Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
April 24, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
2:04 p.m. EDT
MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing. I have one item at the top. On OSCE access: Russia-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine continue to prevent OSCE monitors from doing their jobs by blocking access to large areas of territory under their control. Most recently, yesterday monitors were blocked from entering parts of an area just east of Mariupol, and we applaud the efforts of the OSCE to broker a local ceasefire there.
The Russian-backed separatists signed the Minsk agreements and implementation plan, allowing OSCE monitors access to verify the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. This is not happening. Denying access to the OSCE gives the appearance the separatists have something to hide. We again call for free and unfettered access throughout Ukraine and for the OSCE up to and including the Ukraine-Russia border and urge all sides to work with the OSCE to prevent further violence.
QUESTION: Thank you. Happy Friday.
MS HARF: Happy Friday.
QUESTION: I want to start with Armenia, because last night the President, as we had expected, put out his long-awaited statement on --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- the centennial of the events of 1915. And once again, he did not fulfill his campaign promise to call what happened a genocide. This was met with – probably not surprise, but with some anger from people in the Armenian community, one of which said that it was a sad spectacle that was playing word games, and that he has regretfully proven to the world today that he is not that president, meaning that president who said "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides," which was a quote from Senator – candidate Obama. Do you agree with that?
MS HARF: Matt, we've been over this multiple times this week. The President put out a very powerful statement speaking to the historical events that happened. It was a very lengthy statement. I know you've all read it. We understand that some people may want to hear different language used. We believe this is the right course, but all you have to do is read the President's statement to see how seriously he feels about these historical issues.
QUESTION: One of the things the President said in his statement that "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed." What is that view? Can you remind us?
MS HARF: I'm happy for you to ask the White House that question, Matt.
QUESTION: Do you think I would get an answer at the White House if I ask that question?
MS HARF: I don't know. I'm happy for you to go ask the White House, Matt.
QUESTION: Do you know if the State Department was – is the State Department okay with this, or did you encourage this kind of a – did you encourage him not to fulfill his campaign pledge, which I must also say that the UN ambassador – the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, when she was working for the campaign in 2008, urged Armenian Americans to vote for then Senator Obama specifically because he would keep his word on this?
MS HARF: I know. You've asked the same question every day this week. And I give you the same answer.
QUESTION: Yeah, you're right. And I think that – well, yeah. Can you tell that the answer is not very satisfactory?
MS HARF: Well, I'm going to keep giving you the same one.
QUESTION: I don't understand why – does the State Department agree with this?
MS HARF: You're certainly happy to have your own opinion about whether you like my answer or not. I mean, the President put out a very lengthy statement, Matt, that spoke very --
QUESTION: It's not that lengthy.
MS HARF: Compared to what he usually does? It's five paragraphs. Most presidential statements are not this long, okay? Speaking very forcefully to this issue and how he sees these historical events.
QUESTION: And he does not use the word "genocide." Do you think it's U.S. national interest to deny the truth about the Armenian genocide?
MS HARF: Guys, I'm not sure why we're going to --
QUESTION: To deny the fact that it happened, that it was a genocide?
MS HARF: I think if you read the President's statement, he was very clear about what happened. I've said this every single day this week.
QUESTION: I have read the statement.
MS HARF: You can also read my briefing transcripts. I'm not going to have much more for you today than we've already talked about on this. We feel like the course we are taking is the correct one. But he was very forceful in his statement in acknowledging the historical facts here, and speaking about them, I think, in a very powerful way.
QUESTION: So it is right for him not to use the word "genocide?"
MS HARF: We've said we believe this policy is the right one to pursue.
QUESTION: Are you afraid of Turkey?
MS HARF: I'm not even sure how to answer that question.
QUESTION: What can Turkey do to a country as big and powerful as the United States?
MS HARF: As I said, we believe this is the right course to take, and I'm not going to have much more for you on this issue than that.
QUESTION: I have a question, quick follow-up.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The first is the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a statement yesterday describing 1915 atrocities as genocide by quoting Pope Francis. Should we consider this statement as U.S. official view on the issue?
MS HARF: No. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U.S. advisory commission created by an act of Congress. It is not part of the Executive Branch. So this is – their press announcement does not constitute a change in U.S. Government policy.
QUESTION: The second question is: For the first time in modern Turkish history, a remembrance service for Armenians who lost their lives in 1915 is held today with the attendance of a senior Turkish minister. Also, President Erdogan issued a statement for the ceremony saying he genuinely shares the pain of Armenians. What is your take on that?
