2:22 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone, and I’m very sorry for the delay. I hate to do that, but thank you for your flexibility and bearing with us today. Just one item at the top, and then, Deb, I will turn it over to you.
One year ago today, the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad launched a deadly chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus, where more than 1,000 people were killed. The Assad regime’s unconscionable and indiscriminate attack on August 21st, 2013 used cruel weaponry that has long been internationally condemned, further exposing the regime’s total disregard for human life.
Though we removed and have now destroyed the most dangerous chemicals in the regime’s declared stockpiles, a number of critical issues remain unresolved, including discrepancies and omissions related to Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to OPCW. These and our other concerns must be fully resolved.
The haunting images of unspeakable human suffering on that day and throughout every other day of this tragic conflict remind the international community that Assad long ago forfeited his legitimacy to lead the Syrian people, of the need to hold the Assad regime accountable for this and other atrocities against the Syrian people perpetrated during this conflict, and of the urgency of addressing all dimensions of the Syrian crisis. The United States remains steadfast in our resolve to continue working with key allies and partners to do so.
MS. HARF: Hello.
QUESTION: I’d like to start with Foley, if I could.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: The United States has always said that it’s never going to negotiate with terrorists, and I was just wondering that in light of this particular case, what kind of discussion is going on now within the Administration about negotiating with terrorists or paying ransoms or --
MS. HARF: None, none. We do not make concessions to terrorists. That includes – we do not pay ransoms. One of the main ways ISIL has been funded throughout this conflict has been from ransom payments that others have paid. We believe just in 2014 that that’s in the millions of dollars. So we believe that paying ransoms or making concessions would both put our – all Americans overseas at greater risk for kidnapping and in harm’s way, but that ransoms would also fund and finance exactly the groups we are trying to degrade their capabilities.
QUESTION: What about a family, if they particularly wanted to negotiate?
MS. HARF: That’s the U.S. Government’s position. I can only speak for us. I don’t want to speak for any family that would ever be in this kind of situation and what decisions they would make.
QUESTION: Would that be, like, illegal though? It would be illegal?
MS. HARF: Would it be illegal?
MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer.
QUESTION: What do you know about this confirmation that they asked this – for a ransom of $132.5 million?
MS. HARF: For those kind of details that I know the family has spoken to and others, we’re not going to be confirming or talking about those details in any way of those conversations.
QUESTION: Did the government get any kind of a forewarning that they were – or did they threaten that they would kill him? Did the U.S. Government get any kind of advance --
MS. HARF: Well, we did not. The U.S. Government did not --
QUESTION: -- notice of this?
MS. HARF: -- have contact with ISIL, so let’s set that aside. We’re not going to get into the details of any possible communications between the captors and families or anyone else. I think it’s not really our place to do that. What we do know, and what I will say, is that every day Jim Foley and these other Americans are in the captivity of ISIL, their lives are at risk, and we know that. But for more specifics, I’m just not going to get into those.
QUESTION: Okay, I have some more but we’ll go around.
MS. HARF: Okay, let’s go down the first row.
QUESTION: Do you know --
MS. HARF: Lesley, and then --
QUESTION: Do you know if – how does it impact the U.S. when European countries pay for the ransom of their – of citizens that are held captive? How does that affect how – perhaps, treatment of U.S. hostages?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen any comparison of how it affects other hostages. What I have – do know and what I just said is that we believe – the United States Government believes very strongly that paying ransom to terrorists gives them a tool in the term – in the form of financing that helps them propagate what they’re doing. And so we believe very strongly that we don’t do that for that reason. And as I said, in 2014 alone, I think ISIL’s gotten in the millions of dollars from kidnapping of Western citizens, and obviously we believe very strongly that we need to cut off their funding and cut off their ability to operate, and don’t want to put other American citizens in harm’s way.
QUESTION: Do you have a figure, an updated figure – I think somebody asked yesterday, but you didn’t have it – was how many – what is the U.S. estimate as far as hostages that ISIS has in its --
MS. HARF: Overall?
MS. HARF: We’re not going to get into the specific numbers. We don’t want to put too many specifics out there, obviously, while they’re still being held. I – we talked to – we can talk a little bit about the operation, if you want, that we talked about last night, but there are – that operation was intended to rescue Mr. Foley and a small number of other Americans. We’re not going to go into more specifics than that for their security reasons.
QUESTION: Was it just one operation?
MS. HARF: There was, yes. The one they spoke about last night? Yes.
MS. HARF: That was one. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And there’s been no other operations before that, or even attempts?
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t confirm one way or the other reports or any other specifics about special operations undertakings. We did not have the preference to in this case either, but when it became clear that several press outlets had the story and were going to be publishing it, we were forced to acknowledge it.
QUESTION: Could you tell us when that operation took place?
MS. HARF: It was earlier this summer. Won’t give more specific details than that.
MS. HARF: Earlier this summer.
QUESTION: Again on the ransom policy. Is there the beginning of a debate within the Administration on the ransom policy when you compare, as my colleague pointed out, when you compare what European countries are doing and when you see that, for example, the two French journalists who were held with James Foley are free and alive?
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that there’s a debate inside the U.S. Government. We have had this policy in place for a very long time. It’s in place to protect our citizens overseas and also to not provide terrorists with the funding they need to continue to carry out their heinous acts. So this is a longstanding policy, one that I think we believe in is the best way to keep people safe overseas and not give more incentive for other Americans to be kidnapped.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Marie, which countries have – which countries does the U.S. believe have actually paid ransoms?
