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1:24 p.m. EDT
This week, 26 Iraqi high school students and their mentors are in Washington, DC, to conclude a four-week exchange program in the United States on civic education, leadership development, respect for diversity, and community engagement. The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program is one of the many exchange programs the State Department administers each year to strengthen people-to-people relationships between Iraqis and Americans. The students in this program were introduced to new skills and networks through participation in community service activities, leadership workshops, interactions with U.S. students, and site visits to civic youth and governmental organizations.
Throughout the four-week program, the Iraqi youth participants were accompanied by 10 U.S. high school students and four Iraqi adult mentors. Upon their return home, the Iraqi students will implement civic education plans developed through their time in the United States. The host communities for this program included Portland, Oregon; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As I said, the exchange is concluding in Washington, DC, with a four-day civic education workshop that’s happening now. White House and State Department officials are meeting with the group to highlight the importance of cross-cultural exchange as a means to empower youth, particularly in volatile and rapidly changing places such as Iraq. We know many of the challenges Iraq faces are truly generational and think it’s important to build young leaders.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: No stops in Missouri?
MS. HARF: Take us away.
QUESTION: For these students?
MS. HARF: I told you they’re in Washington now.
QUESTION: So there was no stops in – there were no stops in Missouri?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Okay, let’s stay with that but a little bit of an international aspect to it. It seems as though the situation in Ferguson has turned into something of a free-for-all for governments around the world who you – who the U.S. is particularly critical of in terms of human rights records are now taking aim at the United States and the situation there. I’m wondering first, just generally, if you have any —
MS. HARF: I do.
QUESTION: — response to the reaction.
MS. HARF: I do. Look, we here in the United States will put our record for confronting our problems transparently and honestly and openly up against any other countries in the world. When things occur, as you’ve heard the President speak about, we look at them, as I said, transparently, honestly, and openly. And we, of course, would suggest that other countries do the same thing.
QUESTION: And do you believe that any of these – a short list of these countries includes Egypt, Iran, Bahrain, Russia, China, Zimbabwe. I’m wondering if you think that any of – any criticism coming from these countries is particularly – is either welcome or appropriate.
MS. HARF: Well look, people are free to say whatever they want. That’s something we believe in very deeply here, is freedom of expression. But I would certainly strongly disagree with the notion that’s what’s happening here is comparable in any to situations in some of those countries you’ve named. As I said – and this is really a domestic issue – but briefly, when we have problems and issues in this country, we deal with them openly and honestly. We think that’s important, and I would encourage the countries you named particularly to do the same thing. They haven’t always done that, and we’ve been very clear when we believe they should.
QUESTION: So you’re not concerned about this being an unwelcome – this being unwelcome or inappropriate interference or meddling, which is usually what countries like Egypt —
MS. HARF: — say about us. No, I understand. Look, again, people are free to say what they want and they’re free to comment on things that happen in this country. I’m also free to disagree with the comparisons that some are making.
QUESTION: Sure. So you would welcome – or the Administration, the Federal Government would welcome – even though, as you say, this is a domestic situation in one U.S. state, you would welcome international observers, international human rights monitors, groups, to go —
MS. HARF: There is a process taking place right now domestically in this country there in Ferguson. The President has spoken about it. The Attorney General is going there. I don’t have any further comment on a process that is a purely domestic one and does not involve the State Department.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but it does – if countries, foreign countries are complaining to you and about you – and not you personally but in general —
MS. HARF: Some have, though, in the past.
QUESTION: Oh yes. But anyway, that’s neither here nor there, and this —
MS. HARF: Separate issue.
QUESTION: Right. It does become the purview or the province of the State Department, does it not? In answering —
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve certainly seen the public comments, but I don’t have any further analysis of them to do other than what I just said.
QUESTION: All right. So – but you don’t – you – the Administration wouldn’t have a problem with, say, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, other human rights groups, going to check out what’s going on there and reporting back?
MS. HARF: I have – don’t know if we have a position here at the State Department. I know there are some folks on the ground, and I haven’t heard problems with that. But I don’t want to wade too deeply into —
MS. HARF: — what is a purely domestic issue.
QUESTION: All right. And I just wanted to – on Egypt in particular but also on Israel as it relates to human rights groups, do you have any comment on them both banning —
MS. HARF: I do.
QUESTION: — international rights groups from —
MS. HARF: And let me take – let me do Egypt first and then we’ll go to Israel, if that’s okay, Matt. Let me —
QUESTION: Or you could do them at the same time.
MS. HARF: Well, I’d prefer to, I think – let me see, the situations may not be exactly the same. Here, I’ll do Israel first because I have that right here, and then I will find Egypt.
We are aware of the reports that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been restricted from entering Gaza. We are seeking greater clarity on the reports. Of course, the Government of Israel can speak to the decisions they make regarding access to Gaza through this particular crossing point. They would be the best able to speak about that. But as a matter of principle, we support the efforts of civil society to monitor the effects of armed conflict, including in Gaza.
MS. HARF: So we’re trying to get a little more information about what’s behind this.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you take a dim view of them not being allowed in?
