1:20 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello. Hi everyone. Welcome to Friday, the daily briefing. Just a few quick updates at the top, and then we will open it up for questions.
First on a quick travel update, as you know, the Secretary is still in Paris. He was in Normandy, of course, for the events today. He’ll be following the President’s schedule, I believe, for the rest of the day. As you know, he’s going to Saint-Briac tomorrow to participate in an event that involves his own family’s history. We’ll have more to say about that probably after it happens, but that’s the basic travel schedule right now.
One more item at the top on Russia. We are deeply concerned that the Russian Government has accelerated its crackdown on human rights defenders seeking to exercise their fundamental freedoms of association and expression. On June 4th, President Putin signed into law a law that allows the ministry of justice to declare unilaterally, without a court order, that a nongovernmental organization is a “foreign agent.” On May 23rd, a court declared another well-respected NGO, Memorial, to be “a foreign agent.” Three other NGOs are awaiting rulings in similar court cases. These groups will be forced to close if they do not accept this intentionally stigmatizing label.
Also in recent weeks, prosecutors have conducted coordinated inspections of at least 12 human rights NGOs in eight regions across Russia for alleged violations of the laws on extremism and foreign agents.
The Russian people deserve a government that values the contributions of civil society, cultivates an open marketplace of ideas, and respects the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that are the foundation of successful democracies.
With that, Arshad, kick us off on this Friday.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the U.S. citizen that has been detained?
MS. HARF: Well, we are aware that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea. This is the third U.S. citizen that has been detained in North Korea. Obviously no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and don’t have any additional information to share at this time.
QUESTION: Do you – has the U.S. citizen yet been – or is your protecting power in North Korea trying to get access to this person?
MS. HARF: So I can’t speak to the specific case for privacy reasons. But in general if a U.S. citizen is detained in North Korea, our protecting power, Sweden, does attempt and will have consular access, broadly speaking, if they are allowed to.
QUESTION: And have you conveyed any messages to the North Koreans to try to discourage them from arresting your citizens?
MS. HARF: I think we’ve conveyed those very publicly in this room, certainly. And we have a Travel Warning that says no one should travel to North Korea, and it does include, again, broadly speaking, lines about the fact that if you are part of a tour group it will not protect you from possible arrest.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just follow up on that? So you said three citizens, one of which we know, of course, is Kenneth Bae.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The second one – are you now in a position to confirm that there’s a 24-year-old tourist named Matthew Todd Miller who’s --
MS. HARF: So on the other two, I can’t share any additional information about them --
QUESTION: So you still don’t have a Privacy Act waiver?
MS. HARF: -- because of privacy.
QUESTION: Can I ask you if that – does that mean that your protecting power has had no access to the second person who’s --
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t assume that that means anything. I just can’t share anything because of privacy.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah --
QUESTION: Would you --
MS. HARF: Well, as soon as Jo’s done.
QUESTION: If you have three U.S. citizens who are now being held in North Korea, what concretely is this building trying to do to get them free? Are you – is Ambassador King – is his visit still out there as a possible – as an invitation to the North Koreans?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Practically, three people is – one is one; three is quite a lot now.
MS. HARF: Three is three times more than one.
QUESTION: It’s three times more than one.
MS. HARF: And we continue to actively seek the release of not just Mr. Bae but of all of the individuals, all three. And per our longstanding offer, you are right; we remain prepared to send Ambassador King to North Korea in support of Mr. Bae’s release. That’s the only one I can speak about specifically. But obviously, broadly speaking, it’s important for us to get all of our citizens home.
When it comes to Mr. Bae, I know some folks have just had questions. The last time the Department spoke with his family was on June 4th, and the last time Swedish Embassy representatives met with him – they’ve met with him 11 times, but the last time was on April 18th.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Palestinian issue. But before that, something you said at the top.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Did you say that the Russian people deserve a government that is open to the marketplace of ideas or something like this?
MS. HARF: I did.
QUESTION: Is that an implicit call to change the government in Russia?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: Okay. So what does that mean? I mean, you say that they deserve --
MS. HARF: I’m not calling for regime change in Russia.
QUESTION: -- they deserve a different government than what they have today?
MS. HARF: No. They deserve to be able to express themselves, to avail themselves to the marketplace of ideas, and to have space for civil society under any government.
QUESTION: Okay. Moving on to the Palestinian issue and freedom of the press under occupation, today the Israeli forces raided the Palestine TV and arrested two of our colleagues, Nadar Bibars and Ashraf Shobaki, for no reason, and they confiscated a program that was being aired called Good Morning Jerusalem. Do you know about that?
MS. HARF: We’ve seen those reports that Israeli police entered a Palestinian TV studio in Jerusalem this morning, detained I think three people for questioning, understand that those three individuals have subsequently been released. We are right now seeking further information on this report, don’t have additional comment until we get more information.
QUESTION: Okay. So did you – you did inquire with the Israelis about this incident?
MS. HARF: We are inquiring about it. I don’t know if we have yet, but we are, we will be.
QUESTION: Because I think a lot of these equipment and so on are actually supplied by the U.S. as part of the aid at one time.
MS. HARF: We’re looking for more information. I’m sure we’ll have more to say over the coming days.
QUESTION: And I saw that yesterday you talked about the settlements, but since then the Israelis also announced another patch of settlements. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our folks. I hadn’t seen those reports, but our position on settlements is longstanding and has not changed.
