Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 5, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SYRIA
    • Geneva 2 / Deliberations Ongoing
    • Military Situation on the Ground
    • Humanitarian Situation / Assistance
    • Possible Geneva 2 Participants / Discussions with Russians
    • OPCW / U.S. Support for OPCW
    • No Announcements about Weapons Destruction / Ongoing Discussion
    • Secretary's Saudi Arabia Meetings / Discussions on getting all parties to Geneva 2 Table
    • Shared Goals / Arab League Statement
  • SRI LANKA
    • Calls to Boycott Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting
  • LIBYA
    • Blue Mountain Group Benghazi Incident Report / Ongoing FBI Investigation
  • TURKEY
    • Meeting of the Financial Action Task Force
  • CHINA
    • Tiananmen Square / Arrests / Continue to Monitor Situation Closely
  • INDIA
    • Narendra Modi / Visa Policy


TRANSCRIPT:

12:53 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the press briefing. I don’t have anything at the top. Deb, get us started.

QUESTION: The UN Envoy Brahimi says that there's no date for the Syrian Geneva 2 conference this year. So does that mean there's not going to be one this month and not going to be one in December, so it's postponed, and the earliest it could be would be next year? Or – and can you give us an idea of how this came about?

MS. HARF: Well, the deliberations, it’s my understanding, are still ongoing in Geneva, and they’re still ongoing about the optimum date for the conference. The meetings, as I said, I don’t believe have finished quite yet. I think we’ll probably be having a discussion later today and over the next few days about what’s comes out of these meetings. The conference will happen as soon as possible, understanding that there is still work that remains to be done. Again, we’re talking right now in Geneva with the Russians and the UN about how to move forward on this.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, the whole idea was to have it in this month, okay?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And as of last week, we were still talking about having it this month.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what transpired at the meeting that’s made it so that it’s not this month and now –

MS. HARF: I’m not saying it’s not this month.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I’m saying that the meetings and the deliberations are still ongoing.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but Brahimi is coming out and saying it’s not going to be this year, so –

MS. HARF: Again, at the end of the – at the conclusion of the round of meetings, I think we’ll probably have more to discuss. But it’s my understanding that the deliberations are still ongoing as we speak, and if we have something to update at the end of it, I’m sure we will. Again, we’ve said this needs to happen as soon as possible. The Syrian coalition is having a general assembly meeting on the 9th, I believe, and so that obviously is a key step that needs to happen before we can get Geneva 2 on the schedule.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the people on the ground there since they made this decision?

MS. HARF: People on the ground, where? In Geneva?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: The last note I got from our folks on the ground in Geneva was the deliberations are ongoing and that nothing has been decided in terms of date at this point.

QUESTION: Well, the Russians are saying it’s not going to happen, and now Brahimi says –

MS. HARF: All I can tell you is what our folks on the ground tell me –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- which is that the deliberations are ongoing and that nothing has been decided about a date yet. That’s all I can convey.

QUESTION: Doesn’t that frustrate you when they say that to you?

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: No? Okay.

MS. HARF: I think it doesn’t frustrate me because it’s the truth. The discussions are still ongoing. A lot of people are out there talking about when it might happen, when it might not. All I can do is rely on our folks, and all they can do is rely on the discussions they’re having, which, as I noted, are still ongoing. Again, I leave tonight for Geneva to go to a different set of discussions. I’m sure we’ll talk about it more on the ground.

QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, it sounded from your response to Deb’s questions that you’re not expecting a decision today, for example.

MS. HARF: On date?

QUESTION: On dates or whether it will happen this week or not. You said: I’m sure we’ll then talk about it for the next couple of days. Am I correct in understanding –

MS. HARF: I meant talk about it with you. I’m sorry. The Syria discussions, again, are ongoing, but I don’t want to prejudge what will come out of these discussions today. But again, there’s been no decision on a date. That may happen in the next few hours, but I don’t know if it will, quite frankly. And our point has always been that a couple of things need to happen before we can announce a date, and we don’t just want to announce it to announce it.

QUESTION: But yesterday – you said yesterday: We are still targeting November. Can you repeat that today? I mean, are you still targeting November?

MS. HARF: That’s certainly been our target. I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions they’re having on the ground. Again, I got a note right before I came out here from them, but these are ongoing, and I don’t want to get ahead of the process if they’re having discussions on the ground that have changed that in any way. I don’t know that it has. I just don’t want to prejudge the outcome.

QUESTION: But is that still your target?

MS. HARF: It certainly was going into these discussions, yes.

QUESTION: But you don’t know if they are today?

MS. HARF: It certainly was today, yes, but I don’t know what the discussions –

QUESTION: Okay. How it has evolved.

