Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 16, 2014.
- SECRETARY KERRY’S TRAVEL / DEPARTMENT
- IRAQ / SYRIA / IRAN / COUNTERTERRORISM
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE / UNITED NATIONS
- TURKEY / IRAQ / SYRIA / IRAN / COUNTERTERRORISM
- SOUTH KOREA
- NORTH KOREA
- REGION / EBOLA
- TURKEY / REGION
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- INDIA / CHINA
- UNITED KINGDOM
1:37 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello. Welcome to the daily press briefing, everyone. Just one item at the top. Well, of course, the Secretary has just landed back here from his trip overseas. That is not my item at the top, but that was my quick travel update.
But the one item I have is that tonight, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will receive the Trainor Award for distinction in the conduct of diplomacy and present a lecture entitled “U.S. Policy in the Middle East: Present Course, Future Direction.” The Trainor Award is presented annually by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in Georgetown School of Foreign Service to an outstanding American or foreigner for distinction in the conduct of diplomacy. The event will take place tonight at 6:00 p.m. It is open to the press. There’s information on our website about it. It will also be streamed live at state.gov and she will be taking some Q&A, so just want to make sure people know about that event happening tonight.
MS. HARF: Matt.
QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll get back to that in a second, but I want to start with Iraq.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Not that there’s a lot to say after the rather lengthy hearing this morning on the Hill, but perhaps you can offer us some comment on the fact that even this morning in the hearing and for the last couple weeks, we’ve been hearing about how wonderfully inclusive the new Iraqi Government is and how it’s going to be a strong partner. But yet today, they were unable to agree on these two key cabinet posts. And I’m just wondering if you’re at all concerned that that’s a harbinger of bad things to come.
MS. HARF: Well, forming governments and parliamentary systems, as you know, often involves multiple nominations, votes, and re-votes as part of the normal democratic process. We do appreciate the effort that Iraq’s leaders have put forth thus far in forming an inclusive government, as you mentioned. And they now, of course, must act without delay and make the necessary decisions to complete the cabinet. We’ll continue to urge Iraqi leaders to come to agreement on these two critical positions as soon as possible. Obviously, there are crucial parts of the national plan they have put forward. And I think they’ve talked about having another vote later in the week, so we’ll keep watching.
QUESTION: Right. But are you – I mean, yesterday, CENTCOM announced the first airstrikes under the new authority have been carried out.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, correct.
QUESTION: And are you comfortable proceeding with the new strategy in support of the government when these two, as you noted, critical, crucial spots are still vacant and still very much contested?
MS. HARF: We are. We are. Again, we know parliamentary systems often take a while to get all of the posts filled. We want them to do so as soon as possible, but we are comfortable with where we are today.
QUESTION: It happens in non-parliamentary systems as well, does it not?
MS. HARF: That is true, it does. Having worked on some confirmations here, I’m well aware of that process.
QUESTION: All right. That’s pretty much all I had on Iraq, so if anyone else —
MS. HARF: Okay. Anyone else? Iraq, Syria, ISIS?
QUESTION: Yeah. On the cabinet formation, I mean, some of the cabinet members that are actually being proposed for, let’s say, the ministry of interior, is the former minister of interior, Bayan Jabr, or (inaudible) Jabr, who was accused of heading the death squads and maybe ordering around the Mahdi army to do their – would you object to someone like him if these allegations – if you are aware of these allegations and these allegations have evidence that they were true, would you object to having someone like him be the minister of interior (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: Well, this isn’t a decision for us to make. There’s clearly an Iraqi political process to do so. That’s part of the reason. You need votes on these positions so you can have people come together and agree on them, but we’re not going to take a position on any one person.
QUESTION: Do you oppose the formula that they have used thus far that they would actually divide the cabinet or they divide the ministries along almost purely sectarian lines?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said we appreciate the new Iraqi Government’s efforts to form this government in an inclusive manner. They have done so thus far. Again, there’s two key posts that need to be filled, but we have been supportive and happy with the way they’ve done so thus far.
QUESTION: Okay. So you see that Haidar al-Abadi is doing all he can to maintain an inclusive government, as he said publicly and as he promised all world leaders?
MS. HARF: Yes, that’s how we feel today. As I said, these are two key posts though, so we need the Iraqi Government to come together and make some decisions hopefully as soon as possible to get those filled.
QUESTION: And I don’t know if we are going to the raids, for instance. You want to talk about the intensification of the air raids that taken place on the last —
MS. HARF: I’m happy to. Whatever you —
MS. HARF: — wherever you want to take the conversation.
QUESTION: Okay. Now the strikes took place very close to Baghdad in the last few hours. Does that up the ante in the confrontation with ISIS?
MS. HARF: Well, this was one of the key principles the President laid out in his speech about the strategy against ISIL last week, which is expanding airstrikes in Iraq in support of offensive action by the Iraqi Security Forces. So I think CENTCOM released – put out a press release and talked about attack and fighter aircraft conducting two airstrikes Sunday and Monday in support of Iraqi Security Forces near Sinjar and southwest of Baghdad. The ISF was conducting clearing operations to clear ISIL out of the area, requested the airstrike to take out a mortar position on top of a building about 35 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, and as you said, was the first strike as part of our expanded effort here. It’s something we feel is an important piece of this effort going forward.
QUESTION: And finally, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, General Martin Dempsey, said that they – the advisors will be doing combat duties, in essence. Does that in any way nullify the promise not to have boots on the ground?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re parsing his words a little bit, or shortening them maybe. The President’s been very clear we will not have troops on the ground in combat roles, period. That is an underlying principle of our actions in Iraq. I think there was a long exchange this morning about what the advisors are doing; but again, we’ve been very clear about the military – the combat boots on the ground question.
QUESTION: As with the expansion of the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and potentially in Syria as well, the United States is certainly keen about having troops like the Peshmerga in Syria as well fighting ISIS, and now we are hearing news that you’re training 500 or 5,000 Free Syrian Army people.
MS. HARF: Well, there’s a request to participate in a Department of Defense Title 10 train-and-equip program that Congress should vote on, I think next week.
QUESTION: Okay. And ISIS, as you know, it’s – many of its hideouts are in northern Syria where the Kurdish people live, and you have PYD, that political party. I’m wondering whether you have any contact with the PYD because it’s an offshoot of the PKK as a terrorist group in the U.S. terrorist list.
MS. HARF: I can check. Not to my knowledge, but let me check for you.
