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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - July 25, 2017

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 18:39
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 25, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • DEPARTMENT
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
  • IRAN
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
  • AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN
  • NORTH KOREA
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • DEPARTMENT
  • MEXICO

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:30 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you? Hi, Said. Good to see you. One second.

    Okay, good to be back with you. Happy Tuesday. Hope you’re all having a great day.

    QUESTION: It’s like 20 degrees in here. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Usually it’s a little high. It’s under the lights it gets hot, so it feels nice to have it a little cooler.

    QUESTION: Brisk.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I want to start out by telling you sort of a theme week that the administration is having, and they’re calling it “American Heroes Week.” And so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk with you a little bit about the terrific work that so many of our colleagues are doing here at the State Department, and also USAID. So bear with me here; it’s a little lengthy.

    American Heroes Week – the administration is bringing attention to the work that so many Americans are doing to help others around the world. In my time at the State Department, I’ve been impressed by the hard work and the service of Foreign Service officers and civil servants at the State Department and also USAID, and I want to highlight some of that work for you.

    Around the world, the Department of State and USAID are leading efforts to fight disease, feed the hungry, and reduce instability, all of which makes us safer here at home. America’s proactive and decisive leadership is saving lives by mitigating public health crises such as the spread of Ebola and Zika viruses, and staving off famine as the world faces the worst food security crisis since World War II.

    When I was a reporter, I saw firsthand the dedication of USAID staffers and its pride that they felt when I visited Sudan in 2004. I remember the pride that I felt when I first saw the slogan “From the American People” stamped on a bag of wheat that was distributed in South Sudan and also Darfur.

    The United States also remember – remains a leader in global health, working daily to drive advances in the prevention, the care, and the treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculous, and malaria, while saving millions of preventable diseases like cholera and polio. In the last 15 years, our government-funded interventions have contributed to a 45 percent decrease in maternal deaths and a 51 percent decrease in deaths of children under five.

    We also support U.S. citizens abroad. In the past eight months, we’ve provided emergency assistance to or helped coordinate travel to safe locations for U.S. citizens who are in South Sudan, in Russia, in Belgium, Peru, New Zealand, and other places in the wake of natural disasters or civil unrest. In 2016, we assisted 5,461 international adoptions – I know how happy those families are to have those little babies – and we enrolled 3,821 children in a program that’s aimed at preventing international parental child abduction.

    We support the security of U.S. borders while also facilitating legitimate travel. In fiscal 2016, we issued non-immigrant visas to more than 10 million foreign nationals to study, visit, and do business in the United States. International visitors contribute more than $240 billion to the U.S. economy, supporting more than 1 million U.S. jobs.

    As many people will note during the summer travel season, we help Americans see the world. Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017, we’ve issued 15.6 million passports for U.S. citizens and nationals in order to travel abroad. If a storm could disrupt your vacation plans or if you get sick from drinking the water or anything else, we alert you to our Travel Warnings, the alerts, and country-specific information. That is always a good reminder that regardless of wherever you’re traveling, go to our State Department website and let us know where you will be. In the case of an emergency, we’ll be able to reach you, and you can reach us.

    Lifesaving and tireless work of our diplomats and aid workers embodies America’s dedication to creating a safer and more prosperous world. Our assistance abroad is a testament to the generosity and the goodwill of the American people, and I’d like to thank my colleagues here at the State Department for doing such incredible work around the world.

    And with that, I will gladly take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Can I just ask, though, this American Heroes Week and the sentiments that you just expressed --

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- are an administration-wide – this is an administration-held sentiment?

    MS NAUERT: That is correct.

    QUESTION: So if the State Department and its employees do so much good work, why does the administration want to slash the budget by a third and cut thousands of jobs?

    MS NAUERT: The administration believes that it has to do more with less, and that is part of it. We’re striving to become more efficient. Part of that is taking a look at the reorganization. But when all of this is said and done, we will still remain the largest and most generous leader in humanitarian response around the world, and that will not change.

    QUESTION: Okay. I guess if you say so. The – I think that there are probably people in this building and elsewhere who disagree with you. But anyway, let’s move on to --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think everybody can agree we will still remain --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- the most generous donor of any country around the world.

    QUESTION: Can I ask you just a – very briefly two things about the Secretary?

    MS NAUERT: Of course, yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: One, is it – is it true or false that he’s thinking about resigning or leaving the administration early?

    MS NAUERT: That is false.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: We have spoken with the Secretary. The Secretary has been very clear he intends to stay here at the State Department. We have a lot of work that is left to be done ahead of us. He recognizes that. He’s deeply engaged in that work. We have meetings scheduled. He has meetings scheduled for the rest of the week here in Washington. He does, however, serve at the pleasure of the President, just as any cabinet official would.

    QUESTION: Okay. And so that means you spoke to him today? Because this seems to be gaining new life every hour.

    MS NAUERT: Well – well, I know everyone loves --

    QUESTION: So have – was it recent that --

    MS NAUERT: Everyone loves to report on palace intrigue stories. The Secretary is committed to staying, and I’ll leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Right. But you talked to him today? Because --

    MS NAUERT: I have not seen him today. The Secretary is out for travel for a few days.

    QUESTION: Yeah. No, no, I understand that. But I’m just wondering, that leads into my second question, which is, if you did speak to him today or someone did, did he have any thoughts about the speech that the President made to the Boy Scouts last – yesterday?

    MS NAUERT: So the Secretary, as you well know, was very involved in the Boy Scouts, and he was out there on Friday speaking to the group. The Secretary is aware of the President’s comments. I think when all is said and done, those Boy Scouts, what they will remember from the Jamboree in West Virginia is that the President showed up, and that’s a pretty incredible thing that the President went there. Other presidents have as well, but for the President to show up, that’s a big honor for these young boys. And if anyone has any questions or concerns about the President’s remarks, I would leave it for the parents to characterize those remarks, not me from the State Department.

    QUESTION: No, I’m not asking you to characterize them at all.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But the Secretary didn’t have an issue, a problem with it, given his – given his past experience with the Boy Scouts?

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that the Secretary had invited the President out himself personally --

    QUESTION: To the Jamboree?

    MS NAUERT: To the Jamboree.

    QUESTION: Knowing that he wasn’t going to be there? That the Secretary wasn’t going --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t see that as being an issue.

    QUESTION: No, no, no, no, I’m just curious.

    MS NAUERT: I mean, the Secretary went when he was able to go, and the President went when he was able to go.

    QUESTION: Okay. But he --

    MS NAUERT: And that’s – I think that’s the takeaway.

    QUESTION: But he did not – the Secretary did not express any opinion one way or another on the – what the President said?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Could I just follow up on --

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on that issue?

    QUESTION: -- on the Secretary?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, before we go to Israel-Palestinian stuff, let’s clear this --

    QUESTION: No, no. On the Secretary. I want to ask you about the Secretary.

    MS NAUERT: You have a question about this?

    QUESTION: Of course.

    MS NAUERT: All right, Said. Let’s go.

    QUESTION: Well, according to --

    QUESTION: He’s a man of many interests.

    QUESTION: I mean, it’s related.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: I ask about everything. So it is related. According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the Zionist Organization of America called on the Secretary to resign because of the Human Rights report, because there is a passage in the report --

    QUESTION: Terrorism report.

    QUESTION: On the – I’m sorry. The terrorism report. Thank you, Matt. On the terrorism report of last week, because they say there is a passage where the Secretary was – or the report says that exacerbating the situation in the past, that the Palestinians have no hope, that there is increased of settlements, and so on. And in fact, they called the report that – they quote, “bigoted, biased, anti-Semitic, Israel-hating, and error-ridden.” Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So what you’re referring to is the counter terror report that the State Department puts out.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: This is something that State Department puts out every year --

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MS NAUERT: -- as mandated by Congress, and then that gets delivered to Congress.

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MS NAUERT: So in that report we consistently highlight terror attacks perpetuated against Israelis – and I’m just talking about the Israel portion – because this is a worldwide report. Those terror attacks that are perpetuated against Israelis by Hamas and others. There is no justification – and we will say that time and time again – there is no justification for any acts of terrorism. The Secretary of State is staying here, he will remain here, and that will not change.

    QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t really have a comment on an organization calling for his resignation?

    MS NAUERT: I – look, there are --

    QUESTION: Has he been --

    MS NAUERT: There are --

    QUESTION: Has he been made aware of this?

    MS NAUERT: There are organizations around the world who will take issue with certain things that the State Department does.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: And so I’m not going to get into commenting or characterizing every single one of them.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Can I get back to the beginning? How are you? It’s Michele.

    MS NAUERT: Hi. How are you? Nice to see you, Michele.

    QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the reform plan, since you’ve said he’s – he’s here to work on the reform plans? There’s been a lot of rumors out there from moving consular services to DHS to closing the war crimes office --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, let me stop you right there.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Because Consular Affairs, which is a huge part of what we do here – as you know, they help adjudicate visas. It’s an important part of the work, and that’s one of the things that the Secretary has said, that he believes the State Department is the rightful home for Consular Affairs. There’s been some inaccurate reporting on that, that it would move to the Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary intends to have it stay here.

    QUESTION: Okay. Are there other – there’s a lot of rumors out there around a lot of different offices.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. No, no, and that’s why I want to correct them.

    QUESTION: Can you give us --

    MS NAUERT: So let me just say, in any case when you have questions about a story, you don’t need to go ahead and just report it without check – and I’m not speaking to you personally. Just as a general matter, please feel free to email us, to call us, so that we can try to set the record straight and make sure that you have the most accurate and up-to-date information. I’m seeing too many stories out there these days that are inconsistent with that, but go right ahead.

    QUESTION: And can you give us – so can you give us an update on when he expects to have this reorg done and some timing of that and how many jobs or offices he’s expecting to close down? Is there any --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So overall, the reorganization is – the redesign – reorganization, redesign, whatever you want to call it – is underway. We’re looking at a lot of different departments. There are a lot of functions that are handled here at the State Department. My understanding is that September 15th, I believe it is – correct me if I’m wrong, guys – September 15th we have to provide a report to the Office of Management and Budget. And there will be some information that will be submitted to them. And again, jump in if I’m wrong here, because we haven’t talked about this in a few days. But that is something that OMB will then have an opportunity to take a look at.

    There are steering committees that have been put together here at the State Department that head up five different components or five different areas. Let me try to find what exactly each one is for you. Okay. So they’re working groups, actually. Overseas operations is one; foreign assistance operations is number two; human capital planning is another; IT platforms; and also administrative services. So we have asked our employees, not just here in Washington but around the world, to take part in that. We’ve put together some working groups. People can provide us information and we’ll figure out best practices and how we should change things to alter the State Department, to keep it in line with the 21st century.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on that, Michele?

    QUESTION: That’s okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: So my understanding is that there are about a dozen people working in each of those working groups. So is it their full time job now to be working on the restructure of the State Department? And if so, who’s filling their daily – what they were doing daily before that?

    MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you on that. I don't believe that that is the case. I believe that they are also involved in their existing projects as well. But let me get back to you, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on our redesign here?

    QUESTION: On Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on redesign?

    QUESTION: Russia?

    QUESTION: Slightly – slightly related to the Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: Just hold on. Just raise your hand if you have anything else on the redesign. We’ll move on.

    QUESTION: -- to Matt’s questions about the Secretary though?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: You said he was traveling today.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: His public schedule said no available appointments today. It said the same thing yesterday. Last Thursday, it listed nothing, and we know he was on Capitol Hill briefing the House. He was at the Pentagon with the President. Can you say why we’re not being told where he is?

    MS NAUERT: Well, he does have the ability to go away for a few days on his own.

    QUESTION: So he’s just on vacation right now?

    MS NAUERT: Just taking a little time off. He’s got a lot of work. He just came back from that mega-trip overseas, as you all well know. Many of you were there with the G-20 and his other travel as well. So he’s entitled to take a few days himself.

    QUESTION: Of course. I don't think anyone is arguing against that. But why not just say he’s on vacation then?

    MS NAUERT: I don't know what is standard for secretaries of state, how they actually list private days. I can check to see what the prior arrangements were. Matt Lee probably knows, as our State Department historian. But that I’m not aware of.

    QUESTION: That’s pretty standard.

    MS NAUERT: That’s pretty standard? Okay.

    QUESTION: But a public event like on Friday, as we’ve discussed, is not.

    MS NAUERT: Understood. Understood. Okay.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s move on there. Hi, there.

    QUESTION: Hi, Heather. So Secretary Tillerson said of the Senate bill that he had concerns about limiting his flexibility, the Russia sanctions bill.

    MS NAUERT: You’re talking about Russia sanctions?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The administration has kind of signaled that it’s supportive, I guess, of the House version. What is the Secretary’s position on the House bill?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’ll say this again, and I’m sorry to disappoint you with something I’ve said many times.

    QUESTION: Right, but he has commented on the Senate.

    MS NAUERT: Pending legislation – and so that would be considered pending legislation. It’s something that has not – that is still in draft form, is my understanding. So I’m not going to get ahead of that and I’m also not going to comment on any pending legislation. But the Secretary, I think, has been firm about sanctions on Russia. We’ve talked a lot here about the issues facing Ukraine, how we expect and we intend, fully intend, those sanctions to remain in place until Russia stops the provocative actions that caused those sanctions to be placed in the first place in Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Do his comments about the Senate bill that he made a month ago still stand?

    MS NAUERT: I think that’s for the Secretary to speak to himself. I don't want to get ahead of the Secretary on that. I know he has remained concerned; he has followed the situation in Ukraine very closely and feels that Russia needs to do a lot more before we’re going to – if we were to ever change something related to that.

    QUESTION: And then just very quickly on Russia saying yesterday or earlier today that it – almost telegraphing that it wants to get involved in the GCC issue. Is it something the U.S. welcomes?

    MS NAUERT: I think – first what I would say about GCC is that we hope that all the sides will get together and have a meeting and sit down face-to-face. We’re still waiting for that to happen, and think that that could help advance the prospects for a resolution. That has not happened yet. We hope that that will happen sometime soon. If Russia can play a role – and by the way, Kuwait is still the technical mediator of sorts holding that – if Russia can play a role in helping to bring the sides to the table, I think we would welcome that. We might be skeptical of whether they’d be able to do that or not, but we would certainly welcome that if anyone were – be able to help bring those sides together.

    QUESTION: On the Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- there has been reports that the President has taken the Secretary out of the Iran deal certification process. Do you have any comment on those reports?

    MS NAUERT: We have been incredibly, as you all know --

    QUESTION: Right, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: -- very, very involved throughout --

    QUESTION: I understand.

    MS NAUERT: -- that entire process.

    QUESTION: It has been a State Department thing, but now, it seems that --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. And that has not changed.

    QUESTION: -- the President wants to change policy --

    MS NAUERT: Well, this has --

    QUESTION: -- and he --

    MS NAUERT: This has not changed.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: The State Department will remain just as involved as it always has in the Iran situation.

    QUESTION: Right. So do you expect that in three months, the Secretary of State will either certify or not certify --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going --

    QUESTION: -- that the Iranians are doing --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of what may happen over the next three months. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: But what if we just --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Michele.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: I mean, I think his question kind of went back to what we had been asking before about the Secretary’s role vis-a-vis the White House. Is he happy with the amount of freedom he has to make the decisions that he wants to make at this point?

    MS NAUERT: So I would say that this is a deliberative process. The Secretary, as do all other Cabinet officials, meets with the President and the President’s National Security advisors and Cabinet members. That is something that’s normal, that’s customary. They sit down; they have a healthy dialogue and conversations about the heaviest and the weightiest foreign policy issues. Sometimes, people may – and I’m not saying this as it pertains to Iran, but in general – they may agree, they may not agree on different situations. And that is what’s healthy in a democracy, to have those conversations. Ultimately, the President is in charge of this country. He decides. He’s the boss. And I’ll just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Okay. And since we’re on Russia, if you don’t mind, in talking about sanctions you always – or I would say you generally specify that the Secretary is committed to these sanctions over Ukraine.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: What about his stance on the penalties on Russia over meddling in the U.S. election?

    MS NAUERT: To my knowledge, nothing has changed on that, in terms of that. I think the Secretary has been clear in his position that Russia meddled in the election. I know you’ve asked me a lot about that particular issue, and we continue to have concerns about it.

    So anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: But one of those --

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: Yeah. One of those penalties is the --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- is – was the seizure of the two compounds --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and that is up for negotiation with the Russians to actually return them.

    MS NAUERT: Well, that actually would not be considered a sanction.

    QUESTION: Well, I said penalties.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, okay. So regarding the dachas – and everyone is so obsessed with the dachas – but regarding that, those conversations are ongoing. As you know, Mr. Shannon here – Tom Shannon – has been engaged in conversations with his counterpart. No decisions have been made on that whatsoever. And so I can’t get ahead of what’s going to happen, but we do know that they were involved in some nefarious activities here in the United States. And we had the right and the ability to – Russia still owns them, by the way; I want to be clear about that – but we had the ability to have people leave from that facility and contain those facilities because of activities that were taking place there.

    QUESTION: You know who is the most obsessed about the dachas?

    MS NAUERT: Who?

    QUESTION: The Russians.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, of course they are. I mean, when you talk to the Russians --

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MS NAUERT: -- and they have conversations, you --

    QUESTION: But it’s not us.

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. Yeah, well that --

    QUESTION: Not us who are obsessed about it.

    MS NAUERT: You’re – that is a fair point, Matt. But when you talk to the Russians about things like civilian deaths in Syria, it seems that they often want to talk about dachas more.

    Okay. Anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan? Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: The Ukraine?

    QUESTION: One on Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Hold on, Nazira. Let me come back to you. The Ukraine. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So --

    MS NAUERT: How you doing, Josh?

    QUESTION: Good. How are you? So Ambassador Volker was in eastern Ukraine on his first trip to that region. He gave some interviews to international media while he was there. Do you have any details on what was accomplished during his visit and any kind of timeframe for a decision on whether to provide lethal weaponry to the rivals there?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, okay. So regarding the dachas – and everyone is so obsessed with the dachas – but regarding that, those conversations are ongoing. As you know, Mr. Shannon here – Tom Shannon – has been engaged in conversations with his counterpart. No decisions have been made on that whatsoever. And so I can’t get ahead of what’s going to happen, but we do know that they were involved in some nefarious activities here in the United States. And we had the right and the ability to – Russia still owns them, by the way; I want to be clear about that – but we had the ability to have people leave from that facility and contain those facilities because of activities that were taking place there.

    QUESTION: You know who is the most obsessed about the dachas?

    MS NAUERT: Who?

    QUESTION: The Russians.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, of course they are. I mean, when you talk to the Russians --

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MS NAUERT: -- and they have conversations, you --

    QUESTION: But it’s not us.

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. Yeah, well that --

    QUESTION: Not us who are obsessed about it.

    MS NAUERT: You’re – that is a fair point, Matt. But when you talk to the Russians about things like civilian deaths in Syria, it seems that they often want to talk about dachas more.

    Okay. Anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan? Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: The Ukraine?

    QUESTION: One on Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Hold on, Nazira. Let me come back to you. The Ukraine. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So --

    MS NAUERT: How you doing, Josh?

    QUESTION: Good. How are you? So Ambassador Volker was in eastern Ukraine on his first trip to that region. He gave some interviews to international media while he was there. Do you have any details on what was accomplished during his visit and any kind of timeframe for a decision on whether to provide lethal weaponry to the rivals there?

    MS NAUERT: So Special Representative Volker – I’m not sure where he is at this hour, right now, but – spent time in the eastern part of Ukraine. As many of you know, that’s considered a fairly dangerous area. We’ve seen a real uptick in violence recently. Thirteen or more Ukrainian soldiers have been killed as a result of that Russian-led attacks on those soldiers.

    One of the things that our special representative did, he went out with the OSCE monitors. They are the people on the ground who are monitoring the situation. We have continued to have very serious concerns. We have talked about this from the podium about the monitors’ ability to do their jobs. They are the eyes and ears on the ground to be able to assess and give us good reporting about the situation there.

    So he went out with the OSCE monitors to see, unfortunately, just how dangerous their job is right now. I know that’s one of the things that he was doing. He wanted to start to get the ground truth. His job will be trying to bring the parties from the Normandy format back to trying to negotiate something so that we could get closer to adhering to the Minsk accords. I don’t have any readouts for particular meetings with you, but when Mr. Volker comes back, I’ll see if I can get him back in here to give you all a good – a better debrief.

    QUESTION: And on the arms for Ukraine?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So there was a BBC report headline. Sometimes the headline writers – you all would know this – will get ahead of the story. So there was a headline that implied that we were in the process of doing what you just described. We are not there yet. Let me take out the word “yet.” We are not there. The United States has not provided defensive weapons nor have we ruled it out to provide to the Ukrainians.

    Okay. All right. Anything else on Ukraine?

    QUESTION: On Russia?

    QUESTION: On Russia?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s talk Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: As we are approaching the end of July, do you have any update on the policy review? Why is it delayed?

    MS NAUERT: This is something – gosh, we’ve been in Afghanistan for 16 years now. It’s something that I know the administration cares deeply about. I know General McMaster, General Mattis, and others care deeply about this matter. It is a complicated situation in Afghanistan. The policy review is still underway. It will be underway until they make a determination for the best way forward.

    There are other reviews we’ve talked about that are still underway as well, including Pakistan and others, and so I don’t want to get ahead of that. I’m not going to say when this is going to happen. It could happen soon, but it may take longer as well.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan --

    QUESTION: What tools does the Secretary envision to turn around the conflict in Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think one of the things that the Secretary feels very strongly about is trying to develop – get to a place where we can have some sort of a peace process. And that means actually sitting down and talking with members of the Taliban and starting to facilitate that kind of dialogue.

    Ultimately, like in many situations in many other countries, military options or our military strategy is not necessarily going to win those countries and put peace back together. It’s part of it. It’s part of it. But in the long run, you have to bring both sides to the table or multiple sides to the table together to determine their future.

    QUESTION: So am I reading correctly he’s not pro the military option?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not – I mean, that’s a piece of it. Of course, the military option is a piece of it. But the Secretary of State is not going to advocate or is not going to work on General – on Mr. McMaster’s behalf or on General Mattis’s behalf. That is their piece of it to decide at the Department of Defense and as the National Security Advisor. Our piece of it to work on is more from the diplomacy standpoint and humanitarian assistance.

    QUESTION: And a follow-up on --

    MS NAUERT: Okay?

    QUESTION: On the Korean Peninsula --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Nazira. Hi, nice to see you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: She’s our Afghan journalist. So welcome back.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much. Nazira Azim Karimi. Now I’m working as a independent journalist.

    You might know about yesterday’s – yesterday big attack in Afghanistan, so many people has been killed and injured, and Taliban took the responsibility. On the other side, Defense Secretary General Mattis also not satisfied about Pakistan pressure toward the Haqqani Network and Taliban. And also, Pentagon spokesman said that $50 million will not deliver to Pakistan; Pakistan supposed to bring more pressure to Taliban and Haqqani Network.

    Do you have any comment about it?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Well, first, let me start out by talking about the attack in Kabul --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: -- July 24th, took place yesterday, that killed at least 35 people and wounded many, many more. We want to send our condolences to the family of – the families of those who were killed and also those who were injured. Afghanistan is a good friend of the United States. That is something – you all have experienced some terrible, terrible terror attacks in your country, and our hearts go out to you and your people. I know your family has been affected by this as well --

    QUESTION: Sure.

    MS NAUERT: -- and that is something we care deeply about.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: The latest attack targeted civilians and public servants. My understanding is that one of our guards, a local Afghan, was killed in the blast as well, so our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family. We’re aware that members of the Taliban have claimed responsibility. We know that the Taliban has become more dangerous and more deadly and has been involved in the kinds of attacks that perhaps previously they have not been involved with, and that remains a major concern of ours.

    QUESTION: So you’re optimistic about peace process with the Taliban, although they show every day negative --

    MS NAUERT: I think it’s premature to say that, but when we can get to the point where we might be able to help facilitate along with Afghanistan to get people to sit down and talk together, then that would certainly be a step in the right direction. Until then, we will continue to support our Afghan partners.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Israel-Palestine regarding the --

    MS NAUERT: Sure. Okay. Wait, you have one on Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Yeah. What do you say to critics who say you don’t have enough people working in the State Department to even pursue a peace process?

    MS NAUERT: So we – we have a wonderful lady, Ambassador Alice Wells, who has come over to lead for the time being. And I think a fault of ours here from this podium is that we’ve not done enough to talk about the people we’ve put in place to do the good work. And some of that has kind of gotten pushed by the sidelines because we’ve had so much going on with the DPRK and Russia and all of that. Alice Wells – we were thrilled to have her come back here at the State Department. She had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Jordan and numerous other places. So she has remained very engaged in the process. She’s a terrific leader. We’re looking forward to having her a part of that. She has taken on for – at least for the time being the duties of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    And so these issues – these will still be addressed. We still have a team of people. I met with three or four of our Afghan-related people today to talk about some of the policy issues, and so they’re engaged and they’re working hard at it. It’s something they care passionately about. It’s something I know they’re very invested in, so that has not gone away. That won’t go away.

    QUESTION: Even --

    QUESTION: So the office – the office is still there and has not been disbanded? And if it hasn’t been, why would the previous holder of that job do a on-the-record interview with – and say that the entire office has been closed down?

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, we believe in free speech. You’re referring to Laurel Miller. I’ve met with Laurel and she did some fantastic work here. She’s entitled to go out and talk to reporters about her time and concerns and all that --

    QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re saying that what she said was flat-out wrong.

    MS NAUERT: Well, no. We have Alice Wells, who’s in position. She’s in the position to handle the SRAP duties for now and for handling that bureau.

    QUESTION: If I walk downstairs to the --

    MS NAUERT: I haven’t walked down there lately. I don’t know what the status is of that office.

    QUESTION: -- and knock on the door, will someone answer?

    MS NAUERT: Here is what is important, and I know people are obsessed with --

    QUESTION: Or are there movers in there?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. I know people are obsessed with, “Are you shutting down this bureau? Are you shutting down that bureau? Are you shutting down the global office of whatever, whatever?” All of those functions will still remain here at the State Department. That is not changing. A different person may handle it. In some instances, it may get combined with an existing bureau. That doesn’t mean that the priority goes away and that doesn’t mean that the functions of that job or its duties will go away. I want to be very clear about that. There’s been a lot of reporting on that. Those functions will still remain here at the State Department, okay, and that’s all I’m going to have for you on that. Okay.

    QUESTION: Will the – those who’ve been the staff work for the ambassador now?

    QUESTION: Given the fact --

    QUESTION: Does Laurel’s staff now work for the ambassador? Is the staff still there?

    MS NAUERT: I – let me get back to you on that. I know maybe there have been a couple departures, but for the most part, the people I see every day handling Afghanistan and Pakistan and India issues are all the same.

    QUESTION: Given the fact that Alice Wells is both the acting special rep for the office of Afghanistan SRAP and she’s also acting for the SCA, what is the – in the future, will the office reporting to SCA bureau?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, what was the last part? In the future --

    QUESTION: Yeah. What is the plan? Would the special – SRAP be reporting to the bureau of SCA?

    MS NAUERT: So my understanding is that she will be working on both issues right now. She’s hard at work. She was here when the Afghan girls arrived to meet them at the airport – just one small example. She remains very passionate and engaged in these issues. Where that title of special representative goes in the long term, I’m not sure just yet. We have 70-some special representatives here at the State Department. Some are congressionally mandated; others are not. But what I can tell you is that every single function of a special representative of this or that, all of those issues will still be addressed. We’re not going to stop caring about Afghanistan, for example, if there’s not a special representative. The functions will still be done. I don’t think I can say that more strongly or more clearly than that.

    QUESTION: Turkey.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s talk about North Korea. Hi.

    QUESTION: Couple more on Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea – on the North Korean travel ban --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and that if you violated the travel prohibition to the North Korea, what are the specific details of penalties?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t want to get ahead of that just yet. Let me get back with you on what the exact penalties will be. The travel ban will go into effect 30 days after it is listed in the Federal Register. We’ve talked a lot here about the dangers of traveling to North Korea. I saw in one major newspaper today where people were talking about, oh, there are neat experiences in North Korea, which makes it sound like it’s a fantastic place to go. Let me use this as an opportunity to remind people: It is not safe for Americans to go to North Korea. Let me remind you, we still have Americans who are being detained in North Korea. We don’t want to see any more people go to North Korea and be detained, and that is why we put that travel ban in place. That travel ban had been under consideration for quite some time.

    Important to note – Matt, I know you had this question earlier – people will be able to apply to go to North Korea. Journalists may be able to apply, for example, some --

    QUESTION: May, or will?

    MS NAUERT: Well, you certainly can. You certainly can.

    QUESTION: So you have --

    MS NAUERT: And it’s adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. You know all of that, so if you have important work to do there that is really necessary – and the work that journalists do is important, to have that on-the-ground, accurate information; we certainly value that – you’ll still be able to apply for that kind of thing.

    QUESTION: So --

    MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you, though, with the specifics on what the penalties would be for Americans to travel there, okay?

    QUESTION: On Pakistan?

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. We’re going to stay in Asia now.

    QUESTION: Yeah, Korea?

    QUESTION: Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: So yeah, I was just – I was curious about the humanitarian classification as well. Like, how many U.S. citizen --

    MS NAUERT: On North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: How many U.S. citizens actually go to North Korea for those kinds of purposes?

    MS NAUERT: I wish we knew that number, but that’s not a kind of government number that – it’s not a number that we would track.

    QUESTION: Not yet. It will be soon.

    MS NAUERT: You think so?

    QUESTION: So you --

    QUESTION: In – once this takes effect, they’re going to have to get special permission, so then you’ll know.

    MS NAUERT: So we don’t keep track of that.

    QUESTION: Okay. And --

    MS NAUERT: And nor do we keep track of the number of Americans who – the government doesn’t keep track of the number of Americans who travel to the UK or Australia or any other place. We just don’t track in that fashion.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay, anything else on Asia?

    QUESTION: Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Asia? (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: Yeah, Korea question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: But first, I actually want to follow-up from last Thursday. Is there now a statement or is there a statement yet about the Secretary’s relationship to the allegations against ExxonMobil regarding Russia sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: Are there – what’s the first part of your question?

    QUESTION: Has the Secretary had the opportunity to put together a statement regarding his tenure at ExxonMobil during the period where these allegations of sanctions violations took place?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re not in Asia any longer --

    QUESTION: No, but I – my follow-up is about Asia.

    MS NAUERT: Your follow-up is Asia, okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: So I think I was clear on Thursday, and I’m not going to have a ton for you on this.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: Treasury and its Office of Foreign Assets Control was clear, I think, in their – in laying out their case. The Secretary went through great effort to not only resign from his company, retire from his company, but also recuse himself from anything related to ExxonMobil. So the Secretary has firmly remained – taken – continued to have that position. He’s not going to weigh in on all of that. You could talk to Exxon or you could talk to Treasury if you want more information.

    QUESTION: Sure. And that makes sense with regards to the Russia sanctions, but --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- my question regarding North Korea: Does it at all undermine the department’s ability to urge China to adhere to DPRK sanctions when it’s still not clear about the Secretary’s involvement in sanctions violations during his tenure at Exxon?

    MS NAUERT: Not at all. I mean, look, China and countries all around the world recognize the threat of North Korea. They recognize a threat when they see an ICBM fired on July the 4th, when they see actions from that regime advancing nuclear weapons and testing. So it’s not just in the United States’ interest to try to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula; it’s in the interest of the world. And the world recognizes that. And one good way to try to encourage Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles program is to apply the pressure campaign, and that was one of the top priorities for the administration when Secretary Tillerson came in. And I’ve sat there in the meetings and I’ve listened to him as he’s talked with countries around the world about the importance of that pressure campaign and keeping up that pressure campaign to try to remove the money that is enabling North Korea to keep going with its program.

    QUESTION: Sure, but still, doesn’t – doesn’t that pressure become somewhat undermined if the messenger has a sort of conflict?

    MS NAUERT: Not at all, because this isn’t about the United States. The Secretary remains firmly committed to pressuring countries and remains fully committed to the sanctions. And every country around the world, for the most part, that we’ve spoken to is in agreement with us on that and the dangers of North Korea. And you could talk to any of our allies and they would agree on that.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Could you get to Anne’s question on --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- Israel-Palestinians?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: There was a time that that would have led the briefing, but --

    QUESTION: Right.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, Anne. What happened to your question earlier?

    QUESTION: We went to Korea. So --

    MS NAUERT: How did – how did we do that? Okay, okay. Sorry.

    QUESTION: So – well, a couple things: Has the Secretary been directly involved in any of the outreach to any of the parties – Israel, Palestinians, Jordanians? Could you detail any of that for us and then walk us through what Ambassador Friedman is doing? I know he’s been making a lot of calls and moving around.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So Ambassador Freeman and – Friedman, excuse me, and also the President’s Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt have spent a lot of time on this. This is an issue we care deeply about. Mr. Greenblatt is over there right now. On Sunday, and as we watched the tensions escalate over the weekend and the past few days, Mr. Greenblatt jumped on a plane and he went over there. And he has spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he went to Israel, he’s also spending time in Jordan, and he’s working very hard to try to de-escalate the tensions there, and that’s really our priority – talking to both sides to de-escalate those tensions.

    This is something – an initiative, if you will – that is backed by the State Department. The Secretary of State, along with so many of my colleagues here, are involved in this process. When Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Friedman go to meetings, they’re backed by our staff members, and when they return, they debrief us. I met with Mr. Greenblatt about a week or so ago and we talked – this was before some of this had occurred – but we talked about the importance of that, the importance of that rule, and I think there’s very close cooperation between the State Department and the White House on that matter.

    QUESTION: Was there any direct U.S. engagement in helping the Jordanians get to a place where the diplomatic standoff in Amman could be resolved, which was followed pretty quickly by removal of the metal detectors?

    MS NAUERT: Specific to the issue of Amman, I’m not aware if we were involved personally. I think that would be an issue between Jordan and Israel. As it pertains to this situation in Israel itself, that’s something that we have been involved with in trying to de-escalate those tensions, and Mr. Greenblatt was directly involved in that.

    QUESTION: And the Secretary, did he make any of these calls?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I don’t have any calls for you – to read out for you right now, but if I have anything for you on that, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Can you guys – we talked a little about this last week, although I was unable to pry an answer from you.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, okay.

    QUESTION: Maybe I can now --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I think I know where you’re going.

    QUESTION: -- and that has to do with the metal detectors and their replacement.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: So did you guys think that it was a – or do you think that it is a good idea for the Israelis to remove the metal detectors?

    MS NAUERT: I think – and I’m going to repeat this again – anything that serves to de-escalate tensions --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- and pave the road for the two sides to come together and have conversations not only about this, but also about the peace process moving forward, we would certainly support that. As you know, we support the maintenance of the status quo at that site and we welcome all sides and their commitment to the status quo.

    QUESTION: Well, right. So the Israelis say that they’re going to take the metal detectors away but replace them with these --

    QUESTION: Cameras.

    QUESTION: -- high-tech, high-definition, high-resolution cameras. This is something that I spent hours with your predecessor, because the previous secretary of state got an agreement between the Jordanians and the Israelis for cameras similar to this that never were put in place because the Palestinians objected.

    Do you think that this new arrangement with cameras is a step in the right direction --

    MS NAUERT: Well --

    QUESTION: -- and does it change the status quo?

    MS NAUERT: I think that we would leave it to those parties to determine what works for them. Ultimately – and as it goes with the peace process, ultimately, it’s their decision to make. Both parties have to be able to live with it and be able to work with it. We are merely here as a supporter, a facilitator of peace, and that’s not going to change, but they have to be able to work together.

    QUESTION: So this isn’t something that you would advocate? You would not – this administration would not say to the Jordanians, the Palestinians, and the Israelis, look, we think that these high-tech cameras are the way to go?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that conversation taking place. What I do know is that tensions seem to be lessening a little bit. We’re pleased with that. It looks like it’s going in the right direction right now. Obviously, a very fragile region, so I don’t want to add to anything there that could potentially heighten concern. We’re happy that Mr. Greenblatt’s there, and let me just leave that at that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Very quickly --

    QUESTION: One last very brief thing --

    MS NAUERT: And then we have to go.

    QUESTION: -- on Israel.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And this has to do with – I don’t know if you’re aware of this, I’ve pointed it out earlier, but the – a small group of pro-Palestinian activists were prevented from getting on a flight to Israel in – at Dulles because they said that they were – the airline said that they had a letter from the Israeli Government saying that they would not be admitted to the country. This is under their new law, the Israelis’ new law, which allows them to bar supporters of the BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement – from entering. These people were American citizens. Do you guys have any issue with them being denied the plane ride?

    MS NAUERT: We’re certainly familiar with that report. We’re aware of that. We have a strong opposition to the boycotts and sanctions against Israel. I think we’ve made that position very well known. As a matter of general principle, as many of us know as Americans – I know not everybody here in this room is an American – but we value freedom of expression, and that’s something that is very important to us, even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views of others. But for more information on that, I’d ask you to talk to the Israeli Government about that decision.

    QUESTION: Well, but is this something that you would raise with the Israeli Government as a – to say, hey, look, we have a problem with this or we don’t have a problem with this?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of whether or not we will bring that up with the Israelis. I think our focus right now will be on de-escalating tensions in the Middle East. If this does come up and if it’s something that I can discuss with you, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Can I go --

    QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Friedman.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re going to have to go, guys. I’m really sorry.

    QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Ambassador Friedman.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Just really quick.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Last one, because --

    QUESTION: Because I know he was active behind the scenes and so on. Was he freelancing or was he coordinating with the Secretary of State?

    MS NAUERT: Freelancing?

    QUESTION: I mean, was he doing it on his own?

    MS NAUERT: There’s no freelancing in – (laughter) --

    QUESTION: Okay. So he was coordinating --

    MS NAUERT: There is no freelancers.

    QUESTION: Was he coordinating all his efforts with the Secretary of State, his boss?

    MS NAUERT: The efforts that the White House is engaged with as it pertains --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- to Israel and all of this, we are aware of those efforts. We stay in close contact. I was speaking with Mr. Greenblatt’s colleagues earlier today. My other colleagues have spoken with Mr. Friedman’s folks. So we remain in close contact with all this. There’s no freelancing going on, okay?

    QUESTION: If I could just clarify what you said earlier --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- you said that the Secretary was taking a little time off.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Was that something that has been planned for a while, or was that time he’s taking off in response to the speculation of his future?

    MS NAUERT: No. I’m glad you asked that question. This is – my understanding is that this was time that he had planned for quite some time. Okay? Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Is the State Department alarmed by these reports out of Mexico, all these allegations that the tourists down there have been drugged or – I mean, there have been these incidents where they’re getting injured or worse, and it seems like it’s either poor quality alcohol or druggings or something. I mean, it’s a mystery. Is that something that you’re alarmed about or watching?

    MS NAUERT: I think – let me get back to you with that in particular. But I know that we are concerned with travelers. We give travelers warnings about places that they might go, and we do that in Mexico as well as other countries. So if I have anything more for you, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - July 20, 2017

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 16:45
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 20, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • UKRAINE
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA/DEPARTMENT
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • SYRIA/REGION
  • NORTH KOREA/SOUTH KOREA/JAPAN/REGION
  • POLAND
  • EGYPT
  • INDIA/CHINA/REGION
  • TURKEY/GERMANY

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:20 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: Good to see you all today.

    QUESTION: Is it?

    MS NAUERT: It is. It’s always good to see you. I do enjoy this.

    QUESTION: Let’s see how long that lasts.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) All right. Ask me in a few weeks.

    QUESTION: How about a couple minutes?

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Hey, now. Okay. I got a couple things I want to start out with today, and – one second. You know what I don’t have? I don’t have our news on our top thing we’re talking about.

    QUESTION: No topper?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have a topper. Give me just a second, everybody. Sorry about that.

    QUESTION: Show tunes?

    MS NAUERT: You don’t want to hear me sing and dance. How’s everybody? Good? Good. Sorry about this.

    QUESTION: Can you do the second thing first?

    MS NAUERT: What’s the second thing first? Questions?

    QUESTION: I don’t know.

    MS NAUERT: We don’t have any guests today. I have that to announce. Hey, I mean you, but you’re our regulars. You’re our peeps. Thank you so much. Sorry about that. Okay. Ah, Ukraine.

    So I have one announcement at the top, and you’ve probably followed some of the news coming out of Ukraine recently. The United States says it wants to condemn the latest violence in eastern Ukraine. The last 24 hours were considered the deadliest one-day period in 2017. In this time period, eight Ukrainian soldiers have now been killed, including five deaths in an attack which appears to have been initiated by Russian-led forces. We call again on Russia and the forces that it arms, trains, and leads in the east to immediately observe the ceasefire. To comply with the Minsk agreements, those forces must withdraw all heavy weapons, disengage from the line of contact, and allow full, safe, and unfettered access to the OSCE monitors to the international border.

    I also want to take the opportunity to mark a sad anniversary. One year ago today, Ukrayinska Pravda journalist Pavel Sheremet – pardon me – was killed in a car bombing in Kyiv. Regrettably, no one has been accountable for his murder. We want to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends and urge the Government of Ukraine to use all available resources to bring those responsible to justice. The United States commends the efforts of the courageous journalists like him who expose corruption and promote a free and open exchange of ideas. We underscore the importance of protecting journalists and ensuring that the perpetrators of this murder face justice.

    And I’ll start with your questions. I know we have a lot today.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, where would you like to begin?

    QUESTION: Well, let’s stay with Ukraine.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I find it a little interesting that you chose to top with that given other events of the day. So just to get the legal stuff out of the way first, the Secretary, when he became Secretary, pledged to recuse himself from any kind of – anything having to do with Exxon --

    MS NAUERT: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: -- and the government. I presume that is the case with Treasury and the OFAC announcement today? He had nothing --

    MS NAUERT: That is correct.

    QUESTION: -- nothing to do with --

    MS NAUERT: The State Department was not involved with the announcement --

    QUESTION: At all?

    MS NAUERT: -- from Treasury, correct.

    QUESTION: So not anyone – not even anyone lower was --

    MS NAUERT: That --

    QUESTION: -- consulted or was involved in this decision?

    MS NAUERT: No. This was a – this was simply a Treasury action.

    QUESTION: Do you – well, does he – what does he think about this?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary – we’re not going to have any comments today for you on some of the alleged facts or the facts underlying the enforcement action. Treasury is going to have to answer a lot of these questions for you. I’m not going to have a lot for you on this today. The Treasury Department was involved in this. They were the ones who spearheaded this. And so for a lot of your questions, I’m going to have to refer you to Treasury.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, this is a question specifically related to him.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, yes.

    QUESTION: And you’re going to refer me to Treasury?

    MS NAUERT: Well, Treasury has a lot of the details, but beyond this --

    QUESTION: Well, I want to know what he thinks.

    MS NAUERT: Yes. I’m not going to comment on that at this time. The Secretary recused himself from his dealings with ExxonMobil at the time that he became Secretary of State. This all predates his time here at the Department of State, and so --

    QUESTION: I understand that.

    MS NAUERT: -- I’m going to refrain from giving any comment on that at this time.

    QUESTION: I understand this predates his time as Secretary of State, but now he is in a position in which he is part of a team that is supposed to enforce sanctions, not violate them or allow others to violate them. So I think it’s relevant to know what he thinks about this decision today.

    MS NAUERT: I think I will say this: The Secretary continues to abide by his ethical commitments, including that recusal from Exxon-related activities. The action was taken by the Department of State – excuse me, the Department of the Treasury, and State was not involved in this.

    QUESTION: Right. Well, Exxon seems to – well, not seems to; Exxon says in its statement that it thinks that it’s being treated unfairly by OFAC and that it was led to believe that there was a difference between dealing with Mr. Sechin in a professional rather than a personal manner – in other words, that dealing with him professionally was okay; dealing with him personally was not. Does the – clearly --

    MS NAUERT: You mentioned OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

    QUESTION: Clearly – clearly the Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: That is under Treasury, so I can’t comment on anything from that.

    QUESTION: Clearly the Secretary, who was the CEO of Exxon at the time, would have known that, and in fact, OFAC in its ruling says that Exxon’s senior-most executives knew of Sechin’s status as an SDN when they did – went ahead and did these deals anyway. So that suggests – or it doesn’t suggest, it says that Exxon didn’t think – Exxon knew he was a sanctioned person, but didn’t think that what it was doing was a violation. Does the Secretary still think that?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I hear your question. I’m not going to have any comment on the specifics that have come out of Treasury at this point. Exxon could perhaps best answer some of those questions, and Treasury can answer them as well.

    QUESTION: Your – okay. Your opening statement about the Ukraine and the deteriorating situation there --

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: -- the OFAC announcement says that ExxonMobil caused significant harm to the Ukraine-related sanctions program objectives by engaging in this by signing not one, two, three, four, but eight different contracts – or its subsidiary did. Is the Secretary committed to the sanctions program --

    MS NAUERT: I think --

    QUESTION: -- and the objectives of the sanctions programs?

    MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary has been very clear not only about his support for the Government of Ukraine, the support for the president, Mr. Poroshenko. I think that’s incredibly evident by the fact that he just recently traveled over there. The Secretary had appointed Ambassador Kurt Volker to be a special envoy to handle Minsk and to handle the situation in eastern Ukraine. That’s something that’s extremely important to this building, the Secretary, Ambassador Volker as well --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- and the overall administration.

    QUESTION: But if --

    MS NAUERT: So I think our support of the Ukrainian Government is clear. We had a good series of meetings as the President Poroshenko was here in Washington not that long ago, and had a really good series of meetings when they were in Kyiv.

    QUESTION: Right. And all of what you just said is true, which makes it all the more surprising that something like this would happen. I mean, did he not support the objectives of the U.S. Government when he was the chairman --

    MS NAUERT: Again --

    QUESTION: -- of Exxon?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t speak to that.

    QUESTION: And can you assure us that he does now?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t speak to that in particular. I can tell you, additional questions you can speak with ExxonMobil; they would best address them. The Secretary has recused himself. He’s living up to his ethical commitments that he agreed to when he took this position as Secretary of State. I know some of these answers may not be satisfying to you, but that’s what I can give you right now.

    QUESTION: And does – can you tell us if the Secretary believes in the objectives of the Ukraine-related sanctions programs?

    MS NAUERT: I know that we have remained very concerned about maintaining sanctions. That will continue. We’ve been clear that sanctions will continue until Russia does what Russia needs to do.

    QUESTION: Right, he said that.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: But I want to make – but he said that while he was in Ukraine. It was a very powerful statement.

    MS NAUERT: We have – we have no --

    QUESTION: Which is why something like this is all the more surprising.

    MS NAUERT: We have no change in policy.

    QUESTION: So you can assure us that he remains committed to the objectives of the sanctions program?

    MS NAUERT: Pertaining to Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Ukraine.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, that is correct.

    QUESTION: All right. Okay.

    MS NAUERT: That is correct.

    QUESTION: Heather, (inaudible) --

    QUESTION: Just to follow up --

    QUESTION: Can we move on?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on, let – hold on, hold on. Let’s continue on this issue, if anybody has any questions, and we’ll move on to something else. Carol.

    QUESTION: For the record, will he come down and talk with us --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m sorry, who --

    QUESTION: -- talk about this? Just for the record, will he come down and talk about this to us himself?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m here to speak on his behalf and on behalf of the building. There’s not a whole lot that we can say about this right now. Again, you can talk to Treasury or to Exxon about this. Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, did --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: In his confirmation hearing, under questioning, he was asked what he would do in situations where – I believe it was referring to an Iran deal that had been signed between an Exxon subsidiary. But he was asked what he would do in a situation like that as Secretary of State, and he said, “I would certainly be open to having the folks at the State Department contact companies and inquire as to whether they’re aware of the actions that they’re taking in the State Department’s view.” So has he, as Secretary of State, been in touch with Exxon to caution them about their actions?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been – not to my knowledge. I can tell you this, that he has been extremely clear in his recusal of anything having to do with Exxon. When this information come to us here at the State Department, it did not come to the Secretary himself. It came to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. The Secretary has taken this very seriously, that Exxon-related activities are not something that he is involved with here as Secretary of State.

    QUESTION: So is the deputy secretary involved in some way? Is he communicating with Exxon, or does he plan to?

    MS NAUERT: He – I don’t know if he’s communicating with Exxon. I just know that we were informed of that decision. I believe it came from the Treasury Department.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: Was the Secretary aware that this guy was on the sanctions list and that he was signing it --

    MS NAUERT: Carol, I can’t answer that question for you right now. Okay.

    QUESTION: Regarding the violence --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: -- is there – are there any new proposals before the, I guess the State Department and the White to provide more lethal aid to Ukraine? And does this violence that happened, is that more under consideration now because of what’s been happening there?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t answer that for you at this point. I know that violence was concerning enough that it was brought to everyone’s attention here. We had conversations about that. That’s why I wanted to alert you all to it and underscore the importance and the level of concern that we have regarding that. Ambassador Kurt Volker will remain very engaged in the activities, trying to push both parties and also other countries who are involved in working on the Minsk accords to try to get Russia to fulfill what we’ve asked them to fulfill.

    Okay? Is that it?

    QUESTION: Yeah, but the violence has turned more lethal --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

    QUESTION: Just given that the Secretary and Exxon violated these sanctions, is there any consideration that he would recuse himself --

    MS NAUERT: I think that’s an unfair way of phrasing it. You say that he did that. This involves the company, and that’s why the company will have to speak to that, not --

    QUESTION: And the senior-most executives in that company.

    MS NAUERT: We don’t know who was involved in that. At least I don’t know who was involved in that at the time. Again, I’m not going to have a lot of information for you. Exxon could best answer that or Treasury Department.

    QUESTION: Hold up.

    QUESTION: But – go ahead.

    QUESTION: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: No, I was just going to say just last week the Secretary, speaking to reporters who were lucky enough to be on his plane with him, said that his life as Secretary is a lot different than being CEO of Exxon because, quote, “I was the ultimate decision maker.” It seems to me that if the company was aware that this guy, Mr. Sechin, was an SDN and decided to go ahead with the deals anyway because it thought that dealing with him professionally as opposed to personally was okay, that that would go to the ultimate decision maker of the company.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I think that’s a hypothetical, a hypothetical type question. You are assuming that he was involved with that decision making. I don’t know if that was the case or not.

    QUESTION: Well, either he was the ultimate decision maker at Exxon or he wasn’t.

    MS NAUERT: If one says that one is the ultimate decision maker, that would be like me saying that in my household. I’m the ultimate decision maker, implying that other people --

    QUESTION: I have no doubt that you are. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Implying that other people in my family don’t make decisions as well. You know that that is the case, that people share in things, so --

    QUESTION: Right. But one thing that --

    QUESTION: I mean, in that interview --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- the idea was that the buck stops with him.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to split hairs or parse words with what he said in that. I mean, it’s obviously different being the CEO of a company than being the Secretary of State, and I’m just going to leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Well, I mean, he’s basically saying there that the buck stops with him, and now you’re sort of saying that, okay, well, this is not an issue --

    MS NAUERT: I’m just saying I don’t have a whole lot for you on this. Treasury and Exxon can best answer your questions about it. Okay?

    QUESTION: Have you asked him for his personal thoughts on this, and he has said that he doesn’t want to say anything?

    MS NAUERT: We have had these conversations, and it’s been made very clear that this is something best for Exxon to handle. So I’m just going to leave it at that.

    QUESTION: But as it relates to his current role as Secretary of State and his commitment to the sanctions program, the objectives of the sanctions programs, could someone please ask or have him come down here and tell us whether or not he’s completely committed to them?

    MS NAUERT: I think his visits and his meetings with President Poroshenko – he made those commitments extremely clear. The fact that one of the very first envoys that he appointed or asked to take on this role, I think it’s notable that it was over the issue of Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Right. Which is why, again, I’ve got to say it’s so surprising that he, as CEO of Exxon, would have countenanced or would have not been involved in a decision that – to go ahead and do this kind of business, given the damage that Treasury says it costs – caused to the sanctions regime objectives.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: That’s --

    MS NAUERT: Perhaps Treasury can do – I want to finish Conor’s question. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Sorry.

    QUESTION: No, no. That’s okay. The first one just – is there any thought for the Secretary to recuse himself from any decision involving sanctions then?

    MS NAUERT: Sanctions in general?

    QUESTION: With these Ukraine sanctions in particular, given that there was a violation.

    MS NAUERT: Oh. The sanctions are in place. We are not backing away from those sanctions. And subsequent conversations that may come down the pike, I’m not going to get ahead of what those might be. Okay?

    QUESTION: So he’ll be involved in them.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. We haven’t had that conversation just yet. Our focus today has been on the news that has come out of this. I’ll keep you posted if I have anything for you on this, okay?

    QUESTION: You said the Russian-led separatists in Ukraine.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: So does that imply that there are Russian military advisors who are actually leading these forces and particularly on the battlefield?

    MS NAUERT: It does. It does. We’ve talked about this, and I underscored this a few weeks back, that we believe that they are so-called separatists. They’re not genuine separatists who are out there fighting on their own regard and their own behalf. These are Russian-led and Russian-backed. Okay?

    QUESTION: So – but just to clarify that Russian military advisors --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Is it the Russian military who are leading the --

    MS NAUERT: Russian-led --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Russian-advised.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, hi, hi.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can we move on?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. And we’re going to – and then we’re going to move on. Michele, I’ll take your last question.

    QUESTION: I understand that the technical side of this is with Treasury and you’re referring all of that to them. But as spokesperson for the State Department, can you say why the American public should trust that the Secretary is committed to these sanctions on Russia, when the company he led obviously did not take them seriously?

    MS NAUERT: Michele, I wouldn’t go that far. This is early on in this process. We were just alerted to this yesterday. So this is all new. It’s developing right now. Treasury will have more for you, and perhaps Exxon as well. And I’m just going to --

    QUESTION: Well, it’s not early on in the – the process is over, isn’t it?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we’re just all learning about it. We’re all just learning about this.

    QUESTION: But then his company, the company he led, violated the sanctions scheme. So how can the American people trust that he is committed to continuing with this --

    MS NAUERT: I think he was very clear with President Poroshenko. The United States, this administration, the President, have all been very clear about our support for the Ukrainian Government, for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. And I’m going to leave it at that. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Let’s move on. Said, hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Thank you. I appreciate it. Can we go to the situation in Jerusalem?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Because it seems that the Israelis are deploying maybe thousands of troops for tomorrow, tomorrow’s prayer. And there are maybe hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are marching on to Jerusalem, because despite your best efforts, it seems that the Israelis are sticking to their decisions to have these metal detectors and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Are you in conversation with the Israeli Government on this issue?

    MS NAUERT: First, let me say we all know that this is an extremely sensitive matter. This is something we are watching very closely here, so I’m going to be very cautious and careful in my words, because we don’t want to do anything that would potentially escalate tensions. We support the status quo and we welcome all sides continuing their commitment to maintaining the status quo. On this matter, I’m not going to have a lot for you. We have been clear and we’ve – about our encouragement of all sides to take measures to not escalate the situation there.

    QUESTION: But the status quo does not include metal detectors. So you are opposed to the installation of metal detectors and having worshipers go through these metal detectors?

    MS NAUERT: What – as far as I’m going to go on this is to say we support the – excuse me – we support the maintenance of the status quo.

    QUESTION: Okay. Just one last question. Are you in any conversation with the Jordanians, with the Israelis, on this issue to sort of mitigate the tensions and so on, urging the Israelis perhaps not to deploy such a huge force, military force?

    MS NAUERT: We are encouraging both sides to not take any actions that would potentially escalate tensions. And let me just leave it at that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can I just ask though --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- is there no answer to the question of whether or not the status quo is currently being maintained?

    MS NAUERT: We --

    QUESTION: Or whether it – the status quo has somehow shifted over the course of the last week?

    QUESTION: (Sneeze.)

    MS NAUERT: Bless you. We talked about this the other day. The status quo is --

    QUESTION: Yeah. You didn’t answer it then.

    MS NAUERT: No. No, no. Look, this is a tense situation.

    QUESTION: I understand.

    MS NAUERT: We recognize that, and we don’t want to do anything that would potentially escalate tensions.

    QUESTION: Right. But one way --

    MS NAUERT: We continue to speak with the governments in the region to try to encourage a peace process. That peace process is supported by this State Department, also Mr. Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, and we’d just encourage both sides to maintain the status quo.

    QUESTION: Right, I – I get that, but one of the ways to keep tensions from rising is to call out one side or the other if and when they do something that changes the status quo that you want to preserve so badly. So the question is: Does the introduction of these metal detectors for Muslim worshipers change the status quo in some way? Would you like to see the Israelis remove them or – not – unplug them or something, or --

    MS NAUERT: We would like to see – and let me just be clear on this once again – we would like to see both parties take measures to not escalate the situation there, and I’m just going to leave it at that.

    QUESTION: So you can’t give any example of what measure that might be?

    MS NAUERT: I’m going to leave it at that, okay? Thanks. Hey, Barbara. How are you?

    QUESTION: Can I go to Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Certainly.

    QUESTION: So just a question about the decision to drop support for the rebels. Why is that decision being made now given that there’s no political settlement or the political process is continuing? Because that seems – the U.S. is giving up at least the tiny bit of leverage that it might have had.

    MS NAUERT: So – hold on. The premise of your question is in the affirmative, as though that is being done, okay? I get what you’re trying to do here. Okay, let me just say this is an intelligence matter. I’d have to refer you to the intelligence committee on that. I don’t have any information on I think one of the stories that you’re asking me about.

    QUESTION: You can’t say anything about it?

    MS NAUERT: It’s an intelligence matter.

    QUESTION: Do you have a comment --

    QUESTION: Does – but given that the Secretary said again during his trip that the – Assad has to go, would he support something like this?

    MS NAUERT: I think we have been very clear in this building that we do not see a long-term future for Bashar al-Assad or his family to legitimately lead that country. Okay?

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the killing of 28 Syrian soldiers today, ambushed by I think elements of Jabhat al-Nusrah? Would you consider that to be an act of terrorism or genocide?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that. I’m sorry.

    Okay. Hey, John.

    QUESTION: Just related to Barbara’s question --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- the President as a candidate said multiple times that we don’t know who the rebels are and we shouldn’t be supporting them. So is – what she’s referring to, is that reflective of his position and him following through on his promises on the campaign trail?

    MS NAUERT: I think what you’d have to do is speak to the White House on that. I think they have a briefing going on right about now.

    QUESTION: Okay, but in terms of a future and U.S. policy towards Syria, is supplying arms to the rebels part of that solution that the State Department and the --

    MS NAUERT: Let’s not forget why the United States is in Syria. The United States is in Syria to defeat ISIS, and we remain committed to that. We do not think – separate from that, we do not think that Bashar al-Assad has a long-term future in that country. Okay?

    Okay, anything else on Syria?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: Korea.

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Can you just clarify, then, which of these moderate rebel groups the U.S. continues to support, if you’re saying that you can’t confirm the CIA story and --

    MS NAUERT: Well, of course I can’t confirm an intelligence matter story, okay, so perhaps --

    QUESTION: Of course, but can you confirm to them – those fighters on the ground that the U.S. has been working with – that we – which ones you are still behind?

    MS NAUERT: I think this would – I mean, it’s no secret that we support – the United States Government does – and back, along with the coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces. Beyond that, I’m going to have to refer you to the Department of Defense. They can best answer the questions about which various groups they might be working with.

    QUESTION: And just to follow up on the ceasefire in southwest Syria, there are reports that there are Russian forces on the ground there now. Can you confirm that there are Russian forces --

    MS NAUERT: I have not seen that report. Without having seen that report, I don’t want to comment on it, okay?

    QUESTION: And so there’s no one actually monitoring yet? You have no update for us?

    MS NAUERT: I cannot say that no one is monitoring it. We have lots of sources that can keep an eye on situations, and I’m just going to leave it at that, okay?

    QUESTION: Do you know, on the ceasefire, whether or not the Secretary or deputy or – and someone – any people have talked to the Israelis in – since Sunday, maybe it was, I think, that they --

    MS NAUERT: Well – yeah, I know the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

    QUESTION: But since then, you --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if he’s had any calls with him at this point --

    QUESTION: Different subject?

    MS NAUERT: -- since that. Okay. Okay, hold on. Are we done with Syria?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Syria-related.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Okay. Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: North Korea --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, thanks.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: I’ll come back to you.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. On the list --

    MS NAUERT: You said North Korea, right?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: But we’re still on Syria.

    QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday, State Department released on the list of the terrorism countries. Why did the list exclude the North Korea from sponsor of terrorism?

    MS NAUERT: The question is why is North Korea not on the --

    QUESTION: Not on the list, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: -- state sponsor of terror?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: And thank you to any of you who joined our call yesterday on that matter. So as I understand it, as a matter of law, for any country to be designated as a state sponsor of terror, the Secretary of State has to determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. The designations are made after careful review of all available evidence to determine if a country meets the statutory criteria for that designation, so that was the assessment.

    QUESTION: But Heather, do you know that Kim Jong-un killed his brother? Is not this terrorism?

    MS NAUERT: We – that was --

    QUESTION: That’s an excellent question.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: Why isn’t assassination terrorism?

    QUESTION: Yes, that’s an issue.

    MS NAUERT: Let me look into that to see if we have an official position on that, and I’ll get back with you, okay?

    QUESTION: All right.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Hi, yeah. Yeah, just staying with Korea, yesterday the South Korean Government said that it will designate a national day to commemorate the victims of Japanese sexual slavery. Can you comment on that plan? And also, do you have any updates on either U.S. or UN sanctions against North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: So I’ve – as – folks who are here a lot know that I’m not going to preview any potential upcoming sanctions. I know the United Nations and the UN, the Security Council, that is something that people are discussing up there. So I’m just going to hold off on commenting on that. In terms of your other question, I was not aware of the fact that they were talking about making a – tell me – explain that again. It was an international --

    QUESTION: A national day commemorating the victims of sexual slavery.

    MS NAUERT: And that is something that we, by and large, condemn. We’ve talked – I mean, we very clearly condemn that, and we’ve talked about that matter before. It’s an area of major concern of ours, and I’ll just – I’ll leave at that. I know it’s a very sensitive issue for the matter.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Quick follow-up, again, North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Sorry?

    QUESTION: Do you have any information on North Korea preparing to another ICBM test?

    MS NAUERT: So I’ve seen that report, and I’m just not going to comment on that at this time, okay?

    QUESTION: Did you --

    MS NAUERT: That’s an intelligence matter and an area of concern would be an intelligence leak.

    QUESTION: Well, we have to know that.

    MS NAUERT: Well, and – well, hold on a second. There are people who work for the government who take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. When that is done – I did it myself – I stand in front of an American flag, you put your hand up, and you take that oath to protect the Constitution. Leaking classified intelligence information harms our national security and harms our Constitution. And let me leave that at that.

    QUESTION: Egypt?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Hold on. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah?

    QUESTION: How does – there – what about authorized leaks of classified information? There are times when this administration, previous administrations, have authorized officials to – or to give information that otherwise would be classified --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not familiar with the release of – an authorized release of intelligence information at this point that’s classified, okay?

    QUESTION: You’re not, ever?

    QUESTION: Egypt?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of anything, okay? Thanks.

    QUESTION: Hold on.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Just one question about --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead. We’ll stay in Asia.

    QUESTION: So on the U.S.-Japan-Korea trilateral policy planning dialogue yesterday, can you give us any readout? And also, was the proposal for North-South Korea talks discussed then?

    MS NAUERT: And what was the second part of the question?

    QUESTION: Was the proposal for inner-Korean talks discussed as a part of that trilateral?

    MS NAUERT: So we don’t have a fulsome readout of that meeting, but I know that Brian Hook, our head of policy planning, was in that meeting – that trilateral meeting that took place here yesterday. The issue of North Korea certainly did come up – concerns about all working together to work to the eventual goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and that was one of the topics of conversation, along with South China Sea and other matters.

    QUESTION: Egypt.

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Go right ahead, sir.

    QUESTION: So when we asked about the South and North Korean talks on Tuesday, we were referred to talk to the South Korean Government. And now it’s arguable that the talks are even going to happen, but I’m just wondering why the reluctance to comment on that.

    MS NAUERT: Well, we would never comment on another country’s correspondence or meetings. If South Korea and North Korea want to sit down and meet, they will work out those meeting arrangements together. We wouldn’t be involved in that process; therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the State Department to speak about meetings that could potentially happen between two nations. Does that --

    QUESTION: You consider that a domestic issue, then?

    MS NAUERT: That – we don’t, by and large, comment on conversations that take place between two separate nations. You could ask me a lot – about a lot of regions of the world, and I would give you that very same answer.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay. Hi. (Inaudible), how are you? Nice to see you.

    QUESTION: Hi. Heather, are you at all watching the recent developments in Poland around or surrounding judiciary? And if so, what is your comment?

    MS NAUERT: Give me just a second here. The – we have followed that issue very closely about what’s happening with the parliament there, and let me try to find my information here today. Give me just a second. Tricky book sometimes.

    QUESTION: Under P.

    MS NAUERT: No, it’s not under P. Not every country has its own tab, which I’m sure will cause a lot of questions.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: Don’t blame me for that. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to blame you for it whatsoever. Could somebody help me find this?

    STAFF: EUR 1.

    MS NAUERT: And where is EUR 1? Here we go. Very sorry. Yes, okay.

    So the question was about the Polish parliament. They recently passed a law that fundamentally changed the way that the supreme court justices are appointed. As you know, the President and the Secretary of State not long ago – or rather, the President – was in Poland. One of the things that is important to us is our relationship with the people of Poland. Poland is a fellow democracy and a close ally of the United States. We care deeply about that nation and the people there. We are concerned about Polish Government’s continued pursuit of legislation that appears to limit the judiciary and potentially weaken the rule of law in Poland. So we continue to watch that situation very carefully. We continue to have conversations at the highest level with the Government of Poland and express our concerns about that.

    QUESTION: Will you be asking the president of Poland to veto the bill?

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware if we will ask him to do that. But I can’t get too much into what some of the private diplomatic conversations are, so let me just leave it as we are concerned about that legislation.

    QUESTION: But you are in touch with the Polish authorities, right?

    MS NAUERT: We have good relationships with the Poles. I know we have been in close contact with them over a lot of issues, and I imagine this would certainly be one of them.

    QUESTION: Egypt, please.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Egypt.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Hi.

    QUESTION: Can you talk to us a little bit --

    MS NAUERT: Miss, hi. What’s your name?

    QUESTION: I’m Rana and I’m with Al-Hurra TV. I’m subbing for Michel. You probably know Michel, but yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Nice to meet you. Welcome.

    QUESTION: Nice to meet you. So I am – I want to ask about the Travel Warning that you issued about traveling to Egypt, basically. Do you have more to say about that, and did you get any info about the dissatisfaction of the Egyptian Government regarding this decision?

    MS NAUERT: Let me see what I have. Let me get back to you on that, okay?

    QUESTION: Not now?

    MS NAUERT: Not now. I’m sorry. Let me get back to you. Okay.

    QUESTION: Did you --

    QUESTION: There is more in Egypt.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything – did you get any call from the Egyptian Government today regarding this decision? Because that’s what the government is saying, that they contacted the State Department.

    MS NAUERT: I see. Not that I’m aware of. I can look into that and get back to you. Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: Did you share the information with the Egyptian authorities?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I’m not aware of any calls that have taken place with the Egyptian Government. I’ll look into both of – both of those items for you, okay? Thank you.

    Hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: I have few India and related questions.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: There was election of a new Indian president. Do you have anything on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. We were very pleased to see and want to welcome him on his election to the presidency – or the president-elect, now that he is. Your election was just today, right?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Were you able to get in and vote?

    QUESTION: It’s not for us. It’s for the member of parliament and assemblymen to vote for that. It’s indirect elections for the president, not a direct election.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, it’s an indirect, okay. Pardon me. So we want to congratulate the President-elect Ram Nath Kovind – I hope I’m saying that correctly – on his victory in India’s presidential elections that was held today. The United States and India have a deep and growing strategic partnership. We look forward to working with the president-elect on regional and global issues. That partnership is obviously underpinned by our very close people-to-people contact with the Indian Government and our shared democratic values.

    We got to go, gang. Thanks.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: I want to ask you on China – India-China border standoff. It has been more than a month now. Media reports say that Chinese foreign ministry briefed diplomats in Beijing. Was the U.S. briefed on this issue by the Beijing?

    MS NAUERT: We – this is something we’ve been following. We spoke to this – I believe it was on Tuesday this week. This is a situation that we are following closely and carefully. I’d have to refer you to the governments of India and China for more information on that. See, there we go. I’m not --

    QUESTION: I have one more on China.

    MS NAUERT: They’re talking those issues. They’re going to talk to one another. We would encourage them to direct – engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tensions.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: Have you spoken to Indians and Chinese on this?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if we have or not. Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Guys, we got to go. We --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Wait, wait. Why do you have to go?

    QUESTION: One more on China, on the --

    MS NAUERT: We have to go today.

    QUESTION: I need to ask you about two of your NATO allies, Turkey and Germany, who are at each other’s throats. Do you have any concerns about that?

    MS NAUERT: I – Matt, I’m going to have to get back to you on that, okay?

    QUESTION: Just one more on China – U.S.-China --

    MS NAUERT: Sorry. I’m sorry, guys. We got to go.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:54 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - July 18, 2017

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 18:18
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 18, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • TURKEY
  • IRAN
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA
  • RUSSIA/REGION
  • UKRAINE
  • RUSSIA
  • INDIA
  • PAKISTAN
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA
  • YEMEN
  • INDIA/CHINA

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:23 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everybody. This is a full room today. Is everyone back and rested from their trips overseas? Yes? Not all at once.

    QUESTION: I was here.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, you were here. Okay. Well, good to see you this morning.

