1:27 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Happy Monday. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a couple items at the top, and then we will open it up for questions. First, I want to note that it’s Opening Day. If you need to celebrate that, I’m wearing my Cardinals colors. Hopefully, we will take back the World Series from the Secretary’s beloved Red Sox this year.
QUESTION: They also look Washington Nationals colors. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Well, there aren’t that many colors in the rainbow, I guess. But also one of our interns is wearing her Cardinals colors, so lots of – not in here – in the office. Lots of team spirit going around today.
Okay, a couple items. The first, travel update. As you’ve seen, Secretary Kerry is back in the region. There are plans for meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas today. He made the decision to return to the region after consulting with his team, thought it would be productive. As we’ve said many times over the course of the last eight months, the Israelis and the Palestinians have both made tough choices. And as we work with them to determine the next steps, it is important they remember that only peace will bring the Israeli and Palestinian people both the security and economic prosperity they all deserve. As I said, the Secretary is there right now. We’ll have more updates from the road.
Two more quick opening statements, one on Japan. On March 31st – so today – we commemorate the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan. Since the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Amity on March 31st, 1854, in what is today the city of Yokohama, our nations have enjoyed a remarkable journey together. The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and security – excuse me – in the Asia-Pacific region, and our partnership drives global economic growth, propels scientific and technological development, and strengthens democracy and development across the world. The people of the United States are proud today to celebrate our 160-year relationship with the people of Japan, and we look forward to even deeper friendship between future generations of U.S. and Japanese citizens.
Finally, staying in the region, on the Philippines and China. The March 29th harassment by the Chinese coast guard of Philippine vessels and their attempt to block Philippine vessels conducting a routine resupply and rotation of personnel at the Philippine’s presence at the Second Thomas Shoal is a provocative and destabilizing action. This action raises tensions and is inconsistent with the important principle of freedom of navigation.
The Philippines has maintained its naval presence at Second Thomas Shoal since 1999. Like other claimants, including China, the Philippines is permitted, under the principles of the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to maintain previously established outposts without interference from other parties. As a treaty ally of the Republic of the Philippines, the United States urges China to refrain from further provocative behavior by allowing the Philippines to continue to maintain its presence at Second Thomas Shoal. We urge China to manage disputes peacefully, to clarify its ambiguous claim in accordance with international law, and to accelerate negotiations with ASEAN on a meaningful code of conduct.
With that, Lara.
QUESTION: Thanks. I’ll start where you did with Mideast peace. Has – in the hours that the Secretary has been on the ground, or in the prior hours when the negotiators were out there prior to his arrival, has there been any indication so far that Israel would release the fourth tranche of prisoners, as the Palestinians have requested?
MS. HARF: Well, as you know and as we said over the weekend, there’s no agreement on the release of additional prisoners currently. Obviously, discussions on the ground are ongoing. The Secretary just landed, hasn’t had any meetings yet, it’s my understanding, or may have just started. So we’re in the middle of this. We’ll see what we can get done.
QUESTION: Let me ask a more general question then. Do you agree that this is a make-or-break issue in terms of the negotiations and the framework continuing?
MS. HARF: The prisoner release?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to say any one issue is a make-or-break issue, right? As part of these discussions, we’re talking about the whole host of issues. The parties have agreed to negotiate for nine months. We’re still in those nine months, and I don’t want to further characterize the importance of any one issue. They’re all important.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to ask you, when they meet in about an hour and half – they’re scheduled to meet at 10 o’clock their time, which is 3 o’clock our time – what will they discuss? Just the prisoners issue? I mean, is it really so critical – this issue – that the Secretary of State was compelled to go back to meet with the leaders?
MS. HARF: Well, today is not going to be the day I start previewing specific discussions for you, Said. They will discuss a host of issues. Obviously, we’re not going to preview what that might look like, and we haven’t gotten into those details. We said that the Secretary talked to his team and thought it would be productive if he goes back. You know he’s always willing to travel to the region and also speaks on the phone quite frequently with both leaders.
QUESTION: I understand. I mean, since he spoke, I’m sure as he probably did in the last couple days and so on, why did he feel so compelled to go back? To maybe coax them into agreeing to something that they are not agreeing to?
MS. HARF: Because we thought it would be productive and we could make progress if he did.
QUESTION: Okay. The Palestinians are saying that under no circumstances will they extend the talks beyond the 29th of April. Do you expect this position to change?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into any details about these discussions.
QUESTION: But if --
MS. HARF: Any prediction – I have no predictions at all to make about what might happen here.
QUESTION: One follow-up –
MS. HARF: Roz.
QUESTION: The Washington Post outlined a number of steps that some Palestinian officials, including Hanan Ashwari said could be willing to pursue, including a referral of Israel to the International Court of Justice, stepping up its efforts to promote a boycotting campaign, other pretty provocative steps, for lack of a better word. Is the Secretary saying to both sides, you need to cool it on what happens next, let’s get through the next 30 days?
MS. HARF: No further readout from what the Secretary’s conversations with either side look like.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the four decisions adopted by the UN on Friday, last Friday? One of them is to boycott products that are produced in the settlements. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: I’m not aware with those decisions, Said. I’m happy to see if I can get the --
QUESTION: Well, the --
MS. HARF: -- all of the facts on that.
