Daily Press Briefing
Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications
Daily Press Briefing
June 1, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
1:07 p.m. EDT
MS HARF: Hello. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have two items at the top, and then I'm happy to answer your questions.
First an update on Secretary Kerry. The Secretary is in good spirits and he is en route back to Boston as we speak for treatment for his broken leg. His doctor, Dr. Dennis Burke, is accompanying the Secretary to Boston to monitor his condition and ensure he remains comfortable and will be treating him once he's back in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Secretary's made a number of calls to his counterparts today, including to the French foreign minister and the Spanish foreign minister to personally, with the Spanish, convey his deep regret in not being able to travel to Madrid for our bilateral meetings that we had scheduled and also to Foreign Minister Fabius, of course, expressing his regret that we won't be at – he won't be at the anti-ISIL meeting tomorrow. He will, though, be calling – or be remotely participating in the anti-ISIL meeting. When we have more information about that we will get it to folks. He also has made a number of calls to White House and State Department officials, including speaking with the President.
The Secretary is committed to pursuing an aggressive recovery schedule. There are a range of possible recovery trajectories with an injury like this, and it's, quite frankly, premature to speculate on the specifics of what that recovery will look like. We would caution anyone against drawing any conclusions about his possible recovery if they're not sort of familiar with his specific injury, his medical history, or the Secretary himself. Secretary Kerry's main focus for the month of June remains squarely on the Iran negotiations. I want to be very clear about this. His injury does not change that. He and the entire team are absolutely committed to the same timetable and are working toward June 30th as the deadline for these talks.
And then – and also we'll continue to provide additional information as we have it. I probably am going to refer a lot of questions about his specific injury and his treatment to his doctor, but if anyone has questions I can try and answer them in the briefing.
And then the second item: On Syria, we strongly condemn the regime's latest deplorable use of barrel bombs in and around Aleppo, in which at least 70 civilians were killed. In addition, we have heard reports that the regime is making airstrikes in support of ISIL's advance on Aleppo, aiding the extremists in their attacks on the Syria population. Beyond that, we have long seen that the regime avoids ISIL lines, in complete contradiction to the regime's claims publicly to be fighting ISIL. The fact is there is no better recruiting tool for ISIL than the brutality of the Assad regime. As we have long said, Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy long ago and will never be an effective counterterrorism partner, despite what he might say publicly. With these latest reports, not only has he once again demonstrated that he does not want to use his forces to root out ISIL's safe haven in Syria, but really on the contrary, is actively seeking to bolster their position for his own cynical reasons – all the more reason why a political transition is necessary to stabilize Syria and protect the Syrian people.
MS HARF: Matt, get us started.
QUESTION: Let's – excuse me – go back to what you started with with the Secretary.
MS HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: One, just logistically speaking, do you have an arrival time for his plane in Boston?
MS HARF: We don't have a specific time. He is flying on a C-17 U.S. military aircraft. He wasn't required medically to do so, but for his comfort – and for those of you who've been on our plane – we thought it was probably a step that made sense. We don't have a specific arrival time. I'm happy to check on that after I get off of the podium.
QUESTION: How about a nonspecific arrival time? I mean --
MS HARF: Well, what is the flight from Geneva to --
QUESTION: -- surely the plane has taken off. The Air Force must have some idea how long it's going to take them to get there.
MS HARF: I will check and see if we can get that to you all.
QUESTION: And then I realize they don't want – you don't think it is appropriate or even helpful to speculate on what this is going to mean for his schedule, but what is it? I mean, clearly, he's going to be laid up for some time.
MS HARF: Well, I'm not sure that's clear.
QUESTION: Some --
MS HARF: I think what – I started – one of the reasons I started with this --
QUESTION: Well --
MS HARF: Well, I don't know what you mean by "laid up." I think the reason we started with --
QUESTION: Well, I mean in bed.
MS HARF: I'm – I think it's premature, quite frankly, to speculate on what his recovery will look like. There are a number of different recovery trajectories. I think let's let him get back to Boston, have the – get the treatment he needs, and then I think his doctor will be providing more information. But I – really, I'm stressing that until that happens we shouldn't make assumptions about what his recovery will look like. As I said, he's committed to an aggressive, ambitious, and responsible recovery timeline.
QUESTION: Okay. I'm not asking – I'm not trying to make an assumption or asking you to make an assumption, but it – surely there is a minimum period at which he will not be able to be running, walking without --
MS HARF: Well, running is probably a safe assumption. But beyond that, we're just not going to speculate about what the recovery will look like, what timetable that will take. He's committed to an aggressive and responsible recovery, but certainly an ambitious one. And I think let's let him get the treatment and his doctor will probably have more to say.
QUESTION: All right. Well, at least in the beginning he's going to be treated in Boston, right?
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: So he's not – so right now, he will be in Boston indefinitely --
MS HARF: While he gets --
QUESTION: -- meaning --
MS HARF: For the initial treatment, and then, again, after that occurs we'll have more to say about what comes next.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you know if he has spoken to Foreign Minister Zarif since this happened?
MS HARF: I believe that he has, yes.
QUESTION: He has, so --
QUESTION: Yesterday or today?
MS HARF: I believe it was yesterday, but I can double-check.
QUESTION: So a full --
MS HARF: Let me double-check on that, though.
QUESTION: So could you give us a full list of calls that he has made since Sunday – since this accident?
MS HARF: I read out those three. I don't have any more than that on the foreign minister side, but let me check and see if there have been more.
MS HARF: The French, the Spanish --
QUESTION: And the Iranian.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm. But let me check. There may have been more, Matt. Let me just double-check on that.
QUESTION: Do you think this is going to – I know you said that the Secretary is committed to the timeline, the Iran talks timeline of June the 30th. Do you think this is going to complicate that in any way given that he may be a little bit more immobile than he has been in recent weeks?
