1:02 p.m. EDT
MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to a Friday daily press briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then I will turn it over to you, Matt, in your summer jacket, which I like.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: On Libya, the United States welcomes today’s announcement that the UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue will resume again on June 8th in Morocco. Libya’s crisis can only be solved through a political, not a military solution. Libyan stakeholders participating in the UN dialogue are working to preserve Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as they finalize discussions on a draft political agreement that will form a national unity government. We commend the efforts of the United Nations and Special Representative to the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon in facilitating these discussions.
In support of these talks, Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke this morning to Libyan House of Representatives President Aguila Saleh Issa and Nouri Abusahmain of the former General National Congress. Blinken highlighted our strong support for both groups’ decisions to attend the upcoming political dialogue and urged their support of the finalized political agreement and the establishment of a new national unity government as soon as possible. All Libyans will benefit from the end of the military conflict and increased security and stability. A strong, unified government will, again, be the best defense against any terrorist threat which is taking advantage of the current political environment.
A couple more items, guys. Thanks for hanging with me here.
On Macedonia, Deputy Secretary Blinken met this morning as well with EU Commissioner Hahn to discuss the recent EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga and EU policy to the east, particularly focusing on Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Moldova. With respect to Macedonia, the deputy secretary welcomed Commissioner Hahn’s successful mediation efforts earlier this week and praised Macedonia’s government and opposition leaders for reaffirming on June 2nd their commitment to Euro-Atlantic principals, interethnic relations, and good neighborly relations and good neighborly relations in preparation for early elections by the end of April 2016. The deputy secretary underscores that while the path forward will not be easy for Macedonia, the United States together with our European partners will be actively engaged to support Macedonia in meeting these challenges and ultimately the goal of Euro-Atlantic integration.
An update on Secretary Kerry: Secretary Kerry continues to recover in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His doctors feel he is on schedule with his recovery, which is proceeding normally if not better than expected. He has been exercising, walking several times yesterday and again today, and also resting though, and letting his broken bone heal. He plans to take advantage of the weekend to continue this routine and then make decisions about the days ahead. This morning he has already spoken with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, received briefings from Chief of Staff John Finer, Counselor Tom Shannon. I believe if he hasn’t already, he will be speaking again with Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who you all know is in Vienna continuing the Iran negotiations.
And then the last item at the top, which is more of a personal item, I think as many of you know, I started my new position on Monday as senior advisor on strategic communications to Secretary Kerry. That’s focused on big strategic priorities and most importantly, of course, the Iran negotiation. So it’s time to get to work on that, so today will be my last briefing at this podium after about two years, just about two years. And it’s been an exciting, interesting two years if you think the Iran talks were still in the secret channel when I started this, Cuba policy was, what, decades --
QUESTION: Also in a secret channel?
MS HARF: Also on a secret channel, that is true. Good point, James Rosen. Russian tanks weren’t in eastern Ukraine, and also just sort of the daily business of diplomacy. So given all that’s going on, that’s why we do this every day, why I know you do this every day as well – the only podium who briefs every day no matter where the Secretary is – and I appreciate the last two years. It’s been fun, it’s been interesting, it’s been, at times, very difficult for all the issues we all cover and face. So with that I won’t get too emotional, but thank you, and we’ll do a good briefing today. We’ll make it a good one to go out on.
QUESTION: We’ll try.
MS HARF: And Jeff will be briefing next week, and then John and Mark as soon as they’re ready will be up here as well.
MS HARF: And there have been things like the lights going off. You remember when the podium broke. We’ve had some interesting times in the last two years.
QUESTION: Yes. Yes, we have. It certainly is the end of an era.
MS HARF: It is.
QUESTION: I’m not sure what era it will be called. We’ll leave that to --
MS HARF: The Psaki and Harf --
QUESTION: -- historians and internet philosophers. But thank you --
MS HARF: Philosophers is a nice word for them.
QUESTION: -- for showing up every day and doing what you did.
MS HARF: It’s been fun.
QUESTION: It – I’m not sure that you’re – is that an honest assessment of it being fun?
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The spokesperson who launched a thousand memes, your Twitter legions of fans and foes I’m sure will be --
MS HARF: I’m sure they will miss --
QUESTION: -- disappointed in your --
MS HARF: -- will miss it.
QUESTION: But anyway, we will --
MS HARF: But we’ll still all be talking on these issues. We’ll also be working together. You’ll still all be coming to me for questions on things. It will just be not at the podium. And so it’s been a long and interesting and important few years. So thank you all.
QUESTION: We will certainly miss you. Right. Getting down to business.
MS HARF: Getting down to business.
QUESTION: I’m touched by that display of emotion on your part by the way. (Laughter.)
MS HARF: For Matt, that’s actually – (laughter) – that’s actually, guys --
QUESTION: That was effusive. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know, James. Would you like to say a word or two?
QUESTION: I think I speak for everyone who is a regular in this room, which I can’t even include myself in that grouping, in saying that we all appreciated the grasp of the issues and the passion and conviction you brought to your defense of this Administration and your engagement with us.
MS HARF: Thank you.
QUESTION: And to the extent there was very harsh criticism, only some small measure was probably self-inflicted – (laughter) – and it tended not to come from people who dealt with you on a regular basis.
MS HARF: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.
QUESTION: I’d like to say one thing. Best of luck.
MS HARF: Thank you. Thank you.
QUESTION: And thanks – well, thanks for your late night endeavors. I know that a lot of this stuff had been going on late into the night, and you’ve taken our emails and --
MS HARF: That’s true.
QUESTION: -- responded, and we appreciate that.
MS HARF: Thank you. Well, look, in some respects you’re covering – we all care about the same issues. We’re coming from it – from a different perspective, but we’re all doing this so the American people and the world knows what we do in this building. So with that, let’s get down to business.
QUESTION: Right. So --
MS HARF: Ask a good first question, Matt. Come on.
QUESTION: Well, I’m afraid it’s not particularly good.
MS HARF: No pressure.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And it – but it goes back to this IAEA report and the Iran and the --
MS HARF: What better place to start today?
QUESTION: Yes. And the uranium. So I don’t know if you’ve seen this two-page thing that ISIS --
MS HARF: David Albright?
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The good ISIS.
MS HARF: The good ISIS, yes. I actually have it right here.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS HARF: I briefly looked at it earlier.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the main point other than the stuff about shooting messengers is not going to make the issue go away, blah, blah, blah --
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: That the crux of this is that they say, as they were cited in this story that you took issue with, that they are skeptical about whether Iran is actually going to be able to --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- take this problem, to deal with it. And --
MS HARF: Right, right. They say that sort of the notion that they have to get back down there at a certain time – they sort of agree with many of things we’ve said. I think they’re skeptical --
MS HARF: -- that Iran technically can do it.
QUESTION: But they say given the stridency of their criticisms, meaning this Administration’s --
MS HARF: Meaning ours. Yes.
QUESTION: -- of those who have raised the oxidation issue, the State Department should explain the basis for their confidence. Can you do that?
MS HARF: Well, again, as we’ve said, in both the original JPOA and in the first extension, Iran converted enough of this material, this LEU, from uranium hexafluoride, the form that it was in as it was produced in the centrifuges, to another chemical form such that Iran reduced the overall stockpile back under the limit. The other chemical form of uranium is much for difficult for Iran to use in a breakout scenario. Our experts anticipate Iran will have no problem converting the excess uranium hexafluoride produced during the second extension in the same way.
