12:18 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to a Friday daily press briefing. I have a couple items at the top, and then I’m happy to open it up for questions.
First, a travel update: Today in Rabat Secretary Kerry met with the Moroccan foreign minister and King Mohammed VI. He also participated in the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue. During his visit to Rabat, the Secretary also swore in a group of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. And I know this will be music to everyone’s ears: Rabat is the last leg of his trip to Europe and the Middle East, and they will be on their way home.
Item number two: On April 3rd, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman met with former chairman of the Mejilis of the Crimean Tatars, and a member of parliament as well, Mustafa Dzhemilev at the State Department. Under Secretary Sherman noted our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our commitment to the protection of human rights in Ukraine, including those of the Crimean Tatars – excuse me. She emphasized that the United States will never recognize Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea.
Mr. Dzhemilev appreciated the support of the United States for the plight of ethnic Tatars in Crimea, many of whom are now being forced to choose between accepting Russian citizenship or losing prospects for employment, education, or even the right to vote. Mr. Dzhemilev noted the appreciation of the Crimean Tatar community for strong U.S. support and urged further international attention and engagement in Crimea, including international monitors. He also urged strengthening cultural and other ties with the rest of Europe and the United States, including through media support and student exchanges. Under Secretary Sherman also told Mr. Dzhemilev that the United States would continue to support the reform efforts of the interim Ukrainian Government, including the very important step of holding early presidential elections on May 25th.
And finally, the third item at the top, ending here at the top on a bit of a more reflective note: This weekend, all of us in the State Department family are taking a moment to remember and to mark the one-year anniversary of the attack in Zabul Province in Afghanistan that took the lives of a bright young Foreign Service officer named Anne Smedinghoff, three United States soldiers, an Afghan American translator, and an Afghan doctor. A year later, those injured in that attack continue to heal and our hearts remain with the families of those we lost. As Secretary Kerry himself wrote in a note to all State Department employees shortly after that tragic day – and I’m quoting now – “We never forget and certainly no one anywhere should forget for a minute that the work of our diplomats is hard and hazardous or that as you serve on the frontlines in the world’s most dangerous places, you put the interests of our country and those of our allies and partners ahead of your own safety.”
That’s exactly what Anne was doing. She was 25 years old and had worked on Secretary Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan just a few weeks before she was killed. She was a press officer in Kabul where she worked to support the Afghan media as they told the story of their country. Sadly, today we were reminded yet again of how dangerous that work can be. Today, the Associated Press lost one of its own: Anja Niedringhaus, an internationally-acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning German photographer. She was shot in Afghanistan’s Khost province. A second Canadian journalist who worked for the AP, Kathy Gannon, was also wounded.
What Anne was in Afghanistan to do was work with the Afghan people. This weekend, millions of them will go to the polls to cast a ballot. The United States has proudly supported this process through the hard work of people just like Anne. And as the Afghans stand up, speak out, and exercise their right to vote, the United States will continue to stand side by side with them. As President Obama said in an address to the nation from Kabul in 2012 – and I’m quoting now – “Here in Afghanistan, Americans answered the call to defend their fellow citizens and uphold human dignity. Today, we recall the fallen and those who suffered wounds, both seen and unseen. But through dark days, we have drawn strength from their example and the ideals that have guided our nation and led the world, a belief that all people are treated equal and deserve the freedom to determine their destiny. That is the light that guides us still.”
So this Sunday, even as we mark the tragic events of a year ago, we do so drawing strength from Anne and Anja and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, especially the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces and the Afghan people themselves. And we pledge to continue the work of building a safe, stable, secure, and free Afghanistan.
With that, I’m happy to open it up for questions. Arshad, do you want to get us started?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it your intent to continue trying to make progress on this through April 29th, or rather, is this wholly in question now whether the United States will continue its efforts, and that you may, in effect, pull the plug now?
MS. HARF: Well, no. I think the Secretary said a few things. We are still at the negotiating table. In the last few days, regrettably, both sides have taken steps that are not helpful. We’re going to evaluate very carefully exactly where the process is and where it might possibly be able to go. And as the Secretary said, there are limits to the amount of time and effort the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps.
So the parties have said they want to continue. We are focused on continuing. But again, quoting the Secretary, it’s reality check time. We intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be, and see if we can keep making progress here. We are still committed to the process, but as we’ve said many times, we can’t make tough decisions for them.
QUESTION: But you’re not saying that you’re committed to keep trying for the next three weeks? In other words, you’re going to decide now whether it’s worth continuing or not?
