Daily Press Briefing - December 4, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
12:56 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the daily press briefing. I’m going to stay out here until the Secretary goes out for his press avail. They’re running a little late, so it could be as early as like 1:20 or 1:30, but I will stay up here and answer your questions until then.
Just a couple items at the top: Secretary Kerry is on travel in Europe today. This morning in Basel he had a meeting with international civil society and NGO leaders, participated in OSCE ministerial meetings, and had meetings with his foreign minister counterparts from Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia. He then traveled to London for the Afghanistan ministerial meetings, where he is set to meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif, Afghan CEO Abdullah, and Afghan President Ghani.
A couple more items here: The United States welcomes the decision by the Vietnamese National Assembly to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We hope that the Government of Vietnam will implement the obligations contained in these conventions, including through legal reforms and cooperation with its police and security services. We stand ready to assist the Government of Vietnam as it implements these conventions and other efforts to support rule of law and encourage the government to halt actions that run counter to Vietnam’s international human rights obligations.
And then two more items at the top. Apologies, but it gives people a chance to come in. Today, we are pleased to announce that four eminent scientists have been selected to serve as U.S. science envoys: Dr. Peter Hotez, who’s Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine; Dr. Jane Lubchenco, University Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University – she will serve as the first science envoy for the oceans – Dr. Arun Majumdar, Jay Precourt Professor and Senior Fellow at Stanford University at their Institute for Energy; and Dr. Geri Richmond, Presidential Chair and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oregon and founder of the COACh, a grassroots organization working to increase the number and career success of women scientists and engineers.
These distinguished scientists will travel and engage internationally at the citizen and government levels to improve collaboration and forge mutually beneficial relationships between other nations and the United States in the names of scientific cooperation and economic prosperity. Beginning this January, these envoys will advise the White House, the Department of State, and the scientific community about potential opportunities for cooperation.
And finally – sorry about this, guys – we are aware of a video showing Luke Somers, a U.S. citizen held hostage by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP. The Department of Defense and the White House National Security Council have both now put out statements on this as well. They contain a number of information – a number of details, including the fact that last month, the President authorized an operation to rescue Luke, who has been held hostage by AQAP in Yemen since September of 2013, and a number of other hostages. As soon as the U.S. Government had reliable intelligence and an operational plan, the President authorized the Department of Defense to conduct an operation to recover Mr. Somers. As the statement said – and I won’t go through all of it – but regrettably Luke was not present. The hostages of other nationalities were present and were rescued. The mission was coordinated with the Yemeni Government and was undertaken by U.S. and Yemeni forces. We have a strong collaborative relationship with the Yemeni Government and will continue to work together to counter the shared threat we face from AQAP. At this difficult time, our thoughts are with the Somers family, with his friends, and with the families and loved ones of every other U.S. citizen being held hostage overseas. As we always say, we use the full breadth of our military, intelligence, diplomatic, law enforcement capabilities to bring people home whenever we can.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t have a whole lot of hope that you’re going to be able to add anything to the statements that you just mentioned, but do you know, was the – when you talk about how the operation was coordinated with the Yemenis, was there any – was there State Department involvement in that cooperation, or was it purely military – in the military?
MS. HARF: I can check. I’m assuming State was involved in some way, but let me double-check on that. And we – the State Department has, of course, been in contact with his family throughout this as well.
QUESTION: Since he was first abducted?
MS. HARF: Correct. And I’ll check and see if there was State Department involvement in the coordination with the Yemeni Government.
QUESTION: Okay. I don’t have anything more on that, so if someone else wants to ask.
MS. HARF: Okay. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: A follow-up question on Yemen. You mentioned the State Department had been in contact with the family. Have there been any new efforts from the State Department since the video was posted to either reach out to the family or Yemeni officials for any type of coordination on where he might be or any way to address these unspecified demands?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re working pretty continuously with the Yemeni Government on this, in addition, obviously, to the operation that was acknowledged today, sort of at all levels here, working with the Yemenis on this. Have been in touch with his family; aren’t going to provide more details about that, obviously, given privacy here, but certainly continue to be in contact with the Yemenis throughout the U.S. Government about how we can possibly find and bring him home.
QUESTION: Was it State who informed the family about the raid, or would that have come from DOD?
MS. HARF: I can check on those details. We obviously are in contact with them, but in terms of informing them about the raid, let me check on that.
QUESTION: Do you know if they were informed prior to this?
