1:43 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing to kick off the week. Two quick items at the top: the first, the Secretary is on his way back to the United States from his trip. That’s the travel update I have for him.
And second, I’d like to welcome a group of visitors we have today in the back of the room from the Korea News Editors Association. They’re in Washington this week for briefings and meetings. We’re really happy to have you here. I hope it’s interesting to watch, and again, we’re thrilled to have you here.
So with that, Lara.
MS. HARF: Kick us off.
QUESTION: So let’s start on Pakistan, where the Pakistani Taliban has threatened more attacks if the military doesn’t stop the airstrikes. And obviously, following up on the airport bombing, wondering if the U.S. is giving any assistance to the Pakistani military. And in a larger kind of vein, does the United States support the airstrikes that have been ongoing, or would you support what is being called for by the Taliban, which is a ceasefire before – or as a – to stop any – to thwart any other attacks?
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said obviously previously but certainly today, extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the terrorist attacks on Karachi’s international airport, wish those who were injured a full and speedy recovery, and join the Pakistani people in condemning these attacks. We have offered assistance to the relevant Pakistani authorities investigating this crime. I don’t have any update for you on whether or not we’re actually providing anything. To my knowledge, we’re not.
But broadly speaking, we work very closely with the Pakistani Government on counterterrorism to help them build their capacity and to work with them on a wide range of threats. There are a number of groups operating in – particularly in the cross-border area. We’ve worked with them for many years, because of course, the Pakistani people themselves have been, as we just saw, tragically the victims of many of these terrorist attacks.
So the cooperation is ongoing. We have said, of course, we’re concerned about different groups operating there, including the Pakistani Taliban, but we do know the Pakistani Government has a responsibility and an obligation to protect its citizens and to take appropriate counterterrorism measures. I’m not going to comment one way or the other on all of the specific airstrikes you referenced, but we do think that they have a responsibility to do so.
QUESTION: Okay. So to continue airstrikes, then?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not --
QUESTION: That the U.S. Government doesn’t have a problem with that?
MS. HARF: I’m not making a judgment one way or the other on the efficacy of continuing airstrikes or what the Pakistani Government should do next – certainly not from the podium I’m not going to do that. Just broadly speaking, we have supported the Pakistani Government as they’ve undertaken counterterrorism efforts because it’s a fight we certainly share.
QUESTION: So do you think that this call for a ceasefire is a specious call, is one that shouldn’t be believed?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that terrorist groups like the TTP should stop attacking innocent civilians. I think the Pakistani Government has a responsibility to protect their people and that there’s no equivalency between the two in any way.
QUESTION: Well, as you know, I mean, I think what some of the concern has been is that some of the airstrikes have killed civilians as well, not just some of the targets.
MS. HARF: And look, I can’t speak for everything the Pakistani Government is doing. I’d refer you to them in terms of how they – how they undertake airstrikes and how they choose targets. That’s not something I can speak to, of course. But we’ve been very clear that counterterrorism is a shared concern for both of us, and we certainly will continue working with them.
QUESTION: And the assistance is mostly to law enforcement and not to the military?
MS. HARF: Well, when I talked about the – that we’ve offered today – I think we stand ready to help, right? And we’ve offered to the relevant Pakistani authorities, but more broadly speaking, we work very closely, as you know, with a host of folks in Pakistan on the counterterrorism threat. Whether it’s military, intel, diplomatic, we have a very wide-ranging bilateral relationship on this issue specifically.
QUESTION: So you’ve made the offer. Has there been any response?
MS. HARF: To my knowledge, we aren’t – nothing has gone forward. We’ve said we stand ready to help. They do have a number of capabilities to handle some of these incidents. And as I said, we offered assistance with the investigation of what happened.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Was there any – to answer – go back to Lara’s question, is there any actual U.S. assistance in terms of the airstrikes going on already?
MS. HARF: In terms of the airstrikes they’re doing?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, but I am happy to check.
QUESTION: And there are reports today of tens of thousands, something like 25,000 Pakistanis having fled North Waziristan, fearing that there’s going to be an imminent ground assault by Pakistani troops. Do you have information on that? Are you concerned about that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have information on that. I’ve seen some of the reports that are out there. Obviously, as the Pakistanis undertake counterterrorism operations, we’ve worked with them, or at least advised them, I guess, to take civilian life into account, as we of course do. But going back to the main point here, these are – innocent civilians are the targets of these terrorists, right. The government’s job is to protect their people, so that’s what the Pakistani Government is doing. They’re determining the best way to do that, period, I think.
QUESTION: So – but if you’ve got thousands of people fleeing out of the area, they’re obviously concerned about being caught up in the crossfire of this battle between the Pakistani authorities and the TTP.
MS. HARF: That may be the case. I can’t obviously get into their heads or speak for them. But look, again, the onus here is on these terrorist groups that – to lay down their arms, to stop attacking innocent Pakistani and other civilians. And the government – without endorsing what they’re doing or giving a commentary on it any way, one way or the other, look, they have a responsibility to protect their citizens, absolutely.
QUESTION: Just going back to the Karachi airport battle which went on all night. I think there are around 30 people who were killed. Some of them were militants. Do you know if there are any U.S. citizens caught up in it?
MS. HARF: None were. I have – we have no reports of American citizens among the casualties, and all chief of mission staff are safe and accounted for.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On the same subject?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you confirm who might have carried these attacks, because there are conflicting reports? While the TTP has claimed to have conducted this, the law enforcement people, they have said that the attackers appeared to be of Central Asian origin.
MS. HARF: So I think I’d refer you to the Government of Pakistan. They’re doing the investigation. I’ve seen the TTP claims out there. Obviously it’s a group we’re very concerned about, as is the Pakistani Government. But I think I’d refer you to them for more specifics on what their investigation finds.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Following the news that Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and White House Advisor Jake Sullivan are leading talks today in Geneva with the Iranian side, can you confirm whether these talks have actually started today? And what is the purpose of them? What do you hope to achieve?
MS. HARF: They have. Today they have met so far for over five hours. They began at 2 p.m. local. Talks are ongoing as of right now. A range of topics were discussed, as expected. They will reconvene tomorrow morning and expect to meet all day tomorrow. I probably won’t be giving a lot of a substantive readout of the discussions. Obviously we like to keep the negotiation – or the discussions, not negotiations, private to give them the best chance of success.
QUESTION: What was the --
MS. HARF: I think, in terms of the purpose – is that where you were going?
MS. HARF: Okay. Look, we’ve always said that we would engage the Iranians bilaterally if it can help advance our efforts, of course acting in total coordination with the P5+1 and the EU. EU Deputy Helga Schmid is on the ground there as well. And look, we also said that there was going to be an intensification of diplomatic efforts, particularly getting closer to July 20th. If we’re going to seriously test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution here, we need to engage in as much active diplomacy as possible.
