Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 11, 2014.
2:09 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the briefing and sorry for the delay today. A couple items at the top and then, Lara, I will turn it over to you. I will also endeavor to have your name spelled right in the transcript this week.
QUESTION: I’ve been called worse.
MS. HARF: I know. Okay. So first, just a quick Iraq update. As you know, over the weekend the U.S. military undertook several more humanitarian air drops. That brings the total to four. They also undertook a number of kinetic action against ISIL targets. Just a planning note, at 2:30 today, Lieutenant General Bill Mayville of the J-3 staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be doing an operational briefing. You can watch it online at defense.gov. It’s not anything new. It’s to go over both on the humanitarian side and the operational side, more of the details on some of what they’ve been doing. So if folks are interested in that, I just wanted to make sure people knew about that. I’m guessing I’ll still be briefing at 2:30, but here’s to hoping.
In terms of the political side of Iraq, as you saw today, there’s been a new prime minister-designate nominated. The Vice President, Vice President Biden, has spoken with the Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi. He’s also spoken with the Iraqi president as well. We’ve congratulated Dr. Abadi on his nomination to form a new government and to develop a national program pursuant to Iraq’s constitutional process. There is a process that we’ve all talked about a lot. This is the latest step in it and one that we welcome.
And with that, Lara, kick us off. Actually, wait – I have one more quick thing at the top. Sorry about that. I got ahead of myself.
On Iran, on behalf of the U.S. Government, we wish to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives on a Sepahan air flight, which crashed shortly after takeoff outside of Tehran, Iran yesterday. There are no reports of any U.S. citizens on the flight. We are aware of reports that Iranian authorities are investigating the crash, and again wanted to extend our since condolences as well.
Also on Iran, on a happier note, we want to welcome the Iranian men’s national volleyball team to the U.S. to wish them well on their series of friendly matches against the U.S. national team. The Iranian team arrived in the U.S. late last week. They’ve already played one in a series of four matches against the U.S. team. On Saturday night, the teams played to a full crowd at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California. The match was close, but the U.S. team won three games to one. The remaining matches will take place on the 13th, 15th, and 16th of August all in southern California. They’re being broadcast live into Iran via Voice of America’s Persian Service. They’re also available livestream on the VOA Persian website and the Team USA site. We’ve talked a lot in this room about sports diplomacy and how important we think it is, and this is just another example of that.
Lara, now you can kick us off.
QUESTION: Thank you. So I’d like to go back to kind of getting in the weeds of Iraqi politics and the constitutional process.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yep.
QUESTION: By your statement, do I understand that the United States is recognizing Dr. Abadi as the —
MS. HARF: Nominee.
QUESTION: — the nominee, or do you think he is going to be the next prime minister?
MS. HARF: Well, he’s the prime – prime minister-designate, excuse me. There’s a – Prime Minister Maliki is still the prime minister, as of right now. He is still legally the prime minister. I know there’s a lot of confusion about this. The President charged the prime minister nominee to form a new cabinet. The nominee now has 30 days to present a new government and national program to parliament for approval that will address the needs and aspirations of all of Iraq’s diverse communities. So there’s still a process here, but this is an important step in the process, one that we absolutely welcome.
QUESTION: So what would hold up Dr. Abadi from becoming the fully recognized prime minister at this point?
MS. HARF: Well, he now has 30 days to present a new government. There’s a process, an internal Iraqi process there.
QUESTION: Okay. Does the United States believe that the Iraqi National Alliance has the authority to nominate Dr. Abadi even though the Dawa party has not?
MS. HARF: Well, without going too deep in the weeds of Iraqi constitutional politics —
QUESTION: But it’s so fun.
MS. HARF: Isn’t it though? We can leave that up to them to talk about. But in general, look, the Shia bloc nominated Dr. Abadi, a bloc that includes Prime Minister Maliki’s party. There was overwhelming support for Dr. Abadi. We think this is part of the process as it has played out under the constitution. I don’t have any reason to believe otherwise.
QUESTION: Has any senior U.S. official in the last 24 hours spoken to Prime Minister Maliki?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Vice President Biden.
MS. HARF: To Prime Minister Maliki?
MS. HARF: Okay. I can —
QUESTION: Not Maliki. To – sorry.
QUESTION: No. I’m asking about Maliki.
MS. HARF: Right. She’s asking about Maliki. But thank you for trying to help me out though. I’ll check on Prime Minister Maliki. I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Okay. I wonder if there’s any intent to at this point.
MS. HARF: I can check.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: Could I just phrase it a different way?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What do you consider Prime Minister Maliki now? You say he’s still the prime minister, but —
MS. HARF: He’s still the prime minister legally under the Iraqi constitution.
QUESTION: But do you consider him a lame duck? Do you consider him on his way out? Do you consider him still a person you would work with?
MS. HARF: Well, certainly we will continue working and engaging with him given that he’s still the prime minister of Iraq, absolutely. And Iraq is facing a very dire situation right now. But we’ve said that in order for Iraq to better confront ISIL going forward, they need an inclusive government in place as soon as possible. There’s a process for that government to be in place, and what you saw today was just another step in that process.
QUESTION: Would you say he has a mandate democratically to still make decisions?
MS. HARF: Prime Minister Maliki?
MS. HARF: He’s still the prime minister legally under the constitution.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: So Marie —
MS. HARF: Yeah, Said, then we’ll go around.
QUESTION: Marie, what is happening now? You probably addressed this before I came. I’m sorry I was late.
MS. HARF: That’s okay.
QUESTION: Now that he’s deploying tanks and security forces and so on, you don’t think that’s in a way some sort of a coup?
