1:34 p.m. EDT
MS HARF: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the daily press briefing. I don’t have anything at the top. Matthew.
QUESTION: Nothing? Nothing at all?
MS HARF: On your toes, Matt. Get us started.
QUESTION: Sorry. Actually, you caught me by surprise. I’ll defer.
MS HARF: This is like the first – let’s just all take a moment to pause.
QUESTION: No, it’s --
QUESTION: It’s the second time in a week, actually.
MS HARF: Okay.
MS HARF: Yes. I think there was one journalist and a parliamentarian, maybe. Let me check. Yes. We condemn the murders. There was a Ukrainian journalist and a former member of parliament from Ukraine’s former opposition party, the Party of Regions, who were killed. We send our condolences to their family and friends. Call for a complete, thorough, and transparent investigations, which I understand President Poroshenko has called for as well. Don’t have more details.
QUESTION: You know anything about who might be behind this?
MS HARF: I don’t have more details on it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) been a spate of murders in Kyiv recently. Are you concerned that there’s – that there may be some kind of campaign going on?
MS HARF: Well, we’re certainly concerned by any violence or any situations like this. That’s why we’ve called for a thorough and independent investigation. But don’t have much more analysis to do than that.
QUESTION: All these – a follow-up on this. All these people that have been (inaudible) killed, they are anti the current president or anti the current government in Kyiv. Does that concern you or does that --
MS HARF: Any violence concerns us, Said, and I don’t want to make pronouncements about possible motives given there needs to be an investigation.
QUESTION: Let me ask you more directly: Do you feel that there is an anti-opposition campaign that is under way in Kyiv?
MS HARF: Well, as I said, there needs to be investigations here and we need to get the facts, and then we’ll make pronouncements if we can do so at that time.
QUESTION: I guess somewhat related to this, did you see or hear or read about any of the extended call-in show that President Putin had --
MS HARF: I did. Four hours, I think. I think a whole half hour was spent on some – like subsidies and milk.
QUESTION: Yeah, I guess. I don’t know.
MS HARF: There were three and a half other hours that dealt with other issues.
QUESTION: Right. But specifically on Ukraine --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- he said again that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine. You take issue with that I presume, but I don’t know if --
MS HARF: Well --
QUESTION: Do you believe he’s telling the truth?
MS HARF: No. As Secretary Kerry has said multiple times, no amount of propaganda can make true what is not. I think we know as of early April that Russian military forces continue to operate in eastern Ukraine. This isn’t just our word for it; there are pictures, there is evidence out there for everyone to see about this. Despite public pronouncements about the complete withdrawal of heavy weapons, pro-Russian separatists maintain heavy weapons near the frontlines in violation of Minsk. Russia has command and control elements in eastern Ukraine to coordinate military operations there. Russia has established training areas in eastern Ukraine to train separatist fighters in gunnery and artillery firing. So all of the evidence points to the contrary and that’s, of course, what we’ve said for many, many months now.
MS HARF: Well, I saw what he said. As we have made very clear, we have significant concerns about the – their intention to lift the hold on the transfer of this – the sale of this defensive system to Iran. We’ve previously made our objections known. We, look, aren’t going to speculate into Russia’s decision making. I think that was part of what he talked about today.
Certainly the case that Russia’s economy has been under incredible strain and that, as some press reports have noted, it may be that Russia is doing this purely for the money involved given they need an influx of finances given the state of their economy.
We do not – and we agree with what President Putin did say that we don’t expect this to impact the unity of the P5+1 inside the negotiating room. He said that, and we certainly believe the same.
QUESTION: No, but he said – but he said that it was – that one reason for lifting the ban was because of the flexibility shown by Iran in the nuclear talks. Do you agree that Iran has shown flexibility in the nuclear talks?
MS HARF: Well, there’s two separate questions here. As I just said, I am not going to speculate on why they made this decision. I noted, as some --
QUESTION: That’s not my question.
MS HARF: I know. But let me – I’ll get there. As some repress – as some press reports have noted that a possible reason may be for the money, and that’s something I think I would take note of.
