Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 27, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SYRIA
    • Chemical Weapons Use / Secretary's Calls / Arab League Statement / Ongoing Consultations on Appropriate Response / Postponement of Meeting with the Russians / UN Investigation / Intelligence Community's Formal Assessment
    • Commitment to Geneva-like Process
    • International Norms / Chemical Weapons Convention
    • Consultation with Congress
  • EGYPT
    • Ongoing Review of Bilateral Relationship
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Secretary Remains Fully Engaged
  • KEYSTONE
    • Review of Application


TRANSCRIPT:

This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.

1:28 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I do not have anything at the top, so I will go to your questions.

QUESTION: Can you just go through for us the phone calls that the Secretary had yesterday and any that he might have had today, specifically related to Syria?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Yesterday, the Secretary spoke with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, with the Arab League Secretary General Elaraby, with EU High Representative Ashton, with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmy, with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdallah bin Zayid, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faysal, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah, two calls with Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh, a call with the UK Foreign Secretary Hague, and another call – excuse me – with the Arab League Secretary General. Those were all yesterday.

QUESTION: So –

MS. HARF: So –

QUESTION: Sorry. Yesterday, two with Elaraby?

MS. HARF: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: And two with –

MS. HARF: -- with Judeh.

QUESTION: With Judeh.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then one each with the others that you --

MS. HARF: Correct, yes. And then today, so far on my list – and just for planning purposes, I think for a few days we’ll send an update at the end of the day with all of the list of calls that we’re doing on this. But so far today, he’s spoken with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and with the Moroccan Foreign Minister as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Could I just ask: Could you make an exception to that end of the day grouping if he happens to call Assad or Muallim?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. You’ve seen the Arab League statement from this morning.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m wondering what you have – if you have any reaction/response to it.

MS. HARF: Yes. Well, I think it was a very strong statement that made a few points, and let me pull those up right now. I know you all have seen it as well: sharply condemned the use of banned chemical weapons, something, of course, that we agree with; called for holding the Syrian regime fully responsible for this crime.

And I think it would be important to say at the top that we believe that any careful review of the facts in this situation leads to the conclusion that the regime was, in fact, behind this horrific chemical weapons attack. It’s undeniable that chemical weapons were used here on a large scale. We know that the regime maintains custody of those weapons and uses these types of rockets, and we also know that the opposition does not have those capabilities. We’ll have additional information forthcoming from the intelligence community in the days to come on this assessment.

QUESTION: Would you say that in the Secretary’s phone calls yesterday and the one today with the Moroccan --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I mean the calls yesterday particularly to the Arab foreign ministers and to Elaraby, that this statement or the meeting that this statement emanated from was a subject of conversation?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if the statement was a subject of their conversations.

QUESTION: No. The meeting.

MS. HARF: I don’t know if the meetings specifically – I know the Arab League remains in emergency session. The Secretary in all of these calls has been discussing clearly the assessment that we’re undertaking and how we will at some point be making a decision about a response. I don’t have more specifics in terms of those calls.

QUESTION: Okay. So I’m just curious: Do you have – I mean, you said it was a very strong statement. Is the Administration pleased with what the Arab League had to say?

MS. HARF: I think we – both when it comes to the Arab League, but anybody else – would encourage people and organizations to make strong statements condemning the use of chemical weapons in this case and all others.

QUESTION: Well, can I –

QUESTION: What – I mean, just --

QUESTION: Can I jump in?

QUESTION: Let me just – let me just –

MS. HARF: Let me let Matt finish.

QUESTION: I just have one more on this statement –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and then Elise can take over. The statement also urged the – called on the Security Council to overcome its differences – the members of the Security Council to overcome their differences and to take deterrent action against this. Is this something the United States feels is necessary before any kind of a response is implemented?

MS. HARF: Well, I would underscore again today that the President has not yet made a decision on –

QUESTION: I’m not – I know. Go ahead.

MS. HARF: Okay. Thank you. I would underscore that the President has not yet made a decision yet, so I’m not going to hypothetically talk about what may or may not be part of that decision. I know there are a lot of rumors out there about whether we’ll take Action A or Action B and what that might entail. Clearly, the Secretary and the President and others remain in close consultation with our international partners and allies. We’ve read out a lot of those calls. That consultation will continue.

QUESTION: I’m not asking what the response is going to be.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But in the range of responses that the Administration is considering, do any – would any of them, in the opinion of the Administration, require action by the UN Security Council?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to answer that question one way or the other before the President’s made a decision.

QUESTION: Okay. So on this statement, did you – was this statement kind of formulated as a result of you sharing? Because they clearly hold the regime accountable – holding the regime fully accountable for this horrible crime. Was that – were you sharing your intelligence assessments that you said you’ll share with the public? Have you been sharing those intelligence assessments with the Arab League as they formulated their statement that was very kind of undoubtedly pointing the finger at the regime?

MS. HARF: Well, I would say a couple points. Broadly speaking, we are sharing our assessment with our allies and partners around the world as we make them. I don’t know, to be honest with you, if that was part of what went into the Arab League statement. I think you’d have to check with them about what helped them formulate their statement. But I think it’s crystal clear to anybody looking at this that the regime was responsible here.

QUESTION: Well, it’s crystal clear circumstantially, but it would have to – you – as you said, that you would put out your intelligence assessment that would prove what you’re saying is undeniable. So I mean, I guess we’ll be waiting for that. But my question is: Did you ask the Arab League to issue some kind of statement that would show that the Arabs hold the regime accountable for that?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly the Arab League makes decisions about its statements –

QUESTION: I understand that. But did you –

MS. HARF: Can I finish?

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

MS. HARF: Okay. Thank you. Clearly, the Arab League can make decisions about its statements on its own. We have called publicly and privately on everybody to strongly condemn what happened in Syria and to make it clear that we need to hold the regime accountable. So I’m not going to specifically outline what the Secretary’s discussions were with the Secretary General, other than to say that, clearly, we call on people and organizations around the world to make such strong statements.

QUESTION: Do you see this statement as an endorsement of or in support of any action that you say that you – you say that there will be a response.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Do you see this as a call by the Arab League for some kind of international response?

MS. HARF: Well, they very clearly said that they need – the regime needed to be held accountable, and we’ve been – said that we will respond appropriately as the President makes a decision. So I think that is pretty crystal clear in their statement.

QUESTION: So –

QUESTION: So –

QUESTION: So if the U.S. were to take a response, then you see this Arab statement as a kind of – I don’t want to say “green light,” but a –

MS. HARF: I think you’re taking it a step further. The President hasn’t made a decision yet, and I wouldn’t –

QUESTION: He hasn’t made a decision on what he’s going to do, but –

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel talking about –

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- they’re ready to go like that, it’s pretty clear that the Administration is kind of putting out there that there is going to be some kind of response, whether it’s military or something else.

MS. HARF: I’m saying there’s going to be a response.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Nobody is hiding that.

QUESTION: Okay. So do you --

MS. HARF: What I was going to say before you interrupted me was that the President hasn’t made a decision yet. I wouldn’t read into this Arab League statement a specific endorsement of a specific decision that has not yet been made. That’s a step further.

QUESTION: Well, a decision has been made to do something.

MS. HARF: Correct. But the decision about what has not yet been made.

QUESTION: Do you see this as any kind of legal support from the Arab League?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to do any sort of legal analysis today about a hypothetical decision that has yet to be made.

QUESTION: So –

MS. HARF: Yes, Lesley.

