1:29 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. My tea is making another appearance today. I have a few items at the top, and then we’ll open it up for questions. I’m sure you saw the Secretary and Lady Ashton’s press conference. I’m sure there’s lots to talk about today.
First item at the top: We have seen the IAEA director general’s report to the board of governors. And the IAEA confirmed that Iran has completed its dilution of the agreed amount of 20 percent enriched uranium. If you remember from the Joint Plan of Action, they had to dilute half of it and convert the rest. The conversion process is still underway. Based on this confirmation and consistent with commitments of the United States made under the Joint Plan of Action, the Department of Treasury took the necessary steps pursuant to the JPOA to facilitate the release of a $450 million installment of Iran’s frozen funds.
To remind people, to this point all sides have kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan of Action. As Iran remains in line with its commitments under the JPOA, the United States and its P5+1 partners and the European Union will continue to uphold our commitments as well.
Oh, and a travel update: The Secretary will be on his way home at some point shortly.
The second item at the top, on North Korea: Ambassador Samantha Power will participate in a discussion today in an Arria meeting of Security Council members on the human rights situation in North Korea and the recently released report of the UN Commission of Inquiry. The United States, France, and Australia are co-sponsoring this meeting. This important discussion by the members of the Security Council appropriately takes place during North Korea Human Rights Week in Washington. It is a further testament to the growing awareness in the international community of the magnitude of the human rights problem in North Korea and of the importance of holding accountable those responsible for committing the systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations.
Two more quick items at the top, and then we’ll get to your questions. There were some questions about Special Envoy Rubenstein’s travel yesterday, so I wanted to give a travel update for him. He will be traveling to the region tomorrow to continue his consultations with international partners on the crisis in Syria. In the coming days, he will go to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar. Upon leaving the region, he will stop in London before returning to the United States. We’ll provide additional details as his itinerary develops. This is an opportunity for Special Envoy Rubenstein to further consult with Syrians and others seeking an end to the horrific conflict and a different kind of future for all Syrians. As you know, we remain committed to the diplomatic process and to all diplomatic efforts to find a political solution as the only way to a lasting, sustainable end to this conflict.
And finally, one other item on Ukraine, and then we’ll get to questions, because I think they’re probably on Ukraine. Today my former boss, Secretary of Defense Hagel, called his Ukrainian counterpart, the acting defense minister, to tell him that the President of the United States has approved additional military assistance for Ukraine, for health and welfare items and supplies. The State Department will provide $3.5 million in foreign military financing to support Ukraine’s armed forces with medical supplies and service member equipment, including helmets, sleeping mats, and water purification units. We’ll deliver these items as quickly as possible. Delivery timing will be item-specific, depending on availability and transportation. We’ll provide additional updates as items are processed for delivery. The State and Defense Departments will work closely with the Embassy and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the State Border Guard Service to develop a plan for procurement and delivery of the supplies. Additionally, the Department of Defense will allocate $3 million from Cooperative Threat Reduction funding to support Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service, with supplies to include clothing, shelter, small power generators, and hand fuel pumps.
This announcement is not the end of our assistance. As you know, the review we’re undertaking with the Department of Defense about assistance is ongoing.
QUESTION: I don’t really have anything on Ukraine, but the --
MS. HARF: Okay. Or anything you want.
QUESTION: You said that – well, no, but on this, just on that, your announcement there, so it’s 6.5 million total?
MS. HARF: Let me see. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: 3.5 in FMF and 3 million from DOD?
MS. HARF: Yep. Mm-hmm, that’s correct.
QUESTION: That just doesn’t seem like a particularly large amount.
MS. HARF: Well, this is at the end of – it’s not the start of the end of our announcements. It’s just the latest step in assistance, and the assistance we think will help the Ukrainians on the ground.
QUESTION: I don’t have anything else on Ukraine.
MS. HARF: Okay.
