Daily Press Briefing - December 2, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
1:25 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the press briefing.
MS. HARF: Hello. I have a couple items at the top, then I will be happy to take your questions.
First, a trip update. The Secretary’s on travel today in Brussels at NATO headquarters. You probably just saw his press availability. This morning he attended the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting and met with his counterparts from Poland, Estonia, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands. He met with ISAF Commander General Campbell and attended the North Atlantic Council at 28 meeting. Secretary Kerry also attended the North Atlantic Council meeting with the Resolute Support mission partners and held a press availability, as I just said. This evening, he will met with fellow quartet members Germany, the UK, and France, and attend the working dinner with NATO foreign ministers.
Second – and you may have seen some of our ambassador’s action on Twitter this morning – but we welcome the decision, as we’ve said, of the Qatari court of appeals to overturn the conviction of Matthew and Grace Huang. The U.S. Embassy in Doha is working on this issue around the clock, as they have been. The attorney general of the state of Qatar has informed the United States Embassy in Qatar that no further appeal will be filed in their case. We understand that the order will be issued to rescind the travel ban and that they will be free to travel tomorrow. The United States applauds this decision and we look forward to seeing them reunited with their children at home.
And finally, on Lebanon, we condemn today’s reported attack on Lebanese armed forces in the border town of Ras Baalbek, where gunmen killed several troops. We extend our sincere condolences to the victim’s family and wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured. The United States remains committed to strong support for the Lebanese armed forces as they protect Lebanon’s sovereignty and security and combat violent extremists.
MS. HARF: It’s been a while.
QUESTION: It has.
MS. HARF: Hasn’t it?
QUESTION: I’ve been away.
MS. HARF: As have I. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Get us started.
QUESTION: Well, I have a logistical question for you first.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: You mentioned something about the quartet --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- in the opening.
MS. HARF: This evening, the Secretary will met with fellow quartet members and attend a working dinner with NATO foreign ministers.
QUESTION: This is not the Mideast Quartet, though?
MS. HARF: No, this is not.
QUESTION: This is the other quartet?
MS. HARF: Sorry, yes. I should have been clearer.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. Right. On Qatar --
QUESTION: -- so your understanding now is that there is no further obstacle or the travel ban still needs to be lifted?
MS. HARF: So we understand that the order will be issued to rescind the travel ban, and they will be free to travel tomorrow. I think for logistical reasons that may not happen, given how late it is in Qatar, until tomorrow, but that they will be free to travel tomorrow.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: So I’m not going to say it’s final till they’re home --
QUESTION: Right. So it’s --
MS. HARF: -- but this has been – a couple promising steps have been taken today by the government and hopefully they will be allowed to leave tomorrow.
QUESTION: Right. But as of this minute, as far as you know, the travel ban is still in effect?
MS. HARF: I can double-check with the folks on the ground. That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: All right. And --
MS. HARF: But I would say also that Qatari officials have informed us that the necessary paperwork for the lifting of the travel ban was not filed until yesterday evening, so they’re working on this as quickly as they can. That had to be filed by their representation.
QUESTION: By who?
MS. HARF: By the family’s representation, their legal representation, with the Qatari Government.
QUESTION: So that was --
MS. HARF: And that was filed late last evening. It’s processing, and our understanding is it will be lifted tomorrow.
QUESTION: Okay. So what – I just want to make sure that there’s still --
MS. HARF: As of this moment --
QUESTION: -- one more step – there’s still one more step that needs to be done.
MS. HARF: There is. There is. But the Government of Qatar has informed us that they will indeed --
MS. HARF: -- take that step tomorrow.
QUESTION: Right. All right. Okay.
MS. HARF: Anything else on this? Okay. Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: On Lebanon?
MS. HARF: And then I’ll go – yeah.
QUESTION: Were you able to confirm if the Lebanese army really called the wife – one of the wives of the head of ISIL?
MS. HARF: I don’t think – let me see what I have on this. I know there have been a number of reports on this. Given this was an operation by the Government of Lebanon, I’d refer you to them for more information. I know there are a lot of conflicting reports about who they may have taken into custody, but they’ll have the most updated facts. I can’t confirm independently facts for you.
QUESTION: But if it’s true, what’s the importance of this development?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ll see if it’s true. Okay.
QUESTION: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
QUESTION: Have you seen that the lower house of the French parliament has recognized the Palestinian state?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: You have something to say?
MS. HARF: Well, we understand that this vote is nonbinding and that the French Government’s position on this issue has not changed. Obviously, the French can speak more for themselves on this issue. As you know, our position has been clear, is clear, that we support Palestinian statehood, but only coming through direct negotiations between the parties that resolve the final status issues. So again, the French can probably speak more about it, but our position hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: A question on Mexico.
QUESTION: There were fresh demonstrations yesterday about the disappearance of the 43 students at the hands of police, and very little from the Administration, this Administration, or the podium, apart from some brief comments from Jen last month. I wondered whether the State Department had any intent to revisit its determination on whether Mexico abides by human rights standards, as regards U.S. aid. There’s pressure on the Hill for you to do that. Can you say anything about whether that’s under consideration at the moment?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m happy to check with our team. I know we work very closely with Mexican authorities on a range of security-related issues. I can get an update on that for you. I just don’t have the latest in front of me.
QUESTION: Okay. Great.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you talk more broadly about the U.S. view of current human rights concerns in Mexico and why there’s been so little response from the Administration?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m happy to speak more broadly once I talk to our team and see what their thoughts are on that. I don’t want to speak before I have all the facts in front of me. But maybe I can get some more information for you tomorrow.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Going back to Qatar for a second --
QUESTION: -- can you shed more light on what happened or may have happened on the U.S. diplomatic track that led to this reversal so that the Huang family will be free and allowed to travel?
MS. HARF: Well, certainly. We’ve been engaged very actively diplomatically on the ground. As you know, Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Atiyah on the subject recently as well. So our ambassador there has been very engaged, was at the airport, was actively working since this case really began, but also in the past several days and week as we’ve been accelerating – being able to accelerate efforts to get them returned home, given the legal proceeding had moved forward, so – have been very engaged on the ground. Obviously, we hope tomorrow this will come to a better resolution.
