Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
March 2, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
1:32 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the daily press briefing. I have just a quick travel update at the top, and then I will open it up to your questions. Secretary Kerry is in Switzerland today, as I'm sure many of you know. He spoke at the Human Rights Council this morning in Geneva. He also met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, where they talked about a host of issues.
He is currently, as we speak, meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif as part of the nuclear negotiations. They are joined by Secretary of Energy Moniz, as well as our negotiating team led by Under Secretary Wendy Sherman. And I think they will be meeting tomorrow as well, and I'm sure those meetings will go for multiple hours today and tomorrow. And no other update than that.
Brad, get us started.
QUESTION: Yes, just on Iran.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So the meetings will happen today and tomorrow. No other – they'll definitely done by tomorrow, and that's it for this trip?
MS. HARF: I've learned to say – never say "definitely" when it comes to meetings as part of the nuclear negotiations. But you know he has a fuller schedule later in the week with onward travel.
MS. HARF: But obviously, given the time we're up against in terms of the end of March, we're working as hard as we can – his level, also at Wendy Sherman's level and experts, to see if we can make progress.
QUESTION: Is Wendy Sherman sticking around for longer negotiations with the Iranians?
MS. HARF: I can check and see if she is leaving when the Secretary leaves. I'm not sure.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that thread, do you think that the presence of Netanyahu here in Washington and what he has to say could affect those talks in any way? Or has the Secretary decided to isolate himself from what's going on in Washington?
MS. HARF: I think that what we are focused on inside the negotiating room and Secretary Kerry and the rest of our team is seeing if we can make progress to get to a comprehensive agreement that does what we have always said it needed to do: get to a year breakout time at least, cut off the four pathways Iran could have to get enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. We know that we have a lot of technical work to do. We know that the Iranians have some decisions to make, as do we, and that's what we're very focused on.
I think the Secretary, again, cognizant of the fact that we're pushing up against the end of March, understands that we need to continue making progress and is really pushing to see if we can get this done.
QUESTION: Can I ask you on the timeline? Is the Iranian holiday of Nowruz – I think it's coming up at the end of March --
MS. HARF: It is.
QUESTION: -- is that playing with the calendar at all?
MS. HARF: I can check. It's a good question.
QUESTION: Are you expecting – could you check if you're expecting the Iranians to be negotiating through their festive period?
MS. HARF: I can check with them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: And also they can probably speak to that as well.
QUESTION: Can you talk to the Secretary's cautioning that people shouldn't be discussing details about these talks, about what could be in the deal, what's been agreed upon already, where the differences are? Why is it important for him to be issuing this caution at this point?
MS. HARF: Yeah, but I would note a few points. As he said, there is no deal. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and there are a lot of rumors out there and reports of people either making flatly incorrect statements or cherry picking bits and pieces of things they may have heard to try and advance an agenda. And I think what we are referring to when we say that is we were incredibly disappointed that some Israeli officials were saying Prime Minister Netanyahu would reveal sensitive information – I think they were saying this when he was on the way over here – would reveal sensitive information about the negotiations. I think that's what the Secretary was alluding to. We've continuously provided detailed classified briefings to Israeli officials to keep them updated and to provide context for how we are approaching getting to a good deal, because we've been very clear we will not accept a bad deal. We could have done that on multiple occasions and did not.
So any release of any kind of information like that would, of course, betray that trust, and that's, I think, what he was referring to. We just saw some reports ahead of the prime minister's visit that that may indeed happen tomorrow and just wanted to make very clear that we want to keep talking in these settings, of course, but that that would be a problem.
QUESTION: And when you talk about betraying the trust, is that betraying the trust between the U.S. and Israel? Would that represent betraying the trust between Iran and the members of the P5+1 as they've been going through these negotiations?
MS. HARF: Well, the negotiations with Iran aren't about trust; they're about verification and Iran taking credible steps to back up their words with actions that they are not and cannot obtain a nuclear weapon. So again, this was just based on some press reports coming in advance of the prime minister's visit. I don't want anyone to get too spun up quite yet. We'll see what happens throughout the rest of the visit, but even if some of this information they claim to get from other sources, we find it very useful and want to and have continued having very detailed conversations with Israeli officials about these negotiations given the interest they have in them and, of course, how vital they are to Israel's security.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a couple more on this issue? Last week, the members of the Iranian opposition that goes by various names --
MS. HARF: The MEK.