This is not a negotiation round; it’s a consultation round to discuss, as I said, a wide range of issues, and as you know, leading up to the P5+1 meeting we’ll be having in Vienna next week. And last note is that all of the P5+1 countries have bilateral relationships with Iran, they all meet with them, as does the EU. So putting it in that context and all feeding into that process.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: What is the --
QUESTION: Sorry, just one more.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: It’s not completely just a bilateral, though, if the EU’s Helga Schmid is there.
MS. HARF: For part of it. But this is a forum where it’s just the United States and Iran. There aren’t other – any of the other P5+1 partners. Obviously the reason the EU is there is because we’re in close coordination as they are the conveners of the P5+1 rounds. I don’t know if she’ll be in every meeting or not, but there’ll be a wide range of discussions over these two days.
QUESTION: Is this simply to work out sticking points that might come up during an actual negotiating round, or is this to try to come up with agreement on some issues that have yet to be discussed during the broader negotiations?
MS. HARF: It’s more the former than the latter, although I wouldn’t describe it exactly that way. It is not, as I said, a negotiations round. It is a consultation round to talk about the wide range of issues and exchange views leading up to the next negotiating round in Vienna, and of course, feeding into that.
So this is all done in coordination with the EU and the P5+1, and what we’ve said is we are at a critical juncture in the talks. We don’t have very much time left. We think we’ve made progress during some rounds, but as we said coming out of the last one we hadn’t seen enough made. We hadn’t seen enough realism, quite frankly, on the table. And hopefully these discussions, like the other bilateral discussions people have, can help get us to the place we want to be.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that it’s only dealing with those matters that have been discussed? Does the U.S. have the right to bring in other issues that have not been discussed in the larger forum? Is that an appropriate venue for this?
MS. HARF: Well, on the nuclear issue everything’s been discussed. All issues on the table have been discussed in some form or fashion during the now four rounds we’ve had in Vienna. So this is just on the nuclear issue; not on any other issue. But in terms of the nuclear topics, again, a range of issues was discussed and we will continue them tomorrow and then we’ll all head to Vienna next week.
QUESTION: And then from a mechanics standpoint, how does the result of these talks play into the larger discussion? How were they introduced? Is there going to be some sort of memo to the larger P5+1 process – the U.S. and Iran discussed X, Y, and Z, and we agree on this, that, and the other? Or is it more informal than that?
MS. HARF: So how it’s tended to work in the past, and I’m assuming it will work in some way similar to this before the next round, is the P5+1 and the EU do a day of coordination meetings internally before we sit down with Iran. So obviously that involves things like reading out bilats we’ve all had, reading out conversations we’ve all had. We also talk to our counterparts over the phone, over email, from the rest of the P5+1 all the time. So when our partners talk to them, they give us a readout. When we talk to them, we give them a readout. And we are very coordinated going into each round so we’re all on the same page, and until this point we all have been on the same page.
QUESTION: You can confirm that you’re not discussing regional issues --
MS. HARF: Correct. We are not.
QUESTION: -- like Syria, Yemen, other issues --
MS. HARF: We are not. This is just on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: -- and the role that Iran can play in the Middle East in the future?
MS. HARF: We are not. This is on the nuclear issues as has always been the case.
QUESTION: So when you say wide range of issues, all focused on the nuclear file --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Correct. Yes.
QUESTION: And regarding this meeting which is, like you said, it’s a – I can’t – I don’t know how to describe it – you can may say it’s preparatory, complementary, or paving the road to the next week issues?
MS. HARF: Well, these are consultations and all of – if you think about it, there’s a P5+1 process led by the EU with Iran. All of those members have their own bilateral meetings and relationships and discussions with the Iranians. Those are all done in coordination with each other. We’re all singing from the same piece of – sheet of music here, and we all give readouts to each other after those meetings as well. So all of those discussions – not just ours but all of them – play into the larger EU-led P5+1 rounds of negotiations that happen where we start talking about text, we start talking about actual negotiations over words. And that’s – I think what you’ve seen is it really plays in the larger process, and that’s what it’s designed to do.
QUESTION: When you say “the same sheet of music,” you mean P5+1?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And the EU. Yep.
QUESTION: And EU. So my other question is related to the – what you are expecting? Because at the end – at the last time when it was stopped, it was stopped for some reason, right?
MS. HARF: When what was stopped?
QUESTION: This talks.
MS. HARF: The bilateral talks?
MS. HARF: Well, they stopped when we got the Joint Plan of Action finalized in November. So we came to agreement over the first step to halt their nuclear program. That was what the bilateral talks were working on, and we’ve always said throughout this process that we would engage with the Iranians in various ways if it could help. I’d also point out that on the sidelines of each of the Vienna meetings, we have bilateral talks. So we meet bilaterally with the Iranians on the sidelines of every P5+1 meeting. The difference now is that Deputy Secretary Burns and Jake Sullivan have joined. Given their history of negotiating with the Iranians, it made sense, and we always said that could be a possibility.
QUESTION: What was the purpose of their participation, Sullivan and Burns --
MS. HARF: Now?
QUESTION: -- this time? Yes.
MS. HARF: Again, given their history negotiating with the Iranians, they know the folks on the other side of the table very well. We said the diplomacy would intensify, and not just by the two of them but by Wendy Sherman and others it has.
QUESTION: But why they didn’t participate in the past and now they went to this meeting?
MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s any magic reason why. Again, as we’ve said, we’ve had discussions up until this point. Under Secretary Sherman leads those. This is just another diplomatic avenue through which we are trying to test whether we can get this done by the 20th.
QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong, but at a certain point, the discussion when these talks start, there was this, let’s say, attitude or position or policy that there is a deal or no deal, something like a package. Is still this is the – this is the approach --
MS. HARF: Our approach --
QUESTION: -- that it’s a complete deal? I mean, including everything.
MS. HARF: Well, right. So what we’ve said is in order to get to a comprehensive agreement that nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed. And if you look at it, there are all these issues that play into a nuclear agreement and if we can be assured that they cannot get a nuclear weapon, that their program’s only peaceful, and then what, on the other side of that, our relief would look like. That’s a huge package and all of the issues that play into that have to be resolved in order to get to a comprehensive agreement. I think I said up here once that if we get 98 percent of the way, it’s that last 2 percent that matters, and all I care about is 100.
QUESTION: And you still are comfortable with the timeline?
MS. HARF: We are. Look, we know we don’t have a lot of time left. That’s why we’ve said diplomacy will intensify. People need to make tough choices. But we are very focused on that July 20th time, yes.
