Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 25, 2014


Index for Today's Briefing


TRANSCRIPT:

2:21 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Thank you for your patience today. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a couple updates at the top. I will not lose my place in my book today. And then we’ll start with some questions.

A quick travel update. Secretary Kerry just arrived in Rome. He will travel tomorrow to Amman, Jordan to meet with President Abbas to continue to work to narrow the gaps between the parties. He will also be in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the phone or videoconference, depending on what technology we need. So we’ll be having some more discussions on Middle East peace.

Last item at the top – excuse me – on Egypt. Implementation of yesterday’s verdict imposing the death penalty on 529 defendants after a two-day trial would be unconscionable. If Egypt’s leaders want to ensure a political transition to democracy that ultimately improves the stability and economic prospects of their country and their people and that’s respected by the Egyptian people, they must unequivocally ensure an environment that is free of intimidation or retribution. This includes ensuring due process and fair trials for all Egyptians accused of crimes.

The verdicts handed down yesterday by the court and the commencement of another mass trial for 683 individuals today in the same court represent a flagrant disregard for basic standards of justice. The imposition of the death penalty for 529 defendants after a two-day summary proceeding cannot be reconciled with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law, and its implementation of these sentences, as I said, would be unconscionable. We cannot and should not credibly entertain the prospect that a two-day trial resulting in the sentencing of 529 people to death could respect the fair trial safeguards guaranteed by international law.

We are making clear to the Egyptian Government that these verdicts cannot be allowed to stand. The Government of Egypt should be taking action to increase the freedoms of the Egyptian people, not to suppress them, thereby feeding into the exact extremism that undermines peace and security. So today, we call on the Government of Egypt to refrain from politically motivated detentions, charges, and trials, and to ensure that all in Egypt are afforded the fair trial safeguards they are guaranteed under international law.

And with that, Lara, kick us off.

QUESTION: Okay. So we’ll just pick up on Egypt then.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: You kept saying that if the verdicts are allowed to stand it would be unconscionable. Do you expect them --

MS. HARF: Implementation would be – of these verdicts.

QUESTION: Okay. Would you – do you expect Egypt to change its stance on this at this point?

MS. HARF: We certainly hope they will. I don’t have any predictions to make, but we hope they will.

QUESTION: And if they don’t, then what will the U.S. do?

MS. HARF: Well, as you know, we have been reevaluating since July our relationship with Egypt and our policy towards Egypt. I don’t have any predictions to make about what consequences might come from this. As we said, and as I reiterated yesterday, we think it’s important to maintain a relationship with Egypt for a variety of security, economic, regional reasons.

But at the same time, we will make clear when actions are taken that we do not agree with and that, in turn, have the result of us changing our policy. So as you know, we are currently evaluating our aid policy; for example, some of the aid we suspended when we made that decision a few months ago. Everything that happens on the ground, including this, will play into the decision about where our assistance relationship goes from here.

QUESTION: And is that decision supposed to be made, I believe, by the end of this month?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. Let me check on the specific timing.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And there could be other repercussions. I don’t have anything to preview. Again, we think it’s an important relationship, and we believe by engaging with not only the government but also the other parties and groups that that will be helpful in moving their process forward, hopefully. Even when we don’t agree, we still think it’s important to engage, which is what we’re doing right now.

QUESTION: Marie.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Egyptian Government has considered all these international reactions as intervention in the judicial system in Egypt. What’s your reaction to that?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think there’s any intervention in their judicial system. I think that’s a preposterous allegation. We’re not doing anything like intervening in their judicial system, nor do we want to. What we are doing is what we always do everywhere, to speak out for our principles and our values and, indeed, international legal principles and values when they are threatened.

QUESTION: Well --

MS. HARF: Hold on, Elise. Let me --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Welcome to the briefing, Elise. And that’s what we’re doing here. Countries that say you’re intervening in our affairs, you’re meddling in our affairs, often just don’t like what we’re saying. We’re not. It’s up for the people of Egypt to decide their future. That’s exactly what we’ve said all along. This kind of intimidation takes Egypt in the wrong direction. It takes the power out of the hands of the people to choose their future by intimidation, by charges based on political motivations, so it’s actually going in the opposite direction than the people of Egypt want.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that point?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I understand that you say that when you’re speaking out about legal injustice and such. But the fact that you didn’t call the ouster of President Morsy a coup, do you think that you’re sending a mixed message to the Egyptian Government that some things are acceptable, and they’re just kind of testing their limits, because in some cases they’ve been able to get away with what some people would consider injustices of a legal system?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t, and for a couple of reasons. The first is that just because we made a legal determination that we didn’t have to say whether or not it was a coup, we made very clear our incredible disagreement with what they did. The President made a statement, the Secretary made statements. And indeed, we suspended some of our assistance based on what they did.

So regardless of what words we used, we took action when the Egyptian interim government did things that we did not think were acceptable. So that’s why right now – we were just talking when you walked in – that we are looking at all of that assistance. We’re evaluating where that relationship goes. And everything that happens on the ground plays into that decision. This obviously will play into that decision.

QUESTION: Could I ask quickly a follow up?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. And then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: I know that the figure is really staggering, but your statement is a bit mild. I mean, I tried to look --

MS. HARF: Mild?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: I said “unconscionable” like four times.

QUESTION: I mean, but this is – I mean, basically whether this execution is carried out or not, the fact that 529 people were sentenced to death is really an outrageous thing. I tried to look --

MS. HARF: I agree with you.

QUESTION: -- at a precedent in recent history, and I couldn’t find any.