    A couple things going on today, and first, I want to welcome – we have a more packed room than usual – we have some very special guests here, and they are joining us from Iraq, ladies and gentlemen, sitting in the back of the room. They work for the Iraqi Government, and they’ve been here visiting the United States, learning more about journalism, but also the work of a spokesperson. And that’s what they do for their government: work as spokespeople and media directors. Twelve of you are here. We’d like to thank you for coming to the United States. You’ve made a long trip, especially after a very difficult time and a hard-fought battle in Mosul. So we welcome you here. Thank you.

    As part of their trip here, I want to mention that they were at the D-ISIS meetings that took place here at the State Department last week. Our Iraqi friends toured the Department of Defense’s Defense Media Activity Center at Fort Meade, and yesterday they had some briefings here at the State Department. And they’ve done some press along the way, so perhaps you might pepper them with some questions so they can see what U.S. journalists are really like. But I ask you to be nice – be nice to our guests. They also did a joint press briefing with the coalition spokesperson, Colonel Ryan Dillon, and we are honored to have our Iraqi partners and friends here, especially so soon after that Mosul victory. So welcome to the State Department.

    Second thing: I know that a lot of you have asked a lot of questions about Middle East peace and the State Department’s cooperation and coordination with the White House, specifically the President’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and also Mr. Kushner. Yesterday, a team from here, myself included, we went over to the White House and sat down with Mr. Greenblatt and his team and learned a little bit more about what they are doing from our point of view and from their point of view. So we want to thank them for inviting us over to the White House for that meeting. He provided us with a short readout on the meeting that he held – the meetings that he held last week in Israel, so let me just go over a little bit of that with you.

    Mr. Greenblatt continued efforts to advance President Trump’s goal of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. I don’t have any additional travel to read out for you at this time, but Mr. Greenblatt provides – plans to provide regular visits to the region and coordinate with the Department of State and also the National Security Council. At the conclusion of Mr. Greenblatt’s visit, it coincided with the terror attack that took place at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif that left two Israeli police officers dead and one wounded, and that dominated the news cycle while he was there. The horrific attack should not detract from the push for peace, but rather remind us all that – more that – more so that there is a need for peace.

    We can’t let the actions of a few undermine the prospects for both Israelis and Palestinians to secure a more peaceful and prosperous future. To that end, last week, Mr. Greenblatt helped senior Israeli and Palestinian officials reach important agreements on key issues of water and electricity that will make the lives of both people materially better. We continue to urge the parties to undertake efforts to promote an environment that is conducive to advancing peace and that the two agreements are another indication that mutually beneficial arrangements can be made. We hope they’re a harbinger of things to come and we’ll keep you apprised of future progress and also travel for Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt.

    And then finally, a third thing I’d like to bring to your attention: You may have seen what took place in Turkey in recent days, and the United States strongly condemns the arrest of six respected human rights activists and calls for their immediate release. This includes Amnesty International’s director in Turkey, Idil Eser, and several foreign nationals. Prosecutions like these with little evidence or transparency undermine Turkey’s rule of law and the country’s obligations to respect individual rights. We urge Turkish authorities to drop the charges, release those who have been detained, and remove the provisions of the state of emergency that allow indiscriminate prosecution of individuals. So we will continue to keep an eye on that.

    And with that, I’ll take your questions. Matt, do you want to start?

    QUESTION: Thanks. I’m sure we’ll get back to Middle East and Turkey --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- but I want to start with Iran and the – yesterday’s certification.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, yes.

    QUESTION: Can you put this into very plain English? Does the administration believe, yes or no, that Iran is complying with the terms of the JCPOA?

    MS NAUERT: So we had sent the notes up to Congress certifying that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. However, the United States firmly believes that it is in violation of the spirit of the law[1] with regard to an important part of it. And part of what the JCPOA agreement says is it’s supposed to contribute to regional and international peace and security, and we believe that some of the actions that the Iranian Government has been involved with undermines that stated goal of regional and international peace and security.

    Iran remains – and we all know this – one of the most dangerous threats to the United States – not only our interests here, around the world, but also to regional stability. And I’ve got a whole list of things that we can go over here that Iran is responsible for. Their full range of activities extend far beyond the nuclear threat, and I think we are all full aware of that: ballistic missile development and proliferation; support to terrorism and militancy; it’s complicit in the Assad regime’s atrocities against its own people; unrelenting hostility to Israel that continues and has continued for quite some time; they have consistently threatened freedom of navigation, especially in the Persian Gulf; cyberattacks on the United States, and I can go on. I mean, these are no surprise, and this is something that this administration wants to get Iran to try to adhere to the spirit of that agreement, the regional, international peace and security.

    QUESTION: Okay. But the – when you said – I just want to clarify one thing you said – that the spirit – they’re violating the spirit of the law first time, you mean agreement, not law?

    MS NAUERT: The agreement, yes.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then this is not related to that, but it’s Iran. Is there any update on the Chinese American who was sentenced?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Mr. Xiuye Wang. So we are aware of the reports that Mr. Xiuye Wang, a U.S. citizen, has been detained in Iran. For privacy reasons, we can’t really get too much into the specific details of that case. As you all know, one of the things we consistently say here is that the safety and security of U.S. citizens remains a top priority for this administration, and I would think for all administrations here in the United States. We continue to use all means at our disposal to advocate for U.S. citizens who need our assistance overseas, especially for the release of any unjustly detained U.S. citizens who are held overseas.

    Mr. Xiuye Wang is a United States citizen. We remain very concerned about his case, continue to keep an eye on that. As you all know, we don’t have folks on the ground there; we work with the Swiss foreign interest section. They are considered to be our protecting power in Iran, and they have granted consular access to Mr. Wang. So we’ve regularly sought that consular access to him, and the Swiss have visited him now four times.

    QUESTION: So do you know when you guys were informed of his arrest?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Because it’s not – it’s almost, I would say, rare for Iran to allow consular access, since they don’t recognize dual citizens, usually when they’re Iranian Americans. Is it your understanding that because he’s Chinese American and not Iranian, that’s why they’re letting the Swiss --

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that he’s American American. He’s not a dual citizen of China and the United States.

    QUESTION: Gotcha. All right.

    MS NAUERT: He’s an American.

    QUESTION: And do you know when it was that you found out, were notified about his initial arrest?

    MS NAUERT: I can check into that for you. I don’t have an exact date in front of me.

    QUESTION: Great. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Iran? Hi, Carol.

    QUESTION: Can we go to where you started?

    QUESTION: About the prisoners. In the statement this morning, you said – you specifically mentioned Mr. Wang, the Namazis, you said, and all other U.S. citizens who are detained wrongfully in Iran. Could you tell the American people how many other U.S. citizens are detained, beyond those three?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t at this time. The United States cautions American citizens against travel there. There are certain nations where if an individual is a dual nationality, dual citizenship, that Iran does not – like other countries sometimes does not – acknowledge that and accept that somebody is a dual national. They think of them as a full national of their country. We caution people to avoid that country and for the obvious reasons.

    QUESTION: Well, why won’t you give a number? I understand you can’t, for privacy reasons, give names. But why can’t you give a number, or a rough number? More than a dozen?

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t give any kind of an estimate at all. If I have something specific for you that I can give to you, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Thanks. Let’s stay on Iran.

    QUESTION: Iran.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: Can we go to where you started?

    MS NAUERT: One second. Pardon me?

    QUESTION: Can we go where you started, on the Middle East peace topic?

    MS NAUERT: Let’s come back to that. Let’s stick with Iran first, please. Hi.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.) So can you say – you certified the compliance last night, but did the administration also sign a round of sanction waivers to keep the deal in place as well?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. So sanction waivers – there are some that are in place right now. I can definitely confirm that.

    QUESTION: So was there a signing last night though? I know there’s a deadline, I think, today.

    MS NAUERT: Well, we were – we are in compliance with our end of the deal. We had until I believe it was midnight to certify that and then provide the information to Capitol Hill, and that was all done.

    QUESTION: Okay. And the last time the Secretary signed a round of sanction waivers he said that the administration was beginning a 90-day review of all Iran policy. That would be ending today. Is that review ongoing? Has the deadline been pushed back?

    MS NAUERT: The overall review – like we have a lot of policy reviews, on Afghanistan for example, Pakistan for example – Iran is one of them where we have an ongoing policy review that is taking place. We believe that while they – while Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA, that there are still a lot of things that Iran is doing that is very troubling to this administration. And so we’re going to try to push on that – on the Iranian regime to stop its destabilizing activities.

    QUESTION: One last question. When the Secretary signed the certification last time, he also said that – he criticized the deal, saying that it kicked the can down the road of a non-nuclear Iran. So is it the position of the administration then that Iran should never be allowed to have any nuclear energy whatsoever?

    MS NAUERT: I think nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are different matters. I’m not an expert in that area in particular, but they are separate matters.

    QUESTION: So you would accept a nuclear-powered Iran, but not one that had a --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of what the policy review is going to contain; that has people at the White House and people here at the State Department and others all involved in that. So I just don’t want to get ahead of anything that they’re going to do.

    QUESTION: China?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Iran?

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi.

    QUESTION: When it comes to the Secretary’s engagement with European partners who are also part of the JCPOA, the administration was talking about how it wanted to get stronger enforcement and perhaps, in a sense, almost an addendum to the current agreement when it came to some of the sunsets. Does the administration believe it has willing partners in European allies? I mean, they’ve got some businesses who are doing business in Iran right now and it’s profitable. Has the administration or the Secretary gotten pushback? And what have his engagements been like on that front?

    MS NAUERT: It’s interesting, because some would think that our European allies and our partners and our friends would only be interested in adhering to the JCPOA, but that’s not our experience at all. Our experience is that they remain just as concerned, as the United States does, about the destabilizing activities that Iran remains involved with, whether it’s supporting terrorism or other things as well. So this does not just affect the United States and the United States interests, but it affects other countries as well.

    QUESTION: And a willingness to go further, as the U.S. has laid out?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into commenting on what other countries are going to do. But I know we have those conversations and those conversations are ongoing.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Michele.

    QUESTION: Around about noon yesterday the President was seriously considering not certifying this. Shortly after that, he met with the Secretary.

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. There were meetings underway at the White House yesterday. And those meetings took place for a period of time, and the Secretary and the President and everyone else had conversations. And we ultimately ended up sending the letters up to the Hill and informing the Hill that Iran was in compliance.

    QUESTION: Did Secretary Tillerson need to convince the President and spell this out and --

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t put it that way at all. I mean, they had a series of conversations, as they have about a lot of other issues.

    QUESTION: Did he make that argument though? Was that part of what he wanted to do while he was there at the White House?

    MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary and the President are in line with one another.

    Okay. Anything else on Iran?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Iran? Okay. We’re done with Iran. Okay. You want to go to --

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: -- Middle East peace. Let’s see what we can do to solve it, huh?

    QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. So this – is this your first time meeting with Mr. Greenblatt on this very issue?

    MS NAUERT: Myself, personally.

    QUESTION: No, I mean from the department.

    MS NAUERT: No. No, I know other people from the State Department have had a series of conversations with him and discussions with him. He has been in meetings in Israel with our ambassador there and others as well. So there are a whole lots – lot of those conversations and dialogues taking place. It was just my first time having the opportunity to go over there and hear firsthand about some of the activities.

    QUESTION: Okay. So are we likely to see a more active State Department in the Middle East peace process, as we have seen in the past?

    MS NAUERT: Well, the State Department has been active. We’ve been accompanying Mr. Greenblatt and also Mr. Kushner on a lot of these trips. We help facilitate that. We help provide some additional expertise and backup. And they’re very generous. They like to work with us; we like to work with them. And he’s extremely hospitable, so he invited our team over and we just went over to say hi and learn more about what he’s going to be doing.

    QUESTION: Okay. I have just a couple more.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Yesterday, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the French president that he’s skeptical about the Trump administration peace efforts and peace process. Do you have any comment on that? He does not – I mean, it is not like that kind of engagement from the administration.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of the prime minister’s comments. This is the first I’m hearing of them. But I know that we have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we have – this administration has talked a lot about the importance of promoting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

    QUESTION: And finally, I want to ask you about al-Aqsa closure, if you have any comment on that, because this is a clash – a flash point. It’s a very volatile situation and so on. Are you calling on the Israelis to sort of stand down with the measures that they have taken such as the metal detectors and the closing off the area for Palestinian prayers and Muslim prayers?

    MS NAUERT: I think first what I would want to say about that is the White House had issued a statement on that very matter that you are addressing.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: And we continue to condemn terror attacks that take place on individuals.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: That occurred on Friday. That occurred at the end of – let me finish here. That occurred at the end of Mr. Greenblatt’s meetings. Always – I want to say this – when these types of events occur, we want to express our condolences to the families of those who have been affected. Hold on, Said. I’m not done yet.

    Zero tolerance for terrorism. And that is something that we believe very strongly in. We would urge all sides to take steps to reduce tensions. We support the maintenance of the status quo and expect both sides to fulfill their commitments to that.

    QUESTION: But I just want to remind you that the attackers are Israeli citizens. They come from a town up north. They came all the way down to Jerusalem to assault the --

    MS NAUERT: We are promoting – Said, we --

    QUESTION: Why punish the Jerusalemites? Why are they being punished?

    MS NAUERT: We are promoting peace. And that’s something that is one of the top issues for this administration, and we’ll continue to talk about that. And things like this, when they happen, it has the ability, it has the ability, to de-escalate – or excuse me, has the ability to put things on a bad path. So we would encourage that to certainly not happen. Okay?

    QUESTION: Two --

    QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Two brief things on this. One, you said you support the maintenance of the status quo. Do you believe that the status quo is being maintained? Or has – have the Israelis, in putting the metal detectors up, changed the status quo?

    MS NAUERT: We have – we have been clear with the Israelis in our conversations about this, and I just don’t want to get into any possible diplomatic conversations.

    QUESTION: Right. But do you – but forget about a conversation. Does the administration think that the status quo is being maintained right now?

    MS NAUERT: The Israeli Government has pledged that they will maintain the status quo, and we would hope and expect them to do that.

    QUESTION: But are they?

    MS NAUERT: Again --

    QUESTION: Do you think – what’s your – I mean, you look at the situation. Can you say that the status quo is being maintained? Because the Jordanians, who are in charge of the – that – for the area are very concerned that the status quo isn’t being maintained.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So what’s – can we get an answer for that?

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of the Secretary having spoken with the Jordanians about this matter in particular. They were just in town last week, as you all know.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: But if I have anything more for you, I can get back to you on that.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then the last thing is did you ever get an answer to the question I had the other week about whether this administration draws a difference between housing that’s built in East Jerusalem for Israelis as opposed to West Bank? Do you consider East Jerusalem housing to be settlements?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure that I do. You know what? I don’t think I do, but let me look into that for you. Okay?

    QUESTION: All right, thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Any – pardon.

    QUESTION: You might want to know that 600 more or 700 more housing units were declared today. I wonder if you have a statement on that.

    MS NAUERT: I do not. Not on that today. Thank you. Hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: Hi, nice meeting you. (Laughter.) Okay, on South Korea, two questions for the South Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Recently, South Korean Government proposed military talks with North Korea. Can you confirm that the South Korean Government informed the U.S. in advance this issue?

    MS NAUERT: So, I can’t confirm any diplomatic conversations that took place on that matter. As you know, we had a terrific visit from President Moon not long ago who visited with our President, and also Secretary Tillerson was able to sit down with his counterpart here. We had a terrific meeting with them. They are an important partner with the United States, and that continues to be the case.

    In terms of the proposal that you just mentioned, I would have to refer you back to the Government of the Republic of Korea. But overall, I would say we share the very same goal, and that is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We’ve both remained very concerned about the activities of the DPRK, the launching of the intercontinental ballistic missile, for example, and we want to see a complete and verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula.

    Okay, yes.

    QUESTION: One more on the FTA issues. Regarding in the FTA renegotiations that the U.S. wants from South Korea, does it means a revision negotiation or full renegotiations?

    MS NAUERT: Does it mean food negotiations?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Or revisit.

    MS NAUERT: Let me look into that. I don’t have anything for you that’s recent on that, but let me check. Okay?

    QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Mike. Right? Mike?

    QUESTION: I have one more on North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Right?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Right. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi, nice to --

    MS NAUERT: We haven’t met before, but yes.

    QUESTION: Michael Lavers from the Washington Blade.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, yes. Good to see you.

    QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have any comment on the most recent comments that the president of Chechnya made about the ongoing crackdown against gays and lesbians in Chechnya?

    And then, second, as a follow-up to that, can you explain why the Secretary has not publicly commented on this situation as of yet? I know the State Department has, but not the Secretary specifically. Any reason why?

    MS NAUERT: So first, let me say we are certainly aware of those comments that were made. Those comments on the part of the Chechen president were very concerning and also upsetting to us. The United States and we here at the State Department have spoken a lot about concerns about the treatment of LGBTI people in Chechnya. Some, as the person you had mentioned, went so far as to – well, I’m not even going to – I’m not going to repeat some of the things that he said because it was so horrific.

    We have called on Russia to hold a federal investigation into that matter, and we have those conversations at the highest levels. Human rights is something that’s very important to us. We continue to speak about that from this position here at the podium, and part of my job is speaking on behalf of Secretary Tillerson and speaking on behalf of this department, and let me just reassure you that that is something that’s very important to us.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: China?

    QUESTION: Russia?

    MS NAUERT: Thank you. Hi.

    QUESTION: Okay, thanks. So the meeting yesterday, afterwards we’re still hearing Russia making the threats about retaliation. Does the State Department feel that that’s imminent now that there isn’t a deal on these properties?

    MS NAUERT: Well, these deals, so to speak, are going to take some time. The under secretary, Tom Shannon, had the meeting yesterday – it went on for quite some time – with Mr. Ryabkov. We were happy to have him come here to Washington to sit down with us to talk about those – some of those so-called irritants.

    The conversation – we put out a readout this morning – was what – one that we considered – and this is what Mr. Shannon said himself – is that it was a forthright, tough, and deliberate conversation that reflected concerns on both of our parts, but also our commitment to a resolution.

    So nothing is coming together anytime soon. I don’t have a timeline for you or anything, but those conversations will be continuing.

    QUESTION: Well, so are you calling their bluff, in essence? They’ve been threatening to do the same to the U.S. for months?

    MS NAUERT: It’s a hypothetical. I know that they have threatened a lot of things, and so I’m just not going to get into the various threats that people from around the world make.

    QUESTION: So to wrap this up, how would you characterize the Secretary’s feeling on these properties? Is he – he’s open to giving them back with some conditions, or how would you describe it?

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t characterize it that way, and --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: And look, one of the priorities here is – or the priority here is to get the United States and Russia to a place where they can have a good, decent, solid relationship so we can work together on areas of mutual cooperation, areas that are mutually important to both of our countries. One of them is Syria, for example, in that particular area in the southwest where there has been the ceasefire. That’s a smaller area of mutual cooperation. From that, we can build upon that and start to work toward other goals on other matters.

    These conversations between Mr. Shannon and Mr. Ryabkov will continue. We’ve got a lot of stuff to talk about with that government, and so that’ll continue.

    QUESTION: So did the U.S. present conditions?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t get into the – all the details about what went on in that conversation, but I can say we’re continuing those conversations.

    QUESTION: But just to be clear, is the Secretary open to giving them back?

    MS NAUERT: That I don’t know. There are a lot of meetings that are taking place and those meetings will continue. We’re just not sure.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: So a growing number of lawmakers are saying that the administration should not return these properties, at least until the investigation into the meddling in the presidential election is completed. There are some members of Congress who are calling for even more punitive measures to be enacted. So I’m just wondering, is that something – is that advice that you guys are willing to take on, or do you see that there is a possibility of this specific issue of these two properties being returned before there is a conclusion to the investigation?

    MS NAUERT: In terms of a timeline, I’m just not aware of any kind of specific timeline that we have. We don’t, in fact, have any kind of timeline. I know that members of Congress have sent letters to the Secretary and other people here in this building, and so we just gather those letters, take a look at them, and that’s then between the Secretary and those members of Congress.

    QUESTION: But you don’t know if he has a position that is the same as those members of Congress? In other words, you don’t know if he is saying yes, a resolution ultimately will involve the Russians getting back the properties, but that’s not going to happen until --

    MS NAUERT: As you know, we have hundreds of members of Congress who all have very different opinions on subject matters.

    QUESTION: I don’t know of any member of Congress who’s actually saying give them back right now. Are they?

    MS NAUERT: Well, my point is a lot of members of Congress all have different opinions, and so I’m not going to say that the Secretary shares the opinion of any one over the other.

    QUESTION: Well, forget about, then, opinion. How about – the question then would be: Does the Secretary think that it would be inappropriate to return these two properties before the investigation into the election interference is over?

    MS NAUERT: Again, that’s something that is in part taking place on Capitol Hill. I think the Secretary is stepping back and taking a look at this issue separately. One of the bigger overarching issues is we need to be able to get our relationship on a better path. As the Secretary talked about, it’s at a low point.

    QUESTION: Last one: Do you know, have the Russians asked to go and visit or take a look at their properties to see --

    MS NAUERT: Because it’s nice out, they want to get outside, they want to get out of D.C. and New York?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. I was going to ask you to a briefing out there. I’m just wondering, have they asked to inspect these properties?

    MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. Not that I’m aware of.

    QUESTION: But if we could --

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: -- if I could clarify this, please, the administration – the White House made an argument only days ago for why they’re open to giving these properties back. They laid out this argument. So by not going back to that argument, are you saying that the Secretary isn’t aligned --

    MS NAUERT: I think our goal – and as you all can understand, diplomatic conversations can be sensitive matters, and sometimes I’m not able to give you and other people in the building aren’t able to give you all the details and information that you want. We want to preserve the ability to go back and speak with the Russians and do what we need to do to get our relationship on a better track, and part of that means looking for additional areas of cooperation. Part of that means trying to smooth out the differences in terms of some of the so-called irritants that we have with other nations.

    QUESTION: But does the – so is the Secretary in agreement with the White House on that argument or not?

    MS NAUERT: Michele, I think I’ve covered it, so let me just leave it there, okay? Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Hi.

    QUESTION: On Ukraine.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Russian-backed rebels in east Ukraine have proclaimed the creation of a new state, and I’m not going to attempt to say it, but “Little Russia,” translated. Could you comment?

    MS NAUERT: So here’s what we had heard: that the so-called separatists – and notice I call them “so-called separatists” – want to see a new state. That new state would be in place of Ukraine. That is something that’s certainly an area of concern to us, but I just don’t – beyond that, I don’t want to dignify it with a response.

    QUESTION: Syria? Can we go to Syria?

    QUESTION: And so, but you’re not dismissing it out of hand? You don’t think that that’s a good idea.

    MS NAUERT: Pardon? I --

    QUESTION: What if they wanted to call it, say, Centerville?

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) I mean --

    QUESTION: Can we go to China?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Can we go back to (inaudible) just for a second?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Hi, Dmitri.

    QUESTION: Just for a second longer. It’s a slightly different subject.

    MS NAUERT: Dmitri wants to know about Russia. Welcome back, Dmitri.

    QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you something about your guidance, your readout of the meeting.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Why was it necessary to mention the – their intent to convene a new bilateral consultative commission on the New START? Up until very recently, both sides were stressing that the implementation of the New START was going on perfectly or very well despite all the differences and whatnot. Has any new problems arisen? Why was it necessary – why is it necessary to convene a commission? That’s part one.

    And part two --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let me answer your first question first --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- because I’m not so good with multiple five-part questions here. So in terms of that, I know that Mr. Under Secretary Shannon looks forward to speaking with his Russian counterparts on possible areas of interest in other meetings coming up. I don’t have any specific meetings or dates or anything to announce at that time, but that’s one area where they could come up with additional talks to have.

    Okay, second part.

    QUESTION: Okay, and the other part was the strategic stability talks. That dialogue took place --

    MS NAUERT: That would be – I would give you the same answer on that. I don’t have any specific meetings or dates or anything to provide you at that time, but we’re just going to keep an eye on that, and that’s something that I know we’re willing to have conversations about.

    QUESTION: Is it like – is it on a regular basis or --

    MS NAUERT: That I can’t comment on. I don’t want to get ahead of any possible conversations.

    QUESTION: Can you take one on China/India?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, sir. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Thank you so much.

    MS NAUERT: Tell me your name again?

    QUESTION: Ali.

    MS NAUERT: Ali, right. Sorry, thanks.

    QUESTION: Ali from ARY News TV. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed grave concern on the situation of religious freedom and human rights in India, and especially about the killing of minorities for eating beef and Indian forces’ brutalities in held Kashmir. So they wanted to go to India, the U.S. commission – a panel of U.S. commission – but the Indian High Commission here denied their visa and said they wouldn’t – they won’t allow U.S. commission to go to India to monitor the actual situation there. So do you have anything to say on that?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of the specific subject that you are bringing out – up about people getting in trouble for eating beef, so let me look into that and get back to you.

    QUESTION: I sent this question to your press team like day before yesterday.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, perhaps you did. Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: That doesn’t necessarily mean that I see everything that comes into our press team.

    QUESTION: I have one more question about --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, last question. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I have one more question. Thank you so much. There are so – many media reports in Pakistan about Dr. Afridi, the release of Dr. Afridi. So what kind of efforts and what kind of discussion with the Pakistan --

    MS NAUERT: I haven’t had that conversation recently with the people who – our people here internally who have handled Pakistan. I’m certainly aware and familiar with Dr. Afridi’s case, and if we have anything new to bring you, I will certainly bring that to you, okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you very much.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Yemen?

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Israel?

    QUESTION: Can we stay on India?

    QUESTION: Yemen?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Can we stay on India?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, hi.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Hi. Yulia Olhovskaya, Channel One Russia. Can I go back for one second to yesterday meeting of Ryabkov and Shannon? Do the U.S. have any conditions for return diplomatic property? (Inaudible.)

    MS NAUERT: I think I’ve covered this. We’ve talked a lot about that and we have a lot of other people here with questions about the region, so let me just leave it at that. I know that Mr. Shannon looks forward to continuing those conversations.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Sir, hi.

    QUESTION: Yemen?

    MS NAUERT: With the beard.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, how are you? What’s your name?

    QUESTION: My name is Grigory Dubovitsky. I’m from Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

    MS NAUERT: How – wait, let’s just do a show of hands here. How many folks do we have from Russian media?

    QUESTION: I guess three.

    MS NAUERT: One, two, three. Okay, got it. All right.

    QUESTION: So the a question about Syria.

    MS NAUERT: See? Freedom of the press. (Laughter.) It’s a good thing, isn’t it?

    QUESTION: Yes, it is.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: We love that. So welcome.

    QUESTION: Okay. So my question is about Syria, that Mr. Ryabkov confirmed us that Russia and the United States may hold talks on a second ceasefires agreement for Syria.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, say that again.

    QUESTION: Mr. Ryabkov said that Russia and the United States may hold talks on a second ceasefire agreement for Syria, so can you confirm it and provide more details if you have?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t – I cannot confirm that that is something that’s a discussion that is underway. I know one of the priorities for the U.S. Government, in addition to coalition partners in Syria, is trying to obtain ceasefires and trying to get stability in the region, in certain parts of it where we think that that can take hold. Part of the reason we want to do that is to be able to get humanitarian assistance in that is so desperately needed by folks there. So we are working to do that. We are pleased so far with how the ceasefire has been working in southwestern Syria, and at some point hope, if and when the time is right, that that’s something that could potentially expand elsewhere. Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Follow-up on Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Yemen?

    MS NAUERT: Yes?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Tell me your name, please?

    QUESTION: Jafar Jafari with Al Mayadeen TV. I’m not with the Russian --

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) You’re from India, sir? You’re from India? Yes, thank you.

    QUESTION: A UN jet was carrying a team of journalists into Yemen, and they were prevented from entry by the Saudi coalition.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, who was bringing journalists into Yemen?

    QUESTION: United Nations.

    MS NAUERT: The UN was, okay.

    QUESTION: Yes. The journalists were – they couldn’t enter. Does the U.S. have a policy of denying journalists access to troubled areas?

    MS NAUERT: Certainly – as a general matter, certainly not. We --

    QUESTION: Well, in this particular case.

    MS NAUERT: The United States is incredibly open --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- to the media. As you know, we’ve had media embed with our U.S. forces around the globe, in other places. I’m not familiar with the particular example that you brought up. I don’t know if these were U.S. reporters going into Yemen. That would be the Government of Yemen’s decision, I would think, whether or not to allow certain people in. But I’m just – I’m just not aware of that, so I don’t want to comment on that particular question, because I just don’t have all the details. Okay, thank you, sir.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Sir.

    QUESTION: Syria? Syria?

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the – just the general situation in Yemen right now, particularly as it relates to cholera and famine?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Goodness, we announced quite a bit of money that went out from USAID to Yemen to help with cholera and also food scarcity of resources, and that’s been another major concern of ours. I don’t have the cholera numbers in front of me, but there have been far too many deaths as a result of cholera. One of the problems in a country like Yemen is not so much where they don’t have food, but rather it’s because so much of that food and aid is prevented from getting to the people there because of the fighting on the ground. So one of the things that we do is we try to push for greater access to be able to get the Yemeni people the food that they – the food and supplies and healthcare that they need. And that would also include clean water, and that’s – kind of loops in cholera, but I can get – try to get you the latest numbers on those – on those unfortunate deaths if you’d like.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria, please?

    QUESTION: India?

    QUESTION: Syria, please?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. I’m going to have to do last question.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MS NAUERT: We got a lot of India questions today.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I am the first person who met you and gave you my card when you came and sat there as an observer.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Okay. And the – China yesterday briefed a lot of diplomats about the condition – the border conditions with India, and including the U.S. diplomat. What did they share with you, if you can say, or what is the U.S. position now on the tense situation on the border between India and China? Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I know that that – thank you for your question and thank you for your kind welcome when I first came on board here. I know that the United States is concerned about the ongoing situation there. I know we believe that both parties, both sides should work together to try to come up with some better sort of arrangement for peace. And I’ll just leave it at that right now.

    We got to go, guys. Thank you so much. Please take a moment to welcome our Iraqi friends. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming to the United States. (Applause.) And my step mom is here in the audience, so lots of friends here.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)

    DPB # 37

    [1] agreement


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - July 13, 2017

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 18:20
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 13, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • ISIS/IRAQ/REGION
  • IRAN
  • QATAR/KUWAIT/REGION
  • CHINA
  • NORTH KOREA
  • SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA
  • CHINA
  • JAPAN
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • IRAQ
  • BAHRAIN
  • AFGHANISTAN

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:52 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody.

    QUESTION: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: How’s everyone?

    QUESTION: Fine.

    MS NAUERT: Good trip, Matt Lee?

    QUESTION: Yeah, it was. Although if I’d known it was going to be this hot, I might have gone to Kuwait after. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Right. It is awfully hot here. I see you brought the weather back with you, right? All right. Well, welcome back, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. Hope you’re having a good day. We have more guests today. I’m just bringing more and more in. My brother and his girlfriend, so – okay.

    A couple orders of business here, and the first is we were very sad to see the passing of Liu Xiaobo in China. As you saw from the statement that the Secretary issued today, we join those in China and around the world in mourning the tragic passing of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died while serving a lengthy prison sentence in China for promoting peaceful democratic reform. Mr. Liu dedicated his life to the betterment of his country and humankind and to the pursuit of justice and liberty. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Liu Xia, and all of his loved ones. We continue to call on the Chinese Government to release her from house arrest and allow her to depart China according to her wishes. In his fight for freedom, equality, and constitutional rule in China, Liu Xiaobo embodied the human spirit that the Nobel Peace Prize rewards. In his death, his has only reaffirmed the Nobel Committee’s selection.

    Next thing we have going on here this week at the State Department was the meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Today, the members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the small group, are meeting in Washington to conclude the three-day conference on the next phase of the campaign. The coalition had productive meetings today and in the past few days on the next phase of the campaign. The coalition had held some workshops over the past few days to ensure that we’re maintaining simultaneous pressure on ISIS across the globe.

    This morning, Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk announced that the United States would contribute an additional $119 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq. This now brings the total U.S. contribution in humanitarian assistance to more than $1.4 billion for the Iraqi crisis since the Fiscal Year 2014. This is in addition to the $150 million that we announced last week that goes to stabilization efforts in Iraq. With the new assistance, the United States is now providing additional emergency food and nutrition assistance, safe drinking water, hygiene kits, improved sanitation, emergency shelter, and protection for Iraqis who have been displaced.

    We commend the significant humanitarian contributions made by coalition members to date and encourage them and other donors to continue supporting humanitarian efforts in Iraq. The fight to defeat ISIS is far from over, and this week’s meetings showed the global coalition remains more determined than ever to ensure that this barbaric enemy is dealt a lasting defeat.

    And finally, the Secretary is returning this evening from his trip to the Gulf, where he met with Kuwaiti, Qatari, Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian, and Bahraini leaders. The goal of the Secretary’s visit was to support Kuwaiti mediation efforts and bring what we can to discussions to help both sides more fully understand the concerns of the other and point out possible solutions to the dispute. Based on his meetings, the Secretary believes that getting the parties to talk directly to one another would be an important next step, and we will look forward to that hopefully happening. We hope the parties will agree to do so, and we will continue to support the Emir of Kuwait in his mediation efforts.

    And with that, I will gladly take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Starting with this – just with this – something that’s related to the Secretary’s trip but not necessarily about Qatar, on Monday, when he was in Istanbul he talked about efforts with – to building on the ceasefire that you guys negotiated with the Russians in the south. He talked about doing something in the north with the Turks, and then the President in his comments today talked about doing something else – another truce with Russia. Is this the same thing or is this something different?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure if that would be the same thing or if that’s something different. I know we’re looking to this area in southwestern Syria, where there is the ceasefire that is holding right now – we’re now four days into it or so, I believe – hoping that we can build upon that and broaden that out to other parts of the country. But I’ll check back into that for you if you like.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then, related to that, on – you’ve seen – I saw that on Tuesday you were asked about this Amnesty International report on the situation in Mosul.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: Have you had a chance to look at that and what do you make of its findings?

    MS NAUERT: Look, the first thing I would say about the Amnesty International report is that’s something that some people certainly here have seen. I’ve not personally reviewed it myself. In terms of civilian casualties, that’s something that I can say the coalition always takes every effort to try to mitigate against any humanitarian or any civilian casualties. It’s obviously a very complex situation in Iraq, especially in Mosul, where they have been – ISIS has been dug in for quite some time. Folks have raised the issue why did it take so long to achieve some semblance of victory in Mosul, and that’s because ISIS had been dug in so hard. So the coalition takes every effort, as do – as does its partners, to try to mitigate against any kind of civilian casualties.

    QUESTION: Well, but do you accept the conclusions of the report?

    MS NAUERT: How would you exactly state the conclusions, Matt?

    QUESTION: Well, that there’s a civilian catastrophe. It took the Iraqi forces to – and the Peshmerga to task for going after civilians under the aegis, kind of, of the United States.

    MS NAUERT: I think what I would say about that is let’s remember the real focus of the humanitarian and civilian casualty situation in Iraq, and that is ISIS. And we talked about this the other day. Were it not for ISIS, were it not for ISIS forcing so many people from their homes – and now through the work of the coalition many people, hundreds of thousands of people have been able to go back to their homes in Mosul alone. And so the real focus, the real reason why there has been misery in Iraq and Syria as well is because of ISIS, not the coalition and not the coalition partners.

    QUESTION: Okay. But does that mean that you do not accept the findings of this report? I mean, do you not think that this is a problem, that civilian --

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know that if there are --

    QUESTION: Obviously – I mean, ISIS aside, civilians – this report says that civilians suffered badly or --

    MS NAUERT: The Department of Defense puts together a civilian casualty list at the end of every – I believe it’s at the end of every month, but I know that they do that on a monthly basis. So then I would refer you to that. I know it’s something that we take very seriously. Let me underscore that again. We take civilian casualties very seriously. The United States, its coalition partners, the Department of Defense, all of the folks working on behalf of the United States and the coalition continue to work very hard to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen.

    QUESTION: But does that mean that you’re not going to comment on the --

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, I do know this: I can tell you that the Department of Defense and other U.S. Government entities were not consulted when it came to looking at that report or weighing into that report. So I think that is indicative that the report wasn’t fully formulated without getting our input as well.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well – but – okay. So the reason that I’m asking and the reason I’m asking it like this is that it seems to be – and this is not just something unique to this administration, but for many – over the course of the last four or five administrations – when Amnesty or another human rights group comes out with a report on a country that you don’t like, say like North Korea or Syria, you’re – and they don’t consult those governments when they do those reports, you guys accept it and you even talk about it and praise the reports from the podium and say this is – like the chemical weapons in Syria. But when they come out with a report that is on a country that is an ally, is --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m just saying we weren’t consulted on that report. The Department of Defense puts together a very thorough humanitarian – excuse me – a very thorough civilian casualty list every month. I think the United States does a very strong job of trying to ensure that that does not happen. I think that is evident by the fact that we have been backing Iraqi forces and our coalition partners. We have 72 members of the Defeat ISIS Coalition in here right now, including representatives from Iraq. And I think that is indicative of the amount of care and concern that we put into that.

    QUESTION: So this is not a case – this is not a situation where you accept reports that you like the results of but do not accept result – reports that you don’t?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to characterize that way at all. Okay? I think we’ve been over this enough.

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: UNICEF issued a report --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. UNICEF today issued a report that today or last night that upwards of 650,000 children from Mosul had been affected by the war and displaced and so on.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I mean, there seems to be so much --

    MS NAUERT: I don't have those numbers, so I can’t confirm those numbers.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: But --

    QUESTION: But the point beyond just the displacement, there is so much effort – I mean, you talk about the coalition and the fight and the military aspect of it. But there seems to be nothing out there in terms of reconciliation, in terms of getting people back, getting aid, doing all these things. There seems to be a big wall – I mean, you talked about --

    MS NAUERT: Let me be clear about this. Nothing could be --

    QUESTION: -- you talked about --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, Said. Nothing could be further from the truth on that. I was sitting in a meeting earlier today. As I was sitting in the meeting in this building today with members of the international coalition – it included members from Iraq as well – where the primary focus was talking about how you start to bring people back home, into their homes in western Mosul.

    By the way – we’ve talked about this here from the podium before – when you look at eastern Mosul, hundreds of thousands of people – and I can look and get the exact number for you or as close to a number as I can for you about the number of people who’ve been brought back into eastern Mosul. And that is an amazing feat. Just think about how ISIS had been entrenched in those areas for years, and now, not long after that area was liberated, you have children going back to school; you have electricity; you have clean, running water; you have all of those things. I just announced at the very top of this humanitarian assistance, new pledges of humanitarian assistance on the part of USAID going into Iraq. That is significant. Perhaps sometimes folks like to look for one place, one situation of misery, and forget to see the progress that is being made. We have been clear here that there is a lot of work that is left to be done; no doubt about that. Western Mosul was just liberated. There are still bad guys in there as the military effort goes back in to try to figure out if anybody was left behind, but we are optimistic about the ability to bring people back into western Mosul. It’s not going to be overnight. This will take some time, but this will eventually happen.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Let’s stay on Iraq right now before we go to something else.

    QUESTION: Just on --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: How are you? Good to see you.

    QUESTION: Good to see you too. But I guess one will argue that the crimes committed by ISIS and crimes committed by the Security Forces are different, because ISIS does not represent the civilized world. They stand as a terrorist organization, while the Security Forces in Iraq are supported by the United States, and that’s a difference. So I mean, in this equation, you cannot really say that there is a progress, which there is and everybody acknowledging that, but at the same time you can – you cannot condemn what the Iraqis Security Forces allege to be doing.

    MS NAUERT: I can say this: The prime minister of Iraq has – from what I understand, has taken this quite seriously. He has in the past prosecuted people who have been found guilty of any type of humanitarian abuses. The United States would certainly condemn any kind of abuses of that sort, but some of that will be an internal government matter for Iraq.

    QUESTION: So did you raise this with the Iraqi Government? And if you did, at what level?

    MS NAUERT: I do not know the answer to that. I did not personally raise that matter with the Iraqi Government. I know our Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk has been very involved in all that. He will be here later today to answer your – some of your questions. I understand that will be at 4 o’clock today. So if you have some of the more detailed questions about that, perhaps Brett can answer those this afternoon.

    QUESTION: Just one more on --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s stick on Iraq.

    QUESTION: So like, on the abuse of human rights by Iraqi forces in Mosul, the report, like, talks about that a lot as well. And Iraqi forces, as you know, is a pretty dominantly Shia force. They are provided weapons, U.S. weapons. They have been trained by the Americans. It seems to me as a reader of that report that the United States didn’t have a mechanism in place – a robust one at least – to watch Iraqis to not carry out human rights abuses while using U.S. weapons, while being trained by the United States.

    MS NAUERT: I know that the United States takes those allegations very seriously, okay? We have talked about this from this podium before and from this room before. Special Envoy Mr. McGurk will be here later today, and perhaps he can answer some of those questions. Again, we take those allegations seriously. We always have. We do everything that we can to avoid civilian casualties, and we know that Prime Minister Abadi has in the past and continues to do so, to look in and prosecute those who have been found guilty.

    QUESTION: So --

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Let’s move on from Iraq. Do you have a question about Iraq?

    QUESTION: Just briefly --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Michele.

    QUESTION: When you say that U.S. entities weren’t consulted in that report, are you disputing then what they found? Are you --

    MS NAUERT: I know that the Department of Defense was not consulted about that report, so let me just refer you to the Department of Defense for anything more on that.

    Hi.

    QUESTION: Heather, this came up as we were walking to the briefing, so I’m not sure if you have anything on it. There’s a Reuters report that broke that all nations have been asked to provide more travel data to help vet visa applications or potentially face sanctions. Have you seen that or seen anything on that?

    MS NAUERT: Are you referring to the Department of Homeland Security and the new executive order? Is that what you mean?

    QUESTION: This is a cable that was apparently sent to – to U.S. embassies to provide extensive data from – to ask countries to help provide extensive data to help vet visa applicants and determine whether that traveler poses a terrorist threat.

    MS NAUERT: I think what you’re referring to is part of the executive order and the additional information that the United States is able to ask other countries for. Let me get back to you on that. Let me just clarify that we’re talking about the same thing and get back to you later today.

    QUESTION: That’s the Section 2 report from DHS, “In consultation with the Secretary.”

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Because a lot of that is a DHS matter right now. I know that the United States will be consulting with those countries. I think it’s the – they have 50 days or so. But let me just get back to you on that just to make sure that we’re talking about the exact same thing. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can you check if you’re going to sanction countries after 50 days if they --

    MS NAUERT: Let me just get back to you. I want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Okay?

    QUESTION: And then really quick, in a few days there is another deadline to certify whether Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement. What is the status of the administration review on Iran policy?

    MS NAUERT: So the review on the Iran policy is still going. That is still underway. I know people have a lot of interest in this. We have said and the administration has said that at least until that review has been completed that we will adhere to the JCPOA. That has not changed. We’ll ensure that Iran is held strictly accountable to its requirements. So the review is still underway, and then we have a timeline coming up pretty quickly in which a report will – will have to be looked at.

    QUESTION: Do you --

    QUESTION: What do you think the chances are that the review will be done before Monday?

    MS NAUERT: Why would it? If there’s a deadline on Monday, why get ahead? Why get ahead of that?

    QUESTION: No, no, I mean the broader policy review of Iran. Do you think that that will be --

    MS NAUERT: Oh. I – you know what? I am --

    QUESTION: Are the chances high or low that that will be completed by Monday?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t – I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not sure that that’s something that needs to be done until Monday. Okay.

    QUESTION: Another Iran question?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, yeah.

    QUESTION: Hi. Has Secretary Tillerson talked to his Iranian counterpart, Zarif, since he’s been secretary of state, at all?

    MS NAUERT: I – let me look into that for you, because I just saw that in some notes here. I do not believe that he has. We certainly have various diplomatic channels, lines of communication that can be used to communicate with the Iranian Government. My understanding is that we have not, but I’m not going to get into any comments or questions about private diplomatic conversations.

    QUESTION: And what would the rationale for a new secretary of state not reaching out to his counterpart in Iran be?

    MS NAUERT: It’s a hypothetical; I’m just not going to get into that. Thanks.

    QUESTION: Well, actually, Secretary Tillerson said, I think at a hearing during the budget hearings, maybe, that he wasn’t opposed to talking to the Iranians, but it wouldn’t just be talk for talk’s sake; there would have to be a reason to talk. So are there certain kind of conditions or actions that Iran would have to take before there could be talk about, for instance, a political solution in Syria, which obviously the U.S. and Iran are both interested parties?

    MS NAUERT: That is – that’s not a subject that I’ve brought up with him recently.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: We’ve been pretty focused on what’s going on in Qatar. We’ve been pretty focused on Russia and on Syria and Iraq as well. So --

    QUESTION: Well, he’s – I mean, presumably, he’s very involved in the Iran review.

    MS NAUERT: Certainly. I just haven’t asked him. I just haven’t asked him that question. Okay? All right. Anything else on Iran?

    QUESTION: On Qatar?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Could you give us, like, a summation of what’s going? What did the Secretary achieve? What did he not achieve?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. What did he, what?

    QUESTION: What did he accomplish and what is hoped to – to be accomplished?

    MS NAUERT: Well, certainly been very hard at work over the past few days in doing his shuttle diplomacy and meeting with a whole lot of people in the region. As you know, his visit was in support of Kuwaiti mediation efforts. We continue to thank Kuwait for the hard work that they have done in trying to bring both sides together on this. I know that the Secretary would like to see this resolved. We’ve seen some progress in that, and we hope that both sides would be willing to sit down sometime in the near future to actually have a conversation about what those grievance are – grievances are.

    This all has been a long time coming. You know that these disputes are not brand new. Tensions in the past have been fairly raw, so it’s going to take some time to get these parties together. Just last week, we characterized this as possibly at an impasse. So the mere fact that the Secretary’s been there, talking to both sides of this, and encouraging them to sit down and have a conversation, I would see as subtle progress.

    QUESTION: Do you still see it at an impasse?

    QUESTION: But you know, the statements that came out --

    MS NAUERT: No, I think this is subtle progress. I think the fact that the Secretary was there, talking with both sides, is an important step in the right direction.

    QUESTION: Today the --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Michele.

    QUESTION: If I just follow up very quickly --

    MS NAUERT: Said. Let the lady first. C’mon, Said.

    QUESTION: Sorry. Go ahead, please.

    QUESTION: It’s okay.

    MS NAUERT: Michele, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: No, no, you.

    QUESTION: All right. Anyway, so when you describe it as subtle progress, are you framing that around just the fact that they were talking, or would you say that there is any movement on the side of the quartet?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to – I’m not going to characterize what the parties themselves are doing individually at this point, because I think that’s really up for the individual parties to do that. But the fact that they’re having conversations with us, the fact that they’re meeting with the Kuwaitis, I think is a step in the right direction.

    QUESTION: So does the Secretary have a framework for what happens next? I mean, has he set up a kind of organized system of here is when we’re going to meet next or speak next, and would you describe this as still an impasse then?

    MS NAUERT: I think I answered that with Felicia.

    QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

    MS NAUERT: So I wouldn’t describe it that way. We are sort of subtly optimistic about this. But we are also realistic, in that this could take a lot of time. These have been long-simmering tensions, and that certainly hasn’t changed.

    QUESTION: Heather, has this started to develop --

    QUESTION: Can I ask about the --

    QUESTION: Is he disappointed? Does he feel like this --

    MS NAUERT: I think we’ve made some steps forward. I mean, I think we are hoping that both sides will be willing to sit down and talk with one another. That is something that we would certainly hope for. We hope that they’re willing to do that, but it’s ultimately their choice. We do know – and we can go back to the Riyadh summit and the agreements that all the parties came to at the Riyadh summit, and that was to do more to work together to combat terrorism, to combat counter – or terrorism financing. So we all agreed to that. We expect that the nations will ultimately, in the end, get back to those principles.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I ask about this MOU that --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- the President – that the Secretary, sorry, signed with the Qataris? First of all, he kind of saluted the Qataris for being the first country to answer the President’s challenge at the Riyadh summit on funding, and it seems as – terrorist funding. And it seems as if he – with this MOU in effect, he was kind of vouching for the Qataris’ commitments that they’re willing to make now, saying, like, I’m signing an agreement with the Qataris and if they don’t make good on their agreement, then the U.S. would be maybe on the hook for that.

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t characterize it as our country vouching for another country. It’s an arrangement; it’s an understanding. That is something where we anticipate and hope and would expect that the other nation would follow through on the arrangement, on the understanding. There will be sort of benchmarks in place in terms of the details of that. I can’t get too into the details on it. This is something that’s still new and fresh, and the Secretary is on a plane flying back here right now.

    So we’ll learn more about this, I would expect, in the coming days. Just how thorough those details are that I’m able to give you, that I just don’t know yet.

    QUESTION: You talked a little bit about this the other day, but I just want to go back to some comments made by an aide of the Secretary, saying that nobody’s hands were clean here, and kind of seemed to be pushing in the direction of criticizing the Saudis and the Emiratis and other countries for using this issue as a pretext to crack down on Qatar. I mean, how did the – was the Secretary received after those comments in the region?

    MS NAUERT: I think the – there are concerns on all sides. This has obviously been a difficult situation, I think, for all sides to try to resolve. I think the Secretary is welcomed, as are the Kuwaitis, in being member countries that – when I say “member countries,” I mean people who are willing to work together to try to resolve this dispute. So I think that is welcome, and if we can get the sides to come together, then that would certainly be a good thing.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s move on now. Anything else?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Nike, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Can we move on to China?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: One last one, one quick one, just very quickly?

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: So what’s the difference between --

    MS NAUERT: Nike, hold on.

    QUESTION: -- the MOU that the Qataris signed now and what they actually committed to – and they signed in the Riyadh summit and before even 2014?

    MS NAUERT: So in the Riyadh summit, it was a broad-based set of principles that the nations agreed to. This is a little bit more detailed. I don’t have a copy of it in front of me right now, but this is something where there will be regular, high-level consultations between Qatar and the United States. It’s sort of a form of a counterterrorism dialogue. There will be benchmarks in place. There will be ways that we check in with them and that they check in with us. In terms of the details, I hope to be able to give you more in the coming days, but that’s all I have for you right now.

    QUESTION: Will you make it public?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know that that will be – because this is an arrangement between nations, I’m not sure that we will be able to make this public. That might fall under diplomatic arrangements and dialogue, so I may not be able to provide that for you. Hopefully, I will know more, though, in the coming days.

    Okay. Let’s move on. Go right ahead, Nike.

    QUESTION: Sure. Hi. Thank you. So on the unfortunate passing of Liu Xiaobo, what is your assessment of how China handled this case? And separately, as you indicated, Secretary Tillerson has urged China to release his wife, Liu Xia, who has been also under house arrest.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Is there any discussion to facilitate her to leave the country? Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: I know that we’ve been tremendously concerned about his health and his care. The United States had helped to facilitate an American doctor heading over there to examine him, and as you know, there was a German doctor who did that as well. He was really a beacon of hope for so many Chinese who fundamentally believe in their rights, in their human rights, and in freedom and democracy. So while we mourn the passing of this and we hope that his wife will be allowed to leave the country and freed from house arrest, we were saddened by his death, as I think so many other people are around the world.

    QUESTION: And then on the funeral arrangement, if you could please shed some light. Will there be any American officials to attend his funeral? If yes, what would the level be?

    MS NAUERT: I will look into that and see what we can find out for you. Okay?

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on China?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: China.

    QUESTION: Yeah, in Asia.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Janne, how are you?

    QUESTION: Good to see you. And on North Korea, North Korean human right issue is as much as very serious issue like nuclear issues. What is the United States final destination of North Korean human rights issue? Your --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, what is our what?

    QUESTION: Your final destination of human right North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: What is our final designation?

    QUESTION: Yeah, destinations of human right.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. I’m not sure what you mean by that.

    QUESTION: Final decisions of – U.S. final decisions of the North --

    MS NAUERT: What is our final decision about the status of human rights in North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Is that the question?

    QUESTION: Mm-hm.

    MS NAUERT: Well, that’s something that we have remained extremely concerned about for a very, very long time. We know that China[1] is one of the worst human rights abusers of all nations around the world. I’ve talked about this extensively about the guest workers who are in place in countries around the world. These guest workers, as they go in, they work, and much of their money is confiscated and taken by the government. That is – that is the very least, okay? That’s just one area.

    Another area would be the killings, the imprisonment, the labor camps in North Korea. I can go on and on. I think we’ve been really clear about our concerns about North Korean human rights abuses. If there’s something new that you want me to get you, I can certainly look into that.

    QUESTION: So one more on South Korea.

    MS NAUERT: On South Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Not North Korea. Different.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: In South Korea, Moon Jae-in government is planning to connect gas pipeline with Russia in North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Is it a violation of UN sanctions, or what is your – I mean, U.S. position?

    MS NAUERT: Let me look into that and get back to you. I don’t have anything for you on that today.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything on DPRK or South Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah, Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Sorry, not South Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: But just on the Liu Xiaobo question --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: I think this is really a White House question, but do you know if President Trump and President Xi discussed this case? I’m wondering at how high a level the U.S. Government discussed this with China.

    MS NAUERT: I know that we have had a lot of conversations, and the conversations had been ongoing for quite some time. In terms of what the President said, I mean, there was certainly a readout, I believe, of the President’s meeting with him. I don’t have that handy right now, so I’d just have to refer you back to the White House on exactly what was said in that meeting.

    QUESTION: Okay. And sorry, the leader of the Nobel committee said that the Chinese Government bears heavy responsibility for Mr. Liu’s death. And I wondered --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, who said that?

    QUESTION: It’s the leader of the Nobel committee.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And does this building share this sentiment?

    MS NAUERT: Does the building share the sentiment that China bears responsibility?

    QUESTION: That China – right, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know he is someone who was a beacon of hope and was treated poorly by the Chinese Government – imprisoned repeatedly over the years for promoting democracy, promoting freedom, and promoting human rights. I can’t get into his – he was diagnosed with cancer at some point. I’m not going to draw a conclusion between being diagnosed with cancer and the government’s treatment of him, but we were very concerned with the healthcare that he received by the Chinese. You know that we had called upon them to allow him to be released along with his wife so that he could get treatment where he needed to.

    Okay, let’s move on from that.

    QUESTION: Stay on China?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right – hi, how are you?

    QUESTION: Thanks. Do you have any comment on the reports of new sanctions on small Chinese banks with business ties to North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: So that would be something under the Treasury Department. We had announced some new sanctions about a week and a half or so ago. That came under Treasury as well, but I think that would fall under sort of the category of the third-party sanctions. And that’s something that we have talked about a lot, where the United States is asking China, the United States is asking nations around the world, to do more to adhere to not only Security Council resolutions, but the expectation that we have that countries around the world will do their part in not funding or adding to the money that would end up going to North Korea, because we believe that that goes to its weapons program.

    Okay. Anything else on DPRK?

    QUESTION: Japan? Japan?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Bill Hagerty was just confirmed by the U.S. Senate as ambassador to Japan. Do you have a statement, and what are your expectations for his role?

    MS NAUERT: We are looking forward to having him join Japan as our next U.S. ambassador. He spent a good deal of time over there. I know he’s steeped in the issues. I don’t have a statement for you just yet on that, but we look forward to having him represent the United States in Japan.

    Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. Do you have any more on what exactly happened with the Afghan girl robotic team and their visa? Why was their visa denied in the first place, and how did they eventually get it?

    MS NAUERT: Well, you know what I’m going to say, right, in terms of visas. Visas – anyone’s visa and why a visa is granted or why a visa is denied is always something that is going to be kept confidential. That’s not because I want to keep it confidential, that’s not because the State Department does, but it happens to be U.S. law. So I can’t get into that.

    I can say that we are very happy to have these young girls be able to come here to the United States to participate in this robotics competition. I have second-grader, my second-grader does robotics, so I know how much that means, especially as a parent, much less girls coming from Afghanistan. So we’re looking forward to having them come here. We’ll be watching them. We hope that they do well in the competition and are happy to have them here.

    There is something called parole authority, so – and that falls under the Department of Homeland Security. This was an issue that the President noticed, that Dina Powell had then addressed yesterday, and so the Department of Homeland Security was able to take a look at this. I’ll let them address this with you, but under this authority, the United States can temporarily grant – based on either humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit, a – as I understand it, a short-term ability to come into the United States. So anything beyond that, I’d ask you to talk to DHS.

    QUESTION: Well, does that mean parole – the fact that parole had to be used would suggest – and let’s just put it in a – not in this specific context, because you won’t talk about these visas specifically – would suggest that the reason for ineligibility stands, that – in other words, that if parole is the only way a person can get into this country, that the decision made by the consular officers at post stands.

    MS NAUERT: The consular officers – as I understand it, under law and the way that they handle visa adjudications, once a visa is denied, that that is not able to be reversed, that that decision is not able to be reversed.

    QUESTION: Right. In other words – so the decision that was made at post that these girls or anyone was ineligible for a visa stands. So --

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment – I cannot --

    QUESTION: -- then one wonders why the immigration law is such that it determines or that someone looking at it determines that a bunch of teenage Afghan girls are somehow a threat to the United States or are somehow a – somehow – or otherwise ineligible for an American visa.

    MS NAUERT: I think commenting on that, as much as I would like to be able to share with you more about this – you know I can’t. You know I can’t because it’s a visa confidentiality, but I can tell you that it is not reversible once a consular affairs officer denies someone’s visa. DHS took it up; they have the ability to do so. Anything beyond that, DHS would have to answer that.

    QUESTION: Right. But I mean it remains the State Department’s position that someone who can only get into the country on this parole – on parole is ineligible for a visa, correct?

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t conflate one with the other. That is DHS. That’s a different department. That’s a different kind of program. That’s not a program that we administer here. Okay?

    QUESTION: But State Department denied the visas twice before the parole was granted.

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that. Again, that would come under visa confidentiality. DHS made its decision, and so we are now glad that the girls are coming to the United States and wish them well.

    QUESTION: But would that initial decision be reviewed, then, and whatever --

    MS NAUERT: I know that our people at very senior levels in Afghanistan were involved in this, and I’ll just leave it at that. Okay?

    QUESTION: So if parole – if visa – if visa information is completely confidential and you can’t discuss it, why is parole information available? And then why didn’t you give parole to the --

    MS NAUERT: That’s a – you have to talk to DHS about that. Again, that’s a DHS program.

    QUESTION: Why wasn’t the Iranian doctor who was stopped in Boston and sent back – why wasn’t he given parole? I mean, it would seem to me that this guy – he’s a cancer researcher. The public benefit to him being in the country might be a little bit more than a bunch of girls going to a robotics competition, as wonderful as that is.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with the specifics of the case. I know that this individual you’re referring to was turned away. I think that falls under Customs and Border Protection. I know it seems like people would want to paint the federal government and certain departments here as a bunch of meanies for not letting some people in. There are reasons for this, okay? I know the people who do these jobs, whether it’s here or at – whether it’s at DHS or Customs and Border Protection, take their jobs very, very seriously.

    QUESTION: Clearly.

    QUESTION: Yeah. But so --

    QUESTION: Just a clarification --

    QUESTION: -- those original decisions, then – are – is the State Department now seeing those as mistakes?

    MS NAUERT: I – again, I stand by it. I’m not going to get into talking about the visas and why the visas were denied. I can just tell you our people take these very seriously.

    QUESTION: So --

    QUESTION: Can you talk about the President’s involvement in this? Seems that he kind of heard about the case and asked the State Department and DHS to kind of work together to try and find a solution.

    MS NAUERT: So I know that the President, as did a lot of other people, heard about this case and were very interested in it. I know that Ms. Dina Powell took an interest in it as well. I know that others at the White House were asked to take a look at the case and I’ll just leave it at that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can I just --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So – along these same lines, I was told earlier this week that you guys have finally decided on the P-2 – the Iraqi – the refugee --

    MS NAUERT: Oh, goodness. Let me see if I can find that for you here. Okay.

    QUESTION: -- refugee P-2 status for Iraqi – for former Iraqi translators for the U.S. military and that you have determined that working for the U.S. military as a translator in Iraq, as a contractor, is not necessarily a bona fide relationship with an entity in the United States. And I would just like to ask, how is that possible? If you were working for the U.S. military, risking your life, how do you not have a bona fide relationship with an entity in the United States? You were paid by the Pentagon. It wasn’t like you were getting paid in cash on the side – well, maybe some people were, but – by a commander to serve as a – I don’t even know what, as kind of a personal servant or something. They were being paid by the U.S. Government. How is it possible that you guys could come to the determination that such an employer-employee relationship is not a bona fide relationship?

    MS NAUERT: I’m trying to find it here, Matt, because I knew you would ask me about this. You’re like a dog with a bone. (Laughter.) You never forget.

    QUESTION: Huh?

    MS NAUERT: I said you’re like a dog with a bone, you never forget.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Hold on one second. Let me continue to try to find this. And then --

    QUESTION: Until the bone is all gone.

    QUESTION: Well, then you’d take another bone.

    QUESTION: Right. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Bear with me here, gang.

    QUESTION: And then I also wanted to ask you if you had gotten anything – I also asked last week about the human rights advocate in Bahrain, the --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- woman who had been --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Matt, I hate to punt on the Iraqi P-2 because I know I have information on --

    QUESTION: Well, I certainly understand why --

    MS NAUERT: No, I know I have information on --

    QUESTION: -- why you would want to punt --

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. I have – I do have information --

    QUESTION: -- because it’s a decision that frankly does not make any sense at all.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know that’s your – I know that’s your opinion, and I --

    QUESTION: I think it’s the – not an opinion, that it’s – if it is an opinion --

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know that’s your opinion, Matt Lee, but I will --

    QUESTION: -- then it’s an opinion of a lot of other people.

    MS NAUERT: Let me look at this. I’ve got this here somewhere for you.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, if you --

    MS NAUERT: So let me get back to you on that.

    QUESTION: All right, fine. About Bahrain?

    MS NAUERT: About Bahrain, yes. So the activist that you’ve been asking about, Ebtisam al-Saegh --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: -- she’s now been detained for a second time. She’s been detained without charges. We continue to follow that case. We are now aware of hunger reports or a hunger strike that she’s been on, apparently, since the 11th of July. So one of the things that we continue to do is call upon the authorities in Bahrain to not only ensure she has access to adequate medical care, but also to release her. We’re also aware of some disturbing reports that she was abused, allegedly, during her detention back in May. We continue to urge the Bahraini authorities to investigate those allegations and thoroughly, impartially, and hold anyone who was responsible for that to the appropriate account.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Last question. I’m going to leave it there.

    QUESTION: Just to clarify --

    MS NAUERT: I know, yes.

    QUESTION: -- something you said before. You said senior leaders in Afghanistan were involved in the decision?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, that’s all I can say about that. I just know that --

    QUESTION: The decision to deny the visas or --

    MS NAUERT: I know that – well, no, they were – let me rephrase that and thank you --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- for catching that. The correct way to characterize that is senior officials working for the U.S. Government in Afghanistan were aware of this and were involved in some capacity in the process. My understanding is that I don’t believe that additional staffers can weigh in on visa adjudications, but I don’t want to get into the – too into the weeds on that one because I don’t want to give you the incorrect information about how exactly visas are adjudicated, but I just can tell you that people were aware of this.

    QUESTION: Was it after the fact?

    MS NAUERT: No, no. This is something that we’ve paid close attention to over the past few weeks and we’ll leave it at that. Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I actually ask this, Heather?

    MS NAUERT: We have to wrap it up. We’re over and at four o’clock today, we hope you’ll just us for Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:34 p.m.)

    DPB # 36

    [1] North Korea


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - July 11, 2017

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 18:16
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 11, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • CHINA
  • ISIS/IRAQ/SYRIA
  • QATAR/REGION
  • SYRIA
  • RUSSIA
  • IRAQ
  • RUSSIA
  • NORTH KOREA/REGION
  • CHINA/REGION
  • INDIA/REGION
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • TURKEY

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:45 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the State Department. Who’s back from the G20? All right. Well, welcome back. I hope you had a good trip over there.

    I would like to welcome some students that we have in the back row. So, again, keep it clean when we have guests. They’re from Georgetown Day School. So welcome to the State Department, great to have you here today. And they’re studying international affairs. So thank you for coming.

    I’ve got a few pieces of business to address first today, and the first is an announcement that we made over the weekend, but we’re really pleased with it, so I wanted to highlight it for you again. We’ve talked a lot about the four famines in Africa, and so I wanted to tell you about a USAID big chunk of change that has gone to that effect.

    On Saturday, the United States announced nearly $639 million in additional humanitarian assistance to the millions of people affected by food insecurity and violence in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and also Yemen. With the new assistance, the United States is providing additional emergency food and nutrition assistance, life-saving medical care, improved sanitation, emergency shelter, and protection for civilians who have been affected by conflict, including those displaced internally, and also refugees.

    The United States is also providing safe drinking water and supporting hygiene and health programs to treat and prevent disease outbreaks for all the four crises, including in Yemen, which is experiencing the world’s largest cholera outbreak. The United States is the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance around the world. The aid we provide represents the best of America’s generosity and its goodwill.

    Today marks – actually, Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the launch of China’s government nationwide campaign of intimidation against defense lawyers and also rights defenders. The State Department remains deeply concerned about the continued detention of at least seven defense lawyers and rights defenders and reports of their alleged torture and denial of access to independent legal counsel. We urge the Chinese authorities to immediately release those still in detention and drop the charges, and also allow them to reunite with their families. We urge the Chinese authorities to view lawyers and rights defenders as partners in strengthening Chinese society through the development of the rule of law.

    ISIS" name="ISIS">And finally, I would like to announce something that’s taking place here at the State Department, a busier place than usual today. There is a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS that’s underway this week. Today, members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS are in Washington for the first of three days of meetings on the next phase of the campaign. The meetings come at a key moment in the fight against ISIS, just as Mosul has been liberated. The coalition’s working groups on stabilization, support, counter-finance, foreign terror fighters, and counter-messaging are convening to evaluate the progress and also discuss how to build upon momentum that are achieved in each of those areas.

    Tomorrow, representatives of the 72-member coalition will participate in a day of workshops to share the best practices to ensure that we maintain simultaneous pressure on ISIS across the globe. On Thursday, senior diplomats at the coalition’s small group will meet to build on the work of the previous day’s meetings. They’ll also talk about future priorities, coordinate efforts to continue setting ISIS on an irreversible path to defeat. Just as ISIS is working to survive, we are dedicated and committed to defeating ISIS.

    And with that, I’ll take your questions.

    QATAR" name="QATAR">QUESTION: Can we go to Qatar?

    MS NAUERT: Sure, let’s start at Qatar. Hi.

    QUESTION: Can you update us on the latest efforts by Secretary Tillerson? And I know we saw the statement that was issued, and he basically said – quoted to have said that the Qataris’ position is reasonable. Could you elaborate on that?

    MS NAUERT: So the Secretary was in – I’m sorry, UAE – no, he was in – he’s based in Kuwait and has had a few series of trips. He went to Doha today to talk to the leaders there. And he will travel to Saudi Arabia tomorrow, and that’s where he’ll meet with the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Egyptians, and also the Bahraini officials.

    An important piece of news to announce is that we worked out an arrangement with the Qataris separate from the Qatar feud, if you will. And this is something we’re pretty proud of, and this is something that the President has made a major initiative of his that was worked out at the Riyadh conference. And that is the Qataris and the United States have signed a memo of understanding between the United States and Qatar on counterterrorism financing. So some of the details I understand are still being worked out at this hour; the Secretary was pleased to be able to announce that piece of work today.

    QUESTION: Do you see this as paving the way for Qatar to go back into the good stead of the other four countries that cut off relations with it?

    MS NAUERT: We certainly hope so. We know that all of those countries, as we talked about in Riyadh, share the concern about ISIS, the global terror network, and they recognize that we are all stronger when we are working together and coordinating in the fight against ISIS. So we believe that this memo of agreement between the United States and Qatar is a good first start to get that underway.

    Hey, Michelle.

    QUESTION: Initially in this, what we heard from the Saudis was kind of take or leave it, here are our demands. So how would you say that through the course of the Secretary’s meetings the willingness level has changed, or hasn’t, among the other countries besides Qatar?

    MS NAUERT: So I know that the countries and the Secretary are committed to trying to work this through and come to a resolution. It’s been more than a month now. We’ve continued to ask them to do that. I think those nations all understand the concern and the importance to work together to come to a resolution on this.

    QUESTION: And Tillerson’s spokesperson during part of this trip had said, when he was talking to reporters, that there are no clean hands here. Was he talking about Saudi Arabia or what? Can you clarify that?

    MS NAUERT: I think – I know what you’re referring to. I think when he referred to no clean hands what he was talking about – and I wasn’t there for this, but I think what he was talking about is that all parties can do a lot more to work together, that all of the nations have issues that they need to address and work together on. And I think that this new counterterrorism financing and funding initiative that the Secretary was able to announce today with the – his foreign – the foreign minister of Qatar is a good first place to start.

    QUESTION: And when he said that some of those demands were just completely untenable but some could be workable, can you give a little more detail on what he was talking about?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to characterize any of the specific demands, but we know overall from taking a look at the initial lists and subsequent lists that some of the things would be harder for certain nations to do than others. Some of them would, frankly, not be workable for some of those nations. I’m not going to point out specifics. That’s for each of those nations to look at and highlight themselves. But we’re hoping that they will come to an agreement on this.

    Hi.

    QUESTION: Heather, State and Qatar have described this agreement that they signed today as a separate agreement to the process that had begun in Riyadh before this blockade began. But given that the most cited grievance that these countries have against Qatar is – has to do with terrorist financing, and this is a terrorist financing agreement, could you characterize this as linked or as a breakthrough to try to end this impasse?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think to highlight that the United States and Qatar have this agreement on terror financing sends a really good message to all of the nations that, hey look, we can get to this agreement on this, we can get to an agreement that terror financing is a major issue and a major concern. So I think that helps set a good example for the other nations that we hope that they will come to the table with us as well.

