1:16 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Where are your colleagues?
QUESTION: I don’t know.
MS. HARF: Hi everyone. Apologies for the delay. As you know, it’s a very busy day. We’re just starting, don’t worry. I asked Matt where his colleagues were.
I have a couple quick items at the top and then eager to get to your questions as always. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Marie, you shouldn’t start the briefing by telling something that’s not true.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) During the Normandy commemoration and the Vice President’s visit to Kyiv, we made clear that we support President Poroshenko’s peace plan. This includes a ceasefire, amnesty for separatists to lay down their arms, safe conduct for Russian fighters back to Russia, and broad decentralization of authority to Ukraine’s region.
We and our European allies have encouraged Russia to support the peace plan and to cooperate with President Poroshenko in its implementation, and we were gratified that Presidents Poroshenko and Putin have spoken. At the same time, however, we are highly concerned by new Russian efforts to support the separatists.
In the last three days, a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 or Grad multiple rocket launchers, and other military vehicles crossed from Russia into Ukraine near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne. This is unacceptable. Poroshenko protested this action yesterday with President Putin, and Secretary Kerry raised our concerns with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Wednesday as well.
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators will be meeting again this weekend in Kyiv to discuss the peace plan’s implementation. We call on Russia to use this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to peace, to stop weapons and fighters from crossing into Ukraine, and to cooperate with Ukraine in the peace plan’s implementation. A failure by Russia to de-escalate the situation will lead to additional costs.
Quick trip update: The Secretary is in London today where he gave the keynote address at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. He also has had some side meetings, including an informal meeting with Israeli Justice Minister Livni on the sidelines of the conference. He met with Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Aziz, also will be meeting with Cathy Ashton as well.
And finally, the last announcement is we have a guest today – my mom. Jane Harf, wave hi. She usually watches on her computer from Ohio, but she’s in person today, so just keep that in mind when you’re asking questions.
QUESTION: We’ll be extra polite, Marie. And also wish you a happy birthday in advance.
MS. HARF: Thank you.
QUESTION: And as a potential birthday present – I want to go back to Ukraine –
MS. HARF: Okay.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Let’s start with Iraq.
QUESTION: Your birthday present will be to not only all of us here but also to the transcribers potentially – because anytime you want to say “I’m not going to parse the President’s words,” you can just say “X” and that will stand for – (laughter) – okay? Deal? So that will save us all some time on a Friday afternoon with a lot of traffic?
MS. HARF: Let’s see what you’ve got. Maybe I will parse the President’s words.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well, if you will, then that’s good because I’m a little unclear. After listening to what the President said and listening to what Secretary Kerry said in London, and Senator McCain in numerous interviews this morning – McCain doesn’t speak for the Administration --
MS. HARF: Certainly not.
QUESTION: -- but Secretary Kerry does. And he said that what – the situation in Iraq is a threat to U.S. interests.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The President in his speech, in his comments, spoke of enormous U.S. interests in Iraq, that there was huge investments and sacrifice made establishing the – but then he said that it – he didn’t say that it was as is a threat – could pose a threat.
MS. HARF: Could pose a threat eventually to American interests.
QUESTION: So does the Administration – is that the – I’m presuming it is – that is the Administration’s position right now that this is not, right now, a threat to American interests, but it could become one?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s certainly – there’s no difference in between what the Secretary and the President were saying. Clearly, we have an interest in a secure and stable Iraq. And it is posing a threat to that today, so clearly it’s posing a threat to America’s interests. I don’t – I think you’re parsing words here and getting different meanings where I don’t think there are different meanings.
QUESTION: Okay. So it is a threat to – the situation as it is --
MS. HARF: To America’s interests, but certainly not --
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS. HARF: -- using some of the language that the other person you mentioned there said.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, he said call it an existential threat and all that kind of thing.
MS. HARF: Which we certainly don’t agree with.
QUESTION: Okay, but you do agree --
MS. HARF: I don’t think the United States military would agree with that either.
QUESTION: Okay, but you do agree that it is a threat to U.S. interests.
MS. HARF: American interests. Certainly.
QUESTION: Does that --
MS. HARF: And the President does as well.
QUESTION: Okay. Does that mean that it meets the President’s criteria for military intervention, or is that something that is still being decided?
MS. HARF: Well, are you talking about that he laid out at West Point, his criteria?
QUESTION: I’m talking about the – well, yes.
MS. HARF: Because most recently he laid out the criteria about when we directly contribute American military resources --
MS. HARF: -- and when we look at other options.
MS. HARF: But let’s just back up a second. As you heard the President say, he hasn’t made a decision yet. The point of the NSC meeting he chaired yesterday was to develop and discuss a range of options, including military ones, that if the President chooses to take he could in fact take. Again, he hasn’t made a decision yet. Given the gravity of the situation we’ll be making one in the comings days, again, as you heard him say.
QUESTION: Okay. But what I’m curious to know is that – does it – if you believe that it is a threat to American interests, does that then meet the criteria, his criteria that he laid out?
MS. HARF: Well, I think the word – you’re using “criteria” very narrowly, and what he said broadly is that when Americans interests are threatened, we have a wide range of tools at our disposal to counter that threat. And I think what you see him doing now is looking at a wide range of options that – look at a number of those tools we have in our toolbox, one of which is, of course, some sort of military action. But more broadly speaking, I think what you heard him really reference is the fact that that might be a short-term help to the Iraqis, which we may be prepared to do, but more importantly what we can help them do is build their capacity, help them be able to go after this threat more on their own, which is a more – we’ve been doing it, we know the threat is real, but we’re going to do more of it.
QUESTION: Okay, well, less broadly, just on the military side, does the situation there pose a threat enough to meet his criteria for a military intervention even if it’s just a short-term --
MS. HARF: Well, he hasn’t made a decision yet, so that’s obviously something he himself is going through. And when he laid out what criteria would be used in terms of – and when America’s interests are threatened vice when the American homeland is directly threatened, he talked very differently about those two things and did not say specifically when – what the outcome of any policy decision would necessarily be when our interests are threatened. What he said at West Point was we have a variety of tools here to go after that threat. He’s making these decisions right now, taking all of this into account, and I’m sure when he makes one we will hear more from him.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Well, can – if he does make a decision --
MS. HARF: He will make some decision.
MS. HARF: We just don’t know what it will be yet.
QUESTION: Right. But on – let’s just talk about the military aspect at the moment. When he – is – will he – if he does make a decision that is a threat and it’s threat enough to meet his criteria for military intervention – specifically that, not the broader issue – if he does make that decision, will the Administration actually act on it? And the reason I ask this is because he made that decision in Syria with chemical weapons. And then --
MS. HARF: And he was prepared to act then.