QUESTION: Will the comprehensive agreement lead to a normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran?
MS. HARF: I think that’s very, very far away. I think you’ve heard the President speak about this, actually, a number of times, that we are focused on the nuclear issue because of the seriousness of the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to our friends, to our partners, and of course, to other people in the region as well. So we’re focused on that. But he’s also said that many, many miles down the road, someday obviously we would like to have a different relationship with Iran, and if this could help play into that someday in the future, then fine. But even if we can get to a place where we get a comprehensive agreement, there are many things we still fundamentally disagree with the Iranian regime about what they’re doing, including in Syria, including with Hezbollah, including with human rights and women’s rights and support for terrorism.
So those things in no way will – our concern over those things will in no way diminish if we can get to a nuclear deal.
QUESTION: And why don’t you discuss these issues at this time with the Iranians?
MS. HARF: Because these discussions and consultations in the P5+1 negotiations are just focused on the nuclear issue. It is of utmost national security concern to the United States and our partners and we believe that we need to focus the discussions in order to see if we can get to a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION: Yeah, just a question related to your partners, or let’s say partners so I can say it in the region – Israel and the Gulf countries in particular, Saudi Arabia. Are they abated or somehow informed, or you are waiting ‘til it’s – everything is finalizing --
MS. HARF: About what specifically?
QUESTION: About – because they are – they have had some concerns about this deal with Iran.
MS. HARF: Well, we routinely consult and update our friends in the region, including the Israelis, the GCC countries, and others. We consulted with all of them and all of our P5+1 counterparts before we began this bilateral round, so everyone knew what was going on. And we talked to them repeatedly before and after each round. Under Secretary Sherman’s gone there after one of the rounds, to Israel and to the Gulf, and we believe it’s very important to do so.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I have a question about the oil dispute between Baghdad and Erbil. A few days ago Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk was in the region to talk to the officials in --
MS. HARF: Still there.
QUESTION: -- okay. Do you have any details about his meetings with the officials in Erbil?
MS. HARF: I have a little details on his travel, and then if you have follow-ups on specific issues. He arrived in Iraq on Saturday for a series of meetings with Iraqi leaders over the coming days. Over the weekend and into today he held meetings with senior leaders in the Iraqi Kurdistan region to discuss the political and security situation and on the energy front stressed the importance of Erbil and Baghdad returning to discussions to finalize an accord on energy exports and revenue sharing. He will remain in the Iraqi Kurdistan region for additional meetings before heading to Baghdad tomorrow on Tuesday.
In Baghdad he will meet with a variety of Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum to discuss the evolving threat of ISIL, including the situation in Anbar province and the recent attacks in Mosul. He will also stress with leaders in Baghdad the importance of renewing discussions on an energy accord. And I’m sure we’ll have more to say about his meetings after they happen.
QUESTION: Right. The KRG – Kurdistan Regional Government’s head of Office of Foreign Relations, he said in an interview yesterday that – I’m quoting – “Kurdistan is no longer be the victim of U.S. interests in the region,” and they will continue selling oil even though the U.S. is – U.S. Government is against it. Do you have any comment?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen those comments specifically. But look, our position on this has been clear that – and longstanding, I would also note – that the export or sale of oil, absent the appropriate approval of the federal Iraqi government exposes those involved to potentially serious legal risks. We’re not taking sides on the issue. And look, our primary objective throughout all of this is to help Iraq export as much oil as possible – from all parts of the country, to be clear. But we do think that we want, as I just said, the parties to come back to the table and to have the discussions about how this looks like going forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any – just staying on Iraq. Do you have any readout on the attacks in Samarra over the weekend --
MS. HARF: A little bit.
QUESTION: -- and what, if anything, the U.S. can do or is doing to help? I mean, I know most of the focus has been on Anbar, but as you know, this is such a tense site, so close to the mosque --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- where the war was kicked off in 2006. So just wondering what kind of special steps you all are taking.
MS. HARF: Yeah. And on some of this – and in terms of the holy sites that you asked about, we understand that they were unaffected by the fighting, which I think is an important point for people to remember. And look, we’re following very closely reports of significant ISIL attacks, particularly in the city of Mosul. The security situation is, quite frankly, there still in flux. And the Iraqi security forces have undertaken operations to fight back against this; they remain ongoing. Obviously, I can’t go into all of the on-the-ground specifics.
We have worked with the Iraqis quite a bit to build their capacity and their capability to fight this threat. ISIL has recently launched attacks on Anbar University in Ramadi, on the PUK in other places. So ISIL is a very serious threat, and we are talking to the Iraqis. That’s why Brett McGurk is there right now, in part. What more can we do, what else can we do, how can we help you better fight this threat? You know we have certain deliveries of things that we have either sent or have in the pipeline to go to them.
QUESTION: In the pipe --
MS. HARF: Nothing new. Nothing to update from the last time we talked about it.
QUESTION: Okay. Any speeding of some of that pipeline? You know they’ve been demanding that.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I mean, obviously, there’s a process we have to go through, a legal process. I can check. Not to my knowledge. But look, we want stuff to get there as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And you think it was ISIL that was responsible for the attacks in Tuz Khormato today?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
MS. HARF: That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. recently assessed the capability of the Iraqi military against these sorts of attacks, or is this wave of ISIL – alleged ISIL involvement simply too new to get a real sense of what assistance could be offered?
MS. HARF: I think what I would say is, as I just said to Lara, it’s still in flux. I mean, there’s fighting on the ground. We’re still determining the exact nature of the threat and how it’s coming. I know the Iraqis are really looking at that very closely. So again, one of the things that Brett McGurk is in Iraq to do is to talk to them about the threat, and are there other things we could be doing and what are those, and how could we be advising and helping. Because it is important to us, but I think it’s probably a little too early.
QUESTION: So to follow on that, have you guys done an assessment of the – whether or not ISIL is gaining power, really, in Iraq? I mean, because it was horrible enough when they were taking over Ramadi and Fallujah, but now you see them – these attacks in Tuz, these attacks in Mosul. I mean, it’s really – it looks like they’re starting to gain ground.
MS. HARF: It’s a good question, and it’s one I’ve been talking to our folks about. I think what we’ve seen at this point is these kind of terrorist attacks, the Iraqi security forces fighting back against them. In terms of whether they’re – I don’t get the sense that they’re gaining a lot of territory, I think is what your question is really asking. But let me talk to Brett and other folks and see if there’s a more up-to-date analysis after the weekend.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. HARF: Yeah. But again, the Iraqi forces have had some success. I mean, we saw some success in Anbar. They’re still fighting in Mosul today. So they have had some success, but it is a tough fight.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Any assessment for President Sisi’s speech yesterday?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any assessment on that.
