2:13 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello. Happy Friday, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then we will open it up for questions.
A quick travel update: Today, Secretary Kerry is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with President Obama. He has accompanied President Obama to his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah. I think – I believe it just ended. And there will be more of a readout coming from the road.
Second item at the top: We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kessab, Syria, and has forced many to flee. There are far too many innocent civilians suffering as a result of the war. All civilians, as well as their places of worship, must be protected. As we have said throughout this conflict, we deplore continued threats against Christians and other minorities in Syria. And as you may have seen from the readout of President Obama’s conversation with Pope Francis yesterday, they discussed among other things the plight of minorities, especially Christians, inside Syria today.
We have seen some statements by groups fighting in Kessab saying they will not target civilians and will respect minorities and holy places. We expect those commitments to be upheld. The United States will continue its steadfast support to those affected by violence in Syria and throughout the region, including Syrian Armenians. We have long had concerns about the threat posed by violent extremists, and this latest threat to the Armenian community in Syria only underscores this further.
One final note at the top: I want to welcome some visitors in the back two rows. We are pleased to welcome a group of international journalists who are in the U.S. on Alfred Friendly Press Partners Fellowships. These journalists are from Pakistan, Ukraine, Tunisia, Egypt, and Kenya. They will be working in host newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times for the next six months, so some of your colleagues in here. This program offers professional journalists from developing countries and emerging markets an opportunity to develop their journalism skills while working full time at U.S. host news organizations. So welcome. We’re very happy to have you. Feel free to jump in with questions if you want. You’ll see nobody else is shy about doing so.
With that, Laura, kick us off on Friday.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Wondering if you have an update. There were some reports that Americans may have been held hostage.
MS. HARF: Yes. So the reports do continue to come in, but they have indicated that Afghan security forces have neutralized the remaining attackers, obviously played a crucial role in evacuating civilians from the guest house. We condemn this attack on Roots of Peace, the organization you mentioned, an organization that only seeks to help Afghans improve their lives and their livelihoods. Roots of Peace has been a valued partner for Afghanistan with the support of USAID.
All chief of mission personnel are accounted for at this time. We can confirm that there were two U.S. citizens in the guest house, but they are now safe. We also note the Taliban’s claim of responsibility. Again, the Taliban’s actions demonstrate the growing distance between them and the Afghan people and at a time when Afghans are engaged in an inclusive dialogue about the future of their country in the run-up to the election. The Taliban continue to offer nothing but an agenda of violence and fear like we saw today.
QUESTION: So the two U.S. citizens – were they ever abducted, or were they just kind of trapped inside the house and then they were gotten out safely?
MS. HARF: I think those details are still emerging. Let me see if I can get you some more on that. We do know that they’re safe now.
QUESTION: Okay. And the chief of mission personnel were – I wasn’t aware that there was any chief of mission personnel involved in --
MS. HARF: They were not.
MS. HARF: But it is often a question we get any time there’s an attack --
MS. HARF: -- or something like this, whether our chief of mission personnel are accounted for, and they are.
QUESTION: Got it.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. Regarding this statement that you made about the Syrian Armenians?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I was just wondering if you have anything – update about the situation, or just – is this a past tense? Is something happened, or it’s – I think it’s the ongoing – I mean --
MS. HARF: It’s an ongoing issue, certainly, that we’re concerned about.
QUESTION: And then how you --
MS. HARF: But there – as I noted in my statement, though, there has been some recent fighting and an increase in violence, which is why we wanted to note it specifically today.
QUESTION: So are there – because there are some news reports from different sides regarding this issue for – either from the Armenians or from the Turks and from the Syrians in the same time. Are you following this story – I mean, this case? Are --
MS. HARF: Well, we are – I don’t know if you’re referring to a specific case – we’re certainly following the situation for Armenians inside Syria for all minorities, including Christians, and know that violent extremists such as ISIL have targeted them, among many people, but we’re particularly concerned about these minority communities and want to make sure that their rights are protected.
QUESTION: Beside being concerned – because let me be specific about – are you in touch with any of the governments, including the Turkey – Turkish Government or other UN organization to figure out exactly – because it’s – some of – there is a deportation of people taking place in the last week, which is, like, starting from last week till now. Are these – anything is going on in that regard?
