Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 18, 2014.
1:16 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Happy Monday. Welcome to the daily press briefing. Welcome back, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Just one quick item at the top and then we will open it up for your questions. On Russia: We are deeply concerned about the sentences handed down to four more Russian protestors who participated in the Bolotnaya Square demonstrations in Moscow in May, 2012. Two individuals have been sentenced to three and a half years; another to two and a half years; and a fourth received a suspended sentences – sentence. These verdicts follow those of two other individuals accused of organizing the protest last month. These politically minded trials have been marked by a lack of due process, and arrests of other participants continue more than two years after the demonstrations. We call on the Russian Government to stop punishing the Russian people for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly. The Russian people deserve a government that values the contributions of all its citizens, that cultivates an open marketplace of ideas, and that respects universal rights and fundamental freedoms.
And with that —
QUESTION: Would you like to make a prediction on what kind of impact you think your statement is going to have in Russia?
MS. HARF: That’s okay.
QUESTION: No? Okay.
MS. HARF: I can see —
QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll get back to Russia and Ukraine, but —
MS. HARF: I am sure we will.
QUESTION: — but let’s start with the Middle East first.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if – have you seen these kind of strange reports coming out of Israel about Shin Bet breaking up some – an attempted coup?
MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of those. I don’t have anything to confirm those. I hadn’t heard about that otherwise.
QUESTION: Do you —
MS. HARF: I can check, but —
QUESTION: Okay. Do you know if the Israelis have spoken to you about this situation?
MS. HARF: To the State Department, U.S. Government writ large, all of the above?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, to the embassy, to people in this building?
MS. HARF: Yeah, I think this was just happening. Let me check on that.
QUESTION: Because it seems, if the reports – and I have no reason to doubt the reports, but if they’re correct that Turkey was playing some kind of a semi – at least semi-significant role in this —
MS. HARF: I’m not sure we can confirm those reports at this point.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: So I’ll check with our team.
QUESTION: Okay. So I’m interested in —
QUESTION: Could you enlighten us on what —
QUESTION: Said. I’m not done.
MS. HARF: He wants to know what you’re asking about. I don’t think he’s seen the reports.
QUESTION: Well, so what I’m interested in is what you know, what the Israelis have told you. Do you put any credence in the report? Do you think this was a serious threat to Abbas? That kind of thing.
MS. HARF: I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then —
MS. HARF: There were some press reports, Said, that the Shin Bet had possibly broken up some sort of movement against President Abbas in the PA, which we can’t confirm.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the cease-fire, as you know, is supposed to expire at 5:00. I’m wondering if you have any information on what’s happening there.
MS. HARF: We do. The parties continue to engage in indirect negotiations on key issues pertaining to Gaza mediated by the Egyptians. We hope they can reach an agreement today and move to a sustainable cease-fire. If it is – if this is not possible, as we’ve said, we hope that they can agree to an extension to the temporary cease-fire. We have been having conversations, as you know, at a variety of levels to see if we can get some motion here. Again, time is of the essence and we hope they can agree to one of those two things today.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea – any indication as to what direction things are moving in?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any sort of analysis of what’s happening on the ground. Again, we know time is running short here and hope they can agree to something. And I’m sure we’ll talk about it much more tomorrow.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu has already said that Israel will retaliate if there is rockets coming from Gaza. Do you think that this is anti the spirit of the cease-fire now since they’re trying to reach it in few hours?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s not a new statement, that if – and I think it’s a fairly commonsense statement, that if rockets are fired at Israel, they have a responsibility to defend themselves. But again, the parties are engaged in seeing if they can get some sort of extension in place, and that’s what we think needs to happen.
QUESTION: So what role are you playing, and what level that you are represented in Cairo?
MS. HARF: Well, Mr. Lowenstein is back in the United States – travel update on Frank for everyone. The Secretary and our senior leadership in Cairo, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem remain engaged with the parties. We continue to monitor progress and advise in areas where the U.S. can be helpful. We’ve been doing this throughout, but that’s who’s been engaged in it today. The Secretary, over the weekend, spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other officials as well on this issue.
QUESTION: Did he speak also with President Abbas?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Said. I know last week he spoke with some PA officials, but again, our officials on the ground remain deeply engaged, including CG Ratney, Ambassador Shapiro, and our folks in Cairo.
QUESTION: Now since this is really the 11th hour in the negotiations, who is taking the lead —
MS. HARF: Well, the Egyptians —
QUESTION: — from your side, from the American side?
MS. HARF: Well, this isn’t about who’s taking the lead on the American side. This is about the Egyptians mediating a process with the different parties to see if they can agree to something. This is not a U.S.-led negotiation. As I said, we are monitoring progress and advising in areas where we can be helpful. The Secretary, obviously, is the one at – the most senior leader engaged on this, and he has been throughout the weekend.
QUESTION: Now, if they don’t arrive at some sort of an agreement, are you likely to call on both sides to refrain – to maintain the cease-fire in place or at least some sort of quiet?
MS. HARF: Well, certainly, yes, that’s our goal.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On the cease-fire, is there any U.S. intention to refer the cease-fire agreement or the cease-fire issue to the UN Security Council?
MS. HARF: I know that’s a question I’ve gotten in here a number of times, and just don’t have any predictions to make about what this might look like if we can get to a sustainable cease-fire.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: But in case they’re not able to reach an agreement on the cease-fire —
MS. HARF: Well, we —
QUESTION: — will you refer this —
MS. HARF: I don’t have any predictions to make for you about the process going forward.
QUESTION: Last week, I think it was Thursday, there was a somewhat extended discussion in this room about the military transfers to Israel.
MS. HARF: Yes, there was. You missed that.
QUESTION: So – yes, I did, sadly. But now I’m here for the —
MS. HARF: Sadly on both sides here.
QUESTION: Now I’m here for the encore. Did you – there were a couple of questions I think that you said that you would take.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Did you get answers to those? And if you did and put them out, the answers, I apologize but I missed that.
MS. HARF: We didn’t. No, no, we didn’t put out any official taken questions on this. Just to step back for a second, as we said last Thursday – and then if there are questions I’m not answering, please do follow up – because of the ongoing crisis in Gaza, we, as an Administration, as a whole of Administration, are taking additional care to look at arms as we’re providing them to the Israelis. Obviously, we have continued to move forward. There’s been absolutely no change in policy in terms of the fact that we want to provide these. We’ve provided additional funding for Iron Dome just last week, or the week before, I guess, it was signed by the President.
So there’s additional care. That means a few additional steps and looking at it a little closer. But to reiterate, there’s been no change in policy, and I think that was one of the key questions. It’s not – when we talk about a hold being put on things, that’s a technical term that we saw in other – we’ve seen in other situations, like Egypt, where the process stops. That’s not the case here. The process is moving forward, it’s just a little more extended.
QUESTION: All right. What – can you be more specific about what additional care means?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s additional discussions at the policy level across the Administration. The folks who look at these are looking at them a few more times, I guess, than they then – in a non-crisis situation. But I don’t – I’m not going to outline specifics of what the process looks like.
QUESTION: Well, is there – often there’s a presumption of approval or a presumption of denial when it comes to arms transfer, not to Israel but just in general.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: Is there any kind of a —
MS. HARF: There’s been no change in —
QUESTION: Is there a presumption?