    QUESTION: And there’s an expectation or a hope that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, these other nations, will sign similar agreements with the United States?

    MS NAUERT: That I’m not sure. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the Secretary’s discussions because he has a lot of meetings ahead of him and a lot of hard work ahead as well.

    Okay. Hi, Kel.

    QUESTION: Hey, does Secretary – just to clarify – want other nations to sign onto it, considering that the Qatari foreign minister said that they are the first nation to sign onto this memorandum?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not certain if this memorandum is going to be extended to the other nations. There could potentially be, but I don’t want to get ahead of the Secretary. I suppose there could be separate memorandums that would come of these conversations. But again, I just don’t want to get ahead of what those discussions might look like.

    QUESTION: And when will we be getting the details of what was in this memorandum? It seems like it’s a bit unclear right now.

    MS NAUERT: Well, this is all fresh. It’s all new. The President had asked the Secretary to go over there and personally handle this. So we’re just going to keep an eye on it, keep an eye on the situation, because it’s still developing.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Qatar?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: No, let’s stay with Qatar. Are we done with Qatar?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s move on.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Hey, Josh. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Is there going to be – is there any clarity so far on the monitoring of the Syrian ceasefire? Obviously, Lavrov said yesterday that it was going to be done with the United States and Jordan from a center in Amman. Do you have any more details on that?

    MS NAUERT: Mr. Lavrov likes to talk a lot and get out ahead, I think, of some of the negotiations that are underway. That is all still being worked out. We are a little over two days into the ceasefire in that part of Syria. We’re pleased with that. We think it’s holding fairly well at this point. In terms of who is doing what, when, where, how, some of those details are still being worked out.

    QUESTION: Is there a level of urgency in working that out? Because it seems like if you don’t have a monitoring or an enforcement mechanism of a ceasefire it sort of incentivizes people to break it, because who’s monitoring?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think the first objective was – and this is no small feat that the United States, that Jordan and Russia, were all able to work out an agreement to bring in a ceasefire in a separate, new area. This is aside from the Astana process which had the other zones. This is the de-escalation zone that is a fifth and separate region. So I think it’s a terrific feat that they were able to identify this region and call – agree to a ceasefire and allow that ceasefire, for the most part, to take hold.

    So this is something that I know is important to get to the position where there are monitors, and who those monitors will be I don’t know at this point. I know we have folks in the region. I know that our special envoy to Syria is actively engaged in these conversations, so I anticipate we’ll get that information in the in the near future.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Do you think you might be able to provide a map or an outline of the specifics of the region, or just give more clarity on what we’re talking --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure that we’ll be able to. That may be classified at this point. I can certainly look into that.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: And is there any assessment about – there was some flashpoints that happened in the last 24 hours in parts of the area that might have been considered the ceasefire or might not have --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- a regime offensive in Suwayda or – on the outskirts?

    MS NAUERT: So my understanding is that is actually outside of the area where the ceasefire has been called or has been identified. Again, for the most part, this seems to be holding right now. I’m not going to say that there aren’t going to be skirmishes or things here and there, but so far, this is holding, and a pretty incredible feat that the United States, Russia, and Jordan were able to come to this.

    Okay. Anything else on Syria?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I got a quick follow-up. Are you concerned that this ceasefire would allow extremists from ISIS, from other groups – especially Jabhat al-Nusrah – to be funneled – to make all the way up to Idlib and even coming out of Mosul and Raqqa and going there, where they are going to congregate? Is that still --

    MS NAUERT: I think --

    QUESTION: Are these groups are still free targets? They don’t fall under the ceasefire?

    MS NAUERT: This is still a fresh agreement, so we’re going to wait a little bit and let this agreement play out. We have a lot of folks who are in the region, a lot of coalition partners who care about trying to keep this ceasefire holding at this point, and then we’ll try to build on it from there.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Are you skeptical of Russia’s intentions here at this point, or would you say that the situation seems better than that this time?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think the Secretary and the President have talked about our difficulties in our relationship with Russia, that we remain at a low point but we’re looking for areas of agreement. I think when you find areas of agreement that you can work on, you start to build from somewhat of a point of confidence and comfort level. If we can get that initial building block in place, perhaps we could work on some – on the next step. I know one of the commitments we share at this point is not just this ceasefire but also allowing humanitarian access to get in. That’s badly needed. And so the hope is that we can get in humanitarian access and help the folks there in that area.

    QUESTION: Would you say that the State Department stance at this point is optimistic, or is it not at that point yet?

    MS NAUERT: I think optimism in a country that has seen a brutal regime, that has seen so much misery over six years – I think optimism is perhaps too strong of a word, but I think it is promising, in a certain sense, that we’ve been able to get this ceasefire underway. And for the most part it’s been able to hold so far, and we’ll keep building to do more.

    Okay. Anything else left on Syria?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Who had Syria?

    QUESTION: Here.

    MS NAUERT: Sir, hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Is the deal sustainable without Iranian buy-in, and do you know if the negotiators are in contact at all with Iran?

    MS NAUERT: I have no information on that whatsoever. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Syria. Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Miss, did you have something on Syria?

    QUESTION: Yeah, a follow-up on Syria. I’m Tatiana Kalykova. I’m correspondent for Russian news agency Ria Novosti. I want to go back to previous statement of Mr. Tillerson on proposal to establish joint mechanism, and specifically that includes establishing no-fly zones in Syria. Is that something that we are going to see in the near future? Are you working on that with Russian counterparts, or for now it’s like just a proposal?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to get ahead of any of our diplomatic conversations that could be had. I think the focus today is on this ceasefire. We’re pleased to see that. We also have had some movement on – from the standpoint of meeting with the Russians, and that’s something I wanted to announce today, that Under Secretary Shannon will be meeting with the Russians, with his counterpart, here in Washington on Monday. So that was something that the Russians – we had had on the schedule with him previously and Russia had canceled that meeting, as you all know, in Saint Petersburg. Under Secretary Shannon has been hard at work, as we have been trying to find areas that we could deal with some of these so-called irritants, and that meeting’s set to happen here in Washington on Monday.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: Is that meeting an outgrowth of the discussions?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. This is something, I believe, that – I know that Under Secretary Shannon – excuse me, that Mr. Shannon had had this conversation about a week and a half or so go, and I – so I think this is sort of as a result of that.

    QUESTION: Is he meeting Ryabkov? Is Ryabkov coming over, or is it somebody else?

    MS NAUERT: I believe it’s Ryabkov coming here to Washington.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Syria?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the Shannon meeting?

    QUESTION: On Russia.

    QUESTION: Iraq.

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s go on over to Iraq. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Okay. So the Pentagon issued a statement, which resonated what other U.S. officials from the State Department have said about the liberation of Mosul. It said we have to – we need to address the conditions that led to the rise of ISIS in Iraq. So I want to know whether the United States mission from now on will be to address those conditions in Iraq and what are those conditions.

    MS NAUERT: I think our mission in Iraq – we’ll do what we can to support the Iraqi Government and the people of Iraq. We are not going to unilaterally decide what’s best for the Iraqi Government. We have had close cooperation with them and we are very, very pleased to see the liberation of Mosul. Let’s not forget it was not that long ago where the most horrific things on the part of ISIS were taking place in Mosul, where we saw the beheadings of civilians, where we saw the crucifixion of Christians, where in various parts of Iraq and Syria we’ve seen people burned in cages, we’ve seen people drown. So I think it’s a real welcome sight – not that the fight is over, but a welcome sight that Mosul has been liberated. Again, a tough fight ahead for the Iraqi Government, other governments in the area, coalition partners. That’s something that we’re addressing here in Washington. But we remain committed to that and also to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Government.

    QUESTION: One more question on the Amnesty International report. They have made some accusations against the coalition and the Iraqi forces, arguing that they might – war crimes might have been committed by the coalition and Iraqi forces in Mosul because --

    MS NAUERT: I’m familiar with the Amnesty International report. And some would say let’s take a step back and take a look at this. The coalition and its forces do everything that they can to avoid civilian causalities. That’s something as Americans and I know the coalition as a whole takes very, very seriously. Let’s remember why we are engaged in this fight against ISIS. Let me remind you of something I just said – the beheadings of civilians, the beheadings of children, the crucifixion of Christians, the burning of the Jordanian pilot in the cage. All of these things – I can go on and on about the atrocities that have taken place in that region over a few numbers of years. So we will continue to take that fight to ISIS and continue to allow Iraqi civilians to come home. The United States, coalition partners, have had that win, if you will, but we know that it’s not over yet.

    QUESTION: Have you looked at the findings, Amnesty’s findings?

    MS NAUERT: I have not seen those findings myself. I know that they did not contact the Department of Defense or our coalition partners in putting together that report.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Let me go to that. Hi.

    QUESTION: ISIS could not have controlled Mosul without support from at least some local elements. So my question is anyone – perhaps the Iraqis, perhaps you would know something about this – is anyone planning on establishing a mechanism for the victims of ISIS to seek justice, to hold accountable those who were involved in the terrible crimes that you’ve just described?

    MS NAUERT: I know that the United States has continued to offer Iraq our support in doing what is needed to help them, to not only help stabilize the country but to help provide additional assistance. I believe that’s something that the Iraqi Government – I cannot speak for the Iraqi Government – could potentially be looking into themselves. But I think that’s something for the Iraqi Government to decide.

    QUESTION: Would you be encouraging them to look into it?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I’m not part of the diplomatic conversations that are underway. I’m not aware of any that are taking place about that specific issue. But I know just historically we would certainly support the government in what it needs to do to bring people to justice.

    Okay. Anything else on Iraq? Iraq? Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Let’s – hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: So can you provide any sort of update on the cyber framework that Secretary Tillerson announced on Friday? The President had described it as a cyber security unit, but the Secretary had used the term framework. So just sort of any details you can provide and whether or not it is happening.

    MS NAUERT: So I know a lot of people like to pick apart the exact words that are used. Sarah Huckabee Sanders over at the White House addressed this issue yesterday, in which she gave a little bit more color about this. One of the things she said is that we recognize Russia as a cyber threat. We also recognize the need to have a conversation with our adversaries. And I think that sort of formulates what – part of what the President’s discussion was. She went on to say that the discussions may still take place over that particular issue that you mention, but that’s as far as we can really look ahead right now.

    QUESTION: So it won’t be part of, for example, Under Secretary Shannon’s meeting next Monday?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I know that this was a meeting that the under secretary has been trying to get on the books for quite some time. Again, it was canceled, as you all know, about three weeks ago or so, and so we’re pleased to have that meeting on the books.

    QUESTION: And can you say – the Secretary was saying after that meeting as well that both presidents agreed, rightly, in his opinion, that we needed to move on from this issue of a cyber intrusion. Does that mean that there will be no sort of repercussions for Russia because of the meddling in the U.S. election?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not going to speak for the White House or the President, but I think Secretary Tillerson has been very clear about that, about – and that’s part of the reason that the Russian Government was asked to leave its dachas here in the United States --

    QUESTION: So no --

    MS NAUERT: -- because we knew that there were some activities taking place in those dachas that were not permitted under U.S. law.

    QUESTION: But no further repercussions by this administration?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t speak to what the White House could potentially be working on or not working on at that point.

    QUESTION: So any support for the – I know you don’t want to comment on legislation --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- but the sanctions bill, I know at least one senior administration official had expressed support for it. Is that the position now of the State Department?

    MS NAUERT: Again, it’s – I don’t know which particular member of Congress you’re speaking about.

    QUESTION: No, it was, I believe, Marc Lotter with the White House that said the administration would support it.

    MS NAUERT: I see. Okay. Let me just refer you back to the White House on that one.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: On that same issue?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: China?

    QUESTION: Different --

    MS NAUERT: Dmitri, go ahead.

    QUESTION: A couple on dachas.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

    MS NAUERT: I know you must be so excited to talk about that. It’s summertime, you want your place back on the eastern shore of Maryland and New York. It’s hot here in D.C.

    QUESTION: To be completely honest with you, I don’t want to touch that at all, but I have to.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: I’m afraid I have to. The Russians essentially warned that they are prepared to retaliate. They still view it as a tit-for-tat situation. Thirty-five of Russian diplomats were thrown out last year, those two dachas were shut down, so they’re saying guys, we’re basically at the deadline, you need to make a decision, and we’re – I think we’re racing to go on a downward spiral again. Do you have a response to that?

    MS NAUERT: What was – about – a downward spiral about what?

    QUESTION: Yes, because the Russians are threatening to take – mirror similar --

    MS NAUERT: I see what you mean, okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: -- to retaliate.

    MS NAUERT: I think – and I don’t mean to be cute in saying this, but we’re used to certain officials from the Russian Government making a lot of comments. So I’m not going to comment on any or speculate on any specific Russian actions, any specific Russian threats. It’s a hypothetical at this point. I just know that the under secretary is looking forward to sitting down with his counterpart and we’ll see where it goes from there.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Was that issue – the Russians have been making threats for, what, two months now about retaliating for the seizure of property. So to what extent was that discussed in the meeting with Putin?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not aware whether or not that came up. I can certainly look into it for you, though, and I’m – but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get an answer.

    QUESTION: Okay. And when you were just asked about any potential repercussions or more punishment for Russia’s cyber-meddling, you mentioned the dachas and the expulsions. Are you saying that Secretary Tillerson feels that that is an adequate response to what Russia did in the election?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know that I would characterize it that way. I think the Secretary has been clear --

    QUESTION: I’m not sure if he has.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Okay. I’ll disagree with you there politely --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- but I think the Secretary has been clear on his concerns about that, and we’ll leave it for Mr. Shannon and Mr. Ryabkov to have those conversations on Monday, and I’m not going to get ahead of those.

    QUESTION: All right, thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Turkey, (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: Let’s switch regions now.

    QUESTION: Turkey, (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s go over to North Korea now.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: How are you? How are you?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Does the U.S. have any update – sanctions against the North Korean such as secondary boycott?

    MS NAUERT: Such as what?

    QUESTION: Secondary boycott, like --

    MS NAUERT: Ah, okay. One of the things Secretary Tillerson has talked about is we would be willing to – and I don’t say a lot about sanctions but I can say this because it is a general matter – we are willing to look at third-party sanctions and look at other nations and sanction them if they are involved in activities that help give money to the DPRK. A couple recent examples: There were sanctions issued against some Chinese entities last week. There was also – there were also some sanctions issued against – I believe it was a Russian corporation a week or 10 days ago or so. So the United States continues to look at those as ways to try to shut down the money that is illegally going to North Korea that we believe, we firmly believe that it goes to fund its illegal weapons programs and also – and that.

    QUESTION: Do you have any information on the Six-Party representative talks in Singapore – U.S., South Korea, and Japan?

    MS NAUERT: We announced last week that our Ambassador Yun was heading over there. I believe those talks are still underway at this point. I don’t have any additional information for you at this time.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can we go to India, please?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Anything else on Asia?

    QUESTION: Yes, follow-up --

    MS NAUERT: Are you on Asia?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

    QUESTION: Same topic. The U.S., there have been reports, is circulating a draft resolution at the UN Security Council for additional sanctions on the DPRK. Do you have an update on how those discussions are going? And also, was it discussed in the meeting with President Xi and President Trump?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. A couple things in terms of potential sanctions at the United Nations. I know that that is something that is a hot topic. A lot of people are talking about that right now. The sanctions are – I know it’s something that Ambassador Nikki Haley has touched on briefly about that. She has said any new potential sanctions or resolutions, I should say, should be proportionate to the new escalation that has been faced as a result of North Korea’s actions.

    I hate to say this again, but I don’t want to get ahead of some of those diplomatic conversations that are going to take place at the United Nations. We’re going to be talking with the nations there and the members of the UN Security Council to see what is the best move yet. One thing I think is clear and that is the world is very concerned about the escalation in terms of the threat that the DPRK faces, not just with regard to the region, but with regard to the world.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: And then also one more on Liu Xiaobo’s condition. There have been reports that he is in critical condition. Are you concerned for his health, and also is the U.S. ready to accept him into the country to receive medical treatment?

    MS NAUERT: So Liu Xiaobo, we’ve been following that case very closely. You’ve heard me talk about it here for the past few weeks. We continue to call on the Chinese authorities for his full parole and also for the release of his wife. At China’s invitation – and we were pleased to see this take place – U.S. and German medical experts were able to come and visit him and also visit his family. I understand that his wife, who had been under house arrest, was able to be with him at the hospital. We’re happy about that, however, we continue to call on China to release him so that he can receive medical treatment wherever he desires. If it’s in the United States, I think we would certainly welcome that. The State Department was involved in helping to get a U.S. doctor from MD Anderson to China to be able to take a look at him. I know the German – there was also a German doctor that was in attendance too. We would like for Mr. Liu to be able to make his own health choices about where he would like to go.

    Okay. Anything else on China?

    QUESTION: China?

    QUESTION: One more question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, so I was wondering if you have a reaction to your counterpart at the Chinese foreign ministry. Spokesperson Geng rejected the idea that China has a responsibility for mitigating the North Korean nuclear crisis.

    MS NAUERT: Hm. Okay, I’m not aware of those comments, but I know that we have been very clear that China has a unique kind of leverage with North Korea. About 90 percent or so of the trade that North Korea does is done with China. We’ve continued to have conversations with Chinese Government officials at all levels, at the highest levels, and we continue to say, “Thanks for what you’ve done, but we expect and we want you to do a whole lot more.” So we’ll continue to have those conversations.

    QUESTION: Great, thank you. Would you mind just taking the question so you actually have a chance to read through the statement that he made? Could you follow up --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Could you follow up – once you actually have a chance to look at the statement, would you mind following up on that?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, which – at which statement?

    QUESTION: The Chinese spokesperson’s statement.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I mean, I can certainly see what I can do, but --

    QUESTION: Sure. Well, you said you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet.

    MS NAUERT: -- as I’m sure you’ve heard me here say before say --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: -- every statement that comes out from every person around the globe, whether it’s a spokesperson or a foreign minister, I’m not going to comment on those things, okay?

    QUESTION: Sure.

    MS NAUERT: All right. Anything left on --

    QUESTION: Change topic?

    MS NAUERT: -- China or DPRK?

    QUESTION: On India?

    QUESTION: Can we --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, we’ll go to India. Hi, sir. How are you?

    QUESTION: Fine, thank you. Are you aware about the – do you know about the terrorist attack in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir where seven pilgrims were killed – shot dead by terrorists yesterday?

    MS NAUERT: That took place on July the 10th.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: That is what you’re referring to?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: And yes, we are aware of that. We’re familiar with it, but the – we consider it to have been a terrorist attack in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in which seven religious pilgrims were killed. That’s of great concern to us. These were civilians, they were killed as they were exercising their right to worship, and that is in large part what makes this so reprehensible. That is a great concern to us. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those people and to their families as well. Our prayers are with the victims and those who were injured.

    QUESTION: And do you know who were behind these attacks? The state police is saying the Lashkar-e Tayyiba from Pakistan were behind this attack.

    MS NAUERT: Sir, I’m not aware of who may have been responsible or may not have been responsible for that.

    QUESTION: Is there any cooperation between India and the U.S. on this terrorist attack?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, thank you. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Thank you. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. I just want to ask a question about some Afghanistan. As we all know that you are going to announce, the current administration is going to announce, the new Afghan policy. So what kind of designation you are giving to the Afghan Taliban in that policy, because the Obama administration, in this last two or three tenure, they stopped calling Afghan Taliban as terrorists. So what kind of designation you are giving to the Taliban in the new Afghan policy?

    MS NAUERT: Well, our Afghan policy review is still underway. That has not been announced just yet. So they are looking at – our officials who are involved in that Afghan policy review, which goes from the State Department to the Department of Defense to the National Security Advisor and his team, and plenty others, I’m sure, that I’m just not mentioning right now. So that review is underway. That review continues. I’m not going to get ahead of what’s in that review. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes out of it.

    QUESTION: But are they terrorists or not – the Afghan Taliban?

    MS NAUERT: Sir, we’re going to wait for that review to take place, okay? Okay. Sir, I --

    QUESTION: Is there any update on kidnapped American citizens in Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: And who exactly are you referring to?

    QUESTION: Reffing to? I don’t understand what you’re saying.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So you asked me about – about who kidnapped?

    QUESTION: Yeah, American citizens kidnapped in Afghanistan. Is there any update on that?

    MS NAUERT: Let me get back with you on that and let me see what I have, okay?

    QUESTION: Can we go to Turkey?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I have a few more question if you allow me.

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me, sir?

    QUESTION: I have --

    MS NAUERT: Let me move on. We have a lot of other people, and so we’ve got a lot of questions. Okay?

    QUESTION: A quick question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue really quick?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Today there was a high-level meeting in Jerusalem between Mr. Jason Greenblatt and the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, and also present was Ambassador David Friedman along with General Consul Donald Blome. Now, in the past, the meetings with the Palestinians did not include the American ambassador to Israel. It’s been like a protocol. Has there been, in your view, a downgrading of your view of the Palestinian Authority, or is this just something – because it has not been done since, like the ’90s?

    MS NAUERT: So I would say it’s, in fact, the opposite, not a downgrading but perhaps even an upgrading.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: The fact that our U.S. ambassador would be included in this meeting and that the Palestinians, as I understand it, would welcome him into this meeting --

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MS NAUERT: -- shows a step forward in terms of our cooperation.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: We’re very pleased to have the ambassador’s expertise in this. And I think it raises the level and indicates just how important it is for this administration to try to come to some sort of peace agreement. As I’ve said many times before --

    QUESTION: Right. Sure.

    MS NAUERT: -- and I’ll just throw this out one more time --

    QUESTION: I --

    MS NAUERT: -- we know that that process is not going to be easy.

    QUESTION: I understand.

    MS NAUERT: We know the process is going to be difficult. We know that both sides are going to have to compromise. But I think this is a good step and that we’ll continue to have additional meetings.

    QUESTION: Because in the past there was the consul general who basically behaved as or conducted himself as an ambassador to the Palestinians. So is this changing now?

    MS NAUERT: Said, I don’t know why you want to get into the bureaucracy and the diplo-speak of all of this, but I see it as a positive thing that the ambassador is there. It does – I don’t really think it matters if that position had not been there at the meetings. What matters is the Palestinians, as I understand it, they welcomed him --

    QUESTION: Right, right. Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: -- and that he was a part of that meeting, and I think that really underscores the importance that this administration is putting on that issue.

    We’re still hopeful, okay? We’re not giving up yet.

    QUESTION: Palestinian follow-up questions?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Last one.

    QUESTION: Last week, AP asked a question about the difference between restrained and unrestrained settlements, and the AP reporter specifically asked about whether the location of the settlement differentiated between restrained, which would be somewhat acceptable, versus unstrained, unacceptable. So my question is you said you’d follow up on that.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Do you believe that settlements on the Palestinian side of the barrier, that would be unrestrained, and on its – and within the settlement blocs that would be restrained? Or how do you differentiate in terms of location?

    MS NAUERT: I think that’s something that is still under review. As you know, Mr. Greenblatt in the region, Mr. Kushner has made many trips there. And so I’m just going to defer to them on that issue for right now. Okay?

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Last thing. Turkey, yes.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, Washington Post had an editorial titled “Mr. Tillerson’s betrayal of democratic ideals” with regards to Turkey visit, and basically argued that Mr. Tillerson went there but did not mention any of the human right issues, including press freedom and all the other issues. And this is the second time Mr. Tillerson went to Turkey and did not meet again with the opposition figures. What’s your comment on this criticism?

    MS NAUERT: Well, first – first regarding the Secretary’s schedule, he has had an absolute whirlwind of a week from the G20 to then heading over to Ukraine in Kyiv to address the ongoing issues there, and then to Turkey for a short stop, in which he was very busy on that stop, and then now handling the GCC and the Qatar resolution of that dispute. So he’s had an awful lot going on.

    We have continued, from this podium and through our statements and elsewhere and in conversations at the highest level, to have expressed our concerns with what we see as certain areas of concern – human rights violations for example, mass imprisonment of people in Turkey. We continue to raise those concerns with the Government of Turkey, and that has simply not changed. Okay?

    QUESTION: So you are saying that if there was more days, Mr. Tillerson would have met with the opposition figures? It is not a policy issue, but it was there was no time for that meeting?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have the Secretary’s schedule in front of me, but I know it was a tight schedule. I know that he has had an awful lot on his plate. I would go back to our previous statements where we have expressed, in Turkey as well as other nations around the world, expressed our great concerns about human rights and so forth. And so that has not changed. The Secretary has been clear about that.

    Guys, we have to leave it there. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Did he mention those concerns in his conversation with the president?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have a readout of that meeting. But if I can get something for you, I will.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Great.

    MS NAUERT: Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - July 6, 2017

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 17:27
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 6, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SECRETARY TRAVEL/GERMANY/TURKEY/UKRAINE
  • D-ISIS
  • IRAQ
  • AZERBAIJAN
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA
  • RUSSIA
  • D-ISIS
  • SYRIA/TURKEY
  • DPRK/REGION
  • QATAR/REGION
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • UKRAINE
  • REFUGEE ADMISSIONS PROGAM
  • IRAQ
  • BAHRAIN

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:15 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: How’s everyone?

    QUESTION: Good.

    QUESTION: Okay. And you?

    MS NAUERT: I’m doing very well, thank you. Great to be back with all of you. Let me start by introducing you first to the new director of our press operations, Robert Greenan, right here. He joins us from post in Austria, and he’s been many places around the world, and so he will be a valuable asset and resource to all of you.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: He’s done a terrific job already, and so this is his first briefing with me. So Robert, thank you.

    QUESTION: So the floor is yours now.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, now you have to take over. (Laughter.) And Mark Stroh will continue to be on, and Mark has been incredible in helping me to get up to speed, so thank you.

    All right. A lot of stuff going on today, so let me start out with a few toppers that I have. First, let’s start with the Secretary’s travel. Secretary Tillerson is in Hamburg, Germany today, and he is accompanying President Trump in meetings surrounding the G20. He will also participate in a series of bilateral meetings tomorrow. That schedule is still being finalized. I know you have a lot of questions about that. We’ll announce those hopefully later today.

    The Secretary will then travel to Kyiv, Ukraine on July the 9th to meet with a group of key activists pushing for reforms and meeting with Ukrainian President Poroshenko. The Secretary and President Poroshenko will host a joint media availability after their meeting. The Secretary will also meet with the staff and families of our embassy there.

    The Secretary will then depart Kyiv in the afternoon on July the 9th and travel to Istanbul, Turkey. On July the 10th, the Secretary will participate in bilateral meetings, including the meeting with members of the Turkish Government. The Secretary will also meet with our staff and families of the U.S. mission in Turkey, and I know he looks forward to doing that.

    The second thing that we have going on is Brett McGurk, our special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, will host members of the coalition for a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. next week. This will be an opportunity for members to discuss the efforts to defeat ISIS, including maximizing pressure on its branches, on its affiliates, and on its networks. The coalition will discuss all aspects of our campaign, including stabilization support, counter-finance, foreign terror fighters, counter-messaging, among other things. The meetings are taking place at a key moment in the fight against ISIS. Just as ISIS is trying to stay alive, we remain dedicated in committing to defeating them. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the coalition has a strong and proven strategy committed to the total destruction of ISIS while in parallel preparing for the day after.

    IRAQ" name="IRAQ">Another thing – and this is related to Iraq – and we are pleased to announce this: On July the 5th, Ambassador Silliman, our U.S. ambassador to Iraq, announced the U.S. Government’s intent to provide $150 million to the United Nations Development Program to support the Government of Iraq-identified stabilization priorities in the areas of Iraq that have been liberated from ISIS. The funds will support efforts to establish basic security, re-establish essential services, restore local economies, stabilize communities, and allow Iraqis to finally return home. This brings the United States commitment to stabilization programming in Iraq to more than $265 million over the past two years. The funds will be provided through USAID.

    And then finally, one last thing: The United States remains deeply concerned over Tuesday’s violations of the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that resulted in multiple civilian casualties, including possibly a two-year-old child. This happened near the line of contact. We wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those victims. Along with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, we call upon the sides to cease military action and return to the negotiating table. Our policy remains clear in that region: The only solution to this conflict is a negotiated settlement based on international law that includes adherence to the principles of non-use of force, territorial integrity, and self-determination.

    And with that, I’ll take your questions. Matt Lee, would you like to start?

    QUESTION: Thanks. Let’s start with Syria/Iraq and the Secretary’s statement from last night --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- which was – made note of the fact that the situation in Syria in particular would be a subject of discussion when President Trump meets President Putin tomorrow, and it talked about, as you know, cooperation between the United States and Russia, including in the military front, setting up – and it specifically mentioned no-fly zones. And the reason I’m asking about this is because it has been the position of – in the past of the Pentagon that a no-fly zone – that no-fly zones, setting them up in Syria would be very – if not unworkable, extremely difficult and very expensive to do.

    Has there been a shift in position on that? And is this a serious offer? Because this administration and the previous administration wanted to – had proposed suggestions of cooperation with the Russians and – like this, and it never bore any fruit.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Or they never bore any fruit.

    MS NAUERT: So, understood, and thank you for that question. The Secretary’s statement from yesterday – and I know a lot of you are very interested in that – it describes how our interactions with Russia on Syria are at the moment.

    We are continuing to have conversations with the Russians about how things will play out in Syria. Our overall policy has not changed on that matter. The United States is looking to explore the possibility of establishing what we would consider to be joint mechanisms for ensuring stability with Russia and in Syria. If our two countries can establish stability on the ground, we believe that that will lay a foundation for progress on the political settlement of Syria’s future. The policy has not changed. Some of the words and some of the phrasing may have changed at this point, but overall, it’s just one of a series of options that the United States will now consider.

    QUESTION: So, no-fly zones?

    MS NAUERT: The United States is considering a lot of things. The Secretary – and I don’t want to get ahead of any of those conversations that are being had or will be had this week, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

    QUESTION: So, all right, but are you – when you say joint mechanisms for securing Syria, particularly places that have been liberated from ISIS, that goes beyond the de-conflict – the current de-confliction, right? I mean, it’s something in --

    MS NAUERT: We are exploring a lot of options. Syria continues well into its sixth year now. We believe that Russia has a special responsibility. They have unique leverage over the Syrian regime and so we’re going to continue to put pressure on them and ask them to do more, and we will continue to work with them as this dialogue unfolds this week.

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: Can I pick up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, Elise.

    QUESTION: Can you – so given that he said, even in the beginning of the statement, that he was kind of putting this out there because he knew that the President, the two leaders, would talk about this – so these discussions have been going on with the Pentagon and also with Russian officials for weeks now. So would you see this – kind of following up on what Matt was saying, is this a kind of an opening offer, if you will, that the two presidents are going to see that as a kind of jump-off point for the beginning? Not necessarily that they would have the negotiations in this meeting, but he laid out certain conditions under which the Russians – under which you would consider that if the Russians were to accept their responsibility, if they – so, I mean, I’m just – we’re just trying to --

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t say that at all. There are a lot of options on the table. The overall goal – and let’s stay focused on the overall goal – the overall goal is to eventually bring peace and stability and try to grow some of the de-escalation zones, which we’ve had some progress with, certainly not enough, but we’ve seen a slowdown in terms of the some of the attacks taking place. So the goal would be to advance numerous options to have conversations with the Russians.

    QUESTION: So where do you see this as – in terms of a jump-off point for the presidents? Do you consider that they’ll just have a kind of general discussion of the idea or --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of the President and the White House conversations, but I know that the Secretary will be very engaged in that and the President will as well.

    QUESTION: Because it was really the most specific thing that we’ve heard in terms of --

    QUESTION: Yes, exactly.

    QUESTION: -- anything that would be discussed in this meeting.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, from me, you’re not going to hear from me getting into what exactly is going to be discussed in those meetings. I don’t – I just don’t want to get ahead of those, so I hope you can understand that.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Just to add to that – just to add to --

    QUESTION: On the – on the no-fly zones --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on, hold on. Barbara, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, it’s – if you’re saying you’re throwing out options that could be discussed, he was – very specifically mentioned something that’s been a point of controversy for a couple of years, so it doesn’t sound like he’d just say, “Oh, well, maybe we’ll do a no-fly zone, but we’ll see.” It seems to have been a shift.

    MS NAUERT: I can tell you that we’ve been talking with the NSC, we’ve been talking with the Department of Defense. There have been lots of parties involved with these conversations. The conversations will be had this week. They will continue for the time – for the future. And that’s all I’m going to give you on that. Okay.

    QUESTION: Not to belabor the point, but --

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: -- a no-fly zone --

    MS NAUERT: But I will. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: All right, then, I will.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, because it’s --

    MS NAUERT: That’s okay.

    QUESTION: -- it’s really a big deal. It is something that was time and again stated by the Pentagon, by generals, by the former secretary of defense and so on that it’s a very difficult thing to impose and enforce, as a matter of fact. So is this something that would likely create some sort of problem with coordination with Russia? After all, the statement itself, the Secretary’s statement is quite positive about Russia’s role.

    MS NAUERT: I think we are looking forward to continuing conversations with the Government of Russia to see what we can do with them, in concert, to try to resolve this situation in Syria.

    QUESTION: Now, just a quick follow-up on Syria. In the south, in the – in the south of the country, in Dara’a, with the Jordanian border, things have – a ceasefire has been taking place, and it seems to be holding. Do you have any position on the ceasefires that are taking place in various areas of Syria?

    MS NAUERT: I know that that is --

    QUESTION: -- and how are you coordinating --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I – I --

    QUESTION: -- with both the Russians and the Syrian Government --

    MS NAUERT: I can’t get into the de-confliction lines. That would be a matter for DOD. I know that we are pleased when a ceasefire can take effect and take hold and allow for the humanitarian assistance to come in. That is something that we continue to push for and hope that we will continue to see progress. We’ve seen some limited progress in terms of the ceasefires. We hope that that will continue.

    Okay, yes. Hi.

    QUESTION: Can we stay on those proposed joint mechanisms? No-fly zone was only one of those. There are several others mentioned in the Secretary’s statement. And it – I wanted to ask if it is something – if those nuts and bolts are something that’s being discussed right now, or this is sort of a dangling somewhere in the distant future, that something that might be discussed or might not? Because the previous administration, and it is well known, came very close to actually striking a deal with Russia. And as Secretary Kerry put it, it was sort of blocked by the Pentagon.

    MS NAUERT: I think your question would fall under the realm of some of the diplomatic conversations that will be had presumably this week and for the near – in the near future, so I’m just not going to get into that part, okay? Thank you.

    Barbara, go ahead.

    QUESTION: And just one clarification: When he says “on the ground ceasefire observers” or observation, does that open the door to American troops doing that or – I don’t – what does that mean exactly?

    MS NAUERT: That would be – that would be a DOD matter. So I’m going to leave the Secretary’s statement at that. When we start to talk about forces on the ground, that’s just something that they would have to cover. Okay, anything else on Syria?

    QUESTION: Yes, please.

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: On Russia --

    MS NAUERT: Excuse me, okay. Go ahead, yeah.

    QUESTION: Did – I just wanted to know if there was any – in the meeting that Tom Shannon had with the Russian ambassador the other day, did they make – was there any progress on --

    MS NAUERT: You have such a good memory. You really do, Matt.

    QUESTION: It was only Monday.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Was that Monday? Dog years in this job. It feels like it was longer ago than that.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to know if there was any more progress in getting the Ryabkov channel --

    MS NAUERT: Yes. So Mr. Shannon and Ryabkov did have a conversation.

    QUESTION: No, Kislyak.

    MS NAUERT: Kislyak – excuse me – did have a conversation – thank you – about trying to re-start those meetings --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- that the Russians had canceled a couple weeks ago. No meeting has actually been set at this point, but I know they had that conversation about that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: But they’re trying to set a meeting for next month, aren’t they?

    MS NAUERT: Elise, I don’t have any timetable or any exact meetings to give you, but I know that they’re talking about that.

    QUESTION: Yeah, on the --

    MS NAUERT: Are you on – Laurie, are you on Syria or Russia right now?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On the meetings for the global coalition that will be held next week, are the Syrian Democratic Forces going to be invited?

    MS NAUERT: They will not. This is a meeting of the actual members of the coalition. I believe there are about 72 members of the coalition – countries as well as entities such as NATO, for example. SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is not a part of that. Okay?

    QUESTION: What about the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. I can check for you on that.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Just one more question --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: In Syria there was a large demonstration protest yesterday in the city – the Kurdish city of Afrin against attacks from Turkish-backed forces in that city. Do you have a statement on that? Are you --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t – I don’t believe I do. I know that that’s something that we’ve been following, following carefully, but let me see what I can get for you on that. Okay?

    Okay. Anything else on Russia or Syria?

    QUESTION: Different. North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. You want to go to North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    DPRK" name="DPRK">QUESTION: Okay. On North – recently ICBM launch by North Koreans. Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to United Nations, she said that the U.S. has the strongest military power. We could use if we do want. That means U.S. take any military action to the North Korea or --

    MS NAUERT: I know that Ambassador Haley, as she was – as she pulled together that UN emergency meeting earlier this week – it’s obviously a huge concern to not just the United States but Japan and South Korea as well. They’re looking at doing some Security Council resolutions sometime in the near future. As it pertains to military action, that’s not something that we can speak to here from the State Department regarding that.

    QUESTION: But this is the additional sanctions against the North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: But Russia and China still not agree with these sanctions. How you going to convince this?

    MS NAUERT: I think that would be an Ambassador Haley question. I know that she’ll be speaking with her counterparts very closely. She’s been a very effective spokesperson here as ambassador to the USUN, and I know that’s going to be something that we just continue to have that conversation to be able to put additional pressure on the DPRK.

    QUESTION: But Kim Jong-un announced yesterday – he said North Korea will not put nuclear and military – I’m sorry – missile issues on the negotiation table. He doesn’t want a negotiation table these issues.

    MS NAUERT: Right.

    QUESTION: Are you going to accept this, or --

    MS NAUERT: It sounds like he wants to keep his nuclear and ballistic missile program. That is something that the United States and the world is against. We’ve had multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. What they are doing there is not only a threat to the region, but we view that as a threat to the world, and I think the world community is really coming around on that and understanding through what they watched happen here on our Fourth of July and what a huge concern that is to the world. And I think the world will increasingly get behind the United States and our other partners and call out – not only call out North Korea, but continue to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.

    QUESTION: Can we change topics?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on North Korea?

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Rich, hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. Is the U.S. beginning to lose patience with China on this issue?

    MS NAUERT: I think we view it as there’s a lot of work left to be done. We’re still somewhat early on in the overall pressure campaign against North Korea. We continue to believe that China can do a whole lot more to try to bring additional pressure to North Korea. We continue those conversations with China, as you saw – I believe it was just last week that the Treasury Department put additional sanctions on Chinese companies that were doing business in North Korea. So I would anticipate we would look to continue to put pressure on North Korea in that kind of fashion, but in terms of sanctions that are in the future, I’m just not going to broadcast or get ahead of what we might do.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up, though? But the President has kind of – like about a month or two ago and when the Chinese president came here, he was saying that we’re working together, seemed like it was more of a partnership. And in the recent weeks he’s kind of seemed to indicate that oh well, that was a lost cause, we tried. And now it seems as if it’s yes, you still want China to help on North Korea, but it’s more of a pressure tactic with China as opposed to working as partners.

    MS NAUERT: I think what we’re seeing here is just overall diplomacy. We’re seeing Secretary Tillerson and many of our counterparts here at the State Department reach out to not just China but other nations to address the issue in North Korea. The President is doing it in his own fashion as well, and I think we’re just watching our democratic process play out and watching it play out – the pressures that we’re continuing to put on North Korea.

    QUESTION: But do you see China as a kind of partner in this endeavor to pressure North Korea or more like a hostile witness type of situation?

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t describe it either way, Elise. I think it’s we just continue to work with China and talk to China, as we do all nations, about using what leverage they have, and China has unique leverage with North Korea because of that strong trade relationship that they do have and also borders and so forth. So we continue to put pressure on China. We expect and ask them to do more and we’ll continue to do that.

    Okay --

    QUESTION: Was the sanctioning of the bank last week the thin edge of the wedge? Are there other Chinese entities in the pipeline ready to go if China doesn’t do anything itself?

    MS NAUERT: That would be a Treasury matter. I can’t imagine that they’re going to get ahead of any sanctions. If you start announcing sanctions, then those people or entities that would be sanctioned then have a heads-up, so we’re not going to get ahead and start broadcasting sanctions.

    QUESTION: But Heather, on that point --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: -- this – with this latest rocket launch or ballistic missile launch, China now is releasing a joint statement with Russia proposing something that your predecessor had said was a non-starter for the U.S., this idea of a freeze for freeze. So are you actually losing China’s cooperation on this issue?

    MS NAUERT: I think that doesn’t really matter. We see it as there is no equivalency between the United States and its activities and actions that it undertakes with its allies, including South Korea and also Japan. These are something that are lawful. It’s longstanding that we do, whether it’s military exercises or basing over there – these are all things that have taken place since the 1950s. So that wouldn’t change, and I think that’s the important thing, that we are standing up for our allies and our men and women who are on the ground serving in the region.

    QUESTION: But the fact China is now again calling for us to either halt or bring down the military exercises a little bit, and they’re doing so now with Russia, who has increased trade with North Korea over the last couple months – is that not a sign that we’re losing their cooperation?

    MS NAUERT: We do these kinds of exercises and have relationships like this all over the globe. If China and Russia decide to come out against that, that is not going to change our position.

    QUESTION: Do you see a increased stance with those two countries – I know at the UN Security Council meeting yesterday both countries also made a point to criticize the deployment of THAAD in South Korea.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, who criticized that?

    QUESTION: Both Russia and China. Do you see them working closely together on this issue against U.S. interests?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know that that really matters. That is not going to change where we stand on the issue. We had a very productive meeting with Mr. Moon when he came over here – I believe it was last week. We have had – I know the Secretary met with his counterpart, the foreign minister, here that same week and they had lots of discussions about the importance of THAAD, the alliance decision that was made, and the reason that those decisions were made to deploy THAAD in the first place. And that is the safety and the defense of our partners over there, as well as the safety and defense of our U.S. forces over there. I just can’t see that changing.

    Okay. Anything else on DPRK, South Korea?

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: So given especially what the President said about China’s trade with North Korea increasing, I think, up close to 40 percent, would the administration – some of the most effective sanctions against Iran were actually congressional – congressionally-imposed secondary sanctions that were kind of imposed over a number of years in various pieces of legislation. Would the administration support that sort of legislation or sanctions of that kind against North Korea more broadly – so-called secondary sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: I think that’s something if Congress chooses to employ – announce sanctions and to vote on sanctions – that would be a congressional matter, so I’m not going to weigh in from here on anything that’s taking place or that may take place in Congress, but we’d certainly keep an eye on that.

    Okay. Anything else DPRK, South Korea?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Hey, Michelle.

    QUESTION: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Now that the U.S. has put the entire world on notice, from the State Department’s perspective, what does “on notice” mean?

    MS NAUERT: The entire world on notice regarding what?

    QUESTION: North Korea at this point.

    MS NAUERT: Regarding North Korea.

    QUESTION: Yeah, the --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, so we’ve continued to talk about this from here and I can’t underscore enough the importance of the message that the Secretary and I believe the President also has delivered to nations around the world.

    Let me assure you that when they have meetings with countries you may not even imagine that I can’t get into unfortunately, because they’re private diplomatic conversations, but we’ve continued to reach out to many countries that have citizens from North Korea working in those countries, we’ve called on those countries to cut the business that they do with North Korea. We have said, “If you have guest workers in your country from North Korea, eliminate those guest workers.” And by that, I mean send them home. We have said to them, “If you have 10 guest workers, cut that to five. If you are doing business with North Korea that is $2 million worth” – for example, a lot of countries will say, “Oh, it’s not much money.” This Secretary and other folks in this administration have come back, and they say, “Cut that in half.” That is the kind of economic and diplomatic pressure that we continue to put on countries around the world and many of them are taking notice and starting to do things about that.

    Some of them have done things about that for a while, but that pressure campaign we believe is continuing to work. One example that I can give you is in Germany – you all may recall it was a couple months ago that there was a German – there was a North Korean, I believe it was a hotel – I can double check the facts, this is just off the top of my head – but there were North Korean workers. And we had concerns that they would – those workers would collect the money and then be forced to give it back to their government. We believe, as we’ve looked at this model, that that money ends up going to the illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs. So we continue to look at those countries, pressure different countries to shut that stuff down.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: So does “on notice” mean “We see you,” or does “on notice” mean “We’re going to do something to you unless you change?”

    MS NAUERT: We’re in the diplomatic phase of this right now, and that is why the Secretary and others continue to ask countries to do more to change.

    QUESTION: Can I – are you – does that mean, when you just said – I want to make sure that you were just saying this as a generality --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- but are you looking for all countries that have guest workers or investments with North Korea to cut them in half?

    MS NAUERT: No, I – half was just really --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- just an example. That’s just something we’ve --

    QUESTION: I mean, this came up – the White House said that it came up in the President’s call with President Sisi of Egypt --

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: -- and there’s – there are a lot of countries, yes, and a lot of them that you might not expect who do have North Korean guest workers.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: But the half is not something that you’re running around --

    MS NAUERT: Half is not a literal number, no.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: I’m just saying for example. Some countries may say, “Oh, we don’t do a lot of business with North Korea. We only do $2 million worth.” And we’ll say, “Make that a lot less.”

    QUESTION: Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Because – I mean, what everybody seemed to agree on yesterday in the Security Council was that nothing has been working. So when you hear Russia suggest well, why don’t we try dialogue first and foremost without preconditions, is that anything that the U.S. would consider at this point?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into what Russia’s plan is right now and comment on that. Okay.

    QUESTION: But would the U.S. consider trying to talk to Kim Jong-un without --

    MS NAUERT: Without preconditions?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: I think it’s clear to the world that he wants to stick to his illegal nuclear weapons – or nuclear program and also his ballistic missile weapons program. I think his actions that he took earlier this week are very clear. I can’t – I’m not going to get ahead of what could happen down the road, but I just can’t anticipate that taking place. Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I just go back to the guest workers and such?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson at that meeting at the UN – I don’t even know how long ago that was – I think in --

    MS NAUERT: Oh gosh, the one back in March or so?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Was it then?

    QUESTION: It was April, actually.

    QUESTION: April? Whenever.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Good memory.

    QUESTION: Kind of brought this up in terms of the U.S. wanting the international community to do this. Nikki Haley brought it up yesterday. Is this something that perhaps you would want to put into a UN Security Council resolution to mandate UN – because, I mean, I think the last resolution called for members to consider thinking about getting rid of their guest workers or something, but it’s not --

    MS NAUERT: They’re all supposed --

    QUESTION: -- mandated by international law at all --

    MS NAUERT: They’re all supposed to stick to their resolutions. We hope that those countries will take responsibility and adhere to sanctions under various resolutions, but I’m not going to forecast --

    QUESTION: But they were voluntary – but what I’m saying is they were --

    MS NAUERT: I’m just not going to forecast what might be in a UN Security Council resolution.

    QUESTION: No, I understand, but they’re voluntary – those were – it was kind of like you urged them, and in these resolutions that’s more of a voluntary decision. And I’m wondering, beyond, like, Secretary Tillerson saying, the U.S. wants you to do that, is there consideration to making this illegal under international law?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t – I just can’t comment on that at this time.

    QUESTION: But he is going beyond UN resolutions with the way he’s pressuring on guest workers, no? Because, as Elise was saying --

    MS NAUERT: Barbara, I think this is a good thing. We see North Korea as a nation that --

    QUESTION: We didn’t say it was a bad thing.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, no, no, I just want to make this clear. We see North Korea as a nation that starves its people, that treats its people horrifically. We see a leader who is taking actions against the entire civilized world by continuing with this program, and so I think we will continue to look at various options to try to hold that country responsible and hopefully change their behavior.

    QUESTION: It was just a technical question --

    QUESTION: Can I switch --

    QUESTION: Can I – can I go to Qatar real quick?

    QUESTION: Can I change topics?

    MS NAUERT: Do we have anything else on DPRK?

    QUESTION: DPRK.

    QUESTION: Can I change --

    QUESTION: Yes, one I’d like to ask.

    MS NAUERT: How are you?

    QUESTION: Hi. Good. So another option that the United States is taking is denying the landing rights of the national airline of North Korea, Air Koryo. Could you please give us a update of the progress and status on that front? And then would this be addressed in next week’s – I believe it’s on Monday – the aviation meeting here at the State Department?

    MS NAUERT: The aviation meeting at the State Department? Okay, I’ll look into that one. (Laughter.) I have to say I was unaware of the aviation meeting. I am familiar with this, that that is one of the areas that we have been looking for governments to try to narrow. You bring up the issue of the state-run airline in North Korea. I know some of the flight route options have been curtailed. That is something that we are pleased with and that is another example of the kinds of ways that we are asking other countries, North Korea included, to try to put pressure on them.

    QUESTION: Can I change topics?

    QUESTION: Can we go to Kiev?

    QUESTION: Can I change --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, hold on. Are we done with DPRK?

    QUESTION: No, no, no, one last --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: We’ll never be done with --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think so.

    QUESTION: The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov is in town. He met with Ambassador Yun today. Do you by any chance have a readout?

    And secondly, Ambassador Yun is going over to Singapore to take part – as the State Department has announced, to take part in the so-called Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, I think this thing – the thing is called. Supposedly North Korea is a part to this – to that informal club. Do you expect --

    MS NAUERT: So the meeting that you’re talking about that Ambassador Yun is attending – my understanding is that they will be talking about regional issues. I know a lot of people are interested in Ambassador Yun and his travels because he was key to bringing home Otto Warmbier, so I know a lot of people take interest in his schedule. My understanding is that he has no meetings with the North Koreans; if anything changes on that, I – and if I can share it with you, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: And Morgulov? And Morgulov?

    QUESTION: Just one more on – about this meeting?

    QUESTION: There was a meeting here today --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- and the Russian foreign ministry actually posted photos from the conference room. I don’t know what floor it was on, but it was in this building.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So if you could find out, a brief readout --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I don’t have a readout on that meeting. If I can get anything with you, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: Can I change topics, Heather, if I may?

    QUESTION: But just one more on this Northeast Asian --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- is he planning to talk to any North Korean officials because they’re members of this --

    MS NAUERT: No, no. My understanding is that the North Koreans will not be attending. That’s what I was told --

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: -- and he will not be meeting with them, so that’s all.

    QUESTION: Heather, on Qatar really quickly?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi. Sure.

    QUESTION: The four Arab nations were commenting on Qatar’s rejection of their demands. How much of this crisis will occupy the Secretary’s time while he travels? And as it has been going on for a month now, is there consideration here at State of changing approaches?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, so it’s now, I think as of today been a month and a day. We remain very concerned about that ongoing situation involving Qatar and GCC countries. We’ve become increasingly concerned that that dispute is at an impasse at this point. We believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks; it could drag on for months; it could possibly even intensify. The Secretary will remain engaged. He’s been very engaged and has made himself available to all sides of this matter. We continue to stay in close contact with all of them and will continue to do so. The Kuwaitis have done yeoman’s work on trying to mediate the dispute, and we continue to thank them for their efforts in doing that. It certainly has not been – it has not been easy. We believe overall that the fight against terrorism was something – is something that will bring all these countries together eventually, because we still have that shared fight and I think all the nations recognize that.

    QUESTION: Can I change topics, please?

    QUESTION: On Ukraine?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s stay with Qatar if anybody has any questions on that.

    QUESTION: Well, I have a – kind of a question kind of related to Qatar, but it can wait.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: It’s not about Qatar; it’s about one of the countries involved.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, got it. All right, let’s move on then from Qatar.

    QUESTION: Can I --

    QUESTION: Iran?

    QUESTION: Yeah, can I --

    QUESTION: On Iran --

    QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, okay.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to ask if you have any comment on the announcement by the Israeli Government about new settlements in East Jerusalem.

    MS NAUERT: If --

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that? There has been an announcement on the 3rd and 4th --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- of this month that --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, so I think the President has been very clear about this, and our message on that has not changed. The continuation of unrestrained settlement activity we view as something that gets in the way of what we hope will be an eventual peace process. This administration has made that a priority with Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt just having made a trip over there, one in what we believe will be a series of trips over that – over there, but our position on the settlement activity has not changed.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) a follow-up.

    QUESTION: But in the past, every time there was new settlement activities, the State Department would either issue a statement or say something and so on in particular to that particular building project and so on. Are you prepared to issue any kind of a statement on this?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have a statement that is currently in the works on that issue right now, but our position, again, has not changed that our – that settlement activity, we believe, can be an obstacle to peace and we continue to make that a priority.

    QUESTION: So just a --

    QUESTION: To make sure I --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead, Matt.

    QUESTION: -- under – I know that you’re not probably super, super familiar with all the granular, Talmudic details of this. Does the administration make a distinction between settlements in the West Bank and housing in East Jerusalem?

    MS NAUERT: That is a good question, Matt. I’m not sure. Let me dig into that for you and see what I can get for you, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Ukraine?

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: A follow-up on Israel?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, anything else on Israel?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, sir. Tell me your name. I don’t think we’ve met.

    QUESTION: Aaron Magid with Jewish Insider.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Aaron.

    QUESTION: Hi, nice to meet you.

    MS NAUERT: How are you? Nice to meet you.

    QUESTION: So there seems to be a differentiation in the administration between restrained and unrestrained settlement construction because there – and frequently the administration has said that previous settlement freezes have not advanced the prospects for peace while at the same time saying unrestrained settlements have also not. So my question is are these 800 buildings in East Jerusalem, is this part of the restrained settlement construction that’s kind of okay or is this an unrestrained, which is not okay?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have a map. I love maps, but I don’t have a map in front of me that indicates exactly where these settlements are, so I just can’t tell you if this is considered to be restrained or unrestrained. But I can tell you, our position remains the same, that the settlement activity and pushing that is an area of concern for us. Ultimately, we want peace. That’s something that the United States cares deeply about.

    QUESTION: But how are the Israelis supposed to know if it’s restrained or unrestrained if you won’t even say it?

    MS NAUERT: It’s not that I won’t, I just don’t have a map in front of me that indicates exactly where these places are, so I --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Where restrained is on the map and unrestrained?

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter) yes, exactly, exactly.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Ukraine?

    QUESTION: Ukraine?

    MS NAUERT: Let’s go to Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Just want to get on-camera comments. So yesterday, a senior official said that the U.S. has no intent or desire to work exclusively with Russia. Can we be assured that the – Washington is not going to cut a deal with Moscow over Ukraine, particularly after President Trump’s meeting with Putin tomorrow?

    MS NAUERT: So as you may recall, President Poroshenko from the Ukraine – from Ukraine, rather – came over here not long ago. He had a series of very productive, very friendly and warm meetings with the President and also with the Secretary of State. We have a good relationship with that nation. The Secretary, as you know, will be headed to Ukraine in a few days and that is something that we view as an important relationship. We continue to be concerned about the situation in Crimea and in the eastern part of Ukraine, and we continue to work toward pushing parties to follow through on the Minsk agreements, but I cannot anticipate that there will be any changes. That is an important country to us and I think that that hasn’t changed.

    QUESTION: Can we be assured that the U.S. is not going to cut a deal with Moscow over Kyiv?

    MS NAUERT: In doing what?

    QUESTION: In cut a bilateral agreement, and then sell out.

    MS NAUERT: And sell out the Ukrainians?

    QUESTION: Can we be assured? (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: We have continued --

    QUESTION: If you admit to that --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, right. (Laughter.) We have continued to call upon the Russians and the Ukrainians to come together. We’ve remained very concerned about the security situation in the Donbas. You know that. We have talked a lot about how we believe that the so-called rebels are Russian-backed, Russian-financed, and are responsible for the deaths of Ukrainians. I don’t imagine that we will be backing away from our concerns on that.

    Okay, last question. Please, sir. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah, can you give, please, a little bit more details about the future meeting with Tillerson and Poroshenko? Which topic they will discuss, besides of the Minsk agreement, of course? And secondly, will Secretary discuss the future supply of the arms to Ukraine in (inaudible) Kyiv? Because when President Poroshenko was here in Washington, D.C., he told he found a common language with the U.S. officials.

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s meeting. You’ll find me saying that a lot when the Secretary is getting ready to meet with a world leader. I know that we look forward to going over there. We have a lot of areas of mutual interest that will be discussed, including the security situation in Ukraine, but I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s conversations.

    QUESTION: Heather, can I --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, sure.

    QUESTION: -- just get to two things very briefly? And I’ll do – be very limited follow-ups, if any.

    One, on the refugee – suspension of the refugee program --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- we’ve been told by resettlement agencies that you guys have now told them to schedule – continue to schedule previously vetted and accepted refugees through the 12th. Originally, when – after the Supreme Court decision came out, it was the 6th.

    MS NAUERT: Well, let me be clear about that, okay? At the time I said – and this was the guidance that we were getting from the Department of Justice and others – on or about. Remember the limit is 50,000 --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- and we estimated that that number would be reached within a few weeks, and I think I said a week or two.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: So there was never any particular date that was set out.

    QUESTION: I’m not trying to --

    MS NAUERT: Oh, okay. I just want to make sure we’re clear.

    QUESTION: Well, no. I mean, they did set out a date. They said anyone who’s planning – was planning to come until the 6th should be scheduled, but that --

    MS NAUERT: Actually, it was until we reached the number of 50,000.

    QUESTION: Okay. Is the 12th now the new – or the date at which you expect the 50,000 to be hit?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to name a date, but I will tell you this: We have not reached that number of 50,000 refugees just yet. When we do reach that number of 50,000 refugees, whatever date that falls on, that will be the time.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right. And then has there been any clarification to the Iraqi translators? The initial guidance had been that it was going to – they were going to be done on a case-by-case basis, whether or not they would have to go through the vetting all over again.

    MS NAUERT: Right.

    QUESTION: But it was my understanding – and maybe I was wrongly thinking this – that that was being revisited and it was still being discussed.

    MS NAUERT: So I know you and I talked about this not too long ago, and that was a question that I just asked our folks about today.

    QUESTION: But are you aware, has that been resolved finally?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- of whether or not that has been resolved, but let me just continue to look into that for you. My apologies.

    QUESTION: All right. And then the last thing is Bahrain, which was the country that was semi-related to Qatar.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: But this doesn’t have anything to do with Qatar; it has to do with human rights. And this has been a perpetual concern, or a longstanding concern of this building, and it – in general, and that is the – two cases. One, Nabeel Rajab, whose trial was postponed again, but is now expected to – on the 10th to be --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- a final verdict. And I’m wondering if you have had any discussions with the Bahrainis in this case. You previously called for his release. And then secondly --

    MS NAUERT: We have, yes.

    QUESTION: And then --

    MS NAUERT: And I know last time that members from our embassy were present at his trial.

    QUESTION: Okay. Do you expect that to be happening again?

    MS NAUERT: I – that I do not know. I know we continue to be very concerned about that. We continue to be concerned about freedom of expression. Matt, as you probably know, as many journalists probably do, there was a closure of a newspaper, a news outlet not too long ago. That, freedom of speech, human rights remains a concern of ours, and we continue to bring it up with the Bahrainis at the highest level.

    QUESTION: Okay, and then are you familiar – overnight, as we were all preparing for fireworks and parades and things like that, a human rights – a woman, a female human rights defender was rousted from her home by Bahraini security agents and arrested. She is accused of cooperating with the UN special rapporteurs.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And I’m wondering if you’re aware of that case.

    MS NAUERT: Do you have her name, Matt? Let me take a look at that for you.

    QUESTION: Yeah, it’s Ebtisam al-Saegh. I’ll give you a spelling afterwards.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, and I’ll look into it.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you, everybody. Thanks for coming. We’ll see you soon.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 29, 2017

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 18:16
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 29, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • CHINA
  • VENEZUELA
  • VIETNAM
  • VENEZUELA
  • DEPARTMENT
  • SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA
  • CHINA
  • CHINA/TAIWAN
  • NORTH KOREA
  • SOUTH KOREA
  • SYRIA
  • TURKEY
  • RUSSIA
  • GCC
  • IRAQ

    TRANSCRIPT:

    3:31 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon.

    QUESTION: Afternoon?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, it is.

    QUESTION: It’s almost evening.

    MS NAUERT: We have had a lot of stuff going on today, so thank you for your patience. We wanted to make sure that we were able to get you all on that call today with the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and also State on the executive order resulting from the Supreme Court announcement earlier this week. And also you probably saw what took place at the White House, and that was the announcement of sanctions on some Chinese entities. So thank you for your patience. We wanted to get you all that information before we got up today.

    A couple things I want to start with. And first, tomorrow is an important day. It’ll mark one year since U.S. citizen Josh Holt was detained by Venezuelan authorities. Medical and consular access to Mr. Holt has continued to be slow and grudging since February. We’ve made multiple calls for the Venezuelan Government to release him on humanitarian grounds. The protracted delays in providing him even a preliminary hearing and filing formal charges cast serious doubts on the merit of and the lawfulness of his detention. His detention has been made all the more difficult and painful due to ongoing medical ailments, which have worsened by delays and denials of proper care.

    Through private discussions, dozens of diplomatic notes, and public statements, we’ve repeatedly raised concerns about his health and his conditions of his detention and his treatment with Venezuelan authorities. His case has been raised at the highest levels of the Venezuelan Government by numerous U.S. officials. With the anniversary of his detention tomorrow, we again call on the Government of Venezuela to immediately release him on humanitarian grounds so that he can return to the United States.

    Second thing I wanted to bring up before we get started with questions today is something that has taken place in Vietnam. And we want to say that we are deeply concerned about the Vietnamese course and its conviction of the 2017 International Woman of Courage awardee and peaceful blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. She’s also known as “Mother Mushroom.” She was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the vague charge of conducting propaganda against the state. You are probably, many of you, familiar with her story. She was here at the State Department, and that’s where the First Lady, Melania Trump, presented her with the 2017 International Woman of Courage Award.

    The United States calls on Vietnam to release Mother Mushroom and all other prisoners of conscience immediately and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution. We’ve seen some positive steps on human rights in Vietnam over the past few years. However, the trend of increased arrests and convictions of peaceful protests since early 2016 is deeply troubling. Progress on human rights will allow the U.S.-Vietnam partnership to reach its fullest potential.

    And with that, I’ll take your questions.

    QUESTION: I’m not trying to make light of the – Mother – I missed the ceremony the other day. Her name – her real name is --

    MS NAUERT: This was a couple months ago.

    QUESTION: -- Mother Mushroom?

    MS NAUERT: That is what she is popularly known as in Vietnam. Her given name is Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh.

    QUESTION: Okay. Okay.

    MS NAUERT: And she was presented with the International Women of Courage Award.

    QUESTION: Got it. And then just one other very small item before we get into something else. You just – you opened by discussing the medical condition of Josh Holt. And I just want to point out that not three weeks ago, two weeks ago --

    MS NAUERT: I knew you would go there. Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- you said you never discuss the health conditions of any Americans --

    MS NAUERT: Let me preempt you there --

    QUESTION: Now, I realize that there’s --

    MS NAUERT: -- Mr. Matt Lee --

    QUESTION: I realize there’s a Privacy Act waiver issue here --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- but it is not true that you never discuss the health of Americans held abroad, right?

    MS NAUERT: If you want --

    QUESTION: You do in certain cases.

    MS NAUERT: If you want to get into an issue of semantics, we are calling for his release on humanitarian grounds. You will not hear me get into the specifics of one’s medical condition. You will not hear me characterize one’s medical condition. However, we are able to say, on humanitarian grounds, we are calling for the Venezuelan Government to release him immediately, so that he could get medical care back here at home.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. Now, on the Supreme Court order and the guidance that went out to embassies last night, I know that there was the call earlier, but I didn’t get a chance to ask this. I don’t really expect you to have the answer, but I want to put it out there --

    MS NAUERT: I will do my best.

    QUESTION: -- just to make sure it’s on-the-record. And that is the fate of Iraqis who worked for or with the U.S. military in – and the status of the P-2 refugee admissions, because they are not at all addressed in the guidance. And there are questions now about whether or not they would be – even though Iraq is not in the – it’s not among the six countries – these people would be refugees. And once the 50,000 cap has hit, all refugees have to do this – get the – show a bona fide relationship. The reason I’m asking this is because one would presume that working for the U.S. military would be a bona fide relationship with an American entity. But I’m – no one will – I can’t get anyone to say that. People say, “It’s a case-by-case basis, and it’s speculation.” So --

    MS NAUERT: So, this --

    QUESTION: -- is there an answer to this question about the --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have an answer to that question.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: It’s a good question; it’s a valid question. I know lots of Iraqis, and particularly those who have worked alongside the United States, will have questions about that. This is all very new. We were in a rush to pull this call together today with our experts so that we could get you all the answers that you want and that you deserve. That one, I’m going to have to get back with you on. And anybody needs – has any questions on that --

    QUESTION: Okay. Please do. That’s it for me.

    MS NAUERT: -- I would just ask you to hold, please.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s stay with the executive order first before we go onto something else. Hi, Michele.

    QUESTION: Okay, so – thank you. On the refugee issue, as to what would be some scenarios where they would have a relationship with an entity – I know that there was no guidance given on that, but we were told on the call that the guidance was coming. So I don’t understand why that isn’t better spelled out. They referred to the ruling itself, but obviously in a ruling that doesn’t give guidance specifically there’s room for interpretation. So why hasn’t that been interpreted to include something like a resettlement agency? And when will the guidance be coming. It seems like it’s pretty necessary.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So there are a couple components to this. There are the visa applicants under this executive order and then there are also the refugees and that component of it. In terms of the refugees, some of that we do have a little bit of extra time to do that. That is until we reach the cap of 50,000. So we have a little bit more time in order to fully dig into this.

    And in the coming days, we’ll be able to provide additional guidance. As you all know, this is very new; it’s 72 hours old. The worker – or the lawyers here at State, Justice, and DHS have been working nonstop to try to get all the information and the understanding and the legalese all put forward. So we’re going to work in the coming days to provide additional guidance. We do still have a little bit of time left.

    QUESTION: And one more quick question on that. At the beginning of the call it was emphasized again that safety of the country is the number one issue here. But when you parse out the allowances, you could have a scenario where someone who doesn’t really have close ties to anyone in the country but is basically an adult who is attending a university here, that’s okay to come in, but someone who is a three-year-old grandchild of somebody else – n =ot allowed. Do you see how this, in the end, might not equal greater safety for the United States? And do you agree that there’s an arbitrary element to this?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to define – I’m not going to characterize your view as arbitrary in any way. This has been one of the President’s top issues. He has talked consistently about how he believes the United States needs to do more to enhance our screening procedures and to take a better look at people who will be coming into the United States because the safety and security of Americans comes first. Some of this enhanced screening – there are review procedures that are taking place. Some of those started just a week ago; some of those will have 120 days to be reviewed and all of that.

    I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about different family variations and whether or not they should be coming into the United States. I think you’re talking about the bona fide relationship, and the bona fide relationship and who falls under that category. I think it’s fairly broad. But I’m not going to get into grandparents and all of that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on the EO?

    QUESTION: Just a point of clarification on that.

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: You said that there’s a little bit of time with the refugee cases because you haven’t fit the 50,000 cap yet.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: But there’s still the 120-day suspension. So does that not kick in until the 50,000 cap is met?

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that until we reach that 50,000 cap that we still have time – I was talking with some of our lawyers and folks upstairs about this very thing – that we still have time to get all of the details in place.

    Hey.

    QUESTION: On the bona fide relationships --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- can you explain exactly what – how is the State Department and U.S. Government I guess interpreting this bona fide relationship language? And what exactly – how does somebody establish that?

    MS NAUERT: You mean in terms of paperwork?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, what – yeah.

    MS NAUERT: So a lot of that will be determined by the consular officers when they actually do their visa interviews for that. I can tell you a little bit more about what’s considered to be a bona fide relationship. I know a lot of Americans, a lot of folks overseas, will have questions about that. It’s considered a close familial relationship. It covers a parent; it covers an in-law, a mother-in-law, a father-in-law; a spouse; a child; adult son, daughter; son and daughter-in-law; a sibling, a whole or a half, including step relationships. Those are considered to be bona fide relationships, close familial relationships. And one of the things that we talked about a little bit on the call is that is under the Immigration and Nationality Act. And that’s where we took that definition of that.

    QUESTION: What about – because it also said entities, not – I believe it also said entities, not just families. So does it refer to, for instance, students in universities and people who have been invited by jobs or by some kind of organization?

    MS NAUERT: Those very examples it would include: someone coming over here to study at a university – this is my understanding – and also people who have been offered jobs in the United States.

    Okay. Anything on the EO?

    QUESTION: Can we stay on it?

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: So just on the vetting. I mean, there was a fair amount of criticism about the need for review of the vetting on refugees, especially given that there have been reports showing that of 780,000 or so refugees brought into the United States since 2001 there have been three people arrested on allegations of potential terrorist attacks. So what is the current State Department view on the vetting procedures for refugees? Is this an acknowledgment that those vetting procedures are not thorough enough?

    MS NAUERT: I know that we are always looking for additional ways to enhance our screening, whether it be for visa applicants or if it’s for refugees. Refugees are vetted pretty significantly, among the highest, in terms of people who are vetted to come into the United States.

    One thing we haven’t talked a lot about right here is the memorandum that went along with the executive order, and that puts into effect enhanced screening and vetting applications – vetting requirements for visa applicants. And that’s a really – actually an interesting angle, because that’s something that folks worldwide would apply to potentially anyone in any country around the world, and that is where we, in the past, have asked for information, for example, five years of travel history, family relationships, that type of thing.

    And now our consular affairs officers – again, in every country, it could apply to any person – if our consular officers want to get additional information because they think that they would need more information to better screen someone, then they have the ability to ask certain questions and get that kind of information. And that’s, again, something we haven’t talked about a whole lot, but I have a form here in front of me if anyone’s interested in that, and that’s the DS-5535 and additional forms.