Look, I’m not going to comment one way and the other on – or characterize, I guess, how Iran has been inside the negotiating room. We have our bottom lines. Those have been met with the parameters that we have agreed to. And so the right combination of factors, of centrifuges, of cascades, of stockpile, of R&D – all of those things combined together have met our bottom lines. And that’s I think what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: All right. One thing you said about the Russian economy – President Putin said that the Russian economy was actually improving and doing okay and was made – actually made stronger by the sanctions. There does seem to be a little bit of evidence at least to support that, at least in the terms of the rebound of the ruble. Are you still so sure that the sanctions have made an impact, because again --
MS HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- if you say that – if you say that the President is not telling the truth when he says that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine, whatever impact on the Russian economy there has been doesn’t appear to have changed any behavior, if you’re correct.
MS HARF: Correct. Well, and I’d just note the IMF’s latest projections released this week forecast that Russia’s real GDP will contract by 3.8 percent in 2015 and 1.1 percent in 2016. That’s just one measure. There’s other measures we’ve talked about as well beyond just the currency measure. There have been many other measures we’ve talked about as well, including their ratings and such.
So we know that the sanctions are having an impact. We know the longer they’re in place they have more of an impact. And ultimately, the goal is to get to change Russia’s calculation so we can get to a different place with – with respect to Ukraine.
MS HARF: And that’s why they’re going to stay in place, and if we need to put more on, we will.
QUESTION: And while you say that you don’t want to speculate as to their motive on the S-300s, you say it’s to – it may be to – you noted reports that say that --
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- it might be for money. So is that – if that is, in fact, the case that your sanctions are causing this hurt and that the Russians need the money so therefore they’re going to transfer this system that you don’t think they should transfer to Iran, is it worth it?
MS HARF: Is what worth it?
MS HARF: Well, the easiest way for the Russians to help fix their economy is to stop doing the things that required sanctions to be put on in the first place, Matt.
QUESTION: Or, apparently, to sell advanced weapons systems --
MS HARF: Well, I don’t --
QUESTION: -- to countries that you don’t want them to send them to.
MS HARF: I don’t think that’s going to – correct. But I don’t think that’s going to fix their economy in the long term. It may be a short influx of cash. And I don’t know when this projected sale may go forward. It could be many, many months from now. I’m not sure I’ve seen details about that yet.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS HARF: But the point is that in the long term the only way Russia will be able to fix its economy and to get out from under these sanctions that have been placed on it is to make different decisions.
QUESTION: Okay. So is it fair to say that the Administration’s reaction to the whole call-in show itself was that you’re not particularly impressed and you don’t believe that what he said was correct, at least as it relates to non-domestic Russian issues?
MS HARF: Certainly, the reports I’ve seen – I did not listen to the whole four hours, I’m sorry to say. But when it comes to his characterizations of what’s happening in Ukraine and elsewhere, I do think that there were some things we take issue with.
QUESTION: Can we go --
QUESTION: Can we stick with that, just one thing?
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just one of the things he said was that Washington has told leaders of other countries not to attend the World War II parade. My memory is that – well, rather than quoting back to you what you’ve said about this, is it true that you’ve told other leaders of other countries not to go?
MS HARF: Well, a couple points, Arshad. The first is that, as we’ve said, there are a variety of ways that the world will honor Victory in Europe Day, including on May 8th here in Washington. Some European capitals will also mark it. At the military parade specifically in Moscow on May 9th, we’ll be represented by Ambassador Tefft. In considering our representation, we took into account Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty, as have several of our European allies independently. And we would certainly suggest other countries consider this as well when determining their participation.
QUESTION: So you wouldn’t say that you’ve actually told – well, has the U.S. Government told any other leader, “Don’t go”?
MS HARF: Well, every country makes their own decisions. We’re talking to them, clearly, about how we made our decision and encouraging them to take the same considerations into account.
QUESTION: Yeah. But you can’t say no, we haven’t actually told them not to go?
MS HARF: I’m just not going to talk about what the specifics of our diplomatic conversations are. I think I was just clear about the message we were passing along.
MS HARF: Well, as we’ve always said --
QUESTION: So it's true. I mean --
MS HARF: Well, no, those are two different questions.
QUESTION: Well --
MS HARF: He said publicly that this isn’t time for business as usual with Russia and that countries should take Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty into account when considering their representation --
QUESTION: Yeah, but it is not --
MS HARF: -- as we did.
QUESTION: But it is not incorrect to say that the United States would take a dim view if the – if a European leader went and participated or attended the parade?
MS HARF: I don’t necessarily want to say that, Matt. I think we make --
QUESTION: I know you don’t want to say it.