QUESTION: Do you find this to be cynical on the eve on the visit of President Abbas and President Peres with the Pope in Rome to pray for peace? Do you find this as provocative and cynical?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said yesterday, we’re deeply disappointed with the settlement announcements. I hadn’t seen the most recent ones, so I don’t want to comment on those. But in general, we believe these actions are unhelpful and are counterproductive to achieving a two-state outcome. We’ve also separately said that we know the Secretary has discussed Middle East peace with officials at the Vatican, as you all know, and obviously believe they can play a role in these discussions as well.
QUESTION: And lastly on this issue, can you tell us the status of Ambassador Indyk? Is he in this building? Is he around? Is he – Martin Indyk, where is he? What is he doing?
MS. HARF: I saw him in a meeting two days ago. I’m happy to check and see if he is in the building today. But he was in work – at work in Washington all week.
QUESTION: So for the time being, he remains in his position?
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: At State, Marie?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. At the State Department.
QUESTION: You said at State Department?
MS. HARF: Yep. I was in a meeting with him just a few days ago in this building.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Any plans for him to return to the region?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check if there’s a travel update, but not to my knowledge at this point.
QUESTION: The same topic, please?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And then we’ll go to India.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Regarding the – whether the new coalition government or whatever you can call it, national coalition government, you are still believing that you can work with them?
MS. HARF: Nothing has changed. That’s correct.
QUESTION: Nothing has changed. And what is about – is there any change regarding the $440 million that people – some leaders in the Congress that opposing it?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have an update from where we were a few days ago, which is we’ve said we will continue to work with this interim technocratic government, which again does not have any ministers from Hamas in it, but we will continue to judge it by its actions going forward. I don’t have an update on funding. We’ve said we’ll work with Congress on what this looks like going forward.
QUESTION: So it’s on hold, or what?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t use that term. We said we’ll continue working with Congress and we’ll figure out where this goes from here.
QUESTION: Have you sent any recent congressional notifications of an intent to disburse any of that money?
MS. HARF: Since the announcement of the formation of the technocratic government?
MS. HARF: No, we have not.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I can check and see if there’s any additional updates about what might be coming, but not to my knowledge on any details.
QUESTION: That would be helpful. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Every disbursement needs to be authorized by Congress, or there’s a blanket way for --
MS. HARF: I can check on the legal underpinnings. I don’t know if there is a money – if it has to be over a certain amount or – I just don’t know. I’m happy to check. But we work with Congress on this all the time.
I said we’d go to India, so we’re going to go to India.
QUESTION: Today is the 30th anniversary of Operation Blue Star in which the Indian army butchered hundreds, we can say – we don’t have a number – in the holy city of Amritsar of the Sikhs. And the Sikhs are now asking for a international UN investigation into the – what is the U.S. take on it, and do you support, or what’s your take on it?
MS. HARF: So as you know, religious freedom and religious tolerance are fundamental pillars of U.S. society, and broadly speaking we support religious pluralism and tolerance in India, as we do everywhere around the world, but certainly also in India. In terms of any potential investigation, I’d refer you to the United Nations for comment on that potential. And again, as I said, strongly support religious tolerance and religious freedom everywhere.
QUESTION: No, but on a human rights, humanitarian point of view, and hundreds were massacred and there is no – it’s 30 years and nothing has been done, no investigation, nothing. And so is this statement not – is it strong enough?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I can be any stronger about our belief that people should not be in any way put in danger or discriminated against for their religion. I think I was just very clear about that.
In terms of, again, a potential investigation by the UN, I’d leave the UN to speak to that.
QUESTION: And --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: And --
MS. HARF: Let me stay here.
MS. HARF: He has another one on India.
MS. HARF: And then I’m going to come to you.
QUESTION: And this is just a technical question. There’s a map of Asia that the Department of Defense issued along with that report on China yesterday, and that shows parts of the occupied Kashmir of – as parts of Pakistan. And this – same thing had happened something like that in a map of the State Department which was later removed. Now, is there a connection between, like, the Department of State providing any maps or anything to the Department of Defense?
MS. HARF: To the Defense Department? Well, I think the Defense Department can probably explain their own maps. I’m happy to check with my colleagues there. You know our position hasn’t changed. I’ll check with them and see. I have no idea what happened with that map.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: India. Yes.
QUESTION: My – I had different question on India. Some reports have been going on throughout the news media in India – two reports: One that Prime Minister Modi will meet with the President at the United Nations on September 30th or between 25th and 30th, and another report yesterday that changed, that the two leaders will meet in Washington. So what I’m asking you: Which report is clear and true, and second, if you have any update, madam, on the visit of Madam Nisha Biswal, who was in India – if she had updated on this visit or --
MS. HARF: I do.
QUESTION: -- anything she may have discussed.
MS. HARF: I have updates galore for you today on these issues.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: So on Prime Minister Modi’s possible travel to the United States – nothing to announce on dates. As President Obama and Secretary Kerry have both said, we look forward to welcoming the prime minister to Washington, just don’t have any dates yet. I know there are a lot of reports out there about dates, but we don’t have dates yet.
QUESTION: But --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh?
QUESTION: -- we don’t get any updates from madam’s visit. She – last time she went to Nepal and then she went to – she had travelled several places --
MS. HARF: I have information about her travel. I was getting there. I promise.
So Assistant Secretary Biswal just concluded a trip – her first part of her trip, which was to China, where she met with a wide range of government officials to discuss an array of regional issues, including economic engagements. While in Beijing, she also meant with scholars and think tank representatives to discuss opportunities for enhancing both north-south but also east-west regional trade linkages. She will arrive soon in New Delhi, where she will meet with Foreign Secretary Singh and a range of officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and other Government of India ministries. We’ll also meet there with strategic thinkers and business leaders.
