Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: August 12, 2014
1:49 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a few items at the top.
First, on Libya, we strongly condemn today’s assassination of Tripoli’s police chief, Colonel Mahmed Sweissi. We are deeply concerned – or Mohammed Sweissi, excuse me. We are deeply concerned by ongoing violence in Libya. Colonel Sweissi was widely seen as a committed public servant. His murder and the senseless acts of violence against other officials, activists, and citizens throughout Libya threatens to undermine the aspirations for which the Libyan people have sacrificed so much. As we’ve said many times, violence will not solve Libya’s problems. We urge dialogue and compromise to build a free, prosperous, and democratic Libya.
And then a travel update: On August 12th, Secretary Kerry and Defense Secretary Hagel met with Australian Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston for the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial – or AUSMIN – consultations to discuss ways in which we can expand and deepen our alliance cooperation in the Asia Pacific region and globally. The highlight of this year’s meetings was the signing of the U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement, which was announced by President Obama and Prime Minister Abbott on June 12th in Washington. The new FPA provides the foundation for force posture initiatives in Australia. This long-term agreement on rotational deployment of U.S. Marines in Darwin and American airmen in northern Australia will broaden and deepen our alliance’s contributions to regional security and advance America’s ongoing strategic rebalance in the Asia Pacific.
Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel, Foreign Minister Bishop, and Defense Minister Johnston had robust discussions of global issues as well, including conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and the situation in eastern Ukraine, and of course, our joint efforts in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: So I see the President spoke today with the Canadian prime minister on Iraq. It made me wonder what kind of regional dialogues the United States is having with other partners in the Mideast on how other states in the Mideast can assist militarily or with humanitarian aid to what’s happening.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re having a number of conversations, and to be fair, those conversations have been ongoing. Obviously, one I’d note is the Brits, as you know, who have now also provided – began providing humanitarian aid. We’ve also talked to a number of partners about financial contributions and would note generous financial contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, the EU, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and others already in response. So obviously, we are talking to many of our partners on the humanitarian side and the financial side particularly about how we can all bring more resources to bear here.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering, aside from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, if there are other partners in the Mideast. Particularly, has anybody expressed any willingness to assist militarily with the Government of Iraq or even the Kurds, or what kind of – if not boots on the ground, personnel on the ground, people on the ground?
MS. HARF: I can check with our team here and see if those discussions have been happening. We’ve had discussions with Iraq’s neighbors over the past several weeks and months, I’d say, particularly on the refugee issue and on the foreign fighter issue as well. So these are conversations we’ve had for a while. I can check and see, Lara – and it’s a good question – if there are updates on the military or security assistance piece.
QUESTION: Thank you. Were you aware of the report in Der Spiegel today that apparently some Iranian planes have landed in the Kurdish region with arms and ammunition?
MS. HARF: I am and I’ve seen them, and we can’t confirm them one way or the other at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. And did you get any update from my question yesterday on when was the last time somebody from the U.S. Government spoke with Prime Minister Maliki?
MS. HARF: I believe it was yesterday. We’re not going to outline all the details of who talks to who, but I believe we did have contact with him yesterday.
QUESTION: Okay. And can you – you can’t give us any readout on what the —
MS. HARF: I —
QUESTION: — nature of the conversation was or —
MS. HARF: I don’t have more of a readout for you on that.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can we follow up on one thing on Maliki, please?
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I had asked if you had – if the U.S. Government had played any role whatsoever in the selection of Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi, and you very clearly said no. Have you seen today’s Daily Beast story which claims – which cites U.S. officials as saying that they had pushed for Maliki for days, weeks? And it suggests maybe – suggests that an effort to oust Maliki had been underway since June. Is there any truth to that report?
MS. HARF: There is not. As I have said multiple times from this podium, this is up for the Iraqis to decide. Of course, we’ve had conversations with them as they’ve gone through this process, but quite frankly, for a number of years, not just in this Iraqi election but in the last one, there were a number of rumors and conspiracy theories about the U.S. role. I would squarely put this report in that category. As I said yesterday, this was a decision for the Iraqis and solely for the Iraqis to decide.
QUESTION: And are you getting the impression that you are getting more cooperation from your allies in the Gulf vis-a-vis Iraq now that an alternative to Prime Minister Maliki has been settled on?
MS. HARF: Well, cooperation in what way? Because certainly on the refugee and humanitarian side, they have, quite frankly, for a while been very concerned about the humanitarian situation and the possibility of refugees and foreign fighters as well. So I don’t think that’s a new concern. I do think that there are a number of partners in the region who want Iraq’s government to govern more inclusively. And so I certainly think that’s a part of it, but I don’t think the two are necessarily linked.
QUESTION: I ask because Secretary Kerry made clear that the U.S. Government could do a number of things with the new government and I therefore wonder if that sentiment is echoed among Iraq’s neighbors and any other close U.S. allies.
MS. HARF: Well, you’d have to ask them. I do think that broadly speaking, all of us are partners. We certainly know that the only way to fight ISIL going forward here is that it requires an inclusive Iraqi Government to be formed quickly. And as that happens, as the Secretary said, we certainly are looking at ways we can do even more to help.
QUESTION: And one more. Are you getting any greater cooperation from allies such as Kuwait, which the Treasury Department recently – I mean, they essentially said that the Kuwaiti Government needed to do more to try to crack down on financing of ISIL, and it identified, I think, three Kuwaiti citizens who were designated for having done so. Are you getting any more cooperation from them on that?
MS. HARF: I know it’s something we work with them and other governments on that there are private citizens in some of these countries who have been providing monetary support. We’re certainly very worried about it. And I think quite frankly, countries like Kuwait are increasingly realizing this is – could also be a threat to them. So it’s an ongoing conversation. I don’t have anything to update, but I’m happy to see if there is anything else to say.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Maliki very —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, and then we’ll go to you, Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly. Given that you said that you’re not aware of any more U.S. Government contacts with him in the last —
MS. HARF: Since yesterday.
QUESTION: — since yesterday, is there a concern —
MS. HARF: There may have been, though.
MS. HARF: It’s constant communication on the ground in Baghdad.
QUESTION: Right. Is there a concern given his decision to move troops into the green zone over the weekend that he may try yet again to resist what the U.S. considers the orderly transition according to the Iraqi constitution?
MS. HARF: Well, I —
QUESTION: And how worried is the U.S. about this?
