1:22 p.m. EDT
Travel update: As you know, Secretary Kerry was in Erbil this morning, where he met with Kurdish leaders, including Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Barzani and a host of other officials as well. The Secretary is now in Brussels for the NATO ministerial summit and related engagements. Today, he is participating in a Quint meeting followed by a working dinner with fellow NATO foreign ministers.
And I’d like to welcome the group in the back we have visiting today from FSI. These are Foreign Service officers who will soon head out to serve as information officers at our various posts around the world, dealing with all of you, I’m sure. Today’s class will be serving in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Paraguay, Slovakia, Mexico, Israel, Vietnam, Germany, Djibouti, Laos, Malaysia, and elsewhere, I think, as well, including my friend Monica Cummings, who many of you may remember from the Geneva talks we had last fall. She’s taking on, I think, a tougher assignment in Kabul. So we wish all of you luck and happy to have you here. I hope we provide some entertainment for you today.
With that --
MS. HARF: -- not to turn to you, Matt, but get us started.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- simply because we started with that yesterday. And I’m aware that the White House has spoken about this today already, but I want to get your take on al-Sisi’s comments this morning, or this morning our time, I guess, that he would not take any step to interfere with – is the way he termed it – to interfere with the court’s decision. What do you make of that? And if it wasn’t a slap in the face yesterday, the sentence, what is this today after the repeated calls from you, from the Secretary, from National Security Advisor Rice, for a pardon or a commutation?
MS. HARF: Well, again, as we said yesterday, the Egyptian Government should review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years, including these last ones with the journalists, and consider all remedies, including pardons. I think, look, this obviously makes it harder to move forward on things they want. As I said yesterday, we will continue reevaluating our relationship. I know there’s things in the pipeline. But again, we’ve been very clear about the steps Egypt needs to take – excuse me – and this is, I think quite frankly, as you saw the Secretary say yesterday, not the direction we need to see.
QUESTION: You spoke of things that are in the pipeline. Can you be more specific?
MS. HARF: Well, as – we’ve talked about it a little bit. As you know, there’s Apaches. We talked about those. We’ve talked --
QUESTION: Are – but I guess I’m trying to --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: One, can you be more specific about what’s in the pipeline other than the Apaches? And two, are you suggesting that somehow that now those are in danger and in jeopardy of not going through?
MS. HARF: I’m not suggesting anything specific. As I said, this – look, clearly this will make it harder to move forward with things they want. There are some things in train. I don’t have anything more to add than we had yesterday. You know that we recently obligated $572 million as part of our overall FY14 FMF that we notified to Congress in April. So there’s a process that’s ongoing, but this has clearly been a difficult time, I would say – what we’ve seen particularly over the last few days, but over the last few years in terms of these arrests and sentences.
QUESTION: Are you saying that some or all of the 572 million could be pulled back?
MS. HARF: I’m not suggesting anything specific. I know you want me to get into specifics. As I said --
QUESTION: Well, no, I just --
MS. HARF: -- in general, this will make it harder. Nothing specific to report in terms of what that might mean.
QUESTION: Right. But is that based – that 572 million is gone? There’s no way to get it back?
MS. HARF: Let me see on that. So we’ve recently obligated it, 572 million of the 650 million in FY14; 78 million of that FMF request and 10 Apache helicopters have not gone forward, obviously pending further discussions with Congress, as I said yesterday, and have continued to consult closely with Congress. So it’s my understanding that it’s not all out the door.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: So in fact --
MS. HARF: And I can check with our numbers folks as well.
QUESTION: But from what you just said, it sounds to me as though about half, plus the 10 – of the FMF, plus the 10 helicopters, have not yet been delivered. Are you saying --
MS. HARF: Not about – I said 78 million of that FMF request of 650 --
QUESTION: Oh, sorry, not – sorry --
MS. HARF: Seventy-eight.
QUESTION: Of 650, sorry.
MS. HARF: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: But anyway, that 78 --
MS. HARF: But that hasn’t changed. Just to be clear, where the process is hasn’t changed since these latest convictions. That’s just where it’s been. Nothing there has changed.
MS. HARF: But again, going forward, could this make it harder? Of course it could.
QUESTION: Well, so I just want to – I want to make sure – absolutely sure I understand this, and I’m sorry about that confusion.
MS. HARF: No, no, no, it’s okay.
QUESTION: Seventy-eight --
MS. HARF: And I can see if I can get some more specifics.
QUESTION: Seventy-eight million and the Apaches have not yet been delivered.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: And thus --
MS. HARF: Pending further discussions with Congress, which was the process that’s been going on.
QUESTION: So those could, in theory, be – that could – that amount of money and the helicopters could be held back?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about how this could obviously make it harder. I mean, you could certainly – doing your own analysis, you could say that.
QUESTION: Right, no, no, but --
MS. HARF: But I am not saying that from here specifically.