MS. HARF: Well, how can it be a coup if he’s still the prime minister? That seems a strange word to use.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, he’s deploying —
MS. HARF: But he’s still the prime minister.
QUESTION: He’s still the prime minister but he’s —
MS. HARF: So by definition, coup would not be —
QUESTION: Yeah, but he’s —
QUESTION: He’s protecting against a coup, no?
QUESTION: He’s using these forces to consolidate his power and sort of disenfranchise others.
MS. HARF: I think that’s making a number of assumptions about Prime Minister Maliki’s intentions. I don’t want to speak for him. I would note (a) that there’s a huge security threat right now from ISIL even in Baghdad, so (a); but (b), look, there’s a process in place here. Prime Minister Maliki’s party, which is part of this bloc, nominated someone new to be prime minister.
MS. HARF: And it’s the Iraqi people speaking up and choosing their own future. So let’s – we’re watching the situation on the ground, but there’s been no, in our view, discernible change in the security picture in terms of the kind of resources you’re talking about him deploying.
QUESTION: Okay. So are you supporting Haider al-Abadi as a prime minister? Is he someone that is known to you?
MS. HARF: Vice President Biden spoke with him today.
MS. HARF: Congratulated him on his nomination and called to – call on him for very quickly, as soon as possible, to form a new government and develop a national program. The prime minister-designate expressed his intent to move expeditiously to do so, and the Vice President and he had a conversation today. Obviously, we support the process. We have never supported any one person or one party here.
QUESTION: Okay. But you know the fact that the Vice President spoke to him, that’s like a ringing endorsement, isn’t it?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not about who we speak to on the phone. It’s about who the Iraqis choose through their process, which they’ve done today, to be their next prime minister. That’s how this gets chosen here.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: Yeah, Arshad, go ahead. And then Michel.
QUESTION: It’s real simple. Did the U.S. Government at any level play any role whatsoever in the selection of Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi to his current position?
MS. HARF: No, this is a decision that has a constitutional process in Iraq, and that is the process that happened here.
QUESTION: But Prime Minister Maliki has rejected the nomination of Mr. al-Abadi as the prime minister, and some of —
MS. HARF: I haven’t actually seen him make public comments today.
QUESTION: Some members of his bloc —
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I haven’t seen him —
QUESTION: — made the comments.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: He was standing next to him, though.
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, he hasn’t, to my knowledge, made comments today. And again, I’m sure people have a variety of opinions, but the way their constitutional process works is the bloc puts forward a candidate, which they did. This bloc, by the way, includes Prime Minister Maliki’s party, a number of whose members voted for the new prime minister-designate in this process. So this is how it works. Some people may not agree with it, but it’s how the process works constitutionally. That’s what we think is important.
QUESTION: And do you expect this rejection will affect the process of the formation of the new government?
MS. HARF: No, we think the process should move forward as it’s laid out in the constitution, as it has until this point. Look, we never expected this would be easy or without bumps in the road here. We know this is complicated and we know there are a lot of tensions here among certain blocs, certain people, certain parties, certain groups. So we didn’t think it would be easy, but it’s proceeding, actually, along the path that the constitution sets forward.
QUESTION: And the last question for me: Is the U.S. and Iran or are the U.S. and Iran on the same page regarding the formation of the new government and the nomination of al-Abadi?
MS. HARF: Well, you’d have to ask Iran what their position is. We have not spoken to them about it, so I don’t know what their position is on this new decision.
QUESTION: Do you —
QUESTION: There was a major protest today in Baghdad. Thousands of people were reportedly attending the protest objecting the nomination of al-Abadi. They were supporting Prime Minister Maliki. I would like to ask you a broader question on whether – how democratic do you think that this is? While many people know that people voted for Maliki’s coalition mainly because of Maliki, because of him, because he was —
MS. HARF: Well, that’s the way coalition politics works in this kind of parliamentary system. In the constitutional system the Iraqis have laid out, you vote for a bloc and the bloc chooses their prime minister candidate based on their internal voting. So that’s the way the process works. There’s a reason it’s outlined in the constitution, and they’ve stuck to that process. So again, there are still some steps that need to go, but we’ve seen progress today with the new prime minister-designate.
QUESTION: So I just want to understand. You do support President Masum and he has that authority according to the constitution —
MS. HARF: That is true, as the guarantor of the constitution.
QUESTION: Right, right – to name the prime minister.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: So you support this process?
MS. HARF: We support the process.
QUESTION: And you don’t agree – you don’t – I mean, the – he picked a candidate for the premiership, correct?
MS. HARF: That was put forward by the Shia bloc.
QUESTION: Right, that was put forward. So when Maliki claims that there was a miscarriage of constitutional authority, you disagree with that notion?
MS. HARF: We absolutely disagree with that, yes.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Iraq?
QUESTION: Should Prime Minister Maliki refuse to accept the nomination or designation of Mr. Abadi and should try to remain in power by force, what would the United States reaction to that situation be?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to venture a guess on that hypothetical. I think you’re getting a few steps down the road here. If that were to come to pass, obviously we could have that conversation then. But what we’re focused on is the process that’s moving forward, and that’s what we’ll keep focusing on in the coming days.
QUESTION: Isn’t in any way your intervention in Iraq and with the latest decision that President Obama to launch airstrikes on ISIL to prevent their advance through the Kurdistan region, didn’t that help in any way sideline Prime Minister Maliki?
MS. HARF: Not at all. It’s totally separate from the —
QUESTION: Because politically it showed that America is supporting Kurdistan, kind of.
MS. HARF: Well, we did this working very closely with Prime Minister Maliki and after he had asked for our assistance specifically, as had a number of other leaders. So this is a totally separate process from the political process that’s been going on, and we have been working with Prime Minister Maliki to determine more ways that we could help here.
