12:57 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Hello, welcome to the briefing. I have a quick travel update at the top, and then I’m happy to get to your questions. As you all now know, the Secretary is in Beirut, Lebanon today meeting with a range of Lebanese officials to discuss the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon and other shared concerns as well. This – this is the first Secretary visit in five years, and he will be going back to Paris this evening. Tomorrow, he’ll be following much of the President’s schedule in Paris. He will also be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. And I think that’s it.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks. So first off, just to follow up on that, he’ll be meeting with Lavrov? What is the topic?
MS. HARF: I’m imagining they’re going to be discussing a range of topics, most importantly Ukraine.
QUESTION: Ukraine. Okay. So that’s where I wanted to go.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m sure you’ve seen the reports out of Luhansk about the separatists overrunning two government bases there. I see that, in his comments with President Poroshenko today, President Obama discussed additional assistance for law enforcement, and – assuming that’s a civilian law enforcement or police force, because he made the distinction between military forces and civil – law enforcement?
MS. HARF: It’s a little of both, I think. So let me just detail a little bit of it, and then we can —
MS. HARF: — go into that more. So the White House, as you know, today announced $5 million in new security assistance. This new assistance will go for night vision devices, body armor, and additional communications equipment. It’s my understanding that’s going to the Ministry of Defense, actually.
MS. HARF: And that, obviously, adds to what we’ve already given, which is 23 million in total, including the last 5 million. Fifteen million has gone to the ministry of defense, and 8 million has gone to the State Border Guard Service.
QUESTION: Okay. He did make the distinction between law enforcement and also military troops. He talked about the night vision goggles for the military forces. I’m just wondering if there’s anything else that might be going for law enforcement forces in some of the eastern regions.
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t have any more additional details. I know they put out a fact sheet as well, but we can see if there’s anything else. And we continue to evaluate requests from the Government of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Okay. What do you make of this new offensive by the separatists?
MS. HARF: Well, I would say a few points. Look, the first is – and I have a little bit on this. Just give me one second. We have – in addition to what you mentioned, noted that Ukraine’s operations in some of those regions you mentioned have also entered a new and more active phase. So we have said all along that the Ukrainians have shown remarkable restraint in the face of unacceptable Russian-backed aggression, but that they do have a responsibility and a duty to protect their citizens. That’s why you’ve seen us continue to support them, like some of the ways I just talked about.
So the situation on the ground is obviously fluid and fast-moving, but we have repeatedly throughout this called on the Russians to use their influence with the separatists, to ask them to cease what they’re doing, to stop taking government buildings, to stop their offensives. And have yet have not seen any movement in that area, but hope we will.
QUESTION: Are the Ukraine forces still referring to this – or the government still referring to this as a counterterrorism operation, or —
MS. HARF: I can check on the exact wording they’re using.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, I know there was some discussion earlier about whether or not that was an appropriate term to use when we we’re talking about – I mean, whether or not they’re backed by Russians, they’re still Ukraine citizens, no?
MS. HARF: Well, some of them.
QUESTION: Some of them at least.
MS. HARF: Right. So some of them certainly are Ukrainian, some of them are from other places, as we’ve seen in the press. But look, in terms what word we use, I think that’s less important, quite frankly, here than the fact that we’ve said the Ukrainians have a responsibility and an obligation to protect their citizens, all of their citizens in all of their regions, including all of the parts of the east, and that the Russians should use their influence with these groups, whatever we want to call them, to pull back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Anything else on Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Yes, Said.
QUESTION: Now, you are saying that you want the Russians to use their influence with the separatists. The Russians want you to use your influence with the Ukrainian Government. They’re saying that they should – you should use your influence to stop attacks.
MS. HARF: That the Ukrainian Government should stop defending its own territory?
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MS. HARF: See, that’s a false logic on the Russian part, though, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. So everything that the Ukrainians are doing, I just want to understand your position correctly – everything that they are doing is actually self-defense, correct?
MS. HARF: They’re – I mean, look, I mean, I don’t want to use the term self-defense, but this is Ukrainian territory that they are defending —
QUESTION: They defend – right.
MS. HARF: — from incursions from people that are backed by another government, and in the case of Crimea actually was annexed by another government.
QUESTION: Okay, so —
MS. HARF: So it’s not one-to-one.
QUESTION: Okay. You just preempted my next question, which is they – what about Crimea? Does it fall under that? Ukrainian?
MS. HARF: Still part of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Okay. Now – and a quick follow-up: You’re saying that they are – some of them are Russians, suggesting that some or maybe many are not Russian. Do you have any percentage or breakdown?
MS. HARF: Well, I said some are Ukrainians.
QUESTION: Right. I’m saying, are some of them —
MS. HARF: Well, any percentages? I can check with our folks and see. I don’t know if we have that kind of clarity.
QUESTION: I mean, some of the ethnic Russians are Ukrainian citizens; some are not.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. We’ve seen some Chechens recently. We’ve seen others. So —
QUESTION: Okay, and that’s my last question. Are you – because the charge was made last week that some Chechen fighters were being sort of ferried by the Russians across the border to go and fight in Crimea. Do you have any more details on that?
