FOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING
WITH U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON MARIE HARF
TOPIC: FOREIGN POLICY UPDATE
FRIDAY, MARCH 14, 2014, 2:30 P.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. I’m very happy to be able to welcome Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf back to the FPC. This is now her third briefing here, so we are being – I think we’re able to call it a regular briefing now, and there’ll be many more. She’ll make a few brief comments, and then we’ll open – the floor to questions. She does have to leave fairly soon, so we’ll get right to it. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you. And if you saw the end of my briefing today at the State Department, I told them I had to leave early there to come brief you, so I just want to make sure everyone knows I’m trying to make time.
I have a few things at the top, and then I’m happy, as always, to open it up to your questions. One of these I did in today’s briefing; one I didn’t. We’ve talked a lot about the deep concerns we have with Russian behavior, of course, in Ukraine, but on a whole host of issues, and today are making clear that we are deeply troubled by the rapidly shrinking space for independent and free media in Russia – what all of us do in here, why we get up every day and talk to you all as well. The recent closure of RIA Novosti, the changes in leadership at Lenta.ru and other outlets, and the decision to block a number of independent websites and blogs are unfortunately just the most recent example of this harmful trend. In the last year, the Russian Government has passed laws imposing unprecedented censorship and restrictions on media and online publications.
These developments effectively stifle the expression of alternative views, restrict the space for independent discussion, and facilitate the spreading of government-controlled narratives that are patently false. The United States continues to support the fundamental rights of all people to exercise their freedoms of expression and assembly, regardless of their political views. These are rights Russia has enshrined in its own constitution and committed itself to protect as a member of the Council of Europe and of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and as a signatory to the UN Declaration.
So, as we all in this room talk very openly about issues facing us and facing Russia today, I think this is important to keep in mind.
The second statement, and we will be putting out a statement from Secretary Kerry shortly on this, but we’ve talked a lot recently, I think, here and at the other podium about revolutions and how people everywhere around the world are rising up to determine their future and how we support that. Today is the ninth anniversary of the Cedar Revolution, where we remember the Lebanese people who took to the streets in mass demonstrations to demand sovereignty, freedom, and true democracy for Lebanon. This peaceful revolution closed a long chapter of foreign domination of Lebanese politics and brought a new beginning to the people of Lebanon as they sought accountability for the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and many others.
Of course, the work of the Cedar Revolution is not finished, and in the past nine years – I can’t believe it’s actually been nine years – new challenges have emerged that have threatened Lebanon’s stability. We stand with the people of Lebanon as they continue to reject violence, extremism, and entanglement in foreign conflicts.
The statement will be a little longer, but I wanted to underscore here this is a significant anniversary. Also, as we think about how other countries are going through revolutions, and how people are everywhere choosing their own futures and how we’re supporting that, I think it’s important to remember how far Lebanon has come in nine years and how much work there still is to do.
So with that, I’m happy to take questions.
MODERATOR: All right. Okay, we’ll go right to questions. Please wait for the microphone, identify yourself and your outlet. For colleagues in New York, please step up to the podium. We’ll start here in the front.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott, Diario las Americas. Actually, you didn’t mention the Venezuelan revolution, and I would like to know what is your position on that sine the Venezuelan Government has accused the U.S. Government of supporting all kind of struggles in Venezuela?
And more than that, Secretary Kerry announced some sanctions against Venezuela. I would like to know if you can elaborate a little bit more on that. Thank you.
MS. HARF: A few points there. As we’ve said repeatedly, and as Secretary Kerry said yesterday when he was testifying on the Hill, the future of Venezuela is up for the Venezuelan people to decide, that this is not about the United States, and that the people in Venezuela, officials who are trying to make it about the United States, are just blatantly not telling the truth about what’s going on here. We have encouraged all parties in Venezuela to come to the table to talk about how to move Venezuela forward, possibly mediated by a third party that would have to be acceptable to all parties. I don’t know what that would look like, but that’s one model. And countries across the region have really been clear in expressing their concerns about the recent developments in Venezuela.
We have long said that we are open to having a more constructive and productive relationship with Venezuela, but have quite frankly seen no indication from the other side that they want one. So again, this isn’t about us, this isn’t about the U.S. This is about what the people of Venezuela have said they want, and about the Government of Venezuela listening to their own people and responding and working together to get to a better place.
