12:52 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Welcome to the briefing, my last one for a while as we leave for Vienna this evening for several weeks, so a very large suitcase packed.
Just a quick item at the top in terms of the Secretary’s travel and then happy to open it up for questions.
As you know, Secretary Kerry is in Panama today to attend the inauguration of Panama’s president-elect. He will – he has also today already had a number of meetings with other Central American leaders to discuss the issue of unaccompanied children who have illegally crossed the border to the United States. He had a meeting on this issue with the presidents of El Salvador and Guatemala and with the Honduran foreign minister. That meeting already took place. He also in his meetings discussed the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama in 2015, and will be having a meeting with the president of Costa Rica where they will talk about a number of issues, but environmental issues as well.
With that, get us started.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to start in
Iraq. I’m sure you saw that Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers walked out of the parliament today; so much for hoping to start the creation of a government by July 1st. Wondering what if any steps you’ve seen since then that would give the Obama Administration any kind of hope that this process will move quickly.
MS. HARF: Well, we never said they should put a deadline so they should form a new government entirely by July 1st. The Secretary used that date in terms of when they should begin government formation. But let’s be clear – this needs to happen as soon as possible. It was important that Iraq’s new parliament convene today, as they pledged to do. That was a good thing. But we do hope that Iraq’s leaders will move forward with the extreme urgency that the current situation deserves. The acting speaker did ask the parliament to meet again in one week on July 8th to present candidates for the speakership and two deputy speakers, followed by candidates for the prime minister and – president and prime minister.
And look, time is not on Iraq’s side here. They need to do this as quickly as possible. They could do it before the 8th. It would be better if they did it before the 8th. But certainly need to live up to their commitments here to continue meeting to get a government in place as soon as possible.
QUESTION: So I guess my question is more: Have you seen anything since the walkout which was several hours ago?
MS. HARF: In the last few hours. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, I mean, that’s not nothing. I’m sure there are U.S. officials there --
MS. HARF: Absolutely, yes.
QUESTION: -- at parliament or involved in the – not involved in the process, but on the sidelines --
MS. HARF: Talking to the different parties.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: So what kind of assurances or words or thoughts have those people heard from the Iraqis that this is going --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- that even if they wait until July 8th, that anything will happen on July 8th?
MS. HARF: Well, I think there is a broad sense that Iraq’s leaders understand the urgency here. Now, I think we will know very soon whether they really understand it and whether they’re willing to back up that sentiment with actions. And as we said, it was an important step that the parliament did convene today, as they said they would. But we need to see a government formed as soon as possible, and ideally, that would happen before the 8th.
Conversations are ongoing. I don’t have any specifics to read out for you, but needless to say, with everyone we are very much making clear that this needs to happen very, very quickly.
QUESTION: I’m not sure if you saw some of the comments that the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. made today --
MS. HARF: I did.
QUESTION: -- at Carnegie. He basically described starting looking to the governments of Syria, Russia, and
Iran for additional help, even if just advice, even if just trying to solidify the borders. Wondering if this is a signal that the United States is losing its influence in this region, and also what you think of the fact that these are at best unreliable, uneasy allies; at worst, flat-out enemies.
MS. HARF: Well, I think a few points. The first is, I mean, all you have to do is look at what we’re doing with the Iraqis today to demonstrate that we have a very close partnership with them. Whether it’s the assessment and advisory teams that have gone in that the President announced several weeks ago, whether it’s our diplomatic folks on the ground working with the different parties, I mean, clearly, we play an important role here, and the Iraqi leaders have asked the United States in a number of different ways to help them get out of this crisis, to fight the threat, and to help push the parties towards a better government, quite frankly.
But look, we have said any country who is willing to assist the Iraqis in this fight in a nonsectarian, inclusive way towards an inclusive process, that’s what all the countries need to do. Look, when it comes to Syria, we’ve been very clear that Iraq’s security problem cannot be solved by the Assad regime, who, in large part, is responsible for the security situation that spilled over into Iraq and has led us to where we are today.
QUESTION: Just following up on that point --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- do you have any kind of explanation for why Secretary Kerry’s message seems to have gone so unheeded? It wasn’t just that the parliament sort of broke up without a decision, but there was actual chaos.
MS. HARF: Well, they agreed to meet in a week.
QUESTION: But there was chaos. There was one of the Shiite lawmakers --
MS. HARF: Democracy is messy at times. It is. And I would disagree with the notion that his message went unheeded. He – the three different parties in Iraq said they were committed to the process. He had conversations with the Kurds, with the Sunni, with the Shia leaders, who said they were committed to forming a government as soon as possible.
As I’ve said, we now need to see actions back up those words. But the parliament did meet, as complicated and messy as this process is at times, and committed to meeting again in a week. But they need to move very quickly, and I think we will see in the coming days whether they are willing to do so.
QUESTION: But what he did say --
MS. HARF: And we also can’t make decisions for them. This is about them stepping up and making decisions for their country. This is not about anybody else making decisions for them.
QUESTION: But it puts the timetable back a bit, and they were supposed to meet today and hopefully get to a speaker, and then as set out under the constitution, those --
MS. HARF: Well, they did --
QUESTION: -- 30-day periods.
MS. HARF: They met today. Today was the day we wanted them to meet. They met. They committed to meeting again in a week. And as I said, ideally they would do this before the 8th. So I think we’re making clear that they don’t need to wait a week, but this is a complicated process. There are a number of different moving pieces here in terms of picking – and it’s important, quite frankly, to pick leaders that are going to govern inclusively, to make sure you take the time to do that, but to do that very quickly.
QUESTION: But – and I don’t have his transcript in front of me, but what he did say at his press conference in Baghdad was that the fate of Iraq hangs in the next couple of days, within the week. And so now we’re seeing it go beyond the week, and I think that’s the point that we’re trying to make.
MS. HARF: Well, I think the point he was trying to make is that the fate of Iraq is very much hanging in the balance right now, that Iraq’s leaders have a fundamental choice about the future of their country: Do they come together? Do they form a government? Do they say, “We are going to fight this threat together, we are going to figure out how to do that”? Or do they continue governing and working together in a sectarian way and alienating each other and sowing the sectarian divisions that have led to so much of the violence we’ve seen in Iraq?
So look, the Secretary can talk to them, and he has and he will. So are our diplomats on the ground. But they have to make the tough decisions now.
QUESTION: No, I understand that. But what he specifically said is that he wanted to see some steps towards progressive action within the week. Now --
MS. HARF: He did. And he said he wanted the government formation to begin on the 1st, which it has. The process started today.
QUESTION: But that’s not because he wants it. That’s because the constitution requires it. And yet they came together and absolutely nothing happened. There was a major walk-out.
MS. HARF: They came together – okay. If they – look, I feel like anything that happened today people would have talked about in a negative way. They met.