MS HARF: Well, as you all know, we've been working through logistics for location and all of those issues for the next 30 days for some time now, and hadn't finalized anything and hadn't announced anything. So I think, as I said, to be very clear, the Secretary is absolutely committed to moving forward with the negotiations, to proceeding with them on the exact same timetable as before his accident. And as we have more logistical information to share, we'll do so. But critical to stress that he is committed to doing them in the same timeframe.
QUESTION: Would it be possible perhaps to envisage that they might be brought to the United States?
MS HARF: We're just not going to speculate on location at this point. We're going to see what his recovery will look like and I think then go from there.
QUESTION: Okay. So can I ask where did you leave it? What is going to be the next round of negotiations?
MS HARF: Right. So the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif met for about six hours on – in Geneva on Saturday. They were intense, comprehensive discussions of all of the remaining issues needed to finalize the comprehensive deal. The Secretary was joined, as you know, by Energy Secretary Moniz and Under Secretary Sherman. I think the EU will be announcing the schedule of upcoming talks, but we expect that Under Secretary Sherman will rejoin. There's experts who have been sort of meeting in an ongoing fashion; many of them are back here now, but that fairly soon, possibly later this week they'll rejoin talks in Vienna once a schedule is set at the expert and political director level. But we really don't have the details finalized yet and I'd look to the EU to announce them.
QUESTION: So Sherman – sorry, just Sherman is expected to rejoin the experts possibly as early as later this week?
MS HARF: Possibly.
MS HARF: I'd stress "possibly."
QUESTION: And you said that there was a series of trajectories for his potential recovery. In the best case, how soon can he be back at kind of full work?
MS HARF: I think we're going to wait for him to get back here and have treatment, and those are questions I think that we'll have his doctor speak to after he has an operation and after they take a closer look at him.
QUESTION: Okay. But the trajectories, to your mind, don't in any way prevent his being engaged in the endgame of the negotiations at the end of this month?
MS HARF: Absolutely. Now, what that looks like, we're still working out logistics. But absolutely, he is committed to moving forward, working towards the end of this month as the deadline.
QUESTION: Personally, he himself?
MS HARF: Personally. Personally. I cannot stress that clearly enough, that --
QUESTION: And does something --
MS HARF: -- how important that is to him.
QUESTION: And does that mean – because it's one thing to be personally involved on the phone and so on, or video, it's different to being personally involved by actually being in the room. Does he expect to be in the room at the end of the month?
MS HARF: I believe that he does, yes. Absolutely. He's – look, he – I – the one – one of the most important things that's come out of all the conversations he's had over the last 24 hours, or 36 since this occurred, is how committed he is to this, how we are moving forward with this, and we'll have more details about his recovery as we get them.
QUESTION: Marie, can I ask you if you are able to give us a greater level of detail? I mean, he was transported in the plane, the C-17. Is his leg in a cast? Can you tell us exactly what's happened and that level of treatment so far?
MS HARF: So he was transported from the accident site through – in a medical helicopter to the hospital in Geneva where he was evaluated. They did X-rays. Then his doctor flew out last evening, as folks now know. I'm not going to probably get into more granularity about specifically what the – his leg – as – what treatment he's had beyond that at this point and what the leg looks like right now. I think we'll let his doctor speak more to that.
QUESTION: And one other thing. Just – I mean, it's public knowledge, I think, that Secretary Kerry has had both of his hips replaced.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: That was widely reported in 2010.
MS HARF: By the same doctor.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: So I just want to make absolutely certain that the injury to which Kirby referred was indeed the hip replacement surgery. Correct?
MS HARF: That had – the injury that was referred to --
QUESTION: He – in the statement that came out yesterday on the record, it said that the break in his femur was near the site of his --
MS HARF: Correct. His --
QUESTION: -- earlier surgery. That was hip --
MS HARF: His hip surgery.
QUESTION: So that was hip replacement surgery?
MS HARF: Hip surgery, correct. Yes. Yes, on his right leg.
QUESTION: Hip replacement, not some other kind of hip surgery?
MS HARF: That's my understanding, but again, let me double-check with his medical team.
QUESTION: And so just to be clear on this, when the statement said it was close to where the hip surgery, should we place – should we assume that the break was higher up the leg rather than closer to the knee?
MS HARF: I'm probably just not going to have more details about the actual injury. I'm going to let his medical team speak to that.
QUESTION: Why – I know you keep saying that the Secretary is committed to the deadline, but the Iranians are not. They say it's not sacred. The French don't seem to be wedded to it. The Russians don't seem to be wedded to it.
MS HARF: I'm not sure. I think you're making some generalizations about some of our partners that aren't accurate inside the room.
QUESTION: Well, I mean --
MS HARF: Or even publicly.
QUESTION: Well, but the public statements are – "sacred" is their word, not mine.
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But why is the – what is sacred about this deadline? Because --
MS HARF: I think we and all of our – I think that, as we've talked about, deadlines are often an action-forcing mechanism in negotiations. If you look at when the final toughest issues often get worked out – as we've seen in Lausanne, as we've seen before – it's often closer to the end because you have a deadline, and that's forcing action. And I think that we believe that these are decisions that can be made, that the technical possibilities are there, and that there need to be some tough decisions, but some decisions made, and that we can't go on negotiating forever.
We and our partners are united in working towards June 30th. I think there's been one French comment, but every other French official who's been out, and certainly privately as well, has been committed to the 30th. I think people understand that this is a real deadline. We certainly also have domestic congressional reasons that we – or at least not reasons, but considerations that we are aware of on the calendar as well.
QUESTION: But to Lausanne, actually, the deadline didn't mean a lot because it went past it.
MS HARF: We only went by two days.
QUESTION: You know, a deadline is a deadline, Marie, and --
MS HARF: Spoken like someone who's had an editor call him about one before.