MS. HARF: I can check and see who we’re talking to. Obviously, we talk to a host of countries in the region, Turkey and others, about a wide range of issues, but I can check on that specifically.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any – your – what you have is just, like, observation of what’s going on, or you have information?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we have both, right. We’ve seen reports, as I said – recent fighting, violence against the Syrian Armenian communities. We see the reports coming out of there. Obviously, we talk – we try to get as much information from the ground as possible, as we do in all places in Syria, but it’s hard to get. But clearly, there have been some very troubling trends lately.
QUESTION: Because according to some reports, that those people were Jabhat al-Nusrah people – I’m not sure if you mentioned them in the statement or not.
MS. HARF: Well, I was – what I’m talking about is extremist groups like ISIL attacking innocent civilians – in this case, the Syrian Armenian community, a minority community, as they have with other minority communities, Christian communities, and others inside Syria. So this is – what I’m talking about is those kinds of attacks. I know there are a lot of dynamics broadly here in the Syrian conflict, but I was speaking to one specific dynamic.
QUESTION: There is another thing which is written about this. When you mentioned the President and he raised the issue with the Pope or the Pope raised it with --
MS. HARF: They discussed it, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- him, the issue, maybe I’m not – to be more accurate – is – this issue is raised with the Syrian opposition people? Because it’s like sometimes they don’t – according to what I heard last week from the Ambassador Ford that, definitely, they are usually avoiding to condemn publicly what’s going on by Islamic groups or a Jihadist group in Syria.
MS. HARF: Well, let’s be clear when we’re talking about the opposition, to be very clear that what – the violence I’m talking about is being perpetrated by groups like ISIL, so not the moderate opposition, not the folks we work with repeatedly and consistently on things inside Syria. I think that the opposition has been very clear in condemning extremism and saying they will fight extremism inside Syria and that that’s something they’re committed to, absolutely. They’ve said that for many, many months.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: According to reports in Turkey, the Foreign Minister Mr. Davutoglu planned a provocative act inside Syria so Turkey has the excuse to invade Syria. Do you want to comment on this?
MS. HARF: Are you referring to an alleged phone conversation?
MS. HARF: As I said yesterday, I don’t have anything for you on alleged calls or conversations that are out there among Turkish officials.
QUESTION: Yeah, but Mr. Davutoglu --
MS. HARF: It’s not for me to comment.
QUESTION: But Mr. Davutoglu said that the tape is genuine.
MS. HARF: Again, not for me to comment on those allegations that are out there.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: A question about Venezuela?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Roberta Jacobson yesterday made comments to the effect that the State Department is considering or views sanctions against Venezuela as a possible tool --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- for effecting change in that country. I was hoping you could maybe clarify where in the toolbox sanctions are from the State Department’s point of view. And also, apparently Colombia has said that the regime has agreed to the opposition’s terms for talks. I just wonder if you could get some reaction on that.
MS. HARF: A couple points. On the first, we have said – Secretary Kerry has said, and I have said, certainly, that there are a number of policy options on the table for how we could help foster a peaceful solution here. We have said one of them could be sanctions, but I have nothing to predict in terms of what that might look like. What we’ve been more focused on, quite frankly, is what you’ve heard me talk a lot about – that the importance of getting a third-party mediator talking to both sides here to try and get some peaceful resolution of this going forward.
And I don’t know if this is what you’re referring to, so follow up if it’s not, but the group of foreign ministers who went to Venezuela and I think met with both the government and the opposition – I don’t know if it was yesterday, but recently – is encouraging. We hope this could be an effort to end the violence and promote honest dialogue that addresses the Venezuelan people’s legitimate grievances. There’s still – this is just the beginning stages of what this might look like, but hopefully this or something like this can serve as a third-party meditator to try and get the parties to the table, try and end the violence, and move forward here.
QUESTION: I mean, as you probably know, people like us tend to hear sanctions and we glom on that. I was wondering if you could characterize how realistic the application of sanctions is in this case.
MS. HARF: As I said, we’ve set a wide range of policies around the table. But what we are really focused on right now is trying to identify – have the two parties identify and agree to a third-party mediator here. So while there are many options on the table, I think we’re focused on the mediation aspect at this point.
MS. HARF: Yep.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- next week, through April and May – one, if U.S. is following the elections in India. Two, Devyani, the diplomatic drama still in the minds of the many people during this election here in India. First there was a celebration because your judge dismissed the case, and again it was refiled again by the U.S. attorney Mr. Bharara. And again now the Indian foreign minister said – and I hope – I think he called Secretary Kerry – that this case is no longer only a diplomatic but it has become a political issue. So where – what is the future of this drama? When it’s going to end and what it will take to end this drama between the two countries?