MS. HARF: Well, we think it’s important for civil society to be able – including in Gaza to be allowed in. We don’t know all the specifics behind why they haven’t been —
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: No, well, I mean, you talked a little bit about the human rights – their report and —
MS. HARF: We talked about that yesterday a little bit.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Now, this was before I was aware that they had been stopped from —
MS. HARF: I think it was last week —
MS. HARF: — and I don’t have all the details in here. But at the time, we also said that we believe that they should be able to document what’s going on on the ground, that they should be allowed into countries.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Yep. Very clear on that.
QUESTION: Marie, on Ferguson and Egypt. The Egyptian foreign ministry has called the U.S. to exercise restraint and deal with the protest in accordance with U.S. and international standards. How do you view this call from —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — the Egyptian foreign ministry, especially after your critiques to the Egyptian Government?
MS. HARF: Well, I reject any sort of comparison that you just made in your question between the two comments. Let’s separate them out.
So first, in terms of what we’ve said about what’s happened in Egypt, we are very clear and we have very serious concerns about the human rights situation about what happened over the last year, year-plus now, to peaceful protestors, to journalists being thrown in jail for over a year now, to very huge numbers of death sentences being handed down, as we’ve seen recently as well. So that’s a completely separate issue. We make clear our feelings on these issues when we have them.
And as I said to Matt, look, I’m not going to get into a country-by-country response here, but we here in the United States will put our record for confronting our problems transparently and openly and honestly up against anyone else’s in the world. And we, when we have issues here, confront them in that way, as you’ve seen over the past few days, and we would call on other countries to do the same. And unfortunately, we haven’t always seen that, so we’ll keep calling on them to do so.
QUESTION: Don’t you view this call as a tit for tat, as an answer to the U.S. critics to the government in Egypt?
MS. HARF: Well, what I am telling you is they shouldn’t in any way be compared. And again, people are free to say what they’d like. They are free to weigh in on issues. That’s the beauty of freedom of expression that we hold very dearly here in the United States. That freedom of expression hasn’t, quite frankly, been upheld with the same sort of respect in Egypt. So it’s something we take very seriously and care about. People are free to say what they’d like. That’s the beauty of freedom of expression. I’m also free to disagree with it, though.
QUESTION: Whether or not people will argue that what’s happening in Ferguson is a one-off, particularly when it comes to press freedom, doesn’t what’s happening there, the dispersal of protestors in violation of the First Amendment, the arresting and jailing of journalists in violation of the First Amendment, the efforts to impose a curfew which the ACLU has argued is also an infringement upon the First Amendment right to assembly – how does all of that undercut the U.S. ability to look at, for example, in Afghanistan where a New York Times reporter was hauled in for a story that he wrote about the ongoing political standoff between the two presidential candidates?
MS. HARF: Well, if you ask me about what’s happening to that journalist, I will very strongly come out against what the Government of Afghanistan has done in terms of opposing – imposing, excuse me, a travel ban on him.
So look, this is a domestic situation. I am not going to make judgments on any of those issues you raise. There is an ongoing process that’s happening right now to get all the facts here. That’s not for me to comment on. But what – I mean, if we want to talk about the journalist in Afghanistan, I’m happy to comment on that now. But what I will say is that I don’t think that people should make one-to-one comparisons between these situations. When we have issues here in the United States, we deal with them openly and honestly and transparently.
In terms of the New York Times reporter in Afghanistan, because you asked: We are aware that the Afghan attorney general has banned a New York Times reporter from leaving Afghanistan. We are in touch with the New York Times on this issue. We’ll continue to monitor the situation. We are deeply disturbed by the actions of the Afghan attorney general and by this travel ban that has allegedly been put into place, and urge the Afghan Government to respect fundamental freedoms of expression and expression of the press. And we’ll continue to monitor it.
QUESTION: But can’t governments such as Afghanistan in this latest instance say in response to what you just said, “Well, look at what the police are doing, both local police and state police are doing to journalists in a suburb of a major American city. Where does the U.S. get off by criticizing us when the very same thing is happening in one of your major cities?”
MS. HARF: Well, I think when you hear the President of the United States stand up and say we need to get the facts about what happened here, journalists should be able to do their jobs – we’ve all been very clear about that, whether it’s in Missouri or in Afghanistan. So I think you’ve heard from the federal government here how important we believe it is for journalists to do their jobs.
And again, I’m not going to wade too much into what’s happening in Missouri here because it’s way outside of my lane. But I will say we have stood up consistently for the same principles of freedom of expression whether it’s here in the United States or overseas, and we will continue to do so. And I just think I made very clear what our position is on what’s happening to this New York Times reporter in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can we go to Gaza?
QUESTION: No, no, no.
QUESTION: Is it not problematic at all for you to be mentioning Missouri and Afghanistan in the same sentence?
MS. HARF: It was a response to a question, Matt. Come on.
QUESTION: Marie, can we go back to —
MS. HARF: That’s not a —
QUESTION: — to Egypt? What do you —
MS. HARF: My father, who lives in St. Louis, Missouri – who watches my press briefings almost every day, by the way —
MS. HARF: I have a lot of love for the state of Missouri.
QUESTION: In fact, what was, I think, missing from some of the reports from Egypt and the foreign ministry, their foreign ministry statement was that it was essentially quoting something that Ban Ki-moon had said the other day. In fact, it wasn’t really the Egyptian Government saying this.