MS. HARF: I would note that today Prime Minister Maliki said in remarks that the security forces should not get involved in this matter and should focus on defending the country. Again, we’ll see what happens going forward, but there’s a process that’s been playing out. We never thought it would be without complication. We never thought it would be easy. These things often aren’t. But there is a process that has hit the benchmarks. It’s continued to move forward. And we’ll listen to what he said today and go from here.
QUESTION: And then very quickly, the status of those U.S. diplomats who had to be moved from Erbil temporarily, are they still —
MS. HARF: And some were moved in. As I said yesterday, we’re adjusting staffing, so if we move some people out, we might move other people in. We moved in a DART team over the weekend, a Disaster Assistance Response Team, to help with the humanitarian situation. So a lot of it is really about readjusting is a more appropriate term.
QUESTION: But for the people who had been moved out, is —
MS. HARF: I don’t believe they’ve moved back yet.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Some of them are working out of Amman, where we have a contingent of people working on Iraq. Some are working out of Basra.
MS. HARF: I believe some also may be working out of Baghdad. But we’re basically shuffling people around where we have a need and what makes the most sense security-wise.
QUESTION: And perhaps you answered this yesterday, but what is the practical impact not so much on U.S. citizens, but on Iraqis who might need to do business in Erbil with the consulate there?
MS. HARF: The consulate is open, functioning. We believe it’s important to do so. That’s part of the reason the President ordered the military action we’ve seen to protect Erbil.
QUESTION: Can I ask just very quickly, are you aware of reports of a bomb that may have gone off in the last hour or so near Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi’s house?
MS. HARF: I am not. I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: I will check as soon as I get off of the podium.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Marie —
MS. HARF: His house in Baghdad?
MS. HARF: I’ll check.
QUESTION: Iran has endorsed Iraq’s new prime minister-designate. How do you view this statement from Iran?
MS. HARF: Well, we encourage any country to encourage the Iraqis to form an inclusive government as soon as possible to govern inclusively. That’s been our position all along, and so, obviously, we would welcome any statements to that effect.
QUESTION: And have you been in discussion with the Iranians regarding the situation in Iraq?
MS. HARF: We have not. We have not.
QUESTION: And last week during the meeting between the U.S. delegation and the Iranians, have you discussed Iran?
MS. HARF: Have we discussed Iraq?
QUESTION: Iraq, sorry.
MS. HARF: To my knowledge it was not raised in the way that it had been raised previously on the sidelines of the P5+1 round. It may have been brought up in casual conversation, but it was not discussed in a substantive way.
QUESTION: And a follow-up question on Roz’s question, too, regarding al-Maliki. To what extent you are confident that he will leave power after the formation of the new government?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s a process in place, and that’s what will happen at the end of it. That’s what should happen at the end of it. Look, we’re not going to entertain hypotheticals at this point. The Iraqis have hit the benchmarks as part of this process. Again, we knew it wouldn’t be entirely smooth. We never thought it would be. But that’s what we’re working towards right now. So let’s hope that happens. We’ll continue to have conversations with all of the Iraqis about making sure that happens.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the – on the Iran angle. You mentioned that you couldn’t comment on the Der Spiegel —
MS. HARF: I just couldn’t confirm it. I just don’t know if —
QUESTION: Couldn’t confirm it, the Der Spiegel report?
MS. HARF: We can’t confirm it one way or the other.
QUESTION: Sure. But the issue of Iranian arms – does the U.S. have a position on that?
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: Should Iran have the right to small arms —
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not a question of a right. There are some sanctionable – there are potential sanctions that could be involved with the export or import of Iran – arms in or out of Iran. There are specific sanctions in place. Without being able to confirm whether or not it’s happening and the specifics, I can’t say whether or not this would be, but there’s a likely chance it could be if this is true. We just have to look at it.
QUESTION: So, in general, the U.S. would be opposed to Iranian arms flowing into Iraq.
MS. HARF: In general, we believe we should —
QUESTION: Even if it’s for the same side.
MS. HARF: — continue to implement sanctions that are on the books.
QUESTION: One on Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: Let’s stay on Iraq. If people – and then we’ll go to Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can you just outline specific steps that Prime Minister-designate Abadi can take to be inclusive? We’re hearing the mantra “inclusive governing” often, but I was wondering if there are certain specific steps that could be outlined.
MS. HARF: Well, first of all in terms of specific steps, he now has 30 days under the constitution’s – it’s constitutionally mandated – to put a – to complete a process to put a new government in place. So as part of this process, that will be presenting a cabinet to the Iraqi parliament for approval that represents the aspirations of the Iraqi people. I’m not going to outline what that should look like. That’s for him and his government to decide. But there are things he can do that would demonstrate inclusiveness. Things you can say, things you can do, as part of this formation process. And then going forward, if he does form a government, which we expect and hope that he will, there are ways you can do that.
One of the things we’ve been quite heartened by is the really unprecedented way the Iraqi security forces have been working with the Kurdish forces for example, in a way we never saw them do before. So continuing some of that and encouraging some of that, from the top on down, is really important. So those are some.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: So the government has —
MS. HARF: Thirty days.
QUESTION: — so as you said, he has 30 days. But if he isn’t able to do that, then the Iraqis are back to square —
MS. HARF: Well, there’s —
QUESTION: I’m just worried — I’m just wondering if you’re concerned that Prime Minister al-Maliki will take this time to try and prevent him from starting a coalition and not kind of let the process play out.
MS. HARF: Well, we’re going to watch the process play out. It’s played out on – as it should so far. So while I understand people want to jump 28 days from now and guess about all the bad things that might happen, the process has played out. Let’s watch and see what Prime Minister Maliki says – and does, more importantly. We’re having conversations with him and all the other Iraqi leaders about how this can move forward, Elise.
QUESTION: Well, it’s not really 28 – it’s not really 28 days. It’s what happens during the next 28 days.
MS. HARF: Exactly.
QUESTION: You don’t have the luxury, really, of waiting 30 days and —
MS. HARF: It’s not about us not having the luxury. It’s about the Iraqis.
QUESTION: Well, the Iraqis.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Right. So I mean, starting from today —
MS. HARF: So, we’ll wait – we’ll see what happens, Elise. But let’s not assume the worst here.
QUESTION: Aren’t you kind of assuming the worst, that he’ll do that?
MS. HARF: No. I’m not. I don’t think we are, Elise. I think that today you saw Prime Minister Maliki say that security forces should not get involved in this matter. Again, we think that’s a good sign. But we will be watching and we will be in direct conversations if – as we have been with Prime Minister Maliki. And took, if we see signs that anything like that is happening, we would, obviously, be very concerned and immediately express those concerns.
