12:28 p.m. EDT
MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily press briefing. I have a few items at the top and then we’ll get started.
First, a travel update. Secretary Kerry – sorry, let me start over there. Just tripped over my words. Secretary Kerry will travel to Iqaluit, Canada on April 24th to attend the biennial Arctic Council ministerial. During the meeting, Secretary Kerry will begin a two-year term as chairman of the Arctic Council. We succeed the Canadians, who had the chairmanship last year. Secretary Kerry will present the 2015-2017 U.S. Arctic Council chairmanship program, One Arctic: Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities, to the seven other Arctic Council member states and six permanent participants of the council as well. U.S. chairmanship priorities include addressing the impacts of climate change; Arctic Ocean safety, security, and stewardship; and improving economic and living conditions for people in the Arctic as well. The ministerial meeting and a subsequent press conference will be livestreamed on the Arctic Council website, and that is just a day trip for him.
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, General John Allen, is in Singapore to deliver keynote remarks at the East Asia Summit symposium on countering violent extremism. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and – Public Affairs, excuse me – and Public Diplomacy Rick Stengel is also participating in this symposium. General Allen will also meet with Prime Minister Lee to discuss coalition efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL, noting the progress Singapore has made in countering violent extremism and reintegrating radicalized individuals. As you know, this comes on the heels of the work we did here at our own CVE summit. General Allen will then travel to Cairo. He will meet with Foreign Minister Shoukry and Arab League leadership on April 19th to discuss coalition efforts, again, to degrade and defeat ISIL.
And just two more items at the top. I know a lot of you have questions about Erbil, so I just wanted to give you some information at the top. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was detonated directly outside an entry point on the perimeter of the U.S. consulate in Erbil today. AT 10:44 a.m. Eastern, the duck and cover protocol was activated at the U.S. consulate. All chief of mission personnel have been accounted for. There are no reports of injuries to chief of mission personnel or to the local guards.
Host nation fire assets responded to extinguish the fire. Local authorities have also responded and are securing the area. We appreciate the rapid response of the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities to this matter, and we will work with them to investigate the incident to determine the facts behind the explosion.
And then finally, the United States is deeply concerned that Chinese journalist Gao Yu has been convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison after a closed trial on charges of leaking state secrets to a foreign news outlet. The conviction of this veteran journalist is part of a disturbing pattern of government action against public interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, religious leaders, and others who peacefully question official Chinese policies and actions. We call on the Chinese authorities to release Ms. Gao immediately and to respect China’s international human rights commitments.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about the – when you said that all chief of mission personnel are accounted —
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — safe and accounted for —
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — that includes the local employees, the —
MS HARF: That is the information I have. Obviously facts are still coming in, but that’s what I have from our team there.
MS HARF: What else?
QUESTION: On Iraq?
QUESTION: Is there any —
MS HARF: (Coughing.) Excuse me, guys.
QUESTION: Was there any intelligence or any sense that something of this nature could happen inside Erbil?
MS HARF: I’ve —
QUESTION: It’s very out of character for this city.
MS HARF: I think that Iraq remains a dangerous place – many parts of it do. So I’m not going to get into specifics, but we know that the security environment there is quite a challenging one and obviously take a number of security precautions when it comes to our people and our facilities.
QUESTION: Is there any early consideration of changing the travel patterns of consulate staff?
MS HARF: Well, I’m not sure why an explosive device outside the consulate would change travel patterns, given this happened outside the consulate. But there’s already a high level of security at the consulate, at our embassy in Baghdad. Obviously, this is something we take very serious in Iraq.
QUESTION: Can you say how many personnel, roughly, work out of the consulate?
MS HARF: We don’t generally give those numbers, for security reasons.
QUESTION: Yeah. I figured that.
MS HARF: But good try. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Any idea of responsibility?
MS HARF: We do not have any details on who’s responsible at this time.
QUESTION: And – that’s it for me.
MS HARF: Is that it?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq?
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: Okay. Today some pictures were shown —
MS HARF: Sorry. The one thing I will say also – there have been mixed reports online about other possible casualties of Iraqis, and we can’t confirm those reports, obviously are looking into that. But go ahead.
QUESTION: I – another topic on Iraq, which is Izzat al-Douri. He was Saddam’s deputy and his – the longest surviving member of the top leadership. Today there were reports that he may have been killed. Could you comment on that? Do you have any —
MS HARF: We can’t confirm them. Our folks are looking into them at this point. I don’t have independent confirmation of that.
QUESTION: As far as you know, was he the only member of the 52 deck of cards that was —
MS HARF: That is a good question.
QUESTION: — or maybe second in line —
MS HARF: I —
QUESTION: — that was not accounted for or not —
MS HARF: I will check.
QUESTION: — caught or captured or killed?
MS HARF: I don’t actually know. Let me check.
QUESTION: Okay. And if it is true, do you feel that this may be a turning point in the fight against both al-Qaida affiliated or ISIS —
MS HARF: Well, again —
QUESTION: — insurgents?
MS HARF: — we can’t confirm it. If it’s true, I think it would probably be a victory for the Iraqi Security Forces, certainly. But I just don’t know yet. We’re looking into it.
QUESTION: Yeah. Since a lot of the Sunni officers basically reported to him directly and he had a great deal of influence, wouldn’t it be logical to expect that if he is gone then maybe that organization could collapse, conceivably?
MS HARF: I don’t have more analysis on this to do. I’m happy to check with our team as we get more facts here.
QUESTION: So you’re not even going to characterize his importance post the Saddam era —
MS HARF: I – yeah, I don’t have more on that.
QUESTION: — and the demise of ISIL?
MS HARF: We’re looking into it. I just – I don’t have more on that for you all today.
What else? Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Did the State Department try to enlist Sony Pictures to promote U.S. foreign policy narrative?
MS HARF: We work with a variety of – or I should say interact with or communicate with a variety of outside people and – in this country to talk to them about what our priorities are. Sometimes they come to us. But certainly, their decisions about what they produce, their content, their movies, their productions are all entirely up to them in terms of the content they produce. But we often have conversations with people inside the country about issues that are important to us.