QUESTION: And if I had one more, maybe.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: As far as this new foreign minister of India, madam, she had – the Secretary Kerry and she spoke, both of them, I believe, recently. Secretary called her – and my question is that she mentioned that with Pakistan, there cannot be peace or talks unless until there are some terrorists – especially Ibrahim Dawood must be given to India or some of those peace agreements between the two countries. So where do we stand on this as far as U.S. is concerned or Secretary is concerned? Is he --
MS. HARF: Well, broadly speaking, we believe that India and Pakistan should continue steps to improve the relationship between the two countries. Obviously, it’s incredibly important for them to do so. I don’t have more specifics about what that should look like or what it might entail.
QUESTION: I just wanted to mention quickly – as far as the two prime ministers are concerned, India and Pakistan, they have good relations already and they are exchanging gifts and all that for their mothers. And I think – I hope that things will be better in the future.
MS. HARF: I couldn’t agree more.
QUESTION: Thank you, madam.
MS. HARF: Arshad. Yeah.
QUESTION: One on India.
MS. HARF: Wait.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Biswal – you said she was going to meet the foreign secretary as well as --
MS. HARF: MEA officials.
QUESTION: Yeah, other – yeah. Is she going to meet the minister?
MS. HARF: The prime minister?
QUESTION: No, the minister of external affairs.
MS. HARF: I don’t – I say – have “a range of officials” here. I can get more details. I don’t know if that --
QUESTION: I don’t know that she – that the assistant secretary normally does. I’m just asking. Yeah.
MS. HARF: I don’t know either. I’m happy to check and see if there are more details to share about her schedule.
QUESTION: Yeah. The spokesperson from Ministry of External Affairs today said at a news conference that Prime Minister Modi will be coming to Washington the month of September. That you confirm?
MS. HARF: I think I just made very clear that I have no dates to confirm about the prime --
QUESTION: That’s not dates – month.
MS. HARF: I think the month could be considered a date range also. I have nothing to confirm in any way on timing of the prime minister’s visit to Washington. We look forward to welcoming him here.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that he is coming to Washington, as opposed to meeting the President in New York?
MS. HARF: As I said, we look forward to welcoming the prime minister to Washington.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry. Yeah, yeah.
MS. HARF: We’ll figure out a date.
QUESTION: He also said that the next round of Strategic Dialogue would be held in Washington.
MS. HARF: I can check. I’m not sure.
MS. HARF: Yep. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I wondered if you have any reaction to the news today that the presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, escaped an assassination attempt --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- which killed at least six people ahead of next week’s second round runoff.
MS. HARF: The 14th --
QUESTION: Yeah, the 14th.
MS. HARF: -- for the second round. Of course we condemn today’s attack against Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign event he – where he was also located. As we’ve made very clear, the Afghan people deserve democracy, which they’ll be exercising next week, not violence. And we’ve also said that’s why we’ll continue with our presence there at a level we feel appropriate to help the Afghans increase their capacity themselves to fight this threat.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the security atmosphere is such that the elections can actually be held safely, the runoff can be held safely?
MS. HARF: Yes, we do. Look, we know Afghanistan is still a dangerous place. We’ve been clear about that. But we saw in the first round and certainly expect in the second round the Afghan security forces step up and provide security for their own elections. We think that’s important. We’re hopeful that the second round will be transparent, inclusive, and credible – obviously, that’s been important throughout – all along – and believe that the security forces can work again with the electoral bodies, which they work with very closely to provide security, as they carry out this second round, and I think have probably learned a few lessons about security from the first round and can apply them to this one.
QUESTION: Is there any involvement by the U.S. or ISAF forces in providing security for the elections?
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding the Afghans have responsibility for the security for their elections. Yes.
QUESTION: Quick follow-up on the assassination attempt?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you think this assassination attempt against Abdullah Abdullah, who’s a fierce anti-Taliban critic – the timing is coincidental with the release of the Guantanamo five?
MS. HARF: I think the timing has nothing at all to do with what’s happened in the last week. I think we’ve seen assassination attempts against officials like Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for many, many months, and I don’t think it has anything to do with it.
QUESTION: But Abdullah Abdullah was a colleague, a friend, a right-hand man of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was himself assassinated two days before 9/11 by al-Qaida, knowing that after the 9/11 strikes, the United States would come in and be allies with the Northern Alliance and the Tajiks. You think this is just a coincidence?
MS. HARF: I don’t think it has anything to do with another. We’ve seen the senior officials in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war, quite frankly, be targeted for assassination. I think it has absolutely nothing to do with what happened over the past few days.
QUESTION: And since we’re in Afghanistan, just to stay in the region, if you will?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you --
MS. HARF: We’re going to stay here, and then we’ll --
MS. HARF: Yeah, he’s staying with Afghanistan.
QUESTION: We’re staying with Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: He’s staying with Afghanistan.
QUESTION: In the country, excuse me.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I was wondering, Marie, if you’ve seen the real-time details of Sergeant Bergdahl’s status during captivity as compiled by my colleague James Rosen’s reporting, in which – who have said to have been afforded the top intelligence commander at – excuse me, the top intelligence officer at CENTCOM. Were those ever available to the Secretary of State or other top officials in this building?
