1:16 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing, everyone. I have two items at the top, and then I will open it up to your questions.
First, a trip update: The Secretary is on travel today. Earlier this morning, in Geneva, he met with UN Special Envoy for Syria de Mistura, where they discussed, obviously, Syria, specifically the situation in Aleppo. He also, of course, met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. He will soon be in the air en route to Sofia, Bulgaria, where he will have a full program tomorrow to discuss security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship.
On Friday in Paris, Secretary Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Fabius and then with President Hollande to reiterate the support of the United States for the French people and our ongoing commitment to providing any assistance needed. The rest of the schedule is still being determined.
And finally, we have a group of visitors in the back from Miami University in Ohio. It’s a group of students. I know we’ve talked a lot about Ohio this week. I’m sure you all saw the President called Coach Urban Meyer today.
MS. HARF: Big news, big news. But welcome. I hope you enjoy the briefing and we’re happy to have you here.
With that, Brad.
QUESTION: Can we start with the Secretary’s trip?
MS. HARF: We can.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — he seemed to be a lot more forward-leaning on the Russia-proposed talks than you have been from this podium. He said they could be helpful. Can you explain what you might be hoping to —
MS. HARF: I think – I’m not sure what the alternative would be. We’ve said from this podium we welcome any effort that could be helpful toward advancing a political solution. That is in no way different than what I have said from here, and he was in no way indicating something different.
QUESTION: So does that —
MS. HARF: I’m not sure what the opposite would be, that we would hope – we would be hopeful they would not be helpful, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, I —
MS. HARF: I think that’s exactly in line with what I said this week about those talks.
QUESTION: If you think so, great, but —
MS. HARF: I think the words actually bear that out as well.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain why you haven’t asked, then, the Syrian opposition to participate if you hope they’d be helpful?
MS. HARF: Well, we leave those decisions up to the Syrian opposition to discuss their participation, sort of whether they believe these meetings would be productive. That’s a decision for them to make.
QUESTION: Can they be helpful without the Syrian opposition actually attending?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s a variety of pieces of the Syrian opposition, as we know – different groups, different leaders, different members. I know they are talking right now about who can attend, and as the Secretary said, we are certainly hopeful that they could be helpful. We would say that about any possible set of discussions that could move the process forward.
QUESTION: So do you hope that a broad array of the Syrian opposition would then attend?
MS. HARF: We hope that a broad array of the Syrian opposition will participate in advancing a political solution to the crisis in Syria. What that looks like – whether it’s the Cairo talks, the Moscow talks – that’s up for the Syrian opposition to decide.
QUESTION: And do you believe the Russians actually have the right objectives at heart with this proposed conference? Do they want to advance a political solution that leads to Assad leaving power?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve talked a lot about the Geneva Communique. Obviously, we worked on that with the Russians, which lays out a plan for a transitional governing body. The details are what’s always been the issue, right. So I think we all agree that there broadly needs to be a political transition, but the disagreement or the issues remaining to be discussed are what that might look like.
QUESTION: How could it be helpful, then, if you don’t even know what the Russians actually are – or the Syrians for that matter, the Syrian Government – actually hopes to get out of this?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ll see. As the Secretary said, we hope that these efforts would be helpful. We would hope that any efforts would be helpful. I’m not passing judgment on something that hasn’t happened yet, and certainly, neither was he.
QUESTION: But compared to the U.S. involvement in the Geneva talks, I mean, you’re barely – are you sending anybody to these talks?
MS. HARF: At this point we are not. I don’t believe we’ve been invited.
QUESTION: That does not show much confidence in the talks and appear to be something that you could work with.
MS. HARF: Well, these are intra-Syrian talks designed to bring the opposition – to coalesce them more and to bring them more together. If there was a role we could play in any of these or that we think is – would be helpful, we could have that discussion, but at this point we’re just not a part of them.
QUESTION: Have there been any conversations between U.S. and Syrian officials?
MS. HARF: Syrian Government officials?
MS. HARF: Ever? Recently? About this?
QUESTION: Recently, about the ongoing civil war, about the need for some sort of political resolution. I mean, there is still a diplomatic relationship.
MS. HARF: There is.
QUESTION: Yeah. Have there been any recent conversations, or to put it more frankly, what has the U.S. been doing to try to help end the civil war in Syria?
