Daily Press Briefing - December 3, 2014

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 3, 2014


12:39 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing. I just have one quick item at the top – a travel update – and then I will answer all of the many questions I’m sure that 10 of you in this room have today.

The Secretary is on travel in Europe today. This morning in Brussels he participated in the Counter-ISIL Coalition Meeting at NATO, had meetings with EU High Representative Mogherini and Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, participated in a meeting on Libya with European foreign ministers and the EU, a meeting on the U.S.-EU Energy Ministerial, and he held a press availability which I’m sure many of you saw. Tonight he arrives in Basel, Switzerland for meetings at the OSCE, the first of which will be with Swiss Foreign Minister Burkhalter.

I was going to start with someone else, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, go ahead, go ahead. I’m late. I’ll pay the piper.

MS. HARF: I was going to make a joke about you doing online shopping at buffalosports.com.

QUESTION: I was doing my expenses.

MS. HARF: Same thing, right?

QUESTION: Someone else can go first because I was late.

MS. HARF: Who wants to start? Or we can all go back to our desks, and I can have the shortest briefing in history.

QUESTION: Any reaction to the formation --

MS. HARF: Thank you, Samir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Any reaction to the formation of a new cabinet in Bahrain?

MS. HARF: As – well, as you know, Assistant Secretaries Patterson and Malinowski are on the ground. To Matt’s question yesterday, they did land in Bahrain. They are starting their meetings. They’ll be there for a couple days. I don’t have any reaction to that specifically, but I’m happy to check with our folks and see if they do.

QUESTION: Do you know who they’re meeting with?

MS. HARF: They’re meeting with a range of government and civil society officials. I think we’ll provide a full list after – at the conclusion of their trip.

QUESTION: Tomorrow?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.


MS. HARF: Yeah.


MS. HARF: Yes, Scott. Oh --

QUESTION: Staying in Bahrain --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- did you ever have a statement on the sentencing of Maryam al-Khawaja to one year in prison? It’s in absentia, so she’s not --

MS. HARF: It is. And I --

QUESTION: -- but still.

MS. HARF: It is. And I don’t think we put out a statement on it. I think I have something in my book, if you just give me one second. We’ve seen it, obviously. Our understanding is that she has left Bahrain. We’ve been following the cases, but no further statement beyond that.


QUESTION: I had two questions about the stabbing of the 37-year-old teacher in Abu Dhabi.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There had been an October 29th Travel Warning – or sorry, an October 29th warning to citizens – American citizens in Abu Dhabi. Was that sent out to other countries, or was that specific to Abu Dhabi at the time?

MS. HARF: I can check. What kind of – because we often send security messages just within certain countries about a security situation. We also have Cautions and Worldwide Cautions and specific Travel Warnings.

QUESTION: It said --

MS. HARF: Sorry, I’m just not familiar with what you’re looking at.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. The Embassy consulate wishes to notify U.S. citizen community of a recent anonymous posting on a jihadist website that encouraged attacks against teachers and American – other international schools in the Middle East.

MS. HARF: It sounds – and let me check. Again, I don’t have it in front of me. We can check with our folks. It sounds like a country-specific message that we send out to American citizens from the Embassy or consulate, depending on where it is. I can check on that.

QUESTION: So you’re not aware of any direct connection between that warning and this attack?

MS. HARF: I know that – what I do know is that the U.S. Embassy is working with appropriate authorities to seek further information in this situation and shouldn’t jump to any conclusions. We just don’t have all the facts here yet. But I can check on that specific warning.

QUESTION: Do you know whether she was a Hungarian-American citizen or – or sorry, Hungarian. Too many stories in my mind. Whether she was a U.S. citizen or had bi or dual citizenship?

MS. HARF: Well, we can confirm, as they did in a security message on December 1st, probably similar to that one, that a U.S. citizen was killed in a public restroom at the shopping mall in Abu Dhabi. Out of respect for the privacy of those affected, we don’t have further comment on the specifics at this time, and I don’t have any more information to speak to your question.

QUESTION: Can we stay with – slightly in the area. Do you have anything to add to the situation or the situation that’s now over in Qatar with the Huang --

MS. HARF: I don’t, except to say that they have departed Qatar, as people have seen. We are glad they will be reunited with their children at home soon, and extend our sincere thanks to the Government of Qatar for their assistance and engagement on this matter.