MS. HARF: I know there are a variety of reports out there. I don’t have details to confirm for you on that.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. talking with its allies, in the EU in particular, about strengthening the existing sanctions against al-Baghdadi and others in IS in order to basically underscore the need to starve them of funding, if you believe that this is critical to defeating this organization?
MS. HARF: We are. And just a couple of things I got a funding. There were a lot of questions about this yesterday, so I got some facts on this. We did – the State Department did designate al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, in October 2011, as well as the spokesman for ISIL just recently. They’re designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under an executive order. So obviously, this prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with these officials. And one of them, Said, was the person you asked about who had been arrested in Kuwait. We had seen reports of his release after being arrested. We’re seeking more information on those; can’t confirm those one way or the other. But he’s one of those that the Treasury Department had designated. They designated five additional people as well.
ISIL’s funding comes from many sources. It comes from criminal activity in Iraq and Syria; bank heists, as we saw in Mosul; extortion; robberies; smuggling; and kidnapping for ransom, as well as raiding villages and towns. It also controls some petroleum facilities in eastern Syria. It does also receive some money from outside donors, which I think is something folks in here asked about yesterday.
Just two quick points, and then you can follow up. We don’t have information that governments have supported them. Private fundraising networks increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations and communicate with donors and recipient opposition groups or terrorist organizations. It also enables fundraisers to solicit donations from supporters in countries where otherwise it would be banned, such as Saudi Arabia.
And then finally, fundraisers collect money through events held at private residences, wire transfers, informal financial transfer systems at mosques. We’ve seen some of this in the past. These tactics aren’t new, but that’s also one of the ways ISIL raises money.
QUESTION: But again --
MS. HARF: Go ahead, Roz. Wait. Roz, a follow-up.
QUESTION: Yeah. But again, going back to the point about your suggestion that other governments have indeed given money to IS in order to get the safe return of their citizens, what is the U.S. Government doing to try to impress upon these other governments that doing so undercuts the very legitimacy of the sanctions regime and possibly creates more of a security risk to the U.S., to other countries than just the short-term and very --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- understandable desire to get people home?
MS. HARF: Right. We’re having the conversation. We’ve had it for some time. I don’t have more specifics on that for you. I’m happy to check and see if there are.
QUESTION: Do you have any figure on the actual amount of money that ISIS has? I mean, there were figures today --
MS. HARF: Let me see.
QUESTION: -- that talks about something like $3 billion. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: I could check on that, Said. I think my colleagues at the Treasury Department might have some more on that. I don’t know if I have an overall number here. They do have quite a bit of money --
QUESTION: Okay. And you’re saying --
MS. HARF: -- quite a bit.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry. And you’re saying that most of that money is – or these revenues come from kidnappings and ransoms and so on?
MS. HARF: And criminal activities like attacking banks --
QUESTION: Maybe drugs?
MS. HARF: -- raiding towns, things --
QUESTION: Dealing in drugs or doing something like this --
MS. HARF: Things like that.
QUESTION: -- or dealing in arms?
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that, but you know.
QUESTION: Okay. Now can you tell us – I think the GlobalPost said that they received a message that ISIL was intending to kill Mr. Foley. Have you heard about that?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to confirm those specifics one way or the other. They can speak to those specifics. I know they have.
QUESTION: Okay. Now on the operation itself – the operation, the failed operation, whatever – now it’s similar in many ways to Eagle Claw, which was done in 1980, maybe. Was there any assets left behind in this case?
MS. HARF: No, not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Were there any military – U.S. military assets or --
MS. HARF: Check with the Defense Department, but not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: But to the best of your knowledge, they didn’t leave any equipment or --
MS. HARF: Correct. And as folks have said – and again, the Defense Department can speak to this better – the intelligence picture dictated the timing of the operation. They unfortunately were not present. There were a number of fatalities on the other side, none on the U.S. side. And once it was determined the hostages were not present, the U.S. forces left.
QUESTION: Well, obviously, to conduct the operation, there must have been quite solid intelligence in this case.
MS. HARF: Correct. And the President believed --
QUESTION: So what could possibly have gone wrong?
MS. HARF: Well, the President believed there was sufficient intelligence to launch this operation. Look, this – the intelligence picture is a very difficult one. And as we all know, and having come from that world, you can develop an intelligence picture, and the President felt it was sufficient enough to act on, particularly given the danger we believe the hostages are in. And sometimes, unfortunately, these things happen.
But I will say, setting aside this one operation, every single day before and after that operation and today, we have many, many resources, every tool at our disposal, to try and find these people and bring them home. That work is ongoing.
QUESTION: And my last question on this: I remember some – a couple years ago or maybe a year and a half ago, former Ambassador Ryan Crocker said that it was a wrong policy not to have engagement with Syria, not to have a mission in Damascus, because that does compromise your ability to sort of source out intelligence and so on. In retrospect, is it – was it a wrong policy not to have any kind of contact with Syria?
MS. HARF: Not – well, we make decisions on our embassy based on security reasons and other considerations, and that decision was made a long time ago. But I will say that we have enormous intelligence resources dedicated not just to finding and bringing these hostages home, but also to the overall picture in Syria as well. And in terms of the intelligence, the President and his advisors believe the information that we possess, which is collected through various sources over a period of time, combined, obviously, with the very real threat, warranted the action we took. Everybody involved in the operation performed exactly as they were supposed to. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the outcome that we all would have hoped for.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on this?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Number one, do you know of any instances where Mr. Foley tried to escape?