MS HARF: Well, because I don’t think it’s accurate necessarily.
QUESTION: Oh, you would say that that was a good thing, shower and heap praise on him?
MS HARF: Well, I think there’s maybe a middle ground here that’s probably more accurate. I think from our – there is. Don’t look so dubious at me. I think from our perspective, we took into account what’s going on in Ukraine, clearly, when we decided on our representation and also noted that there are a variety of ways to mark Victory in Europe Day. We obviously honor the sacrifice of those who fought in World War II, including many, many Russians who sacrificed.
QUESTION: Twenty-five million.
MS HARF: Exactly. So this is – this is something we feel very deeply about. But for this military parade specifically, which is one – one event, we took into account what was happening in Ukraine and we are encouraging other countries to take the same thing into account.
QUESTION: Well --
MS HARF: They can make their own decisions about who they send, and it’s not up to us to make – to pass judgment on that. It’s their decision. We’re just making clear what our position is and that we hope they would consider the same.
QUESTION: Well, if it’s not up to you to pass judgment, why did the ambassador to the Czech Republic say – express displeasure with the --
MS HARF: Well, I think he was expressing what I’ve expressed from here and what others have expressed --
MS HARF: -- that now is not the time for business as usual. And I think there is actually a debate inside the Czech Republic, separate from the ambassador, about this issue as well.
QUESTION: Yes. And now he’s decided that he’s not going to go to the parade.
MS HARF: Well --
QUESTION: But I don’t believe you can say that it’s not correct --
MS HARF: I think the ambassador was expressing what I’ve expressed to you.
QUESTION: Marie, I understand that. But the point is is that if you – even if you didn’t tell them, “No, don’t go,” you made it clear that you were sending your ambassador, not anyone higher level.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: And that they should – that they should take the same thing into account --
MS HARF: Take the same things account. Correct.
QUESTION: -- which suggests that you think that they also should send their ambassadors, not higher --
MS HARF: I think each country has a variety of things to weigh when they make these decisions.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: You said – I think I heard you correctly. You said that it is a defensive system.
MS HARF: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Why would you oppose to the transfer of defensive weapons? Obviously, the Iranians will not use it unless attacked. Would that – do they have a legitimate right for – to self-defense?
MS HARF: Well, Said, I think we have long said that, given Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, we did not think these kinds of weapons sales were a good idea, particularly at this time, given the ongoing negotiations. I don’t have much more for you than that.
QUESTION: So do you think that these systems would sort of bolster Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region?
MS HARF: Again, we don’t think this is the right time to do this. I’m not going to get into more details about why. We have repeatedly made our objections known. Part of it is the fact that we are, right now, standing with the world in trying to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran. And now is just not the time for this kind of activity.
QUESTION: But then you’re – the implicit suggestion here is that somehow those 300 undermine the ongoing process – the negotiating process.
MS HARF: No. I said we don’t believe it will impact the unity of the P5+1.
QUESTION: Are you giving Israel any assurances about its security in light of the S-300 sale?
MS HARF: Well, again, I think I just made the point that it’s a defensive system. Also we give Israel assurances all the time about its security. Let’s talk about the Iron Dome system we helped them build, which we have put a lot of effort and attention and money into, certainly since the beginning of this Administration, the largest security assistance in history with Israel under this Administration. There’s a variety of ways with Israel, also with our Gulf partners, that we have worked to assure them that we will stand by them, help bolster their security. And I think we’ve done that in a variety of ways, certainly. And I think that we’ll be doing more in the coming weeks and months.
QUESTION: Are you – I know you’ve already sort of complained. Are you actually trying to dissuade the Russians from going forward with this?
MS HARF: Well, the Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov and made clear our objections, and yes, made clear that we did not think they should go forward.
QUESTION: Can we go to – just one thing. Is part of your concern about this system – you’ve said several times it’s defensive, but is part of your concern about this system that it might be converted to an offensive weapon?
MS HARF: I haven’t heard that, Matt. But let me check --
QUESTION: Because --
MS HARF: I have not heard anyone say that. But let me check with our team.
QUESTION: So even if it is a surface-to-air missile --
MS HARF: I’m not sure if that’s technically possible. Let me check with our team.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
MS HARF: That it could be converted.
QUESTION: But it’s going to explode someplace, right? So --
MS HARF: Let me check, Matt. I really have – I need to check with the experts here.