MS HARF: Well, I hadn't seen those specific incidents that you mentioned there. I would again note, as I've talked about every day this week, that the Secretary met with the Turkish foreign minister. They talked about 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. I just don't have much more for you than that.
QUESTION: On the President's statement, so he says, "Amid horrific violence that saw suffering on all sides, one and a half million Armenians perished." Now on Holocaust Remembrance Day, would you write about suffering on all sides?
MS HARF: I don't think we're --
QUESTION: Would you write that --
MS HARF: -- going to compare any two events.
QUESTION: -- including the Nazi --
MS HARF: We're not going to compare any –
QUESTION: Wouldn't you compare what the Ottoman Turks did to the Armenians to what Nazi Germans did to the Jews?
MS HARF: We're just not going to compare any two historical events.
QUESTION: Let me ask you a quick question. Does the United States have a definition or a standard as to what constitutes genocide? I mean, does it have a figure or, I mean, a formula? How do you --
MS HARF: I'm happy – I'm happy to check, Said.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I ask one on President Erdogan's comments? Not – he also said that it was baseless and groundless accusations that a genocide took place. I asked you about those comments yesterday. What's the Administration – do you believe that it's baseless and --
MS HARF: I answered this question yesterday. Is there a new question?
QUESTION: Yeah, I'm looking for an answer today because I don't think I got one yesterday.
MS HARF: I'm not going to have much more to share than I did yesterday.
QUESTION: Yesterday --
MS HARF: We've made clear what our --
QUESTION: -- you said you hadn't seen the comments, so I'm --
MS HARF: And I'm just not going to do analysis of what President Erdogan has said. President Obama spoke about this issue in a lengthy statement. We've talked about it a lot this week, we believe this is the right course, and I'm just not going to have much more light to shed on any of this.
QUESTION: Do you understand why people are making – why people are asking these questions?
MS HARF: We understand that some people would like to hear different language. I understand that, certainly.
QUESTION: Okay. Quite apart from the language, do you understand why people are asking about it because it is the – the President campaigned – he asked for people's votes on this specific issue, and he's not following through.
MS HARF: And I have repeatedly said I – you are free to ask the White House these questions, Matt.
QUESTION: Right, well –
MS HARF: That's where the President works --
QUESTION: -- unfortunately it was the very last –
MS HARF: -- last time I checked.
QUESTION: -- question at the White House briefing today, and –
MS HARF: Well, then you should talk to your colleagues about what they ask about.
QUESTION: I guess I should.
QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. – by not using that word, do you think the U.S. is being an accomplice to such a denial?
MS HARF: I think if you read the President's statement, it is very clear how strongly he feels about what happened here, about the historical events, and again, I just don't have much more for you than that. Let's move on.
QUESTION: Hello, Marie. How are you?
MS HARF: Hi.
QUESTION: Moving to a different subject.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: We were looking for an update on a case of another American hostage, a woman kidnapped along with her Canadian husband near the Af-Pak border in 2012. The question is: What is the U.S. Government doing? What can you say the U.S. Government is doing to rescue them, to assist their family? It's been reported that the couple's been held so long now that they've actually had a baby in – while in captivity.
MS HARF: Well, as I've said generally, whenever an American citizen is being held hostage overseas, we do everything we can – whether it's using intelligence tools, diplomatic tools, law enforcement tools – to find them and bring them home. For privacy reasons and for their safety and security, I'm just not going to get into more details than that. We also of course provide any assistance to the family that we can as well.
QUESTION: Can I ask, do you have – still have recent proof of life? Do you think they're --
MS HARF: I'm just not going to get into specifics on those things, Justin.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I had asked yesterday about this India Government ordering all these funds coming from – going from Ford Foundation and then earlier this thing --
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- on Greenpeace. Do you have anything on that?
MS HARF: Well, we are aware that the Ministry of Home Affairs suspended the registration of Green Peace India and has placed the Ford Foundation on a prior permission watch list. We remain concerned about the difficulties caused to civil society organizations by the manner in which the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act has been applied. We are concerned that this recent ruling limits a necessary and critical debate within Indian society, and we are seeking a clarification on this issue with the appropriate Indian authorities.
QUESTION: Speaking of foreign funding, can I go back to something we talked about a little bit yesterday?
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: I have been told – and I just want to make sure that it's correct – that the contributions to the Clinton Foundation that were reported about – the Uranium One-related ones that were reported about yesterday in The New York Times were not a violation of the memorandum of understanding or whatever it was that – between the Secretary and the State Department and the White House. Is that correct?