QUESTION: Okay, and one more question. Sorry about that. Kurdish parties. In Iraq I know KDP and PUK, the two ruling parties, on – are the tier three terrorist list of the United States, and you’ve been cooperating with them. I think you were trying to de-list them from that tier three group. Have you done that, or how could you cooperate with them while they are still in that list?
MS. HARF: Let me double – obviously – I think you’re putting out some facts here that I’m not sure are accurate, so let me check with our team and I’ll get back to you after the briefing with all of the details.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. HARF: We have worked very closely though with Kurdish leaders, with the Kurdish security forces in this fight, as have the Iraqi Security Forces coordinated with them to an unprecedented level.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, also General Dempsey said today that the forces can destroy ISIS in Iraq but disrupt it in Syria. Is that a shift in policy?
MS. HARF: But what was the second part? I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Disrupt ISIS in Syria.
MS. HARF: Well, he was reading —
QUESTION: He didn’t say destroy it, while the President previously said we got to – we got to degrade it and destroy it all over.
MS. HARF: Well, we all are fully on board, including Chairman Dempsey, with the President’s policy of destroy – destroying ISIL in the long term. How we do that, the pieces of that, are what he was speaking to today. I wouldn’t read anything into those comments there in any way at odds with the overall strategy the President laid out.
QUESTION: So no shift in policy?
MS. HARF: No, no shift in policy.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a bilateral security agreement or a status of forces agreement with the Iraqis that offer legal protections for those 1,600 troops that are in the country?
MS. HARF: Well, as we talked about a couple weeks, months ago – the exact date is escaping me – when we sent military advisors in, we had negotiated with the Iraqis some protections for them. I’d refer you to the Defense Department for specifics on those, but if I recall at the time, we were satisfied that they had all of the protections they needed under the agreement we had come to with them. I can check in terms of if that applies to all of the advisors that the Pentagon has sent there. I’m assuming it does, but I’m happy to check in with them again.
QUESTION: Yeah, because we were originally told that some of them would be protected under the diplomatic security agreements because – but clearly, not all these troops are doing embassy security now, so —
MS. HARF: That’s not – that may have been what we said a long time ago, but what we actually have said since then was that we had come to an agreement with the Iraqi Government to provide some protections similar to what our diplomats have, but to provide some protections. Again, I can pull out the latest guidance on that. That was from many, many weeks ago.
MS. HARF: And check with my Defense Department colleagues to see what – if there’s anything new.
QUESTION: On ISIS, the Chairman also said – I think the Chairman or the Secretary of Defense said that he warned the Syrians against responding or trying to attack – any attacking American airplanes and so on. Does that rule out any kind of coordination so you guys are not crowding the sky at the same time?
MS. HARF: Well, the President has been clear and the Secretary’s been clear we are not coordinating with the Syrian regime and will not coordinate with the regime. That means we will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as in Iraq. We are not going to telegraph our plans in advance, and again, as we said on numerous occasions, we won’t ask their permission. I would note the rescue operation we undertook to try and rescue the hostages. Of course, we did not ask their permission.
QUESTION: So let me ask you something. I mean, before you attack Syria – I mean, ISIL in Syria – will you tell at least the Syrians to make – to clear the skies, so to speak?
MS. HARF: As I just said, we will not coordinate with them, we will not telegraph our plans. I don’t have any – anything else in terms of a hypothetical about what action we might take. But I want to be clear about where we are today and that is what I just —
QUESTION: So you will not inform them that there is some sort of an American combat mission over Syrian territory in any way, shape, or form?
MS. HARF: Well, I would point to what we did when we undertook the rescue operation inside Syria for the hostages; of course, we did not inform them.
QUESTION: And going to that point, I mean, in hindsight maybe if you had coordinated, the mission may have been – may have worked out better?
MS. HARF: Not at all. That’s not why the mission was not ultimately successful. The hostages had previously been moved.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: But if you’re not coordinating with the Syrians, are you open to communicate with them regarding the threat that ISIS posed?
MS. HARF: Well, I know this is an interesting topic, but I don’t have any more analysis for you on this. I said we won’t coordinate with them. I said they’re not the answer to ISIS. They have on the one hand hit ISIS targets, and on the other allowed them to continue to grow and to really flourish in Syria. So we’re not going to coordinate with them, we’re not going to share intelligence with them, we’re not going to telegraph our plans. I don’t know how much clearer I can be than that.
QUESTION: Can we expect any meeting between Secretary Kerry or any U.S. official next week in New York with any Syrian official to discuss not to coordinate with them?
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard of. Not that I’ve heard of. And I do understand that the Syrian opposition will be sending some folks to New York next week as well. We obviously meet with the opposition on a regular basis. Not anything that I’ve heard of with the regime.
QUESTION: When the chairman says it was not going to be – or it is not going to be a shock and awe, is that a message that we have – we don’t covet Syria; we’re not going to attack to occupy as with the last shock and awe back in 2003? Is that the message?
MS. HARF: I think the message is that this counterterrorism campaign we’re undertaking now isn’t like anything we have ever seen before. There are some good comparisons; they’re not one-to-one comparisons, but it’s certainly not the Iraq War. And I think that’s what he was probably – again, not speaking for him or having seen all of his testimony – referring to.
QUESTION: Right. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, please. You mentioned more than one time that – yesterday and today – that you are not coordinating, you are not communicating with either Iran or Syria, but still —
MS. HARF: Well, we’re open to talking with Iran, and we have.
QUESTION: You’re open to – open to.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So the question is whether or not or do you object or do you accept Iraq being in contact with Iran and Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we should separate out Syria and Iran because they’re different cases here. We know that Iraq has a relationship with Iran, a long relationship. And that’s why we have said we’re open to talking to the Iranians about what’s happening in Iraq, not coordinating with them, not sharing intelligence with them, but encouraging them to support Iraq’s new government. So they have a longstanding relationship and it’s just a different situation. ISIS is a threat to Iran as well as other countries in the region. But when it comes to the Syrian regime, as I have said a lot in here and just said a couple minutes ago, they are the ones who allowed ISIS to flourish. They are the ones who allowed them to grow in strength. So there’s just – it’s just different when it comes to talking about Syria and Iran in this fight against ISIL.
QUESTION: Are you saying – when you are saying that you can cooperate with Iran on —
MS. HARF: I didn’t say we were going to cooperate with Iran. I said we were not going to —
QUESTION: You are open to it.
