1:40 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily press briefing. I have a couple items at the top, and then I’d be happy to answer your questions. A travel update: As you know, Secretary Kerry was in Baghdad, Iraq, today to meet with Iraqi government officials to welcome them on the successful formation of a new government, and to discuss how the U.S. can increase its support to Iraq’s new government in our common effort to defeat ISIL. He met with Prime Minister Abadi, President Masum, Speaker Jabouri, and Foreign Minister Jafari. Also has had a press availability since then where he’s given some more details as well.
In terms of onward travel, the Secretary is now back in Amman. He will go on to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he will attend a meeting with GCC members and other partners in the region to discuss our common efforts to defeat and ultimately destroy ISIL and the threat that it poses to Iraq, to the region, and to the world. After travel to Amman and Jeddah, Secretary Kerry will continue on travel in the Middle East in Europe, including Paris, to consult with key partners and allies on how to further support the security and stability of the Iraqi Government, combat the threat posed by ISIL, and confront Middle East security challenges. While in Paris, Secretary Kerry will attend the International Conference on Iraq.
I think you asked about this yesterday.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
MS. HARF: Just two more items. As you saw, the White House announced that the President met with members of the National Security Council this morning. Attending from the State Department was Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. I just wanted to make sure people had seen that.
And then finally, a somewhat personal but also sad note, many of you knew Michael Adler, a longtime AFP journalist who was most recently at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He covered the Iran talks with our merry little band of journalists that has gone many places around the world, spent many hours with us in Geneva and Vienna. He died Monday night unexpectedly at age 66. He witnessed the Joint Plan of Action and had been covering the comprehensive talks. We are sad for him, for his family, and that he won’t be with us anymore.
So I wanted to express condolences at the top of the briefing. He was one of our regulars who traveled with our Iran talks reporter group, who many of you also knew.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. And worked with.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you for that.
MS. HARF: For a very long time, so we are all a little sadder today at the State Department because of it.
Let’s start with the President’s speech tonight and what will, I’m sure, be your full readout of the meeting that the President had earlier today with his national security team.
MS. HARF: I don’t have any readout for you.
QUESTION: You don’t want to preview his speech by giving us – by telling us what the most interesting points of it are?
MS. HARF: If this was my last day on the job, maybe that would be something I’d like to do.
QUESTION: You would?
MS. HARF: In general, the President looks forward to speaking directly to the American people about the threat posed by ISIL, how we have already taken steps to fight the group, and indeed, what we will be doing going forward. As you know, a part of that is coalition building. Secretary Kerry’s in the region as we speak to do just that, so these are ongoing conversations, but I think you’ll hear more on all of those issues tonight.
QUESTION: You – and this is just a logistical thing, but you don’t know – oftentimes, when the Secretary is away and the President convenes meetings like this, the Secretary will participate by a —
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Is that not possible this time?
MS. HARF: I don’t think – I think because he was in Iraq in meetings, I don’t believe he was able to – and then en route back to Jordan. I can check if he did, but Deputy Burns did go to the meeting.
MS. HARF: Yes, Samir.
QUESTION: On the international convention – International Conference on Iraq, what do you want to – what do you expect to come of it – out of it, and how come it’s separate from what the U.S. is doing?
MS. HARF: It’s not separate. These are all complementary actions. We are working with partners and allies around the world to see how all of us can play a role in confronting and ultimately defeating ISIL. So this is part of that effort —
QUESTION: But —
MS. HARF: And at the cornerstone, the heart of that effort, as you heard the Secretary say today, is this new Iraqi Government, its inclusiveness that it’s formed now, and really supporting the Iraqi Government in its efforts. So that’s a key part of the conference, obviously, and that’s what we’ll be focused on there.
QUESTION: When it’s going to be held?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a specific date. We’ll get that all around to people.
QUESTION: But I think that the —
MS. HARF: It’s – the Secretary will be going there in a few days. I just don’t have all the dates in front of me.
QUESTION: But isn’t the French president going to Iraq, I think on Friday?
MS. HARF: I will let the French president speak for his own travel schedule.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up on the President’s speech tonight. He’s going to, of course —
QUESTION: Can I stay on the Iraq thing?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s on the same topic.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Okay. He’s going to focus on garnering the kind of support from Congress, from the American people and so on. And obviously he’s going to ask for money to finance —
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to preview the specifics of the President’s speech.
QUESTION: Now, let me ask you, when the Secretary meets tomorrow in Jeddah, will he also ask the Arab participants in this coalition to also foot the bill, so to speak, to pay for the tremendous cost that is likely to be —
MS. HARF: Well, he’ll be talking to our GCC partners about what role we can all play here and what that looks like. I don’t have specifics to preview for you of those conversations.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, this is going to be a very expensive venture. So shouldn’t they sort of come forward? I mean, looking at their record, the reason I say this, Marie, is looking at their record, they really are long on promises but short on delivery. This has been their track record. So do you expect them to deliver on this, to put their money where their mouth is?
