1:22 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. It’s been a while.
I have a couple items at the top, and then we will get started. First, a trip update: The Secretary was in Ukraine today to highlight the steadfast – is that strange, by the way? Is there a strange echo in the back?
MS. HARF: Can we fix that? Okay. Thank you. Let’s start again. I thought maybe it had changed since I’d last briefed.
The Secretary was in Ukraine today to highlight the steadfast, ongoing support for the people of Ukraine and our commitment to helping Ukraine overcome the economic and security challenges it faces. I’m sure you just saw him give his remarks. He met with Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, Foreign Minister Klimkin, and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. He will arrive in Germany tonight, where he will begin meetings tomorrow on the margins of the 51st Munich Security Conference.
A few more items: The report released yesterday by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child further exposes the horrendous and vile tactics that ISIL has used to run its campaign of terror on the Iraqi people. The report – this one specifically outlines how ISIL is systematically killing, torturing, and raping children, and discusses specific cases of mass executions of boys, as well as crucifying and burying children alive. The report also describes ISIL’s use of children as suicide bombers, bomb makers, informants, and human shields. These savage and barbaric acts should once again call into question the humanity of those committing them. We have repeatedly seen that ISIL is nothing but a brutal and vicious cult that inflicts unspeakable horrors on its victims. Obviously, this report only underscores what we already know, but is worth calling attention to.
Thirdly, we would like to express our deep condolences over the recent loss of life caused by the plane crash in Taipei. We send our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by this tragedy, including the families of the victims, and stand ready to help the Taiwan authorities, as we have in the past.
And finally, we put a media note out yesterday on Deputy Secretary of State Blinken’s travel – upcoming travel to the Republic of Korea, China, and Japan. I would just note that advance of his trip, tomorrow morning at 10:30 A.M., he will hold a Twitter Q&A. So we have information about that in the media note, but it’s the hashtag #AskTony. So feel free to get all your questions in to our new deputy before he embarks on his first trip.
MS. HARF: To do a Twitter? Well, the Secretary’s done some, but I’m not sure that Deputy Burns ever did. It may well be. I can check.
QUESTION: Can we start in Ukraine?
MS. HARF: We can.
MS. HARF: Well, of course, our focus from the onset of this crisis has been supporting Ukraine and pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We’ve worked closely with our allies and partners in Europe on this. The Secretary spoke yesterday to Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Fabius about this proposal, about the trip, about the fact that sort of this diplomatic effort was under way. So they’ve been discussing it, and we understand the two leaders will meet with President Poroshenko and, I believe, also with Mr. Putin as well to discuss a possible plan. So we’ll keep talking to them; we’ll see what comes out of it. Obviously, we believe that a diplomatic solution needs to be what happens here, and the Russians have some choices to make.
QUESTION: Does this diplomatic push affect the reconsideration at all about sending defensive military equipment to the Ukrainians?
MS. HARF: Well, as you know – as we’ve talked about I think a lot over the past few days – we’re constantly assessing our policies on Ukraine, particularly on assistance, to ensure they’re responsive, appropriate, and calibrated to achieve our objectives. We have been increasingly concerned about the escalating separatist violence recently and, of course, are having these discussions with the Ukrainians. There’s a wide variety of factors that go into our decisions about assistance, of course.
QUESTION: Did the – did Secretary Kerry speak about assistance with the Ukrainian president and foreign minister today?
MS. HARF: I can check with our team on the ground. I’m guessing they discussed a wide range of issues, including U.S. assistance, and he spoke to that in his press avail as well.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said that he wasn’t so much interested in new deals as long as the old deals – and I took that to mean the Minsk agreement – was not being observed. What more is being to try to get Russia to uphold its end of the deal?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s absolutely right. Under the Minsk agreement, which Russia agreed to, there are steps they agreed to take that they are not taking. Our choice is diplomacy, the Ukrainians’ choice is diplomacy, but Russia has choices of its own to make. So there is a plan on the table that the parties have agreed to that could get to a place where there is less violence, that could get the Russian troops pulled back, get the Russian support stopped for the separatists, get Ukraine’s sovereignty re-instored – restored, excuse me. But the Russians haven’t done that. So he’s absolutely right; there is a plan on the table that could get us where we need to be. The Russians just have to live up to their end of the bargain.
