Daily Press Briefing: June 3, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
- Secretary Kerry's Travel Update
- Syrian Presidential Election
- Palestinian Interim Technocratic Government
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
- U.S. Assistance to the Palestinian Authority
- Formation of the Technocratic Interim Government
- U.S.-Israeli Relationship
- Secretary Kerry Travel
- SYRIA / REGION
- Moderate Opposition
- Chemical Weapons
- U.S. Policy on Syria / Diplomatic Solution
- Vetting Process for Assistance
- No Military Solution / National Security Interests
- Treasury Department
- Cyber Issues
- Freedom of Speech and Expression
- AFGHANISTAN / QATAR
- Sergeant Bergdahl
- Taliban / Specially Designated Terrorist Organization
- Need for an Afghan-Led Reconciliation
- Upcoming Classified Interagency Congressional Briefing
- Work-Life Balance
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- Conflicting Reports re. June 2 Explosion in Luhansk
- Restraint of Ukrainian Government / Russian Interference
- Freedom of the Media and Freedom of Expression
- Detention of Peaceful Protestors
- Freedom of the Press
- Andrew Tahmooressi Case
- Violent Sexual Assaults and Murders
- IRAN / RUSSIA
- No Indications Reports of Oil-for-Goods Deal Has Moved Forward with Russia
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- Conflicts Reports re. June 2 Explosion in Luhansk
- Restraint of Ukrainian Government
2:24 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hey, everyone. Sorry for the late briefing today. I know a few of you were over with us at Under Secretary Sherman’s Somalia speech that – hence the later briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then happy to open it up for your questions.
First, a travel update. As you know, Secretary Kerry is in Poland today with President Obama. The Secretary met with Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski this morning. During the meeting, Secretary Kerry reaffirmed the strong commitment of the United States to the security of Poland and our NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe.
And another travel update for the coming days: On Saturday, Secretary Kerry will travel to Saint-Briac, France. Secretary Kerry will pay tribute to three American servicemen killed in the allied liberation of the town following World War II. He will also participate in a program saluting enduring U.S.-French military and diplomatic cooperation, as well as will be thanking townspeople who helped save his family’s home in the community during that time as well.
Two more toppers, the first on Syria: Today’s presidential election in Syria is a disgrace. Bashar al-Assad has no more credibility today than he did yesterday. Elections should be an opportunity for the people of a free society to be consulted and to play an important role in choosing their leaders. Instead, such a process was inconceivable today in Syria, where the regime continued to reject the courageous calls for freedom and dignity that started more than three years ago. It intentionally denied millions of Syrians the right to vote and continued to massacre the very electorate it purports to represent and protect. Just today, we also note reports the regime shelled the Yarmouk refugee camp and eastern Ghouta.
Detached from reality and devoid of political participation, the Assad regime-staged election today continues a 40-year family legacy of violent suppression that brutally crushes political dissent and fails to fulfill Syrians’ aspirations for peace and prosperity.
And finally, I know there was a lot of questions about this yesterday and I think we just want to be very clear about a few things in terms of the Palestinian interim government. As we said yesterday, it appears that President Abbas has formed an interim technocratic government that does not include any ministers affiliated with Hamas. In fact, most of the key cabinet positions, including the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, and the finance minister, are the same as in the prior government. They are all technocrats unaffiliated with any political party and are responsible for facilitating new elections.
President Abbas made clear that this new technocratic government was committed to the principles of nonviolence, negotiations, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and Quartet principles and prior obligations between the two parties, and finally, to continue security coordination with Israel. To be clear, moving forward, we will be judging this technocratic government by its actions. As we said, based on what we now know about the composition of this government, which has, again, no ministers affiliated with Hamas and is committed to the principles I just mentioned, we intend to work with it. But we will be watching closely to ensure that it upholds those principles, and we will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new technocratic government and calibrate our approach accordingly.
As you all know, Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization. The United States does not and will not provide it assistance. Per longstanding U.S. policy, we do not have any contact with Hamas. No members of Hamas and no ministers affiliated with Hamas, as I said, are part of this government. I just want to --
QUESTION: Can we --
MS. HARF: I’m actually going to start with Lara and then I’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Fine. I got a follow-up on that.
MS. HARF: Okay. That’s fine. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The – as you know, presidential elections were certified this afternoon.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: With a 47 percent turnout, do you think that this can be legitimately called a landslide for President al-Sisi?
MS. HARF: We have seen the official announcement of the results and we’ll have something – I think a response from the U.S. Government very soon. Don’t have it quite yet, but we’ll have something for you today. Don’t have any announcements to make on the results yet.
QUESTION: Can we go to --
MS. HARF: It’ll come very soon. We’re still working through it.
QUESTION: Just going --
QUESTION: Well, it’s 97 percent, and we’ve known about the unofficial results of these elections for a week now, almost a week now.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. We’ll have something to say very soon. I just don’t have – believe me, I pressed to get it before this, and this is how the policy process works, and we’ll have something very soon.
QUESTION: Can we go to --
QUESTION: Will it be something that surprises us or --
QUESTION: Will it be bigger than a breadbox?
MS. HARF: I have no idea what response any of you will have to anything we say. No. We’ll – it’ll be coming very soon. I don’t have anything to preview for you on that.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. We can.
QUESTION: In response to a question yesterday at the briefing, Jen was asked whether her comments, which were almost word-perfect identical to yours, I think --
MS. HARF: She and I are meshed up well like that.
QUESTION: I’ve noticed. Meant that the United States would continue funding – based on what it knows now, the United States would continue funding the Palestinian Authority under this new unity government. And she replied, “It does.” Is that still the position?
MS. HARF: It is, broadly speaking, right. Now, obviously, we’ll have conversations with Congress. We will watch the actions of this new technocratic interim government as it goes forward. So I don’t have anything specific for you on that. But nothing’s changed from where we were yesterday.
QUESTION: Just one other thing on this. My understanding of the law is that if you were to – is that the law would bar you from funding such a government if you concluded that Hamas exerted undue influence on it, correct?
MS. HARF: I can check with our legal folks.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, Arshad. I don’t know the specifics.
QUESTION: I think that’s – I think that is it. And then I think the only exception is if the President determines that such government is meeting the various conditions, several of which – it doesn’t cite all of them in the law, I think, but a couple of which you mentioned just now. So you could – okay. Well, if you don’t know that then --
MS. HARF: Sorry, yeah.
QUESTION: -- don’t worry about it.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m happy to check with our legal folks on that and see if we can get you more.
QUESTION: Then don’t worry about it.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The Israelis, predictably, have reacted angrily. They’re deeply disappointed by your decision. Some people are saying – some Israeli commentators are saying it’s a knife in the back. Some are saying that this is a support for terrorism. What is your answer to that?
MS. HARF: Well, on the last point, we’ve been very clear Hamas is a terrorist organization. We don’t provide them assistance. We don’t work with them. Again, this is an interim technocratic government made up of no ministers affiliated with Hamas, period. And I think that’s actually been misconstrued in some of the reports out there that people have been citing, and I just want to be very clear that that’s part of what goes in – a huge part of what goes into our decision to continue working with the Palestinian government. And also we will evaluate their actions. So our position on Hamas has in no way changed, period, full stop. I couldn’t be more clear about that.