QUESTION: I understand. But the argument has been made that you gave up all your leverage basically with the Egyptians. I’m not saying that you --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- this is true. I’m just saying that that’s the argument that has been made. But in fact, just from this 572 million, there is still leverage that you have that you could apply.
MS. HARF: Absolutely. And we’ve said, look, we have a broad range of tools we use in terms of leverage with the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: Is it correct that the Administration was opposed to the amendment that was defeated today on the Hill, in committee on the Hill, that would restructure the Egypt aid?
MS. HARF: Let me check. I’m not sure what our position was on that.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you said that these trials were politically motivated. So you dismiss the Egyptian assertion that they’re, in fact, not politically motivated and these guys were somehow involved in some subversive activities, right?
MS. HARF: Well, as we said yesterday in the Secretary’s statement, I’m not sure how much clearer he could be that these are trials that departed from the norms of due process in a deeply disturbing setback to Egypt’s transition. These are journalists doing their jobs, folks like you. There’s no place in a democracy for these kinds of sentences and these kinds of convictions.
QUESTION: And in response to – you didn’t comment whether it was a slap or – coming immediately almost after meeting with the Secretary of State, that these sentences and then the claim by the president that he had nothing to do with the judicial process – you dismiss that as just not true, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to make a statement on what he said. What we have said is the Egyptian Government, all of it, all the way up to the top, should look at all available remedies, including pardons, to rectify the situation that’s happened here.
QUESTION: Do you think President Sisi is posturing to get some political mileage out of it so he will end up pardoning these people? Is that what you want him to do?
MS. HARF: Well, I’ve clearly said that the government should consider pardons, right? So I’ve been very clear we think that should be an option on the table. I don’t know why President Sisi says things or does things. I’m not in the business of doing analysis about what motivates him. But he made very clear to Secretary Kerry in Cairo that he was committed to certain principles that underlie in a democracy, so what we need to see now is actions backing up those words.
QUESTION: And finally, when the topic of these journalists came up in their discussion, what did Sisi say?
MS. HARF: Yes, and I did clarify that for folks after the briefing yesterday. Sorry about that.
QUESTION: Okay, and so please clarify that and see what – what did Secretary say – what did he promise the Secretary of State?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to speak for President al-Sisi. He can speak for himself. What the Secretary made clear was our deep concern with these kind of convictions, with these kinds of sentences, with the arrests of journalists and people just looking to express themselves freely in Egypt. We’ve said that publicly and privately. And I think you could see from the Secretary’s statement yesterday how seriously he took this issue, particularly coming on the heels of his visit there.
QUESTION: Same topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: But at what point could you say with – regarding the Egyptian authorities and the latest on Al Jazeera journalists, at what time will we say the United States would change course and probably use all the tools it has?
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: Because so far there has been – other than Al Jazeera, there have been hundred of others.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: And State Department always witness it, but we’ve not seen any concrete action to really change course.
MS. HARF: Well, I think if you look at our policy on Egypt starting last July 4th, there have been extraordinary changes in our policy at times. We went through a time when we suspended aid, when we did a full review of all of our assistance, when we started some back up after that review and then when we’ve moved forward with other pieces as well. So I just think it’s not accurate to say that in the last year we haven’t fundamentally reevaluated our relationship with Egypt. That process continues. It’s ongoing and will continue in the coming days and weeks in response, quite frankly, to what the Egyptian Government does or doesn’t do.
QUESTION: Were you surprised for the Al Jazeera for – as an example, did it surprise you that three professional reporters have been sentenced to such harsh --
MS. HARF: Well, look, a lot of what we’ve seen out of Egypt’s judicial system over the past months has been horrific, including, as I said yesterday, the death sentences of, I think, 900 or more people, many in absentia. So unfortunately, this is the latest in a pattern of crackdowns on space for expression in Egypt. And again, the Secretary was very clear yesterday about our concern with this.
QUESTION: But there was – there will be a breaking point where we will see probably the United States just coming forward and probably trying to change course, events? Probably this is what the people in the area also are waiting for. Public opinions, I mean.
MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is we are constantly reevaluating our policy. And at the same time though – and I spoke about this yesterday a little bit – we do have a strategic relationship with Egypt. It’s a long relationship based on a number of shared interests that are in our national security. We believe it’s important to continue that relationship and to continue engaging, that it’s in our interest to do so. That hasn’t changed. It’s just finding the right balance and looking at all of our interests and how we can best promote all of them.
QUESTION: What is the Administration’s policy on Egypt?
MS. HARF: As I – go ahead. No.
QUESTION: And how exactly – because I remember a year ago it wasn’t that you had – that there was no policy on Egypt, basically, and you guys contorted --
MS. HARF: No, I think probably you just didn’t like what our policy was.
QUESTION: No, no, it’s not a question of me liking it or not. It’s a question – I mean, I remember the contortions that you guys went into to try to avoid calling what happened a coup. So I’m just curious. You say that --
MS. HARF: One word does not make a policy, Matt. We were very clear about our --
MS. HARF: -- our strong concern about what happened last July 4th.
