12:21 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. Welcome to the daily briefing. I don’t have water today. I hope I don’t start coughing.
I have a few items at the top, and then happy to open it up for your questions. First, it’s the final day of our Free the Press campaign. We have two cases for you today. The first comes from Ethiopia. A journalist, an Ethiopian freelance journalist named Reeyot Alemu, is an Ethiopian freelance journalist convicted in January 2012 under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for allegedly engaging with a terrorist organization. She is now serving a five-year prison sentence. In 2011, Ethiopian police arrested Reeyot, a high school English teacher, four days after she wrote an article criticizing the government’s fundraising methods for a dam project. We are also concerned by the April 25th and April 26th arrest and detention of six independent bloggers and three independent journalists.
In addition to calling for her release, we urge the Government of Ethiopia to release other journalists detained for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights and to stop using antiterrorism laws as a mechanism for limiting press freedom. As you know, of course, the Secretary is in Ethiopia today.
And for our final Free the Press case of the week, we want to do something a little bit different and highlight the country of Pakistan as a whole. There are numerous examples over the past several years of threats against, attacks upon, and murders of individuals seeking to report on events in Pakistan. For this reason, Pakistan has been called one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.
The U.S. Government strongly supports a vibrant and independent media in Pakistan, just as we do in the United States and around the world. We applaud the efforts and commitment of professional, principled, and dedicated journalists who are working in perilous conditions to provide credible and informed analysis of developments in Pakistan. We remain concerned about the safety of journalists, both local and international, working in Pakistan. And we appreciate the recent public comments from the government to expand media freedoms and address the insecurity plaguing the country’s journalists. We urge the government to do everything possible to create a safe environment for journalists, and to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for attacks against them.
My third item at the top, which is related to Freedom of the press: With the commemoration tomorrow of World Press Freedom Day and the United States continuing efforts to support and promote free press throughout the world, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced today an addition $1.2 million to support Ukrainian media outlets as they prepare for the Ukrainian presidential election on May 25th, what we’ve talked about a lot in this room.
Members of the media in Ukraine have faced serious challenges and dangers over the past several months. More than 500 journalists have been harassed, beaten, abducted, and one journalist killed since November. This additional funding will help to protect vulnerable journalists while also advancing press freedoms and democratic governance in Ukraine. USAID supports respect for universal rights around the world as central to its mission that we’ve talked a lot about in here as well.
Last update at the top is a travel update. Today, as I think many of you saw, Secretary Kerry visited Juba, South Sudan. He met there with South Sudanese President Kiir. He also did a press avail, which I’m sure many of you saw. The Secretary also met with civil society leaders and community leaders for internally displaced persons. Juba is the second stop during his week-long trip to the African continent. He’s back in Addis tomorrow. He will deliver a speech about United States policy and efforts in Africa at large, entitled “Commitment to Africa.”
MS. HARF: A long topper, Matt. Get us started.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Congressman Issa has issued a subpoena for the Secretary to appear.
MS. HARF: He has.
QUESTION: What do you make of that?
MS. HARF: Well, as I just said, the Secretary’s in Africa. We just received the subpoena. I’d note a few points. The first, that it’s highly unusual for a subpoena to be issued before there’s even an official invitation for testimony. I think everyone can make their own judgments about that. I’m not sure the Secretary’s even aware of the request, again, given his travel. He’s scheduled to be in Mexico on the 21st, which is the date that HOGR has asked him to testify, which HOGR would have known if they reached out to us instead of issuing a subpoena – I think by tweet, possibly. I guess that’s how they’re doing it now. And we are surprised that in the first instance, they resorted to a subpoena given we’ve been cooperating all along with the committee and did not reach out before they did so.
QUESTION: I’m not exactly sure why – the Secretary, you don’t know if he’s aware of this? Is there --
MS. HARF: I don't know if he’s aware of the request yet. As you know, there are various communications issues. I don't know if he’s been made aware of it on the ground in Addis, no.
QUESTION: All right. Well, does he plan --
MS. HARF: As you mentioned, he is in Africa right now working on a host of issues and don’t know, quite frankly, if he has been made aware.
QUESTION: Right, but you mentioned that he was in Africa, not me.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: But yes, he is in Africa, but still, you would think that he would be apprised of this, no?
MS. HARF: I’m sure he’ll be made aware of it.
MS. HARF: I just don’t know if he’s been made aware yet.
