Tagged: Iraq-EU

East Asia and the Pacific: Remarks at the U.S. Embassy Tokyo

Date: 02/05/2015 Description: Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman addresses reporters during her visit to Tokyo, Japan, on January 30, 2015. - State Dept ImageUNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Good afternoon. It’s terrific to be here, but let me start actually on a more sober note – I want to express the condolences of my country, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and all of my countrymen for the loss of yours, and our fervent hopes and prayers that Kenji Goto returns home safely. Unfortunately, the United States has been through this sort of experience, and we know how difficult it is. We are in solidarity with Japan in every way.

I have had excellent conversations here in Japan. As was noted, this is the last stop on a long trip. It actually began not here in northeast Asia, but in Berlin for a G7 political directors’ meeting. I was in Zurich, for two days of negotiations with Iran, and then in Beijing, Seoul, and now Japan.

I have taken this as my first trip in 2015 because the President and the Secretary, this administration and I are very focused on the Asia-Pacific rebalance. And it made sense that we begin a series of what will be high-level visits throughout this year, in recognition of that rebalance. Our alliance with Japan – the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in Asia – continues to mature and develop. We are modernizing our security alliance through investments in new capabilities. We’re also revising the 1997 U.S-Japan Defense Guidelines to further ensure Japan’s security, improve interoperability, advance our cooperation with other partners, and enhance our contributions to peace and security.

Meanwhile, we’re enhancing our economic relationship, and we are two of the most fundamental economies in the world. We are doing this both bilaterally and regionally, by negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And I am very optimistic that TPP will in the near future come to a positive point of closure. President Obama has reiterated very recently his commitment to working with Congress to secure a trade-promotion authority, as well as the importance of concluding this ambitious TPP to support jobs and economic growth in all the TPP economies.

Through TPP, our two countries are also helping lead the nation and the region to higher standards for trade. And to achieve these ambitious goals, we’re also working to resolve the remaining bilateral issues between us. In my recent trip in the region, it’s been clear to me that everybody wants to become part of TPP over time; and that TPP is a magnet for the development of trade and a strong economy here in Asia.

Our negotiators have made a lot of progress in recent weeks. There are some tough issues remaining. We are all working to resolve these as soon as possible, so that together we can reap the economic benefits of this agreement.

Regional prosperity, of course, goes hand-in-hand with security. You can’t have prosperity without security, and it’s hard to have security without prosperity. I just came, as I mentioned, from Beijing and Seoul. There is a natural imperative to work together to address threats like North Korea’s banned nuclear and missile programs, and to lower tensions in the East and South China Seas. We are working to build an effective regional architecture, including through institutions like ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and APEC. We do this because these institutions work for principles of fairness and rule of law and against the notion that might makes right. We know they are essential to peace and prosperity and to the security of all countries, large and small.

Beyond our bilateral and regional work, we are also strengthening our global partnership to counter violent extremism. Japan has played a critical role in the global coalition against ISIL and provided very generous humanitarian assistance across the affected area. Prime Minister Abe’s trip to the Middle East in mid-January further advanced Japan’s engagement on this issue. And needless to say, fighting the terror of ISIL is a top priority for all of us in the world.

Japan has also, helpfully, condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea and supported strong sanctions to deter continued Russian aggression in Ukraine. Japan has also demonstrated firm commitment to the people of Ukraine, providing humanitarian assistance and critical financial support to the Ukrainian government.

We are also two of the biggest contributors to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries counter the impact of climate change. This is one of the most crucial issues in the year ahead, as we approach the Paris conference, with Japan having pledged $1.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund.

On Ebola, Japan over the last year has donated about $150 million and also provided medical professionals to the WHO response. Japan has worked to alleviate health challenges and poverty across Africa and, quite frankly, across the world, for many years.

Throughout the past decades, Japan has demonstrated firm support for upholding human rights and democratic principles throughout the world.

Of course, the real foundation of our relationship is formed by the ties between our people. When I was a high school student, my pen pal – we used to have pen pals then – no Twitter, no Internet, no social media – my pen pal was a young Japanese schoolgirl. That was my introduction to Japan. Thousands of students make the journey between our two countries each year, and we want more, because they make lifelong friendships through those experiences. Unfortunately, the numbers of Japanese students in the United States are down from their peak in the 1990s, and while they are up for Americans going east, the absolute numbers are still low. In recognition of the seriousness with which both countries take this issue, our governments formed a taskforce that issued a variety of recommendations to increase student exchanges. We’re working with our Japanese partners to implement those recommendations.

In closing these brief remarks, I want to note – as I know you are all aware – that this is the year of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It offers us an opportunity to celebrate the stunning success of the U.S.-Japan partnership over these past 70 years – a partnership that has fostered, and continues to promote, peace and prosperity across the region. We welcomed Prime Minister Abe’s New Year’s remarks. I believe firmly that all parties have an interest in working together in handling commemorations this year in a way that truly promotes reconciliation and strengthens relationships.

With that, let me re-emphasize our belief that whatever challenges arise, you will find Japan and the United States side by side, meeting them together. I look forward to continuing my work with my Japanese counterparts, and I look forward to your questions. Thank you.

QUESTION: My name is Mochizuki. I’m with the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Thank you very much for doing this, and welcome to Japan. Let me start with a question about ISIL, the Islamic State. As you know, the Japanese government has been struggling to release Kenji Goto, who has been taken hostage by ISIL for a long time. And now the Jordanian government, who has been cooperating with Japan, is now saying that they can swap the prisoner in Jordan who is a terrorist in prison for 10 years, with the Jordanian pilot who has been taken hostage by the ISIL. So my question is, do you agree with such a kind of swap between prisoners and hostages? And also, we really want to express our gratitude to you because you expressed your solidarity with the Japanese people, but what kind of support can we expect from the U.S. government with this situation? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think you will all appreciate and understand that it is best for me not to answer your question – that what is most important right now is our support for the Japanese people and for Japan’s government and to do everything to bring Kenji Goto home. We will leave that to the discussions that are going on and the decisions that are being made by the government of Japan.

QUESTION: Isabel Reynolds from Bloomberg. On the same topic, you mentioned the Prime Minister’s speech in the Middle East and how you welcomed Japan’s contributions to the War on Terror. Are you at all concerned that the fact that this hostage crisis came immediately after that speech would make Japan waiver in its commitment to the War on Terror?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: There is nothing I have seen and nothing I have heard in my meetings here or in all of my contacts and discussions with my colleagues that leads me to any other conclusion but that Japan, like every other country in the world, believes strongly that the threat of terror must end and that all countries must do whatever we can to stop this inhumane set of acts.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Kazuhiro Kuge from Kyodo News. Thank you for this opportunity. My question is about the meeting with Mr. Sugiyama tonight. What will be the main agenda of the meeting with Mr. Sugiyama, and could you give us some examples and details, if possible?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: In all of my discussions today – which have been excellent, including with your national security advisor and deputy foreign minister, and with some of your scholars as well, and again at dinner with Sugiyama-san – we have covered a range of issues: bilateral – how to strengthen our alliance to make it even stronger than it already is – and it’s an extraordinary alliance – all of the bilateral concerns and issues that we work on together. We’ve discussed regional issues including some that I mentioned in my opening remarks, and also global issues. We’ve discussed everything from the DPRK, which is both a regional and a global issue, to the Iran negotiations. We have discussed the situation in Ukraine. We’ve discussed the world economy. We have discussed the G7. So everything from the work we’re doing on the U.S-Japan Defense Guidelines to what the world is going to look like in this century. It’s been very wide-ranging – as one would expect in a relationship that is this deep and this strong, where we work side by side on virtually every issue of concern in the world.

QUESTION: Anna Fifield from the Washington Post. On North Korea, I’m sure you heard in Seoul this week that South Korea is very much now in engagement mode talking about dropping sanctions, talking about a summit with Kim Jong-un, and they could hardly be more different from your position, the American position, looking at increasing sanctions, the President talking about the inevitable collapse of North Korea. So how concerned are you about the fact that you allies now seem to be going in different directions and seem to be out of sync on North Korea, and how much does that complicate your efforts to get them back to the nuclear table?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Actually, I think there is absolutely no daylight between us and South Korea, and no daylight among any of the partners that are working as part of the Six-Party process – of course except North Korea, with which there is quite a bit of daylight. But with the other partners: none. And I had extensive discussions in both China and in Seoul, and of course here in Japan, and everyone is on the same page. We are completely supportive of President Park’s initiative to have discussions bilaterally with North Korea. She has said that denuclearization is the topic for those conversations, and we agree that that is the priority, as do all of our partners. Special Envoy Sung Kim was just here in Tokyo meeting trilaterally, and he has also had consultations with other partners including China and Russia. And everyone is on the same page: Denuclearization remains the priority. No one – no one – is taking any pressure off of North Korea. We expect there to be no further provocations, and we expect that North Korea will begin to take concrete steps to show that it is serious about denuclearization and making sure that this threat is removed from northeast Asia and from the world.

QUESTION: My name is Shota Sato. I work for TBS television in Tokyo, but I will ask my question in Japanese.

(Via interpreter) It is the 70th anniversary that we are marking this year after the end of World War II, and Prime Minister Abe intends to issue “Abe’s Statement.” There used to be a Murayama Statement and a Koizumi Statement and so forth, and the outline might be the same but the details will be different from the prime minister’s statement. Do you have any assessment or reaction to this?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: As I said, where the 70th anniversary is concerned, we see this as a time to really mark how much progress has been made in those 70 years and what we all have ahead of us. We understand that history remains, and we know that countries in the region are discussing the past as well as looking ahead to the future. And from the United States’ perspective, whatever the countries together resolve, whatever reconciliation works, whatever will strengthen relationships in the region is a good outcome. And we anticipate that we will have that good outcome, because my sense in all of my talks here in northeast Asia is that everyone wants to look ahead to an even better, brighter, stronger future here in northeast Asia, and in the world.

QUESTION: My name is Sakae Toiyama. I’m from Ryukyu Shimpo, Okinawa press. Let me ask my question in Japanese.

(Via interpreter) We have the Futenma issue in Okinawa with U.S. Forces in Japan. Last November, a governor opposed to the relocation of Futenma to Henoko was elected in Okinawa, and many Okinawans are opposed to the relocation. So I would appreciate your views on this, and what kind of discussion did you have during your stay in Japan about the Futenma relocation? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well of course Futenma came up in my discussions, because it’s an issue of great concern for all of us. The U.S. and Japan have worked very hard to find a resolution that will work for everyone. We expect that the relocation will proceed along the lines that have been agreed, and the U.S. will do everything it can to deal with any impacts that concern the people of Japan.

QUESTION: Anthony Rowley, Singapore Business Times. This is perhaps only peripherally related to today’s subject, but as you are aware, 21 countries recently signed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing tentatively to join what is known as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Do you expect the United States to support that initiative, and if so, what will be the essential conditions that the United States will require?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. Actually, the Asian Investment Bank came up in my conversations on this trip. The United States’ position on this is that we will consider any infrastructure structure that helps to increase the prosperity and security of the region. But we want to make sure that any such bank or any such structure lives by international rules and norms, creates a fair playing field, and is in line with the other institutions that currently exist. Don’t replicate, but add to the strength and the value that they hope to bring to the table. So that is the basis on which we believe everyone should take a look at this idea.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. Mainichi Newspaper – my name is Omae. One more time, I have a question about ISIL. In the future, which kind of alliance or partnership do you expect with Japan? For instance, the EU is currently discussing the strategy against terrorism, so do you have any particular thing in your mind?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, the expectations – the expectations that I think Japan and every other country of the over 60 countries that are part of the anti-ISIL coalition – want, is to over time – because it will take time – to degrade and then take out ISIL. But this is not just a military campaign. That’s only one part of the anti-ISIL effort. There is also a need for humanitarian assistance, because there are so many refugees and internally displaced people, particularly out of Syria, as a result of ISIL’s actions. There is a need to deal with the issue of foreign fighters, people who go particularly to Syria and even Iraq to fight with ISIL and then may return to their home countries and create terror there – as we have seen unfortunately in the last weeks. There is an effort to counter violent extremism.

What can we do so that young people don’t think their future rests with q terror organization, but rests with a better education and building a strong economy so they have a job? It is also a strategy that involves strengthening and supporting the government of Iraq as it tries to gain control, and maintain control, of its country in the face of the threat of ISIL. So there are many prongs to this effort – stopping the financing mechanisms for ISIL. Countries around the world are doing different things to try to deal with this issue and to ensure that this threat is eliminated. This will take a considerable period of time to achieve, but there is intent from more than just the 60 countries, because many countries are doing this bilaterally or on their own even if they aren’t part of the anti-ISIL coalition.

QUESTION: Nishimura with Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper. Japan is expecting a visit from Russian President Putin this year. What kind of outcome do you expect if it happens with the timing when Russia and Ukraine have a serious issue?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: The decision about visits is a decision for any country to make, not for the U.S. to make for another country, so I will leave it for Japan to make its own decision. What I will say, which the European Union in its Foreign Affairs Council meeting reinforced yesterday, is that Russian aggression in Ukraine in support of the separatists is continuing and getting worse. The aggression in Mariupol last week that left 30 dead, including women, children, the elderly as well as over 100 injured, is something that must stop. And the European Union yesterday – and we are certainly in concert with this – said the sanctions would continue and that they would consider additional sanctions if this aggression continues.

There are many places where we work with Russia on challenges around the world. Certainly Russia is an important partner in the Six-Party Talks and an important partner in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, but in Ukraine and on the issue of Ukraine, Russian support for the separatists and for the aggression which has taken place, for the attempt to annex Crimea, is something that should not be happening. The world community is responding to that in every way, as it must.

Thank you.

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Remarks by the Vice President at the John F. Kennedy Forum

The White House

Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release

October 03, 2014

Harvard Kennedy School
Boston, Massachusetts

6:37 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, Dean, you did that introduction exactly like my sister wrote it sounds like.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.  That was very, very generous of you.

And as we used to say in the Senate, please excuse the point of personal privilege.  There are three reasons why I’ve won the races I’ve won and why I sustained winning, and they’re right here in this front row.  The first one is my sister, but also the guy who got me through the 1972 campaign is one of the best political strategists I have ever known, and a man who is — as Frank — is that you, Frank, back there?  Frank Fahrenkopf, the former chairman of the Republican Party.  We’ve known each other a long time, back to the days when we really liked one another, Republicans and Democrats.  (Laughter.)  We still do.  It’s great to see you, Frank.

But as Frank can tell you and anyone else can tell you that the one thing when you hire a political consultant that you most are concerned about — and I mean this sincerely — is will they reflect your values.  This guy that I’m about to introduce to you has more integrity in his little finger than most people have their whole body, but is the reason I overcame that deficit — John Marttila, a native Bostonian here. 

And the guy sitting next to him who has fought in Vietnam and came back to fight against the war in Vietnam and has become my friend.  And if you ever have to — that old joke, if you have to be in a foxhole, this is the guy you want with you, Professor Tommy Vallely (ph).  Tommy, it’s great to see you.  I didn’t expect to see you.

And it’s great to be here.  And I have one plea, don’t jump.  (Laughter.)  Don’t jump.  It’s good to be back.

I understand that Senator Markey may be here.  I hope for his sake he’s not and he’s out campaigning because — but I was told he might be, and Congressman Delahunt, two fine friends.  If they’re here I want to acknowledge them.

Folks, “all’s changed, changed utterly.  A terrible beauty has been born.”  Those are the words written by an Irish poet William Butler Yeats about the Easter Rising in 1916 in Ireland.  They were meant to describe the status of the circumstance in Ireland at that time.  But I would argue that in recent years, they better describe the world as we see it today because all has changed.  The world has changed.

There’s been an incredible diffusion of power within states and among states that has led to greater instability.  Emerging economies like India and China have grown stronger, and they seek a great force in the global order and global affairs. 

Other powers like Russia are using new asymmetrical forms of coercion to seek advantage like corruption and “little green men,” foreign agents, soldiers with a mission but no official uniform.  New barriers and practices are challenging the principles of an open, fair, economic competition.  And in a globalized world, threats as diverse as terrorism and pandemic disease cross borders at blinding speeds.  The sheer rapidity and magnitude, the interconnectedness of the major global challenges demand a response — a different response, a global response involving more players, more diverse players than ever before.

This has all led to a number of immediate crises that demand our attention from ISIL to Ebola to Ukraine — just to name a few that are on our front door — as someone said to me earlier this week, the wolves closest to the door.

Each one in its own way is symptomatic of the fundamental changes that are taking place in the world.  These changes have also led to larger challenges.  The international order that we painstakingly built after World War II and defended over the past several decades is literally fraying at the seams right now.

The project of this administration, our administration at this moment in the 21st century, the project that President Obama spoke about last week at the United Nations is to update that order, to deal with these new realities, but also accommodate and continue to reflect our enduring interests and our enduring values.

And we’re doing this in a number of ways.  First, by strengthening our core alliances; second, building relationships with emerging powers; third, defending and extending the international rules of the road that are most vital; and fourthly, confronting the causes of violent extremism.  But all of this rests on building a strong, vibrant economy here at home to be able to underpin our ability to do anything abroad.

So tonight I want to talk to you about our efforts and provide, as best I can, an honest accounting of what it’s going to take for America to succeed in the beginning of the 21st century.

The first thing we have to do is to further strengthen our alliances.  Many of the challenges we face today require a collective response.  That’s why we start from a foundation of the strong alliance we’ve had historically in Europe and in Asia, a feature of American strength unmatched by any other nation in history and built on a sacred commitment to defend one another, but also built on shared political and economic values.

One of the cornerstones of our foreign policy is the vision we share with our NATO allies of a Europe whole and free, where every nation can choose the path it wishes with no interference.  But that vision has been recently challenged.  We’ve seen aggression on Europe’s frontier.  And that’s why we’ve moved to mobilize our NATO allies to step up and provide significant security assistance to Ukraine. 

Each of the 28 NATO allies has now committed to providing security assistance to Ukraine, including over $115 million from the United States.  And as we respond to the crisis in Ukraine, we are determined that NATO itself emerge stronger from the crisis thrust on us by Russia.  With our allies, we are increasing deployments on land, sea and in the skies over Central and Eastern Europe.

And at the most recent NATO Summit in Wales, the Alliance agreed to create a Rapid Response Force to make sure that NATO is ready and can respond to any contingency.  And we’re increasing exercises and capacity building with non-NATO nations, countries in European — on Europe’s eastern frontier to ensure that they too can exercise their right to choose their own future, and that NATO’s door remains open.

But beyond mutual defense, we’re working closely with Europe on everything from trade to counterterrorism to climate change.  But we have to be honest about this and look it squarely in the eye, the transatlantic relationship does not sustain itself by itself.  It cannot be sustained by America alone.  It requires investment and sacrifice on both sides of the Atlantic, and that means ensuring that every NATO country meets its commitment to devote 2 percent of its GDP to defense; establishing once and for all a European energy strategy so that Russia can no longer use its natural resources to hold its neighbors hostage.  Reaching a final agreement on the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the new mechanism to try to strengthen the economic engines to sustain our mutual efforts in Europe and at home.

To the East, for six decades, America’s alliances in Asia have made possible the security and stability that has flowed from — that has allowed the economic miracle.  When I met not long ago and I met many, many hours with President Xi — I probably had dinner alone with him over 22, 23 hours over two five-day periods, talking about — I mentioned that America — I made clear that America is a Pacific power and we will remain a Pacific power.  And us in the area is the reason for the existence of a stability in Asia for the past 50 years.  That’s why it’s essential that we modernize our Pacific alliances, updating our posture and expanding our partnerships to meet the new challenges we face.

America today has more peacetime military engagements in the Asia Pacific than ever before.  By 2020, 60 percent of our naval assets and 60 percent of our air power will be stationed in the Pacific.  We’re supporting Japan’s efforts to interpret its constitution to allow it to play a larger security role.  We’ve signed enhanced defense cooperation agreements with the Philippines.  We’re strengthening our missile defense capabilities in the region to deter and defend against North Korea.  And three years ago, we had no forces in Australia; today, we have more than a thousand Marines rotationally deployed in Darwin.  And we have a growing partnership with Vietnam, in no small part — by the way — to the work of Tommy Vallely and his colleagues actively engaged in regional organizations like ASEAN.

We have an historic opportunity as well to build a new relationship with Burma if we get lucky.  But our Asian allies also have tough choices to make.  We cannot do this on our own.  It will relate to their willingness to work closely and more closely with one another.  As the President and I have done in meetings with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, we’re going to continue to promote trilateral cooperation among our allies and partners in the Pacific to make the most of those ties that will benefit the entire region if we succeed.

In the Middle East, our alliances are also crucial.  We will never waver from our steadfast support for Israel, and we’re working alongside a coalition of Arab partners and countries from around the world to confront ISIL. 

So even as we strengthen our traditional alliances, we’re building wider coalitions to bolster the world’s ability to respond to these emerging crises.

Take Ebola.  A horrific disease that is now a genuine global health emergency.  Our Centers for Disease Control, USAID and our military have taken charge of that world epidemic.  We are organizing the international response to this largest epidemic in history.  The President rallied the world at the United Nations last week, mobilizing countries from all around the world to act, and to act quickly.  We’re deploying over 3,000 American soldiers to West Africa to support regional civilian responses and advance the effort in fighting the disease of Ebola.

The second thing we have to do besides strengthening our alliances and cooperation, we have to effectively manage our relationships with emerging powers of the 21st century.  And that means putting in the effort to realize the potential of America’s friendship with emerging democratic partners like Brazil and President Dilma, President Peňa Nieto in Mexico, Prime Minister Modi in India, who just made a historic visit to the United States this week.

Each of these relationships has a significant potential to genuinely, genuinely promote shared interest and shared ideals.  But each one has to overcome domestic politics, bureaucratic inertia, and a significant legacy of mistrust over the last century.  But there is great potential here, but there is no guarantees.  There is no substitute for direct engagement and an unstinting effort to bridge the gap between where we are today and where we can and should be tomorrow.

The world in which emerging powers and responsible stakeholders promoting common security and prosperity has yet to arrive, but it’s within our grasp to see that happen.  That’s why we’ve embraced the G20 as a model for economic cooperation.  That’s why it’s also important that we fully support international institutions like the IMF, fund them and reform and modernize them to better serve all nations.

But managing our relationship with China is the single most essential part of the strategy at which we must succeed.  Even as we acknowledge that we will often be in competition, we seek deeper cooperation with China, not conflict. 

Nowhere is it written that there must be conflict between the United States and China.  There are no obvious, obvious impediments to building that relationship.  And we’re committed to building up that partnership where we can, but to push back where we must.  The President plans to visit China this fall as part of his second trip to Asia this year.  This is the kind of engagement that is necessary for us to come together and do consequential things.

At Sunnylands, when he met with President Xi last, they reached an historic agreement on the super pollutant known as HFCs, hydrofluorocarbons.  And our hope is that this year we can continue to expand our cooperation with China on climate and environment, but also be very direct about our differences.  That’s why in a five-hour meeting I had with President Xi this past December — after they had several days earlier announced unilaterally an air defense identification zone, contrary to international law — I sat with President Xi and I told him bluntly, Mr. President, understand one thing.  We do not recognize it, we do not honor it, and we’re flying a B-52 through it.  Understand. (Laughter.)  No, I’m serious.  I’m not asking you to do anything.  I’m not asking you to renege.  Just understand — we will pay no attention whatsoever to it.  It’s important.  It’s important that in emerging relationships there be absolute, frank, direct discussions.
 
That’s why we’ve made clear as well that freedom of navigation must be maintained in the South China Sea.  But that’s also why President Obama has been direct in public and private with China’s leaders on cyber theft.  And as the world watches Hong Kong’s young people take to the streets peacefully to demand respect for their own rights, we’ll also never stop standing up for the principles we believe in that are universal — democratic freedoms and human rights.

President Xi asked me, why do we focus on human rights so much?  I’m serious.  And I gave him a direct answer — which is almost unique to the United States; it doesn’t make us better or worse, but unique to the United States.  I said, Mr. President, even if a President of the United States did not want to raise human rights abuses with you to have a better relationship on the surface, it would be impossible for him or her to do that — for the vast majority of the American people came here to seek human rights and freedom.  It is stamped into our DNA.  It is impossible for us to remain silent.  Again, he took it on board — and it’s important to understand why we do it.  It is not a political tool.  It is who we are.
 
To build these robust relationships with emerging powers, we also have to demonstrate staying power — which is hard and costly — in places that will do the most to shape the world that our grandchildren are going to inherit.  That’s why our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region depends in no small part on completing a trade initiative known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And that’s the whole Pacific — from Peru all the way to Japan. 
It’s a partnership that will stitch together the economies of 12 Pacific nations, stretching from South America to Asia, united behind rising standards regarding labor, the environment, and fair completion.  Once completed, these trade agreements we are negotiating across the Atlantic and the Pacific will encompass nearly two-thirds of the global trade in the world, and can shape the character of the entire economic global economy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership also has a profound strategic — not just economic — strategic element to it.  Because deeper economic ties cement our partnerships but, most of all, help small nations resist the blackmail and coercion of larger powers using new asymmetric weapons to try to achieve their ends in other countries.

And this brings me to the Western Hemisphere, a vital part of the Pacific equation, but where there’s another great opportunity.  The President asked me to oversee our hemispheric relations.  And for the first time in history, you can truly envision a Western Hemisphere that is secure, democratic and middle class, from northern Canada to southern Chile, and everywhere in between.  But we have to overcome centuries of distrust.  We can no longer look at the region in terms of what we can do for it.  The question is what can we do together in this hemisphere.  And the possibilities are endless.

On energy, North America is literally — not figuratively — the epicenter of energy in the world today.  There are more rigs, gas and oil rigs in the United States pumping today than every other nation in the world combined.  Combined.  North America will account — meaning Mexico, China and Canada — for two-thirds of the growth of global energy supply over the next 20 years.  By 2018, the United States will be a net exporter of natural gas, and most projections show North America will be totally energy independent by 2020, and the United States shortly thereafter.
 
Look at the hemisphere in terms of trade.  Forty percent of all our exports stay in this hemisphere — 40 percent.  We have $1.3 trillion in trade in a yearly basis just in North America, including $1.3 billion per day with Mexico alone.
 
On security, we partnered with Colombia and Mexico and others to combat the scourge of drug trafficking.  We’re helping Central American countries address the root causes of poverty and violence and migration.

But to realize the potential of our partnerships in the region, we have to be present, we have to build that trust — which is why I’ve made five trips to Latin America just in the last — and to South America as well — just in the last 18 months.
 
It’s why we have to pass immigration reform here in the United States.  It’s one thing to say we respect the rest of the Americas, the majority of which are Hispanic.  But it’s another thing to say I respect them and yet not respect the immigrant population that’s the Hispanic community of the United States.  It does not connect.

The single most significant thing we can do to fundamentally change the relationship in terms of trust and commitment is to pass immigration reform.  Those of you who travel to or are from Central and South America know of what I speak.  Because respecting immigrants from the Americas is part of how we show that we really have changed our view, that South and Central America is no longer our back yard; it is our front yard.  It is our partner.  The relationship is changing.  And when it changes fully the benefits for us are astounding.

The third thing we need to do — and are doing — is to defend and extend the international rules of the road and deal with asymmetrical threats that are emerging.  The international system today is under strain from actors pushing and sometimes pushing past the limits of longstanding important international norms like nonproliferation and territorial integrity.  That’s why we insisted that Syria remove its chemical weapons stockpile and the means to manufacture them.  So we assembled under great criticism a coalition with Russia and others to remove Syria’s chemical stockpile.  That’s why have made it clear to Iran that we will not allow them to acquire a nuclear weapon.  So we’ve put together the single most effective, international sanctions in history to isolate Iran, and to push them back to the negotiating table.

Elsewhere, actors are subverting the fundamental principle of territorial integrity through the use of new asymmetric tactics, the use of proxies to quietly test the limits and probe the weaknesses across boundaries and borders on land and sea; the use of corruption as a foreign policy tool, unlike any time in modern history, to manipulate outcomes in other countries in order undermine the integrity of their governmental institutions.  That’s exactly what’s happening in Ukraine today. 

Putin — President Putin was determined to deny Ukraine and the Ukrainian people the power to make their choices about the future — whether to look east or west or both.  Under the pretext of protecting Russian-speaking populations, he not only encouraged and supported separatists in Ukraine, but he armed them.  He sent in Russian personnel out of uniform to take on the Ukrainian military, those little, green men.

    And when that wasn’t enough, he had the audacity to send Russian troops and tanks and sophisticated, air-defense systems across the border.  But we rallied the world to check his ambitions and defend Ukrainian sovereignty.  We didn’t put boots on the ground. 

Putin sought to prevent a free and open election.  We rallied the world to help Ukraine hold quite possibly the freest election in its history.  Putin sought to destabilize Ukraine’s economy.  We provided a billion dollars directly from the United States and worked with the IMF on a $27 billion international rescue package to keep them from going under.

Putin sought to keep Ukraine weak through corruption.  We’re helping those leaders fight back corruption, which by the way is an issue that demands our leadership around the world, by helping them write new laws, set up a new judiciary and much more.  Putin sought to hollow out Ukraine’s military the last 10 years, and he was very successful.  But we rallied NATO and NATO countries to begin to build that military capability back up.  Putin sought to keep secret Russian support for separatists who shot down a civilian airliner.  We exposed it to the world, and in turn rallied the world.  And remember this all began because Putin sought to block Ukraine’s accession agreement with the European Union.  Well, guess what:  That agreement was signed and ratified several weeks ago.

Throughout we’ve given Putin a simple choice:  Respect Ukraine’s sovereignty or face increasing consequences.  That has allowed us to rally the world’s major developed countries to impose real cost on Russia.

It is true they did not want to do that.  But again, it was America’s leadership and the President of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up and take economic hits to impose costs.  And the results have been massive capital flight from Russia, a virtual freeze on foreign direct investment, a ruble at an all-time low against the dollar, and the Russian economy teetering on the brink of recession.

We don’t want Russia to collapse.  We want Russia to succeed.  But Putin has to make a choice.  These asymmetrical advances on another country cannot be tolerated.  The international system will collapse if they are.

And to state the obvious, it’s not over yet.  And there are no guarantees of success.  But unlike — the Ukrainian people have stood up.  And we are helping them, leading and acting strategically. 

The fourth element of our strategy is countering violent extremism.  As you know, we’ve engaged in a relentless campaign against terrorists in Afghanistan, in the so-called FATA, in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere.  This campaign against violent extremism predates our administration, and it will outlive our administration.  But we’ve made real progress against al Qaeda’s core and its affiliates since 9/11.  But this threat of violent extremism is something we’re going to have to contend with for a long time. 

Today, we’re confronting the latest iteration of that danger, so-called ISIL; a group that combines al Qaeda’s ideology with territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria and beyond, and the most blatant use of terrorist tactics the world has seen in a long, long time.  But we know how to deal with them.

Our comprehensive strategy to degrade and eventually defeat ISIL reflects the lessons we have learned post-9/11 age about how to use our power wisely.  And degrading them does not depend upon an unsustainable deployment of hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground.  It’s focused on building a coalition with concrete contributions from the countries in the region.  It recognizes outside military intervention alone will not be enough.  Ultimately, societies have to solve their own problems, which is why we’re pouring so much time and effort into supporting a Syrian opposition and Iraqi efforts to re-establish their democracy and defend their territory.  But this is going to require a lot of time and patience.

The truth is we will likely be dealing with these challenges of social upheaval not just in Iraq and Syria, but across the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, which will take a generation or more to work itself out. 

We can’t solve each of these problems alone.  We can’t solve them ourselves.  But ultimately — and we can’t ultimately solve them with force, nor should we try.  But we can work to resolve these conflicts.  We can seek to empower the forces of moderation and pluralism and inclusive economic growth.  We can work with our partners to delegitimize ISIL in the Islamic world, and their perverse ideology. 

We can cut off the flow of terrorist finance and foreign fighters, as the President chaired the hearing in the United Nations Security Council on that issue just last week.  We can build the capacity of our partners from the Arab world to Afghanistan to solve their security problems in their own countries with our help and guidance.  The threat posed by violent extremists is real.  And I want to say here on the campus of Harvard University:  Our response must be deadly serious, but we should keep this in perspective.  The United States today faces threats that require attention.  But we face no existential threat to our way of life or our security.  Let me say it again:  We face no existential threat — none — to our way of life or our ultimate security.

You are twice as likely to be struck by lightning as you around to be affected by a terrorist event in the United States.

And while we face an adaptive, resilient enemy, let’s never forget that they’re no match for an even more resilient and adaptive group of people, the American people, who are so much tougher, smarter, realistic and gutsy than their political leadership gives them credit for.

We didn’t crumble after 9/11.  We didn’t falter after the Boston Marathon.  But we’re America.  Americans will never, ever stand down.  We endure.  We overcome.  We own the finish line.  So do not take out of proportion this threat to us.  None of you are being taught to dive under your desks in drills dealing with the possibility of a nuclear attack.  And I argue with all of my colleagues, including in the administration, the American people have already factored in the possibility that there will be another Boston Marathon someday.  But it will not, cannot — has no possibility of breaking our will, our resolve, and/or our ultimate security.

Which brings me to the fifth and final point, the strength of America’s economy.  Without a strong economic foundation, none of which I have spoken to is possible — none of it.  It all rests on America remaining the most vibrant and vital economy in the world. 

