Daily Press Briefing - January 13, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Kerry's Travel to Paris
- Secretary Kerry's Travel to the Vatican / Diplomatic Anniversary
- Geneva Conference
- Russian Involvement
- London 11
- Situation on the Ground
- Iranian Involvement
- Lavrov Meeting / Idaho Potatoes
- Saudi Arabia Involvement
- Political Tensions / Democratic Process / Security Messages for U.S. Citizens
- Nuclear Program / Joint Plan of Action / IAEA / Arak / Regional Role / Enriched Uranium
- U.S. Assistance
- Ongoing Arrests / Constitutional Referendum / No-Vote
- Anti-gay Law / Talks
- LGBT Rights / Human Rights
- Benghazi / ARB / Providing Information and Access
- Qumu / Ansar al-Sharia in Darnah
- Guantanamo Bay Detainees
- Abbas Statement / Ongoing Discussions / Secretary Kerry's Involvement
- Deputy Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi's Visit to the U.S.
- U.S.-India Relations
- Update on AQ Situation / Supporting Iraqi Government
- Former Secretary Gates' Book / Working in Various Areas throughout the World
1:44 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Happy Monday. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a quick trip update for you at the top, then I’m happy, Deb, to open it up for questions.
Today, Secretary Kerry continued his visit to Paris where he arrived on Sunday to attend the Arab Peace Initiative and the London 11. His meetings included bilateral meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, French Foreign Minister Fabius, and SOC President Jarba. The Secretary also attended a trilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and UN Special Representative Brahimi.
Tomorrow, Secretary Kerry will travel to the Vatican to meet with Secretary of State of the Holy See Pietro Parolin to discuss foreign policy priorities, including Pope Francis’s vocal leadership on the Middle East peace process, poverty, and humanitarian issues. The United States values the Vatican’s vital role globally, leading on international issues and peace efforts. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship with the Holy See, and Secretary Kerry is, of course, Catholic, the first Catholic Secretary of State since Secretary Muskie. Following that visit, Secretary Kerry will continue to Kuwait City for the Syria Donor’s Conference.
Oh, I have one more thing at the top. Excuse me. We are pleased to announce that Secretary Kerry will host his counterparts from Canada and Mexico on Friday, January 17th, for the North American Ministerial. Secretary Kerry, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, and Mexican Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade will discuss advancing North American prosperity, North America’s leadership on energy and climate change, international engagement and citizen security.
And with that, Deb, start us off.
QUESTION: Okay, I was wondering if you could give us any more detail on this – this thing about Syria that he talked about in Paris today. He talked about a regional ceasefire, he talked about increasing access to humanitarian agencies, and something about a prisoner exchange, but there wasn’t a whole lot of detail. Could you give us any detail on any of those three?
MS. HARF: Well, these are initial conversations about some of these issues, but I have little bit of detail and I’m happy to provide that and answer any other questions if I can. Obviously, we’ve said the only precondition for Geneva II is support for Geneva I. But we do believe that the regime has the ability to, of course, directly improve the environment for the conference and address the needs of the Syrian people. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed ways that Russia could use its influence to use the regime, the Syrian regime, to take measures now. So in this context, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed the need for progress on three confidence-building measures to improve the atmosphere for talks.
Again, these are initial discussions, but I think that both the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke a little bit about them publicly. One is, of course, providing access for humanitarian aid to besieged communities, prisoner releases – obviously, we know there are a lot of activists, political opponents, that women and children are currently imprisoned – and ceasefires. Obviously, we would welcome local ceasefires, particularly any sort of agreement or situation that could end the barbaric air raids and barrel bombs in and around Aleppo, but other places as well.
So again, this is something the Secretary has repeatedly raised. The Russians, I believe, are going to discuss this with the Syrians and hopefully will use their influence to exercise some of these outcomes.
QUESTION: So all this is supposed to happen between now and January 22nd?
MS. HARF: I didn’t say that at all.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, is the idea – the idea is to get some of this rolling before the talks, right?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, the fact that we’re discussing what could be some confidence-building measures that would directly improve the situation for the Syrian people is welcome news, but we’re also clear-eyed about the fact that the Secretary and others have been raising these for months – these issues for months and that the Syrian regime hasn’t done anything on any of them. But again, it’s important that he discussed it with Foreign Minister Lavrov and that the Russians are going to discuss it with the Syrian regime. We’re not saying that we hope or that we think or expect all of these will happen between now and Geneva II, but these are things that the Syrian regime could do right now to improve the atmosphere for the conference.
QUESTION: Okay, just a couple follow-ups --
MS. HARF: I’ll go to you next, Said. Yeah. Let me finish with Deb’s.
QUESTION: -- on the opposition. Are you hearing anything new on the opposition participation?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And do you have any comment about Assad’s comments about how Kerry’s talks in Paris are fictional?
MS. HARF: Well, first, as the Secretary said yesterday, we are confident that the Syrian opposition will come to Geneva. We recognize, obviously, there are current divisions among the opposition and that the path to Geneva is, quite frankly, a difficult one. I think it’s important to note that the London 11 delivered a unified message to the opposition yesterday in their communique. I’ll just read a little bit of it. They urged the opposition to respond positively to the invitation, obviously, to set up a delegation. The London 11 invited them to form, as soon as possible, a delegation of opposition forces reflecting the diversity – as well, they mentioned that.
So the London 11 spoke very clearly. The opposition will have its vote on January 17th, and in the meantime the SOC and other activists are drawing up ideas and proposals for what a delegation might look like, and they’ll be ready if and when there’s a “yes” vote on the 17th.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this?
QUESTION: Okay. Assad?
MS. HARF: I didn’t see those exact comments. I think – go ahead.
QUESTION: He didn’t say fictional. He said illusionary or --
MS. HARF: Well, I think --
QUESTION: Anyway, his point was that they were far from reality.
MS. HARF: Well, I think what the Secretary has repeatedly discussed publicly is actually very much the reality of the situation on the ground and the brutality that Assad is putting his own people through. I don’t know what drives Assad to say certain things or do certain things, but what the Secretary’s been very focused on is actually bringing attention to the plight of the Syrian people, to the need for a political transition and a political solution to end the fighting. And I really just don’t want to further comment on comments I, quite frankly, haven’t seen.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to follow up very quickly on the access – the humanitarian supplies and so on. Because the Russians are saying that the regime has agreed to allow that, but in fact, these roads, whatever, are disallowed – the supply trucks or whatever they are – disallowed from passage by the militants. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: By the what? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: By the rebels.