MS. HARF: Well, I mean, without a doubt, we have seen the numerous reports now that armed Chechen fighters have traveled from Russia, particularly to Donetsk, to support the Russian-backed separatists. How they get there I think we’re still looking for more details on, but there’s no question that we’ve seen some go there. And I don’t have more details for you on that right now.
QUESTION: So Marie —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the U.S. isn’t concerned that some of the actions by the Ukrainian forces, particularly in places like Luhansk, are excessive? We see numbers of deaths on the part on the sides of the rebels. You’re not worried that some of that is excessive actions?
MS. HARF: So I think I’d make three points here. The first is that in any armed conflict, there are going to be casualties on each side, right? Here, we have not seen any credible reports of things like human rights violations by the Ukrainian Government. There are a variety of reports out there. Obviously, it takes some time to run these down on the ground. I don’t want to rule it out completely, but we as of this point haven’t seen credible reports of the kind of human rights violations or things like you mentioned.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Ukraine?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: I mean, at a certain point it was an issue raised about – that Ukraine is going to be – is at the edge of a civil war. You still looking that way, or just —
MS. HARF: We don’t look at it that way, because a civil war would imply that there are factions inside a country fighting each other. This is a situation where you have a country with an outside force that’s doing – that’s encouraging the fighting in some cases, like in Crimea, annexing it themselves, so that’s not a civil war; that’s another country messing around in its neighbor’s internal politics, which just a different thing.
QUESTION: And one of the things that you were pushing with the Ukrainian Government, or at least we call it the government of Kyiv at that point, you – the issue —
MS. HARF: I think you can call it the Ukrainian Government.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) Or Ukrainian Government —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So it was asked – they were asked to make some modifications or whatever, the inclusiveness of the separatists or the pro-Russian entities, whatever, it was – it is still push this issue or —
MS. HARF: Are you talking about the constitutional reform process?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: That – the term that you are using.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah. So obviously, they’ve said they’re committed to that. President-elect Poroshenko, who the President met with today – Secretary Kerry did as well – these are things that he is going to, as he moves forward with his government, will be dealing with. They’ve said they’re committed to it.
QUESTION: So the —
MS. HARF: And we do believe it’s an important process.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding of what are the main challenges now facing Ukraine? Is the separatist movement or the economic crisis or the presence of Russian troops at the borders, or it’s not there anymore?
MS. HARF: Well, on the Russian troops, we’ve said they’ve been slowly moving back from the border, so obviously we believe they need to move quickly. But we have noted, in terms of the troops on the border, that they have been – many of them have moved, many of them have made preparations to move. They are moving slowly, but they’re working on that.
President-elect Poroshenko himself announced, I think, right after his election, that his number one priority after taking office will be to restore order in eastern Ukraine by increasing dialogue with citizens of that region, traveling to the area soon after his inauguration, and increasing the transparency of the ongoing constitutional reform process.
So I think there are a couple challenges, right? Ukraine is coming out of a time when it had a leadership that stripped its citizens of money and rights and ways to choose their own government, and that’s why you saw the Ukrainians come out and say that’s not okay and we want a new government.
So they have some economic challenges, certainly, which is why we’ve said we think it’s important to support them economically. There is a huge security challenge, too, and I think President-elect Poroshenko is focused on that.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: Marie, how do you differentiate between this not being seen as a civil war in Ukraine, even though, as you just said, there are some Ukraine separatists – some of the separatists are at least are Ukrainian fighting against their government – and a situation like Syria, which I think the State Department, the Administration —
MS. HARF: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: — everybody acknowledges is a civil war —
MS. HARF: There wasn’t —
QUESTION: — when there are also outside forces?
MS. HARF: That’s true. The difference, I would say, is in Ukraine there was no violence before outside forces intervened. So in Syria, you had a situation where the government – Syrians rose up.
QUESTION: Except in, like, Maidan and places like that.
MS. HARF: But there – that wasn’t civil war-level violence, no. That was internal – it was things like we’ve seen elsewhere around the Arab world, for example. It was people rising up against their government. The government cracked down, and eventually the government fled. That’s not – we wouldn’t term that a civil war.
In Syria, when we started calling it a civil war, right, is when you had this local opposition rise up against the government, the government puts them down, and the armed opposition emerges, and there truly is a Syrian-on-Syrian civil war raging throughout all of Syria, basically.
And in Ukraine, there was no military-to-military level or style of violence. I mean, what happened on the Maidan was an uprising and the government putting it down violently.
QUESTION: Okay, but couldn’t you also argue that —
MS. HARF: There was no large-scale violence like we’ve seen until the Russians started messing around there.
QUESTION: Okay, but you could – one, I guess, could also argue that so much – so many regions of Ukraine at this point are fighting.
MS. HARF: A majority of Ukraine is still completely calm and violence-free – completely calm and violence-free. That’s why you saw with the elections a large, vast majority of the country go ahead to vote totally peacefully and freely.
So I – actually, in terms of where the fighting’s occurring, it really is in a very limited area, which again —
QUESTION: But that would – that could also include Crimea, could it not?
MS. HARF: Right. Still very limited. But again, there was no violent – I mean, you can talk about the violence in the square, but that’s a different kind of violence than we talk about with a civil war and that we talk about with what we’ve seen in Ukraine.