MS. HARF: Oh, no. We still believe it’s worth continuing. The question is where the process goes from here.
QUESTION: So you said we are still at the negotiating table. Is that a literal statement or is that a figurative statement? In other words, have there been any direct Israeli-Palestinian talks since the meeting of the other night/day?
MS. HARF: Between each other. Let me check and see if there were any direct talks. We’ve remained engaged with both of the parties.
QUESTION: Okay. And what is the – what, if any – since you’re clearly internally debating whether to continue with this process, absent what I think the Secretary said, the willingness of the parties to make difficult decisions, what, if anything, are you doing to try to mitigate against the negative repercussions if the process falls apart, if it ends? How, if at all, are you going to try to prevent the kind of explosion of violence that there was after the collapse of the 2000 talks?
What are you – what, if anything, are you going to do to try to forestall a more direct Palestinian appeal to join actual UN agencies?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any specifics for you on that. Obviously, we have said many times – the President and the Secretary have said many times – that the reason we pursue Middle East peace is because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s good for both sides. And there are benefits to both sides if they can make these tough decisions.
I’m happy to check with our folks and see if people are looking at that. I know our team isn’t focusing on what might happen in a hypothetical if we can’t get this done. Our team is very much focused on actually getting it done. But let me see if there’s a little more to share on that.
QUESTION: But – okay, thank you. I mean, but it sounded like, from what the Secretary said, that your team is really focused on whether anything can get done --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- not on how to move forward, but just --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: So if that’s the case, then it would seem to me that you probably are or should already be thinking about mitigating the negative consequences that could flow from a breakdown which you yourselves acknowledge is a possibility.
MS. HARF: Yeah. No, it’s a good question, and an important one, so let me see if I can get some more on that.
Anything else on Middle East peace?
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Or – Lara, uh-huh.
QUESTION: No, please.
MS. HARF: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: This reassessment that’s going to happen, is that by the decision of the Secretary or of the White House?
MS. HARF: Reassessment in terms of what?
QUESTION: Well, he said that we’re – reality check time, we’re going to reevaluate precisely what steps will be taken.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Is that something that the Secretary decided, or is that something that the White House asked him to do?
MS. HARF: They’re working – I mean, obviously, the Secretary has the lead for this issue, but he’s been in constant communication with the White House throughout this whole process. And quite frankly, our whole team – the Secretary, Ambassador Indyk, and the folks at the White House who focus on this – are all working together very closely on the same page in trying to figure out where we go from here.
QUESTION: Did something change over the last 24 hours? I mean, yesterday at the podium you noted that both sides had taken unhelpful steps – I think yesterday or the day before. Anything happen that would make him sound so pessimistic today?
MS. HARF: Not – I mean, not to my knowledge, no. What I said is there have been unhelpful steps. He also noted, I would say, that he said both sides want to continue. So that’s where we’ve – we’re in the same place we’ve been over the last 24 hours: that there have been unhelpful steps on both sides, our team remains on the ground, but we really need to see them make some tough decisions, which we haven’t seen.
QUESTION: Well, just to put a finer point on it, I mean, he sounds like he’s pretty exasperated. And I mean, the – for him to say we’re not going to sit here indefinitely --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and, I mean, beyond the pessimism of it all, it sounds like he’s fed up. And he – while he says that this wasn’t a waste of time --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- because he did give it a try, he is not going to do this forever, and it sounds like he is starting to come around to the realization or to the belief that he wants it more than the parties want it.
MS. HARF: No, I would – that last point I would not say at all. I think a couple points. He has been, in his own mind certainly, and with the team and everyone else, very clear about the reality of how hard this would be. He has never, I think contrary probably to some reports out there – or commentary, I should say – has never been naive or wide-eyed about what we could get done here. He’s always been very realistic about how hard this would be.
But the fact is we have seen steps taken that are not helpful. He still has said that we believe there’s a path forward here, but we have to find that path. And more importantly than us finding it, the two parties have to find it, and we haven’t seen that yet.
QUESTION: So, I mean, what is – like at what point do you stop looking for signs that they’re going to do it, they’re going to take that path or whatever and come to the realization that they just don’t want it?
MS. HARF: Well, they’ve both said they want the process to continue, and what they have to do now is back up those words with actions. So we’re waiting for some actions. And you’re right though, as the Secretary said – this, I think, probably is a common sense statement – but there are limits to the time and amount of energy we can continue spending on this.