MS. HARF: Well, I think – I haven’t seen those specific comments, but generally speaking, it’s been the regime that has repeatedly refused to allow humanitarian access into a number of areas. They could take immediate steps to do so, to change that, today.
QUESTION: Now I just wanted to follow up also on the meeting. The Secretary said that – basically extended an invitation to Iran. Could you elaborate on that?
MS. HARF: You’re saying the Secretary extended an invitation to Iran?
QUESTION: Yes, yeah. He – yeah, he said that – yes. He --
MS. HARF: I think that you are grossly mischaracterizing what the Secretary said. Our position on Iran’s participation has in no way changed, period.
QUESTION: It has not changed in what – Iran could attend if it declared that it adheres to the principles in Geneva I. Correct?
MS. HARF: Absolutely, that Iran would need to publicly accept the Geneva I communique in order to be considered for participation at the ministerial level. We’ve also spoken in the last week about Iran possibly doing some things that would make the international community look more favorably on their participation in some way, but we have no indication they’re willing to do any of those things. Don’t believe that will change between now and Geneva II. So the Secretary was in no way saying anything different.
QUESTION: Yeah. But if I understand correctly, if the Iranians exert their influence on the regime, so to speak, to stop bombardment or to allow humanitarian access and so on, that would be interpreted as good will that would allow for their participation. Correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re taking it a few steps too far. He wasn’t expressing openness to Iran playing a role, and certainly wasn’t offering an invitation. He was simply stating that there are ways Iran could show the world that they want to see a positive outcome, and if they did so, obviously that would mean that if they wanted to play a role in Geneva II on the sidelines, we would look more favorably on that. But certainly no one was indicating an openness to inviting them. These aren’t things that if they do, they would definitely be invited. They’re just things that they could do to show that they want to affect a positive outcome.
But again, we have no indication they’re going to, and Geneva II is in how many days? So I think --
QUESTION: Nine days.
MS. HARF: -- the likelihood of that is probably very small.
QUESTION: Two points to clarify on the localized ceasefire.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What do you mean by that? Because to have a ceasefire, you need to have a mechanism to enforce it. But do you mean by that that you’re asking the regime to stop their aerial bombardment? Is this what you mean by --
MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly asking them to stop the aerial bombardment, to stop using barrel bombs. We’ve asked them to do that for a long time. I don’t have more specifics about what that might look like in practice, what a ceasefire might look like. Obviously, we’re happy to discuss that with the Russians further. The SOC has indicated a willingness to discuss these ceasefires as well.
QUESTION: From both sides. Okay.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And for the humanitarian assistant, there is some reports indicating that they’re talking about areas outside of Damascus like Ghouta and Yarmouk refugee camps. Is this your understanding?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s certainly an area we’re very concerned about, but that’s not the only area. We’ve called for humanitarian access into all areas, so it’s not just focused on one area. But that is an area of great concern for us.
QUESTION: Right. And the Secretary just now released a statement from his meeting --
MS. HARF: Who just released a statement? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The statement just been released --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- to talk about his meeting with Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi. And he said he outlined the points of agreement with Russia, and he mentioned them. I’m not going to go through them. But he said there is points that we disagree. Just for the sake of record, can you tell us what you disagree with the Russian about regarding Geneva II?
MS. HARF: Well, I think there’s a reason that we keep some of those disagreements private, that we discuss them and deal with them privately. I don’t have more details for you on that, on what those are specifically.
QUESTION: But I mean, one of them is Assad participation, obviously. That’s public, not private.
MS. HARF: Well, again, I’m not going to go further than the statement that was just released. I’m happy to talk to the team on the ground with the Secretary and see if there’s more to share.
QUESTION: One final thing: Lavrov also called for the participation of Saudi Arabia and Iran. What’s your position on that?
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: And Iran is known, but with the Saudis as well.
MS. HARF: You know – right. Well, I would note the list of people that were invited by the UN to Geneva II. Saudi Arabia is on that list. I don’t have any updates for you on if they’re coming or who they’d send. I’d refer you to them. But they were certainly invited.
QUESTION: But I guess that he means a more pivotal role, more of fundamental role to play because they support either side of --
MS. HARF: Well, they were invited at the ministerial level. I just don’t have anything more for you on their possible role in Geneva II. But they’re certainly a key player in the region, someone we work with quite closely.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned the confidence-building measures, and you mentioned three items, which is humanitarian and prisoners release and ceasefires. This is like detailed plans --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- or just like topics?
MS. HARF: Well, a little – how about somewhere in the middle? So these are initial conversations about them being confidence-building measures, but to be fair, we’ve been raising these issues since the beginning of this conflict. Whether it’s humanitarian access, ceasefires, all of them the Secretary has been raising publicly and privately, we’ve talked about a lot in here. They were just being put into context of leading up to Geneva II. These are some things that the Russians could use their influence with the Syrian regime to help move the ball on some of these forward. We’re not naive about the fact that we’ve been asking for this for months and it hasn’t happened.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, when you said prisoners release, I mean it’s like the opposition give a list of names, or are you asking in general the principle of prisoners release?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I think it’s more of a general principle. I don’t know the specifics. I would caution people from thinking there’s some very detailed plan. But obviously, if the regime were to indicate a willingness or an openness to this, we’d have to have more detailed discussions, and the opposition and other folks would have to have more detailed discussions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes, in the back. On Syria still?
MS. HARF: Okay, we’ve got to finish Syria and then we’ll go to the next topic. Yes.
QUESTION: On the meeting between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov, what’s behind the Idaho potatoes present from Secretary Kerry to Lavrov?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s just a little bit of personal diplomacy. I guess when the Secretary was in Idaho over the holidays he spoke on the phone with Foreign Minister Lavrov, who made a comment about Idaho potatoes. And I think he just thought he would bring him some as a friendly little touch to the meeting. I don’t think there’s much more behind it.