QUESTION: Are you worried, though, that this could drive yet another wedge in between – ties between the – Israel and the United States?
MS. HARF: Well, look, the United States and Israel have a long, historic, and unshakeable friendship, period, over many, many decades, over many administrations, through a lot of difficult times. And I think what we’ve been very clear is that relationship’s not going to change. Again, we’ve made our position on the interim Palestinian government clear as well.
QUESTION: But how do you respond to the Israeli anger, though? They’re clearly disappointed by what happened, by the fact that you’ve come out and you’ve supported this new technocratic government.
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been very clear that we’re going to be judging the government by the actions it undertakes. First, they made a decision not to include any ministers from Hamas. They embraced the principles that we said up here at the podium before they formed the government and said they needed to embrace, right. The Quartet principles, nonviolence, recognition of Israel – they did all of those things. We were very clear about what they needed to do, and they did.
So we can only stand by what we do. We’ll continue conversations with the Israelis going forward on this. As you know, the Secretary and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke yesterday about the announcement of the new Palestinian government. They agreed to continue consulting further on it going forward.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So in your clarification, you really hit on the point that the U.S. would be watching --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the composition of the new unity government.
MS. HARF: And their actions.
QUESTION: And their actions. Okay.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if there’s any precedent for – if you – if the U.S. is worried or has been given cause to worry about – now that the announcement has been made that members of Hamas will replace sitting ministers, or if you happen to know, for example, what the term of sitting ministers is?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. But I will note – again, the reason I keep calling it the interim government is because one of the primary responsibilities is to have new elections.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS. HARF: And obviously I think they’ve talked about some of the timing on that. I don’t have all of that in front of me, but stressing, again, this is an interim government that will be holding new elections for a new government eventually.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: On this?
QUESTION: On this.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Regarding the money that is – the aid which is economic aid, which is almost $440 million, and this was a point of objection from the Congress and other organizations here – are you still holding it, or you’re going to make it flow normally until --
MS. HARF: To the Palestinian Authority?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said to Arshad’s question, I don’t have anything additional to what Jen said yesterday. Obviously, we’ll keep working with Congress on this. We’ll look at the actions the government takes, but part of working with the government will be, broadly speaking, to continue to provide assistance.
QUESTION: When you said “actions,” what do you mean exactly?
MS. HARF: All of them. Everything the government does.
QUESTION: I mean, to be clear – I mean, because it’s like if you ask somebody not to do something, you have to say what you – what you are not expecting in order not to do it, or do it.
MS. HARF: Well, as I just said – I think I got at it briefly with Jo’s question – there were a number of actions and steps that we said the Palestinian government would need to take if we were to continue working with them before they decided to form the government the way they did, I think, yesterday, now. And they took those.
So you can judge a government by what it does – again, noting this is only an interim government. There are no ministers affiliated with Hamas in it. There have been reports out there saying this is a Hamas-backed government. That’s just not the case. So we want --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Can it be backed by Hamas without having a Hamas minister in it? I mean, the agreement that – the government is the result of an agreement between Abbas and Hamas. Just --
MS. HARF: And there are no members of Hamas in the government.
QUESTION: Right. But that’s different from it being supported by Hamas.
MS. HARF: I think that some of those reports have led people incorrectly to think that members of Hamas are part of the new government --
MS. HARF: -- which is why I wanted to be very clear that they’re not.
QUESTION: Yes. And beside that, when you are saying “actions” – I mean, because what is not clear for me and for other people probably is that when you said there is a – money is going there and support, whatever, to technocratic government, but this technocratic government is going to work for both Palestinian people, whether they are in Gaza --
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t say any money was going forward right now. I said we, broadly speaking, believed in continuing assistance, and we’re going to talk to Congress and figure out what that looks like.
QUESTION: Anyway, regarding the actions, the actions of this government has to be actions for both West Bank and Gaza, right?
MS. HARF: Well, again, part of the actions are things that I just mentioned, like embracing the Quartet principles, recognition of Israel, nonviolence. Those are steps that they’ve taken to say they support these very important principles that we’ve said we believe they need to support for us to continue working with them, so we’ll keep watching.
QUESTION: You are --
MS. HARF: And we’ll continue evaluating.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with EU, or you think that your position is different from EU?
MS. HARF: The EU on this? I can check. I mean, we talk to the EU all the time on a host of issues. I don’t know if we’ve talked to them specifically about this. I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: We don’t have any – I’ve seen some of those reports out there. I don’t have any travel updates for you. If his schedule changes, we’re happy to let folks know.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Go to – yeah. Let’s go to Syria.
QUESTION: Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has said today in an interview that – a quote: “I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy.” That’s why he resigned and he left the State Department. He added, “We have been unable to address either the root causes of the conflict in terms of the fighting on the ground and the balance on the ground, and we have a growing extremism threat.” Do you have any reaction to what he said?
MS. HARF: I saw those comments. As you know, Ambassador Ford served a very long, distinguished career here, is now a private citizen obviously entitled to his own views. I think, broadly speaking on some of what you addressed and then if I miss anything, let me know. Look, the President was clear in his speech last week. We’ve all been clear that we’re frustrated by the situation in Syria. You heard the President at West Point say we’re going to increase our support to the moderate opposition because we know more needs to be done.
No one working on this issue can look at the situation on the ground – I mean, just look at today. The photos – disgusting photos of President Assad voting, acting like this is a real election. Nobody working on it is happy with where things are. We’re all frustrated, and I think you heard some of that in Ambassador Ford’s comments. On the terrorism front, we’ve all – I’ve stood up here for months and months and months now and talked about the growing threat coming from terrorists in Syria that are – is a result of the security situation the Assad regime has allowed there. We’ve been very clear about that as well, and it’s something we’re working on every single day.
QUESTION: He said, too, that there really is nothing we can point to that’s been very successful in our policy, except the removal of about 93 percent of some of Assad’s chemical materials, but now he’s using chlorine gas against his opponents. Can you tell us if there is any other success that you were – been able to achieve in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we should not downplay the CW issue too much. I know it’s tempting for people to do because it’s gone, up until this point, not perfectly, but we have removed so much of it. Because look, if we had a choice between removing the chemical weapons and not removing them, obviously we’re going to choose to remove them – and that’s the choice we had.
So if Bashar al-Assad is not able to use these kind of chemical weapons on his people anymore, that is a good thing and it’s not a small thing. Obviously, he’s using --
QUESTION: But he’s using chlorine gas now.
MS. HARF: -- conventional weapons as well. Those aren’t less bad. There’s just different ways of combatting it, right? So one thing we’ve said very clearly is we’re going to continue supporting the moderate opposition in a variety of ways in their fight against both the regime and against the terrorist element there. Obviously, we don’t outline all of that support, but we’ve continued – you heard the President talk about it and continuing to increase it last week as well.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I mean, does it not disturb you that a long-time senior, serious former U.S. official, who was directly – who was the point person for this policy should state publicly that he no longer felt he was able to defend the U.S. policy? That doesn’t bother you at all?
