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State Department Briefing by Marie Harf, October 11, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 11, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Congratulations to OPCW on Nobel Peace Prize
    • Secretary’s Travel
    • Government Shutdown Impact
    • No Timeline on Process
    • Secretary’s Travel / Upcoming Meetings
    • Upcoming Meeting between Secretary Kerry and al-Faisal / U.S.-Saudi Arabia Relations / Shared Goals
  • IRAN
    • P5+1 Talks
    • OPCW Nobel Peace Prize / Syria Regime’s Responsibilities / Must be in Compliance with UNSC resolution
    • U.S. Relations with Russia on Syria / Geneva 2
    • Human Rights Report Findings / Violence against Civilians
    • Line of Control / Back and Forth on the Ground
    • Humanitarian Access
  • IRAN
    • Ongoing Communications with Israelis on Iranian Nuclear Threats / Highest National Security Priority / P5+1 Talks
    • Focused on Working with Partners in Libya to Build Capability
    • Condemn Attack on Swedish Facility in Benghazi
    • Kenneth Bae / Mrs. Bae’s Private Trip
    • Abu Anas al-Libi
    • Government Shutdown / Furloughs / Effects on Diplomacy
    • Secretary’s Future Travel to the Asia-Pacific Region
    • Capture of TTP Terrorist Leader Latif Mehsud
    • Focused on Continuing our Relationship with Egypt



1:25 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Happy Friday, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a few things to do at the top, and then I’m happy to open it up.

First, as I’m sure many of you if not all of you saw today, the Nobel Committee recognized today the vision and efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. The extraordinary work of the OPCW began more than 15 years ago after a 100-year effort to ban chemical weapons succeeded with the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997.

The OPCW has been instrumental in verifying the elimination of chemical weapons around the world. Member states of the OPCW now represent 98 percent of the global population and land mass. The OPCW is the guardian of the global ban on chemical weapons and implements humanity’s collective judgment that the use of chemical weapons by anyone at any time runs against the very conscience of mankind.

As the repository of international expertise on chemical weapons, the OPCW constitutes a unique resource and an invaluable tool to address the threat of chemical weapons. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize today to the OPCW no doubt reflects the critical role that they are playing in the Syrian CW crisis. As people know, in March of this year, the OPCW was called upon by the UN Secretary General to support a UN investigation into allegations of CW use in Syria. A UN team staffed by OPCW chemical weapons experts investigated the August 21st attack and confirmed utilizing OPCW-designated laboratories that sarin was used to kill over a thousand Syrians.

So I just want to take another opportunity to congratulate the OPCW on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, reiterate that they’re dedicated to a vision of a world free of chemical weapons through the verifiable elimination of existing stockpiles, and the prevention of the re-emergence of chemical weapons. And that’s exactly what they’re working so hard to do today in Syria.

So that’s first. And then second I just have a quick travel update. You probably saw the Secretary – the notice that went out this morning about the Secretary’s travel. He is right now in Kabul, Afghanistan. He will be meeting with President Karzai this evening. We’re going to be talking about how to make progress, have discussions about the BSA, also about preparation for the elections. And that’s happening all right now, so I’m sure we’ll have a readout after that happens.

Tomorrow he will be in Paris to have dinner with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. They will be talking about a range of issues. And then Monday, will be meeting in London with Mr. Brahimi to discuss a range of issues, including, of course, Syria.

Deb, let’s go ahead and get us started.

QUESTION: Can you just – when he’s coming home?

MS. HARF: Arshad, I’m going to let Deb start, and then I’ll go to you. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just real quick, if we could get this out of the way real quick —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any – is the government shutdown affecting the Keystone pipeline environmental review?

MS. HARF: I’ll get to Keystone in one second. Did you just have a logistical question, Arshad?

QUESTION: I did, but —

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: — you want to start with Deb, so you do that.

MS. HARF: No, no, no.

QUESTION: No, go for it.

MS. HARF: When’s he coming home?

QUESTION: No, you’ve – go ahead. Ask Deb your question.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Go right ahead.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Go right ahead.

MS. HARF: Okay, we’ll move on from travel. Keystone, yes. Thank you.

The State Department continues to carry out its work to finalize the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement. As folks know, finalizing the Draft SEIS involves work with consulting agencies to discuss and address their comments as appropriate. Most of these consulting agencies have had a large number of staff furloughed during this process, which has made it harder to work on with them. We obviously need information, technical expertise that these agencies can provide, and it’s just making it more difficult right now. We don’t have – we haven’t had an estimate on timing ever throughout this process, so I – obviously we can’t make any predictions now, but it certainly has made it harder.

QUESTION: Did you have a sense before the shutdown of when you had wanted to make this decision by?


QUESTION: Because we expected there to be some decision over the summer, and then that didn’t happen. So I mean, it might be holding up kind of discussions, but it wasn’t really holding up, like, a pending decision, because that wasn’t imminent. Is that right?

MS. HARF: Well, yeah. We never had a timeline. We never put anything out in terms of expectations. It’s just making it harder to work on right now.


QUESTION: I’m pretty sure that U.S. officials actually, at the time, said that they thought – I could be mistaken, but I’m quite certain that U.S. officials said at the time that they thought that the review could be completed as early as the first quarter. I may be wrong about that, but there was a timeline that was discussed, it was briefed, and I’ll go back and check.

MS. HARF: Yeah, let’s go back and check on that. It’s my understanding that we never put forward a timeline for when the final SEIS would be done. That’s my understanding that we’ve never put a timing on that.