QUESTION: The upcoming talks between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you hoping that there may be some kind of way of resolving this? We’ve seen some troops move back – not all of them – but some move – troops move back from the eastern borders – two-thirds, you said. I wonder if you sort of see that there’s some chink, some possibility of an opening?
MS. HARF: I mean, we hope so, right? I don’t want to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t happened or be overly optimistic. We obviously have always said there was a diplomatic off-ramp here, and that that’s why we were going to keep talking with the Russians. And if we can make some progress tomorrow, that would be great.
QUESTION: What would constitute progress for you?
MS. HARF: I think we’ll wait and see.
QUESTION: Are there any carrots being offered in these talks? Is the Secretary going to come offer some kind of – I don’t know —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — olive branch or opening or —
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to preview specifically about what he’ll say. But what we’ve said, broadly speaking, is that we have put a lot of pressure on the Russian economy, and that pressure will increase if we don’t see changes. And so I think the Russians know that they have a choice to make to continue with the actions and have more pressure, or to do the opposite.
QUESTION: So you’re talking about there could be an easing of the sanctions on the table if certain actions are taken by Moscow?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I was probably saying the opposite: that if certain actions aren’t taken, there will be more sanctions.
QUESTION: More sanctions.
MS. HARF: But no, I haven’t heard anyone talking about easing of sanctions. But again, like, that’s – eventually we would like to get to a place where we could do something like that. But we haven’t seen any indication that will be possible.
QUESTION: So is it purely coincidental, then, today that Germany’s just come out – warned again of – warned that there could be tougher sanctions against Russia?
MS. HARF: We’ve certainly been linked up with the EU. I know people think we haven’t been, but we’ve been linked up with the EU and all the countries quite closely on this, and it’s not coincidental. Look, I think we’re all talking about the fact that there could be more.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Ukraine?
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. Have you seen the video released by the Taliban?
MS. HARF: I have.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And you would like a comment?
MS. HARF: Or a question? Besides have I seen it? I think I’d probably refer you to the statement by my colleague at the Pentagon, Admiral Kirby, who said we’re aware of the video allegedly released by the Taliban showing the transfer. We have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity, but obviously they are reviewing it. Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful. Our focus, of course, remains on getting Sergeant Bergdahl the care he needs. I think DOD – if they have anything else to say, I’d point you there.
QUESTION: But did you know in advance that the Taliban had done a video recording of that? Was there any —
MS. HARF: I was not aware of that. I’m happy to check with my DOD colleagues.
QUESTION: Was there any understanding between the U.S. and the Taliban that this process would be video recorded, or —
MS. HARF: Well again, we weren’t negotiating directly with the Taliban. Qatar was. I don’t have any details on that topic. I’m happy to look into it further.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did any U.S. officials ever meet any members of the Taliban in connection with the possibility of Mr. Bergdahl’s release?
MS. HARF: Over the five years?
MS. HARF: I will have to check, Arshad. I don’t know.
QUESTION: I’m pretty sure that – okay. Please do.
MS. HARF: Do you mean one on one, or with other people in the – or just at all?
QUESTION: At all.
MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll – I would need to check.
QUESTION: Okay. Because – and just so we’re clear, my follow-up is if it proves to be the case that there were actually meetings, then there is then the question of why any such meeting in connection with the possibility of Mr. Bergdahl’s release might not be construed as a negotiation.
MS. HARF: Okay. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: And there have – as you know now – been multiple sort of phases in this discussion about his release, so I just don’t have all the history. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: Marie, would you like to —
MS. HARF: Wait, let me go – go ahead, Said. And then —
QUESTION: Go, Jo. I defer.
QUESTION: Oh, I just —
MS. HARF: We’re all so polite today.
QUESTION: Very polite today.
I just wondered if you had any concerns about the release of this video. Is it being used by the Taliban as some kind of propaganda value? I mean, they had – they blasted across it, “Don’t return to Afghanistan again. Next time, nobody will release you,” and they call it a ceremony for the handover of the soldier.
MS. HARF: Look, I think what we were focused on here is getting this American soldier home. Again, I think there might’ve been some confusion yesterday that the – how he ended up in Taliban captivity is wholly unrelated to whether or not we should’ve brought him home, and I think the Army and military leadership has spoke to that quite eloquently.
So we’ve been very clear about our feelings on the Taliban. The United States military has been very clear about the lengths they will go to take action against the Taliban. We’ve seen that. So I don’t think anyone should be confused or in doubt about the United States military’s willingness to go after the Taliban based on this.
QUESTION: Yeah, that wasn’t – thank you, but that wasn’t really quite my question.
MS. HARF: So I mean I don’t think —
QUESTION: My question is whether it has propaganda value for the Taliban.
MS. HARF: I don’t want to venture to analyze that. I think – I was trying to put it in the broader context of our activities against the Taliban, that it’s a video of us getting an American soldier home. And that’s important to us, and I think that is an important thing for the United States to say that we do no matter how they go missing, and I think on our – that’s how I would view it, at least.
QUESTION: It – was it just a status —
MS. HARF: Wait, wait, hold on. Said and then Lucas. Said.