QUESTION: So – okay, so you’re saying that he’s supposed to be in Mexico on the 21st.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does he plan to be in Mexico, still plan to be in Mexico on the 21st? Or does he plan to comply with the subpoena and --
MS. HARF: Again, we’ll have to take a look at his schedule. We just received the request. We’re reviewing it. As I said, it is highly unusual for there to be a subpoena before a request for testimony has been made. We were surprised about this, as I said, given that we’ve been cooperating, and we’ll see where we go from here.
QUESTION: Okay. But is there precedent for a Secretary refusing to – for a senior official at the State Department refusing to --
MS. HARF: I can check on whether there’s precedent or not. What there’s not precedent for is issuing a subpoena by a committee before giving an opportunity to testify.
QUESTION: All right. And then --
MS. HARF: So I’ll check on our end, but I know what there’s not precedent for --
MS. HARF: -- and that’s what HOGR is doing.
QUESTION: And do you realize that when you say that you’re surprised because you’ve been cooperating all along with the committee, that that raises eyebrows, at least among some on the committee? Because they argue that you haven’t been cooperating.
MS. HARF: Well, I would vehemently disagree with that.
QUESTION: Well, but you are producing documents – new stuff is coming out every day.
MS. HARF: Absolutely, and Congress was aware of the fact that we would be producing documents on a rolling basis, as rolling production, so we could get them documents as quickly as possible. If you just wait till they’re all done at the end, then they don’t have the documents in the interim, and Congress has been aware of that. It takes a while because of legal and constitutional issues to go through all of these documents and produce them, but we have continued to do so and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: So there are more coming?
MS. HARF: We’ve said all along that we will continue reviewing our files, and if there are more documents to produce, we will do so.
QUESTION: And – okay. But it’s – you’re making the case that the Administration hasn’t – that the State Department, at least, what you speak for, hasn’t been deliberately slowing this down or deliberately withhold – that’s your case, that --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. The notion that we are somehow deliberately doing any of that is just false. We’ve produced tens of thousands of documents. We’ve done nine hearings, 46 briefings. Everything we’ve seen come out in these document releases and on the Hill has underscored the exact same set of facts as we talked about yesterday about what happened in Benghazi and what happened since. We’re committed to continuing to work with Congress, but what we’re focused on and what we think Congress should be focused on is how to do this better in the future --
MS. HARF: -- and how to bring those responsible for justice, not playing politics with Benghazi, as they continue to try to do.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. But as you know, what happened on the night of the attack in Benghazi – I mean, there is a strict factual narrative about what happened and what did not happen.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What the problem – one of the problems seems to be the aftermath of that and how the Administration responded to it. And so --
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think there’s a problem there. I think the Republicans want to make it a political issue.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. HARF: But I think the facts of how we responded are actually quite clear, and I’m happy to lay them out for you again today.
QUESTION: But what’s happening and what we saw just with the last documents that were given to the Hill and then released by – in the Judicial Watch, FOIA --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- is that documents that are relevant to the aftermath of the attack continue to come out.
MS. HARF: Which – documents which do not at all change the narrative about how we dealt with it in the aftermath. And we will continue to produce them if there are documents we find that we need to.
QUESTION: Well, in fact, they – but in fact, they do change --
MS. HARF: They do not at all – how do they change the narrative, Matt?
QUESTION: They – the document that was – that everyone’s been talking about, this --
MS. HARF: The one I’m going to pull out again right here that I have right in front of me.
QUESTION: Yeah, the – about this week.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. How does it change the narrative about --
QUESTION: Well, it doesn’t change the narrative about what actually happened. The fact – it doesn’t change the narrative of the fact surrounding the attack. I mean, nothing --
MS. HARF: Or how we responded.
QUESTION: Nothing can – well, yeah, how you responded to --
MS. HARF: How does it change the narrative? I’m happy to respond if there’s a way you think it does.
QUESTION: Well, doesn’t it suggest that the White House was involved in a messaging campaign to --
MS. HARF: I don’t think that anybody throughout this entire process didn’t think that the communications officials at the White House responsible for our communications weren’t involved. I remember months ago talking about White House officials being involved in this.
QUESTION: But doesn’t – right.
MS. HARF: That’s not breaking news.
QUESTION: Well, I mean --
MS. HARF: I know Darrell Issa would like to think it is, but it’s not.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not sure that it – I’m not sure it matters if it’s breaking news in terms of coming --
MS. HARF: Well, no, but you’re saying there’s something new in here, and what I’m saying is there isn’t.