QUESTION: Right. The United Nations has decided to boycott all products coming out of the settlements. Will you support such an effort?
MS. HARF: First of all, I have no idea what you’re talking about, so let me check with our team before I comment on something I don’t know the facts of.
QUESTION: Okay. But suppose that you find out that the UN has in fact --
MS. HARF: I’m going to wait till I get the facts, Said.
MS. HARF: What else? Yes, in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are the talks right now, this nine-month period, are they in danger of falling apart? I mean, why – I mean, the Secretary is supposed to be getting ready for a NATO ministerial on Ukraine. Why – why at this moment is he there? Is it really this – is it really this critical to keeping the peace talks on track?
MS. HARF: Well, he’s traveled there a number of times now. This isn’t an unusual occurrence for him. So if every time he went back to the region people tried to read the tea leaves about why, there’d be a lot of false tea read leafing – tea leaf reading out there. What I would say is look, we all look at the same calendar. We know that we’re getting close to the end of the nine months. And as the Secretary has said, both parties have made courageous decisions and will have to continue to make courageous decisions. So he is there talking to both sides, seeing if we can make some progress.
QUESTION: But he wasn’t expected to go. I mean, this was kind of --
MS. HARF: Really? You all were guessing for weeks that he was going to --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, we were guessing, and you were saying --
MS. HARF: You all fully expected him to go, actually, I would guess, right?
QUESTION: But you and the people in your position were saying, “I wouldn’t necessarily expect that,” when in fact --
MS. HARF: Well, we weren’t sure what the schedule would look like. Obviously, this is coming in the middle of a very lengthy trip with the President and then he’s going to Brussels, you’re right.
MS. HARF: But I think all of us expected there was a good chance that he would if the team on the ground felt like he could make some progress.
QUESTION: Well, let me rephrase. So on Friday, the expectation was that he was going to come back. So what was it that made him turn around and then say we want to go to Jerusalem after all?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple things. First, he’d turned around to go to Paris for the Lavrov meeting.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MS. HARF: So that was the reason the plane turned around in Shannon and did not come home. So I guess he was already in Paris, but he talked to the team on the ground. They were having discussions and consultations, and as you know, he has never hesitated, particularly when he’s already on travel, to get on the plane and go if he thinks he can make some progress.
QUESTION: Would you say that the Israelis reneging on their promise to release the last tranche of the Palestinian prisoners was a good enough reason for him to go back?
MS. HARF: I just don’t have anything for you on the prisoners other than what I’ve already said. He went back because he thought it would be productive to do so.
QUESTION: Relative the – to the previous three releases of prisoners, there’s been a lot of tension and a lot of finger pointing between the Israelis and the Palestinians on whether this group of men would be released, whether the Palestinians would agree to perhaps extend the talks beyond April 30th, even rumors of whether the U.S. would release Jonathan Pollard as a last-ditch effort to try to break this, this issue has been hanging over the talks for the past several weeks. Is it that – is the situation critical enough for the Secretary to put his personal stamp on the discussions between the two sides?
MS. HARF: He’s been putting his personal stamp on them since we got them restarted eight months ago. We were there when he got them restarted. Obviously, these are direct discussions between the two parties, but his personal stamp has been all over this because he’s so committed to it and because it’s so important from the beginning. So this is nothing new.
Also, rumors about what may or may not be on the table is certainly not breaking news in terms of these negotiations and is not just new to the last few weeks. So what we’ve said is the discussions are private, they are ongoing. The Secretary has been there multiple, multiple times -has never hesitated to dive right in and see if he can help bring the two sides a little closer together.
QUESTION: One last question on this issue.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: One of the Palestinian prisoners who’s not on the list to be released but who’s – the president of the Palestinian Authority sort of appealed personally to the President and to Secretary Kerry to have him released, Marwan Barghouti, who is perceived as a potential leader of the Palestinians. Would the Secretary of State push for his release? He’s --
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more --
QUESTION: He’s in prison --
MS. HARF: I don’t want to go into any hypotheticals, Said, or address any possible issues or questions that people may have on those kind of specifics.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Turkish elections?
QUESTION: One more.
MS. HARF: We have one – uh-huh.
QUESTION: Is his visit related to the prisoners release or to the negotiations?
MS. HARF: To the negotiations.
QUESTION: Not to the prisoners release?
MS. HARF: That’s clearly part of the negotiations, but to the negotiations writ large.
QUESTION: Like before the elections earlier this week, the way the United States has seemingly stepped up its criticism of Turkey ever since that corruption scandal started. And then last week the White House criticized the Erdogan government of – for the Twitter shutdown.
MS. HARF: As did I.
QUESTION: Yeah. As you did, right?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Did you, like, overestimate the power of Erdogan’s opponents? Because the elections showed that he won a landslide victory.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re obviously following the local elections in Turkey and would also note that final results have not yet been released. Obviously, we would congratulate the people of Turkey for their participation in these elections. And I am not going to comment further on the results of local elections or do any further analysis, particularly before they haven’t been officially confirmed by the higher elections council.
