1:07 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon.
MS. HARF: Welcome to the daily briefing. It’s good to be back.
QUESTION: Nice to see you.
MS. HARF: I have a couple items at the top, so bear with me, and then I will get to your questions.
First, a Secretary schedule update. Today, as you know, the Secretary is hosting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and key members of the Afghan Government at Camp David. They’re discussing a range of issues including security, economic development, and U.S. support for the Afghan-led reconciliation process. Secretary Kerry will be joined by cabinet-level officials, including Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, and others. Following their meetings, the Secretary will hold a joint press conference today at 4 o’clock – most of you probably know that – with Secretary Carter and with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.
And a travel update. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Lausanne, Switzerland to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on March 26th as part of the ongoing EU-coordinated P5+1 negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. So I know that’s not a big surprise to anyone, but there’s the official announcement.
Just a couple more quick things at the top. You may have seen the White House announced that President Obama will host Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi at the White House on Tuesday, April 14th. The prime minister’s visit will underscore the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Iraq and the strong U.S. commitment to political and military cooperation with Iraq in the joint fight against ISIL. I’m just trying to fill out everyone’s calendars for the next few weeks.
Two more – a couple more quick things. You probably saw the Secretary’s statement on the death of Lee Kuan Yew that we put out yesterday. I just wanted to let people know that Assistant Secretary Danny Russel signed the condolence book at the Singaporean Embassy this morning for Lee Kuan Yew.
QUESTION: Do you know if anyone else in the Administration plans to do that?
MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t. I don’t know. I will check.
On Ukraine, we continue to see an increasing disparity between what Russia and the separatists say and what they do. This disparity threatens the Minsk agreements and stability in the region. Russia and the separatists claim to be honoring the ceasefire, but in reality they are violating it on a regular basis and are encroaching further beyond the ceasefire line, including recent attacks on an important bridgehead in northern Luhansk. Yesterday Russia-backed separatists also launched an attack on the village of
Pisky, where OSCE monitors were inspecting a checkpoint. We condemn this attack, which ended up – injured up to seven Ukrainian troops and placed the OSCE monitors in danger. We commend the OSCE for continued monitoring, even at the risk of personal harm, and we reiterate our call for unfettered access for OSCE monitors. Russia and the separatists it backs will face increasing costs if they do not implement their Minsk commitments. Finally, we take note of yesterday’s so-called International Russian Conservative Forum meeting and look forward to the day when groups from across the political spectrum may once again gather and speak freely in Russia. As always, we will judge Russia and the separatists by the actions, not their words.
And last, in the category of some good news because we don’t often get a lot of this in the briefing room: The World Wildlife Fund is currently hosting the prime minister of Bhutan to promote their collaboration on a joint initiative called Bhutan for Life, which will raise financing to support setting aside more than 50 percent of Bhutan’s territory to preserve forests and wildlife. We welcome the innovative initiative and applaud Bhutan’s commitment to sustainable economic development and environmental preservation.
With that, get us started.
QUESTION: Yay, Bhutan.
MS. HARF: I know. Some good news.
QUESTION: There you go. All of which is – all of that is very interesting. Let’s start, though, with Yemen.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Are there any U.S. Government personnel left in the country?
MS. HARF: I do not believe so. As we said in the statement over the weekend, the U.S. Government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen. I know we’ve talked a lot about this in this room, but it’s my understanding that the remaining personnel were relocated.
QUESTION: So zero, to your knowledge?
MS. HARF: To my knowledge.
QUESTION: So how exactly is Yemen going to continue to be a model for the —
MS. HARF: For counterterrorism?
QUESTION: — counterterrorism if you don’t have anyone there on the ground? Are you able to do what you have been doing from outside of the country?
MS. HARF: So political instability there has not forced us to suspend our counterterrorism operations. Although we have temporarily relocated our remaining U.S. Government personnel from Yemen, we continue to actively monitor threats and have resources prepared in the region to address them. Clearly, this is a top priority for us and I can’t go into more detail than that, but that’s certainly what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: So you would take issue, then, with critics who say – criticism from people who are saying that you basically had to run out of the country with your tail between your legs and you’re not able to conduct the same kind of counterterrorism operations that you were, say, a month ago?
MS. HARF: I would certainly disagree with that characterization. We did relocate personnel for security reasons, but as I said, we have resources in the region to address counterterrorism, and we have not been forced to suspend our counterterrorism operations.
