Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 12, 2015.
1:11 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing, my first of 2015. I have a bunch of things at the top, so bear with me and I’ll get through them, and then, Brad, we’ll go to you.
First, a trip update. The Secretary is on travel today in Pakistan after attending the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in India. You probably saw his press availability this morning. Since departing Washington on Friday night, he landed in Munich, Germany where he met with Omani Sultan Qaboos before continuing on to India for the summit.
During his India visit, Secretary Kerry met with Prime Minister Modi on the margins of the summit. He also participated in a round table with Indian and U.S. CEOs, toured a new Ford manufacturing plant, met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Bhutanese prime minister. He also visited Gandhi Ashram and met with a group hosted by Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell. He’s now in Islamabad, where he today he met with Prime Minister Sharif and National Security and Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz. The Secretary will remain on travel through the end of the week going on to Switzerland, Bulgaria. And as we announced today, he will travel to Paris on Thursday.
A readout from General Allen and Ambassador McGurk’s trip. They met this morning with Kurdistan Regional Government officials in Erbil. They met Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani as well to discuss progress by IKR and ISF forces in the fight against ISIL. They praised recent successful IKR and ISF operations supported by coalition airstrikes and reiterated the U.S.’s support for Iraqi Security Forces. They will have further meetings with Iraqi officials tomorrow in Baghdad, and I understand General Allen will actually have a press availability in Baghdad on Wednesday to read out those meetings.
Moving on – just a couple more guys. Sorry. But some good news out of Croatia. We congratulate Croatian President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic – Kitarovic – I think I did that right –on her victory in Croatia’s January 11th presidential election, and the people of Croatia for the election of their first female president in Croatia’s history. Croatia is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we look forward to working with the president-elect and deepening our partnership in the years to come.
Two more quick ones.
MS. HARF: Two more, I know. We have five today. You may have already seen, but the Cuban Government has notified us that they have completed the release of the 53 political prisoners that they had committed to free. We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment. These political prisoners were individuals who had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban Government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.
During our discussions with the Cubans we shared the names of individuals jailed in Cuba on charges related to their political activities. The Cuban Government made this sovereign decision to release those individuals as Raul Castro indicated in his December 17th speech. I know there’s been a lot of questions about the list. It’s been delivered to the Hill, to a number of folks on the both the Senate and the House side, both Democrats and Republican leadership and chairs and rankings of our key committees.
And finally, today we remember those who tragically lost their lives in the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th, 2010. It was five years ago today. On this occasion, the United States reaffirms its long- term commitment to support the Haitian people as they build a more prosperous and democratic future.
With the help of the international community, including the U.S., Haiti has made significant progress since 2010, including positive economic growth, improved basic health indicators, job creation, increased access to primary education, shelter for the earthquake displaced, and improved overall security. More remains to be done, and further progress depends on good governance by Haiti’s leaders, in particular of holding of overdue legislative and local elections, and a sustained focus by the international community to assist the Government of Haiti with its development. Secretary Kerry also released a video message today on this if you have not seen it.
QUESTION: So could we start with —
MS. HARF: Sorry. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — Cuba? No, that’s fine.
MS. HARF: Yes. A lot of business happened over the weekend.
QUESTION: I will address one of the five points you —
MS. HARF: Great.
QUESTION: — started with. On the Cuba —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — do you feel that this release, now that you say it’s completed, vindicates the path forward that you’ve – you opted for last month? And does this also kind of remove any questions about the migration talks and kind of the normalization process that’s supposed to start?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. We are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment they made to undertake this sovereign decision. So clearly, we think this is a good thing. I think we have always believed, since we made this change in policy, that it was the right thing to do for a variety of reasons. We know there are going to be challenges that remain in terms of, while there may be fewer longer-term detentions, we’re concerned about short-term detentions. So we know there are going to be human rights concerns we still have when it comes to Cuba, but we are very pleased that they followed through on this commitment and are looking forward to Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s trip later this month.
QUESTION: So why not make the list public at this point, given that they’re all free? And if they’re all political prisoners, as you say, shouldn’t their name being out there be not helpful?
MS. HARF: We fully support it being out there. We have shared it with Congress, as I said, including the full list. We fully expect it will be in the public domain. I think it’s a little, first, unusual to print a list like that on a U.S. Government website. So it’s not something we would stand – or do under standard procedure. We’re happy for it to be in the public domain, but we also don’t want to leave the impression by posting it, for example, on a government website, that these are the only ones we care about or that this was the only checklist by which we would judge Cuba’s human rights situation. So we’re happy with the names being out there, and I’m sure Congress will provide it if they haven’t already. They do have it now.
QUESTION: Can I ask another one?
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: You said you shared the list. Have – was that this morning that you shared that list?
MS. HARF: Yes, it went up. It should have been delivered to everybody by now. It’s being delivered on the Senate side to Majority Leader McConnell, Democratic Leader Reid, the chairman of Foreign Relations – or, excuse me – yes, Foreign Relations on the Senate side, Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Menendez, and then Chair Graham and Ranking Member Leahy on Appropriations. And then on the House side, of course, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader McCarthy, Democratic Whip Hoyer, and then HFAC Chair and Rankings Royce and Engel. This actually started with a letter they had sent to us, so we responded but also expanded the distribution. And Chair Granger and Ranking Lowey on Appropriations as well.
QUESTION: And when you say you expected it to be made public, you expect them to make it public?
