Daily Press Briefing: April 3, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Kerry's Travel
- USAID Social Media Program to Advance Freedom of Expression
- Congressional Notification of Program / Congressional Support of Programs in Cuba
- Continued Call to Release Alan Gross
- Government Accountability Office Review of USAID Program
- U.S. Policy on Democracy Promotion Around the World
- Purpose of Program to Create a Platform for Cubans to Express Themselves
- Program not Renewed
- U.S. Government Provided Non-Political Content
- Delay of Prisoner Release / No Information on Other Decisions
- Special Envoy Indyk's Meetings with Parties to Find a Path Forward
- Foreign Operations Bill
- Both Parties Have To Make Tough Choices and Decide on a Path Forward During Negotiations
- Secretary Kerry's Conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas
- Iran Will Need to Make Tough Choices During Negotiations
- President is Fully Engaged in Foreign Policy
- U.S. Focused on Seeing Concrete Actions During the Negotiation
- Vienna Talks Will Focus on Putting Issues on the Table
- Any Decision to Hold Presidential Elections is Inconsistent with Geneva Communique's Stated Goals
- Trying to Bring Parties Back to the Table for Geneva Talks
- Working with Russians on Syria
- NASA Suspension of Certain Cooperations with Russia
- Global Counterterrorism Forum Announcement
- Influx of Refugees a Strain on Countries
- U.S. Provides Humanitarian Assistance to Help Relieve the Refugee Crisis
- Former Ukrainian President's Comments on Crimea
- Call for Russia to De-Escalate and Pull Back Troops from Borders
- Report of Audit of Security at the U.S. Embassy in Libya
- Implementation of Report's Recommendations
- Inspector General Report Focuses on Embassy Issues
- Diplomatic Security and Overseas Building Operations Plan to Implement Recommendations
- Follow-up on Trilateral Meetings Between U.S., Japan, And Republic of Korea
- UNITED KINGDOM
- Muslim Brotherhood Designation
- Iranian Nominee for Representative to United Nations
2:48 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Let’s get started. I’m sorry for the wait, guys.
Update on the Secretary’s travel at the top: Today, Secretary Kerry was in Algiers. He just landed in Rabat. While he was in Algiers, he met with the Algerian foreign minister, participated in the U.S.-Algeria Strategic Dialogue, and had lunch with Acting Prime Minister Yousfi. He then hosted a U.S.-Algeria soccer event for Algerian youth. He also met with the Qatari emir, and before departing Algiers met with Algerian President Bouteflika. He again lands – he just landed in Rabat, which is the final stop on his trip to Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. He will be home after Rabat. Tonight, he will meet with the Moroccan prime minister.
And with that, Lara.
QUESTION: Thanks. We’d like to ask some questions about --
MS. HARF: Let me guess.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And my colleague, Jack Gillum, is going to start off the questioning.
MS. HARF: Oh, hello.
QUESTION: Hello. How are you?
MS. HARF: Welcome to the briefing.
QUESTION: It’s good to be here.
MS. HARF: Is it? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I think so.
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So was Secretary Clinton aware of this program and did she authorize it?
MS. HARF: Well, first, why don’t I make some comments about the overall story and then I’ll get into your specific question.
MS. HARF: The first is that I do think that there – in this, I think, rather – no offense – breathlessly written story, there were a number of misconceptions in this story about what this program was and what it was not. I’m happy to go through those in detail today.
The first being, of course, the most important: that there was nothing classified or covert about this program. Discreet does not equal covert. Having worked for almost six years at the CIA and now here, I know the difference. So I’m happy to go into that in a little more detail as well.
In terms of why we undertake these programs, because we have been very clear, as has Congress, that it is important to support the Cuban people, to provide them with platforms for expression. That’s what we were doing. This was a platform. We were not generating political content of any kind on this platform. We were letting the Cuban people do that themselves. In these kind of hostile environments, for the safety of the people working on these programs, indeed for them to be effective, we believe we must be discreet in doing so.
In terms of your specific question, it is my understanding that this did not reach the Secretary’s office, either the previous Secretary of State. Obviously this ended before Secretary Kerry came in. He also was unaware of this program. It went through the normal USAID chain in terms of approval as well.
So I’m happy to dig into some of the details here if you’d like to ask them.
QUESTION: Sure. Well, I just want to say if you could first start out by characterizing what you say are some of the inaccuracies in the report.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, the notion that this is covert or secret. I think you’ve seen a lot of reports picking up on your story today that say secret, covert action that we were running in Cuba. That is by far not the case.
Covert action, which you can find defined in Title 50 of the U.S. Code, includes among other things the fact that you can legally and you do legally deny it. That was not the case here. The documents associated with the contracting companies were not classified. If you asked directly the contractors or the people who were aware that we were funding it if they were working for the United States Government, they would have said yes. They would not deny it. Covert action by definition includes the ability and the need to legally deny it.
So I think the tone of this story that this was somehow secret, that this was somehow covert, is just not correct.
QUESTION: There’s a difference between secret and covert, correct?
MS. HARF: Well, secret is – it wasn’t classified. It – yes, there is, but it wasn’t either. And I think the article makes a nod to it being one of the two.
In terms of the funding here – you asked me about inaccuracies, let me keep going here. In terms of the funding here, I think that your report – and let me just get this funding part here – talked about money coming possibly from funding that had been earmarked for Pakistan. It’s my understanding – and we can double-check with AID – that this was all ESF funding that was directed to Cuba. It was notified to Congress in a 2008 congressional notification titled “Outreach to New Sectors of Cuba Society” for the amount of $6,850,000 for a number of programs, including this one.
We also offered to brief our appropriators and our authorizers, which is HACFO, SACFO, SFRC, and HFAC, about our Cuban outreach programs. And again, you hear on the Hill from many people that they support these kinds of democracy promotion programs.
Another item was the notion that we were somehow trying to foment unrest, that we were trying to advance a specific political agenda or point of view. That – nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that the Cuban people need platforms like this to use themselves to decide what their future will look like, and that’s certainly what we did here.
We were trying to expand the space for Cubans to express themselves to – they could have expressed – excuse me – anti-American views on it. We didn’t monitor or we weren’t able to choose what they say on these platforms. That’s up to them. So this was, like other programs – sorry, I’m choking here – a program that, because of the hostile operating environment in Cuba, it was done discreetly. And --
QUESTION: I just had a quick question for you.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So you say that this is not covert.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: But I’m just – help me draw the line here, because this is a program that was set up that was so secret that it --
MS. HARF: It wasn’t secret. Secret is a technical term, and it was not classified.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, it was obfuscated in the sense that it was set up with foreign bank accounts --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- it was set up with foreign companies overseas. The CEOs who were interviewed this were not told it was a U.S.-backed project. So help me understand how that is not covert.