MS. HARF: — how we look at these things.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: There’s just additional steps in the process. But I wanted to make clear – I know there’s been some confusion about what “hold” means and – in this context.
QUESTION: How much time does the additional care add to the process of approval or denial?
MS. HARF: So far, it’s been a few days, I would say, but I can check on specifics, Matt.
QUESTION: I think you were asked something about a shipment of Hellfire missiles.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Did you get an answer to that?
MS. HARF: Well, we generally don’t talk about specific deliveries after they’re requested and before they’re delivered, but I will say that things are being – things that have been requested from Israel are – we’re taking a little bit of additional care now given the situation, and if there were requests for such missiles, that would fall under that.
QUESTION: All right. Oh, it would?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: If there was, but you’re not saying there is.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So your favorite senator, or one of your favorite senators —
MS. HARF: There are so many; we have 100 to choose from.
QUESTION: — Senator Cruz —
MS. HARF: Ah, and your favorite senator to ask about.
QUESTION: — is asking the question, “Why is President Obama selling or transferring AMRAAMs,” missiles, “to Turkey and holding up Hellfires to Israel?” Can you answer that question?
MS. HARF: He’s comparing two things that are not comparable. Let’s take a —
QUESTION: Well —
MS. HARF: Well, I’m responding. Let’s take a step back. First, we have an unprecedented security relationship with Israel, and this administration has across the board provided more funding for Israel’s security than any in history, period, which I think is an important point to make here when you look at the overall security relationship we have with Israel, including, as I said, recently providing an additional 225 million in Iron Dome funding. So that relationship is ongoing. And as I said, there’s not been a policy decision to stop that. We’re just taking extra care to look at these shipments as they come up in the policy process.
Turkey is also a NATO ally. So for all of us who are – talk a lot about the importance of the NATO alliance, particularly when it comes to Russia and Ukraine and what’s happening there, we think it’s important to provide our NATO allies with resources. We think that’s an important use of our resources.
The two aren’t comparable, but those are the facts behind both, I would say.
QUESTION: Okay. So you would say that the question is just misplaced, that there isn’t – that they’re apples and oranges —
MS. HARF: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: — and that these Hellfire missiles to Israel are not being held up at —
MS. HARF: There’s not a hold on —
QUESTION: — by an unreasonable —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — not some unreasonable – there is not some unreasonable delay in transferring these things to the Israelis?
MS. HARF: Correct. That is what I would say. And I would again also say we also have provided offensive weapons to Israel throughout the Gaza conflict, so it’s not that we have stopped providing these in addition to defensive weapons. When I mention Iron Dome, people often bring up offensive versus defensive, but we’ve continued to provide both.
QUESTION: You stressed on Thursday that this was a, quote, “interagency process.”
MS. HARF: That’s true.
QUESTION: And you said it’s not a review because that’s a technical, legal term. Does anyone from any of the particular buildings involved have veto power over whether this weapon or that weapon is transferred to the Israeli military?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know how the process specifically works at that granularity.
QUESTION: Yeah. Because it begs the question then, because of a relationship that had been handled on a DOD to MOD level, why bring in —
MS. HARF: Well, that’s not entirely true.
QUESTION: Well, that’s what the Pentagon has told us repeatedly, so —
MS. HARF: Well, there is a military-to-military relationship.
MS. HARF: But there is also a relationship, obviously, with foreign military financing and foreign military sales that this department plays a huge role in. And of course, the White House sets overall Administration priorities and they put funding Israel’s security at the very top of those priorities.
QUESTION: But we’re talking —
MS. HARF: So again, there’s not – this isn’t just a very small piece of the relationship. It’s an overall security relationship with Israel that is not just the Pentagon.
QUESTION: But we’re not talking about the purchase of F-16s. What we’re talking about is the transfer of, for lack of a better expression, low-level but still lethal weapons that —
MS. HARF: I don’t think Hellfire missiles are low level. I would strongly disagree with that notion.
QUESTION: But when we talk about body armor, when we talk about ammunition, when we talk about tear gas, those are things that I would imagine that the NSC has better things to worry about than worrying about that sort of transfer, and that’s why it’s been done on this bureaucratic level. Why bother —
MS. HARF: Well, I mean, it’s still being done on a bureaucratic level.
QUESTION: But why —
MS. HARF: The NSC does have bureaucrats in it, too.
QUESTION: But this is my question, Marie: Why then bother to engage – why bother engaging State, why bother engaging the White House, why bother engaging Justice if they have anything to say about this, if we’re talking about low-level bureaucratic transfers?
MS. HARF: Again, this is all being done in the context of an ongoing crisis that this department and the White House and others have been very engaged on. So I would disagree with Hellfires being a low-level weapon, period. I think —
QUESTION: Yeah, but I corrected myself.
MS. HARF: Right. But I would disagree with that. But also, I would say look, across the board this – there is a military-to-military relationship but it is in the broader context of our relationship from a security standpoint with Israel. And so obviously, when there’s an ongoing crisis that senior people are involved with, whether it’s Secretary Kerry trying to get a cease-fire, whether it’s other folks on the ground, obviously we believe there’s an interagency process that needs to be at play here, and there always is for these. The notion that there’s not just is misleading, I think.
QUESTION: On the issue of humanitarian aid on the $47 million allocation to UNRWA, I know that you turned in something like $15 million up to this point. Do you have a status?
MS. HARF: I can check on that, Said. I don’t have the specific numbers.
QUESTION: And is it going directly to UNRWA or is it going – or through the UN?
MS. HARF: Through the UN? I don’t know. Let me check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And now let me ask you also on the issue of demolishing homes of Palestinians. The Israelis demolished homes of those suspected of kidnapping and killing the settlers. Now, on the other hand, there are three settlers that have kidnapped a Palestinian and burned him to death. Do you expect to maintain the same standards that the Israelis ought to destroy their homes as well?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any comment on that, Said. I —
QUESTION: No comment on this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any comment on it. I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have some sort of position.
QUESTION: Do you feel that demolishing of homes of Palestinians is too excessive?
MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks, Said. I just don’t have a position on that.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to the military sales or transfers. One, is this – with countries other than Israel, is this also the case, this additional care being used or being taken in transfers when there’s an active conflict going on?
MS. HARF: I would absolutely venture to guess that’s the case. I don’t know if you’re referring to something specific.
QUESTION: No. Venture to guess?
MS. HARF: I can check. I would assume.
QUESTION: So in other words, if, say, Japan, a treaty ally —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — an ally was involved in a conflict, you would take additional care on transfers of weapons to —
MS. HARF: I would guess any country that’s involved in a conflict —
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: — if we are transferring arms to them, we would take additional care.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Yes, I feel fairly confident saying yes to that.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. I just want to make sure.
MS. HARF: Even though it’s a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know if it’s hypothetical. But anyway, and then there was some concern in Israel because the – they had been operating on the presumption at least that the military-to-military relationship and ties and this kind of approval was going to be segregated, sequestered, kept out of whatever diplomatic political —
MS. HARF: Policy channels?
QUESTION: Right. Kind of trying to —
MS. HARF: Well, it’s always been an interagency process. I mean, when you have the national security advisor come out and announce an additional 225 million in Iron Dome funding, clearly that indicates that people besides the Defense Department are involved in this relationship —
QUESTION: No —
MS. HARF: — which she did in a speech before when we announced it.
