Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, August 11, 2014
2:09 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson
Red questions were asked by me, rest of questions by other colleagues:
Turkey, Elections, Erdoğan,
MS. HARF: Turkey.
QUESTION: Yesterday there were elections, and today kind of – they declared the results, and it looks like Prime Minister Erdogan is going to be the president. Do you have any reaction?
MS. HARF: We do. We congratulate the people of Turkey and President-elect Erdogan on this first direct popular election of a president. Also congratulate the two other candidates who fought a hard-fought race. Look forward to working with Prime Minister Erdogan in his new role as president and with whoever succeeds him as prime minister. Obviously, we are a friend and ally of Turkey and look forward to continuing our close relationship.
QUESTION: How did you find the conditions of the elections?
MS. HARF: Well, the OSCE monitoring mission put out a report – preliminary conclusions reached today noted the candidates were generally able to freely campaign, that freedoms of association and assembly were respected. Also noted that the use of official position by the prime minister as well as biased media coverage gave him a distinct advantage over the other candidates. I think the OSCE is going to release its full – or final report in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: So under circumstances, is – in light of this initial report, would you be able to characterize the elections as free, fair, and transparent at this point?
MS. HARF: I don’t think I have any more analysis to do of it for you at this point.
QUESTION: Can I just pursue that? Do you --
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the United States agree with that characterization that --
MS. HARF: Again, it’s just a preliminary report. We’re still looking at it.
QUESTION: -- that he had an advantage as the incumbent as it relates to --
MS. HARF: I don’t have further analysis to do. We’re still looking at it.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. been in touch with him since the election?
MS. HARF: I don’t know. I can check. Actually, let me see. I might have one thing on this. Expect the President to speak with him in the coming days.
QUESTION: Now, there is a lot of charges that the Erdogan election, on and of itself, is really a manifestation of creeping dictatorship. Are you concerned about that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any more analysis to do of the Turkish elections for you.
Syria, ISIS; Secretary Clinton's Criticism
QUESTION: Yesterday, I believe, Secretary Clinton gave an interview. And she stated that because the U.S. Government did not help moderate Syrian opposition, ISIS became much more powerful and spread. What would be your response to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I would note a few points. The first is that the U.S. has increased the scope and scale of our assistance to the moderate Syrian opposition, including announcements made last year and a request the President made of Congress this year to fund and authorize a train and equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition. That’s something we think is important, and we’ve continued to increase our efforts in that area.
Also, the Assad regime played a key role in ISIL’s rise. They allowed for a security situation where ISIL could grow in strength. The Syrian regime fostered the growth of terrorist networks; they facilitated the flow of al-Qaida foreign fighters; they – during the Iraq conflict specifically, the regime certainly has been aware and encouraged violent extremists’ transit through Syria to enter Iraq. So the regime has had a long history of helping these kind of terrorists foment unrest in Iraq. So that’s not something new or, certainly, unfortunately, confined to this conflict.
QUESTION: So just today, again, the former State Department Syria official Fred Hoff wrote a paper. And he was saying, basically, your half a billion aid to the moderate rebels would arrive as early as 2015, which is – he says, quote, about nothing that means nothing.
MS. HARF: He’s entitled to his opinion. We think that we have provided assistance to the moderate opposition in an increasing scope and scale. Again, that’s why we announced a train and equip mission just several months ago and want that to get there as soon as possible. It does require congressional action, though, and we’ve seen how willing – Congress has been willing to act on a whole host of things. But certainly, we think they should act quickly on this.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed in what the former Secretary Clinton said?
MS. HARF: Am I disappointed?
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that she was actually quite critical of your foreign policy?
MS. HARF: I think Secretary Clinton served in this Administration for a very long time and worked on very tough issues with many people in this building. And look, she is the – would be the first to say there are no easy answers.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MS. HARF: She’s looked at these issues closer than many people, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from her in the coming days, weeks, months. And so, obviously, we’ll have those conversations when she does.
QUESTION: But she made an assertion that, basically, your policy is ad hoc – I mean, you don’t have a strategy.
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think she used those terms.
QUESTION: It’s pick and choose – I mean, she didn’t use those words. But you mentioned –
MS. HARF: Right. Those weren’t her – those weren’t her words, though.
MS. HARF: And look, she played a key role in our strategy when she was at the State Department. So she was deeply engaged in these issues from this building when she was Secretary of State. She, more than anyone, knows how complicated and complex they are and that there are no easy answers.
QUESTION: And she also says --
QUESTION: But was it a decisive role?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: She played a role, but was it a decisive --
MS. HARF: She played – I would say Secretary Clinton played a very formidable role in our foreign policy, yes.
QUESTION: And don’t you think that these recent remarks of her is a very serious allegation about your Administration policy for the last three years?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s all of our – I mean, she’s been a key part of that policy, to be clear. And look, it’s healthy and good to have discussions and debates about such important issues. We certainly believe that here internally, inside the Administration. That would absolutely apply to these comments as well. So look, no one has all the knowledge on this or all the analysis on this, and that’s why it’s important to have this conversation.
