State Department Briefing by Marie Harf, September 19, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWPSF)–September 19, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary Kerry’s Bilateral Meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
    • United States Hosting 15 Early Career Afghan Diplomats
    • Secretary Kerry’s Statement / UNGA
    • UN Report / U.S. Intelligence Case
  • IRAN
    • Opportunity for Diplomacy / Release of Political Prisoners
    • UNGA / Nuclear Program
    • Negotiations in New York / Action at UN
    • Financing and Timeline of Actions
    • Special Session of OPCW Executive Council / Geneva Framework
    • UN Security Council Resolution / Enforcement Mechanisms
    • Extremist Elements
    • President Bashir’s Visa Request / ICC
  • IRAN
    • P5+1 Proposal / Direct Talks
    • Opposition meeting announced by Fabius / UNGA visas for Syrian officials
  • IRAN
    • President Obama’s letter to Rouhani
    • Assistance / Review of Policy
    • Severe Weather Conditions Acapulco / Consular Assistance
    • Recent Killing / Demonstrations
    • Syria Resolution / DPRK Denuclearization / Joint Statement of Six-Party Talks / Origin of Secretary’s Relationship with Foreign Minister Wang
    • Recent Events / Dialogue / Freedoms of Assembly, Association and Expression
    • Accountability Review Board / Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen Testimony
    • Security Situation in Herat / Afghan and ISAF Security Forces
    • Accountability Review Board / Admiral Mullen / Cheryl Mills / Secretary Clinton / Charlene Lamb



3:43 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for your patience today. We know these days are always —

QUESTION: Cocktail hour.

MS. HARF: — a little crazed.

QUESTION: Can we do this over drinks?

MS. HARF: Did you bring back – did you bring the wine? Because I’m ready.

I have a couple things to do at the top, and then I’m happy to open it up to your questions. And again, thank you for your patience today. We wanted Secretary Kerry, obviously, to come out and speak to you all first.

So first, I have a reading of – a readout, excuse me – of Secretary Kerry’s bilateral meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister today. Secretary Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had productive and wide-ranging discussions today. This is Mr. Wang’s first official visit to Washington as Foreign Minister, and Secretary Kerry welcomed him and his delegation. The two sides agreed on the need to maintain regular high-level engagement as we cooperate on pressing global and regional challenges. During the meeting, the Secretary briefed the Foreign Minister on recent developments regarding Syria, and urged China to support strong UN Security Council resolution to implement the framework to ensure the complete destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons program. The Foreign Minister welcomed the framework agreement reached recently in Geneva.

The two also discussed Iran and the importance of addressing international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The Secretary also raised the deteriorating human rights situation in China. The two sides discussed maritime security issues in East Asia, and the Secretary urged China to avoid incidents that add tensions – add to tensions, and on the South China Sea in particular, to reach agreement on a binding code of conduct.

There was an extended discussion on North Korea at the working lunch. The Secretary detailed several disturbing developments that indicated the DPRK continues to flout its previous commitments to denuclearize.

And I want to make another statement at the top today. We are hosting a group of 15 early career Afghan diplomats – they’re sitting in the back rows, I think – who arrived in Washington, D.C. last week for the first phase of a two-part training program sponsored jointly by the United States and China. This is the second consecutive year of the program, which seeks to develop diplomatic, communications, and management skills. While in Washington, the group will learn more about the development of foreign policy in the United States and the management of U.S. relations around the world. They will also visit with Congress, meet with diplomats and scholars from various organizations, and practice their diplomatic skills through simulations developed and run by the University of Maryland.

So I just wanted to give a warm welcome to all of our guests today in the Briefing Room. Thank you so much for being flexible as well with the schedule.

With that, I’d like to open it up.

QUESTION: Marie, I had – I was going to try and ask the Secretary this myself, but —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — Andrea beat me to it.

MS. HARF: But you’ll take me next.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Yes. So, anyway, these are —

QUESTION: Jen first.

QUESTION: — the first two questions that – (laughter) —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: – first couple questions I wanted to ask to him.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One, why did he feel the need, or why did the Administration feel the need, to come down – to have him give a statement in full defense or full support —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — of the UN finding? Was this based – was this because of the allegations made by President Putin and President Assad in various interviews over the last couple days?

And secondly, does the Administration believe that the UN report in itself, by itself —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — absent your own intelligence findings, is enough to justify the credible use – threat of – credible threat of force against the Assad regime?

MS. HARF: Well, on the first question, it’s not in response to anything specific. I think the Secretary wanted to make clear some key points about the UN report which came out earlier this week, which we’ve had a little chance to talk about, but he believed was very important to highlight, particularly given the ongoing Security Council negotiations and also, of course, heading into UNGA. So we though it was an important time diplomatically for him to make a strong statement about what the UN report shows. The UN’s already spoken to it, but of course, the Secretary wanted to speak to it as well.

On the second question, it’s a hypothetical that, quite frankly, just doesn’t exist. We think that our intelligence case that we’ve laid out is a very strong one. We have high confidence in it. That – which – and we declassified an unprecedented amount of information with that report. So that intelligence case, coupled with, as you heard the Secretary say, the UN report, presents a picture of exactly what happened on the 21st.

