Daily Press Briefing - December 5, 2014

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 5, 2014


1:19 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Happy Friday, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I would point out my Ohio State Buckeyes are playing for the Big Ten championship tomorrow.

QUESTION: Good luck to them.

MS. HARF: I’m wearing some scarlet and grey today in honor of that. Only item at the top is the Secretary is on his way back to Washington and will be back later this afternoon.


QUESTION: I want to start with something that I don’t know if you’ll have anything about. We had a story earlier today about police in Kenya, extrajudicial killings/death squad type things. And I’m wondering if you can tell us if the Administration has concerns about the activities of the Kenyan police and whether that has any impact on the assistance that you provide to them.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, we obviously take such allegations of extrajudicial killings seriously everywhere in the world, certainly, of course, in Kenya as well. We would urge the Kenyan Government to thoroughly investigate all of these reported claims. All of our trainees and units are – that we work with are thoroughly screened in accordance with the Leahy law, which I know you all are familiar with, and all training includes modules devoted to respect for human rights and the rule of law. Our training for law enforcement entities in Kenya aims to increase the professionalism and capacity of partner forces, and includes support for police oversight bodies to improve accountability and transparency in the police services. So this is an ongoing process here, but our assistance – hopefully the goal of it is to help professionalize it.

QUESTION: Right. Do you know if the Administration has come to any opinion or determination as to whether this training that you’re providing is working, or are there concerns that vetted – groups that you have vetted have – that the training hasn’t taken?

MS. HARF: I can check with our team and see. Obviously, there are challenges here. This is one of the reasons we are continuing the training, because we know there’s more work to do. But I can see if there’s more of an assessment for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then on a related matter – well, a Kenya-related matter --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The International Criminal Court today has dropped the crimes against humanity charges against President Kenyatta.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m wondering – I realize that you’re not a party to the court or the treaty that created it – or at least it hasn’t been ratified – do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly take a note of the court’s finding. We’re aware of their decision to deny a request for an indefinite adjournment of the proceedings against President Kenyatta, and then the prosecutors subsequent decision to withdraw charges. Independent of these developments in the court, I would say the U.S. continues to emphasize the importance of the principles of accountability, justice, and the rule of law. There’s certainly an accountability for the 2007-2008 post-election violence, is an important element in ensuring Kenya’s democracy, peace, and long-term stability. So we will continue urging the Kenyan Government to live up to its commitments here sort of regardless of what the court has done.

What else? Shortest briefing in history? Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Two questions, actually. The first one deals with Panama and that is that the foreign ministry has sent an invitations for the April Summit of the Americas to Cuba, and this, of course, has been something that the U.S. has blocked with previous summits. I wanted to know if the State Department had reaction this time.

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly recognize Panama’s prerogative as the host of the 2015 summit to extend invitations to whomever it chooses. This is fully consistent with the precedent of past summits and really a question for them to decide, and they’ve done so.


MS. HARF: And did you have a second question? Sorry.

QUESTION: Well, if she --

QUESTION: I did, but if there’s something else on the same topic --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Just on this.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any problem with this at all?

MS. HARF: Again, it’s not our decision who’s invited, it’s Panama’s, and they’ve made their decision.

QUESTION: No, I know. But I mean, there are a lot of people, particularly on the Hill, who are unhappy about – who are unhappy at the prospect of the possibility that Panama might invite Cuba to attend.

MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’re focused on is less on who’s invited and more on what’s discussed, right. And obviously, our vision for this summit is one that upholds the region’s shared commitments to the collective defense of democracy and human rights, that reinforces the value of strong regional leadership on those commitments and those issues. So that’s certainly what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: Right. But if Cuba, which you have big complaints about on all of those issues, is invited and attends, can the conference be credible? Will the United States attend? Do you think that it --

MS. HARF: Well, certainly the conference can be credible and you know we attend these summits. We think they’re important. And what is important to us most of all, as I just said, is what’s discussed. And talking about human rights and democracy and all of these issues in the Americas, that should be a key part of this and that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: So Cuban participation in this summit in Panama will not be – will not affect U.S. participation.

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t have details on U.S. participation yet. That’s the decision the White House will make. So for specifics, obviously I’d refer you them. But again, these are important fora, and what we are focused on is what is discussed as part of the summit.

QUESTION: Well, but – well, I’m not asking who specifically, whether it will be the President or someone else who goes. I’m just saying you – the U.S. will still participate even though Cuba has been –

MS. HARF: I have no reason to believe that we won’t, but again, the White House makes those decisions, and I’ll let them speak to that one.

Yes, your second question.

QUESTION: In Azerbaijan, authorities have arrested a journalist, Khadija Ismail, on charges of defamation, and this is something that the OSCE has condemned saying this is orchestrated intimidation. I wanted to find out if you had any reaction to the detention.