MS. HARF: Well, a bank overseas doesn’t equal covert action. It just doesn’t. It’s a fact. What I would say is that you have to – when we talk about discretion, it’s not just discretion with the people on the ground. It’s discretion about where the funding is coming from, so the Cuban Government won’t shut it down, they won’t clamp down on average Cubans trying to talk to one another on this. Again, having a bank account overseas doesn’t equal, anywhere I’ve read in any kind of covert action definition, covert action.
QUESTION: Right. Well --
MS. HARF: The documents weren’t classified and the contracts weren’t classified. When companies do covert action or classified undertakings with the United States Government, the contracts are classified. That was not the case here. By definition, this does not meet the covert action definition.
QUESTION: Well, when you mention the documents, they specifically talk about keeping this an under-the-radar strategy and keeping the --
MS. HARF: Discretion, absolutely.
MS. HARF: We know the operating environment in Cuba. We know it requires discretion.
QUESTION: So you talk about saying that the appropriate members of Congress were briefed on this.
MS. HARF: I said Congress because there was a congressional notification --
MS. HARF: -- and that key staffers on these committees were – had – we had consultations with them regularly on all of our programs, and obviously, we offer briefings to these four committees when they ask for them. And they’re very supportive of our efforts in Cuba.
QUESTION: So the senator who oversees funding for the State Department says that he didn’t know about the program, called it, quote, “dumb,” and said he wouldn’t have supported it. So how is there support on it?
MS. HARF: Oh, I’m not going to speak for the senator. But again, we submitted a congressional notification in 2008 outlining what we were doing in Cuba. I can’t speak to why he knows certain things or doesn’t know certain things.
QUESTION: But is he one of the senators who would have had to approve this report? I mean, you just mentioned, what, four committees?
MS. HARF: Approve what report?
QUESTION: Or, I’m sorry, approve this program, or at least be notified of this program.
MS. HARF: Well – right. So we have authorizers and overseers here. We have, obviously, on the House and the Senate side, Foreign Ops, and on the House and the Senate side, Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs. So in terms of this specific funding, these are the folks that sign off on it. Funding got signed off on for it --
QUESTION: So it never went through the Appropriations Committee, it only went through --
MS. HARF: That’s what I said, HACFO and SACFO, uh-huh. That’s how we get appropriated. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: That’s interesting.
QUESTION: In the --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: In the wake of the arrest of Alan Gross, were you concerned that the covered-up nature of the U.S. Government involvement could have endangered him or endangered other Cubans using the service?
MS. HARF: Well, I think two points. The first is you use – you keep using terms that have some nefarious tone to them – covered up. This was discreet.
QUESTION: What term would you use?
MS. HARF: I would just say it was discreet, because – exactly because we know the --
QUESTION: Okay. So would the discreet nature of the U.S. Government do that?
MS. HARF: Well, we operate discreetly exactly because the Cuban Government has put dissidents in jail.
And look, on Alan Gross, we have been very clear. The Cuban Government needs to release him on humanitarian grounds as soon as possible. That has not changed. This does not change that in any way.
QUESTION: Why not? Doesn’t it put him more at risk?
MS. HARF: No. We think they should release him on humanitarian grounds. Look, we’ve been very clear that we promote freedom of expression in Cuba. That’s not a secret. If anyone thinks that’s a secret, then they haven’t been paying attention to what we’ve been talking about with Cuba over the past decades.
QUESTION: On USAID’s website --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- it says, “We partner to end extreme poverty and promote resilient democratic societies.”
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is this just another example of USAID doing its mission?
MS. HARF: Well, absolutely. Resilient democratic societies – part of that is freedom of expression and allowing the Cuban people to have platforms. Again, this was a platform where the Cuban people were allowed to create the content. When it started, the folks who operated it put weather content on it, sports content on it, to get it up and running. But no political content was ever supplied by anyone working on this project or running it. It was the people – the Cuban people on the ground who were doing so.
QUESTION: Marie, what did the program accomplish? Because it looks like it was ended in 2012.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. It ended when its normal contract ran out. It just wasn’t renewed. It wasn’t ended for any specific purpose. Look, we’ve seen – we have seen space increasing for Cubans on the internet. We’ve hoped that they will be able to do more of that, right? So I don’t know if there’s a specific – what this program itself did, but overall – excuse me – our programs are designed, again, to increase this space.
I would also note that the GAO did an extensive look into all of USAID’s programs on Cuba; as part of their inquiry, had extended telephone conversations with the two contractors running this program, had access to all of the documents about this program, and determined that everything was going fine.
QUESTION: Why was the contract not renewed? You said it ran out --
MS. HARF: Yeah, just --
QUESTION: -- I mean, the money ran out. So why – I mean, if the government had put so much interest, or USAID had put so much interest into this platform --
MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t say so much interest. Obviously, overall we care about --
QUESTION: Six point eight – how much was it?
MS. HARF: This was a three-year grant totaling 1.2 million. The – what I read for you was for Cuban programs writ large --
MS. HARF: -- that year in that congressional notification.
QUESTION: Okay. So to go off on Margaret’s question, you said that it accomplished a lot. So --
MS. HARF: No, I didn’t say it accomplished a lot. I said our overall policy towards increasing freedom of expression in Cuba, we think, has made some progress there, but there’s obviously a lot more work to do.
QUESTION: As a result of this platform?
MS. HARF: As a result of our programs in general. I don’t know specifically what the outcome was from this platform.
QUESTION: So you specifically say that this was not to foment unrest, yet specific objectives of this program was to – one of them was to organize, quote, “smart mobs” for demonstrations to meet at a moment’s notice. Can you explain that discrepancy?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Well, the documents referenced in terms of smart mobs were not USAID documents. They were meeting notes between the grantee and the contractor. There was a USAID staff member present during this brainstorming session, but the documents in your story are not USAID documents. The purpose of this project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves. Brainstorming – the meeting notes come from brainstorms between grantees and contractors. In no way is U.S. policy – those statements, obviously, were inconsistent with the purpose of the program. Nothing like that was ever requested of USAID. So random meeting notes that were provided to you of one brainstorming session in no way indicate what the overall purpose was of this $1.2 million project.
QUESTION: Can you explain the date of those meeting notes? The nature of that document that you’re quoting from that I can’t see?
MS. HARF: Like the documents you reported on that we didn’t see?
QUESTION: Sure. Can you describe when that – when those (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: I can get the date of it, but it’s the one that’s referenced in your story.
QUESTION: Marie, is the State Department concerned that disclosure of this program puts USAID workers abroad at risk?
MS. HARF: Well, I think what you see today is me being very clear about the nature of this program and that USAID does not do covert action overseas, because they do a lot of very good work in a lot of very tough places, and we don’t want misperceptions based on facts that aren’t entirely true to cloud people’s judgment about what USAID does overseas. So we don’t want it to. We certainly hope that this article doesn’t. That’s why I’m being very clear and standing up here and saying this.
QUESTION: Is this one of the reasons, though, that Dr. Afridi remains in jail in Pakistan?
MS. HARF: Not at all. Not at all.