QUESTION: No message?
MS. HARF: I don’t – no, I don’t think there’s any symbolism except for we have great potatoes that come from Idaho. That’s it. Don’t try and read anything deeper into it.
QUESTION: Give me just a quick follow-up.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Now --
MS. HARF: But I like that I got asked about it, and the photos are kind of cool if you haven’t seen them.
QUESTION: In terms of the potential participation of Iran, was this a topic that he discussed with the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and were the Saudis willing to sort of put their veto aside on the participation of --
MS. HARF: Well, the Saudis don’t offer invitations to Geneva II. The UN does, so I take issue with the word “veto,” first of all.
QUESTION: But – okay.
MS. HARF: Second of all, I’m not going to speak for the Saudis and what their position is on Iran’s participation. I know that the topic of Geneva II in general was discussed. I don’t have more specifics to share with you than that. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Okay. But the Saudis are great American allies and so on, and you guys exert a lot of influence on them and so on. Did the Secretary explain how important it would be for Iran to participate should it subscribe to the Geneva I principles?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re talking about a lot of hypotheticals here. We’ve seen no indications that Iran is going to subscribe to the Geneva I principles, so I don’t know if the Secretary used those words and I’m not saying that’s his position either, quite frankly, that it would be important for them to participate. It’s a precondition for anyone to participate.
QUESTION: Yeah. But you certainly see that Iran’s participation would be a good thing in the long term, considering that they are – some accuse them of being party to the conflict, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, we have certainly said they are playing an incredibly destabilizing role in Syria and have huge concerns about their activities there. We’ve been very clear about that. Again, they’ve shown no willingness at this point to endorse the Geneva I communique or even to take some of the other steps we’ve talked about that could demonstrate they want to play more of a positive role. So I’m just not going to play the hypothetical or analysis game about what might happen if they do, because they just haven’t.
QUESTION: One more on Syria.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: There have been reports that Spain could play a role in the destruction of chemicals from – of chemical weapons from Syria.
MS. HARF: Chemical weapons. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is that something – I know that there’s been lots of talk about various players in this. Is that something that’s been discussed or –
MS. HARF: I can check on Spain. I don’t know if I have anything specifically on what Spain is – or has offered to do. I’m happy to check with our folks. I know we’ve talked a lot about a lot of our partners, particularly in Europe, helping out.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The same issue – I mean, last week it was raised the issue of Germany readiness to participate or just help. Is there any update about this process, the timeline and the participants?
MS. HARF: I’ll check and get an update from our folks. Maybe we can talk about it a little bit more tomorrow.
Syria, anything else?
QUESTION: Sorry, just one more. You’re saying that the conference is slated for a week from Wednesday. How will it be announced for the delegation of the opposition? It will be announced like in a press conference with the presence of Ambassador Ford, for instance?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t negotiated a media rollout plan with the SOC yet, Said.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MS. HARF: They’re voting – all joking aside, they’re voting on the 17th. I know that the SOC and other activists are working on different scenarios for the composition of the delegation. I’m assuming, obviously, the SOC would announce who the delegation is and their participation. Ambassador Ford is in constant contact with the opposition, with various members of the opposition, but this is up to the opposition to announce, not for us or anyone from the U.S. Government to announce.
QUESTION: Will Ambassador Ford be in any potential announcement?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details on what an announcement might look like. Again, this is something for the SOC to announce themselves.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Ford in town or --
MS. HARF: I think he was in Paris for the London 11. Let me double-check and see where his current whereabouts are.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I wanted to see your – the U.S. assessment of the situation right now. How serious is it, and is there any message that the U.S. has been sending to the government or to the opposition on how to go forward?
MS. HARF: Well, we continue to support a democratic process to resolve the ongoing political tensions in Thailand. We also continue to urge all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law. And we do, I would note, applaud the restraint shown thus far by government authorities in this regard.
We’re encouraging the parties to do, quite frankly, what we’ve been encouraging them to do for a while, which is work together to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue in a way that strengthens – excuse me, it’s a Monday – their democratic principles and institutions. So that’s certainly the message we’ve been publicly and privately conveying.
QUESTION: Has there been U.S. diplomatic involvement in trying to get the two sides closer together?
MS. HARF: I can check. Obviously, we’ve been in touch with folks on the ground. Ambassador Kenney and other U.S. officials are engaged with a full range of interested parties to encourage dialogue and a peaceful democratic political resolution. In terms of more active engagement, I’m happy to check with our folks there and see.
QUESTION: And has there been any change in U.S. travel advice? Obviously, Thailand’s a nice country for many people to visit. Has that – is there a risk perceived?
MS. HARF: Well, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok has issued multiple security messages for U.S. citizens in Thailand explaining that large political demonstrations may continue in coming days, including at government facilities and in and outside of central Bangkok, just advising them to avoid areas of demonstrations, prepare for disruptions, and exercise caution. I’m not aware of any new bigger travel advisories than that.
QUESTION: Can I change subject?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
MS. HARF: Busy weekend.
QUESTION: It is a busy – was a busy weekend. They have said today – told us that they all have got – that they’re going to – with this increased access to monitor this plan, that that still fell short of what they need to investigate a lot of the stuff properly. What kind of an access would you like to see? And also, if they don’t have the access to do this properly, how do you stave off those who in Congress who are arguing for greater sanctions against Iran?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points, then. I actually haven’t seen those IAEA comments. In terms of verification mechanisms and transparency and monitoring, on January 20th, when the Joint Plan of Action is implemented, we are going to have the most access we’ve ever had to these sites – daily inspector access at Natanz and Fordow, monthly inspector access at Arak. Both of these are much more frequent than we’ve ever had in the past. The IAEA is taking the lead on verifying and confirming what the Iranians have committed to do under the Joint Plan of Action. And I think it’s significant to note that for the first time in almost a decade, next week, the Iranian program will come to a halt. And in terms of the congressional aspect of this, I think the fact that we have – that we have taken a concrete, tangible step by implementing this agreement.
