Daily Press Briefing - May 15, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Kerry in London, Under Secretary Sherman in Vienna/Travel Updates
- French sail of Warships to Russia
- London 11 Communique/Increasing Support for Moderate Opposition
- Protests Spreading/Reaction to Conflict with Chinese
- Review Panel on Collective Self-Defense/Impact on Regional Security
- National Unity Dialogue Roundtable
- MERS Virus/Monitoring Situation/Low Risk/WHO Recommendations
- Spratly Islands Dispute with China
- Domestic Support for Collective Self Defense
- China Reclaiming Land in South China Sea/ Call for Restraint and Transparency
- Russia Demand for Payment from Ukraine for Gas
- Denial of LGBT Organization Request for Right to March
- Construction of Oil Rig by China in Disputed Waters/Communication by U.S. Officials at High Levels
- Vietnam Protests/Urge Refrain from Violence
- Update on Search for Missing Girls/U.S. Support
- Nigerian Security Conference Meeting in Paris - P to Lead U.S. Delegation
- Permission from Neighboring Governments to Conduct Surveillance Flights to Search for Missing Girls
- Ongoing Discussions in Vienna
- Syrian Opposition Coalition Mission Status
- SMC Size and Command Structure
- Freedom of the Press/Detained Journalists
- Support to Moderate Syrian Opposition
Daily Press Briefing
1:01 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello and welcome, everyone, to the latest round of our telephone daily press briefings. Just so folks know – I think many of you know – but we have hired a new Press Office director who eventually will be up to speed and ready to brief, so our goal, as you all know, is to not have to do too many of these over the phone. I know it’s not ideal for everyone.
But thanks for calling in. This is like a normal daily press briefing, and by that I mean all on the record. So with that, I will just quickly at the top mention that the Secretary is, as you know, in London, had a number of meetings yesterday and today, and will be returning to Washington after his meetings wrap up there. We – and by “we,” I mean Under Secretary Sherman and our team is in Vienna for the Iran talks through the end of the week, and there’s a lot going on here as well.
So that’s just a quick travel update, but with that, I will turn it over for questions. Let me see if anyone has – yes, Matt Lee – you even ask the first question over the phone – from the Associated Press. Go ahead and open up his line, please.
QUESTION: Yes, hello?
MS. HARF: It’s just like tradition, Matt. I love it.
QUESTION: I hope you’re enjoying Vienna.
MS. HARF: It’s pouring rain, but it is a lovely city. What are you starting with today?
QUESTION: I got two things. I want to know – maybe you might not know this because I know you’re not with the Secretary – Jen is – but the question about whether Secretary Kerry did, in fact, raise the issue of the French sale --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- proposed sale of warships to Foreign Minister Fabius in their meeting back here earlier this week, do you --
MS. HARF: Yes, uh-huh. Let me take – yeah, let me take that one first. He did. They met on Tuesday, obviously had a wide-ranging discussion. They did, as part of that discussion, discuss this sale. As you know, we’ve expressed our concerns to the French Government several times over this sale, and don’t think it’s an appropriate time to move forward on such military sales given Russia’s actions that we’ve seen recently to destabilize its neighbors. But they did discuss it on Tuesday, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know why he would say, then, that – Fabius would say that it didn’t come up?
MS. HARF: I don’t portend to guess why people say the things they do, no. I can just tell you what I know is the case.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s it for me.
MS. HARF: Okay. Our next question comes from Rosalind Jordan of Al Jazeera English.
QUESTION: Hey, Marie. How are you doing?
MS. HARF: Hey, good.
QUESTION: First, a housekeeping thing: If the Indian election results are announced, how do you guys plan to handle that in the next 24, 48 hours?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me talk to our folks. I don’t have any updates on when announcements might come. Obviously, if there’s something to comment on, we will. Let me just check with our folks and see what the plan is for that. I know there’s a whole process in place in terms of government formation, but let me just see what folks think.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the situation involving the Syrian opposition, I note from the communique that was released, “Number two, we have agreed unanimously,” ellipses, “We have directed our officials to implement a core group action plan.”
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What are the details of the plan as you understand them?
