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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 23, 2014


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TRANSCRIPT:

11:13 p.m. EST

MS. HARF:  Hello.  Welcome to day two in this lovely auditorium.  As a reminder, to ask questions you have to turn on your microphone, just like we’re in the General Assembly, so I can hear you and it will be in the transcript.

Just one item at the top.  You probably all saw the Secretary’s statement last night about Cliff Sloan, our special envoy for Guantanamo closure.  I just have a few words to say about him at the top, and then we’ll get to your questions.  When Cliff started in this job, there were 166 detainees in Guantanamo.  We had legislative restrictions that were unduly inflexible, had caused foreign transfers of detainees to virtually grind to a halt.  Only four detainees had been transferred in the preceding two years. 

Under Cliff’s leadership, and because of his skill in leading our diplomatic negotiations with our foreign partners, over the past 18 months we have transferred 34 detainees from Gitmo with more transfers to come.  Cliff was central to the Administration’s successful efforts to work with Congress to change the law which restored to the Executive Branch some flexibility to transfer detainees abroad.  He leaves us on a very strong footing and with a clear path toward reducing the detainee population in a responsible manner and to closing, ultimately, the detention facility. 

Today we have 132 detainees remaining.  He said that he’d give us 12 to 18 months here; he gave us 18.  I think there have been some reports out there that are totally inaccurate that he left, was somehow frustrated.  I think the opposite is true.  If anything, we’ve seen momentum with some of the recent detainee transfers and there’s more on the way.  Cliff has really put us on a path towards getting this done.  And if we do get it done, it will be in large part because of him.  So we will miss him; the Secretary will miss him, but we are very much still committed to closing Guantanamo.  We will announce a new one at some point soon. 

And that’s it.   Yes, Matt.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Right.  Well, I was going to start with something else, but since you say that these reports are totally inaccurate --

MS. HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- what do you mean?

MS. HARF:  There have been some press reports out there that he’s leaving because he’s frustrated with the pace of closing it, that he was frustrated with the progress, and nothing could be further from the truth.  Actually, if you see the momentum we’ve really picked up over the last weeks and months in our transferring detainees out – there are more to come.  We just transferred four last weekend to Afghanistan.  And I just wanted to, for once and all, sort of quell those reports about why Cliff is leaving.

QUESTION:  Right.  Well, are you saying he was never frustrated in his job?  It seems like it’s a pretty inherently frustrating job to have. 

MS. HARF:  Well, I think all of us – well, right.  But the press reports are just inaccurate – a couple of them, not all of them, and I wanted to make very clear that he is leaving because he gave us 12 to 18 months.  We’ve hit 18 months and he is returning to the private sector, but again, has put us on a path, I think, through his hard work, both with partner countries and with Congress to get this done. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Are you --

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION:  Well, I just – do you care to specify which reports it is that you’re --

MS. HARF:  I’m sure you could Google the word “frustrated” and find – there’s a couple out there, not all of them. 

QUESTION:  I think --

MS. HARF:  Most of them are --

QUESTION:  Are you sure you want to be on the record saying that?

MS. HARF:  I am absolutely positive I want to be on the record saying that --

QUESTION:  Okay.  No, no.  Saying Google “frustrated.”

MS. HARF:  No, but actually because I think it’s important --

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. HARF:  -- that I think when we talk about closing Guantanamo, we all wish this would have been done years ago.  It’s very difficult.  But I think where we are today is with some momentum and we have moved forward.  There’s 132 remaining; 64 of those are approved for transfer.  So the diplomatic piece of that is finding countries that are willing to be partners and allies in this effort to transfer them with the assurances we need when it comes to security.  And Cliff has made extraordinary progress and put us on a path to really achieving one of the central goals, I would say, to this Administration from the beginning.  And certainly, that’s the sense I was trying to convey from what I said.

QUESTION:  Can I have a follow-up?

MS. HARF:  Of course.

QUESTION:  It raises the question why some – if there was progress and he wasn’t frustrated, why somebody like that would want to leave before the job is done.

MS. HARF:  Well, he said he would do this job for 12 to 18 months, and he stayed for a full 18 months.  And as we all know, there are competing pressures in life when we decide to leave government service and return to the private sector.  But again, what he’s put in place here will continue us on the path forward, and we will name someone else shortly that can absolutely pick up the ball where he left it and carry it forward as well.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  And that’s what I was going to follow up with, was any names in mind or how soon can you expect to have somebody --

MS. HARF:  I don’t have a timeframe to outline for you.  The office that he leads is still, obviously, up and running, will continue our diplomatic work before someone new is named.  But of course, as soon as we can get someone out there. 

QUESTION:  May I follow up on --

MS. HARF:  Just – yeah.  Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION:  No, I want to change the subject. 

MS. HARF:  Okay.  Still on Gitmo?

QUESTION:  Yeah. 

MS. HARF:  You’re mike’s not on, I don’t think.  There you go. 

QUESTION:  Do you have a breakup of these 132 detainees that are still left in Gitmo, country wise, nationality? 

MS. HARF:  I don’t.  I can see if we can get that.  As I said, 64 are approved for transfer.  There’s a bucket in the middle, as we’ve talked about, that are eligible for this periodic review board that determines whether someone is eligible for transfer.  And then there are 10 currently facing criminal charges.  So as we’ve always said, in order to get Guantanamo closed, we have to transfer the people we feel comfortable transferring, bring to justice the people we feel comfortable bringing to justice, and that’s just a process that takes some time.

QUESTION:  And of --

MS. HARF:  I don’t have a country breakdown.  I can check.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And of these 64, do you how many – in 64 approved for transfer, how many of these are from Afghanistan?  They need to be transferred --

MS. HARF:  I don’t have that in front of me.  I’m happy to check and see if we can provide that. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. HARF:  Yes, Matt.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So apropos of questions that you were getting yesterday, may I ask you if the legion of internet users in North Korea should expect to face further disruptions in the coming days of their service.

MS. HARF:  Well, as I said yesterday, I can’t speculate.  I mean, ask the North Koreans if their internet wasn’t working.  I can’t speculate on why that was, if it wasn’t.  I can’t confirm the reports that it actually wasn’t.  So I would check with them.  They are certainly the right people to speak to this, and I don’t have much more on this.

QUESTION:  How exactly would you suggest we do that?  Email?  If their internet’s down, I’m not sure that --

MS. HARF:  You’re an enterprising reporter, Matt. 

