Daily Press Briefing - February 13, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Secretary's Visit to Seoul and Beijing
    • Al-Sisi / Urge Inclusive Transition / U.S.-Egypt Relationship
    • Detainees Released / Concerns
    • Bilateral Security Agreement
    • Arrest of U.S. Embassy Employee
    • Injured Exchange Student in the United States
    • Secretary's Comments on Liancourt Rocks
    • Japan-South Korea Relations / Urge Cooperation
    • Security Council Resolution / Ongoing Negotiations
  • IRAN
    • JPOA / Oil Exports
    • Egypt Free to Pursue Relationships with Other Countries / U.S.-Egypt Relationship
    • U.S. Position on Adoption Legislation and Anti-LGBT Legislation
    • Detainees Released / Force Protection Concerns / Security of U.S. Personnel Top Priority
    • Domestic Political Situation
    • Comprehensive U.S. Outreach
    • Status of Process
    • U.S.-China Engagement on North Korea
    • U.S.-Turkey Counterterrorism Cooperation
    • Iran's Destabilizing Activities in Syria / Rise of Extremism
Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 13, 2014


Via Teleconference

1:19 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Happy snow day. It’s the second time we’ve had to do this over the phone this year. And I appreciate folks, their patience and understanding with doing this.

So this will be just like a normal daily press briefing. It’ll be all on-the-record. What I’ll do is just give a quick travel update, and then we’ll go ahead and open it up for questions. So as the moderator just said, the question-and-answer mode should be on now.

So he gave directions for how to ask questions, so go ahead and queue up and then we can get started. So today, Secretary Kerry arrived in Seoul, which is the first stop in his fifth visit to the region as Secretary of State. There he met with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun and Republic of Korea President Park. Tomorrow, Secretary Kerry will head to Beijing, where his schedule will include meetings with senior Chinese Government officials. And we will attempt to give readouts. I know the team on the road is giving readouts, but we will attempt to do that from here as well.

So that’s all I have at the top. No athlete of the day today, because I don’t have the screens to show you all photos. So with that, we’ll start with Lara Jakes of the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?

MS. HARF: I can.

QUESTION: Hooray. Okay. I have two questions, one on Egypt and one on Afghanistan. I’ve never done this before, so do you want me to just ask both of my questions --

MS. HARF: No, go ahead and do Egypt. We’ll keep your line open, so you can ask follow-ups. So go ahead and do Egypt, and then we’ll do Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Okay. So on Egypt, I’m sure you saw the reports today out of, I believe, Moscow, where Putin has endorsed Field Marshal al-Sisi’s unannounced bid for president. Wanted to get your all’s response on this. Also, a couple of ministers there, Russian and Egyptian, issued a joint communique condemning meddling in foreign affairs by foreign – I’m sorry – in domestic affairs by foreign nations. This is seen on the ground as a poke at the United States and their involvement with working with domestic political issues in Egypt. Can you respond to that?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So on your first question, I think in part we need to wait and see what comes out of this visit to Moscow. Of course, we don’t endorse a candidate and don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr. Putin to decide who should govern Egypt. It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide. So we’ve said – we have urged the government to continue to advance an inclusive transition that includes all groups and all parties. And again, it’s not up for us to endorse a candidate, and really not up to anyone else outside of Egypt to either. In terms of the – your second question, who issued that? I’m sorry. I haven’t seen that communique. Who issued that, Lara?

QUESTION: I will get you the names momentarily. It was – hold on. I don’t have the names of the people right now. I was just looking over a story, and I didn’t see it. I was just told this from one of our correspondents on the ground, but I will get that information.

MS. HARF: It’s okay. And the top line – and it said that no one should be meddling in Egypt’s affairs?