MS. HARF: Well, I’ve seen Mr. Rosen’s story. I haven’t seen the actual documents, which I think were put together by a private security company outside of the government led by Dewey Clarridge. Hold on. And we’ve seen – this included such accusations as – that he did to – things that he had declared and things that he had done in captivity, and I’ve seen those evidence to support the notions that are outlined in those private company’s reports. Obviously, we believe that trying Sergeant Bergdahl in the court of public opinion before he’s even had a chance to tell his side of the story is not what we should be doing right now for a soldier that was in captivity for five years. As we’ve said for a long time, if there was misconduct, it will be dealt with. But we’re not going to get the facts here by trying him on cable TV – no offense, Lucas --
QUESTION: None taken.
MS. HARF: -- on any cable TV station, or in the press in any way. That’s not how we treat people that volunteer to serve their country.
QUESTION: Had the State Department heard of reports of Sergeant Bergdahl’s alleged conversion to Islam?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if those reports were – if that private company’s reports were ever sent here. I’m not sure if they were. But again, I’ve seen no evidence to back up the assertions in that report.
QUESTION: And how about – last question on this subject – his attempts to escape and his alleged escape, and then put in an animal cage?
MS. HARF: Again, right now part of what we’re doing is trying to establish the facts of what happened both with how he got into the Taliban’s captivity and also what happened while he was there. We’re trying to ascertain all those facts right now.
QUESTION: And going to the release of the Taliban five, The Washington Post is reporting that when the senior Taliban leaders were released at Qatar, Qatar had promised the United States they would be subject to strict bans on militant incitement or fundraising. Can the State Department confirm?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to go any further in terms of the specific assurances we were given other than I have said over the past few days here about the Government of Qatar. What they have assured us is that there will be severe restrictions that have sufficiently – or substantially – mitigated the threat that they will pose a threat to the United States, which is the standard for when we transfer Guantanamo detainees.
QUESTION: So could the Taliban leaders, could they host Iftar dinners or go to Hajj or anything like that?
MS. HARF: They have a travel ban, as we’ve said. So obviously, they can’t leave the country and Hajj, I think, occurs in a different country. But the standard here – every – all of the assurances we needed and we demanded and we got before we transferred them to Qatar, all led to the notion that they could not threaten the United States. That’s the standard, that we have substantially mitigated that threat. Can it ever be zero? No, of course not.
I would also make – and I meant to make this point yesterday – for the very small number of detainees who’ve been transferred that have re-engaged in the fight, many of them have either been recaptured or taken off the battlefield after they re-engaged. So I would remind people that we keep a very close eye on these guys once they leave Guantanamo.
QUESTION: But Marie, if there’s even a chance they can go back to the battlefield, why take that chance?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s always a chance, Lucas. You can never 100 percent mitigate risk. But what’s important here --
QUESTION: If you don’t let them out you mitigate the risk 100 percent.
MS. HARF: Okay. So we’ve made clear all of the reasons for our national security that we need to close Guantanamo, and part of that is determining who can be transferred while substantially mitigating the risk. And I think if you have the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the head of the DNI and the head of DOJ and the head of – the Secretary of – the State Department – excuse me – all certifying that we have substantially mitigated the threat to U.S. national security, I think they look very closely. They take that responsibility very seriously, and they would never make that assessment if they did not believe it to be true.
QUESTION: And last question: You said that there was no precedent in releasing captured combatants from Afghanistan and returning them to a terrorist organization. Is that true?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I said that.
QUESTION: Well, you said that during World War II --
MS. HARF: Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: No problem.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: You said during World War II we had released – exchanged in prisoner swaps --
MS. HARF: Prisoners. And certainly, I think, Vietnam, Korea – there’s a long historical precedent for prisoner swaps during time of war that goes back, quite frankly, to the Revolution.
QUESTION: But those were prisoner swaps between countries.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, in this case, we’re fighting a non-state actor. And the bottom line is it was a non-state actor that was holding Sergeant Bergdahl. That doesn’t make it any less imperative that we get him home, and it doesn’t change the notion that he was a prisoner during a time of war and that there is a long history for the principle of prisoner swaps in time of war.
QUESTION: But we are setting – the United States is setting the precedent, though, that you are releasing a fighter back to a terrorist group, not a known nation.
MS. HARF: Again, you’re using some words here that we wouldn’t use. Obviously, the Taliban is who we are fighting in a time of war. So there is a long history for that kind of prisoner swap throughout United States history, and we feel like that principle is sufficiently historically – with a great amount of historical precedent. So in fact, we’re not changing the precedent; it’s something we’ve done throughout our time here.
QUESTION: So you do not think you are legitimizing the Taliban by giving these fighters back to people who want to one day take over Afghanistan again?
MS. HARF: I don’t – I’m not sure exactly how you’re using the word “legitimize.” We’ve said the Taliban has a role to play in how we end the violence in Afghanistan, that obviously, what we would like to see is Afghans talking to Afghans, Afghan-led reconciliation about how the war eventually ends there. That’s how you end wars.
That doesn’t mean we think anything the Taliban has done is in any way not horrific, and that they were not – for these men particularly; these five, who again, were picked up pretty early on in the war, were really senior folks and mid-level folks in the regime – that they didn’t do horrific things. Of course they did.
QUESTION: Is there any chance that these five that were just released from Guantanamo Bay helped plan the assassination attempt against Abdullah Abdullah in Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: They had 5, 10, 12 years to plan it.
MS. HARF: The one that just happened?
MS. HARF: I think there’re pretty strict restrictions on what Guantanamo detainees can or can’t do when they’re --
QUESTION: But they are allowed to communicate in Qatar, correct?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into the specifics of the restrictions we have in place.