QUESTION:  Well --

MS. HARF:  I’m sure you can find some way.  But it’s not – I guess my point is it’s not something for us to speak to.  It’s their internet, and I guess I would --

QUESTION:  I thought the internet was the world’s --

QUESTION:  Can I ask something more --

MS. HARF:  I’m not sure that’s an actual --

QUESTION:  Can I ask, on that particular point --

QUESTION:  Wait, hold on.  Your answer yesterday to this question, which I think Nicole raised, was interpreted by a lot of people to be a kind of nudge, nudge, wink, wink --

MS. HARF:  And I wasn’t indicate --

QUESTION:  -- yeah, we’re --

MS. HARF:  I don’t think I actually winked or nudged during that answer.

QUESTION:  No, I’m saying it was interpreted as that. 

MS. HARF:  What I said – I know.  And what I – I said a couple things.  I said I can’t comment on those reports one way or the other; I can’t confirm them one way or the other.  I don’t actually know that their internet was out, and it’s not for me to speak to.  I was broadly speaking about what the President has said but in no way was trying to link it to yesterday’s activity.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. HARF:  And I understand it was sort of interpreted that way, and did not mean to --

QUESTION:  Can I ask something more pointed particularly about that?  I mean, I think it’s -- we’re not asking you any more, like, if the internet was shut down.  It clearly seems that they’ve had some kind of interruption.  So just point blank:  Was the U.S. involved in anything related to the internet shutting down in North Korea?

MS. HARF:  I would – this isn’t our internet, Elise. I would go ask the North Koreans --

QUESTION:  Did the U.S. undertake any type of cyber operations that could have led to the North Korean internet being down?

MS. HARF:  I don’t have any information to share with you about --

QUESTION:  So you’re not saying – you’re not saying absolutely not, you’re not involved?

MS. HARF:  I think I’m not going to comment on those one way or the other.  And I would caution you from assuming that means --

QUESTION:  I’m not assuming.  I’m asking.

MS. HARF:  Can I finish before you interrupt me?

QUESTION:  Sure.

MS. HARF:  Okay.  Just because we’re in this room doesn’t mean we can all talk over each other.  Look --

QUESTION:  It wouldn’t be interrupting if she had let you finish. 

MS. HARF:  I like that you do have to turn the mike on, though.  No, what I’m saying is, look, I don’t have anything new to share with you today about North Korea.  The President has spoken to what our potential response is separate and apart from what we’ve seen over the last 24 hours might be.  And I’d leave it to the North Koreans to talk about if their internet was up, if it wasn’t, and why.  We’re just not going to entertain questions one way or the other about – any of these questions about possible U.S. responses of any kind.  And I would caution you from assuming that because I’m not going to comment on them that the answer means one thing or the other.

QUESTION:  I’m not assuming anything.  I’m just asking --

MS. HARF:  Your question sounded like you were.

QUESTION:  No, it’s not.  It’s just obviously a lot of people are assuming, and I am not in the business of assuming.

MS. HARF:  Right.

QUESTION:  I’m in the business of asking you whether the U.S. was involved in this obvious shutdown of the North Korean internet. 

MS. HARF:  I just don’t think we’re going to get into the business of every time something happens in a country like North Korea saying yes or no either way.  I think that just sets a precedent that, quite frankly, is not a helpful one.  And I just don’t have more for you on this.

QUESTION:  Marie --

QUESTION:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  -- the U.S. asked China last Thursday whether they’d – to help rein in Pyongyang.  The one thing was to shut down any of the internet routers and servers; number two, to tell Pyongyang that this was not okay, that this was taken seriously; and number three, to find the hackers, and if they are in China to send them back to the North.  As far as yesterday, China had not responded.  What do you make from that, the fact that there’s no response to this?

MS. HARF:  Well, the Secretary spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as I said yesterday.  He spoke with him on Sunday to discuss the recent cyber attack, among other issues as well, in order to express our concerns and ask for their cooperation.  They had a discussion about the issue, and I think, despite our differences, affirmed that sort of malicious cyber activity like this can pose a risk to international peace and security.  I’m not going to, I think, further outline our conversations – they continue – about how we can work together on this issue.  So it’s not like it’s a binary yes or no, help or not.  It’s an ongoing conversation.  China does have, of course, a unique relationship with North Korea on a whole range of issues, right?  We’ve talked about this in terms of denuclearization, but they certainly have a key role to play here and we’ll continue talking to the Chinese about how they can actually help.

QUESTION:  Did the Secretary actually get an answer from his counterpart saying they would look into it?

MS. HARF:  Well, it was certainly a discussion and I just don’t have more details about their private conversation to share.

QUESTION:  And also on this one, is the U.S. happy with Japan’s response?  Japan has said (inaudible) condemn this strongly, but that it hasn’t gone as far as actually saying that it was North Korea.

MS. HARF:  Well, given this was a U.S. company, the FBI did the investigation.  We are confident in their investigation and the results of it, but we also welcome any country, particularly in the region, standing up and saying this is not acceptable behavior, and certainly welcome those statements.

QUESTION:  One last – I’m sorry, one last one.  Overnight, in a press briefing in Beijing, the Chinese said that if you want to resolve this, you need to speak directly to the North Koreans.  Any response to that?

MS. HARF:  Well, I think when the President of the United States stands up at a press conference and speaks publicly about this, that’s a pretty direct message to the North Koreans.  But as you all know, we also have a variety of ways of communicating with the North Koreans.

QUESTION:  Sony may – Sony Pictures Entertainment may be an American company, but its name, Sony, is – I mean, Japanese.

MS. HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Would you not expect a stronger response from the Japanese --

MS. HARF:  I think --

QUESTION:  -- considering the history here?

MS. HARF:  I haven’t heard any issues with those kinds of responses.  I haven’t.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then you said that the Secretary, in his conversation with the Chinese foreign minister, said that malicious cyber activity like this --

MS. HARF:  Can pose a risk to international peace and security.

QUESTION:  -- can pose a risk.  Is it the view of the U.S. Government that this hack on Sony, as bad as it was, could undermine international peace and security?

MS. HARF:  Well, it’s this kind of --

QUESTION:  Not – but not this specific one, necessarily.

MS. HARF:  Well, I think – I mean, the President has spoken to what he thinks this was, right.  Cyber vandalism is a word that’s been used. 

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. HARF:  But certainly, situations like this have the potential to further escalate tensions, right.  And that’s why yesterday when I was asked about North Korea, one of the things I said was we actually want them to reduce tensions – that we want them to come back from the brink, reduce tensions here, and not take escalatory steps.  But these things have the potential, which is the opposite of what we want to see happen.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then were you able to get answers to the two questions that I had pending?  One on the state sponsors redesignation, if it would actually add – put any more sanctions on North Korea?  And then secondly, if in fact the North Koreans were to take you up on your advice to take responsibility and pay compensation, would Sony actually be able to accept money from the North Korean Government?