MS. HARF: We’re happy if they do. We have no problem with it being out there. It just – we’re not going to be posting it on a U.S. Government website because, as I said, that’s a little unusual. And also, we don’t want people to think that it’s just the only checklist or the measure by which we are judging Cuba’s human rights. But happy for the names to be out there, certainly.
QUESTION: Can you clear up how many of these 53 were still imprisoned at the time of the deal last month?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Because we —
MS. HARF: Yeah, I can.
QUESTION: — we’ve been doing our own count and we have a small discrepancy on the numbers.
MS. HARF: Yep. So – and we can go back through more history if you want. But a small number of the 53 prisoners identified by the U.S. side have been slated for release during the period that the spy swap negotiations were taking place. They were released as scheduled in the summer and the fall. So we have gone to the Cubans with a list. We shared those names this past summer. So a small number of the people on the list we gave them during the summer were slated for release and then were released as scheduled in the summer and fall after we had shared the list.
MS. HARF: The Cuban Government released a few additional prisoners before December 17th; but in the period since then, which is when we announced that this had been finalized, the Cuban Government has released all 53 persons whose names were shared by the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: And is it your understanding that all 53 – not only are they released from – they’re not under house arrest, they don’t have limits on their freedom of movement, they don’t have other restrictions on them now?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details on that. It’s a good question, Brad. Certainly, we would hope they don’t. I just don’t have details on that. I can check on that.
Anything else on Cuba? Great.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Can we address one of the five points you mentioned?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: On France and Paris —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — I’d like to ask an explanation about the absence of the top-ranking U.S. official at the march. I know that Secretary Kerry addressed that at his press avail in India. I know also that the President and the Secretary went to the French Embassy on Thursday and Friday.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But still, Eric Holder was in Paris on Sunday.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And so do you have an explanation why there was no top-ranking official in Paris?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple of points. First, I think there should be no question at all among the French Government or the French people that the U.S. has done anything but stand squarely by our very close ally, our oldest ally, during and since this attack. And I the French – actually, including the French ambassador – have been out on the record speaking about that, that they felt nothing but support during this.
As you mentioned, Secretary Kerry spoke directly to the French people in French the day of the attacks. He and the President both went to the French Embassy to sign the condolence book, and Secretary Kerry will be going there on Thursday night. As we said, he was in India for the pre-scheduled trip. If he could have been in Paris, he would have been. The ambassador, Hartley, was honored to represent the United States.
But I would also underscore what the Secretary said this morning, that no one event or one day represents the breadth of a relationship like we have with France. This was a very important march. We were honored to be represented there. But we have stood side by side the French. They’ve said so publicly since this horrific attack.
QUESTION: So you don’t find the criticism coming from the U.S. press and also from some members of the Congress, you don’t feel that this criticism are fair?
MS. HARF: I don’t feel that it’s fair. And I would, again, let the French speak for themselves, and they have at this point, saying there is – they know we’ve stood by them, they know they’ve had our full support. I’ll let them speak for themselves. But again, we have a very strong relationship with the French that goes beyond, certainly, any one day or any one event. And that will absolutely continue.
QUESTION: But nobody’s —
QUESTION: Can you just pinpoint —
QUESTION: No one is disputing that. I mean, obviously, you stand by the French and it’s a very close ally, which makes it even kind of weirder that when 50 – the leaders of 50 nations were there why there wasn’t top-level representation. We’re not disputing – no one, I think, is disputing the close relationship or that the U.S. stands by France, but it just kind of just doesn’t make sense. So if you could explain why.
MS. HARF: Well, as I’ve said, Secretary Kerry would have liked to be there, of course. He was in India for this pre-scheduled trip. But there are more ways than just this march to show our solidarity with the French, and I think that’s what I would underscore. The President of the United States going to the French Embassy and signing the condolence book, the Secretary doing the same, the Secretary going to Paris later this week – this isn’t the only way to show solidarity. It’s certainly an important way, but it’s not the only way.
QUESTION: Don’t you think that an opportunity was missed here? I mean, you had, for example, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel standing within 10 feet of each other. It’s about the closest you could have gotten them in years. You had world leaders at the highest level. Where – why not send someone of similar stature?
MS. HARF: Well, we make decisions like this based on a variety of factors that —
QUESTION: Such as?
MS. HARF: Such as – we’ve talked about security, for example. Obviously – and the White House, I am sure, is speaking more to this right now. I think my colleague is briefing there. Obviously, for the President, there are very specific security concerns that go along when he travels. There are just a variety of factors we take into account here. And as I said, for us, this was an important march, and that’s why we wanted our ambassador there. We also had folks at the march in Washington, but it is not the only way to show solidarity. And the Secretary certainly would have been there if he could, and he’s looking forward to going there on Thursday.
QUESTION: I mean, were there any discussions about sending not the President – the Vice President, the Secretary of State, someone going and where – was this debated actively within the Administration?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into what our internal conversations look like.
MS. HARF: Well, he’s – he said —
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to characterize it.
MS. HARF: — was it debated inside.
QUESTION: Was it, or wasn’t it?
