Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
April 23, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
2:18 p.m. EDT
MS HARF: Hello, welcome to the daily briefing. Sorry I'm a little bit late today. Matt.
QUESTION: Nothing to start with?
MS HARF: Oops.
QUESTION: Nothing at all? You all right?
MS HARF: No, nothing. Go for it.
QUESTION: Oh. Well, Elise had told me that she wanted to ask the first question because she had to leave, but since she's not here --
MS HARF: Well, maybe she already left.
QUESTION: Well, I'll ask what her – it's not on the topic that you probably would expect, so I'll ask it for her.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Did you see this report about North Korea and its nuclear weapons capability?
MS HARF: Which report? Sorry. There have been a --
QUESTION: The report that was in The Wall Street Journal --
MS HARF: -- few recently.
QUESTION: -- yesterday or the day before.
MS HARF: Uh-huh. Hey. Not Elise, sorry.
QUESTION: No. I don't know exactly what her question was, so but --
MS HARF: Oh. I saw the report.
QUESTION: Anyway, do you have any concerns about this apparent idea that they might be able to double their arsenal?
MS HARF: Well, we certainly have been and remain concerned about North Korea's nuclear program, and we've been working with the five parties, as we've talked about, to pressure North Korea to return to credible and authentic denuclearization talks. We obviously don't always outline in detail our assessments of what we think the program looks like.
MS HARF: What else?
QUESTION: Well, I want to get to this – now the news of the day, although I realize that the State Department is kind of tangential to this whole – to the whole thing.
MS HARF: Yeah. And I'm happy to see what questions you have and see if there's anything I can say.
QUESTION: Well, what I'm – in particular what I'm wondering about is the statement from Mrs. Weinstein that – in which she --
MS HARF: There's Elise.
QUESTION: Oh. Well, hold on one --
MS HARF: Do you want your first question, Elise?
QUESTION: I asked the North Korea question, but I don't know if it was done to your --
QUESTION: Well, I think I'll just – I'm sure whatever you asked about that would be fine. (Laughter.) But I'm just – actually, the fact that the Chinese now are raising the alarm bells, they've been downplaying the North Korean threat for years.
MS HARF: I don't think that's – I would not say that at all, actually, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, they've --
MS HARF: They've been a very key partner in working with the five parties – that includes China – on this issue. We obviously believe China should continue to use its influence to curtail North Korea's provocative actions. That's something we've said for a long time.
QUESTION: Now what about – some people are warning that this kind of raises questions in the sense that you are negotiating this nuclear deal with Iran, and the question is: Would this provide some kind of diplomatic cover for Iran to build a nuclear weapon similar to ways that the Agreed Framework seemed to, because even --
MS HARF: Not at all. There's no – the comparison is just – they're completely different things, and I'm happy to talk through why a little bit. The comprehensive deal we are seeking to negotiate with Iran is fundamentally different than what we did in terms of our approach to North Korea. In the early 1990s, North Korea had produced weapons-grade plutonium prior to agreeing to limited IAEA inspections. After the Agreed Framework, they agreed to more intrusive inspections; but in 2002, when they finally broke its commitments, its violations were detected by the IAEA. We've also said very publicly that one of the reasons we have the Additional Protocol now, which is a key part of what we're negotiating with Iran, is in fact because of the lessons we learned from the North Korea situation.
So the restrictions, inspections, and verifications measures imposed by Iran – on Iran by a comprehensive plan of action will go far beyond those placed on North Korea in the 1990s and the 2000s. Any comprehensive deal with Iran would require at a minimum, again, implementation of the Additional Protocol, which constitutes a much greater level of monitoring and a wider scope of access on short notice than was ever attempted in North Korea. So there's just fundamental differences when it comes to things like inspections, for example.
QUESTION: So just to point a finer point on it, you kind of learned your – not you because you obviously weren't here at the time, but the U.S. has learned its lessons from what went wrong with the Agreed Framework, and now the fact that there'll be more kind of intrusive inspections --
MS HARF: Well, this isn't about – this isn't about the U.S. I mean, the Additional Protocol is something the IAEA developed for use around the world, which was developed, again, in the 1990s with the support of the U.S. but by the IAEA to prevent states from cheating on their safeguards agreements based on lessons learned in places like Iraq and in North Korea. So that's just one piece of it, though. The North Korean nuclear program was at a different stage than Iran's is, for example. So there are just a lot of technical differences as well.
QUESTION: But you're saying that the kind of inspections that you're talking about now would not allow --
MS HARF: Would go far beyond what was ever placed on North Korea, so obviously, making the comparison isn't an apt one. But again, under those inspections, if we detect that they are trying to do anything, we have every option on the table then that we do now in terms of how to respond.