MS. HARF:  So on the second question, I don’t have a specific legal answer for you.  As I said yesterday, I’m sure we could find some way to make that happen.  But I don’t have a legal answer for you. 

On this first one, it’s a little complicated, but let me walk you through what I have been told by all the various people who have worked on this – that, as I said yesterday, despite the rescinding of the SST designation, they are one of the most heavily sanctioned countries on Earth.  The underlying sanctions regime did change.  So as a matter of law, the SST restrictions no longer applied when they were taken off the main categories of restriction.  So that includes a ban on arms related exports and sales, controls over exports of dual-use items.  Restrictions on foreign assistance and certain blocking financial sanctions associated with being on the list remain in place under other sanctions authorities.

So our experts are going – combing through to see if there’s anything that did come off, but the main categories did not, because they were associated with other sets of sanctions.  We can’t say there’s an exact equivalence, right?  Our folks are looking at that right now.  There’s obviously a lot of sanctions --

QUESTION:  Well --

MS. HARF:  -- to comb through.  But the bottom line is that if they – there would not be a huge practical effect from a sanctions standpoint if they were put back on.  Obviously, it’s symbolic and there may be some sanctions effect, but it wouldn’t be huge.

QUESTION:  But if the President said that it’s not an act of war – and I mean, it doesn’t seem like he’s saying it’s an act of terrorism either – how can you even suggest that North Korea would be put back on the list?  Because it’s – you’re not considering this an act of terrorism.  Wouldn’t the North Koreans have to actually undertake an act of terrorism before you would have to put them back on the list?

MS. HARF:  Well, there’s specific criteria to be put back on the list, one of which is not undertaking an act of war.  Obviously, there’s a process for this.  As a matter of law, in order for any country to be designated, the Secretary must determine the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.  There’s a process.  And I’m not saying this would fall under that category; the President wasn’t saying that.  He was saying that in light of some of North Korea’s recent activity, we are looking at it.  But we don’t want to prejudge the outcome.  And this may not be the best way to respond.

QUESTION:  Sorry, the – putting them back on the list might not be?

MS. HARF:  It may not be, but it may. 

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. HARF:  I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of a conversation.

QUESTION:  Can I --

QUESTION:  Understood.  Don’t mean to – just wait.  I just want to make sure that I understand exactly what it is you’re saying.

MS. HARF:  You and me both.

QUESTION:  Yeah, that would be good.  If they were added back onto the list, there wouldn’t be any significant or substantial addition – sanctions imposed – additional sanctions imposed or put back on. 

MS. HARF:  So our --

QUESTION:  Is that correct?  I mean, there might be something small.

MS. HARF:  Our folks are still looking at it.  There would not be a huge practical effect, though there are some SST-specific restrictions that would apply again, such as state sponsors of terrorism are not immune from jurisdiction of state in federal courts for damages being sought against them for certain acts, right, so there are a couple and our folks are combing through this.  And I know this is not a wholly satisfactory answer.  It wouldn’t have a huge practical effect when it comes to sanctions, but there are some things – and I’m trying to get a list of what those are – that in fact would go back into effect.

QUESTION:  Are you saying that North Korea right now enjoys that immunity because it’s not on the list?

MS. HARF:  Our folks are looking – that’s exactly the issue they’re looking into.  And you can imagine there are --

QUESTION:  Or in terms of --

MS. HARF:  -- thousands of sanctions in place on North Korea.  They’re combing through them to see what was on the (inaudible).

QUESTION:  Okay.  And in terms of diplomats’ travel and that kind of thing – in terms of the – whoops, excuse me – in terms of the limits on their travel in the United States around New York.

MS. HARF:  Does that affect it?

QUESTION:  I don’t know. 

MS. HARF:  I don’t either.

QUESTION:  That’s why --

MS. HARF:  I’ll check.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. HARF:  I’m not sure it does.  I mean, a lot of the travel restrictions are part of other sanctions.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. HARF:  It’s complicated and we are attempting to get more info. 

Yes.

QUESTION:  Can I go back to the whole idea of the discussions that – I know that they were very kind of surface discussions that Danny Russel had with Sony and that Robert Knight had through – of consultants to the --

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  What’s that?

MS. HARF:  King.

QUESTION:  King, sorry.

QUESTION:  King, not Knight .  You didn’t (inaudible).

QUESTION:  Sorry, sorry.

MS. HARF:  And I wouldn’t say “consulting” on the film.  They had discussions with the filmmakers --

QUESTION:  No, no, I didn’t say that.  I said he --

MS. HARF:  You said “consulting.”

QUESTION:  I said he had discussions with a consultant on the film.

MS. HARF:  Ah, okay.

QUESTION:  Sorry.

MS. HARF:  It’s okay.

QUESTION:  Didn’t at the time, when you heard about what this film was about, think – I mean, I’m not in any way justifying what happened, if the North Koreans were indeed responsible.  But I mean, didn’t at the time this raise any red flags that, given what you know about the regime and given what you know about how unstable and unpredictable it is, that this would cause any – this would raise some red flags?

MS. HARF:  Well again, not being involved in that process, I think a few points.  The first is that they came to us asking for our subject matter expertise on North Korea.  That’s not an assessment that we can make as the State Department.  That’s an artistic assessment that artists have to make when they make all kinds of films, documentaries; there have been many made about North Korea – documentaries in the United States. 

So that’s not our position to give analysis about what the response of the North Korean Government might be.  We certainly have expertise, but that’s not really our role.  And I think the President spoke pretty eloquently to this in his end-of-year press conference when he said this is a Seth Rogen movie.  Like, I’m not certainly in the business of predicting how the North Koreans will respond to anything.  I don’t think I’d ever want to get into that business.  But who knows – who could have predicted this would be the response?  And I just guess I don’t want to go too much farther down that road.

QUESTION:  I’m not saying that you could have predicted this specific response.  But if the Russians, for say, or some other person – country that you’re having problems with would have done a movie about the assassination of President Obama, wouldn’t you have severe objections to that and think that that would send a dangerous message and that perhaps that could inspire any crazy to go out there and follow this movie?

MS. HARF:  Well, to be clear, there are horrible things written and said and made about this President and this Secretary of State and the United States and elsewhere, and while we hate them and will speak up against them, we also speak up for the right of people to freely express their opinions, even if we think they’re repugnant.  So that’s the response you have.  You can stand up here and say we respect your right to do this, but we disagree with it wholeheartedly, the message.  That’s something very --

QUESTION:  I didn’t hear you say that you disagreed wholeheartedly with that message – that– kind of endorse the assassination of a leader of another country.