QUESTION: But is there concern that the French and Germans may be getting ahead of where Ukraine is in terms of trying to resolve this crisis? If everyone is coming up with some sort of plan, and the people at the heart of it think it’s too – it’s just not realistic or relevant, is it even worth the – I’m sorry – worth the German and the French’s time to do this?
MS. HARF: Well, I – we’ve been working very closely with our partners and allies, including the Germans, including the French, but of course with the Ukrainians most of all, to see how we can get Minsk implemented in a way that has everyone live up to their obligations. So there’s a plan on the table – of course, Minsk – that everyone’s agreed to, that they should implement. The question is how it’s implemented now, right? So the Ukrainians have made progress. They’ve completed implementing or are in progress of implementing their side of the Minsk agreement. And we want any effort that can help get us where we need to be to play a role here. And they’re all very closely coordinated. The French and the Germans will be meeting with the Ukrainians. They’ve been in constant communication with them, so —
QUESTION: So you’re saying the French-German plan is an implementation piece —
MS. HARF: I wasn’t saying that. I wasn’t saying that about this specifically.
MS. HARF: In terms of this specific one, the conversations are ongoing. And they haven’t even, I think, had their discussions yet on the ground. So we’ll keep talking to them and see what comes out of this.
QUESTION: And have you determined the sanctions implications of this proposal?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details about the proposal. I know we’re talking to them about what it might entail, and we’ll keep having those conversations.
QUESTION: And were you aware in advance of this French-German plan? And is the U.S. plan of sending maybe defensive weapons – is it still on the table?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, the Secretary spoke yesterday to Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Fabius about this specifically. So we’ve been in constant communication with our European allies about Ukraine, obviously about possible plans and what might be on the table.
QUESTION: So the U.S. has not been trumped by the Europeans?
MS. HARF: I would not characterize it that way. We’re all working towards the same goal here, and we’re all working together on this.
QUESTION: Marie, when you say we’re waiting on Russian pullback, are you talking about from the Crimea or are you talking about from Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Both. From all of the sovereign territory of Ukraine that they have made incursions into.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re saying that there are Russian troops and Russian tanks in the Ukraine, right?
MS. HARF: We have been very clear, Said, about all of this. Yes, for many months now.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you say – give us like a number, perhaps, or the number of tanks or number of troops that Russia may have in the Ukraine? Not in the Crimea, but in other parts of Ukraine?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if there are numbers, but for months we’ve said that the Russians have provided expertise and weapons; they’ve provided tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, rocket systems, other military equipment. They are continuing to provide tactical support for separatist operations. They’re providing advanced heavy weapons that we’ve seen be able to inflict the kind of violence that we’ve seen in terms of civilian populations and on the Ukrainians. So Russia has transferred hundreds of pieces of Russian military equipment to pro-Russia separatists, hundreds of pieces. Those are heavy, advanced weapons that really are what – part of what we know needs to be pulled back.
QUESTION: Yesterday – thank you. Yesterday, Ashton Carter said he’s inclined to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine. Is Secretary Kerry not willing to match that?
MS. HARF: Well, the conversations are ongoing. I’m not going to get into our internal discussions beyond that. But we continue to reevaluate and asses what our assistance will look like. We have been concerned recently about the escalating separatist violence. Certainly that plays a role in the internal policy discussions.
What else on Ukraine? Anything? Okay. Let’s move on.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Jen was asked about private bank seizure by the Turkish Government. And she said that she would check. I was wondering if you have any update on that today.
MS. HARF: Well, obviously this is a Turkish issue, so the Turkish authorities are probably best to speak to this specific case. But broadly speaking, we look to governments, including Turkey, to ensure that monitoring of corporate and financial activity is done in accordance with international legal standards. But I don’t have anything specific on this case for you.