    So that is just one example of how we’re constantly looking at ways of improving our screening to be able to make sure that Americans here at home are safe and we’re allowing in the kinds of folks who don’t want to do us harm.

    QUESTION: So --

    QUESTION: So just to follow up on that.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I mean, the President and the State Department have both said that these are based on efforts to improve national security, and that’s the top priority, but you’ve never given us direct evidence that refugees coming into the United States pose a threat to national security. So does the U.S. have evidence that refugees pose a threat to national security?

    MS NAUERT: I think that would be more of a Department of Homeland Security issue, on that.

    QUESTION: Can I just ask --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Sure.

    QUESTION: -- if you already have – and I raised this in the call – but if you already have these enhanced – this enhanced ability to do extra vetting for anyone in any country applying for any visa, why do you need this?

    MS NAUERT: I think this is a matter in which the United States is always looking for ways to continue to enhance, alter, and improve its security procedures.

    QUESTION: Yeah. But --

    QUESTION: Heather, so is the 120-day clock started already or is it going to start on July 6th? And why do you guys need a 120-day clock to examine the vetting procedures and the refugees? Couldn’t you have started that in January or February, even when the EO was suspended?

    MS NAUERT: I believe – and I’m going to do my best to try to answer this for you.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: I believe the part that you were talking about with this enhanced screening, those review procedures started about a week ago. One hundred and twenty days and how that timeframe was selected was part – my understanding is – a part of the executive order. If I can – I can put you in touch with somebody who could probably better answer that question than I can. That – some of that predates me. So I wasn’t involved in the process then, but if you want any more on that I can try to get that for you.

    QUESTION: But just so the – so are – I just want to make sure which questions you’re not answering. Is it --

    MS NAUERT: Gardiner, come on.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I just told you. I’m --

    QUESTION: I want --

    MS NAUERT: I’m doing my best.

    QUESTION: I am too. I am too.

    MS NAUERT: This is all new. This is a part of the executive order. Why 120 days was selected, that I don’t know off the top of my head.

    QUESTION: No, I’m not asking that, but --

    MS NAUERT: If you want me to try to get you an expert who can answer that question for you --

    QUESTION: I’d love that.

    MS NAUERT: -- I can.

    QUESTION: But I just want to know, do you have any notion (a) about when that clock starts? Is that now or July 6th?

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that it started about a week ago – the review process for enhanced screening.

    QUESTION: Oh, before the executive order was even lifted by the Supreme Court then?

    MS NAUERT: Some of this review procedure that was required under the executive order --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- my understanding is that it started about a week ago because that – and I don’t know why that was – that timeframe was selected. Let me --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Let me just get you somebody on that who can best answer that, okay?

    QUESTION: He’s asking you about the 120-day suspension of the refugee program, which begins once you hit the cap.

    QUESTION: Don’t know --

    QUESTION: Or does it?

    QUESTION: That’s true. That’s what I’m asking. When does the time clock start? Does it start when you hit the cap?

    MS NAUERT: So you weren’t asking then about the review procedures?

    QUESTION: Well, so in the executive order, it lists that there is a 120-day suspension of refugee entries while the administration examines the program in its entirety, right?

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: And so I think this is separate from the enhanced – my understanding – I’m not talking about the enhanced vetting procedures that you guys have already done. I’m simply talking about in the refugee program you’re supposed, to under the executive order, suspend all refugee entries. And of course this is complicated by the fact that the Supreme Court has said, well, that’s true but we’re going to let you – we’re going to let some people in who have a bona fide relationships; you guys have defined what that is. I’m just sort of – I – so I’m puzzled about when the 120-day suspension of the entire refugee program would go into effect and why you would need that if you have already had five and some-odd months to sort of look at the program.

    MS NAUERT: Well, with the refugee program there’s a cap on the number of refugees, and that’s a cap at 50,000 and we’re very close to reaching that cap. We’re about 800 or so, 900 or so, away. And that’s why when I was talking earlier about how we have a little bit more time in order to get that definition completely tied down.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on the executive order?

    QUESTION: But (inaudible) 120 days in the original executive order. So are you saying that when the cap is met, that’s when the 120-day suspension kicks in? They’re not concurrent?

    MS NAUERT: Let --

    QUESTION: Or is it tonight at 8:00 p.m. when (inaudible) --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Guys, instead of everybody chiming in about what they think this might mean, let me please get back with you with one of our lawyers who’s been working with DHS and DOJ to best answer that question. Okay? So let me just take the bulk of that question and get back with you. And any folks watching on TV, they’re probably like, “What on Earth are you guys talking about?” So let me get back to you with a good, concrete answer on that one. Okay?

    Anything else on the EO that’s not related to the 120 days?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, how are you?

    QUESTION: On the EO question, I think we’ve all gotten sort of into the legal nuances a lot.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But we’ve still, like this press corps, the American public, have not really been given a clear answer as to why these six countries and people from those six countries presents a real threat to the United States. That call today started off saying that we want to prevent mayhem and terror in the United States. People from these six countries have not carried out those attacks in the United States. It just hasn’t happened. There’s – some countries you could say maybe, if you want to argue for a travel ban in some form, should belong on that list. Some don’t. But it – the policy as it is hasn’t really been fully explained.

    And then if you want to get into the grandparents, grandchildren, I mean, what percentage of terrorist attacks have been carried out by grandparents from these six countries? I think that is something that we deserve an answer to that hasn’t really been – and other than saying – and that was asked today on the call, and the official just pointed to President Trump’s comments about this. That’s not really an answer.

    MS NAUERT: Well, there were people on that call from State, White House, DOJ, and also DHS.

    QUESTION: And they couldn’t justify the policy.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know that I would agree with that. You all had the opportunity to ask the lawyers and ask folks more – the experts who were involved in putting this together – more questions about that. And I really didn’t hear too many questions about that very topic.

    QUESTION: We were – we asked. Reuters asked what is the danger of a grandparent from one of these six countries coming into the United States. And the answer was --

    MS NAUERT: And we’re talking about the definition.

    QUESTION: -- this is the guidance --

    MS NAUERT: And the definition --

    QUESTION: The answer was this is the guidance we’ve been given by the President. That’s not an answer as to how that individual harms the United States or presents a terrorist threat to the United States.

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m sorry that you’re not pleased with that answer. That’s the answer that the experts gave you. I can tell you that we received the family definition from federal law, and we received the family definition. And for whatever reason it doesn’t include grandparents, but we were just going along with what federal law states.

    Okay, next question.

    QUESTION: Was there any sort of risk assessment in deciding what bona fide relationships are, or was it strictly a legal interpretation of past law like the INA?

    MS NAUERT: There have been three days to get through this and to try to put that together, so I’m not sure that anyone was able to do a risk assessment, as you suggest, about grandparents. But the lawyers have been putting together --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: -- putting this together and working on it for the past few days.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on the executive order?

    QUESTION: On her question, her point, though, that it is true that there was, shall we say, not a lot of enthusiasm on the call from the officials, except for one official who was from the White House, for this. And when asked what specifically this would do to improve security, all of the – all of the officials, four of the five officials who were on the call, basically said we’re doing this because the court has told us to and did not offer an explanation of how it does make it safer.

    MS NAUERT: Look --

    QUESTION: So if there is an answer --

    MS NAUERT: Their jobs --

    QUESTION: I know.

    MS NAUERT: -- is to implement.

    QUESTION: Their job is to carry out – exactly.

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Their job is not to be a person who will come out and advocate for or against something in this fashion. It wouldn’t be appropriate for them to do so. These are civil servants and Foreign Service officers. You know they’re not going to get into the politics of this kind of thing. Their job is to execute and implement, and they were given the – some direction by the Department of Justice. They all worked together to come up with this, and they professionally put something together and gave you the answers. You’re saying that there wasn’t a whole lot of enthusiasm. That’s your opinion. But these folks have been hard at work doing their jobs.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: But can you offer just a justification for it? I mean, you are a political appointee. I mean, this is your administration. So can you tell us why this country is safer having this executive order and banning people from these countries that have never committed attacks on the United States previously except in, what was it, the --

    MS NAUERT: Gardiner, as far as I’m going to go is saying that with some of these countries – and we would take issue certainly with the Government of Iran and some other nations – that there can be concerns. And the American public could have legitimate concerns about their safety when we open our doors. And we want to open our doors to people who are willing to go through proper screening measures and who want to be here and want to be productive members of our society. I’ll leave it at that.

    QUESTION: The people of Iran are very pro-American people (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: I know that. That’s why I said we take issue with the Government of Iran, not the people of Iran, certainly. Okay?

    QUESTION: But the people are the ones that are banned.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know you guys want to push me to say something about this.

    QUESTION: To defend the policy. That’s it.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.

    QUESTION: I’m not trying to – it’s not a gotcha question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on the executive order?

    QUESTION: No.

    MS NAUERT: No. Okay.

    QUESTION: Okay, China and North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Okay. Today Secretary of the Treasury talking about sanctions on China. And these – regarding these – will the United States ask to South Korea for support these sanctions? Did you – U.S. ask to – ask to Moon Jae-in – tomorrow summit will the U.S. ask for --

    MS NAUERT: Will we ask for South Korean support on sanctions against North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: I know that we have asked a lot of countries to do more. A lot of countries have influence, a great deal of influence, especially their neighbors, with the DPRK, so we continue to ask nations to do more to try to ratchet up the pressure on the DPRK.

    You referenced the sanctions that were announced at 2 o’clock today by the Treasury Secretary and taking a look at some Chinese entities. We believe that those entities have a role in getting money to the North Koreans, and that money doesn’t go into the pockets of normal, regular North Korean citizens. That money goes into the pocket, we believe, of their illegal ballistic weapons programs and also its illegal nuclear weapons program, so that – or nuclear program.

    So that is a big concern of ours. And that is one of the reasons that the Treasury Department chose to sanction those Chinese entities, and that is something that we have continuously, especially with regard to the Chinese, to put the pressure on them to do that. Secretary Tillerson has talked about that, where the Chinese have done a notable job, but he has characterized it as uneven, so we’d like to see them do more.

    Anything else on DPRK? Hi.

    QUESTION: So with this announcement, are you sending the message to China that U.S. will move forward on North Korea issues without Chinese cooperation?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, say that again?

    QUESTION: So are you sending a message to China that United States will work on North Korea issues without Chinese cooperation?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I didn’t say that the Chinese weren’t cooperating. I said that they – it’s been uneven. We’d like to see them do more, and they know that. We’ve had conversations about that in the past at the highest levels. And so we’d just like to continue to call upon them to do more. Okay.

    QUESTION: So even with this (inaudible) --

    MS NAUERT: Anything else DPRK?

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: DPRK?

    QUESTION: China?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I’ve got a brief one on China, but --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead. Hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Thank you. So I wanted to ask about Liu Xiaobo, the human rights activist. And Ambassador Branstad said that he would like to help Mr. Liu to get cancer treatment overseas, and we are wondering whether the United States supports that. Are you talking to the Beijing government about it?

    MS NAUERT: So one of the things we’ve done is, as I’ve said in other instances, that we have conversations at the highest levels of government with government officials on areas where we have a great deal of concern. Among those would be human rights issues, this one for Liu Xiaobo, who’s a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a writer as well – he unfortunately is battling cancer at this time. We would like to see him – get additional information about how he is doing.

    He’s not a U.S. citizen, he’s a Chinese national, but we’d like him to have access to international medical specialists if he chooses to do so. One of the important things we see is give him the opportunity, if he wants to seek medical treatment elsewhere, to be able to seek medical treatment elsewhere.

    You referenced something Ambassador Branstad said, and along with that he said our heart goes out to him and to his wife, and we’d like to see him have the opportunity for treatment elsewhere if that would be of assistance to him.

    QUESTION: This is related to China --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- but it’ll be extremely brief. You guys today notified Congress of a rather large arms sale to Taiwan.

    MS NAUERT: To Taiwan, yeah.

    QUESTION: Can you talk about that a little bit?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let me just get all the details here because I want to get everything straight. But we – normally we wouldn’t talk about this into – until it is submitted to Congress, and Congress was notified today about that. Give me just a minute, please. Okay.

    QUESTION: Is the book getting bigger?

    MS NAUERT: Kind of like a messy former journalist. You keep a lot of papers around.

    So the administration had formally notified Congress of seven proposed defense sales for Taiwan. It’s now valued about 1.42 billion. The notifications are consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act. It shows, we believe, our support for Taiwan’s ability to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. There is no change, I should point out, to our longstanding “one China” policy, which is based, as you all know, on three joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. There is continuity here; the United States has been doing defense sales with Taiwan for 50 years or so, so nothing has changed.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    QUESTION: One more on DPRK?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on the Asian region that anyone wants to talk about?

    QUESTION: Yes. So you said that we’d like to – the State Department, the United States – would like the – to see China do more.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hm.

    QUESTION: Are they even doing what they said they would do regarding – because they said that they would – that they were going to limit the coal, I guess, buying – buys from North Korea and fuel shipments to North Korea. Is that even happening?

    MS NAUERT: So some of this is classified, so some of that I cannot talk about. I do have a list of something that is public. I don’t have it at my fingertips right now, but some of the things that we have been asking other nations, including China, to do and some of the ways that we have seen those countries take steps in the right direction.

    I’ve talked a little bit here about guest worker programs and how there are North Korean guest workers in many countries around the world. We have asked many of those other countries to limit the number of North Korean workers that can work in their countries. The reason why: we see the money not going into their pockets, but it goes – the government confiscates it, and it goes into the pockets of the Government of the DPRK. And we believe that that money is then being used to fund its illegal weapons program and also its nuclear program.

    So we continue to talk to all of these nations about sort of putting the squeeze, if you will, on North Korea, and that would be one example of it.

    Okay. Anything else on Asia?

    QUESTION: South Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I wondered if you had a readout for the Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Korean foreign minister.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have an actual readout for you on that meeting. I was in that meeting, and I would just describe as it was a pleasant meeting. We had a lot of areas of agreement. I know that the President and the Secretary look forward to hosting President Moon here in Washington, certainly. Among the things that they talked about was the threat from North Korea and the alliance that we have with South Korea, and the importance of that.

    QUESTION: Quick follow-up.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: North Korean human rights issue been discussed at the meeting yesterday – Kang and Secretary Tillerson?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not – beyond what I just told you about that meeting, I’m not going to be able to get into any additional specifics.

    Okay, so let’s move on from Asia. What do we have now?

    QUESTION: One on Syria.

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s go to Syria then.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Sir, I’m sorry, tell me your name.

    QUESTION: I’m Caleb with RT. Caleb Maupin.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, right. Caleb, hi.

    QUESTION: So this recent statement from the White House alleging that the Syrian Government was planning an upcoming chemical attack, are you concerned that that could have created an opening for terrorist groups to carry out a chemical attack?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: You’re not concerned even though al-Nusrah, al-Qaida groups, have been using chemical weapons in Syria that’s documented?

    MS NAUERT: No. Next question on Syria.

    QUESTION: Just um – well, I mean, they could carry out a chemical attack, and then with the White House saying, “Oh, Assad was going to do it,” that would create a cover for them to do such a thing.

    MS NAUERT: Do I have to do this again? We know that Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people, and he’s done that repeatedly including --

    QUESTION: Well, hasn’t the United States convinced the world that that --

    MS NAUERT: Including women and children --

    QUESTION: -- Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?

    MS NAUERT: -- and we have all seen that. We have all seen the video, and there is no debate about that. Okay? I’m going to --

    QUESTION: So didn’t Assad give up his chemical weapons in 2013?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: Didn’t that happen?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: That didn’t happen? So the --

    MS NAUERT: Hayvi.

    QUESTION: The OPCW is not being --

    MS NAUERT: Hayvi, let’s go over to you.

    QUESTION: Thank you. So we know that ISIS is almost defeated in Mosul, maybe even similar situation in Raqqa. We know that phase two is Deir ez-Zor. The Assad regime forces, along with the militias, Iranian proxies and militias in Syria, are trying to go to Deir ez-Zor and have backups, basically confronting the United States efforts with its – with their allies to defeat ISIS and Deir ez-Zor, maybe have some sort of partnership or trying to just impose themselves being there in a strong position. What do you expect or what we are going to be seeing from the United States confronting the Iranian militias, the Assad regime, the same way we saw in Tanf, which is in the northern – sorry, in the southern, eastern part of Syria?

    MS NAUERT: So let me try to give folks an update on where things from our viewpoint – I’m not going to get into defense, DOD related issues, but in terms of Raqqa and what we can talk about.

    The first piece of news I have is that our Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk was in Syria. He was in Syria for the past couple days, I believe, and he talked with some of the local partners of the global campaign and the coalition to defeat ISIS. He – and we’re very proud to say that he was able to witness some of the humanitarian and stabilization work and assistance that’s now underway in the liberated areas north of Raqqa. And think about this: in the past – a few weeks ago, we were on the outskirts – when I say “we,” I mean coalition partners backed by the United States in an advise-and-assist capacity were outside of Raqqa. And now, we’re already getting into that portion where we can do some humanitarian and stabilization efforts, so we’re proud of that.

    One of the things that Special Envoy McGurk has talked about is that once Raqqa is liberated, that we believe it’s critical for local officials from the area to take over responsibility and take over responsibility for post-liberation security, but most importantly, governance down the road. This campaign is trending in a positive direction. We are pleased with that. But it’s certainly not over and will take a lot of work in order to tie it up.

    QUESTION: Are we going to see Assad regime forces go into Raqqa or try to govern and take these areas?

    MS NAUERT: We would certainly hope not, and that is an area that is of great discussion, because the United States wants to be able to stabilize these areas, eventually be able to bring the Syrian people – whether it’s in Syria or whether it’s in Mosul in Iraq, we want to be able to bring our – those folks back in their communities. That’s where they want to live. Conditions are not ripe for that just yet. There is a lot of demining work that has to be done – electricity, water, all of those things, so we are – folks are a long way off from seeing that just yet, and that’s one of the reasons we talk about local control of those communities that is handled by a governance that is agreed to by the local people there. And so that will be one of the priorities that we would be working toward.

    QUESTION: Just to clarify --

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Syria?

    QUESTION: Just to clarify --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- what you said before, are you saying that al-Qaida has not used chemical weapons?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into this conversation with you about this because --

    QUESTION: Well, this is a concern.

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no, no. You want to have a debate, okay, about a hypothetical, okay, and I’m not going to get into a debate.

    QUESTION: If you announce that there’s a pending chemical attack --

    MS NAUERT: I am not going to get into a debate --

    QUESTION: -- and it’s going to be done by the government --

    MS NAUERT: -- about a hypothetical, but what the --

    QUESTION: -- if you announce that, then they could carry out an attack and it would look like the government did it. I mean, isn’t that a real possibility?

    MS NAUERT: If you want to try to make excuses for the Assad regime, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I’m not talking about Assad.

    MS NAUERT: You’ve got a lot of cameras on you right now, okay?

    QUESTION: I’m talking about terrorist groups. I’m talking about al-Qaida and al-Nusrah.

    MS NAUERT: And I’m not going to spend all our folks’ time having that conversation. We all know here in this room that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for chemical attacks on his own people, including women and children.

    QUESTION: And isn’t al-Qaida --

    MS NAUERT: We are not going to debate it --

    QUESTION: Isn’t al-Qaida responsible for such things?

    MS NAUERT: -- beyond that. Al-Qaida horrible too, but --

    QUESTION: Uses chemical weapons.

    MS NAUERT: -- what we’re talking about right now is Assad and Syria.

    QUESTION: Well, I asked you about al-Qaida.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Next question.

    QUESTION: That’s what I was asking for a clarification on.

    MS NAUERT: Something else on Syria?

    QUESTION: Russia?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s go to Russia.

    QUESTION: Okay, so --

    MS NAUERT: All right.

    QUESTION: Why not?

    QUESTION: One more question on Syria, sorry.

    QUESTION: So – sorry.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Michele, just hold on one second.

    QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: So the Turkish forces have announced that they attacked U.S. partners SDF, especially YPG in Syria, and they threatened they would do so in Afrin. Are you concerned about this new Turkish bombardment of your partners in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Our – the reason that the United States is involved in Syria is to take out ISIS. That’s why we care and that’s why we are there. Our focus is on liberating Raqqa right now. Our forces aren’t operating in the area that you’re talking about. I don’t want to get into DOD territory. That is theirs. But our focus is on another part of Syria right now.

    Okay. Michelle, you had something on Russia.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask this one at the top. Just one last thing about Syria that’s --

    MS NAUERT: Let’s just talk about it after because we’ve got to wrap it up and I know we have some other questions from other regions.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll be really quick. With the meetings that are coming up now, does the Secretary of State --

    MS NAUERT: You’re referring to the G20?

    QUESTION: Yeah, with Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary of State expect and want the President to bring up continued Russian cyber meddling in the United States during this meeting? And will Tillerson bring that up with Lavrov?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. That’s a good question and that’s a valid question that a lot of Americans will want to know the answer to. We’ve not had deep discussions about specifically what might happen in any given meeting. I know that General H.R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor, announced that the President would be meeting with – with Vladimir Putin, thank you – at that meeting coming up, but I don’t have any meetings or any schedules to go into beyond that.

    QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary would like him to bring up that issue?

    MS NAUERT: That I don’t know.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: That I don’t know. I haven’t – we’ve been talking so much about other things lately that that one hasn’t come up.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Hey, how are you?

    QUESTION: The Secretary said earlier today he’d like to see staffing approval move at a faster rate at the White House --

    QUESTION: Excuse me, can we stay on Russia?

    QUESTION: Actually, let me finish my question, please.

    MS NAUERT: Wait, hold on. Let her finish this one, yeah.

    QUESTION: Thanks. The Secretary said on camera today that he would like to see approvals of his staff positions go more quickly, frustrated that they haven’t been at the White House. Has he received any assurance that they will?

    MS NAUERT: Well, part of this is a bureaucratic process, and I know everyone would like to see this go faster, from the Secretary down to regular folks here at the State Department. That is something the Secretary has – as you heard, he spoke about earlier today. One of the issues is certainly the paperwork, and I know I went through some of that paperwork myself, including over at the Office of Government Ethics, and it takes time. It takes time to do that. It takes time to go through lots of resumes and people’s applications and all of that.

    So I know that the Secretary is very engaged in it. I know that the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan is very focused on this as well and trying to – in trying to speed things along. And so we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to do that now that we have more people in place.

    QUESTION: But without an assistant secretary of state for Asia, for Europe to handle these Russia issues – I mean, has that impacted diplomacy? The Secretary made clear he knows who he wants.

    MS NAUERT: I have seen some fantastic people here in this building who are what some would deride as holdovers, and they’re terrific. I mean, they really are. They’re committed to their jobs. They’re professional every day. You all know a lot of them. They have just dove into the issues, stayed engaged in the issues. Even those who are retiring have stayed as engaged as I understand that they were even a couple years ago. So I’m tremendously impressed with what a terrific job that they’re doing, and frankly hope some of them will stick around because they’re a real attribute to this building and have worked hard on behalf of the Secretary and the folks here at the State Department.

    QUESTION: So you’re saying no damage to diplomacy that you can detect?

    MS NAUERT: Me personally, that I can detect, I – look, I think the Secretary and his words speak for themselves that he would like to see things moving along at a faster pace. Sure, we’d like to be able to fill those positions, and that is happening, and anticipate that it will happen at a faster pace. But the people who have been doing those jobs in the meantime have done a fantastic job, and I’ve had the good fortune of being able to work with a lot of them so far.

    QUESTION: One quick question.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Henry Kissinger is meeting with Vladimir Putin today ahead of the upcoming U.S. meetings. He was in the Oval Office after Russia’s top diplomats were meeting with the President. Is he playing any diplomatic role with this administration, either with the Secretary or in some other role?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have an answer to that. I believe they know one another, but I can try to look into that and see what I can get for you. Okay.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to clarify if the Secretary and the foreign minister will have a full-scale meeting or just pull-aside at the G20. Point one. And point two, is there any movement over the dachas issue?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Because the Russians --

    MS NAUERT: To your first point, and as you all know, the Secretary will be traveling over to the G20 summit. We had a meeting that had been scheduled with our Under Secretary Tom Shannon, and that was canceled by the Russians. The topic that was on the agenda were some of those smaller issues, such as the dachas that I know are very important to the Russian Government. That meeting was canceled. I know that we are certainly open to having that meeting rescheduled and would look forward to that to get some of these so-called irritants out of the way and deal with some of those things.

    In terms of any meetings at the G20 with regard to the Secretary’s schedule, I just don’t have any meetings or any information to give you on – at this time.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Last question.

    QUESTION: The Secretary spent a lot of time on the GCC crisis this week.

    MS NAUERT: That’s right.

    QUESTION: Did he make any progress?

    MS NAUERT: So yeah, that was a big topic of conversation around here, certainly. I know that we continue to urge all of the parties to work together and resolve this issue. The United States continues to stand by and say we will help you in a manner in which you need. The Kuwaitis have done a terrific job of taking the lead as mediators. As you know, the Kuwaitis were here earlier this week. The Secretary met with them and talked with them about the importance. Everybody gets it. I think everybody gets it that this needs to be resolved. When it will be resolved, we’re not certain of that at this time, but we’re hoping that the parties will all agree to work together and recognize that there’s going to be a negotiation that needs to be had.

    QUESTION: Well, they’re saying – especially the Saudis are saying – no negotiations. So where is the process if no one is negotiating?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think I’d have to refer you to those governments to talk specifically about that, but the Kuwaitis remain what I would consider to be sort of the lead mediator, and we’re standing by ready to help and advise, if and when we can.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Just one question on Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you. The Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, yesterday had an op-ed published in The Washington Post making the case for Kurdish independence. He said the referendum is binding, contrary to previous media reports. He also said that it will not be a unilateral step by the Kurds; it will be a result of a negotiated settlement with Baghdad. So my question is: Would the United States support it if the Iraqis, like, do it in a negotiated settlement among themselves?

    MS NAUERT: I think what we would continue to say about that is that the fight against ISIS is on and that would be the top U.S. concern and probably the top Iraqi concern, I would imagine, at this time. We support our partnership with the Government of Iraq. We continue to support that. We want to see the sole focus stay on ISIS. You’ve had far too many Iraqis who have had to leave their homes because of ISIS and the horrific things that they have done in that country. So we would like to see ISIS out and then, once Iraq has stabilized and people can go back to their homes, a referendum if Iraq decides to do that, if the Kurds decide to do that. That would be an internal Iraqi matter.

    We’ve got to go, folks. Thanks a lot.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 4:14 p.m.)

    DPB # 33


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 27, 2017

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 18:11
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 27, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • INDIA
  • DEPARTMENT
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • QATAR/KUWAIT
  • IRAQ
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:18 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: And if anyone has any additional follow-up questions regarding the TIP Report, we can try to collect those and get back with you – more information.

    Good afternoon again. The – I want to start with a little bit about the Indian prime minister and the visit here yesterday. The Indian Prime Minister Modi departed Washington last night after a successful trip to Washington. He went to the White House, as you all know, at the invitation of President Trump. The President said yesterday, quote, “The relationship between India and the United State has never been stronger and has never been better.”

    Secretary Tillerson met with Prime Minister Modi yesterday morning. The two talked about ways to further strengthen our cooperation, particularly in the areas of counterterrorism, defense, and also trade. The Secretary reaffirmed the administration’s support for India’s role in – as the leading security provider in the Indo-Pacific region. He also noted that he looks forward to working even more closely with India on shared regional and global priorities, including North Korea. So we thank Prime Minister Modi for coming to Washington.

    With that, I’ll take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Matt.

    QUESTION: Let’s start with the Supreme Court order from yesterday.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I realize that you have 72 hours to actually implement it, and we’re only just a little over 24 hours into it, and so I presume that there’s still – people are still working on --

    MS NAUERT: Good math for a reporter.

    QUESTION: -- implementation. Yeah. But I couldn’t subtract – I couldn’t tell you --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I don’t know how many hours are left. (Laughter.) But what is your understanding of what – is the department going to set out a list of criteria for what constitutes a bona fide relationship with an American entity or person, as the court has said?

    MS NAUERT: So a lot of talk and a lot of questions about this term “bona fide,” and that was something that actually came from this Supreme Court. So as you mention – as you correctly mention, we have a couple days still to work this out and get more information. So we will be looking to the Department of Justice to get more clarification on what a bona fide relationship will be.

    QUESTION: Right. But do you expect that you will lay – that you, in your guidance to visa-issuing posts, will be laying out, okay, like a second cousin twice removed is not bona fide or is bona fide, or a hotel reservation is a bona fide --

    MS NAUERT: I would anticipate that we would have to give, certainly, some degree of explanation and a definition to our folks who are handling this overseas. Exactly what that terminology will look like, that we don’t know yet, so that’s why we’ll continue to chat with the Department of Justice and our folks over there. People here are hard at work with Department of Justice and also I believe Homeland Security to try to figure out exactly what this term “bona fide” should mean and will mean, and then we’ll get that information out to our folks across the world.

    QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any idea of the time? I mean, could – I realize you have until Thursday.

    MS NAURT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But could it come earlier? I mean --

    MS NAUERT: This is obviously an important matter a big matter, and everybody wants to get this right. They want to see this implemented in an orderly fashion, and so in doing that I think they’ll probably take their time – as much time as they have – to make sure they get it right so that we can get that information and then get that out to our folks overseas. And we know that our people at the State Department have a lot of questions about this as well, legitimate questions, just as all of you do too.

    QUESTION: So who’s --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: I mean, at the point of entry, how is it enforced? Because the first time around it caused a great deal of chaos, if you remember. Now how is it going to be enforced? Is it left to the discretion of the customs officer or the immigration officer at the point of entry?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think some of that we just don’t know yet. We need additional guidance from the Department of Justice. So some of these questions – important questions that you all have – I’m just not going to be able to answer today, because this is all still in flux and the lawyers are going through it. And lawyers get involved and they like to go through all the language and all the words, so some of that I’m just going to have to wait until they can give us greater guidance on that.

    Hi, Felicia. Hi.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: And let’s stay on this – the executive order before we go over to other --

    QUESTION: Oh. Then – okay, then come back to me later.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Hi, Michele.

    QUESTION: So I don’t know how – what the scope is of what you do know, but in terms of refugees coming in and this relationship, if they’ve had contact with a resettlement agency or a church group or something, are you prepared to treat that as a bona fide relationship? Like – or is that one of the things you haven’t hashed out yet?

    MS NAUERT: So a couple things. Bona fide relationship – we don’t have a definition here at the State Department for that yet. None of the agencies has that definition just yet. That we will be working to get; that I anticipate will take a couple days to get that. However, I can tell you in terms of refugees who are already slated to be coming here, we have been in touch with them. By that I mean we have advised our refugee resettlement partners overseas that they should currently proceed with the resettlement of refugees who are scheduled to travel to the United States through July the 6th. Beyond July the 6th, we are not totally certain how that will work because, again, this is in flux, this is in progress, this is a new development as the Supreme Court just spoke to this yesterday.

    There is a number of 50,000, as you all know – that is the 50,000 cap. We expect to reach that cap within the next week or so. We are somewhere in the neighborhood of close to 49,000 – not exactly 49,000 but something close to that, so --

    QUESTION: You know that the ruling addresses that cap and says that it – for certain people with that relationship, it would go beyond 50,000.

    MS NAUERT: Correct. So refugees with bona fide ties – which we’re still working on that definition – will not be subject to that cap, but I just wanted to mention that and lay that out about the 50,000 arrivals.

    Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: I believe the number – I think you just hit – you have hit 49,000 just in – like in the last two hours.

    MS NAUERT: In the last couple – okay. Good, Matt. (Laughter.)

    Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: When you do define sort of what a bona fide relationship is, is that something --

    MS NAUERT: Again, that won’t be our definition. We’ll be working with the Department of Justice. They’ll make that designation and determination, and then we’ll follow through with it.

    QUESTION: Sure. In terms of, like, informing the consular officers that, of course, we would be – we’d expect that not to happen, but in terms of also publicizing to potential immigrants, people who are applying for visas, is that something that you plan to make public so that they don’t kind of spend the money or whatever it might be to make the application?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. One thing I think that the State Department is good at doing is putting up lots of stuff on the website, but also just getting information out to the general public. We want travelers or prospective travelers to know exactly what they may or may not be facing, so we’ll get that information out.

    QUESTION: So does the State Department share the concerns of three justices that this could be a burden and a problem for the State Department?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. Okay. Anything else on this matter?

    Laurie, do you have something on the EO? We’re done with EO. Okay. Let’s go on to something else then. Okay.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Qatar?

    RUSSIA" name="RUSSIA">MS NAUERT: Sure. Let’s go on to Syria.

    QUESTION: So the Russians put out a readout of a call yesterday between Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov. In the Russian version of the call it says that they discussed deterring the use of chemical weapons. Did the Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: Their discuss – the what?

    QUESTION: Deterring the use of chemical weapons --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- in Syria. Did the Secretary share the information that was shared with us last night, that they had – that the U.S. had detected preparations at the site? And did the Secretary warn Foreign Minister Lavrov about that or ask them to press the Syrians not to do that?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I can confirm that Secretary Tillerson spoke yesterday with his counterpart, with Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister there. As you know, they talk about things regularly. They began their dialogue in Moscow and I believe it was March. They met here about a month ago or so. And then, of course, they’ve had subsequent phone conversations, such as the one last evening.

    Secretary Tillerson is not putting out a full play-by-play of that conversation. We know that the Russians have put out what they consider to be their version, so I’m not going to get into a tit for tat about what we think they said or what they claim they said – claim was said in that conversation. But the Secretary has made his concerns clear in the past and continues to do so with regard to Russia.

    QUESTION: In light of the statement that the White House put out last night, it seems like a fair question to ask if --

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I’m not – you can ask me anything you want. I’m not saying it’s not – (laughter) --

    QUESTION: But you’re not going to say anything specifically about chemical weapons?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: There’s a sparrow carrying a one-pound coconut. Did you --

    MS NAUERT: What? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Are you saying that you – are you saying that you dispute the Russian characterization?

    MS NAUERT: No. I’m just – I’m not going to get into a tit for tat. The Russians will often put out information, and they tend to mischaracterize things sometimes, and so I’m not going to get into going back and forth with them about what was said in this conversation. Secretary Tillerson is always clear with the Russians about how we feel about certain things, and the Secretary prefers to conduct a lot of his diplomacy in private in those conversations, because he believes that we can be most effective that way.

    Okay, John.

    QUESTION: Heather, can I --

    QUESTION: There were some reports that the White House statement about the Syria chemical weapons attack took some policy experts at the State Department by surprise. Is that true? Was the State Department fully read in on this?

    MS NAUERT: So the Secretary, as you know, was at the White House yesterday. He met with the President, also a group meeting with the President’s national security team, and that’s when this conversation was all had about that statement. So they were all informed and aware of that statement. In terms of who exactly that filtered down to at the State Department, I’m not going to get into our internal conversations. But the Secretary was aware of it; folks here were aware of it, and that’s what’s important and that’s what matters.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: So the sequence of time, that the Tillerson-Lavrov call came before the statement made by the White House, right?

    MS NAUERT: I believe – that’s a good question. I believe the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Lavrov was in the morning. I can double check on that and get back with you, but yes – okay. Yeah, it was in the morning.

    QUESTION: So the warning may not have come as a result of that conversation.

    MS NAUERT: Again, I just don’t know, but the call was – I’m getting the nod over here – it was, in fact, in the morning.

    Sir, hi. How are you? Yes.

    QUESTION: There is clearly a difference of opinion or – I don’t know – strong disagreement, whatever you might want to call that, between Russia and the United States over this matter. The Syrians themselves claim that there is no preparation underway for any chemical weapons attack. Russia seems to be agreeing with them.

    MS NAUERT: Wait. Hold on. Are we supposed to buy what the Syrians are saying, that there are no chemical weapons preparations underway --

    QUESTION: This is not my question.

    MS NAUERT: -- because in the past, we know that they have killed their own people, which include women and children. So if they say that they’re not making any preparations, I’m not certain that we’re going to buy that. But go ahead.

    QUESTION: Well, there is no agreement on that either. There --

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: There is no agreement on that either. There was no --

    QUESTION: Get to your question.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Just what’s the question?

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead, sir. Please.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask you something else.

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask you if there is a follow – if there is an intent to follow up on that between Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: On which? I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: On the discussion on Syria and the alleged plans for chemical attack between Secretary Tillerson and Minister Lavrov.

    MS NAUERT: You mean – are – do you mean that when the statement was put out last evening, that the United States is concerned about Syria and preparations that we believe are underway for a chemical weapons attack? Your question is will there be additional conversations about that?

    QUESTION: Yeah, something like that.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any additional calls or any information to read out. This is something that the United States Government remains very concerned about. I’m just not aware of any subsequent conversations that are scheduled just yet.

    QUESTION: Can you – did – I know you don’t want to get into the details, but is there any effort to get the Shannon-Ryabkov meetings channel back open again? And is that something that --

    MS NAUERT: We would regard that conversation as a very important conversation to be had. You all have heard it here that our relationship with the Russian Government is at a low point right now and we would like to fix that so we can find areas of common interests, such as the fight against ISIS, so that we can find those areas of common interest and work on those fully together. I know we would like to resume those conversations with the Russians about that. I don’t have any meetings or any trips to read out about that, but I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: No, I’m just wondering if there’s something the Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov about, if there’s something that – among the menu of agenda that they have, if –

    MS NAUERT: I know we talked about a lot of mutual areas of concern. Regarding rescheduling that meeting, that I just don’t know. Sorry.

    Anything else on Russia right now? Syria/Russia?

    QUESTION: Iraq.

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Russia/Syria?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Do you guys have any evidence to share with us about this potential preparation for the use of chemical weapons? Because that wasn’t actually laid out.

    MS NAUERT: Right, and nor would that be laid out, because that would be considered an intelligence matter. So as you all are aware, there are a lot of these things that will pop up sometimes that we just can’t get into the details about this, but this has obviously gotten the attention of the United States Government at the highest level.

    QUESTION: So could the activity have perhaps been for some other reason than a chemical weapons attack preparation?

    MS NAUERT: Such as?

    QUESTION: Something that they do at the base or – I mean, is that a possibility?

    MS NAUERT: I would say that that’s a hypothetical question. We know from past experience that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on its own people, so that obviously remains a very large concern for us in the future.

    QUESTION: I just want to make a point of clarification.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: When you guys believe that it’s in your interests, you do put out what you say is evidence or proof of things that involve intelligence, and it happened from this podium not that long ago with the crematorium that you guys said was being built at the prison.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So it’s not a blanket “we never discuss intelligence,” right?

    MS NAUERT: Matt Lee, I’m not going to – I’m not going to get into that one with you, but this is a very serious and grave matter, and when you have the President involved and his national security team and the Secretary involved as well, I’d say that’s a serious issue.

    Okay, anything else on this? Hi, how are you?

    QUESTION: Just a quick clarifying question.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Inaudible), like is it 24 hours?

    QUESTION: Go ahead. Let him go ahead.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: The preparation, the preparation. Is it like 24-hour preparation, maybe 48 hours, and then they stand back or something --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have the answer to that question. The White House may be able to give you more on that, or perhaps the Department of Defense or another agency, but – or department, rather – but I just can’t get into that and I don’t have the answer to that question.

    QUESTION: Just to clarify, Mr. Assad was also seen photographed with the top Russian general in Syria within the last 24 hours or so. Do you know if the Russians – are we aware if the Russians were aware about these preparations as well?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that.

    QUESTION: We don’t have any intel saying one way or another?

    MS NAUERT: I just can’t get into any of the intelligence, but I’m not personally aware of that.

    Okay. Anything else on Russia/Syria?

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Russia/Syria?

    QUESTION: Here.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, who’s got it? Sir, in the back.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So Ambassador Haley said today that they would blame Iran, Russia, and Syria if chemical weapons were again – what does it mean to blame these countries? How would the U.S. hold them accountable in the event of another strike?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. intend on militarily striking Iran or Russia in the event of a chemical weapons attack?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Your third question I can’t answer; that’s a Department of Defense matter, and then that’s also a hypothetical. In terms of the first question, which is why would we – why would we look to Syria and Iran? Was that the part?

    QUESTION: How – what does it mean to blame them?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve seen – all we have to do is look to the past, right, and we have seen as the Syrian regime back in 2015 was on the verge of collapsing – who came in to help save the Syrian regime? Who came in? Russia came in. And that is exactly why we are today – we, meaning the world – in the place that Syria is. Russia came in, helped bolster up Syrian forces, and we have seen the death, the devastation, the destruction that has taken place ever since.

    So when we say Russia would be held responsible, we believe that they play a role in this as well. They have a lot of influence with the Assad regime, and we have consistently called upon them to use their influence with the Assad regime to stop this kind of activity.

    QUESTION: Just on the --

    MS NAUERT: John, hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but her remarks that any attacks on the Syrian people will be blamed on the – Assad and the Russians.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Why not wait to find out? This is obviously a complex war --

    MS NAUERT: Right.

    QUESTION: -- with a number of actors --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, you’re right.

    QUESTION: -- including ISIS. It seems like a rather un-nuanced comment. Wouldn’t you find out who exactly was responsible before blaming?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t get too much into what Ambassador Haley said on the Hill today. I don’t have all of her comments in front of me, so I’d just have to refer you to the USUN for additional clarification on what she meant.

    QUESTION: Well, she actually said that last night in a tweet.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: As well as saying it again on the Hill.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can you not – are you --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Wouldn’t – I mean, the State Department would and the United States Government would look to find out and make sure it had evidence of who was exactly responsible, right, before issuing a blanket blame for attacks on the Syrian people, right?

    MS NAUERT: I think her comments stand for themselves, okay?

    QUESTION: Sorry, does that mean that you’re not going to answer any questions about what she said on the Hill today? Because I got one.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I know you do. I know you do. Go right ahead. Why don’t you ask that question? I’m going to do my level best because --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- I was not aware of – and I know what you’re getting at – well, I’ll let you go ahead and ask and we’ll go there – from there. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: So Ambassador Haley said that it was a matter of U.S. policy to oppose Palestinians for UN positions, and she did this in answering questions about the reason that you guys blocked Salam Fayyad from becoming the representative for Libya. Is that correct? Because if it’s true, it sounds as though it’s discriminatory.

    MS NAUERT: I am working to get Ambassador Haley’s full comments in front of me. I just learned of those comments as I was walking into the briefing room, so didn’t have a full amount of time to be able to look into exactly what she said and what was intended by that. So some of this, as you all know, is developing. And when it’s developing, I know you want answers right away. I understand that. I’m not always going to be able to give you answers. I’d rather be right than be fast. We will take a close look at her comments. We will work to determine exactly what Ambassador Haley meant.

    But I can tell you this: Ambassador Haley talked about this back in February when the United States expressed its objection to the appointment of Mr. Fayyad as the UN’s envoy to Libya. That’s what we’re talking about. We expressed that – she expressed that again in her Hill testimony, and she’s talked about this a lot. She believes that the United Nations and many believe that the United Nations needs to be reformed, that for far too long the United Nations has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel. I know that’s a concern of hers. She’s talked about that a lot. She’s talked about reforming the United Nations. But in terms of her comments, I’m just going to need a little bit of time to take a closer look.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me just add one on there.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: First of all, I don’t understand how this is in any way biased against Israel to appoint a well-known, respected financial guy and diplomat to be the envoy to Libya. I don’t see how that has anything to do with bias against Israel at all.

    But secondly, I mean, she said that until Palestine is a state that this is the policy. So I’m just curious, do you have – if this is a policy, does it also apply to the Vatican? Because the Palestinians right now have the same status at the UN as the Vatican does. So if you’re going to be consistent about this, then you would oppose any representative of the Holy See taking a UN position (inaudible), so that’s --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m just not going to get into – again, to characterizing that right now. I understand your question. I understand your concerns. Let me get some additional information. And anybody who has questions, I will do my level best to get you the answers, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. Can we --

    QUESTION: About Qatar?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And a couple on the Palestinians.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, just a couple more questions. Go ahead. Wait --

    QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, Said.

    QUESTION: By Israeli press accounts, the meeting between Mr. Kushner and Mahmoud Abbas went --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- did not go very well. And they’re saying that, basically, the administration is going to pull out of any ongoing process or potential process. Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: I do. This is something that I was involved with and on the phone with – I was not there, but on the phone with over the weekend, hearing from some of the folks who had been traveling with Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt as well. And that’s just false. The President has made Israeli-Palestinian peace one of his top priorities. You know that. We’ve talked about that.

    We understand and recognize that this is not going to be a one-shot deal. It’s not going to be handled in one meeting or one trip. It is no surprise also that some meetings and conversations may be a little bit more difficult than others. Some will be more challenging. The President has said himself that it is not going to be an easy process, that both sides – the Israelis and the Palestinians – will have to give a bit in order to be able to get to a peaceful arrangement, which we hope to see. But we are not pulling out in any way, shape, or form of this as being one of our priorities. Okay?

    Qatar, okay.

    QUESTION: Okay. So about a week ago, you said we’re left with a simple question: Were the actions of the other countries versus Qatar really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long-simmering grievances between them and the GCC countries? So now that you’ve seen the list of demands --

    MS NAUERT: I can’t believe that was only a week ago. Doesn’t that feel like it was a month ago? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I guess.

    MS NAUERT: It does, yeah.

    QUESTION: So now that you’ve seen the list of demands, do you have any more light on what the answer to that question is?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. The only thing I can say about the exact demands – because I don’t want to characterize the demands – but some of them will be difficult for Qatar to incorporate and to try to adhere to. That’s as far as I’m going to go in saying that. We --

    QUESTION: Can you say which ones?

    MS NAUERT: No, I can’t. But some of them – some of them will be challenging for that country.

    QUESTION: So what would you say the goal is of the meetings today?

    MS NAUERT: So the Secretary will have two meetings today. I’m not sure if you’re aware of both of them. But he’ll meet with the foreign minister of Qatar and then he’ll meet with the foreign minister of Kuwait.[1] And Kuwait has really done a lot of hard work in terms of trying to bring the nations together so that they can come to an – so that they can come to some sort of agreement.

    We continue to call on those countries to work together and work this out, and this process is not over yet. They will be having these conversations, we certainly know, for the rest of the week, if not longer than that. And we will – we stand by in order to help facilitate some of these conversations.

    QUESTION: But there’s not a set goal, a specific goal for the meetings today, especially with Qatar, like to finalize a response or something like that?

    MS NAUERT: Not that I am aware of. This meeting starts in 20-some minutes, and so I’m going to have to head up there so I can go into that bilateral meeting. But if there’s something that I can share with you, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: I get that you don’t want to characterize the demands as – but when you say that you realize that some of them will be difficult for Qatar to meet, that implies that you think that they should meet them.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think so.

    QUESTION: No?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: So you think that there’s a way – there’s some kind of middle ground, there’s room for negotiation – not with you guys, but between the parties – so that maybe some or parts of some are completed and maybe other parts are not?

    MS NAUERT: These nations are going to have to work out their disagreements. I mean, we’ve talked about how a lot of these are long-simmering tensions. We believe that they’re going to have to work them out. They’re best worked out with the countries themselves. We are pleased and happy that Kuwait has stepped in to help be a mediator of sorts, and we’re happy to stand by and assist as we can. But we still feel that they can work them out themselves.

    QUESTION: But you don’t necessarily think that they have to be – all of them have to be met as was delivered in that statement?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, that’s for the countries to work out. That’s not for me to say, and I don’t know that that’s for the State Department to weigh in at that level, because ultimately, these parties have to live with the decisions and the agreements that they make.

    Okay, last question. Laurie.

    QUESTION: Here. Yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi announced that ISIS defeat was close at hand. And so what are your plans – how is the liberation of Mosul – once it’s liberated, which will be soon – how is that going to change what you’re doing in Iraq? What are your plans for the future of that area?

    MS NAUERT: Well, they wouldn’t be our plans for the future of the area; it would be the Iraqi Government’s plans. There is a Government of Iraq, so the Government of Iraq can decide how they want to govern themselves and what will take place in – certainly in certain areas. Our focus right now is on the liberation of Mosul. The Iraqi prime minister talked about how he believes that this will be done sooner rather than later. I’m not going to characterize a timeline. Our U.S. forces and coalition partners and the Iraqi Government are out there hard at work to try to get ISIS out of the remaining parts of Mosul. There is a lot of work left to be done, there’s also – we have also had some successes – and when I say “we,” I mean the Iraqis, coalition, and the United States Government – in bringing a lot of people back to Mosul in the safer parts where we’ve gotten ISIS out, and now some of those people have been able to come back in. I think the latest numbers are somewhere around 300,000, but Matt can probably --

    QUESTION: Nope, I don’t know that one.

    MS NAUERT: Matt can probably chime in better on those numbers. So the priorities in those areas, working with the Government of Iraq to do de-mining – that is one of the major priorities that the U.S. Government is involved with, as are coalition partners – to bring water, food, electricity. Some schools are back now in session in eastern Mosul – we’re not talking in the tougher parts where ISIS has really dug in in western Mosul, but in eastern Mosul. And that’s really a success story as we see it, because if you have children who are able to go back to school right now, not long after ISIS had – was really dug into that area, that is a success and a real testament to the hard work that the Iraqis and our coalition partners have done as well.

    QUESTION: Do you have any suggestions for political changes in the area, political reforms?

    MS NAUERT: We wouldn’t have any – I don’t think we would have any suggestions for that. There is a Government of Iraq, and the Government of Iraq can best decide. Okay.

    All right, last question.

    QUESTION: And just one on – one more on Qatar?

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Is Ambassador Coppedge staying in her role? And is that an important role that needs to be filled at this department? You’ve got 67-odd special envoys and representatives that this department – or this administration in particular has said needs to be whittled down substantially, if not entirely eliminated. She got a job at – next month? And if so – and if not, is somebody else going to fill that role?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. Ambassador Coppedge and I talked, spent some time together last week and spent some time together today, and our focus was really solely on the TIP Report and getting that out, and getting the information out. So I didn’t have a chance to ask her what her career plans are, but if I can find out for you and let you know, I certainly will. But she did a terrific job in putting this together.

    QUESTION: Is it an important role to fill at this department, even if it’s not her?

    MS NAUERT: This – the TIP Report has been ongoing for – what is it? How many – you all have been covering the State Department for a long time. 18 years? 18 years? 17 years, there we go. So I would see that as an important matter, and I’ll just leave it at that.

    Okay, last question. Right here.

    QUESTION: Senator Corker sent a letter yesterday to Secretary Tillerson threatening to block future arms sales to Gulf nations. How does that affect the negotiation process? Does it help or hurt?

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t characterize it either way. We’re aware of that letter. That letter came here into the department and there is a lot that’s going to happen this week, I think. There are a lot of conversations left to be had. I’m about to step into one right now, so I just don’t want to get ahead of some of those conversations.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Thanks. Peter, Gage, do you want to ask a question? Do you guys have a question?

    QUESTION: What’s for dinner?

    QUESTION: Ask about Trump’s tweets. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: All right. My boys don’t have a question. That’s the first time they’re speechless. Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you again on Thursday. Looking forward to it.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

    [1]

    Kuwaiti Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs and Acting Minister of Information


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 22, 2017

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:55
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 22, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • UKRAINE
  • IRAQ
  • UKRAINE
  • RUSSIA
  • SYRIA
  • IRAQ
  • QATAR
  • INDIA
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • NORTH KOREA/REGION
  • SUDAN
  • YEMEN
  • TURKEY
  • SOUTH KOREA/REGION
  • VENEZUELA
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:52 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hey, everybody.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: How’s everyone today?

    QUESTION: It’s Thursday, so --

    MS NAUERT: Thursday, I know. I know. I hope you all have been having a good week. A couple things I want to start out with today. Two issues of great interest to us. The first is about Ukraine and the second is about Iraq.

    The United States is deeply concerned about an alarming pattern of violence and harassment by Russia-led separatists in eastern Ukraine, directed at unarmed civilian members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. The latest in a series of threatening and intimidating incidents involved harassment, threats, and ultimately shots being fired at retreating mission vehicles on June the 20th. This follows the tragic death in April of a U.S. citizen who was serving as a paramedic with monitors when his vehicle struck an explosive in separatist-controlled territory.

    The incidents are part of a broader effort to keep the international community from seeing what is happening in eastern Ukraine. We call on Russia to use its influence to end this campaign of intimidation and honor its commitment to allow free, full, and safe access to the OSCE monitors. More broadly, a lasting and durable ceasefire is urgently needed to relieve human suffering and create space for progress on Minsk implementation. That is the first issue.

    Second, Iraq. As I’m sure you all saw yesterday, the destruction of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque yesterday is further evidence of the depravity and the desperation of ISIS and their so-called caliphate, which is rapidly evaporating. We strongly condemn this crime against the people of Mosul, which only further proves that ISIS has no respect for Iraq’s identity, culture, or its religions. For nearly 800 years, the al-Nuri Mosque, with its distinct leaning minaret, al-Hadba, stood as a testament to the faith and unity of Mosul’s residents. ISIS used the historic mosque, an edifice of a great religion, to publicly justify its criminal campaign of genocide, mass rape, institutionalized slavery, child murder, and aggressive territorial conquest.

    Yesterday, Iraqi Security Forces pushed forward to liberate Iraqi civilians who are still trapped in Mosul. ISIS destroyed the mosque and the minaret. The despicable act is a crime not only against the people of Mosul in Iraq, but the world. The world has, yet again, lost an important part of our shared heritage at the hands of ISIS.

    The Iraqi Security Forces, with the support of the coalition, have now liberated 70 percent of the territory that ISIS once controlled and has now freed 2.7 million Iraqis from ISIS’s brutal rule. Together, we’re accelerating the global campaign against ISIS, taking ISIS leaders off the battlefield, and depriving the group of its resources. The United States remains committed to helping Iraq drive ISIS from every inch of the Iraqi soil and ensure that the terror group cannot return. The United States and the international community supports the Government of Iraq’s efforts to support communities suffering from the effects of the brutal occupation of ISIS. The American people stand with the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people in their efforts to build a future that is filled with peace and prosperity for all Iraqis.

    With that, I’ll take your questions, please.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I just want to start, because of your Ukraine OSCE statement --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- I just want to make sure this is right. Are you saying that this is a broader effort by the separatists to prevent the public from seeing what’s going on and --

    MS NAUERT: We believe that. The information from the OSCE monitors is really one of the reliable ways that we and the world can see what is going on and the devastation that’s taking place in that part of Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: And we believe that these monitors – it’s a repeated history now of harassment against these monitors, we think to try to prevent them from doing their jobs.

    QUESTION: So the administration likes transparency when it comes to --

    MS NAUERT: I think the world wants to see these OSCE monitors be able to report fairly and accurately the reality of the situation on the ground.

    QUESTION: Right. I just wanted to make sure that was what I was getting at.

    QUESTION: Did you say --

    QUESTION: And – hold on --

    QUESTION: -- Russian-led separatists? Did you – Russian-led?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Or Russian-supported separatists?

    MS NAUERT: Both.

    QUESTION: You think they are Russian-led?

    MS NAUERT: Russian – we believe they’re Russian-led, Russian-funded, Russian-trained separatists – so-called separatists.

    QUESTION: Now, the Russians say that Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson spoke by phone today.

    MS NAUERT: They did.

    QUESTION: Did this come up or was it mainly focused on U.S.-Russia?

    MS NAUERT: They talked about a lot of issues, among them Syria. That remains a major issue. But I can’t get into the specifics of that conversation that took place today.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, would it be fair to – I don't want to assume, because we all know what that does. But would it be fair to say that the cancellation of the Tom Shannon-Ryabkov meeting was a point of discussion?

    MS NAUERT: I would imagine that that was something that was discussed. I mean, we have said to Russia and we say here today that we were disappointed. This was a channel that was set up by the Secretary and also Foreign Minister Lavrov back in – I believe it was April when they were in Russia together. And they set up this separate channel, so to speak, to have these conversations to be able to go over more minor issues – irritants. And that was something that Secretary Shannon was prepared to do – to go there, have a good-faith conversation. The Secretary has talked about how we have a low-level relationship at this point with Russia, and we would like to try to find areas of cooperation to work together, and it’s difficult to find areas of cooperation to work together while there are some of these irritants that keep coming up at some of the bigger meetings. So this was a separate channel set up to try to address those things. Russia canceled it, so Russia can best explain why they chose to cancel it, but we’re disappointed in that.

    QUESTION: But do you know if there are discussions going on to try and reschedule? And --

    MS NAUERT: That I don’t know. That I don’t know.

    QUESTION: Okay. And the other – the last thing on this is that the Russians also say that Foreign Minister Lavrov complained about the military strikes in Syria as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, and also complained about the sanctions, which is what they said was the – or the latest maintenance of sanctions that – which is what they said was the reason for canceling the Shannon thing.

    MS NAUERT: So the issue of sanctions was never on the table for this meeting that was canceled. This meeting was about more minor issues. Sanctions can be dealt with a very separate way. Russia knows exactly why sanctions are placed on that country, and it’s directly as a result of their actions in Crimea and their actions in the eastern part of Ukraine. If they want those sanctions removed, they have to address those issues. They have to live up to the Minsk accords.

    QUESTION: And on the – this violation of Syria’s sovereignty, you guys obviously reject that charge, yes?

    MS NAUERT: Those are – those were defensive actions that the United States took, and the only reason that the United States is in Syria is to address ISIS.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: And I think Russia knows that.

    Okay. Hi, Dave. Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: Just to follow up on that one directly, so this – the Shannon-Ryabkov channel was to discuss the minor irritants, and even that was canceled, so what kind of situation are we in in terms of U.S.-Russia ties now?

    MS NAUERT: I mean --

    QUESTION: It’s already very low. Now what is it?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not going to characterize it exactly, but I certainly can say that we’re disappointed in that, that we wanted to have this dialogue so that we could clear the table, clear the air, so to speak, of some of these smaller issues. This is something that we wanted to see happen, so Russia can best explain why it was canceled. They know why. They know why they canceled it.

    QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. Two things – two quick things. First of all, the French president, Macron, said that Assad was not – it is not a precondition for Assad to go, that Assad --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, say that again. The French president said what?

    QUESTION: Said that Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria – they don’t condition the end of the civil war in Syria with the removal of Bashar al-Assad as president of Syria. Do you agree with this or do you see it as a major --

    MS NAUERT: Eventually that would be up for the people of Syria to decide.

    QUESTION: Right. But – so do you think that France is sort of shifting its position?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on the position that France has taken on this.

    QUESTION: And second, the Turkish defense minister, Fikri Isik, said that he was assured by Secretary Mattis that once the – that once ISIS is defeated, they will – that the United States will retrieve the arms that they have given to the YPG. Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: So that would be a DOD matter, and you could certainly speak to the Department of Defense about that. That’s all I have.

    QUESTION: Another Syria --

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, let’s stick with Syria for a bit. Sir, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: James Bays from Al Jazeera.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, James.

    QUESTION: Earlier on this week, the chairman of the joint chiefs was asked about Raqqa after it has been freed of ISIL. He said the State Department had a plan for governance. I wonder if you could expand on that plan. Who do you plan to put in charge of Raqqa? Does it become a safe zone? Will you protect it from the air as a no-fly zone?

    MS NAUERT: So we aren’t completely there yet. The fight for Raqqa is still underway and still taking place. The United States will never determine who will take control or take charge in terms of its government. That will be up for the Syrian people to decide.

    QUESTION: They’ll fight it out?

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: Fight it out or --

    MS NAUERT: No, that will be up for the Syrian people to decide. To answer your --

    QUESTION: So there will be an election or --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on, hold on – for the Syrian people to decide who will ultimately end up leading individual areas. And we have talked about that. We’ve talked about that here at the State Department, that it should be locally led, and that’s something that we’ve not moved away from.

    Syria. Anything else?

    QUESTION: A follow-up if I can. Sorry, I don’t come here very often, but I cover Syria a lot.

    MS NAUERT: Well, welcome.

    QUESTION: And I still – you’re nearly six months into this administration. I still don’t quite understand the administration’s overall strategy with regard to Syria. I understand ISIL entirely and the fight against ISIL, and I understand they’re brutal and abhorrent, but most of the deaths in Syria haven’t come from ISIL. What’s your overall strategy in ending the war and in terms of governance in Syria in the future? I can’t – I’m not even clear from reading everything that this administration has put out as whether you support the continued rule of President Assad, for example. Could you --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, anything with regard to the military would have to be a DOD --

    QUESTION: No, I’m asking about the final political solution.

    MS NAUERT: Hold on – could you just hold on for a second, please? Okay. DOD can handle the military issues, okay? In terms of the future for Syria, we continue to support a UN-backed system. We – the UN – Staffan de Mistura has been very involved in this process. We support something that would bring eventual peace to the people of Syria. This is going to be a long campaign, a long effort, and it’s not going to be resolved overnight, certainly.

    QUESTION: But the specific part of my question about whether Assad can be part of that final settlement in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know that that is going to be the future of Syria. I think the Syrian people will end up figuring that out. Assad has been responsible for horrific crimes against his own people. We know that. We have all talked a lot about that, and that remains a major concern. But this is something that the Syrian people ultimately, once there is peace brought to that area, will have to decide.

    QUESTION: How will they decide it?

    MS NAUERT: Sir, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If you want those kinds of answers, it’s going to take some time to get there.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    QUESTION: Syria. Sorry, just one more. So former ambassador for Syria, Robert Ford, has said some, like, remarkable stuff about what the United States, he believes, is going to do in Syria. He says the United – Assad is winning, the United States is going to abandon its partners, especially SDF. Do you have anything to say about your former ambassador?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of his comments. I do know that the United States, backing its coalition partners, has taken back a significant amount of territory from ISIS. I believe it’s 40 or 50 percent at this point. So that is something that we find to be encouraging. Again, this is going to be a long process. It’s not going to happen overnight.

    QUESTION: But do you – are you willing to reassure your partners, especially SDF, that the United States is not going to abandon them once ISIS is defeated or before ISIS is defeated?

    MS NAUERT: The SDF has been an effective fighting force, and we see the SDF as the best force to take back control over Raqqa, for example. And we’ve worked with them closely, certainly, in that arena. And they’ve done a very good job. But beyond that, I’m not going to characterize or get into hypotheticals about the future. Okay?

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Syria?

    QUESTION: On North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Let’s just finish out Syria first.

    QUESTION: It’s Qatar.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, yes. Go right ahead. Hey, Laurie.

    QUESTION: Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei has spoken very sharply to the Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi. He’s warned him against weakening the Hashd al-Shaabi and relying on the U.S. Khamenei also accused the U.S., along with Saudi Arabia, of creating ISIS. And Khamenei stated his opposition to the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. What is your response to all that?

    MS NAUERT: So as you all have seen here before, the statement of – statements of various foreign officials, I’m not going to comment on every single statement that comes out. So I’m not going to comment on that. But we can say that our partnership with the Government of Iraq is steadfast. They have been a strong partner of ours, and that will continue. That won’t change.

    QUESTION: Are you concerned that as ISIS is defeated and there’s not really any governing authority to replace it, that Iran is exploiting that and taking advantage, and putting its allies in place?

    MS NAUERT: The – Iran has continued to be a destabilizing force in the region, and throughout the world. I think many would argue that. So that would certainly remain a concern, but we have confidence in the Government of Iraq.

    Okay. Anything else on Iraq? Anything else on Iraq?

    QUESTION: Qatar?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Let’s go to Qatar. Hi, Felicia.

    QUESTION: Hey. First, do you have any updates, any more phone calls? Secretary Tillerson said a list has been drawn up. Has he been informed that it’s been provided to anyone?

    MS NAUERT: A list of --

    QUESTION: Demands. He put out a statement yesterday, right?

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: So then – and then I have one other question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So the Secretary has said, and continues to say, that he believes that this dispute can be resolved with the parties themselves. The Secretary has had a series of phone calls and meetings in which this has been the top topic for them.

    QUESTION: Since the list has been drawn up?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into the specifics of the list, so I won’t be able to provide you with any information about that. We do know that we believe it’s coming along, and that we have asked, and we’re optimistic, that what will be on this list will be reasonable and actionable demands that the Kuwait – excuse me, that the Qataris will receive.

    QUESTION: And then – oh, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Have you seen it, or does he know what --

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on what’s in that list.

    QUESTION: Well, I mean, are you going to make a judgment on whether it’s reasonable and actionable before the Qataris get it, or --

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been really very clear with all the parties about this. If you’re going to ask Qatar to do something, and to do something differently, it has to be something that they are actually capable of doing.

    QUESTION: Right. But --

    MS NAUERT: It has to be reasonable and actionable.

    QUESTION: Who makes that decision?

    MS NAUERT: Something that they can do about it.

    QUESTION: Who makes that determination, whether it’s --

    MS NAUERT: All of the parties have to get together and work this thing out.

    QUESTION: But I mean, is it something --

    MS NAUERT: It’s – I mean, it’s not done yet. It’s not finalized yet.

    QUESTION: No, no, I just – I understand. But I mean, do you guys weigh in and say, if the Qataris say, “All right, you have to block out the sun in the morning,” or something like – something that’s obviously not able to be done --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- will you tell them?

    MS NAUERT: I think that they will know exactly what things are reasonable and what things are actionable.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: And then, oh, I have one quick --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Prime Minister Modi is coming next week. What role is the Secretary playing in that visit, and what does he hope might come from this?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So Prime Minister Modi, I believe, is coming on the 26th. Is that right, the 26th of this month? And we are looking forward to having him come to the United States here for this meeting. I don’t have a full readout or schedule of exactly what will be taking place. If we do have something that becomes available on that, I will certainly let you know. It is June the 26th. But I do know we’re looking forward to strengthening ties between the United States and India. We have a lot of areas of mutual cooperation, fighting terrorism, we have a lot of people-to-people ties, strong people-to-people ties; so we’re looking forward to that visit.

    QUESTION: And is – visas is a big issue between the sides. I think USTR has spoken about it, but is that something Tillerson is involved with or --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. I know that that is a major issue. We have a lot of visas that get granted – are granted to Indian citizens, and so I just don’t know if that’s a topic for the agenda just yet. Okay, anything else on India?

    QUESTION: Just one.

    QUESTION: Heather, on --

    QUESTION: Just one.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: No.

    QUESTION: India.

    QUESTION: Is the Secretary getting any closer at all to making a decision on a travel ban for travel to North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: That’s something – you’re talking about DPRK?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

    MS NAUERT: That’s something that we’re still considering.

    QUESTION: Nothing new? No updates?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything new for you on that. Okay, can we --

    QUESTION: One on --

    QUESTION: I have a North Korea question.

    QUESTION: Sorry, can I --

    MS NAUERT: Can we try to stick with regions, please?

    QUESTION: One on India.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, sir.

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    QUESTION: Korea.

    QUESTION: India.

    MS NAUERT: Who has a question on India? Sir, you do?

    QUESTION: On India.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Madame, since this administration will be very new to Prime Minister Modi and his government also very new – three years he just completed. So he had a cordial relationship with the past president and administration, but now he doesn’t know how to deal with this administration because he never met anybody so far, and he had – he thought that things will be continuing the way it had been. But what he has seen in the last six months that a lot have changed as far as H-1B visa is concerned or also any other agreement between the two countries were initiated. So --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I can tell you that --

    QUESTION: -- as far as these agreements are concerned, do you think they will stand – they will – between the two countries or anything new we are looking?

    MS NAUERT: That’s a hypothetical, so I’m not going to get into that. I also don’t want to get ahead of the President and what may be happening in the meetings ahead. I can tell you that we’re really looking forward to having the prime minister here. We treasure our relationship with our Indian friends and so many Indian Americans here in the United States, so we’re looking forward to having them.

    QUESTION: And second, yesterday was the International Day of Yoga initiative by Prime Minister Modi --

    MS NAUERT: It was?

    QUESTION: -- and the United Nations – declared by the UN, International Day of Yoga every year, June 21st, which happened to be longest day. So any statements from the Secretary?

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that, but I’m so glad to know that – next time, let me know the day of, okay? So we can try to pull something together, not – since it was yesterday. Okay.

    QUESTION: Does Secretary yoga practice here?

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) He rides horses. Okay. How are you doing? Good to see you.

    QUESTION: Good, how are you?

    MS NAUERT: Good.

    QUESTION: The Taliban released what was reportedly a video of Kevin King, an American hostage in Afghanistan. I wanted to know if the State Department has authenticated that video, and an update on his – the attempts to secure his release.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So first of all, on that video – we are aware of that video. The video itself is not something that the State Department would look at to try to determine its accuracy or if that is, in fact, him – who they purport it to be. So that would be something that another agency would handle altogether, but we are aware of that. We are – the U.S. Government will be examining it and taking a look.

    Anything else on Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Heather.

    QUESTION: Turkey.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: No? Not at all? Okay, okay. Let’s head over to that region. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Han Tae Song, North Korean ambassador to Geneva, Switzerland, and he talked to press day before yesterday, and he said that North Korea is always protecting all the detainees and that they treat well, include Warmbier, in line with the international standard. Any comment on this?

    MS NAUERT: No, no.

    QUESTION: Do you think they would treat Warmbier in North Korea --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize that. I’m not going to characterize that. We are saddened and disappointed. Mr. Warmbier’s family is burying him today, so let’s keep the focus on the family if we can.

    QUESTION: Kenneth Bae, he was released two years ago (inaudible) by North Korea. He mentioned yesterday to press, Warmbier possibility tortured by North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Was what?

    QUESTION: Tortured by North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, tortured. Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you believe that?

    MS NAUERT: I didn’t – I’m not aware of those statements, so I’m hearing them for the first time right now that that’s what he said, so okay. Anything else?

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: DPRK?