MS. HARF: Well, I’ve seen those specific reports on that case and can’t independently confirm some of the details in it. Broadly speaking, we are deeply troubled by restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists in Azerbaijan, are increasingly concerned that the government there is not living up to its international commitments and obligations when it comes to these issues, so it is something that is deeply troubling to us. Folks on the ground certainly have raised this issue with them many, many times.



MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. Two questions. The first one is about a terrorist attack from across the border where 11 security forces, including a lieutenant colonel has been killed just two days ahead of Indian prime minister’s visit. And as we know, the Indian prime minister’s party and he himself is very hawkish and no-nonsense kind. So this is going to erupt into some tensions, something. What is the U.S. –

MS. HARF: Are you talking about the attack in Kashmir?


MS. HARF: So obviously we’re concerned about any violence in Kashmir. Our policy on Kashmir hasn’t changed. We still believe that the pace and the scope and character of India and Pakistan’s dialogue on Kashmir is for those two countries to determine, of course. Our embassies in both places have raised these types of incidents with their respective host governments and certainly encouraged both to continue working together on the issue.

QUESTION: Knowing the Pakistani army’s alleged hand behind – or the blessings on this terrorist, the Pakistani army chief was here and met the Secretary, and then he goes back and this happens. So what message the Secretary gave him?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that you’re conflating a couple of things. Obviously, we know the Secretary and the army chief of staff had a very productive discussion on Sunday on a range of security-related issues, and again, we’re concerned about any violence in Kashmir, and I wouldn’t jump to conclusions here. But we have encouraged both countries to work together on this.

QUESTION: When you say jumping to – you wouldn’t jump to conclusions, you mean about who might be behind this attack?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that – because you sound --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: It sounded like you were accepting the premise of the question, that it was --

MS. HARF: No, I was saying – I actually was trying not to accept the premise of the question. Thank you.

QUESTION: All right. You don’t know, in other words, if --

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- there was any Pakistani involvement?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t assume anything.

QUESTION: And the other one is the Russian President Putin is arriving in Delhi on 10th, and what we know that there going to be a lot of trade agreements on oil and gas, but also a nuclear site. So what is the – what are you doing about the U.S.-India nuclear deal --

MS. HARF: Well –

QUESTION: -- which has been hibernating in a way?

MS. HARF: A couple of points on that. First, let’s wait and see what comes from the visit. I know there’s a lot of rumors, often of trade deals or economic deals, but let’s see what’s actually put into practice here. What we’ve – and as we’ve said before, now is not the time for business as usual with Russia. We’ve conveyed this certainly to our allies and to our partners across the world.

Regarding U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation, during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United States, both sides renewed their commitments to fully implement the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, to find a way forward to allow U.S.-origin reactors to eventually be built in India. The two leaders also agreed in their joint statement to establish a contact group for advancing the implementation of civil nuclear energy cooperation, which will address administrative issues, liability, technical issues, licensing, and other topics as required. So there’s a path forward here for this to keep moving.

QUESTION: When you say that it’s not time to have – to deal with Russia, normally, like because of what’s going on in Ukraine and other parts of the world. And so – and next month President Obama is going to visit. So is it casting a shadow on that visit with --

MS. HARF: It’s not, not at all. And I was saying, broadly speaking, that’s our position on doing business with Russia. But again, India is a very, very close partner. Let’s see what comes out of the actual visit, but we’re confident things will continue as they --

QUESTION: And India has been a very close partner of the USSR before, and now Russia.

MS. HARF: Well, it’s possible to have good relationships with multiple countries even when we disagree on things. But again, it’s not, to my knowledge, impacting any visits one way or the other.


QUESTION: This is kind of offbeat --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but on the lines of not the time to do business as usual with Russia, do you have any comment at all or concern about the British Museum sending one of the Elgin Marbles to – loaning it to the Russians for the Hermitage?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that.

QUESTION: This is the subject – I don’t know if you’re aware, but it’s been a long bone of – huge bone of contention between the Brits and the Greeks, who want the marble back. And anyway --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- so for the first time since they’ve been in Britain, they’re – one of them is actually leaving, going to the Hermitage. I’m just curious if you have --

MS. HARF: I will check. No, that’s an interesting question.

QUESTION: -- any thought on that.

MS. HARF: I will check.

QUESTION: May I just have a follow-up on that?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it – like, when it was – we are dealing with Iran and we are putting this sanction up, and India deals with Iran, trade and everything in different ways, and we turn a blind eye to that. And now the Russians are going there and they --

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly don’t turn a blind eye to any action that could be sanctionable when it comes to sanctions on any country. That’s certainly not true. We, in fact, have very vigorous sanctions enforcement and work very closely with our partners to ensure they can meet their obligations under international sanctions architectures.