MS. HARF: Let me check and see about the – if there have been conversations with regime officials. Throughout this diplomatic process, we’ve been focused on working with the Syrian opposition to help them coalesce and get them to the table. The Russians are the ones who have been working with the Syrian regime to help get them to the table. That’s generally how the tasks have been broken down, but I can check on this specific question.
QUESTION: And can you also find out what specifically has the acting ambassador, Mr. Silverman, been working on in terms of trying to help resolve the political crisis in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, Daniel Rubinstein is our special – and I don’t know if his exact term is “Special Envoy.” I can get his exact term for you. But he’s the one who works primarily with the Syrian opposition, is Daniel Rubinstein.
QUESTION: You mentioned —
MS. HARF: So I can check on what his latest efforts have been.
QUESTION: You mentioned about the diplomatic tie, diplomatic relationship with Syrian Government.
MS. HARF: We don’t – right. No, go ahead, sorry.
MS. HARF: I will let you finish.
QUESTION: Is there any diplomatic relation other than —
MS. HARF: We have not cut off diplomatic relations with Syria. Obviously, we don’t have diplomats at an embassy in Syria, and they don’t have any here either, but we still have a diplomatic relationship.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the last time you said that during this campaign, the military campaign, you informed the representative of Syrian Government —
MS. HARF: We did, at the UN.
QUESTION: — through UN. Is there any other channel other than UN?
MS. HARF: I’m sure we have a variety of ways of talking to them. I’m happy to check if there are more details.
QUESTION: Marie, just to be clear – so is the U.S. advising the moderate Syrian opposition to go to these talks?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re in conversations with them on a constant basis about possible avenues for making progress. I’m probably not going to get into more specific details about these – any one set of talks, these talks, or the Cairo talks, or anything. But we’re having an ongoing conversation with them.
QUESTION: Wait, but I don’t understand. You’re saying and the Secretary says that these – you hope these talks could be helpful.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But you won’t say whether the Syrian opposition should go?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s a decision for them to make.
QUESTION: But then how – I mean, but how could you hope they could be helpful if you don’t hope that they attend?
MS. HARF: I didn’t say that I hope they don’t attend.
QUESTION: Well, I’m asking.
MS. HARF: I said we are having private conversations with them, and it’s really a decision for them to make about their participation.
QUESTION: Do you hope that they attend?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if there’s more we can share publicly. We’re having private conversations with them, Brad. We don’t always outline all of those publicly.
MS. HARF: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: While the Secretary was in Geneva, or still is in, discussing the nuclear program with his counterpart —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — here in Washington yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton made some very strong remarks about the U.S. policy regarding these talks. He said that the Administration’s policy has now led to a, and I quote, “a dangerous farce.” He had very, very strong words. And he wants the Administration to cease all – he said the Administration has been giving concessions to Iran and he wants it to stop. Do you have any comments on this?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that I strongly disagree with those comments. This Administration’s policy has led to a place where Iran’s nuclear program is frozen for the first time in a decade. The diplomacy we’ve put in place has led to that happening and that outcome, and has led to us negotiating whether we can prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon through diplomacy, which I think many people, most people agree is the most durable, best way to do so. So that’s what we’re engaged in right now.
We have to be assured through this process that we cut off the pathways for Iran to get to a nuclear weapon. There are a variety of ways to do that technically, and that’s what we’re working on right now, so —
QUESTION: He suggested the military option, and he said that maybe Congress should offer the Israelis some surplus B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs so they could use it if they want to. Have you – has the Congress been in touch with you in this regard?
MS. HARF: I don’t believe we’ve received any specific correspondence from this Congress on that topic. Otherwise, I don’t think I have much more to say on members’ proposals that they float publicly beyond that.
QUESTION: Just a few on the senator. He seemed to imply that the goal of a sanctions effort isn’t to strengthen the Administration’s hand, as it were, which has been the argument of many sanctions proponents, but actually to scuttle the negotiations completely.
MS. HARF: The new sanctions, you mean?
QUESTION: Yeah. He basically voiced support for ending all negotiations and said we should get back to regime change as a policy. Is this something you feel has been the goal all along of some of the sanctions proponents?
MS. HARF: Well, I’ll let individual members of Congress who support additional sanctions at this time explain their rationale behind doing so. I know they’ve spoken about that publicly. I certainly don’t want to speak for them. But what we’ve said is that new nuclear-related sanctions at this point would not only be a violation of the Joint Plan of Action that could encourage Iran to also violate it, restart their nuclear program, but that could very well lead to a breakdown in these negotiations. So we’ve been clear about the outcome we think could happen if indeed new nuclear-related sanctions are passed.