MS. HARF: Well, you’re referring to the communique that came out of the London 11 --
MS. HARF: -- where the – yes, correct, where the Secretary is. And it talks about a number of things, including increasing support for the moderate opposition, for associated moderate armed groups in the SMC, holding the regime accountable. All of these are steps that go into these kind of plans, and all of these are things we’ve been doing. We’re just talking about doing more of them.
I’m happy to check and see if there are more details in terms of what that core group action plan looks like, but again, I think the things laid out right before that in the communique really speak to what would go into that kind of plan.
QUESTION: Because earlier in the week, while members of the SOC were in Washington, they were stressing that there had been some sort of promise made by the core group last year that if Geneva II were not realized positively, that there would be some provision of weapons, and I wonder if that is exactly what this line in the communique is referring to.
MS. HARF: Well, Roz, as you know, we don’t detail all of the kinds of assistance we give to the opposition, but as the communique made clear, again, increasing our support for the Supreme Military Council and associated moderate armed groups, I think, speaks to how we’ve, in general – of course, without getting into specifics – have supported those folks. So again, I can check and see if there are more details, but that’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Is there a growing level of confidence on the part of the U.S. that the armed opposition is capable of handling equipment such as TOW missiles, which both President Jarba and his top military official said that they do have possession of and are using? Is there confidence here in Washington that the armed opposition can be trusted with increased weapon deliveries and that the weapons aren’t going to end up with any AQ affiliates or anything like that?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, as you know, we do extensive vetting to mitigate the risks that any assistance provided may be diverted to folks like you mentioned – to unintended recipients. So I think that that’s something we’re certainly focused on, and that’s what we’ve been doing on a continual basis since this conflict started. And as appropriate, if we can provide assistance once folks have been vetted, without getting into specifics about what that looks like, we will do that.
We’ve talked about other specific things that we are not considering giving that we’re concerned about specifically in the past as well. So that process is ongoing, but there’s a reason we have this vetting in place: Because we do have that concern, and that’s why we don’t provide assistance to groups linked to al-Qaida, that’s why we take a number of steps to vet these folks before we give them any kind of assistance.
QUESTION: Well, even as recently as Tuesday the Secretary was pretty adamant that the U.S. doesn’t believe that adding weapons will help change the political calculus between the Assad regime and the opposition. Is that still the U.S. Government’s position, or has there been a change, especially in light of the Brahimi resignation?
MS. HARF: No, there hasn’t been a change, Roz. And it goes back to this concept we’ve said for a long time, that we’ve said since the beginning, that there’s no military solution here, right. So any assistance we give is designed to help support and bolster and strengthen the opposition in their fight against the regime, strengthen their fight – ability to fight al-Qaida-affiliated groups in ISIL and Nusra, but also designed to eventually change the calculation enough so we can get folks back to the table and we can get the regime back to the table, willing to negotiate on a transitional governing body.
So that’s the goal, right, and that’s why we’ve always said there’s no military solution here. So everything we consider giving – every bit of assistance – has to fit into that overall goal and not just prolong the conflict, like I think some folks have mentioned in the past.
QUESTION: But isn’t it a bit of a red herring to suggest that if the U.S. were to provide weapons to the armed opposition that somehow this now becomes a military form – relationship, rather than the strategic use, the targeted use of weapons in certain situations in order to induce the Assad regime, which the Secretary has noted several times in the last several days has not met its obligations to comply with the terms of Geneva II?
MS. HARF: Yeah, no. I think – well, a few points. First, I don’t think it’s a red herring. I think that regardless of what kinds of assistance we’re providing to the opposition, much of – all of which we don’t outline in detail – there is no military solution, right. So – but, that being said, as we make decisions and vet people and think it’s appropriate to provide assistance to the opposition, including the armed opposition, we’re going to do so to work towards that goal. So they’re not mutually exclusive, right. We don’t believe there is a military solution; we don’t think what this conflict needs is more militarization of the conflict. We’ve already seen enough bloodshed. But if there are ways we can support the moderate opposition in their fight to change the calculus, to get the regime back to the table, that’s something we’re constantly looking at.
QUESTION: Okay. I will wait for a few minutes. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: And then you can ask another question. Okay, our next question is from Elliot Waldman of Tokyo Broadcasting.