QUESTION: Do you find appalling this hate frenzy that is being directed against his family --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. I find it --
QUESTION: -- his town by certain media outlets? And how are you responding to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to single anyone out, Said. I find in general the level of vitriol that has been directed at Sergeant Bergdahl and his family – his parents, who had a son in Taliban captivity for five years – I find it repugnant. I find it appalling. It’s not okay. We don’t judge people in the court of public opinion, certainly not people that signed up to wear the uniform of the United States and certainly not parents who waited for five years for their son to come home. That’s not what we do.
QUESTION: Do you find it morally repugnant that certain media outlets are trying to profit out of this situation?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to single out anyone, Said. Anyone. I’m not.
QUESTION: But does signing up – does enlisting in the military – does that mean he can never be charged with dishonor or --
MS. HARF: No, and as we’ve – what it means – enlisting and volunteering to fight for your country – what it means is if you go missing, we will bring you home. That’s the pledge we take when people sign up to serve their country. It does not mean, as the Army has said, that if there was – and General Dempsey has said that if there was misconduct, it won’t be punished. We’ve been very clear. The two just aren’t related. We bring our folks home and then we determine the facts. And if there was misconduct, it will be dealt with.
QUESTION: Chang of topic?
MS. HARF: Wait, wait. Guys, let’s all speak one at a time. Let’s just do a few more on this and then we’re going to move on.
QUESTION: Just a couple of practical things maybe. I saw a report yesterday that Sergeant Bergdahl still hadn’t spoken with his parents. Is that correct, or --
MS. HARF: Hadn’t spoken with?
QUESTION: Yeah, not spoken with his parents.
MS. HARF: I don’t believe that – let me double-check on that. The Department of Defense would know the most up to date. Obviously, he hasn’t been reunited with them.
MS. HARF: But let me check on that.
QUESTION: So a follow-up on that: Is there any date for him to come back yet?
MS. HARF: DOD would know better. I haven’t seen one.
QUESTION: And I just – I wondered if I could go back to a question I asked at the beginning of the week, which was about the propaganda value of the Taliban video Tuesday when it came out, I think it was. Anyway --
MS. HARF: It was. It was Tuesday, the first day I briefed this week.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you said you were not too concerned about the propaganda value of it; it was just a film and it showed a U.S. soldier coming home. But it has actually gone viral now on jihadi sites. It’s apparently one of the most popular videos that these – shown on these sites and downloaded on these sites. Do you repeat your lack of concern about the propaganda value of this video?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to put it past the Taliban to try and use things for propaganda value. We know that they care about propaganda and they’ve tried to do this throughout the conflict in Afghanistan. What I would say is I think it’s important for the United States to say very clearly to the Taliban or anyone else who would take American soldiers captive that we will do everything to bring them home, that we will get them home, that we will demand that certain concession and restrictions are – concessions are made and restrictions are put in place, that we take this very, very seriously. And I think that’s the message that the world should see from what we’ve done over the last week.
QUESTION: So this Administration wasn’t angered by the sight of the video that went up online by the Taliban?
MS. HARF: I don’t – I wouldn’t use the term angered. Obviously it’s – I mean, we are looking at a man who has been in Taliban captivity, an American soldier, for five years. Obviously that’s difficult to watch. This is a man who’s clearly been through quite a bit by any measure. So that’s how probably I would look at it.
QUESTION: But it does also show a degree of organization on the part of the Taliban. You’ve got sort of 18 Taliban fighters there, they’ve got a white flag; they obviously had to control the airspace before the helicopters could land. I mean, you could see on the other side for Taliban and people of likeminded ideologies, this could be seen as the Taliban – a Taliban strength, a jihadi strength.
MS. HARF: I don’t think this video in any way changes anyone’s assessment of the Taliban’s strength. I don’t. I don’t think that it changes the assessment of the fact that they are able to control some territory like this, right. I’m not sure it changes anything anyone knows about their strength or their leadership structure or their structure on the ground. I just don’t think it changes what anybody knows about the Taliban already. And we have said that in order to get him home, this was how we had to do it. And yes, the fact that it was executed peacefully without any Americans – further Americans being put in danger, without having to fire any shots, we think on balance --
QUESTION: But it does feed into --
MS. HARF: -- that that’s good.
QUESTION: Sorry, my last one.
MS. HARF: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: It does feed into the Taliban contention that they are a proper functioning government, which is – a government, which is what they’ve said.
MS. HARF: Well, not a government, certainly not a government. I don’t think this video shows that they’re a government or have a governing structure. But we have been very clear that in order for us to move forward in Afghanistan that – look, the way forward here is a political settlement that will include the Taliban. It’s clear that they have some – a huge, in some ways, role to play in terms of the future of Afghanistan and making it more peaceful and stable. So we’ve been very clear about that for many years. This video in no way changes that.
QUESTION: In a leaked copy of Secretary – former Secretary of State Clinton’s book --
MS. HARF: This is the last one on Bergdahl, and then we’re moving on.
QUESTION: Okay. Secretary Clinton said that, at the time, negotiating with Taliban captors would be hard to swallow for Americans. Can the State Department comment?
MS. HARF: Will I comment on a leaked version of a book that I haven’t seen? I think probably not.
QUESTION: I have one on Ukraine.
MS. HARF: Yeah, wait. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yes. The Taliban spokesperson has been telling the local Afghan media that Sergeant Bergdahl was treated well and he was also even allowed to play football. Is that your assessment? The video, the proof of life video, does it say about (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: So what we’ve said – and we’re looking into whether it might be possible to release the proof of life video more widely. Obviously members of Congress have now seen it. And from the proof of life video, we’ve been very clear we were concerned about his health for a variety of reasons. And beyond that, we were concerned about his physical security, which again, plays a lot into this idea that time was of the essence here.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something about –
MS. HARF: Let me – can I just --
QUESTION: I thought you were finished.
