Thu Dec 18 2014 9:11:24 +0100 CET
18 Jul 2013

State Department Daily Press Briefing

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf briefs reporters in Washington on July 18.

U.S. Department of State

On-Camera Daily Press Briefing Index

Thursday, July 18, 2013

1:18 p.m. EDT

Briefer: Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson

CHINA

— Xu Zhiyong Taken into Custody / U.S. Concern

DEPARTMENT

— Cuts in Aid / Working with Congress / Embassy Security

DPRK/PANAMA

— Seized Ship / U.S. Assistance / Sanctions

CUBA

— U.S. Relations

JORDAN

— Secretary Kerry’s Visit to a Refugee Camp

MEPP

— Resumption of Talks / Narrowing the Gaps

BAHRAIN

— Condemnation of Bombing

RUSSIA

— Conviction and Sentencing of Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny and Pyotr Ofitserov

EGYPT

— Arbitrary Arrests

BULGARIA/ISRAEL

— One-Year Anniversary of Terrorist Attack

EGYPT

— Muslim Brotherhood / EU

— Attack in the Sinai

CHINA

— U.S. Relations

EGYPT

— Ambassador Patterson

— Working with Interim Government / Broad Relationship

— Deputy Secretary Burns’ Efforts

IRAN

— Engagement with Iran / P-5+1

DEPARTMENT

— Cuts in Aid / Working with Congress

SYRIA

— Geneva 2 / Political Solution / SOC Elections

ZIMBABWE

— Bilateral Relationship / Elections / Clear about Concerns

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB # 121

THURSDAY, JULY 18, 2013

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

1:18 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I’m happy to be back for day two. I have a statement to read at the top, and I’m happy to open it up to questions.

The United States is concerned over reports that prominent Chinese legal scholar and rights advocate Xu Zhiyong was taken into police custody July 16th for, quote, “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” unquote, and is now being held at a detention center in Beijing. Xu, who reportedly spent over three months under extrajudicial house arrest prior to his detention, is a leading public advocate for fiscal transparency and fighting official corruption.

The United States Government is concerned that he is being prosecuted as retribution for his public campaign to expose official malfeasance and for the peaceful expression of his views. We call on Chinese authorities to release Xu immediately, cease any restrictions on his freedom of movement, and guarantee him the protections and freedoms to which he is entitled under China’s international human rights commitments.

And with that, I am happy to open it up to questions. Deb.

QUESTION: Hi, let’s talk about what’s going on on the Hill.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The House Republicans want to cut billions of dollars from U.S. foreign operations, I think taking it down around 20 percent, severe cuts to USAID and foreign government operations – foreign government assistance programs. Is this disconcerting to you all, and how are you all weighing in on this?

MS. HARF: Well, first I’d say that this is just the start of the process. We’re looking forward to working with Congress on this issue going forward, but that being said, we are very concerned. Our concern is that these proposed cuts, which we would consider would be devastating if put into effect, would hurt our ability to stand up for American interests and values around the world. The U.S. can’t lead if we retreat in this way.

And there are a couple of specific cuts that I’d like – proposed cuts that I’d like to highlight: for example, a 41 percent cut to economic and development assistance. This would dramatically reduce our assistance to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Burma. It would also force us to scale back the Feed the Future program, setting back progress to reduce poverty in Africa by improving agricultural productivity. Also, the bill zeroes out voluntary funding for our contributions to UN organizations, including organizations like UNICEF.

So these are just some examples. Again, we’re looking forward to working closely with Congress on the appropriations process going forward.

QUESTION: I think they’re leaving the embassy security alone?

MS. HARF: I did see that. Clearly, embassy security is a huge part of what we’re focused on here, but what we do overseas is about more than just security. Obviously, that’s of key concern, but we need to be able to go out overseas, promote American interests, and promote American values, and the only way to do that is through these programs.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary be going to the Hill to talk to --

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have anything specific to announce, but needless to say, the Secretary is very engaged with the Hill on a wide variety of issues, having spent so many years there himself.

QUESTION: You said that it would cut off aid and contributions to UN agencies. Does that include, to the best of your knowledge, cutting off aid to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief Work Agency for the Palestinians?