QUESTION: There are some reports of fraud as well. Are you aware of that and are you concerned?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve seen these reports; as we do around the world, obviously urge election officials to investigate any credible allegations of irregularities. And I would refer you to the Turkish officials to speak more to that.
QUESTION: Do you think President Obama will congratulate Erdogan for winning the elections?
MS. HARF: I have no predictions about what anyone else might say. I just know what I’m saying.
MS. HARF: Yes, I do.
MS. HARF: And then we can go to Ukraine, Roz.
Well, certainly we note with strong concern the D.P.R.K.’s deliberate decision to further escalate tensions on March 31st, as you noted, by firing more than 500 rounds of artillery near the Northern Limit Line. Several of those shells landed south of the Northern Limit Line. This provocative barrage follows a number of short-range and medium-range ballistic missile launches, threats to conduct a nuclear test, and other provocative statements that we’ve seen over the past several weeks. Once again, call on the D.P.R.K. to cease and desist from needlessly threatening regional peace and security, and would note that these kind of provocations only strengthen the resolve of the international community and deepen Pyongyang’s isolation, which, of course, we’ve said now North Korea has a choice. They can choose to further escalate or they can choose to come in line with their international obligations and rejoin the international community. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen recently, particularly, is the former.
QUESTION: Have U.S. officials been in touch with their South Korean counterparts since this incident?
MS. HARF: We certainly speak with our South Korean counterparts quite a bit. I can check and see if we’ve spoken to someone, since I’m guessing we have. I’m just not positive.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: We have been since – obviously, talking as well to our P5 counterparts and Security Council counterparts about possible actions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have a readout, your version, of the Secretary’s phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov today?
MS. HARF: The Secretary’s phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov today?
QUESTION: Yeah, in the – yeah, it was announced in the past half hour --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yeah.
QUESTION: -- by the Russians.
MS. HARF: I don’t. I’ll check with the traveling team and see if we can get more of a readout. Obviously, the Secretary had his press avail yesterday where he spoke about their conversation.
QUESTION: But this was a new conversation.
MS. HARF: Yep. I understand that. I just don’t have a readout.
QUESTION: Yeah. And then there are again reports coming primarily from the Russian side, and Secretary Hagel just said in his own briefing that he can’t confirm that at least one division has been pulled back from the border between Russia and Ukraine. Is there any more guidance beyond what the Secretary has just announced on what the status of military forces are on the Russian side?
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t have – I don’t have, at least, independent confirmation of these reports about some of the troops being pulled back. Obviously, if these reports were true that some were being pulled back from the border region, if they were accurate, it would be a welcome preliminary step. Obviously, we would call on Russia to accelerate this process and to pull back more troops.
But let’s also be clear that this isn’t anywhere close to the sum total of what needs to be done here and what we need to see. We would continue to urge Russia to engage in a dialogue with the Government in Kyiv to deescalate the situation while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. So if this is true, good first step; need to see more of it.
QUESTION: And then in terms of the sanctions, is there an update on what the impact is, as best as the U.S. and the EU can judge, on Russian officials on the Russian economy? Do they seem to be having more of an impact, because in the past 24-48 hours there’s been some question about whether these sanctions are actually having their intended effect?
MS. HARF: Let me check with our team and see. Obviously, we know that Russia’s economy is in a pretty bad situation right now. We know they’ve already impacted the economy. But I can check and see if there’s an update. Sanctions are just one part. I would remind people, though, of a larger strategy in terms of isolating Russia and getting them back in line with their international obligations as well.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. prepared to enact more visa bans at this point?
MS. HARF: The President was clear in his speech in Brussels that we’re prepared to undertake more sanctions, more actions, if Russia continues to escalate, but was also clear that there’s a diplomatic path forward here. And I think that’s really why you saw Secretary Kerry turning his plane around and going to Paris to pursue this diplomatic path, because ultimately that’s where we think we need to be. And we do think there’s a way forward here.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry is still calling on Russia to pull out of Crimea?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve called on them to do a number of things. The first is to deescalate, obviously, to not take further incursions into Crimea. He made very clear in his meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov that their incursion into Crimea was indeed illegal and not okay under international law. So we are having those conversations. Our goal now is to deescalate the situation.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Russian ambassador to the United States was on a Sunday talk show saying that Crimea is part of the Russian Federation. Would you care to comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that Crimea is part of Ukraine. Our position on that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Do you consider pulling out one division as de-escalation? Is that a success for the Secretary of State in his talks?
MS. HARF: Well, I said I couldn’t confirm if it was true.
QUESTION: Yeah, but if it proves to be true --
MS. HARF: But if it’s true, it’s a good preliminary step.
QUESTION: That would be a marked de-escalation, wouldn’t it?
MS. HARF: It would be a good preliminary step, but much more would need to be done if we’re looking at tens of thousands of troops massing on the border. And this would be – we would be talking here about pulling troops back from the border, not pulling who they already have in Crimea out of Crimea, just to be clear.