QUESTION: Thank you. A question about Venezuela: You know that one of the political representatives there, Leopoldo Lopez, is in prison for about seven, eight months now. And tomorrow, one congressperson, Corina Machado, she was taken out of the congress and tomorrow she’s going to be in court. She’s accused of the assassination of Maduro. And this is something that sounds a little bit crazy, but it’s the reality of Venezuela. Is the U.S. following all this situation?
MS. HARF: We are following it. And we’ve been clear, based on some of the examples you brought up but also throughout the past few months and years, that Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent in any way; that there needs to be fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. They need to be protected and they need to be respected. And that’s why we’ve consistently called on the Venezuelan Government to release people that it’s put in prison that’s jailed unjustly, as well as to improve their climate for human rights. So we’ve been very clear about that and we’ll continue to be.
QUESTION: Sorry for being late.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: Have we touched upon the Palestinian-Israeli issue?
MS. HARF: We did, but we can go back to it, Said.
MS. HARF: We’re jumping all around the world today.
QUESTION: Well, only as it relates to France.
MS. HARF: We’ve only talked about it as it relates to France, yes.
QUESTION: Please don’t ask about the – you’re not going to say anything more than the Secretary did about the governmental --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- changes in Israel, are you?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: Okay. But let me ask you this on the governmental changes, if I may, okay?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: You’re not going to get anything.
MS. HARF: Give it a shot, Said. Let’s see.
QUESTION: All right. Yeah. Do you expect this to really complicate, or would you take this as perhaps to convince the Palestinians, considering the volatility of the situation, to wait until after a new Israeli government is formed if they are pursuing their efforts at the UN?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s a couple things wrapped up into your question there --
MS. HARF: -- and as the Secretary said, we’re not going to give commentary on Israel’s internal domestic political situation, no matter who’s in the government, no matter whether they have elections or not. We hope and expect that the government will continue to negotiate to resolve their differences. We’ve said this no matter who’s in power, and no matter who’s in power, they’re a very close partner and friend.
QUESTION: Okay. But --
MS. HARF: And I don’t want to get ahead of a process --
QUESTION: Right, right. But --
MS. HARF: -- that is just, it appears, starting.
QUESTION: That’s true. But there are a couple of things, as you said. I mean, we have – on the one hand, the French are saying that they are going to submit a new proposal to restart the talks, and this will be like a last-ditch effort before going to conclude something on face-to-face talks instead of going to the United Nations. Do you have any comment on that, first of all?
MS. HARF: On the French?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those French comments. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. And also, I spoke with the Palestinian representative at the UN today, and he’s saying that they are definitely determined to go to the UN route as – the Security Council route, and perhaps by mid-month. Are you actively advising them not to do so?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been in constant communication, at the Secretary’s level and below, with our partners on both sides here, including the Palestinians, about all of these issues. You know what our position has been on them. I’m not going to outline specifics of those conversations that we’ve had with them. But clearly, we talk to them about this all the time, and I don’t want to get ahead of any potential action.
QUESTION: And finally, on the UN effort, the Palestinian efforts at the UN, would you accept any kind of language, or you just reject the whole concept out of hand?
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: The whole concept of going to the UN.
MS. HARF: I mean, you know what our position has been on this throughout many months and years, Said.
MS. HARF: I’m not going to address a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to your answer on the issue of the recognition by the lower house of the National Assembly in France?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah.
QUESTION: Recognizing that this is nonbinding and it’s not the government’s position and the government hasn’t changed, we have, however, seen another – a country, Sweden, recognized – I believe it’s Sweden – recognized the state of Palestine. And I just wonder whether you believe that this is a likely trend that we could see in some of the European countries that they could go ahead and do this, and how – whether you feel that this could complicate efforts to get a peace deal.
MS. HARF: Well, I probably am not going to get in the business of predicting trends, but I will say that the U.S. position is clear that we support Palestinian statehood but believe it can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties that resolve the final status issues. And a number of these countries, I think including France, agree – again, this is nonbinding, the French Government position on this hasn’t changed. So I think what you’re seeing are people around the world speaking out and saying the status quo is unacceptable. We’ve said that. Everyone has – a lot of people have said that. But we very firmly believe that the way to achieve two states is through direct negotiations. We are very crystal clear on that, and again, think that’s the way things need to proceed from here.
QUESTION: But do these votes, if they come piecemeal, if we see other countries do this – and France itself has actually said that if there’s no resolution of this issue within a couple of years they could well be forced to go ahead and recognize a state of Palestine given that, in their view, a two-state solution inherently does that. Do you believe that these sorts of votes are harmful to the peace process?
MS. HARF: Well, we believe that the way you’re going to get resolution here, we are going to have two states living side by side, isn’t through this kind of action; it’s through direct negotiations. And that’s our position and that’s where we’re going to stay.
QUESTION: If I may just quickly follow up on the cabinet, considering that Minister Livni was – worked very closely with you on the negotiations – I mean, she’s, in fact, championed the talks and so on – do you believe that her leaving the cabinet is a setback in the process to sort of restart the talks?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to do political analysis on what’s happening in Israel.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: What happens in democracies is people come in and out of government.
MS. HARF: And that’s how the process works. Yes.
QUESTION: Yesterday I had asked Jen about whether you guys had expressed any concerns about incitement coming from Jordan, the parliament. She didn’t have an answer.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have one.
MS. HARF: I’ve got something.
MS. HARF: As we’ve said many times, we believe that the terrorist attack in Jerusalem on the worshipers at the synagogue warrants strong – the strongest condemnation possible. And unlike the action of the parliament, the Government of Jordan said clearly that it, quote, “condemns all acts of violence and terrorism against civilians.” We’ve welcomed that condemnation and continue to work to encourage all sides to work together cooperatively. So again, the Government of Jordan very strongly condemned it.
QUESTION: Okay. But you know you have --
MS. HARF: And we think that’s what’s important here.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, fair enough. But you have – you’ve been asked now about two parliamentary decisions, one in France and one – now one in Jordan. And these people, much like our Congress, represent the people of Jordan and the people of France.
MS. HARF: In a certain way, yes.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, they are their voices, their democratically elected lawmakers. So it seems a bit disingenuous to say oh, well, this isn’t the government’s position. It’s apparently the position of the people. So --
MS. HARF: Well, I – those are --
QUESTION: -- are you not at all concerned?