Again, you asked about access, all the things that Iran will be doing in terms of stopping 20 percent enrichment. All of the things they’ve committed to do that will start happening on the 20th, I think we would make the case to Congress that for all of the people that have talked about diplomacy and wanting a diplomatic solution here, we are making concrete and tangible progress. We have a long way to go, but no one should do anything that could possibly derail that process. This is the best chance we’ve had for a diplomatic resolution forever to the Iranian nuclear program. And who knows when we’ll get this chance again?
So we would tell Congress that they shouldn’t take any steps that could derail that process for any reason because it is a very delicate diplomatic situation, and we need to give our team and our experts the space to get this done.
QUESTION: But is your feeling that – what – how much access do you think the nuclear watchdog needs to have to be able to do their job and come back with a concrete – I mean, we’ve known the limits that Iran has put on this team before. So is there some kind of yardstick or some kind of way that you believe that – how much access that they should have?
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: Is it full access?
MS. HARF: We – I, again, haven’t seen those comments. We agreed to the Joint Plan of Action believing that the increased transparency we got into Iran’s nuclear program was a good step forward. Again, daily access at Natanz and Fordow, monthly access at Arak, design plans for Arak – things we’ve never had before, insight we’ve never had before. Clearly, this isn’t enough. The first step isn’t enough on any of these areas. That’s why we need to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. But for the first time, we will have this level of transparency and visibility into their nuclear program.
So again, going back to the congressional piece, why would anyone want to do anything, especially something that doesn’t even go into effect at the current time, that could possibly close the doors on a daily basis to Natanz and Fordow? Why would you want to do something that could possibly result in those inspectors not being allowed in on a daily basis, that would possibly derail the negotiations? It just sort of defies logic that if you support diplomacy, you shouldn’t do things to actively undermine it, I think is the argument we’re certainly making to Congress.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran.
QUESTION: On Iran as well.
MS. HARF: More on Iran. Yes.
QUESTION: On Arak in particular. I mean, is it your understanding that the inspectors will, as you said, have monthly access to it, but not dismantling the facilities? Because the Iranians were saying they have invested for almost a decade in it, so the facilities will be intact but they will actually have more closer look at the production at plutonium.
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points on Arak. The first point is that in the first step, they cannot – the program is halted and they cannot use Arak – and there’s a whole list of things they can’t do under the Joint Plan of Action – to move towards a plutonium track to getting a nuclear weapon. We’ve said that in a comprehensive agreement, there will likely have to be some dismantling of some things. That’s what’s supposed to be negotiated over the next six months in the comprehensive agreement. But what we’ve done with this first step is halt the progress of the program so they can’t make progress at Arak, they can’t take steps to bring it online, and we will have increased monitoring.
But again, if the goal is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, building a road doesn’t do anything to impact that one way or the other. So we’ll have the conversations about all of those detailed issues as part of the comprehensive agreement, while, I would remind people, the program is halted.
QUESTION: By the way, I could hear yesterday – you couldn’t hear me, but anyway --
MS. HARF: I know. (Laughter.) I tried to call on you, but I’m sorry about that.
QUESTION: That’s okay.
MS. HARF: Was that your question?
MS. HARF: Okay, good.
QUESTION: Well, I – you don’t have to --
MS. HARF: Well, I’m glad you got to ask it.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to follow up because Zarif made a statement basically foregoing – Iran foregoing any kind of enrichment level that would allow it to have a nuclear weapon. Isn’t that good enough? I mean --
MS. HARF: Good enough in what way?
QUESTION: I mean, he basically said that Iran will not have any kind of enrichment level above the five percent that would allow for --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: -- to have a weaponized program.
MS. HARF: That’s – mm-hmm. Well, that’s certainly under the Joint Plan of Action. We’ve laid out very specifically what Iran can and can’t do, and we’ve always said that if the Iranians, when they say they only want a peaceful nuclear program, that they can prove it. That’s part of what this process is about. If they fulfill their commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, that’s certainly a step in the right direction, a credible, concrete, tangible step. But words aren’t enough, given the history here.
So that’s why we need to see actions. That’s why it’s so important that on January 20th, we are going to see Iran take concrete, tangible actions that could eventually, through very difficult diplomacy, lead to a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION: While we’re on Minister Zarif, he’s visiting today – in Lebanon, he’s meeting with everybody there and then he’s going to go on to Syria. Do you see that as a positive engagement by Iran in the region?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been very clear that the nuclear issue is a separate one from Iran’s role it’s playing in the region. We’ve been very clear. Also, in places like Syria and Lebanon, when appropriate, without speaking to his visit, of course, that they’re – they have – Iran has played a destabilizing role in a number of these countries. I don’t have a comment on Foreign Minister Zarif’s visit. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there is one. Obviously, he’s been part of the nuclear negotiations, but besides that, I just don’t have anything further on his specific visit.
More on Iran? Anything else on Iran?
MS. HARF: Okay, Lucas, and then I’ll go back to you on Iran.
QUESTION: An Iranian official said that they will continue to enrich to 20 percent all the way until the January 20th deadline. Is that in keeping with the spirit of the negotiations in the temporary deal?
MS. HARF: Well, the first-step agreement goes into effect on January 20th, and I’d make a few points. On the 20th, the IAEA will report on the current status of Iran’s nuclear program, including specifically on its uranium enrichment program and the Arak reactor. So regardless of what they do between now and then, on the 20th, they will halt production of 20 percent enriched uranium. They’ll disable the centrifuge cascade configurations they’ve been using to produce it. They will start to dilute half of the 20 percent enriched uranium, and continue to convert the rest to oxide form not suitable for further enrichment. So again, by the end of the six months, they’ll have completed a dilution of 20 percent enriched uranium and – or conversion to oxide by the end of the six months. So regardless of what they do between now and then, by the end of the six months, if they fulfill their commitments, they will have completed the dilution or conversion of their stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.
QUESTION: But do you think this is akin to binge eating or drinking before going on a diet or going on the wagon? (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I don’t, and I’m not going to use that term. No, I mean look, when this goes into effect on January 20th, that’s when they will have the obligation to fulfill their commitments. And we have – we’re clear-eyed about the difficulties of these negotiations, but they have committed on their own to do these things. So we expect them to stand by their word and to fulfill their commitments. And again, that speaks very clearly to the 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. There are very specific details about what they have to do during the six months.