QUESTION: So when you say that there – excuse me. So they – when you say that there are limits, I mean, what is the limit? Like, and does he – has he, whether you want to say it right here or not, but has he given the party what his limits are? As if, “If I don’t see some kind of movement by X-time or if I don’t see X amount of things, I’ve reached my limit?”
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’re not going to outline what he said to the parties.
QUESTION: I didn’t ask you to say what he – specifically what he said, but has he given the parties a benchmark by which he would see that they’re ready to take this way forward?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to describe it that way. We have certainly – he and Ambassador Indyk and the team have certainly made clear to the parties that there need to be steps taken. Now, what that path forward looks like can take a couple different – it can look a couple different ways, I should say. But we have said that if we can’t take steps forward, then yes, this unfortunately will come to an end. But we’re not there yet.
And I think that – I know a lot of people try to read the Secretary’s language – which is important, right? – and the tone. And he really, I think, has throughout this process maintained, at least with us and with the team, a realistic assessment of how hard it will be: Optimism that we did get them back to the table and there had been some progress, but he does know right now that this is a turning point, and we hope that we can move the process forward.
QUESTION: He sounds pretty exasperated. He actually says --
MS. HARF: He’s also at the end of a two-week trip, guys. I mean, I wouldn’t try and read too much into his tone about Middle East peace.
QUESTION: Well, he uses the word, “indefinitely,” or, “We’re not going to sit here indefinitely.”
MS. HARF: True.
QUESTION: So it’s pretty clear that he’s making – he’s telling the parties --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- that time is limited here, right?
MS. HARF: Time isn’t on anyone’s side. It’s not on the parties’ side either, to be clear. But yes, he is. That’s – he is. He made it very clear today. Yes.
QUESTION: Do you think that that time will be – I mean, I don’t want to use the word, “deadline,” but, I mean, are we still looking at kind of April 29th?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure if he was referring to a specific date, but I think the concept is absolutely correct. And you are right to note that we haven’t said that before.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: So what is Ambassador Indyk’s mission at the moment? Is he supposed to stay in the region and meet with both sides to see what they are trying to do to keep this from falling apart?
MS. HARF: Well, he’s on the ground working with both sides. Onto Arshad’s question, I’ll check and see if they’ve met directly since the one we talked about yesterday. But yes, there are things that they are talking about, elements that could go into a path forward. He’s working with both sides to see if we can get a path forward agreed to.
QUESTION: What’s the minimum that Indyk has to try to achieve in order to keep this process going?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into those kind of details.
MS. HARF: Said. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Lara’s point, now when he says the limited time, so to speak, on the limit of time, he is not suggesting that we might meet that point before the end of the month, before the 29th?
MS. HARF: I don’t think he was referring to a specific date when he says --
MS. HARF: -- this won’t go on indefinitely.
QUESTION: So we are likely to continue to have this – some sort of engagement over the next three weeks?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly hope so. But again, we’re focused right now on the immediate task at hand.
QUESTION: Okay, let me ask you on the – we know that the Secretary is enthusiastic. He’s put forth an incredible effort and so on, so he doesn’t lack enthusiasm. What about other senior members of the Obama Administration? Is there like a – are they resigned to the fact that this whole episode might be coming to a close?
MS. HARF: No. I mean, Said, look, everyone in this Administration from the President on down knows how hard this is. But I think you heard, starting with the President when he went to Israel at the beginning of the second term, and then the Secretary, the President at UNGA, you’ve heard everybody speak out very forcefully about our commitment to pursuing Middle East peace. So just because we’re getting to a tough point in the negotiations doesn’t suddenly mean that people think it’s a bad idea.
QUESTION: I guess my question is, let’s say people in the White House, for instance, whether --
MS. HARF: People in the White House.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Officials in the White House, okay? Do they feel that maybe the Secretary of State invested a great deal of time and effort for something that was a losing proposition to begin with, losing that prize?
MS. HARF: No, that’s not how I would describe it at all. The folks – the people, to use your term, that I’ve spoken to in the White House understand that everybody there is very supportive of the Secretary’s efforts. They’ve been in very close contact with the Secretary. They weren’t naive either about how hard this was going to be, and about the fact that success was going to be a challenge to get. And again, I think everyone’s writing it off now like we’re at the end of this process when that’s just not the case.
QUESTION: We’re not writing it off. We’re not writing it off.
