Associated Press reporter Matt Lee took a swipe at the Obama administration’s reluctance to outline any specific actions against terror group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
Lee made the snarky remarks after losing patience with State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf during the department’s daily press briefing on Tuesday.
Another reporter was questioning Harf on reports that Qatar has financed ISIL, while Harf said the department has no evidence that any governments are supporting the group.
Lee interrupted to ask why, if there was no evidence of other governments aiding ISIL, Obama made the following comments in his remarks on the execution of American journalist James Foley by ISIL: “From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies.”
“You’re reading something into that statement that I don’t think is actually there,” Harf replied.
“Well, I’m reading into this that you’re actually going to do something,” Lee shot back, laughing as he continued to question what else the president could have been implying.
Harf insisted that Obama’s call to action was not a veiled accusation aimed at other countries, saying, “What the president was referring to, and I have it right in front of me here as well, is that all of the countries need to come together to fight ISIL in any way we can. You’re linking it to a specific piece and think — and reading into it an accusation that I don’t actually think is there.”
Harf and Lee continued to spar over the comments for several minutes, with Lee demanding, “If you’re already happy with what the people and governments around the Middle East are doing to extract the cancer, why would he say it?”
“I’m not trying to be confrontational,” said Lee. “I’m just trying to figure out, if you need all the governments to work together–do you think that they’re not all working together now?”
“Clearly there’s more we can all do to fight ISIL,” Harf responded, but said that Obama’s statement “was not intended for any specific country.”