QUESTION: Okay. Now onto Hungary.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The Hungarian Government is none too pleased with Senator McCain, which is not really your concern directly, but they did happen to summon a U.S. diplomat to the foreign ministry to, I don’t know, listen to their complaint. Do you have – can you say who it was, what the message was from the – from the Hungarians?

MS. HARF: I don’t have those details yet. I’m checking with our team and we’ll see if we can get some.

QUESTION: Does the Administration share Senator McCain’s view that the prime minister of Hungary is a neo-fascist dictator who is trying to --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- cozy up to Putin?

MS. HARF: I think it’s no surprise that there are a number of views Senator McCain has espoused that we don’t share.

QUESTION: Is this one of them?

MS. HARF: As an Administration, I would put that in this category, of course. And I’ll see if there are more details on the diplomatic side. As this came about yesterday when I – when he referenced in his, I think, floor statement, our new ambassador to Hungary, obviously, we believe she will be a very good ambassador, are happy she’s been confirmed. Don’t have a lot more on it than that.


MS. HARF: But I’ll check with our folks on the ground to see if we have more details about diplomatic engagement.

QUESTION: Whether or not you agree with Senator McCain’s language or his rather rough description, you have expressed concerns about the situation – the situation in Hungary and what appears to be increasing authoritarianism. Is that still the case and he’s just using more blunt language?

MS. HARF: More colorful, which he is certainly known for. Let me check with our folks, Matt. I just don’t have a lot of details on this. Obviously, we express concerns when we have them. I wouldn’t share the same words that Senator McCain did.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the ambassador, it does appear that the situation in Hungary – well, I mean, I guess one could say – I’m not saying it – one could liken the situation there to a bit of a soap opera, so that she may, in fact, be very well-qualified, at least on that count. But do you know --

MS. HARF: Well, we think she’s very well-qualified.

QUESTION: Do you know when she will be sworn in and when she will actually arrive?

MS. HARF: I don’t. And I’m – we’re trying to get some more details on that for – also for our new ambassador to Argentina and for some other folks as well. So we’ll check and see if there’s an update on that.


QUESTION: Sorry. Along those lines, I know you’ve been saying 70/30 is the split and it’s similar to other administrations.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But in the second term, it seems like it’s moved a little further towards the political side, over 40 percent, and --

MS. HARF: Well, that’s an average that crosses administrations throughout their entirety. It may during other administrations have at one point or another been a different percentage, but it’s in line with the percentage breakdown we’ve always had.

QUESTION: So there’s no specific change, you think, in those?

MS. HARF: There is not. I can guarantee you of that.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: The Azhar Institute in Egypt in Cairo is hosting an international conference today hosting religious leaders to condemn the ideology of ISIL. Is this part of the activities of the international coalition against ISIL, or this is an independent activity by the Egyptian --

MS. HARF: Well, I can check and see who’s participating in that and who had involvement in putting that together. I don’t have those details. But certainly, religious leaders play a key role in one of those five lines of effort, as we’ve talked about, the de-legitimization of ISIL’s message. So we’ve pointed to religious leaders, including in Egypt – the Secretary has mentioned them specifically – as playing a very key role here. So I’ll get some more details on that actual conference, but this is a key part of our lines of effort here, certainly.

QUESTION: So if they are doing this on their own, this will be a good thing?

MS. HARF: It would be a good thing, I think, probably no matter why they’re doing it, on their own or not. But I think that the more religious leaders we can get to stand up – on their own, in concert with others – and say this does not represent Islam, certainly the better.


QUESTION: Yesterday at the Pentagon, your colleague said that the U.S. Government is aware that Iran is conducting --

MS. HARF: That’s not what he said. He said he didn’t have any information to say it wasn’t true. There were a lot of negatives in what he said. That’s not his exact quote.


MS. HARF: He did not confirm it, and the Secretary was just asked about it and also said he couldn’t confirm or deny that either way.

QUESTION: So the position of the Administration as it relates to whether Iran is actually militarily involved or at least involved with aircraft is that you don’t know?

MS. HARF: No, I didn’t say that.