QUESTION: Right, but let’s be blunt about it. The diplomatic and political relationship between this Administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government has – well, there’s room for improvement, okay? Can you agree at least with that? So the presumption was that the military-to-military transfers would be divorced and kept out of any kind of political or diplomatic wrangling over —
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not —
QUESTION: — a cease-fire, over the peace talks, over —
MS. HARF: Right. And I’m not saying the additional care is being taken because of some sort of diplomatic or political wrangling. I would actually strongly disagree with that notion —
MS. HARF: — that the additional care is being taken given Israel’s involved in an ongoing crisis in Gaza where weapons are being used.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: So I would separate those two from each other.
QUESTION: All right. I’ve got one more on Israel.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: This has to do with the – a couple weeks ago, or maybe it was less than a couple weeks ago, but some – a little while back involving the family – the Abu Khdeir family.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You had expressed some concern about the family members being arrested and detained. Do you know – do you have any other – any update on that?
MS. HARF: I saw there were some additional reports today, so our team is trying to get a little more clarity. And as we get that, I can share it, Matt. I did ask before I came out. We just didn’t have any.
QUESTION: Okay. Gotcha, all right.
MS. HARF: Still on this?
QUESTION: Yes. Going back to the weapons issue, can you just remind us of what mechanism that you have when – with Israel in particular regarding using weapons against civilian population, and whether this standard is applied also to other countries like Egypt or Bahrain or other countries in the Middle East? Or do you see Israel as you have a special relationship?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly have a special relationship with Israel, which we’ve talked about many times. But we’ve also said many times during the Gaza conflict – I have said it myself – that Israel needs to take more care to protect civilian casualties and they need to take additional steps. So we’ve been very clear publicly and privately about our concerns during this conflict, period.
QUESTION: Sure, but I mean, it’s the difference between being concerned and a law that you are – implement of not allowing your weapons to be used against a civilian population.
MS. HARF: Again, we have the conversation. I’m happy to check on the legal technicalities. But we make very clear when we think they could do more on civilian casualties.
QUESTION: Once the review is done, what could the U.S. do about its policy of giving weapons to Israel? Does it —
MS. HARF: Well, there’s not an overall review about whether or not we give weapons to Israel. We’ve said our policy on that hasn’t changed. We’re going to keep providing them with weapons. So —
QUESTION: But what’s the point, then? I mean, if you’re doing extra care —
MS. HARF: Well, right. When each individual request comes up, we take a little – we take additional care. There are some additional interagency steps to review each one, make sure it’s going forward in the proper way. But there’s no review writ large about whether or not we should be providing weapons to Israel.
QUESTION: Well, let me touch on what – something Nadia was just describing. Does this imply that if a request for Weapon X comes in and everyone in the interagency takes a review, that a decision could be made not to provide Weapon X?
MS. HARF: And that could have happened before these additional steps were put in place as well, so that could happen under any scenario.
MS. HARF: When a review – when a request comes in, it could always be denied regardless of the scenario.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Regarding this additional care or additional steps as you phrased it, is it related just for the time or the nature of the transfer?
MS. HARF: It’s —
QUESTION: I mean, it’s like instead of doing today, you do it after two weeks?
MS. HARF: It’s related to the fact that they’re involved in an ongoing conflict, so that’s what it’s tied to. I don’t – I think maybe I’m misunderstanding your question.
QUESTION: No. I mean, I’m trying to understand when you say additional steps —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, how long will it take?
QUESTION: No, no. I mean, it’s related to the time or the nature of the transfer? I mean, you can review or revise the —
MS. HARF: It’s related to neither. It’s related to the fact that Israel’s engaged in a conflict at the moment.
QUESTION: So you hold it?
MS. HARF: We’re not holding anything. A hold indicates, technically, that you are not moving forward on making a decision about a transfer. So when we talked about this in other places, if there’s a hold on a request, that means it’s not moving forward. These requests are still moving forward; there’s just additional steps in the process now, and there’s been no policy decision made to not move forward with them. Again, they’re just going to take a little while longer.
QUESTION: So when you say additional steps or additional care, I’m trying to understand it. It’s like discussing it more of the nature of what’s going on or —
MS. HARF: Discuss – yeah, discussing what’s happening on the ground, discussing the specific request, and looking at what’s most appropriate.
QUESTION: Is it one side discussion or two sides discussion?
MS. HARF: It’s an interagency, internal, in-the-U.S. Government discussion.
QUESTION: But if the additional care – the additional discussion isn’t actually going to change whether it’s rejected or approved, what’s the point?
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: If it’s —
MS. HARF: I don’t want to venture to guess what will happen.
QUESTION: Are you aware if this Administration – I would ask you for others, but since you weren’t around for them – this Administration, has it ever denied a request from Israel?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: No. So —
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I don’t – we may have. I don’t know. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Could additional use requirements be placed on the weapons if there’s an approval?
MS. HARF: There’s a number of things that could happen, and I don’t want to rule things in or out. But there’s a reason we’re taking an additional look at these things, and – as we always do – and what comes out the end of that process I don’t want to preview in any way.
QUESTION: What happens if requirements are placed on a weapons sale or transfer, and the country that is receiving the weapons violates those additional requirements?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to wade into that hypothetical territory. If there were a specific case where that happened, we could talk about it then.
QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: As you know, the Syrian regime has been bombing Islamic State’s positions in Raqqa for two days. Since you are doing the same thing across the border in Iraq, what would you say —
MS. HARF: I would disagree that we’re doing the same thing, but go ahead.
QUESTION: But, I mean, you are bombing Islamic State position in Iraq, so would you say that the U.S. and Syria are on the same page against a common enemy?
MS. HARF: No. No, I would not. And in large part, that’s because it’s the Assad regime’s own actions that helped lead to the rise of ISIS or ISIL or IS or whatever we’re going to call it this week. It is the security environment they created. It is them – the Assad regime encouraging the flow of fighters into Iraq that they did, certainly, when we were there and also have done recently. So I would strongly disagree with the notion that we are on the same page here in terms of what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Regardless of the cause, you do agree that you share an enemy in common, correct? I mean with ISIS, in particular.
MS. HARF: I don’t want – I’m not going to say that we share anything in common with the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you this. Do you think that ISIS —
QUESTION: Anything? (Inaudible) breathe, don’t you? About air, do you have that in common?
MS. HARF: I missed your insightful questions, Matt.
QUESTION: Is ISIS in Iraq a different organization than ISIS in Syria, or is it one and the same, to the best of your knowledge?
MS. HARF: They’re an organization, it’s my understanding, with the same leadership in general. Obviously, there’s different parts of it on the ground operating in different places, but under the general same umbrella of this group, yes, it’s my understanding.
QUESTION: So if you bomb them in Iraq and the Syrian regime bombs them in Syria, you’re bombing the same organization, right?
MS. HARF: Well, the – that’s a little too simplistic, Said. The reason that they were able to flourish and grow so strong is because of the Assad regime who enabled them to grow in the security environment and indeed fostered their growth throughout many years. So I think that I – again, I just – I don’t concede the point that we’re on the same page here in any way.
QUESTION: So the U.S. doesn’t welcome what the Syrian regime is doing in Syria against the Islamic State?
MS. HARF: Again, I think I’m probably going to avoid welcoming that. But look, we want – ISIS is a very serious threat. We want – setting aside the – what we’re trying to do in Iraq, which is a little separate, and we can talk about that in a second – we need, long term, to take out ISIS’s leadership, to degrade their operational capabilities, to cut off their financing sources, to go after them in a comprehensive way to cut off their ability to do the things we’ve seen them do.