QUESTION: Can I have one? Was the Secretary meeting with the President this morning?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I can double-check on his schedule.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Then would the --

MS. HARF: He clearly remains – let me just say he clearly remains in close contact with senior officials in the White House, and if we have any meetings to read out or the White House has to read out, we can do so.

QUESTION: Are you --

QUESTION: What was the reason for postponing that meeting with the Russians? Do you feel that there is just nothing to be said right now on the political process, that a response is imminent or – not your words – that a response is to be soon and that that just has to be on hold for now and that you wouldn’t make any gains from a meeting like that?

MS. HARF: Well, given our ongoing consultations about an appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack, we have decided to postpone this week’s meeting that was supposed to happen in The Hague. We want it to happen at the time when we have the best chance to make progress. We are working now with the Russians to reschedule it. I would underscore strongly that this is only a postponement; it is not a cancelation of the meeting. And I think that what happened on August 21st only underscores the need for a political solution, and we remain fully invested in a comprehensive and durable political solution to the crisis in Syria because we continue to believe that there is no military solution to this crisis.

QUESTION: So what kind of message would you be sending by cutting off those, because some people think that you feel – you should keep those diplomatic lines open? And clearly there are calls, but there’s nothing better than face-to-face meetings.

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, the Secretary spoke with the Russian Foreign Minister today, so his level of consultation on this issue is quite high and sustained and will continue to be. We did not believe that this was the right timing for this meeting, but again, we are working right now with the Russians to reschedule it at a time that makes more sense, hopefully in the very near future. And we’ll continue working with Russia and our international partners, again, because we are fully invested in this process.

QUESTION: Marie?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: On Elise’s point, I mean, surely it’s very important because there is a precedent. Back in 1990, the Arab League met and basically did exactly the same thing, giving a green light for what became known as Desert Storm. So you are aware of that, are you not?

MS. HARF: I’m aware of the history, Said. I’m not going to get ahead of where we are and make hypothetical legal analysis about a decision that hasn’t been made yet.

QUESTION: Right. But surely you see this as some sort of an endorsement. Is it not?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to use that word, Said.

QUESTION: Okay, all right.

MS. HARF: We think it’s a strong statement, and I’m not going to go any further.

QUESTION: But I mean --

QUESTION: On the issue – on the issue of crystal clear, because you keep saying crystal clear --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but so far, what we have seen are videos supplied by a party to the combat, when we have seen that you keep stating that only the Syrian regime has the rocket capability and so on. So it all seems to be conjecture or it seems to be circumstantial, not really – not something --

MS. HARF: It’s not circumstantial evidence that the regime maintains custody of these kind of weapons. We have a broad --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- array of information that points to that, that they are the only ones that have the capability to use these kind of rockets and delivery systems, that the opposition does not have those capabilities. And I would add to that, before I get to your next question, that we’ve already had a high confidence assessment from our intelligence community that the regime has used chemical weapons during this conflict. So as I said, the intelligence community will be sharing additional information about what underlies this assessment, but I think that any assertion that the opposition could be behind this just defies logic.

QUESTION: Okay. So from your point of view, what useful purpose are the UN investigators serving if you have already arrived at a beyond-a-shadow-of-any-doubt conclusion that the regime has already used chemical weapons? What useful purpose do they serve, and why do they continue to be there?

MS. HARF: Could the UN investigators serve?

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Because apparently, you have already arrived at that conclusion before they submit their report.

MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a couple points. The first, as I said yesterday, was let’s keep in mind what the mandate of the UN investigation team is. It’s not to determine culpability. It’s to determine whether chemical weapons are used, which, again, they’re – that was determined very, very shortly after it happened. And that even today we saw the area the UN investigation was supposed to go visit is being attacked by the Syrian regime, so they’ve had to postpone their investigation. So we think it’s important that the regime not be able to use the investigation as a stalling tactic or a charade to hide behind under this notion that they somehow didn’t perpetrate this attack.

QUESTION: So why then – why go through this exercise of sending the inspectors, the UN inspectors, if you already concluded that there was use of chemical weapons and they are not to determine who did what, correct?

MS. HARF: Well, we clearly value the UN’s work – we’ve said that from the beginning – when it comes to investigating chemical weapons in Syria. And it’s obviously up to the UN to make their decisions about their team and when they will attempt to go investigate things and when they won’t. But we’ve reached a point now where we believe too much time has passed for the investigation to be credible and that it’s clear the security situation isn’t safe for the team in Syria. So again, we don’t want the regime to be able to use the UN investigation as a stalling tactic to hide behind.

QUESTION: So does that mean that you think that they should leave?

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: That they shouldn’t carry on with – I mean, do you think that what they are doing or not doing, as the case may be, since they seem to be stuck in their hotel, is a stalling tactic and therefore they should be pulled out of the country?

MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary has been in close contact with the Secretary General of the UN. I’m not going to specifically detail what those conversations outlined. We’ve made our views known publicly and privately that we believe that the UN investigation: (a) It’s not safe for them on the ground; and (b) that we believe too long of a time has passed for them to be – for it to be credible.

QUESTION: So they --

MS. HARF: And we’ve made those views known.

QUESTION: So you’re not pushing for them to go back and look at some of these areas where the weapons are supposedly have used?

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: You don’t see the point to it?

MS. HARF: We believe that it’s too late to be credible, correct.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just --

MS. HARF: But clearly, they make their own decisions about their team and --

QUESTION: I understand. But I mean, you don’t think that it would be helpful for them to present a report, especially considering the fact that they’re not going to determine culpability even in the best-case scenario? That would not be helpful in trying to bring about people like the Russians who – helpful in convincing them that this has actually happened?

MS. HARF: We do believe that it’s too late to be credible.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just --

QUESTION: But to the – I just --

MS. HARF: I’ll get to you in one second.

QUESTION: Just can I ask --

MS. HARF: Yes, to you and then you.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the Lavrov call.

MS. HARF: And then you.

QUESTION: And then me.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov, do you know, did they discuss this postponed meeting?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is that I’m just wondering: When were the Russians told that you guys would not be sending anyone to The Hague?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer. I believe it was last night.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I do not know if they discussed it today. Let me check and see if I can share (inaudible) on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then with your quibble over cancelation versus postponement –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- this meeting was to be held on the 28th, correct?

MS. HARF: Correct. It’s been postponed --

QUESTION: All right. And --

MS. HARF: And they are working to reschedule it for an additional date.

QUESTION: Right. But the meeting is no longer happening on the 28th. Is that correct?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: So there is no --

MS. HARF: We’re going to do definitions now, aren’t we?

QUESTION: I just – I just --

MS. HARF: I’m ready for it.

QUESTION: I’m just not sure I understand what your --

MS. HARF: Well, there is a --

QUESTION: -- what your quibble is. Because if there was going to be a meeting that was scheduled on the 28th, then we can go back to meetings, say, in other cities, like Jericho for example, but if there was going to be a meeting --

MS. HARF: Just throwing one out there. Yes.

QUESTION: If there was going to be a meeting and then you guys decided not to have it, if there was going to be a meeting on a certain date and you decided not to have it --

MS. HARF: I do think the word difference is important here --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- and let me tell you why.

QUESTION: But wait a second.

MS. HARF: Can I tell you why?

QUESTION: The meeting that was on the 28th --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- of August --

MS. HARF: -- is not happening.

QUESTION: -- is not happening.

MS. HARF: It is post --

QUESTION: That --

MS. HARF: The same meeting will be happening very soon at a date we determine with the Russians.