So again, we have seen them do this twice. The IAEA has taken note of this process before. And we and our experts anticipate Iran won’t have challenges doing that. I understand that David Albright is skeptical. And again, if we’re standing here on June 30th and Iran hasn’t done it, then they would be in violation of the JPOA.
QUESTION: But can you explain the reason – is the basis for your confidence – is that – is your confidence based on the fact – on only the fact that they’ve managed to do it --
MS HARF: No -- to do it before.
QUESTION: -- before?
MS HARF: I think it’s based on two things, primarily. One is that they have done it before, which shows that they know how to do it and they’re capable of doing it. And also, we’ve had technical discussions at an expert level with them about this process, and that is why our assessment is that we believe and anticipate they will be able to get back down where they need to.
QUESTION: Okay. But I’m still – that doesn’t really explain the – I mean, I can understand why you would say that the basis for your confidence was that they have done it in the --
MS HARF: In a process that’s been --
QUESTION: – that they’ve managed to do it before.
MS HARF: -- outlined publicly.
QUESTION: But I don’t get the second part of why that’s – I mean, you’re basically taking them at their word that --
MS HARF: No, because --
MS HARF: -- we’ve had technical discussions with them about how they are going about doing this and will go about doing it. They’ve proven they can do it technically and from a technological perspective. And I’m not exactly sure what the skepticism is on David Albright’s side from a technical perspective. I’m happy to get one of our nuclear experts to debate the finer points of this with him. But having talked to our team, the fact is they know how to do this, they’ve done it before. We’re talking to them about the current stockpile and how they’re going to get it down to the form that is acceptable and the level that’s acceptable.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be – wouldn’t it be in the best interests of the deal and the Administration and the rest of the world who are watching this – these negotiations unfold if you were to be a little bit more skeptical of Iran’s intentions and abilities in this?
MS HARF: Well, I’m – look, Matt, on this one – one issue, which is a – one smally defined issue, right – this isn’t about their intentions overall, this isn’t about their capabilities overall – on whether they can get down under 7,850, on that very narrow issue, technically they know how to do it, technically they’ve demonstrated twice before that they can, and we’ve talked to them about how they’re going to. So it’s not that we just take them at their word; we’ve seen their actions to do so. And again, if they don’t, that will be a problem.
The bigger technical question when it comes to a final deal, right – this a question for JPOA implementation; this actually isn’t really a question for the final negotiations – is how they will get down to 300 kilograms. And so these are both important issues, but they’re just a little separate, and the discussions are ongoing about how they’ll get down to 300 kilograms. There’s several ways they can do it. They can down-blend it, they can ship it out of the country, they can sell it on the open market. But those are two separate processes from getting down to 7,850. That is something, quite frankly, technically we’ve seen them do. We don’t have reason to think they won’t be able to do it now when they could six months ago.
QUESTION: Can I follow on this?
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I go on this? Sorry. There’s just – I want to --
MS HARF: You can both ask questions about this.
QUESTION: Yeah. I want to concentrate on the process of turning it from the uranium hexafluoride into the oxide.
MS HARF: Into the other chemical form. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yeah. So what is – you – in previous days this week you have said that your experts fully understand why it is that Iran has not – why it is that the amounts have gone up and down --
MS HARF: Right, correct.
QUESTION: -- that the LEU has gone up and down. What ultimately is the reason for the increase – not so much for the increase, but for their apparent inability or choice not to convert the increased amounts of low enriched uranium into the other form?
MS HARF: Well, they are doing that. I think, again, going back to the IAEA report, it’s a snapshot of its stockpile on one date. So it’s not – this isn’t stagnant. That – it’s not that they have an inability to convert it; in fact, they have been. And we’ve seen them – because in a basic – very basic level, the reason the stockpile goes up and goes down is because they are allowed to enrich this very small stockpile and type of uranium hexafluoride. And so this is the product of that. But under the JPOA they have to convert it before the end of the time. And they’ve been able to do that. Again, I would not – I would venture to guess that the stockpile today probably isn’t the same as it was on that snapshot and time the IAEA reported, and they have said publicly and to us that by June 30th they will get where they need to be. And our experts anticipate they’ll be able to do so.
QUESTION: The question that I still don’t understand, though, is – and I fully understand that they’re allowed to enrich --
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- up to --
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- 5 percent, right?
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: And I fully understand that they’re under an obligation by the six monthly deadlines to have converted --
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- beyond the January 2014 levels. So my real question is: What is it – what is your understanding of why the conversion has happened at a – at such a pace that there has been the buildup? You say that it’s not an inability; is it just they’re just choosing not to convert at the --
MS HARF: This is a good question. So I would have to go back and look at the numbers for what the up and downs where, the highs and lows during the previous two time periods. But I guess I can’t stand up here and make the assumption that this is being converted at a slower rate. This may have been the exact same way they did it earlier. And I’m not sure – we would have to all go back and look at the numbers. It’s an interesting question. I don’t think, though, I have the evidence in front of me. I don’t think any of us – I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence that they are converting it more slowly. Now, I can check on that.
QUESTION: Could you? And then --
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- if it does happen --
MS HARF: Sort of when it went up and down and at what point they converted it.
QUESTION: Well, the reason I’m trying to get at it is it’s not just how much uranium they’re enriching, but it’s also the speed at which they are converting that enriched uranium. And you said that you guys, that your technical experts understood all of this.
MS HARF: Yes, they do.
QUESTION: And so I’m particularly interested in their understanding --
MS HARF: The speed.
QUESTION: -- of why it is that the conversion process has been at a pace that there have been – that there’s been this buildup in the LEU.
MS HARF: Right. And my – and yes, and I understand the question. I’m happy to check with our team. To follow up on that, though, I’m not sure it’s a different pace than it was before. I just don’t --
QUESTION: I’m interested in both. I’m interested in both questions.
MS HARF: I – right. I just don’t know that.
MS HARF: So I will check on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Yes, James.
QUESTION: Speed matters, but also timing matters. And so the question I have for you is whether the two previous instances you keep alluding to, where the Iranians successfully came down to the levels they were expected to come down to, involved timeframes similar to the one we see now, or --
MS HARF: In what way?
QUESTION: -- is the current timeline less than the time they had to reduce the stockpile previously?
MS HARF: Right. It’s the question I just – I don’t know the answer to. And I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: You have twice in recent days – today and one previous day this week – acknowledged that if the Iranians fail to reduce their LEU stockpile by June 30th to the required level, they would indeed be in violation of the JPOA. From where Secretary Kerry sits – and we know he’s just sitting right now --
MS HARF: He’s been up today.
QUESTION: Okay. From where Secretary Kerry sits, would the fact that the Iranians would be in violation in such a scenario, as you yourself have raised, on the 30th of June prevent the United States or any of the P5+1 from going forward with an agreement?
MS HARF: That’s a good question. I think there are so many things that could happen on June 30th. Look, the goal of June 30th is to get to a comprehensive agreement, and in an ideal world, we would have an agreement on that day that says what their stockpile is on that day – 7,650 is where they need to be – and how they are going to get very quickly, early in implementation, down to 300 kilograms.
QUESTION: You yourself from the podium have stated that it would be a problem if they’re not at that level --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- by June 30th.
MS HARF: That is true. What that might --
QUESTION: So it’s --
MS HARF: How that might impact, I’m just not going to speculate.
QUESTION: But in other words you’re not prepared to say that if the Iranians are not in full compliance on the 30th of June with all of their JPOA obligations, that that presents any particular impediment to going forward.