MS. HARF: And the question he got yesterday was specifically about Iranian aircraft, possibly bombers, being in Iraqi airspace. And what he said and what the Secretary said, what I said and will repeat, is that I’m just not going to confirm or deny those reports of this military action. Obviously, the Iraqis are in charge of their airspace and monitoring that and who’s doing what, so they can speak more to that, as can the Iranians, but I just can’t confirm it one way or the other.

QUESTION: And you – so you have no idea?

MS. HARF: I’m not saying that. I say I have nothing to confirm or deny for you here in this briefing room, Matt.

QUESTION: So this is one of those questions that you know the answer to or someone knows the answer to, but you guys just don’t think that it’s helpful to you to answer it?

MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to take away whatever analysis you have from what I just said, but I’m not going to confirm or deny here those reports.

QUESTION: Okay. This is a – I realize this is a Pentagon matter, but there are American pilots --

MS. HARF: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- and American troops --

MS. HARF: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- in Iraq now whose lives --

MS. HARF: And American diplomats also.

QUESTION: And American diplomats – but whose lives are on the line here.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: So I would --

MS. HARF: And I am in no way downplaying that.

QUESTION: I know, I know. But I’m saying that I would hope that the U.S. Government does have an idea of who is flying bombers or planes that are not yours or Iraqis around Iraq. Do you?

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I’m not going to comment on those reports one way or the other. We are obviously flying missions over Iraq. We are coordinating with the Iraqi Government as we do that. And the Iraqi Government has responsibility for de-conflicting their airspace. So of course, we have visibility to some extent, to a large extent to what’s happening there, but it’s up to the Iraqi Government or the Iranians to speak about this issue.

QUESTION: All right. Do you know when the last time it was that the anti-ISIL operations or just the whole, more broadly the general idea of it, has been raised with the Iranians in the context of the P5+1 or on the sidelines of the --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, on the sidelines. Yep, and that’s where we --

QUESTION: Do you know when the last --

MS. HARF: That’s the only place we have raised it. I’m guessing – I’m assuming it came up during the last round we had.

QUESTION: In Vienna?

MS. HARF: I’ll triple-check that – in Vienna.

QUESTION: Just two weeks ago?

MS. HARF: It frequently does. I mean, it would be odd if we were all in a place for two weeks and it didn’t come up.


MS. HARF: But I’ll double-check.

QUESTION: Is that --

MS. HARF: I think that’s the case, though.

QUESTION: Is that the – that’s the only place that it’s ever come up? It does not come up in Baghdad between ambassadors?

MS. HARF: That is the only place we have discussed with the Iranians, yes.


MS. HARF: That is the only place.


QUESTION: Just on that point, given the fact that you have a channel of communications with the Iranians, has any effort been made to check with them about these reports that their jets are bombing ISIS positions?

MS. HARF: I just don’t have more on this topic to share with you.


MS. HARF: Yes. Anything else? We might really break a record today, guys.


QUESTION: So you are not worried about these airstrikes that could be harmful to U.S. personnel in Iraq?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t make that assumption based on these reports, necessarily. As I said, I’m not going to confirm them one way or the other, but we’re flying our missions there. We’re working with the Iraqi Government. I wouldn’t jump to that assumption.


QUESTION: Yeah. I just had a follow-up to the question yesterday about Mexico and the recent protests and whether the U.S. is reviewing Mexico’s human rights standing as a result of the disappearances we’ve seen in the last few months.

MS. HARF: Well, a couple of points on that, and I did get a little bit on this for you. You know we’ve condemned the disappearance of the 43 students. We’ve continued to call on the Mexican Government to quickly and thoroughly investigate the crime and bring those culpable to justice, and they have been doing so. We welcome the steps they’ve taken to date. They’ve arrested more than 70 individuals suspected of involvement in the crime. The president in a November 27th address outlined a plan to address in large part some of these issues.

In terms of our review, I got you a little bit on this as well. Approximately every two years, we send to Congress a review, a required 15 percent report to Congress for the fiscal year that allows us to obligate funds for assistance based on human rights issues. We submitted that required report on September 19th, and there aren’t plans to revisit that. We constantly revisit it as part of the natural procedures here.