MS. HARF: I said we were not going to cooperate with Iran. We’re open to talking to Iran, but talking does not equal cooperating.
QUESTION: Okay, talking. Does that suggest in any way that your interests and Iran’s interests in Iraq are not always mutually exclusive?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think they’re always mutually exclusive; you’re right, if I’m reading your question correctly. We both understand ISIL’s a threat. I think we both don’t want to see that threat grow. We hope that Iran supports the new inclusive government, wants Iraq to be stable and secure, through supporting that new government. So we hope —
QUESTION: But the U.S. had long seen Iran as a destabilizing factor in Iraq.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly aware of the history and that’s why I’ve repeatedly said from this podium that the answer isn’t militias of any kind, of any country supporting militias inside of Iraq, it’s supporting the Iraqi forces themselves. And that’s why we’ve called on Iran not to undertake actions that could exacerbate sectarian tensions – which, again, we know the history here. We don’t need to go back over it. But we think there can be a different path forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to Iran’s spiritual leader Khamenei’s statement yesterday on the U.S. asking Iran to coordinate on fighting ISIS in Iraq? And Secretary Kerry called his counterpart, the Iranian counterpart, and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq did the same thing. And when – and they said that we’re not cooperating with them, the Iranians.
MS. HARF: Well, I addressed this at length yesterday and what I said is —
MS. HARF: — at length – thank you, at length. I was being honest there. When we say we’re not going to coordinate with Iran, I’ve been clear about that. So it would follow that why would we ask them to coordinate if we said we’re not going to?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the UNGA meetings?
MS. HARF: The schedule’s still being set for his meetings at UNGA and around the P5+1. As you know, last year there was a ministerial P5+1 meeting on the Iran nuclear issue. At past P5+1 rounds in Vienna when the Secretary has come to them, he has met with Foreign Minister Zarif. We just don’t have a schedule for him yet.
QUESTION: But beyond the sort of P5+1 format, are there any —
MS. HARF: In a bilateral?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t rule it out. We just don’t have any schedule yet.
QUESTION: Marie, I just wanted to —
MS. HARF: He will have many bilaterals – I feel confident saying that – next week.
QUESTION: If there are any updates on coalition membership that you have since the document they put out yesterday. Thank you for that.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome. And we’ll keep updating that and —
QUESTION: But are you aware of anyone else who’s jumped on board?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen any new reports this morning. Obviously, we’re continuing to talk to countries. And the other thing – and I said this yesterday, but I think it’s worth repeating again – that military assistance isn’t just people willing to take airstrikes. There’s a lot of ammunition and weapons and resupply and other supplies that we think are an important piece to support the forces on the ground doing the military fighting.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Okay. First, could you update us whether there was a meeting yesterday between former Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad and – or Under – Deputy Secretary Burns in the building here?
MS. HARF: I can check. I didn’t – not that I heard of, but I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Also, there was a report just a little while ago that Robert Serry, the UN representative for the Palestinian territories, said that an agreement was arrived at between the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the United Nations to begin reconstruction and resupply process for Gaza. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t aware of that report, but we have been encouraged to see an increase in humanitarian assistance going into Gaza since the cessation of violence. We know there’s more work to be done. We obviously fully support the reconstruction of Gaza and hope that the Israelis and the Palestinians can work together on this. I know there’s a UN role to play as well. I just hadn’t seen those reports.
QUESTION: Will – is there going to be any kind of meetings between the Secretary of State and the Palestinian leadership at the UN?
MS. HARF: Again, we’re still working through the schedule for UNGA next week. As soon as we have it – it’s constantly shifting.
QUESTION: How about this: Are there any meetings that you are aware of so far?
MS. HARF: I have announced the Friday meeting —
QUESTION: Right. No, I mean —
MS. HARF: — of the Security Council and the GCTF, the Global Counterterrorism Fund, meeting next week as well.
QUESTION: And that’s it?
MS. HARF: Those are the two.
QUESTION: So he’s going to be gone for a whole week and he’s only got two meetings?
MS. HARF: You know as well as anyone how busy the schedule is and part of the challenge is working all the bilateral meetings in and the other meetings in, getting them on the schedules. Any of you who have been to New York for this week know it is a crazy one.
QUESTION: Sorry, I wasn’t here yesterday. What day was the Global Counterterrorism Fund?
MS. HARF: It is – let me see if I have this in here. It’s the GCTF – we did the same meeting last year – not the same meeting but the same forms, meaning last year – just give me one sec. I will pull it up. On September 23rd —
MS. HARF: — Secretary Kerry will cohost with the Turkish foreign minister the fifth GCTF, the Global Counterterrorism Forum – not fund; I think I just said fund – Forum ministerial, which will strengthen political will and mobilize additional resources to address the growing foreign fighters phenomenon, the increasing use of kidnapping for ransom by terrorist groups as a fundraising tactic, and the growth of violent extremism. These are – again, we have these every year, I think – this is the fifth one – at the General Assembly. But this brings together a number of partners – countries – I think 29 countries plus the European Union.
QUESTION: So just on that —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — do you expect – I mean, I was going to bring this up, but since Jo asked and you repeated what you said yesterday, do you expect the issue of Turkish-funded groups like Hamas – Turkish-supported groups like Hamas that you consider to be terrorists to come up at this meeting, or —
MS. HARF: I don’t have a fuller agenda for you than what I just read.
QUESTION: Can you check to see if it’s kind of taboo to bring up Hamas at a meeting like this that is co-hosted by the Turks?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: I’m curious to know if it’s something that —
MS. HARF: Again, I think the topics are focused on issues directly related mostly to ISIL – even though, of course, we consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. But things like kidnapping for ransom, foreign fighters – those are issues that touch on a number of groups, but are really keyed towards ISIL. But I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: And Marie, Mr. Fayyad, who is very pro-American and in fact was perceived as someone that this Administration can work with – he said today that the notion that this endless negotiating is going to go on forever is absurd. He also said that demanding that the Palestinians provide security to their occupier is absurd as well. Do you have any comment on what he said?
MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see his comments. The first point is the Secretary himself has said that time is not on our side here, that it’s in the best interests of the Israeli and the Palestinian people to come together – to have their leaders come together and get a lasting peace process in place. We’ve said, again, time is not on anyone’s side here, and it’s really of the essence.
But when we’re talking about Gaza, Hamas has control of the security situation in Gaza.
