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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – April 21, 2015

MS HARF:  Welcome to the daily briefing, everyone.  I have two items at the top.  First, a travel update.  Secretary of State John Kerry will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts on April 26th as part of Prime Minister Abe’s official visit to the United States. 

Secretary Kerry will then travel to New York City on April 27th for a series of meetings and events, including the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, the 2+2 meeting, involving Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and their Japanese counterparts.  Secretary Kerry will also visit the United Nations to provide opening remarks on behalf of the United States at the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the NPT.  While at the United Nations, the Secretary will participate in other NPT-related events.  At the UN, the Secretary will also participate in a series of bilateral meetings with other NPT Review Conference participants.  We don’t have a full schedule yet, but we’ll keep you all posted as we do.

And then the other item at the top:  Deputy Secretary Blinken met yesterday with the Vice Chair of the Vietnamese National Assembly and Politburo Member Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and her delegation at the Department of State.  They discussed key bilateral and regional issues that reflect the strong and growing partnership between the U.S. and Vietnam.  This meeting is one in a series of high-level visits that are taking place during the 20th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations; that anniversary is this year.  Each visit provides an opportunity to advance the bilateral relationship through the comprehensive partnership that Presidents Obama and Sang launched in July 2013.

Matt.

QUESTION:  Can I just ask you a logistical question on —

MS HARF:  Always.

QUESTION:  Well, first of all —

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — how about a technical question?  There seems to be an echo.  Do you hear that?  No?  It seemed to be an echo.

MS HARF:  There’s a little bit when I was speaking.  Is it better now?

QUESTION:  I can’t tell.

MS HARF:  Maybe it’s —

QUESTION:  But anyway —

MS HARF:  Maybe it’s just you, Matt.

QUESTION:  It might be ringing in my ears. 

MS HARF:  Anyone else hear that?  Weird.  Okay.

QUESTION:  Among the – I realize you said the bilats aren’t set yet for New York —

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  — but would a likely one be Foreign Minister Zarif —

MS HARF:  Possibly.

QUESTION:  — who will also be —

MS HARF:  Possibly.  Mm-hmm.  He’ll be in town, so we’ll see.  We’re still working through the schedule.

QUESTION:  And he’ll be there on the – so that’s the 28th or the —

MS HARF:  The Secretary. 

QUESTION:  Yes.

MS HARF:  The Secretary will be there on Monday.

QUESTION:  Not on Tuesday.

MS HARF:  We may come back Tuesday morning.  I don’t know when we’re returning to Washington, but I don’t – as of this point has no meetings scheduled on Tuesday in New York.

QUESTION:  Tuesday, okay.  So all of the bilats, whoever he has them with, would be —

MS HARF:  As of this point.  But as you know, the schedule can change.

QUESTION:  Got you, okay.  Off of logistics —

MS HARF:  Okay.

QUESTION:  — can I ask you if you were able to find out an answer to the questions from yesterday about this money that Iran might get upon signing —

MS HARF:  Right.

QUESTION:  — whatever it is that they do —

MS HARF:  So a couple points on that.  I’ve talked to the folks who’ve – I think this originated, some of this, out of Hill briefings.  I’ve talked to the folks that have briefed the Hill, talked to the folks on our delegation.  I think people were a little perplexed about what these reports were referring to; because as we’ve said and I repeated yesterday, the Iranians will get, under a comprehensive agreement, the sanctions relief after they take the key nuclear-related steps.  So obviously, all the details about how that will happen and when are still part of the negotiations.  But in terms of some of those specific – specifics in that story, I think, and that I was about yesterday, they sort of didn’t know what those were referring to.

QUESTION:  Right.  Okay, so in other words —

MS HARF:  And I think it was maybe speculation on some people’s part.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Does that mean, though, that when you talk about sanctions relief being dependent on them taking the —

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  — nuclear-related steps, that that would include the release of frozen assets?

MS HARF:  Well, the release of their frozen assets is only one piece of this, Matt, as you know.

QUESTION:  I understand.

MS HARF:  And throughout the JPOA, they have received access to —

QUESTION:  Right.

MS HARF:  — small portions of those frozen assets overseas as part of the JPOA.  So I can’t speculate on day one of a possible agreement what might happen, because we’ve said sanctions relief will only come after they take key nuclear-related steps but there’s been this ongoing relief as part of the JPOA.  So all the details about what happens on day one and day two and day fifteen are still being negotiated.

QUESTION:  Right.  No, but my question is:  Do you consider that, the release of frozen funds, to be sanctions relief?

MS HARF:  Well, you’re assuming that that happens in one fell swoop.

QUESTION:  No, no.  I’m just wondering if you consider the release of frozen assets to be sanctions relief per se —

MS HARF:  It’s a –

QUESTION:  — or if it’s —

MS HARF:  I mean, in general – in general – that’s in general what’s referred to when we talk about sanctions relief, whether it’s suspension of certain sanctions —

QUESTION:  Right.

