Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 14, 2014.
1:23 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily press briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then we’ll get started.
First, on Lebanon. As Ambassador Hale announced earlier today in Beirut following his discussions with the prime minister and the defense minister, the United States will soon deliver additional munitions and ordnance for offensive and defensive combat operations by the Lebanese Armed Forces. Following recent attacks in Arsal, this new assistance responds to the LAF’s request for emergency assistance to protect Lebanon from the threat posed by violent extremists. These materials will enhance the LAF’s ability to secure Lebanon’s borders, protect Lebanon’s people, and fight violent extremist groups.
U.S. military assistance will begin arriving in the next few weeks and continue in the months to come. The United States has always stood in support of Lebanon’s security and stability, and we are proud to be a strong partner of the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces, and we will continue to stand with Lebanon and with the LAF and the ISF as they protect the country from the spillover of violence from Syria.
Second, you may have just seen that we put out a statement. At the recommendation of the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone, the State Department today ordered the departure from Freetown of all eligible family members not employed by a post. The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution following the determination by the Department’s medical office that there is a lack of options for routine healthcare services at major medical facilities in Freetown due to the Ebola outbreak, are reconfiguring our Embassy staff to be more responsive to the current situation. Our entire effort is currently focused on assisting U.S. citizens in the country, the Government of Sierra Leone, international health organizations, and the Sierra Leonean people to deal with this unprecedented Ebola outbreak.
I would also note that today marks day 400 since our ambassador was nominated to Sierra Leone, John Hoover. He’s the third-longest waiting Senate – not State – nominee – 400 days is surprisingly not the longest. We haven’t had an ambassador in Sierra Leone since September 2013. John Hoover’s a career diplomat who has extensive experience in Africa, including as DCM in Uganda, political economic chief in Kenya, and director of regional and security affairs in Africa here in D.C., has a long and distinguished track record of crisis management, including in 2003 he led the USG response to the SARS outbreak in Shanghai, China.
So again, we will call on the Senate to confirm John Hoover, a longtime career diplomat. Again, today will be the 400th day since he was nominated to be ambassador to Sierra Leone where we are clearly dealing with a very serious situation.
And finally, on Iraq, as you just heard the President say, we said we would break the siege of Mount Sinjar, and indeed have broken the ISIL siege of that mountain, have saved – helped save many innocent lives at the same time. Our assessment team completed its work, found that our food and water had been reaching people trapped there successfully. We successfully struck ISIL targets which allowed people to leave. The Kurdish forces and Yezidis have been working together to lead the evacuation of people from that mountain. A majority of the U.S. military personnel who were part of that assessment team will be departing Iraq in the coming days, as the President said, and of course, there does remain a major humanitarian and security challenges here. We are working with our international partners and the international community to continue fighting both of those threats, but again, at least a little bit of good news coming from Mount Sinjar today.
QUESTION: Thank you. How would the State Department at this point assess the security of Erbil?
MS. HARF: In general?
MS. HARF: Well, you heard the President when he announced last week what – the different steps we would be taking in Iraq. One was to protect the city of Erbil. We believe we have had some progress in pushing ISIL’s advance towards Erbil back. I don’t know of any on-the-ground updates more specific than that.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, as you heard the President say, that airstrikes will continue to protect our people and facilities in Iraq —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — so I’m just wondering, at this point, if those will be immediately necessary considering that ISIL’s been pushed back at least to some extent?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any prediction about when we’ll take military strikes, and we tend not to say we take them before we take them for, I think, fairly obvious reasons. But under the two goals the President outlined when he announced the military action, we remain and retain the capability to strike at the time and place of our choosing to protect our people, and to protect – with Erbil, it’s obviously a critically, strategically important city. There’s infrastructure there that’s important. So those are all goals that we continue to focus on, and if more strikes are needed, the U.S. military stands ready to take them.
QUESTION: Right, and I guess I’m trying to get to: What is the urgency of the situation of Erbil today, if you have any updates compared to what it was a week ago when some of these strikes started?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve made progress in pushing ISIL back from Erbil. I think there’s still a huge threat, though, so I don’t want to downplay that. But I think we have made some progress, taken upwards, I think, of 20 strikes or close to 20 specifically about defending Erbil specifically.
QUESTION: Twenty specifically on Erbil?
MS. HARF: Well, there were, I think, 25 strikes now. I think seven of the – seven or eight were around Mount Sinjar. I can check on the exact numbers, but taken over a dozen strikes designed to protect the city of Erbil.
QUESTION: Okay. And about the number of U.S. personnel in Erbil, first off, do you have any idea of how many of the military personnel will come out, as you just said?
MS. HARF: A majority. We can check with DOD on specific numbers. I don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: Okay. And how – is there any movement to put State Department employees back in Erbil at this point?
MS. HARF: There are a number of State Department employees still in Erbil.
QUESTION: But a number of them came out, so I’m wondering —
MS. HARF: A small number came out.
QUESTION: — will they be returning?
MS. HARF: I can check and see if we have additional adjustments to our staffing that will be happening. Some of the remaining military personnel will stay to help, particularly at the joint operations center. So that’s being staffed by a number of different American folks to help the Iraqis against this threat, but that’s what they’ll be working on mostly. But I’ll check on the State Department people.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: To Anbar? We have an interview with the governor of Anbar who says that the United States has agreed to provide support to Anbar in their – or to the authorities in Anbar in their fight against the Islamic State. It’s not clear from his comments precisely what kind of support that would be, but the suggestion is that – or what he says is that their primary desire is for air support. Have U.S. officials made any – and he says these meetings were with American diplomats and military. Has the U.S. Government made any commitments to assist the Iraqi authorities in Anbar?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve continued meeting with a range of officials to talk through what the needs might be – the security needs to fight ISIL across the board. Separate from that, you heard the President very clearly outline the current mission that we’re operating under, what the goals of that are. The first is protecting our people and personnel in Erbil, focused on Erbil, and the second was, of course, the humanitarian situation around Mount Sinjar.
So in general, we will continue talking with Iraqi partners about what the needs might be. Nothing to announce in terms of hypothetically what that might look like in the future beyond sort of what we’ve already said about how we make these decisions. But again, nothing to announce or —
QUESTION: My reading of the War – thank you for that – my reading of the War Powers Resolution letter that the President sent to the speaker, and as you just reference, is that it would not cover U.S. military assistance in the form of personnel or airstrikes in Anbar. Is that correct?
MS. HARF: I can take a look at the war powers that we submitted to Congress on this specific – I don’t have that in front of me and I’m not an attorney. But it was focused on these two specific points.
QUESTION: Exactly, protecting your people in Erbil and —
MS. HARF: We also do have people in Baghdad, I would remind.
QUESTION: — right – and the humanitarian situation in that area.
MS. HARF: Well, there are only very specific things that trigger a war powers that needs to be submitted to Congress. So separate from war powers, in the general issue, as I said, I don’t have anything to announce or preview about a hypothetical and whether we’ll help in one place in one way. We have a variety of tools we can use to help, and if the United States military has the capability they can bring to bear and the President makes that decision, we can have that conversation then.