MS. HARF: Well, in our minds, the drama that I think people have been trying to keep alive is, quite frankly, past us. First, obviously, we are paying attention to what’s happening in India. As we’ve said, it’s up for the people of India to decide their future. We will work with whoever the people of India think should be their next leadership.
I would note that just on the 28th, which I believe is today – yes – we’ve convened the U.S.-India-East Asia Consultations to talk about a wide range of issues, including maritime security – this was here at the State Department – maritime security, expanding regional trade opportunities, increasing cooperation in multilateral fora. This is the sixth time we’ve had this consult.
So again, we are working with the Indian Government bilaterally in a very businesslike, very close, consultative manner on a wide range of issues. So we’ve, quite frankly, moved the relationship past this incident. There’s a process in place. That’s not our process. And we’re working with the Indian Government on a whole host of issues.
QUESTION: But this Devyani thing is now – it is – is it a diplomatic or legal or political issue? How it’s going to end, because there’s a strain between --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a legal process. There’s a legal process
QUESTION: -- because there’s strained relations between the two countries because of this.
MS. HARF: We would disagree that relations are strained today because of this. We know it was a difficult incident. We know there were difficult issues. We talked about it for many, many days and weeks in this briefing room. But quite frankly, we believe we need to move the relationship past it. We believe the Indian Government wants to do the same thing. And we are working together very closely, as I said, on a whole range of issues.
QUESTION: And a question on Pakistan.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: As far as talking about human rights and minorities, minorities are under attack still in Pakistan – Christians, Hindus. Many, many shops of Hindus were burned down during this Festival of Colors in Pakistan, and there’s a fear going on among the minorities there. What the U.S. Government is telling Pakistan? That they have to stop now because there’s a democracy, there is an election, there is a prime minister now, it’s no longer dictatorship.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not familiar with the specific incidents you’re speaking to. Obviously, broadly speaking, we support minority rights all over the world, anywhere. I’m not familiar with those incidents or the details behind them, so I wouldn’t want to comment any further.
QUESTION: And finally, Bangladesh.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Then I’m coming over here. Yeah.
QUESTION: Any updates on Bangladesh as far as violence going on still there and election problems in the past, and if U.S. still certifies that elections or not?
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t certify elections. That’s not our job. I don’t have any update for you on this since we last spoke.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Let’s go over here. Yes.
QUESTION: So the UN Human Rights Council agreed on a resolution to extend its investigation into human rights abuses by North Korea.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I wanted to know if you had any comments on that.
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have. I do. Just give me one second. The Human Rights Council did a number of things today, including that, so let me just pull this up. You’re asking about North Korea specifically, right?
MS. HARF: Okay. Yes. So we cosponsored this year’s resolution, which was led by the EU and Japan, adopted by a vote of 30 yes, 6 no, and 11 abstentions. The text focused on the contents of the recent report of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry, condemns the DPRK for its ongoing human rights violations. It also seeks to promote implementation of several of the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation, including the Security Council’s consideration of a referral to the ICC and targeted sanctions against those most responsible for what the COI described as crimes against humanity.
Finally, the resolution called for the establishment of a field-based mechanism to continue the investigation and collection of testimony and evidence initiated by the COI, which would lay the groundwork for a possible accountability framework in the future.
QUESTION: And one more related to both North Korea and the UN.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Security Council the – issued a statement regarding North Korea’s recent missile launch. I wanted to know if you had any statement regarding that as well.
MS. HARF: Yes. So this happened yesterday. The Security Council unanimously condemned the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches in a presidential statement, which all members agreed constituted clear violations of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The council also agreed to consult on an appropriate response. In the wake of yesterday’s meeting, we remain in close consultation with our P5 members and the rest of the council on the format and content of an appropriate response that would go a little further. Nothing to preview at this point, but obviously we’ll keep having the conversation and see if there’s additional action we can take.
QUESTION: So what do you think was preventing stronger action against North Korea?
MS. HARF: I don’t think anything’s preventing stronger action. I think it’s been 24 hours. We’re talking about what to do next, want to do it in the right way. But nothing’s preventing it. We’re just figuring out the right way to do it.
QUESTION: North Korea again? It’s kind of a follow-up. So several diplomats of the North Korean sanction committee, of the council, suggested as an option they might want to extend the blacklist of entities that are related to the missile program. And I wondered what you would consider about that option, whether you would agree with that.
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard about that proposal. Let me check on it.