Shortest briefing in history. Go ahead, Ali, and then --
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, in his remarks just now, mentioned the – or he didn’t say reports, but the instances of anti-Semitic behavior in eastern Ukraine. So I just wondered, could you expand on what evidence are you seeing that this is happening on the ground? What exactly was he referring to? Because he seemed to very not – very, very strongly say that yes, this is happening. So we’re just curious about --
MS. HARF: Right. He called it not just intolerable, but grotesque. He was very strong in condemning this. I’d also point you to the joint Geneva statement that all four parties signed onto that strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism, and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. So we are seeing the same reports, I think, that are out there in the press. We’re trying to gather more information, but it is clear that some of this is taking place, whether it’s leaflets or other items that are directed at Jews in Ukraine. And again, as the Secretary said, absolutely intolerable, grotesque, no place for this.
QUESTION: So just to follow up really quick: Obviously, there were those reports about the leaflets that you just mentioned specifically, and again, he seemed pretty unqualified that those reports are accurate, so is that --
MS. HARF: We have no reason to believe they’re not. And you heard – you are accurately characterizing the way he described it, yes.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any idea who is behind it?
MS. HARF: I think we’re trying to look into that right now and gather information about where they’re coming from. As we said in the joint statement, all four parties very clearly condemn anti-Semitism. So, again, I don’t have more details on where the leaflets are coming from, but I know we’re looking into it.
QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, do you take this as a serious threat to Jews in Ukraine? I mean, I just – I --
MS. HARF: I think the Secretary made very clear that we take this very seriously.
QUESTION: Well, but would you take it – if it turned out that it’s just some dude running around with a mimeograph machine throwing these leaflets around, that --
MS. HARF: We’d still take it very seriously.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any reason to believe that either the Ukrainian Government or authorities in some – someone who has any kind of authority in the east is behind this?
MS. HARF: I think we’re still trying to determine who’s behind it.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But you – and that doesn’t affect how seriously you would take it?
MS. HARF: No, Matt, it doesn’t. I mean, we take any anti-Semitism incredibly seriously no matter where it is.
QUESTION: No, I understand that.
MS. HARF: Or who perpetrates it. I think our – depending on who we talk to about what needs to happen now --
QUESTION: Right, but you don’t have any --
MS. HARF: -- it matters who’s behind it.
QUESTION: But you don’t – well, right, exactly, it does.
MS. HARF: Right. So we’re still looking into it.
QUESTION: And you don’t know who is behind it?
MS. HARF: I don’t – we don’t know yet. I don’t know. I don’t know if folks on the ground know more. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: I think that was my question, but can we move on to Pakistan?
MS. HARF: Anything else on --
QUESTION: On Ukraine, yes.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Russia has already said that they believe the Ukrainian president was overthrown in a coup. Is the U.S. concerned that Moscow will not recognize the results of the election on May 25th?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly are pointing to the elections on May 25th as a key milestone in Ukraine’s future. We want them to go forward, we strongly support them, and we want people to recognize them.
QUESTION: Because President Putin in an interview today said that he will not – he does not view the May 25th elections in Ukraine as legitimate.
MS. HARF: Well, I think there are a lot of things that President Putin said in that interview that just defy logic and are at odds with reality. That would certainly be one of them.
QUESTION: Do you believe that President Putin has control over his military?
MS. HARF: I have no indication that he doesn’t.
QUESTION: On the Putin interview, do you have any reaction or comment to that segment where Snowden sent a question in and was answered by Putin?
MS. HARF: I really don’t.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Ukraine?
QUESTION: Do you have a readout about the Secretary’s meeting with Mr. Brahimi today?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure it’s happened yet. I think it had gotten pushed until – because of the ongoing Ukraine meetings. So as soon as we can get one, we will get you one.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes, anything --
QUESTION: Just one more follow-up.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Are you worried that President Putin doesn’t have control over his military?
MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t seen indications of that. I think one thing you can say about President Putin is he likes to be in control, and has control. I don’t think that’s been lacking throughout this crisis. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s anything more to that.