MS. HARF: As I said, he’s a private citizen. He’s entitled to his views. What we’re focused on today is the officials who are still here who are working on Syria, who share the kind of frustration you’ve heard from the President, the Secretary, and others.
QUESTION: And it’s not the first one. Fred Hof said the same thing in the past, too.
MS. HARF: Again, we appreciate former officials who want to weigh in on what’s going on today. Obviously, they have a unique perspective on this, but what we’re focused on here is what’s happening today, what may be the same, what’s changed since any of these folks left and what we need to do going forward.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Syria?
MS. HARF: Syria still?
QUESTION: Yeah. Syria. I mean, I’m just trying to clarify what Arshad and Michel were trying to say.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: When you say “frustration,” these people are expressing frustration not from Assad. They are expressing frustration from the policy, which is run by – regarding Syria.
MS. HARF: Well, the frustration I’m – and I think actually a lot of the frustration you’ve heard people like Ambassador Ford talk about is that the situation is incredibly complicated and there are no easy answers, and that we are constantly looking at ways to increase our support. We are constantly looking at ways to get the parties back to the table. We are constantly looking at ways to help fight the terrorist threat going on in Syria right now. But there are no easy answers and that’s why you see the policy debate that’s happening about what we should do. You heard the President talk about wanting to do more. So what I’m conveying is a sense that there’s nobody that looks at this issue and thinks that we’re in the place we need to be, period – people working on it today here.
QUESTION: Yes, but without – as you said, without downplaying the chemical weapons issue – I’m trying to use your terms. But Ambassador Ford is not the first one. Frederick Hof was there before. The same kind of – which is like, they were part of the whole process of policy and they figure out that now – at least they are now talking about frustration that they have regarding this policy. Do you think that their point of view, adding something new to your understanding of what’s going on? Or it’s --
MS. HARF: Well, look there are conversations going on at all levels inside the Administration right now about what else we can do – what else we can do to support the opposition, what else we can do to fight the terrorist threat. It’s not like we say, okay, this is what we’re doing in Syria and that’s never going to change. And if it doesn’t work, oh well. It’s – look, this is a complicated problem. We are lucky to have people like Ambassador Ford who have worked on it here, and we’re lucky to have people that are looking at it today, every day, trying to figure out what more we can do. Because as I’ve said many times in this room, when you have a brutal dictator who is willing and able to kill people – like he’s killed with chlorine, potentially, with chemical weapons, with barrel bombs – it’s a really tough challenge and we have a lot of tools at our disposal that we’re using, but there is no solution that will happen overnight. And that’s why you have to calibrate your policy and determine what’s the best next step. What more can we do? How can we do it?
For example, over the last few months, we’ve seen better coordination with our allies in the region on Syria policy, particularly on cutting off some of the funding to some of the foreign fighters going there on the terrorist side of the house. So these are steps we take every day to change the balance of power on the ground, but you have to chip away over time and eventually get to a diplomatic solution.
QUESTION: I thought the President’s --
QUESTION: I thought the President’s argument here wasn’t that there’s no overnight solution. The President who does feel labeled to defend his policy makes the case that --
MS. HARF: As do I, every day.
QUESTION: No, I know. I know. But he makes the case that there are some problems that do not – that the United – that do not lend themselves to U.S. solution or where the cost of a U.S. solution is simply – exceeds what he believes the United States should do. Correct?
MS. HARF: Well, he was making – that’s one point. He was making a number of points, one of which is – in terms of what you were getting at – that there’s no military solution, particularly not a U.S. military solution. So what other levers and tools of power can we bring to bear on the situation? So in the same speech he then said, but we’re going to continue supporting the opposition, that there’s no – I mean, we’ve made all of these arguments about Syria and a variety of places.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: You just mentioned about the terrorists (inaudible) and your cooperation (inaudible). You must have seen the action France is taking after arresting this person who is supposed to be the shooter in the Belgium’s Jewish case. The France is – there are three, four stops they are taking. The Belgium is going to follow up and the EU is considering. Is there going to be any change in U.S. policy in this matter?
MS. HARF: In terms of what? In terms of the terrorist threat?
QUESTION: Where the citizens – is a French citizen who went to Syria --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yeah, no, I’ve seen the reports. Just a couple points on that, and I’m not sure we’ve had all of these in the past, but to date we have not identified an organized recruitment effort targeting Americans when it comes to Syria. We do know that probably dozens of Americans from a variety of backgrounds and locations in the U.S. have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria, but again, we haven’t identified some sort of organized recruitment tool that’s being used for Americans. We continue to work closely with our foreign partners to resolve the identities of potential extremists and identify potential threats emanating from Syria. This includes, of course, most importantly, the neighbors of Syria, who are often unfortunately transit points for these kind of foreign fighters.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yep.
QUESTION: There are a couple of quotes from Ambassador Ford that – one of them he is saying that the Syrian moderate opposition has been fighting with their arms tied behind their backs because of not enough U.S. support. So it looks like the ambassador is not like he’s puzzled, but he says that we know – another quote is, we have plenty of information on reliable groups that we could be helping but we are not. So it’s not like puzzlement. Ambassador is clear saying that there are things that we can be helping and could be helping but we are not. I think there’s accusation.
MS. HARF: Well, again, I appreciate the opinion of Ambassador Ford, who’s since left the State Department. I would say a few points. The first is as we determine who and how to support people, we go through a very rigorous vetting process for who we end up giving assistance to, which I think anyone – if we’re spending U.S. taxpayer dollars to support people overseas – believes is important, particularly when you’re dealing in a place like Syria that has a lot of bad actors. You don’t want any of our assistance to fall into the hands of terrorists. We’ve seen that in other places and we know the consequences. So that’s something we’ve continued to do, that vetting process, and some of that takes time.
But secondly, we’ve said we want to continue increasing our support. What we’re doing right now is looking at the modalities and the logistics and how that might happen and what that might look like. So again, the notion that we’re just sitting here saying we’re going to support them and no one else and that’s the end of it just isn’t lashed up with where we are in terms of the policy process in reality today.
QUESTION: It’s been three and a half years now. I mean, obviously there is something wrong. We’re not – yes, it is a complicated situation, but then three and a half years and still elections and Bashar Assad will remain a president and elections – and the situation will remain the same. And for how long? I mean, too many people have died so far in Syria.
MS. HARF: We would agree. In the three and a half years, like you mention, we have consistently increased our support to the opposition. At every step of this process, we have continued to increase it. But as Arshad mentioned the President’s speech last week – look, this is not a problem that the United States can or should solve on its own, particularly not with military assets. That’s not how this ends in Syria. And so what we’ve said is that we are finding a path forward there where we can continue to support the opposition in a variety of ways – and I think you’ll see more of that coming in the coming weeks and months – try through the diplomatic track to get the diplomatic process back on track, which we haven’t been able to do – and keep working with other people who have influence over the regime, like the Russians, like others, like some of our partners in the region, to try and get a solution here. But there’s no silver bullet to ending this conflict, and for anyone on the outside who says, “This is horrible; you should be doing X and it would be over,” it just defies logic.