QUESTION: Okay, but surely it would be better, right, if you had people on the ground there.
MS. HARF: I think our preference is always to have a presence in countries if we can.
QUESTION: I’ll leave it at that. I mean —
MS. HARF: What else?
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia warned that it might intervene in Yemen. Would – and also that comes at the same time that some officials have told I think NBC News that Yemen could be a new Syria. Do you see it going in that direction, when you have all of these Sunni and Shia countries – Iran and Saudi Arabia – intervening in this – trying to intervene at least – in the same way they have done in Iraq and Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t – I would caution you from drawing direct parallels. First, of course, we know the security situation in Yemen is grave. We are aware of that, obviously, and further violence or any kind of deterioration further than this would be catastrophic for Yemen’s communities, for the country as a whole.
But we are being very clear that all parties in Yemen need to immediately halt all unilateral and offensive military actions, return to Yemen’s political transition; have urged a commitment to peaceful political transition consistent with the GCC initiative, the national dialogue outcomes. There are a number of ways they could get back to dialogue here. Obviously, that’s what we believe needs to happen.
When it comes to Iran, obviously we’re aware of reports of a variety of support that Iran has provided to the Houthis, but have not seen evidence that Iran is exerting command and control over their activities in Yemen. So I think it’s just a little different than maybe the link you were trying to draw. Obviously, though, the security situation is very concerning.
QUESTION: Specifically, would you be concerned if Saudi Arabia intervened in the conflict?
MS. HARF: As we’ve said, the parties in Yemen need to come back from the brink here. They need to get back to a political transition dialogue, that there’s not a military solution here, and I think that is our position and it’s pretty clear.
QUESTION: Marie, just on the command and control issue.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: You say that you are aware of links between the Iranians and the Houthis?
MS. HARF: And a variety of support, whether it’s weapons or money.
QUESTION: Right. Well, regardless of whether they have command and control over day-to-day operations, the Iranians – I mean, they’ve started direct flights into Sana’a. There were reports of a big ship, Iranian ship unloading weapons there. I mean, whether or not they actually are controlling the day-to-day military operations, there certainly is a very high level of support, is there not, from —
MS. HARF: Certainly, and we’ve talked about that in the counterterrorism report from the State Department. I just think there’s a little misconception out there about our view of the Houthi and Iran’s command and control, and I just think it’s a detail that warrants clearing up.
QUESTION: Right, but —
MS. HARF: But yes, there’s a large number – there’s a huge amount of support. That is true.
QUESTION: But the – but concern has been expressed in many quarters, not least of which your Arab – some of your Arab allies, that Iran is basically taking over the region and it now has control – or it has a significant degree of —
MS. HARF: Influence.
QUESTION: — influence in not only Syria but in Lebanon and in, now, Yemen. Does the Administration not share those concerns?
MS. HARF: We certainly – absolutely, Matt. We certainly share the concerns that Iran has in many places in the region played a very destabilizing role. We’ve spoken out about that when you talk about Hezbollah, Syria, Lebanon. We’ve criticized their support for the Houthis in multiple counterterrorism reports, from this podium. I just wanted to be very precise about the command and control issue. But yes, we are very concerned about their role in the region and their influence in the region.
QUESTION: And will this have any impact at all or come up at all in – when the Secretary goes back to Lausanne?
MS. HARF: I do not anticipate it will.
QUESTION: Can I ask why not?
MS. HARF: Because these —
QUESTION: I mean, if you’re —
MS. HARF: Sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, it just seems if you’re sitting down with the Iranian foreign minister and a delegation of senior Iranian officials, albeit on another topic, I don’t understand why – I mean, are they not empowered by the supreme leader or by President Rouhani to discuss the situation, say, in Yemen, which has gotten bleaker and bleaker since you all left Lausanne —
MS. HARF: That’s true.
QUESTION: — the last time?
MS. HARF: I – the reason, and this has always been the case, that these – we keep these talks focused on the nuclear issue. I mean, those conversations are complicated and difficult enough as it is without putting in all these other difficult issues. Often issues in the news come up sort of in passing on the sidelines of these conversations, but the negotiations are focused on the nuclear issue. We have enough work to do in that area before the 31st, so I think that’s where we’re going to keep it focused.
QUESTION: What about if they have the command and control outside of Yemen to help the Houthis?
