US State Department: Daily Press Briefing - July 31, 2013
07/31/2013 04:23 PM EDT
Daily Press Briefing
July 31, 2013
Index for Today's Briefing
Secretary Kerry Travel to Pakistan and London
Bradley Manning Case
Secretary Kerry Travel to Pakistan / Meeting with Newly Elected Civilian Government
Ambassador Dobbins Travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan
Informal Discussions with Taliban Ongoing
Maximum Validity of Visitor Visas / Increasing People-to-People Ties
Consultations with Congress / Continued Provision of Assistance
Instagram Account / PR Stunt
Situation on the Ground / Support to Opposition
Bilateral Relationship with Russia
Letter From Attorney General to Russian Government / Due Process
Importance of Human Rights / Olympic Games
Ongoing Elections / Observers / Sanctions
U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue
Condemnation of Violence
IED's / Counterterrorism / Safe Havens
Secretary Kerry's Meetings in Pakistan / Regional Security and Stability
Condemnation of Violence
Pending Legislation / Sanctions
1:11 p.m. EDT
MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a statement to read at the top and then we will open it up to questions.
Secretary Kerry has arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan for consultations with the newly elected civilian government and to reinforce the United States continuing commitment to the Pakistani people. Secretary Kerry’s discussions will focus on a wide range of topics, including promoting security, strengthening the Pakistani economy, and reinforcing people-to-people ties between the United States and Pakistan, in addition to regional topics of mutual interest. While Secretary Kerry has traveled to Pakistan in the past as a U.S. senator, this is his first visit as Secretary of State. He will also stop in London for meetings en route back to Washington.
And with that, happy to open it up.
QUESTION: Welcome aboard.
MS. HARF: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I – can we start by me – with me asking you, or giving you the opportunity to comment on something that Jen did not want to comment on yesterday, which is the verdict in the Bradley Manning trial? Do you have any – does the State Department have any reaction to this?
MS. HARF: Well, the process is still ongoing, as you know. I believe we’re in the sentencing phase at this point. As we’ve been clear in this case and others, that leaking classified information is a serious crime. Clearly, we want the rule of law to be upheld. But beyond that, we’re not going to have a further comment on this case at the present time.
QUESTION: Sorry, does that mean – when you say clearly you want the rule of law to be upheld, does – that means that you – what does that mean exactly?
MS. HARF: It means that leaking classified information is a serious crime, and that we take allegations that that has happened very seriously and want the rule of law to be upheld in cases where that’s determined to have been – to have happened.
QUESTION: Okay. And in this case, it has determined to have been – happened, right?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to make any further comment specifically on this case at this time. As you know, the process is still ongoing.
QUESTION: And by process still ongoing --
MS. HARF: I believe he’s in the sentencing phase. I’d refer you to DOD for specifics about that, but I believe it’s – we’re in the sentencing phase at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. But you are aware that he has been convicted?
MS. HARF: I am aware of that, yes.
QUESTION: And so after all of the stomping of feet and worrying and being upset about the fact that things were put at danger, all you want to say is that you just want the rule of law to be upheld? You can’t say that you’re gratified with the decision of the judge?
MS. HARF: I have no further comment on this case at this time. If that changes, we will definitely let you know.
QUESTION: Now, does that comment, your no-comment because it’s still in process, apply to all cases that are still in this process, as if it --
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t – go ahead. Excuse me.
QUESTION: Sorry, you wouldn’t want?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to draw a comparison between this case and any other case.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s it for me to start.
MS. HARF: Great. Next topic.
QUESTION: One on Pakistan?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The Secretary’s travel to Pakistan. What be on – what will be on his agenda while he’s there? How long he’s going to be there? Is there any – would he be addressing any town halls or public meetings? Can you give more details – give us more details about --
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have a lot of additional – they just landed, so I don’t have a lot of additional details as to his schedule or meetings that he’ll be having. The traveling party will be providing those as those become available. He will, as I said, be meeting with the newly elected civilian government. He’s been wanting to go to Pakistan for quite some time to discuss a wide range of issues, including energy and regional security and other issues as well.
QUESTION: Will the talks with Taliban be part of – important part of his talks?
MS. HARF: I don’t want to get ahead of what might be a part of these discussions that haven’t happened yet. We’ll have more of a readout after they actually occur. But of course, regional security, the situation in Afghanistan is an important issue that I have no doubt will come up in some form.
QUESTION: The civilian government has been there for a few months now. What is Secretary’s views on the way the civilian government is working? Is he satisfied with them, the cooperation they are giving in the counterterrorism operation, or does he want them to do more? What’s his view?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to characterize it in any of those ways. He’s looking forward to meeting in person with the civilian government there. As I said, he’s been wanting to go for a while. So I think he’ll have more of a readout of how he sees the relationship and the meetings after they conclude.
