State Department Briefing by Marie Harf, September 16, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 16, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary Kerry’s Bilateral Meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
    • Chemical Weapons Destruction / OPCW / Timeline
    • UN Report / Potential Resolution / Chapter 7
    • Secretary’s Ongoing Meetings in Geneva with Special Representative Brahimi and Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • UNGA / Visa Application for President Omar al-Bashir
    • Reports of a Downed Syrian Aircraft
    • Reports of Munitions from Qadhafi Regime Sent to Syria
    • Chemical Weapons Stockpiles / Movement
    • Political Solution / Assad Has Lost Legitimacy
    • Geneva II
    • Update on Process
  • IRAN
    • Sanctions / European Union
    • Future Bilateral Meetings
    • Shooting at Navy Yard


1:27 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: It’s a full house today. (Applause.) I don’t even have to do a topper, everybody sees Mark walk in.

Well, my first item, everyone already sees Mark Toner is back in Public Affairs. I know as a friend and a colleague, we are all very happy to have him back. So let everyone say hi.


QUESTION: Could I insert something for the record here that —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — we are all delighted to see Mark back and it’s really a pleasure to have him in the room again.

QUESTION: Hear, hear.

MR. TONER: Thank you very much. Thanks, guys.

MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Absolutely.

MR. TONER: Good to be here.

MS. HARF: Onto the business of the day. I have a brief statement at the top about an upcoming meeting Secretary Kerry will be having, and then we can move on from there.

On Thursday, September 19th, Secretary Kerry will host Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for a bilateral meeting and working lunch as part of our regular consultations on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. While this meeting has been planned for some time, we do expect the Secretary and Foreign Minister to discuss current issues such as the DPRK and Syria.

QUESTION: When you say Syria, will that include the shape of a possible UN resolution?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything further on that. The discussions are going on at the UN with our P-5 counterparts and with other folks as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about the six-month timeframe?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How was that arrived at? And it seems sort of ambitious. Why do we have – why is it six months?

MS. HARF: Well, we clearly would not have agreed to a timeline if we didn’t believe it was achievable. And you’re right; it is an ambitious timeline, but we believe the situation is so serious that action needs to be taken as swiftly as possible on an accelerated timeline to destroy these weapons.

What’s happening next, I think maybe I should say at the top is this week a couple things will be happening, right at the beginning of the timeline. The Syrian Government will have to, within the week, give a list of their full chemical weapons stockpile, their full program to the OPCW. Within the same timeframe, the U.S. and Russia will also be submitting a request to the OPCW to expeditiously, on an accelerated timeline, move forward with destruction of these weapons. The OPCW will be making a decision on that request in the same timeframe as well.

So while that’s all happening with the OPCW in The Hague, there’s a UN process going on. I’m sure you all saw the UN report that was released today. We’re in consultations with our colleagues on the Security Council about a resolution and tabling text at the appropriate point.

So those are the next sort of parts of the timeframe. But you’re right; there is a broader timeframe that is ambitious but we believe is important to work towards because the situation is so serious.

QUESTION: Did somebody come up with that six months, or is it just arbitrary?

MS. HARF: Well, it was something that was agreed to between the U.S. and the Russian delegations in Geneva. So it was part of the discussions, the broad discussions about how to move forward with this agreement.

QUESTION: On the list, how are we going to know that that is a complete list?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, I would say a couple things. Clearly, this is going to be the first example of the intentions of the Syria regime, how serious they are. So we hope that it will be a complete listing of their —

QUESTION: How will we know?

MS. HARF: Well, we have an assessment of the Syrian regime’s stockpile. We and the Russians agreed to an assessment of the size of the Syrian regime’s stockpile. So we know what our information says about that, and we will take a look at their submission when they actually submit it to the OPCW.

QUESTION: But are you confident that your assessment is – captures the entire universe of Syrian chemical weapons?

MS. HARF: Well, we, as everyone knows, have ways to monitor their chemical weapons stockpile, and we have an assessment that our intelligence community has put together about the size and scale of the weapons. We’ll take a look at what the Syrians come to us with.

One part of the discussion in Geneva was exactly this: the assessments. So we’ll look at what they put on the table and we will continue working with them going forward. But I think a key point of the agreement is to get inspectors on the ground as soon as possible.

QUESTION: I mean, the —

MS. HARF: So we have an assessment about the program. But what we and the Russians agreed to was that inspectors needed to immediately be allowed access on the ground to look at the scope of the program as well.

QUESTION: The reason I asked the question —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — about whether you believed that your assessment or the intelligence community’s assessment is comprehensive —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — or captures everything is that it’s very hard to do that, as you well know —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — like with North Korea, and there was a long debate over whether they had a uranium enrichment program and how ample it was and so on. And if you’re not highly confident that you’ve captured everything, is it not quite conceivable that Syria would keep some chemical weapons hidden from you?