MS. HARF: What words would you think I would use that would be stronger? Outrageous, shocked, unconscionable, defying logic.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m not here to set policy. But I’m saying --

MS. HARF: No, but --

QUESTION: -- what actions are you willing to take? I mean, action --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that shows your outrage does have teeth, let’s say.

MS. HARF: Well, I think you’ve seen our policy does have teeth. As I – again, I go back to the assistance decision that we made several months ago, when we did suspend some crucial assistance that the Egyptian Government wants as a direct result of their action. But put that into the bigger context of the relationship. There are things we continue to do with the Egyptian Government because they’re in our national interest to do them, whether it’s work together on counterterrorism in the Sinai, a whole host of issues. We make decisions based on our national interests and that uphold our values. That’s what we’re doing in Egypt. It’s a balance. It’s a fine line. We feel we’re walking that line.

But as I said to Lara’s first question, that we are reevaluating that relationship every day. We are determining if this assistance will stay suspended, if more will be suspended, if some will be brought back online. And suffice to say, things like these outrageous, shocking, unconscionable actions that the Egyptian Government is taking will, of course, have an impact on that decision.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I missed Lara’s first question. I was a bit late.

MS. HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: But it seems that the Apache helicopters, a lot of the aid is back on track. I mean, all the stuff that’s --

MS. HARF: The aid we suspended is not. Nothing changed on that.

QUESTION: Nothing has changed. That remains suspended?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes. But look, we also, as I said – and I don’t know exactly what you were here for at the beginning – but as I said, we believe this is an important relationship for a couple of reasons, one of which is we think it’s easier and more helpful to push the Egyptian Government to do better and make better decisions if we are engaged with them, that walking away doesn’t get the policy we want. And while it’s difficult and while they may not always do what we want them to do, we believe it’s important to remain engaged with them to help push them, that we have more leverage, in fact, by remaining engaged and not walking away.

QUESTION: On Egypt?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the Egyptian Government that the judicial system is an independent entity in Egypt? That means there is no relation between the government and the courts.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think that I have sort of any political or internal Egyptian analysis to do on how independent the judiciary is. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s more to share on that. But suffice to say, we do not believe that these convictions should be implemented. As I said at the top, we believe that if they are, in fact, it would be unconscionable and that it defies logic, all international legal standards to, as I’ve already said, convict 529 people and today put on trial 683 more for the death penalty. I’m not going to go into an analysis of what the flow chart looks like in the Egyptian interim government. What I’m saying is this should not be implemented.

QUESTION: And they said, too, that the court didn’t issue a verdict, but it issued only a decision and it can be reversed.

MS. HARF: Well, then reverse it.

QUESTION: Well, but wait a minute.

MS. HARF: Easy.

QUESTION: Wait a minute.

MS. HARF: Well, no. I mean, I don’t know what the difference is between decision and verdict. Is there a difference legally?

QUESTION: Are you asking the government to reverse the decision?

MS. HARF: As I said, implementation – we are asking them not to implement the decision. We do know there’s an appeals process here. We do. What we are saying is they should not implement the decision, that they should give all of these people a free and fair trial in accordance with international legal standards. And what we have said is that any trial of 529 people done over two days, much of which was in absentia, in no way could ever comport with international legal standards.

QUESTION: But in this country, even if there are many verdicts that a lot of people feel are a travesty of justice and absolutely ridiculous – but I’ve never seen the government intervene and say we’re not going to implement that decision.

MS. HARF: Well, first of all, they’re completely – they’re totally apples and oranges here.

QUESTION: Why?

MS. HARF: Because first of all, we operate in accordance with international law in terms of our domestic judicial system (a); and (b) this is – have you ever had a case in the United States where 529 people were convicted to death in two days? They’re just not the same thing.

QUESTION: No, I’m not. But are you saying clearly that the Egyptian judicial system needs reform, but you can’t ask the Egyptians or any government to personally intervene in a court case when it’s convenient, as opposed to when it’s not.

MS. HARF: I’m not asking – I didn’t say anyone specific should intervene and I’m not saying it’s convenient. I’m saying that the world is shocked by these death penalty sentences. I think all of us are. Everybody I’ve spoken to is.

QUESTION: I’m not saying --

MS. HARF: No, no, but --

QUESTION: -- that they’re not shocking and abhorrent. I’m just saying --

MS. HARF: Well, and that they’re not --

QUESTION: -- though that --

MS. HARF: -- in line with international legal standards. There’s no way that two-day trials of 529 people for the death penalty are in any way, comports with international legal standards, and that they must do that. And if they don’t, there will be consequences.

QUESTION: The mere fact that you just said two days, 529 convictions, today possibly 600 and so on – will you go and will you put on record that you consider this to be not only a kangaroo court or a miscarriage of justice, that it is a mockery, as a matter of fact, of the justice system?

MS. HARF: That – what was the last thing you said?

QUESTION: A mockery of any justice standards. I don’t know what kind of standards --

MS. HARF: Well, I think – again, I know you walked in a little late. What I said was we cannot and should not credibly entertain the prospect that a two-day trial resulting in the sentencing of 529 people to death could respect the fair trial safeguards guaranteed by international law. There’s just no way. If they think these people are guilty, try them in a free and fair way, end the politicized detentions and the politicized verdicts, and then you can actually give your own people some sort of confidence in their own judicial system. This isn’t about the U.S. having confidence in their judicial system. This is about the Egyptian people having confidence in their own judicial system.