QUESTION: Because you know we have been there before --
MS. HARF: Well, I think Said’s question a little bit goes to losing prospect that this is not going to happen, and we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: Well, he sounds – I mean, we’re just taking it on what he said and his tone. And he is the one that is pretty much saying, if not the exact words, saying: I’m close to reaching my limit with you people.
MS. HARF: But he didn’t say that. And he said they both wanted to continue. They’ve both said they wanted to continue, but they have to make tough choices. The words may have been a little different than we’ve used in the past. The tone may have been, I think, indicative of the fact that we are at a very important point in the negotiations. But I wouldn’t read into it, certainly, that we’re at the end of this process because that’s just not the case on the ground.
QUESTION: Can I follow up quickly?
QUESTION: We already have --
MS. HARF: Wait, let me have Said – let me let Said follow up and then we’ll go around.
QUESTION: To follow up very quickly, if we are to have a reassessment, what shape would this reassessment be?
MS. HARF: He actually said we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be, which --
QUESTION: Okay, evaluate. So what does that mean?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been evaluating what the next steps will be all along. But where we are now, as we’ve said, unhelpful steps on both sides. We know what those are.
MS. HARF: So is there a path forward that both sides can agree to where we can go from here? We are evaluating that right now, whether there is; if we can’t get there, what else we can do; all of the different, if you looked at a decision diagram about where we go from here, that’s the evaluation that’s going on right now.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. After – the reason I’m asking this is after the debacle of, let’s say, 2010, I mean, his predecessor, Secretary Clinton reached a point where she could not do anything, and in fact, the whole thing was on hold for the remainder of the term, as you know, at that time.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to compare this to any previous negotiation, and I don’t want to venture to guess what will happen if we get to the end here and we don’t get an agreement.
QUESTION: Can I just --
MS. HARF: Ali, Ali. Wait – Ali.
QUESTION: How do you reconcile what you said a minute ago about the commitment broadly among the White House with the statements we have seen over the past 24 hours along with –
MS. HARF: Anonymous quotes that are blind-quoted in stories. I’m sure people can find one person to say one thing. But I will tell you, the people I have spoken to, people the Secretary’s spoken to at the White House – we’ve had many conversations about this – are fully supportive of his efforts from the President on down, and think that we – but also agree with him that we are at a point where we can’t do this indefinitely and where they need to make some tough decisions.
QUESTION: But I mean, they may be supportive of his mission, but when you get folks saying they want him to lower the volume, that doesn’t sound like it’s --
MS. HARF: I don’t even know what that means. That’s like a word – that’s something people throw out on background – I’ve probably done it – that is probably meaningless. And I don’t know what that means when it comes to the negotiations. What I know is that when the Secretary talks to Susan Rice, talks to the President, talks to the whole other range of people that are working on it, that they are in lockstep about trying to move this forward, but about not being able to make decisions for the two parties themselves.
QUESTION: Was it a mistake for Israel to insist upon an extension of this time period for negotiations in the first place?
MS. HARF: What are you referring to?
QUESTION: The insisting upon an extension of the time to negotiate in exchange for deciding to release the fourth tranche of prisoners. Was it a mistake for Israel to insist upon that when that had not been part of the original agreement to start these talks last July?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of what the two parties may or may have discussed around the prisoner release, around how we move the process forward. I think some reports out there are accurate and some just aren’t.
QUESTION: Well, the Palestinians are saying: Look, this is not something that was part of the original agreement when we said we would hold off on our actions to try to be recognized by a number of UN bodies. We went into these talks in good faith, and from our perspective, the Israelis have tried to change the terms of the negotiation and essentially our hand has been forced.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I know a couple of days ago – I know that yesterday you said this Administration is not interested in ascribing blame.
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: But is there not any consideration for the Palestinians’ view of where they are? They say they have had to tolerate new announcements of settlements in the occupied West Bank, that they’ve had to deal with ongoing arrests and harassment of Palestinian citizens. They feel as if the U.S. is picking sides here.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not. And we’ve been very clear that we’re not playing the blame game here. Both sides have taken unhelpful steps. That’s why we are where we are today. And also what we would say is that a tit-for-tat like we’ve seen over this past week isn’t conducive to moving the process forward and isn’t helpful. So we’re not going to put blame on anyone. These are complicated issues. There’s a lot at stake, and I don’t think there’s any upside to trying to play some sort of blame game here.
QUESTION: Do you expect that this process that is supposed to end on the 29th of this month – an abrupt end to it or an announcement that this – we have – this is no longer ongoing and it’s null and void, or whatever language that you might --
MS. HARF: Said, if I could look into a crystal ball and tell you how this process ends, I would love to be able to do that. But I have no predictions to make about that.
