Daily Press Briefing - September 20, 2013

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Condemn Attacks on Yemeni Soldiers
    • Submission of Declaration of Stockpiles / Secretary Discussion with FM Lavrov
    • Timeline / Condemning Extremist Attacks in Syria
    • Discussions with Regional Players on Humanitarian Support
    • SOC Statement Ahead of UNGA
    • Focus Areas for UNGA
    • Discussion of Human Rights
    • Foreign Press Center Briefing
  • MEPP
    • Update on Talks
    • Air Space Over Puerto Rico
    • Visas for UNGA
    • Visa for Bashir
  • IRAN
    • Response to Rouhani Op-Ed
    • Opportunity for Diplomacy / Sanctions Unchanged
    • U.S. Military Cooperation
    • Nagorno-Karabakh
    • Release of Taliban Prisoners
  • IRAQ
    • Condemnation of Terrorist Attacks
    • U.S. Role in Reconciliation
    • Statement on Political Situation
Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 20, 2013


The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:26 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. I have a statement at the top, and then I’m happy to open it up for questions.

We strongly condemn the attacks against Yemeni soldiers in southern Yemen which killed at least 38 and wounded dozens. Our condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims. We continue to support the efforts of the Yemeni Government and its brave security forces in combating al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP is a serious threat to Yemen’s security. It is also a threat to the important political transition currently underway in Yemen.

The United States continues to stand by the Yemeni people as they move forward with a historic political transition. We continue to support President Hadi and the Yemeni people in these efforts, including to the ongoing national dialogue to ensure a secure and prosperous Yemen.

And with that, get us started, Deb.

QUESTION: The – Syria sent the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, an initial declaration of the stockpiles. So is this the full list that you were waiting for, and what happens if after review, it doesn’t jibe with what you all think it should say?

MS. HARF: Right. So you are correct, Syria has provided an initial document to the OPCW regarding its chemical weapons stockpile and sites. The United States, along with other CWC state parties, will be making a careful and thorough review of the initial document. I think I would note here that the next step in the process is for the technical secretariat to submit this to the full executive council of the OPCW – we’re a member of that executive council. And of course, we’ve said an accurate list is vital to ensure the effective implementation of the Geneva framework.

I don’t want to get ahead of what might happen after we take a look at the document, but we can have that conversation going forward as we do so.

QUESTION: So this list that you’ve gotten so far, this is an initial list, or is this the list?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s an initial document. Again, they will be submitting this to the executive council. We will be making a careful and thorough review of it, and as we have analysis of it at that point, I’m happy to share it then.

QUESTION: But I mean, is this – are you expecting a fuller list to come, or is this the one you’re going to get for now?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything further than what I just said, that they’ve submitted an initial document; when it comes to the executive council, we’ll take a look at it and go from there. Clearly, we said they needed to submit a comprehensive list of their entire stockpile and program, but we’ll have more to come, I’m sure, as we go through the list.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Also, one follow-up. There’s a meeting that’s supposed to be scheduled for Sunday, and this meeting’s been postponed for some reason, but nobody seems to know why it was postponed or cancelled or whatever.

MS. HARF: Well, I’d point you to check with the OPCW, as it was their meeting, to talk about the postponement of the meeting. Again, we’ve said that we need to make forward progress. We saw an initial document today. This all takes time, so I’d defer to them to talk about the timing of their meeting. But I think today was a step that we were looking for in terms of an initial document, and we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: Is this some kind of an indication of some kind of a roadblock or jam or some (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t read it that way. Honestly, I would check with them on their scheduling. We want all of this to be sequenced in the best possible way to make progress and for success; some of it just takes time. I just don’t know the details about why it was postponed.

QUESTION: But hasn’t the U.S. actually seen this list at all?

MS. HARF: As I said, the next step in the process – it’s been submitted to the OPCW. It’s for them to submit it to the executive council. We’re a part of that council; we’ll be taking a look at it and making an assessment of it then.

QUESTION: The fact that he’s handed this in within the timeline, is that encouraging to you? I mean, what kind of signal does that send to you?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the process before we have a readout of what this document looks like. But you are right that there has been a document submitted, and we’ve said all along that we need to see forward momentum within these timelines that we’ve set up in the framework. So I don’t want to get ahead of it, but we have a document now that we didn’t have yesterday at the OPCW, and we’ll be taking a look at it and making an assessment.