MS. HARF: I think I’ve made clear what our position is. I don’t have more analysis to do for you than that.
Let’s just do a few more on this, then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: On Iraq and Iran’s role – I mean, for observers, we’re seeing the country really from inside and outside Iraq, Iran seems to have taken over the leadership of the war against ISIS from the United States. When you see —
MS. HARF: I think that the Iraqi Security Forces would strongly disagree with that —
QUESTION: Can I —
MS. HARF: — as would the Kurdish forces.
QUESTION: The United States has led a coalition against the Islamic State.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: But over the past – say since the war against – in Tikrit started, the – to recapture Tikrit, the United States has been bombing ISIS only in the areas where the Kurds advance, not in Tikrit. No airstrike in Tikrit, where the Iraqis are focused.
MS. HARF: Well, we – the coalition has continued to provide air support in the fight against ISIL with multiple airstrikes on ISIL targets in various locations, with the last strikes occurring over this weekend.
QUESTION: But all of them have been in —
MS. HARF: Let me finish.
QUESTION: — the Kurdish area.
MS. HARF: Let me finish with the – and I said in various areas, various locations. And this fight against ISIL is much bigger than Tikrit. That’s one – certainly one part of it. That battle is ongoing. But the fight against ISIL on the military side is much bigger than Tikrit. The United States is leading that with our Arab partners, with our Iraqi partners, our Kurdish partners, but then there’s all the other four lines of effort beyond that that we are leading a coalition around the world.
QUESTION: But isn’t it really fair to say that the Iranians are helping the Iraqi Shia government and the militia – Shia militias who are helping the Iraqi Government to recapture the area? The United States is helping only the Kurdish government at the moment.
MS. HARF: That is patently false.
QUESTION: At the moment.
MS. HARF: That is patently false.
QUESTION: That’s practically true, though.
MS. HARF: No, it is patently false, actually. What you said is not true.
QUESTION: At the moment.
MS. HARF: At the moment, what you said is not true. I will keep saying that until I make my point clear —
QUESTION: Well, what —
MS. HARF: — that the – wait, let me finish – that the United States is supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish forces throughout Iraq in a variety of ways to help them push back on ISIL. We are training Iraqi forces; we are helping them get them more equipment; we are supporting them on a day-to-day basis, day in and day out; we’re helping the coalition take strikes. This is something we’re very committed to.
So yes, Tikrit is a small part of it. But clearly, the United States military is very focused on this and is playing a leading role in helping push back on ISIL.
QUESTION: Just one more question. An Iraqi lawmaker, prominent one, said that there are as many as 30,000 Iranians on the ground in Iraq. Does that concern you?
MS. HARF: I can’t confirm that that number is accurate.
QUESTION: Back to Yemen.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: With the complete pullout, how confident is the State Department that computers and hard drives left at the embassy remain secure?
MS. HARF: Well, the embassy we actually closed several weeks ago, so this relocation over the weekend wasn’t of our embassy. So it’s a question I think we addressed several weeks ago.
QUESTION: And then – okay. And how will the U.S. keep pressure on terrorists now that we’re completely out?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I just made that clear, that the security situation in Yemen – the political instability – has not forced us to suspend our counterterrorism operation, so that’s how.
What else? Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Japan.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Today, the governor of Okinawa ordered to suspend all works at the site where U.S. military base will be relocated. What’s your reaction on that?
MS. HARF: Yes, we’ve obviously seen that. Construction of the replacement facility is a meaningful result of many years of sustained work between the U.S. and Japan. It’s also a critical step toward realizing our shared vision for the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa. Our understanding is the construction on the replacement facility will proceed as planned. Obviously, the Defense Department may have more information given this is their project, but our understanding is that it will proceed.
QUESTION: And also on the Japan prime minister – Prime Minister Abe’s state visit to the U.S., he is likely to address a joint session to Congress. However, an American organization for former U.S. prisoner of Japan say that – say to Congress that Abe should be invited only if he acknowledges Japan’s wartime past. I mean, China and Germany recently called for Japan to face squarely to its past. So will the U.S. Government ask Japan to do so?
MS. HARF: Well, first, you are correct: President Obama will host Prime Minister Abe for an official visit to the White House on April 28th, including a state dinner that evening. The two leaders will celebrate the strong global partnership that we have developed during the 70 years since the end of World War II, underscore the common values and principles that have made the relationship so enduring. They’ll discuss a range of issues, as you can imagine.