QUESTION: Hey, Marie. Thanks for doing this. I just had one – actually, two questions on Asia.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: And so I just wanted to know if you guys are following the ongoing unrest in Vietnam. The riots and looting and protest to the Chinese actions off the coast have now spread to the central part of the country, and seeing reports that the number of dead could be more than 20. I was just wondering how you guys are responding − what guidance you’re providing to Americans, if any. Yeah, maybe if you want to get into that first, and then I’ll go on with my second one.
MS. HARF: Yes. So we are, obviously, closely following the protests that you asked about. And as we say frequently – as I say frequently – support the rights of individuals, people to assemble peacefully to protest. Obviously, all parties need to refrain from violence and exercise restraint here.
We are in close touch with national and local authorities; condemn any of the violence that we’ve seen and the loss of life that’s occurred. And again, would encourage people while they – everyone – while folks are exercising their right to freedom of expression to refrain from any further violence.
QUESTION: Any particular sort of warnings or guidance to U.S. citizens in the country or visiting U.S. citizens?
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve seen. We haven’t – not that I’ve seen. We haven’t seen any reports of U.S. citizens being targeted, but I’m happy to check with our folks and see. I just haven’t seen any specific warnings.
QUESTION: Okay, sure. And then I also wanted to see if you had any comment or reaction to the announcement by the Japanese Government of the review panel on the collective self-defense and Prime Minister Abe’s presser associated with that.
MS. HARF: Yes. I have a couple comments, and I think this is something we’ve talked about a little bit before. But that – Japan over the last 60-plus years, I would say, has demonstrated a commitment to peace and democracy and the rule of law and global security, and they’ve contributed very significantly to that. Obviously, this is a decision for the Japanese Government to make and for their people to make. But that being said, we welcome and support Japan’s debate over whether its constitution permits the exercise of its right to collective self-defense. And we’re confident that Japan will continue their tradition of respect for peace as they have this discussion.
One more point I would note is that they have done outreach to explain their security policies, including by sending officials to foreign capitals, have done this in a transparent manner and really do appreciate those efforts to be as transparent as possible as they implement what I think I would probably call their evolving defense policies.
QUESTION: Okay, great. And then just finally, do you have any view of how this might affect the broader sort of security environment in the region given what’s going on in China and – the South China Sea? Any kind of repercussions there that you might foresee?
MS. HARF: Not – look, I think one of the points – the key point I just made is that as they have talked about what their security posture will look like, they’ve done it in a very transparent manner. And one of the things we’ve said consistently is that in the region, what we don’t want people to do is take provocative steps, to do so in a way that could lead to miscalculations, to do so in an un-transparent way. So I think that certainly Japan is doing what it should do, is doing the right things as it has these internal conversations, I think.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, Elliot.
Our next question is from Margaret Warner of PBS NewsHour.
QUESTION: Hi, Marie. Thanks for doing this.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What is your assessment of the negotiations underway in Kyiv now, and I guess are going to move to Donetsk on Saturday? I mean, is it – they’re – none of the armed separatists are in it. Just your general reaction to that. I’m headed over --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m headed back there on Saturday.
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, no, I – a couple points on that, because I think there are some important points that need to be out there a little bit more. First, we congratulate the Ukrainian Government on the national unity dialogue roundtable, the one that was held in Kyiv yesterday. And you’re right, this is the first of several national dialogues that are being supported by the OSCE. This specific event was a success, had hundreds of attendees, was transparent, was open to the press. The next roundtable is happening in eastern Ukraine, in Donetsk, in the coming days.
A couple points from yesterday’s roundtable: There was broad participation from all elements of Ukrainian society, including many leaders from the eastern part of the country. Attendees agreed on a strong message of national unity, on a universal rejection of violence, and you are right that there were few pro-Russian separatists who had engaged in criminal acts in a handful of towns who were not included. But those – that very, very small number does not represent the roughly six and a half million Ukrainians who live in those regions. They were represented by local and regional government leaders, business leaders, legislative representatives, religious leaders. They were there in full force yesterday, and I think that’s what’s so important: not to focus on the few pro-Russian separatists who have engaged in criminal acts who weren’t a part of this discussion, but all of the folks who were. So we think this is a good step forward and hope to see more of this.
