State Department Briefing by Marie Harf, Oct. 17, 2014

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 17, 2014.

TRANSCRIPT:

 

2:29 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello, welcome to Friday’s briefing. I just have one item at the top, and then we will get started. And apologies for the delay, especially because it’s Friday.

You saw Secretary Kerry this morning brief the Washington Diplomatic Corps on our efforts against Ebola, speaking more about what the international community can do to help contain this disease. I just wanted to give people a few statistics to update on the Secretary’s engagement on the issue, and then I will open it up for questions in a moment.

Just in the last three weeks, since the UN General Assembly, the Secretary has had approximately 25 bilateral or multilateral meetings where Ebola has been a topic of conversation. This included, just on this recent trip, meetings with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, the French Foreign Minister Fabius, the Egyptian President al-Sisi, and Foreign Minister Shoukry, pull-asides with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Cairo conference on Gaza reconstruction, as well as some other pull-asides, and with the Austrian foreign minister during our stop in Vienna.

Just this month he has made at least 15 calls with foreign interlocutors, approximately 15 calls where this has been a topic. Obviously, we know this is an incredibly important priority for the Secretary, for the State Department, working with the rest of the U.S. Government on this. I’d also remind people of the conference call he had with the Liberian president, the Sierra Leonean president, and the Ghanaian president on October 7th, just to remind people of that.

You probably saw today that President Obama has asked Ron Klain to coordinate the government’s comprehensive response to Ebola. He will report to the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco, and the National Security Advisor, Susan Rice. As you may have seen from Secretary Kerry’s Twitter feed, he has known Ron for many years, thinks he’s brilliant, tough, no-nonsense, the perfect person for a very tough job. Personally, I’ve known him for a while, as well, think he’s fantastic, and bringing management skills to this very tough challenge.

So, with that —

QUESTION: I will stay with Ebola, since you started with it. The Secretary, in his comments to the diplomatic corps this morning said that the UN has, so far, been unable to raise more than just a third of what – the one billion asked for. I’m wondering, do you all have any idea why the fundraising appeal is not going as well as it could?

MS. HARF: I don’t know why, Lara, and I’m happy to check with our folks to see if there is more behind why they haven’t been able to raise as much money. But I think the point here is that people need to do more.

The Secretary was clear, I think, speaking directly to other countries in these phone calls that I talked about, these meetings, imploring other countries not just to give funds, but also to give expertise, people to send to the region. We know that countries can and need to do more.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because, I mean, you think about it and there have been so many fundraising appeals over the last couple of years. This new coalition to fight ISIS is draining a lot of nations, as well. The economy across the world is not fantastic. Wondering how that is being measured into the context of how to fight Ebola, if the money and the resources can’t be distributed.

MS. HARF: Well, I think what he was getting at – and I know what all of us believe – is that we can find resources here, and we have to, that this is a disease that is containable. If you put the right resources, right procedures, right practices in place – and a lot of those require money — and that’s what we’ve implored other countries to do.

So I know there are a lot of competing priorities, but this is an incredibly important one, and we believe other countries should do more.

QUESTION: Would you rank this as the highest priority in terms?

MS. HARF: I don’t think we’re going to get in the business of ranking. There is a number of top priorities. This is certainly among them.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, do you have any more information on an alert this morning at the Pentagon? Apparently a woman who recently arrived in the United States from Africa was vomiting on a Metro bus, or a tour bus —

MS. HARF: I have not seen that.

QUESTION: — excuse me.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I had not seen that.

QUESTION: Okay. I think Arlington County’s hazmat team closed the area down. So —

MS. HARF: Okay, let me check, check with our team and see.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Yes?

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: To the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I’d like to come back to, return to the remarks Secretary Kerry made yesterday. He said that it’s imperative to re-launch the peace process, something he did in Cairo two, three days ago. But I think, for the first time, he made the connection, a link between the conflict and the rise of extremism and the rise of ISIL. And this morning the Israeli officials are pretty upset and angered against the Secretary.

So I would like to know if the Secretary —

MS. HARF: Well, yeah.

QUESTION: — went a little bit too far.