MS. HARF: Let’s separate those two things out. I don’t think you could say everything done by every parliament around the world, including the United States Congress, is always representative of how the people feel. I think that’s a stretch a little bit that I wouldn’t make that intellectual leap. But what I would say is that when you --
QUESTION: So democracy is just a sham? That’s what --
MS. HARF: That’s not what I said, Matt. Come on. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You’re either --
MS. HARF: You said that everything that a parliament or a congress says is representative entirely of the people under – that elect them.
QUESTION: No, but the people elected those – the people elected --
MS. HARF: Right. You don’t agree with every bill Congress passes, do you? Every statement they make on everything?
QUESTION: I don’t know, but they speak on behalf of the American people.
MS. HARF: They do, as does the government.
QUESTION: Okay. So you think that the --
MS. HARF: And the Government of Jordan very clearly came out and condemned this and has been very strongly condemning terrorism.
QUESTION: All right. So in other words, but you – you’re not aware if anyone has gone to the Jordanian politicians and said, hey listen, this is --
MS. HARF: From the U.S.?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. Again, we don’t agree with what they said, but --
QUESTION: No, no, I understand that.
MS. HARF: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: And then I have another one that’s slightly in the neighborhood, and that is Assistant Secretary Malinowski going back to Bahrain.
QUESTION: One, do you know if he is --
MS. HARF: I’m surprised you didn’t start with that. I was waiting for it.
QUESTION: Well, do you know if he’s actually arrived, one?
MS. HARF: I don’t.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. HARF: I can check. I’m sorry, I don’t.
QUESTION: And two, do you know if he plans to meet with the same people that he met with last time that got him expelled?
MS. HARF: He and Assistant Secretary Anne Patterson, who will be traveling together – they do arrive today. I’m happy to check and see if they’ve actually arrived yet. They will include meetings with Bahraini officials and a broad spectrum of political and civil society representatives. I think at the end of the trip we’ll probably provide a more specific list of who he ended up meeting with.
QUESTION: Right. But you don’t know if he plans to meet with the same people --
MS. HARF: I don’t have the full list in front of me.
QUESTION: Well, does he plan to meet with opposition people?
MS. HARF: He plans to meet with a broad spectrum of political and civil society representatives. We probably won’t provide a full list until the end of the trip.
QUESTION: Okay. But is it your understanding that that would include opposition – I’m not asking for specific names --
MS. HARF: The real answer is I actually don’t know. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: All right. And --
MS. HARF: But “broad spectrum” would imply --
QUESTION: It would imply, but I don’t --
MS. HARF: -- truly broad, but I will check for you.
QUESTION: But I don’t want to assume anything.
MS. HARF: I appreciate your caution.
QUESTION: And the trip ends when? Or their visit to Bahrain will end when?
MS. HARF: Their visit – let’s see. They will stay until December 4th.
QUESTION: So Thursday.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the sentencing of Bahraini activist al-Khawaja to two years in prison?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I do. I’m happy to check with our folks, Said.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Regarding the Bahrain visit – I mean, it’s not a matter of just as you are – the person that you are – he’s going to meet. Did you – last time, the complaint of the Bahraini Government was that they didn’t – American officials didn’t check with them the name. That’s why they interfered. Is this time the names are checked, or you don’t know about it?
MS. HARF: Well, last time, I think their complaint – and correct me if I’m wrong – was that the government said he had violated their prohibition of meeting with civil society without government folks in the meeting. We are very clear that that is an unacceptable requirement that runs contrary to how we conduct business anywhere in the world – certainly runs counter to our close partnership with Bahrain.
They’ve welcomed this visit. We’ve kept them apprised of the assistant secretary’s plans, but we are proceeding with our normal operating procedures here.
QUESTION: Which is not – they are not attending these meetings --
MS. HARF: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. I have another question. Can I ask, or --
MS. HARF: Yeah, go for it.
QUESTION: Regarding the Apache – or engineer, that he was killed in western desert or in Sinai – as a matter of fact, yesterday it was claimed that the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – they claimed that they are the ones who killed him. Do you have any addition to what you said yesterday?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure we can – no, I haven’t seen any. Let me check with our folks again and see if we have additional information to provide. I didn’t get any more this morning.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Egypt?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Was anyone able to come up with a coherent and actually understandable answer to the question on the Mubarak verdict?
MS. HARF: Well, there are reports today that the prosecutor general has filed an appeal of the verdict. You may have all seen those. We will continue to follow developments in this trial. In that regard, there is an appeal process that will now be taking place. I don’t have anything to add to what Jen said yesterday beyond that.
QUESTION: Well, is it your – I don’t even know if this is worth trying to --
MS. HARF: I share your pain, Matt.
QUESTION: -- trying to get anything comprehensible out of – (laughter).
MS. HARF: What I just said was comprehensible.
QUESTION: It was, but it’s basically punting again. So I just want – I mean, were you – did it raise any eyebrows, the fact that all the charges were thrown out in the first place?
MS. HARF: Well --
QUESTION: Were people surprised? Do you think that that bodes well for the idea of accountability for some of the – for the violence that happened?
MS. HARF: I think, quite honestly, we will see how this appeal process plays out. It’s underway now. They have filed an appeal of the verdict. This is all being done in accordance with Egyptian judicial proceedings, and we’ll see how it plays out. And if we have more commentary on that to share, we will do so.
QUESTION: All right. Well – and are you pretty confident, or are you confident at all, in the integrity of Egyptian judicial proceedings, because – particularly considering the fact that they had tried in absentia numerous Americans?
MS. HARF: We have, throughout many, many months, raised very many concerns about the Egyptian judicial processes, including when they sentenced a huge – hundreds of people to death sentences.
MS. HARF: So we’ve been very outspoken about our concerns. Again, we’re going to follow this case. An appeal has been filed, and if we have more to say about the trial as it proceeds, we will.
QUESTION: Do you know when the last time it was that this has been raised, like – were demarches carried in those Apache helicopters that were delivered last month to the government?
MS. HARF: I can check. I mean, we raise this consistently at a variety of levels, but I can check and see if there’s anything specific.