QUESTION: So you don't think that what you're talking – the deal you're talking about now would allow Iran to cheat the way North Korea did?
MS HARF: Absolutely, we don't think that; and if we were to detect cheating of any kind, we have all the options we have today we would have then to respond.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the original question from Matt?
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Does this report raise alarm bells in the United States? Is this about what you expected or above and beyond?
MS HARF: I'm not going to get into specifics on what we think about the size or the details of the nuclear program.
QUESTION: No, but I mean in general, does it raise alarm if you – without confirming --
MS HARF: Well, we've had alarm for a long time about North Korea's nuclear program, a very high level of alarm. That's why we have worked with our partners to see what we can do to get them back to the table.
QUESTION: And this – the report said that these figures were actually conveyed to American nuclear specialists in a closed-door meeting. Did they come back and brief you? I'm not asking you for the figures; I'm just asking if you were briefed about it.
MS HARF: I'm just not going to get into those details.
QUESTION: All right. So --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: All right. So the statement from Mrs. Weinstein --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- thanks the congressional delegation from Maryland – most of them, hers at least – and specific officials from the FBI for their "relentless efforts" to release her husband. But then it goes on to say, "Unfortunately, the assistance we received from other elements of the U.S. Government was inconsistent and disappointing over the course of three and a half years." She goes on to say that she hopes that this experience "will finally prompt the U.S. Government to take its responsibilities seriously and establish a coordinated and consistent approach to supporting hostages and their families."
She is not the first relative of an American citizen who has been killed – obviously, this is a bit unusual the circumstance of his death – but who has been taken hostage, taken captive, and then killed. She's not the first one to complain about what apparently would be her first – the first point of contact that she has with the federal government, which is the State Department.
MS HARF: It's not necessarily the State Department. I wouldn't assume that about any case.
QUESTION: Well, other people have --
MS HARF: I'm just saying I wouldn't assume that about any case, Matt.
QUESTION: Other families have complained about the way that they have been treated, the information that they have received, and the effort that they have perceived that has been – that this building has taken on behalf of their loved ones.
MS HARF: (Coughing.) Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is it not time for the State Department specifically, the Administration generally, to change the approach that it has to the families of people who have been abducted and are being held hostage, particularly when they face --
MS HARF: Well, a few points, Matt. The U.S. Government is undertaking a review with – it involves all the relevant departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense and State, the FBI, the intelligence community. We are currently undergoing a comprehensive review of how the U.S. Government addresses all of these issues related to hostage polices – not the no concessions policy; that's not part of it, but the rest of it is. So that review has been ongoing for some time now. So we are participating in that, as are other agencies as well.
And I think none of us can imagine what these families go through, certainly. And we at the State Department provide as much assistance as we can – senior people here at a variety of levels too. Not just senior, but many people have been in touch with the family since he was taken several years ago. We have continued to provide assistance to them, as have other government agencies as well.
QUESTION: Right. But why do you think it is that the message has been so clear and consistent from the families --
MS HARF: I wouldn't --
QUESTION: -- that they're not --
MS HARF: I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. I think these families have gone through the worst thing they will ever have to go through, and I think you hear a lot of different statements from them. We've heard people talk about how supportive the U.S. Government has been. But we know this is an incredibly challenging issue. That's why we're doing a review of how we deal with all of these issues. And I just don't want to speculate on these kinds of statements by families that are going through, as I said, the worst thing they will ever go through.
QUESTION: So this is – you think that this is just or partly just an emotional response to their loss?
MS HARF: I'm not saying that. I'm not going to guess as to why – I'm just not on a day like this, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay, but --
MS HARF: And I know you want me to, but I'm just not going to.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not asking you – I'm not asking you to guess. But clearly, there is a problem here. The families of these hostages and others – not just hostages – well, I guess some people would consider the Americans held in Iran to be hostages – but these families don't think that the government is doing all that it could or is being as supportive to them as it should be.
MS HARF: Well --
QUESTION: And there's got to be a reason for that. Something seems to be broken here --
MS HARF: I would say a few --
QUESTION: -- because it's been case after case after case.
MS HARF: Well, I think you're making analytical judgments without maybe knowing all the facts here. But I will say first that we have been clear that the U.S. Government undertakes every single opportunity we can to get Americans who are held overseas home and with their families. You saw the President authorize multiple operations, U.S. military operations to free hostages that were being held. We raise these issues with – when you talked about the Iranians, we've raised this with Iran. We do everything we can. Unfortunately, sometimes those things aren't seen publicly to protect security and safety of these efforts. But Secretary Kerry, on people being held hostage by certain terrorist groups, has reached out to dozens of countries, asking anyone for help. So it's an incredibly difficult thing to do, but all of us – the intelligence community, the State Department – do everything we can to bring them home.