QUESTION: And – exactly. So if you miss the deadline, you miss the deadline, and Lausanne missed the deadline.
MS HARF: But only by a couple days.
QUESTION: Doesn't matter.
MS HARF: It does. I think it does, though.
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MS HARF: I think the fact that we had it and that every day --
QUESTION: Still doesn't matter.
MS HARF: Well, no, but I think it does inside the room, because having been there every day, saying to the Iranians, "Look, if we make progress today, we'll stay till tomorrow," but every day it was an unknown whether we would stay another day, truly.
QUESTION: Yes. That could go on forever. Anyway, this is --
MS HARF: But we made clear it wouldn't.
QUESTION: Can I ask, are there any more specifics about the actual what happened on the bike, what was the cause of this? I mean, obviously, it wasn't like a sabotage or something like that, but what was the --
MS HARF: Correct, Matt.
QUESTION: What actually happened? Do we – do you know?
MS HARF: I do.
QUESTION: Has anyone gone back and looked? Can you --
MS HARF: So it was at the beginning – he was beginning his ride. It was going to be in a segment – along a segment that has at times been used on the Tour de France. As folks know, the Secretary's a quite accomplished bicyclist and often takes his bike with us overseas and goes on rides during some of these trips. It was at the beginning of that ride. It was – basically, there was an incident where he hit a curb and fell pretty hard, and that's, I think, probably the level of detail we're going to get into.
QUESTION: But you don't know what – was there some reason that he hit the – I mean, was – there's been local reports that there was a lot of gravel on the road.
MS HARF: The gravel reports are not true.
QUESTION: Not true?
MS HARF: Not true.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: I mean, and he --
MS HARF: I think this is just one of those unfortunate accidents where he was at the start of a long ride and --
QUESTION: Nobody – did anybody bump into him?
MS HARF: No.
QUESTION: So – but you don't want to say, like, he lost his balance, or – when you say at the start, like he had just pedaled once or --
MS HARF: I don't have a pedal count for you.
QUESTION: I mean, do you know how fast he was going?
MS HARF: He wasn't going exceptionally fast, no.
QUESTION: Exceptionally fast?
QUESTION: Did he fall on the sidewalk?
MS HARF: I don't think he was like in the – when he gets in the middle of these rides, they go pretty fast in some of these segments. You don't think about – it was at the beginning, he was just starting out, and this is unfortunately one of those accidents that --
QUESTION: All right.
MS HARF: -- had a nasty consequence.
QUESTION: When he fell, do you know if he landed on concrete, on cobblestones? I mean, he had to fall onto something pretty hard in order to break his femur.
MS HARF: I don't have much more detail to share. As we've said yesterday, he was never unconscious. He always was conscious. So I just don't have more details to share.
QUESTION: Is he in a lot of pain?
MS HARF: I mean, I think it's probably a pretty painful injury, but he's in really good spirits and he's really – anyone who knows him, I think, can imagine what kind of patient he is. He's just – really wants to get back to work, and he's been making calls and wants to get back to the State Department in person as soon as possible. He's a --
QUESTION: I mean, because he spends so much time here when he's completely healthy, right, Marie?
MS HARF: Matthew.
QUESTION: I had a --
QUESTION: Is he on painkillers?
MS HARF: I'll let his doctors speak to any more specifics about his treatment.
QUESTION: I think it's relevant only because of his ability to carry out his functions. So if he's on painkillers, presumably that may have an effect on his ability to do his regular job, absorb information, and so on.
MS HARF: I think that's a question better posed to his doctors.
QUESTION: Can I ask you --
QUESTION: Can you clarify your "in the room" statement? You were saying – of course we're early now in the diagnosis, but you were saying that he expects to be in the room for the Iran nuclear negotiations. Ideally – when you said that, are you saying that ideally, Kerry would like to be present at some point next month, or are you saying by phone?
MS HARF: This month now.
QUESTION: This month?
MS HARF: It's June. I know, welcome to June. That he will be actively engaged in these negotiations, on the timetable, this month, that we have talked about. Now, what that looks like, I just don't have more details. We need to – he needs to have the operation, and then his doctors will discuss with him what the recovery will look like. But he's absolutely committed to these, and I just don't have more details to share.
QUESTION: Are you open to inviting the Iranians to Washington?
MS HARF: I just don't have more details and don't want to speculate on possible locations.
QUESTION: Or Boston?
MS HARF: Or what?
QUESTION: Or Boston?
MS HARF: I'm just not going to speculate.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the Saturday talks?
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: How much of the issue of Americans imprisoned in Iran – how much of that was an issue in those talks? As you know, the families of all four are planning on speaking to Congress tomorrow.
MS HARF: Tomorrow, yes. We raise it in every session. It was raised during this session. We keep it – we raise it when we're there, but it is separate from the nuclear discussions. But we did raise it, as we always do.
QUESTION: But, I mean, do you get the sense that they – Iranians are using these people as bargaining chips? Is that the message?
MS HARF: I just don't have more speculation on that to do. We believe they should be released, period, immediately, and that's constantly the message we give to them.
QUESTION: Can we stay with Americans in distress but not --
MS HARF: Is there anything else on the Secretary?
QUESTION: -- in Iran?
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I'm wondering, based on Michelle's question, or following up on that, if the issue of Americans held in Yemen by Iranian-affiliated rebels was also raised by the Secretary in the meeting with Zarif.
MS HARF: I'm not sure. Let me check on that.
MS HARF: But I can on that confirm that U.S. citizen Casey Coombs has departed Yemen and has arrived safely in Muscat, Oman. He is in stable condition. The U.S. ambassador and a consular official met him at the airport upon his arrival and are providing all possible consular assistance. We are grateful to the Government of Oman and personally to Sultan Qaboos for assisting with the safe passage of a U.S. citizen to Oman, and deeply appreciate his majesty's friendship to our country.
QUESTION: Did --
QUESTION: Could you spell it, please?