QUESTION: First quarter of the year or the fiscal year?

MS. HARF: It’s – again —

QUESTION: It was – this was a review, and it was calendar year. So maybe it’s —

MS. HARF: Let’s —

QUESTION: — maybe we’re talking about different things here also.

MS. HARF: We might be talking about different things. Let’s go back and double-check. I know for the whole process we haven’t put a timeline on it.


MS. HARF: And there’s no update on that.

QUESTION: For the final decision. Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything else on the shutdown?

MS. HARF: No, nothing else today.


MS. HARF: In terms – I’m going to go to Arshad next, though.

In terms of when he’s coming back, I don’t have any – his meeting is Monday – or, excuse me, let’s see – Monday, Sunday in London. I’m trying to look at my notes here in terms of when this is. The Brahimi meeting, I believe, is Monday in London, if I’m reading this correctly. So they should be back late after that, but I just don’t know exactly when.


QUESTION: What was the —

MS. HARF: And hopefully, we will have a briefing on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Can I ask you —

QUESTION: I just wondered why it was – the Secretary felt it was necessary to add these two stops on. I mean, obviously meeting the Saudi foreign minister, meeting the Syrian envoy are important things, but —

MS. HARF: Very important. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — but he’s also been on the road for quite some time now.

MS. HARF: He has been.

QUESTION: And I just wondered what was the urgency of actually a face-to-face meeting, something that couldn’t be done by a phone call or even Skype, for instance.

MS. HARF: Well, I like the Skype idea.

QUESTION: If you use Skype. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I’ll tell the Secretary I think we should do that. No, he obviously believes – we talk on the phone all the time, but sometimes it’s important to meet face-to-face. Obviously, there’s incredible urgency to get towards a Geneva 2 conference, which is a major topic of conversation with Special Representative Brahimi. And obviously, the Saud al-Faisal discussion will cover a range of pressing issues as well that we’ve talked about. So —

QUESTION: Has he spoken to the Saudi Foreign Minister in the last couple of days since the U.S. announced its decision on Egypt?


QUESTION: Or before it, because of diplomatic consultations.

MS. HARF: I will check. I will double-check. I believe he has, but let me double-check on that.


MS. HARF: Yeah? Mm-hmm?

QUESTION: Is his visit to Paris specially to meet with Saud al-Faisal?

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: That’s the only purpose?

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding, that that’s the purpose. I don’t know if other meetings will get tacked on, but that’s the purpose.

QUESTION: How do you characterize relations with the Saudis now? Are you with – are you on the same page with them regarding Egypt, Syria, and Iran?

MS. HARF: Well, look, we and the Saudis have a very close working partnership on all of these issues. We talk about them constantly with them, and we share the goals of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We certainly share the goals of getting Syria back to a stable and secure place. So we’re going to keep talking about these issues, and I’m certain they will have a productive meeting when they get together in Paris.

QUESTION: Can we go to the —

QUESTION: But this is the third of fourth meeting between Secretary Kerry and Saud al-Faisal —

MS. HARF: They’ve met quite a bit. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — in four weeks. What’s the purpose of all these meetings?

MS. HARF: There’s been a lot going on in the last four weeks.

QUESTION: Can I just —

QUESTION: But not with other foreign ministers.

MS. HARF: Well, he’s met with a range of folks, including during his trip to Asia.

QUESTION: But not three or four times in one month.

MS. HARF: I’ll double-check and see if he’s actually met with Saud al-Faisal that many times recently.

QUESTION: Yeah. He met with him in Paris —

MS. HARF: I’ll double-check.

QUESTION: — and New York, and this is the third, I think.

MS. HARF: I’ll double-check on the timing, but he’s met – I mean, we had UNGA, he’s been on the road a lot. There have been, quite frankly, a lot of bilateral meetings with a lot of folks over the past few weeks.

QUESTION: I think we’re just trying to determine whether something has, like whether —


QUESTION: — these meetings weren’t scheduled when this trip was first kind of hatched.

MS. HARF: Well, we hadn’t announced them publicly. That’s true.

QUESTION: So just wondering if, for instance, the Saudis have called a meeting because of the decision on Egypt or if there was any developments in —

MS. HARF: I’ll try to find out if this is in response to something. As we all know, they do meet quite frequently to discuss these issues. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: And I just wanted to – on this incredibly expanding tour of the Secretary’s —

MS. HARF: I know.

QUESTION: — whether there’s a plan, since we’ll be getting close to the date, to swing by Geneva for the Iran talks.

MS. HARF: I know, I know. We keep guessing – no – about that to see if I’ll see him in Geneva. No, there’s no plan for him to go to Geneva at this point. Obviously, everything could change, but Under Secretary Sherman will be leading our delegation.

QUESTION: But when you say, obviously, everything can change, you don’t have any expectation —

MS. HARF: Correct. I do not. I have no expectation of that.

QUESTION: Because I don’t know if you saw today – there was just some comments out of Iran – I’m sorry, I’m forgetting who actually said it —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that they feel that these negotiations are so delicate that they should actually be led by the foreign ministers. Obviously, Foreign Minister Zarif is the appointed head of the delegation.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But there was a suggestion —

MS. HARF: As lead negotiator. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As lead negotiator, yes. But there was a suggestion that perhaps on – on the other side of the P-5+1 that the negotiation should be led by the foreign minister.