QUESTION: And today, about 90 congressmen and congresswomen sent a letter to Secretary Kerry. First of all, have you received that letter? Have you looked at it?
MS. HARF: About what? I’m not sure.
QUESTION: About Turkey and the freedom of press, and the letter —
MS. HARF: I can check and see if we’ve received it.
MS. HARF: We’ve certainly publicly expressed our concerns about the space for freedom of the press in Turkey at times over many, many months now.
QUESTION: In that letter signed by about 90 congressmen and congresswomen, asking Secretary Kerry to urge Turkish Government to stop intimidating Turkish press and journalists.
MS. HARF: I think I’ve been fairly clear from this podium that we don’t think that the space should be limited for journalists, that there should be space for them to do their jobs, and that’s what a free and open society does. So I think we’ve been pretty clear about that.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Europe —
MS. HARF: We can.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The secretary-general announced during his meetings today that six command-and-control units are going to be established right away, three in each of the Baltic nations – Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania. And they’re doing so in light of the ongoing tensions in both the – along the eastern borders and the southern borders. Is this a way of suggesting that somehow, NATO is putting itself on some sort of war footing?
MS. HARF: No, this is an – part of our ongoing effort to conduct reassurance measures on land, air, and sea, I would say, is probably the term they would use. We have said that we will take steps to assure our allies in NATO that we are on the proper footing to defend NATO and defend the states that make up NATO. This is just a part of that. The defense ministers also announced the establishment of a very high readiness joint task force, which is a new allied force that will be able to deploy within a few days to respond to challenges that arise.
So this has been an ongoing conversation, not just certainly since what we’ve seen in Ukraine, but for many, many years about NATO readiness and reassurance, and this is just part of that process, clearly though driven by what’s happening.
QUESTION: Is there any concern that the decision to establish, essentially, what are local facilities for operating offensive or defensive military operations could be seen as an antagonistic move by Moscow?
MS. HARF: Well, it certainly shouldn’t be. And obviously, NATO has more details about what these command-and-control centers will look like. But everything NATO does is designed to reassure the alliance that we can defend the alliance. That is in stark contrast to what Russia has done, offensively pouring weapons into another country, supporting separatists, taking over parts of territory and annexing them. It is in complete diametric opposition to what we’ve seen from Russia. So in no way should they see this as anything but what it is, which is defensive and reassuring.
MS. HARF: There have been – I don’t have any details on that. The White House is probably the best place to go. If we have details, Brad, on that to share, I’m happy to. I just don’t have an update on that for you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, the Pentagon announced, according to CBS News, that they have moved a search-and-rescue mission to northern Iraq. Is that – was that made in response to United Arab Emirates concern?
MS. HARF: I don’t think that the Pentagon announced that yesterday. You may have seen some reports saying that those discussions were ongoing. Obviously, the Pentagon can speak to their efforts when it comes to search and rescue. I would say, in general, that the U.S. military has remarkable procedures for search and rescue. We discuss them with our partners, including specific countries that are part of the coalition. But they would have more specifics on that.
QUESTION: But there was a report yesterday from CBS that they put additional search and rescue in Iraq. Are you – is that true or not?
MS. HARF: We’re obviously not going to get into – first of all, I’m not the Defense Department spokesperson, but —
QUESTION: Right, but it was based upon conflicts with UAE threatening to pull out of —
MS. HARF: So —
QUESTION: — the coalition because the pilots couldn’t be searched for.
MS. HARF: — a couple points on that. First, I’m not going to confirm specific operational assets from this podium, and I doubt my Defense Department colleagues are either, but certainly, I would leave it up to them to do so. As I said, the U.S. military has remarkable procedures for this. We have discussed them with our partners, including the UAE, so obviously it’s up to every country to make their own decisions about when they undertake air operations.
QUESTION: Do you —
MS. HARF: Yes?