But I think the other point, though, is it’s not about what the U.S. is or isn’t concerned about. The Iraqi people themselves, including the Shia bloc, has nominated someone else with a lot of support from Prime Minister Maliki’s own party. So this is about the Iraqi people standing up and saying this is the government we want.
QUESTION: Yeah, but —
MS. HARF: It’s not about what we want. It’s about what they want.
QUESTION: I understand that.
MS. HARF: And so the support for the new prime minister-designate, I think, has been fairly clear.
QUESTION: Right, but that’s not stopping Prime Minister Maliki from mounting legal challenges to – I don’t believe he’s dropped that legal challenge.
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t – look, there’s always going to be some differences that people have about how these things should play out. But we would reject any effort, legally or otherwise, to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial process. I think I said this on Sunday night and repeating it today: There’s a constitutional process. It is happening, and that is what we support. And we will keep supporting that as the Iraqis go through this process.
QUESTION: But, I mean, you know that in 2010 he did launch a legal challenge. He mounted a legal challenge —
MS. HARF: I’m aware of the history.
QUESTION: — and he was able to maintain another term.
MS. HARF: I’m aware of the history. I think we need to watch what happens day by day here. We need to see what’s happening on the ground. We need to make clear our position, which is that we would reject any efforts to achieve outcomes through judicial – through coercion or manipulation of judicial processes. And we’ll keep working with them, but they have a process in place. It’s moving forward, and let’s see how that plays out.
QUESTION: Who is the main interlocutor right now with Prime Minister al-Maliki?
MS. HARF: Well, we engage with him and other Iraqi leaders at a number of levels. We’re not going to outline specifically, necessarily, all the time what that engagement looks like. But people on the ground in Baghdad certainly have had conversations with him, as have people in Washington.
QUESTION: Well, has Secretary Kerry or Vice President Biden or, specifically, someone at a senior level reached out to Prime Minister Maliki?
MS. HARF: There are senior people who have —
QUESTION: Who – can you —
MS. HARF: We’re not going to outline —
QUESTION: Why can’t you say —
MS. HARF: Because we —
QUESTION: I mean, you put out press releases of calls —
MS. HARF: I can tell you the Secretary hasn’t, and I can tell you – to my knowledge; let me check with the White House – I don’t believe the Vice President has, either. But people have been in contact with him.
QUESTION: Does this mean that the fact that someone at a very senior – I’m not saying that the ambassador’s not of a senior level, but does the fact that the Secretary or the Vice President or the President is not speaking to Prime Minister al-Maliki meant to send a signal that the Administration is done dealing with him?
MS. HARF: Well no, not that we’re done dealing with him and not that we’re not speaking with him. It’s just that we haven’t. He’s the prime minister still, legally, until a new government is officially formed. So we will continue talking to him and working with him, but what we’re focused on is the way forward and how we can help the Iraqis, as they form this new government, fight ISIL. That’s what we’re focused on every day.
QUESTION: How much confidence does the United States Government have in the independence of Iraq’s judiciary?
MS. HARF: Wow, that’s a big analytic question. I’m happy to check with our experts.
QUESTION: I’m all about big thoughts today.
MS. HARF: I know. I like it. I can check with our team.
QUESTION: What inducements is the U.S. Government prepared to offer Maliki as sort of a consolation prize in order to allow this process —
MS. HARF: This isn’t about us offering consolation prizes. This is about Iraq’s constitutional process playing out.
QUESTION: But it can be argued that the U.S. does have a security interest in seeing this new government be stood up and be stable.
MS. HARF: That is true, but it’s not about us offering anything. It’s about the Iraqis making decisions in the best interests of their people, including Prime Minister Maliki.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t – so saying to him if you allow this process to go through, if you drop your legal challenges, we can do X for you to address some of your issues, some of your concerns, something that would be in keeping with U.S. policy – that’s not on the table at all?
MS. HARF: That’s – this is – Roz, that’s not what this is about. This is about what’s in the best interests of the Iraqi people. And the conversations we have with Prime Minister Maliki and others are about everything they do being in service of that. So there is a new prime minister-designate who has been named by the Shia bloc, including by Prime Minister Maliki’s own party, with support from his party, period. And that’s reason enough to move forward with a new government.
QUESTION: May I follow up on that? Does the U.S. have – even if it’s just internally at this point – any kind of exit strategy for Prime Minister al-Maliki? I mean, if he stays in the country, he’s probably going to be targeted. He has many, many enemies on all sides. Is there any – clearly, he’s afraid for his own life and for his own security, and has shown that in many times over the last God knows how many years. Has the U.S. talked about where he could go, what he could do if he were to step down?
MS. HARF: Well, again, there’s a process in place here. So it’s not about him stepping down or not stepping down; it’s about a new prime minister being named, (a). But (b), I – look, I can check with our folks. I haven’t heard of those conversations.
QUESTION: Marie, to what extent do you think the U.S. has gained influence in Iraq in the last few days?
MS. HARF: In what way?
QUESTION: Political influence.
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve always had a strong political relationship with the Iraqis. At times we certainly differed on things, but we’ve been very engaged at a number of levels with all of Iraq’s political leaders. I think you have seen, particularly over the last, I’d say, weeks and months since the ISIL threat really quite rapidly grew and we increased our assistance in a number of ways, that the Iraqi leaders from across the board understand that we are an important partner, that we are assisting them in very unique ways and playing a unique role. And I think that’s something that you’ve seen play out just even over the past 72 or more hours now.
QUESTION: And last question for me: Do you have any update on the delivery of arms to the Kurds?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any updates from what we’ve talked about in the past few days.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. been able to come up with any strategy for getting the Yezidis and others trapped on Mount Sinjar to a safe place?
MS. HARF: We’re working on it.
QUESTION: I mean, I know that the military is constantly carrying out airstrikes. They’re basically doing a counterclockwise circle.
MS. HARF: Right. So they’re doing humanitarian drops, and I believe we did the fifth one just recently. And also —
QUESTION: Right. But there have also been —
MS. HARF: Strikes.
QUESTION: — (inaudible) strikes.
MS. HARF: Yep, over the last 24 hours, particularly around the area surrounding Mount Sinjar, to protect the people on the mountain. So we’ve been doing those in conjunction with each other. And we are looking at ways to see if there’s a humanitarian corridor that can be established, if there are safe locales for people to go to, because ultimately you can’t have tens of thousands of people trapped on a mountain even with the airdrops. So there needs to be a long-term humanitarian solution. We’re looking at that right now. It’s a really, really tough security challenge, also humanitarian challenge.