QUESTION: So you have no concerns about the participation? Do you think that --
MS. HARF: That they --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) could be doing more to reach out to the east? Anything else you’d like to see?
MS. HARF: No. Well, look, as I noted, the next one of these national unity dialogue roundtables will be held in the east, in Donetsk, in the coming days, and expect there will be broad participation there as well. And that’s really what’s defining these roundtables. It’s not – some folks have really focused on – again, these few pro-Russian separatists who weren’t participating, but they don’t represent the Ukrainians who live in these regions and who are coming to tables to talk about what their future will look like. I think that’s actually really the key point here.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Great. Thanks, Margaret.
Our next question is from Catherine Chomiak of NBC News.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask if you had any update on any State Department role in the MERS virus and if there was going to be any sort of travel advisory to American citizens traveling to the affected countries. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, Catherine. On that, not a lot of an update. You probably saw the World Health Organization’s announcement yesterday that it does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern. We’re obviously – particularly the CDC, but other folks as well – monitoring the situation, do think the risk to the general public is extremely low. The WHO does not recommend travel or trade restriction. So obviously, they don’t; we aren’t either. What we have said is the people traveling to the Arabian Peninsula, especially for healthcare work, should follow CDC’s recommendations for infection control, and that other travelers sort of not working in the health care area should take general steps to prevent respiratory infections while they’re there. We are also in regular with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and working very closely with the health ministry and the WHO to address shared concerns about this issue.
QUESTION: Great, thanks.
MS. HARF: Great, thanks. Our next question is from Taurean Barnwell of NHK.
QUESTION: Hi, Marie. I think my first question was addressed earlier, so I’m not going to revisit that one, but I did have a follow-up question on Vietnam. There are some reports suggesting that the Chinese have started constructing an airstrip on the Spratly Islands that Vietnam considers its territorial island. Do you have any comments on that?
MS. HARF: I thought I did. Just give me one second. Hold on. You should see – I don’t have my trusty big book here. Let me see if I have something. Just give me one second on that.
MS. HARF: I may not, though. I may have to take that question back. Obviously – let me take that question back. I don’t think I have anything, but I can also keep – it may be here in the stack of papers I have, but let me take that and get you something.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yep.
It looks like the next question is from Bingru Wang of Hong Kong Phoenix.
QUESTION: Thanks. I want to follow up on the Japanese collective self-defense question. And I understand all the points you just made, but my question is: First of all, the Japanese poll shows that 63 percent of voters oppose the idea of collective self-defense. So are you concerned that Prime Minister Abe’s movement, by reintegrate the constitution is against democracy?
MS. HARF: Well, look, as we’ve said, this is a decision for the Japanese Government and the Japanese people to make. And there’s a debate going on right now about whether its constitution permits the exercise of its right to collective self-defense. So this is – we’re not going to take a position on what they should decide internally. I think what you heard me comment on is the process in which they’re undertaking this debate has been transparent. They have been talking to other folks in foreign capitals about it. And so that’s what, I think, my comment focused on. But this is a decision for them to make and for the Japanese Government and people to make together.
QUESTION: So in judging by your comment, I don’t think you believe that Prime Minister Abe’s final goal is to replace the constitution.
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more analysis on what the prime minister’s plans are. As I said, he – the Japanese Government as a whole gone through this conversation about collective self-defense has been very transparent, has been very open about it. And again, how this will play out internally is really something for the Japanese to decide.
QUESTION: But would you be worried that maybe in the future, the constitution will be rewritten?
MS. HARF: Again, we’ll watch this debate as it plays out. I know that’s really what this debate is focusing on right now is the constitution. And we are confident that Japan will continue its tradition of respect for peace, for global security, and will have this debate in an open and transparent manner, and we’ll keep watching it.