QUESTION: Your former ambassador to Russia, Mike McFaul, yesterday said that the United States is negotiating from a weak position. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure you’re fully characterizing his quote correctly. I did see him on the Sunday shows yesterday. And Ambassador McFaul made a number of points – that look, we have a number of tools we can use to isolate Russia, but that the Russians need to make a decision here. And that decision is whether they want to continue to escalate, whether they want to try and bully their neighbors like we’ve seen them do in Ukraine, certainly, so far, or if they want to come back in line with the rest of the world who has said this is not okay.
QUESTION: The United States accept in exchange for Russian pullback from the Ukrainian border, Russia’s claims to Crimea?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to venture to guess in terms of that hypothetical. What we’ve said is Crimea is part of Ukraine and we need to see de-escalation.
QUESTION: Is that part of the negotiations?
MS. HARF: And we need to see monitors. We need to see other things in Crimea as well.
QUESTION: Is that part of the negotiations at all?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details about what the negotiations look like.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that de-escalation means not just pulling back troops from the Ukrainian-Russian border, but actually pulling Russian forces out of Crimea?
MS. HARF: We’re talking about all of it with them.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: India, yes?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have an explanation to the resignation of Ambassador Powell? Is it --
MS. HARF: Retirement. I’m going to use a different word.
MS. HARF: Retirement. Go ahead, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So she was due to retire --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- or is it related to the recent tensions between the two countries?
MS. HARF: It is in no way related to any tension, any recent situations. There’s no big behind-the-scenes story here. She has announced – she announced today that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama, as has been planned for some time, and she will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May. This is the end of a distinguished 37-year career – I think after 37 years, she deserves to retire – that has included postings as U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal, and India, as well as service in a number of other locations. But I want to dispel any rumors out there that this is related in any, to anything besides her long-planned retirement.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. HARF: You may.
QUESTION: Yeah. And the speculation that you mentioned, it’s that there is a realignment of diplomatic relations between India and the U.S. – otherwise seven days before the elections.
MS. HARF: There’s no big secret to timing here. All the rumors and speculation are, quite frankly, totally false. She’s retiring, again, after 37 years, returning home to Delaware by the end of May. I don’t have a further insight into why she chose now, but it’s not at all related to anything happening in the relationship, it doesn’t indicate any realignment of the relationship. This is an incredibly key partnership that will continue under our team there and under whoever is named the next ambassador.
QUESTION: Who will be taking charge while the elections are – it’s a big step that the general elections are taking place and there will be a change of maybe of the government?
MS. HARF: Yep. And let me – well, a couple points. Let me see exactly when she’s heading back and who will be stepping in to fill in her shoes. Obviously, the relationship between the U.S. and India isn’t about one person, while incredibly important. It’s about the whole host of officials that engage, from Secretary Kerry and others at the White House and here on down. So the relationship is much broader than our ambassador, although she’s wonderful and amazing, and again, I think deserves a retirement after 37 years.
QUESTION: It’s a – if you can let us know who will be the point person --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I will. That’s a fair question.
QUESTION: Yeah. And the second thing is that today the Congressional Research Service issued a report to – seven page report on Modi visa issue. And they say it would – they said that Modi is widely considered to be one of the frontrunners for prime minister. And they said that the nine-year U.S. visa ban will be automatically lifted, and he’ll enjoy diplomatic immunity if he becomes prime minister. Can you – I’m not asking about the visa, if he applies now. Can you technical part of it that he – anybody who becomes the prime minister automatically gets – they say automatically gets a A-1 visa?
MS. HARF: Well, first, I don’t have anything new for you on his case, and I’m not sure if that’s true. So let me check.
QUESTION: No, but it’s --
MS. HARF: Let me check on what you’re asking, if that’s true or not --
MS. HARF: -- if heads of state automatically get visas. I don’t think that they do, but let me check.
QUESTION: But --
MS. HARF: Let me check.
QUESTION: As a diplomat, if he applies – so do you mean to say that there is already – the ban on him is still imposed?
MS. HARF: I did not say – I said I have nothing for you on his case. Nothing, period, full stop.
QUESTION: And on this report?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the report.
QUESTION: And how would you characterize the current state of relations between India and U.S.? And what are you looking to – about the relationship when Modi becomes prime minister of India?
MS. HARF: Well, I think it remains to be seen what the outcome of the election will be, so let’s not try and do too much predicting in here. Secondly, we have a very close – very, very close – relationship with India on a whole host of issues, whether it’s energy, the economy, environmental issues, security issues, a whole host of issues. That has not changed. We look forward to growing that even stronger. We will work with whoever the people of India decide should lead their country. We believe it’s a critical partnership, and we’re moving forward with it.
QUESTION: That includes Modi?
MS. HARF: It includes --
QUESTION: When he’s elected --
MS. HARF: The people of India get to decide who leads their country. We’ll work with whoever they decide.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. While the President was visiting Saudi Arabia, it was alleged that he’s agreed to allow the delivery of surface-to-air missiles and other – anti-tank --
MS. HARF: MANPADS?
QUESTION: Yes, exactly.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: To the Syrian opposition. But then yesterday, Foreign Minister Lavrov assured the press that in his talks with Secretary Kerry, Secretary Kerry made it very clear that the United States has no intentions whatsoever to send them these kinds of weapons. Can you clarify that?