QUESTION: And about the sanctions?
MS. HARF: Oh. Obviously, as the Secretary, I think, said yesterday, nothing’s off the table. I don’t have anything to preview in terms of what steps we might take, but right now we’re reviewing a wide variety of options; again, encouraging the parties to have dialogue about how to move forward. And if and when we have policy announcements to make, we will, but nothing to preview.
QUESTION: But do you mean that you are ready to take actions in that direction?
MS. HARF: We’re reviewing all the options, and as the Secretary said, no option’s been taken off the table here. But nothing to announce today.
MODERATOR: Okay, just a quick follow-up before we move on.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Luis Alonso with AP. And also on Venezuela, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jaua called earlier today Secretary Kerry murderer of our people, referring to a comment Secretary Kerry made yesterday in the Senate.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. In his testimony?
QUESTION: I would like to ask if you want anything – have anything to say about that.
And my second question is: Colombian President Santos said earlier today as well that he volunteer as a mediator in the Venezuelan crisis. Is President Santos the best candidate in Washington’s view? Are there any other – I know Secretary Kerry said recently that you guys have been working, trying to find a mediator.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: If you could please talk about that search and if you identify a good candidate beyond President Santos. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yeah, exactly. So on the second part of your question, as I just said, we do think there might be a chance here, a way for a third party mediator, an outside party, to work with the different groups and sides to get to a better place. I don’t have any predictions about who that might be. I don’t have any specific comments on what you asked about or who you asked about. And again, it’s not up for us to decide. Any third part that would help mediate in this situation needs to be accepted by all parties that are at the table. So I think that’s a crucial point when we’re talking about who it might be, what role they might play. That’s a crucial point.
As the Secretary said yesterday – I didn’t see those specific comments, but Secretary Kerry made clear yesterday that our goal here is to see a situation where the Venezuelan people are listened to by their government and where they have a voice in choosing their future. That’s why we’ve said dialogue is the answer here. We’ve said very clearly, again, whether that’s through a third party or directly, that we are looking to do – to see what more we can do. Again, I don’t have anything to announce or preview, but options remain on the table, and if we have to take more steps we will do so. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. The gentleman behind – the second row here.
QUESTION: Brian Beary, Washington correspondent, Europolitics. President Obama will be going to Europe in a little over a week’s time. Can you say anything about what the agenda for the EU-U.S. Summit in Brussels will be?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple things. Obviously, we’ve all been very focused on the Nuclear Security Summit that will be happening in The Hague. The President – this has really been a cornerstone of what the President’s worked on in this Administration in terms of nonproliferation. We feel we’ve made good progress through the Nuclear Security summits. Obviously, this is a good opportunity to move that conversation forward.
In terms of the EU summit in Brussels, we work, as you know, with the EU on a whole host of issues. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we and the EU are talking and on the same page, whether it’s about Ukraine – which is obviously right – the topic on everyone’s minds right now or whether it’s Iran. Next week, I’ll be going with our team to Vienna for the next round of Iran negotiations, which are led by the EU, which is really driving this process forward to keep all of us together, to keep the P5+1 united, to keep the sanctions in place until we have a comprehensive agreement.
So there’s a lot on the agenda for discussions with the EU, other issues as well, but those are just two that come to mind.
MODERATOR: Okay. Third row, gentleman on the end.
QUESTION: My name is Martin Reznicek. I’m with Czech-TV, a correspondent here in Washington. The following statements made by John McCain, Paul Ryan, Dick Cheney, and a few others on the missile defense project which should have been, according to them, built in Poland and Czech Republic and then has been stopped by the Administration – is there any thought at the State Department to review this project?
MS. HARF: To review what? I’m sorry. You cut off at the end.
QUESTION: To review the project.
MS. HARF: No. We’ve been very clear that missile defense is very important to us. When we came into office, however many years ago now, we took a look at the existing missile defense plans and retooled them a little bit to make them what we thought were most – were going to be most effective, most aimed at what we were looking to prevent, the threats, which we’ve been very clear is not Russia, which I’m sure is the next question on everyone’s mind, but which really was responsive to the new technology and what could best meet our needs.