QUESTION: And is he correct that there’s been a commitment made here?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details for you than that, Arshad. We’re having conversations about what it might look like in the future, but nothing concrete beyond that.
QUESTION: But the President did say, though, that “We’ve increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines.”
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: I would assume that Fallujah is a front line —
MS. HARF: Correct. Yes, yes.
QUESTION: — as it has been for months.
MS. HARF: And that’s – I mean, our assistance to them has certainly been ongoing, absolutely. We’ve talked about that quite a bit.
QUESTION: Marie, can I ask you for more specifics about the situation in the mountain?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yes.
QUESTION: With the President saying that the siege has been broken, is it your understanding that all these Yezidis who had fled there, that the vast majority of them are now safe, have left? Or are there still some remaining Yezidis who need support?
MS. HARF: So, yeah. What we know now is that basically there were a number of Yezidis on the mountain. And some had been slowly trickling off, as we talked about in this room a little bit, but the U.S. airstrikes around the base of the mountain, in the vicinity of the mountain to take out ISIL targets really allowed for humanitarian passage off of the mountain and into safer – safer areas. The Kurdish forces and the Yezidis have really been in the lead on this evacuation off of the mountain, which has been a very good thing. There are some remaining Yezidis on the mountain. Some of the – we do know that food and water has been getting through to them. Some eventually may end up staying, a small number, given some actually live there to begin with.
So we think that the evacuation will continue, will be able to continue. We’re monitoring it, obviously. But as the President said, we don’t at the – it’s not necessarily likely that we’ll have to take additional airdrops there, humanitarian-wise, but obviously we’ll keep monitoring it.
QUESTION: Sure. I mean, just for our own interest, is there a way to quantify it a bit, of roughly how many —
MS. HARF: With numbers? I can check on that. There have been a variety of numbers floating around out there. I can check and see.
QUESTION: Can you speak to that, actually? Because I was —
MS. HARF: I could say on numbers – just one second – on numbers, we do think that about thousands – and I can see if there’s a more specific number – of Yezidis have been able to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days since we’ve really upped the airstrikes around them. They’ve been doing the evacuations at night for obvious security reasons. And that’s, I think, what they’ve been focused on operationally.
QUESTION: So DOD said today that there were something like 4,000 still left on Sinjar and about half of them were herders who were indigenous and weren’t going to leave anyway.
MS. HARF: Yeah, that sounds about right.
QUESTION: I’m just kind of wondering where the 40,000 number that was being kicked around a couple of days ago first surfaced.
MS. HARF: Well, we think the numbers were in the tens of thousands, certainly. That was our assessment and that remains our assessment. They have been able to be getting off of the mountain, as we said, because we helped open up these corridors here and broke the siege. So the numbers were fairly high. We always said we also didn’t – it’s hard to quantify exactly what the numbers were on that mountain. So —
QUESTION: Of those who escaped, do you think most of them left by the land corridors, or were airlifted out?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yeah. It’s my understanding through the land corridors.
QUESTION: Through the land corridors?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Arshad’s question about Anbar? It seems as if the Administration, both from the President on the record and from other officials on background in recent days, have indicated that airstrikes are going to be an open-ended project for the U.S. military because of the threat from Islamic State group. And one official in particular noted the sophisticated capabilities of these fighters, which would indicate that, okay, perhaps they lose some of their equipment and some of their people due to airstrikes, but they can find other ways to get to other parts of the country if that is indeed their intent. Given the ongoing questions about the Iraqi military’s ability to regenerate itself and develop its capability in order to confront IS directly, why isn’t it reasonable to assume that discussions of the sort with the Anbar governor – and it’s his version of events – as well as with other regional leaders across Iraq, aren’t, in fact, happening?
MS. HARF: I said conversations are happening, Roz. I just said they were happening about how we can best help. I said I don’t have anything up here to confirm about what future action hypothetically we might take.
And in terms of being open-ended, I mean, what we’ve been – the President was very clear that the missions he authorized were very discrete missions, and that obviously you don’t put an end date – you don’t want to tell the enemy, okay, we’re going to pick up and stop bombing you on this date, right, when you’re talking about a group that is rapidly moving forward. And in part because the situation is so fluid, right?
MS. HARF: So I think that going forward here, the President will continue looking at the situation on the ground, he will continue making decisions based on what’s our national security interest, but at the same time really helping the Iraqis get back on their feet and fight. And I would take issue with a little bit of what you said, that the Iraqis have been able to actually regroup in some ways. They’ve gotten more arms, they’ve gotten more weapons, and they’ve been able to start pushing back against ISIL, particularly working with the Kurds to do that. So I think they are on the right trajectory here. We just need to help some more, and I think they need a little more time, but we’ll keep working with them.
QUESTION: But how much territory has the Iraqi military been able to retake from IS fighters? How much —
MS. HARF: I don’t have a percentage for you, Roz.
QUESTION: I mean, the dam is still under IS control.
MS. HARF: That is true.
QUESTION: There are —
QUESTION: Yeah, and Fallujah. I mean, there are still very real gains.
MS. HARF: Huge challenges, yes.
QUESTION: Still very real gains. I mean, the President said so himself late last week, this isn’t going to be done in a matter of weeks.
MS. HARF: I wholeheartedly agree with that.
QUESTION: So why isn’t it reasonable to assume that there is some focused discussion on expanding U.S. airstrikes across other parts of Iraq, whether or not War Powers letters need to be sent or —
MS. HARF: We are having constant discussions internally in our own government and with the Iraqis about how we can help – what that looks like, whether that’s our assistance, whether those are our weapons, whether those are our advisors, whether it’s a different military mission, but the President’s been very clear here that there are not going to be troops on the ground in combat roles and that we need to be very deliberate when making decisions about where to use direct military power here. So the conversations are – I’m not saying the conversations aren’t happening. I’m just saying that there’s – I don’t have any new decisions to outline for you about what we may or may not do.
QUESTION: Well, it seems a bit specious to suggest that there couldn’t be any military actions because in particular, given that Iraq does not have a standing air force with the capabilities of, for example, calling in airstrikes, it looks as if it would be left up to the U.S. to provide that backup that the Iraqi military doesn’t have itself.
MS. HARF: There’s really like 15 different hypotheticals, and I’m not sure what the overall question you’re asking here is. Are we considering a range of options? Yes. I don’t know how much clearer I can be than that. And the Iraqi air force does have – let’s step back. They do have some ability to conduct air support to operations happening on the ground. They’ve done it with the Kurds particularly recently that we think has been fairly helpful. Are we considering a range of options? Yes. I mean, I’m not sure how much more clear I can be. Are we going to outline what those might look like? No.
QUESTION: Let me ask it this way if I may: You’ve said from the podium that the decisions were made heretofore in large part based on protecting American people and American facilities in Iraq. That’s why we saw the strikes against Erbil. That was the first piece of evidence used.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Laying apart the humanitarian aid aspect of this right now —
MS. HARF: That was a huge aspect of it though too, but yes.
MS. HARF: Driving the decision making.
QUESTION: The humanitarian aid?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: In Sinjar?
MS. HARF: Correct. But also taking strikes around it to make sure we can get people off. They went hand in hand.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, fine. I guess I’m saying – what I’m asking is: What do you think would change that decision-making process in terms of could the U.S. strike places other than targets where U.S. personnel and facilities are not located?