QUESTION: Yes, please. I mean, I’m trying to connect this event or this – what, call it discreet or secret operation, with similar things were done and then people will start to – some governments complain about it when – with the start of the Arab Spring. Is similar actions, or is this something different as a policy, doing these similar things which is, like, it was said that was giving – whether it’s Egypt, whether in Syria, whether in Libya, whether other places, they were talking about giving a platform.
MS. HARF: Right. Well, to be clear, this program with this specific online platform was just in Cuba. I don’t know, quite frankly, of all of the different platforms we have all over the world. We generally do promote freedom of expression and in hostile environments like this one take – go to great lengths to make sure they are done discreetly. In other places, the operating environment isn’t as difficult --
QUESTION: Because --
MS. HARF: -- so we do very openly encourage freedom of expression very, very openly.
QUESTION: Because it was raised, this issue, in 2012 and 2013 especially --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- last year and the year before that, regarding the issue of some equipments and how they are avoiding to be jammed or – as a platform.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: But then after that, realized that some people were trained under some aid programs in places like Belgrade and other – Sarajevo and other places. Is this a policy, or it’s just (inaudible) in the issue that he – my fellow, raise it now, just Cuba? Or it’s a policy it can be applied any place?
MS. HARF: Well, the policy of supporting freedom of expression, particularly in authoritarian – under authoritarian regimes where there’s not a lot of freedom of expression is of course our policy. How we do that is tailored to each country. So this program was specific to Cuba. Other places around the world, we do democracy promotion in different ways.
What I will say is one of the reasons I think it’s dangerous to mischaracterize these programs as covert, as classified, as secret – because this was not – is because, as you point out, in many places around the world, there are many misperceptions out there and conspiracy theories about what the United States is or isn’t doing. So we don’t want that kind of misperception to play into what we know are just falsehoods being perpetrated in other parts of the world.
QUESTION: To avoid this perception, or whatever you can call it --
MS. HARF: What?
QUESTION: -- misperception, how you explain to me that it’s like – or to anybody that how it is – there is a big difference that you are giving a tool or a platform --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and you are not shaping the message?
MS. HARF: Exactly, which is I think the key point here.
QUESTION: I mean, you are saying it, but how you can control the – I mean --
MS. HARF: Well, what I’m telling you is we, through subcontracting partners, some companies, created a platform that’s similar to Twitter, where Cubans could freely express themselves. We did not supply political content. We did not drive the political content. We just – our sole purpose here was to open the space so they could supply their own political content or talk about anything else they wanted. And quite frankly, they could have said terrible things about the United States and we would have no way of controlling that. So this is solely for the purpose of creating a platform for Cubans to express themselves, which has long been the policy of the United States, the United States Congress, and many other people in this country.
QUESTION: The other thing which is like when a project like ended, how you make an evaluation it is successful or a failure?
MS. HARF: And that’s a good question. I think it speaks to Margaret and Lara’s question. I’m happy to check with our team at USAID and see if they’ve done any kind of analysis of how successful or what impact it had. I don’t know sort of – for example, I don’t know what the user numbers were. I don’t know how many people it reached. I’m happy to check with them and see if I can get some more information.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any changes that the congressional staffers who were briefed on this or had an opportunity to learn about it, any changes or complaints about the program or qualms about it that they raised?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Not to my knowledge, but I’m trying to get a little more from our USAID congressional folks, who obviously have the lead on this, because I do want to be able to provide as much detail to you as possible. Obviously, we provide general congressional notification on Cuban programs and talk all the time with members of Congress and their staff about our programs in Cuba, which, again, are widely, widely supported on the Hill. So I’m trying to get a little more on that. I haven’t heard of any. But again, we saw some comments today, so I’m sure next week when Administrator Shah and others are up on the Hill they’ll have a chance to address this directly with Congress.
QUESTION: Have you heard from the Cuban Government about this today?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no. But I – I’m happy to check, but not to my knowledge. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Senator Leahy said this is counterproductive and puts Cubans at risk. So if that’s how he sees it, how do you respond to that?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I don’t want to speak for the senator.
QUESTION: No, I --
MS. HARF: Of course, I have great respect for him. But we believe that democracy promotion programs that increase space for freedom of expression in Cuba are very good for the Cuban people, that they don’t put Cuban people at risk because of the discreet nature in which they do them. That’s exactly why we do them in a discreet nature, so they don’t put users at risk and they’re not shut down, which would be limiting space for freedom of expression. So again, I don’t want to speak for him. I am sure we’ll have conversations with him or his staff. I know he has some questions about it. We’re happy to talk to him about those questions.
QUESTION: Do you believe the fact of its exposure may put Cuban people who express themselves on this platform at risk?
MS. HARF: That’s a good question. I can check with our folks and see if they’re doing any kind of damage assessment about that right now. I don’t know. Obviously, one of the reasons we kept our involvement discreet was so people who used it at the time, before it was shut down, that they wouldn’t be at risk. So certainly, we hope they wouldn’t be, but let me check with our folks.
QUESTION: But that then leads back to the question about Senator Leahy’s comments, which is to say that, I mean, he said it was counterproductive. If you do something that is discreet but not classified, that is subsequently exposed, as it can be because you say the documents were public and so on, you then could be doing something that could harm those people who availed themselves of this opportunity to express political views in a context in which the expression of views critical of the government can and does routinely expose people to risk.
MS. HARF: No, and it’s a good question. I would, I think, make two points on that. The first is when you say it gets exposed, obviously, again, not to be too critical of this story, but the tone that it was classified, covert, secret --
QUESTION: I’m not addressing that at all.
MS. HARF: No, no, but that actually – I am addressing your question – in that when these discreet programs become public, I think mischaracterizing them increases the chances that people will be put at risk. That’s where I was going with that.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MS. HARF: And secondly, I don’t think it’s any surprise to the Cuban Government, quite frankly, that we are trying to increase freedom of expression in Cuba. I don’t think that’s a surprise to them. I also think that we have repeatedly called on them not to crack down on these people. We have very clearly said that they should not – not these folks but other people expressing themselves freely, so they have a choice to make here and we hope they will make the right decision. Obviously, the people that were using it did not know it was U.S. Government-backed, so I think that also should probably play into their calculations.
QUESTION: Will you take that question of whether you think the exposure of a previously discreet program puts people in--
MS. HARF: At risk? Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- at risk and therefore whether you perhaps should rethink the use of such discreet programs because their public airing could, in fact, harm the people you say you are trying to help?
MS. HARF: So would you argue maybe covert or we not do them, or we make them public?
QUESTION: I’m not arguing anything.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m asking you if you are looking at this again in the light of the fact that it is now public, whether this might, as Senator Leahy suggests, be counterproductive --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- because its exposure could harm the people whose freedom of expression you say you are trying to defend?
