Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
Work smarter with a Pro licence Learn More

World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


US State Department: Daily Press Briefing August 26, 2013

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 26, 2013

Marie Harf

Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

August 26, 2013

Index for Today's Briefing


Chemical Weapons / Secretary's Phone Calls to World Leaders

Future Response / President Looking at Options

Peace Process / Russia


Meetings / Jericho

Qalandia Incident


Bilateral Relationship


Future Response / President's Objective

Increased Assistance to Opposition


Ongoing Review / No New Update

Inclusive Process Needed / Sustainable Democracy


Condemnation of Attacks / UNSC Resolution / Additional Sanctions

Role of Rwanda / M23


Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

Intelligence Gathering / United Nations


3:25 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for your patience today, for the time changes and for hanging with us here. I do not have anything additional at the top beyond what the Secretary said. I’m happy to open it up to questions. Welcome back, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks. I had assumed when I left that when I got back there would be peace in the Middle East and Syria would be calm and there’d be a return to democracy in Egypt, but I guess that was wishful thinking.

Can I just start with – about Syria --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and what the Secretary said, I just have one logistical question --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- which has to do with his phone calls --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and then some brief, though policy-related, questions.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: So, do you have an update on his calls since the last update that we got?

MS. HARF: Yes. So we sent out a few updates over the weekend. I’m happy to mention some of those again, just so everyone has those as well, and then we can talk about any further updates.

Since the August 21st attack in Syria, the Secretary has made calls to SOC President Jarba, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU High Representative Ashton, Arab League Secretary General Elaraby, as well as his British, French, Canadian, German, Russian, Jordanian, Qatari, Turkish, Emirati, Italian, Egyptian, and Saudi counterparts. We’ve read these out over the weekend. Some of these have been multiple calls, but I just wanted to go through the whole list.

As we’ve said, the Secretary also spoke August 22nd with Syrian Foreign Minister Muallim to make clear that if, as they claimed, the Syrian regime had nothing to hide, it should have allowed immediate and unimpeded access to the site rather than continuing to attack the affected area to block access and destroy evidence. The Secretary further emphasized to Muallim that he had received full assurances from the Free Syrian Army commanders that they would ensure the safety of UN investigators on the ground.

I have a couple call readouts from today, or at least a list. He’s spoken again with the Jordanians, the UK Foreign Secretary, the Qatari and the Saudi Foreign Minister, also the Arab League Secretary General. I don’t have any detailed readouts on those, but I would emphasize that in all of his calls with leaders and counterparts, he’s made clear that, based in in part on information that our international partners have shared with us – in addition, of course, to other intelligence and analysis – that there is very little doubt that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident. Obviously, the intelligence assessment is ongoing. But he reiterated that the President is studying the facts and will be making an informed decision about how to respond going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Is it safe --

MS. HARF: So it’s a long answer to your logistical question.

QUESTION: Is it safe to assume that he has no plans or there is no point – you don’t see a point to him calling Muallim back?

MS. HARF: There are no plans to at this point.

QUESTION: At – is there any reason to, do you think?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to guess on that. I just know that there are no plans to at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. In his comments, he said that the – in addition to the video that is publicly available --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- most people have seen by now, he said that, quote, “We have additional information about this attack --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and we will provide that information in the days ahead.” What kind of information is he talking about? And when he says we will provide it, provide it to who?

MS. HARF: Well, I think he’s talking about a couple of things. There’s obviously an intelligence assessment ongoing, which is looking at the variety of information that we’re getting on this incident. I would underscore that he’s not just referring to videos when he talks about the publicly available information.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Right. I understand.

MS. HARF: Obviously, there are a reported number of victims, reports from medical personnel treating thousands of patients with neurotoxic symptoms, the pattern of these events, witness accounts, and other factors gathered by open sources. So it’s not just looking at the horrific videos, which we’ve all seen --


MS. HARF: -- there’s a lot of publicly available information.

QUESTION: I know, but that’s not my question.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Okay.

QUESTION: I know that there’s a lot of public --

MS. HARF: I just want – you asked about the videos.

QUESTION: What additional – I want to know--

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: No, no. He mentioned that. I’m not asking about the videos at all.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m asking about the additional information about the attack.

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: What kind of information is that? And when he says he – it will be provided in the days ahead --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- provided to whom?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s the kind of information that the intelligence community is looking at as part of their assessment. Clearly, part of that is open-source information. Clearly, part of that is the type of intelligence that we gather when we’re trying to make determinations, similar to what we did when we made the last determination about chemical weapons use. So when we have something further to share on that assessment and that detailed information, we will be sharing it with the public in the appropriate venue, and also we’ve been sharing it with our partners around the world at the same time.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry. Maybe I’m not making myself clear. What --

MS. HARF: I think I answered your question.

QUESTION: No, you didn’t.

MS. HARF: With the public.

QUESTION: You didn’t come – (laughter) – you didn’t – I asked --

MS. HARF: I said – who are we going to be sharing with? – with the public.

QUESTION: Yes. That’s nice that you’re going to be sharing it with the public --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- which means us, too, correct?

MS. HARF: You are part of the public, yes, still.

QUESTION: Excellent. Excellent. Still? (Laughter.) Until I end up in a --

MS. HARF: Until further notice.