MS. HARF: I don’t have those details.
QUESTION: Number two, do you believe that Mr. Sotloff is still alive?
MS. HARF: Again, not going to get into any of those details or questions.
QUESTION: To investigate Foley, Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Comey have said they want to use sort of traditional law enforcement to do this. Has there been any outreach to the powers in the area to facilitate U.S. personnel, or will there be to conduct --
MS. HARF: From a law enforcement perspective?
MS. HARF: I can check with our law enforcement colleagues. Obviously, there will be a criminal investigation, as there always is when there is an American citizen death overseas, as the FBI and DOJ can speak to. There’s also an ongoing intelligence community focus on this to determine who may have been responsible, ongoing intelligence capabilities being put forward to see possibly how those people could be held accountable as well.
QUESTION: And if I can --
MS. HARF: They work in concert with each other, though.
QUESTION: And if I can follow up on that, in just the past 10 minutes or so, Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has asked for an investigation as to how the leak came out. A moment ago, you sort of gave an explanation saying, well, there was a number of news organizations that had this and so we felt it was compelled --
MS. HARF: Absolutely. We had no intention of ever making this public, period – I want to be very clear about that – for the operational security both of the special operators and also of the remaining hostages. It became clear to us when a number of news outlets, including some represented in this room, came to the U.S. Government recently with very detailed information that had been provided to them. I have no idea who provided it. We were forced at that point to acknowledge it, given they were – many of these outlets, if not all of them, were going to run stories one way or the other.
QUESTION: But that said, then is Chairman McKeon’s call for a probe wrongheaded?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the call specifically, so I don’t want to comment on it. But as I think I made clear from the Administration perspective, we did not have an intention of making this public.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. frustrated that the attempted raid was leaked to several in the media?
MS. HARF: We know how this all works, and I understand there is a huge interest in what we might do as the United States Government to bring our people home. I fully recognize that. We had briefed the families on it. Congress was notified, of course, in a classified way at the time. So I don’t want to be overly critical of it; I was just explaining how it eventually did come out. We were not planning to put it out, but once it did we were forced to acknowledge.
QUESTION: How does this hurt future U.S. efforts to try to get the remaining hostages back?
MS. HARF: Well, I’d refer to my colleagues at the Defense Department for a tactical assessment of that. Obviously, we want every tool in the toolbox available to us. If in the future we were to undertake similar operations, we would obviously want those available to us, which is why a lot of the operational details we are still not releasing or talking about or confirming on the operational side for that reason so we can preserve that ability to use that in the future.
QUESTION: And you might have gotten into this yesterday, but can you describe at this point what kind of support the U.S. Government is providing to the Foley family, especially given that trying to repatriate his remains is pretty well nigh impossible?
MS. HARF: We have – since we learned of his capture, the State Department, the FBI, officials from the intelligence community and the White House and others have been in touch with the Foley family and the Sotloff family. We have remained in close contact with them. The State Department and the FBI reached out when we got notified, unfortunately, of what had happened, and we are providing assistance to the family in any way we can. There is the question of repatriation. As you mentioned, it is a difficult one. We believe it’s an important one. We will help in any way we can, but it will be difficult.
QUESTION: Change of topics?
MS. HARF: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: The same topic.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: First one is related to there are some reports about that the Twitter accounts of ISIL are stopped or banned or whatever. I don’t know their exact – is this all the accounts or part of the accounts or what --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- how these --
MS. HARF: -- so I’d let Twitter speak more broadly to this, but the State Department and the Defense Department did reach out to social media sites like Twitter and YouTube, particularly the night the video and the photos were released, to highlight for them accounts that may be violating their own usage policies. And so they – and Twitter, I think, has talked about this on the record – will take action when there are things that violate those policy, like these kind of videos or photos. So broadly speaking, I think Twitter can speak to their own policies, but that’s the communications we’ve had.
QUESTION: Talking about ISIL, it’s like yesterday you described all these confrontation may take place more and more, and the question is now in the area is like and all the people are asking is make a difference now in the type and the scope and the tactics of confrontation with ISIL than it was like 10 days ago or a week ago?
MS. HARF: Well, let’s – two points on that. As I said yesterday, we don’t rule anything out in terms of protecting our people or bringing those to justice who have hurt our people wherever country that’s in. And I’m not indicating decisions made in any way, shape, or form, but I just want to be very clear that we maintain the ability and retain the capability to go after people who harm our citizens wherever they are. So let’s do Point A there.
Point B is we’re still very focused, and let’s not lose sight of what we’re doing in Iraq that’s been going after ISIL, both obviously setting aside the humanitarian situation but outside – around Mount Sinjar, helping break the siege there by hitting ISIL targets, protecting Erbil, helping the Iraqis take back the Mosul Dam from ISIL. We are very focused on going after ISIL strategically when it impacts the goals the President laid out in Iraq, and we’re looking long-term at how we can do that more going forward. But we are engaged very heavily right now in fighting them and in helping to build capability of the Iraqis to do that.
QUESTION: The reason I am asking you this question because you are mentioning Mount Sinjar and Erbil and all these things, but the real issue now is becoming different. I mean, even they are announcing ISIL people in their message, whatever the recorded messages and other messages, that now we are in a war with America.
MS. HARF: This is not about ISIL versus the United States. I think I made that clear yesterday. They are killing anyone who gets in their way – Sunni, Shia Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, Iraqis, Syrians – anyone who gets in their way, and now an American. So this is not about what the United States is or isn’t doing. This is about ISIL’s stated commitment to murder, rape, enslave people who don’t agree with their ideology and who get in their way. And I think the more we can say that – because it’s true – it’s important for people to remember that as they look at the overall picture.
QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this question because it’s – it – I mean, I – in realities and in politics is matter how they look to us or how they look to United States. It’s not how they – we look to them or we are seeing it. It’s like – but they are announcing that it’s a war against America. Right or wrong, that’s what they are saying.
MS. HARF: Well, they can say whatever they’d like. But what I am making clear is that’s not what ISIL represents, and they don’t represent any religion. They are at war with everybody they come into contact with. And that’s why we are very focused, when we outline goals, on attacking their targets when they threaten those goals; on helping the Iraqis gain in capability to fight this threat on their own; and, to be very clear, holding people accountable when they hurt our people. That’s something we’re very focused on and that’s certainly what will be a guiding principle of our action going forward.
QUESTION: The other concern which is usually raised to those who have some kind of memory, which is like 30 years ago, 40 years ago, whenever these kind of confrontations were happening – like in the case of Beirut, the Marines barrack and others – the next step of United States was to withdraw from the confrontation.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think that’s been universally true. Look at Afghanistan. When we were attacked, we took the fight to them.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to – I mean --
MS. HARF: I know. I’m just bringing a different historical comparison forward, that I think this Administration particularly has shown – very willing to, no matter how long it takes, find people who have killed Americans, who have harmed Americans, and bring them to justice. We have a history of that. There’s – that’s something we’re certainly very, very committed to here.
QUESTION: You think, Madam --
MS. HARF: We’re all going to do one at a time here.
QUESTION: One more.
MS. HARF: Let’s start here on this and go across and then go to Roz.
QUESTION: You think, Madam, this is going to be major discussion of issue at the United Nations upcoming General Assembly meetings, and because who is funding them and who’s arming them and how to stop this new – many people call new face of terrorism or al-Qaida?
MS. HARF: I think it will be. And as we’ve talked about a little bit, the President will be chairing a Security Council session on foreign fighters, particularly Syria and Iraq. I think it will be an incredibly important decision – or discussion, excuse me – around the General Assembly. When you have this many world leaders in one place, I don’t know, quite frankly, how it couldn’t be.
QUESTION: And you think you need major powers with you like China and Russia?
MS. HARF: We need everyone who will join us in this fight against ISIL.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Yes, Elliot. I’m --
QUESTION: -- can you stay on that – on the same --
MS. HARF: Yeah, but I’m going to go across. I’m going to go across, as I said I was going to. I will get to all of you.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. I wanted to follow up on something you just said on your outreach to Twitter and other social media. You said you let them know of content that violated their own --
MS. HARF: That may – yeah, so they – their usage policies. So there are certain things that violate those policies. Obviously, the kind of videos we’ve seen do, and we would ask for them to be taken down in accordance with their usage policies.
QUESTION: Right. So – but you guys wanted the video down, but --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- you didn’t make the argument to them that it was terrorist propaganda? It was on the --
MS. HARF: I can look at what their – I don’t know what, exactly, their usage policy says in terms of what is okay and what’s not. But in terms of that specifically in the video, it was because of the graphic nature of it.
QUESTION: Okay. And is there any --
MS. HARF: But – there may be more details in their policy.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Well, according to the Guardian – sorry. According to the Guardian, the person who killed James Foley is a British jihadist, and he’s the leader of a British group – a group of fighters in Syria. Is the information correct? Have you confirmed his identity?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re working on that right now, working very closely with the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Cameron came out yesterday and said it’s looking increasingly likely that it was a British citizen, so we are working with them on that. We are concerned about the fact that a number of Westerners, including a small number of Americans, have joined this fight. So that is something we’re working very, very closely with them on right now.
QUESTION: Do you know – according to the Guardian, the – Britain’s security services said there are increasing numbers of homegrown terrorists leaving the country to fight in Syria and Iraq. So you said you’re – you have those kind of concerns you will have a similar trend in the U.S., right?
MS. HARF: I think it’s a much smaller number, but we are concerned about foreign fighters going there. It will be a key topic of conversation at the General Assembly.
QUESTION: Are you going to take any actions to deal with the situation?
MS. HARF: We’ve been taking a number of actions, I think, to deal with the situation. Look, we have tried to work with countries in the region to crack down on the flow of foreign fighters from anywhere. I think there are fighters from over 50 countries now that we assess have joined the fight on the side of ISIL. So we’re very focused on dealing with this and working with other countries in the region to really crack down on the places and ways they can get in. But once they’re in Syria, the Syria-to-Iraq pipeline, unfortunately, has become quite porous, and there’s been a lot of fighters going back and forth over that border.
QUESTION: As we know, there is a second hostage in ISIL, and are you going to call on ISIL to release him?
MS. HARF: Yes, I did yesterday.
MS. HARF: Yes, yes. On --
QUESTION: Yeah, just --
MS. HARF: -- ISIL?
QUESTION: Yeah. Back for a second to that UNGA summit thing.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it an invitation thing only – invitation only or --
MS. HARF: It’s a Security Council session, so I’m assuming all the members of the Security Council will be present. I don’t know beyond that what participation will look like.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s not like you’re sending – invitations already went out and --
MS. HARF: I think – oh, no, no.