QUESTION: Does that imply that in order to make it possible to get people off the mountain and to safety that the U.S. necessarily would have to either increase its own military operations or would need to persuade the U.K., France, any other countries with a military —
MS. HARF: I wasn’t meaning to imply that.
QUESTION: — to actually be able to push back ISIS —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — and (inaudible) enough in order to get people off the mountain and get them to a place where they wouldn’t be attacked?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t meaning to imply that. I was saying just simply that we’re looking at how he could possibly do that. What that might look like, obviously, is a much more detailed issue. It wasn’t meaning to imply anything about how that might be done.
QUESTION: You saw the reports of the helicopter crash today, I’m sure.
MS. HARF: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: And a parliamentarian was injured, the pilot was killed, a New York Times reporter aboard was injured —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — many other people, I’m sure, were injured if not shaken.
MS. HARF: I know it was someone we all know very well.
QUESTION: So I do wonder if the U.S. is considering doing some of these types of missions – in other words, sending helicopters in to help get some of the refugees off the mountain – in a way that the Iraqi air force at this point may not either be equipped to do —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — or have the manpower to do.
MS. HARF: I know we’re looking at a variety of options, the Defense Department is. I think one of the reasons you saw us several days ago first start taking humanitarian drops is because the Iraqis had tried to do this and had succeeded to some extent, but really couldn’t do it in the same way we could. So the Iraqis have certain capabilities. We have in some cases different capabilities that are helpful, so I know they’re looking at that, but I don’t know if any decisions have been made.
QUESTION: So it’s fair to say that the U.S. is looking at potentially sending in helicopters?
MS. HARF: No, we’re looking at options for getting people off of the mountain. I did not say we are actively looking at whether we would use helicopters or not. You can check with the Defense Department about that. I know, broadly speaking, we are looking at how it might be possible to get these people off the mountain, broadly speaking.
QUESTION: Well, how other – I mean, they’re not going to rope-line down. I mean, how other would you get them down other than some kind of airlift?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re looking at a variety – I don’t have anything specific to outline for you.
QUESTION: So are you – I mean, obviously – I mean, you don’t need to tell us that it would have to be some kind of airlift. So you’re discussing whether it’s you that does it or one of your partners does it, or are you —
MS. HARF: We’re just looking at how it could possibly be done.
MS. HARF: We don’t have more details than that.
QUESTION: And where would people go?
QUESTION: Marie, you mentioned —
MS. HARF: Don’t – I don’t have – again, we’re looking at all of this. I don’t have any answers for you.
QUESTION: Would the ideal be to try to keep people inside Iraq?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any answers for you on this. We’re looking at how it could be done.
QUESTION: Marie, you mentioned that you were looking into the possibility of a humanitarian corridor. Doesn’t that imply that at least one way of getting people down off the mountain would be through some kind of a land corridor rather than air?
MS. HARF: I think it would seem to imply that, yes.
QUESTION: So land is a possibility?
MS. HARF: We’re looking at, quite frankly, at —
MS. HARF: Everything, yes.
MS. HARF: It is so dire that we are looking at everything.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan?
QUESTION: No, I’m not ready yet. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: I noticed that some of the strikes that have been happening over the last 24 to 36 hours included hitting some Humvees, some personnel carriers, clearly equipment that they – that ISIS has taken from U.S. forces. I would – at least I would assume that’s the case.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I – there are some report – it’s likely some of it probably is. Some of it may not be.
QUESTION: And do you happen to know how widespread that is?
MS. HARF: I can check, and I can see if the Defense Department knows more. I can check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Or whether they would try to take that equipment back? I mean, these are multimillion dollar pieces of equipment.
MS. HARF: Let me check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details than that. But I think our assumption is some of it probably is American.
QUESTION: Is there any discussion on the number of military advisers? I know that the President has said no more troops – or no troops with —
MS. HARF: In – no troops in combat positions – in combat roles.
QUESTION: Right. But is there an idea of the number of military advisers who have been dispatched? Is there an idea of changing that number?
MS. HARF: Again, check with the Defense Department. I’m happy to check with them. We’re always looking at what the needs are staffing-wise, personnel-wise. And we’re undergoing a bigger mission now than we had before, so we can probably keep having that conversation, but they may have the most up-to-date thinking.
QUESTION: But does it imply that the number has gone up slightly, if at least one FAST team has gone in and —
MS. HARF: A DART team.
QUESTION: DART team.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does that mean —
MS. HARF: A DART team is from USAID. It’s not from the Defense Department.
MS. HARF: Anything else on Iraq today?
QUESTION: The two presidential candidates in Afghanistan today announced the formation of a joint commission for the unity government. Do you have anything on that?
MS. HARF: Was that today?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure that was today.
QUESTION: It was announced – setting up the commission, along with the members, were announced today.
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I will check on that. I hadn’t seen that. I know that progress has continued with the elections audit. The Secretary was obviously there recently, and we felt they made progress, that both candidates had agreed to work towards a goal of completing the audit and inaugurating a new president by the end of August. We are moving forward with the ballots being counted, so I can check on that specifically. But we are encouraging the process to keep moving, and the two candidates to keep working together on this.
QUESTION: And does —
QUESTION: What’s the impact on getting a BSA signed, because of the delays in counting the vote, auditing the vote?
MS. HARF: Well, they’ve both said they’ll sign it shortly after – if either – who’s inaugurated, so I think we’re expecting it will be signed as soon as we have a new president.
QUESTION: Has this made it clearer in any way for the U.S. Government to organize the drawdown of combat forces and to stand up whatever the residual force would be, as well as additional Foreign Service USAID personnel?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any updates from when the President made the announcement in May about what our post-2014 presence would look like. I don’t have any new updates on planning, either for the Defense Department or for us. I know we’re looking right now at that, and I can check and see if there’s anything new.
QUESTION: Because it would seem that, especially in light of the agreement which the Secretary helped broker, that it would be giving your people more certainty now about who’s going to be assigned, who’s going to be there for how long —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — what kinds of missions might need to be worked on.
MS. HARF: Both of these candidates have said for many months that they would sign the BSA, so that’s not new. I think that’s a separate question, quite frankly, and the staffing’s a separate question from the fact that we believe the political process needs to move forward and there’s an audit in place now, and it’s moving forward. So they’re not exactly related, but I can see if our folks have more.
QUESTION: But there wouldn’t be any sort of legal prohibition on planning to do X unless you had an agreement signed and —
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, we have to have a BSA signed to do certain things, but both of these candidates have said they will. I’m not a lawyer, but, obviously, planning continues.