That’s not an acceptable answer for everything, but I think it’s something that’s important to keep in mind.
QUESTION: Why do you believe that there is no U.S. military solution to this conflict?
MS. HARF: We believe writ large there’s no military solution --
QUESTION: You also said --
MS. HARF: -- including a U.S. military solution --
MS. HARF: -- because we’ve said all options are on the table. Obviously, not boots on the ground, but --
QUESTION: But my question goes to the fundamental issue of --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: And it’s --
MS. HARF: Because we – and I’m going to answer your question, I think. Give me a shot, and if I don’t --
QUESTION: Okay. No, no, please.
MS. HARF: -- come back at me. The reason there’s no military – including a U.S. military – solution is that what happens the next day? We’ve always said there need to be some institutions that are maintained; there needs to be some semblance of a state, that you cannot have total anarchy in Syria if there’s some military solution here that gets rid of the Assad regime. Because what happens the next day is all of these bad actors we talk about – ISIL, al-Nusrah – they fill – they could fill the power vacuum. So what you need is, instead, an organized – to the extent that it can be – political transition. So there’s no military solution to overthrowing the Assad regime.
QUESTION: But the point – I mean --
MS. HARF: Which is why there’s no military solution.
QUESTION: I thought I understood it differently. I thought it was not that there is no military solution, but rather that the costs of a U.S. military solution are viewed as pyrrhic, as excessive; that the United States doesn’t want to get into another Iraq or another Afghanistan, and that it’s not that there is no military solution, but it’s that this country’s government doesn’t want to get engaged in that kind of either fighting or nation-building effort, given its experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. Isn’t that the correct understanding?
MS. HARF: I think that parts of what you just said play into parts of our thinking on this. Again, I think you don’t want complete anarchy and chaos. You want a diplomatic solution here so you don’t have a complete power vacuum in Damascus that results in Nusrah or someone else taking over, which is why you need some institutions maintained.
But I think what you’re getting at is – and I hate to keep going back to the President’s speech, but thankfully it gives me a lot of words on foreign policy to use – that we will engage in military action overseas when we are threatened, when it’s in our national security interests to do so. But it’s not – what I think what he said – it’s not the hammer to every nail out there. So parts of what you said are absolutely right.
QUESTION: But isn’t it fair to say that in this case, the United States – at least thus far – does not believe that it is threatened or its interests are threatened to such a degree by the chaos in Syria to merit a military intervention?
MS. HARF: It’s not about meriting. It’s whether that would achieve the outcome that would best serve our national security interests.
MS. HARF: It just – again, I don’t know if we’re talking past each other, but that we don’t believe that will get to an outcome that best serves our national security interests, and that you’re exactly right. We don’t think it’s in our national security interests to send American troops all over the world, putting boots on the ground everywhere trying to affect outcomes in other countries.
That’s why there’s this middle ground you try and walk where you say, “We have levers of power. We have tools we can use.” It’s not going to be boots on the ground, you’re right. And we’ve been very clear that that’s not in our national interest to send 18-year-old kids from Ohio to Damascus to try to promote regime change there.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Marie, what do you make of Turkey’s announcement today that it considers al-Nusrah as a terrorist organization? Do you think this might maybe change --
MS. HARF: We’ve said we do too.
QUESTION: -- things on the ground, and because it’s a neighboring country --
MS. HARF: I mean, we certainly work with the neighbors, including our NATO ally Turkey, quite a bit on this issue. We’ve obviously been very clear about our thoughts on al-Nusrah.
QUESTION: Marie, when Ambassador Ford said that, “I was no --
MS. HARF: I can find his email for you, if guys just want to call him and ask him what he meant by his comments.
QUESTION: “I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy.” It looks like he was frustrated from the American policy, not from the whole situation in Syria, and that’s why he quit.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to let him talk about his own – first of all, “quit” is a strong term. He had a very long, distinguished career here, and he retired. Again, he’s a private citizen. I’m happy to let him his explain his own words. What I’m telling you right now is what we’re focused on today for the folks that are still here working on Syria, that are working on it going forward. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m happy to let him parse his own words for you.
QUESTION: Can I change subject, please?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: Last one on Syria, then we’re – then Jo’s changing the subject.
QUESTION: Follow-up to Arshad question, because you’re – about intervention or involvement.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Just to use the – I know Iraq is – Syria is not Iraq, but using the – what was attributed to Colin Powell is if you enter pottery and you break it, you buy it.
MS. HARF: You own it, uh-huh.
QUESTION: You own it or you buy it.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You don’t think that Syria now is in that situation regarding – I mean, you are in the same situation without invasion, that something is already broken?
MS. HARF: We didn’t break it. The president of their country, who today is pretending to be running an election, is the one who broke his own country. What we’re trying to do is help find a path forward here. And I think – going back to the intervention question – there’s a notion that the only kind of military assistance or help or intervention or whatever, broadly speaking, is boots on the ground. And I think what you heard the President outline is a very robust case for why our engagement might look different. It’s not going to be large-scale land wars. We have, I think, U.S. military people in 94 countries around the world today doing a variety of things, from helping with natural disaster relief to training local armies. You heard today Wendy Sherman say there’s 1,500 women now in the Somali National Army that we’re helping in Somalia.
So what American military power looks like going forward will look different from Iraq and it should look different from Iraq. It shouldn’t look like that in Syria, for all of the reasons we’ve all talked about now for, I think, a decade plus.
MS. HARF: Yes, we are moving on.
MS. HARF: Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. France, where both the President and the Secretary are going to be this week. There is a reported $10 billion fine that is in the works from Department of Treasury against the French bank BNP for violating sanctions on Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. Before you refer me to Treasury --
MS. HARF: I have nothing else to say, then. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Or the Justice Department?
QUESTION: -- or the Justice Department --
MS. HARF: I got nothing for you.
QUESTION: -- French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has come out today and reacted very strongly against this. He said it causes a big, big problem; he links it to the issue of the talks that are going on, the TTIP – the TTIP talks; and he says that this is something that’s going to be raised between – or, no, he didn’t say this, but apparently President Hollande is planning to bring it up at the dinner that he’s going to have with President Obama on Thursday this week. Can I ask --
MS. HARF: Sounds like a fun dinner.
QUESTION: It’ll be a fun dinner, yes. Can I ask whether France has actually raised concerns between this building and Fabius’s building about this issue with you?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. So I will make a couple points which will be wholly unsatisfactory to you. The first is, in general, we don’t, I think, as everyone knows, comment on reports of this kind of investigation as a longstanding matter. Obviously, the Treasury Department has the lead on this. I will check and endeavor to check, because people have been out there speaking on it publicly, if this has been an issue or will be – obviously the meetings haven’t happened yet – if this is an issue raised during our meetings. I will endeavor to get anything else for you on that I can, but I don’t – quite honestly, I don’t know if it’s been raised with people in this building.