MS. HARF: Well, nobody’s debating whether they have a program, so I think that’s a little different than the comparison you tried to make there about whether a program existed or not. But setting that aside, we do have an assessment, and the U.S. and Russia agreed that they have a stockpile that includes chemical warfare agents. Taken together, we’ve judged that this is approximately a thousand metric tons of these agents and precursors.

So we’re putting our list of the possible sites on paper. The Syrian regime will be submitting a list as well. But one of the key parts of this is to ensure that we have the full scope of the program and we can, indeed, destroy all of it. That’s one of the challenges. But it’s an important enough issue that we believe we have to take it on and accept that challenge even though it’s going to be difficult.


MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have a couple.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First of all, on the idea that – on the possible consequences, and the Secretary said this morning that – and I think Foreign Minister Hague and Fabius also said that if there was some kind of noncompliance —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — of this agreement or use of chemical weapons that you would be able to seek redress from the UN Security Council under Chapter 7.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: Now, a few minutes after that, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that that’s not how he interpreted the agreement and that anybody that Secretary’s – Secretary Kerry’s comments reflect a misunderstanding or a misreading of the agreement. So how do you – I mean, clearly, two different parties are reading the agreement differently, and the Russians seem to be suggesting that they could go along the same strategy that they have in the Security Council to block any – even if there was a violation that you took the Security Council, that they could block any possible action by the Council.

MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a few points. The first is that we and the Russians agreed to a text of an agreement that very clearly states that Chapter 7 needs to be a part of the UN Security Council resolution process. Now, let’s step back for a second. So right now, we are seeking a Chapter 7 resolution. Just for all of you to be clear on what Chapter 7 resolutions actually entail, it allows for a broad range of consequences to be imposed for noncompliance. And those decisions will have to be made by the Council. If they are determined to be in noncompliance we go back to the Council under Chapter 7, and again, there’s a broad range of consequences there.

Obviously, we want the strongest possible enforcement measures and mechanisms included in the text, but the specifics are still being negotiated in New York, and I don’t want to get ahead of the process.

QUESTION: There’s —

MS. HARF: But I would note one more point, Elise, and then I’ll get to your next question, that we’ve made clear at the same time the U.S. threat of military force also remains on the table. So there aren’t just consequences that could be imposed through Chapter 7.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds as if, yes, you’ve agreed to a text, but there are two different interpretations of the text. So the – first of all, I think the Russians have said that they don’t anticipate this initial resolution that enshrines the agreement between the Russians and the U.S., that that won’t be under Chapter 7, but that you could go back and ask the Council in the event of a noncompliance or a violation, then ask the Council to consider Chapter 7.

MS. HARF: Well, all of the details of what the resolution will actually look like are being worked in New York right now, and I don’t want to get ahead of that process. But again, Chapter 7, broadly speaking, being included in a text doesn’t automatically translate into a specific action or consequence if noncompliance is determined.

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MS. HARF: Right. So —

QUESTION: But there’s a difference between —

MS. HARF: And that’s all being negotiated right now.

QUESTION: But isn’t there – there’s a difference between this agreement having a Chapter – a banner of Chapter 7 and it not having a banner of Chapter 7, and then in event of noncompliance of this non-Chapter 7 agreement, going back to the Council and asking them to consider Chapter 7, right?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a lot of different ways this can play out at the UN in terms of language, and I really don’t want to get ahead of the game here. Obviously, our goal is to have the strongest enforcement mechanism possible, and including Chapter 7 in any UN Security Council resolution – again, if noncompliance is determined, we then also have to go back to the Council at that point as well. So there’s a lot of logistics at work here with Chapter 7. We’ve been clear it’s important to us, but those negotiations will be ongoing and hopefully we’ll get a resolution tabled at some point soon and then moved on as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Okay, just one more on this.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s been a lot of talk since the agreement that, yes, it deals with the issue of chemical weapons —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — but why didn’t the Secretary take this opportunity to ensure some kind of more humanitarian access, for instance, to deal with the critical humanitarian situation on the ground? It doesn’t deal with other possible crude devices that aren’t necessarily chemical agents but, as the Secretary has said himself, are just as kind of crude —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — such as napalm or phosphorous shells. I mean, how come the Secretary didn’t use the occasion of these negotiations to get some more help for the Syrian people?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a good question, so thank you for asking it. I’d make a few points. The first is that on just on the issue of chemical weapons, taking a step back and looking at how far we’ve come on this issue alone, this incredibly important issue in the last two weeks, where two weeks ago the Syrian regime was still refusing to admit they even had them, the Russians were refusing to admit that they had had them, and that we were at a place where we were the ones telling the Syrians that they needed to step up to the plate here. Fast forward two weeks; we have an agreement with the Russians and a way to move forward with a timeline to destroy this entire stockpile so it can never be used against to brutalize the Syrian people.