QUESTION: When you say that the parties are committed to continuing the talks, do you mean till the end of April?
MS. HARF: What the Secretary said is they say they want to continue. I don’t think he specified a specific date. They have throughout this process said they were committed to talking for nine months. But what he is focused on right now is that they’re at the table saying they’ll continue talking.
Middle East peace?
QUESTION: So no time period specified? There’s still this overarching desire to find some sort of peace deal?
MS. HARF: In general, is that still our position that we want to get a peace deal?
QUESTION: No, that – is that what both sides have expressed to the U.S.?
MS. HARF: They have expressed that they want to keep talking, yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Middle East peace?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. When the Secretary said we’re going to reevaluate, is that imply – does that imply in any way, shape, or form that the Administration may change the approach? In other word, of instead of being facilitator it could be an initiator of laying down a plan and say, “Hey guys, this is it,” because it’s not – it’s not working. You say that the two --
MS. HARF: Well, it hasn’t worked yet.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, but they want to continue. Continue for what? On what?
MS. HARF: We need to see if there’s a path forward here to keep the two parties at the table to see if we can make progress towards a comprehensive peace agreement here, and there are steps along the way that we would have to take to get there. And so we need to see if there is a way to do that.
QUESTION: So as far as you’re concerned, there is no change of – in terms of approach?
MS. HARF: In terms of the role that we’re playing?
QUESTION: Being facilitator and that’s it.
MS. HARF: There’s no – no, there’s no change in terms of the role we’re playing. Obviously, our approach to the discussions --
QUESTION: Although it’s not working.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Although it’s not working.
MS. HARF: It hasn’t worked yet. You’re writing this off like it’s not going to work. We’re still negotiating. It may not work. But I think we need to all – it’s really easy to write the story that Middle East peace is dead. That’s not a hard story to write, because what’s true in the past statistically tends to continue being true in the future. But what we’re trying to do is make sure that’s not the case. So I think until we get to the end of this process, we should all be cautious about making predictions about what will come next. And look, this may not work, but the parties have said they want to continue. Our team is continuing, and we’ll see if we can make some more progress.
Middle East peace.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Are we likely to see unveiling of this secrecy over the negotiating of the framework agreement that the United States can say – I mean, because the Secretary has really invested a great deal. He made 11 trips. He met, like, untold god-awful hours until one and two in the morning.
MS. HARF: A lot, yeah.
QUESTION: And are we likely to --
MS. HARF: Who’s going to write the book? Is that what you’re asking?
QUESTION: Exactly. Okay. Well, we might wait for the book.
MS. HARF: Maybe that’s what I’ll do when I leave here.
QUESTION: Okay. But are we likely to see – this what we proposed? I mean, because nobody is talking about any --
MS. HARF: No, it’s a good question, Said. And quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know what will happen if we can get movement, can’t get movement. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: What does it look like from here? Like, how does this either go forward or end at this point?
MS. HARF: What does it look like from here? Honestly, it looks like constant communication and talking on the ground. Ambassador Indyk, I think, has probably slept less than any other person besides Secretary Kerry that works for the State Department. Really intense negotiations. Really intense. But that everybody, including the Secretary – and I wasn’t trying to downplay his tone in the press avail. I do think you see from him and from our team that we are getting toward – very close to a point where, if we don’t see tough decisions made, there’s going to have – there really needs to be some soul searching here among the two parties to see whether they can move forward.
QUESTION: And so what does that look like? I mean if – would there be an announcement --
MS. HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: -- or would all three parties come out, or would the Secretary say it at a press conference, or --
MS. HARF: It’s a really good question, and honestly, I have no idea.
QUESTION: But in terms of the negotiations, I mean, what are you – are you still working – I mean, you have this kind of snag with the prisoners and the extension and all that stuff that kind of hit – put you through this latest snag. Are you trying to negotiate to get over this hump, or are you still negotiating on your frame – on the kind of larger issues --
MS. HARF: Right. We’re --
QUESTION: -- and putting this aside for now?
MS. HARF: We’re doing both, really, and – but we can’t negotiate on larger issues if we can’t get over this hump, so – if that makes any sense.
QUESTION: I have a final question regarding aid to the Palestinians.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Are you doing anything on Capitol Hill to sort of ensure that aid to the Palestinian Authority at least continues for the time being?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re going to keep talking with the parties, see if the process can move forward, and talk with the folks on the Hill. I don’t have anything more for you on the aid piece on the Hill.