QUESTION: You raise it – you raise your concerns, but at the same time, you reward them with military equipment. Correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t call it a reward. What I would say is – you’ve heard the Secretary and other people say – is we have a strategic partnership with Egypt, and we have a strategic partnership that extends to the counterterrorism realm, to other realms. That doesn’t mean we won’t raise concerns about other issues when we have them, but it’s in our interest to have that partnership.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up very quickly on the Egyptian judicial process. Today, the court submitted the names of 188 to the mufti, the highest Muslim cleric in Cairo, to approve death sentences on 188 that have been sentenced for killing or allegedly killing --
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that, Said. Let me check on that for you.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS. HARF: I mean, I’ve expressed concern in the past with sort of mass death sentences, but not being familiar with the specifics --
QUESTION: One hundred and eighty-eight names were submitted today to the mufti to approve it.
MS. HARF: I’ll check for you. I’ll check. I promise to check.
QUESTION: But in this case, do you welcome the filing of an appeal? I mean Mubarak – going back to Mubarak.
MS. HARF: I’m not welcoming. I’m just saying there have been reports of it. There’s a process that will play out here and we’ll see how it goes.
QUESTION: So just a follow-up and to clarify, I mean, it’s – so you are just following up and raise – and what else?
MS. HARF: What do you – I’m sorry. What are you getting at?
QUESTION: I mean, following up, you are trying to follow what’s going on there?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re following the case. We’ve been in discussions with the Egyptian Government about a number of issues, including this case, and we’ll continue watching how the process plays out.
QUESTION: And I assume you are raising – it’s a – it has a political side, though, to it, right?
MS. HARF: As what?
QUESTION: It’s not just a legal process; it’s a political issue, too.
MS. HARF: Well, that’s true. But this case has proceeded in accordance with Egyptian judicial processes. There are obviously, as Matt raised, questions in the past that have been raised about the judicial processes, but we are in discussions with the Egyptian Government about this. We’ve been following the trial closely, and we’re going to see how it plays out.
QUESTION: Marie, a new topic.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Two new ambassadors confirmed today --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- Colleen Bell and Noah Mamet. A little bit of a contentious entry into that new role, though, particularly for Colleen Bell – Senator McCain calling her totally unqualified; Senator Corker on Senate Foreign Relations saying that he found it disappointing that the Administration is trying to carry out political favors and not appoint professional diplomats. Do you want to respond to that?
MS. HARF: I would love to. No. I would say a few things. First, our ratio of political-to-career nominees is in line with previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat. It’s approximately a 70-to-30 balance. And that’s a high standard to meet, but it is in line --
QUESTION: Can you repeat – can you repeat that? How much is the ratio?
MS. HARF: It’s about 70-to-30 percent, and that’s in line with Democratic and Republican previous Administrations. And for hundreds of years, we’ve had great career ambassadors. We’ve had great ambassadors from outside government. And as they – as you said, they were confirmed today. We expect both of them to assume their duties and execute them with skill, attention, and soon.
QUESTION: A follow-up.
QUESTION: And can I just finish there?
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: On Bell, in particular, Senator McCain was criticizing her specifically as not being qualified in terms of national security.
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not breaking news that Senator McCain criticizes a nominee for not having qualifications in his mind --
QUESTION: Can you speak to --
MS. HARF: -- not limited to her, certainly, when it comes to Senator McCain.
QUESTION: -- her unique abilities, then, to fill that role, given the concern more broadly about Eastern Europe right now?
MS. HARF: She is our new ambassador to Hungary, as I think you mentioned. She’s a philanthropist, a civic leader, an accomplished businesswoman, an advocate for preservation of the arts, a working mother, a powerful voice on children’s rights. She’s a founding member of the National Resources Defense Council’s leadership council, serves as a trustee on a number of boards. She’s worked managing large, diverse staffs for companies. She served, again, in various leadership roles and will be a very good ambassador, I am confident, to Hungary.
QUESTION: Without getting into the actual – the actual – these two nominees or this one particular nominee, you said in the – for hundreds of years, you’ve had great ambassadors, both political and --
MS. HARF: And some not great, probably, from both --
QUESTION: -- and some disasters, as well.
MS. HARF: I would not say that.
QUESTION: Is that not correct?
MS. HARF: I would not say – I would not use that term.
QUESTION: You would not use the term “disaster”? You would say that --
MS. HARF: No. Is it surprising to you that I would not use that term?
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. I mean, it’s – the IG has used pretty strong terms about nominees or about --
MS. HARF: We are confident in all of our ambassadors that the President nominates that are confirmed by the Senate that serve in State Department posts around the world, period – confident in their ability, confident in their skill, confident in them representing the United States overseas.
QUESTION: Until they get to post and do something totally horrible. I mean, that’s happened before and there are the IG reports out there to prove it.
MS. HARF: I’m aware of the history. As I said, we’re confident in all of our ambassadors and we’re happy that the Senate has moved to confirm more of them this afternoon. I think in about an hour Rich Verma has his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to India. Our ambassador-designate to Afghanistan, I believe, does as well. These are important positions; the Senate should move as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: For some months, Noah Mamet was waiting and he never visited Argentina. That’s what he said, right? So we are expecting that he’s going to go for the first time to Argentina.
MS. HARF: He’s very excited to do so.
QUESTION: So in which moment he is allowed to go to Argentina? Before he’s in position, or how is the process now?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t – the term “allowed,” I’m not – I don’t think that’s an accurate term. He will be sworn in, and I don’t have a date for that, but will assume his position, I think, probably as soon as possible. And prior travel to a post has, I think, not been an indicator of a nominee’s success in the past, and I don’t think will be here either.
QUESTION: Like, he can go before he’s sworn in, or he has to wait until he’s sworn in?
MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s any prohibition on him traveling there, but we’d like to get him, I’m assuming, sworn in as soon as possible and into his position in Argentina.
QUESTION: Tonight the Armenian embassy and the congressional caucus on Armenian issues is hosting a reception at the Rayburn House Office Building. And this is going to be to mark the anniversary of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, and it will feature the speaker of parliament. As the United States does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, what is, first of all, the State Department’s view of this event?
MS. HARF: I think this is actually a great example of what Matt was asking about, that the U.S. Government’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh has not changed. So while Congress certainly is free to have events like this, and we don’t have a position one way or another on what the Congress does in terms of these kind of events, our position hasn’t changed. We remain committed to helping all sides reach a lasting agreement to the conflict, and that’s what we’ve said for a very long time.
QUESTION: Do you think this helps --
MS. HARF: Sometimes everything Congress says isn’t exactly in line with our positions. There you go.