I don’t have anything for you on whether he’ll address Congress. I would refer you to his staff or to Congress for that. We’ve been clear and have continued to emphasize the importance of approaching historical legacy issues in a manner that promotes healing and reconciliation for all parties, but beyond that, I don’t have anything else for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Back to Okinawa —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — just for a second, the ostensible reason given for the order to halt the construction was that a giant cement anchor that was dropped into a bay damaged coral. Does the Administration, which has often expressed concern about environmental damage and that kind of thing, have any concerns about the environmental impact of the relocation?
MS. HARF: I can check. To my understanding, we do not. I can check with DOD to see if there are more on those reports, obviously. But one of the things that we think is important is that relocating this facility will actually reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of significant land south of the airbase there while obviously sustaining the U.S. military capabilities. I know DOD has more on that, and I can check and see if there’s more to say.
What else? Yes.
QUESTION: Your email questions – this Times report about the contents of Secretary Clinton’s emails on Benghazi. First, does State regard the release of that information as a breach of the agreement with Capitol Hill, with the Benghazi committee about how this kind of information would be treated?
MS. HARF: Well, I have no idea who the anonymous sources are, so I couldn’t speculate on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And the account said that the sources, whoever they were, were concerned about their access to secret information being cut off.
MS. HARF: I found that an odd attribution —
MS. HARF: — to be honest with you.
QUESTION: Well, do you want to say why you thought it was odd, then I’ll finish my question?
MS. HARF: Well, I just had never seen that attribution used before.
MS. HARF: Maybe you all have, but I found it sort of odd.
QUESTION: I thought State had previously indicated that it had no indication there was any classified information in any of the Clinton emails that had been reviewed, which included at that point the Benghazi email. So is it still State’s position that there’s nothing classified in what was sent to —
MS. HARF: I certainly stand by what we said earlier. I’m – as we’ve also said, we’re not going to prejudge the outcome of the review of all 55,000. But again, I was sort of perplexed by that attribution.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any quibble with the story? Is it incorrect?
MS. HARF: Which parts of it?
QUESTION: Any of it. All of it.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Is any of it incorrect? I’m not going to fact-check the story. But a couple points I would make —
QUESTION: Well, why not? If it’s wrong, then you should say so. Right?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points I would make. We’re not going to get into the content of those emails. As you know, we are going through a process right now to go through all 55,000, but to do those emails first, the ones that have already been provided to the Benghazi committee, for release first. So all of those emails are right now at the front of our work process. Those are being gone through for public release. So everyone will, as soon as we can get that done, have a chance to look at what we release themselves and make their own judgments. That, I think, is an important point to remember.
QUESTION: Well, it sounds as though you’re – you’re not saying there’s anything inaccurate in the story. So it sounds as though it’s correct.
MS. HARF: I have – I mean, I didn’t read the story word for word to fact-check it, Matt.
QUESTION: All right. Well, what —
MS. HARF: But I’m not going to get into the content. What I won’t comment on one way or the other is the content that is discussed in the story, given we’re still going through them for public release. And we’re just not going to talk about the content until they are released publicly.
QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s not talk about the content.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about one of the other things that was said in the story —
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: — which was that it – at least the story says that contrary to what former Secretary Clinton said at her news conference, that there – she did in fact email – use her private email to email State Department employees on their private email accounts. Is that part of the story correct? And if it is, does the State Department have a problem with that?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points, Matt. First, each of the individuals that are referenced in the story had a State Department email, as you all probably are well aware. There are times employees use personal email addresses for work. We’ve said there are ways people can take appropriate steps to preserve those records. So we’ve also said that. Her staff, as we’ve said, had state.gov emails. I know her team actually spoke to this in the story, so I’ll let her team speak for itself.
But I will remind people that the State Department sent a letter earlier this month to a small group of current and former employees whose emails have been subpoenaed by the select committee in which we asked for any records in their possession. So that letter went out, and we – that’s a process we think is important.
QUESTION: Well, right. Except that she said that she always sent – always copied in a state.gov address.
MS. HARF: Her team spoke to that in the story.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to speak further to that.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that —
MS. HARF: Hold on, I think – go ahead, and then Josh, we’ll go back to you.