QUESTION: Hold on, and I will get you the exact language. Okay. I’ll just read this to you: Russian and Egyptian ministers issued a joint communique in which they, “condemned foreign interference in domestic affairs of any country and call for solving all existing problems and crises exclusively by peaceful means and broad, all-inclusive dialogue.” So no names, and I don’t have the names of the --

MS. HARF: Okay. That’s fine. Well, having not seen it, I think there is some irony to a foreign country issuing a statement saying other foreign countries shouldn’t get involved. But putting that aside, we have a long-standing relationship with Egypt that’s based on shared interests, as does Russia, as do other countries. So what we’ve said from the beginning is that we certainly do not – cannot and would not want to impose outcomes in Egypt. It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide what their future looks like. And that’s why we’ve said we will work with all parties and all groups across the political spectrum to help advance a process, right, an inclusive democratic transition, but not to impose outcomes and not to endorse candidates, because, again, that’s up to the Egyptian people. So I think that our position certainly hasn’t changed. We have relationships with countries all over the world, including Egypt, based on shared interests, not based on what the U.S. wants or doesn’t want to be done there, but based on what our interests are and what their interests are. You had Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Yeah. On Afghanistan, as you saw, as we all saw, the government released another 65 prisoners today. Looking for your reaction to that. And I was just wondering, as kind of a follow-up, as the negotiations for BSA continues that would keep, obviously, American and other foreign troops on the ground. And I’m just sort of wondering – maybe outside the box – if it’s wise to continue to have troops on the ground – and by extension push for a BSA – when you’re going to have these people who have been released, and whether they were guilty or not they I’m sure have a grudge against the U.S. now.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, on the first issue, we do know that the 65 detainees have been released. Our position on this has been clear, that we believe these individuals should be referred to the Afghan court system for prosecution under Afghan law. And look, we believe that some individuals previously released have already returned to the fight and that additional released detainees may continue to fill the ranks of the insurgency. And we do have – and I got asked this a little bit yesterday – we do have a legitimate force protection concern for the lives of coalition forces, for the lives of Afghan national security forces, and for Afghan civilians because some of these men have been released. And I note that many of these men who have been released, their primary weapon of choice has been the IED, which, of course, poses not just a threat to coalition forces and Afghan forces, but also Afghan civilians. And our Embassy put a statement out on this today that says “The Afghan Government bears responsibility for the results of its decision.” And we are urging it to make every effort to ensure that those released do not commit new acts of violence and terror and to immediately bring to justice any who would. On the BSA, it really is a separate issue. We’ve negotiated a BSA that we believe needs to be signed and right now the President is reviewing options for the level of troops that will remain after 2014. We’ve said without a BSA, we can’t have any troops. But with a BSA, there’s a question of – there’s an open question about how many troops we would have there. So obviously, our position on the BSA hasn’t changed. We need to get it signed. But at the same time, the discussions about what our presence and footprint looks like there are ongoing, and a whole host of issues will play into that decision, I’m sure, for the President.

QUESTION: What about the timing of the BSA? Has your position changed on that? Do you still think it must be signed within a matter of weeks, not months?

MS. HARF: Yeah. I mean, our position has been consistent, right, that it needs to be signed soon and that – in terms of timing, I mean, I know we focused a lot on the “weeks, not months” language, but the key really is that every day that goes by without it, it’s more likely that we will have to plan and eventually have no troops there after 2014. So we believe that the Loya Jirga spoke very forcefully in support of the BSA, that it’s really up to President Karzai right now to determine what he thinks is in the best interest of his country. We think he should sign it soon, as soon as possible, absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. So if not in weeks, not months, but soon, what is the – I mean, we’ve heard projected cutoff dates all the way up until October. Is that realistic? And if not, what is the realistic cutoff date for a decision to be made on this?

MS. HARF: A decision to be made on – for the President --

QUESTION: On whether --

MS. HARF: -- or on contingency planning?

QUESTION: Well, on whether or not the BSA is going to be pursued.

MS. HARF: Well, we’re still – I mean, we’re – I mean, in terms of being pursued, we believe it’s ready to be signed, right? So our position on that hasn’t changed. Obviously, the U.S. military is good at what it does and can plan for a number of contingencies and execute them quickly, but our position hasn’t changed, right, that every single day that goes by without it –and I don’t want to get into some of the rumored cutoff dates. I mean, I think those – addressing those rumors aren’t particularly helpful. I think what’s helpful to remember is that every – that all the time that goes by where we don’t have a BSA increases the likelihood – it’s like a scale, right? It increases the likelihood that we won’t – that we’ll have to start planning to not have any troops there after 2014. So we don’t want to put a date on it, right? It’s an ongoing discussion, but our position is that it’s ready to be signed and should be signed.

QUESTION: All right. I’m good. Thanks.

MS. HARF: Okay. The next question comes from Elise Labott of CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you. So I have two questions – I have questions on two different things, so should we just do it the same way?