MS. HARF:  Oh, no.  I’m speaking to your question if someone made a movie about us.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. HARF:  I was answering that question.  I’m not taking a stance on the Sony movie one way or the other, the content of it.  But you were asking a question – if someone around the world made a movie like this, people around the world, in the U.S. say horrible things about my boss, the President, and they have the right to do that.  We can hate it, but you don’t respond by undertaking a massive, malicious cyber attack.

QUESTION:  But, I mean --

MS. HARF:  Because we believe in people’s right to be able to freely express themselves, even when those ideas are horribly repugnant.

QUESTION:  I understand, but again, without kind of endorsing what happened – I mean, can’t you see that in some way that the regime sees this as the United States kind of – with a desire for a regime change?  I mean, given – again, given how --

MS. HARF:  No.  It’s a Seth Rogen movie.

QUESTION:  You’re saying that, and everyone in this country knows that Seth Rogen is a comedian and all that, but when you have this regime that’s kind of in the dark ages and doesn’t know much about what’s going on in the world – when they see a movie coming from the United States, and this leader already is paranoid and feels threatened, don’t you think that that would kind of further his paranoia?

MS. HARF:  It would in no way justify the response that we saw here at all, period.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Can I just ask you to clarify something?  You said that people around the – people in this country and around the world say horrible things about your boss and others.  And then you said --

MS. HARF:  And me.

QUESTION:  And you, right.

MS. HARF:  I mean, go on Twitter.  It’s not a kind place.

QUESTION:  Right.  And you said – right, but you said “we hate them.”  Were you referring to the --

MS. HARF:  Those ideas.

QUESTION:  -- the people?  Okay.

MS. HARF:  No, no, no.  Not the people.  Of course we hate those ideas.

QUESTION:  Gotcha.

MS. HARF:  I was not referring to specific individuals.

QUESTION:  Gotcha.

MS. HARF:  I don’t know most of them.  That’s the beauty of the internet.

Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to go back to the issue of the U.S. response.

MS. HARF:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Since you – I mean, you just said that relisting them on the state-sanctioned – State Sponsors of Terrorism List --

MS. HARF:  Your mike’s not on.

QUESTION:  You just said that relisting them on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List would not have much of a practical impact.

MS. HARF:  On sanctions, but our folks are still looking into that.

QUESTION:  Sure, sure.

MS. HARF:  But it obviously has a hugely symbolic one.  There aren’t that many in the world.

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm, sure.  But the U.S. has been clear that it will respond, and like you said, some of them will be unseen, some of them will be seen.

MS. HARF:  Absolutely.

QUESTION:  But staying just in the realm of the seen, what other responses are there that could have an impact, given that piling more sanctions on probably would have diminishing returns at this point?

MS. HARF:  Well, there’s a range of options.  I don’t think I want to put anything on the table or off the table at this point, but that’s – there’re obviously financial options.  But again, I’m not ruling anything in or out from a policy perspective.  There are a range of both seen and unseen options that we have, though.  And if we ever have anything to outline publicly, we will do so.

Yes.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF:  Turn your mike on, please.  Sorry.  I can’t hear.

QUESTION:  Yesterday when you talk about the U.S. implement the response to North Korea, some will be seen, some may not be seen.  Would that include interrupt North Korea internet?

MS. HARF:  We’re just not going to outline what the possible steps may be, and I think it is probably common sense that if some steps could be unseen, we’re also not going to outline those publicly.

QUESTION:  And in terms of the conversation – the Secretary with the Chinese foreign minister – can you say China is on the same page with the United States in terms of the attack for North Korea on Sony?

MS. HARF:  Well, I don’t want to speak for the Chinese Government, obviously.  And despite our differences at times over issues, particularly in the cyber world, I think what came out of the phone call the Secretary had was that they both affirmed, as I said to Matt, that this kind of activity could threaten international peace and security and they’ll continue the conversation about how to coordinate.  But I don’t want to speak for them or for their position.

QUESTION:  Can I say – ask one more thing about those unforeseen consequences?

MS. HARF:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  If they’re unforeseen and the North Koreans don’t know that you did it, then why is it a response that would make a difference to them?

MS. HARF:  Well, hypothetically, Elise, if something is unforeseen to the public, it doesn’t mean it’s --

QUESTION:  Unseen.

MS. HARF:  Unseen.  Unseen.  Thank you, Matt.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unseen to everyone.

QUESTION:  So --

MS. HARF:  Hypothetically speaking.

QUESTION:  So hypothetically speaking, if there’s an action that you’re not going to tell the public about, you’re going to tell the North Koreans, “Yeah, it was us”?

MS. HARF:  No, come on.  This is a ridiculous line of questioning.  There are things we could do to respond that couldn’t – that may not be seen publicly but that could be seen by those affected.

QUESTION:  But they wouldn’t --

MS. HARF:  In a total hypothetical universe here.

QUESTION:  But if they don’t know that it’s you, why is it a response that they would feel --

MS. HARF:  But why are you assuming they wouldn’t?

QUESTION:  Well, if it’s not foreseen to the public, then why would it be foreseen to the North Koreans?

MS. HARF:  I – that’s a fairly common-sense question to answer, Elise.  Obviously there are sometimes things seen to other governments that aren’t seen publicly.

QUESTION:  Well, if you did something to the North --

MS. HARF:  I’m not sure what’s confusing about that answer.

QUESTION:  If you did something to the North Koreans and it wasn’t foreseen to the public but they knew about it, you don’t think they would say something publicly about it?

MS. HARF:  This is a completely hypothetical discussion.  I’m just not going to go down this road.  The President has said we will respond in a proportional way.  Some of that might be seen; some of that might be unseen.  Nothing to preview, nothing to talk about, nothing to put on the table, off the table.  There are a range of options the United States has to respond, and I’m just not going to entertain those kinds of detailed questions.

Anything else on North Korea? 

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  One question?  Thank you.  A former U.S. --

 MS. HARF:  Can you turn on your mike, please?

QUESTION:  Sure.  A former U.S. official says a much more powerful retaliatory and deterrence signal would be an effort to provide internet access to North Koreans.  What do you think of that?

MS. HARF:  There are a lot of ideas out there.  I’m happy for people to write about them publicly.  We have a range of options.  I’m not going to rule anything in or anything out.

QUESTION:  Is it practical at all?

MS. HARF:  I’m not a cyber expert and I’m just not going to go down that road, guys.  If we have something at some point to talk about publicly about response, I am sure we will.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

MS. HARF:  Yes.  Anything else on North Korea?  Okay.  Go ahead.  Yes.

QUESTION:  On the state elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India, do you have anything to say on it?  There was large turnout of people to come out and vote.

MS. HARF:  I don’t.  This is obviously an internal Indian political issue, I think, if we’re referring to the same thing.  So no comment further on that.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. HARF:  Yes.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask you about the Rewards for Justice program offering – I guess the amount is $5 million for information on Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee.  Is that the right amount?