MS. HARF: I can check on those details.
QUESTION: And Ambassador – or excuse me – Assistant Secretary Patterson was in Yemen this week.
MS. HARF: Correct. It was unrelated to this.
QUESTION: Did this raid come up? Did the status of Mr. Somers come up during those conversations?
MS. HARF: I can check. Again, her visit was not related. This was related to Yemen’s political transition and working with the government on that issue, obviously, but let me check and see if we can get more of a readout.
QUESTION: Yes. Can we go to Syria/Iraq/ISIL?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: There was apparently some activity on the Hill this morning, and Senator Menendez put on hold a possible vote on use of military force.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And he said that he’s keen on listening to Secretary Kerry next week.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So is the Secretary going to go to the Hill tomorrow morning – Monday morning? So --
MS. HARF: Well, a few weeks ago, we had actually offered him to testify on this coming Monday, so we’ve had that offer on the table for a while now. We’re looking at the schedule now, given latest developments, but obviously, the Secretary is happy to engage when he can. Certainly, this is an important issue, and we’ll see if we can get something on the calendar. But we had offered this date a few weeks ago.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- do you know exactly when Wendy Sherman will brief the --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- Hill?
MS. HARF: It’s this afternoon. It was on the public schedule, the exact timing. I think one is at 2:00 and one is at 5:00, but I can double-check that. And Matt had asked this, I think, yesterday. On the House side, she’s briefing – or invited, at least, we should say – bipartisan leadership of the House and then House Foreign Affairs Committee. These are chairs and rankings: House Armed Services Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, House Appropriations Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, and Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense; the same ones on the Senate side as well.
So you had asked about this, Matt, I think, who exactly was invited. So it’s chairs and rankings from all of those committees and subcommittees, and of course, leadership at a bipartisan level.
QUESTION: And that’s the House?
MS. HARF: And the Senate, same ones in the Senate: Foreign Relations, Armed Services, SSCI, Appropriations, Banking – and Banking also.
QUESTION: So Senator Menendez has definitely been invited?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. And we expect and hope that he will be there this afternoon, yes. And I think the Senate’s at 5:00. Double-check the schedule, but it’s this afternoon, so --
QUESTION: Sorry. To clarify, the Kerry offer for Monday --
MS. HARF: He did.
QUESTION: -- that was specific to the AMF?
MS. HARF: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: Anything on Iran, when he would – would he be going up to do an open briefing or --
MS. HARF: Not anything that we’ve heard of. As we said, Acting Deputy Sherman is briefing leadership chairs and rankings today on both sides of the aisle here and on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, I guess I should say. We have always said we’re open to taking requests. We’ve also said that it’s easiest for us to be most forthcoming on Iran negotiations, given they’re so sensitive and closed sessions. But again, on AUMF specifically, he had – we had offered Monday, and we’ll see if something can get on the schedule.
MS. HARF: Elise, welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. UAE?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information about the suspect arrested by Emirati authorities?
MS. HARF: Well, we welcome the announcement of the arrest of a suspect in the December 1st murder of this American citizen. We are in contact with the family and are providing all possible consular assistance. According to the UAE authorities, the suspect may also have placed what they described as a “primitive bomb” near the home of a different individual.
QUESTION: An American doctor, isn’t that right?
MS. HARF: I can’t confirm those details – I’ve seen those reports – but a different individual. The Emirati authorities are undertaking the investigation in this case. The investigation’s ongoing. Not more details than that to share today.
QUESTION: Could you say anything about the fact that the woman arrested appears to be a Yemeni national who’s been back to Yemen recently multiple times?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details on the suspect at this time.
QUESTION: And any kind of information at this point which leads you to believe – does the investigation lead you to believe any – whether this was a kind of random criminal act? It appears that, given the fact that it was an American teacher and another person who appears to also have been American, that this could be kind of directed at Americans and is not a random criminal act.
MS. HARF: It could be, but I think, as I said yesterday, we shouldn’t rush to judgment here. We just don’t have all the facts. There are a number of theories about what could have driven this person to do both of these. So the Emiratis are working on it. We’ll stay in contact with them and share what we can share when we know it.
QUESTION: Have the Emiratis asked the U.S. for any help at this point with the investigation?
MS. HARF: I can check with that. Not to my knowledge.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. The House – the House of Representatives – has passed a resolution that condemns Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but it actually goes further than that. It pronounces Russia as an authoritarian regime, and there’s a bunch of other things that is in that resolution. I wonder where you stand on this resolution, and also, how does this resolution contribute to making things better? I mean, does the Administration want to make things better?