QUESTION: I don't think – and they're not saying that nothing is being done. And I don't think that people are saying that they're not appreciative of what has been done. But there seems to be a problem, because in case after case after case, families have come forward and said, "We don't think we were treated particularly well by --
MS HARF: Well, we have --
QUESTION: -- the government." So there is a problem here, whether --
MS HARF: Well, I'm happy that you can make that assessment, Matt, but I'm talking – I talk to the people --
QUESTION: I'm not making the assessment.
MS HARF: Well --
QUESTION: It's statement after statement, from the Foleys --
MS HARF: -- I'm talking to the people --
QUESTION: -- from Austin Tice's family, from --
MS HARF: And I'm not going to fight with you about this today. This really isn't the day to do this. What I'm going to say is I talk to the people inside this building and in the U.S. Government who work with these families. It is an incredibly difficult thing to do. These are difficult circumstances. Our folks are very committed here, starting with the Secretary, who's had contact with many of these families; his chief of staff – now two of them who have had contact with families. And this is something that's incredibly important to us here.
We are doing a review. We've been very open about the review. We've reached to all of the hostage families to get their input. We want it from them, to see how we can do better, because we understand they're the most important part of this. That's why their input is so vital here.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea how far along in this review process you – the government is?
MS HARF: It's – I – let me see if --
QUESTION: I mean, I think it's been underway for at least more than a year.
MS HARF: No, it hasn't been underway for more than a year.
QUESTION: Oh, it's not?
MS HARF: No. Let me check and see if I have anything on that. I don't know – the group will come back with recommendations regarding changes in practice or policy. We've said the group will complete its work by sometime this spring. NCTC is coordinating the review process. I don't have any more details on where it is. But it hasn't been going on for a year, I don't think.
QUESTION: Is this something that you – the Administration would consider making public, the review?
MS HARF: I'm assuming we'll talk about it when it's finished, yes. I'm happy to check with the team on this. And I would note that letters from Lisa Monaco were sent to 82 families and former hostages initially, inviting them to be part of the review process. They went – the letters were sent to former hostages and families of individuals taken hostage dating back to 2001. So we've reached out to a number of families, really want to get their input, and see how we can do things better.
QUESTION: Do you know how many of them --
MS HARF: I don't.
QUESTION: -- decided to participate?
MS HARF: I don't. I can check. I can check.
QUESTION: Okay. And then --
QUESTION: Can you explain the genesis of this review? Was it because of the preponderance of complaints from various families? Or was it something that someone inside the government decided, "You know what? We should be taking a look at this. There might be something lacking here."
MS HARF: Well, it was in light of the increasing numbers of U.S. citizens being taken hostage by terrorist groups overseas and the extraordinary nature of recent hostage cases. And it was this past summer. I did have that. Sorry, Matt. This past summer the President directed relevant departments and agencies to conduct this review. So we've talked a lot about this when it came to ISIL.
QUESTION: Well, so it's almost a year. I mean, summer of 2014 – because we're not at summer yet.
MS HARF: Correct. But I think it was later in the summer. Yeah. But it hasn't been more than a year.
QUESTION: All right.
MS HARF: And it was because of the increasing numbers that were being taken hostage. I mean, we talked about – a lot about this, tragically, when it came to ISIL hostages and the nature of these cases in particular. Because of that, we thought this was an important review to undertake.
QUESTION: Could I ask you something related to this issue?
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I mean, should there be some sort of review on the use of drones? Because, I mean, it seems that 128 people were killed as a – in pursuit of one, let's say, Taliban person, maybe 40 people got killed. A thousand people were killed in --
MS HARF: Well, I think you're – the numbers you're using are, I think – it seems like you're just making them up.
QUESTION: No, I'm not. I can send you the numbers. But I'm saying, there are real – in fact, today, in the fight against ISIS – I'm saying that these drone strikes invariably result in the deaths of tens of civilians. You agree?
MS HARF: Well, a couple points. I'm not going to be able to get into specifics about this counterterrorism operation itself or what it was or what it looked like. As my colleague at the White House said, the U.S. Government is conducting a thorough, independent review of the operation to more fully understand the specific factors that led to this tragedy and to determine whether any changes to our targeting processes and procedures might prevent this from happening again. I think the President has also – we've all been clear that counterterrorism operations continue to be a necessary tool to protect our nation's security. That's why he and the team has been so focused on ensuring these operations are conducted in a manner consistent with the absolute highest standards. That's why there's a review being undertaken right now.