MS. HARF: I don’t have all the specifics. All I know is that the bill would zero out all voluntary funding for our contributions to UN organizations. So anything that falls under that would fall into that category.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we change topics?

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: I’d like to just go back to the North Korean ship. Any update on whether the U.S. has actually sent a team down there? What – whether you support the UN sanctions – whether you would support UN sanctions or further tightening of sanctions against Cuba on this?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any update for you. As we said yesterday, we stand ready to assist. As you also know, the ship is still being offloaded. And this process, just to set expectations here, will probably be a lengthy one. So we can talk about every day where the process is, but I just want to set expectations that this will take some time.

In terms of the sanctions, there is a process in place. We are supportive of that process because the bottom line remains that any alleged violation of UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions on North Korea is incredibly concerning to us, as we’ve said many times. And so we’re just going to let that process play out. I don’t want to speculate on how that might end or what actions might come out of that.

QUESTION: You said yesterday that Panama had asked for U.S. assistance. What is that assistance?

MS. HARF: I don’t have details for you on what that might look like.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: Anything else on the ship?

QUESTION: One more. Is the U.S. going to – that assistance that was just raised, is that going to be with the U.S. bilaterally or is that going to take place through the UN?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any other details on what that assistance might look like.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry but had the U.S. been tracking this? The ship has had a history of smuggling narcotics.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: Had the U.S. been tracking this ship prior to it going through the Panama Canal?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any details for you on that question.

QUESTION: Could you come back to me on any --

MS. HARF: If I have anything else I can share, I would be happy to do so.

QUESTION: And yesterday you mentioned that you would be discussing the issue with Cuba. Do you have any more details on that, like what channels that it’s going to take place through?

MS. HARF: I don’t. I would underscore that the issue of the ship isn’t a U.S.-Cuba issue – it’s really an issue that we’re focused on in terms of the UN and the sanctions that we have through the UN on North Korea. We said we would raise it with them at some point. I don’t have any update for you on that.

QUESTION: But the UN – but the U.S. can push through the UN what is going on, so therefore you have a view on how that process should be –

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly have a role to play in that process. We welcome Panama’s commitment to cooperate fully with the panel of experts that assists the DPRK Sanctions Committee that monitors UN member-state implementation. So we fully support their commitment to working with that panel and we’ll continue to do so going forward.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m sorry –

MS. HARF: Oh, one more on the ship?

QUESTION: The Secretary --

QUESTION: I have one more, sorry.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Senator Rubio has sent a letter to Secretary Kerry requesting that not only this be brought to the UN Security Council for sanctions but also that the State Department retake a look at its people-to-people exchange program. Do you know if Secretary Kerry – if you all have received the letter? I know he’s not here. And do you have any response to it or when he will be issuing a response?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the letter so I don’t have any details on that for you. What we’ve said broadly speaking in terms of our relation – or excuse me, our contacts with the Cubans is that we will work with them, like we did yesterday at the migration talks, on issues that are in our national security interests. That hasn’t changed. But again, I haven’t seen the letter and wouldn’t want to comment on it right now.

QUESTION: At what stage does the U.S. talk to the Cubans about this? I mean, yesterday was a one-off – a one-day talk discussion on migration. When do you actually plan to –

MS. HARF: I don’t have a timeline for you on that. Again, this isn’t – we’re not viewing this as a U.S.-Cuba issue; we’re viewing this as a potential violation of UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. That’s really the lens through which we’re viewing it. Of course, any allegation that there has been a violation is incredibly concerning to us.

Yes. New topic.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the Secretary’s trip?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Yeah. Could you update us on the latest – on the status of his trip currently?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. So as you may have seen, the Secretary visited a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan today. He did this because he obviously personally cares about this issue very much and understands how dire the situation is for the Syrian people. We’ve been clear about the horrific behavior of the Assad regime and the impact that it’s had on the Syrian people. And I would underscore that he thought it was very important to see the situation on the ground, particularly in light of the fact that next week, on Tuesday, he will be meeting with representatives of international humanitarian agencies on Syria specifically.