MS HARF:  — that are in place currently, access to some of the funds as they’ve had under the JPOA, of course.  But in terms of what this might actually look like on day one, I’m just not going to speculate.  I, again, went back to folks yesterday and —

QUESTION:  Right.

MS HARF:  — and all the specific details about all of this still have to be worked out.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But you can’t – so it is possible, in fact, that upon completion of, on June 30th if that’s when it is, upon completion the Iranians might get something in the form of money of —

MS HARF:  I don’t want to say it’s possible or not possible because there’s conversations happening inside the negotiating room and I don’t want to rule anything in or out at this point.  They have been getting access to some of this as part of the JPOA —

QUESTION:  Right.

MS HARF:  — so I think that’s one of the big questions, right?  Does that continue?  Does it not?  Sort of what happens.  So I really just don’t want to speculate.  Those details have yet to be worked out and aren’t at this point – we haven’t met again to have further discussions.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But it sounds as though —

MS HARF:  So I think some of those news reports were speculative, and people that have been doing the congressional briefings said that’s not what we talked about in the briefings, so I think there was some, on our part, confusion.

QUESTION:  Speculative but not necessarily wrong because —

MS HARF:  But by no means right.  So I don’t think you should assume – what they said is they read the reports and said, well, that’s not what was discussed inside these briefings.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So you would have no idea —

MS HARF:  So —

QUESTION:  — how people on the Hill would think that Iran is going to get some kind of a signing bonus?

MS HARF:  Correct.  They did not.

QUESTION:  But you’re saying that —

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Well, even though they don’t have – they have no idea how people on the Hill got that impression —

MS HARF:  Right.

QUESTION:  — it’s still possible.

MS HARF:  I didn’t say that a signing – a, quote, “signing bonus” was possible.  I said —

QUESTION:  Yeah, I’m sorry.  I introduced that phrase the other day —

MS HARF:  It’s okay.

QUESTION:  — and I’m not sure that– it’s not – I just don’t know what else to call it.

MS HARF:  I know.  But access to some —

QUESTION:  But you’re saying it’s possible.

MS HARF:  I’m saying – I’m not going to say it’s possible or not possible.  These are – these are – because I don’t want to indicate that in some way it is, right?  These are discussions happening inside the room.  They’ve been getting access to some of it throughout the JPOA, so if suddenly this becomes a comprehensive joint plan of action, what happens to what’s already – these are all just very technical questions.  And we just at this point still have a lot of details to work out.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Marie, on this —

QUESTION:  Can I ask —

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Sorry.

MS HARF:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  So —

MS HARF:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  — on this, what’s the amount of the Iranian frozen assets in the United States?

MS HARF:  In the United States?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS HARF:  Or writ large?

QUESTION:  In the United States, at large.  You have both numbers or —

MS HARF:  I am happy to check to see if I can get you those figures. 

QUESTION:  And since the start of the application of the JPOA, how much money the Iranians have received?

MS HARF:  They’ve received just a very small amount of money on a regular basis.  I’m happy to check with the Treasury Department and see what those – what the exact figures are because that’s in their purview, but I’m happy to check.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask on the release of any monies for taking nuclear-related steps, is – at one point, I believe a couple of weeks ago when we were in Lausanne, the idea was it would be – that money would be released as Iran completed certain steps.

MS HARF:  We have always said that, yes, sanctions relief, including that, will happen as they take steps.  Yes.

QUESTION:  Okay, well – but completed and take are two different things.

MS HARF:  I don’t think we’re using them in two different ways, Jo.

QUESTION:  So it’s completed.  Because I think there was some briefing yesterday with your counterpart or your colleague in the White House which was taken by some other people to —

MS HARF:  To indicate a change in policy.

QUESTION:  Yeah, to indicate they could be – 

MS HARF:  And there has been absolutely —

QUESTION:  — as soon as they start taking steps.

MS HARF:  There has been no change in policy from what we’ve said all along in terms of sanctions relief.  We’ve also said that a lot of these details still have to be worked out.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS HARF:  Exactly what nuclear steps they have to take, exactly what the sanctions – those are all details that just haven’t been worked out yet.

QUESTION:  But —

MS HARF:  But there’s been no shift in our policy about the principle.

QUESTION:  But the principle is that the monies will be released as they complete it.

MS HARF:  Well, you’re just – you’re just looking at monies though, and that’s only one part of sanctions relief.

QUESTION:  Or – yes.  No, that’s true.  That’s true.

MS HARF:  Well, no but I just want to —

QUESTION:  Their sanctions would start to be eased or phased in as they complete —

MS HARF:  So I’m just going to read from the parameters we put out.

QUESTION:  — various steps.

MS HARF:  “U.S. and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps.”  That’s what we put out in the parameters.

QUESTION:  Has taken.  So that would be past as opposed to —

MS HARF:  Correct.  Now the timing if it’s – like those are all details that we really just haven’t worked out yet. 

QUESTION:  So it’s possible, as Matt was saying, that it could be as they start to take steps.  It might be —

MS HARF:  I know.  Has taken.  But has taken and then an (inaudible), right?  I mean, these are just details that haven’t been worked out yet.

Yes. 