QUESTION: And regime change is not a U.S. policy on Iran at the moment, is it?
MS. HARF: It is not. I can assure you of that.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the talks so far from Geneva?
MS. HARF: I do, I do. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif met this afternoon in Geneva to take stock of where things stand, provide guidance to their team in advance of the next round of negotiations, which begin tomorrow. They had substantive meetings for approximately five hours today and discussed a broad range of issues with a small group of staff from each side. On our end that included Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and the NSC Senior Director Rob Malley; technical experts from a range of areas also joined the conversation as necessary; and the Secretary met then with the negotiating team after that before departing Geneva to talk through what we hope to accomplish over the next few days.
QUESTION: Was it all strictly focused on the nuclear talks, or did any other issues – ISIL, the status of the situation in Syria and Iraq, anything else – or was it just on nukes?
MS. HARF: As you all are aware, these conversations that we have are only on the nuclear issue. On the sidelines of these, we, of course, always raise the American citizen cases. I don’t know if that was raised in the Secretary’s meeting. I’m happy to check and see if we can share on that. I know it will be raised at some point during this round, as it always is, but these are focused on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: Still on Iran —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, and then —
QUESTION: Are you familiar with – I think President Rouhani made some reference to building new nuclear plants to feed Bushehr.
MS. HARF: I didn’t see those comments.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you take a look at them and —
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: — and then just see if you would think that’s consistent with JPOA freezing obligations?
MS. HARF: I will, I will. Yes, I’m going to go to Justin Fishel in the back. Welcome to our briefing room. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’ve been here before. It’s been a while —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — so I appreciate you calling on me. Do you have any reason to doubt the claims in the new AQAP video that they are, in fact, responsible for the attacks in Paris and that the now deceased Anwar Awlaki made arrangements with the attackers, and that the plan was ultimately approved by al-Qaida leadership, Zawahiri specifically?
MS. HARF: Well, I just before coming out here got a note from my colleagues in the intelligence community, who have assessed that the AQAP video claiming responsibility for last week attack – last week’s attacks against Charlie Hebdo is authentic. That process had been ongoing since the video was released. But as I said, the intelligence community has now determined that the AQAP video is authentic. This, we believe, likely came from AQAP’s media wing. The latest example of the brutality that is really AQ’s calling card, certainly how AQAP is the most dangerous affiliate associated with AQ core, particularly in terms of external plotting outside of their region where they’re located, and that they’ve perpetrated these kinds of attacks. I would note that the day – the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack, we believe AQAP attacked and killed over 30 Yemenis, many of whom if not all of whom were probably Muslim, who were gathered to join the security services and to serve the Yemeni people. So clearly, AQAP remains a threat.
In terms of your second part of your questions, we’re still looking at every piece of information to determine exactly the links here between the attackers and AQAP, particularly specific members of AQAP like you noted, Anwar al-Awlaki. That investigation is clearly ongoing. And so if we have more to share about financing or training specifically, we will do so.
QUESTION: So the video is authentic, but not everything in the message may be accurate, as far as you know?
MS. HARF: We’re still going through all of that right now, but we do believe the video came from AQAP’s media wing. Clearly, again, all of the details are being gone through right now.
QUESTION: Is it notable that Amedy Coulibaly was not mentioned in this video?
MS. HARF: Our analysts are looking at all of that right now. I’m happy to see if there’s more specifics they have in terms of that analysis.
QUESTION: Are you looking at also the involvement of ISIS in this incident?
MS. HARF: Certainly, we’re looking at anything that might have inspired these attackers to undertake their activities in terms of this specific time, this specific place. Obviously, there’s questions about where they might have been trained and where they might have gotten funding, but who inspired them. And as I think we’ve said in the past few days, it’s possible they were inspired by a number of different terrorist groups, not just one.
QUESTION: So as of now, you don’t hold AQAP responsible for the attack?
MS. HARF: Well, we hold the attackers responsible for the attack, clearly. We’re still trying to get complete fidelity on the exact links. I know there have been a lot of media reports out there about the brothers, possibly one or both of them, traveling to Yemen. That’s all being looked over right now. But if true, I think just underscores again the threat AQAP has posed, certainly how focused they have been on external operations, and why we decided to really focus our counterterrorism operations on AQAP.