QUESTION: Have you brought this up – I’m sorry if you brought it – this up in the top, but have you spoken to the Egyptian Government?

MS. HARF: We have. We raised this issue – we’ve raised it several times, but we raised it again today with the government in Egypt at a senior level in Cairo on the ground. And we’ll --

QUESTION: The ambassador?

MS. HARF: And we’ll – I’ll check on who it is. I don’t have that specifically here. And we’ll continue to have discussions.

QUESTION: Marie.

QUESTION: Have you seen much evidence from the time – I mean, from the time of the overtaking when Morsy was overthrown until now, would you agree that Egypt’s Government or rule of law has been headed in a direction that the U.S. does not agree with? Have you seen any evidence to the contrary? In other words, is there – what hope are you seeing that this will turn out to be a democratic system?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a good question. There have been a number of times, particularly with the politicized detentions of former senior leaders and others that we’ve expressed really serious concern about the direction this is heading in Egypt in terms of the Muslim Brotherhood, in terms of a number of things. So there hasn’t been a lot of good news in this realm coming out of Egypt since July. That’s true.

But this isn’t the end of the story here. And what we’ve always said, and I think this is a hopeful sentiment that we have and that we think is possible, is that the Egyptians have a chance to do better, that since July – July was a turning point for Egypt that gave them a chance in a very tough situation, to make some changes and continue on a democratic transition. As we’ve said, democratic transitions all over the world take generations – decades, years – they don’t happen in a few years and they don’t happen over a few months. And we are hopeful that by working with the Egyptian Government and the other parties – the international community and others – that we can help get Egypt back on a good path, but there hasn’t been a lot of good news.

QUESTION: Has there been any --

MS. HARF: There hasn’t been.

QUESTION: Is there any precedent since July – precedent since July that Egypt – that Cairo has heeded U.S. warnings or admonitions or that they should reverse course?

MS. HARF: On anything? On judicial issues or --

QUESTION: Well, on judicial issues or government issues or non-democratic movements.

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks and see what their thoughts are on this. It’s a hard question to answer because in some ways – you don’t know – you can’t prove a negative or you can’t prove something that didn’t – could have happened but didn’t. We just know what happened. So let me check with our folks and see.

I do know that our team on the ground and our team here doesn’t think this is – they somehow crossed into abyss, there’s no coming back from this, there’s no way to bring them back on the rails in terms of their judicial process. But --

QUESTION: They don’t think that.

MS. HARF: They think – they don’t think they’ve crossed over into some abyss.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: They do still think there’s a chance for Egypt to get back on track, get back on the rails. But look, we’ve seen even when Morsy was president, even before July, that, yes, someone can be elected democratically, but it doesn’t always mean they govern democratically. And one election does not a democracy make. So I think that we’re still halfway through, maybe not even, through the story of Egypt’s transition, and that’s why we’ll keep working with them on it.

QUESTION: Have you – in your discussions with the Egyptians, have you been given any indication that the government itself kind of understands the incredulousness of what happened and that they would be reconsidering it in any way?

MS. HARF: I don’t know is the answer. Let me check with our folks who’ve had the conversations, and we can maybe talk about it a little more tomorrow.

QUESTION: Please.

MS. HARF: Let me get a sense from them what they’re getting from the Egyptians.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. embassy confirm this number to be 529? Because there are some press reports, they say less than that.

MS. HARF: Okay. I can check. It’s my understanding that we think that’s the number, but let me check and see if there’s any discrepancy.

Yes.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. HARF: New topic, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. You announced that the Secretary will visit Jordan to meet --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- with President Abbas today.

MS. HARF: Tomorrow.

QUESTION: Tomorrow.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, sorry. And this timing is coming immediately after the end of the Arab League summit in Kuwait.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. That’s true.

QUESTION: What’s your expectations from the summit, the Arab summit. Are you expecting the Arab summit to ask President Abbas to continue in the negotiations after the end of next month?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t heard from our team any specific expectations they have from the Arab League summit. Obviously, we’ve been in close touch with the Arab League throughout this process; they’re an important part of the process. I don’t know of any specific expectations. I think what the Secretary is doing is continuing to work to narrow the gaps – obviously, some still exist – and working on a framework.

So I think every meeting he has is probably – you can say is – comes after an Arab League meeting or another meeting or somebody being in Washington, because he meets with them so frequently, but I think it’s just the latest in the discussions. We’ll see what comes out of the Arab League meeting though if we have more on that.

QUESTION: Marie, did you --

QUESTION: Do you think that if you don’t get this present – that the Israelis don’t make this prisoner release on Friday, that efforts at peacemaking will be all but stymied for the foreseeable future? Because President Abbas has said that if this benchmark goes through without the prisoner release, that he’ll end the negotiations and go to the United Nations.

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. The first is that both parties agreed to negotiate for nine months, so I think we’re still certainly operating under that basis, and they’re still negotiating in good faith under that basis. Obviously, we’ve said both parties have had to make courageous decisions throughout this process to keep the negotiations going, and we certainly hope that will continue. And again, the Secretary is just about to have some more meetings, and we’ll see how those go.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of which prisoners are going to be set for release or up for being released at the end of this week?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I don’t have a breakdown of that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Let me check.

Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Marie, have you heard the ambassador speak at the summit?

MS. HARF: I haven’t.

QUESTION: Because he said that Israel did not waste any opportunity to scuttle Secretary Kerry’s efforts. Do you agree --

MS. HARF: Well, both parties are still at the table.

QUESTION: -- with Abbas?