QUESTION:  Can we go to Egypt?

QUESTION:  Can we go to Morsy?

MS HARF:  Are you – do you have anything on Iran? 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) the schedule in New York.  Is he going to have a meeting with the Egyptian and the Jordanian foreign ministers?

MS HARF:  We’re still working out the schedule.  We don’t have any more details at this time.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Do you have any comment on the sentencing of former Egyptian president Morsy to 20 years?

MS HARF:  I do.  We are concerned by these sentences.  All Egyptians regardless of political affiliation are entitled to equal and fair treatment before the law, including their full respect for their rights to due process.  We will review the basis of the verdict, which I understand the Egyptian court will make public soon.  I don’t think we’ll have much more analysis to do before we review that basis of that verdict.  And at that point we’ll probably have more comment. 

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  You said that all Egyptians are entitled to equal and fair treatment before the law.

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Do you believe that at this point, knowing what you know about the sentence, did former President Morsy receive equal and fair treatment before the law?

MS HARF:  We’re going to review the basis of the verdict before, I think, we make further analysis on what happened here.

QUESTION:  So you don’t have a position yet?

MS HARF:  We need some more information.

QUESTION:  And one other thing?

MS HARF:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Just – because obviously, the sentencing is just one act in a —

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  — long series of trials —

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — and so on.  As a general principle, having seen the treatment of former government officials such as Morsy and their Muslim Brotherhood colleagues over the last couple of years, do you believe that these prosecutions have been politically motivated?

MS HARF:  Well, I don’t want to make a broad generalization about all of them.  But in general, we have said that we, of course, are opposed to politicized arrests, detentions, and prosecutions.  We’ve seen a lot of that.  And when we talk about some of the mass sentences, mass death sentences, we’ve said sort of basic logic would lead you to believe that these weren’t sort of the kinds of trials they should be.  But I don’t want to generalize about all of them.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And you – and just so we’re clear, you don’t want to specifically say or suggest that the treatment of the former president has been —

MS HARF:  President Morsy.

QUESTION:  — yeah, President Morsy, has been —

MS HARF:  Not Mubarak.

QUESTION:  — politicized?

MS HARF:  There’s others.  Correct.  We’re going to look at the case and we’ll have more comment then.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Just with regard to – recently, the United States decided to lift the hold on military —

MS HARF:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  — assistance to the country.  And just following this decision, these mass trials and mass death decisions and sentences come out.  Do you think that this downplaying of the United States have a role in these decisions?

MS HARF:  Well, we’re not downplaying anything.  We make very clear publicly when we have concerns about trials or other human rights issues inside Egypt.  We were very clear when we announced some of the assistance decisions that we made, what the purpose of that was for – that it’s in our national security interest, and we can both do that and also express deep concerns at the same time.

QUESTION:  Why were this assistance – military assistance was hold in the —

MS HARF:  I’m sorry?

QUESTION:  Why this military assistance was —

MS HARF:  Why was it?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS HARF:  We were undergoing a review of all of our assistances, as people, I think, are well aware of, in the aftermath of what has happened in Egypt.  This was an ongoing process.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Then what changed?

MS HARF:  Well, we made a decision.  I think that’s what changed.

QUESTION:  Marie?

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Syria and Turkey.  The Secretary will meet shortly with the Turkish foreign minister.

MS HARF:  He will.

QUESTION:  News reports said that there is an ongoing Turkish disagreement with the Obama Administration over the Syrian opposition train and equip program, and the enemy – the trainees will combat when they finish the six weeks – week course.  Is there disagreement between the U.S. and Turkey about the goal?

MS HARF:  I hadn’t seen those reports.  We talk to the Turks all the time about what’s happening in Syria, about supporting the opposition.  I am sure it will be a major topic of conversation today, and I don’t have much more to preview from that meeting.

QUESTION:  And who’s the enemy that the trainees will fight after that?

MS HARF:  Well, we’ve talked about this being a train and equip program to help the opposition fight ISIL.  We’ve been very clear about that.  We also know the opposition is fighting a war on two fronts here.

QUESTION:  What’s —

MS HARF:  And when it comes to this program, we’ve talked very clearly about that being ISIL.

QUESTION:  And what about the Assad regime?

MS HARF:  What about it?

QUESTION:  Are they able to —

MS HARF:  We’ve always said that the opposition was fighting a war on two fronts.  I just repeated that again.

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.  And is there any update for – of the U.S. position towards Turkey’s proposal to establish a safe zone in Syria?

MS HARF:  I don’t have any updates for you on that.  I’m happy to see if there’s anything else coming out of the meeting.

Yes.

QUESTION:  What’s on the agenda with this meeting?  There are two other senior Turkish officials also who have meetings today here.

MS HARF:  Mm-hmm.  Well, I’m expecting – and we’ll see what comes out of the meeting, but the range of issues we work with the Turks on, whether it’s the anti-ISIL coalition, whether it’s the issue of foreign fighters, whether it’s what’s happening other places in the region, like Yemen – I’m sure there’ll be a lot of discussions with them on all of those issues.  And we will see —

QUESTION:  Are they playing —

MS HARF:  — what comes out of those.