MS. HARF: As we’ve said on the record, the Secretary’s schedule didn’t allow it. As he said, if he could have been there, he would have been. Look, there were a variety of conversations, but I think what I’m trying to emphasize is that since this happened, we have shown solidarity with the French in so many ways that demonstrates our relationship, and that it is not defined by any one event; no matter how important the event is, it just isn’t. And I understand why there’s some attention being paid to it, particularly in Washington. I actually don’t think there’s much attention being paid to it in France, but people can correct me if I’m wrong. But what we’re focused on isn’t who’s at a march, although important. It’s how we work together to address this threat together, and that’s what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: Was —
QUESTION: Marie, can you speak to the timing on the announcement of Secretary Kerry’s trip to Paris? Because it seems like it was tacked on after the criticism started arising about him not participating in the march
MS. HARF: I understand the timing seems that way. We were considering a trip to Paris. The Secretary was trying to determine if he could add it on to this trip. As you know, he does that on pretty much almost every trip he goes on. He was trying to determine if he could put it onto the end of this trip. So we were considering a trip to Paris before some of the criticism you mentioned. We announced it when we could have it confirmed and finalized, so it was in no way in response. I understand how the timing could have looked that way, but it – you all who travel with the Secretary know he’s always looking for ways to get to Paris under – usually under happier circumstances, but we were trying to fit this onto the trip prior to yesterday’s march.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: Did Assistant Secretary Nuland participate in this —
MS. HARF: She was in the Washington march.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: Not —
MS. HARF: She was in D.C. Mm-hmm. Yep, she was in Washington.
QUESTION: Well, what about Mr. Holder? Apparently, he was in Paris.
MS. HARF: He was.
QUESTION: Why did he not march?
MS. HARF: I think his folks have spoken to this. His team has said it was a scheduling issue that he had to leave after his last meetings with the French Government. I’ll let them speak more to that, but I think that’s what they’ve said to reporters.
QUESTION: Can we move on to the investigation?
MS. HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s some surveillance video that just emerged of Hayat Boumediene kind of slipping, not actually on the border, but showing that she was on her way into Syria. Can you talk about how – what you’re learning about how she did that, especially since in recent months with the campaign against ISIS, there has been a lot of attention being paid to foreign fighters going into Syria?
MS. HARF: Absolutely, and we are – remain very concerned about the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria. And we’re engaging with our coalition partners, including Turkey, on that issue. We’ve seen the reports. Obviously, the intelligence community right now is running down every lead to see if they can provide any information to the French on her and her whereabouts and how she might have gone places. The French have the lead on this. They’re also working with the Turks directly. Not much more to share than that at this point, though.
QUESTION: But I mean, it just seems as if this goes to the critical – like, it’s not kind of a separate issue —
MS. HARF: Absolutely. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — in terms of the fight against ISIS and foreign fighters going in and – like this one. I mean, do you think that as you’re looking at your campaign to stop foreign fighters that clearly critical ones are falling through the cracks here?
MS. HARF: I think it underscores the challenge, the really significant challenge here. Obviously, I, at the top, I think before you came in, mentioned General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are in – overseas meeting with different folks, and they’re in Iraq today talking about all the lines of effort; this is clearly one of them. And you’re absolutely right, it shows that there is a real threat here.
QUESTION: Marie, it seems that the Kouachi brothers was red flags in – on the list of U.S. flight list. And is this the case for the Hayat Boumediene, too?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more information on her to share. As I said, the intelligence community is working very closely with the French to run down any lead they may have that is related at all to the investigation of what happened here, including anything about her. But nothing more to share.
QUESTION: Have you contacted with the Turkish officials because – before her arrival in Turkey, or after?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more information to share about her.
Anything else on this? Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on communications between this building and Yemini authorities regarding the status of the Kouachi brothers as having stayed in Yemen?
MS. HARF: Not on communication. I can confirm that we have information – we, the U.S. Government – on these individuals and their travel activities that we have been sharing with our French counterparts. Obviously, this is their investigation. I don’t want to undermine it by sort of getting into specific details that have been out there in the press and confirming them one way or the other. But clearly, separate and apart from this case, we have an ongoing counterterrorism dialogue in this building, but also with our intelligence colleagues, with Yemen about this threat, about the threat that AQAP has posed. You know how focused we’ve been on them for many years.
QUESTION: In the wake of the French attacks, some security analysts have pointed to France’s maintenance of so-called no-go zones, which amount to large enclaves of Muslims where central state control is notably diminished. What view does the United States —
MS. HARF: In what countries? Where is this?
QUESTION: In France and Sweden is what —
MS. HARF: Okay. I’m not familiar with those. I’m happy to check into that for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: And related to Michelle’s question, there was an analyst who cited specifically Birmingham in the UK, I believe, as being a place where there are no American citizens and is specifically Muslim.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: There’s been a lot of backlash among commentators in the UK about kind of what they say is how erroneous that view is —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — and I’m just wondering if the State Department has any —
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I’m not familiar with it. I think you can probably find a lot of security analysts to say sort of anything these days in the wake of these kinds of attacks, but let me check. I’m not familiar with that specific issue.
What else on this? Anything else on this?
QUESTION: It’s – no, it’s —
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: — kind of on Saudi.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Could you speak about jailed blogger Raif Badawi and his sentence of 1,000 lashes by flogging?
MS. HARF: Well, Jen spoke about this at length last week; obviously said that it was something that we did not support and called on the Saudi Government to do a few things. I don’t have any update for you. I’m happy to check with our team and see if there is one.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, right now there has been so much talk and a world is kind of speaking out after this Charlie Hebdo attack in terms of the right to free expression.