QUESTION: On the question of whether it (inaudible) —
MS. HARF: Okay, wait —
QUESTION: — whether it was propaganda.
MS. HARF: Lucas, go ahead. Yes.
QUESTION: On the question of whether this —
MS. HARF: There’s time for all of them. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Didn’t you say he was – we were being very polite today?
MS. HARF: I know. Go ahead, Lucas. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On the question of if this is a propaganda video, this video is propaganda for the Taliban – would you say it’s just a status update on Facebook?
MS. HARF: I have no idea why – I will not venture to guess why the Taliban does things or why they release videos. As I said, what’s been important to us throughout this whole process is his health and safety, which, as you know, is why we had to move very quickly. Determining the facts now, which we just don’t know and which is very important to the Army – you’ve heard other people speak about it now today – not prejudging what those are. And look, if the facts lead one way, there will be consequences, of course. But what we’re focused on now really is his health.
QUESTION: Said, do you have a question?
QUESTION: Yeah, I have —
QUESTION: And then we’ll go back to Lucas. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The broader —
MS. HARF: Look at how polite everyone is.
QUESTION: — you mentioned the broader context.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Would you like to see this, in the broader context, lead to some sort of a negotiation with the Taliban where the United States can achieve some sort of a SOFA agreement where the border with Pakistan – you can negotiate with the Haqqani network and the border in Pakistan is more secure? Would you like to see that?
MS. HARF: That was just, like, 15 hypotheticals in one.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. Okay.
MS. HARF: I think – no, but more broadly speaking, Said —
QUESTION: It’s a good place to ask hypotheticals.
MS. HARF: — more broadly speaking, what we’ve said is if this could lead to progress on the reconciliation front —
MS. HARF: — that would be good. I don’t want to get too far ahead of this now because it’s a really tough challenge, right? We need there to be an Afghan-led reconciliation process where they talk about their future and they talk to each other about what would happen next. I don’t think I have much more analysis to do about what possibly could come from this. The President very clearly outlined the future of the United States in Afghanistan several times over the past few years, most recently, of course, in his announcement last week about our troop numbers and what our presence will look like there. So I think we’ve been very clear about the role we’re going to be playing.
QUESTION: So it is possible that this is not just an isolated negotiation for exchanging prisoners incident?
MS. HARF: Well, this was an isolated negotiation about the exchange of prisoners. But if it could lead to progress on reconciliation, which we’ve said is very important, then obviously that would be a good thing. We don’t know if it will, but if it could, that would be good.
Yes, going back to Lucas.
QUESTION: Former Secretary Clinton has spoken out —
QUESTION: I’ve got one on Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: I think this is about Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Yeah, this is – oh – this is – oh, yeah. We’re in Afghanistan still.
MS. HARF: We’re just staying on Afghanistan today.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Benghazi.
QUESTION: No, no, no, we’re not going to Benghazi.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Go ahead, Lucas.
QUESTION: On the Bergdahl case —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — former Secretary Clinton has spoken out, calling it one of the hard choices that top policymakers are often called upon to make. As we all know, this concept of a prisoner swap was first broached with the Congress in late 2011, early 2012. What view of the idea did Secretary Clinton take at the time and when she was serving in the President’s cabinet?
MS. HARF: I think I’d probably refer you to her to speak – I think she’s spoken about it now, and if she has anything else to say, I’m sure she’d be happy to provide it.
QUESTION: Published reports from then and now state that Secretary Clinton opposed the idea of a prisoner swap. Are those reports inaccurate?
MS. HARF: I’m – I know there are a variety of reports out there, and I know that one thing we said very clearly recently is that while we’ve been talking about this for a long time, the situation has continued to evolve; his health, we believe, continued to get worse; and the decisions we made now are not identical to the conversations that we’ve been having for years, just broadly speaking. So again, I’m happy to see if there’s more from her time here or more that she’d like to add, but she’s right. It’s a tough choice. I think what you’ve seen is complete unanimity throughout the Administration, both throughout the last six – or five years he’s been a captive, that we need to do everything we can to bring him home and what that looks like. And even some members of Congress, who were today criticizing us, have been on the record saying we’ll do everything to bring him home, including prisoner swaps.
So I think she’s right that it’s a hard choice and the choices we had in the last week were different than the discussions we were having two years ago.
QUESTION: At the time this – the idea was broached, what involvement was there in the intra-agency process from the State Department?
MS. HARF: Broached in terms of what? When?
QUESTION: Did the Department’s lawyers provide legal opinions? Did INL provide assessments?
MS. HARF: When are you referring to? Sorry.
QUESTION: In 2011, 2012, any time during Secretary Clinton’s term.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check on what occurred previously. I’m obviously most familiar with what’s happened over the past few weeks. But I’m happy to check if there’s more detail.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
QUESTION: I have just one more.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: You might not – I don’t know if you know about this, because I’ve just been pinged it myself, but apparently —
MS. HARF: I love these.
QUESTION: — yeah, me too – there’s some breaking news. There’s another video which shows this young American couple who disappeared in Afghanistan a few years ago. Apparently they’re appealing for help. Do you know —
MS. HARF: Do you have a name?