MS. HARF: Well, and that’s why I said I don’t want to sort of —
QUESTION: It was them – it was repeating what Ban Ki-moon had to say. So curious now, since the UN is not a country or not an organization that you have singled out for criticism of human rights, except for the Human Rights Commission when it goes after —
MS. HARF: Right, except for that major body of theirs.
QUESTION: — Israel. Well, yeah. But you never, as far as I know, never accused Ban Ki-moon of violating anyone’s human rights or anything like that.
MS. HARF: That is true.
QUESTION: So do you have any reaction or response to him, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, saying that you should live up to – that Americans should live up to the standards – American standards, excuse me – and international standards in this situation?
MS. HARF: Well, I think my response to him would be the same response —
MS. HARF: — that the White House particularly has spoken very clearly about what needs to happen now and the standards we as Americans need to have for ourselves. So there’s a domestic process underway right now to get the facts and to see how they can move forward, diffuse tensions on the ground, and move forward in a more positive way. And the government has been very clear, from the White House, from the President, that that’s what needs to happen. So I don’t have much more response other than what the President has already said on this.
QUESTION: Marie, were you expecting such a call from a friend and partner, such – like Egypt?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more analysis of why the Egyptians put out statements for you. I just don’t.
QUESTION: Madam, just a —
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MS. HARF: Yeah, Anne, go ahead. Wait. Let’s go to Anne.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: So the Secretary was there 10 days ago.
MS. HARF: He was.
QUESTION: Held a joint press conference with both of the presidential candidates, and came out of it with public statements from both of them, and one that he made, about the commitment to democracy, the commitment to keeping on the path of good governance. Does he —
MS. HARF: And the two candidates have continued on that path. This was a decision, I understand, by the Afghan attorney general.
QUESTION: Right. These are the people who would replace that administration. I understand that. But —
MS. HARF: Well, they’re different people, too, than the people he gave a press conference with.
QUESTION: True. But I mean, does he have any view of this and does – has he been involved at all? Basically, is this —
MS. HARF: With the journalist issue?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is this in keeping with the spirit of Afghanistan’s future and progress that he spoke about 10 days ago?
MS. HARF: Well, I think would separate the issues. And I think we’re still trying to get some more information about what exactly this, quote, “travel ban” entails, what it looks like, who put in place. To my knowledge, there have been conversations on the ground about this, about what can be done, and we are also in contact with the New York Times, as I said.
But separate from that, there is an ongoing audit process that the two candidates have agreed to and signed up for, and it’s moving forward. We never thought this would be without complications, but it is moving forward. So I want to hesitate a little bit before we link the two, because we don’t have all the facts about the New York Times reporter’s situation.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any information about whether or not the travel ban against Mr. Rosenberg is in response to the article he wrote about the presidential succession question and the possibility that the losing candidate in the count may pull out and refuse to participate?
MS. HARF: I understand the timing. I don’t have more information, and I’m not sure our team does about what’s behind this travel ban. I know there are conversations ongoing right now. And as we have more information to share, I’m happy to. I just don’t want to speculate without knowing.
QUESTION: Well, how about just more broader issue of what the substance of the story was that led him to get hauled in? Do you have any – I mean, presumably you support the audit and anything that would —
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — take away from that or —
MS. HARF: We reject any attempts by any party to take power in Afghanistan by extra-constitutional means, which is, I think, what you’re getting at.
QUESTION: And do you believe that the creation of an interim government in the event that neither candidate accepts the audit results would be a violation of the Afghan constitution?
MS. HARF: Well, just a few points about what the constitutional process is. President Karzai has agreed to remain in office while the audit is conducted, and he has said he wants to hand authority to a new president as soon as possible – a goal, of course, that we all support. So we believe the process needs to be a successful conclusion to the audit, an agreement between the candidates on the details of the national unity government, and then moving forward that way, and would not support extra-constitutional effects that were different than that.
QUESTION: So an interim government, you believe, would be outside of the constitution?
MS. HARF: Well, without knowing what that looks like, obviously, broadly speaking, yes. I think there’s a constitutional path forward and it doesn’t include that.
QUESTION: When we were in Kabul with the Secretary at the press conference, Ashraf Ghani said that he hoped, or it was his expectation that within seven to 10 days there would be a movement, at least, or potentially actually a date set for the inauguration of the next president, and that that date would be before the NATO summit in Wales on September 4th.
MS. HARF: I think they’re still tracking towards that goal, but no dates to announce.
QUESTION: Well, it’s now past seven to 10 days, and there is no —
MS. HARF: Well, but in terms of the NATO summit. That’s what I was referring to.
QUESTION: I understand that.
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: But there is no sign that I’m aware of, at least – maybe you are, and if you are, could you – that they are on track to do that. I mean, it’s already – the seven to 10 days has passed —
MS. HARF: Right. Well, just in terms of the auditing process —
QUESTION: — and there’s no date.
MS. HARF: — over 900 ballot boxes were audited on August 19th, bringing the total to just under 50 percent. So we are making progress here, but it does take a while. They are tracking towards having a new president by the NATO summit. Obviously, that’s not a hard and fast deadline. We want this to be done right. We know it’s complicated. So we’ll keep working with them.
QUESTION: Well, can it be – can it go – how much longer can it go beyond the NATO summit before there’s going to be implications for the residual ISAF and U.S. forces?