QUESTION: Right. But do you think that —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — the UN report, in and of itself, is enough to justify the Administration’s stance with – of the – on threatening the use of force?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly not justifying our policy based on any one report. We are – we have developed a policy based on our own intelligence case, on our national security interests. And the UN report, as you heard the Secretary say, plays an important role in that.

QUESTION: All right. The reason that I’m asking, the reason I’m so interested in this, is because —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — it’s – I don’t really get it, because you spent the entire – the Administration spent the entire last week of August bad-mouthing this report, saying it couldn’t achieve anything, and now all of a sudden it seems to be – you think it’s the bee’s knees.

MS. HARF: I like your characterization of things, Matt.

QUESTION: August 27th: “We’ve reached a point now where we believe too much time has passed for the investigation to be credible. We believe too long of a time has passed for them to be – for it to be credible.” “We believe that — ” August 28th: “We believe that it’s too late for the UN inspection to be credible.” Again on August 28th: “We believe the UN inspection has passed the point where it can be credible. And again, I’m going to repeat, let’s be clear they cannot determine by mandate culpability; they can only determine whether a chemical weapons attack happened.”

That was you speaking in this room.

MS. HARF: I recognize those words.

QUESTION: Good. But —

MS. HARF: Was there a question?

QUESTION: Yeah. What happened? Why is this now the bible?

MS. HARF: A couple points.

QUESTION: Why is this the gold standard when you spent those two days, at least, and others did as well, just trashing the whole idea? It certainly sounds as though – or looks as though you didn’t like it when you didn’t know what it was going to say —

MS. HARF: Absolutely not, Matt.

QUESTION: — but now – okay, then explain to me —

MS. HARF: I would love to.

QUESTION: — how it is that it’s now credible when too much time had passed for it to be in-credible, or un-credible.

MS. HARF: So let’s just take a step back and make a couple points. First, the point on culpability remains. The UN report does not by itself determine culpability. That’s not its mandate. What the —

QUESTION: Right. Well, except that the Secretary said that it confirmed —

MS. HARF: It confirms.

QUESTION: — that the Assad regime carried out the attack.

MS. HARF: So what is included in the UN report – and then he went and laid out all of the reasons why it did.

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. HARF: But he – we’re all clear that it doesn’t assign blame or culpability.


MS. HARF: That hasn’t changed. What we said at the time – and I said a lot of things on those two days about the UN report, so let’s walk back through some of the other quotes I said: that we didn’t want the regime to use this as a stalling tactic; that at that time that I made those comments, they were shelling the area. The safety situation on the ground just wasn’t good for the UN inspectors, and at that point we weren’t sure that we could go forward with the inspection and get a report from it. They were able to continue their work, and they came back with a report that we find to be very credible.

So obviously, we respond to the situation as it exists on the ground that day. The broader point was that we didn’t want the regime to use this as a stalling tactic, and every day we went by where they continued to shell, and the inspectors couldn’t get on the ground, which were some of those days that you mentioned, was a day too long for us, in our opinion. We took a look at the report when it came in, and we believe that it’s credible.


MS. HARF: Those things are in no way inconsistent.

QUESTION: The reason that you said that it wasn’t credible at the – or wouldn’t be credible was because too much time had passed between the actual attack —

MS. HARF: Well, you’re cherry-picking parts of quotes. We said that they had been shelling, that they were refusing to allow inspectors in.


MS. HARF: The Secretary mentioned – let me finish, Matt, and then you can follow up with me. The Secretary mentioned the interviews they had done, which actually wasn’t related to what – collecting evidence on the ground. They were able to do interviews with survivors, with people that had treated the wounded, and they were able to get information that way as well. They were also later able to analyze some of the things he talked about in terms of scientific evidence.

So we are where we are today. We have a report that we believe is credible and only backs up everything we’ve been saying about our intelligence case since the beginning.

QUESTION: Well, I just don’t understand how you can say on August 28th, “We believe it’s too late for the UN inspection to be credible,” and now to say, on September 19th, that it is credible, because nothing changed in that – the time —

MS. HARF: Everything has actually changed in that time period, Matt.

QUESTION: The time between —

MS. HARF: As we talked about in this room, a lot has changed on this issue.

QUESTION: The time between the 21st when the attack happened —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and when the inspectors got in and started to do their jobs has not gotten shorter. It still —

MS. HARF: But that was in the broader context.

QUESTION: It was – if it was too late on August 28th, then it’s too late on September 19th.

MS. HARF: The broader context, Matt, matters here – that what we saw was shelling and destruction, systematic destruction of evidence. And then at that point, we weren’t sure if the inspectors were going to get access to any usable intelligence.

QUESTION: Hold on a second. You weren’t sure? No. You said that they wouldn’t. You said that it’s too late for the investigation —

MS. HARF: I’m not going to parse words from two weeks ago, Matt. I’m just not going to go down this road for 15 minutes with you.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: We were at a point then when it was unclear what kind of access the inspectors would get, when it was unclear if there was any way they would get credible evidence.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. When it was unclear what the report would say —

MS. HARF: Not —

QUESTION: — when you weren’t sure that it would agree with what your findings were —

MS. HARF: In no way is that the case.

QUESTION: — you thought that it was not credible. That’s —

MS. HARF: That – in no way is that the case. We were confident from the beginning in our intelligence assessment about what happened here on the 21st. We in no way thought that the UN report would say that sarin wasn’t used.