MS. HARF: Well, to be clear, Said, we worked with a number of these countries, including the Saudis, on joint counterterrorism efforts. If you look at what the Saudis did when al-Qaida, the affiliate in Saudi Arabia, was a serious group, they took the fight to them. So let’s be clear about some of the history here. But there are a number of ways all of these partners can play a role. Obviously, a financial component is one part of it, but I’m not going to preview what the Secretary will be discussing with them.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe – my final question on the speech.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you believe that by the time we wake up tomorrow that area from Tal Afar in Iraq all the way down to Raqqah and down through – to Deir al-Zour will be bombarded in Syria?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything on the specifics in the President’s speech to preview for you.
QUESTION: On this coalition against ISIL, do you have the list of countries which have confirmed they are part of this international coalition?
MS. HARF: Well, let’s be clear what we’re talking about when we talk about a coalition. This is not what I think some people traditionally think of as a military coalition. This is a group of countries that we —
QUESTION: I know. I understand that.
MS. HARF: Well, let me finish and then you can follow up – that will do things like provide military support to our Iraqi partners. A number of countries are already doing that. To stop the flow of foreign fighters. Obviously, we work with countries around Iraq and Syria on that. Countering ISIL’s funding and financing. We’ve talked about working with Gulf partners, particularly, to cut off some of the private citizen funding. Working with other countries on the ransom issue to cut off that funding. Addressing the humanitarian crisis and delegitimizing ISIL’s ideology. These are all parts of that.
MS. HARF: So obviously, we have a broad list of who has pledged publicly to support some aspect of fighting ISIL and hopefully we can share some of that with you. So we’re putting together this list, but I want to make sure people are clear that we’re not talking about a purely military coalition as I think in the past, particularly with the last Iraq situation. That’s what was really focused on.
QUESTION: So can you give us a list or the number of countries which are part of this coalition?
MS. HARF: We’re working on putting all of that together. There are a number of countries who’ve said things publicly, so as we can provide that we will provide that to you.
QUESTION: Just —
MS. HARF: Yes, James.
QUESTION: — by way of corrective, when you suggest that the Iraq conflict that was presided over by Messrs. Bush and Cheney involved a coalition that was exclusively military —
MS. HARF: Not exclusively, but I think when people use the term “coalition of the willing,” that’s what they were referring to.
MS. HARF: And it was – colloquially it became known as something that was military, I think, in its usage.
QUESTION: Because the Japanese, for example, were participants in that coalition and were not participating with military assets, correct?
MS. HARF: I’m not – well, I’m not – I don’t remember the exact Japanese participation in that, but I think when people colloquially use that word they tend to think of military, and I just want to be clear about that.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the meeting that is going to take place tomorrow in Jeddah. The ambassador – the Russian ambassador to Lebanon said that the people that should be there are not there, namely Iran, Syria, and Russia. Do you believe that this —
MS. HARF: Well, this is a GCC meeting.
QUESTION: — this is basically – this is a U.S.-friendly meeting? It’s not including everybody that is fighting that war against terror?
MS. HARF: All of – well, first, this is a meeting of the specific countries —
MS. HARF: — declared GCC partners, on this issue. It is not the only meeting by any means we will have on this. There will be a number of meetings, for example, at the UN General Assembly, including a Security Council session the President will chair on foreign fighters. So I would venture to guess all members of the Security Council will likely be there, so that includes at least one of those countries you just mentioned. But we are not going to work with the Assad regime to fight ISIS; we’ve been clear about that. And when it comes to Iran, we’re not going to be coordinating with them. We are open to having conversations with them, but I don’t have any preview for you on what that might look like.
QUESTION: Wasn’t there some sort of meetings last week between the Secretary of Defense and Iranian on —
MS. HARF: The Secretary of Defense?
QUESTION: I think it was —
MS. HARF: No, there were not.
QUESTION: — Secretary of Defense.
MS. HARF: There was a bilateral between a State Department —
QUESTION: It was Burns.
QUESTION: Burns. I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: Yeah. Uh-huh.
QUESTION: It was Burns in the – I take it back.
MS. HARF: There was a nuclear negotiation bilateral meeting —
MS. HARF: — that took place, and Iraq was brought up and discussed very briefly on the margins of that meeting, as it has been in the past. But again, those are very focused on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: But by default, when you strike ISIS positions and so does the Syrian regime, aren’t you really basically on the same side doing – targeting the same enemy?
MS. HARF: No. We said we are not making common cause with the Assad regime here. That while we may at times be targeting members of the same terrorist organization, the Syrian regime is the reason they’ve been allowed to flourish, and indeed the reason they’ve grown so strong not just in Syria but also in Iraq. So we will not be making common cause with them, and they are not the solution here, either, to the ISIS problem.
QUESTION: So given that and the position that you will have nothing to do with the Assad regime, how much more important does that or how much – how much importance does that place on support for the moderate opposition?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. It’s a key part of our strategy here.
QUESTION: And it appears as though people on – some people on the Hill are not particularly enthused about that. It —
MS. HARF: Well, I think there are a lot of other people on the Hill who are incredibly enthused about that.
QUESTION: Okay, well, I mean, would you expect —
MS. HARF: You can find people on the Hill to support pretty much any position across the board.
QUESTION: It’s sort of like scripture. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I don’t even know what to do with that, so —
QUESTION: Are you going to get into Talmudic interpretations?