QUESTION: The MEK --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- put out some allegations about another secret or undisclosed site.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Now that you've had some time to at least look at what they've put out, what is your take on this?
MS. HARF: We have examined the report as we said we would and have no information at this time to support that conclusion.
QUESTION: And then on a separate issue, the IAEA – I think the head of the IAEA mentioned some of the questions regarding possible military dimensions that the agency still hasn't had answered. Is that a troubling aspect ahead of a final deal? And is that something you'd want to be resolved in a final deal?
MS. HARF: Well, that's not a – this isn't a new issue. As you know, the IAEA has been working with the Iranians for some time to resolve these issues, so I wouldn't characterize this as new. We have routinely encouraged the Iranians to work more cooperatively with the IAEA to address some of these issues, of course, that we are very concerned about. And obviously, this is a nuclear agreement – potential nuclear agreement – not a missile agreement, but when it comes to how that might interact with a nuclear weapon, obviously those are questions we're interested in.
QUESTION: Was this something that was supposed to have been resolved under the JPOA?
MS. HARF: Resolved with the IAEA?
QUESTION: That – was the --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: There was no obligation for the Iranians --
MS. HARF: To fully resolve all these issues?
MS. HARF: No, not under the JPOA. As we've said, Iran has continued to fulfill all its obligations under the JPOA. As part of a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear program, obviously, any potential weaponization would be of concern to us, and that's what we would be focused on in terms of a final agreement.
QUESTION: Why wasn't this part of the JPOA – I mean, given the significance a lot of people seem to put on it?
MS. HARF: Well, the goal with the JPOA – one of the goals was to freeze Iran's nuclear program and roll it back in some areas to give us space to negotiate the very tough issues that are part of a comprehensive agreement. We've done that. I would note the JPOA addressed at least, I think, three of Prime Minister Netanyahu's own redlines, including the picture he brought to the UN General Assembly a few years ago. That's part of it. So obviously, we believe that the JPOA has enhanced Israel's security, the region's security, and given us room to see if we can get to a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION: Okay, but I don't think – I mean, we don't need to speak about the Israeli prime minister, but --
MS. HARF: Really?
QUESTION: -- I don't think his redline was that "I want it from two months to" – I think, basically, he --
MS. HARF: Well, one of his was the accumulation of 20 percent uranium hexafluoride stockpile --
QUESTION: He's spoken about enrichment ending.
MS. HARF: -- and Iran no longer enriches or maintains a 20 percent stockpile of that very material he pointed to in his diagram at the 2012 General Assembly.
The other two is the introduction of a plutonium path. Under the JPOA, construction on Arak has been suspended, and then the installation and operation of advanced centrifuges. And under the JPOA, Iran has not installed or operated additional centrifuges. I can go into more detail than that, but of course, we believe that the JPOA has put us in the place we are today with Iran's program frozen to hopefully get to a final agreement.
MS. HARF: Anything else on Iran? Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you. Have you seen the reports that ISIS have released nearly two dozen Assyrian Christians, and how do you see that?
MS. HARF: Well, we've certainly seen reports. I can't independently confirm them. We're trying to get more details, but I don't have any more for you than that.
QUESTION: What about the statements made by Turkish officials that they are willing to help the Iraqi forces militarily to retake Mosul?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven't seen those either. Obviously, we are very focused on working with the Iraqi forces to continue training them, to keep getting them better equipped and better trained. Obviously, any operation on Mosul would be drive by Iraqi timing and what makes sense operationally.
QUESTION: Do you welcome any move by Turkey?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven't seen the comments, so I'm not going to welcome something I haven't seen details of.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. HARF: Anything – yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I get into Venezuela, please?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: A few questions here. The one is that the president, Maduro, has said that the U.S. has detained U.S. citizens, including a pilot. According to him, it was – he was in a U.S. plane, captured, of Latin origin, and he had all kinds of documentation. Can you confirm that is an American pilot?
MS. HARF: So just a couple points on Venezuela – and it's related – and then I'll get into the specifics. Our charge in Caracas was called to the ministry of foreign affairs today to discuss the latest announcements they made regarding visas and other issues with the foreign minister and government officials. That meeting, which I believe either just shortly ended – I don't have a readout yet, so I will attempt to get one for you – I think gave – no doubt gave the charge an opportunity to express our concern about some of the announcements that have been made.