Again, this is just a question about whether chemical weapons were used, which, to be frank, since August 21st, there hasn’t been doubt in people’s minds about whether chemical weapons were used here. So – and we never thought that the UN report would come – miraculously say chemical weapons weren’t used here. So that’s an assumption that has no basis in fact.

QUESTION: Well, then I —

MS. HARF: Yes, Andrea. I’m going to move on.

QUESTION: Then at the time, you should have not used the word that – you shouldn’t have said that it wasn’t going to be credible.

MS. HARF: I’ll take your advice on board and I’m going to move on to Andrea. Thanks.

QUESTION: Matt, are you done?

QUESTION: Yeah. On that, I am.

QUESTION: Let me ask a follow-up question —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — on Iran because —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — President Rouhani suggested that he has negotiating authority in the foreign ministry —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — which would be a change. And I’m wondering, first, whether that represents a positive sign, since we’ve all gone down this road before —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and found that the Supreme Leader vetoed past agreements.

MS. HARF: Thank you for the question. A couple points on this: that the President and the Secretary both believe that there’s an opportunity for diplomacy right now. We hope the Iranian Government takes advantage of this opportunity. The world has heard a lot from President Rouhani’s administration about its desire to improve Iran’s relations with the international community, and President Obama and the Secretary certainly believe that we should test that assertion.

We welcome the new administration’s change in rhetoric. However, as we’ve said repeatedly, there’s a difference between rhetoric and action. We must see concrete action to back up the rhetoric. As I said, I think, yesterday, we welcome the release of 11 political prisoners, which is, again, a concrete action that we did welcome. So we hope that this new Iranian Government will engage substantively. Again, what we’re looking for is actions, but we do think this is a hopeful sign.

QUESTION: How will the President and/or the Secretary test this, most importantly, at the United Nations when President Rouhani and —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — the President will be in the same room?

MS. HARF: Well, I defer to the White House to speak to the President’s UNGA schedule and actions. I think they’ve spoken about this significantly. We don’t have a set schedule for the Secretary yet. We don’t have any more details on how we might test this assertion. But as that’s determined in the coming days, I’m happy to have the conversation further.

QUESTION: Well, aside from schedule —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and meetings, what would you like to see?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to lay out specifics other than what we’ve already said, that we hope they will engage substantively in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s – this isn’t just the U.S., of course – but the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program. So I’m not going to go into specifics to lay out before UNGA, but we’ve said that we need to see some substantive engagement.

QUESTION: And does Secretary Kerry have a personal relationship with the new Foreign Minister from his years at the UN?

MS. HARF: I don’t know that. Let me check into that. I’m not sure that they do, but let me – I’ll take the question and let you know the answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: I’m just not aware of one, but I’ll check.


QUESTION: Just to keep with this, and then there’s other Syria questions, I believe, but —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — yesterday, I asked whether you knew whether Rouhani had asked for a meeting with Kerry and you said you’d check on that. Did you have an answer on that?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any additional scheduling updates. I don’t have anything further about whether meetings had been requested. I just don’t have additional information.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can you let us know whether – sorry, could you let us know whether —

MS. HARF: I’ll endeavor to get an answer, and if I can share —

QUESTION: — whether they’ve reached out to us —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — given the exchange of letters by the presidents earlier?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to dive into this a little deeper and see what I can share.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria, please?

MS. HARF: Yes, of course.

QUESTION: Is there any concern, given what the Secretary said today, that there might not – I mean, was his statement today at all about a concern of something that he knows that the Security Council may not act next week?

MS. HARF: No, I wouldn’t read it that way at all. Obviously, we’re in negotiations right now in New York. The Secretary has been in close contact with Ambassador Power, who is on the ground there doing the work right now. I wouldn’t read it that way. We have called on the Security Council to act swiftly. I would point you to the language in the framework agreement that talks about the importance of action at the UN Security Council. The Secretary had good conversations with his Chinese counterparts on this as well today. So we have every expectation that the Council will move quickly.

QUESTION: On another issue, what discussions and how far are the discussions on the financing of the eradication of these chemical weapons —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and what will the U.S.’s share be of that?

MS. HARF: It’s a good question. I think it’s a little premature at this point to try and determine who will pay for all of the parts of this very complicated process. What we’re focused on right now is the declaration, is determining the size and scope of the program, figuring out all the technical details of how it will be destroyed. Obviously, financing’s a big part of that. We just don’t have a lot more details at this point. What we’re focused on now is actually determining the size of the program.

QUESTION: But have – I just – have you calculated what the total cost of the thing? I mean, not looking at the share of each country —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — but what is the total of —

MS. HARF: It’s a good question, and I just —

QUESTION: Oh, you don’t know.

MS. HARF: — don’t know the answer. I’m happy to look into that a little more. Clearly, this is going to be a massive undertaking that we’ll have to have lots of folks involved in. If I have a specific dollar number I’ll get it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Syrian President mentioned a billion dollars last night in an interview. Is that accurate?

MS. HARF: I have no idea if that’s accurate. I’m happy to check into the number. There were a lot of things he said in that interview that weren’t accurate, but I don’t know about that number.