QUESTION: -- Moscow airport someplace, right? But what is this additional information? Is it intelligence report? Is it the soil sample kind of thing? Is it – I don’t know – skin samples, blood work?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics about what that information is. We will share those specifics when it’s appropriate.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: But I will say, I can go a little further and say --


MS. HARF: -- look at the kinds of, generally speaking, information that would go into this kind of intelligence assessment. Scientific information is clearly very important – whether that’s samples from the ground or from witnesses, or – excuse me – from victims or others. I’m not going to get into specifics about what we’re looking at here, but they’re the kinds of intelligence that we look at in all of these cases.

QUESTION: All right. So the Secretary in his statement said that it was clear that chemical weapons had been used.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you, in your readout of the phone calls, just said that there was very little doubt that chemical weapons were used. Is there any doubt in --

MS. HARF: I said very little doubt by the regime. Those are two different things. He said that it’s clear that chemical weapons were used in this situation, period. I think that is --

QUESTION: Oh, it is very little doubt then – the scintilla of doubt that you have is about who might have used them?

MS. HARF: Again, the investigation is ongoing that the intelligence community is doing, but I will say a few things about the regime, that the regime has used chemical weapons in the past year, we know that the regime has the capability to launch a chemical weapons attack, as the Secretary said, using this method. We also know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from this area. So clearly we’re still gathering all the information, but there is very little doubt in our mind that this was perpetrated by the regime.

QUESTION: So the doubt – however miniscule the doubt is --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- has to do with who used them, not whether they were used.

MS. HARF: Well, we still assess that the opposition does not have the capacity or the capability to use these kinds of weapons.

QUESTION: Right. But you don’t have some kind of smoking gun clear – there is – if there is any doubt left, it is only about who might have used them, not whether they were used at all. Is that correct?

MS. HARF: I think that you can, I guess, use those words.


MS. HARF: I think what the Secretary just made clear and what I’m making clear is that there’s a preponderance of evidence that chemical weapons were used in this case. We obviously think it’s important to continue gathering as many facts as possible and to do it in our investigation --

QUESTION: I understand, but did you – you understand, I think, I hope, why we’re – why this is a question, why this is being raised. Because we’ve heard slam dunk used before and turned out not to be.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to use those terms.

QUESTION: Good. But anyway, so --

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MS. HARF: I’ll go to you, just in one second.

QUESTION: -- the other thing is is that he talked about this being a moral obscenity.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why wasn’t it a moral obscenity – why wasn’t the same language used the first time you had conclusive evidence that chemical weapons were used?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that the Administration used fairly strong language when we announced that chemical weapons had been used, when that was determined to be the case in three small-scale events. I think we expressed our outrage then as well. I think the sheer scale of this attack, coming especially when the UN team was just getting on the ground to look into other alleged chemical weapons attacks, that the scale and the brazenness, and quite frankly the numbers of dead, is another level and would be a significant escalation in the regime’s use of chemical weapons if that’s what we determined happened.

QUESTION: All right. And then you – he also said that the UN inspectors who are on the ground now --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that basically the regime’s agreement to allow them in, plus the shooting at them or whatever, means that their inspection will be too late and too late to be credible.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does that mean that there’s no point to these people going there anymore?

MS. HARF: I would make a few points on that, Matt, and it’s a good question. I think, first, it’s important for everyone to remember what the mandate of this team was. It wasn’t to determine culpability into who would have used chemical weapons, it’s to determine whether they were used, which the whole entire world now agrees has happened. So that’s, I think, point A.

Point B I would make is that we don’t at this point have confidence that the UN can conduct a credible inquiry into what happened, and we are concerned that the Syrian regime will use this as a delay tactic to continue shelling and destroying evidence in the area. And quite frankly we – its – we don’t want the Syrian regime to be able to use it as a delaying tactic. As we saw this morning, it’s not even entirely safe for them to be there operating on the ground. So we believe that it is too late for a credible investigation at this point.

QUESTION: So you’re --

MS. HARF: We would’ve been having a different conversation if they had let the team in on day one and not shelled the area.

QUESTION: So has the Administration decided then that a response, in particular a military – that is – sorry, let me start again.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it – is the question no longer whether there will be a military response, but when and exactly what kind? Is that the question now?

MS. HARF: No. That’s not the way I would characterize it at all. The President has a range of options that he’s currently looking at with his national security team. Clearly, some of those, as we’ve talked about for a year, include military contingencies. But he’s looking at a range of options and has not yet made a decision on how to respond.

QUESTION: All right. Well, given the fact that after the last time you guys had evidence or you decided that there was conclusive evidence that chemical weapons were used, and the response then did not deter the regime from using chemical weapons again in an even larger attack, what do you make of the argument that whatever your response is now is too little, too late?

Another way of putting this is: Why this time is it more important or is it more of a necessity to respond? The people who died in the last three attacks aren’t any less dead than the people who died last week from a chemical weapons attack. And in fact, had the Administration actually taken some kind of decisive action that Assad saw as – that Assad saw, or could see, an argument could be made that these people who died last week might not have. Do you not – do you disagree with that assessment?

MS. HARF: I do. And I’d make a few points on that. The first is that’s a hypothetical that we can never play out how – what would have happened if we had taken different action. I think we were clear when we determined that it had been used in three limited cases that we took action immediately. We increased the scope and scale of our assistance to the opposition. And so we took action then at that time.

I think that one of the reasons – you heard the Secretary talk today that this would be an incredible – different kind of scale use of chemical weapons, and that the international community has set out norms about the use of chemical weapons and how it’s unacceptable. Again, as the Secretary said, countries that agree on little else agree on this. And so because of the brazenness of the attack, the large scale of it, the President is determining how to respond in an appropriate fashion.