So look, if we can help take their leaders off the battlefield, fine. But the picture in Syria is much more complicated than that, and again, while it’s, I guess, fine that the Syrian regime is taking out ISIS, they’re – the reason they were able to go so strong is because of what the Syrian regime has done.
QUESTION: Of course, there are also people who say that the reason they were able to go so strong, in addition to the Assad regime, is the fact that the United States and its partners were so slow on the upkeep, or inactive at all, in arming the moderate rebels.
MS. HARF: Well, I would disagree with —
QUESTION: You would disagree with that?
MS. HARF: I would, of course, strongly disagree with that.
QUESTION: Even though that’s the position held by the former Ambassador to Syria —
MS. HARF: I would – look, I would disagree —
QUESTION: — Fred Hoff, others?
MS. HARF: I would disagree with that notion. We have consistently increased our support to the moderate opposition, and I think it is important to remember that in Syria, particularly early on in the conflict, there were a lot of these guys all mixed up together. We are very specific when we vet who we give assistance to and how we do that, because what we don’t want is to rush to give assistance that somehow then ends up with ISIS.
QUESTION: I’ve got a – one more Syria question.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: It’s – I believe that last week or just a few days ago was the anniversary of Austin Tice —
MS. HARF: It was.
QUESTION: — going missing. Do you have any —
MS. HARF: I had something —
QUESTION: — any information, any updates on his situation?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any updates. I’m sorry. I had something last week, and I may have taken it out. I can check and see if I still have it. Let me look quickly for that, and if I don’t – I – the bottom line is I don’t believe we have any updates, obviously remain very concerned. Let me see if I still have it in here. And if not, we will get that to you after the briefing. Let me see. And then are we moving on to something else after this? I don’t think I have it in here anymore. Let me – Matt, we’ll get it to you after the briefing, okay?
MS. HARF: Sorry about that.
QUESTION: That’s all right.
MS. HARF: It was – last week was the anniversary.
QUESTION: I just want to stay on Syria. The Syrian coalition has asked actually the United States to bomb ISIS positions in Syria. So people – what do you respond – but what do you respond —
MS. HARF: Well, the operational picture is a lot different in Syria.
QUESTION: Sure. They say you’re bombing in Iraq, but they don’t recognize a geographical border. Why can’t you go —
MS. HARF: Okay. Well —
QUESTION: — if they ask you officially to bomb it?
MS. HARF: — let’s talk about the difference here. First, in Iraq we have a government that has asked for our help and asked for our support and welcomed us in. That obviously is not the case in Syria. Even if the moderate opposition is asking, I would remind people that the Syrian Government does still maintain some level of anti-aircraft capabilities. It’s a very different operating picture. It would require very different things.
I would also remind people that on the ground, the picture is very different, where in Iraq you have ISIS controlling certain parts of the country. There are clearly – more clearly drawn battle lines where you can push them back from. In Syria you have the regime, you have ISIS, you have Nusrah and you have the moderate opposition all mixed up with civilians who aren’t a member of any of those things, many times operating in much more densely populated, closer areas where there aren’t delineated battle lines. So the notion that it’s the same operational picture on the ground in Syria as is in Iraq is just completely different.
We’ve thought for some time, for a long time in fact, that the best way to help fight the regime but also ISIS and Nusrah is to increasingly support the moderate opposition. That’s how we felt we could best provide support given the different nature of the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Do you envision any scenario under which the United States would bomb ISIS locations in Syria?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to venture to guess at that.
QUESTION: Marie, but you have recognized the coalition as a legitimate representative to the Syrian people.
MS. HARF: We have. But that doesn’t change the fact that in Iraq you have a government that is asking us to intervene and take actions, where in Syria we – there’s a very hostile government which does maintain some capabilities that – it would just be a very different kind of mission and operating picture, which is why we’ve judged that the best way we can help is through supporting the moderate opposition.
QUESTION: Is the United States and the Assad regime bombing the same organization?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that’s what Said asked. And I said while we may be looking at some of the same targets, I think the fact that – or targets from the same group, the fact that the Assad regime has allowed ISIS to flourish and grow in the way it has is really one of the main reasons they have grown so strong.
QUESTION: But you’re not calling on the Assad regime to stop attacking these positions, right?
MS. HARF: I’m calling on the Assad regime to stop attacking any of its own people.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: Including ISIS?
MS. HARF: It’s more complicated than that. Look, we believe that ISIS needs to be taken out. We believe that its leadership needs to be degraded, its funding needs to be cut off. It’s a little more complicated than that. But I don’t want to give the Assad regime credit for that when —
QUESTION: Would the United States Government be against Hezbollah attacking ISIS units?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to venture to address that hypothetical.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t a comprehensive approach to ISIS, ISIL, IS —
MS. HARF: IS.
QUESTION: — including what you talked about – degrading the leadership, going after – wouldn’t that – doesn’t that ultimately have to include going after them in Syria, regardless of who does it?
MS. HARF: Well, yes. But the question of who does it is sort of the key, and how you do it is the key question.
QUESTION: You want the moderate – you want the guys that you vetted to take on ISIS?
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Even if they —
MS. HARF: Yes, but —
QUESTION: — will get slaughtered by them?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s also a lot of ISIS operating in Iraq, including some leadership. So how we can build our partners to go after ISIS there in the way we’ve done with other countries around the world, quite frankly, who are facing terrorist threats, I think is something we’re looking at long term.
QUESTION: Well, but surely you see right now though that the Assad regime, as awful and bad and evil as you want to say it is —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, and it is.
QUESTION: Okay. But they have more and better capability to take on ISIS/ISIL in Syria than the – than your guys do, right?
MS. HARF: I don’t know what the picture looks like on the ground in terms of capabilities. I don’t want to guess at that. What I would say is look, I’m not – yes, it is a good thing – these things can all be true, right? It’s a good thing when ISIS fighters are taken off the battlefield, period. I think that’s a good thing.
QUESTION: Regardless of who does it?
MS. HARF: I think that’s a good thing, yes. However, the Assad regime is the one responsible for their growth in strength, and I also don’t want to come out and say that I think the Assad regime bombing people in its own – who knows who they’re actually hitting? I can’t actually confirm reports about who they hit in Raqqa. So I think it’s just a little more complicated than that.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: And I am fully admitting and aware of the complexity here.
QUESTION: The U.S. —
MS. HARF: Yes, and then I’ll go to you. Yep.
QUESTION: The U.S. started airstrikes back on August 8th. It’s – according to CENTCOM, it’s now conducted 68 of them.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: More than half of them, 35 have been conducted in the last three days in and around positions near the Mosul Dam.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. engaging in mission creep?
MS. HARF: No, and I will be very explicit about why we are not. First, just an update for folks: Over the weekend and today, the U.S. armed forces conducted targeted airstrikes to support operations by Iraqi forces; to retake and establish control over the Mosul Dam, which is a critical infrastructure site. The failure of the Mosul Dam – and this is getting at your question, Roz – could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians; endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; and prevent the Iraqi Government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace.
When an Administration official was asked the first night the President announced military action, “Could you consider taking operations around the Mosul Dam?” this person said very clearly yes. We’ve been very upfront that anything that threatens our people or our facilities is fair game under the goals the President outlined and we judged that we don’t know if ISIS can either run the dam or if they would do something nefarious to breach it. That would very much threaten our people in Baghdad, so we’ve been clear about that from the beginning and took actions in accordance with that goal over the weekend.