So as you know, the U.S. remains the leading donor of humanitarian assistance in Syria. We will continue pressing other countries to increase their contributions as well.

QUESTION: On the other aspect of the trip --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- as far as the negotiations between --

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- Palestinians and Israelis are concerned, now the Palestinians were saying that today there was going to be an announcement probably made by Secretary Kerry about the resumption of the talks. Could you update us on this? And he’s also staying a day or two longer?

MS. HARF: Well, I just got off the phone with the team, so I have some updates. We’re still determining whether there is more work to be done. We’re really working it hour by hour, so it’s a very fluid situation.

Jen Psaki, the Spokesperson, put out an on-the-record comment saying that there – tonight there wasn’t likely to be some announcement. That’s not a commentary on the behind-the-scenes discussions; it was more of a planning statement.

But the Secretary is there because he believes progress can be made. And we’re on the ground, again, taking it hour to hour to determine when they’ll leave, what further meetings might be necessary, but I don’t have any other updates to add at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. And Israeli sources say that Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected to begin negotiations on the premise of the 1967 borders, as was articulated by the President’s speech in Jerusalem last spring. Do you have a comment on that? Has the Secretary of State been in touch with the Israelis on this very issue?

MS. HARF: Well, I think one thing that we’ve underscored and that’s important to keep in mind is that there are a lot of rumors floating out there about this process, about these discussions. Secretary Kerry has been clear that all three sides have agreed not to litigate, not to talk through, not to play out these discussions in public. So on specific questions like that, I’m going to refer to the Secretary’s comments that these discussions are private for a reason, and we’re just not going to comment on those kinds of rumors.

QUESTION: And lastly, do you know that if the inclination, as far as the Secretary is concerned, is to have these talks resumed, once they are resumed, in Washington or in Amman?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to even venture a hypothetical about location. But we’ve been clear that our overall goal going forward at some point will be – needs to be the resumption of talks. But in terms of location, no, nothing to talk about on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: There are some reports – media reports saying that the PA, the Palestinian Authority, accepted or agreed on starting the negotiations without stopping the settlements.

MS. HARF: Again, I’m not going to comment on specific rumors, specific lines like that out there in the public except to say that the three sides are talking privately. But this is why Secretary Kerry is engaging with both sides privately, and we’re just not going to comment on all of those rumors out there.

QUESTION: Some of the Palestinians have called for another special committee meeting. Is that a good sign or a bad sign?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to characterize it either way. Obviously, our team is still on the ground and they’re going to remain there as long as they think work can still be done. So we’re doing – again, managing it on an hour-to-hour basis. The Secretary is continuing his discussions with both sides, so I think we’ll just wait and see. I don’t want to get ahead of any kind of meeting.

QUESTION: Will there be any conflict between Secretary Kerry and Susan Rice, since she’s taking some side of this issue, like the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to, but Secretary Kerry and Susan Rice have a long history of working together. They work very well and closely together on the whole host of national security issues that they’re both dealing with.

QUESTION: Is it your sense from where you stand in Washington that the Secretary is closer than he was just a month ago when he was in Amman, that he’s now made enough progress to say that there has been enough progress or he’s close to making a deal?

MS. HARF: Well, I think you heard him yesterday say, again, that he feels like we continue narrowing the gaps. And that’s really important because obviously there needs to continue to be progress for us to engage, and he feels like there has been. He also said yesterday that he feels like both sides are working with him in good faith, that they both want to get to the same place, but again, these are very tricky issues. So he did – I would point you to his comments yesterday where he did reference the fact that we feel like we are bridging the gaps even further, but clearly, there is more work to be done.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the status of the Special Envoy David Hale. What is the status of the Special Envoy? Or is Mr. Lowenstein now conduct – doing the responsibilities, conducting the responsibilities of the staff?

MS. HARF: Well, as you know, Frank Lowenstein is in the region. He’s been there working with both sides since, actually, the last trip – when we returned from the last trip. I don’t have any further personnel updates for you other than that Frank is on the ground now with the Secretary working.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we change topic?

MS. HARF: New topic, yes.