MS HARF: His first name is C-A-S-E-Y; the last name is C-O-O-M-B-S. And we are aware that several other U.S. citizens are detained in Yemen.
MS HARF: B as in boy – Coombs.
QUESTION: And detained by the Houthis, obviously.
MS HARF: Detained in Yemen. And we're doing everything we can to obtain the release of these individuals.
QUESTION: By the Houthis?
MS HARF: I don't have more details to share.
QUESTION: And could you tell us, you said he's in stable condition --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: He – so he was injured? He was wounded, was he?
MS HARF: I don't have more details on that to share, but I know there have been some press reports out there about his condition, so we wanted folks to know that he was in stable condition – he is in stable condition.
QUESTION: And what will happen next? Is he coming back to the United States?
MS HARF: I don't have more on that at this point.
QUESTION: And do you know how long he'd been held in --
MS HARF: I don't. This is sort of just --
QUESTION: -- or the circumstances?
MS HARF: -- coming to pass, so we'll see if we can get you some more details.
QUESTION: So there was a report yesterday – over the weekend, The Washington Post – that one of the Americans who was held had initially been held because he'd overstayed his visa. Would that be Mr. Coombs?
MS HARF: I'm not sure.
QUESTION: How many Americans are --
MS HARF: We're not giving a specific number, for their safety.
QUESTION: Was there any talks in Oman between the U.S. and the Houthis regarding the situation in Yemen in general and about the Americans specifically?
MS HARF: Well, Assistant Secretary Patterson traveled to Oman and to Saudi Arabia to conduct meetings and consultations with a variety of regional parties on the crisis in Yemen. We are engaging with a variety – they and we are engaging with a variety of organizations inside – in Yemen and with Yemenis about many issues. Beyond that I don't think we're going to get into too many more details.
QUESTION: Has she met with the Houthis?
MS HARF: As I said, they engage with a wide swath of Yemenis from a number of different groups, and we're just not going to get into specifics.
QUESTION: Well, did she meet with anyone from AQAP?
MS HARF: Well, I'd strongly doubt that, Matt. But I'm just not --
QUESTION: Okay. So she didn't meet – so then why can't --
MS HARF: AQAP is a terrorist organization, as you know.
QUESTION: Yeah. What about the Yemen affiliate of ISIS?
MS HARF: I don't have more specifics to share about who she met with.
QUESTION: So she might have?
MS HARF: Does anyone else have any more questions about this?
QUESTION: I have a more broad --
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: More broadly, does the State Department feel any kind of responsibility for the fact that these people were taken by the Houthis, taken prisoner, given the fact that this building and, well, the Administration as a whole refused appeals – numerous appeals, including a lawsuit – to mount an evacuation effort for American citizens in Yemen?
MS HARF: Well, a couple points. First, we are doing everything we can to obtain the release of these individuals. And obviously, there are a number of ways we can do that, some of which we've talked about before. Secondly, we have been telling Americans not to go to Yemen for a very long time, and that's for a very good reason: that the situation there is dangerous, and that increasingly, as we've drawn down our embassy and now as we've temporarily closed it, we don't have the same kind of resources to help them if they get into trouble or get taken or have an issue that they need resolved. Thirdly, we – while we have not used American assets to evacuate Americans, we have actively worked with international organizations like IOM, like the ICRC, and with other countries like Djibouti and the Indians and others to use their resources and to tell Americans how they can use those resources to leave Yemen. So we have done everything we can to let Americans know what the resources out there are and to help facilitate them taking advantage of those resources.
QUESTION: So the answer is no, the Department doesn't think that it didn't do everything possible to get people out of Yemen?
MS HARF: American citizens overseas are one of our top priorities, Matt. We've always said that. But in this case, there's reasons we've been telling people not to go to Yemen, and in this circumstance, we believe this was the best course of action, using third parties and other countries to evacuate our citizens rather than sending in American assets, which, as you all know, in Yemen could be even more of a target --
QUESTION: So --
MS HARF: -- and could pose an ever greater security risk. So let's just think through what that actually might look like.
QUESTION: So are the discussions that Assistant Secretary Patterson is having in Oman and Saudi at all related to the Americans being held there?
MS HARF: They're related to the crisis in Yemen in general. Let me see if I can get more on how that issue played a role in these discussions.
QUESTION: In terms of the release of Mr. Coombs, though, you – or Coombs; I don't know how it's pronounced but --
MS HARF: Coombs. I – yeah --
QUESTION: -- do you know if Assistant Secretary Patterson was speaking about his case specifically? Did – in other words, are you aware that there was any direct U.S. involvement with the Houthis in securing his release, or was it all done through the Omanis?
MS HARF: Let me check for you. Let me check.
QUESTION: Are you suggesting, Marie, that the U.S. citizens who are still being held in Yemen are expats, or are they people who are dual citizens?
MS HARF: I wasn't suggesting anything. I don't think we're going to give more details for concern for their safety at this point.
QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Patterson still in Oman?
MS HARF: She's back.
QUESTION: Oh, she's back.
MS HARF: She's back.
QUESTION: Yes, regarding --
QUESTION: So when was she there?
MS HARF: Let me see if I have that. I have to doublecheck. I don't have the specific dates.
QUESTION: Over the weekend?
MS HARF: I believe so, yeah.
QUESTION: Marie, can I – Marie, please --
MS HARF: Yeah, then you're next.
QUESTION: -- can I go back to the accident for a minute?
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I ask you if the Secretary was in good shape on Sunday morning, or – I mean, or he was maybe a bit tired by the long trip from Washington to Nigeria and a long day --
MS HARF: I think if we've all learned anything from traveling with the Secretary, it's that he has more energy than all of us combined on these trips, and he's an avid cyclist. He's a very good one, as we also know. So I don't think I would go too far on that.