QUESTION: He made the decision to act --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- and then he made the decision not to act.
MS. HARF: When we had a better chance of actually removing the chemical weapons, which --
QUESTION: I --
MS. HARF: -- at the time was, of course, our goal.
QUESTION: I understand, but as you recall, he came under a lot of criticism – the whole Administration did – for saying he was going to do one thing --
MS. HARF: I don’t remember that. When was --
QUESTION: You don’t? We don’t need to go back and to rehash all that.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: But he made a decision to do something --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and then he decided not to do it. So --
MS. HARF: Because an option to better achieve our goals presented itself after conversations, as we know, that Secretary Kerry had with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: Okay. So that could happen here?
MS. HARF: He hasn’t made a decision yet, Matt. So of course there’s a number of different ways this could look like going forward. He has not made a decision yet in terms of how to take short-term steps to help the Iraqis and assist in this fight. What we’ve said is that anything we do needs to absolutely be coupled with a commitment from the Iraqi Government and Iraq’s leaders to pull their country together, to step up to the plate and to stop doing some of the things that have led in part, as he said today, to vulnerabilities within the Iraqi Government and the security forces. Because they haven’t been able to overcome the mistrust on some of the sectarian divides that we have seen in Iraq.
QUESTION: I --
MS. HARF: So those all have to go together regardless of the decision he makes.
QUESTION: Right. But you’re saying that he could decide to intervene militarily with airstrikes or something else, and then not do it if --
MS. HARF: I’m not saying that. I’m saying he hasn’t made a decision yet. There’s a lot of different decisions he could make. You’re getting way ahead of the ballgame here.
QUESTION: Well, okay.
MS. HARF: I mean --
QUESTION: All right. So --
MS. HARF: I have – there’s a range of hypotheticals here. The bottom line --
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: -- is he hasn’t made a decision yet.
QUESTION: Do you think – and understanding that the willingness of the Maliki government to take steps to improve its inclusivity, whatever, is key and that is a main – appear to be, at least, a main element of his saying this isn’t going to happen overnight, we need a couple – at least a couple days --
MS. HARF: In part. Not entirely.
QUESTION: Well, that’s – it just seems to me – well, it raises the question: Is it wise to tell ISIL, ISIS, whatever you want to call them – is it wise to say to them, you’ve got a couple days free reign before – or without us doing anything? Is it worth it – is it worth that tradeoff to make it clear to Maliki that he’s not going to get anything unless he promises to do better?
MS. HARF: Well, a few points. I think you’re assuming that that’s why the President said we needed to take a few days to make this decision. The President mentioned getting more intelligence about the situation on the ground, and I think what we would say and what the military would say is it’s the smart thing to do, not to rush into military action if that’s eventually what he decides, that you need to develop options and get more information so if you decide to take a military option, you have as much information as possible.
Today we can say that we’ve increased our surveillance capabilities and sharing of intelligence with the Iraqis. All of this builds into this picture that the President mentioned, that you – we need to take a little time to make the decision, to develop options, and to get as much intelligence and information as possible if we decide to take action. So I think that’s really what’s driving the timing here. Part of it is the ongoing discussion with the Iraqi Government. I would say that’s a smaller part of it, to make clear to Prime Minister Maliki and all of Iraq’s leaders – not just Maliki, but all of them – that they need to commit to doing things to improve the climate in their country.
As he said, this needs to be a wake-up call. And I think you’ve seen some indications that it may have been, that they are not welcoming American assistance in a way they had not if we look back at 2011 and those decisions we made then. So I think those discussions are ongoing. But really, obviously if the President decides to take some sort of military action, we’ll take it at the time of our choosing and the way we think we can be most successful.
QUESTION: And in the absence of any commitment from Iraq’s leaders to get along, the United States will do nothing?
MS. HARF: Well first of all, we’re not doing nothing. We’ve steadily increased our military assistance support to the Iraqi Government to fight this threat. As I just said, we’ve already increased our surveillance ISR capabilities – these are unmanned, unarmed surveillance capabilities – and sharing of that intelligence with the Iraqis. So we’re already doing more things; it’s not that we’re doing nothing.
But for some further steps to be taken – without outlining anything specifically – the President was crystal clear: Iraqi leaders need to step up to the plate. This is their country. We gave them an opportunity through the sacrifice of our troops to build a better future, and now they have to prove that they want to.
QUESTION: Right. I guess my question is that – not that you will – you will not --
MS. HARF: You said “do nothing.”
QUESTION: Well, I meant do nothing beyond what you’re already doing. And is what you’re already doing also at risk if -- in the absence of any commitment to – from the Iraqi leaders that you’re seeking?
MS. HARF: Look, the President has on his desk a number of decisions he can make in the coming days.
MS. HARF: I don’t want to get ahead of that. I think broadly speaking what we’ve said is as he makes decisions about what will come next, any decision has to be coupled by that commitment from the Iraqi Government. And we’re going to keep working with the Iraqi Government; Brett McGurk is still there on the ground having conversations. But we are committed to helping them build their capacity, absolutely. We’ve done so and we will continue to do so.
QUESTION: All right, my last one: The options that you talked about, they’re already on the table?
MS. HARF: As the President said, he had an NSC meeting yesterday where they developed and discussed a range of options. He said everything is still on the table. As he also said, “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I’ve asked my security team to prepare a range of other options.” They discussed them yesterday.
QUESTION: But have the --
MS. HARF: Of course there are some on the table. They continue those discussions; as he said, he got an update this morning, and he’ll be making decisions in the coming days.
QUESTION: So there are other – so he has some options, but there are still others that are in progress? Is that correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re – I think you’re going down to too fine a point here. A number of options were discussed and developed in the NSC meeting that he chaired last night. There are ongoing meetings today; he was in touch with his team this morning. They’re refining options, looking at them if he wants more information on some, teasing them out a little more – it’s all part of a larger process here.
QUESTION: And can I ask, Marie, on the air surveillance that you mentioned, which Secretary Kerry also referred to in his speech in London.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: This is enhanced air surveillance – enhanced aerial surveillance is what the Secretary talked about.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are these – are you talking about drones? You just said they were unmanned, unarmed.
MS. HARF: Yeah. So at the request of the Iraqi Government, the Defense Department has been conducting unmanned, unarmed ISR flights over Iraq to support their counterterrorism efforts. Not going to get into specifics about where or more specifically what those look like, but --
QUESTION: Where? Presumably over Iraq.
MS. HARF: Well right, and more specifically – some people have asked specifically where they’re flying, which --
QUESTION: They lost (inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Yes, they are over Iraq. I’m not going to confirm from here what those specifically are. My Defense colleagues may have more information.
