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Daily Press Briefing

Marie Harf
Acting Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 22, 2015

Index for Today's Briefing




1:29 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Welcome to the Daily Press Briefing.

QUESTION: Happy Wednesday and --

MS HARF: Happy Earth Day. Also the two-year birthday of the Secretary's dog, Ben, if everyone remembers – Diplomutt.


MS HARF: Yeah. He got him on Earth day two years ago.


MS HARF: Indeed.

QUESTION: Is there a cake?

MS HARF: I haven't seen one.

QUESTION: Big party?

MS HARF: Maybe like a dog biscuit or something. I have --

QUESTION: If there was a party, I wasn't invited. I'm very upset.

MS HARF: That must have been an oversight.

QUESTION: I'm sure.

MS HARF: I have nothing at the top. Matt.

QUESTION: Can I start with Armenia?

MS HARF: You can.

QUESTION: And I recognize that this is a White House decision but unfortunately, or perhaps conveniently, there is no White House briefing today.

MS HARF: (Laughter.) When the President travels there's no briefing. They had a gaggle though on the plane.

QUESTION: Yes, I know. But it didn't really answer the questions that I have.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: And that – so as is well known, when he was a candidate, the President made it a point to say that he would, while he was President, recognize that what happened in 1915 to the Armenians was, in fact – was a genocide. I realize he has one more year left in order to fulfill that pledge, but why this year, on the 100th anniversary, did he decide to once again not fulfill his pledge?

MS HARF: Well, Matt, and I'm sure this is what the White House said too, but we know there are some who I think were hoping to hear some different language this year. We certainly understand their perspective. Even as we believe that the approach we have taken in previous years remains the right one – and again, the approach we're taking this year – both for acknowledging the past and also for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the future. So this is something that we feel is important.

The President has consistently stated his views about what happened in 1915 and, again, we know people wanted to hear – some people wanted to hear different language this year, and we are certainly aware of that.

QUESTION: Well, it seems that the people who wanted to hear different language this year were drowned out by the people that wanted no change, and as best as I can tell the people who want no change are Turkey, mainly. But I --

MS HARF: Well, I'm not going to generalize who feels what about this issue. We certainly understand the perspectives of people --

QUESTION: So does that mean --

MS HARF: -- who feel different things.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the President actually personally – and I – again, I realize it's kind of unfair to ask you this --

MS HARF: It's okay.

QUESTION: -- since this is a question mainly to be directed to the White House or the President himself.

MS HARF: It's probably where I'm going to point you.

QUESTION: Does he think that what happened was a genocide?

MS HARF: I am happy to point you the White House, Matt.

QUESTION: The issue is that when you make a specific pledge like this as a candidate and then not – then you don't follow through on it when you are, in fact – when you are elected, it calls into question to some the commitment of other things that the President, as a candidate or even as President, has said. We've seen a couple times where redlines have been crossed and there hasn't been – the response has not been what was promised. Do you --

MS HARF: Well, I think you should look at each individual issue individually.

QUESTION: Okay. And I don't want to conflate them all, but I mean can you understand why people who – people would look at this issue on Armenia when there was a specific pledge, and then use it – use the situation to call into question when the President says that, say, Iran won't get a bomb – won't get the nuclear bomb – a nuclear weapon on his watch?

MS HARF: Well, I certainly don't believe that people should equate the two in any way. The President – and look, we all understand there are some who wanted to hear different language this year, and I do think we can expect that the President will issue a statement this year that marks the historical significance of the centennial, and as in past years, mourns the senseless loss of 1.5 million Armenian lives. So he will speak about this in some way, but I don't think you should compare any of these issues. I think if you want to talk about Iran and the commitments the President's made, we can talk about that separately.

QUESTION: Well, I don't want to make it personal. I'm talking about the Administration. I mean, he pledged that his Administration would recognize what happened as genocide, and although there is one year left to go in his second term, are you – can you understand why people are upset about this?

MS HARF: I don't think – well, I don't understand --

QUESTION: Particularly --

MS HARF: -- why people would compare it to other issues, like you did when it comes to Iran. We certainly understand that there are people who wanted to hear different language this year. Absolutely.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS HARF: We understand that.

QUESTION: Can I try it a different way? Can I try it a different way?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Was there a kind of – I mean, it sounds as if the position of successive administrations have kind of looked at this and decided not to call it a genocide for various means.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Was there any kind of interagency route? Like, coming up to the centennial, was there any kind of interagency discussion of the position of the Administration? I mean, it sounds like despite the President's pledge notwithstanding that it is not the position of this Administration that a genocide took place.

MS HARF: There are always conversations among agencies who play relevant roles here about these issues. Certainly, they are very important and we understand that. So I would say yes, there were discussions inside the interagency about what to say. That's not unusual about any issue.

QUESTION: Not about what to say, but about, like, obviously if you classify something – when you call it that, you're saying it. But it just sounds like this Administration does not consider what happened a genocide.

MS HARF: We have been very clear, consistently stating our view here. And I think you will hear the President in his statement marking the centennial speak very clearly about that.