QUESTION: Why? You didn’t see it?
MS. HARF: Because I don’t think I’m going to do analysis on his speech. If there’s something specific you’d like to ask me about it, but --
QUESTION: It’s his political plan for the next six years regarding internal and international affairs.
MS. HARF: Look, as we’ve said – and you know we had some folks on the ground there – we look forward to working with him. There are a whole range of issues we work with Egypt on. There’s a lot of work he has to do in moving this transition forward. We will make that clear, as we have. And Ambassador Shannon and Special Advisor Thorne are there for the inauguration and are having meetings with a range of Egyptian officials as well.
QUESTION: Is there anything encouraging --
QUESTION: What is the readout --
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there anything encouraging you heard from the speech?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to parse it. I think what we’re focused on we’ve made very clear what needs to happen next in Egypt. There needs to be more space for dissent. There needs to be an end to the politicized detentions and politicized sentences that we’ve seen against people in huge numbers, right – over 1,000. We know that Egypt has a great amount of work to do in terms of their democratic transition, and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re also focused on economic issues. There’s a member of the Department of Treasury with them on this delegation to talk to them about economic reform and how they can improve their economy as well.
QUESTION: You mentioned the --
QUESTION: Marie, yesterday President Sisi said that whereas he wants to work towards reconciliation, there’ll be no leniency for those who have blood on their hands and for those who resort to violence. Does that fit in with your general theme of working towards sort of political reconciliation and ending the – and accepting that there might be opposition and dissent to his government?
MS. HARF: I think we will have to see how he governs, quite frankly. I think that words are important, but actions are more important. And we’ve made very clear, particularly leading up to some certifications we’ll have to be making, what Egypt needs to do to move down this democratic path further than they already have. So I think that’s probably all the analysis I’m going to do on it.
QUESTION: What’s your timeline for the certifications?
MS. HARF: We don’t have a timeline.
QUESTION: So yes, please. I mean, you mentioned Counselor Tom Shannon is there and he met officials. Did you have any readout of --
MS. HARF: Not yet. Let me touch base with them and see if we can – I know the meetings have been ongoing. Let me see what I can get for you.
QUESTION: So and then – I can understand your concern, but there is a question. Before you used to express this – that you want to engage.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.
QUESTION: So is this engagement or wait-and-see situation now?
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s certainly engagement. We engage with the Egyptian Government and different parties in Egypt all the time. But we also do want to see how Mr. al-Sisi will govern once in office, and I think we will judge the government by their actions and make our decisions accordingly.
QUESTION: The other question is regarding this – already IMF and World Bank are expressing their readiness to cooperate with the new reality in Egypt. Do you have any concern about that or are you going to object it?
MS. HARF: No. I mean, we’ve said very clearly that Egypt has to make some tough economic reform decisions and that they should do so because that’s best for their economy. And we would certainly welcome other people helping that – with that as well.
QUESTION: Relating to these economic challenges that Egypt face, it is well known that already Gulf countries are participating. Are you in touch with them to channel this funding, or it’s like it’s up to them to do what they want to do?
MS. HARF: Well, each country obviously can make its own decisions about its own money. We are in touch with partners in the region about Egypt’s economic future, among a host of other issues as well, and we’ll continue talking to them. We’ve always said that an influx of cash is not enough, that Egypt must undertake some serious economic reforms with their – in terms of their economic system to really be able to give the Egyptian people the kind of future economically that they need. So cash is good; reforms are much better.
QUESTION: There is another question related to your engagement in Egypt, in particular regarding the funding of NGOs and democratic process or reforms. I mean, you are already holding it, in the same time asking for democratization. How you can explain to me this dilemma?
MS. HARF: Well, I believe – and I would have to go back and check my very large pack of Egypt guidance from when we talked about assistance. I do believe that some of our assistance that goes to NGOs and nongovernmental organizations that promote things like democratization is still moving forward. So I can double-check, but it’s my understanding that the funding that does go to some of those things does continue.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry been in contact with his counterpart over the weekend in Egypt?
MS. HARF: Let me check. He has not.
QUESTION: And President Obama – he hasn’t called General Sisi, has he?
MS. HARF: No. And the call – as we’ve said, the President’s obviously been traveling. White House will have more details on timing, but should be happening soon.
QUESTION: Because President Obama did call President Morsi back when he won the election, correct?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And President – I would assume so. I don’t remember. But the President will call him. Again, we look forward to working with him, and sometimes schedules just make these things tough to get people on the phone.
MS. HARF: Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. Today’s – Anne Patterson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, she is in Doha for the U.S.-Islamic Forum.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. A long-planned conference.
QUESTION: Yeah, long-planned conference. Does she have – I mean, did she have any meetings with officials in Qatar? And did they discuss the issue of Taliban?
MS. HARF: So I actually had just gotten a note from her before I came down here. I believe that she did and that they did on the margins of the conference. But let me double-check on that, and I can actually send a note around to folks. I apologize that I didn’t print that out right before I walked here.
QUESTION: Do you have what are the topics they discussed?
MS. HARF: Let me double-check. Obviously, that was not the purpose in any way of her visit, but I do believe it came up, so let me just double-check on that. I apologize for that; I should’ve had that in front of me.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have any new countries come forward and offered to take Gitmo detainees since the Qatar transfer?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been working with a range of countries, of third countries, to transfer detainees there, many of which we don’t talk about publicly because these are obviously very sensitive diplomatic discussions. I’m happy to see if there are any new that have emerged in the last few days, but suffice to say, we are working with a very large number of countries who could potentially take some of these remaining detainees.
QUESTION: And can you put to rest the allegation that a cash ransom was paid for these Guantanamo Bay detainees?
MS. HARF: Was paid for them?
MS. HARF: To us?
QUESTION: We paid Qatar, Qatar paid us, Qatar paid the Haqqani Network – because Catherine Herridge is reporting that the Haqqani Network never does a deal unless cash is involved.
MS. HARF: I have not heard anything about cash. I am happy to check.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
MS. HARF: I have not, though.
QUESTION: -- finally --
QUESTION: Yes, regarding --
QUESTION: (Off-mike) check?
QUESTION: But this --
MS. HARF: Yeah. I didn’t write a check.
QUESTION: This pushback on Capitol Hill among Democrats, Republicans about the swap of Taliban detainees, has that blown up any remaining goodwill for future detainee transfers in the future?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been very clear about the fact that we don’t want the political controversy that’s come out of this swap to in any way impact our efforts to close Guantanamo Bay, because it’s the right thing to do – including people like former President George W. Bush have said it’s the right thing to do. So we continue working with other countries to find places where we can transfer detainees – the group of them that have been cleared for transfer. We are working on how we can prosecute those that have been identified for prosecution.