QUESTION: And can you just give me a – us a little idea more about what the conversation was between the Secretary and the Foreign Minister of Russia? Was this part of the discussion?

MS. HARF: They – as the Secretary mentioned this morning, actually, in a camera spray before a bilateral meeting, he spoke today with Foreign Minister Lavrov about the cooperation they both agreed to continue to provide, moving that only towards the adoption by the OPCW of implementation procedures, but also of a resolution at the UN that’s firm and strong. Obviously, we’re continuing to work on that. I don’t have further details about a call, but I’m sure they will continue speaking frequently on this.

QUESTION: Marie, on the issue of the frame – the time frame --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So do you consider that Syria has met its obligation under the timeframe that was allegedly to run tonight?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to use those words. This is obviously all happening very quickly. We’re going to take a look at the document and see what it says, so I’m not going to say one way or another whether they’ve met their obligations. But we did, as I said, today have a document that we didn’t have yesterday. We’ve said we need to see forward momentum. As we evaluate that document, we can have this conversation more going forward.

QUESTION: So does that give you a level of comfort that, in fact, Syria is serious about submitting to its obligation under the agreement reached in Geneva?

MS. HARF: Well, again, we have to take a look at the document and see what’s included in it. We’ve said that the international community writ large is going to hold the Syrian regime to account to implement this agreement. We’re also going to be looking to the Russians to hold the Syrian regime to account as well. So I know we’ve talked a lot about timelines. Again, we have now a document we didn’t have yesterday. I don’t want to prejudge the assessment of that document other than to say that it’s here and we’ll be taking a look at it.

QUESTION: Okay. On the conversations --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- between the Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Lavrov --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- was the issue that the Secretary addressed yesterday, which is Russia’s accusation that it may be the opposition that used chemical weapons – was that brought up, or was that put to rest now? Is it going to take more time, which the Secretary warned against?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if that specific issue came up. What I do know that the Secretary is focused on and what Foreign Minister Lavrov – focused on working with Foreign Minister Lavrov on is where we go from here, that we have a framework agreement that sets forward a path for how we can get rid of Syria’s CW program. So we’re committed to working with them on a Security Council resolution, also in the OPCW.

So I think one of the reasons the Secretary wanted to come down here yesterday was to say, “Look, we know what the facts are here. They’re without dispute. What we’re focused on now with the Russians and the UN and everyone else is where we go from here.”

QUESTION: Okay. Now --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- we also, lastly, we heard a statement today from Syrian officials that they want to go forward with a political meeting and dialogue. They acknowledged that there are no military winners in this conflict that has been going – ongoing. Do you – how do you view that?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen that exact statement, but broadly speaking, we’ve repeatedly said that there’s no military solution to the overall conflict in Syria, that there needs to be a political solution. As the Secretary mentioned in Geneva, he and Foreign Minister Lavrov and Mr. Brahimi will be meeting during UNGA to discuss Syria, both the CW aspect of it, but also the political transition that we need to see have some forward momentum. And as we’ve also said throughout this process, that if we can see some progress made on the CW front with Russia and the UN, that hopefully that can translate into progress on the political front as well.

Yes, still on Syria?


MS. HARF: Okay. We have to finish Syria first. Yeah, I’ll come here and then I’ll come back up.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense how long you think you to evaluate that Syrian document for disclosure?

MS. HARF: It’s a good question. It’s a good question. We’re obviously doing it as – we will be doing it as quickly as possible. These things take time. We know it’s a massive stockpile, but we’ve said that this whole process needs to move forward very swiftly. I just don’t have a timeline for it – you on that.


QUESTION: So to back it up a little bit, the Syrians were supposed to submit a complete list of all their weapons, right?

MS. HARF: Correct. Yes.

Deb. On Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, on Syria.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Assad said that he’s heard estimates that it could cost a billion bucks to get rid of the stockpiles. Has there been any talk or consideration about who might be paying that bill?

MS. HARF: It’s another good question. It’s certainly something we’re starting to think about. What we’re focused on right now is determining the size, all the sites, and at the same time, starting to work through how logistically this would be implemented. Certainly, cost is one of the factors, but we don’t have anything to announce at this point about who might be playing a role in paying those actual costs for the destruction of the program.

QUESTION: Who in the U.S. is working on that?