QUESTION: I want to go back to something that you just said about trying to balance the historical record with current day concerns, regional concerns, ostensibly about security. The United States, as far as I can recall, never had this issue in calling the Holocaust what it was. And it doesn't seem to have affected the U.S. relationship with Germany. Is the relationship with Turkey so fragile or so imperiled that something can't be called what it is?

MS HARF: I'm just not going to compare those two events, Roz, in the way that you did. And I think we've said what we're going to say on this. And I think you'll hear more statements from the Administration on the anniversary itself. And I don't have much more analysis of it to do for you today.

QUESTION: Can I ask you --

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: So just a last one on this. So you would reject the idea that has been put out by some – the Armenian American community that the Administration is basically submitting itself to a gag order from the Turks? You would reject that?

MS HARF: I hadn't seen that. But we make decisions on our own about what we say and how we talk about things. And I think you will hear the President speak very strongly about the historical fact that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. He has said that consistently and repeatedly, and I think you'll hear that being said as well. We understand there are people who would like to hear some different language. We are certainly aware of that and are sensitive to it, but we think this is the best course.

QUESTION: Right. But the problem is that he's also consistently – at least, before he became president – called it a genocide. He had one of his campaign surrogates, who is now the ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, record a video that asked the Armenian American community to vote for then Senator Obama precisely because he would not be the typical politician and would live up to his promise to do this one thing.

MS HARF: I understand your question. For questions about him specifically, for the President's campaign certainly, I'm happy for you to ask the White House those questions.

QUESTION: All right. Do you know if this --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, no, no, I just – did this issue come up yesterday in the meeting with Secretary Kerry and the Turkish foreign minister?

MS HARF: It did briefly, yes.

QUESTION: It did. And did the Secretary tell him what was going down?

MS HARF: I'm not going to have more details to share with you.

QUESTION: Do you know, in their public comments that they made here, the issue – the Secretary, at least, did not raise the issue of human rights, a crackdown on media freedoms in Turkey. Did that come up privately, do you know?

MS HARF: He – well, they discussed a number of issues. Maybe I'll just do a readout and then --


MS HARF: -- you can ask me follow-ups. Sorry. I think we just emailed this out, too. But --


MS HARF: -- the Secretary and the foreign minister discussed a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including our efforts as members of the international coalition to defeat ISIL, our shared goal of seeking a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria that does not include Bashar al-Assad, the importance of European energy diversification, and our support for Ukrainian sovereignty in response to Russian aggression. The Secretary expressed U.S. support for Turkey-Armenia normalization and the importance of Turkey taking concrete steps to match its government's statements on reconciliation with Armenia. They also spoke about ongoing events in Yemen, Libya, and Cyprus, and he said he looked forward to the NATO ministerial in Turkey next month, where they will discuss many of these issues.

Which --

QUESTION: Human rights?

MS HARF: I'm sorry, which – human rights in respect to what specifically?

QUESTION: Well, in respect to the crackdown that's been going on in Turkey.

MS HARF: I think the Secretary referenced in his public comments towards the end where he said both of our democracies are best when we keep trying to work to improve them, and I think he was referencing some of those issues publicly in his remarks.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MS HARF: We can.

QUESTION: On this, are you on the same page with Turkey now regarding the train and equip program for the Syrian opposition?

MS HARF: Well, your question would indicate that we weren't before, a notion I would reject.

QUESTION: That's what the news reports said.

MS HARF: Well, I'm rejecting that notion. Let's move on.

QUESTION: Can you --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: You go – well, I'll go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Go ahead, and then I'll go.

QUESTION: Yemen. Can we change subject?

MS HARF: Yes, we can.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout who the Secretary has spoken to over the last few days on Yemen?

MS HARF: On Yemen? He has spoken to the Saudi ambassador to the United States several times. He spoke on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and already today. He has also spoken to the deputy UN secretary general, which I'm assuming is related, but I can double check on that for you.

QUESTION: And do any of those calls also include the Iranians, Zarif?

MS HARF: I don't have any calls to the Iranians here, no.

QUESTION: Wait. You said you don't have any calls to the Iranians there.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Have there been any contacts between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif in the last week?

MS HARF: In the last week? I'm happy to check, Elise. I think I would say broadly speaking we have a variety of ways of communicating with the Iranians at various levels, which we use if we need to. I would also remind people that this was going on while we were in Lausanne, where we were all in a hotel together for --


MS HARF: -- wait, let me finish – for about ten days. So as we've said from time to time, other issues come up on the sidelines of the nuclear negotiation. So I just would say that we have a variety of ways of communicating with them and use them if we have to.

QUESTION: I'm not even making this about whether you've separated it from Lausanne or whatever. I don't even care about that.

MS HARF: No, I'm just pointing out --

QUESTION: No, no, I --

MS HARF: that we were all together there --

QUESTION: Okay, I understand.

MS HARF: -- and also indicating that it came up on the sidelines.

QUESTION: I think what we're all trying to be – what we're all interested in is what role is the U.S. playing vis-a-vis the diplomatic kind of process that everyone hopes will get underway regarding Yemen.