We have said that we are very committed to moving forward. We’ve made progress with missile defense, we’re committed to making more progress, we’ve been very clear throughout this process that this is not something that should concern the Russians or threaten the Russians, that this isn’t about Russia – not everything’s about Russia, even though lately it seems like it is – but that missile defense is very important to us. Again, even as we negotiate with Iran, even as we have other discussions, there’s a huge threat that we think it’s important through the way we’ve outlined, which we’re still very committed to.
MODERATOR: Okay. The lady in the second row in the middle there.
MS. HARF: Wait for the microphone so I can hear you.
MODERATOR: Yeah, wait for the microphone.
QUESTION: Okay. Manar with Middle East News Agency, Egypt. First question is regarding yesterday, the statement of the charge d'affaires of the United States in Cairo has said that Egypt relies on the American defense industries and on the American products. And the Russian arms deal so far, from his own point of view, is just a (inaudible), as he said, you see, yesterday. So I’m just wondering how he says that and still so far that the U.S. assistance to Egypt has been up hold so far. This is my first question. My second question --
MS. HARF: Let’s do the first question and then you’ll ask a second one. I just don’t want to forget. So keep the microphone. I will get to your – you can hold on, so I’ll get to your second one.
On our relationship with Egypt, we have said, particularly on the defense cooperation, that the United States has unique capabilities, whether it’s on the defense side, whether it’s on the economic side, that our relationship provides to Egypt. We’ve talked about this, I think, on some of the Russian arms deals. We’ve also talked about it when some of the other Gulf states have provided funding to the interim Egyptian government, that yes, other people are interested in getting involved in Egypt, but the United States, for a variety of reasons, has unique capabilities we can bring to bear. And if we’re talking about the defense industry, if we’re talking about the economic reforms, we are uniquely positioned to help.
All of our assistance hasn’t been put on hold to Egypt. We talked about that however many months ago now when we talked about the policy decision. We did continue with some things. What we are doing now is evaluating our policy based on what’s happened on the ground, based on the interim government’s steps it’s taking to move forward with its return to democracy, as we’ve said they need to do.
And we’ll recalibrate that policy if we need to because we believe this is a very important relationship for a whole host of reasons. We don’t agree with everything that’s happened – we’ve made that clear – but exactly because it’s so important is the reason we didn’t suspend all of our assistance. We’re still working together on counterterrorism in the Sinai, for example, which is of huge importance to us and others in the region.
So we’ll keep calibrating our policy, and when and if we will restart some of the aid, we’ll have that discussion then, but I know the policy decisions are all ongoing and really in response to what the Egyptian Government is doing itself.
QUESTION: Okay. The second question is: The State Department has recently said that it is in constant contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, as with the other political groups, you see?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yes.
QUESTION: So do you think that these contacts have any effect on the United States relations with Egypt? And are these just mere contacts or support? Because this is very important for the Egyptian public opinion. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Well, they’re contacts, and let’s just – I’ll put it in a little context here. We think it’s important to have contacts with all the parties in Egypt, because all the parties in Egypt ultimately are going to need to be a part of Egypt’s future, and that we want to help them be a part of that future and move Egypt out of the situation it’s in today. So we think this is important to do. Do we always agree, do they always agree with what we’re saying? Of course not. But we believe it’s important to have the dialogue.
We don’t support one party or one group or one person. So when we’re talking about elections, when – I know there’s a lot of conspiracy theories about us supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or supporting the military or – there’s a lot. They can’t all be true, right? Because they’re mutually exclusive. But we don’t support one group. We support the process. We support the people of Egypt who make up these parties – right – as they are trying to determine how to get Egypt back on a better path.
So we speak very clearly to dispel some of those rumors because I agree that on the ground, those rumors aren’t helpful, and sometimes they hurt our efforts, which is why we have to speak very clearly and say we don’t take sides here in Egypt’s future.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: You’re welcome.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll go to third row, gentleman there.
QUESTION: Thank you. Marcin Wrona, TVN, Poland.
MS. HARF: Hello.
QUESTION: Marie, it looks like the Ukrainian crisis is escalating, and I guess there is no doubt about that. How do you see the role of your friends and allies in the region? And by that, I mean Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Baltic States, et cetera, et cetera. How do you see the role of those states after the referendum which is taking place on Sunday?