And I think an important point to remember on the transfer issue is we put in place in this Administration much more stringent rules than the previous administration for the standards we had to meet for sufficiently mitigating the risk to American national security. And the recidivism rates – there’s been some confusion out there. Under this Administration, under our rules, those confirmed of re-engaging is 6 percent. Under the previous, it was 18.6. So those numbers sometimes get conflated, but it’s important to remember that under the rules we’re operating under – the ones we released those five under to Qatar – we have put in place very stringent rules, and as Secretary Kerry said over the weekend – I’m sure many of you saw – we have ways to find them if they try to re-engage, and we have ways to bring them to justice if they do.
QUESTION: Given the current bipartisan attacks about transferring the detainees, does it make it harder to transfer more in the future?
MS. HARF: Look, we’re focused on closing Guantanamo Bay, doing it in a responsible manner, prosecuting those we can, transferring those we deem that we can as well. That’s what we’re focused on, because this is what we do. This is what we’ve said. We don’t hold people longer than we have to. We have always said that Guantanamo Bay hurts our national security. It is a propaganda tool for terrorists, and the quicker we can get it closed responsibly, we are going to continue working towards that goal. And I think a lot of members of Congress, even if they didn’t like this particular deal, would absolutely agree with that goal.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: How worried is this building about efforts in Congress to try to change the rules again regarding detainee transfers?
MS. HARF: I think that Congress has tried for a long time to change the rules when it comes to Guantanamo Bay, and to put it in place I would call very strict restrictions on this Administration because of our goal of closing it. So we will continue working with Congress; we think it’s important to do so. But I want to be crystal clear that the President and the Secretary and everybody in this Administration is committed to closing it. Again, not just because it’s the right thing to do – although, to be fair, it is – but because it hurts our national security every day that that prison is open.
And we have – that’s why we have said very clearly we will close it, but we’re going to do it responsibly. We’re going to put in place new standards. They’re stricter. They’re tougher. They prevent recidivism more than the previous administration did. We’re going to transfer people when we can and we’re going to prosecute them when we can. And we’re going to get it closed. And we’re going to figure out, as the President said at West Point, what this architecture of our counterterrorism operations looks like going forward. It’s not going to look like Guantanamo Bay, though, and it shouldn’t.
QUESTION: Secretary Hagel is going up to the Hill on Wednesday. Has there been any invitation extended to Secretary Kerry to talk about this building’s efforts to deal with detainee transfers?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check. As you may or may not know, there’s an interagency team briefing all members of – open to all members of the House in a classified session this evening at 5:30, mirroring the one we did with the Senate last week, and a representative from here will be there. I believe it’s Ambassador Dobbins.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: If that’s the case, how can you reconcile that there’s 32,000 combat forces there today, 24 soldiers – American soldiers being killed in 2014, including two this month? Is Secretary Kerry getting ahead of himself?
MS. HARF: Not at all. I think the President was very clear when he came into office that we were going to put – we were going to lay down timetables for how we were going to end the war in Afghanistan. First step, as he did: undertake a review. Send more troops there. Surge troops there to try to do some of the things we should have been doing, quite frankly, when we were bogged down in Iraq. Then, after that, he laid down a plan for how we’re going to bring those troops home. And there are certain milestones on that. When our official combat role ends, when we transferred security to the Afghan – the lead for security to Afghan forces. And now we have in place a plan to bring home troops over a staggered timeframe. And I think what drove the President’s decision to choose this number over this timeframe was so we could keep troops there to train the Afghan security forces, to continue counterterrorism operations, to give them more time to step up and lead, as we saw them do on the election. And we will continue standing by them as we do.
But it’s important to remember that as we draw down our forces, it will increasingly force the Afghan forces to step up. And that’s part of what drives much of our decision making as well.
QUESTION: If we’re still taking casualties in Afghanistan because of direct action, not by accident --
MS. HARF: Doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly dangerous.
QUESTION: But then our combat role in Afghanistan is not over.
MS. HARF: It’s a different role, right? Our role has evolved throughout the decade-plus we’ve been there, and right now we’re very much focused on training and counterterrorism. It doesn’t mean that people won’t – there won’t be casualties, unfortunately. But I think the fact that there are still casualties underscores why it’s imperative to do our job, finish what we need to do there, and then bring our kids home.
QUESTION: A few years ago, when we were engaged in combat in Afghanistan and the Taliban and other insurgent groups were attacking our soldiers, shooting our soldiers, and they were shooting back, and that’s clearly the case today. How has that changed? How is combat over?
MS. HARF: It’s a little different, Lucas. As we’ve always said, our role there is going to evolve. What we call it, what point in the operations we are, doesn’t, quite frankly, matter as much as the fact that we know that our men and women in uniform are still in harm’s way. We know they’re still in incredible danger. But we have set in place a timetable for winding down our role in this war because we believe that’s the best way to get the Afghans to stand up, to take even more control of their security – that’s why we’re training them; that’s what we’re training them to do – and that we will, at some point eventually, end the longest war in American history. This is up to the Afghans to pick their future.
QUESTION: What’s the U.S.’s plans for monitoring the runoff on Saturday?
MS. HARF: In terms of whether we’ll have monitors?
MS. HARF: Let me check. I’m not sure. It’s a good question, though.
MS. HARF: Yes, he did, in France.
QUESTION: Did he take personal time off for that or is that official state business?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: I know the whole team did not go, but I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: How many detainees overall or how many --
QUESTION: No, no, how many Taliban detainees?
MS. HARF: I’m happy – I don’t know what the breakdown is. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: And the other question is regarding when this – you were talking about Pakistan, you mentioned Pakistani Taliban. How you differentiate between them?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously a lot of these groups are different groups, but work together very closely. So we have the Haqqani network. We have the TTP. We have the Afghan Taliban. Obviously, one – the Afghan Taliban --
QUESTION: (Off-mike) geographically, not ideologically?
MS. HARF: Geographically – well, not ideologically necessarily.
QUESTION: Like Hezbollah.
MS. HARF: Sort of like Hezbollah I guess. But geographically in some respects, also in terms of leadership structures; they both have their own leadership structures. Obviously they are very coordinated on many things, but on some things they’re not.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, Secretary Kerry said it was, quote, “a lot of baloney” that Guantanamo detainees could return to the battlefield and kill Americans. Is that official State Department policy?
MS. HARF: I think it’s reflecting what I just said, that when we’re talking about the possibility of re-engagement or recidivism, it really is important that we know the facts here about what has happened and what hasn’t, and what we’ve put in place to prevent it from happening. And in a year these guys will have lived under the obligations of the Government of Qatar has assured us they will live under.