QUESTION: I have one follow-up on that. I’ll let others take it. Given that explanation, why wasn’t the judgment made, when the President notified Congress about these airstrikes back on August 8th, that critical infrastructure would be one of the conditions under which these airstrikes could be conducted? It basically took another two weeks, give or take a day, for him to then notify Congress —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — that we’re now looking at critical —
MS. HARF: You’re misreading the war powers reports a little bit. So when we first notified Congress, in the war powers notification we said we would take action for two goals on the humanitarian side, but also to take action against targets that threatened American personnel or facilities. So that covers what we did over the weekend.
When certain military actions are taken, we are required by law to provide another war powers report to Congress, which is what we did over the weekend. And we’ve done it a few times since the President announced military action in Iraq. So it’s not that the mission’s changed or the goal has changed any way. We said up front that this could – this principle would apply to Baghdad and Erbil. But when certain actions are taken, we provide additional reports to Congress.
QUESTION: So is it safe to assume that these military strikes are going to stop at the dam and they’re not going to go further to Mosul itself?
MS. HARF: Well, the President has said we maintain the capability to strike at the time and place of our choosing if we feel our people – our personnel, our facilities are threatened. So what that might look like in the future I don’t know, and I certainly wouldn’t outline military actions before they’re taken from the podium. But the reason I pointed out what we said that first night on this background conference call is important, that from the beginning we were very focused on Mosul Dam as something that could threaten our people if it indeed was breached. We’ve been watching it and looking at it, and when the Iraqi security forces were able to mount an operation to retake it, we were there to provide support. I understand that there has been progress around the dam, both capturing towns, also clearing routes. The operation’s ongoing. So I think we’ll probably keep you posted throughout the day.
QUESTION: So we shouldn’t rule anything in and out in terms of other further cities that might be retaken from ISIS?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to rule things in or – tactical – potential tactical targets in or out from the podium. What I would say is that every action we take has to fall into one of these goals the President outlined that first night, and that’s how we’ll make decisions going forward.
QUESTION: Another question: Can we see Iraq as analogous to the situation in Yemen? What I meant by that is that the government has requested help and you will help by targeted ISIS just like you targeted al-Qaida in Yemen. And you will be – it will be a same situation, but it will be continuous. So it’s not going to be just a few weeks, but maybe a month or maybe years.
MS. HARF: Well, it’s – it’s not a – it’s an interesting comparison. And I mentioned Yemen, I think, in Wednesday or Thursday’s briefing last week as a country we work very closely on with counterterrorism operations to try and go after a group over the long term. So from that respect, I think there are some useful comparisons. We’ve worked with the Yemeni Government to increase their capability to go after AQAP. There was a time when they didn’t have as much capability. We’ve helped them with that. AQAP’s a little different, obviously, because they’ve been so focused on the homeland and Western targets.
But it’s, I think, useful comparison in some ways, mainly in how we’ve worked with another government to increase their capacity because, as with AQAP and as with ISIS, there’s not a long-term U.S. military solution here. So I think that’s the kind of conversation we’ll be having with the Iraqis, particularly after they get this new government up and running, which I think the prime minister-designate came out today and said he would name a new government within 15 days, which would be a very, very good thing.
MS. HARF: Yes. Else on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MS. HARF: On Iraq? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. In general about ISIS in particular, because I was trying to ask when we were talking about Syria. When you are – I’m not talking about operational procedures or steps.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m trying to understand. If you say ISIS on the Iraq side and ISIS on Syria side —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — if you take the case of funding first, and then second, people going and joining ISIS, definitely they are doing more from the Syria side. How you handle this thing? Are you in touch with your allies who are supposed, at a certain point, they were funding this ISIS to be against Assad?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly in touch with partners in the region where there are private citizens who may be funding ISIS. We really want to do a few things, one of which is cut off their funding. So a lot of it, unfortunately, comes from kidnappings and ransoms and criminal activity, like we’ve seen with taking banks – money from banks. But we are very closely in touch with partners in the region about how we can fight it together, because they are very worried about it as well, I will say.
QUESTION: So – but regarding the members of the ISIS, that they are moving – mainly are joining from Syria side. Are you handling – how they are handled? In the same way that ISIL in Iraq or you consider that different?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a little different, and I think sort of speaking to your question, one thing we are concerned about is foreign fighters going to Syria or Iraq, particularly from Western countries or, of course, from the U.S., we would be worried about that. But others from the region – we’re working with other countries in the region to help cut off the flow of fighters as well.
QUESTION: But when it comes to financial resources of this group, can you name the partners that you are in contact with?
MS. HARF: We have been in contact with a number – the Qataris, the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Gulf – all the Gulf countries who – there have been reports that private citizens – not governments but private citizens may be funneling some money as well. Obviously, we’re in touch with all the other partners in the region – Turkey, Jordan. Sort of everyone – we’re all in this fight together, we’re all putting resources towards it.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the methods that they are using to transfer this money, these funds to the region? I mean, are they using some kind of hawaladar?
MS. HARF: I don’t have specifics for you on that. The Treasury Department did, I think, recently designate a few private citizens, I think last week or two weeks ago – the weeks are all running together now – for support. So I don’t have specifics in terms of the networks, but suffice to say we’re looking at all of it.
QUESTION: Are you certain that these governments are not actually aiding or financing ISIL? You are certain?
MS. HARF: We don’t have any evidence that they are and —
QUESTION: You can’t rule it out.
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: I mean, it is conceivable that Saudi Arabia or Qatar —
MS. HARF: We don’t have any evidence that they are, so —
QUESTION: Just one last question about this.
MS. HARF: Yeah, and then we’ll move around the room. Yeah.
QUESTION: Sure. Actually, the State Department designated two Jabhat al-Nusrah guys today, I think, as —
MS. HARF: We did. Let me – and I’ll – let’s —
QUESTION: — global terrorists.
MS. HARF: Yes. Just quickly on that, we – actually one’s ISIL, one’s Jabhat al-Nusrah.
MS. HARF: One is the official spokesman for and a senior leader of ISIL. So —
QUESTION: For ISIS, yeah, al-Adnani and Arif. Those two guys.
MS. HARF: That’s one of them, and the other is a Syrian-based Algerian national currently wanted by the Government of France and INTERPOL, a member of Jabhat al-Nusrah, also an Algerian army officer deserter, traveled to Afghanistan in the 1990s. Both were also included in the recent UNSCR 2170 that designated ISIL as well.
QUESTION: I know that you are following on the UN, because they did that as well last week.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, they did.
QUESTION: But I mean, how – I mean, are you aware that they have any bank accounts in the U.S.? I mean, how helpful is this? It’s more than symbolic, moral kind of pressure on them than an actual practical thing, because, as everybody discussed, most of the money comes from private donors, mainly really in Kuwait more than anywhere else.
MS. HARF: Well, we take the steps that we can take under what we control. So this is a good step to cut off any U.S.-based funding or financing, right. So U.S. persons can’t do business with them. If they have assets here, they’re frozen. So that’s what we have control of, but this is certainly not all that needs to be done and not all that we’re working on. Because you’re right: I don’t think a larger – any really majority of their funding comes from the U.S., but if we can cut off any funding that’s a good thing. And that’s what we’re focused on, and it is in conjunction with this UN action.