MS. HARF:  I’m happy to check with our folks.  I’m not familiar with every single Reward for Justice we have up on our website.  I’m happy to check.  We have a lot of Rewards for Justice up, and obviously don’t have all the details in front of me. 

QUESTION:  Okay, because --

MS. HARF:  When was he released from Guantanamo?

QUESTION:  In 2006. 

MS. HARF:  Okay.  Before – we put in more stringent rules for releasing people from Guantanamo when this President came into office.  I’m happy to check and see what the details are on someone that was released before we came into office.

QUESTION:  And so he’s apparently fighting with AQAP in Yemen.  I think maybe --

MS. HARF:  I’m happy to check on it. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. HARF:  Again, we do Rewards for Justice based on what our experts think is appropriate, and just reiterating again when we came into office put in more stringent standards.  I talked about them a little bit at the top in terms of the Periodic Review Board to address the recidivism problem.  It’s dropped significantly under this Administration.  So I’ll check on that specific case.  I’m not familiar with it.

Yes, Nicole.

QUESTION:  Hi.  I just wanted to follow up on a question I asked yesterday about Cuban claims.

MS. HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS. HARF:  And you’re talking about Cuban claims to the United States, because there are also some U.S. claims to Cuba.

 QUESTION:  Both, actually.

MS. HARF:  Mm-hmm.  So right now – and I checked with our folks – right now, we’re just not going to get into any specific numbers.  There are a number of things that need to be agreed upon here as part of the discussion of diplomatic relations, such as registered claims against the Cuban Government.  And the Cubans also have a lawsuit against the United States, I think, regarding the embargo. 

We don’t believe these things will be resolved necessarily before diplomatic relations would be restored, believe they will be part of the conversation, and also believe that the more diplomatic leverage we have we’re better able to resolve these kinds of issues if we have an embassy and we have fuller representation there.  So it’s a process, but there’s not a real timeline that our folks have from when each part of it will be completed, including this part.

QUESTION:  As it pertains to the suit, the lawsuit against the embargo that the Cubans have filed, don’t you think the President of the United States coming out and saying we’ve been making a mistake for 50 years with this is pretty bad for your leverage, at least in terms of the --

MS. HARF:  I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of any of these discussions.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but he basically said that this has been a policy that was a mistake that didn’t --

MS. HARF:  Well, he said the policy --

QUESTION:  -- that didn’t work.

MS. HARF:  -- wasn’t working.

QUESTION:  Right.  And hadn’t worked for – and you don’t do something for 50 years that doesn’t work and keep doing it and expecting --

MS. HARF:  And keep doing the same thing.  Exactly. 

QUESTION:  -- and expect to get --

MS. HARF:  Which is why we set a different course.

QUESTION:  -- and expect to get it right.

MS. HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  So don’t you think that an admission like that --

MS. HARF:  No.

QUESTION:  -- is – no? 

MS. HARF:  This is part of a – there’s a broad conversation we’re going to have to have with the Cubans about a number of issues – logistical, bureaucratic, monetary – before we can fully move forward with diplomatic relations here.  This is just one part of it.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And has a date been set yet for the --

MS. HARF:  No, we’re still working on it.  But hopefully, we can have some more details for that.

QUESTION:  But is hasn’t slipped any more into the – it’s like the third week of January or something like that?

MS. HARF:  I think we’re still working on finalizing that.

Yes.  Samir.  Turn your microphone on, please.

QUESTION:  Any reaction to the strategic partnership agreement signed by the president of Egypt and China yesterday?

MS. HARF:  I saw those reports.  As we’ve said, I think, about China, that we welcome the emergence of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous China that plays a responsible role in world affairs.  This would certainly fall into that category.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Can we just follow up a China question?  Yesterday, Elliot asked about China building – is building a new military facility which is close to the Diaoyu Islands.  Do you have any response?

MS. HARF:  Yes.  I did get just a little bit on that, if you just give me one second here. 

As I think we say fairly often, we would urge all parties to avoid actions in the East China Sea that could increase tensions and encourage all parties to resolve sovereignty issues through peaceful means and diplomacy, particularly because ships and aircraft are operating in very close proximity in the Senkakus.  We think that all parties should exercise restraint and extreme caution to reduce the risk of an accident or an incident.  That’s been our policy, but that certainly applies here.

QUESTION:  Specifically on the construction, so you don’t have anything against the construction of these facilities on --

MS. HARF:  I didn’t say we did or didn’t.  I didn’t take a position on that.  I said we would urge all parties to avoid actions that could increase tensions.

Yes.

QUESTION:  So there was a trilateral meeting between India, U.S., and Japan in New Delhi this week, last week.  Do you have a readout of that?

MS. HARF:  I can check and see if we can get one.

QUESTION:  And also in Pakistan after the terrorist attack in Peshawar school, the Pakistani Government has lifted the moratorium on executions and they have done several of them in the last week.  How do you see this?  Do you support this idea?

MS. HARF:  Well, clearly this is an issue for Pakistan – a decision for Pakistan, excuse me. It’s not really ours to weigh in on.  We have been in close contact with all levels of the Pakistani Government.  As you know, the President and the Secretary both spoke to Prime Minister Sharif and has stood ready to provide assistance in the wake of that horrific attack, but nothing on that specific for you.

QUESTION:  But the human rights bodies are asking Pakistan to go back to the same moratorium on executions.  Would you support --

MS. HARF:  Yeah, we just don’t have a position on that to outline for you.

QUESTION:  And do you also see – or what’s your comment on the bail that was lifted out of Mumbai terrorist attack mastermind from – by Pakistani --

MS. HARF:  Who are you specifically referring to?  Mr. Lakhvi?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MS. HARF:  So we are concerned by reports that LeT commander – I think this is who you were referring to – Lakhvi, one of the alleged masterminds behind the Mumbai attacks, was granted bail.  The Government of Pakistan has pledged its cooperation in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice, and we urge them to uphold that promise.

QUESTION:  So do you see that Pakistan continues to discriminate, differentiate between good terrorists and bad terrorists?

MS. HARF:  Well, look, we’re concerned by the reports that this individual terrorist got bail.  We have worked very closely with Pakistan on counterterrorism.  More Pakistanis are victims of counterterrorism, I think, than anywhere in the world.  So clearly it’s a shared threat, but when we have concerns like this we’ll raise them.

QUESTION:  So you have raised this with the Pakistani Government?

MS. HARF:  I just raised it publicly.  I can check and see if we’ve raised it privately as well.

QUESTION:  I have one more on Afghanistan.