QUESTION: I wondered if you had more clarification on the deadline, or timeline switcheroo, came out of the Geneva.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I mean, yesterday, I know that you were quite insistent that this wasn’t a deadline, but just reading from the framework for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons, which was issued on September the 14th, 2013.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: “The United States and the Russian Federation expect Syria to submit, within a week, a comprehensive listing, including names, types and quantities of its chemical weapons agents,” and so on and so forth. That is, expect to submit within a week.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That’s the wording of the document.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Which means that there’s a week. So when does the week run out for you?

MS. HARF: Well, “expect to submit.” I don’t see the word “deadline” in there. We expect them to submit it within a week. Clearly, we’ve all said this is an ambitious timeline, but we believe the situation is so serious that action needs to be taken as swiftly as possible. We’re aware that something as complicated as destroying this massive stockpile takes time. And again, we would note that the framework does set out a timeline, but it said that we should expect to see it within that timeframe.

And as I said to Matt yesterday, if we’re sitting here on Monday and haven’t seen anything, I’m happy – well, I guess we don’t brief next week because we’re at UNGA, but I’m happy to engage with it next week as well. We’re moving forward with the timeline, and again, we think this needs to happen as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: So you don’t have a – I mean, if it slips into, say, Saturday of the following week, Saturday 28th of September, is that still acceptable?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to lay out what is and isn’t acceptable. Clearly, we expect to move forward based on this timeline. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. We think that it’s an ambitious timeline but an important one. But again, as I said yesterday, I don’t want anyone to be waiting at 12:01 to say, “Oh, well this whole thing’s fallen apart,” because we’ve missed a marker on this schedule.

QUESTION: And the —

MS. HARF: And so we’ll just keep having the discussion as the things happen, quite frankly, about what it means and what it means going forward.


MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — in The Hague has set a meeting to discuss all of this on Sunday.

MS. HARF: On Sunday, yes. So a special session of the 41-member Executive Council of the OPCW is planned for Sunday, as you mentioned, to consider and adopt a draft decision on the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons, reflecting the principles agreed upon by the U.S. and Russia in the Geneva framework. So you’re right, that is set for Sunday.

QUESTION: So is it your understanding that you would really like to see this come out of the OPCW before you start getting too fussed about whether the declaration’s been made on a Saturday or a Monday or a Tuesday, after that Sunday meeting?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s all part of the process of the OPCW. I don’t want to – I kind of want to say where things should fall on a calendar, but clearly, the Syrians need to submit this as soon as possible. We want the OPCW to move quickly, and then the UN Security Council after that to move quickly.

QUESTION: And technically, they submit it to you, to the Russians, or to the OPCW?

MS. HARF: Who, the Syrians?

QUESTION: The declaration.

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding they submit it to the OPCW.


MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Well, is there any place for them to – I guess they could – and they could submit it right now, right?


QUESTION: I mean, it’s not like it’s closed for business or something?


QUESTION: I mean, they don’t have to wait until Sunday, in other words.


QUESTION: That’s what I’m getting at.


QUESTION: Do you know if the OPCW executive whatever it’s called —

MS. HARF: Council?

QUESTION: Council.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — has ever had a special session before?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. I’m happy to look into it.

QUESTION: And other than approving, presumably approving, this agreement —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and accepting responsibility for it, I would assume – is that – well, actually, I’m not going to make that a question. What are you hoping that – what do you expect the OPCW to actually vote on and —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — either give the thumbs-up to or the thumbs-down to?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to detail specifically what the decision will look like, but it basically will outline the framework that we agreed to in Geneva. It sets forward a very – a brisk timeline to move forward and enter the process by which that will happen. I don’t know more details about what that decision that they’re voting on will actually look like.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, do they – do you expect them to take ownership of this – or, well, not ownership – take responsibility for enforcing it with – for enforcing the U.S.-Russia agreement, or is it broader? Do they need additional outside people to help them? I mean, I’m just trying to figure out where it is.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Whose responsibility it is going to be to make sure that this is complied with.

MS. HARF: That this is complied with.

QUESTION: Exactly. Is it the OPCW itself, or is it the OPCW plus —

MS. HARF: Well, obviously, we’ve talked about the importance of a UN Security Council resolution, and the Secretary just mentioned it to also – to work in tandem with the OPCW to put another level of enforcement on top of that. I, quite frankly, don’t know what enforcement mechanisms the OPCW has.


MS. HARF: I’m happy to – again, I’m happy to take that and get back to you.


MS. HARF: But clearly, we think that it should work in tandem with the Security Council resolution to put in place the strongest possible enforcement mechanisms.

QUESTION: And you see this, I guess because of your comment just now, as a double layer of enforcement, while I’m sure you would recognize the Russians see this as a double trigger rather than a double layer, because there are two —

MS. HARF: I don’t want to begin to guess how the Russians see anything.

QUESTION: Well, am I correct in that there are two – that if there is noncompliance that it gets referred to the OPCW, which can’t take any action on its own but will refer it to the Security Council, so that there has to – if it finds that there is something wrong —

MS. HARF: It’s a really good question. I really just don’t —

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: And I’m not being cagey here. I don’t know how that process would work if Syria is determined to be in noncompliance. I’m happy to get a little more details about this and we can talk about it a little more tomorrow.