QUESTION: Okay. I have another one. I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Go ahead. It’s okay.
QUESTION: So yesterday the Japanese minister in charge of abduction issues – Minister Furuya – said that it’s possible for Japan to gradually lift its unilateral sanctions if North Korea shows sincere positive movement towards resolving the abductee issues.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And North Korea and Japan will be meeting on Sunday. So a few days ago, you said that the United States and Japan were closely coordinating on the denuclearization issue, and I was wondering if Japan does lift the sanctions, are you worried about the coordination between the States and Japan?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t --
QUESTION: Do you think that this could weaken --
MS. HARF: I don’t want to predict what might happen. (A), we are closely coordinated with our ally, Japan, on all issues related to North Korea and everything else. On this, we have continued to support Japanese efforts to resolve the abductions issue in a transparent manner. We maintain regular contact with Japan on all of these issues, and just are not concerned about us not being on the same page here.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t think that this might weaken the overall denuclearization policy?
MS. HARF: Again, I think you’re getting into a lot of hypotheticals here. We don’t think there’s – we don’t think there’s any daylight between us on these issues, and if further things happen, I’m happy to engage on them then.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Marie.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Elise and then Samir, you’re next. Then we’ll go back to Elliot.
QUESTION: I want to ask on the case of this Saudi diplomat that is –has been denied asylum – this former – he applied for asylum because he is persecuted as a gay person. He was let go by the Saudi embassy and is now fighting for asylum. His name is Ali Asseri. I was wondering if you have any information. I mean, this Administration has made protection of gays and lesbians around the world and their protection against persecution a priority. So I would think that this would fit right into those goals.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any details on that specific case. We have, you’re right, made the protection of LGBT rights a priority all over the world. For any asylum cases, the Department of Homeland Security would cover those. Again, I don’t have any of the details on this specific case.
MS. HARF: Yeah. We’ll stay on Saudi. Yeah. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Okay. You saw the reports out of Riyadh with the Administration considering allowing the King of Saudi Arabia to send MANPADS to Syrian rebels, stipulating that no decision has been made at this point. Wondering: Did the U.S. – I’m just unclear of the process – has the U.S. required Saudi to get some kind of approval before sending other aid to Syrian rebels? I mean, why is this the case with MANPADS specifically?
MS. HARF: Well, a few points on this. We’re obviously not going to get into all of the details of our consultations with other countries on assistance to the opposition, but suffice to say we have worked very hard to be coordinated on the types of assistance we provide with the Saudis. And I think you heard the Administration today speak to the fact that this coordination has improved quite significantly. So where a place last fall maybe we had some tactical differences, we’ve worked very hard in working on this trip to improve our coordination, to ultimately be able to help the opposition gain strength, again, change the balance of power on the ground, as we’ve talked about.
QUESTION: Right. So if the improve – the relationship’s gotten better, that suggests that the relationship wasn’t great some time ago. And if that was the case, why would the Saudis need to feel that they needed U.S. approval in order to do this?
MS. HARF: Well, I just – I didn’t say it was bad. I said it’s stronger today because we’ve worked even harder to closely coordinate. And one thing we’ve done not just with the Saudis, but with our partners, whether it’s Turkey, the Europeans, others, have very closely coordinated on what types of assistance we’re providing, because in fact we think it should be complementary. We think we should be providing what’s most helpful to the opposition to help change the balance on the ground, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. That’s what – part of what the conversation’s about today.
QUESTION: So is that all assistance, all military assistance, all weapons assistance, or just this system?
MS. HARF: No, we have across the board on all of our assistance maintained very close coordination with our partners on this.
QUESTION: But does that mean that Saudi in each case, whether it’s small arms or – I don’t know, nods or something like that, they have asked the U.S., hey, can we send this before they actually --
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into the details of what that coordination looks like or how that process works.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And then, Samir, I promise you’re next. Yes.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, I mean, there was an objection from U.S. regarding this weapon in sending --
MS. HARF: And our position on that has not changed.
QUESTION: Not changed?
MS. HARF: Not changed. Correct. Our position on that has not changed.
QUESTION: So is the U.S. now similar to – the U.S. position similar to the Saudi position to change the military balance on the ground in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve always had the same goals with the Saudis, right? Where we’ve had some tactical differences, we’ve had conversations and worked through them and today feel like we are in a stronger place with our two countries closely coordinating even more what kinds of assistance we’re providing, how we can increase that assistance, what makes the most sense and how we can change the balance of power there.