MS. HARF: A couple comments. First, he did not make any linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period. And we can go back over what he actually said, which I have in front of me. He did not make that linkage. What he was saying is in the course of his work, do leaders in Europe and in the Middle East tell him that they like that the U.S. wants to try to achieve peace? Of course they do. Do the leaders think peace would help create a more stable region? Of course they do. That is in no way a news flash. It’s something that presidents of both parties for decades have said, that if we could make progress on Middle East peace, that would help create a more stable region, and the Secretary was agreeing with what has been said publicly.

And I would take issue with the part of your question that Israeli leaders, plural, have disagreed with what they thought the Secretary said. I saw one in particular. And we would say to that that we know passions run high, politics are intense, but either this specific minister did not actually read what the Secretary said, or someone is engaging in the politics of distortion here. By any means it is an inaccurate reading of what the Secretary said. He did not make a linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period.

QUESTION: But you do see where there is actually the lack of resolving this issue, and it drags on and it goes on almost indefinitely, does, in fact, create a great deal of frustration that may lead to extremism. Don’t you agree with that notion?

MS. HARF: Well, I mean, Said, has the Israeli-Palestinian issue been exploited over the decades by extremists who hate Israel and the United States, who hate both of us? Of course it has. Various presidents, including the previous President, George W. Bush, spoke out about this, saying that if we could achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, that would create a more stable region writ large, in general.

QUESTION: So you think that those leaders that told the Secretary of State there is a linkage, in fact, they’re expressing a sentiment of hate toward —

MS. HARF: Well, that’s not what he was saying. He was saying that as he travels around the world —

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. HARF: Well, can I finish my sentence, Said?

QUESTION: He was saying that that’s what – oh, sure.

MS. HARF: And then you can follow up. Thank you.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: That as he travels around the world building a global coalition to defeat ISIL, which is an avowed enemy of Israel – the Secretary, helping to put together this coalition to defeat an enemy that has said they’re an avowed enemy of Israel, that he hears from people in conversations, as we have for many years, that if we could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that would help create a more stable region. In no way was he directly linking Israel and the growth of ISIL, at all.

QUESTION: But you know, this is a story that goes way back. And I remember in the ‘70s, let’s say, with your close allies, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its foreign minister, or the king at the time, King Faisal, was always saying that not resolving this issue may lead to extremism or people will exploit it, as you said.

MS. HARF: Absolutely, and American presidents —

QUESTION: So there is a connection.

MS. HARF: Well, American presidents and secretaries of state of both parties have said that if we can achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it would be a blow to the region’s extremists. Yes, they’ve said that. But in terms of this specific Israeli minister’s comments, I think, and I think the Secretary thinks, and everyone thinks that what you say actually matters and not just how someone tries to distort it for their own political purposes.

QUESTION: Can I just – can I go back to Ebola for one second?

MS. HARF: Let’s finish this and then, Elise.

QUESTION: One more on this?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary planning to propose a new peace plan this – at this time?

MS. HARF: I think you heard the Secretary speak about the state of this issue in his press availability in Cairo, that we cannot want it more than the parties want it. We obviously believe there needs to be a path forward in the best interests of both people, but nothing else new to share at this point.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary —

MS. HARF: And then I’ll go to you, Elise.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. Has the Secretary talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu since these comments and the flap?

MS. HARF: I can double check.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: They talk frequently. I will check.

QUESTION: Just one more on Ebola.

MS. HARF: Yeah, uh-huh.

QUESTION: The prime minister of Belize, I believe, said something along the lines that Secretary Kerry called him and asked him to help evacuate a potential Ebola victim from one of – from the Carnival cruise ship, and that he refused to do that. Could you speak to this?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So just on this specific issue —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: — the State Department was informed about the cruise ship passenger early in the morning of October 16th. We’ve been working with the CDC and other U.S. Government agencies obviously as well, with other governments, as I said at the top, to implement appropriate public health measures. We do believe that all nations must work together here. Our understanding from the cruise line was that the ship was scheduled to stop in Cozumel today. This passenger was not allowed to disembark in Belize, as they said publicly yesterday. The ship now has decided to set sail for Galveston, Texas, is en route to Texas, and is due to dock on Sunday.

I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of fear about this disease, much of it not rooted in actual fact. So the Secretary did speak last night with our counterparts. Obviously, we had hoped —

QUESTION: The prime minister of Belize?

MS. HARF: That is correct. We had hoped that there might be a path forward here for this passenger to disembark there and come home, but that unfortunately was not the case. They are now back – on their way back on the ship.