QUESTION: And how long he’ll be there?
MS. HARF: I don’t have exact timing yet. As we get travel firmed up, I will let you know.
QUESTION: And finally, would he be meeting General Kayani while he’s in Islamabad?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any additional meetings or updates on his schedule to announce at this point. Again, the traveling party will be announcing much of that, and I will update you as that becomes available as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On Cuba, there is new regulations on the visas – okay.
QUESTION: Oh, one more thing. What’s the --
MS. HARF: We’ll get there in a second. I promise.
QUESTION: What’s the purpose of his visit to London?
MS. HARF: At this point, we said he’s meeting – stopping in London for meetings en route back to Washington. I don’t have additional details on who those meetings are with or on what topics. As they become available, again, I’m happy to provide that.
QUESTION: And if we can stay in the region, Ambassador Dobbins is – was in Afghanistan. Yesterday, he met President Karzai. Do you have any readout for his meetings?
MS. HARF: Yes. I have a little more detail of his travel. I don’t have an extensive readout, but let me tell you what I know about his travel: That Ambassador Dobbins is currently traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan for meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other leaders. His discussions will include Afghanistan’s coming economic and political transitions, including the 2014 elections, as well, of course, as reconciliation and other topics of regional interest. If I can get a further readout from his meetings, I’m happy to provide that.
QUESTION: So I believe now he’s in Islamabad for --
MS. HARF: I don’t know exactly where he is in terms of location. I know he will be traveling to both Afghanistan and Pakistan and will be meeting up with the Secretary there.
QUESTION: And if you can – later on, can you give us some updates on the BSA talks? Is it resuming, where the status is?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything new on that. As you know, informal discussions have been going on, but let me see if there’s an update and get back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Cuba, there are new regulations for visas for Cubans?
MS. HARF: Yes, just give me one second. So effective tomorrow, I believe August 1st, the State Department is changing the maximum validity of visitor visas for family and other personal non-immigrant travel from six months, as it is currently – six months single entry to five years multiple entries for qualified Cuban nationals. Again, this goes into effect tomorrow.
QUESTION: And what’s the reason for this change?
MS. HARF: Well, this is part of our broader policy to increase people-to-people ties between Americans and Cubans, to increase communications with the Cuban people, to promote openness. The Administration, the Secretary certainly believes that these measures, in addition to others, increases people-to-people flow that’s really key to promoting civil society, to promoting democratization on the island.
QUESTION: Yes. Has this anything to do with the migration talks with Cuba or is it totally separate?
MS. HARF: The migration talks are very structured, specific set of talks about a specific set of issues. To my knowledge, they aren’t related, but if I get further detail I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Has this change been done just unilaterally or has it been dealt together with Cubans – to the Cuban Government for those changes?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details on that issue. I’m happy to look into that question if there’s more to provide, to get back to you guys.
QUESTION: Are you saying you don’t know if this issue was raised during the migration talks?
MS. HARF: I do not know. The migration talks, as you know, are a – deal with specific issues, logistical issues. I don’t know if this specific change was discussed during the migration talks, but I’m happy to try and find out.
QUESTION: Could you find out?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Because even though this does not – is not really migration --
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: -- it is a movement of people, which the broader sense of the word “migrate” does include.
MS. HARF: Correct. I will find out if it was discussed in the migration talks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I’m just not sure.
QUESTION: Marie, do you have any more information on this woman, apparently a Chinese national with an expired visa, who is the suspect in splashing paint on monuments in D.C.?
MS. HARF: I do not have any information on that. I’m happy to look into that and provide you what I can. I just don’t have anything on that.
QUESTION: All right. But State would be in charge of expired visas; is that correct? Or would it be Homeland Security? Or --
MS. HARF: Again, I need to look into the specifics about that case. Obviously, we and the Department of Homeland Security both have a role to play in this, so let me just see what I can share and get back to you on that.
QUESTION: On Egypt?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The authorities issued a warning today over sit-ins in response to protests by the Morsy supporters. Does the United States have an opinion on that? Does this – is this consistent with U.S. values on freedom of assembly?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve continued to urge the interim government officials and security forces to respect the right of peaceful assembly. That obviously includes sit-ins, so we’ve made that point publicly and privately, and we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: Was it communicated specifically in this instance?
MS. HARF: I don’t know about these specific demonstrations that we’re referring to, this specific sit-in, but we’ve, broadly speaking, made that point from the very beginning and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Senators McCain and Graham say they’re going to Egypt in the coming days at the request of the White House. Presumably the State Department knew something about this when – or maybe they were the conduit for the – not invitation, but for the suggestion that they might go. Can you tell us what the Administration is hoping to get out of this visit?