MS. HARF: Both parties are still at the table having discussions with each other and with the Secretary and with Ambassador Indyk. So I think the proof is in what’s happening.

QUESTION: Do you consider these allegations to be inflammatory or provocative or anything like this, or not --

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen them, so I --

QUESTION: Or not in tandem with what’s going on?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen them, so I don’t want to put a value judgment on them. But I will say that President Abbas has been very committed to this process throughout the whole process.

QUESTION: Okay, and to follow up on Lisa’s question on the issue of the prisoners that are scheduled to be released on the 29th. Now, Abbas, time and again, insisted that if this does not take place, no negotiation in the future will take place. Are you talking to him on that perhaps they need more time to release the prisoners and so on?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into any of the specifics of what we’re talking about.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you just a quick follow-up --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- on the Israeli behavior. I mean, we have seen increased incessant violations of Palestinian camps and cities and so on. Today, this morning, as a matter of fact, the Israeli forces went into the Polytechnic University and beat up a guy, arrested him. They beat up a number of professors and so on, unprovoked. We have seen this pattern in the last few days. Are you talking with the Israelis about – as far as scaling back this very aggressive behavior in the last week or so?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into any of the specifics of discussions we’re having with either party. I’m just not going to.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, just to quickly follow up on the discussion that Mr. Abbas had with Martin Indyk, the American envoy Martin Indyk in Amman. Did he discuss with him, just to follow up on what Lisa – an extension of the talks?

MS. HARF: I’m going to say it for a third time. I’m not going to discuss what we discuss specifically with either party.

QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Yes, on peace process?

QUESTION: Yeah. Why the U.S. is focused on talking to the Palestinian side only, not to the Israeli side?

MS. HARF: That’s not what I --

QUESTION: We know that President Abbas was in Washington last week. He met with the President and with the Secretary Kerry --

MS. HARF: And Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Washington not too long before.

QUESTION: Yeah, three weeks ago. And this is the second meeting in two weeks with Abbas after (inaudible) the Israelis.

MS. HARF: And I also said, if you heard my third line at the top, that Secretary Kerry will also be in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the phone or video conference tomorrow as well.

QUESTION: Why he --

MS. HARF: He just --

QUESTION: Why he will be --

MS. HARF: Why isn’t he coming to Rome – or to Amman, excuse me?

QUESTION: He will be meeting with Abbas, not with the prime minister.

MS. HARF: Well, he’s having conversations with the prime minister. They’re not in person, but they’re certainly detailed conversations. So he’s talking to both sides tomorrow. One happens to be in person. I wouldn’t read anything into that.

Yes.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yemen. It has been reported from Sana’a that a Western diplomat has been abducted. Are you aware of that, and could you tell us whether it’s an American diplomat or not?

MS. HARF: It’s not an American, is my understanding. I know the facts are still emerging here. I know our folks are following it, and if we have more to share on it, we can. But it’s my understanding it’s not an American.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Have you seen President Karzai’s statement over the weekend on Crimea supporting Russian position on that? Do you have anything?

MS. HARF: I have seen it.

QUESTION: How do you view it?

MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve been very clear about the fact that we believe Russia – we and the rest of the G7 and the international community believes that Russia violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty with their incursion into Crimea. So I’m not sure exactly what international legal standards that President Karzai is basing that on, but it’s just not based in reality, I would say, is probably my only comment about that.

QUESTION: So have you taken up this issue with him? He’s --

MS. HARF: With President Karzai?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. It isn’t really – I mean, there’s not really a reason we would. We’re talking to the G7, to the Ukrainians, to the Russians, to everyone who directly is involved in this situation in Ukraine, and Afghanistan’s just not.

QUESTION: And also, the top leadership of Afghan Government is blaming Pakistan’s ISI for the attack on the hotel and the several journalists including that of AFP were killed. Do you have any readout on that?

MS. HARF: Of the attack?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Well, I know we’ve put out statements, obviously, condemning the violence and the attack. I don’t have more on responsibility for that. I’m happy to check.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There are some reports --

MS. HARF: And then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Sorry --

MS. HARF: No, it’s okay.

QUESTION: -- also on Ukraine --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that Russia now has 30,000 troops along the border with Ukraine and kind of tanks and stuff pointed in the Ukraine’s direction. Do you now believe that President Putin is intent on going into eastern Ukraine and it’s just a matter of time, or do you think that this is still a kind of just posturing?

MS. HARF: Well, I think – what we’ve said is we’re very concerned about what escalatory steps the Russians could take. We’re concerned about the troops amassing. Secretary Kerry brought it up yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We’re concerned about the Ukrainian soldiers and marines that are still missing and that Russia needs to return and be held accountable for.

So the bottom line is we hope they don’t. We hope they don’t take further escalatory actions. We hope they pull back. I don’t have any predictions in terms of whether they will. I think I probably don’t want to look into a crystal ball about what Putin will do. But they should not take additional steps. I think the G7 spoke very clearly yesterday with one voice, saying there will be further consequences if Russia continues to escalate.

QUESTION: So are there – are you saying that there are or there aren’t troops in the Ukraine, Russian troops?

MS. HARF: There are troops amassing on the border with Ukraine --

QUESTION: Amassing on the --

MS. HARF: -- and there are troops in Crimea, which we consider to be part of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: But you’re not saying that there are Russian troops and divisions and tanks and so on that are actually on --

MS. HARF: In other part --

QUESTION: -- Ukrainian territory?

MS. HARF: Well, Crimea is Ukrainian territory.