QUESTION: Do you believe the spread of NATO has caused some of Putin and Russia’s aggressive actions?
MS. HARF: No. I know they say that, and if that’s a reason they’ve told themselves and they start believing the fiction, that’s just not based in reality. What we’ve said all along is that we’re committed to NATO, that we’ve been open with them as we’ve talked about NATO enlargement. I’d also point out that today, look, we’re going into what happens now with Russia with our eyes wide open. This is a first step, but it’s not a breakthrough unless and until this agreement today is implemented.
So I think we achieved more than I think some people thought we might over these last 24 hours in Geneva, but again, it’s not a breakthrough until this is implemented on the ground. And we need to see the Russians follow up these words with actions. We haven’t seen them do that yet, and we want them to now.
QUESTION: Would you like to see Ukraine join NATO or would you like Ukraine to stay neutral?
MS. HARF: Well, look, in terms of NATO enlargement, I know that’s an interesting topic and obviously NATO has been a key part of our response, but we – what we’re focused on now in the discussions with Ukraine and with the Russians and the EU is how the Russians can de-escalate the situation in eastern and southern Ukraine. The NATO conversations happen separately. We don’t want to mix the two because the Russians are trying to and we don’t think that it’s part – should be part of that discussion.
QUESTION: Shipping this nonlethal gear and kit to Ukraine, is the U.S. Government essentially saying, “You have to fight your own battles here”?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re saying a few things. First, we’re not considering providing lethal assistance right now for a number of reasons, the first of which is we want to de-escalate the situation, not escalate it. And we’re not interested in getting in some sort of a proxy war with Russia here. That’s not the goal. The goal is de-escalation. We think this is the most appropriate assistance to provide to help out the Ukrainian armed forces on the ground. We’ve also said – the Secretary has been very clear that while we have applauded their restraint, that increasingly, they have an obligation to provide order and security for their people. And so we’re going to keep assisting them in any way we think is helpful.
QUESTION: You mentioned this restraint. Are you talking about Ukraine’s forces or Russian forces?
MS. HARF: Ukraine’s. I think the Russians have not shown what anyone could call restraint.
QUESTION: With the understanding that all of this is happening in Geneva and you’re here, I am curious about some of the language that was in the joint statement that came out, which is the calling on all illegal parties to draw back and to vacate. Is it your understanding that there is an agreement as to what qualifies as illegal?
MS. HARF: Right, and I know there’s a lot of wordsmithing here, and I think Foreign Minister Lavrov has also come out and talked about what they all agreed to in Russian, which I don’t speak. But yes, we said all illegal groups. That means all. But as I said, right, the devil’s in the details and the devil’s in the implementation. So this is an important step, but it cannot be considered a breakthrough until everyone, most importantly the Russians, follow through with this, and really take steps to – and I’m reading from the statement here – disarm, quote, “all illegal armed groups,” period. So we’re going to keep having the conversations, but these are the steps that need to happen.
QUESTION: So to follow up on that, and the Secretary was very clear that if those steps aren’t taken this weekend, there will be further --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- actions taken by the U.S. on – or after the weekend sometime, presumably early next week. But, I mean, what is the bare minimum that Russia would need to do in order to avoid that happening?
MS. HARF: Well, we hope they do more than the bare minimum; let’s put it that way.
QUESTION: You have to draw the line somewhere.
QUESTION: B-e-a-r minimum.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Look, I’m not going to outline what the goalpost is for what they could do to avoid further action. We’ve always said we will calibrate our response based on what the Russians do or don’t do. We’ll respond accordingly. And we’re testing right now the propositions that were laid out in this agreement. We are testing whether the Russians are serious about taking tangible steps to de-escalate. And what they do in the coming days will really speak to that very clearly, and we’ll calibrate our response accordingly.