QUESTION: I can’t remember their name. You might —
QUESTION: I know more about this. It’s – I don’t know the name, I will get it for you, but it’s a Canadian man and his wife who’s from Pennsylvania. They’re a young couple. The video shows her in an abaya with a hijab and they’re being held.
MS. HARF: Private citizens?
QUESTION: Yes. Civilians.
MS. HARF: Obviously, we have no greater priority than the protection of American citizens overseas. I’m not familiar with this, and obviously, there are always privacy concerns. I’ll check on it, though.
QUESTION: She was apparently pregnant, I think, when they disappeared —
MS. HARF: Okay. I’m happy —
QUESTION: — back in 2012.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I know there are some privacy concerns, so let me just check.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: But are there privacy concerns even if they have identified themselves?
MS. HARF: I’d have to check on the specifics.
QUESTION: Okay. Because the video shows them saying, my name is X, Y.
MS. HARF: Okay, I’ll check.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I’ll check.
QUESTION: Back to Secretary Clinton real quick.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Just in general, was this the only option, the prisoner swap?
MS. HARF: Compared to what?
QUESTION: Well, Fox News’ Catherine Herridge is now reporting that this prisoner swap – that this was the second option, this was not the only option, that they had pursued another plan in December 2013.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check on the details. Obviously, if there were other things considered – I think, broadly speaking, we’ve considered all options to get him back. This was judged to be – again, recently, we believe as General Dempsey said, this was the best, probably last chance to get him home. This was what we undertook in order to get him home. As we’ve said very publicly, we’ve been talking for a long time about a potential prisoner swap and what that might look like. I’m sure we looked at a range of options, but again, as – I will refer to General Dempsey’s comment that this was the best opportunity to get him home.
QUESTION: So cash payments were discussed?
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I don’t know, Lucas.
QUESTION: And were you – was the United States Government negotiating with the Pakistani Government?
MS. HARF: Negotiating with the – were they – I’m happy to check on those details. Again, I’m most familiar with the recent history here, but I’m happy to dig a little deeper.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan —
QUESTION: To go back to what (inaudible) just sent to me. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: See, I wish I could have my phone up here because I feel like I’m at a disadvantage. You all have your phones.
QUESTION: And I need to pay tribute. It’s an AP story, AP. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I need to, like, be able to phone a friend. Yes.
QUESTION: It’s Caitlin Coleman and Joshua Boyle.
MS. HARF: Okay, yes. So again, as in these general types of cases, strive to remain in contact with the U.S. citizen’s family, provide appropriate consular access. About this case, because of privacy considerations, cannot provide additional details.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just one Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: So yesterday you said you had a very short window of time for the prisoner swap.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And today you are saying that you had the best and the last opportunity. Did the Taliban give you a deadline for —
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details for you on the discussion – internal discussions between the Government of Qatar and the Taliban.
QUESTION: And exactly where this happened? Was it around – along the Pakistan border in Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check if there’s more detail we can provide on that.
QUESTION: And did the U.S. also video record and took pictures of —
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Because the video didn’t see – I don’t see anything in the video that —
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Was it a risky operation, do you believe?
MS. HARF: Was it a – I mean, look, every time – everything we do here in this part of the world entails some risk, absolutely. But we had, through our discussions with the Government of Qatar, come to an understanding about how this would occur. Obviously, there is always risk, but thankfully, this transfer went forward peacefully.
QUESTION: But did you take any backup precaution? Because we see Taliban fire fighters all around —
MS. HARF: I think the United States military always takes a lot of backup precautions, I would venture to guess.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Just to complete the idea of this contact with Taliban, is Taliban in any way part of the Afghanistan equation?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. They’re a huge power player there.
QUESTION: And do you have something for it, or because you – the reason I’m asking: It was 2012, I think, there was an office of Taliban opened in Qatar.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yes.
QUESTION: And I don’t know – I mean, I think that it was not even – I mean, it was – if not welcome —
MS. HARF: Briefly open.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Well, in terms of that, the Taliban did suspend direct talks in 2012, and we have not resumed them. As you mentioned, that office was/is still based in Qatar. Nothing to update you in terms of that. They remain suspended.
QUESTION: But this office was to contact other Afghanis or contact you?
MS. HARF: I think it was to be part of the reconciliation process, which of course we’ve said needs to really be Afghans talking to Afghans, but we obviously play – have some role here.
MS. HARF: Afghanistan?
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. HARF: Anything else on Afghanistan?
QUESTION: One more time: Can you confirm that cash options were considered in exchange for Bergdahl?
MS. HARF: I don’t know, Lucas. I’m happy to check and see if there are other options that were considered and if we can confirm them. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: But you can’t deny that cash payments were discussed?
MS. HARF: But I can’t confirm – I just – I can’t confirm it, so it’s not that I’m not denying it. It’s that I don’t know if it’s true or not. Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a legal question on —
MS. HARF: My favorite.
QUESTION: Well, it’s just – it’s very general, but it relates to this. When people are saying the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorist groups, is that statute or is that general policy? And —
MS. HARF: Well, our line is that we don’t make concessions —
QUESTION: That’s what I was about to ask you.