QUESTION: Because it’s a negative thing.
MS. HARF: They agreed to meet again. Well, convening of a parliament when – as they pledged to do, is something that we think is important. They pledged to meet again. They did not make – as we’ve said, they didn’t make progress in terms of moving towards government formation, and they need to do so quickly.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: There was the assumption that this was going to lead to at least the choosing of a speaker, which would have triggered the timeline for filling the other spots. And that wasn’t met.
MS. HARF: Well, that certainly is the first part of the process.
QUESTION: As Lara indicated, that wasn’t met.
QUESTION: That’s what the constitution requires.
MS. HARF: I understand what the constitution requires, and we want that to happen as soon as possible. I don’t know how much clearer I can be. But look, it would have been better if they chose a speaker today. I agree with you. It would be better if they did it before the 8th. But we also understand this is a difficult process. It has a lot of moving parts. We want them to do so in a way, while showing urgency, that would get to an inclusive government that puts Iraq on the right path. We think that can be done quickly. We think it should be done quickly. Again, today was an important step, but there is clearly a huge amount of work that still needs to be done.
QUESTION: How does this delay affect what the U.S. is willing to do to assist the Iraqi Government in trying to fight the group formerly known as ISIL?
MS. HARF: It – I mean, it doesn’t affect it in any specific way. We have said, broadly speaking, that Iraq’s leaders must form a government that’s an inclusive government and, in fact, going forward, govern in an inclusive way. But we are today providing assistance. We’re continuing – we’re ramping up our assistance because the threat is so serious. So nothing specific in terms of today’s actions that would affect what we’re doing.
QUESTION: And this may be a self-evident question, but is it important for the government to form in such a way that all sides feel that they have a piece of the government, as it were, really in essence to try to draw some of the steam out of this group’s ability to take over communities, to not get tacit support from some members across Iraq?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is that the underlying goal here?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s certainly part of it, right? It’s to make all Iraqis feels invested in their security forces and their government in protecting their country from this terrorist group that has so far caused so much violence. And partly that’s done by the different parties feeling like they’re part of the process and feeling like they have a stake in the government, feeling like they have a stake in the success of the armed forces. I think that’s been a large part of what we saw when some of the units basically laid down their arms and walked away. They didn’t feel like they had a stake in the success or failure of the Iraqi armed forces. That needs to change.
And again, nothing we say to them can change that. They need to make a conscious decision to do that.
QUESTION: Marie, Iraqi sources say that the inflexibility of Maliki, that he is so dead-set on his own agenda – in fact, going forth for a third term – that there was – I mean, it was useless for them to meet and agree on the speaker, deputy speaker, and to move forward. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS. HARF: Well, we --
QUESTION: Do you find that Maliki is so stubborn that he’s actually sort of pre-empting the political process?
MS. HARF: We have said, Said, that we’re not taking sides here. We don’t support or not support any candidate or person. But we’ve also said that all of Iraq’s leaders need to act in an inclusive way and act with urgency.
QUESTION: Okay. So he has the votes on his side. You don’t oppose --
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t done a whip count in the interim parliament yet.
QUESTION: He has 93 – yeah, I mean he has the coalitions, he has 93 members in parliament and so on.
MS. HARF: Well, coalition politics are complicated. Parliamentary systems are complicated. That’s why this is a process that does have a lot of moving parts to it.
QUESTION: Okay. I don’t know if you are following the identity of the other candidates, but one of the primary candidates that is emerging now is Ahmed Chalabi --
MS. HARF: I have seen that.
QUESTION: -- someone who is – the United States basically has labeled a traitor when he betrayed the trust of the United States way back then. But he’s gathering momentum because he’s getting Sistani’s support. He’s getting the Iranian support. Will you support someone like Ahmed Chalabi if sort of all the stars are lined up and he would emerge as a leader?
MS. HARF: We don’t support any one person or any one candidate, Said. What we’ve said is we will work with the Government of Iraq when it’s formed if they govern in an inclusive way, no matter who it is.
QUESTION: Let me go back to a question that we asked yesterday about the status of the air fighter jets – the status of the American fighter jets. First of all --
MS. HARF: The F-16s?
QUESTION: The F-16s.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: But this was announced yesterday that by the end of the month they will receive five Sukhoy bombers from Russia.
QUESTION: They already received --
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: They already received them.
QUESTION: They already received – I’m sorry. I stand corrected. They already received five bombers. But in case of the American fighters, they are on hold, and I understand, because you don’t want them to fall into the wrong hands. Does that remain your position?
MS. HARF: That’s not actually why it’s been delayed. That’s not why it’s been delayed, Said.
QUESTION: Why is it delayed?
MS. HARF: Okay. So first of all, we are committed to delivering the F-16s as quickly as possible. The delivery of the first two had long been scheduled for this fall, pending final preparations for housing and securing the aircraft, completion of pilot training, and completion of required financial and administrative details. Our goal was to have had these steps nearly done by this point, but Iraqi actions have been slow to move them forward. So there are a number of steps the Iraqis have to take to move the process forward, which they had been slow in doing and had not done.
So right now we’re working as quickly as possible but some of the steps that needed to be taken that I just outlined are made more difficult due to the violence. So because of some of the Iraqi steps to slow this down, we’re in a place now where it’s a little more challenging. We’re committed to doing it as quickly as possible, but there are some logistical challenges.
QUESTION: Why is it taking so long to train Iraqi pilots, whom I understand have been – or some have been – are being trained since 2005 and 2006?
MS. HARF: Well, training of pilots isn’t the only piece here. There’s financial details that were slow to happen; there’s preparations for housing and securing the aircraft. Those things happen in Iraq. The Iraqi Government has to do those. They’ve been slow in doing some of that, so we’re working with them now to do this as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: But there’s logistical challenges given the ongoing security situation.
QUESTION: So you’re saying financial details that are – are you saying that the Iraqis are paying in cash or lump sum for the --
MS. HARF: I’m not – I don’t have the details --
QUESTION: -- Russian equipment – let me just get my question --
MS. HARF: I don’t have the details for you on how they’re paying.
QUESTION: And they are not paying for the American equipment? Is that what is going on?
MS. HARF: I’m saying that there are details that need to – worked out broadly – that need to get worked out, broadly speaking, before equipment like this can be delivered including payment, including financial details, including securing housing for the pilots, including securing the aircraft, where they’ll be secured in the country. These have been ongoing, but again, the Iraqis have been slow in terms of moving that part of the process forward. Now we’re in a place where some of those things are made more challenging by the security situation, so we will continue to work, move these as quickly as possible. They’ve long been scheduled for the fall. And again, if other countries want to provide assistance, given that it’s under the rules Iraq has in place for doing so and it’s supporting an inclusive government, then we don’t see a big problem with that.