QUESTION: Do you think this type of event helps to advance U.S. policy in the regions?
MS. HARF: I don’t – we don’t have a view on the event one way or the other. Our position on it hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Right. On that line, could you remind me what candidate Obama’s position was on the Armenian genocide?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to refer you to the Obama 2008 campaign if anyone would – which I was not a part of – to answer that question.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
MS. HARF: Yep. Go ahead. We’re moving on.
QUESTION: Is there – does that campaign still exist? I mean, is there still an organization?
MS. HARF: You can feel free to reach out to them.
QUESTION: I recall that candidates from both parties have long run on a platform that includes a demand that the Turks recognize that – the Armenian genocide. And once people get into office, they change --
MS. HARF: Again, happy for you to reach out to the former political folks that were on that campaign. Our position on this is the same.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sure by now you’ve seen the reports that say Iran has been providing air support to Iraqi ground forces. And the Pentagon has apparently – unnamed or named – said that the U.S. was aware of this. Does the State Department have anything to share --
MS. HARF: I’m certainly not in a position to confirm those reports. As we’ve said for a long time, we’re not coordinating any military activity with Iran. I’m not in a position to confirm those reports.
QUESTION: But even if they were to conduct some sort of operation, wouldn’t they just let the U.S. or the coalition (inaudible)? No?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything else to add on this, I think. I just can’t confirm the reports.
QUESTION: Going back to the ambassadors.
QUESTION: When do we expect the ambassador to India to be in place?
MS. HARF: As soon as possible. His confirmation, I think, is – hearing is at 2:30 today, I believe. Great candidate, I know him very well, and will be a great ambassador once confirmed, and hopefully as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Any other visits you have to – you have scheduled before the President’s visit?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything else to announce in terms of travel.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Wait, Said – behind Said. Yes.
QUESTION: Can I --
MS. HARF: No. You haven’t had one yet. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Also, can I ask about what’s going on in Hong Kong. Do you have any reaction to the three leaders turning themselves in to authorities?
MS. HARF: Nothing more than yesterday. We are continuing to call for protesters to exercise their views peacefully – I know we say this every day, but it happens to be our continued policy every day here – and for the authorities to exercise restraint, too. We’re watching carefully – we’ve seen those reports and we’ll watch what plays out.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that they might be detained for any long period of time?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we’ve called on the authorities to exercise restraint in how they’ve handled the situation, which we’ll continue following.
QUESTION: Marie, can we move to Ukraine?
QUESTION: I think the Secretary spoke about this in Brussels, but are you pleased with the reported ceasefire around the Donetsk airport?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not a new ceasefire agreement. I think it’s discussions on implementation of the ceasefire agreed to in Minsk. So I think there’s been a little confusion on that. That was agreed to in September. Since that date, as the Secretary did say, our information indicates Russia has funneled hundreds of pieces of Russian military equipment, continued in the last few weeks alone to deploy numerous tanks, armored vehicles. Russian military forces still operate in eastern Ukraine. They’re playing a coordinating role, providing command and control support. So yesterday’s announcement – I think it was yesterday – to implement the full ceasefire is obviously a new opportunity for Russia, for the separatists, to live up to their commitments, which they haven’t done so far, and we hope they will do so.
QUESTION: And there was this morning a reshuffle of the Ukrainian Government in Kyiv --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and apparently a U.S. national has been appointed finance minister. Has Washington something to do with this appointment?
MS. HARF: No, this is a choice for the Ukrainian people and their elect representatives. This is their decision. Certainly, I don’t think we had anything to do with it at all.
QUESTION: They’re elected representatives who speak for the people.
QUESTION: And you don’t --
MS. HARF: Matt’s going to go work for Congress later. He’s on a kick today.
QUESTION: You don’t feel that the pro-Russian separatists or Moscow would criticize this appointment?
MS. HARF: Well, again, the Ukrainian people and their representatives are able to pick whoever they want to be part of their government. That’s the beauty of how this process works.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the Secretary’s meetings today with the EU officials?
MS. HARF: I don’t have many more details. He spoke about it at length in his press availability. I’ll see if there’s anything to add on to what he already said, but I don’t think we’ll have anything to share.
QUESTION: No, but his one-to-one meeting with some EU officials.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with the traveling team. I don’t have more of a readout for you.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: A question about nuclear arms.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Russian media this week reported a source within their military-industrial complex that Russia may be reviving high-speed missile trains there. Are you aware of those reports?
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen them. I’m happy to check with our folks.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And also --
MS. HARF: A source within the military-industrial complex.
QUESTION: That’s what they said.
MS. HARF: What an attribution that is.
QUESTION: And also, could you just provide comments or status on the implementation of the New START Treaty, and any comments on the current state of disarmament discussions with the Russians?
MS. HARF: Let me take those and check with our team and get back to you either this afternoon or in tomorrow’s briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: In the last few days they have a lot of meetings going on in Europe, particularly focusing on Libya --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- whether it’s a political issue or it’s a security issue or the possibility of chaos, falling in chaos. What’s – do you have any assessment of what’s going on there? And then what is your U.S. role in this process?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s clearly a very challenging security situation there. We have supported the implementation of UNSCR 2174 to address these threats to Libya’s peace and stability. We’ve urged Libyans to work with the UN Special Representative Bernadino Leon to forge consensus on the path forward through a UN-led political dialogue here. So this is obviously what needs to happen, but there are many security challenges on the ground. I imagine there will be more conversations about this in the days ahead.
QUESTION: So how do you see the role of U.S. in this UN role? Because – anyway, I mean, it seems that there is no any international presence now, at least embassies are not working there, right?
MS. HARF: Well, we have folks working on Libya every day, even if they’re not at our embassy there. They’re located at other places, as you all know. But they’re focused on it every single day. We have folks working with the UN, working with Libyans, to push that UN process forward, which we think provides an opportunity to make a better future for Libya. But there are many challenges. And you are right, there’s not a lot of easy answers.
QUESTION: The other thing which is, perspective-wise – I mean, you are all – I mean, it’s most of the time here you are mentioning it, about the political solution. And more or less, the Europeans are looking to it. The priority for them is the security issues. Or I’m just --
MS. HARF: Well, security plays a role – no, security plays a huge role in the political processes being able to move forward. It’s hard to have political outcomes in some of these countries where there’s not security and stability. So they clearly are intertwined. But I think by saying this is a political process it means that there’s no military solution here to the problems Libya’s facing. We need security and stability on the ground. But that’s not the ultimate solution there.