MS. HARF: Okay. Just do the first one first, and then we’ll go to the second one.

QUESTION: We’ll do it the same way?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. I was wondering if you have anything more about the arrest of this employee in the Embassy in Egypt. You said you were going to get more clarity. Is this – have you been notified that this is because of any contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood? And what are you – given that this employee wouldn’t have any diplomatic immunity, but – what do you plan to do about this?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So – and thank you for the question. I know there’s been a lot of sort of churn in the media out there about this case. We have been in touch with the Government of Egypt. We have requested additional information about his case. To our knowledge, no charges have been filed against him, although he does remain in prison. He is a member of our political section at the Embassy, performed a number of duties, and does what locally employed staff do for political sections, sort of, in embassies all over the world, right: help us interpret political developments on the ground and connect American diplomats to a wide variety of political actors so we can inform our policy decisions based on those discussions. So what we said to the Government of Egypt is that they need to tell us, and more importantly make public, right – not through anonymous sources, but make public very clearly why he was arrested and is being held. They have not done that yet. I’ve seen some of the anonymous Egyptian officials being quoted about why – talking about why he may have been arrested, but they have not told us yet why he has been detained.

QUESTION: Okay, but given the fact that they haven’t told you this, are you – do you believe that this is because of his work in the political section, which when you say that he connected American diplomats to various --

MS. HARF: Political actors.

QUESTION: -- political actors, I’m assuming that would mean the Brotherhood. And given what these anonymous officials are saying in terms of why he was arrested, I mean, what does that say to you about the overall crackdown on the Brotherhood and the intimidation of diplomats who might have contact with them?

MS. HARF: Yeah, well, again, we’ve seen – at least the anonymous sources I’ve seen in the press – maybe I’m missing something – don’t actually mention the Muslim Brotherhood as talked about dealing with certain groups or outlawed groups – which, of course, some could mean that. But I think what we have said is that there are a lot of anonymous officials out there talking about why he may or may not have been arrested, but they need – the Egyptian Government needs to tell us and needs to make public why he was arrested – not through anonymous sources but actually tell us why officially, right? That’s how the process works here. I think – so I don’t – and it’s what we said yesterday, sort of – until they tell us why he was arrested, we don’t want to jump to conclusions and don’t want to, in this specific case, make judgments that we don’t know are necessarily founded in reality. But putting aside his specific case, we have been concerned about the political climate in Egypt. We’ve talked about it a lot. We’ve been concerned about Egyptians of different parties being able to peacefully demonstrate and express their political views. We’ve been as concerned about the inclusiveness about the process and very clearly said that it needs to be inclusive going forward. So we need some more details, quite frankly, about this – official details, which is how the process works, before we’re going to make, I think, any generalizations about his case.

QUESTION: But have any of your diplomats in Egypt been encouraged or subtly threatened or anything not to be speaking to the Muslim Brotherhood?

MS. HARF: By the government?


MS. HARF: I can check. I can check if any of our folks have. I mean, we’ve been very clear that we’re going to meet with a wide variety of groups, but let me see if that’s come up.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I was hoping you could help with the – this Pakistani student who’s in a coma with a visa?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So what’s your question on that? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is it true that you are not extending his visa while he’s in a coma so that he can continue to get medical care and trying to assist with his return back home? Are you willing to extend his visa or turn it into to some type of medical visa?

MS. HARF: No, that’s not true. And let me just say a few words about his case and give some details on it. That – of course, the State Department is continuing to work with the hospital, with the student program sponsors. He is in the United States on a State Department-sponsored J-1 exchange program – and, of course, others who assist this young man and his family during what we know is a very difficult time. He has received excellent medical care here. Our embassy has been in regular contact with his family, including facilitating travel by family members to the U.S. to be with him. And here in Washington we have continued to work with the family, with the hospital, and the Pakistan Embassy to ensure this student receives the best care. In terms of his future treatment, that involves a number of factors that the family must weigh, we at the State Department are making every effort to offer as much flexibility as possible in maintaining his status while the family considers their options. As I said, he’s in the United States on a State Department-sponsored J-1 exchange program. It’s not accurate to – the way you framed the question – we’re working with the family, right? The State Department issues visas but there’s – and he’s here on an exchange program, as I said, a J-1 exchange program, but it’s not accurate to say that the State Department isn’t extending the visa. That’s just not how the process works, right? So we’re working with his family as they decide on treatment options and we’ll help them maintain flexibility in terms of his status.