QUESTION: Okay. And did – was that a subject of the conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning?

MS. HARF: I do not know. I can attempt to find out. I don’t know. But the reason I think it’s important, and let me underscore this, is because I think there have been some people who have been taking from this postponement that maybe we’re not fully invested in the Geneva process, that we’re walking away from the process with the Russians, even though, clearly, it’s a difficult time and a difficult situation. And nothing could actually be further from the truth, so I want to underscore that we are fully invested and working with the Russians even as we disagree on a lot in Syria today.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I think that actually is a very important point.

QUESTION: So you might say from this podium that you could assure us that no meetings had been canceled.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Sorry.

QUESTION: Is that correct? (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: Matt, I’m not even going to go there today. Not even going to go there. This meeting has been postponed. But I appreciate the effort. That was a good one.

QUESTION: Marie, now that it has been established --

MS. HARF: I’ll get to you next. Go ahead, Said. Yes.

QUESTION: -- beyond a shadow of a doubt that chemical weapons were used, do we know what kind – what type of chemical weapons were used? Is it sarin? Is it nerve gas? Is it even worse than that?

MS. HARF: I don’t have --

QUESTION: What is it?

MS. HARF: I don’t have additional details about that, Said. Again, the intelligence community will be sharing as many additional details as we can in the coming days.

QUESTION: Okay. Are we likely to hear like a statement perhaps in the – maybe today, maybe tomorrow – that – at least some sort of an intelligence report that is declassified or can be announced? Is that likely to happen?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any specifics on timing. I will say that once the intelligence community is prepared to make its formal assessment, we will provide a classified assessment to the Congress, and we will make an - unclassified details available to the public. I can say that we will certainly be making those findings public this week. I don’t have additional timeline beyond that.

QUESTION: But according to the American media that the United States could hit Syria as early as Thursday was posed by a senior official. So do you have any comments on that? And some analysts say, if the strike happens, United States could take a different form of strike from the Iraq War – maybe drone or (inaudible) missiles first?

MS. HARF: Well, I’d make two points, the first being that the President hasn’t made a decision yet on how to respond. I would underscore that. I would bold it and underline it and highlight it for all of you today. He has not made a decision yet. I know there’s a lot of rumors out there, but let’s not get ahead of where the President is on this.

The second point I would make is that I would like to be clear that any options that we’re considering would be a response to the CW attack, to the CW use, that we’re not contemplating any action that would be – for example, I know people have asked about this in the past – aimed at regime change. Nothing like that. It’s a direct response to CW use.

QUESTION: Can I ask why not, though? I mean, your stated policy goal from President Obama two years ago, almost to the day – it might even be the actual one-year – two-year anniversary but --

QUESTION: It is.

QUESTION: -- that President Assad should go.

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: So if you’re --

MS. HARF: We continue to believe that President Assad has lost all legitimacy and that he should go. Any specific action taken in response to the CW attack will be – again, in response to that attack. We will continue helping the opposition gain strength on the ground. But I think we’ve made clear that there’s no military solution to this conflict, and that’s exactly why we remain fully invested in the Geneva process.

QUESTION: But I mean – in fact, I think this was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article or op-ed today – I mean, don’t you – if you want to prevent the use of chemical weapons again, don’t you just need to eliminate the source of the chemical weapons?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s a very broad statement, Elise. What exactly do you mean by “the source?”

QUESTION: I mean, if you’re saying that the regime used chemical weapons and you need to respond to these chemical weapons and you want to prevent them from happening again, why not just get rid of Assad in your response? Why shouldn’t the ultimate response be to stop them from ever being used by this regime again?

MS. HARF: Again, the President hasn’t made a decision. He will be making one based on --

QUESTION: So it’s possible that it could be regime change then.

MS. HARF: I just said very clearly that we are not contemplating any action aimed at regime change.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand why not, though.

MS. HARF: Because we’re not.

QUESTION: On the – did you say --

QUESTION: We’re not going to --

QUESTION: -- and I – forgive me because I --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- did you say that it was aimed at – whatever the response is going to be, it is aimed at deterring future use of chemical weapons --

MS. HARF: I think --

QUESTION: -- as part of the --

MS. HARF: I think as we get closer to a response, clearly that’s one thing that people are talking about. Clearly, we want to deter future use of chemical weapons use.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask then --

MS. HARF: So I wouldn’t disagree with that notion.

QUESTION: Okay. Was that also the aim of the first – of the response to the first time that you had documented evidence of a chemical weapons attack?

MS. HARF: I think when we announced our policy change we said that we were increasing our assistance to the opposition to help them grow stronger on the ground in their fight against the Assad regime.

QUESTION: So why wasn’t it then, after the Assad regime had, to your understanding, shown itself willing and able to use chemical weapons, why wasn’t your response to the first time something that you thought would be a deterrent to the use – to a second or a third or a fourth use?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not saying that it wasn’t, actually. I think that, clearly, we want to take actions that would deter the regime from using chemical weapons in the future. And what we saw here was a gross escalation of the use of chemical weapons.

QUESTION: So in other --

MS. HARF: So I’m not saying that it wasn’t part of the decision that went in to increase the scale and the scope of the assistance then.

QUESTION: Well, if it wasn’t – or if it was, if you’re saying – I mean, can you say for sure – can you say positively whether it was – whether that was one of the goals of the response the first time around?

MS. HARF: I think that’s certainly been a goal of ours all along.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I would say that at about this decision as well. Yes.

QUESTION: So here’s – okay. So the – can we assume that the range of options that the President is considering now start above the level of increasing the size and the scope and scale of the – of your support for the opposition, given the fact that deterrence was one of your goals the first time around, and it clearly, clearly didn’t work?

MS. HARF: I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been clear that this was a mass escalation in chemical weapons use and that we are going to be making a decision – the President is – on an appropriate response.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: So I think that’s a fair --

QUESTION: Well, would you be willing to concede --

MS. HARF: I think that’s a fair judgment to make, Matt.

QUESTION: Would you be willing to concede – would you be willing to concede that your response to the first documented case of chemical weapons use was not effective as a deterrent to the Assad regime using chemical weapons again?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly we have now assessed that the Assad regime did use chemical weapons again.

QUESTION: All right. Now, and I’ve just got two more and these are very brief. They’re on the calls.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure – his calls this morning. Both of them – anything other than Syria discussed with Lavrov that you’re aware of?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. I haven’t gotten a full readout of that. I will check on that, and if we can give you a more fulsome readout, I --

QUESTION: And the Moroccan call was about Syria – or Syria-centric?

MS. HARF: Syria was discussed. Yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask why all this talk about a response? Why not just take the response?

MS. HARF: Well, at some point, the President will be making a decision.

QUESTION: It just seems that there’s --

MS. HARF: These are very serious issues, and we need to calibrate and discuss and --

QUESTION: Well, it doesn’t --

MS. HARF: -- debate any potential response very carefully with the national security team.

QUESTION: Well, it doesn’t sound as if you’re calibrating at all. I mean, all we hear is that there’s going to be a response, there’s going to be a response. I mean, why do you have to keep telling us or anybody that there’s going to be a response? Why don’t you just warn the Syrians and make your response?

MS. HARF: Because the President hasn’t made a decision about an appropriate response yet. We – so just to be clear --

QUESTION: So it’s okay to just talk about some – and you keep saying that you don’t want to talk about some hypothetical decision that wasn’t made, but you definitely do seem to be talking about some hypothetical response that hasn’t been decided on.