QUESTION: Can you tell us – can you confirm when they started?
MS. HARF: Well obviously, this has been an ongoing effort that we’ve had. I’m not going to get into specifics on that, but as we said, we’ve certainly ramped up our efforts.
QUESTION: Has it been particularly in response to the events since Monday, since the capture of Mosul?
MS. HARF: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: So I – we can assume this week?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly ramped up our efforts.
QUESTION: Okay. And can I ask also --
MS. HARF: And increased our intelligence sharing with the Iraqis.
QUESTION: Okay. And this is also from the drones?
MS. HARF: In part.
QUESTION: Or in part, okay. I wanted to ask also as well: Prime Minister Maliki has said that the Iraqi security forces have begun clearing cities of what he called terrorists today. He was speaking today. And he’s gone to Samara to, I suppose, try and rally support. Is that the – his statement that they’re clearing the cities, is that something that your intelligence is telling you is correct? Are they beginning to – is the battle actually being – are they managing to fight back?
MS. HARF: Well, look, I’m not going to provide specific battleground updates from here. What the President said is true that in the face of a terrorist offensive, a very serious one, in many cities Iraqi security forces proved unable to defend these cities where terrorists were attacking, and that allowed terrorists to overrun them. So obviously what we want is for the Iraqi forces to be able to retake this territory. And I think when we’re talking about possible actions, as you heard the President said, one of the things any potential action should do is to bolster the capabilities of the Iraqis, provide some space for them to in some ways bring their army back together, but also taking the political steps necessary to build the climate to do so I think is very important as well.
So we’ll keep watching the situation on the ground. It has been a very grave one. We’ll see if there’s any updates from the field on whether they’re retaking territory. I’m just not aware of the specifics.
QUESTION: You can’t confirm that right now?
MS. HARF: I can’t, no. We’ll check in with the folks on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. And could you just – are you in a position to be able to give us some more details about the evacuation of the airbase yesterday?
MS. HARF: A little bit.
QUESTION: Several hundred contractors, American citizens working with American companies who are contracted to the American Government.
MS. HARF: Yes. So we confirmed yesterday that U.S. citizens under contract to the Iraqi Government in support of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program in Iraq are being temporarily relocated by their companies due to security concerns in the area. This is the folks that are at Balad. The status of the staffing at the Embassy and consulates has not changed. Of course, we continue to evaluate our security posture. I’m not going to get into details about where they were evacuated or anything of that sort. And obviously they’re private companies, can also – if they want to provide details, can.
QUESTION: And how many were there? Jo mentioned several hundred.
MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics for you than that.
QUESTION: I know you just said that --
QUESTION: Is there any update on the Embassy, whether that remains open?
MS. HARF: As – it does. As I just said, nothing to report in terms of a change. As would be prudent, we constantly re-evaluate the security situation, and if we need to take steps at some point, we will. But no change as of right now.
QUESTION: Have there been force protection issues, like increasing force protection at the Embassy?
MS. HARF: As I think Jen said yesterday, we don’t go into specifics about our security at our facilities. But needless to say, we constantly re-evaluate, and if we need to take steps, we will.
QUESTION: And are --
QUESTION: Is there a number on how many Americans are actually in --
MS. HARF: I think, again, as Jen said yesterday, we don’t give out those numbers. In terms of – for security reasons, U.S. employees, and in terms of private U.S. citizens, we, of course, don’t track those.
QUESTION: Are additional diplomats and contractors – are there plans for them to leave the country?
MS. HARF: I’m not aware of any right now. But obviously, given the security situation, everybody, I’m sure, including companies, although I can’t speak for them, are looking at the security situation. And if we need to take further steps, we will. As I said, Embassy hasn’t changed as of right now.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: No, no, no. Is there – can you – do you know of any discussions between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq on the situation?
MS. HARF: Let me see. I have a little bit on that. And the bottom line is, no, we are not talking to the Iranians about Iraq.
QUESTION: Is that directly or indirectly? I mean, they could be having some – have there been some kind of indirect discussion or attempt to talk?
MS. HARF: As I said, the situation, as I know it right now, is we’re not talking to the Iranians about Iraq. What we’ve said is that all of Iraq’s neighbors, including the Iranians, need to not do things to destabilize the situation even further, to not try to promote any sectarian tensions. We’ve been very clear about that publicly.
QUESTION: But would the U.S. be open to that discussion if the Iranians or – would the U.S. be open to that kind of discussion?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to get into a hypothetical about that. We – as you know, we’re going back to Vienna next week for the nuclear negotiations, which are focused on the nuclear issue. And I’m just not going to speculate about what this might look like going forward. What we’re focused on is the fact that Iraq is a sovereign country, a sovereign nation. They make prudent decisions on how they will address the crisis that they’re going through right now. And again, would urge all of Iraq’s neighbors to not undertake efforts to promote sectarian tensions in any way.
QUESTION: Why aren’t you talking to the Iranians about this? And you just said the Iraqis will make prudent decisions?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you --
MS. HARF: We’ve called on them to, yes.
QUESTION: I know, but do you think they --
MS. HARF: We would urge them to.
QUESTION: Have they made prudent decisions up to now?
MS. HARF: I think they understand the severity of the situation, Matt, and those are the conversations we’re having right now.
QUESTION: Okay. So why not talk to the Iranians? I mean, regardless of your overall bad history with the exception of the nuclear negotiations --
MS. HARF: Particularly in Iraq.
QUESTION: What – yeah. Particularly in Iraq.
MS. HARF: Particularly in Iraq.
QUESTION: But you have – you would seem at least to have a shared interest in preventing ISIL from expanding its territory. Why not talk to them?
MS. HARF: Well, as you heard the Secretary say in his press avail today, that ISIL does threaten everyone, including Iran, so he did mention and acknowledge that fact as well. I don’t have any more analysis for you on the fact that we’re not – why we’re not talking to Iran about Iraq right now. I’m happy to take your suggestion back to our team, but again, don’t have much more to say on it than that.
QUESTION: Well, I didn’t really have a suggestion. I just am curious as to what the calculation is not to talk to a country that has at least, in one respect, a shared similar interest. I mean, when the war in Afghanistan --
MS. HARF: We certainly have a shared interest.
QUESTION: -- was launched, you guys made no secret about --
MS. HARF: You are right.
QUESTION: -- the fact that you talked to the Russians --
MS. HARF: That is true.
QUESTION: -- about experience there. So why not talk to --
MS. HARF: I guess I don’t have much more in terms of our internal calculations about who we’re talking to right now about Iraq. If there’s any updates to provide, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: All right. Can you say who are you talking to about Iraq, and has there been any recent – other than what Secretary Kerry has mentioned and what you mentioned earlier, has there been any recent – like in the last 12 or 24 hours?