QUESTION: Does that extend to Iran, which today said that they’ll provide weaponry but not troops?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that any assistance needs to go to the Iraqi army, to the Iraqi Government security forces itself. So assistance shouldn’t go to militias or other groups, broadly speaking, and we’ve also said that any assistance should be in support of an inclusive government. So I haven’t seen that announcement by the Iranians, but including the Iranians, if they would like to support in that way towards those ends, anybody should feel free to.
QUESTION: If I may ask you a question on the assistance --
MS. HARF: Hold on.
QUESTION: -- the $500 million that the Saudis giving. I mean, considering that, really, Iraq does not need a great deal of money – I mean, they have the money – are you concerned that this kind – this amount of money --
MS. HARF: We do think it’s a good thing, though.
QUESTION: -- can go to the groups that you disapprove of?
MS. HARF: It’s giving to the – it’s being given to the Iraqi Government, I believe, through the UN. Let me check --
QUESTION: Is it to the Iraqi Government through the UN?
MS. HARF: It’s to the UN --
QUESTION: I thought it was to the UN.
MS. HARF: Yeah. So it’s --
QUESTION: Not to the Iraqi people. Yeah.
QUESTION: The Iraqi people --
MS. HARF: It’s to the UN. It’s to the United Nations. So the Saudis are donating money to the United Nations in support of humanitarian efforts to assist all Iraqis in need. We obviously welcome this generous contribution. The humanitarian situation is growing worse by the day. We are in close contact with the UN and other international humanitarian partners who are responding here. The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Turkey, and others have also announced additional funding for the humanitarian response inside Iraq.
QUESTION: So following up on some of Said’s questions, and also on one on Jo’s, first off, would – if Iran is going to be giving or selling weapons to Iraq to help this insurgency, would that violate any UN sanctions or other sanctions?
MS. HARF: I’d have to take a look at any specifics.
QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, I’m just curious about this new or renewed relationship with Ahmed Chalabi. Do you know when and why this relationship was renewed after so many years, as Said said --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- he was considered a traitor? Is this something that’s recent or --
MS. HARF: Given that he’s a member of parliament, we engage with a broad brush of government officials in Iraq. I can try and find out when our conversations with him started, but it’s my understanding that it was part of our normal outreach to different Iraqi leaders.
QUESTION: And you don’t deal with a lot of members of the Sadrists, and they’re members of parliament as well.
MS. HARF: I can check and see if there are details.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: On the Iran aspect of giving military aid possibly to Iraq --
MS. HARF: And I – well, to be clear, I wasn’t saying that I would think that’s a good thing. I was just saying that if people want to help, there are certain ways they should do it, and we would take a look at any specifics and comment on that specifically.
QUESTION: Sure, exactly. It’s probably the number two man at the Iranian foreign ministry, who, in Moscow today, of all places, said that they haven’t received a request yet, but they would be open, they would be willing to help. However, as we know, there’s an arms embargo against Iran. Would the U.S. be supportive of an idea of possibly allowing Iran to, should they request --
MS. HARF: To my knowledge, we are certainly not supportive of flouting any sort of restrictions on Iran or other countries providing arms. Again, I would have to take a look at the details, but we believe these restrictions are in place for a reason, because Iran has done things that have necessitated them being in place. So I don’t think that the solution here is Iran providing arms to the Iraqis. I think that it is all of Iraq’s neighbors supporting political leaders inside Iraq who want to govern in an inclusive way, supporting the Iraqi army in assistance, in advising, in assessing, to help them fight ISIL, and also to help with the flow of fighters there. So I think there are ways countries can help towards the ends we all want to see happen here.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the additional U.S. troops that were deployed in recent days?
MS. HARF: Yes, we can. I think there was a little confusion about this yesterday. So yes, let’s chat a little bit about it.
QUESTION: Just in – just to clarify, because some of the military personnel who had been assigned to Embassy security have been moved over to these joint intelligence centers, are some of the people who are being deployed now essentially back-filling them at the Embassy in their security roles?
MS. HARF: That’s a good question. Let me check on that, Roz. I don’t know that. What I can – I wanted to make a couple points clear here, because I think there was some confusion yesterday.
This new group of 200 – up to 200 personnel that that the President notified to Congress yesterday is a mission that’s separate and distinct – totally separate and distinct from the assess and advise mission that the President announced, I think it was several weeks ago now. Obviously, the Embassy is still functioning. It’s a very busy Embassy. We’re continually re-evaluating our security needs and always planning for a variety of contingencies, and as such thought it was prudent at this time to provide authorization for up to 200. But this is a functioning embassy that’s very busy, and it’s actually because we want to keep working that we have provided a little additional security. A substantial majority of folks remain at the Embassy, but I want to be clear about missions here because I think some people were trying to lump together the 300 and the 200. These are really distinct missions. This is just for security at the Embassy at the airport to provide reinforcement of our facilities. Very separate from the assessing and advising mission that we talked about a few weeks ago with the special operators.
QUESTION: Were there U.S. military personnel at Baghdad airport before now? Because it was my understanding it was only for the Embassy, for the consulates --
MS. HARF: I can check and see what the – obviously there – I can check and see what the security looks like there.
QUESTION: Because there are now some reports suggesting that if Americans needed to be removed from Iraq that these military personnel would be there in case the State Department said we need you to help us evacuate people.
MS. HARF: I know there are a lot of sort of – four or five steps down the road here and hypotheticals about what these guys could be used for, but I – that’s why I wanted to make very clear they’re actually there to do the opposite, right, to make sure we can remain up and running, and that we have all this work that people in our Embassy are doing right now. They’re very busy, engaged with the leaders, talking to people, that we just at this point thought we needed a little bit extra security to make sure they can continue their work. And there’s work going on at the airport as well, a couple of different facilities. So I think that’s – I know there are hypotheticals here, but would stay away from that.
QUESTION: Right. Is it anticipated that more U.S. personnel will be needed for security? Do you think that this is it?
MS. HARF: I never want to say “this is it,” right. But we constantly re-evaluate and look at the security picture on the ground and plan for a number of contingencies, security-wise. So I don’t have anything to predict for you on that.
QUESTION: Marie, I wonder if you could comment on the interview that President Masoud Barzani gave today to the BBC.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And he said that he’s going to organize or conduct a referendum to gage whether the people of Kurdistan want to remain as part of Iraq or have a country of their own. Would you support such an effort?
MS. HARF: Well, Said, as we’ve said I think many times over the past few weeks, we believe that a unified Iraq is a stronger Iraq. And when the Secretary was there during his trip to Erbil, Kurdish leaders indicated they would participate in the government formation process and that they would help find a means of having a unity government that can bring people together to deal with both the political crisis but also the crisis that ISIL has caused with security.