QUESTION: Can we go to the visit of the Iraqi --
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: -- prime minister (inaudible) to Washington. He spoke today and he refuted the claims that – the press claims that there was a difference or a point of difference between the United States and Iraq on the delivery of weapons, that that was not an issue of contention between the two.
MS HARF: (Inaudible) delivery weapons to Iraq?
QUESTION: Right. So --
MS HARF: Correct. Yes. Which I’ve been saying for weeks from this podium, yet I’m glad he was on the same page.
QUESTION: So should we expect – I mean, there are all kinds of reports suggesting that the F-16s will be delivered perhaps this summer. Is that – would you confirm that?
MS HARF: I’m happy to check on the latest there, Said. I don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: Okay. He also talked about offensive – I mean, heavy weapons you called it – for two divisions that he’s awaiting. Is it safe to assume that these weapons will be delivered --
MS HARF: Let me check.
QUESTION: -- as they gear up to sort of liberate Ramadi?
MS HARF: Let me check on that. I know there’s a lot of moving pieces with our weapons deliveries here, so let me check.
QUESTION: Okay. Also he talked about a lot of issues, but one of the issues he addressed was the bombardment of Yemen.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: He disagreed with it completely yesterday. Today he was less --
MS HARF: Yeah. I think it’s – yeah.
QUESTION: -- less abrasive today. But yesterday he was quite clear, in fact, prompted the Saudi ambassador to hold his own press to say that you do support the bombing that is going on. Do you or do you not support the Saudi bombing, the Saudi-led bombing that is going on in Yemen?
MS HARF: Well, the U.S. is clearly supporting the Saudi-led coalition that’s responding to the Houthi aggression in Yemen. But on Prime Minister Abadi’s comments, I think the message he was conveying – and I won’t try to speak for him, but I think the message he was conveying – and this is certainly the message --
QUESTION: But you will.
MS HARF: I said I’m going to see what I think he was conveying. What the message President Obama was conveying was that this shouldn’t escalate into a broader conflict, that ultimately the conflict can only be settled through a political negotiation involving all parties. I think that’s the crux of what Prime Minister Abadi was saying, particularly because he’s seen his country go through such violence and strife, and he really knows firsthand how damaging that can be to a country. So I think those sort of topline messages were the same. And I know the prime minister spoke about this today as well. We are firmly supportive of the current GCC-led operations to defend Saudi Arabia’s southern border, to push back on the Houthi aggression. And when it comes to the joint fight against ISIL, that’s really a separate issue. I think some people were trying to conflate the two. It’s really just a separate issue from the discussions about what’s happening in Yemen.
QUESTION: Now, let me ask you something: If the situation or the current bombardment led by Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries is not really changing the situation on the ground – in fact, does not change the position or calculus on the ground – why then support it? I mean, why not perhaps entice everybody to come into some sort of accommodation on --
MS HARF: Well, we’re trying to. We are trying to get the parties back to the negotiating table, and I know that the UN is trying to do so as well. We are all trying to work together on that, but the Houthis undertook a number of aggressive actions – military actions – and that’s why you saw this GCC-led operation really come to fruition here. But the goal of all of this is to get back to the table.
QUESTION: And my last question, on the Americans left in Yemen.
MS HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you have anything new on that?
MS HARF: Nothing new on that.
QUESTION: Is the UN envoy leaving?
MS HARF: He is, and I’m sure he will be replaced quickly. He is.
QUESTION: I’m – just today, al-Qaida’s affiliate, AQAP, has made some significant gains in southern Yemen. They’ve taken over an airport; they’ve taken over a port and an oil depot. And I’m wondering, given that, are you concerned at all that the strikes against the Houthis by the Saudi coalition are actually helping al-Qaida expand its territory?
MS HARF: I think in general, Matt, the security situation or lack of security situation on the ground in Yemen has given space for AQAP to operate, certainly. I mean, they’ve had space for a while to operate there, but the security situation caused by the Houthi and former President Saleh’s actions – taking over of territory, forcing the government out – physically out – has led to the security situation on the ground there. So I would actually attribute it to the opposite from what you just did.
QUESTION: Well --
MS HARF: That this is because of the situation that the Houthis and President Saleh created with their actions that have destabilized the country and led to a situation where AQAP can start to take more territory.