MS. HARF: So we’re talking to a wide range of folks inside Iraq and also throughout the region. Secretary Kerry did mention some as well in his press avail today. Folks, for example, that work on the GCC countries are reaching out to the other countries in the region to talk to them, people on the desk, people back here in Washington, people in the embassies. I don’t have a full list for you, but suffice to say, we are talking to all the partners in the region. You will see an intensification of diplomatic outreach throughout this process.
QUESTION: Can you – what does that mean?
MS. HARF: That means we’ll have more conversations with people more frequently, intensification by definition.
QUESTION: But – yeah, I understand, but with – but if you can’t say with whom --
MS. HARF: With the countries that border Iraq, with Turkey, with other countries as well, with the Gulf countries, with Saudi Arabia --
MS. HARF: -- with, again, partners that have a stake there, certainly.
QUESTION: With the – well, that – Iran is in every single one of those categories. Have you --
MS. HARF: I don’t have more analysis for you to do on Iran, Matt.
QUESTION: But can I just – but picking up on that theme, it was a question that was asked yesterday: You’re asking for the countries and neighbors to have a constructive role --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- right? But does the United States actively oppose the idea of Iranian military forces on the ground in Iraq?
MS. HARF: Well, I’ve seen these reports and we can’t confirm that these are accurate. And again, as I said to the previous question, that Iraq is a sovereign nation and know there’s a serious security situation there, but what we’re focused on is building the capacity of the Iraqis to do this themselves.
QUESTION: Yes, sure, but I mean the Iraqis have asked for your help with the air surveillance. If they then similarly ask the Iranians for help with another facet of military operations, would the United States be opposed to that?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to address a hypothetical that hasn’t happened to my knowledge.
QUESTION: So do you know if Maliki have a security agreement with Iran?
MS. HARF: I think – I don’t, and think the Iraqis or the Iranians can probably speak to that better than I can.
QUESTION: Marie, what steps do you expect the Iraqi Government to take from now on?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve – as I said at the top, look, we are talking about short-term options here to help support the Iraqis in what is a very serious fight at the moment, and again, we’ve already taken some immediate steps. But broadly speaking, what we need to see is Iraq’s leaders, all of them – and the President said this yesterday – that we have not seen the kind of trust and cooperation develop between moderate Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish leaders inside Iraq. They have to work together now to confront the extremist threat. They have to bring long-term security and prosperity to their people not through the kind of infighting we’ve seen, not through creating the kind of vulnerabilities we’ve seen in terms of army cohesion, for example. And there need to be tangible steps towards that. Those are conversations we’re having right now.
QUESTION: And the Prime Minister Maliki and the Shia spiritual leader Sistani have called the Iraqis to bear arms to defend their countries. How do you view the creation of a new militia in Iraq similar to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard?
MS. HARF: Well, in terms of Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s comments, I think I’d put them in a little bit of a wider context. If you review his previous messages delivered at Friday prayer services, he speaks to all Iraqis regardless of sect, and we believe he is doing the same here in these latest comments in an attempt to call Iraqis to service and to unify the country against this threat.
So look, we’ve said Iraqis need to come together to fight this threat, build their capability to do so, and we’ll stand with them if they do.
QUESTION: Do you support the creation of new militia after the collapse of the Iraqi army?
MS. HARF: Well, what we support is the Iraqi army getting back on its feet. That’s why we’ve been increasing our military assistance to the Iraqi army, that’s why we’ve said that we need to bolster their capabilities, because we do believe that we can get to a better place here. But the political leadership needs to have the will to do so and they need to take steps to do so.
QUESTION: But you believe that Sistani, who is a Shiite and speaks for the Shia and doesn’t really speak to Sunnis unless they happen to overhear him somehow, is really talking to all Iraqis to protect Shia sites --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and to protect Shia --
MS. HARF: And the folks who are experts on the things he says at Friday prayers absolutely believe that. I spoke to them before I came out here, and yes, they do.
QUESTION: So there is not concern that this could – this situation right now could erupt into a major sectarian war?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s a separate issue, not – I think putting Sistani’s comments aside, certainly what you heard the President say is that this has the potential to continue down a very sectarian and a very dangerous path, and that’s why we are focusing very much on the leadership part of this, on all of Iraq’s leaders to bring people back together and not to do things to encourage these sectarian tensions.
QUESTION: Okay. And the experts in this building and elsewhere --
MS. HARF: And elsewhere.
QUESTION: -- presumably believe that a call from the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, head of the Shia sect there --
MS. HARF: I would take a look at his full Friday prayer, not just pick up on snippets.
QUESTION: Okay. I just want to make sure that --
MS. HARF: Yes, they do. They’ve looked at it in context, yes.
QUESTION: And they believe that is not a call to arms to the Shia community to fight --
MS. HARF: They believe --
QUESTION: -- the Sunnis who are bearing down on them?
MS. HARF: They believe, as I just said, that he is speaking to all Iraqis to come together and defend their country.
QUESTION: I just wanted --
QUESTION: You just said --
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a logistics question: You read out some of the meetings that the Secretary’s going to have in London.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I believe that Foreign Minister Zebari from Iraq is also in London. Are there plans for him to be --
MS. HARF: Is he? I’m not – is he in London?
QUESTION: He was yesterday. He may well have left since.
MS. HARF: I’m not sure he still is today. Let me check on that. I know we’ll probably have, at some point, a phone call with him, but I don’t believe it’s happened yet.
QUESTION: Okay. So they didn’t cross paths, there was --
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
MS. HARF: No, I don’t think so.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just – you just were talking about increasing – sending military support to the Iraqi army and bolstering their capability, but, I mean, it seems like one of the really big issues is that they’ve been unwilling to stand and fight against the ISIL. So are you --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- concerned that sending more arms and – or any kind of assistance that you send to them will just ultimately fall into the hands of their enemies?
MS. HARF: Well, I mean, look, of course I know that’s a concern people have raised, but we do believe that there is a path forward here, working with the Iraqi army to bolster their capacity, but it needs to be matched by a political commitment to bring the country back together to do so. So we know it’s a challenge, certainly. And look, as the President said, we’re not going to go back into a situation in which we’re there assisting and really keeping a lid on things, and then after our sacrifices and we’re not there, people end up doing things that aren’t constructive for national unity. So we’re very committed to supporting the Iraqi army, absolutely.
QUESTION: Marie, I have two more questions. Do you view any role that the Arab Gulf states are or have been playing in supporting ISIL in Iraq or in Syria?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: And the other one --
MS. HARF: But to be clear, over the past few months, particularly, we have increasingly coordinated with Gulf states on who we’re supporting inside Syria in terms of the moderate opposition, so those conversations have continued, certainly.