And America is back.  America remains the world’s leading economy.  I got elected when I was 29 years old, as was pointed out, and I was referred to in those days as a young idealist.  And I’m today — if you read about me among the many things that are often said, good and bad, I’m always referred to as the White House Optimist, as if somehow, as my grandpop would say, I fell off the turnip truck yesterday.  (Laughter.)

I’m optimistic because I know the history of the journey of this country.  And I have never been more optimistic about America’s future than I am today, and that is not hyperbole.  We are better positioned than any other nation in the world to remain the leading economy in the world in the 21st century. 

We have the world’s greatest research university.  We have the greatest energy resources in the world.  We have the most flexible venture-capitalist system, the most productive workers in the world.  That’s an objective assertion.  We have a legal system that adjudicates claims fairly, protects intellectual property.  Don’t take my word for it.  AT Kearney has been doing a survey for over the last I believe 30-some years.  They survey the 500 largest industrial outfits in the world.  They ask the same question:  Where is the best place in the world to invest?  This year, America not only remains the best place in the world to invest by a margin larger than any time in the record of the survey, but Boston Consulting Group right here, a first-rate outfit, surveys every year American corporations with manufacturing facilities in China and asks them what are they planning for next year.  This year, the response was 54 percent of those invested in China said they planned on coming home.

I don’t know how long I’ve been hearing about how China — and I want China to succeed, it’s in our interest they succeed economically — about how China is eating America’s lunch.  Folks, China has overwhelming problems.  China not only has an energy problem, they have no water.  No, no, not a joke — like California.  They have no water.  (Laughter.)  It is a gigantic and multi-trillion-dollar problem for them.  We should help them solve the problem. 

Ladies and gentlemen, raise your hand if you think our main competition is going to come from the EU in the next decade.  Put your hands up.  (Laughter.)  I’m not being facetious here now, I’m being deadly earnest.  We want — it is overwhelmingly our interest that the EU grow, and that China grows, because when they don’t grow, we don’t grow as fast.  But, ladies and gentlemen, relative terms, we are so well-positioned if we act rationally, if we invest in our people.

A recent study points out that American workers are three times as productive as workers in China.  It matters in terms of where people will invest their money, where jobs will be created.  And one of my — I was in and out of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina over twenty-some times.  As Maggie will remember, I was the voice that kept hectoring President Clinton to lift the arms embargo and take on Milosevic, which he did, to his great credit.

And one of my trips to Kosovo, I had a Kosovar driver, meaning he was Muslim, a Kosovar driver and who spoke a little English.  And I was going up to Fort Bondsteel, which is right outside of Pristina, a fort that was being built on a plateau.  And it was a rutted, muddy road, and we were — the tires were spinning to get up there, but there were all these cranes and bulldozers and all these incredible movement.  And my driver very proudly sort of looked down like this and looked out the window and he pointed at me and he said, Senator, America, America.  And we were literally at a gate – and, Tommy, you know, the old pike that came down across this rutted road in red and white striped.  And standing to the right of the gate, stopping us, were five American soldiers.  An African American woman, who was a master sergeant; a Chinese American — I forget the rank; an African American man; a woman colonel, and a Hispanic commanding officer.  And I tapped him on the soldier and I said, no, no, and I meant it so seriously — there’s America.  There’s America.  Until you figure out how to live together like we do, you will never, never, never make it. 

America’s strength ultimately lies in its people.  There’s nothing special about being American — none of you can define for me what an American is.  Can’t define it based on religion, ethnicity, race, culture.  The uniqueness of America is that we are a group of people who agreed on — whether we say it, whether we’re well-educated or not, whether we say it in terms of basic agreements but we really do believe without saying it, “We the People.”   “All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator.”  Sounds corny.  But that’s who we are.  That’s the essential strength and vibrancy of this country.

And that’s why it’s our obligation to lead.  It’s costly.  It takes sacrifice.  And sometimes it’s dangerous.  But we must lead — but lead in a more rational way, as I hope I’ve outlined for you, because we can.  We can deal with the present crisis, and it is within our power to make a better world.

You’re a lucky group of students.  I’m not being solicitous.  You’re lucky because you are about to take control at a time where one of those rare inflection points in the history of the world, in this country.  Remember from your physics class in high school, if you didn’t have to take it in college.  I remember my physics professor saying an inflection point is when you’re riding down the highway at 60 miles an hour and your hands are on the steering wheel, and you turn it abruptly 2, 5, 10 degrees one way or the other, and you can never get back on the path you were on.
 
We are at an inflection point.  The world is changing whether we like it or not, but we have our hands on the wheel.  The only time you get a chance to bend history a little bit are these moments of great change.  And if we’re wise, if we have courage and resolve, and with a little bit of luck we can all make the world a better place — for real.
 
God bless you all and may God protect our troops.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  

END
7:20 P.M. EDT

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: August 21, 2014

2:22 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone, and I’m very sorry for the delay. I hate to do that, but thank you for your flexibility and bearing with us today. Just one item at the top, and then, Deb, I will turn it over to you.

One year ago today, the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad launched a deadly chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus, where more than 1,000 people were killed. The Assad regime’s unconscionable and indiscriminate attack on August 21st, 2013 used cruel weaponry that has long been internationally condemned, further exposing the regime’s total disregard for human life.

Though we removed and have now destroyed the most dangerous chemicals in the regime’s declared stockpiles, a number of critical issues remain unresolved, including discrepancies and omissions related to Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to OPCW. These and our other concerns must be fully resolved.

The haunting images of unspeakable human suffering on that day and throughout every other day of this tragic conflict remind the international community that Assad long ago forfeited his legitimacy to lead the Syrian people, of the need to hold the Assad regime accountable for this and other atrocities against the Syrian people perpetrated during this conflict, and of the urgency of addressing all dimensions of the Syrian crisis. The United States remains steadfast in our resolve to continue working with key allies and partners to do so.

Deb.

QUESTION: Hi.

MS. HARF: Hello.

QUESTION: I’d like to start with Foley, if I could.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The United States has always said that it’s never going to negotiate with terrorists, and I was just wondering that in light of this particular case, what kind of discussion is going on now within the Administration about negotiating with terrorists or paying ransoms or —

MS. HARF: None, none. We do not make concessions to terrorists. That includes – we do not pay ransoms. One of the main ways ISIL has been funded throughout this conflict has been from ransom payments that others have paid. We believe just in 2014 that that’s in the millions of dollars. So we believe that paying ransoms or making concessions would both put our – all Americans overseas at greater risk for kidnapping and in harm’s way, but that ransoms would also fund and finance exactly the groups we are trying to degrade their capabilities.

QUESTION: What about a family, if they particularly wanted to negotiate?

MS. HARF: That’s the U.S. Government’s position. I can only speak for us. I don’t want to speak for any family that would ever be in this kind of situation and what decisions they would make.

QUESTION: Would that be, like, illegal though? It would be illegal?

MS. HARF: Would it be illegal?

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: What do you know about this confirmation that they asked this – for a ransom of $132.5 million?

MS. HARF: For those kind of details that I know the family has spoken to and others, we’re not going to be confirming or talking about those details in any way of those conversations.

QUESTION: Did the government get any kind of a forewarning that they were – or did they threaten that they would kill him? Did the U.S. Government get any kind of advance —

MS. HARF: Well, we did not. The U.S. Government did not —

QUESTION: — notice of this?

MS. HARF: — have contact with ISIL, so let’s set that aside. We’re not going to get into the details of any possible communications between the captors and families or anyone else. I think it’s not really our place to do that. What we do know, and what I will say, is that every day Jim Foley and these other Americans are in the captivity of ISIL, their lives are at risk, and we know that. But for more specifics, I’m just not going to get into those.

QUESTION: Okay, I have some more but we’ll go around.

MS. HARF: Okay, let’s go down the first row.

QUESTION: Do you know —

MS. HARF: Lesley, and then —

QUESTION: Do you know if – how does it impact the U.S. when European countries pay for the ransom of their – of citizens that are held captive? How does that affect how – perhaps, treatment of U.S. hostages?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen any comparison of how it affects other hostages. What I have – do know and what I just said is that we believe – the United States Government believes very strongly that paying ransom to terrorists gives them a tool in the term – in the form of financing that helps them propagate what they’re doing. And so we believe very strongly that we don’t do that for that reason. And as I said, in 2014 alone, I think ISIL’s gotten in the millions of dollars from kidnapping of Western citizens, and obviously we believe very strongly that we need to cut off their funding and cut off their ability to operate, and don’t want to put other American citizens in harm’s way.

QUESTION: Do you have a figure, an updated figure – I think somebody asked yesterday, but you didn’t have it – was how many – what is the U.S. estimate as far as hostages that ISIS has in its —

MS. HARF: Overall?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: We’re not going to get into the specific numbers. We don’t want to put too many specifics out there, obviously, while they’re still being held. I – we talked to – we can talk a little bit about the operation, if you want, that we talked about last night, but there are – that operation was intended to rescue Mr. Foley and a small number of other Americans. We’re not going to go into more specifics than that for their security reasons.

QUESTION: Was it just one operation?

MS. HARF: There was, yes. The one they spoke about last night? Yes.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: That was one. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And there’s been no other operations before that, or even attempts?

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t confirm one way or the other reports or any other specifics about special operations undertakings. We did not have the preference to in this case either, but when it became clear that several press outlets had the story and were going to be publishing it, we were forced to acknowledge it.

QUESTION: Could you tell us when that operation took place?

MS. HARF: It was earlier this summer. Won’t give more specific details than that.

QUESTION: July?

MS. HARF: Earlier this summer.

Yes.

QUESTION: Again on the ransom policy. Is there the beginning of a debate within the Administration on the ransom policy when you compare, as my colleague pointed out, when you compare what European countries are doing and when you see that, for example, the two French journalists who were held with James Foley are free and alive?

MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that there’s a debate inside the U.S. Government. We have had this policy in place for a very long time. It’s in place to protect our citizens overseas and also to not provide terrorists with the funding they need to continue to carry out their heinous acts. So this is a longstanding policy, one that I think we believe in is the best way to keep people safe overseas and not give more incentive for other Americans to be kidnapped.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: Marie, which countries have – which countries does the U.S. believe have actually paid ransoms?

MS. HARF: I know there are a variety of reports out there. I don’t have details to confirm for you on that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. talking with its allies, in the EU in particular, about strengthening the existing sanctions against al-Baghdadi and others in IS in order to basically underscore the need to starve them of funding, if you believe that this is critical to defeating this organization?

MS. HARF: We are. And just a couple of things I got a funding. There were a lot of questions about this yesterday, so I got some facts on this. We did – the State Department did designate al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, in October 2011, as well as the spokesman for ISIL just recently. They’re designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under an executive order. So obviously, this prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with these officials. And one of them, Said, was the person you asked about who had been arrested in Kuwait. We had seen reports of his release after being arrested. We’re seeking more information on those; can’t confirm those one way or the other. But he’s one of those that the Treasury Department had designated. They designated five additional people as well.

ISIL’s funding comes from many sources. It comes from criminal activity in Iraq and Syria; bank heists, as we saw in Mosul; extortion; robberies; smuggling; and kidnapping for ransom, as well as raiding villages and towns. It also controls some petroleum facilities in eastern Syria. It does also receive some money from outside donors, which I think is something folks in here asked about yesterday.

Just two quick points, and then you can follow up. We don’t have information that governments have supported them. Private fundraising networks increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations and communicate with donors and recipient opposition groups or terrorist organizations. It also enables fundraisers to solicit donations from supporters in countries where otherwise it would be banned, such as Saudi Arabia.

And then finally, fundraisers collect money through events held at private residences, wire transfers, informal financial transfer systems at mosques. We’ve seen some of this in the past. These tactics aren’t new, but that’s also one of the ways ISIL raises money.

QUESTION: But again —

MS. HARF: Go ahead, Roz. Wait. Roz, a follow-up.

QUESTION: Yeah. But again, going back to the point about your suggestion that other governments have indeed given money to IS in order to get the safe return of their citizens, what is the U.S. Government doing to try to impress upon these other governments that doing so undercuts the very legitimacy of the sanctions regime and possibly creates more of a security risk to the U.S., to other countries than just the short-term and very —

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: — understandable desire to get people home?

MS. HARF: Right. We’re having the conversation. We’ve had it for some time. I don’t have more specifics on that for you. I’m happy to check and see if there are.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any figure on the actual amount of money that ISIS has? I mean, there were figures today —

MS. HARF: Let me see.

QUESTION: — that talks about something like $3 billion. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I could check on that, Said. I think my colleagues at the Treasury Department might have some more on that. I don’t know if I have an overall number here. They do have quite a bit of money —

QUESTION: Okay. And you’re saying —

MS. HARF: — quite a bit.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry. And you’re saying that most of that money is – or these revenues come from kidnappings and ransoms and so on?

MS. HARF: And criminal activities like attacking banks —

QUESTION: Maybe drugs?

MS. HARF: — raiding towns, things —

QUESTION: Dealing in drugs or doing something like this —

MS. HARF: Things like that.

QUESTION: — or dealing in arms?

MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that, but you know.

QUESTION: Okay. Now can you tell us – I think the GlobalPost said that they received a message that ISIL was intending to kill Mr. Foley. Have you heard about that?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to confirm those specifics one way or the other. They can speak to those specifics. I know they have.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on the operation itself – the operation, the failed operation, whatever – now it’s similar in many ways to Eagle Claw, which was done in 1980, maybe. Was there any assets left behind in this case?

MS. HARF: No, not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Were there any military – U.S. military assets or —

MS. HARF: Check with the Defense Department, but not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: But to the best of your knowledge, they didn’t leave any equipment or —

MS. HARF: Correct. And as folks have said – and again, the Defense Department can speak to this better – the intelligence picture dictated the timing of the operation. They unfortunately were not present. There were a number of fatalities on the other side, none on the U.S. side. And once it was determined the hostages were not present, the U.S. forces left.

QUESTION: Well, obviously, to conduct the operation, there must have been quite solid intelligence in this case.

MS. HARF: Correct. And the President believed —

QUESTION: So what could possibly have gone wrong?

MS. HARF: Well, the President believed there was sufficient intelligence to launch this operation. Look, this – the intelligence picture is a very difficult one. And as we all know, and having come from that world, you can develop an intelligence picture, and the President felt it was sufficient enough to act on, particularly given the danger we believe the hostages are in. And sometimes, unfortunately, these things happen.

But I will say, setting aside this one operation, every single day before and after that operation and today, we have many, many resources, every tool at our disposal, to try and find these people and bring them home. That work is ongoing.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: I remember some – a couple years ago or maybe a year and a half ago, former Ambassador Ryan Crocker said that it was a wrong policy not to have engagement with Syria, not to have a mission in Damascus, because that does compromise your ability to sort of source out intelligence and so on. In retrospect, is it – was it a wrong policy not to have any kind of contact with Syria?

MS. HARF: Not – well, we make decisions on our embassy based on security reasons and other considerations, and that decision was made a long time ago. But I will say that we have enormous intelligence resources dedicated not just to finding and bringing these hostages home, but also to the overall picture in Syria as well. And in terms of the intelligence, the President and his advisors believe the information that we possess, which is collected through various sources over a period of time, combined, obviously, with the very real threat, warranted the action we took. Everybody involved in the operation performed exactly as they were supposed to. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the outcome that we all would have hoped for.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on this?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Number one, do you know of any instances where Mr. Foley tried to escape?

MS. HARF: I don’t have those details.

QUESTION: Number two, do you believe that Mr. Sotloff is still alive?

MS. HARF: Again, not going to get into any of those details or questions.

QUESTION: To investigate Foley, Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Comey have said they want to use sort of traditional law enforcement to do this. Has there been any outreach to the powers in the area to facilitate U.S. personnel, or will there be to conduct —

MS. HARF: From a law enforcement perspective?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: I can check with our law enforcement colleagues. Obviously, there will be a criminal investigation, as there always is when there is an American citizen death overseas, as the FBI and DOJ can speak to. There’s also an ongoing intelligence community focus on this to determine who may have been responsible, ongoing intelligence capabilities being put forward to see possibly how those people could be held accountable as well.

QUESTION: And if I can —

MS. HARF: They work in concert with each other, though.

QUESTION: And if I can follow up on that, in just the past 10 minutes or so, Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has asked for an investigation as to how the leak came out. A moment ago, you sort of gave an explanation saying, well, there was a number of news organizations that had this and so we felt it was compelled —

MS. HARF: Absolutely. We had no intention of ever making this public, period – I want to be very clear about that – for the operational security both of the special operators and also of the remaining hostages. It became clear to us when a number of news outlets, including some represented in this room, came to the U.S. Government recently with very detailed information that had been provided to them. I have no idea who provided it. We were forced at that point to acknowledge it, given they were – many of these outlets, if not all of them, were going to run stories one way or the other.

QUESTION: But that said, then is Chairman McKeon’s call for a probe wrongheaded?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the call specifically, so I don’t want to comment on it. But as I think I made clear from the Administration perspective, we did not have an intention of making this public.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. frustrated that the attempted raid was leaked to several in the media?

MS. HARF: We know how this all works, and I understand there is a huge interest in what we might do as the United States Government to bring our people home. I fully recognize that. We had briefed the families on it. Congress was notified, of course, in a classified way at the time. So I don’t want to be overly critical of it; I was just explaining how it eventually did come out. We were not planning to put it out, but once it did we were forced to acknowledge.

QUESTION: How does this hurt future U.S. efforts to try to get the remaining hostages back?

MS. HARF: Well, I’d refer to my colleagues at the Defense Department for a tactical assessment of that. Obviously, we want every tool in the toolbox available to us. If in the future we were to undertake similar operations, we would obviously want those available to us, which is why a lot of the operational details we are still not releasing or talking about or confirming on the operational side for that reason so we can preserve that ability to use that in the future.

QUESTION: And you might have gotten into this yesterday, but can you describe at this point what kind of support the U.S. Government is providing to the Foley family, especially given that trying to repatriate his remains is pretty well nigh impossible?

MS. HARF: We have – since we learned of his capture, the State Department, the FBI, officials from the intelligence community and the White House and others have been in touch with the Foley family and the Sotloff family. We have remained in close contact with them. The State Department and the FBI reached out when we got notified, unfortunately, of what had happened, and we are providing assistance to the family in any way we can. There is the question of repatriation. As you mentioned, it is a difficult one. We believe it’s an important one. We will help in any way we can, but it will be difficult.

QUESTION: Change of topics?

MS. HARF: Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: The same topic.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: First one is related to there are some reports about that the Twitter accounts of ISIL are stopped or banned or whatever. I don’t know their exact – is this all the accounts or part of the accounts or what —

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: — how these —

MS. HARF: — so I’d let Twitter speak more broadly to this, but the State Department and the Defense Department did reach out to social media sites like Twitter and YouTube, particularly the night the video and the photos were released, to highlight for them accounts that may be violating their own usage policies. And so they – and Twitter, I think, has talked about this on the record – will take action when there are things that violate those policy, like these kind of videos or photos. So broadly speaking, I think Twitter can speak to their own policies, but that’s the communications we’ve had.

QUESTION: Talking about ISIL, it’s like yesterday you described all these confrontation may take place more and more, and the question is now in the area is like and all the people are asking is make a difference now in the type and the scope and the tactics of confrontation with ISIL than it was like 10 days ago or a week ago?

MS. HARF: Well, let’s – two points on that. As I said yesterday, we don’t rule anything out in terms of protecting our people or bringing those to justice who have hurt our people wherever country that’s in. And I’m not indicating decisions made in any way, shape, or form, but I just want to be very clear that we maintain the ability and retain the capability to go after people who harm our citizens wherever they are. So let’s do Point A there.

Point B is we’re still very focused, and let’s not lose sight of what we’re doing in Iraq that’s been going after ISIL, both obviously setting aside the humanitarian situation but outside – around Mount Sinjar, helping break the siege there by hitting ISIL targets, protecting Erbil, helping the Iraqis take back the Mosul Dam from ISIL. We are very focused on going after ISIL strategically when it impacts the goals the President laid out in Iraq, and we’re looking long-term at how we can do that more going forward. But we are engaged very heavily right now in fighting them and in helping to build capability of the Iraqis to do that.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking you this question because you are mentioning Mount Sinjar and Erbil and all these things, but the real issue now is becoming different. I mean, even they are announcing ISIL people in their message, whatever the recorded messages and other messages, that now we are in a war with America.

MS. HARF: This is not about ISIL versus the United States. I think I made that clear yesterday. They are killing anyone who gets in their way – Sunni, Shia Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, Iraqis, Syrians – anyone who gets in their way, and now an American. So this is not about what the United States is or isn’t doing. This is about ISIL’s stated commitment to murder, rape, enslave people who don’t agree with their ideology and who get in their way. And I think the more we can say that – because it’s true – it’s important for people to remember that as they look at the overall picture.

QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this question because it’s – it – I mean, I – in realities and in politics is matter how they look to us or how they look to United States. It’s not how they – we look to them or we are seeing it. It’s like – but they are announcing that it’s a war against America. Right or wrong, that’s what they are saying.

MS. HARF: Well, they can say whatever they’d like. But what I am making clear is that’s not what ISIL represents, and they don’t represent any religion. They are at war with everybody they come into contact with. And that’s why we are very focused, when we outline goals, on attacking their targets when they threaten those goals; on helping the Iraqis gain in capability to fight this threat on their own; and, to be very clear, holding people accountable when they hurt our people. That’s something we’re very focused on and that’s certainly what will be a guiding principle of our action going forward.

QUESTION: The other concern which is usually raised to those who have some kind of memory, which is like 30 years ago, 40 years ago, whenever these kind of confrontations were happening – like in the case of Beirut, the Marines barrack and others – the next step of United States was to withdraw from the confrontation.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think that’s been universally true. Look at Afghanistan. When we were attacked, we took the fight to them.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to – I mean —

MS. HARF: I know. I’m just bringing a different historical comparison forward, that I think this Administration particularly has shown – very willing to, no matter how long it takes, find people who have killed Americans, who have harmed Americans, and bring them to justice. We have a history of that. There’s – that’s something we’re certainly very, very committed to here.

QUESTION: You think, Madam —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: We’re all going to do one at a time here.

QUESTION: One more.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: Let’s start here on this and go across and then go to Roz.

QUESTION: You think, Madam, this is going to be major discussion of issue at the United Nations upcoming General Assembly meetings, and because who is funding them and who’s arming them and how to stop this new – many people call new face of terrorism or al-Qaida?

MS. HARF: I think it will be. And as we’ve talked about a little bit, the President will be chairing a Security Council session on foreign fighters, particularly Syria and Iraq. I think it will be an incredibly important decision – or discussion, excuse me – around the General Assembly. When you have this many world leaders in one place, I don’t know, quite frankly, how it couldn’t be.

QUESTION: And you think you need major powers with you like China and Russia?

MS. HARF: We need everyone who will join us in this fight against ISIL.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Yes, Elliot. I’m —

QUESTION: — can you stay on that – on the same —

MS. HARF: Yeah, but I’m going to go across. I’m going to go across, as I said I was going to. I will get to all of you.

Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. I wanted to follow up on something you just said on your outreach to Twitter and other social media. You said you let them know of content that violated their own —

MS. HARF: That may – yeah, so they – their usage policies. So there are certain things that violate those policies. Obviously, the kind of videos we’ve seen do, and we would ask for them to be taken down in accordance with their usage policies.

QUESTION: Right. So – but you guys wanted the video down, but —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — you didn’t make the argument to them that it was terrorist propaganda? It was on the —

MS. HARF: I can look at what their – I don’t know what, exactly, their usage policy says in terms of what is okay and what’s not. But in terms of that specifically in the video, it was because of the graphic nature of it.

QUESTION: Okay. And is there any —

MS. HARF: But – there may be more details in their policy.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Well, according to the Guardian – sorry. According to the Guardian, the person who killed James Foley is a British jihadist, and he’s the leader of a British group – a group of fighters in Syria. Is the information correct? Have you confirmed his identity?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re working on that right now, working very closely with the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Cameron came out yesterday and said it’s looking increasingly likely that it was a British citizen, so we are working with them on that. We are concerned about the fact that a number of Westerners, including a small number of Americans, have joined this fight. So that is something we’re working very, very closely with them on right now.

QUESTION: Do you know – according to the Guardian, the – Britain’s security services said there are increasing numbers of homegrown terrorists leaving the country to fight in Syria and Iraq. So you said you’re – you have those kind of concerns you will have a similar trend in the U.S., right?

MS. HARF: I think it’s a much smaller number, but we are concerned about foreign fighters going there. It will be a key topic of conversation at the General Assembly.

QUESTION: Are you going to take any actions to deal with the situation?

MS. HARF: We’ve been taking a number of actions, I think, to deal with the situation. Look, we have tried to work with countries in the region to crack down on the flow of foreign fighters from anywhere. I think there are fighters from over 50 countries now that we assess have joined the fight on the side of ISIL. So we’re very focused on dealing with this and working with other countries in the region to really crack down on the places and ways they can get in. But once they’re in Syria, the Syria-to-Iraq pipeline, unfortunately, has become quite porous, and there’s been a lot of fighters going back and forth over that border.

QUESTION: As we know, there is a second hostage in ISIL, and are you going to call on ISIL to release him?

MS. HARF: Yes, I did yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, yes. On —

QUESTION: Yeah, just —

MS. HARF: — ISIL?

QUESTION: Yeah. Back for a second to that UNGA summit thing.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it an invitation thing only – invitation only or —

MS. HARF: It’s a Security Council session, so I’m assuming all the members of the Security Council will be present. I don’t know beyond that what participation will look like.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s not like you’re sending – invitations already went out and —

MS. HARF: I think – oh, no, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I don’t think any invitations have gone out. I think we’re still working through those details.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Marie —

MS. HARF: Yes, on this. Staying on ISIL?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: On the general broader fight against ISIL, while President Obama, the British prime minister, and also the French president and foreign minister, they all spoke about this – that they need to get moving, the French foreign minister also suggested – well, the president suggested an international conference on the subject and that there should be a universal strategy. Apparently, the foreign minister has said that they would invite regional countries, including Iran, to that conference. Iran’s foreign minister today has said that Tehran —

MS. HARF: I think there was a little garble here. Do you want me to – about Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments?

QUESTION: Tehran is in touch with a number of countries. Number one, is the U.S. one of those countries discussing this? And they have conditioned their cooperation in fighting ISIL upon the relief of all nuclear sanctions.

MS. HARF: So let’s just talk about this for a little bit. There were – there was a story that Foreign Minister Zarif had linked its help with ISIS in Iraq to a lifting of Western sanctions. We have seen the story. We do not believe that the report is accurate.

We understand that the Iranian foreign minister – and you’re never going to believe this – quoted in the story as referring to Iraq the country was actually referring to Arak, the Iranian nuclear facility. We’ve looked at the language a couple of times, actually, and think he was not linking in that specific quote fighting ISIS in Iraq to lifting of Western sanctions. He was talking about making progress on Arak, the nuclear facility, to lifting of Western sanctions.

Right, I know. It’s almost unbelievable.

QUESTION: But this was a Farsi report.

MS. HARF: Yeah, and our —

QUESTION: And they can’t – the spelling is totally different.

MS. HARF: I know, and our – but we think there was a mistranslation. Our Farsi speakers have taken a bunch of looks at it and think that he was referring to that. I’ll let him speak for himself, and if he wants to clarify and disagree with me – I am not a Farsi speaker – I’m sure he would have or his people would have further clarification. But on that particular AFP report, I just wanted to —

QUESTION: Actually, I cited a Farsi report on that.

MS. HARF: Yeah, but it came from a translation of the Farsi, and we think that was not accurate. I know it’s very —

QUESTION: Then what about his comment about – that Tehran is in touch with a number of countries on possible cooperation and participation in a conference?

MS. HARF: Again, I don’t have more details on that article, but on that specific point I just wanted to be clear on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I know. It’s very odd, actually.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s your assessment of Iran’s role? Are they helping in fighting ISIS in Iraq, or they are just watching?

MS. HARF: I don’t have an assessment of that. I am happy to check. We think any country in the region should play a role if they can, a positive role in helping fight ISIL, and a huge part of that is through promoting and helping the Government of Iraq as it gets up on its feet and is inclusive. So I think that, obviously, if there’s a positive role Iran can play, they should play a positive role.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah, and I’ll go to you in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Just a couple more.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had any comment on – there’s some analysts who are looking at this on the flip side and saying that ISIL knows that the U.S. is not going to pay ransoms, okay? And so they – that gives them an incentive to kill Americans that they captured because then they can get more money out of the Europeans when they are asking for ransoms there.

MS. HARF: But on the —

QUESTION: Do you think there’s anything going on with that?

MS. HARF: I don’t, Deb. And on the flip side of that, if they knew we paid ransoms, they would kidnap more Americans because they would think they would get more money, and we don’t want to fund terrorism.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple more things.

MS. HARF: We feel very strongly about that.

QUESTION: You mentioned all the different places that they’re getting their money. Do you have any idea of, like – not what percentage, but do they get a small amount from ransoms or just a large amount or —

MS. HARF: Let me see if I have —

QUESTION: Is there any kind of —

MS. HARF: I don’t know if I have percentages of that. Let me see what I have here.

QUESTION: I mean, should we think it’s a big amount?

MS. HARF: Yeah, most of it is from criminal and terrorist activities. That’s – a small portion is from outside donors.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the outside donors, do you know which countries we’re talking about?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s private citizens. It’s not —

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand. No governments.

MS. HARF: It’s not any governments. We’ve worked very hard with a number of particularly Gulf countries, whether it’s Kuwait or Qatar, obviously other countries as well on this.

QUESTION: Okay, and then just one more. I know you can’t talk about the operation, but can you tell us if there were any other non-kinetic type approaches to getting him back?

MS. HARF: Non – I mean, we’re putting a lot of intelligence resources towards this.

QUESTION: Were there any other ideas that were being pursued?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to outline specifics, particularly because we still have hostages there. So we’re looking at a wide range of options, every tool at our disposal, to try and get – find them, locate them, and then return them home. But I’m not going to outline specifics so we have the ability to use them if we want to.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Anything else on this? Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Different subject.

MS. HARF: Well, Said’s taking us to a different subject.

QUESTION: Can we go to Gaza?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Marie, are there any efforts ongoing by the Administration, by the Secretary of State in particular, to broker some sort of a cease-fire? Because there were statements yesterday by the Israelis that this can go on for a very long time, and the humanitarian situation is really getting —

MS. HARF: Well, we do remain concerned about the developments. The Secretary has been engaged with a number of relevant parties. We also condemn Hamas’s targeted attack on Ben Gurion Airport and Hamas’s threat against civilian aviation. So that’s something that is unacceptable. The rocket fire needs to stop. And we do want them to return to cease-fire talks, so that is something we are certainly still pressing with relevant parties.

QUESTION: Okay. But to the best of your knowledge, there are no actually ongoing activities —

MS. HARF: Our —

QUESTION: — to broker a cease-fire by the Secretary of State?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve never been playing the brokering role.

QUESTION: I mean – okay, trying to mediate or get the —

MS. HARF: Well, he’s been playing the role he’s been playing throughout the cease-fire talks, which is discussing and helping where we can with the different parties.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, I asked you yesterday about Israel and about the commission, and you said that you trust Israel investigating itself.

MS. HARF: We call on them to.

QUESTION: You call on them. So do you trust their past efforts that they have done or future efforts to investigate themselves? I mean —

MS. HARF: Well, it’s not about trust. It’s about seeing if their investigation’s done, and we keep pushing that with them.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, should they investigate each case on its own, case by case? For instance, the reason I ask this, apparently a Palestinian boy, a teenager, was taken at gunpoint by the Israeli army as a human shield for five days. I mean, he describes and details what happened and so on. So should these incidents, if they happen – first of all, do you condemn these incidents?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any idea what incident you’re talking about, and I’m sorry about that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well —

MS. HARF: We think they should investigate any allegation of wrongdoing or of civilian deaths that arise. Yes, we do.

QUESTION: Would you raise with them the abduction of a 16-year-old, Ahmad Abu Raida, on the 23rd of July, and they haven’t —

MS. HARF: I can check into that case.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I can check.

QUESTION: Now let me also ask you – another development just occurred. Apparently, the holdup on the missiles to Israel was just lifted. Is that likely to —

MS. HARF: Really?

QUESTION: Well, or apparently until then – on the way of being resolved —

MS. HARF: There was never —

QUESTION: I don’t know. I mean, could you tell us whether —

MS. HARF: There was —

QUESTION: Was there any new – any change in the status?

MS. HARF: Let me check. Let me check on the status. The – there was not a hold. The process was moving forward, as I said.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: We had just put some additional steps into place. So let me see if it’s progressed further. I can check on that. I hadn’t heard that, but it very well may have.

QUESTION: Okay. But are you concerned that this would add to the – sort of the explosive power that Israel has been sort of deploying limitlessly almost, using bunker busters and so on, killing large number of civilians and so on? Wouldn’t that exacerbate the situation?

MS. HARF: Well, Said, we’ve always said we will continue to support Israel militarily. They are facing a very serious threat. We’ve also said throughout this conflict that they need to do more to protect civilian casualties, and we believe we can do both.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. My last question on this. There’s also a fear that there is likely the spread of some sort of germ and microbes and diseases among civilian population in Gaza, which could conceivably also be communicated in the neighboring areas and so on. Are you discussing with the Israelis the likelihood of the breakout of disease?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that specifically, but we are very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, particularly the large number of internally displaced peoples and all the things that go along with that, whether it’s needing food or water or medical care. So we are concerned and discussing it.