QUESTION: That’s – you’re right, one word does not make a policy. Perhaps you could – what is the policy?
MS. HARF: Look, Egypt remains an important strategic partner. We share a number of transnational threats, whether you look at terrorism, whether you look at weapons proliferation. It’s a key player in the region, quite frankly, for a whole host of reasons – again, whether it’s fighting the counterterrorism threat in Sinai, whether it’s maintaining the peace treaty with Israel. We have a number of shared interests, so we believe it’s important to maintain a relationship with Egypt. They play a key role in the Arab world as well, if we’re looking at Middle East peace or other issues.
QUESTION: Those are --
MS. HARF: But that being said, when we have disagreements, we raise them, like we do with any country.
QUESTION: Right. But everything you just said are reasons to have a policy. They don’t say what the – they don’t actually describe what the policy is.
MS. HARF: That we will continue working with Egypt on these shared interests --
MS. HARF: -- like on counterterrorism --
QUESTION: And then --
MS. HARF: -- when it’s in our national security interest to do so, at the same time making clear our deep disagreement with things like we’ve seen over the past few days.
QUESTION: And then why not be specific about what the cost will be to Egypt if they don’t address your concerns?
MS. HARF: Again, we’re constantly re-evaluating the policy, and if at some point we have more specifics, we’re happy to share them. We’re talking to the Egyptian Government. As you know, the Secretary spoke to the foreign minister right after he heard the sentences and the convictions, and we hope the Egyptian Government does the right thing here.
QUESTION: Has there been any more contact since then?
MS. HARF: No. Not since yesterday.
QUESTION: But all of the things that you said, Marie, sort of can be summed in one word in this relationship between the United States and Egypt, and that is security. Do you see anything other than security that really involves the United States in Egypt?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s a lot wrapped up in security, Said.
MS. HARF: Obviously, the economic relationship plays into the security relationship, right, because we believe that Egypt, in order to give its people economic security and stability in the long term, needs to undertake certain reforms. We’ve worked with them very closely on that in part because it helps us do things like fight extremism and the terrorist threat. If people have other opportunities, it helps toward a shared security goal. So, so many of these issues are all wrapped up together. Human rights is a key interest that we have there as well.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What role do you think that the Egyptian president can play in the view of these verdicts?
MS. HARF: Well, without getting too specifically into the process, I know there is a judicial process in Egypt. We have made very clear that everyone in the Egyptian Government up to the highest levels need to consider all available remedies, including pardons. So I’m not going to do a legal analysis of their judicial system, but we believe that there is way forward here where the Egyptian Government could do the right thing.
QUESTION: But do you think that the president has a role that he can play in the judicial system?
MS. HARF: The president is a – quite a powerful figure inside Egypt. Without getting into specifics, I think all members of the Egyptian Government should look to get the Egyptian Government’s decision to a better place here.
QUESTION: Change subject?
MS. HARF: Moving on, yes.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: In today’s meeting, the words said by President Barzani saying that whatever resolution should be forthcoming should take into consideration the new realities on the ground. And this was interpreted by many experts to mean some sort of a loose confederation or maybe semi-independent Kurdistan. Do you agree?
MS. HARF: Well, we have said repeatedly our position has not changed. We continue to support a unified Iraq. We continue to support a government formation process that I think could begin as soon as July 1st that includes all parts of Iraq and all parties in Iraq.
QUESTION: So – but a loose confederation between, let’s say, Kurdistan in the north, a super Shia region in the south, and the western Sunni can be a united Iraq (inaudible).
MS. HARF: Well, look, the Secretary emphasized in his meetings today that a united Iraq – whatever that looks like, a united Iraq – is a stronger Iraq, and that our policy is to respect the territorial integrity of Iraq as a whole. And the Secretary did feel that Kurdish leaders understood that, particularly given the situation and the crisis that Iraq, again, as a whole, is facing today. Kurdish leaders indicated to the Secretary that they would participate in the government formation process; they would help find a means of having a unity government that can bring people together – again, from all of the different parties in Iraq; and deal with both the crisis that we’ve seen on the political side with political sectarian division, and also, of course, the security challenges.
QUESTION: The Kurds seem to think that some sort of a loose confederation between these three regions is likely to mitigate the violence and the tensions and so on. You don’t agree?
MS. HARF: Again, the Kurdish leaders that spoke with the Secretary today made clear that they would participate in the government formation process for a federal government of Iraq. Look, we’ve continued to support Kurdish leaders, of course, as part of their development of a strong and vibrant Kurdistan region, as a component to the overall stability and security of Iraq as a whole.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: One way to interpret taking into account the new realities on the ground would be taking into account the Peshmerga’s seizure of Kirkuk. Does the U.S. Government believe that Kirkuk and its oil reserves now belong to the Kurdish Regional Government?