MS. HARF: Well, when it’s appropriate for them to happen at that level, we’re certainly open to that. Obviously, at the UN that’s the level we saw, sat down together and discussed. So I think it’s important to get all the political directors around the table to wait for the Iranians to come, hopefully with a substantive response to our plan, and then when it needs to be taken to a different level, we’ll do so.


QUESTION: Marie, can we go to the OPCW and Nobel Prize winning?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The Syrians are taking credit, actually, for this. Do you concur, the fact that they facilitated their work and they made them prominent and they made —

MS. HARF: The Syrian regime is taking credit for this?

QUESTION: Yeah, the Syrian Government is taking credit.

MS. HARF: Hmm.

QUESTION: They’re saying that our cooperation has made this possible. Do you agree?

MS. HARF: No. I don’t – wouldn’t put the Syrian regime in any sentence with the word “peace” or “the Nobel Peace Prize” in any way, shape, or form, Said. What we’ve said, and I think the OPCW and the UN have been the ones on the front lines leading this effort to start destroying parts of the program and that will be doing the tough work going forward, obviously, in conjunction with a lot of international partners. We’ve said the Syrian regime has responsibilities; we expect them to comply with those. But the OPCW has, I think as you saw the Secretary say this morning, taken unprecedented steps, worked with unprecedented speed, to confront a situation they’ve quite frankly never confronted in their history.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you’d certainly agree that the Syrians so far – so far – have been quite cooperative and things have gone very smoothly, correct?

MS. HARF: So the Syrian regime thus far has met some of its responsibilities that it is beholden to under the Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: So they have met only some of their responsibilities and not all their responsibilities thus far?

MS. HARF: Well, they haven’t had an opportunity to meet all of their responsibilities yet. Their full declaration isn’t due until October 27th. We’ve certainly seen progress. The OPCW has had some success up until this point starting to destroy some of the stockpiles. But let’s be clear that the Syrian regime has obligations, it has responsibilities, and it must be in compliance with the Security Council resolution. We fully expect them to live up to those responsibilities.

QUESTION: Okay, just a quick follow-up. Do you believe now that this actually gives added protection to the inspectors on the ground, the fact that they are international heroes and their harm may create a lot of problems —

MS. HARF: Well, I think with or without a Nobel Peace Prize, I think that it goes without saying that the Syrian regime has a responsibility to protect the safety of everybody as part of this effort on the ground. I don’t think this should – I think that should have been the case before it, quite frankly.

QUESTION: Okay. But you’re saying the Syrian regime. Do you also expect that in areas where it is under the control of the opposition, the militant opposition, that they should be held responsible as well —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — for their protection?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. We have underscored to the opposition repeatedly that they need to also provide this. In the past they have talked about this when we talked about the UN team. Absolutely.



MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, does Secretary Kerry – I know you read the statement, but in terms of the OPCW getting this award, certainly there is – the Nobel Peace Prize – certainly there is a lot more attention on them because of this mission in Syria.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, absolutely.

QUESTION: And it all kind of came about after the Secretary kind of proposed this idea in the first place, so I’m wondering if he feels any particular pride or anything or responsibility in terms of them getting the award.

MS. HARF: No, not at all. I think you saw his statement this morning. I mean, look, he put on the table an idea. It’s one we’d been talking about and thinking about internally. But after that, there was a lot of hard work required from, quite frankly, a lot of different parties. And where we are today is that the Syrian regime is operating under – has responsibilities under both the UN Security Council resolution and an OPCW resolution which also passed with unanimous consent. They are going to be the ones overseeing the implementation on the ground.

So the way we get from A to B, from the Secretary putting on the table an idea and B being the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program, there’s lots of implementation that still has to happen. This is going to be very dangerous. It’s going to be very difficult. It’s going to take some time. We’re doing it as quickly as possible, but that’s – the work the OPCW is doing is really unprecedented in any destruction effort and is what’s responsible for them getting this award today. They’re taking steps they’ve never had to take before because the situation is so dire. And the member states of the Executive Council unanimously consenting to the resolution and then the OPCW technical experts on the ground, they’re doing the hard work out there on the front lines right now as we speak.

QUESTION: That’s true. But a lot of events have happened as a result of these kind of off-the-cuff remarks of the Secretary’s.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t you say?

MS. HARF: Well, absolutely. We’ve said that, what, three or four weeks ago no one could have even imagined that we would be at this place today where the Syrian regime finally admitted they had chemical weapons, where they acceded to the CWC, where the OPCW and the UN had folks on the ground in Syria starting to destroy some of this stockpile. Absolutely. And there have been a lot of people involved in this and there will be a lot of people involved in it going forward.

QUESTION: Marie, can I just ask —

QUESTION: Do you agree with Elise’s characterization that the comments were off-the-cuff?

MS. HARF: No, I think we’ve talked about this sort of ad nauseum.


MS. HARF: What we’ve said is he was responding to a question with something we’d been sort of talking about internally, right, an idea about getting Syria to admit to and then destroy their chemical weapons, and put it on the table as a challenge, right. I mean, he said at the time also, look, they can hand them all over within one week. It was an off-the-cuff remark based on conversations we’ve been having internally.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: So I think that then other folks picked up the ball and ran with it, and we had an obligation to see where it would go, and we are where we are today.


QUESTION: Do you believe that —

QUESTION: Can I ask that hidden among all the plaudits for the OPCW —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — there was also some criticism of the United States and Russia by the Nobel jury, which said that neither United States or Russia have actually fulfilled their obligations under the conventional – the treaty on the – on chemical – the chemical weapons treaty.