QUESTION: Do you believe that the UAE has a valid concern when it suspended – had a valid concern when it suspended its airstrikes?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. The UAE is obviously a deeply valued partner. Secretary Kerry has invested significant time in this relationship. As I said, it’s up to every country to make their own decisions about when they undertake air operations. We discuss search and rescue with the UAE. And I would remind everyone, I think, that Jordan, which suffered this horrible loss themselves, is not only clearly comfortable continuing to fly missions, which really shows the strength of the coalition, but has intensified their efforts and doubled down on their commitment to defeat ISIL. So I think that that just demonstrates how strong this coalition is, and we’ll keep having discussions with our partners about the variety of ways they can contribute.
QUESTION: On that point that you just raised —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you independently confirm that Jordan has, in fact, intensified its bombing run?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to probably speak more specifically than I just did. I’m also not the Jordanian Government spokesperson.
MS. HARF: I’ll let them speak to the specifics.
MS. HARF: But they’ve said publicly that they were going to, and I would let that speak for itself.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But one would assume that Jordan is not on its own sending its airplanes, that it’s —
MS. HARF: Jordan is a key member of this coalition.
QUESTION: — they’re probably accompanied by – yeah, members of the other – the other members of the coalition, which is mainly the United States.
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into specific operational details, Said.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. That’s fine. Let me ask you on some reports from Jordan alleging or saying that Jordan will conduct sort of special forces operations – hit and run and so on – against ISIS. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics. As I said, Jordan is a key counterterrorism partner, a key member of this coalition. They have spoken to their ongoing commitment, especially in the wake of this horrific murder of their pilot, to continue the fight against ISIL. So I’m probably not going to get into specifics, but they will continue to play a very key role.
QUESTION: The reason I’m asking this is because clearly there has to come a point where ground forces must be involved, and Jordan seems to be willing to do that.
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: And in fact – may I finish my question?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday the spokesman or the chief of staff of the Kurdistan region president Fouad Hussein said that really this – all this bombing is not yielding the results that we desire, that the time has come to send in ground forces. How does the U.S. feel about that?
MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a few points. Our air operations in conjunction with local ground forces, whether Iraqi —
MS. HARF: — or Syrian opposition has had an impact in pushing ISIL back, particularly in parts of Iraq. Kobani is a perfect example of that. This is a long fight, but they have had significant success in degrading ISIL’s leadership and some of their fighting positions and indeed in retaking territory. And we would agree that there need to be ground forces that can fight ISIL. Those ground forces need to be the Iraqis, the Kurds, and the Syrian opposition. So that’s what we’re focused on building.
QUESTION: So can you envision a situation – I’m sorry. Can you envision a situation where Jordanian forces can go into Syria, let’s say, alongside the Syrian opposition without coordinating with the Syrian regime?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think my job is to envision scenarios and make judgments on hypotheticals. We know what our strategy is, and we’re going to keep operating along those lines.
QUESTION: Thank you. Also on Jordan, when King Abdullah was on the Hill the other day, he apparently told congressmen that in addition to the additional aid that was signed on, the 1 billion a year for the next three years, they – they’re asking for more, specifically drones, surveillance, bullets, fuel. They want to intensify their efforts and as a result are asking for more now. Is that something that can be considered?
MS. HARF: Well, we obviously want to intensify our efforts. Again, just this week, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Judeh signed this new Memorandum of Understanding that supports providing 1 billion annually in bilateral assistance over a three-year period.
MS. HARF: We already provide over 300 million in security assistance annually. That’s one of our largest security assistance programs in the world. And we do continue to make every effort here certainly to expedite security assistance to Jordan. We’re acting promptly on their requests for military capabilities, of course working with the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: So —
MS. HARF: So it’s something we’re very committed to and are working very closely to get that.
QUESTION: So you – yeah, so they could get the drones they’re asking for.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into specific requests, but certainly, we are working very quickly to expedite any of their requests and make decisions on what we think makes sense.
QUESTION: Piggy-backing off of that, I asked Jen yesterday about some comments that Senator McCain made. He attributes the fact that Jordan hasn’t been getting some of the aid that they’ve already been promised to this, quote, “huge bureaucratic bottleneck in the State Department.” Since then, he’s also, along with a number of his other Senate colleagues, sent a letter to Secretary Kerry, and in it, in addition to urging that this aid be promptly provided, he also asks to be – for the committee staff to be briefed on how the State Department is adjudicating for military material related to Jordan and if it could give an estimated timeline for how long this approval process takes and what the steps are in this approval process. I know that there is a process, but maybe you could give us a little more detail.