MS. HARF: Exactly. And I think I would, just to follow up on the question I asked you, I think we would say certainly we hope this kind of exposure doesn’t put people at risk. When you look at the ways you can promote freedom of expression in Cuba – this is what I was getting at with my question back to you – you can either do it openly, which we think is very counterproductive because it would not work – the Cuban Government wouldn’t allow the U.S. Government to come in and do this, probably. And so we do think that the best option is to do it discreetly, but it’s a good question and I will take it.
QUESTION: Can we move on to Israeli-Palestinian talks?
MS. HARF: Do you have any more?
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just curious about the time – I mean, you say that, I mean, the government is obviously supportive of programs like this. AID, I believe, said that they are proud of the Cuba work that they did.
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Rewinding back to September 2012 when this ended, if this was so successful and good – I know you said the money stopped, but can you sort of help illuminate why there wasn’t (a) another funding source; and if there was, or there wasn’t, why it stopped, why it didn’t keep going?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, it – the program wasn’t shut down. It just ended when the funding ended because we are constant – and again, I will take the question about if we can get numbers of users and things like that. We are constantly reevaluating our Cuba programs writ large, determining where the best use of our money, our taxpayer – all of your taxpayer money goes, and where we can be most effective. And so for one reason or another, this was not renewed. Not every program is meant to last forever. So again, I don’t think there was anything wrong with it. I think we just decided not to renew the contract. I am happy to check with the folks who were around then to see if there’s any more light they can shine on that for you.
QUESTION: Right. But you did spend a couple of million dollars on this program over the course of --
MS. HARF: 1.2.
MS. HARF: It’s not that much, actually, in the grand scheme of what we spend here.
QUESTION: Okay. But if it’s not much, I’m curious why it didn’t – why it wasn’t continued to be extended, particularly when these social media platforms take years to develop.
MS. HARF: Well, I think I just answered that we thought it had been useful but the money was going to be – our priorities were going to be used in different ways. I’m happy to see if there’s a more specific reason. I just do not know. I wasn’t here then. I will check. I’ve been trying to get lots of answers on this today, and that’s one I don’t have.
QUESTION: Do you have any – did you have any chance to know what happened to those people who were using those platform?
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. Let me see if I can find out some more. I think that speaks a little bit to Arshad’s question as well.
So we’ll move --
QUESTION: I just want to actually clarify one last thing.
MS. HARF: Oh. Okay. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You said that it’s just now been made public, but in fact it was never secret, it was never covert --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- so the information was out there if anybody went looking for it as we did. Right? I mean --
MS. HARF: Right. I mean, right. There’s levels here, right? There’s something that we announced with a press release and put on our website. There’s something that is, by definition in the U.S. code, covert or classified. And then there are things in the middle that for a variety of reasons, mainly security, we keep discreet. This was in the middle. So we weren’t send – we weren’t putting a press release out, but we also weren’t – these document – this contract wasn’t classified. And if someone had pressed the folks working on it, they would have said they worked for the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: So if I were to file a FOIA request, could I have gotten documents about this?
MS. HARF: I – a FOIA request is a very specific legal progress. I do not make any predictions about how any FOIA request would turn out.
QUESTION: And one last thing: You say that this wasn’t classified, but you’re – the nature in which you’re describing it, is it – you say that it may have put people at risk. Why wasn’t it classified, if that’s the case?
MS. HARF: Because there are certain conditions you have to meet for something to be classified. Look, work we do with certain communities all over the world can put people at risk. There are dangerous places we work in because we think it’s important. People volunteer to work with the United States in many dangerous places. That does put them at risk because they think it’s important. That doesn’t make something classified. There are very specific – and I don’t know if you’re familiar with these – but there are very specific requirements to meet any one of the classification justifications that you can use to classify something. That’s not necessarily always one of them. So clearly this didn’t meet that.
QUESTION: Aside from the GAO report – I swear this is my last one --
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: -- have there been other audits of this platform, inspectors general or anything like that? Any --
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. No.
MS. HARF: Again, the GAO report spoke to people involved, took a look at all of our Cuba programs, found out everything was working as it should.
QUESTION: And this is my last question, I swear, too.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: If --
MS. HARF: You’re turning into Matt territory today, so promise me it’s your last question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s right, so --
MS. HARF: Between the two of you you’re asking as many. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Two of us is one Matt.
QUESTION: So that GAO report, which actually I’m familiar with and went back and read this morning before coming over here – on – when I think it’s page 9 that says that AID – and the quote here – there was “support for development of an independent social networking platform as part of this review.” I’m just try – curious how a program that’s discreetly funded, organized and operated by the U.S. Government, without telling the operators involved, how that’s independent.
MS. HARF: Because we weren’t exercising any kind of content control over it. The content was all independent. I haven’t seen that specific report you’re referring to, so I don’t want to speak for the GAO.
QUESTION: This is the only part where this –
MS. HARF: I would check in with --
QUESTION: -- there’s anything like this is referenced --
MS. HARF: I would check in with the GAO. But obviously, you’re right; we were the funding source. But the content – everything that ended up on it after, again, this initial phase where we were tweeting about things like the weather and sports, was content that was not U.S. Government content.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. Government ever have an aim of providing content to the service?
MS. HARF: Political content?
MS. HARF: No. Not at all.
QUESTION: When you said we were tweeting about the weather and so on, was – were people paid directly or indirectly by the U.S. Government tweeting on – or on this service?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know what the word is. So at the beginning of the service, we provided content – and I can find out exactly how we did that – to get it up and running, about things like sports and the weather. Nonpolitical. Nothing political at all. Just to get it up and running.
QUESTION: This remained in Havana, right?
MS. HARF: I don’t know where we were doing it.
QUESTION: Some guy --
MS. HARF: Yeah, I don’t know if it was the person – I’m assuming it was, but I can – I don’t know the details on that.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
QUESTION: So this was – wait, just one – sorry. So you did --
MS. HARF: Now you want to stay on the topic.
QUESTION: No, no. You did provide content, though, even if it was nonpolitical content.
MS. HARF: That’s what I said. We did never – and I said that earlier. I was very careful to say we did not in any way provide political content, and we only provided that weather, sports content at the very beginning, and then we stopped. Once it was off the ground, we stopped.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I have two things I want to ask about here. One, an official familiar with the talks and who is quoting things that Tzipi Livni is alleged to have said during the talks said that Livni told the Palestinians that they were scrapping any plans to make the fourth prisoner release – although, given that they didn’t do it on time, that seems water under the bridge – but it sounds like they are not now --
MS. HARF: Well, we haven’t actually been informed. I’ve seen those reports.
QUESTION: Yes. Okay.
MS. HARF: We haven’t been informed of any such decision like that.
MS. HARF: We know, obviously, there’s been a delay. That’s, I think, self-evident.
QUESTION: But as far as you are concerned, it is still possible that the Israelis will release them?
MS. HARF: We have not been informed of any decision like the one you referenced – a total --
MS. HARF: -- that they will not do so.
QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, Livni is quoted as having said that both sides should review the talks – in other words, whether it’s worth continuing them. Is it your understanding that that’s where both sides now are, that they’re not at all sure that they want to continue talking?
MS. HARF: Well, both sides have indicated to our negotiating team that they are still at the table and are continuing to talk.
QUESTION: So you expect them to meet again?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions to make for you, but certainly we think the process is still happening and ongoing. I will note – and let me see if I have this in here – last night Ambassador Indyk met with Ms. Livni and Dr. Erekat together. The meeting took place. At that meeting, again, neither side, throughout this process recently, has indicated they want to walk away from the talks. They both indicated they want to find a path forward.
QUESTION: And can I – last one on this, please?
QUESTION: Thank you. The Secretary described in his news conference in Algiers – said that some progress was made.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The report in Maan, the Palestinian news agency, described it as a nine-hour inconclusive and contentious meeting. And the report that quotes Minister Livni also has a rather negative tone in terms of talking about not releasing the fourth round of prisoners and reviewing whether they should actually talk at all. Where was – given the three different ways this has been described --
MS. HARF: At least.
QUESTION: -- two of them rather negative, where was the progress?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not obviously going to get into specifics about what progress may have been made substantively during these talks. I think the fact that the talks continue, that they’re intense, even if they’re contentious – we know these are contentious issues – that they continue, that they’re in depth, and that they are actually lasting so long, that both parties are still there talking, I think is a sign that we have continued to move the ball forward.
I mean, the question really is, as you heard the Secretary say today, it’s their decision to make now.
QUESTION: So they’re talking today? There is, as far as you know, there’s – I mean, you said they’re continuing but --
MS. HARF: Well, they continued till late last night. I can see if there have been meetings today. I don’t know. But the meeting with Ambassador Indyk was last night.
QUESTION: Marie, just --
MS. HARF: Yes. Welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you. I didn’t go anywhere.
MS. HARF: I know, but you haven’t been here for a while. (Laughter.) I miss you. I know you didn’t go anywhere, unfortunately.
QUESTION: That’s right.
MS. HARF: But you haven’t been here for a while, so welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. Just to clarify, Livni’s spokesperson, your counterpart, actually said publicly just a few minutes ago that new conditions were established and Israel cannot release the fourth batch of prisoners. So that’s on record now. Since it’s your counterpart, do you care to --
MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, I haven’t seen those specific comments. Again, the last time I talked to the team on the ground, which was admittedly before I came out here, was that we hadn’t been informed of any such decision yet. So I can check in with them again when I’m off the podium and see what the latest is.
MS. HARF: As you know, it’s moving very fluidly and sometimes things change when I’m out here.
QUESTION: Right. The – now, the Foreign Ops bill of this year cuts off economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if its leadership obtains “membership in UN agencies.” It also restricts aid if they try to pursue action against Israel at the ICC. Do you encourage folks on the Hill to restrain (inaudible) actions or --
MS. HARF: Do we have a position on the bill? I don’t know if we have a position on the bill, and I don’t know what our conversations have looked like with the Hill on that, so let me take that question and see if I can get you an answer.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you envision a way for the talks to continue if the prisoners are not released?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to get into predictions or hypotheticals here. We think there is a path forward. We have said that very clearly. What that looks like, the two parties have to decide.
QUESTION: With regard to the 15 conventions that the Palestinians have signed, is it your understanding that not – that in signing those, they have not met the thresholds of – that would require the United States to cut off assistance to any agency – UN agencies associated with those protocols?
MS. HARF: I think that’s been a little bit of a complicated question that our folks are looking at.
MS. HARF: I don’t have an answer for you yet on that.
QUESTION: Can – okay.
MS. HARF: Yep, I will take it.
QUESTION: Can you keep on top of that? Yeah.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I will. And I have been – I know there was some confusion about this, and the Secretary referenced it but let me check on that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. Just --
MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Go – wait. We’ll go to Michael.
QUESTION: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just two more.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: The April 29th deadline for talks, do you consider that a hard deadline still?
MS. HARF: Well, that has never – that’s always been how long they decided to negotiate for, right? We know this will take time. We’re not actually focused right now on April 29th. We’re focused on what we need to do right now, but more importantly what the two parties need to do right now, and that they have to, right now, make tough choices. We’ll have to make more tough choices the closer we get to April 29th and beyond. But again, right now nobody’s looking at a calendar and worrying. What we’re doing is trying to make some progress in the place we are right now after we’ve seen, as we talked about yesterday, some unhelpful actions, and see if we can get some more helpful ones out there.
QUESTION: And the last one is there’s a code red alert in the south in the past hour in Israel from rocket fire from Gaza.
MS. HARF: Oh, I hadn’t seen that.
QUESTION: Are you aware? Okay.
MS. HARF: I – sorry. I’ve been immersed in getting ready to come out here. I’m sorry, I hadn’t seen that. I’ll check on it, though. Obviously we know it’s a huge security concern. Let me check on it.
QUESTION: Do you still – you don’t want to blame any of the parties?
MS. HARF: Well, we --
QUESTION: Because the White House said today that the decision by Israel not to release the prisoners complicates the issues.
MS. HARF: Well, I said that both sides took unhelpful steps. The Israelis certainly did, as did the Palestinians, so I don’t think the White House was just blaming one side. I think they were responding to a question about the prisoner release. But we are not putting the blame on any one side here. Both sides have done some unhelpful things and we think both sides need to make some tough choices.
QUESTION: But the Palestinians took their actions in reaction to the – not releasing of the prisoners.
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t think this kind of tit-for-tat is helpful to the process or will move it forward at all.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yet it seems that both sides, according to what was said yesterday, both sides are looking for – they said that they need some kind of reviewing of what’s happening, which means some kind of stepping back and – do you agree with that stage?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think “stepping back” is the right term. I do think they are at a very critical point where they – both sides need to take a really hard look in the mirror and they need to determine what choices they’re willing to make going forward. I think this is a point for reflection. I think this is a time to really think very hard about how important this process is for both of their peoples and figure out if there is a way to get this moving forward.
QUESTION: So yesterday, you mentioned that Ambassador Indyk met Livni and – right?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, last night.
QUESTION: Last night --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- and Erekat. And simply, you said that both sides agreed to continue?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And they agreed there was still a path forward.
QUESTION: So what’s next?
MS. HARF: The devil’s in the details, right?
QUESTION: What’s next, from your point of view?
MS. HARF: Let me check and see if there are more meetings we have on the schedule. Obviously, Ambassador Indyk and the team remains on the ground, is in constant contact individually or, I guess, bilaterally – that’s the right word – with both sides, not together. Let me see if there are more meetings.
QUESTION: So when you said that both sides has to – they need to make tough choices, can you remind us what are the tough choices for each side?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to outline all of them for you. I think we know what a lot of those are. We know how contentious these issues are. They have to, as I said, take a look in the mirror. We understand their own limits and their own dynamics. They know what those are, we know what those are. Making peace is really hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something we aren’t committed to 100 percent, and certainly want the parties to be able to try and make some tough choices in pursuit of that, really, at this point.
