Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 27, 2014.
- Secretary Kerry’s Travel Update
- Signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro
- Mob Violence in Sittwe / Security of Humanitarian Workers
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA / REGION
- UN Charter / Staff-Level Agreement between IMF and Ukraine
- Russian Troops on Ukrainian Border / UNGA Statement / International Isolation of Russia
- President Obama’s Remarks / Russian Suspension from G8
- Economic Packages
- Sanctions / Effect on Russian Economy
- Need for Direct Dialogue
- SYRIA / RUSSIA
- Syrian Sanctions / Syrian Economy
- Russian Relationship with Assad Regime / Chemical Weapons Agreement
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA / REGION
- Freedom of the Media / European Convention on Transfrontier Television
- False Russian Propaganda
- Conviction of U.S. Citizens Matthew and Grace Huang / Concerns about Trial
- SAUDI ARABIA / REGION
- Close Working Relationship with Saudi Arabia
- Discussions with Saudi Arabia on Iran / Joint Plan of Action
- Freedom of Expression / Twitter / YouTube
- Turkish Information and Communications Technology Authority Requested Meeting with U.S. / Arranged Phone Call
- Need for Dialogue
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
- Internal Discussions
- UN Security Council Meeting
- Announcement of Presidential Candidacy by General al-Sisi
- Need for Free, Fair and Transparent Elections / Mass Convictions
- SYRIA / TURKEY / REGION
- Concern for Spillover of Extremists to Syria’s Neighbors
1:22 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello. Welcome to today’s daily briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then I’m happy to open it up for questions. People are playing musical chairs. Everyone’s all over the place here. A few items.
A travel update first: Today Secretary Kerry is in Rome, where he is accompanying President Obama. You saw there were some meetings at the Vatican. In Rome, he joined the President for an audience with Pope Francis. Secretary Kerry also attended President Obama’s meetings with the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin, Italian President Napolitano, and Italian Prime Minister Renzi. He will also be joining President Obama for a meet and greet of Embassy staff at Tri-Mission Rome.
Separately, Secretary Kerry will be attending the Milan Expo 2015 event. Tomorrow, he will be traveling with President Obama to Saudi Arabia.
Second item at the top on the Philippines: Today in Manila, representatives of the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro, or CAB, a historic milestone that will pave the way to end the violence that has plagued the southern Philippines for decades.
We welcome this development and commend both sides, along with the Malaysian Government, which facilitated the negotiations for their persistence and determination in reaching this agreement. The United States fully supports the ongoing peace and reconciliation process, and we encourage all parties to continue their efforts to ensure a future of peace, prosperity, and stability in the southern Philippines.
Two more things, guys. Bear with me here.
On Burma: We are deeply concerned by mob violence in Sittwe over the past day targeting UN offices and international NGOs that has resulted in destruction of property and the emergency relocation of international aid workers, including at least three U.S. citizens to safe havens. Despite some efforts by local authorities to ensure the security of humanitarian workers, we remain deeply concerned about the continued lack of adequate security forces and rule of law on the ground there and in Rakhine State more broadly, and to prevent the outbreak and spread of violence and to protect aid workers, their offices, and other vulnerable populations in the area.
Our Embassy in Rangoon is in contact with Burmese officials discussing steps to reinforce security. Unhindered and regular humanitarian access to communities in need and the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers to ensure the effective delivery of these services is critical. We continue to encourage the Burmese Government to work towards a durable solution that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Rakhine State and to create the conditions for sustainable peace and development. And the United States stands ready to assist in these efforts.
One final note on Ukraine, just give me one second: I would note two developments today. The first being that 100 countries from all regions of the world aligned in the United Nations General Assembly today in support of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and against Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Today’s action in the General Assembly further illuminates Russia’s growing international isolation.
At the same time, we welcome the announcement of a staff-level agreement between the IMF and the Government of Ukraine, and look forward to its swift passage by the IMF board. This standby agreement will be the centerpiece of the international community’s assistance to the Ukrainian Government, and showcases the government’s commitment to essential macroeconomic reforms that will set the basis for prosperity for the Ukrainian people.