MS. HARF: There is. And I understand that just today experts from this building are having conversation with our colleagues on the Hill – I’m not sure if it’s the member or the staff level. I can check on that – but explaining how this all works and really reassuring them that we are making every effort to really expedite the security assistance. And I would disagree with the notion that that’s somehow being held up by the bureaucracy inside this building; nothing could be further from the truth. We are pushing forward as quickly as we can, and I think you saw that with what Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Judeh signed just this week. So we will continue having those consultations with the Hill, certainly.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MS. HARF: Anything else on this? Okay, yes. Move on.
QUESTION: Yeah. What’s the U.S. Government reaction to reports that hundreds of Christians were arrested in Delhi today while protesting against this recent spate of attacks on the churches?
MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen those reports; I’m happy to check with our team. Obviously, we believe in universal rights of religious tolerance and being able to peacefully make our voices heard. But I don’t know the details on that, so let me check.
QUESTION: And the – it is more important because President during his visit in his speech had specifically mentioned article 25 and religious – and so this has been going on. Like, if you haven’t seen the latest report but it has been going on for few months, and last two month there was like five attacks, and even in the police reports, they have said that this is communal. So is there a strong message you will send?
MS. HARF: Well, I would let – I think the President probably sends the strongest message that any American official could and I would let his words speak for themselves, and I’ll check if there’s more to add.
MS. HARF: I don’t know if I have anything specifically on that. I can check with our folks and see. Obviously, we’ve seen Boko Haram —
QUESTION: The reports are pretty harrowing.
MS. HARF: Yeah, no, let me see —
QUESTION: Villages, people burnt —
MS. HARF: Brad, I’m just now sure I have anything on that. Let me check on that specific attack. Unfortunately, I’m sure what you’ve read is accurate, and we’ve seen so many horrific attacks by Boko Haram, not just in the past weeks but in the past months, that they’ve really escalated the scale of their attacks. But let me check on that one specifically.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the three-nation offensive that’s underway against Boko Haram?
MS. HARF: Well, we have obviously seen these reports about where certain troops are and who’s fighting who. We do believe that a regional effort is needed to fight Boko Haram. Obviously, Nigeria plays the most important role here. So I can’t confirm reports that Chadian forces have been inside Boko – excuse me, inside Nigeria fighting Boko Haram, but we do think that a regional effort is needed. We’ve talked to the regional partners about it, so I can check and see if there are more details.
QUESTION: Is the United States providing any either logistical or technological support as part of this effort?
MS. HARF: To —
QUESTION: To —
MS. HARF: We certainly provide a great amount of assistance to Nigeria when it comes to the fight against Boko Haram.
QUESTION: Financial, right?
MS. HARF: Other support as well. We’ve talked about information sharing and intelligence support. The Secretary spoke about some of this when he was there in Nigeria recently. We provide a range of assistance to Nigeria, but this is a tough fight for them and certainly more needs to be done.
QUESTION: The Cameroon —
QUESTION: And do you have —
QUESTION: The Cameroonian communications minister told Al Jazeera earlier today that it’s not just a matter of this being dealt with on a regional basis; that just like dealing with ISIL, the international community needs to help these affected countries deal with Boko Haram. Is there anything thinking in this building that a larger global effort to deal with this organization that has no compunction in taking out entire communities is perhaps warranted at this point?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly have, as the United States, provided assistance to help in this fight, and you heard the Secretary was in – when he was in Nigeria say we want to do more to help the Nigerians. Part of that depends upon them going forward with the elections as scheduled, holding them – limiting the violence, having credible and fair elections. So we certainly believe this is a critical challenge. Boko Haram is a little bit of a different threat than ISIL. Obviously, each threat is different, but we’re very committed to helping the countries in the region fight this.