MS. HARF: I don’t think any invitations have gone out. I think we’re still working through those details.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Yes, on this. Staying on ISIL?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On the general broader fight against ISIL, while President Obama, the British prime minister, and also the French president and foreign minister, they all spoke about this – that they need to get moving, the French foreign minister also suggested – well, the president suggested an international conference on the subject and that there should be a universal strategy. Apparently, the foreign minister has said that they would invite regional countries, including Iran, to that conference. Iran’s foreign minister today has said that Tehran --
MS. HARF: I think there was a little garble here. Do you want me to – about Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments?
QUESTION: Tehran is in touch with a number of countries. Number one, is the U.S. one of those countries discussing this? And they have conditioned their cooperation in fighting ISIL upon the relief of all nuclear sanctions.
MS. HARF: So let’s just talk about this for a little bit. There were – there was a story that Foreign Minister Zarif had linked its help with ISIS in Iraq to a lifting of Western sanctions. We have seen the story. We do not believe that the report is accurate.
We understand that the Iranian foreign minister – and you’re never going to believe this – quoted in the story as referring to Iraq the country was actually referring to Arak, the Iranian nuclear facility. We’ve looked at the language a couple of times, actually, and think he was not linking in that specific quote fighting ISIS in Iraq to lifting of Western sanctions. He was talking about making progress on Arak, the nuclear facility, to lifting of Western sanctions.
Right, I know. It’s almost unbelievable.
QUESTION: But this was a Farsi report.
MS. HARF: Yeah, and our --
QUESTION: And they can’t – the spelling is totally different.
MS. HARF: I know, and our – but we think there was a mistranslation. Our Farsi speakers have taken a bunch of looks at it and think that he was referring to that. I’ll let him speak for himself, and if he wants to clarify and disagree with me – I am not a Farsi speaker – I’m sure he would have or his people would have further clarification. But on that particular AFP report, I just wanted to --
QUESTION: Actually, I cited a Farsi report on that.
MS. HARF: Yeah, but it came from a translation of the Farsi, and we think that was not accurate. I know it’s very --
QUESTION: Then what about his comment about – that Tehran is in touch with a number of countries on possible cooperation and participation in a conference?
MS. HARF: Again, I don’t have more details on that article, but on that specific point I just wanted to be clear on that.
MS. HARF: I know. It’s very odd, actually.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: What’s your assessment of Iran’s role? Are they helping in fighting ISIS in Iraq, or they are just watching?
MS. HARF: I don’t have an assessment of that. I am happy to check. We think any country in the region should play a role if they can, a positive role in helping fight ISIL, and a huge part of that is through promoting and helping the Government of Iraq as it gets up on its feet and is inclusive. So I think that, obviously, if there’s a positive role Iran can play, they should play a positive role.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can we change topics?
MS. HARF: Anything else on this?
MS. HARF: Yeah, and I’ll go to you in the back. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a couple more.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I just wondered if you had any comment on – there’s some analysts who are looking at this on the flip side and saying that ISIL knows that the U.S. is not going to pay ransoms, okay? And so they – that gives them an incentive to kill Americans that they captured because then they can get more money out of the Europeans when they are asking for ransoms there.
MS. HARF: But on the --
QUESTION: Do you think there’s anything going on with that?
MS. HARF: I don’t, Deb. And on the flip side of that, if they knew we paid ransoms, they would kidnap more Americans because they would think they would get more money, and we don’t want to fund terrorism.
QUESTION: Okay. A couple more things.
MS. HARF: We feel very strongly about that.
QUESTION: You mentioned all the different places that they’re getting their money. Do you have any idea of, like – not what percentage, but do they get a small amount from ransoms or just a large amount or --
MS. HARF: Let me see if I have --
QUESTION: Is there any kind of --
MS. HARF: I don’t know if I have percentages of that. Let me see what I have here.
QUESTION: I mean, should we think it’s a big amount?
MS. HARF: Yeah, most of it is from criminal and terrorist activities. That’s – a small portion is from outside donors.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the outside donors, do you know which countries we’re talking about?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s private citizens. It’s not --
QUESTION: Yeah, I understand. No governments.
MS. HARF: It’s not any governments. We’ve worked very hard with a number of particularly Gulf countries, whether it’s Kuwait or Qatar, obviously other countries as well on this.
QUESTION: Okay, and then just one more. I know you can’t talk about the operation, but can you tell us if there were any other non-kinetic type approaches to getting him back?
MS. HARF: Non – I mean, we’re putting a lot of intelligence resources towards this.
QUESTION: Were there any other ideas that were being pursued?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to outline specifics, particularly because we still have hostages there. So we’re looking at a wide range of options, every tool at our disposal, to try and get – find them, locate them, and then return them home. But I’m not going to outline specifics so we have the ability to use them if we want to.
MS. HARF: Anything else on this? Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Different subject.
MS. HARF: Well, Said’s taking us to a different subject.
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Marie, are there any efforts ongoing by the Administration, by the Secretary of State in particular, to broker some sort of a cease-fire? Because there were statements yesterday by the Israelis that this can go on for a very long time, and the humanitarian situation is really getting --
MS. HARF: Well, we do remain concerned about the developments. The Secretary has been engaged with a number of relevant parties. We also condemn Hamas’s targeted attack on Ben Gurion Airport and Hamas’s threat against civilian aviation. So that’s something that is unacceptable. The rocket fire needs to stop. And we do want them to return to cease-fire talks, so that is something we are certainly still pressing with relevant parties.
QUESTION: Okay. But to the best of your knowledge, there are no actually ongoing activities --
MS. HARF: Our --
QUESTION: -- to broker a cease-fire by the Secretary of State?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve never been playing the brokering role.