QUESTION: Has there been any call from members on the Hill to suspend the aid, to follow the law?
MS. HARF: Well, I know there’s been calls from Hill members on quite a few things. In terms of the 15 conventions the Palestinians signed, it’s our understanding that they don’t – they wouldn’t trigger the cutoffs because they’re not agencies. But again, we’re talking to the folks on the Hill.
QUESTION: On that (inaudible), I think I had asked you about that yesterday --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- and you had said that the lawyers were reviewing it. They have now reviewed it, and that is indeed the answer?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Good. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: It has been five or six days since the local elections conducted. You haven’t issued any statement so far. Is there --
MS. HARF: And I don’t think we’re going to.
MS. HARF: They’re local elections. Probably won’t weigh in any further than we already have.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of – would you be able to define the elections in terms of its fairness or transparency? Do you have any assessment on that?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen one. I’m happy to see if there is one.
QUESTION: On Monday, you stated that if there are credible allegations of fraud, they should be investigated.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you a follow-up on those allegations, whether they have been --
MS. HARF: It wouldn’t – whether they’re being investigated? I don’t know. I can check with our folks.
QUESTION: So as of now, you don’t have any kind of comments regarding --
MS. HARF: I just don’t have any update from what I said a few days ago.
Uh-huh. Turkey – anything else on Turkey?
QUESTION: The Russian foreign minister announced today that they reached an agreement at the UN for the agenda of a next round for the Geneva talks, the – Syria. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t aware of that, but I’m happy to check into it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The U.S. has been very critical of the leaks of intercepted conversations between diplomats Victoria Nuland, Cathy Ashton. I wondered whether you had any comment on the apparent leak of a conversation between two Russian diplomats, whether you’d be equally worried about the prospects for diplomacy when these things are routinely leaked and whether you could say whether the U.S. had any involvement in the --
MS. HARF: I actually have no idea what conversation you’re referring to. I’m happy to --
QUESTION: Two Russian diplomats were caught on tape discussing the Crimea in very colorful language, much a copycat of the Nuland --
MS. HARF: Oh, really? Okay. Well, I’m happy to check on it. I’m pretty sure we had nothing to do with it, but I’m happy to check on it.
QUESTION: Can we talk about Ukraine --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- since we’ve now had two questions in a row on Russia?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: First, is there any sense from the Administration or from this building in particular about the posture of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine?
MS. HARF: To my knowledge, I don’t think anything’s changed on that, that there’s still tens of thousands on the border with Ukraine. We cannot – last I heard, last I checked with our folks – independently confirm there had been some troops moved off of it. Obviously, we hope they will, but no update on that.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any conversations either with Foreign Minister Lavrov or with anyone in the interim Ukrainian government about the crisis?
MS. HARF: No, not – well, not – Foreign Minister Lavrov, the last call was on Wednesday, and to my knowledge, no conversation since then.
QUESTION: And Marie, the sanctions that the President discussed with Congress, do they curtail the Secretary’s activities or efforts or meetings with his Russian counterpart?
MS. HARF: No, not at all. Last I checked, Sergey Lavrov had not been sanctioned.
QUESTION: The legal issue regarding the Black Sea: The – Lavrov also blamed the U.S. side for violating the international laws for staying more than three weeks in Black Sea. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: I really don’t think that the Russians are experts on international law right now when they’ve continually violated it for the last – how many weeks? So, I think that’s probably my comment on that.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Twitter ban was lifted --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- by the order of constitutional court.
MS. HARF: It was.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?
MS. HARF: Yes. Well, obviously, we welcome the recent Constitutional Court decision in support of freedom of expression in Turkey. We also note that the Turkish Government implemented the ruling yesterday to unblock Twitter, also following an Ankara court’s decision that the government should unblock access to YouTube. Obviously continue to urge the government to open all social media space in Turkey.
What else? Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Okay. A question on Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel’s comment recently on North Korea and China. He said the most direct way for China to affect the U.S. military deployments and those strategic alliance plans is by applying China’s leverage on North Korea. Is this some new thing the U.S. is offering China?
MS. HARF: No. This isn’t a new thing at all. I mean, I think you heard – have certainly heard us say, have heard the Secretary and Assistant Secretary Russel say, that China is on the same page with us in terms of needing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that because China has a relationship with North Korea, unlike other countries, that it does have a special role to play in terms of pushing the North Koreans to do things we’d like them to do. So this is in no way a new position.