MS. HARF:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  On Mullah Omar.  It’s – some media reports are saying that in next year U.S. will not target Mullah Omar. 

MS. HARF:  I haven’t seen those reports.

QUESTION:  Is he still on the list or off the list?

MS. HARF:  I don’t think that’s something for the State Department to speak to.

QUESTION:  On the list of foreign terrorists, that’s being --

MS. HARF:  I’m happy to check on the specifics for you.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. HARF:  What else?  Yes. 

QUESTION:  As we close out the year, speaking objectively, what do you identify as the Secretary’s greatest success and failure?

MS. HARF:  Normally I don’t speak objectively.  (Laughter.)  I speak subjectively.

QUESTION:  When was the last time you spoke objectively?

MS. HARF:  I always speak objectively, Matt.  What was the biggest successes and challenges?

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

MS. HARF:  Well, there’s two briefings next week, so I could let my colleague Jeff handle that question.  He’ll be briefing Monday and Tuesday.  But look, I think you heard the President speak to this.  This has been a challenging year.  When we started the year, who could have predicted something like Ebola, a huge health crisis that hit certain countries very hard and that the United States responded very quickly to and encouraged other countries around the world to respond very quickly to.  And we’ve had some success in helping some of these countries get back on their feet from a health perspective – a public health perspective.

If you look at something like Ukraine, I mean, a year ago I’m not sure any of us could have predicted what would happen, Russia’s actions.  In response, we’ve put in place sanctions.  The Russian economy is tanking, in part because of those sanctions, in part because of other things.  And we’ve put increased pressure on them, and today I think the Russians know they have a choice.  They can drive their economy further into a hole, or they can take a step back and live up to their international obligations.

If you look at where we are today, when we started the year Iran’s nuclear program was not yet frozen, the JPOA had not yet gone into effect.  We are sitting at the negotiating table seeing if we can get a comprehensive agreement, closer than we’ve ever been to a comprehensive agreement while their program is frozen for the first time in a decade.  That, I think, is a pretty significant achievement.

If you look at climate change – we were just in Peru, the Secretary working with our partners around the world to see if leading up to the Paris conference we can get some meaningful international action on climate change.  We already agreed with the Chinese to take very significant steps that most people in this room a year ago would never even predict China would take.

And then the last thing I’ll say finally – well, there’s some more things I’ll say.  It’s a good question, though.  Just talk about Cuba.  Three weeks ago, no one in this room would have predicted that we would change over 50 years of policy that hadn’t been working to regain influence in the region, regain influence in Cuba, and actually help promote democratic values there in a way we haven’t been able to because of this outdated Cold War policy.  That is a huge shift that I think will have positive reverberations in the region and around the world for American leadership for years to come. 

We’ve also had a lot of challenges this year like ISIL.  I mean, if you look at taking military action in Iraq, in Syria, bringing together a coalition of Arab partners to strike another Arab country is pretty extraordinary; a woman flying missions for an Arab country hitting Arabs in another – that is extraordinary.  If you’ve seen some of the challenges we’ve had over the last year, it’s been tough, it’s been difficult, but across the board I think you see American leadership in more places, in more issues, in more areas than we ever have before, period, even though a lot of challenges remain.

QUESTION:  Well --

QUESTION:  What about the Israeli-Palestinian progress?  Did the Secretary defuse the tension at the UN?

MS. HARF:  Well, that’s a – that’s one of those issues that remains an incredibly tough challenge I don’t want to downplay at all.  In all of those areas I mentioned, there are also huge challenges that remain. 

QUESTION:  Can I --

MS. HARF:  So on the Israeli-Palestinian issues, that is certainly one of them.  It’s certainly one.

QUESTION:  Can I go back to Ukraine?  I mean the other accomplishments notwithstanding, I mean, I understand why you’re saying that you have been able to get the Europeans and everyone to put this pressure on Russia, but has it really changed his behavior in any way?  He hasn’t – if anything, he’s – continues to – maybe not as boldly as he was earlier in the year, but certainly there hasn’t been any backward – forward movement on the Ukraine situation.  And Russian – he’s still supporting the separatists and still has Russian operatives in the area.

MS. HARF:  No, you’re right.  And look, there have been reports of deceased violence in eastern Ukraine over the past several weeks, but you’re right.  The point I was trying to make is that sometimes these issues arise in the world and you can’t prevent them from happening; all you can do is determine the best response in the United States national interest.  And in this case, if he doesn’t change his behavior, we will continue to impose additional costs.  And he has a choice.  And if he doesn’t, he can continue to tank his economy, he can continue the international isolation.  And if he continues down that route, there will be additional costs.

QUESTION:  Well, hasn’t he made that --

MS. HARF:  And if not, the sanctions could be lifted right away.

QUESTION:  Hasn’t he made that choice?  I mean, you – he’s – continue to sanction him; he’s pretty much made that choice.  I mean, and you look at something that you just – reversed the policy on Cuba, because 50 years of sanctions on Cuba has not changed the regime of – behavior of the Castro regime in any demonstrable way. 

MS. HARF:  Well, I’d make a few points.  First, every country is different.  And second, the longer sanctions are in place, the more effect they have, and that’s what we’ve seen.  I mean, two months ago people were saying, oh, the Russian economy is still fine, the Russian – it hasn’t taken a hit.  And then all of a sudden, because of oil prices, their mismanagement, and our sanctions, their economy is in a pretty steep downward spiral.  So there’s always a diplomatic off-ramp, and we’re going to keep imposing costs.  And he can either keep accepting those costs, and more importantly putting those costs on the Russian people, or he can take the diplomatic off-ramp.

QUESTION:  But Marie, you just said sanctions – that the effectiveness of sanctions depends on how long they’re in place and --

MS. HARF:  And each country is different.  I said that right before.

QUESTION:  Well, right.  So – all right.  So should we respect to see U.S. sanctions on Russia for the next 50 years --

MS. HARF:  That’s not what I said.

QUESTION:  -- followed by an admission that it hasn’t been working?

MS. HARF:  I said that sanctions – look at another case.  Look at Iran and sanctions, and how they brought Iran to the negotiating table where we are today.

QUESTION:  Right.  But you’re still --

MS. HARF:  So each country --

QUESTION:  That’s still a work in progress, though.

MS. HARF:  Absolutely.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. HARF:  Each country is different.

QUESTION:  Can I ask you about your three things – or three of the things you mentioned about – a year ago, you said no one in this room could have predicted that China would take these steps in terms of the climate change.  Did China actually announce anything that they would do now, or was it – wasn’t it all in the future?

MS. HARF:  Well, I can get you the specifics of what it was exactly agreed to.  But it was steps they committed to take throughout a period of time.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. HARF:  Steps that I think even many people that follow this very closely were surprised they would agree to.

