12:20 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the daily press briefing. I have a couple items at the top, and then we’ll get to your questions.
First, as you know, Secretary Kerry is in Munich for the Security Conference. He has had a number of meetings, including at the moment with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on the nuclear negotiations, along with our team, who’s out there as well.
Second, the United States condemns the recent terrorist attacks by Boko Haram in Cameroon and Niger in the strongest possible terms. Boko Haram has perpetrated countless unprovoked attacks on men, women, and children in their homes, schools, places of worship, and businesses. Their brutality and barbarism know no bounds. We condemn the horrific and barbaric acts of these groups that continue to show total disregard for the sanctity of human life.
Boko Haram must not be allowed to continue brutally terrorizing innocent civilians in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. This unchecked killing must stop. The United States stands firmly with the governments and peoples of the region in the face of this threat. We are responding to requests from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. We continue to provide support to governments in the region, including through intelligence sharing and are increasing our support for these efforts. The U.S. is committed to supporting the efforts of the multinational joint task force and we commend efforts by the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission to bring together the MNJTF, and we will continue to work with our regional and international partners to make it an effective force.
And then finally, on Syria: The United States strongly condemns the Assad regime’s barrel bombing and airstrikes this week in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta and Duma, where hundreds of civilians, including children, were killed and wounded, as well as its deliberate targeting yesterday of civilians near Aleppo, where victims were simply attempting to go about their day collecting water in a public square, and others were riding a bus. These attacks show an utter disregard for human life.
Syrians on the ground report these are among the Assad regime’s most brutal attacks since its unrelenting campaign of terror began nearly four years ago. We have been clear that all parties must avoid any action that endangers civilians, and we condemn the use of heavy weaponry against civilian areas by combatant forces. Those who commit such crimes must be held accountable. The Assad regime’s daily barrel bombs across the country, ongoing siege tactics, and countless atrocities committed against the Syrian people reaffirm there can be no – there can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under the leadership of this ruthless dictator. As long – as we have long said, Assad had lost all legitimacy and must go.
QUESTION: Well, you raised three things, but there’s a lot going on today, so —
MS. HARF: Yeah. Start us off with whatever you want. We can get to all of it.
QUESTION: Firstly on the Islamic State claims that the – an American female was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. Do you have any knowledge of this to be true, false, or what?
MS. HARF: I cannot confirm those reports in any way.
QUESTION: Do you know —
MS. HARF: Obviously, people are looking into them, but cannot confirm them.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you know if the woman in question is alive still?
MS. HARF: We’re just not going to get into specifics about Americans being held overseas for privacy of them, of their families. Obviously, as you can imagine, these are very sensitive situations, so we’re just not going to get into those details.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the Islamic State was holding an American woman —
MS. HARF: We have said —
QUESTION: — without identifying whom or —
MS. HARF: We have said that there are a number of Americans being held overseas, including still by the Islamic State. I’m not going to get into further details than that. But I will say broadly that Secretary Kerry, our team in this building, across the U.S. Government, are putting every effort behind finding any Americans being held overseas – every intelligence tool, diplomatic tool. The Secretary has reached out to over four dozen countries about Americans being held overseas writ large to try and bring these people home.
QUESTION: And just lastly, have you asked the Jordanians for any more information about this specific strike?
MS. HARF: I can check, Brad. I’m not sure. We just don’t have any way to corroborate this information. But again, the Secretary throughout his time here has been very heavily engaged diplomatically with our partners around the region, anyone who could possibly help us locate and bring home any American being held.
QUESTION: Would you comment on reports that allege that the Jordanian pilot Kasasbeh was shot down by his wingman, an Emirati pilot, causing them to pull out right away?
MS. HARF: Well, Said, Jordanian authorities continue to investigate this incident and work through their response, obviously, to the savage murder of their pilot. I think it would be inappropriate to discuss certain details of that investigation.
QUESTION: I’m not talking about the murder of the pilot. We know how he was murdered.
MS. HARF: No, investigate the incident of the downing.
QUESTION: The incident, okay.
MS. HARF: The Jordanians continue to investigate that, and I’ll let them speak to that.
QUESTION: Now, there are also reports that he was alive and free and running around loose for about 25, 30 minutes. And basically, it was said the search-and-rescue operations were lacking. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, I can tell you on that that some of those reports have not been true. As soon as the plane went down, an intensive airborne search was immediately initiated. Personnel recovery forces were moving towards the pilot’s last known location. For obvious reasons, we don’t discuss specific response timelines for personnel recovery, but that was not a major factor in this case. We were not able to locate the pilot before he was picked up by ISIL forces.