MS. HARF: But I think there is a general —
QUESTION: But —
MS. HARF: — consensus that supporting the vetted moderate opposition in Syria is the way that we think it’s best to support the force that’s fighting both the Assad regime and ISIS.
QUESTION: And is – does that – that includes with military assistance?
MS. HARF: Well, the President, as you know, at the West Point speech did propose a train-and-equip mission —
MS. HARF: — done by the Department of Defense. We are very committed to that, still. Obviously, we need Congressional action.
QUESTION: Right, but it doesn’t look like you’re going to get congressional approval.
MS. HARF: Well, we may.
QUESTION: Well —
MS. HARF: Don’t discount the ability of Congress to act quickly.
QUESTION: Is there concern that if that goes ahead – and I realize it’s a hypothetical, but it’s a hypothetical that you would like to think is going to happen —
MS. HARF: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: — that the same thing would happen to those weapons as happened to the weapons that you gave to the Iraqi army, which were then taken over by ISIS, ISIL, and you’re now having to bomb?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s always, of course, a risk whenever we train and equip people – particularly on the equip side – anywhere around the world. Obviously, the risk is particularly acute when we’re fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq. So this is something that we are focused on. It’s why we vet members. I think that’s why probably some people think it should’ve gone faster, because our vetting does take quite a long time to provide assistance and why we are now at a place where we have a proposal with Congress, where we feel comfortable —
MS. HARF: — moving forward even despite the risk.
QUESTION: Right, but – I understand the vetting, but you can’t vet someone to win in combat. I mean, you can’t —
MS. HARF: And there’s always a risk.
QUESTION: There’s no amount of questions or background check that you can do on someone, on an individual or even a group of people, to vet them to —
MS. HARF: Well, that’s not just security vetting, although that’s part of it, but it’s also who we think it’s best – most appropriate —
QUESTION: Right. But you —
MS. HARF: — from a battlefield perspective to provide assistance.
QUESTION: But the vetting can’t predict accurately —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — that these people aren’t going to lose in battle.
MS. HARF: Well, you can’t predict with any – with 100 percent certainty. But we – when we look at who to assist in any way, we take all these factors into account. And obviously, that’s always a risk, but we think that the reward from that outweighs the risk.
QUESTION: Okay. But you believe that the – what remains or what is of the Free Syrian Army still is the best and most capable and most likely to win in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not making battlefield predictions about who will, quote, “win.” We know the Assad regime has a lot of firepower. We know ISIS has a lot.
QUESTION: Right. It just seems like if —
MS. HARF: But they are who we support for a variety of reasons that you are aware of.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: For a variety of – oh, right. Okay.
MS. HARF: Of which you are aware – reasons.
QUESTION: Yeah, but if – so – but to destroy – to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS, at least as it relates to the situation in Syria, wouldn’t you be – wouldn’t your chances of winning and having that goal achieved be better working with Assad, who you just said has a large amount of firepower and whose forces are probably most, at the moment at least, most able to take them on?
MS. HARF: Well, but let’s back up here for a second. Not only – well, yes, on one hand the Assad regime may be taking action against ISIS. On the other hand, they have allowed them to flourish and continue to do so.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: And on the other hand, they aren’t the answer here. What is the answer is a broad coalition of countries around the world who want to see ISIS destroyed and have partners on the ground who are capable who can do that. And the Assad regime is not going to be a part of that.
QUESTION: All right. Last one then. Is it your hope, is it the Administration’s hope that the much-maligned Geneva process can get back underway in terms of trying to – or is that just a – in terms of trying to find an alternative – a political solution? Or is it now to the point where that’s just hopeless and a military – if not solution, a military interim solution is needed?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve always said that resuming a third round of negotiations is dependent upon the Assad regime doing a few things – namely, agreeing to discuss a transitional governing body with full executive powers, as is cited in the Geneva communique – and the regime has refused to do so. The opposition agreed to. So at this point, we – that needs to happen in order for a third round to occur.
QUESTION: Marie, on the Free Syrian Army, do you have the feeling that they can actually control whatever territory they can – let’s say if the U.S. goes in and bombs and clears a territory, they can really control it, considering that the Iraqi army was not able to, let’s say, control their territory, so to speak?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I don’t have any further battlefield analysis to do for you. We know they’re facing a tough fight here on several fronts – not just ISIS, not just the regime, but also Nusrah and other extremist groups. So this is a tough challenge, but we think it’s important to continue our support to them, increase our support to them.
But to be clear, we have said that we will take on the threat from ISIL. We won’t be stopped at geographic boundaries. And that’s, I think, what we’re focused on right now.
QUESTION: And if and once the strikes begin in – on Syrian territory, do you expect that to be expanded?
MS. HARF: You’re getting ahead of a policy speech that hasn’t happened yet, Said.
QUESTION: Right, that’s true. That’s true. But do you expect that to sort of include targets that belong to the regime later on?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of a policy speech that has not been made yet.
MS. HARF: What else on this? James.
QUESTION: When the President of the United States requests television time in prime time to address the American people, that’s a big deal. What’s at stake for him tonight?
