Daily Press Briefing: April 1, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Kerry's Travel
- Meeting of State Department Officials with Yemeni Minister of Defense
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- U.S. Urge For Restraint on Both Sides
- Jonathan Pollard
- Discussions Ongoing
- UNGA Vote / NATO Ministerial Meeting / Security Council Vote
- Statement by the NATO Foreign Ministers
- U.S. Condemns Violence / ISIL / Nusrah
- Elections / International Observer Groups / Independent Election Commission (IEC)
- Afghan Security Institutions
- U.S. Aid / Syrian Opposition Groups
- NORTH KOREA
- Kenneth Bae / Ambassador King
- Inspector General Report / U.S. Ambassador
- Ambassador Powell's Retirement / U.S. Diplomacy
- Tunisian Official to Visit D.C.
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE
- U.S. Continues to Urge Restraint / Discussions Ongoing / Jonathan Pollard
- Apache Helicopter / U.S. Assistance Unchanged
1:48 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Sorry for the moving target on the briefing times today. I was trying to wait for the Secretary to go first, and now it looks like he’ll be delayed, so I will brief. We’ll get a signal when he has about 10 or 15 minutes before he’ll start his avail because I don’t want you guys to miss it.
So a couple items at the top here. Update on travel: This morning, Secretary Kerry was in Jerusalem and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu before going to Brussels, where he is attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Foreign Ministerial, co-chairing the U.S.-EU Energy Council, and attending the NATO-Ukraine Commission Meeting. He will also hold a bilateral meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu.
Tomorrow, Secretary Kerry will return to the region for additional Middle East peace talks following the U.S.-EU Energy Council Meeting in Brussels. He will then continue with scheduled travel to Algeria.
I just said I had a few things at the top. I was trying to wait till after the Secretary, but I think he’s been a delayed a little bit. So we’ll get a signal when we have about 10 or 15 minutes before he starts, so I’ll brief until then, unless it’s three hours, in which case I will not.
One other item at the top: On March 31st, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Gerald Feierstein and Deputy Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Acting Assistant Secretary Tom Kelly, and Bureau of Counterterrorism Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Justin Siberell met with the Yemeni Minister of Defense Major General Muhammad Nasir Ahmad Ali in Washington.
The meetings followed on the December 2013 U.S.-Yemen Strategic Dialogue and provided U.S. officials with the opportunity to discuss with the defense minister mutual concerns about threats from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Yemeni and U.S. efforts to address these concerns. The meetings also provided an opportunity to reiterate the U.S. commitment to support counterterrorism capacity building for Yemeni security forces as well as support for Yemen’s political transition.
So with that, Lara, let’s get it kicked off.
MS. HARF: Yes, correct.
QUESTION: There were reports out of the region that President Abbas is going to cancel his meeting with the Secretary, also that he has resumed his campaign with the UN, suggesting that the peace talks are about to break down. Do you have a reaction?
MS. HARF: Well, we are reviewing these moves that you noted and have seen the comments. We continue to urge restraint on both sides, as we have throughout this process, and we’ll continue to work with both parties. Our team is still on the ground there. Obviously, Secretary Kerry has also been making a number of phone calls and will be returning there tomorrow. And for further details on sort of where the process is, would obviously defer to the team on the ground. And the Secretary will address this issue of Middle East peace discussions when he speaks at some point in the not-too-distant future.
So again, right now he’s going back tomorrow. I don’t have a schedule for tomorrow in terms of meetings yet. They’ll provide that from the road.
QUESTION: Do you want to give us some kind of readout on how it was that the Pollard release was put back up on the table? I know there’s been a lot of conflicting information over the last week, when these reports first surfaced in the Israeli press. We’d like a little clarification on exactly when and why and how, and whether or not Pollard’s release is still on the table, given that Abbas looks like he – that is what’s making him negative on the process right now.
MS. HARF: Well, a few points on that. First, the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. I want to be very clear about that. Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence. I don’t have any further update on his status to provide today.
In terms of this being a topic, it should be northern Syria in Kasab and in – around the region?
MS. HARF: I donRet into any of the details of the discussions that they’ve had with Secretary Kerry.
QUESTION: There’s a fundamental difference here. I mean, as we’ve talked before, the Israelis have raised the issue of Jonathan Pollard’s release annually, perennially, quite frequently.