QUESTION: So if they decide that they want to keep him in the United States for treatment because they feel the medical care is good, will you help him with his status then?

MS. HARF: Well – so, it’s a complicated question and it’s a hypothetical, and you know I hate answering hypotheticals. We’re working with the family as they consider options. In general, how the process works is the State Department issues a visa, but in terms of whether people can stay or not, that’s not just a State Department call, right; that’s a DHS call. But separate and apart from this case – because I don’t want to get ahead of where this case is – I know the family’s considering options, and I don’t want to speak for them. So we are committed to helping them maintain flexibility and maintaining his status, yes. And we’ll see as the family makes decisions what might need to be done.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yep. Our next question: Elliot Waldman from Tokyo Broadcasting.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. Thanks. I have just a couple questions that hopefully will be quick, on the Secretary’s remarks with the foreign minister --

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: -- of the R.O.K.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Sorry, can you hear me? MS. HARF: Yeah, I can. Can you hear me?


MS. HARF: Can other people hear me?

QUESTION: I lost you for a second there.

MS. HARF: Elliot, can you hear me?

QUESTION: I think – I can, yeah. (Laughter.) Sorry. So my question – my first question is just on the Dokdo issue. I think there might have been some confusion when the Secretary was answering that question. I don’t – I’m not – I didn’t see it, but just from the transcript, it seems like there was some lines crossed or something.

MS. HARF: Yeah, let me address that one first. It wasn’t clear that the questioner was asking about the Liancourt Rocks, which is what you’re asking about.


MS. HARF: And then – apparently the question also referenced the Senkaku Islands --


MS. HARF: -- so Secretary Kerry addressed our longstanding position on that issue. Nothing has changed about our policy on the Liancourt Rocks. We don’t take a position on the sovereignty of those islands.

QUESTION: Okay. So he thought the question was about Senkaku.

MS. HARF: Yeah, I think it was – it was referenced during the question as well, and I think he just picked up on that and said our policy on that. But our policies haven’t changed in either place, so --


MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Okay, got it.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: And then – so the Secretary made some very clear comments about the need for the R.O.K. and Japan to improve their relations. But the Foreign Minister Yun, in his remarks, made some pretty clear barbs at the Japanese side, saying – saying that, essentially, the ball is in their court and they need to get their act together before we can improve relations. Is there a concern that this kind of represents a bit of a stalemate and that both Japan and the R.O.K. are kind of saying it’s up to the other side to take the initiative here?

MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’ve said repeatedly and what the Secretary’s said is that he is going to continue urging our allies and partners in the region to concentrate on areas of cooperation, right, and that strong and constructive relationships between all countries in the Asia-Pacific region are important to their interests, but also to our interests. And of course between two key allies of ours, that’s even more the case, right? So he was reiterating what we’ve said for a very long time. I don’t want to do any more analysis on where the relationship goes from here other than to say that we’re engaged in trying to help or at least encourage them to move forward on the relationship.

QUESTION: Are there any actions you would like to see either or both sides take in order to do this specifically (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything specific to outline for you. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s anything specific. Not to my knowledge, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So let me see – I think we’ll probably be talking about this a lot, and certainly during the Secretary’s trip, and also the President’s upcoming trip to Asia. So let me see if I can get you a little more on that.

QUESTION: Absolutely. Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Is that it?


MS. HARF: Okay. Our next question is from Laura Rozen of Al-Monitor.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. And I saw a report that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia does have its own draft Security Council resolution on Syria humanitarian aid access that, per their usual position, doesn’t have sanctions or whatever for noncompliance. But the fact that they have their own draft suggests that they might be willing to support some type of measure. What kind of willingness do you see on the U.S. side to try to get a consensus position, even if it would mean taking off some of the penalties that are in the Western-backed drafts currently being circulated?