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said, we’re continuing to consult closely with Congress on Egypt. On this specific issue, I’d refer you to the White House for details about any conversations that they might have had on this visit specifically.
QUESTION: Well, can you tell us about any conversations the State Department might have had with these two senators?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any information on that. I’m happy to look into it and see what I can provide.
QUESTION: Do you know if there were conversations?
MS. HARF: I do not, Matt. I do not. But again --
QUESTION: Okay. So if you could find out, that would be great.
MS. HARF: Absolutely. And again, I would reiterate, in all of our conversations with Congress, people who are interested and involved in this topic, we’ve pressed the same points about what we want to convey to the Egyptians.
QUESTION: All right. And then also on Egypt --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- I presume that you’re happy, elated, jumping for joy that the Senate rejected Senator Paul’s amendment?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been clear that we believe the continued provision of assistance to Egypt – obviously consistent with our legal obligations – is important to our national security interests and to our goal of advancing Egypt back towards an inclusive democratic process. And our position on that has not changed.
QUESTION: Sorry, consistent with your legal –
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You believe you’re legally obligated to provide aid to Egypt?
MS. HARF: No, consistent with our obligations under the law.
QUESTION: The law that you chose not to apply, right?
MS. HARF: Consistent with our legal – no. This --
QUESTION: Consistent with your decision not to apply the law that would apply in this case?
MS. HARF: We are working with Congress and will continue providing assistance to Egypt, and as we do that, it will be consistent with the law. That’s why we’re continuing to work with Congress on it going forward.
QUESTION: But consistent with the law that you have decided not to use in this case, correct?
MS. HARF: I would disagree with your characterization --
QUESTION: Would you?
MS. HARF: -- of that.
MS. HARF: Yes, I would.
QUESTION: Syria? The Syrian President has joined the Instagram list two days ago, I think. Do you have any reaction to that? And is the State Department following him?
MS. HARF: We do have a reaction, and we would say that this is nothing more than a despicable PR stunt; that it’s repulsive that the Assad regime would use this to gloss over the brutality and suffering it’s causing; that to see what’s really happening right now in Syria, to see the horrific atrocities in Homs and elsewhere, we would encourage people to take a look at unfiltered photos of what’s actually happening on the ground. And again, we think this is nothing but a despicable PR stunt, but beyond that have no – nothing else to add.
QUESTION: Is the State Department following him or not?
MS. HARF: I do not know the answer to that question. I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: Would you – do you object to the very fact that Instagram allowed an account? Is that something that’s been taken up?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to comment on that one way or the other. Again, we think it’s despicable that Assad is using this forum as a PR stunt when he continues a brutal crackdown and horrific atrocities against his own people.
QUESTION: And you would encourage President – you would encourage people to take a look at the unfiltered non-Assad Instagram --
MS. HARF: Unfiltered photos of what’s actually happening on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. So, and you would presumably use – have the same advice in other countries, in other places?
MS. HARF: I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just asking, would you encourage people to look at un-glossed – at unfiltered photos of things going on on the ground in places, say, like Egypt where the army has killed several hundred, or at least more than a hundred Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to equate any of those situations. But obviously we --
QUESTION: Well, I’m not trying to equate Syria to Egypt at all.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you all – I mean, have you – in response to the question, you said you weren’t sure if the State Department was following, but you --
MS. HARF: I don’t – I would guess we’re not --
QUESTION: Well, then how do you know that this is a glossy PR stunt?
MS. HARF: Because we’ve obviously seen it.
QUESTION: Ah, okay. So you have looked at it?
MS. HARF: But there – “following” is a technical term on Instagram, and I am not on Instagram, but it’s my understanding that if you follow someone, that’s a technical Instagram term. I’m sorry, that’s what I was referring to.
MS. HARF: We’ve obviously seen the photos.
QUESTION: You’ve looked at the pictures?
MS. HARF: I’ve seen them, and they’re despicable.
QUESTION: Okay. And have you --
MS. HARF: And they’re not indicative of the horrific situation on the ground that he’s causing for his own people.
QUESTION: Okay. Have you looked at the photos and the video of the army shooting people in Egypt?
MS. HARF: I know we’ve taken a look at the situation on the ground and we’ve been clear that we – again, not equating by any means the situations --
QUESTION: No, I’m just asking.
MS. HARF: -- but we’ve been clear that violence is not acceptable.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
QUESTION: On Syria too --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- the Syrian Government troops launched an assault today to regain control of Khan al-Assal near Aleppo. How do you view the situation there?
MS. HARF: The situation on the ground?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously it continues to be a very complex one, and day to day we’re going to see gains by different sides. We’ve been clear that regardless of the daily situation on the ground, our goal is to support the opposition, to help it gain strength, and to change the situation on the ground so we can eventually move towards a political solution to this crisis.