QUESTION: But behind what’s going on in Iraq?
MS. HARF: I understand that. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And the second question is: Do you think the Gulf states are happy or unhappy with what ISIL has done so far in Iraq?
MS. HARF: I think that people throughout the region want stability and want security and don’t want terrorists being able to gain footholds in countries like Syria, in countries like Iraq – that we share the same goal here, that if you have a security situation where there are refugees, where there are terrorists that are being trained and equipped and then go out to other places and perpetrate attacks, that that’s bad for regional security writ large. That’s why we’re talking to all of our partners about how to fight this together.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry in his statement today mentioned that Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, are concerned regarding what’s going on and --
MS. HARF: Are all threatened by ISIL.
QUESTION: Yeah, but he didn’t mention any Gulf states in his statement.
MS. HARF: I don’t think there was a specific reason why. As I said, we know that partners in the region are very concerned about this.
QUESTION: Marie, what impact do you see the situation in Iraq will have on President Assad in Syria?
MS. HARF: What – in what way, I guess?
QUESTION: I mean, is this going to weaken him or strengthen him?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure that I’ve looked into that or thought about that analytically that much. I think if you flip the question, I think what we’ve seen is the reason – one of the main reasons ISIL has been able to become so strong, cross the border into Iraq is because of what President Assad has done. He has allowed it to flourish, he has allowed it to create a security space where they can get arms, they can get weapons, and they can come over the border. So again, I think I would probably flip it if we’re talking about some kind of causality here.
QUESTION: But if they get out of Syria, then this will be better for the Syrian opposition.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our team and see if they have more thoughts on that. I’m not sure I follow the logic exactly, but --
QUESTION: You don’t attribute the growth – the increase in strength of ISIL, ISIS to non-U.S. intervention in Syria at all? There’s no --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: Okay. So this is all Assad’s fault?
MS. HARF: Yes. I mean, two points on that, I would say. The first is that he’s the one who created the security situation where groups like this were allowed to flourish. And I would remind people that we have supported the moderate opposition, and one of the reasons we have been so careful in vetting who we give assistance to is because there are groups like ISIL who could get their hands on such assistance. That’s why we are so careful and thorough and deliberative when we’re talking about who to support in Syria.
QUESTION: Of course, you could make the argument that the stuff that they’re not getting because you vetted them in Syria they’ve gotten now because they’ve taken it and stolen it from the Iraqis who you gave it to.
MS. HARF: We know the security situation and challenge is very difficult in Iraq right now.
QUESTION: Right. So how concerned are you that weapons, vehicles like tanks, Humvees that have been seized by ISIL from the Iraqis who fled is going to wind its way back up into the battlefield, not just in Iraq but also in Syria, and being used against even the moderate opposition who you have vetted?
MS. HARF: We are certainly concerned that the fact that ISIL has gotten its hands on so many weapons, both in Syria and in Iraq, is a very serious security concern for both countries.
QUESTION: Okay. And that presumably will weigh into the President’s decision-making as he --
MS. HARF: I think it’s fair to say that everything involved in this is weighing into the President’s decision-making.
QUESTION: Okay. And then I just want to go back to the other thing: Absent a commitment from Maliki and other Iraqi leaders to do a better job of being inclusive, the existing assistance that you’re giving to them is done? Or it will continue and it’s just additional assistance?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to further clarify in any way what that might look like. Obviously, the President is looking at a wide range of options right now about what will happen going forward. So I’m just not going to get into the specifics --
QUESTION: But surely --
MS. HARF: -- of what the decision might look like.
QUESTION: Okay, but --
MS. HARF: I’m not going to stand up here and say, “No, we’re not going to do X” or “Yes, we’re going to do Y.” The President is making decisions right now, Matt. He hasn’t made them yet.
QUESTION: Right, but --
MS. HARF: So I can’t answer your question, because I don’t know what he would say.
QUESTION: Right, but I’m just not sure of the logic. If you’re saying that he’s not going to get anything more until he makes these commitments, why would you continue to --
MS. HARF: I didn’t say he’s not going to – you’re making it very black and white, and we’re here, and if he doesn’t get X we’re not going to do Y. What I have said is any effort by the United States needs to be matched with this effort. What both of those pieces look like is all being discussed and debated right now.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but that does seem to be an X-Y proposition. If Maliki does X --
MS. HARF: I think you’re making it one, and I think --
QUESTION: -- then he might get more help. But if he --
MS. HARF: I think – I don’t think that – I think you’re making it black and white, and I don’t think that’s how I’m conveying it.
MS. HARF: Lucas, yeah.
QUESTION: You’ve always said that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict.
MS. HARF: That is true.
QUESTION: I was wondering how that could possibly change in Iraq.
MS. HARF: What – in what way?
QUESTION: If no military solution exists in Syria, how can one possibly exist in Iraq?
MS. HARF: I’m not saying one exists in Iraq.
QUESTION: But you said we’re measuring – all options are on the table --
MS. HARF: Some of them are military, but I think when – if you heard what the President just said, he was very clear that nothing we do – and let me go back to his comments here, that nothing we do – he said, “This is not solely or even primarily a military challenge.” But his point is that in the absence of a political effort – and I’m reading his comments here – “short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won’t succeed.” So there is no military solution here regardless of what we may or may not do. If it’s not matched with a political effort, it won’t succeed.
QUESTION: So by and large, is this Maliki’s responsibility for Iraq being in the situation it is today?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you heard the President very clearly say that all of Iraq’s leaders have failed to work together from across the spectrum. They’ve not been able to overcome their mistrust, they’ve not been able to work through their differences, and they have created a climate where there were vulnerabilities when it came to the cohesion of the Iraqi army. I think we’ve seen those very clearly this week.
QUESTION: And finally, was the Administration sidetracked with events in Libya in 2011 instead of getting the Status of Forces Agreement signed?
MS. HARF: Not at all, Lucas, not at all. We can do many things at once.
QUESTION: Maybe I misunderstood what the President said, because it sounded different from what you – so in other – you want to see the commitment from Maliki and the other leaders to do a better job, but that short-term military intervention is not necessarily dependent on that? Or do they have to --
MS. HARF: So what he – it was – they’re two different things. What I was just saying to Lucas – is that what you’re referring to?
MS. HARF: That any short-term military action, if that’s what we decide to do, won’t succeed in the long run if it’s not matched by a political --
QUESTION: But you could still --
MS. HARF: It’s a different question from what you just said.
QUESTION: But – well, okay. But is what I just said correct? Did the President not say --
MS. HARF: Which part of what you just said, Matt?