QUESTION: Well, I’m saying – but it’s a new document. It is a --
MS. HARF: It is a new document --
MS. HARF: -- that does not change our knowledge of how we responded publicly to what happened in Benghazi in any way, period. I would challenge anyone in this room to find a way it does.
QUESTION: Okay. But it’s responsive to – but the production of this document is responsive to a request that goes back years, right? So --
MS. HARF: Well, are you talking about the FOIA or Congress?
MS. HARF: So we’ve been talking to Congress throughout this, telling them we will be giving them documents on a rolling production basis --
MS. HARF: -- because that’s how they get documents quicker.
MS. HARF: Congress wants that, right?
MS. HARF: Because there’s a sheer – huge volume, and if you do them on a rolling basis, they get them quicker, right?
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so how far into the rolling basis are you now?
MS. HARF: I mean, we’ve produced tens of thousands of documents. I don’t have a number for you, but we’re very far along, absolutely. And we’ll continue working with Congress.
QUESTION: Do you have – right. I mean, you’re going to have – I mean, you have to. But – so how far along in the review – I mean, how many thousands more documents are there that are going to be produced?
MS. HARF: I honestly don’t have a number for you, Matt. What I will say is several things: One, that we are very far along in the document production process; two, that the independent ARB has looked at everything internally at the State Department and made their report months and months ago.
MS. HARF: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Armed Services Committee have also issued their own reports. So if you look at the totality of what we know about Benghazi, we have bipartisan reports on the Senate and House side; we have the ARB report where they had access to everything they needed here. So we will continue producing documents, but I’m going back to the main point here – that nothing that has come out changes the narrative either of what happened that night, how we responded, or how we talked about it publicly.
QUESTION: All right, but --
MS. HARF: And we believe it’s important to keep producing documents, as we’ve said we would --
MS. HARF: -- but nothing’s changed the basic facts that are all well established at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. But even though the documents that you say you’ve produced so far don’t change the narrative of what – of your public response afterwards, because you’re not done with the production, you can’t guarantee that there isn’t anything still --
MS. HARF: You --
QUESTION: I don’t --
MS. HARF: -- think there’s just some smoking gun out there waiting?
QUESTION: I don’t think – I don’t know what’s out there. But, I mean, the point is, is that you don’t know either.
MS. HARF: Well, I would --
QUESTION: Do you? I mean --
MS. HARF: I would say this: After 18 months – has it been 18 months? – tens of thousands of documents – the ARB process, which did look at everything internally, the two committee investigations, which had access to what they needed – those very clearly – the same narrative was laid out by all three of those and countless other people who have looked at it. So the notion that there is something out there, that if Darrell Issa just keeps digging he can use politically, is just not borne out by the statistical facts of what we’ve done to look into what happened in Benghazi here.
QUESTION: Well, let’s – all right. Well, I mean, you’re – well, I don’t know why you’re personalizing this with – I mean --
MS. HARF: Well, he personalized it today with the Secretary. I think he went there first. So --
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Well, let’s just talk about – can we --
MS. HARF: And as many responsibilities as the Secretary has here, I think it would be no surprise to anyone that one of them is not adjudicating individual FOIA requests.
QUESTION: All right, fair enough. But let’s – can we make a point that it is the whole committee that’s looking at it. It’s not just one guy. But anyway, the point – I guess the point – because you’re not finished for what may be legitimate and totally appropriate reasons, because there’s so many documents – because you’re not done, you can’t say for sure, nor can anyone, I think, say for sure that new documents that are produced from now until whenever the process is over don’t change --
MS. HARF: Well, I would actually disagree with that --
QUESTION: -- because when the ARB looked at everything, and when the committees looked at everything as well – I mean, there’s a difference between producing them for production to the Hill to give them to them; vice when we provided them in camera to the Hill, which we’ve done for many months now; vice when these issues were looked at by the review. So just because they haven’t been produced to the Hill yet doesn’t mean they weren’t taken into account in terms of our internal review or the other reviews as well.
QUESTION: So you – you’re saying that internally, within the building, within the Department, all of this stuff has been looked at so far, and you have the --
MS. HARF: Well, the ARB looked at – said they needed every – to look at what happened that night, certainly.
QUESTION: No, no, I’m talking about – let’s leave aside what actually happened in Benghazi. I’m talking about --
MS. HARF: Which actually, I think, is probably what actually matters here, but let’s go back to the politics part.
QUESTION: Well, no, because I mean, the allegation is, is that the Administration was trying to cover something up here and change --
MS. HARF: Which there’s been not one shred of evidence to prove that true.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, there are people – people disagree with that. But the point, I guess --
MS. HARF: Not reasonable people.