MS. HARF: Well, on that though, remember we have folks in Baghdad, so obviously the principle that’s applied to Erbil would, of course, apply to protecting our people in Baghdad. However, we felt it was – we needed to do that (a).
QUESTION: Right. But you all have said Baghdad’s not under threat —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — the way that Erbil is.
MS. HARF: That’s true.
QUESTION: But Fallujah is, so that’s the distinction I’m trying to make.
MS. HARF: Okay. So you’re asking what our decision-making process internally is like about whether and when we take military action?
QUESTION: I’m asking what would make the decision process change at this point to attack or to launch airstrikes against a city where there are no U.S. interests.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re looking at every situation in Iraq right now – where there are threats strategically, where ISIL has made gains, where the security forces of Iraq might need more support, and we will make decisions based on the threat picture, on the capabilities we have and that we can bring to bear, based on how we think we could be most helpful. And we’ll continue looking at it on a day-by-day basis. There are meetings every single day looking at what more we might be able to do. And in a lot of these places, we’ve increased our – and I keep talking about this, but it’s important – we’ve increased our eyes on our surveillance and reconnaissance so we can help the Iraqis with targets, help find these guys and go after them.
QUESTION: Right. But that’s been going in Fallujah for months now, and IS still —
MS. HARF: It has been, and it’s a really tough fight. And if people think that these things get turned around in a day – I mean, you know that better than anyone. These are – some of these are lengthy, tough fights.
QUESTION: Completely, and what could turn it around is direct U.S. military intervention.
MS. HARF: We will keep looking at what the options are and what we think is in our interests, and we’ll keep working with the Iraqis to help them fight against this threat. I just don’t have more to outline for you on what the internal deliberations are like about where and when we take military action in Iraq.
QUESTION: Marie, can you address reports that Islamic State fighters are massing around the town of Qara Tapa, which is about 70 miles north of Baghdad? Do you have any information on that?
MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of those reports. I don’t. I’ll check again with our team. I didn’t have anything to confirm that one way or the other. I’m not sure it’s not true; I just don’t know. I’ll check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes. Iraq?
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You said you had an estimate before of 40,000 people on the —
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t say our estimate was 40,000.
MS. HARF: We actually haven’t set a number from the podium, in part because it was really hard to know. We said tens of thousands.
QUESTION: Did you have an estimate of the number of ISIS fighters who were at the base? Because it sounds as if – I’m not a military expert, but seven – six, seven military – or airstrikes, rather, to break the siege —
MS. HARF: Pretty – they’re pretty big airstrikes.
QUESTION: Right. Well, okay.
MS. HARF: Pretty big bombs.
QUESTION: Right. From the CENTCOM readouts, I mean, there were – they were precision strikes —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — to clear – seven airstrikes to prevent a genocide; sounds like a pretty good deal. So, I mean, what —
MS. HARF: I would agree.
QUESTION: Right. So, I mean, are you looking to – is the President committed to continuing airstrikes to prevent humanitarian catastrophe?
MS. HARF: Everywhere we see humanitarian crises or situations, we look at the best way to do that. And the best way isn’t always the United States military. And there are a number of humanitarian crises – not just in Iraq – but in other places around the world where the U.S. Government is absolutely very deeply involved with the provision of humanitarian assistance – food, water, shelter, helping people just stay alive in some of these situations. So there’s different tools we can bring to bear, and it’s not always the best one to use the U.S. military.
Here, there was a discrete – particularly locationally – a situation where, with a very small number of airstrikes – you’re absolutely right – we were able to break the siege of this mountain. That’s not the case everywhere, and that’s – it’s not always the same.
QUESTION: Sorry, if you got into —
QUESTION: But —
MS. HARF: Let me have him finish and then you can go.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was just going to add that is an option that remains on the table in Iraq; theoretically in eastern Syria as well.
MS. HARF: Certainly, we – well, look, the President has always said we maintain the ability to strike at a time and place of our choosing if we believe it’s in our interest to do so, and he’ll make those decisions going forward.
QUESTION: I’m sorry if you got into this, but, I mean, one of – a lot of people think that one of ISIS tactics is to make you think that you’ve dispersed them or broke the siege, and then as soon as the – as soon as you leave the area, that they’ll just start again.
MS. HARF: Well, we have broken the siege of the mountain and —
QUESTION: For now.
MS. HARF: Well, the people that were trapped on it, many of them have been able to leave. So that’s been a good thing. The rest of them who will be leaving – a few thousand may remain up there who, I think, lived there before the siege – are being helped off by Kurdish forces, with the Yezidis helping them. So again, we’ve broken the siege of the mountain. It doesn’t mean there’s not a really horrible humanitarian situation in the north of Iraq that we’re going to keep focused on.
QUESTION: Well, not only a humanitarian situation in terms of aid and things like that, but —
MS. HARF: Security situation.
QUESTION: — there is a security situation.
MS. HARF: That’s right.
QUESTION: And you’re not abandoning that?
MS. HARF: No, not at all. We’re very focused on it. But in terms of the discrete goal of breaking the siege of the mountain, that was done. That doesn’t mean it’s not – as you heard the President say – still a very serious situation.
QUESTION: Have other countries done enough to help with the humanitarian piece? I mean, there was the —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — the video of the British prime minister standing in front of UK aid pallets and we’re weeks into this crisis, and clearly it’s going to get worse as people are now living in tent cities.
QUESTION: We have had a number of partners, and I don’t have the full list in here, but I can get it. Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan – I think I’m naming all the people – the EU, a number – and then, of course, Saudi Arabia and other partners in the Gulf really stepping up to the plate here helping on the humanitarian side. We have been heartened by, really, the outpouring of aid here that has come in. We are continuing to have conversations with our partners about what more we can all do.
QUESTION: How realistic is it to think about trying to get people to go back to their homes, or is this going to be a mission that’s going to have to be carried out over the coming winter?
MS. HARF: In terms of resettling people in their homes?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, there’s a number of internally displaced people in Iraq, and I think I got some numbers for you – you asked yesterday: 1.4 million Iraqis have been displaced by violence since January; 2.2 million in total since 2004, I think. So a large, large majority of those have been displaced since January. So we’re working with the UN, with – obviously, USAID plays a key role in this – to help those people, to get them food, water, shelter, urgent medical care. Obviously, we want them to be safe, and so the goal at the end of the day may be for some of them to return to their homes, but these places have to be safe. And in the meantime, we want to help them get what they need, the care they need.
QUESTION: So are we going to be seeing the same kind of IDP camps that resemble Syrian refugee camps?
MS. HARF: We’ll see. I mean, I don’t – we’re working with the UN on how we can keep these people safe. Whatever the best way to do that is, I think, is probably what we’ll do.
QUESTION: New subject.
QUESTION: No, can I ask another on Iraq?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, if I could just follow up on what you were saying a moment ago. There are a lot of places in the world where there are humanitarian crises, but we don’t necessarily get involved in all of them.
MS. HARF: No, but we always get – we usually always get involved —
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Directly militarily.
MS. HARF: That’s a key distinction.