QUESTION: There’s – WikiLeaks published emails between Richard Stengel, State Department official, and Michael Lynton, Sony CEO, and it says: “Michael, it was great to see you yesterday. As you could see, we have plenty of challenges encountering ISIL narratives in the Middle East and Russia narratives in Central and Eastern Europe, and it’s not something that the State Department can do on its own. Following up on our conversation, I’d love to convene a group of media executives who can help us think about better ways to respond to both of these large challenges. This is a conversation about ideas about content and production, about commercial possibilities. I promise you it will be interesting, fun, and rewarding. Best, Rick.”
MS HARF: Is there a question, or did you just want to do a dramatic reading of his email?
QUESTION: No, no really. Is this —
MS HARF: No, really, is there a question?
QUESTION: — the State Department trying – trying to get Sony Pictures —
MS HARF: No —
QUESTION: — to try to push —
MS HARF: Look, as we’ve said around the CVE summit —
QUESTION: — U.S. foreign policy objectives?
MS HARF: — as we’ve said around – very openly around the CVE summit, around that we talk to social media organizations, entertainment organizations, other people on the outside that aren’t affiliated with the government about our anti-ISIL efforts and about —
QUESTION: So it is a yes, basically? Is it a yes?
MS HARF: Can I finish?
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, sure. But it’s the same that you – where you answered previously.
MS HARF: Well, no, I think it’s a little ironic that you’re asking about this issue. But I will say around the CVE summit we were very clear that we talk to a host of government and nongovernmental actors about the anti-ISIL coalition. This is certainly a very, very small part of that.
QUESTION: Now with Russia too.
MS HARF: I wouldn’t sort of draw any – I wouldn’t draw any big analytical statements from this other than we’re very clear that we believe people who have platforms who can speak out against ISIL should do so. But their content, what they choose to say, what they choose to print, what they choose to make in terms of movies is obviously entirely up to them.
QUESTION: About putting ISIL and Russia —
MS HARF: And I think Sony would say the same thing.
QUESTION: About putting ISIL and Russia in one category, when former BBG chief Andrew Lack did that, you – and I mean the U.S. State Department – said that you wouldn’t put the two in one category.
MS HARF: Absolutely not. We would not.
QUESTION: From these emails, it seems that’s exactly what you did.
MS HARF: How – I didn’t hear Russia even mentioned in that email. I’m not sure how you —
QUESTION: Well, so I’m reading it again: “As you could see –
MS HARF: Was Russia mentioned in this?
QUESTION: Yes. Richard Stengel —
MS HARF: Okay.
MS HARF: Rick Stengel.
QUESTION: “As you could see, we have plenty of challenges encountering ISIL narratives in the Middle East and Russian narratives in Central and Eastern Europe.” That’s in one sentence.
MS HARF: He didn’t say they were the same thing, though. They’re different challenges. I’ve talked very publicly about the very high level of Russian propaganda that I’m sure you’re familiar with that is put out by the Russian Government to hide what they are doing in Ukraine. That is a very different thing than the anti-ISIL piece of the component here that we’ve talked about in terms of public messaging. Those are two very different things.
QUESTION: Are you saying —
MS HARF: I’ve spoken about them very differently from this podium a number of times. They’re very different challenges. You are right; there is a challenge with the extraordinary level of Russian propaganda – factually blatant lies about Russia’s doing in Eastern Ukraine. That’s one challenge for us. There’s a very separate challenge that we’ve talked about in terms of the piece of the anti-ISIL coalition that deals with their propaganda and their narrative. And they’re very different, of course, and we would in no way compare them.
QUESTION: Are you saying that the U.S. —
MS HARF: That may be shorthand in an email, but that’s certainly not how we see them.
QUESTION: Are you saying that the U.S. always tells the truth, and Russia always lies?
MS HARF: That’s not what I said. I always tell the truth when I stand up here, and we’re very clear about the fact that there is a massive level of Russian propaganda. Just this week we heard President Putin say there were no Russians in Ukraine, which there – I mean, there are photos. There is a overwhelming amount of evidence to show that is not the case. I’m not sure how you could push back on that.
QUESTION: He didn’t say there were no Russians; he said there were no Russian soldiers.
MS HARF: No Russian soldiers. Thank you for correcting me, yes.
QUESTION: Well, actually, can – more broadly, if in fact —
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I haven’t seen this email, but if in fact there is a discussion going on with Sony and potentially other company – other Hollywood –
MS HARF: Right. I don’t think that should be surprising to people.
QUESTION: No, no. I’m not surprised by it. I’m curious, though, how you think the effort is going at countering the propaganda either from –
MS HARF: Well, and just keep in mind this is a very —
QUESTION: — Russia or from ISIL?
MS HARF: — working with the entertainment industry is a very small piece of the anti-propaganda efforts. I mean, a lot of what we’ve talked about is working with religious leaders, for example, who have platforms and credibility who can speak up against ISIL’s propaganda as well. We’ve spoken very openly about this for many months. As I said, Rick Stengel is in Singapore today working on this issue.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, do you —
QUESTION: But were you surprised —
QUESTION: — think that in general that it’s working?
MS HARF: I think there are tough challenges here, and I’ve said this before: The internet is both a blessing and a curse, that terrorists can propagate their message much further and much faster than they ever have been able to before, and that’s a huge challenge. But I do think in places like Iraq you hear tribal leaders and regional leaders and local government leaders and religious leaders standing up and saying this doesn’t represent us, and we’re not going to let them take over our country. And I do think that on a daily basis you see people standing up and saying that. That’s only one piece of the coalition, though. It’s matched with military action. It’s matched with cutting of their financing and their foreign fighter flows. So this is a holistic effort that’s going to take some time.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — could I just follow up on the presence of Russian military – or Russian soldiers —
MS HARF: You can.
QUESTION: — in the Ukraine? Now you mentioned this yesterday. Do you know what the strength level of these units? Are they battalion strength, company strength, brigade strength, or individuals?
MS HARF: I can check on the numbers. I know there’s a lot – a huge number. I just don’t know what the exact number is. We do know that Russian military forces continue to operate in eastern Ukraine, and as the Secretary has said, no amount of propaganda can make true what we know blatantly to be false. So I think we are very focused on the fact that Russia can live up to its Minsk obligations here, can pull back. There is a diplomatic off-ramp here. They haven’t taken it yet, though.
QUESTION: Do they operate in combat capacity, or do they operate in an advisory kind of capacity?