MS. HARF: And when rockets are repeatedly fired by Hamas from Gaza into Israel, they’re the ones who have the responsibility for that.
QUESTION: He was also speaking with Mr. Feltman. They were both in the same – on the same panel, and Mr. Feltman, the deputy – deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations —
MS. HARF: Feltman, not Feldman, yes.
QUESTION: What did I say? Feltman?
MS. HARF: You did. You were right.
MS. HARF: Just making sure our special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan isn’t out there —
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Oh no, I know. Okay.
MS. HARF: — talking about us.
QUESTION: I thought I – anyway. He said that they are ready to sort of start sending supplies and so on, but there has to be a one kind of authority, one government in Gaza. And he, in fact, supported the unity government that was announced some months back and so on, provided that the PA assumes responsibility. Is that a point that you will make very clear to the Palestinians, that if you expect supplies and humanitarian supplies to go into Gaza, they have to speak in one voice?
MS. HARF: Well, humanitarian assistance has been going into Gaza. It needs to go more quickly, but some has been getting in.
I didn’t see his comments yesterday. I’m happy to check and see if we have anything to say about them specifically.
QUESTION: Because he also spoke of a very dire situation. He said that in the year 2000, 80,000 Palestinians in Gaza depended on the United Nations and on UNRWA. And right before this conflict erupted last June or last July, 800,000 Palestinians were dependent on UNRWA and the UN various agencies. Is that an alarming situation?
MS. HARF: Well, we know the humanitarian situation is very alarming on the ground in Gaza. Yes, we do.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: We know that.
QUESTION: — on Turkey, how can Turkey co-chair the forum and it’s accused by some states that it’s funding and training ISIL in Turkey?
MS. HARF: Well, we have no evidence that any government is funding or supporting ISIL. I will say that every day when I’m asked this, because I get asked it all the time.
QUESTION: Well, the problem is that General Dempsey said that he was asked what – he was asked a similar question and he said he was aware of governments that are supporting ISIL.
MS. HARF: I didn’t see his comments and I haven’t seen any of that evidence. I’m happy to check.
But when it comes to Turkey, we share a partnership with them that’s essential. They play a key role, obviously, in the region, and ISIL is a threat to Turkey’s security. And they’ve felt the ripple effect from this, quite frankly, more than most countries in the region. So we will sit down with them and talk about the shared challenges, how we can all help in this fight. When it comes to foreign fighters, for example, just geographically speaking, clearly there are challenges Turkey is trying to manage and to crack down on. So I think it will be a good forum for people to sit down in the same room and talk about some of these challenges and how we can address them.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you believe that the full participation of Turkey – or Turkey is refraining from fully participating because it has 45 diplomats that are being held hostage by ISIL?
MS. HARF: Well, I would reject the notion that there’s something called “full participation.” Each country can choose how it wants to participate in this coalition. Some of that’s military, but that’s only one piece of it. So any country who chooses to do anything to help in this fight is part of this effort. So there’s not full or halfway participation, there are just different kinds of participation.
QUESTION: But —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) answers to three question related to UNGA meetings. You are mentioning more than one time the issue of the foreign fighters.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I mean, I can understand the phenomena, I can understand what’s going on, but what you are – what people can expect that you are going to do? I mean, catch them, follow them, block them? I don’t know. I mean —
MS. HARF: All of the above.
QUESTION: No —
MS. HARF: No. I think – no, and that – I wasn’t being – I wasn’t joking there, actually. I think what we want are commitments from countries to do better in stemming the flow of foreign fighters. And what does that look like? Is some of that screening so they can’t come into the country to begin with? Is some of that border security? I think that has to be a key piece of this to prevent people from going back and forth. These are very long borders, many of them, porous in places. Is it keeping track of people that they don’t – that have come into the country that they know are affiliated with these groups? There are ways countries can pledge to contribute to help in this fight.
QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this question because six months ago, maybe when similar question was raised in this room, their number was like almost 3- or 4,000. Now we are talking about 21,000 or 30,000 people. And the issue was there and nothing was done, or nothing – nobody was able to do anything regarding this, so how you are going to be, practically speaking, do whatever you are trying to do in your effort to do that?
MS. HARF: Well, I think – just on the numbers, I think two reasons you’ve really seen the uptick in numbers is that they – ISIL has grown in strength significantly, in large part because of their battlefield successes and the recruitment they’ve been able to do as they’ve taken over territory. So I think that’s part of why you’ve seen the numbers grow. I also think – well, I know – that the intelligence community undertook a very thorough reevaluation of their assessment of the number of foreign fighters to make sure they had a more accurate and up-to-date number. This is an intensive effort. So they’re constantly revising their estimates, and this is why you saw the new one. Both of those pieces are why the numbers have jumped so much, but ISIS has grown in strength quite a bit. And it’s a challenge I think every country in the region recognizes they need to fight against, and that’s the conversation we’re having right now – how they can all do that.
QUESTION: Yeah, Iraqi Kurdistan’s foreign minister is here in Washington now. Is he on an official visit, is he not?
MS. HARF: Let me check.
QUESTION: Okay. And are you – please, if you check to see if —
MS. HARF: (Inaudible) to check on all of your questions.
QUESTION: — he is going to meet State Department officials. I know he has met the senators today.
MS. HARF: Let me check for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes, Ashish. Go ahead. No, go ahead. You haven’t had one yet.
QUESTION: May I change the subject?
MS. HARF: Oh, well, no. Sorry.
QUESTION: I just have this brief one —
MS. HARF: Then you can change.
QUESTION: — which I think was asked the other day, but I’m wondering if you got an answer to it, and that was these reports of a large number of Syrian rebels – rebel leaders being killed in an explosion.
MS. HARF: Let me see if —
QUESTION: Did you get asked about that like two days ago or yesterday?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I did. Jen may – I don’t think I did.
QUESTION: Anyway, do you have – do you know anything about this?
MS. HARF: Let me see. I may have something in here. Was this a —
QUESTION: It’s not a – it’s not the Free Syrian Army, but it’s —
QUESTION: Ahrar al-Sham.
QUESTION: — related to —
MS. HARF: Yeah, this was like last week, right?
QUESTION: I believe, so, yeah.
MS. HARF: I’m paging back through days and days of guidance.
QUESTION: Yeah, well I just wanted – but I don’t think you had an answer then, and I’m just wondering if you do now.
MS. HARF: What specific – I do have something here from September 10th. What was your specific question on it?