QUESTION:  Right.  But they haven’t yet done them.

MS. HARF:  They’ve committed to doing them.

QUESTION:  Okay.  You said a year ago --

MS. HARF:  Which is a significant step in and of itself.

QUESTION:  You said:  A year ago, who could have predicted something like Ebola?  Well, I mean, there were a lot of public health and tropical health experts out there warning that there was going to be a big strain of – a very virulent strain of Ebola, going back longer than just a year ago.

MS. HARF:  Right, but at the time and place and exactly how the outbreak occurred, those are things that are often very hard to predict.  Of course we’ve known there’s been a possibility of this kind of epidemic outbreak, but I don’t think anyone in this room would have said that what we saw this summer in parts in Africa and how we had to respond so quickly --

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF:  I mean, that’s just a hard thing to predict with any specificity.

QUESTION:  And then – well, and then the other one was that you couldn’t have predicted Ukraine.  But in fact, there were a lot of people, even going back to the – what happened with Georgia several years ago, that were predicting that if Ukraine continued to – excuse me – if Ukraine continued to move in this western direction towards Europe and NATO, that there was going to be confrontation with Russia.

MS. HARF:  That there could be, but what that confrontation looked like and how it manifested itself – I remember standing at a podium similar to this, I think, at the Foreign Press Center a year ago and saying:  What are the biggest challenges for the upcoming year?  I don’t think any reporter in that room or in this room would have said ISIL, Ebola, and Crimea, right.  I just --

QUESTION:  And maybe that’s our fault as well, but you’re --

MS. HARF:  No, it’s no one’s fault.

QUESTION:  But --

MS. HARF:  My point, Matt – my point is --

QUESTION:  And that’s the other one, ISIL --

MS. HARF:  Let me finish my sentence.  My point is, American leadership and success or strength in foreign policy isn’t about predicting exactly when everything will happen or preventing bad things from happening in the world.  It’s how you respond to a variety of crises around the world and how you take action to prevent future crises, like on issues like climate change or the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION:  All right.  On your other one, on ISIL, I mean, last summer – I mean – and I’m not talking about summer of 2014.  I’m talking --

MS. HARF:  Brett McGurk testified on the Hill, where he talked about it very openly.

QUESTION:  I’m talking about 2013.  But you’re saying you couldn’t have predicted, but in fact --

MS. HARF:  We all said that --

QUESTION:  -- the influx of foreign fighters was well known and was --

MS. HARF:  Absolutely, but we have all said --

QUESTION:  -- disturbing more than a year ago.

MS. HARF:  Yes, Matt, but we have all said the rapidity with which ISIL took – was able to take and hold territory over the course of several weeks and months this summer was surprising, probably most of all to ISIL, but certainly to the Iraqi army, certainly to us.  So it’s not that we don’t know these crises are out there.  It’s not that we don’t know these are issues.  That’s why we have people who focus on Ebola before it becomes an epidemic that we need to counter.  My point is that when these crises do arise, there is no other country on the planet that has the tools, the capability, or the resources to be able to respond in such a broad --

QUESTION:  I don’t think anyone’s doubting that.  It’s just the --

MS. HARF:  I think some people might.

QUESTION:  What it sounds like, though, is that you’ve outlined a strategy that is entirely reactive.

MS. HARF:  Not at all.  Look at Cuba.  That’s the least reactive thing we’ve ever done.  Look at Guantanamo Bay.  That is not reactive.

QUESTION:  Well, it’s reactive --

MS. HARF:  Look at Iran.  That’s not reactive.

QUESTION:  Cuba is reactive to what the President said was a failure of the last 50 years of policy toward the country.

MS. HARF:  Cuba was a proactive step to change over 50 years of failed policy.  The Iranian nuclear negotiations --

QUESTION:  That’s exactly what I said.

MS. HARF:  Proactive.  Proactive.

QUESTION:  We don’t have – this is an esoteric argument, but I mean --

MS. HARF:  I so love our esoteric arguments, though.

QUESTION:  But I mean, it literally – it sounds as though the – what you’ve described is a policy of --

MS. HARF:  No.

QUESTION:  -- response rather than prevention.

MS. HARF:  I – no, I described a little of both.  Climate change is, by definition, in large part – I mean, we would argue it’s reactive too, but we are leading on an issue that many people don’t see as a crisis yet.

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

MS. HARF:  So the point is the world is a complicated place, and that yes, would we have preferred this year to just be able to do everything proactive we wanted?  Of course.  That’s not the way the world works.  My point is that while we deal with these crises, while we drink from the fire hose, we are also able to proactively push a foreign policy agenda that we believe is in the best interests of the country.  And I honestly think Cuba is the best example of that.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But that just happened like a week ago.

MS. HARF:  Exactly.

QUESTION:  So you’ve had --

MS. HARF:  You’re already over it?  You’ve already moved on?

QUESTION:  Well no, I’m talking about the previous 50 weeks of the year.

MS. HARF:  You want something new.  Well, that didn’t just come out of nowhere a week ago.

QUESTION:  No.

QUESTION:  Okay, President Obama did come to office saying he was going to (inaudible) Cuba.

MS. HARF:  Exactly.

QUESTION:  And now we’re six years into the Administration.  Why did it take so long?

MS. HARF:  Yes, changing over 50 years of policy.

QUESTION:  I think it’s great.  I’m not saying it’s not --

MS. HARF:  Can I – Elise, Elise --

QUESTION:  Let me – I’m not saying it’s great, but – it’s not great, but why did it take him six years?

MS. HARF:  Well, in part because we were not going to make any diplomatic changes when it came to Cuba until Alan Gross was released.  So obviously, this has been a priority of ours for a very long time, but after Alan Gross was imprisoned, the Secretary in his calls to the Cuban foreign minister and our negotiating team made clear none of that diplomatic work could move forward without the Alan Gross situation being resolved.

QUESTION:  The Cubans were willing to do that for several years already.

MS. HARF:  I think that’s – then why didn’t they?

QUESTION:  Because they said that the United States wouldn’t engage on that issue.

MS. HARF:  Okay, well that – look, we have talked about Cuba ad nauseam over these past few weeks.  Changing this – I mean, diplomacy doesn’t happen overnight, and changing over 50 years of policy – you can’t just snap your fingers and make it so.

QUESTION:  I didn’t say that you could.

MS. HARF:  This has been the product of months and years – no, this has been behind the scenes.  Just because it was unseen to you all doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening, that this has been the product of months and years of painstaking diplomatic work at a number of levels to get to the place we were able to announce 10 days ago or whenever Matt – two weeks ago – that he’s already moved on from.