I’m going to go to the back here. I promised you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.

QUESTION: On Gaza.

QUESTION: I have one on the same subject.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.

MS. HARF: Just wait one second.

Yeah, okay.

QUESTION:  On South Korea. I just learned the secretary of U.S. Treasury Department Cohen visit to South Korea right now. Can you tell us what is the purpose of his visit to South Korea?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I knew he was there. Let me check with my colleagues at Treasury, and we’ll get you something – or they should have some information about his visit.

QUESTION: Do you think the United States will have a new individual sanctions against North Korea?

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t tend to preview sanctions before we announce them, but it’s been an ongoing conversation that David Cohen and others have had with the South Koreans. I’m sure he’s there, though, talking about a range of Treasury-related issues.

Elliot, did you have one on Gaza?

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you know – what can you say about – apparently, this week EU diplomats in the UN have been pushing for a UN Security Council resolution to end the conflict in Gaza and restart peace talks. Do you know anything about that, or can you —

MS. HARF: I don’t have any specifics on that and hadn’t seen those reports. We’re obviously looking at a range of ways to get a cease-fire in place here, and if that could involve some UN action, I’m sure we would have that conversation. But nothing to preview or announce.

QUESTION: But broadly speaking, the U.S. would support a UN Security Council resolution?

MS. HARF: I think it depends on what it looks like. Depends what it looks like.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria, just one minute?

MS. HARF: You can, yes.

QUESTION: You mentioned that there are a small number of American jihadist fighters in Syria. So do you have an accurate number?

MS. HARF: Let me see if I – I’m not sure I have a number. Just give me one second on this. No, just a small number. We think that there are approximately 12,000 fighters from at least 50 countries in Syria – foreign fighters – including a small number of Americans that may have traveled to Syria since the beginning of the conflict. They may all not still be there.

QUESTION: But it could be dozens, it could be hundreds or —

MS. HARF: Small number. I’ll check and see if there’s more clarity.

QUESTION: And do you know if some of these people have already returned to the United States?

MS. HARF: Obviously, that’s something we’re very concerned about. I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: Marie, on this very issue, a lot of these fighters have come from Europe and go to Syria. Apparently, they cross the border with Turkey. Are you talking to Turkey to perhaps tighten up control over their border?

MS. HARF: We’re talking to all of the bordering countries to help cut off foreign fighters from going into Syria.

QUESTION: Because as it seems, people with European passports can travel easily in to Turkey and out and —

MS. HARF: It’s a huge concern. Yeah, it’s a huge concern.

Yes.

QUESTION: A couple of points on the Ukraine. Russians are pushing for the Security Council supporting a cease-fire in western Ukraine while the humanitarian assistance from Russia is being delivered. I was wondering if the United States is in support of this initiative.

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that initiative. What we would support is the parties on the – we know there has to be a cessation of hostilities during any sort of humanitarian delivery. There’s ongoing discussions right now about inspections and what that will look like. But we’ve called on Russia to use its influence with these separatists to get them to hold their fire. The Ukrainians have said they’ve committed to do that, but the separatists keep firing and keep the hostilities going. So in terms of Security Council, I don’t have anything on that. But we think that the separatists – they could do this on their own without the Security Council.

QUESTION: Okay. And there is another thing I wanted to ask you. There is this group here in the United States which calls itself Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. They —

MS. HARF: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity?

QUESTION: For sanity, yes.

MS. HARF: How am I not a member of that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t know. I don’t know.

MS. HARF: That’s interesting. I have never heard of this. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They wrote either two or three memoranda on the Malaysian airliner crash in Ukraine, in which they criticized the Administration for both what it said and how it said about this tragedy. I was wondering if the U.S. Government still stands by its conclusions that it made public —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — earlier about that.

MS. HARF: One hundred percent, we still stand by them. I am not aware of that report. I would say it probably is the opposite of its name, but I don’t have any further comment on something I haven’t seen.

QUESTION: And the other thing is —

MS. HARF: I got a little laugh there.

QUESTION: — do you think it might – those conclusions of yours might get updated or —

MS. HARF: We always update our analysis as we get new information, but the information we have from the MH17 crash with – which happened a number of weeks ago, was very strong and very much led to the conclusion that we said at the time, that this was shot down from Russian separatist-controlled territory by a surface-to-air missile that the separatists have. And so look, we’ll continue – the investigation’s ongoing in The Hague in terms of looking at the black

box. I understand some of the remains will be returned to Malaysia today. That’s ongoing, but the evidence shows what happened here very clearly.

QUESTION: Marie, I know that you touched upon the crash site itself and what happened to it earlier this week. Do you have any more information? What is going on? Who controls the crash site? What happened to the remains?

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding the separatists do. In terms of remains, just give me a second, Said. Let me pull up what I have here. I think I have something. Yes, the first group of remains of Malaysian victims of the shoot-down will arrive tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur. Again, would take this opportunity to express our condolences for the families of those killed in this horrific plane crash. Obviously, we’re very focused on investigating and holding people responsible.

As I said earlier, their initial report of the investigation into the cause is expected by the end of August. We have contributed to the investigation both information and expertise through the Department of Justice, the NTSB, and FBI. That was a question I took from Matt the other day.

QUESTION: And the ESAT that you deployed to the Embassy in Kyiv, are they still there?

MS. HARF: The NTSB people?

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, who are —

QUESTION: ESAT team. It was the – it was the —

MS. HARF: Oh. That’s a good question. I’m not sure.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I believe they may – let me check on that for you. It’s a good question.

What else?

QUESTION: On Russia?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There’s a report that there’s going to be an expert-level meeting next month on INF consultations. Do you have any confirmation of that?

MS. HARF: So just – we have made clear to Russia that we want to talk about this. We’ve notified them of our determination to do so in a senior level bilateral dialogue immediately, with the aim of assuring the U.S. that Russia will come back into compliance. We don’t have a date set for that yet. I think we’re still working out details.

QUESTION: So you say senior – so your preference would be for a senior level, not an expert level?

MS. HARF: Senior level bilateral dialogue.

QUESTION: Okay, so – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, but —

QUESTION: Yeah, no problem.

QUESTION: — it’s a follow-up to that.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The Russians actually said today that it’s going to take place in September, expert level talks in September. Do you have anything on that?

MS. HARF: Okay. Let me check with our team. I know this is what —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: — we had notified them that we wanted to do, so let me check on those conversations for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been nominated for governing AK Party – to lead the governing AK Party – and then being a prime minister succeeding President-elect Erdogan. What would be your assessment on this?

MS. HARF: Well, I understand this is a nomination. There’s a process that has to play out now. We look forward to working with whoever is the next prime minister. And I think we’ll refrain on further comment until that process is over.

QUESTION: And Mr. Davutoglu is someone that the Secretary works very well with, yes?

MS. HARF: The Secretary has worked very closely with Foreign Minister Davutoglu – has spoken to him a number of times this week – very closely on Gaza, on other issues as well.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:   Pakistan. Madam, first of all I want to set the record straight. Yesterday, my question on Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, comparing with the Iraqi prime minister, those were not my views, but those were the views from Mr. Qadri and Mr. – the cricket player —

MS. HARF: Imran Khan.

QUESTION: — Imran Khan.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: And they have repeated again yesterday the same comment, but they also included (inaudible) and also Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. My question is today: Do you really take these huge demonstrations and the leaders behind them seriously?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re monitoring the demonstrations. Obviously, we think there should be a space in Pakistan for peaceful expression of views. So it’s something we’re looking at. We are in no way involved in the process or the discussion between the parties. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false. So we’re watching it, but we do think that there needs to be peaceful dialogue and no attempts to change Pakistan’s government through extra-constitutional attempts. So Nawaz Sharif is prime minister; that’s who we will keep working with, as we will with a number of people in Pakistan as well.

QUESTION: And finally, if there were any contacts between Islamabad and Washington about this current situation?

MS. HARF: Ambassador Olson meets quite frequently with a range of officials, and I believe that’s where the contact has occurred.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

MS. HARF: And thank you for clarifying on yesterday.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

MS. HARF: Yes. Elliot.

QUESTION:  Thailand?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The —

MS. HARF: Skipping around the world today.

QUESTION: Yeah. The legislative assembly has selected the former army – well, the soon-to- be former army chief as prime minister. Do you have any response to that?

MS. HARF: Yes. We hope that the selection of an interim prime minister is a step in a process that leads to the establishment of inclusive democratic institutions and a freely and fairly elected civilian government. We have urged the interim government, once formed, to institute an inclusive reform process that reflects the diversity of views within Thailand, and do remain concerned about the limits on space for freedom of speech and assembly.

QUESTION: Have you heard anything from your colleagues in Thailand about how long he will be interim prime minister?

MS. HARF: We have not. We have not. I know they had talked about some dates for elections, but I haven’t heard more details on that.

QUESTION: Well, if I’m not mistaken, the last time they said was October 2015.

MS. HARF: That’s what I had heard last as well.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more updates for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And I think the last time we heard about the review of U.S. aid to Thailand was maybe a couple months ago.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are there any updates?

MS. HARF: There’s not. By law, we cannot resume our legally restricted assistance to Thailand until a democratically elected government takes office.

QUESTION: But in terms of the specific elements that are being withheld, are there any others from the last time we heard?

MS. HARF: Nothing new. Nothing new on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: What else?

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION:  Central African Republic.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Earlier this week there were reports of renewed clashes involving international peacekeepers and militants in Bangui. In light of this ongoing unrest in spite of the presence of the international peacekeepers, is the U.S. considering any additional engagement in the CAR to help stem some of this unrest?

MS. HARF: Well, we have been very engaged on this issue and know that the violence there has to stop. We’ve urged all parties to fully abide by and implement the July 2014 cessation of hostilities agreement. We have initiated efforts and are supporting the regional mediation efforts of others to reconcile the parties in the conflict. Just a few points on that.

We’ve committed up to $100 million for equipment, airlift, and training for African and French peacekeeping troops in the CAR. It includes 37 trucks given to the AU mission, an additional 200 vehicles that will start arriving as MISCA transitions to the UN peacekeeping operation in mid-September.

We also remain committed to holding individuals accountable. We’ve implemented UN Security Council and U.S. targeted sanctions against five individuals; believe these are important steps that we’ve taken. I don’t have any additional steps to preview, but we have been engaged in both supporting the peacekeeping and holding people accountable.

Yes. Yes, here, and then to Ali.

QUESTION:  A very light one, offbeat one.

MS. HARF: Can I guess what it is? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. Is it correct that the State Department sent a cable to its ambassadors to ban them from participating —

MS. HARF: Not – it wasn’t – it’s not limited. It’s not just about ambassadors. Federal government ethics rules prevent us from using our public offices, such as – high public offices such as ambassadors for private gain, no matter how worthy the cause is. And this is, of course, a wor

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.

Lara.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Marie?

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.

QUESTION: Right.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

QUESTION: Right.

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.

Lara.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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?

QUESTION: Yes.

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.

Yeah.

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: Okay.

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.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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 —

QUESTION: Everything.

MS. HARF: Everything, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: It is so dire that we are looking at everything.

QUESTION: Okay.

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: Right.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Anything else on Iraq today?

Afghanistan.

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?

QUESTION: Yes.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we do a new topic?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we do – talk about Russia?

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 —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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: Thanks.

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: Thanks.

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.

Yes.

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.

Scott.

QUESTION: Burma?

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 —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

(Laughter.)

MS. HARF: There’s a difference in the law.

QUESTION: All right, okay. Well, even if it’s —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: We need to be very clear when we talk about sanctions what is and isn’t sanctioned.

QUESTION: Fine.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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: (Off-mike.)

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: (Off-mike.)

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

Press Releases: Remarks With Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, and Australian Minister of Defense David Johnston

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Ladies and gentlemen, today we have welcomed to Sydney and to AUSMIN Secretaries John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, and this is the second AUSMIN meeting that the four principals here have participated in. The United States alliance is the most important security relationship for Australia, and AUSMIN is an annual opportunity for us to take stock of this relationship. And today’s discussion was broad in its scope. We were frank in our exchanges, and there was a clear instinct for collaboration across a wide area of endeavor. There’s a desire to share the burden of implementing our mutual vision and mutual goal of regional and global peace and prosperity, security and stability.

At a bilateral level, we signed the Force Posture Initiatives, the formal, legally binding document about a presence of U.S. Marines in the north of our country, and we focused particularly on the humanitarian disaster relief aspects of having the assistance of the U.S. in our region, which is, sadly, prone to natural disasters and other tragedies. Now at a regional level, we discussed the tensions in the South China Sea. Secretary Kerry and I have just returned from the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum, where the South China Sea was discussed at length, and we went over some of those issues. But we also discussed the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and our mutual desire to see North Korea denuclearized in a verifiable way and returned to the Six Party Talks.

We discussed the regional architecture and the need for the East Asia Summit to be the premier regional forum. It has the right mandate, the right membership to discuss matters of regional strategic significance. We talked about the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is where the U.S. rebalance finds its economic expression and how important the TPP will be to opening up and liberalizing markets in our region. We discussed the emergence of China and other major powers in our region.

Globally, in the wake of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17, we talked about the situation in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s intentions and the behavior of Russia in recent months and weeks involving the breach of sovereignty in Ukraine and elsewhere. We had a long discussion on the Middle East and the significant conflicts there, whether it be Syria, Iraq, or in Gaza, and we also talked about Afghanistan and our commitment to Afghanistan post-2014.

A considerable focus of our discussion was on counterterrorism and, more specifically, on the issue of foreign fighters. People going to fight in conflicts around the world, leaving their countries, going to Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere and becoming radicalized and taking part in extremist terrorist activities is, in fact, an international problem. It’s a concern for Australia, it’s a concern for the United States, but it’s a topic that’s raised increasingly in countries in our region and across Europe. It’s an international problem, but the barbaric ideology that these extremists embrace is, in fact, a threat to our way of life, a threat to our values, and we discussed ways that we can bring this issue to international attention. So a major focus on the issue of foreign fighters.

Overall, it was a most productive and most useful exchange from Australia’s point of view. We came up with a number of significant initiatives. The communiqué sets out the detail of it, but I want to thank both Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel for making the trip down under. We are always delighted to see you in our part of the world. You’ve been in Asia and Southeast Asia on so many occasions, and we always want you to come to Australia and count us in on your discussions. The relationship has never been stronger, and we have appreciated your commitment and focus on the issues that are of mutual concern and of concern to Australia’s national interest.

I’ll ask the Minister for Defense to say a few words and then pass over to our American friends.

DEFENSE MINISTER JOHNSTON: Well, thank you, Julie. To Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel, firstly, thank you for the magnanimous, generous, and gracious way that you’ve entered into our discussions. I must say I know I speak for Julie, it’s an absolute delight to be with you in your busy schedules to discuss matters that are regionally significant, but also in the wider area of world events, the problems we both are worried about, how best to confront them and how best Australia can help the United States in its very excellent leadership, particularly in this region.

Part of that is, of course, the rebalance, and we’re delighted to have 1,200 – approximately 1,200 U.S. Marines in Darwin. That, ladies and gentlemen, is going very seamlessly, very well, and it is a classic win-win situation. So today’s discussions have gone very cordially, very constructively, and very frankly as you would expect with partners and friends of long standing. So the rebalance has been, from our point of view, delivering the Marines into Darwin very, very successful so that our region has, of course, benefitted – and I reiterate this to the Secretaries – benefitted from the stability of the past 20, 30 years. That stability has been delivered by U.S. leadership and of course the booming middle class of Southeast and East Asia has been the end dividend of that stability.

And so today we’ve enjoyed discussing the challenges, what we perceive coming over the horizon in the future, matters such as counterterrorism, foreign fighters, which we both, as two countries have to deal with. Can I say that both Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry bring enormous amount of wisdom and wit to our discussions. And I must say to you the discussions have been most enjoyable. We share interoperability across so many fronts. We have very large numbers of people embedded in the United States in the U.S. military. We’ve got 400 people still in Afghanistan working with the Americans and our other ISAF partners going forward. I want to end on that note by just saying thank you very much for the trust. When we are doing things together in the defense space, trust is a really important part of that, and trust leads to great friendship, and I think we have great friendship, and I thank you both for that.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Julie. Good afternoon to all of you. And let me just – let me begin by saying that I am really delighted to be here with Secretary Hagel at the Australia-United States Ministerial Meeting. This is my first AUSMIN, as we call it, in Australia, and I really want to thank Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston for their unbelievably warm welcome over the course of these two days. We had a very productive dinner discussion last night just over the way from here, and today we both join together in thanking Governor-General Cosgrove for opening up his magnificent residence to us. It afforded a really superb venue to be able to sit here quietly and be able to really dig in in very personal ways to very complicated issues, and we thank them for this special venue and special friendship that goes with it.

Secretary Hagel and I both want to begin any comments that we make here today with an expression of our deepest condolences to the families and the loved ones of the 38 Australians who lost their lives in the Flight 17 – Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. We both want to affirm to Australia and to the world that we absolutely demand, as does Australia, justice for this unconscionable crime. And just as we stand together on so many issues from the Asia Pacific to the Middle East to Afghanistan and beyond, we will see this through together.

I’ve also had the very good fortune to work with our Australian friends for many years, 29 years in the United States Senate and a number of years as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. So when Secretary Hagel and I served in Vietnam – slightly different times, but we both served there – we also fought alongside, side by side, with our Australian brothers who are great soldiers and great friends. In fact, Australian men and American men and women – men and women on both sides – have fought side by side in every major conflict since World War I, and we’re proud of the friendship and the trust, as Minister Johnston was just saying, that has grown out of this longtime relationship.

I was very privileged to join Secretary Hagel and Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston last year at Arlington National Secretary where we honored this special bond between Australians and the United States, a bond that can only be forged through the sacrifice of war, which we both understand. So I thank Australia at this moment, particularly for stepping up yet again with their offer of humanitarian assistance in Iraq at this moment of crisis. The new Iraqi leadership has a very difficult challenge. It has to regain the confidence of its citizens by governing inclusively, but also by taking steps to demonstrate their resolve, and we’re going to continue to stand with the Iraqi people during this time of transition.

And though we live in different hemispheres and at opposite ends of the globe, the United States could ask for no better friend and no closer ally than Australia. Australia is a vital partner in so many different endeavors. It is vital as we deepen the U.S. economic engagement throughout the Asia Pacific, as we engage in the rebalances of – both ministers have referred to it, which will bring the United States even more to the effort to help create a larger economic transformation in the region and to bring about a rule of law-based structure where everybody understands the rules and where it is a race to the top, not to the bottom. We also are working hard together to try to complete a critical component of that race to the top, which is the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

We also discussed, as has been mentioned by both ministers, difficult regional and global security challenges. We didn’t need to struggle to find commonality in our understanding of the fact that we are living in one of the most complicated moments of transformation and transition all across this planet. Instant communications, massive numbers of mobile devices, massive amounts of information moving at lightning speed around the globe informing everybody about everything all of the time. And that has changed politics, and it has changed international relations. It raises expectations among people all over the world. And it challenges politics in terms of building consensus around decisions.

So we face a lot of these challenges together in today’s world, and that is why it is so important to have the kind of discussion that we had here today where we lay out every one of those challenges and try to figure out how do we do this better, how can we have greater impact, how do we bring more people to the table in order to affect change. It has enabled both of our countries to stand with the people of Ukraine, support long-term progress in Afghanistan, reduce tensions in the South China Sea, collaborate in the United Nations Security Council on everything from Iran to Syria to restricting trade in illicit small arms and weapons and even in our fellow human beings.

Today’s session allowed us to consult and coordinate in depth on these issues and on the challenges that we face in Iraq and Gaza, and we also agreed in conjunction with our discussion about the foreign fighters that Julie raised a moment ago that we are going to work together to assemble a compendium of the best practices in the world today regarding those foreign fighters, and we intend to join together in order to bring this to the United Nations meeting next month and put it on the agenda in a way that will elicit support from source countries as well as those countries of concern.

Earlier today, as you all know, we signed a Force Posture Agreement that will further strengthen and deepen the U.S.-Australian defense relationship, and we agreed to expand our trilateral cooperation with Japan. So you can see that we covered a range of very important issues in the Asia Pacific region, including our commitment to the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And the United States – I want to make this clear – is absolutely prepared to improve relations with North Korea if North Korea will honor its international obligations. It’s that simple. But make no mistake we are also prepared to increase pressure, including through strong sanctions and further isolation if North Korea chooses the path of confrontation.

So I join Secretary Hagel in thanking Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston for very productive discussions over the past day, and we all look forward to continuing our work together in the years to come in order to address these complex challenges.

SECRETARY HAGEL: John, thank you, and I, too, appreciate an opportunity to be with Secretary Kerry here for the AUSMIN meetings that we are concluding this afternoon. I want to add my thanks as well to our hosts, Minister Bishop, Minister Johnston, and also to Governor-General Cosgrove for his hospitality here at Admiralty House. So thank you.

On a visit to the United States in 1960, the great Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, said that strength is admirable, but only for the responsibilities it accepts and discharges. America, Australia, and this historic alliance has always, always sought to live up to those responsibilities around the world. Today’s agenda for the U.S.-Australia alliance, you have heard, span issues ranging from the South China Sea to Iraq where Secretary Kerry and I expressed our appreciation for Australia’s offer to contribute to the humanitarian and relief operations and where America is prepared to intensify its security cooperation as Iraq undertakes and makes progress towards political reform.

We also addressed the crisis in Ukraine as has been noted and Australia’s tragic loss of 38 citizens and residents aboard MH-17. And as I have said, as Secretary has – Secretary Kerry has expressed, our condolences to the people of Australia and especially the families of those who were lost in that tragedy. America will continue to work with Australia as we have said clearly and plainly to provide requested support and assistance.

Today we have reinforced the foundation of our alliances, defense, and security cooperation by, as Secretary Kerry noted, signing the U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement. 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. At today’s AUSMIN having just come from New Delhi and having consulted closely with our Japanese and Korean allies and ASEAN defense ministers, I see a new, committed resolve to work together, to work together to build a security system across this Indo-Pacific region, recognizing the independent sovereignty of nations, respecting that sovereignty, but also recognizing the common interests that we all have for a stable, peaceful, secure world.

The U.S. Australia alliance is spurring this progress and will remain a bedrock for a stable and secure order. Along with Secretary Kerry, let me again thank our hosts, Minister Bishop, Minister Johnston, and Governor-General Cosgrove for hosting this year’s AUSMIN and what they continue to do as we continue to collaborate and work together on some of the great issues of our time. As Secretary Kerry has noted, we live in an immensely complicated world, but a world that is still full of hope and promise if we endeavor to bring resolute, strong leadership, leadership that is committed to these virtues and values and principles that we all share and living up to the highest responsibilities as Prime Minister Menzies once said. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you. We’re now going to have four questions, and I think Laura, you’re going to kick off. Thank you.

QUESTION: Laura Jayes from Sky News. Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel, thank you. Ministers, thank you. I wanted to first go to Russia, and our Australian Government has talked about greater sanctions on Russia, leaving that option open, uranium perhaps. Secretary Kerry, is that a path you would like to see Australia go down? There’s also the question of Vladimir Putin attending the G20 Summit. I wondered if you have a comment on that.

And also, as I guess a little bit out of that direct realm, China in all of this. We’ve seen the U.S. and EU impose quite strong sanctions against Russia in the last couple of months, but China has, I think, helped to dilute that in some ways, if you, Secretary Kerry, could address those questions, also, Minister Bishop as well.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much. On the subject of sanctions with respect to Russia, we are very understanding of our friend, Australia’s deep, deep anger and its need for justice with respect to what has happened. This is an unconscionable crime on a huge international order that findings already, without the full investigation being done – and we are pressing for a full investigation, because nothing is complete until you have a full investigation. But there is no question – and we’ve said this publicly previously, but that this type of weapon and all the evidence of it was seen on our imagery. We saw the takeoff. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this airplane disappear from the radar screen. So there’s really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.

But we need to have the complete investigation, obviously, to legitimize whatever steps are going to be taken as we go down the road, and that’s why we’re all pressing so hard for that. The foreign minister of Australia traveled to New York, made an eloquent plea working with our ambassador and others there, Frans Timmermans of – the Dutch foreign minister spoke eloquently about what had happened. And the world can’t just sort of move by this and gloss by it. People need to remember this, because holding people accountable is essential not just to justice for what happened, but to deterrence and prevention in the future, and we don’t want to see these kinds of things ever repeated again.

So we’re open, but we haven’t made any decisions. I’m not sure Australia has either yet. We need to see what’s happening, but our hope and prayer – our hope is that in the next days and weeks we can find a way for President Poroshenko and Ukraine to be able to work with the Russians to provide the humanitarian assistance necessary in the east to facilitate the thoroughness of the investigation, to begin to bring the separatists to the degree that they are Ukrainian into the political process, and for those who are not Ukrainian, they need to leave the country, and there needs to be a process worked out where the supplies stop coming in both in money and arms and support and people and Ukraine is allowed to begin to protect its sovereignty and define its future. Our hope is that that can happen through the diplomatic process, but we’ve all learned that we need to be cautious and strong at the same time in our responses and clear about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

With respect to the G20 Summit, et cetera, no decisions have been made at this point in time. I think a lot of the attitudes about the – about that issue from the various countries attending can, frankly, be determined and impacted to some degree in what happens in these next days and weeks.

And finally, with respect to China and what is going on, we have said again and again – and we just had a Strategic and Economic Dialogue in China, Secretary Jack Lew of the Treasury and I were there, with two days of discussions, and we made it very clear to China that we welcome the rise of China as a global partner, hopefully, as a powerful economy, as a full participating, constructive member of the international community, and we want China to participate in constructive ways, whether it’s in the South China Sea or with respect to Japan and South Korea, with North Korea, with other issues that we face. We are not seeking conflict and confrontation, and our hope is that China will, likewise, take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of it to be that cooperative partner.

And so there are always differences, shades – there are differences with respect to certain issues, and we’ve agreed to try to find those things where we can really cooperate. We’re cooperating in Afghanistan, we’re cooperating on nonproliferation with respect to Iran, we’re cooperating to get the chemical weapons out of Syria, we’re cooperating on counterterrorism, we’re cooperating on nuclear weaponry and on the reduction of nuclear arms. So there are plenty of big issues on which we cooperate with Russia even now every day, and our hope is that on those things where we’ve obviously had some disagreements with China or with Russia that we can both find a diplomatic path forward, because everybody in the world understands the world will be better off if great power nations are finding ways to cooperate, not to confront each other.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: If I could put this question of sanctions in context, MH-17 was a commercial airplane flying in commercial airspace carrying 298 civilians. Passenger numbers included 80 children, and this plane was shot down, we believe, by a surface-to-air missile just inside eastern Ukraine. The deaths of so many people, including 38 Australian citizens and residents was shocking, and the implications for international aviation are profound. So after completing our humanitarian mission of removing the remains and personal effects from the crash site, we are now focused on the investigation into how this came to be, how this plane was shot down, and who did it, because those culpable for creating the circumstances or for actually causing the downing of this plane must be held to account, and the grief of our citizens demands answers. They must be held to account, the perpetrators, and brought to justice.

All the while, when Australian and Dutch teams, unarmed police, humanitarian teams were seeking to get to the crash site, all the while, Russia was supplying more armed personnel, more heavy weaponry over the border into eastern Ukraine. They didn’t cease, and in fact increased their efforts. And instead of listening to international concerns about a ceasefire and the need for a humanitarian corridor for us to conclude our work, on the very day that Australia was holding a national day of mourning to grieve the loss of so many Australian lives, Russia chose to impose sanctions on Australia through an embargo on our agricultural exports.

We are rightly focused on the investigation, supporting the Netherlands, Malaysia, Belgium, and Ukraine as part of an investigation team. But on the question of sanctions, we will consider the options available to us, but our focus at present is to bring closure to the families who are still grieving over this barbaric act of shooting down a plane that killed their loved ones.

As far as the G20 is concerned, as Secretary Kerry indicated, there’s been no decision. The G20 is an economic forum. There would have to be a consensus view as to whether or not steps should be taken in relation to President Putin’s presence here in Australia.

On China, I must say that China was extremely supportive of our resolution in the United Nations Security Council. As you’d be aware, it was a unanimous resolution. It was supported by all 15 members of the UN Security Council, and China has suffered a great loss through the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370. Australia has done what we can to help in that search effort, and I have committed to Foreign Minister Wang Yi last weekend that Australia will continue to help search for that missing plane. So China grieves with us over the loss of people aboard airplanes that have crashed or disappeared in such extraordinary circumstances.

On the question of China’s support beyond MH-17, Russia’s behavior in recent months has been to breach the sovereignty of Ukraine, a neighbor, and this is not behavior that China, one would think, would condone. It’s behavior that China has pointed out to others would be unacceptable if it were to occur in China’s sphere of the world. So we’ll continue to consult, discuss with China the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian tensions, the conflict, the need for ceasefire, the need for humanitarian assistance and hope that China sees it as we do, an unacceptable breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty and urge Russia to stop the flow of weapons, stop the flow of armed personnel. Russia claims to be concerned about a humanitarian situation in Ukraine when the first thing it should do is stop sending weapons and armed personnel to the so-called separatists.

QUESTION: I’m (inaudible). I’m a reporter with Bloomberg News. Questions on Iraq first to Secretary Hagel: What kind of direct military assistance is the Pentagon prepared to offer the Kurds, and does it include sending heavy weapons to them?

And if I can ask Secretary Kerry: Can you talk a little bit more about what the United States is prepared to do once there is a new Iraqi Government? And both of you, do you share any concern that directly aiding and supporting the Kurds could potentially encourage them to break away from a united Iraq in the future?

And to the Australian officials, the U.S. has said it will assist and train Iraqi troops to combat ISIL. And have you been asked and are you prepared to send any of your troops to train the Iraqi forces? Thank you.

SECRETARY HAGEL: The United States Government is working with the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi security forces to get military equipment to the Peshmerga. That is Iraqi military equipment. We – our American forces through CENTCOM are helping get that equipment to Erbil. As to your question regarding a breakaway status of the Kurds into an independent Kurdistan, I think it’s important that – and we have taken this position and Secretary Kerry, who has been directly involved in this, may want to amplify on this point – but it’s important to note that America’s position is a unified Iraq.

You all know that the Council of Representatives announced today that it had selected a new prime minister, a new Shia prime minister. That then completes the new senior officers that the Counsel of Representatives have put forth, a new speaker of the parliament, a new president, a new prime minister. That’s good news. Now the next step has to move forward in getting that government ratified and in place, and we look forward to working with that new government.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well – sorry, go ahead. No, please.

DEFENSE MINISTER JOHNSTON: With respect to the Australian contribution to those people who are in the mountains around Erbil, we are going to be participate and deliver humanitarian relief in the nature of being able to drop supplies to them, and that is a (inaudible) capability we have long held probably since East Timor. And that’s the role that we’ll carry out, and we’ll fit into and be part of the planning of the United States and other partners who want to assist on that humanitarian basis, and that’s the way we’ll go forward. Sorry, John.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no. That’s important, and I appreciate it. Let me just begin by congratulating Dr. Haider al-Abadi on his nomination, which now offers him an opportunity to be able to form a government over the next 30 days. And we urge him to form a new cabinet as swiftly as possible, and the U.S. does stand ready to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi Government, particularly in its fight against ISIL.

Now I’m not going to get into the details today before a new prime minister is there and a government is there and we’ve talked to them and we know what they think their needs are and how they define the road ahead, but I will tell you that without any question, we are prepared to consider additional political, economic, and security options as Iraq starts to build a new government and very much calculated to try to help stabilize the security situation, to expand economic development, and to strengthen the democratic institutions. Those will be the guidelines.

We also would note that there are already a significant group of programs in place under the strategic framework agreement, and we, with a new government in place, would absolutely look to provide additional options, and we would consider those options for sure in an effort to strengthen an effort. Let me be very clear we have always wanted an inclusive, participatory government that represents the interests of Shia, Kurd, Sunni, minorities, all Iraqis. That’s the goal. And our hope is that when there is a new government, we will all of us in the international community be able to work with them in order to guarantee that outstanding issues that have just stood there absolutely frozen for years now, like the oil revenue law or the constitutional reform, all of these things need to be resolved, and that will really determine the road ahead.

Now with respect to the Kurds, we welcome increased coordination and support between the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish forces. That is taking place right now. It’s quite unique, and we think that’s a signal of a growing potential for cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil. So as we’ve said last week, ISIL has secured certain heavy weaponry, and the Kurds need additional arms, and what is happening now is through the government in Baghdad, some of that assistance is being provided directly to the Kurds. I think that raises as many questions about the possibility of greater cooperation as it does with the possibility of further efforts for separation.

What I do know is from my own meetings with President Barzani recently, he is very committed to this transition in Baghdad, in Iraq, in the government. He is committed to trying to be a force for a strong federal government that works for all Iraqis, and that’s the only subject on the table at this point in time.

QUESTION: Secretaries, Ministers, Greg Jennett from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This is to any or all of you, but perhaps starting with you, Secretary Kerry. Following on from that question on Iraq and noting that you don’t want to get into details, but that stabilizing security is an option that the U.S. is prepared to explore with the government there, what are the circumstances in which the U.S. could look to allies, including Australia, to support security with further military commitments, if you could outline at least the parameters in which you would start that conversation.