QUESTION: Why would they continue to enrich all the way to the deadline, do you think?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to guess about what their motivations are. Again, they’ve signed up to the Joint Plan of Action, which very clearly states what will happen.
QUESTION: Iran, yeah.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yesterday a senior Administration official said that the six countries which imports oil from Iran would no longer be asked to reduce oil imports from Iran for the next six months. Which are these six countries, do you know? And --
MS. HARF: I don’t. I’m happy to check with our Treasury colleagues and find out.
QUESTION: And secondly, this six months reduction is mandated by the Congress, not by the Administration. And every six months, Secretary sends a certification to the Congress about waiving these things. Would Secretary be required to still send these waiver certification to the Congress or not required --
MS. HARF: Let me check on that specific technical detail. I’m just not sure what the answer is. I’m happy to check on it.
QUESTION: And --
MS. HARF: But again, part of the Joint Plan of Action, as you said, was pausing efforts to reduce Iran’s exports of crude oil that are still – to the countries still purchasing from Iran. I will check on who the countries are and how, technically, that will actually work.
QUESTION: And as a result of this agreement, do you have any comment on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline? Do you have any change in position, or still remains the same?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no change in position. I’m happy to check with our folks on that, but it’s my understanding there’s no change in position. Obviously, even the limited relief that Iran would get under the Joint Plan of Action, if they fulfill their commitments, maintains the core architecture of oil, banking, and financial sanctions in place. So I can check on that, but I don’t think there’s been a change in position.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Two questions.
MS. HARF: Then I’ll go to you in the back.
QUESTION: First question is on the omnibus bill on the Hill. It seems to give the Administration a lot of flexibility when it comes to Egypt sanctions, especially military aid to Egypt, despite some of the provisions like the coup provision and despite some of the previous statements by lawmakers on this. Do you like this wording? Is the State Department happy with it? Does the Administration consider this a victory?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, we’ve continued to work with Congress on our aid to Egypt on respect to that issue. At this point, it’s a little premature to comment on this bill. We’ll wait until we’re having a public conversation about the text. Obviously, we’ve been discussing it with Congress, but at this point it’s just a little premature to offer our opinion on it.
QUESTION: What would you like in this bill?
MS. HARF: Again, we’re talking about it directly with Congress. I’m not going to lay that out from here until the appropriate time. I think in the coming days, if this is – when and if this is made public, we can have more of a discussion about it.
QUESTION: The second follow-up on Egypt is that there were seven activists who were arrested for basically encouraging people to vote no on the constitution. Do you have – does the State Department have any reaction?
MS. HARF: We do. Well, we’re deeply concerned by reports of ongoing arrests for campaigning for a no vote on the constitutional referendum. We are also deeply troubled by reports that at least one individual was beaten during his arrest. We are currently seeking more information about these reports from Egyptian authorities.
I think a couple key points to make here: that allowing campaigns for – both for and against the referendum lends greater credibility to the outcome. So we’ve certainly been giving that message to the interim government. And if Egypt’s leaders want to ensure a result that is respected by the Egyptian people, it must ensure a process that the Egyptian people can have faith in and can trust in. We certainly are encouraging all Egyptians to participate in the referendum despite what’s been happening, and we call on the interim government to help create a climate that is inclusive and that does encourage people to vote, and certainly not to do the opposite.
QUESTION: Are you issuing any special instructions to Americans during the vote, during --
MS. HARF: Any security instructions?
QUESTION: Security or other Travel Warnings or --
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if the Embassy’s issued any additional security messages. Obviously, we have security advisories in place already. I’m happy to see if there are more.
QUESTION: Can I ask – Egypt?
QUESTION: On Egypt?
MS. HARF: Egypt?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) The governor of Dubai has advised friendly advice to General Sisi not to stand in the election. Do you give the same advice to the general? And what’s your opinion if he does stand, actually?
MS. HARF: Well, our position hasn’t changed. It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide who should lead their country. It’s certainly not up to the United States to do so. We don’t endorse a candidate. We don’t have endorsement of a certain party or person. What’s important to us is that all Egyptians have the opportunity to express their views and cast their votes peacefully, and that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Well, would you be disappointed if the general, the military again comes back as pressing issue?
MS. HARF: It’s really not up for the United States to decide that. It’s up for the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yesterday, it was released – a press release by the Pentagon regarding the phone call between Secretary Hagel and General Sisi, and it was mentioned the word “importance of the referendum.” I mean, from your perspective, what is the importance of the referendum, as – how you see it? I mean, because you mentioned the conditions and you mentioned the – what was expecting to be done. How do you see the referendum in general?
MS. HARF: Well, we believe it’s important for the Egyptian people to have a voice and to be able to cast their votes and have a say in how their country moves forward. That’s certainly been our position all along and this is a chance for them to do so. That’s why it’s deeply concerning to us when there are reports about people advocating for a no-vote being detained or charged. There’s just – there’s no place for that in an inclusive democracy.
QUESTION: Yet there is another thing which – in Paris, Ambassador – the Secretary had – I am not sure if they had a chance to talk with Nabil Fahmy, who was foreign minister of Egypt. Did they have a chance to meet each other or they talk about any of these issues?
MS. HARF: Let me check on whether he met with him. I don’t have that down here. I’ll check with our team and see. Yeah, thank you. Anything else on Egypt? Okay.
I’m going to you in the back because you’ve been waiting very patiently.
QUESTION: Yes. Secretary Kerry issued a statement earlier today saying he’s deeply concerned about the passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria which contains punishments of up to 14 years in prison. Will passage of that law impact U.S.-Nigeria relations?
MS. HARF: Well, we did release a statement, and I would just note that we do regret that this bill passed by Nigeria’s national assembly was signed into law on January 7th. Obviously, we respect the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the prerogatives of its national assembly to pass legislation. We just don’t support any legislation that institutionalizes discrimination against one select group of people. And I think one of the key reasons we are opposed to this is that the law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage. It restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians. It’s inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution.
So obviously, we’ll keep raising these issues when they come up. We’ve made our position on this very clear. It may make some work in the country harder to do, but we clearly have a relationship there that’s an important one, and we’ll continue working together.
QUESTION: You just said it’s inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations. To which obligations are you referring?