QUESTION:  No, it was less than two weeks ago.  But I’m just saying it came at the end of the year.

QUESTION:  It was a week ago.

MS. HARF:  I’ve lost all sense of time.

QUESTION:  Marie --

QUESTION:  It was a week ago.

MS. HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  What grade would you give the Secretary’s performance thus far?

MS. HARF:  I’m not going --

QUESTION:  A-plus.

MS. HARF:  I think anyone would give their boss an A.  No, look – look, exactly what I just said.  The Secretary is realistic and clear-eyed about the challenges we face.  I have never seen someone work so hard and engage on so many issues.  For those of you who travel with him --

QUESTION:  Yeah, right.

MS. HARF:  -- you know that’s absolutely the case.

QUESTION:  What grade would you – what grade would he give himself?

QUESTION:  How about on penmanship?  (Laughter.)

MS. HARF:  Why don’t you all feel free to ask him what grade he would give himself?

QUESTION:  On penmanship.

MS. HARF:  You all can give your bosses public grades at some point too.

QUESTION:  I had one more.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF:  I can’t wait for this last one.  Yes.

QUESTION:  Okay.  The Secretary --

MS. HARF:  What grade would you all give yourselves for covering us this year?

QUESTION:  I would give myself an A-plus and everyone in this room.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  The only honest answer to that, given that we still have a week to go in the year, is incomplete.

MS. HARF:  Oh, see.  You should have my job, Matt.  (Laughter.)

Yes.

QUESTION:  The Secretary’s now closing out his second year on the job.

MS. HARF:  In February he will, yes.

QUESTION:  Assuming he stays on for the remainder of President Obama’s second term, he would be today roughly at the midpoint of his tenure as America’s top diplomat.  What has he learned along the way?  What does he know today about the job that he didn’t know on day one?

QUESTION:  Why don’t you do an interview on this?

MS. HARF:  I think that’s probably a question that he can answer better.  But I will say that he – 30 years in the Senate, working on these issues from the congressional side and then coming here, you’ve see him engage across the board on more issues than maybe any Secretary in history.  Everything that I just mentioned, everything big, small, and in between, he is – travels all these days and he talks to all these world leaders because he believes it’s important to be out there promoting American diplomacy.  So he’s the best champion for it, and I think you see that borne out in what he does and who he talks to and how he handles these issues.  And I know we’re all looking forward to a very busy 2015, I am sure, including a trip to Cuba.

QUESTION:  I know that was a good note to end it on, but do you mind if I take it back to Ukraine just real quickly?

MS. HARF:  I do not mind, as long as you don’t ask me to give anyone a grade.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Okay.  I won’t.  Do you have any reaction to their decision to drop their non-aligned status with regard to NATO?

MS. HARF:  Yeah.  Our policy on the question of the future of NATO enlargement  I think is – it’s  consistent that the door is open, that countries that are willing to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic space are welcome to apply for membership.  Each application will be considered on the merits.  This is obviously – any decision on potential NATO membership is one for Ukraine and NATO to make, and we fully support the open door policy, though. 

Yes.

QUESTION:  Sorry.  On South Sudan, today in Paris a joint statement with Norway and Britain on it.  Other than – I mean, basically the only thing – and talk about an incomplete conflict here – the U.S. and Norway and Britain have – all they’ve done is ask for the two sides to return to talks in January.  Have the ideas or the discussions about sanctions, pressing these – the leaders to get back to the table – has that just fallen by the wayside?

MS. HARF:  Not to my knowledge.  I can check and see if there’s more to share than we had in that joint statement.  Obviously, we’ve talked about sanctions in the past in this area, but I can see what the current status of those discussions are.  I would also remind people it was just a year ago, right around Christmas, that we had this situation with South Sudan, a lot of violence, and that speaking to Michele’s questions, unfortunately the world doesn’t operate on a clock that ends on December 31st.

QUESTION:  But given that in the statement it talks about 430,000 people displaced in Darfur --

MS. HARF:  Absolutely.

QUESTION:  -- just this year alone, 100,000 more in another area, I mean, and a deteriorating situation.  Just calling for going back to talks, is that enough at this stage?

MS. HARF:  Well, it’s certainly a key step and it’s a vital one.  But obviously, there are many steps that need to be taken here to stem the situation and to put them on a better path, absolutely.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS. HARF:  What else?  Yes, Elliot. 

QUESTION:  Your DOD colleague spoke to this a little bit last week, but I was curious, given that – the level of tensions right now between the U.S. and North Korea, how concerned are you this holiday season that that country might launch an attack on the NORAD Santa Tracker?

MS. HARF:  On the NORAD Santa Tracker?

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

MS. HARF:  I have no idea how to – what did he say in response to that?

QUESTION:  He said they have an anti-Grinch firewall that’s up and running.  But --

MS. HARF:  That’s a better answer than I would have given.  (Laughter.)  I’ll defer to my colleague at DOD.

This is the last briefing for the week.  We have a couple more questions, and then I will wrap up with some logistics.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Just to clarify, when you’re talking about the East China Sea tension, can you actually confirm that there are increased military activities in the east coast of --

MS. HARF:  I can’t confirm those.  I’ve just seen the reports.

Yes. 

QUESTION:  You spoke about the challenges faced this year.  What about Afghanistan and Pakistan?  As U.S. is drawing all its forces from Afghanistan, you have seen a sudden upsurge of violence, terrorist attacks in border countries. 

MS. HARF:  Well, I think – no, the Afghanistan question is a very good one, and my colleagues at DOD have spoken to it.  And the path we are on to bring more American troops home – I think the President has said there are more American troops home with their families this holiday than any time since we’ve taken office, which I think is an extraordinary statement.  But we have a plan to end the war in Afghanistan, to bring our folks home, but to maintain a relationship on counterterrorism and on training. 

Obviously, we were very happy this year that the BSA was signed, that there’s a new government in Afghanistan that’s committed to it, that’s committed to this partnership.  And I think going forward that’s going to be a key part of 2015, certainly, is how we bring more troops home, how we transition over, and how we continue this partnership with Afghanistan.

QUESTION:  So are you confident that Afghanistan national security forces are capable of handling the security of the country in 2015?

MS. HARF:  It’s certainly something we continue working with them on.  That’s why one of the two responsibilities we will have going forward under the BSA is this training and advising to help the Afghans continue to get on their feet.  They have a tough challenge, certainly, but it’s something that we are happy the Government of Afghanistan is – wants us to be a part of and wants us to be there with them.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS. HARF:  Anything else?  Any more grades anyone wants me to give?

This is the last briefing of the week.  Next Monday and Tuesday we will likely be in here, but we will let you know.  And with that, I will see all of you in 2015.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:04 p.m.)

 



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