QUESTION: Obviously, you've been talking to the Saudis.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: You're talking to the UAE; the crown prince and the foreign minister were here. Now, in terms of the Iranians, what is the level of communication between the U.S. and Iranians regarding this? The President said yesterday we have communicated directly to the Iranians --

MS HARF: Exactly, and we have a variety of ways of doing that at different levels, and I'm probably not going to outline more specifics.

QUESTION: What – why is it --

MS HARF: Because we --

QUESTION: -- such a difficult thing to say that the Secretary spoke to the foreign minister? I mean, you're – in the last several weeks, you make this whole thing about how he spoke to the Iranian foreign minister --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- more than any other minister and the relationship --

MS HARF: I don't think I've ever said that.

QUESTION: Well, the – clearly that's a narrative that's been put out there.

MS HARF: Not by me.

QUESTION: Okay. Well --

MS HARF: I'm just saying, Elise, we don't always outline every specific diplomatic conversation we have. We have a variety of ways of communicating. We were all in Lausanne together – the Secretary and Wendy Sherman, with their Iranian counterparts – while a lot of this was happening. And as we've said, on the sidelines of those negotiations we often talk about other issues as well. So that would make sense that it would be a natural place --

QUESTION: Well, but, I mean, you're parsing here. Why can't you just say yes, on the sidelines we spoke about --

MS HARF: Because we don't always say specifically when we talk to who. We just don't always read out those diplomatic conversations, not just --

QUESTION: So has the – did – during the conversations, has – did the Secretary discuss now the possibility of opening of negotiations? The secretary-general has just on the wire said he's concerned that there was a pronunciation of a ceasefire, but yet the Saudis continued bombing.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm. Right, and a couple points on that. Yesterday, I think in the Saudi statement with its coalition partners, noted that as part of Operation Renewal of Hope they may continue limited operations to counter certain ongoing Houthi military action. So they, I think, said that. Obviously, we believe that the way forward for Yemen is to get to a political solution – the UN-led negotiations – in order to achieve some sort of consensus power-sharing agreement. And what that might look like, obviously, we need to get the parties to the table for that to happen. So that's something we think needs to happen as soon as possible, but I don't have a prediction for when it might.

QUESTION: What level of – I would say in your communications with the Saudis, was it – were you emphasizing the fact – obviously, you say that the – you believe the way forward for Yemen is for a political process to happen, but given the growing humanitarian situation on the ground, given the level of chaos that's descending in Yemen, I mean, was the message to the Saudis it's time to think about ending the bombing campaign?

MS HARF: Well, I think it's the same message that we put out this morning in the White House statement, that we welcome the shift to a diplomatic and humanitarian phase for exactly the reasons you mention, Elise – that the situation on the ground is quite serious; obviously, there is a humanitarian crisis on the ground. And so that's why we have welcomed the shift from Operation Decisive Storm to the next phase of diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.

QUESTION: So that it's clear, you didn't actually tell them --

QUESTION: Are you saying that this next phase won't have a military component to it? Do you know, do --

MS HARF: Justin, I just said --


MS HARF: -- three minutes ago – not even, a minute ago – that the Saudis and their coalition partners noted in their announcement that they may continue limited operations to counter certain ongoing Houthi military action.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Sorry.

MS HARF: Yes, Roz.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Elise's question --


QUESTION: -- which you didn't answer. Did the Obama Administration tell the Saudis to dial back the air war, or was this a decision reached by the Saudis and their partners and then the U.S. was notified? Which was it?

MS HARF: Well, those are diametrically – like, the truth is somewhere in the middle, right? It doesn't have to be one of those two scenarios, Roz.

QUESTION: So you're confirming that the U.S. did express to the Saudis --

MS HARF: That is – I didn't just confirm anything. I'm not sure where you got that. What I would say is that this was a Saudi decision that it took in concert with its coalition partners. The Secretary and others have been having conversations with the Saudis about how we can get the parties back to the negotiating table, how we could get to a ceasefire, how we could help on the humanitarian side. So the Saudis make their own decisions, certainly, in conjunction with their coalition partners, but we have been having a conversation. The Saudis understand that the path forward here needs to be dialogue.

QUESTION: Okay. So at what point did the U.S. tell the Saudis that because of the increasing suffering among Yemeni citizens, that they should consider dialing back?

MS HARF: I'm not – I didn't say that we said that. You just put words in my mouth that I didn't say. In no way did I just indicate that.

QUESTION: Well, what I'm asking is if you're having these ongoing conversations --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- obviously, the U.S. is going to be putting forward its perspective on what is happening on the ground.

MS HARF: Right, and our perspective is the Saudi and the coalition military operations were designed to push back on the Houthi, who had taken this aggressive military action. We've been in constant communication with the Saudis about the fact that we all need to get to a political dialogue here and ultimately a ceasefire. So those conversations have been ongoing, but we certainly don't tell the Saudis what to do. They make their own decisions. We talk to them about the situation as we see it.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me ask you this, then: Does – even though the U.S. is welcoming the decision, does the U.S. believe that in light of today's airstrikes, that perhaps the coalition is ending its air campaign too soon?