MS. HARF: The convention?




MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: To get rid of all their chemical weapons stock by April 2012.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Would you respond to that, please?

MS. HARF: I’ll check on the latest on that. I do know that we and the Russians have both worked very hard together to destroy our existing stockpiles. I’ll get the latest on where that stands. It’s a lengthy process, obviously. But let – I’ll get the latest for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: And I can actually take that as a question and see what I can do.

QUESTION: It’d be useful to know —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — exactly what the holdup has been and how far along the process —

MS. HARF: I’m not sure if there’s been a specific holdup. I think it’s just a process that we work with the Russians and it takes time. We’ve both worked on it. Let me just see what I can get for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) working with the Russians —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: — do you believe that the tension that was there before the announcement by the Secretary or the remark off the cuff or otherwise –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that the tension has been mitigated to the point where you can actually now see eye-to-eye on the interpretation of, let’s say, Geneva 1 and the move forward? Do you believe that —

MS. HARF: The tension with the Russians?


MS. HARF: Over what issue, specifically?

QUESTION: Over Syria. I mean, we’re talking about Syria.

MS. HARF: Okay. Well —

QUESTION: In this context, I mean —

MS. HARF: — we’ve always said a couple things about our relationship with Russia when it comes to Syria. The first is that we both agreed to the Geneva communique.


MS. HARF: We both agreed that there needs to be a transitional government based on mutual consent by the different sides. We both agreed that needs to happen as soon as possible, and hopefully, that will be the case.

We’ve also made it clear when we disagree with actions the Russian Government has taken in terms of supporting the regime. But I think it’s important to focus right now on the fact that the Russians have the opportunity and indeed have been helping to push the Syrian regime to continue cooperating in – complying I should say, excuse me – not cooperating, but complying with their obligations.

QUESTION: Why can’t you say cooperating? They’re cooperating and they’re meeting their responsibilities.

MS. HARF: Because I’m going to use a more technical term, and that’s complying. We’re going to use technical terms when we’re talking about technical issues here.

But going back to Said’s question, look, we’ve also said that this is an opportunity, because we have been able to work together on CW, to make progress on Geneva 2. And that’s what we are hoping will be coming as soon as possible. And we’ll continue telling them when we disagree with things they’re doing.

QUESTION: I still don’t understand the rationale that progress on the destruction of chemical weapons could lead to progress on Geneva 2, for the very simple reason that ever since this agreement on chemical weapons, the Syrian regime has basically said that this is a license for job security, we need to implement this agreement, we’re not going anywhere, President Assad is staying. In fact, since the agreement, the regime has only dug in its heels.

MS. HARF: Well, and since the agreement we’ve been clear that that’s just not the case —

QUESTION: I understand, but you’re not a part —

MS. HARF: — and that our position hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: — you’re – you may be helping mediate these talks, but you’re not a party to the talks. And so if one of the parties is, in fact, digging in its heels and less prone to negotiation along the lines of what you’d like to see – and certainly what they’re saying is a nonstarter for the opposition – how does that make progress more likely? In fact, it makes it look like it’s less likely.

MS. HARF: Well, actually we are a party to the discussions, right. We are – we and the Russians and the UN —

QUESTION: You’re hosting them, right?

MS. HARF: Correct. The three of us, those three parties, are working together to determine date, participation. Those conversations are ongoing. We each are working with the folks that we talk to – in the opposition, obviously, on our side; the Russians with the regime – to determine who will actually sit at the table when we eventually do get to Geneva 2. So we certainly have a role to play. And the fact that it’s the UN and the Russians who we’re working with on Geneva 2, the exact same people we were able to negotiate a groundbreaking agreement with, actually I do think could have a positive impact on it. When you’re willing to sit down and work with someone on one thing, inevitably it means it’s easier to work on something else.

QUESTION: I’m not saying that the three of you wouldn’t work better together. But the situation that has resulted with this agreement is that the regime feels that this is – gives them job security, and the opposition feels that they are less of a strong partner at the table. So how does that make it – how does that make progress more likely?

MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’ve said is that we’re going to keep talking to the opposition about the fact that our position has not changed on the future of Assad. Our position hasn’t changed that he has no legitimacy and must go. We’ve made that perfectly clear privately and publicly to the opposition, and we will continue doing so.

QUESTION: I understand, but it doesn’t really —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, I understand your position hasn’t changed, but —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and I understand that you’re also – you say you’re a party to the agreement. But at the end of the day – and you’ve said yourself that it’s going to be the Syrians’ decision. And so, again, if the regime’s position has changed, in the sense that it’s even less likely to negotiate an exit to Assad after this agreement, how does that help?

MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’re focused on, Elise, is working with the Russians and the UN, for all of us to bring our parties to the table. And that’s why you have a conference, right, to work out all of these issues. And that’s what we’re focused on right now. It’s difficult, obviously. If it weren’t, it would have happened months ago. And I think that’s why you saw Secretary Kerry talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov when he was – in part of his Asia trip and will be meeting with Mr. Brahimi and talking to them throughout this process. So hopefully, we can get to a conference as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Marie, but–

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — you and the Russians are in disagreement regarding the interpretation of Geneva 1 communique. How can you – or how you are pressing the Syrian opposition to attend Geneva 2 and you are in disagreement with Moscow?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re continuing the discussions with Moscow, but also with the opposition, right, and saying that they need to continue coalescing. We need to figure out who’s going to represent them at the table, specifically, and that that’s why you have a conference. You get everyone around a table who agrees on a framework. In this case, that’s the Geneva communique. And you go to the conference to hash out what that means in practice and all those details. But let’s be clear: In order to participate in the conference, you have to fully embrace and sign on to the Geneva 1 communique. Everybody who participates must do so.