MS HARF: Well, I think a couple points. Russia has sent heavy weapons to the front lines in eastern Ukraine in violation of the Minsk agreements. They have command and control elements in eastern Ukraine to coordinate military operations there. They’ve trained separatist fighters in gunnery and artillery firing. They maintain advanced surface-to-air missile systems near the front lines, also in violation of the Minsk agreement. So I think that’s a very clear picture of how active Russia is in the fight in eastern Ukraine, and I know that’s something, of course, we’ve talked about a lot.
QUESTION: How could – how could Sony Pictures and other entertainment corporations help the U.S. to counter ISIL and Russia? In what ways?
MS HARF: It’s not about helping the U.S. The anti-ISIL coalition is a global coalition that includes countries across the Middle East, Muslim countries around the world. This isn’t about the U.S. This is about people who have platforms understanding that they do have a way to counter this very hateful, very destructive, very violent propaganda. And this should in no way be surprising to people. These are just conversations that we’re having with governmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations.
QUESTION: I’m just referring to the challenges listed in this email.
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But how would – how could Sony Pictures help in that regard just specifically?
MS HARF: I’m happy for you to ask Sony their thoughts on that. As I’ve said, we have a dialogue with companies, with social media companies about the ways – the challenges as we see them —
QUESTION: Yes, but the U.S. —
MS HARF: I’m going to finish —
QUESTION: — but the State Department —
MS HARF: — my sentence and then —
QUESTION: — would expect them —
MS HARF: — I’ll take your next question.
QUESTION: — to do something. What is it?
MS HARF: No, that’s not what I said. I said we have a conversation with them about the challenges as we see them and what we are doing to counter that kind of propaganda. They have their own tools and their own decision making about how they could do that. It’s more of a conversation about the challenge, what we’re doing, and then they can do – make their own decisions about what they might do, certainly.
QUESTION: Can I just stay on Ukraine and –
MS HARF: You can.
QUESTION: — just ask about —
QUESTION: Wait. I just want one more general – and again, I’m not familiar with these emails, so I don’t know, but is there some kind of discussion that you’re aware of, or is there a discussion going on with entertainment companies like there was between the U.S. Government and filmmakers, say, like – I think it was John Ford, the Why We Fight series back in World War II, which was – I mean, is that something that’s happening?
MS HARF: Well, I’m not familiar with the details of those conversations, but certainly – I mean, we were very open around the CVE summit that we are having this conversation not just with social media companies, but other people who have public platforms and that could be entertainment organizations. I know the FBI has done some work on this in terms of inside the U.S. There’s certainly conversations that are ongoing —
QUESTION: Right, but —
MS HARF: — with a variety of nongovernmental actors.
QUESTION: But there seem – but I’m just wondering if there’s a stepped-up interest in this. I mean, your former employer, for example —
MS HARF: Which one, Matt?
QUESTION: The one over in —
QUESTION: — Langley cooperated with the – what was the name of the movie? Now I’ve forgotten. This is bad. Well, you know the – and the Pentagon cooperates with – and so —
MS HARF: But those are – I would say those are very, very different things; very, very different.
QUESTION: Well, but they do push a U.S. Government narrative, do they not?
MS HARF: Well, but I would really separate out what the State Department might do in our conversations, or the FBI or others in our conversations with people who have public platforms from anything related to the intelligence community. I want to make those – that separation very, very clear. And look, these are – certainly, we’ve stepped up our conversations with public entities since the rise of ISIL. That is true. We’ve talked about that very openly in this room, whether it’s YouTube or Twitter or other people who might have public voices here. So certainly, that’s been stepped up given the concern about ISIL and its propaganda.
QUESTION: Okay. But it’s not something you’re trying to keep secret, is it?
MS HARF: Not at all.
MS HARF: Not at all.
QUESTION: In fact, there was a movie that was basically —
QUESTION: Zero Dark Thirty, that was the name.
QUESTION: Zero Dark Thirty, and there was also the Green Berets, which the CIA basically (inaudible).
MS HARF: Again, I want to really separate out anything the State Department may do in our contact with nongovernmental organizations from anything the intelligence community might do.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: North Korea. Did you see the apparent threat by an arm of the North Korean Government toward Ambassador Lippert?
MS HARF: On the ambassador, we did.
MS HARF: We’ve seen the statement, unfortunately consistent with the nature of the regime and its rhetoric. We’ve seen statements like this before. Safety and security, obviously, of U.S. personnel is among our highest priorities. As you know, we talked about his security a lot after the previous attack on his security. The posture there hasn’t changed since then.
QUESTION: Can I go to Ukraine? I had —
MS HARF: Yes, and then I’m going to you. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. I just wondered if you could talk – I’m sorry, I’m a little bit underprepared – the – we’re reporting that there are some U.S. advisors who have landed in Ukraine to help with —
MS HARF: The National Guard training?
QUESTION: Yeah, with the National Guard training.
MS HARF: Which begins next week.
QUESTION: Okay. Could you give us some details about that?
MS HARF: Sure. The State —
QUESTION: Is that a State Department operation?
MS HARF: The State Department and the Defense Department notified Congress last summer of the Administration’s intent to provide training to the Ukrainian National Guard, using the Global Security Contingency Fund authorities. This is a joint DOD-State initiative to strengthen Ukraine’s internal defense capabilities. We’ve been doing this with Ukraine, I think, for about the last 20 years in some form or fashion, so this isn’t new. It’s a continuation of ongoing training for Ukrainian National Guard units, for internal security and territorial defense.
As I said, the training will begin next week. Approximately 290 U.S. troops will conduct the National Guard training mission at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in western Ukraine. I think the UK and Canada have also publicly announced similar training for Ukraine. And this is in line with other training we do, such as civil-military cooperation, civil emergency planning we’ve provided to Ukraine, as I said, over the last 20 years bilaterally and as a member of NATO’s partnership for peace.
QUESTION: 290 U.S. troops?
MS HARF: Approximately.
QUESTION: Is this more than you would usually send, given the situation in Ukraine at the moment?
MS HARF: Not – I don’t have all the numbers from previous iterations of this, but it doesn’t sound abnormally high to me.
QUESTION: And does it take on a different kind of —
MS HARF: Are you okay, Justin?
QUESTION: I’m concentrating, yeah.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: No, I’m good.