MS. HARF: Thank you. Well, a few points. I don’t know if you saw Secretary Kerry’s press avail today from London. He met with Foreign Minister Lavrov for six hours in London today, which is a pretty long meeting. They talked about a range of issues related to Ukraine. The Secretary made very clear that we will not recognize this referendum, that it’s not legitimate, that we won’t recognize it, and if it goes forward – as you acknowledge it looks like it’s going to – there will be costs. We’re not saying exactly what those are, but there will be costs.
And we’ve worked with our partners, whether it’s in the EU, whether it’s individual countries, to also impose costs, because we are all united in believing the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty should be respected, that there’s a way to hold these kind of referenda in Ukraine under its constitution, and this is not it.
And so for all the other countries of the region who have an incentive to take a very strong stand against Russia’s incursion into Ukraine’s territorial integrity, we think other people should impose costs as well, because, quite frankly, as I think the EU has done, other countries have done as well, we’re – we want to take a very strong stand against Russia and say this is not acceptable behavior, and if you continue doing it, and if you escalate it, there will be more costs, which I think you’ll see coming next week if indeed the referendum goes forward.
MODERATOR: Do you want to just stay with Ukraine questions?
MS. HARF: Sure. Anyone else – yeah, let’s do some Ukraine, and then we’ll go around the world a little bit.
MS. HARF: Okay.
MODERATOR: The lady right here.
QUESTION: After the visit to the Ukrainian prime – sorry, Irina Gelevska, Macedonian TV. After the visit of the Ukrainian prime minister, he said something that probably is true, that he holds NATO responsible for the situation in Georgia and Ukraine because since now 2008, there is no enlargement. Now, 40 congressmen sent letter to Secretary Kerry in order to – this summit in UK in September. Some other member states should be accepted in NATO – Macedonia and Montenegro – and it should start map with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, and maybe Ukraine. What will be the reply of the State Department?
MS. HARF: So we have received that letter that you referenced and we have responded. The United States remains committed to NATO having an open door. We’ve said this, I think, at every NATO summit for years now. And we’ve also been clear that aspirants to NATO need to meet NATO’s standards for membership, and as they work towards that we’ll support them in that effort.
In terms of Macedonia specifically, at the last NATO summit there was agreement, I believe, upon all the NATO allies than an invitation to join the alliance would be issued to Macedonia when a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue was found. So I know we’ve talked about this a little bit in here. We hope that the leaders of Macedonia and Greece will find a mutually agreeable solution to the name dispute as soon as possible, for exactly this and other reasons, of course.
So I’m sure NATO enlargement will be a topic at this summit. We’ve made clear that we support NATO enlargement in principle, but that people who want to join need to meet certain standards of NATO membership.
MODERATOR: Okay, Ukrainian related? We’re staying with that?
MS. HARF: We’ll do a few more on Ukraine, yeah.
MODERATOR: Okay. Back there, or middle row.
QUESTION: Thank you. Elliot Waldman with Tokyo Broadcasting System. I wanted to ask you, you and the Secretary and a number of others have stated repeatedly that these actions by the Russia – the referendum specifically would be against international law. I was wondering if you could go into a little bit more specifics about that and tell us the basis on which you make that assertion.
And then if you could also just address this report in The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. has turned down a request for military aid to the Ukraine except for certain types of support. Senator McCain has called it an arms embargo. If you could touch on that, too. Thank you.
MS. HARF: I can always count on the senator for some flowery language here. On that last issue, we’re obviously very committed to supporting Ukraine. We’ve done it in a number of ways, and we’re looking at other policy options going forward. Nothing new to announce. Obviously, there are always deliberations going on internally on how best to support the Ukrainian people as they move forward here.
QUESTION: Sorry, I think DOD --
MODERATOR: Wait, can you wait for the mike, please?
MS. HARF: We want to hear your follow-up.
QUESTION: I think DOD today has said that they did – that the Ukrainian side did send a request to the State Department for support, but can you confirm that that was received?
MS. HARF: Let me just check on that. I think I may have something in here on that in this very large book. I always like it when my colleagues at the Defense Department point to the State Department. Let me check on that and I’ll get back to you by the end of the briefing.