MS. HARF: Well, let me clear. We have not changed our position on providing MANPADS to the opposition. We have said it’s a proliferation risk. This wasn’t an issue that was even discussed in the meeting in Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t a part of their meeting. There’s no change in the U.S. position. Obviously, we don’t discuss the details about all types of assistance that we provide, but we have made very clear publicly our concerns about this one particular system because it does have a proliferation risk.
QUESTION: So you are concerned that in case this kind of system is delivered, it might find its way to extremists, jihadists, and so on?
MS. HARF: And could be used --
QUESTION: That would be --
MS. HARF: And could be used to do some very bad things.
QUESTION: Right. They could be used for, let’s say, civilian airliners --
MS. HARF: Exactly.
QUESTION: -- and so on?
MS. HARF: Exactly.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: So there has been no change.
MS. HARF: No change.
QUESTION: Now, on the diplomatic front --
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: -- has the --
QUESTION: One more point on this.
QUESTION: That means what Minister Lavrov said was accurate?
MS. HARF: I didn’t see his comments, what he said, that we said we wouldn’t provide them.
QUESTION: Well, he said that --
MS. HARF: I didn’t see his comments, but --
QUESTION: Well, he said --
MS. HARF: -- I think I made very clear what our position is.
MS. HARF: If he said the same thing, we’re on the same page.
QUESTION: He basically made that point, that the Secretary of State made it clear for him that there’s no change.
MS. HARF: I don’t know if they discussed it in the meeting, but I know what our position is.
QUESTION: But what you said is that the position hasn’t changed --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- but that’s a little bit different from we have no intentions of providing this to the opposition. So can you go that far, the United States has no intention of providing this --
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to guess about intentions on a conflict that could go on. I’m not going to guess about what might be our intention in six or twelve or twenty-four months. Obviously, we hope there’s a diplomatic solution before then, but I don’t want to predict. Our position is today what it is. We have concerns about this. That hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: But is the United States planning to give these MANPADS to the Syrian --
MS. HARF: Again, as of today, we are not. I can’t predict everything we might or might not do in the future, but our proliferation concerns about them have not changed.
QUESTION: Could you share with us if anything is happening on the diplomatic front? Is Mr. Rubinstein doing anything?
MS. HARF: He is working very hard, Said, yes.
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. HARF: Is he doing anything?
QUESTION: Right, but – (laughter).
MS. HARF: (Inaudible.) He’s – last week he had --
QUESTION: No, that’s not what I – okay.
MS. HARF: Last week, he had – I think it was last week – recently in Istanbul had some meeting – some meetings with the opposition. He is engaged. But right now what we’re really focused on is to see if Special Joint Representative Brahimi can get these talks re-started again. As we’ve said, they’re on a pause.
QUESTION: Is he in contact directly with Mr. Brahimi? I mean --
MS. HARF: Our special envoy? Yes.
MS. HARF: Of course.
QUESTION: And there is – then can we say – are they optimistic that we will have some sort of negotiations in the offing?
MS. HARF: I don’t think anyone’s optimistic. I think we’re realistic.
QUESTION: Is he back in Washington?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know where he is right now.
Anything else on Syria before I move on?
MS. HARF: Okay.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- but first I have a follow-up to an earlier question about North Korea.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So in light of the recent skirmish between North and South Korea, are there increasing concerns about Japan’s decision to hold direct talks with North Korea?
MS. HARF: We talked about this a little last week – nothing new on it. Not to my knowledge. Obviously, we consult frequently with the Government of Japan on a wide range of issues, including North Korea. This is really an issue for them to decide.
QUESTION: Okay. And now my next question is about the International Court of Justice. They made a ruling about whaling in a case that was brought to the court by Australia. They said that Japan’s whaling program is not scientific, and that they will no longer grant permits to Japan to continue its whaling program. I just wanted to know if you had any comments about that.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, we’re aware of the decision. The U.S. wasn’t a party to the case. Obviously, we’re reviewing the decision right now. And our position hasn’t changed, that we continue to support the moratorium – excuse me – on commercial whaling that was adopted by the International Whaling Commission as a necessary measure for the conservation of large whales. So our position hasn’t changed, but again, we’re not a party to it, so --
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Have one on North Korea.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I know he asked about South Korea, but could you check if maybe the U.S. has been in touch with any of the other Six-Party members?
MS. HARF: Yeah, let me check on it. Let me see if I can get a list of who we’ve talked to.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, including North Korea itself.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I’m happy to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then another one: A Russian trade delegation visited North Korea last week and visited Kaesong and announced that they wanted to increase investment in North Korea and strengthen that trade relationship. Do you have any initial response to --
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. I’m sorry. Let me check with our folks and see what we can get for you.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Sorry. So Japan will start implementing the Hague Convention on International Child Abductions tomorrow --
MS. HARF: Yes, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and I wondered if you had a comment about that.