So that broader context, I think, is important. The overall situation in Syria remains very violent and, of course, horrible. That’s why we’ve increased our humanitarian aid. We will continue to do so. We’ve increased our support to the military and civilian opposition. We will continue to do that as well. So this was an important thing for us to do to get a path forward to destroy these chemical weapons because they had been used so brutally on August 21st. At the same time, we believe that we have to keep working for a political solution, because all those other issues you ask about are what will be handled by a political solution through a Geneva 2 process to ultimately end the suffering of the Syrian people. So we remain committed to that. And I would note that if we do have success with the Russians on this, it could pave the way for more success on the Geneva 2 proposal.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not talking necessarily about the Geneva 2 proposal. I’m talking about two specific things. First of all, this agreement does not – I mean, while you had the Syrians in a negotiating mood and they were agreeing to this chemical – this is the only – it is true that the Syrians did agree to this, but this is the only thing they’ve agreed to – this agreement – and you said it was because of the credible use of force. Why not take the opportunity to get some more humanitarian access or something like that?

And then also, if you can address criticism by the opposition that they were totally sidelined by this agreement. I mean, you briefed them what was going on

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — but you didn’t seek input as to whether this would benefit them on the ground. There are some protestors that were saying if you’re – if the only reason you’re going to sign this agreement is to deter him from chemical weapons, we’re getting killed from much other horrible means.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. And look, our response to what happened on August 21st was always designed to deter and degrade the regime’s ability to do this in the future. The best thing for the Syrian people, who the opposition are fighting on behalf of, is for these weapons to be destroyed, not just to take limited and tailored military action to degrade their capability to do so, but actually to destroy them. So the Secretary, Ambassador Ford, and others have been in regular contact with the opposition.

But I think people should not look at this in a vacuum, right? We have this very important framework agreement that we laid out in Geneva that addresses an incredibly important issue, the use of CW. But we are also, at the same time, working very hard to get to a Geneva 2 process to end the overall bloodshed, which, as you mentioned, is horrific in and of itself. So look, the Geneva framework wasn’t easy to negotiate. There were tense moments. It wasn’t just everybody showing up and shaking hands. It took a lot of work to get to this point. So we’ll keep doing that work on these other issues as well, but we believed this needed to be focused on CW specifically because it was hard and because there had been this incident on August 21st.

QUESTION: Marie, could you explain to us or remind us in what context was the reference to Chapter 7 made in the agreement?

MS. HARF: I – let me see if I have that in front of – I’m not sure I have it in front of me, Said, but I can get it. You have the agreement, I’m assuming. We sent it out to everyone.

QUESTION: Yeah. I just want you to explain to me how —

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: — where it falls. I mean, how will you determine that they, in fact, have breached or did not comply and so on?

MS. HARF: I believe it was in the fourth paragraph of the agreement, if I’m remembering correctly from memory, even though I don’t have it in front of me. But what are you asking about enforcement specifically?


MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.


MS. HARF: What specifically about enforcement are you asking?

QUESTION: Yeah. Specifically how clearly is it stated in the agreement that if they fail to comply, then Chapter 7 will be imposed, including the use of force?

MS. HARF: Well, part of where this is actually going to come into play this week, Said, is in the UN Security Council resolution which is being negotiated right now. I’ll get you the exact text. Again, I think it was very high up in the framework agreement and it was very significant that it was included. I’m sorry I don’t have the exact text in front of me.


MS. HARF: But I think what will be important is the negotiations going at the UN and our commitment to getting the strongest enforcement mechanism possible. But let’s be clear here, the onus is on the Syrian regime. This isn’t about the U.S., this isn’t about Russia, this isn’t about the U.S.-Russian relationship, this isn’t about the UN. This is about the Syrian regime living up to its commitments.

QUESTION: Okay. My question is: Why are the Russians now saying, look, there are two different interpretations if that was clearly in no uncertain terms made?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to parse what people have said, Said. I’m just not going to do it. I’m going to refer to a framework agreement we worked very hard to get in Geneva, and we’re going to see what happens at the UN and the OPCW this week. That’s the important timeline that we’re on, the important parts of the processes that are happening next. I’m not going to parse every day what someone said in the press and what they haven’t. I think what we’re focused on now is action, it’s not words.