MS. HARF: Well, I think when you’ve heard – first of all, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov met today. Just a quick readout of that meeting, then I will get to your questions. They had a wide-ranging discussion. They talked about Iran first, discussed plans for representatives of the P5+1 and Iran to meet in the coming weeks, talked about the next step in the talks; talked about the ongoing crisis in Syria, whether it’s possible to create conditions for a serious conversation about political transition. The Secretary provided an update on the anti-ISIL coalition conference in Brussels. And they also talked about Ukraine, discussed ongoing efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, and the Secretary urged a return to serious discussions about full implementation of Minsk.
So if you listen to Secretary Kerry, I think every time he talks about this he says there is a diplomatic offramp here for Russia. He’s repeatedly said that. We meet with the Russians and talk about this constantly. So if Russia takes steps to live up to its obligations, to pull its folks out of eastern Ukraine, to implement Minsk fully and stop stonewalling on parts of it, then there’s a path forward here. I haven’t seen the House resolution, to be candid with you. We’ve expressed our concern, of course, about the shrinking space for dialogue, for legitimate forms of opposition in Russia. We’ve said that repeatedly over many, many months, but again, I haven’t seen the exact details of that resolution.
QUESTION: So you’re not familiar – well, some people called it declaration of cold war against Russia because of the main points --
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen the resolution. And again, the President and the Secretary have spoken at length about this issue, about the fact that we don’t want this kind of relationship with Russia. But the relationship we have today is a direct result of Russian activity, of Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine – moving tanks, moving people, moving weapons. Those are things in direct contravention of international law. So the relationship we have today is because Russia has chosen to go down a certain path. If they go down a different one, we’ll have a different relationship.
QUESTION: So one of the things that this resolution calls to do – it calls to expand broadcasting in Ukrainian and Russian languages to counter “Russian propaganda.” Do you – is this part of a fight for influence? How do you see it? How are you going to respond to that call?
MS. HARF: It’s not a fight for influence. It’s a fight for the people of Ukraine, and indeed the entire region, to get the truth about what’s happening on the ground. We have seen an incredible amount of Russian propaganda – much of it blatant lies, much of it incredibly distorted – put out there about the situation on the ground. That’s why we stand up here and talk about this every day, and that’s why we encourage people around the world to stand up and talk about exactly what is happening in a much more truthful way.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Related to this, do you have any comments about President Putin’s speech? In particular, the line comparing Crimea to the Temple Mount, saying that this is his – you look askance.
MS. HARF: Askance. Not sure what an askance look looks like.
QUESTION: You looked askance at that.
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, we’ve seen his annual address to the Federal Assembly. The Secretary met with Foreign Minister Lavrov today, because as we’ve always said, we disagree on, I think, some fundamental principles here that we will consistently stand up for, but there are areas where we can work together. And I’m not going to get in a back-and-forth, I think, with President Putin over an address he gave. What we’re focused on is working together when we can and making clear when we’re unhappy.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have any particular thoughts about --
MS. HARF: I don’t.
QUESTION: -- these --
MS. HARF: Yes, Said, and then --
QUESTION: Is that saying that the president of Russia is wrong when he says that the West has always sort of plotted and planned and so on to destabilize Russia?
MS. HARF: Well, I would clearly not agree with that statement, Said. This isn’t about the West. This is about the people of Ukraine, including Crimea, getting to pick who represents them and getting to pick their future, not having Russia pick it for them.
QUESTION: A question about Venezuela and the plot to assassinate President Maduro: The authorities there have charged a politician, Maria Corina Machado, with conspiracy, and if found guilty, she could face up to 16 years in prison. Do you have any reaction to this development?
MS. HARF: We do. We are deeply concerned by what appears to be the Venezuelan Government’s continuing effort to intimidate its political opponents through abuse of the legal process. The charges against Ms. Machado raise concerns once again about Venezuela’s arbitrary use of prosecutorial power to silence and punish government critics. We will continue to call on the Government of Venezuela to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and also to release political prisoners, including dozens of students and some opposition leaders as well.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: About Assistant Secretary Malinowski’s visit, I’m wondering if he plans on bringing up the case of Tagi al-Maidan.
MS. HARF: Well, they have concluded their trip to Manama, and I think they did a little press availability there and may have addressed some of these --
QUESTION: Oh, I hadn’t seen that.