QUESTION: — the State Department doesn’t have an issue with this because you think you’ve got it covered with this letter that you sent?
MS. HARF: I said that we sent a letter to the small group of current and former employees who were named in a subpoena by the select committee. And we asked for any records in their possession – part of our ongoing process to improve our records. Obviously, that’s something we think is important, and her team can speak more to it.
QUESTION: A couple follow-ups. One is, setting aside the Times story, is there an agreement between the Benghazi committee and the State Department regarding their ability to publicize her emails? In other words, if they wanted to just release the 850 pages tomorrow, is there some deal that prevents them from doing that?
MS. HARF: Let me check. It was my understanding that when we gave them the documents in order to provide them with the limited redactions, there would be conversations before the text was released publicly. Obviously, we are more forthcoming when it comes to fewer redactions with Congress than under the FOIA process for public release. So it’s my understanding that’s part of the process, but let me check on the specifics.
QUESTION: Okay. And the other thing I wanted to ask about is there was a report last week about a memo that was written here at the State Department to the National Archives, and perhaps to the White House in 2012, that talked about State’s record-keeping obligations and said that the agency’s top records officer wanted to narrow those obligations because they thought they were too vague and they were being forced to retain too much information. Can you tell us anything about the process that went into that?
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Is that the kind of thing that would have been —
MS. HARF: The memo? Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — cleared widely within the Department?
MS. HARF: I have a little more information about the memo.
MS. HARF: And I think we’re talking about the same one. First, I would say this is a memo in response to a specific request from NARA for agencies to provide input in identifying obstacles to improving records maintenance. The Department followed the NARA-specific template in providing its response. Second, I would also note we published this response memo in full online, so it’s by no means some sort of secretive memo. And then I would say the definition of what constitutes a working file or record for preservation purposes is an issue for the entire government, not just the State Department, as I know you know. And other agencies raised similar concerns when responding to NARA’s request for input at the time as well. So that, I think, is some context for the memo.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you know anything about its clearance? Is this – it does represent the official view of the State Department on this matter?
MS. HARF: It does, and we posted it online. We were very transparent about it.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you know anything about how it was cleared within the Department? Is this something Secretary Clinton would have known about at the time?
MS. HARF: I very strongly doubt it’s something that would have risen to the level of the Secretary of State, but I can check and see if there’s more on that.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: I obviously was not here at the time.
QUESTION: Do you know —
MS. HARF: I did not clear on it.
QUESTION: Do you know if you – if the building has responded to the letter from NARA, or is this it? There was a letter —
MS. HARF: Which? About the recent one?
MS. HARF: We have not yet. We will be responding. The one that we received on March 3rd – dated March 3rd – I don’t know when we actually received it – we will be responding.
QUESTION: Can I go to – we done with this?
MS. HARF: I think so.
QUESTION: Can we go to —
QUESTION: One more.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: Regarding the personal emails that were sent, did Secretary Clinton submit any of her staffers’ emails that were on her server to State?
MS. HARF: She submitted her emails that were either to or from her that were part of her email account. So – and many of them were to and from advisors, as one would expect.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: First of all, I want to know – this happened relatively recently, but I – in terms of within the hour or last two hours —
MS. HARF: Uh-oh. Okay.
QUESTION: — so I don’t know if you’re aware of it yet.
MS. HARF: Let’s see.
QUESTION: But Prime Minister Netanyahu met with some Arab Israeli leaders, officials today and apologized for any offense that they may have taken for his comments that he made on election – on the election day.
MS. HARF: I had not seen that. I think we’ve made clear our position on those comments.
QUESTION: Okay. Right.
MS. HARF: I’ll check with the team.
QUESTION: But is an apology – he’s now backed off on two things that you guys took issue with that he said during the campaign and on voting day itself. Is it still the position of the Administration that you’re going to re-evaluate how you go forward in trying to – in dealing with Israel?
MS. HARF: Well, the President, I think, addressed this in his interview that ran this weekend – that given his statements prior to the election, it’s going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing, when it comes to negotiations, that those are possible. So we are evaluating what’s taking place. And I think what we’re looking for now are actions and policies that demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-state solution, not more words. So that’s what we’ll be looking for.
QUESTION: Okay. So public —
MS. HARF: And we’ll see what the path forward looks like, Matt.