QUESTION: There’s a number of people on the Hill have questioned that procedure on the basis that very soon after that September determination, obviously we had the disappearance of these 43 students. But there were cases before that allegedly involving the army and people being decapitated and found dead on the streets. And there’s enormous concern that the U.S. is not taking these issues seriously enough. Beyond simply condemning the incidents themselves, can you address any more what the U.S. view of the political backdrop here is?

MS. HARF: Well – uh-huh, a couple points. The first is that there is a process in place in terms of our aid to Mexico that we have to every two years review this, and we take that process very seriously. We have a human rights dialogue that’s ongoing with Mexico. This is an annual, bilateral dialogue that addresses a wide range of these topics, and I think the next one will be early next year. So we raise concerns when we have them. I would certainly not agree with the notion that we don’t raise human rights concerns – we clearly do.

We have a very important relationship with Mexico. We think the Mexican Government, in this case particularly, has moved quickly to investigate it thoroughly. It’s a tough challenge, though, and we’ll keep working with them on it.

QUESTION: Just one last thing: Do you think it is likely to come up at that next discussion early next year?

MS. HARF: This specific case?


MS. HARF: I don’t – it’ll happen early next year. I’m just not sure. I suspect it may, but we don’t have to wait for the dialogue to raise these issues either. We are in constant communication with our Mexican counterparts about human rights issues separate from the dialogue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: You may have seen that the Washington Post reporter whose detention you have condemned --

MS. HARF: Jason Rezaian?

QUESTION: Yes. His detention has been extended, I believe by two months. I’m wondering if --

MS. HARF: I had not seen that yet, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Presumably, you would think that was a – something that is bad. Could --

MS. HARF: We obviously believe he should be released and returned to his family as soon as possible.

QUESTION: All right. And then yesterday, and even the day before with Jen, we were talking a bit about Iran, the nuclear negotiations, and what’s going on on the Hill (inaudible).

MS. HARF: I think we can talk about this every day. I’m happy to.

QUESTION: Right. Is it – there are some who are suggesting that you guys refused to send someone to testify before – to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

MS. HARF: What – in terms of the – you mean the hearing today?


MS. HARF: So a couple points on that, and I think in some of these stories I’ve been on the record talking about this: Acting Deputy Secretary Sherman will brief leadership chairs and rankings tomorrow in a closed session. The reason we tend to do these either in private individual phone calls – the Secretary has done a number of them – or in classified or closed sessions is because we want to be as forthcoming about very sensitive negotiations, and that’s very hard to do in an open setting. There’s clearly room to discuss this openly – I do it every day – but in order to give Congress the most information, that’s the best way we can do it. And if that’s our goal – and I think that’s their goal – that seems to make the most sense.

QUESTION: So you did refuse to send someone today?

MS. HARF: I don’t if they asked for someone today. They may have, but we have – it’s not a refusal. We’ve been very clear – and this, I think, is a goal that Congress shares – that the best way to get them the most information is in a closed setting. I know they have welcomed the engagement that we’ve done. The Secretary’s made a number of phone calls, as have other people as well.

QUESTION: So you’re saying you don’t know if the committee invited --

MS. HARF: I can check and – they may have.

QUESTION: -- someone to appear?

MS. HARF: They may have, and in the past they have as well, but our position has been consistent that if the goal is to give Congress as much information as possible, which I think is Congress’ goal – or should be Congress’ goal; let’s put it that way – the best way to do that on very sensitive negotiations like the Iran negotiations is in the closed setting.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do an open --

MS. HARF: I can check on the specifics today, Matt.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: It is very hard to do open hearings about such sensitive negotiations. There’s a history of negotiators not doing that. Again, our goal is to give as much information as possible. This is the best way we can do it.

QUESTION: And are you aware – has – have all of the committee chairmen and ranking members been invited to this briefing tomorrow (inaudible) with Deputy Sherman?

MS. HARF: At the White House? Which briefing – ours, the White House’s?

QUESTION: I don’t expect you to speak for the White House.

MS. HARF: I don’t, no. It’s leadership of both parties, Senate and House. It’s chairs and ranking members. I can check which committees that’s of. Of course, it’s of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs. I’ll check and see if there are other committees as well.