QUESTION: So the U.S. is watching what comes out of the Putin visit (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s fair to say that we watch a lot of things that go along – or go on around the world. I wouldn’t express a large amount of concern, though.


MS. HARF: Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: The Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program is due out hopefully early next week. I know that the State Department had voiced some concerns earlier this year that the release of the document would endanger overseas personnel. Does the Department feel comfortable with its release now? What’s the position on --

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ll probably talk about it more when it’s actually released, so we’ll probably hold off on too much comment until then. As you all know, there’s been a robust interagency process working with the State Department and the DNI and the CIA and the Department of Defense, the NSC, on the redaction process. And again, until it’s released, I think I would probably refrain from more comment.

QUESTION: Does it support the release of the document at this point, or is --

MS. HARF: Well, the Administration has always said they support the declassification of this report. The question was always: What’s redacted, what’s not? That’s been an ongoing process. And again, I don’t want to get ahead of any upcoming release.

QUESTION: Yeah. There was talk about a 72-hour window, kind of like a heads-up to overseas missions, whatnot, to kind of let them know the report was going to come out. Has that – I mean, is that going to come from the Senate, or --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t agree with the characterization of exactly what you’ve just said.


MS. HARF: Obviously, as we’ve said publicly, we take a number of steps. And in this case, and we talked about this a little when we thought the report might come out a few months ago, that we have directed all of our posts overseas to review their security posture in light of if and when there is a release of this report to ensure that our personnel, our facilities, and our interests are prepared for the range of reactions that might occur. So certainly, that’s been an ongoing process. As I said, we did it, I think, back in the summer when we thought it might come out in August, I believe, and have been doing it now as well. So that’s an ongoing process that we are undertaking.


MS. HARF: Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Are there any new developments in talks with Yemen concerning the American journalist detained by al-Qaida?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re in constant communication with the Yemeni Government to, as we said yesterday in a number of statements, have been very closely coordinated with us on trying to return Mr. Somers home. I don’t have anything new to those conversations to add.

Yes, Abigail.

QUESTION: The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a security message warning of heightened tensions and recent attacks on Westerners in the region. Is that related to the murder of William Henderson, or is there --

MS. HARF: I can check on that. It may be. I can check. We issue these fairly frequently, I think.

What else?

QUESTION: I’m wondering if there was any – if you ever got an answer to the question about the Hungarians calling in the charge --

MS. HARF: Which question, specifically, on that? That they – I mean, they did call in --

QUESTION: About Senator – yeah, exactly. But I mean, what – can you tell us what the charge told the Hungarians?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to detail the private conversations, I think.


MS. HARF: Publicly we have conveyed concerns about democracy and the rule of law in Hungary to the Hungarian Government, broadly speaking. I’ve also done so publicly.


MS. HARF: We’ve spoken publicly about government actions and decisions that harm the health of the democratic institutions. I’m not going to outline further what the specific conversation was, other than to say there was a meeting and we will continue working with the Hungarians to address these issues.

QUESTION: So in other words, he didn’t tell the Hungarians that you disagree with Senator McCain’s comment that the prime minister is a neo-fascist dictator?

MS. HARF: I think I’m not going to further outline those discussions. He made clear what our position is, which is as I just outlined it. As I said the other day, I would not use the same words that were used there.

QUESTION: Right. You would not use the same words that Senator McCain did.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Did the charge also tell the Hungarians that that – that Senator McCain’s comments do not represent the feelings of the Administration?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to further outline what that discussion looked like.

QUESTION: In other words, the Administration may very well feel that prime minister --

MS. HARF: No, I said the Administration would not use those words. I’ve said that publicly.

QUESTION: I know. But – so why can’t you say that the charge --

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to outline the private discussion further right now.

QUESTION: Well, but --

MS. HARF: You can not understand why, but I’m not going to. So unless there are any other --

QUESTION: I don’t understand why if someone – if a member of Congress gets up and insults or says something that you believe – that you don’t agree with, you can’t tell us that you’ve told the government in question --

MS. HARF: Because we don’t always outline what our private diplomatic conversations look like. I have made very clear that we don’t agree with the use of the language, so there should be no question.

QUESTION: Yeah, but why can’t you say that the charge told the Hungarians that?

MS. HARF: Because I am not going to outline what they talked about privately.

QUESTION: Well, that leaves open the question that they said, “Hey, why did – do you agree with Senator McCain when he calls our prime minister a neo-fascist dictator,” and the charge then, based on your response, could have said, “Yes, we do agree with that.”