QUESTION: I mean – okay, trying to mediate or get the --
MS. HARF: Well, he’s been playing the role he’s been playing throughout the cease-fire talks, which is discussing and helping where we can with the different parties.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, I asked you yesterday about Israel and about the commission, and you said that you trust Israel investigating itself.
MS. HARF: We call on them to.
QUESTION: You call on them. So do you trust their past efforts that they have done or future efforts to investigate themselves? I mean --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not about trust. It’s about seeing if their investigation’s done, and we keep pushing that with them.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, should they investigate each case on its own, case by case? For instance, the reason I ask this, apparently a Palestinian boy, a teenager, was taken at gunpoint by the Israeli army as a human shield for five days. I mean, he describes and details what happened and so on. So should these incidents, if they happen – first of all, do you condemn these incidents?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any idea what incident you’re talking about, and I’m sorry about that.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
MS. HARF: We think they should investigate any allegation of wrongdoing or of civilian deaths that arise. Yes, we do.
QUESTION: Would you raise with them the abduction of a 16-year-old, Ahmad Abu Raida, on the 23rd of July, and they haven’t --
MS. HARF: I can check into that case.
MS. HARF: I can check.
QUESTION: Now let me also ask you – another development just occurred. Apparently, the holdup on the missiles to Israel was just lifted. Is that likely to --
MS. HARF: Really?
QUESTION: Well, or apparently until then – on the way of being resolved --
MS. HARF: There was never --
QUESTION: I don’t know. I mean, could you tell us whether --
MS. HARF: There was --
QUESTION: Was there any new – any change in the status?
MS. HARF: Let me check. Let me check on the status. The – there was not a hold. The process was moving forward, as I said.
MS. HARF: We had just put some additional steps into place. So let me see if it’s progressed further. I can check on that. I hadn’t heard that, but it very well may have.
QUESTION: Okay. But are you concerned that this would add to the – sort of the explosive power that Israel has been sort of deploying limitlessly almost, using bunker busters and so on, killing large number of civilians and so on? Wouldn’t that exacerbate the situation?
MS. HARF: Well, Said, we’ve always said we will continue to support Israel militarily. They are facing a very serious threat. We’ve also said throughout this conflict that they need to do more to protect civilian casualties, and we believe we can do both.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. My last question on this. There’s also a fear that there is likely the spread of some sort of germ and microbes and diseases among civilian population in Gaza, which could conceivably also be communicated in the neighboring areas and so on. Are you discussing with the Israelis the likelihood of the breakout of disease?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that specifically, but we are very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, particularly the large number of internally displaced peoples and all the things that go along with that, whether it’s needing food or water or medical care. So we are concerned and discussing it.
I’m going to go to the back here. I promised you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.
QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.
QUESTION: On Gaza.
QUESTION: I have one on the same subject.
QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.
MS. HARF: Just wait one second.
MS. HARF: Let me check. I knew he was there. Let me check with my colleagues at Treasury, and we’ll get you something – or they should have some information about his visit.
QUESTION: Do you think the United States will have a new individual sanctions against North Korea?
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t tend to preview sanctions before we announce them, but it’s been an ongoing conversation that David Cohen and others have had with the South Koreans. I’m sure he’s there, though, talking about a range of Treasury-related issues.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you know – what can you say about – apparently, this week EU diplomats in the UN have been pushing for a UN Security Council resolution to end the conflict in Gaza and restart peace talks. Do you know anything about that, or can you --
MS. HARF: I don’t have any specifics on that and hadn’t seen those reports. We’re obviously looking at a range of ways to get a cease-fire in place here, and if that could involve some UN action, I’m sure we would have that conversation. But nothing to preview or announce.
QUESTION: But broadly speaking, the U.S. would support a UN Security Council resolution?
MS. HARF: I think it depends on what it looks like. Depends what it looks like.
MS. HARF: You can, yes.
QUESTION: You mentioned that there are a small number of American jihadist fighters in Syria. So do you have an accurate number?
MS. HARF: Let me see if I – I’m not sure I have a number. Just give me one second on this. No, just a small number. We think that there are approximately 12,000 fighters from at least 50 countries in Syria – foreign fighters – including a small number of Americans that may have traveled to Syria since the beginning of the conflict. They may all not still be there.
QUESTION: But it could be dozens, it could be hundreds or --
MS. HARF: Small number. I’ll check and see if there’s more clarity.
QUESTION: And do you know if some of these people have already returned to the United States?
MS. HARF: Obviously, that’s something we’re very concerned about. I don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: Marie, on this very issue, a lot of these fighters have come from Europe and go to Syria. Apparently, they cross the border with Turkey. Are you talking to Turkey to perhaps tighten up control over their border?
MS. HARF: We’re talking to all of the bordering countries to help cut off foreign fighters from going into Syria.
QUESTION: Because as it seems, people with European passports can travel easily in to Turkey and out and --
MS. HARF: It’s a huge concern. Yeah, it’s a huge concern.
QUESTION: A couple of points on the Ukraine. Russians are pushing for the Security Council supporting a cease-fire in western Ukraine while the humanitarian assistance from Russia is being delivered. I was wondering if the United States is in support of this initiative.
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that initiative. What we would support is the parties on the – we know there has to be a cessation of hostilities during any sort of humanitarian delivery. There’s ongoing discussions right now about inspections and what that will look like. But we’ve called on Russia to use its influence with these separatists to get them to hold their fire. The Ukrainians have said they’ve committed to do that, but the separatists keep firing and keep the hostilities going. So in terms of Security Council, I don’t have anything on that. But we think that the separatists – they could do this on their own without the Security Council.