But let’s be clear about where the responsibility for these attacks lie – it’s squarely on the Assad regime, who at every point has chosen the path that is most hurtful to the Syrian people, at every point in this investigation has chosen the path that leads us further away from the truth, period.


QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Yes, I’ll go to you next, Jill.

QUESTION: -- is there another one? Does that mean that the peace conference is off of the table now?

MS. HARF: The entire Geneva conference process?


MS. HARF: No. I would not say that at all. Clearly, separate and apart from this incident, we believe that the only sustainable, durable path forward that’s in the best interest of the Syrian people is a political solution, and we will keep working towards that. I think the horrific situation on the ground just underscores the importance of that. I don’t have any updates for you on that process, but clearly that’s what we’ll keep moving towards policy-wise.

QUESTION: In those discussions with the Russians --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- I mean, Lavrov was saying that this is an excuse by U.S., specifically John Kerry, not to engage in a peace process. So given what the tensions that are going on, what have you asked of the Russians to help square away this issue of chemical attack?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to get into the specifics about our diplomatic conversations with anybody on this, except to say what we’ve said over the weekend, that the Secretary’s been very clear about our assessment of what happened in this situation and that chemical weapons use is completely unacceptable. I think he also made a very strong point today that anybody who thinks that this could be manipulated evidence, that these videos could be doctored somehow, need to check their conscience, because it’s ridiculous. So I think that’s a key point that we’ve been making with those who might question the credibility of the evidence we’re seeing.

QUESTION: So if what the Secretary is saying, that it is too late, coming back to Matt’s question --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- then what is the next process? So you’re looking at the options.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I gather you haven’t – they haven’t decided yet which option.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: What is the basis – what is going to be the international legal basis for then to move ahead with an attack, if it is already too late?

MS. HARF: Well, let’s be clear the President hasn’t made a decision yet about the next course of action, and I don’t want to get into hypothetical legal analysis from the podium here before a decision has even been made. So I think I would leave it at that for now and we can, I’m sure, address this in the coming days.

QUESTION: Just one more question: The longer that this goes on, I mean, he does – he also believes that you won’t find or really get the evidence on the ground now. Then, again, coming back to – well, if he’s covered his tracks, what are they hoping to find?

MS. HARF: What is the UN hoping to find?

QUESTION: Yeah. Or what is the U.S. hoping that the UN’s hoping to find?

MS. HARF: Well, as we have said, at this point we believe that it’s been too long and there’s been too much destruction of the area for the investigation to be credible. And again, the security situation has clearly not been good for the UN investigative team, as we’ve seen today. So we don’t the regime to be able to use their, quote, “participation” with the investigation as some kind of charade to continue destroying evidence. So our view is that we will continue our assessment, that we will continue gathering our information, but that it’s plain – it’s plainly obvious to the world what has happened here.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to try and seek --

MS. HARF: Yes, Matt?

QUESTION: I was just waiting for the word “charade” to be used.


QUESTION: Thank you for using that.

MS. HARF: Well, you’re welcome.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to seek UN Security Council resolution on this before it moves --

MS. HARF: Again, no decisions have been made by the President, and I don’t want to get ahead of where we are in terms of any hypothetical action that we’ll take.

Jill. Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, I just want to make sure: Let’s go back to --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the information that the Secretary said.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Didn’t he say that we have additional information?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. He did.

QUESTION: So in other words, there is enough information that is compelling enough that it will be made available eventually. So this would lead one to think that you really don’t need any more at that point, that there is something very valuable that can make the case. Is that – my understanding correct?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re continuing to gather facts and evidence as we can. Clearly, the more evidence we can gather, the better, but based on all of those things I laid out in this briefing and what we’ve talked about publicly, we have made our determination that I’ve talked about already here today. And when we have a formal announcement to make about some sort of assessment, we’ll do so.


MS. HARF: But we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: Well, not there yet --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- by policy? I mean, you’ve made a decision not to say at this point --

MS. HARF: No. No, no.

QUESTION: -- or – so, but do you have the – all these words keep coming back, the smoking gun. Do you have overwhelming credible evidence at this point to make the case that not only chemical weapons were used, but that the regime used them?

MS. HARF: Well, I think certainly there’s overwhelming credible evidence that chemical weapons were used, period. I think everybody broadly around the world seems to agree that they were used in this case. Again --

QUESTION: Well, no. There’s some --

QUESTION: Except the Russians.

QUESTION: -- the Russians and the Syrians.

MS. HARF: Well, no – well, actually, no, I believe that they said that chemical weapons were used, and check me on this --

QUESTION: Yeah, actually --

MS. HARF: -- but that they thought the opposition had used them.

QUESTION: Some of them have actually said they don’t think chemical --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- weapons were used, period.

MS. HARF: Well, again, we continue to gather facts and evidence in coordination with our international partners, and when we are in a position to make a formal determination, we will do so. So I think – again, you heard the Secretary very clearly say the Syrian regime is the one with the capabilities to do this, and at the same time, we’re going to keep gathering evidence about this.


MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: If you haven’t made a formal determination yet --


QUESTION: -- what exactly was the Secretary saying when he came down here? That was – he said that they were used, that it’s clear. If that wasn’t a formal determination --

MS. HARF: A formal determination about – that we can say categorically, 100 percent, that the regime used these weapons.