QUESTION: Well —
MS. HARF: But it was launched as soon as the plane went down.
QUESTION: Yesterday there were —
QUESTION: Just that – that means the U.S. was involved in that effort?
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday it was reported that the United States has intensified its search-and-rescue operation. But until recently, they were located in Kuwait, which is quite a ways back, now moving it to – maybe to the north of Iraq maybe.
MS. HARF: Well, I think that the Pentagon can probably speak more specifically. They have immense search-and-rescue capabilities, which we’ve discussed with our partners, including some of our partners that are flying alongside of us here. But I don’t have any more specifics for you than that.
QUESTION: And finally, would you say that the international coalition today is basically a duet; it is Jordan and the United States of America and nobody else is —
MS. HARF: Not at all. It’s over 60 countries, Said. I think the other countries would probably not like you discounting their contributions.
QUESTION: Can you name some of the countries that are actually participating in the air raids?
MS. HARF: Said, we’ve been over this many, many times. I mean, let’s start with the Iraqi Security Forces. Let’s start there —
QUESTION: Right. No, I’m talking about —
MS. HARF: — which is where —
QUESTION: — I’m talking about the aerial bombardment that’s ongoing —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — of the ISIS locations.
MS. HARF: There’s – you know the countries that have flown missions alongside of us. You know that. You also know that there are five lines of effort here, only one of which is military, and only part of the military effort is flying bombing runs. So we have over 60 countries, many countries standing up and helping us train, helping us provide weapons, helping us provide assistance. So this is a very broad coalition, Said.
QUESTION: I’m fully aware of the participation of the coalition.
MS. HARF: Well, your question didn’t make that clear.
QUESTION: I’m talking about the aerial bombardment and specifically over Syria. Would you say that it’s only the Jordanians and the Americans that are bombing in Syria?
MS. HARF: I can check with my Defense Department colleagues. But as we’ve said, other countries have flown alongside us there, and I don’t have any updates for you beyond that.
MS. HARF: I believe it’s ongoing.
QUESTION: Still going?
MS. HARF: I believe it’s ongoing, yes.
QUESTION: Do you expect Yemen will be on the agenda of the talks?
MS. HARF: I expect that it will be about the nuclear negotiations. Given that it’s ongoing, I don’t want to guess, but —
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to what’s happening in Yemen?
MS. HARF: Yes, I do. Obviously, it’s a very fluid situation on the ground. We are closely monitoring developments. We have been very clear that any political solution to the current crisis must be based on the broad consensus of all Yemeni stakeholders, that it must adhere to the principles of the GCC initiative and the National Dialogue Outcomes. The unilateral declaration issued today by the Houthis does not meet the standard of a consensus-based solution to Yemen’s political crisis. There is a process under which you can change the government through the constitution. That obviously was not followed today.
Very fluid situation and we’re monitoring it, but what we saw happen today does not meet that standard that we have set for it.
QUESTION: Are you encouraging President Hadi to go back on his resignation?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into what our private diplomatic discussions are. What we have encouraged is a process that under Yemen’s constitution the only legal president, currently President Hadi, can issue a constitution declaration and that, in fact, he remains the president until his resignation is accepted by the parliament. So there’s a process. There’s a UN special representative who has been convening the parties to try to get to this consensus and get a different path forward. Again, that’s not what was followed today.
QUESTION: Do you have any direct contacts now with the Houthis, given that they’ve kind of run roughshod over all the processes?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. Let me get an update on that, Brad. I want to make sure I have the latest information.
QUESTION: And then I asked a couple weeks ago if during any of the previous conversations between the Secretary and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif if Yemen had been discussed, and I think it was unclear at that time.
MS. HARF: Let me check on that. Often, as we’ve said, sometimes news of the day comes up sort of – how could it not, right? – on the margins of conversations. But let me check on the Secretary specifically.
QUESTION: Following up on the —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — on the direct contact, does the – does the U.S. actually have anyone with whom they’re coordinating their counterterrorism operations now?
MS. HARF: The Government of Yemen, and President Hadi remains the president of Yemen.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. then coordinating with a president that has absolutely no power? Is there – they’re not in touch?