MS. HARF: Consistently. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Right. The difference here is that it is now not being pushed off the table by the Americans. I think previous presidents have said thanks for bringing it up, we’re not going to consider it, or whatever. Even two – I think a couple of months ago or some time ago President Obama made a similar statement, saying we’re looking at his case and thanks for your – thanks for playing, basically. This seems to be a different situation.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to characterize what the discussions consist of on this or any other topic that are going on right now or sort of further characterize them in any way than I just said. Obviously, the team on the ground is talking to both sides about a variety of issues, and on this I just think we’re not going to have much more today.
QUESTION: Would you agree that this seems to be a different situation than it has been in the past when the Israelis have raised it?
MS. HARF: I – in terms of Pollard?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to characterize it that way. Obviously, in any peace process – this is a peace process that’s going on – been going on for decades now. Broadly speaking, not specific to Pollard, it’s different every time you take a look at it. The issues – the issues don’t change, but how you get to final agreement is obviously a topic that there’s still some work to be done on, because we clearly haven’t gotten there yet. So I don’t want to compare it to any previous situation, don’t want to further characterize the conversation in any other way.
QUESTION: Okay. Would you care to respond to experts and former U.S. officials who have been involved in these types of negotiations who question the wisdom of bringing this up at this point in the negotiations, just to even continue the talks as opposed to a final agreement or a final settlement, which is, I think in the past with Wye River, is what was the concern then?
MS. HARF: Well, again, as I said, the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard, and I would caution anyone not involved in the talks from presuming to know what’s going on in them, even if people have been involved in them in the past. So I guess there’s a lot of analysis out there. Quite frankly, that’s not what we’re focused on. What we’re focused on right now is the teams on the ground. They are talking to both sides. They are trying to make progress. And we are looking forward to the Secretary going back tomorrow.
QUESTION: Marie, is --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- you said the President has not made his decision. But is the Administration actively discussing and thinking about springing Pollard?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details for you on what discussions on any issue look like on the ground.
QUESTION: And one follow-up to your question, Lara, was in terms of this being unprecedented. Why is the United States as a mediator in this discussion actively taking such an active role? And shouldn’t this – shouldn’t it be between the Palestinians and the Israelis? Why is the United States having to put something like a prisoner release on the table?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t confirmed one way or the other what is or isn’t on the table as part of these negotiations. You’re right in that we do play a facilitation role, but it’s a very active facilitation role between the two parties. You’ve seen that throughout the now eight months we’ve been at the negotiating table. In fact, it’s because of Secretary Kerry, I think in large part his efforts and the courage we saw on both sides, both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, that we actually even got back to the table. So I’m just not going to confirm one way or the other any issue that’s being discussed, or quite frankly, what our internal discussions look like.
QUESTION: During negotiations – and I’m not an expert – but does the facilitator normally put something into the deal?
MS. HARF: Well, again, that would be getting into a discussion about issues that I’m just not going to discuss in detail from here. Discussions are ongoing.
Yes, Nicolas. And then we’ll go to --
QUESTION: Can I try again on Pollard?
MS. HARF: You guys can keep trying.
QUESTION: So you said you don’t want to compare with previous situations --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I don’t want to compare this negotiation writ large to any previous negotiation. It’s different times. We’re just --
QUESTION: Okay. But is it --
MS. HARF: -- it’s different people involved. I just don’t think it’s useful to compare it.
QUESTION: Okay. So would you say that it’s – the topic, the issue ,is more on the table this time that it used to be?
MS. HARF: I’m not characterizing the issue one – in any way, whether it’s on the table, how it’s on the table. I’m just not characterizing it. It was a good try though.
QUESTION: Aside from the negotiations that are currently happening and have happened, I’m curious also to see if you care to respond to those in the intelligence community who are also concerned about the merits of releasing Pollard and the message that would send to folks like him that you can do this kind of thing and be released. But obviously, there have been a lot of warnings from past CIA directors and various folks in the intelligence community who weren’t against the wisdom of releasing him.
MS. HARF: Well, again, the President has not made a decision to release him, so I don’t want to get ahead of things. I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions on the ground. Obviously, I’m aware of the history but don’t have any further comment on it.