QUESTION: Any update on the aids that the U.S. is providing to the opposition?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any updates for you on that, no.
QUESTION: Any update about the northern Syria – the clashes in northern Syria?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on that today.
QUESTION: A technical question about this?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean, I’m following this story since last week. Why the U.S. Administration is avoiding to state the involvement of al-Nusrah, the al-Qaida-affiliated group, in the clashes in northern Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, I think Jen spoke to this. I don’t have anything further to add than what she said last week. I think she was clear about the concern we have in the region. But beyond that, I don’t have anything further.
QUESTION: I don’t --
QUESTION: I mean, because every newspaper’s report – I mean, all the stories about the clashes in northern Syria is mentioning – are mentioning about the al-Nusrah. But --
MS. HARF: And again, we remain very concerned about the situation there. We remain concerned about the clashes and the violence. But beyond that, I don’t have anything further to add.
QUESTION: Have you seen the comments made by Mr. Snowden’s father thanking President Putin for protecting his son?
MS. HARF: I have not seen those comments.
QUESTION: You’re not aware of them at all?
MS. HARF: I am not. No, I have not seen them.
QUESTION: Well, let me make you aware of them right now.
MS. HARF: Okay. Thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: Can we stay with that, please?
MS. HARF: We – he’s still --
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m not done yet. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry about that.
QUESTION: It’s okay.
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So Mr. Snowden’s father thanked President Putin for protecting his son. What does the Administration make of the fact that the father, a U.S. citizen, the father of a U.S. citizen, is thanking a leader that you’ve routinely criticized for human rights abuses for protecting his son?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I haven’t seen those specific comments and I wouldn’t want to characterize a response to those one way or the other. I would reiterate what we’ve said repeatedly, that Mr. Snowden is not a human rights activist, he’s not a dissident, he’s been accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three very serious felony counts, and must be, should be, returned to the United States to face a free and fair trial as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we stay with --
MS. HARF: On Snowden? Yes.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up too after he’s done.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: The article in the Post also says, among other things, that the U.S. Government, the FBI to be precise, tried to arrange – asked Lon Snowden to fly to Moscow. It doesn’t specify for what reasons. I assume – and it’s only my assumption – to speak to his son and maybe to convince him to come back.
I wanted to ask if you ran this idea with your Russian counterparts at least as a goodwill gesture, that guys, we have these plans, we would like to give you a heads-up on that, would it be fine if we send Snowden, Sr., to Sheremetyevo to meet Snowden, J r.; or this was some kind of a semi-cloak and dagger stuff?
MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t seen that specific report. I would say what we’ve said repeatedly, that we are working through law enforcement channels with the Russian Government to make the point that Mr. Snowden is wanted on serious felony charges and needs to be returned to the United States. We’ve also made the point that we don’t want this issue to have a hugely negative impact on our bilateral relationship. President Putin, I think, has said the same thing. So again, I’m not going to comment on that specific report other than to say that we’ll continue working through law enforcement channels to discuss this with the Russians.
QUESTION: May I ask you to specify if the U.S. Government is still trying to arrange for Lon Snowden to travel to Moscow?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t believe that I actually confirmed that report because I haven’t seen it, so I don’t have anything additional for you on that.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
QUESTION: Can I just ask more broadly on this and the protection issue? Do you believe that anyone – President Putin or anyone else – let me start again. Do you believe that Mr. Snowden needs protection from President Putin or anyone else for that matter?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to venture to make a comment on that one way or the other.
QUESTION: Well, do you – I mean, he has said that he fears persecution, not prosecution. Do you think that he is justified in fearing persecution at the hands of the judicial branch of this government?
MS. HARF: Of the United States Government?
QUESTION: Or the – sorry. Yes, of the Justice Department.
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve made --
QUESTION: The people who have charged him.
MS. HARF: We’ve made it clear --
QUESTION: Do you think that he is – has – do you think that his fears of persecution are grounded?
MS. HARF: Well, no. I think the Attorney General made clear in his letter last week that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States, that he would be treated to a free and fair trial, he would be able to make his case in a court of law, as all – as he is due under due process. So I would disagree with that characterization and again point to the clear comments the Attorney General made last week speaking to this.
QUESTION: Sorry. You would disagree with which characterization? I’m just asking you --
MS. HARF: That he’s going to be persecuted --
QUESTION: Persecuted. Right.
MS. HARF: -- if he returns to the United States.
QUESTION: So you would – so you do not believe then, based on that comment, that he needs protection from anybody?
MS. HARF: We have been clear that if he is returned to the United States, which we believe is the only appropriate course of action, he will be afforded a free and fair trial where he can make his case.
QUESTION: So you don’t believe that he needs the protection of anybody?