QUESTION: And so given the fact that the Secretary, for the second time in a week, kind of went out there and said, look, no country is exempt from playing their part —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — I mean, what does that say about a country like Belize? Like even though – he was praising some countries like East Timor and Cuba that —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — they’re small but they were trying to play their part even greater. I mean, this is something that Belize could’ve done and didn’t, right?

MS. HARF: Could’ve handled differently, I think is fair to say. But what he was saying applies to many countries, that —

QUESTION: I’m talking particularly —

MS. HARF: I know, but his comments were general this morning —

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. HARF: — more countries need to do more, and we have to be driven here by the actual facts and by science and by information, which he said. The science is there, and we cannot let the misinformation and the fear prevent us from taking steps to ensure that people get proper care.

QUESTION: So are you saying that in this case, that you believe that the Government of Belize acted out of disinformation and fear?

MS. HARF: I – they can speak for why they did what they did. I would not venture to speak for them.

QUESTION: Well, when you were speaking – when I asked you the question about what happened, you – your preamble to what actually happened between the Secretary and the prime minister said that some countries are acting out of kind of fear and disinformation and not based on science.

MS. HARF: Right. But I don’t know why they made that decision, and I’ll let them speak – I’ll let any country speak for why they make any specific decision. But broadly speaking, we want people as they respond to both do more but also make sure that everything they’re doing is being driven by the actual facts of how to contain this disease.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. disappointed that Belize did not allow this employee to fly out of their country?

MS. HARF: Employee?

QUESTION: Well, the passenger.

MS. HARF: The passenger on the —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — ship.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: As I just said, I think we probably feel it could have been handled differently. But what we’re focused on now is this ship is en route back to Galveston. Obviously, we will provide any medical care we can – we – not the State Department – inside the United States when they return.

QUESTION: Jen, can I —

MS. HARF: Yeah. You had a question –

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Palestinian issues? Because —

QUESTION: I had one on just Ebola.

MS. HARF: On Ebola?

QUESTION: Yeah. In terms of like a media campaign to get people to donate, have you guys thought about anything like the ALS ice bucket challenge, to how that was very successful and were able – people donated a bunch of money, in terms of getting the public involved in that? I mean, it doesn’t seem that a lot of people are actually donating to fight Ebola.

MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’re focused on here is what governments can provide, both in the form of donations, large donations, but also in the form of expertise, whether it’s doctors, nurses, equipment, gear that can be sent to the region to really help contain it in West Africa, which is what the experts have said is the way – the best way to really do this. So we’re focused from the State Department on what governments can do, certainly in that regard.

QUESTION: But you’re not starting a media campaign on —

MS. HARF: Again, what we’re focused on here —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: — is talking to other governments.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Do you want to go back to the Israeli-Palestinian issue briefly?

QUESTION: Yeah, if we can.

MS. HARF: Yeah. And then we can go on to the next topic.

QUESTION: I just – because yesterday I asked about the Israeli ordnance disallowing Palestinians under 50 to pray at the mosque. And as a result, tensions and violence has occurred. And in fact, today Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, called on the Palestinian to protect or guard the Haram Sharif, which is Al-Aqsa Mosque. Do you have any comments on that?

MS. HARF: Well, we are – Said, we are very concerned about recent tensions there and have urged all sides to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and respect the status quo. So we’re following what’s happening and that remains our position.

QUESTION: Okay. Also, the Israelis – I’m sorry, also the Israelis killed a 13-year-old boy yesterday. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MS. HARF: We have seen those reports – of course, deeply regret the loss of life here, extend our condolences to his family. We understand and have urged the Government of Israel to conduct an investigation – we are understanding that they are doing that – to determine the facts surrounding the incident.

QUESTION: And finally, this weekend there is a conference or convention for the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation. It’s a Palestinian Christian organization, and Palestinian Christians say that you guys are not reaching out to them, or in fact they try to reach out to you, but they get nowhere. And in fact, the Palestinian patriarch —

MS. HARF: Do you mean the State Department?

QUESTION: Huh? Because —

MS. HARF: Are you talking about the U.S. Government or the State Department?