QUESTION: Are you able to say --
QUESTION: Can I ask about the legal justification for killing Americans abroad, Marie? Would Gadahn and Farouq have fallen under the scope of a justifiable killing of an American combatant overseas? And as the attorney general put it, would they have posed an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States or that capture was not --
MS HARF: Well, I'm just not going to address a hypothetical process.
QUESTION: Okay. But --
MS HARF: Or a hypothetical legal --
QUESTION: I wasn't – non-hypothetical.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: They're dead; it was an American drone strike.
MS HARF: Correct. No, it was a U.S. counterterrorism operation.
QUESTION: Okay. Right.
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: So is it legally justifiable just because it was an accident; you didn't know they were there?
MS HARF: As I think the President has said, as Josh Earnest has now said, that they're – that these were operations taken consistent with the existing policy guidance governing operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. What we do is in accordance with our legal obligations. Again, there's a review being undertaken at the moment.
QUESTION: Exactly. Right. So you – they thought it was an al-Qaida compound; they believed that; they took – they struck, and it was --
MS HARF: And, indeed, it was an al-Qaida compound.
QUESTION: And in fact, there were Americans inside. So because the intent was to strike an al-Qaida compound and there was no knowledge that these Americans were there, therefore the American Government is not responsible in any way for their deaths?
MS HARF: I think the President stood on national TV today and took responsibility, Justin.
QUESTION: Well, but are there any consequences, in other words, for – is it unlawful in any way, then, to kill these Americans? You've just said this is an accident.
MS HARF: As I've said, we – I said what we do – I mean, I'm not a lawyer and I'm not going to wade into this too far, but we've said we'd take steps in accordance with our legal obligations and with the policy guidance. There's a review going on right now. I'm probably not going to have more for you on that.
QUESTION: Is the review going to address this issue of legality?
MS HARF: I'm not going to get into the specifics of that, of what the review will and will address.
QUESTION: Was Congress not notified of this counterterrorism operation, as you're describing it, before it happened?
MS HARF: Again, I'm not going to have specifics to share for you about where this operation took place. We've said along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
QUESTION: Were there other options for trying to go after these al-Qaida targets, beyond using drones?
MS HARF: I think the President spoke to that today when he said – when he referenced the fact that capture was not an option. Beyond that, I don't have more for you than that.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question you might be able to answer?
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Not Gadahn, the other guy – Farouq.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How is he an American citizen?
MS HARF: He's a dual U.S.-Pakistani citizen.
QUESTION: And he acquired that by birth --
MS HARF: I don't have that information.
QUESTION: -- by naturalization?
MS HARF: I don't know. Sorry.
QUESTION: Do you know – does he family in the United States?
MS HARF: I don't know.
QUESTION: Do you know if there's been any undertaking to get in touch – like when Awlaki was killed there was an undertaking by the State Department to get in touch with next of kin of those. Obviously, the two – the hostages – or at least Mr. Weinstein, Weinstein's – excuse me – his family was in touch, but – you were in touch with them or the President was. Do you know if there was any other --
MS HARF: I believe we may be attempting to do that. Let me check on that. In the past we have; you are right.
QUESTION: Right. Okay.
MS HARF: Let me go check.
QUESTION: I guess that was it.
QUESTION: And that's just for the Gadahn family? You can't say whether that's the case with Farouq?
MS HARF: I said I believe it is for both --
MS HARF: -- but I need to get the details on that, so let me just double check on that for you. I just don't have that in front of me.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: And your colleague, Josh Earnest, said that the Weinstein and the Italian family would receive compensation. It --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: There's no way that there's going to be any compensation offered to the others, is there?
MS HARF: No, there is not. Yes. So yes, when it came to the hostage families, we are currently working through the process to provide compensation. No, even though Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq were not specifically targeted by the United States, they were members of al-Qaida.
MS HARF: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Which – wait, wait. Which means they are enemy combatants, and even though they're American citizens, they don't qualify for any --
MS HARF: Correct. They do not --
QUESTION: Great. Okay.
MS HARF: -- no monetary compensation. That is correct.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Going back to the Secretary's conversation with Lavrov this morning. Over the last few weeks, or certainly since we were in Munich, the U.S. and Europe and others have said that there had been progress made in the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Yesterday you put out that statement --
MS HARF: We did.
QUESTION: -- listing what Russia is doing now in eastern Ukraine. What is your assessment as to what changed? What has triggered that increase now and these ceasefire violations?
MS HARF: Well, I don't know if I have sort of analysis of the Russian thinking on this and whether anything's changed. I mean, their violations of the ceasefire have been going on for some time. I think yesterday we wanted to make very clear, when we have additional information to share publicly – because I know people ask a lot of details in this room, particularly about what evidence we have of Russian support. So that's why we wanted to put that out yesterday.