MS. HARF: Who – does that mean --

QUESTION: Is it, like, State, or is it Defense, or --

MS. HARF: It’s an interagency team. That – we saw an interagency team in Geneva. It’s the same kind of folks. Obviously, the Defense Department has a lot of experience with this issue, people from the State Department are involved; the IC and other folks as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Some experts are saying, first of all, that Syria cannot submit, I guess within one week, whatever list they have. But they also point to the fact that it may be very difficult to destroy these stockpiles on the ground in Syria, that it has to be done elsewhere. Has this been discussed or do you have any idea on how this will be done?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. That’s one of the logistical issues that we’ll be discussing going forward as well. There are a couple of different ways the program can be destroyed. Obviously, that’s one of them. There are other options as well. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, but we have made clear that we need to take whatever action is quickest, is safest, as soon as possible to destroy these weapons.

There are a couple of different options. We don’t have any decisions made yet, but that’s certainly part of the ongoing discussion.

QUESTION: Okay, and then lastly, you have condemned al-Qaida killing soldiers in Yemen. Do you condemn the likely al-Qaida killing of soldiers in Syria, as we have seen in tapes and so on?

MS. HARF: Certainly, we would condemn extremist killing anywhere, certainly. I don’t know if you’re asking about a specific incident of that.

QUESTION: Yes. That – I mean, there were a number of incidents that were shown in videos and on the front page of the New York Times and others where al-Qaida-affiliated elements were executing, I mean --

MS. HARF: Well, I think the New York Times – if I remember correctly, that actually was shown to not be exactly how it was first reported. So I would encourage you to go back and take a look at that story, Said.

QUESTION: No, no – okay, I did.

MS. HARF: But broadly speaking – let me finish. Broadly speaking, we condemn all terrorist, extremist attacks wherever they happen. We’ve talked about this a lot in Syria. That’s why we’re working with the moderate opposition there and not some of the extremist elements that we know exist.

QUESTION: Okay, but the discrepancy was not that it happened but when it happened. It was a time difference. So the issue of them executing soldiers is actually happening.

MS. HARF: I’m not going to speak to something that happened a while ago other than to say that, of course, we condemn terrorist attacks on anyone, wherever they take place.

Syria? Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said earlier there’s no military solution exists in Syria.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: If that’s the case, then why did three weeks ago the Obama Administration was poised and ready to strike Syria, and why do you continue to fund the moderate opposition?

MS. HARF: Well, those aren’t mutually exclusive. We’ve said there’s no overall military solution to the conflict in Syria. The military proposal that we had on the table that we took to Congress was designed to deter and degrade the regime’s ability to use chemical weapons. It was not to, broadly speaking, end the conflict there. Secretary Kerry spoke to this repeatedly on the Hill. So it actually had two different goals than what you’re talking about.

We’ve also said that it’s important to continue supporting the moderate opposition, to improve their ability to fight against the Syrian regime and to strengthen and help them coalesce. So those aren’t mutually exclusive. And again, we’ve said that the threat of military force that we put on the table is one of the reasons we’re here today talking about a diplomatic solution to this issue.

QUESTION: On the issue --

MS. HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. On the issue of the refugees – your aid to the refugees – I know that the United States has already contributed something like $818 million, which is a large portion of its obligation. But other --

MS. HARF: I believe we’re still the biggest contributor.

QUESTION: Right. You are the biggest contributor --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but also you have a bigger obligation – I think it’s like $1.2 billion. But the other countries – and many of them are U.S. allies like Qatar and some of the GCC countries – are not meeting their obligations, not by a long shot. Are you having discussions with them to meet their obligations to aid the refugees?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve repeatedly called on countries in the region and other countries to increasingly help with the humanitarian situation. That’s been an ongoing dialogue for months now, and we will continue to do so going forward.

We’ve also spoken about the countries directly bordering Syria that have been helpful in taking on huge influxes of refugees. It’s a complicated problem, and we are absolutely encouraging other international partners to play a bigger role.

QUESTION: And by the way, this was according to Oxfam. I just wanted you to know that.

MS. HARF: Okay. Thank you for the attribution, Said.

Yes, on Syria still?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: As this process with the OPCW has been going on – the declaration of stockpiles --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- what sort of conversation has the U.S. Government been having with the Syrian Government, if any? Is there an open channel of communication, or --

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge.



MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Military spokesman for the chiefs of staff of the Free Syrian Army has told us that a division of the Free Syrian Army has joined al-Nusrah in a collaboration effort on the ground and in military operations. I’m wondering if you have any reaction to that.