MS. HARF: Well, we do think this is a positive change and we’re looking forward to working together with the Government of Japan as this enters into force. As you noted, the treaty will automatically enter into force tomorrow – is tomorrow April 1st – yes, tomorrow. The Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues has begun accepting Hague access applications from parents whose children were abducted or wrongfully retained in Japan in anticipation of the treaty entering into force. So we started doing this on March 1st. And on March 31st, which is today, we accepted 24 access applications hand-delivered by parents and supporters.
So obviously, again, this is a positive step. We’re looking forward to working with the Japanese Government on how we can implement it.
QUESTION: Some of the parents are actually worried that it would be difficult to implement this convention – yeah, this convention.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say to them?
MS. HARF: Well, we actually think, as I said, that it’s a positive step forward, that it will actually make it easier for parents to get access through the access applications, or in terms of custody questions. Going forward – that’s not retroactive – but going forward, we think it’ll make it easier, actually, to work with the Government of Japan when there are children that are there. And it goes both ways, so they can also work with us.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Marie.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Behind you.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: First of all, I think that Philippine maintain its presence on the Second Thomas Shoal since 1999. It is based on abandoned Filipino ship?
MS. HARF: Is it based on what way? Is that the presence you’re referring to?
QUESTION: The evidence, yeah.
MS. HARF: That’s my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: But don’t you think it doesn’t make sense? Because that’s a disputed area. Why Philippines shouldn’t move the ship?
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve also said, we don’t have any comment on the merit of specific claims in terms – and some of this has been talked about in terms of the Philippines just filed a legal filing on the same issue. So I don’t have any more for you than that on it. Obviously, we believe that they should be able to resupply the folks that are there, that we do not believe that that is – what is the word we use here – a disruption of the status quo.
QUESTION: But you do recognize their presence there by abandoned Filipino ship?
MS. HARF: As I said at the top, yes, we recognize their presence at the Second Thomas Shoal. We believe they should be able to resupply the folks that are there. And that’s not a change in the status quo.
QUESTION: Okay. And what is the intention of the U.S. sending its – for the first time, sending a Naval – a Navy plane in the past weekend on the space of the disputed area?
MS. HARF: I’d refer you, I think, to my colleagues at the Department of Defense for that one. I’m happy to check with them too. I don’t have any details on it.
QUESTION: But by making that move, are you still saying that you are neutral and you don’t --
MS. HARF: Our position on this hasn’t changed in any way. For why the military does things, I’d refer you there.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that that’s the national airspace?
MS. HARF: Check with the military guys. I don’t fly those planes. State Department doesn’t fly those planes.
QUESTION: And could you explain why the U.S. is not supporting the Philippine and China to talk bilaterally to solve this problem, difficult --
MS. HARF: Is not or is?
QUESTION: Is not?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said repeatedly that there needs to be a peaceful management and resolution of disputes, including the Second Thomas Shoal. I mentioned at the top working within ASEAN to get a meaningful code of conduct. We also have the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. So we want there to be de-escalation here. We don’t want there to be conflict. And we think there are peaceful ways to go about resolving that through a whole variety of different mechanisms.
QUESTION: Do you encourage them to solve this issue bilaterally?
MS. HARF: I can check with our team and see if that’s one of the ways we’re talking about. I mentioned the ASEAN and through the wider code of conduct as well.
Yes, in the back.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Afghanistan is holding an important election later this week.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: And President Karzai is to constitutionally leave the office upon completion of this process. What are your expectations from this – from these developments in view of U.S. and NATO drawdown from the country?
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s significant that on April 5th, millions of Afghans will go to the polls to choose their next president. These are very critical elections and the United States welcomes the democratic process underway in Afghanistan. All you have to do is look at the Afghan press today to see the fact that there are people lined up around the block to register to vote, that despite the violence that the Taliban has been perpetrating in parts of Afghanistan, people want to make their voices heard and they want to be a part of the process. We do believe that a peaceful and timely political transition through elections that are inclusive and broadly acceptable to the Afghan people is critical to Afghanistan’s stability and democratic development, as well as to sustaining international support for Afghanistan.
In terms of our long-term presence there, obviously, we said separately that the BSA issue is still there. We are open if someone else who wins during these elections would like to sign it, but we’ve said that we – every day that goes by that we don’t have a signed BSA, it gets harder and harder to envision how we could stay, quite frankly.
QUESTION: Is there still a timeline or a deadline the BSA should be signed for the U.S. --
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve never had a deadline.
QUESTION: Even after election?
MS. HARF: We’ve never had a deadline. What we said a while ago – when we first talked about the fact that it became clear that President Karzai was not going to sign the BSA – that we’ve left open the possibility of concluding a BSA later this year. The longer we go without a BSA, as I said, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute a new mission, and also the more likely it will be that any mission, if we do get one, will be smaller in scale and smaller in ambition. So if we get a willing and committed partner in the Afghan Government out of this election who wants to sign it, we are still open to that discussion.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what kind of support are you giving the election process in Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: What kind of support in what way, Said?
QUESTION: Right. I mean, you have monitors, you have --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- you’re facilitating movement, you’re doing all kinds of things.
MS. HARF: Let me see on that.
QUESTION: Security --
QUESTION: Security, so forth.
MS. HARF: Well, security is being led by the Afghans.