QUESTION: So can I follow up his question, because the arming --
MS. HARF: Yes, you can.
QUESTION: The arming issue is one of the main disagreements between U.S. and the countries that are providing arms, because it’s not clear yet, for me at least I’m not sure, maybe you can clarify it. Is it pick and choose? It’s like a selective regarding who is going to be armed? I mean, because it’s like all the issue of concern was for the last few months, let’s say the last six months, that the arms is reaching to the people who are extremists.
MS. HARF: Right. Well, so part of what the conversation has been with the Saudis and others – clearly, the Saudis want us to provide as much assistance as possible. They want to as well. One of the questions that we’ve always had, and we’ve said this very publicly, is that as we provide assistance, without getting into specifically what that assistance looks like, we have to do it in a way that helps change the balance of power on the ground and that, you’re right, doesn’t end up going to people like al-Nusrah or ISIL people we consider terrorist organizations.
So we vet people. We have a process for doing this. And that’s why we want to be very careful when we provide assistance, understanding that we need to keep providing more as quickly as possible, also understanding there needs to be a process in place so we know where the stuff is ending up. So that’s part of what the balance we’re trying to strike here is. That’s part of why sometimes this takes longer than we might want. But we do think we’re getting better at it. We think we’ve gotten better at that process throughout the many months we’ve been doing this.
QUESTION: When you say the stuff is ended up, I mean, what do you mean? Reaching to whom?
MS. HARF: It’s a technical term: “stuff.” Yes, exactly. Who it reaches. Absolutely.
MS. HARF: I do. We have, obviously, received the report. The State Department values the oversight provided by our inspector general and we take IG recommendations seriously and rely on them to make improvements in how we operate. With regard to this specific inspection report, Department officials are reviewing the report and its recommendations and will respond to the inspector general formally. While we agree with some of the recommendations, we disagree with others. I’m not going to outline those today. We’ll do that in a formal report. But we believe the report contains a number of factual inaccuracies and take issue with several of the report’s assertions.
Our ambassador in Bahrain is qualified, highly capable, and we have full confidence in his leadership of the mission. He has served with distinction for over 35 years in some of our most challenging missions, including in Iraq and as our ambassador in Yemen; has repeatedly been recognized for his service and leadership, including multiple Superior Honor Awards and the President’s Distinguished Service Award.
QUESTION: But just because he – did all those wonderful things in the past doesn’t mean – doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the complaints --
MS. HARF: With his leadership now?
QUESTION: Well, with the --
MS. HARF: Well, I think it matters. Absolutely.
QUESTION: Well, it matters in the sense that he has leadership capabilities --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- but that doesn’t mean necessarily that what is being applied to this particular case in Bahrain really doesn’t have much bearing.
MS. HARF: I think it’s an important fact to note. I also – as I said, we will respond formally, but we do disagree with some of the recommendations. We take issue with several of the report’s assertions and believe the report contains a number of factual inaccuracies. We will be responding formally to the IG.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the same region?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I have a question regarding – do you have an update about the case of Qatar, or it’s --
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update. On the Americans?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update, no.
MS. HARF: We can.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: And two --
MS. HARF: Easy. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The issue of the release of Jonathan Pollard, it has been an issue, a topic of discussions between Israelis and Americans over the last days?
MS. HARF: As I’ve said I think for the last few days, we’re not going to get into the specifics of any issues we discuss. You know our position on Jonathan Pollard. That’s it.
QUESTION: What about – today is the deadline for the release?
MS. HARF: I don’t think it’s today. I think you have your dates a little wrong.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it’s like 28th of March.
MS. HARF: I think it’s Saturday.
QUESTION: Tomorrow I mean. Sorry. Today is Friday. We’re still waiting.
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions that are happening on the ground. When we have more to talk about, we will.
MS. HARF: Yes. Actually, let me go to Ali because she hasn’t had one. I’m being very diplomatic today. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: There have been reports that in addition to the troops massing on the Ukrainians border that the Russians are also concealing some equipment and troops. I just wanted to know if you guys have anything to say about that, about those reports.
MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of those reports. I don’t have independent confirmation. It wouldn’t surprise me, and we’re always obviously looking out for any denial or deception that they might be trying to do. But I don’t have independent confirmation.
QUESTION: And the numbers that range within kind of the 50,000, and that includes troops on the border as well as Russian troops within Crimea, is that still an accurate sort of ballpark? I know that it’s changing.