QUESTION: -- that at – did the President say that in order for the U.S. to intervene, presumably militarily in the short term, in this immediate – semi-immediate time frame, there has to be a commitment from Maliki and the other leaders to do a better job. Is that – that’s correct, right? He did say that?
MS. HARF: He made very clear what the Iraqi Government needs to do, yes.
QUESTION: So they shouldn’t expect any help --
MS. HARF: Matt, come on.
QUESTION: No, no --
MS. HARF: You’re trying to lock me into a position on --
QUESTION: I’m just --
MS. HARF: Wait. Don’t interrupt me. You’re trying to lock me into a position about what decision the President will make based on what factors when that’s not what I’m going to do today. What he has said, what the Secretary has said, and what I am saying is we are looking at a range of options. All of those options need to, regardless of what we decide, be matched with a political effort by the Iraqi leaders to come together; that yes, we need to see them step up and do this. We’re having those conversations right now.
You’re making things dependent when, look, these are all part of a bigger conversation. But I think you should just be careful about saying – drawing causality, necessarily, when I don’t think there entirely is.
QUESTION: Well – okay. Because I understood the President to say that, and I think that most people listening understood him to – understood --
MS. HARF: That we wouldn’t do anything if there wasn’t a commitment?
QUESTION: Militarily. A military – short-term military intervention --
MS. HARF: He made very clear that in order for us to take certain actions that the Iraqi Government needed to give us commitments that they would bring their country together, yes.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I think you’re --
MS. HARF: But you’re trying to go – but you’re trying --
QUESTION: No, but I’m just – I don’t see how that’s me drawing an inference. That’s what the President said and that’s what you said, and then you’re trying to say --
MS. HARF: So why are you still pushing me on it?
QUESTION: Because you seem to say that that wasn’t necessarily a requirement for --
MS. HARF: No. I think you were trying to make it a little more black and white. I think you were trying to say if we don’t see X in the next 24 hours, Y is not going to happen. What he said is we need to see a commitment from the Iraqis. We’re looking at a wide of options. We’ve already increased our support. You’re trying to push, well, is that support going to stop, is it not going to stop, what’s going to happen next.
Look, this is a broad conversation. All of these things play into his decision making, but he was crystal clear that the Iraqi Government needs to make commitments to bring their country back together.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Thus far, has the Maliki government mostly squandered the $15 billion in military and other aid we’ve given them?
MS. HARF: Well, look, I don’t want to use that term, Lucas. I think when we left Iraq, after years of sacrifice and American taxpayer money – and certainly our troops felt that sacrifice more than anyone – the Iraqis had an opportunity. We had helped their security forces. We had helped their army. We had gotten them on their feet and helped build their capacity, and quite frankly they hadn’t – they did not take advantage of that opportunity. I think it became clear that they were unable to defend some cities, but this isn’t the end of the story in Iraq. That’s why we’re saying, okay, what can we do now to help stem the security situation to look medium term at capacity building and also to look long term at how this could – how we could be helpful going forward.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: One more question on the government. We know that the Iraqis had the elections lately, and in the last elections it took them more than one year to form a new government. Are you calling them now to form a new government that includes all the communities at this time or --
MS. HARF: Well, I know they have a process that’s ongoing, and we’ve said it needs to be inclusive, but I don’t have an update for you on what that might look like.
QUESTION: But are you calling them to form a new government?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more insight into you on those private discussions.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just ask, just passing forward a bit, what lessons from what’s happening in Iraq today should the United States and Afghanistan be drawing? We’ve got a second round of presidential elections this weekend in Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Tomorrow, yeah.
QUESTION: That’s right. The President has said that American troops will be withdrawn at the end of 2016. So from 2017, the Afghan army is on its own.
MS. HARF: Well, not on its own. The President – look, they’re very different situations. I think the biggest difference – well, there are a number of differences. But the biggest difference is in 2011, the Iraqi Government made clear they did not want U.S. troops to stay, very clear. And we were not going to leave our men and women in uniform there without the legal protections that we believe are necessary. In contrast, the two candidates running for president of Afghanistan have both committed to signing the BSA and have talked about a longer-term presence there. Obviously, we’ve talked a little bit what that will look like after the President’s decision recently.
So those, I think, are – that’s for starting from just very, very different positions.
QUESTION: So – but at the same time, there will be a drawdown of American interests in Afghanistan. I mean, there’ll be a physical, military drawdown --
MS. HARF: Well, it’ll look different, right. It’ll look different.
QUESTION: So what are you going to do? What can the – I’m sorry. I’m veering a little bit off Iraq now --
MS. HARF: No, it’s okay.
QUESTION: -- but what can the – or what should the Administration and the administration that comes next do in order to fill that vacuum that’s going to be left to a certain extent?
MS. HARF: Right. And I think – I’m going to put it into a little bit of a broader context. But when it comes to Afghanistan, obviously we believe there needs to be a political reconciliation effort between the Afghans. But what we’ve said is we’re going to keep building their capacity, and that as the threat – and actually, I think what’s happening in Syria and Iraq is the perfect example for why we need to focus – to take some resources we had had in Afghanistan and focus on the counterterrorism threat around the world. When you heard the President talk at West Point about the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, about fighting the threat where it exists, not just where we’ve had troops in our longest war – obviously, we’ll still focus on Afghanistan, but I think, if anything, this just underscores the fact that much of the locus right now for the terrorist threat isn’t in Afghanistan. We’ll stay focused there, we’ll keep building their capacity, but we need to have resources elsewhere, and I think that’s what you’ll see going forward.
QUESTION: Sorry, just that your first response, the – your response to Jo’s first – when you were talking about the SOFA –
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: What you haven’t wanted to talk about before because it’s always been like a –
QUESTION: Okay. Well, does that mean that you agree with Senator McCain on the point that a residual force of a couple thousand could have made –
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- a difference here?
MS. HARF: I think it’s fair to say I don’t agree with Senator McCain on pretty much anything I heard him say on TV. I’m certainly not handing in my resignation. But I will say –
QUESTION: Well –
MS. HARF: Wait. Let’s talk about the SOFA. Let me talk about the SOFA for a second.
QUESTION: Let’s get to the resignation in a second.
MS. HARF: About the residual. It’s on the residual --
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. I’m just talking about the – I’m talking –
MS. HARF: I’m going to the residual thing.
MS. HARF: Okay?