MS. HARF: The Afghan security institutions are collaborating with the Independent Election Commission to ensure the security of polling places, the security of ballots and voters, during the entire election period. In terms of monitors, the United States Government doesn’t field observers, but we support the Afghan-owned elections process within the donor community. I believe there are plans for approximately 200 international observers. The IEC expects as many as 300,000 total observers throughout the country. So obviously, we support that work as well, but we won’t have any observers of our own.
QUESTION: And are you also working with regional countries like Pakistan to ensure that there is security and stability on the border to facilitate this election?
MS. HARF: Well, in terms of the security inside Afghanistan with elections, we’re working with the Afghan security forces. We work with regional partners on cross-border issues all the time, but I don’t want to in any way tie that to the elections.
QUESTION: How do you keep up with all these elections? Afghanistan, Iraq – I mean --
MS. HARF: I know. There’s Ukraine. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, all over the place.
MS. HARF: Ukraine, India.
QUESTION: Yeah, India and so on, and so --
MS. HARF: No, we have quite a few coming up, some all around the same time period, so – but look, that’s a good thing.
QUESTION: It is a good thing.
MS. HARF: Actually, in all seriousness --
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MS. HARF: -- the fact that we have seen so many countries – Egypt --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) answer your question. I know.
MS. HARF: -- Egypt has elections right after Ukraine’s.
QUESTION: Yeah, there you go, coming up, exactly.
MS. HARF: So the fact that we have so many countries around the world that are moving forward with elections that we’re working with to try and help them with their democratic processes actually is quite exciting, even when sometimes they’re not 100 percent perfect. So thank you for the question, Said.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any concerns about the potential for fraud in Saturday’s elections?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me see, I do have something on that. So we do believe that the Afghan electoral institutions are better prepared to administer elections and detect and prevent fraud today than they were in 2009. So we think that’s good progress. Obviously, fraud detection’s an important part of what the IEC has been doing. We also do think the candidates themselves have a responsibility here, a real responsibility to see that these elections go off without fraud. So to encourage their supporters, as excited and enthusiastic as they may be, to refrain from the types of fraud that we saw in 2009, we think, is a responsibility they have.
QUESTION: Is that a hidden message to one of the candidates, Mr. Rassoul?
MS. HARF: It’s not a hidden message to anyone, I promise.
QUESTION: Is the – excuse me, is the State Department supporting a candidate?
MS. HARF: No. We don’t support candidates or parties. Up to the people of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Okay. And new topic, Iran?
QUESTION: No, no. Can I stay on Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Or Afghanistan, actually?
MS. HARF: Yeah, and then we’ll go back to you.
QUESTION: Of course.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. I have some questions about excess defense articles that are coming out of Afghanistan. I understand that these are mostly military topics, but the question’s been referred to the embassies in Kabul and Islamabad, and so they referred me to you. So here I am.
MS. HARF: Great.
QUESTION: So --
MS. HARF: I love when they do that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Right. So U.S. Forces-Afghanistan have made it clear that they are not going to allow any MRAPs to be sent from Afghanistan to Pakistan. I’m wondering why.
MS. HARF: I know, Laura, there are a bunch of questions out there about this, and I actually have been talking to the teams on the ground about this. I’m going to take the question for you and see if I can get some detailed information on all of that. There’s a lot of questions about Pakistan, other countries, who is sending what where, and we’re working through all of that right now.
QUESTION: So do you want me to give you the questions to take?
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. So why are these MRAPs not being allowed to go to Pakistan? Is it because the Afghans have asked the United States to not let these MRAPs go to Pakistan? What exactly has Pakistan asked for? If that includes MRAPs, where would those MRAPs come from if not Afghanistan? And if they’re coming from these pools that are all over the --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- world as I understand it --
MS. HARF: Yeah, because there are pools all over the world, yeah.
QUESTION: Exactly. I assume – I think it’s reasonable to assume that it would cost more for an MRAP to be shipped from Kuwait to Pakistan than it would be to go from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
MS. HARF: Who knows?
QUESTION: So what kind of additional costs are we talking about here?
MS. HARF: Okay. Yeah. I’m happy to take – again, I know this is a topic people are very interested in. I’ve been working with our team on the ground and it is a little complicated.
QUESTION: Can I add a question to that?
MS. HARF: Yeah, we – add on the taken questions for this.
QUESTION: We do have a story on the wire already on this, so anything you can speed up your response, no pressure, but – (laughter) --
MS. HARF: I will attempt to. Yeah, I’ll --
QUESTION: On the same subject, the question --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What will be the State Department’s role in determining who gets --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Because there were reports in Pakistan today that said that the State Department will be deciding.
MS. HARF: I’ll take that, yeah.
QUESTION: And given that MRAPs were originally designed to protect those inside from the impact of roadside bombs, why would Pakistan need them?
MS. HARF: All fair questions. This is fun. Anything else?
QUESTION: Can I ask another question about Turkish elections?
MS. HARF: Actually, I promised Lucas he could go somewhere else, so --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Is Secretary Kerry aware that Iran has named a 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage-taker as its UN envoy?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any details for you on who – on the background of the person that they have named.