QUESTION: I think the State Department.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I think they tried to reach out to the State Department. They are not finding ways, because Palestinian Christians are really shrinking, and they – in fact, the repression is multilayered. It’s not only one layer. And there is – the head of the Roman Orthodox Christians – Palestinian Christians is in town, Father Atallah, and I’m sure he would probably welcome an opportunity to meet with the State Department. Would you —

MS. HARF: Let me check, Said. I wasn’t aware of those specifics, in terms of the visit or what’s happening. Let me check and see.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: New subject.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Nigeria. Apparently, the Nigerian Government has reached a deal with the – with Boko Haram – two deals. The one is a ceasefire and the other one is the release of the young girls. Can you independently verify this?

MS. HARF: We cannot, at this point. We obviously are aware of reports about a possible announcement by the Nigerian Government of a ceasefire. Obviously, we would welcome an end to hostilities, a restoration of security, and I think it should go without saying would welcome the release of those girls that have been gone far too long. But we cannot independently confirm that, at this point.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: What information are you getting from the —

MS. HARF: Then we’ll go to you.

QUESTION: — U.S. team that is there trying to assist the Nigerians in recovering the girls and helping them deal indirectly with the threat from Boko Haram?

MS. HARF: I don’t have the latest from them. I think, again, these are just reports that are coming out. I know they’re looking to get more information, so as soon as we have anything to confirm we will do so.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the announcement that Secretary Kerry is going to meet Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi. It’s a two-days meeting —

MS. HARF: In Boston, yes.

QUESTION: In Boston, yes.

MS. HARF: His hometown.

QUESTION: Yes. So I’m just curious, what would be the specific topics that will – that they will discuss? And also is this part of a preparation for the President’s trip to China?

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ll have a readout, actually, at the end of the day of what they have discussed. So I think we’ll look to get that out. We talk about a wide range of issues together. I know the Secretary’s looking forward to hosting the Chinese delegation again in his hometown, and we’ll be talking about a number of issues. I don’t have anything specific to preview for you, but obviously this is part of our engagement on regional security issues, on global security issues. I’m sure ISIL, I’m sure Ebola, all of those topics will come up.

QUESTION: And so is this part of preparation for President Obama’s trip to China?

MS. HARF: I would imagine so, but I don’t have more details.

QUESTION: Are the Chinese helping in the coalition against ISIL?

MS. HARF: I can check and see what specifics are there for you on that. They are obviously a part of the Security Council, which has taken some steps, including during the UN General Assembly week, on this, spoken out very strongly about it. But let me check specifically on what —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: — if they’re doing anything.

QUESTION: ISIS?

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MS. HARF: Oh, wait, do you – uh, sure. Yeah. And then we’ll go to ISIS.

QUESTION: It’ll be very quick. So Prime Minister Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine for the Autumn festival, and some suggest that this means that he won’t be visiting the shrine. Do you have any comments about that? Do you think that this is an encouraging step to mend ties with Beijing and Seoul or not? Do you think that he should do more, such as not even give an offering?

MS. HARF: Well, we know there are a lot of sensitivities, of course. We’ve talked about this issue a number of times in here, and as we’ve indicated many times, encouraged Japan to continue to work with its neighbors to resolve the concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue. I don’t have much more analysis of this for you than that, but again, no prediction about what else may happen, but that’s where we are.

QUESTION: Do you know if Secretary Kerry will be encouraging the Chinese to have a Xi-Abe summit?

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more?

MS. HARF: Yeah, go ahead. And then I’m coming to you, Said.

QUESTION: Yes, so Prime Minister Abe had – and Chines premier had exchanged a greeting in Milan, in Italy, so what’s the reaction of the U.S.?

MS. HARF: Well, I hadn’t seen that specifically, but obviously we think the countries in the region should have good relationships with their neighbors, should work to make them better, and if that was one step in that process, then that would be a good thing.

Said. Yes.

QUESTION: ISIS?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. Today, the Russian Prime Minister Medvedev said in a radio interview – in fact, it was with MSNBC, I think, or CNBC radio that was carried on Russian radio – he’s claiming that the United States is no longer insisting on the removal of Bashar al-Assad. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Our position has not changed. We believe, and as the President has said repeatedly, Assad has lost all legitimacy a long time ago. There cannot be a stable, inclusive Syria under his leadership. There is not a role for him in the future of Syria.

QUESTION: The context of what he said is the following, that now the priority is really to fight ISIS and not to worry so much about Assad, who’s actually on the same side —

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: — in fighting ISIS.

MS. HARF: — that’s a simplistic reading of the situation. We can go after ISIL, as we are doing in Iraq and Syria, and also make very clear that there needs to be a political, negotiated, transitional governing body going forward that is in the best interests of Syria, that gets to a government without Assad.