MS. HARF: What’s at stake for him? Well, I think my colleagues at the White House might be able to answer that more directly. But again, I think the President and the Secretary both believe it’s important to speak directly to the American people about a threat that Americans are very focused on in a way, I think, the general population really is now paying a lot of attention to. He thinks that’s important to speak directly to the American people, talk about what the threat is, and talk about how we’re going after it very clearly.
We have – he – particularly, specifically the President has shown throughout this Administration that no matter how long it takes, he will take the fight directly to terrorist groups, whether it’s al-Qaida in Pakistan, al-Qaida in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, taking out their leader just last week, and that this is a process that takes time and takes a number of different pieces to the puzzle to really go after them in a holistic way. He has a track record of doing this. We are facing a new challenge, and I think it’s important at this point for him to speak directly to the American people about that challenge.
QUESTION: You’ve made it clear you don’t want to preview any of the contents of the speech, and that’s certainly understandable. Can you at least assure us that we will hear something new in this speech that we haven’t heard over the last two weeks? Indeed, can you assure us that this isn’t just an effort at damage control from the “we don’t have a strategy yet” moment?
MS. HARF: Well, I think the President doing an address to the nation from the White House in prime time is nothing at all what you would term damage control. This is an important moment for him to speak directly to the American people. It’s just – that’s an assertion that is not based in any way in fact. He’s spoken about ISIL a number of times – again, so this isn’t something new for him. But this is a specific moment where we thought it was important to do so.
QUESTION: And the American people will hear something new from him?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any previews of the speech for you.
QUESTION: To the conference in Paris. How is that going to work (inaudible) according to the French, coordinating to tackle the Islamic State? How – so would I assume – and then given that the French president is going to Baghdad and then he will be leading this conference, that the U.S. and the French are going to work together on this? Or —
MS. HARF: The French are a key ally and partner in this effort, absolutely. Absolutely.
QUESTION: So what is this —
MS. HARF: And the Secretary is going. All of this is going to be coordinated.
QUESTION: And is the Secretary leading that? I mean, clearly it’s being hosted by the French, but —
MS. HARF: The French are – I don’t have any more specifics about the setup of the conference, but it is being hosted by the French.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Are there U.S. plans to go to the United Nations Security Council to get sanctity of this international coalition against ISIL? Because you have been there in the past, both in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: Again, this is not a military coalition, per se. That’s a piece of it, but there’s a much broader piece here. I don’t have anything in terms of Security Council action to preview for you. But as the President has made clear a number of times, including in the readout of his meeting with congressional leaders yesterday, the President has the authority to undertake actions to protect the United States, including to go after terrorist organizations like ISIL. So we’ve made that clear from the beginning, certainly reiterated that again yesterday.
QUESTION: Yeah, but this is not a unilateral U.S. action. You are (inaudible) lot of nations in this action, right?
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: And several times in the past you have gone to the UN Security Council to get their approval to have more and more nations join that peace coalition.
MS. HARF: Well, every effort is different, and I don’t have anything to preview in terms of Security Council action.
QUESTION: And early this week, senior Indian officials were here in this building talking about various issues. Was this issue discussed with them?
MS. HARF: Senior NATO —
QUESTION: Indian – Indian diplomats.
MS. HARF: Oh, Indian. I’m sorry, I thought you said NATO. My mind is still on NATO.
QUESTION: They met the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and others in this building. What – did you people talk about Iraq and sort India’s —
MS. HARF: I’m not sure. Let me see if I have anything on that.
QUESTION: And did you ask India to join the coalition?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure if I have anything on the meeting. I don’t have anything on the meeting. Let me see if I can get that for you. Obviously, we won’t outline every diplomatic discussion we have about this issue or how we discuss how every country might contribute to the coalition, but obviously, we’re having those discussions with a number of countries. I just don’t know if it was a topic here. I can check.
QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on —
MS. HARF: Let me have Matt and then we’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted – it sounds as though you’re not going to coordinate with Iran but you are willing to accept whatever they might do as – against ISIL as being helpful. So in —
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t go that far.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, if it’s – if it is in line with your aim as well as their aim, even if it’s not coordinated, that is not a bad – not necessarily a bad thing?
MS. HARF: Well, we wouldn’t support any support to illegal militias in Iraq.
MS. HARF: And obviously, Iran has specific limitations on arms —
MS. HARF: — even to other countries like Iraq.
QUESTION: So – but it is possible, as you used the phrase “common cause.” It is possible for you to have common cause with Iran in the fight against ISIL; it is not possible with the Assad regime. Is that correct?
MS. HARF: I think if you want to simplify it, that’s a fine formulation.
MS. HARF: What I would say is we – the Assad – you are correct that we do not have common cause with the Assad regime. They have allowed them to flourish. They have allowed them to really grow in strength. So the answer here isn’t the Assad regime. I’m not saying the answer is Iran either. I’m saying the answer is a broad coalition. But —
QUESTION: Where I’m – what I’m getting to here is the Secretary in his comments on the formation of the new Iraqi Government the other day said every country has a role to play.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And it sounds as though – or every country could have a role to play.
MS. HARF: Could. I would emphasize could.