QUESTION: And it doesn't raise any question in this building about the number of trips and the pace of the trips that the Secretary has done since 2013?
MS HARF: I really don't think so. This was one of those things where the Secretary took advantage of a few hours to go for a bike ride. He's done that at the Lausanne talks; he's done that other places. Given his busy schedule, I think a few hours of exercise is something certainly he should be able to do, and I really haven't heard any questions like that raised. I really haven't. I think that everyone I've spoken to here just has concern for him and wants him to get better quickly, obviously, and has passed that message along to him.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Yemen --
MS HARF: Hold on. I promised I'd go back here, and then --
MS HARF: It's on Yemen, I think, so --
QUESTION: The same – Yemen issue.
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.S. citizen was released and the others. Do you have any information about their affiliation? Are they journalists, ex-pats, officials?
MS HARF: I don't have more than that. Let's see if we can get you a little bit more, though.
QUESTION: Yes. The other question: Regarding Patterson trip or whatever you can call it to the Oman and Saudi Arabia, and the reports are coming – U.S. meetings with Houthis. Maybe this question was asked before, but it's not clear. This Patterson mission was just to work on the release of these people?
MS HARF: No, to talk about the crisis in Yemen writ large.
QUESTION: And was this issue part of this --
MS HARF: I'm going to check with her and see. I'm assuming that she did discuss it. Obviously, we discuss – we raise with whoever we can cases of American citizens being held. That's part of how we work to get them released. But let me check with her on specifics.
QUESTION: And the third question: Do you expect the rest, which you say you don't want to say the number, which was mentioned – it's three or four; I mean, I'm not sure. Are – they're part of this deal, or they are going to be released soon --
MS HARF: Well, we are doing everything we can to obtain the release of these individuals and certainly hope they are released soon.
Let's go to Ros.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Yeah. Going back to Ambassador Patterson's trip, given that the five-day pause expired a week or so ago --
MS HARF: A while ago, yeah.
QUESTION: -- is the U.S. looking for a way of trying to put in a longer ceasefire? Is it actually seeing an opportunity, perhaps, to try to start working on some sort of political reconciliation between Hadi and the Houthis and others in the Yemeni political sphere?
MS HARF: Well, I think, as we've long talked about, we want dialogue between the parties. We've worked with the UN very closely on this. The UN is obviously playing a leading role here, and that's what we think needs to happen.
And we also discussed in these meetings urging parties to facilitate humanitarian assistance and relief given, as you said, the pause has ended. That's been something key we've pushed with certainly the parties as well.
MS HARF: We're just – I don't think going to give a detailed list, but she met with Yemenis from all of Yemen's diverse communities except for, as Matt asked, AQAP – a variety of groups. We're just not going to give more specifics.
QUESTION: Well, were there some Saudis in the room as well?
MS HARF: I can check on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, there were Saudi and Omani officials, right?
MS HARF: Let me check on specifics of each meeting. Yes, obviously, we're talking to both of them as well about Yemen.
QUESTION: Okay. And can I just ask: Does the United States consider these few Americans who are in Yemen as hostages, or are they more detainees? How would you describe them?
MS HARF: Let me check on the – if there's a technical term.
QUESTION: And I just wondered if you'd seen there was a video release today of the French woman who's been – who is apparently – acknowledges being held hostage by the Houthi militias. Have you any reaction or comment on that?
MS HARF: Well, of course, we believe anyone being held should be released, and I'd point you to the French probably for more on that.
QUESTION: Marie, on this too.
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Houthis have confirmed that they met with the Chinese, Russians, Iranians representatives in Oman. Was there any international group there trying to work out a ceasefire or an agreement?
MS HARF: I'm happy to – I mean, the UN has obviously been incredibly involved here. I'm happy to see if there are more specifics on the Oman talks.
QUESTION: The American Jewish Committee is promoting or was promoting today that Kerry will take to the podium in just a week to deliver – he was scheduled to address the AJC.
MS HARF: Oh yes, the AJC remarks.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Is he still going to make that event?
MS HARF: That's an excellent question. I don't have anything else on his schedule.
MS HARF: Obviously, that's an important event, though. So I will – we'll get back to folks, look, as he gets back to Boston and has treatment, undergoes treatment. I think his doctor – and we can provide some more information about his schedule and his recovery going forward.
QUESTION: Can we change subjects?
MS HARF: Let me go here and then I'll come to you.
QUESTION: According to some reports yesterday, Hadi spokesman said that Yemeni Government was not part of the talk that you said variety of groups represents Yemen was in the talks, but according to spokesman Yemen – Yemeni Government was not represented in the talks.
MS HARF: Well, again, I'm not going to get into specifics about who was in the room when. But we have been incredibly engaged with President Hadi. Secretary Kerry met with him in Riyadh when we were there not too long ago. So I don't just – I just don't have more specifics on the Oman talks for you.
QUESTION: Can I go to --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- stay in the Gulf but Qatar?
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Or Qatar.
MS HARF: As Americans like to say.
QUESTION: As Americans say. I'd like to talk about the – ask about the five Taliban leaders --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- who were freed a year ago. I believe the terms of their deal has now expired – you can please correct me if that's wrong – and that yesterday CIA Director John Brennan said on CBS that the United States is in discussions with Qatar on how to – on their status and exactly what that means going forward now. Could you perhaps --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- fill in some details?
MS HARF: Yes. So the Government of Qatar has agreed to maintain the current restrictive conditions on these individuals as we continue the discussions to determine the path forward here when it comes to these five individuals. All five remain in Qatar, where they remain subject to extensive monitoring as well as travel restrictions.
We are in close contact with our Qatari counterparts on this issue. We continue to work to make sure that these individuals do not pose a threat to the U.S., and these are ongoing discussions about what will happen next. But as those discussions happen, Qatar has agreed to maintain those restrictions.