QUESTION: I mean aside from the – Crimea.

MS. HARF: To my knowledge, they’re amassed on the border. I can check and see if there’s any – I mean, obviously we’ve been concerned not only about troops, but I should say we’re concerned about Russia fomenting unrest in parts of southern or eastern Ukraine, particularly ahead of the elections that we think are so important in moving Ukraine forward. So we can focus on tanks and troops, and that’s important, but we also need to focus on the broader question of whether Russia’s trying to destabilize significant chunks of Ukraine.

Yes, I’m going to go to you, because I --

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Josh Bernstein with Al Jazeera. Back in September, we obtained a copy and published the Benghazi report, the findings of the Independent Panel on Best Practices.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The report was highly critical of security at diplomatic posts and at embassies, and it made an immediate suggestion for the need of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security. At the time, State Department declined to comment. It’s been seven months. We were hoping you could answer some questions on that.

MS. HARF: Let me see if – I have at some point in this big book had best practices guidance in here. Give me some – I might not have the answers today, but if you want to give me the questions, I’m happy to look into them. I might just not have the answers here, and I want to be very specific when I answer your questions.

QUESTION: Sure. Well, it’s our understanding that tomorrow, the five-member panel’s scheduled to meet with Under Secretary Heather Higginbottom.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And will that meeting be open to the press?

MS. HARF: No, it will not be open to the press. We’ll attempt to provide a readout for you after the meeting. It wouldn’t be unusual for it to be closed.

QUESTION: Is there a reason why these meetings are being held in secret and questions won’t be answered?

MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t say in secret. These are discussions that we’re having internally. We have talked ad nauseam about Benghazi – the ARB, the congressional investigations, the best practice panel – from this podium and elsewhere. So believe me, I don’t think there’s any part of the Benghazi conversation that hasn’t been had publicly. Sometimes there are meetings best done in private internally to determine the way forward. I’m not sure why it would be appropriate for it be a public meeting.

QUESTION: Is this meeting any indication that the State Department is going to take seriously the number-one recommendation of the panel: to create a position of Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any preview for you of what the meeting will be tomorrow. Again, I’m happy to check with the people who are going to be there and be a part of it. Again, I don’t have that specific information in front of me. I know that that has been out there. There are no, at this time, to my knowledge, any plans, obviously, to create new positions. But we’ve taken particularly the ARB’s recommendations very seriously. We’ve made great progress in implementing many of them – on congressional investigations, very seriously, and have implemented many of their recommendations as well.

QUESTION: This is nothing new, though. This is something that 14 years ago was recommended and approved by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but ignored and never implemented. Is there a reason why the State Department is reluctant to create this position?

MS. HARF: To create a new position? Let me check specifically on that. I’m sure there’s an answer for you. But maybe going to the crux of your question – and correct me if I’m wrong here, but the notion that if there was this one different position or if there had been on September 10th, 2012, this wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think anybody’s arguing, and I think is just not based on the facts about the case. So I’m happy to check about this --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: That’s not the crux of my question.

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, what is the crux of your question, then? Why we haven’t put another person in place?

QUESTION: Well, this has been going on for 14 years. This panel that you say you’ve taken very seriously – I mean, it’s page one, their number-one recommendation. And this was also recommended 14 years ago. Bobby Inman thinks it should take place. And it’s been approved, but – and the panel also says that Under Secretary of – Kennedy is overwhelmed and can’t handle all these different tasks. What’s the State Department’s response?

MS. HARF: Again, I don’t think I have that specific question in here. I’m happy – I know we have an answer to why we haven’t done this. I’m happy to take it and get you an answer if you want to – I can send it to you, you can come back tomorrow.

Again, we’ve taken a sort of top-to-bottom look at security since Benghazi. It’s something we’re constantly concerned about and reevaluating. What the right bureaucratic mixture is for who should have control over security and what that should look like is something, obviously, since Benghazi, we’ve taken very seriously.

So I’m not trying to downplay your question or the importance of it. I know there’s an answer to it. I’m sorry I don’t have that specifically in my book. I’m happy to get it for you.

QUESTION: Would you be willing to provide somebody for a sit-down interview with Al Jazeera regarding the report, its findings, and the panel’s --

MS. HARF: Well, I’m happy to answer the question from the podium tomorrow, and if it’s not good enough, we can talk about how to answer it further.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Deal?

QUESTION: Change topic? Oh, sorry.

MS. HARF: Let’s go to Elise and then I’ll go to you, but I will get you an answer. I just – I have, like, 20 pages of Benghazi and unfortunately don’t have that.

QUESTION: I have two quick ones, one about Venezuela.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Apparently, Congressman Maria Corina Machado was expelled from congress for coming to the OAS. Do you have anything on that?

MS. HARF: Yes, I do. Just give me one second. Yes. So she – let me see this – so I don’t have anything on being expelled from congress. I’ll check on that part. She was offered a – to address the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States by Panama, I believe. They made her a part of their delegation. We strongly supported Panama’s efforts here. She is an opposition leader. But we believe that listening to a democratically elected member of any member state legislature, regardless of party affiliation – Lord knows we do it here – is consistent with the OAS’s history of openness and transparency.

So obviously, we think this is disturbing, we don’t think that Venezuela should continue down this path, and that obviously, they can’t solve their problems by criminalizing or cracking down on dissent; that the government should choose dialogue over confrontation. They haven’t done that and they need to.