QUESTION: Are you concerned at all about the precedent of designating a spokesperson to be a global —
MS. HARF: I may have made that same comment.
QUESTION: — terrorist?
MS. HARF: I may have made that same comment earlier today when I first heard about the designation, in jest.
QUESTION: So yes or no? You are not concerned about the precedent?
MS. HARF: I would say we’re probably very different kinds of spokespeople.
MS. HARF: Yes, let’s go around the room.
QUESTION: Thank you. On human rights issues, and it is reported that there’s 11 North Korean defectors in (inaudible) now, and the Chinese Government will send these defectors back to the North Korea. What is your comment?
MS. HARF: Well, we urge all countries in the region, including China, to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers within their territories. As you know, we remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation in North Korea and the treatment of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers in cases where they are forcibly repatriated back to North Korea. So we’ll keep working with other countries in the region, also with international organizations, to protect North Korean refugees and find durable solutions for them.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) pressure to Chinese Government willing to use —
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve worked with all countries in the region, making very clear what I just said, that they need – we’re concerned about the situation if these refugees are sent back, and we’re trying to find durable solutions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome. Yes.
QUESTION: Can we stay on North Korea?
MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Yeah, we’ll stay on North Korea, and then we’ll go around.
QUESTION: Yeah, just a couple, sorry. The North Koreans have launched a few threats at the U.S. Government over – and South Korea over military drills that began today. Do you have any response?
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those specific threats, but we’ve been very clear that we work with – very closely with our South Korean allies. We are very steadfast in our defense of their security. We have long planned exercises, many of them annual, that happen every year and are done in a very transparent manner. So without having seen these specific threats, that would be my general comment. I’m happy to see if there’s more we can say.
QUESTION: And then in the realm of sports diplomacy, there’s a Japanese member of parliament, who’s also a former wrestler, who’s planning to convene a big wrestling match in Pyongyang —
MS. HARF: Oh, really? I hadn’t seen that.
QUESTION: — yeah – at the end of this month. Are you supportive of such an idea?
MS. HARF: Let me check on that. I haven’t seen that.
QUESTION: And specifically, would you – if you would support U.S. athletes participating in this, because there’s talk of that happening as well.
MS. HARF: I can check. I would guess we would not, given the very severe travel restrictions we have in place, but let me check on that.
I thought you – I thought there was going to be another Dennis Rodman question, but go ahead. Yes.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The Indian Government today called off Secretary-level talks with Pakistan, which was scheduled for August 25th. They gave two reasons: one is renewed incidents at the border, and the Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s meetings with separatists. And what is the U.S. take on that?
MS. HARF: It is unfortunate that planned talks between India and Pakistan have fallen through. We continue to support efforts by India and Pakistan to improve all aspects of their bilateral relations, and that is a position we will continue making clear to both parties here.
QUESTION: But while – canceling these talks – today the Indians said that Pakistan has to choose between – Islamabad has to choose between talks with Delhi or with the separatist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. So do you think that the Pakistani Government is being pressurized by the separatist groups, the terrorist organizations, on their soil?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have much analysis to do of what was said publicly. I think irrespective of why either side says the talks were canceled, or why in fact they were canceled, what matters now is that both sides take steps to improve their bilateral relations. We’ve been very clear about that directly in conversations with both.
QUESTION: Have you – is this – anybody from this building has reached out to Delhi or Islamabad?
MS. HARF: Since they were canceled?
MS. HARF: I would guess our folks on the ground have, but let me check and see if there are specifics for you. I don’t believe the Secretary has.
Yes, behind you. Yes.
QUESTION: How —
QUESTION: On the same subject?
QUESTION: Can you do Egypt?
MS. HARF: Oh, wait. Are you on the same topic?
MS. HARF: Okay, let’s – and then we’ll go to you on Egypt. Yes.
QUESTION: Do you see this canceling of talks as a setback to peace process in Pakistan? And —
MS. HARF: Well – go ahead. No – sorry. We do think it’s unfortunate that the planned talks have fallen through. And look, as I said in response to the previous question, irrespective of why, what needs to happen now is both sides need to take steps to improve their relationship. We know there are a lot of issues on the table. There’s a lot of emotions involved here, but – as there are on many issues. But what we think needs to happen now, again, is additional steps.
QUESTION: Also, does it indicate to the deeper question of Kashmir dispute?
MS. HARF: Well, our policy on Kashmir hasn’t changed. We continue to believe that the pace and the scope and character of any discussions on Kashmir are for India and Pakistan to determine between them. That hasn’t changed, and that, I think, will remain our position going forward.
QUESTION: Just a quick —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: What do you think on a technical way that Pakistani high commissioner meets separatist leaders in – both are, today, democracies, and we all know how functioning both are. So what is the U.S. take on such meetings?
MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that. Let me check with our team and see if we have a position on that for you.
And let’s go behind you to Egypt.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: The Human Rights Watch report, to which you reacted last week – so what is Sisi now? Is he a democratic transition leader, a criminal, a counterterrorism ally of the United States? What specifically?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said last week, we are deeply disturbed by the findings of the Human Rights Watch report. We have reported our own account of last year’s violence in the State Department’s Human Rights Report that we released this year – was released in February, I believe. And we’ve made very clear from this podium and from the President on down our concerns.
So we have – at the same time have a strategic relationship with Egypt that is ongoing. But what that means is when we have places where we have overlapping strategic interests, like counterterrorism in the Sinai, we will work together. When we have concerns about what they’ve done, things they’ve done, we will say so publicly and clearly, and also privately. So it is a longstanding relationship, but one where, when we disagree, we are very clear about that. And this is certainly one of those cases.
QUESTION: But is Sisi, to you, still leading the democratic transition?
MS. HARF: He is, he is. Now, look, they have a long way to go. And there’s a reason we haven’t certified some of the assistance that is particularly in the bucket about democratic transition. So clearly we believe there is much more work that needs to be done here. But again, he was elected and is continuing on this transition, but we will say very clearly when he needs to take more steps, which we have said.
QUESTION: And when you talk about long-term strategy, does that mean that you are working on the assumption that Sisi and his regime are here to stay? Or are you approaching Egypt with an open mind that it could still be subject to further tumult?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we know this process is not going to be without complications. That’s what we’ve seen. And transitions like this take generations and are hard and are not without serious bumps in the road, often. So that’s – we certainly know that this – knew this was never going to be smooth and don’t expect that. What we expect is the process that’s laid out by Egypt’s constitution, that is laid out for how Egypt should be governed, is adhered to, and that the government should take additional steps to allow for dissent, to allow for people to come out in the streets and make their voices heard if they’re doing so peacefully. These are principles we think are very important, and we will continue pressing. We also continue pressing for the release of journalists and other politically motivated – arrests of political – for politically motivated reasons. Excuse me there, I tripped over that a little bit. But we will continue pressing those as well. Those are very important principles as part of this relationship.
QUESTION: And when the Egyptians say that they have their own terrorism concerns inside of Egypt, do you still find the Egyptians as useful as they were under Mubarak regionally and globally, or you think they’re less useful to you now in counterterrorism?
MS. HARF: Well, a few points. First, in terms of regionally, they are playing an absolutely critical role right now in these cease-fire talks. All you have to do is look at what they’re doing – we have another temporary cease-fire in place. As Matt mentioned, there’s – time is running out here, but they have played a crucial role in working to see if we can get a sustainable cease-fire in place for Gaza. That is incredibly important regionally.