It is important now for both the Government of Ukraine and the IMF to move expeditiously and complete the steps necessary to gain approval from the IMF executive board. And with this – if this is approved, as we hope it will be, it will unlock money from other international donors, which we think will be about $27 billion, again for the people of Ukraine.
So with that, you’re kicking us off today.
QUESTION: It’s an honor. Thank you. Can we – can I follow up with Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Do you have the same figures than a Ukrainian official who said this morning before an American think tank that according to their estimates, there are 100,000 Russian forces massed at the Ukraine border?
MS. HARF: Well, the numbers are – I hadn’t actually seen the 100,000 number. The numbers are changing very rapidly here. Obviously, we’re looking at the situation. Obviously, there are huge numbers of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. I think everybody knows that. We are constantly assessing how many there are, talking to the Ukrainians about that as well, but they are massed on the border. And we are concerned about Russia taking further escalatory steps with whatever number of tens of thousands of troops they have there, and have called on them not to do so.
MS. HARF: Yes, on this? On Ukraine?
QUESTION: Yes, on Ukraine.
MS. HARF: Yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned that 100 countries in the General Assembly. What is the – what you are trying to do to this movement?
MS. HARF: Well, we are trying, through a multitude of ways, to show that the world is united against Russia’s actions. There were only 10 countries that voted no, with – standing with Russia here. I have the number – or the names of the countries: Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela, Bolivia, Belarus, Armenia, Zimbabwe, and Nicaragua. So I think it’s pretty clear that a large majority of the world spoke today, and in this UN General Assembly
statement reaffirmed the territorial integrity of Ukraine, called upon states to desist and refrain from action aimed at the partial or total disruption of national unity and territorial integrity, called – urged all parties to pursue immediately the peaceful resolution of the situation with respect to Ukraine through direct political dialogue.
So exactly the same things we’ve been calling for, you heard 100 other nations from all regions of the world call for today as well. So I think it demonstrates, along with many other things we’ve done, the growing international isolation that Russia will face and will continue to face in even greater force if they do more things that are escalatory.
QUESTION: So what else are you planning to do on that front if you are – if you have something to do more than that?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything specific to predict, but I think you heard the President speak to this yesterday. Russia’s been suspended from the G8 – it’s now the G7 – and he talked yesterday about more sanctions. He didn’t outline specifically what that might look like, but we have said that there will be further consequences if Russia does not take a step back from the brink here and de-escalate the situation.
QUESTION: There is another thing, I mean, related to the other part of the – which is, like, helping or supporting Ukraine.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You mentioned the $70 billion. This is the expected numbers or this is something agreed about or —
MS. HARF: Twenty-seven billion?
MS. HARF: Right. So there’s a couple pieces to the economic packages, and you heard the President yesterday actually announce another large assistance package for Ukraine. The IMF package – all of this is IMF money. It’s up to $18 billion in loans for Ukraine. So that’s what was agreed to today. That’s what the IMF board needs to pass.
If they pass it and this is put in place, that basically unlocks money from other international donors so they can also give money. And we assess that that would be about $27 billion for Ukraine. We have pledged a $1 billion loan guarantee. That’s going through Congress right now. Hopefully it will be passed soon, if not today. So there’s a whole host of economic packages that we are working on with the IMF and with our Congress and with our other partners for Ukraine.
QUESTION: There is – just to clarify – I mean, it seems that Europe is not completely agreeing with what U.S. is doing, just like the Siemens CEO yesterday met President Putin of Russia, and all the pictures are all over the place and guaranteeing that nothing will happen to this – the German company in Russia. The investment and more investment is coming. Do you have anything to say about that?
MS. HARF: Well, with all due respect to that private CEO, he doesn’t speak for Europe. The European Union speaks for Europe. And the European Union has spoken very clearly when they’ve put in place sanctions, visa bans, very tough measures on Russia because of their actions. We are in lockstep with Europe in terms of how we need to keep putting the pressure on. You’ll see the Secretary go to Brussels very soon to meet with our friends and allies in NATO talking about Ukraine, talking about what else to do. We’ve shored up our NATO alliances in parts of Europe in part because of this.