MS. HARF: Right, no. As we’ve always said, the longer we go without having a new government in place, the more that impacts our ability to plan for what we would do, because the longer we don’t have a BSA in place. So —
QUESTION: Right. When was —
MS. HARF: So I would refer you to the Defense Department for details about their planning —
QUESTION: Do you remember the first time you said the longer we wait, the more —
MS. HARF: I’m sure you could look —
QUESTION: I think it was about a year ago.
MS. HARF: I’m sure you could look it up easily.
One more point on the extra-constitutional situation, though, that the President and Secretary Kerry have both been clear that any extra-constitutional actions that impact the cohesiveness of Afghanistan will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States. Obviously, our preference is not to alter any of our assistance, but we’ll watch what happens going forward. And we believe there is a path forward here. The audit is progressing, so that’s what needs to happen.
MS. HARF: We can, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you update us on the situation of the cease-fire if you have any information?
MS. HARF: I can. I do. Just give me one second. Let me see what I have. Yes.
So it is our understanding that an extension was agreed to, but that since has been broken. We are very concerned about today’s developments, condemn the renewed rocket fire, and as we have said, Israel has a right to defend itself against such attacks. We call for an immediate end to rocket fire and hostilities and a return to cease-fire talks. We hope that the parties can reach an agreement on a sustainable cease-fire or, if necessary, agree to yet another extension of their temporary cease-fire so they can continue in conversations. But as of right now, today’s developments we are very concerned about. And it is our understanding that there is – that the cease-fire has broken down.
QUESTION: Okay. Since none of the Palestinian groups claimed responsibility, can you independently verify that it was actually the Palestinians that fired rockets?
MS. HARF: Well, it came from Gaza. And the – and Hamas has security responsibility for Gaza. So it did come from Gaza.
QUESTION: And can you confirm that it did —
MS. HARF: The rocket fire came from Gaza, yes.
QUESTION: And you are certain that rocket fire was fired from Gaza?
MS. HARF: We are.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you, on the humanitarian situation —
MS. HARF: It’s not a stealth weapon. You can see it.
QUESTION: Okay. On the humanitarian situation, UNRWA was saying now 100,000 Palestinians are – lost their homes. Are you aware of that?
MS. HARF: We’ve talked a little bit about numbers, Said. I don’t know if I have the latest ones in my book here. We do know there is quite a serious internally displaced persons situation in Gaza right now. We’ve been very clear about that, and one of the things we – one of the reasons, the main reasons we want a sustainable cease-fire in place is so we can partner with the UN and other countries to begin rebuilding Gaza to help address the humanitarian situation.
QUESTION: Okay. And the Israeli press, Yedioth Ahronoth in particular, is saying that there is some sort of an agreement, a U.S.-Israeli agreement, and they’re claiming that the Secretary of State will be traveling there sometime soon, in the very near future, perhaps.
MS. HARF: No travel to announce. I know there are lots of rumors out there.
QUESTION: But you are not aware of any agreement that may have taken place between the U.S. and Israel on reopening the crossings, lifting the siege, things like this?
MS. HARF: We’ve been in conversations with the Israelis, but these are conversations that need to happen on the ground in the negotiations, to which we are not a party.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, early last month, I believe Matt asked you about Mohamed Abu Nie. He’s a 15-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yes.
QUESTION: And there has been apparently no news about him since the 31st of July. Can you update us on this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any new news. A consular official has visited him. I think the last date was August 7th.
QUESTION: August 7th.
MS. HARF: Visited him on July 17th, July 31st, and August 7th. Also attended hearings on July 22nd, 24th, and August 14th. We are in frequent contact with his family and with his lawyer. We remain where we’ve been, which is calling for a speedy resolution to this case. We are gravely concerned over the prolonged detention of this U.S. citizen child and are pushing very hard for a speedy resolution here, which hasn’t happened yet.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the type of – the kind of charges that he’s been charged with?
MS. HARF: Let me see if that’s in here. I can check on that. I’m not – Said, obviously, the Israelis – oh, yes, I am, actually. Hold on.
We understand that he faces charges of rock-throwing, attacking police, carrying a knife, and leading protests. And his next court date is August 28th, I believe, and a consular officer does plan to attend.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Is the special envoy still in town or —
MS. HARF: He is not. As I said yesterday, he has returned to the United States. Our teams on the ground in Cairo, in Jerusalem, and in Tel Aviv remain deeply engaged with the different parties at play here, except for Hamas.
QUESTION: He’s not planning to go back to the region?
MS. HARF: No travel plans to announce right now.
QUESTION: Yes —
QUESTION: Since the last 24 hours had elapsed when we first talked about the coup or the alleged coup, have the Israelis shared with you any kind of information on this?
MS. HARF: Well, we have obviously seen the reports. We understand that this latest operation involved the arrest of several dozen Hamas militants and the seizures of cash and weapons. The Israeli authorities will have more information on this. We continue to work closely with Israel and the Palestinian Authority on their counterterrorism efforts, but don’t have more information for you than that.
QUESTION: And I promise, lastly —
MS. HARF: That’s okay.
QUESTION: — today you issued – you placed, I think, Mujahidin Shura on the terrorist list?
MS. HARF: We did, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay.