But more broadly speaking, you asked about international law. Well, first let’s start with Ukrainian law. Under the Ukrainian constitution, there is a process for these kind of referenda to take place. It would be a Ukraine-wide referendum on any votes about the territorial integrity or sovereignty of parts of Ukraine. So there’s a process in Ukraine’s constitution, setting aside international law, that’s not being followed here. But in general, through its military intervention and continued presence in Crimea, also its meddling in Crimea’s affairs, there are several international legal mandates we point to in terms of violating international law.
The core obligations, of course, are under the UN Charter, notably in Article 2(3), which UN member states have all agreed to settle their international disputes by peaceful means, so starting there at a base, core issue of the UN Charter. Second, as we’ve talked about a lot now, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum between the United States, the UK, Russia and Ukraine, which, among other things, reaffirmed the obligations under the UN Charter and the commitments they made under the Helsinki Final Act to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Those are the buzz words of the week, right? So the Helsinki Final Act, the Budapest Memorandum, the UN Charter, multiple other bilateral agreements between Russia and Ukraine, and, oh, by the way, Ukraine’s constitution.
So I would be hard pressed to find any scholar of international or Ukrainian law that thinks this referendum is in any way legitimate. That’s why we will not recognize it. We don’t support it. And if it happens, there will be costs. And I’ll find out about – it’s somewhere in here. I’ll find out about the other question.
MODERATOR: Front row here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Andrei Sitov from Tass, from Russia.
MS. HARF: Good to see you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Marie, for coming over, and thanks to our friends at the FPC for hosting this. A couple of questions on Ukraine. A Moscow-based English-language newspaper – there are some – (laughter) – has found a, quote-unquote, “discrepancy” in the 10 points that the State Department made about the Russian position on Ukraine, where they say that the --
MS. HARF: The fact/fiction document?
QUESTION: Yes. The new government and – the old president, right --
MS. HARF: Yanukovych.
QUESTION: -- and the old parliament --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- were given 48 hours to fulfill the February 21st agreement.
MS. HARF: But before he could do that, he fled the country is our point.
QUESTION: And the opposition started acting against the president, ousting him within 24 hours.
MS. HARF: I think – but he cut the time short by himself. I think, if I have my chronology correct --
MS. HARF: -- fled the country before those 48 hours were up is my understanding.
QUESTION: How did you know that, that he fled the country?
MS. HARF: I think it was pretty clear to everyone when they couldn’t find him. I mean, I’m not trying to be too cute here by half. I just –
MS. HARF: -- that my understanding is that the agreement was violated when President Yanukovych fled the country; packed up his stuff, fled, left his position --
QUESTION: Uh-huh. Okay.
MS. HARF: -- and then, of course, we know what’s happened since then in terms of putting a new, legitimate Ukrainian government in place. But he, it’s our belief, broke the agreement first.
QUESTION: Okay. I don’t want to argue this, but --
MS. HARF: Well, I mean, that’s just our position. I’m sure there are different positions. That’s just ours.
QUESTION: No, I understand. His position, of course, here – he went away from Kyiv, yes, to his own country, to wherever it was, and the next day, Duma started acting, and his residence was raided and he was afraid for his physical safety after that. So he claims that the opposition was illegitimate and acted against the agreement. But again, I’m not arguing this. I got your position.
MS. HARF: We would – it’s not surprising we would disagree with that assessment of what happened.
QUESTION: Right. And then secondly, on Mr. Firtash arrest in Vienna, if you could look into that a little bit because, again, one of the shrinking Russian press outlets reported that, quote-unquote, “the FBI is starting the presidential race in Ukraine.” So please tell me that this was not a politicized decision, the timing of it. Thank you.
MS. HARF: A couple points. The first is, obviously – you brought up the FBI. I would refer you to them or the Department of Justice on those reports specifically. Obviously, the United States thinks it’s important to fight corruption and transnational crime. Whatever may or may not have happened there – which, again, I would leave it to my colleagues to discuss – has nothing to do with Ukraine’s political future.
When I was there with the Secretary last week, in his comments today, we have all made very clear that this – our one goal is that the Ukrainian people decide their future. It’s not up to the United States; it’s not up to Russia; it’s not up to the EU; it’s not up to anyone else, except to the Ukrainian people, which is why we believe it’s so important that the Ukrainian constitution is upheld, that the territorial integrity is upheld, and that the Ukrainian people themselves get to make these decisions. So I would very strongly push back on the notion that we are pushing one candidate, one person, one party. It’s really not up to us, which is what we’ve been saying directly to the Russians. It’s not up to them either.