QUESTION:  — a helpful role in Iraq, the Turks?

MS HARF:  We have said, as part of this anti-ISIL coalition, they play a key role in a number of ways, and one of the most important of which is taking steps to close down their border, and – because obviously, given the geographical proximity, they have a role to play here in preventing foreign fighters from being able to transit from Turkey into Syria, of course.  But when it comes to Iraq, obviously, that’s part of the anti-ISIL fight that they’ve been focused on as well.

QUESTION:  Because the president of Iraq is visiting Ankara today to meet with the president and the prime minister for planning on how to regain the Mosul.  Would this —

MS HARF:  And I’m sure they’ll read out their meetings from one of them.

QUESTION:  Will this be an issue to be discussed today?

MS HARF:  I’m sure these issues in general will be discussed.  Nothing else to preview.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  On Iran?

MS HARF:  Uh-huh.

QUESTION:  Given your changing position on – your position on Iran sanctions —

MS HARF:  Given – what was the very first part of that?

QUESTION:  Your change in position —

MS HARF:  There is absolutely no change in position on Iran sanctions.  I just said that four times.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So would there be any change —

QUESTION:  But given the —

MS HARF:  Right.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  — change in position —

QUESTION:  Will there be any change in your position on Iran-Pakistani-India gas pipeline?  Do you welcome that, or do you still have the same position —

MS HARF:  We have been clear on our position about that.  That hasn’t changed either.

QUESTION:  And would you mind now if India increases its input from Iran on oil?

MS HARF:  Well, we – that’s getting a little ahead of where we are. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS HARF:  The restrictions on oil purchases remain in place, as we’ve talked about, under their JPOA terms.  So what will happen under a comprehensive joint plan of action, I just don’t know yet.

QUESTION:  I have one on Bangladesh.  Can I ask?

MS HARF:  Let’s – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Have you seen the reports about the violence in Bangladesh —

MS HARF:  I have.

QUESTION:  — attack on the opposition leader?

MS HARF:  I think the embassy has put out a statement on this as well, but I can gist it for you: that we deplore the political violence surrounding municipal elections in Dhaka – that’s what this specific statement was about – condemn in the strongest terms the use of violence for political objectives.  And we’ve called on everyone involved in the municipal elections to uphold their responsibility to ensure the elections are free, fair, and nonviolent.  We’ve also urged the security forces to permit free expression and association during the election campaign, to protect candidates against political violence, and to prosecute those who violate the law.

QUESTION:  Do you think the current government is insensitive or is not able to protect the opposition leader?

MS HARF:  I think I just said what we have to say on this.  I don’t have much else for you.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS HARF:  Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can we go to Greece?

MS HARF:  We can.

QUESTION:  Do you have a readout of yesterday’s meetings between the foreign minister of Greece and the Secretary?

MS HARF:  I do.  The Secretary and the foreign minister discussed bilateral and regional issues, including Greece’s economic situation, counterterrorism cooperation, and the importance of solidarity in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, also European energy security.  They also discussed support for the UN-facilitated efforts in Cyprus to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

QUESTION:  Marie, you designate today – the State Department, I mean – Mr. Christodoulos Xiros.

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  He is the brother of the other Xiros.

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  We have a lot of Xiros in Athens.  And Mr. Maziotis under Executive Order —

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — 13224.

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  You know that matter?

MS HARF:  I am familiar with it.

QUESTION:  My question is:  Why you did it today, one day after the meeting of the foreign minister and the Secretary?

MS HARF:  Well, just so folks know – and I think most people know this – the process for designated terrorists often takes months and months, and we’ve been working on these for months in advance of today’s announcement.  It’s just a quite lengthy process, as I think people know.  These designations were based on the fact that they have carried out terrorist activities as defined under that executive order that you mentioned.  In terms of the legislation, we’ve told them publicly and privately the concerns we have.  I don’t have much more else to say about timing, but these have been really ongoing process here. 

QUESTION:  I mean, I’m wondering why you didn’t designate his brother, that – he killed some Americans, as you said. 

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Why you didn’t designate the leader of the organization, Mr. Yotopoulos?  Why only Christodoulos Xiros?

MS HARF:  Well, we designated two people, and – that we believe when they – these two individuals were outside of custody.  They’re both back in custody now, but when they were outside of custody, they resumed terrorist activity.  This really highlights our concern both about them, but also about the new Greek legislation.  Again, these designations have been in process for some time, and each case is different.  There’s ongoing looks at people all the time, but we just don’t comment on those.

QUESTION:  Another question, please.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible), you just said that this highlights your concern about the new legislation.

MS HARF:  Doesn’t mean that’s why we did it.  It just highlights it.  I mean, these have been in process for months, and this new law, I think, was only passed last week.

QUESTION:  So —

QUESTION:  No, yesterday.

MS HARF:  Friday, I think, or maybe —

QUESTION:  No, they adopted it yesterday.