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that. I’m happy to look into it. Obviously, we’ve been clear what our position is on al-Nusrah. I just haven’t seen that report. But I’m happy to look into it after the briefing.

Yeah. Syria? Syria?

QUESTION: Do you have anything on --

MS. HARF: Then I’ll go to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have anything on this al-Qaida-linked fighters and the (inaudible) Syrian rebels declaring a truce --

MS. HARF: I do – in Azaz?

QUESTION: -- near the Turkish frontier. Yeah, what is your read of that?

MS. HARF: Well, we do understand that the Free Syrian Army and these al-Qaida-linked fighters have reached a ceasefire agreement. We’re seeking more details right now.

I would note also that the Syrian Opposition Coalition issued a statement – I believe it was yesterday but I can check on the timing – condemning the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant for its aggression towards Syrian revolutionary forces and its indifference to the lives of the Syrian people. It also stressed that ISIS’s practices constitute a stark contradiction to the principles of the Syrian revolution, and emphasized that the principles and values of the revolution are universal human rights, freedom, justice, rule of law, democracy, all of those issues.

Also, we should do a little UNGA preview, because I think this is important. I would note that the SOC issued a statement yesterday ahead of their visit to the UN General Assembly next week. The statement first calls on the UN Security Council to authorize the use of all necessary measures to ensure that any noncompliance will have serious consequences, as provided for in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It also pledges to cooperate fully with the UN, OPCW, and other international personnel who will be responsible for dismantling the Syrian CW program. And it reiterated its commitment to a political solution, as set out in the Geneva communique.

I know there were some questions yesterday about who we’ll be meeting with at UNGA. A full schedule will be coming shortly, but it’s my understanding that Secretary Kerry will participate in a ministerial-level London 11 meeting in New York hosted by the French. We talked about this a little in the past, and so that was a little update on that. We’ll have a full UNGA preview later, I promise.

QUESTION: Was the call initiated by Secretary Kerry to Lavrov today?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that.


MS. HARF: I can find out.

Anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Are we getting any closer on a Geneva 2 or a 2.5 or 3, or whatever we’re going to call it?

MS. HARF: I know. We need a new name for it or meet somewhere else. No, I don’t have any update for you on that. The Secretary will be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Special Representative Brahimi next week to continue the dialogue on Geneva 2. We’ll have a readout of that meeting. One of the goals is to clearly continue making forward progress, and hopefully we’ll have something coming out of that meeting that speaks to that.

QUESTION: So it’s --

MS. HARF: But nothing to preview.

QUESTION: So it’s possible that we might hear of an announcement about that?

MS. HARF: I’m not saying that. It’s just a – it’s high-level chance for them to meet in person. And I would reiterate the point that I just made, that if we can make some progress on the CW front with the same people, same actors, right, hopefully that can translate into some political process as well.

Okay, one more. I know. I promise I’m coming to you soon. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Now, will the Syrian disclosure of its chemical make it easier to agree with the Russian on a resolution on the language of a resolution on the Security Council?

MS. HARF: Well, the resolution language is being negotiated right now. There’s another P-5 meeting today. Obviously, we’ve said that this needs to move as swiftly as possible. The Secretary spoke yesterday to his hopes that the Security Council will vote on a resolution next week. I think this is just another step in the process. Clearly, we believe that we need to keep seeing forward momentum, but the Security Council resolution is a really important part of this. We said that in the Geneva framework. The Secretary said it in his statements with Foreign Minister Lavrov right after the framework was agreed to, so we’ll continue that process in New York.

QUESTION: But the disclosure –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- will it make it easier? That’s my question.

MS. HARF: Well, certainly if we hadn’t had a disclosure, that would have been something that we would have found the Syrian regime was in noncompliance on. The disclosure, though, is part of the framework agreement, as is the UN Security Council resolution. So it’s another marker on the agreement that we’re going to be working towards.


QUESTION: Do you still expect to have this UN resolution the next week, given the fact that the OPCW meeting has been postponed?

MS. HARF: Well, we want them to move as quickly as possible. Obviously, UNGA takes up a lot of time as well. That’s why I’ve always stressed timelines and not deadlines in this room – that as long as we see forward momentum, that’s what’s important here. Obviously, this can’t be a stalling tactic. It’s certainly our expectation, but as we all know, everybody’s busy during UNGA week and we’ll work as quickly as possible. But everyone’s committed to working swiftly on a resolution, absolutely. This cannot be an opportunity for anybody to stall here.