QUESTION: So Senator Menendez is on the list?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. And I would also note that Secretary Kerry personally called Senator Menendez during the middle of the negotiations from Vienna to have a conversation with him. Numerous senior negotiators, including Jake Sullivan have also been in personal, direct communication with Senator Menendez. He’s the chair of Senate Foreign Relations, obviously cares a lot about this issue. We have done an extraordinary amount of outreach to him and will continue to. And yes, of course, was invited tomorrow and hopefully will be there.

QUESTION: And – but you don’t want to speak to the meeting with the White House today?

MS. HARF: No, they can certainly speak to that.

QUESTION: Did you talk about the conference in Brussels?

MS. HARF: Not really, no.

QUESTION: There were a number of statements made in Brussels, of course – most notably, the Secretary’s statement that the successes are made and noticeably made against ISIS.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Is that the feeling around here? That it has been – ISIS has been degraded and perhaps on the road to defeat?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly the Secretary made comments, but I would also point you to the joint statement that was issued by, I think, 60 countries, 60 partners that said that the ISIL advance across Syria and into Iraq is being halted, that Iraqi forces and Kurdish regional government forces, with support from coalition airstrikes, are reclaiming territory in Iraq. There have been some successes. This is a long fight. No one day or one week or one month will define it. Certainly, there will be ups and downs on the battlefield, but we have made progress. And given the fact that this coalition is only a couple months old, if you look at how long it takes to fight these kind of battles, we have had some success.

I would also the countries that signed onto this statement, there are some very significant ones on there, ones that get asked about a lot in this briefing room, I think. But I think it was notable that they were there.

QUESTION: Now the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, said that he did not see any progress on the ground, that it is impossible to defeat ISIS from the air. Do you agree with that statement? Is it fair?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to engage in a back and forth, I think, with a ruthless dictator who’s killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. He’s the reason that ISIS was able to gain strength in Syria. We have always said the strategy against ISIS is there’s a five-pronged approach of the five lines of effort, only some of which is military. We have to reclaim territory in Iraq, help the Iraqis reclaim that territory, push them out of Iraq. We have to take away their sources of funding. Some of that’s by military action with striking the oil facilities they’ve been able to take, some of that’s with cutting off foreign terrorist financing. So there are a number of ways to do this. Part of it’s military, but not all of it.

QUESTION: Also the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal – Prince Saud al-Faisal – agreed that you cannot defeat ISIS without some sort of ground troops on the ground fighting ISIS. Are you going to request from the Saudis, your partners, or major partners – he claims to be there on the front or at the top of the coalition partners – are you going to request them to perhaps send in some ground troops to fight this fight, since he claimed that?

MS. HARF: Well, the Saudis are certainly a key partner in this coalition, on other issues as well. The ground forces that we think are needed to fight ISIL are the Iraqis and the Kurds and the Syrian moderate opposition, supported by coalition airstrikes, supported by coalition training, supported by coalition advice and assistance. But that’s who we need on the ground for this to be a sustainable path forward here in terms of defeating ISIL.

QUESTION: And finally, on ISIS, your counterpart at the Iranian foreign ministry said that they were not involved in any kind of aerial bombardment in Iraq against ISIS, while we heard otherwise yesterday from here.

MS. HARF: Well, we didn’t hear otherwise. I said I couldn’t confirm or deny those reports one way or the other, and I’m sure the Iranians can speak to their activities better than I can.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: What else?


MS. HARF: Matt? I think this may break some sort of record. I’m not actually encouraging more questions. I’m just --

QUESTION: Are you? I could come up with one.

MS. HARF: I’m sure.

QUESTION: You seem to agree with Senator McCain on Assad being a ruthless dictator. It’s just on --

MS. HARF: So there’s one area of agreement. We could make a list here, a chart, a running chart.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. On this very point – I mean, I saw someone yesterday and he’s saying that the thinking within the military is that Syria could go Libya’s way. If the regime folds and if Assad is toppled, we could see another Libya and this will be a terrorist haven, perhaps like Afghanistan is becoming.

MS. HARF: Well, it already is a terrorist haven. Let’s be clear about that. But I think you speak to a good point, Said, which is that the reason we’ve always said there’s not a military solution, there’s only a political one – it’s not just a catch-phrase that I like to say. It’s because in order to have a transition to a new governing body that has the best interests of the Syrian people at heart going forward, you need a political transition so there is a power base there, there is a government, a transitional body, but someone in control of the country. So you’re right, there’s not just some sort of military solution and then there’s no one in control. That can lead to a much worse situation than there already is, which is already a bad situation. So that’s exactly why we say what we say.