MS. HARF: You know what? There are a lot of ballparks out there. We said tens of thousands. I don’t want to get too specific here, obviously, but I think we’re concerned about the large number and believe they should be moved away from the border.
QUESTION: And one last question. If Russia does decide to move into Crimea, what immediate steps are in place that the United States can --
MS. HARF: Well, we have a range of policy options. You heard the President talk yesterday about more sanctions. There are other policy options as well. We’ve been working very hard with our NATO partners on this. Obviously, we’ve worked with them to review ways to have additional deployments to Eastern Europe, to reassure our allies if Russia were to take further escalatory steps, so lots of options on the table here.
QUESTION: Reassuring your – I mean, if you know that U.S. military is not going to actually get involved in any type of conflict with Russia, then just the presence of them might assure allies, but it’s not going to deter President Putin. Isn’t that right?
MS. HARF: I think that’s your analysis of it.
QUESTION: Well, are you saying that just the presence of U.S. military in the region after the President has already said that the United States is not going to engage in a military conflict with Russia would actually deter him in any way?
MS. HARF: I think it would be an important signal if it comes to that, yes, that we are standing side-by-side our allies. I do.
QUESTION: But what’s the signal? That they’re just going to be there and watch it?
MS. HARF: Elise, you’re getting 15 steps down the road here.
QUESTION: I’m not getting 15 steps ahead. There are some --
MS. HARF: If – yeah, actually, you are. Sending --
QUESTION: -- between estimates, there are like 40,000 --
MS. HARF: No, no. Let me finish, Elise. Sending U.S. troops to NATO allied countries to show them we’re standing with them is different than whether or not Russia’s going to go into Crimea or eastern Ukraine with more troops. Those are different things. That’s what I’m saying.
QUESTION: No, but what she – what Ali is asking is what can you do to deter President Putin from doing that. And you said --
MS. HARF: She asked what we’ll do if he does it, actually.
QUESTION: You said – no, I’m sorry. You said it’s two different things, but you’re saying two different things, because she’s asking about what you can do to stop President Putin from going into eastern Ukraine --
MS. HARF: That’s not what she asked --
MS. HARF: She asked what we would do if he did.
QUESTION: Okay, so --
MS. HARF: So I said we’re looking at further sanctions, as the President said. And to prevent further escalatory steps, we’ll be sending some folks to Eastern Europe to shore up our NATO allies.
QUESTION: Okay, so I’m asking, then: What can you do to actually deter him from doing that besides threatening sanctions?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve made it very clear that there will be further consequences if he does, that we’ve already hurt his – that we’ve – this is tag team here. I like it. (Laughter.) No, that we’ve already hurt his economy greatly by the actions already taken. There will be further consequences that will hurt Russia even more and further isolate them, whether it’s diplomatically, economically, or militarily from the rest of the world if they do. A number of steps are on the table right now.
QUESTION: So let me phrase the question in such a way that, I mean, when – whether you use the word, “hurt Russia” or “isolate Russia,” do you still believe – or at least factually – that the sanctions are working or having an impact on Russia?
MS. HARF: They’re having – certainly having an impact. Yes.
QUESTION: Is there going to be any kind of evaluation of how this is impacting? Because there is a lot of doubt about that it’s working or not, or it may take a long time.
MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s any doubt about the state of the Russian economy today. Let’s be clear about that. There’s no doubt there. Sanctions do – the longer sanctions are on, the more they hurt. So they will continue to hurt Russia, and if we put more sanctions on, they will continue to hurt Russia. If Russia’s not part of the G8 – the longer Russia goes not being part of the G8, it will continue to hurt their economy.
All of these things, the longer they go on, will hurt Russia even more, which is why they should take steps now. As the President has said, there’s still a diplomatic door open here. Right? Take steps now to de-escalate the situation and we’ll see where we can go from here.
QUESTION: So I will use another H-word, which is “help” – help Ukraine. I mean, what kind of help is going on now at – not at this moment, in the last few days?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: And then the second part of this help, when you say, “our NATO allies, we are helping them,” U.S. strictly means which countries? I mean, Poland, Baltic states, or what?
MS. HARF: Everyone in NATO. But you don’t have to be in NATO to be a partner that we’re going to help. On Ukraine, you saw the IMF package yesterday that we are moving forward with that will not only provide immediate money – or not immediate, but money as soon as we can get it there – and also unlock United States and European money – I think around $27 billion. Congress, hopefully very soon, will pass our own Ukraine bill that has loan guarantees for Ukraine in it. So economically, there are a number of ways we are helping Ukraine today. Diplomatically, you saw we led yesterday in the General Assembly to get a resolution passed standing very strongly in support of Ukraine.