So we and Europe are absolutely in lockstep on this, and if individual companies are looking to do business in Russia, they need to take a very serious look right now at the sanctions we have in place, they need to think about what sanctions might be coming, and they need to know that Russia’s economy is not particularly good right now.
QUESTION: So the – my last question is about the – last week you were encouraging or you were trying to put the Russians and Ukrainians together in one meeting or whatever.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, and they met.
QUESTION: And they met.
MS. HARF: The foreign ministers met, that’s right.
QUESTION: And they met. Was there any meeting after that, or that was it and that’s it?
MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that there has been, but certainly what we’ve said and what the General Assembly statement reaffirmed today is that there needs to be direct dialogue here, that the path forward is taking a step back from the brink and having direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine about how to move forward here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Jay. Let’s go to Jay. Welcome to the briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: It’s good to see you here.
QUESTION: I have a couple sanctions questions —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — regarding Russia. First off, the Commerce Department put out maybe even a month ago – no one really noticed it – an order basically banning the exports of dual-use items to Russia.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you comment that or put that in context?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yeah. So the State Department has also placed a hold on the issuance of licenses that would authorize the export of defense articles and defense services to Russia. The State Department will continue the hold until further notice. Our hold, I believe, began on Monday. I can’t speak for the Commerce Department. Their – I think they put out a release about when theirs started. But obviously, we’ve been taking steps as part of our ongoing response here. This is just the latest.
QUESTION: But why didn’t you announce it? I mean, why was it kind of —
MS. HARF: Why didn’t we do a big press release? I don’t know, actually. I can check. I really don’t know what the reason was. Again, it’s been part of one of the steps we’ve taken. I don’t think there was a specific reason we didn’t, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And following up, there’s – if you look at some of the legislation on the Hill, the State Department’s been called out specifically for not implementing already-in-place sanctions against the shipment of weapons to Iran, Syria, and North Korea. I mean, it’s actually laid out in some of the new legislation. What – why haven’t you sanctioned any Russian companies in relation to Syria over the past few years? And how do you respond to these allegations that the State Department hasn’t been vigorously implementing the sanctions that are already on the books and – I mean, some of it is we’re cooperating with the Russians on Syria and Afghanistan, and some lawmakers are charging because of that you didn’t implement or go after these Russian arms companies.
MS. HARF: Jay, I’m not sure about the specifics in terms of those arms companies and why sanctions haven’t or – have or have not been placed on them. What I can say is that on our Syria sanctions we do feel we have very vigorously enforced them throughout this conflict in Syria. We think that’s one of the reasons the Syrian economy is in the situation it’s in today. I can – I am happy to check on the specifics about why certain people haven’t been sanctioned. We don’t tend to talk about sanctions decisions —
QUESTION: But this is about Russian —
MS. HARF: Yeah. No, no, I —
QUESTION: Not one Russian arms company has been sanctioned in relation to Syria.
MS. HARF: Yeah. I understand the question. Yeah. Again, we don’t often talk about internal deliberations about who to sanction before we do, for I think the very good reason that if we did, then they would know we might and start taking action to counter that.
But look, setting aside sanctions, we have been very clear where we’ve had disagreements with Russia on its relationship with the Assad regime. Throughout this whole process, we’ve been very clear about that. But the reality is we have worked with them, as we saw on the chemical weapons agreement, successfully to do something that could help the people of Syria. Obviously, there’s much, much, much more that needs to be done. I can check on the specifics on sanctions though, Jay.
QUESTION: Why was it necessary —
MS. HARF: No, Said. We’re going to behind you and then to —
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.
MS. HARF: Dmitry. Yeah.
QUESTION: Why was it necessary for the State Department to issue essentially the same thing as the Commerce Department? And Commerce did that on March the 1st and the State did it – you said last Monday?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Why do two things?