MS. HARF: It is not related to the conflict in Gaza.
QUESTION: And it’s not related? Okay.
MS. HARF: It is not.
QUESTION: That’s exactly my question. Thank you.
MS. HARF: No. It is – this designation is not related to the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in any way.
QUESTION: Marie, yesterday, I asked about the Abu Khdeir family.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Did you get anything on that?
MS. HARF: The only thing I got – let me see, Matt – not very much. We are aware of reports of another U.S. citizen, a teenager who has been detained. That speaks to your question, but because of privacy considerations, have nothing else to share.
QUESTION: All right. But what – but I’m – what about the larger – the family?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update on that.
QUESTION: Nothing? Okay.
MS. HARF: Let me check with our folks.
QUESTION: All right. And then just on the alleged attempted coup: So do you have any concerns at all about the apparent role of Turkey in this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details on this, Matt. I’m happy to check with our team.
QUESTION: Okay. Because I did ask this yesterday. You weren’t aware of the incident, but —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: But now, the Israelis say that this is all being planned and funded from Turkish territory, and I’m just —
MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I think it involves some Hamas militants and cash, but let me check on that piece of it. I certainly have nothing to confirm that, but —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m most curious to know if you guys are planning to raise any concerns with the – I don’t know, maybe you don’t have any concerns, but if you do —
MS. HARF: Let me check on that.
QUESTION: — if you’ll raise them with the Turks.
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, one more question —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Still on Gaza.
MS. HARF: Wait. Let’s all take our turns.
QUESTION: On this specific issue, some of the Hamas operatives or leaders live in Turkey. In general, do you have any concern or any – taking an issue with this?
MS. HARF: Well, Hamas is a designated terrorist organization, so there are leaders designated as well. We are obviously concerned about their activities wherever they live, plan, train, operate, period.
QUESTION: Can we move to Iraq?
MS. HARF: Yes, Anne. Let’s go to Anne.
QUESTION: Also on Gaza, the Israeli deputy foreign minister is here today, I believe, has or will be meeting with Deputy Secretary Burns. Can you give us any information about that or a readout of the meeting?
MS. HARF: Well, I’ll see if I can get you something after the briefing.
QUESTION: Okay. And he said yesterday that it is Israel’s estimate that roughly 50 percent of the deaths in Gaza were armed terrorists, about 900 —
MS. HARF: Who’s “he”? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The deputy foreign minister.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I wonder if the U.S. agrees with that analysis, if there’s been any attempt to independently verify the —
MS. HARF: It’s a good question.
QUESTION: — casualties, how many were civilian and how many were non-civilian.
MS. HARF: Let me check on that. I haven’t seen numbers, quite frankly, but I’m happy to check. I haven’t seen the Israeli numbers. We did say that the Israelis needed to do more to lessen civilian casualties, but let me check on the number issue.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: South Asia?
QUESTION: Do you support the commission that was designated by the United Nations to go and investigate last week?
MS. HARF: Which commission specifically are you referring to, Said?
QUESTION: To investigate war crimes, allegedly war crimes in Gaza by both sides.
MS. HARF: Are you talking particularly of the ICC?
MS. HARF: Well, look, we have said the Israelis need to investigate what happened here, and we have called on them to do an open and transparent and thorough investigation. We believe that if the Palestinians resort – go to the International Criminal Court, it will badly damage the atmosphere with the very people with whom they actually are working right now to try to make peace, also who they need for a cease-fire. This is especially true at such a delicate moment when the cease-fire negotiations are ongoing. So we will continue to follow up with the Israeli Government on this matter to make sure that they are investigating what’s happening.
QUESTION: I guess I’m talking about a commission composed of three, a three-member commission headed by a Canadian lawyer —
MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll check on that one.
QUESTION: — who is apparently drawing a great deal of criticism in Washington on Capitol Hill.
MS. HARF: I can check on that. I think, broadly speaking, we have said that the Israelis need to investigate what happened here, and we will continue pressing them to do so.
QUESTION: But Marie, I’m not sure —
QUESTION: South Asia?
QUESTION: Hold on a second. Just on this ICC issue. It’s my understanding – correct me if I’m wrong – that in a case like this, the UN Security Council would have to refer it to the ICC.
MS. HARF: I can check on what the specifics are, process-wise.
QUESTION: Can you imagine any circumstance in which the U.S. would not veto a resolution at the Security Council that would call for Israel to be investigated for war crimes by a court —
MS. HARF: I personally cannot envision a scenario in which we would not veto it.
QUESTION: South Asia.
MS. HARF: Let’s stay in the Middle East, and then we’ll go to South – yeah, let’s go to Iraq.
QUESTION: As you know, the – yesterday the Kurdish forces recaptured the Mosul Dam, and of course they —
MS. HARF: Working with Iraqi security forces, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, working with Iraqi security forces. And of course, that was because of the help that the United States provided from the air.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: But don’t you – if we go back a little bit and to President Obama’s first statement about Iraq, and he said it – the operation would be limited.
MS. HARF: To two goals.
QUESTION: Two goals, yeah.
MS. HARF: One of which was protecting our people. And as we said very clearly the night the President announced military action, and as we have said multiple times since then, that Mosul Dam is critical infrastructure that if breached, either because ISIS can’t run it or because they take some sort of nefarious action to do so, it would threaten our people and our facility in Baghdad. So we’ve said that from the beginning.