MS. HARF: I have been clear that we are going – the President is going to make a decision on a response. Let’s remember this attack didn’t take place that long ago. We’ve been gathering information; we have been working, obviously with the UN at first, to see – with the UN investigation to see if they would be granted access. They weren’t. We’ve been gathering information in the days since, and we’ve put an assessment together. This didn’t happen three months ago. It just happened recently, and any response is a very – it’s an important decision that the President and the national security team certainly don’t take lightly and they don’t make quickly just to comport with what people – with the timeline in which people think it should be made.

QUESTION: I’m not saying that it should be any specific timeline, but you definitely seem to be talking a lot about some hypothetical response.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So I mean, why don’t you just – I mean, I just don’t understand why all the – there’s just a lot of public talk about it.

MS. HARF: That’s because you keep asking me questions about our response.

QUESTION: No, no. In all the --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- statements that the Administration and --

QUESTION: Let’s remember we didn’t ask the Secretary to come down yesterday and make --

MS. HARF: I know. And to be clear, his --

QUESTION: So --

MS. HARF: -- a lot of his statement wasn’t about a response. It was about the international norms that were violated. It was about the grotesque situation that had happened here. It was about the Assad regime failing to stand by what they said and give access to the UN. So his statement wasn’t all about a response, but it made clear that we will respond, absolutely.

QUESTION: Marie, Marie, could you explain to us if deterrence also includes neutralizing the capacity – the technical capacity the regime has to launch chemical weapons?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into that level of detail about what potential outcomes might come from this decision.

QUESTION: But you do assign the final responsibility for launching any chemical attack with the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad, correct?

MS. HARF: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So he --

MS. HARF: With him and with the regime.

QUESTION: He is actually an actual target, he could be an actual target --

MS. HARF: I did not say that.

QUESTION: -- as part of that deterrence, correct?

MS. HARF: I did not say that. I said that we are not contemplating any action aimed at regime change.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are --

MS. HARF: So don’t take those words --

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MS. HARF: -- three steps down the road there.

QUESTION: I’m trying to understand --

MS. HARF: I know.

QUESTION: -- to clarify --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- because he’s – at the end of the day, he’s the decision maker. He’s the person that is going to continue to launch or not to launch. So should he or should he not be a legitimate target?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to answer that question that way, Said. I have said that we are not contemplating any action that’s aimed at regime change, and I’m just not going to go any further on that.

QUESTION: Can we --

QUESTION: Even though that’s your stated policy goal? I mean, that’s your stated policy goal. So what you’re saying is any action that you’re going to take is not in line with your stated policy goal of Assad leaving office.

MS. HARF: I would strongly disagree with that, Elise. We have been clear that our policy goal is Assad leaving office, and that needs to happen through a political solution, through a Geneva-like process that we’re working through right now.

QUESTION: That has --

MS. HARF: That is our policy goal.

QUESTION: That actually no – that I mean, by all accounts, has absolutely made no progress since you started this whole process. I don’t even know how long ago it was. I mean, what progress have you made since Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov first – since the first Geneva meeting, what progress has been made in getting the two sides to come together?

MS. HARF: Well, I think a couple of points I would point to. Clearly, we all know this is a difficult process. And again, this isn’t going to happen just overnight because it’s the best thing for the Syrian people. When the Foreign Minister – when Foreign Minister Lavrov was here for the 2+2, he and Secretary Kerry reaffirmed their commitment to a Geneva-like process and said they would continue working together on it.

We’ve seen a couple of other things happen in the past months. One is that the opposition has elected leaders. We saw that as a key step towards determining representation for a Geneva convention. Obviously, we all know that representation and attendance has been one of the outstanding issues on Geneva. And Wendy Sherman, Ambassador Ford, and others have continued working with the UN and the Russians to make progress. Clearly, progress is going to be slow. This is a very complicated situation, and if it were easy, it would’ve been done months ago. But we’re very committed and invested in the process still.

QUESTION: But what about getting the two sides, the regime and the opposition, together? I mean, you’re – a lot of this --

MS. HARF: Well, a lot goes – that’s a very simple way of talking about Geneva. A lot goes into getting to that point. All of those little nitpicky things are being worked through right now with us and the Russians and the UN. It’s not just flipping a switch and saying, “Regime, opposition, come to Geneva for a conference.” We want to have a conference at the right time, when we feel it can be most successful, because that’s ultimately what’s in the best interest of the Syrian people. And we’re just not there yet, but we continue working with the Russians and the UN on it.

QUESTION: Don’t you think this latest undeniable action by the regime kind of makes the likelihood of a – of the opposition sitting down with them highly improbable?

MS. HARF: Not at all. I think it actually underscores the importance of the political process and why there is no military solution here. I think it underscores why we need to work through a political process to end this exact bloodshed in Syria.

QUESTION: Is there not a danger that if you do attack, which looks like will happen, that a political solution will be – that there just won’t be that interest in coming to the table, that in the end it will be a military solution?

MS. HARF: Well, our position has not changed that we don’t believe there’s a military solution here, that any response – again, which I will say, a decision has not been made on – is aimed at responding to the CW use. But our position on the ultimate necessity of a political solution has not changed here.

QUESTION: Marie, is the response – has the response --

MS. HARF: I’ll get to you in one second. Finish up?

QUESTION: Is the response that the President is considering limited to military force?

MS. HARF: He is looking at a wide range of options. I’m not going to further catalogue that for you. I think we’ve been clear for a year that the President has a variety of military contingencies on his desk, options for Syria that he can --

QUESTION: Short of --

MS. HARF: -- that he can take, if he chooses to so, but I’m not going to categorize it that way.

QUESTION: And then just one more. Could the presence --

MS. HARF: Just one second.

QUESTION: Could the presence of the UN team on the ground in Damascus delay or to come into the – be part of the deciding factor on when to attack?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to even venture to guess how that might play into some sort of hypothetical decision.

QUESTION: Can I --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Short of your response to the last question, there is one option that has been ruled out; is that correct?

MS. HARF: Regime change.

QUESTION: No.

MS. HARF: What did you say?

QUESTION: There is one option that has been ruled out.

MS. HARF: Oh, boots on the ground.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Right? Okay. So you’re not --

QUESTION: And a no-fly zone?

QUESTION: So I can’t read my notes, I apologize, so I want to ask – so I have to ask you instead.

MS. HARF: That often happens to me, too. I sympathize with you.

QUESTION: Did you welcome – did you say you welcome the Arab League decision? Is that correct?

MS. HARF: The statement?

QUESTION: Yeah, the statement. I’m sorry, the statement, yes.

MS. HARF: I – yeah, I’m fine saying that we welcome the statement.

QUESTION: Yes. Okay, all right. So if you’re welcoming that, do you – are you at all disappointed by the responses by the Russians and the Chinese so far, or non-responses to this – to – if you say that you’d like – you’ve encouraged people to make strong statements condemning this and attacking it. Are you disappointed? Do you think that, as has been said numerous times, even in – by the previous Secretary of State, that they’re on the wrong side of history --

MS. HARF: I think --

QUESTION: -- by ignoring --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- or choosing to not come out and condemn what happened?

MS. HARF: Well, I actually – I would reference what the Secretary said yesterday, that anybody who perpetrates this notion or this falsehood that anybody but the regime could be behind this needs to check their conscience.

QUESTION: Right. But I want you – I would like him --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but since he’s not here and you are --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to identify who it is that is – that needs to check their conscience.