QUESTION: Well, however you want to describe them, there are people who disagree with that. So – but what I’m getting at here is that because you – let me start again.
MS. HARF: I understand what you’re getting.
QUESTION: What I’m getting at is you, as much as you say that there’s nothing new and nothing new is going to come out that changes how – what the Administration’s internal decision making was about how to deal with the attack and the aftermath of it – you’re saying that that – the review of all your documents shows that there is nothing – that no new document produced to the Hill or to anyone else is going to show a change – is going to show – is going to be the smoking gun that you’re talking about.
MS. HARF: That is certainly my belief. I haven’t personally looked at all of them myself.
QUESTION: But – okay.
MS. HARF: But my understanding is that our folks are fairly confident of both what happened that night and how we, as an Administration, responded.
MS. HARF: Now will there be – again, like we saw with this document, this email, are people trying to use this to show that there was? Of course. This is how this town works. None of us arrived here yesterday. But if you look at what’s actually in it, it doesn’t change the narrative, Matt. And I think we owe it to everyone to tell the truth and actually listen to the facts here --
QUESTION: Okay. But --
MS. HARF: -- and not just spin it.
QUESTION: Okay. But it could – something that you have not yet produced to the Hill, or to anyone else --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- could change the narrative. No?
MS. HARF: I don’t believe that. I mean, look, hypothetically --
QUESTION: Well, I mean you might not believe it, but --
MS. HARF: I’m not going to stand up here and say that. No, I’m not. We’re fairly confident in our narrative.
QUESTION: You’re fairly confident, but you’re not --
MS. HARF: I am confident, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. But you keep --
MS. HARF: I am confident that there was nothing --
QUESTION: But because everything --
MS. HARF: Wait, let me finish.
MS. HARF: I am confident that what the Republicans allege, that there was some attempt by this Administration to cover up or spin what happened, is 100 percent false.
QUESTION: All right. Let’s – apart from the Secretary’s subpoena then, the –
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: There’s – there are going – sorry, I don’t know what – Representative Issa has also said that he’s going to form a senate – I mean, a senate – a – not a senate – a select --
MS. HARF: You just promoted him.
QUESTION: A select committee --
MS. HARF: I’m not sure he can form one, can he? I think the Speaker has to.
QUESTION: Well, they’re going to. There is going to be a – sorry, John Boehner – my apologies --
MS. HARF: From the great state of Ohio.
QUESTION: From the great state of Ohio, yes, that he’s going to form this select committee. Yesterday, when I asked about this, you said that you believed that it was your – it was the –this building’s position that --
MS. HARF: That it’s not necessary.
QUESTION: Unnecessary. Is that still your position?
MS. HARF: It is still our position.
QUESTION: So – all right. Then the last one, I guess, for the moment, depending on your answer is: If you are so confident that there is nothing out there in all these documents that would prove or show that the allegations being made about a cover-up – that there aren’t any –why oppose the formation of such a committee?
MS. HARF: Well, we believe that there are a multitude of other ways. We’ve already looked at this --
MS. HARF: -- and that that’s given us what we need to know, right – that there has been a House Armed Services investigation, a Senate select committee investigation, an ARB report. How many more taxpayer dollars are we going to spend trying to prove a political point that in 18 months they haven’t been able to prove? What I hope Congress would focus on, and I haven’t seen the select committee rumor, so I don’t know --
QUESTION: Well, no, it’s true. It’s happened.
MS. HARF: Okay. Well I haven’t seen that report. What I would hope the Congress would focus on is how to bring these people to justice and how to do better in the future. That’s what I hope Congress focuses on.
QUESTION: Okay. But --
MS. HARF: So if they’re going to spend more time on Benghazi, those should be the issues.
QUESTION: I’m just not sure I understand why the opposition if --
MS. HARF: Because everything that this committee would look at has already been looked at ad nauseam by multiple committees.
QUESTION: Okay. But if no one --
MS. HARF: What’s the point?
QUESTION: But if no one did anything wrong or inappropriate, what is the harm in doing – in having --
MS. HARF: The amount of man-hours and taxpayer dollars --
QUESTION: But --
MS. HARF: Wait. No, no. This is why it matters, though. I’m actually answering your question. I know you don’t believe me. But --
QUESTION: Well, no, I believe you’re answering it. But --
MS. HARF: The amount of man-hours and taxpayer dollars that go in to all of this is incredibly time consuming for our folks here and at other agencies as well. We are committed to doing it because it’s important, but when we’ve already done it – the point of doing more of this when we could be spending our time talking about, again, embassy security, bringing people to justice, we think that’s a better allocation of resources, given that we’ve already gone over this.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I can – I understand why you’d want --
MS. HARF: Congress has a limited amount of time.