QUESTION: But you are in disagreement with the Russians regarding —

MS. HARF: I think that’s a pretty broad statement. I think there’s a lot in the Geneva communique that we absolutely agree on. I think that’s a very broad statement and a bit of a mischaracterization.

QUESTION: One more thing. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said today that there are reports that some third countries are claiming Syrian rebels to use chemical weapons in Afghanistan. Do you have any —

MS. HARF: Wow, a lot came together in that question.

QUESTION: — information about this?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those comments. I’m happy to take a look and get back to you. I just haven’t seen them.


QUESTION: Marie, what is the biggest factor right now keeping the opposition from getting together and having representation at Geneva 2?

MS. HARF: Well, I – they’ve made a lot of progress, to be clear, in this area, and we’ve talked about some of it in this room.

QUESTION: What’s the biggest thing? Because it’s not happening.

MS. HARF: Well, some of it’s happening. It’s not a zero-sum game, right? They’re getting more organized but we have to figure out who will best represent them. There’s a lot of different groups and parts of it. We’ve been clear who we recognize but we’re trying to work to get them to a good place in terms of participation and invitations.

QUESTION: But this reminds me —

MS. HARF: But that’s actually not the trickiest invitation question, right, if we’re looking at —


MS. HARF: — who will come to Geneva.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean we’ve —

MS. HARF: There are other tricky questions.

QUESTION: We’ve been hearing this —

MS. HARF: We’ve talked about other countries that could possibly attend. We’ve talked about Iran a little bit in this room and others.

QUESTION: But we’ve been hearing, really, the same thing for a long time, before you even started in your job.

MS. HARF: It’s hard to remember that day, though, Jill.

QUESTION: This – I know it’s – many years ago.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But it’s – seriously, I mean, this is what’s been said for so long. It seems almost ridiculous at this point that we’re trying to help them get their act together. They are coalescing. They are —

MS. HARF: But we’re —

QUESTION: Is it possible at this point that they can do that?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Absolutely. And Robert Ford just met with folks over the weekend in Istanbul as we said. And they have actually made quite a bit of progress. I mean, the election of leaders, the SMC and the Syrian coalition, they actually – I don’t think we’re as far away from getting them to the table with representation as we certainly are with some other groups. I think we’ve actually made some progress and are hoping to get this all finalized as soon as possible.

QUESTION: On this very point —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, on the opposition.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, you agree that it has so many heads. So whether it’s in the field, the fighting and so on —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — but also politically. And now Jarba last week made it very clear they will only meet with Assad as an enemy. They will only meet if their conditions are met and so on. So did that complicate Ambassador Ford’s efforts?

MS. HARF: I think what we’ve been clear about in terms of getting to a Geneva 2 is that the precondition is everybody has to accept Geneva 1. What that looks like, all those details right now, Said, are being worked out with the opposition, with the Russians, with the UN, with the host of parties that could be a part of this conference. Those details are all being worked out right now.

QUESTION: Okay. So as – in this process, would Ambassador Ford say to Jarba that by making these statements, you’re actually complicating the road ahead toward Geneva?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to read out the conversations Ambassador is having specifically with the opposition. He’s in close contact with them all the time and his goal is what all of our goal is: to reassure them, to tell them that our position on Assad has not changed, that we are working as quickly as possible to get to Geneva 2 and we will do everything in our power to continue to get everyone to the table and to support the opposition as they fight the regime.

QUESTION: Who is —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just one more question on —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Who is – when you say that we’re having discussions with a host of parties involved, who is the party that’s having the discussions with Iranians about getting them to accept Geneva 1?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s not us, but I —

QUESTION: Not the United States?

MS. HARF: To my knowledge, no, but let me see if I can find out. I’ve – we’ve also certainly said it publicly.

QUESTION: Is that something that perhaps Wendy Sherman, if she has a side meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif, would take up?

MS. HARF: I don’t know, honestly.

QUESTION: Marie, latest reports coming from Damascus said that the regime forces have made progress in the capture of two villages in the suburbs and killed more than 100 people. And Human Rights Watch has criticized the Syrian opposition and saying, or claiming that they committed a crime against humanity by killing more than 100 Alawite on the coast. Do you have anything on this?

MS. HARF: I do, and I saw the Human Rights report. Obviously, we’re deeply disturbed by the findings presented in it. As you noted, it documents serious abuses committed by some opposition groups during their early August attempt to liberate a piece of territory from regime control. We’re reviewing the report and we take its allegations seriously.

I would note that according to Human Rights Watch that at least 20 distinct armed opposition groups participated in the operation, which lasted from August 4th through 18th. They have evidence linking five groups assessed to be key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executers of the attack to specific incidents that they say amount to war crimes. These are some of the groups that we’ve talked about in the past – al-Nusrah, ISIS, some of the more extreme groups that we don’t recognize as legitimate opposition groups. Obviously, this violence against civilians is completely unacceptable no matter who perpetrates it, and we would condemn this and any other attacks on civilians.

QUESTION: And what about the progress that the regime is making in Damascus?

MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of those reports. I think every day we see different reports about what’s happening on the ground. We would note that the situation, the lines of control, or sort of the overall situation in terms of territories controlled hasn’t changed demonstrably, but every day we see sort of this back-and-forth going on on the ground.


QUESTION: Just a follow-up on latest questions: Same report also put some blame on Turkey for this jihadist – or fighters for that operation. Do you have any information or confirmation on that?

MS. HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: You were ask here a couple days ago about situation in the south and east suburbs of Guta and how they are encircled by the Assad regime and how they have been starving for months.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you think they have any kind of communication channel or have you communicated with the Assad regime on those civilians that under the —

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly don’t – as I said a few days ago – don’t work with the Assad regime to get humanitarian – directly to get humanitarian assistance into places that need it. We will work with other parties that do work with the regime because our goal is to get as much access in as possible, and we’ve certainly publicly called on the regime to allow humanitarian access in. As you said, this is a terrible humanitarian situation. Every day it gets worse. Winter is coming all too soon and it will only get worse then. So we’ll keep working with our partners to see if we can get some more humanitarian access in, but quite frankly, the humanitarian situation is very dire today.

QUESTION: And about upcoming winter you just mentioned, do you have any specific strategy to handle the situation that expected to be much worse than last year in terms of refugees or —

MS. HARF: I can see if we have any updates. Obviously, it’s an issue we remain quite heavily engaged on. I’ll see if there’s anything we have in terms of the next few months in strategy-wise.

QUESTION: Can we move to Iran?

QUESTION: I just have one more on Syria.

MS. HARF: One more, and then we’ll move to Iran, Arshad.

QUESTION: They think the human rights report kind of indicates that the lines of war are kind of blurred —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — over there, with the different rebel groups and which ones are Western-backed. But there’s also another thing that seems to be going on, and it was recently reported that the Syrian regime actually bombed the rebels in an area where they had some chemical weapons based, and they wanted to take control of that. Are there going to be other sites that are – chemical weapons sites that are held by the rebels or in rebel territory, that we’re going to see this again? Because it seems like we’re at cross purposes here.

MS. HARF: I can try and find out.


MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that. I can try and find out.

Yeah. Iran.

QUESTION: Just one on Iran.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In New York, you had made clear, and I think Under Secretary Sherman may have said in her testimony the other day, that you would welcome an Iranian proposal in advance of the talks.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I think on Wednesday you said that you had not received one yet. Have you received one to date?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you check and let us know?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Because it’s important to know whether you got one or not.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. I don’t believe we did, but I will triple-check for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Are you getting conflicting Israeli statements on the situation in Iran? On the one hand, you have the Prime Minister warning that danger is imminent, it’s almost there. And on the other hand, there are Israelis in this town, officials that are saying basically that the sanctions are working and the United States is basically conducting the proper policy. Are you getting conflicting messages?

MS. HARF: No. I think we obviously talk to the Israelis all the time about the Iranian nuclear threats.


MS. HARF: We both agree that words aren’t enough; we need to see actions. We both agree that they can’t be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that we’re going to continue working diplomatically with the P-5+1 to see if we can resolve this peacefully. We also both agree that the sanctions are the reason that the Iranians indeed may be using more conciliatory tones today. But what we’re all focused on is seeing what they come with substantively.

QUESTION: Okay. So you agree that the Iranian nuclear threat is imminent, and at the same time —

MS. HARF: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that’s what the Prime Minister said.

MS. HARF: I didn’t say that. Look, we and the Israelis both agree that this is the highest national security priority not just for the United States but for Israel as well, and for the region, not just Israel, and that that’s why the President’s been clear that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, that all options remain on the table to do so.

But I think it’s also important to be clear here, heading into next week when we’ll be in Geneva, that we have an obligation to try diplomacy, to try and resolve this peacefully, in part – in large part because the alternative has a lot of incredibly grave consequences that would go along with it. There’s a reason for everybody’s sake that a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis would be preferable. All options, of course, remain on the table, but the – some of those options obviously have incredibly serious consequences, and we have an obligation to attempt to resolve it before we get there. And that’s an important point to keep in mind as we go into next week.

Anything else? Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go to Libya?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I just wondered if – yesterday you said you were trying to get some more details about what happened with the abduction of the Libyan Prime Minister.

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything new on that.

QUESTION: Well, he’s come out today and said he believes it was a coup attempt.

MS. HARF: I saw some of those comments. I just – I don’t have any more details on that for you. If we do, we can share them.

Yes, Said?

QUESTION: Are you alarmed enough to send in – dispatch, like, troops or maybe a task force onto the shores of Libya at the present time? Seeing that the government obviously cannot even provide its own safety.

MS. HARF: Well, the answer is no. But I think what we’re focused on is helping, working with our partners in Libya, to build their capability – their security capability, their counterterrorism capability. And we’re focused on building that bilaterally and helping them build up their own capacity.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they’re sliding towards chaos. I mean, today there was a bombing of the Swedish Embassy or Consulate and so on. So it’s happening every day. Why not let’s aid the Libyans in basically providing better security —

MS. HARF: Well, we are assisting them in helping to shore up their stability and their security, just not in the way that you mentioned. And of course we would condemn the attack on the Swedish facility in Benghazi today. And that’s exactly why we believe it’s so important to continue working with the government to help them improve their own internal security.

QUESTION: How are you shoring up their capabilities?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve – there have been a number of different things we’ve done in terms of assistance and advice and sort of the broad range of bilateral ways we work together on counterterrorism and security. If I have more specifics, I’m happy to get those for you. I just don’t have them in front of me.