MS. HARF: Well, look, our position on the export or sale of oil inside Iraq, anywhere inside Iraq, is the – has to happen with the appropriate approval of the federal Iraqi Government, that it is, indeed, owned by the Iraqi Government. Obviously, there are – we talked about this in here – whether the – when other people, including the Kurds, have tried to export it absent that approval, and we’ve said, obviously, we don’t support that. But look, the situation on the ground is fluid. Many people, including the Security Council, have called on Baghdad and Erbil to reach an accord on oil – on all pending subjects, including energy.
QUESTION: But that’s been happening for 11 years. I mean – but they’ve been – there have been calls for that for 11 years. It has --
MS. HARF: I’m aware of the history.
QUESTION: It hasn’t happened, and the change on the ground that one would guess the Kurdish leader is talking about is a big one, which is that they now hold what they regard as their historic capital and its oil reserves. And so it sounds like your answer is, no, it doesn’t belong to the KRG, it belongs to a federal Iraqi state for as long as there is one. Is that fair?
MS. HARF: It’s that our position hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Are you aware that today – I think they either kidnapped or killed the governor of Kirkuk.
MS. HARF: I’m not aware, Said.
QUESTION: And they have --
MS. HARF: I’m happy to look into that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) is only a week – it’s a week away.
MS. HARF: That’s when the process --
QUESTION: I know.
MS. HARF: I think for – to start the process --
MS. HARF: -- forming the core, and then after that is speaker, a president, and then a prime minister, I think.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just --
MS. HARF: But we think that this should happen as quickly as possible given the crisis they’re facing.
QUESTION: But you’re – I mean, do you – is there no concern that they might not have a week to do this?
MS. HARF: What do you mean by that?
QUESTION: Well, ISIL – ISIS has run over – run across huge swaths of the country in less than --
MS. HARF: We think they should do this as soon as possible, yes.
QUESTION: So you think they should do it before July 1st?
MS. HARF: We think they should do it as soon as possible, Matt. And given the severity of the situation, I think the leaders understand that.
QUESTION: Do they share your sense of urgency?
MS. HARF: I think – look, time – we will see very quickly whether Iraqi leaders share our sense of urgency. That’s one of the things we’re looking for right now.
QUESTION: Marie, if the Iraqis want Iraq to be divided into three countries – the Kurdish state, Sunni state, and the Shia state – how can you prevent them in doing so? And the Vice President, before he became a vice president, talked about dividing – or the partition of Iraq into three countries.
MS. HARF: We’ve addressed this at length. Our position on this has not changed. We support a unified federal Iraq. Again, that’s been the position of this Administration since the beginning of this Administration, for all of the members of the Administration, and it continues to be our position today.
QUESTION: So you also support a unified federal Ukraine, right?
MS. HARF: The situation’s completely different.
QUESTION: Minus Crimea.
MS. HARF: Are you comparing ISIL to Russia?
QUESTION: No, no. No, I’m not. I’m just talking – I was trying to make a --
MS. HARF: Be careful when you make comparisons, Matt.
QUESTION: I was trying to make a segue to a different subject, of Ukraine.
MS. HARF: Oh, I see. Is – anything else on Iraq?
QUESTION: On Iraq.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the --
MS. HARF: Okay. Let’s just do two more on Iraq, and then Matt can segue us into Ukraine.
QUESTION: Could you explain the immunity clause for the American --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yes. And I did get a little – just a little more. We did receive the diplomatic note from the Government of Iraq on June 22nd, 2014. That was a question I took yesterday. This arrangement will remain in place as long as we and the Iraqis agree to keep it in place. I don’t have much more detail than what I gave yesterday, Said. These protections, we believe, are adequate to the short-term assessment and advisory mission our troops will be performing. Again, we wanted to make sure we had this in place.
I think the Department of Defense in about an hour or so will be talking a little bit about the first assessment teams that will be arriving or may already have arrived in country. So we are moving fairly rapidly on this.
QUESTION: And let me just follow up very quickly. Does that – is that restricted to the 300, or could it be for more troops in the future?
MS. HARF: I can check --
QUESTION: Does it have a figure, this immunity?
MS. HARF: Let me – Said, I don’t know the answer. Let me see if I can share that. And normally we don’t make these kind of diplomatic notes public, and I don’t think we’ll be doing so now.
QUESTION: Different topic?
QUESTION: No, one more on Iraq.
MS. HARF: One more on Iraq and then we’re going to Ukraine. I promised Matt could --
QUESTION: Yeah. News reports have said today that Syrian jets have bombed a marketplace in Qaim region in Iraq, killed 20 people and injured 25. Can you confirm these reports? Do you have any --
MS. HARF: We’ve seen them. We can’t confirm them. I mean, look, it wouldn’t be surprising. The Syrian regime has bombed marketplaces and civilians many, many times. We just don’t have confirmation. We’re still looking into it.
QUESTION: But if true, how do you view this Syrian role in Iraq?