One of the big topics of conversation the Secretary will have next week in Brussels with the NATO ministerial is specifically about, again, NATO – what you’re asking about and what Elise asked about and what we can do more in that sphere to help Ukraine.
QUESTION: Is there any – I mean, I am sure that there is – but can you have any details about how U.S. is helping Ukraine militarily?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details on that. You mean in terms of --
QUESTION: I mean the troops or their readiness or their being equipped or --
MS. HARF: I can – I’ll – I can check with my colleagues in the Defense Department to see. They probably have a better answer than I do.
QUESTION: Just to follow quickly, is U.S. going to ask any other countries outside NATO, like India, China, or other friends of Russia, as far as sanctions are concerned, like in the past during Iranian crisis was – asked India to cut oil supply from Iran?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we’re there yet. Obviously, we’ve been consulting very closely with the Europeans about sanctions. We have been talking with other countries diplomatically, though, if you remember the Security Council vote last weekend. It was significant that China, for example, abstained and did not vote with Russia. Yesterday, only 10 other countries in the General Assembly – people like Syria and Sudan – voted with Russia. So we are actively working on the diplomatic side to isolate Russia and that means with countries like China and India and others. But on the oil part, we’re just not there yet.
QUESTION: So to follow up – not specifically on that, but on Ukraine and Russia --
MS. HARF: Yeah, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- does the State Department share the analysis by some apparently in the government or in the Administration that there will be another military incursion by Russia into Ukraine, that this is all but certain?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly hope it’s not.
QUESTION: But do you – does your intelligence indicate that it will? I mean --
MS. HARF: Well, I would check with the intelligence community on what their assessment is. What we have said is that there are a large number of troops massed on the border --
MS. HARF: -- and that President Putin and the Russian Government have some choices to make. And we hope – we have told them specifically there is room for more conversations and room for diplomacy. And so we hope we will – they will capitalize on that, they will realize there will be more consequences if they don’t, and they won’t, in fact, go further into Ukraine.
QUESTION: But I don’t think there’s a lot of intelligence that some of the IC can get at, other than satellite. And so I was wondering if maybe the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau or your CT – maybe not your CT Bureau – but your Intelligence Bureau had better diplomacy.
MS. HARF: I’m not sure that’s entirely true about the intelligence community. Not to put on my old hat of defending the intelligence community, but I think that’s actually not entirely true. Look, right now it’s clear that there are troops on the border that could go in if they made a decision to. The question is whether or not there’s been a decision made to. I don’t know the answer to that. My friends in the intelligence community might. But what I am saying is that they should not do so, that Putin should not do so.
QUESTION: Well, while you’ve got your old hat on, I’m sure you saw some of the reports today that indicated that the CIA didn’t think that Russia would invade or do the massive incursion into Crimea the last time around. And so this time now with another big advancement of troops on the border, they are saying, apparently, that yes we do believe that there will be a major incursion into southern and eastern Ukraine. So I’m just wondering if that’s something that you all --
MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, without getting into specifics about the intelligence assessments – I would obviously refer to my colleagues there – I would hesitate with some of the language you used that said they didn’t think X, they didn’t think Y. There’s obviously always difficulty predicting in any situation with certainty exactly when or how something will happen. That doesn’t mean people aren’t looking at a range of possibilities. And when you see a number of troops massed on a border, clearly one of the possibilities is that there will be an incursion. So I’d check with them. I’m not going to do a full-scale defense of their analysis, but I would caution any stories out there that say X one way about analysis. That’s just not how intel analysis actually works.
Elliot. Wait, Elliot hasn’t had one yet.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Human Rights Committee issued some observations on the fourth report of the United States. Topping the list of those concerns was the U.S. interpretation that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to those under U.S. jurisdiction but outside U.S. territory, and the report recommends that the U.S. reevaluate this policy. Is there any plans – are there any plans to do so?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I missed part of that question. You’re asking about the ICCPR report?
QUESTION: It was – there was --
MS. HARF: The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?
QUESTION: I believe so, yes.
MS. HARF: Which part of that are you – I’m sorry, there’s – I have a lot on this. Which part are you asking about specifically?
QUESTION: So this was the UN Human Rights Committee issued some observations, concluding observations on the fourth report of the U.S.