QUESTION: Is sort of the line that’s drawn between where we get involved and where we don’t get involved, is it just a matter of strategic importance? Because we’ve seen other places in the world, as you’ve alluded to, where there have been humanitarian crises leading to the deaths of thousands of people, where the U.S. has very specifically not used the term “genocide,” which it’s used here.
MS. HARF: Potential for genocide here.
QUESTION: Potential for genocide here. But those words have not been used in some of these other crises that were – observers on the ground had used the term “genocide” in Central African Republic; beyond that, Sudan, DRC. What is kind of the reasoning? Where do you decide to get directly militarily involved?
MS. HARF: Right, no, and it’s a good question. And it’s – you can’t draw parallels between any two situations, and we really do judge each of them based on their own merit.
In Iraq we were responding to a very specific request from the government to help and to augment its security forces’ efforts to supply assistance to its citizens. That’s what we were focused on there. And I think the key part of that is we were working with the government. We also – and this is not something we have everywhere – have significant intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance in Iraq. So we have eyes on, which helps our ability to use military assets in these kind of situations. So we have greater capacity to take military action in places we have more eyes on. That’s not the case everywhere, and it’s not always a viable option to use the U.S. military.
But in all of those places you mentioned, we have a very robust humanitarian effort, we work with the UN and other international organizations. So we are very deeply involved, just not militarily.
QUESTION: And then, has – with the siege here having been broken, as the President said, is the potential for genocide lessened?
MS. HARF: Certainly, but – but – what we’ve seen with ISIL’s barbaric acts against all Iraqis from different sects and backgrounds, there’s a very, very serious threat here. It’s really a nihilistic group that has – I mean, we’ve seen the photos and images. I’m sure all of us have. So while this specific situation has been much alleviated, I think there’s still huge challenges, and we’re still watching it and helping in any way we can.
QUESTION: But there’s still – I mean, you’ve broken the siege off the mountain, but that doesn’t – as you said, there’s the security situation. And that doesn’t stop ISIL’s kind of desires to eradicate all quote-unquote “infidels.”
MS. HARF: That’s right.
QUESTION: So the potential for genocide technically still exists.
MS. HARF: Right. I was referring specifically on the mountain.
MS. HARF: When we said there was a potential for genocide on this mountain —
MS. HARF: — that has been, in large part, alleviated. But again, we’re watching and there are still people there, and we want to make sure people get off who want to get off of that mountain, right. But yes, broadly speaking, there is still a potential here for genocide when you have a terrorist group that has said they want to find people just because of their religion and kill them, I think they’ve been pretty clear about what they want to do here.
QUESTION: Can I ask – you were asked yesterday about the PKK and their involvement.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Did you get an answer?
MS. HARF: I did, a little bit of one. Let’s see what I have here. Our position on the PKK status has not changed. We are aware that there are many groups that are fighting ISIL in northern Iraq. Our efforts are focused on supporting the Government of Iraq, as part of Iraq the KRG, to provide much-needed security assistance to protect Iraq. So again, we know there are many groups here, but our position on the PKK has not changed.
QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence that the Kurds and the PKK are working together to fight ISIS?
MS. HARF: I can check with my team, but I don’t have anything for you.
QUESTION: I think the question was whether you were concerned about the possibility of their working together and therefore concerned about the possibility of U.S. military —
MS. HARF: I think the question was whether we were working with them. But —
QUESTION: Really? Okay, I thought —
MS. HARF: You can ask a different question.
QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way.
QUESTION: No, I —
QUESTION: I mean, the question I thought was —
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m looking for evidence that the Kurds and the PKK were working together.
MS. HARF: And I said we’re aware that many groups are fighting ISIL in northern Iraq. I can check and see if they’re working together.
QUESTION: And if they are, or if you think they are, if you have concerns about the possibility of U.S. munitions or anything else that goes to the Kurds ending up with a designated terrorist group.
MS. HARF: To my knowledge, we are not concerned about that.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: You’re not concerned about —
MS. HARF: And I did ask that question.
QUESTION: Not concerned about in the sense you don’t think that’s happening or will happen?
MS. HARF: Yeah, it’s not a concern. Obviously, we’re – we look at these things. But I checked with our team, and that didn’t seem to be a concern.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask a political question about Iraq?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the current prime minister, Mr. Maliki, being as cooperative as the U.S. and others would hope that he would be during this transition period?
MS. HARF: Cooperative with us?
QUESTION: Well, in terms of following the constitutional calendar —
MS. HARF: Well, the process is moving forward and —
QUESTION: But he’s still pushing his legal challenge.
MS. HARF: The process is moving forward, separate and apart from that. And that’s the process the constitution has outlined. We believe that everything’s been done constitutionally and it should proceed.
QUESTION: Does his pursuit of this lawsuit raise any more concerns in this building about whether the transition to an al-Abadi government will take place as scheduled?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we could ask – I’ve gotten asked this question every day for the last three days, and what I’ve said is the process is moving forward. We would reject any efforts to use coercion of the judicial process to change what Iraq’s constitutional process is or impact that process, but there’s a process in place. They’re having meetings about forming a government. The prime minister-designate has broad support, including from Prime Minister Maliki’s own party, and that process is moving forward. So I think we hope we can see some more movement in the coming days.
QUESTION: Have any U.S. officials spoken with Prime Minister Maliki since Mr. al-Abadi – I’m going to learn how to say this —
MS. HARF: I know.
QUESTION: — was named by the president last week?
MS. HARF: We have. We’re not going to outline specifically all of our conversations, but we remain in contact with him and with a variety of Iraq’s leaders.
QUESTION: Why not?
MS. HARF: Why not what?
QUESTION: Why not describe the phone calls, who spoke with him about what topics?
MS. HARF: Because we don’t always outline our private diplomatic communications, but we’ve remained in contact.
QUESTION: Is this an effort to basically dismiss him from the public stage?
MS. HARF: No, this is an effort to see Iraq’s constitutional process move forward as it is outlined in their own constitution.
QUESTION: But if another country were to do this with the – with President Obama once he comes to the end of his second term, I would imagine that this government would have some real concerns about talking to his successor rather to him since he would still have the legal authorities.
MS. HARF: I don’t even want to venture to address that sort of ridiculous hypothetical that in no way is comparable to the Iraqi parliamentary process, by the way, which is totally different than our own government system.
QUESTION: Can we move to Israel?
MS. HARF: If anyone – yeah, we can move to Israel.
QUESTION: Great. There was a report in The Wall Street Journal this morning that claimed that the White House intervened in a typical procedure of delivering munitions to Israel during Operation Protective Edge. Do you have a comment?
MS. HARF: Do I have a comment? I do. And I think some of that was – the tone of some of that wasn’t correct, and so let me go through a little bit of what our response would be —
MS. HARF: — and then I’m sure there will be follow-ups. As you know and as I have said many times, the United States has an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. No country has done more to support their security than the United States. Just last week, the President signed a bill providing Israel an additional $225 million in Iron Dome funding during the Gaza crisis. We will continue to provide additional security assistance to Israel going forward. And let me be clear: There has been no change in policy, period.