QUESTION: Does it take on a different kind of allure because of what’s happening in eastern Ukraine?
MS HARF: Well —
QUESTION: Do you expect them to do something different than they have done in the past?
MS HARF: Well, it really is part of our ongoing efforts here to help sustain Ukraine’s defense and internal defense operations. Again, we did this under President Yanukovych; we’ve done this, I think, for somewhat – about 20 years at this point. Obviously, there’s the reality of the situation in eastern Ukraine. So this is part of our ongoing effort, but of course, we’re all aware of the situation there.
QUESTION: Marie, are these – the Ukrainian guardsmen that are – or guard corps that are being trained, are they vetted at all?
MS HARF: They are —
QUESTION: And so —
MS HARF: — as we do human rights vetting.
QUESTION: Right. Are there any units that are not eligible to be trained because of this vetting?
MS HARF: I can check. I’m not familiar with the specifics on it.
QUESTION: There’s one brigade in particular that, at least in Russia, seems to provoke a lot of angst.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And —
MS HARF: I’m happy to check on the specifics on vetting. I just don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MS HARF: Yes.
MS HARF: Oh, sorry. And then I promise you’re next.
MS HARF: Said, so nice on a Friday.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MS HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Egypt. (Laughter.)
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you aware of reports that came out of Cairo this week that an Egyptian court has ruled police can deport foreigners they suspect of being gay? And this is in particular reference to a case of a Libyan man who was ordered to return to Libya, and he’s not allowed to return back into the country. And there’s obviously a lot of LGBT human rights issues going on in Libya with ISIS and everything.
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: Are you aware of that at all?
MS HARF: I hadn’t seen those reports, and I’m sorry about that. Let me check with our team. Obviously, that sounds like something that would be very concerning to us. We’ve spoken out very publicly about similar situations in other countries, and I’m sorry I don’t have the details. So I’ll check for you.
QUESTION: And just as an add-on to that too, this is certainly the latest of a long series of examples of Egypt’s LGBT rights record. Has the Secretary – I know he was in Sharm el-Sheikh recently and met with representatives of the Egyptian Government, including President Sisi. Has he had any more specific conversations about human rights and LGBT rights specifically since Sharm el-Sheikh?
MS HARF: Since – let me check on that.
MS HARF: I’m sorry. I know he’s spoken to Foreign Minister Shoukry a couple times. As you know, he’s really spoken out about this issue in a number of meetings, whether it’s with African heads of state or foreign ministers or other places. So let me just check for you —
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: — and I will let you know.
QUESTION: All right.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yemen? Okay.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the envoy to Yemen, the UN envoy, resigned —
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — Jamal Benomar, and the name that is being sort of considered is Ismail Ould Cheikh, who is really – his expertise is in humanitarian and development and so on. Does that tell you that maybe the direction of the UN is less political from now – this point on and more humanitarian?
MS HARF: Well, we look forward to an appointment of his successor. I know that hasn’t moved forward officially yet. This is a UN process, so I’m not going to get ahead of that or speculate on possible successors.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m asking about the principle. If that is the case, if they focus on a guy who’s —
MS HARF: Well, I just said I’m not going to speculate given we don’t have a successor yet.
QUESTION: Okay. But do you feel – let me ask you this: I mean, in principle, would you like to see someone who is political because it is a political mission, much like Syria and Iraq and so on —
MS HARF: I just don’t have criteria to outline for you. There are a variety of people, I’m sure, that could play important roles here. I just don’t have more to outline for you.
QUESTION: Okay, but then – but also the secretary general called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and that everyone should be involved. But the message from the Saudi-led coalition is that they are going on with their mission and basically want —
MS HARF: Well, they’re responding to the Houthi aggression.
QUESTION: How are they responding to the Houthi aggression? Are the Houthis attacking Saudi Arabia?
MS HARF: The Houthis – I mean, you’re aware of the history over the last month, Said, of what the Houthis did.
QUESTION: Right. I certainly am, yes.
MS HARF: Right.
MS HARF: I don’t think we need to relive all of it, but the Saudis are responding to what was blatant Houthi aggression, taking over parts of the country, large parts of the country, pushing the government physically out. I mean, I think you’re aware of the history here.
QUESTION: Right. I am. Do you agree that maybe the Saudi interference is somewhat foreign interference and not local?
MS HARF: We’re supporting the Saudi in the GCC-led efforts here.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. Thank you.
MS HARF: What else?
QUESTION: On Syria, President Assad has denied the Human Rights Watch reports about his use of chemical weapons in some cities in Syria lately. Do you have anything on this?
MS HARF: Well, we saw those reports. These are just, I think, the latest denials of his that are really not credible, sort of bordered on delusion. We have a lot of evidence about what’s happening here, not just in this most recent attack, but certainly before that. So —
QUESTION: And how will you react to his use of chemical weapons?
MS HARF: Well, as we’ve said, we are looking very closely, particularly into the latest one, are considering next steps. We can’t confirm all the details. There’s an investigation ongoing. But we know this has been going on for some time, certainly, and we will get all the facts and determine what our next steps will be.
QUESTION: But these allegations speak of ammonium chloride, which is really available on the open market, commercially available to everyone.
MS HARF: So – right.
QUESTION: It could conceivably be used by other groups, correct?
MS HARF: Chlorine – well —
QUESTION: Chlorine, right.
MS HARF: Chlorine, right, can be used, obviously, in a variety of ways. It can be used as a chemical weapon. I would note that in the past, the OPCW has determined that this was delivered from helicopters. And we’ve said in the past that only the Syrian military possesses the capability to use helicopters in such attacks. So we don’t have all the facts about this latest one yet, but even if it’s chlorine, there are ways that only the Assad regime could use it, and that’s what we’ve seen in the past.
QUESTION: The Syrian president also accused Turkey of sabotaging effort to bring about ceasefires in Aleppo. Can you comment on that? Are you aware of that?
MS HARF: It’s the Assad regime that bears the overwhelming responsibility for the humanitarian disaster in Syria and in the region, and Assad often presents this false choice between his regime and terrorist groups like ISIL. And that’s certainly not how we see it. I just – I’m not giving a lot of credence to his comments given his actions over the last many, many months.
QUESTION: So would you agree that Turkey is not helping to bring about or to stem the violence in Syria?