On the pilot specifically, prior to that meeting – and again, I don't have a readout from the meeting yet – prior to that meeting, we had not received formal notification of an alleged arrest from the Government of Venezuela. As we would when there is ever a report that an American citizen may have been detained, we are seeking more information. And again, I don't have readout from the meeting yet. I think it may have just ended.
QUESTION: Would there be any reason why an American pilot would be flying – or a U.S. plane would be flying around there?
MS. HARF: Who knows? And who knows if it's true? They haven't provided us with that notification, so we'll see if we can get more details here.
QUESTION: Number two, are there any other U.S. citizens that you know of that have been detained?
MS. HARF: By the Venezuelans?
QUESTION: With – over the last weekend or recently?
MS. HARF: Recently? Not that – let me check here. Not that I'm aware of. I'm happy to go back and check with our team.
QUESTION: Well, there were some that we know about that were released, yes?
MS. HARF: Released. The missionaries, correct.
QUESTION: Addition – in addition to them? Because he – because I think the --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- Venezuelan officials have spoken of multiple Americans involved in --
MS. HARF: Okay, let me check.
QUESTION: -- conspiratorial, dark arts plots to – yeah.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) The technical term of dark arts. Beyond the missionaries, yes. There have been a lot of anti-American rhetoric again coming out of the Venezuelan Government with a lot of baseless allegations. I'm not aware of any additional, so let me check with our team and see if there's more, and we'll get a readout of that meeting that we can share.
QUESTION: Can you clarify – the meeting that the charge had at the foreign ministry, was that also dealing with the Venezuelan desire to cut the number of U.S. personnel at the embassy?
MS. HARF: That was one of the issues I understand was to be discussed. And again, I don't have a readout of the meeting yet.
QUESTION: But if the U.S. has full diplomatic relations with Venezuela, wouldn't such a request violate the Vienna conventions on how embassies should be able to function?
MS. HARF: Well, we were clearly concerned about the announcement. I don't want to give an international legal ruling on it not knowing the details, and let me see if I can get some more from the meeting.
QUESTION: Will we get more details about visa sanctions as well as the --
MS. HARF: That they said they were going to put on us?
QUESTION: Right, including --
MS. HARF: That was one of the issues that was to be discussed.
QUESTION: Marie, on North Korea?
QUESTION: No, I haven't finished on Venezuela. You said you expressed concern. Was that specifically with the visa issue or just generally the situation?
MS. HARF: Well, I think both. Again, I haven't gotten the readout from the meeting yet, but certainly had concern about the announcements that have been made, including the visa issue, also about the baseless anti-American rhetoric and allegations that have been made by the Venezuelan Government, certainly, over the course of not just recently, but many weeks and months now.
QUESTION: So Maduro said --
QUESTION: I wanted to --
QUESTION: Sorry, can I just ask --
QUESTION: On the question of diplomats, the Venezuelans say they have 17 members here of the diplomatic – at the embassy, and the one – the Americans reduced to that number, and that the American Embassy has a hundred diplomats. Is that correct?
MS. HARF: Is which correct? I'm not going to confirm the numbers of our embassy.
QUESTION: But is a significant difference in terms of --
MS. HARF: I don't know how many people are in their embassy here. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Have you ever let other countries determine how many staff you can have at – I mean, besides the fact that the United States is, what, 10 times as large as Venezuela, is that something other countries generally dictate to you?
MS. HARF: It's a good question. I know we work with countries – in terms of getting enough visas for all of our people and where we've had issues with diplomats getting visas, we try to work through them. But I can check with our team and see if there are more details about that process. Certainly, we believe it's important to be able to get our diplomats accredited and get on the ground in places.
QUESTION: Marie, I just want to clarify. So you say the charge d'affaires – was he called in?
MS. HARF: Called in to the MFA today to discuss these issues with the foreign minister and other government officials, yes.
QUESTION: One more question on Turkey?
QUESTION: On Colombia?
QUESTION: No, no. Since – when was the last time that U.S. officials met at the foreign – with a foreign minister of Venezuela?
MS. HARF: I do not know. I will ask.