MS. HARF: I’m not going to parse that further for you. I will --

QUESTION: No --

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to do it, Matt. I will say that we have – it’s been clear who’s been out there saying – casting doubt on the fact that the regime used these chemical weapons. We’ve also been clear that even though we have differences of opinion with some of our partners around the world, including the Russians, on Syria, that we will continue talking to them about it, which is clear from the Secretary’s call today.

QUESTION: All right. And the last thing is that when you say that your goal is not regime change --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but you also say that Assad --

MS. HARF: That we’re not contemplating any action aimed at regime change, correct, in this response.

QUESTION: Right, okay. I want to divorce it from this – the response to the chemical weapons.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Your goal, though, your ultimate goal is not regime change. Correct?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been clear that our ultimate – I mean, policy goal, our ultimate position is that Assad no longer has legitimacy --

QUESTION: Does that mean --

MS. HARF: -- and must not be in power. Correct.

QUESTION: Right. But does that mean that anyone whose last name is Assad who is in this family cannot be in a leadership position? Like his wife, for example, or his uncle, or his brother. Because --

MS. HARF: I’m not going to make that broad statement or generalize in that way at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. So then it really isn’t – your goal really isn’t an end to the Assad regime necessarily, because someone else in that family, you think, could be --

MS. HARF: I’m not making a comment on that one way or the other. I’m just not.

QUESTION: So you’re not looking for the end of the Assad family’s tyranny over Syria here --

MS. HARF: We’ve been clear that the Assad regime --

QUESTION: -- just Bashar Assad.

MS. HARF: We have been clear that the Assad regime – excuse me – can no longer be in power. It has lost all legitimacy.

QUESTION: The Assad regime.

MS. HARF: I’m not going to further parse it for you than that. I’m just not.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: You were speaking about the political solution --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and the Geneva 2 conference. As – I’m sure you’re aware that UN Under-Secretary-General Jeff Feltman is in Tehran. A trip like this is not very ordinary for a – such a high-level UN official, especially when he’s an American, and it could not have happened without consultation with the U.S. Administration. What can you tell us about the purpose behind that trip?

MS. HARF: Well, I actually don’t have anything for you on that. I would refer you to the UN, as he’s not a U.S. official. If I have any more details, I’m happy to share them, but again, he’s not there representing the United States, and I don’t know if I would actually make the assumption that you just made. I just don’t have the facts about his trip.

QUESTION: Can we assume that the response will be military at least?

MS. HARF: I would not make that assumption. The President is reviewing a number of options and has not made a decision yet.

QUESTION: So the Syrian Government will be held accountable by the U.S. through a nonmilitary response?

MS. HARF: Again, there – he has a range of options, and he hasn’t made a decision yet.

QUESTION: What are the options? What are the --

MS. HARF: There’s a range of them. We’ve been clear that some of those include military contingencies. Some don’t. I’m not going to --

QUESTION: What are the ones that don’t include military --

MS. HARF: I’m not going to further parse it for you. They’re on his desk and he’ll make a decision when he’s ready.

QUESTION: Marie, you mentioned --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- a classified briefing that would be given to Congress.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information on who will be making that briefing?

MS. HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: If we have more information to share, we can. I just don’t have any more information for you right now.

QUESTION: And then I was – I also wanted to ask: I know you said you’re not going to do any legal analysis on the President’s forthcoming decision, but leaving --

MS. HARF: But you’re going to get me to try to do it.

QUESTION: -- no, no – just leaving that aside and just focusing exclusively on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- does the Administration view that as a violation of international law?

MS. HARF: I think we were very clear. The Secretary used the word “international norms.” And actually, let me take through some of the history on that. I think it might be helpful as we talk about this issue, so thank you for the question.

There’s clearly a long history to these international norms that goes back many years. And this isn’t a comprehensive list, but I’ll just make a few points. We’re going back after World War I, the use – in which the use of chemical weapons resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths. The Geneva Protocol was signed in 1925 and ratified by 137 states. The protocol prohibited the use of chemical weapons, quote, “in war.” In 1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force. This multilateral disarmament agreement provides for the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction under universally applied international control and prohibits the use of chemical weapons. Currently, 189 nations, which represent about 98 percent of the global population, have joined the Chemical Weapons Convention.

So just a little history on the international norms here at work.

QUESTION: And is it --

MS. HARF: Just one second.

QUESTION: -- correct that Syria’s --

QUESTION: Can you put that out?

MS. HARF: Just one second.

QUESTION: Is it correct that Syria is not a signatory to that convention?

MS. HARF: So, you’re correct. There are only five countries in the world that have neither signed nor acceded to the convention, but clearly that should not enable them to escape responsibility for their actions. There is a reason that the overwhelming majority of the international community – again, that agrees on little else – has stood against the use of these weapons, and Syria should not be able to flout the clearly expressed view of the international community here.

QUESTION: Who are they? Who are the five?

QUESTION: Can you put that list of precedents out?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah. We’ll send something to the bullpen after the briefing.

QUESTION: Who are the five?

MS. HARF: And there’s a little more detail, too. Who are the five --

QUESTION: Right. Please. Thank you.

MS. HARF: -- that have not – neither signed nor acceded to the CWC: Angola, Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan, and Syria.

Yeah. Still on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Any discussion with authorities in Athens about the possible use of U.S. bases in Greece on any potential military strike against Syria?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any additional details for you about conversations about potential options that might be part of a response.

QUESTION: Since you brought up the history, I’m just wondering --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if you’re – have you looked back and found when any previous Administration has used the use of chemical weapons as a legal justification for military or any other intervention?

MS. HARF: I think that I would strongly discourage people from comparing this situation to any historical other situation where chemical weapons have been discussed.

QUESTION: But you’re the one that just went back to World War I.

MS. HARF: No, I’m talking – I’m laying out the historical set of international norms that have formed. You’re trying to compare it to being used as a justification --

QUESTION: No, I’m not. No, no, no.

MS. HARF: -- for another conflict.

QUESTION: I’m not trying to compare it. I’m just asking you if you are aware of any previous Administration relying on the use of chemical weapons --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- as justification for a military or nonmilitary intervention. I’m just wondering if – you brought it – you opened the door to this, going back to World War I.

MS. HARF: I was – two points. I was laying out the historical international norm against the use of chemical weapons. Clearly, we’re --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- all familiar with some of the history, including recent history on this issue. And I’m not going to go into a further -- historical analysis than that.

QUESTION: But then – don’t – okay.

MS. HARF: Where’s your next --

QUESTION: If you’ve then – do you --

MS. HARF: I think it’s important to lay out the historical basis and international norms against the use of chemical weapons.

QUESTION: Then (inaudible) see what – what do you consider --

QUESTION: You can’t just --

QUESTION: Respectfully, you can’t just throw it out there and then say, I’m not going to answer any more questions about it.

MS. HARF: Okay. So what’s your next question? Where were you going with that, Matt?

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted – I’m asking you a very simple question.

MS. HARF: Yes. The answer is yes.

Question?

QUESTION: Okay. The answer is, yes, the --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- previous administrations have used the use of chemical weapons as the legal justification for intervention, military or otherwise, in the past. They have?

MS. HARF: I don’t know about legal justification, but I know it’s been a topic of discussion in past conflicts, yes.

QUESTION: So you --

MS. HARF: Hold on.

QUESTION: And – okay, wait, wait. Can you – which ones?

MS. HARF: See, I’m not going to go down this rabbit hole with you. We are not comparing this specific case to any other time we’ve concluded that a regime may or may not, or whatever the discussion was about chemical weapons.