QUESTION: And finally for me on this issue, the ISIS is claiming to have fighter jets. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Yes, that is – we do not have anything to confirm that. Let me just pull this up right here for you. Just give me one second. And General Austin did a briefing this morning where he also spoke to this as well, but let me just – just give me one second.

QUESTION: I don’t think he spoke very much to it.

MS. HARF: That we don’t have any operational reporting of ISIL flying jets in support of ISIL’s activity on the ground. We cannot confirm those reports in terms of that.

QUESTION: But do you think that they have fighter jets or not?

MS. HARF: Let me see if I have more. The answer is no, but let me see if I have more on this. We are not aware of ISIL capturing any fighter jets from Iraq, have nothing to confirm those reports.

QUESTION: If the – if ISIL were confirmed to have fighter jets or other aircraft, would that strengthen the argument for establishing a no-fly zone as Turkey has been requesting?

MS. HARF: There are a lot of hypothetical ifs that if – were they to become true, I’m sure would be looked at by our military planners and we would have that conversation then. But again, nothing to confirm they have them, and at this point nothing’s changed on the no-fly zone or the buffer zone – are not considering implementing that. That’s not part of our military plans at this time.

QUESTION: I know this is technically a question for the Pentagon, but because the State Department is very much involved in this, is there any more that can be said about what the U.S. and Turkey have agreed that can be done to try to push back ISIL, particularly inside Syria?

MS. HARF: Nothing more than we’ve already said. Obviously, it was a welcome step that they have agreed to train and equip the Syrian opposition. Nothing further. We’re having continued conversations with them.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the U.S. has received permission from Turkey to fly drones for intelligence gathering purposes out of Turkish military installations?

MS. HARF: I’ll let Turkey make any announcements they want about how they’re going to contribute here. I don’t have anything to confirm for you.

QUESTION: Can you confirm where the U.S. made that request?

MS. HARF: Nothing else to confirm for you, Roz.

Yes, Lara.

QUESTION: Pursuant to Assad, can you discuss to any degree the extent that the U.S. might be de-conflicting with the regime over the airstrikes? I mean, it’s been noted, and I think you all have agreed – I think Austin today said that the Syrian Government hasn’t prevented any of the airstrikes from happening —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And we confirmed when we first began them that we had, through our UN ambassador, given them a heads-up that we were going to —

QUESTION: Okay. So there is some kind of —

MS. HARF: — if you remember at the time.

QUESTION: It wasn’t a coordination. There was discussion, or —

MS. HARF: There was at the time – I’m not sure that that’s been ongoing. As we said at the time, we confirmed that, that we had done so to give them a heads-up, not to coordinate. I don’t know if that’s ongoing. But General Austin is correct. They have not attempted to interfere.

QUESTION: Okay. And can you talk a little bit about the – a little more about the meeting in Paris on Sunday between Mr. Rubinstein and the YPG – I’m sorry, the PYD, Salih Muslim?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. I don’t have many more details for you, I think. Confirming that it happened on Sunday.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) Today the YPG spokesman – actually, was it the – I’m sorry, the PYD, since they’re kind of the same group —

MS. HARF: The same thing, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. He said that Kurdish fighters are sharing information with the coalition and they are coordinating strikes, and that the successes in Kobani are due in part because of this coordination. Is that true?

MS. HARF: We do get intelligence from, get information from a wide range of people – obviously, look for it anywhere we can get it. So yes, there is some intelligence and information sharing going on. That’s not something you replicate everywhere, of course, but in this case that is correct.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But the fact that they are close to the PKK – this group – will not deter you from meeting with them?

MS. HARF: Will not, no.

QUESTION: Would the United States at this point rule out any arms transfers to the YDP – PYD?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to rule anything in or out, but obviously, that’s not something we’re doing.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. United States Government was refused the request of visa of Salih Muslim, the head of PYD, before. Did you reconsider this decision after this first contact – re-contact with PYD?

MS. HARF: I wasn’t familiar with the first case. That may have been before my time, but I’m happy to check.

Again, conversations don’t equal coordination. We talk to a wide range of officials, of actors, of people involved here across the board – a large swath of Syrian society – but does not mean we’re always coordinating.

QUESTION: And you trust them now, and their intelligence?