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: And it kind of seems a little bit ironic that right now – that this blogger is getting 1,000 lashes when the world is speaking up in terms of free expression.
MS. HARF: Absolutely. That’s why we have publicly said that we take issue with this sentence.
QUESTION: And are you talking to the Saudis about it?
MS. HARF: I can check on what the communication is.
QUESTION: Sticking with Saudi Arabia —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — are you familiar with a report by a semi-respected news wire – a very respected news wire —
MS. HARF: Which one of these two is it? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — that said —
MS. HARF: They’re both looking at you accusatorily.
QUESTION: — I’m teasing, I’m teasing – a Saudi cleric saying that snowmen are anti-Islamic? You know they had snow in the northern part of the country.
MS. HARF: I do know they have – I saw —
QUESTION: Is that the view of the State Department as well?
MS. HARF: I saw that this morning. I have no idea the facts behind that, but clearly, I fully support anybody’s right to make a snowman, so —
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: — I can go on the record as saying that.
QUESTION: Did anyone from the embassy watch the incident at the Saudi Arabia regarding this lashing ceremony?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know the —
QUESTION: I mean, this gentleman is supposed to receive now, what, 50 lashings a week until the 1,000 lashings are done. I mean, are you going to do anything to try and stop this punishment from being fully executed?
MS. HARF: I think publicly saying that this is something that we do not believe should go forward is a fairly strong statement. I agree with you.
QUESTION: I mean, not believing it should go forward and reaching out to the Saudis and making a big deal and demanding that it not be – this sentence not be implemented is something different.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think we’re in the business of demanding things, but I’m happy to check and see what the diplomatic outreach has been.
QUESTION: Change —
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I just don’t know, Elise.
QUESTION: This is not something you’d demand that they reassess? I mean, they’re —
MS. HARF: Well, Jen was very clear how strongly we felt about this and that we did not believe it should go forward.
QUESTION: But yet it’s still going forward.
MS. HARF: And I agree that it shouldn’t, Elise. I don’t have anything to add to this other than what we’ve already said.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Saudi Arabia the king, who is a close U.S. partner —
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: — can step in and probably address this.
MS. HARF: I will check on what the diplomatic outreach has been around this so that I can share.
QUESTION: Can you – can we stay in the region?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Do you have comment on this bathhouse trial in Egypt?
MS. HARF: I do, I do.
QUESTION: Which seems to have been readdressed, at least.
MS. HARF: Yes. We welcome the court’s decision that brought this case to a just conclusion; obviously continue to stress the importance of protecting the human rights of all Egyptians.
QUESTION: Are you worried that despite the acquittal, that these types of prosecutions – I could say persecutions, too – are going to continue without kind of clear legislation that says the rights of people will be respected regardless of sexual orientation?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know if legislation is the answer, so I don’t want to comment on that piece. But clearly, we have ongoing concerns about the space for people in Egypt, whether it’s to express themselves freely in terms of freedom of speech – for journalists, we’ve talked about a lot in this room – but sort of across the board. Obviously, protecting human rights is something we care very much about and do have ongoing concerns.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — on ISIS and Iraq, Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, criticized the slowness of the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS in providing military support to his army. And he said the international coalition is very slow in its support and training of the army in Iraq. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously we all wish that this fight with ISIS could go more quickly. We all know it’s a long fight, though, and I know Prime Minister Abadi has spoken to that as well. We have continued to provide support to the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces, I think just last week announcing another large tranche of support to them. We’re standing up the training missions, we’re on the ground helping them, so obviously, we know this is going to be a long fight. We wish that it would not be, of course, but we know that it will be, and I know Prime Minister Abadi has spoken to that as well.
QUESTION: Do you think that his criticism is baseless?
MS. HARF: Well, without commenting on everything he said, we work very closely with him and his team and his security forces, the forces both on the Iraqi and the Kurdish side, to fight this threat together. So that is ongoing, and certainly will continue.
QUESTION: Do you agree the view of many Iraqis that Iran has been the major supporter of Iraq’s fight against ISIL/ISIS, as opposed to the United States so far?
MS. HARF: Well, I think that it is clear to anyone who’s been watching this that the U.S. has unique and valuable capabilities they can bring to this fight that have helped the Iraqis, whether it’s specific arms or weapons or other capabilities that we’ve brought to bear that no other country can. Clearly, Iran and Iraq will have a relationship. They have a historical relationship, they have a geographical boundary, but I think it’s important not to overstate that relationship, and again, going back to all the things we provide Iraq that, quite frankly, nobody else can, that we will continue doing.
QUESTION: Given that you’re providing what you say you’re providing, are you worried that you’re losing at least the public relations battle and that Iran is being perceived as kind of the country rushing to Iraq’s support as opposed to the United States?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think I probably have a good way to judge the public relations battle inside Iraq, but I will say what we’ve heard from Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum is how closely they want to work with the United States, how valuable they know our contributions are. We hear it from average Iraqis too, so – a lot of this is anecdotal, but I do think that we’ve heard from people across the spectrum how much they value our working on this together.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Iraq?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yes. Prime Minister Abadi is touring in the region, and recently, he was in Egypt too, and he’s going —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — to other places. And one of the things beside Iraqis discussing the possibility of or the – I don’t know, as a suggestion of a political solution for Syria. Is there anything on the table, or it’s just like he has to play a role or – in a political solution?
MS. HARF: Are you talking about Prime Minister Abadi for Syria?