MS. HARF: That’s a broadly – I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to. It’s a broadly sweeping statement. Again, we’ve made clear --
QUESTION: It’s really not.
MS. HARF: It is. Well, we’ve made clear there is one appropriate course of action, and that’s being returned to the United States, and that when he is, he will face a free and fair trial, as he’s accorded under the law.
QUESTION: So the only – I mean, the reason that I ask is because his father, in his comment, Mr. Snowden’s father in his comments, seems to think that his son needs protection from the United States Government. And I’m – all I’m asking you is whether or not you agree or disagree with that.
MS. HARF: I do not agree with that statement.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: Strongly disagree with that statement.
MS. HARF: Thank you for being clear.
MS. HARF: And I’m sorry if I misunderstood the question.
QUESTION: No, no. That’s --
MS. HARF: Again, I think that was part of the purpose of the Attorney General sending a letter to the Russian Government saying if he is returned to the United States, he will be afforded a free and fair trial, will not face the death penalty, and that’s what should happen.
QUESTION: And you say his father --
QUESTION: And will not be tortured was the other thing.
MS. HARF: Correct. Yes.
QUESTION: And so he’s – okay, instead he might just face the rest of his life in prison.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know the exact year counts on the year – challenges he faces in court, but he would be afforded a free and fair trial on the three felony counts he’s been charged with.
QUESTION: The Minister of Justice sent a response to this letter from the AG. Are you satisfied with what the Russians told you?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the response. You’d have to check in, I think, if it was to the FBI, with them. If I have anything to share with you on that, I’m happy to get back to you.
New topic? Yes.
QUESTION: One more on Russia.
MS. HARF: Yes, Russia.
QUESTION: We’ve talked about this anti-gay propaganda law, and now the concern about the Olympics, Americans – could be athletes or they could be fans who might participate in the Olympics – is growing. And in Congress, Mr. Markey of Massachusetts apparently wrote a letter to the Russian Ambassador expressing concerns about this. Is the State Department now actively talking about this with the Russians? Because the State Department, of course, will be in charge of the security, at least for the Americans.
MS. HARF: Well, I think first we’ve made clear – and I will reiterate again – that we place great importance on the protection of human rights for all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, and of course, for anyone attending or participating in the Olympics. We are calling on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression now and in the future, also calling them, of course, to protect the human rights of all people attending or participating in the Olympic Games.
I don’t have any details on diplomatic discussions on the issue at this point to read out for you, but again, this is something we feel strongly about, and we can talk about more leading up to the games.
QUESTION: I have a question --
QUESTION: So in – just on that, in other words, the Administration doesn’t take a – I think the White House talked about this maybe more than a week ago, but --
MS. HARF: I believe they did, yeah.
QUESTION: -- you or the Administration generally is not supportive of calls to boycott?
MS. HARF: I would refer --
QUESTION: I mean, that was over the Snowden case, but, I mean, this is a little bit --
MS. HARF: Yeah. I don’t have anything new for you on that other than what they said. I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: Do you know if it’s been – if it has been – and if you don’t know, can you check to see if it has been discussed in relation not to the Snowden case, but in relation to what Jill has just --
MS. HARF: I – with the Russians – I will endeavor to do so, yes.
QUESTION: I have a question. Sorry.
MS. HARF: Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Just related to that, briefly. I don’t know if this is something that the State Department took a position on, but some activists – Dan Savage, notably, has been talking about a boycott of Russian goods, of Russian vodka. Is that something that the United States sees as a productive --
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything specific for you in response to those kinds of calls. Again, we are calling on Russia to respect human rights. We place great importance on LGBT rights around the world, but not – I don’t have a specific comment for you on those kinds of calls.
QUESTION: I have a question on Japan. Yeah. As we know, the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso says Tokyo could learn from Nazi Germany when it comes to constitutional reform. Do you have any comments on that?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those comments. I don’t have anything for you on that.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, please, for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, could I ask for your reaction to the election so far and whether we can expect a shift in U.S. policy or sanctions should SADC or the African Union declare it a free and fair election?
MS. HARF: Yes. Thank you for the question. As you know, elections are ongoing at this point. The polls are still open, I believe, if I have my time zones correct, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process. We’ve been clear that the people of Zimbabwe, like people everywhere, deserve the right to elect their leaders through peaceful, transparent, and credible elections.
Early reports from the U.S. Embassy observation team and other accredited observers, and also on social media, indicate that most polling stations opened on time, they are efficiently processing voters, and that they’re operating in a peaceful environment. Again, I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process because the polls are still open, but I think that’s where we stand now, and we’ll probably have more of an update for you tomorrow.
QUESTION: Sorry, just to follow up --
MS. HARF: Yes. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- if signs are encouraging, then could we expect to see a shift in U.S. policy?