QUESTION: Marie, today in Algiers, Secretary Kerry mentioned that he’d be speaking to both Netanyahu and Abbas --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- sometime this afternoon. I don’t know where that falls in the time change.
MS. HARF: He has spoken to both of them.
QUESTION: Do you have a --
MS. HARF: I don’t –
QUESTION: -- readout of those at all by chance?
MS. HARF: -- and probably won’t.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I tend not --
QUESTION: But it’s worth a shot.
MS. HARF: It is worth a shot. He has spoken to both today on the phone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Were there – to your knowledge, were there any Israeli-Palestinian meetings just with the two sides and not with Ambassador Indyk, or was the meeting just the one meeting with all three sides present?
MS. HARF: I do not know. I will check.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Sorry. I’ll check.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Last month, Secretary Kerry in testimony on Capitol Hill said, “President Obama and I share serious reservations about whether or not they will in fact make the hard choice that they need.” Does Secretary Kerry still feel that way?
MS. HARF: Absolutely, because, look, we’re all talking about tough choices today, but we know, we have seen through Iranian actions that they are at the table negotiating seriously, substantively, at a level we never saw before this Administration came in. To date, as I noted yesterday, the IAEA has reported that they fulfilled all their commitments under the Joint Plan of Action. But they will have to make some tough choices if we are to get to a comprehensive agreement. We will too, but they will as well. We don’t yet know if they’ll be able to.
QUESTION: And does Secretary Kerry believe that President Obama is as animated about foreign policy as he is domestic policy?
MS. HARF: I think most people would argue – often argue the opposite. The President is deeply engaged in foreign policy, animated on foreign policy. As someone who worked on his reelection campaign on foreign policy, I know how important it is to him. You see – I think you’ve seen already in the second term some very important overseas trips. We’ve had a very robust second term – and first term, quite frankly – agenda that the President has driven, even when there’s a lot of work we need to do here at home when he’s been focused on other issues as well.
So clearly, he’s very focused on foreign policy, in the weeds on it, and again, looking forward to having a few more years to get some more stuff done.
QUESTION: Just one more on Iran: The Secretary has repeatedly, as has the President, cited this fatwa against nuclear weapons.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: On the supreme leader’s website, he lists all of his fatwas, and this is not among those.
MS. HARF: Oh, really?
QUESTION: Yeah. And questions have been raised as to why.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Folks in the Iranian Government have said that an oral fatwa is equivalent to a written one. But that hasn’t been the case for quite a long time, so if you could take that question.
MS. HARF: I will take it. I will say, just in general, I’m not an expert on the fatwa process --
QUESTION: Nor am I.
MS. HARF: -- certainly, or on the supreme leader’s website. But what I will say, and I think what people have said, is we have referenced the fatwa. We’ve said it’s clearly significant, both to the supreme leader and to the people of Iran. And that’s important. But what we’re focused on in the negotiations is seeing concrete actions, and that words are – including this – are very important, as we know. They set a tone. They help drive the conversation. But again, what we’re focused on is actions.
I’m happy to take the technical part of your question, though, for our fatwa expert here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Is there a midterm kind of goal that you all are hoping to reach as a result of this round of talks? I mean, obviously, it would be great if everything was solved at the end of it, but are there certain benchmarks that you’re trying to reach specific to this round?
MS. HARF: Well, in general, what we’ve been doing these first three rounds is doing some very intensive – for lack of a better term – brainstorming, although that makes it sound a little more informal.
As you saw after the last round, High Representative Ashton came out and said we discussed enrichment, Iraq, sanctions, and civil nuke cooperation. We’ll discuss the rest of the issues at the upcoming round. We discussed the – we put ideas on the table. We find out very quickly where there are already places we know we can agree, and very quickly identify the places where there is going to be a tougher conversation.
So the first three – well, the first round was really setting the agenda and setting the framework for the talks. Second round and then the round next week are really to put the issues on the table, dig into them very deeply. Our experts are heading out there, actually, to Vienna before we go for the political directors meeting. We’ve been in constant contact at the expert level to work through all of the very technical issues.
So we are identifying where we’re really going to have some issues, where we already know we agree, and then after this round, I think, we’ll probably get closer to when we all start drafting exact language and really getting down into the nitty-gritty of what everyone can accept. So I think that’s what we’re looking forward to in lovely Vienna in the spring next week.
QUESTION: On Syria --
MS. HARF: Anything else on Iran? No, okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: There are reports, rumors, of some form of a gas being used by the Syrian military today. I’m wondering if there is any credibility to these things. Is it something you’ve looked into?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those. Let me check on that. Do you know where? I can check.
QUESTION: I think it’s Jobar.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: That’s – again, it’s reports. So – wanted to see if it’s something you’ve looked at.
Also, on the statement that came out earlier from the London 11 Friends of Syria --
MS. HARF: Yeah, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- that your office put out, to understand it to say that should elections be held, that that signals, in this building’s view, that the Geneva process is over? Because it says it’s specifically a violation of the terms of Geneva II --
MS. HARF: I don’t --
QUESTION: -- to move ahead with this.
MS. HARF: Right. And I had the communique in here and took it out, because I was actually trying to skinny this book down. But I think what we’re referring to is there are – there is no way there can credibly be elections in Syria. It would just be a total farce of the word democracy for President Assad to hold elections in the middle of a civil war when he is killing his people. So that’s not what we think is acceptable. But we still think the Geneva process writ large is important, and that a diplomatic process is important moving forward.
So I’ll take a look at the exact language, but we weren’t meaning to say the diplomatic process would somehow be over.
QUESTION: Is a --
MS. HARF: But I can check.
QUESTION: Is – was there a London 11 meeting today? If so, at what level, and where?
MS. HARF: I can – I’m not sure there was. I think we may have just put out a communique, but let me check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
MS. HARF: I don’t have details on that.
QUESTION: And can you explain why you felt the need to put out the communique, because --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I have not seen a whole lot of reporting of late about the proposed Syrian elections.
MS. HARF: Well, actually, the regime has really upped their propaganda in terms of elections. I don’t know if it’s sort of filtered out into reporting here, but they’ve really started talking much more frequently. Every few days or so, they talk about elections and how they want to hold them. So we wanted to make very clear that this would not be acceptable.
QUESTION: Okay. And they’re doing that, like, on television --
MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m not sure if it’s – I mean, any Syrian state media, I don’t know what it looks like, exactly --
MS. HARF: -- but yeah, they’ve been putting it out.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yep.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Okay.
MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah --
MS. HARF: Sorry. Then we will go to Ukraine, I promise.
QUESTION: So this statement simply to say that the idea of elections is not acceptable, right?
MS. HARF: Right. And that any – and look, to be clear that any decision to hold presidential elections is inconsistent with the Geneva communique’s stated goals. So, clearly, that would make the process much harder as we’re trying to get the parties back to the table.