QUESTION: But what can – what one in Iraq could also think that with the United States full support to the Kurdistan Regional Government and its intervention to stop the advance of ISIS, while it kind of remained virtually silent about its advances in other parts of Iraq —
MS. HARF: That’s absolutely incorrect that we remain virtually silent.
QUESTION: Action-wise. Actions —
MS. HARF: Well, actually, we took a number of actions, particularly several months ago. We opened joint operations centers, intelligence-sharing centers in Baghdad and in Erbil, so in both places, so we could share increasing information with the Iraqi security forces, particularly. We also increased our surveillance and reconnaissance coverage over Iraq – again, to share intelligence with the Iraqi security forces.
QUESTION: But can —
MS. HARF: So this is not just about Erbil. Obviously, there was a discrete, limited objective here, particularly with our consulate and ISIL’s rapid advance towards Erbil. But we have been working for months now with the Iraqis from all different parts of Iraq to fight this threat together. This is not just limited to Erbil.
QUESTION: But we can say that you were increasingly frustrated with Maliki and then these actions also show that, right?
MS. HARF: I don’t think so. These actions in Erbil, around Erbil, and with Mount Sinjar were based solely on how we could bring capabilities, unique capabilities, to bear in terms of the humanitarian situation and also the security situation. They’re divorced from that.
QUESTION: Quick question: Did you address the issue of arming the Peshmerga?
MS. HARF: We have not talked about that yet.
QUESTION: Okay. The United States decided to directly arm the Peshmerga. How does that work in terms of arming the central army or the central government?
MS. HARF: Well, I think there’s been a little bit of, sort of, I should say breathless reporting on this, so let’s just talk through this a little bit. The Government of Iraq has made deliveries from its own stocks to the Kurds, and we are working to do the same in coordination with all the relevant parties. We said this last week. I said it from the podium. I think Ben Rhodes and others said it on TV. ISIL’s obtained some heavy weaponry; the Kurds need additional arms. We are providing those and working to provide additional. Obviously, we’re – all of this is done in coordination with the central Government of Iraq.
And look, I think another key point here, Said, is that we’ve seen a really unprecedented level of cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga and the Kurds that we really hadn’t seen before, including the ISF providing, I think, air support and ammo to the Kurds. So it’s really a team effort here. We’re all helping out. We’re seeing what more ways we could expedite their request.
QUESTION: Would you still arm the Peshmerga if Baghdad refused to cooperate, to agree to that —
MS. HARF: I’m not going to venture to guess on hypotheticals here.
QUESTION: A similar question: Did you get the explicit consent of the Iraqi Government in Baghdad for you to provide arms directly to the Peshmerga?
MS. HARF: Everything we’re doing we’re working very closely with the central Government in Iraq, yes.
QUESTION: But that – so yes is the answer? You did get their —
MS. HARF: Arshad, everything we are doing is in close coordination with the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: But actually —
QUESTION: Can we clarify that?
QUESTION: Why can’t you just —
QUESTION: Right, yes. Can you just clarify that? I mean, did you just say that the U.S. is directly arming the Peshmerga or the Kurdish forces with the consent of the Government in Baghdad?
MS. HARF: I said what – what I said, I can repeat it again: We are working with the Government of Iraq to accelerate deliveries of badly needed arms to Kurdish forces in the north. The GOI has made deliveries from its own stocks, and we are working to do the same, deliveries from our own stocks, in coordination with all the relevant parties.
QUESTION: But your own stocks —
MS. HARF: So that conversation is ongoing. We’re not going to detail every single way we provide support, as we don’t many places, but in general we are working together to provide the Kurds with arms.
MS. HARF: This isn’t anything new. We talked about this last week.
QUESTION: The Kurdish Government —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) consent?
QUESTION: The Kurdish Government is saying —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — that it’s directly receiving arms from the United States.
MS. HARF: And I just said we are actively working to do that. But just because we can talk directly to the Kurds or work directly with them doesn’t mean it’s all not in coordination with the Government of Iraq.
QUESTION: Could you —
QUESTION: But there’s a difference between asking – or letting the Baghdad – the government in Baghdad know that this happening and actually funneling the arms and the ammo through the government in Baghdad and letting them do the delivery. So which is it?
MS. HARF: Again, we’re not going to detail specifically how all of this takes place. We’re just not going to do that from the podium. We are having ongoing conversations with all of the parties about how we can all get arms to the Kurds as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Who’s supplying, the Pentagon?
QUESTION: But do you – wait a second.
QUESTION: But do you have the Iraqi Government’s consent for you to directly arm the Kurds?
MS. HARF: As I said, we are working with the Government of Iraq very closely on all – I’m not going to detail everything for you.
QUESTION: You can’t say whether you have their consent, which I find very odd, given that you’re —
MS. HARF: I find it’s an odd question that you keep asking when I said I’m not going to detail all the specifics here.
QUESTION: Yeah, but —
MS. HARF: But we are working very closely with them and we are all doing this in coordination with each other.
QUESTION: This is not a highly specific question, and it’s a relevant question because your guidance, including from the podium up until, I think, last Wednesday was that you don’t do any arming of the Kurds without doing it with the consent of the Iraqi Government.
MS. HARF: I would go back and look at what I said from the podium over the past few weeks, Arshad, before you make those generalizations. As I said, this is being done in full coordination and cooperation with the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: Who’s supplying the arms? I mean, the Pentagon or —
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details for you than that, Said. We’re always not going to outline where those – where that – how that happens.
QUESTION: Is it possible that it is being supplied by the CIA?
MS. HARF: I just said I’m not going to detail any of that for you, Said.