QUESTION: And finally, Marie, the U.S. has always been calling Japan to maintain a good relation with its neighbors, China and Korea, and they are very sensitive on historic issues. So why don’t you see there is a need for Japan to restrain itself on this matter?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more analysis on it than I’ve already said. I’ve commented on the process and how we think they’re being transparent. And I’m sure as this debate plays out in Japan we’ll have more conversations about it going forward.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you. Going back quickly to the Spratlys, I did find it in my guidance. So to revisit the last question: We are aware of reports that China is reclaiming land at a disputed reef – I think this is what you were referring to – in the South China Sea. Major upgrades or the militarization of disputed land features in the South China Sea by any claimant has the potential to raise tensions. That’s why we think that all parties to the Declaration On the Code of Parties in the South China Sea should fully and effectively implement the DOC, especially with regard to exercising self-restraint and the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes. And recent incidents highlight the need for claimants to be transparent about their respective activities in disputed areas.
Obviously, we’ve talked about this in a number of ways recently, but again, want folks to reach a shared understanding on appropriate behavior and activities in these kind of disputed areas. So I found it in this stack of paper on my desk here in Vienna.
Our next question is from Luke Johnson of Radio Free Europe.
QUESTION: Hi Marie, two questions. First is I wondered if you had seen this letter from the Kremlin about gas on Ukrainian territory thing that they had to pay their bill now, basically, and wondering if you had a response.
MS. HARF: Yes, I do. Just give me one second. So look, this demand, right, from the Russians isn’t being made in a vacuum. What we don’t need is threats. They need – we need folks to sit down and talk through this issue together because countries like Russia shouldn’t use supply and pricing terms as tools of coercion in Ukraine or anywhere else.
And I’d point out that last month Russia abrogated a 2010 agreement with Ukraine that, in part, set gas prices for Ukraine. So we know that Ukraine and Russia have energy issues to resolve and believe they should do so through negotiations – not through unilateral action, not through threats. So we believe in – there’s the trilateral talk situation between Ukraine, the EU, and Russia on gas pricing and the next round is scheduled for the end of this week – believe that’s the appropriate forum to negotiate price and supply issues.
QUESTION: Okay, second question: I wondered if you’d seen the news that Moscow authorities rejected an application by LGBT activists to hold a march in support of the Eurovision winner. And I’m wondering if you had any reaction to that.
MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen that report, but obviously we support people’s rights all around the world to protest peacefully in support of things they believe, certainly in support of rights for people around the world that they’re speaking up for. So while I haven’t seen those reports, obviously, I think people should be able to make their voices heard peacefully.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s all I have.
MS. HARF: Okay. Our next question is from Tejinder Singh. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Tonight is going to be a long night here because India’s elections results are going to come out. And what time we can expect a statement from the State Department?
MS. HARF: Well, I just got asked that question by someone else at the beginning, and I’ll check with our team and see when we plan to make any statements. I don’t have anything to preview right now about how we will make a statement on this, but let me check with our folks and see if there’s anything we can share for planning.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. Sorry I dialed in --
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. HARF: You don’t need to apologize. We’ll let you know if there’s anything we can share.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. HARF: Our next question is from Guy Taylor of The Washington Times.
QUESTION: Hi Marie, thanks for doing this. Can I just go on back to the Vietnam protests for a minute? I certainly appreciate that the State Department supports the right of people to protest around the world, but these have been unusually large demonstrations for Vietnam and I’m wondering if the Department has a position on whether the protests are justified. That would be my first question.
Then there have been mounting sort of anti-Chinese fervor in Vietnam over the past week or so, particularly since China placed an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam. Does the Department believe that the Chinese may be violating Vietnamese sovereignty with this move and sort of pushing the Vietnamese to accept Chinese sovereignty claims over certain areas of the South China Sea? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond beyond just saying we support the right of people to --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Well, on the oil rig issue, I’ve said and a bunch of us have said repeatedly that China’s decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by numerous government vessels in waters that are disputed with Vietnam is provocative and raises tensions, absolutely, and that this is a unilateral action that appears to be part of a broader pattern, quite frankly, of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed areas in a manner that really undermines peace and stability in the region.
So we are very concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation of this kind. We’ve called on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner and address competing sovereignty claims peacefully and in accordance with international law. So I think we’ve spoken out very clearly about how that action was seen and could be seen as provocative and raising of tensions.
QUESTION: Could you --
MS. HARF: In terms --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Go ahead. No, no, go ahead. You can follow-up on that before I get to my next one.