MS HARF: I would say very clearly, as we’ve said, that Turkey is a key member of the anti-ISIL coalition. We work very closely with them as a NATO ally and partner on this and other issues.
QUESTION: Although most foreign fighters go through the Turkish border?
MS HARF: And they are taking a number of steps to crack down on their border given the fact that they know that’s an issue.
QUESTION: Marie, does the redline still exist?
MS HARF: Can you please expand your question?
QUESTION: When the President drew the redline to the Syrian regime because he used the chemical weapons, and after the agreement with Russia to take out —
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — the chemical weapons, is the redline still there or not?
MS HARF: I think that’s a rhetorical question that’s not really based in substance. As we said at the time, the President was willing to undertake military action in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. Instead, we were able to negotiate an agreement where we were able to get the – all of the declared chemical weapons out of Syria, which, to be fair, military action would not have done. And without the threat of military action, we don’t think we would have been able to get that diplomatic resolution at that time. So we were very clear when they have used chemical weapons in the past that we would take action. That’s why we threatened the use of military force, that’s why we negotiated an agreement to get all of their declared weapons out, and that’s why we take all of these allegations very seriously.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On Cuba, if we could go there.
MS HARF: Jumping around today.
QUESTION: Yeah, let’s jump around. The – you’ve seen that some members of Congress have threatened to not fund a U.S. embassy in Cuba. Is that something they can even do? I’ve heard that that’s —
MS HARF: We already have an interests section there.
QUESTION: Right. So is there a way that – because I’ve – somebody was telling me that this may not be possible, but is there a way that Congress could sort of intervene with funding, screw things up with —
MS HARF: I’m happy to check with our legislative team. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: And if there is, could you tell us exactly what it is, so that they know what to do? (Laughter.)
MS HARF: Right, I will be sure to outline that for everyone.
QUESTION: Any other foreign policy initiatives, the one thing that could ruin them, we’d be happy to – (laughter).
MS HARF: I will say that, as you know, we already have an interests section there —
MS HARF: — and that having a presence on the ground does a number of things, including help American citizens who may be there. So obviously, we believe it’s important to have a diplomatic representation there, mainly – for the most part to help our citizens, but also to promote our interests and values.
QUESTION: Any update —
QUESTION: Right, and now let’s go to the step-by-step way Congress can destroy an Iran nuclear deal. (Laughter.) Have you —
MS HARF: Happy Friday, everyone.
QUESTION: Any date on – update on when the talks – next round of Cuba talks might be?
QUESTION: Hey – yeah.
MS HARF: I – oh, Cuba. No.
QUESTION: No, I’m serious. I want to go to Iran.
MS HARF: Okay, that’s fine.
QUESTION: Yeah, but I just wanted to ask —
MS HARF: I know you’re serious. I always think you’re serious.
QUESTION: — just ask the question at this moment.
MS HARF: We do not, no.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS HARF: Matthew.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: You may have seen that following former Secretaries Shultz and Kissinger’s piece about the nuclear deal, that former Secretary Baker has also joined in expressing concern.
MS HARF: I did see that today, yes.
QUESTION: I —
MS HARF: He also expressed some positive things about what we were doing.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: But on his concerns specifically – and I won’t go through them – they’re similar to what Kissinger and Shultz said. But I’m just wondering, do you – now that you have three former secretaries of state coming out and expressing these concerns, do you accept any of them?
MS HARF: Well, I certainly think, Matt, that we agree with the premise that I think has been in both of those pieces, that we need to have a more – a regional security strategy. And we do, and I think that’s why you see the GCC heads of state coming here in May, why we have done an enormous amount of outreach to the GCC countries, also to the Israelis about doing even more for their security if there are ways to do that. So we certainly agree with the premise I think they posited in some of these pieces about having a regional security strategy, and that’s why we do and that’s why we’re working on this.
When it comes to the actual nuclear agreement, we also agree that there’s a lot of work to do over the next three months – or two and a half months, I guess, at this point – on some of the details, and that the details really matter. And that’s why I think you’ve heard Secretary Kerry saying if we can’t get agreement on every crossed T and dotted I we need, we’re not going to get an agreement.
QUESTION: So it —
MS HARF: So I think we certainly agree with the fact that there is work to do over the next two and a half months. This is not a final agreement yet.
QUESTION: Okay. So it sounds as though you’re not as – well, you’re not as —
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: That you accept the general ideas that they’re putting out.
MS HARF: Well, I think there are certainly things – and I’m not going line by line in the pieces either – but certainly things that they raise that we also care very deeply about. And we believe that the way we’re going about this, by dealing with the nuclear issue, separately dealing with the regional security piece, and how we’re going about trying to get to our bottom line is the best course of action.
QUESTION: Okay. Now on the regional security strategy —
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — which you say the Administration has —
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — the security of the Middle East right now is not particularly good.
MS HARF: Well, when we talk about the regional security strategy, we mainly talk about protecting the Gulf states and Israel from – if we talk about reassuring them from Iran when it comes to ballistic missiles or other things like that. So when it comes to the regional security piece in our defense of their countries, I think that’s what we more specifically refer to here —
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MS HARF: — when we talk about reassurance of the Gulf countries.
QUESTION: So Syria being embroiled in civil war and Yemen being the mess that it is —
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — don’t count as part of —
MS HARF: It’s not that they don’t count, but two things I would say – first of all, given the instability in many parts of the region, that’s why we believe it’s even more important to get a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue; I’d say point A there. But point B is when we talk about the reassurance piece it’s for the countries you’ve often asked me about, whether it’s Israel, whether it’s the UAE, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, whether it’s other countries in the Gulf —
MS HARF: — talking to them about what U.S. military assets are there that can reassure them that we are there to help or other things we can provide to them.
MS HARF: It’s just a more limited —
QUESTION: Oh, I understand. But I think when —
MS HARF: — when I – yeah.
QUESTION: — you refer to a regional – the Administration having —
MS HARF: It’s shorthand for the Gulf security strategy that we’ve talked about.
MS HARF: And I would put Israel in this – in the same category.
QUESTION: Okay. But, I mean, Yemen borders the GCC countries and —
MS HARF: That’s correct. And Yemen is a —
QUESTION: — and the Iranians have been accused of —
MS HARF: — huge problem. And we —
QUESTION: — and the Iranians have been accused of nefarious activity in Bahrain.