Anything else on Middle East peace? I answered all of your questions on Middle East peace. Pretty good. What else? Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Last week, President Obama stated that United States and Europe stand united and Russia stands alone. But the last week’s UN General Assembly voting showed that Russia does not stand alone. There are countries that support Russia and --
MS. HARF: I think only 10 that voted with them, countries like Syria and Sudan and some not pretty good actors in the world.
QUESTION: Right, the countries that have anti-American foreign policy. But there are also countries like Armenia which claim to be allies with the United States, but apparently they’re not voting in favor of the U.S.-supported resolution. So do you anticipate any changes in foreign policy vis-a-vis countries like Armenia?
MS. HARF: Well, not that I’ve heard of, obviously. In terms of the UNGA vote, there were only 10 countries, as I said, that stood with Russia in voting no: Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, countries like that. So obviously, we thought it was important that 100 countries came together to vote yes for this resolution that was very clear in its condemnation of Russia.
Just today, we saw the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels stating very clearly that the U.S. and Europe stand together with our NATO allies to say that what Russia has done is not acceptable, that they must not take further escalatory actions, and that in fact, we will take steps based on what they’ve already done, including today’s suspending military cooperation with Russia NATO has done – just announced recently. So I think the numbers speak for themselves in terms of the votes.
In terms of the Security Council vote, which you didn’t bring up but I’ve mentioned it a few times, we were able to get China to abstain from the vote and not stand with Russia in that vote. So again, I think that the world is very united in not standing with Russia here.
QUESTION: But you don’t anticipate anything vis-a-vis Armenia?
MS. HARF: I can check --
QUESTION: Like there’s a NATO partnership program.
MS. HARF: I can check with our team. Not that I’ve heard of, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: What else? Yes, Lucas.
QUESTION: Earlier today, there was a statement from the foreign ministers of NATO saying that – condemning the illegality and illegitimacy of Russia’s “attempted annexation of Crimea.” And I was wondering, is that still the – does the United States fall under that statement, “attempted annexation”? Isn’t this already a fait accompli, it’s already taken – happened?
MS. HARF: Well, we – and I can read from the statement by the NATO foreign ministers here – have condemned Russia’s illegal military intervention, their violation of Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And yes, we have called very clearly for Russia to de-escalate, pull back from Crimea, pull back their troops from the border, that Crimea is part of Ukraine. That has in no way changed, and I think that’s what that language refers to.
QUESTION: But why are they calling it an attempted annexation? The annexation’s already happened.
MS. HARF: Well, Russia claims that it has, but we don’t believe it’s legitimate.
QUESTION: Even though there was a vote and they’ve even – I saw there was a stimulus program announced today. They’re boosting pensions for municipal workers.
MS. HARF: And they’ve announced a ministry of Crimean affairs. Yes, no, I’ve seen all of those. We think these are counterproductive attempts to legitimate Russia’s illegal actions here. We have been very clear about that. Crimea is part of Ukraine and they need to take steps to de-escalate.
QUESTION: Would you call that an example of good governance, the stimulus plan?
MS. HARF: I most certainly would not.
What else? This is going to be the shortest briefing in history.
QUESTION: Jen, can we go to --
MS. HARF: Tolga, save us from the shortest briefing in history.
MS. HARF: We can, yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any update about the situation in northern Syria in Kasab and in – around the region?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update.
QUESTION: Because you – yeah, I saw the condemnation that you made on – last Friday. I wasn’t here, so --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. I can check and see if there’s any update. I don’t have any update from what I said last week.
QUESTION: Because you are talking about the ISIL units --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- condemning the massacre --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- the violence. Are you sure about that? Because according to the press reports, ISIL left the region, and this is Nusrah and the Islamic Front who conducted this joint operation against the regime in that area.
MS. HARF: Well, I think what I was speaking to – and maybe we’re talking about two different things – was in Kasab, particularly the Syrian Armenian community that had been targeted by ISIL.
QUESTION: Yes, in the north, just at the Turkey-Syria border, Kasab. So this --
MS. HARF: Yes, yes, and we will – I’ll check with our folks, but it’s my understanding that we believe that was ISIL-related. I’m happy to see.
QUESTION: This is Nusrah and Islamic Front joint operation according to the press reports.
MS. HARF: I can check and see if we agree with those reports.
QUESTION: Yeah. This is – I mean, I know that it is al-Qaida affiliated groups and you’re accepting that.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it officially designated ISIL by the U.S. Government?