MS. HARF: — which is different. I mean, that’s the – you’re quoting it colloquial. That’s actually not what you’ll hear us say from the podium (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. And how do you define the difference?
MS. HARF: How do we define the difference? Well, I —
QUESTION: Between making concessions and negotiating.
MS. HARF: I think it’s clear that we don’t make concessions to terrorists. And that’s a judgment, right, that we don’t – I think – I don’t know. I think those words, using Matt, I think are fairly well defined.
QUESTION: So releasing five of their prisoners or five of their —
MS. HARF: Is not making a concession.
QUESTION: It’s not a concession?
MS. HARF: No. It is consistent absolutely with what’s happened in previous wars, including Korea, including Vietnam. I think one of the large tranches of prisoners in Vietnam, it was something like around 500 Americans for 1,200 North Vietnamese. So again, this has a long history in the United States of prisoner swaps.
QUESTION: But it allows you to keep – to hew to your policy just by how you define the word “concession.”
MS. HARF: No. Well, and let’s talk about these five a little bit, because I think it might be helpful. All of these five were eligible for review by the Periodic Review Board of Guantanamo Bay. So there are three buckets of people in Guantanamo that remain. There are those who are approved for transfer. That’s 78. There are about 30 who have been referred for prosecution in some way. These five are in that middle bucket and were unlikely – might have been, but unlikely – to be added to the group that was going to be referred for prosecution. So it is quite likely that eventually, in line with our commitment to close Guantanamo Bay, they would be transferred.
Now, I’m doing some hypotheticals and going out a little bit here, but I think it’s important to remember who these five were, what likely would have ended up happening to them. So let’s say it was important for us to get Sergeant Bergdahl home. Let’s say these guys may have eventually been transferred somewhere anyways. I think many of us would make the argument – I would make it – that we should get something for them.
QUESTION: Marie, so not making concessions does not preclude negotiating. Is that what you’re saying?
MS. HARF: I’m saying our policy is not to make concessions to terrorists.
QUESTION: I’m trying to understand, because this is the first I hear this. So suppose someone hijacks a plane and demands an hour on television, for instance.
MS. HARF: We don’t make concessions to terrorists.
QUESTION: That would be a concession. But to negotiate exchange of prisoners is different?
MS. HARF: But again, this was an exchange of prisoners in war.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MS. HARF: Right? Let’s be clear about that. Operating under —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) legitimizes the Taliban to take prisoners of war, and now we’re doing this exchange with the Taliban?
MS. HARF: It’s – well, I don’t know what you mean by legitimizing. We have an authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan partly because of – in large part because of the Taliban. So we are operating under an AUMF, congressionally approved AUMF. We are at war in Afghanistan. The Taliban was holding captive in a war zone our soldier. So operating under the long-established prisoner swaps that we’ve done – yes?
QUESTION: Yet all of the detainees in Guantanamo were specifically referred to as detainees and enemy combatants —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — and not prisoners of war.
MS. HARF: And we talked about this a little bit yesterday that it’s the underlying principle that we exchange prisoners in war – whatever term we use for them, right? It’s not a technical term; it is a concept that these are prisoners we have taken during wartime, factually.
QUESTION: Well, detainees. I mean, every administration since 2001 – or I guess the two administrations since we opened Guantanamo – has made it very – I mean, have parsed it out to —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. I understand that.
QUESTION: — ad nauseum that these are not prisoners, these are detainees.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: You’re not calling them prisoners of war. You’ve changed your language today and called them prisoners in war.
MS. HARF: I am not – right. I’m not changing the technical definition of what we call people incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. I’m not changing that in any way, nor was this decision changing that in any way, period. And these five detainees went through the routine process we do for all Guantanamo detainees before they are transferred in terms of the mitigation to the threat, undertaking a review to make sure we are sufficiently assured that we’ve mitigated the threat as much as we can. We can never mitigate it 100 percent.
And again, that’s why I gave a little of the backstory on what’s happening to the rest of these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and who’s slated for what. It was also, I think, important to remember that these five were taken and brought to Guantanamo very, very early on in the war in Afghanistan. It doesn’t mean they’re not bad guys, but it’s important for context to remember who these guys are in comparison. They weren’t, for example, on the list of about 30 that have been referred for prosecution.
QUESTION: Right. These are guys who were swept up on the battlefield —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Very early on.
QUESTION: — and they were combatants.
MS. HARF: Very early on.
QUESTION: So let me ask this: I’m sure this is the case or I assume this is the case, but I just want to make sure. These five who were released, were they – did the Taliban specifically by name ask for these five, or did the Administration pick these five?
MS. HARF: I’m not probably going to go into more details about the back-and-forth negotiations. This was the agreement we ended up coming to.
QUESTION: Because it begs the question whether or not some of them could have come from the 78 who have already been cleared for transfer.
MS. HARF: None of them were in the 78 already cleared for transfer. They were all in this middle – and so everyone who’s not cleared for transfer already or has been referred for prosecution is eligible for review by the Periodic Review Board.
QUESTION: Correct. No, maybe I should be more clear.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, if given the choice, I assume the Administration would have picked five people who had already been cleared for transfer who have already been deemed not a threat to —
MS. HARF: I think we wanted – given the choice, we wanted to find an acceptable agreement where we could get our soldier back and feel like we sufficiently mitigated the risk for whoever we transfer.