MS HARF: Right. But you know what we’re talking about when we talk about the Gulf reassurance piece specifically, I think, because DOD’s talked about this at great length when it comes to the – the ways that particularly the U.S. military but others can reassure them of the security piece. I think you’re aware of some of those details.
QUESTION: Well, I am.
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: But I just don’t get why – how you can separate out Iraq, Syria, and Yemen from —
MS HARF: Well, we’re not separating it out, but —
QUESTION: — the broader region and say that —
MS HARF: Well, we’re not separating it out. But when we talk about the reassurance piece for our partners in the region, what – mainly we get asked from you all a lot of questions about the UAE or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Qatar, any of these other countries. That’s why we talk about, in general, the Gulf reassurance piece that we are doing with them, with the Israelis, and then all the other issues in the region we’re trying to deal with.
QUESTION: But I think some people would make the argument that the Saudis, that the GCC, and particularly the Israelis are not reassured.
MS HARF: Well, that’s why we’re taking all these steps to do so, Matt, and to first, on the one hand, be very clear with them about the assets and the ways we are willing to support them directly, whether that’s with Israel, all the ways we give them assistance from the security perspective, whether it’s with the Gulf states – we do this in a number of ways —
QUESTION: I —
MS HARF: — and at the same time that we’re working on Iraq, on Syria, on Yemen. These are very difficult challenges.
QUESTION: I get that. But the problem is that the reassurance seems to be – your reassurance policy seems to be threatened, at least, or hurt in their eyes by the Iran negotiations and the emerging deal. Because none of —
MS HARF: Well, I think you’re conflating a few issues here, though. I think you’re conflating some things. When we talk about the Iran nuclear negotiations and reassuring our partners and allies in the region of what we are willing to do to help their security, I think that is a very robust conversation. It’s been going on for a long time in this Administration.
QUESTION: I get that. But —
MS HARF: And I do think they see that a little not separately from Syria, but that they know we are doing all these things in other areas to reassure them of their territorial and their security at home.
QUESTION: Well, that’s fine. But they’re worried and they’re not reassured by the —
MS HARF: And we’re worried about that too. But these are just different —
QUESTION: — by the —
MS HARF: — a little different conversations. I think you’re —
QUESTION: But I – well, no. I get what you’re saying. The problem is that —
MS HARF: I’m not sure you do.
QUESTION: — that a reassurance of protecting Saudi or the Gulf —
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — states or the Israelis on their home turf gets diminished or in their eyes gets diminished if by the emerging Iran nuclear deal, which they, in particular Prime Minister Netanyahu —
MS HARF: Which is why we are taking all these steps to reassure them. That’s what I’m saying.
QUESTION: Yeah. But then you think it’s working? Because —
MS HARF: I think that we’re having the conversation. I think the President is bringing the heads of state to Washington.
MS HARF: I think the Secretary’s going to be meeting with foreign ministers.
MS HARF: I think we are having a number of conversations with the Israelis. We are doing everything we can to say —
MS HARF: — we understand your concerns, here are all the ways we’ve already been supporting you, here are all the additional things we’re going to do.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, the problem is that they don’t seem to —
MS HARF: I’m not sure what else I can say to your questions, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you think that it has worked to date? Because they —
MS HARF: Why don’t you ask them?
QUESTION: Well, they come out and talk about it all the time, I believe.
MS HARF: Then go ask them. That’s fine.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: May I just turn – may I turn Matt’s question slightly on – slightly around another way? What is it about the emerging deal, or if you get a deal, that you feel will change the situation in the Middle East so that other countries can feel assured of their own security?
MS HARF: Well, I wouldn’t exactly make the causal linkage in that way. I would say a few things. First, if we can imagine the destabilizing role Iran is playing in the region today, imagine what they – the power they would be able to project if they had a nuclear weapon. So we’ve said that, that think about – you’re concerned already; well, think about if they could project even more power. That’s certainly a key piece of it. And if we could resolve this diplomatically and not have to use other means to resolve this, which would undoubtedly roil the region in even more turmoil, I think they understand that diplomacy is the best way to handle this.
Now when it – there is a reassurance piece here, and we know that. That’s why the President’s bringing the GCC leaders here, it’s why we’re meeting with them, it’s why there are all these conversations, because we know they’re worried. This is their backyard; this is their neighborhood. We know that. But there are things we can do to reassure them of our capabilities and what we can do to help them feel more secure. I think you’ll be hearing more about specifics in the coming days and weeks. Quite frankly, as the GCC countries come here, as we talk more to the Israelis, I think you’ll see more of those specifics. It’s incredibly important to us, though.
QUESTION: But there is an argument from some that say that getting an Iran deal only emboldens Iran further in its ambitions across the Middle East.
MS HARF: So what would the alternative be?
QUESTION: Well, this is your regional security strategy.
MS HARF: Well, but – look, diplomacy – there are only a variety of ways you can resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. There’s diplomacy, which is the most durable, gives us the most transparency, and actually is the least disruptive in terms of regional stability that’s already quite threatened. There are other ways we have of dealing with this issue, some of which my colleagues at the Defense Department and elsewhere have talked about, that would be much more destabilizing and not as durable and not give us any transparency.
QUESTION: So you’re not going to —
MS HARF: So if the Israelis and the Gulf countries want to have eyes-on access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, if they want to have IAEA access, if they want to know what’s going on in there, you want a diplomatic agreement, because that’s how you get it. That’s how you push them to a year of breakout from today two to three months. That’s how you get more security.
QUESTION: But how do rein in other ambitions, which are actually dealt with by other sections of the Iranian leadership?
MS HARF: That’s true. That’s why I was saying to Matt they’re a little – they’re not totally separate but they’re a little separate. There are a variety of ways we have of countering that, whether it’s through sanctions on other issues, whether it’s by working with our regional partners to shore up their own security – like the Lebanese Armed Forces, for example, if you’re looking at a threat like Hizballah. So we have ways of countering them in a variety of different countries in a variety of different ways.