QUESTION: So I’m just wondering if anyone other than Assad – the Assad regime is specifically excluded.
MS. HARF: I can check. Good question.
QUESTION: And I’m also wondering if you would envisage or if you would request any assistance from the Israelis in this —
MS. HARF: Also a good question.
QUESTION: — in this cause.
MS. HARF: The answer is I don’t know.
QUESTION: You don’t know? Because you certainly share common cause —
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: — with the Israelis on fighting ISIL —
MS. HARF: And fighting —
QUESTION: — and terrorism in general.
MS. HARF: Terrorists. Mm-hmm. Absolutely.
QUESTION: But as you know, in the past some Arab countries have been skittish, to say the least, about being identified with any cause that is associated with Israel.
MS. HARF: Let me check on that piece and maybe we can talk about it – that a little more tomorrow. I can try and get some clarity.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any intelligence that the Israelis might be providing over ISIL?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, I’m not going to read out intelligence like that for you.
QUESTION: But in fact, the Israeli press has been saying that Israel has been providing intelligence.
MS. HARF: The Israelis can read out their own intelligence to their press if they’d like to. I’m certainly not going to.
QUESTION: Marie, let me do a follow-up on this. Yesterday was a news – I don’t know if this was talked here or not, but the speaker of the family of Sotloff, the journalist, said that he was sold when he was trying to cross from Turkey to Syria. And this is a very worrying news if this is true, because —
MS. HARF: I addressed it last night on CNN —
QUESTION: Yeah, but the question is —
MS. HARF: — and I can address it again today if you’d like.
QUESTION: No, but my point is: Who in Syria in this moment – and also considering some of the voices in the Hill – is moderate? Because it seems that there is not any moderate group there.
MS. HARF: Well, let’s – there’s a few points here. First, as the Secretary has said, we were devastated by the murder of Steven Sotloff, also by the murder of James Foley. We spared no effort to bring them home. But I want to underscore here we have seen no information that leads us to believe Steven Sotloff was ever in the custody of the moderate Syrian opposition that we work with officially, nor that he was handed over to them – by them, excuse me, to ISIL.
So obviously, the FBI has an open investigation into this right now. They can speak most specifically to the details. But I want to be clear about that because we do work with the moderate vetted opposition. That’s the Free Syrian Army and it’s the SOC. That’s why we have identified these coalitions of moderate opposition members that we work with, and that’s who we provide our assistance to. So there are a lot of different groups and people on the ground operating, but that’s why we look very specifically at who we give our assistance to.
Yes, behind you. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Marie, on Iraq, can you comment on reports from Iraq that Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Shiite militias are not just pushing back ISIL as a result of U.S. airstrikes; they’re also preventing Sunnis from – who fled the violence from returning to their homes?
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. I’m happy to check with our team. I had not seen those reports.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes, Said.
QUESTION: If (inaudible) on CNN, I’m sorry, I failed to see it. But —
MS. HARF: Okay. You guys don’t all watch CNN every day?
QUESTION: I wasn’t —
MS. HARF: Where’s Elise when she —
QUESTION: Right. Could you tell us what you actually said about —
QUESTION: Wait, I was waiting for the James Rosen riposte.
MS. HARF: Because you’re watching Fox, right.
QUESTION: I wasn’t watching – I mean, I was in transit.
QUESTION: I know to leave that well enough alone. (Laughter.) Contrary to my reputation. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But what – how do you – what do you say to these allegations?
MS. HARF: It’s what I just said there.
QUESTION: But these groups have done this historically. They do —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: They take these —
MS. HARF: These groups. Let’s be careful on making broad generalizations.
QUESTION: Militant groups have, whether in Iraq or in Syria or even in Lebanon at one time, they would actually, as horrible as that sounds, they would sell the hostages from one group to another.
MS. HARF: I understand the history, Said. And again, that’s why I want to be clear. The FBI has an open investigation. They are attempting to ascertain all of the details about both the Sotloff and Foley cases right now, but we have seen no evidence that the moderate Syrian opposition we work with – that Steven Sotloff was ever in their custody or was handed over by them to ISIL. So that’s an important point, I think, to make, because it’s a serious allegation. You’re absolutely right.
QUESTION: So you refute these allegations?
MS. HARF: I say we have no information. Of course, the FBI has an ongoing investigation.
MS. HARF: Anything else on ISIS?
MS. HARF: Okay, go – yeah, here, Abigail, and then behind.
QUESTION: On arming the moderate rebels, Reid was reflecting on his meeting with the President and said as part of the international —
MS. HARF: Who was reflecting on it? I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Senator Reid.
MS. HARF: Okay, sorry.
QUESTION: He said as part of the international coalition, I believe England, Great Britain, will step forward. I understand that Poland is part of the coalition that’s been put forward. Can you confirm that?
MS. HARF: Again, we’re working with a number of countries. A number of them have publicly made statements about their contributions and are hoping in the not-too-distant future to be able to share more sort of collated in one place about who publicly has said they would contribute resources.