MS. HARF: Yeah, no, it’s a good question, and thank you for it. The United States continues to support the original resolution submitted to the full 15 members of the Security Council. So that’s the resolution draft that Australia, Jordan, and Luxembourg submitted to the full 15 members I think it was yesterday, because our position remains the same. The Security Council needs to act urgently to address the humanitarian situation. At this point, I’m sort of not going to get into a line-by-line analysis of the proposed Russian draft or the difference between the two because we’re in the middle of negotiations. We welcome constructive engagement from the Russians and the Chinese and all Security Council members on the resolution currently before the 15 members of the council. But again, the negotiations are ongoing right now about Security Council draft language, and we’ll keep talking to folks to see if we can get some language we can all agree to, because the situation is so serious.


MS. HARF: Can the moderator remind our listeners how to ask a question, please? And then we’ll –

OPERATOR: Certainly.

MS. HARF: -- more questions.

OPERATOR: To ask a question, you may press * then 1, and you’ll hear an acknowledgment tone that you’re in queue. If your question has been asked and answered already, you may remove yourself by #. So *1 to ask a question, # to remove.

MS. HARF: Thank you. So our next question is from Keith Johnson of Foreign Policy magazine.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. Thanks. Can you hear me?

MS. HARF: I can hear you.

QUESTION: Perfect. I just wondered if you guys had any reactions to the reports coming out today from the International Energy Agency that Iran’s oil exports jumped last month; they’re now at about 1.3 million barrels a day, which is significantly higher than the roughly 1 million barrels a day that U.S. officials have repeatedly said is what they will have under the terms of the JPOA. And I was just curious if you had any concerns if they’re doing a little bit more on the oil export front and than they’re meant to be doing, and if that could sort of weaken the economic case for bringing them to the table.

MS. HARF: Yeah, Keith, it’s a good question. I actually asked our team, our experts this morning about this exact issue, and they’re still trying to get me some – a little clarity on exactly what the report means. I mean, look, the JPOA is very clear in outlining what Iran has committed to do and what we have committed to do in terms of the limited relief. So on the oil side – and again, I haven’t – I don’t have all the details about what our experts think on this, so let me wait till I get that. But on the oil side, we’ve said that they don’t have to reduce further, that oil-purchasing countries don’t have to reduce further, but they can’t increase. So obviously, that’s spelled out in the JPOA. But in terms of this report, I’m having our folks take a look at it, and we’ll get you something after the briefing.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks a lot.

MS. HARF: Yep. It looks like our next question is from Michael Hernandez of Anadolu Agency.

QUESTION: Well, thank you, Marie. I just have a couple quick questions going back to al-Sisi’s visit to Egypt.

MS. HARF: Yep. Moscow?

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

MS. HARF: To Moscow.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Yeah. Yeah, to Russia.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, I wanted to get your reaction to the fact that this is his first foreign trip since the military endorsed his unannounced bid for the presidency, and also what you make of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov saying that the two have agreed to a document talking about the need to accelerate military-to-military technological cooperation.

MS. HARF: Yeah, so just a couple of points on this. I think we want to see sort of what comes out of the meeting – the meetings, in terms of what happens and sort of any analysis we have on that. Look, Egypt is free to pursue relationships with other countries; it doesn’t impact our shared interests. Obviously, each country brings unique capabilities and pieces of the pie, so to speak, to relationships, bilateral relationships with Egypt and with other countries. So again, this doesn’t impact our relationship, but we’ll wait to see what comes out of it. And if we have more analysis to do then, we’ll do so after it’s over.

QUESTION: And just to follow up, if I could, you don’t see this in any way as Russian – Russia kind of stepping into the historically strong role that the U.S. has had with Egypt on military cooperation?

MS. HARF: It’s an interesting question and it’s in some ways an easy narrative for people to try and pick up on, right? When some of the other countries in the region offered Egypt some financing, for example, people said, “Well, are they trying to take your role in terms of financing?” And what we said on that – and what I would say here – is that the United States has unique capabilities to bring to bear military and economically in terms of the relationship, right? So we have a longstanding, strong, historical relationship with Egypt. That has not changed, and we don’t think that this visit to Russia will impact our shared interests with Egypt. So again, we’ll wait and see what happens. But because I think we do have unique capabilities to bring to the relationship, which we’ve seen over decades, I think we feel like we are in a place where we’ll keep working on issues together, and if they want to work with other countries, then they’re free to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MS. HARF: Yes, thank you. The next question comes from Catherine Chomiak of NBC.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. Thanks for doing this.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the latest decree signed in Russia on adoptions, now banning the adoption of Russian children where same – in a country where same-sex marriage is recognized. Do you have a reaction to that?