QUESTION: I want to – today is the fifth anniversary of Alan Gross --

MS. HARF: It is.

QUESTION: -- being incarcerated. I know you put a statement out last night and the White House put one out today, but did you get an answer to the question that was posed yesterday about the last time you had consular access to --

MS. HARF: For privacy reasons, we don’t have more details to share about that issue.


MS. HARF: For privacy reasons, we don’t have more details to share about that issue. That’s all we’ve got on that. I’m happy to chat with you more about it later.

QUESTION: But you have had no problem in the past.

MS. HARF: Every case is different.

QUESTION: This is the same case as what you’ve regularly --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure we have in the past with --

QUESTION: -- regularly talked about --

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I can check on that. That’s what our folks are advising me and out of respect for Alan Gross’s privacy and the case – I’ll check again, Matt; don’t give me that look – that’s what our folks have advised me is where we need to be on this.

QUESTION: What? Don’t give you that look?

MS. HARF: You all know that look. You all know what that look is.

QUESTION: What look?

MS. HARF: He knows what that look is. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Because he said something – there wasn’t any look.

MS. HARF: Matt is blushing.

QUESTION: I just don’t understand why it is that you have talked about this --

MS. HARF: I’ll check and see if there’s a --

QUESTION: -- with no problem in the past --

MS. HARF: I haven’t personally, so let me check, and that’s what our folks have advised me. Let me go back and check.

Yes, Scott.

QUESTION: Hong Kong?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: In announcing their surrender, three of the original Occupy leaders advised student protestors to stand down and return home so as to prevent further violence. Is that a strategy that the United States Government supports in the Hong Kong protest movement?

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t support one specific strategy over another, obviously, that the protestors or the government would take other than to say that obviously, we believe there should not be violence. We believe steps should be taken to allow for peaceful protest and restraint should be shown on the government side. Any step that goes towards either of those goals is certainly a helpful one, we think.

Assistant Secretary Danny Russel also testified on Hong Kong up on the Hill this morning. He talked a lot about this as well, so there were more things he discussed there that might be helpful.


QUESTION: Move to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The Knesset has been dissolved and elections are scheduled or slated for next April. What happens in the interim if there is an effort on your part to restart the peace talks? I mean, who --

MS. HARF: What do you mean, what happens?

QUESTION: I mean, with their cabinet is in flux or with the Knesset is dissolved, the Palestinians feel that this bodes ill for a restart of any talks, while on the other hand, the Secretary said that he hopes whatever changes, that the peace talks can be restarted.

MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary’s absolutely right.

QUESTION: I mean, I just wanted to reconcile these elements if you --

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think they need to be reconciled, necessarily. This is what happens in a democracy. You have changes in government. You have people coming in and out of government. Obviously, we want the peace talks to be started as soon as they can, but that depends on decisions by both sides to take the steps to do so. That’s obviously something we’re committed to. I’m not going, I think, to do a lot of analysis about how internal Israeli politics might affect that one way or the other.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. But the Israelis are saying that this is basically Naftali’s or – they’re talking about Naftali Bennet – cabinet, or that the coming cabinet will be his cabinet. In other words, he will obfuscate any effort to restart the peace talks. Do you take that into consideration when you talk to the Israelis?

MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said, restarting the peace talks depends on steps being taken by both sides, including the Israelis, of course --


MS. HARF: -- to take those decisions that could get back to the negotiating table. They haven’t taken them yet; we hope they will. That’s sort of where we are.

QUESTION: Okay. And I know Matt asked this question many times before, but on the issue of steps taken, what steps do you want the Palestinians to take? I mean, Matt raised the issue of incitement and so on in the past. Are you still insisting on this? Have they shown any progress? Have they shown any refrain from, let’s say, incitements?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve called on both sides to take steps to reduce tensions, particularly in light of what’s happened over the last month or so, particularly around the religious sites there. But we’re not going to outline specifically and in public what steps the parties need to take. We’re in constant communication with them about this. You know the Secretary talks to them on the phone and meets with them regularly in person.