Moving on. Yes.

QUESTION: One is related to the UN. When – these world leaders, they meet almost every year. Most of the leaders at the --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- United Nations General Assembly meetings or summit. What will the theme this year – what is the new this year, do you think, coming out of these meetings when many, many world leaders are gathering there out of the States?

MS. HARF: No, it’s a great question, and UNGA’s a great opportunity, every year, to bring together leaders from across the world at a very high level. You’re absolutely right. The Secretary is obviously very focused on Syria. He’s very focused on Middle East peace. He’ll be speaking to a number of folks there about that as well. Economic diplomacy and our economic initiatives around the world. There will be a host of bilateral meetings the Secretary has with leaders from every region of the world discussing, quite frankly, a very broad range of issues.

But what the Secretary said yesterday is important, that we’re going into UNGA at a time when we need the international community to speak with one voice against the use of chemical weapons. There are many important issues, but right now Syria is at the top of that list, and we need to see some unity here to say that this is unacceptable and that we need to move forward to destroy this stockpile. But we’ll have a whole program of UNGA-related events next week as well.

QUESTION: How about human rights?

MS. HARF: Always a huge for us, of course.

QUESTION: The Tibetans and Chinese are crying for human rights inside Tibet, but nobody’s talking about that, and they’re calling on the U.S. and UN to take this as serious matter.

MS. HARF: Well, we – certainly, human rights are an incredibly serious matter for us. It’s something we talk about consistently and constantly at the State Department. I mentioned yesterday in the bilateral meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, the Secretary raised the human rights situation there. So it’s a constant topic of discussion around the world. It’s a very important issue for us as well, absolutely.

QUESTION: And one more.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As far as – is Secretary’s meeting going to take place with the Indian officials at the United Nations – Indian Foreign Minister – or, in Washington, even the Prime Minister is coming – delegation is coming to Washington also? And India and Pakistan, I understand, the two prime minister may meet at the United Nations if Secretary, and U.S. is playing any role in that?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything to announce in terms of additional UNGA meetings at this point. When we have a fuller readout, I can give it to you. And nothing on a meeting between India and Pakistan. I would refer you to either of those governments to preview their plans.

QUESTION: Thank you much.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just to ask you a question.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know the White House is going to have an UNGA call.

MS. HARF: They are, yes.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you’re going to do anything like that for us?

MS. HARF: So actually, it’s a good question. I – this afternoon, am heading over to the Foreign Press Center to talk a little bit about UNGA with our Acting Assistant Secretary, Mr. Pitman. That’ll be generally on our – laying out our agenda for UNGA, but I’m happy to do so as well with you all. It’s, quite frankly, not very different than what we’ve talked about in this room, but if we have specific things to announce, I’m happy to do so. But I would defer to – the White House is really, obviously, setting the entire tone and all of that for the Administration’s participation in UNGA.

QUESTION: For those of us who really care about the Secretary and more sort of --

MS. HARF: I’m with you there.

QUESTION: -- in-the-woods foreign policy stuff --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: If there’s something you could do for us that would be great.

MS. HARF: Yes. So hopefully, we should have a schedule of his meetings to send around as soon as possible. As you know, it’s being worked. What I – some of the points I’ve just made – clearly, Syria is a huge part of these discussions – the bilateral meetings – in every bilateral meeting, he brings it up, no matter who it’s with, that they should support the international community’s actions on Syria. Middle East peace, too, I think will be a big part of what the Secretary’s focused on. Obviously, he’s been focused on it a lot throughout the past few months. And I mention, again, economic diplomacy and economic issues, I think, is something we also want to focus on at UNGA. If I have a more full preview, I’m happy to do some more on that later.

QUESTION: Can I do one more (inaudible), please? Did you say the Secretary is not meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister?

MS. HARF: I didn’t say that. I said I had nothing to announce about his schedule yet.


MS. HARF: As soon as we do, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Or, how about the – with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan –

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything else on UNGA meetings to announce. We will be putting out a full schedule at some point, hopefully soon.

Yes, Said?

QUESTION: Yes, can we change topics?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Palestinian and Israeli talks?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, in Jericho, told some diplomats and journalists that if Israel continues doing what it’s doing, it is scuppering – those were his words – the peace process. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: If they continue --

QUESTION: It is going to derail the peace process. He is referring to settlements and other activities that the Israelis are not doing in the good faith that you suggested.