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Hi. So there was an incident over the weekend between members of the North Korean delegation at the UN and security officials at JFK Airport. The LA Times is reporting that the diplomats had been in Arizona trying to buy some potentially banned technology-related items. So I guess the first question here is whether that’s your understanding of the situation, and then the second question would be: Had they been approved ahead of time to travel outside of the zone surrounding New York City?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, that I’m not aware of. I know that this is still – this is not going to be the answer that you want, but it’s still something that’s being investigated and looking into that. Homeland Security has the lead on that through Customs and Border Protection, so just have to refer you to them. But it’s something that’s being looked at.

    QUESTION: Are you referring to the --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- first part of the question or the second part or both?

    MS NAUERT: The whole thing.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: That’s something at DHS. (Laughter.) It’s nice to be able to punt occasionally to another agency or department, so --

    QUESTION: Can we ask on Yemen?

    QUESTION: Heather, also --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Anything else on DPRK?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So as --

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Sorry. As you were mentioning, funeral services for Mr. Warmbier took place this morning, and Deputy Secretary Sullivan and Ambassador Yun both attended. Did they pass along any messages of condolences from the Secretary? And could you share any sentiments on behalf of the State Department?

    MS NAUERT: Could I what?

    QUESTION: Could you share any sentiments on behalf of the State Department?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. We talked about this earlier this week. Our thoughts and prayers and our sympathy goes out to the family. I know there were a lot of people in this building who were elated to learn that Otto Warmbier was being brought home and then crestfallen to learn when he had passed away. So it’s really been a tough time for the people, I think, who have worked on this, but this is what those folks do. We continue to express our sympathies and our prayers to the family and I think that having the deputy secretary and Ambassador Yun attend the funeral shows how much they care about the situation. I know the Secretary was deeply saddened himself by what transpired and Otto Warmbier’s passing.

    QUESTION: I have a North Korea --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on DPRK?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead, sir. Hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you. First, I was wondering if you had a response to the – North Korea’s envoy to India who said that they would put a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests if the U.S. halted joint military drills with South Korea. Do you have a response to that?

    MS NAUERT: So I don’t have a response to that, but the DPRK knows what they need to do in order to get the United States to work with them, and they know that has to be denuclearization. The Secretary has said he’s not going to negotiate his way back to the negotiating table, plain and simple.

    QUESTION: And I have one more: Just following up from Nike’s question on Tuesday, is the State --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Sorry. I don’t recall what her question was on Tuesday.

    QUESTION: Oh, that’s fine. (Laughter.) So is the State Department going to look into any of these companies that are bringing, say, American tourists over to North Korea? I know recently – the Young Pioneers recently changed their name, so I know that’s changing --

    MS NAUERT: Interesting little tidbit. If you want to travel to Chernobyl, you can use that travel company or you could go to North Korea, which we do not encourage in any way. As you know, that is a very serious – a very serious matter.

    QUESTION: Are you encouraging travel to Chernobyl, though?

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. (Laughter.) This travel company apparently – apparently provides tourists to Chernobyl as well. In any event – sorry, just joking there – but the safety and security is something that remains one of the very top issues for folks here. We have said again and again do not travel to North Korea. It is not – it is not safe for Americans to do so. We continue to say that. That hasn’t changed. The travel companies is something that we can certainly take a look at, but that – if they were to be sanctioned, that would be something that the Treasury Department would handle, and they may be looking at that, they may not. I just don’t know. You’d have to talk to Treasury about that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on DPRK?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: Wasn’t it something that – his earlier question, apologies – the discussion of possibly stepping back on military exercises in South Korea, was that something that was discussed with the Chinese during the course of the last couple of days?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to get into the personal, private conversations that took place with that. The joint exercises take place all around the world. They’re in accordance with the law. That’s something that will – DOD would handle that, but that’s something that will continue and it’s something that I can’t – I can’t imagine that we would give up on something as important as that, those joint exercises.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I ask one more --

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- along those lines? Walking away from the discussion yesterday, was there a feeling that enough progress was made to – or was there significant progress made in a way that would change the timeline on third-country sanctions? Or is that – was there any – any movement in the Secretary’s position on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So as you know, we can’t talk about sanctions. That’s something we don’t typically ever talk about, so I’m going to not address that.

    QUESTION: Before.

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: Before they’re imposed. You talk about them ad nauseum afterwards, though, right? (Laughter.) Right?

    MS NAUERT: We reference sanctions, certainly. Yeah, we certainly reference sanctions. The meeting yesterday was one in a series of four meetings – more will take place – to cover other issues related to the U.S.-China relationship. This was something that the President and President Xi had agreed to in Mar-a-Lago, I believe it was back in February, when they talked about that.

    So, as you all know, diplomatic conversations and discussions take time. So we never anticipated, the Chinese never anticipated being able to handle everything all in one day, so this will be a work in progress and is just going to take some time to get some places. But we consider it to be – have been a constructive, results-oriented relationship that we have with them, and we look forward to continuing the conversation and try to advance cooperation that the United States has in areas of mutual benefit to try to narrow our differences with the Chinese.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Sure. Hey.

    QUESTION: There was – President Trump tweeted --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, on China?

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Oh. Just – okay.

    QUESTION: President Trump tweeted essentially that China’s efforts with North Korea had failed. The suggestion from that tweet was sort of that the U.S. was moving on from these efforts, and that contradicted the message coming out of the briefing yesterday between Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis. Is there daylight between those two? Do Secretary Tillerson and Mattis still believe that China has a role to play in pressuring North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, they certainly have a role to play in – they’re a very large economic partner with North Korea, China is. We continue to look to China and ask China to do more to fully adhere to and administer, if you will, the sanctions in place against North Korea. We call on China – as we do many, many nations – to do more. The Secretary has a series of conversations with countries – and I’ve talked to you all a little bit about this – all around the globe where we’ve said to them, hey, look, we know you have business that’s being done with the DPRK. We know you have – the DPRK has businesses and entities in your country; reduce them, shrink them to try to prevent the DPRK from getting more money that goes into what we consider it to be, its illicit weapons program; what the world considers to be.

    Anything else on DPRK? DPRK. Okay. Hi, sir. Go – who – miss, in the back.

    QUESTION: Yesterday at the dialogue, the Chinese – after the dialogue yesterday, the Chinese said they called United States for an early resumption of talks on North Korea issue. Is that something you would consider now? And given Otto Warmbier’s death, would that actually draw the United States further away from talks with North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: In order to have talks with North Korea, North Korea needs to take some serious steps, and they know that, and we’ve talked about that a lot. They have to begin the process of denuclearization, and our position on that has not changed one bit.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Just one more.

    MS NAUERT: Next – new topic? Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hey there. How are you? In the back. Hi, Michele.

    QUESTION: On Sudan, the administration has to make a decision in the next couple of weeks about what to do with sanctions, and I’m wondering (a) who’s running this review, since there’s no U.S. envoy on Sudan right now, and (b) if you’ve seen anything that Sudan has been doing in Darfur, in Blue Nile state, other – in the Nuba Mountains that – are they giving more humanitarian access? Are they abiding by ceasefires? Do you see any positive steps?

    MS NAUERT: So I don’t want to get ahead of what will be announced, because that we just don’t know yet. We’re not sure what is going to happen with the sanctions. The State Department is monitoring whether or not Sudan has sustained positive actions that gave rise to the executive order that was put in place earlier this year. So the State Department will make the final determination, but I just can’t get ahead of what that is right now.

    I can tell you one thing, and that is the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terror will remain.

    Okay. Okay. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yemen – very quickly on – two quick questions on Yemen. First of all, about two weeks ago, the World Health Organization said that there has been at least 1,000 deaths in Yemen as a result of cholera. I wonder if you have any comment on that, or is the United States doing anything to alleviate the situation?

    MS NAUERT: So we are very concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The recent resurgence of cholera has resulted in about 1,100 or so deaths since April 27th. There are an additional 170,000 estimated suspected cases. The United States Government has provided more than $276 million to date this fiscal year in order to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and in the region. The United States remains the largest donor to Yemen and we foresee that that will continue.

    QUESTION: And another quick question on Yemen also. An ABC News international report says that in a secret prison, the United Arab Emirates tortures the --

    QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.) That is not an ABC News report.

    QUESTION: Not ABC --

    MS NAUERT: That was an AP report, right?

    QUESTION: Yes, it was.

    QUESTION: No, that’s your report. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Not to take anything away from ABC.

    QUESTION: No. Yeah, you’re right. Okay. I take it back.

    But anyway – (laughter) – the UAE --

    MS NAUERT: There might be a little battle going on here between --

    QUESTION: Apologies, apologies. Okay.

    Anyway – the – says that the United Arab Emirates tortures the prisoners while the United States interrogates them. Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: I’ve seen the report. I’ve seen the article that came out. DOD would have to comment on that. That wouldn’t be an issue that the State Department would take over. Okay?

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    QUESTION: Really? Human rights?

    MS NAUERT: That’s --

    QUESTION: Torture?

    MS NAUERT: The accusation --

    QUESTION: Well, the – no, but --

    MS NAUERT: -- is something that DOD would handle.

    QUESTION: I realize that they responded and they’re quoted in the story as saying that, but I mean, the State Department speaks out about torture and human rights and conditions in prisons all the time.

    MS NAUERT: You are correct on that thought.

    QUESTION: You’re talking about in terms of this --

    MS NAUERT: This is an initial report or news stories. We haven’t been able to confirm anything at this point, to my knowledge, so that’s why DOD – I’d have to just refer you back there. Okay?

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you so much. Heather, last week you were asked about jailed Turkish MP Enis Berberoglu, and you said that you are going to look into it, kind of a complex issue. Have you had the time to look at his jail decision, sentence?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to have a lot new for you on that because we’re still trying to gather information on that case of the jailed opposition politician. We’re concerned about the greater pattern of what we see as Turkish official actions that we believe appear to target people whose views differ from the views of certain members of the government. So that’s an area of concern, and that’s something that we just continue to talk to that government about. But when I get more for you, I will let you know.

    QUESTION: Just follow up this subject, there are right now over 170 journalists jailed in Turkey, about a dozen – more than dozen MPs in the jail. Many media organization have been shut down, and Turkey still has been on the state of emergency almost a year. What’s your general view of Turkish democracy at this moment? Do you see Turkey still as a democratic country?

    MS NAUERT: To your first point about the jailing of reporters, we continue to talk about this, and that is freedom of expression. We believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the media, even speech that some nations and some leaders find to be uncomfortable. So that’s something that the United States will continue to push for. We believe that that strengthens democracy and that that needs to be protected, whether it’s in Turkey or in other nations as well. And we continue just to urge the Turkish Government to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trials, a judicial independence, and other human rights and functional freedoms. So we continue to say that to them.

    QUESTION: Do you have any update on the arrest warrants that were issued for the Turkish security guards, whether or not any of them have presented themselves for prosecution in the United States?

    MS NAUERT: Have any of them showed up in the United States? Not that I’m aware of.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, we just have time for a couple more questions. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Yes, I’m Michael Ignatiou from Mega TV Greece.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: The president of Turkey wants to turn the Saint Sophia Church in Istanbul to a mosque. Yesterday they hold Muslim prayers in the church, and some government officials attended these services. And I wanted to know the State Department position on this.

    MS NAUERT: The site, Hagia Sophia, is a site of extraordinary significance, and we understand that and we respect that. So we call on the Turkish Government to preserve the Hagia Sophia in a way that respects its complex history.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: So does that – does that mean you’re opposed to the idea of turning it into a mosque?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not saying that at all. It’s a complex history, and we recognize that it is of great significance to other faiths, many faiths. And so we would just encourage the Turkish Government to do that, to preserve it.

    Okay. Anything --

    QUESTION: South Korea? One question on South Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else? We’ve got one more question.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Yeah, South Korea --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Miss, I haven’t called on you yet. Yeah. Hi, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I may have the same question on South Korea she does, so maybe we can get a twofer. Jessica Stone with CGTN.

    MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay. Tell me your name again – Jessica. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah. My question was just, of course, President Moon Jae-in is coming to Washington at the end of next week, and he has been supportive of what this – my colleague up here was describing, which is the dual-track approach which China has proposed, giving up the military exercises in exchange for freezing the nuclear program in Pyongyang. Given that Moon Jae-in is now supporting a Chinese proposal, what kind of position does that put the U.S. in if it doesn’t, trying to find a solution that both the ROK, the DPRK, the Chinese, and the other parties in the Six-Party Talks can agree to?

    MS NAUERT: Again, our position hasn’t changed. It hasn’t changed one bit. We want North Korea to denuclearize. And we’ve been very clear about that, and that position will not change. And the Secretary has talked about not negotiating his way back to the negotiating table, so we’ve been firm on that. And a new administration is coming in, and we look forward to having President Moon here in the United States, and --

    QUESTION: Do you have anything on the agenda for the end of next week yet, or --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I don’t have a specific schedule yet as to what will be happening. I know we look forward to having him visit. We announced that visit, I believe it was a couple weeks ago or so. I can tell you that Secretary Tillerson had a phone call today with the South Korean foreign minister. They talked a little bit about President Moon’s visit and some other issues in the area, but --

    QUESTION: So you do not agree with Moon’s statement?

    MS NAUERT: Which Moon? Because then there’s another Moon in the news --

    QUESTION: Yeah --

    MS NAUERT: -- who’s been making some statements related to this.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) recently --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Recently, Moon Chung-in, he’s the special advisor for the South Korean president --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- also for unification and national security affair. He is Moon Chung-in. He mentioned if North Korea freezed its nuclear program, South Korea will reduce the U.S. and South Korean military exercises and strategic --

    MS NAUERT: So as far as I’m going to go with that answer is that the person, the advisor that you’re speaking of --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: -- not to confuse matters, but his name is also Moon – he was speaking in a --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: He was speaking in a personal capacity, and that is something that the Government of South Korea has said to us, that he was speaking in a personal capacity, and that that doesn’t reflect the overall government’s position. I imagine that these conversations will – types of conversations will continue when the President meets with him.

    QUESTION: Heather, I’ve got two really --

    QUESTION: Do you expect to have a readout of the phone call, Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.

    QUESTION: -- really quick ones.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: One on Venezuela and then a housekeeping matter.

    MS NAUERT: All right. Okay. Are you going to admonish me again, the housekeeping matter?

    QUESTION: No. No, no, no, no.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: It has to do with a new regulation. I’m not going to admonish you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: Don’t worry. The administration still is concerned about the situation in Venezuela. Is that not correct?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Very much so.

    QUESTION: Are you – in light of that, and in light of the fact that you were unable --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: In light of the fact that you were unable to get the contact group or this group of friends proposal at the OAS General Assembly proposed, are you disappointed in the results of the conference, given the depth of your concern about the situation in Venezuela?

    MS NAUERT: And we have continued to talk about how concerned we are about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and the freedoms that we see as being lost and taken away from the Venezuelan people. Our deputy secretary, as you know, was down there, at a part – as part of the meetings, representing the State Department there. The good news out of this, as we would see it, is that the majority of the countries involved in the OAS expressed their grave concern over the humanitarian situation and the entire situation in Venezuela. So those countries represent about 93 percent of the population in Latin America, so we’re all in agreement. That’s the good news on that.

    There were some countries that would not agree --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- with the position of the OAS. We remain committed to engaging with the OAS. We still see the OAS as being the best entity in which to work to encourage Venezuela to live up to what they’ve already committed to do, and that is hold free and fair elections – you know the whole drill --

    QUESTION: But apart from --

    MS NAUERT: -- release political prisoners and all that.

    QUESTION: Apart from, though, Venezuela and its friends, its allies, who are going to vote with them or vote against this anyway, there were a number of Caribbean countries that abstained.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: Now – and my understanding is that you guys were under the impression that they weren’t going to abstain, that they were going to vote for, and – but in light of the fact that they did abstain and in light of the fact that the resolution failed, do you --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know that we ever believed fully that the Caribbean nations that you’re referring to would get on board.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: I mean, each nation’s going to decide what it believes is in its best interests.

    QUESTION: Right. But there’s been some criticism leveled at the administration more broadly that you didn’t do enough diplomacy here.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. That’s --

    QUESTION: And I’m not suggesting that the Secretary not going was the reason for that, but you don’t have ambassadors in a lot of these places. There was --

    MS NAUERT: We have been incredibly – and by the way, we still have – our embassy is still operating --

    QUESTION: All right.

    MS NAUERT: -- down there and our folks down there are hard at work. So this has been a major priority for this administration --

    QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well, then --

    MS NAUERT: -- and I would argue the top issue in the Western Hemisphere. This is something that we talk about every single day, and our folks are tremendously engaged on this matter.

    QUESTION: So then you don’t see it as a failure of U.S. diplomacy; you see it rather the failure of the resolution as --

    MS NAUERT: Well, the United States – the United States --

    QUESTION: -- you see it – the glass as half full.

    MS NAUERT: -- is just one of the --

    QUESTION: I understand, but --

    MS NAUERT: -- one of the parties there.

    QUESTION: -- you’re looking at the glass as half full, because you got a majority. But it’s also half – you can see that it’s also half empty because the resolution didn’t fail, right – I mean, didn’t pass. Is that correct?

    MS NAUERT: We certainly wish that it had passed, yeah, without a doubt, because we would like to see the world – this part of the world come together to do more to encourage Venezuela and the Maduro government to do what it has already committed to doing. They are disappointing their own people and they are disappointing the world. And you’ve seen some of the pictures of children. You’ve had a one-year-old child weighing far, far less than he or she should. So it’s a shameful situation that’s taking place down there and we hope that the world will do more on that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Now housekeeping, and it’s not an admonishment.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Last night, kind of late last night, the White House put out a revision to an executive order on visa – I don’t – and you can take this question if you don’t have an answer to it. But basically what it did was it removed from – it removed a requirement that had been put in place by the previous administration that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applications would – had to be interviewed for their visa within three weeks of them applying. And this revision that the White House put out last night removes that. And I’m just wondering what the impact of that is going to be. I mean, are we going to see people having months and months of delays before they can get their interviews or people who are never – the wait is indefinite and you can just sit on visa applications without ever having to schedule them for an interview?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m – I’m looking at --

    QUESTION: If you don’t have an answer --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- I’m happy to take --

    MS NAUERT: I do have an answer for you on this. I’m just going to try to – I’m trying to find it.

    QUESTION: Oh.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) That’s --

    QUESTION: I told you that’s the problem with that book.

    MS NAUERT: That is the issue, yes, but every person at this podium has had a big book, so --

    QUESTION: I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. If you want to – if you’re – if we want to save time, you want to get down, you can email it to us.

    MS NAUERT: Got it.

    QUESTION: If the answer --

    MS NAUERT: Got it.

    QUESTION: Could you email me (inaudible)?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hold on, I got it. I just found it. I found it.

    QUESTION: Okay. But --

    MS NAUERT: Ye have little faith, Matt Lee.

    QUESTION: -- I have an additional question to that.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: I understand, for example, at the moment, in Moscow, the wait is 55 days, which is already obviously more than the three weeks. So is this --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, but okay.

    QUESTION: Is this – does the statement just clear up what was de facto already a long delay?

    MS NAUERT: Part of what rescinding this executive order – we see it as allowing the department the additional flexibility that it needs to determine when longer processing times may be appropriate in order to accomplish the mission. And the – this can include allowing additional time for screening, the screening of people who are applying for visas to the United States. When our Consular Affairs officers meet with folks, national security is the top priority. We’ve never hesitated to take more time if that time is needed to fully vet our people who are applying for visas, and that’s not going to change because the top issue is making sure that the people who come into the United States are going to help keep America safe.

    QUESTION: Well, I get that, but this is before the interview, so this is the period between the application and the interview. So if they’re identified for – I mean, it’s not after – it’s not – it’s not what happens or the timeline after the interview takes place. It’s the timeline – it’s the time between the application and the interview, so --

    MS NAUERT: I’m just not going to have any more for you on that.

    QUESTION: All right. Well, I’d like to – because the – one of the reasons that this was put in place, this requirement, was because of major issues with Brazil and China, two countries that I don’t believe have been – they’re not in the travel – or the executive order on the travel thing. But there were massive delays there for people and it was having a reciprocal effect on U.S. citizens applying for visas for those countries. So I’m just wondering if that – if you can – could you find out if this is going to affect or if you believe that there’s going to be an effect --

    MS NAUERT: I’ll see what I --

    QUESTION: -- a reciprocal effect on U.S. citizens?

    MS NAUERT: I’ll see what I can find out for you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, folks? We got to wrap it up. Thanks.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:40 p.m.)

    DPB # 31


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 20, 2017

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 16:34
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 20, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • NORTH KOREA
  • QATAR
  • UKRAINE
  • NORTH KOREA
  • QATAR
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • UKRAINE
  • IRAN

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:18 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Welcome back, James Rosen.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Nice to see you. Hi, everybody.

    QUESTION: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: Hope you’re all doing well today.

    Okay. Let me start out by saying today that, on behalf of the Secretary, the entire State Department, and the United States Government, we want to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Otto Warmbier and offer them our thoughts and prayers in this time of grief. We want to thank our international partners, especially our protecting power, Sweden, for its tireless efforts to assist Mr. Warmbier for his secure and his release. We hold North Korea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment and we want to see three other Americans who are unjustly detained brought home as soon as possible.

    As a reminder, the Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens against travel to North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    QATAR" name="QATAR">Another issue I know you all are keeping a very close eye on is Qatar, so I want to give you an update on that right now. Since the embargo was first enforced on June the 5th, the Secretary has had more than 20 phone calls and meetings with Gulf and other regional and international actors. The interactions have included three phone calls and two in-person meetings with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, three phone calls with the foreign minister of Qatar, and three calls with the Qatari emir. Numerous other calls have taken place with the leaders of UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, and others.

    Now that it’s been more than two weeks since the embargo started, we are mystified that the Gulf states have not released to the public, nor to the Qataris, the details about the claims that they are making toward Qatar. The more that time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At this point, we are left with one simple question: Were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries?

    The Secretary is determined to remain engaged as we monitor the situation. He has been delivering the same message to other diplomats overseas. We are encouraging all sides to de-escalate tensions and engage in constructive dialogue. We, once again, call on all parties to focus on the core regional and international goal of fighting terrorism, to meet the commitments that were made in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and to constructively resolve this dispute.

    Let me just mention we are welcoming the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko here at the State Department shortly, so I’m going to have to cut it a little bit short today. I know we do have a lot of news that you want to get to, so I will start with your questions.

    QUESTION: So I was – thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I was going to – well, I still will – start with North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Just on the – you say you’re going to hold the North Koreans to account. Has there been any movement on how exactly that’s going to happen? And what is the status – as I understand it, you have the authority already to make it illegal for U.S. passport – or to invalidate U.S. passports for travel to North Korea. Do you – are you looking for additional authority, and where is the Secretary in his decision-making on whether to use the existing authority?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So let’s start with the travel restrictions, and that is under – we’re contemplating that right now. We’ve not come to any kind of decision on that matter just yet, but we’re continuing to look at it. We have a great deal of resolve to try to handle this situation and try to hold North Korea responsible for the death of Mr. Warmbier and bring back those three Americans who do remain there. So we’re continuing to evaluate whether we should put in some sort of a travel restriction. The Secretary has the authority to do it; he just has not come to a conclusion about how this would potentially work, but we’re still considering it.

    QUESTION: Okay. And have you thought about how exactly it is that you’re going to hold them accountable for his death?

    MS NAUERT: We’re still considering our options at this time. So we got the news yesterday, less than 24 hours ago, that Mr. Warmbier passed away. This came as – well, we’re all deeply saddened by it.

    QUESTION: So this – the idea of travel restrictions has been around for some time.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: It goes back to the previous administration. Do you know, in your research of this, what has been the reason – since there have been so many Americans detained there, what is the argument against – what has been the argument against doing it and why hasn’t it been put in place prior?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think we think that our Travel Warning that we have had in place for quite some time has been very strong. Not blaming anyone for this, but of course we want to encourage Americans – strongly encourage them – not to go to North Korea. We’ve been very clear about that. Every one of the briefings that I have been at, I have strongly stressed that: Do not go to North Korea. We can’t get to you there. We have to rely on Sweden, and you know what can happen.

    So we’ve been consistently evaluating whether we want to put that travel restriction in place, and I just can’t comment on why that hasn’t happened yet, other than that it is under consideration.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay?

    QUESTION: Heather, can we go to the Palestinian --

    MS NAUERT: Let’s stick with DPRK right now.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Barbara, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Just two questions. In her background call on preparing for the China meeting tomorrow, Ms. Thornton seemed to separate quite much the action on the ballistic missiles and nuclear program, like the effort to get this echo chamber of sanctions, and separated that from the – what happened to Otto Warmbier and the other hostages. Is there – is that still the case after his death? I mean, is there any talk about sanctions or something because of what happened to him? And the second question is --

    MS NAUERT: So all of that would still be under consideration. The actions --

    QUESTION: Is that one of the things under consideration?

    MS NAUERT: The actions that we may or may not take are still being contemplated here, so it’s just too early to say exactly what we’re going to do just yet.

    QUESTION: And then just about the three that are still there, my understanding is that the State Department envoy met them.

    MS NAUERT: That is correct.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So what can you say about their condition? Can you say anything about their condition?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can’t say anything about their condition. You all know that we aren’t going to comment on people’s health situations, positively or negatively, one way or another. But Ambassador Yun did have the opportunity to meet with them. He was able to sit down and speak with them.

    QUESTION: So they could all speak?

    MS NAUERT: Let me rephrase that. Sorry. He did have a chance to meet with them. I’m not saying that they didn’t speak. I know he sat down and had some sort of a dialogue with them. I just don’t recall the exact word that was used. But we were face to face. Ambassador Yun was face to face with those Americans. And we would just like to see them brought home as quickly as possible.

    DPRK. Go ahead. Hi, Carol.

    QUESTION: Yeah. What else is on the table? What other options are you considering? Might you be considering going to some sort of international court and seeking charges of murder?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that at this point, but again, it’s still early. He passed away about 24 hours ago now.

    QUESTION: Can you tell us anything else that might be on the table?

    MS NAUERT: I cannot. No. I’m sorry.

    DPRK.

    QUESTION: Heather? DPRK.

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Hi, Nike.

    QUESTION: The touring company that’s involved in Otto Warmbier’s travel to North Korea – the Young Pioneer Tours – is physically located in China. Is there any discussion to designate these types of companies? And is there any discussion to ask China to step up supervision on those type of companies?

    MS NAUERT: That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. Let me look into that for you. I think that’s certainly a wise question to ask right now. We don’t want people to encourage Americans, let alone people from any other nations, to go to North Korea. We can’t get to you, so we remain very concerned about that.

    Okay. Hi, Gardell.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I just was wondering, Heather, it seemed to take you a long time to kind of get to outrage on the Warmbier situation. For a long time, you were simply saying you were happy that he was home; you didn’t address his health. And even over the course of yesterday, it took – I don't know – six, seven hours from the time of his announced death to the time of statements coming out from the State Department and the White House.

    MS NAUERT: I think you’re wrong about that. Let me go back and check the timing, because I was involved in this every step of the way.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: As we learned about Mr. Warmbier’s death and were able to confirm that that did, in fact, occur, we gave the White House, of course, the opportunity – let me rephrase that. The White House took the lead on that. The President had spoken with the family in the past. We wanted to give the White House the opportunity to be able to speak to that. We then followed on.

    I would not characterize it as it took time to express outrage. When I first addressed this, that Otto Warmbier was brought back home to the United States – I believe it was a week ago today. Is that right, a week ago today? – we at the State Department were happy that he was on his way home. We were happy he was on his way home. And he had not even landed at the time that I was getting questions – I don’t think you were here that day. Correct? You were not here that day?

    QUESTION: I read the transcript though.

    MS NAUERT: I understand.

    QUESTION: Each time you didn’t – all you said was that you were happy he was home. You didn’t, obviously, address his health conditions, despite the fact that the family itself had made that --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sure you know very well that we don’t comment on people’s health status. We don’t comment on the health status of American citizens. We will never do that. We don’t do that. His parents chose to speak about that. They are able to speak about that. Okay? So I will never characterize someone’s health, whether they’re in great health or they’re not in great health, from this podium. It is not my place to do so, and it is not the place of the State Department to do so. I’m sure you know that.

    QUESTION: Okay. But I mean no sense of – it wasn’t until yesterday, last night really, that this administration expressed something close to outrage about how Otto Warmbier was handled in North Korea. Was that simply because you could not talk about his health? Or why was that?

    And one – just one more add on this. The President also said today that if he’d been taken out within days, things would have been different. And he talked about how essential it was to get – to have gotten Otto Warmbier out immediately and quickly. Does that put a lot of pressure on you now to get the other three Americans out quickly and immediately?

    MS NAUERT: We would like the other Americans to come home just as quickly as possible. One of the very first briefings that I had here when I joined the State Department not long ago was from our consular affairs officials, and that’s when they talked to me about Mr. Warmbier’s case, expressing concern as – just as they express concern about the cases of other detained Americans across the country. That is a top issue that will always remain a top issue here at the State Department.

    Next question, please.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, do we have anything else on the DPRK? We don’t have that much --

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: -- much time. Carol, go right ahead. I’m sorry, Anne.

    QUESTION: We’re interchangeable. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Same paper.

    QUESTION: Is one of the things under consideration, in following up on North Korea, a suspension or change to the unofficial talks that – of the sort that Mr. Yun participated in and through which he learned, apparently, of the severity of Otto Warmbier’s condition?

    MS NAUERT: At this time I’m not going to be able to get into any additional conversations about sideline talks or anything like that.

    QUESTION: I mean, it is – it historically has been --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- a channel that the North Koreans have used for good and ill, right? They have – they’ve used it to communicate things they wanted to communicate, but they’ve also used it to say, “Hey look, the Americans are willing to talk to us,” and to legitimize themselves. So theoretically, it would be something that you could – a carrot you could remove.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m just not going to get into that right now. But if there’s a point where we can give you more on that, I certainly will. Okay, thank you. DPRK.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay. James, hi.

    QUESTION: Heather, first, allow me to say on behalf of everyone at Fox News how very proud we all are of you for --

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: -- assuming your new duties in government service, and that this administration – any administration – is very fortunate to have you.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you, James. That’s very sweet.

    QUESTION: Now, about your financial disclosure form. (Laughter.) No, I’m kidding. I’m sure that you saw the statement from Senator McCain about the Warmbier case. He said, “Let us state the facts plainly: Otto Warmbier was murdered by the regime of King Jong-un.” First question: Does this administration agree with that statement?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to comment on what Senator McCain said. I’m familiar with what he said, but I’m just not going to characterize that. We just can’t comment on the circumstances of his death right now, but we remain committed – and the Secretary remains very committed – to hold North Korea accountable for his death.

    QUESTION: Two more on this, and then I’ll yield to others. In telling us, as you just did just now, that you cannot speak to the circumstances surrounding his death, are you also telling us that you are unable to address the allegations that he was physically abused by the North Koreans?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can’t comment on that at this time.

    QUESTION: Last question: You have covered enough of these as a journalist to know that these cases where Americans are held hostage, essentially, in North Korea are resolved over time, typically with less dire physical outcomes than we have witnessed here, and typically involving perhaps some eminent American figure traveling to Pyongyang to secure release and so forth. There is almost a kind of – we might even say that there’s kind of an established procedure, almost of sorts, with respect to this. And I just wonder if it is the view of the Trump administration that this case marks a dramatic shift in all of that, that this represents an escalation, and will be treated as such.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, all I can say to that right now is it’s something of great concern to the administration. You saw the President’s comments last night. You read the Secretary’s comments. Everyone’s grieving, everyone’s concerned about that, and we’re understandably upset about that. So we’re just going to be – continue to take a look at what we can do about this. And I’m just going to have to leave it there. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can I change topic to Palestine-Israel?

    MS NAUERT: Let’s move on to something else. Hi, Dave.

    QUESTION: Hi, thanks. So on the Qatar issue, you said at the start you have been mystified by Saudi Arabia’s failure to present evidence.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But they have presented a clear list of demands to Qatar. Are they demands that you endorse? You – the Secretary has said in the past that Qatar should do more against terrorism and against terror financing. Do you have a list of your own demands to Qatar that you’ve made privately, or should the embargo end now?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I’m not aware of any demands that we are putting on them other than that we ask all the countries involved to look again at the top issue. And the top issue, as we see it and as we all agreed to from Riyadh, was defeating terrorism. Each of these nations has confronted terrorism is one way, shape, or form. That continues to be the main issue. We call on those countries to resolve their differences, to work together, and speed this along.

    QUESTION: Are Saudi Arabia’s demands reasonable?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize them as reasonable or unreasonable. But what we see this as long-simmering tensions that have been going on for quite some time, and that is why we believe that this can be resolved peacefully among the parties without the United States having to step in in some sort of formal mediation role, that they can do this on their own. And we’re asking them to let’s move this along.

    QUESTION: If they don’t, are you ready to provide that mediation?

    MS NAUERT: The President had offered Secretary Tillerson weeks ago to do that. At this point, we don’t think that is necessary. We believe through the Secretary’s talks, through talking with those nations and hearing what they have to say, that they’ll be able to work this out on their own.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, your statement, though, is very harsh on the Saudis, which is somewhat surprising considering the President basically said that you were – you shared the Saudis’ opinion of what’s going on. And you also referred to the alleged Qatari support for extremism. Does that mean that the President’s belief is not the same as the State Department?

    MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed on that. I think we are just – the Secretary likes results, and we believe that these are because of long, long-brewing tensions among the various parties, and so we want them to resolve it.

    QUESTION: But you see that your position has somewhat shifted from aligning with the Saudi position to urging, calling on the Saudis, demanding in fact – you say you’re mystified that they have – the Saudis and their allies have not presented their list. What, is it just that – have you lost patience with the Saudis?

    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t put it that way. I think we’ve just said to the parties involved let’s – let’s finish this, let’s get this going.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Are you still --

    QUESTION: Do you still consider Qatar or do you think Qatar that it’s still supporting terrorist groups?

    MS NAUERT: We --

    QUESTION: Because the Secretary has said that.

    MS NAUERT: We have --

    QUESTION: And the President has --

    MS NAUERT: We have continued to say that all countries have more that they can do. All countries – all of the countries involved have more that they can do to try to defeat terrorism, whether it’s through terror financing or other means. So we continue to call on Qatar to do that as well as the other nations. And so --

    QUESTION: And do you think your statement doesn’t contradict what the President has said two weeks ago about Qatar?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think so at all. I think the President and the Secretary both want to see this resolved. They want results, and let’s see this resolved quickly.

    Nick.

    QUESTION: So the Secretary canceled his trip to Cancun to focus on Qatar, and then you say he’s been doing all these phone calls.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So do you believe that the situation has now arrived where there’s nothing else he can do until the sides sort of meet the demands that you’ve laid out today? I mean, the impression we got on Friday was that he was canceling that trip to mediate, but now you seem to be saying that there’s no role for him right now.

    MS NAUERT: Well, I know he had a meeting just last evening on this very subject here in Washington. And so I would anticipate that those conversations would continue, but there comes a certain point where you say, folks, let’s get this done, let’s get moving along. The Secretary likes results.

    QUESTION: So who was that meeting with last night?

    MS NAUERT: He met – I believe it was with the – let me get back with you on that, okay? Anybody – everybody else back --

    QUESTION: Can I change topics, please?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Very quickly, I want to go to the peace process, Palestinian-Israeli peace process. At a time when there is movement and Mr. Greenblatt is over there --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Mr. Kushner has --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- is on his way to mediate and so on. The Israelis seem to be accelerating the settlement building and so on, and I wonder if you have a position on this. I wonder if you would urge them, at least while this is ongoing, to slow down, as the President suggested at one time, this settlement – the building acceleration.

    MS NAUERT: So a couple things on that matter. First, since we didn’t have the opportunity to brief you all on Friday, I want to say this: We want to condemn the terror attack, the attack that took place against the Israeli police officer that resulted in her death and wounded several others. So we want to extend our sympathies and condolences to the family and the Israelis as well. That brings to mind that we want to reiterate our commitment to stand with Israel against terrorism.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: Now to your question about settlements.

    QUESTION: On settlements.

    MS NAUERT: The President has been clear all along – his position on this has not changed – and that is that we see settlements as something that does not help the peace process.

    QUESTION: And you believe that the Israeli settle – if the Israeli Government would stop building settlements or would issue a freeze at the present time, that would help accelerate the process, correct?

    MS NAUERT: The President – again, I’m just going to reiterate what I just said. The President has said that unrestrained settlement activity is not helpful to the peace process.

    QUESTION: Okay. And one last question. Is the State Department involved in the ongoing efforts by Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Kushner?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. So as you all know, Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Kushner are heading over to the Middle East. That trip is closely being coordinated with the State Department. Our embassy is involved in helping to facilitate that trip, and we’re all supporting that trip in every way we can. We would like to see Middle East peace just as much as the President and his representatives would.

    I have time for one more question.

    QUESTION: Iran. Can we do Iran real quick?

    QUESTION: Hold. Just let me make sure. Does that mean that your – that no one from the building is going with them from here, like Mr. Ratney, who has the – has that portfolio?

    MS NAUERT: I will look into that for you. Let me take a look at that.

    QUESTION: Can I ask one on Ukraine?

    QUESTION: Iran.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Hold on. Just jotting that down for Mr. Lee.

    Let’s go to Ukraine real quick, and then James, I’ll take you. Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Who had Ukraine?

    QUESTION: I have Ukraine. Sorry. Michele from NPR.

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Michele, hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: So last week, Secretary Tillerson said the U.S. doesn’t want to be handcuffed to the Minsk process on Ukraine. But in the Treasury Department announcement today about new sanctions, it says sanctions won’t be eased until Minsk is implemented. So I’m just curious. I mean, is there something else other than Minsk being discussed? Is the – is there another peace plan in the works?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let me start off by addressing the sanctions issue. And that was the Treasury Department. And they’re just updating sanctions that have already been implemented.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: So it’s not a new stream of sanctions, if you will.

    QUESTION: It says in the language that it won’t be lifted –

    MS NAUERT: It’s maintaining the sanctions. In terms of the Secretary’s testimony last week in talking about Minsk, I think that’s what you’re referring to. We remain committed. Even though the United States is not a party to it, we remain committed to the Minsk agreements. We continue to call on Russia to adhere to the Minsk agreements. That hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s new about this is the Secretary, and I mentioned a minute ago, likes results.

    So we, the United States, has stood by and we have watched. Very little happened with regard to the Minsk agreements. It’s been about two and a half years, three years or so. We would like to see something happen. If Russia and Ukraine would like to come together and work out, through some separate channel of sorts, their own agreement, we could be okay with that. But we’d like to see Minsk – but we would like to see them go forward with Minsk. We’re concerned about that. But we’re also open to other channels as well.

    QUESTION: Wait.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you mean that – another channel that would get the results that Minsk seeks?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. The results --

    QUESTION: So the rules would be the same.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. The results wouldn’t change. The results wouldn’t change.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: But if there’s a different mechanism by which they can work out those results, then that would be okay.

    QUESTION: But if either party doesn’t like Minsk, they could just wait and you’ll get bored of it and look for something else.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: But if either party doesn’t like Minsk, they should just wait it out, since you want results.

    MS NAUERT: I think the answer to that would be the – what we want from that, what we would like to see from that, hasn’t changed. It hasn’t changed one bit.

    James.

    QUESTION: There was a news conference held this morning in Washington by the Iranian dissident group that has periodically sought to disclose what it claims to be illicit nuclear activities of one kind or another. And this group, of course, has had some success in this area, having exposed Natanz. Today their subject was the Iranian ballistic missile program. I wonder if anyone here in the building watched the news conference and has any comment on the purported revelation.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I’m aware that that news conference took place. I know some folks in the building were certainly monitoring that. So we’re continuing to monitor the ballistic missile program. We are monitoring that program closely and very carefully. In terms of intelligence matters or details of our efforts to try to monitor the ballistic missile program, I am not going to be able to get into that today.

    Okay. Guys, I’m just –

    QUESTION: This regard the other question. On Iran --

    MS NAUERT: I’m going to have to leave right now. I’m really sorry. Today --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: -- Petro Poroshenko is upstairs and I have to join in that bilateral meeting.

    QUESTION: You can’t come down here just twice a week and then --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, we can talk about – we can talk about this later. Okay? I would love to spend more time with you. I know we have a lot of ground to plow today. But I have to get up to this meeting. Okay?

    QUESTION: I also would want to spend more time with Matt. (Laughter.)

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 15, 2017

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 18:02
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 15, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SECRETARY TRAVEL
  • TURKEY
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • QATAR
  • RUSSIA/REGION
  • DPRK
  • DPRK/CHINA
  • SOUTH KOREA/DPRK
  • PAKISTAN
  • TURKEY
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:

    3:01 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the State Department.

    A lot of news, first, to get to at the top, and I know you’ll have a lot of questions today. I want to start by telling you that the Secretary is in Miami, Florida today. He is participating in the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America. The conference is hosted by the United States and also Mexico. It brought together a diverse group of government and business leaders from the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and other countries to address the economic, security, and governance opportunities and challenges in El Salvador, Guatemala, and also Honduras.

    On the U.S. side, Vice President Pence is leading a delegation that includes not just Secretary Tillerson, but also Homeland Security Secretary Kelly and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The Secretary will participate in a press avail at the later – at the close of today’s session, so you’ll hear more from him about that meeting.

    In a further sign of our robust engagement in the Western Hemisphere, I can announce today that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Cancun, Mexico on June 19th and 20th. He’ll lead the U.S. delegation to the general assembly of the OAS, the Organization of American States, the Western Hemisphere’s multilateral organization. The Secretary will meet and consult with general regional counterparts on issues of shared interest. The U.S. delegation will include Francisco Palmieri, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, and Kevin Sullivan, the interim U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS.

    I also want to mention, the Secretary, a short while ago, sent in a note to give his thoughts about the charges related to the Turkish protest beatings. He sent this – quote: “The charges filed against 12 Turkish security officials send a clear message to the United States that it does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression. The State Department will continue to work with law enforcement and the relevant legal authorities in the case. When an outcome is reached, the department will determine if any additional steps will need to be taken.”

    QUESTION: Sorry, can you – there was a little garble there. At the top – was there – did anyone else notice that?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: You might want to read it again.

    QUESTION: “To the U.S.”

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: You all noticed my garble, okay.

    QUESTION: “To the U.S.,” right?

    QUESTION: To the – yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay – send a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence. Want me to start it over again?

    QUESTION: Well, if you want to. I mean, I just --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Just to be clear, the Secretary wrote a while ago: “The charges filed against 12 Turkish security officials send a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression. The State Department will continue to work with law enforcement and the relevant legal authorities in the case. When an outcome is reached, the department will determine if any additional steps will need to be taken.”

    QUESTION: Does that mean you’ll try and seek their extradition to be tried here in the United --

    MS NAUERT: I know we have a lot of questions on that. Do we want to start with Turkey today?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, never let it be said that we don’t listen very carefully to what you’re saying.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) You certainly do. Welcome back, Elise.

    QUESTION: So is that – are we beginning?

    MS NAUERT: We can begin. Okay. We start with that?

    QUESTION: Okay. So let – I second Elise’s question. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: All right. So a lot of questions about extraditions.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: It’s been a while since I asked – (laughter) --

    MS NAUERT: So --

    QUESTION: Is there anyone that doesn’t want to ask that question?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. We’ll start with Turkey; we’ll start with the question of extradition. A lot of people are asking about that. So we are taking a look and examining the investigation’s findings. We will weigh what additional steps will need to be taken. Our actions will be responsive and proportional to the charges. Our focus is to work with law enforcement officials to ensure that those who are responsible for the violence are held accountable for those actions.

    QUESTION: Right. But they’re not here.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: And so if they’re to be held accountable, they must get here. And frankly, the D.C. police chief’s comment that they – he hopes that they present themselves so that they can face the charges – that’s frankly wishful thinking, if it’s even – I mean, it’s just not a serious proposal. These guys are not going to come here to be tried. So --

    QUESTION: And he also seemed to suggest that the State Department would take action to try and get them --

    QUESTION: So the question is --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on what he actually said, because that’s --

    QUESTION: Well, that’s what he – well, right. I understand that.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But the only way they’re going to be held accountable is that you get them here. And the only way you’re going to get them here is if you seek and get the – Turkey’s – seek their extradition and Turkey agrees to it. So the question is – even though the Turks are unlikely to agree to extradition, unless perhaps you extradite one of their citizens who might be living here in this country --

    QUESTION: Well, for one – (laughter) --

    QUESTION: -- are you going to bother to ask?

    MS NAUERT: So --

    QUESTION: And the other thing is, is can you talk about Ambassador Bass being summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay. So a couple things. Let me start with Ambassador Bass for a second. So he attended some meetings at the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs today in Turkey. So we’ve been told from the staff there that they’re not going to get into additional details about what happened, but we can say that he did go over to the ministry of foreign affairs today. Okay.

    Now as to the next part, that really gets into, I know, another word that you all love to use, and that is immunity, right? Everyone wants to hear about immunity. So there’s something that I know can be somewhat controversial, and it’s basically this: There’s customary international law that affords heads of state with certain protections, in the United States referred to as head of state immunity. You’ve heard of this before. Members of the entourage of the heads of state are said to have derivative head of state immunity. Now, the minute those members of the entourage leave the United States, they lose that derivative head of state immunity, and they then become subject to legal action, such as an arrest or a subpoena.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So they lose that, now that they’re over there. They had immunity while they were there --

    QUESTION: So they’re fugitives now?

    QUESTION: Here.

    MS NAUERT: So if they were to come back to the United States – a lot of this is a law enforcement issue, okay, so I’m not going to get too into what Department of Justice has purview over.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: But if they were to come back to the United States, they would have – they have warrants.

    QUESTION: Right. But --

    QUESTION: Well, but not only about the United States, but what about if they travel outside Turkey, to a country where the U.S. has an extradition treaty?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t answer that for you right now. Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: But you have an extradition treaty with Turkey.

    QUESTION: Well, no, but one that actually could be enforced.

    QUESTION: So are you going to try --

    MS NAUERT: You two sound like a bickering married couple, you know that?

    QUESTION: Well, we’ve been together a long time.

    QUESTION: We’ve been together for a long time. It is true. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Elise, I can’t answer that question. I’m sorry. I --

    QUESTION: So you can’t – you don’t – the --

    MS NAUERT: Well, she asked the question if they go to another country that has an extradition treaty with the United States would we --

    QUESTION: But in this – but for Turkey, strictly between U.S. and Turkey, is it the case that you have not made a decision whether to ask to seek their extradition? It sounds as though you’re saying that you don’t need to ask the Turks to waive their immunity, because they no longer have it.

    MS NAUERT: They no longer have the immunity, now that they are not here.

    QUESTION: So then you could, if you were truly interested in holding them accountable, seek their extradition. That would be the logical next step. Is – are you saying that that decision hasn’t been made yet?

    MS NAUERT: We will weigh additional actions.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s --

    MS NAUERT: This is an ongoing process.

    QUESTION: So in other words, you haven’t decided yet whether you’re going to ask for their extradition.

    MS NAUERT: I can say we will weigh additional actions for the remaining named individuals.

    QUESTION: I’m still – but does that mean you have not asked for or decided to ask for extraditions?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t get into the specifics of --

    QUESTION: Well then, I’m sorry, but how can you say that you’re committed for – that these people are held accountable for their actions if you won’t say that you’re committed to bringing them here to face trial and prosecution and --

    MS NAUERT: Well, this is not over yet. This is not over yet. We will hold those responsible for the violence on May the 16th.

    QUESTION: All right. Last --

    QUESTION: Well, you --

    MS NAUERT: And we’ll continue to look at this.

    QUESTION: Are you saying that you’ll hold those people responsible or you’ll hold the Turkish Government responsible? Because the only way you can hold those people responsible is if they come here and face trial. You could also institute reciprocal measures to Turkey. Like, there’s a difference between holding them accountable and holding Turkey accountable.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. We are taking a look at different options. And additional questions about the investigation itself, DOJ can answer some of those.

    QUESTION: So my last one on this: Is the conversation or the meetings that Ambassador Bass had at the foreign ministry in Ankara – are those the only contacts that you’re aware of between the U.S. and Turkish governments on this issue today?

    MS NAUERT: No. We had a conversation with the Turkish Government as well.

    QUESTION: What does that mean, “we”?

    MS NAUERT: The U.S. did.

    QUESTION: Well, I – right, but was that it? Bass and --

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: -- the Turks?

    MS NAUERT: Bass – Ambassador Bass met in Turkey.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: We had some form of communication here in the United States.

    QUESTION: Can we – with the embassy?

    QUESTION: Did you call the ambassador --

    MS NAUERT: I can’t get into that.

    QUESTION: Why not?

    MS NAUERT: Because I just can’t.

    QUESTION: But was it --

    QUESTION: Well, I think you did say a couple of weeks ago that you brought the ambassador here to talk about when the incident happened. So why would this be a different issue why you couldn’t talk about who you talked to?

    QUESTION: Anyway, as far as you know, it was between the embassy here and the State – and this building?

    MS NAUERT: It was --

    QUESTION: Or was it --

    MS NAUERT: My understanding --

    QUESTION: -- New York or --

    MS NAUERT: No. My understanding is that communication went from the State Department to the Turkish representatives in the United States.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Exactly who that conversation was between, that I’m not going to get into at this time. If there’s a point in which I can share that information with you, I will.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Turkey?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Heather, was Secretary Tillerson involved in speaking with any counterparts? And I know you won’t discuss the details of the meeting with Ambassador Bass, but prior to the meeting, was he scheduled to go over there, or was he summoned? Or how did he get there?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I have not spoken with him.

    QUESTION: And the Secretary as well? You don’t know if he’s personally had engagement with his Turkish counterparts on this?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into – I don’t have any meetings or any conversations to read out on behalf of the Secretary related to this.

    QUESTION: Also --

    MS NAUERT: Any Turkey? Sir, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you. It’s Ilhan Tanir from Turkish Press, Washington Hatti.

    MS NAUERT: Welcome.

    QUESTION: There are a number of steps taken by the U.S. Congress over the last 10 days. One of them, a resolution passed about 10 days ago, and also about 40 congressmen and congresswomen wrote a letter to U.S. State Department. Are you going to take any kind of action for those letters and the demands by the U.S. Congress?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with these letters that you’re speaking of. Just as a matter of course, we don’t talk about pending legislation or what’s going on in Capitol Hill. So I’d just have to refer you to those members of Congress, and they can perhaps best answer that.

    QUESTION: Speaker Ryan also asked for a full apology from Turkish Government, as well as many U.S. congressmen. Are you also asking apology from Turkish Government for this?

    MS NAUERT: Speaker Ryan’s comments – I think they stand for themselves. And so I could just refer you back to Speaker Ryan’s office to get any additional information on that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Who else is Turkey?

    QUESTION: Turkey.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, sir. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: So in September, President Erdogan is expected to be in the UN for the UN General Assembly meeting. Because of this – these charge, he’ll have to bring in an entirely – almost entirely new security detail. Is that correct?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know if he would have to bring an entirely new security detail. Presumably – and I don’t want to get into hypotheticals, but visa applications would have to come through for those security personnel who would be brought --

    QUESTION: But they will not be issued visas, right, by the State Department? That’s my question.

    MS NAUERT: I can’t say whether or not they would be issued visas because that’s something that’s considered to be confidential, but visa applications are not always granted for a variety of reasons.

    QUESTION: But that raises an interesting question, because if they – if he keeps the same team and comes back, then they have – then they get the immunity again.

    MS NAUERT: They would have to apply first for a visa.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but – yes.

    MS NAUERT: And in order to get a visa --

    QUESTION: But visas have been given to people who --

    MS NAUERT: -- you would have to apply for a visa. I will just say we know that they have warrants out for their arrest.

    Okay. Let’s move on to another topic.

    QUESTION: Turkey? One more on Turkey, please?

    QUESTION: Can I move on to a different topic?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Said.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Very quickly.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson told Congress the other day that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or the authority have agreed not to make payments to the families of prisoners and martyrs, as they call them. And then yesterday he basically backtracked. Could you clarify this for us?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I would not say that he – I wouldn’t characterize it the way that you did.

    We have and the Secretary has repeatedly raised concerns about payments to prisoners and so-called martyrs with the Palestinian Authority. President Abbas and other senior Palestinian Authority officials have assured us that they are working to address that issue, but they have not stopped those payments.

    The Secretary addressed this yesterday, and he said this type of thing is not acceptable to the American people; it is certainly not appropriate. I think those are very clear comments. We have a certain set of expectations, and the expectation is that that should, in fact, stop. Last month the Palestinian Authority announced that it was stopping payments to some Hamas-affiliated prisoners, but this step we consider to be inadequate to talk about – to address our concerns.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: Most of these prisoners are civilians, really, and they’re stone throwers or administrative and so on.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into a conversation about that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Very quick on another issue. Today the Palestinian Authority closed like 11 websites because they were critical of Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Do you have any comment on that? I mean --

    MS NAUERT: Just as a general matter, we support freedom of the press and we encourage websites and information to stay open so that people can have their freedom of speech.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: So you being their biggest sponsor, would you call on them to --

    MS NAUERT: I have not seen that report myself, so this is the first time I’m hearing of it. If I have anything more to add, I will.

    QUESTION: Just back on the payments --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- is the Secretary – does he have the impression from his – or did he get the impression from President Abbas in their conversations that this – cutting off the payments to the Hamas people was like a first step, and that it would --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer – I don’t know the answer to that, Matt. I can certainly ask. As you know, the Secretary is away right now. But we will continue to pressure Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to stop those payments. The United States is serious about that.

    Miss, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: On Qatar. Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya.

    MS NAUERT: Nice to see you again.

    QUESTION: Nice to see you too. On Qatar, the countries who severed diplomatic relations – which, as you know, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates – apparently they presented a list of individual Qataris who supports extremists or terrorist organizations.

    MS NAUERT: And they presented that list to?

    QUESTION: To the United States. Has they presented this list to the United States, and do you agree with the list that they have given to you?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any list that was allegedly given to the United States, so I can’t comment on that.

    QUESTION: So apparently some of the individuals has already been on a list that are on your – the website of the wanted people, so I’m just wondering if the list has been expanded or if you’re aware that names have been added.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m not aware of what you’re --

    QUESTION: Are you – can you look into it to see if --

    MS NAUERT: We can certainly look into that and see if we can find something out for you.

    QUESTION: Okay. Great, thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Sir, hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. Dmitri Kirsanov from TASS.

    QUESTION: One quick one on Qatar? Just a quick follow-up?

    You’re on – you’re not on Qatar?

    QUESTION: Sure. I’m not on Qatar. I’m on Russia. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can you just bring us up to date on the latest on the Secretary’s diplomatic efforts on Qatar and whether some Qatari officials said that there might be a meeting coming up in the next week to 10 days hosted by Secretary Tillerson?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So I don’t have any meetings to read out about that. The Secretary obviously has been very involved in this. He’s had a lot of ongoing conversations. He’s had more than a dozen phone calls back and forth between the United States and many of those countries. Those conversations, as I understand it, are ongoing. As you know, earlier this week he’s had a series of meetings here in Washington with Saudi Arabia, for example; UAE, for example, last night. So we continue to --

    QUESTION: And he’ll be meeting with the Qatari on Monday? Is that --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t – I don’t have any meetings to read out for you at this time. When I do, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Although – I understand that you said nothing is scheduled, but is it his goal or his desire to bring everyone together for some kind of mediation --

    MS NAUERT: I know that a lot of reporters are talking about this idea of a summit, a so-called summit. And as far as we can tell around here – and we’ve checked with many of the departments, with the Secretary, you name it – as far as we know, there is no summit taking place at this time.

    QUESTION: Well, a summit would suggest kind of the leaders of the states, but some of the countries have said that Secretary Tillerson is trying to get the ministers together for some kind of session.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. If I had any meetings to read out that I could, I would certainly tell you about that.

    QUESTION: But when you say that you don’t have any meetings to read out, does that mean you can’t offer us anything about the dinner last night?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t. I can’t. No, I’m sorry. If I --

    QUESTION: I had a very quick follow-up on this meeting.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: You know on Friday the President basically called Qatar a sponsor of terrorism, and yesterday they signed a $12 billion deal to give – to sell them F-15s. How – how do you juxtapose this against that?

    MS NAUERT: With the weapons, or with the --

    QUESTION: Right, with the F-15s.

    MS NAUERT: The F-15s, rather? Yeah, okay, let me get to that because that was – that was a deal that was a long time in the making. That is not a brand new deal that just came out. We continue to work with the nation of Qatar and the government and other partners in the region.

    These are necessary actions to not only support U.S. interests in the Gulf but also keeping that region as safe as is possible. So the agreement has been years in the making. We see it as a tangible show of support for our defense relationship and their commitment to the United States. So the F-18[1] aircraft will increase what we consider to be the interoperability between the Air Force and the U.S. allied and partner nations.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: On that?

    QUESTION: So this administration supports the sale even though it was concluded under the previous administration?

    MS NAUERT: This was – the sale was notified to Congress a while back and --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- and we consider that a part of continuing to strengthen security in the Gulf.

    QUESTION: Right. So you – it’s a good thing, you think? You support it.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it one way. It’s not my place to characterize it whether it’s a good thing or not. I can just say it is going forward; it has been in the works for a long time.

    QUESTION: Well, presumably, if you – if the deal went ahead, then the U.S. thinks it’s a good thing.

    MS NAUERT: No, I’m saying I’m not going to characterize it as that. I mean, don’t ask me.

    QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Well, we’re not asking your personal opinion on whether you think --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: Maybe you like a different kind of fighter jet and you don’t think they should get F-18s. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: She’s a compact F-14 kind of a girl. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: But no, I – I’m --

    QUESTION: But you know that means that Qatar is in good stead with the United States, right? I mean, they don’t have to worry about --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, sir, so go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Switching gears, Germany and Austria sharp – have sharply criticized the U.S. Senate today for moves aimed at advancing a new legislation packaging new sanctions against Russia, which tangentially deal with European countries as well. Austrian federal chancellor and German foreign ministry released a joint statement, and I wanted to read one line from it to get your response to this particular line: “The draft bill of the U.S. is surprisingly candid about what is actually at stake, namely selling American liquified natural gas and ending the supply of Russian natural gas to the European markets.”

    MS NAUERT: Sorry, back up for a second? What did you say about the liquified natural gas?

    QUESTION: That the bill is trying to basically peddle U.S. LNG to the – to the European markens – markets instead of the Russian natural gas. The bill aims to protect U.S. jobs and the natural gas and petroleum industries. So what’s your response to that?

    MS NAUERT: Well, first, I’m not going to comment on anything that those nations said and their criticism of anything going on on Capitol Hill. We would see it – and we talked about this last week – we welcome the shipment of liquified natural gas to Poland, to countries in that region, if that were to come – become available to them, because it helps give them another option, another option to get natural gas from other countries that are perhaps more stable or other countries that can perhaps provide a regular flow of natural gas. Much of the natural gas in Poland, as I understand it, comes from Russia, and that can be inconsistent. Russia has the ability, as you well know, to turn off that natural gas, and that puts the Polish people in a very difficult situation. So the U.S. provided another option. A regular source of natural gas, especially in the winter months, we see as important for the United States and for our allies.

    QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia just for a --

    MS NAUERT: Certainly.

    QUESTION: Very briefly, because the Secretary raised something the other day in his testimony that raised some eyebrows, which was that the – he was asking for flexibility in this sanctions bill because – particularly on demands for Minsk to be – the Minsk agreements to be fulfilled. And he said that it might be possible for Russia and Ukraine to reach Minsk-like or Minsk – the Minsk goals or Minsk-like goals in another --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Not his actual words, but I know what you’re – I know what you mean.

    QUESTION: -- in another forum. What was he talking about?

    MS NAUERT: So we remain committed to the Minsk agreements. The various parties signed on to that, and so we continue to call upon those parties to honor those commitments. We are not satisfied with the progress in implementing the agreements. We are deeply disturbed by the escalating violence in Donbas. Now, the Secretary is somebody who consistently around this building talks about results. We just have not seen results that we would like to see from the Minsk agreements. We would like to see those countries honor and fully implement those agreements.

    QUESTION: Well, has he proposed some alternate format for getting to the Minsk goals?

    MS NAUERT: I would say overall, our objective on that matter remains the same. The objective is peace. We are not seeing that happen. We have some numbers, the United Nations has some numbers and some statistics about how the number of civilian deaths are up. We remain very concerned about the situation there. But to your question, the parties, if they were to come to some sort of an agreement on their own through some sort of different mechanism, and those parties could adhere to it and agree to it and it would be successful, I think that would be something that we would be open to supporting that.

    QUESTION: Right, but he’s --

    MS NAUERT: However, we still --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- remain committed to Minsk.

    QUESTION: No, no, no. I get that, but – I mean, I’m trying to figure out if he – is he proposing some kind of a U.S. – the U.S. is not involved in Minsk; it was the French and the Germans.

    MS NAUERT: Correct. Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: So is – are you suggesting that the U.S. might take a lead now in trying to get to the Minsk goals?

    MS NAUERT: I have not heard that the United States --

    QUESTION: No? Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- is going to be leading any new kind of plan.

    QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I go back for a second?

    MS NAUERT: Conor, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Heather, is the U.S. any closer to securing the release of the other three in North Korea? And can you tell us anything further about the engagement on Otto Warmbier?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hold on, hold on. Before we get to North Korea, does anybody have another question on this matter?

    QUESTION: Very quickly.

    MS NAUERT: (Inaudible), hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Cindy. Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Cindy.

    QUESTION: I just had a follow-up on the Russia question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Is there a reaction to the sanctions bill that was passed in the Senate?

    MS NAUERT: So that’s another pending legislation matter, because the House has not voted on it just yet. So I’m just not going to comment on that at this point, okay.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I have one on Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Russia? Okay, sir, you already went. So let me go over to you.

    QUESTION: Conor and Rich.

    MS NAUERT: Conor, yes. Yeah. I know, you’re sitting in a different place.

    QUESTION: I know, sorry. I just – quickly. I know the --

    QUESTION: We’re trying to throw you off balance. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Right. In terms of the Secretary saying that he wants more flexibility to improve the relationship with Russia, does he believe that the Russians want to improve the relationship with the United States?

    MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary – we continue to look for areas in which both parties can work together. We’ve talked about this before. We’ve talked about how we believe that the United States and Russia can work together to fight ISIS. In terms of your specific question about Russia, I can’t get into how – how they see us now as a result, okay. Do we want to go to DPRK now? Mr. Warmbier? Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: Mr. Warmbier.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Miss, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I had a question on North Korea. The – so – well, actually two. Do – it – given the grave state of his health – Warmbier’s health – is the United States considering what recourse it might have legally if – were he to die or were his – he to never be able to recover?

    MS NAUERT: Oh my goodness.

    QUESTION: Is there any --

    MS NAUERT: I’m – I – I appreciate your curiosity. I’m not even going to comment on something like that.

    QUESTION: And secondly --

    MS NAUERT: Not our place to comment on that, and that’s a --

    QUESTION: Well, I mean, the United States was instrumental in securing his release in --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- at a point in the very sad trajectory --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, that’s a hypothetical --

    QUESTION: -- and his health if --

    MS NAUERT: -- that I hope we never come to, and I’m not even going to go there.

    QUESTION: The Secretary yesterday was asked in his testimony whether they’re – the United States would consider some kind of prohibition or change to the already fairly severe travel warnings for U.S. citizens against traveling there. He said it was under consideration, but he wasn’t specific. Can you give us any more detail about what that might look like or what he was talking about?

    MS NAUERT: This is something that initially came up in this building. I believe it was about April. And so some conversations have been had about this --

    QUESTION: It came up about March 2016 – like last year --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, well in this – fine.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- too. It’s been coming up constantly.

    MS NAUERT: In this administration, it was something that came up here around the time of April. I know that that is something that’s under consideration at this point. Let me see if I have anything more for you on that, because I have a lot on North Korea.

    QUESTION: You do? Why don’t you just read it all?

    MS NAUERT: I do, actually.

    QUESTION: No, I mean, aloud. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: So in terms of that, we haven’t come to a final conclusion. It’s something we’re still considering. And that’s a good point to remind Americans, that we strongly encourage you not to travel to North Korea. There have been too many incidents in which Americans have been held for crimes that would not be considered criminal actions here. And so --

    QUESTION: Korea.

    QUESTION: Heather, it’s --

    MS NAUERT: -- we can’t guarantee that we can get people back, so we encourage you not to go.

    QUESTION: As a legal matter, though, is there some kind of actual prohibition that could be in --

    MS NAUERT: Well, that’s – that what we --

    QUESTION: -- instated?

    MS NAUERT: That’s what you just asked about --

    QUESTION: Yeah, but --

    MS NAUERT: -- if some sort of potential ban on Americans traveling there – something like that is under consideration. I’m not going to get ahead of what that could potentially look like. It may or may not happen, okay?

    So Matt, you asked about this --

    QUESTION: Well --

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on.

    QUESTION: Go to --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Conor. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Go to Rich.

    QUESTION: Yeah, so --

    MS NAUERT: Rich. Did I just call you Conor? Sorry.

    QUESTION: That’s fine.

    MS NAUERT: Sorry.

    QUESTION: I’m honored to be called Conor. (Laughter.) The --

    MS NAUERT: And you rhymed.

    QUESTION: Yeah, exactly.

    MS NAUERT: Nice.

    QUESTION: Unintentionally so. Any further engagement on the three Americans who are still in North Korea, imprisoned in North Korea, and anything more you can tell us about the Warmbier case?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So the other day, I know a lot of you were frustrated that I wouldn’t and couldn’t provide more detail for you on Mr. Warmbier’s case. A couple reasons for that: One, he was still in the air flying back to the United States. Two, we did not want to get ahead of his parents. I’m sure many of you watched his parents give a press conference earlier this morning. We do know that the hospital that is treating him will offer some sort of press conference later on today in which they’ll detail his health. We didn’t want to be ahead of those folks.

    Also, Mr. Yun, Ambassador Yun, who traveled to North Korea with a team of American doctors on a plane, had not yet returned to Washington, D.C. He returned to Washington yesterday. I spent close to an hour with him today talking about how all of this occurred and what exactly happened. So now I can provide you with a little additional detail. I would rather be right than fast, okay? So here we go, and this is in part a timeline with a little additional information, and I’m just going to read it, if you will. If anyone has any questions along the way or if you don’t understand something, you can feel free to stop me.

    At the direction of the President, the State Department conducted quiet diplomacy to obtain the release of Otto Warmbier. There are three other Americans currently being held in North Korea. We hope that they will soon be able to return home. We’d like to thank our international partners, especially our protecting power Sweden, for their tireless efforts to assist Mr. Warmbier. The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens against travel to the DPRK.

    And here’s the timeline: February 2017, Secretary Tillerson briefed President Trump on the situation. The President directed the Secretary to take all appropriate measures to secure the release of American citizens detained in North Korea. The Secretary began the effort and routinely updated the President. In May of 2017, U.S. State Department Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joe Yun met with high-level representatives from the North Korean ministry of foreign affairs on the margins of separate track-two discussions in Norway to talk about detained American citizens. Again, that took place in Norway.

    Then on June 6, 2017 in New York, Special Representative Yun met in New York City with North Korean diplomats. During the meeting, Mr. Yun was told about Mr. Warmbier’s medical condition for the first time, so we were made fully aware of his medical – let me back up. We were made aware of his medical condition. The extent of it, I’m not sure that we had the full extent until our doctors were on the ground. Now, just as a reminder, the last time that someone representing the United States, the Swedish protecting power, saw Mr. Warmbier was March of 2016, okay? So now we’re back to June 2017.

    During the week of June 6 to the 11th, after consulting the President, Secretary of State Tillerson instructed Special Representative Yun to travel to North Korea to negotiate the release of Mr. Warmbier from North Korea. Ambassador Yun traveled to North Korea with a medical team and a private aircraft to begin the negotiation. On June the 12th after arriving in Pyongyang, Special Representative Yun and two doctors visited Mr. Warmbier. The visit was the first since his sentencing in March 2016 that the United States was able to confirm, in person, Mr. Warmbier’s condition.

    After several hours of discussions, the North Koreans agreed to his release. Immediate arrangements were made for Mr. Warmbier to leave North Korea and return home. On June 13th, Mr. Warmbier touched down at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio and was met by his parents at the airport.

    QUESTION: May I?

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: Do you – okay, so the story that the North Koreans are offering is that he contracted a case of botulism, took this sleeping pill, and went into a coma for a year. Based on what you know, does the U.S. take that story at face value that he was in a coma for a full year? There’s – as you said, there’s been no sighting of him or such, but it – the timing that he was released in the last few months, do you have any reason to believe that he contracted this illness and fell into a coma in the last few months and then --

    MS NAUERT: I think, Elise, what we would do is wait for the medical professionals to fully check him out. I imagine – and they’ll be talking at some point today, at least that was my last understanding, and so I would leave it to the doctors to be able to talk about their testing if they are able to.

    QUESTION: Okay. Okay. But are you --

    MS NAUERT: I mean, this involves medical privacy issues, so --

    QUESTION: But are you taking the North Koreans at face value that the – their accounting of how he got sick is true?

    MS NAUERT: I think we would rely on the medical professionals for a lot of specific information about that.

    QUESTION: There was also some reporting that perhaps he was beaten. Do you have any reason to believe that that’s true?

    MS NAUERT: I just can’t get into that, for no other reason other than I just don’t know. I don’t have that information.

    QUESTION: When Ambassador Yun and the other – and the doctors saw him in Pyongyang, were they in a hospital? Were they in a prison?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, it was in a hospital.

    QUESTION: It was in a hospital. And was it a – I mean, I’ve never – I’ve not been to a North Korean hospital ever, so I don’t --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. That’s a good question. I didn’t ask Ambassador Yun to characterize that hospital. If I see him later, I can certainly ask for more information.