QUESTION: Could you update us just on what the last communications or what level of communications is the Department having with the Chinese on this particular issue within the context of perhaps getting the Chinese to pull the ship out without losing face at this point?
MS. HARF: Well, we have raised this issue with both sides, including at high levels, during separate calls with both the Vietnamese deputy prime minister, who is also the foreign minister, and the Chinese foreign minister. The Secretary – Secretary Kerry emphasized our strong concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea and stated our view that China’s unilateral introduction of an oil rig was provocative; urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, engage in high-level dialogue, ensure safe conduct by their vessels at sea, and a host of other things as well.
So the Secretary’s been engaged on it; other folks have been as well. I think the last time the Secretary spoke to the Chinese foreign minister was on Monday evening, where he again emphasized our strong concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea.
QUESTION: But that was – when were the protests that time? Had they really gotten out of – gotten big by Monday evening, or that was before the protests really got going?
MS. HARF: Well, we can – I can check on that, but he was very clear about what was happening in the South China Sea and what behavior should not continue.
In terms of the protests, as I’ve said, we’ve been in close touch with national and local authorities and have absolutely condemned the violence and the loss of life that’s occurred. What I said, though – and I – it didn’t sound like you really liked the answer, but it’s true that we support the rights of individuals to assemble peacefully to protest, period. So that is something that is important to us, but at the same time, urge all parties to refrain from violence and to exercise restraint. Those are really things that underscore what we’ve said.
So while we support peoples’ right to protest, we do not in any way support violence against Chinese-affiliated businesses or firms in Vietnam – absolutely are opposed to that, so --
QUESTION: Thank you very – no, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
MS. HARF: Yeah, absolutely. Uh-huh.
It looks like we have another question from Elliot Waldman of Tokyo Broadcasting. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Marie. I just had a Ukraine-related question, actually. Since you brought up the issue of resources and using that as a sort of tactic in the conflict, the – a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs today sharply criticized the Ukrainian Government for cutting off water supplies to Crimea, saying that it – I forget exactly the wording he used, but something like it defies common sense or something like that. But I was wondering if you have any comment on that.
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that, actually, and I’m seeing if there’s anything in here. I’m not sure I have anything on that, and I’m not sure that that’s actually true that that’s happened. So let me check on that with our folks and I’ll get you something on that.
QUESTION: Sure. That’d be great.
MS. HARF: Yep.
It looks like we have another question from Rosalind Jordan of Al-Jazeera English. Go ahead, Roz.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Not – I don’t have much of an update. As you know, the search is ongoing. We’re playing a supporting role; Nigeria is in the lead. In addition to other support we’ve announced recently – which included, I think, some manned aerial vehicles – we are now flying unarmed UAVs in support of the search effort. And as you also know, this is a very difficult mission.
On the – related to this, as you may know, on Saturday there will be a meeting in Paris that’s related to the – it’s called the Nigerian Security Conference. It’s really designed to bring together a number of countries to encourage and improve regional cooperation in West Africa on counterterrorism and really emphasize the importance of a comprehensive strategy that includes not only military and security, but governance, rule of law, justice, development – all the issues that really go into combating terrorism. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will lead the United States delegation to the conference, which we had not previously announced. So that’s something new there in terms of our engagement and helping find a comprehensive strategy to fight this threat.
But again, on the specifics, we’re continuing to work. The team’s in place and hopefully we can make some progress soon.
QUESTION: Is there any new intelligence that the U.S. has been able to share with the Nigerians, between the overflights and the satellite imagery? Anything that you can shed a light on?
MS. HARF: No, not really. I mean, obviously, we can’t talk about all the ways we collect information on trying to find these girls. But we are continuing to work through arrangements that allow us to share intelligence information with Nigeria. We’re working to build a baseline for that; we are working on getting as much information as possible. But again, I think we’ve all said this is – we’re basically searching for these girls in an area that’s roughly the size of West Virginia. So it’s a tough challenge, to be sure.
QUESTION: Is there any confidence that all of the girls are still within Nigerian borders, or is there the working assumption that some of them may have been taken to Chad or to Mali. And related to that, has the U.S. been able to obtain permission from those governments to conduct surveillance flights over those two countries?