QUESTION: One quick thing if we can stick with the words for a moment?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I think it goes to your point. You’re right that it’s in the fourth paragraph–

MS. HARF: Look at that, look at my memory.

QUESTION: Your memory is good.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it says that should there be noncompliance, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Just so we’re clear —

MS. HARF: And I appreciate your – thank you, because I don’t have it in front of me.

QUESTION: Yeah. You don’t believe “should” means “will” or “must”? It is not a certainty that the UN Security Council would do so. It’s just something that you’ve agreed they should, but you don’t think it’s —

MS. HARF: Which is an important agreement.

QUESTION: Yeah, I get that.

MS. HARF: And really, the place for that is in a Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Right, but “should” in your mind doesn’t mean “will” or “must” or “shall”? It’s not automatic that the Security Council will do so from your point of view?

MS. HARF: It’s – I don’t want to further parse that, I don’t think. It’s not automatic, you’re right. I think the appropriate venue to address Chapter 7 is in the UN Security Council resolution, but I would note that it’s important that we and the Russians both agreed that consequences should – which I think actually is a strong word, it’s not a word without meaning – should be imposed under Chapter 7. What those consequences look like – as I’ve said, there’s a broad range of them under Chapter 7 – I don’t even want to start getting ahead of the ballgame there in terms of what that might look like.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Thank you for reading that, so I appreciate that.

QUESTION: That’s very clear. But do you feel that the Russians have taken the first opportunity to say, “Now wait a minute, we don’t really understand it this way”?

MS. HARF: Said, I think what we saw coming out of Geneva was a strong agreement – an agreement that a lot of people thought was impossible – that lays out a specific timeline, a specific framework, goals we want to hit to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons program. I don’t – the day-to-day political horserace and what’s out in the news and who’s saying what, we’re just not going to engage in that. What we’re focused on is the work that’s going on in The Hague and in New York right now.

QUESTION: Okay. As far as storages and depots and so on are concerned —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — do you believe that the Russians can actually – did they offer to help you say where they are? Because they likely know where these places are.

MS. HARF: Well, we feel like we have a good assessment of where they are. We feel like, again, we have an assessment of what the stockpile looks like. In our view, there are probably approximately 45 sites associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program. But again, part of this process is taking our assessment, seeing what they submit to the OPCW, looking – and we obviously are looking at what the Russians have as well, and coming up with a comprehensive listing of where these sites are. That’s one key part of this puzzle that needs to happen, and that’s one of the first parts that actually will happen as we move forward with the OPCW.

QUESTION: Yesterday —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — the former deputy of the CIA, Director Mr. Morrell, was saying that —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. A fellow Ohioan, also from my home state.

QUESTION: Great, yeah.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He was saying that the most effective forces – in essence, that’s what he was saying – the most effective forces on the ground were Jabhat al-Nusrah and Ahrar al-Sham, who are really al-Qaida affiliates. Are you concerned that within places like Aleppo, where there is apparently some stockpiles of these chemical weapons, and where they have – they have actually a great deal of authority – Jabhat al-Nusrah and Ahrar al-Sham – are you concerned that some of these sites might fall under their control, especially now that they are racing for time?

MS. HARF: Well, we at this point assess that Syria’s CW stockpiles are under the control of the regime. So let me put that out at the front. Obviously, we’ve long been concerned about extremist elements within parts of the opposition; that’s why we don’t work with them. We have very stringent vetting in place when we support the moderate opposition to make sure what we’re sending to them gets in the right hands, so obviously this is something we’re concerned about.

And one of the things that will be happening as we go forward in this process is we will continue assessing the situation. This isn’t a static assessment. We have ways to monitor Syria’s CW program; we will do so. And as new information comes in, we will update our assessment and work with Russia and the OPCW and the UN to make sure we have a complete catalog of what they actually have.

QUESTION: And lastly, how do you expect the report that is coming out today —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — to impact the agreement that you had with Russia?

MS. HARF: Well I know it’s just coming out, and I think Ambassador Power will be making comments shortly, so I would clearly defer to her. From what I’ve heard just before I came out to the podium, I understand that it underscores, obviously, that chemical weapons were used, including sarin, which is something we’ve talked about a lot in here. And I think it will just underscore to the international community that yet another voice has gone on the ground and looked at the evidence and said chemical weapons were used here. It just underscores what we already know, and I think makes the case even stronger, quite frankly, at the UN.


QUESTION: Will this plan deal with the biological weapons that the Syrian regime has?

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding this is chemical weapons-focused, but I can check and see if any of that might be a part of it. I don’t believe that they are. I just don’t know the full scale of that issue.