QUESTION: Used – okay. Before that --

QUESTION: Well, didn’t he pretty much say that, though? I mean, what – if he said that the UN – that the UN investigation isn’t necessarily going to prove anything and that it’s too late --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and that the regime used chemical weapons and it must be responded and you’re working on a response, then what kind of formal declaration or anything needs to be –

MS. HARF: Well, again, some people are asking about a specific intelligence assessment. I think we’re – let’s try and delineate some of these things from each other. But the Secretary was very clear in his language about what he said about the preponderance of publicly available information that shows (a) that chemical weapons were used, and then he ticked through the evidence that the Syrian regime has used these in the past. They’re the ones with the capabilities to use them now. Clearly, we’re still gathering the facts on the ground, but I think the Secretary’s statement was very strong about what we think happened here. And as we have more announcements to make about evidence or information, we’ll do so in the coming days.


QUESTION: The Secretary spoke about international norms –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- such as the responsibility to protect, for instance, and not international law. Was that an intentional delineation? Can you talk about whether, for instance, the Russians specifically were saying today and yesterday that any action would violate international law? Was that intentional?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say that. No, not at all. I think when he’s referring to international norms, it’s what we’ve long talked about and things that we’ve signed onto, including the doctrine that we do not use chemical weapons. The President’s been very clear that we are (a) preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons to more states, but (b) also trying to lock them up where they already exist. So there’s widespread agreement in the world that chemical weapons are something very bad and should not be used. So that’s what he was referring to. It wasn’t – that wasn’t an intentional reason not to use that term.

QUESTION: Okay, so –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but are you citing international law as having been violated and as a reason to – as an impetus to act --

MS. HARF: Well, we haven’t made a decision on what our response will be yet, and again, I’m not going to do legal analysis and get ahead of any decision from the podium at this point. We’re citing the fact that a number of countries have made very clear around the world that chemical weapons are something that should not be used, and I think we’ll talk more about that in the coming days.

We’ll go to you right next, Matt.

QUESTION: Just last, though, on that, though. Is there any response to the Russian assertion that such a response from the U.S. would violate international law? Because that’s been repeated multiple times.

MS. HARF: Well, I would reiterate that the President has not made a decision about a response yet, and that would be my only response to the Russians.


QUESTION: As you said, though, that even though the response hasn’t been decided on --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you believe – and please tell me if I’m correct in thinking this – you believe that you don’t need any more evidence from the UN or anywhere else to respond, however that response is.

MS. HARF: That’s not exactly what I said, and let me clarify it. We continue to work with our international partners to gather more information as it becomes available. Clearly, we all share the goal, and one of the things the Secretary is raising with all of his foreign counterparts is sharing of this additional information if they get it, whether it’s from survivors or witnesses or others. So I think that’s the first point that I would make. And it’s not that we don’t think that evidence gained on the ground would be helpful; it’s that we feel that the Syrian regime has done so much to attack the area, and the situation is not safe for the team, and that the regime will continue to use this as an excuse and a stalling tactic without actually giving them any real access.

QUESTION: Can you assure us or the international community, the American people, that whatever the response is, it will be legal under international law?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Whatever response –

MS. HARF: I’m not going to do a legal analysis from here about hypotheticals.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for the response. The United States will not act outside the bounds of international law in its response?

MS. HARF: Yes.

Yes. Syria still?


MS. HARF: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the meeting in The Hague still on for this week between the U.S. and the Russians? And when, if so?

MS. HARF: I have no updates for you at this time. As we said on August 28th, Wendy Sherman and Robert Ford are scheduled to visit The Hague for a meeting with Russian counterparts to discuss the next steps in planning for Geneva. I think one thing we’ve been clear about is that we, separate and apart from what happened on August 21st, obviously remain committed to working with the Russians and our other partners towards a Geneva conference and eventually a political solution, but no updates for you on that meeting.


QUESTION: The Foreign Minister, William Hague, in Britain was saying just yesterday that unanimous Security Council – a unanimous Security Council agreement is not required for British action. Do you agree with that?

MS. HARF: Again, the President hasn’t made a decision about our response, so I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. And certainly, I’m not going to speak for our friends across the pond on anything they’ve said about their potential response.

Yes. Anything else on Syria? Okay. Next topic? Are there other topics today?

QUESTION: Yeah, I do. All right. So tell us what is going on or what happened or did not happen in Jericho today.

MS. HARF: Ah, okay.


MS. HARF: Yes. So I can assure you that no meetings have been canceled. I know there was some confusion about this.

QUESTION: Marie, let me just stop you right there.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: That is not the question. My question is: Can you tell –

MS. HARF: I was going to get there.

QUESTION: Oh, you were? Okay, good.

MS. HARF: But it’s okay.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MS. HARF: Do you want to ask it again?

QUESTION: No, no, no, no. Finish.

MS. HARF: Okay. As we’ve said repeatedly, we’re not going to read out or announce every meeting that happens in the Middle East peace process as they’re ongoing. I can assure you, contrary to some reports, that no meetings have been canceled. We’ve been clear that the two parties are engaged in serious and sustained negotiations.

QUESTION: All right. There was a meeting scheduled to take place today between the Israelis, Palestinians, and possibly with an American – with Americans present at some or all in Jericho. Did that meeting go ahead?

MS. HARF: As I said before, we’re not going to make announcements about every single meeting, but I can assure you that there have been no cancelations of meetings.

QUESTION: Does that mean that this meeting happened?

MS. HARF: I’m going to repeat the same line back to you, Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t –

MS. HARF: As we’ve repeatedly said, we’re not going to confirm every meeting that takes place. I’ve said that from the beginning. I kno

w it’s frustrating for everyone that we’re not going to, but that’s where we’re going to be on this.

QUESTION: No, it’s not frustrating. I find it entertaining that you’re unable to give a straight answer –

MS. HARF: I just gave you a straight answer.