And also on homecoming jihadists from the Middle East, what is the shared approach? Practically, what sort of initiatives are we talking about? As this – things before prosecution, after incarceration, before interrogation, is there any example of the types of actions you’d like to see the world take jointly?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me let a couple of my colleagues – I’ll turn to Julie to address the issue on the foreign fighters, because we had a pretty robust discussion, and perhaps even Mr. Johnston and Hagel want to tackle that. So let me just answer the first part of the question, and they can answer the second.

The question is: How can we look towards this issue of stabilization and military assistance? And you said: Where would the discussion begin? Well, let me tell you in the simplest terms where the discussion begins. There will be no reintroduction of American combat forces into Iraq. That is the beginning of the discussion. This is a fight that Iraqis need to join on behalf of Iraq, and our hope is and the reason President Obama has been so clear about wanting to get the government formation before beginning to tackle ISIL in the most significant way excepting the kind of emergency circumstances that have arisen is because if you don’t have a government that is inclusive and that works, nothing else will work plain and simply.

So you have to have a government that can begin to be inclusive where the forces of Iraq are not a personal force defined by one particular sect and sworn to allegiance to one particular leader, but they truly represent Iraq, and Iraq’s future in a broad-based sense. And I think that everybody understands that is the direction that we have to go. Lots of countries who have an interest in stability in the region have already offered different kinds of assistance of one kind or another, but nobody, I think, is looking towards a return to the road that we’ve traveled. What we’re really looking for here is a way to support Iraq, support their forces with either training or equipment or assistance of one kind or another that can help them to stand on their own two feet and defend their nation. That’s the goal. That’s where the conversation begins, whoever is prime minister, and I think everybody is crystal clear about that.

We are convinced that with a unified effort by Iraqis, and particularly if there is a return to the kind of localized efforts that existed in the Sons of Anbar or the Iraqi Anbar Awakening, as it’s referred to, that there will be plenty of opportunity here for a pushback against ISIL forces which is why the restoration of a unified, inclusive government is so critical as a starting point. I think the President felt that that process was well enough along the way with the selection of a speaker, the selection of a president, and the clear movement of people towards a candidate for prime minister that he felt comfortable that the urgency of the situation, of protecting potential people moving towards Erbil or the extraordinary atrocities that were beginning to take place with respect to the Yazidis that it was critical to begin to move in that regard, and that’s why he made that decision, and I think it was a wise decision.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Australia has long joined the international community in calling for a more inclusive government in Iraq, and the political instability that we have seen that hasn’t addressed the concerns of the Sunnis, hasn’t addressed the concerns of minorities, is of course a matter of grave concern. So political stability is the key for Iraq encountering the influence and impact of these extremist groups, including ISIL. And that brings me to the issue of foreign fighters. The Australian media has, this week, published some truly shocking photographs I assume have been verified of an Australian family in the Middle East holding up a severed head, a seven year-old child is involved in this barbarous display of ideology, and they’re Australian citizens.

So when the government says that there is a real domestic security threat from the phenomenon of foreign fighters, we have evidence that there are a significant number of Australian citizens who are taking part in activities in Iraq and parts of Syria, extremist activities, terrorist activities. Our fear is that they will return home to Australia as hardened, homegrown terrorists and seek to continue their work here in Australia. And it’s not a concern just of this country. As I mentioned earlier, at the East Asia Summit, a number of countries raised this issue of foreign fighters leaving countries, going to fight in these conflicts and coming home with a set of skills and experience as terrorists. That truly poses one of the most significant threats that we’ve seen in a very long time.

Our discussion today focused on what we can do to counter this risk. Australia, as the Australian media would be well aware, has announced a series of legislative reforms that deal with matters including the burden of proof for people’s presence in prescribed areas like Mosul, and why Australian citizens would be defying the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice to not go to Mosul demands explanation. We are looking at issues involving passports and the cancellation and the ability to suspend passports so that we can investigate the activities of people within Australia and deal with them on their turn.

We know that one of the Australian citizens involved in these activities in the Middle East in Iraq had, in fact, been convicted of terrorist activities in Australia, had served time and then left Australia under a false identity. We also know that in coming weeks and months, a significant number of those convicted of terrorist activities in Indonesia will be released. Now the question is: Have they been de-radicalized in their time in prison? Clearly in the case of the Australian citizen, not. And we hold similar fears for those inmates leaving Indonesian jails. So the whole question of what we can do when these people are detained and what we can do if they’re prosecuted and found guilty and spend time in jail, they are matters that we have to look at. The whole question of reaching out to the communities in Australia and getting communities to assist us in fighting this extremist threat is important.

So as we were discussing these issues, Secretary Kerry said this is something we’ve got to bring to the attention of the international community. It’s a shared issue across Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Europe, in Pakistan, in Great Britain, Canada. There are a number of countries across the globe reporting instances of citizens becoming extremist fighters in the Middle East. And so this idea of having a forum, discussion at UNGA Leaders’ Week is something that I believe will be well supported because so many countries are facing this threat, and if we can exchange ideas and practices and suggestions as how we can deal with it, then I think we will have made a great step forward, and so we certainly will support the United States and work very hard to ensure that we collectively deal with this growing threat to the security of our nation.

SECRETARY KERRY: Can I add one thing to that?

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Sure.

SECRETARY KERRY: I apologize, but I just want to underscore this image, perhaps even an iconic photograph that Julie has just referred to is really one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed, this seven year-old child holding a severed head out with pride and with the support and encouragement of a parent with brothers there. That child should be in school, that child should be out learning about a future, that child should be playing with other kids, not holding a severed head and out in the field of combat. This is utterly disgraceful, and it underscores the degree to which ISIL is so far beyond the pale with respect to any standard by which we judge even terrorist groups, that al-Qaida shunted them aside. And that’s why they represent the threat that they represent. And it’s no accident that every country in the region is opposed to ISIL.

So this threat is so real, an African – north African president of a country recently told me that 1,800 identified citizens of that country have gone to Syria to fight. Believe it or not, 1,100 of them they knew had already been killed because their bodies had been returned or they were tallied as killed. Well, that leaves 7 or 800 still out there that they fear are going to return to that country knowing how to fix an IED, knowing how to arm weapons, knowing how to explode a bomb, knowing how to build a suicide vest or something like that. And this ideology is without one redeeming quality of offering people a job or healthcare or an education or anything other than saying don’t live any other way but the way we tell you.

So this is serious business, and we understand that, and I think the world is beginning to come to grips with the fact, the degree to which this is unacceptable. And we have a responsibility to take this to the United Nations and to the world so that all countries involved take measures ahead of time to prevent the return of these fighters and the chaos and havoc that could come with that, and I just wanted to underscore that with the – with Minister Bishop, because we’re all joined together in this effort, and that’s why we’re going to take it to the United Nations in the fall and try to get best practices put together by which all countries can begin to act together in unison in order to react to it.

QUESTION: Leslie Wroughton from Reuters. Please excuse if I don’t stand up. I’ve got too much equipment going here. Turning back to Iraq, you said that the U.S. was prepared to consider security, political, and economic options as Iraq forms this new government. Can you get into more specifics about that? We’ve heard some vague statements on how you ought to prepare to support. Does this include further airstrikes to push back ISIS? Once the government comes in, how do you secure that stability?

And then number two, on Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said today there’s a high probability of a Russian intervention in Ukraine. What specific steps, again, are you taking through diplomatic channels to address this. You talked about your hopes in the next days and weeks to – that you could find a way for President Poroshenko and Ukraine to be able to work with the Russians. Are you talking about a new diplomatic effort here? And what are you talking about? Thanks.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me make it clear with respect to Ukraine, diplomatic efforts have never ceased. It’s not a question of a new one; it’s a question of ongoing diplomatic efforts. We have never stopped. The President has not stopped, the Vice President, myself have all been in touch with the top leadership of Ukraine, with leadership of Russia, and others. The President of the United States talked to President Putin a few days ago. I talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov just a couple days ago. I talked to President Poroshenko a few days ago. There are a lot of conversations taking place.

And even now as we stand here, there are efforts being made with our friends, with Germany, with the Ukrainians, with Russia, with others to try to see if there’s a way to work out a way forward on the humanitarian delivery with direct contact with the ICRC. There is direct contact with the Germans and others in this effort, and the hope is that through the meetings that will take place this week, there is a way to find a means that is acceptable to deliver humanitarian assistance without the guise of a military delivery in an effort to do so against the will and wishes of the country where it is being delivered and against the norms of the ICRC, the International Red Cross, and how it would react to that.

So that’s the effort that’s underway now. It’s been a consistent, continued diplomatic effort to try to find a way forward, but obviously the humanitarian assistance needs to get there, and there are a clear set of meetings scheduled, so there’s a timeframe within which we think we’re operating, which is why I mention that.

With respect to Iraq and the stability, I want – I think Chuck Hagel should speak specifically to any of the security components of that, but I’d just say on the economic and political front, the best thing for stability in Iraq is for an inclusive government to bring the disaffected parties to the table and work with them in order to make sure there is the kind of sharing of power and decision making that people feel confident the government represents all of their interests. And if that begins to happen, then there is a way for both investment, trade, economic, other realities to help sustain and build that kind of stability.

But if you don’t have the prerequisite, which President Obama identified at the outset, of an inclusive, working government, there’s no chance for any of that. That’s why we think the steps taken, the selection of a speaker, the selection of a president, and now a prime minister-designate who has an opportunity to be able to form a government are just essential prerequisites to this process of providing stability.

Do you want to talk to the security?

SECRETARY HAGEL: I’ll just mention a couple of things. One, as you know, it was the Iraqi Government that requested the U.S. Government’s assistance with humanitarian delivery on Mount Sinjar. And we complied with that request, agreed with that request for carrying out those missions. It was also the Iraqi Government’s request of the United States Government to assist them in transferring, transporting military equipment to Erbil to help the Peshmerga. As Secretary Kerry noted and as President Obama has said, as a new government begins, takes shape, we would consider further requests from that new government.

But I would just also reemphasize what Secretary Kerry has already noted, and President Obama has made this very clear, the future of Iraq will be determined by the people of Iraq. It will not be determined by a military solution. It will require a political solution, and I think Secretary Kerry’s comments about an inclusive participatory, a functioning government is critically important to the future of Iraq. So we would wait and see what future requests that this new government would ask of us, and we would consider those based on those requests.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Just on Ukraine, Australia welcomes the efforts of the United States to assist in preventative diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia. As I made, I hope, very clear to Vice Minister Morgulov in Naypyidaw over the weekend, yes, there is a humanitarian situation in Ukraine that is serious, and it’s likely to worsen. But if Russia were concerned about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, the first step is to stop the flow of fighters and weapons into eastern Ukraine and the so-called separatists are very professional, very well armed with the most sophisticated of weaponry and equipment, so to cease that flow of personnel and weapons would be a start.

I also hope I made very clear that any intervention by Russia into Ukraine under the guise of a humanitarian crisis would be seen as the transparent artifice that it is, and Australia would condemn in the strongest possible terms any effort by Russia to enter Ukraine under the guise of carrying out some sort of humanitarian mission. Clearly that kind of support must come from donor countries, from the UN, from the International Red Cross, and that is our expectation.

I think that’s it, (inaudible). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. We will now depart, and I just want to place on record again our thanks to Secretaries Kerry and Hagel for taking part in this AUSMIN, and we look forward to seeing them next year.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.

# # #

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, 7/28/2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

July 28, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction marked with an asterisk.

1:10 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Hope you all enjoyed your weekend.  It’s nice to see you on this Monday afternoon.

We are starting pretty close to on time today, which is a nice, new trend, hopefully that we’ll be able to continue.  The reason for that is I have alongside with me here today the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor, Tony Blinken, who is going to talk to you about a telephone call that the President convened with some of our allies in Europe today. 

I know that over the last couple of weeks you guys have had a lot of questions about what the President is doing in terms of leading the international community’s response to the downing of the Malaysian Airlines jetliner a couple of weeks ago now.  There have also been, obviously, a series of coordinated efforts to increase international pressure on Russia for the actions that they have taken in Ukraine.

So Tony is here to give you a detailed readout of that telephone conversation that the President convened today and answer any questions you may have about our ongoing efforts to coordinate the imposition of economic costs on the Russian regime.  He probably only has 10 or 15 minutes here, so we’ll go through that part of it relatively quickly and then I’ll be around to answer remaining questions you may have.

But I would encourage you, as you’re thinking about the questions you want to ask Tony, to focus on the Russia and Ukraine situation.  I know that there are a lot of newsy developments in Gaza as well, so he can take one or two of those before departing.  But we have to limit this to 10 or 15 minutes. 

So with that, I present Tony Blinken.

MR. BLINKEN:  Josh, thank you. 

Good afternoon.  Let me start by giving you a readout of the President’s videoconference with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy.  I should add that Chancellor Merkel was actually on the phone; the others were on a videoconference.

The primary focus of the conversation today was to talk about Ukraine, and they discussed next steps concerning the crisis there, but also efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza, and the situations in Iraq and Libya.

On Ukraine, they stressed the continued need for unrestricted access to the shoot-down site of Malaysia Air Flight 17 to allow for the recovery of the victims’ remains and for international investigators to proceed with their efforts.  They agreed on the importance of coordinated sanctions measures on Russia for its continued transfer of arms, equipment and fighters into eastern Ukraine, including since the crash, and to press Russia to end its efforts to destabilize the country and instead choose a diplomatic path for resolving the crisis. 

Concerning Gaza, the President noted that Israel has the right to take action to defend itself.  The leaders agreed on the need for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire, noting shared concern about the risk of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.

On Iraq, they discussed the security challenges, welcomed developments in the political process, and urged the swift completion of government coordination and hopefully an inclusive government that results from that.

And then, with respect to Libya, they agreed on the need for an immediate cease-fire among the militias of Tripoli, calling for the seating of the newly elected Council of Representatives, and underscoring support for the U.N. in seeking a resolution to the conflict.  They condemned any use of violence to attack civilians, intimidate officials, or disrupt the political process.

Having said that, let me just spend a few minutes if I can on Ukraine to put this in context.  This was, I think by our count, about the 50th call or videoconference the President has had with his European counterparts since the beginning of this crisis.  And ever since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its campaign to destabilize Ukraine, the President has led the international effort to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine, to support Ukraine itself, and to reassure our allies.

This effort has produced major strategic gains.  We’ve created space for Ukraine to hold successful presidential elections despite Russian efforts to disrupt them.  And that’s produced the strongest leadership Ukraine has seen since the end of the Cold War.  We’ve created space for Ukraine to sign an association agreement with the European Union despite Russian efforts to prevent that.  And recall that the former President Yanukovich’s last-minute about-face on signing that association agreement is exactly what precipitated this crisis in the first place.  And we’ve forged a robust financial support package for Ukraine led by the IMF.

None of these things just happened.  They were the result of a major, sustained effort by the President to lead the international community.

All of that said, the challenge to Ukraine remains acute.  Ukrainian forces are right now making major gains to regain sovereignty in the east, but at the same time, Russia is doubling down on its own efforts to support the separatists and destabilize the country.  Indeed, it is cynically using all of the attention focused on the crash of MH17 as a cover and distraction for its own efforts.  It’s increased the provision of heavy weaponry across the border.  We’ve seen convoys of tanks, multiple rocket launchers, artillery and armored vehicles.  There’s evidence it’s preparing to deliver even more powerful multiple rocket launchers. 

It is firing from positions inside of Russia into Ukraine — something that we documented this weekend.  And we’ve seen a significant re-buildup of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for a so-called humanitarian or peacekeeping intervention in Ukraine.

So there’s urgency to arresting these developments, to ending the efforts to destabilize Ukraine.  And the urgency is this:  First, everything we’re seeing is a real drag on the Ukrainian economy.  The military expenditures that Ukraine has to make are a drag, and the fact that Luhansk and Donetsk, which represent 15 percent of Ukrainian GDP and about 25 percent of its manufacturing exports, are basically taken out of the Ukrainian economy equation is also a drag on the economy.

Second, the longer this goes on there’s the risk of further outrageous actions by the separatists or by Russia that deepen the international crisis.  So there’s a need to take further action now to convince Russia to change course and cease its efforts to destabilize Ukraine. 

On the call, the European leaders clearly shared this assessment and a determination to act.  We expect the European Union to take significant additional steps this week, including in key sectors of the Russian economy.  In turn, and in full coordination with Europe, the United States will implement additional measures itself.

Our purpose here, again, is not to punish Russia, but to make clear that it must cease its support for the separatists and stop destabilizing Ukraine.

Let me just finish by putting this in a larger context.  Everything we’ve seen as a result of Russia’s actions and the actions that the President has led in the international community over these many months has turned what is happening in Ukraine into a strategic loser for Russia.  First, we’ve seen a dramatic impact on the Russian economy by the sanctions that the United States, Europeans and others have taken. 

These are acknowledged by the Russian Finance Minister and, indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister, even Putin himself.  Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia and a proxy for the larger economy, a month ago, in announcing a steep decline in profits, said, “In particular, recent events in Ukraine significantly impacted the dynamics of the Russian economy.”

We’ve seen the financial markets go up and down, the ruble hitting lows, the Central Bank has had to spend $37 billion to defend the ruble, about 8 percent of its foreign exchange holdings.  The result is higher borrowing costs and a decrease in the value of Russian savings. 

Capital flight — $70 billion in the first half of this year, more than all of 2013 combined.  And projections for the entire year put it at between $100 billion and $200 billion. 

Foreign investment is drying up.  Investors are looking for stability; they’re looking at countries that keep their international commitments; they’re looking at countries that have connected to the international economy.  On all three counts, Russia is giving them great pause.  The credit rating for Russia was cut to just above the junk level; financing yields are frozen; Russian companies are not issuing bonds to raise capital. And as we’ve seen overall, Russia is heading for economic contraction, not growth, a significant reversal from just a few months ago.

Let me add as well, there’s talk that Russia has “won Crimea.”  But the fact of the matter is what’s happened is it’s lost Ukraine.  Ukraine is more united in a Western orientation than ever before and has a much greater sense of national identity.  We’ve produced, as I mentioned before, the space for elections and the signing of the association agreement with the European Union. 

Crimea itself is becoming a dead weight on the Russian economy — $7 billion a year at least in budget and pension support; $50 to $60 billion required over the next several years for critical infrastructure.  And Russians themselves are asking why this money is being spent in Crimea and not in Russia.  There’s downward pressure on defense spending; there’s downward pressure on discretionary spending as a result of this.

We’ve seen the actions in Ukraine reenergize NATO.  There’s a deeper commitment to Article 5.  NATO itself, it now has a virtual regular presence, a continuous air, land and sea presence on the territory adjacent to Russia.  And we’ll see what happens at the NATO summit, but there’s at least the prospect now for reversing the downward trend in defense spending.

We’ve seen on energy reform a jolt to the Europeans to take real steps to decrease dependence, to diversify supply, to upgrade infrastructure, to develop new sources.

And then, finally, I would say this:  For the Russians and for President Putin, power equals a combination of geopolitical influence and economic strength to provide for the Russian people.  There was a recent survey in Russia — the top two priorities of the Russian people were evenly split:  international influence and creating the conditions for individual prosperity.  As a result of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and as a result of the leadership we’ve exerted, both of those are in jeopardy.  And so is President Putin’s compact with his own people.

There is a way out:  Integrate Russia with the international economy, diversify away from fossil fuels, and play by the rules. That is still on offer.  That is still a possibility.  We would like nothing better than to resolve this crisis in Ukraine diplomatically.  And that’s now up to President Putin.

Q    Thank you very much for this update.  Could you also update us on the U.S. response to the criticism that Senator Kerry has come under in Israel after his attempts to implement a cease-fire there?  Is that damaging to the U.S.-Israel relationship?

MR. BLINKEN:  Let me say this about Secretary Kerry:  Israel has no better friend, no stronger defender.  No one has done more to help Israel achieve a secure and lasting peace.  He has been tireless in his efforts.  And I think that Israel and many countries and friends around the world recognizes exactly that.

Q    Has the President raised this in his call with the Prime Minister yesterday?  Or have U.S. officials been complaining about the criticism to counterparts in Israel?

MR. BLINKEN:  No.  Look, what you see, I think, unfortunately on a regular basis, are people leaking things that are either misinformed or attempting to misinform.  And in particular, with regard to criticism that was levied by undisclosed sources about the proposal for a cease-fire, the proposal that was criticized was not a U.S. proposal, it was a draft to illicit comments from the Israelis.  It was basically a discussion paper based on the original Egyptian initiative.  Virtually every element that unidentified sources complained about was in the initial Egyptian proposal and agreed to by Israel 10 days before.

In that, there was no mention of the need for disarmament. The document underscored the need for discussion between Israel and Palestinian factions.  It called for the opening of border crossings.  It did not make mention of tunnels.  All of this, again, in the Egyptian proposal that the Israelis had accepted and unfortunately Hamas did not.  The document also reflected the strong view that we have that demilitarization as well as reconstruction in Gaza are critical agenda items for any negotiations that follow a cease-fire.

So the bottom line on this is that what was leaked, unfortunately, was I think an effort to misinform or was just misinformed.

Q    The sanctions that we’ve seen so far have been fairly targeted against Russia.  Would you describe the sweeping nature of what you’re talking about later this week being coordinated between Europe and the United States?

MR. BLINKEN:  I don’t want to get ahead of where the Europeans are or where we are, and we’ll see that in the days to come.  But what we know is this:  The Europeans made clear last week that they were prepared to act in key sectors of the Russian economy, including the financial sector, the arms sector, the energy sector.  And so I think you can anticipate actions in those areas.  Similarly, they’re looking to broaden criteria by which they can sanction people or entities.  And I think one of the things they’re looking at is to bring in some of the cronies of President Putin. 

So we’ve already seen with the sanctions to date, as I went through a few moments ago, a very serious impact on the Russian economy.  And indeed, it’s the sanctions themselves and then the climate of tremendous uncertainty they create, even with the prospect of more sanctions, that has led to capital flight, investment drying up and the growth projections going down to basically zero.

Q    And when you talk about this force that’s building up  — the Russians are building up, are they preparing a Russian invasion of Ukraine?

MR. BLINKEN:  One of the things that we believe Russia has been trying to do is, for example, to get the Ukrainians to take some action that they can then use as “justification” for some kind of intervention — so-called humanitarian intervention, or so-called peacekeeping intervention.  So that’s one of the things that we think is in the potential Russian playbook.

The other thing they’re doing, most significantly, is increasing the supply of heavy equipment, weapons and fighters to the separatists across the border.  And this is well documented in what we’ve seen; it’s well documented in social media.

Q    In talking about that buildup and the heavier artillery, are we talking about more surface-to-air missile capability?

MR. BLINKEN:  We are talking about multi-rocket launchers — that’s one of the things we’re seeing — artillery pieces, tanks, armored vehicles, and the concerns, as I said at the outset, about increasingly heavy weaponry.  And I think there’s a reason for this, and the reason is that on the battlefield itself the Ukrainians are doing very well against the separatists in trying to regain the sovereignty of their entire country.  So Russia’s proxies are right now on the losing end of the fight.  And that’s why we think Russia is doubling down.

Q    Do you think there are still Buk missile launchers within Ukraine at this point?

MR. BLINKEN:  We believe that there are SA-11s that are still within Ukraine, including potentially in separatists’ hands.

Q    A two-parter.  How did you arrive at $37 billion spent to defend the ruble?  And second, are there any other security things you’re looking at besides rocket launchers and tanks and heavy equipment? 

MR. BLINKEN:  I think the $37 billion has actually been fairly well documented in the financial press and by other statements that have been made.  We can get you the backup for that.

And in terms of the military equipment that the Russians are providing, again, those are the main elements, but there are certainly other things that are going in.  But in terms of heavy weaponry, those are the critical elements.

Q    You’ve been talking about actions that have been taken this week by the EU and U.S.  I want to go back to something that Josh said from the podium Friday about Russia and Putin were culpable for the downing of Flight 17.  Is there a chance, is there a possibility that Putin could be charged in the International Crimes Court with war crimes, by any chance, with all of this that’s going on right now?

MR. BLINKEN:  When it comes to Russian culpability, I think the record is clear.  The Russians have been directly supporting the separatists with the provision of weapons.  We believe that the SA-11 that was used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner came from Russia.  We don’t know who was operating it.  We believe the weapon itself came from Russia.  The three top leading separatist leaders are all Russian nationals.  So it’s clear that Russia has a significant influence over the separatists and could, if it so desired, get them to cease and desist.

So, in that sense, there is a clear and ongoing culpability by Russia for events in eastern Ukraine and for a failure to de-escalate the situation, and indeed, for the context in which all of this is happening, including the shoot-down of the airliner.

In terms of pointing to exactly who pulled the trigger, that we don’t know yet and we’ll see if we can develop that information.  But the bottom line is this:  Through its ongoing support and increasing support for the separatists, Russia bears responsibility for everything that’s going on in eastern Ukraine.

Q    So you’re saying technically he could be brought before the International Crimes Court?

MR. BLINKEN:  Look, I don’t want to get ahead of anything.  Again, the main point is to emphasize that Russia bears responsibility and has the ability to actually de-escalate this crisis by moving it onto a diplomatic track.  That is what we’d most like to see.

Q    I don’t know if you’re aware of reports that just came now that Gaza Central Hospital has been hit, and 10 more dead Palestinian children.  You said that the United States is Israel’s best friend, which I tend to agree with you.  You also provide them with $3 billion a year, and you give them the Iron Dome that saved countless lives.  How come you don’t have any leverage over Israel to extract a humanitarian cease-fire that would last for seven days?  Does that mean that you basically have no influence over them, or that just Israel doesn’t care?

MR. BLINKEN:  First, I haven’t seen those specific reports. Second, the record is clear:  Israel has repeatedly accepted cease-fires that Hamas has rejected.  So the bottom line on that is clear.

Let me say more generally, no country can abide rockets raining down on its people or terrorists tunneling underground to kill or kidnap its people.  We have consistently and repeatedly defended Israel’s right to defend itself.  Hamas intentionally targets civilians.  And indeed, Iron Dome, thankfully, is there and has protected many of those civilians.  And it uses the Palestinian people as human shields, wrapping them around its weapons and strategic sites. 

In contrast, Israeli policy is to avoid civilian casualties. Indeed, it holds itself to the highest standards to take every precaution to avoid those casualties.  But the fact is, despite its efforts, the civilian suffering in Gaza is great and growing every day.  So the practical reality is that it is difficult for Israel to meet its own high standards.  Civilian casualties are increasing.  It’s especially heartbreaking to see children suffering in this crisis.

This is a problem we have grappled with in Iraq and then in Afghanistan because we, too, hold ourselves to these standards.  It’s incredibly difficult to sustain them.  But I think this underscores the urgency of getting an unconditional, immediate, humanitarian cease-fire.

Q    — said yesterday — just a quick a follow-up — that he wants Gaza demilitarized.  What does that mean in terms of a long-term strategy or a peace negotiation or now as we talk in the next week or so?

MR. BLINKEN:  As I said, we support an immediate, unconditional, humanitarian pause leading, we hope, to a sustainable cease-fire.  We also believe that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must also lead to the disarmament of terrorist groups.  And what we intend to do is to work closely with Israel, regional partners and the international community to achieve this goal.
MR. EARNEST:  Ann, I’ll give you the last one, then we’ll let Tony go.

Q    Thank you very much.  On Russia, if all the impact of all of these sanctions and all the threat of sanctions are as dire as you’ve described, why hasn’t Putin blinked?

MR. BLINKEN:  He has to make a strategic decision.  And you’re exactly right, he hasn’t made it yet.  We’ve seen him on a regular basis pull back tactically, say the right things in public while he’s doing the wrong things behind the scenes.  So he’s clearly sensitive to the pressure that’s being exerted.  But it’s precisely because we’ve not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures.  And that’s what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week.

MR. EARNEST:  Thank you, Tony.

MR. BLINKEN:  Thanks, Josh.  Thank you.

Q    Thank you, Tony.

MR. EARNEST:  All right before we move on to other topics, I do want to do one thing at the top.  And I believe we have a slide that goes along with this — there it is.  Today we got some very good news about Medicare’s financial future.  In the President’s first year in office in 2009, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security trustees projected the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund would not be able to pay its bills in 2017, just three years from now.  Today’s new date is 2030 — 13 years later than that projection in 2009, an improvement that is thanks in part to the reforms of the Affordable Care Act, such as efforts to reduce hospital spending on preventable readmissions.  And today’s date, you’ll note, is actually even four years later than was projected just last year.

A couple other relevant statistics that are included in the report:  Furthermore, per-capita growth, or the amount spent per Medicare beneficiary has slowed dramatically in recent years, falling to one-third of what it was, and to nearly zero last year — helping to restrain overall growth in Medicare spending even as millions of baby boomers enter the program. 

In addition, the trustees project that the Medicare Part B premium will not increase, which would make 2015 the second year in a row that premiums in Medicare stay flat.

While today’s report focuses on Medicare, it reflects broader trends in the health care system toward much slower growth in costs, a trend that has continued into 2014.  Over the 50 months since enactment of the Affordable Care Act, health care prices have risen at a slower rate than over any comparable period in 50 years. 

So that is a report that is being released as we speak, and so there will obviously be some more details included in that report later today when you get a chance to review it.

So with that, Nedra, do you have any additional questions today?

Q    I do.  Can you give us your response to the VA deal?  Does the President think it does enough to solve the problem with the health care system?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Nedra, this compromise has been announced between House Republicans and the chair of the Senate Veterans Committee.  We certainly welcome that announcement.  There are a couple of reasons based on published reports that we’re encouraged by that compromise.

The first is, as you even heard me mention on Friday, there are much-needed reforms that need to be implemented into the Veterans Administration.  The President and others have called for those important management reforms to be implemented, and again, based on press reports, the indications of those reforms are that many of them are included in this bill.

The second thing — and this is really important — on July 16th, Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson called for Congress to provide VA the additional resources necessary to deliver timely, high-quality care to veterans through a strengthened VA system while also temporarily using care in the community to help ensure veterans can get the care they need when they need it.

When he asked for those additional resources to address some very specific concerns that he had laid out, that was something that had previously not been part of the debate as it relates to this VA reform package.  So the inclusion of these additional resources at the strong urging of the Acting Secretary is a positive step in the right direction, and something that we think will be very important to the success of some of the reforms that are contemplated by this bill.

In addition, this proposal for on a temporary, as-needed basis to allow some veterans to get some access to care in the community is also the kind of thing that could address the immediate need that many veterans have, but by adding these additional resources over the long term, we feel like those are benefits and care that can be provided through the VA.

So the details of this compromise have yet to be unveiled, so I don’t want to get ahead of the announcement that is planned for Capitol Hill later today.  But the early reports are positive.

Steve.

Q    Josh, Susan Rice was on MSNBC a while ago.  She talked about a grave and deepening concern at the civilian casualties in Gaza.  What exactly would you like the Israelis to do?  Are you calling on them to call off the offensive?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Steve, we have said many times — I think Tony just had the opportunity to say that we defend Israel’s right to defend themselves.  In fact, you could make a case, and many Israeli political leaders do, that they have a responsibility to make sure that they’re taking steps militarily to account for the safety of civilians on the Israeli side of the border.  This is, after all, the Israeli population that elected them, and they are in the best position to determine what steps are necessary to protect their citizens.  That is their right.

At the same time, Israel leaders often say that they have in place very high standards to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians on the other side of the border, as well.  That stands in stark contrast to the strategy that is deployed by Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza that are intentionally targeting civilians on the other side of the border.  They are also intentionally using civilians on their side of the border to try to essentially shield their equipment and their personnel from Israeli military activities.  So there is a stark contrast in the approach that’s taken by the Israelis and taken by Hamas and other extremist groups. 

That said, as I mentioned, Israel and their political leaders often talk about the high standards that they put in place for their military operations to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians — innocent civilians on the Palestinian side of the border.  Based on published reports, it’s apparent that there is more that they should do to live up to those standards that they have set.  And that is something that we routinely encourage them to do, while defending their right to defend themselves.  The President reiterated that in his phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.

Michelle.

Q    For months, we’ve been talking about increasing sanctions against Russia, and sort of the ultimate would be these sweeping sectoral sanctions.  So can you explain why that hasn’t happened now?  Why is this not the time to go that far, and still do these kind of slow, incremental building sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  I would say that the sanctions regime that the President rolled out about a week and a half ago, the day before the downing of the Malaysian Airlines jetliner, did take a step in that very direction.  These were sectoral sanctions that were aimed at specific entities in the defense, financial and energy sectors. 

There was an indication from our European partners that they were taking the preliminary steps necessary to implement similar sanctions in their own right, but those steps have not yet been taken by the Europeans.  That is something that was discussed by the President and his counterparts in Western Europe earlier today, as Tony mentioned.

So there have been some steps that the United States has taken to put in place and impose economic costs against President Putin and the Russian regime.  Tony detailed the economic impact that those sanctions were having.  But as Ann rightly pointed out in her question, it is true that the costs have not yet led to the kind of strategic re-evaluation that we would like to see the Russians undertake.  That is why the international community is actively considering imposing additional costs by having the Europeans increase the amount of sanctions that they have currently levied.  It’s also why the United States is considering additional steps that we could take that would pose additional economic costs on Russia and on President Putin.

Q    Well, so the question was really — I mean, we all know that it’s sort of these very precise, let’s pick this bank or that bank; it’s not on the entire Russian banking system.  Do you think there’s still any leverage left in doing it that way?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m certainly not an expert in terms of the way that these tools are deployed.  But it is our view that there is additional leverage that can be gained.  That is certainly why they’re being contemplated both by leaders in Western Europe, but also by those who do have an expertise in this field in this country. 