QUESTION: Can you give us some detail about whether you're wanting to extend those conditions for another year or two years or --
MS HARF: I don't have much more detail to share given the discussions are ongoing. I think the bottom line for us is that they don't pose a threat to the United States, to our security. So that's what's driving the discussions, and we'll see what comes out of them.
QUESTION: So what you just read is exactly the same thing as we got yesterday. Has there been any --
MS HARF: It's odd how that works.
QUESTION: Yes, isn't that funny.
MS HARF: The discussions are ongoing.
QUESTION: I know. But there is no --
MS HARF: There's not an update.
QUESTION: There is no update from yesterday.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: So absolutely everything in terms of the terms of their detention --
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- remains the same as yesterday?
MS HARF: Correct. And the day before, and the day before that.
QUESTION: Yeah. But the same as yesterday, the last time we --
QUESTION: And who is --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Who is leading the discussions?
MS HARF: It's an interagency team from the U.S. I can see if there's more specifics.
QUESTION: Who from the State Department?
MS HARF: Ambassador Smith in Doha and other folks as well.
QUESTION: On Iran?
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Iranians – and I'm going to look and check the exact report – are quoted as saying, so Fars News Agency has said that the – that Mahan Air, which acquired the nine Airbus aircraft --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- despite U.S. sanctions, plans to enter them into international service --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- next week. What do you think about that?
MS HARF: Yes, we've seen the reports. We're looking into them and aren't going to speculate on any actions that we may take at this time if this eventually happens. As needed though, we will keep our international partners informed as to the possible legal implications of being a potential destination for any of these aircraft flying outside of Iran.
As you've mentioned, we – Mahan Air has been sanctioned for quite some time, also recently in response to this announcement of acquisition of aircraft. So we will – as this – if this moves forward talk to our international partners and tell them these are the legal implications if you allow an aircraft to come into your airspace.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government have the ability to seize the aircraft if they go abroad, if they leave Iran?
MS HARF: I do not know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Could you check that one?
MS HARF: I can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you tell us briefly: What are the legal implications?
MS HARF: Possible legal implications.
QUESTION: What are the possible legal implications?
MS HARF: I can check with our attorneys and see. I think there may be different legal implications depending on if you allow overflight, if you allow them to land. I just don't know the specifics.
QUESTION: But are the legal implications for the airline or for the countries that might allow them to overfly their airspace or --
MS HARF: -- or to land there.
QUESTION: -- to land?
MS HARF: I think – well, or – for airports, the answer is I'm not sure. I think all of the above, but let me check. Let me check with our attorneys and see.
QUESTION: That'd be great.
MS HARF: Yeah, I'm happy to. Yes, you go and then you're next.
QUESTION: May I change subjects?
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: It's about the reclamation by China in the South China Sea.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Well, in the Shangri-La Dialogue that was held in Singapore, there were some countries who've shown some understanding towards China's attitudes, and China was similarly kind of stepping up to whatever they have been doing. So while the U.S. has been condemning their acts repeatedly, but it seems that the words are not actually functioning to stop them for whatever their intentions are. So would there be any other options or things that you might be considering to do?
MS HARF: Well, I think Secretary Carter spoke at length to this during the Shangri-La Dialogue. He said we want a peaceful resolution to these disputes; immediate, lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant; and oppose any further militarization of disputed features. He also made very clear that the U.S. will operate wherever international law allows. That means flying, sailing, any of the above where international law allows, as we do all over the world. And I think that the reason we are so concerned about this is the potential for miscalculation or increasing tensions in the region with some of China's neighbors. That's what we've been clear we find concerning, and that's why we think there should be an immediate and lasting halt to all reclamation.
QUESTION: That being said, you've probably been saying that for a while – not only the State Department but the White House been saying so, so has the DOD – but it doesn't seem to have an effect on what China's trying to do, so is that – you're just going to go --
MS HARF: Well, we'll keep raising it at very high levels. We've been concerned, particularly lately, about the pace and scope of land reclamation, as it's gone on for some weeks and months now. And we'll keep raising it at very high levels, and the Secretary did during his visit to Beijing recently.
QUESTION: Yes please, ma'am. I was trying to ask this question when you were talking about Qatar and the five Taliban guys. When you say it's ongoing discussion, it's to make another year-term or long-term agreement, or just discussion to review all the case?
MS HARF: No, to determine what will happen next. I mean, there – this was for a year, the restrictive conditions; those remain in place. But to determine going forward – I don't have a timeframe, whether it's medium or long-term; what the disposition will be for these five; how we can guarantee they are not posing a threat to the U.S.
QUESTION: The agreement was over yesterday, right?
MS HARF: Correct, but the Government of Qatar has agreed to maintain the current restrictive conditions in that agreement until --
QUESTION: The conditions? You mean – there's the restrictions and all these things, monitoring --
MS HARF: Correct, until we can finish the discussions on what happens next.
QUESTION: So – okay. I have another question regarding another place. Can I ask?
MS HARF: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: It's Libya, what's going on in Libya. You have any update about --
MS HARF: In general?
QUESTION: -- political solution or the chaos?
MS HARF: I don't have any update. It's something the Secretary's been very focused on, as has the EU – High Representative Mogherini has been very involved in this – as has the UN and the special representative for Libya. And we believe that there needs to be some sort of political solution moving forward, but it's a very, very tough challenge; and that the Libyans have to step up and take this on themselves, and that's why we have the UN and the EU, and we and others are working to see what can happen here.
QUESTION: What is the – what is the level of the U.S. involvement in this political solution?
MS HARF: Well, we're working with our international partners to see if we can push the different parties to the table here. The level of violence in Libya has been, as we've seen, pretty high. The security situation is a quite serious one, including, of course, with reports of ISIL sympathizers or of possibly affiliated acts of terrorism there as well. So it's a really tough challenge, but we're working with the UN and the EU and others to see if we can --
QUESTION: So it's done --
MS HARF: -- push the process.