QUESTION: So other thing, which is like – because I was surprised to see this statement, and nobody is now talking about any political process.
MS. HARF: Well, that’s not true entirely. I said yesterday that our special envoy was meeting with Joint Special Representative Brahimi to talk exactly about how to move the political, diplomatic process forward. So we’re talking about it. We’re trying to get everybody back to the table. Haven’t had success at it yet.
QUESTION: So you – because when you say how we make a process, it’s different from a process which was going on and it seems that --
MS. HARF: Well, there is a process that’s been going on, as you know, with the Geneva talks. And what, I think, Mr. Brahimi’s trying to determine right now is if there’s a way forward with that process at it stands with them, us, the Russians – if there’s a way to get everybody back to the table. But we need the regime, quite frankly, to agree to discuss a range of issues, not just terrorism.
QUESTION: Just a technical question --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I mean, when you say Russian – still you are in touch with Russian about Syria?
MS. HARF: Still we are in touch with Russia about Syria. It doesn’t mean we agree on Syria – still in touch with Russia – and look, on things like chemical weapons, working with the Russians.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Now that NASA’s suspended certain contracts with the Russian Government, excluding, I believe, the International Space Station --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah, that’s right.
QUESTION: -- mission, what is the day-to-day impact of this? Is it mere symbolic, or is there some more substance to it?
MS. HARF: For NASA?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. NASA --
MS. HARF: I’m not sure. You’d have to check with them. I know there were some erroneous reports yesterday that the State Department had told them to do so. As much as I would love to give direction to NASA, we don’t do that.
QUESTION: But can you confirm that NASA has canceled some --
MS. HARF: Yes, I can. I can. I was just saying some people yesterday thought we had told them to do that. But I would check with them in terms of what that actually means for their operations. I quite frankly just don’t know. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Just one more on Syria.
MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Oh, wait. Actually – hold on – I do know. Well, I know that the Space Cooperation Working Group, which is what supports the International Space Station, will continue. So I do know that that is continuing, but I think – it’s my understanding that the other cooperation has been suspended.
QUESTION: And is there much into “other cooperation”? I’m not even sure --
MS. HARF: I don’t know.
MS. HARF: Check with NASA. I’ll bring them up here.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- which will be co-chaired by Dutch and Moroccan Governments. Is there anything that you can elaborate on this? It’s – of course, is global working area, but is there anything that you can share with us in terms of the Syria – in the situation in Syria?
MS. HARF: I can check on the GCTF’s latest announcement. Obviously, we know that they’ve done quite a bit of good work in this area on these issues. But I don’t have anything specific on that. Let me check.
QUESTION: One more on Syria real quick?
MS. HARF: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the UNHCR report that came out that said the millionth Syrian refugee has entered Lebanon?
MS. HARF: Yes, I do. Just give me one second. I’m trying to put my book back together.
We obviously have seen the report. It’s just one more announcement in a long line of very sad announcements, I think, about what’s going on with the Syrian people. We know this influx of refugees has put an incredible strain on countries like Lebanon. We are the largest donor, still, to the international humanitarian response for Syria. We’ve provided more than 340 million of that to humanitarian partners in Lebanon to help in part with the refugee problem.
So, again, we need this conflict to come to an end, most importantly for the Syrian people, and we’ll stand by Lebanon and other partners like Jordan and others who really have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis.
Anything else? Yes? Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. First of all, let me confirm that Secretary Kerry had a phone meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past 24 hours.
MS. HARF: Yesterday, he did. Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday morning. But after that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have the time, but I – yesterday, yes. And I think this was the one I read out in the briefing? Maybe not. No, I read out their meeting in person. That’s right.
MS. HARF: I did not read out the phone call, I don’t think, but it was yesterday, and I think it was yesterday morning.
QUESTION: Let me clarify about --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- the federalization of the Ukraine. The President Putin and the Foreign Minister Lavrov asked the Ukraine and the United States federalization of the Ukraine. But the Ukraine Government disagreed.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. With federalization?
QUESTION: Yeah, federalization, yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Again, let me confirm the – what is the U.S. position? Is it the same as the Ukraine Government?
MS. HARF: Well, I would note that the Government of Ukraine has made it clear they’re ready to work towards constitutional reform, to grant greater autonomy for Crimea, and take other steps to address minorities in Ukraine. So part of that plays into the federalism discussion, right? So our point from the beginning has been any decisions about the future of Ukraine need to be made by the Ukrainian people. If they want to undertake constitutional reforms, if they want to do – give Crimea more autonomy, they need to make those decisions themselves. Russia doesn’t get to make those decisions for them.
QUESTION: Do you think this issue is critical for both governments?
MS. HARF: The federalism issue?
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s a place where they can engage, but obviously, this needs to be made by the Ukrainians themselves, these decisions.
Yes, Ali, and then we’ll go around.
QUESTION: The former President Yanukovych did an interview where he said he regrets allowing Crimea to be taken over by the Russians. I’m just wondering if you have any response to that or any other aspects of his interview.
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: He made a huge mistake.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Look, he stopped being president when he chose to leave Ukraine, when he chose to flee amidst overwhelming opposition to him, including from his own party in the Rada. So while his comments are interesting, I think that the only thing he probably said in that conversation that’s correct is that Crimea is part of Ukraine, and maybe he should’ve done things differently when he was leader of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Anything else?
QUESTION: Yeah. Are you concerned that Russians are – Russians have, I mean, almost 60,000 troops in Crimea right now? And are you --
MS. HARF: On the border?
QUESTION: Yeah, on --
MS. HARF: I think your numbers sound a little high. I mean, we’ve said tens of thousands. I don’t want to give you a specific number, but --
QUESTION: All the Ukraine and Crimea border, actually – not only Crimea, but all of the border, according to the news report. Are you concerned that they can proceed in Ukraine, I mean, from Crimea or other – I mean, they – because Russian-speaking --
MS. HARF: We’ve been concerned for weeks that they could, absolutely. That’s why we’ve told them not to. We’ve told them to pull their troops back from the border. We want to see that happen as soon as possible. That’s exactly why Secretary Kerry is working with the Ukrainian Government to get their ideas so he can work with Foreign Minister Lavrov to see if we can get a de-escalation plan in place here.
Yes, Lucas, and then Samir.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- about the State Department IG report.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry I hadn’t seen the IG report.
QUESTION: It’s okay. There’s a lot of reports out there. I understand.
MS. HARF: They are independent and we do often get a heads-up, but I’m sorry I had not seen it yesterday.
QUESTION: There’s a lot in the world to cover. I understand. Did you have any kind of reaction that this State Department IG report --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- was critical of the implementation on the recommendations from the Accountability Review Board?