QUESTION: So how many --
QUESTION: -- sorry – how many troops do you think are in – Russian troops are in --
MS HARF: Let me see if --
QUESTION: And you were very clear that this – these violations are – that they've moved more defense units inside of eastern Ukraine. Do you – can you tell us – give us more figures on how many units or troops are – have been moved in, or --
MS HARF: Yeah. It's a tough thing to obtain or verify, mainly because Russia has tactics of deliberately trying to camouflage its involvement in eastern Ukraine. It's really hard to get precise information about the Russian troop numbers specifically, but we know there's a substantial Russian presence. We've laid out, again, some of the weapons; those are a little easier to detect. But we know there is a substantial presence there.
QUESTION: Marie, today the spokesman for the ministry of defense, the Russian minister of defense, refuted what you said yesterday about deploying air defense systems in eastern Ukraine and so on. So you stand by what you said yesterday?
MS HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Okay. They're also accusing the United States of --
MS HARF: I think President Putin also said there were no Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: Well, today's statement wasn't --
MS HARF: So his statements aren't always rated true by PolitiFact.
QUESTION: Well, Konashenkov --
QUESTION: By who?
MS HARF: PolitiFact. Do you not know what PolitiFact is?
QUESTION: Yeah, but why would they be talking --
MS HARF: It was just --
QUESTION: I think President Putin said there were no Russian soldiers fighting.
MS HARF: Russians fighting, right. Oh, Russian soldiers.
QUESTION: Russian soldiers.
MS HARF: Right. Also not true. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In the same press briefing, Konashenkov said that the Americans were actually sending advisors to eastern Ukraine – military advisors. So do you deny that or --
MS HARF: Well, I've been very clear about this and we have said we have been transparent about our trainers. They are close to the Polish border in western Ukraine. He should familiarize himself with eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: I'm not (inaudible). Right.
MS HARF: At Ukraine's invitation, our soldiers are training Ukraine's national guard. We've done this, I think I said, for about 20 years now and this is really a ridiculous attempt by the Russians to shift focus away from what's actually happening in eastern Ukraine, far away from where we're actually training the Ukrainian national guard.
QUESTION: So the United States does not have any military advisors in eastern Ukraine?
MS HARF: I have been very clear: They're in western Ukraine.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: So (inaudible) the Russians actually went slightly further and said it was the Americans who were, in fact, violating the terms of the Minsk accord. What would be your reaction to that?
MS HARF: Well, that's just patently ridiculous. The Minsk agreements outline steps the Russians need to take, period. And they're not taking them. The Ukrainians are making progress in implementing their Minsk commitments. I don't remember that we signed up for Minsk commitments. It's the Russians who did and aren't abiding by them.
QUESTION: Given what's going on now, I mean, is there any attempt now to try to bring the sides together? I think there is a European/Ukraine meeting coming up later this month, but is there any, first, diplomatic attempts?
MS HARF: I haven't heard of anything specific.
QUESTION: Marie, you said --
QUESTION: Do you know if – I'm sorry, Matt.
QUESTION: You said --
QUESTION: Do you know if the Russian foreign minister will be in the Arctic Council meeting?
MS HARF: I don't believe he will be.
QUESTION: You said that it's hard to tell exactly how many --
MS HARF: Exact numbers. Right.
QUESTION: -- because the Russians are so good at camouflaging or they – they're --
MS HARF: Well, they take steps to.
QUESTION: Maybe they're not very good at camouflaging because you seem to think that – you say that they're there.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: What do they – how do they camouflage the stuff, and if they are good at it --
MS HARF: Well, in terms of their actual soldiers, try to make them look like they're not official Russian soldiers. There's a variety of ways of doing that.
QUESTION: You mean by putting them in uniform – outside of --
MS HARF: (Inaudible.) Right.
QUESTION: But then how do you know that they are?
MS HARF: Right. Well, we have a variety of ways of knowing who's there and what they're doing, Matt. I'm not going to get into more details than that.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you talk about – a little bit about how it is that other than the changing of uniforms that they're camouflaged?
MS HARF: I can see if there's more details on that.
MS HARF: Anything else on Ukraine?
Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: The statement from the senior State Department official that speaks of the phone call between Kerry and Lavrov mentioned that the Secretary raised a number of points, including removing all Russian forces from eastern Ukraine.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: What was Russia's reaction to that?
MS HARF: I am happy to let the Russians read out their reaction to things. I'm probably not going to characterize how they respond.
QUESTION: The foreign ministry has some response on its website, but it doesn't mention anything specific to this.
MS HARF: Okay, well, I'm happy for you to ask them. I'm just not going to characterize what their response was.