QUESTION: Do you see any kind of collaboration between AQAP and ISI, ISIS?
MS. HARF: Operational collaboration?
MS. HARF: Not that I have heard of. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: On this particular attack.
MS. HARF: I know our folks are looking at all of that right now.
QUESTION: Does the United States see ISIS as a bigger national security threat than al-Qaida?
MS. HARF: Well, al-Qaida core, al-Qaida in Yemen, in general, a threat to who?
QUESTION: To —
MS. HARF: In general?
QUESTION: To U.S. national security, al-Qaida in general with all its branches all over the world —
MS. HARF: Well, I think —
QUESTION: — and ISIS.
MS. HARF: I think that’s a little bit simplistic way of looking it. They are both very significant threats. As I said, AQAP is the most dangerous affiliate that’s affiliated with AQ core, particularly when it comes to external attacks and looking at Western Europe or the United States. We’ve seen them attempt terrorist attacks on the U.S. with the Christmas Day bombing, the cargo plot, and others. AQ core also clearly remains a threat, as we’ve talked about; ISIS is a different kind of threat, as we’ve also talked about, which is why we’re going after them in Iraq and Syria.
QUESTION: But you have dedicated more resources to fighting ISIS. Doesn’t that —
MS. HARF: Than al-Qaida?
QUESTION: Is that fair? No?
MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree. I would strongly disagree with that.
QUESTION: No, I mean recently. Recently, recently, recently.
MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree with that. Absolutely.
QUESTION: Over the past few months?
MS. HARF: I can guarantee you the people that work on our counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida-core and al-Qaida in Yemen are very focused and are contributing a lot of resources to that —
QUESTION: But every day, more than $70 million goes for fighting ISIS, according to Pentagon.
MS. HARF: Okay, well I can guarantee you a lot of money is going to fighting al-Qaida. Just because it’s not on the front page of the paper doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
QUESTION: What other terror groups do you think they could have been influenced by? You mentioned that you’re not ruling anything out. I mean, is there any realistic link between them and anyone else besides AQAP?
MS. HARF: Some of them have talked, I think, publicly or there have been some social media reports about them maybe being inspired by ISIS. But we’re just not sure at this point – in terms of inspiration, not operational links.
QUESTION: What more can you say about – assuming that AQAP, in fact, was responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack, what more can you say about its funding sources, about its ability to train people, whether it has people in different parts of Western Europe, as an example? What more can you say about their capabilities?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. We’re obviously always concerned about “sleeper cells,” that people who may have gone overseas, received training, are inspired to commit terrorist activities and return to their countries of origin to plot and plan. That’s something we’re very focused on. We’ve been very focused on that for a long time, quite frankly. That’s not a new threat that we’ve been focused on.
In terms of AQAP, we have committed a huge amount of resources towards going after them, taken a number of their operational commanders off of the battlefield, including Anwar al-Awlaki, who had tried to kill Americans by plotting and planning a number of attacks against us. So there’s been some success there, but I think this also underscores that it’s a tough challenge and that it’s something we’re constantly focused on, and that’s why we’ve been relentless and haven’t let up on this fight.
QUESTION: Well, let’s talk a little more about the money. I mean, AQAP has been around for at least a decade now. Zawahiri was known to the U.S., certainly, in the wake of September 11th, so we’re coming into the 14th year. There have been any number of sanctions, any number of rewards for justice. Where are they getting the money to carry out these operations?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our financial folks and see. I mean, some of you are familiar with the AQAP history when they relocated to Yemen, after the Saudis actually had a great bit of success against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, who had focused targets in Saudi Arabia. So there’s been an ongoing fight that we’ve working on with our partners, and we’re working very closely with the Yemenis, I would say, on this. They’ve really built their capacity up quite a bit. It is a tough fight for them as well, but I’ll check and see if there’s more on the funding.
QUESTION: Marie, are —
MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’ll go to Justin again.
QUESTION: You say that the video and the recordings are authentic, but do you believe that the claim is true that they did it?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re clearly going through every piece of that. It’s not as simple as just saying “they”. What does that mean that they did it, right?
QUESTION: Well, yeah.
MS. HARF: Did they –was there ideological guidance? Was there money? Was there training? Those are the specific claims that we’re still going through, so I’m not authenticating every substantive piece of that video.