So look, our goals remain the same here. I think we’ve heard comments like this before, but what we’re focused on right now is bringing a government together.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, within Iraq the closest allies of the United States are the Kurds. So are you persuading him not to conduct such a referendum, especially that probably the results are – it’s just a foregone conclusion?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, when he met with the Secretary, when the Kurdish leaders did, they assured the Secretary that they would participate in the government formation process. I don’t have more specific details about what they discussed.
Lucas? Anything else on Iraq? Still Iraq?
MS. HARF: Okay.
Israel’s minister of intelligence said that if the Jordanians asked for support in combating ISIS that Israel would aid them. Does the United States feel the same way?
MS. HARF: That we would support the Jordanians? I think we support the Jordanians on a number of shared counterterrorism sites, absolutely.
QUESTION: But does that include military assistance, military strikes?
MS. HARF: I don’t know all the details of what our assistance looks like. We’ve provided a great amount of monetary assistance and advising the Jordanians and how to deal with this threat. I don’t have anything to preview for you, but obviously we’ve worked very closely with the Jordanians.
QUESTION: So would you support the Israelis supporting the Jordanians in fighting ISIL?
MS. HARF: I think we would support --
MS. HARF: -- countries in the region – I know, this – I like this teamwork here. Look, we support countries in the region, broadly speaking, working together to fight ISIL. Yes, it’s a threat to all countries in the region. Now, what that looks like on a case-by-case basis, I can’t comment on specifically, but in general, yes.
QUESTION: If Jordan requested military assistance from the United States in combating ISIL, would you agree to that?
MS. HARF: I think we’d take a look at what that request looked like.
QUESTION: Marie, can we go back to the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What’s the total number?
MS. HARF: So --
QUESTION: And how many are providing security for the embassy, and --
MS. HARF: Yep. It’s a good question, and actually I know you hate when I do this, but my colleague at the Defense Department, I think, is briefing at two today and is going to do a little bit going into the numbers of military personnel in Iraq. So I’m going to defer to him to go into some of the details about numbers and what their missions are and what they’re doing. I’m happy to answer questions after that, but I know he’s going to be addressing that in his briefing at two. He’s best to speak to that. But hopefully we’ll get some specific numbers.
QUESTION: Yeah. Any chance that Iraq is going to come up during the talks in Vienna tomorrow? Is --
MS. HARF: We don’t expect it to. We don’t think that’s necessarily the best venue. If that changes, we’ll of course let folks know. As you know, we discussed it briefly on the sidelines last time. I think it was more of a timing issue more than anything we were there, but this is not the focus. We don’t expect it to, but if that changes, I’ll let folks know.
QUESTION: So you aren’t expecting any financial talks? Because I saw that --
MS. HARF: No, we’re not expecting Iraq to come up.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS. HARF: Oh, yeah. We certainly – so we leave tonight, land tomorrow. The talks – this round begins tomorrow, and we expect to be working through the 20th. You saw the Secretary’s op-ed on Iran today, I’m sure, in The Washington Post. This round will consist of a combination of plenary sessions chaired by Cathy Ashton and with all of the P5+1, the political directors, and Foreign Minister Zarif. It will consist of a number of bilateral meetings with us and the Iranians and also us and our other P5+1 partners; a number of expert sessions, where experts from the P5+1 and Iran work on the details of the nuclear side, the sanctions side; will really be a constant flurry of meetings, I think, over the next few weeks working toward the 20th.
QUESTION: But you would – but you would expect within that at some point --
MS. HARF: To have a bilateral --
QUESTION: -- since this is a flurry of meetings --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- at one of these bilaterals you could mention Iraq, Syria, or --
MS. HARF: So we tended to not have – the bilaterals on the nuke talks – nuclear talks, sorry – up until this point have focused on the nuclear issue. We, of course, always discuss the American citizens as well. Last time was something a little bit new because of the severity of what was happening, the emergency in Iraq. We did discuss it on the sidelines of a meeting, but these meetings haven’t been focused on anything else. Of course, we’ll let folks know if that changes, but I don’t expect it to.
QUESTION: Can I ask --
MS. HARF: It’s just not the right forum for it.
QUESTION: Can I ask you on the choice of words? It says “Iranian nuclear deal still possible.”
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Why the word “still”? Because --
MS. HARF: Because time is running short.
QUESTION: Because – yeah, but these --
MS. HARF: And because as --
QUESTION: -- things are going according to calendar, aren’t they?
MS. HARF: Well, because as the Secretary said – let me pull up the exact words too, Said – “significant gaps still remain.” And as he said, we do not yet know what Iran will choose, if they will choose – assuming what they’ve said is true that they don’t want a nuclear weapon, it’s not a hard proposition to prove. What we are asking for are reasonable, verifiable, and easily achievable measures. So – but we have not yet seen what choice the Iranians will make. This isn’t one of capacity; it’s one of will, and we will see what we can get done.
QUESTION: Time may be running out, but he does – he lauds the Iranians for not only meeting, but exceeding, actually, some of your expectations, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, for being serious at the negotiating table. And I think – and this is an important point – I stood up here six months ago now, and there were many skeptics about the Joint Plan of Action, many skeptics about whether Iran would adhere to it, whether they would live up to their commitments, and they have. And Iran’s nuclear program is frozen today as a result of that.
So as we go forward, I’m sure there will be many skeptics over these next few weeks. But I would remind people that there were a lot of skeptics back in November and then in January when we implemented it. And it’s gone according to plan, which I think has been a significant step, and as we’ve negotiated a comprehensive agreement has provided something to base those negotiations on, that we have put in place an agreement that has been adhered to by both sides.
QUESTION: How likely is it that the Secretary will show up if it appears that some sort of deal is imminent?
MS. HARF: Well, you know the Secretary is always happy to get on an airplane, and particularly on this issue. Look, we’ve always said that the Secretary and the other foreign ministers will come if there’s a need in the negotiations at an appropriate time to do so.
And quite frankly, in all honesty, we have no idea what the schedule over the next few weeks will look like. We know what the meeting setups will be in general, but this is a negotiation, and it will be happening right before our eyes and we will all play things by ear.
QUESTION: Marie, when you said that --
MS. HARF: But I know you like 5 a.m. press conferences, which was really fun in Geneva the last time.
QUESTION: When you said that you won’t expect to negotiate or to discuss Iraq with the Iranians in Vienna, did you mean that there is another channel with the Iranians that you (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: We haven’t had other discussions. We’ve said we’re open to it. I don’t have anything to announce on that. We just don’t think this is probably the right forum. If we have something – some specifics about that at some point to say, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: But do you have another channel with the Iranians regarding Iraq?
MS. HARF: Well, there’re other venues through which we could talk to them, and places. But those discussions aren’t happening right now. But in theory, they could. We’ve said we’re open to them. There’s a number of ways it could happen. We just don’t think that on the sidelines of the nuclear talks that’s necessarily the right place to do it.