Look, is there a chance they will return to the battlefield? As Secretary Kerry said, of course. But we believe we substantially mitigated the risk enough. And look, these five – let’s say the worse-case scenario, these five guys do return. In no way would that substantially change the Taliban’s order of battle on the ground. That’s just not even logical. And as he said as well, we have many ways to keep tabs on these guys. It’s not like we just release them and close our eyes. We have many, many ways to. Of some of those folks in the previous administration that did re-engage, many of them were captured or killed.
QUESTION: It’s baloney to think that we could not catch or kill them?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. You know the talent the United States military has and how committed they are to protecting us from anyone who wants to do us harm. And I think nobody, including the Taliban, should have any hesitation to know that the United States military finds people who want to hurt the United States and take them off the battlefield.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry was not referring to saying it’s baloney that these guys could go back and add a propaganda value to the Taliban or --
MS. HARF: I think I was very clear about what the Secretary was saying.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does the United States believe that there are members of the Nigerian military who are complicit in the Boko Haram campaign of terror?
MS. HARF: Well, I know there have been some media reports over the weekend about military officials being, I think, found guilty in a court martial. We’re aware of these reports. I’m not in a position to confirm them at this point. We’re still seeking more information, but again cannot confirm them at this point.
And overall, we maintain a level of military cooperation with the Nigerians in keeping with relevant human rights legislation and human rights concerns. So we’ve been very open at times about our concern about Nigeria’s human rights record. Obviously this is a key topic of conversation, especially when we’re talking about counterterrorism. But I don’t have any more details to corroborate any of those reports we’ve seen.
QUESTION: Okay. Regardless of these individual cases then, does the suggestion that there is complicity at different levels of the chain of command within the Nigerian military complicate that campaign against Boko Haram and/or U.S. support for – especially for the hunt for these girls?
MS. HARF: Well, not – I mean, for the hunt for these girls we’ve said we will do whatever it takes to help find them. But obviously, all of our counterterrorism cooperation needs to be put into a larger context. And where we’re concerned about human rights issues in the Nigerian Government or military, we take those very seriously. We’ve talked a lot about some of our congressional responsibilities when it comes to that issue.
So does it complicate it? Sure. When it comes to looking for these girls, we have said we will do whatever it takes.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say, though, that you are following these reports of potential court martial --
MS. HARF: We are, we are.
QUESTION: -- that would factor into your --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. We just have nothing to confirm them yet, and we’re seeking more information.
QUESTION: Has there been any augmentation of the interagency staff that’s in Abuja to assist the Nigerians?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check and see, but not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Marie, any updates on the status of the search for these girls?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: It’s been nearly two months now.
MS. HARF: It has. No updates. As we’ve said in here, there are indications they may have been broken up into small groups, may have been taken to other countries. The search continues. The Nigerians are still in the lead. And tragically, no update yet.
QUESTION: How confident are you that you might be able to track them down?
MS. HARF: We’re certainly hopeful that we will, and we’re committed to putting resources to doing that.
QUESTION: And how long – have you any timeline on how long the U.S. involvement will remain in place?
MS. HARF: I don’t. But I think suffice to say we’re going to be there until we find these girls. I don’t have any more timeline for you.
QUESTION: And the aerial surveillance continues?
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding everything continues as we’ve talked about.
QUESTION: Just going back to Pakistan. Following the Taliban attack over the weekend, how concerned are you about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nukes, and has that come up in discussions with the Pakistani government over the past 24 hours?
MS. HARF: I don’t know if there have been discussions here with the Pakistani Government. I know there have been on the ground. I don’t know if it’s come up. I would guess it hasn’t. As we’ve said, we believe the Pakistani Government understands the importance of protecting all of its arsenal, including things related to its nuclear program. We know that they care about this a great deal and have no reason at this point to think it’s anything but safe.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: So President Poroshenko was sworn in over the weekend and he has laid out various statements about how he sees things going forward. There’s two sets of talks happening with the Russians today, one in Brussels on the gas, and they were trying to have some talks as well about the uprising in the east. And President Poroshenko has said that we must end the fighting by this week. How realistic do you believe that comment is?
MS. HARF: Well, we know the fighting needs to end soon. And we were encouraged that President Putin spoke with President Poroshenko in Normandy on Friday, that Russia returned its ambassador to Ukraine for its inauguration, and we would welcome President Putin’s comments that he will take action to secure the border between Russia and Ukraine more effectively to prevent the flow of armed fighters and weapons. And I think now we’re calling on Russia to follow up its words with actions.
So I think there’s a path forward here, we’ve always said there was, for de-escalation. We have congratulated President Poroshenko on his inauguration and welcome the commitments he’s made to increasingly work to secure his country, which has been under such brutal attack for way too long now.
QUESTION: Is it possible, though, to stop these brutal attacks in the east this week?
MS. HARF: President Putin called on the separatists, many of whom are being supported by the Russians, to do so. I think we could see significant progress.
QUESTION: You do think there – significant progress this week?
MS. HARF: I think we could.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Let’s put our actions where our words are.
QUESTION: If the plan was to isolate President Putin, what was he doing at the G7 conference to begin with?
MS. HARF: Well, he was in Normandy for the 70th anniversary celebration of D-Day. You know the long history, particularly during World War II, we had working with Russia, and we believe this is a historical event that didn’t need to have politics in it. We’ve also been very clear that the G7 is the G7 and not the G8 right now.
QUESTION: And just quick follow-up on the Gitmo five --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- are – when you say there’s ways of tracking them, does that include any kind of embedded chips or tracking devices, GPS, anything like that?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to comment any way we have of keeping tabs on these guys. That would probably defeat the purpose.
QUESTION: Right. But you’re not denying that there are ways to monitor their whereabouts?
MS. HARF: Look, our intelligence community is the best in the world, and if we want to find people who want to do us harm, I guarantee you we’ll do it.
QUESTION: James Bond, James Bond.
QUESTION: Do they all have a drone following them? Everybody gets a drone? (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: What else?
QUESTION: It might be cheaper than detaining them.
MS. HARF: Well, I mean, no – in all seriousness, it costs so much money for these detainees – taxpayer money, all of your money – for these detainees to remain in Gitmo. I think it’s something like over $2 million for these guys compared to in the most super-max prison in the U.S. something in the hundreds of thousands. So I think that in addition to all the other moral reasons and legal reasons and other reasons to close Guantanamo Bay, from a purely practical taxpayer standpoint, absolutely.
QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Assad announced on Monday an amnesty with conditions. What is the U.S. take on it?