Given the crisis in Gaza, it’s natural that agencies take additional care to review deliveries as part of an interagency process. That is by no means unusual and, again, does not indicate any change in policy, as I think that story sort of alluded to. And it’s not a permanent change in process. Again, it represents additional care that we would take in any crisis, period.
QUESTION: Well, could you explain the additional – could you explain the rationale for the additional care that you’re using right now?
MS. HARF: During any crisis situation, we take additional steps to – through the interagency to look at deliveries. But again, deliveries have moved forward. We’ve put more funding forward. Again, it’s not an unusual step. I guess I’m just a little surprised by the emphasis on it.
QUESTION: Well, so first you mentioned that a defensive system, Iron Dome, was replenished —
MS. HARF: We have continued to provide offensive capabilities as well, as I had mentioned when we talked about resupply a few weeks ago.
QUESTION: Okay. Specifically, was the delivery of Hellfire missiles halted by the White House or by this Administration. Can you speak to that specifically?
MS. HARF: I can check on that specific delivery.
MS. HARF: Usually, we don’t speak about specific deliveries. I can check on that one, but I was making the broader point that there’s been no change in our policy —
MS. HARF: — towards providing Israel with this kind of support. During a crisis, we take additional care just to go over things as we would anywhere. But again, nothing’s changed in terms of our policy here.
QUESTION: When has this happened before?
MS. HARF: I can check, Roz, but there’s a lot – during crises where we are providing munitions and weapons, we tend to take additional care and look at things just a little bit harder.
QUESTION: But certainly, one of the —
QUESTION: So the Secretary looked – what specifically – when you take this care, what specifically are you looking at?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to outline our internal decision-making processes and what we take into account when we make these kind of decisions.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: What – decisions for what?
MS. HARF: How things move forward.
QUESTION: So you —
MS. HARF: How deliveries move forward.
QUESTION: The lead of the Journal story says that White House and State Department officials were surprised that Israel was obtaining ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.
MS. HARF: I would disagree with that notion.
QUESTION: Okay. Good. So one —
MS. HARF: Good. You’re glad we’re all coordinated.
QUESTION: Well, I’m glad it’s a clear answer. What is the normal process for deliveries of ammunition by the Pentagon to another country? And does it require the explicit approval of the White House or the State Department?
MS. HARF: I can check on that, Arshad. I don’t have that —
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: Because the Pentagon had said when these first reports came out about mortars and bullet-piercing – armor – bullets and tear gas and other equipment, they basically said this is a mil-to-mil relationship, we’ve had this relationship for a very long time and —
MS. HARF: And I repeated that from this podium.
QUESTION: And – but yet, they did not say that they needed to have any oversight, not even from their own secretary, that this was a bureaucratic, longstanding relationship. And the way the Journal story portrays it, it’s as if in light of a lot of the negative publicity that surrounded the story —
MS. HARF: This has nothing to do with publicity, Roz.
QUESTION: But —
MS. HARF: It has nothing to do with publicity.
QUESTION: But the story suggested that.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m saying it doesn’t.
QUESTION: Well, the implication, though, is that – forget about the publicity – but the implication is that there is a concern within various quarters of the Administration that some of the U.S. ammunition was being used and contributed to Palestinian civilian deaths, and that is what triggered the review. Can you speak to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I – let’s take – “review” is a pretty technical term, and I would caution you from using that. No, I’m just responding to the question.
QUESTION: Well, you – I think you said – I think you just —
MS. HARF: I said we take additional steps to look. There’s not a review.
MS. HARF: There’s a difference, Elise. There is, and it matters.
QUESTION: Well, looking at – taking a second look is reviewing to me, but —
MS. HARF: So we made clearly publicly that we thought Israel could do more to protect civilians. We made that very clear publicly.
QUESTION: Yes, I understand.
MS. HARF: We also said our goal all along was to help Israel stop the rocket attacks, prevent them, and to prevent the tunnel attacks as well. So again, we haven’t – there’s no hold on anything – on deliveries to Israel. We haven’t changed our policy in any way.
QUESTION: I didn’t say there was.
MS. HARF: No, I know. I’m just responding to some of the things that were in the story. We haven’t changed our policy in any way. Again, during a crisis, we take additional care to look at these issues as they move forward.
QUESTION: But – I know. You already said that. But what we’re getting at here is that the implication is that the reason, in this particular instance, that extra care is being taken is because of concern in some quarters of the Administration – particularly in the White House and the State Department – that some of this ammunition was being used to contribute to civilian deaths and that’s why – don’t call it a review, taking a second look, whatever you want to call it – is that that’s why —
MS. HARF: I’m not going to give a specific reason behind why, during a crisis, we would take a second look. I just made very clear that we were concerned about civilian deaths on the Palestinian side.
QUESTION: So if you’re very concerned about civilian deaths, then you must be extra concerned that U.S. weapons are being – contributing to those civilian deaths.
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to outline the rationale behind taking a second look at some of these things.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: So it didn’t – it wasn’t – I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t lost on you that in your – and you from this podium used words like “appalled,” used words like – I don’t know, help me out, but —
QUESTION: — “outraged, disgraceful,” I don’t know – remember, exactly.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You used those words to describe some of the civilian deaths. I’m sure it was not lost on this Administration in its decision to take a second look, or whatever you want to call it, that U.S. weapons could be playing a part in that.
QUESTION: Just to clarify —
MS. HARF: I just don’t have any more analysis on this for you.
QUESTION: Wasn’t it – it wasn’t a second look, it wasn’t a review. Well, how do you characterize it? Because you said that there is no long-term policy change, but you did say that there was a —
MS. HARF: It is natural that agencies take additional care to review deliveries as part of an interagency process. This is an ongoing process to take —
QUESTION: But you just said (inaudible) a review.
QUESTION: You said “review.”
MS. HARF: To take – to – there’s not a “review.” That’s a specific government term that you know is sort of a formal process.
QUESTION: So this is a review with a lowercase ‘R’.
MS. HARF: To take – exactly.
QUESTION: Okay. So – but the —
MS. HARF: To take – to take – wait, wait, wait – to take additional care to review what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Okay, but —
MS. HARF: We’re taking additional care here. That’s my —
QUESTION: Okay. But if you’re undertaking – even if —
QUESTION: Well, who signs off on these transfers?
QUESTION: If you’re taking – undertaking a review with a lowercase ‘R’, or a second look or – again, whatever you want to call it – that that would stand to reason that perhaps at the end of that look that you might make some kind of policy change.
MS. HARF: Well, the – no, because this is —
QUESTION: So you’re just looking for looking? Okay.
MS. HARF: We’re looking at the deliveries on arms transfers as they come up. Our —
QUESTION: With the aim of what?
MS. HARF: Our – making sure we’re looking at them even more closely, given the ongoing crisis. More broadly, our policy on providing unprecedented support to Israel militarily has in no way changed.
QUESTION: We didn’t say that the overall policy —
MS. HARF: But you said at the end of this there might be a policy change. No. There’s no policy change.
QUESTION: Well, not a policy review, but —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: Not a policy change, but perhaps a change in the —
QUESTION: — tactical deliveries and time and scope of them.
MS. HARF: We’re moving forward with support to Israel militarily. Again, I don’t have anything else to outline for you on upcoming transfers or what might be transferred.