MS HARF:  Okay.  Well, I first heard about —

QUESTION:  So what you’re telling me – I mean, you say it highlights your concerns about it, but —

MS HARF:  Correct, it highlights them —

QUESTION:  — it’s very fresh legislation for something that you’ve been working on for months.

MS HARF:  Absolutely, which is why I’m saying that we’ve been working on these —

QUESTION:  You highlight something after the fact.

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah.

MS HARF:  No, I mean —

QUESTION:  Yes, of course you can.

MS HARF:  Right, I think we’re all —

QUESTION:  You have to.

QUESTION:  Yes.

MS HARF:  I think we’re all saying the same thing.

QUESTION:  Can I ask, though —

MS HARF:  We’ve been working on these designations for many months, based on the time they were undertaking terrorist activity when they were not in captivity.  That’s why we felt it was – regardless of whether this new law had been passed or not, these designations still would have gone forward.

QUESTION:  Can I ask —

QUESTION:  I have another question if I may.

MS HARF:  You may.

QUESTION:  The foreign minister of Greece told us yesterday that he explained to the Secretary what is going on with the other Xiros, the younger one, the one that you don’t want to —

MS HARF:  The one who was not designated.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So my question is that:  Is the Secretary satisfied with explanation that the foreign minister of Greece gave him yesterday?

MS HARF:  Well, during his bilateral meeting, as you said, yesterday, Secretary Kerry raised our concerns that those who have committed acts of terrorism need to remain incarcerated.  Both leaders reiterated the importance of our bilateral counterterrorism cooperation.  And we’ll be watching carefully the implementation of Greece’s new law and we will stay in close touch with Greek authorities on the matter.  I think we’ll just see how this all plays out.

QUESTION:  Can I ask, though, is the other Xiros – the one not designated today – on another list?

MS HARF:  I do not – he definitely was not designated today.  I’m not sure if he’s on another list.  I just don’t know, Matt.  I’m sorry.  I’m happy to check.

QUESTION:  Were there any assurances given from the Greek foreign minister that this law would not see Savvas Xiros released? 

MS HARF:  I’m —

QUESTION:  That’s kind of what he sort of said in the remarks yesterday, that there would be no terrorists released. 

MS HARF:  Well, I think that’s what I just said – we’ll be watching to see how it’s implemented.

QUESTION:  But there were no assurances?

MS HARF:  I’m not going to get into more details of their conversation. 

QUESTION:  And another follow up on – in that you say that all their assets or any interest in the U.S. —

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Do you have a quantification of the —

MS HARF:  We tend not to on these issues.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And the – how do you – I wonder – are you – because most of the – these kind of Greek personalities have connections in Switzerland, not in U.S.  So are you in touch with the Swiss?

MS HARF:  Well, let me see.  I don’t know if we’re in touch with the Swiss.  I believe – I’m trying to see if they were also designated by the UN.  I’m not sure about that.  I’m happy to check. 

Yes.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  On Honduras.

MS HARF:  Okay.

QUESTION:  President Juan Orlando Hernandez is here in the State Department. 

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  And I think he’s even speaking as we speak at the Conference of the Americas downstairs.

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  I’m wondering if he’s had a chance to meet with the Secretary this morning, and if – earlier today, and if so, were there any discussions about Honduras’s LGBT rights record, which includes almost 200 reported LGBT murders in the last five years.

MS HARF:  I’m not sure that they were able to meet this morning.  Let me check with his staff.  I don’t – I didn’t hear that they were, but I’m happy to check.  I know there are a lot of folks in the building for that conference today.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  And then as a quick follow-up to that, last month six members of Congress urged USAID to use funds from the Central America Regional Security Initiative to support LGBT advocacy groups in three countries, including Honduras, in Central America.  Do you have any updates on that? 

MS HARF:  Let me check and see.  I remember that request coming in.  And I’m happy to check and get an update for you.

QUESTION:  Also on the Americas —

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS HARF:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  — in his speech today, the Secretary talked about how he’s open for a better relationship with Venezuela.  I wondered if there’s any update on the Venezuelan request to have fewer U.S. diplomats —

MS HARF:  I don’t believe there’s any update on that.  I have not heard of an update on that.

QUESTION:  And anything on Cuba, how that’s going with the opening of the embassies?

MS HARF:  I don’t think I have any update on that either.

QUESTION:  Marie, on Yemen. 

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Are you aware of the Omani peace plan for Yemen?

MS HARF:  The Omani peace plan?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS HARF:  I haven’t heard details of that, no.

QUESTION:  And —

MS HARF:  But we’re certainly aware that there are countries in the region who are trying to work to see if we can get some sort of political dialogue going here.

QUESTION:  And what about the Iranian one?  Are you aware of it and what do you think about it?

MS HARF:  I’m certainly aware of the reports.  Again, what needs to happen is a political dialogue, and we’re seeing if we can help in that in any way.  Hopefully that’s what needs to happen next.

QUESTION:  On that, Marie, the Iranian deputy —

QUESTION:  Do you – sorry, Arshad.

QUESTION:  Oh, go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION:  Do you support it?