MS HARF: I think I’m just quite honestly not going to speculate on how that would impact exactly what happens on that day. There’s a --
QUESTION: One different way --
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- if I might. It is not a condition for going forward with an agreement – it is not a condition for finalizing an agreement that Iran be in compliance with all JPOA terms at the end of the negotiating period?
MS HARF: Well, let’s just – first, to make a few points: Iran has, and continues to be, in compliance. So as of today they are in compliance with all of their obligations under the JPOA, as are we and all of our other parties who are party to the JPOA. What we are trying to do is translate the parameters document, which is separate from the JPOA, translate that into a comprehensive agreement and all the detailed annexes.
So of course Iran needs to be in compliance with the JPOA. That’s very important to us. What is equally as important to us is getting a comprehensive agreement that they will also live up to. So those things are working at the same time right now.
QUESTION: But it’s not a deal-breaker if they’re not fully in compliance?
MS HARF: I just don’t want to speculate on what this might look like on June 30th. We can have that conversation wherever we are in the world on June 29th. Let’s say that.
QUESTION: So can I --
QUESTION: One --
QUESTION: -- ask you a real quick question real quick?
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: A snapshot in time? What does that mean? Is that just --
MS HARF: The IA --
QUESTION: Particular to that particular moment in which it --
MS HARF: Yeah, so the IAEA reports, the monthly reports – they also do quarterly reports and others – are a snapshot on that day that they issue the report of what the stockpile is. It’s not a snapshot of where it’s been or where it’s going necessarily. But when we look at that number, it’s a fixed date in time.
QUESTION: Okay. And so when you see the snapshot, you tell the Iranians and they can rectify or fix this situation or whatever it is?
MS HARF: This isn’t a mystery to anyone.
MS HARF: It’s – they just need to – they need to fix it by June 30th.
QUESTION: And I wanted to ask you: There are reports that the Israelis are now saying – an Israeli army general, in a closed meeting, said that the --
QUESTION: Can we stick with the Iranian hexafluoride stuff just to get it out of the way?
QUESTION: It’s on Iran.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Well --
QUESTION: I know it’s on Iran; I’m talking about hexafluoride. (Inaudible.)
MS HARF: Let me just finish this one and then I’ll go back. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. No, I just wanted to see if you have coordinated with the Israelis or are they beginning to sort of reduce their opposition to the Iran deal?
MS HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to comment on reports of closed-door meetings. What I would say is that we have had a very large number of conversations and briefings and discussions with the Israelis throughout these nuclear negotiations with Iran, at the both political level and the expert level, and the intelligence level and a number of other levels – diplomatic level. So those conversations have certainly been ongoing.
And I’ll go back to Arshad now.
QUESTION: Just – according to the good-ISIS report, Iran has not fed any low enriched uranium hexafluoride into the EUPP plant that converts it into the other form --
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- since November of 2014. If that’s correct, then it means that they have not done any conversion for the first five months of this year.
MS HARF: Unless there are other ways to convert it, which I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay. I thought that they had to do it that way.
MS HARF: Let me check with our experts.
QUESTION: Okay, so that’s --
MS HARF: We’re getting --
QUESTION: No, no --
MS HARF: -- another level down in the weeds here where --
QUESTION: I hear you, but it’s – if one’s talking about the question of pace, then one also has to look at, well, gee, in the previous six-month periods did they in fact do nothing or do it in some different way, or not?
MS HARF: Well, and that’s why I said there are two reasons, I think, having talked to our experts, that they believe Iran will be able to – not only the fact that they’ve done it in the past, but also the technical conversations they’re having now about how they’re going to proceed. So even if, hypothetically – and I don’t know this to be the case – the pace is different, our experts, based on the conversations now, believe they will be able to do this.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks.
QUESTION: So I also wanted to follow up on that. You did say that the – your confidence is based on these technical discussions taking place. Is that discussion on the stockpiles happening now?
MS HARF: I – on the 7,650 or on the --
MS HARF: -- how to get to 300? Because the how to get to 300 conversation is absolutely an ongoing one --
MS HARF: -- as part of the comprehensive negotiation.
QUESTION: And 7,650?
MS HARF: I know we’ve discussed with them. I’m not sure how ongoing it is, given we believe they have a path forward here to do this.
QUESTION: Is it – two things brief – very briefly. Is it your understanding that this U – EU – this whole thing is loaded with acronyms --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- that are completely impossible --
QUESTION: Bear with it, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The EUPP, is there something wrong with it?
MS HARF: Not that I’ve heard of. I’m happy to check and see if there are more technical details to share.
QUESTION: All right.
MS HARF: There may be, there may not be. A lot of this also I would say Iran can speak to. Iran can and should speak publicly to how they plan to do this. It’s not --
QUESTION: Well, as you noted, they don’t do a daily briefing. So --
MS HARF: I know. But they do have a female spokesperson at their ministry of foreign affairs --
QUESTION: And then the second thing --
MS HARF: -- I would point out.
QUESTION: The second thing in your response --
MS HARF: But they – but really, I mean, all joking aside, they also can speak and should speak publicly about how they plan to do this. This is their stockpile they have to get down. Our purpose in defending what’s happening here is solely to make people understand that the JPOA, which we negotiated, is being upheld and is – currently everyone’s in compliance.
QUESTION: Right. And one of your responses to one of James’ questions – you said something about in an ideal world you would have this deal – you’d have everyone in compliance on the 30th and the deal would get done.
MS HARF: Yep. That is my ideal world.
QUESTION: But as we all know that we don’t live in an ideal world --
QUESTION: -- right?
MS HARF: I’m holding out hope, Matt.
QUESTION: Maybe James might live in an ideal world. But the most of the rest of us don’t, including --
QUESTION: And it’s open late --
MS HARF: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s open 24 hours. But --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- the rest of us don’t have that luxury.
MS HARF: That is true.
QUESTION: And so wouldn’t – that’s -- which is why I’m going to go back to my question before is: Wouldn’t it be better and more responsible – not to say that you’re being irresponsible, but wouldn’t it be more responsible to approach this from the standpoint of the skepticism that this ISIS has about whether they can actually do it?
MS HARF: We approach our – and we calibrate our level of skepticism based on the technical underpinnings of the assessments, Matt. And I’m going to go with my nuclear experts who are out there, who have talked to the IAEA and the IAEA’s nuclear experts who have eyes on this program, who know – David Albright knows quite a bit about it, but our experts who have been talking to the Iranians and dealing with them every single day for all of these years – many months and years now – their assessment is – it’s not based on an ideal world, it’s based on technical facts, technical realities, technical capabilities, and those conversations they’re having with the Iranians. It’s not --
MS HARF: Believe me, our experts have a healthy dose of skepticism about many, many issues, I can promise you that, for those of you who’ve met them.
QUESTION: I have a related question to the Iran talks.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: But first of all if I can add a personal message. You will be missed, and as a European journalist, I really appreciate your commitment to defend and to explain the complex U.S. foreign policy, not only with clarity but also with passion and emotion sometimes. So I wish you all the best for the rest of your career.
MS HARF: Thank you.
QUESTION: That said – (laughter) – are you --
MS HARF: I love the transitions in this. This transcript is going to be one of my favorites. I just want to say that.
QUESTION: About your recent lies. (Laughter.)
MS HARF: I’m really going to frame this transcript and put it in my office.