QUESTION: I understand why the issues of embassy security and actually getting and prosecuting or bringing to justice those who did it is – of course, that’s important. But if there isn’t anything to hide, I guess I just don’t understand why it is that --
MS. HARF: Because we’ve already talked about this and conclusions have been made.
QUESTION: But I mean it’s – it’s the Congress’s money to spend if --
MS. HARF: And because these aren’t – well, it’s taxpayer money to spend. It’s your money and it’s my money.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, yeah. But they --
MS. HARF: And it takes people here --
QUESTION: -- have the power of the purse. So --
MS. HARF: It actually takes people here and now in Congress – it takes them away from working on those other issues you talked about. It takes their time and resources, and we have a --
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Wait, I have one more point on this.
MS. HARF: We have a suspicion – they can prove me wrong, as I said yesterday – that this is just another attempt to use this politically, and that’s not how we should talk about Benghazi. I know that sounds Pollyannaish standing up here, but it’s how people in this building feel, it’s how people on the ground feel. And that’s what we want to do going forward.
QUESTION: I understand that you all feel very strongly about this. I just don’t --
MS. HARF: We’re – there’s – I think we have suspicions that this is just another attempt to use this for political purposes.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, anyway, well, if and when a select committee is – the Speaker forms a select committee, will the Department cooperate with it?
MS. HARF: We’ll look at any requests we get. Obviously, we have been cooperating extensively with Congress. We’ll look at any request.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: What else? It’s going to be an all-Benghazi briefing day. We’re all just going to go home for the weekend?
MS. HARF: Thank you.
QUESTION: How can you answer the critics that the U.S. Administration foreign policy is failing everywhere – in the Middle East, in Ukraine, in Syria, peace process, as I said? How can you answer these critics?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not breaking news that we face a lot of challenges around the world, but I would point out a few data-points here. First, I would note that in one of the most pressing foreign policy challenges we face today, of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, we are actually moving forward with negotiations. People don’t seem to focus on things when they’re going well. It’s really easy to write a negative story. So we’re making progress there. We’ll go back in about a week and a half for the fourth round of talks with Iran and the P5+1 on a comprehensive agreement.
On those other issues, on Ukraine, nobody comes into office saying the world is uncomplicated and everything should go perfectly. That is not the world in which we live. The judgment of an administration’s foreign policy is how you respond in crisis, how you promote your values and interests, and how you deal with all of these challenges overseas – even in the face of great complications.
So in place like Ukraine, we’ve done what we said. We said we would put increased pressure on Russia; we would impose costs. We have done that. We are standing by Ukraine. Just yesterday we talked about the IMF loan, which as I found out does unlock U.S. money. So we are standing by Ukraine and imposing costs on Russia that have given them a choice about what they should do.
On Middle East peace, look, this is a decades long – if every Administration’s foreign policy was called a failure because of Middle East peace, then I think all of – decades and decades and decades, we would be having the same conversation. The reason that the Secretary’s been so engaged is because we need to get this done and it’s important. Even though it’s hard doesn’t mean we should try. The alternative is not to try, which is not how this Administration works.
On all these other issues, Syria – there are no easy answers. When a brutal dictator is willing and able to kill his own people, there are no easy answers. But we are imposing costs. We are working for a diplomatic solution and we are supporting the opposition. So I think that narrative is, quite frankly, really simplistic and pretty intellectually dishonest when you actually look at all of these cases.
MS. HARF: On Kurdistan.
QUESTION: -- export of oil and stuff like that.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I actually got an email from Michael --
MS. HARF: He’s a very good press officer.
MS. HARF: Mike Lavallee, yes.
QUESTION: And he explains that basically – he said the United States supports the March decision by the Kurdistan Regional Government to begin oil exports of 100,000 --
MS. HARF: That is correct. Through the Iraqi-Turkey pipeline.
QUESTION: But I’m talking about the most recent decision by the KRG, by the Kurdistan Regional Government on April 27th. They started exporting oil – resuming – they resumed the export of oil, independent from Baghdad, to Turkey. It’s a unilateral decision. I know there’s a statement here says --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s pursuant to the existing export arrangements with the central Government of Iraq.
QUESTION: No, it’s not through the Iraq-Turkey pipeline. It’s through the independent Kurdistan pipeline, which Baghdad considers null and void, illegal.