MS. HARF: Let me check. I believe that they are, yes. There’s been a question about this because ISIS is designated, I believe, and I think they are, but let me double-check on that for you.
QUESTION: You were using the name of ISIS, but --
MS. HARF: Yeah, I --
QUESTION: -- I actually did – the right term is ISIL. There is not any name change there, just the English version name has changed.
MS. HARF: Let me check. I know. Well, but there are different acronyms people, at least in the States, use for it. So let me check.
QUESTION: And --
MS. HARF: Nusrah is designated but let me check on ISIL. I believe they are.
QUESTION: Do you see any distinction between ISIL and Nusrah?
MS. HARF: We do. They’re different groups. I mean, I’m sure there’s some overlap.
MS. HARF: Obviously, I don’t think there are strictly delineated organizational charts. I’m happy to talk to our team. But they are different groups with different organizational structures.
QUESTION: Yeah. They are different groups, but in the legal status in the eyes of U.S. Government. So you designate al-Nusrah --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a question of if ISIL is designated, which I believe they are, but let me just triple-check that for you.
QUESTION: Is that – that’s the – actually, the reason that I asked this question--
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- are you more concerned about ISIL than al-Nusrah in the recent --
MS. HARF: Well, we’re concerned about both. We’re very concerned about both. We’ve certainly, seen over the past months, ISIL gain – at least gain in strength, I would say – maybe not in strength, but attempt to do more attacks, attempt to escalate their attacks both in number and sort of scope of their attacks in places all over Syria. So I think we are increasingly concerned about ISIL but we also remain concerned about al-Nusrah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Anything else? Guys, I’m so impressed. You just want to hear the Secretary.
Yes, go ahead.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- because there’s violence out there. A lot of people who were meant to monitor elections are now leaving the country. Are you concerned that that would undermine the credibility of that vote?
MS. HARF: We’re not. And actually, on the question of observers, I do know that some international observer groups have been evaluating their plans, obviously, because of the violence. It’s my understanding that a number of the groups still remain on the ground. I don’t want to speak for them, so I would check with them, but it is my understanding that, for example, the team from NDI remains in Afghanistan. Other international observer and assessment missions appear to be continuing with their plans. And as I said, I think, yesterday, the IEC expects as many as 300,000 total observers, including domestic and international monitors. I know they have many inside the country as well.
In terms of fraud, I think what I said yesterday, which is always an observer question, was that they are better prepared now than they were in 2009 to detect fraud. They have a much more robust system in place. And we’ve called on the candidates and all the people in Afghanistan to – who are participating in the process to encourage their supporters to do so within the bounds of the law.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. providing any help as far as security is concerned for the vote?
MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is that security is an Afghan-led process. The Afghan security institutions are collaborating with the Independent Election Commission to evaluate which polling stations can be open, and a large majority of them I think I will be, to ensure security of ballots, sort of, and voters during the entire election process. We obviously play a advisory role here, as we do with Afghan security forces writ large, but they have the lead for this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: And I would note that we have seen, obviously, a lot of reports of violence, but we’ve also seen now increasing number of Afghans come out in the press very publicly say this is their chance to determine their future, even in the face of this violence. They believe it’s their duty to do so, and so we are hopeful that these elections will go forward and give the Afghan people confidence in whoever they elect to lead them going forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yep.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Could you also give us an update about the U.S. aid going to opposition groups in northern Syria? Because I know that you are delivering all these aids to SMC specifically, SMC, but practically there is no any SMC, according to the sources on the ground. So are you – do you need any legislation, for example, from the Congress to deliver all these aids to the opposition groups in northern Syria, et cetera?
MS. HARF: No, I think – in terms of assistance, it’s my understanding that it is – we do believe right now it’s safe to provide it. We had talked for a while about when were not able to provide it, so we are providing assistance to the moderate opposition, as we have for many, many months. Nothing has changed there, to my knowledge, and I don’t think we need any additional congressional legislation. I’m not sure exactly what that would cover, but it’s my understanding that we don’t – we’re not looking for any at the moment and don’t need it. I’m happy to check with our folks.
QUESTION: Which group do you deliver all these aids? To SMC or --
MS. HARF: The SMC.
QUESTION: SMC, right? And so --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And we also work with the SOC.
QUESTION: Yes, SOC is still there, but there is no practically any SMC units on the ground, according to the sources. So SMC is --
MS. HARF: To the sources.