QUESTION: I have one more on Pakistan. Do you have anything on the Azadi March? Is it being planned by main opposition party, PTI, on August 14th?
MS. HARF: I don’t. Let me check with our folks.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that this is going to have any kind —
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything on it. Let me check.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we do a new topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
MS. HARF: We can.
QUESTION: So Russia sent an aid convoy this morning bound for Ukraine. Is that something that you’re supporting?
MS. HARF: Well, we understand that talks are underway for Russia to deliver the aid to the Ukrainian border where it would be transferred to the custody of the ICRC. Ukraine confirmed with us directly today its readiness to facilitate the arrival of the aid and arrange for its delivery to Luhansk so long as the shipment is received at a border crossing point controlled by the Ukrainian Government in Kharkiv, it passes appropriate customs clearances, that the ICRC takes custody and responsibility for the delivery in Ukraine, and that Russian-backed separatists allow safe access for the delivery of the aid.
We do support this proposal as I just outlined it and as the Ukrainian Government confirmed with us, and call for its swift implementation.
Russia has no right to move into Ukrainian unilaterally, whether under the guise of humanitarian convoys or any other pretext, without Kyiv’s permission.
So we have spoken to the Ukrainians today. They have a plan in place that they feel comfortable with; we feel comfortable with it as well. And now the Russians need to deliver, no pun intended.
QUESTION: Are you confident that this convoy has humanitarian supplies? Because there’s been this concern, as you’ve been saying, that this is a pretext for some kind of —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — invasion. But do you think that this, on face value, is what it is?
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t know. And that’s – and we do have concerns. And that’s why, as we’ve said today, if it goes through all of these steps, then we would support this, if it goes through this Ukrainian Government-controlled border crossing, if it passes through customs clearance, if the ICRC takes custody and responsibility for it. So if it goes through, again, those things I just outlined and passes all of those, then sure. But nothing can be done under the guise of humanitarian assistance here that is anything other than what they claim it is.
QUESTION: Marie, the way I saw the —
MS. HARF: Let’s go here and then I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: The way I saw the Ukrainians talking about this themselves, they said that – and you may be alluding to this when you talk about the ICRC taking custody.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But they said that the humanitarian goods would be transferred at the border onto different vehicles. In other words, they don’t want Russian vehicles going in.
MS. HARF: I don’t have that detail here. That might – that makes sense. I just don’t have that in front of me. But it does have to be transferred to ICRC – has to be.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I mean, I guess what I’m trying to get at is whether you would oppose – as the Ukrainians say they oppose – Russian vehicles going onto their territory.
MS. HARF: I’ll check with the folks who talked to the Ukrainians today and see if that was part of the conversation. Again, we have outlined here with them what they considered appropriate, and we agreed. So I can check and see if that’s what they —
QUESTION: Has the – can I just (inaudible)? Has the ICRC (a) agreed to this, and (b), what’s the readout you’ve gotten from the Russians on this proposal?
MS. HARF: Let me check on the ICRC piece. I’m guessing they have, but I don’t know specifically. I don’t have any readout of what the Russians have said they will or will not do. I just know what we are calling on them to do.
QUESTION: Are you in contact with the Russians about this?
MS. HARF: We have been. I don’t have any specifics to read out.
QUESTION: Uh-huh. Are you still concerned that this would be pretext for a military action?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re concerned that it could be. And that’s why we felt like there is a humanitarian situation in the east that needs addressing. So if this convoy goes through all those things I just laid out, we would be comfortable with it going forward. We don’t want it to be a pretext for anything else.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Do you think the Ukrainian Government bears any responsibility for the humanitarian —
MS. HARF: Not at all. This humanitarian situation did not exist before the Russians intervened in eastern Ukraine. It just did not exist. It is a direct result of Russia’s intervention.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Egypt. Human Rights Watch said today that Egypt’s security forces likely committed crimes against humanity when it crushed Islamist protests last year, comparing the bloodshed to China’s Tiananmen Square massacre and calling for a UN investigation into the role of President al-Sisi and his security chiefs. How do you view this report?
MS. HARF: We have seen the report. I believe it was just released this morning, and we’re currently reviewing it. Our initial reaction is that the report’s findings are very disturbing. At the time of the violence last year, which was around this time last year, President Obama strongly condemned the steps taken by the Egyptian Government and security forces, and deplored the violence against civilians. It was at this time that we decided to hold delivery of several weapon systems.
It’s troubling that one year later, no security forces have been held accountable in events that resulted in the deaths of approximately a thousand Egyptians. And as we’ve said many, many times, in order for Egypt to achieve long-term stability, security, economic prosperity, it must investigate these events in a fully transparent and credible manner, one that’s grounded in impartial application of the rule of law, and to hold people accountable.
QUESTION: Do you support a UN investigation into the role of President Sisi?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we’re just reviewing the report and don’t have any additional recommendations to make at this time.
QUESTION: But the Egyptians have rejected the report today and criticizes its bias, and called the Human Rights Watch as unprofessional for relying on anonymous and unreliable accounts and twisting the truth.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think that you needed any anonymous sources to see what happened in the streets of Egypt last August. We saw it; President Obama talked about it. Approximately a thousand Egyptians died because of it. So we’re reviewing the report. We’ve made our position on this very clear.
QUESTION: How full-throated should the investigation of those responsible be?
MS. HARF: We believe —
QUESTION: Should it rise all the way to now-President Sisi?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any more details about what the investigation should look like, other than we believe all of these situations that have occurred there should be fully investigated.
QUESTION: Was there any – in light of this initial read of the report, is there any misgiving or regret on the part of the U.S. Government for releasing some of the military aid that was held back a year ago?
MS. HARF: No. Look, we have made decisions about our policy towards Egypt based on what’s in our national security interests, as they have made some limited progress. Some – I would stress some and limited. But we have made decisions based on what’s in our security interests and how we can help, but we’ve also, as we’ve said, held some things back even today as well.
QUESTION: How do you view President Sisi’s visit to Russia, especially that he was invited to attend the African Leaders Summit in Washington and he didn’t – he didn’t come?
MS. HARF: Well, look, Egypt is free to have relationships with whoever it wants. We have a relationship with Egypt that’s based on unique capabilities we bring to bear, certainly in the security side, but also on the economic reform side as well. So we believe we have a strong and strategic relationship, and don’t have much more analysis beyond that.