QUESTION: Yes, yeah, I mean, or – Iraq or the region countries.
MS. HARF: Well, we have had on the table the Geneva communique, obviously, which laid out the basis for a political solution. Now obviously, we’re a long way away from that. We need a variety of actors to step up and play a constructive role, and certainly, if the Iraqis can, that would be helpful. Obviously, it’s the Syrian opposition that’s most important, as well as the Assad regime getting everybody to the table to talk about a political solution. We’re very far from that, but certainly, if regional players can help and play positive roles, we would welcome that.
QUESTION: Why there was this UN proposal, or – let’s say in the same time, there are some reports in the region the last few days about a plan or a process to make a Moscow one or similar things.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you opposing it or are you —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — encouraging it, or what?
MS. HARF: So there’s two different sets of upcoming talks with the – internally in the Syrian opposition, so I’ll just lay those out for you. The first is January 22nd in Cairo. They’re a welcome step in the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s efforts to engage with other opposition groups. We obviously continue to encourage them to reach out to as broad a swath of Syrian society as possible. We’re grateful to the Egyptians for their hosting. This is an independent effort from Moscow, which I believe is January 26th through 29th. It’s a Russian initiative that focuses on intra-Syrian negotiations. Obviously, we’re not involved in the planning here, but we believe that any kind of efforts that can get us closer to a real political solution here that makes genuine progress towards addressing these core grievances and providing a sustainable solution would be helpful. We’ll see what comes out of this.
QUESTION: Let me continue this, because it’s like there are some puzzling pieces there.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: First of all, are you interested – or, let’s say, are you attending or somehow monitoring or following these things, or not?
MS. HARF: We’re certainly following them. We are not at this time participating in them.
QUESTION: And the second question, as a principle – I mean, as an issue – some of these suggestions are suggesting part of the deal or the solution is Assad regime included. Do you oppose it?
MS. HARF: Well, we know the Assad regime has to be a part of the negotiations to get to a transitional governing body. You obviously have to have them at the table. That’s why they were part of the first two rounds in Geneva. What the eventual agreement would look like, we have no idea at this point. But we have been clear that Assad must go; he has lost all legitimacy. But as you’ve seen from the previous rounds in Geneva, obviously the regime has to be at the table. We’re not there yet, though.
QUESTION: Can we wrap up the Islamic State threat, unless you want to continue —
QUESTION: On this one, have you encouraged the Syrian opposition to attend Moscow’s conference?
MS. HARF: I can check and see. As I said, we believe anything that gets towards real progress is good. I can check and see.
QUESTION: Because when you said Assad regime – for few months, you were saying from this podium that future Syria is without Assad. Are you changing your position?
MS. HARF: No. The future – President Assad cannot be part of the future of Syria. We have not changed. But when it comes to who’s at the negotiating table to get there, we’ve always been clear the Assad regime has to be at the table, because there’s – you have to negotiate with them to get there.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the apparent abduction of a lot of Christians in Libya?
MS. HARF: We’ve seen it. We’re looking into the reports. Obviously, if true, would condemn this in the absolute strongest terms. We’ll see if we can get some more information on it.
QUESTION: And then, do you have any comment on what seems to be a growing allegiance, or at least sympathy, to the Islamic State in parts of southern Afghanistan now?
MS. HARF: Yeah. We’re also following that, and at this point – I have a little bit on this. We’ve seen the rhetorical messages of support. We continue to watch for signs that these statements could amount to something more than just rhetorical support. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant; but when it comes to counterterrorism efforts, trying to see if this actually amounts to more, and are obviously concerned with a number of extremist elements already operating there, whether it’s al-Qaida, the Haqqani Network, the TTP. So we’ll continue watching.
QUESTION: Can we go back to France for a minute?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Is it correct, Marie, that some U.S. officials expressed their concerns over the weekend or just before the attacks in Paris about the rise of anti-Semitism in France and about the fact that the Jews need to be better protected? It appeared in some Israeli and U.S. reports.
MS. HARF: Over the weekend? I’m happy to check. I mean, we’ve spoken very publicly about our concern about anti-Semitism. There’ve been some attacks, as you know. So we’ve spoken about this for a number of months. I can check and see if there was something specific over the weekend – not that I’m aware of. It’s an ongoing concern.
QUESTION: Marie, can I also just go back to Cuba, please?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Now that we have the list of names, apparently. It didn’t take long —
MS. HARF: See, I could’ve bet by the time I was done briefing it would be out. Yes.
QUESTION: The attention turns to those that Cuba refused to release during the negotiations or refused to have on the list during the negotiations.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: How many prisoners were there in that group, please?
MS. HARF: So we went to them initially with a list of names. They released a significant majority – significant majority – of the names we provided them with. I’m not going to give you a number for how many we provided them with. But for the small number of cases we were unsuccessful on, we will absolutely continue to pursue their release. We – and as I said to Brad, we recognize there are fewer people in the category of long-term prisoners now, but we are very concerned about the pattern of short-term detentions, intimidation, and harassment, and so we’ll continue to press on that as well.
QUESTION: Can you specify “small number of cases”?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I can’t. I – we’re just not going to —
QUESTION: Small in comparison to 53, or small in comparison to the island population?
MS. HARF: Small in comparison – I don’t know – to 53. Small, small.
QUESTION: So as you’re focusing on these more difficult —
MS. HARF: But wait – but that’s part of the reason we didn’t want to just say, “These are the only 53 we care about,” and give that impression.