MS HARF: Well, I don't know exactly what you mean by the term "violation" --
QUESTION: Well, they were not --
MS HARF: -- given this was a political agreement entered into.
QUESTION: Right, right. It --
MS HARF: It wasn't a regulatory responsibility.
QUESTION: Fair enough, sorry. Violation may be the wrong word.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm
QUESTION: Did not contravene? They weren't covered. Maybe that's the better --
MS HARF: Correct. That is correct.
QUESTION: But these specific donations that The New York Times reported about yesterday were not covered or not required to be disclosed by the memorandum. Is that correct?
MS HARF: That's certainly my understanding, Matt.
QUESTION: Can you explain why that is?
MS HARF: I'm happy to check on some more information on that. I'm happy to check.
QUESTION: You don't know why that – it is that they --
MS HARF: I am happy to check. If I knew why, I would tell you. I am happy to check.
QUESTION: All right. My understanding is that the reason why it wasn't – or it didn't – that they were not required to be disclosed is because they were made by charitable – that because that agreement applied only to foreign – donations from foreign governments and units of foreign governments, i.e. like government-owned companies, and did not apply to individuals or to independent – charities that are run independent of governments. Do you know if that's correct?
MS HARF: I'm happy to – I'm happy to check on the specifics on that.
QUESTION: Okay. You are able to say, though, that it was – it did not – that they weren't required to be disclosed under this agreement?
MS HARF: That's my understanding.
MS HARF: But I'm happy to check on some more details here, Matt.
QUESTION: Even if it didn't, even if these donations did not – were not required to be disclosed --
MS HARF: And they may have – again, that's my understanding. Let me check with our folks here. I want to be very clear about what's covered by the MOU and what's not, okay?
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Marie, on Iran, Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson has said that Secretary Kerry talked to Minister Zarif over the phone and they discussed Iran and Yemen.
MS HARF: Who said that? I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson.
MS HARF: Ah, my counterpart.
MS HARF: As I've said, the Secretary and Under Secretary Sherman and our team have a variety of ways of communicating with the Iranians, and we're just not going to outline specifically always what those are.
QUESTION: So what is the status of the talks now? I mean, what is going --
MS HARF: They're going on right now at Wendy Sherman's level in Vienna with our experts on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. And what is expected? What is next? I mean, what --
MS HARF: Well, we have two and a half months to get the annexes done, so they're working on it.
QUESTION: Okay. So are there any plans for the Secretary to meet with Minister Zarif anytime soon?
MS HARF: He may. They're both going to be in New York on Monday, and we expect they probably will.
QUESTION: Okay. So it is more than likely that they will meet?
MS HARF: That's true, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And will they focus on the nuclear talks --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- or will they discuss other things, like Yemen and other things?
MS HARF: No. The nuclear – the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: Were you able to find out if the Americans being detained had been raised yet in Vienna?
MS HARF: I'm sorry. I didn't ask that question of them.
QUESTION: On the question that Matt was asking yesterday about the Weinstein family's statement where they said some of the interactions they had with the U.S. Government were disappointing and inconsistent, have – (a) do you believe that that was a specific reference to the State Department and (b) have you reached out to the Weinstein family since this statement was released to sort of resolve any of these issues or talk to them about it in any way?
MS HARF: Well, that's – we wouldn't reach out based on a statement. We've reached out to them and been in contact with them since Dr. Weinstein was taken captive. So we have provided ongoing consular assistance to the family, as we do in any case where an American is taken hostage overseas. I'd refer you to them to explain further what their statement was referencing. We've provided any assistance we can. I don't have any contact to read out for you today, but if we do going forward, I'm happy to.
QUESTION: Marie, regarding Zarif-Kerry call, why do you think the Iranians wanted to talk about this phone call and you don't?
MS HARF: I just don't have much more analysis for you of this. And I didn't actually confirm there was a phone call, so I think we're moving on.
QUESTION: Did you know if the Turkish foreign minister told the Secretary if his government may take certain steps to defuse the tension with Armenia?
MS HARF: It was an issue they discussed, and the Secretary made clear that this was an important issue to him. I am not going to have much more detail than that for you.
QUESTION: So nothing new?
MS HARF: I'm just not going to have much more detail.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: About efforts to get U.S. citizens out of Yemen, yesterday you said, "We have let Americans know that have signed up with the State Department how they can avail themselves to these opportunities."
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And so we spoke with at least one American who said he wasn't contacted by any American official or any U.S. --
MS HARF: Did he sign up on our online system?