QUESTION: Okay. And there is another thing I wanted to ask you. There is this group here in the United States which calls itself Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. They --
MS. HARF: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity?
QUESTION: For sanity, yes.
MS. HARF: How am I not a member of that? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I don’t know. I don’t know.
MS. HARF: That’s interesting. I have never heard of this. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They wrote either two or three memoranda on the Malaysian airliner crash in Ukraine, in which they criticized the Administration for both what it said and how it said about this tragedy. I was wondering if the U.S. Government still stands by its conclusions that it made public --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- earlier about that.
MS. HARF: One hundred percent, we still stand by them. I am not aware of that report. I would say it probably is the opposite of its name, but I don’t have any further comment on something I haven’t seen.
QUESTION: And the other thing is --
MS. HARF: I got a little laugh there.
QUESTION: -- do you think it might – those conclusions of yours might get updated or --
MS. HARF: We always update our analysis as we get new information, but the information we have from the MH17 crash with – which happened a number of weeks ago, was very strong and very much led to the conclusion that we said at the time, that this was shot down from Russian separatist-controlled territory by a surface-to-air missile that the separatists have. And so look, we’ll continue – the investigation’s ongoing in The Hague in terms of looking at the black
box. I understand some of the remains will be returned to Malaysia today. That’s ongoing, but the evidence shows what happened here very clearly.
QUESTION: Marie, I know that you touched upon the crash site itself and what happened to it earlier this week. Do you have any more information? What is going on? Who controls the crash site? What happened to the remains?
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding the separatists do. In terms of remains, just give me a second, Said. Let me pull up what I have here. I think I have something. Yes, the first group of remains of Malaysian victims of the shoot-down will arrive tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur. Again, would take this opportunity to express our condolences for the families of those killed in this horrific plane crash. Obviously, we’re very focused on investigating and holding people responsible.
As I said earlier, their initial report of the investigation into the cause is expected by the end of August. We have contributed to the investigation both information and expertise through the Department of Justice, the NTSB, and FBI. That was a question I took from Matt the other day.
QUESTION: And the ESAT that you deployed to the Embassy in Kyiv, are they still there?
MS. HARF: The NTSB people?
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, who are --
QUESTION: ESAT team. It was the – it was the --
MS. HARF: Oh. That’s a good question. I’m not sure.
MS. HARF: I believe they may – let me check on that for you. It’s a good question.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: There’s a report that there’s going to be an expert-level meeting next month on INF consultations. Do you have any confirmation of that?
MS. HARF: So just – we have made clear to Russia that we want to talk about this. We’ve notified them of our determination to do so in a senior level bilateral dialogue immediately, with the aim of assuring the U.S. that Russia will come back into compliance. We don’t have a date set for that yet. I think we’re still working out details.
QUESTION: So you say senior – so your preference would be for a senior level, not an expert level?
MS. HARF: Senior level bilateral dialogue.
QUESTION: Okay, so – yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry, but --
QUESTION: Yeah, no problem.
QUESTION: -- it’s a follow-up to that.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: The Russians actually said today that it’s going to take place in September, expert level talks in September. Do you have anything on that?
MS. HARF: Okay. Let me check with our team. I know this is what --
MS. HARF: -- we had notified them that we wanted to do, so let me check on those conversations for you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been nominated for governing AK Party – to lead the governing AK Party – and then being a prime minister succeeding President-elect Erdogan. What would be your assessment on this?
MS. HARF: Well, I understand this is a nomination. There’s a process that has to play out now. We look forward to working with whoever is the next prime minister. And I think we’ll refrain on further comment until that process is over.
QUESTION: And Mr. Davutoglu is someone that the Secretary works very well with, yes?
MS. HARF: The Secretary has worked very closely with Foreign Minister Davutoglu – has spoken to him a number of times this week – very closely on Gaza, on other issues as well.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Pakistan. Madam, first of all I want to set the record straight. Yesterday, my question on Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, comparing with the Iraqi prime minister, those were not my views, but those were the views from Mr. Qadri and Mr. – the cricket player --
MS. HARF: Imran Khan.
QUESTION: -- Imran Khan.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: And they have repeated again yesterday the same comment, but they also included (inaudible) and also Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. My question is today: Do you really take these huge demonstrations and the leaders behind them seriously?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re monitoring the demonstrations. Obviously, we think there should be a space in Pakistan for peaceful expression of views. So it’s something we’re looking at. We are in no way involved in the process or the discussion between the parties. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false. So we’re watching it, but we do think that there needs to be peaceful dialogue and no attempts to change Pakistan’s government through extra-constitutional attempts. So Nawaz Sharif is prime minister; that’s who we will keep working with, as we will with a number of people in Pakistan as well.
QUESTION: And finally, if there were any contacts between Islamabad and Washington about this current situation?
MS. HARF: Ambassador Olson meets quite frequently with a range of officials, and I believe that’s where the contact has occurred.
QUESTION: Thank you, madam.
MS. HARF: And thank you for clarifying on yesterday.
QUESTION: Thank you, madam.
MS. HARF: Yes. Elliot.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The --
MS. HARF: Skipping around the world today.
QUESTION: Yeah. The legislative assembly has selected the former army – well, the soon-to- be former army chief as prime minister. Do you have any response to that?