MS. HARF: No, I haven’t seen the full readout of it yet either. I think it just happened. So they concluded their visit. They met with a number of government and civil society folks. Which case were you asking about specifically?
QUESTION: About the American that’s still being --
MS. HARF: I can check and see if that was – of course, we’re obviously always focused on American citizens, but let me see if it was specifically raised.
QUESTION: Okay, because I mean, part of the thing we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks is that a UN report on arbitrary – UN working group on arbitrary detentions came out with a report that he – that there are suspicions that he’s being tortured and in jail. So I would assume that this would be under his domain.
MS. HARF: I would assume it would have come up, but let me --
QUESTION: Okay, if you could take it, yeah.
MS. HARF: Let me just double-check. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: And do you know or – do you know, and if you do not, do you know if they talked about who exactly they met?
MS. HARF: A little bit. Are you interested in anyone specific?
QUESTION: Yes, I’m interested in everyone.
MS. HARF: Okay. Anything more specific about who they met with? There’s a lot of people in Bahrain. They met with Al Wefaq.
QUESTION: Well, they certainly didn’t meet with every single person in Bahrain, did they?
MS. HARF: No. They met with Al Wefaq, which I think has been a focus of a lot of people’s questions. Beyond that, they met with a broad range of civil society, specific government officials. They met with the king and the crown prince, of course, and some other folks as well.
QUESTION: Was there anybody off limits that they couldn’t meet with?
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard of anybody they weren’t able to, and there was not representatives of the Bahraini Government in their meetings with the civil society that had been an issue in the previous visit.
QUESTION: Do you know who it was from Al Wefaq?
MS. HARF: I don’t have that in front of me. Let me see if I can get that specifically.
QUESTION: Do you have any – Senator McCain, who came up yesterday in relation to Hungary – but today I’m going to ask you about a nomination that he says he’s going to block. That would be Mr. Blinken for the deputy job. Do you have any comment on this move?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly hope that Mr. Blinken will be confirmed as soon as possible. Obviously, it’s a critical position, deputy secretary of state. We believe he’s eminently qualified, and again, hope they will move quickly to confirm him.
QUESTION: Would you say that he is more qualified, as qualified, or less qualified for this job as the nominee for the ambassador to Hungary?
MS. HARF: I don’t rank qualifications. I think they’re all qualified. I think they all pass the threshold. But Tony, obviously, is someone we’ve all worked with very closely, will be a fantastic deputy secretary of state when confirmed.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah, and then – yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israeli issue.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Haaretz is reporting today that the government – the Administration is considering a number of measures sort of to punish Israel for the settlement activities. Are you aware of anything like this?
MS. HARF: Well, I saw those reports. I’m obviously not going to comment one way or the other on reported internal deliberations. We’ve made clear our position on settlement activity publicly, and that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: But it seems that – or the report alleges that people are fed up with just denunciations that have been the trademark of this Administration, especially with increased settlement activities, and they do want to take some measures to show – to put some teeth, actually, into these denunciations. Is that likely to happen?
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to comment on reports of internal deliberations or address a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Okay. Now that the government in Israel is in flux, okay, and perhaps the peace process is really – it’s completely tattered, are there any alternative plans by the Administration to do something about the situation?
MS. HARF: Well, again – and I think – are you going to ask this question every day until the Israeli elections?
QUESTION: Yes, absolutely.
MS. HARF: Because we can just do this every day and I’ll say the same thing.
MS. HARF: Which is that regardless of who is in the Israeli Government at any given time, we believe the path forward here is direct negotiations between the two sides. Now, they each need to take steps to get back there. We can’t take them for them. I’m not going to parse the internal Israeli political system and think about – or expand about how that might impact a restart of peace negotiations.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that all this European effort – because now we’re going to have Belgium do the same thing as France, and following soon after it Britain and so on – if they all recognize, at least symbolically, the state of Palestine, will the United States do the same thing, ultimately? I mean, will there be --
MS. HARF: Said, our --
QUESTION: -- enough pressure internationally --
MS. HARF: Our position --
QUESTION: -- to do the same thing?
MS. HARF: Our position on this hasn’t changed. In order to get two states living side by side in peace and security, we believe the way to do that is through direct negotiations between the two parties themselves where they get to a final agreement on all of the issues.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. So --
MS. HARF: That’s our position. That has not changed.