MS. HARF: Well, none of this is about trust. This is about seeing if we can work with others who want to defeat ISIS – ISIL in the same way that we do. So obviously, there’s a wide range of actors we talk to. That doesn’t mean we’re coordinating, but – one conversation does not coordination make.

QUESTION: One more on Syria, Marie —

MS. HARF: Well, I think – hold on, I think Tolga had one more.

QUESTION: Actually, I’m going to ask on Turkey. Go ahead.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: I’m just going to be up here for a few hours.

QUESTION: No, no, about the air raid —

MS. HARF: Glad I have on flats.

QUESTION: About the air raids. Now, you were saying that you let the Syrians know the first time you did this, correct?

MS. HARF: Well, not when, or – not exacts – specifics.

QUESTION: But it would be logical or prudent to do this every time there is a raid, wouldn’t it?

MS. HARF: Not necessarily, no.

QUESTION: Because you don’t —

MS. HARF: We’ve taken a number of strikes, and I don’t think that necessarily has to happen, and I think it would be a mistake —

QUESTION: So you told them that this one —

MS. HARF: — for the Assad regime, too.

QUESTION: You told them that that one time, we are going to do this —

MS. HARF: We told them before —

QUESTION: — stay out of our way. Is that what you said?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to pass along the specifics of the conversation, but we did give them, as we said weeks ago, a heads-up.

QUESTION: The reason I ask this is because Syria is known to have the S-300 surface-to-air missile which is supplied by Russia, which can bring down U.S. jets. So you want to avoid that situation, correct?

MS. HARF: I think that would be fairly common sense, yes.

QUESTION: So that would – the common sense would call for some sort of at least informing them every time there is a —

MS. HARF: Not necessarily, not necessarily.

QUESTION: Marie, are you aware of an Iranian plan to solve the crisis in Syria and the fight between the regime and the opposition through a ceasefire first and then an election – presidential and parliament elections?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those specifics. I know there are – lots of ideas have been floated out there since we’ve been trying to resolve this diplomatically, but not aware of those specifics.

QUESTION: Have you discussed this issue with the Iranians in Vienna?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Are you aware of Staffan de Mistura’s efforts in that regard? Because he’s met with the clerics of Hezbollah, he’s met – he’s also formulating some ideas to restart the Geneva talks. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: Well, we would like to restart the diplomatic talks, and what that looks like going forward, obviously, will need to be worked out, because we know this is the only path forward here. But as we said, we will not go back to the negotiating table until the Assad regime is willing to come to that table, talking about a transitional government.

QUESTION: Is there any effort to – for the Syrian fighters in Kobani to coordinate with the Syrian rebels against Assad? Are you aware of any?

MS. HARF: I can check with our team.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Marie, just to clarify, the first contact was made between Salih Muslim and Mr. Rubinstein, right?

MS. HARF: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And after this contact, Salih Muslim went to Dohuk to join in Kurdish conference. And according to the Kurdish sources, that Mr. Rubinstein convinced him to join this conference. Do you have any —

MS. HARF: I’m not going to give a readout of their discussion from here.

QUESTION: Did Mr. Rubinstein go to Dohuk too with Salih Muslim? He – did he attend the meeting in Dohuk?

MS. HARF: I can check. I’m not even aware of that meeting, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: And are you encouraging the Kurds, especially PYD and other Kurds, to unify in terms of this ISIL threat in the region?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more specifics to share from our discussions. Obviously, we believe that where there are people who can help push back ISIL in Iraq, in Syria, the moderate opposition, particularly in Syria, and the Iraqi Security Forces – they should help. But I don’t have any more details on our specific conversations.

QUESTION: We know that the U.S. Administration is providing weapons or equipment, aid to KRG, the —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — Kurdish groups in northern Iraq.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, that is true.

QUESTION: If there will be a consensus between PYD and KRG given the – some differences between the two, would it be acceptable for you in the future to cooperate in these weapons and to share —

MS. HARF: I’m not —

QUESTION: — these equipment and weapon transfers?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to venture to guess about that hypothetical.

QUESTION: Can I go to Turkey?

MS. HARF: Anything else on —

QUESTION: Marie, can I follow up —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: — on this issue? Do you want to go ahead?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Do you have – okay. So just a quick follow-up on this. The PYD spokesman today said that the meeting in Paris was not the first time that the group had sat down with a U.S. envoy. He said the contact isn’t new, but the admission of it is.