QUESTION: Can you characterize the tone of the conversation?
MS HARF: I'm probably not going to characterize more than I already did. You know they speak frequently; they meet frequently when they're in the same place. I'm probably just not going to characterize it further.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: The – in the statement they said the Secretary talk with Lavrov about Syria and Yemen.
MS HARF: Yes, he did.
QUESTION: Can you give us any details on that?
MS HARF: I don't have much more. We've – you know our long-standing conversations with the Russians about Syria, particularly on how we can possibly get back to a diplomatic path here. So that's, in general, what we talk to the Russians about.
QUESTION: Regarding this issue, Deputy Blinken was scheduled to meet today, this morning, with UN --
MS HARF: He did.
QUESTION: -- Envoy to Syria --
MS HARF: He did, yes.
QUESTION: -- de Mistura and Ambassador Feltman.
MS HARF: Yes, he did. Deputy Secretary Blinken met with the UN Special Envoy de Mistura today and with the UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeff Feltman to discuss UN-led efforts towards a political resolution to the conflict in Syria. Of course, emphasized our strong support for their continued leadership and hard work on this issue.
QUESTION: Do you support this new initiative to invite Iran to the consultations in Geneva?
MS HARF: Well, we're having conversations with them about what that UN process might look like, but I don't have more for you than that today.
QUESTION: There are growing criticisms that de Mistura is, essentially, in over his head on trying to resolve the crisis in Syria. Does the U.S. share that criticism, or do they believe that he is up to the task?
MS HARF: Well, I think I just said that we have – strongly support his continued leadership and his hard work on this issue.
MS HARF: Anything else on Syria?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) de Mistura – the proposal that he proposed some weeks back on having a number of ceasefires in place in Aleppo. There are news that say that basically this was sabotaged by Turkey, and otherwise these peace proposals or – I mean ceasefire proposals would've been implemented. Can you share with us anything about that?
MS HARF: I think the person responsible for putting ceasefires in place is Bashar al-Assad. If you want to talk about what's happening on the ground in Syria and who's preventing that from moving forward, I think you need to look squarely at the Assad regime.
QUESTION: No, no, news out of the mission – I mean the UN personnel coming out of there – that, in fact, Assad was really willing and able to implement these ceasefires.
MS HARF: We've also seen in the past him use the term "ceasefire" to cover for a whole range of humanitarian challenges, and he's used it in the past to cover up for many, many things. They have actually not been true ceasefires. He has let people starve and not be able to get food or medicine during these "ceasefires," so I would take his commitment to ceasefires with a grain of salt.
QUESTION: So --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- staying on Turkey just for a second.
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Notwithstanding the fact that the Administration is not ready to call what happened 100 years ago with the Armenians a genocide, you have called it and the President has called it a slaughter, massacre – bad terms – and also called for a full accounting of what happened --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- for the historical record. Well, today President Erdogan, speaking at this Gallipoli memorial, said that Turkey or that Ottoman Turks – Turkey's ancestors, I think he said – never committed a genocide against the Armenians or against anybody else, and he said that the Armenian claims that they had were baseless and groundless. The Administration doesn't agree that the claim – that there's no basis or ground to make the claim, does it?
MS HARF: Well, we've said – the President has said, other senior Administration officials have said – acknowledged as historical fact that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred, were marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.
QUESTION: So --
MS HARF: That is what we believe about the historical facts.
QUESTION: -- even though you're not prepared to call it a genocide, you do believe that there is basis and grounds for there to be an accounting.
MS HARF: We have said we acknowledge this is a historical fact.
QUESTION: So what would you – it does not appear that President Erdogan is ready to accept any kind of an accounting, a full and fair historical reckoning. So what do you say? This is your Turkish – this is your NATO ally --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- who you're not using the word "genocide" because you don't want to offend them, and now he says that he's not even prepared to do the minimum of what you want them to do, which is to go back and come to some kind of conclusion.
MS HARF: Well, I would go back to what we said about the Secretary's conversation with the Turkish foreign minister early this week, that he – 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. That's something that's very important to us --
QUESTION: Well, does this go along with that?
MS HARF: -- and we're going to keep pushing that. And I'm just not going to do any analysis on those remarks.
QUESTION: Well – but I mean, does him calling the claims baseless and groundless --
MS HARF: I'm not going to do any analysis on his remarks.
QUESTION: -- that doesn't seem to indicate that they're willing to go for this full accounting.
MS HARF: I'm not going to do any analysis on his remarks, Matt.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MS HARF: Sure, yes.
QUESTION: Just coming back to Syria, does the U.S. still believe that the Iranians should not be part of these discussions?