QUESTION: So can I just ask —
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: — you’re making the argument that you should get something for these people, for these —
MS. HARF: I’m making the argument that if – if, and this is an if – I’m breaking my own rule – they someday were eventually going to be transferred, then if we could get something for them now, that is, of course, something that I think most people would agree with. But that – to be fair, the broader context about why this decision was made was because we felt like, again, we had a short-time window with Bergdahl —
MS. HARF: His health was declining. We needed to get him home and wanted to get him home, and that the Secretary of Defense had made, based on the interagency assessment we do when any – whenever a Gitmo detainee is transferred, had made the assessment that we had sufficiently mitigated the risk and it was in our national security interest to make this prisoner swap.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. I understand that.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: But I’m just wondering more broadly now, does that mean that the others who are eligible for review or approved for transfer who remain in Guantanamo are now American bargaining chips?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s no —
QUESTION: In other situations.
MS. HARF: Well, there’s no other American POWs in Afghanistan being held by the Taliban.
QUESTION: No, but I mean there are other situations where there are Americans being held. Does that mean – I mean, I just think —
MS. HARF: I mean not —
QUESTION: — that their lawyers might have an issue with that if —
MS. HARF: Not – again, I’m not saying it’s a bargaining chip per se. I’m trying to put these five – I think people have – there’s been a little confusion out there about who they are and what was eventually going to happen to them. I was trying to put that into the broader context.
QUESTION: But you said that the argument was that we should get something for them, which means equally the argument could be made —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — for all those others.
MS. HARF: That’s not —
QUESTION: It could be made. I’m not saying it’s going to be made.
MS. HARF: Right. And I think every situation is different. We have a broad goal of closing Guantanamo Bay. If we can charge people, we will. When we can approve people for transfer through this interagency process, we’ll do that because we do at the end of the day want to close Guantanamo Bay. We had one American soldier who’s been a – who’s a POW in Afghanistan, so this is an incredibly unique situation, I would say, and wouldn’t compare it to any other detainees. And I wasn’t trying to set a precedent. I was just – I think people have had a little confusion about eventually what was going to happen to these five at the end of this.
QUESTION: Marie, a follow-up question to Arshad’s: How do you define concessions?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to see if there’s a legal definition for you.
QUESTION: And Marie, critics are – have said that this is a very bad deal, that these weren’t just five guys swept up on the battlefield in 2002, they were high-ranking Taliban officials, direct ties to al-Qaida, it was essentially the Taliban’s war cabinet – how is this a good deal?
MS. HARF: Well, first of all, our American POW is home and he’s going to be reunited with his family. So I think by any measure, that’s something that’s good.
QUESTION: Most would —
MS. HARF: Second —
QUESTION: Most would argue that an alleged deserter, outside of him being reunited with his family, that was not a good deal.
MS. HARF: I don’t think most would argue that, Lucas. I think you can look at what – first of all – well, I think you can look at what military leadership has said. Regardless of how he went missing, it is our duty to bring him home regardless. And I would trust our military leadership, Chairman Dempsey, the Secretary of the Army McHugh, and others who have spoken to this, Secretary Hagel. So that’s a separate conversation. They are doing an investigation now to determine the facts.
And I’m not saying we don’t believe anyone that’s come out. I think there’s been some confusion about this, too. I’m not saying that we – certainly we at the State Department aren’t doing the investigation, but people who are looking at it need to get all the facts. They will look at a variety of sources to get them. If there’s been misconduct, Chairman Dempsey was clear there will be consequences.
QUESTION: In 2010 the Pentagon did conduct an investigation and concluded that Sergeant Bergdahl walked off the COP.
MS. HARF: I think you’re misrepresenting that. First of all, DOD can probably speak more clearly to that. But again, in 2010 we didn’t have all the facts. Many more facts have emerged since then, including now the person at the center of this.
QUESTION: So if you didn’t have all the facts, why did you agree to this deal?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: You didn’t have all the facts when —
MS. HARF: Because as I said, the facts of how he got into Taliban custody have no bearing on whether or not we bring him home, period. Those are two separate questions. And we will look at all the information. We – I’m sure that people are talking to people he served with, they’re talking to him when they can when he’s in good enough health. And they – the Army has said that it’s launching a review. And look, if there was misconduct, there will be consequences.
QUESTION: Did the State Department know about these alleged allegations about him being a deserter?
MS. HARF: I think there have been – as I said yesterday, perhaps not as eloquently as I should have – there have been a range of reports about what happened to him and how he ended up in Taliban custody – there really have – a range of them since he went missing. You can read press reports going back several years to attest to that. So obviously, we were aware of some of that. But again, what we were focused on was getting him home. Determining how he went missing is for a later time.
QUESTION: And what evidence did you have that his health was in danger?
MS. HARF: I mean, we had a variety of evidence. Some of it you’ve seen publicly in terms of proof of life. I’m not going to go into details about all the information we had about him.