MS. HARF: Okay. So --
QUESTION: What’s your response as the State Department --
MS. HARF: -- what I know --
QUESTION: -- to a unilateral decision which was made on April 27th by the KRG?
MS. HARF: I can check on that specifically. What we’ve talked about in terms of pipelines from Iraq to Turkey, including in Kurdistan, is under the existing agreement with the Government of Iraq. I’m not aware of something separate.
QUESTION: I have a – like a quote from prime minister of Kurdistan a few days ago. He said, we will sell oil in Turkey without getting Baghdad’s approval.
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t --
QUESTION: Does that constitute a unilateral decision that --
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those comments. We don’t support oil exports from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the federal Iraqi Government. So without knowing the details of that decision you’re speaking about, we obviously believe there’s a process that needs to be in place with the federal Government of Iraq.
QUESTION: So can you say if Kurdistan tomorrow sells oil without the approval of the central government --
MS. HARF: I’m not going to address a hypothetical. I just made our position clear. I’d have to look at the details.
QUESTION: But they do it today, actually. As of today.
MS. HARF: Okay, I’ll look at – again, I’ll look at the details. And you had a couple of other questions?
QUESTION: I think the other answers are really clear. Thanks a lot.
MS. HARF: Okay, great. Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, on North Korea.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So a think tank that monitors North Korea’s political situation discovered recently that they conducted a test of an engine for a missile, for an ICB missile that could potentially reach the continental U.S., and that the next step could be testing of an actual missile system with that engine. Is the U.S. monitoring the situation, and are there any concerns?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve obviously been closely monitoring the situation. I’m not going to get into our specific intelligence assessments about the issues you raised. But to be clear, we remain fully capable of deterring, defending against, and responding to the threat posed by North Korea that I think you referenced briefly in your question.
QUESTION: And I have a follow-up question to that. If North Korea continues its provocative actions, possibly launching – test-launching an ICBM or testing a nuclear device, could that scuttle the prospect at all for any six-party talks?
MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is they should refrain from taking further escalatory action. And I would note that the exact reason we need a process in place to de-nuclearize the peninsula is because of the threat posed by North Korea. So obviously that’s a process we’re committed to and remain committed to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Staying on North Korea.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you had a chance to see earlier this week the North Korean Government issued its own human rights report of – on the U.S. --
MS. HARF: Oh no, I didn’t see that.
QUESTION: -- and other situations, coming on the heels of the UNCOI report and the President’s visit to South Korea.
MS. HARF: What did it say?
QUESTION: It’s very colorful language. It calls the --
MS. HARF: I didn’t know they produced fiction. Is that – (laughter) – I’m sure it’s more in that realm.
QUESTION: So I mean, it calls the U.S. “a kingdom of racial discrimination,” as well as “a living Hell.” And --
MS. HARF: Wow.
QUESTION: I mean, some colorful rhetoric aside, though, it actually does raise some issues that are borne out by fact-checking, such as high incarceration rates, pervasive racial discrimination in socio-economic outcomes, and things of that sort. I mean, do you accept those criticisms as valid?
MS. HARF: I don’t think that there’s any place for the Government of North Korea to lecture the United States on human rights, period.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: You mentioned that 1.2 million allocated for the Ukrainian news --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering, you mentioned a number – 500 Ukrainian journalists were arrested.
MS. HARF: More than 500 have been harassed, beaten, abducted, and 1 journalist killed is the number.
QUESTION: What is the time frame of --
MS. HARF: Since November.
QUESTION: Which is including this – the last two months where the new government is there?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. It includes the last few months.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just trying to figure out, because the United States is supporting the Ukrainian Government – is in the same time trying to help the journalists to disclose the corruption of that government?
MS. HARF: Well, to be clear, are you – well, what are you asking, before I am clear about my answer?
QUESTION: I’m trying to figure out – part of these people who were arrested are the new government who is in charge now --
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t say “arrested.” I said “harassed” --
QUESTION: Or harassed.
MS. HARF: But – so in terms of that, we’ve seen that being done by the pro-Russian separatists in many parts of eastern Ukraine and Crimea. So when we talk about – I mean, we’ve even seen some American journalists today being taken and then subsequently released.
QUESTION: Okay. They are not just Ukrainian – in general.
MS. HARF: Well, and what we think – the threat to journalists in Ukraine has – at least to my knowledge has come from these pro-Russian separatist groups who have been threatening to all of society, quite frankly, but also journalists.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Recently it was mentioned, yesterday – maybe you discussed already this issue, which is the chemical weapons – that there is some kind of, whatever, posing or retreating from the handling the chemical weapons.