MS HARF: Again, these are decisions for the coalition to make. I think as soon as we can get the parties back to the table and get to a ceasefire, that's in the best interests of the people of Yemen on both sides of what's happening here, and also average Yemenis who aren't playing any role in this. So obviously we think that's what needs to happen. The Saudis have said there may be some ongoing military operations to push back on the Houthis, and we'll watch what happens from here.

QUESTION: And then one more for me: The current president, Mr. Hadi, announced on Tuesday that the man that had been tapped to be the prime minister is now going to be the vice president. What do you know about this man? Is he well known to U.S. officials? Is he someone --

MS HARF: That's a good question.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is he someone that the U.S. believes can be trusted by the Houthis and others who might be opposed to Hadi's government?

MS HARF: That's a good question, Roz, and I don't think I have anything on that. I'm happy to check with our team.

QUESTION: Marie, now that the Pentagon has sent the discrete Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt --

MS HARF: I think we were using "discrete" in different ways yesterday, but go ahead. Our transcribers had some questions --

QUESTION: I think (inaudible).

MS HARF: -- questions about the transcript. But go ahead.

QUESTION: Right. Well, anyway, whatever. It's an enormous aircraft carrier with a whole battle group.

MS HARF: I understand. I'm aware.

QUESTION: So is there any thought about changing the status as it pertains to trying to evacuate American citizens who are stuck in Yemen?

MS HARF: Using American assets, no, there has been no change.

QUESTION: Okay, so there's no – even though this stuff is now either on – there or on the way, there --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: It's certainly not for that issue? Okay. And then related to that, there was a lawsuit filed I believe yesterday or the day before in San Francisco by a Yemeni man who says that his passport was --


QUESTION: -- illegally revoked. Recognizing that you're probably not going to have any comment on the specific case because it's a lawsuit --

MS HARF: That is correct.

QUESTION: -- in general, though, was this an issue for --

MS HARF: Was what an issue?

QUESTION: The revocation of American passports, particularly in Yemen, seems to have been a very frequent occurrence over the course of the past two years or so until the embassy left.

MS HARF: I'm happy to check on that.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering if you can give us --

MS HARF: Yeah, I can't comment on the specifics, and I'll see if there's anything else I can check.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering if there are numbers that you can put – give us about --

MS HARF: I'm not sure there are.

QUESTION: -- about how many there were.

MS HARF: I can check. I don't know.

Anything else on Yemen?

QUESTION: And since the embassy closed, what do people do if they do not – if they are American citizens --


QUESTION: -- and they have an expired travel document or whatever? What --

MS HARF: Let me see.

QUESTION: What can they do?

MS HARF: They – well, there's a couple things they can do. They can go to another embassy in the region, and I think we have designated points for them. I'm sorry, I'm not sure I have that in here – other embassies in the region that they can go to.

QUESTION: Djibouti being one of them?

MS HARF: That's one of them, certainly, and I think there may be some others, though.

QUESTION: But getting there is something that they have to do themselves.

MS HARF: Well – and we've been actively providing them with information about opportunities to do so, bringing them to their attention, and then once they get there, providing them with additional consular assistance.

What else on Yemen? Yes.

QUESTION: Did you hear from the Saudi during today's conversation between them – Mr. Kerry and ambassador about the Iranian – proposed Iranian participation in the dialogue?

MS HARF: I can check. I'm not sure if it came up. I'm happy to check for you. I wasn't on that call.

QUESTION: In which capacity would you like to see the Iranian participate? As a neighbor, as a political --

MS HARF: Well --

QUESTION: As a regional power?

MS HARF: -- this is a – this would be a UN-led process. And obviously, the parties on the ground in Yemen are the ones we need to get to the table. I would refer you to the UN for how they see any sort of dialogue process moving forward.

QUESTION: But do you view them in this process as a regional power? As a neighbor? As --

MS HARF: I don't have much more analysis for you on this one.

What else? Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, can I come back to what you said earlier about a power-sharing government?


QUESTION: How do you see – I mean, can you just expand a little bit more on how the U.S. sees that kind of government --

MS HARF: Well, it's based on both the GCC initiative and the national dialogue outcomes, which the Yemenis have been working on for quite some time, that sort of outlines a path to get to a power-sharing solution and agreement here. I don't have more specifics than that, but those are sort of the two framework pieces that I know the UN folks are focused on and others are as well.

QUESTION: Do you really expect that President Hadi will be able to return to be the leader of this unity government?

MS HARF: He is still the leader of --

QUESTION: I didn't ask about that. I mean --

MS HARF: Okay. Well, we expect that he should be able to, yes.

QUESTION: Not that he should be, but like given --

MS HARF: I don't have a prediction to make for you, Elise. Obviously, we believe he should.

QUESTION: I mean, but given – but I mean, when is the last time you saw that a leader of a country who went into exile in another country was able to come back and actually lead that country with any level of support that can move the country forward?

MS HARF: I'm just not going to compare this to any other situation. I don't have anything to predict for you.

QUESTION: No, but --

QUESTION: One more thing on this --

MS HARF: Well, you want me to make a prediction, and I'm not going to.