MS. HARF: Well, I am not going to parse Dr. Erekat’s words. I will say that the two parties remain at the table. These are complicated issues. We know this is not an easy process, but we are in continuing discussions – they are – and we’re certainly a part of that where it’s appropriate, and that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Do you believe that his statements are done for political reasons right before he comes to --

MS. HARF: I’m not going to venture a guess as to why he made some public comments that I haven’t actually seen myself.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the new Israeli settlement activities that are taking place, in fact, today near Hebron?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports, no.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on – the Israelis are taking some agricultural land that has been for hundreds of years and so on.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to look into it, and if we – obviously, our position on settlements hasn’t changed. But I’m happy to look into it, and if we have additional comment, to get it to you.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: President Maduro accused the United States of blocking his flight to China by denying airspace passage through Puerto Rico.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What were the reasons for that, and has that been resolved?

MS. HARF: Yes. So the United States has granted permission to Venezuelan authorities to enter U.S. airspace. The Government of Venezuela had sought permission on September 18th for a civilian aircraft carrying Venezuelan officials to pass through U.S. airspace over Puerto Rico, en route to Europe, I believe, without following proper diplomatic clearance procedures, and specifically they made a request for diplomatic clearance for the aircraft with one day advance notice. Diplomatic flight clearances are required to be made with three days advance notice.

So although the request was not properly submitted, U.S. authorities worked with Venezuelan officials at the Venezuelan Embassy to resolve the issue. We made an extraordinary effort to work with the relevant authorities to grant flight approval in just a matter of hours, and as a result, we notified the Venezuelan authorities of the approved overflight request last evening, the 19th.

QUESTION: Any comment on the fact that he’s flying a Cuban airplane?

MS. HARF: No, no additional comment on that. This is where we are in terms of airspace; nothing else further for you on that.


QUESTION: A follow-up on Venezuela. The – I think it was the Venezuelan Foreign Minister last night also said that the United States had denied visas to the UN delegation, or the Venezuelan delegation traveling to the UN. Do you have anything on that?

MS. HARF: I can tell you that no visas have been denied for the Venezuelan delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly.


QUESTION: On another visa issue? (Laughter.)


MS. HARF: The door was just opened, and you walked through it. We’ll go to Iran next. Let’s rip this band-aid off first.


MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Have you got one to report?

MS. HARF: No. (Laughter.). So go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: So has the U.S. granted Bashir a visa?

MS. HARF: As I’ve said numerous times, he has submitted a visa application. We’re not going to sort through the considerations underway right now on that application publicly.

QUESTION: Do you expect to see him in the UN?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any further comments on how this might play out. As we’ve said, there are a lot of considerations going into this request, including the outstanding warrant against him.

QUESTION: Could you – have you had a chance to look at the – President Rouhani’s op-ed today?

MS. HARF: Oh, wait, hold on. Is there anything else on Bashir, or are we done with that?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll go to Iran, and then I’ll come back up to you. Go ahead. Yes.

QUESTION: On Rouhani’s op-ed, have you had a chance to view it?

MS. HARF: I have.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: I read the paper every morning, Said.

QUESTION: Yes. Uh-huh. We know you do, but –

MS. HARF: In hard copy. I’m old school, I know.

QUESTION: Okay. I still do the same thing.

MS. HARF: I know. I can’t quit. It’s a bad habit, or a good habit.

QUESTION: We are print journalists.

MS. HARF: Exactly. Yes. And as I said yesterday, that the President and the Secretary both firmly believe that there is an opportunity for diplomacy here, that we hope the Iranian Government takes advantage of this opportunity. And the world has now heard a lot from President Rouhani’s administration, and indeed himself, including in this op-ed, about his desire to improve Iran’s relations with the international community. President Obama and Secretary Kerry both believe we should test that assertion. We welcome the Rouhani administration’s and his change in rhetoric. However, as we’ve always said, there’s a difference between rhetoric and action. We’re focused on seeing actions now, concrete actions to back up that rhetoric. But again, we believe there’s an opportunity here for diplomacy, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, he also said just a lot of things, among them that he’s willing to mediate between the Syrian Government and the rebels. Would you encourage him to do that?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to speak to some of those specifics in the op-ed any further than that.