MS. HARF: Well, Catherine, I haven’t actually seen that report, so I don’t want to comment specifically. But I would say two points. We’ve been very clear what our position is on the adoption legislation we’ve seen in the past, that we believe that there needs to be legal ways for couple – for folks in the United States to adopt children from Russia. We’ve been very clear about our opposition to that kind of legislation in the past. We’ve also been very clear about our opposition to the anti-LGBT legislation we’ve seen coming out of Russia and elsewhere lately, that it’s not acceptable, that LGBT rights are human rights and should be treated as such. So I’ll take a look at the exact legislation. I don’t – I haven’t seen it and don’t know where it is in the process. But we’ve been very clear about our opposition both to the adoption legislation and to anti-LGBT legislation, so it stands to reason – without having seen it – that if you combine the two, we would be pretty opposed to it. But let me take a look and see where it is.


MS. HARF: Yep. Our next question, it looks like, comes from Cami McCormick of CBS.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. I wanted to do a quick couple of follow-ups on Afghanistan, if I could.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: One, President Karzai said today if Afghanistan’s judiciary authorities decide to release prisoners, it’s of no concern to the United States; Afghanistan is a sovereign country. I’d like your reaction to that. Secondly --

MS. HARF: Wait, let me do that and then you do the second.


MS. HARF: I’ll keep your line open, don’t worry. Well, Afghanistan is a sovereign country. He’s right about that. They can make their own decisions. We have been very clear, however, that we have a legitimate force protection concern for the lives of coalition forces, of Afghan national security forces, and Afghan civilians because these men have been released, particularly because what they – the weapon they’ve chosen to use has been the IED, which, again, has posed an incredible threat to Afghan civilians. So this isn’t just something we should be worried about; it’s something that President Karzai and the whole Afghan Government should be worried about. But he’s right, it’s a sovereign country. They make their own decisions. As you said – as I said earlier, the embassy statement said that the Afghan Government bears responsibility for the results of its decisions, and we hope it makes every effort to ensure that those that they have released do not commit further acts of violence. So we’ll make clear what our position is, and at the end of the day keep having a discussion with the Afghans about it.

QUESTION: Okay, so that brings me to my follow-up. You mention Afghan civilians. You mentioned Afghan security forces and coalition troops that may have been targeted by these individuals. But what I’m wondering about is U.S. diplomats. How concerned is the State Department about the release of these detainees to its installations, its personnel? When the U.S. military presence is decreasing in Afghanistan, how concerned is the State Department about the safety of its personnel?

MS. HARF: Well, we know Afghanistan is a place where at times it’s dangerous for folks to operate. We know that, right? And there wasn’t a specific reason that I did not name other U.S. folks working in Afghanistan, whether it’s diplomats, whether it’s our USAID folks, whether it’s other folks. Obviously, we’re concerned about Americans writ large, about Afghans writ large, working and living in Afghanistan if folks like this are released. So there wasn’t a specific reason; obviously, we take the security of our people overseas incredibly seriously – it’s probably our top priority here at the State Department – and have folks serving really courageously in places like Afghanistan where the security situation is challenging. But we do it because it’s important.

QUESTION: How are you – are you sure that your personnel will be safe in the coming months as the military presence decreases?

MS. HARF: Well, I mean, are we sure they’ll be safe? Look, we know – we take security incredibly seriously. We’ve done a lot to improve security of our folks overseas, and it’s something we focus on every single day at the State Department. But we also know it’s a dangerous operating environment and we know that we serve in places like Afghanistan despite the danger because it’s really important that we do so. And as the U.S. military begins to end its combat mission and begins to end in 2014 and bring more troops home, obviously we will remain a partner with Afghanistan at the State Department, at USAID, working with the Afghan Government and the Afghan people because that’s really important to us. So we will take all steps to make sure our people are safe, understanding that it’s a tough security environment.


MS. HARF: Yep. Hold on. And if the moderator can remind folks again how to ask a question.

MODERATOR: Certainly. You may ask a question by pressing * and then 1 on your phone keypad, *1.

MS. HARF: Great. It looks like the next question is from Luis Alonso of the AP.

QUESTION: Hello, many thanks for doing this.