As Tony documented, there are a number of economic consequences that Russia has already had to bear in terms of the outflow of private capital, in terms of the downward revisions in their economic projections.  We’ve also seen Russia expend significant sums of money to try to shore up the strength of their own currency.

So there are a number of steps that Russia has taken, and a number of outside evaluators who have reviewed the situation to confirm our suspicion that the economic costs have taken a toll on the Russian economy but they have not yet led President Putin to re-evaluate his strategy in Ukraine.  And that ultimately is our goal.

Bob.

Q    Josh, a quick follow-up on the VA bill.  Is $10 billion enough?  They’ve unveiled it up on the Hill, so is $10 billion enough to take care of the system with its deep, deep troubles right now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re still evaluating the specifics and details of their package, so I don’t want to get — I don’t want to say any more than I already have.  But in the next couple of days, we may be in a position to comment on that a little further.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  The House and Senate are very divided on the border supplemental right now.  If they can’t come to agreement by the end of the week, what is the practical effect?  Can you wait until September?

MR. EARNEST:  Cheryl, I would refer you to the individual agencies for the impact that Congress’s failure to pass the supplemental appropriations request would have on their ability to perform the functions that they are required to perform. 

We are hopeful that Congress will take the kind of action that is required.  Both Democrats and Republicans have spoken quite publicly about their concerns about the situation at the border.  This administration has been really clear about what we feel like we need in terms of resources to deal with the influx that we saw of those who were apprehended at the border earlier this summer.

So there’s a detailed package that we’ve put forward.  As I mentioned last week, the Speaker, at a news conference at the end of the week, said that he was still discussing this matter with members of his own caucus.  That was a pretty disappointing development in the part of this administration.  We put forward a detailed package — I happened to bring it with me right here — it includes very detailed numbers about what we feel is necessary.

I noticed that the new Republican Whip was on one of the Sunday shows yesterday and noted that the administration was asking for a — what he described as a blank check.  It makes me think he’s not sure — that he doesn’t know what a blank check is.  We’ve actually been very specific about the numbers that we feel are necessary to deal with this problem and to address the range of concerns that many people have raised about those who have been apprehended at the border.

So we hope that there will be prompt congressional action on this that is in line with their rhetoric on this issue.

Q    Can I follow on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, Wendell, go ahead.

Q    Why isn’t the change in the 2008 law on non-contiguous migrants’ deportation part of that package?  The President had indicated that he supported a change and his advisors say that changing that law would be necessary to send the kids at least from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador back as rapidly as those from Canada and Mexico.  So why is that not a part of that package?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you would have to talk to members of Congress about how they want to put this all together.  What we believe is most important is ensuring that the federal government has the resources necessary to address the range of challenges that are posed by this situation.  Remember, it includes some additional security at the border in the form of surveillance equipment.  It also includes the ability of the federal government to open and operate additional detention centers so that we can detain those individuals who have been apprehended at the border.  It includes some funding for HHS that would allow them to evaluate the basic health needs of those individuals who have been apprehended, both to meet their humanitarian needs, but also to ensure the safety of the broader communities in which they’re detained.

It also includes funding that would allow these repatriation flights to take place so that we could more quickly return those individuals that have been apprehended here to their home countries.  It also, of course, includes additional resources to ensure that those who are apprehended at the border receive the due process to which they’re entitled.  So this means hiring new judges and prosecutors and asylum officials to ensure that that can take place.

Q    But notwithstanding Democrat and Republican differences over the amount of funding, the Republicans say in order to approve some, they’re going to need to change that 2008 law.  Does the President support that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it is unfortunate that you would see them take an absolutist position on this.  We certainly do support Congress taking the necessary steps to give the Secretary of Homeland Security the flexibility he needs and the discretion that he can use to more efficiently and effectively enforce the law.  That is a priority of this administration.

But we should not allow the debate around what should be included in that language to hold up something that everybody agrees is necessary, which is additional resources that can be used by the federal government to meet the basic humanitarian needs of those individuals who are apprehended, but also provide funding that can be used to more quickly return those who are found by the courts to not have a legal basis for remaining in the country.

Chris.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Some members of the Republican Whip team on that have suggested that they’ve gotten surprising support for what is a much smaller check than the one that the White House is asking for, and the $2.7 billion being put forth by the Senate is getting some pushback from Democrats like Joe Manchin, Mary Landrieu and doesn’t seem to have a lot of support on the Republican side.  And you also have a situation where Congress is in session for three and a half days this week.  So with the clock ticking, what do you see as the prognosis and what happens if none of this goes through?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are those here in town and probably those of you here in this room that have a little bit more experience in evaluating congressional action than I do.  So I will leave that analysis and prognostication to the experts.  I’ll simply observe that this administration three weeks ago today put forward a very detailed request before Congress, and asking for those additional resources to address a problem that I think to a person every single member of Congress agreed existed. And what we have seen in Congress is a lot of talk, particularly from Republicans, but not a lot of willingness to act.  And that is rather unfortunate.

And we are hopeful that in the pivotal week that remains before Congress departs Washington for the traditional five-week recess that they’ll take the important steps that are necessary to ensure the federal government has the resources to deal with a problem that, again, I think every single member of Congress agrees exists.

Q    Can I also ask you about a Reuters’ report that just came out?  I don’t have any more details than this, that Netanyahu says Israel “must be prepared for protracted Gaza campaign.”  And I wonder if it’s possible that there could be a military victory for Israel, but a loss for them in both the political realm and the court of public opinion.  Can I get your reaction to that statement by Benjamin Netanyahu?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s hard to react to a statement that occurred while I was standing up here.  But let me say that it is the position of the United States that it is in the best interests of people on both sides of the border for a cease-fire to take effect.  And the reason for that is pretty simple, that as long as the violence continues across the border, there are going to be innocent civilians in harm’s way.  And having those innocent civilians face that extreme danger has already had terribly tragic consequences for both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.  And that’s why we want to see that cease-fire put in place. 

There will be an opportunity once that cease-fire is in place for us to have discussions around the kinds of concerns that have legitimately been raised by the Israelis, in particular about Hamas’ repeated willingness to use tunnels and to fire rockets aimed squarely at doing harm to innocent civilians.

So it is the priority of this administration for a cease-fire to be put in place.  That is why you’ve seen Secretary Kerry doggedly pursue diplomacy to protect the lives of innocent civilians on both sides of that border.

Q    Moving on —

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, Ann.

Q    What are the two or three, maybe three or four absolute necessities that the President thinks Congress has to get done by the end of this week?  Would he ask them to delay their recess?  And would he ever consider skipping Kansas City?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as we always say with the President’s travel, his trip to my hometown notwithstanding — (laughter) — as is always the case with the President’s travel, if there is a critically important function of the presidency that cannot be performed from the road, the President will not hesitate to change his schedule in order to fulfill those functions.  So I do not anticipate that anything that’s happening in Congress would require that at this point.  But if something does emerge, something unexpected does emerge, I’m sure that is something that the President would consider.

Q    Will he ask Congress to delay its break?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll let him speak to that.  If he decides that that’s what they should do, then he will say so.  At this point it’s the responsibility of the leaders in Congress to determine their own schedule.

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of important work that needs to get done this week.  That includes continuing to follow through on these VA reforms on which an agreement was announced over the weekend.  So hopefully that can move forward without any delay or incident.

We certainly would like to see a step taken in terms of passing the supplemental appropriations request that this administration put forward several weeks ago to ensure that the administration has the resources necessary to deal with the problem at the border.

That being said, we could certainly address many of the problems at the border if Congress — if the House were to take action on comprehensive immigration reform legislation that’s already passed the Senate.  The Senate did their work more than a year ago.  Just by taking one simple vote, the House of Representatives could approve that legislation.  The President would sign it.  That would do more to improve our economy, create jobs and reduce the deficit than so many other things that Congress is debating right now.

I think what is the source of particular disappointment on this end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and I think of people in both parties across the country is to see that Congress — House Republicans in particular — are using this very valuable time to debate a piece of legislation that would allow House Republicans to file a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against the President of the United States.  I certainly don’t think that rises to the level of a priority that so many of these other things Congress is ignoring right now. 

Let’s move around a little bit.  Leslie.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  With Secretary Kerry unable to get a cease-fire during his trip, and the President talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu last night in what sounded like pretty blunt terms — what are the next steps for the White House?  And do you — to follow up on a previous question, do you believe that there is any leverage left for the United States with Israel?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the United States remains deeply engaged in this effort.  Secretary Kerry has been leading that effort over the last week in terms of the dogged diplomacy that he’s been pursuing.  He’s been meeting with his counterparts not just in Israel and among the leaders of the Palestinian people, but also with his counterparts in Egypt and Qatar and Turkey and the Arab League, the U.N.  He’s been deeply engaged in these conversations in pursuit of a multilateral, international effort to try to bring both sides together and reinstate the terms of the 2012 cease-fire, to try to get those civilians who right now are in harm’s way into a safer position.  That’s been the focal point of our efforts, and we remain engaged in it. 

In terms of our relationship with Israel, the United States remains a strong ally of the nation of Israel.  American leaders say that; Israeli leaders say the same thing.  The best evidence that I have of that is the assistance that the United States has provided to the Israeli government to construct the Iron Dome system that right now is, thankfully, protecting so many Israeli civilians from these rockets that Hamas is firing.  So that relationship remains strong. 

And the reason that Secretary Kerry remains so committed to this effort is that — or at least is in part that we believe it is clearly in the interest of Israel’s long-term security for this cease-fire [violence]* to be brought to an end, and for negotiations between the Palestinian leaders and Israeli leaders to get started in terms of trying to eventually down the line reach this broader, two-state solution.

Roger.

Q    I want to go back to what Tony was saying about the sanctions and the outlook for them.  Is that — if I understood it correctly, the EU is going to go first with their sanctions and probably — or possibly this week, is that correct?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know that he was in a position to talk about the sequencing of the announcement.  But I do think that he committed to our expectation that we would see Europe act before the end of the week.

Q    Would the U.S. act before the end of the week?

MR. EARNEST:  Our position is that the options like that remain on the table, that the United States is prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for their destabilizing activities in Ukraine.  I’m not in a position to confirm for you whether any decisions have been made about carrying out that action or what those actions might look like.   As we’ve talked before, it would be a strategically unwise thing to do to talk about the details of those sanctions before they’re implemented. But I am in a position to confirm that those kinds of options remain on the table when it comes to the United States.

Q    One final — would the U.S. concentrate on any particular sector?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, if we have additional sanctions to announce, then we will be able to get into those kinds of details.  But at this point, it would be preliminary for me to do so.

Q    Josh?

MR. EARNEST:  Goyal. 

Q    Thank you.  Two questions.  One, some people in the Congress want to close down the 84-year-old Export-Import Bank.  And many small businesses are saying that it is helping small businesses export U.S. goods abroad and also creating thousands of jobs in the U.S.  My question is that some people in the Congress are saying that it is helping only the big companies.  What is the President’s action — or reaction about this bank?  Next month will expire the —

MR. EARNEST:  The President does believe that Congress should take steps to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.  That’s not just the view of this administration and many Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, it’s also the view of organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce.  Those are two organizations that don’t often agree with the President when it comes to some aspects of American economic policy.

But that is an area where this administration agrees that the Export-Import Bank plays a positive role in creating jobs and creating opportunities for American businesses to succeed by opening up markets around the world.

Q    Second question — oh, by the way, it has also created jobs between India and U.S. trade.  Second question is that as far as U.S. ambassador to India is concerned, you think U.S. will have an ambassador before Prime Minister Modi visits the White House end of September?  And second, what is happening as far as Mr. Modi’s address to the Congress?  Is White House is supporting it?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any personnel announcements at this time, Goyal.  But when we have any updates in terms of appointing an ambassador to India, we’ll let you know.

Q    And address — U.S. address, Mr. Modi’s address to the U.S. Congress, is White House supporting it, the President?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of those conversations.

Bill. 

Q    Josh, there was an unusual editorial in The New York Times yesterday, I’m sure you saw, urging the lifting of the prohibition against — the federal prohibition against marijuana. What is the White House’s position on that?  Would you endorse that?  It’s been there for 44 years.  Maybe too long and time to change it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I did read the editorial yesterday, Bill.  The administration’s position on this issue has not changed.  We remain committed to treating drug use as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice problem. 

In light of state laws that legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults in Colorado and Washington, the Department of Justice issued updated guidance last August to federal prosecutors in all states.  That guidance reiterates that marijuana remains an illegal substance based on the laws that Congress has passed.  But it also recognizes that we have limited enforcement resources, and that those resources are best used to address the most significant threats to our communities.

That was the policy before The New York Times editorial, and it continues to be our policy today.

Q    So does that mean that if other states follow Colorado and Washington, the administration would also give them a green light to go ahead and legalize marijuana without federal interference?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not sure a green light is the technical term that the Department of Justice has used.  (Laughter.)  But in terms of the guidance that might be offered to those states, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

Q    “Blessing” or whatever word you’d want to use.

MR. EARNEST:  The Department of Justice issued guidance like that.  So if there are other states that are contemplating these kinds of steps, you should check with the Department of Justice about that.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Yesterday, North Korea military member had announced that North Korea will attack United States, and especially they point to the White House and Canada with using their nuclear missiles.  What is your comment on their threatening like this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I have not seen the reports of those specific threats.   I would encourage you to check with my National Security Council colleagues about that.  The United States remains very committed to our alliance with the Republic of Korea, and that alliance allows us to have a strong military-to-military relationship with South Korea to ensure their security.  The United States remains committed as ever to the safety and security of the Republic of Korea.

Q    So you don’t have a strong reaction to them?  Because this is the first time they mentioned the White House and Pentagon specifically.

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I’m not in a position to comment specifically in reaction to those comments because I have not seen them. 

Q    Can I follow on Israel please?

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s move around a little bit.  Zeke. 

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Just with regards to the President’s trip tomorrow, can you give us any reason why is he staying an extra night in your hometown if he’s not doing a fundraiser as you said on Friday?

MR. EARNEST:  At my own personal recommendation.  (Laughter.)  No, look, we’ll have a little bit more about the President’s trip tomorrow.  This will be an opportunity for the President to spend some time in that wonderful community.  He’s going to spend some time talking to individuals who have written him a letter.  You’ve seen on the last couple of trips the President has taken across the country, he’s spent a little extra time in the community to visit with those who have written him letters about the way that individuals in these individual communities are benefiting from some of the policies the President is putting forward and how they could benefit from some of the policies the President is pushing on Congress to implement.  So we’ll have some more detail on that tomorrow.

Q    Tuesday night or Wednesday?

MR. EARNEST:  The President is departing tomorrow.  He’ll remain —

Q    — the letters segment, when he’s going to visit people, is that going to be —
MR. EARNEST:  I believe he’ll have the opportunity to do that both Tuesday evening, as well as on Wednesday. 

Q    One other real quick, just on Secretary Kerry.  Those leaked conversations or however you want to categorize them, is that jeopardizing the U.S. government’s ability to have candid conversations with the Israeli government?  Or do you envision any sort of lasting impact on sort of the relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government as a result of these leaks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Tony made clear that we were disappointed to read them.  But I do not anticipate that they are going to have much of an impact on the very strong, robust relationship that exists between the United States and our allies in Israel.

Q    And, finally, does Secretary Kerry coming back to the United States and the President conducting that phone call yesterday and the one today, is this a shift — is the President going to take a more active personal role now that Secretary Kerry’s efforts have at least temporarily failed?  Is the President going to try to use his own convening authority?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I do anticipate that the President will continue to be in regular touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  That has been the case over the last several weeks of this crisis that has been ongoing in Gaza.  And I do anticipate the President will continue to get regularly briefed by his team and will continue to be on the phone with his counterparts in the region who have concerns about the outcome here.  So I do think that the President will continue to be engaged in this. 

In terms of the next steps, those conversations will continue.  But ultimately, as we’ve said in similar circumstances as it relates to situations like this, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the two sides to come together.  What the international community and what the United States can certainly do is use our influence with both sides to press them to come to an agreement that’s in the best interest of their citizens.

As we’ve pointed out many times, we believe that a cease-fire is in the best interest of civilians on both sides of this conflict.  We just need the leaders of both sides to take the kinds of steps that will impose a cease-fire and allow the leaders to sit around the table and try to broker an agreement here.  And that’s what we’re going to continue to be focused on.

Q    But over the last week, Secretary Kerry was the point person in trying to bring those two sides together.  Has that changed this week?  Will the President be trying to bring the two sides to a multilateral agreement together?

MR. EARNEST:  I guess what I would say — the point that I’m trying to make, Zeke, is that I think there have been a range of officials who have been actively engaged in trying to resolve the situation — the President, first and foremost among them.  It was, however, the case last week that Secretary Kerry was the most senior U.S. official on the ground in the region trying to roll up his sleeves and broker an agreement between those who were involved in this situation. 

So those efforts will continue, even though Secretary Kerry is not actually in the region.  But if he needs to return, I’m sure that he will not hesitate to hop back on the plane and get back to work.

Chris.

Q    Josh, while you were at the podium, the Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  It’s the third federal court appeals ruling and the latest in an unbroken string in rulings against the marriage ban since the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA last year.  Any thoughts on this latest decision and the unanimous string of these decisions against marriage bans?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chris, I haven’t — as you pointed out, the decision was handed down while I was up here, so I have not had an opportunity to talk to anybody on our team who was able to analyze the decision.  But based on the way that you’ve described it, it does sound like the kind of decision that is consistent with the President’s views on this topic.  I think that’s the best I can do. 

All right, guys, we’ll see you tomorrow. 

END
2:04 P.M. EDT

Foreign Policy Update

3:00 P.M. EDT

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MS. HARF: Thank you. Hello, everyone. It’s so good to be back here, I think for my fifth briefing they were saying, so looking forward to this one and, of course, to many more.

As you know, there’s a lot going on in the world. Secretary Kerry is currently in Cairo, working to see if we can make progress on getting a ceasefire with Gaza. I was in Vienna for the last few weeks working on the Iran negotiations on the nuclear program, lots going on there as well. Obviously, you’ve seen all of the news about Ukraine lately. I’ve spoken to it a number of times in the briefing over in the State Department, but I’m sure there are questions on that as well.

So with that, I think I’m going to go ahead and open it up to questions. I’m going to try and get to everyone, so go ahead. We’ll start here and I’ll work down the front and then move towards the back. And please say – I know most of you now, but please say your name and where you’re from as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Sonia Schott. I am today with RCA in Colombia. My question is on Latin America. There are some news that the Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal has been arrested yesterday in Aruba under the request of the U.S. I was wondering if you have any comments on that.

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. I’m happy to look into it. I’m sorry, the first question I don’t have an answer to, but I hadn’t seen that. It sounds a little dubious to me, but we can check afterwards and get you an answer.

QUESTION: I have a second one, just —

MS. HARF: Okay. Then ask a second. Hopefully I can answer this one.

QUESTION: Okay. The opposition leader in Venezuela is facing a trial and presently his wife was here denouncing a lack of transparency. I was wondering if you have any comments on that too. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, look, we’ve said throughout the crisis in Venezuela that this is a decision for the Venezuelan people to make. There needs to be room for dissent. There needs to be room for opposition. We cannot see arrest of – for political reasons. We have to see a process go forward that’s inclusive. We haven’t seen a lot of progress there, but this is certainly a key priority for us. It’s not about the United States, as much as sometimes the regime would like to point at us. It’s about what the Venezuelan people want and indeed deserve. So I don’t have any more updates for you than that, but obviously, we want to see an inclusive process going forward.

Yes. I’m just going to go across the front here.

QUESTION: Shi Larasteve (ph), Voice of America, Persian TV. Yesterday, a group of Republican lawmakers unveiled a legislation which forces – if passed, forces the Administration, President Obama, to seek approval from the Congress for any final deal with Iran. What is the Administration’s strategy against these maneuvers?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. We are aware there’s new proposed legislation regarding the Joint Plan of Action, any final comprehensive Joint Plan of Action we would get to. But I’d make a few key points here. The first is that Congress has played a key role throughout the years in our policy towards Iran, most importantly by imposing very serious and significant sanctions on Iran to put the economic pressure in place that indeed has, in part, led us to the diplomatic place we are today.

But there are not 535 commanders-in-chief; there’s just one. And our diplomatic negotiating team led by the President and the Secretary and our team on the ground – I was just there for three weeks – really needs the space to be able to negotiate with the Iranians and with our partners to get to a comprehensive agreement. We have been clear with Congress that our goal is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, to ensure their program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. But indeed, we need space to be able to get the right combination of pieces to eventually get there.

So we don’t support attempts by Congress to try to insert themselves into outlining what a final deal might look like; indeed, there are a number of different combinations that could get to our goals here, and we need the space to be able to get there. So we will continue to talk to Congress, to hear from them. We’d like to hear their ideas, but we don’t support this type of legislation.

Yes. I like your tie. It’s very festive.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I do. I like it.

QUESTION: I like it too. (Laughter.) This is my special tie to get questions at briefings, (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: There you go. It worked, clearly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: It worked.

QUESTION: My name’s Andrei Sitov. I’m with TASS, the Russian news agency. Thank you for doing the briefing. We do look forward to many more. Thanks for our friends at the FPC for hosting it.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: A couple of things. On Ukraine, first off – and I quote – you said about 20 seconds ago, “There needs to be room for dissent. There needs to be room for opposition.” The Ukrainian parliament has just taken steps, so the Ukrainian Government supports those steps to dissolve their Communist Party. Isn’t it stifling the opposition, the criticism, political voices?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. I think I do believe what you’re referring to is draft legislation that hasn’t been approved that would ban the Communist Party. The Communist Party is not banned in Ukraine today. We do believe that all peaceful voices should be heard anywhere. So obviously, that’s something we feel is important in Ukraine and elsewhere. We will continue looking at the draft legislation as it goes through the process, but again, as of today, the Communist Party is not banned in Ukraine.

QUESTION: But do you support a ban? Do you support a ban?

MS. HARF: As I said, we’re not taking a position on the legislation other than to say that all peaceful voices should be heard in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And secondly, and more importantly, obviously, with the tragic loss of the Malaysian airplane, the Russian defense ministry have released their own tracking data and have called on others, specifically on the United States, to release yours.

MS. HARF: To release what?

QUESTION: So – the tracking data from – I understand it’s from the satellites, from what they saw from the satellites on that particular day. And they claim that there was a U.S. satellite directly above that spot on that particular day – maybe a coincidence, maybe not. They – again, have you seen their data? What do you think about their information?

And secondly, can we expect you to release yours?

MS. HARF: Well, we have released up to this point our assessment about what happened and we’ve released as much information as we can at this point, that we’ve been able to declassify that underlies that assessment. So we are continuing to work through releasing more. But I’d just make a few points, and then if you have follow-ups, we can – you wore the tie today; we can keep talking. So that’s okay.

So first, we, based on a variety of information, assess, believe that this was an SA-11 fired from an area controlled by Russian separatists inside Ukraine. We have released a photo which has the trajectory of that missile based on classified information. We can’t get into how we know that. We have released that. We have also released additional information about why the two alternative theories put forward by the Russians are not plausible – the first being that it was a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter that shot down the aircraft.

Very briefly, the reasons we do not believe that this is plausible is because the only missiles it carries are short-range infrared guided missiles. Ground photography from the crash site is consistent with expected damage from a surface-to-air missile of the kind the separatists have indeed used and bragged about having, does not correspond to the kind of – what we would expect to see from an air-to-air missile such as the Su-25 has.

So we have put forward our assessment, based on a variety of information about why we believe that it indeed was an SA-11 fired from Russian-controlled separatist area. We believe an investigation needs to go forward to determine exactly who had their finger on the trigger. We still don’t know that, don’t know the intentions behind why they did this. So we think an investigation should continue, but we will continue to put out more information as we are able to do so.

QUESTION: And —

MS. HARF: Do you want the microphone? Should we wait?

QUESTION: — about their own data, have you seen the data released by the Russians?

MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of the information put out by the Russians. Again, we feel very strongly in our assessment of what happened.

Yes, I am just going to go across the front here. So – and then I will get to the rest of the room. I promise.

QUESTION: Sungchul Rhee with SBS Seoul Broadcasting System from Seoul, Korea. I have two questions on Russia.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: First is that this morning, Russian Government expressed concern over United States plan to introduce missile defense system in Korea – U.S. camps. It was the – it was called THAAD – the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. What is your reaction to the – Russia’s statement here?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see that specific statement, but in terms of missile defense, we have very clearly said we are committed to missile defense but also to missile defense cooperation with Russia, which would enhance the security of both NATO and of Russia. I understand there are strong opinions here in Russia about missile defense, but we have been very clear that it is not aimed at them, that we are looking at a variety of other threats, and that we will continue talking to them and being transparent with them about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I haven’t seen this —

QUESTION: You mean the North Korean threat?

MS. HARF: Well, we are looking at a variety of threats when we talk about NATO and now we’re often looking at Iran when we talk about other places, we do look at a threat from North Korea, but – a variety of threats we’re looking at, but they are not designed to deter anything from Russia. Indeed, we’ve said we will cooperate with Russia on missile defense.

QUESTION: My second question is: You are dealing with really a lot of global issues at the same time which really you’re juggling. And – but not a few critics are criticizing the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, questioning on – if President Obama is adequately dealing with all the issues at the same time effectively. Even General Jim Jones, a former national security advisor to President Obama, appeared on TV this morning and he was citing a seismic shift in the relations between the United States and Russia. What is your reaction to those issues?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a couple questions there and let me try to address all of them. I think in terms of our relationship with Russia over the time we’ve been in office in this Administration, we have always said we will work together when we can. If you look at – I mean, again, going back to Vienna where I was for the Iran talks, we and the Russians are in lockstep on the exact same side about how we deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. We work very closely together on that issue. That doesn’t take away from the fact that much of what I have talked about this week at the briefings and that we deal with right now in the Administration is very serious concerns about Russian activity in Ukraine. And I’ve been very – I think we’ve all been very outspoken about that in our serious concerns there.

So it’s complicated. We work together when we can and we very strongly disagree when we do. And all of those things happen at the same time because the world is a big place, and we have places where we do have overlapping interests like when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. But very many places where we have very divergent interests as well, as you’ve seen with Ukraine.

But on the broader question of foreign policy, you’re right; the world is a complicated, dangerous place at times. We are dealing with very serious crises, whether you look at Gaza, whether you look at Ukraine, whether you look at the host of other issues we’re dealing with right now.

And what we’ve always said is that we will do a few things, right. We have, since the beginning of this Administration, rebuilt partnerships and alliances if you look all over the world. Because in these crises, you need friends and you need partners and you need allies. And so while you can never make the world a perfect place, you can help address these when you have people on your side helping you. So that’s one thing we’ve done in terms of these challenges.

And I think you’ve seen Secretary Kerry not hesitate to get on a plane and try and make progress here. We have been very actively engaged in diplomacy and diplomatic efforts on all of these crises. We believe that diplomacy in many of these instances is the best way to handle it. That’s why you see him flying all over the world, to try and make progress here, because we are deeply and personally present and engaged in trying to deal with these crises. But they’re difficult and the world is complicated, and there are no easy answers, and people who tell you there are either just not paying attention or aren’t telling you the truth – one of the two.

So I think we will keep working on all of them. We take each one individually. There’s a different way we deal with all of them, but we have a really great team who is working very hard to do so.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Yeah, we can go back. Yes, yes.

MS. HARF: But you need a microphone, Andrei.

QUESTION: And just what is your biggest success story in terms of winning new friends? Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, look, when we took office – I think you can look at when we took office in 2009, which feels like an eternity ago probably to all of us, a lot of our relationships had waned in Asia, in Europe, all around the world. There had been eight years of neglect, and in some cases outright disagreement. So we have worked very, very hard over the past, I think, now six years – is that how long it’s been? – to rebuild these alliances. If you look, again, at the P5+1 in Europe and how we’re working on Iran together, we built an international coalition on Iran – not just at the negotiating table through the P5+1, but with all of the countries that buy oil from Iran, with all of the countries who have put sanctions in place, whether it’s Japan, South Korea, the UAE, India, China, all of the countries we’ve brought together to put pressure on Iran. That was done with really painstaking diplomatic work, with people going all over the world and saying, “This is why you should join us,” even though it’s really tough for many of these countries economically.

So I think that’s just one way we’ve done it. But again, look, these are tough challenges that we face.

I’m actually going to go to New York for a question, if they can hear me.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. With regard to the recent development in the Gaza Strip and the bombardment of the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun and the increasing number of innocent civilian casualties, what does the Secretary Kerry have to say about the recent development, and would that be categorized as a war crime from the U.S. Department of State perspective and precedents? And with regard to Iraq, and excuse me, I’m going to bundle my questions together —

MS. HARF: Let me do Gaza first. You stay there and I’ll come back to you for Iraq, okay? So I don’t forget. So just stay there. On the UNRWA school, we are deeply saddened, very concerned about the tragic incident at the UN facility today. We’re still trying to determine the facts. But I think the reason the Secretary is on the ground in Cairo, has been shuttling back and forth trying to get a ceasefire here is because this – everything that we see happening needs to stop. We are increasingly concerned about civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. We’ve seen many, many rockets being fired from Hamas into Israel.

So the Secretary is very committed to seeing if he can get a ceasefire here. Obviously, it’s very complicated and it takes a lot of work on all sides to get that done. So we will continue working on it and we are very concerned by the rising civilian casualties. We think the Israelis need to do more to prevent them, and we’ll keep talking to them about it.

Now your second question on Iraq.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on Gaza before we move to Iraq?

MS. HARF: Sure, you can. Yes.

QUESTION: For Gaza, there is an apparent war crime committed today. How does the United States justify this to its people, to the international community, within the principles and manners that the United States try to be a mediator in this conflict?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re still trying to get all the facts about what happened today, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions or put labels before we know all of the facts. What we do know is that Hamas has repeatedly kept rockets in civilian areas – in schools, in hospitals. But at the same time, we have told the Israelis and we have said publicly that they need to take more steps to protect civilian casualties, that they’re not doing enough. So we’ll get all the facts about this before we make a determination there.

But again, this just underscores why we believe a ceasefire is so critical to try to get in place. There are gaps between the two sides that remain. I don’t know if we’ll be able to, but we’re certainly working towards it for exactly this reason.

QUESTION: Moving along to Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant is persecuting Christians, Shiites, Yazidis, people from the Shabak, just for their religious faith and affiliation. To add to the crisis, there is some reports speaking about that the ISIL government, or whatever we can call it, is now requiring all females to go through female genital mutilation surgeries. Would there be within the UN Charter – would the United States consider pushing into the Security Council, applying Chapter 7 for military action against the ISIL militias at this point?

MS. HARF: Well, just a few points in what you asked. We are aware there are conflicting reports about ISIL issuing a decree ordering female genital mutilation. We’re aware there are some conflicting reports here. We are gathering more information. We can’t confirm the details at this point. But that goes without saying that we clearly condemn strongly this abhorrent practice no matter where it is. We know it can lead to very serious health consequences. We know it’s affected approximately 130 million women and girls worldwide, which is an extraordinary number and which is really unacceptable.

So we’ll get more details on this. But more broadly speaking, we have seen ISIL or ISIS, whatever name we want to use, go to extraordinary lengths to kill civilians, to attack them, oftentimes just for their religion, which is – has absolutely no place at all in Syria or Iraq. That’s why we’ve tried to help the Iraqis fight ISIL certainly by providing support, by providing assistance. We are providing advice to them and also, of course, weapons. When it comes on the Syrian side, we have increased our support to the moderate opposition, including through asking Congress for some funding so we can equip and train them. So those efforts are all ongoing, and we’re trying to help both of those folks fight ISIL now. I don’t have anything to preview in terms of UN Security Council action, but clearly we believe we, acting in partnership with our friends in the region, can try and help them fight this threat because they have really – I mean, you see some of the Christian communities, some of the things they’re doing there. It’s just disgusting, and we need to help put it to an end.

Yes, let’s go to the back here in the white jacket. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this briefing, Ms. Harf. My name is Maria Garcia. I’m with Notimex, the Mexican news agency. The U.S. Bishop Conference sent a letter today to Secretary Kerry, and they ask to change the trade and economic policies in Central America and also address issues of drugs here and the trafficking of armaments. I wonder if the Secretary has any knowledge of the document or – and if you have any thoughts about that.

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen the letter yet. You said it was sent today? Yeah. I’m sorry. I haven’t seen it, and I’m not sure if the Secretary has yet. As you know, he’s traveling, and I’m sure it will get to him soon. Obviously – and I was actually with the Secretary during his last trip there to Mexico City – there are a whole range of issues we’re working on in the region, including the security issues and when it comes to drugs and trafficking and those issues. We’ve talked a lot about the unaccompanied minors and children issue that we’ve seen coming across the border in such huge numbers lately. So there’s a whole range of issues. Trade, you mentioned, is one of them as well. So we’ll take a look at the letter when we get it, and I’m sure we’ll have some thoughts on it then. But suffice it to say, I don’t have any specific thoughts, because I haven’t seen it yet. I’m sorry.

Yes, let’s go right here in the middle, and then I’ll go to you. Let’s do you first, and then you’re next.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Lauri Tankler with the Estonian Public Broadcasting. I got a couple questions on Ukraine —

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: — and Russia. So in your last briefing today, you already came out with the statement that you have evidence that Russia is shelling Ukraine from the —

MS. HARF: Firing artillery.