QUESTION: That – presumably, though, that would be part of this agreement, right, the roadmap for what happens if there is a concern?

MS. HARF: Presumably. But again, I don’t have details on what it will look like.

Anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: I wondered if you had any reaction to the news about the – about al-Qaida having seized a village near the border with Turkey called Azaz.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — after fierce fighting with – actually, with opposition rebels.

MS. HARF: So we have certainly seen these reports. We’re following the situation in Azaz closely and are concerned by the increase of violence between the ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria, and the Free Syrian Army. We’re also concerned by the increase in extremist attacks and kidnappings against civilians and FSA in northern Syria in the same area. We have, of course, long expressed our deep concerns about this extremism. That’s why we work with the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella organization for the armed opposition. We’ll keep monitoring the situation closely.

QUESTION: Switch subjects?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any update on President Bashir and his visa?

MS. HARF: Let’s see. I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: We asked for a lot of information yesterday and you never came back to us.

MS. HARF: I took a lot of questions. I have a little more information in my book on this today, everyone will be happy to know.

I don’t have any update for you. There are a variety of considerations in play with respect to President Bashir’s visa request, including the outstanding warrant for his arrest. But —

QUESTION: So it is part of the review?

MS. HARF: We’re not going to sort through these considerations publicly. We’re going to continue to do so privately and deliberately. I don’t have anything further for you on his specific visa request today.

QUESTION: Well, wait. But you said that —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — including the indictment.

MS. HARF: The outstanding warrant is one of the variety of considerations in play —

QUESTION: So it is a consideration.

MS. HARF: It is a consideration. I just said that.

QUESTION: Okay. But the next sentence doesn’t make any sense because you —

MS. HARF: I’m not going to sort through all of these considerations publicly or talk about how we’re considering it.

QUESTION: Well, you just did one, and that was the question.

MS. HARF: I said we were taking one thing into consideration, yes.

QUESTION: All right. Can you – quite apart from this case —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — were you able to find out what your obligations are with the headquarters agreement and whether a visiting head of state that you grant a visa to, whether you can turn around and arrest that person even though they enjoy immunity?

MS. HARF: So as I said yesterday, we do have obligations as host nation for the UN. Let me see what else I have. And what was your second question, Matt? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, I want to know if it’s legal for you to issue a visa to a foreign head of state, and then, because once he arrives, he or she arrives in the country he does have immunity – sovereign immunity if not diplomatic immunity – if it’s legal or if the Administration believes it is, in fact, possible to then arrest that person who you have essentially invited to come to your country.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve clearly strongly supported the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the kind of war crimes he’s been accused of.

QUESTION: But wait, wait. My question is not – I’m going to get to that because yesterday the ICC asked the United States to grant him the visa and then arrest him. But I want to know if it is legal for the government, if the Administration believes it would be legal for – whether it’s Bashir or Mr. X from I don’t know where —

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: — anyone, any foreign head of state who’s here who you grant a visa to for the UN, if you can then – if it’s legal for you to arrest —

MS. HARF: So this is what I know, and I don’t know if it’s exactly in answer to your question. There are a lot of legal questions here. This is what I know: That generally speaking, because the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the obligations that apply to member-states do not necessarily apply to us. Again, that’s generally speaking. I don’t have any more details for you about what – a guess as to whether or not we could do what you just asked about. I don’t have a legal opinion on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, could you find out if there is one? Just – I’m interested to know whether there is some kind of ability —

MS. HARF: If we have a legal obligation or ability?

QUESTION: No, no, not – the ability —

MS. HARF: Ability. Okay.

QUESTION: — to arrest someone who has immunity on this country.

And now in terms of the ICC and the fact that you’re not a party to it, you did, in fact, vote in the Security Council in favor of setting up – of referring this to the ICC. Is that correct?

MS. HARF: And I said we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to uphold accountable those responsible for war crimes, including, of course, in Darfur.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. But you can’t commit – but you can’t say, one, whether you would – whether you’re willing to give him a visa so he could, in fact, be arrested?

MS. HARF: I’m not speaking at all more specifically on this case.

QUESTION: Or two, if you could even do it legally because of your headquarters agreement – because of the headquarters agreement.

MS. HARF: Well, on the first question, I’m not going to speak any more about his case specifically.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then could you take the second —

MS. HARF: On the second question, I’ll take it. I don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: All right, and then just my last one on this.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In two – the ICC – let me start again. The last update to the list of Article 98 agreements that the U.S. has signed was – that I could find was updated in 2011.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It had 102 – there were 102 countries that had signed it. Sudan is not one of them. But I’m wondering if the – in the intervening time between when this list was compiled, in I think January, end of January 2011 and now, because it is three – more than three years – if you may have – and I don’t know – signed an Article 98 agreement with Sudan and whether or not, if you have, it is a reciprocal agreement or a nonreciprocal agreement.

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m happy to take it.

QUESTION: Okay, that would – thank you.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Anything else on Bashir?

QUESTION: Going back to Iran and your reaction to the —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — his interview with – Rouhani’s interview on NBC last night —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — is there any disagreement within the P-5+1 on how best to proceed?

MS. HARF: On what part of —

QUESTION: I guess with the last —

MS. HARF: — what we’re talking to the P-5+1 on?