QUESTION: Is there any discussion with the Iranians about Iraq in Baghdad between American and Iranian diplomats?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I know that’s been an issue that’s – a question that’s been floated out there. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s an update there.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just ask – in the Secretary’s op-ed is in The Washington Post, he calls on Iran to choose, he says Iran must choose, but he’s not very specific about what it is exactly that you guys want them to choose. He mentions that there are substantial gaps, but he doesn’t really go into specifics. Are you able to outline some of the specifics still dividing the P5+1 and
MS. HARF: Well, I mean – and I’m looking in his op-ed right here in front of me. I think one of the things – and this is not specific, but starting generally – is that they’ve been publicly very optimistic about the potential outcome of these negotiations, which hasn’t been matched by date, as he said, with the positions they’ve articulated behind closed doors. So again, we’re talking about all of the issues in a technical sense, right? But up until this point, we haven’t seen a decision, really, of will, of political will, to make the tough choices that we think that they have to make.
So again, I think one of the other points he wanted to make is that if they can, the benefits for Iran’s economy, for Iran’s people, are very clear. There’s a clear path forward here. And if they can’t, there’s also a pretty clear path.
QUESTION: But are we talking about the dismantling of the centrifuges, the complete elimination of highly-enriched uranium? What exactly are the choices that you feel that – or the P5+1 feels that Iran really hasn’t yet made the political – taken the political decision to do?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not going to get into specifics about where the biggest gaps remain or sort of what the technical decisions they need to make are. As we’ve always said, it really is sort of a puzzle how all of this fits together. So we all know the issues, right? They’re all laid out in the JPOA: centrifuges, enrichment, Arak, Fordow. They’re all laid out there. And we know that to get the right combination so they can’t get a nuclear weapon and their program can only be used for peaceful purposes, you have to fit them together in a way that gets you technically to that outcome. There are a couple of different ways they can fit together, and that’s what we’re working on right now, to find that combination. But there will be some tough choices that have to be made, and we haven’t yet seen the same optimism behind closed doors from the Iranians that we’ve seen publicly.
QUESTION: So the Iranians have come out, and they say that you’re asking them for the impossible, that they can’t do it.
MS. HARF: I think that’s why the Secretary said, and I’m quoting, “Assuming that’s true,” which is what they’ve said, “it’s not a hard proposition to prove. We have, over the past several months, proposed a series of reasonable, verifiable, and easily achievable measures that would ensure Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.” And again, this isn’t just because we feel like doing this. It’s because, as the op-ed later went on to say, there’s a history of Iran with the IAEA of not being in compliance with its nonproliferation requirements, and the UN Security Council therefore imposed a number of steps on them as a result.
So there’s a history here. We think there’s a different future available, a different path forward, and I think we’ll all see in the next few weeks whether that’s possible.
QUESTION: Are you able to just give us one of the steps that you’d like us to – like them to do?
MS. HARF: Believe me, I know it’s tempting. But look, to give these negotiations the best chance of success – it’s not just that I don’t want to talk about it – it’s that we need to keep the details in the room. And I’m sure we will talk a lot about it over the next three weeks.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: -- do you expect Deputy Burns to stay on the ground or --
MS. HARF: So we did put out a Media Note this morning. Deputy Secretary Burns, Under Secretary Sherman, Jake Sullivan from the White House, and a whole team of experts – a great group of people – we’re all leaving tonight. I think we’ll just see what the schedule looks like. There may have to be a couple people who have to leave for other meetings and come back. We’ll just update people as that happens.
QUESTION: Different region?
MS. HARF: Iran?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And then we’re going to you.
QUESTION: Yeah. In his op-ed, the Secretary said – he sounded as if he is a little uneasy that the Iranian may ask for extension. In the meantime, he sounded like he – the goal --
MS. HARF: The Iranians have publicly said they’re open to an extension. They very publicly said that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the Secretary sounded uneasy about it. In the meantime, he left the door open. Would you agree about extension if the Iranian requested?
MS. HARF: Well, I think what he wanted to get across in this paragraph – and again, I’m looking at it – is there might be pressure. I mean, some people have talked about it publicly. But he was making a factual statement that no extension is possible unless all sides agree. That’s written into the Joint Plan of Action. I think it says by mutual consent. And also making the point that the United States and our partners will not consent to an extension merely to drag out negotiations, that we need to see a genuine willingness in the time that remains.
We’re committed to the 20th. We are working towards the 20th. That – this was in no way indicating a change in policy on that. So look, we’ll see what they come to the table with.
QUESTION: But he’s not sure about the 20. He didn’t sound firm.
MS. HARF: We are – well, I will tell you we are firm about the fact that the 20th is the date we put in the JPOA here. And look, we’ll see how the negotiations go over the next three weeks.
QUESTION: So you’re saying, though, if an extension is deemed valuable to all sides, you would not oppose that?
MS. HARF: I’m not changing our position on extension. We’ve always said throughout this process that we are focused on the 20th. I know there’s a lot of hypotheticals here, but the point we wanted to make clear is some people, I think, assume it’s a foregone conclusion. And we were trying to make very clear that it’s not, actually, that it has to be agreed to by everyone, and who knows if everyone would agree?
QUESTION: Yes. Going a little bit further east to
Japan. The Japanese Government today took a very significant step by amending its interpretation of its policy on collective self-defense.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I wanted to know if the State Department welcomes this new reinterpretation.
MS. HARF: We do. So we have followed with interest the extensive discussion within Japan on the issue of exercising its right under the UN Charter to collective self-defense. We’ve talked about it in this room quite a bit. We welcome the Government of Japan’s new policy regarding collective self-defense and related security matters. As you know, the U.S.-Japan alliance is one of our most important partnerships, security partnerships, and we value efforts by Japan to strengthen that security cooperation, and also value Japan’s efforts to maintain openness and transparency throughout this decision-making process that’s led up to this new policy.
QUESTION: And there are some concerns that this new policy stops short of full collective defense. Are there any – does the State Department share those concerns that this new policy stops just short of a full collective defense policy?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen those concerns and I don’t have, I think, more in-depth analysis. As I said, we welcome the new policy and I think probably is pretty clear that we think it’s a good thing.
QUESTION: And lastly there are also concerns that this new policy might raise tensions, particularly with Japan’s neighbors of Korea and
China. Does the State Department have any concerns that this new policy may affect Japan’s relations with its neighbors?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said – as I noted that Japan has done quite a bit of outreach to explain its security policies, including by sending officials to foreign capitals. We have appreciated these efforts by Japan. We think this has been a good thing in terms of being very open with their neighbors about what this policy does and doesn’t mean.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, Marie?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe said in his comments that one of the reasons he was doing this was that it was the only way that Japan could maintain the close security relationship with the United States. Now the question is: Was the United States – has it been supportive of this from the beginning? Has it placed it as something that they wanted or is it something Japanese wanted and were supporting? It seemed that Prime Minister Abe’s comments indicate the former rather than the latter.