QUESTION: I’d like to have your thoughts on the meeting which took, apparently, place yesterday between a former Saudi official – government official and a former Israeli official --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- who will be again an Israeli official on Sunday and apparently trying to find some common grounds against a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran.
MS HARF: So a couple of points on that. A), these are reported meetings between private citizens, as you mentioned. And I think they are probably best able to explain their conversations and their remarks. And I also think the governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel are both well able to speak for themselves on this issue, as they have. As for us, we continue to keep our partners in the region updated. As to the status of these negotiations, we’ve done that many, many, many times with all of our partners, including the Israelis and the Saudis.
QUESTION: But were you aware of these discussions between the closed-door – I mean, we’re not asking you – you’ve said already you don’t want to comment on the closed --
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- on the discussions, but was the U.S. aware of these closed-door meetings, or --
MS HARF: I’m quite frankly not sure. Again, these were reports about meetings between private citizens, so I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s more to share, but I just don’t have much more comment on it than that.
QUESTION: Marie, with – not the non-official statements like Dore Gold and Eshki, but official statements coming out of this closed meeting in Israel – statements by Khalid Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar and so on – they all seem to be on board or they look at the positive aspect of this potential deal. Do you feel that you have overcome the hurdles along the way to sort of getting to the point where this deal is actually signed and sealed?
MS HARF: In terms of what?
QUESTION: In terms of --
MS HARF: Support in the region?
QUESTION: Yes, and on terms of the deal is done, so to speak.
MS HARF: That the nuclear deal is done?
QUESTION: Yes, the nuclear deal.
MS HARF: The nuclear deal is far from being done, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS HARF: I would say we have a – some intense weeks of work ahead of us to see if we can get this finalized. But I will say, coming out of the GCC meeting at Camp David and other conversations Secretary Kerry’s had in the region and others, we believe – and you can just look at the statements coming out of that meeting from our partners in the Gulf – that they appreciate the incredibly detailed level of briefings that we’ve given them on these talks, that they believe diplomacy is the best way to solve this. And I do think that those conversations have been very beneficial.
QUESTION: As someone who is probably as much of an expert as anyone can be on this issue, since you’ve been very closely tied to it, what could possibly – what could potentially sort of sabotage this deal at the end? What could make it unravel?
MS HARF: Well, I think – look, I think there are an incredible amount of very technical details that have to be worked out to make sure our bottom lines are met, to make sure Iran can get to a place where they support the agreement, and all of our P5+1 partners. I think there are very tough political decisions that have to be made on many of those technical issues that are not going to be easy, and if this were easy, it would’ve been done months or years ago.
So the fact that – again, going back to what I started with, two years ago I was standing at this podium, and we weren’t even having public meetings with the Iranians about this. In that time, we’ve gotten an agreement that’s frozen the progress of their program and rolled it back in some key areas; that’s led to us being a few weeks away from possibly a comprehensive agreement to deal with this issue once and for all. Does that mean we’re going to get there? No. But we have the best chance we’ve ever had for diplomacy to solve this problem.
QUESTION: And finally, could this deal --
MS HARF: And that’s why Secretary Kerry’s up on his feet walking around today and committed to a very rapid recovery.
QUESTION: Well, that leads to my question. So is there any kind of likelihood that this deal could be signed at the United Nations, for instance?
MS HARF: I’m just not going to speculate about locations for the possible ending of these discussions.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject --
MS HARF: We can.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you point to China as being responsible for these cyber attacks, and do you expect this to – has this been raised in any phone calls over the last 24 hours or more?
MS HARF: Well, this is an active investigation, as you all are aware. The FBI is working with other agencies, including DHS, on this investigation, and at this time we don’t have more details to share publicly about who was behind it.
QUESTION: Do --
QUESTION: Do you know if you – if this building has been instructed or if this building has instructed any embassy anywhere to file any kind of a protest or a complaint about what is being investigated?
MS HARF: I’m just not probably going to have more details on that today to share with you. Again, the investigation’s ongoing and we’re still gathering all the details.
QUESTION: What is the status of the U.S.-China cyber security working group? Because it was – has been suspended since last year, and in two weeks you’re going to have the seventh dialogue. (Inaudible) meetings on this subject?
MS HARF: Well, you are right; in late June we will have the seventh S&ED, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, here in Washington. Although China suspended its participation in the cyber working group, we continue to raise our concerns and exchange views with Chinese officials about general cyber issues in a variety of channels, and certainly that has been ongoing. But that’s a general comment not related to this specific case.
QUESTION: How do you respond to Chinese Government’s call that such allegation to link with the – hacking with the Chinese-sponsored hackers irresponsible? How do you respond to --
MS HARF: Well, I certainly haven’t prescribed any responsibility from this podium; neither have my colleagues. Again, the active investigation is ongoing.
QUESTION: Regardless of whether you or anyone else wants to come out publicly and blame China or any other country or anyone else for this, do you foresee there being – because this is out there, do you foresee any difficulty with the S&ED at all?
MS HARF: As I’ve said, we’re committed to the S&ED. It’s going forward in the same way it was yesterday and the day before.
QUESTION: You haven’t heard anything from the Chinese that they might be less than eager to – for full participation --
MS HARF: I haven’t. I’m --
QUESTION: -- given the accusations of --
MS HARF: I haven’t.
QUESTION: All right.
MS HARF: I’m happy for the Chinese to speak for themselves, though.
Anything else on this?
MS HARF: Yes, go ahead. Okay.
QUESTION: Have you already reached the conclusion who is behind or you’re still investigating?
MS HARF: The investigation’s ongoing.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Could you please explain what’s the difference? Because this is not economic espionage or other, like, attack we mentioned before. This is targeting the U.S. Federal Government. So would you consider this as intelligence gathering, as the U.S. Government is also doing around the world?
MS HARF: Well, any offensive cyber attack – we’ve seen this before on the U.S. Government; we’ve seen this at the State Department, as we’ve talked about before – obviously is something we take very seriously. It’s a threat we take very seriously. We take mitigation steps in the U.S. Government to certainly prevent this kind of thing from happening.
QUESTION: But can’t you see this affecting the S&ED discussions in any way?
MS HARF: Again, it’s – moving forward, we’re held – it’s being held in late June here in Washington. The Secretary will be there. And we remain committed to moving forward with the S&ED.
QUESTION: Has the investigation to date made any progress toward determining the origins of these attacks?
MS HARF: You’d have to check with the FBI on that.
QUESTION: Is it a serious concern for U.S. national security?
MS HARF: Well, certainly, any time personal information – this really was focused on personal information of federal employees – is – falls into hands it should not be in, that’s a security concern for the variety of nefarious ways it can be used. I think OPM spoke a little bit more specifically to what was taken and how that could impact security.
QUESTION: And in this case, it’s not just any set officials, but federal officials specifically with clearances, correct?
MS HARF: I can check with OPM on that. I’m not positive on that.
QUESTION: I mean, there’s a difference if 100 National Security Council employees have their personal data breached, and 100 employees at the Agriculture Department, for example, correct?
MS HARF: I – yes.
MS HARF: I’m not sure – let me check on that. I’m not sure about that. Although from a personal security standpoint, anyone getting information that’s personal and being able to impersonate a Federal Government employee, regardless of what department they work in, would be concerning to us, certainly.
QUESTION: But those with clearances, as we’re led to understand was the situation in this case, could then be susceptible to coercion or blackmail on that basis, and I think that’s what occasions the even greater concern here. Do you understand?