QUESTION: Marie, the report is quite critical of the U.S. and EU for its decisions to continue providing aid to Egypt. Are you – is there any discussion of reevaluating U.S. aid to Egypt as a result of the findings of this report?
MS. HARF: Well, at the time the instances in the report happened, we did hold – we put all of our assistance on hold, we reviewed everything on the books. Everyone remembers we talked about that quite a bit in this room. We held the delivery of certain weapon systems and we reevaluated all of it. And there is still some things that have not been certified even today that – basically the clause that talks about their advance in democratization and their progress there. So this is an ongoing process, but we took very serious steps in response to what happened. I don’t think this report will change what we’ve done in any way, but we’re certainly very disturbed by what’s in it.
QUESTION: Do you agree with the wording – sorry – that the crackdown was premeditated, systematic, and indiscriminate?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re still reviewing the report. But one of the reasons we said there need to be full investigations here is because we want to get all the facts. I can’t stand up here and tell you whether this was all premeditated. I can tell you that we saw civilians being killed in the streets of Egypt, which, as the President said at the time, meant that business as usual could not continue. I remember those words distinctly being said at this time last year.
QUESTION: The aid that’s – the U.S. aid to Egypt that’s still being withheld, is that being withheld by the Administration or by Congress?
MS. HARF: By the Administration. We have not yet certified the last certification we have to make in the – and this is not a technical term – I’m sorry – it’s one of the sub-parts of it on progress towards democratization.
QUESTION: Do you know how much that amounts to?
MS. HARF: I knew that was the next question, and I’m sorry, I don’t.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you take that?
MS. HARF: I will check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Well, can I – just one last question?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have confidence that the Egyptians will hold those who have committed crimes – are you confident that they will hold those accountable? And to what extent are you having direct conversations with Egyptians on this incident?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s troubling that one year later no security forces have been held accountable. That is troubling to us, particularly when there were about a thousand Egyptians who died. So we need to see things be done a little bit differently and see some more progress made here, and we are having that conversation.
QUESTION: And to what extent might this report impact U.S.-Egyptian relations going forward?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, we’ve been looking at what happened last August and July since last August and July. This report is certainly an important part of that discussion, but we’ve made decisions based on this for many, many months now. I don’t think that this will change that, but it’s certainly a key effort to document what happened here and to call on the Egyptians to investigate it.
QUESTION: In light of the savageness – if that’s a word – of the killing —
MS. HARF: Savagery?
QUESTION: The savagery of the killing of these people – shot in the face, shot in the chest —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — deliberately shoot to kill, what is the U.S. Government’s message to the Egyptian people that some kind of justice can be had for their loved ones?
MS. HARF: Well, I think when you hear the President stand up and say what he said about this last year and what we’ve said since then, that we really need the Government of Egypt to hold people accountable here and we will continue pushing them to do so. We can’t do it for them, but the people who lost loved ones who were killed or injured deserve that. And if Egypt is going to have a fully prosperous, better future, they really need to take these kind of steps, or else they won’t.
QUESTION: A lot of these people who were in Rabaa Square were there because they felt that the democratic process that they had tried to establish had been subverted with the coup on July 3rd. What more can the U.S. do to support the Egyptian people’s aspirations for what they view as a fair democracy?
MS. HARF: Well, this is a conversation, Roz, we’ve had for many, many months now. And last July when we saw what happened with the military, we were very clear and then took steps to back it up with our displeasure. So we have certain levers we can bring to bear here. We have. We will continue to have the conversations. I don’t have more analysis on it to do for you than that.
QUESTION: Is the President prepared to enact more pressure on the Egyptian Government, especially if time passes and no one is brought in to question?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any policy steps to outline for you about what we might or might not do. I know, again, we’re looking at the report and we’ll evaluate going forward.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the circumstances surrounding the arrangements made for the Secretary’s lodging at the —
MS. HARF: Thank you for the question. I know there’s been some confusion —
QUESTION: — ASEAN Regional Forum?
MS. HARF: — including on Twitter, on this today. So let’s clear it up here.
So for the ministerial meeting, the foreign ministry assigned hotels to delegations there. The ministry assigned the Lake Garden Hotel to the U.S. delegation. The hotel itself is not sanctioned. The local owner is on an SDN list, but under U.S. law, the IEEPA – which is the law that governs how sanctions are implemented in Burma – includes an exemption for activities related to travel, including hotel accommodations. That’s for U.S. private citizens, U.S. businessmen or women, and U.S. Government officials. So if you are – basically how it was explained to me, you can stay at this hotel no matter who you are, you just can’t do business with it. So if you wanted to sell them towels, you could not do that but you could stay there.
QUESTION: But don’t you think the —
MS. HARF: There’s a difference in the law.
QUESTION: All right, okay. Well, even if it’s —
MS. HARF: Oh, can we ask one question at a time —
QUESTION: Even if —
MS. HARF: — or is there going to be pure anarchy in here today?
QUESTION: It is going to be anarchy on this, on this important —
MS. HARF: Elise is leading in the coup here.
QUESTION: The inmates are running the asylum.
MS. HARF: Well, but when there are things being said that the hotel’s blacklisted, that’s just not the case.
MS. HARF: We need to be very clear when we talk about sanctions what is and isn’t sanctioned.
MS. HARF: This hotel was assigned to our delegation. We complied with all laws. And we have pushed very strongly with the Burmese Government to take actions to reform, to reform in a number of ways that address the issues that underpin our sanctions.
QUESTION: No doubt.
MS. HARF: So we raised those, including during our meetings bilaterally in Burma.
QUESTION: No doubt. But —
MS. HARF: But – I know there’s a “but” coming, Elise.
QUESTION: Don’t you think though that just that the appearance and the perception of staying at this hotel sends a wrong message?
MS. HARF: I don’t.
QUESTION: I mean, yes, maybe you’re – maybe you’re complying to the letter of the U.S. law, but what about the spirit in which the sanctions were put and the U.S. values that they represent?
MS. HARF: Okay, Elise.
MS. HARF: Let’s take a step back.
QUESTION: Okay. Let’s take a step back.
MS. HARF: We’ve been very clear how strongly we feel about the values that underpin our sanctions towards Burma. They were raised repeatedly with Burmese officials. The notion that we need to take steps to reform – because eventually, obviously, we want them to take steps so we can remove sanctions. And they have made some progress. This in no way changes how deeply we care about the things that made these sanctions enacted in the first place.
QUESTION: But if you’re —
MS. HARF: And I don’t think staying at a hotel that itself is not sanctioned in any way changes that.