MS. HARF: Well, look, the Assad regime has an appalling record of torture, abuse, killings, arbitrary detentions of tens of thousands, including family members of oppositionists, and quite frankly, extrajudicial execution of thousands of prisoners. So I don’t really know what amnesty means. I don’t know what he means by it. I don’t know what pardons that would include. It’s really unclear who would it be granted to, how many people, particularly if that would include after release subject to further persecution. So look, I think that this is a ruthless regime that’s been willing to hold children captive, that’s been willing to use chemical weapons and barrel bombs. I would love to see the details of this proposed amnesty – I really would – because he has shown absolutely no respect for human life in his own country since the start of this. So let’s see the details.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Syria?
QUESTION: Mideast peace?
MS. HARF: Syria --
QUESTION: One more on Syria?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Reuters is reporting that a Syrian rebel commander is saying that the lethal arms from the United States going to the country are going to create a warlord-ism, turning Syria into Somalia. Could you comment on that?
MS. HARF: Look, as we’ve said, we’re not going to outline all the kinds of assistance we’re giving to the moderate opposition. Our goal here though with everything we give is to change the balance of power on the ground, to increasingly push the regime to come back to the negotiating table and get to a diplomatic solution. So I know there are a variety and a range of views about what we should or should not be doing in Syria, but that’s our overall goal. And one of the reasons that we vet everyone we give assistance to and that we are very careful when we do it is so we don’t either have assistance fall into the hands of terrorist organizations or create even more bloodshed than we’ve already seen.
QUESTION: Does that include lethal assistance?
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to go into all of the kinds of assistance we give.
QUESTION: Susan Rice and now this rebel commander are confirming that lethal assistance is going to the --
MS. HARF: I am happy to let the national security advisor’s words stand for themselves. As I said, we don’t detail all the kinds of assistance we give.
QUESTION: But how can you change the situation on the ground if you don’t provide lethal --
MS. HARF: We are providing a range of assistance, a range of assistance. We will continue doing that, and we will increase it.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Once upon a time, there was something called diplomatic effort regarding --
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) We’re jokesters today.
QUESTION: No, it’s not jokes. It’s reality.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: It’s – there was an effort to make a diplomatic effort or political solution, whether it was right or wrong. I mean, the last two months we haven’t heard anything about it. Is it off the table --
MS. HARF: No. It’s on hold.
QUESTION: -- or there is an effort going on and we don’t know?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s on hold. And we have worked very hard with the UN and the Russians to see if we can get it back on track, but the reality remains: Until the Assad regime is willing to come to the table and talk actually realistically about a diplomatic solution and a transitional governing body, we can’t move forward with diplomacy. So we are not going to further legitimize them in any way by doing this, and I think one of the things that this – the pardon or the amnesty that Roz asked about – I think this in part is the regime trying to dangle some very small effort here to try to get legitimacy in the wake of these elections that we know are a sham. So we don’t want to let them get away with it, and we don’t want to move forward with diplomacy if it’s not going to get us to the place we need to be.
QUESTION: Let’s forget the amnesty, but whether it’s EU or Arab League or any other – UN in particular --
MS. HARF: And we’ve been talking to the UN. We have been.
QUESTION: So there is any --
MS. HARF: We’ve been in discussions with the UN and the Russians. Again, as I said, we’ve had those discussions. But the reality remains that the Assad regime isn’t willing to come back to the table under the circumstances we have made very clear need to happen.
QUESTION: So there is another question related to this – I mean, holding the diplomatic or the political effort or means, which is like the impact that it has on the humanitarian aid. Because usually we are discussing here either supplying arms, supplying – I mean, any place where is more arms are coming, it’s more fight is going on. It’s not a matter of whether we like it or not.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Humanitarian aid – is it on hold too, or it’s going on?
MS. HARF: No. Humanitarian aid continues. We – the Secretary when he was in Lebanon announced another package of humanitarian aid, which puts the United States over $2 billion for aid for Syria and Syrian refugees around the region. So that absolutely continues, and that – the Syrian regime should give access like they have in (inaudible), should allow access in for humanitarian aid, even absent a diplomatic solution to the overall crisis.
QUESTION: But humanitarian aid – usually when we discuss humanitarian aid, we discuss the source and then the receiving of that.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Is it going there or not?
MS. HARF: We have humanitarian aid going into Syria today. We do.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sounds like the Pope had a very nice visit with Presidents Abbas and Peres. Just wondering if there has been any discussion about restarting the peace talks from this building, or getting more U.S. involvement as a result.
MS. HARF: Well, as I think you know, we did not participate in the meeting. We welcomed the summit. We commend Pope Francis, President Abbas, and President Peres for their participation, and deeply appreciate Pope Francis’s critical spiritual role in peacemaking on exactly these kind of issues.
We are where we are when it comes to where the Middle East peace process is today. We have called on both sides not to take steps during this time period that could hurt our chances of getting back to the table. I don’t have any prediction for you about whether or not that’s likely, but we are – we remain in a pause, and I don’t have any indications that things will get restarted soon.
QUESTION: Is it – is my recollection correct that it’s – the ball is kind of in their court at this point?
MS. HARF: In their court, absolutely.
QUESTION: They need to ask the United States to reengage?
MS. HARF: Well, the ball is in both – the court – both sides of the court.
QUESTION: Right, right, right.
MS. HARF: On their court, not us.
MS. HARF: Because – right. What we’ve said is they need to make the tough decisions. They need to decide they want to come back to the table. They need to decide they want to stop taking escalatory steps. Until we see that, there’s not much we can do besides continue talking to them, continue talking about the importance of this process and why they should come back to the table.
QUESTION: What if the Vatican asked the U.S. to re-engage? And is that something --
MS. HARF: We’re still engaged, to be fair. But we can’t get – we can’t make decisions for them and can’t get them back to the table before they’re both willing to do so.
QUESTION: Okay. Is that something that you think is in the realm of possibility, that the Vatican would ask the U.S. to bring everybody, or, I guess, restart the process – unfreeze the process?
MS. HARF: Well, the Vatican has played a key role. Pope Francis has played a key role in promoting peacemaking and bringing the parties together. We’ve talked to the Vatican about this when the Secretary was there and since, so I know it’s something we talk to them about all the time. I don’t want to guess what we would say if they asked something like that.
QUESTION: But do you see any role for the Vatican, or just like encouraging both sides to come together?
MS. HARF: Certainly encouraging both sides to come together and talking about the importance of peace.
QUESTION: Nothing more than that?
MS. HARF: Look, I don’t – I can’t look into a crystal ball, but at this point that’s the role they’re playing.
QUESTION: In principle, do you accept that or not?