QUESTION: Let me ask – not in a different way, but a slightly different question that gets at the same issue. Assuming that there is U.S. aid going to the Kurds, whether it’s directly —
MS. HARF: Which I talked about last week very openly, as did others as well.
QUESTION: Fine. How long might we expect this to endure? Is this as long as ISIS is a threat? As the President said, this could take not weeks but months. Or is this just for a finite limited period of time with a finite limited amount of arms?
MS. HARF: It’s an ongoing conversation about what the needs are.
QUESTION: Could you bring us up to date on the status of the U.S. citizens and diplomatic personnel in Erbil and —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — in Baghdad? Have more of them left?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah, it’s a good question. So over the weekend – look, basically what we’re doing is looking at our needs at all of our different locations in Iraq, so at Erbil, Basra, and Baghdad. We did – so basically what we’re doing is adjusting staffing where it’s needed. So we did move some folks out of Erbil, but we also deployed additional folks to Erbil as well.
So over the weekend, USAID deployed a disaster assistance response team to Iraq, which will be based out of Erbil, to work closely with local officials, the international community, and humanitarian relief agencies to identify needs and expedite lifesaving assistance to those caught in the middle of the violence. So we have – we’ve adjusted our staffing, so some people have gone to Baghdad or Basra and we’ve put some more people in Erbil. So we’ll constantly look at what the needs are, but we believe it’s very important to keep them all open.
QUESTION: But everyone there is considered essential personnel? It’s not the kind of thing that you would evacuate nonessentials?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s not – yeah, I mean, that’s not exactly a term that we tend to use from here. We – there’s no plans to change staffing at this point. We believe it’s important to have it open and running and helping with the Iraqis in this fight. So we’ll keep adjusting staffing as needed, but that’s a little different.
QUESTION: The Kurdish Government tried to order ammo and guns from a U.S. manufacturer last month, but it was allegedly blocked by the State Department. Now there seems to be a switch in U.S. policy towards this.
MS. HARF: I’m not familiar with that. I’m happy to check on it, but I’m not familiar with that.
QUESTION: Given that your position has consistently been that you support the integrity and the territorial sovereignty of a unified Iraq, are you concerned about sending mixed messages by directly funneling arms to a region of that country?
MS. HARF: Well, look, as I said, all of this is done in coordination with the central Government of Iraq. So we’re all – it really is a team effort here. The Government of Iraq has already provided the Kurdish Peshmerga with some weapons from its existing stockpiles. We are actively trying to do the same thing.
QUESTION: Still, it’s —
MS. HARF: So that’s what we’re talking about. But it’s – the Government of Iraq’s doing it. We are helping them as well. We know there’s an urgent need here. And again, this isn’t news. We’ve talked for a long time about the fact that we have been working with the Kurds, working with the Peshmerga in this fight. This is not in any way new.
QUESTION: Why don’t you leave the Iraqi Government to provide these arms to the Kurds?
MS. HARF: Well, we have some unique capabilities that we can bring to bear in this fight against ISIL, and we – when we can provide those, we believe it’s important to do so.
QUESTION: What capabilities are being provided, then? I mean, aside from airstrikes and some of that, what we’ve been told is it’s mostly small arms and ammunition. So this seems to be capabilities that could be delivered by Baghdad or even other places.
MS. HARF: Well, I would refer you to the Defense Department, I think, probably for specifics on kinds of weapons that we provide to our partners. But we’ve also provided intelligence – as I talked about, surveillance and reconnaissance – to our – all of our partners in Iraq through the joint operation centers in Baghdad and Erbil. That’s actually been a very key part of trying to fight ISIL. But again, I don’t have any more specifics to share with you than that.
QUESTION: But they also are receiving some armored personnel carriers from Pakistan. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details to share with you guys on this.
QUESTION: President Barzani wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday saying that he has received no bullet from Baghdad. Is that – like, the fact that you are trying to arm them directly, is that a recognition that Baghdad has acted in a sectarian manner —
MS. HARF: As I just said —
QUESTION: — refusing to provide arms?
MS. HARF: — the Government of Iraq has provided the Kurds weapons from their existing stockpiles already.
QUESTION: They just did it when the ISIS tried to attack Kurdistan, but they had not provided a single bullet, as Barzani said.
MS. HARF: Well, they have – so let’s focus on what’s happened recently, and we have noted that there’s been a lot of cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and the Kurds recently, which we think is a very good thing. It’s all underneath sort of everyone trying to fight this threat together. Again, we’ve said for many, many months now that we’ll work with the Kurds. We said that we’re looking at a variety of ways to do so. So I know there’s, again, a lot of rumors out there about this, but we’ve made very clear that if we can help, we will. We know that we want to expedite requests here. Again, we’re trying to make weapons available through our existing stockpiles, which, obviously, would come out of Defense Department stockpiles. And that’s kind of the story here. So I’m a little bit perplexed by some of the coverage, but that would not be the first time.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. HARF: Anything else on Iraq?
MS. HARF: Turkey.
QUESTION: Yesterday there were elections, and today kind of – they declared the results, and it looks like Prime Minister Erdogan is going to be the president. Do you have any reaction?
MS. HARF: We do. We congratulate the people of Turkey and President-elect Erdogan on this first direct popular election of a president. Also congratulate the two other candidates who fought a hard-fought race. Look forward to working with Prime Minister Erdogan in his new role as president and with whoever succeeds him as prime minister. Obviously, we are a friend and ally of Turkey and look forward to continuing our close relationship.
QUESTION: How did you find the conditions of the elections?