QUESTION: Just one other one.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There’s a report by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies about these Saudi textbooks, and was wondering what you think of their charge that the State Department, while commissioning this report, has kind of – I don’t want to say cover up – but has been holding the results and preventing its publication perhaps because of the souring relationship with Saudi Arabia.

MS. HARF: Well, I would, I think, fundamentally – having not seen the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies report, just seen some of the reports about it – would fundamentally disagree with it. When we – first of all, for years, we’ve talked about Saudi textbooks. We’ve encouraged educational and textbook reform very publicly in Saudi Arabia in an effort to advance religious tolerance. This project, this assessment from this project, was never intended to be made public, as they often are not. It was intended to drive and inform the work of the State Department as we work with the Saudi Government to push them to reform their textbooks.

We believe it’s best and most effective to work with the Saudis on this directly, to help as they go through their process of reform. So again, this project was never intended to be made public when it – at its inception. And I think in the article you may be referring to – I know there was one article about this – both State Department officials and the president of the nonprofit who wrote the study said it was never meant to be released to the public. So there’s no one keeping a public report quiet. It was always supposed to be internal.

QUESTION: Well, now that it is public, I mean --

MS. HARF: Well, it’s not public.

QUESTION: Well, that – the idea that this report is public, and obviously, you know the findings that – and the findings do seem to be that the Saudis have not – we’ve been talked to about this over the years about that, how you’ve been urging the Saudis to kind of stop preaching hatred and intolerance in its curriculum.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And we’ve said that very publicly. Just because it’s not in a report – we have --

QUESTION: No, I understand. But it doesn’t look like, based on this study, that a whole lot of progress has been made in that accord. And I’m just wondering how you plan to address this with the Saudis.

MS. HARF: Well, we know there’s more work to be done. We’ve been very clear about that publicly, again, regardless of whether a report is released or not. And we have worked with the Saudis over the years, and we believe that it is – every country reforms at its own pace. We obviously continue to push our partners to reform. And we believe with the Saudis that it’s most effective to do this directly with them between our governments and not publicly, and we do want to keep working with them to see if they can reform their curriculum more.

QUESTION: Will the President bring this issue during his visit to Saudi Arabia and urge the Saudis perhaps to loosen up a little bit on the issue?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any preview for you of what the President will say in his meetings there.

QUESTION: Can I change topics? I want to go to Darfur.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. I don’t know if you’re aware, but militants, militias have attacked a – refugee camps in Darfur and attacked both the UN mission there, UNAMID, and the African Union and so on. I wonder if you have any information on that.

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports, Said. I’m sorry about that. Let me check with our folks.

QUESTION: But – okay, but look into it, because --

MS. HARF: I will.

QUESTION: -- it seems that the central government in Khartoum is no longer able to sort of exercise control over the Arab tribes and the militias that they created some years back to fight the --

MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks. I’m just not familiar with the – yes.

QUESTION: There are (inaudible) move on the Hill to expedite the process of export of U.S. gas to American friends and allies. Does the State Department support this move? Would it help the U.S. foreign policy?

MS. HARF: I’m not familiar with the details of a congressional push on this. Let me check with our Hill team and see if I can get something.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, I’m not sure that the meeting wrapped up before you got to the podium, but do you have a readout from today’s trilateral meeting with the U.S., Japan, and Korea?

MS. HARF: I do not have a readout for you, but let me tell you after I will get something for you, and we’ll send it around this afternoon. Obviously, we think it’s important. It’s an important step in the relationship trilaterally but also between the two countries. So let me see what I can get you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes. Lara, and then Tolga.

QUESTION: Let me ask one on the – to go back to the peace process.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I want to clarify. I just want to make sure I’m right in this. Am I right in remembering that the – it’s the U.S.’s understanding that the prisoner release and agreement was a part of the negotiating process? It was an agreed-upon part of the negotiating process at the beginning, same as the Palestinians not going to the UN while the negotiations were ongoing.

MS. HARF: What do you mean by “a part of the negotiating”? I’m sorry, what do you --

QUESTION: Well, that the --

MS. HARF: I just want to make sure I’m --

QUESTION: Yeah. No, that the U.S. understood or believed that there would be some prisoner release as a part of the negotiations.

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding. Obviously, we’ve seen a few prisoners --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- prisoner releases during this time.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: But I want to be very careful and specific here, so let me check with them to see what – whether this is part of at the beginning or whether this has been talked about throughout again. Let me check with our --

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. And then to – going back to that, because I think maybe one of the questions or the confusions is that I don’t think that some of these agreements – and maybe I’m wrong – were ever documented. Right?

MS. HARF: I have similar questions. So let me check with our folks and see sort of exactly what we were all sort of working on throughout this process and what that action means.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Marie, on Lara’s point, Saeb Erekat last week claimed that on July 19th last year he reached an agreement with Secretary Kerry on the release of the prisoners. So it is not tied in any way to, let’s say, the nine-month period that was announced a little later.

MS. HARF: Let me check on the details.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I agree they’re important questions --

QUESTION: That’s what he said.

MS. HARF: -- and I just want to make sure I have all the facts there.

QUESTION: He said that in public last Tuesday, as a matter of fact.

MS. HARF: Well, there’s lots of things said in public. Let me check on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. What I’d like to know --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is what the U.S. understanding is.

MS. HARF: I – yeah. Understood.

QUESTION: Because I think Israel and Palestinian are – both have certain understandings of what the agreement was. I’d like to know --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- what the U.S. understanding is.

MS. HARF: And it’s a totally fair question, and I want to make sure I have it totally right, as I always do. So let me check.