QUESTION: I know that you’re putting his words into the test, but the Israelis – the Prime Minister of Israel really dismissed it out of hand, and he said that the Iranians are – in fact, they have a tradition of double-talk. Do you agree with your ally, Israel?

MS. HARF: Well, I think you know where we stand with Israel, that they’re our closest ally in the region. Our security relationship with Israel is the deepest and broadest that it’s ever been, Said. And this is obviously an issue of concern that we both share at the highest levels. But we’ve all said that we are committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, that all options are on the table to do that, but obviously, diplomacy is the preferred one, and that they’re – we’re not out of time here yet. On diplomacy, obviously, we’d like to give it a chance to work, and we believe there’s an opportunity right now to do just that.

QUESTION: And President Rouhani says that international diplomacy should not be the – a zero-sum game. Do you agree with that assessment?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to further parse what he said in the op-ed, Said.


QUESTION: How come the Obama Administration won’t say what actions they’re looking for?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that they need to engage substantively on the proposal we put forward in terms of how to end the nuclear program impasse with Iran. So we’ve said that there needs to be substantive engagement. Obviously, we, in conjunction with the P-5+1, talk at a detailed level about all of this. Those discussions are ongoing. We remain unified in our stance on Iran, but we’re just not going to detail more publicly at this point.

QUESTION: Also, do you happen to know, or could you find out, how these letters are being exchanged between the two countries? Is this something that is on a piece of paper, or is it, like --

MS. HARF: Like an email or something?

QUESTION: -- the big hotline phone that there used to be, or faxes, or --

MS. HARF: I’d really point you to the White House for details on that. If I have anything to share, I’m happy to. I just don’t have any of those details.


QUESTION: One more – Iran?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As far as this diplomacy and the new President of Iran is concerned, are these sanctions are still there as far as oil embargo? A number of countries were asked, including India, not to buy or cut in oil from Iran. What message do you have for India now, because since Indian Prime Minister also will be at the United Nations, and so will be the Iranian President?

MS. HARF: Well, I think I’ve just made clear what our message is on the Iran situation right now, that we believe there’s an opportunity for diplomacy and we hope that the Iranian Government takes advantage of it. Our positions on sanctions hasn’t changed. We believe that our – the most stringent sanctions regime we’ve ever put in place against the Iranian Government is part of why we are here today with this opportunity for diplomacy. So we’re going to head into next week hoping that everybody takes advantage of the opportunities that we see set forth right now.

QUESTION: And finally --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that means you are not telling anything to U.S. allies, including India, until U.S. has an opportunity and diplomacy to work with Iran as far as those issues are concerned, or --

MS. HARF: We talk with our allies and partners around the world about Iran all the time. I don’t have anything else specific for you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yes.

QUESTION: Another – sorry – UN --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- visa issue.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you received a visa application for the Kenyan President?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that question. I can take it. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Going towards Iraq?

MS. HARF: Hold on, let me go back here and then I’ll come back up to you. Yes.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- U.S. and Philippines.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: It was reported that Philippines may invite the U.S. military back to the Subic Naval Base. Are you considering this offer?

MS. HARF: Well, thank you for the question. It’s an important one. Obviously, as part of our ongoing relationship, the U.S. and the Philippines regularly review our cooperation to ensure we are adequately addressing our common security interests. But I want to make a point very clear that the United States is not seeking to create or to reopen any military bases in the Philippines. Working with the Philippines, we will seek to promote security and stability for our nations and in the region. Obviously, as friends and allies, we talk about these issues all the time.


QUESTION: Is there any current plan in the Philippines to reopen Subic Bay?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything specific for you on that. I’m happy to look into it and let you know.

QUESTION: And Marie, are you concerned that move may increase the tension in South China Sea?

MS. HARF: Again, the Philippines is a close friend and ally. We engage in mutually agreed and mutually beneficial military cooperation all the time. I don’t have anything further for you than that.


MS. HARF: Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Saying that the U.S. is not seeking to reopen --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- any military base --

MS. HARF: Or create, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or create is not the same as saying you’re not going to.

MS. HARF: I – that’s what I have in front of me. That’s our position. And I don’t think – it’s my knowledge that that’s not in any way the plan at all, period.


MS. HARF: I don’t think there was any intention to have wiggle room here. I really don’t.


MS. HARF: I can check into it, but I don’t think there is.