MS. HARF: Well, because they deal with different transfers. We do different things. We transfer different items at Commerce and State.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you speak about the differences between those two items? I’m just not familiar with that.
MS. HARF: I can check and see what falls into each of our buckets. There’s just different – I’m sure the Defense Department does – the Defense Department, as you know, has suspended military-to-military training.
MS. HARF: I don’t know if they also have a bucket of this. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Well, the Commerce Department was speaking about dual-use things, as far as I understand. And you’re essentially regulating those same things, like bullets and whatever.
MS. HARF: No, it’s not actually – it’s not actually the same things.
MS. HARF: They were speaking to the things they regulate —
MS. HARF: — and that they issue licenses for. We were speaking to the things the State Department – they’re different licenses.
QUESTION: Okay. And one other thing on Ukraine.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The Ukrainian authorities stopped a retransmission or a rebroadcasting of the Russian television stations – all of them, I think, or most of them – several weeks or days ago. I’m not clear about that. OSCE official for the freedom of the press Dunya Mijatovic, speaking about this decision earlier today, said that limiting the freedom of the press is acceptable under certain circumstances. I am wondering if the U.S. Government shares this view, and what do you think about this decision of the Ukrainian authorities?
MS. HARF: Well, on this, it is our understanding that the Ukrainian Government shut down these stations due to charges from the Ukrainian regulator that they are failing to comply with Ukrainian standards related to the European Convention of Transfrontier Television. I’m not sure all the details of that convention, but that’s what they’ve based their decision on.
We have urged the Government of Ukraine to resolve this case speedily and to take special care to protect the fundamental freedoms of expression, including freedom of the media. Obviously, that’s very important to us. This means ensuring that fair standards are being applied and that any punishments are based on clear legal violations and are not – and not the content of the broadcasts of these stations.
But I would also say separate and apart from that that we understand the Ukrainians’ frustrations with the heavy, sustained, and false propaganda campaign that’s been emanating from Russia against the legitimate Ukrainian Government. However, we would say, of course, that we believe the best way to combat these kind of lies and disinformation is to spread the truth and not to curtail freedom of speech in any way.
QUESTION: And what do you think about the statement of the OSCE official? Do you share the sentiment —
MS. HARF: I didn’t see that statement. I’m sorry, I can’t speak to that statement.
QUESTION: — that the freedom of the press —
MS. HARF: This is our position on the –
MS. HARF: Obviously, we believe free speech is incredibly important. It’s enshrined in our constitution, so this is our position on it. I can’t speak to those comments.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Yep. Anything else on Ukraine?
QUESTION: Can we go to Turkey?
MS. HARF: Anything else on Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Okay. I’m going to go to Elise, and then I’m going to go to Said, and then I’m going to go to Tolga.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the conviction of the Huangs in Qatar?
MS. HARF: I do. Yes.
QUESTION: Because yesterday you spoke about concerns of the case.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Just give me one second. We do understand that on March 27th U.S. citizens Matthew and Grace Huang were convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, fined, and ordered to be deported from Qatar upon completion of their sentence. And we were surprised and disappointed by the trial court’s decision. The embassy in Doha has been providing consular assistance to both of them since their arrest. We visited them during detention, regularly attended their court hearings, including the most recent hearings, and the delivery of the verdict.
As I said yesterday, we have had some concerns throughout the trial by indications that not all of the evidence was weighed by the court, and that some cultural misunderstandings may have led to an unfair trial. We have talked to the government about this. We will continue to. And I do believe there is some sort of appeal process.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this point?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: During the last three years I guess, did the United States provide or did any American firm provide legal counsel to Mr. Huang and his wife? And did they make – I mean, did they gather different evidence that they’ve presented to the court – to the Qatari court?
MS. HARF: I’d refer you to the legal team for those issues, Said.
QUESTION: All right. Can I move on to Saudi Arabia?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the appointment of a deputy crown prince – Prince Muqrin?
MS. HARF: I do.
MS. HARF: I saw this just happen. I saw Saudi State TV —
QUESTION: It happened – absolutely.
MS. HARF: — announced it.