QUESTION: There’s a report – sorry, can I change the topic again?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: North Korea this time.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s a report out that Kenneth Bae’s mother has gone to visit him.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: I wondered if you’re aware of that and how that came about, and —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — what your general comment on that is.

MS. HARF: So, we are aware. We remain, of course, in close contact with Mr. Bae’s family. We remain gravely concerned about his health, and continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant him special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

Let’s see – the U.S. Government did not arrange Mrs. Bae’s private trip. We helped her coordinate her trip with the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which is our protecting power there. The Embassy of Sweden regularly seeks consular access to him, and they’ve met with him eight times since his detention, most recently just on October 11th.


MS. HARF: Today. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can we go to the issue of (inaudible) —

QUESTION: Can we just stay on this for a minute?

MS. HARF: Yep. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So, I understand you didn’t arrange the trip —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — but you are in touch with the Swedes in terms of the consular access, so how did this recent visit with Mr. Bae go?

MS. HARF: So, basically all we did was helped her coordinate her trip with the Embassy there —

QUESTION: I’m not even asking about her. I’m just asking —


QUESTION: You said that there was a consular visit.

MS. HARF: Oh, the consular visit. Excuse me, I thought you were asking about the trip.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have a readout of that?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t. If we have one, I’m happy to share. I just don’t have it.


QUESTION: I just want to go back to Libya for a second.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, there are a group of defense lawyers in this country that are saying that you are violating the right – the human rights and the legal rights of Abu Anas al-Libi by holding him at sea, and nobody knows where and so on, and that the proper thing to do really is to bring him to American soil where he can be tried properly and tried properly.

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: We’ve been clear that under both U.S. and international law, he’s being held lawfully by the United States military. I don’t have an update on what his eventual disposition will be, but that’s certainly our position and I don’t have any other further comment in terms of that report.

QUESTION: Then how can the veracity of this claim, that he’s being held lawfully, be made?

MS. HARF: Well, I can walk through again the legal justification for it, if you’d like.

QUESTION: I’m saying though, how could you convince an inquiring world that, in fact, he’s being held lawfully?

MS. HARF: Well, because under both international law and under United States law, we are acting in accordance with both. Those outline the legal justification both for the operation to capture him, and also the legal justification for his detention right now and the humane treatment that he is receiving as well.

QUESTION: Have you – I’m sorry if you asked this and I missed it, Said, but have you yet arranged consular access?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on consular access.

QUESTION: And has the ICRC yet been allowed to see him?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on that either.

QUESTION: And do you concede the point that your assertions that he’s been treated humanely would be buttressed if there were independent observers like the ICRC who are able to talk to him and confirm that?

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve said that when it’s appropriate we’ll comply with our obligations to the ICRC and also with consular access. But I think we’ve been very clear, the rules governing his detention and interrogation right now, and those have been spelled out since the beginning of the Administration, and have been very crystal clear.


QUESTION: There is – the reason I keep asking this, though, and I’ve raised it three or four days in a row is that – and this is not at all a commentary on the current Administration in any way, but you’re up there speaking for the United States of America.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And in at least two highly public instances in the last decade, right – one, the waterboarding and so on —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — which has been well-detailed, and two, Abu Ghraib — the United States Government has not humanely treated prisoners in its custody. And so when you have somebody like Mr. al-Libi, whatever may be his alleged crimes —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — in the indictment against him and so on, and you hold him incommunicado and you assert that he’s being treated humanely, but you do not allow either his representatives of his government or of the international community in the form of the ICRC to visit him, it is understandable why people might be skeptical about the assertion of humane treatment.

MS. HARF: Well, I appreciate the question, Arshad, and I do know why it’s important. And I think – I know I keep going back to the Executive Order but there’s a reason I do so. Because in one of the first acts this President did when he came into office, to underscore how important it was to him, was on his second full day in office signing that Executive Order that said we’re not going to do things like we have been doing them, that we’re the United States of America – we operate under certain principles, values, and that going forward, this will be the rules governing how we can detain and interrogate people.

And he very plainly laid that out. When we talk about the Army field manual, when we talk about humane treatment, we try to lay it out as specifically as we can, and he made that point very clearly, that this is how it’s going to operate in this administration, and that’s exactly how it’s operating right now. I take the point. And as much evidence and insight into that as we can provide, we’re happy to. But right now, suffice to say, we’re operating under the very clear guidance that this president out when he very – at the beginning came into office.

QUESTION: But why not provide an external, respected, international body whose very job is to inspect and check such things, including for American soldiers, for example, access? It would be a way to show that what you say is true. So why not – what is the underlying reason why it has not —

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not saying we’re not going to.

QUESTION: No. But it hasn’t happened so far. And so there’s a question in my mind, and I think it’s a reasonable question: Why not do that?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a lot of factors that play into this, in terms of our obligations to both the ICRC and our consular obligations. I just don’t have anything further for you on exactly what the timing is or what’s underpinning that, but as we have more to share on this, I’m happy to do so.

QUESTION: But you’re kind of almost asking – when you say that this Administration is operating under what the President said – you’re asking the international community to just take your word for it.

MS. HARF: No, I’m asking the international community to say that – to know that when we’re a nation of laws and when we lay those out very clearly in an executive order what’s governing – very clearly and publicly in an Executive Order talking about detention and interrogation, which let’s be clear, in the previous administration we didn’t talk about publicly – right? – when these were first put into place, that that should be a sign that business is going to be done differently now. And that’s why we very publicly came out and said this is what we’re going to be operating under.