QUESTION: So it's done through UN or New York, right?
MS HARF: The UN has – is really – has the --
QUESTION: Is representative.
MS HARF: Correct, has the lead on trying to bring these parties together.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh and Muslims victim over Myanmar?
MS HARF: I have a small update. Let me see what I have here. Well, as I think folks know, that there's a group of 727 migrants that were rescued on May 29th. They're being held off the coast of Burma at the moment. We have asked the Burmese Government to work with the UN and IOM to protect and allow for the immediate disembarkation and provision of humanitarian assistance to these 727. The safety and well-being of these migrants is the highest priority. The international community, including the U.S., stands ready to provide assistance as needed. We do welcome the action taken by the Burmese navy on May 22nd to rescue 208 migrants who had been stranded off the coast of Rakhine state. We really are asking every country in the region to take proactive steps very quickly, given the dire – or dire situation from the humanitarian perspective, to ensure the safety and full protection of these migrants.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that the Burmese Government is doing enough to stop the discrimination against the Rohingya?
MS HARF: I think we have said multiple times that we think they need to do more, that we remain concerned about this. And that's why – look, there's a group of 727 migrants off the coast of Burma, and we believe that they need to work, allow them to disembark immediately and provide humanitarian assistance to them. But more broadly speaking, we are concerned about the conditions that lead these people to become migrants and to leave, and we are – we remain very concerned about that, particularly in Rakhine state.
QUESTION: And do you have any thoughts about what the Chinese response has been or the non-response has been from China? Do you think that --
MS HARF: I don't --
QUESTION: -- they are behaving or acting like a major power that they aspire to be by doing nothing in this case?
MS HARF: I don't have a lot to say about their role in this.
QUESTION: Is that because they're not doing a lot, or is that because you don't have anything to say about it?
MS HARF: I just don't have anything to say about it.
QUESTION: All right. Can I move on?
MS HARF: Yes, and then we'll go to – or on this, Michele, or something different?
QUESTION: Different, something different.
MS HARF: Okay, then Matt can move on.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you if you had any thoughts about the Secretary's good friend, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, going to Gaza today?
MS HARF: I had not seen that Foreign Minister Steinmeier was going to Gaza today, so --
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts about foreign ministers going to Gaza?
MS HARF: Well, I haven't seen the specifics of his trip. Obviously, we work with our partners on a range of issues, including issues related to the Palestinians. The Secretary has met with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah before. I have been on some of those trips. So let me get more details on it and see if there's more to share.
QUESTION: All right. Then there was an interview with the Palestinian prime minister today in the – or recently – in the last day or so in The Washington Post in which he says that --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- they have been told that the United States – that the Administration is in coordination, consultation, working very closely with the French on a new UN Security Council resolution that would set a timeframe for the creation of a Palestinian state. Is that correct, or has he been misinformed?
MS HARF: Well, we've made no decisions with respect to action at the UN, and certainly not on a hypothetical resolution. We are carefully considering our future engagement at the UN if and when we reach that point to determine how to most effectively advance the objective I think we all share for a negotiated two-state solution. So we're continuing to work with our partners, including the French. But at this point, again, no decisions have been made with respect to action at the UN.
QUESTION: What do you mean by a hypothetical resolution?
MS HARF: In the same article I think there were some reports about what – you just mentioned then what a hypothetical resolution might look like. That's, at this point, hypothetical.
MS HARF: You just said some things that would eventually – there were reports that there were certain elements that may be in a Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: Well, there is – the French say that they put down on paper a draft. That's not hypothetical; that exists.
MS HARF: Okay. Well, I'm happy to go back to the team and see if – what our engagement has been with the French on that, on those reports.
MS HARF: But again, we have made no decisions on our action at the UN.
QUESTION: All right. And then do you have any – on – well, last week, as you know, Tony Blair submitted his resignation as the Quartet's – do you know if the Administration has a position now on whether that position should be filled, or should it remain vacant? What's the situation?
MS HARF: Let me check. Let me check.
QUESTION: Cuba has now been off the terrorism list for a few days --
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and I wonder what's holding up the agreement on embassies.
MS HARF: Well, these – as we've said, these issues were separate issues; that we were evaluating the state sponsor of terrorism designation based just on whether they should be on that list. That was a separate process from the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. We don't have a timetable for the next round of meetings yet. We'll let you know when we do. Obviously, there are still some issues that need to be worked out.
QUESTION: Does that mean that there is going to have to be a new round of meetings before --
MS HARF: I just – I don't know. The answer is we don't know. People have asked if there have been dates set for one, and we just haven't set dates for one. So --
QUESTION: Right. But what I'm asking is whether you --
MS HARF: That we need to --
QUESTION: -- think that the reopening of embassies could – is dependent on another round of talks.
MS HARF: I think not necessarily. We really just don't have a – have any more details about where the process goes from here. We've had productive conversations. There are still some issues that need to be worked out. We don't have more details about how that will happen.
QUESTION: Senator Rubio says that he is going to block any nominee to be ambassador to Cuba until there is human rights reforms in the country. This is a hypothetical nomination, I suppose, since --
MS HARF: True.
QUESTION: -- no one has been named and you still don't have --
MS HARF: That's true.
QUESTION: -- full diplomatic relations with them. But do you think that's a kind – that's an appropriate step or an appropriate position to have?
MS HARF: Well, the question isn't appropriate. We just disagree with the premise, that we believe you are better able to promote human rights in Cuba by having high-level American diplomatic representation. And if that's what Senator Rubio or others want to promote there, having a robust American team ready to engage to promote human rights, we believe is the better way to do this; that not having one for the past decades hasn't gotten where we need to be. And there are a number of countries around the world where we have ambassadors and full diplomatic relations with countries where we have very serious concerns about human rights, because we believe that we're better able to promote those rights by having people there on the ground. So obviously, if and when we nominate someone, we would encourage people to vote to confirm them if they believe that promoting human rights is something important.