MS. HARF: Yeah, yeah. And so in general, we are attempting to determine the facts about what his life in captivity was like. But to be very clear, we were concerned about his health. The proof of life video from about six months ago absolutely made us even more concerned.
QUESTION: Do you need a Privacy Act waiver from Sergeant Bergdahl to release the proof of life video?
MS. HARF: He’s not a private American citizen, so the rules are a little different. The Privacy Act pertains to private citizens. Obviously, there are other considerations we take into place, including privacy writ large. But the Privacy Act as I understand it is for private citizens.
QUESTION: Interesting. And do you --
MS. HARF: But there are still privacy concerns.
QUESTION: Yeah. So why would you violate his privacy by releasing it, even if you’re not legally obliged to obtain his consent because he’s not a private citizen? Why would you release it?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we would, as you said, violate his privacy. Obviously, he now is in the United States. He’s here, so --
QUESTION: If you released a video of me that was taken when I was detained by a third party and I was videoed without my consent, and you released it --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- I think, whether I’m a private citizen or not, you would be violating my privacy if you didn’t get my permission.
MS. HARF: Right. And we haven’t released it yet --
QUESTION: No, so why would you, though?
MS. HARF: -- for a variety of reasons, including privacy. But obviously, we are now able to have conversations with him – I’m not saying we have about the video. I’m just saying now that he’s back with the United States, there’s ways to do this. And if there’s a compelling national interest and if hypothetically we do the calculation on the privacy issue, whether or not we talk to him about it, we might. But --
QUESTION: What national interest is served by releasing a video that shows him, as you have said and as many other officials have said, that has shown a marked deterioration in his condition?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not saying there is one. I’m saying the discussion is happening right now. I think most people in this room would argue for more things being in the public domain in general.
QUESTION: I know. I’m just trying to figure out --
MS. HARF: And it would – what we’ve – I mean, again, we want to get all the facts out there as much as we can. But there are privacy considerations, and we’re balancing those. And I don’t know if we will, but those conversations are happening.
QUESTION: Some people might question whether the release of such a video would be designed to blunt criticism of the Administration for its decision to – well, some people might say you’re doing it to sort of get people off your back. This is why we moved fast, because he looked so bad. Look how bad he looks.
MS. HARF: Well – and to be clear, it’s not just that we thought he looked bad which is the reason we moved fast, and I think there’s been a little confusion about this, so I – just let me make a few points on that, then we can continue this conversation.
After we saw the proof of life video in January, it appeared his health had deteriorated. That led, obviously, to an even greater sense of urgency.
QUESTION: Sorry, after you saw the video, or when you saw the video it appeared that his condition had deteriorated?
MS. HARF: When we saw the video.
MS. HARF: Right. At the same time, and separate and apart from the decline in health – and I think this is an important point to make – we had reason to believe that Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery and potentially his life could be jeopardized if the detainee exchange proceedings were disclosed or derailed. So we talked a little bit about this yesterday, about why that may be. So then when presented with a very near-term opportunity to recover Sergeant Bergdahl, we believed time was of the essence to move very quickly.
So again, look, it’s not that we’re trying to blunt criticism. It’s that we believe it’s important for the facts to be out there. And some people have questioned the notion that we really did have a sense of urgency and that we really did have to keep it secret, and that we could’ve either on the notification question taken more time. And so I think just making very clear why we acted quickly is important. Whether or not that includes the video, I don’t know.
QUESTION: One other one on this.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Wait, Lucas, let me --
QUESTION: Can I – just last one from me on this.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I asked whether the Taliban had threatened to kill Sergeant Bergdahl if the agreement for his release became public. Were you able to check on that, and do you now know the answer as to whether there was an explicit threat from the Taliban to kill him if it was released, or if, as you seemed to suggest yesterday, it was more a question of if it were released, his life could be in danger because some rogue actor might decide to kill him, not that the Taliban explicitly made that threat?
MS. HARF: Same place we were yesterday, in that what I can confirm for you and what we do know is that we had indications that his life very much could be in jeopardy, particularly if the deal was made public.
QUESTION: But you can’t confirm that there was an explicit threat made by the Taliban?
MS. HARF: I cannot confirm that, but in no way does that take away from our sense of urgency.
MS. HARF: Guys, can we all speak at once, please? Let’s all take turns, thank you.
MS. HARF: No, we’re going to back to – last one. Seriously, Lucas.
QUESTION: Okay, last one. You said that you were worried that this story might get leaked out, details of the rescue.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does the Administration have an issue with leaks?
MS. HARF: So a few points, Lucas. The first is that the general architecture of this deal, including the individual five, had been discussed quite publicly – I think many of you reported on it – and had been briefed to Congress. So the general architecture of what a swap would look like was known, was made known to everyone. And they had raised some concerns. We had obviously known those concerns, but we believed here, in terms of operationalizing that, that time of was the essence. And quite – so we – the scale of people inside the Administration that knew was very, very small, as it is on these very sensitive things, and we did not think that we could expand it any further.
It’s also just the notion that until the very end, until we had him, we didn’t know the transfers would go forward. So until he was on that helicopter, the whole thing could have fallen apart. So that’s why as soon as we had him we began making Hill notification calls, we talked to folks. We did this as quickly and as safely as we believed we could.
QUESTION: But you can keep a secret, right?
MS. HARF: I’m very good at keeping a secret, yes.