QUESTION: You --

MS. HARF: I laid out historical basis and international norms --

QUESTION: I know. But you’re so --

MS. HARF: -- against the use of chemical weapons.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MS. HARF: Those are actually two different things. And you’re trying to take me down a rabbit hole here.

QUESTION: No, I’m not. You’re assuming that I’m trying to trick you again, and I’m not. I’m just asking --

MS. HARF: Again, you so frequently do, it’s hard to tell when you’re not. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s a very straightforward question: Are you familiar with any case in which a previous Administration has used this as the rationale for intervention, military or otherwise?

MS. HARF: Clearly, we’re all familiar with a lot of the history, Matt, yes.

QUESTION: Let me --

QUESTION: But you are?

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Do you --

QUESTION: Then I’m just asking you: When? Because I’m not.

MS. HARF: When we’ve discussed chemical weapons in terms of military intervention in places in the past?

QUESTION: Yeah. Where has the U.S. intervened on the basis of another country using chemical weapons? I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

MS. HARF: Okay. Then we’ll move on.

QUESTION: I’m just – but you said --

QUESTION: Do you think --

QUESTION: No. I’m asking – you said yes, it has happened. So I want to know where.

MS. HARF: I said that there have been conversations in the past. We all lived through the past 12 years, and we all remember the discussions about WMD in the past. That’s where I thought you were going with that.

QUESTION: No, no.

MS. HARF: I’m not going to compare it.

QUESTION: You see, that’s why – I’m not trying to get you to compare this to Iraq or anything else.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to find out if you’re aware of any time that an administration --

MS. HARF: Again, so then my previous statement stands. I don’t want to compare this to any previous administration, to any previous decision.

QUESTION: But you said – but your answer to my question was yes, it has happened. So I just want to --

MS. HARF: I’m not comparing it to any previous administration or previous decision.

QUESTION: I’m not --

MS. HARF: So I’m not going to have a discussion of previous administration’s decisions.

QUESTION: All right. Let’s – can we continue this afterwards?

QUESTION: You said that – you talk here about international --

MS. HARF: No, I just want to be clear on this. I’m not going to compare this to any previous administration.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for a comparison. I’m just --

MS. HARF: Then why did you ask about previous administrations?

QUESTION: I’m wondering if any – if you are aware that any – if any previous administration has used the use of chemical weapons as a --

MS. HARF: I don’t think it’s relevant in this case. That’s my answer and we’re moving on. Thank you.

QUESTION: You talk about --

MS. HARF: Said. Go ahead, Said. I’ll go to you next, Elise.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you, it seems that you have concluded --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- early on, on Wednesday actually, right after the attack, that the regime was responsible for this attack. Could you explain to us – I know you talked about this before – why did then the Secretary took – take the initiative and talk to Muallim?

MS. HARF: Why did he?

QUESTION: Yeah. Why did he? I mean, if you had already concluded that the regime stands behind it, and the fact that he called him to tell him that if you had nothing to hide --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you should have allowed people in right away, which means that you know --

MS. HARF: He called him right away. Yeah.

QUESTION: Why did he call him? Why --

MS. HARF: He made a direct demand to the Syrian regime that if, as they have stated, they were not responsible for these attacks, they should allow investigators in. He gave them an opportunity to prove to the world what they were saying publicly, and they failed to take it.

QUESTION: So --

MS. HARF: But it’s important to make a direct demand of them.

QUESTION: So in terms of just the sequence of events, when do you – when did you conclude that the Syrians were behind this and they did not allow basically to sort of destroy evidence and so on?

MS. HARF: Well, I think from very early on there was --

QUESTION: Like by Saturday, by Friday?

MS. HARF: Right. So I’ll make a few points. The first is the intelligence community will be sharing more details about their assessment. But broadly speaking, there’s been a preponderance of publicly available information from the very beginning, quite frankly, that indicated there was a mass-scale chemical weapons attack. We’ve known and assessed for a long time that the Syrian regime had the capabilities to do this and the opposition didn’t. So obviously, we thought it was important to investigate, to do our own assessment. But this is just common sense at the heart of it, backed up by facts and assessments and information and intelligence.

QUESTION: If you --

MS. HARF: Elise.

QUESTION: A couple of things.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: First of all, just in response to this just question right here --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- if you knew that the regime had all these chemical weapons --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and you were afraid that they were going to use them, and they used them before, and you warned them against crossing a redline and they crossed it, then why – what actions did you take to prevent further use?

MS. HARF: In what regard?

QUESTION: Further use from the regime from using them again. Some warning?

MS. HARF: Well, (a) this was a massive escalation in use. We had not seen this level of use from the regime in the past. I think that we made clear very strongly the last time we assessed that they had used them in small-scale incidents that they had crossed a redline and that we were taking action. But again, the Syrian regime has continued at every step to take the actions that are most hurtful to their people, and that’s why the President is weighing an appropriate response in this instance.

QUESTION: Now you talk about international norms and precedent --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- for acting in (inaudible). Do you feel that precedent on international norms is enough, or do you feel that any response would require a basis of international law?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to do any further hypothetical legal analysis than I already have here before the President’s made a decision.

QUESTION: Can I just – my question really was: Are you aware of precedent for intervention based on the use of chemical weapons? That’s all I was asking.

QUESTION: You asked that already. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s – I just want you to understand. I’m not trying to compare.

MS. HARF: I think you asked it a little differently --

QUESTION: I am not --

MS. HARF: -- so let me take that question and see if I can get you a more fulsome answer.

QUESTION: That’s what I was trying to get to.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I wasn’t trying to go after Iraq.

MS. HARF: I think you asked it a little differently, which is why I responded the way I did, so let me look into that question and see if there’s more I can share with you.

QUESTION: Because I’m not – I’m honestly not aware of one. There may very well be one. I’m just curious if you know what it is.

MS. HARF: A specific response to a specific use of chemical weapons. I think the way you asked it – and maybe this is why I was confused – was whether it had been part of the case broadly speaking for military action in the past.

QUESTION: That’s also --

MS. HARF: Those are two different questions, I think. I will take it and get you --

QUESTION: That’s – I think it’s the same thing, but --

MS. HARF: They’re actually two different questions, but I will take your actual question and endeavor to get you a more fulsome response.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, to be perfectly clear, yesterday you said the U.S. has very little doubt on the fact that the regime is responsible for the Wednesday attack. Today you have absolutely no doubt that Damascus is behind the attack last week?

MS. HARF: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And the French President has just said that the decision from the U.S. will be taken in the coming days. Is he correct?

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been clear that we feel a sense of urgency here to make a decision. But the President hasn’t made one yet. I don’t want to put any timeline on it beyond that.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MS. HARF: Anything else on Syria? Yes.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: You said, kind of following on this, that now we’re crystal clear and the intel community will be providing --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- additional info within the week. My question is: What is the intelligence community doing between Secretary Kerry’s statement, which was strong and forceful and I would assume has the backing of the intelligence community, what you’re saying today, and this delay it would seem for the report to come out?

MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t call it a delay. Clearly there’s a process to getting classified assessments to the Hill, there’s a process to putting together the unclassified version that will go publicly. I wouldn’t call it a delay. There’s just a process that’s ongoing.

QUESTION: So this is dotting Ts, crossing Is, type of thing? There’s not new information coming in since Monday?