MS. HARF: We’re still seeing if it’s true. And if we can confirm it, I’ll probably have more to say then.
MS. HARF: That is correct, Matt.
QUESTION: It is correct. Okay.
So on that – based on that, what do you make of President Putin’s comments today about the cease-fire, his decision to go to --
MS. HARF: To the Duma.
QUESTION: -- to the Duma to have the force authorization removed?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, a couple points on this. Look, we welcome – there was also a decision today by some separatist leaders to accept the cease-fire. At the same time, we also saw some separatists shooting down a Ukrainian helicopter, so clearly – not surprisingly, the separatists all aren’t on the same page.
President Putin did ask the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament to repeal – I think it was the March 1st resolution authorizing the use of Russian military force in Ukraine. This resolution had raised tensions, and its removal would be a step in the right direction. Obviously, we need to see other steps, like ending its occupation of Crimea as well.
QUESTION: Was this something that you guys had sought – specifically sought from or asked of Putin? When you say in numerous conversations that the Secretary has had with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and less numerous but still several conversations that the President has had --
MS. HARF: President Putin --
QUESTION: -- with President Putin --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you talk in general terms about de-escalation, is this one of the things that --
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I don’t know.
QUESTION: -- has come up?
MS. HARF: If it’s been brought up before, I’m – specifically – I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And in terms of the shootdown of the --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The downing of the helicopter, do you – is this the end of the cease-fire, despite the words from everyone for --
MS. HARF: No. No, I wouldn’t say that. Look, this cease-fire and the negotiations surrounding it are really Ukraine’s best chance for peace. And we do welcome the fact that some separatists have said they will accept it and abide by it. But clearly, more negotiations need to happen, and we have called on President Putin to use his influence with these separatists to get them to also accept the cease-fire.
QUESTION: And you – but you have not yet seen that except for the several that have said they would respect the cease-fire? Have you seen that more broadly? Are you still seeing movement of – what you’ve said is movement of tanks --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and heavy armaments?
MS. HARF: Yes. None of that has changed, and continue to see a number of Russian combat units being deployed to locations close to the Ukrainian border as well.
QUESTION: The buildup is continuing.
MS. HARF: My understanding --
QUESTION: Does the fact that the building is – buildup is continuing, and you’ve now said this a couple days – I mean, you certainly said it yesterday, and Jen was saying it last week. Does that make you take any less seriously President Putin’s request that the Duma remove the authorization?
MS. HARF: As I said, taken by itself, the request to remove the authorization would be a good step in the right direction. But again, words need to be matched by actions. And this is a situation where you take two steps forward and one step back. Some separatists accept a cease-fire, some don’t. A helicopter gets shot down. So we’ve seen some steps out of President Putin that we do think are a move in the right direction, but there are actions that need to be taken that we haven’t seen taken.
QUESTION: Any more – do you have any more evidence of Russian materiel either being prepared for transit or actually crossing into Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Not any new evidence. I think we’ve laid out over the past week a fairly robust case of those tanks and rocket-propelled grenades.
QUESTION: Sorry. Do you – when you said that it’s two steps forward, one step back, is that how you see this situation, or was that just kind of a rhetorical --
MS. HARF: Well, I think both can be true.
MS. HARF: I mean, it’s a rhetorical example of how we do see some positive signs on the ground.
MS. HARF: The cease-fire, some separatists have accepted it, but the same day some other separatists shot down a helicopter. The – President Putin says he’ll go to the Duma, that’s good, but then they continue the military buildup.
QUESTION: Right. But two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward, right? So that’s --
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t be too precise – read into the numbers. It was a rhetorical device. I think --
QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right. I just wanted to make --
MS. HARF: -- to be clear, that – look, there has been some progress, but at the same time, it often feels like we are taking steps backward from where we need to be.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, the fact that you used that --
MS. HARF: Not a precise mathematical calculation.
QUESTION: I know, but the fact that you said --
MS. HARF: Then why do you ask if you know?
QUESTION: Because you said – no, no, because the fact that you said “two steps forward, one step back” instead of “one step forward and two steps back” suggests that there is --
MS. HARF: I was quoting a popular ‘80s song I used to listen to on the radio.
QUESTION: Fine, but it --
MS. HARF: If anyone knows who that’s by, I’ll buy you dinner.
QUESTION: But you’re not saying that you see things going in a positive trajectory.
MS. HARF: No, I wasn’t saying that.
MS. HARF: Well, there are positive signs, but in terms of the trajectory there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
MS. HARF: Sure. I love how you just ask permission from people.
QUESTION: Yeah, I didn’t want to interrupt --
MS. HARF: You guys are being very polite today.
QUESTION: -- my colleagues to – maybe they want to follow up on it.
MS. HARF: Why don’t – go ahead. Let’s go to Israeli-Palestinian and then I’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Is the – the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike going on for a while now. Is this on your radar? The Knesset now is working on force-feeding by tube. It’s a big debate in Israel, but on the State Department – but at least from the human rights point of view, is this on the radar so far? It’s been going on for a while.