QUESTION: Have you discussed the Syrian aspect of your strategy with the Russian?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I am happy to check with our team. We obviously have an existing counterterrorism work that we do with the Russians broadly speaking and historically speaking, but I can check if this has come up. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Because they’re —
MS. HARF: But they’re also part of the Security Council, and as I said, at UNGA there will be Security Council sessions dedicated to the ISIL conversation that they will certainly be a part of.
QUESTION: Yeah, but they’ve been blocking all kind of resolution in the UN —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — and as you well know, they are heavily involved in the Syrian crisis. So you didn’t – you haven’t —
MS. HARF: Well, they’re certainly very supportive – they’ve been supportive of the Assad regime. Let me check with our team and see. The answer is I really just don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: I can check for you.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. HARF: Anything else on this? Yeah.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on it?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Given that Syria has handed over some of these chemical weapons, what is the next step to —
MS. HARF: So the —
QUESTION: — try and rein this in?
MS. HARF: Yes. The OPCW fact-finding mission – it was established to review allegations of CW use in Syria – has issued a second report that concludes with high confidence that there is compelling confirmation that a toxic chemical was used as a weapon systematically and repeatedly in Syria between April and August of this year. This is obviously referring to the chlorine attacks that we were looking into between April and May of 2014. It emphasized these attacks were carried out by helicopters. Obviously, we are deeply troubled by the reports – by this report. The work of the team, it is our understanding, will continue since there are additional reports of CW use that have not been addressed in their first two reports.
Look, as we’ve said all along, we have concerns still, along with the rest of the international community, about the omissions related to Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to the OPCW. Obviously, it’s a good thing that the large amount of chemical weapons we were able to remove were removed, but this is an ongoing process here, and these concerns need to be addressed.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: As you know, as a matter of practice, the OPCW reports never are engaged in the business of identifying the perpetrators of such attacks.
MS. HARF: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: Only the means of delivery and so on.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: Are you implying from the podium that the presence of helicopters in these attacks is in and of itself prima facie evidence that it was the Assad regime that was responsible for these attacks?
MS. HARF: Yes, not just implying, but the moderate opposition forces in Syria do not possess air capability powerful, obviously, that could do this. They just don’t have these kind of air capabilities. This points to the conclusion that the Assad regime is responsible for the attacks. They are the ones with this helicopter capability.
QUESTION: And what does it say for the state of affairs in Syria that the Assad regime would return to the use of chemical weapons as a tactic in this conflict from April to August of this year, after the events of August of 2013 and the intervention by the Russians and so forth? What do you think it says?
MS. HARF: Well, just one quick comment on chlorine because I think there’s been some confusion about that. Chlorine is not required to be declared under the Chemical Weapons Convention unless it’s directly related to a CW program. So obviously, it can be repurposed, which may have been the case here, so we’re looking into now when they made their declaration, what in fact was accurate and whether it should have been declared then.
But again, the fact that we were able to get a huge amount of chemical weapons out of Syria for destruction is an important milestone, but there is more work to do and we do have serious concerns that remain, and look, the Assad regime has gone to any end to use brutality against its own citizens, including with these kinds of weapons as well.
QUESTION: So is there a need for another round of – a second kind of agreement with them to say, “Okay, fess up and let’s have the rest of them,” or what are you —
MS. HARF: Well, the Security Council is going to stay on top of this – these concerns, press Syria to be fully forthcoming. But if you remember, the Security Council voted unanimously on the chemical weapons resolution last year at the UN General Assembly, so they took quite serious action on this issue when it arose last year. So we will continue pressing this. We will continue pressing the Russians to press this with the Syrian regime.
QUESTION: Marie, I just wanted to ask you about the veracity of the evidence that it was actually bombarded from the air. You are certain that the bombardment of this chlorine – alleged chlorine attacks were done from the air?
MS. HARF: That is the assessment of the OPCW fact-finding mission and is consistent with our assessment as well.
QUESTION: Because I recall distinctly in Iraq, it was a favorite weapon of the insurgents. They would put it with IEDs on the side and create this —
MS. HARF: Well, that’s now how it was used in Syria.
MS. HARF: It was used from helicopters.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Independent Election Commission in Afghanistan today announced that they will announce the election results by the weekend. Is it a sigh of relief for you?
MS. HARF: Well, we continue to engage with the candidates at the highest level. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman is now in Kabul to support the Afghan electoral process. We have urged both candidates to abide by their commitments to form a government of national unity as soon as possible. The audit process is still ongoing, but obviously, we think this should happen as soon as we can – it can do so.
QUESTION: One of the candidates, Dr. Ghani, today asked his other opponent, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, to join the unity government. How do you see his statement?
MS. HARF: Well, they’ve both pledged to respect the results of the audit and to work together to form a national unity government that helps secure the stability and prosperity of their country. So obviously, that’s what they’ve pledged to and what we want to see them do at the end of this process.
QUESTION: I have one more. There is increasing concern inside Afghanistan that the Administration is now entirely focused on meeting the challenges of ISIL, as a result of which it’s diverting resources and attention from fighting the – both Taliban and al-Qaida, which will give them more space inside Afghanistan.
MS. HARF: Well, we can do more than one thing at once. We are obviously still very focused on the situation in Afghanistan. Indeed, it was a key topic of discussion at the NATO summit recently, along with ISIL and with Ukraine. So we’re very focused on what our post-2014 presence will look like, on what that relationship will be, but it is still something that we are very, very committed to.