MS. HARF: It’s – I think there’s new information coming in all the time, which is what happens, I think, when you do intel assessments.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: But I wouldn’t read anything into the fact that the assessment won’t be coming, except at some point this week. I don’t have more of a timeline.

QUESTION: So a postponement, not a cancelation?

QUESTION: Oh --

QUESTION: So just to be clear, the assessment will be coming sometime or to be made public, but the President has got the assessment already?

MS. HARF: It’s my – yeah, that’s my understanding. I don’t want to speak for him on this. I want to make sure that that’s actually 100 percent accurate, but it is my understanding, yes. It’s my understanding that at this point we’re just preparing the classified assessment to go to the Hill. But I don’t want to get --

QUESTION: Change topic?

QUESTION: Okay. But he’s got the assessment?

MS. HARF: Again, I don’t know exactly about the timing, and I don’t want to get ahead of this. I’m not speaking for the IC here. So let me double-check, and if there’s more specifics to share with you, I can.

QUESTION: And then what response would you be seeking from the Hill? An agreement to go to attack or what kind of – what are you looking for from them?

MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary and others have been in close consultation with the Hill as part of this – of the process and talking about a potential response. I don’t have anything further for what that consultation entails. Clearly, we think it’s important to talk to Congress about this and to talk them through the assessment when we provide the classified assessment as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: And then you’ve stated today that, again, that the policy goal of the United States is to see a political transition --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- through a Geneva-like process. Analysts and observers of this have said that it’s unlikely that Assad would come to the table while he views himself as winning. Wouldn’t it be, for lack of a better word, helpful if the response the U.S. takes turns the battlefield position and would reverse his gains that he’s made recently?

MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s fair to say that every step we’ve taken to assist the opposition and help them grow in strength has been to do just that, right? It’s to help them grow stronger, to help them coalesce, but also to help them be able to make more gains on the ground. So I think that’s been a broad goal from the beginning and will continue to be, I’m sure, with any eventual decision that the President makes.

QUESTION: So when we’re looking at the response, you’ve ruled out that this action would be aimed at regime change.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Some have said that it could be a specific response to chemical weapons use and nothing further than that. But my question is: Is there an element of it that would be aimed at helping change the balance of power on the ground, or do you view responding specifically to a chemical weapons attack as doing that as well?

MS. HARF: I think they’re probably just any action – any decision would probably meet both objectives. But again, no decision has been made yet, so we’re going to keep doing things that help the opposition grow and also respond to this. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of what the goals of a response would be before a decision on what that response is is actually made.

QUESTION: Marie, are you aware that most – in fact, if not all – public polls show that the American people, by a very large majority, oppose to any kind of intervention? Should that factor in in any kind of decision?

MS. HARF: I think the President’s been clear that he makes decisions about our national security based on what’s best for national security interests of this country, and I think it’s clear here that there are core national security interests at stake for the United States. Clearly, the mass-scale use of chemical weapons or a potential proliferation of these weapons flagrantly violates an important international norm and therefore threatens American security.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that this is taking place in a region that is already destabilized, and it is taking place in a country that borders an ally of the United States in Turkey and a close friend and partner of the United States in Jordan. So it’s important that the United States and the international community send a strong message, because it’s in our national security interests to do so, and that’s what guides the President’s decision making on these issues.

QUESTION: Sorry. I missed one of the countries. Does Israel not matter at all?

MS. HARF: Of course, Israel is our --

QUESTION: Okay. And –

MS. HARF: -- closest friend and ally in the region and --

QUESTION: But they don’t – they didn’t merit a mention in the talking points?

MS. HARF: Clearly we will continue --

QUESTION: And how about Lebanon?

MS. HARF: -- to talk – all of the countries. We have been clear that Syria and spill-out violence from Syria has been destabilizing for the entire region, including Lebanon, including Iraq. I just mentioned two countries here, but I’ve talked at length about the disastrous effects that Syria is having on other countries in the region as well.

QUESTION: And you would argue as well – and the President would I assume, the Administration – I assume everyone in the Administration would argue that simply – that quite apart from any interests that your allies – the interests of your allies in the region and quite apart from the threat of proliferation, that the – just the use and the death of Syrian civilians on such a mass scale is also counter to U.S. national interests. Is that correct?

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: And the continued chaos in Syria is as well. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the fact that – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No. I want to move to something else.

QUESTION: Sorry, Matt. Go ahead.

MS. HARF: Okay. Continue. We’ll get to --

QUESTION: No. I just wanted to ask you if you have any comment on the statement by the Iraqi Government that they will not allow any kind of overflights, be it by airplanes or fighter jets or cruise missiles, to go over their airspace into Syria by the Americans. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: Well, I actually haven’t seen those comments, Said, but I also don’t want to – don’t think anyone should get ahead of where the President is and whether or not a decision has been made and start talking about hypotheticals.

Anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: On Syria.

MS. HARF: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: When did the assessment of additional information that caused you to change your confidence level from very little down to crystal clear – when did that assessment come out? Was it this morning or last night?

MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t point to a specific assessment. As I said, the intelligence community assessment will be forthcoming publicly sometime this week. I think we’ve continued gathering information and got to a point where we felt comfortable today publicly saying that the Syrian regime is responsible for the use of chemical weapons in this situation. And again, from day one, common sense would lead anybody to believe that, but we did our due diligence, and we’re looking into it, and more details will be coming from the intelligence community.

QUESTION: But you can’t point right now publicly to what it was that got rid of that one scintilla of doubt from yesterday?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that the preponderance of evidence --

QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s –

MS. HARF: -- and again, the details of the intelligence assessment --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- will be coming in the coming days, but I think the fact that only one side in this conflict has the ability to use this --

QUESTION: But the --

MS. HARF: -- and one doesn’t –

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- is a huge part of that. But yes, the specifics on the assessments will be coming this week.

QUESTION: But the specific thing that made the – that got you over that last tick from 11:59 to midnight of sure positivity will – you’re not in a position to say what it was right now?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to further --

QUESTION: That that will be --

MS. HARF: -- detail the assessment.

QUESTION: -- part of the assessment?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I move on? I don’t think you’ll have an answer --

QUESTION: Yeah. We’ll move on.

MS. HARF: Just one second. Yeah. Go – on Syria still?

QUESTION: No, no. Not Syria.

MS. HARF: Let’s move on with Matt, and then we’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to go to Egypt to see how the – is anyone pay attention to Egypt right now, or is everyone focused on Syria? And if --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- there are people paying attention to Egypt, where – what’s the status of the review, the aid review, because we had more people on the Hill calling for a suspension?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly everybody is still very focused on Egypt. I said that the Secretary spoke yesterday with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, and quite frankly, in a lot of these discussions, Egypt is discussed as well. Clearly everybody is focused on both. I have no update for you on timing of a decision on the review of assistance at this point.

QUESTION: Why is Egypt sort of conspicuously absent from this discussion over the chemical weapons use in Syria?

MS. HARF: In what way?

QUESTION: In many ways. I mean, they’re not --

MS. HARF: How should it be part of this discussion?

QUESTION: Are you discussing with them the consequences of this chemical attack in Syria?

MS. HARF: With the Egyptians?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Well, the Secretary spoke with the Egyptian Foreign Minister yesterday. I don’t have a more fulsome readout of that call, but clearly we’re talking to all of our partners in the region about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, also about the situation in Egypt. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you feel that Egypt is sort of in lockstep with you on the issue of the chemical weapons in Syria?

MS. HARF: That is not at all what I said. I’m not going to categorize the Egyptian interim government’s position on the chemical weapons use in Syria one way or the other. That’s for them to characterize.