MS HARF:  I said we support political dialogue.  I don’t know all of the details of the Iranian plan, but, as we’ve said, there’s a way to do this under UN auspices. 

Yes.

QUESTION:  Iran’s deputy foreign minister said today that he was optimistic that a ceasefire in Yemen would be announced later today.  Do you have any reason to believe that he’s correct? 

MS HARF:  We certainly hope that a ceasefire could be announced as soon as possible, given that’s what needs to happen on the ground.  But I certainly don’t have anything to predict in terms of —

QUESTION:  But regardless of whether you have anything to predict, I mean, do you have any reason to believe that things are heading that way?

MS HARF:  Well, wouldn’t that be a prediction?

QUESTION:  Not necessarily.  I could – one could have a reason to believe something that is not specifically a prediction that something will happen later today.

MS HARF:  I’m failing to see the distinction.  I just don’t have anything on that for you.

Yes.  Go ahead.  Yes. 

QUESTION:  Can I ask, is there a concern in this building and within the Administration about the continuing airstrikes by the Saudi Arabians and the amount of devastation that’s being carried out both in – well, in Aden and in Sana’a as well?

MS HARF:  Well, we’ve certainly – and I saw reports specifically on the large strike in Sana’a yesterday, and of course, any loss of civilian life is tragic.  This, I think, highlights the pressing need for the Yemeni parties to return to a UN-led negotiation.  And we’ve called on all sides throughout this to comply with international humanitarian law, to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians as well.

QUESTION:  Have you actually – according to one report I saw – have you actually asked the Saudis to rein in the strikes?  Have you been pressing them to —

MS HARF:  I’m happy to check and see.  I haven’t heard that.

QUESTION:  Philippines and China?

MS HARF:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you have comment on the Filipino activists who say that the Chinese have turned water cannon on their fishing boats?

MS HARF:  Yes.  We are looking into these reports.  I can’t independently confirm them, but if true, the use of water cannons against Philippine civilian vessels that have a longstanding practice of fishing in these waters at Scarborough Reef or in other disputed areas of the South China Sea would be a provocative act.  It would represent a step backward in finding a diplomatic resolution to the dispute.  Countries should not use force or coercion to support disputed territorial or maritime claims.  We have continued to encourage South China Sea claimants to exercise restraint and to pursue diplomatic means to clarify their claims and to resolve disputes.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

MS HARF:  Yes, in the back.

QUESTION:  I have one more thing on Bangladesh.

MS HARF:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Do you have any updated information about the state – former state minister Salahuddin Ahmed, who’s been disappeared for a long time?

MS HARF:  I don’t have any additional information for you.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the Administration has evidence that Iranians are supplying weapons and other support —

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  — formal support to Houthis.  What kind of evidence does the Administration have?  Can you update us?

MS HARF:  Well, we’ve – this isn’t something new, unfortunately.  We’ve long talked about the support when it comes from funding or whether it’s weapons supplies that the Iranians are sending to the Houthi.  This has been really an ongoing relationship for a very long time.  I’m happy to see if there’s more evidence to share publicly of that, but this has been something we’ve expressed concern about for some time.

QUESTION:  And last week there were reports that Iranian – Iran is sending an armada of seven to nine ships with some weapons towards Yemen in a potential attempt to resupply Shia Houthis.  And these reports were referenced – the information were referenced to a U.S. official.  Do you confirm this, and do you have any (inaudible)?

MS HARF:  Well, obviously, we take any of those reports seriously.  I’m not going to get into specifics of what we know about everything Iran is doing or how they’re doing it to support the Houthi.  I would note, though – I think the Defense Department may have already addressed this in their briefing today, but there were reports about these U.S. ships that have been moved.  And I want to be very clear, just so no one has the wrong impression, that they are not there to intercept Iranian ships, to do issues like that; that the purpose of moving them is only to ensure the shipping lanes remain open and safe.  I think there was some misreporting and confusion on this, and I just wanted to be very clear.  I know they spoke to it too, but that the purpose is not to do anything in terms of those Iranian ships.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  On the monitoring —

QUESTION:  So does that mean that the Iranians can send all the – as many weapons as they want and —

MS HARF:  That is not what I said – that the purpose of the U.S. —

QUESTION:  I understand that.

MS HARF:  Right, okay.

QUESTION:  But you’re not prepared to stop it.  Is that what you’re saying?

MS HARF:  Well, as I said, the purpose of moving them – their mission is to ensure the shipping – right.  Okay.

QUESTION:  I get that, but I’m just —

MS HARF:  To ensure the shipping lanes remain open and safe.

QUESTION:  But I – but my question is:  Does that mean that Iran can continue to send weapons in to support the Houthis and the Administration —

MS HARF:  Well, there’s —

QUESTION:  — has decided that it’s not going to do anything to stop it?

MS HARF:  Well, there’s now a UN Security Council resolution that prohibits those arms shipments into Yemen.

QUESTION:  Yes. But —

MS HARF:  I don’t have anything to detail for you on how that might play out on the ground, but to be very clear about these specific U.S. vessels and what their purpose is.