QUESTION: Might I add? I must not forget to say --
MS. HARF: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- it occurred to me technically this newspaper, the first newspaper was correct, technically. You do say in your points that he was given 24 hours. He was given 48 hours. Do you want to correct the technical mistake? Thank you.
MS. HARF: I’m sorry. I will have to back and look at that document. I’m sorry I don’t – I’m surprised I don't have something in this book, but I don't have that document in this book, and I’m sorry. I’m happy to go look at it and to get you an answer. We obviously stand by what’s in that document, and the notion – 24, 48 hours, I can get the specifics – but is our understanding that President Yanukovych fled, that he abdicated his position, and that he broke the agreement.
But what we’re focused on now is where we go from here, right? President Yanukovych is gone. We have a new government, and we’re focused on where that government can take the Ukrainian people from here. But I’m happy to look at the document specifically.
MODERATOR: Do you want to move on to a new topic?
MS. HARF: Sure. Yeah. Let’s move on to some new topics.
MODERATOR: Okay. Lady in the back row.
QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. Jennifer Chen with Shenzhen Media Group of China. My question is so U.S. has already deployed LCS in Singapore and has plan to deploy those ships in Japan. So what’s the U.S. expectation of those ships in Asia Pacific region in the future? Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you for the question. That may be a question I’m now going to punt to my DOD colleagues. But broadly speaking, when we talk about our posture in the region, whether it’s militarily, in support of our allies – I mean, a huge reason we pivoted – I’m going to use the word – we pivoted to Asia at the beginning of the Administration was that we really wanted to do – have closer military ties with our allies, to shore up our posture in the region, to help deal with shared threats, and to make sure our allies are protected. So that’s certainly one goal of our defense posture in the region. Obviously we talked a lot about North Korea, other issues as well.
On the economic side, there’s certainty been a huge part of the pivot as well in terms of free trade, increasing exports. We’ve talked a lot about that, too. And on the diplomatic side, certainly, working with all of those issues, to work on things like North Korea, to work with China on things like Iran. So we have a very broad set of issues we work on.
But in terms of the military posture, a lot of it is designed to make sure our allies are protected. We’ve been a Pacific power, we will continue to be, and this is, I think, just part of that. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Okay. I see we have a question from New York.
MS. HARF: Oh, great.
MODERATOR: Sir in New York, if you could identify yourself and your outlet. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Paolo Mastrolilli of the Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa. Thank you for doing this. During his visit to Europe, the President will stop also in Rome to meet with the new Prime Minister Renzi and the new Pope. Can you elaborate a little bit on the agenda of these two meetings?
MS. HARF: Well, first, I would say that we had a very good meeting in Rome last week, where the Secretary met with the new prime minister, with the new foreign minister, had a very good set of discussions on a whole host of issues, including Ukraine, including what their priorities are for Italy, so that was a very good conversation.
Without speaking obviously for the White House, I think the visit will be a good opportunity. Obviously, anytime you can meet with the Pope is an incredible opportunity for a number of reasons. But when Secretary Kerry’s met with officials in Vatican City, he’s talked about everything from Middle East peace to what’s going on in South Sudan. So I’m sure there’ll be a broad agenda for that discussion. Obviously there’s a number of things we work with Italy on.
One issue specially we talked about last week, which is always a key part of our relationship, is Libya and how we can continue working together to move Libya’s democracy forward, to assist them. That was really one of the topics of conversation we had with the Italians last week. I’m sure it will be on the agenda, as will Ukraine, as will Syria and Iran, and the whole host of issues we always talk about. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Okay. One question right here. The mike is behind you.
QUESTION: Hi. First of all, thank you, Marie, for doing this. My name is Fouad Arif from the Moroccan News Agency Maghreb Arab Presse. Earlier today, the minister’s council in Morocco approved a draft law whereby the civilians will no longer be prosecuted before a military tribunal. My first questions: What’s the reaction of the United – of the State Department? My second question: Is this something that the United States would encourage other countries in the region to implement? Thank you.
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a good question. And I’m afraid I lied to you when I walked in. I don't have an answer to your question. If it just happened, I’m happy – I’m really sorry. I’m happy to check with our folks and see if we have a response to this new law being passed. I’m really sorry.