QUESTION: Are you not worried about the biological weapons?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re worried about every possible bad weapon that could be used on the ground by the Syrian regime. I know this agreement is specifically on chemical weapons. I just, quite frankly, don’t know what the scope of the other issue would be on the ground.

QUESTION: And when do you expect a vote on a resolution at the UN Security Council?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re working on text right now with the UK and France. We’ll be working with the P-5 throughout the week to table a text. We – just in terms of timing, they’ll be working throughout the week. We expect an OPCW decision on our request for an expedited process first, even though they’ll be working in tandem. And then hopefully, a Security Council vote very shortly after, of course as swiftly as possible, as we always say. But no specific timing to outline.

QUESTION: And have you felt that the opposition in some Arab states are disappointed from the U.S. after the agreement with Russia on the chemical weapons?

MS. HARF: Well, I think what we’ve made clear to everybody is that the reason we need to deter the regime’s ability from using these weapons in the future isn’t just because of the Syrian people. It’s because they threaten the entire region, an entire – the entire world community. So eliminating these weapons would be good not for just the Syrian people, but for our friends and allies and partners in the region too.

So we’ll continue having those discussions. The Secretary, as you know, met today in Paris with the French, British, and Turkish foreign ministers to discuss exactly this issue.

QUESTION: And do you have any readout for his meeting with Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister?

MS. HARF: I do not have any additional readouts for you. If we have them from the traveling party, I can send them around to the bullpen afterwards. They’re on their way back to Washington now.

QUESTION: And any reaction on the government, the Syrian Government? They appointed a new prime minister.

MS. HARF: The opposition did.


MS. HARF: Yes, I do have a response. Just give me one second.

That the United States welcomes the September 14th election of Syrian Coalition Prime Minister Ahmad Tumeh and looks forward to working with him and with his team. We are hopeful that his election will bring greater cohesion to the opposition under the leadership of Coalition President Jarba. A strong and unified opposition is essential to prepare for a negotiated political solution in which Bashar al-Assad steps down and to achieve a new transition government. So we look to both the Prime Minister and the Coalition to be inclusive of all Syrian communities as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people going forward.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yeah?

QUESTION: I have a new topic.

MS. HARF: Anything else on Syria? Oh, good.

QUESTION: There are some reports in the Sudanese press that President Bashir is planning to travel to the UN. What’s your plan on that? Do you intend to give him a visa? Are there any – is there any possibility of any ICC involvement, given your responsibility as host nation?

MS. HARF: Well, we can confirm that we have received a visa application for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to attend events related to the opening of the UN General Assembly. We condemn any potential effort by President Bashir to travel to New York, given that he stands accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. We would say that before presenting himself to UN headquarters, President Bashir should present himself to the ICC in The Hague to answer for the crimes of which he’s been accused. I would obviously refer you to the Government of Sudan for more details about his potential travel.

QUESTION: But what about granting him a visa?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I mean, I know it’s your responsibility as host nation to generally provide visas, but that’s not 100 percent. Like, you’re not 100 percent required to provide him a visa. Is that right?

MS. HARF: Well, I obviously can’t discuss specific details of individual visa cases. In terms of our requirements as the host country, I’m happy to take the question and ask our legal folks what our requirements are and then get back to you with those details.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate him traveling to New York if that’s his desire?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are here. I don’t want to make a prediction. I know that we’ve received a visa application, and again, we would condemn any effort by him to do so. But if we have an update on that, I can certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Can you take this particular question? Rather than just a general question about what your host nation —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — obligations are with regard to people applying for visas, could you take the question of – or maybe in addition, could you take the question of whether someone being accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, is sufficient basis for denying someone – not President Bashir – a visa, or are they regarded as innocent until proven guilty and therefore it’s not a basis for denial?

MS. HARF: I can certainly take the question, see what our legal folks come back to me with.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Couldn’t you arrest him if he comes in?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to even make a hypothetical —

QUESTION: No, but, I mean, you expect other countries, if he goes there, to arrest him because there is a warrant for his arrest. Right?

MS. HARF: Again, the UN is a little different, as we all know. I don’t want to venture any more guesses as to what might happen hypothetically if he comes here. Clearly, we have a visa application right now and would condemn any potential travel by him, but I just don’t have anything further than that.

QUESTION: There is a visa application (inaudible) —

MS. HARF: Correct. Yes. I can confirm that we’ve received one.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: There are —

MS. HARF: I’m surprised we moved off it so soon.

QUESTION: Some news reports have said today that Turkey has downed a Syrian helicopter on the border with – on the border between the two countries. Do you have any confirmation? Do you have any idea —

MS. HARF: I’ve seen those press reports. I think this just happened. I’d refer you to the Turkish Government. If we have any update as this unfolds, I’m happy to let you know. Nothing further on that.