QUESTION: Yeah, the – is that true? I mean, do you think that SMC is still there?
MS. HARF: Again, it’s my understanding nothing’s changed there. I am happy to check with our folks and see.
Some folks asked yesterday about where our special envoy for Syria is. He is back in Washington, and I’m trying to get some more details on exactly what his travel entailed if folks are interested in it. But I know people had asked about it yesterday, so I looked into it. Sometimes I look into what I say I will look into.
Anything else today? We’re getting ready to wrap up. Anything else?
MS. HARF: It’s okay. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: We can do a rolling briefing today. It’s very casual.
QUESTION: About the – is there any update on the Russian trade delegation that was there last week?
MS. HARF: Which trade delegation?
QUESTION: The trade minister who went to Kaesong?
MS. HARF: Oh, no. And you asked me that yesterday. I’m sorry. I didn’t get an update for you. Let me check into that and I’ll see if I can get you something.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, that’s fine. And on Ambassador King, I know you’ve said in the past that if they were to invite him to come again to help secure the release of Kenneth Bae that you’d be willing to go. Does that offer still stand?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. It’s still an incredibly high priority for us. We have been disappointed, as you know, that in the past – I think twice now – they’ve rescinded their invitation for him to travel to Pyongyang, and if they invite us, he’s happy to go.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Is there any update about that?
MS. HARF: No. As I said then, and let me pull this up, we will be responding officially to the inspector general report, obviously value the insight provided here, but do disagree with some of the recommendations and do believe there is some factual inaccuracies in that report.
QUESTION: Can you put this in perspective? Because I’m trying to figure out: Is any ambassador is, like, investigated by inspector general? Or just like if it’s – who is asking to do it?
MS. HARF: That’s a good question. I don’t know. Inspector general obviously is an independent office, and they can undertake investigations, I think, for a variety of reasons. I don’t know the details about why this one was undertaken.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) this case we heard about it, but we don’t know who raised the issue of this.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Let me see if I can find that out. I may not be able to share it, but let me see if I can find it out.
QUESTION: And the other – the process, I mean. I’m not – this --
MS. HARF: Right, right, right. Yes.
QUESTION: I’m not talking about the outcome. The process. And the other one related to the, I think, one of the general assemblies there – their speaker of their – Bahraini asked to recall or pull the ambassador from them. Do you have any comment about that?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen that specific comment. But we do believe our ambassador there is highly qualified, capable, have full confidence in him. So I think that’s our position on the ambassador. As I said, we will respond to the inspector general report, but these are obviously – some allegations in here that we just don’t agree with.
QUESTION: There is another question somehow related to – it’s a bigger picture question, maybe. I don’t expect you have an answer, maybe you can figure out.
MS. HARF: Okay.
MS. HARF: Retirement.
QUESTION: Retirement, sorry.
MS. HARF: Retirement. It’s an important distinction.
QUESTION: Retirement or relaxing or whatever. (Laughter.) Retreating.
MS. HARF: It’s a much needed rest, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And a lot of people realize that to many states now – to many countries especially – I mean, relatively big – or, I mean, everything is important. Like, we – U.S. doesn’t have an ambassador in Russia, in Egypt, in India now, and other places. How many places now it’s run – how many embassies are run by charge d’affairs and not ambassadors?
MS. HARF: That is a very good question. I don’t know the number, but I’d make a few points. I will – so I will see if I can get you a number. And the DCM will be serving as the chief of mission when Ambassador Powell leaves India.
A couple points on that. Obviously, we believe that having ambassadors in place is incredibly important. That’s why we’ve called on Congress where we have ambassadors nominated or other positions nominated. For example, the head – Tom Malinowski, who’s up to be our head of our DRL branch – we want these people confirmed. So for the people that are already up on the Hill, we want Senate to confirm them as soon as possible. We are also moving forward and naming other people to key posts. You’re absolutely right, and we think that’s important. I would also say that the relationship is bigger than just one person and that both at the mission level – so at the embassies we have built into place layers of relationship with the host country so that the relationship can continue if there’s a lag in time between having ambassadors there.
And also we have relationships between Washington in the field with other countries as well. So the relationships are much bigger than just the ambassador, but we do believe it’s important. And let me see if I can get you a number.