QUESTION: Okay. So what were the lessons learned from the past negotiations that took nine months? I mean, in terms of --
MS. HARF: That this is tough --
QUESTION: -- in terms of how fruitful these negotiations --
QUESTION: I think you’re going to need a bigger book.
MS. HARF: Well, no, I’ll give you one sentence.
QUESTION: I’m not asking about a book. I’m asking --
MS. HARF: No, Said.
QUESTION: -- that as you proceed forward --
MS. HARF: Can I answer?
QUESTION: As you proceed forward, do you have any plans to perhaps get things moving --
MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary --
QUESTION: -- on both sides?
MS. HARF: -- every time he’s asked about this, says he wants to get the process restarted if the parties are willing to. A very quick one-sentence lesson: that this is tough but worth doing.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you if your non-position on a hypothetical UN Security Council resolution or resolutions has evolved into a position?
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: I can’t --
MS. HARF: I mean, we’re not going to comment on a hypotheticals --
QUESTION: -- I can’t ask you --
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not going to sort of comment on hypotheticals --
QUESTION: Well, the Jordanians have come out publicly and said that they would like to have a resolution on this done by Christmas.
MS. HARF: That is true, and we are aware that the Jordanians have put forward a resolution on behalf of the Palestinians. I think they actually put it forward last month. We have an ongoing dialogue with – on this issue, and believe it would be sort of premature to talk about any sort of voting approach. But you know our position which is that the best way to do this is direct negotiations between the two parties.
QUESTION: Right. But there are other people that are also talking about a resolution as well.
MS. HARF: That is true; the French. That is true.
QUESTION: And others on that side of the pond.
MS. HARF: Okay. I’d only heard of those two.
QUESTION: Okay, but so you have an – you have no --
MS. HARF: We’re clearly engaged. The French, I think, have circulated a possible draft. We’ve seen it. We’re obviously engaged with all the parties here. But premature to get ahead of where things are.
QUESTION: Are there any plans to meet the Israeli foreign minister while he’s in town – Mr. Lieberman is in town.
MS. HARF: For the Saban Forum?
MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary, I think, will be speaking at that as well as with the Vice President.
QUESTION: Right. I mean – okay.
MS. HARF: But I don’t know of any meeting plans.
QUESTION: Yeah. Any meeting plans --
MS. HARF: We’ll let you know as the schedule evolves.
QUESTION: -- in this building, like official meetings?
MS. HARF: We’ll let you know. I don’t know. We’ll see what the schedule looks like.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Iran just for a minute?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Do you have some clarity about a possible date and location of the next round of talks?
MS. HARF: I think we’re getting close. I think it’ll be in December, certainly, and we’re just trying to figure out the logistics right now.
QUESTION: Some diplomats are talking about just meeting just before Christmas, before the holidays, sorry.
MS. HARF: We will see. We’re still trying to work that out. Obviously, everybody wants to be able to spend the holidays with their families in the United States here. So we’ll keep working that on our end.
QUESTION: Yesterday I’d asked you and – but you weren’t aware of yet the extended detention of the Washington Post reporter. Do you have anything on that?
MS. HARF: So let me see what I have on that. Just give me one second. We’ve seen those reports considering the continued detention. Can’t comment on the specifics of those reports other than to say, as we always do, that any continued detention is unacceptable. He should be released immediately, as should Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati. We continue to call on the Iranians to do so, but nothing additional on those reports.
QUESTION: All right. And then I have one more, but this goes back to the top and your offer to the Vietnamese to help them comply with the two UN conventions that they have signed onto. And I’m just wondering, earlier this month or maybe it was last month – last week, the people that oversee the torture convention were pretty harshly critical of the United States for failing to live up to the – failing to live up to its commitments. And I’m just wondering, given the fact that this – the UN committee found as it did, is the U.S. in any position to be telling a country like Vietnam or advising them on how to comply or meet its obligations under the Convention against Torture?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly are proud of our record on this issue in defending human rights, the rule of law. When it comes to that report specifically, Matt, an interagency U.S. delegation, as part of that process – and this is a routine process; every country who is a signatory to this convention goes through this process. I think there was some confusion about that in the press that this was some special report. It’s a routine procedural requirement that all states have to go to. We engage with the committee, we answer questions from them about U.S. law enforcement, about prison conditions, immigration, detentions at Guantanamo. Obviously, we don’t agree with everything in the report. I’m not going to parse it or get into specifics there, but this is an issue we take very seriously. We are constantly trying to do better here in the United States and work with other countries to do better as well.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not suggesting that you’re no trying to do better, but no one – whether it’s routine and procedural or special, it doesn’t --
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s an important point because there was some misreporting on this.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. HARF: So I was attempting to clarify.