MS. HARF: I’m sure it’s on someone’s radar. I don’t have anything on it for you, but let me check with our team and I can get you something.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow up --
MS. HARF: I promised I was going to him.
MS. HARF: So polite. I love this.
QUESTION: This is – it’s a Middle East question, but it’s more ISIS-related.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: There’s a former analyst for General Petraeus by the name of Colonel Derek Harvey. He says he has information that ISIS militants have crossed the border into Jordan and are infiltrating some of the refugee camps out there possibly to recruit members, that sort of thing. I was curious if you’ve heard of that. And on a more broader question, what sort of conversations Secretary Kerry and others in this building might have had with the Jordanian Government over fears of possible infiltration into the refugee camps there?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly talk to the Jordanians all the time about a number of issues, including the threat to the region from ISIL. I’m not familiar with those specific reports. Doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re credible. I’m happy to check and see if there’s more detail there. But we know ISIL has looked to the region to recruit, to undertake the kind of criminal activity that funds it, often is a large source of funding. And so it wouldn’t surprise me, but I’m happy to see if there’s more details.
In terms of the last conversation he had with Foreign Minister Judeh, I believe it was last Tuesday, so a week ago today. I can double-check and make sure that’s right, but obviously we have a number of conversations with the Jordanians.
MS. HARF: On the phone, the last conversation was on Tuesday. I am happy to check for you and see what the latest – what the last meeting in person was.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: And this has to do with sanctions.
MS. HARF: It has to do with sanctions?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: On the sanctions that you guys have put on Russia. Am I correct in thinking that if the situation doesn’t improve, there will be more sanctions but it – if it does improve there possibly won’t be; however, the existing sanctions that were put in place because of the Crimea annexation won’t be taken away? Is that correct?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not obviously going to – into our specific sanction strategy publicly. I think that’s probably not advisable for the people on the sanctions list or who might be sanctioned. In general, what we’ve said is we put sanctions on place in response to specific activities and actions by the Russian Government. The potential for those to come off would only happen after the Russian Government undertook certain steps to rectify the situation and that we have more in place ready to go if they don’t de-escalate, and indeed, of course, if they take further steps.
QUESTION: Well, maybe I can rephrase it to get a --
MS. HARF: You want me to outline when we’re going to put more sanctions on and when we’ll take them off.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no. I’m trying to find out if, in fact, the sanctions that were imposed immediately after the annexation of Crimea – are – will stay in place as long as the Russians stay in Crimea.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if there’s more detail we can share.
QUESTION: To get rid of those, and do you – and --
MS. HARF: We generally don’t outline what people need to do specifically to get rid of sanctions publicly.
QUESTION: That may be one reason why you never get what you’re looking for from these people, because you don’t tell them what they have to do, so they’re left to guess.
MS. HARF: I think we’ve privately been very clear. It just doesn’t make sense to outline them publicly.
MS. HARF: Because giving the world insight into your sanction strategy – part of what – how sanctions are imposed and how they’re effective is if people don’t know they’re coming and don’t know when they’ll come off.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: Can we go back --
MS. HARF: If you think about how – that’s why we don’t make sanctions public or the names public before we impose them.
QUESTION: But you – yeah, but they have to know --
MS. HARF: And we don’t tell people when they’re going to come off necessarily.
QUESTION: Well, but you have to tell them what they --
MS. HARF: Or what they need – right. We have those conversations privately, just not publicly.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But is it incorrect that the sanctions that were imposed for Crimea, for the Crimea annexation --
MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics for you.
QUESTION: -- will remain in place as long as Crimea is occupied?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check if we can say yes or no to that one way or the other, Matt. I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: Can we --
MS. HARF: Yes. Wait, I’m coming --
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you have information about this – the status of this woman, Christian woman who has been --
MS. HARF: I have a little bit.
QUESTION: -- has been rearrested, apparently? And since you welcomed yesterday a release, were you in contact with the Sudanese authorities?
MS. HARF: So the State Department has been informed by the Sudanese Government that the family was temporarily detained at the airport for several hours by the government for questioning over issues related to their travel and I think travel documents. They have not been arrested. The government has assured us of their safety. The Embassy has been and will remain highly involved in working with the family and the government. We are engaging directly with Sudanese officials to secure their safe and swift departure from Sudan, and of course, we’ll provide more information as we get it.
QUESTION: Were they traveling to the U.S.?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details for you on their travel.
QUESTION: You said temporarily detained.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding --
MS. HARF: For several hours.
QUESTION: -- that they were released?
MS. HARF: Yes. They were temporarily detained for several hours over questions relating to their documents. They have not been arrested, have since been released.
QUESTION: Do you know where they are?
MS. HARF: We, obviously, aren’t going to get into specific details about their location.