QUESTION: Just – could I ask – just to go back. I read the lead of the story, and you said that you disagreed with it, I think. And I just want to make sure I understand what you disagree with because there are two elements to it. One element is that the Israeli military was quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without White House or State Department approval. Is that wrong, that they were not getting such ammunition without White House or State Department approval?
MS. HARF: I’m not – so taking a step back here – and these two points are important. One, we are all very closely linked up on what we give to Israel – the White House, the State Department, and the Defense Department. So we all know what we’re all doing. I don’t know legally what approvals in – would be needed for that. But I would strongly disagree with the notion that some of us didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know who needs to “approve” what, Arshad. Do you know what I – does that make sense?
QUESTION: Yeah. I guess I what I’m trying to figure out, though, is just —
MS. HARF: There wasn’t the Defense Department doing something that none of us knew they were doing.
QUESTION: Well – but so – I just – I want to get to the heart of the question, which is whether there were any sort of unauthorized transfers of —
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge in any way.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second part is – goes to the other – goes to what you sort of just addressed, that – I used the word “surprised.” The lead of the story says were caught off-guard when they learned about this. Just to be quite explicit, you’re saying nobody was caught off-guard, nobody was surprised, that people – that the relevant people at the White House and the State Department knew about the ammunition transfers.
MS. HARF: We’ve all been very – I mean, I can’t speak for all of those people. We’ve – what I can say is that we – all of those three buildings you just mentioned have all been incredibly closely linked up on this issue, and I haven’t heard anyone say to me that they were caught off-guard or that they didn’t know what was going on.
QUESTION: So why did you – so when did you decide to take this —
QUESTION: — second look?
MS. HARF: I can check and see if there are more details.
MS. HARF: But throughout the crisis, we’ve obviously been giving additional care to how we think about these things, as you would expect.
QUESTION: Well, if State and the White House are going to be taking an extra look at —
MS. HARF: And the Defense Department is as well, by the way.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I mean – well, but before, the Pentagon has said, “We did this; we didn’t have to run this past anyone else. This was a long-standing mil-to-mil relationship. We do this with our allies.” But since there’s going to be this extra level of scrutiny, care, fill in the blank, who in this building is going to sign off on it? Is it the Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs?
MS. HARF: I don’t know who has to sign off on things, Roz.
QUESTION: Does it have to go to – well, it – but it’s – clearly there is a concern that not enough people knew about this —
MS. HARF: No, I think that I —
QUESTION: — so who’s going – who’s —
MS. HARF: I’m saying there’s – I don’t have that concern and I’m not expressing that concern. I can look at legally who in the State Department has to, quote – or if they have to sign off on things. That’s a legal determination about how we provide military assistance to foreign countries.
QUESTION: Well, I would like to know that.
MS. HARF: I will ask that question.
MS. HARF: And that – but there are a number of people in this building who are very involved in the policy discussions about our support to Israel. So that, from a policy perspective – legally I can check for you on that. It’s a fair a question and I’ll check.
QUESTION: And then you also said – sorry. Sorry, Michael. But – and you also said that this is temporary. How long is temporary?
MS. HARF: Well again, as the crisis is ongoing, it’s part of our decision-making during that. But I would venture to guess that at the end of this we’ll probably not continue, but I just don’t have anything to preview for you on that.
QUESTION: Is this a regular – I’m just going to use the word “review” to fill in the blank (inaudible).
MS. HARF: I’ll let you use the word “review.” (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I will grant you that.
QUESTION: Right. I mean, there have been operations in the past, I mean, and Cast Lead. Was there a review, or was this —
MS. HARF: Well, I wasn’t here then. I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: I – the general —
QUESTION: Well, of the aid delivered during those two weeks – I mean —
MS. HARF: The general principle that I know guides us – I can only speak for the time I’ve been here, but I would venture to guess and feel fairly strongly saying this that the general principle that when there’s an ongoing crisis or conflict where we are giving weapons, as much as we believe this is a strategically important relationship and one we care very deeply about, that we take additional care to look at those.
QUESTION: And there’s —
MS. HARF: I would venture to guess that always happens.
QUESTION: And there’s a high level —
QUESTION: You wouldn’t look at them, though, without the potential for tweaking them.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t just look at it to check a box, right?
MS. HARF: Well, no. But we – but also, we look at them always, all the time. We always look at these deliveries before we make them. So it’s not like we’re not looking at them to begin with. We always look at them. And there’s always a potential to tweak it —
QUESTION: But you’re taking a second or you’re taking a —
MS. HARF: — so we’re taking additional looks at it.
MS. HARF: No, but it’s – it’s not an unfair point. It’s not like these things are just on autopilot, right.
QUESTION: Sure, but —
QUESTION: But if there’s a second look, you can to make a change, no?
MS. HARF: You can make a change in the first look, too.
QUESTION: But it – okay. So there’s a —
MS. HARF: Right? Sorry. Michael, go ahead.
QUESTION: No – so there’s a White House-level review that delineates between defensive —
MS. HARF: There’s an – in the interagency process that looks at these deliveries.
MS. HARF: All of us together are taking additional looks at these things before we deliver them. This isn’t the White House or the State Department. This is the interagency doing this together.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But there’s a delineation because you mentioned – you specifically mentioned Iron Dome replenishment, so —
MS. HARF: To make the point that we are clearly moving forward with support to Israel.
QUESTION: Well, it’s a defensive system, so —
MS. HARF: It is a defensive system. We have also moved forward with offensive capabilities as well.
QUESTION: Okay. But can you take the question on the Hellfire missiles? Is that —
MS. HARF: Yeah, I can take that question. We generally don’t talk about delivery of systems before we make them, but I will take the question and see what I can get for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: Yes, Elliot. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine, please?
QUESTION: I have one more question on this, real quick.
MS. HARF: Last one on this.
QUESTION: What do you say to concerns among the Israelis that these additional checks on the weapons provisions that the U.S. is making is going to delay the process such that it could degrade their capabilities and affect the situation on the ground?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you heard the Israelis themselves out this morning publicly talking about how strong our support has been. We have been very clear that we will provide that support. They have a number of their capabilities because of our support, so I just don’t agree with the notion. And again, I’d prefer to let them speak for themselves on the record on this.
QUESTION: And then, what you said about broadly speaking interagency process, you guys are all aware of what’s going on. That doesn’t really speak to the specific case in the article that says folks were caught off guard. So I mean, are you – not to put too fine a point on it, but are you outright rejecting the idea that anybody was surprised about this specific —
MS. HARF: That anybody in this U.S. Government? I can’t speak for everybody in the U.S. Government. I know this building and the White House and the Defense Department are incredibly linked up on everything we do on Israel, period.
MS. HARF: Let’s go to Elliot, and then I’ll go to India for you.
QUESTION: So do you have any update on this aid convoy that the Russians are sending to Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any new conversations?
MS. HARF: Just a little bit, not a ton of an update. The talks are ongoing right now for Russia to facilitate the delivery of aid to the Ukrainian border. It’s my understanding they have stopped for the night and may be – I think tomorrow or Saturday – we’re not sure on the exact timing when they might arrive at the border. But needless to say, Russia has no right to send vehicles or persons or cargo of any kind into Ukraine without the government’s explicit permission. I’ve said that before.