MS HARF: I understand. I just – I am sorry, I can’t confirm the piece about it was people with security clearances.
QUESTION: In other words, we hear all the time about breaches of data, it seems anyway, and I just wonder if this instance is more serious than the others or most.
MS HARF: I can’t remember a similar situation happening to Federal Government employees, certainly, across the board. I just can’t remember, certainly since I’ve been here.
QUESTION: Marie, the Chinese Government has objected to the suggestion from some in the U.S. Government that hackers with links to the Chinese Government may have been behind the security breach, and they’ve been pretty forceful about it. What do you, as a representative of the U.S. Government, say to them that the U.S. has not actually decided who did this?
MS HARF: Well, that’s why I just said very clearly the investigation is ongoing. And I’m not going to prescribe blame for that at this point.
QUESTION: But certainly the time we got to 7 o’clock Eastern yesterday evening, there were numerous reports, numerous unnamed sources from other parts of the U.S. Government, who were leaving the impression that they had every reason to think that the Chinese had something to do with it. Doesn’t that create some level of tension?
MS HARF: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate on what drives people anonymously to go out and talk about these kinds of issues. As I’ve said, the investigation’s ongoing. And as we have facts to share about it, we’ll make a decision about what makes sense to share publicly.
QUESTION: Ros’ question is an interesting one, which is: Do the mere appearance of such reports create tensions? And even if there’s an investigation going on, is there any tension that you’re aware of between the U.S. and Chinese governments simply over the reports, regardless of their veracity?
MS HARF: I’m happy to check with our team on this. I haven’t heard of any. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MS HARF: Oh, wait. Let’s stay on – one more on this?
QUESTION: Yes. Is there --
MS HARF: I’m not sure I have much more to say.
QUESTION: Is there any initial indication of the impact of the data breach on the State Department specifically?
MS HARF: So OPM has said they will be contacting current and former federal employees who were affected by this. I know they’re in the process of doing that right now, and I don’t want to get ahead of that process.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Yesterday, the Taiwanese DPP presidential candidate came to State Department to visit Deputy Secretary Blinken. Do you have any readout? And because it didn’t happen before, does this mean that U.S. Government has adjust its policy guideline to interact with the Taiwanese Government or politician?
MS HARF: Well, we – our position has not changed. We appreciate that Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman visited here. We had constructive exchange on a wide range of issues with her. Our policy has not changed. From time to time, we do meet with Taiwanese officials; certainly the Secretary has, and others have as well.
QUESTION: But not in this building. So --
MS HARF: I’m not sure that’s true, actually. I’m happy to go back and check.
QUESTION: Okay. Please.
MS HARF: We do – we have met – I know that – before. And I’m happy to check where those meetings took place. But our position in no way has changed on Taiwan.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. How do you respond to the Chinese Government’s call that the meeting is sending the wrong signal to Taiwan?
MS HARF: Well, again, our policy hasn’t changed. We have developed a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan. This is based on the One China policy, the three joint communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act – things we’ve talked about for years and years and years now. So really there’s been no change in our policy here.
QUESTION: Are you --
QUESTION: Is there --
MS HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you confident of the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in coming years?
MS HARF: Well, we certainly have an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and that is certainly something we’ve encouraged both officials in Beijing and Taipei to continue their efforts that support cross-strait stability.
QUESTION: How would you characterize Chairman Tsai’s meeting here with the different officials?
MS HARF: Well, as I just said, we had a constructive exchange on a wide range of issues with her.
QUESTION: Marie, regardless of whether or not the policy has or hasn’t changed – and you say it hasn’t, so --
MS HARF: It hasn’t.
QUESTION: Exactly. But you must’ve realized that having this kind of a meeting in this building was going to raise the ire of the Chinese, no?
MS HARF: Matt, I’m not sure I have much more to say on this. We have an unofficial and a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan and this is just part of that unofficial relationship.
QUESTION: I understand that, but you know how sensitive the Chinese are about this issue, which is why for decades the guidance on Taiwan always has the three communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the One China policy --
MS HARF: And it will long after I’m gone from this podium, I’m sure.
QUESTION: -- which is – exactly, and which is why in every single meeting that you have – that the secretaries of state have with the Chinese, this goes – is gone through in rote form. That said – given that, wasn’t there any kind of an awareness that a meeting with a Taiwanese official in this building was going to cause some angst?
MS HARF: I’m not sure this – we see this as different from other meetings we’ve had with Taiwanese officials in this unofficial relationship we have, so I’m happy to check and see if there’s more to say on this.
QUESTION: Put it a slightly different way: There’s nothing in the communiques or the other documents that were just referenced here that prevent the United States from conducting meetings in this building or elsewhere with Taiwanese officials, correct?
MS HARF: No, correct. That is correct. And we’ve done so for a long time.
QUESTION: Can we move to another topic? Today marks the 48th anniversary --
MS HARF: I think there’s – hold on. One more.
QUESTION: Right. Marie, in your recollection, when is the last time a Taiwanese official or a presidential hopeful was meeting with the State Department official at this building?
MS HARF: At this building? I’m happy to check. I know we’ve had many meetings with Taiwanese officials in a variety of places that we’ve talked about publicly. I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: I have --
QUESTION: Did she meet --
MS HARF: I think we’re going to move on. I don’t have much more to say.
QUESTION: The same question. Same question.
MS HARF: Okay. Yeah. I --
QUESTION: So did she meet with the Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken yesterday?
MS HARF: I’m not going to confirm the details of her meetings here.
QUESTION: Marie, just – I realize this is harping on this, but it’s --
MS HARF: Why would the last day be any different?
QUESTION: Exactly. But I mean, look --
QUESTION: You did start on time. That suggested --
MS HARF: I know.
QUESTION: -- redemption for all sinners, so --
MS HARF: Aren’t you proud of me today? (Laughter.) I was actually ready like five minutes early. I was just hanging out back there.
QUESTION: Punctuality. The Chinese get upset when you meet – when the President meets with the Dalai Lama as well, and you know, and you expect them to get angry about it and you’re willing to take that hit. So my question is simply the same as what I asked before, which is that what – were you aware that this was going to cause consternation in Beijing? And if you could take the question or have someone look into it --
MS HARF: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: -- that would be great. Thank you.
MS HARF: I’m not sure I’ll have much more to say on that. I’m just going to take a lot of questions today for Jeff on Monday.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, with that --
MS HARF: I’m sure he’s appreciative over there.
QUESTION: -- I mean, I want to add my voice to Nicolas --
MS HARF: Thanks.
QUESTION: -- and thank you for always being there and being responsive and so on. And as he said, having said this, I want to ask you on the – on this occasion, which is the 48th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, half of that time the United States has been involved in trying to reach some sort of a resolution. And I want to ask you: How much longer should the Palestinians wait under occupation before they have this occupation end?
MS HARF: Well, I think if you’ve – if I’ve learned anything in these last two years, Said, it’s how committed this Administration, Secretary Kerry is to seeing, despite enormous odds, if we can get some movement towards a two-state solution. You all have been through all of this with us throughout those last two years, certainly, and it’s difficult, and the two parties have to take steps to show they are willing to move forward here. But we are certainly incredibly committed to see if we can do it. We can’t do it for them. We can’t want it more than they do. But it certainly remains a top priority.
QUESTION: But you have taken the leadership. I mean, the President said the other day that Israel will lose credibility if the settlements – he told the Israeli press, or the Israeli Channel 2, if they continue with their settlements and occupation and so. What about your credibility? I mean, you have taken the lead on this since at least 1991.