Now, we can’t confirm some of those reports about the airport. There’re a little conflicting reports. I’ve seen them, certainly.
QUESTION: Right, but --
MS HARF: Cannot.
QUESTION: But doesn’t the introduction of these airstrikes from the Saudi coalition on – against the Houthis help AQAP and its (inaudible)?
MS HARF: I would not say that. No, not at all. I would not say that.
QUESTION: So --
MS HARF: Because they’re not the ones responsible for creating the security situation. It’s the Houthis who are responsible for the destabilization that we’ve seen in Yemen. The Saudi-led, GCC-led coalition is responding to that.
QUESTION: To your knowledge, are they targeting AQAP at all?
MS HARF: The GCC operation?
MS HARF: Let me check. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: Well, I think the answer to that --
MS HARF: I’m happy to check. I just --
QUESTION: I think the answer is no.
MS HARF: I’m just not sure.
QUESTION: Can we --
QUESTION: Well, would you like them to?
MS HARF: I’m happy to check and see what the facts are, Matt.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?
QUESTION: Can I just close on (inaudible)?
MS HARF: Let’s keep going on Yemen. Let’s do one topic at a time.
QUESTION: Just – you can’t confirm the report about the airport --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- or – how about the port and the oil terminal?
MS HARF: I don’t think we can confirm any of them. I’m not – don’t have reason to believe they’re not true, but we just don’t have independent confirmation.
QUESTION: Great, thank you.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Abadi was supposed to make some requests for military assistance, and the White House said he hadn’t.
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: Do you have any updates on --
MS HARF: No, he did not.
QUESTION: Or any --
MS HARF: I think – and Said just – I think maybe you came in a little late. Said just referenced that. He made clear today – Prime Minister Abadi did – that he didn’t know where those reports had come from and they weren’t true, so he did not. We obviously – he did not make such a request. That’s not what the meetings were about. They were much more strategic in nature. So I’m not sure where those originated, but --
MS HARF: Uh-huh.
MS HARF: It is a deadline.
QUESTION: It is a --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Well – because there’ve been, obviously, other deadlines, but I’ll take that to mean it’s a hard deadline.
MS HARF: Well, I don’t – just to be clear, in practical terms, I’m not – I don’t know exactly what you mean by that. The Joint Plan of Action and its – the pieces of it were extended until June 30th, so the obligations of everyone who signed on to that go through June 30th.
Now, there’s a lot of work to be done in that time period, but it’s a deadline for a reason and that’s what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: Are there any expectations of a meeting in New York at the end of the month?
MS HARF: Yeah, we’re not sure exactly yet. Some of you may have seen, the EU announced this morning that next week political directors will meet in Vienna. There will be a plenary of all the P5+1 political directors, the EU, and Iran. I think it’ll be towards the end of next week. We’re finalizing dates. We expect that Under Secretary Sherman will lead our team; there will also be a number of experts there. So that will happen next week. And then I think we’re trying to figure out the schedule for the rest of the month.
QUESTION: And in your – in terms of some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of Iran in terms of the build-up to (inaudible) sanctions and the like, is your understanding from the negotiations that their understanding is that that is referring solely to nuclear-related sanctions? And they do recognize that sanctions related to other issues will not be looked at, period.
MS HARF: Correct. And I think if you just look at our parameters document that we put out on April 2nd, it makes very clear what has already been agreed to, and we’ve said there’s some left to be negotiated. But yes, when we talk about this this is about nuclear sanctions.
QUESTION: So you dispute or disagree with what President Rouhani said, that the sanctions must be lifted?
MS HARF: Well, he was – it’s my understanding he was referring to nuclear-related sanctions.
QUESTION: He – what the – maybe an implicit suggestion that --
MS HARF: I don’t think --
QUESTION: -- they should be lifted as the deal is signed.
MS HARF: No, I would be careful with that, Said. I think there have been a number of Iranian officials who have come out and said, acknowledged basically, that they will get to an agreement, they’ll take the nuclear steps, they’ll get the sanctions relief. Now if they can do that all on day one, then they’ll get the relief faster. I think it’ll take a little while for some of the nuclear steps to be undertaken.
QUESTION: So in theory, if they do all in day one, as you suggested, the sanctions would be lifted the same day.