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see his comments, but look, there has been an extensive discussion within Japan on this issue for some time now. That’s not about what the United States thinks; it’s about what the people of Japan and the Japanese security establishment has been discussing for some time. As I said, we value our very close alliance with Japan on security issues. That has been the case prior to this announcement and will be the case after. So I think this was a decision for the Japanese to make. We have certainly said we welcome the way in which they’ve done so and do welcome today’s policy, but I think this is pretty clear it was a decision the government made.
QUESTION: If it hadn’t gone through, would this, in the U.S. opinion, have endangered the U.S.-Japan security relationship in any way?
MS. HARF: Not at all. It’s an incredibly close relationship.
QUESTION: I have one more on this, if I may.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: You will – you probably also saw that there was a fairly large demonstration in front of the prime minister’s residence against the move on the evening of the decision. I was wondering if the United States is satisfied with the level of inclusivity with which Japan has conducted the process domestically.
MS. HARF: I actually hadn’t seen that, Elliot, and I’m sorry. Let me check with our folks and see if we have a comment.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: This is actually related more towards Japan and North Korea. They recently wrapped up their talks on the abductions issue in Beijing.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: And I wanted to know: To what level has the State Department been communicating with Japan about these discussions in Beijing?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve talked to the Japanese about it. We continue to support their efforts to resolve the abductions issue in a transparent manner and closely coordinate with them and our other allies on
DPRK generally speaking. I don’t have any specifics in terms of how we’ve talked to them about this.
QUESTION: Does the State Department assess that they’ve been transparent up to this point?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s an assessment.
QUESTION: Can we go to a new topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli tensions.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yesterday, after the discovery of the bodies of the three teenagers, the Palestinian Authority – President Abbas called a number of world leaders to urge them, to urge Israel to sort of rein in whatever response they might have. Has he spoken to Secretary of State Kerry or has he --
MS. HARF: No, he has not.
QUESTION: -- spoken to anyone? All right. Has the Secretary spoken to anyone, to the Israeli prime minister and so on?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know about calls today. Let me check.
QUESTION: Are you aware of --
MS. HARF: He may – I don’t know about any calls today, so let me double-check.
QUESTION: I understand. Are you aware of any requests that the United States may have had – may have made to the Israelis to sort of restrain or refrain from, let’s say, a disproportionate response?
MS. HARF: Well, Said, as we said yesterday and have said for many days, we are encouraging restraint from both sides, from the parties, to avoid steps that now could destabilize the situation. From the outset we have offered our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrator to this crime and bring them to justice. And we encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort. As you heard the President and the Secretary both say yesterday that we condemn this despicable terrorist attack in the strongest possible terms. As you know, there was one American citizen killed, and it’s really outrageous. And again, we’ll talk – keep talking to the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority about it.
QUESTION: Okay. The Israelis conducted 34 air raids on Gaza. Do you expect them to do more? Do you expect them to do --
MS. HARF: I’ll let them speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Do you like them to say – what is your position on this? Do you believe that this will only exacerbate tensions between Palestinians and the Israelis?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any specific comment on those actions, Said.
QUESTION: Marie, I raised this question yesterday, and in light of what you just said, calling this a terrorist attack, the old crime reporter in me is always skeptical when governments, police agencies are quick to point out this is the suspect, these are the suspects. What is the Israeli Government’s evidence that two members of Hamas are responsible for these three murders? What is the U.S. Government’s evidence that Hamas members are responsible for this murder?
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t say Hamas was responsible.
QUESTION: No, but it is --
MS. HARF: So let me talk a little bit about culpability.
QUESTION: Yeah, but – no, but it’s implied when you use the word “terrorist” that it’s not --
MS. HARF: Well, “terrorist” can mean a number – terrorism is a form of violence.
MS. HARF: It doesn’t necessarily indicate a specific group. Let me talk to you a little about responsibility and then if there are follow-ups. Right now there are many indications pointing to Hamas’s involvement, and it is also important to note that Hamas’s leadership has publicly praised the kidnappings. The investigation is ongoing. We are still seeking additional details. Again, we’ve offered our full support to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to help in this effort.
QUESTION: Okay. On the second point first, just because Khaled Meshaal praises the murders of these three young men does not necessarily mean that they had anything – they meaning Hamas – had anything to do with it.
MS. HARF: The investigation’s still --
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. HARF: -- as I said, there are many indications pointing to Hamas’s involvement.
QUESTION: Yeah. But let me finish. Because as we saw with many incidents in the past decade, al-Qaida was very quick to claim responsibility for things for which it had no responsibility. Going back to the point that Said was raising about restraint, is the U.S. concerned or satisfied with how the Israeli Government has been responding in the wake of the discovery of these young men’s bodies?
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to characterize it in any way other than to say we’re calling on both sides to show restraint. And again, there are indications, many indications at this point, pointing to Hamas’s involvement. I wasn’t – the investigation is still ongoing, and we want to get to the bottom of what happened here.
QUESTION: What is the evidence that – what is the evidence that indicates that it was Hamas and not some serial killer who likes to prey on young men?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we’re not going to outline the details of that investigation that’s ongoing publicly given the fact that it’s still ongoing. I am indicating for you what many indications have shown about Hamas’s involvement, and as we get more information, we’ll share it.
QUESTION: Well, I guess – not to beat a dead horse, but --
MS. HARF: That’s probably not the right choice of words here.
QUESTION: Not the right choice of words, but I covered too many cases where children, for example, would disappear, there would be massive community outcry, and then it would turn out that a parent or another relative was responsible. I covered too many cases of women who disappeared and it turned out that their husbands were responsible for their murders. And so on.
And so to be skeptical, particularly when we’re talking about the Israelis and the Palestinians and the amount of mistrust that there is for both sides, why should the general public believe the Israeli Government and the U.S. Government when they say we have reason to believe, ample reason to believe that it was Hamas and not some other horrible incident that led to these young men’s deaths?
MS. HARF: Well, you can choose to believe or not believe me, but what I am saying is that we have many indications as part of this investigation – which, by the way, we take very seriously, just for the fact that these are three teenagers that’ve been killed but also given that one’s an American. So there are many indications as part of this investigation that Hamas may have been involved. I am not at this point saying they were responsible. I am not putting a specific name out there. I’m saying the investigation’s ongoing. If it leads somewhere different, if those indications turn out to be wrong, we will update you with that information as well.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just ask – are these many indications that your own people, that American people, investigators have gathered? Or are these indications that have been given to you by the Israeli Government, who obviously is the lead investigator in this?