QUESTION: Yeah. But does – certainly Egypt is a very major ally, and its position would mean a lot to you, wouldn’t it?

MS. HARF: Well, I think all of – we take all of our partners’ positions seriously. That’s why the Secretary is engaged with them on the phone on a regular basis. At the same time, Said, as you know, we are currently reviewing our entire relationship with the Egyptian Government, including assistance, and determining the best way to move that relationship forward.

QUESTION: Just on that – on his point –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is – are you looking for bilateral – for individual Arab countries to come out in support of a response, whatever it is, or is the Arab League a blanket – is that enough for you?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly we believe that the Arab League is an incredibly important organization to come out so publicly and strongly.

QUESTION: But you would --

MS. HARF: But we also would welcome, of course, anybody --

QUESTION: Individual countries --

MS. HARF: Individual countries, anybody coming out and condemning this use, and indicated that there should be accountability in this situation, yes.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Regarding Egypt, it looks like that the focusing on – I mean, I know that Matt asked the same question, but somehow I try to phrase it in a different way. Maybe I could --

MS. HARF: Give it a shot. Let’s try.

QUESTION: -- get a different answer maybe, as long as not hypothetical. It’s like things are going on on the ground and we are talking about here about the entire – entirely reviewing the relations.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you, I mean, trying to do anything or just wait and see what’s going on to happen and accordingly we decide what we can do, I mean, from here to there? Because, I mean, things are going on on the ground --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and it’s really clear that the more decisive decisions are make by the interim government and more people are arrested, more media outlets are closed, and so on and so on. Is there anything going on from this side or just watching and waiting until let’s finish – it’s our plateful of Syria now – let’s finish this food and then we can find another thing later?

MS. HARF: Not at all. I think that everybody is still very focused as well on what’s happening on the ground in Egypt. That’s playing into our ongoing review. Clearly, we’re focused on Syria, too, but nobody has stopped paying attention to what’s going on on the ground. That’s all part of what we’re reviewing right now and will feed into an eventual decision on what our

relationship will look like going forward.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the question is I know that one of the favorite expression in this town is that I can walk and chew the --

MS. HARF: I was going to say that --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- but you beat me to it.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s one of this State Department lexicon, you know what they call it.

MS. HARF: Is it? Oh, I walked right into that one. Go ahead, yes.

QUESTION: So I’m trying to figure out if you are talking – following what’s going on in Egypt, what’s your – what is your observation, what’s your criteria, what you are doing? Because it seems that it’s not exactly moving in the same way that you were wishing or willing or participating or expecting.

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been clear that the actions that the interim government has taken and continues to take in some cases have forced us to reevaluate this entire relationship. And we’ve made it clear when they’ve taken steps that aren’t moving Egypt back towards an inclusive, sustainable democracy. So obviously that’s all playing into our assessment and our review, and when we have announcement to make, we will make it.

QUESTION: It’s, I think – to that point --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is this – are you in a process of making a determination or completing some review? Or is this a dynamic, fluid situation where it’s not time to make such a determination?

MS. HARF: We are in the process of undertaking a review. Clearly, at some point the President will make a decision about our broad relationship, but also about some of the assistance decisions we’ve talked about in this room. So that review is ongoing; we’re not in wait and see mode. We’re looking at all of that right now.

Yes.

QUESTION: I want to move on to the peace process, but before I do I just want to remind you that neither is Israel nor Myanmar are signatories to the chemical weapons treaty, so please --

MS. HARF: I will correct – so both Israel and Burma have signed, but have not yet ratified the CWC.

QUESTION: They have not ratified. That’s what I said.

MS. HARF: I said there were five countries only that had not signed nor acceded to it. They have both signed it.

QUESTION: Moving on to the peace process --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is there anything that you can share with us about the meeting yesterday?

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

QUESTION: Can you tell us why the Palestinians keep saying that they are boycotting, but then lo and behold, they did attend the meeting?

MS. HARF: I’d refer you to the Palestinians to explain their actions.

QUESTION: Okay. Did anyone from this building or from elsewhere talk to the Palestinians and say that you better go to the meetings?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to give any more details about our discussions with the parties in these negotiations.

QUESTION: So not – their threat to boycott the meeting was not discussed by any American official with any Palestinian officials?

MS. HARF: Absolutely not what I said, Said. I said I’m not going to discuss any of our private discussions with either side as part of this negotiation.

QUESTION: And lastly, when is the next round expected? Are you aware?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any announcements for you on that.

QUESTION: This is something that the Secretary remains focused on, though, correct?

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: So Egypt, Syria, Israelis-Palestinians – how about the Arctic?

MS. HARF: I think the Secretary --

QUESTION: Whales?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with the Arctic?

MS. HARF: The Secretary is –

QUESTION: South China Sea?

MS. HARF: -- remains fully engaged on the plethora of issues that come to his plate every day, yes.

QUESTION: And focused on all of them.

MS. HARF: Clearly, Matt, he said that Syria this week – he was clear yesterday --

QUESTION: Botswana?

MS. HARF: -- that what had happened in Syria was a serious priority and was a top priority.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you, there was a --

MS. HARF: He has a plethora of interests and is able to focus on a number of things at the same time.

QUESTION: He’s an extraordinary man.

MS. HARF: Exactly. You took the words out of my mouth. It’s amazing.

QUESTION: There was a report yesterday or the day before, I think – I can’t remember when it was – that said that the State Department was saying now that the review – the Keystone review would not be done until 2014. Is that correct?

MS. HARF: I think we’ve been clear from the beginning that we don’t have a timeline. We haven’t put a timeline on when the review will be done. We are, as I said before, reviewing the application in a rigorous, transparent, and efficient manner, but we’ve never put a timeline on it and I don’t have one for you now.

QUESTION: Okay, but that’s not entirely true. There was a timeline put on it before. I mean, people had talked about the EI – I mean, not a decision --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but in terms of the EI – in terms of the Environmental Impact Statement and the re-do of the EIS after the route change --

MS. HARF: But what I’m referring to --

QUESTION: -- is the decision.

MS. HARF: -- I think that’s what the reports referred to is the final.

QUESTION: No, no.

MS. HARF: The final decision.

QUESTION: Well, maybe I misread it. But I thought it was about the – I’m not – I realize that the final decision – the President has delegated it, but will come --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but I’m talking about the Environmental Impact Statement.

MS. HARF: Yeah. The final environmental --

QUESTION: So that --

MS. HARF: -- again, will be released after additional analysis in the issues identified in all of the public comments have been incorporated.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: That process is ongoing. I believe there’s over 1.2 million, if that number’s correct.

QUESTION: Something like that.

MS. HARF: That takes a while. But it’s my understanding that we haven’t put a timeline on that and aren’t now.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea how many of the millions of – or however many million comments it is have been gone through? I mean, do you know where in the process they are? Are they still going through the comments? Have they gone through the comments and they’re incorporating them into the report now? Or is --

MS. HARF: Well, let me get some more details for you on that. I actually just don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I know there’s a team of people looking into this right now. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: All right. But it is not correct or it is correct that the State Department has said that it won’t be finished until 2014?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge. And again, I’m not putting a timeline on it here.

QUESTION: Okay, but a report that said that you – that the State Department has said that it won’t be finished until 2014 would not be correct; is that right?

MS. HARF: I have – that’s my understanding, yes. I’ve certainly never said it.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)

DPB # 145

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - August 27, 2013]