MS. HARF: I don’t think I probably have any more to say on this Lucas, but thank you.
QUESTION: So when recently – U.S. recently called South Korea to join regional missile defense. So what is strategic plan behind all of this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have details on that. I think the Defense Department probably has some more. I’m happy to check with them.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: On Wednesday Secretary Kerry made – called on Hezbollah to work to engage in efforts to end the war in Syria. Does this call change anything in the position of this Administration vis-a-vis Hezbollah?
MS. HARF: No, it doesn’t. It’s the same concept we’ve talked about for a long time where we’ve called on parties who have influence over the regime – Iran, Hezbollah, Russia – to use their influence with the Assad regime to push them towards a diplomatic solution and push them to a better place. It’s in no way a change of policy, but it’s a recognition of the reality that there are outside actors who have influence on the regime and should be using it.
QUESTION: Is this dealing with Hezbollah as a state-like actor?
MS. HARF: No one’s talking about dealing with Hezbollah. They are a party who – a group who has influence over the regime, period.
QUESTION: Putting it on the same level as Iran and Russia?
MS. HARF: No. No, I’m not trying to compare those three at all except in that they all have some leverage over the regime.
QUESTION: Today the head of Hezbollah, Sheikh Nasrallah, said that the re-election of President Bashar al-Assad is a good point to go to move forward for a peaceful solution. Do you find this encouraging?
MS. HARF: No. I don’t think I find anything encouraging about an election where the electorate that’s being asked to vote for a leader is being killed by its own leadership. I find nothing about that encouraging, no.
QUESTION: In line of what you’re saying, those who have influence should exert it in the proper direction, and Hezbollah --
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t call that exerting influence in the right way.
QUESTION: So that is not encouraging?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Let’s – wait, wait. Oh, Syria?
MS. HARF: Let’s stay on Syria and then – yes.
QUESTION: I think I know what you’re going to say to this, but anyway. (Laughter.) National Security Advisor Susan Rice gave an interview to CNN this morning or this afternoon from the beaches in Normandy in which she said that President – that the Administration was providing lethal and nonlethal support to select members of the Syrian opposition. What does she mean by lethal?
MS. HARF: As we’ve said, we’re not going to specifically outline all the kinds of support we’re giving. I think I’d leave the national security advisor’s words to themselves.
QUESTION: But usually from the podium the Administration has been talking about military and non-military support.
MS. HARF: Again --
QUESTION: Did she slip up, or are you actually providing lethal support as she said?
MS. HARF: Again, no more details for you on what we’re providing. I think I’ll let her words stand on their own.
QUESTION: And you have no reason to discount or dispute her words?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to comment on her words in any other way.
MS. HARF: The bishops.
QUESTION: The bishops who traveled to Iran --
MS. HARF: I got you an answer.
QUESTION: -- in March and then --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Apparently it’s been going on.
MS. HARF: I think I can just take a few more because I have, unfortunately, a pressing engagement this afternoon. But let me just give you what I have on this.
We are aware that a small delegation of U.S. Catholic bishops visited Iran in March. The visit and its preparation were conducted entirely independent of the U.S. Government. Obviously I’m sure the trip organizers can give you some more information.
And more broadly speaking, we are aware of independent initiatives by various U.S. religious figures to foster interfaith dialogue with Iranian religious scholars. We commend such efforts to promote interfaith tolerance and religious freedom, which is, of course, a foreign policy priority for the Department.
QUESTION: Apparently they have reported back to the State Department and the White House about their trip, what they talked about and what they heard. What can you tell us about that? Do you think what was discussed over there and their take, this group’s take from what they heard in Iran, has had any effect in the P5+1 talks with that country?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a readout for any discussions that may have happened. Obviously, this is about interfaith issues, and the P5+1 discussions are all about the nuclear issue, so they are very quite separate.
QUESTION: Well, they’ve said themselves that the core of the – the core reason for them going and starting this discussion was to influence the nuclear talks.
MS. HARF: Again, we – this is an independent effort. We’re focused on the nuclear issue and don’t have much more to say on it than that.
QUESTION: And apparently, this discussion’s been going on – again, I think late May another group was there plus somebody from the White House.
MS. HARF: I don’t believe anyone from the White House went to Iran.
QUESTION: Josh Hunter?
MS. HARF: Yeah --
MS. HARF: No. Not to my – that would be news to me, but I am happy to check. But I don’t think so.
Scott, yes. Scott.
QUESTION: Marie, can you tell us if you have any more information on the latest attacks in Nigeria?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more information on it.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more on either of those. Let me see if I can get you something.
Let’s go to Ukraine.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, when he spoke with Prime Minister Poroshenko, said that he wanted him, according to reports, that he wanted him to put forward more evidence with regard to possible Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine. Does that mean that there isn’t really hard evidence at this point, in spite of the fact that statements are made time and time again that Russia is involved in this?
MS. HARF: Not at all. I think there is a great deal of hard evidence that Russia is involved – deeply involved – with the separatists. We have long seen credible reports of Russian soldiers operating without insignia in Ukraine, as they first did in March in occupied Crimea. In recent weeks, there have been a number of videos and media reports of armed militants admitting they came from Russia, including a number of Chechens who openly admit they came from Russia. The militants are heavily armed, appear – excuse me – to be professionally trained and in combat operations, again, of the sort that Russia does.
So again, the Ukrainian Government has also reported that there are daily a number of convoys attempting every day to cross from the Russian side into the Ukrainian side. These signs all point to Russia attempting to destabilize.