MS. HARF: I can check specifically with our attorneys and see what they intended with this part of the statement. Obviously, freedom of assembly, association, and expression are topics we talk about a lot in terms of legal obligations, and also antidiscrimination obligations as well. I can check if there are more legal specifics to share.
QUESTION: Were there any conversations between State Department officials and Nigeria prior to signing this legislation?
MS. HARF: There were. Let me see what I have here. Since the law was in draft form, we’ve been in continual contact with the Jonathan administration, the national assembly, and a wide variety of Nigerian stakeholders. Our conversations have been focused on our concerns that portions of the law, again, appear to restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, provisions that we’ve been very clear we do not support.
QUESTION: And who is representing the United States in those talks?
MS. HARF: I can double-check and see who the specifics there are. I don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: And the statement that the Secretary put out was embargoed until an announcement from the Nigerian Government. Did the State Department know this law was going to be signed beforehand?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. Obviously, we’ve been in discussions since it was in draft form and it passed. We were in discussions with the administration. I’m happy to check on that. Obviously, we allow governments to speak for themselves before we speak publicly about things as well.
QUESTION: Could sanctions and/or loss of aid be on the table as a result of this law?
MS. HARF: I don’t – I haven’t heard talk of any of that. I’m happy to check with our folks. Again, we’ve made very clear what our position is on this and I just don’t have a ton more on it. So I know you have probably 10 follow-ups, but I’m happy to take them and see if I can answer them, but then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask one last question, then.
MS. HARF: Okay, deal.
QUESTION: This news is breaking just after a man in Cameroon was jailed, has been – was – died after being sentenced for being gay and after Uganda passed its own anti-gay legislation, the parliament there. Is the State Department concerned about a larger trend in Africa about passage of anti-gay legislation?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s a trend that they’re concerned about. We speak very clearly for LGBT rights across the globe. We’ve talked about it elsewhere – whether it’s Russia, here, or elsewhere – that we believe that LGBT rights are human rights, that we – there is no place for discrimination anywhere such as this. So we’re very clear, whether it’s Africa or somewhere else, that this is something we feel very, very strongly about. President Obama, the Secretary, have all made very clear statements to that regard. And I’m happy to check if there’s more detail on this, if you have more follow-ups, okay? Thanks.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process?
QUESTION: Staying in Africa?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Wait, we’ll stay in Africa, then we’ll go --
QUESTION: Yeah, sure.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m just going to work my way around the globe.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have any reaction to the partial truce that was brokered by the French in Bangui, Central Africa?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have anything on – let me see what I have on that. I don’t think I have anything on that. I’m happy to check with our folks and see. Sorry about that. What else?
MS. HARF: Whether the lease was renewed before the attack?
QUESTION: But not mentioned in the ARB.
MS. HARF: What would the relevance be here? I just – I don’t know the answer and I’m trying to get at the crux of your question here.
QUESTION: Just curious who signed off or who would sign off on a lease.
MS. HARF: On a lease of a property?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And Senator Graham says his efforts into investigating the Benghazi attack are – is being blocked. Do you have a comment on that, Marie?
MS. HARF: We have given unprecedented access to Congress, whether it’s documents – I can get the latest numbers – whether it’s briefings, hearings, senior officials from Secretary Panetta to Secretary Clinton, others have been testifying for months and months and months. We respond to requests when they come in. I think the idea that we have not provided extensive amounts of information is just factually incorrect.
QUESTION: And can you explain that – on Friday, you placed a former Guantanamo Bay detainee charged with leading the attack on Benghazi and leader of the Ansar al-Sharia Darnah to your Specifically Designated Global Terrorist list.
MS. HARF: The former Gitmo detainee?
MS. HARF: He was designated as the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Darnah. He was designated because he’s leader of that group. In designating him, we did not say that he was himself responsible or involved with Benghazi.
QUESTION: Let me try that again, Marie.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Can you explain why on Friday you designated him as a global terrorist, yet at the same time you made an effort to free another Guantanamo detainee, this time someone else who also had ties to bin Ladin and al-Qaida, a Yemeni by the name of Mahmoud Abd Al Aziz Al Mujahid?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And can you see why some people in America might have an issue with that, that while at the same time you put a Guantanamo Bay detainee – a former Guantanamo Bay detainee on your terror list, you went and took steps to free another?
MS. HARF: Well, first, a couple points on that. Each situation is different. So when we’re talking about Qumu, who was designated as the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Darnah, that’s the reason he was designated. He was released to the public by the Libyan Government in 2008. I don’t know the details of why he was released from Guantanamo in 2007. When we came into office – this Administration – this Administration put in place a process for how we would repatriate or release Guantanamo detainees that were determined that they could be released to third countries. So each situation is obviously different.
We have a process in place today about how we make those determinations. They’re just – each case is different. I’m not familiar with that specific case you raised.
QUESTION: I think in both cases the Administration claimed that these gentlemen were no longer a significant threat, when we know since that hasn’t – that’s not the case.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m happy to check and see if that was part of the decision to release in 2007. Obviously, in Libya, Qumu was, I believe, in prison and the Libyan Government in 2008 released him. We did not make that decision to release him to the public.
QUESTION: Right. But we released him to Libya and to the government.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, to custody. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: But you --
MS. HARF: Which is different.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, you can see why some members on Capitol Hill and Americans throughout the country would have – take umbrage, have an issue with we’re releasing Guantanamo Bay detainees at the same time we’re declaring more terrorists to your list.
MS. HARF: Well, I just don’t think that they’re related. There’s a number of folks still in Guantanamo. We’ve talked about the Uighurs lately who obviously don’t fall into this category. The President’s been very clear that our goal is to close the prison at Guantanamo. For detainees that the interagency process, including the intelligence community, deems can be released to a third country somewhere, we work to send them to third countries. We’ve talked about this, like I said, with the Uighurs.
There’s also a process for detainees that this interagency group decides and determines should not be released and should be tried in some way through a legal process. So it’s not just that we’re throwing the doors open and releasing detainees. We have a process in place, a very deliberative one, with the ultimate goal of closing the prison, bringing to justice and through a legal process people we determine should be, and releasing folks in a variety of – to a variety of countries and a variety of ways that should be released. So it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution here.