QUESTION: -- to whether a meeting took place. No, you didn’t.

MS. HARF: I’m not going to confirm whether or not it took place --

QUESTION: But no meeting –

MS. HARF: -- as we’ve said from the beginning.

QUESTION: -- has been canceled?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: So that means that all scheduled meetings were going – will go ahead – have gone ahead?

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And the meeting – there was a meeting scheduled for today in Jericho.

MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to –

QUESTION: Is that correct?

MS. HARF: -- confirm every specific meeting that we have as part of this process.

QUESTION: But you just said that – it’s either yes – it has to be one or the other –

MS. HARF: It doesn’t.

QUESTION: -- because you said no meetings are being canceled, but you can’t say that it took place today?

MS. HARF: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: So that’s –

MS. HARF: We are not going to confirm from this podium every single meeting or whether meetings happen. When there are misconceptions out there about whether something’s taken place or whether something’s been canceled, we will endeavor to clear those up as necessary.

QUESTION: But you’re not clearing it up. You’re making it even more confusing.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. Again, we are not going to announce or confirm every meeting. We’re just not.

QUESTION: But you’ll deny a cancelation.

MS. HARF: That any meetings were canceled. Correct.


QUESTION: Was that postponed?

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Rescheduled?

MS. HARF: No, no – not postponed or canceled.

QUESTION: Look, I can appreciate the sensitivity of this and why --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- you’re beating around the bush, but please don’t try and say that you’re making it clear when you’re making it unclear. You’re --

MS. HARF: I don’t understand what’s not clear about saying I’m not going to confirm every meeting. You can ask --

QUESTION: But you just said that no meetings have been canceled --

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- but you can say that it took place.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So that means – what does that mean?

MS. HARF: It means that I’m not going to confirm when meetings took place. There were rumors --

QUESTION: Whatever.

QUESTION: It means --

MS. HARF: No, no, Elise, that’s not fair.

QUESTION: It means nothing.

MS. HARF: Look, when some – when there are press reports out there that a meeting’s been canceled, I’m going to say, generally speaking, no meetings have been canceled. I’m not going to stand here --

QUESTION: So if it wasn’t canceled, then it took place?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to stand here and tell you a meeting took place and when and where and who was involved. And that’s going to be the case for the rest of this nine months, people, so get ready for it, and you can keep asking the questions and you’re going to keep getting the same response.

QUESTION: So we should get accustomed to more confusing non-denials and denials?

MS. HARF: You should get accustomed to us not announcing when meetings are taking place necessarily in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yes.

QUESTION: But if you’re going to clear up misconceptions, then just clear it up. Don’t --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- say you’re going to clear it up and then not clear it up.

MS. HARF: I’ll take your advice onboard going forward.

QUESTION: In retrospect, was it a mistake to say that there would be a second meeting in Jericho when you announced the first one?

MS. HARF: No, not at all.

QUESTION: Oh? So – but then you can’t say if it actually happened or not? I might be able to be – I would be more sympathetic to your position or your case here if you hadn’t ever announced that the meeting in Jericho was going to happen, but you did. Okay?

MS. HARF: Right. And I don’t have anything --

QUESTION: So from going --

MS. HARF: -- to announce on it.

QUESTION: From now, going forward, if you don’t want to be caught in this verbal trapeze act that you’re involved in, don’t announce that there’s going to be a meeting in the first place and then say you can’t say that it – whether it happened or not.

MS. HARF: Again, we will announce – at times announce meetings when we feel it’s important to do so. And when we don’t, we will not announce every meeting.

QUESTION: So when things are going --

MS. HARF: And I’m not looking for your sympathy on this, either, Matt.

QUESTION: So when – okay. Well, that’s good because you don’t really have it. So the answer is that when the meeting – when things are going well, you’ll talk about it. But when they’re going bad, you’ll refuse to --

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t read anything --

QUESTION: -- you’ll refuse to talk about it.

MS. HARF: No, I think that’s a – I think that’s a leap in assumption that is in no way based up by any facts that you have.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the clashes? I mean --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- clearly, given that the meeting was neither canceled or wasn’t – you’ve said it wasn’t --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- any comment on the – on what went on?

MS. HARF: Yes. Well, we’re still seeking the details of this incident. Obviously, we regret the loss of life and would urge restraint on both – or on all sides – excuse me. We believe it’s essential for the negotiations to go forward despite these kinds of incidents, as the parties have agreed to do. And again, these incidents underscore exactly why a final status agreement is even more important to address these issues at the negotiating table and why we’re working so hard to help the two parties do that.

QUESTION: Sorry. Which issue would that be in this case that would resolve these kinds of issues? That would be the issue of --

MS. HARF: The --

QUESTION: -- Palestinian refugees?

MS. HARF: Some of the violence. No, this was an example where some people were killed --


MS. HARF: -- and she was asking about that.

QUESTION: In a refugee camp.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

QUESTION: So the issue that would be – the issue that we’re talking about here, the killing of these three people in this refugee camp --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- the issue that would be resolved in the final status talks would be the issue of refugees?

MS. HARF: Well, there are a number of issues, and the Secretary made clear that all of those issues, every single one, is on the table as part of these nine-month negotiations.

QUESTION: But you think – so you think that --

MS. HARF: Violence – all of this – all of this is being discussed right now.

QUESTION: It wasn’t being discussed because you can’t confirm that a meeting has taken place, right?

MS. HARF: All of it is being discussed as part of the ongoing negotiations. I think it’s clear that the negotiations are ongoing, as we said, without confirming specific meetings. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you understand how ridiculous that sounds?