QUESTION: Change the topic, can I? I’m Tomas Miglierina from Swiss Television. There are reports from Panama that a former head of CIA stationed in Milan by the name of Robert Lady has been arrested. He was involved in the case of a Muslim cleric that was kidnapped in Milan, Abu Omar. Do you have any information on that? Do you have any details?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those reports and I don’t have anything for you on it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the bombing today of a mosque in Bahrain?

MS. HARF: I do. We strongly the condemn the recent attacks that deliberately targeted a mosque in Riffa and other locations during the Holy Month of Ramadan. There is no place for such violence in Bahrain. Those responsible for these senseless acts of violence are clearly trying to inflame the situation and, for Bahrain’s sake, must stop.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: I was going to ask you about the Russian opposition leader that was found guilty and jailed for five years. The Germans say they were shocked at this news. Do you have any reaction?

MS. HARF: We do. And just so you know, I think – I believe we’ll have a statement coming later in the day, but I’m happy to give our position on this as well from here.

We are very disappointed by the conviction and sentencing of opposition leader Alexei – excuse me – Navalny and his co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov to lengthy prison terms for alleged embezzlement by a court in the city of Kirov. Throughout the case, we have expressed our concern about its apparent political motivation. We are troubled about the abuse of due process and the rule of law, as exemplified by the conduct of this trial, where the judge interfered with the defense’s cross-examination and dismissed several of the defense’s own witnesses. Their harsh prison sentences are the latest example of a disturbing trend in the Russian Federation of legislation, prosecutions, and government actions aimed at suppressing dissent in civil society.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. plan to raise this officially with Russia?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any details for you on that. I think we may – I just made our position very clear, but I don’t have any additional details.

QUESTION: On Egypt?

MS. HARF: Egypt? Yeah.

QUESTION: Lady Catherine Ashton was in Cairo yesterday, and she failed to meet Mr. Morsy. Does anyone know anything about his whereabouts, his status, his health, or any of these things?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any updates for you on any of that, other than to say that we’ve made our position clear and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Okay. So do you consider him to be a political prisoner at the present time?

MS. HARF: Well, we have called repeatedly for an end to all arbitrary politically motivated imprisonments, including his, and our position on that has not changed. I don’t want to put labels beyond that on it.

QUESTION: So short of releasing him, do you call on those in authority in Egypt to treat him as a political prisoner and accord him all the benefits that come with a prisoner of conscience?

MS. HARF: We have called on the interim government to end arbitrary arrests, to uphold the rule of law, and we will continue to make that point publicly and privately.

QUESTION: And you’re still pressing for his release, correct?

MS. HARF: Our position on that has not changed.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) government issued a letter saying that Hezbollah is involved in the attack of Burgas, I guess.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any statement on that? Do you have any --

MS. HARF: I do. Well, as you know, on July 18th marks the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of six innocent civilians. We continue to extend our condolences to the people of Bulgaria and Israel for the tragic loss of life, and call for the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought to justice.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on Egypt.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: You still on Egypt?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: On Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood said today – told us that they proposed an EU go-between to try to resolve this political crisis in Egypt. Do you know anything about this proposal?

MS. HARF: Well, I’d have to refer you to the EU for that question. Again, broadly speaking, the point I’ve made from here is that we support a process going forward that is inclusive, that includes all parties and all groups as Egypt moves back towards a sustainable, inclusive democracy.

QUESTION: But do you think that this would help? I mean, it seems that some kind of mediation on this would be helpful.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to speculate on what that inclusive process might look like. Obviously, again, I’d point you to the EU specifically for that question. But our goal has been and will continue to be that this process needs to be inclusive, it needs to include all parties and all groups, and that eventually Egypt needs to get back to a place of a sustainable, inclusive democracy.

QUESTION: Sorry. Just – I wonder if you could comment on the confrontation in Sinai between the Egyptian army and some militants that resulted in the death, apparently, of 12 militants.

MS. HARF: Of 12 what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Of 12 armed persons.

MS. HARF: Well, we strongly condemn the recent attack that deliberately targeted security forces in the Sinai. We’ve made clear, and will continue to make clear, that there is no place in Egypt for that kind of violence. We remain concerned about the security situation in the Sinai, and more broadly, continue to believe that securing the Sinai is vital to Egypt’s future as well as to regional security.