QUESTION: So just to complete the circle – the cycle of these questions of this, there is more than one decision-making center in Libya. How you are handling – as U.S., how it’s handling there – this more than one center for decision making?
MS. HARF: Well, we obviously work with the recognized government of Libya. The Secretary has met a number of times with its representatives. We have conversations. Our folks from our embassy, who are working elsewhere, have those conversations too. It’s a challenging situation; you’re absolutely right.
QUESTION: So it’s like --
MS. HARF: And we’ve called publicly on all parties to cease all military operations and to refrain from taking any additional steps that would increase divisions in the country. We said that very clearly publicly.
QUESTION: Go to Iran?
QUESTION: Okay. Today, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, spoke to Iranian students in Tehran and said that the world is no longer – those were his words – no longer beating the drums of war. Is the likelihood of war has basically vanished?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve always said that a diplomatic outcome to the nuclear issue is the most durable, the most long-term, the best in everyone’s interests, including, most importantly, our national security interests. The President has been very clear that we will do whatever we have to to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but that diplomacy is our preferred option, not just because we like it better than other options but because it’s the best and it’s the most durable and it’s the most long-lasting. That’s why we’re engaged in this process. That’s why we decided to continue the process for a few more months.
QUESTION: And he also said that he was not negotiating on behalf of Iran like a carpet merchant. I mean, that’s probably an Iranian term and so on. In other words, he was not haggling over price and so on, that there are principled positions for Iran from which it will not retreat. Do you agree with that sentiment?
MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said, Said, is that if Iran wants to prove what it has said publicly, that it does not seek a nuclear weapon, it does not want a nuclear weapon, technically speaking, that’s not a difficult thing to do and there is not just one right answer. To cut off the four pathways for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, there are a number of different ways to get to yes here, and it’s not a hard thing to do. It’s technically complex, which is why we need some more time – one of the reasons we need some more time. So all we’re asking Iran to do is take credible, verifiable actions to back up their public words with these steps, and that’s what we’re negotiating with them over right now.
QUESTION: Marie, without – we don’t need to get into a tangent on this, but if it is not difficult for Iran to do this, what does it tell you that it’s taken more than a year now to try and get them to come to yes?
MS. HARF: Well, first of all --
QUESTION: If it’s so easy --
MS. HARF: -- a year isn’t – I’m not saying it’s so easy, Matt.
QUESTION: But you’re saying – you are.
MS. HARF: It’s not a hard thing to do.
QUESTION: Right. It’s not a hard thing to do.
MS. HARF: These are very --
QUESTION: Which means it could be done quicker than a --
MS. HARF: These are very technically complex issues. And as the Secretary said, we have made a great deal of progress from where we were a year ago to where we are today. In these negotiations we have – we are light years where we were from when we started at the JPOA implementation last November. We are closer than ever before today to a comprehensive agreement. Are we going to get there? None of us know. The Iranians don’t know. We don’t know.
QUESTION: Light years.
MS. HARF: Technical term.
QUESTION: Light years.
MS. HARF: Technical term.
QUESTION: Well, they’re also invisible, so I mean, I can’t --
MS. HARF: What I’m saying though is --
QUESTION: You can say that all you want, but I mean, without any evidence that there actually has been any progress it’s very hard for people to --
MS. HARF: We wouldn’t keep sitting at the negotiating table without progress.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, I think there’s a lot of suspicion and concern that you are and that --
MS. HARF: Well, some of that’s --
QUESTION: -- if it so easy for Iran to make this choice --
MS. HARF: Wait. Some of those suspicions --
QUESTION: -- they’re trying to hide something.
MS. HARF: Some – well, I will say Iran made the decision to freeze its nuclear program in place and roll it back in some areas. So today while we test this diplomatic moment to see if we can get this done through negotiations, their program’s not moving forward. If in seven months we can’t get this done, their program won’t have progressed. So – and some of those people you say may be suspicious, we’re doing intensive outreach to Congress. I think you asked this yesterday.
MS. HARF: Acting deputy secretary to get you an answer. Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman will lead closed briefings to congressional leadership, committee chairs, and ranking members this week. I think it’s Thursday. The Secretary has done a number of one-on-one phone calls with members during and after the most recent round of talks in Vienna. Additional consultations will take place at a variety of levels whether it’s members, whether it’s staff, over the next two weeks and continuing forward. So we are very engaged with Congress to show to them – you’re right – to show we have made progress. We can’t always talk about it publicly to preserve the integrity of the negotiations, but here are some more specifics about how we’ve made progress, here’s why you should still give diplomacy a chance.
QUESTION: And so you are going to tell or --
MS. HARF: Brief Congress on --
QUESTION: Under Secretary Sherman, acting Deputy Sherman, is going to reveal to people on the Hill --
MS. HARF: We are in – I will say we are in --
QUESTION: -- the details of the --
MS. HARF: -- very close and detailed conversations at a variety of levels with the Hill, with our partners in the region by the way, including Israel, who we consult with a great deal on this issue. So we are having these conversations and saying here’s how we’ve made progress. We can’t obviously share every single detail to preserve the integrity of the negotiations. And here’s why we’re saying that for another four months to see if we can get to a political agreement and then three to see if we can get to annexes, here’s why you should keep investing in diplomacy.
QUESTION: And if, after these briefings to the Hill, Congress continues to move the way it looks like it’s going to move and vote in favor of imposing new sanctions --
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure I would say that. I think a lot of people make that assumption, but let’s wait and see what Congress does. I think there are a number of members of Congress who we’ve spoken to privately who’ve spoken out publicly and said while they have skepticism we’ll ever get to an agreement that extending the diplomacy is better than the alternatives, that they are open to having the conversation with us about why they shouldn’t impose new sanctions. So let’s not put the cart before the horse here. Let’s see what they actually do.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. HARF: And I will say we will make a very strong case to them why now is not the time for new sanctions. We’ll make it publicly, we’ll make it privately, we’ll make it at all levels --
QUESTION: Okay. But you do understand --
MS. HARF: -- because we believe very strongly in it.
QUESTION: -- that if you – but if you make – when you make the case publicly, if you say that there’s progress but you can’t back up that assertion, people are going to be skeptical.