QUESTION: And I wanted to ask as well on this – the issue that you touched on of the Ukrainian Government’s need to maintain law and order.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have full confidence in the capacity of the government and its armed forces to be able to do that effectively?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly stand side by side the Ukrainians as they’re fighting this battle, but let’s be clear: I mean, the Russian armed forces have extraordinary power here. I mean, they’ve amassed enough troops at the border to basically do a full-scale invasion of southern and eastern Ukraine. So what we’re talking about here is a Russian military that has a lot of power behind it, which is exactly why we’ve said they need to take steps to de-escalate immediately. And we have praised the restraint of the Ukrainian armed forces because we don’t – what we don’t want is escalatory actions to somehow spiral out of control, as you heard the Secretary speak to, and really take the country down a path that would be counterproductive.
QUESTION: Yeah. I guess the reason I’m asking is because there have been some reports coming out that are a little bit – that seem to suggest that the Ukrainian armed forces lack the legitimacy in the eyes of people in the eastern part of the country as well as the capacity to really enforce the kind of rule and law and order that they’re talking about.
MS. HARF: Well, I’ll say a few points. It’s hard – it’s difficult to enforce law and order for any military when you have armed illegal groups and thugs coming from another country and messing around in your country. So that’s tough for any country to do, right? That’s point A.
Point B is that actually, I would take notion with your first question. I think actually in southern and eastern Ukraine, the armed forces and the government does have legitimacy – the central government – in the eyes of the Ukrainian people. I think that that’s clear. I think that in some ways, what we’ve seen is them standing up and saying they don’t want these Russian illegal groups being supported by the government meddling around in their affairs. So that’s what we’re all working towards right now.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Putin thing for a second?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: You said that some – that many of the things that he said today defy logic and are at odds with reality. Do you have any reason to question President Putin’s faculties?
MS. HARF: Faculties, no.
QUESTION: So you don’t think he’s crazy? It sounds as though --
MS. HARF: I would not use that term to describe President Putin, no.
QUESTION: Well, it sounds as though – if you think that every – most of – a lot of what he said today defies logic and is at odds with reality, there’s either two – there’s two options. One is he’s just making this stuff up and he knows it, or two, he actually believes it, in which case it would seem to --
MS. HARF: I have no idea what he believes.
QUESTION: -- it would seem to suggest that you’re making some kind of a diagnosis of his mental ability – capability.
MS. HARF: I was not making some sort of armchair diagnosis about him. What I’m saying is I think that the Russians – what you’ve seen is – this is what you asked a little bit about yesterday – there is a massive Russian propaganda machine at work here right now trying to spin the world on what is happening in Ukraine. And what we’ve very clearly seen is the world seeing that that’s propaganda and saying that they reject it and that they believe the Ukrainian people should get to determine their future. That’s certainly what we saw from President Putin today.
QUESTION: And just going back to this incident, the anti-Semitic things in Donetsk --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- do you have any concern that this might be something that the Russians have done in order to destabilize the situation further?
MS. HARF: Let me get a little more on who’s behind this. I don’t want to go around accusing people before we have more facts on this one.
MS. HARF: We’d have concern about anyone we found out was behind this.
QUESTION: Fair enough, okay. And then just – the other thing you said is you’re not interested in getting into a proxy war with Russia --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and Ukraine, but in Syria, it’s okay?
MS. HARF: We don’t think there’s a military solution in Syria either.
QUESTION: Well, but what’s going on in Syria is essentially --
MS. HARF: We don’t think there’s a military solution in either country.
QUESTION: -- is essentially a proxy war, is it not?
MS. HARF: We don’t think that – we do not think there’s a military solution in either country. We are not interested in fighting the Russians anywhere. In both countries, though very different situations, we believe that there is only a diplomatic solution forward.
QUESTION: I understand that. So you say you would reject the idea that…
MS. HARF: I would reject the notion that they’re the same.
QUESTION: -- reject the idea that there’s a proxy war going on with the Russians and Syria?
MS. HARF: I would reject that, yes.
QUESTION: With Iran as well? In any way?