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve made clear to the Government of Zimbabwe and the region that further reductions in our sanctions will only occur if this round of elections, these next elections, are credible, transparent, and reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. So I’m not going to pass judgment on an ongoing election, but we’ve made clear what has to happen in order for further reduction in sanctions.
QUESTION: There’s – just following up now, it seems that there’s not been much violence as far as the reports have gone. I mean, the conduct so far of the election – is there a characterization that you have of it, of so far whether it’s been stable and peaceful?
MS. HARF: Well, I wouldn’t want to use those terms, but again, to go back to what I said, the early reports from the U.S. Embassy observation team and other observers in social media do indicate that most polling stations opened on time and that they are efficiently processing voters and that they are operating in a peaceful environment. So that’s the situation on the ground as I know it, and again, we’ll have more for you tomorrow, I’m sure.
QUESTION: Sure. A different topic?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue has taken place in Chengdu?
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: I wondered if you had any readout on that.
MS. HARF: I don’t yet. It is my understanding that it is concluded. I don’t have a readout yet, but I am going to get one and I will get it to you as soon as I have it.
QUESTION: Okay. And --
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. One of the congressmen yesterday issued a statement saying that these – the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue is a futile exercise because it’s not yielding anything from the Chinese side. Do you agree with his assessment?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have a readout of this dialogue yet. As you know, I believe it’s a yearly dialogue. So I don’t want to get ahead of the process of a readout that we’ll do. But we obviously believe that we should talk with the Chinese Government about a range of issues, including, of course, human rights, which we consistently raise with them. So we feel it’s an important topic to continue discussing, and these are important fora in which to do it. And we’ll have a further readout for you as soon as I can provide it.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MS. HARF: Okay. No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Colombia. The FARC, the American --
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- whom they’re holding, Mr. Sutay. There was a statement by the FARC saying that there’s a dispute with the Colombian Government over the makeup of who would be the go-between. Does the United States have any update on the status of Mr. Sutay or his --
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on that today. I’m happy to look into it, though, and if I can provide one, get back to you.
MS. HARF: She’ll have one for you.
QUESTION: On Libya, the violence is escalating in Benghazi – explosions, assassinations, and jailbreak during the last week. How do you evaluate the situation there, and to what extent are you concerned?
MS. HARF: Well, we’re clearly very concerned by reports of violence this past weekend, including multiple assassinations, the escape of more than a thousand prisoners, and attacks with explosives that targeted judicial buildings in Benghazi on Sunday and wounded dozens of Libyans. We condemn the use of violence in all of its forms and urge all sides to exercise restraint and restore calm.
Again, the Libyans fought very hard in their revolution to establish a democratic system in which their voices could be heard through peaceful means. This is always – was always going to be a process with ups and downs, clearly, but we will continue to make clear going forward that violence is not in the interest of the Libyan people and only counters the progress they have made and need to keep making in their democratic transition.
QUESTION: Any cooperation with the Libyan Government to fight the extremists and the terrorists?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any details for you on that.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The UNAMA today issued a report on civilian casualties, according to which last six months, first six months of this year, it has increased by 23 percent, and among the childrens, it has increased by 30 percent. How do you view this report, as given that it’s now the Afghan forces which are mostly in the lead in all the operations in the country?
MS. HARF: Well, I’d make a couple points. First, the U.S. and international – excuse me – military forces place the highest priority on protecting civilian populations and avoiding injury and loss of life among Afghan civilians. Our efforts, of course, to reduce civilian casualties stand in stark contrast to the tactics of the insurgents who are waging a campaign against Afghan civilians.
As the report shows, the vast majority – I think it’s about three-quarters – of all civilian casualties are still caused by insurgents despite urging from the UN to reduce civilian casualties. And IEDs remain the single largest killer of Afghan children, women, and men in this conflict. Again, these continued attacks show that the Taliban attacks show disregard for human life, and of course, we are concerned about that.
In terms of the point you brought up of the Afghan forces, as the Afghan forces take over more responsibility and take the fight to the Taliban, which they are increasingly doing, it’s just because of a numbers issues inevitable that the numbers will probably rise because they’re taking on so much more capability. I think it’s over 80 percent of all security operations now. So again, I think that it’s worth keeping that context in mind.
QUESTION: On IEDs, you know the majority of them come from Pakistan. Is the U.S. satisfied with the steps which the Pakistan is taking on IEDs?
MS. HARF: Well, we have very good cooperation on counterterrorism issues with the Pakistanis. But obviously, we’ll continue to talk about issues of cross-border militancy and the reality that safe havens that threaten both Pakistan and Afghanistan and U.S. interests and regional stability are operating in that area. So we’re going to continue working with the Pakistanis on this issue going forward.