MS. HARF: Former intelligence chief. Obviously – I think interestingly – the youngest son of King Abdulaziz, who most of you probably know is the founder of Saudi Arabia. I don’t have a more formal comment on it today. I know the President and the Secretary are about to go there. We obviously have a very close working relationship with the Saudi Government, and I am sure we are looking forward to working with him as well. And there may be more of a comment when we get there.
QUESTION: So are you welcoming it?
MS. HARF: Am I personally welcoming it? I think I’ll defer to the folks that are about to land in Saudi Arabia for a more official comment.
QUESTION: Is this just coincidental in your view, or something that is designed to sort of be in tandem with the President’s visit in any way?
MS. HARF: I have no idea why the Saudi Government makes decisions when they do or the royal family decides on these decisions when they do at all.
QUESTION: Are you —
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to speculate on that.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the Saudi monarch and, in fact, his crown prince are both in ill health? I mean, some say that – severe ill health. Do you have any information on that?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I would venture to comment on the health of any world leader that we work with so closely. As I said, we have a close working relationship with Saudi Government officials at all levels. Prince Muqrin has for a long time, particularly when he was their intelligence chief, worked very closely with the United States. So many officials in our government have worked very closely with him.
QUESTION: Is the President or the Secretary of State likely to meet with him?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details in terms of who – what the meetings look like. I know the schedule’s still being worked.
QUESTION: But it would make sense that they would meet with him, wouldn’t it?
MS. HARF: I think the schedules are still being worked. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary in his meetings with the Iranian foreign minister ever asked, like if the U.S. could mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. To my knowledge, those conversations were focused on the nuclear issue, obviously. I’m happy to check. Not to my knowledge. No.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the President will be able to sort of alleviate the Saudi fears on the Iranian nuclear issue?
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: Much like he did with the Israelis?
MS. HARF: I think that officials at all levels – and I’m sure it will be a topic of conversation with the President and the Secretary – have been talking to the Saudis throughout this process, and others, about what we’re doing here, making very clear what the first step – the Joint Plan of Action did, making very clear that it was important that we halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled it back while we negotiate a comprehensive plan. But at the same time we understand why countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and Israel – this is their backyard.
MS. HARF: We understand why they are so keen on getting this resolved so that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon. We share the same goal here. So we’re going to keep having the discussions. We’ve had them for a very long time with the Saudis about Iran.
QUESTION: Can I change topic?
MS. HARF: I promised Tolga next, and then you can.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Turkish Government has banned YouTube today. So do you have any statement on that?
MS. HARF: We obviously, as I said about Twitter, oppose any action that encroaches on the right of free speech or free expression, continue to urge the Turkish Government to unblock its citizens’ access now to YouTube, but also still to Twitter. There was the court case yesterday. As we saw about Twitter, they’ve given them 30 days to comply, and we hope they comply very soon.
QUESTION: You held a meeting with Turkish officials two days ago regarding this legal process.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. On March 25th.
MS. HARF: It was a phone call.
QUESTION: It was a phone conference. Yeah. Is there any legal assistance that you can provide to Turkey in terms of this legal dispute? In – I mean, I don’t know what the Turkish authorities are expecting from Turkey in this, but —
MS. HARF: Legal assistance. I’m not sure what you’re —
QUESTION: — not legal assistance or any other thing that you can provide to Turkey in this dispute. Why – I don’t know what is the aim of the meeting, for example.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re having conversations to discuss the whole range of issues about freedom of expression in Turkey. As we said, our folks discussed Turkey’s new internet law, the shutdown of Twitter, and they shared U.S. positions on internet freedom, privacy, and internet governance. We’ve been conveying in these meetings and others on the ground with the ambassador our very serious concerns about what the Turkish Government has done in the internet law, with Twitter, now with YouTube, and very strongly saying that they need to stop doing this. So it’s a constant conversation. The legal issue’s not ours, but we’re talking government to government about how Turkey can move forward.
QUESTION: But it was the Turks who demanded this meeting.