MS. HARF: Well, the OSCE monitoring mission put out a report – preliminary conclusions reached today noted the candidates were generally able to freely campaign, that freedoms of association and assembly were respected. Also noted that the use of official position by the prime minister as well as biased media coverage gave him a distinct advantage over the other candidates. I think the OSCE is going to release its full – or final report in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: So under circumstances, is – in light of this initial report, would you be able to characterize the elections as free, fair, and transparent at this point?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any more analysis to do of it for you at this point.
QUESTION: Can I just pursue that? Do you —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the United States agree with that characterization that —
MS. HARF: Again, it’s just a preliminary report. We’re still looking at it.
QUESTION: — that he had an advantage as the incumbent as it relates to —
MS. HARF: I don’t have further analysis to do. We’re still looking at it.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. been in touch with him since the election?
MS. HARF: I don’t know. I can check. Actually, let me see. I might have one thing on this. Expect the President to speak with him in the coming days.
QUESTION: Now, there is a lot of charges that the Erdogan election, on and of itself, is really a manifestation of creeping dictatorship. Are you concerned about that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more analysis to do of the Turkish elections for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to Gaza?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Okay. Over the weekend, a new cease-fire was implemented.
MS. HARF: It was.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on that? And can you tell us what role the American delegation played in this?
MS. HARF: We strongly support this latest 72-hour cease-fire, part of Egypt’s initiative, and urge both parties to respect it completely, hope they will continue to engage seriously to get to a longer-term agreement, and welcome the resumption of talks in Cairo. Frank Lowenstein is still on the ground. He monitored progress, advised in areas where the U.S. can be helpful. He was not involved in direct mediation between the delegations.
QUESTION: Now he was not directly involved, but is he in position of, let’s say, Palestinian demands – in this case, the lifting of the siege, opening the crossing points, and supplying Gaza with —
MS. HARF: He’s monitoring and advising in areas where we think we can be helpful.
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details for you than that.
QUESTION: Now, let me – also, a commission has been formed to look into war crimes that Israel may have conducted made up of a Canadian professor and British lawyer Amal Alamuddin. So do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Would you support such an effort?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to comment on something I haven’t seen, Said.
QUESTION: But do you, in principle, support that what happened in Gaza should be investigated by both sides?
MS. HARF: We’ve always said that if there are specific incidents that need investigation, that we think they should be. We said that with UNRWA schools and we’ve said that in other cases as well.
QUESTION: Okay, but in past experiences, you did not support the Goldstone report —
MS. HARF: Right. Well, there’s a way to investigate things that’s not one-sided and biased, and there’s a way that we don’t support. So again, I don’t want to comment on something I haven’t seen.
QUESTION: Do you have any criteria to what is non-biased, something that you can sort of suggest?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to outline for you today. I’m happy to look at individual proposals.
QUESTION: Okay. And I know that the United States committed $47 million to aid UNRWA couple of weeks or three weeks ago. Is that still on?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And is there more aid coming?
MS. HARF: I can check. I haven’t heard of anything additional coming. I can check.
QUESTION: No, we can we stay on Gaza?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any kind of – or has Mr. Lowenstein gotten any kind of indication over what the sticking points are today, and whether – what concessions Israel might be willing to give?
MS. HARF: I don’t have details from the conversations to outline for you.
MS. HARF: Syria?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I believe, Secretary Clinton gave an interview. And she stated that because the U.S. Government did not help moderate Syrian opposition, ISIS became much more powerful and spread. What would be your response to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I would note a few points. The first is that the U.S. has increased the scope and scale of our assistance to the moderate Syrian opposition, including announcements made last year and a request the President made of Congress this year to fund and authorize a train and equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition. That’s something we think is important, and we’ve continued to increase our efforts in that area.
Also, the Assad regime played a key role in ISIL’s rise. They allowed for a security situation where ISIL could grow in strength. The Syrian regime fostered the growth of terrorist networks; they facilitated the flow of al-Qaida foreign fighters; they – during the Iraq conflict specifically, the regime certainly has been aware and encouraged violent extremists’ transit through Syria to enter Iraq. So the regime has had a long history of helping these kind of terrorists foment unrest in Iraq. So that’s not something new or, certainly, unfortunately, confined to this conflict.
QUESTION: So just today, again, the former State Department Syria official Fred Hoff wrote a paper. And he was saying, basically, your half a billion aid to the moderate rebels would arrive as early as 2015, which is – he says, quote, about nothing that means nothing.
MS. HARF: He’s entitled to his opinion. We think that we have provided assistance to the moderate opposition in an increasing scope and scale. Again, that’s why we announced a train and equip mission just several months ago and want that to get there as soon as possible. It does require congressional action, though, and we’ve seen how willing – Congress has been willing to act on a whole host of things. But certainly, we think they should act quickly on this.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed in what the former Secretary Clinton said?
MS. HARF: Am I disappointed?
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that she was actually quite critical of your foreign policy?
MS. HARF: I think Secretary Clinton served in this Administration for a very long time and worked on very tough issues with many people in this building. And look, she is the – would be the first to say there are no easy answers.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MS. HARF: She’s looked at these issues closer than many people, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from her in the coming days, weeks, months. And so, obviously, we’ll have those conversations when she does.
QUESTION: But she made an assertion that, basically, your policy is ad hoc – I mean, you don’t have a strategy.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think she used those terms.
QUESTION: It’s pick and choose – I mean, she didn’t use those words. But you mentioned –
MS. HARF: Right. Those weren’t her – those weren’t her words, though.
MS. HARF: And look, she played a key role in our strategy when she was at the State Department. So she was deeply engaged in these issues from this building when she was Secretary of State. She, more than anyone, knows how complicated and complex they are and that there are no easy answers.
QUESTION: And she also says —
QUESTION: But was it a decisive role?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: She played a role, but was it a decisive —
MS. HARF: She played – I would say Secretary Clinton played a very formidable role in our foreign policy, yes.
