: Okay. All right. That’s (inaudible).
MS. HARF: -- just numerically?
QUESTION: But Marie, you’ve already spent more than maybe 20 months to convene Geneva II, and now there is no results from Geneva II. And how long you will be waiting to achieve a political solution?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not waiting. We’re working with the parties to see if we can get everyone back to the table.
QUESTION: But how are you going to – just the question that you – the second part of my question, which you didn’t really answer, that – how are you going to change the equation so that talks are --
MS. HARF: More likely?
QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. Talks are productive --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- if you don’t change the calculus on the ground. Then you’re just coming back to the same --
MS. HARF: Well, we’re still working to change the calculus on the ground. We’re still working with the opposition. We – I think some people described it as a stalemate militarily. That’s probably true. And we are trying to help the opposition grow in strength and fight back against the regime, and indeed change the regime’s calculation that they should talk about things beyond terrorism. We’re not there yet.
QUESTION: Do you expect --
MS. HARF: We’re just not.
QUESTION: Marie, do you expect --
MS. HARF: I mean, I don’t know how more honest to be with you than we’re not there. We’re trying. It’s really hard.
QUESTION: But you’re saying two different things. You’re saying that, like, we’re not at a place where we can talk, but the calculus on the ground is not changing by anything you’re doing. I mean, you’re talking --
MS. HARF: We’re trying to change it.
QUESTION: You’re talking to them about how to change it. Is that right?
MS. HARF: No. We’re talking to the – well, we’re doing a couple things by talking. We’re talking to the opposition and obviously working with them to strengthen them to hopefully change the situation on the ground. We’re also talking with the opposition, but more importantly, Brahimi is talking with the Assad regime to see if we can get us all back to the table and actually talk about issues besides just terrorism and talk about the broader agenda.
This is very difficult and there are no easy ways forward here, and I know people are constantly reevaluating what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. But the underlying goal hasn’t changed that there is no military solution; there is only a political one, and we’re going to have to keep working towards it.
QUESTION: Marie, but --
QUESTION: Brahimi was --
QUESTION: Okay. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Let me go to Samir and then Said.
QUESTION: Brahimi was quoted in a newspaper today that reconvening Geneva III is a mission impossible.
MS. HARF: Well, he said that he’s prepared to start a third round of talks if the regime agrees to discuss agenda items of importance to both sides. But right now, we’ve said we don’t see it possible to convene a third round of talks. The way things are right now, no. We’re trying to change it.
QUESTION: Regarding the calculus on the ground, it seems that the regime is becoming more emboldened. In fact, they just launched a new airline company and it is – it’s getting landing rights in Kuwait and other places and maybe the Emirates and – this week and so on – to countries of your allies. So is that an indication --
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that about the airline. I’m not sure all of that’s 100 percent true. Let me take that part of your question and look into it.
QUESTION: Well, all right. Okay. There is --
MS. HARF: But I would challenge you to think that the regime is becoming emboldened. As I said, the military situation remains a stalemate. They are completely isolated in the world except for Iran and Russia, who we think has pushed them on things like chemical weapons to do more. The international community has spoken and said that there needs to be a diplomatic resolution here that does not involve Assad. So I would take notion with your idea that the regime is somehow emboldened. They’re holding on right now, but believe me, how this ends still remains to be seen. But there’s no future for the people of Syria that involves President Assad.
QUESTION: Okay. I wonder if we – I can get you to comment on reports that al-Qaida is trying to sort of have liberated areas in Syria now, and to declare a new Islamic caliphate and that they are getting aids and comfort and money and weapons and so on --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not --
QUESTION: -- from a number of countries in the Gulf region.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think it’s breaking news that we’re concerned about extremists operating in Syria.
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard anything new on that - hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: But in fact, it was Mr. Brennan who said that before a committee in Congress just in the past few days.
MS. HARF: Yep. And we’re concerned. We’ve been long-concerned about it.
QUESTION: Yes. Yes, please. Regarding the – you said that the Geneva talk, the political solution, is in recess or whatever you can call it, frozen. So it means that in the same time your support inside – for the opposition members inside Syria is still going on or stopped?
MS. HARF: Still going on, absolutely.