MS HARF: Well, the suspension comes first. There’s suspension then termination, as we’ve talked about. Suspension – they’re just different things legally; when it comes to U.S. sanctions they would be suspended first, and then after a period of time we would ask Congress to terminate those that Congress put into place, but there’s a difference between the two terms.
QUESTION: Can I ask a logistical planning type schedule?
MS HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: On consultations with the Hill.
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Since the committee passed the bill, are the consultations – at least formal ones like the – at least involving the Secretary – going up there and speaking – are those --
MS HARF: Right. Well --
QUESTION: -- now done?
MS HARF: No. Let me – and I – this is a good question, Matt. Thank you. I want to make a point on this. The two classified briefings the Secretary did this week were not about the legislation. They were actually about the details of what had been agreed to. There were a couple – I – but there’s – actually I’ve gotten some questions about this, so I just wanted to put this on the record. There were a couple questions out of like six hours about the legislation, but that was really to walk them through what had been agreed to.
The consultations with the Hill on the legislation were done by the President, the Secretary, others, in individual calls mainly over the phone. So the substantive briefings will continue mainly at the expert level – we have experts talking – but other officials as well to members of Congress and their staff, as they have questions about the substance of the agreement. But in the terms of the legislation? Yes. I mean, we have to see what the final bill looks like, but yes, those consultations --
QUESTION: But does he expect – and I’m talking about the Secretary, the person you speak for --
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- does he expect to go up for more --
MS HARF: I haven’t heard of --
QUESTION: -- like, big briefing?
MS HARF: No, I haven’t heard of anything scheduled. This – the reason it took us about a week after we got back from Lausanne, but this was really his chance with his counterparts from the cabinet to talk through the specifics of the agreement. Our experts and others are making – still making dozens of phone calls to members, individually, and talking to their staffs to answer all the substantive questions they have. That will continue. But when it comes to the legislation I think we still have to see what the final bill will look like, but I think we’ve all spoken to that and we feel like we can move forward.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Yes. I want to talk about the occupied West Bank. Last week, I raised the issue that a Palestinian legislator was placed under administrative detention by the Israelis and she remains there, because for some reason they (inaudible) and she wouldn’t go. Have you checked with the Israelis on the status of this Palestinian legislator?
MS HARF: I can check. I don’t know, Said. Let me check.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you on – with all this that is going on, with all these crises coming all together, would you say that the importance or the priority of the Palestinian-Israeli issue has fallen down, in your estimation, greatly?
MS HARF: I think if you talk to the Secretary, he would very strongly disagree with that notion.
QUESTION: Okay, can you tell us --
MS HARF: This is still a top priority for us. We’re aware of the realities here of how difficult this has been. But I think you know from the amount of time the Secretary personally has put into this that he still very much cares about the issue.
QUESTION: I understand and that’s really what prompts my question – I mean, it being a top priority as the Secretary keeps saying. What are – what is taking – what are you doing currently to make sure that this remains an issue that garners the kind of attention it should?
MS HARF: Well, I think a couple things. First, we’ve encouraged all parties at this moment while we’re not in negotiations to not take steps that could escalate because that’s not helpful to getting back to the table. The Secretary’s also remained in contact with our partners, with the different parties on the ground, and talking about what might happen. The Israelis just went through an election. They haven’t formed a government yet. I think a few things need to happen, but it’s certainly still a top priority for the Secretary. But I have nothing to sort of preview for you about where it possibly might go from here.
QUESTION: Okay. My last question: With the PA being on the verge of bankruptcy, and they’re saying that either all or none in terms of the tax money is concerned, are you talking to the Israelis and the Palestinians to help sort of ease this financial crisis?
MS HARF: We have repeatedly been talking to the different parties, yes.
QUESTION: And what are they you telling you in --
MS HARF: I’m probably not going to get into those private conversations.
QUESTION: I noticed the Vice President’s going to Israel’s anniversary commemoration here in Washington.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When was the last time the Secretary or one of his deputies or assistants spoke with Ambassador Dermer?
MS HARF: Ambassador Dermer?
MS HARF: I’m happy to check. The Secretary talks to Prime Minister Netanyahu quite frequently, as you know. But I can check on Ambassador Dermer. I, quite frankly, just don’t know off the top of my head.
MS HARF: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Have they spoken to the Palestinian – PA president in recent weeks or days?
MS HARF: Has the Secretary?