QUESTION: Does that mean – can we extrapolate from that that you think that human rights situations in other countries – say, Iran or North Korea – would be better – would get better by having a U.S. ambassador in them?
MS HARF: Well, each situation is different. Each situation is different. And for this case, for Cuba, we believe that now having an ambassador there, having diplomatic relations after all these years, in that specific instance, will help us better promote human rights. Each case is different.
QUESTION: So in a country, say, like Zimbabwe or Burma, where you have ambassadors and the situation hasn't improved, that argument doesn't work. You said --
MS HARF: Well, no. We believe that we are better able to promote human rights and to push for improved human rights if we have a high-level representative there. That doesn't always mean the government on the other end will do everything we want them to do, but we are better able and equipped --
MS HARF: -- to make that case.
QUESTION: But there's no guarantee of results; that's what you're saying.
MS HARF: And there has been – and – but to be fair, in Burma there has been improvement since --
QUESTION: Well, not for the Rohingya, it hasn't.
MS HARF: -- throughout the long arc of our relationship with Burma and since the beginning of this Administration. There's a ways to go still. We all admit that. But there has been improvement. And again, we're better able to push that case when you have an ambassador sitting there to talk to the Burmese.
QUESTION: Right. China?
MS HARF: China?
QUESTION: Same thing?
MS HARF: Yes. Are we going to go around the world?
QUESTION: A logistical question.
MS HARF: Yes?
QUESTION: Do you have to have an ambassador nominee to be able to open the embassy, or can the embassy open --
MS HARF: I don't know that.
QUESTION: -- without?
MS HARF: What did – I don't know. I don't remember what we did elsewhere, what we've done elsewhere. I can check.
QUESTION: Okay. It just was because, as we know, many of the nominees have not been immediately confirmed.
MS HARF: Well, we certainly, I don't think, have to have an ambassador confirmed.
MS HARF: But your question is: Do we have to have someone nominated?
MS HARF: I don't believe so, but let me double-check.
MS HARF: I can't imagine why we would, but I can check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Let's do a couple more. Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. A couple, Taiwan.
MS HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: As you know, the opposition – the head of the opposition party in Taiwan, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen, visited here with United States.
MS HARF: Will be visiting, I think.
QUESTION: Here in this town, yeah.
MS HARF: In the – yes, correct.
QUESTION: Yes, yes. And does any U.S. official, including State Department and White House, plan to meet her?
MS HARF: Well, we certainly welcome her visit and look forward to a productive exchange. I don't have a full outline of her meetings yet. I believe there are some that will be planned with U.S. officials, but I don't have that in front of me. So I think the schedule's still being worked.
QUESTION: Yeah. Are you concerned any Chinese reaction after the meeting, if somebody meet her?
MS HARF: Well, we – look, we have an interest in a comprehensive, durable, and mutually beneficial partnership with Taiwan. But that is fully consistent with our One China policy, and that's something we've said consistently, that's based on the three joint communiques, and the Taiwan Relations Act. So we believe you can support Taiwan's security and freedom from coercion, you can promote Taiwan's economic prosperity, and help people in Taiwan enjoy the respect they deserve in the international community while supporting at the same time our policy that hasn't changed. We believe we can do both.
QUESTION: Just one question on Deputy Secretary Blinken's – sorry, yeah, Deputy Secretary Blinken's visit to Paris.
MS HARF: Yes, he is attending the Counter-ISIL Small Group Coalition meeting in lieu of the Secretary, who will be participating remotely in that meeting.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about the – what might be discussed there?
MS HARF: I have a little bit on that. Let me see what I have. I think most of this is happening tomorrow in Paris. Again, the Secretary will be participating remotely. They'll review progress on the full range of our shared efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL, affirm support for Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi campaign. This was a previously planned ministerial. It's fully moving ahead as planned. Though I believe the deputy secretary will have some bilats, including with the Australian and Jordanian foreign ministers and some others as well. We're still working out the schedule.
We'll review progress and strategy. But given what happened in Ramadi, this is not business as usual. We're focused on action here and what happens next. And I think events in Ramadi are really a reminder that our focus needs to be on supporting the Iraqi-led fight against ISIL, seeing what more we can do, what more the Iraqis can do to take back parts of Anbar and other parts of Iraq as well.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering whether this meeting in Paris came in response to a criticism voiced by the foreign minister in Paris.
MS HARF: This was a long-planned ministerial for – believe me, for months and months and months this has been on the schedule.
QUESTION: But it had nothing to do with that he criticized the --
MS HARF: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: The foreign minister of France a few days ago criticized the strategy somehow, that there needs to be more reinforcements or some revision. He said something along those lines.
MS HARF: I don't think that's a criticism of the strategy. I think that's – as we look at the best tactics we need, given what's happening on the ground, to push ISIL back, particularly out of Anbar, that's the discussion that's been ongoing. The overall strategy is a sound one. We're committed to it. We always obviously look at the tactics based on what's happening on the battlefield. But this is a long-planned ministerial. Again, this has been in the works for some time. Given what's happened recently, I think, obviously, that will drive the conversations there, though.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: South Sudan?
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: I know that we talked a few weeks ago about that country's efforts to try to impose a law that --
MS HARF: We did.
QUESTION: -- would severely restrict the number of foreigners who work in NGOs. Well, apparently, the humanitarian coordinator for the UN, Toby Lanzer, has been expelled by --
MS HARF: I hadn't seen that.
QUESTION: -- Juba in the past couple of hours. Could you take the question and see if there's going to be action?
MS HARF: I'll take it. Yes, I'll take it. I hadn't seen that. I will absolutely take it.
MS HARF: Anything else?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Thank you. Oh wait – it's okay. Thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)
DPB # 95
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