QUESTION: And then are you putting out any warning to American citizens in Venezuela or planning to go to Venezuela given that the potential, at least, for Americans to be scapegoats or to be rightfully arrested seems to be growing?
MS. HARF: I can check. I'm sure we have travel information online about Venezuela that's already in existence. We will be putting out additional information to U.S. travelers if there is a change in visa requirements for U.S. travelers. So obviously, we'll keep people updated on that, and I can check what our current travel information is for Venezuela.
QUESTION: Would you, from this podium, be telling Americans to have second thoughts or to reconsider any imminent travel plans to Venezuela?
MS. HARF: Let me check and see what it already says online. I'm sure we have that.
QUESTION: And what about – sorry, what about the status of the embassy itself? I mean, are you – there's no move to go – to try to downscale that --
MS. HARF: Not that I've heard.
QUESTION: -- on its – the services it provides or anything for security reasons?
MS. HARF: Yeah, of course. Not that I've heard.
MS. HARF: Turkey.
QUESTION: The Kurdish – jailed Kurdish leader in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, has called on the PKK fighters to lay down arms. Have you seen those comments?
MS. HARF: We have, and obviously would welcome all steps in support of a peaceful resolution in this conflict, and commend the efforts of both the government and all parties concerned to work towards a lasting peace. I think there's still details and more to be fleshed out here that we don't know, but certainly, we'll be watching.
QUESTION: How does the United States view Ocalan? Does – do you believe that he has power and and influence over --
MS. HARF: I don't think I have an assessment of that to do for you.
MS. HARF: Yes. North Korea?
QUESTION: Yeah. As you already know, that North Korea fires short-range missiles to – into east coast yesterday. What is your comment on this?
MS. HARF: Well, we've certainly seen those reports that they launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the east sea. If confirmed – which I can't do independently – such missile launches would represent a threat to regional peace and security and would be a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions which have required North Korea to suspend all activities related to their ballistic missile program. I'm not sort of going to speak to their intentions, of course, but would encourage them to do just the opposite, to take steps to lower tensions, to not raise them, certainly, as this may have done.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any detail of additional sanctions into the North Korea?
MS. HARF: I don't have anything to announce today. Obviously, we already have a large number of sanctions on North Korea, but nothing new for you today.
QUESTION: More on Korea?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Sherman, she said last Friday while talking about the bad relations between Japan and its two neighbors, Korea and China, she said political leaders should not try to, quote-unquote, "earn cheap applause by vilifying a former neighbor." Many Koreans view those remarks as criticism of their country, and they are now wondering why – how the U.S. could blame victims of Japan's past wrongdoing for the situation when Tokyo keeps trying to whitewash and deny --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- its responsibility for the wartime – my question is: Was that --
MS. HARF: I think I understand your question, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Was that remark targeted at Korea? Was she referring to Korea when she talked about a political leader trying to earn cheap applause? And my – I'm also wondering if this remark represent any change in U.S. position on these historical issues. Thank you.
MS. HARF: It does not represent any change in U.S. policy – her remarks in no way reflect a change in U.S. policy – and were not intended to be about any one person or one country. I think we were, frankly, a little surprised to see that some interpreted her remarks as being directed at any particular leader in the region. They were not. Obviously, we think that constructive relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, our most important allies in East Asia, are helpful to advance peace and prosperity in the region. Obviously, our three countries share a lot in common, and in no way was she speaking about any one person or any one country.
QUESTION: On Colombia. President Santos of Colombia offered FARC a possibility of no extradition to U.S. How does the U.S. Government see this offer to the FARC?
MS. HARF: I'm sorry, repeat the first sentence. I couldn't hear you.
QUESTION: President Santos of Colombia offered FARC a possibility of no extradition to U.S. How does the U.S. Government see this offer to the FARC?
MS. HARF: Well, we aren't – obviously, we're not a negotiator in the process. We have a special envoy now, as you probably know, to work with the Colombian Government and others to help advance the peace process. I don't have a comment on that specific offer, but I'm happy to check with our team. Okay?
QUESTION: Excuse me. Is the U.S. Government in this position to pardon or release FARC member now in U.S. jails to support this process, this --
MS. HARF: Well, I think – first, a lot of this is Department of Justice and a law enforcement issue. And the U.S. will continue to request extradition in cases where we believe that's warranted, generally speaking. But that's really a Department of Justice issue.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question on – follow-up on that one?