MS. HARF: Well, let me see if – just a few points about the IG report, and then we can dig into some of your specifics. So obviously, this was a normal audit done through the normal audit process by the Inspector General of the process to request and prioritize physical security-related activities at overseas posts. This was in no way a reaction to Benghazi, was completed in March 2014. The field work for it started only a few months after the ARB was completed. The field work started, again, just a few months. So it wasn’t in any way a failure to implement the ARB. The ARB had just been completed.
I would note a few other points as well. We did concur with all but one of the recommendations they made for us to take actions, and I would note that on page two of the report it actually states that most of the recommendations have already been resolved prior to the report’s release. So how the process works is they do a draft, they send it to the relevant bureau or posts – obviously to give them a chance to comment on it. By the time the report was released, we had implemented most of the recommendations – I think six of the ten recommendations had been resolved.
QUESTION: Is that --
MS. HARF: So clearly we took action based on what they said.
QUESTION: Is that a passing score – six out of ten?
MS. HARF: Well, that was just what we had done by the time the report itself was released.
QUESTION: So is that --
MS. HARF: But we concur with all of the recommendations but one. In terms of a question you asked yesterday on the process, we did disagree with some of their findings, and specifically that we don’t have a process. According to the IG report, the majority of post security officials believed that the process to request funds for physical security related needs were clear and easy to use. I’m reading directly here.
So we believe there is a process in place that is clear and easy to use as, again, the majority of our posts’ security officials themselves said in response to this survey.
QUESTION: So is this a coordination issue? I mean, if they’re doing a follow-up to a report that was just issued three months – and I understand that --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s – it wasn’t a follow-up to the ARB. It was not a follow-up to the ARB. This was an audit done in the normal audit process, of the process to request and prioritize physical security related activities. It was not a specific response to the ARB.
QUESTION: So just bureaucratic issues, it sounds like.
MS. HARF: This was a bureaucratic audit. Absolutely.
QUESTION: One of the --
MS. HARF: We take it very seriously, but it wasn’t in response to that.
QUESTION: One of the recommendations in the report said that the OBO better coordinate with Diplomatic Security to develop a long range security plan. I found that a bit odd.
MS. HARF: Why?
QUESTION: Because the IG says that a long-range security plan had not been implemented from the office of bureaus and to the Diplomatic Security.
MS. HARF: I can check on that – I’m seeing if I have something on that here. I can check on that specifically. I’m not familiar with that one.
I would also note, just because you asked about the ARB which was obviously specific to Benghazi, that Benghazi in the 72 pages is only mentioned, I think, four or five times. So clearly this was not a report about Benghazi.
QUESTION: Which one did you reject?
MS. HARF: Which of the recommendations?
MS. HARF: That is a very good question. I will find out. For the ones that we haven’t put into place, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and OBO have provided responses to the OIG and expressed plans to implement them.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Special Representative for North Korea Glyn Davies will host a trilateral meeting – U.S. and South Korea, Japan – in Washington next week, April 7th.
MS. HARF: Oh, did you say Davies? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Glyn Davies.
MS. HARF: Okay. Sorry. Yes.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Why does this meeting --
MS. HARF: Because Ambassador King is in Japan right now.
QUESTION: No, yeah, not King – Mr. Davies.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, I got you.
QUESTION: Why do this meeting take place in Washington, D.C.?
MS. HARF: Why in Washington?
MS. HARF: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Why in Tokyo and Seoul?
MS. HARF: Because Washington is lovely in spring. It’s cherry blossom time. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They have cherry blossoms in Japan.
MS. HARF: They actually do have cherry blossoms in Japan. You’re right. I don’t know why Washington. I’ll try to find out.
QUESTION: Okay. Why do – does the U.S. want a normalized relationship between South Korea and Japan? This meeting --
MS. HARF: Between South Korea?
QUESTION: Yeah, South Korea and Japan.
MS. HARF: Well, what I thought you were actually asking about – between South Korea and Japan, you saw the President have the trilateral meeting. We’re doing follow-ups to that trilateral meeting that we will be having very shortly. I think we put out a Media Note on this – we did, actually, on Glyn Davies travel. So this is following up on the President’s meeting. We think it’s important for two of our very close allies to keep talking.
QUESTION: So you guys – I mean, U.S. are not like the match maker between South Korea and Japan, make don’t fighting --
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) I don’t think I would use that term, but we think it’s important to have these trilateral conversations.
Yes. One more.
MS. HARF: One more. Well, then you get the last one if they’re not paying attention. So.
QUESTION: He’s not paying attention. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: And then Lara has a follow – yes. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I ask a question regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and the --
MS. HARF: Yeah, and the UK.
MS. HARF: Yes. So for anything on that, I’d refer you to the UK. We don’t designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. I know someone had asked me that the other day.
MS. HARF: No update. Not anything from what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: Okay. A bunch of senators – 30 senators or so just put out a letter saying that they want Ambassador Power to work closely with the UN Sec-Gen to ensure that he’s never received as a representative to the U.S. Is there anything that Ambassador Power can do? I mean --
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, I’m not sure what that would legally entail.
MS. HARF: I’ve said that the U.S. has raised it with the Iranian Government, our concerns about this. I don’t have specifics on who or where that was raised. But I don’t want to get into the specifics of those conversations.
QUESTION: But more than that. I mean, more than raising concerns. I mean, there’s just nothing that one member of the P5 can --
MS. HARF: Well, so we have as the visa --
MS. HARF: -- responsibility country, as host of the UN, we have our own responsibilities here, which under certain circumstances we can work on. But in terms of the UN, I don’t know if they have process to not accept someone as a permanent representative.
QUESTION: Marie, can you – I actually went back and read the host country agreement yesterday, and I couldn’t find the specific portions of it explaining what are the circumstances under which the U.S. Government could refuse to grant a visa.
MS. HARF: The limited exceptions?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure that they’re spelled out in the host agreement.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what they are?
MS. HARF: I’ll check. Yeah. I don’t know.
QUESTION: And they’d – it surely it shouldn’t be a secret, right? I think it has to do with safety and national security, but --
MS. HARF: I think there are a couple.
QUESTION: Can – if you could put those out in a Note, I’d be grateful.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: There’s two more. Arshad keeps wanting to end. You can leave, sorry. (Laughter.) I won’t be offended. Yes, two more.
QUESTION: I ask you yesterday about the meeting between the Secretary --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- and the foreign minister of Turkey – if you have a readout --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and you promised to give us a little today.
MS. HARF: I promised to see if I could give you a readout.
MS. HARF: And we’re not going to have a readout for you. Yes.
QUESTION: To make it clear, yesterday when I ask about the UK and the Muslim Brotherhood, I’m – was not asking about the report itself or what if they are trying to do in UK. I’m trying to figure out what is your point of you in --
MS. HARF: Yeah. We’re --
QUESTION: -- regarding something like this similar happened. Is it helpful or hurtful to the political process in Egypt?
MS. HARF: Yeah. No, I heard your question, and we’re just not going to take a position on it.
MS. HARF: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:47 p.m.)
DPB # 59