QUESTION: Can I start with Armenia?
MS HARF: You can.
QUESTION: And I recognize that this is a White House decision but unfortunately, or perhaps conveniently, there is no White House briefing today.
MS HARF: (Laughter.) When the President travels there’s no briefing. They had a gaggle though on the plane.
QUESTION: Yes, I know. But it didn’t really answer the questions that I have.
MS HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: And that – so as is well known, when he was a candidate, the President made it a point to say that he would, while he was President, recognize that what happened in 1915 to the Armenians was, in fact – was a genocide. I realize he has one more year left in order to fulfill that pledge, but why this year, on the 100th anniversary, did he decide to once again not fulfill his pledge?
MS HARF: Well, Matt, and I’m sure this is what the White House said too, but we know there are some who I think were hoping to hear some different language this year. We certainly understand their perspective. Even as we believe that the approach we have taken in previous years remains the right one – and again, the approach we’re taking this year – both for acknowledging the past and also for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the future. So this is something that we feel is important.
The President has consistently stated his views about what happened in 1915 and, again, we know people wanted to hear – some people wanted to hear different language this year, and we are certainly aware of that.
QUESTION: Well, it seems that the people who wanted to hear different language this year were drowned out by the people that wanted no change, and as best as I can tell the people who want no change are Turkey, mainly. But I —
MS HARF: Well, I’m not going to generalize who feels what about this issue. We certainly understand the perspectives of people —
QUESTION: So does that mean —
MS HARF: — who feel different things.
QUESTION: Does that mean that the President actually personally – and I – again, I realize it’s kind of unfair to ask you this —
MS HARF: It’s okay.
QUESTION: — since this is a question mainly to be directed to the White House or the President himself.
MS HARF: It’s probably where I’m going to point you.
QUESTION: Does he think that what happened was a genocide?
MS HARF: I am happy to point you the White House, Matt.
QUESTION: The issue is that when you make a specific pledge like this as a candidate and then not – then you don’t follow through on it when you are, in fact – when you are elected, it calls into question to some the commitment of other things that the President, as a candidate or even as President, has said. We’ve seen a couple times where redlines have been crossed and there hasn’t been – the response has not been what was promised. Do you —
MS HARF: Well, I think you should look at each individual issue individually.
QUESTION: Okay. And I don’t want to conflate them all, but I mean can you understand why people who – people would look at this issue on Armenia when there was a specific pledge, and then use it – use the situation to call into question when the President says that, say, Iran won’t get a bomb – won’t get the nuclear bomb – a nuclear weapon on his watch?
MS HARF: Well, I certainly don’t believe that people should equate the two in any way. The President – and look, we all understand there are some who wanted to hear different language this year, and I do think we can expect that the President will issue a statement this year that marks the historical significance of the centennial, and as in past years, mourns the senseless loss of 1.5 million Armenian lives. So he will speak about this in some way, but I don’t think you should compare any of these issues. I think if you want to talk about Iran and the commitments the President’s made, we can talk about that separately.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t want to make it personal. I’m talking about the Administration. I mean, he pledged that his Administration would recognize what happened as genocide, and although there is one year left to go in his second term, are you – can you understand why people are upset about this?
MS HARF: I don’t think – well, I don’t understand —
QUESTION: Particularly —
MS HARF: — why people would compare it to other issues, like you did when it comes to Iran. We certainly understand that there are people who wanted to hear different language this year. Absolutely.
MS HARF: We understand that.
QUESTION: Can I try it a different way? Can I try it a different way?
MS HARF: Sure.
QUESTION: Was there a kind of – I mean, it sounds as if the position of successive administrations have kind of looked at this and decided not to call it a genocide for various means.
MS HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: Was there any kind of interagency route? Like, coming up to the centennial, was there any kind of interagency discussion of the position of the Administration? I mean, it sounds like despite the President’s pledge notwithstanding that it is not the position of this Administration that a genocide took place.
MS HARF: There are always conversations among agencies who play relevant roles here about these issues. Certainly, they are very important and we understand that. So I would say yes, there were discussions inside the interagency about what to say. That’s not unusual about any issue.