QUESTION: Does the State Department think – back to the Taliban video – that when he was walking to the bird he looked like he was in pretty good shape?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to make a medical assessment based on a video. This is a United States soldier who has been in captivity for five years. I can’t – none of us here can imagine what that would do to you or how you would come out of that on the other end, and that’s why I think we all owe him and his family, regardless of our feelings on this, a little bit of time so he can get in better health, he can reunite with his family, and then we’ll figure out what happened. But I think we owe it to him to do that.
QUESTION: Will the investigation be —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question? You have consistently referred to Mr. Bergdahl as a prisoner of war.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Who decides who is a prisoner of war and who is not a prisoner of war?
MS. HARF: What do you mean, “who decides”? I mean, he was an American serviceman —
QUESTION: Well, the U.S. Government —
MS. HARF: — taken by the enemy in an armed conflict where we’re operating under an AUMF.
QUESTION: Right, I get that. But the people who are imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay were – although they could by some people be construed to be prisoners of war, and some of them were indeed taken on the battlefield in the course of a military conflict – they were deemed by the United States government not to be prisoners of war. They were very carefully defined to be enemy combatants, I think the historical record shows, so as to be able to strip them of the right —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: Let me finish – the rights that would have been —
QUESTION: Afforded —
QUESTION: — granted to – or afforded, exactly – prisoners of war. So you guys can call – you say that Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, but maybe from the Taliban’s point of view he was not a prisoner of war.
QUESTION: He was just swept up on the battlefield of Afghanistan, just like the Taliban, right?
MS. HARF: Yeah, wait – can I make a few comments, though? So first of all, I can speak for what’s happened during this Administration, the decisions we’ve made about what we call people. Obviously, we inherited a situation with respect to Guantanamo Bay that we have tried through various mechanisms to rectify. The Supreme Court has held that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions protects Taliban and other detainees captured in non-international armed conflicts like the one in Afghanistan. So they have – the Supreme Court has weighed in on this. Obviously, we inherited a situation where we were dealing with Guantanamo Bay that was operating a certain way – and again, we’ve tried to rectify it to the extent that we can.
Whether or not members of the Taliban meet particular prisoner of war criteria, including, I think, that it has to be between states – the prisoner of war term, I believe, in the Geneva Conventions refers to conflict between states. Obviously, the Taliban is not a state.
QUESTION: Right. So how then, if I may ask, is —
MS. HARF: In terms of the Geneva Convention.
QUESTION: — Mister Bergdahl a prisoner of war —
MS. HARF: Because he’s a member of a —
QUESTION: — because you’re an ally of the state of Afghanistan, correct me? So how is he a prisoner of war?
MS. HARF: So he is a member of the United States military —
QUESTION: You talked about conflict between states.
MS. HARF: Right, but he is a member of a state army being held during a time of war where we’re operating under an AUMF in American law.
QUESTION: That you —
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with the lawyers if there’s more details —
QUESTION: No, no, I get it. It’s just —
MS. HARF: — and I’m not re-litigating why the Bush Administration called people a certain thing when they got to Guantanamo.
QUESTION: No, no. But the point I’m trying to make is when you justify your – the President’s decision to secure his release in the manner that he did – I take no position on the merits of that —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — by using certain terms like “prisoner of war” for your guy and not prisoner of war for the Taliban people, you’re using language in a way that tries to justify something, but it’s not clear to me at all whether the use of the language – and maybe it is – is actually justified.
MS. HARF: So can I – just speaking, I think, to your – I think your broader point: that we believe that prisoner swaps during a time of war – forgetting about the legal definitions under the Geneva Convention or international law – are – have a long historical precedent and are justified, and this was one of them.
I think the President has been clear when it comes to Guantanamo Bay that we inherited a situation we did not agree with; that we are bound in some respects by some of the legal rulings, by what Congress has tried to do. But the fundamental notion that we want to close the prison, that we want these – charge or transfer where we can, and that we have improved the situation there is something that is in line with, I think, what you’re getting at. I think. And I can’t defend what was done in the previous eight years when Guantanamo Bay was open, but the President has been very clear about the incredibly hurtful nature of Guantanamo Bay to the United States – how we’re seen overseas, how it in many cases has not been in line with our values, and that’s why he has committed to close it.
So I’m trying to get, I think – I mean, language is important, absolutely. And here we very much stand by the notion that this was prisoner swap during a time of war. But I think actions and how we’re treating these people and how we’re trying to rectify the situation is in some ways more important.
QUESTION: So are we now prepared to afford the remaining 160 or whatever number of detainees —
MS. HARF: Hundred and forty-nine.
QUESTION: — hundred and forty-nine detainees that remain at Guantanamo – are we now willing to afford them POW status?
MS. HARF: This in no way changes the system we are operating under at Guantanamo Bay today. This in no way – which has been the subject of many legal cases, congressional action – again, we inherited a situation; we’ve attempted to rectify it. Congress has done quite a bit, as has the court system, to put in place how Guantanamo Bay operates today, and this in no way changes that, period.
QUESTION: Marie, just a follow-up real quick —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — about the Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. Can you restate how you classified them? Were they part of a detainee group scheduled for release?
MS. HARF: No. As I said, there have been – just give me one second.
QUESTION: How many are (inaudible) —<