QUESTION:  Well, yeah, but someone has to enforce the UN Security Council resolution.

MS HARF:  I understand that, and I just don’t have any details for you on that.

QUESTION:  It’s not going to be 15 ambassadors running out and paddling around off the coast of Yemen that are going to stop – that’re going to enforce the prohibition of arms. 

MS HARF:  And I just said I don’t have any more details for you.

QUESTION:  My question is:  Has the Administration decided that it is not going to participate in enforcing this UN Security Council resolution?

MS HARF:  I can check and see if there are details on enforcement for you.

QUESTION:  I have a follow-up on that.  Why safe passage now?  Why does this need to be enforced now?  What has changed about the passage —

MS HARF:  I’m happy for you to ask the Defense Department that question.

Yes.

QUESTION:  And just to follow up, you said then their role is not to intercept.

MS HARF:  Correct.

QUESTION:  But are they actually monitoring any Iranian vessels that might be heading towards Yemen?

MS HARF:  Monitoring in what way?

QUESTION:  Well, watching them, surveying them —

MS HARF:  Again, their —

QUESTION:  — keeping an eye on.

MS HARF:  Their purpose is to ensure the shipping lanes remain open.  I really refer you to DOD on that if you have questions.

QUESTION:  So that could be a yes.

QUESTION:  But does that include —

MS HARF:  The truth – just ask DOD.  They’re DOD ships.

QUESTION:  If their purpose is to include – their purpose is to ensure that the shipping lanes remain open, does that mean that you are going to keep the shipping lanes open for Iranian ships carrying weapons to the Houthis?

MS HARF:  You understand the commercial importance —

QUESTION:  I do.

MS HARF:  — of this shipping lane, Matt.

QUESTION:  I do.

MS HARF:  I think you understand that.

QUESTION:  I do.

MS HARF:  That’s obviously what this is focused on.

QUESTION:  So they won’t stop any vessels?

MS HARF:  Their purpose is to ensure the shipping lanes remain open.  And again, that is what the Defense Department is saying the purpose is.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS HARF:  For any more specifics —

QUESTION:  Okay.  I’ll go over —

MS HARF:  — I’m happy for you all to go talk to the Defense Department.

QUESTION:  Okay, I’ll go over there.  But I mean, keeping the shipping lanes open —

MS HARF:  But you’ll go over there.  But —

QUESTION:  — for all ships?

QUESTION:  So these are not —

QUESTION:  I mean, I don’t —

MS HARF:  Again —

QUESTION:  Including Iranian vessels —

QUESTION:  Exactly.

QUESTION:  — carrying weapons for the Houthis?

MS HARF:  Justin, do you have —

QUESTION:  Yeah, I do have a question.  So are there – are you aware of Iranian shipments of weapons en route right now to Yemen?

MS HARF:  I just got asked that question five minutes ago.  You can take a look at the transcript.

QUESTION:  And what did you say?  And you said?

MS HARF:  You can take a look at the transcript.

QUESTION:  Well, okay, a follow-up to that.  Is there a naval —

MS HARF:  You should come on time.

QUESTION:  Is there an Iranian military escort with those shipments, or is this a commercial vessel or what?

MS HARF:  I just said I wasn’t going to get into those details, so I’m not going to get into them with you either.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  So they are not sent to reassure the U.S. partners and allies against the —

MS HARF:  Well, certainly part of the reassurance for the partner —

QUESTION:  — against the – against Iran’s —

MS HARF:  Well – but certainly part of the reassurance for the partners in the reason – in the region, excuse me, is to keep these shipping lanes open.  I mean, our partners in the region rely on these for a lot of commerce, for a lot of economic value.  So obviously that’s something that’s important to us.

QUESTION:  Apparently the Houthis rely on them as well, too —

MS HARF:  Are there any other questions on this?

QUESTION:  — for a resupply of Iranian weapons.  (Laughter.) 

MS HARF:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Who’s threatening the situation there now, do you think – and why?

MS HARF:  I just don’t have more details for you all than this.

QUESTION:  Is it a message to Iran in any way not to send this shipment?

MS HARF:  No. 

QUESTION:  I have a question on Cyprus.

QUESTION:  Well, why not?  Why isn’t it – why don’t you want to send a message to the Iranians that they should abide by the Security Council resolution?

QUESTION:  And not arm the Houthis.

MS HARF:  Well, I think there’s ways to send that message, and we’ve said that very publicly. 

QUESTION:  Yeah, but —

MS HARF:  I have said that from this podium.  My colleagues at the White House and the Defense Department and others have said it.  I think there was a lot of misreporting – I saw a lot of cable tickers today – “Ships going there to intercept Iranian ships.”  That is blatantly untrue.  So this discrete movement of U.S. assets is for a discrete purpose.  Are there all these other ways we have of making clear to the Iranians what they should and shouldn’t do?  Absolutely.

QUESTION:  Okay, but first of all —

MS HARF:  So let’s just not get all spun up about something that’s not accurate.

QUESTION:  — this is an aircraft carrier.  It’s nothing discreet about it, right? 