    QUESTION: Can you – I’d just like to know if you believe that he was getting adequate care for his condition when in North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m afraid I just don’t --

    QUESTION: And then, is --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not going to be able to provide some of these answers. Again, Mr. Yun just back. I just saw him --

    QUESTION: And then the second thing is that in the press conference, his father, today, gave the distinct impression that he did not think the previous administration had been doing enough to get his son freed. I’m not going to ask you to speak to – for the previous administration, but in terms of this building, what changed in the way that the – that your – that Ambassador Yun, say, or anyone else in this building – what was different about how this was handled by the – this time as opposed to for the past year?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think, Matt, that’s hard for me to get – to answer that question, not having been here that long, not having seen all that our staff did to try to get his release. Over the past few days, I’ve heard and seen a lot of that and have seen the incredible dedication that people have had. I’m under no impression that --

    QUESTION: But clearly, that --

    MS NAUERT: I’m under no impression that people did not care about getting him back a year ago. Certainly, I know our consular affairs officials have been extremely concerned about his case and the case of other Americans too.

    QUESTION: Well, right. No, it’s not a question of not caring.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m just wondering what changed. How is this --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I – I mean, I know that the President, not long after inauguration, said that this was going to be a priority, and he authorized the Secretary to get this done. But beyond that, I really can’t get into that.

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: Could I just --

    QUESTION: Heather, just real quick on --

    MS NAUERT: We just have a few more minutes. Miss, with the laptop right there. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yes. So there are reports that Ambassador Yun, while he was in Pyongyang, also met with the other three detained Americans. Can you confirm that? And also, are there any details on their condition? And what is the U.S. doing to try and get them released?

    MS NAUERT: I know that we would like to see them come home. I can confirm that Ambassador Yun did make contact with the three Americans who are being held there. We are happy that he was able to make that contact. In terms of their medical condition, that’s something I cannot comment on. The other day, I said I won’t comment on personal health matters, and so I’m going to stand by that.

    QUESTION: When you say, “made contact,” do you mean he was able to see them?

    MS NAUERT: He saw them. He did see them. Yes.

    QUESTION: Heather, China.

    QUESTION: Heather, can I follow-up on North Korea?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. North Korea. Go right ahead. Hi, Abbie. How are you?

    QUESTION: Thank you so much. It seems the way you’re describing the discussions that Yun was having that he was negotiating for the release of the hostage – calling it quiet diplomacy. Do you think --

    MS NAUERT: That Ambassador Yun was?

    QUESTION: Ambassador Yun.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you think that this is a change in policy that the administration is willing to negotiate for hostages or prisoners?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure where you’re – a negotiation implies that we are willing to give up something in exchange for something in return. That – this was not a negotiation. This was bring back; we want to come get our guy.

    QUESTION: So you would not characterize this as a negotiation?

    MS NAUERT: No. I would not.

    QUESTION: So then – but so can you answer the question that I had yesterday – whether or not they knew that they were going to get him and be able to come back with him when they left?

    MS NAUERT: The North Koreans – I’m afraid I know the answer to that, but that’s not something I can divulge. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    QUESTION: That’s all right.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. That’s a little bit of a teaser.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: I’m still getting used to this role. So, Matt, I’m sorry. It’s – some of these, as I hope you can try to understand, are sensitive, diplomatic matters. As we’ve talked about, we still have three Americans over there. We are grateful to have Mr. Warmbier home. The work that Ambassador Yun has done has been nothing short of incredible, and the team surrounding him has been nothing short of incredible.

    QUESTION: On North Korea.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: One more on North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. One more on North Korea.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday, Secretary Tillerson mentioned about sanctions against North Korea. Is the United States satisfied with the Chinese law in resolving North Korean nuclear issues? Or what if there is not satisfactory of China --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, but I know that we believe that China and other nations could do a lot more to try to put additional pressure on North Korea. China has unique pull and leverage with North Korea, because of the economy, because of some of that trade and their economic reliance, if you will. So we just continue to call on China to do more, as we do with many --

    QUESTION: But U.S. is --

    MS NAUERT: As we do with many other nations. Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: Do you think --

    QUESTION: One more on North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Last question.

    QUESTION: One more on North Korea?

    QUESTION: North Korea --

    QUESTION: One on Pakistan?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead. North Korea.

    QUESTION: Yes --

    MS NAUERT: And then I’ll take you on Pakistan, sir.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed support for talks with North Korea in exchange for them halting any provocative action, given sort of the --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, start your question over again.

    QUESTION: President Moon Jae-in of South Korea --

    MS NAUERT: President Moon, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- has indicated that he’s willing to negotiate with North Korea in exchange for them halting any provocative actions. Do you support this? Is that sufficient for the U.S. to return to the negotiating table, especially given sort of the climate now?

    MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed. For the DPRK – for us to engage in talks with the DPRK, they would have to denuclearize. And that is not something we’re seeing them take any steps to do so. We remain very concerned about their provocative actions that they continue to take. We continue to call on them to de-escalate those types of actions, but we are nowhere close to that.

    Okay. Sir. You had a Pakistan question, sir.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) Koreans going into negotiations, though?

    QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the policy review that the State Department is doing on Pakistan. Can you give us some more details about it? Why you are doing it, a country-specific policy review? What do you want to achieve it? Who all is doing it? And what is the timeline for it?

    MS NAUERT: Goodness, I should show you our list of policy reviews taking place, because there are plenty. There’s the Iran policy review; there’s the Afghan policy review; Pakistan policy review is one of them. We are beginning an interagency review toward our policy on Pakistan right now. It’s part of an ongoing broader review of our national strategy for South Asia, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries.

    The United States and Pakistan have a close partnership on regional peace, security, prosperity, and stability. And we continue to work with the Government of Pakistan on areas – many areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism. Thank you.

    Miss, in the back.

    QUESTION: One on – first on Turkey, please?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: On Turkey?

    MS NAUERT: On Turkey. Go right ahead. Not – you know what, I feel like we’ve done Turkey.

    QUESTION: It’s a different – it’s not about the – you didn’t take my question. It’s not about the security details. It’s about an arrested politician yesterday.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Certainly.

    QUESTION: So are you aware that an elected politician from the main opposition in Turkey is arrested yesterday on the charges of leaking state secrets for 25 years? He happens to be a former journalist for 36 years. Is the U.S. Government concerned about this in any way? And is the deputy assistant secretary, Jonathan Cohen, is going to raise the issue in his upcoming visit to Ankara in any ways?

    MS NAUERT: Ma’am, I’m going to have to take that question from you, because I’m not aware of the arrest of the person that you mentioned. So if I can get some additional information for you – I know as a general matter, we tend to be concerned about anything that has something to do with any restrictions on free speech. On the other hand, we certainly acknowledge that Turkey has the right and ability to detain people who are legitimately involved with the coup attempt from last year. But again, I’m not familiar with who that politician is that you mentioned. I’ll take a look and see if I can get some more information for you.

    QUESTION: Heather, I need to ask budget questions, because you haven’t had one, and the Secretary was up --

    MS NAUERT: Oh, budget. Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah. And there are a lot of questions.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And you’ll get them rolling out over the next couple weeks I think, but I’ve got one today.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The Secretary, to put it mildly, got an earful in four separate hearings on the Hill over the course of the past two days from senators and congressmen and women who say that this budget proposal is dead on arrival; it’s not going anywhere. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said it was a waste of time to discuss it, because this isn’t the budget – this might be the proposed budget, but it’s not the budget that you’re going to end up with.

    But I wanted – there’s a lot of things to ask about it, but for the sake of brevity, I just want to ask about these Pickering and Rangel programs --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- because it’s something that a number of lawmakers expressed concern about, and I didn’t understand the Secretary’s responses to them. Is it not correct that people who are supposed to be entering the A-100 class of the Foreign Service under these programs have been told that they are – that they can’t?

    MS NAUERT: That they can’t what?

    QUESTION: After having signed a contract and spent three years planning to enter the Foreign Service under these programs, is it not correct that they have been told that that is no longer an option?

    MS NAUERT: No. I have not seen any letters or any of the – anything of the sort that has gone out to – or maybe have not gone out to – the individuals in the fellowship program. The fellowship program is something very important to folks at the State Department to help bring in additional diversity into the Foreign Service corps.

    The fellows that you are speaking of right now, because of under budget constraints – we are offering them different kinds of positions at this point. And I want to try to explain this. I’m still new here, so I want to try to explain this in the best way possible. We have hiring constraints right now. You all are aware of that. There’s a hiring freeze. But we are keeping our commitment to these fellows --

    QUESTION: Well, that hiring freeze – the government-wide hiring freeze is over. This is a personal – or a building decision by the Secretary that applies to this building only, correct?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we are able to staff up, for example, if there were a national security issue. You’re all aware of that. So there are hiring constraints in this building right now. We are keeping our commitment to these potential Foreign Service officers – I’ll call them the fellows – by offering them an alternative Foreign Service opportunity in the short term. We remain committed to offering these fellows the next available career conditional tenure track Foreign Service appointments.

    So what does that mean? That means that they are welcome, if they would like, to join the Consular Fellows program. That is something where these fellows would serve as consular adjudicators at posts around the world, so they would basically be going through visas, they would be working with passports. That’s something that our other Foreign Service officers are involved with. That’s a routine course of duty for them.

    So these individuals, these fellows, were they to take the position, would hold limited non-career appointments of up to five years and have nearly the same responsibilities and duties and salary – which is important to mention – and pay scale as entry-level Foreign Service officers. So we are offering them a slot in that.

    QUESTION: Right. But what they signed up for and what this government agreed to, this building signed – had contractual obligation with them, is not to spend five years stamping no on visa applications in, I don’t know, Ouagadougou. These people --

    MS NAUERT: That is, though, an important service.

    QUESTION: And --

    MS NAUERT: So I don’t want to look down our noses at that --

    QUESTION: And you’re right. No, no, you’re right.

    MS NAUERT: -- because that’s something that every Foreign Service officer --

    QUESTION: You are – you’re absolutely right.

    MS NAUERT: -- is required to do in his or her time.

    QUESTION: But no one aspires to that job in any embassy. And people in the Foreign Service who do it in CA and then it’s – it is a thankless job, but they have a prospect of going beyond that and becoming a political or a commercial or some other kind of officer.

    MS NAUERT: So those who do go through --

    QUESTION: So these minority students --

    MS NAUERT: Let me finish. The consular fellows who do choose to take on those roles would then have the opportunity to join the next A-100 class --

    QUESTION: So you’re saying --

    MS NAUERT: -- of Foreign Service officers when a class becomes available.

    QUESTION: So are you saying that they could drop out of these Consular Fellows program and join the A-100? I’m not sure that’s --

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that they would have to – and Mark’s a Foreign Service officer here, so I may have to defer to him somewhat on this. But my understanding is that they would complete their time in the Consular Fellows program --

    STAFF: Two years.

    MS NAUERT: Two years. Thank you. And then they would have the opportunity to enter the A-100 program when an A-100 program becomes available.

    QUESTION: So these also --

    QUESTION: But it’s – but it’s a five-year thing?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on.

    QUESTION: These --

    QUESTION: Not two years.

    MS NAUERT: They would have to serve two, two years. Yes.

    QUESTION: They would have to serve – so they would have to serve two years as a Consular Fellow and then if you --

    MS NAUERT: And they get paid for it. They get paid for it.

    QUESTION: Oh, no one is saying that this is like slavery here.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah. And their housing and all of that. Look, it’s not an ideal situation. I don’t think anybody here views it as an ideal situation.

    QUESTION: No, clearly it’s not. But the problem is that these people – these people signed contracts with their government, and those contracts are now being broken. And they planned and spent – they planned their lives around this. And now, all of a sudden, because of the – just because you guys have decided that you want to slash the staffing of the Foreign Service --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, to be fair – and again, this is --

    QUESTION: -- you’re breaking a contract with these people.

    MS NAUERT: This is not an ideal situation trying to work within difficult budget constraints right now. I don’t think that this would be – hold on, Elise. I don’t think that this would be anyone’s preference.

    They are, however, being provided with full payment, or up to $34,000 a year I believe it is, to their Master’s education. So they do have the two years of that Master’s degree that the government fully pays for.

    QUESTION: All right, I get it.

    MS NAUERT: We are investing in these people, and they are investing in us. We are doing our best to provide something to them.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: And that is offering them a space because we need it. There are some embassies across the world that are very, very busy; have lots of visa applications, lots of passport applications. It’s a routine job that our current Foreign Service officers are required to do. And by the way, when I talk to these Foreign Service officers, looking back on it, a lot of them will say, “You know that, that job was really meaningful to me and I really learned a lot about it.”

    QUESTION: Sure.

    QUESTION: Some of these posts that they’re being offered, aren’t these the posts that used to be filled by the family – by the spouses of some of the kind of more senior diplomats?

    MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not aware of that.

    QUESTION: Because some of these visa adjudication posts are being – have been filled by these kind of – this issue about the families that are being – the spouses that --

    MS NAUERT: I can look into that for you.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: But I’m not aware that there’s a one-in/one-out situation.

    Okay? Guys, we have to leave it there, okay? Thank you so much. We --

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:50 p.m.)

    DPB # 29

    [1] F-15


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 13, 2017

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 18:38
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 13, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • NORTH KOREA
  • RUSSIA
  • QATAR/SAUDI ARABIA
  • CHINA/TAIWAN/PANAMA
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • QATAR/SAUDI ARABIA
  • DEPARTMENT
  • INDONESIA

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:26 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. I hope you are all well today. So I know it’s a little unorthodox to brief on a day that the Secretary is testifying before Congress. As you all know, he is testifying twice today and twice again tomorrow. In the interest of providing you with as much information as possible, we decided to do this today. We’re trying to stick to a Tuesday/Thursday briefing, so – but we are going to keep it relatively brief today.

    So let’s start out with this. The Secretary testified this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on FY 2018 budget. That was a request for the State Department and also USAID. He will appear this afternoon before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Relations, and Related Programs. Tomorrow he will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committees and House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Relations, and Related Programs. The focus of each hearing is on FY 2018 and the budget request.

    The Secretary has stated that FY18 budget request for the State Department and USAID of 37.6 billion aligns with the administration’s objective of making America’s security our top priority. He also noted that we will continue to lead in international development, global health, democracy, good governance initiatives, and humanitarian efforts, while asking other donors and partners around the world to increase their support.

    Here in the building, prior to his testimony on the Hill today, Secretary Tillerson met with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. The two leaders discussed the regional developments, and the Secretary reiterated the importance of de-escalating the situation in the Gulf, and they reaffirmed the need for constructive dialogue to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible. Both leaders agree that there is a willingness on all sides to de-escalate the situation and work toward a lasting resolution. That’s a first step. We agreed on the need to focus completely on the global fight against terrorism.

    And with that, I will take your questions. Matt Lee, let’s start with you.

    QUESTION: Thank --

    MS NAUERT: May I mention – I know you were interested in the Pickering, Rangels fellows. Anyone who’s interested in that, let’s talk about that after, if we could, please.

    Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. On the release of Mr. Warmbier. The timeline that was put out at the White House – I’m just – I just had a couple questions about it. When Ambassador Yun went to New York, was he – did the North Koreans invite him to go to North Korea to pick him up? In other words, when he left the States to go to North Korea, did he know that he was going to be in a position to bring Mr. Warmbier home?

    MS NAUERT: Some of these questions – and I understand the interest that everyone has on this case. First, let me say how pleased we are to have Otto Warmbier back in the United States. What an incredible day that one of our fellow American citizens, who’s been detained in North Korea for more than a year, and we had difficulty, as you all are very well aware, in reaching him – we had to go through the Government of Sweden, our protective power, in order to get any kind of information, and even then it was extremely rare. So we are grateful today that he is released and he is on his way back to the United States.

    I know and appreciate you will have a lot of questions about how all of this developed. Unfortunately, today I’m not going to be able to answer all of that for you. Even though some information was put out, I’m just not going to be able to go that far in it today. So I just want you to please try to have some understanding and bear with us. It’s a sensitive situation; he is on his way home, and some of these questions I will have to refer you to his family on.

    But Matt, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Right. But my question still stands. When Ambassador Yun went to – or Special Representative Yun left the United States, did he know, or was he assured of a meeting with Mr. – or was he assured that he was going to see Mr. Warmbier, and did he know that he would be able to bring him back?

    MS NAUERT: I am not going to be able to answer that at this time. Mr. Warmbier is in the air; he’s on his way home. We do not have all of the details about how all of this transpired just yet.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, did the North Koreans give any reason why they waited until June, until last week, to let anybody know about what his condition was? And secondly, the – this timeline has the Swedes – the North Koreans agreeing that the Swedes can get access to him. And then it says after Sweden is granted visitation rights to Mr. Warmbier, the North Koreans then urgently requested to have this in-person meeting in New York.

    So I mean, it sounds – the impression left by this timeline is that the North Koreans were concerned, that they knew that once the Swedes got access to him that his condition was going to get out, and then they were looking for a way out of this. And that’s why – is that – is that a correct understanding?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I can just say for now that we are thankful that he is on his way home. We look forward to him being back in the arms of his parents at his home in Ohio. And again, this is a developing situation. I’m sure you all understand information is hard to come by in North Korea. We were lucky enough to be able to get a team over there. We’re grateful for that. We’re grateful to come – him to be able to come home. And I’ll try to get you more information as we get more.

    QUESTION: Can we (inaudible)?

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Michele.

    QUESTION: You’re expressing pleasure and gratitude that yes, he is back home. But you must also feel something else based on his condition. Can you talk about the State Department’s stance and feelings because of what’s happened?

    MS NAUERT: So I can’t comment anything on his health. That is against our State Department guidelines to get into that.

    QUESTION: His parents have released a statement on his health.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, then I’d have to refer you to his parents. We are trying to be sensitive to the family. It is – if his parents choose to address it, they are more than welcome to do so. But I am not going to characterize what their son may have been through or may not have been through, so I’m just going to have to refer you to the family right now.

    QUESTION: I wasn’t asking for anything on his condition.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Just based on the fact that he’s been in a coma for a year, the State Department must express something besides gratitude, I’m guessing, at the state of --

    MS NAUERT: We have been extremely concerned about his situation all along, as we are of any American citizen who has been detained in any part of the world. This is one of the highest priorities. You all know this. One of the highest priorities of the State Department is the safety, welfare, and well-being of our U.S. citizens and who are abroad. So we continue to try to monitor how they are doing to the best that we can.

    QUESTION: Through this, were you able to determine how the other detainees are? Are they okay? Did anyone have any contacts with those three others?

    MS NAUERT: Unfortunately, Michele, I just can’t get into that right now. But as the days go by, we may have more information for you on that.

    Nick, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: To Qatar.

    QUESTION: Can we --

    MS NAUERT: Wait, let’s stay in the region for – before we go on to something else.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Barbara, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Just a very quick one. Can you just confirm the reports that Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with this?

    MS NAUERT: That is correct that Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with the release of Mr. Warmbier.

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    MS NAUERT: Sir. I’m sorry, your name is?

    QUESTION: When was (inaudible) anything?

    MS NAUERT: Sir, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Sorry. My name is Oren Dorell of USA Today.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, Oren. That’s right. Sorry.

    QUESTION: When did the State Department or the United States find out that Mr. Warmbier may have had some kind of – any issue at all, that things were not quite right with him health-wise?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on anything related to his health. I hope you’ll please understand that, my position on that.

    QUESTION: But I’m not asking about his health. Just when --

    MS NAUERT: But getting into that would --

    QUESTION: -- when anything came across that anything was amiss.

    MS NAUERT: -- would confirm your belief that there is something at issue with his health. I can’t get into anything related to that at all. I hope you will please understand.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead. We’re sticking in the region for now.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: On this matter.

    QUESTION: Yeah. What was the Dennis Rodman purpose for the North Korea visit? And --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: What was his purpose of North Korean visit? I mean Dennis Rodman visit.

    QUESTION: Why did he go?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry? I --

    QUESTION: Dennis Rodman. Why --

    QUESTION: Rodman’s visit. Why did he go?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I’ve not spoken with Dennis Rodman. I don’t know why he went to North Korea. (Laughter.) Look, let me do – let me reiterate: We strongly, strongly suggest that Americans do not go to North Korea.

    QUESTION: Did he take any message of the President Trump?

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of any message of the sort.

    QUESTION: Here is the deal. Congressman Schiff, Wilson introduced bipartisan North Korea Travel Control Act May 25th last month. He said the legislation would restrict travel to, from, and within North Korea by American citizens.

    MS NAUERT: So I think that underscores the U.S. Government’s general concern about travel to North Korea. That’s something before Congress, and I can’t comment on any pending legislation right now.

    Any other questions on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Excuse me. On Mr. Warmbier.

    QUESTION: Can you just tell us about the last time that a U.S. Government official traveled to North Korea and --

    MS NAUERT: The last time a U.S. official traveled?

    QUESTION: Government official. Yes. And what does this mean for U.S.-North Korea talks right now? Does this open some new dialogue, or is there any indication on that front?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m going to have to take a look at that for you, because I know our consular officials last had access to Mr. Warmbier March 2nd, 2016. That was the last time that we had consular access. In terms of the last time that --

    QUESTION: The Swedes.

    MS NAUERT: Through the Swedish embassy, yes. Thank you, Matt. In terms of the last time the U.S. official was in the DPRK, that I do not know.

    QUESTION: But you can get back to us on that?

    MS NAUERT: I can try to get back to you on that. I’m not certain that I’m going to be able to give you an answer, but I will do my best.

    QUESTION: And U.S.-North Korea dialogue – has that opened as a result of this?

    MS NAUERT: I think this is all so fresh. We were just able to get the release of Mr. Warmbier. Again, we are grateful and thankful for that. We are glad to have him on his way home. I think it’s just too soon to say what that dialogue is going to look like.

    QUESTION: Did you say March 6th? Sorry. Was the last --

    MS NAUERT: Let me just double-check here.

    QUESTION: 2nd of March.

    MS NAUERT: March 2nd, 2016, was the last time --

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: -- he had been granted consular access, and again, that was through the Swedish embassy.

    QUESTION: Can I change topics?

    QUESTION: I’ve got a --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Staying in the region, same topic.

    MS NAUERT: Sorry, your name is?

    QUESTION: So I’m Kyle Cardine with the Japanese network Fuji TV.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Kyle.

    QUESTION: So from the reports, it was saying that Mr. Warmbier was in an American military base in northern Japan, in Sapporo. I was wondering, is there any particular reason why he was being held at that American military base first?

    MS NAUERT: I am – I can’t get into anything on that. I’m not aware of that particular report. Again, this is a lot of new information that’s coming in, and we’ve been very engaged in this in the last few days.

    Anything else on this?

    QUESTION: Yeah, one more question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, (inaudible)

    QUESTION: You said that the Swedes, in that timeline --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- provided – that the Swedes were granted a visit with Otto. Do you know if that actually happened? And if so, why was there such a delay between their visit and the U.S. learning about his medical status?

    MS NAUERT: I would have to say that – and I’m aware of all the information that you are talking about. Some of these are private diplomatic conversations that took place. Some of these are very sensitive matters that went to the top level of the U.S. Government. So again, I know you’re going to be disappointed, because you want more information on this case. We are all very happy to have him home, but --

    QUESTION: Just a yes or no if it did happen?

    MS NAUERT: Which? If which did happen?

    QUESTION: The Swedish visit to see Otto at some point in May.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure that I have that in front of me right now. Let me look into that and see if I can get you an answer. I may not be able to get you an answer, but let me just double-check.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Mr. Warmbier? Anything else on Mr. Warmbier?

    QUESTION: I just want to – wait.

    QUESTION: Do you – can you talk about the type of facility or the medical care that he was being given while he was --

    MS NAUERT: I cannot.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: I cannot.

    QUESTION: I just want to point out that this is information that’s coming from a White House official. I mean, it’s not – if it was a private diplomatic – that argument just doesn’t hold up, frankly. I mean, the White House is talking about it already.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m – look. Okay, let me make this clear. I know you all have some information in front of you that’s coming in from various sources. Some of it is coming in from interviews that certain people did – family members, for example – with the press. I don’t think it’s right to be here, from the State Department, fully giving all the information that you all want because you’re curious. That’s your job; I understand that. I want to remain sensitive to the family at this point. As more information comes in and we can vet this information and give you more information, what we can give you, I certainly will. But I’m not going to be able to satiate your appetite --

    QUESTION: All right. Fine. But --

    MS NAUERT: -- for all the information that you want on this.

    QUESTION: Okay. Fine. But you’re not suggesting that anything in this timeline that they put out is wrong, are you?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t have that in front of me at this time, okay? There are a lot of details in there. We can get back to you and work to get back with you for some answers on that. Okay?

    QUESTION: May we change topics, please?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Mr. Warmbier? And we don’t have a lot of time today, folks, because the Secretary is --

    QUESTION: Can we change topics really quick?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Okay, yes.

    QUESTION: Heather, is the administration opposed to the Russia sanctions amendment that bipartisan senators agreed to last evening?

    MS NAUERT: So what you’re talking about is taking place on Capitol Hill, so I’m not going to be able to get into any legislative issues that are pending right now.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: I meant on --

    MS NAUERT: We just don’t comment on legislation, on pending legislation.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Hold on. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: On Qatar, Qatari foreign – Qatari defense minister is in town, and the Saudi foreign minister is also here. Is the State Department trying to get them – to bring them together to try to solve the differences between them?

    MS NAUERT: I’m glad you asked. I don’t have any meetings to announce between the Government of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but Secretary Tillerson did have a meeting with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia this morning here at the State Department. Together, they talked about the need and the agreement to come together, to work together. And I would characterize the mood and the approach to that as being one that is hopeful, that believes that the worst is behind us. And let me just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Two more question on this.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Seriously, we only have a few minutes today in order to do that. Last follow-up on that.

    QUESTION: A follow-up on this. Is he planning to – is the Secretary planning to meet with the Qatari defense minister?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any meetings to announce right now about the Secretary potentially meeting with the Qataris, if they are. I don't have any – just don’t have any meetings to announce on that.

    QUESTION: And do you consider Qatar as a state sponsor of terror, since they are providing --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize that. I’m not going to characterize that.

    CHINA" name="CHINA">QUESTION: China and Taiwan?

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. China, Taiwan. Miss, in the back row with your – gray. Tell me your name please.

    QUESTION: Tsung-Shen Chang from Central News Agency.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: China just established official tie with Panama. I’m just wondering do you have – does U.S. have any concern with regard to the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait?

    MS NAUERT: So the President announced that he will meet with the president of Panama in the coming weeks. So we are certainly aware of Panama’s announcement that it has ended diplomatic ties with Taiwan. We, the United States, urge all concerned parties to engage in productive dialogue and avoid escalatory and destabilizing moves. The United States has a deep and biding interest in cross-strait stability, of course, between Taiwan and China, and we believe that the dialogue between the two sides has enabled peace, stability, and development in recent years.

    Next question, please.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Wait a second.

    QUESTION: But wait a second, do you have any concerns at all about the growing relationship between Panama and China, given the Chinese economic/commercial interest in the canal and members of this administration’s expressed concern, prior to being in this administration, about kind of growing Chinese influence?

    MS NAUERT: I think we would see that as a matter to be handled and directed to both of those parties, between Panama and China.

    QUESTION: Right. Except for the fact that the canal is a major route for – I mean, stuff that goes from the west coast of the United States to the east coast of the United States goes through that canal.

    MS NAUERT: I understand. I’m not in the position right now to characterize what our position will be on that. As of now, this is considered an internal matter between the Government of – between Taiwan and Panama.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: Very quickly to the Palestinian --

    MS NAUERT: Wait. Anything else on that?

    QUESTION: Very quickly to the Palestinian issue.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on that? Just hold on.

    QUESTION: The same issue.

    MS NAUERT: I will get to you. I promise. Okay.

    QUESTION: You have these twice-a-week briefings and you limit the time on them. You can’t – there’s an entire world out that people have questions about.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, we all know there’s an entire world out there and everyone has questions. Normally, we wouldn’t be briefing today. And we are doing that to provide you as much information as possible. Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Anything – go ahead, miss, in the light blue, in the back.

    QUESTION: Hi. Jessica with TVBS of Taiwan.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Jessica.

    QUESTION: On Panama, does the U.S. got any heads-up from the Panama side before the announcement?

    MS NAUERT: Did we get a heads-up from the Panamanian side?

    QUESTION: Panama.

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that, but I can certainly look into that for you. Okay.

    Go ahead, Said. There, I told you I’d call on you, didn’t I?

    QUESTION: I know you did. Thank you. I appreciate it. I have a couple quick questions on the Palestinian issue.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: There is a desperate situation in Gaza. The electricity has been cut off back to two hours a day. I mean, it was a harsh enough situation to begin with. Is the United States urging the Israelis, the Egyptians, even the Palestinian Authority to sort of relieve the Gazans under siege?

    MS NAUERT: So our position is that we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We – as you speak about the electricity, we are aware that the Israeli cabinet approved the PA, the Palestinian Authority’s, request to reduce electricity in Gaza. Beyond that, I’m not going to weigh in, but we do remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation right there. We continue to underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. But no one should lose sight of the fact, of this fact, that Hamas bears the greatest responsibility for the current situation in Gaza.

    QUESTION: But the population --

    MS NAUERT: Anybody?

    QUESTION: -- is still under siege.

    MS NAUERT: Got to move around.

    QUESTION: Okay. Could I ask you very quickly on UNRWA – I mean, related – because you talked about the need to help the Palestinians.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister is calling to dissolve UNRWA, which is the United Nations agency for works and relief for the Palestinians. And now, the United States is the biggest contributor to UNRWA. You certainly don’t support this call for dissolving UNRWA, do you?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary is on the Hill right now. He is testifying on the budget. He is a quarter of the way through his testimony and his questions and answers with members of Congress, so I don’t want to get ahead of anything that he could be discussing on that. I hope you will understand that.

    QUESTION: Russia?

    MS NAUERT: Sir, right back there in the back.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much. Gabriel Elizondo from Al Jazeera. Just two follow-ups on the Gulf crisis situation. Number one is last week the Secretary characterized what’s going on as a blockade against Qatar. Is there any reason to think that he has changed his opinion on that, that it’s a blockade? Number one. And number two is you characterized the meeting with the Saudi foreign minister as you believe the worst is behind us, or that’s how you characterized it. Can you give more specifics on how you came to that conclusion?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t get into more on our private diplomatic conversations that took place this morning, but I will say I think both parties believe that they are looking forward to putting this past them. The focus on terrorism has remained a top priority; that has not changed. But I think both parties look forward to being able to fully get back to that so that we don’t have to talk about this ongoing issue. Okay.

    QUESTION: And the first question about --

    MS NAUERT: Conor, go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- if he still characterizes it as a --

    MS NAUERT: Conor, go --

    QUESTION: -- as a blockade?

    MS NAUERT: The Saudi foreign minister addressed that earlier this morning.

    QUESTION: No, Secretary Tillerson.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything on the Secretary on that. Sir?

    QUESTION: Just really quick on Qatar. Does the U.S. view itself as a neutral arbiter in this situation?

    MS NAUERT: I think the U.S. has been clear about calling on parties. We have talked to all of the governments involved saying that everyone can do more to fight terrorism, that everyone can do more to address some of the terror financing issues. That was made clear in Saudi Arabia. I think that is clear, again, now and we’ve not changed our position on that.

    Dave, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Just an immediate follow-up on that. Last week, the Secretary asked the Saudis and their allies to ease the blockade. Today, Mr. Jubeir said it’s not a blockade.

    MS NAUERT: He did.

    QUESTION: Is this a disagreement on terminology or is there a disagreement on the actual substance of what’s happening?

    MS NAUERT: I think the important part to keep in mind, and I know a lot of folks like to focus on the squabbles – that’s the most interesting thing in the news, but let’s keep in mind that everyone has agreed, or these parties are working toward an agreement of combatting terrorism, and that is the main focus. And let’s not get bogged down in all the details about who’s calling what when. This is trending in a positive direction and let’s stay focused on that so that we can continue to fight the war on terror.

    Last question, please.

    QUESTION: Different topic?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Back here.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything on American ambassador to Qatar? She is tweet today that she is leaving.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Is that something to do with her not on the same page with the policy here?

    MS NAUERT: Not at all. In fact, I talked with Ambassador Smith this morning. She has had a 25-year career with the State Department, which is pretty incredible for somebody to have a 25-year career anywhere nowadays. And she said to me she is not quitting; that this is a time that she is ready to make a change in her life. This is at the end of – and I’m searching for my notes here right here – this is a time that she has decided she is looking forward to moving on and doing something else. So we congratulate her on what will be her next move and look forward to hearing what that will be. Okay.

    QUESTION: Final question on Indonesia. Could you elaborate on the statement of terrorist designation of MMI? Why this timing?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, Nike, I’m going to have to get back to you on that.

    Everybody, thank you so much.

    QUESTION: Question.

    MS NAUERT: We did our best to bring you some information today. I hope this helped to clarify some things. I know you have a lot more questions. We’ll be working in the coming days to get you more answers, okay? Thank you, everyone. Have a great day.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 8, 2017

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 18:27
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 8, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • BURMA
  • UKRAINE
  • QATAR
  • IRAN
  • NORTH KOREA/REGION
  • CHINA
  • FRANCE
  • CHINA/PAKISTAN
  • IRAQ
  • POLAND
  • RUSSIA
  • IRAQ
  • SYRIA
  • UNITED KINGDOM
  • VENEZUELA
  • IRAQ
  • INDIA
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • BAHRAIN
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
  • RUSSIA
  • NORTH KOREA
  • QATAR
  • SYRIA
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:50 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. How’s everybody today? Good. Okay. Well, welcome to the State Department. Things are busy in Washington, aren’t they? All right, we’ll start with a couple things.

    First, I want to provide you with a few schedule updates related to the Secretary. Secretary Tillerson and General Mattis, Secretary Mattis, met for a regular working breakfast this morning at the State Department. Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis later joined the President at the White House in the Oval Office, and they talked about the ongoing situation on the Korean Peninsula and also in the Gulf. The President has offered Secretary Tillerson to be a mediator among the Gulf states. America’s preference, though, is for the GCC countries to arrive at a resolution of their own. The Secretary continues to be in consultation with the President and his cabinet and national security colleagues.

    The Senate has also – a different piece of news – just approved the nomination of Scott Brown to be ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. The Senate is expected to soon take up the nomination of Bill Hagerty, who the President has nominated to be the ambassador to Japan.

    Staying on personnel, I have another update to provide you, and it’s an important one and one we’re really excited about here as well at the State Department, and that regards our deputy secretary of state, the number two position in the State Department. John J. Sullivan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as deputy secretary of state on May the 24th, 2017. Prior to serving – assuming office, Mr. Sullivan was a partner at Mayer, Brown LLP and a co-chair of the law firm’s national security practice. From 2010 to 2016, he was a chairman of the U.S.-Iraq Business Dialogue, a government advisory committee on United States economic relations with Iraq.

    In addition to his decades of experience in private law practice, Mr. Sullivan has served in two prior administrations in senior positions at Justice, Defense, and also Commerce. He served until 2009 as deputy secretary of commerce following his service from 2005 to 2007 as general counsel of that department. Previously, he was appointed deputy general counsel of the Defense Department by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In the first Bush administration, Mr. Sullivan was counselor to Assistant Attorney General Michael Luttig at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

    He is a native of Boston. We are excited to have him on board. Deputy Secretary Sullivan has been here in the building hard at work since his swearing-in late last month. Secretary Tillerson will provide over a more formal swearing-in for the deputy secretary tomorrow here in the building. We’ll keep you posted on developments related to that.

    In the meantime, I’m sure that many of you are aware of the loss of a military aircraft off the coast of Burma. The United States wants to extend its deepest condolences to Burma and to the families of the victims in yesterday’s tragic crash. The aircraft was carrying more than 100 passengers, including many family members of armed forces personnel. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this profound loss.

    And with that, I will take your questions. Mr. Matt Lee, let’s start with you.

    QUESTION: Thanks. First of all, I didn’t realize that Deputy Secretary Sullivan was from Boston. Does that mean that there’s another Red Sox fan in this building?

    MS NAUERT: There is another Red Sox fan.

    QUESTION: That’s lovely.

    MS NAUERT: I thought someone would yell – (laughter) – for the Red Sox here. Nobody? No other Bostonians? Okay.

    QUESTION: I want to – I just want to open with a plea. If you know that you’re going to be running late, like significantly, like more than 10 or 15 minutes, could you all have let us know so that we’re not --

    MS NAUERT: My apologies. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Thanks. And then just another kind of – this will be extremely brief before I want to go to Qatar, but do you have any more details on what happened at the embassy in Kyiv or outside the embassy in Kyiv?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. A couple things we have to report on that. You probably are all aware of what happened in Kyiv. We can confirm that there was a security incident involving a small incendiary device shortly after 12:00 a.m. on June the 8th at the embassy compound in Kyiv in Ukraine. There was no damage to embassy property, no personnel were injured. The authorities there – we want to thank them for this – they responded quickly and appropriately.

    QUESTION: You don’t know what it was, do you? What the actual --

    MS NAUERT: At this time, we’re just going with small incendiary device.

    QUESTION: Okay. On Qatar, it’s my understanding that – well, what exactly do you mean when you say that the President has offered Secretary Tillerson to be a mediator? What kind of – has he been – my understanding is that he’s been making a bunch of calls, but is that --

    MS NAUERT: “He” being the President?

    QUESTION: No, the Secretary.

    MS NAUERT: So --

    QUESTION: So I – but I’m just curious as to – because you say that your preference is for them to work this out amongst themselves.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: So what exactly is the Secretary doing? And is the – does the President – do you know if the President’s offer to host the leaders at the White House – does that still stand, or is this offering of the Secretary his --

    MS NAUERT: So that in – that piece in particular, I’d have to refer you to the White House on, but the President did speak about this yesterday. He issued a readout of his call with the crown prince of the UAE, and in that they talked about Secretary Tillerson providing mediation, essentially.

    The Secretary is excellent at that. He is good at bringing parties together and speaking with them. I think the President provided that as a opportunity to help facilitate and bring all parties together on this matter. Whether or not that happens and they take this up – us up on that, we just don’t know, but we’re prepared to help out.

    QUESTION: Okay. And so what has he been – what, if anything, has he been doing in trying to bring them together?

    MS NAUERT: I know that the President has spoken. He’s had --

    QUESTION: No, no, no, not the President --

    MS NAUERT: -- at least three phone calls – hold on. The Secretary has been meeting not only with Secretary Mattis but also with the President on this matter. I know a series of phone calls have gone back and forth between the White House and Secretary Tillerson today talking about this very matter. I don’t want to get ahead of what ultimate conversations could potentially come out of this, but these are ongoing. This is going to be a process in which we try to work to bring these countries back together.

    QUESTION: Well, has he been in touch with any of his counterparts in the – in the Gulf?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of what the Secretary’s schedule is going to be, but he’s working closely with the President to come up with a game plan to handle this.

    QUESTION: You may have seen – you have seen that the Qatari foreign minister said today that he wouldn’t – that the emir would not be able to attend any meeting at the White House if one was arranged --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- that he needs to stay in the country. Do you have any reaction to that?

    MS NAUERT: I do not, no.

    QUESTION: All right. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Just a question about the White House statement on the terrorist attacks in Iran --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: -- that were claimed by ISIS. The State Department, obviously, issued its own statement, but do you think that the tone and the content of the White House statement was appropriate after an attack that killed 12 people?

    MS NAUERT: I think that the State Department and the White House both offered their condolences to the Iranian people. Terrorism is something that we have experienced, as we all know, here at home, that many nations have experienced; and putting out a statement that expressed our condolences is just a normal course of business. This is another example of why our country and other countries need to unite and work together to defeat terrorism.

    QUESTION: But you know what I’m referring to in terms of the additional statement that the White House put out, basically implying that Iran is a state sponsor of terror and therefore states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote, basically implying that they deserved this attack. I mean, does the State Department think that that’s an appropriate thing to say in the wake of a tragedy?

    MS NAUERT: I think the State Department and the White House – and I don’t want to speak for the White House – but that we were both expressing our concerns and our condolences to the people of Iran. I think it’s (inaudible).

    Miss. There. Hi. Tell me your name please, again?

    QUESTION: I’m Janne Pak with USA Journal Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Nice to see you.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Nice to see you too. On North Korea, what is the Secretary Tillerson’s reactions about North Koreans’ multiple missile launch yesterday?

    MS NAUERT: So we are aware of what took place. We continue to call on the DPRK to refrain from what we consider to be provocative actions and destabilizing actions in that arena that only serves to undermine the situation in the Korean Peninsula. We continue to call on them to stop those destabilerizing – destabilizing activities. We hope at some point that talks could resume, but we are nowhere near that point.

    QUESTION: Did you --

    QUESTION: Also on North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Nike.

    QUESTION: Right. On North Korea, does the increasingly frequent missile launch from North Korea make it more difficult for the resumption of talks? And then because this launch came a day after South Korea’s decision to suspend the deployment of the THAAD, was United States informed prior to their decision? In particularly, I want to know if last Thursday, when the national security council advisor of the newly elected President Moon was here, was this being discussed at all? Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that, if that was discussed. But North Korea’s actions just prove – and you brought up the Republic of Korea – that something along the lines of THAAD is something that’s important to not only protect U.S. forces, to protect our alliance, and also to protect – help to further strengthen the region.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Wait a second. On that point though, does that mean that you’re disappointed in the South Korean decision to delay the --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t want to characterize it as that, but that’s something that is incredibly important to the U.S. Government. This is a conversation that’s taken place at the highest level. We are committed to our South Korean ally. That commitment remains ironclad. We are aware, certainly, of the situation and the suspension of additional launchers, but – and we would continue to say that THAAD was an alliance decision at the time, and we continue to work closely with the ROK throughout the process.

    QUESTION: Okay. When you say that – so this is something the Secretary has been involved in?

    MS NAUERT: Those were parts of the conversations that he had today with Secretary Mattis and also at the White House.

    QUESTION: No, I’m sorry. With the South Koreans.

    MS NAUERT: That – I cannot get into anything more than that.

    QUESTION: Syria? Can I ask a question on Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Can we – do you want to stick on the region? Anybody else?

    QUESTION: Iraq.

    QUESTION: I’ve got one on China.

    QUESTION: Can we stick in the region, in China?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, let me just go to Felicia. Hi, Felicia.

    QUESTION: Hi, thanks. So Jerry Brown met with Xi Jinping about efforts to implement the Paris climate agreement. You had --

    MS NAUERT: Jerry Brown from California?

    QUESTION: Yes, Governor Jerry Brown.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: He was in China to meet with Xi Jinping about the Paris climate agreement. You had Dave Rank resign from the embassy over the President’s Paris decision. There seems to be some sort of – there seem to be efforts to kind of go around the Trump administration’s stance on the Paris agreement.

    MS NAUERT: Well, Jerry Brown is not a part of the Trump administration.

    QUESTION: No, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

    MS NAUERT: I would just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Well, do you have any reaction or comment to these efforts to --

    MS NAUERT: This is the first time – this is the first I’m hearing about it. I’ll refer you to the governor’s office for that.

    QUESTION: Sticking with the Paris accord --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- the French Government has launched a website to attract scientists to move to France from the U.S. And they’re explicitly linking this to the decision to leave the Paris accord. Does this seem like a hostile act, to try and drain your scientists away?

    MS NAUERT: Trying to recruit our scientists away to France? Would that be a hostile act? I don’t think that would be a hostile act. We like our tax dollars here. We prefer that they keep their tax dollars here. I’ll just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Nike, last one.

    QUESTION: Staying in China. Right. In China. So two Chinese language teachers were killed today while reportedly --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, they were what?

    QUESTION: Two Chinese citizens were killed by ISIS in south – in Pakistan, according to reports. First, I would like to know if the United States ever get – receive any inquiry from Chinese Government to help understand the details of this particular case. And then secondly, I understand cooperation between U.S. and China on fighting ISIS has been marginal. Given the first round of Diplomatic and Security Dialogue is going to kick off in two weeks, what is the plan for Washington to expand cooperation with China on anti-terror?

    MS NAUERT: Nike, I’m going to have to get back with you on the question of the Chinese personnel. It’s a fresh story, so we’re just looking into that right now.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Sir, back there. Sir, with the glasses. Your name is, please?

    QUESTION: Namo.

    MS NAUERT: Namo.

    QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. So in Iraqi Kurdistan, the president on Wednesday – President Barzani on Wednesday announced that Iraqi Kurds are going to hold an independence referendum on September 25th. So what is the United States reaction to this Kurdish independence move?

    MS NAUERT: The United States – and we have talked about this one before – we support a unified, stable, democratic, and a federal Iraq. We understand and appreciate the legitimate aspirations of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. We have expressed our concerns to the authorities in the Kurdistan region that holding a referendum, even a nonbinding resolution at this time, will distract from urgent priorities – and that would be the defeat of ISIS, the stabilization, the return of displaced people, managing of the region’s economic crisis, and resolving the region’s internal political disputes. We would also encourage the regional authorities to engage with the Government of Iraq on a full range of important issues between the future of relations between Baghdad and Erbil[1].

    QUESTION: So is the United --

    MS NAUERT: Our first and foremost task, we believe, as coalition partners, is to ensure the defeat of ISIS.

    QUESTION: So in other words, are you against the Kurdish independence --

    MS NAUERT: That’s as far as I’m going to go with that.

    QUESTION: Wait a second, though.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: You said “the legitimate aspirations of Iraqi Kurdistan.” So you do – so you believe that independence is a legitimate aspiration for the Kurds?

    MS NAUERT: We believe that this is an internal Iraqi matter, first and foremost. What the U.S. Government cares about – and of course we have our friends in the north, we have our friends in the Government of Iraq – but first and foremost we have to defeat ISIS. Once that is done, this is something that they can then address.

    QUESTION: Okay. But once it’s done, can – maybe you can take the question as to whether you believe that independence is a legitimate aspiration or just – for the Iraqi Kurds.

    MS NAUERT: We support a unified, stable, democratic, and a federal Iraq.

    QUESTION: Right, but that’s why – that’s why – because the aspiration is for independence.

    MS NAUERT: I understand.

    QUESTION: And if you’re saying now that it’s a legitimate aspiration, that suggests that you would support it. So --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can we go into Syria? Syria?

    MS NAUERT: One sec. Sir, I’m sorry, your name is?

    QUESTION: Sarkawt Shams from NRT. It’s – you can just call me Shams so it’s easier.

    MS NAUERT: Shams.

    QUESTION: So – yeah, the first name is complicated.

    MS NAUERT: And your question’s about Iraq?

    QUESTION: Yeah, it’s about that same issue. So a couple weeks ago, leaders of the Kurdish government – some of the leaders, they were here in Washington, and they met people in this building and other administration officials. So can you confirm this is the same message that you gave to them, or – because they are talking about that behind the scene, the tone is much smoother and the United States is more positive toward that Kurdish aspiration for independence. Or can you just confirm this is the same message that you gave to them?

    MS NAUERT: I was not in those meetings, so I can’t confirm what took place in those meetings.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Sir, in the back row. Red tie.

    QUESTION: Actually, we’re live feeding in Poland. And I have a --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Let me just go to this gentleman I called.

    QUESTION: I have a question about the first ever shipment of U.S. natural gas to Central Europe, to Poland. Is this a one-time event? Are there going to be more of those? Would the U.S. Government like to encourage this type of business with Poland? And I also wanted to ask you about the geopolitical meaning of that.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So first, some of you may have seen a statement we put out earlier today about the first shipment going from the United States to Poland of liquefied natural gas. This arrived in Poland on June the 7th. Liquefied natural gas – I’ll just call it LNG for short – we see it as supporting American jobs, lower energy prices, and helping to give the Polish people more control, a more reliable stream of gas, if you will. The Polish Government currently gets about 72 percent of its natural gas from Russia; 26 percent of that comes from Germany, and most of that German gas actually does come from Russia itself.

    Russia has disrupted – and this has been a major story in Europe – has disrupted gas deliveries over time. That has led to increased prices for folks over there. So there is a terminal in the United States that is now going through the process of freezing it, as I understand, and then liquefying it, and it goes over to Poland. So we’re glad to ship it to you. We like to be able to sell you our stuff. So we’re glad to have that. Your – we’re glad to be able to provide that for you. This is happening out of Louisiana. The company is called Cheniere Energy. I may be mispronouncing it. But that is the company that’s going to help facilitate the shipments.

    We do not have a schedule yet as to how often those shipments will take place. I think that’s dependent on your government and what the Government of Poland would like from them. But we will facilitate as much as we can.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on that?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anybody – anything else on Poland?

    QUESTION: In the region, in Russia?

    QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Just to – Under Secretary Shannon’s visit. Is there a possibility that the discussions about the compounds being returned is going to come up as one of the irritants that they’re going to discuss?

    MS NAUERT: So I don’t have any travel to announce at this time about Secretary Shannon’s travel. But as many of you know, Under Secretary Shannon met with the foreign minister of Russia in New York back in May.

    QUESTION: Deputy.

    MS NAUERT: Excuse me. Yes, you’re right. Deputy foreign minister back in May. Those discussions are ongoing. That is one of the issues, the dachas, that remains an irritant and something that they have certainly asked us to address.

    QUESTION: Heather, can we --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on.

    QUESTION: On Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: Yes, on Russia.

    QUESTION: I want to follow up on that.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On the compounds specifically.

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Your counterpart in the foreign ministry in Russia today said that there would be a, quote/unquote, “mirror response” to the seizure of those compounds if the administration did not return them. Can you respond to that threat?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I’m not going to respond to a threat being delivered by Russia. I’m also not going to respond to a hypothetical.

    QUESTION: But – so this is a hypothetical then. But if we are considering returning those dachas --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Conor.

    QUESTION: If we’re going to return them or considering returning them under this idea of a threat, is that some sort of concession? Or does the threat change the idea that we would return them?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think that would, not at all.

    QUESTION: On Iraq --

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria, please?

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much. I wanted to ask – I know it’s been stated there’s no agreement that has been reached by a senior communications officer in the State Department, but is it on the table, the idea of returning the compounds to them? And if so, what actions would be required for Russia to – has Russia made any moves along the lines of stopping harassment of U.S. diplomats or made any moves to correct what has been done as far as interference in the election that would allow those compounds to be returned?

    MS NAUERT: Well, in terms of the election, I think we’ve been clear on that, that Russia did mess around with our election. The Secretary has talked about that a fair bit, so I’m not going to go beyond what he has already said. We are working to try to rebuild trust with the Russian Government. There are areas where we can work together. We talked about this the other day. ISIS cooperation would be one of them. There are areas in which we don’t see eye-to-eye, and in those we’ll continue to uphold American values and work toward that.

    I don’t have anything to announce at this time regarding what agreements could eventually be made with regard to the dachas. Those conversations are ongoing, and I anticipate they will continue.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I – sorry, Linda, right?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, Laurie. I’m sorry, Laurie.

    QUESTION: Laurie. My sister’s Linda.

    MS NAUERT: Good to see you. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the question of the U.S. position on the Kurdish independence referendum. ISIS is going to be defeated soon in Iraq. And are you – might you be more flexible and might you approach, say, the position of Vladimir Putin, who said in December that the question of Kurdish independence was an internal matter between – in Iraq, but – and should be decided between Erbil and Baghdad, and Russia wasn’t going to be involved in that decision, that was an internal matter? Do you think that after ISIS is defeated, the United States might be more sympathetic to that position?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to speculate, but what I can tell you is what I stated for you already, and that is that the United States supports a unified, stable, democratic, and federal Iraq. And I can give you more on that later if you like.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria, please?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: Can you update us on the latest developments with Syria? On Tuesday, then again today, American fighter jets bombed pro-regime groups or parts of the Syrian army and so on. Can you update us on this? And since you are fighting the same enemy, so to speak, they are – and why – why the escalation at this time?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So you’re talking about the strikes at At Tanf, correct?

    QUESTION: At Tanf. Yes, yes, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So the Department of Defense has talked about this already. At Tanf is a training garrison where there are coalition forces right there in Syria. That was established through a mutual understanding to de-conflict our operations there to ensure that coalition forces are not endangered by other forces who are also operating in the region. It’s a dangerous and complex region, as you well know.

    The coalition is focused solely on the urgent challenge to defeat ISIS. That has not changed at all. The coalition remains ready to defend itself as pro-regime forces advance toward coalition forces at At Tanf and otherwise threaten coalition forces. So we do not see this as an escalation.

    QUESTION: So this is in response to some sort of an escalation on the Syrian part? They were – you felt that – threatened or the coalition forces were threatened by Syrian forces?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into any of those types of battlefield-type questions. That would have to be under DOD. But I just can tell you that this is a de-confliction operation, that the coalition is focused on the urgent challenge of defeating ISIS but needs to protect itself, and that’s what we consider that to be.

    QUESTION: And lastly on this point, I wonder if you would react to the increased rhetoric by Iran and, of course, the Syrian regime in response to these attacks and so on. They’re saying that – they’re warning against more attacks and more targeting of these forces by the U.S. --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m just not going to get into that.

    Okay. Conor.

    QUESTION: On that – on the --

    QUESTION: Real quick, in the UK, it’s election day.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: How closely is the Secretary following the election, given one candidate has said of his opponent that pandering to an erratic Trump administration will not deliver stability? Is there any concern about a potential Prime Minister Corbyn?

    MS NAUERT: I think we’re going to leave that for the British citizens to decide how that election will go. I think the polls close maybe 5:00 p.m. Eastern time today, so we’re just going to wait and see what happens with that.

    QUESTION: Is the Secretary watching, monitoring?

    MS NAUERT: I would imagine he is, but he has a busy day today as well, so --

    QUESTION: Venezuela, another question? Is --

    MS NAUERT: Venezuela, okay. Yes, ma’am.

    QUESTION: I’m Cindy Spang.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Cindy.

    QUESTION: Hi.

    MS NAUERT: You write for?

    QUESTION: VOA.

    MS NAUERT: VOA, okay.

    QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said, quote, “The plan of U.S. imperialism and its internal lackeys is to try to prevent the people from going to the national constituent assembly,” end quote. What is the U.S. reaction?

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to comment on what he said, but our position has been clear about the constituent assemblies, and we consider that a – basically a plan to subvert democracy. We continue to call on the Venezuelan Government to go along with what the Venezuelan Government had already agreed to, and that included upholding its constitution, and that also included holding national elections. They have stalled. They have failed to do this. We see this as a way for the government of Maduro to try to hang on to power in an extremely difficult situation down there where people are suffering. The Venezuelan people are suffering greatly. And one of the things the United States does is we continue to call upon the Government of Venezuela to release its political prisoners.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Miss, right over there in the green. Hi.

    QUESTION: Jacqueline from RT.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Jacqueline.

    QUESTION: Some photographic evidence, some of which I actually have with me today, has surfaced allegedly showing an elite Iraqi police force that was actually blacklisted in 2015 by Congress using torture. Will the U.S. Government acknowledge these tactics as war crimes?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, and I don’t know where the picture came from, so if you want to ask me something more about that, we can look at that later.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Sir. Yes.

    QUESTION: Well, these accusations are everywhere. Will – and the U.S. is continuing to work with this group? Does the U.S. not take any responsibility with the units that they’re coordinating with?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I’ve not – I’ve not seen that photograph. If you’d like to show me that photograph later, we could perhaps have a good discussion about that offline. Thank you.

    Sir.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. Goyal, Raghubir Goyal. I’m with the India Globe and Asia Today. My two questions: First of all, congratulations. You are already a famous name in the news.

    MS NAUERT: Says my mother. (Laughter.) Only my mother. Yes.

    QUESTION: Two questions, one on India and Afghanistan.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: As far as India is concerned, according to the press reports in India, India’s prime minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, will be in Washington at the end of this month. Now, a lot had been going on during his three years as prime minister of India, of course, with the previous government of President Obama.

    My question is now that – under the new administration, what are we expecting when he visits later this month compared – a lot had been going on in the past, including civil nuclear agreement and all other – economic and political and social issues, among others. So what are we expecting and where do we go as far as U.S.-India relation under the new administration?

    MS NAUERT: So sir, you are looking way ahead to the visit. We look forward to having the prime minister here in Washington later – I believe it’s later this month. So I’ll just have to get back with you as we get closer to that.

    QUESTION: And second --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- as far as Afghanistan is concerned, of course, a lot has been going on in the think tanks, including in Carnegie, and also yesterday at the Atlantic Council there was panel discussion including the newly arrive Pakistan’s ambassador. There was a heated discussion that when Afghanistan’s – panels on Afghanistan, they said that Pakistan is favoring the terrorism or supporting terrorism into Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s newly arrived ambassador rejected the issue that – he said that his country had no Haqqani Network at work, no Taliban, no al-Qaida, no terrorism; Pakistan is totally terror free, and so this is a blame against Pakistan.

    But my question that what is the future of Afghanistan if this is what the people of Afghanistan are asking, that many nations are using Afghanistan, all the people, for their political and financial benefits?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you for your question, sir. The United States sees Afghanistan in eventually a political solution to try to bring peace. A military solution would be very difficult to try to bring peace to Afghanistan. It’s been far too long that folks there have been fighting, and we continue to support the Government of Afghanistan. That’s all I have to say about that. Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Dave.

    QUESTION: Hi. Do you know whether the Kosovo-born Lavdim Muhaxheri was killed in Syria by a U.S. drone strike? His family says so. He goes under the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al Kosova. He leads a 300-strong ISIS unit in Syria.

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that. That sounds like a question that would best be directed to the Department of Defense.

    QUESTION: Fair enough.

    MS NAUERT: Anybody else?

    QUESTION: On Syria? Just – to Said’s question earlier about the pro-Assad forces that the U.S. has hit twice now this week, is Russia doing enough, because they’re aligned with those groups, to encourage them to move away from U.S. forces?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I think that’s a DOD question.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I ask you Qatar-related question and then something nearby?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: This is on Bahrain. I wanted to ask this the other day, didn’t get the chance: Since they’re involved in this whole Qatar thing and they are the hosts of the other large U.S. military base in the region, do you guys have anything to say about the closure of an opposition newspaper there, along with the banning of the last opposition political party?

    MS NAUERT: In Bahrain?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

    MS NAUERT: Let me get to that. One second.

    QUESTION: And then I want to ask you also – this is unrelated, but after that I’ll just join them together – about the new Israeli settlement announcement of 2000 new --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Let me do Bahrain first, and then we’ll get to Israel. So this is about a week and a half ago, or so I believe. I know you --

    QUESTION: With the opposition party, yeah --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- but the newspaper is relatively recent.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So I’m going to have to get back to you about the newspaper. But this seems to be – this appears to be an ongoing matter in Bahrain. The United States is deeply concerned about the decision earlier, about a week and a half ago, to dissolve the opposition party, the Wa’ad political society. So we are following that situation closely. We – we’re also concerned about – which by the way, I should mention they have 45 days to appeal that. We were concerned also in which people were killed in Diraz, in the village there in Bahrain. So we’re watching as all of this continues to develop in terms of the media website – website you said? Yeah --

    QUESTION: Yeah, and it’s – yeah, it’s also a criminalization of anything that can be seen as in – being in defense of Qatar.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. That, I – without knowing the details of that particular case, I’m hesitant to comment specifically on that. But we are concerned about the additional crackdowns on what we would consider to be opposition parties in the country, in Bahrain.

    QUESTION: Okay. Israel?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Israel, yes. Thank you. Okay. So you wanted to ask about the settlements, right?

    QUESTION: Settlements.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: The settlements? Okay. So we are aware of the announcement that the government made about 2,500 units in the West Bank. President Trump has talked about this consistently, and he has said, in his opinion, unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance the peace process. He’s been pretty clear about that. It doesn’t help the prospect for peace. That is something that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is important to this administration, and they will keep promoting that.

    QUESTION: But there is no peace process at the moment, so are you --

    MS NAUERT: At the moment, you’re right.

    QUESTION: Yeah. But --

    MS NAUERT: They remain optimistic.

    QUESTION: They do?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think so. I think so.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s news to me. But anyway, does it – are you saying that it hurts the – doesn’t help the prospects for resuming a peace process? Is it that that’s --

    MS NAUERT: Again, and this is something that I’m going to be very careful about, okay, because the President has talked about this. And the President has said, and he has said numerous times, unrestrained settlement activity does not help the prospect for peace.

    QUESTION: Prospect.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Now, a follow-up on this point. In the past, it’s been the practice in this building to issue a strong statement when such announcements are made. Are there any plans to issue a statement in the name of the department that this does not help with the process and so on?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any statements, but I’m just not sure what might come up on it.

    QUESTION: Now somewhat related, also the Israeli press is reporting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying that he’s willing to go to the talks even before Israel makes a commitment to end all settlement activities. Has there been any discussion with Abbas or with the Palestinians on this issue to restart talks even without a commitment by the Israelis to end settlements?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any diplomatic conversations about that very topic.

    QUESTION: Just a little bit of quick housekeeping.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Back to Russia. The foreign ministry said today that they see hacking attempts from the U.S. every day.

    MS NAUERT: They say what?

    QUESTION: They see hacking attempts from the U.S. every day.

    MS NAUERT: Russia said this?

    QUESTION: Yeah. And I’m just wondering if I could get a reaction.

    MS NAUERT: That does not surprise me. I think that would be some propaganda, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

    QUESTION: And a quick follow-up on the North Korea issue. You said that earlier North Korean missile launch is a provocation act. But what kind of immediate actions will the United States take?

    MS NAUERT: What kind of immediate actions will the United States take on --

    QUESTION: To the North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: On North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think our position has been clear all along. We are putting pressure on other nations around the world, not just in that region of the world but all around the world, to get them to not only fulfil sanctions, to continue to press upon sanctions, but also to get them to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.

    QUESTION: So you’re not --

    MS NAUERT: Some countries, for example, have unique leverage. China is one of them. Other countries have North Korean businesses operating in them. We ask them to ratchet up.

    These conversations are ongoing. We continue to do that. This is the beginning of what will undoubtably be a long process to get North Korea to come to the realization that its provocative actions and by continuing with its missile tests is destabilizing not just for the region; it will cut off that country long-term globally, but it’s destabilizing for the world as well. So we’ll just continue to work on that.

    QUESTION: But you have already 2356 UN sanctions, existing sanctions. But is this bring to United Security Council again?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to look ahead to what sanctions could come down the road, because we don’t comment on that. But we’re continuing to put pressure and to ask our partners around the world to put pressure on North Korea as well.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Miss.

    QUESTION: Anar Virji with Al Jazeera English. Today the Qatari foreign minister said that mediations in the --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Whose foreign minister?

    QUESTION: The Qatari foreign minister said that mediations in the Gulf crisis have stalled. Does that change the possibility that the U.S. might mediate in this dispute?

    MS NAUERT: The United States has said, and the President has made phone calls, Secretary Tillerson is very involved in this matter, as is Secretary of Defense Mr. Mattis. So they will continue to remain involved in this, and I don’t anticipate that that would change in any way.

    QUESTION: Has Secretary Tillerson spoken with his Qatari counterparts directly?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on any private diplomatic conversations at this time.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: If I have any calls to read out or anything, I will get that to you.

    Sir, in the back row.

    QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Going --

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Your name?

    QUESTION: Matthew from Orient News.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Matthew.

    QUESTION: Going back to Syria, can you comment on any updates on the operations towards Raqqa as well as the activities of the 10th Special Forces Group?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t get into any conversations about any military units. That would best be direct to – directed to the Department of Defense. But I can talk with you a little bit about Raqqa.

    So Syrian Democratic Forces continue to make progress. They first started truly advancing, more completely advancing, on Raqqa earlier this week. They continue to put pressure on ISIS. The Syrian Democratic Forces launched this on the so-called “capital” of ISIS, the – part of their “twin caliphate,” their so-called “caliphate.”

    We consider this to be a long a difficult fight. We are confident in the end that our partners on the ground will prevail. Once Raqqa is liberated – and this is an important point – it’s critical that local officials from the area will take over. They will take over responsibility for post-liberation security, and also government – governance. We continue to work intensively with our partners on the ground to prepare for this transition.

    QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that a bit?

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Dave, go ahead.

    QUESTION: If the local authorities that take charge in Raqqa afterwards choose to work with the Damascus government, is that a problem for the coalition, or is that just their decision?

    MS NAUERT: I think what happens in Syria – and they’re a long way off from that, okay. And we see this, again, as a political solution down the road, not a military solution. But one of the fundamental principles of coalition operations is that Raqqa, or any other part of Syria for that matter, once it’s liberated, should return to civilian governance that is representative, accountable to the people there.

    Okay. Sir, in the back.

    QUESTION: Jiafei Lei from Xinhua News. Going back to Palestinian and Israeli issues, this year is the 50th anniversary of 1967 War, and Mr. Trump has say pretty much things about the Middle East process. And he also visited Israel and the Palestinian territory during his first overseas trip. So is the United States working on any plan, any initiative, to solve this issue at this moment?

    MS NAUERT: To solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: We talked about this a little bit the other day. Israel is one of our closest friends and one of our closest allies. Our commitment to Israel is unshakable. The President has made Middle East peace one of his top priorities. There’s obviously a lot going on in the world, but he has identified certain people to go over there to facilitate the process. The President has spoken about this very clearly. He has continued to say Middle East peace is not going to be easy. Both sides are going to have to work together, and both sides are going to have to compromise. The United States is willing to help facilitate those conversations as they see fit, but the ultimate solution is going to have to be one that both parties can agree to and live with.

    Okay? I think that’s it for question. Hi, Josh. A last question.

    QUESTION: Sure. The administration has talked about seeing – the fact that a lot of these countries in the Middle East are now united in their views about Iran as possibly a catalyst to actually getting a resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. So do you see the fact that they now have this huge crisis that in part derives from them feeling like Qatar is too friendly to Iran as an obstacle to getting that peace process in Israel relaunched that you’ve been talking about?

    MS NAUERT: I think – sort of a multipronged effort. The countries in the region recognize that ISIS, that terrorism, is a problem. They still are in agreement that that is something that’s going to be tackled. That is something that they agreed to in the meetings in Riyadh. That has not changed. They issued the joint communique, and that is something that we don’t anticipate anybody is going to back away from.

    So while that takes place and we all continue to recognize that terrorism is something that we have to defeat – and that’s best defeated together, but we can operate and handle different parts of it – another important part of what we will be prioritizing as the United States is Middle East peace. And we’ll continue to work toward that on a separate track. Okay?

    QUESTION: To follow up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Last one.

    QUESTION: So you said that the countries recognize that they need to work together to fight ISIS, to fight terrorism, and that hasn’t changed. Have they informed the President, who’s been talking to these countries, that that is the case?

    MS NAUERT: Have they --

    QUESTION: Because this --

    MS NAUERT: -- informed the President of the United States that --

    QUESTION: Yeah, in these conversations, considering he’s the one leading these conversations. And this Qatari issue happened after that joint communique was signed and agreed upon.

    MS NAUERT: So the President – and I don’t want to say – I can’t speak for the President. I’m here at the State Department; I’m not at the White House. But I can tell you this: This was something that everyone had agreed upon at this time, and the United States will take that very seriously, that we agreed to – a lot of effort went into coming together and working through the arrangements and the agreements in Saudi Arabia, and we expect that everyone will fulfill their obligations, and understanding that terrorism is a threat that faces us all – not just the region, all of us. And I don’t see any of the countries eventually backing away from that high-level priority of defeating terrorism.

    Okay. I’ve got to go. Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:33 p.m.)

    DPB # 27

    __________________________________

    [1] on the basis of the Iraqi constitution.


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - June 6, 2017

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 18:04
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 6, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • SECRETARY
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • CHINA
  • DEPARTMENT
  • QATAR/REGION
  • SAUDI ARABIA/REGION
  • DEPARTMENT
  • CHINA
  • RUSSIA
  • QATAR/REGION
  • UNITED KINGDOM
  • UNITED NATIONS
  • QATAR/REGION
  • UNITED KINGDOM
  • SAUDI/QATAR/REGION
  • DPRK/RUSSIA
  • CHINA
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • QATAR/REGION
  • UNITED KINGDOM
  • QATAR/REGION
  • CHINA
  • DPRK/RUSSIA
  • SYRIA/ISIS/REGION
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:41 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everyone. Wow, what a crowded room we have today. Thank you so much for coming in, and welcome to the State Department. It is a true honor to be here with all of you serving at the State Department. There have been so many incredible Foreign Service officers and civil servants who have dedicated their careers to this country who have helped me to prepare for this role, so I’d like to thank all of you.

    I’d like to thank you, the press corps, for your patience and the job that you do each and every day in covering the State Department and our foreign policy. I’ve met many of you, have had a chance to talk with many of you, and I know how passionate you are about the issues as well as press coverage. You’re well-informed, and I look forward to working with you more closely every day.

    There are some new faces in the room here today, even to the old hats here – you’ll recognize some new people. Some of them have taken great personal risks to be here and to do their jobs. They’ve been forced to leave their countries, including Syria and Afghanistan, because they’ve been threatened with physical harm or worse. And that is a good reminder: They’re an inspiration for all of us about why we’re here talking about foreign policy. We see how it inspires and affects others around the world.

    As a former journalist, I pledge to work with you to get you answers in a timely fashion and advocate for greater access to information. I’ve been here a little more than a month, and many of you have graciously understood how long it takes to prepare for this role. So thanks to some of you who provided me with those – that patience.

    During this time, we’ve tried to fulfill your insatiable appetite for news with other news items of great interest. We have brought in some of our acting assistant secretaries to speak about Venezuela, to speak about North Korea, to speak about Syria, and other issues. Some of these have been on camera, as you know; others have been phone briefings. One of the phone briefings had nearly 100 reporters on that call, so thank you for your participation in that. We look forward to bringing you more, as news warrants, with those events.

    A couple things I want to get to that are happening today. The Secretary is returning to Washington, D.C. tomorrow from the annual AUSMIN meeting. This time it was held in Australia and they stopped in New Zealand. In Australia, the Secretary and Secretary Mattis met with their counterparts to talk about cooperation in the Asia Pacific and beyond, and also rolling back North Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs. They also talked about defeating ISIS and the work our forces will perform shoulder to shoulder in places like Afghanistan.