QUESTION: Not to argue, but just to raise a question: A lot of places, I have been in touch with them and they are realizing that somehow when the – when there is no ambassador that not the same diplomacy is going on smoothly and effectively and efficiently as there is an ambassador. Do you agree with this assessment or it’s just – because if you say – if we say, like, different countries, and let’s say here is this – U.S. is sending ambassador to a certain place.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And the other one, other side, is the receiver, receiving of this whatever, communication, the other side of the communication. Somehow, something is missing. And I think – I don’t think – and nobody thinks that this is a good way of communication or diplomacy.
MS. HARF: Well, certainly our preference is to have ambassadors in place wherever we can. And that’s why, even though this can be a complicated, long process, we endeavor to get people named and confirmed as quickly as possible, because we do recognize, obviously, it’s incredibly important.
But we understand the realities of the fact that sometimes it takes a while for people to get confirmed. Sometimes there are logistical reasons that people have to leave post before we can get a replacement. And that’s why we really do strive to have relationships that are much bigger than just one person and are really institutionalized so people can continue working on them even in the event that there’s not an ambassador there. But it’s certainly our preference to get people in place, absolutely.
I wouldn’t agree with the premise that it means that diplomacy is not happening or isn’t happening as well, but I would say it is our preference to have ambassadors in place.
QUESTION: The other question – maybe the last question related, at least my last question is related to the – soon the prime minister of Tunisia is going to be in town --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and he is going to meet the President, I think, on Friday.
MS. HARF: And some meetings here, I think, as well. I can check.
QUESTION: What kind of meetings he has to – he is going to have here in this building, first?
MS. HARF: Let me check on that, yeah.
QUESTION: What kind of issues is going to be discussed? And how you put all this together in the perspective that the Secretary’s going to be in Algeria and Morocco and talking about a strategic partnership, if I’m using the words right?
MS. HARF: You are, yes.
MS. HARF: Absolutely. We’ll attempt to get a preview of the Tunisian visit, both meetings here and also the general topics that we’ll be discussing. As you said, the Secretary is going to the region. I think this all demonstrates our commitment to North Africa, to working with these countries as some of them go through transitions, with others that have been long-term partners. So if we can get more of a preview for the Tunisian visit, I’m happy to do that. I know there will be some meetings here. Let me just get some details for you.
QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up to a question I asked yesterday about Iran and its proposed nomination, ambassador to the United Nations. Do you have any more on that?
MS. HARF: Nothing new.
QUESTION: Could I --
MS. HARF: We’re about to finish up, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m sure that you talked about --
MS. HARF: Just in the nick of time.
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: I --
MS. HARF: We were moving the briefing time around today, so it’s probably my fault.
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
MS. HARF: We did, but I’m happy to talk about it a little more.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. I mean, he said that they applied for – to 15 different agencies at the UN. And I’m sure that you commented on that.
MS. HARF: Well, I did – so what I said was that we are reviewing these moves and obviously we saw the statements, continue to urge restraint on both sides, as we have throughout the entire process, and are continuing to work with both parties on the ground to see if we can make progress. Obviously, I’d defer to the team on the ground to give a more detailed readout. They have the most current second-by-second information here. The Secretary is returning tomorrow to continue his conversations. The team with Ambassador Indyk remains on the ground right now having these discussions.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, Palestinian sources say that Abbas has agreed to continuing the talks beyond the 29th of April. Could you share with us something on that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to announce for you, any further details about what the discussions look like. The Secretary will be speaking to – in general to these topics in his avail, which should be shortly.
QUESTION: Are you expecting that when the Secretary returns tomorrow that such an announcement would be made?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions for you on when anything might be announced or not announced.
QUESTION: And finally, are we looking at a larger number of prisoners to be released, Palestinians prisoners to be released, like 420 maybe?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details on the discussions that are underway right now.
QUESTION: And I’m sure that you didn’t really add anything to the Pollard situation, have you?
MS. HARF: What I said was – and I’ll repeat it again – the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. He was convicted of espionage, is serving his sentence. Also it should come as no surprise to anyone that these – the Israelis – excuse me – have frequently raised this issue. But in terms of discussions that are going on on the ground right now, nothing to share.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
QUESTION: Can I actually follow up on that?
QUESTION: Because Carney said something, I think, probably word-for-word similar to what you just said about --
MS. HARF: We’re linked up like that.