MS. HARF: We do believe though that the video came from AQAP. Clearly, that is significant. So as we can confirm pieces of that – and again, that’s an ongoing investigation, so we want to be a little careful there – we will.
QUESTION: My question was very similar. You say you hold their attackers responsible —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — but now that you’ve seen this video, do you also hold AQAP responsible?
MS. HARF: We’re going through all the claims in the video right now, and if we have more to say on that, I’m happy to do so at a later time.
QUESTION: Do you believe that there was a lack of cooperation, international cooperation to (inaudible) these suspects, which was already determined by U.S. intelligence, according to the sources? Because you blacklisted these brothers, but they traveled several time to Yemen between 2009 and 2011, according to the reports. You believe that there was a lack of cooperation – international cooperation?
MS. HARF: I just don’t have more analysis to do on reports of where they may have traveled or how they traveled for you today.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: On related issue?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Fourteen years ago you send your troops to Afghanistan. At that time, it was only focused on Taliban and al-Qaida only in Afghanistan parts of Pakistan. But now, having spent billions of dollars, hundreds of U.S. soldiers have lost their lives, so much investment, 14 years later all expanded to entire Middle East, North America, North Africa (inaudible). What went wrong with the U.S. policy?
MS. HARF: Well, I would note that nobody is arguing that these terrorists went to Afghanistan, so let’s just separate out threats here. If you look at the success we’ve had against al-Qaida core and Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, we have actually had a large amount of success against the people that we went there to find – the people that attacked us on 9/11. It doesn’t mean there’s not still a threat, it doesn’t mean we’re not worried about other groups operating, whether it’s the Haqqani Network, the TTP, or others.
But what we went there to do when it came to al-Qaida core, in large part, we have done. And if you look at Afghanistan’s government, I mean, we talked yesterday a little bit about this new cabinet being nominated. Afghanistan has a chance for a different future now, and it absolutely – our men and women in uniform have endured incredible sacrifices over this fight, the longest war in America’s history, certainly, to give – to help give Afghanistan a different future. And they have that today.
QUESTION: But why you —
MS. HARF: It won’t be without challenges.
QUESTION: But why you have not been able to prevent the spread of these terrorist organization, affiliate organizations, right?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s, I think, an unrealistic standard, to try and prevent every single attack of terrorism from happening anywhere in the world. That’s certainly, I don’t think, something that’s possible. We have always said that as al-Qaida core was weakened, that we were increasingly concerned about the affiliates, about al-Qaida leaders going to Yemen, the Maghreb, other places. We talked about al-Shabaab a lot in this room. It’s become a much more diffuse threat, and it’s not just from these groups, but also the Lone Wolf threat, which is also very serious, which is very hard to detect. So it’s a complicated picture.
QUESTION: Marie, just to make something clear —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — can you say that – the point that you made earlier about the resources you’ve spent to fight al-Qaida – can we say since ISIS emerged in June, let’s say, in Iraq – since these attacks in Iraq, you have spent more resources on other terrorist organizations than ISIS.
MS. HARF: I would – I don’t have a dollar figure in front of me. I would feel absolutely comfortable saying that our focus on AQAP and AQ core has in no way changed or lessened because we are also now focused on ISIL.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes. Let’s move on. Brad.
QUESTION: A related question to the Charlie Hebdo incident and —
MS. HARF: Okay, last one. Then we’re moving on.
QUESTION: Yeah. A court in Turkey today blocked any access to a website publishing the Charlie Hebdo latest cover featuring the Prophet Muhammad. So do you have any —
MS. HARF: Well, as I said yesterday, media organizations should use their independent professional judgment when determining what they publish. These are complicated issues, I think, as we all know, but ultimately, ones that journalists should be able to make themselves. Certainly, freedom of expression is something that is enshrined in the Turkish constitution, and we believe it’s important not just in Turkey, but everywhere.
QUESTION: Because the deputy Turkish prime minister today said that – described, actually, the – publishing this cover as provocation or agitation.
MS. HARF: Well, we clearly know there are very strong feelings held by many people about the publishing of these kinds of depictions. But again, this is decisions that each independent press organization should be able to make on their own.
QUESTION: Do you —
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more to say on it than that.
QUESTION: Can we wrap up on —
MS. HARF: Yes.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The president of Syria, who you have diplomatic relations with, as we established again – he said in an interview with Czech media that he had sympathy for the Paris victims, but he put the blame on Western support of terrorism. Do you reject those comments? What do you take on them?