QUESTION: But you will take --
MS. HARF: I will take the question, yes. You found one question that wasn’t in my book.
MODERATOR: Okay. Gentleman in the third row there. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Yuichiro Nishigaki from JiJi Press, Japanese newswire. And I have a question – a quick question – about Japan, which is like Japanese Government is considering the – our interpretation of constitution regarding the right of our collective self-defense. And State Department has any comments about this, to the question? Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thank you. I think – let me see. I think we’ve said this before, but I’ll reiterate it again, that this is really a decision for Japan to decide. We are, obviously, fully committed to the defense of our Japanese ally. I think I spoke to that a little bit when I answered the question about the LCS ships. And we continue to seek new ways to further that alliance.
We do – I think in the deliberations that the Japanese Government has had about this issue, we commend the fact that they have been open about them, that they’ve had openness around the discussions, that they’ve consulted with other countries in the region on the changes to their security posture, which, as we know, is an important component of reducing tensions, and as changes are made, ensuring people that they’re going to know what’s going on and that they’re going to be very open about it. So we’ve commended that, but again, it’s up to Japan to decide. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Okay. Gentleman in the second row in the middle here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ansgar Graw from the German newspaper Die Welt. You mentioned consequences and costs of referendum on and in Crimea. Would you judge that Europeans and especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel is very close to your position? Or would you wish that she’s a little bit more decisive, tougher in this question in regard to sanctions, for example? Or are you fully satisfied with the German cooperation?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you heard the Secretary actually got asked a version of this question last week. And what he said is that yes, we are, that we have worked very closely with our European partners. They’ve taken action – some of them individually, some collectively as the EU – to impose costs on Russia for what it’s done. So we’re going to continue to have these conversations, but we are all in agreement that what Russia did is not acceptable, that we have to impose costs.
Obviously, each country can make their own decisions about what those costs look like. We certainly do the same thing here. When we talked about visa bans or the executive order, what we do next – those are decisions for us to make, those are decisions for Germany to make. But in the goal of what we want as an outcome here, we are all united with Germany, with the rest of the EU, with our European partners, because it’s such an important issue and we can’t let this kind of aggression go unchecked.
MODERATOR: Okay. Lady on the end here.
QUESTION: Julia Damianova from the Austrian daily newspaper Kurier. I have a related question about the EU-U.S. summits. Is energy also one of the topics on the agenda? And I’m thinking here about U.S. gas imports into Europe.
MS. HARF: Yeah. So I don’t have a – we don’t think the full agenda maybe has even been worked out yet. It’s always a topic of conversation, so I’m guessing it will be. I don’t have more details and don’t want to preview this. I’d have to talk to my other colleagues about this. But it’s obviously an issue for us. We know that this has been a big issue, particularly because of Ukraine, with gas coming from Russia and what we’re going to do. But I would imagine it would be a topic that in some way is likely to be discussed.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll stay – lady in the middle there.
QUESTION: Hi, Marie. Melissa Sims from The Straits Times, Singapore. Just on the Malaysian Airlines, and – recently there was a WSJ report that had unnamed U.S. investigators say that the plane moved four hours west of the last point of contact. I’m just wondering whether you have any update in terms of what military investigations or whatever, and anything from the NTSB that is there at the moment.
MS. HARF: So – it’s a good question. And as we’ve said, the Malaysian Government’s in the lead here in terms of the investigation. We, through the NTSB, through the FAA, through the Department of Defense, are all assisting in any way we can. The Malaysian Government is looking at a number of different possible scenarios for what happened. Obviously, they want to get the facts here as quickly as possible. And it’s a fairly unprecedented situation that a plane has been missing for this long, a fairly large plane, that we don’t know what happened, and they’re really operating under fairly difficult circumstances here.
So we – I don’t have any updates for you on the investigation. I’m assuming they’ll come from the Malaysians when they do. But they’re looking at a whole host of options for what happened here. As I think people know, our Seventh Fleet is in the area working with a number of other countries – Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, and others – to try and figure out what happened and stands ready to assist in any way.
MODERATOR: Can you wait for the white mike? Sorry.
QUESTION: Is there any update in – from NTSB?
MS. HARF: No update. Obviously, the NTSB is assisting; this is a Malaysian lead. But no, no update to the information.