QUESTION: So a public renunciation of and apologies for the previous comments are not enough to get you to —
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s just understandably confusing for people about which of his comments to believe. And so that’s why —
QUESTION: Well, it’s – I think it’s confusing for people who choose to be confused.
MS. HARF: Well, he said diametrically opposing things in the matter of a week, so which is his actual policy? That’s why what we said is words aren’t enough at this point. What we need to see are actions, actions and policies that demonstrate a genuine commitment to the peace process.
QUESTION: Right. Well, this gets back to what – kind of what we were asking last week, which is: Why do you believe the pre-election Netanyahu and not the post-election Netanyahu? Is it —
MS. HARF: I think we just don’t know what to believe at this point.
QUESTION: Hold on. Is it because the peace process – the last attempt at it that the Secretary led failed, and that you don’t believe – so you go into the whole election – the whole campaign, Israeli campaign with the idea already in your mind that, one, he opposes a two-state solution and, two, he’s not a big fan of Israeli Arabs?
MS. HARF: What I think, Matt, and what I think is confusing is that when you say things, words matter. And if you say something different two days later, which do we believe and which – it’s hard to know. It honestly is. And why was one said at one time and why was something different said after the election? Who knows? We can’t read his mind. So what we’re looking for now are actions and policies. He’s forming a government. We’re obviously – well be in touch with him as he does so. And that’s why what we need to see now is action and not more words —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean —
MS. HARF: — just because it’s hard to know which is the accurate policy. If you change all the time, how do you know?
QUESTION: Well, it suggests that you guys have already decided what you want to believe from —
MS. HARF: No, that’s not true.
MS. HARF: That’s why we haven’t said what the course of action will be.
QUESTION: Well, is – are these things, one, saying that he still is in favor of a two-state solution and, two, apologizing for these, are they at least good – can you at least say that they’re good first steps —
MS. HARF: Well, again, at this point —
QUESTION: — even if they’re only words?
MS. HARF: At this point what we need to see are actions and policies that indicate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Okay, all right.
MS. HARF: That’s what we’ll be looking for.
QUESTION: There was a report this morning out of Geneva which —
MS. HARF: — was wrong.
QUESTION: — was wrong, yeah.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: But I want – I want to know if you can explain why —
MS. HARF: Yes, I will.
QUESTION: — it was wrong. And let me just —
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Unless you want to repeat what the erroneous report said.
MS. HARF: Nope. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. So the report was that the United States was boycotting or not going to speak up in defense of Israel at the UN Human Rights Commission meeting today on the Agenda Item 7 issue, which is Israel and the Palestinians.
MS. HARF: Yes. So this – go ahead.
QUESTION: That is incorrect. Why?
MS. HARF: This report is not correct. We’ve – this is not the first time the U.S. has refused to participate in the UN Human Rights Council discussion of Item 7. We do not participate because we remain deeply troubled by the Human Rights Council’s standalone agenda item directed against Israel and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item.
We have coordinated our refusal to participate with Israel, which also did not participate. In fact, I think the report has now been clarified by the news outlet that reported it, including a statement from the Israeli Government saying the reason we don’t participate is because they single out Israel. When the council considers its annual resolutions under Item 7 later this week, the United States will call for a vote and vote against these texts. We will also issue a statement outlining our objections to the agenda item at that time per our standard practice.
QUESTION: Okay. So this would suggest that this, combined with the vote that was taken on Friday which you also – in New York on the Status of Women Commission, suggests then that the reevaluation of your approach towards Israel hasn’t really produced any change in how you’re going about things.
MS. HARF: Well, the prime minister hasn’t formed a government yet. And when it comes to the peace process, obviously, that’s a separate issue. But no, we were – we are very clear, as we have been for a long time, regardless of our policy disagreements or discussions on other issues, that we’re not going to let Israel be singled out by the international community unfairly; we will stand up for them in the international community, absolutely. That’s something we believe very deeply in.
QUESTION: Okay. So then is it correct to think then that your position is that as long as you see something as being biased against Israel or anti-Israel, you are going to continue to oppose it?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to predict everything, but obviously, we believe that things should not be biased against Israel. That’s why you saw us take the action we took today.
QUESTION: Does the Administration believe that resolutions or – I don’t know – motions, resolutions, however you want to call them – having to do with final status issues, such as a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, are those – do you view those as unfair to Israel?