QUESTION: How important is it for trust building going forward that Cuba now releases more of these difficult cases? And I gather all those that you had on the list and that they didn’t want to discuss are also political prisoners, right?
MS. HARF: I can check on that and see. I’m sure there are some, and we will keep pressing for their release. And that’s one of the reasons why we believe normalization is the right policy here. Having an ambassador and a embassy there will give us more ability to press on some of these issues.
QUESTION: Can we digress to one other issue —
MS. HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: — which is the – again, the march. While you’ve been up here, your colleague at the White House said that the White House should’ve sent someone more high-profile to attend the march. So in light —
MS. HARF: I certainly don’t disagree with my colleague at the White House.
QUESTION: So in light of that – I know we’ve discussed a bit about the internal conversations that went on, but I’m wondering if you can shed any light on whether there was a – the State Department offered to send Secretary Kerry to the march.
MS. HARF: There was no logistical way Secretary Kerry could go.
QUESTION: He could’ve canceled his Munich trip.
MS. HARF: He could’ve – well, he was already on his way, first of all, to India. He went through Munich. We have long committed for – Prime Minister Modi, obviously – India is an incredibly important economic partner. This was an economic conference. And then we’ll – of course, once he was in India, he was going to attend this because he thinks it’s a very important relationship. So there was just really no way for him to get there. He’s looking forward to going on Thursday.
QUESTION: How is he already on his way to Cuba? The attacks happened —
MS. HARF: Cuba? No one’s going to Cuba yet.
QUESTION: To India. The attacks happened last week.
MS. HARF: Well, when we —
QUESTION: The march was well in advance.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: The march was already planned.
MS. HARF: Right, well —
QUESTION: So how – I mean, what —
MS. HARF: It was being planned and was being finalized. And when there were discussions about who would attend —
QUESTION: So it was too late based on the timing of your discussions, not based on the timing of —
MS. HARF: Well, it came together sort of – not at the last minute, but obviously planning was ongoing, and who was going to attend, other world leaders – I don’t think any of that was finalized until the end. So the conversations were ongoing, but he did not want to cancel an important trip to India about economics with the new prime minister of India.
QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t think the trip to – I mean, if you thought – if you think the attacks happened, what, Wednesday and then Friday – sorry, am I getting that right?
MS. HARF: Right, he left Friday.
QUESTION: Right. And then —
MS. HARF: Right, and —
QUESTION: — he could have easily gone from Munich – I mean, the whole thing with going to India happened much later than everything’s already been established.
MS. HARF: Well, the planning, obviously, was ongoing for the march. And I don’t think all – everyone who was attending was clear until very late in the planning. That’s not a reason, I’m just saying that they’re – as a – as you know, when the Secretary is going someplace, particularly on a trip like India that we’ve had planned for a long time around an event with Prime Minister Modi, that’s very hard to turn off, and he didn’t want to. He has said – look, I think everyone who knows him knows if he could have been in Paris, he would have been.
QUESTION: That’s why we asked, because was he specifically told not to go to Paris —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — considering he would have wanted to go to Paris, as you (inaudible).
MS. HARF: No, he was not told not to. There was the India trip. It was just not feasible in his schedule. But believe me, he’s looking forward to going on Thursday.
QUESTION: So was the offer of him attending this rally never on the table?
MS. HARF: To who?
QUESTION: To the White House, because clearly they have expressed some regret about not sending someone high-profile.
MS. HARF: It’s not about offering. It’s about a discussion about who should attend. And the – I think, because everyone knew about the Secretary’s trip to India and knew how important it was, that it was just not an option.
QUESTION: Okay, so it didn’t factor into the conversations about who was going, whether (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to characterize our internal conversations more than that.
QUESTION: Why did it matter who was going from the other countries? I mean —
MS. HARF: I’m just saying all the —
QUESTION: — the U.S. is a leader in the world, isn’t it?
MS. HARF: Of course, but this isn’t about us, Brad.
QUESTION: I mean, shouldn’t we just go?
MS. HARF: Not everything is about us. I know that our media and the Washington talking heads like to think so. We have shown our solidarity with France in a number of ways, including the Secretary. So the conversations about the march and the planning was ongoing until the day of. There were discussions internally about who should go from the U.S. Government. The Secretary was never an option given he was going to India for this important economic conference with Prime Minister Modi.
QUESTION: Yes, but —
MS. HARF: That’s the best way I can characterize it, I think.
QUESTION: Just to follow up this issue, do you think – so from your perspective, you think that it’s a non-issue for the French people or France?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to speak for the French people. I think the French have been doing interviews and speaking about how vital they know our support is, how we’ve spoken up and stood with them, and I will let them speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Because part of diplomacy, as you know, is attitude and appearance and show.
MS. HARF: Absolutely. And I think that everything we have done in this Administration and since these attacks demonstrates the deep level of cooperation and friendship we have with the French Government and the French people, and Secretary Kerry is certainly at the forefront of that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) questioning about the attitude or – of presence or absence. It’s a matter – did the Secretary call the French partners to talk about this when the —
MS. HARF: About —
QUESTION: — before the march and that I’m not coming?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check. Again, I think everyone is very focused on this one moment in time. He has had ongoing conversations with the French starting the day of the attack, speaking to Foreign Minister Fabius, going out and speaking in French, going to the French Embassy. I know we’re all very focused on this, but our relationship is much broader than a short march.