QUESTION: But how do you —
MS. HARF: I really don’t.
QUESTION: You don’t think that (inaudible)?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) people pay to stay isn’t going to benefit from it? What Lara said.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The owner of the hotel is going to benefit financially from —
MS. HARF: Well, there’s ways sanctions are put in place. And I know you all have opinions on what the sanctions should say, but the sanctions as written make very clear that Americans can stay there. And if we felt like that would be helpful to sanction as well, I would have guessed that we would have sanctioned that as well.
QUESTION: But it’s not an interpretation of the law. This is just common sense. If you —
MS. HARF: No, it’s actually – and you don’t get – the funny thing about the way the law is written is there are things you can and can’t do. And everything we did is completely legal.
QUESTION: If you’re willing to – sorry. If you’re willing to comply – just if you – saying this complies with the letter of the law, it certainly doesn’t comply with the spirit of the sanctions —
MS. HARF: It does actually, because sanctions are put in place on certain people for —
QUESTION: And you’re staying at a hotel that is owned by —
MS. HARF: — for doing certain things. If we had wanted to sanction the hotel, we could have done that too. And there’s a reason, I’m sure, that we didn’t.
QUESTION: But how does allowing this person to benefit –
MS. HARF: I think we might just have to agree to disagree on this.
QUESTION: — encourage further reforms?
MS. HARF: Because when the Secretary of State and President Obama sit in Burma with Burmese leaders directly to their face and say you need to do more to reform, I think that makes the case much more clearly than where the Secretary sleeps when he overnights there.
QUESTION: But when he stays at the hotel after that meeting, it kind of a sends a wink-wink —
MS. HARF: Not at all.
QUESTION: — to the government that yeah, well —
MS. HARF: Not at all. Not at all.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, we can agree —
MS. HARF: We can agree to disagree on this, Elise. And I think we’ve probably exhausted this topic.
QUESTION: I’m not exhausted.
QUESTION: Do you agree that the owner is financially benefitting?
QUESTION: I mean, do you think that – I mean, do you think that – do you know if the State Department was aware of these sanctions against this hotel owner–
MS. HARF: I can check.
QUESTION: — at the time they were assigned the hotel?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t.
QUESTION: Do you think if they did not know that they would have asked for a hotel change?
MS. HARF: There’s like 15 hypotheticals there.
QUESTION: There’s just two.
QUESTION: Can we – let me ask —
MS. HARF: I honestly – I will – to calm the masses, I will check with our team. I’m not meaning to be flip about this. We worked very hard. We’re all being —
QUESTION: You’re doing a pretty good job of it. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: We’re all being a little flip about this. But let’s step back. Let me step back for a second and be serious. We worked very hard to put in place sanctions on Burma that we believed were a key part of helping get to a place where we are today where there has been quite amount of political and economic and commercial reform. We have much more to go. That was a huge topic of conversation the Secretary had when he was there.
So we’ve come a long way, as you know, with Burma in a broader context in the sanctions picture. And Lara’s smiling at me, but it happens to be true. So whether or not Secretary Kerry stayed at the hotel that was assigned to him, which itself is not sanctioned, happened or not, that in no way changes our overall very comprehensive and robust policy towards Burma in pushing reform. And I think to suggest that it does is a little, to use my term, flip.
QUESTION: Hey, Marie? Can —
MS. HARF: So we can look into it a little more, but I don’t probably have much more to add than that.
QUESTION: Can you just ask the simple question, with no hypotheticals: Did the U.S. Government ask to change the hotel once it was assigned to them?
MS. HARF: I’m guessing we didn’t.
QUESTION: But can – I’m not —
MS. HARF: I don’t even know if we knew.
QUESTION: I don’t want to guess. I would like to —
MS. HARF: I actually – I would prefer to guess up here, Arshad. It’s more preferable for me.
QUESTION: Well, your choice. You can guess all you want, but I’d be grateful if you’d ask.
MS. HARF: I’m kidding. I don’t know if we knew.
QUESTION: Could you ask?
MS. HARF: I will endeavor to find out.
QUESTION: To clarify —
QUESTION: And just to follow up, you’re saying that – there’s a difference between selling towels and staying there.
MS. HARF: Doing business with —
MS. HARF: — and there are specific exemptions that Congress wrote into the law that govern sanctions on Burma for travel or hotel accommodations.
MS. HARF: They’re in the law for a reason. If they didn’t want it to be, it wouldn’t have been.
QUESTION: Obviously, the Secretary isn’t selling towels here. But the —
MS. HARF: Clearly.
QUESTION: But was there actually money exchanged?
MS. HARF: I’m sure we paid for our hotel rooms. I’m sure we didn’t stay there for free.
QUESTION: The Burmese didn’t host (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: Oh, they might’ve. I don’t know. Let me check on that. That’s a very good question. I don’t know. Let me check. I’m guessing we paid. But again, there is a specific exemption under the law for hotel accommodations, period. And it was written that way, and we have a lot of other sanctions in place in Burma, and some that we’ve lifted as well, as people know, with certain items over the past year.
QUESTION: So what’s the intent on that? Is the thought process that even if the hotel owner gets the profit of people staying, that it —
MS. HARF: The intent on how it was written?
QUESTION: — then it trickles down to the hotel staff? I mean —
MS. HARF: On the reason it was written that way?
MS. HARF: When it was first put into law?
QUESTION: Right. I mean, clearly the building’s not going to profit.
MS. HARF: I don’t know.
QUESTION: People profit, right?
MS. HARF: I – in theory, yes.
MS. HARF: I don’t know why the sanctions law was written and amended the way that it was. I’m happy to check with our team, I really am, to see if there’s more we can share on this. I’m a little —
QUESTION: Are you sure nobody was selling towels?
MS. HARF: I’m a little – I mean, Jen Psaki, I don’t know. You know. (Laughter.) No, guys.
I mean, look. You know how these things – there’s huge delegations, there’s, what, 25 countries or something all in a place. So I think the government was endeavoring just to put people in hotels and get them set up where they needed to be, and I can check on if we knew and if we asked and —
QUESTION: I’m sure your very smart advance people did their homework to find out what was the background of this hotel.
MS. HARF: Well, and they may have checked and seen that the hotel was not, in fact, sanctioned.
QUESTION: Even though the owner was.
MS. HARF: But again, who knows what comes up when you do checks.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. —
MS. HARF: Look at what can of worms you opened there.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government do anything to help American businesspeople who are in Burma navigate what appear to be sometimes confusing regulations?