MS HARF:  I don’t have much —

QUESTION:  It’s an enormous ship with —

MS HARF:  Unless you have a question, I’m going to move on, Matt.

QUESTION:  The question is this:  Why not send a message – why you —

MS HARF:  Because we have a variety of ways of sending messages about what should happen here.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But I’ll tell you with absolutely all due respect for you, for the Pentagon, for the Pentagon spokesman —

MS HARF:  I’m sure what follows will be very respectful.

QUESTION:  — it will be – and Josh Earnest say from the podium is not as strong a message as sending an aircraft carrier into these waters.

MS HARF:  Well, I’m happy to take your advice on board.  No pun intended.

QUESTION:  On board.  Hmm.

MS HARF:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)  I have a question on Cyprus. 

MS HARF:  Okay. 

QUESTION:  Mrs. Nuland was in Turkey a few days ago.  Yesterday she met with the foreign minister of Greece.  As I understand, she’s planning to go to Cyprus.

MS HARF:  I don’t have any travel update for her.

QUESTION:  Okay, let me ask my question.

MS HARF:  Okay.

QUESTION:  I have this feeling that something’s cooking about the Cyprus problem.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  I do too.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  And if you could give us some information on that.  I’m sure that’s how something’s (inaudible).

QUESTION:  A lot of spices.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  So if you can also take my question, please tell us where she’s —

MS HARF:  I’m going to task to EUR press:  “He thinks something’s cooking.  Please provide lines.”  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  So on my question, do you have any information to give us?

MS HARF:  I don’t. 

QUESTION:  Can you take the question, please?

MS HARF:  I’m happy to.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.

MS HARF:  In the back.  Let’s go in the back.

QUESTION:  Do you feel that Cyprus question, which has been on the backburner, is going to come —

MS HARF:  Well, I just mentioned that the Secretary spoke to the Greek foreign minister yesterday about it in their meeting.  So I think that indicates its importance.

QUESTION:  Is he going to speak to the Turkish foreign minister today?

QUESTION:  Turkish, yeah —

MS HARF:  We’ll see.  I will be in the meeting if this briefing ever ends.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Thank you.

MS HARF:  No, wait.  No, there’s a few more.  Someone else gets to ask questions. 

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION:  Different topic.

MS HARF:  Yes, please.

QUESTION:  Austria, Germany, and Serbia are set to recognize the Armenian genocide by the end of this week.  Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel already voiced her support.  Do you think this dynamics, particularly the recognition by European allies, will affect position here in Washington on —

MS HARF:  I have no updates for you on this.  We have been very clear about our position on this.

QUESTION:  Is any foreign government pressuring this Administration for not recognizing, for not labeling the events —

MS HARF:  I just don’t have more for you on this.  Let’s just do —

QUESTION:  So you don’t know if there is any foreign pressure —

MS HARF:  I just said I don’t have anything for you on this.  Doesn’t mean I don’t know.

Let’s just do three more and then we’re done.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Sure.  So this is a Japan question.  Japan’s Prime Minister Abe suggested that in his statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II that he will not apologize for the country’s World War II aggressions, like some previous Japanese leaders have done.  So is the U.S. worried about this in any way?

MS HARF:  Well, we’re certainly very much looking forward to his visit to the United States.  As I said at the top of the briefing, the Secretary will be hosting him in Boston at his home for dinner.  And we’ve continued to emphasize the importance of approaching historical legacy issues in a manner that promotes healing and reconciliation for all parties.  We’ve been very clear about the importance of that.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Actually on this, did you have any response or reaction to him, Abe, sending these offerings to the war shrine, which apparently suggests that he won’t actually physically go there?  Is that a good thing?

MS HARF:  Right.  I don’t have sort of analysis to do for you of this.  We of course believe that strong and constructive relations between countries in the region promote peace and stability in their interests, certainly in our interests as well.  So don’t have much more for you on that.

Yes.  Two more.

QUESTION:  On Ukraine —

MS HARF:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — as you know, U.S. paratroopers started training of Ukrainian national guard and – a couple of days ago.  And Russian officials claim that this is the violation of Minsk agreement, quoting that it states – Minsk agreement requires pullout of all foreign and armed formations, military group, and mercenaries from the territory —

MS HARF:  So they started removing their —

QUESTION:  Yeah. 

MS HARF:  — forces? 

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MS HARF:  I’m sorry?  Oh, right. 

QUESTION:  So is that a violation of Minsk agreement?

MS HARF:  This is the kind of bilateral training we’ve been doing for over 20 – the last 20 years with Ukraine.  Certainly this is at the invitation of the Ukrainian Government.  This is part of our longstanding defensive cooperation with Ukraine, about which we’ve always been fully transparent.  This is something, again, we’ve been doing under multiple administrations in Ukraine for about 20 years.  So this is, by no means, unusual.  And again, it is at the invitation of the Ukrainian Government.  I don’t remember the Ukrainian Government inviting in Russian separatists. 

Abigail.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  It’s unusual but – it’s not unusual —

MS HARF:  It’s – it is not unusual, by any means. 

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