MS. HARF: Yep, and then we're going to go in the very back.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Simon Trinidad, who is in U.S. jails now, would – is – has there been an approach to President Biden by the peace negotiators to free him and return him to Colombia?
MS. HARF: To Vice President Biden?
MS. HARF: You gave him a promotion there. I don't know anything about that. I haven't heard anything like that. Obviously, the Vice President is traveling to the region to talk to a number of folks about economic issues, I think, coming up. But I don't have anything on that for you. I'm happy to check.
I'm going in the very back.
QUESTION: A question on Colombia. Just a continuation of the same question.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Was the request for extradition or excarceration presented to Secretary Kerry when President Santos spoke to him about the envoy in Colombia?
MS. HARF: We tend not to confirm one way or the other questions of extradition and whether another country has raised that with us. And I don't have any information for you on that.
Yes, right here. And then you're next.
QUESTION: Taiwanese officer just said that China will postpone the launch of a new flight route near Taiwan Strait middle line. What's your comment on the new development?
MS. HARF: Yes. We welcome the decision to delay the implementation of these new air routes, an announcement of which created tension in the cross-strait relationship. We are again urging China to engage and consult with parties affected by the newly proposed air routes over the Taiwan Strait to again ensure that concerns associated with those routes addressed, but again welcome this decision to delay.
QUESTION: According to Taiwanese authority, they say it's under two sides negotiation to reach this decision. Is that possibly the message to the region?
MS. HARF: Well, look, again, we welcome this decision to delay – when this was announced it had created, I think, a significant amount of tension in that relationship – and are encouraging China to work with the parties that are affected. I would refer you to them for how that process is going to play out, but it's certainly something we're supportive of – the process and them resolving issues by dialogue.
Yes, and then I'll come up here. Yes.
QUESTION: I saw the foreign minister of Cyprus getting out of the State Department. As I understand, he met with Mrs. Nuland. Can you tell us, do you have any readout from the meeting?
MS. HARF: I don't have one yet, but I will. I will get it for you after the briefing.
QUESTION: Can I ask you another question?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The president of Cyprus visited recently Moscow and he signed some agreements with President Putin. As I understand from the tweets from your ambassador in Nicosia, you are not happy with his meeting and with his visit and with his agreement. Can you tell us why you are so – why you are not happy?
MS. HARF: Well, let's separate the tweet issue from the general issue of Cyprus and Russia. I think the embassy has clarified the tweets were not meant to link two separate events.
QUESTION: I'm not talking about the tweets.
MS. HARF: That is a cautionary tale for Twitter, everyone; let me tell you that.
QUESTION: No, I'm not asking about the tweets.
MS. HARF: But importantly, with regard to the state of ties between Cyprus and Russia, we've been clear this is not the time for business as usual with Russia and have stressed with our European allies and partners the importance of unity and pressing Russia to stop fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine. That's certainly something we feel very strongly about.
QUESTION: The president of Cyprus believes that you accused Russia for what she did in Crimea, but you didn't say anything about the invasion, Turkish invasion in Cyprus.
MS. HARF: Well, let's not try and link those kind of events. We obviously have been very clear about different kinds of events, and I'm not going to try and link them.
QUESTION: I thought when they took Crimea you cited international law, you cited 21st century behavior --
MS. HARF: We did. But he compared it to the assassination of --
QUESTION: No, no, no, not the assassination.
MS. HARF: He just did.
QUESTION: No, I didn't ask about the assassination.
QUESTION: No, he didn't. He asked about the invasion in the 1970s.
QUESTION: The ambassador said about the assassination --
MS. HARF: No, but what were you trying to compare it to? Crimea?
QUESTION: To the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
MS. HARF: No, on the Russian side.
QUESTION: On the Russian invasion of Crimea, yes.
MS. HARF: Oh, I see. Well, I'm not going to make any more historical parallels.
QUESTION: Yes, but they are both invasions, as you know.
MS. HARF: Every situation is different.
MS. HARF: Brad.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) On Cuba --
MS. HARF: Let's move on. Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Spanish appearing to reactivate extradition requests for some members of ETA, and will this have any bearing in the U.S. investigation – review of the state sponsor of terrorism --
MS. HARF: Yeah. As I just said to the Colombia questions, we tend to not comment one way or the other on reports of extradition requests or that process, so I probably don't have a lot for you on that.