QUESTION: Friday’s announcement is – was a gentleman who’s a former driver to Usama bin Ladin. He’s a former member of al-Qaida. What kind of system do you have in place to determine that someone is no longer a significant threat?
MS. HARF: Well, again, the system we’ve put in place postdates Qumu’s release. I can’t speak for the --
QUESTION: This is Mahmoud Abd Al Aziz --
MS. HARF: But you said the person we designated on Friday. That was Qumu.
MS. HARF: So when you asked what system we have in place – so I can’t speak to the previous administration and how they made determinations about releasing folks from Guantanamo. What I can say is we have in place a process that is an interagency review process that includes the intelligence community, law enforcement, State Department, lots of folks, to make determinations about if people can be released and where they should go and what the conditions of that release should look like.
We have been very clear that we’re concerned about recidivism. We’re not naive about that fact. We’re not shy about it. But there is a process in place to go through, detainee by detainee, what the situation is, what the threat is, and what should be the decision moving forward.
I can check on that specific case. I’m just not familiar with it, I’m sorry. But I’ll check on that specific detainee and maybe we can talk about it a little more tomorrow.
QUESTION: Can we go to the peace process very quickly?
MS. HARF: Yeah. And then I’m coming to you. I promise.
QUESTION: Abbas made a statement this past weekend saying that they will never accept what is requested of them on the Jewish aspect of the state of Israel; and second, they will never forfeit Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine; and third, that the right of return is a personal issue for the Palestinians, and not a collective issue. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: I think I’ll let his words speak for themselves. Again, we’re discussing – all issues are on the table. We’re discussing them privately. I think the Secretary’s been clear that we’re at a critical point right now, that the Palestinians and the Israeli leaders are grappling with difficult and challenging decisions, and very sensitive ones. But the details of those discussions we are keeping private to give them the best chance to succeed.
QUESTION: Okay. Is the Secretary expected to visit anytime soon? Maybe this week?
MS. HARF: We don’t have any --
QUESTION: You don’t have anything to --
MS. HARF: -- announcements on travel. He always is ready and willing to go back if he thinks it will help and be productive to the process. You know his travel schedule as well as I do. Nothing to announce at this point.
QUESTION: And lastly, you mentioned they’re upset that he spoke with the Holy See about the Vatican’s role in the peace process.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What is their role? Are they --
MS. HARF: Well, let me see what I have here. Well, he hasn’t had the conversations yet. Obviously, he’s going there tomorrow. We noted that they will discuss foreign policy priorities, including Pope Francis’s vocal leadership on the Middle East peace process. I imagine we will have more to readout from their meeting tomorrow. I don’t want to predict what they might say.
QUESTION: Considering that the Pope plans to visit in the near future, so are we to assume that his visit is not a pilgrimage and may actually take on a different dimension as --
MS. HARF: I would refer you to the Pope. I don’t think I need to speak for the Pope from here. That’s way above my pay grade, Said. (Laughter.)
Yes, you next.
QUESTION: The Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi is arriving in the U.S. for a five-day visit today, and explained Yasakuni issue – visit by Prime Minister Abe. So what’s the U.S. expected from the visit, or explanation? Has the U.S. seen positive steps taken by Japan since you expressed the disappointment? Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks for the question. I don’t have details on that visit. I’m happy to check in with our folks who do and get you some more information today, or we can also talk about it tomorrow if I had a little more detail on what the visit will look like.
QUESTION: Do you know who he is meeting?
MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t. And I’m sorry that I don’t. I’m happy to check and get you more information.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout of Deputy Secretary Burns’s meeting with the Chinese ambassador today?
MS. HARF: I don’t think that I do. Let me get one – let me see if I can get one for you.
Yeah. Go ahead. And then I’m going to you next.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Since the return of Ms. Khobragade to India, I was wondering if there were – have been any discussions between Washington and Delhi, and more broadly, whether you see any efforts to repair relations after this incident.
MS. HARF: Well, I think, at this point, clearly – look, clearly this has been a challenging time in the U.S.-India relationship. We expect that this time will come to a closure, though. I think we’re increasingly getting towards that point, and that together we will now take significant steps with the Indian Government to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place. I think that we have talked at length about the situation for weeks now, and what we’re focused on is the situation coming to an end and moving forward.
QUESTION: Have there been any discussions since Friday, since – between the two countries?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. Well, I do have just one to note. Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller met today with the Indian ambassador to the U.S. this morning to discuss our bilateral cooperation. She stressed that it is critical that both sides refocus our attention on the broad agenda before us, and as would make sense for the Acting Under Secretary, underscore the importance of increasing bilateral cooperation on nonproliferation, defense, and arms control. So this is just an example of an issue we’ve worked together with each other on all the time, a routine issue. This is the kind of business we just need to get back to, quite frankly, now that this is hopefully coming to an end.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Follow-up on India first. On the significant steps that you said, what are the significant steps U.S. is planning to take now to improve the relationship?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve – on all sides, we have to take significant steps. It’s not just the U.S., it’s the Indians as well. I can check and see if there’s any more details on what those are, but we work together on a wide range of issues that we’ve talked about in here since the beginning of this, whether it’s, as I said, arms control, nonproliferation, whether it’s Afghanistan, whether it’s energy, economic issues. We just want to get back to business and we want to put this behind us, and we want both sides to work together to move the relationship forward.
QUESTION: And what are your expectations from Indian sides?
MS. HARF: I think the Indian Government can probably speak for themself on that.
QUESTION: On the diplomat who was asked to leave from India, a lot of names – one name is in circulation. Can you confirm that name?
MS. HARF: Due to privacy considerations, I don’t have anything further to share – or anything to share, I should say, not further – on who the person is or any other details on them.
QUESTION: And there are a lot of reports in the social media and some media also have reporting on the Facebook account of that particular official, the comments about the culture of that particular country. Have you seen that?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the comments. I’ve seen the reports of them. Those comments absolutely do not reflect U.S. Government policy, nor were they made on any official U.S. Government social media account. I don’t have more comment than that. Again, I would underscore that these do not in any way represent the U.S. Government position.