In terms of the terrorist threat, we know there is a very serious terrorist threat in Egypt – particularly in the Sinai, but other places as well – which has been increasingly troubling. That title can’t be used just to apply to anyone they don’t like. That can’t be applied to peaceful protestors. But we know there is a serious terrorist threat and we’re working with them on that.
QUESTION: And just finally, since you mentioned Hamas, the war of words between the Israelis and the Qataris, each country calling the other a terrorist or terrorist supporter. What is your position on the Qataris specifically? Do you share the Israeli position that they’re supporting terrorism and Hamas, or do you have a different view?
MS. HARF: Well, we work very closely with the Qataris on these issues. The Secretary last spoke to Foreign Minister al-Attiyah on Thursday. They play a key role in trying to get Hamas to a cease-fire, which is important. And we believe that you have to have parties at the table who have leverage over groups like Hamas, because you can’t have a cease-fire with just one party. So we have worked very closely with the Qataris on this.
QUESTION: Are the Qataris supporters of terrorism in your eyes, as the U.S. Government?
MS. HARF: Look, I – what I will say about the Qataris – our position on Hamas is very clear. We believe they’re a terrorist organization, period. That hasn’t changed. But we need countries that have leverage over the leaders of Hamas who can help get a cease-fire in place, and Qatar certainly plays that role, and has played a constructive role in helping to put in place the cease-fires we’ve had, which are in the long-term security interests of not just the Palestinians, but the Israelis as well.
QUESTION: Do you see the Qataris as partners or allies?
MS. HARF: They’re certainly a key partner here in what we’re doing, and that’s been very clear throughout this process.
Yes, Matt. And then we’ll go —
QUESTION: Sorry, you said that the Human Rights Watch report comported with what your own Human Rights Report had found?
MS. HARF: We said we reported our own account of last year’s violence in our Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: Yeah. Would you —
MS. HARF: I don’t know if they’re exactly one to one, but —
QUESTION: Would you say they roughly agree? I’m just wondering. I mean, it sounds if —
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know if we would use all the words that the Human Rights Watch report used, but in general, our accounting of what happened is that it was a very, very bad situation.
QUESTION: So this Human Rights Watch report is okay? You don’t have a problem with the sources or methodology or anything like that?
MS. HARF: We evaluate each report as it’s done individually —
MS. HARF: — and make our own policy assessments on each one individually.
QUESTION: So —
MS. HARF: So which one are you going to compare it to?
QUESTION: Well —
MS. HARF: I wish I could guess right now.
QUESTION: — there are so many.
QUESTION: Gaza. West Bank.
MS. HARF: Is there a question?
QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering what makes this report so —
MS. HARF: Or just musings of Matt? Which I did miss. I will say I did miss them.
QUESTION: No, which – I’m just wondering what makes this report so credible and that it’s reports that are critical of your friend in – your friends in Israel not credible and that you don’t accept.
MS. HARF: Well, we look at each report individually, period.
QUESTION: It’s pretty amazing how they all come down and – (laughter.)
MS. HARF: Is there —
QUESTION: I want to go to Ukraine.
MS. HARF: — anything else on this? Yes.
QUESTION: Another topic?
MS. HARF: Well, let’s go to Ukraine and then we’ll do another topic.
QUESTION: I just have two brief ones on Ukraine. One, you will have seen that over the weekend they reached an agreement on getting these aid – the aid —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — convoy in.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I presume you think that’s a good thing, but please tell me.
MS. HARF: We do, we do. We understand there is an agreement that the aid will be inspected by Ukrainian border guards and customs officials before being transferred in batches to representatives of the ICRC. We also know that the ICRC has not yet received the required security guarantees from the Russian-supported separatists in Luhansk. It’s also not clear whether the ICRC has received a detailed inventory list of the convoy’s contents. So these are the kind of things that are holding up the aid right now. There’s an agreement, but the details are still being worked out.
QUESTION: Do you agree —
MS. HARF: And I think it’s stopped at the border.
QUESTION: Right. Do you —
MS. HARF: They agreed upon border crossing.
QUESTION: Do you agree with the Russians on this, that this aid is needed? I mean, that it —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — the people in the east are in need of this aid at this time from this source?
MS. HARF: — we agree that the people of that region are in need of aid because of the situation the Russian Government has put them in. We want to make sure this is actually aid, though. That’s why there – this agreement has been reached, and the pieces of it are important. I don’t think that they need more Russian-made or backed weapons or separatists coming into there. So that’s what we want to make sure isn’t happening.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that that’s appropriate aid – weaponry and —
MS. HARF: Correct, that is not appropriate aid.
QUESTION: Got you. There was an incident in which a convoy was bombed today. Do you – a civilian convoy, and the Ukrainians in Kyiv —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — have blamed the separatists and the Russians have blamed the government. I’m wondering if you have any clarity on what happened.
MS. HARF: We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy. It was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk. This is the one you’re asking about, right?
MS. HARF: And express our condolences to the families of the victims. Sadly, they tried to get away from the fighting and instead became victims of it. All sides must take every precaution to protect innocent lives. We are unable to confirm reports of who was responsible for the shelling and rocketing. We are looking into that.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. And it seems to me that it’s been a long time, although I was away for a while – it’s been a long time since the whole Malaysian airline —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — crash investigation has come up. Is there anything new on that? Is there anything new in the way of evidence or proof that the U.S. Government can offer to back up its side of the story or to support its side of the story? And is there anything new in the international investigation that you’re aware of that the ICAO is —
MS. HARF: Nothing’s been new since you’ve been gone. Let me check with our team and see on the international investigation. I would note that over the weekend, three Ukrainian jet aircraft were shot down over separatist-held territory. That was in the past 72 hours. We are still determining whether that was – who exactly shot them down. We believe it was the separatists. Look, this just shows there’s sophisticated surface-to-air missiles in this area. They’ve continued to shoot down planes and brag about it. So this is a pattern here, but let me check and see what’s new in the investigation.
As you know, the investigation team had to leave the area given the continued violence. They were unable to do much of their work given the separatists were not allowing them to do it, which, again, I think speaks to some culpability. But let me check and see where the investigation stands.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, you said that you’re not sure who – I mean, who else would it have been?
MS. HARF: Or whether it was actually from the Russian side.
QUESTION: The Russians?
MS. HARF: Right, right. We are —
QUESTION: But you think it was either/or?
MS. HARF: Oh, correct. Yes.
QUESTION: It certainly wasn’t the Ukrainian Government shooting down its own planes?
MS. HARF: It certainly was not the Ukrainian Government, correct. Yes. I did not mean to make that unclear.
QUESTION: And is there anyone – is it your understanding that anyone – or does anyone else, to the best of your knowledge, have surface-to-air missiles in that area —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — other than Kyiv, Russia on their side of the border, and the separatists?
MS. HARF: No. And in the area we’re talking about for many of these – and I can check on this specifically – Kyiv doesn’t have multiple rocket launchers in that area either.
QUESTION: But there’s only a choice of three people —
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — or groups that could be responsible, right?
MS. HARF: And we have nothing —
QUESTION: You don’t think it could be anyone else?
MS. HARF: Correct. No, no, no.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There were also reports that a military convoy crossing from Russia into Ukraine was struck. Do you have any information on that?