MS. HARF: I just don’t think there’s a comparison to Ukraine --
QUESTION: In Syria --
MS. HARF: -- that’s useful to --
QUESTION: I’m not asking about – I’m not asking you to compare Ukraine to Syria. I’m just – if you’re not interested in getting into a proxy war with Russia over – are you saying that you’re not interested in getting into a proxy war anywhere with Russia? Is that the idea?
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: And you --
MS. HARF: This is not the ’50s, this is not the ’60s, this is not the Cold War.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- on proxy wars, how can the United States negotiate with Iran in good faith about its nuclear weapons when it is fighting a proxy war against Iran in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, because – well, for a few reasons. We’ve always said that the nuclear issue is of enough importance that we need to sit down and talk to the Iranians about it because we have to get this resolved. That doesn’t take away from how concerned we are about their activities in Syria – which we are very clear about, we sanction them over; we will continue to raise our concerns with them over that – or their human rights record, or their support for terrorism, or the fact that three Americans are still missing and not home with their families.
QUESTION: Will the State Department or the Treasury Department be able to track this 450 million in frozen assets to Iran and be able to see where it goes?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we have provided the necessary mechanism for the funds to be released to Iran. I don’t have more details for you on sort of what they can use it for – what they can use it for – what’s still applicable under the limited sanctions relief we’ve given, and just don’t have more details for you.
QUESTION: Theoretically, this money could be used to buy rockets to send to ---
MS. HARF: If we found out that the Iranians were using any money of theirs for sanctionable activities, it would be a huge problem. I can guarantee that.
QUESTION: So does that mean the State Department support – would support new sanctions on Iran for its activities in Syria at this point even though there’s negotiations going on?
MS. HARF: I think it would depend what the sanctions look like. I think there are pretty heavy sanctions in place already over Iran’s support for Hezbollah, which obviously is the main driver of the instability in Syria from the Iranian perspective, or who the Iranians are supporting. I’m not sure there’s much left to sanction there, quite frankly.
QUESTION: But there’s – there is talk of a new round of sanctions coming up in the House.
MS. HARF: I’ve seen that, and I haven’t seen exact language. I don’t even know if there’s been a bill introduced yet. But again, I’m not sure there is anything left to sanction over Iran’s support for Hezbollah, but if there’s some sort of legislation proposed at some point, I’m sure we’ll take a look at it, because we have been clear we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its support for Hezbollah, for terrorism, and destabilizing activities in Syria.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The Pakistani cabinet today decided to continue with talk – these talks with the Taliban, although slow the pace to adopt a policy of wait-and-watch. And have you seen that? Do you have anything to comment on the talks?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any comment. I think I’ll let the Government of Pakistan comment.
QUESTION: The talk – a about the peace talks with the Taliban?
MS. HARF: It’s not for us to comment.
MS. HARF: This really might be the shortest briefing in history.
QUESTION: On the topic of religious freedom, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom – that post remains unfilled for the past six months. Do you have an update to provide?
MS. HARF: I don’t have an update. We obviously agree with folks out there on the need to fill the position. It’s an incredibly important position. The White House and the State Department, we are actively working to nominate someone as soon as possible. Obviously, in the meantime, we at the Department are continuing to work on the whole range of issues that fall under religious freedom, including dialogue with foreign government counterparts, civil society, religious leaders, people of faith. We also, as you probably know, have a Special Advisor for the Office of Faith-Based Communities, Shaun Casey. It’s not a replacement, obviously, but we have a lot of folks working on these issues, and hopefully we’ll get someone nominated soon.
QUESTION: President Obama spoke specifically of this position and just the topic of religious tolerance at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And is not filling this position sending the wrong signal to the world?
MS. HARF: Not at all. It’s something we take incredibly seriously. We hope to fill it as soon as possible. It’s an important position, but the issues that are worked on under that auspices are being worked on by people here every single day. We’re engaged with the communities that care about this. We hope to get someone nominated soon.
QUESTION: Is the State Department vetting candidates or is the holdup – bottleneck elsewhere, perhaps?