QUESTION: And also --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- which prisoners. If it is --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. understanding, which prisoners --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Let me see what I can get.

QUESTION: -- were part of this first tranche.

MS. HARF: Let me see if I can get some more for tomorrow on this.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Tolga.

QUESTION: Is this --

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. Do you have something on this? Yeah. And then --

QUESTION: Israel. Is the Secretary not going to Israel because the minister of defense didn’t apologize to him?

MS. HARF: No. I have not heard that was part of a decision at all here. Obviously, we think he should have. But no, I think there’s just travel schedules. And he’s going to Amman; he’s going to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu over the phone. I think it’s a logistical --

QUESTION: But Amman is too close to Israel.

MS. HARF: You guys are reading too much in here, where I don’t think there’s any tea leaves to be read here. I think – he’s on this massive trip with the President, right, which has a lot of moving parts, too – wants to go to Rome, wanted to be part of the trip to Saudi Arabia, so obviously, I think it’s a logistical question.

QUESTION: And he has to cross Israel to go to Jordan --

MS. HARF: I don’t know where – the flight route for our plane.

QUESTION: Sorry, Marie. A (inaudible) the prisoners.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: The Israelis are saying that the prisoners that are Israeli citizens will not be released. There was a demand that the Palestinians made that those Palestinians with Israeli citizenships that are in prison also be released. Do you have a position on this?

MS. HARF: Let me take all of the questions on the prisoner release and see what I can get you for tomorrow.

QUESTION: I have one on Saudi Arabia.

MS. HARF: Uh huh. And Tolga, I promise I’m getting to you.

QUESTION: It’s more – it’s about the State Department – it’s about the Saudis denying the visa of a Jerusalem --

MS. HARF: Of one of your colleagues.

QUESTION: -- of one of our colleagues –

MS. HARF: He’s in this briefing room often. Yes.

QUESTION: -- who – a Jerusalem Post correspondent who was scheduled to travel. I was wondering if you could talk about the efforts that were made to try and get the Saudis to reconsider, and what you think of the denial of the visa.

MS. HARF: Well, as you saw, I think, from one of the NSC spokespeople, we’re deeply disappointed that this journalist – obviously this credible journalist that sits in this room in the second row often – was denied a visa. And we will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision with the Saudi Government. I don’t have more details in terms of what those discussions have looked like, but suffice to say we are raising it and are concerned about it.

QUESTION: Do you know why he was denied a visa?

MS. HARF: I would defer to the Saudi Government to speak to their visa decisions.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Would you follow up on yesterday, actually, Marie, for the Twitter ban and the situation at the Turkey-Syria border? Do you have any update on these issues?

MS. HARF: On any – you asked a lot of questions yesterday.

QUESTION: Yeah. But --

MS. HARF: Any specific follow-ups you want to ask? Okay. I’ll give you a few follow-ups that I have in here, and we’ll see if I answer all your questions.

So someone asked about the rules of engagement yesterday; I think it was Matt, so I’m looking at Lara. Turkey’s parliament revised their rules of engagement in the wake of the June 2012 incident in which Syria shot down a Turkish plane. The revision of these rules was openly and widely covered by world media, and Prime Minister Erdogan referred to these revisions on several occasions. So when I said they were fully transparent, and Matt had asked if these were discussed publicly, turns out they were.

As far as I’m aware, we haven’t sort of discussed further – we’re not concerned about further escalation with Turkey. Obviously, if there were any indications it might, we’d be concerned. Haven’t seen any indications. We have no reason to doubt Turkey’s version of events in this as well. Obviously, we will continue to talk to them about the incident.

What else?

QUESTION: About the Twitter ban, your contacts with the Turkish officials.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Ambassador Sepulveda is in contact with Turkish counterparts on this issue?

MS. HARF: Let me check and see if he is. I know a number of folks have been. I don’t have details, but let me check and see if he is.

QUESTION: And also, you had said that you will look into it, the privacy dimension of this problem. Do UN secretary – UN – United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights released a statement today regarding the Twitter ban, and they emphasized two major points: one, freedom of expression, and the other one, right to privacy. Do you have any comments on --

MS. HARF: I don’t have any updates on the privacy aspect. You’re right, I said I would take it. I’m sorry I don’t have an answer. Let me see what I can get you.

QUESTION: Marie?

QUESTION: On Turkey, do you still consider Mr. Erdogan a loyal ally of the United States?

MS. HARF: Turkey’s a NATO ally.

QUESTION: I’m asking about Mr. Erdogan.

MS. HARF: Well, Turkey is a NATO ally, and he’s prime minister of Turkey.

QUESTION: I know. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: On Syria, yesterday I asked you about the U.S. Administration review regarding Syria --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and if there were decisions, and you said that you will check and get back to us.

MS. HARF: And there – I – to my knowledge – again, I have been checking around – no big decisions have been made. Obviously, we’re continuing to reevaluate, but I think whatever reports you saw were not correct.

QUESTION: One more. It’s been now three years since you imposed sanctions on Syria. What are the effects or the ramifications of these sanctions on the regime and on Syria in general?

MS. HARF: Well, they’re part of a much broader strategy to isolate the Syrian regime economically and diplomatically. And we took steps last week, as you saw, to diplomatically isolate the regime by sending their folks home from the embassy and their outpost in the United States.

So we’ve made it clear – the Assad regime – that you can’t do business with the Assad regime, you can’t help the Assad regime, or else there will be consequences. So I think today you see the fact that Bashar al-Assad has very few friends in the world, very few sources of income, and very few people who will support him. And I think that’s been a direct result of not only our sanctions but our diplomatic efforts as well.