QUESTION: But it sounds like he’s indicating that the U.S. is willing to make concession if China is willing to put more pressure on North Korea.
MS. HARF: I don’t think he was indicating anything like that, anything new. I think he was responding to a question on the Hill.
QUESTION: So can you confirm that if China is going to put more pressure on North Korea, the U.S. is going to decrease your military posture on Korean Peninsula?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple – well, no, I can’t, because as I’ve said, we’ve repeatedly worked with China on this issue because they do have a special role to play. And I don’t think that he was indicating anything new. In terms of our military posture, I’m happy to check with our Defense Department colleagues, but it’s my understanding that the Assistant Secretary was not in any way indicating something like that. But I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: So you are denying – basically you’re denying that the U.S. is going to make a concession?
MS. HARF: I’m saying I can’t confirm that. I can’t confirm that. I’m happy to check with our DOD colleagues. But again, this isn’t about the U.S. making concessions. This is about us working with our international partners to see if we can get North Korea to take some steps to come back in line with their obligations. China has a special and unique role to play in that. That’s my understanding that’s all he was saying. Again, I’m happy to check and see if there was more that people should be reading into it.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have one from Deputy Secretary Burns’s meeting today with Martin Lee and Anson Chan?
MS. HARF: I do. Just give me one second. Yes. During their April 4th meeting, Deputy Secretary Burns, Martin Lee, and Anson Chan discussed a number of issues, including universal suffrage in Hong Kong’s development under one country, two systems. As you know, State Department officials regularly meet with a broad cross-section of Hong Kong society, both in Hong Kong and in Washington. Both of these folks are well-known and highly regarded figures, and on their visits to the U.S. they regularly meet with senior officials.
MS. HARF: I do. Just give me one second. Well, reports that there is a $6 billion that can’t be accounted for are grossly inaccurate. The OIG’s report noted that there were a number of incomplete files for our contracts and that these contracts’ cumulative value was about 6 billion. As highlighted in our response to the OIG, this is an issue of which the Department is aware and is taking steps to remedy. It’s not an accounting issue. I think it’s more like a bureaucratic issue. But it’s not that we’ve lost $6 billion, basically.
On March 20th, our new Inspector General did issue a management alert on contract file management deficiencies. The Bureau of Administration responded with a plan to address their three recommendation. Those are all posted on the IG’s web page now.
QUESTION: So how much money can you not account for if it’s not 6 billion?
MS. HARF: I have no idea.
QUESTION: But whatever amount it is, it’s --
MS. HARF: I think we try to account for all of our money.
QUESTION: But it’s way less than 6 billion? I mean, you said it was grossly inflated.
MS. HARF: Grossly inaccurate. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Okay. So do – you must have --
QUESTION: What’s a rounded-up figure --
MS. HARF: I’m not – no --
QUESTION: You must have an estimate of what it is if you have an understanding --
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding that it’s not an accounting issue. It’s not that we can’t account for money. So I don’t – I’m not sure that there’s any money that we can’t account for.
QUESTION: So how is it grossly inaccurate, then?
MS. HARF: Because it’s not that there’s $6 billion we can’t account for. They said there were incomplete files --
MS. HARF: -- and that the files were – their cumulative value for those contracts was about $6 billion. So it’s a filing issue. It’s not a “we lost money” issue.
QUESTION: So you’re sure that you know where all that money is even though you acknowledge that the files are not complete?
MS. HARF: I – that’s my understanding, yes. But again, all of this is posted on the IG’s website in much more detail.
QUESTION: But --
MS. HARF: I don’t have the $6 billion.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I just – (laughter) – it sounds like it may be more of a distinction without a difference, saying it’s an accounting error, like maybe --
MS. HARF: No, because the notion that we can’t find $6 billion, right, would mean that it’s an accounting issue, that somehow we lost money that – you can understand why when people hear that they think that it means we’ve lost $6 billion. That’s my understanding that that’s not the case.
QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean, regarding this IG issue, it’s like every other day something is coming out of --
MS. HARF: IG’s been very busy, apparently.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, because there was no IG before, no five years.
MS. HARF: We have a new IG, yep.
QUESTION: Yeah, it came on September. Yeah. I mean, I’m trying to figure out – I mean, when he’s like – when you say grossly and inaccurate, does he presenting these things with information or just like a number?