QUESTION: Yeah, firing from the Russian side of the border. What is that going to be – what does that mean in terms of that’s clearly an escalation? And what does that mean in the face of the threat of sectoral sanctions by the U.S.? Or what’s going to happen now?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a good question. You’ve seen us continue to impose increasingly tough sanctions throughout this conflict, including very recently. And we have more ready to go if we think it’s appropriate to do so. So we’ll talk with – we’re particularly talking with our EU and European partners about how we can all impose more costs on Russia here. We know they’ve already had an impact. I don’t have anything new to announce today in terms of what might come next, but we have more steps ready to go, and we are willing to use them if we see more escalation of this kind.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the European Union is under more and more criticism about not getting the decision done and pushing it forward to Tuesday and so on. Does the Administration still believe that it’s addressing the Russian question in lockstep with its European allies?

MS. HARF: Well, we do. We coordinate very closely on this, and we do think that the downing of MH17 should be a wakeup call for Europe. This happened in their backyard. There were many Europeans on this plane. This can’t go unpunished, so I think that’s a conversation we’re having. We do, at the same time, know that it is – Europe is much more economically intertwined with Russia than we are, for example, and we don’t want them to have to take steps that would adversely impact their economy while trying to impose costs on the Russians. So it is a balance, but we think there’s a way to strike it where they can impose more costs, and we’re encouraging them to do so.

QUESTION: But no criticism?

MS. HARF: I think I just encouraged them to do more, and I’ve said this should be a wakeup call, and we haven’t seen them do more yet, we saw them do a little bit coming out of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting this week. No criticism, but we will keep working with them. We know it’s hard, but we do think more costs need to be imposed.

Yes, I’m going to go to you, and then I’m going to go to New York next. So one more here, and then to New York.

QUESTION: Thank you. Inga Czerny for Polish Press Agency, PAP. Could you please tell us if it’s a good or bad thing that European Court of Justice in Strasbourg today found Poland guilty of helping the U.S. setting up the secret prison of CIA where people were tortured? And generally, how do you find the fact that Poland is being held accountable for this and in U.S. nobody was actually charged?

MS. HARF: Well, I saw those reports, and I think I, unfortunately, won’t be able to comment on them in any way. We obviously have a very close relationship with Poland today on a host of issues, but I just don’t have much more for you than that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) when can we expect the report – the Senate report of the interrogation program?

MS. HARF: I would refer you to the Senate Select Committee on that. I think they probably have the best information on timing. I don’t know the timing, quite frankly.

Let’s go to New York for a question.

QUESTION: Paolo Mastrolilli of the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Thank you very much for doing this. You say that there are still gaps to fill in the negotiation for a truce in Gaza. Could you please elaborate on that and what are the hopes to (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: Well, I wish I could, but we’re having these conversations privately and diplomatically to see if we can bridge those and aren’t going to detail the specifics in public. But this is complicated, and there’s a lot of issues that we need to deal with to get to a ceasefire, a lot of different partners we’re working with. The Secretary today has spoken with the Turkish foreign minister, the Egyptian foreign minister, the Qatari foreign minister, the Israeli prime minister, the French, the Brits, the Jordanians, a whole host of people, not all just on this topic, but to try and get everybody who has some influence with Hamas or with Israel to try and get us to a place where we can all agree on a ceasefire. Obviously we don’t talk to Hamas because we consider them a terrorist organization, but there are some of our partners who do. So we are trying to bridge the gaps through any means we can, but it’s hard and I don’t want to downplay how difficult it is.

Thanks. Let’s go to you in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Daniel Pacheco with Caracol Television from Colombia. Two questions. General Carvajal from Venezuela who was appointed in the consulate in Aruba was captured today. There are some reports that he sought for extradition. I don’t know if you maybe have something on that.

MS. HARF: I got – that was the first question I got asked.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: No, no, no, no. It’s okay. And I will say the same thing – that I hadn’t seen those reports and I don’t know the facts here. It sounds a little dubious to me, but I don’t know. So I will check and I will get you an answer, I promise.

QUESTION: This one is broader, so I’m sure you can say something.

MS. HARF: Let’s hope so.

QUESTION: President Putin was touring Latin America just before the Malaysian Airlines accident, the tragedy. He was welcomed in Argentina, in Brazil. He even met with President Santos, a big ally of the United States. Was this a very successful tour? Does this – what is your comment on this in times when you are constantly talking about isolating Russia economically and politically?

MS. HARF: Well, we do talk about isolating Russia, but as I also said a few minutes ago, we work with Russia. The Iran talks where I just was recently, we are on the same side of this issue, we are working together on the same side of the negotiating table. So we don’t believe these things are mutually exclusive, and we think other countries can and should have strong relationships with Russia, and we work with them on many issues.

So I’ve seen some of the reports from his trip there. I know a number of folks were in the region for the BRICS summit. And look, we believe countries should have relationships with other countries; doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make very clear when they disagree with them, which, of course, we do in this case.

Yes. Coming up to you.

QUESTION: Michael Ignatiou from Mega TV, Greece. Marie, you and other officials of the American Government, you are asking the Russians to withdraw from Ukraine, and you are doing this every day. But at the same time, you never ask your friend and ally, Turkey, for example, to withdraw from Cyprus. As you know, Turkey has occupied Cyprus for 40 years. What is the difference or differences between the two cases? Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, I think there are many differences that I’m happy to talk about. In terms of Cyprus, we fully support the ongoing process under the auspices of the UN Good Offices mission; have urged both parties to seize the opportunity to make real and substantial progress toward a settlement that reunifies the island as a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation. We, as the United States, are willing to assist in any way we find useful.

I know that there are a lot of strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but there’s a process in place here to get a resolution here, and we fully support that process and can help in any way we can, but completely different situation.

Yes. I’m going to go to the gentleman in the middle back here with the blue shirt on. Yes, you.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. My name is Oliver Grimm for the Austrian newspaper Die Presse. I have a short follow-up, and then a question on public diplomacy.

MS. HARF: I just spent a lot of time in Austria. (Laughter.) It was lovely.

QUESTION: It was pretty nice, and I think I saw the pictures from the Secretary.

MS. HARF: It is.

QUESTION: The short follow-up on the European Court of Human Rights question on (inaudible): Can you just explain why the Administration wouldn’t comment on this court’s finding? I do recollect that you quite regularly comment on European legal findings by the European Court of Justice or the – so —

MS. HARF: Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.

QUESTION: So if you could explain that. And then the second question would be about the reform of Voice of America. What do you make of criticism that the – I think it’s called the United States International Communications Reform Act that is in Congress now would sort of impinge on the editorial independence and the journalistic freedom of reporters working for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and so forth by turning it into a public diplomacy tool as it is envisioned and planned in this legislation?

MS. HARF: Right, no. We support Voice of America remaining as it is, believe it’s a very important journalistic outlet. There may be some of you in the room from Voice of America or from other related outlets. And we, I don’t think, would support efforts to take away some of the independence like we’ve seen some people on the Hill want to do. So I don’t think that’s something we would support. We’ll keep talking to Congress about it, obviously.

On the first, we don’t always comment on those kinds of cases, particularly when they involve allegations about U.S. intelligence activities, so unfortunately I just don’t have more of a comment for you on that.

Yes, I’m going to go behind you to this woman whose hand is still up. Yes, in the black shirt.

QUESTION: Hi, Lisa Rizzolo from ARD German TV. And I know you were asked at your earlier briefing about the European Union putting out a statement about the execution in Arizona, and I just wanted to see if you’ve seen anything on that and if you have anything.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. I literally ran over here right after the briefing and hadn’t seen it. I’ve seen some of the press reports about it. And if we can take a look and if there’s an additional comment to make, I’m happy to get it around to folks. Just running around a little bit today, sorry.

Let’s go right here on the left.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I’m Chuanjun Wang from China’s Guangming Daily. As we know, last year in Sunnylands summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the new model of major-countries relationship with the U.S. During that time, President Obama and later high officials from the U.S. all give a positive reaction on that proposal, but recently, especially in the past three months, I noticed that during the meetings with the Chinese officials, the U.S. officials said and used the major – a new model of a major-power relationship with China, even in the SED, in the (inaudible). President Obama only used the new model of (inaudible), so I just wonder if the U.S. has changed the position on this new model and how U.S. and China should move forward regarding that.

MS. HARF: Right. Well, no, we haven’t. And you’re right, President Obama and President Xi made clear at Sunnylands last year that they are committed to building a historic bilateral relationship based on really two critical elements, and both are important. One, practical cooperation on areas where we do cooperate; and then two, constructive management of differences when they arise. And I think that is – both of those have been the hallmarks of our relationship going forward. At the S&ED, there were a number of very productive conversations that came out of those meetings. Again, cooperation where we can and constructive management of differences when we have them – those both underpin our relationship, and nothing on that has changed.

Yes. Let’s go in the middle here, and then I’ll come up front to you.

QUESTION: Michael Hernandez, Anadolu Agency. Today at the State Department, I believe you said that something like three times the Secretary has been in contact with Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

MS. HARF: He has. Today he’s spoken to him three times.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s among the most or the most that you outlined during the earlier briefing. I was wondering, what is behind this close consultation between the Secretary and foreign minister? What’s motivating it?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, it’s not – so just to be clear, he’s made – the count as I have on here, 15 or so phone calls today, many of them related to Gaza. So it’s part of his broader engagement on Gaza. He’s spoken to the Qatari foreign minister twice today as well. So it’s, at least with the Turks and others, related to how we can push the parties to a ceasefire in Gaza.

The other consultation, much of it has been on Ukraine and MH17.

Yes. I will go back here. Yes.

QUESTION: I’m Anwar Iqbal. I work for Pakistan Dawn newspaper. There is a Pakistani delegation here, and they met Deputy Secretary Burns and Dan Feldman and others – officials at State and White House. And there was an AP report suggesting that they are asking the United States to reconsider their withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, and they also had a discussion on the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan. So would you please like to comment on those?

MS. HARF: I haven’t gotten a full readout from those meetings yet. I know they discussed a wide range of issues. I can check and see, but I haven’t gotten a readout from those meetings yet.

Would you have one up here? Yes.

QUESTION: This week, Iraqis’ ambassador to Washington criticized the Administration for lack of support – military support for his country, and claimed that this creates vacuum which they are going to – willing to give to anybody to fill it. And they said Iran has offered literally to replace the United States. So what is the position?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a few points. No other country, I think, can do what the United States does in terms of support. We have been very supportive of the Iraqi Government. We have done that with assistance, with weapons, with advice, with training. There are some systems we’re still trying to get delivered, which the main holdup has been slowness on the Iraqi Government’s side throughout the years. But I think now they understand the severity of the situation, and we’re trying to get things delivered as quickly as possible. And we stand ready to assist in a number of ways.

But at the end of the day, this is not a problem we can fix for the Iraqis. It is a problem that needs to be fixed by them. We saw today a president being named. Next step is the prime minister, so we can hopefully soon have a new government in place that can put forward a strategy to deal with this terrorist threat as we go forward. And we’ll help them as they do it, but we can’t do it for them. So I think we are looking forward to working with the new government and seeing what else we could possibly do to help.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t work with Iran on Iraq. We have spoken on one occasion to Iran about it on the sidelines of another meeting, many weeks ago now. But look, we’re not going to coordinate with Iran on Iraq. What we’ve said is any country in the region, including Iran, should use its influence over different parties in Iraq to pull them together, to promote an inclusive government that – and that it’s the Iraqi army and security forces that need to fight this threat. It’s not militias; it’s not anything outside of the government. And so we’re encouraging all parties, including Iran, to do so.

Yes, and then I’ll go – actually, I’ll go to you. And then I’ll come back up to you, Andrei. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: My name is Jae Sun Chang, Yonhap News Agency from South Korea. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui has said today that the United States should lower the bar for resuming the Six-Party Talks, and he also accused the United States of trying to achieve its target before the talks even resume. What’s your response?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see those specific comments, but we’ve worked very closely with the South Koreans and other partners on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We are very committed to it. We’ve said that the North Koreans need to take certain steps before we can get back to the table, and we’ll continue to have those conversations.

QUESTION: Many critics say the United States is basically ignoring this problem of North Korean nuclear program and – while this communist nation is strengthening its nuclear capabilities day by day and – do you see any urgency in the problem?

MS. HARF: We do, and we’re certainly not ignoring it. We see quite a bit of urgency. And I think that’s why, speaking to your previous question, we do think there should be a high bar here, that it is a very dangerous threat. We’ve seen increasingly provocative rhetoric coming out of North Korea, including with recent missile launches that are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. So it’s an issue we have a whole team very focused on, are working with our partners and the rest of the Six-Party as well, to see if we can get back to the table here.

QUESTION: My last question is, South Korea and China earlier this week signed an agreement to establish a hotline between the defense ministry of the two countries. I think China is the second country to have – after the United States – to have a hotline with South Korea’s defense ministry. This is yet another sign of deepening relations between the two countries, and what is your response?

MS. HARF: Right. Well – and we think the concept of hotlines in general, particularly if you’re talking about territorial disputes in either the South China Sea or the East China Sea, tend to be a good idea. The Japanese have talked about doing this as well. So anything that can reduce tensions and try to get these disputes resolved peacefully we do think is a good thing. So those – that’s just one of those steps that we tend to, sort of across the board, like.

Yes, Andrei.

QUESTION: Marie, when we were talking about this incident with MH17, you said that you are for a full investigation —

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: — full and fair investigation and getting to know whose finger was on that button or whatever it was that launched the missile. So basically, it’s an open question yet for you?

MS. HARF: No, that’s not what I said. We know a couple – here’s what we know based on a very wide-ranging assessment, that it was – let me just – and then you can ask follow-up. We know where the missile was fired from; we know that it was an SA-11; we know the area is controlled by Russian separatists. We know that there were no Ukrainian SA-11s within the vicinity that could’ve been fired. We know the trajectory, we know where it hit, and we know where it came down. We know that Russia has been supplying the separatists with weapons and training them on these weapons.

Now who – which one of them actually had their finger on the button, you’re right, we don’t know that. We don’t. But we know where the missile was fired from. We know who fired it, who controls that – generally speaking – and who controls that territory, who’s been funding and arming and training these folks.

QUESTION: My original question was about prejudging, because on one of the other questions you said that – on the question about the Europeans and the sanctions against Russia, you said, yeah, it cannot go unpunished. So you already know whom to punish?

MS. HARF: We know who —

QUESTION: Which is prejudging.

MS. HARF: Well, no. We know who’s been supporting these separatists for months. We know that these separatists would not be in eastern Ukraine, able to do this, without the direct backing of President Putin and the Russian Government. They wouldn’t even be there without the Russian Government’s support. They wouldn’t have weaponry without the Russian Government’s support. Forgetting about this specific incident, they wouldn’t – they today, again, have been bragging about more Ukrainian fighter jets they’ve brought down.

So we will do a full investigation into MH17, but these separatists would not be there —

QUESTION: Marie —

MS. HARF: — without the support of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: — I don’t think you are right about that. I could tell you in response that without the government – Ukrainian Government planes flying over Ukrainian cities and bombing Ukrainian peaceful civilians —

MS. HARF: That’s not —

QUESTION: — there would be no need for the civilians to defend themselves.

MS. HARF: That’s not what’s happening here.

QUESTION: And it is what’s happening.

MS. HARF: It’s not.

QUESTION: And everybody knows that’s what’s happening.

MS. HARF: Well, we can agree to disagree —

QUESTION: But basically – yeah, I know.

MS. HARF: — on this.

QUESTION: I know.

MS. HARF: But we have a preponderance of evidence on our side here.

QUESTION: But the question that I wanted to ask about this was: Why is it that you are so adamant about not admitting even the possibility that the missile was launched mistakenly or deliberately by the Ukrainians? They had their own motives for that.

MS. HARF: They don’t, though. Let me just address that specific point. Russia did release a map with alleged locations of Ukrainian SA-11 units within range of the crash. We are confident that this information is incorrect. We have information that the nearest Ukrainian operational SA-11 unit is located well out of range from both the launch and the crash sites. So there were no Ukrainian SA-11s within the range. So again, we can’t make up our own facts here. We can’t go on hunches. We have pictures of where this was launched from. We can see the trajectory. And so what we need now, as President Putin himself has said, is a full investigation. We need to see that backed up with actions, and we need to see some accountability.

QUESTION: This is your information, not information coming from Twitter or from the Ukrainians or whatever?

MS. HARF: No, this is our information. We have eyes on this area and we’ve seen some of this. Yeah.

Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Hello, Marie.

MS. HARF: Hi.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much for doing this. Atsushi Okudera from Asahi Shimbun, in Japan. The President Putin originally has a plan to visit Japan. And as you know, Japan is preparing for a peace treaty with Russia, and we have a territory issue – and a northern territory issues. So I’m just wondering that – are you supporting these – the Japanese efforts for resolving the – these – the country, territory —

MS. HARF: Well, we want Japan to have good relations with its neighbors and with other countries in the region. I don’t have more of a comment than that on what you asked about specifically. I think probably up to the Japanese to speak about that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Again, we believe that Japan should have good relationships with its neighbors. Japan is one of our closest alliances in the world. We work together on a whole host of issues, one of our most important friends that we have, and so we’ll continue working together.

QUESTION: And the same time, on the – DPRK abduction issues, you know?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Probably it’s on July 6th that Secretary Kerry spoke to Foreign Minister Kishida of Japan, and there is some report indicate United States is concerned about the lifting sanction or visiting. Prime Minister Abe is also – has also now – there is a possibility to visit North Korea. Do you – what is the position on that? Are you concerned about the visit to North Korea?

MS. HARF: Well, in terms of the abductions issue or whether the prime minister will go to North Korea, we support Japanese efforts to resolve the abductions issue in a transparent manner. I am aware of press reports indicating that Prime Minister Abe is actually not currently considering a visit to Pyongyang. I know there’s been some conflicting reporting out there, but I don’t think he is right now. I think the Japanese Government probably has the most up-to-date information on that.

Let’s do a few more. Yes, right here, and then I’ll go up to the lady in front of you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. I’m from China, with China News Service. Just now, you mentioned if it’s necessary, United States will have more steps to sanctions U.S. – the Russia if the tension escalated. So how do you define that? And yesterday, reports say the United States officials told CNN that the more troops moving to the border of the Ukraine. Is that one of them?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s certainly – we would consider that escalation, yes. Look, there’s not one blanket definition here. We take a look at the steps across the board that we’ve seen. We make assessments on a day-by-day basis. People are very focused on this. We have more steps ready to go if we are – if we decide to take them. But it’s an ongoing process here. And there is a diplomatic path forward. We have consistently said that even as we increase pressure, there’s a different path that Russia can choose to take. And I think hopefully they will do so.

Let’s do a couple more. Yes, you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) mentioned the difficulties of the Europeans and you understand the difficulties of the Europeans in proceeding with sanctions against Russians given – Russia given the energy dependence. Can – and the IMF just warned today, actually, of the rising tensions, geopolitical tensions actually having an effect on oil prices. And I can tell you from experience the oil prices in Europe are much higher than what they are in the United States, especially in some countries like my own, which are also coming out of a very difficult crisis. Now, what can the U.S. do to assist Europe in its effort towards more energy security and diversification? Are you working with them on specific projects?

MS. HARF: We’re working together very closely. It’s a conversation we have all the time, because we know it’s difficult and we know that as more costs are imposed on Russia it will get harder for the Europeans across the board on this issue. So we work together to talk about energy flows, how we can help, energy independence, all of these issues, alternative energy, clean energy, basically how we can help relieve the pressure, if we can, by working together.

But it’s really a long-term issue. There are things we can do now, but it really is more of a discussion about what we do over the long term, so if there are crises like this we don’t have the same pressure and we can help Europe with its energy situation so we don’t have the same kind of considerations. But it is much more of a long-term issue, but we are working together at a number of levels now on that.

Yes. Let’s go – go ahead, here. Let’s do just a couple more. And we’ll go back here to folks who haven’t had a question yet next.

QUESTION: Hi. China has been proposing the Asian infrastructure development bank, and earlier this month I read news from China media who quoting – which quoting the South Korean media saying that U.S. high officials request South Korea not to support China on this issue. I just want get your comment on that. And also, what’s the U.S. position on the China’s Asian infrastructure development bank?

MS. HARF: I’m not actually familiar with that issue. So I’m happy to check with our folks and see if we have a position and what that is, and we can make sure we get it to you.

Let’s go to the back here for two of you who haven’t had questions yet.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. My name is Xavier Vila, Catalunya Radio in Barcelona. Are you aware of these – administration planning to send anyone, any observers to Scotland for the referendum in September and the Catalan one in November, or this is something that’s going to be controlled by the consulates and embassies in those areas? Thank you.

MS. HARF: I’m not aware of us sending anyone. I can check, but I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: You’re not sending anyone?

MS. HARF: Yeah, not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yep. Let’s go right behind you, and then I’ll come up to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News, Pakistan. A couple of days ago the former president Mr. Zardari was in town and had meeting with Vice President Joe Biden. So could you tell us something about that meeting, because there are too many speculations in Pakistan about that meeting. And secondly, U.S. expressing its concerns over the Haqqani Network, about their safe havens in North Waziristan (inaudible). Despite knowing that, the Pakistani military is – right now is in military operations going on there. So what type of concerns you have now about the Haqqani Network? Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, on the first question, I think that the Vice President’s office is probably better able to speak about their meeting. I don’t have more details to share on that.

But look, we’ve long been very focused on the Haqqani Network, on their intent to cause instability in Afghanistan, to attack and kill U.S. citizens, which we’ve seen, and military service members particularly. And it’s been one of our top priorities to bring to bear sort of all of the elements of our power to help fight this threat, to degrade its capability to carry out attacks, to prevent it from raising money, and to prevent it from moving people around. So this remains one of our top priorities. We know it’s a challenge. We’re working to help particularly in Afghanistan fight this threat.

Anyone else? Let’s do just two more here. We’ll do right here, and then you can wrap us up.

QUESTION: My name is Inoue from Kyodo News Japan. Thank you for doing this.

MS. HARF: Good to see you.

QUESTION: I have a question about the SA-11. The SA-11 was apparently used by the separatists in Ukraine, that it – they are not state – they are non-state actor.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: So do you think this incident would have any implication when you’re considering – when you’re trying to ratchet up the assistance to Syrian opposite? Because they have asked you to provide like surface-to-air missiles, like MANPADS. So do you think this incident may have any impact to your – on your decision.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve – sorry. Finish your question. Sorry. I jumped in there a little early. Look, when it comes to that issue, we have said for a very long time that we have concerns about providing those types of systems in Syria because of the risks. You just need to see the past few days to see that. And so our position on that hasn’t changed. Any assistance we’re providing to the opposition in Syria, it’s a judgment that you make. We want to make sure people are vetted properly, that you feel comfortable providing them with assistance, and that you calibrate that assistance so you don’t give them the types of assistance that could end up in the hands of some pretty bad people and that could do pretty bad things with them. So that’s why our position on that has remained consistent. We are – concerns about the risk of the system.

Last – we’ll do two more. Two more. In the back, and then you can wrap us up, up front.

QUESTION: Thank you. Short question on Ukraine. Do you still exclude delivering any military relief or assistance to Ukrainians to have them restore the sovereignty themselves?

MS. HARF: Right. So we’ve provided a great deal of assistance monetarily and with other kinds of support as well, material support to the Ukrainians. But they – look, there’s not a military solution here, right. We need to see de-escalation. Quite frankly, nothing we gave the Ukrainian military could put it on par with the Russian military, which is why there’s not a military solution here. The Ukrainians have a right to defend their people and their territory. We’ve seen them do that. We’ll continue supporting them, again with material and assistance and money. And we review all the requests that come in from them, because we do want to keep making decisions that will help them in the best way that we think is appropriate.

Last one. Yes. You have the honor of the last question.

QUESTION: Thank you. Voice of America, Persian TV. Last time when the truth was reached in Middle East conflict was during Morsy, friend of Hamas. How important is the role of Egypt now and how do you define the relationship between the United States and al-Sisi government?

MS. HARF: Well, Egypt is playing a crucial role. Obviously, the Secretary’s in Cairo. They have long played a role in these discussions. They have a peace treaty with Israel, for example. They also have a relationship with a Hamas. It’s different than it was under President Morsy, but they do have a relationship. But that’s why we’re also talking to countries like Qatar and Turkey and others who have other relationships they can use with Hamas to see if we can get to a ceasefire.

But our relationship with Egypt is much bigger than one administration there. It’s strategic. We have strategic interests, whether it’s security, particularly in the Sinai and on the Israeli border, whether it is economically helping Egypt undertake needed economic reforms to help their people, whether it’s pushing them on human rights and freedom of expression. When you have journalists in jail that have been subjected to these horrible sentences, we believe it’s important to have a relationship so we can raise concerns. It’s the best way to engage. So it’s a very broad, longstanding relationship, and the Secretary is there right now working very closely with them. They are committed to seeing if they can help with the ceasefire here, and we think there’s a critical role they have played and can play going forward.

MODERATOR: All right.

MS. HARF: With that?

MODERATOR: With that, thank you all for coming. Thank you, Marie.

MS. HARF: Thank you.

MODERATOR: This briefing is now concluded.

MS. HARF: Thank you all so much. We will see you soon.

# # #

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: June 30, 2014

1:38 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. So I just have one item at the top. Secretary Kerry – as the White House announced, Secretary Kerry will be visiting Panama July 1st, which is tomorrow, to attend the inauguration of Panama’s president-elect, Juan Carlos Varela. We congratulate President Varela on his victory and Panama’s history of peaceful democratic transfer of power. We have a growing trade relationship, excellent security cooperation, and share many of the same concerns on regional and multilateral issues. Panama is also an important partner of the United States, and we look forward to continuing our close relationship.

During the inauguration, Secretary Kerry will also meet with other Central American leaders to discuss the issue of unaccompanied children who have illegally crossed the border to the United States. A sustainable solution to this urgent situation requires a comprehensive approach to address issues of security, prosperity, and governance, all of which play a role in migration, especially the migration of unaccompanied minors. We hope to continue working with the Central American and Mexican Governments to address the complex root causes of migration and identify ways the United States and countries in the region can more effectively contribute to the effort.

Secretary – I’m sorry, Vice President Biden was in Guatemala just a few weeks ago where he announced a U.S. assistance to increase the capacity of these countries, and I know the President will have an announcement later this afternoon. But the Secretary’s meetings will be part of our effort to engage with these governments and discuss the root causes of these issues.

QUESTION: Sorry. The President will have an announcement on what?

MS. PSAKI: I think you saw on the news or in the newspapers earlier today the President would have more to say on assistance they’re announcing.

QUESTION: Oh, on immigration.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Right. So before – this is —

MS. PSAKI: Did you get a haircut, Matt?

QUESTION: I did.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.) Noted. Noted for the transcript. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I notice you haven’t said anything of it. Anyway – (laughter) – when you talk about Panama’s peaceful – tradition of peaceful transfers of democratic power, I assume you’re talking about recent tradition, yes?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, I was not making —

QUESTION: Not U.S.-assisted —

MS. PSAKI: — a large, sweeping, historic claim there.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But go ahead.

QUESTION: Before we get back to that and other things, the breaking news just from the last 20 minutes or so about the Israelis finding the bodies of the three kidnapped teenagers, I’m wondering, one, are you aware of it? And if you are, what do you have to say about it? And two, have you been in contact with the Israelis, or the Palestinians for that matter?

MS. PSAKI: I have seen – we have seen the reports. I don’t have anything to confirm from here. I would point you to the Government of Israel. Certainly as we’ve said many times throughout the course of the last several weeks, the kidnapping, and of course any harm that has been done to these teenagers is a tragedy. We’ve been in close touch with the Israelis and the Palestinians over the course of the last several weeks. I don’t have any new calls to update you on as of this morning.

QUESTION: Okay. If there are any, can you expedite —

MS. PSAKI: Can we send them up? Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: — letting us know?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In – since this began, you and the Administration in general have been urging restraint, calling on both sides to show restraint. Does that remain your message even with this new development?

MS. PSAKI: It certainly does. We have, as you noted, been in touch with both sides and have been urging continued security cooperation, that the Israelis and the Palestinians continue to work with one another on that, and we certainly would continue to urge that despite – in spite of, obviously, the tragedy and the enormous pain on the ground as a result.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Wait, I just have one more.

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just go one at a time. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: The Israelis have all along said that Hamas was behind this. You have said that signs indicate that Hamas was involved, but you have stopped short of saying that you’re 100 percent certain of it. Presuming that the Israelis do provide you or you come up with your own 100 percent confirmation that it was involved, would that change – and I realize this is a hypothetical, but would Hamas’s involvement in something like this be cause for the Administration to rethink its support for the Palestinian – the new Palestinian Government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, let me first say there’s nothing new as it relates to our view in this specific case, and as we’ve noted in the past – but it’s worth noting again – there are some similar circumstances that we have seen. I’m not going to make a prediction, of course. We do look at all kinds of information as it relates to our relationship with the Palestinians, our relationship with any entity that we work with. So I’m not going to make a prediction. I don’t know what the outcome will be of the final findings.

QUESTION: There were also, I think, fourteen – more than a dozen rockets that were fired into southern Israel from Gaza today. Is that something that would make you rethink your position as it relates to the Palestinian Government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, renouncing violence is one of the requirements, according to the Quartet, and one of the United States requirements. And as we said in the beginning when the first announcement of the technocratic government was made, we’re going to continue to review and take a look at the circumstances on the ground on a daily basis if needed.

QUESTION: All right. But I mean, quite apart from whether they played any role in the killing of the three teenagers, there were these rocket attacks today. Is that – does that comport with a renunciation of violence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we would condemn any type of violence along those lines against the Israelis. And we expect, and President Abbas has on many occasions also renounced this type of action. And there’s a certain responsibility in conveying that to any entities that the Palestinians are tied with.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if I shoot you at the same time as saying I renounce violence, that doesn’t really make much sense. So —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the point —

QUESTION: — what you’re saying, though, is that apart from the teenagers – because we don’t – you don’t know – you’re not sure of the circumstances – just the rocket attacks themselves are not cause to have you rethink your relationship with the government.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as we have stated from the beginning, and the point I was trying to make, is that we would be constantly reviewing as it relates to action on the ground, whether they are abiding by the components that they have – the pledges that they made at the beginning. So I don’t have anything new to predict for you or outline, but we look at all of the circumstances that happen on the ground as we evaluate our relationship.

QUESTION: I’ll stop after this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You think right now that they are abiding by the requirements?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas and the technocratic government that doesn’t involve members of Hamas, yes, they are making every effort to. Obviously, when there are incidents of violence, when there are rocket attacks, those are certainly cause for concern and we take every incident into consideration.

QUESTION: Jen?

QUESTION: So —

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I would’ve stopped after that, but I – you are sure, you’re convinced that the Palestinian Government is making – what you just said, “making every effort” to abide by its commitments? That’s the U.S. position?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, what I’m —

QUESTION: I —

MS. PSAKI: Matt, what I’m conveying is President Abbas has, as you know, renounced violence. He has condemned attacks. He has been a cooperative partner in an effort even with as it relates to the three teenagers over the last several weeks. Does that change the fact that we are concerned and could certainly condemn these rocket attacks and other incidents that occur? Certainly it doesn’t change that, but again, this is not a black-and-white issue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that, Jen, if I may. The technocratic government that you spoke of, as far as you’re concerned, they have not – they are doing everything possible to refrain from the use of violence, rhetoric or otherwise. Right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you are convinced that they are doing all they can to sort of keep the lid on as far as violence is concerned?

MS. PSAKI: President Abbas and —

QUESTION: And his technocratic government that is a national unity government.

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve stated it a few times, Said, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just go back to the breaking news. As far as – you have not heard anything yourself about the – to confirm the murder of the three teenagers?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen the reports. I don’t have anything to confirm from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Now as far as you know, the Israelis have not informed you that these bodies were found and therefore we’re going to do one, two, three, four; have they?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything else to update you on.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the total closure of Hebron and its environ?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new to update you on.

New topic?

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu —

MS. PSAKI: Or go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: Yeah. Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Sunday that the government had been able to identify two members of Hamas as being responsible. I know that you can’t confirm the discovery of the bodies. Do you know whether they shared this information with their U.S. counterparts either in Tel Aviv or here in Washington over the weekend about these two suspects?

MS. PSAKI: We have regular consultations and discussions. I don’t have anything further to outline for you in this regard.

QUESTION: Something else related to Israel also.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday called for an independent Kurdish state. Do you – what’s your position, what’s your reaction to his comment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the view of the United States is that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq, and especially at this challenging and grave security – at a time of a grave security situation on the ground, we think it’s even more important that all parties – the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds – remain united against the threat they face, and all countries should support that effort.

QUESTION: Does that mean your position is at odds with Israel’s position on Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll let you make your own conclusions, but that’s the position of the United States.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, but I just want to go back to the kidnapping.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One of the three teenagers is a U.S. citizen, or dual citizen.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge, have any demands been made like ransom demands or anything to the U.S. Government?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything new to update you on on this particular incident.