MS. HARF: Well, we can be more forthcoming, of course, in private conversations or classified briefings with members of the Hill.
QUESTION: And you’re pretty sure that as soon as you brief the Hill on these classified details that it’s not going to leak out?
MS. HARF: I am sure – well, that is certainly our hope. And we have this relationship with Congress and share details with them in these settings trusting that they won’t leak them out so we can preserve the negotiation.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of right now – this is the same question I asked Jen yesterday. Are you aware of any member of Congress who has indicated to you that they will oppose new sanctions?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I would turn the question back around on you. Are you aware of any member of Congress who’s come out right now and introduced a new sanctions bill?
QUESTION: There is a lot of talk about it.
MS. HARF: There’s a lot of talk, but I haven’t seen much action yet.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: So I will say the conversation – look, we know one of the reasons Iran is at the negotiating table today, if not the biggest reason, is because of the sanctions that Congress put in place, sanctions the Secretary of State wholeheartedly supported. So sanctions played a key role here. We greatly value the role they’ve played in this diplomacy. We will be having the conversation. I wouldn’t – I guess what I’m saying is I wouldn’t assume anything.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: I know there’s a lot of talk and D.C. is a place where there’s always going to be a lot of talk.
QUESTION: Yep. Yeah, there is. I --
MS. HARF: But we are going to have a very intensive, even more intensive, outreach effort publicly, to the Hill, on these negotiations really explaining our case for why now is not the time for new sanctions.
QUESTION: All right. I just have to say that I’m highly skeptical of your claim that you greatly appreciate Congress’s input on this, since you people --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- have been fighting and kicking tooth and nail to get --
MS. HARF: There is no issue, since I have been at the State Department, that we have consulted with Congress on more than the Iran nuclear negotiations. I am confident saying that.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just ask --
QUESTION: Can I just ask --
MS. HARF: Yeah. Hold on. Let’s do one at a time. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, since we’re rounding out the questions from yesterday, whether there was any – whether there’s any news on when the technical teams are due to meet and where?
MS. HARF: There’s not. It’ll be in December. I want to know as much as you do, selfishly. (Laughter.) We’re still trying to work out schedules.
QUESTION: Would – does that mean – from your reaction, does that mean you expect it to be also at political directors level? Isn’t that when you might be going?
MS. HARF: Probably, but we’re not – some of that we’re trying to work out the logistics. We’re just not sure yet.
QUESTION: As someone --
MS. HARF: I would love a trip back to Oman, though. Let me just go on the record saying that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: As someone closely familiar with the talks, what role does the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 really play in determining whether Iran has or does not have a nuclear weapons program?
MS. HARF: Well, I would say all of our intelligence assessments that we do on the Iranian nuclear program, on the Iranian issue, certainly – as they do on every issue – play a role when policymakers are looking at them to help inform them when they make policy. They play a role, certainly – a huge role. Especially coming out of that world, I know how critical that analysis is. But it’s only one piece. It’s only one piece of the puzzle here.
QUESTION: But U.S. intelligence services have not really backtracked from that, have they?
MS. HARF: Well, I would refer you to the intelligence community to give you their latest assessment of Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: That’s what they say. I mean, the intelligence community says that it sticks – stands by that estimate, which was issued back in 2007, which was – which said that back in 2003, Iran ended all its weapons programs.
MS. HARF: Well, let’s be very clear, though, Said, about why we are at the negotiating table, why countries that agree on little else – Russia, China, the United States, the UK, Germany, France – agree on this. It’s because for years, Iran was in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions, their international obligations under the NPT, at the IAEA – they have a history of hiding what they’re doing on their nuclear program here.
So we are at a much better point now. We are closer to a comprehensive agreement now. We have more visibility into Iran’s nuclear program now under the JPOA than we’ve had in the past. But we are here because there is a history. We need to ensure, given that history, that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon, and that’s why we’re focused on the four pathways. So that’s why we’re here, and it’s, I think, a point worth remembering.
QUESTION: Other than British and Israeli intelligence that keep insisting that Iran is really on path to have nuclear weapons, is there any other intelligence service that’s saying that, that is asserting that?
MS. HARF: Well, Said, intelligence is only a piece of the puzzle here, certainly.
MS. HARF: And again, Iran for years has been in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, its obligations under the IAEA. There are a number of ways Iran can get to a nuclear weapon. What we are focused on is cutting off the uranium pathways at Natanz and Fordow, cutting off the plutonium pathway at Arak, cutting off the covert pathway. That’s what we’re focused on, and intelligence is only one piece of that. What it really relies on is credible, verifiable actions, transparency, monitoring, and that’s what we’re focused on.
MS. HARF: Wait, hold on. Let me go to Matt, and then --
QUESTION: Is it still the position of the United States that Iran has to – you mentioned the IAEA just then – that they have to address the IAEA’s concerns about previous PMDs?
MS. HARF: Certainly that’s a key part of this, and we’ve encouraged Iran to work more closely with the IAEA.
QUESTION: But I mean – right. But in terms of the negotiations that are going on now that’ve been extended --
MS. HARF: That’s written into the JPOA.
QUESTION: So it is still – there hasn’t been any --
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: -- any easing of the demand that they address --
MS. HARF: No. I don’t know what that would look like in a final agreement, but it’s something that’s clearly very important to us.
QUESTION: In these conversations, also is included two things – one, for example, the kind of comments that are coming from the Iranian Government against Israel that sometimes are very ugly? And the second one is --
MS. HARF: Well, “ugly” is too nice of a term for some of these comments. They’re abhorrent. They have no place in international dialogue. But just because we hate some of their comments doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to resolve their nuclear issue. In fact, because Iran getting a nuclear weapon would present a threat to the entire region, that’s why we want to resolve this through diplomacy.
QUESTION: And the second thing is, also in these conversations, they are talking about the movement of weapons that also are coming from Iran to some of the groups in the Middle East. For example, they are moving rockets and things like that.
MS. HARF: Absolutely, and our concern about their support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah, for others – their destabilizing actions in parts of the region – those remain. And the sanctions on those actions remain and will remain, even if we can get to a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the West insists on an intrusive inspection program in Iran. Would that be something like what we have seen with Iraq, for instance, when they could walk into buildings or any – or residences or palaces and so on?