MS. HARF: Yeah. So the way the IG works in general – and I don’t have the details about their methodology here – is they are independent and they undertake independent reviews, some I understand that are done just routinely, some I think are in response to people submitting things to them. And in general, after the IG does a draft report they submit it to either the post overseas or the office here or the bureau that deals with it so they can have a chance to review it and comment on it and to begin implementing recommendations, if there are any that they think are helpful. So there’s a process here. Then they eventually release the final report that sometimes takes into account comments, sometimes they disagree. We have a variety of ways to respond.
QUESTION: The reason I am asking because these things are related more about overseas activities and contracts. Does the State Department officially – when you say grossly inaccurate, are you going to say what is accurate?
MS. HARF: Yes. And as I said, our response and the entire report is up on the IG’s website. I’m happy to dig into it a little bit more. But yes, we do. I mean, that’s why we give responses and they’re published.
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard of.
MS. HARF: We’ll keep folks posted.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- under which – yeah.
MS. HARF: Iran.
QUESTION: Yes. Under which you would --
MS. HARF: On – well, on our --
QUESTION: Well, just generally under which you can deny visas to diplomats who countries wish to send to the United Nations in New York.
MS. HARF: Yep. So as a matter of U.S. immigration law, foreign government officials, including representatives of the member-states of the UN, are exempted from most visa ineligibilities; however, they are subject to ineligibilities under several INA sections. Those are related to security, terrorism, and foreign policy. Those are the three exceptions. Obviously, those can be interpreted more broadly, but those are the three exceptions.
QUESTION: When you say security, it means if they’re deemed to be a security threat?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Terrorism if it means that they’re deemed to be terrorists?
MS. HARF: Or – I don’t know if – I don’t know, but it could include if they financed – I don’t know how broad it is defined.
QUESTION: Okay. And foreign policy, do you know how that’s defined because --
MS. HARF: I don’t. But I think that’s probably one that’s fairly --
MS. HARF: -- fairly broadly defined. But I actually don’t know what the code reads, so I’m happy to --
QUESTION: Right. That’s okay.
MS. HARF: I’ve been doing a lot of reading of U.S. code lately. Yes.
QUESTION: In any – it’s any of these three --
MS. HARF: Any of. It doesn’t have to be all of – yeah.
QUESTION: All of them they have to --
MS. HARF: No. Any. Any. Any. Not all.
QUESTION: It’s any of these --
MS. HARF: These are the three exceptions.
QUESTION: -- applied on this candidate, or not?
MS. HARF: Oh no, I’m not talking about this specific individual’s case at all. We don’t talk about cases while they’re being adjudicated.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you aware that a New York City police officer is being held in India --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- on a weapons charge? And what’s the State Department’s role in doing something to get him freed?
MS. HARF: We are aware of the reports, obviously, that a U.S. citizen has been arrested. We, because of privacy considerations, don’t have further comment. Obviously, we provide consular service to any American citizen overseas –
QUESTION: Is there any reason to believe that the way that this – the person is being treated by Indian authorities is not consistent with the way an American should be – any U.S. – like according to Geneva Conventions, I mean, meaning that – are you afraid that this person will face any kind of retribution from the way that the Indian diplomat was treated in this country?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I can’t get into the specific case because of privacy considerations. But obviously, we’ve said we want to get past some of the tensions that have been there over the past several months and move on. I just can’t speak to this specific case.
QUESTION: How worried is the U.S. that there could be retribution against any U.S. citizen in general who’s picked up by the Indian authorities?
MS. HARF: I mean, I think we feel like we’ve moved past this and hope the Indians have as well.
QUESTION: Have they shown that they can be trusted?
MS. HARF: That the Indians can be trusted? India is a very close partner. Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: Is his detention consistent with prior detentions of U.S. citizens on these charges?
MS. HARF: I can’t share any more about this individual because of the privacy concerns – or considerations, not concerns.
Yeah. Happy Friday, guys.
QUESTION: Oh, can I ask one more question?
MS. HARF: Oh yeah, sorry.
MS. HARF: Portions of it, yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah – of the CIA interrogation report. Two senators said that they voted against it because of, “warnings from the State Department and our allies indicating that the declassification of this report would endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas, and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries.” Is that consistent with the State Department’s decision?
MS. HARF: I did see that comment. I don’t know the answer. I’m going to dig into this one a little more this afternoon.
QUESTION: Okay. If – could you put it out?
MS. HARF: Yeah, I’ll see what I can do.
QUESTION: Yeah. And I’m wondering also who at State --
MS. HARF: -- would have been involved --
QUESTION: -- like what part of the State Department would have advised them if that’s the case.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m happy to – I did see that. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)