QUESTION: Yes. Yes, he did. That's what he said.
MS HARF: Okay. Well, I'm not sure I believe that, because --
QUESTION: So I'm just --
MS HARF: Right. So our system online is a very good one where if people sign up through the STEP program, we will stay in touch with them over email, over text message often, and it's all posted on our website as well. He can go there and look at the website as well.
QUESTION: So you can confirm that you reached out to everyone who signed up to that?
MS HARF: If they sign up for certain things online, including updates for Yemen, they will get that information, yes. They will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: You can probably – maybe this question if you don't – are not aware of it. I was not aware of it until just before coming in here, but there were some amendments that were passed – a trade bill Wednesday and Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee --
MS HARF: I saw some of – I don't have any response.
QUESTION: -- about --
MS HARF: Sorry. I saw some of that.
QUESTION: -- about – okay. Could you take – this is about Israel and BDS and all this --
MS HARF: Yeah, I hadn't seen that. I'll take it.
QUESTION: The question is basically just what – does the Administration support the language --
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- in these amendments. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Yemen --
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: -- for a second? Okay. First of all, can you confirm – the Russians are saying that they evacuated 46 Americans.
MS HARF: Yesterday I confirmed that some Americans had left on a Russian flight --
QUESTION: But can you confirm the figure?
MS HARF: -- and they are in Moscow.
QUESTION: You can't --
MS HARF: I'm not sure I can actually confirm that figure. Let me see. Let me see if I have that in here.
What else, Said?
QUESTION: Okay. And also, can you tell us what's going on --
MS HARF: I don't have numbers, no.
QUESTION: Okay. The – also, the secretary-general announced the appointment of Ismail Ould Cheikh --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- as the new envoy. Now, his background is in – strictly in humanitarian – on humanitarian issues. Does that mean we are headed towards a humanitarian mission rather than a political mission?
MS HARF: Well, we look forward to the new appointment and the rapid, unconditional resumption of all party negotiations. We are very focused on political dialogue and getting the parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Okay, but you see this as perhaps the UN will focus its efforts --
MS HARF: No, not at all.
QUESTION: -- on the humanitarian and not the political?
MS HARF: The UN is focused on the political dialogue piece of this --
MS HARF: -- and getting the parties back to the table.
QUESTION: Okay. So you expect that he will get the cooperation that his predecessor did not – Jamal Benomar --
MS HARF: That's – he – we certainly need to get back to the table here.
QUESTION: -- from countries like the Saudi – Saudi Arabia and the GCC?
MS HARF: I said we need to get back to the table. I've been clear what needs to happen.
QUESTION: Thank you, madam. Couple questions on South Asia, starting with India. U.S. Ambassador Mr. Rick Rahul Verma was recently in Washington and he was a guest speaker at the Carnegie Institute. Was it – and he laid out the U.S.-India relations, and in the short term he has been traveling, and what he has accomplished between the two countries – trade and other economic issues. My question is: Was he carrying any back-and-forth messages from the Secretary?
MS HARF: I'm happy to check with the ambassador to see if he was. He speaks to the Secretary frequently; they talk about a number of issues, but I don't have anything else to sort of share with you today.
QUESTION: So overall, how would you rate him now as --
MS HARF: I mean, I think Ambassador Verma's a great ambassador.
QUESTION: And --
MS HARF: I know him personally. He's a great representative for the U.S. and India. I don't have much more analysis to do for you than that.
QUESTION: Second, as far as Prime Minister Modi is concerned, he has been traveling after the U.S. great visit to a number of countries – Germany, France, and Canada next door – and for, of course, the making India and other issues – nuclear issues, civil nuclear and all that. Is this – if U.S. knew about his visits and whether he's going to help the U.S.? Because he's getting the same businesses and talking about the same thing what he had been talking here in the U.S. and all the agreements with the U.S.
MS HARF: Well, I think these are separate bilateral conversations he's having. We certainly thought we had a very good visit here, but I don't have much more for you on his other visits.
QUESTION: And finally, one more on Pakistan, please. Recently, you have seen in the news that China and Pakistan – lot of agreements, or close to $45 or $50 billion and all that; 10, 12,000 Chinese will be coming to Pakistan, helping in many ways. Is that because U.S. did not help Pakistan in many ways, or --
MS HARF: No. I think this is a separate bilateral issue that they – issues they work together on. I wouldn't draw much more from it than that.
QUESTION: Can I go to the Iran legislation on the Hill?