MS. HARF: Nope.

QUESTION: I mean, you can’t say that the negotiations are ongoing and then not be able to confirm whether the negotiations are going on.

MS. HARF: I actually just confirmed that they’re going on. I said I’m not going to give you specifics on meetings.

QUESTION: Ah. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I just said that.

QUESTION: They’re going on – they’re going on --

QUESTION: Well, they’re going on in the ether. Is that --

QUESTION: In the ether.

MS. HARF: Just because you don’t know the specifics of every meeting doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

QUESTION: Maybe, except that --

MS. HARF: I think that’s true, actually.

QUESTION: Except that I do know the specifics and I know why you’re being so reluctant. So – but I just wish you would be clear, because clearing up – there is one side in this situation that is not telling the truth. It’s not the American --

QUESTION: This side. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, it’s not the American side and it’s not the Israeli side. So why don’t we just come out --

MS. HARF: Is there a question?

QUESTION: Yeah. Why don’t you just come out and call a spade a spade? Why not just come out and clear the air and say this is what’s going on, and that’s it?

MS. HARF: Because we’ve been clear that all of these issues – that these negotiations and all of the sticky issues around the logistics and the substance and all of that is going to be discussed privately to give them the best chance of success.

QUESTION: But you know what the --

MS. HARF: So I know it’s frustrating to you, but --

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, listen --

MS. HARF: -- this is all – wait, let me finish, Matt.

QUESTION: Listen, but no one is asking about --

MS. HARF: Can I finish, Matt, please?

QUESTION: -- the specifics about what is being talked about.

MS. HARF: You’re asking about a lot of specifics --


MS. HARF: -- about logistics and --

QUESTION: Specifics of what? This is --

MS. HARF: And honestly, logistics matter in the Middle East peace process. We’ve all followed this. It’s not just who was at the meeting and who sat at the table. Every single piece of this is sensitive and is part of very delicate negotiations that, as we’ve seen for decades, haven’t worked. So we want to keep everything as discrete and private as possible to give us the best chance of finally succeeding with this. So I’m sorry that I can’t tell you what time a meeting started and what time it ended, but there’s a good reason for it.

QUESTION: All right. Well --

MS. HARF: And it’s to give it a chance for success.

QUESTION: Sorry. No one asked what time it started and what time it ended. We just wanted to know – one side came out --

MS. HARF: Again --

QUESTION: -- and said that the meeting had been canceled. You’re saying nothing has been canceled, but you won’t say that the meeting took place.

MS. HARF: Again --

QUESTION: There’s a lot of wiggle room in that statement, and that is the problem.

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

QUESTION: All right. On Egypt?

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: I presume, since there hasn’t been a restoration of democracy, you are going to – you’re moving ahead with cutting off more assistance or some assistance?

MS. HARF: Well, the review is ongoing. That hasn’t changed. There has not been a final decision on how we’re going to move forward. Again, we are clearly committed to the Egyptian people, to supporting them as they move forward. I think it’s also clear that the actions the interim government has taken have really forced us to review this entire relationship. That review is ongoing. It’s not something we take lightly, as it’s a decades-long and important relationship. But nothing to announce at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know – in the midst – I realize that everyone has been kind of preoccupied with Syria for the last couple days, but are you aware of any high-level contact with the Secretary or others at a very senior level with the Egyptians?

MS. HARF: With the Egyptians?

QUESTION: Well, any Egyptians. I mean, whether – other than Secretary Hagel’s call with --

MS. HARF: Let me check on that. I don’t know.


MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria?

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

QUESTION: No, no. Go ahead.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Has the President asked his team to come up with the options by a certain time?

MS. HARF: No, I’m not going to put a timeline on this. Clearly, this is an important decision on how to respond. I do think people feel that there’s a sense of urgency. Clearly, I think you’ve seen that from the statement the Secretary made today, but no timeline on any decision.

QUESTION: Is it possible that – I mean, what is it that Assad can do now to avoid an attack?

MS. HARF: Again, the President hasn’t made a decision. I don’t even want to venture to hypothetically answer that question. I would --

QUESTION: But is a response inevitable? But is a response inevitable? He’s --

MS. HARF: Some sort of policy response in some way? I think that should go without saying. Last time, we said that if chemical weapons had been used, we made a policy decision to respond by increasing the scale and scope of assistance.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the rebels have not got – that was a rhetorical policy response, because the rebels have not gotten one arm or anything in this increased assistance that you said you were going to give.

MS. HARF: Well, again, that assistance had a couple different components to it, many of which we can’t talk about publicly, as we’ve said.

QUESTION: But even the ones that you’re not talking about publicly, the rebels have said that they haven’t gotten a lick of anything.

MS. HARF: Well, again, I’m not going to address those reports --

QUESTION: Okay, but --

MS. HARF: -- except to say that we made a decision to expand the scale and scope of our assistance, and that’s what we’ve done. And we will --

QUESTION: But not to deliver it?

MS. HARF: And we – I’m not going to go into those specifics about what has or hasn’t happened with a certain kind of assistance.

QUESTION: Okay, but when you say that there is going to be a policy response --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- can you assure that there is going to be an actual response and not a rhetorical response?

MS. HARF: Well, I would disagree with your characterization of our last response and say that it was more than rhetorical.



QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: I’ll go to you in a second, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. So, Marie, since whatever action the President takes really is dependent on what objective he wants to achieve --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- whether his objective is deterrence for a future chemical attack or whether his objective is tipping the balance in favor of the opposition, or – there are many different objectives he could have.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

QUESTION: So why don’t you explain to us what his objective is, so that we’ll better be able to understand whatever response comes?