MS. HARF: I can check on that. I’m just not aware of the history.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: On Turkey, can you give us a readout after Deputy Burns meet with the Turkish under secretary of foreign affairs?

MS. HARF: Let me check with him and see if we can get one.

QUESTION: It’s a closed meeting.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. I don’t have any details about that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but after the meeting, like, can you give us a readout?

MS. HARF: I will check and endeavor to.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: And on Turkey?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Today is massive corruption case was dropped after the prosecutor’s decision because of the lack of grounds to take any legal action. And U.S. Administration has characterized – had characterized this incident, actually, as a scandal at the annual Human Rights Report. Do you have any reaction to this decision?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that decision. Let me check with our team and see if we have a reaction.

Yes, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Yes. Can we move to Ukraine?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: What is your understanding about the intense diplomatic activity which is happening in Milan, in Italy? And apparently, there are plenty of deals which have been agreed on gas, on exchange of prisoners, on drone flights. And do you think that the things are moving, broadly speaking, into the right direction?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve seen some of the reports coming out. I think we’re still waiting to get some more details from the different participants that were there. We, I think, will look forward to hearing those and may have more to say as we get those. We’ve seen reports that there was progress on the gas issue. We do hope to see a negotiated agreement soon, hope that continues moving forward. And we have continued to emphasize the need for full implementation of all of the 12 points of the September 5th Minsk Agreement, including the shooting around Donetsk airport. It has to stop. The hostages have to be released. Sovereignty has to be restored along the Ukrainian-Russian international border. That border has to be closed, has to be held accountable. Foreign forces and weapons need to be withdrawn. So these are all things that still have to happen, and we’ll get a readout from Milan and see if there has been any progress in those areas. But I do believe that President Poroshenko and Putin did meet in Milan. I don’t have a readout of that yet.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: And then we can go to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Carrying on with the Russia question, there was no – there has been not very much talked about Crimea in these Milan talks, and what do you think? Should that be part of the discussions in terms of between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents as well?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have a full readout yet of the discussions in Milan, so let me see if I can get more of that, and we can talk about this a little probably on Monday. Obviously, our position on Crimea has not changed.

QUESTION: Another one —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — with Russia and actually Estonia. Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland yesterday met with the Estonian minister of the interior, and there’s a question about Russian authorities holding an Estonian police officer who was abducted. Did that come up?

MS. HARF: A while ago. That’s the – yeah.

QUESTION: That was in beginning of September.

MS. HARF: I think – yeah.

QUESTION: Did they talk about this?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. Let me check and see if we can get that for you.

QUESTION: And maybe just a different version of the same question. Secretary Kerry was talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov in Paris —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — a couple of days ago. Did they discuss the question of the Estonian officer being held in Russia?

MS. HARF: They did not.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Russia?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I can’t remember if this has ever come up in here, but do you have any comment on the number of McDonald’s that have been closed in Russia since –

MS. HARF: No, that happened a while ago, and I had something on that then. I can double-check with our —

QUESTION: All right, I can go back in that case.

MS. HARF: — with our team. What I remember from that is – do you remember when that McDonald’s opened and people would line up –

QUESTION: I was there.

MS. HARF: You were there?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Really?

QUESTION: (Inaudible), yes. I was in Moscow.

MS. HARF: Well, see, there you go.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Hmm?

MS. HARF: Did the food taste the same?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) Exactly, but I remember Yeltsin standing there with his grandson right in line. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: Really? But there were huge lines, and it was this great symbol of what was happening in the world and the fact that McDonald’s was opening in Russia. Obviously, things are different now, but let me see if there’s anything new to update you on there.

QUESTION: Yeah, just like whether you see it as like a coordinated kind of retaliation to U.S. sanctions.

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go to Saudi Arabia?

MS. HARF: Yes, we can.

QUESTION: The Saudis —

MS. HARF: That’s my new favorite fact about you, though – (laughter) – that you were there. I like that.

QUESTION: I’ve been in a lot of places. (Laughter.) Anyway, so the Saudis – a Saudi court sentenced a Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, to death for disobeying the guardians, which in this case, the monarchy. That’s what it means. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, Said, I hadn’t seen that.

QUESTION: Would that something —

MS. HARF: I’ll get you a comment after the briefing.

QUESTION: Would that – something that would cause you to have comment?