QUESTION: Moving on —
MS. HARF: Thank you, Brad.
QUESTION: — while the Marquis de Lafayette rolls in his grave, will – can we go to Africa? I’m just teasing.
MS. HARF: I’m not even sure how to, like, take that transition. But yes, we can. And are you asking about Boko Haram?
QUESTION: I was going to ask you about that. That was one of my two items.
MS. HARF: Okay. I just – I would like to see how many minutes we spend on Boko Haram compared to a march. I just want to point that out to people.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask you because last week —
MS. HARF: I know, I know. I’m just pointing it out, making a little commentary there.
QUESTION: — there was a report of a lot of massacres, a lot of people massacred. And you said at the time you didn’t have much information on it, but you were pursuing. Have you been able to confirm Amnesty’s report, or do you have your own information that’s different?
MS. HARF: We’re still – it’s really hard to get information from the ground to confirm some of these reports. We are still working that. Of course, seeing the horrific reports today of young girls being used to conduct suicide attacks, we’re trying to confirm those independently as well. We obviously condemn these attacks in the strongest terms. Boko Haram is a huge threat, remains a huge threat. All you have to do is look at what’s happened over the last week to know that. And we are trying to get some more information about numbers and all of that.
QUESTION: What is your reading about why these attacks have increased? Is it something tied to the election?
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I know our analysts are looking at that right now. I’m not sure if we’ve come to a conclusion about why, but I’m happy to check with them again.
QUESTION: North Korea?
QUESTION: Boko Haram.
QUESTION: No, no, can we stay on Boko Haram?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: If – on Boko Haram, how is the – the U.S. military is being meant to be working with the Nigerian. Is that cooperation ongoing, or – we haven’t seen or heard much on —
MS. HARF: Yeah. If folks remember last – or I think in November, maybe, the Nigerian Government terminated the third phase of a training that the Nigerian army battalion had been doing with the U.S. Government. And at that time, I said from this podium that we regretted the premature termination of this training, which is designed to strengthen the Nigerian army’s capacity to counter Boko Haram. So we have a relationship with them, we are trying to help them improve their capacity, but obviously, that was not an ideal development that we saw late last year.
We also think that, of course, even in the face of these horrifying attacks, that this must not, I would say, distract Nigeria from carrying out credible and peaceful elections, that – I know it’s difficult, we know it’s difficult, but they need to go forward with those.
QUESTION: So given the termination of that, and it doesn’t look like a very solid relationship right now between the two, what about efforts to work closely with the neighbors?
MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary – actually, Secretary Kerry and others have been directly engaged with the Nigerians to talk about this issue, to improve our ability to work together, and I do think actually have had some success over the past few months since this – since the third phase of this one training was terminated. So we’re trying to get back on track here and I think have had some success, but let me see if I can get you more specifics from my DOD colleagues about the cooperation military-to-military.
QUESTION: And also, given the increase in these attacks, what kinds of diplomatic efforts are going on between the U.S. and Nigeria to try to stop this?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Let me see what I can get you on that.
QUESTION: North Korea?
QUESTION: Just one more on Africa?
MS. HARF: Yeah, one more on Africa, then we’ll go to North Korea.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on Dominic Ongwen, what’s happening to him right now? We know the Ugandans want to try him in their own court.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. He remains in the custody of the U.S. forces deployed to the Central African Republic in support of the AU’s regional counter LRA task force. He remains in that custody. We are working with the AU RTF to determine the next steps for this individual who has identified himself, as we have mentioned multiple times, and we don’t have anything to announce. Obviously, we believe it’s important he’s held accountable and that we should work with the relevant institutions and states to determine the proper method.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Uganda’s judicial system is up to the task of trying him?
MS. HARF: We’ll work with the relevant states to determine the method of accountability. I just don’t have much more for you than that.
QUESTION: I mean – and do you have a kind of understanding – I know you’re not a member of the ICC, but the ICC’s warrant notwithstanding, who – like, who’s judicial system should take precedence in this case?
MS. HARF: That’s what we’re working through right now.
QUESTION: And how fast do you want to make this decision?
MS. HARF: I can see if there’s a timeframe. I’m guessing probably as soon as possible, given we want him to be held accountable. But what does that mean? I don’t know.
QUESTION: Marie, on Syria —
MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to go to North Korea. One more on Syria.
QUESTION: Yeah. The German weekly Der Spiegel reported last week that President Bashar Assad has rebuilt Syria’s nuclear weapons infrastructure with help from Iran and North Korea.
MS. HARF: We’ve —
QUESTION: Can you confirm these reports?
MS. HARF: We’ve seen those reports, are seeking more information, certainly cannot confirm them.
QUESTION: Do you have any update with regard to the training and equipment program that you are trying to reach an agreement with the Turks?
MS. HARF: On the Syria train and equip program?
MS. HARF: Well, my colleague at the Defense Department spoke at length about this last week, certainly, so I would refer you to him. But DOD has announced that we expect training to begin in early spring. In addition to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also agreed to host training sites. Again, we’ll – going through the process right now, but expect the training to begin in early spring.
QUESTION: Do you expect any ceremony, any signing ceremony?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything more.
QUESTION: Because when we talked to DOD officials, they referred me to the State Department because of the (inaudible). You are referring —
MS. HARF: And I just told you what I know.