MS. HARF: Well, you can feel free to do your own analysis, but there is a process here. It’s a very complicated and fluid situation on the ground. I would also note that the Houthis are engaged in a fight against AQAP as well, so there’s a lot of complications on the ground here. We are working with the Government of Yemen and its security forces, as we have for a very long time, on counterterrorism.
QUESTION: So is the U.S. then working with the current Yemeni government, which is the one that the Houthis have established?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not recognizing that as the current government because they didn’t follow the process by which Yemen can change its government.
QUESTION: So you’re working with a government that doesn’t exist but is recognized by you?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that some people would disagree with your analysis there. There is a process. There are a set of security forces inside Yemen that we are working with, that we have been working with, and that we’re continuing to work with. We’re watching the situation on the ground. Nobody’s naive here, but again, we’ll see what happens in the coming hours and coming days.
QUESTION: Question —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I understand your point on the recognition of a government you don’t recognize, but how do you work with President Hadi if he’s basically cut off from contact with almost anyone?
MS. HARF: Well, I would say a few points. And when it comes to counterterrorism, we are continuing to work with the Yemeni security forces, so that’s a separate piece of this, right? And we’ll see what happens in the coming days. Obviously, counterterrorism is an incredibly important priority for us in Yemen.
We are going to keep watching the situation, keep talking to the folks on the ground. We still have an ambassador there. So we’ll what happens. It really is in the middle of a very, very fluid situation.
QUESTION: I understand. And how do you work with security forces that – these are the same security forces who were unable to hold their own capital.
MS. HARF: I’m not sure those are the counterterrorism forces.
QUESTION: So the counterterrorism —
MS. HARF: I’m not an expert on Yemen security force structure, but I wouldn’t assume that, I guess.
QUESTION: Let me just —
MS. HARF: I just wouldn’t assume it. The folks that we work with on counterterrorism may be different.
QUESTION: So they still – so the people you’re working with still have command and control structure throughout the country and can take part in counterterrorism efforts, even though —
MS. HARF: I wasn’t making a broad generalization about all of their forces.
MS. HARF: I was saying we maintain a counterterrorism relationship with their security forces. Let me check with our team and see if there are more specifics we can share.
QUESTION: You understand why it’s a question —
MS. HARF: I do.
QUESTION: — given that the country’s essentially fallen here.
MS. HARF: I understand the question; you understand why there are no easy or simple answers today. And we will attempt to get you as much as we can.
QUESTION: Quick question: What if the Houthis consolidated their power over – all over the country? Would you designate that as a coup, a military coup, and then thereafter cut off whatever arrangements that you might have with them?
MS. HARF: Well, let’s flip it back the other way. What we think needs to happen, regardless of who, is that there needs to be a political solution based on the broad consensus of all Yemeni stakeholders; it has to apply – it has to adhere to the principles of the GCC initiative and of their national dialogue outcomes. So forget about who. Those are the principles that need to guide a political transition. And we will judge whatever happens based on that.
QUESTION: I guess my question is: If what happened – what has taken place is designated as a coup, then you will cut off aid to Yemen or whoever you are dealing with on security matters?
MS. HARF: I appreciate your constant attempts to get me to weigh into hypotheticals, but I’m just not going to here.
QUESTION: South Asia?
MS. HARF: Let’s go here and then I’ll go back to you. Yes.
MS. HARF: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Should we read that as a deeper implication of the United States in the region, and that beyond supporting the regional response, that you will – you would provide more assistance to Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said in the statement and as the Secretary said when we were there just recently in Nigeria, that we want to increase our support for these efforts, that we’re looking at a variety of ways to do that – of course, working with the regional actors as well, working with the AU. And we are looking for ways to do that. Of course, in Nigeria that depends in part on the holding of elections. But this is clearly something we’re very focused on and it was, I think, indicative of that. I just wanted to draw some attention to it at the top of the briefing.
QUESTION: And you continue to believe that the elections should take place —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — on time next week?
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: I saw those reports, Said. I think the Government of Turkey is probably the place to give details on their participation. Of course, we have close partnerships with both countries and would support the restoration of positive relations between them. We’ve said that for a long time, but I don’t have more for you than that.
QUESTION: So you’re not annoyed, you’re not upset by the fact that one of your major allies pulls out of a conference that deals with the whole regional security?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I don’t know about the foreign minister’s participation. There may be other officials from the Turkish Government there. Again, I think it’s up to the Turkish Government to explain their participation and why they are there or not there.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s presumptuous of the Turks to expect that people in Germany or a government in Germany, which was responsible for the Holocaust 60 years ago, 70 years ago, would not invite Israel to security discussions?