MS HARF: I can check and see. I don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Thank you. Monday I asked you, like, what is the update you might have for upcoming election in Dhaka and Chittagong.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm. Yes.
QUESTION: So I’ll see what I get from you.
MS HARF: And I got a little bit on that, yes. So we welcome the announcement of municipal elections. We have called on those who are administering them and participating in the elections to uphold their responsibility to ensure they are free, fair, and nonviolent. We have encouraged the Government of Bangladesh and the elections commission to protect citizens’ rights to free expression and association during the campaign, again, to ensure free, fair election on polling day. We also expect all parties to follow democratic practices, and really, there could be no room here for violence or intimidation. That’s the message we’ve been sending to the Bangladeshis as they go forward here.
QUESTION: Yeah. We saw today on the report that one councilor candidate had been arrested by police. And also there’s a major oppositional candidate from Dhaka, Mirza Abbas, and he went to court for bail and there was a divided rule of the court. One judge says grant the bail; another said not. So how you define this? Like, they’re not actually – there – there is no level playing field, actually, for oppositions.
MS HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen those reports today. Let me check with our team and see if there’s more to say about this.
QUESTION: Thank you, please.
MS HARF: Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Pakistan.
MS HARF: Well, let’s – okay, go ahead. Go ahead. Yeah.
MS HARF: He did.
QUESTION: And after that, the prime minister’s office issued a brief statement saying that the situation in Yemen and the resolution in the Pakistani parliament passed, which sort of discourages Pakistan involvement, and that possible Pakistani military assistance with Saudi Arabia were discussed. So would you like to comment?
MS HARF: Yes. Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Sharif on April 14th about a range of issues, as you mentioned, including Yemen, also including the release on bail of the alleged Mumbai attack planner, Lakhvi. The Secretary expressed concern that the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attack be brought to justice. He noted that 166 innocent people were killed in the attack, including, of course, six Americans. The Secretary also noted the need to keep known terrorists behind bars and to expedite justice for the victims of the family. The prime minister expressed his commitment to seek justice for the families of the victims and to pursue all means to move the trial forward. As I said, the two leaders also spoke about the need to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end through a sustainable political resolution and a political transition.
QUESTION: It seems that the focus was on Mumbai and not Yemen.
MS HARF: They were both – they were both focuses.
QUESTION: So are you urging Pakistan to contribute troops or --
MS HARF: It’s up to them. It’s a decision they can make. I think the point of the Secretary’s conversation was that they both agreed that the path forward here needs to be a political dialogue and transition.
QUESTION: What date did that happen?
MS HARF: The 14th.
QUESTION: So two days ago, not yesterday?
MS HARF: Correct, correct. The 14th.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that the Secretary’s emphasis on the path forward being political dialogue and your earlier comment about the Administration’s view that they didn’t want to see this conflict escalate in Yemen, does that add up to the United States – even if it is a Pakistani prerogative – would prefer not to see Pakistani troops fight in Yemen?
MS HARF: I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t draw that judgment from that.
QUESTION: So you’d be okay with it?
MS HARF: I wouldn’t draw that judgment either, Arshad. It’s a decision for them to make.
QUESTION: But I mean, I --
MS HARF: It’s a decision for them to make, and really it’s up to them. I don’t think you can take from that that we would or wouldn’t be okay with it. I think I made very clear that it’s really up to them.
QUESTION: But the bottom line is you’d rather it not happen?
MS HARF: I didn’t say that. You can draw any conclusion you want, but it’s not what I said. I said it’s up to them. We’re supporting the coalition; countries can make their own decisions.
QUESTION: There was a report this morning in The Washington Post about the U.S. opposition to South Korea joining the TPP. Do you have any response to that or can you clarify your position about South Korea and the TPP?
MS HARF: Let me see if I – I don’t know if I have anything on that. I’m happy to check with our team.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on reports that a U.S. citizen was hurt in an attack in – I think it’s Karachi, Pakistan?
MS HARF: Mm-hmm, I do, just a little bit, not a lot. We have seen the reports that a U.S. citizen was injured in a shooting incident in Karachi. Our consulate general there is in close contact with Pakistani authorities and is working to obtain more information. The local police authorities in Pakistan are handling the investigation. They may have more details.
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: -- and the Palestinians for one second?
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: That is, the reports out of Israel yesterday and today about more than a dozen European Union countries wanting products produced in the West Bank to be labeled as such – do you guys have any position on this?