MS HARF: Well, the reason the United States has taken the lead is because we believe it’s important to have people who can bring both sides to the table, to encourage both sides to not take steps that escalate tensions or that make peace more difficult, and that we have been a party that’s been able to play a role in that, certainly. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, certainly, and that’s, I think, another thing we’ve learned again over these last few years.
QUESTION: And finally, Human Rights Watch issued a report yesterday or the day before saying that you and the Israelis are trying to exert pressure on Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, not to – to remove – or to remove Israel from, let’s say, the list of shame for mistreating children and people in prison under occupation. Are you exerting a lot of pressure on the United Nations?
MS HARF: Well, I honestly hadn’t seen that report so I’m not going to speak to the specifics in it. But generally, we have stood up for Israel in international fora, including the UN, when they are unfairly singled out in a way that other countries are not. But again, I haven’t seen that specific report and I don’t want to comment on that specific issue.
QUESTION: Going back to the same --
MS HARF: Yes, I’m going to go to the front and then around.
QUESTION: -- same subject but going back to – or same area but going back to the whole Orange --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- France thing from yesterday.
MS HARF: Yes. And I believe Foreign Minister Fabius has spoken to this now as well.
QUESTION: Yeah. But he talked about --
QUESTION: Well, he talked about France is opposed to boycotts, but this really isn’t a boycott, is it? Do you regard what Orange did or is going to do or wants to do --
MS HARF: I think Orange may have also spoken to their future plans as well.
QUESTION: Do you – exactly. Do you regard that as --
MS HARF: And said they may not be going forward.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you regard what was being discussed or what has been discussed as a boycott or something that you would oppose? Or is it just a private company doing what private companies do?
MS HARF: Well, as a matter of principle, the U.S. opposes boycotts directed at the state of Israel. I said that yesterday; we’ve said this for many, many months and years now. I’m not familiar with the exact details of what these alleged plans that Orange was going to do were. And private companies – you are right – can make their own decisions about their own businesses.
QUESTION: So --
MS HARF: That doesn’t mean we can’t oppose boycotts. We of course do.
QUESTION: Yeah. But I’m – what I’m --
MS HARF: Would I call what they propose --
QUESTION: So if I – if company X does business in Israel and wants to pull out and no longer do business in Israel because it is getting pressure from its shareholders or whoever about settlement activity or the activity of the Israeli Government in the West Bank or Gaza, you do not have a problem with that. Is that correct?
MS HARF: Well, no, that’s not what I’m saying. We oppose – you’re looking for a definition of boycott, I think.
QUESTION: No, I’m trying to find out if you --
MS HARF: Well, we oppose – we oppose boycotts of the state of – directed at the tate of Israel.
QUESTION: I understand that.
MS HARF: Now, we oppose them; we also understand private companies can make their own decisions. That doesn’t mean we won’t oppose those decisions, if that makes sense. So without knowing company X --
QUESTION: So you would oppose --
MS HARF: -- or company X’s rationale or the details behind what company X is going to do, I just can’t venture to guess hypothetically what we would say. But as a principle, we oppose boycotts directed at the state of Israel.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean, though, that then you would encourage every company in the world that has an international branch to do business with Israel?
MS HARF: That’s --
QUESTION: Or – and that if they don’t that that’s a bad thing?
MS HARF: I’m not sure the converse is true.
QUESTION: Or is it just pulling out of --
MS HARF: We --
QUESTION: What is it that you are opposed to in terms of --
MS HARF: -- oppose boycotts.
QUESTION: I understand that, but in terms of private companies.
MS HARF: Right. We oppose boycotts.
QUESTION: But a private --
MS HARF: That doesn’t mean they have to do --
QUESTION: I know, but a private company taking itself out of a market isn’t a boycott.
MS HARF: Well, again, without knowing the details, I have no idea why that private company would be taking themselves out of that market. There could be business reasons.
QUESTION: So it’s a case-by-case basis, is that what you’re saying?
MS HARF: Well, to determine whether or not something is a boycott, yes, it would be a case-by-case basis I think.
QUESTION: If I may --
MS HARF: But it’s not – if we determine something is a boycott aimed at the state of Israel, we do not – we oppose that. We support that – we do not support that.
QUESTION: Absent any kind of political process or any hope for the Palestinians, why not – why not support the boycott? After all, it is really a peaceful kind of resistance. It does bring pressure. It has worked in the past. It’s something that may force the Israelis to do something that you want them to do, which is pull out of occupied areas.
MS HARF: We just don’t support this. Our position on this is longstanding and will not change.
QUESTION: This is a question or a set of questions relating to the decision-making surrounding the release of six longtime inmates at Guantanamo Bay detention center to the state of Uruguay in December 2014, decision-making in which the State Department participated.
MS HARF: Correct, along with five other --
MS HARF: -- departments and agencies. Yes.
QUESTION: That’s right. When these six inmates, whom we will call for the purposes of our discussions “the Uruguay six,” were dispatched to Uruguay, the State Department’s special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo, Cliff Sloan, wrote on Department of State letterhead to Uruguay’s president to assure him, and I quote, “There is no information that the abovementioned individuals,” meaning the Uruguay six, “were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or allies,” unquote. And yet on the books, thanks to WikiLeaks, is a large set of DOD assessments of Guantanamo inmates that is now published in The New York Times online archive from 2007-2008 that encompassed the Uruguay six. And the DOD assessments of 2007-2008 concluded that five of the Uruguay six posed a high risk for release because they would likely pose a threat to the U.S. and its interests and its allies. The DOD assessment for one of the Uruguay six, Mr. Ourjy, concluded in June 2007, and I quote, “Detainee participated in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces” end quote. It further goes on to say that that particular individual was a senior explosives trainer for al-Qaida, had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, and had reported associations with senior al-Qaida members, including Usama bin Ladin.
I just wonder if you can explain how we get to a situation in which the Department of Defense concludes that a particular detainee, quote, “participated in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces,” and lo and behold, five years later, Cliff Sloan of this agency, this department, could assure the head of state of Uruguay “there is no information that the abovementioned individuals were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities.”
MS HARF: Yeah. Well, I would also note – and I’m going to go through a little bit on this case – the Department of Defense later then joined with the five other agencies and departments in unanimously approving them for transfer. So the Defense Department’s official position, when they were up for transfer, was to approve that. So --
QUESTION: The Defense Department’s position changed?
MS HARF: I mean, you’d have to ask them. I don’t know if these assessments were the Defense Department’s position or just sort of assessments that were part of a larger body of information. You’d have to ask them. But the six detainees transferred had been approved for transfer for nearly five years prior to their transfer in December 2014. They were approved for transfer through the Executive Office task force process. It includes representatives from State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This rigorous interagency process collected and considered all reasonably available information concerning these detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The decision to approve a detainee for transfer required the unanimous consensus of these six departments and agencies, including the Defense Department, and reflects the best predictive judgment of senior government officials that any threat posed by the detainee can be sufficiently mitigated through feasible and appropriate security measures in the receiving country, as we’ve said many, many times.
QUESTION: Okay. So in the course of your answer, you yourself just now went from saying you didn’t know if DOD had changed its position to telling us that –
MS HARF: Well, I don’t know if what you’re quoting was their official position or just information they had. I know when they came up – when the decision was made they should be transferred, it was the unanimous decision of all the six agencies, including the Defense Department. I don’t know if they had a different position before then or if they just had information you’re referencing.