MS. HARF: Yeah, and this was something we had a little bit on Friday talked about a little bit. We are working to gather more information regarding the Ukrainian reports that their security forces disabled vehicles in a Russian military column inside Ukraine. We, at this time, still, as we said on Friday, cannot confirm these reports. We are working to gather that information. Of course, at the same time reiterate our concern about repeated Russian and Russian-supported incursions into Ukraine, but can’t confirm those specific reports.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On Libya.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Is the State Department aware of reports that two Airbuses were stolen from the – an airport in Libya in the last few weeks?
MS. HARF: I was not. I’m happy to see if someone is.
QUESTION: There are some reports that —
QUESTION: What was that?
QUESTION: No, it’s true. I’ve seen the reports, but I don’t know if it’s —
MS. HARF: I’ll check.
MS. HARF: I will check. I will check. Someone’s aware of it, but I’m not aware of it.
QUESTION: And – okay, that’s good.
MS. HARF: I will check.
QUESTION: Apparently, AQIM is allegedly looking at some kind of 9/11 style attack on Morocco?
MS. HARF: I’ve seen some – let me check on all that and I will see what I can get for you. On Libya, though, I will say I thought this was what you were going to ask about. Some people emailed me yesterday about these reports of airstrikes in Tripoli, and I just have a little bit on that. So I’ll do that, and then if people have follow-ups.
We’re obviously aware of the reports. As Ambassador Jones has already conveyed to the Libyan Government, the United States was not involved whatsoever in these events. There was a lot of rumor on Twitter last night particularly, so I wanted to make that very clear. We continue to seek more information and cannot confirm any details at this time about who took these airstrikes. Obviously, as we’ve said, we strongly condemn the ongoing fighting and violence in and around Tripoli and across Libya, and urge all parties in the conflict to get to an immediate cease-fire and to begin a peaceful political dialogue.
But I wanted to make sure we addressed the questions about possible U.S. involvement.
QUESTION: So who could possibly have done this? Who’s on the short list if you have, like in Ukraine where there’s only three possible actors —
MS. HARF: And even in that situation in Ukraine we don’t think one is possible, so —
QUESTION: Who are the possible actors here —
MS. HARF: I’ll check with our team and see.
QUESTION: Who’s got jets that can do —
MS. HARF: I don’t – let me check and see. I don’t know.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) is there like a command and control center, military command and control center in Libya, or is it totally broken down?
MS. HARF: The Libyan Government still does maintain a military, yes, but they’re facing some very serious challenges, though. Let me check and see if there’s more on that.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: These reports of the German intelligence services intercepting supposedly, accidentally these phone calls of Secretary – former Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry. Do you have a reaction to that, and have there been any conversations between this building and German counterparts about this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any reaction to that. I think I will let those reports stand without a comment.
QUESTION: During the whole uproar – well, continuing uproar over the NSC – or NSA eavesdropping allegations, the standard line from this building, from the White House, and from the intel community was that we engage in the same kind of intelligence collection as every other —
MS. HARF: And we have a very close —
QUESTION: — as any other government.
MS. HARF: — working relationship with Germany to fight shared threats together.
QUESTION: Would you tell —
MS. HARF: I would still agree with that line.
QUESTION: You would?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And you would include Germany in the – in that calculus?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more —
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you —
MS. HARF: Don’t have more specifics to outline.
QUESTION: — are taking some kind of, I don’t know, if you’re smiling a little bit because the Germans have been apparently caught at the same game they were complaining that you were doing, you were engaged in.
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any more comment on those allegations.
QUESTION: Do you think that it’s possible for —
MS. HARF: But you are right; we did say that, and I would stand by those comments we have said.
QUESTION: Do you think it is possible for a foreign intelligence outfit to accidentally intercept – and I would ask you to draw on your experience across the river – to accidentally intercept the phone calls of a – or a phone call of the Secretary of State or a foreign minister?
MS. HARF: I really don’t have anything more for you on this, and I don’t know.
QUESTION: The last one on Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: You still believe that Afghanistan will have a president by the end of this month or at least for the NATO summit?
MS. HARF: That’s what the two parties have – that’s the timeline they’ve been working on. Just a quick update. As of August – let’s see, August 17th, according to Afghan elections officials, almost 50 percent of the total boxes have been audited on the ground there, so they’re making good progress. We also welcome reports that the national unity committee meetings are proceeding and that the campaigns are moving towards agreement regarding the duties and responsibilities of the chief executive position in a new government.
In terms of timeline, both candidates have said they are working towards the goal of completing the audit and inaugurating a new president by the end of August. We believe it should move forward quickly and applaud that decision to move quickly, in fact. So we know this is complicated and ongoing, but progress has been made.
Anything else? Lucas.
QUESTION: One more on ISIS?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, Representative Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that, “If we allow ISIS to get bigger and bigger, they’re going to plot homeland attacks on us.” Do you agree with that statement?
MS. HARF: Well, we are – constantly remain vigilant about whether terrorist groups are looking at the homeland. Obviously, we’ve been concerned about fighters with Western passports or even possibly U.S. passports joining ISIS and possibly being able to launch attacks here. What ISIS has been focused on has been Syria and now Iraq gaining territory and really terrorizing the people of those countries, which is why we are attempting right now to degrade their capabilities, as we’ve seen. We’re constantly vigilant about it, though, and it’s something our intelligence community and my friends across the river and other folks are very focused on.
QUESTION: But do you agree with his point that if ISIS does get bigger, they constitute a bigger threat to the homeland?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that’s pretty common sense. If they get bigger, they would constitute a bigger threat. But we should look at each individual terrorist group and what they’re focused on, whether it’s homeland plotting, what the capabilities are. We haven’t seen that coming out of ISIS. That doesn’t mean we’re not watching for it.
QUESTION: That is the case, of them getting bigger – a plot against the homeland. Why is —
MS. HARF: Well, that’s a bit simplistic, but in general, the premise is not a bad one.
QUESTION: I think they already threatened the U.S. in one of their videos, if it was authenticated. They said they’re going to raise ISIS flag in the White House.
MS. HARF: Right. That’s a different – than a specific and credible threat against a certain —
QUESTION: Right. But as an —
MS. HARF: — place, time, all of that.
QUESTION: — as an aim or a principle —
MS. HARF: They certainly have very strong rhetoric about the United States —
MS. HARF: — but that’s different than what their operational capabilities are.
MS. HARF: But it’s something we maintain a lot of vigilance on, I will tell you.
QUESTION: Simplistic or not, the logic is pretty strong that if you let them not metastasize, they’ll pose a less threat against the United States.
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: Why shouldn’t the United States expand airstrikes against ISIS?
MS. HARF: Well, the President has said these airstrikes are focused on doing a limited set of goals, period.
But what I’ve also —
QUESTION: They are.
MS. HARF: And what I’ve – and they are succeeding. And what I’ve also said is that we are looking at, long term, how to fight this threat so they can’t grow bigger and they can’t threaten the homeland. I think, as a group grows, it does necessarily follow that they will start to look towards the homeland. Each group has different goals and aspirations. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t members of it who have Western passports that we’re not concerned about. It doesn’t mean they won’t. But I think as the group evolves, we need to look at what actual capabilities they have, what goals and aspirations they have, and take appropriate action to counter them on all of those fronts.
Yeah. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:18 p.m.)