QUESTION: I don't want you to make a prediction. But I mean, how realistic is it really --

MS HARF: Isn't that sort of a prediction?

QUESTION: Well, it's not – it's – I mean, I'm not asking you to predict, but don't you think it's a little fanciful to think that he could actually return and be leader of the country given the --

MS HARF: I think that there is a constitutional process in Yemen, and under that constitution, he is still the president --

QUESTION: But given --

MS HARF: -- and that matters.

QUESTION: I understand, but given the fact that a lot of the militias and, in fact, government troops that were loyal to him at one point are no longer loyal to him.

MS HARF: I'm done. I don't have any other analysis to do of this for you, Elise.


QUESTION: Can you expect the Secretary to discuss this with Zarif on Monday in New York?

MS HARF: We're still finalizing the schedule for Monday. We don't have his bilateral meetings confirmed yet. When we have a schedule, we will let folks know.

QUESTION: If we're going to talk about Iran --


QUESTION: -- can I just – two various things.


QUESTION: One is this letter that Amir Hekmati has written to – or sent to Congress, and also his sister's letter. I believe that the White House was asked about this yesterday, but they referred the questions here.

MS HARF: And I haven't seen them, and I don't know if anyone else --


MS HARF: -- here has seen them. I don't think they're addressed to us.

QUESTION: No, they're not. They're addressed --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: But they're asking – the sister is asking that the Administration – the State Department, through the Swiss, demand that he be given access – consular access, also that – let's see, what else was I going to ask – immediately permit the Swiss ambassador unfettered, in-person access to Amir, immediately grant ICRC unfettered access to Amir, allow him to have a weekend furloughed to visit his ailing grandmother in Tehran. And if that – so they want that, and if they don't get that, they would like the Administration to direct the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to lodge a formal protest with the Iranian Government.

Can you say if – even if you haven't seen the letter, I'm telling you what's in it; I'm not lying, I'm not making it up, this is actually in the letter --

MS HARF: I trust you.

QUESTION: -- if that's something the Administration would be prepared to do.

MS HARF: Well, a couple points. First, the Secretary and Under Secretary Sherman have raised the cases of the detained and missing U.S. citizens repeatedly directly with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the nuclear talks, as we've talked about, and they will continue to do so until they are all home. So we raised this directly with Iran, push for their release, push for them to be able to come home to their families right away. We are clear about our concerns, obviously, about these citizens very, very, directly with the Iranians. And we believe they should be returned to their families independent of the outcome of these negotiations.

QUESTION: Right, but that so far has not produced the desired result, correct? I mean, and I remember when --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- we were in Geneva – I don't think you were there on this trip – but we were in Geneva, and Foreign Minister Zarif and Secretary Kerry were meeting. And before the meeting, a bunch of us were in the room and we asked Zarif about this, and he gave the standard Iranian line that they don't recognize dual citizenship, that these people are Iranians. And so unless they back down from that – what are you doing to make – to get them to back down from that position?

MS HARF: I mean, I think the Secretary of State and the under secretary of state raising it repeatedly and directly with the Iranians, pushing for their release, having conversations about these Americans – we're doing this at the highest levels. We do it every time we see them.

QUESTION: I know, but --

MS HARF: It's the only other issue we raise --


MS HARF: -- every single time we see them.

QUESTION: Right, and – but the result has been not --

MS HARF: So we're going to keep pushing until we can get them home.

QUESTION: Well, can you explain a little bit more about what they say to them?

MS HARF: I'm not going to get into the details of the discussions.

QUESTION: Because just simply saying they should come home – is there --

MS HARF: Well, obviously, the discussions are more detailed than that, and I'm just not going to read those out from here --

QUESTION: Well, is there a stick --

MS HARF: -- for the privacy of those involved.

QUESTION: Fair enough, but is there a stick that you're using to --

MS HARF: I'm just not going to get into more details.

QUESTION: But I mean, beyond even letting them go home, you would think that all the goodwill with the Iranians and not just – I'm not even talking about the nuclear issue. I'm talking about the kind of semi-rapprochement and the discussions between the President and President Rouhani and all this other stuff would at least get you, like, a little bit better humanitarian treatment.

MS HARF: We push their cases every opportunity we – every single opportunity we can, we push them.

QUESTION: Can you answer the question, though, about the – lodging a formal – asking the Swiss, if you see it, to --

MS HARF: I'm happy to check. I'm happy to check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. If, in fact --

MS HARF: I'm happy to check. We obviously raise them directly with the Iranians at this point, but I'm happy to check.

QUESTION: Do you see --

QUESTION: Right. Well, would you be willing to – I don't know – lodge a formal – would you lodge a --

MS HARF: I'm happy to check.

QUESTION: -- formal protest directly with the foreign ministry?

MS HARF: I'm probably not going to get into the details of our conversations with the Iranians about the American citizens --

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: -- again, for the privacy of those who we want to get home.


QUESTION: Also on Iran, just --

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The talks began again?