MS. HARF: That who’s retreating from it?
MS. HARF: The regime?
QUESTION: The regime.
MS. HARF: From their declarations? Is that you’re referring to?
QUESTION: No. I mean, not completely, but the flow of the things. At a certain point, you reach, I think – we reach to the 70 or 80 percent of the chemical weapon storage, whatever it was, there. And then in the last few days, there is kind of – the process is slowing down or even stopping from being done as it was done before with the same pace.
MS. HARF: Well, it’s gone in fits and starts, as we’ve seen this process has. So we are continuing to push through the OPCW and the UN this process to be finished. Obviously, we have been working very hard with Russia specifically on pushing the Syrian regime to fully comply with its obligations. And we’ll continue to monitor the situation.
QUESTION: So do you still believe that they are still complying – the regime is complying with the – with this system?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we’ve used that term specifically. We’ve reached some benchmarks that we think are important, but they will not be in compliance until it’s all out.
QUESTION: So the benchmark – is that the date, which is like June 20 --
MS. HARF: The 30th.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. We still believe we can meet it.
QUESTION: So another question related to the – what is the situation now with the humanitarian aid going from UN or through UN channels to the refugees? Is there any update about that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update on that. I’m happy to see if there is one. I don’t think there is one.
Catherine, yes. And then I’ll go to you.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Just if you have any additional information to the questions Lesley was asking. I can read them if that’s helpful --
MS. HARF: No, it’s okay.
QUESTION: -- and how you see the arrest affecting the elections and the peace process.
MS. HARF: So I think the Secretary actually got asked about this in his press avail today --
MS. HARF: -- which I’m not sure the transcript is out yet.
QUESTION: I did not see it.
MS. HARF: So I will defer to his comments, which basically – and I don’t have the transcript yet either, given our communications issues there – but basically said that he didn’t have a personal opinion on it, I believe – let’s get the quote exactly right when we all get the transcript – and that he doesn’t have anything to add to that today.
As we’ve said, when he was a senator he was active on this. And the Secretary and everyone here continues to believe that the people of North Ireland deserve every chance to have a lasting peace. But on this specific issue, no further comment from the Secretary specifically.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: When do those sanctions – when do they become not enough? Because – would you consider the U.S. is being a little bit naive right now to think that these sanctions are going to de-escalate the violence that’s starting in the region?
MS. HARF: Not at all. First of all, we’ve seen firsthand how sanctions can have an impact in changing countries’ behavior. I think Iran is the perfect example. Second, we have seen the Russian economy suffer incredibly because of the sanctions we’ve put on. The poorly performing stock market, the highly volatile ruble exchange rate, investor confidence has been severely shaken, Standard & Poor’s credit agency downgraded their credit rating to one step above “junk” status just recently.
So we’ve seen this have an impact. And what we have said is there’s a choice President Putin has to make now. He can de-escalate the situation, pull back from the brink, or if he chooses to continue moving forward, we will impose additional costs, including sectoral sanctions that will make very clear to the Russian people that President Putin is more concerned with chest-beating in the region than actually giving his people the economic opportunities they deserve. And we know sanctions don’t happen overnight. That’s why we’ve put in place over a period of time additional sanctions and continue to ratchet up the pressure.
QUESTION: So what if these sanctions don’t de-escalate the situation? What if additional sanctions don’t de-escalate the situation?
MS. HARF: We’ll keep imposing additional costs, and Russia will become increasingly isolated, their people will become isolated, their economy will become isolated. All the work they did in terms of the WTO, the G8, which is now the G7, all of that will go down the drain and they will become increasingly isolated, which will really, really, severely hurt their economy.
QUESTION: Do you think by severely hurting their economy that could destabilize the region enough that it could escalate the violence even farther?
MS. HARF: I mean, that’s certainly a hypothetical. I have no idea if that would be one outcome. Certainly, what we’ve said is that the more de-escalatory steps Russia takes, the more costs that we will impose on their country, period.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: And it’s up to President Putin whether he wants those costs.
QUESTION: You just said – you said “G8, which is now the G7.”
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has Russia been formally booted from --
MS. HARF: No, they have not been.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS. HARF: They have been suspended in the G8; this summer will be the G7 conference.
QUESTION: Got you.
MS. HARF: Thank you for clarifying. Anything else?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you know, would the Secretary --
MS. HARF: And I’ll go to you, Elliot. Yeah.