QUESTION: But is there a concern or is there any question that AU member nations simply don’t have all the capacity they need to respond as quickly as the Cameroonian communications minister said that they need to have?
MS. HARF: Well, I clearly think if you just look at the sheer amount of violence that Boko Haram has been able to perpetrate that there needs to be more capacity and more willingness among some of the parties. Some of the – there’ve been some times when people have stepped up and really tried to be aggressive against Boko Haram, but clearly more needs to be done.
QUESTION: Is there a reluctance on the part of Western nations to get more deeply involved in the fight against Boko Haram, given the colonial history of sub-Saharan Africa?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that’s probably a larger analytical question that I’m not going to delve into from here. I can just speak for the U.S. and what – this building and this government is very committed to helping Nigeria and the countries in the region build their capacity and push them to take on this fight even more seriously.
QUESTION: A question on Iraqi Christians.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: There was a report in, I think, one of the United – U.S. papers that Iraqi Christians in the north have formed a thousand-strong militia group to defend their areas. What’s your – what’s the United States position on that?
MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t, I think, seen that report specifically, unless we’re talking about the same thing and don’t realize it. But clearly, in general, when it comes to militias, Prime Minister Abadi has made clear that his goal is to regulate the militias, bring them under government control in general. That’s part of his plan for fighting ISIL and really building the security of the country. So broadly speaking, that’s, I think, where we would —
QUESTION: So you’re not supporting having militias in Iraq for the Christians?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m – well, in general, when it comes – look, many of these volunteer militia forces formed last summer when Baghdad and other major cities were under this imminent threat from ISIL. So the new government really has made one of its primary objectives to bring these all under control of the state. So it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist; we really just need them to be under central control here. We’ve also expressed our concern about human rights abuses, certainly, when it comes to some of these militias. So I think that this is a critical part of what Iraq needs to do going forward, and the Prime Minister has said he’s committed to it.
QUESTION: One more question just on Iraq. There is a security conference in Germany that’s going to kick off tomorrow, I think.
MS. HARF: That the Secretary is participating in. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah, so —
MS. HARF: The Munich Security Conference.
QUESTION: If you have more details about that, that’d be greatly appreciated. And also, you’ve invited – I’m not sure if you are the key organizer of that conference —
MS. HARF: We are most certainly not.
QUESTION: Okay. The President Barzani of Kurdistan this time has been invited to that conference while he was not invited to the London conference. I would like to ask whether this is a recognition of the critical role or of the mistake that was made last —
MS. HARF: Well, I would leave it up to the conference organizers to speak to how they invite people. This is certainly not our conference, and we don’t invite people. The Secretary will be participating on the sidelines of the conference. He will have a number of bilateral meetings, as Jen has spoken to, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, Foreign Minister Zarif, and others as well. So we’ll talk more in the coming days about his schedule there, but he will look forward to having these conversations once he’s there.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the lifting of the curfew in Baghdad?
MS. HARF: I don’t. This is an internal Iraqi security decision.
QUESTION: It will not – I assume it will not change the way American diplomats and personnel live day to day in Baghdad?
MS. HARF: That is my understanding.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: You mentioned – you said something about —
MS. HARF: Last one, Said. Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, last summer it was – the threat was imminent. Does that mean that the threat of ISIS in Iraq today is not imminent?
MS. HARF: No. I was saying these militias were formed when the imminent threat to major cities in Iraq, including Baghdad, really arose. I mean, we remember when they were getting closer to Baghdad; we talked about Mosul a lot. So it was just a historical point.
QUESTION: There’s a reports that – citing a Philippine naval commander that China is doing new dredging work at Mischief Reef in the Spratly islands. I was wondering if you have any response to that.
MS. HARF: I do not – no. I can check with our team. I don’t.
MS. HARF: Sorry about that.
QUESTION: It’s okay.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the new government there?
MS. HARF: I don’t. Let me check with our team and see if we can get you one.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s upcoming trip to Asia.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you tell me if he’s going to talk in the three capitals that he’s arriving at on a possibility or asking for increased cooperation and support in the fight against ISIL?