MS. HARF: Okay. Look, the notion that 10,000 troops, which I think is probably the highest number we would have had under some sort of SOFA, serving in a noncombat role would have prevented what we’re seeing – and I stress noncombat role – it just isn’t based in any kind of military reality. Our troops can’t force political leaders to make tough decisions. They can’t. It’s in some ways naive to think that the United States, by having a few thousand noncombat troops, could have prevented the political leaders from contributing to this climate that we’ve seen from this really serious influx of terrorists coming over the border. I think it’s just – it’s naive and, quite frankly, a bit self-centered to think that we can or should be able to do that with a few thousand troops. And if people argue that that would have been the magic bullet here, I think they need to take a hard look at the facts on the ground.
I also think that there’s no long-term military solution here involving United States troops, that the point of building a country’s security forces in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan is as we leave, they’ll stand up. And there’s no universe in which the solution to Iraq’s security problem, long-simmering tensions of sectarian nature, which were there long before we got there, would be resolved with a few thousand noncombat U.S. troops – is crazy.
QUESTION: Well, I think his argument as well as the argument of others is that they would have been more actively involved in training and helping the Iraqi army become a cohesive fighting force.
MS. HARF: When we left, it was a cohesive fighting force.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. HARF: What has happened – when we left, it was, Matt. And you know what? The political leadership of Iraq did not take the steps it needed to bring the country together and keep that force cohesive. The notion that a few thousand U.S. troops would have done that in the place of the prime minister and other leaders just isn’t how it works.
QUESTION: Well, it couldn’t have been that cohesive. Was it, like, faulty scotch tape or something like that? Because what we’ve seen is them just melt away, and particularly the Sunni part of it.
MS. HARF: And how would a few thousand Americans saying, “Don’t do that,” have stopped this? I would press Senator McCain to say specifically how it would have prevented what we saw from happening and what he thinks we should do now. Because, look, I’m happy to talk about the SOFA, and I’m happy to talk about the reasons we brought our troops home, but what we’re focused on is what we do next. And I also heard Senator McCain say he’s not supportive of military options at this time. Okay. You’re so concerned, you think this is an existential threat to the United States, what would you do? You don’t get to just attack us and call on all of us to resign. You have to come up with your own ideas.
QUESTION: Okay, well, I’m not Senator McCain, and I didn’t say any of this stuff.
MS. HARF: I think he’s probably watching, though, I’m sure, right?
QUESTION: You think? I think he might have – I don’t know – other things on his plate.
MS. HARF: I’m just kidding. But no, but I think it’s an important point to make.
QUESTION: Okay. But –
MS. HARF: It’s easy to criticize; it’s harder to give ideas.
QUESTION: Well, fair enough, but just as you say, he – just as you say, he can’t say that they would have made a difference, don’t you – isn’t the converse also true? You can’t say that they definitely wouldn’t have made a difference.
MS. HARF: No, I think what we’ve – look, everyone I’ve talked to who is much more of an expert on these kind of things than I am has said that we would have had thousands of United States troops serving in noncombat roles. Would that have been able to stop what we saw in some of these cities? Would it have been able to keep the troops – the army together in Mosul? Probably not.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you can’t say definitely not.
MS. HARF: I think the experts who look at it, who understand what these troops would have been doing are very clear that it would not have, and on top of that, the Iraqi Government didn’t want us there. The point about what they would have done, this is a sovereign country, and they made very clear to us they did not want our troops there. We negotiated, we tried to get the assurances we needed, and they didn’t want to.
QUESTION: But now they are asking you to –
MS. HARF: Exactly, which is a different – we’re in a different place. When I think Secretary Kerry got asked about some sort of legal basis, you’re right. The Iraqi Government has welcomed us to assist. So we’re in a different place than we are today – we are today than we were then.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Let’s do one more on Iraq.
QUESTION: On reflection, was it a mistake to give Prime Minister al-Maliki unconditional support, $14 billion in military aid and so on, without requiring he stop alienating the Sunni population as you’re now requiring him to do?
MS. HARF: Well, that military assistance goes to the whole of the Iraqi Government. It doesn’t go to Prime Minister Maliki. So I think that’s an important point --
QUESTION: But now you’re imposing conditionalities. Shouldn’t those conditionalities have been imposed while you were arming him to the teeth?
MS. HARF: Again, no one’s arming Prime Minister Maliki. You’re fundamentally misrepresenting what our assistance does. It goes to the Iraqi army, it goes to the Iraqi security forces – yes, he is the prime minister – but this is not all about Prime Minister Maliki. This is about all of Iraq’s leaders coming together. We have repeatedly called on them for months and years to take steps towards reconciliation, towards national unity, on all of them. But at the same time, we believe that it’s important to support them from a security perspective, and we believe that these foreign military sales are important.
QUESTION: I’m still unclear as well as – as to whether there is a scenario in which U.S. airstrikes could take place without tangible progress towards political reconciliation being visible in Baghdad.
MS. HARF: I know you all want to get into the President’s head as he makes this decision, but I don’t think I have any more to say on that. The President made very clear we need to see commitments from the Iraqi leaders to make steps in that direction. He’s also made very clear that he’s considering a wide range of options. All of these factors will play into how he eventually makes his decision.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: One, madam, if you have any update on the Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal’s visit to India?
MS. HARF: I don’t. I’ll see if I can get you one from our folks. I don’t have one.
QUESTION: And second, Ambassador Kathleen Stephens in Delhi, and she said that her mission is to foster relations between the new government and the U.S. and that trade and others. What will be her designation there? Charge d’affairs or the new ambassador of --
MS. HARF: I’m not sure. Let me check. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And – but can you also confirm that will – still U.S. has no new ambassador in Delhi?
MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s been any change. Let me double-check and see where we are on that.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?
QUESTION: Finally --
MS. HARF: Yes. Just for a few more. Yeah, but just for a few more.
QUESTION: One more on Pakistan. As far as this meeting in London is concerned between Secretary Kerry and national security advisor, I’m sure they will be discussing as far as these – this (inaudible) from you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: About the new government in India, as concerned. Do you still believe or Secretary still believe that Pakistan is still a harbor of terrorism and because of Haqqani Network and this and U.S. soldier was also held in Pakistan, and situation is really bad in Pakistan. I mean --
MS. HARF: Well, what Secretary did in his meeting the national security advisor was reaffirm our commitment to working with Pakistan in their efforts to counter terrorism. He – look, and he made clear that we have a shared interest here when it comes to this threat. Pakistanis are influenced tragically by more than anyone in Pakistan. They also did speak about Iraq and concerns about ISIL, spoke about regional economic integration as well, including regional relations between Pakistan and India.
QUESTION: And finally, madam, many Pakistanis in Pakistan and also here believe that there are two governments within Pakistan because military and the civilian – civilian cannot do on their own, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is trying to do the best for the country. But again, military is intervening in all the decisions he makes.
MS. HARF: I don't think I have more analysis about internal Indian politics.
QUESTION: And another --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: And a happy birthday, madam.