QUESTION: Can we just turn, then, to Asia quickly?

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: There’s a new Pew (inaudible) poll about growing --

MS. HARF: We’ll go back to Egypt.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: We’ll come back.

QUESTION: -- I’ll be quick – growing distrust of China by U.S. citizens. Now, I understand that State Department officials were briefed on the report by Pew. Have you seen it, and what’s the reaction? What’s your general reaction to a growing distrust of U.S. citizens of China?

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t seen the report. I’m happy to look into it and get back to you specifically. Broadly speaking, as we’ve said many times, we have a broad relationship with the Chinese Government. We’ve worked together on a host of issues. We’re clear when we disagree, but I think it was clear from the recent Security and Economic Dialogue that we will continue working together when it’s in our interest to do so. Again, I can look into the specific report and get back to you.

Do you want to go back to Egypt?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Protesters, like, from both sides in Egypt, they are asking for U.S. Ambassador Patterson to leave the country. How would you like to react on that?

MS. HARF: Ambassador Patterson, who is a longtime, decorated Foreign Service officer here, has the complete support of the State Department and the Administration, and beyond that I have nothing further.

Yes.

QUESTION: Going back to the 10 jihadists that were killed yesterday, during the past two days, by the Egyptian security forces, a few others were arrested. It appeared that they – it was reported that they are linked to Ramzi Mowafi, who is a former physician of Usama bin Ladin. Do you have any information on --

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t seen those reports. I’m happy to look into that specific incident and get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes. Egypt still?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, talking about inclusiveness and what was mentioned before about the possibility or readiness of EU to mediate a forum of reconciliation, or put together inclusiveness forum of – do you as U.S. consider this is a good proposal? Are you ready to do similar thing or not?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t even want to address that hypothetical. Again, we support working with the interim government, and our partners working with the interim government, in helping get them back to an inclusive, sustainable democracy, but I don’t want to comment specifically on that proposal one way or the other.

QUESTION: Yes, I understand that there is no need to speculate or label what you want to say. But as a principle, is it accepted or not?

MS. HARF: What principle? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The principle of playing a role to mediate those people together.

MS. HARF: Well, the United States clearly has a broad relationship with Egypt. We will continue to do so. We’ve said that we will work with all sides and all parties to encourage them to get back to the table. So clearly, we have a role we believe we can play, but I wouldn’t want to speculate on what that role might look like.

QUESTION: The other question, which is related to the contact, still it’s puzzling people, not just in Egypt, all – even in United States regarding the phone call that took place between Assistant Secretary – I mean, Deputy Secretary Burns and representative of Muslim Brothers. Meanwhile, the Ashton – Lady Ashton met two people of the leadership. I mean, do you have contact with people or just relying on phone calls?

MS. HARF: Again – I think you asked this yesterday – we will engage with all parties and all groups on the ground from the Embassy. Deputy Secretary Burns had a phone call. But going forward, I expect our diplomats on the ground to continue their engagement in a variety of ways with the Muslim Brotherhood.

QUESTION: You say you’re ready to engage with all sides, yet when Deputy Secretary Burns goes to Egypt, he doesn’t meet with the Muslim Brotherhood.

MS. HARF: Well, he did have a trip – or a call.

QUESTION: Yet here Lady Ashton does. Well, according to sources in the Brotherhood, the U.S. did not ask for a meeting.

MS. HARF: We have been clear that Deputy Secretary Burns had a phone call with a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, that there was a discussion about the possibility of a meeting, but for logistical reasons, it just didn’t make sense to do a face-to-face meeting.

QUESTION: Who was that representative? Was it high enough or was it just a clerk on the other side?

MS. HARF: Unfortunately, I don’t have any additional details for you on that.

QUESTION: So --

MS. HARF: Egypt?

QUESTION: -- could we assume, then, that the diplomats in the Embassy are actually meeting with members of the Brotherhood?

MS. HARF: I’d have to check on what the latest is on that. I would certainly make that assumption, but I don’t want to say that if I’m not 100 percent sure what has taken place in terms of meetings. But I would assume that they will do so as part of our broad engagement going forward. But I’d have to get specifics for you just to double-check on that.