MS. HARF: Yes. We hope that the selection of an interim prime minister is a step in a process that leads to the establishment of inclusive democratic institutions and a freely and fairly elected civilian government. We have urged the interim government, once formed, to institute an inclusive reform process that reflects the diversity of views within Thailand, and do remain concerned about the limits on space for freedom of speech and assembly.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything from your colleagues in Thailand about how long he will be interim prime minister?
MS. HARF: We have not. We have not. I know they had talked about some dates for elections, but I haven’t heard more details on that.
QUESTION: Well, if I’m not mistaken, the last time they said was October 2015.
MS. HARF: That’s what I had heard last as well.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more updates for you.
QUESTION: Okay. And I think the last time we heard about the review of U.S. aid to Thailand was maybe a couple months ago.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Are there any updates?
MS. HARF: There’s not. By law, we cannot resume our legally restricted assistance to Thailand until a democratically elected government takes office.
QUESTION: But in terms of the specific elements that are being withheld, are there any others from the last time we heard?
MS. HARF: Nothing new. Nothing new on that.
MS. HARF: What else?
Yes, in the back.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Earlier this week there were reports of renewed clashes involving international peacekeepers and militants in Bangui. In light of this ongoing unrest in spite of the presence of the international peacekeepers, is the U.S. considering any additional engagement in the CAR to help stem some of this unrest?
MS. HARF: Well, we have been very engaged on this issue and know that the violence there has to stop. We’ve urged all parties to fully abide by and implement the July 2014 cessation of hostilities agreement. We have initiated efforts and are supporting the regional mediation efforts of others to reconcile the parties in the conflict. Just a few points on that.
We’ve committed up to $100 million for equipment, airlift, and training for African and French peacekeeping troops in the CAR. It includes 37 trucks given to the AU mission, an additional 200 vehicles that will start arriving as MISCA transitions to the UN peacekeeping operation in mid-September.
We also remain committed to holding individuals accountable. We’ve implemented UN Security Council and U.S. targeted sanctions against five individuals; believe these are important steps that we’ve taken. I don’t have any additional steps to preview, but we have been engaged in both supporting the peacekeeping and holding people accountable.
Yes. Yes, here, and then to Ali.
MS. HARF: Can I guess what it is? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. Is it correct that the State Department sent a cable to its ambassadors to ban them from participating --
MS. HARF: Not – it wasn’t – it’s not limited. It’s not just about ambassadors. Federal government ethics rules prevent us from using our public offices, such as – high public offices such as ambassadors for private gain, no matter how worthy the cause is. And this is, of course, a worthy cause. That – for that reason, high-ranking State Department officials are unfortunately unable to participate in the ice bucket challenge.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Does that include the President, those ethics rules?
MS. HARF: I do not know. I’m sorry. I don’t want to speak to that.
QUESTION: Just curious. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: We obviously continue to wish the ALS Association success. Obviously, it’s a very important cause.
QUESTION: And related to that, are there any efforts to – U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro participated in the challenge --
MS. HARF: Before this went out.
QUESTION: Before – before, sure.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: So should we expect any, I don’t know, disciplinary actions or anything further at this time?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details on any of that. I don’t – I would guess no, but --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: One more?
QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to clarify the Twitter issue – I mean the Twitter with the ISIL.
MS. HARF: With ISIS? Uh-huh.
QUESTION: When they took – Twitter and YouTube, when they took away the – I mean, the --
MS. HARF: The video?
QUESTION: -- the video of the killing, it was done by them? I mean --
MS. HARF: Correct. Yes, by them.
QUESTION: I mean, YouTube guys --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- or you ask – you and the DOD?
MS. HARF: Well, we and the Defense Department spoke to them, and we would highlight – the video would be taken down by YouTube and then pop up in other places on YouTube, so we would highlight for them when that happened. But they’d take all the action here. They take it down if it violates their terms of service.
QUESTION: And regarding the Twitter accounts, is that a request from you, or they again – the Twitter people decided to do it?
QUESTION: One thing that – just to complete, because few weeks ago it was from – raised from this podium the issue that there was State Department following the Twitter of the ISIL and that there is kind of discussions or intervening in some of discussions to correct their perception --
MS. HARF: Well, that’s separate. That’s completely separate.
QUESTION: So it’s done? Now it’s done, that policy?
MS. HARF: Well, no. The – any – look, online we engage in a variety of ways with a variety of actors. But that effort and how we do that and counter ISIL’s messaging online is very different than this in some ways very bureaucratic conversation we have. When we see a video that violates this terms of service that YouTube wants not to be on its website, we flag that for them.
QUESTION: Just on the recruiting, they apparently have recruiting --
MS. HARF: It’s a huge problem.
QUESTION: So is that --
MS. HARF: I mean --
QUESTION: So is that something that should fall under that same guideline or policy?
MS. HARF: It’s – well, I would refer to them for what their specific usage policy is. I don’t know if propaganda – where that falls in it. I was speaking very specifically to the video particularly that we had had conversations about.
QUESTION: I just wanted to say that this was a brutal murder or brutal propaganda by the terrorists, and in India most of the television stations they refused to show the video.
MS. HARF: Good. Well, I wish more people were like that. Thank you for pointing that out, though. I wish there were – online we’ve tried very hard to not let this video be seen by anyone else, quite frankly.
QUESTION: Going through those video links, I came across that most of them say that the owner of the channel has taken it down, has removed it. It doesn’t say that YouTube has --
MS. HARF: Well, the owner is YouTube. So again, I don’t speak for YouTube, but I don’t think they want people violating their policies.
MS. HARF: Okay. Thanks, guys. And no planning on a briefing tomorrow. It’s a Friday in August.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)