MS HARF: They are beginning again, yes. I can get an exact – I forget what time it is there. But yes, our expert team and Under Secretary Sherman are in Vienna to have conversations with their counterparts – there will also be some P5+1 conversations as well – and we will keep pushing forward here on all the work we have to do.

QUESTION: Okay. Is there anything more you can say about – like, is there a specific --

MS HARF: No, I --

QUESTION: -- issue that they're looking at today as opposed to --

MS HARF: They're – no, no. They're working – I mean, we have experts who do sanctions, who do nuclear issues, who do transparency.


MS HARF: They're all there sort of meeting at the same time in separate meetings.


QUESTION: As you're checking on that, could you also find out if the cases of Amir and the other – Hekmati – and the others --

MS HARF: I know they will be raised at this round.

QUESTION: At this round.

MS HARF: I just don't know if they have been yet.


MS HARF: I know they will be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Given the – two for me. Given that this is, like, the first meeting since the framework was agreed, would you say that this kind of session is more about laying out a work plan for the rest of the negotiating until – up to the deadline, or are you – are they just, like, diving in?

MS HARF: Yeah. We've been talking with all of the negotiating teams over the past few weeks, actually, about the work plans, so we've been doing a lot of that work over email, over the phone. So that's sort of how we got to this point where they're all on the ground talking substance. So we're really more focused on the substance, trying to work on all the annexes with the technical teams. Secretary Kerry may meet with Foreign Minister Zarif on Monday. We're still finalizing the schedule, but really pushing forward to get technical work done. When we have to bring in higher-level political officials, we will.

QUESTION: That was my next question. Foreign Minister Zarif had said he would be meeting with a variety of people about the nuclear issue over there. Do you anticipate any kind of P5 --

MS HARF: In New York, you mean?

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you anticipate any P5+1 meeting?

MS HARF: I haven't heard of one, but the schedule is still coming together.

Yes, Abigail.

QUESTION: Do you have any formal response to Senators Kirk and Rubio saying that there should be no Iran deal until the Washington Post reporter is released?

MS HARF: Well, in general, we have always said we do not want to tie the fate of the American citizens in jail to the nuclear deal. We want these American citizens returned home to their families, independent of whether or not this nuclear deal goes forward. But we also have to take this opportunity to see if we can resolve this diplomatically. It is too important and it's too serious to tie it to any other issue. So we are pushing on both tracks, on both issues at the same time.

What – anything else on Iran?



QUESTION: Are you now discussing all regional issues with Iran?

MS HARF: No, I didn't say that. I said --

QUESTION: Because the – Zarif, in his article in The New York Times, he said they are willing to talk regional issues.

MS HARF: He said they're willing to. We've always said that on the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations when we're meeting, we have a variety of ways of communicating, and other issues come up from time to time. But I --

QUESTION: But is he authorized to discuss this issue?

MS HARF: Ask the foreign minister. I'm not going to speak to that.

QUESTION: Marie, on Iraq, do you have anything on the delivery of the F-16 to the Iraqis? And they are talking today about a new deal with the U.S.

MS HARF: For the F-16s?


MS HARF: I don't have any update for you on that.

QUESTION: And is there any new deal with the U.S. in this --

MS HARF: Not that I've heard, but I'm happy to check.

QUESTION: Please, thank you.

MS HARF: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan/ISIS, local officials in Afghanistan are claiming they have found documents allegedly showing that ISIS and Taliban declared war on each other. I was hoping to hear if you find these reports credible, if you --

MS HARF: I hadn't seen then.

QUESTION: Oh, you haven't.

MS HARF: I'm sorry. I'm happy to look at them.

QUESTION: I apologize.

MS HARF: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Do you know if you have any evidence indicating things of that nature, skirmishes between --

MS HARF: Well, in terms of whether there's an ISIL presence in Afghanistan, we've seen some reports of it, and I think our teams are still looking at whether they're actually operationally linked to ISIL based in Syria and Iraq, or whether it's more ideological, or sort of what the links actually are. And I – at this point, we think it's probably mainly ideological, not operational. But our teams are looking at that right now, and I'm happy to look at that article if you send it along.

QUESTION: How seriously is the Administration taking reports that the Taliban says it's ready to launch its spring offensive against Afghan forces?

MS HARF: Well, every year they make a similar announcement, so this is certainly not unusual. They do so every year about their spring offensive. Afghan forces have had responsibility for security throughout the country since 2013. They have demonstrated increasing capability since then, including providing security last year for both rounds of elections, if people remember. So we will continue working with them to help prepare Afghan forces for this campaign.

QUESTION: And then going back to his question about whether there's any connection between ISIL and the Taliban, there's a report, I believe, in The New York Times today suggesting that the Taliban may be targeting Hazara citizens of Afghanistan --


QUESTION: -- in an effort to show that they are still as lethal as they ever were. Do you have any comment on that?

MS HARF: We have seen that members of that community have been targeted, but we can't independently confirm who's responsible.

QUESTION: Marie, do you have any readout for Secretary Kerry's meeting with the former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri?

MS HARF: I do. It's a lengthy one, so --

QUESTION: It's a lengthy readout or it was a lengthy meeting?