Egypt still?

QUESTION: No, different subject.

MS. HARF: Egypt? Yes.

QUESTION: No, this is Iran.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I want to get an update on what is happening with the possibility of engagement with Iran now that it’s got a new president. Lady Ashton came out with her statement a couple of days ago after talking to political directors. So what is the updated position from the U.S.?

MS. HARF: Well, we also – Wendy Sherman, as you know, was at the P-5+1 meeting as well. It was a productive meeting. We felt like it was – the P-5+1 remains unified, has a sense of urgency about this issue. We are still, as we have been, waiting for a substantive response from the Iranians in order to move forward. As the President and others have said, we are open to discussions with Iran both through the P-5+1 and through potential bilateral talks if there is a serious and substantive discussion to be had.

QUESTION: And has there been any outreach either by Iran or by the U.S. to one another privately through private channels?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: So to your knowledge, since the election of Rohani, we have not reached out to them, they have not reached out to us --

MS. HARF: That is correct.

QUESTION: -- on a bilateral basis?

MS. HARF: That is correct.

QUESTION: On the proposed cuts in --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- international assistance on Capitol Hill --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- can you tell us if the Administration and the – and Congress are not able to reach a compromise, who has the final authority on providing foreign assistance to – international assistance to foreign countries?

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. If we can’t come to an agreement on this, who --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: -- in the U.S. Government has that authority?

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Well, our position is that the State Department is uniquely situated to continue with the programs, the assistance, the engagement on the development and economic side that we’ve been doing. So I wouldn’t want to speculate on where that might come from if this bill goes through, other than to say that we believe these cuts would be devastating to our ability to work all around the world in places where we have been doing so for decades.

QUESTION: And are you confident of proceeding ahead with this, and that Congress will be able to accommodate your concerns and approve this?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s the start of the process, so we are looking forward to working with Congress to get to a place that we feel is more acceptable and in the U.S. interests to be able to continue promoting our security, our interests, and our values overseas.

QUESTION: And can I take to South Asia?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There is a pending case in the Indian Supreme Court wherein a former Indian Foreign Ministry official, he has submitted a statement with the Indian Supreme Court saying that Indian Government was complicit in Mumbai 2008 and parliamentary bombings in 2001. Do you have any reaction to that?

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t seen that. I’m happy to look into it and get back to you if I have anything to share.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, in Mumbai bombing, six Americans were also killed, and this statement has started a big controversy in South Asia.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Again, I’m happy to look into it and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Deb.

QUESTION: Is there any progress to report on the effort to set up a Geneva 2?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you on that. We’ve been clear that we’re not just going to have a conference to have a conference, that the conditions need to be right, that we need to be able to make progress there, but I don’t have anything new for you on that.

QUESTION: So where are we with that right now?

MS. HARF: We’re where we are, that we remain committed to working with the UN and the Russians. We’ve been having these dialogues, as you know. I don’t have any new dialogues to update you on, but to set the conditions to get everybody to the table at a Geneva 2 conference moving forward. But again, separate and apart from any specific conference, our position remains that there’s no military solution here, that there needs to be a political solution to the situation in Syria.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said there’s no military solution, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff just said that there is potentially a military solution in Congress.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. I didn’t see his comments. I know that our position remains the same, that there is no military solution that will end this conflict in Syria. The best thing to do for the Syrian people is for us – for them, excuse me, to get a political solution where they can end the violence, where they can move forward towards a government that respects the rights of its people. Secretary Kerry has spoken to this repeatedly, and our position on that has not changed.

QUESTION: But there are military options being discussed by the White House right now? That was conceded in Congress this morning, so I’m just concerned that you think it’s just a peaceful option, but the White House is considering military options still.