QUESTION: Do you guys have any information about whether some leftover ammunition and weapons from Libya, from the Qadhafi regime, are being shipped into Syria?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything on that. I’m happy to take the question, Deb. I just haven’t heard of any – excuse me – but I’m happy to take the question.

QUESTION: Also, do you – have you guys learned anything more about the reports that maybe Assad was moving things around so that you all couldn’t —

MS. HARF: Inside the country?

QUESTION: — yeah, so you couldn’t find them?

MS. HARF: Secretary Kerry mentioned this, I believe. Clearly, if that’s true, that will impact our assessment of where these stockpiles are. And as I’ve said a couple times, we have ways to monitor it. But we do believe that they have – the regime has control of them. But yes, that’s an issue we’re clearly concerned about and are monitoring.

QUESTION: And did you know that they were celebrating in Syria after the agreement between the U.S. and Russia, and they said that they won this war?

MS. HARF: Well, what I would say to that is if we have an agreement with Russia where we have an outcome here that destroys all of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons, all of them – they’re forced to turn them over to the international community for them to be inspected, verified, secured, and destroyed – I would say that’s a good thing for the Syrian people, most importantly. At the same time, we have been clear that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy, that Assad must go. We will continue working through a political solution on that path. And if anything, what we’ve shown is that the international community today has said with this agreement, and also hopefully at the United Nations soon, that the Assad regime’s behavior is not acceptable, that we need to rid the threat of chemical weapons. And I think that’s a very strong statement that nobody should be celebrating in Syria.

QUESTION: But some Syrians are considering the six month timeframe as a warranty for Assad to stay in power to deal with the U.S. and Russia.

MS. HARF: Absolutely not. Our position on Assad has not changed, that he must go. Clearly, the regime has responsibilities here, and the – mainly the responsibility to acknowledge their weapons and the stockpiles and to provide security for inspectors to actually inspect them and ultimately remove them for destruction. But that doesn’t mean Assad gets to stay. Whoever the – if there were a transitional government to come into power in the interim, they would be the ones responsible for this. So our position on Assad has in no way changed. This timeline, this goal of June 2014, doesn’t change that in any way.

QUESTION: But you have said that he’s the one that’s in control of all of his weapons.

MS. HARF: The regime.

QUESTION: Well, his regime —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — is in control. Well, but you’ve – but the President on down has kind of single –fingered him as being responsible, because he is the head of the regime. And so by saying that the regime is the one in control of the chemical weapons —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that’s, in fact, saying that Assad is in control of the chemical weapons, and that, in fact, puts him on the hook for implementing this agreement.

MS. HARF: Well, the onus is certainly on the Syrian regime to implement it. I think when we talk about a transitional government, one of the things we’ve made clear from Geneva 1 to now is that all of the instruments of government – everything won’t just be brought down and rebuilt, right, that there will – you need some actually infrastructure there in place to help with stability as we have a transitional government that gets up and running.

So regardless of who’s at the top of that, in our view, it cannot be Assad. The regime, the government, would have responsibilities for securing these stockpiles and destroying them. It doesn’t in any way change our view on Assad.

QUESTION: I know, but this Administration has said that Assad has absolutely no legitimacy, and here you are in an agreement with him that gives him full legitimacy.

MS. HARF: Well, let’s be clear. This is an agreement with the Russians, but we expect the Syrians to live up to their commitments, and the onus is really on them. And we will both hold – the international community will hold the Syrians to account, but the international community will also be looking to Russia for them to hold the Syrians account as we move forward with this agreement. And the fact remains that the regime will have some responsibilities here.

QUESTION: In view of the changing leadership among the opposition and the potentiality for —

MS. HARF: Additional leadership, not changing.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean —

MS. HARF: Jarba is still there.

QUESTION: Okay. And —

MS. HARF: He’s not going anywhere.

QUESTION: — as relates to the potentiality for a Geneva 2 or —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — a peace conference and so on, are you making headways in terms of having, first, who will represent that opposition, and second, that the opposition is becoming more coherent as to be represented at this conference?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. We believe the opposition is becoming more coherent. I think I just mentioned that the election of the Prime Minister speaks to that. Also, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov and Special Representative Brahimi will be meeting, as they announced, on the sidelines of UNGA, to talk about Geneva 2, and also the chemical weapons issue.

So we feel that if we can make progress here, working with the Russians and the UN – the same people we’re working with on Geneva 2 – that that can hopefully translate into more progress on Geneva 2 as well.