QUESTION: I guess the – well, I --
QUESTION: Would you call this person’s credibility into question?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any further comment for you. Are you going to ask whether or not he’s going to get his visa?
QUESTION: How’d you guess?
MS. HARF: I don’t know, just one in a million here. Look, visa – the visa procedure is obviously confidential. We don’t discuss individual visa cases. People are free to apply for one, and their visas are adjudicated under the normal procedures that we adjudicate people’s. And we don’t comment and we don’t make a prediction about the outcome of what that process might look like.
QUESTION: If Hamid Aboutalebi’s visa application does go through, would the United States accept him into the United Nations?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have a prediction in terms of what a visa process might look like.
QUESTION: Would this throw off the nuclear discussions?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any, I think, thing further to add on this.
But separately, we are heading to Vienna next week for the next round of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 led by the EU. Those are moving forward – difficult, but businesslike and on track for the third round.
QUESTION: Did you find – if this is true, this hostage-taker is being named by Iran, don’t you find that a little troubling that Iran – is this exactly a good-faith measure?
MS. HARF: I really just don’t have anything further for you on the gentleman that they have reportedly named to be their UN perm-rep. I’m sure we’ll talk about it more in the coming days, but nothing for you today.
QUESTION: Do you keep a list of all the names of those who took over the embassy in 1979?
MS. HARF: I don’t, Said.
QUESTION: No, I mean, not you personally. I mean the --
MS. HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Staying on the elections, with the U.S. --
MS. HARF: Elections where?
QUESTION: Globally. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. And – as we were discussing, so I’m interested in the upcoming elections in India that – with the U.S. ambassador gone, how are you monitoring – going to monitor the elections? Because you say that India and U.S. are strategic partners, so as a strategic partner, won’t you like to see how the elections proceed, and --
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, we’ll pay close attention. I don’t know if we’ll have observers or not. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: No, you’ll pay closer attention to the TV reports, newspaper reports, or you’ll have on-ground?
MS. HARF: Well, clearly we have people on the ground. I don’t know if we’ll have observers at polling stations, for example. Clearly, we have people on the ground observing the situation, but let me just see if I can get some more for you.
Yeah. Over here.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I would like to ask about the possibility of having this South American country to receive some of the Guantanamo detainees, just as Uruguay is about to do. And this information was confirmed by the foreign minister of Colombia and the issue was discussed here in Washington with Secretary Kerry. So is the U.S. still working on such a proposal to Colombia? And could you please tell me a little bit about the legal condition on the individuals that would eventually be transferred to Colombia?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure, actually, if we’ve confirmed anything about Colombia. I’m happy to check with our team. Obviously, we are – remain committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo and to repatriating people that we can repatriate. We have had some success doing that.
Let me check with our folks and see in terms of Colombia what the situation is there. Obviously, we go through a very rigorous process when we determine to send detainees back to any country, both making the decision to release them or to release them under certain conditions. And also, have to be assured that they will be treated well once they are returned. But let me check on Colombia specifically.
QUESTION: Another question on Colombia very briefly.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: There are some reports today that – about sanctions against member of the Colombia military forces. According to the reports, their visas were suspended because of an ongoing investigation here in the United States on drug trafficking.
MS. HARF: By the United States?
MS. HARF: Okay, let me check.
QUESTION: No idea?
MS. HARF: Sorry. I’ll check.
MS. HARF: I feel like I’m failing everyone today.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Right after the elections, Erdogan’s victory speech, he mentioned Pennsylvania several times. That’s of course because there’s this Islamic – Islamist preacher there.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So my question is, like, there has been so much talk that the United States and even the West in general are more in line with that – with Fethullah Gulen’s position on Turkey than Erdogan, and that’s why the United States has stepped up its criticism on Twitter, on like the corruption, and also regarding Erdogan’s handling of other (inaudible) issues.
MS. HARF: Well, that’s ridiculous. Regardless of whether this gentleman was living in Pennsylvania or not, it would still not be okay for the Government of Turkey to ban Twitter. It would still not be okay for the Government of Turkey to crack down like they have on dissent. Those things have nothing to do with the fact that one of their citizens is living in the Pennsylvania countryside.
QUESTION: Aren’t you more in position with, for example, Fethullah Gulen --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- who is reportedly pro-Israel-Turkey relations --
MS. HARF: Turkey’s a NATO ally. Let’s be clear here. Turkey is a close NATO ally. We don’t always agree on everything, but we don’t agree on everything with anyone. So forget about the gentleman living in Pennsylvania. We have a bilateral alliance with the Government of Turkey. We will speak out when we disagree. We will speak out when we agree. And it’s really up to the people of Turkey to make decisions about their government. We – it’s not up to us, and any reports that we have any impact on that are just crazy.
What else? Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- a court out there has charged the former president, Pervez Musharraf, with high treason. Do you have a comment on that? And do you feel he can get a fair trial in a Pakistani court?
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t take any position on legal proceedings involving former President Musharraf. We believe it’s an issue to be resolved in accordance with Pakistan’s constitution and laws.
Anything else? Great, thanks guys. Happy Opening Day. My Cardinals are playing the Reds this afternoon.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)
DPB # 56