MS. HARF: Well, we – no, we’ve repeatedly said the Administration is considering a broad range of options in dealing with the situation on the ground in Syria. That is true; that has not changed. I know Jen has said from this podium that all options are on the table except for boots on the ground. That also hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Still confusing.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) and sort of having a date and time and so on for Geneva 2 remains to be caused by lack of understanding or different understanding to the points of Geneva 1 between the United States and Russia? Is that how you see it?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a very complicated process. Getting all the parties that need to be there to the table is an ongoing dialogue. With – we’ve made clear our disagreements with the Russians on Syria. That’s why we’re talking to them and the UN about how to convene a conference that has the best chance of success. So those discussions are ongoing. We’ve talked about some of those issues in here, but I don’t have anything new for you on where that stands.

QUESTION: So do you believe that the call for Assad to step aside first by the opposition and, in fact, by the Government of the United States and so on, to be – not to be wise because it seems to hold back this process instead of putting it forward?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been very clear about Assad, that he has lost all legitimacy to lead his country, that he must go. That’s been clear. Nothing changes that. In terms of the discussions around a Geneva 2 convention --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- we’ve been clear about the issues that we’re going to discuss going forward, but our position on Assad remains unchanged and is a very strong one.

QUESTION: So it is the person of Bashar al-Assad who is sort of vetoed from the process, but not the regime itself. Correct?

MS. HARF: I don’t want to get into the details of the ongoing discussions about how we get to Geneva other than to say that they continue to be ongoing.

QUESTION: So on the other side, do you believe that you have a homogenous group in the opposition that can negotiate on behalf of the Syrian people with the regime?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s obviously been something that we’ve discussed from here. We were – that was a positive step that the SOC held elections and now has elected leaders. So one of the things we’ve been doing with our assistance has been to further – help further coalesce, help the SMC, help the SOC further coalesce. Because that is the best way, if they’re unified, to get them to the table as well to move forward in that process. So that’s an ongoing process. We’ve been encouraged by some things we’ve seen, specifically the elections, and we’ll continue to help them do that going forward.

QUESTION: And finally, since August seems to be out in terms of a timetable for holding the conference, do you expect this issue, organizing Geneva 2, to take a major portion of the 68th session of the UNGA this year in September?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to speculate on that. Again, we’ve said for a long time that there’s no timeline on when we are going to have Geneva 2. So I wouldn’t want to speculate how it will play into UNGA other than to say I’m sure the issue will be discussed quite a bit.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Other subjects? Yes.

QUESTION: Zimbabwe?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: A few days ago, Lesley asked about a letter that Secretary Kerry wrote to President Mugabe that was delivered by Andrew Young. Do you have any update on the contents or readout of that letter and whether there’s been any response from the Zimbabwe Government?

MS. HARF: I do. Secretary Kerry made it clear in his letter that the United States is prepared to revisit our bilateral relationship with Zimbabwe, but only if Zimbabwe implements needed political reforms, allows civil society organizations to operate freely, and holds elections that are peaceful, credible, and represent the will of the Zimbabwean people. I don’t have any update for you on whether there’s been a response or not.

QUESTION: Today, the SADC had said that the – it was the first time that President Zuma’s actually spoken out and said that the Zimbabwe election looked like it wasn’t going to be a credible, free one. Is your sense that the Zimbabweans have got the message that unless they act now, that none of those sanctions are going to be lifted?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve made it clear that this is a critical moment – and I spoke to this, I believe; I know Patrick has – and that we have expressed our deep concerns about parts of this process, including the lack of transparency in electoral preparations, the continued partisan behavior by state security institutions, and some of the technical and logistical issues that are hampering the administration of a credible and transparent election.

So we’ve been clear about our concerns, but we also believe there is still time to get things back on track. We’ve also – our sanctions policy has not changed, to my knowledge, and we’ve made clear to the Government of Zimbabwe that further reductions in sanctions will only occur if the next elections are credible, transparent, and again, reflect the will of the people.

QUESTION: Given that there’s only two weeks left for the election, I mean, do you think that the election should be delayed until those preparations are in order?

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything for you on that. Again, we’ve made our concerns known, but we do believe that there is still time for some of these concerns to be alleviated.

Anything else? Thank you all. See you tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)

# # #

Washington Updated: 
2013-07-18 22:07:15 GMT

Distributed by the Embassy of the United States of America, Brussels, Belgium. Web sites: http://belgium.usembassy.gov; http://www.uspolicy.be.

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