MS. HARF: Thank you very much. Thank you.
QUESTION: And just quickly a housekeeping thing. Do you have a readout of Under Secretary Sherman’s meeting this morning with the Chinese investors?
MS. HARF: I don’t. I’ll get you one after the briefing. I have time for just a few more. Let’s do Lucas and Scott, and then Matt’s bringing us home.
QUESTION: Just to stay in the region. There’s new analysis concerning one of the Taliban detainees who was recently released. He was involved in events leading up to 9/11, the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Do you stand by your previous statement, Marie, that these five detainees are enemies of the Afghan people, not – do not threaten U.S. national security?
MS. HARF: What I said, Lucas, was that we had undertaken a threat assessment to substantially mitigate the threat these would pose to U.S. national security. And contrary to what others have said, to my knowledge we don’t have any indication that these detainees have ever plotted or been part of a plot to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States. So I’m not saying these are good guys. I’m not saying they weren’t brutal members of a brutal regime in the Taliban. But look, our goal here is to substantially mitigate the risk that these five detainees could post upon their transfer.
QUESTION: Wait a second. I was away and – when all this happened, so why were these guys in Guantanamo then, if they weren’t a threat to the U.S.?
MS. HARF: Well, no, I said that they – we have no indication they had ever plotted or been part of a plot to conduct terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: So --
MS. HARF: And there’s a reason that they’re not in the bucket of people that are being charged, that are – there were a lot of people – as we – I’m not saying they’re good guys.
QUESTION: So they were being held for no good reason?
MS. HARF: I’m not saying that, Matt. I’m saying people were brought to Guantanamo Bay for a variety of reasons – obviously, not in this Administration; we don’t bring people there now – for a variety of reasons that were picked up in the course of the war. These were members of the Taliban.
MS. HARF: And they were picked up in the course of an armed conflict with the Taliban. But that’s different than knowing if they’ve ever planned a terrorist attack on the United States. Those are two different things.
QUESTION: But wasn’t the assassination of Massoud stage one in the attacks on 9/11?
MS. HARF: Again, I just made very clear what our position is Lucas.
QUESTION: And last one, and this is in the Middle East. There’s reports coming out of the West Bank that there’s – three teens were kidnapped, and one of them is an American citizen. Do you have anything on that?
MS. HARF: We are aware – of course seen the reports, are very concerned for their well-being. The Secretary a short while ago expressed his concern in a meeting with Tzipi Livni in London and also has spoken with President Abbas this morning about it as well.
We are working with the Government of Israel and with the Palestinian Authority to try to ensure the situation is resolved quickly, and that the three teenagers are safely reunited with their families. I can’t confirm citizenship at this point.
QUESTION: Did you – the Israelis say that the Palestinian Authority has – is responsible for their --
MS. HARF: I don’t have a readout of those conversations.
QUESTION: No, no, no. I understand that, but the Israelis are holding – say that the PA is responsible for their – these – the safety of these three teenagers.
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: Do you share that?
MS. HARF: What we know is the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority are working closely together on efforts to find the three teenagers and to hopefully bring a quick resolution to the matter, and of course giving this cooperation our full encouragement.
QUESTION: But you don’t think that the PA --
MS. HARF: I don’t have more. I don’t have anything more on this, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. The Israelis also say that they told Ambassador Shapiro, right?
MS. HARF: Yes, Ambassador Shapiro.
QUESTION: Ambassador Shapiro, yes – about the one who has American citizenship. Can you confirm if there was a conversation between him and the Israelis about one of the three, regardless of whether you can confirm --
MS. HARF: I’m sure Ambassador Shapiro has been in contact on this.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Yes, Scott. One more. Scott, last one.
QUESTION: I want --
QUESTION: Can you give a --
QUESTION: No, I got one more that I got to --
MS. HARF: Guys. Scott, last one.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the Secretary’s meeting with Ugandan foreign minister yesterday?
MS. HARF: Let me see if I have one. If I don’t have it in here, Scott, we will get it around right after, and apologies if I don’t. I don’t think I do. I’ll get it for you. I’m – I apologize for that.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Last one.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Ukraine? There were reports yesterday that on these three tanks that you were talking about, which you said was an escalation. There were reports that these in fact were Ukrainian tanks that had been kind of ripped off by the separatists.
MS. HARF: Nope.
QUESTION: You have convincing evidence --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- or whatever, that they were --
MS. HARF: They have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks. Yes.
QUESTION: Well – but these three tanks were driven across the border --
MS. HARF: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: -- from – okay.
MS. HARF: They were somehow pulled out of the Russian warehouses, someone taught them how to use them, and they were sent from Russia to Ukraine.
QUESTION: So you don’t buy the stolen from the Ukrainians ?
MS. HARF: Nope, not at all.
QUESTION: Definitely Russian tanks? Okay.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: The other thing on this is that apparently there was an incursion the other way, Ukrainians going in – crossing – Ukrainian military going into Russia, to which the Russians are very upset about. Do you have anything to say about that?
MS. HARF: Do you know where that was?
QUESTION: I don’t specifically know where it was, but it was today.
QUESTION: It was today.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any confirmation of that.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And then last night --
MS. HARF: I would be surprised, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Well, I think they’ve admit – the Ukrainians have admitted it.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: They said it was an accident --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- or something like that.
MS. HARF: I’ll check.
QUESTION: But anyway, the Russians are not too happy.
Anyway, last night --
MS. HARF: I don’t think the Russians have a leg to stand on here, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, regardless, yesterday, I had asked Jen about these reports of phosphorus – use of phosphorus, and late in the evening or in the evening, she put out a statement saying you had no evidence --
MS. HARF: No evidence.
QUESTION: -- to back that up. Does that mean that you believe that the pictures and the video that’s circulating are fake?
MS. HARF: We have no evidence to back it up.
QUESTION: But --
MS. HARF: None.
QUESTION: -- have you sought evidence?
MS. HARF: Of course, if we get reports like this, we look at the evidence and see if we think it’s legitimate. We just don’t have any evidence here that we think is credible.
QUESTION: Okay. And it – the statement also said that it was – it noted that the Ukrainians have --
MS. HARF: Has denied the rumor.
QUESTION: So you – this is a rumor? This is more misinformation coming from the Russian propaganda?
MS. HARF: We have no evidence to back it up, Matt. I don’t know where it’s coming from or why, but we have no evidence to back it up.
QUESTION: Right. But when you say that, does that mean you’ve gone to the --
MS. HARF: We’ve looked into it.
QUESTION: You or someone have gone to the – can you explain what looking into it means?
MS. HARF: No. We’ve looked into it through a variety of ways and we have no evidence to back it up.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)