    In Afghanistan today, the United States participated in the Kabul Process for Peace and Security conference that was convened by the Afghan Government. That brings together nearly 30 international partners to hold candid conversations about methods to advance peace, security, and connectivity for Afghanistan and the region. The conference also reaffirms our shared commitment to our Afghan friends, to regional security, and the fight against terrorism and extremism. The United States was represented at that meeting by Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser for South and Central Asian Affairs at the National Security Council Lisa Curtis; also, the Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Laura Miller; and the U.S. Embassy Kabul Charge d’Affaires Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

    The fact that this meeting took place less than a week after that horrific terror attack took place in Kabul – attack, I should say – that killed 150 and injured many more shows just how resilient the people of Afghanistan are. They forged ahead in defiance of terror and they are working to promote peace. We continue to stand by our Afghan partners.

    And with that, I will take your questions.

    By the way, I’ve met many of you. I don’t know all your names. So if you would be kind enough to please give me your names and your news outlet, please.

    Matt Lee, I’ll start with you.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather, and thanks for your opening remarks.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: It’s really great to have someone back up on the podium again.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: As you know and will come to know in the weeks and months and maybe years ahead, this is a – it’s a very important and a really valuable platform in this town and around the world for you guys to get your message out, for us to dig deeper into that message so that we can explain it to the American and foreign publics, and also for foreign governments so that they can understand the policy direction. So I hope that we’ll see a lot more of you up there.

    And with that, I have two extremely brief things before we get to the major news of the day, which is obviously the birth of George Clooney’s twins. (Laughter.) But I want to --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. (Laughter.) Congratulations.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s because you were busy. You were busy preparing. I wanted to ask you, one, if this building has anything to say about the rather abrupt resignation of Mr. Rank in Beijing?

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So you’re talking about the charge d’affaires in --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: -- in Beijing, in China. And his decision was a personal decision, and if you all will give me the grace as I go through my book here, because this is a pretty meaty book. That was considered a personal decision. We know that he spoke to staff there. Give me a second. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department, and for anything more on that, I’d just have to refer you to Mr. Rank as to his decision, why he decided to --

    QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, late last night there was a statement that went out in your name about the death of the head of the UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, in which you said that “Dr. Babatunde was a tireless advocate for the health of women and girls, pressing for stronger, more affordable and accessible maternal health and reproductive health care services for millions of women in the developing world.” If that is the position of the administration and the position of this building, that Dr. Babatunde and the UNFPA have done all this good work, why are you cutting all funding for it?

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, we sent out that announcement because he passed away, and he has done a lot of good work over the years – work over the years on behalf of the United Nations in that arena, so we wanted to express our condolences to his family and thank him for the time that he has performed that work.

    In terms of the administration’s priorities, women’s health is an important matter, but the President has had to look at our budget, at the nation’s budget, and decide some of its priorities. And some of the priorities of this President remain first and foremost our national security and protecting the interests of Americans first.

    QUESTION: Right. But you still believe, then, that the UNFPA does good work. Is that correct?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I – I’m not going to characterize whether it does good work or does not do good work, but I will say that the President had to look at, as had this – has the State Department, had to look at budget priorities and make some tough decisions.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: And not all things are going to be funded the way everyone would like them to be funded in the public.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right. Now, major news of the day, which would be Qatar – surprise, I’m sure. I think a lot of us, including probably people in the Gulf, are trying to figure out what exactly the President’s tweets about this mean in terms of U.S. position as it relates to not just Qatar but also to the whole Gulf region and Iran and whether or not the Secretary’s kind of informal offer to mediate or to help reduce tensions – does that still stand?

    MS NAUERT: So one of the things that is important to us – we recognize that Qatar has made some great efforts to try to stop financing of terror groups, including prosecuting suspected financiers, freezing assets, and introducing stringent controls on its banking system there. However, let me make this clear: They have made progress, but they still have work to do. More work needs to be done.

    QUESTION: So the President’s tweets don’t – do or do not signal some kind of shift or any kind of shift in policy in the region away from them and towards, perhaps, the Saudis and the UAE?

    MS NAUERT: I think our relationship with Qatar is one that’s strong. It’s one that we continue to cooperate with Qatar and other countries in the region in the fight against terrorism. The Secretary talked about this today. He said every country in the region has their own obligations and they need to live up to terminate their support for terrorism and extremism however it manifests itself anywhere in the world.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: One – can I do a follow-up --

    MS NAUERT: Barbara.

    QUESTION: Just a few follow-up questions to that. Did you get any advance warning from the Saudis or Emiratis about this decision to cut ties to Qatar? And you’ve just said you recognize that Qatar needs to do more work in terms of stopping finances to terrorists. Would you say that the Saudis also need to do more work, or have they done everything they need to do? Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize what the Saudis have done or what the Saudis have not done. The United States is – in just general terms, continues to talk to our partners, especially our partners in the D-ISIS coalition, about things that they can do better. The Secretary talked about that very thing – all countries can find areas in which they can improve their cooperation.

    To your question about were we informed of that decision, the answer is yes, we were informed of that decision, but it was only immediately prior to that announcement being made.

    QUESTION: Heather, Qatar – welcome. Good to see you again, on the podium.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Qatar is one of the closest allies of the United States. They have – the U.S. maintains one of the largest bases – in fact, is used today in the strike in Raqqa and so on. I think U.S. airplanes took off from there. What do you want them to do? What is it exactly that you would ask them to do? If they are tamping down on, let’s say, finances already, if they are abandoning rhetoric that they have adopted in the past, what else do you want them to do to get back in the good graces of the United States and Saudi Arabia?

    MS NAUERT: Well, first I would say the United States and its coalition, we’re grateful to the Qataris for their longstanding support of our presence there in that nation. They have helped to provide us with an enduring commitment to regional security. The Department of Defense has talked about this. We have no plans to change our posture in Qatar and we would encourage all of our partners to try to work together to reduce tensions. That’s something that the Secretary spoke to as well.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, Andrea.

    QUESTION: And welcome.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: We’re really glad to have you here --

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: -- as you know. A couple of questions. On the subject of the Riyadh summit, if the President and the Secretary were in Riyadh and had no warning from the Saudis that this was about to happen, what does that say about the depth of the relationship and the transparency of the relationship? And secondly, on that subject of the Riyadh summit, a blog from a very well known former national security and CIA analyst, who’s worked closely with many administrations over decades, Bruce Riedel, suggests that of the $110 billion military package, none of it – it’s in the form of contracts, none of it has been notified to Congress, that it is basically rhetorical and not real. Can you address that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And then I follow-up question on --

    MS NAUERT: So one of the things you’re talking about is the weapon sales package --

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MS NAUERT: -- which was announced in Riyadh. The President and the Secretary attended that signing ceremony, $110 billion worth of foreign military sales, via letters of offer and acceptance for future defense capabilities under development. Now, the package of defense equipment – and I’m not an expert on defense equipment; I have to admit that. You can certainly speak to the Department of Defense for more on that – but I can say this: It’s a – in support of a long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region as they face threats in Iran. We see it as bolstering the Kingdom’s ability to contribute to counterterrorism efforts and operations around the region, which would reduce the burden on U.S. military to conduct some of those operations.

    So we see that certainly as a good thing. We want to encourage our partners and our friends in the region to do more so that we are not necessarily having to carry the heavy load all the time. That package demonstrates, in the clearest terms possible, the United States commitment to its partnership with Saudi Arabia and our Gulf partners, while also expanding opportunities for American companies in the region.

    QUESTION: That statement is not inconsistent with it being notional and prospective rather than a real, concrete deal.

    MS NAUERT: There are lots of companies involved. I can get you, certainly, a list of the companies who have been listed, and you can certainly reach out to them for details about their specific deals.

    QUESTION: And as to Riyadh having given any – I mean, the fact is we did not know about Qatar until just before the announcement.

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that we learned about it from the UAE just prior. Next question --

    QUESTION: Let me just --

    MS NAUERT: Go --

    QUESTION: Let me just follow-up the other --

    MS NAUERT: Last one.

    QUESTION: -- the other aspect I wanted to ask you --

    MS NAUERT: We have a lot of people in the room we need to get around to.

    QUESTION: -- about criticism from people on the Hill, quietly in both parties, that the nomination process is stalled here at the State Department. At the – at all levels, nominations have not gone forward. This is not a case, as has been suggested by some briefers elsewhere in this city and by some tweets, that the Democrats are holding up nominees for the State Department. Is it a deliberate decision now to wait to nominate people until after the study is completed? And is that --

    MS NAUERT: I would take issue first with the premise of your question. There are people who are moving through the pipeline. We have just seen, for --

    QUESTION: Two quick – have the nominations been sent?

    MS NAUERT: We have just seen, for example, Terry Branstad will become the next ambassador to China, and we expect that soon. There are lots of people in the pipeline. And as I’m sure you can understand, in the private sector, human resources – we can’t always --

    QUESTION: How many are in the pipeline --

    MS NAUERT: May I finish, please? We can’t always give you all of the information you want about each of the candidates. That’s something we need to keep closely held in some instances. But we can say this: The Secretary has been very pleased with the deep bench of people we have had here at the State Department. I’ve been working in this building for the past five weeks and have met many of these people, who have been fantastic ongoing representatives of this body. They have been professional, from the career civil servants to the Foreign Service officers on down.

    Now, in terms of ambassadorships and appointees, I want to address some of that, because I know a lot of you have questions about that. We have both career and non-career candidates who have been identified, and they are going through the clearance process. Now, many of you have not been through the clearance process before. I went through a smaller version of the clearance process, and it takes months. Ambassadors have to go through even more. They need their – not just their interim security clearances; they need their full security clearances. So it’s going to take these things longer. Financial vetting, they have to go through. This just takes time; that is a matter of fact.

    There are plenty of people in the pipeline for not just ambassadorships, but also – I’m going to throw out an acronym; I know you folks love acronyms – PAS, the presidential appointments with Senate confirmation. They’re also going through the extensive clearance process. It just simply takes time.

    Andrea. We’ve got to move on. Thank you.

    QUESTION: But that’s not – but just to get an answer to this, it’s not new to this administration --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think I answered that. There are lots of people in the pipeline right now, and we will expect more names coming forward.

    Nike.

    QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Quickly, just follow on David Rank. Should we expect more resignation to follow suits for the same reason, to voice opposition to the withdrawing of the Paris Agreement? And secondly, I have another question on Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m not aware of any personnel decisions at this time. Go ahead, second ask.

    QUESTION: Should we expect more to come?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I’m not aware of any personnel decisions at the time. There are 75,000 people who work here at the State Department. I don't have any more information to give you on that.

    QUESTION: On Russia, quickly, Secretary Tillerson said in New Zealand that President Trump has asked him to begin – quote, “begin a reengagement process with Russia,” end quote. Would Secretary Tillerson like to see the United States sanctions against Russia lifted to improve relations?

    MS NAUERT: One of things the Secretary talked about in New Zealand today – or perhaps it was yesterday, prior to flying back – he talked about the low level of trust between the United States and Russia and that it is at a low level. The President asked the Secretary to begin a reengagement process with Russia to first stabilize that relationship and look for areas where we can cooperate together. An example of that includes ISIS. We are going to identify areas of mutual interest where we can work together, but it’s important to note in areas where we do not see eye-to-eye with Russia we will continue to stand up for our interests and our values and the values of our partners.

    QUESTION: So --

    MS NAUERT: There was another part to your question?

    QUESTION: Does the United States – does the State Department share concerns from the Congress over allegation of Russia’s interference on the U.S. democratic process? What should the U.S. do to stop the Russia from doing that again?

    MS NAUERT: So the Secretary has talked about this himself. He’s spoken about it in various interviews. And he said this, so I can’t do any better than quote from what the Secretary said himself: “It’s been well-documented. I don't think there’s any question that Russians were playing around in our electoral process. The real impact here is that it serves, yet again, to undermine the trust between the United States and Russia.” So we have a lot of work to do.

    Michelle.

    QUESTION: Michele. Thanks, Heather. We heard the Secretary talk about the Qatar situation and then we saw a tweet from the President on it that seemed to be at least a bit at odds with that, and that’s not the first time we’ve seen that dynamic in foreign policy. How does the Secretary feel about the President’s tweeting?

    MS NAUERT: This is, again, something that the Secretary has addressed. And among the things that he has said about it is that this is serving the President pretty well. The Secretary says, “I don’t intend to advise him on how he ought to communicate. That’s up to him.” So I think we’ll let that stand for itself.

    QUESTION: And how does the Secretary feel about the way London has handled its most recent attack, in particular the mayor of London?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our British friends and allies. We have no stronger, no greater ally than the British. We certainly have experienced terrorism, as have they, in particular with two attacks in the past week or so alone. So we will continue to stand by and support the British Government as they do that, and I think that’s firm and that’s clear.

    Other question?

    QUESTION: Are the President’s tweets making the relationship more complicated?

    MS NAUERT: I don't think so. We will always be a strong ally with the British Government and with the British people.

    Nick.

    QUESTION: Heather, on Nikki Haley’s speech to the UN Human Rights Council, can you say whether the Secretary supports her threat to withdraw from that body? And also, did her office clear that speech with the State Department before she gave it?

    MS NAUERT: So Ambassador Haley in Geneva today, before the United Nations there – and one of the things that she had made clear is her sincere interest and the administration’s interest in reform at the United Nations. She was before the Human Rights Council today, and one of the things that she has said is that the Human Rights Council needs to essentially earn its name. We should put people on the Human Rights Council who belong there, who don’t just make pledges to be there, they have records that allow them to be there. She said we have to change the elections at the United Nations so that countries are forced to make the case for their membership based on those records and not on those promises.

    QUESTION: So was – did she clear that speech with the State Department before she gave it?

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware if she did or not, but the Secretary – excuse me, Ambassador Haley and Secretary Tillerson work closely together, and we work closely together with the United Nations at the U.S. mission there.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Sorry, let’s get some more wire folks in here – actually, Conor, I’ll take you and then we’ll get some more folks in.

    QUESTION: Just to go back to Qatar --

    MS NAUERT: David, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: -- does the administration believe that the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia had any effect on their decision to cut ties?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, ask me that again.

    QUESTION: Does the administration believe that the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia had any effect on their decision and the decision of others in the region to cut ties with Qatar?

    MS NAUERT: I think at the meeting in there – and we’re starting to lose sight of this, folks. The meeting there was about cooperation – cooperation to fight against extremism, to fight against terrorism, and to fight against ISIS. That still holds. One of the things that was agreed upon by all the entities there is that that is a priority and that’s one thing we can work together on.

    QUESTION: So that was the message, then, to those countries in the region who ended up cutting ties anyway?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I think there were always going to be issues that individual countries have with one another, but what they agreed to is the top-line issue of working together to fight extremism, and I don’t think that that is going to change.

    QUESTION: So just quickly on that, quickly – quickly, Heather – Heather --

    QUESTION: Qatar?

    QUESTION: On these issues.

    MS NAUERT: Let me move on. David, go ahead. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: The President said – I’m sorry, but the President said that this shows that his trip was, quote, “paying off.” What did he mean by that, then?

    MS NAUERT: I’d have to refer you to the White House on that question.

    David.

    QUESTION: Thank you. In the aftermath of the attack in London, the U.S. embassy in London tweeted support for the mayor of London. The President of the United States tweeted criticism of the mayor of London. Have your missions been given guidance on how to respond to the presidential tweets? Should they regard them as reflective of administration policy? Should they promote them and use them in their own messaging? And should they defend the President’s tweets if they are criticized by foreign nationals in the places that they are? Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Those individuals who serve in our missions around the world are considered to be professionals. They are expected to use their judgment when they put together things that go out on social media, and I don’t think that that would change. They are entitled – maybe that’s too strong of a word – but entitled to use social media. They are entitled as well to communicate with folks on the ground. That is a part of their job. We expect them to use it responsibly.

    QUESTION: But have they been given any specific guidance as regards to the President’s tweets? Do they represent administration policy from their own missions?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any communications going between the State Department and everyone there, but I can tell you that we are – we expect them to just use their judgment.

    Okay. Let’s let folks around --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Miss, I’m sorry. Remind your name.

    QUESTION: Okay. When you said – what – did they --

    QUESTION: Patty.

    MS NAUERT: Patty.

    QUESTION: Did the building have an issue with any of these – with the tweets that --

    MS NAUERT: I am not --

    QUESTION: -- were mentioned?

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of any – any issue with the tweets in particular.

    QUESTION: On Riyadh, you just said the top line was that they were working together to fight extremism, so it was a success. They’re not working together at all on anything, so how is it a success?

    MS NAUERT: I think – well, we have members of the D-ISIS coalition who have been contributing different components, if you will, to the fight against terrorism.

    QUESTION: But you just said the top line was that they came out of it united to fight extremism, so they’re not cooperating now. These countries are not cooperating.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, you’re saying they’re not cooperating now because of this rift between.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Look, this is a rift right now that has taken place. The Secretary and other countries have offered to get involved and help mend this rift. As you know, there have been issues with some of these nations before. We hope and we anticipate that they will be able to work together to work through this and understand that the top issue here is combating global terrorism, and so I’ll just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any calls on this himself?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Back there. I’m sorry, your name is?

    QUESTION: Alicia Rose with NHK Japan Broadcasting.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Alicia.

    QUESTION: Hi. The North Korean foreign ministry sent their delegation to Moscow earlier this week, and North Korea and Russia signed a document agreeing to strengthen their relationship on June 5th. What is your response? And does this undercut U.S. efforts to put pressure on North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So the question is about North Korea and --

    QUESTION: North Korea and Russia, and then I have one more on China afterwards.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Give me a moment here. Here we go. Okay. So we have seen reports about Russia apparently making up for China sanctions on North Korea. I think that’s what you’re talking about. So we are asking Russia to join us in showing North Korea that the only path to a secure, economically prosperous future is to abandon its unlawful programs that endanger international peace and security. We continue to call upon all countries around the world – not just Russia, many others – to fully implement the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and we also call on countries to use whatever bilateral leverage they have to convince the DPRK to abandon its destructive path. The U.S. has consider – continued to have many conversations with countries around the world, where you may not think have an interest in North Korea, but do and we’ve called upon them to do what they can to hold North Korea’s feet to the fire and to implement sanctions and follow through with them.

    Next question, please.

    QUESTION: Madam, one on --

    QUESTION: And I had one on --

    QUESTION: -- Manbij.

    QUESTION: --China.

    QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israel conflict?

    QUESTION: Ma’am --

    MS NAUERT: Sorry. No, we – wait, we did – hold on, we did a question already. Washington Post, right?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about China, which has rejected the U.S. request to release the labor activists.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So given how much time and attention that you have put into improving the relationship at the highest level, I was wondering what your reaction is and what’s your next step?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Bear with me, please.

    QUESTION: Don’t worry. You’re nowhere near the record time of flipping through that book. (Laughter.) Plenty of your predecessors have --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you, Matt. You’re referring to the missing human rights lawyer, is that correct? Okay. Pardon me. So we are aware that Chinese authorities formally charged the human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, with subversion of state power, who has been held in detention for six months so far.

    We consider this to be another troubling sign of China’s crackdown on lawyers and human rights activists in general, so we call on the government to immediately release and drop charges against him, and for Chinese authorities to allow him to return to his family. Secretary Tillerson talked about this over the weekend. He said the United States views the protection of human rights as a fundamental duty of all countries, and we urge the Chinese Government to respect universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all of its citizens.

    QUESTION: And the labor activists?

    MS NAUERT: The – oh, I’m sorry, the labor activists then – hold on. We have a few issues here right now in that nation. Okay. So these are the labor rights activists plus two others, so we’re talking three total. They are missing; they are presumed to be detained by the Chinese Government. We are urging China to release them immediately and otherwise afford them judicial and fair trial protections to which they are entitled. These labor activists, as a general matter, have been instrumental in helping not just American companies understand the conditions involving their supply chains – this can be essential to fulfilling companies’ own responsibilities – but also holding Chinese manufacturers responsible and accountable under Chinese labor laws.

    Okay. Next question, please.

    QUESTION: Palestinian conflict, very quick.

    QUESTION: Madam --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes, yes, yes. Said.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War and the occupation of the West Bank in Gaza. The United Nations secretary-general issued a very strong statement saying that the time has come for this occupation to end and for the Palestinians to have their state. I wonder if you have any comment on that, whether you concur with him. And if you would share with us anything that has transpired since the President made his trip to both Tel Aviv and to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

    MS NAUERT: So Middle East peace is something that’s very important to this administration. The President and the Secretary have both said they recognize that it will not be easy, that both sides will be forced to compromise. The President has made this one of his top priorities, and we are willing to work with both of those entities to try to get them to come together and make some – and to finally bring about Middle East peace.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Madam --

    QUESTION: In regards to and in the context of the President’s tweet this morning regarding Qatar, is the U.S. taking sides in that issue? Does the U.S., if it is, see that as a way for Qatar to improve its record on extremism – the severing of diplomatic and economic ties? And then briefly on a different topic, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, says – has suggested --

    MS NAUERT: Help me do one at a time, please. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. We’ll start there and then we’ll – yeah.

    MS NAUERT: We’ll build up to those three-part questions later.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: So we recognize that Qatar continues to make efforts to stop the financing of terror groups, including prosecuting suspected financiers, freezing assets, introducing stringent controls into its banking system. They have made progress in this arena, but we recognize that more work needs to be done. I’m just going to leave it at that.

    QUESTION: But is the U.S. taking sides, given the President’s tweet?

    MS NAUERT: Look, the Secretary has addressed this and eventually, guys, let’s move off this social media thing, because there are a lot of other important regions around the world that we need to talk about. Every country in this region has their own obligation and they need to live up to terminate their support for terrorism, extremism, however it manifests itself around the world.

    QUESTION: And on London --

    MS NAUERT: And the second part – second --

    QUESTION: -- Sadiq Khan has suggested he does not want the President to come to London. Do you have a comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: I’d have to refer you to the White House on that.

    Okay. Margaret.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: Heather, can you – two questions quickly. Can you explain what diplomatic outreach there has been to the Qataris, whether it was at the Secretary’s level or below him, on this issue?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been traveling. He has not returned yet. I haven’t had a chance to talk with him. I know some phone calls have been exchanged and I know that we have continued to offer our support of these nations working together to try to come to an agreement on this.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: And does --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Guys, we only have a few minutes left, so --

    QUESTION: Sorry, can I --

    QUESTION: Who did the Secretary --

    QUESTION: Yeah, that --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- can you clarify who those calls were between?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any specific calls to read out at this time, but if I get any additional information, I’ll be sure to bring that to you.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: And are we in any way supporting this call to end Qatar’s support for Muslim Brotherhood, which the U.S. doesn’t technically consider a terrorist group?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to get into that right now, additional characterizations or what kinds of conversations are going on between the State Department and some of the diplomatic counterparts.

    QUESTION: Heather, you said – in response to the previous question you said let’s move away from this social media stuff.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, we would love to, but it’s not us that’s focusing the attention on social media. It’s not us that are tweeting these things. So that’s the issue, so I think it’s --

    MS NAUERT: Understood, but we have a lot of people here.

    QUESTION: It is important to address. I get it, but --

    QUESTION: We have a lot of people here who have a lot of different questions to ask --

    QUESTION: Right, but --

    MS NAUERT: -- from important regions around the world, not just focusing --

    QUESTION: I totally understand.

    MS NAUERT: -- on social media. Okay. So let’s go to --

    QUESTION: Heather, one more?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, tell me your name again, miss.

    QUESTION: Mariko.

    MS NAUERT: Mariko, nice to see you.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Nice to see you again. I wanted to ask about the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue. I wanted to confirm if it was going to be held in June. If so, what would be the date? If you would be able to give me some details about it, and what do you expect to come out of it? Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: So this is something that the President and his counterpart talked about, holding this dialogue, when they were meeting at Mar-a-Lago not too long ago. In terms of dates and specifics for that meeting, I don’t have any information to give you at this time. I can tell you that they agreed to undertake what they considered to be an ambitious agenda and a meeting schedule to try to show progress and demonstrate meaningful results. Beyond that, I just don’t have any scheduling information to give you, but as soon as we do, I’ll certainly let you know.

    Okay. A couple more questions. Sir, red tie in the back.

    QUESTION: So you answered part of the question about the Russia and North Korea doing trade – increased trade with North Korea. The question is whether – are they in violation of UN Security Council sanctions and what should the United States do about it if they are?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, so this is some new information that’s just coming out, so we’re continuing to take a look at that. We’re just starting.

    And miss, right there. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Staying inside the region?

    QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Heather. My question is about the Raqqa operation. I heard that it started today, and I wanted to know about the rumors that we’ve heard from Russia forces, Iran, and Assad regime forces talking about them being part of it, or wanting to participate in this part of the operation. What is the United States position on that, and do they have any presence in these areas?

    MS NAUERT: I’m glad you asked about Raqqa, Matt – (laughter) –

    QUESTION: What?

    MS NAUERT: -- instead of focusing on social media.

    QUESTION: Oh, you know (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: Raqqa and Syria is incredibly important. That is a top national security priority for this administration in defeating ISIS. Raqqa, for folks around the globe who have not followed this incredibly closely, is considered to be one of two capitals for ISIS. Attacks in Europe have been plotted from Raqqa. Raqqa is a ground zero for ISIS. The attacks were plotted for Nice and also in Brussels as well.

    So the – this operation was launched today by the Syrian Democratic Forces. We expect the fight for Raqqa to be long and difficult, but we are confident in the ability of the coalition backed by the United States to be able to take out ISIS from this stronghold and eventually be able to return the city of Raqqa back to the people to which it belongs.

    QUESTION: Now --

    QUESTION: What about that Russia (inaudible) regime?

    MS NAUERT: Miss, in the back. Let me just – go ahead.

    QUESTION: Was that me?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: Nazira.

    MS NAUERT: Nazira, thank you.

    QUESTION: My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. I am a correspondent for Ariana Television from Afghanistan. Congratulation on your new position, first of all.

    MS NAUERT: Welcome.

    QUESTION: You mentioned about the Kabul Process. What do you think, what is the State Department expectation for the Kabul conference for today? Do you think that it’s going to be useful for the peace process?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, and thank you. Thirty international partners, including the United States, attended the Kabul Process on Peace and Security. This was taking place today in Kabul, Afghanistan. We welcome that conference. It’s being sponsored by President Ghani from Afghanistan and also his national unity government.

    We are hopeful – and the U.S. was representative at this meeting – that the outcome of that conference will be one that is positive. The discussion today served as a platform for the international community to support Afghan efforts to achieve security, peace, reconciliation, and economic development. That, I believe, underscores our support in having two officials from the State Department join in this Kabul Process, and we stand and continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Afghan partners. More than 8,000 U.S. troops currently serve in Afghanistan and we continue to thank them for their service to our country.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: A question from Reuters.

    QUESTION: Heather, on Syria?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Last question.

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: So first of all, I want to dispute your characterization of the media’s obsession with social media. These are presidential statements that happen to be made on Twitter and they’re important. He is the leader of the free world, some would say the most powerful person in the world. He may say these statements on Twitter, but they are presidential statements, and that’s how we are going to treat them as.

    You said earlier that Secretary Tillerson believes – I think you quoted something he said, saying that these tweets serve the President. Does he believe that they serve U.S. foreign policy or U.S. interests given that these seem to be sort of made in a very freewheeling style that don’t necessarily come out of a interagency process that ensures a lot of coordination between the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House? Does that – the contradiction that that opens U.S. officials up to, does that serve U.S. foreign policy and serve U.S. credibility around the world?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary has spoken to this, so I’ll go back to it again. He spoke to this this morning in New Zealand. The President has his own unique ways of communicating with the American people and that has served him pretty well. I don’t intend to advise him on how we ought to communicate. That is up to him.

    QUESTION: Does it serve the United States and U.S. foreign policy, though?

    MS NAUERT: I think what the – what the Secretary said was clear.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I get a question?

    MS NAUERT: Folks, we’re going to have to end here, okay?

    QUESTION: Do you have any --

    MS NAUERT: Thank you so much for coming today. I look forward to working with you again. I sure appreciate it.

    QUESTION: Is this going to be twice a week on camera? What is the plan?

    MS NAUERT: So the plan is right now we’re going to do twice a week on camera and I look forward to talking with you all otherwise, okay? We’ll see you again real soon.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

    DPB # 26


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 27, 2017

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 16:39
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 27, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT/UN/DPRK/REGION
  • UK
  • KAZAKHSTAN
  • DPRK
  • DEPARTMENT
  • DPRK
  • CHINA/DPRK
  • DEPARTMENT
  • UN/DPRK
  • CHINA/DPRK
  • DEPARTMENT
  • DPRK
  • SYRIA
  • TURKEY
  • IRAN
  • VENEZUELA
  • DEPARTMENT
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:

    1:42 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Hey, everyone. Happy Thursday.

    QUESTION: Hello, Mark.

    MR TONER: Hello. A couple things at the top, actually. First of all, tomorrow, at the UN – the Secretary’s traveling there. He’s going to chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council with foreign ministers on the denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. I’ll also just try to walk you through what we know about the Secretary’s schedule as of now. He’s going to take the opportunity to have bilateral meetings with some of his counterparts. As is always the case, the Secretary’s schedule is still evolving, but I can speak to some certainty as to the meetings that he will hold on the margins.

    Prior to the Security Council meeting in the morning, Secretary Tillerson will meet with the Republic of Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. The Secretary and his counterparts – this will be a trilateral meeting – the Secretary and his counterparts will focus on our joint response to North Korea.

    At 10:00 a.m., as I noted, he will chair the Security Council ministerial session on the D.P.R.K. The Secretary and foreign ministers will discuss strengthening international resolve and actions to counter the threats that North Korea poses to international peace and security through its nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction.

    Following the Security Council session, the Secretary will host a lunch for the foreign minister members of the Security Council and the foreign minister of the Republic of Korea.

    Now, Secretary Tillerson will meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China on the margins of the UNSC special ministerial session, and that will also be focused on addressing North Korea’s continued threat to the region and other issues of bilateral and regional importance.

    The Secretary will also discuss Chinese – Chinese, excuse me – China’s unique leverage over Kim Jong-un’s regime and ask Beijing to use their influence to convince or compel North Korea to rethink its strategic calculus. Secretary Tillerson will also note that the United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and remains open to negotiations towards that goal – while remaining prepared, of course, to defend ourselves and our allies.

    Lastly, the Secretary – well, not lastly – the Secretary will then proceed to a meeting with the U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Again, in addition to North Korea, they’ll also discuss Syria, Northern Ireland, and other regional and global issues of mutual concern.

    Secretary Tillerson will also meet with the foreign minister of Kazakhstan to discuss Kazakhstan’s growing leadership in regional and global issues as well as nonproliferation. And then later in the afternoon, the Secretary will meet with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, where they’ll discuss the importance of continued strong U.S.-UN cooperation on the full range of critical international challenges.

    So that’s just an update and gives you a sense of the schedule for the Secretary tomorrow.

    I did want to note, as an important aside, I think, to this week, which has been very focused on North Korea’s continued provocative behavior in the region and the concerns over its nuclear program, but I also want to acknowledge another North Korea focus to this week, which is North Korea Freedom Week.

    North Korea Freedom Week is an annual event held to promote the freedom, human rights, and dignity of the North Korean people. And it’s organized by the North Korea Freedom Coalition, which is a nonpartisan coalition of NGOs and religious groups, and features events in DC highlighting the work of defector-led organizations and other NGOs working to shine a light on the situation of human rights in North Korea.

    For more than 60 years, the North Korean regime’s – regime has reigned with tyranny, and its human rights record is, quite frankly, among the worst in the world. The North Korean regime denies nearly all the universal freedoms, including freedom of speech, press, religion, freedom of assembly and association, and systematically commits violations that include summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention, rape and sexual violence, forced abortions, and forced infanticide. We remain gravely concerned and deeply troubled that the North Korean regime under Kim Jung-un prioritizes the advancements of its missiles and nuclear program at the expense of the well-being of its people.

    And so to commemorate this day, the United States reaffirms our commitment to the North Korean people. We’re going to continue to press for accountability for those responsible for the ongoing gross human rights violations that have taken place there, and we’re also going to continue our efforts to increase the flow of independent information into, out of, and within this isolated state.

    So a lot at the top, but one more thing. This is, believe it or not, my last briefing as deputy spokesman. It’s with mixed feelings that I reach this moment, because I’ve loved this job. Honestly, I was just telling a group of young kids who were brought in to Take Your Child to Work Day earlier today that, to me, this was the greatest honor that I could ever hope to have as a Foreign Service officer. I came out of journalism school into this gig, and I always thought this would be one of the greatest jobs to have within the Foreign Service. And I’ve enjoyed working with all of you over the years through good times and bad times and some really tough days at the podium, but I respect fundamentally with all of my heart the work that all of you do in carrying out your really important roles in our democracy, and I want you to know that.

    I’m also very, very happy that I can pass the baton, the spokesperson baton – there is one, in fact – no – (laughter) – over to such a capable person as Heather Nauert, who is getting up to speed on all these issues but will be taking the podium and carrying on the daily press briefings and acting as the department spokesperson going forward. So anyway, just appreciate all the support that you’ve given me over the years.

    Matt, over to you.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. And before I start with my policy question, I just wanted to note the lack of children in the room today on the Take Your Work to – Take Your Kids to Work Day and recall how many years ago it was when you were sitting there with --

    MR TONER: I told that story, actually. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: -- with a bunch of kids in the audience and one of the main topics of the day being the antics or/ behavior of some Secret Service agents in Colombia and how delicately we danced around that topic.

    MR TONER: Indeed, indeed. As we’re doing right now. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: But that story also just – it brings to mind the fact that you have served in this position in PRS as spokesman on and off for many years. And I think on behalf of the press corps, I want to thank you for those years of service, particularly since January over the course of the last couple months when things have been, as they often are, in transitions, unsettled to say the least. And through it all, you’ve been incredibly professional and really just, I think, the model of the kind of career Foreign Service or Civil Service officer.

    So on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the public, the American public, thank you. (Applause.)

    MR TONER: Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate that. Thank you. (Applause.)

    QUESTION: Good luck. And I am sure you’ll enjoy not having to be --

    MR TONER: I’ll miss it in a couple weeks.

    QUESTION: -- attacked with questions for --

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    QUESTION: May I say a word, Matt?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I want to thank you especially – I’ve known you for many, many years. I mean, I’ve attended briefings all the way back to Richard Boucher. You have been really solid and professional. I never once took your accommodating me for granted or indulging me all throughout. I really appreciate it. You have always been there for us. So Godspeed and good luck.

    MR TONER: Thank you. All right, thanks. Enough of this sentimentality. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Rank sentimentality.

    MR TONER: Yeah, there you go. Rank sentimentality.

    QUESTION: So let’s go to the most unsentimental thing you can think of, North Korea.

    MR TONER: Got it.

    QUESTION: So after the briefing – (laughter) – that the secretaries and DNI – and that DNI gave yesterday to members of Congress, numerous people who were there came away not particularly impressed with the presentation and concerned that the briefers had not expressed or had put forward a new and – strategy, a coherent policy for dealing with it.

    Can you explain, maybe in more detail than you have before, how exactly this administration’s policy is different than the previous one, other than just that you’re attaching a new priority to it?

    MR TONER: Well, so you’re talking about the closed-door briefing. I mean, and starting with that, I think it’s an important point to make, is that essentially the entire government, U.S. Government, came together yesterday to talk about North Korea and the urgency of the situation there. And that speaks volumes about the focus of this new administration.

    This is – so I have to start with the fact that there’s an urgency here that there wasn’t before, and I know I’ve said that before and that’s not new, but the fact that – and Secretary Tillerson’s spoken about this – the fact that North Korea’s carrying out tests that are clearly indicating its efforts to develop a ballistic missile technology that reaches potentially the U.S. territory, that’s a game-changer.

    QUESTION: Okay. But that’s on their side.

    MR TONER: Right. I understand. I think in terms of – but I wanted to frame it by saying that there is, I think, a new focus on the threat that North Korea poses. But I also think that this administration, certainly the Secretary, are looking at ways that we can imply – or apply, rather, increased pressure, and that this is a global effort this time. That’s always been not the sense – or not the case in the past.

    So one of the things the Secretary is going to try to build through his meetings tomorrow and in New York is a sense that the global community as a whole needs to stand up to North Korea and needs to apply pressure on North Korea. Certainly, we’ve talked a lot about China’s role, significant role in that, and that’s a key aspect of this new strategy, is putting pressure on China, convincing China that it needs to do more, but this also needs to be a global effort.

    And we saw this, frankly, with respect to putting pressure on Iran to – so it would come to the table about its nuclear program, that all of the talk about sanctions or even, indeed, sanctions implemented or, rather, all the talk about sanctions in the world isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s only when those sanctions are actually implemented, pressure is applied consistently.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, that sounds, then, as though the administration is going to take an approach very similar to the one that the Obama administration took with Iran in terms of sanctions, in terms of secondary sanctions, building them up.

    MR TONER: We talked --

    QUESTION: This administration has come out and said it thinks that the result of that – those – that pressure and the negotiations that followed failed, the result being the nuclear deal. So I’m not quite sure I --

    MR TONER: Sure. It’s also --

    QUESTION: Is what this administration is proposing to do something similar to what the last one did with Iran, but this one – but this in terms of North Korea, but the confusing --

    MR TONER: Well, my comparison to Iran was simply to make the case that it took a very significant effort, and a unified effort, to put the pressure necessary, and that’s what I’m talking about with respect to North Korea, that this Secretary, this administration, wants to make this a global effort and really apply global pressure on North Korea. And we talked about the ways that that can be done, and that’s – the pressure points are economic, diplomatic, and military. And that’s going to – and they’re looking at all of those. They’re looking at implementing fully the sanctions that are in place, but also possibly new sanctions, and there are ways to approach that as well.

    QUESTION: All right. I’ll stop after this.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: So the idea of this strategy, whether or not it’s new or not I guess is arguable, but --

    MR TONER: Well --

    QUESTION: -- the idea is to bring them, to force them, to push them to come back to the negotiating table for a diplomatic resolution --

    MR TONER: Exact – look, I mean --

    QUESTION: -- and this administration is going to handle those negotiations, if and when they happen, in a way that is markedly different than the last administration handled the Iran deal negotiations? Is that the idea?

    MR TONER: Well, look, what we want to see – what we want to see with North Korea is – I mean, of course, I don’t want to – we’re not even anywhere near them coming back to the negotiating table.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: But you’re absolutely right, in the sense that we want a peaceful outcome here. What we want is a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s the goal here. There’s nothing – all the talk about regime change, all of that --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- that’s not on the table here. But --

    QUESTION: All right. I really will stop after this.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: So the Iran model is for the sanctions and not for the – not for the intended negotiations?

    MR TONER: Yeah. What my – all I’m doing is using that as a comparison of a way to apply comprehensive pressure.

    Yeah. Please.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    QUESTION: So I have a couple of --

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Lesley, and I’ll get to you in a second.

    QUESTION: Yeah, just what do you expect – what – I mean, sure, you’ve been giving the same message to China day after day, week after week. What do you expect the message tomorrow is going to be in the bilateral with Wang Yi?

    MR TONER: Well, I think that – I mean, this is – there’s not going to be a markedly different message here. We’ve been working from literally almost day one with the Chinese, making clear to them our concerns about North Korea and the fact that we need to see them do more. And we talked about this yesterday – not in the coming years, not in – we need to see concrete action taken over the course of the short term, because this threat is only getting – is only increasing. And so we’ve already had productive discussions with China about possible steps and applying pressure, and those are going to continue tomorrow. But I think – and we talked a little bit about the optics yesterday, but tomorrow is going to send a clear message to North Korea that its behavior, its actions, are only isolating it further and further from the rest of the world.

    QUESTION: Are you going to be outlining a strategy for possible next measures that the U.S. could seek from the Security Council?

    MR TONER: I think that’s always going to be a part of – yeah. I mean, yes, I would say that – I mean, I can’t predict that anything concrete will come out of tomorrow’s session, but of course they’ll be talking about possible next steps.

    QUESTION: And can I just also say – actually, I was going to start – I’m sorry to see you go.

    MR TONER: Thanks, Lesley.

    QUESTION: From Reuters, we --

    MR TONER: Very sweet. Thank you.

    QUESTION: -- we’ve always enjoyed dealing with you, and thank you for taking us seriously.

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And most importantly, we think – thought that you acted very honorably in the last few months and --

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    QUESTION: -- thank you very much.

    MR TONER: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

    QUESTION: I have one logistical thing. Since you’re the – since you got – this might be a question better asked up in New York, though.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Since you guys are the president of the Security Council, have you invited the North Korean ambassador to this meeting tomorrow?

    MR TONER: I do not know the answer to that. It’s a Security Council meeting.

    QUESTION: But normally when the Security Council meeting is about a particular country that’s not on the council --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I do not believe --

    QUESTION: -- their person is allowed to – or is invited.

    MR TONER: I do not believe that’s the case. It’s a fair question. I’ll take it.

    QUESTION: All right. Thanks.

    QUESTION: Mark. Mark.

    MR TONER: Please, Michele.

    QUESTION: The Obama administration had this exact same message to China over the last at least year and a half, after various tests and provocations. So where do you think the difference is in China not over this amount of time seeing the urgency in quite the same way as the United States? Is it just trade based? Or what do you think they’re waiting for? Are they waiting for another nuclear test? Are they waiting for some bigger provocation? Or do they think that North Korea might move toward diplomacy? Can you kind of explain --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- how the administration sees China’s view?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, what we’ve said all along in – is that China, obviously, as a neighbor of North Korea, has a unique relationship with North Korea, and frankly, has tremendous economic leverage on North Korea. That said, we have seen China reluctant to fully implement existing UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea for a variety of reasons. And I don’t necessarily want to give that analysis from the podium. That’s really for them to speak to. But obviously they’re concerned because this is a neighbor; this is a country on their border, and that can have significant impact on the – on their own security.

    That said, what I think is significant from the last administration to this administration is North Korea has upped the ante, has increased its pace of missile testing, ballistic missile testing, nuclear testing, with the clear intent of pursuing either greater reach for its nuclear weapons or more nuclear weapons. And that’s, frankly, as I said before, a game changer that we need to address and we need to address with a sense of urgency that necessarily wasn’t there six months ago. And so that’s why there has been, frankly – I don’t want to say a single-minded, but a very clear focus of this administration on addressing the threat of North Korea. And I said this week speaks to that focus, given Monday’s meeting at the White House with the Security Council, given yesterday’s hearings, and given tomorrow’s meetings with Secretary Tillerson.

    So there’s a clear focus here. I’m not saying we have all – necessarily all the pieces in place now, but we’re certainly looking to formulate a clear strategy that applies, as I said, uniform, global pressure on North Korea to address the international community’s concerns.

    Please.

    QUESTION: Is it safe to say, though, that given the way China has approached this, even though you have had some encouragement, is the word we use a lot, that they don’t see the threat being as urgent as the United States does even though it’s on their border?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think – while I’m hesitant to speak on behalf of the Chinese, I think there’s other concerns about – that internal upheaval within North Korea could impact China negatively. That said, having a rogue nation like North Korea continue to pursue nuclear weapons is having tremendous upheaval in the region, and potentially with far-reaching effects that affect the national security of the United States. So I guess our message to China is one that the time for strategic patience, for waiting North Korea out, for trying to gently nudge it back into talks has passed.

    QUESTION: Okay. Could I just ask one quick logistical question --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- and then I’ll be quiet. But I was told by a senior administration official that the White House has submitted multiple names for basically every single open position at the State Department that is at a --

    MR TONER: So personnel. Okay, sorry, we’re switching. Okay. That’s okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah, sorry.

    MR TONER: That’s okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Is that all right? Okay.

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: So they’ve submitted all of these names and multiple choices and suggestions, but that it’s the State Department that is going slowly in acting on any of those suggestions, either vetting them, or deciding, or saying yes or no. So can you tell me why that is?

    MR TONER: Well, look, I guess I would start with questioning the question, the premise of the question, and that is there’s – first of all, in every key State Department position, there are acting officials, many of them with a vast amount of experience, career diplomats who bring, as I said, tremendous professional – professionalism and professional experience to the jobs. So the idea that there are somehow empty chairs or empty desks at the State Department is just categorically false.

    With respect to personnel and filling those positions, we are at work. We’re vetting people. It’s a process. It takes time, but this Secretary has been working to fill those slots. And as I said, it is a process, and one that requires the consent and advice of the Senate. But to suggest that we’re not moving on this is simply inaccurate.

    QUESTION: Is there a reason why it seems to maybe be taking longer than the White House expected it to take?

    MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I mean, it’s always – look, it’s always – and you know this from having worked in this town. I mean, it always, with any transition, takes some time. Anyway, I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Mark.

    QUESTION: Mark, on North Korea, with this renewed sense or – sense of urgency on the issue, you said you want to see progress over the short term. What is progress? What is short-term? And how long is the United States willing to wait before it moves beyond this approach?

    MR TONER: On your last question, I’m just not going to answer that because I’m not going to give some kind of timeline as to when we may take further action or unilateral action.

    With respect to your previous questions, I mean look, ideally it would be North Korea coming forward and saying we want to deal proactively with our nuclear program, discuss denuclearization. We realize that that’s probably not in the immediate offing. What I think we’re looking in the near term is significant actions both by the global community, if I could use that term, but also significant – or specifically by China to put pressure on the regime. And we’ve talked about the different ways that can be done, but most significantly that’s economic pressure. This is not – and this isn’t --

    QUESTION: Is that months? Is this --

    MR TONER: I think we’re looking over the next – the coming months, yes. I think that’s accurate.

    QUESTION: And also just on the policy of denuclearization, it’s been consistent from the United States, but just a question of – Secretary Tillerson was asked in Korea whether that also meant the United States ruling out whether the Republic of Korea or Japan would ever, for its defensive purposes, obtain nuclear weapon capability. And he said everything is on the table. Is that still the case?

    MR TONER: Well, certainly the Secretary’s words stand, but I would also add that our goal, as I just said, is a peaceful resolution and a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And that remains our goal. How we get there is, we think, through applying consistent pressure, isolating North Korea, and forcing it to answer – come clean about its program and answer to the international community’s concerns. So we’re not there yet.

    QUESTION: I have some Turkey questions, but I guess you’ll return to that?

    MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, I’ll come back to that. Please, Nick.

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    MR TONER: North Korea or --

    QUESTION: North Korea, yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah, North Korea to follow up on something that the Secretary said in Seoul. He was asked about the possibility of negotiations, and he said they can only be achieved by denuclearizing --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- giving up their weapons of mass destruction. Today, in your remarks, you said the U.S. remains open to negotiations full stop.

    MR TONER: And by that I meant – look, I mean, we’ve always said this, and forgive me if I didn’t add that. But we’ve always said that the only way back to the table is if North Korea is willing to talk about denuclearization, significantly taking steps to denuclearize, and I think that’s what the Secretary is making clear. We’re all for negotiations, but it has to be clear; the intent has to be clear. We’re not looking for, as we’ve said previously, talk for talk’s sake.

    QUESTION: And, I mean, because the impression is that there is a shift in tone here. I mean, he was very tough in Tokyo and Seoul describing the threat --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- as imminent, and then --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- describing the route to negotiations in this way. And then yesterday’s statement was much more restrained. Your remarks today also seem more restrained. Is there a shift in tone in the U.S. position?

    MR TONER: I don’t think so. I think what’s – look, the key element to this, as I said, is that North Korea has to be willing, if it’s going to return to the negotiating table, willing to discuss steps it can take to denuclearize. We don’t want, frankly, more time-wasting talks that don’t end in any concrete steps.

    Yep.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MR TONER: In the back, Janne.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Do you have a schedule to three-party foreign minister talks?

    MR TONER: Yes, I think I had mentioned that at the top. I don’t know if you were here.

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, (inaudible).

    MR TONER: You’re talking about with South Korea and with Japan?

    QUESTION: South Korea, Japan, and --

    MR TONER: Yeah, there is going to be a trilateral tomorrow on the margins of the meetings in New York.

    QUESTION: Okay, one more on – currently, there is no diplomatic relationship between U.S. and North Korea. So you said that the United States pressure to North Korea with strongly economically and diplomatically, but the mostly economical pressure right now. What is the specifically, what diplomatic action you taking?

    MR TONER: I mean, what we’ve talked about, and I don’t want to go too far into this, but talking about working with other international organizations. And granted North Korea’s presence on the international stage is somewhat limited to begin with, but talking about steps that the international community can take to further isolate North Korea, look at its membership in international organizations – multilateral organizations – but also, for countries where there is a diplomatic presence, to look at the value of that diplomatic presence and whether North Korea merits it.

    QUESTION: Does it --

    QUESTION: Mark – Mark --

    MR TONER: Let’s go ahead – let’s --

    QUESTION: On North Korea?

    MR TONER: One more on North Korea and then I’ve got to move around, because I do have to leave.

    QUESTION: Does the United --

    MR TONER: I’ll go to you next, I promise.

    QUESTION: Very quickly, does the United States sense any departure of China’s position in terms of the negotiation modality?

    MR TONER: Sure, yeah.

    QUESTION: The reason I ask is because the proposed three-party talk and then five-party talk is actually without the participation of North Korea. Given that they do not insist the regime from Pyongyang need to be on the table, is that a departure of their position?

    MR TONER: Given that – what was your last --

    QUESTION: Given – well, it used to be that China would insist that the North Korea delegation need to be on the negotiation table for them to restart a talk, and – but now this three-party talk and five-party talk is without the attendance or participation from North Korea.

    MR TONER: No, these are – yeah, and these are mechanisms intended to --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: Again, these would not necessarily include North Korea because these are, frankly, efforts to coordinate regional approach to the problem of North Korea. So North Korea wouldn’t necessarily be – wouldn’t in any way be a part of these discussions.

    With respect to China, I think the President has spoken to the fact that he’s seen, at least in his conversations with President Xi, a more – at least a willingness to look at a more constructive approach.

    Please.

    QUESTION: Can we ask on Syria?

    QUESTION: I’m asking, do you sense there – if there is a departure of their position regarding the new negotiation mechanism?

    MR TONER: Ah. I’d have to refer you to them for that. Sorry.

    Please.

    QUESTION: I can go to Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yes. Early this morning, the Israelis struck a position close to the Damascus International Airport. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And there was apparently a drone that was shot down by the Israelis over the Golan Heights, so – and then I have a follow-up on this question.

    MR TONER: Sure. With respect to the strikes, Israeli strikes, I’d have to refer you to the Israelis on the reported strikes. As you know, Hizballah is a foreign terrorist organization whose forces have helped enable the regime – the Syrian regime – to perpetuate its brutality against the Syrian people and also to incite instability in the region. I would say that by carrying out these – its activities in Syria, Hizballah is violating its commitment to the Baabda Declaration, as well as the Lebanese disassociation policy from the Syrian conflict.

    QUESTION: But you know Hizballah is positioned in Lebanon, in south Lebanon. They struck Syria. So what is --

    MR TONER: Again, I’d have to refer you to the Israelis to speak on the --

    QUESTION: Okay. Are you concerned that this may be --

    MR TONER: -- intent of their strikes.

    QUESTION: -- exacerbating the situation, with so many people involved in conflict and war and so on? And every day brings in one more entity that --

    MR TONER: I mean, this isn’t – look, I mean, again, Israel has its own security concerns, and legitimate security concerns, so in no way, shape, or form would I suggest that this is only complicating the situation. I think they’re justified in taking actions when they see a specific security threat.

    QUESTION: Mark, are you saying that you know that whatever it was that got hit at the Damascus airport was a Hizballah target?

    MR TONER: I’m conjecturing.

    QUESTION: Conjecturing?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Because you seem to – I mean, as far as I know, the Israelis haven’t commented about this, and the Syrians --

    MR TONER: That’s why I’m referring you to them.

    QUESTION: -- Syrians haven’t said specifically if it was, so do you know that it was?

    MR TONER: No. I’m conjecturing.

    QUESTION: No? Okay.

    QUESTION: Just --

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: Could – let me do a follow-up. Also, the Russians seems to have reduced their air force capability in Syria by half. They reduced it by half. Do you have any comment on that? Is that an indication to you that the Russians may be scaling back their involvement in Syria --

    MR TONER: We’d welcome that.

    QUESTION: -- maybe scaling back their support to Assad? I know you said you --

    MR TONER: I haven’t seen – honestly, I haven’t seen the numbers or the – we’d – it’s something we’d have to look at. We’ve seen before where President Putin has said they’re scaling back and indeed they’re not.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: So it’s hard to say at this point. I don’t think we’ve got an assessment that they’re significantly scaling back. I’d have to look into it.

    QUESTION: Could this, in your view, be like a rotation of forces or not a real reduction?

    MR TONER: Again, I think we have to wait and see with respect to Russia. They’ve said things in the past about scaling back their presence in Syria, only to find out that they’re moving pieces around the chessboard and not really significantly changing their force posture.

    QUESTION: Syria. Syria.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Mark, yesterday you clearly talked about the Turkish airstrikes and that you are concerned, and then later you said that Turkey should not and cannot carry out airstrikes without proper coordination with the coalition. So it seems that they don’t do the airstrikes, but they do the ground attacks. It happened yesterday and this morning also in certain places, northern Syria.

    As a result of that, the Kurds in Syria, they are asking for a no-fly zone and the leader of the PYD, the Kurdish major political party there, Salih Muslim, he said if the United States continue to silent and not doing anything, we will halt the operation toward liberating Raqqa.

    MR TONER: All I’m going to say on that, in addition to what I’ve said over the past couple days, is we’ve made very clear to the Turkish Government at very high levels our deep concern about the actions that they took the other day. Not only were they not fully coordinated – or not coordinated within the coalition, but they put, frankly, U.S. soldiers at risk who were operating in that area, but also resulted in the deaths of, for example, Iraqi Peshmerga, who were fighting on the ground.

    We’re going to continue to press the case with Turkey going forward that all of the forces fighting ISIS in that region need to focus on the goal of fighting ISIS. And we understand Turkey’s concerns about YPG; we disagree, but we’re making very clear to them that they need to fully coordinate with us and other coalition members going forward. I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: Yeah, just one quick follow-up on that. Couple times you mentioned the – or that the Peshmerga were killed in Iraq as a result of the Turkish airstrike, but 20 YPG members were killed also in Syria.

    MR TONER: Correct, correct.

    QUESTION: But this has not been mentioned. Okay, what level --

    MR TONER: I wasn’t intentionally leaving them off. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Okay, so what – at what level you’ve talked to the Turks? At the level of the Secretary of State or – who talked to them, what level? Just embassy to embassy, what was the level of talks?

    MR TONER: Higher than that. I’m not going to get into details.

    Please.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Real quick on Turkey. Do you know if the Secretary is planning to meet with President Erdogan next month when he visits the United States or if the President will?

    MR TONER: I don’t. That’s – it has to be – I’m sorry, you said the Secretary? I apologize, I heard, “the President.”

    QUESTION: The Secretary. I mean, I know the President is probably a question for the White House, but is the Secretary planning --

    MR TONER: Yeah, yeah. I can’t – I just don’t have the details yet that far ahead.

    QUESTION: And at – does the United States plan to follow up on any concerns following the Turkish referendum earlier this month?

    MR TONER: I mean, I think that’s part of an ongoing discussion that we’re having with Turkey – part of our bilateral relationship. We’re constantly talking about these kinds of issues, especially in the wake of the coup attempt last summer, that there were – while there was justification for the Turkish Government to crack down on the potential – or the – and seek out the coup plotters, it was also a question of whether they were overreaching and that that was having an effect on or – yeah, if it was having an effect on the – Turkey’s democracy, and that’s an ongoing discussion. We’re going to continue to raise our concerns on an ongoing basis with Turkey about the quality of its democracy.

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    QUESTION: And with jailed journalists and with jailed political opponents?

    MR TONER: Yeah, all of that, yes, I agree. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Aren’t we understating what Turkey did in striking the YPG on Tuesday morning? That was an attack on the YPG headquarters of the – their command, was an assassination attempt. And they can’t possibly give the U.S. detailed information about that in advance because, of course, the U.S. is going to do something about it; either stop it or warn the YPG. So how could we expect Turkey, if that’s the intent, to inform the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, look, I’m not going to speak to Turkey’s intent, but this is an extremely complex battle space. There are multiple operators, not just Turkish and Kurdish Forces on the ground there. As I said, the lack of coordination put even U.S. soldiers at risk, so first of all, there’s that coordination piece, and lack of coordination, and lack of sufficient notification that they were going to carry out these strikes. We’ve made that clear. We understand, as I said, Turkey’s perspective on this is different from ours, but that’s not going to make us shy away from saying that these kinds of attacks and the ways and approaches to the attack were – are unacceptable if you’re going to operate within a coalition.

    QUESTION: Okay. I guess I’d try to suggest it’s more a political problem than a technical problem, but let me move on.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure. Okay. I have time for maybe one or two questions.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: To the PKK – does it have foreign support or state – is the PKK a state-supported organization? There are reports – many reports that Iran, for example, is supporting the PKK.

    MR TONER: I don’t have any information to provide on that. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Mark, on Iran, will the Secretary be discussing --

    MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. Okay. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Will the Secretary be discussing Iran at all in New York and also over the next week?

    MR TONER: I can’t rule out that it won’t come up in some of his bilaterals. I don’t think it’s going to be – clearly, it’s not going to be a focus of the UN Security Council meeting. But whether it comes up in his separate bilats – I wouldn’t rule it out.

    QUESTION: Can you say – tell us if over the next three and a half weeks, during the election campaign up to the presidential election, will the administration be changing its public posture in any way, not discussing it too much, so as not to have an impact on the elections?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, obviously this is a domestic political process within Iran. I would say that --

    QUESTION: Come on, Mark. Go out on a limb. It’s your last day. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: I got to get my bearings again. No, I would just say there is a comprehensive review, as we all know, underway now. And until that review is completed, until we have a direction, a clear direction, on where we want to go with Iran, we’re going to continue on the path that we’ve been, which is making sure that they adhere to the nuclear agreement commitments that they’ve made.

    But I think going forward, once this review is completed, you could see a change in direction. I think this administration is concerned that Iran is – as I said, its bad behavior in the region has not changed, even though we have the nuclear agreement in place. And so we need to look at ways that we can limit the influence of Iran in the region and limit the influence of its bad behavior.

    QUESTION: Mark.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Let me just get on to Venezuela. Overnight --

    MR TONER: Yes. Yes, thank you.

    QUESTION: Overnight, the foreign minister said they would – Venezuela’s going to withdraw from the OAS. The OAS has been a mechanism in which the U.S. has had influence, some influence, over the Maduro government, or at least it can say what it wants. Is this a concern? Do you believe this is – the U.S. until now – well, has always said that it doesn’t want the – Venezuela to leave the OAS. So how much of a concern is this? And do you know if that letter actually has been delivered?

    MR TONER: I don’t know about the letter’s delivery. What I can say though – and I’m speaking procedurally or from a process viewpoint – is that the foreign minister’s statement yesterday has no real practical or immediate effect, because withdrawing from the OAS I think requires up to two years in terms of process. In this case, I think it would conclude after President Maduro’s term would expire, and thus a decision could only be made final by his successor. In the meantime, Venezuela would remain a full member of the OAS and required to fulfill all of its obligations as a member-state. And that begins with, obviously, respect for democratic norms and practices.

    QUESTION: But does this move concern you? I mean, this has been one way that the region has been able to extend a message to the Maduro government.

    MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to – I guess my point is, yes, it does concern us, because we believe that the OAS as a body can have, we believe, a constructive influence on Venezuela, on Maduro, on the Venezuelan Government, in urging it to respect its own constitution and fulfill its democratic commitments to its people. That includes free elections, respect for the independence of the national assembly, and freedom of all – for all of the Venezuelan political prisoners. But that said, this is not something that’s going to happen overnight. So we still believe that influence can be applied.

    QUESTION: Do you – just for the record --

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: -- has this – has the Secretary or anyone other as a State Department official been in touch with the government of Maduro in the last – certainly since the last violence has flared?

    MR TONER: Yes, but I’m not sure at what level, so I’ll have to take that question.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    MR TONER: Guys, two more questions.

    QUESTION: So wait, wait. I just want to --

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- make sure I understand what the U.S. position on Vexit is here. Is it – are you calling on them to – are you calling on – do you want the foreign minister to rescind his comments? Would you like the government not to follow up on them with a formal Vexit letter to the OAS?

    MR TONER: You love that Vexit.

    QUESTION: I just came up with it. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: I know. You’re proud of yourself

    QUESTION: Thirty seconds ago.

    MR TONER: I guess – look, I mean, I guess the overarching point to make here is that it doesn’t change the reality. They’re still – they can’t – even – it’s going to take two years for them to walk out. That’s going to extend past Maduro’s term anyway. It’s going to be a --

    QUESTION: Right, but not beyond --

    MR TONER: -- decision for his successors to make. That said, of course we want to see them remain in the OAS.

    QUESTION: Okay. So you would like them --

    MR TONER: But only if they’re – but only if they comply to the OAS standards.

    QUESTION: So if they don’t comply to OAS standards but stay in the OAS --

    MR TONER: That’s a problem.

    QUESTION: -- then you don’t – but then you wouldn’t have an issue. It would be more like don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Is that right?

    MR TONER: I think --

    QUESTION: You only want them to stay if they’re going to do what --

    MR TONER: If they’re going to comply – yeah, exactly.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: Meet the standards.

    QUESTION: Mark, really quick.

    MR TONER: Really quickly.

    QUESTION: There’s only one question that only you can answer. My question can get answered by email today. When was your best or the worst day from that podium?

    MR TONER: Wow. (Laughter.) That is a really loaded question, actually. I’m glad no one else asked me that, but – next question. Look, there have been very difficult days here, and Matt remembers – a few others do – when I came into this job, I can remember – I mean, it was when the Arab Spring was first coming into fruition. We had an earthquake in Japan that was threatening to become a nuclear meltdown. The world was in crisis. It remains in crisis, and that’s just a reality of the world we live in today. There’s all kinds of difficult issues that we deal with.

    I think that there’s always going to be the desire for, as we say, do-overs, and I’m not going to speak to any specific issue. But I can always say that the people in this building, including the Secretary and on down, are always trying. They’re out there, engaged and trying to make the world a better place, and that’s a point of pride.

    So please, last question.

    QUESTION: Very quick on Palestine-Israel.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: The Israeli press --

    MR TONER: How fitting that I end on that. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Exactly. Yeah. The Israeli press is claiming that the President will make a visit on the 22nd of May. We don’t whether it happens or not, but as a prelude to the – such a visit, if it occurs, will the Secretary go there on a visit? Or even independent of that, would he go anytime soon or does he plan to go anytime soon to the region?

    MR TONER: It’s kind of an odd way to end my time at the podium, but I have nothing to announce on that. (Laughter.) All right, guys. Take care, man. Thank you guys so much.

    MS STEVENSON: Wait, wait. Before Mark goes – so my name is Susan Stevenson. I’m the acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Public Affairs. Some of you when we had his farewell saw me do this, but I’m going to do it again at the podium. So I’m going to give Mark a mock-up of a portrait – his official portrait – that I’m pleased to say is going to hang in the second floor corridor, because Mark Toner has been at this podium for almost five years.

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    MS STEVENSON: He will be only the second acting spokesperson to have his portrait.

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    MS STEVENSON: So thank you for everything. (Applause.)

    MR TONER: Thanks so much. I’ll turn this to the side, but thanks. Thank you, everybody, and I’m going to run out.

    QUESTION: What a long, strange trip it’s been.

    MR TONER: Take care. I was going to quote that, but it’s too easy. Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:30 p.m.)

    DPB # 25

     


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 26, 2017

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 17:54
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 26, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • NORTH KOREA/CHINA
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA
  • TURKEY/SYRIA/REGION
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • CANADA
  • VENEZUELA
  • IRAN

    TRANSCRIPT:

    1:46 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the State Department.

    QUESTION: Happy Wednesday.

    MR TONER: Happy Wednesday, indeed. Sorry, a little late.

    Just one thing to mention at the top. The Department is deeply saddened to announce the death of Charles Peacock earlier this month. Charlie Peacock, as he’s known, joined the Foreign Service in 1981, and over a 26-year career served in a range of overseas positions in Montevideo, Managua, The Hague, London, Buenos Aires, as well as domestic positions in the Bureaus of Intelligence and Research, European and Eurasian Affairs, Western Hemisphere Affairs, and the Board of Examiners.

    But he’s mostly known to many generations of Foreign Service officers from his time as the deputy director of the A-100 course – and rather, the deputy director and A-100 course coordinator at the Foreign Service Institute. And for those of you who may not be aware, A-100 is the orientation course that every new Foreign Service officer undergoes when he or she comes into the Foreign Service. This is where he mentored and had a positive impact on the careers of well over 1,500 new U.S. diplomats – a generation, if you will. And that includes our very own Mark Stroh over here.

    Colleagues around the world have been sharing messages highlighting Charlie’s many notable quotes, including his daily reminder to the young Foreign Service officers, or the new Foreign Service officers he mentored, that: “It’s another damn fine day to serve your country.” And that speaks volumes about his commitment to public service. He will be missed.

    That’s all I have. Matt.

    QUESTION: Right. So I have a couple things – I want to tie up some loose ends from yesterday.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Hopefully – and hopefully forever end them. (Laughter.) I don’t know if we will or not.

    MR TONER: Well, that’s ominous.

    QUESTION: The first is – well, they’re both --

    MR TONER: Sure, go ahead. I’m just --

    QUESTION: -- questions that I asked you yesterday.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: The first one is about – on General Flynn --

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: -- and whatever the State Department provided to the Hill about his – whether he needed Secretary Kerry’s permission to go to --

    MR TONER: Yeah. So here’s what we’ve been able to dig up on this. So this is a matter that involves a retired member of the uniformed services who’s never worked for the State Department. So we’re going to refer you to the Department of Defense for further comment as to whether – what clearances he may or may not have needed. I would only add that – and we’re not going to talk about in any great detail this specific case.

    QUESTION: Not --

    MR TONER: The only – sorry – just the only way it relates possibly to the State Department – and we’re still looking at this – is there is a law regarding employment of reserves and retired members by foreign governments, and that basically says that Congress has consented to retired members of uniform services and reservists accepting compensated civil employment from a foreign government if they obtain advance approval from both the service and the secretary of state. But we’re not going to be in a position to comment publicly on the details of this case.

    QUESTION: Well, would that have applied?

    MR TONER: Again, we’re --

    QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to understand what --

    MR TONER: We’re looking at that. I understand your question.

    QUESTION: -- Congressman Chaffetz was talking about. I mean --

    MR TONER: It’s unclear. We’re still looking at whether this applies in this instance.

    QUESTION: Well, did you guys provide any documentation or look for and were unable to find any correspondence between General Flynn or his office and this building or the secretary at the time?

    MR TONER: Again, I just don’t want to get into detail about this specific case because of privacy considerations. I can tell you we --

    QUESTION: Well, you should’ve told Congressman Chaffetz about that and maybe also the ranking member.

    MR TONER: I mean, they’re members of Congress; they can speak their minds and are freely able to do so. But --

    QUESTION: Well --

    MR TONER: All I’m saying, Matt, is --

    QUESTION: So you don’t – you can’t --

    MR TONER: I’m saying that that is possibly an applicable law to this or cases like it.

    QUESTION: Possibly. Well, did it or not?

    MR TONER: But I don’t know. We’re looking into it.

    QUESTION: Oh, okay.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, once you find out whether it did apply or does still – would still apply --

    MR TONER: We’ll let you know. We’ll --

    QUESTION: -- can you say – give an answer?

    MR TONER: We will try to confirm this.

    QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing is on the – just on the IIP, the Mar-a-Lago thing.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Were you able to find any precedent for --

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: -- previous – even --

    MR TONER: Not specifically on landmarks. Not – no. And that’s partly due to the fact that this particular Share America site’s --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- only been running – up and running for two years.

    QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. But in any other State Department platform, or did you look at – I mean, I don’t know, brochures put out USIA?

    MR TONER: I believe there was a – an article in George W. Bush’s administration about his --

    QUESTION: Crawford.

    MR TONER: -- place at Crawford. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then just the last one on that: Do you have any response to this complaint, this ethics complaint that was filed by – I don’t think you were asked about this yesterday, but it was filed yesterday – by Common Cause?

    MR TONER: I – we are aware of the letter, obviously. The article in question I just would say is – was meant to provide historical information and context relevant to the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and was not intended to endorse or promote any private enterprise. That’s what we’ve conveyed to Common Cause as well.

    QUESTION: You’ve replied to them to that effect?

    MR TONER: I believe so.

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Then I do want to get into some policy substance. Can you shed any light on what the Secretary’s role in today’s briefings, this afternoon’s briefings later on, are going to be? Presumably he’s going to be talking about the diplomatic side of things, the options and what you can do to move forward and achieve your desired result. But can you be any more specific?

    MR TONER: I don’t. What I can say is there will be a statement issued after today’s hearings, but – and I don’t want to get ahead of the – obviously, of what he and others will say during these hearings. I think – but we have talked that this has been a North Korea-intensive week, and I think what the Secretary as well as the others who are participating in these hearings will – will just attempt to frame how we’ve gotten to this point that we’re looking at this shift in our policy, that there’s an urgency here that there necessarily wasn’t a year or so ago, and basically laying out the rationale behind our increasing concern over North Korea’s behavior, and I think looking at efforts – and we talked a little bit about this, or I talked a little bit about it yesterday – efforts to apply pressure across a number of fronts – that includes diplomatic, it includes economic; it will or could include military as well – in order to force Pyongyang or convince Pyongyang to negotiate.

    QUESTION: Not force?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    MR TONER: Corrected myself.