When you have a unanimous Security Council resolution on a plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, I think it shows pretty strongly that Assad is all by himself here.

QUESTION: But he’s still there and he’s still funding his military and his militias.

MS. HARF: He is, yes. It’s a very complicated situation with no easy answer. Sanctions aren’t the cure-all for everything; they’re one part of a broader strategy.

QUESTION: And last week you closed the Syrian Embassy in town. Now – but you didn’t cut diplomatic relations.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now in theory, suppose Syria submits applications for a visa or diplomatic visas for new diplomats. Would you consider it or accept it?

MS. HARF: Well, we --

QUESTION: What is likely to happen in this case? Suppose they say – because they claim that the reason they withdrew two – their last two diplomats is because you refused to renew the visa applications for --

MS. HARF: We obviously don’t talk about individual visa cases before they’re adjudicated, and we don’t make predictions about how an individual visa case could play out. But obviously, we are at a place right now where we don’t think, because they’re not providing consular services in the United States and because of the actions of the regime, that it’s appropriate for them to still be here.

QUESTION: But if the Syrians were to submit applications for their diplomats to come to Washington, lower level or whatever, would you --

MS. HARF: I don’t know how the process would turn out.

QUESTION: Okay. But --

MS. HARF: I don’t know.

QUESTION: But the fact that relations were not cut off, they could conceivably do that. Correct?

MS. HARF: I’m sure they could fill out a piece of paper and send it in. I don’t know what the outcome of that process would be.

QUESTION: And just to clarify the situation, because – I mean at the Turkey-Syria border – have you discussed with Turkish Government this – their concern about the religious site within Syria which is belonging to Turkey?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any information on that. I don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: Because if you look at the front pages of Turkish newspapers, there are some remarks of the Turkish officials regarding this site, and some deployment to the border regarding the threat coming from the radical groups regarding this specific area. But you see – you say that there is not any escalation risk at the moment, at the Syria-Turkey border. So you don’t – as far as I understand, you don’t take seriously those --

MS. HARF: I just don’t have anything for you on that specific item that you’re asking about. What I said is in reference to the plane, and to my knowledge, we haven’t had conversations about escalation or not escalating because we think this was --

QUESTION: No --

MS. HARF: -- we think this was an isolated incident, and we hope it stays that way.

QUESTION: I’m not talking about only jet incident.

MS. HARF: But that’s what I was talking about.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: How about --

MS. HARF: And on the other question you ask --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: -- I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Still? I mean --

MS. HARF: Still. Do you have any further questions?

QUESTION: No. My question is: Have you contacted --

MS. HARF: Okay. I don’t have anything further on you --

QUESTION: -- with the Turkish officials? No?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything further for you on that topic.

QUESTION: That means you don’t have anything on the military – Turkish military buildup on the border with Syria, too?

MS. HARF: On the specific religious site that he’s asking about, I don’t have --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: What I said is we think this hopefully, the shooting down of a plane is an isolated incident. Obviously we’re concerned about all of Syria’s borders and free flow of people over them and – all of that. We’re obviously concerned about that. What I have said is that we haven’t talked to the Turkish Government, to my knowledge, about the plane incident and not escalating, because we think it’s an incident that took place in an isolated setting and hope that it doesn’t portend anything bad for the future, obviously.

QUESTION: But you don’t want to talk about the religious site?

MS. HARF: I think I just said I don’t have anything for you on that. You can ask five more times, and I will have the same answer. Thanks.

QUESTION: Marie, do you have anything new on the plane to tell us? I know you said – you said yesterday --

MS. HARF: Not other than, I just said for the last ten minutes.

QUESTION: Yeah. You said yesterday that you have no independent confirmation. My question is are you doing your own --

MS. HARF: And we have no reason to doubt Turkey’s version of events.

QUESTION: No, no. I’m asking about the plane in Malaysia.

MS. HARF: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS. HARF: You got to clarify which plane here.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: Yes, Malaysian. Thank you. I might have something new on that.

QUESTION: Did you have anything new?

MS. HARF: Yes. Sorry. Got to clarify which plane.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask my question?

MS. HARF: Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: You said yesterday you have no independent confirmation. And my question is: Are you doing your own investigation?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Or you just cooperate with Government of Malaysia?

MS. HARF: So we are cooperating with the Government of Malaysia. As you know, I think as people know now, the Malaysian Government did their calculations based on satellite data from a British company Inmarsat, who had the satellite images, and they did calculations based on that.

We are in touch with both the Malaysian Government about their calculations and the British company about their images to see if we can independently confirm their data analysis through our own data analysis. So basically we’re going back and looking at how they got to what they got to and seeing if our folks – our math experts and folks – can get to the same place as well. That’s what we’re doing right now. That process isn’t done yet.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what is your focus on this investigation? Is it a terrorist act? Is it a mechanical problem? Is it something else?

MS. HARF: Well, obviously, the Malaysian Government is leading the investigation here. And I know they’re looking at a wide variety of possible scenarios for how this plane ended up in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I don’t have any update in terms of if they’re leaning one way or the other. I know there’s lots of rumors out there.

QUESTION: Is the FBI doing an independent investigation or just working with the Malaysian authorities?

MS. HARF: It’s my – we’re definitely working with the Malaysian authorities. I will check and see if there’s some sort of independent – because of American citizens.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: I would guess that we’re feeding into the broader investigation, but let me check.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)

DPB # 52

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - March 25, 2014]