QUESTION: So you don’t know the – I mean, if they’re trying to link – if the French are linking it to the – I mean, part of the problem is there’s concerns that this could have really grave effects on the French --
MS. HARF: On TTIP.
QUESTION: -- financial system as well. So if they’re linking it to the TTIP --
MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks. And obviously, USTR has lead for TTIP, and I’m not trying to – I just don’t have any answers here. So let me see if there’s more I can get.
QUESTION: Would you consider taking one question which might be to your benefit?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: And that would be to try to explain for the record, particularly to audiences abroad, how investigations of this sort, which involve multiple U.S. agencies – Treasury, this – Department of Justice --
MS. HARF: If there were such an investigation, which I can’t confirm.
QUESTION: -- if there were, which you can’t confirm, but just so people understand --
MS. HARF: How they work?
QUESTION: -- how they work and what, if any, is the role of the State Department. If it involves a foreign country, are you guys generally totally hands off, this is a legal matter proceeded with – by the law enforcement?
MS. HARF: I’m guessing there’s no general – I don’t know, though.
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MS. HARF: I’m just guessing.
QUESTION: -- would you consider asking that question --
MS. HARF: I will consider asking it.
QUESTION: -- and seeing if – and if you can put out a note about it --
MS. HARF: Let me see what I can do.
QUESTION: -- or a TQ? Thanks.
MS. HARF: I understand, and now people have been out talking about it. I totally understand. I will see what I can do.
QUESTION: I mean, in the past, when there have been sanctions against Iran for similar sorts of things that have been led by Department of Treasury, the State Department has also spoken to it. So I don’t think it’s --
MS. HARF: I understand.
QUESTION: -- beyond your brief to be able to talk about it.
MS. HARF: I understand. I think everything’s in my brief to talk about – (laughter) – so what the heck. No, let me see what I can do, guys.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah.
MS. HARF: And then I’m going to Lucas.
QUESTION: -- this is a new topic.
MS. HARF: Do you have something on that? Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MS. HARF: Lara, then Lucas.
QUESTION: This is a different investigation, but it’s already been announced, so you can talk about it.
MS. HARF: Great.
QUESTION: As you know, two weeks ago the U.S. announced indictments against five Chinese generals for – or military officials for hacking into U.S. companies.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: We’ve not seen any evidence that any other international partner has taken similar steps against these five or even raised concerns on them. Do you have any --
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard of anything. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Okay. Does that concern you that the U.S. is kind of going alone on what would seem to be an egregious action?
MS. HARF: It doesn’t, but let me check.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: One more on China?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And then I’m going to Lucas. I promise. He’s --
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And then I’ll go to you on China, and then I promise I’m going to Lucas.
QUESTION: And so in light of mutual cyber espionage accusation between U.S.-China, I heard we are discussing a binational computer behavior agreement. So would you please let me know what may be in there?
MS. HARF: Might be in a – what kind of an agreement?
QUESTION: It’s – it seems like a bi-national computer behavior agreement.
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard anything on that. I’m happy to check with our team and see if we can say anything.
QUESTION: Yeah. And also, have you ever noticed – there is a recent report from China and says U.S. has breached international laws and put global cyber security at risk.
MS. HARF: Again, on cyber issues, we’ve been very clear with our concerns about what’s been happening in China. You heard that with the announcement of the indictment. I’ll see if there’s more to share. I just don’t have anything else.
QUESTION: Can we --
MS. HARF: Wait. China.
QUESTION: Congress wants to name the street in front of the Chinese embassy after jailed Nobel Prize winner and dissident Liu Xiaobo.
MS. HARF: The embassy here in Washington?
QUESTION: Right. Here in – are you at all worried that China --
MS. HARF: Clearly, I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: -- might not like it?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I hadn’t been aware of that.
QUESTION: Can I ask another China-related question?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Just doing China now. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yeah. There are quite a few reports emerging of intimidation and harassment of the press the day before the anniversary of Tiananmen Square --
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- as they’re trying to do reporting on this. Do you have any comment on this?
MS. HARF: Yeah. And I think we will be saying more about the anniversary probably later today and tomorrow from here and I’m sure elsewhere in Washington. So stay tuned for that.
We very clearly called on the Chinese authorities to release all the activists, journalists, and lawyers who have been detained ahead of the 25th anniversary, which as you said is tomorrow. Look, this is something we’ve been very clear about. China is a growing country. We’ve talked a lot about the fact that this is not a zero-sum game here. And as they grow, I think it’s time to allow some more space, quite frankly, for discussion in their own country, particularly around this kind of anniversary.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said what? What’s not a zero-sum game?
MS. HARF: The relationship between China and the United States. We talked about that a lot. And look, as they grow, we think that this is time to probably allow a little more space.
QUESTION: Is this an issue that you’re also raising directly and privately with the Chinese Government?
MS. HARF: We’ve certainly raised it. We’ve certainly raised in general freedom of speech and expression with them directly. I’m happy to check and see if we’ve raised this specific arrest related to Tiananmen Square.
QUESTION: China for 400? (Laughter.) There --
MS. HARF: Should I go all day here?
QUESTION: Yeah. A senior advisor to the Chinese Government, but not a member of the Chinese Government or bureaucracy, has suggested that China is considering implementing an absolute cap on its carbon – on its CO2 emissions for 2016. And this is being taken, particularly after the White House announcement, as being a sign that there may be progress in those wider talks. Do you have any comment on what he said?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those comments. I’m happy to check. Obviously, if this were to happen it would be, I think, probably a good thing. But let me check on the specifics. And then – I’m going to Lucas.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Doesn’t the deal to free him further legitimize the Taliban?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: You don’t think you’ve made them a power broker in the region?
MS. HARF: No. Not at all.
QUESTION: I thought the United States does not negotiate with terrorists.
MS. HARF: I think Jen was very clear yesterday that this was a situation of an exchange of prisoners during a time of war. Sergeant Bergdahl was a combatant who was obtained in the course of an armed conflict. We have done this throughout our history. You heard the President speak to this today. From Revolutionary times, we exchange prisoners of war in times of war. The Secretary of Defense, as we always do, undergoes a process in coordination with the interagency to determine the risk factors associated with Guantanamo releases, as we’ve done with every detainee who’s been released.
QUESTION: But the Guantanamo --
QUESTION: Can you explain, though, real quick – Arshad, real --
QUESTION: -- detainees are not prisoners of war, correct? They’re enemy combatants, specifically excluded from all of the protections and rights that are normally given to prisoners of war. They’re not prisoners of war, correct?
MS. HARF: The exchange of prisoners in a time of war, whether or not technically we use that term or we use the term enemy combatants, has a deep historical context and is one we’re comfortable with using those diplomatic means to make the exchange. We believe that was the right approach. Again, this is a long-accepted standard in international times of --
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Can you – one more real quick?
MS. HARF: Yeah. We can all – we can do more than one.
QUESTION: Can you explain to me how this deal to free five Guantanamo detainees does not set up the Taliban to be a power broker?
MS. HARF: Explain to me how it does.
QUESTION: I think it’s pretty self-evident.