MS. HARF: The White House and the State Department are actively working to nominate someone as soon as possible. Hopefully that’ll be as soon as possible. I don’t have more --
QUESTION: Do you have a name or anything?
MS. HARF: Not one I’m going to float here, and I actually haven’t heard a name.
QUESTION: Is that still a Senate-confirmed job, or is that one of the ones that was taken out of the --
MS. HARF: I’m not sure. Let me check on that. It’s a good question, Matt.
QUESTION: I’ve got – no one else? Go ahead. I just have two very brief follow-ups.
MS. HARF: Okay. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have in here. Which meeting specifically?
QUESTION: The one that happened this morning.
MS. HARF: I don’t have a readout of that yet. Let me see if we can get you something.
QUESTION: Okay. And – sorry, staying in Asia. Sorry, Matt. I had one more question. So there will be a meeting between South Korea and Japan at the directors general level on comfort women. It’s going to be specifically on comfort women. And I was wondering if you thought that this was a concrete step towards the amelioration of the relationship, or whether you thought --
MS. HARF: A what step?
QUESTION: A concrete step.
MS. HARF: A concrete step.
QUESTION: Or whether you think that this is kind of papering over and whether they’re doing this because President Obama will be in the region?
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s important that our friends and partners and allies in the region talk to each other. I don’t know why they’re having this meeting. I don’t have any analysis of that to do for you. But we obviously think it’s important for dialogue to happen between them directly. Obviously, the President has a full agenda for his trip to the region, which I know the White House will be outlining in more detail. But the improving relationship between our friends in the region is certainly at the top of that agenda.
QUESTION: Thanks, Marie.
MS. HARF: Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, two separate issues, two – one in the Middle East. I understand that one of the people that I asked about on Monday has now been released, or at least released from Israeli custody. But I’m wondering if there’s an update on the American citizen who was detained.
MS. HARF: I can’t comment on that case specifically due to --
QUESTION: There’s still no --
MS. HARF: -- privacy considerations.
QUESTION: Do you – are you --
MS. HARF: Obviously, we’re following the situation.
QUESTION: Right. Are you aware if there’s been a consular visit, and if there has, if this woman, the detainee, has been made aware of the – her ability to sign?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any further comment on the case. I just can’t because of privacy.
QUESTION: Because privacy.
MS. HARF: Because of privacy considerations, yes.
QUESTION: Right. So --
MS. HARF: I know you hate that part of the law, and if you were in Congress that’s the one thing you would do to change it.
QUESTION: No, I hate the entire – I just think that you apply the law selectively and inconsistently.
MS. HARF: No, we don’t actually. In some --
MS. HARF: Hey, if you’re ever locked up overseas and you don’t sign a privacy waiver, I’m going to stand up here and not comment on your case – (laughter) --
QUESTION: You know what?
MS. HARF: -- out of respect for your privacy.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I would never do that.
MS. HARF: You would sign it right away?
QUESTION: In fact, other members of the press corps have preemptively signed --
MS. HARF: Oh, that’s interesting actually. I didn’t know that.
QUESTION: -- Privacy Act waivers before going abroad on private holidays.
MS. HARF: That’s a good idea actually. I’ve never – I’ve honestly never heard of that.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just am not sure that Americans going abroad, the general public, are really aware of this, and I do believe --
MS. HARF: In general, we --
QUESTION: I do believe that you --
MS. HARF: -- inform people of their --
QUESTION: Yeah, once they’re arrested. Anyway.
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t obviously vet or monitor all private citizens’ travel overseas, so we can’t, like, proactively reach out to people.
QUESTION: No, as you well know – no, I understand that.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: But as you well know, I have strong suspicions about whether people are encouraged not to sign Privacy Act waivers just to save you guys the trouble of having to talk about it.
MS. HARF: Because this is so much fun going around and around on privacy with you. You’re right.