MS HARF: Both, actually. Secretary of State John Kerry met with former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri this morning to discuss regional events, the strong U.S.-Lebanon partnership and U.S. support for Lebanese state institutions, including the security forces. They also discussed the urgent need for Lebanon to elect a president, the impact of the conflict in Syria, and the challenge of hosting nearly 1.2 million refugees, and of course, efforts to counter the threat posed by ISIL, al-Nusrah Front, and al-Qaida.

Secretary Kerry expressed his appreciation for the former prime minister's responsible, moderate stances on behalf of Lebanon and its people. He stressed our strong commitment to supporting the Lebanese people and their leaders and underscored the negative effects of the absence of a president on Lebanon's ability to deal with the many challenges it faces.

When it comes to Syria, the Secretary and former Prime Minister Hariri agreed that all parties in Lebanon must adhere to the disassociation policy from the conflict in Syria and support the full implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions on Lebanon. The Secretary reiterated that Assad has no place in a future Syria. They both also emphasized our resolve to advance a genuine political solution, spoke about the challenges facing Lebanon's Government and host communities as they help so many people in need. And the Secretary reiterated the U.S. commitment to continue providing tangible support to help Lebanon cope with this burden, which they spoke about quite a bit.

Finally, reaffirming our commitment to Lebanon's stability, security and territorial integrity, the Secretary expressed our continued assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces as they protect Lebanon's people, combat violent extremists, and assert authority throughout the country. Former Prime Minister Hariri expressed appreciation for the U.S.'s expediting military deliveries to the LAF since ISIL and Nusrah's attack on Arsal last August.

QUESTION: Wow, you weren't kidding. That was long.

QUESTION: On presidential elections, who does the U.S. think is blocking the presidential elections in Lebanon?

MS HARF: Well, I don't have much more analysis of that for you to do. I know we've talked about it a little bit in this room. But they had a lengthy discussion today about the importance of Lebanon having a president given all the challenges they're facing.

QUESTION: Can I move a little bit closer to home, Mexico?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did the State Department have any involvement in this case with this little girl who was abducted, essentially abducted from her school in Mexico and then brought to Houston where – to her alleged parents, who is now, after DNA testing, has confirmed that she is not the daughter of this woman and is now being returned. This seems like an incredible fiasco, and I wonder if the State Department had anything to do with it.

MS HARF: The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City is aware of the case and providing all possible consular assistance. We have continued to encourage timely processing of this case through appropriate government channels, of course place the highest priority on the welfare of children, which we've talked about a little bit here. But I don't have much more because of privacy to share.

QUESTION: Well, this little girl is not an American, so I don't know why – how you'd be providing consular assistance. Basically – I mean, she was basically ripped from her school as she protested and then forcibly sent to Texas. And it turns out it was either a case of mistaken identity or something else, and I just want to know --

MS HARF: I think I would --

QUESTION: -- DS gets involved in some of these --

MS HARF: -- check on some of the facts here, Matt. But I can't – I can't speak about the case given privacy.

QUESTION: I didn't realize that that extended to people who were not American citizens. Why – if she is not --

MS HARF: It doesn't extend to people who aren't American citizens. So because of privacy, I don't have more to share.

QUESTION: So you're saying that --

MS HARF: I'm not saying anything about this specific case.

QUESTION: Well, she is being returned to Mexico.

MS HARF: I'm not saying anything about this specific case.


MS HARF: I'm sorry, there is really nothing else I can say, Matt. You can ask five more times, but there's not going to be anything else I'm going to be able to say.

QUESTION: Is she under HHS custody?

MS HARF: I just said I can't talk about this specific case because of privacy considerations.

QUESTION: But I can ask.

QUESTION: Well, but you're also saying --

MS HARF: But it's a wasted question.

QUESTION: But you're also saying that privacy considerations do not apply to non-American citizens, so that suggests that you believe that this girl is an American citizen.

MS HARF: I don't have anything else more on this.

QUESTION: Back to ISIS and Yemen?

MS HARF: Sure, yes.

QUESTION: Given the role played by the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen in the fight against the Houthis is a major component of al-Islah, and given the ongoing fight against ISIS, what role would you, would the Administration, want the Islamist movements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, to play in the future in the region.

MS HARF: Well, these are two totally separate issues. Our position on ISIL is well known. They're a brutal terrorist organization. They terrorize anyone who opposes its violent ideology. That's why we're working with more than 60 coalition partners among multiple lines of effort to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.

Our position on the Muslim Brotherhood is also well known. The U.S. has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization. And I just don't have much more for you than that.

QUESTION: Do you see a role for them, for these movements --

MS HARF: I just don't have more for you than that.

QUESTION: -- like the Muslim Brothers in helping confront ISIS or the influence of ISIS?

MS HARF: I just don't have more for you than that. Let's move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Bangladesh?


QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. Just yesterday you issued a statement to electoral violence and attack on the BNP Chairperson Madam Zia's motorcade. But just six, seven hours before, the pro-government activists, they attacked again. They vandalized two cars and private two – her private two security men injured like anything and the pro-government activists attacked. So what is your latest observation on it?