QUESTION: What about the humanitarian assistance?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. It’s still going on.
QUESTION: It’s still going on?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Or it’s like block by the regime?
MS. HARF: No. I think I have a quick update on that. Hold on. Let me see what I have in my book here. Hold on. I think I had an update on that.
Yes. Since we resumed our assistance earlier this year, we feel confident that we can continue to provide nonlethal assistance to the moderate armed opposition. So we’ve talked a lot about this, if you remember, when we had to suspend it because of the security situation. Right now, we do think that we can get it in, and we are doing so and we will continue doing so.
QUESTION: Marie, to change the calculations on the ground, the opposition has been asking for sophisticated arms to be delivered to them. Now are you more open to deliver this kind of arms to the opposition to change the calculations?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any, I think, more predictions for you on what our policy might look like going forward.
QUESTION: But it’s clear what do they need. They need sophisticated arms, and if they receive this --
MS. HARF: I don’t think anything in Syria could be called clear at all. And again, I know there are policy discussions ongoing right now. I don’t have any predictions for you.
QUESTION: Can I just --
MS. HARF: Yeah, well, let’s go back here and then I’ll come back up to you. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I would like to move to Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: It might be coming out of the blue a bit --
MS. HARF: Can you speak up just a little bit? Sorry, I can’t hear.
QUESTION: Sure. I wanted to ask about excess U.S. military hardware and weaponry that the U.S. Government decided to essentially leave behind in Afghanistan that you don’t need. A number of Central Asian republics and Pakistan asked you for some such hardware.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And I was wondering – this might be better addressed to the Pentagon, I guess, but still, I wanted to give it a shot. Have you made a decision as to what might get – which country might get what from that military hardware?
MS. HARF: I think that probably is a question better directed to the Pentagon. I’m happy to also check with them and see if there’s anything I can share. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t also State had a role – has a role to play in that, because it’s foreign military sale kind of thing?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I’m sure we have a role to play. I just don’t know the details, so let me check.
QUESTION: Okay, and one more on Pakistan. Yesterday, House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Ukrainian Support Act H.R. 4278, and there’s a small amendment in that. It’s related to the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, which is enhanced partnership with Pakistan after 2009.
MS. HARF: I know.
QUESTION: And the amendment is --
MS. HARF: Look at the first name on that bill.
QUESTION: Yes. And this amendment is to reduce the Kerry-Lugar amount of aid you provide to Pakistan of 1.5 billion by around 10 million for the radio broadcasts in the Central Asian (inaudible) regions. Do you support this move by the House? Is the Secretary comfortable with this, reducing the bill he authored for?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t actually familiar with that amendment. Obviously, it just passed the House.
QUESTION: It was passed yesterday.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me talk to our Leg folks and see what the – I just wasn’t aware of that amendment.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- on the Holocaust.
MS. HARF: Yes. Well – and we have seen them. Unfortunately, these statements are nothing new. We have heard these before and obviously would strongly condemn any anti-Semitic statements. They’re inflammatory. They’re, quite frankly, abhorrent. And it’s insulting to the millions of people who died in the Holocaust.
You heard the President reference the Holocaust today when he talked about what Europe had gone through in their own fight for freedom. And these kinds of comments are, as I said, abhorrent. I don’t know what else to call them, how I could be stronger in condemning them.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria, Marie?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Turkish foreign minister has said today that Turkey is ready to take any measures, including cross-border military operations into Syria against threats to its national security. Are you concerned about any military – Turkish military intervention in Syria?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our folks. I haven’t heard of any concerns.
MS. HARF: Wait, let’s stay on – are you going to Turkey, or are you going somewhere else?
QUESTION: I have another issue.
MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll go to you, and then we’ll come up here. You haven’t had a question yet.
MS. HARF: The Malaysian plane.
QUESTION: Yes. Not the – not the Syrian.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update. We’re – as I said yesterday, we’re still undertaking our own analysis of the satellite images. Hopefully we can confirm what the Malaysian Government confirmed. There was one question, whether there was a separate FBI investigation or not.
MS. HARF: There is not a separate – to my knowledge – FBI investigation. We’re obviously coordinating and working with the Malaysian Government.
QUESTION: Can I – yesterday, you used the word, “rumors,” that there are a lot of rumors around.