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I don't know if you'll have anything on these, but I wanted – specifically wanted to ask about the amendments that are being offered by various and sundry senators. Do you have any comment on them?
MS HARF: I don't. I don't.
QUESTION: Is it safe to assume that because the Administration has decided that it – the President could support the Corker bill that existed when it was first voted on out of the committee that you would not like to see any amendments to it? Or are you willing to work with them on --
MS HARF: I think the former more than the latter.
QUESTION: So in other words, you would like to see the language in the bill stay as intact as --
MS HARF: That's what we've spoken to. I don't have much more for you than that today.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, once the – can you – can we implore for next week, I mean, once these amendments become clearer --
MS HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- to get some kind of response on it?
MS HARF: We will keep talking about it.
QUESTION: I have one on India (inaudible) ask some questions from India. When President Obama visited India and Mr. Modi, prime minister, visited United States of America, they both – there was a talk about on-arrival visa India and United States. Do you have any update on the visa on arrival issue in India?
MS HARF: I don't have any update for you.
QUESTION: Okay. One more thing from Bangladesh, for city election in Bangladesh. For free and fair, do you think any observers are going to go from U.S. side?
MS HARF: I don't know. Let me check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah --
MS HARF: Let's just do a couple more. It's a Friday afternoon.
QUESTION: Just one more quickly.
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: As far as this Yemen and Saudi Arabia and all these attacks and all the – according to the reports that U.S. pressure, that's why the Saudis are stopping or stopped the bombings. My question here comes that Saudi Arabia was seeking and it was promised by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit that Pakistan will help and send the troops to help the Saudi Arabia because Saudi Arabia has some kind of internal problem also as far as security issues are concerned. But this time, Pakistan did not help or did not send any troops. And Saudi Arabia is one of the closest and also one of the more – I mean partnerships of Pakistan.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What do you think now that you're – between the two countries, if U.S. has any role in this issue, Pakistan's --
MS HARF: It's really a decision for Pakistan to make.
QUESTION: Thank you, ma'am.
MS HARF: Matt.
QUESTION: I've got two unrelated, very brief – and I'm not sure you'll have an answer to the first one, which is: Do you have any reaction --
MS HARF: I'm excited.
QUESTION: -- to the release or the judge's – Canadian's judge's order to release Omar Khadr, a former Gitmo --
MS HARF: I don't have a response. I'll check for you.
QUESTION: Can you see if we can --
MS HARF: I will.
QUESTION: -- get one? And then the second one is: Did you see, there was an editorial today in The Washington Post which talked about some musings of the Argentine president, President Kirchner, about a global Jewish conspiracy, essentially to run the world. The – I'm wondering if the Administration has any thoughts about either the editorial itself or if --
MS HARF: I'm sorry. I did not read the editorial.
QUESTION: -- or President Kirchner's comments?
MS HARF: I also haven't seen those comments. I'm happy to check with our team. And anything like that would obviously be of great concern, but let me check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Let's just do two more.
QUESTION: Yeah. Did we ask about Iran's ships already, the convoy?
MS HARF: We – the royal "we" did not. No. None of you did.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. And I would like to ask about Iran's ships.
MS HARF: Go for it, Justin. Yes.
QUESTION: So yesterday the report was that they turned around. Do you have any indication that they've – that they're actually heading back to Iran or --
MS HARF: We're monitoring the situation. We obviously welcome all responsible steps to de-escalate the situation and we're continuing to watch.
QUESTION: Okay. And there's --
MS HARF: Nothing else to confirm.
QUESTION: Nothing? No communications, no official word from Iran that they're heading back or that they've decided not to send guns to the Houthis?
MS HARF: Nothing else to confirm for you.
MS HARF: Okay. Okay, last one in the back. Last one of the week. Make it a good one.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: No pressure.
QUESTION: The President issued a statement on the Armenian remembrance days without qualifying genocide genocide, apparently. So my question is: United States Government has record of recognizing the Armenian genocide officially. It happened in 1981. President Reagan, not candidate but President Reagan, in 1981 April 22nd called the events of 1915 as genocide. I'm wondering if this building, and maybe you particularly since this topic has been discussed so much recently, were aware of the fact.
MS HARF: Including the first 15 minutes of the briefing already today.
QUESTION: So this historic – yes – fact of recognition by Reagan is something kept in the records of this building. Were you aware of this?
MS HARF: I'm not aware of every statement every candidate for president or president has made on this. I think the president we have now, President Obama, put out a very lengthy statement, a very powerful statement speaking to the historical events of a hundred years ago. And I would point you there for anything further on this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)
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