QUESTION: No, the official assessment of the Department of the Defense as is now accessible online --
MS HARF: Again, I haven’t seen that document. All I know is that when – in the official interagency process determining whether someone should be transferred, the Defense Department was supportive.
QUESTION: Last question on this: Would you at least agree that there is a stark difference between our government saying that a given detainee participated in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces and our government saying that a given detainee, there was no information that the above-mentioned individual was involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities? They would seem to be to any commonsensical approach starkly divergent assessments of the same individual, correct?
MS HARF: And, well, a couple points here first. I really haven’t seen this assessment that you’re quoting from, so I don’t want to speak for the Defense Department or speak for that assessment that I just haven’t seen. We certainly stand by the information in Special Envoy Sloan’s letter. And again, this taskforce takes all of the information that’s available to them concerning detainees and considers all of it when determining transfers and why people are allowed to be transferred. There are some possible explanations which I would let others who – DOD speak to. Perhaps the additional – there was additional information that showed the previous information was incorrect. I don’t know that to be the case, but there may have been. There was an assessment made based on all of the pieces of information that they could be released, that the threat – that any threat could be mitigated, and we stand by what was said in Special Envoy Sloan’s letter.
QUESTION: Last question: Representative Ed Royce, Republican of California, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee wrote to Assistant Secretary Frifield on May 20 requesting access to the 2009 interagency assessment for the Uruguay six and also copies of all correspondence from Mr. Sloan to any other heads of state containing assurances that were similar to those contained in Mr. Sloan’s letter to the president of Uruguay. Mr. Royce informs Fox News he has not received any reply to that letter. Is there a reply to that letter?
MS HARF: We reply to every letter we get from Congress, so I am confident someone’s working on it. But in terms of one of the specific questions, I can say we’re not aware of any additional letters from the Office of the Special Envoy to foreign governments that are similar to the one that you mentioned.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: But I’m sure we will --
QUESTION: Do you know --
MS HARF: -- respond to Chairman Royce.
QUESTION: Just based on this issue, do you know if this assessment – the DOD assessment that James is referring to, was that one of the pieces of information that was available --
MS HARF: I’m not familiar with --
QUESTION: -- to the --
MS HARF: -- what he’s specifically referring to --
QUESTION: I know.
MS HARF: -- but as I said, this interagency team collected and considered all reasonable available information that they – that anyone had, so I would imagine anything that dealt with any of these six was considered.
QUESTION: Right, which would --
MS HARF: I know this is a --
QUESTION: -- include that document.
MS HARF: If it was about one of these detainees, then yes, it would have.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: How is it that – just a simple question. How is it that the United States Government could have imprisoned so many people for such a long time without actually having evidence that it itself found persuasive they should be incarcerated? How is this possible?
MS HARF: Well, it’s a very good question, Arshad. I think we inherited – this Administration inherited a situation where there were a large number of detainees in Guantanamo. And as you know, one of the President’s top priorities has been closing Guantanamo. And to do that, you have to transfer detainees that can be transferred in a way that they don’t pose a threat or that that threat can be mitigated, as we’ve talked about. That requires a pretty lengthy diplomatic process and talking to other countries, making sure other countries are willing to accept these detainees. Often they don’t go back to their home countries for a variety of reasons. There’s a group of people that have been identified that can be charged and prosecuted, and those are moving forward. And then there’s a group in the middle that might be put forward with charges but haven’t been yet.
And so determining the final outcome of what will happen to them is ongoing. But I mean on top of that, we’ve had incredibly restrictive congressional action that has made it much more difficult for us to move forward closing Guantanamo. This really is one of the situations we inherited in this Administration when the President took office that we have worked very, very hard to rectify, but the problem is you have a lot of detainees, and there need to be some place for them to go – the ones you can transfer, the ones you can’t, the ones you can charge, and unfortunately Congress has put incredibly restrictive limitations on what we can do to get this thing actually closed.
QUESTION: Putting the onus, as you seem to be doing, on the previous Administration --
MS HARF: In part. In part.
QUESTION: -- though, suggests that --
MS HARF: Only in part.
QUESTION: -- suggests --
MS HARF: I’m also putting a lot of it on Congress.
QUESTION: -- suggests, though, that these guys were once or at least one of them were deemed – was deemed to be a serious threat and then --
MS HARF: I’m not going to speak to why --
QUESTION: -- was not --
MS HARF: -- they incarcerated people.
QUESTION: -- deemed to be a serious threat, which suggests that the bar --
MS HARF: No, I –
QUESTION: -- for determining was lowered by this Administration --
MS HARF: Not at all.
QUESTION: -- in order to carry out –
MS HARF: Not at all.
QUESTION: -- what the President wanted to do.
MS HARF: Not at all. I would say a few things. First, the recidivism numbers under this Administration because of the strict guidelines we’ve put in place for transfer have dropped. Since January of 2009, they have dropped for those returning to the battlefield. So if you look at the recidivism numbers, actually, the opposite of what you’re arguing is true. And we can get those all around to you again.
Second, again, I can’t speak to that assessment that James is quoting. I can’t speak to any one piece of information that may have argued something about someone in Guantanamo. And I certainly can’t speak to why they were incarcerated in the first place.
QUESTION: But you can --
MS HARF: What I can speak to is the process we in this Administration – and believe me, the people that do this at the Defense Department and the intelligence community take this incredibly seriously. They will not sign off on someone to be transferred unless they are confident we can prevent them from being a threat to the U.S.
QUESTION: But you can speak to a body of information. And in fact, the particulars of this 2007 DOD assessment about this particular detainee I provided to you in advance of the briefing and --
MS HARF: That assessment?
MS HARF: Oh, okay. I’m sorry, I didn’t see the assessment.
QUESTION: I provided the specific quotes that I read off to you.
MS HARF: Okay. I haven’t seen the whole thing. I’m sorry. I’d have to take a look at the whole thing.
QUESTION: But you would have to acknowledge, just on hearing it from me and assuming that I’m not misrepresenting the facts in this briefing --
QUESTION: A large assumption.
QUESTION: -- you would have – because I live in an ideal world – (laughter).
QUESTION: Manifestly false. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: If you’re in the briefing room, then you’re not in an ideal world.
MS HARF: Hey.
QUESTION: No, I’m joking. You would have to agree that there is a large body of information about this particular detainee that would have be overlooked or overcome somehow --
MS HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- to result in --
MS HARF: Let’s --
QUESTION: -- saying he poses no risk.
MS HARF: Okay. But let’s say – two points here. First, you’re quoting one assessment. I don’t know if I would call that a large body of information. You’re quoting one piece of information. But I guess I would put the question back on the Defense Department then. You’re quoting information of theirs. They are part of an interagency team. They were one of the people that approved this detainee for transfer. So I can only speak to the fact that there was a process done for these individuals that looked at all available information, and all of those agencies approved them for transfer.
QUESTION: Including yours, and that’s why I’m asking it.
MS HARF: And including the Defense Department, though. So if you think there’s a contradiction between their assessments, I would probably point you to them.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: New topic?
MS HARF: Yes, let’s move on.
QUESTION: About Japan, they announced the next G7 site for 2016, and it’s going to be near this historical shrine that’s important to the imperial family. And I was wondering if maybe you’re looking forward to the State Department --
MS HARF: I hadn’t seen that announcement. I always look forward to the G7, though, I can tell you.