QUESTION: And when Secretary travels – meets the Pakistan leaders, is he willing to take up the issue of safe havens, and also respond to the Pakistanis’ concerns on drone strikes inside Pakistan?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to preview meetings the Secretary hasn’t had yet. As I said, we have close cooperation, broadly speaking, on counterterrorism with the Pakistanis. Obviously, terrorism has claimed the lives of many Pakistanis and threatens them as well as us. So we’ll have a further readout of his discussions after they happen.
QUESTION: But is the U.S. willing to review its drone policy in view of the strong concerns Pakistan Government has on this drone policy?
MS. HARF: Again, broadly speaking, we are going to continue working with the Pakistanis on counterterrorism in the region. And beyond that, I have nothing further.
QUESTION: But clearly, the guidance for the trip, the Secretary’s trip, and the South Asia guidance were in separate areas. Are you saying that counterterrorism is important – separate areas of your book? Are you saying that the Secretary is not going to discuss – or you can’t say if the Secretary is going to discuss counterterrorism?
MS. HARF: I’m not previewing specific issues he’s going to discuss in these meetings in Pakistan. As I said at the topper --
QUESTION: You don’t want to venture to guess that he might talk about counterterrorism with the Pakistanis?
MS. HARF: Well, as I said in the topper, I believe, that we’re going to talk about regional security. Obviously, one part of that is counterterrorism.
MS. HARF: But I’m not going to preview specific messages or specific content of meetings that haven’t happened yet, because I can’t. But obviously, regional security and stability is an important topic that he will be discussing with them.
QUESTION: Which includes counterterrorism and militants --
MS. HARF: And Afghanistan and --
QUESTION: -- and IEDs crossing the border --
MS. HARF: -- and other issues as well.
QUESTION: -- and all that kind of thing. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you expect any major announcements (inaudible) maybe civilian aid, anything else?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any announcements to preview at this time.
QUESTION: Or ever for that matter.
QUESTION: On Nigeria there are reports out this morning that 45 people were killed in Boko Haram attacks in northern Nigeria a couple days ago. Can you give us an update on what the U.S. is doing to help Nigeria’s counterterrorism efforts?
MS. HARF: Yes. Let me see. I don’t have anything specific on our counterterrorism efforts or how we’re working with the Nigerians. I’m happy to look into that and get back to you. Obviously, we strongly condemn the violence. We’ve said that repeatedly. But let me see if I can get a little more information that I can share about that issue.
QUESTION: And can you comment on why Boko Haram hasn’t been designated as a foreign terrorist organization?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything for you on that. Again I’m happy to look into it.
MS. HARF: What else?
QUESTION: I’ve got one more.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Were you able to get an answer to the Keystone Environmental Impact Statement questions from yesterday, who – has the EIS been revised and has the job estimate – job creation estimate from the EIS been revised downwards? Or is the President speaking from – with different numbers in mind?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, Matt, I don’t have an update for you on that. Let me endeavor to get you something very shortly. I’m sorry, I just don’t have a response to that. I know you talked about it yesterday.
QUESTION: Yeah, we did talk about it yesterday. It would seem to be a pretty easy thing to do, to go and look --
MS. HARF: I’m sorry. Yeah, I’m sorry. Let me --
QUESTION: Not you but whoever was tasked with this to go and look at the Environmental Impact Statement from March and to see whether the job estimate has been revised or not.
MS. HARF: I will look into it and get you an answer as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Can you endeavor to get that in the next, like, couple hours before the end of the day?
MS. HARF: I will get you an answer as soon as possible. I promise.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just one other issue.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I know this came up yesterday with Jen. The – on the Hill, the legislation on Iran. The House leadership it seems is going ahead with moving out on the floor today. Does the State Department or the Administration have any position on whether this – these further sanctions are good at this point, particularly several days ahead of Rouhani’s inauguration?
MS. HARF: Well, we are aware, of course, of the pending legislation. We will continue to work with Congress on all sanctions legislation concerning Iran. As you know, the Administration continues to enforce a comprehensive set of international sanctions against the Iranian regime. And a result, we all know, that Iran has been increasingly cut off from the global financial system and taken significant hit on their oil coming off the market.
Following his inauguration, we hope that President-elect Rouhani, who you are correct will be inaugurated this weekend, and the Iranian Government will engage substantively with the international community to reach a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program. We and our international partners remain ready to meet at the earliest opportunity once Iran is prepared to do so.
QUESTION: But as for the legislation, is there a view on whether this is appropriate at this time, whatever signal this would send to the --
MS. HARF: We’re aware of the legislation; we’re going to continue working with Congress on all legislation concerning Iran. But beyond that, nothing further.
QUESTION: Well --
MS. HARF: Yes?
QUESTION: -- continuing to work to what end with Congress?