MS. HARF: I don’t. I would disagree with the premise. Look, we’ve said that in Afghanistan the process forward here needs to be Afghan-led reconciliation, Afghans talking to Afghans, between Taliban, between the government. We’ve long talked about that being the path forward here. The bottom line here is they had an American citizen – an American serviceman – in captivity for five years. And as you heard the President say today, we have a responsibility to bring these people home. We had a short window here. This is the situation that we were able to undertake to get him home.
QUESTION: And is there a reason your counterpart in the Taliban issued statements rejoicing about the freeing of these prisoners?
MS. HARF: I don’t think that I want to comment on my counterpart in the Taliban.
QUESTION: Why are you calling the --
MS. HARF: Let’s wait, Lucas gets --
QUESTION: One more real quick.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you – has the State Department since yesterday – I noticed yesterday, you said that Sergeant Bergdahl was taken captive during an armed conflict.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Jen said, “during combat.” Do you – does the State --
MS. HARF: There’s no difference.
QUESTION: There’s no difference?
MS. HARF: Uh-uh.
QUESTION: Walking off the base without a weapon on his own accord, that’s not combat.
MS. HARF: Well, I think you need to be careful before you get ahead of the facts, Lucas, because one, this – he hasn’t even been reunited with his family yet. He’s undergoing treatment. I don't know if some of you saw General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, comment on his Facebook page today. He said, “As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts.” So I would really caution people from jumping to conclusions based on hearsay or third-hand discussions about what the facts might have been.
But also, I would point out my counterpart from a different place, from the Pentagon. Admiral Kirby made a good point in an interview yesterday where he said – he’s an admiral in the Navy and he said: Look, whether someone jumps, is pushed, or falls off of a ship, if someone falls off of it, you turn the ship around and you get them and you bring them home. Doesn’t matter why.
QUESTION: But you don’t – you usually don’t have to give five Taliban detainees to turn the ship around, just a rudder order.
MS. HARF: I would point to previous wars, the – and prisoner exchanges. If you want to go back and look at the numbers of prisoners exchanged in Vietnam for American POWs or in World War II, they’re actually much, much higher.
QUESTION: Does the State --
MS. HARF: So the historical precedent is actually very different.
QUESTION: Does the State Department consider Sergeant Bergdahl to be a deserter?
MS. HARF: The State Department – no, Lucas. Look, what we said is we are going to learn the facts about what happened here. We said very clearly in a statement from the Secretary on Saturday that Sergeant Bergdahl was a member of the United States military who volunteered to serve his country. We don’t know the facts about what happened yet on that day.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) according to those around him, his platoon mates, his squad mates, company mates, they said he walked off the base.
MS. HARF: Lucas, some of them – other – there are conflicting reports out there about this. Look --
QUESTION: Are there?
MS. HARF: There are. Go Google it on the web and you’ll find a ton of conflicting reports. The fact is we’re still establishing a fact pattern about what happened, how he ended up in Taliban captivity. So when he is able to share those, as Chairman Dempsey said today, he will. He also said, like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.
So I think people need to be really careful about believing every second or third-hand report out there, and also what the President, what the Secretary, what Chairman Dempsey have said: Regardless of how he went missing, it is our responsibility to him to bring him home, period.
QUESTION: And when you say second- and third-hand reports, when his squad mates who served with him overseas said he walked off the --
MS. HARF: Lucas, I’m sure some of them – I mean, look, there’s a lot of rumor and telephone game that’s being played here about what happened. Not all --
QUESTION: So you’re saying that the guys on television last night – his squad mates, platoon mates – were not correct?
MS. HARF: I’m saying we don’t know the fact pattern yet here. We don’t. Nobody knows exactly what happened that night. As the facts emerge, as he’s able to discuss them with the Department of Defense, we will see where that takes us.
QUESTION: Going back to --
MS. HARF: That happened five years ago. This is a situation --
QUESTION: So you’ve had all this time, five years, to determine whether he was a deserter or not. That’s a long time.
MS. HARF: He’s been in captivity, Lucas. I think he’s probably the person who knows best what happened on that night.
QUESTION: But – well, I think that his squad mates have the best indication what happened that night.
MS. HARF: I don’t think that that’s the case.
QUESTION: Can we move – can we try something else? On the five --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- on the detainees that were released to Qatar, can you talk a little bit more about what gives you the assurances that these Taliban will not re-enter the battlefield? Our understanding is that they are not under any kind of house arrest, that they’re able to move freely without – within the country. And so what gives you that --
MS. HARF: Yeah, so a couple points on that. The first – and the President spoke about this today as well – but the first is, obviously, we’re not going to get into the specifics of the agreement. But this is an agreement between the head of the Government of Qatar and the President of the United States, a very high-level agreement about working to mitigate the notion that these five guys will be able to return to the battlefield.
So we always undertake a threat assessment, we attempt to mitigate that in the best way possible. In this case, we certified that we had mitigated sufficiently that risk because of the assurances, again, given at the highest levels of the Qatari Government to the highest levels of our government. And the President spoke to it today where he said, and I quote, “We’ll be keeping eyes on them.”
Is there a possibility some of them trying to return to actions that are detrimental to us? Absolutely. There’s always that possibility with everyone we release from Gitmo, but we would not have undertaken this if we did not believe it was in the national security interest of the United States to do so, period, starting with the President and the Secretary on down.
QUESTION: And some of the detainees that have left to go to their – to be expatriated to third countries or to go to their home countries have been put under some kind of house arrest or under detention --
MS. HARF: We’re not going to get into specifics --
QUESTION: -- are they able to roam free throughout Qatar?
MS. HARF: We’re not going to get into the specifics of what the agreement with Qatar looks like in any way.
QUESTION: Do you still consider them for the next year or however long – can you say how long this agreement is in effect?
MS. HARF: The Government of Qatar – for a year, and the Government of Qatar has been very clear, again, to the highest levels of this government, that there are going to be severe restrictions in place on them. I’m not going to outline what those are.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Are they – are you saying whether you consider them “detainees” for the next year? Or do you consider them free from detention?
MS. HARF: Well, they’ve been released from Guantanamo Bay --
QUESTION: They’ve been released to the custody of Qatar, but I don’t think it’s been made clear whether they’re still be detained or whether they’re – they’ve, in fact, been released.
MS. HARF: I’m not going to go into the details of their situation in Qatar in any way.
QUESTION: What about some kind of rehab center? The Administration has spoken about that for Yemenis going --
MS. HARF: No details on this case specifically.
QUESTION: But there’s reports --
QUESTION: But you can say they’re under strict restrictions.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But there’s --
QUESTION: And – sorry. And after the year, it’s not clear yet whether they’ll be able to return to Afghanistan or not?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details about what the agreement looks like. As we said, we received sufficient assurances from the Government of Qatar that mitigated the risk here and that we believe led to the fact that we would be able to bring our one American POW in Afghanistan home. The President said very clearly yesterday there’s always a risk. But we have all of these guys in Guantanamo Bay; we need – we have said it is our goal as an Administration to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay. That’s why we take a very – in some cases – very slow, methodical look at who we release, where we release them, and what the restrictions are in place.