MS. HARF: I accept the fact that they play an incredibly important role in terms of promoting peace around the world, particularly here. This was a good summit. We welcomed it. And I don’t have any more predictions to make.
QUESTION: On your list of priorities, where the peace process stands now?
MS. HARF: We don’t prioritize all of those things. We have a number of key foreign policy priorities in this Administration. Middle East peace is certainly one of them.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Uh-oh.
QUESTION: I think you --
MS. HARF: Putting on my former hat.
QUESTION: Your former hat, yes.
MS. HARF: I’m going to just refer you to my – no, I’m just kidding. Is it about their Twitter account?
QUESTION: Yes, it’s about the Twitter account.
MS. HARF: Oh, really. Oh, good. Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. So you saw it.
MS. HARF: I did. I retweeted them.
QUESTION: Yeah. And it was very – I understand that it was meant as a joke, but there were a lot of people who were criticizing the CIA for having – admittedly having a very – coming under a lot of criticism for past practices, including torture and enhanced interrogation, that kind of thing. And yet, sort of starting their social media presence on such a frivolous note, I was just wondering if you had – if you think that’s a good idea.
MS. HARF: Because social media is normally so serious and focused on all serious things.
QUESTION: Well, I mean when such an important organ of the U.S. intelligence community does something like that, it might create an image that they’re not very aware of their checkered past.
MS. HARF: I think the image, quite frankly, it should tell people around the world is that we are increasingly engaging. When I worked at the CIA, one thing we tried to do from a press perspective was to engage more with the outside world. As we ended some of those controversial practices you talked about, we thought it was important to tell people what we were about and what we did. And we tried to do that in a variety of ways when I was there, and I think anyone would agree that more openness and more transparency, even if at times on social media it has a little bit of a frivolous tone, I think most people would argue is a pretty good thing. Look, it’s another way for the CIA to engage with the public – an organization that often hasn’t. So for my former colleagues who worked very hard to get this up and running, I think it is a positive thing.
QUESTION: So you don’t think the tone was problematic at all.
MS. HARF: I don’t. I think that social media is one venue for expressing – we have -- sometimes have light-hearted tweets from this Department and other places as well. I don’t think anyone who knows the leadership of the Central Intelligence Agency today could say that they are anything but very serious.
MS. HARF: I think that there’s a variety of – look, throughout the many years Guantanamo Bay has been open – first of all, it’s not a CIA facility, it’s a DOD facility, so they can tell you most about what they do there. But I think what we’ve been focused on – look, obviously these guys are debriefed when they come into Guantanamo Bay – none of which has happened under our Administration – but we have gotten information from them, but the point now is what you do with them going forward, right? You try the ones you can, you release and transfer the ones you can, and that’s how you get the prison closed.
QUESTION: It isn’t – isn’t it like having a card catalog? If you ever need to go back and look something up, you can go back and talk to them?
MS. HARF: We don’t keep, Lucas, people detained in this country for years on end without trial or release. That’s just not how we do things. We’ve attempted to fix that in this Administration, and we are going to do that.
QUESTION: In your present or former position, did you ever go to Guantanamo Bay?
MS. HARF: I have not, no.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah. No more questions about my travel to Guantanamo Bay? Yes.
QUESTION: Are you going?
QUESTION: They have a good radio station there. As I understand it, the Administration today and this week is talking about concerns about an increase of children who are showing up at U.S. borders.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: It is. Let me see if I can get you some numbers. And many of these children are not Mexicans. They come from third countries in transit through Mexico. This is something we talked about when the Secretary was in Mexico --
MS. HARF: -- as you remember.
QUESTION: In fact, I was looking at some of the stuff, and I couldn’t find any details about numbers --
MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me see if I can get you numbers. I know other agencies, including DHS, have been very involved in this issue. It is mostly on the southern border. The Mexicans, quite frankly, are increasingly concerned about it as well, because if you think about all the children from other countries that try to transit Mexico to the United States, many of them stay in Mexico. And we, of course, have certain legal obligations here for minors who end up in the United States, but I am happy to see if I can get you some numbers.
QUESTION: Yeah, numbers and how long this has been going on --
MS. HARF: Yeah, it’s a fairly --
QUESTION: -- and which countries mostly they’re from.
MS. HARF: It’s up-ticked recently. Yeah, I can probably get you some more background on that.
QUESTION: And would you be able to get any detail about some of the child migrants’ concerns about political persecution, sexual abuse, economic depravation?
MS. HARF: In the United States?
QUESTION: No, from in their home countries.
MS. HARF: Where they’re coming from.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And how that affects what the U.S. Government can do in terms of repatriating them, if indeed that is still a possibility for these people.
MS. HARF: For minors – and let me double-check on this legally – it’s my understanding that you – we don’t repatriate minors, but let me double-check. My colleagues at DHS and other places will know much more than I do. But let me see what I can do on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) questions, I mean, if there are any papers with them or not, this documentation process?
MS. HARF: Yeah. No, I mean, I think what Lara is referring to is minors crossing illegally, I think without documentation.
QUESTION: But sometimes they have some papers to have just what their identity is.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me see if – I know there’s been a lot of work inside the interagency on this topic, and I’m happy to get some more for you as well.
Yes, one more in the back.
MS. HARF: It’s okay. It’s just another day in the briefing room. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Over the past week, and especially this weekend, both Senators Saxby Chambliss and Diane Feinstein have quoted a letter from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012, in which she promised – and I’ll quote it. She said, “I want to make it clear that any transfer from Guantanamo Bay will be undertaken after consultation with Congress and pursuant to all legal requirements for transfers, including those spelled out in Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Authorization Act,” which, of course, states that Congress must be given 30 days’ notice.
Did the Obama Administration renege on this promise?
MS. HARF: Well, first of all, I’d make a few points. We’ve been very clear about why we did not believe, for operational security reasons and the life and safety of Sergeant Bergdahl, we could give advance notice that could risk getting into the public domain. I have been very clear about that, that we were concerned about possibly someone holding Sergeant Bergdahl if they found out about this, could take action against him. As we’ve seen now over the past few days, he was held by ruthless people in very difficult conditions. So I think there was a very clear reason why we did not give notification.
I would also point out that the architecture of this deal – who the five were, where they would go, and what we would get in return – was fully briefed to Congress, and quite frankly, made very public in a number of news outlets. So the details of this was not a secret or a surprise to anyone on the Hill, to many people in the public. They knew what the architecture was, and that’s what we ended up going with.
And my final point would be that, look, we – this decision to release these five – to transfer these five to Qatar had to be signed off on by the entire national security team – the current Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the head of the Office of Director of National Intelligence, people that will not do anything that would adversely affect our national security in any way.
QUESTION: That’s it.
MS. HARF: Great. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)
DPB # 101