MS. HARF: I would probably assume not if this is their investigation. But we all want to know what happened here and are all committed to helping.
MODERATOR: Okay. A question here on the second row.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Marie. Julio Marenco with NTN 24. Again, on Venezuela, there are two bills, two bipartisan bills, both in the House and the Senate. They both mandate the Administration sanctions against individuals related to the Venezuelan Government, not to the government itself, but those individuals who are involving the repression and the violations of human rights. I would like to know: What’s your take on that? And second, do you think the Congress is overstepping on the position of the White House and the Department of State, since you are still talking about dialogue, and they want to – there seems to be an appetite, a bipartisan appetite, to go on as soon as possible with sanctions?
MS. HARF: Well, I would say those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. We think there does need to be dialogue between the different parties on the ground – not between us and Venezuela, but between the different parties in Venezuela – to try and get a resolution here. That needs to happen, regardless of whether we impose some sort of cost here, right? So the Secretary said yesterday, when asked about this up on the Hill, that we’re looking at a range of options. We haven’t made any decisions yet. We’ll keep working with Congress on what that might look like. We’re also working with Congress on a number of other issues, more specifically on IMF issues related to Ukraine. So obviously, we think it’s important for Congress to act on these kind of issues, and would encourage them to do so.
On Venezuela, we’re still looking at our options. We think Congress has an important role to play, and we’ll keep discussing this with them. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less important for the parties to sit down together, possibly with a mediator, and start talking about how to move past this crisis that they’re in at the moment.
QUESTION: But what’s your take on the – what’s your take on the actual sanctions that are included in those bills? They asked --
MS. HARF: I’m probably not going to take a position on pending legislation. I rarely do that – sometimes I do, but I rarely do – in part because we’ll have these discussions privately with Congress to work together to see where this goes from here and what we can, as the United States, speak with one voice in terms of our policy here.
MODERATOR: Okay. I’m afraid we only have time for one last question. The gentleman in the back.
MS. HARF: Oh no, I’m sorry. I talk too much.
QUESTION: Thank you. Chris Kelly from a Tokyo newspaper. Just a quick follow-up on the natural gas question: In the TTIP negotiations, the European Union has been trying to convince the U.S. to liberalize. What is the Administration’s current stance on potential natural gas liberalization? And does the crisis in the Ukraine, is it having an influence on this policy? Thank you.
MS. HARF: Well, obviously, the TTIP negotiations are ongoing. And I know we’ve had a variety of conversations about a variety of issues there. I don’t have any update for you on anything specifically on what our policy has stood, where it’s stood in the negotiations. So I’m happy to check with our folks. I know it’s a fairly complicated issue, but I know we’re talking about it with the TTIP folks right now. I just don’t have any update on that.
I think we haven’t seen a disruption of – in terms of Russia-Ukraine yet, which, obviously, we think is a good thing. But look, it underscores the fact that we need to think very seriously and hard about this issue, and we need to talk with our EU partners, with other partners as well about where this issue goes from here, particularly in light of the negotiations. But I don’t have anything more specific than that on that for you.
Do you want – one more. We’ll do one more quick one. Quick one.
MODERATOR: Okay. The lady behind (inaudible).
MS. HARF: Quick one.
QUESTION: Thank you. Weiran Zhang. I’m from China News Service. I have couple of questions on China. And can you confirm the --
MS. HARF: Do – pick one. Pick one question. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: You almost didn’t get to ask one, so just pick one.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about Max Baucus, the new – ambassador’s new role in the U.S.-China relationship? Thank you.
MS. HARF: Well, we fully support former senator, now Ambassador Baucus as part of our broad strategic relationship with China, which, as we’ve said, is based on cooperation when we can and working together through difficult issues when we disagree. So he’s going to be a great ambassador. It’s important – the relationship’s an incredibly important one, and it’s not just about the ambassador; it’s about a whole host of other – from the President on down, who participate in this bilateral relationship. So he’s – I think we have full confidence that he’s going to be great in this role. He’s obviously very familiar with the issues and with the folks back here in Washington, who he’ll be working with on the bilateral relationship. So we’re excited for him to be there and looking forward to him getting started.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much, everybody.
MS. HARF: Thanks. Thank you for picking one.
# # #