QUESTION: Well, there was another incident today --

MS. HARF: There was.

QUESTION: Where two Israelis were stabbed.

MS. HARF: The stabbing.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. HARF: We’ve seen the reports. We don’t have all the facts yet. We’re continuing to see if there’s more information on this, obviously condemn all acts of violence, urge sides to work cooperatively to reduce tensions.

QUESTION: Well, you say you don’t want to get into the specifics of what you want both sides to do, but don’t you want an end to stabbings, an end to people running into each other with cars?

MS. HARF: Of course.

QUESTION: And end to all that?

MS. HARF: That should go without saying, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So why – then why not just say --

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve called on both sides to take steps to reduce tensions. The Secretary spoke about this when we were in Amman a few weeks ago and he had this trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Jordanians. There are steps both sides can take to reduce tensions, whether it’s around the religious sites, whether it’s publicly not inciting violence – those are steps we discuss privately.

QUESTION: I just – I guess I don’t understand why those steps have to be secret.

MS. HARF: They’re private. I wouldn’t call them secret.

QUESTION: Secret, yeah. No one can tell whether they work or not because you won’t say what they are.

MS. HARF: Well, we continue discussing them with the people we think should be actually doing them. And we will have those discussions privately in order to give them the best chance of success and for them to be able to go out and do them.

QUESTION: And so far, how would you – how is that success?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly there’s still a lot of tension on the ground. This is a huge challenge, but --


MS. HARF: They have taken some steps, but clearly this is an ongoing process.

QUESTION: Marie, for sure, the Secretary of State met with his counterparts in Europe and so on, he probably discussed the French initiative. Do we have any kind of a response to the French initiative?

MS. HARF: Actually, I have no information on any plans by the French to start alternate peace talks. I know you asked about this yesterday and I just --


MS. HARF: -- don’t have any information on that. Our position, of course, is that the preferred way forward is for the parties to reach agreement directly between each other on final status issues. Negotiations are the way we think this needs to be resolved.

QUESTION: In the event that the French do propose a conference, an international conference – in other words, under the umbrella of this international conference, the Palestinians and the Israelis would meet face-to-face and conduct the negotiations – would you support such an effort?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to comment on a hypothetical.

QUESTION: But is that the idea that --

MS. HARF: I’m not aware of plans by the French to do so. Again, we believe direct negotiations are the best and only path forward here.

QUESTION: That’s what the French foreign minister said yesterday.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m sure Foreign Minister Fabius can expound on that more.

QUESTION: Are you aware of plans for a new Security Council resolution?

MS. HARF: On what?

QUESTION: On this.

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check with folks. I know that’s, I mean, a constant rumor.

Yes, and then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: A senior Palestinian official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said that direct negotiations with Israel is a waste of time; it was tried, tested, and it will not lead to anything. What will you say to him?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not aware, I think, of the specifics behind those comments or who made them. I saw some of those reports. I guess I would just reiterate our position that the preferred way to get to two states living side by side in peace and security is direct negotiations between the two parties. Yes, it is very difficult. If it wasn’t, one of the previous efforts would have succeeded, and they didn’t. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not the best way forward and it doesn’t mean we won’t keep pushing on it.

QUESTION: But if you were to give the Palestinians, let’s say, a fact sheet of the progress that they have made during this whole two decades of negotiations, what would that be? What were the – where are – where is the progress?

MS. HARF: I don’t even know how to address that question.

QUESTION: Because it was under your auspices most of the time. I mean, from ’93 on probably, basically under the auspices of the United States.

MS. HARF: I think that there are people on both sides of this conflict who have suffered because we can’t get to a final peace agreement here.

Yes. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: According to reports, in the coming days, the Arab League resolution will be presented to the Security Council with respect to the recognition of Palestinian state. Will you be engaged or are you going to stay out of it?

MS. HARF: Well, I know – I mean, obviously, we are a permanent member of the Security Council. I know that’s a constant rumor. I don’t have any details about that. We’ve made our position on this clear. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s anything new.

QUESTION: And that position is that you don’t think it’s necessary, right?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Did you talk about the American (inaudible) --


MS. HARF: Yes, I did, and I didn’t have much to share --


MS. HARF: -- so you didn’t miss a big, enthralling exchange there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:09 p.m.)