QUESTION: On the other side of that, do you feel that actually their reaction was less – in terms of opposing it, less vociferous than was anticipated before the framework agreement? Because that’s —
MS HARF: Look – well, I think two things. I think people were surprised – pleasantly, many of them – by the number of details we were able to put out and by the assurances we have already been able to get. But I do think what I said to Jo remains, that this is their neighborhood. They are right there. This is a very serious situation. Not only do they have Iran but, Matt’s right, they have Syria, they have Yemen, they have Libya. So they look around the region and it’s a pretty scary place at times, right. So we understand that, and that’s why we are undertaking all these steps in a variety of ways to reassure them.
QUESTION: Marie, you talk about sanctions —
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — but we all know that the sanctions didn’t prevent Iran from making progress in its nuclear program.
MS HARF: That wasn’t really the intention of them. It was to change their calculation to get them back to the negotiating table. But you’re absolutely right that people who say putting on more sanctions will make them not move their nuclear program forward is just at odds with the entire history of the Iranian nuclear program. You’re absolutely right.
QUESTION: But if you want to counter Iran influence in the Middle East through sanctions, maybe it won’t work too.
MS HARF: Well, we have sanctions in place on Iran for other issues, like its support for terrorism. Also, many of the ways they are destabilizing the region actually don’t take all that much money. So they’re able to today, under incredibly strict sanctions, still do what they’re doing in Yemen, still do what they’re doing in Lebanon. So it’s not always a one-to-one comparison here.
QUESTION: Well, except that they get billions and billions of more dollars than they’ll be —
MS HARF: Well, I think a —
QUESTION: — or they’ll be able to do that much more —
MS HARF: Well, a couple things. I think analysts who look at the Iranian economy understand that the access to their reserves they might be able to get under a final agreement, given the state of their economy and given that the Iranian leadership is so focused on rebuilding that would have to go to that, or else they would – that’s what their people have said they want out of a nuclear agreement, is fixing their economy at home. They do what they do in the region under sanctions or not, so I think that – look, the sanctions were put in place to get to the diplomatic table. They were put in place to get an agreement, and if we get an agreement, I mean, we’ve been all been clear that they would under a final agreement be able to be suspended.
QUESTION: But I presume that you would say that even one dollar more that they spend to destabilize is bad.
MS HARF: Absolutely, and we have ways of countering any – even then, we would have ways of countering their support to terrorist organizations through sanctions. So even if they took that money and were to use it for any of these nefarious things, we still would have ways of countering that.
QUESTION: Of course, you – one way to counter it would be not to give it to them in the first place. Right?
MS HARF: Well, Matt, these sanctions were put in place explicitly by Congress to get Iran to the negotiating table. And they said at the time if we can get a final agreement, that would – there would be a mechanism for lifting them. So you can’t then change the rules.
QUESTION: Congress can. That’s what they do.
QUESTION: Can you explain – and it’s a pretty basic question – why there are three U.S. officials who are experts on sanctions taking part in next week’s meetings in Vienna? What —
MS HARF: They’re always the same people. They take place in every round.
QUESTION: Well, it’s – is there something specific about what they’re doing now that there is this agreement?
MS HARF: No. They’re the same people who’ve been part of our delegation all along.
QUESTION: And – I guess what I’m looking at – because the Iranians have kept saying, “We want relief immediately. We want to sign this deal.”
MS HARF: Right.
QUESTION: “We need this relief” – is there going to be a change in the agenda that these officials are having with their Iranian counterparts?
MS HARF: No. I mean, there’s a number of nuclear experts going next week too. If you take a look at the delegation list, this is the same delegation we’ve been sending to every round. There’s a lot of nuclear technical issues that need to get worked out as well. There’s a huge sanctions piece too, that is true, but as we go forward, we’re going to see a lot of technical experts really be engaged in this – a lot.
QUESTION: But I guess – I guess I’m just fundamentally confused, because so much before the achievement of this deal was focused on if we get this deal, then we’ll spend the rest of the time working on the technical issues —
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — the scientific issues.
MS HARF: Technical, both nuclear and sanctions. Technical doesn’t just cover the science, it covers the Security Council resolution and the snapback. Technical covers all of those pieces, not just the nuclear technical issues.
QUESTION: Well, if the sanctions already exist, what is there to discuss? Is it simply explaining to the Iranians, “These are the things that you need to do in order to have them removed”?
MS HARF: That’s —
QUESTION: I mean, I would think they have their own lawyers who could look at these sanctions and explain them.
MS HARF: And I’m sure their delegation list will include their own lawyers as well. Look, there’s the pace and scope of sanctions relief, and the sanctions are quite complicated. I’ve learned a lot about these – the U.S. sanctions and the UN sanctions – over the past many months now. They’re quite complicated, and how you begin to suspend what that is in response to what they need to do, what then we do, how that works, what snapback looks like – those are all just very technical conversations, many of which we’ve already had, some of which we still need to work out the details on.
MS HARF: Yeah, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date as to payments made to Iran involving unfrozen Iranian assets? When was the last one, how much it was for, how many there’ve been in all —
MS HARF: Say that again. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on the status of payments made to Iran involving unfrozen Iranian assets?
MS HARF: Right. As part of the Joint Plan of Action that we put into place in January of 2014, there is monthly installments of their assets that they have overseas that are unfrozen for them. The Treasury Department manages that. I’m sure they can get you the latest, but they’ve been going forward on a regular basis since then.
QUESTION: Are these releases of frozen Iranian funds linked in any way to court cases, sometimes involving judgments awarded, where U.S. citizens have sought reparations from the Iranian regime for terrorist attacks and the like?
MS HARF: Not at all, and we’ve never said they are. These are Iranian assets frozen overseas. On the hostage issue, we’re committed to working with members of Congress to explore options for providing the former hostages with additional compensation consistent with our regulations, our foreign policy. We believe the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013 aims to achieve these goals. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee by unanimous bipartisan vote favorably reported the bill on June 25th, 2013, so there’s a bill out there.
We’re continuing to work with Congress on these issues, but we’ve always said that there are – every issue is separate from the nuclear issue, that we don’t tie the nuclear issue to resolution of any other issue with Iran, because let’s say you can’t get a nuclear agreement. We wouldn’t want to not be able to resolve the other issues.
QUESTION: And why didn’t the Obama Administration make it a point to link the Iranian assets —
MS HARF: I think I just made that clear in my answer.
QUESTION: Okay. So secondly —
MS HARF: I guessed your next question that was coming.