MS. HARF: I don’t even know how to answer that question. I have no idea what goes into the Turkish Government’s decision-making on their participation there.
QUESTION: But do you think it’s absurd that – the idea that Israel should not be invited?
MS. HARF: I really don’t have more comment on invitations for the Munich Security Conference. I just don’t.
What else? Yes.
QUESTION: South Asia.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: My question is now: U.S. has a new ambassador, of course – Ambassador Richard Rahul Verma —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — and also new foreign secretary is in Delhi.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: First question is that how – what is the reaction from here that suddenly the Indian ambassador went to welcome the President in India and then Prime Minister Modi kept him there and replaced him from Madam Sujatha Singh, foreign secretary, to – ambassador was made the new foreign secretary?
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard any reaction here. Obviously, we work closely with a variety of our counterparts in India. I can check and see if there’s more.
QUESTION: And how these two new – U.S. ambassador, Mr. Verma, and also the new foreign secretary – they have now a new working relationship. So how this team will work and further foster the new relations after the presidential visit?
MS. HARF: Well, I think all of our officials, whether it’s the ambassador or the Secretary or others, are very committed to working with a range of Indian officials. We were very pleased with the visit by the President, by the Secretary, and have a big agenda going forward together no matter who is in any of these positions. So I think that will certainly continue.
QUESTION: And Madam, as far as the presidential visit was concerned, suddenly any or most of the announcements and agreements were denounced by China and Pakistan, one. Two, as far as this addressing the U.S.-India Business Council in Taj Mahal Hotel by the President and prime minister, two agreements were announced: one, UN security seat for India; and also the civil nuclear agreement.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But these two things, Madam, have been going on for the last 10 years during President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Indians – 1.2 billion Indians – still waiting when the U.S. trucks will be moving to bring the electricity that we are promised.
MS. HARF: Well, I think Jen and the whole team that was there addressed this at length during and after the visit. I am happy to see if there’s more to share.
When it comes to our relationships in the region, look, we have relationships with India and with Pakistan. They’re both strong, they’re both vital to our strategic interests, and they both stand on their own. So obviously, we believe the visit to India was a very important one, and we believe that India should have good relationships with its neighbors as well and take steps to improve those relationships. So clearly, there was a good agenda, again, that came out of the visit that we’re looking forward to working on.
QUESTION: One more on India.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment —
MS. HARF: Yeah, let’s do one more on India, then I’ll go to you, Brad.
QUESTION: One more on India, then maybe Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: As far as this visit was concerned and new relationship between new prime minister and now President, how you think that things will move under this prime minister as far as talking about the 10 years of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I will leave the internal Indian political analysis up to people whose job that is to do. That’s certainly not mine. But again, we thought the President’s visit went very well, and I don’t have much more than that to share today.
QUESTION: One on Sri Lanka?
MS. HARF: Let’s go to Brad and then I’ll go to Sri Lanka.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Sorry. Moving on, do you have any comment on the subpoenas that the House Special Committee on Benghazi issued to several former and current State Department officials?
MS. HARF: I hadn’t actually seen those, Brad. Let me take that. I’ll get you a comment after the briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: We had a Q&A on Twitter with the deputy secretary of State.
MS. HARF: Yes. Did everyone participate, as I asked you to? Yes?
QUESTION: A lot of people —
MS. HARF: Would we ever do that? That’s so weird. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: He made some comment about Japan, saying that the U.S. reports of bigger implication of Japan on the world stage and further, bigger contributions to the global security. So will Antony Blinken ask Japan to take part actively to the coalition against the Islamic State?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything specific to preview in terms of his conversations that he’ll have. But certainly, these are decisions for Japan to make. But this will be a key topic of conversation in general during his upcoming trip, and if there’s more to share after the conversations, we will do so.
QUESTION: Do you have – still on Asia, do you have any comment on the impeachment of former Thai prime minister Yingluck after – I guess she wrote a letter to the charge, the U.S. charge.
MS. HARF: Huh. I hadn’t seen that. Let me check.
QUESTION: You hadn’t seen that?
MS. HARF: Sorry. Taking a lot of questions for Brad today.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry.
MS. HARF: No, no. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Quick question on the Palestinian issue?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, on Tuesday, I asked Jen if she was aware that the Israelis have withheld another tranche of the tax dollars that they were supposed to forward to the Palestinians, to the tune of about $100 million. Now the Authority is really cash-strapped. Are you doing anything – are you talking to the Israelis to release those funds?