QUESTION: This is public comments, not – I'm not asking about the legal process.
MS. HARF: There have been public comments other countries have made about extradition requests. We just don't tend to comment on them from here.
QUESTION: Will Cuba's record on adhering to extradition requests regarding ETA be a factor in the review on the state sponsor of terror designation?
MS. HARF: That is a good question. I don't know. Let me check. The process is ongoing there, but let me check.
QUESTION: Marie, on Yemen?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador to Yemen has visited President Hadi today in Aden.
MS. HARF: Yes, he did.
QUESTION: What was the purpose of this visit?
MS. HARF: To speak in person to President Hadi to talk about a range of political issues – obviously, political and security developments that are of concern to both of us. The ambassador did travel to Aden to meet with President Hadi, and again, it was an opportunity to discuss issues that we both care about. As you know, President Hadi is still the legitimate president of Yemen. The situation is obviously very fluid, but we thought this was an important meeting.
QUESTION: And he stays there or --
MS. HARF: Well, we're not going to get into the logistics of the trip, given the security situation.
QUESTION: Is there any plan to open any embassy or U.S. embassy there or an office?
MS. HARF: In Aden?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: No plans?
MS. HARF: No. We are currently exploring the option of some embassy staff relocating to another country in the region as we've done other places, but no, no plans to relocate to Aden.
QUESTION: And how do you view that some Arab states especially moved their embassies or opened embassies in Aden?
MS. HARF: Well, each country can make its own decisions about where it has its diplomatic representation, and we'll make ours.
QUESTION: Did you have conversations regarding the security situation and the various channels you speak to regarding U.S.-Yemeni cooperation?
MS. HARF: With President Hadi?
MS. HARF: I can check. We talked broadly about the security situation, of course, but I don't have more details than that.
QUESTION: Was there any discussion about any military support he wants on a more domestic level regarding internal divisions in his country?
MS. HARF: I can check on that.
QUESTION: Can we talk about Syria?
MS. HARF: Let's go here and then we'll go to Syria. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Extradition treaties are the purview of State, right?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I'm not sure. I know Department of Justice handles extradition in general, and we don't tend to comment – if diplomatically a country raises extradition through the State Department, we don't confirm that one way or the other. But I think Department of Justice probably has the lead there, but I will double-check.
QUESTION: Special Envoy de Mistura is still in Syria --
MS. HARF: Yes, he is.
QUESTION: -- trying to see if there can be some sort of temporary ceasefire worked out in Aleppo. What is your understanding of the progress he has made or has not made?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points on that. We, of course, continue to support the efforts of the special envoy and – in his work in terms of trying to make some progress on the Syrian issue. We've seen some initial press reporting on reaction from some Syrian opposition groups. Certainly understand why some groups are skeptical of the regime's intentions here. The U.S. position on this freeze is that we support arrangements that are genuinely effective in alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people and reduce targeted attacks against civilians. Often, we've seen these kinds of freezes before and they're really empty rhetoric and the Assad regime continues to take horrific action against its own people.
So we'll see what happens here, but we understand why some people, including on the opposition, are skeptical.
QUESTION: And speaking of people in the opposition, the Hazm Movement, which had been getting support from the U.S. Government, has apparently dissolved because it's – it says it's become a distraction from the larger fight against the Assad regime. Does the U.S. have a reaction to this group essentially melting away?
MS. HARF: Well, this was one of the moderate vetted armed units that the State Department had provided nonlethal assistance to, and this will have an impact on the moderate opposition's capabilities in the north. But I think it's – look, the battlefield in Syria is fluid and it's too early to assess the implications of this development, of course, but I think what it also shows is the really serious fight the moderate opposition is taking on two fronts, both against the Assad regime and against ISIL.
QUESTION: Marie, on Syria too, Secretary Kerry has met with Minister Lavrov today --
MS. HARF: He did.
QUESTION: -- and discussed Syria and he talked about Geneva I and – or a hybrid mechanism to solve the problem in Syria. Can you elaborate on that? Is there any plan to hold a new conference, Geneva III or IV?
MS. HARF: Nothing to elaborate yet, of course, at this point. Obviously, we've worked closely with the Russians to see if there was a path to get back to diplomatic negotiations here, but I don't think we're there – but obviously continuing the conversation and seeing if we can find a way to do so.