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to get ahead of any policy decisions about something hypothetical. I’m just not. We obviously continue to believe that the best path forward is for negotiations between the two parties, but I don’t want to get ahead any further than that.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question about a report that came out of The Wall Street Journal this morning.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I know that, like, the State Department has commented on this before last week, but the report said that the U.S. Government will try to get the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Bank to cooperate with each other. Is there any truth in that? Is that a change in the U.S. position?
MS. HARF: Well, since the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was formally announced in October, the U.S. Government has encouraged China and the prospective members to work within the existing multilateral development banks and incorporate their high standards – work with them, excuse me. Obviously, this is not a change in policy. We’ve been very clear that if they can take certain steps to maintain high standards that the international community has collectively built over the last 70 years, these new institutions could add global value. So we believe that they should adopt these high standards, including strong board oversight and environmental and social safeguards. That’s obviously very important to us.
QUESTION: Do you have – what is your position on whether or not you will join the bank?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any updates for you, and that I know we’ve spoken to this.
What else? Yes.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Yeah. North Korean ambassador to United Kingdom Hyun Hak Bong has mentioned yesterday interview with British TV, and he said North Korea ready to fire nuclear weapon anytime. And also he said if U.S. use conventional weapons, they will do so; and if U.S. use nuclear weapons, also they will do so. How —
MS. HARF: Well, I saw those reports. There is obviously an overwhelming international consensus against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. We have called on North Korea to abandon both programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner. This is required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions. And we remain fully prepared to deter, defend against, and respond to the threat posed by North Korea, obviously are steadfast in our commitment to the defense of not only the United States but our allies and our interests in the region.
QUESTION: So now he had acknowledged to North Korea has nuclear weapons. So —
MS. HARF: I don’t think that’s a big secret.
QUESTION: Big secret, okay. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: There’s a reason we’re working to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: There was a bombing on Nowruz day in the Kurdish province of Hasakeh. ISIS claimed responsibility for it, and it killed scores of people. Do you have anything on that?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports. Obviously, we would condemn any attack or bombing by ISIL against civilians. Of course, we’ve seen their brutality, unfortunately, too many times at this point, but I don’t have specifics.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran for one second?
MS. HARF: You can.
QUESTION: I’m just curious. You’ve seen the – I’m sure you’ve seen that there’s an Israeli delegation in France right now.
MS. HARF: I have.
QUESTION: Do you – the Israelis have made no secret of the fact that they don’t think that the deal that is emerging, if that’s what one calls it, is a good one. Do you have any thoughts on this visit to France by —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — Mr. Steinitz?
MS. HARF: The Secretary said, and I would reiterate, that all of the P5+1 are united in our goal, our approach, our resolve, and our determination to ensure that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. None of our countries can subscribe to a deal that does not meet the terms of credible, comprehensive, durable, verifiable measures. The President had the opportunity, as you know, to speak with President Hollande on Friday. President Hollande was in complete agreement with the President on the type of agreement we are seeking. We are confident that we will continue to have the kind of unity we need that’s been so important in these negotiations.
QUESTION: Right, but – I understand that. I’m wondering if you have any comment about what appears to be an Israeli attempt to encourage France to —
MS. HARF: Look, I don’t think —
QUESTION: — push back against what’s going on.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think it’s any secret that the – some in Israel’s views about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. We have bottom lines – we, the P5+1: one-year breakout, cutting off the four pathways. That’s what we’re working towards. And we’re not going to accept anything less, period.
QUESTION: So do you have any feelings about the Israelis going to France to – in what appears to be an attempt to hive them off from the rest of the P5+1?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I think we’re confident that we will have the unity we need inside the room. I understand there’s lots of talk publicly about this issue. What we’re focused on is what actually happens in the negotiating room and seeing if we can get to an agreement.
QUESTION: Right. Well, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, who was actually in the negotiating room, said over the weekend that the – that Iran – the people – the countries that are negotiating with Iran – i.e., the P5+1 – need to show unity. Can you imagine how it is that, while you proclaim that there is huge unity, the Iranian – how is it that the Iranians are complaining that its negotiating partners are not united? How is that —
MS. HARF: I have no idea why the Iranians would say that publicly.
MS. HARF: They don’t let me in on their public affairs strategy, unfortunately. Anything —
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Matt’s glasses are now on the floor. Anything else? (Laughter.) Thank you, everyone. That was a good sign to end the briefing.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)
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