MS. HARF: I’m sure it will be a topic of conversation. Certainly it’s a topic of conversation, I think, come up in most diplomatic meetings. But as you could see, I think, from the media note we put out, there’s a number of regional and global priorities we want to talk about. I would also encourage you to maybe ask him in his Twitter Q&A tomorrow, and he can answer it directly.
I’m really plugging this. I’m really excited about it.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on today’s New York Times major story with respect to this financial connection between the Saudi and al-Qaida?
MS. HARF: Well, I think a lot of this is based on what is an ongoing legal procedure, as Jen spoke to yesterday. So I don’t think we’re going to have much more to say on those kinds of allegations, given they’re made in the context of private litigation.
QUESTION: Is it under any consideration that part of the 9/11 classified part would be declassified?
MS. HARF: Well, that material – is my understanding – is subject to a classification review by the intelligence community, and I don’t have an update on the status of that. That’s for them to speak to.
QUESTION: Any timetable that we —
MS. HARF: That’s for them to speak to.
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to get into our internal discussions. This is a declassification review being done by the intelligence community.
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into the internal discussions. This is a review being done by the intelligence community. I would say the Saudis are a close and continuing counterterrorism partner, as we’ve discussed many times.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Muslim Brotherhood submitted a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing? And do you know who was representing them?
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding those filings go to the Department of Justice, so they would be best able to speak to that (inaudible) the State Department.
QUESTION: Okay. And then also, did you have a chance to look at the statement posted on the official Muslim Brotherhood website? I think we talked about this last week.
MS. HARF: It’s not usually part of my morning reading, but maybe. Ask me some specifics.
QUESTION: Well, this was brought up last week and you hadn’t – or I think Jen was —
MS. HARF: Jen, yes.
QUESTION: — talking about a video, but there was also an official statement that was posted there calling on their supporters to prepare for a jihad. Did you guys have a comment to that?
MS. HARF: Yes, I do have a little bit on that, I think. There was a video message, I think, put out that – of course, we would condemn any calls for violence, including the calls for violence that were included in that video. I think it was attributed to the Revolutionary Punishment Group. And the message contained in the video is certainly disturbing in light of last week’s attacks in the Sinai. We’ve certainly seen the statement specifically on jihad and are seeking more information on that, but again, would condemn any call for violence, and don’t have more than that.
QUESTION: Will the statement change the way that you are dealing – or you deal with the Muslim Brotherhood?
MS. HARF: Well, we engage with a variety of parties in Egypt. As you know, the Muslim Brotherhood is not designated as a terrorist organization – the United States, and not much more to share than that.
QUESTION: But if they are calling for jihad now.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re looking into it and obviously would condemn any call for violence, and we’re looking into the specific statement about jihad to get some more information.
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: I know that Jen said on Tuesday that in general you don’t support the Human Rights Commission after the stepping down of Judge Schabas. But yesterday, a new person took over the commission, former New York prosecutor Mary McGowan Davis. Do you still have the same position that you don’t support any kind of commission, any kind of an investigatory commission?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if our position has changed.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you a couple of things on the issue of settlements. The Palestinians issued a report yesterday or the day before that 2014 was the worst year for settlements; that more than 16,000 units and 33 different settlements were added during that year while most of that year negotiations were ongoing, or for part of that year negotiations were ongoing. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen those numbers, but our position on settlements is certainly clear: that we don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity, and we’ve called on the parties to take steps to create a positive atmosphere, particularly for negotiations. And our position on settlements has certainly not changed.
QUESTION: And finally, there is – there are reports that Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, is visiting Ramallah sometime next week. Do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of these reports?
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen those.
QUESTION: Okay. He’s going to Cairo, I think, on Monday, and then from there he will go to —
MS. HARF: Certainly, he’s free to travel and have discussions where he would like.
QUESTION: Did you have any comment on the Pentagon report released – from 2008 claiming that President Putin had Asperger’s Syndrome?