QUESTION: Is that why it’s five to one deal?
MS. HARF: Lucas, you’re trying to boil this down to something that it’s not. Look, in previous wars we’ve exchanged prisoners of war in vastly different ratios. That’s not the point here, right? The point here is that we had an opportunity and a very small time window to get our American serviceman home with his family.
QUESTION: But I think the Taliban also probably realized there was this fire sale in Guantanamo.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: I think --
MS. HARF: Is that a technical term?
QUESTION: No. When you said that you’d been wanting to close Guantanamo --
MS. HARF: Yes, we do want to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
QUESTION: So was that negotiating from strength when we were negotiating with the Taliban?
MS. HARF: Look, we got our one American POW in Afghanistan home. He will be home with his family. The Taliban don’t have him in captivity any more. They don’t have control of him. They can’t use him for any kind of purpose they would want to use someone in captivity for. So I think that that is an important step, yes. It was in our national security interest to do so. Look, there’s not much more I can say on it than that.
QUESTION: But when Susan Rice on Sunday said that he served with honor and distinction, clearly that was not the case, based on many accounts on this --
MS. HARF: I think we need to wait to see the fact pattern here. I really do. I think people need to be cautious about assuming everything – no offense – they read in the paper or see on TV. This is a man who signed up to serve his country, who went to battle wearing the uniform of the United States. We don’t know what happened in the time he was there. We don’t know what happened.
QUESTION: Allegedly he changed his mind.
MS. HARF: There are --
QUESTION: Isn’t there an investigation going on?
MS. HARF: There is. There is an investigation going on. We’re looking into the fact pattern right now and we need to get all the facts before we make assumptions about this guy who’s been in captivity by the Taliban for five years. Let’s remember that.
QUESTION: I’ve got a follow-up going on Dana’s – I’m just curious, and if you can’t answer this, maybe you can take the question. Why wouldn’t the State Department or the Obama Administration be public about the terms of the agreement with the Qataris? I mean, there’s no Privacy Act requirement or something with the detainees, and it’s --
MS. HARF: Matt told you to say that about the Privacy Act, didn’t he?
QUESTION: No, he did not. (Laughter.) Contrary to popular belief, I --
MS. HARF: I know you don’t – Matt doesn’t tell you what to say.
QUESTION: Matt doesn’t tell me everything.
MS. HARF: I know. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But it would also – I think people would agree it would assure the U.S. public that their safety is – has been assured.
MS. HARF: So I think, to counter that a little bit – look, this obviously involved very sensitive diplomatic negotiations here involving the Government of Qatar, who was the one negotiating with the Taliban, and getting to a place in a very short time window – as I’ve said, as General Dempsey said, the last best opportunity to save his life – where we could get an agreement here. So there are reasons not to put out all of that, I think, for probably very good reasons. But as more details are able to be shared, we will. But we as an Administration looked at the agreement and certified – as we have in many other cases of Guantanamo detainees being sent home, both in this Administration and last, that the threat had been mitigated.
QUESTION: But surely if everything was on the up and up, the Qataris wouldn’t care if the details, at least some of the details --
MS. HARF: That’s not a fair assumption to make. We don’t talk about the details of many detainees we send back to their countries for a variety of reasons.
QUESTION: But these aren’t as high-profile cases as this one was.
MS. HARF: Again, we feel assured by the agreement we’ve put in place.
QUESTION: Sorry. As a follow-up, do you have any comment on the reports that the Afghanistan Government has filed a complaint – or lodged a complaint about this agreement and not being made aware in the terms?
MS. HARF: So as we said in the statement Secretary Kerry released on Saturday, he had a call with President Karzai where he discussed this with him, talked to him about it. In general, the Afghan Government, of course, knew that we were working through the Government of Qatar to negotiate the return of Sergeant Bergdahl, broadly speaking, right? And as we’ve all said, as Secretary Hagel said, this was an operation that had to be very closely held for very good operational security reasons. We wanted to get this American home.
QUESTION: And I have a second question that’s more technical. Does the State Department consider the Afghan Taliban to be a terrorist organization?
MS. HARF: They are not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. They are designated as a Specially Designated Terrorist Organization under an executive order, which is different. That is a technical question. I think that’s probably as far as my technical knowledge takes me.
But in this case, we were negotiating – in a prisoner of war situation, people that have been taken during armed conflict, and that’s the basis under which we were negotiating here. And we were not directly negotiating with the Taliban either. The Government of Qatar was.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about what the difference is between being the FTO and – is it sanctions or --
MS. HARF: I’m happy for our folks to get you some details on that.
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding that the Specially Designated Terrorist Organization refers mainly to funding and financing within the United States and cutting off the ability for people to finance. I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Afghanistan (inaudible).
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is this leading to direct talks with the Taliban, the contacts that you maintained during these talks?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we didn’t negotiate directly with the Taliban; the Government of Qatar did.
QUESTION: But do you consider holding direct talks with the Taliban?
MS. HARF: The Taliban, as people know, suspended direct --
QUESTION: Because you have said this is leading to a political opening, the talk --
MS. HARF: Well, they suspended direct talks in 2012 and we have not resumed them. Obviously, we appreciate the support of the Government of Qatar in playing a mediating role here.
Look, we’ve been very clear that if this could open the possibilities for Afghan-led reconciliation, Afghans talking to Afghans, that that would be a good thing for the future of Afghanistan, but nothing new to update on direct talks.
QUESTION: And Congressman Mike Rogers in an interview this morning said that the sergeant was under the custody of Haqqani Network and he was not under the custody of Taliban. Would you --
MS. HARF: Well, it’s my understanding that the Taliban --
QUESTION: Is that your understanding?
MS. HARF: -- is the one who gave him back. That’s not my – I’m happy to check. That’s not my understanding. On the congressional side --
QUESTION: Because he’s head of the House Intelligence Committee.
MS. HARF: I’m aware of the positions he holds. We will be briefing all members of the House and Senate in the coming days in a classified session, so – we – interagency team, not just the State Department on this, just to update folks.
QUESTION: I have one more Afghan related --
MS. HARF: I know. We’re still trying to schedule it.
QUESTION: I have one more Afghan --
MS. HARF: The House is out of session, I think, right now.
QUESTION: Yeah. I have one more Afghan related. Are you aware of the – an Indian aid worker being kidnapped in the Herat Province?
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have on that. I believe we’ve seen those reports. Let me see. Hold on one second. Sorry. I need to clean out this book a little bit. Let me see afterwards if I can get you something.
MS. HARF: I thought I had something, but I’m not sure I can find it. Let me just see.
QUESTION: And if I can add to that question: If the U.S. is providing any --
MS. HARF: Yeah, I’m sorry. I don’t have it in here.
QUESTION: If the U.S. is providing any other assistance to the Indian Government on this (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure we’ve heard from them on this.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: This is a slightly whimsical question --
MS. HARF: Uh-oh.
MS. HARF: You’re asking about nap rooms, aren’t you?
QUESTION: Yes. Is there anything to that?
MS. HARF: I was going to make a joke, but I’m not. Actually, I might still.