MS. HARF: Well, I think, again, the President’s weighing a number of different options, and without getting into his head on this, I would say, broadly speaking, that any response – we’re not trying to determine the outcome of the situation in Syria. We continue to believe that there is no military solution here that’s good for the Syrian people, and that the best path forward is a political solution. This is about the violation of an international norm against the use of chemical weapons and how we should respond to that. Again, this is one massive, horrific incident, but there is also the continuing civil war going on on the ground, and we will continue making policy decisions about that separately going forward.

QUESTION: So it makes it sound as if the objective in this case is specific deterrence of any future chemical weapons attack. Am I right?

MS. HARF: Well, I – before a decision’s been made, I don’t want to put a specific goal up with a decision that hasn’t been made. But broadly speaking, it’s a determination on how to respond to a blatant use of chemical weapons, and it’s not necessarily to change the entire situation on the ground in Syria.

QUESTION: So we don’t want to conflate --

QUESTION: So how can you --

MS. HARF: I’ll get to you in a second, Elise.

QUESTION: So we don’t want to conflate, then, in other words, other objectives in Syria?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So this will be a narrow response to this specific chemical weapon thing, and we shouldn’t expect that it would be a response that might necessarily tip the battlefield balance or affect the civil war in general?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, because he hasn’t decided on a response. And I clear --

QUESTION: Before we get the response, we need the objective.

MS. HARF: Well –

QUESTION: You need to know what your goal is to even get to your response.

MS. HARF: But I think there are a couple of different goals, and obviously, certain actions can achieve a variety of goals with them, right? So I don’t want to get too far down the path of what our goal is, except to say that we continue to believe that a political solution is the best and only durable path forward to end this conflict, but again, that we will determine how to respond to this large-scale use of chemical weapons. I don’t want to get any further in terms of specific goals before --

QUESTION: In terms of objectives.

MS. HARF: -- correct – before the President’s made a decision, obviously --

QUESTION: So when the President makes a --

MS. HARF: -- and the national security team with him as well.

QUESTION: So when the President and the national security team make their decision and you read out that decision to us --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- will you also read out the objective that that decision is trying to accomplish? Because it seems like one is predicated on the other. The action is predicated --

MS. HARF: I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t.


QUESTION: But how can you kind of not tie the two in terms of the – if he is violating international norms --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and this is someone that is – the way he’s been treating his people aside --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- this is someone who’s violated international norms, violated international law, and is involved in a civil war. How can you separate the two, though?

MS. HARF: Well, they’re not totally separate, but I do think that we are looking at a discrete event – a horrific, large-scale, but discrete event – and we’re continuing to make policy decisions about the entirety of what’s happening in Syria as well. So there’s a lot going on at the same time. You’re right that they’re not completely divorced from each other, but obviously, we are making a decision about how to respond to this specific event.


QUESTION: Do you – going back to the response to the first time that chemical weapons were used that you --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- do you think that the response had any effect on Assad, had any impact on him or on – in terms of deterring him from using chemical weapons again or in terms of supporting the opposition so that they could take more territory and push a political solution closer?

MS. HARF: Well, I think, clearly, that any additional assistance to the opposition helps them get stronger on the ground. We’ve seen, in some instances, them make gains on the ground. We also – it’s a very fluid situation, as you know. So we will continue increasing that assistance if we feel it’s necessary. We do believe that it’s made the opposition stronger, yes.

QUESTION: But what about from the regime’s point of view?

MS. HARF: In what way?

QUESTION: You’re not making – well, I mean, are you trying to make the argument that your response several months ago deterred the regime from using chemical weapons?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not making an argument about deterrence, and I don’t think I’ve made that argument today. I think what we’ve said at the time – and again, I wasn’t here, but what we said at the time, I believe, was that we were increasing the scale and scope of assistance to the opposition to help them better able to fight against the regime and to strengthen themselves on the ground.

QUESTION: And you believe that has been a success so far?

MS. HARF: I believe that additional assistance has helped them get stronger, yes.


MS. HARF: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: In your answer to Matt’s question about Egypt, you said that the review is ongoing.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you say – you said do nothing – you have nothing to announce.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does this mean that you are not going to comment anything about Egypt, till the review gets completed, or what?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ll respond as the situation warrants on the ground. If there are things that happen, we’re certainly happy to respond. We just have no new update on the review and our assistance and what’s ongoing there.

QUESTION: No, just I’m asking this question because in the last few days there are – things are going on on the ground, and I don’t know if you have anything to say about it, whether it’s this inclusiveness and meanwhile the crackdown is going on, whether it’s the – what was published in most of the newspapers about conspiracy theory, American and Israeli, and so on. So, I mean, do you have anything to say, or you prefer not to say anything because the review is ongoing on?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that we’ve been clear that what happens on the ground will help inform the decision that’s eventually made under the review that’s ongoing. So clearly, everybody’s very focused on what’s happening on the ground and all of those specifics are playing into this eventual review, and the President and the team will make a decision at some point on that.

QUESTION: Yeah, there is another thing, which is like more and more it’s coming clear that the Egyptian authorities, whether the military or the interim government, are – they don’t have any intention, or even will, even we can say that, to be – to take the Muslim Brothers part of the equation, the political equation, in the formula what’s called inclusiveness. And in the same time, Islamists or most of the others – I mean, the Brothers are saying simply they are not – they don’t want to be a part of it. So you are still – is U.S. insisting on having the formula of inclusiveness or not?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

QUESTION: And why? And why?