MS. HARF: No, I made very clear the government’s position is that we would not share that sentiment or use those terms.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Amnesty International criticized today Gulf countries for not receiving Syrian refugees, saying it’s shameful. Do you share such a criticism?

MS. HARF: I haven’t actually seen that report. I’m sorry about that. I’ll check on that. We know the refugee crisis is a huge problem from Syria and there are a number of countries, including Turkey and others, who have really borne – and Jordan, the king is in town today – who have such a huge share of this burden that’s come from these refugees, and we are very grateful for the work they have done. I’ll check on that report.

QUESTION: Any update on the UN World Food Program to get some money to --

MS. HARF: No update since we talked about it earlier this week. We need more money for it.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering providing more contributions to this program?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly provided quite a bit already. I don’t have any more – anything else to announce or preview.


QUESTION: More on the – you must have seen the reports about the Indian Government’s announcement that the U.S. – a lot of citizens from a lot of countries, including the U.S., will get visa on arrival. I think it’s a 30-day visa on arrival. Will there be anything from the U.S. side for business people visiting or anything? Are you planning anything to --

MS. HARF: Let me check.


MS. HARF: Let me check. I don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: And the second – the second thing is about this continued – about the very highly trained spouses of H-1B visa people who are not given the permit to work. Is there any update on that?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I’ll take both of those and see.


QUESTION: I know this topic was touched upon yesterday, but there was a report that the Administration is considering sanctions against Israel for the construction of settlements. Is this something the United States is open to?

MS. HARF: Well, actually, it’s come up I think two days ago, and what I said is that I’m obviously not going to respond to unidentified anonymous sources’ reports about alleged internal deliberations. We have made clear publicly what our position on settlements is, and I’m just not going to get into the business of responding to those kind of reports.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Secretary to announce any new proposals regarding the Middle East next week?

MS. HARF: I don’t have – I didn’t – I don’t have anything to preview for you. Certainly, he’s always said that we support getting back to the negotiating table, but the two sides have to take steps to do so.


QUESTION: I meant in his coming speech.

MS. HARF: At the Saban Forum?


MS. HARF: Well, we’ll see what he says. Tune in.

QUESTION: Really? So you don’t want to preview it as a major Middle East policy address?

MS. HARF: It’s an important forum. The Secretary was happy to speak last year. The Vice President is as well. So we are looking forward to it.


QUESTION: On UAE, I’m wondering if there’s any update on the Emirati investigation into the attack on the school teacher. In particular, there are reports from there that this – the alleged assailant’s home was being used as a kind of a safe house or a --

MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of those. I can’t independently confirm them. We’ve obviously – are following the case, but the Emiratis really have the lead here and I just don’t have a lot of an update for you. We’re not assisting in the official investigation, I don’t think. Obviously, we have some folks on the ground who may be helping out in some way from a law enforcement perspective.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t know, though, if the Emiratis have told you that or told officials on the ground that this is --

MS. HARF: I don’t know, but I can check with them.

QUESTION: And is there – as far as you know, there’s really no U.S. involvement in the investigation? No --

MS. HARF: Well, there’s certainly some folks on the ground who I think are assisting on the law enforcement side, but I wouldn’t say that they’re sort of – this is an Emirati investigation and we’re helping if we can, but it’s mostly their work.


QUESTION: As a result of this arrest, are there any early indications that this may be tied to broader threats against Americans?

MS. HARF: Well, we – according to the UAE authorities, as I said yesterday, the suspect may also have placed a – what they describe, I think, as a primitive bomb near the home of a different individual. So in terms of motive, I think that’s still unclear and authorities are looking into it, but there may be a pattern here. We’re just not sure.


QUESTION: Do you expect the Secretary to meet with the king of Jordan this evening, or he is coming late?

MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s anything on the schedule. The Secretary obviously meets with the Jordanians quite a bit, but I don’t think there’s anything on the schedule.

What else?

QUESTION: On the question of the sanctions on Israel, this morning a conservative channel was repeatedly playing your statements and calling that the White House and Israeli Government are – completely don’t see eye to eye. Do you think this building sees eye to eye with --

MS. HARF: I think this whole Administration, including the White House, has an incredibly close, essential relationship with Israel. We have arguably the closest military-to-military relationship we’ve ever had. That’s not based on us; that’s based on senior Israeli officials saying that. We’ve provided unprecedented amounts of security assistance to Israel. We helped them build – develop and build Iron Dome, which, if you remember, it’s incredibly successful in shooting down rockets from Hamas this summer during the Gaza conflict. So our relationship is an incredibly close one, it’s an unshakable one, and I would firmly disagree with those kinds of analyses of our relationship right now.


MS. HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Great.

QUESTION: Have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)