QUESTION: So to what do you attribute this really strong, adamant statement by Salim Idris, the head of the Free Syrian Army, who is saying that we will not go to the negotiation, we will not participate, no, no, no, no and so on? To what do you attribute that?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not sure exactly what statements you’re referring to, Said, so I don’t want to parse them. But —

QUESTION: I just saw them on one of the Arabic channels, actually. It said that —

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I haven’t seen those specific statements.

QUESTION: — we will not participate, we will not – we don’t trust, and none of the – sort of the stuff that you need to negotiate a settlement.

MS. HARF: Well, clearly, one of the things we’ve been focused on is determining the right participants and getting everybody to the table at Geneva 2. We have no illusions that that’s hard and very difficult. We’re just not under any illusions about how difficult this process is. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep working towards it. And indeed, if we can progress here working with the Russians and the UN, and the opposition can see that we’re making progress on the chemical weapons issue, we hope that can translate into more progress on the political front as well.


QUESTION: You did say a minute ago that removing chemical weapons would, in fact, be a good thing for the Syrian people. But that does seem to conflict with what the opposition has been expressing in terms of fears that removing chemical weapons might cause the regime to double down on conventional weapons and use them to an even greater extent than they are now. So how do you guys explain to the Syrian people that – I know that removing chemical weapons is sort of something that’s happening apart from an operation with direct benefit to the Syrian people, but how do you explain to them and what’s the rationale for saying, “This will actually benefit you and make you, as a people, safer”? I mean, is that —

MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s clear that if we don’t take steps to deter and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use these weapons, they will use them again, that we will have given them a green light to do so. That’s what we said when we first proposed military action and went to Congress to get authorization for it. And we can’t let that happen. That’s unacceptable. So what we said was if we had a diplomatic door to walk through, which we had in Geneva, that we were under an obligation to do so to see if there was a diplomatic way to get these awful, horrible weapons that had been used in Syria destroyed.

That doesn’t take away the urgency – let me be clear – about getting a political solution to this conflict and continuing to support the opposition in their fight against the regime, because you’re right, there’s terrible atrocities going on with conventional weapons as well. So we’re going to keep working both paths at the same time, but where we had an opening to destroy a huge, massive stockpile of really terrible weapons, we had an obligation to try to do that. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now.

QUESTION: But do you think —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that you still have the same leverage with the opposition as you had before the agreement with the Russians?

MS. HARF: Well, obviously, we work very closely with the opposition on a daily basis. Secretary Kerry’s kept them updated throughout Geneva. Ambassador Ford and others talk to them routinely. So we will continue to support them, we’ve increased our support to them, and we’ll continue to do so. So I think that that should speak for itself, quite frankly.

QUESTION: But they do say that they feel completely sidelined by this agreement.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to speak for the opposition. I can just speak for what we’ve done, which is keep them informed, been in contact with them, increased our support to them, and that – underscore the fact – I should underscore again that if there’s noncompliance, if we don’t get the results at the end of the day that this agreement lays out, that the threat of military action indeed still very much is on the table.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) can you tell us if actually the opposition was kept abreast or advised of what was going on at any time during these negotiations?

MS. HARF: Well, I believe in my briefing on Friday I read out calls that the Secretary had had with both Idris and Jarba – I believe that was Friday, all the days, again, are running together – updating them on the process. Ambassador Ford, who was in Geneva, and others have been in routine contact with them during the negotiations as well.

QUESTION: But indeed you left the military option on the table, but do you think —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — the Syrian regime will take the Administration and the U.S. seriously this time?

MS. HARF: Well, let’s just remember the only reason we’re at this point today where the Syrian regime has even agreed to the CWC, has agreed within a week to put its chemical weapons stockpile on the table, is because of the threat of military action that we put in a very real way on the table a few weeks ago. So I would underscore that point.

QUESTION: But don’t you think now that threat is gone? I mean, you say that it’s still on the table or whatever, but clearly, they’ve backed off from the use of force for the foreseeable future. So now, if you do go back to the idea of military force, this is, in effect, doing – taking military action for something that happened – like, it’s going to be at least three or four months prior. And, I mean, don’t you think that the (inaudible) threat of military force is pretty much gone, even though this is what got you to the —

MS. HARF: Well, the Department of Defense, I think, has made clear that their force posture hasn’t actually changed, so that’s Point A. The President made very clear in his statement on Saturday about the agreement, that if diplomacy fails, we have the military option as well. So —

QUESTION: But that’s – like, three, four, five months from now —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — when this is, like, way down the road, do you really expect that the President would use military force if this agreement is not —

MS. HARF: I think the President made very clear that it’s still on the table in his statement. I will let his words speak for themselves. But what I would say is that the best way to prevent their use in the future, which was always our goal, is to actually destroy them. So that’s what we’re working on right now, but we have been clear we will continue working with Congress on keeping them up to speed on this, briefing them on this, and working with them in case we do need to use military force.