QUESTION: Change in subject?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: I have two subjects that I think we can address quickly and then a longer engagement, and if we want to pause for other subjects before the longer one, I’m happy to do that.
MS. HARF: Okay. Buckle up.
QUESTION: First, on the persecution of Arab Christians in Iraq, and other minorities – last week, the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako made an impassioned plea for greater attention to this, and he specifically used the term genocide. Does the United States Government regard that there is a genocide underway regarding persecution of Christians anywhere in the world right now?
MS. HARF: Anywhere in the world right now? Okay, I can check on that.
QUESTION: Well, in this context or any other, are Christians subject to genocide right now?
MS. HARF: Anywhere in the world? I can check with our team and – anywhere in the world, if we would use that term. What we said —
QUESTION: Generally, we know where it might likely be, so —
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I’ll check with our team to see if we use that term, James. I don’t have a map of the world in front of me and where we use the term genocide and where we don’t.
QUESTION: Behind you, though.
MS. HARF: I know. It’s not annotated, unfortunately for me.
What we said when we first took action – in terms of minority communities in Iraq, when we first took action to help break the siege of Mount Sinjar, the President said it was because there was a strong potential for genocide. So obviously, that’s a word we’ve used in reference to Iraq and the minority communities. We know the Yezidi community, the Christian community, a number of minority communities are at great risk in Iraq right now. We have put resources towards NGOs that are helping them, but again, that’s why we all need to come together to fight ISIL, who, unfortunately, often direct much of their brutality at these minority groups.
QUESTION: If you could do that as a taken question, perhaps, as to whether Christians are presently being subjected to genocide.
MS. HARF: Anywhere?
QUESTION: In Iraq or elsewhere. Obviously, I don’t have in mind St. Louis or North Korea or lots of other places in the world.
MS. HARF: Okay, yeah. I’m happy to check on that.
QUESTION: Although North Korea might be (inaudible).
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this point James made – I mean, that in Mosul, the Christian community, which is the oldest in the world, has been actually ethnically cleansed from that area. Do you call that a genocide?
MS. HARF: Let me check on what terms we use here. I know they have specific meanings, and I want to be very precise. So let me check, and I will take that as a question.
MS. HARF: Just a little update, and I put a statement out on this yesterday, that we have, in consultation with the CDC, facilitated the medical evacuation of a fourth U.S. citizen – and this I put out yesterday, so this isn’t new new – who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone. As we did in the three previous cases, every precaution was taken to move the patient safely and securely; was done through private charter in very controlled steps using plans and equipment devised by the CDC. Because of privacy, I won’t be giving any more details out.
But again, as the CDC has stated repeatedly, there is no significant risk to the United States from Ebola.
QUESTION: There is speculation presently that an American government worker of some kind may have been infected, and I’m just wondering if you can speak to that.
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I know there’s been some speculation like that. Let me check on that.
QUESTION: I’m happy to defer to other questioners and other subjects before we go to a lengthy engagement on Benghazi.
QUESTION: Oh, can I get – (laughter) – can I try this one?
QUESTION: See how good I am?
MS. HARF: Don’t everyone jump in at once there. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It could be lengthy, but – the one is —
MS. HARF: Full disclosure by Mr. Rosen.
The one is that Putin and Rouhani are going to be meeting, or they’re expected to meet, in Tajikistan on Friday, and that there is a discussion – there could be a discussion on a oil for goods deal.
MS. HARF: Ah, yes.
QUESTION: Is this something that the U.S. would support?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve spoken out about this a little bit in the past, and in the past had said we saw nothing at that time to indicate any real progress had been made in terms of that kind of agreement, because I know there’s been some questions about this in the past. We’ll study the details as they emerge. There’s, I know, reports of various economic deals between Russia and Iran. If there are deals that are sanctionable, we will act. We can’t determine sanctionability in the abstract, but we will respond to violations of our sanctions if they do occur.
I don’t want to get ahead of anything, though. There are lots of rumors about what may actually transpire from this, so we will watch and see.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on another subject, on Egypt, you might’ve seen that – well, from what we can determine, there could be as many as 65 people that have gone on a hunger strike in Egypt to demand the release of activists and to highlight laws that oppress, and was wondering if you have any comment on that or —
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen the hunger strike reports.
QUESTION: — have you seen it?
MS. HARF: But we have been very clear when it comes to detentions for political reason, trials for political reasons, that Egypt needs to respect freedom of expression and all of the different parts that lead to a democracy in terms of people making themselves heard. So we’ve long expressed our concerns.
QUESTION: But —
QUESTION: You’re not aware of the specific —
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I hadn’t seen the hunger strike reports. I will check with our team.
QUESTION: On the (inaudible) —
QUESTION: On Egypt, on Egypt.
MS. HARF: On Egypt.
QUESTION: Do you have any guidance about Counselor Tom Shannon talks with Egyptian officials today?
MS. HARF: I don’t. Let me see if we can put something out after the briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I just don’t have an update.