MS. HARF: Iraq?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about the recent – I mean, updating about the cooperation with the Iraqi Government regarding --
MS. HARF: Yeah, let me – yeah – sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off there.
QUESTION: -- confronting different --
MS. HARF: Yep. Let me just --
QUESTION: -- challenges?
MS. HARF: -- give you a few updates here, and then if there are any follow-ups, I’m happy to get to it.
So just a couple of things. We put out a fairly lengthy statement about Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk’s travel to Iraq. Just a little update on the situation on the ground, and we talked about this a little last week – but basically that if we think back on, I think it was January 1st when AQ took over much of Ramadi, Fallujah, that the Iraqis, their local police, with the support of the army in a supporting role, have really cleared out most of Ramadi, and basically did it in about a week, a little longer, and now have a plan to use some of those same tactics to do the same thing in Fallujah. We’re working with them very closely on this.
Obviously, Fallujah’s a more complicated situation, but I think it’s important to note when there is success in doing this. A lot of people covered when AQ took over Ramadi. I think there should be as much attention paid to when the Iraqi local police was able to push them out to the outskirts of Ramadi. So we’re working with them on a whole host of issues, really. It’s working with them politically – as you saw Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk met with everybody, I think, in Iraq over his few day trips there – but also on the military and counterterrorism side, certainly accelerating our cooperation.
I don’t have more details other than what we talked about last week.
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, if it was the talk about 72 hours ago or 48 hours ago, was about this Apache helicopters and missiles and all these things are – these things are finalizing, or on --
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly hope so. This is – these are things we certainly support, the Administration supports. We will keep working with Congress to as quickly as possible get more things, for lack of a more technical term, more materials to the Iraqi Government they can use in this fight. We are very committed to supporting them in this way through foreign military sales, and also politically and diplomatically.
QUESTION: Marie, does the State Department have a reaction to an article in The Washington Post today in the style section, from an interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates where he said he looks around the world and he sees trouble coming; the Middle East is worse, not better; Asia – worse, not better? Do you have any comments about that?
MS. HARF: Well, I unfortunately didn’t read the style section of The Washington Post this morning. I’m sorry that I missed that. I will maybe go take a look at it. I – so I haven’t seen the comments. I think we are very clear that the world is a complicated and dangerous place. Nobody’s naive about that. That’s why you see everybody from the President and the Secretary on down working really hard on these issues.
And if you just look at the last week – let’s take a look in – let’s take the Middle East for example. We concluded an implementation understanding with Iran on how we are putting in place the Joint Plan of Action that, for the first time in a decade, halts their nuclear program. We’re going to start comprehensive negotiations very soon. The Secretary is in Paris meeting with the London 11, working with the Russians to set up the Geneva II conference to try and make progress towards a political solution in Syria, and he’s heading to Kuwait to try and get other countries to give more money to help with the humanitarian situation. He’s deeply engaged in Middle East peace in Paris, also updated the Arab Peace Initiative and where those initiatives stand.
So the notion that somehow we are not engaged on these issues in a serious and sustained way is just not borne out by the facts. Clearly, these are tough, tough issues. There are no easy answers. To think there should be is, quite frankly, naive. Again, I haven’t seen those specific comments at all.
QUESTION: I think he’s being clear, though, he sees the world getting worse, not better. Would you agree with that assessment?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that’s a pretty broad statement, and I can remember different times in history when people have said that in response to a variety of threats, a variety of challenges. Each generation has their own. I think, certainly, we’ve all lived through that, and people who have come before us have lived through that. And I think it’s often easy to say that today things are worse than they’ve ever been. We’re not naive about the challenges, but I don’t think it’s a useful exercise to try and compare today’s threats to previous ones. We know what they are, we’re focused on them, and that’s what we’re working towards combating every day.
QUESTION: Does that include threats in the future?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly always try and look at future threats. I know my colleagues in the intelligence community certainly do. That’s why we’re focused on a whole host of issues, not just what’s on our plate today, but what’s possibly coming down the road as well.
QUESTION: One thing on Gates, in his book, which is coming out tomorrow, he writes that --
MS. HARF: I know. We’ve talked a lot about a book that’s not out yet.
QUESTION: A little bit. In – he writes in 2009, Afghanistan’s presidential election, there was serious effort made by the U.S. – in particular, he names the then-Special Representative for Afghanistan, Pakistan Ambassador Holbrooke – that the effort made by him to interfere in the Afghanistan’s presidential elections to defeat President Karzai. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been very clear throughout – we’ve talked about the upcoming election here – that we don’t – but in general – that we don’t take a position on who should win elections. We don’t endorse candidates. We don’t endorse parties. It’s up to the people of Afghanistan to decide who their leadership is. That certainly was the case then; that certainly will be the case in the upcoming elections.
QUESTION: But was that an exception in 2009 when Ambassador Holbrooke tried to interfere in the elections?
MS. HARF: I would take great issue with the notion that Ambassador Holbrooke tried to interfere in the Afghanistan elections. He was obviously very engaged in these issues, but I would – I just don’t agree with that assessment.
QUESTION: They’re not my words. These are written by Secretary Gates.
MS. HARF: And I’m disagreeing with his words in that assessment.
QUESTION: So you disagree with his words that he’s saying over there?
MS. HARF: I do. Yes.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: The new – the prime minister was sworn in today, Sheikh Hasina. You have not recognized the elections as free and fair. Do you recognize the government after the elections?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s not exactly how it works. We obviously work with governments who are elected, but in regards to these elections themselves, we have already made clear our disappointment with the elections, which in our view did not credibly reflect the will of the Bangladeshi people since almost all of the seats of the new parliament weren’t contested or had only token opposition. So we’ll make clear our concerns when we have them.
QUESTION: But will you continue to work with the government of Sheikh Hasina?
MS. HARF: We continue to work – of course we will, but while at the same time making clear our concerns with the election.
QUESTION: I have one more on – India-related.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: One of the media reports says Edward Snowden worked in the U.S. Embassy for some time before he came to U.S. Can you confirm this, and in what capacity he was working there?
MS. HARF: I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’ve seen some of those reports.
QUESTION: Can you confirm it?
MS. HARF: I just don’t have anything further for you on that.
MS. HARF: Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)
DPB # 8