QUESTION: Are you aware of – or have you or has the Libyan Government been in contact with his family to make sure that they are safe and not subject to any kind of threat —

MS. HARF: I would check in with the Libyan Government on that. I just don’t know. And I —

QUESTION: But you (inaudible).

MS. HARF: — guys, I need to – we need to move on just because I have a little bit of a scheduled today. So let’s get to some necessary stuff. Sorry.


MS. HARF: I know it’s —

QUESTION: I mean, this – today is the end of the second week of the shutdown of the government.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And as much as we – it was published today, it was less than 1 percent of State Department workforce of 70,000 people are furloughed, and more are expected in the – if it’s prolonged.

MS. HARF: If we continue, we’ll have to do additional furloughs. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. And do you think that – because at the beginning of the week you blamed somehow the Congress that they are not cooperating – do you think —

MS. HARF: Well, Congress has the ability to end the shutdown, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. I’m not arguing about this.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you think that this is affecting your role in the – what you are doing in the diplomacy and in the international arena or not?

MS. HARF: Well, I think just because I’m – we have only a limited amount of time today – I’ve spoken to this repeatedly since the shutdown started. Whether we talk about the image we’re portraying to other countries that we don’t have our own house in order here, whether the President couldn’t go attend some important summits and get some important business done. We’ve talked about how some of the financing might not be available. We’ve talked about some programs that aren’t able to go forward. We’ve talked about it a lot in this room, but I would say again what I said the other day, that we’re strongest abroad when we’re strong at home. And right now, we’re not portraying the right image, and that’s why we believe the shutdown needs to end.

Yes, Jill.

QUESTION: I have a specific question about that. Is public diplomacy considered essential? In other words, are they continuing to get their funds? And are they doing anything to assess what the international image of the United States or how it is doing or being affected by the shutdown?

MS. HARF: Well, I know folks are taking a look at that question. I don’t know if there’s an official way we’re looking at that. I know – but a lot of folks in my office and others are looking at that question. We’re not doing essential versus nonessential. Right now, we’re operating – except for a few offices thankfully – on funds that we still have. So we’re not doing essential versus nonessential. We’re not using those terms or making those decisions here at the State Department yet.

QUESTION: When you say looking at it, you mean their polling, or what?

MS. HARF: Oh, no. I wouldn’t say polling – but obviously, monitoring. I’ve read some headlines over the last few weeks. Clearly, it’s important how the U.S. is seen around the world, and quite frankly the headlines about the shutdown are pretty negative across the board. Absolutely.

Yes, and I do need – Said, I need to —

QUESTION: Really very quickly —

MS. HARF: Okay. Sorry.

QUESTION: We can probably do it next week.

MS. HARF: I know. I usually stay up here for hours if I could.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to ask you a very quick question about Ambassador Indyk expanding his team. Could you share with us anything about expanding the team to include maybe twice as many people in it and why?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any staffing announcements to make.

QUESTION: Could you take this and we’ll talk about it on Monday?

MS. HARF: We don’t have a briefing on Monday; it’s a holiday.

QUESTION: Okay. Tuesday. All right.

MS. HARF: It’s Columbus Day. I can take the – if I have anything to share with you on staffing, I’m happy to.

Yeah, two more and then —

QUESTION: Yeah, quickly may I turn a pivot to Asia? Is there any meeting or visit to China being delayed or affected because of the shutdown?

MS. HARF: Not by the Secretary or by anyone else.

QUESTION: And then Secretary Kerry, when he met with the Philippine Foreign Minister, mentioned that he’s going back to Asia Pacific in month. Can you give us some idea what is that about?

MS. HARF: Yes. I know that he said that. We don’t have any specifics on his future travel. He said he’s looking forward to going back to the region soon.

Yes, Ali.

QUESTION: Really quick, there have been reports that the second-in-command of the Pakistani Taliban has been captured, Latif Mehsud. Just wondering if you have anything on that.

MS. HARF: I do. Thank you for the question. I can confirm that U.S. forces did capture TTP terrorist leader Latif Mehsud in a military operation. I don’t have further details to share about the operation for you at this time. Mehsud is a senior commander in TTP and served as a trusted confidant of the group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. TTP claimed responsibility, as folks probably know, for the attempted bombing of Times Square in 2010 and has vowed to attack the U.S. homeland again. TTP is also responsible for attacking our diplomats in Pakistan and attacks that have killed countless Pakistani civilians.

QUESTION: Was he captured on Pakistani soil or on – in – on Afghan soil?

MS. HARF: I do not have further details about the operation at this point, because I just got this right before I came out.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know the date on which he was captured? Was it today?

MS. HARF: I do not know that answer.

QUESTION: Marie, on Egypt, just a question.

MS. HARF: Last question.

QUESTION: Yeah. There are calls in the Egyptian press for the government to cut or to refuse the American aids to Egypt. Do you have – or do you expect such a reaction from the government?

MS. HARF: As I said, Secretary Hagel had a very good conversation with General al-Sisi when they discussed the outcome of our policy review. We both agreed that we have – that it’s important for the two countries to continue working together. That’s why we’re continuing our relationship and that’s what we’re focused on right now, working with them to do just that.

QUESTION: Any phone call from Secretary Kerry to anybody, no?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)

Source: state.gov


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