MS. HARF: To consult with Congress, to work with them as we do on anything that would impact --
QUESTION: Yes. To what end?
MS. HARF: To what – well, we have been clear that sanctions are an important part of the pressure we put on Iran. But I don’t want to comment on this specific legislation in any way, but I think we’re going to continue working with Congress to put pressure on Iran, to isolate Iran, but also to make clear to the Iranians that we’re ready to sit down and talk with them substantively when they are.
QUESTION: Well, do you think that legislation like this would send a message to the Iranians that you are ready to sit down with them and talk?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to take a position on the legislation. I think we’ve sent that message clearly from this podium and elsewhere in the government that we’re ready to sit down and talk with Iran.
QUESTION: And you don’t think this that legislation would, I don’t know, dilute that message at all?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to comment on the effects of this legislation specifically. We have consistently said that we are ready to talk to Iran when they are, but we’ve also consistently enforced a comprehensive set of international sanctions at the same time.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry, can I just go back to Egypt for one second?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What would the effect be of Senator Paul’s amendment on Egypt aid?
MS. HARF: What would the effect be?
MS. HARF: The – I believe --
QUESTION: On Egypt.
MS. HARF: -- you said that it did not pass --
QUESTION: I know.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: You didn’t support it, so I’m wondering why or what the effect would have been had it passed.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to comment on a hypothetical. We believe --
QUESTION: What was the reason that you opposed that legislation?
MS. HARF: We believe that the continued provision of assistance to Egypt is in the U.S. national security interest.
QUESTION: Do you believe that adding more sanctions to the – adding more sanctions on Iran right now would be harmful or helpful to getting the new – their new leadership back to the negotiating table once they take power?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to take a position one way or the other on any new sanctions on Iran at this point.
QUESTION: Marie, back to the Iran. Beyond this current legislation, actually, according to the current – the sanction regime, you are renewing each six months the list about the oil buyers from Iran.
MS. HARF: Correct, the exceptions.
QUESTION: And this is the time that you’re going to again announce any of the current – the last update on that list. Do you have anything –
MS. HARF: Well, I believe that the – as you know, every 180 days we have to renew or look at exceptions again. The next round, I believe, comes up in September, and then there’s another one at the end of the year. So we’re not quite there yet on making decisions on exceptions. I know those discussions are ongoing, but nothing to announce at this point.
QUESTION: Is it correct that this Administration has imposed the most sweeping and the most severe sanctions on Iran than any other administration before?
MS. HARF: That is my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: That is correct?
MS. HARF: Correct, yes. The most crippling sanctions.
QUESTION: Okay. So why – the most crippling sanctions ever. So why is it that you are so paranoid about saying publicly what officials have been saying privately for weeks now that new and additional sanctions at this moment when a new Iranian government needs to be tested, why are you so paranoid about saying that you don’t think that they’re such a good idea at this moment?
MS. HARF: It’s not that anybody is paranoid about saying anything.
QUESTION: I think that’s exactly what it is.
MS. HARF: Well, I would disagree with your characterization.
QUESTION: You would?
MS. HARF: And I would say two things. The first is that we’re going to keep working with Congress on this going forward. We’ve been clear that we believe crippling sanctions are a key part of the pressure we put on Iran. As I just said, we hope that President-elect Rouhani after he’s elected will push and will, with his new government colleagues, engage substantively with us. I’m not going to take a position one way or the other on this particular currently pending set of sanctions in Congress.
QUESTION: Would you say that other State Department officials have not – are also not taking a position on this or have not made their position known to people on the Hill?
MS. HARF: I am going to say that we are not taking a position one way or the other. We’re aware of the pending legislation, that from this podium I’m not going to parse what we believe about legislation one way or the other.
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. You are not – the Administration has not taken – are you saying the Administration has not taken a position on this legislation?
MS. HARF: I am saying that we, the Administration and the State Department, will consult closely with Congress --
QUESTION: No, I just want to make sure --
MS. HARF: I know. Let me --
QUESTION: -- I’m giving you a chance to --
MS. HARF: -- let me finish --
QUESTION: -- rescue yourself here.
MS. HARF: I don’t need rescuing, but I appreciate the opportunity.
QUESTION: Well, you just said that the Administration has not taken a position on this legislation --
MS. HARF: I said --
QUESTION: -- and that is not correct.
MS. HARF: If I – I will be clear. I am not going to take a position one way or the other --
QUESTION: In public.
MS. HARF: -- on this legislation from this podium. We’re aware of it. We are working with Congress on it. I am not going to detail for you the discussions that we or other people in the Administration have with Congress about the legislation.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MS. HARF: Clearly, we support, broadly speaking, a crippling set of sanctions on Iran, which is what we have in place, and we will continue working with Congress to determine the best way to do so going forward.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, Matt.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)