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on this – the fact that it’s not going to be --
MS HARF: Lubeck was lovely. It was. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Any thoughts on the fact that it’s not going to be in Hiroshima and the delegation perhaps --
MS HARF: I don’t have much more assessment of the location of the G7 for you.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- on this Sunday. AKP, the ruling party, is reported to be leading at the moment, but PKK is also expected to win some seats as well. And some reports say that there is some disagreements between U.S. and Turkey over Syria, as in the U.S. is focused on fighting ISIL but Turkey is more focused on getting rid of the Assad regime. And so do you think the election results are going to influence U.S.-Turkey cooperation in dealing with the situation in Syria and ISIL?
MS HARF: I’m certainly not going to hypothesize before an election has even taken place. We believe that, look, in any democracy the electorate should have the opportunity to make informed choices about parties or candidates or platforms, and that’s certainly what we’re looking forward to happen here.
QUESTION: And I have two more questions.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: If the AKP wins enough seats, it’ll try to implement a new constitution that would increase Erdogan’s presidential powers. Aren’t you concerned at all by this?
MS HARF: I’m just not going to speculate on the outcome of the election.
QUESTION: And also one more – sorry, one more question on Turkey and Syria. What about reports indicating that Turkey is joining with Saudi Arabia in helping extremist groups such as al-Nusrah in order to topple the Assad regime? Do you have any comments on this?
MS HARF: I mean, we’ve talked about this for a long time. Turkey is a key part of our anti-ISIL coalition. They have been helping in a number of fronts, including to crack down on foreign terrorist fighters. And really, beyond that I don’t have much more to share.
QUESTION: Independent of the elections --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- how do you react to reports that Turkey has been quite active in ferrying jihadis and so on into Syria ever since this rebellion took place back in 2011?
MS HARF: Well, I think we’ve said for some time that we’ve been working with the Turks on how to increasingly crack down on foreign terrorist fighters along their border. And they have taken steps. Certainly, they’ve – understand this is a problem, but there is a lot more that they could do, certainly. We’ve talked about this with them. I think they’ve said so publicly. So it’s an issue we’re certainly working on together.
QUESTION: So do you think that Turkey has been aiding and abetting the entry of foreign jihadis into Syria all along?
MS HARF: Turkey has been a key partner in this anti-ISIL coalition, period, Said. This has been something we’ve worked with them quite a bit on. It’s a tough challenge – it’s a porous border, it’s a long border – and it’s one we’re working with them on.
QUESTION: Despite reports that keep saying they support al-Nusrah, which you have placed on the – in the terror list, and not really fighting and aiding – not fighting ISIS. You agree with that?
MS HARF: As I’ve said, they are a valuable partner in the counter-ISIL coalition, and I don’t have much more to add.
QUESTION: But what about – sorry – what about Turkish president’s crackdown on critics in Turkey? The latest came this week when he accused the editor of Cumhuriyet, which is a very major newspaper in Turkey, of espionage. And his lawyer, Erdogan’s lawyer, has filed a criminal lawsuit against the editor of Cumhuriyet. Aren’t you concerned about the way Erdogan, ahead of the election, is cracking down on the dissent?
MS HARF: Well, as I’ve said a couple times this week, an independent and unfettered media is an essential element of any democratic and open society. We support freedom of expression, certainly. We’ve been concerned and remain concerned about government interference and freedom of expression in Turkey, and urge Turkish authorities to ensure that their actions uphold democratic values, including freedom of expression.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Can we talk about --
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.
MS HARF: Anything else on Turkey?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Just --
QUESTION: Syria. Syria.
MS HARF: I’ll go to Syria, but we’ll finish Turkey --
QUESTION: Well, I just want to know: If you’re speaking out on this, do you have anything to say about the spat with the – Erdogan’s spat with the opposition leader over whether this palace has golden toilets or not?
MS HARF: I don’t think I have anything to say on that.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment about what been reported today, that the Russian are evacuating some of their staff from Latakia?
MS HARF: I don’t have any comment on those – I just haven’t seen them.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS HARF: Sure, Lesley.
MS HARF: Yeah. So we’ve seen them, and we’re trying to get some more information. It appeared it may have happened some time ago, or a few weeks ago at least. We’re trying to get a little more information on this, and we’ll have probably more to say when we do. Obviously, we absolutely want those responsible to be brought to justice. We also have repeatedly called on Pakistan to ensure due process in general on this case and others, but we just don’t have much more on this specifically.
QUESTION: New topic.
MS HARF: Yes, and then Abigail, and then --
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Has the Administration decided yet when to notify Congress about its decision to open an embassy?
MS HARF: I don’t think we’re probably going to share that publicly before we share it with Congress. We just don’t have any updates for you on that.
QUESTION: Are there any plans for another round of meetings, or do tight-knuckle discussions continue on the outstanding issues?
MS HARF: We don’t have any date for another rounds, and I just don’t have much more detail about what happens next.
QUESTION: Following up from yesterday.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
MS HARF: In Mexico. I got a little bit on that. Of course, we take security situation very seriously no matter where. That certainly includes Mexico. We take every threat seriously, certainly. We constantly assess our security needs. We’ve also said that multiple times. But we think it’s important to have a diplomatic representation in these places and locations, and that’s why we do. And I remind people that millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for a variety of reasons. So that, I think, is one of the reasons it’s so important for us to have a very robust diplomatic presence, A, to help American citizens who are there, but also to engage with the Mexican Government.
QUESTION: One the questions the letter asks is about the elimination of danger pay for employees working in those consulates and areas that they say the security situation is deteriorating. Do you have any response to that question?
MS HARF: I don’t. I mean, I know in general how danger pay is determined; it’s one of the allowances that may be provided at a post depending on the conditions of the post related to terrorism and political violence. I don’t have much more to say on that. We regularly review all of our allowances to evaluate whether they’re appropriate. And again, we’ll respond, but in general, that’s what I know on danger pay.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Okinawa. Yesterday I asked you, but you didn’t answer yet. So Okinawa Governor Onaga – he say he will visited at Washington D.C. again, and also he want to meet with U.S. official again. So does the U.S. Government and – continue to dialogue, hold a dialogue with the governor?
MS HARF: Well, we just a meeting with the Okinawa governor. I don’t have any future meetings to preview for you, certainly.
QUESTION: So continue to the dialogue with the governor?
MS HARF: We just had – I mean, we just had a meeting. I know officials on the ground at our embassy certainly dialogue with a wide range of people there. But I don’t have any specifics to share.
What else? Anything else?
MS HARF: There is not. The restrictions – staying on Gitmo. The restrictions remain in place while the discussions are ongoing.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any effort to recruit those Taliban Five, so-called, since their release?
MS HARF: Well, what I can say since their release is that none of the five individuals has returned to the battlefield. All five men are subject to a travel ban and none have left Qatar. None of the individuals has engaged in physical violence. Many actions have been taken to restrict their activities, of course. And so I know there was a lot of discussion about this earlier about their possible re-engagement, and none of the five have returned to the battlefield.
QUESTION: That speaks to the outcome, but I wonder if you could speak to the question that’s been raised about inputs.
MS HARF: Whether anyone’s tried to? I can’t speak to that. I just know that they have not returned to the battlefield. The discussions remain ongoing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: That’s it.
QUESTION: Thank you, and enjoy your new job. (Applause.)
MS HARF: And we all will still be talking, particularly about Iran, so I’m sure we will all have a lot of contact still going forward. And you’ll see me around, so don’t hesitate to come say hi.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)