QUESTION: So —
MS. HARF: This is very much in line with the goals the President laid out that first night.
QUESTION: So does that mean the threat is now gone and the United States will stop its operations? Because the Mount Sinjar crisis is almost over, and the advance on Erbil has stopped. The dam is – has been recaptured.
MS. HARF: Right. And those are all good things. But we maintain the ability to strike at a time and place of our choosing if we believe our people or our facilities are in danger. That applies to Baghdad, that applies to Erbil. So we will continue monitoring the situation. We have a number of assets at our disposal if we feel that any of those people are threatened.
QUESTION: Do you – don’t you believe that there has been – that limited airstrike that President Obama outlined very explicitly, you’ve gone beyond that now?
MS. HARF: Not at all, in no way. He outlined two goals for this, one of which was protection for our people. The Mosul Dam, if breached, which – we have no idea if ISIS would be able to or would be willing to actually run it and not do something to breach it, would directly threaten our people in Baghdad.
QUESTION: How so?
QUESTION: And – sorry, one more question. Kurdish officials —
MS. HARF: Because of the massive flooding that would occur.
QUESTION: So you think the Embassy would have flooded as a result, or is it more destroying other infrastructure that the Embassy depends on?
MS. HARF: I can check on the specific assessment, but it was that the massive flooding in Baghdad would threaten our people there.
QUESTION: But talking to, really, Kurdish officials on the ground and Iraqi officials, they see a prolonged U.S. involvement in Iraq. For example, one – a spokesperson for the ministry of Peshmerga said that the United States is helping build a military airplane – airport in Erbil. And —
MS. HARF: I hadn’t heard that, but I’m happy to check. Look, long term, the strategy is to build capable partners on the ground to go after ISIL. That’s why we’ve been working with the Iraqi security forces, with the Peshmerga, to help build their capacity with the moderate opposition in Syria, to help build their capacity to fight ISIL. Look, will we fill operational gaps in support of the goals the President outlined where we can? Yes. But we are still operating under those two limited goals here. Long term, there’s no U.S. military solution here. The solution is building partners on the ground, which is what we’re doing, and helping them in certain ways that we can.
QUESTION: Just one more question about Haider Al-Abadi, the prime minister-designate. Do you have any hopes that he might actually be able to form an inclusive government?
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: What is different – okay, absolutely. What is different between him and his predecessor, Maliki? They both belong to the same Dawa party —
MS. HARF: There are a lot —
QUESTION: — who many people see as a fundamentalist Shia party.
MS. HARF: There are a lot of members of parties, and I don’t think we should paint them all with one broad brush. Dr. Al-Abadi has said he is committed to forming an inclusive government. He said he will do so within, I think, 15 days, but that was yesterday, so 14 now. And he’s said he recognizes the severity of the threat that ISIL poses to Iraq. We have said that when a new, inclusive government is up and running, we are looking at additional ways to provide additional military, economic, political support to this new government. And we really believe that once that’s in place it will not just be helpful with our support, but will help us bring together other partners throughout the region to really help the Iraqi Government, going forward, fight this very serious threat. And we’ve – we have every expectation that he will do so.
QUESTION: But Maliki said the same things. What is different about him?
MS. HARF: Well, let’s not compare two people that are completely different. Let’s judge him by his actions and what he does.
QUESTION: How are they completely different?
MS. HARF: Well, they’re different people, first of all. And Prime Minister Maliki has been in power for a long time and has governed in a certain way.
QUESTION: How do you know? Have you actually seen them in the same room at the same time? (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I think that Dr. Al-Abadi has broad support, had broad support from the Shiite bloc in parliament, has said things about governing inclusively, but he has to take the actions now to show that he’s interested in that. We believe he is, and we’re going to keep watching what he does.
QUESTION: But he’s really garnering a great deal of support and goodwill in the region. Do you think – that would be a step forward for him to be able to govern, wouldn’t it?
MS. HARF: Well, absolutely. And we think, Said, kind of teeing off of that, that once he has a new, inclusive government up and running, it will not just help with us providing additional assistance —
MS. HARF: — but it will really help bringing the partners together in the region to provide additional assistance to Iraq as well – partners who have been asking, quite frankly, for Iraq to be governed in a more inclusive way.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: The Pope has supported the military operation in Iraq and called on the international community to work together to protect Christians in Iraq. What are you doing in this regard, and second, how do you view his statement supporting the military operation?
MS. HARF: Well, he’s obviously a leading religious figure, certainly. And I know the President and the Secretary have both had good visits to the Vatican as well and discussed a range of issues with senior Vatican officials and, indeed, the President with the Pope.
So look, obviously, we’ve seen the comments. We have taken a number of steps on the humanitarian side to protect Christians in Iraq. They are one of the groups that ISIL is targeting very – in a very significant way and in a very brutal way. So we are taking actions that we help can – hope can degrade ISIL’s capabilities to threaten places like Erbil, places like Baghdad; and also really working hard on the humanitarian side to get humanitarian assistance to them, and to help – particularly when they’re internally displaced in Iraq, working with the UN to find places for them to go safely where they won’t be threatened.
QUESTION: What kind of actions?