QUESTION: And don’t you think that these recent remarks of her is a very serious allegation about your Administration policy for the last three years?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s all of our – I mean, she’s been a key part of that policy, to be clear. And look, it’s healthy and good to have discussions and debates about such important issues. We certainly believe that here internally, inside the Administration. That would absolutely apply to these comments as well. So look, no one has all the knowledge on this or all the analysis on this, and that’s why it’s important to have this conversation.
We believe that our policy we’re pursuing is one intended to increase our assistance, to increase support to the moderate opposition, even given a very challenging operating environment. So, again, this is an ongoing conversation we have, certainly, inside the Administration today.
QUESTION: Is her statement related to the upcoming presidential elections, do you think?
MS. HARF: I think you can ask former Secretary Clinton’s staff what her intentions are.
QUESTION: Well, she said that the Obama Administration’s foreign policy doctrine was, quote, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” What do you have to say to that? I mean —
MS. HARF: Okay. I don’t think I have much more analysis to do on that. Look, I think we’ve made a few principles clear since the President came into office and Secretary Clinton was here, whether it was rebuilding alliances, whether it was investing in international multilateral organizations – so when you look at a conflict like Ukraine or Iran, we have coalitions behind us, backing us up – building international coalitions to fight shared threats – I think you’ve seen us do that across the board – but also not hesitate to act unilaterally when we believe our national security interests are challenged. So there’s a number of principles I think that underpin our foreign policy and national security since we’ve been here. We believe very strongly in them, and again, don’t have much more analysis to do than that, I think.
QUESTION: Are there any regular communications between the current Secretary of State and the former Secretary of State?
MS. HARF: I know they speak. I can check and see how regular it is, but I know that Secretary Kerry very much valued Secretary Clinton’s advice and counsel not only when he’s been here but before, when he was still in the Senate. I don’t have much more than that.
QUESTION: Just one more on this. You have been elaborating that you have been increasing your help to the moderate.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: On the other hand, just last May, Syrian moderate opposition officially asked from White House and the Pentagon, in May, increasing the weapons and the (inaudible) to fight ISIS.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And they’ve got nothing.
MS. HARF: And the President submitted a request to Congress to train and equip the Syrian opposition. So we’re waiting on —
QUESTION: And it will arrive some time in 2015, right?
MS. HARF: Waiting on Congress to act.
QUESTION: In the meantime, ISIS and the regime are in Syria —
MS. HARF: No. In the meantime, we are continuing to support the moderate opposition, but on this one piece of it we’re waiting on Congress to act.
QUESTION: And everybody knows that —
MS. HARF: We’re going to move on, though. We’re going to move on.
No, Lara, go ahead.
QUESTION: That’s okay. Do you have one more question?
QUESTION: Yes, I have one more. And while – I mean, you are giving a picture here and you are defending your U.S. policy, but rest of the world can see that the Syrian moderate opposition is being kicked out from Syria by the al-Qaida, ISIS, and the regime.
MS. HARF: Well, a few things you said there just aren’t accurate. First of all, the Syrian opposition is alive and well in Syria. They face a very challenging environment. They have fighting on two fronts – against terrorists like Nusrah and ISIS, and also against the regime.
Also, when you use the term “the rest of the world,” I don’t have any idea what that means. We have consistently worked with our international partners on Syria, whether it’s to provide humanitarian access, whether it’s to provide humanitarian support, whether it’s to get the chemical weapons out of Syria, which are now being destroyed somewhere else.
So look, we’re working with our international partners on this. But again, there is no easy solution here. It is a very challenging situation. We have put in place a policy that we believe has increased the support to the opposition throughout time, helping them grow, but in the absence of a political solution here – which we believe is the only ultimate solution – we’re in a very tough place right now. So we will keep supporting the moderate opposition, keep trying to get humanitarian access in, and keep pushing for a political solution. But none of those things are easy and no one should say otherwise, I don’t think.
QUESTION: Just to follow up. A second ago you said Assad played a key role in allowing the rise of ISIS. Would you say the same for al-Maliki?
MS. HARF: No, I would not.
QUESTION: Why not?
MS. HARF: Because I wouldn’t. Because it’s completely different. ISIS started really gaining strength in Syria when Assad a, facilitated their rise, helped facilitate their movement into Iraq, and gave them a security environment in which they could operate. Prime Minister Maliki has been fighting a very serious battle against them in his own country. Yes, he could’ve governed more inclusively, but that’s very different than allowing a terrorist group to flourish and indeed supporting them.
QUESTION: Marie, you’re saying he facilitated their movement from Syria to Iraq. I mean, did he provide them with a truck and transportations, and things like this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics for you than that, Said.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that the Syrian regime was actually fighting ISIL in Syria?
MS. HARF: Look, I know that they supported their rise and they helped facilitate them into Iraq. I know that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Argentina?
QUESTION: And one more. What do you think Iran’s role in terms of ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, we know that Iran has supported the Syrian regime in Syria. So that’s been the crux of our concern there.
QUESTION: And the U.S. Treasury Department issued statement in February saying directly that operatives in Tehran are facilitating fighters and funds into al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Syria.
MS. HARF: Okay. I can check with Treasury. I can check on the specifics, if those were private citizens or something else. I’ll check.
QUESTION: Because the – under the knowledge of the Tehran regime, that’s what —
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I’ll check with my Treasury colleagues.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Argentina’s cabinet chief – I’m not sure if that means he’s a cabinet secretary – called – has called for the United States to intervene in the long-running case over Argentina’s debt. I think his request is partly related to the U.S. District Judge threatening Argentina with being held in contempt of court for what the judge believes is its false statements about their debt and not having defaulted. Does the U.S. Government have any intention of intervening in this case? I believe DOJ filed an amicus brief two years ago, so it may be that such intervention as you might have made has been done.