MS. HARF: Well, every situation is different, and I’m not going to get into details of the kind of verification and monitoring we’re discussing inside the negotiating room.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I go to Kenya?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Anything else on Iran? Are we done with Iran? Yes. And then I’ll go to you, Abigail.
QUESTION: There was another attack --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- by the Shabaab rebels --
MS. HARF: Two, I think, actually.
QUESTION: -- yes – in the northeast today, where they singled out non-Muslims and basically executed them, bullets to the back of the head and beheaded them. I wanted to ask, first, for your reaction to that and also to the reaction from the speech from President Kenyatta, who came out and said that – well, first of all, he’s fired his interior minister and police chief, but he’s also said that the Kenyan troops will not be intimidated and will stay in Somalia, as Shabaab was saying that the massacres were a retribution, retaliation for their role in the UNOSOM mission.
MS. HARF: Well, there’s no excuse or justification for this kind of terrorist violence. There’s just none, regardless of what these terrorist groups may say. We, of course, convey our sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in two separate attacks in northeastern Kenya – one was late last night, one was early this morning – and vigorously condemn al-Shabaab’s continued cowardly, brutal targeting of civilians. We have been very clear about the threat posed by al-Shabaab. The Kenyan Government, I think, obviously recognizes that. Clearly there’s some work that needs to be done here.
QUESTION: You welcome the – President Kenyatta’s statement that they’re going to stay --
MS. HARF: I actually hadn’t seen the statement, so let me check with our folks.
MS. HARF: I don’t want to go too far on that, having not seen it.
QUESTION: Is there anything that you can do or is there any help that you’re being asked to provide to the Kenyan authorities? We’ve seen – obviously there was Westgate attack.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: There have – it seems like they’re being targeted selectively by al-Shabaab. Have you been asked for help? Is there anything you can offer?
MS. HARF: Let me – I know in the past, and particularly around Westgate, we did provide some assistance. Let me check and see what the latest is on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: I’ve got one similar line.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to the statement from the embassy in Abuja yesterday about the Nigerians deciding to --
MS. HARF: Which – I’m sorry, which statement?
QUESTION: The Nigerians ending a U.S. training program with one of their battalions?
MS. HARF: Oh, yes, sorry.
QUESTION: If it’s just the same thing as the embassy said, I don’t need it, but --
MS. HARF: Or you just like me repeating statements?
QUESTION: No, no, you don’t even have to repeat it.
MS. HARF: I’m not sure – I didn’t actually see what their statement was, so I’m not sure what was in it. Obviously, we --
QUESTION: All right. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: -- regret the decision. There’s – I mean, I have more Q&A if you have more questions, but I’m not sure there’s much to add.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, are you concerned --
MS. HARF: But – go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, are you concerned that your – the restrictions that U.S. law places on the kind of military aid that you can give is actually hurting the effort to – their effort to fight Boko Haram and others?
MS. HARF: No. I mean, this was a decision to terminate made by the Nigerian Government, so – yeah.
QUESTION: Well, no, I understand that, but they --
MS. HARF: I mean, I --
QUESTION: One of the reasons they did it is because they’re not happy with the amount of military assistance that you’re giving them.
MS. HARF: No, I wouldn’t – I mean, they can speak for themselves, but we were – obviously, this was a program we thought was important. We’re unhappy and regret that they decided to terminate it early. We thought the first two phases had been implemented productively, so I’m just --
MS. HARF: We think it could have gone forward, basically.
QUESTION: I have one last one. This revolves around Turkey.
QUESTION: There have been increasing complaints, concerns coming from the Israelis and others about the Turks and their relationship with Hamas, in particular one Hamas leader who has apparently set up shop in Istanbul now. Do you – is this an issue for you guys in your relationship with Turkey?
MS. HARF: I hadn’t – I mean, I know the issue exists. You’ve asked about it before.
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard anything specifically about it lately. Turkey’s obviously a close ally and partner on a number of issues.
QUESTION: Right. But can it --
MS. HARF: Hamas is obviously a designated terrorist organization.
QUESTION: Exactly. But can a country that is a close partner – a NATO ally, as you mentioned – continue to be a close partner and NATO ally if, in fact, it is supporting a designated terrorist organization?
MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks and see what the latest is on that. I’m not sure I would go so far as supporting, but let me just check.
MS. HARF: Let me just check, Matt, for you.
MS. HARF: Yes, Abigail.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Lebanon for a second?
QUESTION: So you said that the people who were detained, you couldn’t independently confirm?
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: But there have been reports of U.S. intelligence being involved. Were those reports inaccurate, then?
MS. HARF: Again, this was a Government of Lebanon operation. They’ll have more details on it for you.
QUESTION: Just a technical --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The – finally, the Pakistani army chief met the Secretary.
MS. HARF: Yes, on Sunday night.
QUESTION: He has been – yes, he has been here for two weeks or more. Like, what’s going on? Like --
MS. HARF: He came here for Thanksgiving.
MS. HARF: Well, as you know, the Secretary was on travel for a while. He was in Europe and in Vienna, where we were for the Iran talks, and then there was the holiday, but he was happy to meet with him on Sunday night.
QUESTION: Well, because President Obama said that he will not visit Pakistan till the situation gets better. And the army chief is out of the country for two weeks. How the situation’s going to get better?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any analysis of that to do for you.
MS. HARF: Anything else? Yes.
QUESTION: Last one on Cuba?
QUESTION: Tomorrow, it will be the fifth anniversary of the arrest of Alan Gross.
MS. HARF: Yes, it will be.
QUESTION: Did you make some progress in securing his return to the U.S.?
MS. HARF: Well, we won’t make enough progress, obviously, until he’s home. This release – his release remains a top priority of the United States. His continued incarceration represents a significant impediment to a more constructive bilateral relationship, and reiterate our call for the Cuban Government to release Alan Gross immediately.
QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on that? What’s the impression that, for example, in North Korea, when there is detainees of the U.S., after two, three years of talks, they are released? And Cuba, nothing. There’s not any sensation that North Korea really is nicer than Cuba here in the State Department?
MS. HARF: Well, we view – I’m not in the business of ranking countries. We use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for his release publicly and privately, and we will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Anything on the last time the U.S. was able to visit with him?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t have the – wait, do I have that in front of me? I don’t. Let me check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)