QUESTION: Not about what to say, but about, like, obviously if you classify something – when you call it that, you’re saying it. But it just sounds like this Administration does not consider what happened a genocide.
MS HARF: We have been very clear, consistently stating our view here. And I think you will hear the President in his statement marking the centennial speak very clearly about that.
QUESTION: I want to go back to something that you just said about trying to balance the historical record with current day concerns, regional concerns, ostensibly about security. The United States, as far as I can recall, never had this issue in calling the Holocaust what it was. And it doesn’t seem to have affected the U.S. relationship with Germany. Is the relationship with Turkey so fragile or so imperiled that something can’t be called what it is?
MS HARF: I’m just not going to compare those two events, Roz, in the way that you did. And I think we’ve said what we’re going to say on this. And I think you’ll hear more statements from the Administration on the anniversary itself. And I don’t have much more analysis of it to do for you today.
QUESTION: Can I ask you —
QUESTION: Can we move on?
QUESTION: So just a last one on this. So you would reject the idea that has been put out by some – the Armenian American community that the Administration is basically submitting itself to a gag order from the Turks? You would reject that?
MS HARF: I hadn’t seen that. But we make decisions on our own about what we say and how we talk about things. And I think you will hear the President speak very strongly about the historical fact that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. He has said that consistently and repeatedly, and I think you’ll hear that being said as well. We understand there are people who would like to hear some different language. We are certainly aware of that and are sensitive to it, but we think this is the best course.
QUESTION: Right. But the problem is that he’s also consistently – at least, before he became president – called it a genocide. He had one of his campaign surrogates, who is now the ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, record a video that asked the Armenian American community to vote for then Senator Obama precisely because he would not be the typical politician and would live up to his promise to do this one thing.
MS HARF: I understand your question. For questions about him specifically, for the President’s campaign certainly, I’m happy for you to ask the White House those questions.
QUESTION: All right. Do you know if this —
QUESTION: No, no, no, I just – did this issue come up yesterday in the meeting with Secretary Kerry and the Turkish foreign minister?
MS HARF: It did briefly, yes.
QUESTION: It did. And did the Secretary tell him what was going down?
MS HARF: I’m not going to have more details to share with you.
QUESTION: Do you know, in their public comments that they made here, the issue – the Secretary, at least, did not raise the issue of human rights, a crackdown on media freedoms in Turkey. Did that come up privately, do you know?
MS HARF: He – well, they discussed a number of issues. Maybe I’ll just do a readout and then —
MS HARF: — you can ask me follow-ups. Sorry. I think we just emailed this out, too. But —
MS HARF: — the Secretary and the foreign minister discussed a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including our efforts as members of the international coalition to defeat ISIL, our shared goal of seeking a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria that does not include Bashar al-Assad, the importance of European energy diversification, and our support for Ukrainian sovereignty in response to Russian aggression. The Secretary expressed U.S. support for Turkey-Armenia normalization and the importance of Turkey taking concrete steps to match its government’s statements on reconciliation with Armenia. They also spoke about ongoing events in Yemen, Libya, and Cyprus, and he said he looked forward to the NATO ministerial in Turkey next month, where they will discuss many of these issues.
QUESTION: Human rights?
MS HARF: I’m sorry, which – human rights in respect to what specifically?
QUESTION: Well, in respect to the crackdown that’s been going on in Turkey.
MS HARF: I think the Secretary referenced in his public comments towards the end where he said both of our democracies are best when we keep trying to work to improve them, and I think he was referencing some of those issues publicly in his remarks.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MS HARF: We can.
QUESTION: On this, are you on the same page with Turkey now regarding the train and equip program for the Syrian opposition?
MS HARF: Well, your question would indicate that we weren’t before, a notion I would reject.
QUESTION: That’s what the news reports said.
MS HARF: Well, I’m rejecting that notion. Let’s move on.
QUESTION: Can you —
MS HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: You go – well, I’ll go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Go ahead, and then I’ll go.