MS. HARF: Demanded meetings – that sounds very strong. The Turkish Information and Communications Technology Authority requested a meeting with the United States, and we arranged a phone call.
QUESTION: And is there any request from Turkish authorities from you in that issue?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a further readout of the meeting.
QUESTION: About the content of this last YouTube ban – it’s about the religious site and the likelihood of any military intervention on Turkish side, to this religious site within Syria. I’m trying to get something from you since Thursday, and – but you keep being silent on this issue.
MS. HARF: You think today’s going to be your lucky day?
QUESTION: Because yesterday you said that you were going to check with your folks. Did you have any chance to look at this issue?
MS. HARF: Well, in terms of the alleged recordings, just aren’t going to have any comment on those. I haven’t heard them, I don’t speak Turkish, and don’t have much of a comment on those —
QUESTION: No, no, I’m —
MS. HARF: — (a) – wait, I’m getting to (b) – and on the religious site that you keep asking about, again, don’t have any details on any of that to share with you. Again, I’m happy to keep checking, but just don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: No, when you were asked about whether you are concerned about any Turkish military intervention in Syria, you said that you were happy to check with your folks. I mean, are you concerned about Turkish military intervention in Syria?
MS. HARF: I just don’t have anything more for you on this topic. I know this is all being based off alleged recordings that, again, I’m not going to comment on.
QUESTION: And also, this – another national security – turns into a national security issue for Turkey too, because it was very high-level – I mean, confidential meeting that they took regarding Syria, and they leaked the voice records of this meeting.
MS. HARF: Again, I have no idea if this has been tampered with. I have no idea where it came from. Again, I haven’t heard it, and I don’t speak Turkish, and I don’t want to comment on a recording that I have no idea the origin of it, and where there’s a lot of things on it I’m just not going to comment on.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s talking about his conversation with Secretary Kerry too in that meeting, and according to the – Mr. Foreign Minister, Secretary Kerry asked whether Turks made a decision about this religious site or not.
MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to comment on this alleged recording that’s a third-hand rumor about something Secretary Kerry’s alleged to have said. I’m just not going to.
Yes. Oh, go ahead, Elise, and then we’ll go to you in the back. Sorry. I did promise Elise next.
QUESTION: There was —
QUESTION: It’s on the same topic, though.
MS. HARF: Oh, it’s on the same – still on Turkey?
MS. HARF: Okay, sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry about that, yeah.
MS. HARF: No, it’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Tolga already mentioned, but this time, the records of the national security meeting of high-level Turkish officials are leaked and broadcast on YouTube. I wonder when the subject of the conversation is about critical national security issue, such as Syria. My question is that: What will happen if a similar situation happen in this country? What will be your reaction to that?
MS. HARF: I would not even want to venture a guess in that hypothetical in any way. I appreciate the question, though.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Elise.
QUESTION: Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition leader in Venezuela, just wrote an op-ed – I think it was in The Washington Post – speaking about the intense repression of Venezuelans and calling for more engagement in the – from the international community, saying not to do so would make the international community, particularly members of the OAS, quote, “complicit in the downward spiral of Venezuela.” I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on the instances of repression that he mentions.
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said from the beginning, that the Venezuelan Government needs to immediately take steps to recognize that its citizens need to have a voice in their future, and that means working with the opposition, possibly – or probably, I would say, through a third-party mediator – I’m not sure who that could be – but getting the sides to the table to start talking through dialogue about how to move this forward – not criminalizing dissent, not kicking out of the legislature this woman who tried to speak at the Organization of American States and talk about what was going on in Venezuela. This is exactly opposite of what Venezuela needs to do.
But one thing we’ve stressed all throughout this is this is not about the United States, this is not about the rest of the world; this is about Venezuela getting its internal situation in order. We will help, we will stand by them, we will obviously – and if there’s any way we can – help move this process forward, but it really needs to be a Venezuelan-led process, again, probably with a third-party mediator that the two sides need to identify and that the two sides need to be okay with.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Arab – Palestinian-Israeli peace process?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The Israeli press insists that Prime Minister Netanyahu informed Secretary of State Kerry that there will be no release of prisoners as scheduled tomorrow on the 29th – I’m sorry, on the 29th of this month, on Saturday, unless Abbas agrees to extend the talks, thinking that if he gets the prisoners released then he would have no incentive. Could you comment on that or could you say yes he has, no he hasn’t?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to comment on any of the internal discussions we’re having with the parties right now.