MS. HARF: I can see if there’s more specifics to offer. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. I’ve spoken about a number of those actions from the podium. I’m happy to see if there’s an update.
QUESTION: Marie, do you know how many sorties the Iraqi air force has flown in since the U.S. Government began its airstrikes in Iraq?
MS. HARF: I don’t. I don’t.
QUESTION: Do you know if it’s flown any?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I really don’t – I have no idea. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: Marie —
QUESTION: I ask partly – sorry, just one more on this for me. I ask partly because the President said – I think initially in the interview with Tom Friedman, but then subsequently – that the United States is not going to be the Iraqi air force.
MS. HARF: He said it yesterday as well.
QUESTION: Yeah. How is the United States not being the Iraqi air force in conducting these airstrikes, when it doesn’t appear that the Iraqi air force is doing very much of this?
MS. HARF: Because we are taking these strikes in support of two very limited goals where we have the capacity to do so. Our long-term goal is, obviously, to keep building the Iraqi air force and helping them grow their capabilities. But these are focused both on the humanitarian side, but also on protection of our people, which is a core principle of what we do all around the world. So I know it’s an easy sort of talking point to throw out there, but we are working very closely to build the Iraqi air force. And the goals the President outlined that first night are exactly what we’re operating under today. Nothing has changed in that regard.
QUESTION: And do you know if the F-16s that the Administration has agreed to sell – and I believe it is the Iraqis that are paying for them —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — have actually been delivered?
MS. HARF: Let me check on that. Not to my knowledge. I know there was hold-up, particularly on the Iraqi side. They hadn’t taken some of the steps they needed to in terms of training pilots and getting places for them to go. But let me check on that and see what the latest is, Arshad.
QUESTION: Just for the record, today marks the 11th anniversary of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. Twenty-two people were killed and scores of others.
MS. HARF: I didn’t realize that. Thank you for pointing that out, Said.
QUESTION: South Asia?
QUESTION: Before – Middle East?
MS. HARF: Let’s stay on the Middle East, and then I promise I’ll do South Asia.
MS. HARF: Yeah. You go, and then Anne will do Iran.
QUESTION: You said that the designation of Mujahidin Shura Council is not related to the Israel —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — Israel-Palestine conflict.
MS. HARF: The current conflict.
QUESTION: Then – yeah, current conflict.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: And within the statement, we see that this organization had been committing these kinds of actions long before. And their support for —
MS. HARF: That’s true. And most recently – I’ll just point out one and then you can ask your question. But they released a statement in February 2014 declaring support for ISIL. So that’s the most recent action that I think we announced when they – when we designated them.
QUESTION: And designation is related to this?
MS. HARF: It’s related to that and a number of attacks they’ve claimed responsibility for in Israel previously, yes.
QUESTION: And a follow-up on Turkey as well. The German intelligence spied on Turkish political figures or state – sorry, foreign minister and so on. What’s your reaction to this, as a NATO ally spied on another ally?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any reaction to those allegations – any comment on them.
QUESTION: Can I do one more on Turkey?
MS. HARF: One more on Turkey, yes.
QUESTION: It has been now about 10 days Turkey held its first elections to elect its president. Last week you were asked whether U.S. finds Turkish elections free, fair, and transparent, and you said it’s too early to assess. Do you have —
MS. HARF: I don’t, but let me check with our team and see if there’s been an additional assessment done since we talked about that.
QUESTION: Move Syria?
QUESTION: Just two things quickly. Is there any new information on your end on the case of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, his wife, and another – and a photojournalist detained at the same time, now three weeks on? And I have a follow-up.
MS. HARF: Nothing new on that. We continue to call on the Iranian Government to immediately release Mr. Rezaian and the other individuals. We have requested consular access via our protecting power, Switzerland. In general, Iran’s response to our requests for consular access to dual U.S.-Iranian citizens is that Iran does not recognize their U.S. citizenship and considers them to be solely Iranian citizens. We are focused on doing everything we can to secure the safe return and release of him and those detained with him.
QUESTION: Did his case come up in the bilateral meeting that Deputy Secretary Burns, the White House – and a White House official, Sullivan, others attended, what, nine days ago or so?
MS. HARF: Yes, we always raise concerns with – about any American citizen of concern to us in these fora, so yes, it did.
QUESTION: Was there any response from the Iranians you found helpful?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more details about our conversations to share.
QUESTION: Do you expect it to come up further when you see the Iranians at UNGA?
MS. HARF: We always raise it. I expect it to.
QUESTION: Any (inaudible) meeting with Iran soon?
MS. HARF: No new updates on that. We’re still tracking towards before UNGA and at UNGA, so when we have schedule updates, I promise I will let you all know.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary Kerry issued a statement regarding the chemical weapon —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — usage of Assad regime, almost a year, two days to year —
MS. HARF: On Thursday is the year anniversary.
QUESTION: Yes. And in that statement, Secretary Kerry talk about systematic use of chlorine gas in opposition areas. Given that this still going on, even though it’s not as deadly as other chemical weapons that disposed, would you still characterize this deal as a success?
MS. HARF: I would, and you saw the Secretary’s statement, so I don’t have much more to add to that. I would say two points, though: that Syria declared a number of chemical weapons that they were required to do upon adhering to the Chemical Weapons Convention and to the OPCW, so that’s the process that we have undertaken to remove those and destroy those, and that’s what the Secretary was speaking to yesterday.