MS. HARF: I actually hadn’t seen that, and probably I’m not going to comment on it.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: I do not. Obviously, our policy when it comes to North Korea is driven primarily by the denuclearization issue, among other things, but no information on that to share.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Asia for a minute?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Thailand. A State Department official told us this morning that the Thai-U.S. relationship won’t be back on track unless there is a full restoration of democracy in Bangkok in Thailand. So does it mean that the U.S. is prepared to increase the pressure on the Thai military in calling, for example, for setting a date for elections?
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s a message we’ve consistently given. Look, Thailand is a valued friend and ally. We have a longstanding history of strong cooperation. We will continue cooperation on issues that matter to the security and well-being of our country and theirs as well. But we have continued to urge the government to take necessary steps to fully succeed in its transition to democracy. This has been corridor – our policy. We’ve talked about this over many months. And that is just a continuation, I think, of where we’ve been.
QUESTION: This official also talked about what seemed to be the apparent slowness in the transition. How long is the U.S. willing to see this transition play out before it changes course in its relationship?
MS. HARF: Well, we already have changed course when we suspended, of course, some of – part of our relationship after what happened in Thailand earlier, I guess last year now. So obviously, we believe this needs to happen as quickly as possible, and we’ll keep pressing that with them.
QUESTION: Wait. Can I go back to the top, your opening statement?
MS. HARF: You can.
MS. HARF: I didn’t say “no more.” I think I said they were —
QUESTION: Okay, okay.
MS. HARF: — a vicious and brutal —
QUESTION: Okay, a vicious cult.
MS. HARF: — vile cult, something like that.
QUESTION: Is that a new designation? I mean, is that a new term that you call them by?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Is that a new kind of term that you can call them by?
MS. HARF: No. I think you’ve heard senior officials – the President, the Secretary, and others – use a variety of terms to describe their brutality.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I – let me see what I have on that. I had seen – the prayer breakfast was this morning, of course, and I know a number of people were invited to it. In terms of – which official were you asking about specifically?
QUESTION: I think it was Ali Karti, who is Sudanese foreign minister and —
MS. HARF: Yes, he’s the foreign minister. Yes, he was —
QUESTION: — Ibrahim Ghandour.
MS. HARF: He was invited to the prayer breakfast. Also we can confirm the official visit of senior Sudanese Government official Ibrahim Ghandour. Next week, he’ll meet with senior U.S. Government officials. This visit and also the discussions with Foreign Minister Karti are a continuation of dialogue on a number of issues of longstanding concern to the U.S. Government, with the Government of Sudan. It’s part of the engagement process where we raise concerns, certainly, that you are well aware of. And we engage them in a frank and frequent manner to discuss this full range of issues.
QUESTION: You don’t – do you feel that these are two individuals who have – who had roles in a genocide, as alleged by human rights groups?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything specific on that. Again, we engage with them in their roles as government officials in a frank conversation about many issues, including human rights.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: In certain quarters in Brussels, they have this fear that Russia is not going to budge as such, we can see. And this pushing it is developing into a proxy war being played in Ukraine. What is your – like, Europe doesn’t want any more blood on its soil, so what is your —
MS. HARF: Well, if Russia doesn’t change its course and pull back here, the cost to them will continue to intensify. And there’s not an option to do nothing when a country sends arms, sends weapons, sends fighters into another country. And I think that underpins the kind of values we share with the Europeans, with our NATO allies, certainly.
QUESTION: So you can say that in case it comes to that, there’ll be ground troops, there’ll be – it can escalate.
MS. HARF: That’s not what I said. Our goal has always been de-escalation. Our goal has been to restore security and Ukraine’s sovereignty. So I was actually, I think, saying the opposite.
What else? Anything else?
MS. HARF: I didn’t see that, but I am a big fan of Pope Francis, and I think everyone’s looking forward to his visit, certainly.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: This might be more of a question for the Defense Department, but there are reports that a senior AQAP official, Harith al-Nadhari, was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Do you have any information on that?
MS. HARF: Seen the reports, don’t have any comment on it.
MS. HARF: Great. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)