QUESTION: Okay. So —
QUESTION: But, I mean, if those prisoners are not released, I mean, that does severely kind of put a dent in peace efforts; it looks as if it could all fall apart if those prisoners are not released this week.
MS. HARF: I’m not going to speculate on what might happen on any scenario.
QUESTION: Do you think that Abbas perhaps made a mistake by putting such a huge stake on the prisoners’ release, where the jeopardy of the peace talks now is – looms over or – looms in the horizon?
MS. HARF: Said, I’m not going to do any more analysis about what the different parties have done as part of these negotiations.
QUESTION: Well, but —
MS. HARF: They’re private for a reason. And I’m not going to – I’m not going to do analysis on what the parties have done throughout them. I’m just not.
QUESTION: That’s fine. But – I understand you don’t want to talk about the sensitive discussions or anything that’s going in there, but the Secretary himself has spoke about the importance of this prisoner release. So the fact that the Israelis are now saying that it’s not going to happen is very serious.
MS. HARF: Again, I don’t have anything to predict for you. I don’t have any details about the discussions that are ongoing right now.
QUESTION: Do you see the talks now as being – is there a logjam or is there – I mean, are they stalled? How do you —
MS. HARF: I think throughout —
QUESTION: How do you see —
MS. HARF: Throughout these talks there have —
QUESTION: — the process to move them forward?
MS. HARF: — there have been gaps that have existed.
MS. HARF: We have narrowed them throughout the many months we’ve been working on this, but there’s still some more unnarrowing to do.
QUESTION: Okay. But as the clock keeps on ticking and we’re getting really close to the nine-month period, what is Plan B to you? Do you have a Plan B?
MS. HARF: We’re operating under Plan A right now —
MS. HARF: — which is working through both parties. The Secretary’s had a lot of conversations, and we’ll see where they go.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Excuse me. I’m sorry, because I have a (inaudible) question.
MS. HARF: Okay. You okay?
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday you had mentioned that North Koreans ballistic missile launch is the violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1874.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Does the United States have any schedule to plan additional sanctions to North Korea, except the existing sanctions?
MS. HARF: Well, the United States has requested a Security Council meeting, which is scheduled for later today, to discuss the launches, which are a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and which threaten stability and international security. I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of this meeting. As I said yesterday, we were consulting with our P5 and other Security Council partners and regional allies, continuing those consultations. And we’ll see what comes out of the meeting today and make decisions about where to go from here.
QUESTION: So U.S. didn’t make any decisions right now yet?
MS. HARF: We haven’t made any decisions yet. We’ve, again, called for this meeting today. We’ll talk to the Security Council, see what people think makes sense going forward in response to the launches, and we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes. What else? Yes.
QUESTION: A quick one on Egypt?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So General al-Sisi declared his intention to run for president of Egypt.
MS. HARF: He did.
QUESTION: I wanted to know if there was a specific reaction from the State Department.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yep. Well, we have obviously seen that he resigned his position as defense minister and announced his candidacy for the presidency. As you know, we do not support individual candidates or individual parties. It is up to the people of Egypt to determine their future.
And we have also repeatedly said that as the people of Egypt go to the polls to do that, it must be in a climate that’s free from intimidation, where people feel they can vote for and support whatever party and whatever candidate they want to. And we have raised concerns with the interim Egyptian Government about the ability for citizens to freely express their opinions, most recently, of course, with these mass convictions of people with death sentences, but for many, many months now. So as the election process moves forward, we will continue to urge the Egyptian Government to do so in a manner that is free, fair, transparent, where candidates are able to campaign freely – any candidates are able to campaign freely – without fear of harassment or intimidation.
QUESTION: And so al-Sisi is widely expected to win. He has a lot of support in Egypt.