QUESTION: Well, no. I don’t want to know the address, but --
MS. HARF: And --
QUESTION: They’re still in Khartoum?
MS. HARF: And the Sudanese Government has assured us of their safety, and we are working with the government to assure their safe passage out of the country.
QUESTION: Are they being prevented from leaving the country?
MS. HARF: Again, we’re working with the government on this. They today were not able to, I think, because of some travel document issues, but we’re working with the government to resolve those issues.
QUESTION: Do you – well, do you buy this explanation from the Sudanese and do you think it’s just another example of harassment, or do you think it was some legitimate concern?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details to make that kind of judgment, Matt. I think what we’re focused on is working with the government to get them out of the country, and they said they’ll work with us.
QUESTION: Do you know – okay. Well, so you would consider that to be positive even though this is not a good thing that --
MS. HARF: We just want the right outcome here.
QUESTION: Okay. Were there people from the Embassy with them when they were detained?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: Because there is – the husband is an American citizen. Correct? And so presumably, you would be offering or the Embassy would be offering assistance to --
MS. HARF: Right. We have been assisting. I’m happy – I don’t know the specifics, though. It’s, I think, a fairly fast-moving and fluid situation.
QUESTION: Okay. But – and – but do you know enough to be able to say – the Sudanese say that they weren’t mistreated or that they’re safe. Do you know enough to be able to confirm that independently that they weren’t --
MS. HARF: The government has assured us of their safety. I don’t – I don’t have anything to indicate that’s not the case. But again --
QUESTION: Okay. But --
MS. HARF: -- what we’re focused on is getting them as quickly as possible out of Sudan.
QUESTION: Right. But I just – you don’t know at the moment if someone from the Embassy had eyes on them to --
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I just don’t. I’m happy to check with our folks.
QUESTION: Are you helping them with the documents that they need or --
MS. HARF: I’m not going to go into more specifics about their travel. As I said, we are committed to helping them in general.
QUESTION: Do you know if there’s been a formal application for asylum with the U.S. Government on her (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: I think for any of those questions you need to check in with Homeland Security and Customs and Immigration. I think they’re best able to answer those.
QUESTION: Hold on, one more thing.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: It’s my understanding that under the immigration law and the asylum law that they actually have to be on U.S. territory to apply, which makes it relevant as to whether they are in the Embassy, which would be U.S. territory, or not. So just to add some urgent – add some fodder to the taken question on whether there’s been contact.
MS. HARF: I understand. Yeah.
QUESTION: Have they gone to the Embassy --
MS. HARF: So I’m not, obviously, going to get into details about their location. I’m happy to see if there are more details, and by tomorrow, hopefully, we’ll have more details to share.
Yes, and then I’m going to Elliot.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can we go back very quickly to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: First of all, has the Secretary spoke – has he spoken to President Abbas in the last 24 hours?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I believe they were supposed to, but I’m happy to check and see if that actually happened, Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you know that if the – also the Secretary of State spoke with any Israeli officials about sort of lightening up their heavy hand in what can be interpreted as collective punishment of the Palestinians?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if he’s had conversations. As we’ve said very publicly, we’ve urged all parties to exercise restraint. We have commended efforts by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work together here, but nothing new to update you on, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. And some Israeli officials are calling to cut off electricity to both Gaza and the West Bank. Would you dissuade them from doing so?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those. I’m happy to check with our folks.
QUESTION: On a different topic?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
MS. HARF: I saw that. I don’t have anything from our folks on that one way or the other. I’m happy to check and see if there’s more to share. I did see that happened. That finally passed today?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that it could lead to – so the Chinese Embassy said that it doesn’t think that citizens of DC would react kindly to a street in their city being named after a criminal, or some statement to that effect.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if we have a position on this. I’m just not aware.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions regarding Hong Kong.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Because recently, China published the white paper on Hong Kong, and many people are concerned that it’s reneging China’s pledge of high degree of autonomy Hong Kong, and also renunciation of the one-country/two-system policy. So I’m wondering if you have any stance on --
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports. I’m happy to check and see if we have any further comment on them.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Because the white paper was released about two weeks ago --
MS. HARF: Yeah, I’m sorry, I don’t have that. Let me just check and see if we can share something.
QUESTION: Okay. Just another related question, because so far 730,000 Hong Kong people have already cast their votes in this Occupy Central referendum, and they are asking for public nomination of chief executive candidates of Hong Kong for 2017 universal suffrage election. Chinese Government called the referendum invalid and illegal. So do you take any position on --
MS. HARF: Again, I’m sorry, I don’t have the details on that in front of me. I’m happy to take all of your questions and get you an answer after the briefing and get more details if we can share them.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: Let me go over here. He hasn’t had one yet, and then I’ll come back to you.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- that were removed yesterday. Yesterday, during the press briefing, you said that there is still a possibility that the Syrian Government has chemicals which have not been declared yet. What will the U.S. do to be sure that there remain no chemicals in Syria? And what kinds of tools will the U.S. use to determine or check whether there are chemicals in Syria or not?