QUESTION: Right. Maybe the agreement in Almaty with removing the 20 percent grade uranium and having Iran —

MS. HARF: Well, I think one thing we’ve repeatedly said is that the P-5+1 remains united on this issue. Obviously, we’ve talked about that a lot in this room. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: And is the offer still there or has a new package been crafted?

MS. HARF: Well, we have put on the table a plan or a proposal, and we’ve been waiting on the Iranian Government to respond substantively. We haven’t seen that substantive response yet. As I said, we hope that this new administration will take advantage of this opportunity to engage substantively on our proposal to move forward on this issue with the P-5+1.


QUESTION: Can I also just —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: No, go for it.


MS. HARF: Everyone’s so polite today.

QUESTION: Still on Iran —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — is that – we know that you’re still working out your scheduling, but do you think a meeting somehow – I mean, even if the President probably hasn’t got time – but with Rouhani would be helpful at this stage?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to venture to guess an answer to that question. We’ve said repeatedly – the President said it when he was running for office the first time and we’ve said it since then – that we’ve always been open to direct talks with the Iranians. But I don’t want to venture a guess about what that might look like. We just said we’re open to it. Again, that offer remains on the table.

QUESTION: Sorry, can we go back – skipping about all over the place —

MS. HARF: That’s okay.

QUESTION: — but talking about meetings and, I wondered (A) if you had any more indication of the Lavrov meeting?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I’m sorry. I know we’re trying to get everything scheduled for UNGA. It’s a work in progress, a massive undertaking.

QUESTION: Okay. And I wondered if you could give us a little bit more information about the meeting with the Syrian opposition that was announced by French —

MS. HARF: By the French.

QUESTION: — by French Foreign Minister Fabius.

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details on that. I’m happy to take the question. Again, I know we’re working out all of these details and I can hopefully get something for you later today or by tomorrow’s briefing.


MS. HARF: I just don’t have any – I haven’t heard anything new on that since we last talked about it.

QUESTION: No, I haven’t. I just wondered where we were with it —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — because I know the invitations that have apparently been sent out, which are obviously — presumably to all the UNGA members, which would obviously include Syria as well, so —

MS. HARF: I will definitely check on it. I just don’t have an update.

QUESTION: And kind of on that subject —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — has Foreign Minister Muallim or any other Syrian official applied for a visa to come?

MS. HARF: I don’t know that answer to that question. I’m happy to take that as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thank you. Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry, going back to Iran one more time.

MS. HARF: Okay. We can skip around. It’s fine.

QUESTION: I just wanted to check on the reports – well, it’s been confirmed – the exchange of letters between Presidents Obama and Rouhani.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There were reports out that the – President Obama’s letter was delivered to the Iranians under the auspices of the Sultan of Oman. Are you able to comment on that or how the letter was transmitted to —

MS. HARF: I think I would refer you to my colleagues at the White House to talk up any details on those reports.

Anything else?

QUESTION: I have one more.

MS. HARF: Hold on, we have one more back here, too. Yes.


MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Ambassador Patterson was over on the Hill today.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: She said the review of the assistance program was actually still ongoing and —

MS. HARF: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: — at the very least hope to, quote, “modernize” aspect of the program. I’m wondering if you could shed some light on where that process is and what you might mean by modernizing.

MS. HARF: Well, the process is ongoing. And as the President said, I can’t even remember when it was now, but several weeks ago, that business can’t continue as usual when we see what’s happened in Egypt over the past several weeks, and indeed, months. So we’re working right now to review our whole policy towards Egypt. Obviously, that’s bigger than just assistance, but that’s the discussion that’s going on right now.

We believe it’s an important relationship, but we’re taking stock of it and when we have decisions and something to announce we will do so.

Yes. Or – go in the middle and then I’ll come up to you. Yes.

QUESTION: You may have covered this yesterday, so I apologize if —

MS. HARF: I need you to speak up a little, sir.

QUESTION: You may have covered this yesterday —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. It’s okay.

QUESTION: — so I apologize in advance if you have. But I understand that you guys don’t have numbers of Americans stuck in Acapulco, but I just wanted to ask if you can say if you’ve heard from, that you’ve been contacted by any Americans who —

MS. HARF: I did not cover this yesterday.


MS. HARF: So we can confirm that due to severe weather conditions, the airport in Acapulco and the road leading to it were temporarily out of service. I think this is part of what prompted some of these questions. Our consular agent in Acapulco assisted U.S. travelers with arranging new flights, stands ready to continue doing so as long as necessary. Citizens abroad aren’t required to register their presence, so we actually don’t have a comprehensive list of everyone overseas. And obviously, the estimates may vary; I don’t have any more details on it than that. Thank you, though.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS. HARF: Yes, up here.

QUESTION: On Greece.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Might you have any comment on the assassination of the leftist activist in Greece, committed by a member of the Golden Dawn. It’s a party as you maybe know —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — with ties to Nazi organizations in Europe.

MS. HARF: Yes. Thank you for the question. We are aware of these press reports of the recent killing and the demonstrations that followed to protest the stabbing. We condemn such violence and express our deepest condolences to the victim’s family. For more details, I would obviously refer you to the Greek authorities.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes, back here.