QUESTION: There’s no chance that Congress is going to approve it, and there’s no chance that the UN General Assembly is going to approve it.

MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re making a lot of assumptions here, 10 steps down the hypothetical road that – we’re just not there yet. And the situation whenever that hypothetical could come up would be probably very different than we are today. I wouldn’t even want to venture to guess that.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: But don’t you think that the Syrian regime has understood that the Congress won’t agree on any military operation or any strike on Syria? And then the American people don’t want any war with Syria, and then they will deal with the situation?

MS. HARF: Well, I think they should listen to the words of the Commander-in-Chief, who makes these decisions. And that’s that the threat of military action still remains on the table. Obviously, our preference is to solve this diplomatically and to solve it in a more fulsome way – I’m going to use “fulsome” again, because Matt’s not here and I think I used it correctly – in the best possible way to prevent their use in the future, and that is actually their destruction. Look, if this diplomatic process doesn’t succeed as we hope it will, that’s when we’ll start talking again about the threat of military force, but the Syrian regime should be clear that it is still on the table while we prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and that’s what we’re focused on right now.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: You can.


MS. HARF: Consensus of the room, we can.

QUESTION: Okay. The Palestinian-Israeli peace process?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there anything that you could share with us? I think there is a seventh round of talks today that is taking place. One, did – I know that the Secretary has discussed Syria and other aspects, but did he discuss the progress of the talks with Prime Minister —

MS. HARF: Well, you saw he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the weekend, and I think we sent a readout out of that – updated him on the peace process, talked about where things were going. I don’t have any updates for you on any specifics that are happening right now.

QUESTION: Now, last Monday he met with the – or last Sunday he met with Abbas, and yesterday —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — he met with Netanyahu. Are we likely to see a meeting between the two? Is the Secretary working on a meeting between the two anytime soon?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to announce or to preview for you on that. Clearly, we’ve said that both sides, broadly speaking, will continue talking on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything to venture a – any way to venture a guess on whether that might happen.

QUESTION: Okay. So on these talks, I mean, they had like seven rounds and so on. What progress have they made so far?

MS. HARF: Well, a) I think the fact that we’re still at the table is a good thing; b) we’ve always said throughout this process that we’re not going to outline the specifics about what’s being discussed or what progress is being made on a day-to-day basis. When we have things to announce, we will.

QUESTION: But the talks – you could tell us whether the talks are deadlocked or not deadlocked.

MS. HARF: I’m not going to characterize them in any way, Said. I’m just not.


MS. HARF: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Did you see the second-highest European Union court today ruled that sanctions imposed against the Iranian shipping line IRISL are not justified? The ruling can be appealed, and I think there’s two months for that to happen. But do you have any comment on this?

MS. HARF: I haven’t actually seen that specific report, Arshad. I’m happy to take the question —


MS. HARF: — and get back to you. Obviously, broadly speaking – and again, I haven’t seen this report – we believe that the very strong sanctions against the Iranian regime are a key part of the pressure we’re put on – we’ve been putting on them. We believe very strongly in them, but again, I don’t have a specific comment on that. But I will take it as a question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the exchange of letters between the President and the Iranian President Rouhani, there is also – there are also rumors that they might meet at the UN. Could you comment on that?

MS. HARF: I would refer you to the White House to comment on potential presidential meetings. I think they’ve been on the record on this saying that that’s – there’s no plans for that, but I would refer you to them. I don’t want to speak for them, certainly, on this.

QUESTION: Was there any exchange —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the letter?

MS. HARF: I would refer you to the White House for any of these questions.

QUESTION: Was there an exchange of letters between Secretary Kerry and the new Foreign Minister?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything for – let me see if I have any details on that. I don’t have anything for you on that. I haven’t – I don’t know anything about that, actually.

QUESTION: Would they meet at New York? Have the presidents —

MS. HARF: I don’t have a schedule to read out for you of the Secretary’s meetings in UNGA. Obviously, that’s coming up very soon. When we have something to announce about his schedule, we will let you know.

QUESTION: And the plans?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to even venture to guess.

One more? Yeah.

QUESTION: With the understanding that the – reports say that this was not linked to terrorism, but do you know if Secretary Kerry has been briefed at all on the situation at Navy Yard before he got on the plane or during the flight?

MS. HARF: He has been. He’s been briefed by his senior staff traveling with him on the situation. And thank you for the question; I appreciate it.

QUESTION: Was there any action taken in this building as a result of it?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. If I have anything, I can find out and let you know, but not to my knowledge.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Short one today.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)a