QUESTION: Is this the first time that this kind of discussion has come up between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov in recent times?
MS. HARF: The Secretary routinely discusses the political situation in terms of a political transition and how we get to the negotiating table with Foreign Minister Lavrov. It comes up in almost every meeting they have.
QUESTION: There was a report that some Syrian rebel groups were disarming or disbanding and joining ISIS. Have you seen that at all?
MS. HARF: Do you know which one specifically? There's a lot of opposition groups in Syria. If you can send it to me --
QUESTION: Harakat al-Hazm? I'm not --
MS. HARF: That's I think what Ros just – what Ros --
QUESTION: Oh, that's what you were asking. Okay, I just wanted to make sure.
MS. HARF: I don't think it's – there – well, at least the reports I've seen – and again, there's – these are groups made up of a lot of different people – isn't that they're joining other organizations like Nusrah or ISIL; it's, in terms of the group you asked about, the al-Nusrah Front – there were reports – had seized their headquarters. So it wasn't that they were necessarily leaving to join other groups; it's that they were – their headquarters had been seized. We had been supporting them. I haven't seen any indication to back up what you said there.
QUESTION: One more on the Secretary's meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the situation in Ukraine. Heard more tough talk from the Secretary after his meeting.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: And there had been talk in the past 10 days or so about possible new sanctions against Russian persons, industries, the government. Is there any progress on that? Is the U.S. reassured by what it has seen happening in eastern Ukraine in the past several days?
MS. HARF: Well, we're continuing to consult with our European partners and inside our own government about what possible additional steps we might take. We have been encouraged by reports of initial steps in heavy weapons withdrawal by both Ukraine and the separatists. I think the OSCE has some limited access – I would stress the word "limited." But we're waiting for official confirmation by the OSCE monitors. Their efforts are being hampered by the separatists. So we have seen a decrease in ceasefire violations in the last few days, but violations do continue. So as we've always said, there is a diplomatic off-ramp here. Sanctions – we could move to a place where we could lift some of the sanctions. We are very far from that at this moment, but continue to look at all options.
QUESTION: Is there a sense that the U.S. is holding back because it wants to see whether the pullback of forces is gaining momentum, or is there simply a drop-dead moment that we're just waiting for?
MS. HARF: I don't think there's a drop-dead moment. I think we continue to evaluate on a day-by-day basis, and we have many other ways of ratcheting the pressure up through additional sanctions. We'll make decisions as we think it makes sense.
QUESTION: On Libya?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during a Senate Armed Services Committee – or hearing last week that there was at least half a dozen terrorist groups operating out of Libya, including ISIS. Is the U.S. falling short of its broader policy goal there in creating a stable Libya?
MS. HARF: I'm not – well, those are two very broad issues that I think you're trying to tie together in a fairly simplistic way, but taking a step back, clearly, we know there's a significant governance issue in Libya. We know there's a significant security situation in Libya where there's a security vacuum that has led groups like ISIL to be able to operate there. So we know that. We've been watching it for some time. We've been working with the UN, we've been working with the Government of Libya and other partners in the region to see if we can make some progress on the security and governance side, because we know where there is a lack of governance, it leads at times to places where terrorist groups can fester. So it's something we've been worried about for a long time, certainly, there.
QUESTION: Would you say the security threat is higher now or prior to U.S. military intervention?
MS. HARF: Well, I would – U.S. military intervention, again, is a little overly simplistic. How the situation started in Libya was the Libyan people themselves rose up, started taking action against the Qadhafi regime, and NATO – including the U.S. – took action to help the Libyan people who had risen up against a brutal dictator. So it's a little more complicated than that, and you just can't compare them. They're very different security situations. I think people – no one's arguing that we should have supported Muammar Qadhafi in his brutal crackdown on his people. That being said, Libya has significant governance issues today, certainly significant security issues.
QUESTION: It's not a choice between intervening on behalf of a rebel movement and supporting Qadhafi.
MS. HARF: I understand that.
QUESTION: I mean, if that were the choice --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- that or that, you would be supporting dictators all over the world.
MS. HARF: I understand that, and I remember at the time people criticizing us for not intervening soon enough in Libya when Qadhafi started cracking down on people. So I just think there's a little historical reinvention when it comes to the Libya situation going on here.