MS. HARF: That’s a good question. I don't know the answer to that. We have said that there are indications that some might have been moved. Obviously, we’re looking at all options for where they may be. But I can check with our folks and see if there’s more light to shed on how we’re working with other countries.
QUESTION: Okay. And I know that it may be in bad form for the U.S. Government to do so, but apparently, some 32, 33 days after these girls were abducted, the Nigerian president is finally in Chibok to visit the school and meet with relatives. Is that even appropriate at this point?
MS. HARF: What, that he would be there meeting with the families?
QUESTION: Well, after 32, 33 days, doesn’t it seem as if, why bother?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think I would ever say, “Why bother,” for folks meeting with families of people who are clearly hurting and want to see their girls come home. I do think, what we’ve said from the beginning, that time is of the essence, and that that’s why we’ve tried to move as quickly as we could to move assets into place to help with this. And I think that the Nigerian Government, who is in the lead here, does realize that as well.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Yep. Our next question’s from Claudia Rosett of the National Review Online.
QUESTION: Marie, thank you for doing this. My question is about the P5+1 in Vienna, and it is: Is there any provision being negotiated at this point that would monitor and provide for clear, direct, immediate action if Iran is in some way trying to outsource part of its nuclear program, or if it does that in the future? Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re asking if there’s something under discussion for the comprehensive agreement?
QUESTION: Yeah. What I’m asking about – exactly, what I’m asking about is – especially in light of North Korea’s continuing threats to conduct a fourth nuclear test and the long cooperation between Iran and North Korea over the years, is there any provision, for example, should North Korea provide Iran with some of the sources of technology, research, testing and so on, that Iran might be – that you’re negotiating over giving up? Is there any provision for dealing with that?
MS. HARF: Well, a few points. First, we are not going to outline internal discussions we are having in terms of these negotiations. We’re just not going to negotiate in public. We’ve said that from the beginning, so won’t get into specifics about any issue in particular. What I will say is that we have a goal here that has not changed: that is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring that their program is for entirely peaceful purposes.
Now, what we’ve said is how you get to that goal, which has not changed and will not change, is to put together, really, a package on all of the issues – that takes all of the issues into account, that at the end of the day ensures that you reach that goal. It’s not a checklist. It’s not that you – like you go through it and say, “Check, check, check, here, we’re done.” It’s really how you put all the pieces of that together. Transparency’s a huge part of that. You saw in the JPOA negotiations and in the JPOA text that we were given increased access to Iran’s nuclear program, increased visibility into it. So that’s obviously a huge part of what will have to go into any comprehensive agreement, but beyond that, I’m just really not going to get into details about what we’re talking about.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Can the operator remind people how to ask questions, please?
QUESTION: Certainly. If you do have a question, press *1 on your touchtone phone.
MS. HARF: Great. I think we have time for a few more here. The next question’s from the other Matt Lee, Matthew Russell Lee, from Inner City Press. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks a lot. I have quick questions on Syria and Ukraine: On Syria, this Syrian Opposition Coalition, Najib Ghadbian was here in New York. And is he – he said that – asked about the – being a foreign mission, what the benefits of it are to the coalition. He said that there’s still some discussions to be had with the State Department legal department, and he specifically said that they’d like to be able to do consular services for Syrians in the United States. I wonder, is that – is the State Department considering giving him that right?
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. As we said when they – when we announced that they were going to, under the Foreign Missions Act, be a foreign mission, that it does not include the provision of consular services; that while they are the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, they’re not – they don’t take on this official status as the government which would provide consular services.
So to my knowledge, that – I mean, our – that hasn’t changed. That’s what falls under the Foreign Missions Act. It does give them increased ability, for example, for us to assist with security and banking and other issues. I can check if there’s more we can share on that, but to my knowledge, that is where we are, and they will not be able to provide consular services.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks a lot. And the other one: On Ukraine, I just wondered if you’ve seen the – there’s a – kind of a brouhaha about footage of a UN-marked helicopter that was being used, they say, by Ukrainian authorities, and you might be the same as (inaudible) to Crimea maybe. I just wanted to know if the State Department is aware of this issue. The UN said they’re looking into it and speaking with Ukraine about it. But do you know it to be true or false? And if it were true, what do you think should be done about it?