I’d also note that the Government of Ukraine is providing its own humanitarian aid. Yesterday, they dispatched 75 trucks to Luhansk, carrying approximately 800 tons of humanitarian aid. We are calling on the Russian-backed separatists who currently control Luhansk to let the people have access to that aid.
So the conversations are ongoing. Basically, the same principles apply – customs check, all of the same things we’ve said still apply. And we’ll keep watching it.
QUESTION: Okay, great. So at the same time, it seems like the city of Donetsk has come under some heavy shelling —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — apparently by Ukrainian forces. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: We do. We’re watching that. Obviously, we’ve stressed the importance of showing restraint to minimize casualties among the civilian – the local population. Ukrainian forces are seeking to dislodge the separatists from Luhansk and Donetsk. The separatists, as we’ve seen, have chosen to operate from heavily populated areas. We’ve called on the Ukrainians to take every step to avoid the local population as they try to free the city from the separatists.
QUESTION: But do you support the specific use of heavy artillery that could carry the risk of civilian casualties in order to do that?
MS. HARF: We’ve called on them not to use weapons that could increase that. But again, we’re very supportive of the Ukrainians here. It’s a tough fight they’re in, and we do think that the ultimate goal here needs to be these cities not being under the control of the separatists.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one from me was: Do you have any comment on President Putin’s visit to Crimea and the session of the Duma that he convened there? He gave a big speech.
MS. HARF: Well, from what I hear, he’s the only tourist that’s actually gone there this summer. Their tourism industry, I think, has – I’m being serious.
QUESTION: How long have you been waiting to use that?
MS. HARF: All briefing. (Laughter.) All briefing I’ve been – (laughter). Actually, the one they gave me to use was much worse. It was a much worse joke. Sorry, EUR press people, because I like this one better.
No, but it sure – actually, their tourism industry has completely plummeted since the Russian invasion. People aren’t going there. It’s – their economy is faltering because of it, which is a huge burden, actually, on Russia, who has annexed it. So I don’t have much more comment than that.
QUESTION: So State Department officials aren’t waiting in line to buy Crimea t-shirts with Putin’s face on them? Is that a fair assumption?
MS. HARF: Are those real?
MS. HARF: That’s incredible and disgusting.
QUESTION: May I stay on Ukraine for a second?
MS. HARF: Yeah, and then I’ll go to you in the back. Yeah.
QUESTION: Oh – no. No, I defer.
MS. HARF: That was not a bad joke, though.
QUESTION: Do you need a Ukraine?
QUESTION: Yeah, Russia – Russia and Ukraine. I have a question about assurance measures that the U.S. is taking to NATO countries along the Russian border. Specifically, I’m asking about Estonia, which – whose foreign ministry confirmed that President Obama is going to be visiting Estonia sometime in the near future. There needs to be – we don’t have the details yet, but the Estonian foreign ministry has confirmed that. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any comment on reports of potential travel. We have taken a number of steps to demonstrate our commitment to our NATO allies. We have doubled – more than doubled our contribution to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission. Since May, Poland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and France have been contributing fighter jets to Baltic Air Policing. This mission is now flown from Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. All 28 allies have now contributed to the reassurance mission. We sent the Black Sea rotational force of 200 Marines to Romania, deployed F-16s to Poland, are just working in a number of ways to reassure our allies. I can see if there’s anything more specific on Estonia for you.
QUESTION: Yeah, but there’s not just the question about the visit of President Obama, but also reports of the U.S. sending a rotation of tanks and armored vehicles for a three-month period for some sort of —
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I don’t – I’m not aware of that specific. Let me check for you.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes, Lara.
QUESTION: So, in the last reports I saw about this Russian aid convoy said it was going to a checkpoint on the border that was controlled by the separatists. I’m just —
MS. HARF: What we’ve said is it needs to be a checkpoint agreed to by Ukraine. So —
QUESTION: And if they don’t do that, if they go to one that’s controlled by separatists and they get —
MS. HARF: Well, it may end up actually being one controlled by – I’m not sure exactly which one they’re heading towards.
MS. HARF: But the Government of Ukraine needs to agree to it.
QUESTION: Understood. But assuming they – assuming – again, the last reports I saw was that they were —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — headed towards one that was controlled by the separatists, meaning that they would almost certainly get in. I’m just wondering if there – what kind of discussions have been had in the interagency to support the Ukrainian forces to prevent that from happening?
MS. HARF: Well, in terms of the hypothetical if they were to get in without going through customs?
QUESTION: Yes, if they were to go in through a separatist checkpoint.
MS. HARF: Well, they’re —
QUESTION: Without Ukrainian Government approval.
MS. HARF: And without customs and – because the checklist – regardless of where they cross, it just needs to be approved by the Government of Ukraine and they need to go through all these steps.
QUESTION: I mean, I’m assuming if they’re going through the separatist checkpoints, they’re evading going through the checklist.
MS. HARF: Fair enough. I don’t have any specifics to outline for you on what our response to be. I can guess it would be a fairly serious one. We’ve made that very clear to the Russians they should not move these trucks in without taking all of the steps the Ukrainian Government has outlined, and we’ll watch it going forward. And if and when that happens, we can talk about our response.
QUESTION: Well, what does “serious” mean? Does it say – does it mean don’t do that or does it mean sanctions or does it mean —
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more specifics for you.
QUESTION: — military? Okay.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I was going to switch topics.
QUESTION: Mine has to do with sanctions on Russia. Over the weekend, ExxonMobil started drilling in the Kara Sea as part of a longstanding relationship with Rosneft, which was sanctioned last month. And while the sanction is very narrow, it restricts the energy company from obtaining basically any U.S. market financing for its operations. I’m wondering whether there’s something untoward or unseemly about a U.S. firm still engaged with a company that has been sanctioned by the U.S. Government and whose president and CEO has also been sanctioned by the U.S. Government.
MS. HARF: In this case, I would not say that. We trust U.S. companies are abiding by the recent measures – as you said, it’s fairly narrowly written – fairly narrowly written – and trust that U.S. companies are monitoring developments carefully as they make decisions about doing business there.
QUESTION: What advice or guidance does the State Department provide apart from what Treasury provides to U.S. firms that have longstanding business relationships with persons or entities that end up being sanctioned?
MS. HARF: Well, if the sanctions come from the State Department, then we provide all of the information for businesses about what they can and can’t do. And if they come from Treasury, Treasury provides it. We basically just outline very clearly what they can and can’t do under sanctions and trust that businesses will make their own decisions beyond that.
QUESTION: What is the follow-up or what’s the supervision to make sure that U.S. companies are complying with the letter of the law?
MS. HARF: Very robust between here and the Treasury Department at OFAC. Very robust oversight of what our companies and people are doing.
MS. HARF: Yes, and then I’ll go to you in the back.
QUESTION: Sure. Just to go back to Ebola, with the orders for the families in Sierra Leone – I know there was a similar order in Liberia before —
MS. HARF: In Liberia. It’s identical order.
QUESTION: Sure. What about Guinea? That’s also been hard hit. Is the situation there the same from the U.S. —
MS. HARF: We’re still monitoring it. Obviously, we’re taking a look at what the local health facilities are like. The reason we did the ordered departure for family members is because if something else were to come up, medical facilities are just overtaxed.