MS. HARF: -- in the last 10 minutes or 15 minutes since I’ve been getting ready to come out here. Again, I’m not trying to be too cute by half here. These are discussions that, as you know, are very complicated, and we’ll have a full readout, I’m sure, at the end of the meetings.

Anything else on Syria? Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. You are mentioning the word “on the ground,” and you are talking about Geneva.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What’s the other real on the ground?

MS. HARF: In Syria?

QUESTION: In Syria.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you seeing any changes happening, any deterioration is taking place, or it’s because we have now for a few weeks you are talking about something, and people are talking with – assuming that the realities on the ground – the real ground, not Geneva – is like somebody who’s sitting in an intensive care and we are taking of it. No, it’s not that. It’s getting worse. I mean, how – what is your understanding of what’s going on in Syria?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it – I mean, the possibility of the political solution is a – I know it’s a must, but is it possible or not, or how it can be done? Who is going to participate? Who is going to be there?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s certainly possible, and indeed, as you said, it’s what needs to happen to get the outcome here that’s best for the Syrian people. But of course, it’s difficult. In terms of the military situation on the ground, obviously, we continue to monitor it. We haven’t, to my knowledge, seen a shift one way or the other from where we’ve been over the past several weeks in terms of the balance of power on the ground. Obviously, the CW effort moves forward.

The humanitarian situation, as we’ve talked about in here quite a bit with winter coming, has gotten quite dire. It’s been dire for some time, but it continues to get worse, so that’s why we’ve encouraged folks who have leverage with the Assad regime to encourage them to allow humanitarian assistance in. So there’s a lot of different pieces that play into what’s going on the ground, but what we’re focused on in Geneva right now is getting the parties to the table to negotiate a political transition here, because as we’ve said, that’s the only outcome that will be in the interest of the Syrian people here.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Russians are still insisting that Iran should attend Geneva 2. Have you discussed this and made any decision?

MS. HARF: Well, our position on that hasn’t changed, that any participant in Geneva 2 needs to fully accept and embrace and endorse the Geneva 1 communique. Today’s meetings in Geneva were focused on discussing participants, delegations, and what would be included in a Geneva 2 agenda. As you know, those are discussions with the Russians, but beyond that, I don’t have more specifics at this point.

QUESTION: And since you discussed it, no decision has been made?

MS. HARF: Again, the meetings are ongoing. No decisions have been made about these issues. They’re complicated issues, but we’ll keep talking about them.

QUESTION: Syria?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On the OPCW, they’ve reported that they may run out of funding by the end of November. Is there going to be any effort on the part of the U.S. –

MS. HARF: Is that me or you?

QUESTION: I don’t know – to allocate more funding to them or any efforts to work with allies to devote more to that?

MS. HARF: Well, we actually don’t share that assessment. I’d make a couple of key points. First, the OPCW can obviously speak for itself, but in general terms, we don’t share that assessment.

A couple of points. The article said that more cash will have to be found soon to pay for the destruction of poison gas stocks. Well, the OPCW doesn’t do destruction. It does verification and monitoring. So clearly, that’s one fact that’s been a lead of this story that just isn’t factually accurate. But we don’t share that assessment. The OPCW has received over $14 million in funding commitments in air transportation and armored vehicles for the inspection teams. The U.S. has contributed $6 million, including direct financial assistance to the UN and to the OPCW trust funds set up to support this project.

You’re right that we do encourage nations and we are encouraging nations to provide support, including personnel, technical expertise, information, financial, equipment, all of the above. That will be ongoing. This is a very expensive thing to do, but I do take a little bit of issue with the assessment that was in the story.

QUESTION: Do you have any say about how and where these things are going to be destroyed?

MS. HARF: Do we, the U.S.?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Well, in the Geneva framework, the U.S. and Russia determined – spoke to this issue a little bit. Obviously, we’ve said for some time that no decisions regarding destruction in any third-parties – I know there have been some rumors about this – have been announced at this point. It’s an ongoing topic of discussion where it’s safest and easiest and makes the most sense to destroy the stockpiles. That discussion is ongoing.

QUESTION: And the U.S. doesn’t have an opinion on whether it should be done within the country or in another country?

MS. HARF: I’ll check and see if we have an opinion. I know there are pros and cons to a couple of different scenarios here. I’ll double-check and see if we have one, but I’m not sure that we do.

QUESTION: Apparently, Syria --

MS. HARF: But I’ll check.

QUESTION: Apparently, Syria wants it to be done outside.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check on that. I just don’t know if we have a position on what’s preferable.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Marie?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you discussing this Geneva issue with the allies and partners – I mean, the – llike Saudis, Qataris, and Turks are helping?

MS. HARF: Geneva 2?