MS HARF: Well, if you remember the lengthy discussions we all had about Geneva II before Geneva II happened, we eventually said they could be if they did certain things like accept the Geneva I communique. Now, that was then; this is obviously a different thing and it's a UN-led process, so I don't want to preview what we might say going forward. But in the past we have expressed openness to it.
QUESTION: Okay. And just – can I just quickly – I see you've got to go --
MS HARF: No, it's okay. I'm actually doing a press briefing in here for Take Your Child to Work Day after this with a bunch of kids, so --
QUESTION: Okay, great. (Laughter.)
MS HARF: -- I'm sure they'll give you a few more minutes in the real press briefing.
QUESTION: Quickly on Yemen, can I just ask – the Iranian ship has turned away from Yemen. Was that because of any – was there any diplomatic discussions involved that caused that?
MS HARF: Ask the Iranians.
QUESTION: No, but from the U.S. side.
MS HARF: Ask the Iranians why they turned the ship around. I have said we have a variety of ways to raise concerns with the Iranians, and I'm not going to get into more details.
QUESTION: Has --
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the ships turned around (inaudible)?
MS HARF: Can I confirm that independently? I mean, I've certainly seen the reports. I'd refer you to them for their ship movements.
QUESTION: But the United States doesn't know that the --
MS HARF: Guys, I'm not going to confirm Iranian ship movements. We're monitoring --
QUESTION: Well, a U.S. has official has confirmed that.
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But you will confirm Russian troop movements in eastern Ukraine. What is – why --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that U.S. officials confirmed that the Iranians --
MS HARF: I have no reason to believe they're not true. I'm just – I have no reason to believe those reports aren't true. I've certainly seen them. We're monitoring the situation closely.
QUESTION: Marie, can you confirm that --
QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry made any --
MS HARF: Guys, let's do one question at a time.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Kerry made any phone calls with regard to Yemen over the last 24 hours?
MS HARF: Today, he talked to the Saudi foreign minister, the Saudi deputy crown prince. I'm assuming both of those – I know both of them were related to Yemen. Yesterday, he spoke, as I said, with the Saudi ambassador, the deputy UN secretary general as well.
QUESTION: Can we go to India --
QUESTION: Did they confirm to – whether the bombing resumed?
MS HARF: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Because there are reports that the bombing have resumed.
MS HARF: Well, the Saudis made clear in their statement announcing the end of Operation Decisive Storm that they would continue limited operations to counter certain ongoing aggressive actions by the Houthi. They made clear that would continue in certain cases if there was action taken by the Houthi. So it should not be surprising to you.
MS HARF: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Can we stay with Yemen?
QUESTION: Syria --
MS HARF: Let's just do – guys, let's do one at a time, please. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday, about 20 Americans were part of a larger group evacuated from Yemen on Russian planes --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- and some of them expressed frustration that they felt abandoned by the U.S. Government in their efforts to leave the country. In the past, the U.S. has said there are no plans for a U.S. Government-coordinated evacuation from Yemen --
MS HARF: Using U.S. Government assets.
QUESTION: Using U.S. Government assets.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. rethinking this policy, considering these expressions of frustration? Or is the U.S. considering an effort to collaborate with entities that are already in the region and involved in evacuation?
MS HARF: Well, we have been collaborating for many, many weeks now. We've been talking to other countries, other organizations like IOM who may have ways of getting American citizens out. That's why, for example, when they're able to get on a Russian plane or a ship that goes to Djibouti, we have let Americans know that have signed up with the State Department how they can avail themselves of these opportunities. So we actually have been letting them know when there are other opportunities, talking to other countries, including the Indians and others, about how our citizens can get out. We think that's, at this point, what we're going to continue doing. We also have been warning for many, many years now that people should not travel to Yemen, so we are working with other countries, but at this point, no plans to use U.S. Government assets to do so.
MS HARF: India, sure.
MS HARF: One more on Yemen. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Saudi ambassador was quoted today as saying that his country didn't declare an official end to the airstrike campaign. All it did was just shift --
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- to what they called (inaudible).
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Was that your understanding in the beginning, or --
MS HARF: Yes, and I spoke about that at length yesterday, and I just, in reference to Said's question, said the same thing.
QUESTION: But your initial welcome of the first – on Tuesday --
MS HARF: Right, they've announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm. They've said they will continue limited military operations to counter certain aggressive actions by the Houthis.
MS HARF: Let's go to India.
QUESTION: So Indian Government has ordered that all funds coming from Ford Foundation from U.S. to any agency or NGO in India will have to be cleared by the ministry of home affairs. So what is your --
MS HARF: I hadn't seen that. I'm happy to look into it.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, the other – the media reports are also saying that Ford Foundation has been targeted because they're supporting the NGOs which are supporting the victims of 2002 riots in Gujarat, and --
MS HARF: I'm happy to check. I'm sorry. I haven't seen any of these reports.