MS HARF: I mean, I’d refer you to them. I don’t know if we have much.
QUESTION: No, on whether you would like the same --
MS HARF: I think the --
QUESTION: -- for this (inaudible).
MS HARF: For – I think the Treasury Department handles that, so I’d check with them.
QUESTION: So you’re not aware – so you are not aware --
MS HARF: I would just check with – yeah.
QUESTION: Are you aware of a report that was submitted by the director general – I think that’s his title – of the Israeli foreign ministry, Ben-Sheetrit, addressed to the departing foreign minister, telling him that the crisis with the United States is not likely to go away anytime soon and --
MS HARF: I was not aware of that --
QUESTION: Okay. It’s in Haaretz, so --
MS HARF: -- and probably not going to weigh in on internal --
MS HARF: -- Israeli conversations. We have made clear how important the Israeli relationship is to us, and we certainly talked a lot about that recently, particularly from a security perspective.
QUESTION: I don’t think I asked you about this at the time because we were in Lausanne, but the – it’s Yom Hashoah, so it’s a relevant time to ask you about Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest. Do you have any comment on that?
MS HARF: I hadn’t seen reports of an actual cartoon contest.
QUESTION: Submissions were due on April 1st, so --
MS HARF: Were due on what? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: April 1st.
MS HARF: Well, a couple points. Obviously, we have for a long time seen very offensive and disgusting anti-Israel, anti-Semitic remarks coming out from Iran’s leadership. And every time these kinds of remarks come out, we speak up as strongly as we possibly can against them. As I said, they are offensive and they’re disgusting and they have no place at all in any kind of dialogue, period. We’ve certainly made that crystal-clear, I think, every time. Again, I hadn’t seen the cartoon issue, but I take every opportunity I can to make clear how awful these are.
QUESTION: Just one more thing from Bangladesh.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: It’s like former state minister Salahuddin Ahmed has been disappeared for a while, and the family is complaining, including to the prime minister and all others, that he’s kidnapped by – or taken by law enforcement. And it’s – but government is clearly saying we don’t know. Do you have any information on that?
MS HARF: I don’t. I’m happy to check with our team.
QUESTION: Please, thanks.
MS HARF: I don’t. Yes, I will. Thank you all.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yesterday from the podium and also in a letter that the President, I believe, sent to the Congress, it was discussed that the U.S. and Cuba have agreed to set up this law --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- enforcement dialogue with --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- an eye towards, from your point of view, addressing the situation of the – of U.S. fugitives that are living in Cuba.
MS HARF: Correct. Yes, that is correct.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that this dialogue will also include the Cuban – people that Cuba says are fugitives who are living in the U.S., or is it just a one-way street here?
MS HARF: I can check. I don’t know, Matt. That’s a very good question. It says fugitive cases, so I would assume both.
QUESTION: For both sides?
MS HARF: But I don’t know, so let me check.
QUESTION: All right. And then also, in those comments from yesterday, the idea that Cuba and Spain are involved --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- in a dialogue on the ETA fugitives who are living there, do you know --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- one, is that --
MS HARF: On a bilateral process, yes.
QUESTION: Right, and you’re not involved, but this clearly came up during the negotiations --
MS HARF: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: -- with you guys.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So is this a new thing or is this something that has been going on before --
MS HARF: I believe --
QUESTION: -- December?
MS HARF: Well, I believe it’s now underway. I’m not sure when it started. I know it’s now underway, but I’m not sure it started before December.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that this is similar to what they agreed to do with you --
MS HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: -- or is it focused only on the one way and the potential extradition of --
MS HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: -- these ETA people? Can --
MS HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Is it possible to find out?
MS HARF: Yes, I will check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Yes, yes. Anything else?
QUESTION: Also – yeah, on Cuba also, are there going to be another round of talks between the U.S. and Cuba on embassies or --
MS HARF: Absolutely. We have – still have work to do on opening embassies, on re-establishing diplomatic relations. There will be, I’m sure.
QUESTION: So – and, like, in person, in Washington?
MS HARF: Many more conversations. We’ve had them in Havana, we’ve had them in Washington. I don’t know where or when they’ll be.
QUESTION: But you’re expecting, like, another in-person round?
MS HARF: Absolutely. We have to – and someday, we’ll open an embassy, which will be in-person by definition, so – thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)
DPB # 64