MS. HARF: Let me check with our team, Said. I don’t know. Let me check.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you care to comment —
MS. HARF: Let’s go to Sri Lanka and then I’ll go back to you.
QUESTION: I have a very quick question. Maybe you do or maybe you don’t.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you care to comment on what the deputy foreign minister of Israel said today, or told the Israeli radio, that secretary – I mean that Speaker Boehner basically tricked the prime minister into the – inviting him and so on?
MS. HARF: I do not have any comment on that. I think our views on this are well known.
Yes, let’s go to Sri Lanka, and then I’ll go in the back.
QUESTION: As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, after the historic elections there and so much violence and bloodshed, and all the people of Sri Lanka are hoping that now there will be a new beginning and the U.S. will help further as far as the re-establishment and all the concern.
Next week foreign minister of Sri Lanka will be here in Washington. Is he meeting with the Secretary and what is the agenda if Sri Lanka and U.S. are – now if U.S. is going to help in what way Sri Lanka now to have the new relations?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any schedule announcements to make. I’m happy to check and see who might be on the schedule for meetings next week. We’ve commended steps taken by the new Sri Lankan Government to address things like reconciliation – long-standing issues, right – democratic governance, accountability. Certainly have seen some positive steps here, so I can see if I can get you some more about next week.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So much has been going on there – violence and all that. If the Sri Lankan Government – Bangladesh Government has asked any kind of help from the U.S.?
MS. HARF: Not that I know of. The U.S. – we’re obviously gravely concerned by the ongoing unrest and violence in Bangladesh. There have been unconscionable attacks, like including bus burnings and train derailments that have killed and wounded innocent victims. We have called on all parties to instruct their members to refrain from violence, and also on the government to provide the necessary space for peaceful political activity. I can check with our team but I don’t think that we’ve been providing any sort of assistance.
QUESTION: Do you see this kind of a political violence or some kind of maybe from the government’s blaming that it could be some kind of terrorist activities against the government?
MS. HARF: Well, regardless of what you call it, it needs to stop.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Back on the Mideast, are you aware of this report about EU-funded illegal Palestinian settlements in the West Bank?
MS. HARF: I am not. You’re throwing a lot at me today I wasn’t ready for.
MS. HARF: It’s okay.
MS. HARF: I am not aware of it. Do you want me to take it?
QUESTION: I will send you information after the briefing.
MS. HARF: Please do, yes. And you just want to know our position on it?
QUESTION: Yes, considering —
MS. HARF: I mean, our position on settlements is well-known.
QUESTION: This is a different type of settlement altogether.
MS. HARF: Got it. Okay. Then I will not jump to conclusions.
QUESTION: And then – all right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay, and —
MS. HARF: Yes, in the back. Wait. Wait. I – no.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up?
QUESTION: On the —
MS. HARF: We’re going to go in order. Yes.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: If you have anything on that – or do you have any indication of who would be behind it? There’s some reports, some claims that Chinese state-sponsored hackers could be responsible for that. Do you have any readout?
MS. HARF: There is an active investigation ongoing, so check with the FBI on that.
QUESTION: No, no. I just wanted to quickly follow up —
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: — because Israel has apparently destroyed the network of underwater pipes and so on that supply the Bedouins in the West Bank that they have been moving out of their location. I wonder if you have any comment on that.
MS. HARF: I’ll check with our team.
What else? Yes, Laura.
QUESTION: So there was a report yesterday that the U.S. is pushing for a restoration of diplomatic relations by April. Is that – does that date carry any significance in this building, as far as why you’d want to —
MS. HARF: Well, the process is ongoing. I don’t have any date or timeline to outline for you. I think it’s important to remember that re-establishing diplomatic relations is a process that takes two governments to do; you can’t just do it on your own. So we’re working through that right now. And we had a good set of productive meetings recently and are looking forward to the next round that will be in the next few weeks, so there’s a process in place here. Obviously, we want this to proceed as quickly as it can, but I don’t have a date to outline for you.
QUESTION: And do you have any update on the progression of the review into the state sponsor of terror designation?
MS. HARF: I don’t. It’s ongoing, as we’ve said, but no update.
QUESTION: And is that – have they expressed that that’s a major sticking point to them?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into our private conversations.
QUESTION: Do you have any insight into what’s going on with some congressional delegations that wanted to go to Cuba?