QUESTION: Do you have guidance on this?
MS. HARF: Yeah, I have guidance.
MS. HARF: And I wrote at the top: Our diplomats are tireless advocates for our foreign policy. It’s pretty good, right? Nap room, tireless, no? Okay, fine. No one liked my joke.
QUESTION: I liked it.
MS. HARF: Thank you, Elise. So yes, I do have guidance on this. In a private talk yesterday, U.S. employees at the Embassy in London – Arianna Huffington touted the productivity benefits of getting more sleep – something we can probably all attest to – and urged the ambassador to follow the Huffington Post example of installing nap rooms. The ambassador graciously and diplomatically said he would look into it. While we are not considering establishing nap rooms at Embassy London or any of our diplomatic missions at this time, we obviously think that work-life balance is important, and someday I will attempt to find it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you. I had guidance on it.
QUESTION: On Ukraine, I have a question.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The OSCE confirmed that the explosion at the Luhansk city administration was indeed an airstrike. Civilians died there. And Kyiv has so far denied responsibility for that incident. Who do you believe?
MS. HARF: This is the June 2nd incident?
QUESTION: On Tuesday, the OSCE --
MS. HARF: There are conflicting reports about this.
QUESTION: Who do you believe more, the OSCE or Kyiv?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re still looking into it. There are conflicting reports about this. I actually hadn’t seen an OSCE statement, so let me check on that. And of course, in general, welcome the restraint the Government of Ukraine has shown in the face of overwhelming and unacceptable Russian interference and see no credible evidence to the contrary.
MS. HARF: I could have guessed that.
QUESTION: The editor, distinguished editor of our paper, Mahmudur Rahman, is in jail for the last two years.
MS. HARF: You’ve asked about him a number of times.
QUESTION: And he is having a health condition, and his wife has not been – denied of any access, which is a matter of great concern because he has a medical condition which needs – needed attention, and the near ones and the dear ones like his wife need to get an access to that. Are you aware of this situation or will you please take this question for the sake of our journalist around, including the other Arshad, as I always joke. Arshad is there, so and the other Arshad.
MS. HARF: The other Arshad. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: See, I was working on that. Would you --
MS. HARF: No, as we’ve said, look, a free and independent media is critical to any country’s democratic development, including in Bangladesh. I think I say that every time you ask the question. And we’ll continue to support freedom of expression in Bangladesh and around the world.
We have raised our concerns about media freedom in general with the government and in our 2013 human rights report.
Thank you. Yes. There’s time for a few more.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: I have one on Afghan – India?
MS. HARF: Let’s do – (inaudible).
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Thank you. I got quick couple questions. One is that there were protests over the weekend for the anniversary of Gezi protests and the security forces respond to them. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: Let me see what I have on that. I think probably not anything else than Jen said yesterday. Closely monitored events over the weekend. We are concerned in some instances authorities detained peaceful protesters and prevented others from participating in peaceful demonstrations as well.
QUESTION: Today, Prime Minister Erdogan, referencing CNN International’s Chief Turkey Correspondent Ivan Watson, he said that those don’t have anything to do with independent and impartial media. They have been given tasks. They are agents. Do you have undercover agents in Turkey?
MS. HARF: I can let CNN – Elise defend CNN if she wants to. I would say that they’re nothing except for independent and non-biased media. Look, we strongly support freedom of the press in Turkey, including Ivan Watson from CNN being able to report, and have continued to raise our concerns.
QUESTION: So apparently Prime Minister Erdogan, leader of country accusing that he’s an undercover agent.
MS. HARF: It’s a ridiculous accusation.
QUESTION: On India?
MS. HARF: Let’s go to Lucas and then – on India – then Scott. Elise, anything else on CNN? No?
QUESTION: I have nothing for you on that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Love it, Elise.
MS. HARF: Will you take the question, though?
MS. HARF: What do you mean “account for”?
QUESTION: His story. Like does the State Department believe his story about being detained and being held for two months?
MS. HARF: Well, look, it’s not about who believes what. It’s about the fact that he is in Mexican custody. Obviously, we’ve continued to monitor his situation and have met with him a number of times with consular access. Mexican authorities obviously have charged him with crimes under Mexican law. So it’s not about what we – who believes what, it’s about working through the process. We have raised it with the Mexican Government. We’ve provided him consular access, and we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: What I’m getting at here is do the Mexican authorities have more on him than what the public in America knows?
MS. HARF: I’d refer you to the Mexican authorities; I can’t speak to that.
QUESTION: I guess just given what just transpired to release Sergeant Bergdahl – again, wouldn’t a phone call from Secretary Kerry to his counterpart – couldn’t this thing be wrapped up quicker?
MS. HARF: They are two totally different situations. A hundred – are you comparing the Mexican Government to the Taliban, Lucas?
QUESTION: No, I’m saying one would assume that it would be easier to negotiate and talk to the Mexican Government than the Taliban.
MS. HARF: Look, he entered – he reportedly entered Mexico with several weapons and ammunition, circumstances which would normally result in arrest in Mexico. So we are letting the process work itself through. We are working – again, the Mexican authorities provided prompt notification of his arrest, have allowed regular consular access. We’ll continue working with them.
QUESTION: And it’s been – last question. It’s been two months. How many more months do you see this happening?
MS. HARF: It’s a process. We’ll keep working with them. I don’t have – I don’t know how long Mexican judicial processes usually take.
QUESTION: This – as you know, this Administration, the Secretary in particular, have been advocates for women rights all over the world. Is the Secretary aware of the gruesome gang rape of two Indian girls, after which they were hanged to – hanged to a tree?
MS. HARF: I don’t know if the Secretary’s aware. I’m happy to check and see if he is. I’m assuming he is, but I just don’t want to speak if I’m not 100 percent accurate on that. So I’m happy to check on that.
Like, I think, so many in India, we were horrified to learn of these violent sexual assaults and murders. Our thoughts are with the victims’ families during this difficult time. And as we’ve said, changing laws and changing attitudes is hard work. We applaud the many individuals, government officials, and civil society groups in India that are working to protect the survivors, to prevent gender-based violence, to help it try to change what is really hard to change. So I’ll check on the first question, but in general that’s our thoughts on that.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Chairman Royce has some questions about the Joint Plan of Action associated with the P5+1.
MS. HARF: Oh, a topic I like talking about.
QUESTION: Have you received his letter raising those questions, and can you tell us whether the United States believes that Iran has reached an agreement to provide oil to Russia in exchange for food, arms, and nuclear assistance?
MS. HARF: Let me check on the first. I don’t – did he – was it sent recently?
MS. HARF: Okay. I’m sorry. I will check on that. In general, no, we have no indications that reports of an oil-for-goods deal have moved forward with Russia, and I think the Iranians have actually come out and said it hasn’t. And we have no indications that it has.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Last one.
MS. HARF: I said there are conflicting reports about what happened. We don’t have all the facts. Some reports indicate an accident with – here, this is a little more I didn’t give you. Some reports indicate an accident with a separatist-fired MANPAD may have caused the deaths. And then I said we welcome the restraint shown by the Government of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)