QUESTION: That’s a good day. I don’t remember. What was it? Can you tell me?
MS. HARF: Well, what’s your question on the —
QUESTION: Do you – well, do you know anything about it? How about that?
MS. HARF: In terms of who’s responsible?
QUESTION: In terms of who did it, in terms of what it means, in terms of whether you’re concerned about it, whether —
MS. HARF: Well, we do expect – and if we’re talking about the same people here —
QUESTION: I believe, yes. I remember it was a while ago —
MS. HARF: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: — but I don’t believe that we got an answer at the time.
MS. HARF: Okay. So we do expect that this assassination of these leaders will have an impact on the Syrian opposition, but don’t have more analysis about what that means, particularly not battlefield analysis. Also, probably I’m not going to get into a play-by-play of what each attack means for this war, but we have neither worked with nor provided any assistance to this group, Ahrar al-Sham, which is I think —
QUESTION: Ahrar al-Sham.
MS. HARF: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I know, my pronunciation is not good.
QUESTION: “Syria’s Free Men.”
MS. HARF: We have not worked with them. We’ve been providing assistance to the moderate opposition for some time, but not to this specific group.
Thank you, Said, for saving me from my Midwestern accent. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Along those same lines, you were speaking earlier about one of the reasons why you were open to communicating with Iran was because the relationship between Iraq and Iran and their support of the Iraqi Government.
MS. HARF: If they will support —
QUESTION: If they will support the Iraqi Government.
MS. HARF: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: But today there was a meeting where Iraqi foreign officials were briefing the Assad regime on coordinated efforts again ISIL in Syria. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. HARF: I saw those reports literally just right before I came out here and sent a note to our team to see – to get their thoughts on it. I obviously have said many times we will not be coordinating with the Assad regime; they are not the answer to ISIS. But I did see those and think they deserve a bigger response than just that, so we’ll see what we can get for you.
QUESTION: Didn’t the Secretary mention in Paris, though, there were indirect ways that you could get messages to the Syrians? Would this be one of them?
MS. HARF: Not that I’m aware of, no. And I’m not sure he – I can check on what he said, but —
QUESTION: I think – well, I saw some —
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: — a quote to that effect.
MS. HARF: But no, that’s not – that’s not this.
MS. HARF: Yes. Are we changing subjects? I promised —
QUESTION: No, I’m going to stay on the same subject.
MS. HARF: Okay, changed your mind. (Laughter.) Give you enough time.
QUESTION: Better luck this time, right? (Laughter.) So just on the subject of Iranian support for —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Have you seen an increase or decrease in Iranian support for Shiite militias inside Iraq with the ISIL threat growing there?
MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I haven’t – not to my knowledge, but let me check with our folks. I know, obviously, there’s a long history of Iranian influence inside Iraq, and I don’t want to make a statement about an assessment on that without getting all the facts.
I’m taking lots of questions today. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. Deputy Secretary Burns met with South Korean national security advisor —
MS. HARF: He did.
QUESTION: — this Kim Kwan-jin this morning. Do you have any detail of this meeting?
MS. HARF: Yes. They met this morning in Washington. They held a productive discussion on a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including the ISIL threat, Ebola, and North Korea. They had a wide-ranging conversation on a number of topics.
QUESTION: And the other question. This time the (inaudible) will deal with the North Korea human right issues in the ministerial meetings. And what is the United States asking nations of with North Korea human right issues?
MS. HARF: Well, the details about the UN General Assembly session that you mentioned are still being worked, but we have long made clear our concerns about the human rights situation in North Korea, and again, even just this week seeing the sentencing of an American citizen to a very severe sentence when we have called on the North Koreans to release all three Americans being held. So I’m sure we’ll talk about this more as we head into next week, but again, it’s a topic of quite a bit of concern for us.
QUESTION: Staying on Burns, he also met the Indian ambassador to the U.S., Ambassador Jaishankar. Do you know what was discussed?
MS. HARF: I don’t. Let me check.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any schedule to have bilateral meeting with North Korea at New York this time?
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard of.
QUESTION: No? You never knows.
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard of.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks.
MS. HARF: And again, the schedule’s still being worked, but not that I’ve heard of with North Korea.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: I would be very surprised.
Yes, I’m going to go actually to the back here because he hasn’t had a question yet.
QUESTION: Two questions, Marie, if I could please.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: On Africa. Can you give an update on the status of any coordinated humanitarian aid from the U.S. and the global community for the treatment and containment of the Ebola epidemic?
MS. HARF: I’ll start there and then go to your second one. Well, the President is speaking at the Centers for Disease Control at 4:30 today in Atlanta about our U.S. Government-wide effort to contain and combat this epidemic, which is really regional in nature. We are partnering with the United Nations and other international partners to help the governments of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Senegal respond just as we fortify our defenses here at home to make sure that we’re protected.
Our strategy is really predicated on four key goals: controlling the epidemic at its source in West Africa, mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls in the region; engaging and coordinating with a broader global audience; and fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond.
So as I said, we’re talking a real whole-of-government approach here. I think the President will be laying out more of our strategy at 4:30 today at the CDC. So I’d encourage people to watch on that, but this is something the State Department is playing a key role in.
Your second question.
QUESTION: A follow-up question if I may.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Any major positives during the past six weeks for the U.S. or African nations since the conclusion of the inaugural U.S.-Africa summit?
MS. HARF: In general or on this issue?
QUESTION: In general.
MS. HARF: I – we talked a lot about what came out of the Africa Leaders Summit at the time. I can check and see if there’s any follow-up for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yeah.
QUESTION: — his point back there – there was a report that the State Department had ordered 160,000 Ebola hazmat suits. Can you confirm this or provide context on —
MS. HARF: I can’t confirm it because I don’t know if it’s true. I’ll check.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. HARF: I’m really just taking all the questions today.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Libya. Do you know who was responsible for the airstrikes outside Tripoli yesterday?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure we do. Let me see if I have anything on that.
We are aware of reports they were approximately 53 miles south of Tripoli. Can’t confirm any details at this time, are trying to get more.
QUESTION: Do you suspect (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to suspect anyone from the podium. We’re trying to get more.
QUESTION: Okay —
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, go ahead. Sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s related to the Muslim Brother members that they were asked to leave Qatar, and now they becoming – possibility of staying in Turkey. Do you have anything to say? Can you confirm this story? Yesterday you were asked this and you say I cannot – you cannot confirm the issue.