MS. HARF: I’ll check and see if there are more details to share here. The Palestinian Authority is also working with the Israeli Government on the investigation as well. This is not just an Israeli investigation.
QUESTION: I mean, I guess the question is: Is it your own evidence or is it --
MS. HARF: Yep. I’m happy to check, Jo. I just don’t know the facts here.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the settlement activity that – an announcement was made that the Israelis are building a new 60-unit housing and settlement expansion.
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that announcement, Said. But you know our policy on settlements hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Okay. And also the Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that new settlements should be established to commemorate these three young men. Do you have any comment?
MS. HARF: Our position on settlements hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Going back to something we discussed last week – Benghazi?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Is there an update on the status of the unclassified consulate computers and whether they are accounted for?
MS. HARF: Yeah. So on that, as you know there’s an investigation ongoing, led by the FBI, to determine what, if any, material, documents, computers, anything went missing or was taken during the attacks. That investigation’s ongoing. I don’t have an update for you, given that it’s ongoing. I wanted to be very clear about the fact that we knew no classified computers have been, but the other piece is still being looked into.
QUESTION: Also, then could you help deconflict something? You just said – mentioned classified computers. Last week, you said information about our computers is largely classified, yet in her book, Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Benghazi mission had less security because it did not handle classified mission – classified information --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- quote, “because there is no classified processing at the diplomatic compound, there were no Marines posted there.”
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: But you just said there are classified material at the compound.
MS. HARF: Well, no, I said that information about security on our computers is generally classified. So set that aside. And then I said no classified computers had gone missing in Benghazi.
QUESTION: But Secretary Clinton – former Secretary Clinton is saying that there were classified computers there.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry – go back to her quote, Lucas --
QUESTION: Former – excuse me – yeah --
MS. HARF: -- I think we’re talking past each other here.
QUESTION: Former Secretary Clinton is saying that there were no classified computers there.
MS. HARF: I’m going to sneeze. Excuse me. Okay. So I think where the – a little bit of confusion lies here is there were not – when we talk about classified information, there weren’t classified documents, classified safes like we have here, like we had in Tripoli, in Benghazi.
If there were small classified computers, that’s different than handling classified documents or material. I think from a security perspective, we look at those a little differently, and I – my understanding is what she said is accurate. I’d have to go take a look at the book again, but --
QUESTION: She said that no classified processing at the diplomatic --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- compound in Benghazi.
MS. HARF: I think – and I’m not an expert here – but I think that refers to things like classified files. If you think about an embassy overseas, when you have to destroy things, classified files, classified safes, those things did not exist in Benghazi.
QUESTION: But isn’t classified material classified material, whether it’s in a file or a computer?
MS. HARF: Well, it depends. It depends on – I mean, again, I’d have to look at exactly what she said, but if it’s a laptop that’s not connected to anything, that can be moved around and isn’t necessarily based there, isn’t there all the time, that’s a little different than having a facility that’s dedicated to hosting classified material.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton was saying there was less security at the compound, and she blamed it on the lack --
MS. HARF: Not less. She just said there weren’t Marines there. There’s just different kind of security.
QUESTION: But she said that because there was no classified material.
MS. HARF: Right. That was explaining the reason that the Marines were not there.
QUESTION: But you’re saying there was classified material there.
MS. HARF: No, what I’m saying is there – to my understanding, there were no classified safes, no classified documents. There may at times have been the presence of classified laptops that we secured coming in and out of there, but it wasn’t a location that was built to hold classified material is my understanding. Let me double-check on this one and see if I can parse the former secretary’s words a little more for you.
QUESTION: Is there anything new with Abu Khatallah status here?
MS. HARF: Nope. DOJ has spoken to this. Nothing new.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, similar trials took place, I think, in New York. But this time it is in Washington. Is there any --
MS. HARF: I’m not sure what --
QUESTION: -- will there be any State Department participation or --
MS. HARF: I can check. I have no idea.
QUESTION: So the choice of venue has nothing to do --
QUESTION: It’s jurisdiction.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I think it’s where --
MS. HARF: I think it’s where the indictment was unsealed.
QUESTION: Can we go to
MS. HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: I think we’re done. So overnight, President Poroshenko decided not to renew the ceasefire. Yesterday, Jen Psaki said that the Americans would support the decision either way.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And today we’ve seen a renewed assault by Ukrainian forces in the east against the pro-Russian separatists. Are you still supporting the Ukrainian decision not to resume?
MS. HARF: Yes, we are. And look, it takes two to keep a ceasefire, right. So President Poroshenko put in place a seven-day ceasefire. He abided by it. He extended it for three days, but the fact remained that the separatists, many of them weren’t adhering to it, and he has a right to defend his country. So he, at the same time, though, and the Secretary did speak with him yesterday, I believe. He did say he was still committed to a peace plan. So the ultimate goal here is to get back to a ceasefire, get back to a peace plan, but it takes two parties to put that in place and to keep it in place.
QUESTION: And are you worried the situation might degrade even further than it has done in the past?
MS. HARF: I mean, certainly that’s a concern, but we are encouraged that President Poroshenko has put forward a path here, a plan to get back to a ceasefire, to get back on track, and now we need to see the separatists doing the same thing.
QUESTION: And is it still the – America’s contention that the Ukrainians are showing admirable restraint in their actions in the east?
MS. HARF: It is, yes.
QUESTION: You’re not at all worried about what you’re seeing, the fighting or --
MS. HARF: Well, look, this is – the Ukrainian forces have a responsibility to defend their territory and their people. And what they’re seeing is aggression by Russion-backed separatists that they have an obligation to respond to. We’ll look at every situation individually, obviously, but --
QUESTION: What’s your response to President Putin’s comments today? He said Russia is involved in a historic effort to defend itself. He compared Ukraine to Iraq, Syria, and
MS. HARF: I don’t know what to do with that second part – comparing it to Iraq, Syria, and Libya – so I’m probably not even going to touch it. But I mean, historic in the sense that it’s illegal under international law? I mean, sure, under one definition of historic.
QUESTION: So last week --
MS. HARF: I’ll give him that.
QUESTION: Last week it seemed like there was time being given to Russia before sanctions were going to be imposed.
MS. HARF: Well, we wanted to see how the ceasefire played out.
QUESTION: And so now that it’s over and President Putin’s saying things like this, where are we on sanctions?
MS. HARF: We still have the ability to do them – put them in place very quickly. We are talking to the Europeans about them every day. I don’t have anything to announce, but we are looking very closely at what we might do next.
QUESTION: President Poroshenko said that the pro-Russian militias are also infiltrated or manned or they have a great many members that are in the Russian secret service. Do you agree with that? Or Russian intelligence.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have the details on that in front of me, but suffice to say I think we’ve made pretty clear that we think the Russian Government is involved very closely in backing these separatists, so – no details on that, though.