MS. HARF: Yeah. I’ve seen the UN statement; obviously I’ve seen the reports. Let me check. I don’t have any update on that, so let me just check with our team and see if there’s more we can say.
QUESTION: Okay. Great, thanks a lot.
MS. HARF: Thanks. Our next question’s from Hannah Allam of McClatchey.
QUESTION: Yes, hi there. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit – just back on Syria for a second – if – the assistance is still going – military assistance is still going to the SMC right? I was just wondering if you could describe what the SMC is now – how big is it, what is its role, and its sort of status within the constellation of the rebel brigades now. Do you have any idea of its size or what’s the command?
MS. HARF: Yeah, no, that’s actually a really good question that I don’t have lot of details on now. I’m happy to check with our folks and see in terms of size and command structure. I just, quite frankly, don’t have all the details on that. As you saw in the London – you may have seen a London 11 communique today – it talked about increasing our support for the Supreme Military Council and associated moderate armed groups.
I think part of what your question refers to is that as we all know there are a number of other moderate armed groups that are working under the SMC umbrella, so let me see if there’s a little more to share on sort of current structure. It’s a good question and I just don’t have all the facts in front of me.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I think we have time for a few more. The next is from a journalist from Al-Jazeera, Arabic – Mahmoud El-Hamalawy. I just mispronounced your name, I’m sure, but go ahead and ask a question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, that was pretty good. Thanks, Marie. One issue you guys have talked about in terms of expressing concern is the freedom of press as it relates to Egypt. As we’re following the detention of our colleagues, and particularly one of them today, Abdullah Eishamy, he transferred from one facility, which he was denied bail and still has no formal charges against him. So my question is: To what extent are you concerned about his health, his trial, or that of other journalists in Egypt? And how are you conveying your views to Egyptian authorities? Thank you.
MS. HARF: It’s a good question and just a few points. I will check on his specific case. I’m not aware of sort of the details of the health issues or anything like that you asked about, so I can check on that. I just don’t have those in front of me.
In terms of how we convey our concerns, look, we very publicly have made known our concerns with the space for freedom of expression in Egypt. And that includes things like detention of journalists. We’ve made that very clear publicly and we’ve made it very clear privately as well.
So we will continue raising those concerns, and they’re concerns that are really set against a broader climate that we have been concerned about, including these massive death sentences for people that – are political in nature. By any standard you could say that. And the continued detention, arrests, of journalists just trying to tell the world the story of what’s happening in Egypt. So we will continue making our opposition to this known.
And I would say that as we continue to evaluate our relationship with Egypt, we’ve talked about the certifications and the assistance and how that’s going to look going forward – all of this will play into that, right. And we’ve been very clear with the Egyptians about that as well.
Did we lose you? (Laughter.)
Okay. I think we have one – time for one more question for someone who hasn’t had one. From Atheer Kakan of the Anadolu Agency. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, Marie. Thank you very much. I’m – I just – I was just wondering, when you say, like, nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, would that not include the TOW missiles and would not that contradict with the political solution that you believe in?
MS. HARF: Well, what I’ve said is we’re not going to outline every type of assistance that we provide to the opposition. I know there are lots of questions out there about certain things, but we’re just not going to talk about all the assistance we provide. But what I said earlier to Roz’s question, I think, still holds in that they’re not mutually exclusive, right? In other words, we do not believe there is a military solution here, period. There needs to be a political solution, a transitional governing body, that’s negotiated. But at the same time, we will continue to support the opposition, including the armed opposition. We’ve talked a lot about the nonlethal assistance we give to the armed opposition because we believe it’s important to do so. They’re the ones who are representing the Syrian people, they’re the ones who are fighting for a future for the Syrian people that is better than, obviously, the one they have now. And so we’ll continue that support. But those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s all towards the same goal, which is a political transition here.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you. Well, thanks everyone for calling in. Again, this was just like a normal daily press briefing – all on the record. And everyone have a good rest of the week and your weekend and we will see you back in Washington on Monday. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)
DPB # 87