QUESTION: I know. Anyway. So clearly, since you can’t even say whether she’s had a consular visit, the Privacy Act has not – a waiver has not been signed. All right. Then moving on, unless someone else has anything on the Middle East.
MS. HARF: Or privacy.
QUESTION: I have something on the Middle East.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Does – since this is Holy Week, and with – we’re in the middle of Passover and Easter is coming up soon, does the State Department believe that Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East?
MS. HARF: We’ve talked a lot, particularly about in Syria, in some of the Christian communities. Look, we believe everyone in Syria is living under incredibly dire circumstances right now. We’ve talked about some of the Christian communities, particularly in Syria, who have been targeted. We’ve talked about some in Egypt who have been targeted. Look, there’s no place for violence or targeting on a religious basis anywhere, but particularly churches, people worshiping, I think even – or especially at this time of the year, it’s important to keep in mind the challenges that still remain in fighting religious persecution. The questions on Ukraine today about the anti-Semitic leaflets I think speak to the challenges that still remain.
MS. HARF: (Inaudible.)
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: One, how is the review of the Cuban Twitter, the content of these text messages going?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I would encourage you to check in with my colleagues at USAID who are undertaking that right now. I don’t have any updates from here. I know they’re looking into it.
QUESTION: Do you know if they’re anywhere close to completion?
MS. HARF: I do not know that, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. But just to put a fine point on this, USAID does come under the auspices of the State Department, does it not?
MS. HARF: A fact I’ve reminded them of several times recently.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. So they will let you know that – when it’s done and you might have something to say? Because they don’t have a daily press briefing, as you (inaudible).
MS. HARF: I’ve offered them this podium if they’d like to talk more in depth about this issue.
QUESTION: I’m sure they’re thrilled at the offer. And then I have a follow-up to a question that’s gone back now a couple months.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: This is on the banks, the bank accounts --
MS. HARF: For the Interests Section.
QUESTION: -- for the Interests Section and for the Cuban mission to the UN. Has this been resolved, and what is this – and if not, what exactly is the government – if anything, what exactly are – is the Administration doing to help the Cubans find a bank that will (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: To my knowledge, it hasn’t been resolved yet. As they announced in a press release on February 14th, because of banking difficulties, they’d suspended certain consular services. We have been working with them to try – we have been to try to identify a new bank. We are continuing to help them find a long-term banking solution. We are encouraging them to consider all available options, including potential solutions we’ve discussed with them, which I can’t outline from here obviously. But we’re working with them and we hope we can find a solution.
QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand why.
MS. HARF: Why? What don’t you understand?
QUESTION: What’s a potential solution that you’ve --
MS. HARF: We’re trying to be creative here because we want to be able to solve this, so we’re discussing several potential solutions with them. Can’t outline them from here.
QUESTION: Why – well, why not?
MS. HARF: Because it’s private diplomatic discussions that haven’t come to a conclusion yet. Obviously, we don’t want to get ahead of the process. It’s a decision the Cubans can make. We’re trying to help them with that.
QUESTION: Is it your sense or your – it’s your understanding, then, that they have been presented with an option that would work, but they just have not yet decided whether --
MS. HARF: I don’t know about more of the details. I think we’re trying to work through some potential solutions right now. Again, we’re trying to help in any way we can.
QUESTION: Is there a reason that it’s taking so long? I mean, you talked about the date, February 14th. That’s two months ago.
MS. HARF: That’s when they --
QUESTION: -- that’s two months ago.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I don’t know, honestly, Matt. I know that we’re trying to help them find a solution.
QUESTION: All right. Could – if there’s any way that someone could check to find out exactly what it is that’s being done to help them and why --
MS. HARF: Well, we’re --
QUESTION: -- frankly, it’s taking so long because it’s been two months and the accounts have been closed, so --
MS. HARF: Right. I mean, this isn’t a unique situation necessarily to Cuba. Diplomatic missions often encounter banking challenges here. We try to help them find banks and we’re trying to work with the Cubans here as well.
Anything else? Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m.)