MS. HARF: Wholeheartedly reject them.
QUESTION: And then just returning to something we talked about yesterday, you said you would look into the comments that the Turkish president had made regarding the visit of the Israeli prime minister to France.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have comments now on those?
MS. HARF: Well, I commented yesterday on – are there specific comments that he made that you’re asking for a response to? Because he’s made a lot of comments and I just —
QUESTION: Well, you pick the ones you want to address.
MS. HARF: I think maybe I’ll let you pick the ones you want me to address, and I’m happy to answer specific questions if you have them.
QUESTION: There was particularly the criticism of the Israeli prime minister for having visited France.
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: That would be first.
MS. HARF: We certainly believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s presence in Paris, along with other world leaders, sends a meaningful message of solidarity with the people of France and against acts of terror. As I said yesterday, we disagree with President Erdogan’s characterization of the state of Israel – I think those are also some of the comments you’re probably referring to – and don’t have much more on it than that.
QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister tweeted that no world leaders had actually condemned Erdogan for his comments. Is this something that the Secretary or others in the government – other, let’s say, leaders of the government – are going to address soon?
MS. HARF: I don’t know of any else planned to say publicly, although I know folks certainly share my strong disagreement with those comments as well.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — the Iran official news agencies has been quoting – or is quoting a prosecutor saying that the detained Washington Post journalist has been indicted and will stand trial. Do you know if this is – have you been informed of this?
MS. HARF: We’re looking into those reports. I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. We obviously believe that all of the American citizens detained in Iran should be released. As I said, it’s something we do raise when we meet for the nuclear negotiations, and I will check and see if we can confirm that.
QUESTION: One more on Iran.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Just one more. When the team – the U.S. negotiators get back, how soon do they plan to brief the Congress on the results of the talks in Geneva this time around?
MS. HARF: As soon as they can. We do after every round. We also often have individual phone calls with members from the talks. Secretary Kerry certainly has done so, as have other members of our team, and we’ll get it on the schedule as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Do you think this discussion’s going to be much more difficult this time with the new Congress?
MS. HARF: I think that we’ve heard a lot of different points of view from Congress – not just in the new Congress, but since we started these negotiations – and certainly welcome that input. This is an important enough issue that we want to hear from as many voices as possible, certainly, and we’ll look forward to updating them on the negotiations and where we get at the end of this week.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: India. Well, the – we’re talking about the prime minister here. Do you have any comment on – a federal judge in the U.S. today ruled that Prime Minister Modi will not have to face a U.S. lawsuit claiming he failed to stop anti-Muslim rioting in 2002?
MS. HARF: I don’t. I’m happy to check with my colleagues at Justice and see if we’re saying anything.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yesterday —
MS. HARF: Wait. Let’s just do one at a time. Go ahead.
MS. HARF: The U.S. Congress did?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: What specific sanctions take to North Korea immediately?
MS. HARF: I can check.
QUESTION: You can check. Okay. I have another —
MS. HARF: Okay. We obviously announced our executive order and our sanctions – the Treasury Department and the State Department’s – recently, but —
QUESTION: Okay. Also yesterday, North Korean Deputy Ambassador Ah Myong Hun said that North Korea want direct talk with the United States. Do you – have you received any of these proposal from North Korean authority, or —
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen the most recent remarks that you’re referencing, and our position on the offer from the DPRK has not changed: that it’s an implicit threat. Linking something that is by definition defensive, annual in nature with something that they would possibly do that is a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions is just an implicit threat. We’ve always said we’re open to dialogue with the DPRK. That hasn’t changed, and I’m – they can do as much explaining as they want about this offer, but our position is what it is.
QUESTION: Okay. North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism will be (inaudible) – redirected?
MS. HARF: Well, that review is ongoing. No updates on that.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on North Korea —
MS. HARF: Oh yeah. Let’s do one more on North Korea and then —
MS. HARF: Yes. Let me see what I have on that – not a whole lot. Let me see. There may be back here – we are aware of reports of a possible visit to Moscow by DPRK leader Kim Jong-un. We of course maintain regular contact and consultation with Russia on DPRK-related issues, including the nuclear issue, of course, and closely coordinate with our allies and partners, including Russia, to counter the threat to global security that is posed by the DPRK. I don’t have further information on the announced visit yet. The Russians may, but we don’t have it yet.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry. China has announced that they will implement four new flight route in Taiwan Strait on March, and Taiwan has expressed a strong opposition. And I’m just wondering, because they say – the Taiwan Government say that it’s the – especially the M503 is too close to the middle line of the Taiwan Strait and – which is – belong to the Taipei flight information region. Did you see that report, and do you have any comment on it?