QUESTION: I have two questions on the U.S.-China meeting today. You said Secretary Kerry asked China to support a strong resolution on Syria. Could you possibly describe the reaction of the Chinese delegation?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to read out the meeting further. It was a very productive – it was a good discussion. Obviously, these negotiations about a resolution have been ongoing, and the Secretary and the Foreign Minister have a good relationship. I’m not going to further parse what people’s reactions were, but I will say that it was a very productive discussion and Syria was a big focus.

QUESTION: And another question is on North Korea. Minister Wang Yi said at the beginning of the meeting —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that he would like to work with U.S. to resume Six Party Talks. And he also said his – he was confident to reach new important agreement, to resume the Six-Party Talks.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What was your position on this issue?

MS. HARF: Well, our position on this hasn’t changed, and I would refer you to him to explain his comments. We’ve said that the onus is on North Korea to take meaningful actions towards denuclearization. As we all know, the DPRK’s committed on numerous occasions – and he reminded us that today was actually the anniversary of the joint statement of the Six-Party Talks.

We’re going to keep working with China and other partners in the region to address this issue. I don’t have anything further for you on what he meant by those comments; I’d let him speak for himself.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: I’ll go – and then I’ll go to you, Lucas. Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m just curious, how long has the Secretary known the Foreign Minister?

MS. HARF: I don’t know.

QUESTION: So the —

MS. HARF: They have a good relationship.

QUESTION: I mean, I know. So how —

MS. HARF: I’ve been in several meetings with both of them now and – I don’t know. I can take the question.

QUESTION: I’m just curious. Did they – does this go back to his Senate days?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer. But the Secretary did make a comment at the top of his remarks today about how the Foreign Minister had been, I think, a visiting student at Georgetown some time ago, and welcomed him back to Washington.

QUESTION: Hoya Saxa. Did you – were you able to get a – were you able to rip some more clarity out of the NEA on your message to the Bahrainis?

MS. HARF: I’m sure they’ll appreciate your characterization of this.

QUESTION: I’m sure they will.

MS. HARF: I do have a little bit more on this today, so let’s engage in this discussion again.

QUESTION: It doesn’t need to be a discussion. I just would – I’d just like to get a straight answer.

MS. HARF: No, no, no. I’d – actually I would like to clarify. I know there was a lot of discussion about this yesterday, and I don’t want there to be any confusion.

We’ve been, overall, disappointed by recent events that have eroded the prospects for dialogue in Bahrain. We urge the government to uphold its obligations. We talked yesterday about the opposition a lot, but I’m urging the government – we are urging the government to uphold its obligations to protect the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression. We also again call on all parties to reaffirm their commitment to nonviolence and to take steps that promote rather than erode mutual confidence in order for the talks to resume. We continue – I know we’ve talked about this a little bit in here – to be concerned by the Government of Bahrain’s recent decrees that place limits on assembly – I think I was asked about that a few weeks ago – and regulate political groups’ communication with foreign governments, which constrain the exercise of freedoms of expression and association. We’ve called on the government to rescind it, and I’m happy to do so again today.

So just put it in a little more context about the national dialogue writ large.

QUESTION: Right. Was that so hard?

MS. HARF: I’m glad you liked my answer —

QUESTION: I mean, you could’ve said that yesterday and it would’ve saved all of that trouble. But what about, specifically —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — about – did – has there been a message given to the Bahraini Government specifically about this opposition leader who they busted the other day?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to comment on any private discussions we’ve had. But with respect to his detention, obviously we’re closely following the case. We call on the Government of Bahrain, generally speaking, to abide by its commitment to protecting freedom of expression, and also to respect detainees’ rights to due process in all cases, and to transparent judicial proceedings, including fair trials, access to attorneys, and verdicts based on credible evidence conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and Bahrain’s international legal obligations.

QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday you said that there – it would be raised with the Bahraini authorities. Do you know if in fact —

MS. HARF: I don’t know if it has been yet. I will double-check.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Lucas?

QUESTION: Is there any concern that Iran is meddling in Bahraini affairs?

MS. HARF: I’ve certainly seen some of those allegations and reports. I don’t have any assessment for you of that. I’m happy to look into it, and if there’s anything to share, we can talk about it further.

QUESTION: Thank you. And Marie, my original question was – over to Libya – Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering were in front of the Oversight Committee today on Capitol Hill —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and there was still a lot of outrage about this issue of accountability and why nobody’s been – while some people have changed jobs, the payroll continues. And my colleague James Rosen had asked you about how to address the American people —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and how do you tell the public, people at home, that nobody’s been held accountable for those accusations?

MS. HARF: Well, I’ll address that in a second. Let me make a quick point about today’s hearing.

For many months, the House Oversight Committee has been criticizing the work of the Accountability Review Board. So we are pleased that Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen had the opportunity today to directly answer the committee’s questions regarding the Accountability Review Board’s procedures, findings, and recommendations for the first time in public. The ARB report was prepared by people of unquestioned integrity and dedication. The process has been transparent and open. The findings were hard-hitting, and most importantly, its recommendations are being implemented right now.