QUESTION: But if there will be a signing ceremony, there will be a State Department probably —
MS. HARF: Well, I have no idea how we will handle this when we actually – when the Defense Department, I should say, actually begins the training. We’ll keep you posted.
QUESTION: On the Spiegel story, you said you’re seeking – who are you seeking more – I mean, you know – you should know this area better than anybody —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — certainly better than a German, although highly respected, news magazine.
MS. HARF: I would agree with you that we probably have information they don’t.
QUESTION: So who are you seeking information from or are you —
MS. HARF: Seeking internally or from our partners to see what more we can – if we can cooperate this, but again, not sure we can.
QUESTION: Is that – well, you couldn’t corroborate it because of intelligence reasons or because the story’s false and you want to leave it out there?
MS. HARF: We don’t know yet. We just saw the reports and we’re looking into it.
QUESTION: Will you discuss this issue with the Iranians in the upcoming talks?
MS. HARF: No. The upcoming talks are about the Iranian nuclear program.
QUESTION: Yeah, but if they are helping the —
MS. HARF: Yes, but we don’t discuss other issues with them at those talks, as you all know.
QUESTION: But if they are —
MS. HARF: Let’s move on to North Korea and let’s —
QUESTION: But if they are helping the Assad regime to build a nuclear facility —
MS. HARF: I just said we’re not going to. I’m not sure what you don’t understand about that. We’re moving on to North Korea.
QUESTION: Just two questions about North Korea.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: A few days ago, we know North Korea said if Washington canceled a joint annual military exercise with South Korea, it would halt nuclear tests. Any comments on that?
MS. HARF: Yes. The DPRK statement that inappropriately links routine U.S.-ROK exercises to the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea is an implicit threat. A new nuclear test would be a clear violation of North Korea’s obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions, would also contravene North Korea’s commitments under the 2005 Six-Party joint statement. Our annual joint military exercises with the Republic of Korea are transparent, defense-oriented, and have been carried out regularly and openly for roughly 40 years. We call on the DPRK to immediately cease all threats, reduce tensions, and take the steps toward denuclearization needed to resume credible negotiations. And we do remain open to dialogue with the DPRK, as we’ve said, with the aim of returning to these credible and authentic negotiations.
QUESTION: But it seems every time when the joint military exercise starts, it creates some tensions in Korean Peninsula.
MS. HARF: Well, it shouldn’t, given that it’s defense-focused, defense-oriented, transparent, and regularly every 40 years. I’m not sure what is a surprise about it.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you interpret the North Korea statement as an implicit threat? Are there any plans for the U.S. to respond to that?
MS. HARF: I think I just did.
QUESTION: I mean with more than words.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re going forward with the planned exercises, so I’m not sure – which usually take place in late February or early March. No specific date yet. But nothing else that I know of.
QUESTION: So which means the joint military exercise will continue?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: So you don’t think it will – because the United States won’t like to talk to North Korea. I mean —
MS. HARF: I just said we remain open to dialogue with the DPRK.
QUESTION: Okay, but it seems that although you open dialogue, but you don’t think this military exercise creates some tensions in this —
MS. HARF: No. A military exercise that is transparent and defense-oriented has no reason to.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the report that former Special Representative for North Korea Policy Steven Bosworth, he and other – some other American security experts have all been meeting with North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator and some other senior diplomats in Singapore?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t aware of that. I wasn’t. Let me check. Obviously, they’re not current U.S. officials, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Okay. One more question on Korea.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: South Korean President Park Geun-hye, she has said she’s open to a summit with North Korea and she has no preconditions for holding such a meeting. Any comment?
MS. HARF: Well, we welcome ROK efforts to improve inter-Korean relations and urge the DPRK to reciprocate in kind.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. HARF: Elliot, yeah.
QUESTION: This just happened before the briefing, I know, but —
MS. HARF: I love those the most.
QUESTION: Do you have anything you can say on the apparent hacking of CENTCOM’s Twitter?
MS. HARF: I saw it. I’m sure someone’s looking into it there and other places. I’m happy to check after the briefing.
MS. HARF: I had seen that right before I came out.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Could you expand on what you mean by you hope North Korea reciprocates President Park’s proposal?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have much more to add to that.
QUESTION: CENTCOM acknowledged like an hour ago that they had been hacked, their social media account’s been —
MS. HARF: I think that’s what Elliot just asked.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Elliot. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I said – it happened right before the briefing. I have no idea. I’m sure someone is looking into it. But I will let you know if we have anything else.
QUESTION: I had a couple loose ends.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I think a week ago the Israeli foreign ministry said that their understanding was Qatar had expelled Khaled Mashal, and now Qatar says they haven’t and he’s a dear guest of the emirate. Do you have a comment on that and do you think the political chief of a foreign terrorist organization should be dear guest of a close U.S. ally?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any comment except to say our position on Hamas has not changed, and I don’t have any comment on reported locations of people like him. But if anything changes I’m happy to let you know.
QUESTION: Well, has your position on Qatar changed? If —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation —
MS. HARF: Consistent positions.
QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation if he is in Qatar or we can say Turkey? Or you don’t have —
MS. HARF: I am happy for the Qataris to speak to that. I’m not going to get in the business of confirming where people are that aren’t in the U.S.
What else? Anything else? Everyone, on a lighter note, root for the Ohio State Buckeyes tonight. I’m wearing scarlet and gray. I’m going to be in a very bad mood tomorrow if they lose. So buckle up, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)