MS. HARF: You’re talking about the International Court of Justice case?
QUESTION: I’m talking about the —
MS. HARF: That Argentina has brought before the ICJ?
QUESTION: No, I think I’m talking about the U.S. District Court case that is —
QUESTION: On the default.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I thought that had been settled, though, last week. I’m happy to check. There’s a separate one at the International Court of Justice.
QUESTION: This, I think, is the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
MS. HARF: Okay, I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ll double-check the —
MS. HARF: Yeah, I have something on the International Court of Justice, but —
QUESTION: What do you have on that? Let’s hear that.
MS. HARF: Nothing on that. Well, if it’s not related, I’m not going to read the guidance.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have —
MS. HARF: I don’t want to confuse it if it’s not related.
QUESTION: No, no, sure. No problem.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks. On Egypt, do you have a comment on two Human Rights Watch staffers being denied entry?
MS. HARF: I do, I do. Just give me one second here.
MS. HARF: We are aware that representatives from Human Rights Watch were denied entry into Egypt. It is critical for civil society organizations, Egyptian and international, to be able to work freely in Egypt. We are disappointed that these individuals were not allowed to do so. As we have repeatedly said, we continue to have serious concerns regarding the events from last August and encourage the Government of Egypt to conduct transparent investigations. A strong, vibrant civil society is important to the success of Egypt’s ongoing transitions – transition, excuse me – and we will keep making that very clear to the Egyptians.
QUESTION: So you would say that this action was politically motivated?
MS. HARF: Who knows what intentions are, but we’re disappointed that it took place regardless of why.
MS. HARF: Lara. Oh, Scott. Let’s go to Scott. He hasn’t had one yet.
QUESTION: South China Sea.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Slightly.
QUESTION: On Egypt?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Just – and this, of course, comes at the same time Egypt’s playing a key role in the negotiations in the Middle East. Do you see any mixed signals that come from that? Does the U.S. support for Egypt in the context of the peace process —
MS. HARF: I don’t think so. Look, we’re able to do both things at once: work with them on issues where we are working together, and make clear when we disagree with other things they’re doing.
QUESTION: Do you think this new alliance between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and United Arab Emirates in a way marginalize —
MS. HARF: That’s some alliance, Said. Has that been formalized in some way?
QUESTION: Well, there’s just – people are —
MS. HARF: Did I miss that?
MS. HARF: Over the weekend?
QUESTION: This is alleged alliance between these four countries. Does that in any way impact the role or marginalizes the role of the United States?
MS. HARF: Well, no. Look, Egypt has had – long worked with Israel, I mean, since the peace accords, on issues of mutual concern, particularly on security. So we know countries in the region care about what’s happening in Gaza. They want to get back to a cease-fire, and if people are willing to work together to do so, great.
QUESTION: Well —
MS. HARF: And we are playing a role in it as well.
QUESTION: Okay. But there are allegations that this alliance, in fact, is what prevented Secretary of State John Kerry from being able to implement his ideas on the cease-fire between Gaza —
MS. HARF: You keep calling them his ideas. That just is not accurate.
QUESTION: No, I mean, he had his own —
MS. HARF: No, he —
QUESTION: He did say we have ideas —
MS. HARF: Said.
QUESTION: He kept saying we have ideas.
MS. HARF: He says that about a lot of things, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m referring to this particular —
MS. HARF: Of course we have ideas. We’ve been a key part of this process. But the goal here was there was a framework – obviously, the Egyptians are at the lead in this process, and that’s what we’ve been focused on. There is not – there was not some rejection of some set of ideas by the Secretary. I want to again say that that’s not true.
QUESTION: South China Sea?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: So the ASEAN Regional Forum fell short of moving toward talks on a more binding code of conduct. Where does the United States believe efforts to resolve this – these variety of territorial disputes rests now?
MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary addressed this in his press avail at the end, and he said that he thinks the language does go far enough; we made the points that we came to make. And he said we weren’t seeking to pass something per se, trying to put something on the table that people could embrace. So he also said that a number of countries had decided that’s what they’re going to do. It’s a voluntary process. But he also said he thinks there’s a way to achieve some progress with respect to the South China Sea based on the conversations they had at ASEAN. It’s an ongoing conversation, but I think judging from his comments, he seemed like we had made some progress.
QUESTION: Is a voluntary process sufficient?
MS. HARF: Well, he certainly made clear in his comments that he believes it is. I can check with our team and see if there’s more behind that or more that we were pushing for. But judging from what he said, it seemed like he was happy that we’ve gone as far as we could at ASEAN, at least for now.
QUESTION: Out of the S&ED, it seemed that the United States and China were perhaps more together on code of conduct in South China Sea than at the end of the ASEAN Regional Forum. Is that —
MS. HARF: I can check with our folks. I hadn’t heard that from the team that was out there. I don’t know if there’s that perception out there. Again, we had many conversations at the S&ED, many over the last few days at ASEAN and other meetings. So let me check with our folks and see. It’s not the sense I’m getting, but it’s a complicated issue. There are very strong feelings about it, as we know. But we believe it’s important to keep engaging on it.
QUESTION: I have a related question on that, actually. The leaders of Japan and China, for the first time, met while at ASEAN. I think this was the first time since Abe took office in 2012. Do you welcome that development?
MS. HARF: We welcome a better relationship and communications between countries in the region, so yes.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on that. Is that —
QUESTION: I had a question.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Just on the issue of the voluntary commitment.