MS. HARF: I – a little bit, a little bit. We understand that the Cuban Government is reviewing some Congressional delegation plans submitted by some U.S. legislators. Look, we’ve had senior officials up on the Hill testifying in the Senate and the House side, and we obviously welcome Congress playing a key role in shaping the implementation of our Administration policy and encourage the opportunity the CODELs provide for our legislators to meet with foreign officials. They’ve – some in the past have gone to Cuba and come back and really understood the ways in which we can change our relationship. So certainly, as we do around the world, our diplomatic mission, our interests section in Havana, is discussing the timing and logistics with the Cuban Government for these CODELs, but it’s certainly something that we support.
QUESTION: So this is just a matter of kind of helping the Cubans capacity-wise to bring them in and actually make it a worthwhile —
MS. HARF: I’m not sure exactly the full details. Obviously, there’s a lot of factors that go into the timing and logistics here. We’re talking to the Cuban Government about how we can help, but we support in general, obviously, the idea that congressional delegations will go to Cuba and —
QUESTION: Learn something?
MS. HARF: — and participate in the discussion about our policy.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: It was signed by 88 members of the House. They expressed their concerns about the recent arrests of members of Turkish media and urged Secretary Kerry to support press freedom in Turkey. Any comments on that?
MS. HARF: Yes. We received a letter signed by a number of members of Congress on February 2nd expressing concern about the recent arrests of journalists in Turkey. As is our practice, we will respond. I would note that on December 14th, we issued a statement that expressed our concern about the detention of journalists and media representatives following police raids on the offices of media, and we’ve talked about this for a long time, about the importance of media freedom. So certainly, a lot of the content of the letter we’ve already expressed publicly, but we’ll take a look at it and respond.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: So much is going on – going – have been going on for the last 10 years or – when everybody was talking what Usama bin Ladin was behind everywhere and was caught and killed in Pakistan. My question is: Now Boko Haram and ISIL and (inaudible) and number of groups in Pakistan and so on, and they are killing people, innocent people in the name of Islam, including mosques and people in school in Pakistan and a recent attack in Pakistan.
MS. HARF: Yes, I am familiar, yes.
QUESTION: Who is supporting them? Where are they getting all this arms and money and all that? Somebody – somewhere they’re hiding and somebody is supporting them.
MS. HARF: Well, I think let’s – I’m going to tease out a little bit of what you said and then make two points —
QUESTION: And I’m sorry, why can’t —
MS. HARF: — and then I’m going to move on.
MS. HARF: No, it’s okay. First, I would say all these – the different groups and the different threats all have different backers and funders and sources of revenue and sources of fighters and sources of support. So in order to combat each of them you need to look at each of them individually, so I certainly don’t want to make a broad generalization.
But I would make two points on this. First, I’m disappointed no one has asked about the National Security Strategy yet that we released today.
MS. HARF: That we released today. It’s all online. You can all read it. Part of what that talks about is, while there are crises around the world and with things like ISIL, there also needs to be a long-term strategic plan, which we have in place, to both counter terrorism when it arises, but also in places to prevent extremism from arising. So that plays into this Countering Violent Extremism conference we’ll be holding in D.C. later this month. But looking at these problems not just as hot-button crises of the moment, but how you combat them over the long term, how you take away some of the drivers that causes this extremism, and that’s a long-term challenge. Certainly, that’s just one part of our strategy, but I think we’re obviously thinking about it in both a strategic and a more tactical short-term way.
QUESTION: Madam, quickly —
QUESTION: So you can say that this strategy is a prelude to the conference on the 18th?
MS. HARF: No. This strategy was timed – this is the second one we’ve released in this Administration. It’s timed around the budget, actually, and it’s a blueprint of our principles, of our policy priorities for the remaining two years in office, and what will really be guiding not just how we respond to crises, but how we respond to longer-term strategic issues.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the conference, I think, around the 20th and so on there. A number of think tanks in the city, the whole —
QUESTION: Can you (inaudible) the strategy itself first?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, let me finish his question and then I’ll go to you.
QUESTION: No, no, it’s on the strategy because you have all these events that are taking place that actually fall into that. Are you involved —
MS. HARF: Around the conference.
QUESTION: Around the conference. Are you involved in any way —
MS. HARF: We are —
QUESTION: — in coordinating with the —
MS. HARF: We are very involved in all aspects of the Countering Violent Extremism conference. I think we’ll be talking a little bit more about the specifics in the coming days. But obviously, we’ll be bringing together – the White House and we and others in town – local community practitioners, civil society, government representatives, companies, everyone who sort of has a role to play with preventing and countering violent extremism, both two sides of the same coin here. I think we’ll be talking about it more in the coming days, though.