QUESTION: Was the Secretary’s phone call with President Poroshenko just about the end of the ceasefire?
MS. HARF: It was about the situation in Ukraine, the ceasefire – let’s see. Expressed U.S. support for the people of Ukraine and for the Ukrainian Government’s effort to maintain public order; welcomed his continued commitment to pursue his peace plan, including the offer of amnesty, decentralization of power to the region’s political dialogue, and the economic revitalization of the eastern part of the country; also talked to him a little bit about how we and our European partners are willing to do more to press Russia to end support to the separatists; and said we are continually preparing more costs for Russia if it does not take further steps.
QUESTION: Was there any discussion there about the humanitarian situation in the east? I know President Putin had talked to President Poroshenko about this. They’re trying to open up a corridor for some kind of humanitarian relief. You have people who are trying to leave the country, there are a lot of refugees there. It’s kind of an awful situation and it’s also something that the President of Ukraine should also be concerned about. Has anything been done with regard to that?
MS. HARF: Well, certainly the President of Ukraine is concerned about it, but this humanitarian situation there is a direct result of Russian-backed incursions there. There was not a humanitarian situation there before the separatists started killing people. So let’s be clear about the cause of this.
In terms of the numbers, I don’t know if Jen got this yesterday in detail, but we talked a little bit about the UNHCR’s numbers. In many – we don’t question the UNHCR’s credibility. We obviously think they’re an important organization. In many cases such as in Syria, data comes from multiple independent sources. We think that’s important to back up the data. In this situation, UNHCR’s estimate of the number of people moving across the Ukrainian border comes directly from Russian Government sources who, suffice to say, have not always been entirely accurate here. And – just a couple more points on this because I know there have been some questions – UNHCR’s statement did not say that 110,000 refugees fled Ukraine into Russia. What it said is that number of people had crossed the border at some point. That could be to go visit their grandmother and come back. The – only 9,600 people have actually applied for asylum in Russia. And I just want to be very clear when we talk about numbers because there have been some confusion here. And we continue to support the work of UNHCR and attempt to get alternative sources of information for them.
QUESTION: When was the last time the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MS. HARF: I believe they were supposed to talk today. Let me check and see if that happened.
QUESTION: Do you know what’s on the agenda for the call?
MS. HARF: I’m sure there’s a whole host of topics. I’m sure Ukraine is at the top, probably other topics as well – probably Iraq, probably Syria, probably Iran. But I don’t know, so I can check.
QUESTION: Will there be a paper readout also?
MS. HARF: I will endeavor to get one. I’ll talk to Jen, who’s with them on the road.
QUESTION: I’ve got two quick questions.
MS. HARF: Yep. Wait, let – oh, okay.
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: No, no. Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: One is
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Today they delayed the release of the election results because of the allegations primarily by Abdullah Abdullah about fraud.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is this of concern to you, that we’re seeing these results being delayed? And how seriously does the United States take his allegations of fraud?
MS. HARF: Well look, we know there’s a process here, and we have urged both sides to remain engaged with the electoral institutions who can ensure that all allegations of fraud are – brought to them are given careful and impartial review and adjudication. There are legal mechanisms for going through, receiving, investigating, and adjudicating these complaints, and we think that’s an important process, even if it takes some time. So what we’ve said is throughout this process, we want both sides to remain engaged with it, to be talking to the electoral institutions to help work this out. We know it may take some time, though.
QUESTION: Do you have any evidence yourself to back the allegations of fraud?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to make a judgment one way or the other. It’s really up to their electoral institutions to go through all of that.
QUESTION: And how does this tarnish the hopes that you had for a very – a relatively smooth handover and the installation of a president pretty quickly in the country?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, democracy is complicated and at times messy. But it’s important, and I think we are still – what we’re focused on is the electoral institutions doing their jobs, looking at fraud allegation, having both sides remain engaged in the process, and eventually getting to an outcome here.
As I would remind people, both candidates have committed – said they would sign the BSA, which we think is a good thing. And so we’ll just keep working with them and hope the process can continue moving forward.
QUESTION: Last one on Benghazi. So who’s right here, you or Mrs. Clinton, about the computers?
MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s a discrepancy between what we said, so I think your question is a false premise.
QUESTION: Well, she’s saying --
MS. HARF: And I will defer to the former Secretary of State on this one. I just don’t have any more details, Lucas. Let me see if I can get any and share them with you. I understand the discrepancy, but I think there’s a difference between a facility with permanent, classified capabilities like safes, like documents, and between maybe having a classified laptop that may come in and out of it. I think there’s a difference, but let me check with our experts.
QUESTION: One North Korea question.
MS. HARF: Let’s do just a few more. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. It is expected that the Japanese Government will lift its bilateral – unilateral sanctions against North Korea as early as Thursday. So --
MS. HARF: Okay. I hadn’t heard that. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Do you have any concern that it would impact on your efforts to isolate North Korea?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been very clear about our – the international community’s efforts to isolate North Korea. If you just look at the UN sanctions alone, incredibly biting sanctions on North Korea right now, and ours as well. So I will take a look and see if there’s more to share.
QUESTION: So you are – are you confident that the Japanese Government lift up sanctions but not harm the sanction regime?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen that detail, so let me just check and see if there’s more to share.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you know if Secretary Kerry is going to meet with Taiwanese President Ma in Panama today?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: One about Hong Kong.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Half a million people turned out in the streets of Hong Kong last night despite the huge tropical rainstorm. It’s the largest demonstration – pro-democracy demonstration since the handover in 1997.
MS. HARF: Yeah. And this happens, I think, every year on July 1st, yeah.
QUESTION: It happens every on an annual basis, but this is the largest since 1997. What comment does America have on this, what reaction?
MS. HARF: Well yeah, look, we support Hong Kong’s well-established traditions and basic law protections that include internationally-recognized freedoms such as freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. We do support democracy in Hong Kong in accordance with the basic law. We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law is really essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity. I know details about the election process for the chief executive in 2017 are still being worked out, but we believe that the legitimacy of this person will be enhanced if the – if universal suffrage is fulfilled and if the election provides a genuine choice of candidates that are representative of the voters’ will.
QUESTION: Should Beijing be listening to what’s happening in Hong Kong? Should they be taking note of these cries for greater democracy?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m sure they are.
QUESTION: You think they are?
MS. HARF: Not for me whether to say if they should or not.
QUESTION: But do you think they are taking note in the sense that they’re going to become more democratic in China, or do you think they’re taking note thinking this is something that we have to crack down on?
MS. HARF: As I said, we are very clear about what our position is. We support democracy in Hong Kong. We’ll continue talking to them about it, but I don’t have any more predictions for you to make about what this might look like going forward.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 p.m.)