I think I would reiterate what I said a few weeks ago. There were four people identified that the Secretary made decisions on in terms of their employment. I don’t want to go over that whole discussion again, but we’ve been clear about a few things: first, that the people responsible for the deaths of four Americans are the terrorists themselves. We are doing everything we can to find and bring those responsible to justice. Everybody’s been clear about that. Where there were deficiencies noted – which there were in the ARB – we’re taking steps to remedy them. We’ve talked a lot about our implementation here. Where people individually were singled out to be looked at further in terms of their employment, the Secretary did that as well.

Nobody – nobody – more than the people in this building and the State Department officials around the world share the grief of these families more. These were members of our family. Every time people walk in this building, they see their names on that wall. And it is still, to this day, more than a year later, heartbreaking for everybody here. So I don’t think anyone here takes it lightly. If we could wave a magic wand and point to one thing that could’ve been done differently, that could’ve prevented this, we would all love to. But we can’t, and we need to focus on the Accountability Review Board, who took an independent, objective look at what happened, and now focus, quite frankly, on moving forward to enhance our security and, hopefully, prevent situations from this – like this from happening in the future.

QUESTION: Well, it seems the only side that was hard-hitting were the terrorists. You mentioned deficiencies. In light of our visitors here from Afghanistan in the back row, six days ago, one of our consulates was attacked in Herat, and I was wondering if that consulate met the same standard of security that the one in Benghazi did. And if these deficiencies were made, why did this attack take place?

MS. HARF: Well, I would note that we have talked a lot about ARB implementation here. As we talked about Herat a little bit as well, that the security situation in Herat actually performed well in the situation, that the attackers were not able to breach the interior perimeter, that the attackers were neutralized, that no American lives were lost. Of course, we mourn the loss of those working with us from third countries. We are grateful, I should note, for the quick response of the Afghan and ISAF security forces who secured the facility and kept our personnel safe.

So I think it underscores the fact that we operate in very dangerous places. This is our job. Our job is to go out there, all around the world, even when it’s hard, even when it’s dangerous, and do the tough work of diplomacy. But what we – it is incumbent upon us here – and you heard Pat Kennedy yesterday up on the Hill as well talking about this – to take every step to secure our people and remain squarely focused on that, not on finger-pointing, not on politics, but on how we keep our people safe in the best possible manner.

QUESTION: And lastly, speaking of the independence of the ARB —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — one of the questions posed to Admiral Mullen was why did he kind of pre-brief or give a draft of the ARB to Cheryl Mills to presumably hand over to Secretary Clinton?

MS. HARF: I think you’re combining a couple questions here. I didn’t get to watch the whole hearing, but I saw some of this come up. As Admiral Mullen’s testimony made clear today, his conversation with Ms. Mills was not in reference to an upcoming ARB interview, had no impact on the ARB’s work, period. The ARB’s work has been described by those who appeared before it as penetrating, specific, critical, very top – very tough – excuse me – and, quote, “the opposite of a whitewash.” In short, there is no question that it was independent. This, I think, was a question about a potential witness before Congress with Ms. Mills, and I would note that the State Department’s witness did not, in fact, change after that conversation.

QUESTION: I think it was a warning. It was Charlene Lamb’s appearance —

MS. HARF: And she still appeared.

QUESTION: I know. Said she’d be weak.

MS. HARF: I think the facts speak for themselves there that she still appeared.


QUESTION: Can I ask two things related to this?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One is – is it – you said in the beginning in your opening to the answer that the committee has been critical of the ARB. Is it this building’s view that the whole committee has actually been critical, or is it just members of the – certain members of the committee?

MS. HARF: Certainly members of the committee, yes.

QUESTION: And secondly, you said something in there about if – a magic wand – this building – I mean, a magic wand to find out what’s wrong or what went wrong?

MS. HARF: I just —

QUESTION: I mean, I think – I want to make sure I heard you right that you were referring to a magic wand that could go back and change what happened in Benghazi —

MS. HARF: I was referring to the fact that if we could point to one deficiency, if we could point to one thing and say if only that had been done differently and these four Americans would still be here, we all wish we could do that.


MS. HARF: But that’s not reality.

QUESTION: But it’s a new —

MS. HARF: We have to look at the facts as they are.

QUESTION: Right. But —

MS. HARF: And when we talk about accountability, we focused a lot on the four. But we have to take each fact individually and make determinations going forward —

QUESTION: I understand. But —

MS. HARF: — based on those facts.

QUESTION: But I’m not sure that anyone has posited that one – that there might have been one thing, only one thing that could have been changed that would have made the situation better.

MS. HARF: Quite frankly, Matt, there have been a lot of accusations out there about individual parts of Benghazi and what happened that night and in the days leading up to it that could have changed things on the ground. What I was conveying and what I have asked – we’ve repeatedly asked people to do is look at the overall situation —


MS. HARF: — look at the unclassified ARB report, and not focus in on any one thing, because quite frankly, no one thing was determinative here.

QUESTION: Okay, all right.

MS. HARF: And that any tough, real, independent look at what happened, which is important to determining how to prevent it in the future, takes all of this into account over the totality of what happened.

QUESTION: How about shooting back the initial terrorists that breached the compound? They were not met with fire.

MS. HARF: I don’t have additional details about what happened that day. This has been discussed at length, and it’s important so it should be, but I just don’t have additional details, Lucas, about that.

Thank you, everyone, and thank you again for the flexibility today in our schedule.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:26 p.m.)