MS. HARF: We note the reports that China is preparing to declare new air routes over the Taiwan Strait. Our primary focus is on maintaining and enhancing international aviation safety. That’s obviously our primary focus when we talk about air routes, which is in the interests of all countries and regions around the world. We do encourage China to engage and consult with the parties affected by the newly declared air routes in the Taiwan Strait to ensure that air safety concerns are addressed. Obviously, that’s of utmost importance to us.
QUESTION: Do you see there is any violate to the American interest in that region?
MS. HARF: I don’t have much more analysis than what I just said. Obviously, we believe that the safety issue is the primary one.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Apparently, he has gotten five additional years to his sentence. What can you say?
MS. HARF: We are troubled by reports that Saudi Arabia’s court of appeals, on recommendation from the specialized criminal court, sentenced the human rights lawyer you’re referencing to a full 15 years in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. We’re talking to our folks on the ground and I think we’ll have more to say on the case later today.
QUESTION: And do you – I mean, now the question came up about what are you going to do regarding the man who was being flogged for the next 19 weeks; one week of floggings has already happened. This sort of compounds that. Are you worried that this is becoming an escalating problem and nothing’s really being done?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly troubled by these reports and we’ll continue raising it publicly and privately. I don’t have anything additional to share on it at this point.
QUESTION: As far as you know, this man is not going to be flogged though, right?
MS. HARF: That is my understanding.
QUESTION: Can I raise – a change of subject? What we raised yesterday on Pakistan and the hangings – while John Kerry was there, seven men were executed by hanging. This follows a trend, an ongoing trend in which Pakistan has been hanging some of these – some prisoners that had nothing to do with Peshawar attacks. Do you have any comment on —
MS. HARF: Not a whole lot. Of course, we believe that Pakistan, as we say about every country, should uphold the rule of law when it comes to proceeding with these kinds of cases. We fully support Pakistan in its efforts to find those responsible for those horrific attacks and bring them to justice. I don’t have much more specific comment than that general comment about these hangings at this point.
QUESTION: And as a matter of principle, you don’t have problems with countries exercising the death penalty, even by hanging? It’s just as long as the —
MS. HARF: Rule of law is followed, there’s a process in place, a judicial process that’s fair and transparent.
QUESTION: Do you also have got the feedback on the establishing of military courts in Pakistan? You —
MS. HARF: I didn’t get – let me check on it. I didn’t get anything on that yet.
QUESTION: Staying on Pakistan.
MS. HARF: Yeah, staying on Pakistan.
QUESTION: Six U.S. citizens were killed in the Mumbai attacks.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: And they gave a bail to one of the men accused, and the two of the men accused are roaming free. Secretary Kerry was in that country. Was this issue raised? Specifically this issue, not just the counterterrorism talks – this particular issue.
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve publicly said we were concerned about the bail, certainly, given to one of the alleged masterminds. We’ve talked about this publicly. Let me see if it was raised specifically in the meetings; I’m not sure.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: On the ongoing search for the Chibok schoolgirls, Pentagon says that it has fewer than 20 military personnel providing advice and doing intelligence work, and that occasionally there are surveillance flights to try to see if they can locate the girls. Given the recent uptick in violence carried out by Boko Haram, is the U.S. actively considering augmenting the assistance that it’s providing to the Nigerian military?
MS. HARF: I can check with our team and see if that’s something we’re considering. We’re always in a conversation with them about how they can fight this threat. The Nigerian Government knows this is a challenge, and obviously I think knows it needs to do more to fight this threat given what we’ve seen. But I don’t have anything else to preview today on this.
QUESTION: Have they, have the Nigerians asked for more military advisors, more intelligence advisors?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Have they —
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check, but not to my knowledge.
MS. HARF: I think we stand ready to provide assistance in any way we can, and I can check if there are more conversations.
QUESTION: Is there a particular sense of alarm given that Boko Haram went ahead and attacked a Cameroonian military installation earlier in the week, and that some sort of more robust intervention from the U.S. might be required?