MS. HARF: Without knowing the specifics, I don’t want to comment one way or the other, but I’ll get you something after the briefing.

QUESTION: Because it is likely to stir up a lot of trouble, especially in the eastern sector where the oil is.

MS. HARF: Where many of the Shia are.

QUESTION: Where the Shias are.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And where the oil is and so on.

MS. HARF: Let me check.

QUESTION: But don’t you think that this – for – to sentence him to death for incitement and not obeying the guardians, which is in Arabic – those who are – who rule you. That’s what it means. Is that a bit excessive?

MS. HARF: I really would like to see the details before I comment.

QUESTION: But you would consider that sentencing someone to death for what he says is basically excessive?

MS. HARF: Well, let me look at the details of the case, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Philippines?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: A Marine is in custody for killing a transgender Filipino.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Assuming charges will be filed, if they are, is the U.S. prepared to hand over the Marine to Philippine custody?

MS. HARF: Well, there has been no indictment yet – just to make sure people were on the same page here. My understanding is that under Philippine law, a person is considered charged upon the filing of indictment in court. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet. There has been superb coordination between the U.S. and Philippine authorities on this case. We can confirm that a criminal complaint in the Philippines has been filed. A number of subpoenas have been issued, so we will continue to cooperate on this. Obviously, we’ll coordinate closely on this with them going forward. I don’t have any more specifics, though, before an indictment is issued.

QUESTION: Okay. So you couldn’t say if the U.S. is prepared to hand him over to Philippine custody —

MS. HARF: Well, any —

QUESTION: — if he is indicted?

MS. HARF: Any offenses would be handled in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which I know is a DOD thing, and I don’t want to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: Does he have immunity?

MS. HARF: I can check, Lara, but I —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I think anything will have to be in accordance with the agreement we have with them to have our folks there.

QUESTION: How do you expect this to affect some of the U.S.-Philippine military agreements? I know there’s been some tensions recently and some questions. The U.S. is trying to step up some troop rotations through the country.

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly share a long history of close security cooperation, bilaterally; do not want this in any way to affect that; will continue to coordinate closely with the Philippines, which, as you all know, is a treaty ally, to determine the schedule of future military exercises, and how we will continue working together. But we are very committed to this relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: One more on Japan?

MS. HARF: One more on Japan and one more on Yemen, and then everyone can begin their weekends. Yes.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe had a meeting with President Putin in Milan. So what’s the reaction of U.S.? And also, they agreed to have another meeting in Beijing at the occasion of APEC.

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I think, to a related or similar question, we believe the countries in the region should talk, and work together, and have better relationships, if they can. I don’t have more comment than that.

Yes, Yemen.

QUESTION: Yeah. President spoke with President Hadi today expressing the U.S.’s support for his continued governance. What more is the Obama Administration prepared to do to help the Hadi government against what seems to be this relentless push by the Houthis to, essentially, take power?

MS. HARF: Well, since the beginning of their transition in 2011, we have taken a number of steps to help the government: more than $800 million in assistance to Yemen to help with their transition, including things like the National Dialogue, including humanitarian assistance, economic reform assistance, things that can help them with governance.

We know there are continued challenges, certainly, when it comes to the Houthis. There is a substantial Houthi presence in parts of the country, but have again called on all parties to abide by their agreements, the Peace and National Partnership Agreement and to work together peacefully to resolve those issues.

QUESTION: And are there any specific forms of assistance regarding AQAP?

MS. HARF: Anything new? I mean we’ve certainly worked very closely in the counterterrorism realm on AQAP, 275 million to help build their CT capacity of their security forces. This is a threat we’ve worked together on very closely, and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Do you have a clearer idea now about the Houthis’ intentions in Yemen?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think I’m the one to probably comment on what their intentions are. That’s probably not my place. But they’ve clearly continued to advance. That advancement violates the agreement they signed on to on September 21st. So we, of course, want them to get back in line with that agreement.

QUESTION: And despite the aids that the U.S. has provided to the Yemeni army, the army didn’t resist to the Houthis’ advance. How do you view that?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a challenging environment, and we continue to help them build their capacity, and we’ll keep working with them.

QUESTION: President Hadi, or people close to President Hadi, are saying that the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is actually working very closely with the Houthis. Do you have any idea —

MS. HARF: I hadn’t heard that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:08 p.m.)

Source: state.gov