MS HARF: It's the same response we had yesterday. Don't have any update for you.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Japan, please.


QUESTION: So President Xi and Prime Minister Abe met yesterday in Jakarta. I wondered if you had a comment about that.

MS HARF: Yes, I think I have something.

They did. We welcomed the meeting between the Chinese president and the Japanese prime minister. As two of the three largest economies in the world, relations between the two countries, as we've said many times, affect the peace and prosperity of not just the region but the rest of the world, and again had welcomed the meeting.

QUESTION: I had another question, actually.

MS HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I know that we talked a little bit about this yesterday – about the apology issue during Prime Minister Abe's talk – and you mentioned that all the countries should – what is it – "approach historical issues in a manner that promotes healing and reconciliation." And wouldn't an apology be part of that?

MS HARF: I'm just not going to speculate on what that might look like.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Marie.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that. Japanese prime minister just made a – delivered a speech in Jakarta, and he expresses deep remorse over the past war and a contribution to the peace and prosperity. Have you heard about that speech and have reaction to that?

MS HARF: I don't have much more reaction to it.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Kind of a related question: The Japan-China summit meeting, they also discussed AIIB, I understand.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: And, well, we don't know much about what they really discussed, but is there any role you expect Japan to play in this --

MS HARF: I'm happy to check with our team. Obviously, we weren't a part of that meeting yesterday, but I'm happy to check.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And 74 senators and 90 --

MS HARF: Can you speak up a little bit?

QUESTION: Seventy-four senators and ninety U.S. congressmen have recently wrote letter to Secretary Kerry, urging him to raise press freedom issues with Turkish --

MS HARF: Wasn't that a few months ago – weeks ago?


MS HARF: Yeah. So a little while ago.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm – urging him to raise press freedom issues with Turkish Government counterparts. And my question is: Did Secretary Kerry raise press freedoms at his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu yesterday?

MS HARF: Well, I think, as I said to Matt, he mentioned it in his public remarks when he talked about the strengthening of democracies and always trying to get better. This is an issue we talk about all the time with the Turks. I don't have much more of a readout from yesterday for you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: About this Japanese prime minister's speech in Jakarta, I know you didn't hear it, but the – your important ally, South Korea, officially mentioned their disappointment in the speech because of not mentioning the word "invasion" and apology to the colonization. Do you share that kind of idea with your important --

MS HARF: I just don't have any analysis of the speech to do for you all.

QUESTION: And what kind of thing do --

MS HARF: We're looking forward to his visit very soon.


QUESTION: The American ambassador in Greece met today with the minister of state, and they discussed about Savvas Xiros. Can you give us a readout of their meeting?

MS HARF: Of the – with the ambassador's meeting? I'm happy – if you ask the Embassy. I don't have one. Obviously, the Secretary has raised this directly with the Greeks at the foreign minister level.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up? According to the Greek Government, they don't have the technology yet to track the movements of Mr. Xiros, so for now he's going to be in jail. Did the foreign minister of Greece ask you for this technology? Can you take the question if you don't have an answer?

MS HARF: I'm probably not going to have much more of a readout of their meeting. As I said the other day, we're watching to see how this law will be implemented.

QUESTION: Well, in fact, the foreign minister told us that he said to Secretary Kerry he will not be released unless he goes through a series of steps, and then if in fact he meets all the criteria, that they would put a monitoring – a bracelet on him, and that they don't have the technology for that. And so he specifically said that he had asked Secretary Kerry if the United States Government would assist the Greek Government in getting the technology or a bracelet – a monitoring bracelet – to do this. Can you check to see if that is being followed through on, if the U.S. --

MS HARF: I probably don't have much more to share on this issue for you, but I'm always happy to check.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Marie, you owe me an answer from yesterday about Cyprus (inaudible).

MS HARF: You thought something was cooking. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. I mean, if you – I know that you like the word, but I mean --

MS HARF: I do.

QUESTION: Yes. Can you tell me what are you planning in this building, then, for Cyprus, since --

MS HARF: Well, look, the Secretary spoke publicly about the importance of moving forward with this process.


MS HARF: So he spoke to that. I don't have anything specific to preview for you or outline for you.

QUESTION: But what is your objective? I mean, there is an occupation there by Turkey for 40 years. How can you stop this occupation?

MS HARF: I think the Secretary has been very clear when he has spoken about this issue. He did it just again this week.

QUESTION: So is Ms. Nuland is going to Cyprus?

MS HARF: I don't – I have not heard that she is and I don't have any travel to announce for her, so we will all keep you posted on where the assistant secretary is.


QUESTION: What information can you give us between – about conversations between State and FBI related to the Chinese translator, Xiaoming Gao?

MS HARF: As I've said repeatedly when asked about this, she does no longer work here. And given this is an ongoing issue, I'd refer you to FBI.

QUESTION: But what about the emergency meeting that was held this morning between FBI and State Department officials?

MS HARF: I haven't heard anything about such a meeting and I'm happy for you to talk to the FBI about this case. I'll say that every time you ask.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)

DPB # 68

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