MS. HARF: Yep, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on Venezuela.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask if you have any comment about the violent protest that took place yesterday there and the lack of coverage provided by the local TV. And also, this morning the Venezuelan foreign minister in an interview blamed an opposition politician, Leopoldo Lopez, for violence that took place yesterday and said that Lopez and his acolytes have been financed by the U.S. Government for a long time. If you please have a comment on those two points, I would appreciate it.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, let me see if I can get some specifics on what’s happened in the last few days. In general, when it comes to Venezuela, we’ve made clear that we’re open to having a constructive relationship with the Government of Venezuela. Quite frankly, we haven’t seen that – we have not seen that reciprocated, to be clear. So we also, I think, see a lot of conspiracy theories or rumors out there in the press about how the U.S. is interested in influencing the domestic political situation in Venezuela, which is absolutely not true. It’s not up to us to comment on internal Venezuelan politics. So I’m happy to check with our team to see if there is more specifics about the protest specifically that I’m not as familiar with, and see if we can get you something on that.

QUESTION: Okay. I would appreciate that because there were 3 dead, 66 people injured, and 69 arrested.

MS. HARF: Yeah. No, it’s a good question. And apologies that I don’t have something in front of me on that, so let me see what I can do.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks so much.

MS. HARF: Our next question is from Margaret Brennan of CBS. Margaret, are you there? Going once --

OPERATOR: I believe her line disconnected from the call.

MS. HARF: Okay. Just give her one more second. Okay, well, if she hops back on. Our next question is from Lalit Jha of PTI.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. The U.S. Ambassador Powell met with Gujarat chief minister and BJP prime minister candidate Narendra Modi today in his home state. What is the readout that you have got? Is the U.S. willing to – as you know, he is also (inaudible) main opposition’s party’s prime minister candidate (inaudible). Is the U.S. willing to work with him? Do you find him good enough to work – that U.S. can work with him and – for the strengthening the U.S. relationship?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. In advance of the Indian national elections, Ambassador Powell and the U.S. Consul General are engaging in comprehensive outreach across India to senior leaders in political parties, business organizations, and NGOs. This actually started last November, and since then Ambassador Powell has been sharing and listening to views on the U.S.-India relationship. She’s also reached out to the senior leadership in the Congress Party to engage in a similar discussion. So these meetings are really all part of the broader U.S. mission’s engagement with Indian politicians across the country and across the political spectrum, in keeping with the very comprehensive nature of our relationship.

QUESTION: Yeah, for anyone who has been seeing (inaudible) India, this meeting is considered very special because in the last nine years, none of the U.S. Ambassadors have met him. You have also denied him visa to travel to U.S. because of the 2002 Gujarat riots. And now after that, all these things seems to have been forgotten and there’s an effort to reach out to him. That’s why we – I think you should tell us what is – what was the ambassador’s impression about Mr. Modi?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to sort of get into details about what their discussions were like. I know the embassy actually put out a readout as well, so I’d refer you there. But again, this outreach is part of our comprehensive outreach across India to senior leaders and political parties. I know that there’s a lot of attention being paid to this one, but it really is part of our broader outreach. And we look forward to working closely with whatever government the Indian people choose in the upcoming elections.

QUESTION: And that includes Mr. Modi himself?

MS. HARF: Whatever government is chosen.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. HARF: You’re welcome. It looks like our next question comes from David Ivanovich Argus Media.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m sorry if I pulled myself off. My question was about Venezuela and you’ve already answered it.

MS. HARF: Okay, yeah. I’m sorry about that, guys. I will attempt to get some more on Venezuela and get that to folks.

QUESTION: I appreciate it.

MS. HARF: Next question is from Mike Viqueira with Al Jazeera America.

QUESTION: Hello, Marie.

MS. HARF: Hello, happy snow day.

QUESTION: Hi, happy snow day. Just a status update if you could on Keystone as we approach next Wednesday and the summit in Mexico.

MS. HARF: What specifically on Keystone?

QUESTION: Where are we in the decision-making process? How much longer?