QUESTION: I have a very quick question. Is the Secretary expected to meet with any Palestinian Authority people in the next few days?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any additional schedule updates than I announced at the top.
QUESTION: Okay. And very quick follow-up: Yesterday, the Israeli prosecutor’s office filed charges against an Israeli policeman responsible for beating up a U.S. teenager back in – back then (inaudible). Are you aware of that? Did they share that with you?
MS. HARF: I wasn’t. Let me check with our —
QUESTION: They filed against one policeman —
MS. HARF: Let me check on that, Said.
QUESTION: — although the video shows a number of people.
MS. HARF: Let me check on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask —
MS. HARF: Matt.
QUESTION: — just very briefly —
MS. HARF: Yes, you can.
QUESTION: — before James goes into his extended dialogue? One, on Ukraine, do you have any reaction, response to President Poroshenko’s speech today in which he sounded a bit more hopeful than he has in the past?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. We obviously saw his comments regarding Russian troops being withdrawn from Ukraine. We can’t independently verify these. The ceasefire does continue to mostly hold, although there have been some violations overnight. And of course, even if we eventually can verify his claims about the Russian troops pulling back, there would still be Russian troops that remain there. So obviously, any de-escalatory steps would be good ones. But there is much more work to be done here.
QUESTION: Okay. But you do see these as de-escalatory steps if, in fact, what Poroshenko said is correct? That would be (inaudible).
MS. HARF: If it’s correct, but it is far from enough.
QUESTION: I understand. Okay.
MS. HARF: It would be a good tiny first step.
MS. HARF: How about I put it that way?
QUESTION: All right. And then off of Ukraine: Yesterday, we – myself and a colleague tried to get you to take a position or elaborate or even explain what the U.S. position is on the Scottish independence referendum. Have you in the last 24 hours decided that this is either a good, a bad thing? Are you concerned at all about its implications not just for the EU, of which you’re not a member, but for NATO?
MS. HARF: Well, I think what I will do today is repeat what the President said. And the President’s comments continue to stand as the U.S. Government position on this matter, and I will remind you of what he said, which I did not do yesterday. “We have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have, the United Kingdom, remains strong, robust, united, and an effective partner.” Obviously, ultimately these decisions need to be made by the people of Scotland. But I want to reiterate what the President said. That’s obviously our policy. I don’t have much more analysis for you beyond that. I think we’ll wait and see what happens.
QUESTION: Okay. But forget about analysis. When he said “united” and when you repeated “united,” does that mean that you would prefer to see Scotland remain part of the UK?
MS. HARF: The President’s comments continue to stand as the U.S. Government position on this matter. I will let you tease out from that what that means. I think he also said that it appeared things were working “pretty well,” to use, I think, the exact language he used. So I will let his words speak for themselves and not go any further. But be clear that that is our policy.
QUESTION: When – you mean – when he said “pretty well,” meaning as it exists right now?
MS. HARF: I’m – that’s what he was referring to, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So in other words —
MS. HARF: But again, this is for the Scottish people to decide.
QUESTION: I understand that.
MS. HARF: It is a matter for them to decide. But I wanted to reiterate clearly what the President said.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: No one is asking the United States to try and impose its will on the people of Scotland. But I mean, it would be – I mean, I think it’s relevant what the U.S. thinks about the potential breakup of the United Kingdom.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But what you’re saying now, it appears to be – just correct me if I’m wrong —
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not a change in our policy. It’s what —
QUESTION: No, no.
MS. HARF: — the President said continues to be our policy.
QUESTION: I know.
MS. HARF: I was just more fully elaborating on it today.
QUESTION: But when you say “united,” you mean “united” as in Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details than what the President said.
QUESTION: Would you at least acknowledge that an affirmative vote by the people of Scotland to secede would set a – have the potential to set a precedent that could be destabilizing around the world?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more analysis on that for you.
Anything else? In the back, yes. And then we will go to your Benghazi —
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: — exchange.
MS. HARF: Well, we don’t comment on visa applications while they are – whether – I’m not confirming there is even one for him, but we in general do not comment on visa applications.
QUESTION: Is there any possibility of him meeting with U.S. Government officials while he’s there?
MS. HARF: I think I have something on this. There are no plans for U.S. officials to meet with these officials.
QUESTION: On DPRK?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the prospect of returning the DPRK to the state-sponsored terrorism list presently under consideration as far as you know?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t be able to give any details about internal discussions on that issue. Obviously, we announce state sponsors of terrorism once a year. I know there’s a process for that, but nothing internal to discuss. But there is a process, things that would have to be proven in order for that to happen.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: — last year, our esteemed colleague Eli Lake published a story in the Daily Beast stating that CIA had failed to vet properly the February 17th Martyrs Brigade. Does the State Department share in that view?
MS. HARF: Well, there’s – I think we’re talking about two different things here. The group we worked with was the 17 February Militia. There is a separate group called the 17 February Martyrs Brigade which is not someone we worked with.
But I just – I know there’s – sometimes they get mixed up in the press reporting, so I actually want to be very clear. The 17 February Militia is an umbrella group of militants. Obviously, that’s not all that’s different. We need to distinguish between groups of militants that were working with us. And I will say about the 17