MS. HARF: Our policy has in no way changed. We believe that the best chance that Egypt has to move forward towards a sustainable democracy that’s elected by its people is for a process that’s inclusive. We’ve seen the problems when it hasn’t been, quite frankly, and so we will continue pressing the interim government and all parties and all sides to take a part in an inclusive process, because ultimately that’s what’s in the best interests of the Egyptian people. That’s what will help get them on a path towards a sustainable democracy that’s in their best interests.

QUESTION: But the reason I am asking this because in many cases, you said that the Egyptian have to decide what they want to do. If the both sides --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- are saying somehow that they are not interested to be together, it – why you are insisting it?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re insisting on what the process should look like. And we’re saying to them that this is in your – this isn’t what’s in – this isn’t for us to determine; it’s that you need to move forward with an inclusive process. We are not determining what the outcome of that should look like. Nobody’s saying who should be elected in these elections that we want to happen. We’re not saying that. We’re not determining the outcome. But we feel very strongly that the best path forward for Egypt is an inclusive process, absolutely.


QUESTION: Can I ask you about your statement yesterday on Congo?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: In that, you asked Rwanda to stop supporting the M23 and respect the territorial integrity of Congo. What’s your understanding of what’s going on in the Kivus right now?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, as we’ve said, and I think the statement echoed this a little, but that we’re deeply concerned about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern DRC. We condemn the actions of the M23 which have resulted in civilian casualties, attacks on the UN peacekeeping mission, and significant population displacements. We call on the M23 to immediately end the hostilities, lay down their arms, and disband in accordance with UN Security Council resolution. We are actively reviewing the possibility of additional U.S. sanctions against the M23 leadership and its supporters. We also urgently call on the DRC and Rwandan governments to exercise restraint to prevent military escalation of the conflict or any action that puts civilians at risk.

QUESTION: You’ll recall that it was just over a month ago when Jen called for Rwanda to immediately end its support for the M23. Can we judge from your statement on Sunday that it is not your assessment that Rwanda did immediately end its support for that group?

MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said before, we remain concerned about credible reports of Rwandan support to M23. We reiterate our call for Rwanda to cease any and all support to the M23 and to respect DRC’s territorial integrity, consistent with UN Security Council resolutions and its commitments under the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework.

QUESTION: Senator Graham is in Goma --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- today as part of a CODEL, and said that the United Nations, in the past, has been part of the problem in Congo. Is that a view shared by the Administration?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports that he said that, so I wouldn’t want to comment specifically on them. We’ve urged the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism to promptly and thoroughly investigate things like charges of cross-border shelling. So clearly, we think the UN peacekeeping mission has a key role to play here. But I don’t have anything – I didn’t see the Senator’s comments, and unfortunately don’t have a response specifically to that.


QUESTION: Can I ask about the NSA?

MS. HARF: You can.

QUESTION: So what’s the State Department’s position on the NSA apparently spying on the UN? This came out in a German magazine today.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, we’ve said this repeatedly, that we’re not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity as a matter of policy. We’ve made clear that the U.S. gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. The U.S. Government will respond through diplomatic channels to our partners and allies around the world when they raise concerns. Clearly, we value our cooperation with all countries in these matters. We also, of course, value the work of the UN and cooperate frequently and often share information, including intelligence.

QUESTION: There is a longstanding agreement, so, I mean, how does this correspond with that?

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, longstanding agreement on what?

QUESTION: As far as the U.S. having a longstanding agreement with the UN stipulating that the U.S. refrain from covert operations in regards to anything that they do.

MS. HARF: I’m not familiar with what you’re referring to. Again, broadly speaking, as a matter of policy, we’ve made clear that we gather foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations and I don’t have anything further for you on that.

QUESTION: And did the U.S. – did the U.S. pressure Cuba not to grant Edward Snowden asylum?

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

QUESTION: Does your response – which is not new, I don’t think; it goes back to the beginning of this – that you gather intelligence of the type gathered by all nations --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- does that mean that U.S. diplomats, U.S. embassies, U.S. missions, diplomatic posts abroad all operate on the presumption that they are being spied upon?

MS. HARF: I would not want to make that broad assumption.

QUESTION: No? Okay, so you don’t?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to make a broad --


MS. HARF: I didn’t say no. I said I’m not going to make a broad assumption --


MS. HARF: -- about every single place everywhere around the world.

QUESTION: Well, is there a presumption that if you are going ahead, if the U.S. Government is conducting the same kind of intelligence activities that all other – or that many other nations, at least – practice, is it presumed that when U.S. diplomats go abroad, they are going to be targets of intelligence gathering by foreign countries?

MS. HARF: I mean, I think it’s clear that we understand there are other people trying to gather intelligence as well, and urge our people to take the necessary precautions when going abroad.

QUESTION: So the answer is yes.

MS. HARF: I don’t want to make a broad statement.

QUESTION: It’s not a trick question. It really isn’t.

MS. HARF: It’s sometimes hard to know with you, Matt --

QUESTION: I know you think it – (laughter) --

MS. HARF: -- because so many of them are.

QUESTION: It’s not. I just – like, it’s in --

MS. HARF: Clearly, we’re aware --

QUESTION: -- the foreign affairs manual that you should be careful because people are going to be trying to --

MS. HARF: Clearly, we’re aware that there are counterintelligence threats in a variety of places around the world, and urge our people --


MS. HARF: -- to take the necessary precautions when traveling or working abroad, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Is that is? Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:12 p.m.)


© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.