MS. HARF: Are you doing internal polling in Egypt? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m just following what I see in the media. But I just want to know, would the State Department welcome working with an al-Sisi administration?
MS. HARF: We will work with who the people of Egypt decide should be the leader of Egypt.
QUESTION: But I recall when Mr. Sisi came on the scene after the July 3rd whatever, coup/non-coup, there was some sort of an expression of perhaps being a bit annoyed with the prospect of Mr. Sisi running for president. Do you still hold that position?
MS. HARF: I don’t think anyone ever said they were annoyed with —
QUESTION: All right. Would you be annoyed to see the general who basically changed the course of politics in Egypt run for almost like a guaranteed election?
MS. HARF: What we want to see is an election that is free and fair, where the people get to decide their leaders. Who that is is not up to us. People can run. Let the people decide.
QUESTION: So you believe that if Mr. Sisi runs and wins, as he’s sure – as most polls indicate that he surely will win, will that exacerbate tensions with the United States in any way?
MS. HARF: Said, we’re going to take a look at the process here. We’re going to take a look at the process for this election, how free, how fair, how transparent it is, if there’s intimidation, if candidates are allowed to campaign freely. All of that will go into our assessment of where Egypt is in this transition that has had, quite frankly, some bumps in the road over the past six, eight, nine months now.
QUESTION: Could you give us an idea on the status of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo?
MS. HARF: What do you mean the status?
QUESTION: In terms of how it is functioning, who is running it —
MS. HARF: It’s functioning very well.
QUESTION: — its access to opposition groups.
MS. HARF: The charge there is Marc Sievers.
MS. HARF: As you know, we don’t have an ambassador there now.
MS. HARF: Fully running, engaging with all parties, all groups, all sides, talking to people in Egypt at all levels.
QUESTION: And finally my —
MS. HARF: And also civil society and others as well.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. My last question on this: Are there any plans for perhaps elevating the diplomatic status with an ambassador to Egypt —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — anytime soon?
MS. HARF: This isn’t an indication of diplomatic status in the bilateral relationship, Said.
MS. HARF: When we have personnel announcements to make about ambassadors, we will make them.
QUESTION: So should we —
MS. HARF: Well, the White House actually will make them.
QUESTION: — expect an announcement soon?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Should we expect one soon?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a timeframe for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Tolga.
QUESTION: Marie, just to clarify, the —
MS. HARF: You’re going to try again.
QUESTION: No. But maybe – let me say it from another perspective. I ask always are you concerned, are you concerned, are you concerned. Maybe I should say: What will be the position of U.S. in the likely Turkish intervention in Syria against ISIS?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to guess in a hypothetical situation about what our position might be.
QUESTION: No, but Director Brennan, for example, raised this issue recently during his testimony.
MS. HARF: He raised certain issues. He didn’t make a – take a position on that issue of that hypothetical.
QUESTION: Yeah, he said that northern Syria, then Syria became the new national security threat against U.S. because of these al-Qaida-affiliated groups gathered there.
MS. HARF: Right. That’s a difference than saying we would take a position, that – he wasn’t taking a position on your hypothetical. We are concerned about the spillover to all of Syria’s neighbors of extremists. We’ve said that for many, many months.
QUESTION: No, I’m trying to understand why you are silent on this issue while Turks are real seriously considering this kind of military action in Syria.
MS. HARF: I’m saying I don’t have anything to share with you right now. Obviously, we are talking to the Turkish Government as a NATO ally about all of these issues. I just don’t have anything to share for you right now.
QUESTION: By the way, today the Israelis allowed a Turkish hospital into Gaza, or the components of a Turkish hospital into Gaza. Do you expect in return that there will be a thaw in sort of frigid relations between Turkey and Israel?
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Obviously, we’ve —
MS. HARF: — we hope – we encourage steps that could – I haven’t seen this specific incident, but obviously —
MS. HARF: — we would encourage those kind of steps. I’m happy to see if – check with our team and see if this is significant in any way. I just don’t —
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Anything else? Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m.)