MS. HARF: Well, as this process continues, the OPCW and the international community really has the lead here on reviewing and verifying both the accuracy and also the completeness of Syria’s declarations on its chemical weapons. We really need to undertake some further review here to achieve really confidence that we’ve been able to get all the weapons out, because, of course, we never take the Assad regime at its word given its history of deception and violence. One of the ways we do this, of course, is undertaking our own efforts. We gather intelligence and information, which, of course, we share with our partners as we attempt to evaluate the accuracy and the completeness of their declarations, and we’ll continue with the inspection and verification work. The removal of the chemicals is only part of the OPCW mission. There’s also a part of it that includes inspection and verification inside Syria after you’ve removed the weapons and the chemicals. So that’s what they’ll be doing going forward, again, to check the accuracy.
QUESTION: Yeah. But you know that from both in the remarks of the Secretary of State Kerry and your remarks yesterday, it seems that there is a suspicion over there. So do you have any evidence or any reports or intelligence about these kinds of – a presence of chemical weapons in Syria now?
MS. HARF: I don’t think it would be breaking news that any of us have suspicions about the Assad regime’s intentions or honesty, quite frankly.
MS. HARF: But look, even so, we have removed now a huge number of chemical weapons from Syria that can no longer be used to threaten the Syrian people. But we don’t take what they say at their word. That’s why we’re constantly checking and reevaluating what we have on the ground there.
QUESTION: And these suspicions, you suspect that they keep 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent?
MS. HARF: I have no number to give you and I’m not --
MS. HARF: -- and I’m not aware of specific information. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; just means I’m not aware. But we just want to be vigilant as we undertake this effort.
QUESTION: And you don’t take the word of Bashar al-Assad, of course, but what about the word of the United Nations?
MS. HARF: Well, the United Nations and the OPCW have --
QUESTION: They certified --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: They certified that the Syrians have handed all their chemical weapons.
MS. HARF: Of their declared weapons over.
QUESTION: Declared weapons, okay.
MS. HARF: Right, declared --
QUESTION: So you suspect --
MS. HARF: Declared is the key word there.
QUESTION: -- that there may be undeclared stockpile?
MS. HARF: There may be. We can’t rule it out. But again, the fact that we’ve gotten such a huge amount of chemical weapons of that stockpile out of Syria is a good thing.
QUESTION: But that’s the kind of suspicion that you can never be sure of, correct?
MS. HARF: I think we will continue evaluating and we will continue looking at the information. If there is anything else, we’ll get it out of the country.
MS. HARF: Yes. The United States, as you won’t be surprised, strongly condemns the suicide terrorist bombing near a Lebanese armed forces checkpoint in Beirut, extend our deepest condolences to the victims and their families, wish a full recovery to those wounded as well. We, the United States, will continue to stand firmly with Lebanon’s leaders and its state institutions, including the armed forces and the internal security forces. They are working very hard to combat terrorism and work to provide their people with calm and security. And we’ll continue to work with them as they do so.
QUESTION: Just to --
QUESTION: I had a question close to the Lebanese one.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have on that. Well, as we have said – let me just get it up right here. No one asked this yesterday. I was actually surprised. That we support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense in response to unprovoked assaults, and that we, of course, believe that countries have the right to defend themselves, and beyond that don’t have much more comment. Recent attacks we’ve seen from Syria are unacceptable and have been clear about our concerns about that as well.
QUESTION: And you suspect that these attacks were conducted by government forces, correct? The Syrian attack.
MS. HARF: I have no information otherwise.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. End where we started.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) But just based on what happened yesterday, and this is really addressing what we read coming from the Middle East public opinion. At what time and point when the United States dealing with Egypt would the United States say to the Egyptian authorities, “Enough is enough”?
MS. HARF: I don’t know what “enough is enough” means from a policy --
QUESTION: Of those --
MS. HARF: -- practical perspective.
QUESTION: Of those daily practices regarding human rights, without being specific on an issue.
MS. HARF: What does that mean? Look, I’ve said we’re continuously reevaluating our policy, and how we deal with the Egyptian Government and the kinds of assistance we give it. We’re constantly going through that process. We have been now for many months, indeed longer than that. So that process is ongoing and I think the Secretary was very clear yesterday in his strong condemnation of these sentences.
QUESTION: Sure, right.
MS. HARF: And I think they hopefully got the message and hopefully will do the right thing here.
MS. HARF: He either already did or is about to. I forget and I’m not sure what time it is. But yes, he will meet or has met – I’ll check when I get off of the podium here – with the South Korean Vice Foreign Minister here to discuss North Korea and a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues of mutual concern.
QUESTION: So you don’t yet have a readout of that meeting?
MS. HARF: I don’t. I think it was scheduled to happen around the time I came out here, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)
DPB # 111