MS. HARF: Well, what – and I can look into the specifics. I don’t know about that one specifically. But in terms of the ICCPR process, we underwent the review of our human rights record through this process in a public livestream forum, full engagement of civil society, and look forward to working – continuing our collaboration and working with the UN Human Rights Committee as we work on these issues.
So from our perspective, we thought the process was fairly transparent and open. Is there a specific you’re asking about?
MS. HARF: Okay, sorry.
QUESTION: So that’s --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- my question is specifically on the policy of the U.S. on the extraterritorial application of the international covenant. But the U.S. position is currently that the covenant does not apply to those who are under U.S. jurisdiction --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- but outside the territory of the U.S. And the committee --
MS. HARF: Okay, let me check.
QUESTION: The committee recommends reevaluation of this. It’s a policy that’s been in place since the mid ‘90s.
MS. HARF: Okay. I’m happy to check on that specific recommendation. I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that one.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, I do. Give me one second. It was a U.S.-led resolution – and the Secretary actually put out a statement on this, I hope you saw that, I think yesterday or the day before – adopted by a vote of 23 yes, 12 no, and 12 abstentions. For the first time, this resolution requests a comprehensive investigation to be undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into alleged violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes committed in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission report, which was 2002 to 2009. In addition, it requests that OHCR monitor, assess, report on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including any relevant domestic processes dealing with reconciliation and accountability.
QUESTION: And what was the – do you have any comments on what role India played? They didn’t vote; they abstained?
MS. HARF: Yes, I do. Just give me one second to page back here in this book. I do.
It is disappointing to us that India abstained from voting on this resolution when they voted yes for the last two years. We have made our disappointment known to Indian officials. Beyond that, I’d refer you to them in terms of how they voted.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: U.S. ambassador to India met Mr. Narendra Modi, Gujarat chief minister and the BJP president – and prime ministerial candidate, and that was under a broad range of meetings. Can you update us if she met anybody else, because now the election is in the last – the campaign is in the last days?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t aware that she had met. Let me check on those facts and make sure we have all of our facts right and see if there’s any other meetings to read out for you. As we’ve said, a broad range of contacts leading up to the elections.
QUESTION: Quick one on Afghanistan. As the election nears, and the violence continuing, including yesterday, and Talibans are really – they are threatening the elections and also officials there, international community is really fearful. So what do you think the future of Afghanistan as far as elections under the fear of Taliban, who are not supporting or going to be part of it?
MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is that the Afghans themselves have made significant progress towards holding their elections next month. Afghan security ministries, in close coordination with the Afghan National Security Council, have continued working with the Independent Elections Commission to prepare security for the elections. We know much more needs to be done, but we have, quite frankly, been impressed by the progress that the IEC and the security organizations have made.
I’d remind you of a few other data points: Voter registration continues. Candidates are finalized. Two key electoral laws have been adopted. Elections commissioners and complaints commissioners have been appointed. In addition, the Afghan security ministries, as I’ve said, have continued working to prepare for the election.
Also recent polls show that the vast majority of Afghans see elections as compatible with Islam, and 85 percent intend to vote; 77 percent think their votes will make a difference. So I would say that a majority, a large majority, of Afghans reject what the Taliban is trying to sell them, reject this kind of violence and fear and intimidation, and want to go to the polls, and they should be allowed to do so to pick the leaders of their country freely, without intimidation.
QUESTION: They’re also saying that without the full cooperation of Pakistan, next-door neighbor, this election or democracy in Afghanistan is not possible. So what role you think U.S. is playing so Pakistan can cooperate or --
MS. HARF: Look, this is a conversation about Afghanistan preparing for its elections, and that’s the context we’re going to talk about it in.
QUESTION: But as far as violence is concerned, continuously.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Violence is continuously by the Talibans inside of Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: I mean, clearly we know there’s a concern with cross-border violence. The Pakistanis know that as well. We’ve all been working. Pakistan and all of Afghanistan’s neighbors have an interest in seeing a stable Afghanistan. So that’s what we’re working towards right now.
QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am.
MS. HARF: What else? I feel like I saw another hand up. Yes, Elliot.
QUESTION: So the prime minister of Japan made some comments in a radio interview, sort of comparing the situation in Crimea with what could possibly happen in East Asia. Chinese foreign ministry had a very sort of harsh response to that. I was wondering if you have any comment to make on that --
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those specific comments. Obviously, we’ve been very forceful in talking about Crimea in and of itself. I wouldn’t have any other further comment on those.
MS. HARF: Thank you, guys. Everyone have a good weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)
DPB # 55