QUESTION: -- if it’s – he is unable to reschedule his Mexico trip, I mean, would he be willing to appear at another – on another day?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we just received this. We will talk to HOGR about their request and see how we can address their request going forward.
QUESTION: Okay. So he is willing to appear.
MS. HARF: I’m just saying we’ll address the request. I haven’t spoken to him. I’m not even sure he’s aware.
QUESTION: Right, I understand that.
MS. HARF: So we’ll take a look at the request.
QUESTION: But he is – he has in the past promised, pledged to work with Congress on this, so he --
MS. HARF: To cooperate with Congress.
QUESTION: -- in principle --
MS. HARF: What that cooperation looks like --
MS. HARF: -- I don’t have any previews for you of that.
QUESTION: Well, but presumably it’s full – you’ve promised full cooperation, and that would include showing up.
MS. HARF: I just don’t have any preview for you of that.
QUESTION: I just want to know if he is open to appear, perhaps not under a subpoena, but if he is open to --
MS. HARF: I just don’t have any more insight into his thinking on this for you today.
MS. HARF: Elliot.
MS. HARF: He does.
QUESTION: -- and I thought it was notable that he’s expressed some – a pretty high level of optimism about the negotiations, saying that, “the unexpectedly fast pace of progress…so far augurs well for a speedy resolution of this unnecessary crisis.” And I was just wondering if you share that sense of optimism.
MS. HARF: Well, I think we share a sense of realism here, but what we’ve said – and you heard me talk about it a few minutes ago – we are all at the table, talking in good faith. We all are committed to getting this done. Does that mean we will? We have no idea. Will we be able to all make the tough decisions we have to make? I don’t know. I don’t think any of us can say for certain right now. But the fact that we are talking in a very business-like and substantive way about very detailed issues we’ve never talked at this level before – this is the best chance we’ve ever had to get this done diplomatically. We’re realistic about the chance that we will. You heard the President say 50/50. But we also go into this knowing fully well this is the best opportunity and most effective to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and we’re committed to seeing if we can get it done.
MS. HARF: He is. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The D.R.C. is currently working with a former rebel group that was working in the eastern part of the country. They’re working to grant amnesty --
MS. HARF: M23?
QUESTION: -- for M23.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yes. So does the State Department support the Congolese Government in this decision to grant amnesty to former – what some people would consider war criminals?
MS. HARF: Well, one of the things we’re going to be talking about when we’re there – and Russ Feingold, as you know, has done quite a bit of work, particularly with this area, with M23 and the D.R.C. One of the things we’re going to be talking about when we’re there is what the path forward looks like, what accountability looks like, because there needs to be some accountability; what amnesty could look like. We do support a process to see how this could all play out, right, but how that specifically works, we’ll talk to them about it when we’re there. We have made a lot of progress in D.R.C., but we need to keep making progress, and that will be – all of those issues will be a topic of conversation.
QUESTION: So does the State Department support that amnesty be granted to some of the members? Because they’re currently in the process of granting amnesty to --
MS. HARF: We certainly support the concept, and we’ll have discussions about the specifics. We also support the concept of accountability. Both need to be – to go hand in hand here, so we’ll have those conversations when he’s there.
QUESTION: So the State Department will encourage that the Congolese Government looks into holding these former members more accountable for their actions.
MS. HARF: I think we’ve said both of those things, yes.
MS. HARF: Last one. Yes.
QUESTION: China on terrorism.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So the Chinese foreign minister expressed his displeasure at the Country Report that you issued yesterday. He said that the United States made irresponsible remarks and that you use double standards. Do you have any comments to that?
MS. HARF: I don’t.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s what I figured. Second question.
MS. HARF: Good try, though.
QUESTION: Sorry, I wanted to ask anyway.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
MS. HARF: No. I think, A, we condemn all violent acts against civilians, regardless of what we call them; and B, we use that word, “terrorism,” if it’s warranted after looking at the facts.
MS. HARF: So we look at each situation, look at the facts, and call it as we see it.
QUESTION: So do you have a standard procedure to determine what is terrorism or not? And do you use that across the board?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly – I mean, read the lengthy Country Reports on Terrorism.
QUESTION: I did.
MS. HARF: We certainly used that word quite a bit. And yesterday, actually, I referred to the attack in the train station in China that appeared to be an act of terrorism.
QUESTION: In Q&A (inaudible) at the top.
MS. HARF: I would point that out as well. Yes.
QUESTION: But – okay. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone. Have a great weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)
DPB # 79