MS. HARF: Well, I think what that shows is that Boko Haram is clearly a regional threat. It’s not just a threat to Nigeria. And we have seen other folks in the region step up and really take the fight to Boko Haram, which I think has been – had some success in some places. I’ll check and see if there is anything else about U.S. assistance to share.
QUESTION: Can you also find out what conversations have been had between this building and Cameroonian authorities?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, I can.
QUESTION: I have a HR question.
MS. HARF: Uh-oh.
QUESTION: There was a report that the State Department was considering ending domestic partner benefits. Are you aware of this?
MS. HARF: I am not aware of that.
QUESTION: Can you check if that is accurate and —
MS. HARF: I can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I can.
And just to follow up on something, because we were on Africa for a second, that we talked about yesterday, we can confirm that Dominic Ongwen was transferred from U.S. custody to the custody of the AU’s regional counter-LRA task force. It took place this morning, local time. I just wanted to give folks an update on that.
QUESTION: What time, sorry?
MS. HARF: This morning, local time.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more to preview about Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s trip to Cuba next week or the agenda for those talks? I know they were already kind of on the schedule, but given recent announcements, do we expect some of the more concrete details of how U.S.-Cuba relations will change to come out of these talks? Is there a specific area where you’re hoping that those details will get worked out?
MS. HARF: I think we’ll probably preview it as we get a little closer to the trip. But broadly speaking, you’re right, these were previously-scheduled migration talks, but will be much broader now, starting really the normalization of diplomatic relations process. As we’ve said, we will also, of course, talk about human rights. It’s always on the agenda. Nothing really more than that to preview today, but certainly we’ll probably do so in the coming days.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about the Korea – South Korea and Japan and United States Six-Party representative talks in Tokyo this month?
MS. HARF: Between North and South Korea, or involving the U.S.?
QUESTION: No, U.S. – three party – U.S., South Korea, Japan.
MS. HARF: Oh, U.S., South Korea, Japan.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update on that. Let me check with our folks.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Let’s go in the back, yes.
QUESTION: Also on Cuba, is it still days – I’m sorry, weeks, not months, that we can expect normalization to occur? Was that what the previous timeline was?
MS. HARF: I don’t think that’s what we said – I mean, normal – in terms of normalization, but I can double-check. Obviously, we want the process to proceed as quickly as it can, but there are a lot of pieces here that have to be worked out. Obviously, we expect to publish regulations soon from the Commerce Department, from the Treasury Department about some of the pieces that will move the relationship forward.
QUESTION: And I’m sorry, just since normalizations don’t happen that often, is there a congressional action that has to occur in order for normalization to be made official?
MS. HARF: I do not believe so.
QUESTION: And then when normalization is made official, is that the day that the interest section becomes an embassy?
MS. HARF: I can check. I would guess, but let me check.
QUESTION: Isn’t it just an exchange of letters?
MS. HARF: It’s an exchange of diplomatic notes, I believe, but let me just double-check on all of that for you.
QUESTION: There was a report in the Indian media – actually, it originated from here, not PTI – that one of the Pentagon official was – did not get his visa, his passport was lost by the – so the visa-issuing mechanism of the Indian embassy is – looks like there is a lot of improvement needed. And this being a reciprocal issue, have you looked at it? Have you talked to them, the suffering that the U.S. citizens are facing?
MS. HARF: Let me check. I am not familiar with that report. Let me check for you.
MS. HARF: I just said we can’t confirm those independently. We obviously believe he and the other Americans detained should be released immediately. We’ll let you know if we can confirm it.
QUESTION: And what does it say that this happened on the same day that the foreign minister was meeting with the Secretary?
MS. HARF: We’ll see. I’m not sure yet. I don’t know if – I want to confirm the reports first, and then if there’s any analysis I have to do, we’ll do it then.
MS. HARF: Yes. Not a whole lot. Let me see what I have here. We understand the Indonesian authorities have completed their investigation into the murder of Ms. von Wiese; aware of reports also that the trial began on January 14th. And the Indonesian police, I think, will have more information regarding the investigation. We obviously, where any U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, make every effort to gain prompt personal access to the U.S. citizen as part of our consular obligations, and that’s something we take very seriously.
QUESTION: Do you know how many consular visits the two defendants have had so far?
MS. HARF: Well, absent written authorization, we’re unable to share details about individual cases.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)