QUESTION: Well, the question is, however: Is this the government doing this, or are these individuals who are concerned? There have been relationships between the Ukrainians and Russian-Ukrainians and Russian-Russians --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- for decades --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- centuries. Those relationships exist.
MS. HARF: I understand the history, but what I’m not – focused on is the history of the facts. And what the facts tell us, from a variety of sources and a variety of ways, is the Russian Government is heavily involved in perpetrating and encouraging what we’ve seen in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea for a variety of reasons. We’ve seen it from the arms they have. They’ve openly admitted it, some people on camera. And if they were going to help Ukraine get a more stable future, we want the Russian Government to use their influence to pull these separatists back, to continue pulling their troops back, and to give the Ukrainians a better future.
QUESTION: Why then does Secretary Kerry need more evidence?
MS. HARF: I don’t think you’re accurately characterizing his conversation with President-elect Poroshenko.
Yeah. Just a couple more.
QUESTION: Did you put a readout yesterday on the Secretary’s meeting with Lavrov (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: I gave – did it at the top of the briefing. That was the only readout we had, was that quick readout at the top of the briefing.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you didn't say what issues they talked about.
MS. HARF: I – let’s go back and check the transcript. I gave a little bit of detail.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you seen the report of a – Pakistan suspending the license of Geo TV --
MS. HARF: I have.
QUESTION: -- for 15 days, and also arrest warrants have been issued against the owner, editors on blasphemy charges?
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have on that for you. We are aware that Geo TV’s broadcast license has been suspended for 15 days and that a fine has been imposed on the outlet by the regulatory authority. Also seen reports that Geo TV has filed suit against the regulatory authority as well. Not going to take a position on the merits of these actions, but we have long been clear that freedom of the press, including freedom of the airwaves and safety for journalists, is of paramount importance to freedom of expression in Pakistan and everywhere else.
QUESTION: So your answer is not specific to Pakistan. It’s general in nature?
MS. HARF: Well, it can be specific to Pakistan as well. Specific certainly there and everywhere else.
QUESTION: You are not concerned about the events happening in Pakistan (inaudible) freedom of the press?
MS. HARF: We have very clearly said we are concerned about the space for media freedom in Pakistan. During press freedom week, I stood up here and did a whole topper on it, so we’ve made very clear our concerns in Pakistan specifically.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Aren’t you – to which extent would the United States be concerned of the last three, four days’ events? Violence is back again. And we have a new person now that seems to be – the new persona there of Hiftar, his forces, as we are reading reports, are now attacking towns using aviation. Are you watching Libya? I mean, these events on the ground --
MS. HARF: Absolutely, we are watching Libya very closely.
QUESTION: And to which extent would we say Washington now is really concerned? Like the area is concerned – Washington?
MS. HARF: Well, we are watching it very closely. We know there are a variety of reports out there. We are attempting to get the best facts on the ground that we can. And we’ve said we’re concerned about the security situation in Libya and the political situation as well.
We know there’s still a long way to go in this – what at times has been a very bumpy transition, but that the Libyans have an opportunity for a better future here. It’s up to them to decide. We’ll keep working with them on all of these different issues. So of course, we remain concerned, but it’s something we’re very focused on.
QUESTION: Hiftar is a known person to you? The persona, the personality of Hiftar, the new --
MS. HARF: I have read some reports, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is he new to you? I mean, is he somebody we can tell the United States knows pretty well, or is he new to the scene for America, I mean? He lived in Virginia before.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I think he’s well known to many people.
MS. HARF: But again, we don’t support one person or one candidate or one party in Libya or anywhere else.
QUESTION: No concerns or where the weaponry is coming from?
MS. HARF: Well, we – in terms of his weaponry?
QUESTION: Yes. I mean, aviation is pretty --
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said broadly – and again, I am not – I can’t confirm those reports. I’m happy to check with our team. We’ve said broadly speaking we’re concerned about the security situation in Libya. I don’t think I have much more analysis to do than that.
Guys, I --
QUESTION: Was he voting for the President in 2008? (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I’m going to go on now.
QUESTION: One more on Libya, on Libya.
MS. HARF: One --
QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Two more.
MS. HARF: Two more and then we’re breaking for the weekend.
QUESTION: Do you support any Egyptian military operation in Libya to fight extremists there?
MS. HARF: I think that what we’ve said is we want to work with the Libyan Government to help build their capacity to fight extremists there. I’m not aware of specifics around the question you just asked, but I’m happy to see if there’s more light I can shed on that topic.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hiftar’s spokesman has said today that they are expecting an Egyptian military operation in Libya.
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those comments. I’m happy to check with folks.
QUESTION: China today said that it is open to having talks with the Tibetan leaders about the future of Dalai Lama, but it has ruled out giving any autonomy to the Tibetans. Have you seen that? What’s your comment on it?
MS. HARF: I have seen some of that. Well, as we’ve long said, we are deeply concerned about the poor human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China. We have continued to urge the Chinese Government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions as a means to reduce tensions, obviously urge China to address policies that have created tensions in Tibetan areas and that threaten the Tibetan unique culture.
QUESTION: And was this an issue of discussion when Assistant Secretary Nisha Desai Biswal --
MS. HARF: I can find out. Not to my knowledge. I don’t think it was, but let me check.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on your attempts to open a consulate in Lhasa?
MS. HARF: Let me see. I think I have something on that. As envisioned in the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, we continue efforts to open a consulate in Lhasa, also continue to request the Chinese Government allow a consular officer to visit Tibet and ethnically Tibetan areas of China. No other update.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)
DPB # 100