MS. HARF: We do, not just in – with sanctions on Burma, quite frankly. With – the sanctions we apply across the board, particularly the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, OFAC, publishes very long online Qs & As every time new sanctions are put in place and for all existing ones, what you can do, what you can’t do. They do a lot of outreach to the business community as well, particularly in countries where we’ve had a lot on the books, like Burma – obviously Iran we do a lot, North Korea, other places as well, Russia now. So they do quite a bit of outreach to the business community. Yes, they do. And we do as well.
QUESTION: New topic? So during the ASEAN foreign minister meeting, the Chinese foreign minister for the first time brought up this new approach called dual-track approach to solve South China Sea problems. So the two tracks – the first one is China and the relevant countries that are going to solve the problem directly and friendly. And the second track is to – China is going to committed to maintain the peace and stability. Does the U.S. welcome this dual-track approach?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to comment on what our private diplomatic conversations may have looked like with the Chinese during ASEAN. We have always supported the use of diplomatic and other peaceful means to manage and resolve disputes in the South China Sea. This can include arbitration, other international dispute settlement resolutions. We also, of course, believe that multilateral forums like this one are a very important place to discuss these issues and believe that that should continue to be the case, and don’t have more comment on it than that.
QUESTION: But I mean, since this has been brought up —
MS. HARF: Well, we’re not – we don’t discuss publicly what we discuss privately with the Chinese at ASEAN.
QUESTION: But as China implied, do you think the U.S. in the future will not weigh in the direct talk between ASEAN countries and China?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more analysis on this to do for you. Again, I said what our position is, and we’ll keep having the conversation with the Chinese.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on Ambassador Robert King’s visit to China?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any update. Let me see what I have in here. He is there between August 11th and 13th as part of regular consultations with senior Chinese officials on a range of human rights and humanitarian issues, obviously, given his portfolio as special envoy for North Korea human rights issues, so 11 through 13. I don’t have any readout of his meetings yet for you.
QUESTION: Just a housekeeping one: Do you have an update on date and time for the next session of Iran P5+1 negotiations?
MS. HARF: I don’t, not more than I mentioned last week.
MS. HARF: We said we’ll likely have a P5+1 and Iran plenary set of meetings before UNGA. Also, we’ll likely have one at UNGA. I just don’t have any updates for you.
MS. HARF: Believe me, I wish I had some dates on the calendar I could give.
QUESTION: Yeah, Gaza.
MS. HARF: What were you going to ask?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: News reports coming from Yemen saying that in the past year, dozens of Yemeni Americans visiting their homeland have had their U.S. passports summarily revoked or confiscated by the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a. Do you have anything —
MS. HARF: I have not seen that. Let me check. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Please, thank you.
MS. HARF: Gaza?
MS. HARF: The cease-fire is still in place – let me get here – 72 hours, I think. We’re about halfway through it if my math serves me. We urge both parties to respect it completely and hope they will continue to engage seriously to get to a longer-term agreement. Our immediate and top priority is to see an end to the rocket attacks and the tunnel threat from Hamas into Israel and an end to the suffering of the people of Gaza. Special Envoy Frank Lowenstein remains in Cairo. He’s monitoring and advising in areas where we can be helpful, and that’s pretty much all the update I have for today.
QUESTION: Well, can you talk a little bit more about now the reconstruction that’s going to be needed in Gaza? Is this only going to be dealt with within these talks or is there some – going to be some kind of international or U.S.-led or any kind of mechanism to talk about the immense reconstruction that once again is going to be needed?
MS. HARF: I don’t – yeah, no, it’s a good question. I don’t know if it’s part of these talks. I think these talks have been focused exclusively on how to get a more sustainable cease-fire in place.
QUESTION: Right. Well, but – I mean, so who’s going to —
MS. HARF: I can ask the question of Frank and the team.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, who is going to rebuild Gaza? The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the international community was sick of having to rebuild Gaza every time the Israelis destroyed it and so —
MS. HARF: Let – no, it’s a good question. Let me check and see if there are conversations and who would sort of have (inaudible).
QUESTION: Is there a kind of donors conference? Like, what —
MS. HARF: It’s a, again, good question. I just don’t have any details, but let me see if I can get you some for tomorrow.
QUESTION: Right, because I’m assuming it wouldn’t – first of all, if it’s not being dealt with within these talks – but these talks don’t have to be over for that dialogue to start happening.
MS. HARF: Right, no. I just don’t – I quite frankly just don’t know the facts here.
QUESTION: Halfway through, how would you characterize this latest round of negotiations? I mean, do you think that people are working together? Do you think that there is any progress being made? Do you think that the cease-fire will be extended?
MS. HARF: (Sniffles.)
QUESTION: Do you need a tissue?
MS. HARF: I am about to sneeze again and I’m trying not to.
QUESTION: Think of a cow.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Think of a cow and you won’t sneeze.
MS. HARF: Does that work? I think I’m allergic to this today. I’m just kidding.
Look, we hope and very much want a sustainable cease-fire to be put in place, but we want an extension. So we hope that the parties will stay at the table and talk seriously. They have been. I think everyone can see the benefit of having a cease-fire in place, and beyond that, I just don’t have more of a characterization for how they’re going. They’re still talking. The cease-fire is still in place, so —
QUESTION: Right, but one of the last times that it ended, hostilities continued or began almost immediately, and I’m just wondering if you think that we’re about to do that again.
MS. HARF: I think we don’t know, to be honest.
QUESTION: You just said that the U.S. is very interested in seeing an end to the tunnel threat —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — into Israel. I thought that Israel pulled its troops out because it said it had neutralized the Hamas tunnel threat into Israeli territory. Are there more tunnels that we don’t know about or is this just —
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a threat we’re constantly worried about and the Israelis are constantly worried about. I don’t have more details for you than that.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense from the U.S. team there about Israel being interested in trying to relax some of the border restrictions for people in and out of the territory or easing a bit of the —
MS. HARF: I just don’t have more details for you on any of the substance of the talks that are happening right now, including that.
In the back, yes.
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard of.
QUESTION: Is he coming back to DC after —
MS. HARF: It’s my understanding, yes.
Yes, in the back.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you confirm whether President Obama has spoken yet with President-elect Erdogan since Sunday? And if so, anything?
MS. HARF: I said yesterday they’d talk in the coming days. Check with the White House.
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, then it just – there you go.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: They’re one step ahead of me. So I’m sure a readout has been put out, I’m assuming?
MS. HARF: Great. I’d refer you to that.
MS. HARF: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:43 p.m.)
DPB # 140