QUESTION: Geneva 2.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: They are helping you to convene this meeting in Geneva to convince the opposition to join this event?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. The Secretary was just in Saudi Arabia recently, where he talked about the breadth of issues with King Abdullah and other senior officials. Obviously, a key part of the Syria discussion is how to get all the parties to the table for Geneva 2. It certainly always is a topic of discussion with our allies and partners in the region.

QUESTION: So are Saudis onboard to convince the opposition to join them?

MS. HARF: Again, what we’re doing – I mean, we certainly all share the same goal here that we need a political transition and that the way to do that is through Geneva 2. You saw the Arab League statement, I think yesterday, which the Saudis, of course, signed onto encouraging the opposition to attend Geneva 2, endorsing the concept of Geneva 2, and moving forward with that as quickly as possible. Clearly, the Saudis area key player in the Arab League and a part of that.

So, anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: Sri Lanka.

MS. HARF: Move to another part of the world. Go ahead, yes.

QUESTION: There are calls to boycott the Commonwealth heads of government meeting this month in Sri Lanka. The Canadian Prime Minister has already announced he’s not attending. So what is the U.S. view on the lack of a – the creditable process to investigate charges of war crimes and mass killings of civilians during the last stages of the civil war in 2009, and the continued, as we say, human rights violations, curbs on media, interference in the free judiciary?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Thank you for the question. I did have an answer on this, but I think I might have taken it out of my book. I think this happened a few weeks ago or it first hit the press, so I’m happy to take the question and get you an answer after the briefing. I know there is an answer on this. I just don’t have it in front of me.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Thank you for the question, though. Yes.

QUESTION: I had a question on Benghazi, Benghazi-related.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Last week, there was a good deal of discussion after the report from 60 Minutes on the British security official who said he’d been to the mission. There are new reports out that, I guess based on a status report that he sent to his employer, Blue Mountain, that said, indeed, he was not there, he was basically at his villa and never made it to the mission. I was curious if the State Department had a comment on those discrepancies, and has the State Department seen this report from his employer and have an understanding of his whereabouts that evening?

MS. HARF: So a couple of points to that, and obviously, there’s an ongoing investigation by the FBI so I can’t talk too much about this. But on September 14th, 2012, the State Department was in receipt of an incident report from the Blue Mountain Group detailing the account of their project manager in Benghazi that night. The incident report was shared with Congress months ago, along with more than 25,000 pages of relevant documents. That report appears to be the same one that has been reported on in recent days.

My understanding is that the Blue Mountain project manager was interviewed by the FBI as part of their investigation into the attack. I’d refer you to them for further questions on those interviews.

QUESTION: But on – so basically, your understanding of his whereabouts, whether he was at his villa or --

MS. HARF: I don’t have a comment on his whereabouts. I can tell you that we did receive an incident report. It appears to be the same document that’s been reported on in the press recently, the document that was shared with Congress. But no further comments on that.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I had a quick question on Turkey.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: About the – according to the Turkish press reports, there was a meeting – the summit – of FATF, the Financial Action Task Force, in Paris recently last month. And in doing that meeting, Turkish Government asked to be de-listed from the high-risk countries categories in the regulatory listing of this organization. I don’t know what is the details, but off this list. But according to the Turkish press reports, U.S. Government objected, objected this demand, and you want to stay for Turkey in this category. Is that true? And --

MS. HARF: I share your concern that I don’t know the details about it. I’m happy to take the question. I just don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know anything about that one, so I’ll take it and see what I can get.

Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: Marie, on China?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: The suicide attack on Tiananmen Square – any updates on this? Have you been in touch with the Chinese authorities? Do you think this is a terrorist attack, as labeled by the Chinese authorities?

MS. HARF: No update from yesterday. We’re obviously continuing to monitor the situation closely and determine the facts of what happened on the ground. Obviously, we know that Chinese authorities have arrested, I think, five individuals related to the incident and have declared it an act of terrorism. We’re still looking into it, and as we have updates I’m happy to share them. Just no new update.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Chinese Government officially showing their frustrations with the Western World that they are distorting the facts and trying to make it as an ethnic issue and trying to find the excuse for the terrorists. Are you doing so?

MS. HARF: Well, I certainly haven’t characterized it in any. I haven’t characterized the attack in any way, so I would take notion with that. Obviously, we don’t excuse attacks of – acts of terrorism anywhere. But in terms of this situation, we’re just going to get all the facts before we make a further comment.

Yes.

QUESTION: Has there been any change in the visa policy for Narendra Modi, the Gujarat minister who is --

MS. HARF: No change in our longstanding visa policy. He’s welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant.

QUESTION: So you mean to say he has not applied for a visa?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. Again, visa applications are, I believe, confidential – or at least the details of them. I can check on that, but not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Anything else? This is going to be the world’s shortest briefing after the first one I ever did. Okay, guys. Well, thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Look at that. We can all go get lunch.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:08 p.m.)

DPB #184

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - November 5, 2013]