QUESTION: But Madam, we have so much technology, and also many countries who are supporting in the name of charity or something, they are not speaking out. Are you going to bring this issue at the international or global level at the United Nations?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple things. First, technology can be both a blessing and a curse, right? It can give terrorist organizations tools it never had to raise money. It can also give us tools to find those fundraising streams that we never had before. So technology can be both good and bad, obviously.
But when it comes to those issues, we’ve talked about it at the General Assembly, we’ve talked about it in the Security Council, we’ve certainly talked about it at the international level, and I am sure we’ll continue to do so with this conference and with others as well.
QUESTION: This year, Madam, is going to be 70th —
MS. HARF: Last one and then we have to move on. Yes.
QUESTION: This year is going to be 70th year of the United Nations, and the word – people are asking what we have achieved, if this issue is going to be international level at summit on international terrorism.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think you can judge the effectiveness of any one international body by any one issue. The fact that we can come together in one place – every country around the world – to talk about these issues, I think is important. And I don’t have much more analysis beyond that.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On strategy itself, the previous which was issued in 2010 spoke about epicenter of terrorism, which it said was in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But this year, there’s no – there’s no mention of any epicenter of terrorism in the new strategy. Do you think there’s no longer any epicenter, or it has moved towards ISIS, Syria, and Iraq?
MS. HARF: Well, I think part of the goal of the strategy was to really outline the major shifts in the security landscape since 2010. And you’re right; a lot of our counterterrorism effort then was focused on degrading core al-Qaida that had been allowed to flourish in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As we’ve talked about, the terrorism has become much more diffuse, has moved to places like ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, AQAP, and tragically, we’ve seen in Europe recently as well.
So you’re right in that this is supposed to be representative of the security landscape we face today, the threats we face today, but also a more positive formula for how we’ll handle them in the future, I think.
QUESTION: So you believe that the main threat to the U.S. mainland doesn’t come from Afghanistan-Pakistan region, it comes from ISIS and other parts of —
MS. HARF: Well, when we’re talking about the terrorist threat —
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
MS. HARF: If we want to talk about the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland, obviously, there are a number of threats. AQ core is still a significant group that has capabilities. Are they as strong as they were on 9/11? No, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have capabilities. AQAP we have seen try to attack the United States homeland, whether in the Christmas Day bombing, the cargo plot, other plots as well. And then also there’s still a huge threat from homegrown or lone-wolf terrorists, for lack of a better term, who may be radicalized online, don’t even ever go to fight or train with someone but may try to perpetrate violence here. So there are threats. There are foreign fighters who may try to return home from Syria and Iraq. I’m not going to get into the business, I think, of ranking them, though. We’re concerned about all of them.
QUESTION: It also talks about the rebalance of Asia Pacific region —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — and in that context to talk about China. Which aspect of Chinese military modernization with the statuses you are going to – continue to monitor their modernization effort. Which aspect of Chinese military modernization effort is more threat to you, or is more of concern to you?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics than that to share with you on that piece of it.
QUESTION: I have a couple Europe questions.
MS. HARF: Okay.
MS. HARF: Yes, a couple points. The U.S. doesn’t take a position on the issue of same-sex marriage in other countries. We obviously remain committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of all people, including LGBT rights, which have been a key issue for Secretary Kerry.
I don’t know if you saw some of the press stories yesterday, but the Secretary will be announcing the appointment of a special envoy for the human rights of LGBT persons. It will be an openly gay Foreign Service officer. We don’t have a finalized name yet, but we will announce soon, reflecting, again, his commitment and the Administration’s ongoing commitment to advancing the human rights of LGBT persons globally. He’s done a lot of work here already on that, but this, I think, while not directly related to your question, is something important I would – wanted to mention.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the – how the populism involved in this campaign and also the involvement of the Vatican? I think a lot of —
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that.
QUESTION: — the posters even had the Pope’s face on it.
MS. HARF: Okay. I hadn’t seen that. Let me check on that piece of it.
Separate from this specific case, the Secretary has called heads of state to talk with them about anti-LGBT laws. He’s done that in the past, certainly. So without getting into the specifics here, he’s been very engaged on this issue. Let me look into if there are any more specifics to share on that.