We believe that our policy we’re pursuing is one intended to increase our assistance, to increase support to the moderate opposition, even given a very challenging operating environment. So, again, this is an ongoing conversation we have, certainly, inside the Administration today.
QUESTION: Is her statement related to the upcoming presidential elections, do you think?
MS. HARF: I think you can ask former Secretary Clinton’s staff what her intentions are.
QUESTION: Well, she said that the Obama Administration’s foreign policy doctrine was, quote, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” What do you have to say to that? I mean --
MS. HARF: Okay. I don’t think I have much more analysis to do on that. Look, I think we’ve made a few principles clear since the President came into office and Secretary Clinton was here, whether it was rebuilding alliances, whether it was investing in international multilateral organizations – so when you look at a conflict like Ukraine or Iran, we have coalitions behind us, backing us up – building international coalitions to fight shared threats – I think you’ve seen us do that across the board – but also not hesitate to act unilaterally when we believe our national security interests are challenged. So there’s a number of principles I think that underpin our foreign policy and national security since we’ve been here. We believe very strongly in them, and again, don’t have much more analysis to do than that, I think.
QUESTION: Are there any regular communications between the current Secretary of State and the former Secretary of State?
MS. HARF: I know they speak. I can check and see how regular it is, but I know that Secretary Kerry very much valued Secretary Clinton’s advice and counsel not only when he’s been here but before, when he was still in the Senate. I don’t have much more than that.
QUESTION: Just one more on this. You have been elaborating that you have been increasing your help to the moderate.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: On the other hand, just last May, Syrian moderate opposition officially asked from White House and the Pentagon, in May, increasing the weapons and the (inaudible) to fight ISIS.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And they’ve got nothing.
MS. HARF: And the President submitted a request to Congress to train and equip the Syrian opposition. So we’re waiting on --
QUESTION: And it will arrive some time in 2015, right?
MS. HARF: Waiting on Congress to act.
QUESTION: In the meantime, ISIS and the regime are in Syria --
MS. HARF: No. In the meantime, we are continuing to support the moderate opposition, but on this one piece of it we’re waiting on Congress to act.
QUESTION: And everybody knows that --
MS. HARF: We’re going to move on, though. We’re going to move on.
No, Lara, go ahead.
QUESTION: That’s okay. Do you have one more question?
QUESTION: Yes, I have one more. And while – I mean, you are giving a picture here and you are defending your U.S. policy, but rest of the world can see that the Syrian moderate opposition is being kicked out from Syria by the al-Qaida, ISIS, and the regime.
MS. HARF: Well, a few things you said there just aren’t accurate. First of all, the Syrian opposition is alive and well in Syria. They face a very challenging environment. They have fighting on two fronts – against terrorists like Nusrah and ISIS, and also against the regime.
Also, when you use the term “the rest of the world,” I don’t have any idea what that means. We have consistently worked with our international partners on Syria, whether it’s to provide humanitarian access, whether it’s to provide humanitarian support, whether it’s to get the chemical weapons out of Syria, which are now being destroyed somewhere else.
So look, we’re working with our international partners on this. But again, there is no easy solution here. It is a very challenging situation. We have put in place a policy that we believe has increased the support to the opposition throughout time, helping them grow, but in the absence of a political solution here – which we believe is the only ultimate solution – we’re in a very tough place right now. So we will keep supporting the moderate opposition, keep trying to get humanitarian access in, and keep pushing for a political solution. But none of those things are easy and no one should say otherwise, I don’t think.
QUESTION: Just to follow up. A second ago you said Assad played a key role in allowing the rise of ISIS. Would you say the same for al-Maliki?
MS. HARF: No, I would not.
QUESTION: Why not?
MS. HARF: Because I wouldn’t. Because it’s completely different. ISIS started really gaining strength in Syria when Assad a, facilitated their rise, helped facilitate their movement into Iraq, and gave them a security environment in which they could operate. Prime Minister Maliki has been fighting a very serious battle against them in his own country. Yes, he could’ve governed more inclusively, but that’s very different than allowing a terrorist group to flourish and indeed supporting them.
QUESTION: Marie, you’re saying he facilitated their movement from Syria to Iraq. I mean, did he provide them with a truck and transportations, and things like this?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics for you than that, Said.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that the Syrian regime was actually fighting ISIL in Syria?
MS. HARF: Look, I know that they supported their rise and they helped facilitate them into Iraq. I know that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Argentina?
QUESTION: And one more. What do you think Iran’s role in terms of ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Syria?
MS. HARF: Well, we know that Iran has supported the Syrian regime in Syria. So that’s been the crux of our concern there.
QUESTION: And the U.S. Treasury Department issued statement in February saying directly that operatives in Tehran are facilitating fighters and funds into al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Syria.
MS. HARF: Okay. I can check with Treasury. I can check on the specifics, if those were private citizens or something else. I’ll check.
QUESTION: Because the – under the knowledge of the Tehran regime, that’s what --
MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I’ll check with my Treasury colleagues.