MS. HARF: Yes. Hold on, let me just go here. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. Different topic.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In an exclusive interview with Liberty Service – Radio Liberty’s Armenian Service, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern made some statement contradictory to the U.S. officially stated policy, particularly in terms of U.S. assistance to the victims of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But I think it was a day later that the Embassy issued a clarification that U.S. does not provide any assistance to the unrecognized regime in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories. Can you please explain the statements by John Heffern and elaborate on the stance of U.S. Government versus territorial integrity of Azerbaijan?

MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I just don’t know the facts here. I haven’t seen those statements or any of that exchange. I’m happy to look into it.

QUESTION: It is on the website of --

MS. HARF: I just haven’t seen it. I’m sorry. I will look into it. I’ll take a look at it. And if we have a response, I am happy to get you one. I, quite frankly, just don’t know the facts here.

QUESTION: Will you please elaborate on the territorial integrity of --

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything else for you on this. I will take --


MS. HARF: -- all of that as a question and get back to you with anything I have.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. On – Pakistan has announced that they’re going to be releasing the highest level Taliban prisoner that they have right now.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: His name is Baradar.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And the idea is that maybe he might be helpful in the peace process. What do you have on that?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly for any more details of his potential release I’d refer you to the Government of Pakistan. But --

QUESTION: Well, they announced it --

MS. HARF: -- as you know --


MS. HARF: Right. As you know, the release of Taliban prisoners, including Baradar, has been a matter of ongoing discussion between Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to promote peace as part of this reconciliation process. Obviously, it’s important that coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan takes place to ensure that any releases are done in a responsible manner. And again, would refer you to those governments for more details.

QUESTION: Have you asked the Pakistanis to keep this guy in sight?

MS. HARF: Again, this is a decision for the Government of Pakistan, and I just don’t have anything further.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. interested in talking with him?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything further for you on his case at this time.

QUESTION: Any comment on the recently – incident on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? At least five to seven people were killed by the Afghan authorities, those crossed from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those specific reports about an incident, but I’m happy to look into it.

Yes, Said.


MS. HARF: Iraq.

QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comments on the spike in violence in Iraq, including some accusations of ethnic cleansing.

MS. HARF: Yes, let me see what I have here. And I know we’ve talked about this for months now, actually – the levels of violence in Iraq – and it’s obviously something we take very seriously and remain deeply concerned about. We condemn, of course, in the strongest terms the recent terrorist attacks in Iraq.

We’ve said this and we’ll say it again, but these attacks are reprehensible, and quite frankly, they don’t represent what a majority of the Iraqi people want. These are extremist elements, terrorist elements in Iraq. We’ve talked about some of the spillover effect from Syria that it’s having, unfortunately, on Iraq. And we will continue to stand with the Iraqi people against this violence and our commitment to support efforts to bring those responsible to justice.

I would also note, I think, that just happened recently was a national conference of Iraq’s leaders from across the political spectrum to sign initiatives to ease tensions and set a direction, in fact, towards resolving political differences. So clearly, this violence is reprehensible, but I would note a positive step in terms of the political side and all parties being a part of it right now.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. taking any part in this reconciliation effort?

MS. HARF: The U.S. clearly supports all these efforts by Iraqi political leaders that constructively and cooperatively address the complex issues. I don’t have any more details for you than that. Obviously, senior people on the ground and here are in constant contact with our Iraqi counterparts.

Is that it? Said.

QUESTION:  I have a question on Bahrain.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have anything new on Khalil al-Marzooq?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything new. I think everybody, hopefully, heard what I said about this yesterday. I also released a statement on it yesterday as well. I would encourage folks to take a look at that. I just don’t have anything new on his case.

QUESTION: Do you not take the step to sort of strongly urge the Bahraini Government to release him?

MS. HARF: I think what I said yesterday is what our position is on this, that obviously, we’ve called on a government to abide by its commitment to protecting freedom of expression, but also to respect detainees’ rights to due process in all cases, including fair trials, access to attorneys, and verdicts based on credible evidence.

QUESTION: But your statements are being perceived as being lackluster, at least. Do you agree?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reviews of them, Said. I think we’ve been very clear about the fact that we’re disappointed by recent events that have eroded the prospects for national dialogue in Bahrain. I spoke very clearly about that yesterday, put out a very lengthy statement that everyone, I think, can find on that yesterday as well. And we’ll continue making this point publicly and certainly privately with the Bahraini Government.

Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)

DPB # 158