MS. HARF: But we’ll continue watching.
QUESTION: Just with the two countries for now?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And what it said – it’s in the statement that the staffing is being reconfigured. Does that mean there are fewer or more? How does that —
MS. HARF: I can check on that. The answer is I don’t —
QUESTION: But the embassy is —
MS. HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: — operating in Freetown as normal?
MS. HARF: Yes, yes. And consular services are open.
QUESTION: If I could also ask about a different topic.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Gao Zhisheng, the human rights lawyer from China, his wife has said that he was badly treated in prison, that now he can’t even speak intelligibly, that he’s malnourished. She’s asking the U.S. to ask the Chinese authorities to let him come here for medical treatment. Has the U.S. had conversations about that, or do you have any observations about his state?
MS. HARF: We have raised his case both publicly and privately at senior levels in Washington and in Beijing with Chinese officials, and we will continue to do so. We urge Chinese authorities not to impose any restrictions on his movement so he can be able to travel freely and be reunited with his family.
QUESTION: Do you – and I think her – the quotes that I saw from his wife said that he had been tortured. Do you have any reason to believe that is the case?
MS. HARF: I can check with our folks.
QUESTION: One other one on China. For the third or – third day in a row, I think —
MS. HARF: Ambassador King.
MS. HARF: I don’t have it for you yet.
MS. HARF: I had a strongly worded conversation with our team about that this morning. Hopefully we’ll get that to you soon.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry in his speech of policy address yesterday, he called for immediate shutdown of all gulags in North Korea. And I’m wondering if this – this is a routine reiteration of principles, or if this is a —
MS. HARF: It is. It’s a – I mean, we’ve spoken about this issue for quite a long time.
QUESTION: This is not a broader – part of broader strategy to increase pressure on North Korea?
MS. HARF: Well, I think it can be both. It’s a routine policy. Look, we’ve made clear for a very long time our concerns about the very serious human rights situation in North Korea. But it is – I mean, when the Secretary of State says it, it carries additional weight. So obviously, this is part of our effort to help put pressure on North Korea to change.
QUESTION: Okay, my second question —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — is: North Korea again fired some short-range rockets —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — this time shortly before the arrival of Pope Francis. Do you have any comment?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to speculate on their motivations. Certainly we remain fully committed to the defense of South Korea, are aware that there are reports that they fired multiple short-range projectiles today – we don’t have confirmation yet of what those actually are – continue to call on North Korea to refrain from undertaking such provocative actions, and also would note with concern that they did not – that they failed, once again, to give prior notification to merchant ships, fishing vessels, passenger cargo aircraft in the vicinity despite international procedures to do so.
QUESTION: Yes. On the short-range – was this in violation of sanctions, or is that still under review?
MS. HARF: That’s still being determined. So how this process works – and we’ve seen it play out a couple times over the past few months – is we see these projectiles being launched. It takes us a little while to do an assessment of it, to determine what kind, how – what the range is, to see if it indeed does fall under UN Security Council resolutions. The past couple few have, but we’ll wait to see in this case.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Asia question.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: On the relocation of the base in Futenma.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: Yes. We welcome the progress being made on the construction of the Futenma replacement facility at Henoko Bay. This is a meaningful result of many years of sustained work between the United States and Japan. It’s a critical step toward realizing our shared vision for the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa. The relocation of the Marine Corps air station there will reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of significant land back to the people of Okinawa while sustaining U.S. military capabilities vital to the peace and security of the region.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: So can we go back to where you started us today with Lebanon?
MS. HARF: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Your announcement. You said this is in response to a threat posed by violent extremists. What kind of military assistance are we talking about?
MS. HARF: I don’t have specifics in terms of what that is. I can see if we can get it for you.
QUESTION: Yeah, and dollar amount?
MS. HARF: Yeah. I knew that was the next question. I don’t have a specific on this one. This is part of our longstanding security partnership. And since 2006, the – our security assistance has exceeded $1 billion. So I’ll see if I can get a figure for this latest one.
QUESTION: And I’m just wondering: Which violent extremists are we worried about right now in Lebanon?
MS. HARF: Well, I talked a little bit about the spillover from Syria —
MS. HARF: — and that particularly. So that’s something we’re certainly focused on.
QUESTION: But is it Hezbollah? Is it ISIS? Is it —
MS. HARF: All of the above.
QUESTION: All of the above.
MS. HARF: All of the above.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then this kind of goes into my next question about Syria.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Arshad, did you want to ask about Lebanon?
QUESTION: No, not on that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’ve probably seen that government forces in Syria have advanced and taken some – a key suburb outside of Damascus —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — that’s been contested for some time.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: At the same time, ISIS is taking towns and cities in northern Aleppo province. I’m not really sure what my question is here, but just wondering —
MS. HARF: It’s one of those days.
QUESTION: Well, it’s – I think it’s – there’s just a larger issue here about response – again, in one part combatting this against the same threat that is clearly happening in other parts of the region.
MS. HARF: It’s actually a – the fact that you brought up regime forces in one place and ISIS in another is actually, I think, instructive to the answer here. Because in Syria, you have the regime, you have Nusrah, you have ISIS, you have a civilian population that’s not doing anything with any of these groups, and then you have the moderate opposition that we support. And they’re in many places operating not that far from each other. It’s a little different in Iraq in that they are not delineated battle lines and battle fronts. So it’s a different kind of fight here, which is why we don’t believe there’s a military solution. We are increasing our support to the moderate opposition, as we’ve said, who are fighting on all of these fronts. But it’s not exactly the same – you look at the U.S. military capabilities and what you can use. It’s just a very, very different situation.
QUESTION: I just note that we have the same enemy – not the royal we – but there is the same enemy in three war zones or in three disparate nations right now – Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
MS. HARF: And each place there are different tools to fight them. The government, obviously – one of the governments is also someone that we strongly disagree with. And the two where we support the government, there are vastly different operational pictures on the ground.
QUESTION: Just a quick one.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Did you ever get – you had said that you would ask. Did you ever get an answer on whether the traveling party or the people who set up for them had tried to change the hotel in Myanmar?
MS. HARF: I did. We did request a hotel change from the ministry of foreign affairs. That was not able to happen for a variety of reason, given the small number of hotel rooms – if any of you have been to Nay Pyi Taw, it’s not very big – and the large conference with multiple, multiple people and delegations. We also have specific requirements – the Secretary’s traveling party – as many of you who’ve traveled with him know. It was not ideal – obviously, I think we can all say that – but in no way diminishes our efforts to implement sanctions still on the books.
QUESTION: Thank you, very much for checking that.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: And requested a hotel change specifically because of the issue of the —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Correct, yes.
QUESTION: So did that give the green light to people to sell towels, as we discussed earlier in this room?
MS. HARF: No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Are they allowed to steal towels because they can’t sell them?
MS. HARF: Enforce sanctions still on the books.
QUESTION: Can you steal towels from somebody who’s sanctioned, no?
MS. HARF: And a housekeeping note, if that’s it. Tomorrow’s a Friday in August; there will be no briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)