QUESTION: So Helen Gao, State Department contract interpreter, is now under investigation for alleged contact with Chinese intelligence agents. Was State Department aware of the FBI investigation, and does she still work at State?
MS HARF: I think as I told you in an email earlier, I can check into it. Personnel issues are tricky, obviously. I have no idea. I’m happy to check for you.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a quick question on the Palestinian issue?
MS HARF: You can.
QUESTION: Okay. There was a meeting today between the European and American consul generals with the Palestinian prime minister to discuss the financial situation. The Israelis are holding 1.7 billion shekels, or $500 million. But they’re saying that the American consul general suggested that there may be a resolution in the next 24 hours. Are you aware of anything like this?
MS HARF: I’m not going to get into our private conversations. We want there to be a resolution as soon as possible, Said.
QUESTION: In the event that the funds are not released and they continue to be frozen and more funds are frozen, is there any sort of – like the old days, when you guys used to have a waiver with the government —
MS HARF: “The old days.”
QUESTION: I mean before, let’s say, a year ago or so —
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: — when the President had a waiver of some sort to infuse some funds into the PA and save it from collapse as has happened in the past. Is there anything of the sort this time around?
MS HARF: I haven’t heard anything, Said. We think this just needs to be resolved.
MS HARF: And there’s mechanism to do so.
Yes, go ahead. And then Abigail, and then —
QUESTION: Turkish foreign minister is coming to town tomorrow. Is there any meeting with Secretary Kerry during —
MS HARF: I expect they will meet at some point. I don’t have a schedule update for you, though.
MS HARF: Well, let’s go to Abigail first.
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Going back to the blast in Erbil.
MS HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Were there any Americans injured or killed in the blast that were not Embassy staff that you’re aware of?
MS HARF: I said we – I’ve seen reports that there were other casualties that were not chief of mission personnel. We just can’t confirm them at the time.
QUESTION: You can’t say – you don’t know if there were Americans or not, though?
MS HARF: I haven’t seen – we don’t even know if they’re true.
MS HARF: I haven’t heard that there are, candidly, other Americans, but the facts are still coming out.
QUESTION: But what about —
QUESTION: Do you know —
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I don’t expect you to have a comment on this because it’s happened while you were out briefing, but according to this site, website, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. Had you heard anything about that possibility?
MS HARF: I had not. That’s why I told you we have no details on who’s responsible. I mean, it wouldn’t be surprising, but I can’t confirm that.
QUESTION: What about the number of the injured. I mean, do you have a figure, like 20?
MS HARF: I think I just said I —
QUESTION: Somebody said —
MS HARF: — can’t confirm —
QUESTION: Yeah, so —
MS HARF: — any of the other casualties.
QUESTION: There were reports when it first happened that there was shooting. Was there any indication that there was more than one attacker storming the consulate or anything like that?
MS HARF: All I have here is that the IED exploded outside of the consulate. I don’t have those reports here. That may have been the local authorities that responded. I’m just guessing.
QUESTION: Is there an IED, or is it a booby-trapped car?
MS HARF: It was vehicle-borne.
MS HARF: So VBIED.
QUESTION: Can I just – on Iraq, sorry.
MS HARF: Yeah, and then I’m going to you next. I promise.
QUESTION: And just a quick one. You might not be able to give us anything on it, but the Iraqi authorities are saying they’re going to test the body of a man who was killed in clashes in Salahuddin province today who may be Izzat Ibrahim.
QUESTION: Did you ask about that?
QUESTION: I didn’t. Someone else did.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: You were (inaudible).
QUESTION: It’s – the identity of this guy.
QUESTION: You can’t confirm al-Douri – that al-Douri has been killed?
MS HARF: No, I cannot.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry, apologize.
MS HARF: It’s okay. It’s okay.
Go ahead, yes.
QUESTION: There are reports I think coming out from KRG health ministry that I think one U.S. national and a Turkish national wounded, but not part of the mission, I think. And —
MS HARF: The one U.S. citizen is what? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: It – was injured as the result of Erbil blast.
MS HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: So – okay. The other thing —
MS HARF: Thanks for asking again.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday Iraqi prime minister at the reception, U.S. Chamber of Commerce reception —
MS HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — said that as a result of the empowering U.S. bilateral trade, bilateral with Iraq, they will change the regulations for the U.S. citizens when they apply for the visas. Is there anything —
MS HARF: I hadn’t heard of anything new on that. Let me check with our team.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there anything discussed with the State Department regarding (inaudible) —
MS HARF: I honestly haven’t heard, so let me check. I know it’s an issue we obviously are always working on, but I haven’t heard of anything new, so I’ll check.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS HARF: What else? Yes.
QUESTION: On Azerbaijan, you had a statement yesterday about the conviction of human rights activist Rasul Jafarov —
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — saying you were deeply troubled by that conviction in an apparent politically-motivated case —
MS HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — and it’s a setback for democracy. But beyond this, given this ongoing crackdown on civil society, is the U.S. doing anything to hold Azerbaijan accountable for this kind of thing?
MS HARF: Well, I think we make clear our disappointment. I think there have been times where we have raised these cases. I don’t have anything specific for you on that. But certainly we make clear our position on these.
QUESTION: The Azerbaijan Government has reacted with the oh-so-unpredictable complaint that this is interference in its internal affairs – that your statement from yesterday is. I’m assuming you do not agree. Is that correct?
MS HARF: I stand by the statement, yes.
QUESTION: But do you have a response to the Azerbaijan Government?
MS HARF: I don’t. I don’t.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) also a follow-up. On the official Azerbaijan newspaper today they ran a front-page editorial accusing President Obama and Secretary Kerry of pursuing a pro-Armenian policy and trying to destabilize the region. I sent you all a link. So what is your reaction to this, and how do you define your relations? It’s a strategic partnership?
MS HARF: I actually haven’t seen the link. I’m happy to take a look at it. And look, we are very clear when we speak up about our concerns about human rights someplace. And attempting to blame us for things or turn the tables on the United States is really just a distraction from their own situation, which we have been very concerned about in terms of the human rights there. So I just – I think we’re very clear when we disagree on human rights issues, and I don’t have much more for you than that.
What else? Anything else?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS HARF: Happy Friday, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)
DPB # 65
12:28 p.m. EDT