QUESTION: And then following up on yesterday’s conversation, do you have any update on the Franco-German peace plan, how it’s being received by both the Russians and the Ukrainians, what it might entail on issues such as sanctions, or even from the parties themselves?
MS. HARF: I don’t have – yeah, I don’t have a lot of an update. I know the conversations are ongoing. Again, I don’t have a lot of updates. Secretary Kerry will see his counterparts and other leaders in Munich, and then, obviously, in D.C. next week. So if there’s more to share on that, we will.
I think in general, we and our partners have been open about the fact that there are diplomatic paths forward here. And the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough diplomatic possibilities; it’s that Russia hasn’t taken any of them and lived up to its commitments. So if this helps move the ball forward, obviously, that’s a good thing.
QUESTION: Do you think —
MS. HARF: But we’ll see.
MS. HARF: I know it’s ongoing and I don’t know all the details of it.
QUESTION: Do you take it as a positive sign that the Russian Government is entertaining this process? It hasn’t ruled it out, it’s listening to what the French and Germans have to say. Do you —
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t go that far, Brad. I mean, the Russian Government has entertained the Minsk agreement by signing up to it and then blatantly broken it and not lived up to its obligation. So this isn’t about words from Russia; this is about actions. And they’ve already agreed to a diplomatic proposal – it’s the Minsk agreement – and they have failed to fulfill it. So I’m not going to say it’s a positive that they’re listening. They’ve been listening; they just haven’t been acting.
QUESTION: So would you say you’re skeptical about Russia’s peaceful intent, then?
MS. HARF: I think that’s probably a fair statement to say, both on this effort and probably across the board on Ukraine.
QUESTION: But if that’s the —
MS. HARF: Obviously, I’d like that to change.
QUESTION: But if that is the case, I mean, this is a very high level delegation – Chancellor Merkel and —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — the president of France in Moscow. If there was nothing to be hoped for, why such high level —
MS. HARF: I’m not saying there’s nothing to be hoped for. I’m saying there’s a diplomatic path forward here. Secretary Kerry’s been engaged in this, as have the French and the Germans and others and the Ukrainians themselves. So we are hoping to get Russia to change its calculation, to pull back from the brink, and to have a different path forward here.
QUESTION: Would you say that there was an agreement between the Europeans and the U.S. about this peace plan, or that there were divisions – there are divisions between the U.S. and Europe and that the U.S. was willing to go ahead with its own plan, including sending defensive weapons?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I would say either. This is their proposal. This isn’t our proposal, obviously. But I would not agreement with the latter half of your statement. I would say that we are talking to them. The Secretary spoke to both of his counterparts the day before yesterday about this specifically. So we believe that any effort that can get Russia on a diplomatic off-ramp here and bring some more stability to Ukraine is a good thing. We’ll see the outcome of these discussions.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: What is your assessment of the situation of religious freedom in India?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, you heard the President speak about this when he was just there. This was part of his message during his trip to India and also part of his message at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday morning that freedom of religion is a fundamental freedom, that every nation is stronger when people of all faiths are free to practice their religion free from persecution and fear and discrimination. So certainly, we encourage all governments around the world to respect and ensure freedom of assembly for individuals who are worshiping or who are doing so for religious reasons, and that’s a universal right we think should be adhered to.
QUESTION: My question was: What is your assessment of the current situation of religious freedom in India?
MS. HARF: I don’t have an assessment of that specifically. Obviously, it’s something we think is very important.
QUESTION: Do you think under the Modi government, has it remained the same or worsened or improved? What’s your assessment?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have an assessment of that.
QUESTION: I’m asking this because State Department —
MS. HARF: I don’t – I’m saying I don’t know the answer. I don’t have an assessment of it.
QUESTION: That —
MS. HARF: I understand why you’re asking.
QUESTION: Yeah, because in the context of the statement that has come from the U.S.
MS. HARF: Yes, I understand completely why you’re asking. Let me see if our team has an assessment I can share with you.
MS. HARF: Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes, Laura.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So there’s a top military – Iranian military leader who was quoted in the Iranian media saying that the U.S. is “begging us” – his words – for a nuclear deal. Is that an accurate characterization?
MS. HARF: Certainly strongly disagree with that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then I know that the meeting is ongoing now with Foreign Minister Zarif, but can we expect any kind of readout today on that?
MS. HARF: We’ll see what we can get for you.
MS. HARF: Anything else? Everyone?
QUESTION: Thank you. Have a nice weekend.
MS. HARF: Have a nice weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)