QUESTION: Well, the misreporting was not that the U.S. was called to task or was criticized, right? It was. Whether it was a routine report or a special report --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: -- it doesn’t really matter.
MS. HARF: Well, Matt, I think it matters if it’s wrong in press, but the point I was trying to make is that we obviously don’t agree with everything in the report. We answered questions from the committee on a range of issues. We were happy to engage with them. We’ll continue engaging with them. We don’t agree with everything in the report, bluntly. We’re proud of our human rights record. We’re proud of our record here at home with rule of law, and we’ll keep engaging with the committee.
QUESTION: I thought – well. I’m not sure. I thought the whole point of when this current president was elected the first time was that he wasn’t proud of the U.S. record, particularly as it related to torture/waterboarding --
MS. HARF: And his first week in office and his first executive orders he ended the rendition detention, and interrogation program --
QUESTION: Right, but --
MS. HARF: -- and he banned certain techniques – in his first week in office, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. I know. But --
MS. HARF: So the first actions he took as president made clear that we were going to do things differently.
QUESTION: So you’re speaking simply about from this – from the beginning of this Administration.
MS. HARF: Absolutely. We are proud of our record. I mean, I speak for this Administration --
QUESTION: I understand --
MS. HARF: -- and for this Department.
QUESTION: I understand that. But I mean – but the criticism --
MS. HARF: The President --
QUESTION: -- that’s in this report goes back further.
MS. HARF: But what I will say also, though, Matt, when the President took office and when he addressed some of these issues – and I imagine we’ll all be talking about this more in the coming days and weeks because of some congressional action, of course. But look, the President also said he’s proud of the people that work at these agencies, and these are tough issues and there aren’t easy answers. And they --
QUESTION: Right, right. But I’m not asking you to defend the record. I’m asking you --
MS. HARF: But that was from before he took office, so he has referenced what’s happened before he took office, but he also said we can do better.
QUESTION: Right, okay, but --
MS. HARF: And that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s why we’re engaged with the committee.
QUESTION: But my original question was: Are you confident that you can be a credible and honest --
MS. HARF: Absolutely
QUESTION: -- and good adviser to the Vietnamese Government --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- on this kind of issue?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. I’ll say it three times. Absolutely. There’s four.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And I would also just put in there that these recent incidents involving local police departments in the United States I don’t believe were covered in that UN report. But even with those, those incidents, and the fact that the President has – and the Attorney General has voiced dismay about the situation --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- the U.S. is still proud of its record?
MS. HARF: Absolutely we are. You can both be proud of our record and say where there are ways we can do things better, and that’s what the President said, the Attorney General has said. And they are looking actively for ways to do that. But I would also put our human rights record up against any country’s around the world.
MS. HARF: Up against other people’s records and up against their transparency. The fact that the President, senior officials are engaged on these issues on a daily basis right now I think speaks to the fact of how seriously we take them.
QUESTION: Okay. Transparency as well?
MS. HARF: Transparency as well. I wouldn’t get up here every day if I didn’t want to be transparent.
QUESTION: Marie – thanks. One more question. I know you’ve already addressed this topic, but on Yemen, back to the hostage situation, was there any delay in the raid that was conducted with the intent of rescuing --
MS. HARF: Well, as soon as the U.S. Government had reliable intelligence and an operational plan – both of those are required in order to undertake military activity – the President authorized the Defense Department to conduct the operation to recover Mr. Somers as soon as those things were available. And those take time.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I – just one more thing, because we never really got an answer from here. I know that the people in Geneva talked about, but on the torture, when you say you disagree with parts of that report, you disagree with all of the criticism, or do you accept some of the criticism?
MS. HARF: I said I disagree with some parts of the report and I’m not going to further parse which parts that is.
QUESTION: Well, then how can we tell if the U.S. really can be proud of its record if you can’t say which parts of the report were wrong or if you accept --
MS. HARF: Well, I --
QUESTION: -- any of the criticism that it offered?
MS. HARF: I can see if there’s more details for you, Matt. We have that conversation with the committee, certainly, at a very detailed level. And I’ll see if any of that is – we can share publicly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)