MS. HARF: I can’t independently confirm it. I’ve seen the reports. The Government of Turkey, I think, is best able to speak to this. As you know, we do not – we have not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.
QUESTION: This – the question is not that. The question is that these people were asked to leave, and they even – they talk about it. You don’t have any independent confirmation about —
MS. HARF: I don’t. They can talk about it – speak for themselves, but I don’t have any other confirmation of why they left or where they’re going.
QUESTION: Marie, Egypt-related. I know last week sometime either you issued a statement or you said something about the release of the 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt. Could you confirm that? Is that —
MS. HARF: Yes. The Secretary spoke with the Egyptians while he was there and had spoken on the phone earlier with them. I don’t have a timeline for you, but about delivering the Apaches.
QUESTION: So they have not taken delivery of those —
MS. HARF: I can check.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS. HARF: Not that I know of, but I’m not following the Apaches that closely, so – yes.
QUESTION: Totally different topic?
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Civil defense forces in Cabo San Lucas are saying that the city is completely without drinking water and power after Hurricane Odile barreled through. The airport is still closed. Does the U.S. Government have any advice to citizens trying to get out? Are they coordinating with the Mexican Government —
MS. HARF: I can check. Obviously, in something like this, I would recommend – well, if there’s no power, they can’t look online to see if we have some suggestions for people. But in advance of these kind of natural disasters like hurricanes that you know when they’re coming, we often put warnings and notices out to American citizens. I’d recommend they contact the closest consular facility, whether that’s an embassy – obviously, there’s probably a consulate closer – to get any assistance they need.
QUESTION: So there’s no coordination right now with the Mexican Government —
MS. HARF: I – the answer is I don’t know.
MS. HARF: I’m sure we would be happy to, but I don’t know.
I’m going to go —
QUESTION: Wait, because this is – you’re not going to have an answer to this, but it’s just popped into my mind.
MS. HARF: This is just that day, isn’t it?
QUESTION: Yes. Too bad Arshad’s not here.
MS. HARF: Too bad.
QUESTION: We could reminisce about covering the U.S.-Mexico water treaty negotiations that we did back with Secretary Powell many moons ago.
I saw something earlier this week or late last week that this has become a problem again, that you guys believe the Mexicans are not providing the appropriate amount of water that they are supposed to under this treaty. Can you take that? I know you don’t have an answer to it now, but —
MS. HARF: What if I just surprised you and had like four pages of guidance on it?
QUESTION: Do you have something? No? I’m hard to surprise. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: Any day now.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Two questions.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: First of all, circling back to the upcoming P5+1, it seems like the pace of progress has slowed in recent talks. What are your expectations – what are the expectations going into these upcoming meetings, and do you expect any significant progress on the issues?
MS. HARF: Well – and then you can ask your second one. I think you had another one.
I wouldn’t say that progress has necessarily slowed. I mean, where we are is at the end of July – around July 20th – we decided with the P5+1 and Iran to extend the negotiations until November 24th because we had not reached a comprehensive agreement. I would say that we have made progress on some issues but are still far apart on some core issues that have to be resolved here, and this is a really tough challenge. We believe we’ve put on the table fair, reasonable proposals. We’ve tried to be very creative as we’ve done so because there’s not just one right answer here. But the Iranians will have to make some decisions about what they’re willing to do to prove to the world what they say, that they do not want a nuclear weapon. So I think what you’ll see at the upcoming round is a combination of plenary sessions with all of the P5+1 and Iran, bilateral meetings, expert consultations to really dig into the very technical aspects of what a nuclear agreement might look like, and coordination meetings and other kinds of meetings as well. We have a few months until November 24th. We are very focused on seeing if we can get to a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION: And on —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — a different topic, Burma.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Burma is on the list of 22 countries that the President has determined to be major drug-producing or major transit countries. First of all, how was it determined that Burma should be placed on this list? And then secondly, what does this mean for drug trafficking cooperation between the U.S. and Burma?
MS. HARF: Well, Burma has – to speak really to your second question – has indicated a willingness to work with the U.S. and the international community on counternarcotics initiative, including through improved regional coordination. There have been positive indications coming out, steps the Burmese are willing to take by themselves and working with us. So we will keep working with them on this challenge, and they have improved their efforts to fulfill their obligations but have yet to adequately meet international standards.
Remains a primary source for amphetamine-type stimulants as well as heroin in Asia and is the second largest cultivator of illegal opium poppy in the world. So we’ve urged the Burmese Government to increase resources for its counternarcotics efforts, increase illegal crop eradication, and document the large-scale narcotics trafficking being conducted there. And we are working with them on this. They have made some progress but do have more work to do.
QUESTION: Marie, back on the Iran thing, you said there is not one correct answer?
MS. HARF: There’s not one right answer here.
QUESTION: Right answer.
MS. HARF: There’s a number of different ways we could get a comprehensive agreement that addresses all of the international community’s concerns.
QUESTION: But isn’t the right – there is one right result.
MS. HARF: There is one goal, correct.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MS. HARF: Well, the goal is that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon —
MS. HARF: — and that their program is for entirely peaceful purposes.
QUESTION: But —
MS. HARF: How you put all the pieces of that together – I know you’ve heard people talk about it like a Rubik’s cube or like a puzzle – what enrichment will look like, what plutonium will look like, what transparency will look like, there’s not one answer we all – there’s just a number of different ways to get there, which is why we’ve tried to be very creative —
MS. HARF: — in working with the Iranians.
QUESTION: Except that I think that there is only one way to get the right Rubik’s cube answer.
MS. HARF: Well, you can come look at the Rubik’s cube on my desk. There really is one.
QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?
QUESTION: Can I just ask, beyond the UN —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — is there any plans for how you’re going to structure the further Iranian talks?
MS. HARF: I think we’ll be deciding that at this round.
MS. HARF: I expect there’ll be some announcements coming out of the next week and a half about what the structure looks like going forward.
MS. HARF: I have no idea at the moment.
QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: So just as you came out, you put out the statement —
MS. HARF: I did.
QUESTION: — on the parliament’s ratification of the EU agreement.
MS. HARF: Correct, the association agreement.
QUESTION: As well as the amnesty and the special status —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: So recognizing – you don’t need to repeat them if you don’t want for time’s sake, but are you – is the U.S. at all disappointed that there’s going to be a delay between the – between today and the actual implementation of the EU association agreement?