MS. HARF: About what could have happened, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yes. One of the rumors, as you maybe know, is that a foreign country shot down the plane. Do you want to comment on this?
MS. HARF: I have no idea what theories they’re looking at in terms of being what actually happened. I just have no idea. I know they’re looking at a number of them, but I’d caution everyone before jumping to conclusions.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: If you have any comment on the possible indictment of 919 people, including the murshid, the guide or the --
MS. HARF: Yes. So I don’t know if folks just saw - we put out a statement from Secretary Kerry right before the briefing on the 529 and then the new trial as well.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. HARF: So I’m glad we were able to get that statement out. Obviously, this is something he cares very deeply about. Let me see what I have on this. I know this was just announced, if I’m correct.
MS. HARF: Nothing new than yesterday. As the Secretary said, he urged the appropriate Egyptian authorities to remedy the situation. These sentences cannot go forward. This is a blatant disregard for justice and really defies any sort of logic that these could be free and fair.
QUESTION: So, I mean, this total disregard for justice – but the Egyptians are – seem to be sort of disregarding of your demands or the rest of the world’s to adhere to --
MS. HARF: International standards for free and fair judicial processes.
QUESTION: International standards, exactly, okay.
MS. HARF: These aren’t our standards; these are the world’s standards.
QUESTION: But should – in the event that Egypt goes ahead with these indictments and so on, should it be subject to some sort of sanctions, as you do in other countries?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions for you on what our policy might look like towards them if they go ahead with them. We do not think they should go ahead with them.
QUESTION: Yes, please, the same issue. I mean, I’m not asking about the policy or the reaction. Just yesterday, you mentioned that you will answer a question related to the kind of – the contacts you have regarding this issue in particular. What kind of contacts you have in the last 24 hours? It’s with the officials over there --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- it’s with the embassy here? What kind of --
MS. HARF: It’s on the ground. Our charge, Mark Sievers, has been in contact with the Egyptian Government on the ground. As you know, we don’t have an ambassador there right now.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The court is expected to issue a verdict tomorrow or – yeah, tomorrow is Thursday.
MS. HARF: Well, we have been following the case closely. I think we expect a verdict on March 27th. Is that tomorrow?
MS. HARF: Yes. We have throughout this process urged the Government of Qatar to ensure a fair, transparent, and expeditious trial. We have been providing consular assistance to them. We have been concerned by indications that not all of the evidence was being weighed by the court and that cultural misunderstandings may have been leading to an unfair trial. We have at a senior level raised this case with the Government of Qatar on multiple occasions, most recently, I believe, in late October. But we may have talked about it more recently than that.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Can you explain to me what this “cultural misunderstanding” means?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t probably have more of a definition for that for you. But we have been concerned – we’ve also been concerned not just about cultural misunderstandings, but that evidence was being weighed – not all of the evidence was being weighed by the court.
QUESTION: Misunderstanding of whom? I mean, this is the whole question. I’m not trying --
MS. HARF: Well, between our two cultures, I would say.
QUESTION: So if they’re found guilty, presumably you’ll have a real problem, considering that you feel that the evidence has not been properly weighed and --
MS. HARF: We’ll see what happens here. I don’t want to get ahead of any verdict that might come down on the 27th.
QUESTION: So, but --
MS. HARF: But if there – we’ll talk about it more, I’m sure, whenever the verdict comes.
QUESTION: But at this point, besides cultural misunderstanding --
MS. HARF: And the evidence.
QUESTION: -- and the evidence, I mean, you think that the evidence are not enough to make a case?
MS. HARF: I’m not making legal judgments.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah.
MS. HARF: I’m just saying that we want to make sure the trial is fair and transparent, and that we have had some concerns throughout it.
QUESTION: Marie, can I ask --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- you about the Secret Service incident in the Netherlands?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There are reports that the hotel found the one agent outside in a hallway and then contacted the embassy. I’m wondering if that timeline or sequence of events jives and if you could just tell us what the embassy involvement was.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know about the embassy involvement. For the case, I think I would refer you to the Secret Service for the timeline of what happened with their folks here. I’m happy to check on the embassy question, but probably best to point questions to them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)
DPB # 53