MS. HARF: Let me check and see if there’s more details to that. I was keying off of what the Secretary said, but I can check with our team and see if there’s more to share on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. I guess specifically what I’m wondering is will you be – does that mean you will be expecting all the countries in the region to be taking those voluntary actions? Or would you see it as fine and dandy if some countries choose not to take voluntary actions?
MS. HARF: I think the goal probably is for everybody to. That would seem to be what our goal is. But let me check with our folks.
QUESTION: Voluntary does suggest that it’s up to them ultimately.
MS. HARF: Right. But I think we hope that they do. Let me check and see if there’s more.
MS. HARF: We don’t want to have to – we want people to get there on their own and understand why it’s important —
MS. HARF: — for all of them to abide by a code of conduct.
QUESTION: Marie, there was some fairly harsh commentary in – on China’s Xinhua State News Agency today about this issue. Among other things, they allege that Washington is further emboldening countries like the Philippines and Vietnam to take a hardline stance against China, raising suspicion over the real intention of the United States in making an amicable solution more difficult to reach. And then they also say, “It is a painful reality that Uncle Sam has left too many places in chaos after it stepped in, as in what people are witnessing now in Iraq, Syria, and Libya,” close quote. “The South China Sea should not be the next one,” close quote.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not the ones that are fomenting instability there. It’s the aggressive actions the Chinese have taken that are doing so. Everything we are doing is designed to lower tensions, to get people to resolve their differences diplomatically and not through coercive or destabilizing measures, like we’ve seen the Chinese take increasingly over the past several months.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: What assurances —
MS. HARF: Sorry.
QUESTION: — has the United States gotten from Moscow that its involvement in this new humanitarian aid operation into Ukraine is not going to be just a precursor to some more military mission?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s something we’re concerned about, very deeply concerned. And they – we believe Russia’s been trying to lay the international groundwork to support a humanitarian operation into Ukraine. We are concerned that Russia could try to use a humanitarian or peacekeeping operation as a pretense for inserting elements of military force into Ukraine. We do not believe that any actions, humanitarian or otherwise, should be taken in Ukraine without Kyiv’s direct permission, no – whether under the guise of humanitarian convoys or any other pretext, Russia has not right to intervene in Ukraine without Kyiv’s permission. So we are concerned about it, and we’re closely monitoring it.
QUESTION: And you said that Russia had been laying this groundwork. What kind of groundwork had they been laying for humanitarian aid operations?
MS. HARF: Well, they’ve been laying groundwork for increased intervention in Ukraine, with the large build-up of troops at the border that we’ve seen.
MS. HARF: They’ve deployed a sizeable military force to the Ukrainian border. This force is capable of invading Ukraine on very short notice if Russia were to elect to do so. A large portion of this force is deployed only a few kilometers from the border.
QUESTION: So it sounds like the United States is not okay with Russia participating in this. Why then do you think the EU would be okay with it?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the EU comments on this. I think though we and the EU – and again, I haven’t seen the comments – have been very clear that Russia should not intervene in Ukraine without Kyiv’s permission.
QUESTION: But it’s a joint operation, no, Russia and the EU?
MS. HARF: In terms of what? Humanitarian?
QUESTION: The humanitarian aid, yes.
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen any of the specifics. I’m happy to check, but —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: They’re saying – the separatists are saying there are 1,500 dead, they have no electricity in their areas, they are running very low on supplies and so on. You are – you don’t oppose —
MS. HARF: I don’t have any sympathy for the separatists —
QUESTION: Okay. But these are —
MS. HARF: — who have taken up arms against the Ukrainians and killed innocent civilians.
QUESTION: But there are villages and towns —
MS. HARF: Well, the —
QUESTION: — that are populated by civilians in these areas.
MS. HARF: But the way – the way to do it – first of all, we’ve been attempting to get humanitarian goods and access in, but the separatists aren’t allowing it. The way for the people, the civilians in these towns, to get access to the humanitarian goods they need is for the separatists to lay down their arms, to pull back, and to de-escalate. That’s how this ends here.
QUESTION: Do you have any way of confirming the figures that they say about the dead, the number of people killed?
MS. HARF: We – I can check. That sounds pretty high to me, but I can check.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah, let’s go here. You haven’t had one yet. And then I’ll come up to you.
QUESTION: What is the United States official policy with regard to the Russian annexation of Crimea?
MS. HARF: Remains the same: illegal. Not okay. Not acceptable. Against international law. Crimea is part of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Different topic, Uganda, LGBT rights.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The government has —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — made a motion after the overturn of the ban. Does the United States have any —
MS. HARF: Let me get the latest on that for you. I don’t have that in here. Let me get it for you. We’ll get it to you after the briefing.
Anything else? Yes. Last one.
QUESTION: Russia, again.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Switzerland doesn’t apply sanctions against Russia. Do you have a position, something to say about that?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve continued to coordinate with our international partners. We remain in agreement that Russia can’t be allowed to continue attempting to destabilize Ukraine, undermine its territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have urged all businesses to exercise vigilance to ensure they are not dealing with a sanctioned individual or entity. A list of them – obviously, we’ve put out our list of them. Other people have as well. We just encourage people, particularly businesses, to be very mindful of that when they’re doing business.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed by Switzerland, who doesn’t —
MS. HARF: Each country makes its own decisions. We’re just encouraging as many people as possible to hold Russia accountable for its actions.
QUESTION: Anything new on Edward Snowden and his asylum?
MS. HARF: Nothing.
QUESTION: So what is the bottom line here? Has it been decided? Is he going to stay in Russia for the next three years?
MS. HARF: I would check with the Russians on that. We believe he should come home as soon as possible to face justice. But I haven’t heard that the Russians are going to be letting him do that anytime soon. So —
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)