MS. HARF: Well, we certainly respect the decision and know they’re going through a process. I would note that this is the association agreement that caused Russia to start all of this that they were so worried about coming into effect so many months ago now. And not only has it now been ratified by Ukraine, but Russia is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. So it would seem to be a little bit of a lose-lose for them.
Did you have any more on Ukraine?
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but that intrigues me.
MS. HARF: I can see the wheels just turning right now.
QUESTION: Well, lose-lose? I mean, I thought this wasn’t a zero-sum game here.
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not, but on these —
QUESTION: I thought this wasn’t a new cold war. But now you’re saying the Russians have lost and lost again.
MS. HARF: I said on the association agreement, which they so keenly did not want to see go into effect, did not want to have ratified, has now been ratified. And at the same time, what they were trying to prevent with their actions has caused them to be under increased isolation from the rest of the world and under the burden of increased sanctions.
MS. HARF: And you know what I’m saying.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but there just seems to be a little bit of gloating going on, no?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t gloating.
MS. HARF: I wasn’t gloating.
QUESTION: So on the other – on the other —
MS. HARF: Someday we’re going to trade places and I’m going to see how you answer (inaudible) for fun.
QUESTION: On the other law, the amnesty —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — and the special status —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — for Donetsk and Luhansk, you think that these go far enough? Do they go too far? Do they – are you concerned that the Russians, given what you say is their bad intent or whatever, that they’re going to try and take advantage of this stuff?
MS. HARF: No, and this is something President Poroshenko pledged many weeks and months ago now that he would do upon taking office. We understand the new law allows for the use of Russian as an official language, funds new development projects in Luhansk and Donetsk, and gives the regions the right to form their own police forces; also grants limited amnesty to those who participated in the conflict. These are all steps in line with the spirit of the Minsk Agreement that we believe is really key here to de-escalating the conflict and moving forward, and these are important steps. The Ukrainians have done what they pledged to do; they’ve lived up to what they said they would do. We haven’t seen the same on the Russian side, and that’s what needs to happen.
QUESTION: But are you concerned at all that the people, whether they’re encouraged by Russia or supported by Russia or not, that people in these regions that are covered by the special law won’t find this acceptable enough? Or is it just kind of their tough luck?
MS. HARF: Well, this is, again, a pledge that President Poroshenko made. I don’t have any – I can’t look into the future to see how people will react, but this is, I think, a sign of Ukraine fulfilling its promises to its people, taking steps to address concerns, but doing so in a way that is best for all of Ukraine and that addresses their concerns in, I think, a pretty significant manner.
QUESTION: All right. And then last one. Are you aware of – realizing that the UNGA schedule is still up in the air, but are you – is there any interest on the part of the Administration for a senior level talk with the Russians —
MS. HARF: Oh, with the Russians.
QUESTION: — on the upcoming 10 days?
MS. HARF: I don’t know about that. As you know, President Poroshenko’s coming to Washington.
QUESTION: Yes, but —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — that’s not – I’m talking about the Russians, not the Ukrainians.
MS. HARF: I know what you’re talking about.
QUESTION: So – but you’re not aware of anything like that —
MS. HARF: Not – I’m not aware.
QUESTION: — and you’re not aware of any conversations Secretary Kerry might have had in the last 24 hours with Foreign Minister Lavrov?
MS. HARF: I’m not. But again, I’m – there very well may be conversations next week. I just – the schedule is still being worked out.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The Chinese president is visiting India this week. What do – how do you see – how the U.S. see the relationship between China and India?
MS. HARF: Well, we believe that both of those countries should have good relationships with everyone in the region. We’re looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Modi to Washington very soon to talk about bilateral issues with the Indians ourselves. So haven’t seen any other news coming out of it yet, but that’s, I think, how we’re looking at it.
QUESTION: Is – so is the Secretary hosting any meeting for him in this building?
MS. HARF: We don’t have a – this is the theme of the day: We don’t have a schedule yet. But I am sure there are many people who will be meeting with him while he’s here.
QUESTION: Could —
QUESTION: Is he coming to Washington or to the UN?
MS. HARF: He’s coming to Washington. Prime Minister Modi is coming to Washington.
QUESTION: I have one quick on Afghanistan. The talks between the two presidential candidates are still going on.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea of what’s the timeline? When do you have a new president in Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: We don’t have a timeline. The talks are going on. We continue to engage with the candidates at the highest levels, including Secretary Kerry and our Special Representative for Afghanistan/Pakistan Dan Feldman, also Ambassador Cunningham. Dan Feldman and Ambassador Cunningham are both on the ground there talking to each of the candidates, helping move this forward, and hopefully as soon as possible.
QUESTION: What state is this talks are? Are they in the last lap or the first lap? Where they are?
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Well, hopefully we’re getting close. I don’t have much more assessment of it to do than that.
QUESTION: Do you have any hope or confidence that there will be a new Afghan president by the time the next NATO summit comes around?
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Next decade. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I will —
QUESTION: Because that’s not for another year.
MS. HARF: That’s why I just said absolutely.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just ask a perhaps just slightly off the wall question? Do – does the United States State Department have any position on the referendum in Scotland on Thursday?
MS. HARF: We did —
QUESTION: Oh, did you do this yesterday?
MS. HARF: We – last week.
QUESTION: We’ve been doing it for the last week.
QUESTION: Have you? Sorry.
MS. HARF: It’s okay. No.
QUESTION: So is the – White House has done it as well.
MS. HARF: I’ll do it again. The President’s comments, which he made several months ago, I think, stand – continue to stand as the U.S. Government position on this matter. As he said, we have a deep interest in making sure that one of the – our closest allies that we will ever have, the United Kingdom, remains strong, robust, united, and an effective partner. Ultimately, of course, these decisions need to be made by the people of Scotland, and that remains our position.
QUESTION: Is there a fear that – from those comments it sounds like there is – that any yes vote could weaken the position that Britain currently holds within the European alliance?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more assessment of what might happen. This is just what our position is.
QUESTION: Do you know – as a corollary to this kind of question that I had for you last week – do you know if there are any contingency plans to – in case of a yes vote, for the consulate in Edinburgh to be turned into an embassy and for —
MS. HARF: I do not know.
QUESTION: Can you find that out? I mean, I’m just curious if this has risen – I realize that it will be another little while if there is a yes vote before Scotland actually hives itself off and becomes a different country. But I’m just curious what the tea leaves look like in this building and if you’re concerned enough or if you think – if the prediction in this building is that we better get ready to have – to open a new embassy in Edinburgh.