Well, could we – or go ahead —

QUESTION: Just —

MS. PSAKI: — and we’ll go to Jo. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just one more thing.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s clearly that the U.S. position now is at odds with not only Israel, but also Turkey, which has recently said that it will welcome an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. On the other hand, many other people actually see America as being more on the side – like, in alliance with Iran over Iraq, as both countries have stepped up their military and political support for the al-Maliki government to combat the insurgency, the Sunni insurgency. Is that true?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure – can you – what is your specific question? Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Like, the specific question is that are the United States and Iran unlikely allies in Iraq to combat the Islamic – Sunni Islamic militants?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t put it in those terms. We’ve stated before from this podium and the Secretary has stated that certainly ISIL is a threat to the region, including Iran. There is a – it is a threat, ISIL is a threat to all of the people of Iraq, whether they’re Sunni, whether they’re Shia, whether they’re Kurds. And that’s why we’ve been so – been such strong advocates of moving the political process forward urgently to form a government, and of all parties to be united.

We’re all certainly familiar with the aspirations of the Kurdish people, and that hasn’t changed and has been the case for many years now. But the threat they’re facing requires unity and that’s why we’ve been emphasizing it so strongly.

QUESTION: What do you mean you are – you understand the aspiration of the Kurdish people?

MS. PSAKI: I think we all have seen the comments that have been made over the course of not just last week, but long before that.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Can I just stay with ISIL —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — which have renamed themselves today the Islamic State, just IS, I believe. Does this mark a change in their offensive? Does it make the ground conditions more difficult for the Iraqi people and the Syrian people? What is your reaction to the news that they’re trying to establish this caliphate over Iraq and Syria?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen these types of words or comparable claims from ISIL before. This declaration has no meaning to the people in Iraq and Syria. It only further exposes the true nature of this organization and its desire to control people by fear and edicts. It emphasizes even more so that this is a critical moment for the international community, for countries in the region, for all of the Iraqi people to unite against the threat that they face.

QUESTION: Does it show that in some ways, the group believes – is assuming more confidence that they believe that they are on a winning track here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s, again, their strategy of using a repressive ideology and of conducting acts of ruthless terrorism against their people, against people across the region, has been consistent for some time now. So in our view, this claim, these words, this declaration is consistent with that and not a new – not providing new information.

QUESTION: And – sorry.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Tomorrow the Iraqi parliament is due to meet.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Following the visit by Secretary Kerry to Iraq and Erbil, do you believe in this building that there will be an outcome which will start paving the way towards a new Iraqi Government?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you noted, that was a big focus of the Secretary’s meetings last week, not just in Iraq but in – with leaders in the region, and in fact even with his European counterparts. And tomorrow in – we are continuing to urge, I should say, Iraqis, Iraqi leaders to come to an agreement on the three critical posts that are key to forming Iraq’s next government – the speaker, the president and prime minister – so that government formation can move forward as quickly as possible. We don’t want to predict how quickly the outcome will occur. We will leave that to them, but they have – during meetings with Secretary Kerry have committed to moving forward quickly, have committed to abiding by the process. So we will see what happens in the course of the coming days.

QUESTION: Given this announcement, how urgently is the U.S. viewing this development, especially in light of the fact that it just put in what many would argue is a small number of military advisors to help the Iraqi military figure out what it can or can’t do to stop these fighters from continuing their march onto Baghdad?

MS. PSAKI: And Roz, I’m sorry, which – are you – which announcement?

QUESTION: About the ISIL, IS, whatever they call themselves.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What are they – what are officials doing about it? How does this change what the U.S. is trying to do, for example, to help Baghdad defend itself against these fighters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as I stated, but I’m happy to reiterate, these words – we’ve seen these types of words come from ISIL before. It’s consistent with their claims in the past. It doesn’t mean anything to the people of Iraq and the people of Syria. We remain both committed to a diplomatic process, and obviously, as you noted, military advisors have started arriving on the ground. We’ve continued to expedite our assistance and equipment as well, and we’re taking every step in that regard.

So I wouldn’t overemphasize the impact of the claim. We’re continuing to take steps, including the discussions the Secretary had all of last week, on the political front to encourage the government to move forward with formation, but also to consider how we can best help address the threat on the ground.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of what consultations are being held at the Secretary’s level, at the under secretary level with their counterparts, not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary – I think it was read out on Friday that he spoke with President Barzani. He also spoke with Foreign Minister Davutoglu over the weekend. I think it’s safe for all of you to assume that he’ll be in – closely engaged in diplomatic conversations with both counterparts in the Middle East as well as Europe over the course of the coming days.

QUESTION: Jen, did you have any comment or did you comment on the Iraqis receiving four or five Sukhoi fighters, Russian fighters —

MS. PSAKI: I think Marie may have spoken to this —

QUESTION: — a couple days ago?

MS. PSAKI: — on Friday, but I’m happy to speak to it as well.

QUESTION: Could you?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. We understand and have certainly seen reports about the purchase of equipment. I would remind you that Iraq has purchased military equipment from a range of countries in the past, including Russia, including the Czech Republic, South Korea, and others to fulfill their legitimate defense needs. We have a robust FMS program that will continue and we’ve expedited in recent days. And certainly, we are not surprised that Iraq would take steps to work with other countries in the region as they have for some time to gain the equipment that they need.

QUESTION: And you don’t have any problem with them receiving these Russian fighters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t —

QUESTION: I mean, because you’re holding your deliveries for fear of falling in the wrong hands —

MS. PSAKI: We’re not holding our —

QUESTION: — and this could —

MS. PSAKI: I think that’s incorrect information.

QUESTION: Sorry. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: But in terms of the first question, we don’t oppose legal Iraqi efforts to meet their urgent military requirements. In fact, as you know, we’re expediting our own assistance, and they have purchased military equipment from a variety of countries in the past, and so it’s not a surprise that that has continued.

QUESTION: Can I ask you if you – on the caliphate and Kurdistan questions.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you oppose a caliphate idea in general? And if you do not – because you actually recognized one and had an ambassador to the last one, the last Ottoman – the Ottoman empire – why you would, if you are opposed – or sorry, if you’re not opposed to a caliphate in – is it just – let me rephrase this completely.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is it just this group forming a caliphate that you’re opposed to, or an al-Qaida-like group, a repressive group? Or is it the whole idea in general that you don’t like, of Muslims coming together under one person?

MS. PSAKI: I think the concern I’m expressing is about this specific group —

QUESTION: This specific – okay.

MS. PSAKI: — this extremist terrorist group, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So then on the Kurdistan question, and about what Prime Minister Netanyahu said, there are a lot of people who think that this – that an independent Kurdistan is basically inevitable, especially – and it – and its being – its potential statehood is being accelerated by what’s going on on the ground now. Why is the United States so wedded to the post-World War I borders?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, it’s up to the Iraqi people to determine what their future will be, not the United States.

QUESTION: So it’s —

MS. PSAKI: I think our specific concern right now is that the largest threat they face is the threat of ISIL and that they should be united and focused on that and working together and continuing to work together. As you know, the Peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces have been working closely together over the last several weeks.

QUESTION: So in the end, in the long run, though, if all of Iraq was to agree to split, you would not be opposed if they were to do that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speculate on what the future will hold. What we’re looking at right now is the immediate threat that is posing a threat to the very security and stability of Iraq.

QUESTION: But you do agree that Kurdistan is basically conducting itself as a sovereign nation? I mean, it imports, exports goods, including the export of oil to Israel and so on.

MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re familiar, Said —

QUESTION: I know, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — because we’ve talked about it quite a bit, what our position is on the export and import of oil as well, and we believe that should go through the central Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: I’ve got another Iraq-related question —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — which has to do with the —

QUESTION: You’re saying because ISIL is the bigger threat and they all need to confront this threat together. But the Kurdish forces have said it publicly that they’re not going to fight ISIL unless they fight – attack them. So they are going to just look and see the conflict and —

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: — they don’t want to be dragged into a sectarian war. That’s what they phrase – how they phrase it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, but the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces, have been working closely with the ISF over the past several weeks to confront this threat. And one of the points the Secretary made when he was there meeting with leaders was the fact that they do need to be united, they need to continue to band together against this threat. And it’s not just a threat to Baghdad; it’s a threat to all of Iraq and it’s a threat to all of the region.

QUESTION: So you’ve seen the story – you will have seen the story in The New York Times today about Blackwater —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and the State Department calling off an investigation into its activities after your lead investigator was allegedly threatened. I’m wondering what you have to say about that.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a great deal to say about it, and I’m happy to take any questions that you have. I certainly understand the interest. I will note that the story referenced this as an investigation. This was not an investigation. These were ongoing contract reviews that we do on a regular basis. That’s what the individuals were on the ground doing.

Obviously, as you all know, this is an ongoing legal case, so there’s very little we can say. But again, I know there are specific questions here, so I’m happy to take them if I can.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, an ongoing legal case has to do only with Nisour Square.

MS. PSAKI: You’re correct.

QUESTION: This apparently happened before that —

MS. PSAKI: You’re right.

QUESTION: — so it would not be part of the ongoing legal case, correct?

MS. PSAKI: You’re right. It is —

QUESTION: Unless, of course, you have – there is another case that we don’t know about which involves the State Department against Blackwater.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not referencing a different legal case.

QUESTION: All right. So —

MS. PSAKI: I’m just referencing the context here, which I think is relevant.

QUESTION: All right. So was the internal review – or, sorry, the – what did you say – it was the something – contract review. Was the contract review halted because of a threat?

MS. PSAKI: As I understand, there were steps taken at the time given threats that were – people faced. But I don’t have any additional information on it.

QUESTION: So you’re saying – so that part of the story you’re confirming? You’re saying that the – that someone employed by Blackwater in Iraq threatened a State Department auditor – however you want to call it – who was conducting a contract review, and that resulted in the review being called off?

MS. PSAKI: No. I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Let me – I understand that there were reports of threats. Obviously, we take any of that seriously. I don’t have any additional information beyond what I just shared.

QUESTION: Do you know what the result of the contract review was in question here? Was there a result or was it – or did it end? Did the review not come to an end?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional information. Again, I understand the interest.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: This was seven years ago, so we’re looking to track down more.

QUESTION: I understand this predates your time and even this Administration, but this building stays the same pretty much as it goes through —

MS. PSAKI: I understand. I’m not – I’m certainly validating your questions. I just don’t have more information than what I’ve provided.

QUESTION: Do you know whether —

QUESTION: Are you aware that —

QUESTION: Do you know whether because of this incident that any steps were taken to essentially keep the contractors in their place? The story suggested that the contractors felt that they were above the authority of the U.S. Government and had undue sway over certain Embassy personnel. Are there policies in place that basically say to contractors, “You are here under the good graces of the U.S. Government and you need to know what your place is”?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure how to address your question, Roz. I’m not sure exactly what your question is. Maybe you can repeat it.

QUESTION: Well, essentially, if someone comes in, whether from the IG’s office, Inspector General’s office, or from some other auditing firm that’s supposed to have the ability to talk to people, to look at records, to figure out if everything is being done according to rules and regulations – if that person’s ability to do his or her job is proscribed because someone feels that he and his colleagues are above review, what’s done to keep that from happening?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the reason – let me just say, broadly speaking, the reason why contract reviews or any reviews are done are to take a look at circumstances on the ground and make sure they are happening to – with all – taking all of the precautions and taking the appropriate process and pursuing the appropriate process. When there are findings that they are not, certainly those are reviewed and taken into account. I don’t have anything more specific in this case, but that’s why reviews, broadly speaking, are done – to look at the information and ensure that contractors or any individuals are operating at the top capacity.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Let me try one more.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Certainly in places that are warzones, and Iraq in 2007 was clearly still a warzone as far as the U.S. Government was concerned, it is understandable that in the middle of a crisis that people’s relationships will stray beyond normally accepted bounds of behavior. Are there rules in place today for people who are serving for the State Department in high-risk zones and the contractors with whom they work? Are there rules clearly spelling out what the extent of their professional relationship can be?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, broadly speaking; let me take it and see what information we can provide.

QUESTION: Can you also take the question as to whether there – this contract review was undertaken either because of any concern that this company was operating somehow outside of the bounds that it should have been, or if that kind of concern arose during the review?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly, sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: New topic?

QUESTION: I have just a – very quickly. This happened, of course, in 2007, but there are allegations at the time that in fact higher-ups in the State Department took the side of Blackwater against the State Department auditor. Could you find out if that is the case?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more information. I’m happy to take the —

QUESTION: Because right after that —

MS. PSAKI: Said, let me finish. I’m happy to take the questions that have been addressed. I don’t think I have anything more, so let’s move on to a new subject.

QUESTION: Because this just —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Lesley. We’re moving on. Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: North Korea says they’re going to try the two detained Americans. Have you had any notice on this, and any comment from you?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we are aware of reports that U.S. citizens Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle will face trial in North Korea. There’s no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. Out of humanitarian concern for Mr. Fowle and Mr. Miller and their families, we request North Korea release them so they may return home. We also request North Korea pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care.

Beyond the reports, Lesley, I don’t have any other official independent information, I guess I should say. I can also convey that the embassy of Sweden in North Korea visited Mr. Fowle on June 20th and Mr. Miller on May 9th and June 21st. And the embassy, of course, regularly requests consular access to all U.S. citizens in North Korean custody.

QUESTION: Do you —

QUESTION: Do you know, are they being held in the same place?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on that. I’m happy to check and see if there’s more we can provide.

QUESTION: Presumably, because you are now able to give their names, they’ve signed these privacy waiver things?

MS. PSAKI: They have.

QUESTION: So can you tell us under what circumstances they were both arrested and what charges they might be facing?

MS. PSAKI: There isn’t information – additional information we’re going to share. They – yes, they did sign a Privacy Act waiver, but it doesn’t obligate the Department to share all information about each case and each circumstances, especially when it comes to ensuring or taking every step we need to to help return them home.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, wait.

QUESTION: So you cannot give us any indication of the charges they could be facing?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information to provide.

QUESTION: Quite apart – this is a new one on me, and I’ve been – quite apart from this case, are you saying that if someone signs a Privacy Act waiver, if we ask a question, you don’t have – you still don’t have to answer it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Privacy Act waiver gives us the ability to provide more information, and we do that as often as we possibly can. And there are some cases where it’s not in the benefit of the case or the individuals to provide more information.

QUESTION: But you make that decision, not the person?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are cases – there are processes that we undergo to ensure we can provide as much information as possible, and there are times when it’s not appropriate to. This is one of those times.

QUESTION: Well, let’s not talk – forget about this case. Just in general, I don’t get it. So if I sign a Privacy Act waiver saying I want you to tell the world about my case someplace, and one of my colleagues here asks you a question about it, you can say, “Well, he signed the waiver but we just don’t feel like telling you what the information is, so we’re not going to?”

MS. PSAKI: That’s not exactly how it works, Matt. But —

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand. If I —

MS. PSAKI: — we provide as much information as we can.

QUESTION: If I – as you can? But if I’ve authorized you to go out and speak and tell – and say what happened to me and what my condition is and everything, you can still decide to say no, we’re not going to —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if —

QUESTION: You can say nothing?

MS. PSAKI: — if you were detained, you would want us to take steps that are in the best interests of your safety and security, wouldn’t you?

QUESTION: Well, yeah – if I’ve signed the waiver saying I want my story to be told, I would expect you to tell my story if I’m – if you were asked about it, not to say – to tell people —

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure you’ve seen a Privacy Act waiver and what they look like.

QUESTION: I have.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not exactly stating that. So we make decisions about what information is appropriate to provide in the best interests of citizens who are detained overseas. And we will —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: For that matter, you could say that you’re not going to release any information ever, no matter what – no matter whether the thing – whether it’s signed or not.

MS. PSAKI: I think we try – make every effort to release as much information as we can.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So in this case, you can’t confirm that they’re facing trial? Even if you’re not going to tell us what the charges are, you cannot confirm independently that they’re facing trial?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t. And that’s not related to the Privacy Act waiver; that’s related to the fact that these are reports. We don’t have additional information to provide.

QUESTION: So the Swedish Embassy hasn’t been able to convey that information to you, or they haven’t been given that information?

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more information to provide.

QUESTION: And can you give us an idea of what the Embassy might have told you about their state of health when they saw them on June 20th and 21st?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t. I’m happy to check with them and see if there’s more to provide. Obviously, we’re requesting their release for humanitarian purposes. I will see if there’s more on their health that we are able to provide to all of you.

QUESTION: I imagine that you’ve been in touch with the families of both these men?

MS. PSAKI: We have been over the course of time. I don’t have any new timing on that, but I can also check on that question as well.

QUESTION: Did the families make any request of this building to not release certain information about their loved ones, in particular why they chose to go to North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to be able to provide any more information.

QUESTION: Can you just say in general, because we have these cases coming up every so often involving U.S. citizens – the U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea. I assume that if I just decided I wanted to go, it would be very difficult for me to go without facing some sort of repercussion. What can be done to dissuade people from trying to go?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don’t track the travel of United States citizens. But obviously, we put Travel Warnings out, Roz —

QUESTION: Yeah, but if I —

MS. PSAKI: — to make sure people understand the circumstances they’re walking into.

QUESTION: But certainly if I’m coming back through Dulles and I’m going through border control, I’m going to get the once-over – maybe the once-over when they see that I have a visa from D.P.R.K. in my passport. What can be done to dissuade people from going and almost certainly getting themselves into trouble every time an American steps foot on North Korean soil?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s one of the reasons that we provide regular updates that are available on the State Department website, that we talk about frequently. All of you report about these cases as well. So I would encourage you to continue to do that.

QUESTION: I think one of the – the older man, if I’m not mistaken, apparently was arrested after people found a Bible in his hotel room. And we all know how the D.P.R.K. feels about Christianity. Is it an unnecessarily provocative act for those who think that they’re trying to spread the gospel to try to go to North Korea, knowing that they’re running the risk of being arrested, being treated however the North Koreans are able to cover up whatever they do to them, and then expecting the U.S. Government to come to their rescue even though, if you have a blue passport, you expect your government to come save you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think we are focused on the health and safety and well-being of United States citizens wherever they are in the world, and we take every step to ensure they either are returned home or they are safe. We have consular access. You know how we feel about freedom of religion and freedom of – and being able to express that. But certainly, the reason we provide information about a range of countries is to ensure people know what circumstances they’re walking into. And I don’t have the North Korea Travel Warning in front of me, but I can assure you that it suggests strongly not to travel at all to North Korea.

Go ahead, Ali.

QUESTION: Well, I had just two quick questions on that. Do you have any more on at what level the communication between the State Department officials and the families of the men who have been detained have been taking place?

MS. PSAKI: I do not. I can take that in the list of questions as well.

QUESTION: Sure. And then in the Travel Warning, there’s plenty of caveats about the fact that these travel companies can’t provide for safety of individual Americans. But I’m wondering, does this Department take a position on these companies actually doing these tours and seemingly, at times, willfully pulling – putting American citizens in danger? Do you take a position on the – just the merits in general of these tours being conducted?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get that specific. But clearly, any tour company or any individual can access the information that we make available about travel and the warnings of travel to North Korea as well as other countries. And so I think that states pretty clearly where we stand about any type of travel.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MS. PSAKI: North Korea? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. North Korea, as you know, has launched the SCUD missile last September – no, no, last Saturday. Sorry. And then Marie – your colleague Marie told us that we are always concerned whenever they launch anything. So what about this time? Do you have some readout, or —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are aware of reports that North Korea launched two projectiles from its east coast on June 29th, so just yesterday. We’re continuing to closely monitor North Korean activities and the situation on the peninsula. We urge North Korea to refrain from taking provocative actions and instead fulfill its international obligations and commitments, but I don’t have any further information on the type or specific details of the projectiles launched in this case.

QUESTION: As you know, President Park and Xi Jinping of China is going to meet this week. Does the United States ask something of both China or South Korea to send a message to North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as two of our vital partners in the Six-Party Talks that we engage with closely on the threat from North Korea, I’m certain – and I would refer you to them, but I would bet that this will be a part of their discussion and we’ll continue to engage closely with both China and Japan as it – or, sorry, China and South Korea as it relates to their discussions. And certainly, as you know, we also encourage dialogue and restraint as it relates to relationships in the region as well.

QUESTION: One more thing. Japan will also continue to talk to North Korea about abduction issues after this. Are you consulting with Japan with regard to this timing and with the sanction?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we support Japanese efforts to resolve the abductions issues, and we encourage them to do so in a transparent manner, and we’d refer you to them for more information about their talks.

QUESTION: Can I just stay on North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: North Korea this morning proposed that the two Koreas should halt hostile military activities later on this week. This appears to be ahead of the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping. What is your reaction to this? Is this something that’s welcome or is it just a cynical ploy by Pyongyang to try and have some kind of image of being peace-loving ahead of the visit?

MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, we certainly support improved inter-Korean relations. But with these specific exercises, these are defense-oriented and they’re designed to enhance the ability to respond to any potential contingency that could arise. They’re designed to increase readiness to defend South Korea and protect the region, and they occur around the same time every year and are a regular part of what happens in the region. So we’ve seen these calls before, and we certainly see the value in these exercises and the value in them continuing.

QUESTION: So you’re not going to halt the exercises ahead of the visit by Xi Jinping to North Korea?

MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to the Department of Defense, but I’m not aware of any plans to do that.

QUESTION: One more (inaudible). Under Six-Party Talks, does the U.S. have any optimistic plan to resumption of Six-Party Talks future or near – within this year?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the – it remains in the ball – the ball remains in North Korea’s court to take steps to abide by their international obligations in the 2005 Joint Statement. They haven’t shown an indication of their plans to do that, so I don’t have any prediction of a resumption.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: In an hour or so, or less than an hour – 40 minutes from now – the cease-fire is supposed to expire. I noticed that there was another four-way phone call today between President Putin, Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Poroshenko. And I’m wondering – and out of that, it looks like everyone kind of agreed that it should be extended with the exception of maybe Poroshenko, because I’m not sure that it has been extended yet.

Do you support an extension of the cease-fire and do you think that the Russians have met the – or taken steps to meet the criteria that was laid out by the EU on Friday to do by today?

MS. PSAKI: Well, whether to extend the cease-fire is a decision that Ukraine and only Ukraine will make, and we’d certainly support the decision, whatever decision that they make. But it takes two to implement a cease-fire, and to answer your second question, there are still ongoing reports of fighters from Russia and Russia-backed separatists continuing to attack Ukrainian Government positions. There are still troops on the border. There are still armed militants in Ukraine with – who are posing a threat to the Ukrainian people. So there are steps that we’ve long been calling for that are a part of what President Poroshenko has been calling for that Russia has not done.

Now they have taken some steps that have been positive steps moving forward, but there’s a great deal more that they need to do in order to de-escalate the situation.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the – well, first of all, how – this cease-fire doesn’t seem to have been much of a cease-fire at all from the very beginning. But I’m wondering what you – because there have been a lot of reports of violations on both sides. But I’m wondering if you – if the U.S. Government’s understanding or the U.S. Government’s position is that the Ukrainian Government’s violations of the cease-fire have come in response – only in response to them being attacked themselves in self-defense. Is that your understanding?

MS. PSAKI: That is my understanding of what’s happening on the ground, and the Ukrainians were the ones who called for the cease-fire and exhibited admirable restraint in trying to implement the cease-fire, but there were steps that were taken from Russian-backed separatists that certainly didn’t abide by it.

QUESTION: So the Administration’s position is that the Ukrainian Government has and still is taking – is still showing admirable restraint in trying to keep the cease-fire alive and that violations are the fault of the Russian – of the separatists. Is that – that’s correct?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, and certainly we’d be concerned about any violations, but I’m not – don’t know if there were specific ones you’re speaking to or reports or anything.

QUESTION: No, just in general. Just what – not anything specific. And then on the sanctions issue, you are not – the Administration is not yet prepared to pull the trigger on new sanctions? Is that —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we remain prepared to impose additional sanctions, including sectoral sanctions should circumstances warrant, in coordination with our allies and partners. But I don’t have anything to announce for all of you today.

QUESTION: And my last one on Ukraine has to do with the refugee numbers. I asked Marie about this last week.

MS. PSAKI: I know you had a —

QUESTION: Yes, we had a bit of an exchange.

MS. PSAKI: An active debate.

QUESTION: Well, I wouldn’t say debate.

MS. PSAKI: Sorry, discussion.

QUESTION: An active exchange. Is it still your position that the numbers offered by the UN last week of 110,000 are inaccurate or not credible, as she said?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they certainly – the context here is incredibly important because the UN Refugee Agency claims less than 10 percent of the 110,000 that they have given as a number. 9,600 people have applied for asylum. That is a significantly lower number. So by noting that 110,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Russia, which we don’t have a validation of that either, it doesn’t give context of in what capacity or how. And it certainly doesn’t give validity to Russian claims that hundreds of thousands of people are pouring over the border seeking asylum in Russia.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it seems to be a bit – I don’t know – disingenuous to say that because only a small number of these people have actually applied for refugee – for asylum and refugee status in Russia that – it seems to be disingenuous to say that 110,000 people haven’t fled. You —

MS. PSAKI: We’re still looking into – I know Marie said this on Friday —

QUESTION: But your argument – your position is not based on – it’s – tell me this: Is your position based on the fact that only – that less than 10 percent of 110,000 people have actually applied for – formally applied for refugee status?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s part of the context here. We’re still talking to the UN agency about how they arrived at these numbers, but I think that’s an important component of the context.

QUESTION: Okay, but that doesn’t – that doesn’t mean that 100,000 people didn’t flee. Just because they haven’t formally applied doesn’t mean that 100,000 haven’t fled, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it doesn’t mean that they have either, so I think we’re —

QUESTION: Well, I – yeah, but – I know, but the UN is starting from the position or telling you or telling the world that 110,000 people have fled, and it just seems a bit odd if you’re – if your argument is, well, only 10,000 of them actually applied for refugee status, that means that the whole figure if is wrong —

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think part of it is it’s unclear if they’re relying on Russian claims. And so we’re just in discussions with them about how they arrived at these numbers, and I think there’s some context that we felt was important to provide.

QUESTION: Okay, well, do you – and I had this – Marie and I had this exchange as well. I mean, is this the only case where you are not sure of the UN High Commissioner for Refugee’s numbers? I mean, why do you take their word – the numbers in Syria or outside of Syria, the numbers who have fled Syria if you’re not willing to take them on their – not willing to accept them in this case?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m certain if we had a question about the validity of the numbers there, we would have raised it as well. But I – again, we’re in conversations with them, and if there’s more to say, we’ll say it.

QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge, they have not responded with – what are you actually asking them? How did you get your numbers? And then —

MS. PSAKI: Where did you arrive at – how did you arrive at the numbers, exactly.

QUESTION: And are you going to tell them that they have to prove it once they tell you? I mean what do you – I just – I’m not sure what you’re looking for. It seems to me that in almost every other situation, you guys accept the information that’s given by the UNHCR, and this case is somehow different, and I don’t understand – I’m not exactly sure why. That’s – why is this case different than Syria where you also don’t have people on the – eyes on the ground?

MS. PSAKI: We’re just looking for more context and information on the numbers, and we’ll be in touch with them about how they arrived at them.

QUESTION: Question about the cease-fire in Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: About – I’m sorry, which piece?

QUESTION: Because it was unilateral, the cease-fire that was announced, I guess, unilaterally by Poroshenko, correct – by the president of Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Correct, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So in this conversation today where they asked him to extend the cease-fire, it would be up to him to declare that since it is only one-sided?

MS. PSAKI: Up to President Poroshenko?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you sort of leaning on him or are you asking him to extend the cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve – it’s a decision for Ukraine and Ukraine —

QUESTION: I understand, but the —

MS. PSAKI: — only to make. Obviously, we’re in close consultations.

QUESTION: Are you encouraging him to extend the cease-fire?

MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s for – it’s a decision for Ukraine to make.

Let’s just do a few more. Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: On Nigeria. Is the United States still working with Nigeria on the abducted schoolgirls? There’s been really nothing in recent weeks. And are you guys still working with officials on this?

MS. PSAKI: We certainly are. The search for the kidnapped girls is ongoing. The Nigerians remain in the lead. We have a team that’s been on the ground for several weeks now. We’ll continue to evaluate additional resources, what additional resources we can provide. I wish I did have an update on it, but unfortunately there’s not one at this point to provide.

QUESTION: There’s been reporting over the weekend that some residents in northeastern Nigeria have basically formed their own militias because the Nigerian military can’t or won’t come into their areas to protect them from Boko Haram attacks. What has the U.S. been saying to Goodluck Jonathan and to his government about the need to mobilize their military and to be more proactive rather than having small groups of people who don’t have firearms going up against people with semiautomatic rifles?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, our discussions with Nigeria about addressing the threat of Boko Haram have been ongoing for months now. There’s no doubt there are challenges – challenges the Nigerian Government faces and those who are taking on this threat on the ground. And we’re certainly working with them to boost their capacity and advise them on how best to address it. But I’m not going to outline it further than that.

QUESTION: But doesn’t it worry people in this building that the security situation inside what is arguably the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa – that people don’t feel they can trust their own security apparatus and that they have to take up weapons themselves to try to protect themselves from a vital security threat?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I’d remind you that we, the United States, has boosted our resources that we’re providing to the Nigerian Government in order to help them take on the threat of Boko Haram because of our rising concern about that threat. So we too feel that there needs to be increased capacity, and our resources and our efforts have also backed that up.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: There are reports that there were a series of attacks yesterday in Borno State in four villages outside of the area where the girls were kidnapped. Explosives were thrown into churches and around 50 people were hurt – or killed. Do you have any reaction to that? Any information you can share?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have new information. I know there are similarities. It fits the – Boko Haram’s recent pattern in terms of target attacks and methods of attack. They haven’t seen – unless it’s happened in the last hour, I don’t think they have come out and claimed responsibility, but regardless of that, we condemn the reported attacks on four villages near Chibok. Our sympathies go out to the victims and their families. We remain committed to helping the Government of Nigeria address the threat posed by the criminal terrorist group. Our Embassy continues to support Nigerian efforts to bring about the safe recovery of the abductees and to advise the Government of Nigeria on its response.

And as I noted in response to Roz’s question, certainly, we all are concerned about the rising threat of Boko Haram, and we are – have been increasing our assistance as a result of that.

QUESTION: But to Roz’s point, we’ve got some leaders from the Chibok area who said that the military didn’t even bother to go and try and – attempt to try and go to the scene of this latest attack, which would – again, would suggest that they’re in completely – in complete disarray despite any efforts that the Americans might be offering them on the ground.

I mean, are you finding that they’re responsive to what you’re trying to aid them with, or are they just not listening at all?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t – I don’t have any validation of all of those reports, and what I know is that because of our concern about the threat that’s risen over the course of the last several months – obviously, the kidnapping, other attacks that have happened since then have prompted us to increase our assistance, to do more training, to do more to boost the capacity of the Nigerian military and of the Nigerian Government. So I don’t have anything to speak to as it relates to reports of whether or not they went to the villages because I don’t have any addi

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Joint Base Andrews, 6/27/2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

June 27, 2014

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Joint Base Andrews

12:02 P.M. CDT
 
MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s nice to see you all.  I hope you enjoyed the day or two we spent in the Twin Cities.  I know for some of you that was a homecoming.  The President certainly enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time outside of Washington, D.C. 
 
I might just add at the top that I think the last 24 hours have served as a rather apt illustration of the different approaches that are pursued by our elected leaders in Washington, D.C.  On the one hand, you have a President who is bound and determined to do anything he can, either working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress or working around Republicans, to make progress on policies that would expand economic opportunity for the middle class. 
 
On the other hand, you have Republicans in Congress who seem just as bound and determined to use every means at their disposal to try to stop the President from moving the country forward.  And in effect, that seems to preserve some of the built-in advantages that benefit the wealthy and the well-connected.  And I think you can anticipate that the President will be spending more time in the weeks ahead sort of demonstrating his determination to benefit middle-class families, and highlighting the starkly different approaches.
 
Q    Josh, was this speech his kickoff for his role heading to the midterms?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No.  I would characterize this as yet another opportunity for the President to highlight the stark difference in approaches that I was talking about at the beginning. 
 
Q    Josh, I wanted to ask you about the situation in Ukraine.  Russia is already threatening trade sanctions against Ukraine for signing a political and economic pact with the EU.  If Russia follows through with that, would that constitute the kind of destabilizing actions that would prompt U.S. sectoral sanctions?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me start with some comments that I do have on this.  As you know, there were some conversations that took place between President Poroshenko and members of the U.N. — I’m sorry, the European Council earlier today.  The European Council and the United States will continue to seek immediate and positive stabilizing action from the Russian government.  Comments from President Putin, like the ones that you cited, are meant to intimidate the Ukrainian government, and are simply unhelpful.
 
As the Council said, we expect that by Monday, June 30th, this coming Monday, that the following steps will be taken:  First, that there’s an agreement on a verification mechanism monitored by the OSCE for the ceasefire and for the effective control of the border between Ukraine and Russia.  Second, that there be a return to Ukrainian authorities of all three border checkpoints.  Third, that the remaining OSCE observers who have been held hostage will be released along with all of the other hostages that have been taken.  And fourth, that there would be the launch of substantial negotiations on the implementation of the peace plan that President Poroshenko put forward. 
 
Let me also use this opportunity to reiterate our call for President Putin to move Russian combat forces away from the border, to cease support for separatists, and to urge separatists to abide by the ceasefire and disarm.  Together, these actions would send a clear signal that Russia is interested in a diplomatic settlement resulting in stability in eastern Ukraine.
 
We’ve talked frequently about the potential that Russia has and that President Putin personally has to play a constructive role in de-escalating the conflict there.  And these are some examples of the kinds of steps that we’d like to see by Monday to demonstrate his commitment to playing that constructive role.  Threats of trade sanctions would be a pretty good example of the kinds of things that we would consider unhelpful.
 