QUESTION: -- no decision has been made. It just kind of occurs to me: Why would the U.S. even allow Pollard, the issue of Pollard’s release to be put on the table if no firm decision had been made on whether or not to release him?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not confirming what issues are on the table or what aren’t. But obviously, in terms of that issue, we know the Israelis have raised it throughout many years. That’s not a surprise to anyone.
QUESTION: Is it the Israeli Government balking at the number of prisoners released that brings up Pollard?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details on the discussions.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: Yeah, you said --
MS. HARF: Wait. Let me go here, and then to you – back to you, Said.
QUESTION: You said the President hasn’t made his mind yet.
MS. HARF: No, he said – no, no, I said the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard.
QUESTION: To. So that’s mean the issue is under consideration.
MS. HARF: I did not say that. I said the President hasn’t – there are reports out there that are all over the place, so I want to be very clear in saying the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. He was --
QUESTION: But in other word, he’s going to look at it?
MS. HARF: I didn’t say that. I said I’m not going to get into any of the discussions that are happening on the ground or any internal discussions that are going on here. You can try and read the tea leaves all you want, but I’m just not going to confirm anything.
QUESTION: But – okay. So what you all are saying now is that there’s – the President has not made a decision to release Pollard.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: That’s different from last week’s statement, which are, “There are no plans to release him.”
MS. HARF: He also hadn’t made a decision to release him last week either. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So are we likely to --
MS. HARF: No --
QUESTION: You are discussing his release.
MS. HARF: -- that’s true.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MS. HARF: I am not confirming that in any – I’m not confirming what’s under discussion.
QUESTION: So all these Israeli reports about the fact that Mr. Pollard is ailing, he’s up for a parole hearing next year, 2015, and so on, and all these things are being factored into an early release are not just founded, right?
MS. HARF: I’m not commenting in any way on the internal discussions going on right now, either within our government or with the parties on the ground.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Let me ask you something. If Mr. Pollard is released, is that a – what kind of precedent will that set? I mean, what is likely to happen to someone like another convicted spy, like Walker and others, and so on?
MS. HARF: Said, the President has not made a decision to release Jonathan Pollard. I am not going to speculate on any hypothetical situation at all.
QUESTION: So just because you use a lot of times the words, “I don’t want to characterize,” so how do you characterize the reports that are quoting and the quotes by some U.S. Administration official about this case, that it’s on the table now? How do you characterize the reports and officials?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any characterization of the reports. What I’ve said is I’m not going to read out details of the discussions one way or the other. We’ve done – this should be no surprise to you guys. For eight months I have refused to speak about any specific items under discussion in any way.
I think I’m getting the signal that the Secretary may be starting his avail soon, so do we have any final questions?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you covered Egypt, but --
MS. HARF: We didn’t.
QUESTION: Okay. Did you cover the Apache helicopters?
MS. HARF: We did not cover Egypt, no.
QUESTION: Okay. No, you did not cover Egypt?
MS. HARF: Uh-uh.
QUESTION: Okay then. Now, you’re saying that there has been no decision to hold back the Apaches. That’s what you just said, or that’s what the Department said today, or it was attributed to you that it’s not true that the Apaches will be held until further notice, the Apaches that are being repaired in America, and --
MS. HARF: I’m not sure what I --
QUESTION: This is a statement came out of the American Embassy in Cairo --
QUESTION: In Cairo.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- regarding some reports that somehow --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- U.S. is withholding.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Thomas.
MS. HARF: It’s not my – (laughter).
QUESTION: Yeah. So --
MS. HARF: I don’t remember making a statement about Apaches today.
QUESTION: No, I’m saying you --
MS. HARF: No, no, I know. But I’m – I haven’t seen the – clearly, I haven’t seen the statement. I am happy to look at it. In terms of our assistance to Egypt, it’s my understanding that nothing’s changed since we made the decision to suspend some of it months ago. I’m happy to take a look at the statement and see if there’s anything new, Said. I’m sorry about that. I just haven’t seen it.
QUESTION: No problem. Thank you.
QUESTION: Pollard – just one last one?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you aware that he waived his parole hearing today?
MS. HARF: I saw those reports.
QUESTION: Okay. Did the State Department have any involvement in that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything else for you on that.
MS. HARF: Thanks, guys. I think the Secretary is about to come on, so we managed to get a briefing in first.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)