MS. HARF: I will check and see if there’s more to share beyond our position.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Anything else?
QUESTION: Yeah, I have something else.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: This was left —
MS. HARF: Everyone else just did a big sigh out there.
QUESTION: — it was very briefly – very briefly mentioned at the very end of yesterday’s briefing because you had to cut the briefing short to go to your meeting, but —
MS. HARF: Yes. It was still a 50-minute briefing, I will remind people.
QUESTION: I understand, but this didn’t get – but this did not get perhaps the attention that —
MS. HARF: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t – you would probably disagree, but anyway, this has to do with what Ray Maxwell said about the AR – the preparation to the documents for the – for submission to the ARB. You said yesterday that his claims as published were without merit and showed a – I think you said lack of understanding of the process, how it functioned.
MS. HARF: How the ARB functioned, a complete lack of understanding, I think I said.
QUESTION: Complete lack of understanding, okay.
MS. HARF: Not just a partial lack of understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. So what was it that – presuming he’s not making this story up about coming into the jogger’s entrance and going to this room where – I mean, I presume there’s nothing really sinister about collecting documents for the – for whatever purpose, but it —
MS. HARF: There may have been a room with documents —
MS. HARF: — being collected and – yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So what did he see if he did not see —
MS. HARF: I have no idea what he saw.
QUESTION: Was there, that you’re aware of – and I recognize that you were not here at the time and this was a previous Secretary and a previous Secretary’s staff, likely all of them previous although I don’t know that to be true, so you may not know. But I would expect that you have asked them for their account of what happened.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: So was there some kind of an effort by member – that you’re aware of or – let me start again. Was there some kind of effort by State Department officials to separate out or scrub down documents related to the – to Benghazi into piles that were – did not – piles into – into piles that were separated by whether they made the seventh floor look – appear in a bad light or not? I’m sorry. I’m not – asking this in a very roundabout way. Were there —
MS. HARF: It’s okay, and we’re – and he was referring, I think, to the ARB process. Is that right?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did people involved in preparing the documents for the ARB separate documents into stuff that was just whatever and then things that they thought were – made people on the seventh floor, including the Secretary, look bad?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Matt, at all. The ARB had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The ARB’s co-chairs, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, have both repeated several times that they had unfettered access to all the information they needed. So the ARB had complete authority to reach out independently and directly to people. Employees had complete authority to reach out directly to the ARB. And they’ve said themselves they had unfettered access, so I have no idea what prompted this somewhat interesting accounting of what someone thinks they may have seen or is now saying they saw.
But the ARB has been clear, the ARB’s co-chairs have been clear that they had unfettered access, and I am saying that they did have full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.
QUESTION: Could they – could a group of people operating in this room in preparing for the ARB to look at the documents – could a group of people have been able to segregate some documents and keep the ARB from knowing about them —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — or seeing them?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: So it’s —
MS. HARF: The ARB, again, has said – and everything I’ve talked to everybody about – that they had unfettered access to what they needed.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you can’t need what you don’t know about, kind of, right? Do you understand what – see what —
MS. HARF: The ARB had full and direct access —
QUESTION: So they got to see —
MS. HARF: — to State Department employees and documents.
QUESTION: So there were no documents that were separated out and kept from the ARB that you – but you —
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve ever heard of, not that I know of. I know what I know about the ARB’s access. We have talked about this repeatedly.
MS. HARF: And I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. I think, as there often are with Benghazi, a number of conspiracy theories out there being perpetrated by certain people. Who knows why, but I know the facts as I know them, and I will keep repeating them every day until I stop getting asked.
QUESTION: Okay. And does this apply to documents that were being collected in response to requests from Congress?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a different process, right. It was a different process. And obviously, we’ve produced documents to Congress on a rolling basis. Part of that – because it’s for a different purpose.
QUESTION: Well, who – what was this group – well, this group of people in the – at the jogger’s entrance —
MS. HARF: In the – I love this – sounds like some sort of movie. Yes.
QUESTION: Well, whatever it sounds like, I don’t know, but I mean, we happen to know that there was an office that was set up to deal with this, understandably so because it required a lot of effort.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: But that room or whatever it was, that office was only dealing with stuff for the ARB?
MS. HARF: I can check if people sat in the same office, but there are two different processes. There’s the ARB process for how they got their documents. There’s the Congressional process –we’ve been producing documents to them on a rolling basis —
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. HARF: — part of which in that process is coordinating with other agencies who may have equities in the documents, who may have employees who are on the documents. So that’s just a separate process.
QUESTION: Okay. So the people in that office were not doing anything with the Congress; they were focused mainly on the ARB?
MS. HARF: I can see who actually sat in that office. I don’t know. But what we’re focused on is the process, right, and the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The congressional process – as you know, we have been producing documents to Congress on a rolling basis —
QUESTION: Well, I guess that this mainly relates to the —
MS. HARF: — and there’s just different equities there.
QUESTION: This – the allegation, I think, applies to the ARB. But you are saying —
MS. HARF: Right, and I’m talking about the ARB.
QUESTION: — that it is impossible for a group of people to collect a stack of documents that say something that they don’t like and secret them away or destroy them somehow so that the ARB couldn’t get to them? Is that what you’re saying? It’s impossible for that to happen?
MS. HARF: I’m saying I wasn’t here then. What I know from talking to people here who were is that the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.
QUESTION: Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether there wasn’t —
MS. HARF: It does answer the question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well – no, no, no, no. No, no, no. One of his allegations is that there were people who were separating out documents that would make the Secretary and others —
MS. HARF: So that the ARB didn’t have access to them.
QUESTION: Right, but – that put them in a bad light.
MS. HARF: But I’m saying they had access to everything.
QUESTION: Okay. But —
MS. HARF: So —
QUESTION: — do you know even —
MS. HARF: — I’m responding.
QUESTION: But even if it would’ve been impossible for them to keep these things secret, was there a collection of —
MS. HARF: This is a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret. The ARB had unfettered access.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, Marie, I appreciate the fact that you’re taking that line. But I mean, there is a select committee investigating it.
MS. HARF: Well, it happens to be true. And tomorrow there will be an open hearing on ARB implementation, where I’m sure all of this will be discussed with Assistant Secretary Greg Starr.
QUESTION: Okay. And they will have – they will get the same answers that you’ve just given here?
MS. HARF: Let’s all hope so.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Yes, of course.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)