QUESTION: -- Modi was denied visa for those. And this comes on the heels of Greenpeace license – which you must be knowing – Greenpeace license has been suspended. They cannot accept donation from (inaudible). So do you think it's a way to silence the opposition?
MS HARF: I haven't seen the reports. I'm happy to check.
MS HARF: Thank you. Yes.
QUESTION: Can I ask again --
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the situation around Kobani – in Kobani? And also, on the – there are reports talking about that there's – that people returned to the city and they are in dire need of humanitarian support.
MS HARF: I don't have any updates from the ground for you. I'm happy to check with our team.
QUESTION: Have you talked to your Turkish counterpart, especially the – when the foreign minister was here, about opening the border with Kobani for humanitarian assistance?
MS HARF: They talked in general about all the issues related to what's happening there.
QUESTION: But not anything about – specifically about Kobani?
MS HARF: I didn't say that. I said they talked about all the issues. I'm not going to give you a more specific readout.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about --
MS HARF: Yes, go ahead, and then Abigail.
QUESTION: Can I ask you again about the case of the Mexican girl who was brought to the States by accident? First, have there been any conversations between the U.S. and Mexico about how this case was handled, given that it does center on a child who was apparently kidnapped and taken to Mexico several years ago?
MS HARF: We have had – I mean, I'm not going to be able to get into the specific cases we talked about yesterday, but it's safe to say in situations like this, we would have many conversations with the other government, and in – speak with the Mexicans about this.
QUESTION: And then in the case of the mother who thought she had been reunited with her daughter, and in fact, her daughter is still missing, are you able to describe what sort of assistance the U.S. Government is providing to her, given that there is still a warrant out for her ex-husband for having taken their child?
MS HARF: Again, because of privacy considerations, I can't speak to that specifically.
MS HARF: Thank you. Abigail. Yeah.
QUESTION: Given the new information that continues to be disclosed – or continues to be revealed about Hillary Clinton during her time as – during her tenure as Secretary of State and donations made to the Clinton Foundation, is the State Department still confident that she disclosed all of the appropriate foundation's – as she promised to (inaudible)?
MS HARF: As we have said many times here, that in her January 5th, 2009 letter with its attachments – attached documents to the Department senior ethics official, Secretary Clinton set forth a variety of undertakings addressing, among other things, her financial interest, the speaking and writing and consulting of former President Clinton, and certain matters involving the Clinton Foundation's – and its initiatives. In several respects, her commitments went beyond the requirements of applicable laws and regulations. And I just don't have more for you than that.
QUESTION: Marie, given the fact that – well, the frequency of these stories is – well, it's like every day or every other day. And in the stories – or every three days --
MS HARF: It's weird that after someone says they're going to run for president that press stories are written.
QUESTION: I see that you're willing --
MS HARF: It's a weird phenomenon you may have never seen before.
QUESTION: -- you're willing to ascribe motive to something finally.
MS HARF: I'm not. Do you have a specific question?
QUESTION: Yes. I mean, given the fact that these stories are increasingly coming out with great – in great frequency, raising questions but not actually alleging that there was impropriety --
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- does the State Department share the questions – are you guys asking the same questions that these stories are raising about – not about the agreement that was entered into in 2009 but about whether they were – whether those agreements were fully complied with? Or does this Department believe that they were fully complied with, that these stories don't amount to – don't change that?
MS HARF: I'm happy to check with our experts on this.
QUESTION: Okay. Because --
MS HARF: I just haven't heard anything about --
QUESTION: -- the stories --
MS HARF: -- beyond sort of what I've just said.
QUESTION: The stories raise a lot of questions; they don't necessarily answer the question. And I'm wondering if you guys are attempting to answer the questions to see if, in fact --
MS HARF: I'm happy to check.
QUESTION: -- or if you've already made up – the building has already made up its mind that there was no impropriety.
MS HARF: I'm happy to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Any update on President Barzani's upcoming visit to Washington?
MS HARF: I don't have any updates for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any – have you got any concerns or anything from the Sunni Arabs over the President Barzani statement that the Peshmerga will stay in the disputed area even they taken from ISIS?
MS HARF: I haven't heard anything related to that.
QUESTION: Okay. One more, sorry. On the oil export, have you had any – the Kurdish oil export increased. Do you have any update, anything on that?
MS HARF: I don't.
MS HARF: Okay?
QUESTION: You don't have anything on Iraq.
MS HARF: Go give all the kids who are waiting all of your questions you didn't ask so I can answer them.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)
DPB # 69
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