MS. HARF: Yes, so as we announced – what was it? A week and a half ago, maybe? I’m losing track of time now. The SEIS has been completed. After that process was completed, then that’s when the Secretary’s involvement begins. And there’s 30 days from that date – and I can get you the exact day, I don’t have it in from of me – for public comments to that document and up to 90 days for the other relevant government agencies to take a look at the document and provide comments as well. So this environmental impact statement is only one factor that the Secretary will take into account as he weighs many other elements in making a decision. Obviously, for the Secretary, climate and environmental priorities are part of his decision making, quite frankly. So again, we’ve talked a lot publicly about it. That’s where the process is right now, that there is this document that has been put out. Agencies have 90 days, public has 30 days, and the Secretary will take into account all of that as he makes a decision.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yep. I think we have time for a few more. Our next question is from Taurean Barnwell of NHK.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie.


QUESTION: So according to a senior Administration official, Secretary Kerry is set to meet with Foreign Minister Wang and State Councilor Yang while he’s in Beijing tomorrow.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Have any plans to meet with President Xi? And also, according to the senior Administration official, they will focus on a series of regional, bilateral, and global issues. How much will North Korea factor into those discussions, especially in regards to a resumption of Six-Party Talks?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me check with our traveling – those are good questions. Let me check with our traveling team and see if we can get a full schedule for tomorrow. Obviously, I think they have the latest on what meetings they’ll be having. But broadly speaking, we’ve engaged quite extensively with the Chinese. I don’t have a percentage to guess for you about how much of the meeting it will be, but we’ve worked with the Chinese extensively on North Korea, because we share the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. The Chinese obviously have a relationship with North Korea that can be useful in helping to push the North Koreans to come back in line with their international obligations. So I’m assuming those will be a key part of what we discuss, but I’m sure you’ll have more of a readout after the meeting. So let me check with our team on the ground and see if there’s more we can share.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. The next question comes from Ilhan Tanir. Go ahead and open up Ilhan.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Hi, Ilhan.

QUESTION: Just to follow up a question from last week: There was a statement issued by the U.S. Treasury, and it was about targeting networks linked to Iran. And this question was asked – just to remind you – according to the statement, there are several elements or operatives in Iran have been transferring fighters and the funds into Syria, al-Qaida elements. So the question was: What’s your assessment of these activities by the Iranian operatives in Iran to grow al-Qaida elements in Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re referring to the designations.


MS. HARF: The designations, right, some of which were Turkey, Spain, Germany – there were a number of countries. We said that we work very closely with the Turkish Government on counterterrorism, and that they take it very seriously, obviously, that we have a very good relationship working on counterterrorism issue writ large with the Government of Turkey. In terms of the designations, these are designations under the same sanctions that we’ve said we will continue to do while these talks are ongoing. Obviously, we also talk to the Turkish Government about our concerns. I also point out that Turkey is a co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum and has taken a lot of steps, quite frankly, to improve on – specifically on the terrorist financing side, some of our concerns there. Obviously, there’s some more work to do, but I think we’ve been happy with some of the progress that’s been made.

QUESTION: My question, actually more focusing on Iran --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- situation. According to the statement, there are several operatives have been in Iran. And they have been operating within the knowledge of the Iranian authorities. And these people have been transferring fighters and the funds from Gulf and fighters from Pakistan into Syria, including al-Nusrah and various al-Qaida elements. So the question was: How do you see Iranian position or Iranian role in terms of growing al-Qaida elements within Syria, according to this statement?

MS. HARF: Oh. Well – so again, it’s a good question. We have said we’re long concerned about Iran’s destabilizing activities in Syria, whether that’s Hezbollah, whether that’s other forces. Obviously, we’ve said that that’s been a concern. In terms of – so that’s – that hasn’t changed. That’s why we continue to enforce, of course, terrorism-related sanctions on Iran while we negotiate. In term of al-Nusrah specifically or ISIS, obviously, we’re concerned the rise of extremism in Syria, particularly some of the Sunni extremist groups. In terms of their specific relationship with the Iranian Government, I’m happy to check and see what our folks think that relationship looks like. I’m not familiar with that, quite frankly, although we know that the Iranian Government has been supporting a number of destabilizing forces inside Syria. So let me see if there’s a little more we can say on that.

QUESTION: That would be great. Thanks so much.

MS. HARF: Great. Thank you. Well, I really appreciate folks hopping on the line today, particularly on such a snowy day. Again, this was all on the record, like a standard daily press briefing. And you know how to get in touch with us if there are any follow-ups, and hopefully we will see you live and in-person tomorrow in the briefing room. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)

DPB # 29