QUESTION: But her broader question – I mean, do you see this --
MS. HARF: Is "Would it have been more stable under Qadhafi than it is now?"
QUESTION: Well, that was the second question.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But the first question was: Are you guys failing in Libya, where you intervened – what was it – four years ago now, to create a more stable democratic country, and you have terrorists all over the place?
MS. HARF: Well, I don't think it's about the U.S. succeeding or failing. This is a fight ultimately the Libyan people themselves --
QUESTION: Well, the U.S. --
MS. HARF: Well, let me finish and then you can counter me.
QUESTION: Well, I'm asking the U.S. Government. I'm not asking the Libyan people right now --
MS. HARF: No, but I – but the question isn't did the U.S. --
QUESTION: -- and you are responsible for your policy.
MS. HARF: But we're not responsible for the entirety of security in Libya.
QUESTION: No, but you're responsible for --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- your actions that you took in Libya --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- which contributed to a set of scenarios that we're seeing in place today, correct?
MS. HARF: And these generational shifts and challenges, when you overthrow a dictator that has been in power – in some ways, in a very stable way, although I would disagree in the long term that it's stable – where there – where you don't have a lack of governance like you do today. When you go through these shifts in generational, they really are that. They can take years and years and years. When you sort of bring down the state structure that has existed under this kind of autocrat, that can take an incredibly long time, and it is certainly not easy. Are we happy with the situation in Libya from a governance or security perspective? No, absolutely not. However --
QUESTION: But it's (inaudible).
MS. HARF: No, we aren't. I think everyone would be --
MS. HARF: -- completely honest in saying that. Do I think the policy we've pursued has been the one driven by our interests, driven by supporting the Libyan people in a very complicated and complex place? I do. And I think that that's why we're going to keep working with the UN and we're going to keep working with the Libyans. At the end of the day, though – this isn't just a line, it's true – this is ultimately up to the Libyan people, leaders in Libya, to take the security of their country into their own hands and try to move in a better direction with our help, with the UN and others' help as well.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Can we go back to Venezuela?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: You may not be able to comment on this yet, but apparently the meeting between the charge and the Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez has ended, and the foreign minister has told reporters that Maduro wants parity and is giving the U.S. 15 days – I'm assuming starting today –to cut its number of diplomats from 100 to 17, which is how many they say they have here in the U.S.
MS. HARF: Okay. Ros is breaking news in our briefing room, guys. I like it.
I have no idea what was discussed in the meeting because, as I said, it was ongoing when I came out here, or just ended. I can check on those reports and see if we have a response. In general, we had been concerned by the announcement that there were going to be additional visa requirements and restrictions, so let me check with our team. I don't want to get ahead of a meeting that may have just ended.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- there are talks in the Middle East about forming a new Sunni alliance that includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey. President Sisi was in Saudi Arabia and the Turkish president is still there. Do you have anything on this?
MS. HARF: On some random --
QUESTION: A new Sunni coalition to face --
MS. HARF: -- talks along some sort of commentary in the region about Sunni countries working together?
QUESTION: No. There are --
MS. HARF: Is there something more specific?
QUESTION: There are contacts and meetings that Saudi --
MS. HARF: Between countries that are – have – may have overlapping interests in the region? I don't think that's unusual or newsworthy necessarily.
QUESTION: But it's new that Saudi Arabia is trying to reconcile between Egypt and Turkey to form a new Sunni coalition to face Iran in the future, and this is important for the U.S., I think.
MS. HARF: I'm not even sure how to address that kind of – look, there are countries in the region who are concerned about some of Iran's destabilizing activity; we share a lot of those concerns. There are countries in the region who share concern about ISIL, about a range of other issues.
QUESTION: You wouldn't have concerns about three U.S. allies coordinating more closely --
MS. HARF: Working together? I don't think that I probably would – again, not knowing any details.
What else? Yes.
QUESTION: Recently, assistant deputy secretary of State Department has mentioned that THAAD is a defensive system against the North Korea threat. Has he acknowledged to THAAD is – the deployment in South Korea?
MS. HARF: I can check. Are you talking about Deputy Secretary Blinken?
MS. HARF: Let me check with him. I can check and see if we have a response from him on that.
Anything else, guys? Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:11 p.m.)
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