The fact of the matter is, the kinds of agreements that Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova signed today are the kinds of agreements that should be decisions made solely by those sovereign governments.  And the undue influence by outside actors is completely inappropriate.
 
Q    You mentioned June 30th.  What’s the significance of that deadline?  Do sanctions follow the day after?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we have demonstrated — well, I guess I would say that we have signaled a clear willingness to act in concert with our partners and allies to further isolate Russia.  There have already been some steps that have been taken that have isolated Russia from the international community as a result of the unhelpful actions of the Russians, and additional unhelpful actions would lead to additional economic costs that would have to be borne by Russia.  That is an option that remains on the table. 
 
Q    June 30th is a pretty important day then. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  It is an important day in the context of seeing Russian action on the steps that I just outlined.  I’m not prepared to draw a clear line between these steps and sanctions at this point, but suffice it to say that the threat of sanctions only looms larger, and economic costs would increase, if Russia fails to take these actions.
 
Q    So all four of these actions are prerequisites in your mind?
 
MR. EARNEST:  All four of these are very specific steps that we would like to see the Russians take in advance of Monday.  And failing to take them only increases the likelihood that additional economic costs could be imposed.
 
Q    Can you tell us about the meeting this afternoon on the VA?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that the President is planning to meet with the acting head of the Veterans Administration, Sloan Gibson, and Rob Nabors, who’s the Deputy Chief of Staff that the President sent over to the VA to look into so many of the problems that have been uncovered in recent weeks at the VA. 
 
I don’t have a readout in advance of that meeting, but I know that we are working to try to provide you some information at the conclusion of that meeting about what they discussed.
 
Q    What about the timing for naming a new Secretary of the VA?  Is that going to be a topic of discussion?  Is that imminent today, next week?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any update for you in terms of the timing.  That remains a very high priority of this administration to install new leadership at the VA, to start putting in place some of the reforms that, frankly, were initiated by the previous VA Secretary, and have also been recommended by some of the other individuals who are looking at the problems at the VA.  I know that the inspector general is working hard at this.  You know that Mr. Nabors is also working hard to put together a report assessing some of the problems at the VA and maybe offering up some reforms.
 
So there’s some very important work that needs to get done at the VA, and that work will be enhanced when there is new permanent leadership at the VA.  I don’t have an update for you in terms of timing, but that search remains a high priority. 
 
Q    After that guy at the Cleveland Clinic withdrew, did that kind of put you guys back to starting all over again in your search?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No, it didn’t.  It didn’t.  We’ve had an ongoing process for some time, and we’ve made some progress in that process.
 
Q    You’ve narrowed the choices?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve made a lot of progress, and it remains a high priority.  But I’m not in a position to offer up any guidance in terms of timing at this point.
 
Q    Josh, the President several times on this trip seemed be very critical of the news media.  Why was he sort of stressing that message on this trip in particular?  He seemed to also sort of be tying in the news media with the Republicans of just focusing on false scandals and the wrong storylines. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  That’s not how I interpreted his remarks.  My interpretation is that so much of what — that what Washington is focused on seems to be materially different than what people all across the country are focused on.  I don’t see that as an indictment of the news media.  I see that —
 
Q    He said you won’t hear these things covered, you won’t see this on the nightly news; we had a conference the other day on working families, that wasn’t on the nightly news a lot.  I mean, these are the things he was saying several times.  At the fundraiser he said it as well.  You don’t see it?  I mean, the White House has said he doesn’t watch TV news, but yet he was very critical of the TV news.  How does he know what they’re covering or what they’re not?
 
MR. EARNEST:  To say that he’s not a regular viewer doesn’t mean he’s not aware of what’s on it.  But look, I think what the President is trying to highlight is his commitment to focusing on those issues that are the subject of so many discussions around kitchen tables in middle-class homes all across the country.  And those issues may not be as sexy or as intellectually captivating as some of the other things that are on the news more regularly, but it doesn’t mean that they’re less important to millions of families all across the country.
 
In fact, at least to this President, those kinds of discussions about balancing work and family obligations, and expanding economic opportunity, and better access to job training and a college education — these are the kinds of bread-and-butter issues that, again, aren’t necessarily sexy issues, but they have been the primary motivation for this President’s agenda since he decided to enter the presidential race in early 2007.
 
And that’s not an indictment of any specific news organization, but it is an indictment I think of Republicans who are focused on different priorities.  After all, they were ostensibly elected by their constituents to focus on the kinds of issues that will have the most direct impact on the lives of their constituents.  All I can say is that’s what the President is focused on.  And I think that what we have seen is a pretty apt comparison between a President who’s bound and determined to do everything he can to benefit middle-class families, and Republicans in Congress who are bound and determined to stop the President from making progress on behalf of middle-class families.
 
Q    There have been general polls that say that, in the midterms, that Republicans are likely to pick up seats in the House and potentially win the Senate.  If that’s true, then why does the President believe that maybe the public does actually believe in what this Republican message that he’s so critical about is actually translating better than his own message?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the fact is that these sort of electoral polls are going to go up and they’re going to go down.  I think what the President is interested in is having a broader national conversation about what we can do to make sure that Washington, D.C., remains responsive and in touch with the concerns that are expressed and experienced in the everyday lives of so many middle-class families. 
 
That’s one of the benefits of holding up the story of Rebekah Erler, from Minnesota — that so many of the controversies and political conflict that’s highlighted on the evening news isn’t just relevant in her life as much more basic elements of what are we going to do to make quality childcare less expensive; what are we going to do to make it a little easier for somebody to take off work if a child or a parent gets sick; what are we going to do to make sure that middle-class families have an opportunity to send their kids to college and save for retirement, and also have enough money set aside to take a modest vacation with their kids.
 
These are basic fundamental issues.  And again, I understand why these issues are in the evening news every night.  I understand why they’re not on the front page of an influential newspaper like The Washington Post.
 
Q    Why not?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, because, again, they’re not as sexy.  Maybe they don’t make —
 
Q    If you’re going to say something about the Post, the Post won a Pulitzer for explanatory journalism about poverty this year — Eli Saslow.  So I just want to point that out.  Some of our best-read content.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Again, I did not mean that as a criticism of the Post.
 
Q    I know.
 
MR. EARNEST:  I genuinely didn’t.  It’s not an intentional jab to suggest that The Washington Post is an influential newspaper.  It actually is.
 
Q    I know, I appreciate that.  You said it wasn’t on the front page.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s not on the front page every day I think is the point that I’m making.  It has been on the front page.  And I remember Eli did some good work where he traveled to Kentucky and sat with people were signing up people who were benefitting from Obamacare.
 
Q    And he wrote a book about the President’s letters that you got, if I recall.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  So there’s good work that’s done.  But again, that’s not the — again, those aren’t the blaring headlines on the front page of the Post.  And I don’t mean that as a criticism of the people who are making those decisions.  I just want to suggest that there is a difference — that while the stories that are being covered and getting front-page attention are leading the network news are interesting, and in many cases very important to the future of this country.  The conflict in Iraq in has been in the news and on the front page of The Washington Post a lot.  That’s an important issue.  But there are also important issues related to the day-to-day challenges experienced by middle-class families.
 
And I think what the President is saying is that even if they’re not on the front page of The Washington Post every day, they are at the top of his mind every day when he wakes up and goes to work in the Oval Office.
 
Q    Josh, let’s talk about landmines and the announcement this morning that the U.S. will stop acquiring them.  What is the current size of the U.S. stockpile of landmines?  And are they currently being used anywhere in the world?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not in a position to detail the inventory of landmines that are in the U.S. stockpile.  I can tell you that there was a commitment that was announced today that the United States will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles.  And what that means is we were signaling our clear aspiration to eventually accede to the Ottawa Convention.
 
Now, that does raise the question in the minds of some defense experts about the defenses that are in place along the border between North Korea and South Korea.  And let me just be clear that the announcement today in no way signals a reduction in our commitment or our ability to assist in the defense of our allies in South Korea.  This is an issue that’s going to require some additional study.  And eventually, we would like to find a way that we can, like I said, continue the robust defense that’s in place of our allies in South Korea while eventually acceding to the Ottawa Convention. 
 
Q    So is it those concerns about the situation on the Korean Peninsula that is keeping the U.S., despite this announcement, from immediately just starting to destroy our stockpile or at least committing not to use them?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think I’m in a position to sort of give you a thorough analysis of all the reasons that we may not be ready to accede to that convention today.  But I do think it is a notable adjustment of U.S. policy that we are now articulating our desire to be able to accede to the Ottawa Convention. 
 
But again, we do that knowing that our commitment to protecting our allies in South Korea has in no way been diminished.
 
Q    And on Syria, on the announcement of the President’s request for half a billion dollars to help train the rebels, does that signal that the situation in Iraq and in Syria has basically become one regional conflict?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are certainly regional elements to the violence and destabilizing activity that we’ve seen in that region.  There’s no doubt about that.   
 
I think what the announcement that you’ve seen represents a couple of things.  The first is, there has been a — there’s already been a wide range of efforts in place to support moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.  We’ve talked about in the past that this includes a significant amount of humanitarian assistance that’s been provided to the opposition but also to countries in the region who are dealing with the consequences of the violence and instability that has racked that country.  We’ve also seen the provision of a wide range of both military and non-military assistance to the Syrian opposition — to moderate elements of the Syrian opposition, I should say.
 
So the second thing is that this is an announcement that additional vetting has been done that makes the U.S. government and the Obama administration in particular more comfortable with providing additional assistance to moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.  And that’s an important next step. 
 
Ultimately, though, one element of our policy hasn’t changed, which is that finally resolving the situation in Syria is going to require a diplomatic solution.  And it’s no doubt that it’s a little disheartening that a diplomatic solution seems quite a ways off, but that continues to be, in our judgment, the only resolution to that ongoing conflict.
 
Q    Is there an expectation for timing on how Congress will take up that request?  And is it too little, too late already? 
 
MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t think so, primarily because I think that they are — this may be, at the risk of sounding naïve and overly optimistic, an area where there could be some bipartisan common ground. 
 
So, frankly, due at least in part to our travels to Minnesota, I haven’t seen all of the reaction from leaders from both parties on Capitol Hill to this request for additional funding for overseas contingency operations, but we’ll see.  Hopefully, Congress will act pretty quickly.
 
I know that, at least rhetorically, there have been some influential Republican members of Congress who have indicated that this would be a good thing to do, but I would understand if they’d want to take a look at our proposal and consider it more carefully before eventually taking action.  But hopefully, that can be done quickly, and action in the legislature can be done quickly as well.
 
Q    Our reports have armed drones flying over Iraq, and then also Iranian drones doing surveillance.  So any reaction or updates on the President’s thinking with what’s going on in Iraq?  And then secondly, there’s reports that Khattalah is going to be back in the U.S. as soon as this weekend, so any updates on or briefings that he’s had on that? 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, first let me say that I think that we have acknowledged — well, I know that we have acknowledged that we have increased the amount of intelligence-gathering and surveillance equipment in Iraq, including surveillance drones.  This is part of our effort to try to get a better sense about what’s actually happening on the ground in Iraq as it relates to the strength of ISIL.  So that’s something that we’ve previously talked about, and that is an effort that is ongoing.  And we have acknowledged publicly that the increase in resources now allows us to have around-the-clock eyes on the situation in Iraq.
 
In terms of armed drones, I’d say two things about that.  For operational details, I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Department of Defense.  But the second thing is that the President has reiterated his commitment many times to making sure that we have the resources in place and the equipment in place to provide for the protection of U.S. personnel in Iraq.  There have been other moves that have been announced by the Department of Defense to ensure that those resources and that equipment and those capabilities are at the ready.  That included the movement of an aircraft carrier in the region and other Navy vessels to provide for the protection of U.S. personnel in Iraq.  But in terms of individual operational changes in our posture, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense. 
 
In terms of Abu Khattalah, I don’t have any updates in terms of the timing of his arrival in the United States to stand trial. 
Q    Week ahead?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I do have a week ahead. 
 
Q    I have one before the week ahead.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Sure.
 
Q    We haven’t seen Rebekah’s letter, although the President quoted from it extensively in his speech.  Are we going to get to see that?  If not, why?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Only because the letter included some personal details about her family’s situation that I think she — rather, pretty understandably didn’t want to share.
 
Q    Could you just redact those?  (Laughter.)  You could.
 
MR. EARNEST:  We probably could, but I think at this point we’ve shared as much of the letter that we’re going to share at this point.
 
Q    And just one quick one.  Martin Indyk’s resignation as the Mideast peace envoy — I know his deputy has stepped up as an interim.  Will the President replace — announce a full-time permanent replacement for that position?
 
MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I’ll have to take that question.  I actually would suggest that you check with my colleagues at the Department of State.  They may have a better sense of that. 
 
The President is certainly appreciative of all that Mr. Indyk has done in pursuit of trying to find a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  He’s done really important work.  He’s an expert in this area.  He’s returning to the Brookings Institution, but we anticipate that he will continue to be involved in this administration’s efforts to try to resolve that situation.
 
We have complete confidence in his deputy who is going to take over.  And this is a process in which the United States continues to be engaged.
 
The week ahead:
 
On Monday, the President will welcome back to the White House Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.  The visit will highlight our close relationship with Chile and our strong partnership with the Bachelet administration on advancing peace and global security, social inclusion and free trade.  The President looks forward to consulting with President Bachelet on U.N. Security Council matters, other multilateral and regional issues, and ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as on expanding educational exchanges and deepening our collaboration in the areas of energy, science and technology.  The Vice President will also participate.  It sounds like a long meeting.
 
In the afternoon, the President will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month.  The First Lady will also attend that reception.

On Tuesday, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting and attend a couple of other meetings at the White House. 

On Wednesday, the President will host top economists for lunch to discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, expand opportunity, and improve the competitiveness of the American economy. 
 
On Wednesday [Thursday], the President will attend meetings at the White House.
 
On Friday, the President and First Lady will celebrate the Fourth of July by hosting military heroes and their families for an Independence Day celebration with a barbeque, a concert, and a view of fireworks on the South Lawn.  Some White House staff and their families from across the administration will also attend this event for the concert and fireworks viewing.  The event will be streamed live at whitehouse.gov/live.
 
Q    Can I ask about the economists?  This is the second recent lunch he’s having with economists.  Is it the same group?  And what did he learn from the first one, and what does he hope to learn from this one?
 
MR. EARNEST:  It’s a different group of economists.  And as you know, the President is always on the look for some outside-the-box ideas for ways that we can strengthen America’s economic competitiveness and expand economic opportunity for the middle class.
 
So again, I think the President is looking forward to what he would describe as a pretty open-ended discussion.  He’s looking for people who are legitimate experts in this field to bring their ideas.  And the President has put forward a lot of good ideas already.  He’s going to continue to push those ideas, but he’s also not going to stop looking for new ideas, some outside-the-box ideas — maybe even some ideas that might cause Republicans to drop their strident opposition to policies the President supports that could, again, move the country forward.
 
So the President is looking forward to the discussion.  I wouldn’t expect any major announcements out of the lunch, but I can tell you that it’s an opportunity for the President to have the kind of conversation and to draw out the kinds of ideas that he thinks would be good for the country.
 
Q    But there’s these two recent meetings.  And I mean, I’ve been doing this for about a year or so, and I don’t recall him having lunch with economists before.  Is there something about right now or the time that we’re in right now that would cause him to look for these fresh ideas, these out-of-the-box ideas?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, two things about that.  Like most Americans, the President has lunch every day — and we don’t tell you about who has lunch with him.  So that’s part of it.  But the President has periodically over the course of his administration looked for opportunities to sit down with experts in a wide range of fields to talk to them about their ideas for the kinds of policies that would strengthen the country.  And this is just the latest example.  There is no one thing that has precipitated this series of meetings.  But the President really enjoyed the discussion that he had with economists a couple of weeks ago, and he’s really looking forward to next week’s discussion as well.
 
Thanks, guys.

END
12:30 P.M. CDT

Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice Keynote Address at the Center for a New American Security Annual Conference

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

June 11, 2014

Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice
“The Strength of American Leadership, the Power of Collective Action”

Keynote Address at the Center for a New American Security Annual Conference
Washington, DC

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you so much Richard for that kind welcome.  And, to my good friends and former colleagues— Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell— I can’t help but note how well-rested you both look.  I’m only a little bitter.  Still, I want to thank you for your stellar service to our country both from inside government and now, again, as leading thinkers on national security.

CNAS, which you founded, does a remarkable job of preparing our next generation of national security leaders.  That work is critical, because our nation needs bright, dedicated young women and men who care deeply about our world.  We need a diverse pipeline of talent ready and eager to carry forward the mantle of American leadership.  So, thank you all. 

As President Obama told West Point’s graduating class two weeks ago, the question is not whether America will lead the world in the 21st century, but how America will lead.  No other nation can match the enduring foundations of our strength.  Our military has no peer.  Our formidable economy is growing.  We are more energy independent each year.  Our vibrant and diverse population is demographically strong and productive.  We attract hopeful immigrants from all over the world.  Our unrivaled global network of alliances and partnerships makes us the one nation to which the world turns when challenges arise.  So, American leadership is and will remain central to shaping a world that is freer, more secure, more just and more prosperous.

At West Point, President Obama outlined how America will lead in a world that is more complex and more interdependent than ever before.  As we move out of a period dominated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will lead by drawing on every element of our national power.  That power starts with our unparalleled military might, used wisely and when necessary to defend America’s core interests – the security of our citizens, our economy, and our allies.  We will lead by strengthening effective partnerships to counter an evolving terrorist threat.  We will lead by rallying coalitions and marshaling the resources of our partners to address regional and global challenges.  And, we will lead by standing firm in defense of human dignity and equality, while steering the course of history toward greater justice and opportunity for all. 

Today, I’d like to focus on one pillar of that strategy—mobilizing coalitions.  Indeed, galvanizing the international community to address problems that no one nation can solve alone is the bread and butter of our global engagement.  And, in many ways, it’s both the hardest and the most important element of how America leads on the world stage.          

This concept is not new.  Collective action has long been the hallmark of effective American leadership.  The United Nations, NATO and our Asian alliances were all built on the foundation of American strength and American values.  American leadership established the Bretton Woods system and supported open markets, spurring a rapid rise in global living standards.  Nor is this approach the province of one political party.  It was President Reagan who negotiated the Montreal Protocol, hailed today as our most successful international environmental treaty.  President George H.W. Bush insisted on UN backing and assembled a broad coalition before sending American troops into the Gulf.  And, President Clinton led the campaign to enlarge NATO, opening Europe’s door to the very nations who, as Secretary Albright put it, “knocked the teeth out of totalitarianism in Europe.”  Our history is rich with successes won not as a lone nation, but as the leader of many. 

Now, our approach must meet the new demands of a complex and rapidly changing world.  The architecture that we built in the 20th century must be re-energized to deal with the challenges of the 21st.  With emerging powers, we must be able to collaborate where our interests converge but define our differences and defend our interests where they diverge. Our coalitions may be more fluid than in the past, but the basics haven’t changed.  When we spur collective action, we deliver outcomes that are more legitimate, more sustainable, and less costly.   

As global challenges arise, we turn first, always, to our traditional allies.  When Russia trampled long-established principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and international law with its illegal annexation of Crimea, the United States rallied the international community to isolate Russia and impose costs. With American leadership, the world condemned the seizure of Crimea through an overwhelming vote in the UN General Assembly.  We expelled Russia from the G8.  Last week, the G7 met for the first time in 17 years, and we continued to concert our approach to Ukraine and other pressing global challenges.  We’ve reinforced the unity of our NATO Alliance and bolstered our commitment to Article 5.  President Obama has pledged to invest an additional $1 billion to bolster the security of our Eastern European allies against threats or intimidation.  More U.S. Army and Air Force units are now deployed to Central and Eastern Europe, more American ships patrol the Black Sea, more American planes police the Baltic skies.  And, meanwhile, with the support of the international community, Ukrainians have the chance to write a new chapter in their history. 

By working in lockstep with the EU and other partners, we imposed sanctions that are biting the Russian economy.  The IMF, the World Bank and private sector estimates all suggest that $100-200 billion in capital will flow out of Russia this year, as investors move their money to more reliable markets.  Russia’s economy contracted in the first quarter, and the IMF has declared that the country is likely in recession.  Its credit now rates just above junk status.  Russia has lost standing, influence, and economic clout by the day.  With our closest partners—Europe, the G7 and other key allies —we continue to send a common message:  Russia must cease aggression against Ukraine, halt support for violent separatists in the East, seal the border, and recognize the newly elected Ukrainian government.  If Russia does not, it faces the very real prospect of greater pressure and significant additional sanctions.

The speed and unity of our response demonstrates the unique value of America’s leadership.  Unilateral sanctions would not have had the same bite as coordinated efforts with the EU.  American condemnations alone do not carry the same weight as the UN General Assembly.  Bilateral U.S. assistance to Ukraine could not match the roughly $15 billion IMF program.  And, for our Eastern allies, American security guarantees are most powerful when augmented by NATO’s security umbrella.  

The United States’ commitment to the security of our allies is sacrosanct and always backed by the full weight of our military might.  At the same time, we expect our partners to shoulder their share of the burden of our collective security.  Collective action doesn’t mean the United States puts skin in the game while others stand on the sidelines cheering.  Alliances are a two-way street, especially in hard times when alliances matter most. 

As we approach the NATO summit in Wales this September, we expect every ally to pull its full weight through increased investment in defense and upgrading our Alliance for the future.  Europe needs to take defense spending seriously and meet NATO’s benchmark—at least two percent of GDP—to keep our alliance strong and dynamic.  And, just as we reassure allies in the face of Russia’s actions, we must upgrade NATO’s ability to meet challenges to its south—including by reinforcing the President’s commitment to build the capacity of our counterterrorism partners. 

Likewise, our historic alliances in Asia continue to underwrite regional stability, as we move toward a more geographically distributed and operationally resilient defense posture.  In the face of North Korea’s increasing provocations, we’ve developed a tailored deterrence strategy and counter provocation plan with South Korea, and we are updating our defense cooperation guidelines with Japan for the first time in almost two decades.  We aim also to deepen trilateral security cooperation and interoperability, which President Obama made a central focus of his summit with the leaders of Japan and Korea in March and his trip to the region in April. 

Improved coordination is a necessity in the Middle East as well.  The 35,000 American service members stationed in the Gulf are a daily reminder of our commitment to the region and clear evidence that the United States remains ready to defend our core interests, whether it’s disrupting al-Qa’ida or preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  At the same time, we look to our partners, both individually and through the Gulf Cooperation Council, to cooperate on missile defense and develop other critical deterrence capabilities, including in the spheres of counter-piracy, maritime security, counterterrorism and counter-proliferation. 

America will always maintain our iron-clad commitment to the security of Israel, ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge and can protect its territory and people.  Equally, we consistently defend Israel’s legitimacy and security in the UN and other international fora.  In turn, we expect Israel to stand and be counted with the US and other partners on core matters of international law and principle, such as Ukraine.

Drawing on the strength of our alliances and the reach of our partnerships, the United States’ brings together countries in every region of the world to advance our shared security, expand global prosperity, and uphold our fundamental values.    

Let me start with our shared security.  To responsibly end our war in Afghanistan, President Obama first rallied our NATO allies and ISAF partners to contribute more troops to the coalition, surging resources and helping Afghan forces take charge of their nation’s security.  As we bring America’s combat mission to an end, we’ve enlisted our allies and partners to make enduring commitments to Afghanistan’s future—so that Afghan Security Forces continue to have the resources they need, and the Afghan people have our lasting support.

Partnership is also the cornerstone of our counter-terrorism strategy designed to meet a threat that is now more diffuse and decentralized.  Core al-Qa’ida is diminished, but its affiliates and off-shoots increasingly threaten the U.S. and our partners, as we are witnessing this week in Mosul.  The United States has been fast to provide necessary support for the people and government of Iraq under our Strategic Framework Agreement, and we are working together to roll back aggression and counter the threat that the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant poses to the people of the region.  Yet, as President Obama said at West Point, we must do more to strengthen our partners’ capacity to defeat the terrorist threat on their home turf by providing them the necessary training, equipment and support.  That is why the President is asking Congress for a new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund of up to $5 billion to assist nations on the frontlines of terrorism to fight al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, and groups that embrace its violent extremist ideology.   

To shrink terrorist safe-havens and end civil conflicts, which can be breeding grounds for transnational threats, we continue to lead the international community to strengthen the foundations of peace and security.  The U.S. is the largest supporter of UN peace operations, which both reduce the need to deploy our own armed forces and mitigate the risks that fragile and failed states pose.  When violence in South Sudan broke out in December, and the world’s youngest country reached the brink of all-out war, the United States led the Security Council to augment the UN mission in South Sudan and re-focus it on protecting civilians, while we recruited, trained and equipped additional peacekeepers.  Since December, nearly 2,000 more troops have surged into South Sudan, with approximately another 1,700 expected this month. 

In Syria, by contrast, we have seen the failure of the UN Security Council to act effectively, as Russia and China have four times used their vetoes to protect Assad.  With fighting escalating, terrorist groups associated with al-Qa’ida are gaining a greater foothold in Syria, the horrific humanitarian costs are mounting, and the stability of neighboring countries is threatened.  So, while Russia and Iran continue to prop up the regime, the United States is working with our partners through non-traditional channels to provide critical humanitarian assistance and, through the London-11 group, to ramp up our coordinated support for the moderate, vetted Syrian opposition— both political and military.      

Yet, even as we strongly oppose Russia on Syria and Ukraine, we continue to work together to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons and to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  We built an unprecedented sanctions regime to pressure Iran while keeping the door open to diplomacy.  As a consequence, working with the P5+1, we’ve halted Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon and rolled it back in key respects.  Now, we are testing whether we can reach a comprehensive solution that resolves peacefully the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and bolsters our shared security.

In today’s world, the reality is: many transnational security challenges can only be addressed through collective action.  Take the threat of nuclear material in terrorist hands.  One unlocked door at any of the facilities worldwide that house weapons-usable material is a threat to everyone.  That’s why President Obama created the Nuclear Security Summit.  So far, 12 countries and 24 nuclear facilities have rid themselves of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium.  Dozens of nations have increased security at their nuclear storage sites, built counter-smuggling teams, or enhanced their nuclear security training.  Our nuclear security regime is stronger today, because we created a coalition to address the problem, and we’ll keep the momentum going when we host the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in 2016.

Consider, as well, infectious diseases like MERS, bird flu or Ebola, which present yet another type of threat to our security.  In 2012, 80 percent of countries failed to meet the World Health Organization’s deadline for preparedness against outbreaks.  The international community needed a shot in the arm.  So, the United States brought together partners from more than 30 countries and multiple international institutions to develop the Global Health Security Agenda, which we launched in February.  Our strategy, backed by concrete commitments, will move us towards a system that reports outbreaks in real time and ensures nations have the resources to contain localized problems before they become global pandemics.

As we confront the grave and growing threat of climate change, the United States is leading the world by example.  As National Security Advisor, part of my job is to focus on any threat that could breed conflict, migration, and natural disasters.  Climate change is just such a creeping national security crisis, and it is one of our top global priorities. 

Our new rule, announced last week, to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels is the most ambitious climate action ever taken in the U.S.  It’s the centerpiece of our broader climate action plan.  And, as we work toward the meeting in Paris next year to define a new global framework for tackling climate change, we’re challenging other major economies to step up too.  We’re working intensively with China, the world’s biggest emitter, to bend down their emissions curve as fast as possible.  We’ve built international coalitions to address short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon, HFCs and methane.  And, we’ve led in encouraging private investment in green infrastructure projects overseas, while reducing incentives for high-carbon energy investment.    

Our security also relies on defining and upholding rules that govern our shared spaces—rules that reject aggression, impede the ability of large nations to bully smaller ones, and establish ways to resolve conflicts peacefully.  A key element of our Asia Rebalance is collaborating with our partners to strengthen regional institutions and international norms.  That’s why we are working with ASEAN to advance a code of conduct for the South China Sea that would enhance maritime security, reinforce international law, and strengthen the regional rules of the road. 

Similarly, we are building partnerships to set standards of behavior to protect the open, reliable, and interoperable Internet, and to hold accountable those who engage in malicious cyber activity.  That’s why we’re working with our partners to expand international law enforcement cooperation and ensure that emerging norms, including the protection of intellectual property and civilian infrastructure, are respected in cyberspace.   For example, last week, working with 10 countries and numerous private sector partners, we successfully disrupted a “botnet” that had been used to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and filed criminal charges against its Russia-based administrator.  Last month, the Department of Justice indicted five Chinese military officials for hacking our nation’s corporate computers, making it clear there’s no room for government-sponsored theft in cyberspace for commercial gain.  We are working with our allies through efforts like the Freedom On-Line Coalition and the Internet Governance Forum to preserve the open Internet as driver for human rights and economic prosperity.

This brings me to the second key reason we mobilize collective action—to expand our shared prosperity.  In 2009, facing the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, President Obama led to establish the G20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation.  We needed more voices at the table, writing the rules for the global economy and committing to dramatic measures to restore growth.  Our efforts included mobilizing more resources for the IMF and World Bank to support the most vulnerable countries.  And, thanks to a broad and concerted international effort, the global economy has turned the corner.

Last year, we played a key role in enabling the 157 members of the WTO to reach a landmark agreement that will modernize the entire international trading system.  In every region of the world, we’ve brought nations together to increase trade and develop high-standard agreements to further boost growth and job creation.  This is a key pillar of our rebalance to Asia, where we’re working with 12 economies, representing almost 40 percent of global GDP, to finalize an ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership.  With the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, we’re taking what is already the largest trading partnership in the world to a new level.  To increase trade both within Africa and between Africa and the United States, we will join with Congress to extend and update the African Growth and Opportunity Act before it expires next year. 

In regions brimming with economic potential, including Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, we’re supporting entrepreneurship and fostering private sector investment.  Our Power Africa initiative will double access to electricity across the continent through more than $15 billion in private sector commitments.  We’re assisting young people throughout Africa and South East Asia to develop their business and entrepreneurship skills, as well as their leadership. 

As we approach 2015, we’re pressing our partners to deliver on the Millennium Development Goals and to devise bold new goals that will guide the next phase of the fight against poverty.  Building on the extraordinary progress in many developing countries, our approach isn’t simply about pledging more money, it’s about bringing together resources and expertise from every sector to do more with what we have and to support models of economic growth that fuel new markets.  We’re building public-private partnerships, investing in academic breakthroughs, supporting non-profits that translate ideas into action, and creating stronger connections among them all.   

Take, for example, the progress we’ve made in agricultural development.  Back in 2009, at the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, President Obama made food security a global priority backed by billions of dollars in international commitments.  In 2012, the President launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which has now grown to ten African countries, more than 160 companies, and delivered more than $7 billion in responsible planned investments in African agriculture.  And through our Feed the Future partnerships, millions of smallholder farmers are planting better seeds, using better fertilizers, and seeing their incomes rise. 

Which leads me to the third key reason we mobilize collective action.  For, however much we might like to, we rarely can force nations to respect the rights of their citizens.  So we must catalyze the international community to uphold universal values, build broad coalitions to advance human rights, and impose costs on those who violate them.  

Human rights must be protected for everyone, especially traditionally marginalized communities such as ethnic or religious minorities, LGBT persons, migrant workers, and people with disabilities.  That’s why President Obama decided to join the UN Human Rights Council, so we could lead in reforming that flawed institution from within.  In fact, we have made it more effective.  Because of our efforts, the Council has spent far more time spotlighting abuses in Qadhafi’s Libya, Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Iran than demonizing Israel. 

At the same time, the Open Government Partnership initiated by President Obama in 2011, has grown from eight countries to 64, all working together to strengthen accountable and transparent governance.  Our Equal Futures Partnership unites two dozen countries in a commitment to take concrete steps to empower women in their societies both economically and politically.  And, as civil society comes under attack in more and more places, we’re bringing countries and peoples together to counter restrictions and strengthen protections for civil society.

Moreover, we’ve focused the global community on elevating that most basic aspect of human dignity—the health and well-being of the most vulnerable people.  We’re partnering with nations that invest in their health systems.  We’re working with NGOs to improve child and maternal health, end preventable diseases, and make progress towards a goal that was inconceivable just a decade ago—the world’s first AIDS-free generation. 

Across all these vital and far-reaching challenges, we continue to bring the resources of the United States and the reach of our partnerships to bear to forge a safer and more prosperous world.  Our goals are bold and won’t be realized overnight, but the essence of U.S. leadership, as always, remains our ambition, our determination, and our dauntless vision of the possible – the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons; a world where extreme poverty is no more; where people are free to choose their own leaders; and where no child’s potential is cut short by a circumstance of her birth. 

We’ve earned our unparalleled position in the world through decades of responsible leadership.  We affirm our exceptionalism by working tirelessly to strengthen the international system we helped build.  We affirm it daily with our painstaking efforts to marshal international support and rally nations behind our leadership.  We affirm it by taking strong action when we see rules and norms broken by those who try to game the system for their own gain.  As President Obama told those graduating cadets at West Point, “What makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” 

As we leave an era of American foreign policy dominated by war, we are in a much stronger position to shape a more just and secure peace.  In doing so, we will be vigilant against threats to our security, but we also recognize that we are stronger still when we mobilize the world on behalf of our common security and common humanity.  That is the proud tradition of American foreign policy, and that is what’s required to shape a new chapter of American leadership.

Thank you very much.