But we have seen reports of other substances that wouldn’t necessarily fall under the Chemical Weapons Convention, but are just as serious, so obviously, we’re focused on those and seeing if we can combat that as well. I don’t have any update in terms of where that process stands in terms of verifying what’s been used or how much beyond the Secretary’s statement.
QUESTION: I think there’s been about seven or eight months that this chlorine gas usage, or more than that, have been reported.
MS. HARF: We can check on the dates. That seems a little long.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of —
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything new for that.
QUESTION: — action plan for this?
MS. HARF: I can check with our folks and see what the latest is. I just don’t have anything new on it for you.
QUESTION: Marie, yesterday I asked you about Austin Tice and the anniversary.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have something on that?
MS. HARF: I do. It has been now over two years since the disappearance of Austin Tice in Syria. We are in close contact with the Tice family. We share their concerns for Austin’s safety and well-being. We continue to work through our Czech protecting power in Syria to get information on his welfare and whereabouts and appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of our citizens. We have long expressed concern about the safety of journalists in Syria and strongly urge all sides to ensure their safety. I don’t have anything more than that at this point.
QUESTION: I have one more on Syria.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: According to Al Jazeera, there are sources from the Syrian opposition that U.S. officials ask Syrian opposition members to call on the international community to hit positions belonging to the IS within Syria. Did you have —
MS. HARF: I have no idea what report you’re referring to. If you want to send it to us, I’m happy to take a look at it. I’m just not familiar with that report.
QUESTION: So in general, would you encourage —
MS. HARF: Well, in general, I’m not going to comment on something I haven’t seen. So let me take a look at it.
QUESTION: Would you – it’s not a specific question. Would you encourage Syrian opposition members to call on international —
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve said that the best way we can help is help strengthen the opposition to fight not just ISIS and Nusrah, but also the regime, so that’s what we’ve continued to do there. I don’t have anything more for you than that.
QUESTION: Would you welcome other western allies to hit IS —
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything more for you on this. Obviously, we think it’s good if ISIS is taken off the battlefield.
QUESTION: Marie, two questions on Syria: After the destruction of the chemical weapons, what’s the U.S. next goal in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s a pretty big question. Look, we have continued to support the moderate opposition increasingly and to help them gain strength and capability. That process is ongoing and that will continue. Also, we know that there needs to be a political solution here. We haven’t seen a clear path forward for how that might advance. So that has been, I think, not something that we’ve seen advance as much as we would like, and that’s something we’re still working on, though. So that’s certainly part of it.
And then thirdly, I would say on the humanitarian side, we are engaged in a very robust, ongoing effort as the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to provide to the Syrian people who are suffering so much at the hands of the regime, at the hands of ISIS, at the hands of Nusrah. So that is also ongoing as well.
QUESTION: Is your engagement with the Syrian opposition less than it used to be —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — even since when Ambassador Ford was —
MS. HARF: Not at all.
QUESTION: During his tenure, he was always meeting with them.
MS. HARF: Not at all.
QUESTION: They were always in —
MS. HARF: Our engagement is very robust and ongoing.
QUESTION: Could you update us on the latest kind of meetings that are taking place?
MS. HARF: I can check with our team and see if there’s more to update on – tomorrow on that, Said.
QUESTION: My second question on Syria was —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: — about the Federal Aviation Administration —
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: — that issued a notice yesterday to U.S. airlines banning all flights in Syrian airspace. The agency said armed extremists in Syria are known to be equipped with a variety of anti-aircraft weapons.
MS. HARF: That is correct.
QUESTION: Do you have any details about this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details other than what they outlined in the release. It is an ongoing concern of ours, and the FAA took the step they felt was prudent here.
QUESTION: And do you have the same concern?
MS. HARF: As the FAA?
MS. HARF: I believe we share their concern, yes.
QUESTION: And what’s your main concern about this kind of weapon?
MS. HARF: Well, I think it’s exactly what they outlined in their statement that there are advanced conventional weapons like shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles which are in the wrong hands, and they could pose a threat to aviation security, civil aviation security. Clearly, this is obviously a decision for the FAA to make – decisions I’ve learned more this year about than I ever thought I would learn at this podium. But this is up to the FAA to decide, and we obviously agree with the fact that there’s a very serious threat.
QUESTION: So before this advisory, were actually American carriers flying over Syrian territory?
MS. HARF: I think they had to get permission to do so. Check with the FAA on the specifics. I think that was the change here.
QUESTION: But who —
MS. HARF: But we constantly reevaluate and reassess – the FAA does, I should say – and makes decisions about notices to airmen accordingly.
QUESTION: But who delivered this anti-aircraft missiles to the opposition? Do you know?
MS. HARF: Who delivered them?
MS. HARF: I’m —
QUESTION: How did they get them?
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check and see if there are more specifics on that to share.
QUESTION: Do you think there’s something strangely peculiar and sexist and outdated in the nomenclature “notice to airmen”?
MS. HARF: Of all the things in this world, Arshad, that I find outdated and sexist, that’s not anywhere near the top of my list.
QUESTION: It’s a rare example of it in public discourse.
MS. HARF: I think my title is &