    QUESTION: Just staying on the same line, is there any discussion in today’s meeting regarding the initial North Korea review, strategy review, that this administration set about at the beginning? We understand that the – that this review is completed and that the Secretary is going to be outlining the outcome during those meetings. Is that true, and what do you know about it?

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t have anything to announce with regard to any new, necessarily, or the end of a – of the policy review or any kind of new policy initiatives, other than the fact that, as has been clear from the very beginnings of this administration, that North Korea is a particular focus with, I think, the understanding that the status quo was unsustainable, and that’s why we’re moving beyond this strategy of strategic patience and more towards, frankly, as I said, this – looking at ways across multiple fronts that we can apply pressure on North Korea, on the regime.

    Again, I’m not going to get ahead of what he may say. I think it’s important to put this in context that he’s trying to frame how we’ve gotten to this point to members of Congress, both the Senate and the House. And again, he’ll be joined by his colleagues from the Department of Defense and DNI as well. And I think the effort here, as I said, is really trying to explain to members of Congress what this administration – or why this administration is so seized with North Korea. I think they understand that, frankly, but to really lay out the case for why there’s a sense of urgency here.

    QUESTION: Is it perhaps to – I mean, everybody is pretty clear how everyone got to this situation and how urgent it is. The question now is the way forward. And that’s why I asked about the strategy. So – and what isn’t clear is what is the way forward from here. So what does the Secretary take to New York on Friday and clarify to allies and everybody else how they meant to act and move forward?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think – so today, obviously, is an in-depth brief to Congress in an effort to answer Congress’s questions about the policy going forward. I don’t want to get ahead of that, to be perfectly frank. As I said, there will very likely be a statement issued after --

    QUESTION: By who?

    MR TONER: -- the hearings today.

    QUESTION: The White House?

    MR TONER: The White House or the State Department or some collective, because it’s obviously other international – or other federal agencies beyond the State Department. I’m not sure.

    QUESTION: So how – the way it’s – oh, I’m sorry.

    MR TONER: That’s okay. Sorry, just to get back to you very quickly. With respect to Friday, that is obviously geared towards speaking to other members of the Security Council frankly about our conviction that we need to apply greater pressure on North Korea to get it to comply to international concerns. There are a number of options, and I feel like a broken record on this, but one of them is sanctions, but there are other pressure points – isolation, diplomatic isolation being another one. But I think this is in some ways an effort to both inform – and these are conversations he’s already been having with many of his counterparts, but to inform the Security Council and to rally the Security Council around this issue.

    QUESTION: Well, does he have specific asks, or is this kind of a brainstorming session, or --

    MR TONER: I would – I mean, I don’t know if I would necessarily describe it as a brainstorming sessions, but I think he invites other countries and members --

    QUESTION: But when you say --

    MR TONER: No, no, of course. I understand. Yeah.

    QUESTION: – apply greater pressure and there a number of asks – a number of options –

    MR TONER: Well --

    QUESTION: -- sanctions is one, but diplomatic isolation would include, I suppose, closing missions around the world. I mean --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- does the Secretary have specific items that he’d like to see out of this – that he is going to address that he’d like to see going – like --

    MR TONER: So first – and we’ve talked about this before – first he wants to see every country apply or implement the already-stringent existing sanctions against North Korea. Until we get to 100 percent, then we’re not fully implementing those sanctions. And as we’ve seen in the past, sanctions can have an effect. They certainly did with respect to Iran. And then I think he’s looking at other ways, other avenues to apply that pressure. As you noted, diplomatic isolation is another way. I don’t want to get into all the different avenues, but certainly part of this will be an exchange of ideas and thoughts about the way forward and steps that might be taken.

    Please, Michele.

    QUESTION: So how much of this urgency, especially with this show of having the entire Senate at the White House and all of the people who are going to brief and all of the talk surrounding it, is meant to send a message to North Korea? And do you expect that to have any effect? If so, what effect might there be?

    MR TONER: Sure. Look, I don’t want to say this is all about optics, but there’s clearly a message coming out of this week that was bookended by the Security Council coming to the White House and then by Secretary Tillerson traveling to New York. In between, we’ve got him as well as General – or Secretary Mattis, General Dunford, and Director of National Intelligence Coats briefing Congress that there’s a clear message being sent that this is front and center on our national security radar.

    QUESTION: Can I stay on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Can you just --

    MR TONER: Go ahead, Nick. Go ahead, Nick, and I’ll get – North Korea still?

    QUESTION: Can you just – two quick ones.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: One is, I mean, how can North Korea be any more diplomatically isolated than it already is? What are you talking about specifically when you talk about diplomatic isolation?

    Also, Harry Harris today in his testimony before the House said that he’s encouraged by progress China has made in sort of assisting the U.S. toward North Korea. Can you – does the State --

    MR TONER: Sorry, who says this? I apologize.

    QUESTION: He’s --

    QUESTION: Admiral Harris.

    MR TONER: Admiral Harris?

    QUESTION: Admiral Harris.

    MR TONER: Said he’s encouraged by --

    QUESTION: By China’s – the progress China has made in working with the U.S. against North Korea. Does the State Department share that assessment still, and what kind of progress, if so, do you see China making --

    MR TONER: Sure. Look, I’ve been asked, Nick, this question a few times this week. I mean, we’ve seen some steps. We need to see more, frankly, with respect to China. But this is part of the conversation that we’ve been having with – from President Xi on down with China with respect to the fact that they apart from anyone else have probably the most influence on the regime in Pyongyang, and they need to exercise that influence.

    I’m sorry, what was your other question? I apologize.

    QUESTION: Diplomatic isolation.

    MR TONER: Oh. Look, I mean – I mean, at least alluded to it. It’s ostracizing them from international bodies that they may be members of, asking them to close down their – or countries asking them to close down their diplomatic missions.

    QUESTION: Are you specifically – I mean, these are, I mean, options, of course. But is he specifically looking now for countries to start doing this? I mean, is this something the U.S. wants to see or is this just an idea that’s being discussed?

    MR TONER: It’s – and you know this – this is an idea that’s been around for some time.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: And I think – again, I’m not going to announce that he’s going to come out and ask other countries to do it, but I do think it’s one of the options that are – is seriously being considered.

    QUESTION: But Mark --

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: The closing of missions?

    MR TONER: Yeah, isolation.

    QUESTION: Well – right.

    MR TONER: The diplomatic isolation.

    QUESTION: The thing is is that if the question is how much more isolated can North Korea be, the answer is, quite frankly, none. And if you want to – even though it does have --

    MR TONER: I mean --

    QUESTION: -- a limited number of embassies abroad --

    MR TONER: No, but – yeah.

    QUESTION: -- it’s not the United States or even, I don’t think, a UN function to demand --

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: -- that foreign countries close their embassies down. And I don’t think that you can --

    MR TONER: No. No, no, no.

    QUESTION: -- get them to kick them out of the UN.

    MR TONER: Let me be clear about that. I’m not saying that he would ever demand that, I’m just saying that this is an opportunity for Secretary Tillerson to talk with other members of the Security Council about steps that collectively the UN can do, but also individual member-states can take, to put pressure on Iran – to North Korea.

    QUESTION: Are you looking at a travel ban for U.S. officials?

    QUESTION: Yeah, but you just said – but you just raised it yourself that one idea is closing embassies.

    MR TONER: Yes, but I didn’t say we’re going to demand that. I’m sorry. What am I missing here?

    QUESTION: Well, then I’m not sure why you would it, then. You’re going to say, hey, you guys --

    MR TONER: Well --

    QUESTION: -- one way you could put pressure on them would be to close the embassy. All right, “demand” might be too strong a word, but --

    MR TONER: Well, that is – again, first off, I don’t want to get out ahead of what is going to be discussed on Friday. That is one of the options is all I was asking – is all I was saying, one of the options we’re looking at. Considering that over the overarching directive here – not directive – the overarching goal here is to apply pressure on and find ways we can apply pressure collectively – the international community – on Iran, one of those has to include --

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MR TONER: I’m so sorry. I apologize – on North Korea is to apply pressure on them, and one of those fronts would be diplomatic isolation. That’s all.

    QUESTION: But you’re not asking – I mean, are you asking them to downgrade or to sever?

    MR TONER: Again, that’s all under discussion.

    QUESTION: There’s a difference.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, are you thinking of asking this – are you trying to draft this into a --

    MR TONER: I’m not going to --

    QUESTION: -- fold this into a UN – is that one of the options, to fold some of this into a UN resolution compelling --

    MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to what may or may not come out of this session on Friday.

    QUESTION: But Mark, has --

    QUESTION: Wait. Wait.

    MR TONER: I just – I’m not going to --

    QUESTION: Is a new resolution something that you’ll be discussing?

    MR TONER: Not to my knowledge, no.

    QUESTION: Mark, has China agreed to have some sort of international monitoring or anything, because that trade (inaudible) between China and that corridor, if so long that is on, there’s nothing you can do internationally. You can block all the boats, everything. So has China agreed to open that for international monitors or anything?

    MR TONER: I’ll leave it to China to speak to that. Again, we’ve been having serious engagement, serious discussions with China about the fact that we’d like to see them do more, and that certainly includes on the economic front and trade.

    QUESTION: Mark, do you have any update on the Tony Kim --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: Nike. Yeah.

    QUESTION: The case of Tony Kim, was a visit granted? The --

    MR TONER: Oh, was the visit granted? I apologize, I didn’t hear – no, not to my understanding. He was not provided consular access.

    QUESTION: New topic.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    QUESTION: Can I --

    QUESTION: And it was (inaudible) --

    MR TONER: It’s through our protecting power, obviously, the Swedes. But no, he was not provided – they have not been provided consular access to --

    QUESTION: Can I move on, Mark?

    QUESTION: And then one --

    MR TONER: Finish – go ahead, finish, Nike.

    QUESTION: -- on North Korea. So are there renewed communications between the U.S. and China, Korea regarding the delivery of parts of the THAAD system which we know that has triggered some protests over there?

    MR TONER: Again, I’d have to direct you to China to speak to its concerns over THAAD. We’ve been consistent in explaining to them what THAAD is and what THAAD isn’t. THAAD is a defensive system and it’s being deployed, frankly, out of concern over the Republic of South Korea’s vulnerability to North Korea’s continued aggressive behavior. That’s all it is.

    QUESTION: I’m asking if there is renewed communication from the U.S. to assure China and Korea these days.

    MR TONER: I mean, I don’t want to say renewed because we’ve been constantly conveying that to China.

    QUESTION: That’s a hell of a phrase, Mark. I think you should keep it in your book.

    MR TONER: Renewed.

    QUESTION: “What THAAD is and what THAAD isn’t.” (Laughter.) Keep it. Save it.

    MR TONER: I made that up all on my own.

    QUESTION: It’s pretty good.

    QUESTION: Can I move on, Mark? Yeah, can I move on?

    MR TONER: Yeah, please. What are you – I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MR TONER: Syria?

    QUESTION: Can we just finish this quickly --

    MR TONER: I’ll get to you. Let’s finish North Korea.

    QUESTION: -- on North Korea? Not to continue to beat a dead horse but --

    MR TONER: It’s okay, beat away.

    QUESTION: -- you said that China needs to do more, but so far all we’ve heard that they have done is turn away coal shipments that they had to turn away because of UN Security Council resolutions. So have they done anything so far?

    MR TONER: Again, I don’t have a laundry list in front of me that details the steps they’ve taken. I think suffice it to say that we’ve been encouraged at least by what we’ve been hearing from Chinese officials. That said --

    QUESTION: So the rhetoric so far?

    MR TONER: Right. But that said, we want to see more concrete action, and again, recognizing that they, apart from any other country, plays – have that significant economic relationship that could have an effect.

    QUESTION: Well, what we have heard from them so far, though, is that in the first quarter trade with North Korea was up 37 percent. So isn’t this trending in the wrong direction?

    MR TONER: Again, they’ve been – these are all points that we’ve made with senior Chinese leadership. They understand our point of view. They also understand our sense of urgency here and the fact that we’re looking to them to take action. I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: Just one more.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: At what point --

    QUESTION: One more.

    QUESTION: At what point --

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish North Korea.

    QUESTION: So there is – the President has kind of given two messages: One, we’d really like China – that he’d really like China to do more --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- and that he’s counting on their cooperation; on the other, that the U.S. would kind of go it alone if not. And that presumably means that the U.S. would – and this is a message that Secretary Tillerson took with him to Beijing, is that – and that was – I don’t know if that was discussed at the White House, but secondary sanctions and sanctions on Chinese banks could be an option.

    At what point do you give China some kind of, not deadline, but at what point do you need to consider that --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- China won’t do more and you consider this go-it-alone approach?

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question. The only way I can answer that – I can’t give you a date certain on that, I can just say that we have been very clear that the period of strategic – or the policy of strategic patience is over. We’re looking for, if not immediate steps --

    QUESTION: But that would – are you saying that the period of --

    MR TONER: I would just say that we’re looking --

    QUESTION: -- patience of China is also over?

    MR TONER: No, but we’re looking for action with respect to North Korea, and that includes action on China’s part. And if they --

    QUESTION: Okay, so when you talk sanctions at the United Nations, are you also going to be talking sanctions on members that don’t fulfill their international obligations?

    MR TONER: I’m just not going to – I’m not able to speak to that right now. I just --

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MR TONER: I’m not allowed to --

    QUESTION: On China?

    QUESTION: Mark, on Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s do Syria. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Can I give you a brief one on China just because we – it’s this woman who was from --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- from Houston who was convicted of spying.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Her counselor or – I don’t think it’s her lawyer, but said that Secretary Tillerson raised his case when he was in Beijing, and that they expected some kind of resolution to it – her release – or a positive resolution in some way very soon. Do you know, is that true? One, did he raise the case? And secondly, you – do you have any comment on the conviction?

    MR TONER: What I would say is that we regularly raise Ms. Phan-Gillis’s case with Chinese officials, and including at the most senior levels. But I don’t want to get into how senior that level was, but just suffice it to say that we have raised it at very senior levels. We are – we remain concerned about her welfare. We continue to follow her case closely. We are aware that – you mentioned that a local Chinese court did sentence her on April 25th. We’re obviously concerned about her well-being and we continue to raise this case with the Chinese Government at every opportunity.

    QUESTION: Well, are you calling for her release?

    MR TONER: Well, again, now that she’s been sentenced, we’re in favor of any result that gets her home to her family.

    QUESTION: So you do want her released?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    QUESTION: Mark, on Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So regarding the French report that was released, Foreign Minister Lavrov citing Arnold Schwarzenegger, I believe, in his capacity as an anchor not a governor – or a – an actor, not a governor – said that we cannot act in accordance with the principle of “just trust me.” It seems as though Russia has not moved at all. Or is it the assessment of the State Department that Russia has moved at all since the Secretary of State traveled to Moscow in regards to Syria? Is Russia coming around to the idea of moving beyond Bashar al-Assad, and if not, at what point will the United States stop waiting for Russia to do so?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, you did see – so a couple of points to make on that. One is you saw that we did issue a readout the other day when Secretary Tillerson did speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov. In that readout, we made very clear that Secretary Tillerson, and by extension the United States, believes that there shouldn’t be a separate body or separate investigative body created, as the Russians have suggested, to look into this chemical weapons attack; that we believe that the mechanisms are already there. The OPCW and the JIM, the Joint Investigative Mechanism, are already in place and have already been doing this job of cataloging and investigating chemical weapons attacks in Syria. They are fully capable of doing that. We certainly welcome them, an investigation conducted by them into this attack. We --

    QUESTION: But it seems as though that they’re pinned on this and aren’t moving anywhere towards a political solution in Syria.

    MR TONER: Look, all I will say is that we are very certain and very clear about what took place. And we’ve been very clear about that. I’d refer you to the April 11th background briefing that I believe the White House conducted that looked at the intelligence assessment that went into our assessment that a chemical weapons attack did take place and it was carried out by the Syrian regime. That, of course, was the rationale behind our airstrikes.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Sorry, let me finish. So regardless of what Russia may or may not say about an investigation into this activity. We’re convinced – and you saw today the French conducted their own investigation, they’re convinced as well – of what took place. In the interest of greater transparency, we would welcome, as I said, these existing mechanisms within the UN to carry out a thorough investigation, because what’s also important here going forward is that there’s a measure of accountability here and that we are able to – we being the international community – are able to pin these crimes on the Syrian regime who carried them out.

    QUESTION: But on the next steps for Syria --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- it doesn’t seem that Russia’s moving along. How long is the U.S. going to wait?

    MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I just don’t know. I mean, we’re going to continue to believe, or we’re going to continue to maintain that there doesn’t need to be a separate entity created to investigate this incident. We believe that there’s already the mechanisms in place to investigate this incident.

    QUESTION: But on replacing Assad, though?

    MR TONER: Exactly.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Oh, wait, I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Replacing Assad, though?

    MR TONER: Oh, replacing Assad, well, that’s a broader question. I apologize. I misunderstood.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    MR TONER: I think – sorry, let me – I swear, Said, I’ll get to you next. I think with respect to Assad, we continue to believe that he’s not the future for Syria. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s still in place and that we need a political process to take place whereby the Syrian people can decide on the future leadership of their country. That’s been our position all along. We’re urging Russia and Iran and the other – well, Russia and Iran, who are aiding and abetting the regime, to convince the regime to renew this process, to restart the Geneva process so that we can get to that political resolution.

    QUESTION: And you haven’t seen any movement towards that?

    MR TONER: There’s been no movement, no.

    QUESTION: Mark, on the investigation --

    MR TONER: There’s some talk of an Astana meeting, but I don’t think it’s been confirmed.

    Please, Said, yes.

    QUESTION: On the investigation mechanism that is in place --

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: -- I’m a little bit confused on this because there is the current investigation mechanism that did determine there was a chemical weapon discharged, but there is a need or a call for a more investigative body to go and determine the means by which it was delivered, whether it’s from the air, by airplane, or from the ground. It could conceivably have been used by the rebel groups and so on. Could you clarify that for us? Could you – I mean, what is --

    MR TONER: So --

    QUESTION: You said that --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- you have – you pinned this on the regime, so other than communication, interception that you guys cited --

    MR TONER: Sure, and --

    QUESTION: -- what do you have?

    MR TONER: And this speaks, frankly, to the previous question a little bit. The OPCW – not just the United States, but the OPCW’s executive council rejected a Russian-Iranian proposal for a new mechanism to investigate the attack on Khan Shaykhun, and in fact, States Parties signaled their ongoing support for the impartial investigation into the attack, and that’s already underway. The fact-finding mission, the OPCW fact-finding mission, is already conducting the investigation, is already empowered to investigate chemical weapons attacks. It’s already been doing this and cataloging these, and frankly, that’s important because, as I said, we need a record – historical record that frankly holds the perpetrators accountable – in this respect, the Syrian regime.

    QUESTION: Can I move on --

    MR TONER: Your question was specifically about investigating how it was delivered?

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: I mean, look, we’re convinced – we’ve done the research, our intelligence is strong on this, we’ve briefed that on background – but we’re convinced that it was delivered by Syrian jets from that airstrip that was attacked by U.S. cruise missiles.

    QUESTION: But it is based on the interception of communications between the pilot and some scientists on the ground, right?

    MR TONER: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Is that – that’s the only evidence cited, is that there were communications intercepted by you?

    MR TONER: I’d refer you – I don’t want to recount --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: -- but I’d refer you to that April 11th background briefing.

    QUESTION: Can I move on to the Palestinian issue?

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you. I want to finish with Syria and then I’ll get back to you, Said. You know how we work.

    Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: So Mark, after you voiced deep U.S. concern against the Turkish airstrikes in Syria, Turkey has repeatedly – has reportedly launched fresh airstrikes today. I want to know if, at a senior level, the United States has conveyed a specific message to Turkey that it must stop airstrikes against the YPG.

    MR TONER: You’re talking about airstrikes that took place --

    QUESTION: In Syria.

    MR TONER: -- last night. So these were airstrikes taken against PKK along the Iraq-Turkey border in a very different area than the airstrikes that I expressed our deep concern about yesterday. So these strikes, as we understand it, are part of an ongoing series of strikes that Turkey’s conducted in this particular area in its fight against the PKK over the past few years. So again, just to be clear, there’s no geographic connection between the strikes that took place – sorry, I’m getting my – but --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: -- two days ago and the strikes that took place last night.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: So – I’m sorry, your question?

    QUESTION: Have you conveyed a specific message at the senior level to your Turkish counterparts that Turkey must stop attacking the YPG? And why are they – why do they continue to do this?

    MR TONER: We did convey that, and I expressed this yesterday in our phone briefing but I’ll say it again. I mean, there was a lack of coordination. There was insufficient notification of these impending airstrikes.

    QUESTION: Impending airstrikes or are you saying --

    MR TONER: I’m talking two days ago, please. Just I want to clarify between the strikes that took place in an area where there have been strikes taken before on direct PKK targets. And let me be very clear: We have said all along the PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. We support Turkey’s efforts to protect its borders from PKK terrorism. Now, going back to the attacks that took place two days ago in a different part, and that did actually hit members of the Syrian Democratic Forces as well as other forces and Kurdish Peshmerga, who are fighting against ISIS – we did express our serious concern about the lack of coordination over those airstrikes, and that was conveyed to the senior leadership of Turkey.

    QUESTION: Did they --

    QUESTION: Just one more – one more question. One more question, Mark. Just one more. Sorry, one more.

    QUESTION: -- ignore your warning and went ahead and did it anyway? I mean, from what we understand from the military, they flat-out said “don’t do it” and then the Turks went ahead and did it anyway.

    MR TONER: Well --

    QUESTION: Did they say why?

    MR TONER: Again, I’ll leave it to them to explain or justify why they took the actions they took.

    QUESTION: Well, no, no, I --

    MR TONER: I mean – yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m not asking you to justify it, but I just want to --

    MR TONER: Did – you said did they explain to us?

    QUESTION: Yeah. I’m not even asking you what the explanation is. Or did they just ignore you again? I mean, did they say --

    MR TONER: Honestly, I --

    QUESTION: -- “thanks for the warning but we’re not – we’re going to do it anyway”?

    MR TONER: Again, what was particularly alarming, and I know Colonel Dorrian from DOD spoke about this as well, was just the lack of coordination, not even among the United States and Turkey, but within the coalition itself, of which Turkey is a member, and the lack of notification. But --

    QUESTION: Less than an hour.

    MR TONER: Less than an hour.

    QUESTION: I heard 52 minutes. But when they called 52 minutes before doing this and you guys said “no, don’t do it,” did they say, “We’re going to go ahead and do this and you guys have 52 – or, you know, you guys have X amount of time”?

    MR TONER: About 50 minutes at that point. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Depending on how much they protested.

    MR TONER: I don’t have details of that conversation.

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Sorry. I mean, can you really say that the Turkish-U.S. goals in Syria are mutually exclusive now? Because the United States obviously wants the defeat of ISIS; Turkey wants to defeat the very group that the U.S. depends on most to achieve its goal, which is the destruction of ISIS.

    MR TONER: No, I won’t, and I wouldn’t, and here’s why: Because Turkey also recognizes that ISIS is a very real and a very credible threat, and ISIS has – frankly, Turkey, rather, has suffered a lot at the hands of ISIS terrorism – continued terrorist attacks within its own borders; a flow of terrorists over its borders; as well as an influx of refugees that Turkey has made extraordinary efforts to accommodate.

    Clearly, though, there is a difference of opinion between the U.S. and Turkey over those partners who are on the ground fighting ISIS. We believe that among the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS effectively on the ground, those forces that are made up of Syrian Kurds, are not related to the PKK. We recognize, obviously, because we recognize that the PKK is a foreign terrorist organization, we recognize Turkey’s concerns about the threat of PKK infiltration. This is an ongoing conversation we’re having. This is a complex battlefield space. All of us in this room have – know that from having followed this issue over the past several years, but that’s not any reason to say we’re walking away or that our goals are mutually exclusive. What we’re asking Turkey to do, as well as all members of the coalition, including those entities on the ground that we’re supporting, is to focus on the mission and the task at hand, and that is destroying ISIS.

    Please.

    QUESTION: Mark, you said that you recognize --

    MR TONER: I’m going to move away from Syria after this last question on Syria, and then I’m going to get to you.

    QUESTION: You said you recognize PKK as a terrorist organization. Yesterday, a number of U.S. generals were in the place where Turkey bombed – striked a couple of days ago and they were welcomed by the PKK leaders and PKK flags were on the scene, and it was filmed and it was shared, and some of the pictures were shared by DOD as well. Don’t you think there is a conflict on that?

    MR TONER: I haven’t seen those pictures, but I would strongly call into question, with all due respect, that senior military leaders of the U.S. were somehow glad-handing or shaking hands with PKK leaders. As I said, the PKK is a recognized foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

    Said.

    QUESTION: And --

    QUESTION: Can I move --

    MR TONER: Said.

    QUESTION: -- to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR TONER: Yes, of course.

    QUESTION: Yeah, a couple questions on the delegation in town. Has there been any meeting between them and any State Department official?

    MR TONER: So, as I think I mentioned yesterday, there are some meetings taking place at the White House, and there is --

    QUESTION: I understand.

    MR TONER: There is – sorry, there is State – let me finish. There is State Department participation in those. I actually went back and confirmed that. So the State Department is obviously participating.

    QUESTION: Can you tell us at what level it was? Was it Mr. Ratney or was it Stuart Jones or --

    MR TONER: I believe it was Mr. Ratney, yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay, it was Mr. Ratney. Okay. I just want to move on. There was also an announcement on the increase of aid to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. I just want to ask, the mechanism, is this going – this increase in aid going to go directly to the PA and directly to Gaza or through organizations?

    MR TONER: I don’t have any details to share on – with respect to the Fiscal Year 2018 budget in general, but certainly with respect to the West Bank and Gaza. And no --

    QUESTION: And --

    MR TONER: Just for the record, no U.S. assistance ever goes directly to the Palestinian Authority.

    QUESTION: Okay, good. So that’s the plan, I wanted to clarify.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Okay, on a couple of other issues --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- Bisnow said that there was Israelis building a new settlement east of Ramallah and it’s on Palestinian land outside the wall --

    MR TONER: Right, we’re aware of those reports.

    QUESTION: Right, I mean --

    MR TONER: Look, President Trump was very clear. He’s both publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements. He said while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment of peace, it’s that further unrestrained settlement activity doesn’t help advance peace.

    QUESTION: And --

    MR TONER: And it’s an important distinction – let me finish. And so he’s made that clear to Israeli – or we’ve made that clear to the Israeli Government. They understand our concerns about this.

    QUESTION: Are they more inclined today, you think, to listen to you versus past administration?

    MR TONER: Are they more inclined to --

    QUESTION: Are they more – is – are the Israelis more inclined to sort of heed your advice to them to end settlement activity, especially with some sort of process ongoing?

    MR TONER: I would just say that we’ve had good preliminary talks with both the Israelis and, obviously, the Palestinians as well, more recently, about steps that can be taken, concrete steps to create a climate for a peace process or peace negotiations to begin again. I’m not going to get ahead of those, but they’re aware of our concerns that increased settlement activity could be an impediment.

    QUESTION: And my last question, I promise, on this one.

    MR TONER: Or it could be – that it doesn’t help advance peace, sorry.

    QUESTION: Yeah. The Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu --

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: -- canceled a meeting with the German foreign minister because he met with B’Tselem, a human rights group, and Breaking the Silence, which is formed of former Israeli soldiers that basically act like whistleblowers on what’s going on.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that? Is that – how do you view this kind of practice?

    MR TONER: I don’t think it’s necessarily for us to speak to who the prime minister of Israel decides to meet with. He’s free to meet with whomever he wishes. More broadly about this group, I think we would regard it as important that any functioning civil society has these types of groups and the diverse viewpoints. That’s a vital part of any functioning democracy. But I’m not going to speak to his decision.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: On trade?

    QUESTION: Can I --

    QUESTION: Can I – can I have one on --

    MR TONER: Yeah, a couple more questions very quickly and then I – yeah.

    QUESTION: -- on the Israeli issue? The waiver on moving the embassy that the – President Obama signed expires on June 1st. I’m wondering if there’s any plans for a new waiver or what is – after the President made comments that he’s going to move the embassy --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- where does that stand?

    MR TONER: We’re aware of that deadline. I don’t have anything to announce or anything to --

    QUESTION: And where is Ambassador Friedman living out of right now?

    MR TONER: Good question. I’ll try to find out.

    QUESTION: Can you – living and working.

    QUESTION: His apartment in New York, I think.

    MR TONER: I think that’s right – I mean, I think that’s correct, but I’ll double check.

    QUESTION: A beautiful house in (inaudible).

    QUESTION: Mark, can we change the subject, please?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I promised that I’d take him, and I’ll get to you, Lesley. And then this has to be my last question. I’m sorry, guys.

    QUESTION: So the President has spoken numerous times about the unfair – what he calls the unfair trade policies of China and Mexico. But now we’re seeing new tariffs against Canada. What’s the logic behind that? What’s going on here?

    MR TONER: Well, again, this is a complex issue. You’re talking about the --

    QUESTION: Soft lumber?

    MR TONER: Soft lumber, yes, exactly. Softwood lumber, sorry. And this is really an issue for the Department of Commerce, but look, U.S. countervailing law – or, rather, countervailing duty law provides a mechanism for U.S. businesses to – and workers to seek relief from any injury caused by the market distorting effects of subsidies provided by foreign governments to producers of imports into the United States. So that’s what’s at stake here. I know that President Trump spoke with Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday on this very topic or this very subject. His views are very clear on this. We view it as an unfair condition and we’re taking steps to address it.

    QUESTION: Well, we only have two neighbors, right? We have Canada, Mexico.

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Mexico is already not too fond of Trump, so I’m concerned. Is this in our interest as a country to have – I mean, we are hearing Canadian leaders talk about bullying from the United States.

    MR TONER: Look, Canada is a close ally, a neighbor, a partner. I could have disagreements with my neighbors. Anyone can. That doesn’t mean that it undermines the relationship. Our relationship with Canada is rock-solid and will continue to be rock-solid, even as we discuss and resolve these kinds of issues.

    Lesley, yeah.

    QUESTION: Mark, Iran, please?

    QUESTION: I think – hang on, because I have question on Josh Holt --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- the American that was – he’s in jail in Venezuela. There’s reports that he’s got issues with his health. Do you have any update on that?

    MR TONER: Yes, actually. Thanks for asking. So this week – I believe it was yesterday – State Department officials did meet with the mother of Joshua Holt. We understand that she’s also having meetings today, or had meetings with members of Congress as well as other U.S. Government officials. We obviously share her concern for her son, who is a U.S. citizen who has now been detained in Venezuela for some – on questionable charges for some 300 days. And through formal discussions, dozens of diplomatic notes, public statements, we’ve repeatedly raised concerns about his health, the conditions of his detention, and his treatment with Venezuelan authorities. We again call on the Venezuelan Government to immediately release Joshua Holt on humanitarian grounds.

    QUESTION: When was the last time that the State Department raised this issue with the Venezuelans?

    MR TONER: We most recently visited – sorry, just looking – with Mr. Holt on March 10th. I would have to find the exact date that we last raised this, but it’s on a continuous basis.

    QUESTION: And what was his condition like?

    MR TONER: I believe it was – again, we’re concerned about his health, but I think he was in okay shape at that point.

    QUESTION: Well, March 10th is more than a month ago, though.

    MR TONER: I agree.

    QUESTION: Did you have some indication that his health has deteriorated in the 37 – 40 – my math is horrible.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: How many days between then? (Laughter.) In the time between March 10th and today.

    MR TONER: Again, I’ll leave it at this. I’ll say we’re very concerned about his health. I can’t speak to whether it’s deteriorated over the past 37 days. It’s been an ongoing concern of ours. We’ve raised this concern directly with the ministry of foreign affairs and requested his release on humanitarian grounds.

    I’m sorry, guys. I do have to --

    QUESTION: Can I just – I have one more. Thank you.

    MR TONER: Elise, go ahead.

    QUESTION: There was a story yesterday about Secretary Tillerson’s statement on Iran and letter to the Speaker about the Iran deal.

    MR TONER: Oh, yeah.

    QUESTION: And it insinuated that the White House had to intervene to make the letter and Secretary Tillerson’s statement tough enough – tougher. Could you --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- clear up any --

    MR TONER: Sure. And actually, thanks for raising the question. A few points to make on this. So, as is always the case, State Department’s submission to Congress was developed in consultations with other agencies, including the NSC. Suffice it to say, there is no difference of views between the State Department and the White House. Secretary Tillerson has met with President and spoken with President Trump on numerous occasions about Iran and about their shared concerns over its continued bad behavior in the region and the fact that it’s not addressed adequately by the JCPOA, and that’s one of the reasons why they’ve ordered this review of our – comprehensive review of our Iran policy.

    And just one other thing about the allegation that two senior State Department members or personnel somehow drafted this letter without input from the NSC or others is just patently false. There’s always interagency discussion and review of any correspondence that we share with Congress, and this is, frankly, how the process always works. I’m not going to get into discussing those internal deliberations, but that’s part of the interagency process.

    QUESTION: Well, it might not be true that they had the final say on the letter, but they did draft the – I mean, that’s pretty pro forma, right, that a State Department – something that the Secretary is going to sign, a certification, that the State Department would draft it. I don’t see what the --

    MR TONER: But the insinuation in the letter was that there was – or the insinuation in the article was that – or the implication. How about that?

    QUESTION: Was that the State Department drafted a weak letter.

    MR TONER: That the State Department, yes, was somehow seeking – career personnel were seeking to undermine or were somehow at odds with the administration, and that categorically is false.

    QUESTION: But Mark, was there pressure from the President on the Secretary to make the statement the day after to clarify what it meant?

    MR TONER: Again, as part of the deliberations that led up to this letter, there was a shared concern and discussion over the fact that we needed to call attention not just to whether Iran was complying with the letter of the law with respect to the agreement, but the fact that we continue to have concerns outside of that agreement regarding Iran’s dangerous behavior in the region and that we need to look at ways to address that.

    Thanks, guys. Yeah, thanks.

    QUESTION: Mark, anything you --

    MR TONER: I got to go, guys. Sorry.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 24, 2017

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 17:24
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 24, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SECRETARY TRAVEL
  • DEPARTMENT
  • DPRK/CHINA/UNITED NATIONS
  • PALESTINIANS/ISRAEL
  • IRAN
  • SYRIA
  • VISA ISSUES
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • AFGHANISTAN/RUSSIA
  • VISA ISSUES
  • IRAQ/KUWAIT/REGION
  • DEPARTMENT
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:

    1:45 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department.

    QUESTION: Welcome back.

    MR TONER: Thanks. I’d say it’s good to be back, but I had a really enjoyable time off. But it’s good to see you.

    QUESTION: Restful?

    MR TONER: Yes, it was restful. Thanks, Matt. Just one brief announcement at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions. And I apologize in advance; I rarely do this, you know, but I am on a pretty tight schedule today. I apologize; I have something to run to after this.

    But very briefly, I wanted to talk about the Secretary’s travel later this week to New York. Secretary of State Tillerson will travel to New York City on Friday, April 28, to share a Special Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Security Council. That will take place at 10 a.m.

    As you all know here, the DPRK, North Korea, poses one of the gravest threats to international peace and security through its pursuit of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as its other prohibited activities.

    This meeting will give the Security Council members an opportunity to discuss ways to maximize the impact of existing Security Council measures and to show their resolve to respond to further provocations with appropriate new measures.

    With that, Matt, over to you.

    QUESTION: Let’s start with – actually, I have a couple on North Korea.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: But why don’t we just start with a logistical thing, and I don’t know if you’ll have an answer to this. But you know there’s a possibility of a government shutdown on midnight Friday. Has each agency – at least it has – they have in the past – draws up contingency plans. Has one been drawn up yet for State?

    MR TONER: Well, you answered my question. I was just going to say, yeah, we did – well, we do, we have drawn up – obviously, when any federal agency, out of due diligence --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: -- draws up a contingency plan. I don’t have that in front of me to share with you, because frankly, we’re not dealing with a certainty yet of a shutdown. I know that the White House and OMB are working diligently with Congress to --

    QUESTION: Right, but can you even give us an idea what embassy operations overseas, Americans in trouble, that kind of --

    MR TONER: I will. As we get closer, I’ll give you a snapshot of that.

    QUESTION: All right, thank you. And then North Korea. One, do you have anything – do you know, have the Swedes been able to meet with this latest American who’s been detained?

    MR TONER: Right. You’re talking about --

    QUESTION: The professor.

    MR TONER: Yeah, the professor. So – and for any of you who was, I guess, in a cave over the weekend that didn’t hear this news report, there were reports received over the weekend that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea. Obviously, we can’t discuss the name of this individual because we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. I’m not aware, Matt, in answer to your question, that we’ve been able to gain access to this individual yet. Obviously, that’s something we’re working through our protecting power, the Swedes, to --

    QUESTION: Right. But they told you that they had been informed of this detention, correct – the Swedes?

    MR TONER: Yes, that is correct.

    QUESTION: Right. So --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: But you don’t know yet whether or not the Swedes have --

    MR TONER: Right. But we have not – as far as I know, we have not gained access to the individual in question.

    QUESTION: And then – oh, right. So there’s a lot of speculation that the North Koreans may conduct another nuclear test, as possibly as early as this evening. Do you have anything you can say about that ahead of the Security Council meeting that the Secretary’s going to be at on Friday?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, as you know, Matt, we’re usually pretty close-lipped about possible actions or tests that the North Korean regime may take. Obviously, we’ll respond accordingly if and when such actions are taken, such tests are taken.

    I think in general with respect to the Secretary’s meeting later this week – I mean, first of all, you’ve got the meeting at the White House today obviously chaired by the President along with our Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and you’ve got bookended on Friday this meeting that Secretary will chair at the UN Security Council. This is a really important week that I think highlights U.S. engagement with the UN Security Council with the other members of the Security Council and, frankly, underscores our concerns about exactly the issue you raise, which is North Korea’s ongoing violations and provocative actions in the face of international concerns.

    And I think what the Secretary is going to be looking at and conveying to the other members of the Security Council on Friday is – well, among a number of things, but one of the messages I think he’s going to convey is that there are already very strong sanctions in place against North Korea and it is incumbent on every member of the UN to carry out or to enforce those sanctions to the utmost. And by doing that, we believe that we can significantly augment the pressure that North Korea, the regime in Pyongyang, is already feeling, and that we can augment that if everyone does their part. That’s something we’ve been conveying to allies and partners in the region. It’s something we’ve obviously been conveying to China in our discussions with them. So that’s going to be a central part of the message.

    QUESTION: Other than China, which countries are not 100 percent enforcing --

    MR TONER: I’m not going to necessarily name and shame.

    QUESTION: Why not? You did with China.

    MR TONER: We believe China has – and we’ve talked about this before – has unique leverage when it comes to North Korea and that, frankly, China – China’s influence on North Korea is outsized in the sense of, if they fully implement – and we’ve seen them take additional steps in that regard – the sanctions, that they can apply the kind of pressure that will make Pyongyang take notice.

    QUESTION: Well, so are there other countries other than China that are not doing what they have to do?

    MR TONER: I’ll just leave it where I left it, which is that all countries are obliged to --

    QUESTION: Well, who other than China is not?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to get into --

    QUESTION: Why?

    MR TONER: Because I’m not going to get into the specific --

    QUESTION: Well, it seems to have worked. You talked about naming and shaming. It seems to have worked with the Chinese, right, in this case? You just said that they have taken additional actions. So if you really want --

    MR TONER: And that’s something --

    QUESTION: If there are other countries that are not --

    MR TONER: And that’s something we’re pursuing through our private diplomatic conversations with these other countries.

    QUESTION: Okay. But so why – I don’t understand why China gets named and shamed and no one else does.

    MR TONER: I would just say that China plays a significant influential role in that regard.

    Please, Lesley.

    QUESTION: Mark, after the meetings today at the White House with UN Security Council ambassadors, what exactly is it that the U.S. – I mean, this was happening at the White House. What exactly is it that Tillerson’s hoping to do? I mean, obviously, the President was trying to influence the ambassadors. What is it that Tillerson’s going to hope to do? Is that – is it to get more support for further sanctions?

    MR TONER: Well, I think – look, I mean, I think there’s several aspects to it. Again, I think today’s meeting and Friday’s meeting obviously underscore our engagement on the issue and our focus on the issue, and this is obviously also following up on the heels of Vice President Pence’s visit to the region. So we’ve been focused on our concerns about North Korea for – ever since the beginning of this administration.

    And I think what we have signaled clearly is that given the level of provocations, the pace of provocations that North Korea continues to carry out, that it’s time to both look at how we can implement existing sanctions, that existing regime, which as I said is very – if fully implemented, can have a very profound effect on Pyongyang and the regime there, but also to look at and discuss additional measures that may be taken. And we’ve said all along that no option’s off the table.

    QUESTION: Do you believe that China has been getting the word – a firm word to Pyongyang over the last few days?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, obviously, President Trump spoke with President Xi yesterday, and you saw the readout about that.

    QUESTION: Not much of a readout but --

    MR TONER: Understood.

    QUESTION: That’s why I’m hoping you can --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: I’m trying to understand what this – the actual diplomacy is doing.

    MR TONER: No, no, I understand.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: So look, this has been, as I said, front and center in our conversations with all our partners and our allies in the region but certainly with respect to China, and we’ve been engaged from Secretary Tillerson’s travel to Beijing to President Xi’s travel to meet with President Trump in Mar-a-Lago, and this has been front and center of our discussions with the Chinese Government. We believe we have made headway in convincing them of the urgency of this situation and that they are going to take steps to address it.

    QUESTION: Okay, so with North Korea making these same kinds of threats – that it has the capability now to hit the mainland U.S., that it could take out a carrier in that region with a single strike – do you have any reason to believe that this is anything more than rhetoric? Do you think those claims are true?

    MR TONER: Well, again, without – and I want to tread softly here because I don’t want to get into intelligence assessments, but I think what’s very clear is that they’re pursuing a nuclear ballistic capability and continuing to carry out tests to give them that capability of reaching not just other countries in the region but possibly the United States. And that is, to put it mildly, a game changer and it’s one of the reasons why you’ve seen administration officials talking so candidly about our concerns and about the fact that the time for strategic patience and that policy is over, that we have to look at real ways to provide pressure on Pyongyang to convince them – excuse me – to convince them – I apologize --

    QUESTION: That’s okay.

    MR TONER: -- to address the international community’s concerns. That’s what we’re looking at. I don’t have anything to preview. I know I talk a lot about sanctions implementation, but that’s an important component. But I think what this week will hopefully accomplish is an opportunity for us to sit around the table with the other members of the Security Council and talk about other possible next steps.

    QUESTION: The last administration made it clear that they didn’t think that they had that kind of – that capability yet. And everyone knows that they’re working on it and they may be getting closer, but do you feel like they’ve made significant gains?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m just not going to provide that kind of assessment from this podium today. I think what I can say is that we are concerned that they are pursuing that capability all-out.

    QUESTION: Okay. And just quickly --

    QUESTION: Mark?

    MR TONER: Yeah, please. I’ll let her finish and then --

    QUESTION: So, I mean, we’ve been dealing with this same kind of threat for a long time – the rhetoric from North Korea, the nuclear test, the missile tests – so how would you say that the threat is significantly different now than it was, say, a year and a half ago or two years ago? Or is it not technically significantly different?

    MR TONER: Well, I think – look, how I would characterize it is that we have seen, given the pace of missile tests, ballistic missile tests, nuclear tests – Matt alluded to the possibility of a new one even as early as today – given the pace of that – of those efforts, that we are very concerned and we have a right to be concerned. And it’s a reason why, as I said, we’re no longer looking at Six-Party Talks and strategic patience as necessarily a viable way forward. Look, we’re willing to sit down and talk with North Korea about denuclearizing the peninsula, but only if it comes to those talks serious about doing it and not just having talks for talks’ sake. So I think this is something we’re – there’s an urgency here.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Can I change topic?

    MR TONER: Nike, and then I’ll get to you, as promised.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Mark, as you mentioned, the Chinese President Xi has a phone call with President Trump. The Chinese statement – Chinese readout highlighted their desire to pursue to solve this problem peacefully. So what is the U.S. reaction to the proposed three-party talks, meaning the U.S., China, and Korea, not with North Korea, or the five-party talk --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- U.S., China, Japan, Korea, and Russia?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, I think we – the U.S. remains open to credible talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but I think, as Secretary Tillerson said, conditions have to change before there’s any scope for the talks to resume. So this isn’t to say we’re necessarily dismissing the idea of talks, but I think what’s important to note here is that we need to see a real effort by North Korea to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program before we believe that having such talks is worthwhile.

    QUESTION: So the three-party and five-party talk are still on the table?

    MR TONER: I think, yes, any talk, any credible effort to sit down and negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is on the table, but we need to see more. We’re not – as I said, what’s happened up to this time with the Six-Party Talks is they’ve just been a delay mechanism. We don’t want that to happen.

    QUESTION: If I may, I have one last question on China. Could you please update us the first round of U.S.-China diplomatic and security dialogue? Where are we, and then what would be a major mechanism for the bilateral --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’m aware – I’ll have to get back to you on that, Nike. I’m aware that it came up yesterday in the conversation with President Xi, but I don’t have any more details to provide at this time.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    QUESTION: Just to clarify on North Korea quickly, so President Trump today talked about imposing new sanctions, said to the Security Council members to think about that; but you’re saying Tillerson is not going to suggest that on Friday, he’s just going to talk about implementing existing sanctions.

    MR TONER: I was simply previewing one aspect of what he --

    QUESTION: But the question is will – right, then the question is: Will he follow up on President Trump’s statement?

    MR TONER: I – without getting ahead of what he’ll discuss at the Security Council, I think one is that, as I said, he’ll look at how the UN can more effectively implement the sanctions that are already existing and already, as we know, stringent, and how we can use them to better apply pressure on Pyongyang. But another element of Friday’s discussion is going to be new ideas and the possibility of new measures to be taken, and that always includes sanctions.

    QUESTION: And just if I could ask another question, but on the Syria sanctions.

    MR TONER: Okay. I promise I’ll get to you next, Said.

    QUESTION: Sorry.

    MR TONER: What are you --

    QUESTION: On Iran.

    MR TONER: Okay, great.

    QUESTION: I have just one --

    QUESTION: On North Korea --

    MR TONER: Let’s finish North Korea.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: And then we’ll get to you, I promise.

    QUESTION: Okay. Then --

    MR TONER: Oh, okay, we’re done with North Korea?

    QUESTION: No, no, no, I got --

    QUESTION: One more on North Korea.

    MR TONER: Great. Okay, sorry.

    QUESTION: Just quickly --

    MR TONER: Okay, got it.

    QUESTION: -- to go back to Lesley’s line of questioning, what evidence does the U.S. have that China has taken steps to put pressure on North Korea?

    MR TONER: One is we saw the efforts to – or not the efforts, but China turning away North Korean coal ships, which is, frankly, a pretty significant trading mechanism for them. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: And is that part of the pressure you think that President Trump has put on them, or is that to meet existing UN Security Council resolutions?

    MR TONER: Look, I think I can’t say categorically that it was – but I think what we have been, what this administration has been, from Secretary Tillerson on up to President Trump, has been very clear that we need more effort on the part of China to address the threat that North Korea poses. Whether there’s a connection there, I’ll leave it to you.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: So is it just the coal shipments then, turning coal shipments --

    MR TONER: I can get more detail. That’s one that just popped into my head, but I’ll try to get more for you on that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Mark, could I ask a question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR TONER: Let’s go there, and then we’ll get around.

    QUESTION: Can I get one on North Korea?

    QUESTION: We have a delegation in town.

    MR TONER: Oh, North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry, just --

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MR TONER: One more – two more on North Korea. We’ve got to finish.

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans for any bilateral, multilateral meetings on the sidelines of --

    MR TONER: We’ll announce those when they’re firmed up.

    Please.

    QUESTION: Just a follow-up to Matt’s question.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: Do you know whether China has stopped supplying or helping build the transporters, the missile transporters that were seen in the military parade the other day?

    MR TONER: I’d have to take that question and see what we can answer. I don’t have an answer with me.

    Please, Said.

    QUESTION: There is a high-level Palestinian delegation in town preparing for the meeting next week between President Trump and Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Are there any plans for you guys to meet with them this week, or is this just a White House event or a White House affair? Are you involved in any way?

    MR TONER: Is which a White House affair?

    QUESTION: There is a high-level --

    MR TONER: I mean, preliminary meetings?

    QUESTION: Well, because they’re --

    MR TONER: No, but I’m asking you --

    QUESTION: -- preparing – I’m sure that – do they have any scheduled meetings at the State Department?

    MR TONER: There’s no scheduled meetings. So you’re talking about the group that’s in town this week?

    QUESTION: This group that’s in town with chief Palestinian negotiator --

    MR TONER: Right, right, right. With Saeb Erekat.

    QUESTION: -- Saeb Erekat.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And intelligence --

    MR TONER: So as far as I’m aware, there’s no scheduled meetings with Secretary Tillerson this week with any of the Palestinian officials who are in town. That said, I can’t preclude that State Department officials won’t take part in some of the other meetings that are being held at the White House or elsewhere.

    QUESTION: Okay. Who’s involved from the State, from State? Who’s involved with these talks?

    MR TONER: Those would be --

    QUESTION: Is Mr. Ratney involved? Is Mr. Stuart Jones – I mean, who’s --

    MR TONER: I can get more detail, but it would be senior leadership from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, whether that’s Michael Ratney or acting Assistant Secretary Stu Jones. I can’t confirm which one.

    QUESTION: Okay. And I wanted to ask you on the issue of the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I wonder if you’re aware of the situation – it’s becoming quite dire – and if you have any comments on that.

    MR TONER: You’re talking about the – excuse me – the hunger strike by a Palestinian prisoner now in its eighth day.

    QUESTION: Right. Well, all Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike.

    MR TONER: Well --

    QUESTION: But the leader is – his health is deteriorating and so on.

    MR TONER: Yeah. I – we’re looking into news reports about it. Obviously, we’re concerned about the health of any prisoner, but I’d have to refer you to Israeli authorities.

    QUESTION: And they’re striking because they’re asking for better conditions and so on.

    MR TONER: I’m aware.

    QUESTION: Something that --

    MR TONER: I’m aware.

    QUESTION: -- Secretary Kerry, former Secretary Kerry has talked about in the past.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Is that something that you guys would push the Israelis on?

    MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve talked about this before. We always – with respect to the treatment of any prisoner anywhere, but certainly the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, we would expect them to be treated in accordance with existing human rights standards and with dignity and respect. That said, I can’t speak to the specific case. I’d refer you to Israeli authorities.

    QUESTION: Just a quick question on the Syria sanctions. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Can we move to Iran?

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s go.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you.

    QUESTION: -- last week Secretary Tillerson announced the review, a major change in U.S. policy, in regards to the Iran deal, saying that it essentially is not going to work, or represents the same failed approach that took place with North Korea. Does that change the JCPOA meeting from the U.S. perspective tomorrow in Vienna? And will the U.S. be discussing options outside of the JCPOA at that meeting with partners?

    MR TONER: Okay. So big question – complicated question, but a good one. I’ll try to answer it. So first of all, to go back to next week, Secretary Tillerson said the Trump administration is conducting a – I think a 90-day review, comprehensive review, of our Iran policy.

    [1] And once we have finalized conclusions, then we’ll be ready, we believe, to better meet the challenges that Iran poses to the region.

    QUESTION: It seems as though he already has come to somewhat of a conclusion --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- though, that it’s --

    MR TONER: Well, look, I think these are concerns that have long been held about Iran, and that is Iran – no one’s under any illusions that Iran has been a malign influence on the region. Whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Lebanon, whether it’s through Hizballah, whether it’s through other nefarious activities, Iran is a state sponsor of terror. And that is separate and apart from our concerns, and the international community’s concerns, about its nuclear program that was addressed in the JCPOA.

    So what we’re now attempting to do is conduct a 90-day review looking at our policy vis-a-vis Iran writ large. Now, with respect to – and until that time, rather – until the review is completed, we’re going to adhere to the JCPOA and ensure that Iran is held to – held strictly accountable to its requirements.

    But you asked about the meeting tomorrow in Geneva, and that is, I think, a quarterly review. It’s called a Joint Commission meeting. So that will take place as scheduled. I think our ambassador – or rather, our lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation, Ambassador Steve Mull, will travel to Vienna, he’ll lead the U.S. delegation, and – look, that meeting’s going to look at whether Iran is meeting its commitments to the JCPOA. Iran’s going to be at the table, so it’s going to be a frank and candid exchange to talk about any concerns that any countries, any delegations have about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapon and whether it’s complying with the JCPOA. I don’t want to get ahead of that, but the meeting’s going to take place as normal.

    QUESTION: And do you know – there was this group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, that says it had satellite imagery showing that Iran was violating the deal. Is it something the U.S. would bring up in that – in that meeting?

    MR TONER: I can’t predict. I’m not aware of that, frankly. I’d have to look into that, but look, this is – this one of the IAEA’s responsibilities: to make sure that it maintains the access that it already has, and that it’s ensuring that Iran is complying with the deal. But as we get information and get access to information that may show otherwise, we’ll certainly share that.

    QUESTION: So Mark, the President said that the – or that Iran is not complying with the spirit of the deal. What does that mean to you?

    MR TONER: I don’t want to parse the President’s words.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to parse it.

    MR TONER: I think --

    QUESTION: I just want to know what that is --

    MR TONER: -- more broadly he is --

    QUESTION: -- because you’ve talked --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: You, the Secretary, White House, have all talked about how they’re still a state sponsor of terrorism, they’re still funding Hizballah, they’re still helping Assad, they’re involved with the Houthis in Yemen, all this kind of thing. But none of that was covered by the nuclear deal, so is it --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- this administration’s view that the nuclear deal should, in fact, encompass broader sets of – patterns of behavior?

    MR TONER: Sure. I think partly this is what the review aims to look at, is how we take a more comprehensive look at Iran and its bad behavior in the region and whereas previous administration compartmentalized the nuclear agreement and concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, I think all of this is going to be on the table and it all is going to be looked at in the terms of where can we apply pressure --

    QUESTION: Right, but --

    MR TONER: -- and I think – sorry – but the reason I don’t want to parse the President’s words is because I think I don’t want to assume what he was intending to say, but I believe he was trying to speak to concerns about that Iran’s behavior hasn’t changed significantly --

    QUESTION: Right, but --

    MR TONER: -- across the board.

    QUESTION: -- the previous administration, which negotiated the deal --

    MR TONER: I know, I’m aware.

    QUESTION: -- purposely left those other things, that other bad behavior, out.

    MR TONER: I’m aware of that.

    QUESTION: So if you are – if they are complying with the letter of the – the administration believes that the Iranians are complying with the letter of the deal, right?

    MR TONER: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: Okay, but not the spirit? So is that, in this – in the view of this administration, is that a violation of the agreement if they are adhering to it that – all the technical aspects of it, but they’re not --

    MR TONER: I don’t think we’re prepared to say that. I think that’s part of the reason why this review is being done.

    QUESTION: All right. And when – in the 90 days that start – clock started ticking on that --

    MR TONER: I don’t know. I’ll have to – I would assume from last week --

    QUESTION: Because there’s another certification due in 90 days from last Tuesday? Was it Tuesday?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I --

    QUESTION: Tuesday night, yeah.

    MR TONER: I’m not sure when the clock started out. I’ll – I can try to get that for you.

    QUESTION: And Mark --

    QUESTION: Mark, the JCPOA – Mark, does it detect – did it have any kind of reference to the spirit or good behavior?

    MR TONER: No, it spoke specifically to --

    QUESTION: So it’s basically a technical thing that the Iranians --

    MR TONER: Yeah. No, it was all about – it was all about --

    QUESTION: -- are complying with, right?

    MR TONER: It was all about preventing Iran from cutting off the pathways Iran could pursue to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    QUESTION: Right. And they are adhering to that, right? The Iranians.

    MR TONER: As far as we know, or as to our belief, yes, they are thus far.

    Please.

    QUESTION: So Mark, part of the review, is that the possibility of maybe wanting to add to the agreement the possibility of reopening negotiations to include this?

    MR TONER: I think it’s a comprehensive look at how we deal with Iran, and taking into account the fact that its behavior in the region hasn’t significantly changed, and how do we look at the tools, and how can we apply pressure. Look, this administration came in with real concerns about the nuclear deal. That said, they said we’re not going to change it or rip it up. We’re going to examine it, think about it, look at it, discuss it, and discuss it in the larger context of Iran’s role in the region and in the world, and then adjust accordingly.

    But until that time, we’re still going to honor the deal.

    QUESTION: Just about the sanctions on Syria, if I can change the topic.

    MR TONER: Oh yeah, of course, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: So do you have any information about whether these 271 scientists actually have assets in the U.S. and/or whether the U.S. is doing business with them?

    MR TONER: Sorry, you’re talking about the --

    QUESTION: The sanctions on the 271 scientists.

    MR TONER: Yeah. Right, right, right. The ones that were just announced at the White House. Sorry, I apologize.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: And your question? I apologize.

    QUESTION: It’s whether they – these 271 employees of the research center – do you have any information on whether they have assets in the U.S. and/or whether the U.S. is doing any business with them?

    MR TONER: A fair question, a question we get asked quite a bit on these kinds of sanctions. Excuse me. I’d have to refer you to OFAC and to the Department of Treasury to speak to any holdings that these individuals may have had. What they were in response to was the Syrian Government’s use of chemical weapons and the people we believe were behind that capability or providing that capability to the Syrian regime. And this is an effort to hold those individuals accountable. As to their possible investments or ties to the U.S. financial system, I can’t answer that.

    QUESTION: Sanctions? Syria sanctions?

    QUESTION: Syria-related, another question on Syria?

    QUESTION: One on Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Syria sanction?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Why is – why were – the airstrikes weren’t enough? Why take this action now? And has anything changed from the day of the airstrikes to allay your suspicions of what you allegedly thought went down and these sanctions?

    MR TONER: No, we’ve been --

    QUESTION: What is driving it?

    MR TONER: Sure. We’ve been pretty clear from the time the decision was made to carry out those airstrikes where we believe those – or those – the chemical attack was launched from and who was responsible for it, and that was the Syrian regime. At the same time, as you know, we’ve also said we would support an investigation by the appropriate UN bodies – the Joint Investigative Mechanism as well as the OPCW group – to look into the – to do an independent examination or investigation into the attacks, but we’re firm in our beliefs.

    QUESTION: Why don’t you wait --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Why don’t you wait till that --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Why don’t you wait till that review is done before you take action like this?

    MR TONER: Well, again, we’re going to continue to hold the individuals accountable that we believe carried out these chemical weapons attacks. We were very clear in our quick response to the attack two weeks ago that this could not stand, that this went beyond international standards --

    QUESTION: But why support a probe --

    MR TONER: -- and that it was against – sorry.

    QUESTION: Why support a probe if you already know what happened?

    MR TONER: Again, just in the spirit of having an investigative – an independent investigative body look at the examination – or look at the evidence, and there are, as we’ve talked about, these entities within the UN who are already mandated to carry out and have been carrying out these kinds of investigations on the multiple chemical weapons attacks that this regime – that the Assad regime has carried out already in Syria.

    QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Another subject?

    MR TONER: A couple more, guys.

    QUESTION: On another subject?

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: And then I’ll get to Afghanistan, whoever’s asking.

    QUESTION: This – I have a two-part question. The first part is: Any visa that is even decided by other departments is issued by the State Department?

    MR TONER: Any visa?

    QUESTION: Any visa.

    MR TONER: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So based on that, has this department received any guidelines about the H1B visa from the White House? The background is that the executive order doesn’t talk about H1B visa in the hire – buy American, hire American, but there was a more-than-an-hour nearly background briefing which was dedicated to it. And so is there – there is a lot of confusion out there. The lawyers are saying it’s just a review of reform, so can you just update us what is the latest on the H1B?

    MR TONER: On the H1B visas, yeah.

    QUESTION: B, like – and is there anything that will affect the present-day holders of H1B visa?

    MR TONER: With respect to the H1B visas, I don’t have any new information to share. I mean, obviously, we want to see U.S.-India business-to-business ties remain strong. We greatly value Indian companies’ continued investment in the U.S. economy, which also, of course, supports thousands of U.S. jobs. With respect to any new requirements on visas, I’d have to check and see if that’s been updated.

    QUESTION: That – just a quick – the point is that the White House, the President, has ordered the review of the abuse and fraud. So under that, do you have – got any directives to check on --

    MR TONER: Well, I think what I would say about that is --

    QUESTION: -- where you are issuing them?

    MR TONER: Sure. Under this White House, we have been looking at ways to strengthen our processes, our visa interview and admission processes, in new ways. And that’s been from the beginnings of this administration, certainly with respect to immigration and with refugee flows as well. Those processes are ongoing.

    But I think it’s important to remember that this is always a part of how our consular bureau works and our consular officers work overseas, and our embassies and missions work overseas, and that is we’re always reviewing the processes that are in place to issue these visas and finding ways to strengthen them, because fundamentally, we want to ensure the security of the American people.

    A couple questions. One more. Yeah.

    QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: In Afghanistan, we’ve seen two attacks that coincide with the visit of top U.S. officials. What does the administration read into that?

    MR TONER: Excuse me. Well, you’re talking about – the second one was the Secretary of Defense Mattis’s trip there today? Well, that was after the fact. I think – look, I think – first of all, I want to strongly condemn the attack on members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces 209th Corps in Balkh province that took place on Friday and killed more than 100 Afghan soldiers, wounded more than 60. This was an attack on these soldiers as they were returning from prayer. It was barbaric, it was unconscionable, and we condemn it fully, and we offer our condolences to the families and loved ones of those lost and injured.

    With respect to what this signifies more broadly, look, I think we continue to see, we believe, the capability of Afghan Security Forces strengthen and grow, but we’re not there yet. And clearly, attacks like these are going to happen. And obviously, the Afghan Government has taken steps; I believe there were some resignations in the aftermath. But this in no way should convey to the Taliban or anyone else in the region that the U.S. has any intention of walking away from its commitment to the Afghan Government and the Afghan people.

    What we’re working on now is continuing to strengthen, on the security side, the capabilities of the Afghan Forces to provide security for their own people, and on the political and economic side, how we can strengthen reform efforts within the government – anti-corruption efforts to make the Afghan Government more accountable to its people. This is not going to be an overnight process and no one is under any illusions that it will be. But again, I think the message – rather than what we’ll take away from this attack, the message we hope to convey by our back-to-back visits is the fact that we are committed to seeing this process through with the Afghan people.

    QUESTION: And just to follow up on that, there is now talk of sending more troops to Afghanistan. How does this fit in with the strategy of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table when they seem to be so hostile to any U.S. presence in the country?

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, again, we continue to encourage that. That has to be an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process, and we’ve long said that. But we’ve also conveyed to the Taliban, publicly as I am now, that it’s really the only long-term solution that they have to provide peace and stability – or bring peace and stability to the country. They’re not going to win on the battlefield, but if they engage, meeting the preconditions – they recognize the constitution, they eschew violence and terrorism – that they can be, one day, a part of the political process in Afghanistan. But it’s up to them. And meantime, we’re not going to let up in our efforts to disable them and eliminate them.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MR TONER: Kylie.

    QUESTION: After – quick question. The U.S. top commander in Afghanistan didn’t refute the claims that the Russians are backing the Taliban and also providing them with arms. So has the U.S., the State Department, reached out to the Russians after this specific attack? We know that Lavrov and Tillerson spoke about Afghanistan last week, so how does this impact the U.S.-Russia relationship, and are they talking about these attacks?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the details of our private diplomatic concerns – our private diplomatic conversations with Russia. Excuse me. But obviously, we take the senior military – U.S. military leader assessment of the situation in Afghanistan very seriously, and I can assure you that our concerns have been conveyed to the Russian Government.

    QUESTION: Can you take this? This is Afghanistan as well. Just --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- their visas for translators, there seem to be a low supply. I know that it’s a couple senators on the Hill – a couple senators are pushing legislation to increase the number. Do you – does the administration support those efforts?

    MR TONER: Yes. We are committed to continuing this program – the – you’re talking about the Special Immigrant Visas?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: Yeah. We’re committed to – I’m not aware of the exact numbers, but we want to see these efforts continue.

    QUESTION: So you do support increasing the number, is that correct?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Or just continuing to see --

    MR TONER: Continuing the program. I’m not sure what the specific numbers. I’d have to check on that.

    QUESTION: Can you – can you check?

    MR TONER: Yes, will do.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MR TONER: One more question, guys. I apologize.

    QUESTION: I got one more – Iran.

    MR TONER: Oh, okay. Boom, boom.

    QUESTION: Go ahead.

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Could you give us a readout on Brett McGurk’s visits to Iraq and Kuwait recently?

    MR TONER: I will if I can find the – he was in Iraq and Kuwait, I can confirm that. And you know this is part of Brett’s regular visits to the region. Hah, got it. Just for you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: As I was stalling there, Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk did travel to the region. He arrived in Baghdad I think on Friday for consultations, met with senior Iraqi leaders that included Prime Minister Abadi, Foreign Minister Jafari, Parliament Speaker Jabouri, and others. Obviously, they talked about ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS. That obviously includes the latest on the Mosul – operation to liberate Mosul, rather, and our long-term efforts to support Iraq’s stabilization post-ISIS.

    On Saturday, he went to Kuwait. He met with senior Kuwaiti leaders to provide an update on the global coalition’s effort to defeat ISIS and ways that we can intensify that fight. He also got a chance to, I think, thank the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society for their humanitarian effort in and around Mosul including, I think, 40,000 tons of medication, more than 60,000 tons of food, and the building of five schools. And tomorrow – excuse me – tomorrow, he’s going to be traveling to Riyadh, and again, meetings with Saudi officials on ways to intensify the counter-ISIS efforts.

    QUESTION: And the Iraqis have said they expect the Mosul operation to be completed by the middle of May; is that – like in three weeks. Is that something that you agree with, that’s going to happen so soon?

    MR TONER: Not for me to give battlefield assessments. I would defer to my colleagues in the Department of Defense. I would only say that it’s – and we said this from the get-go – that it was going to be a hard, difficult effort. That effort’s ongoing. We’re confident that we’ll liberate the city, but I think the Iraqi forces have shown tremendous fortitude, tremendous perseverance, tremendous courage, tremendous sacrifice, and also tremendous care in liberating without putting civilians at too great a risk.

    Matt.

    QUESTION: IIP is in your bureau, is it not, Public Affairs?

    MR TONER: No, it’s a different --

    QUESTION: It’s not in Public Affairs?

    MR TONER: It’s a different entity.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: Other – their focus --

    QUESTION: Can you take this question, then --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- since you wouldn’t – have – if it’s not in your bureau, you might not know about it. But it’s come to some people’s attention that IIP has produced an article which is being promoted on at least the embassy of – the U.S. Embassy in London as well as a site called ShareAmerica, and this article is a feature about Mar-a-Lago. And I’m wondering if this whole thing in its appearance – the appearance of this article on government websites has been vetted by anybody, because Mar-a-Lago –

    MR TONER: I’ll look into it. It’s the first time I’m hearing about the article.

    QUESTION: It’s not like Camp David; it’s privately – it’s a private club and so --

    MR TONER: So you’re asking me – just so – sorry, just so I’m clear, the message – you’re asking whether the article had been vetted by appropriate --

    QUESTION: I want to know if --

    MR TONER: -- security folks or just in general?

    QUESTION: Yeah – no, no, no, no, no. Not security, ethics.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m being told that the content was produced by the State Department and put on the embassy’s website.

    MR TONER: I’ll check into it. I don’t have anything to offer.

    QUESTION: It’s not a --

    MR TONER: Last question. I know, it’s not a security issue. I understand what you’re saying.

    QUESTION: But I want you – it’s not a security, it’s an ethics issue.

    MR TONER: Last question.

    QUESTION: Mark, three months into this administration now, there’s still an overwhelming number of senior positions here at the State Department, and I believe 181 ambassadorships around the world that have still not – there are no nominations for. Could you explain why that is, and do you think there are any nominations coming soon?

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, so I’ll refer you to the White House on questions regarding nominations for senior-level positions including ambassadorships because that’s their purview. But with respect to the vacancies, I can assure everyone in this room and everyone in the United States and around the world that these are not vacancies, that there are senior State Department official serving in acting capacities, but these folks are seasoned veterans of the Foreign Service and seasoned diplomats. I know many of them personally, and I can speak – attest to their expertise and their professionalism. But this is a process, and with any new administration it takes time. Would we like to see it move faster? Certainly. And I think we’re looking at efforts on how to make that move faster. But it takes two to tango; we need Congress’s support and the Senate’s support to get there.

    Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

    DPB # 22


    [1] On April 18, Secretary Tillerson announced that President Trump has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States. The NSC has not provided a timetable for this review.


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 13, 2017

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 17:42
Mark C. Toner
Acting Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 13, 2017


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA/REGION
  • RUSSIA/UKRAINE
  • RUSSIA/AFGHANISTAN/REGION
  • TURKEY
  • JAPAN/NORTH KOREA/SOUTH KOREA/REGION
  • DEPARTMENT
  • VENEZUELA
  • JAPAN/NORTH KOREA/SOUTH KOREA/REGION
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA/REGION
  • RUSSIA/DEPARTMENT
  • AFGHANISTAN/REGION
  • INDIA/DEPARTMENT
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • AFGHANISTAN/RUSSIA/REGION

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:09 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Hey, guys. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Thursday. I don’t have anything at the top, except for one thing.

    I did notice – or I’m getting a lot of question, and I’ve seen some commentary on social media about what may or may not be happening in the corridor just outside the briefing room. I just wanted to assuage any conspiracy-minded folks that the PA Bureau is undergoing a renovation of its office space. It’s a long-planned project; it’s overseen by the Bureau of Administration’s Real Property Management Office, which manages all domestic State Department property, and that includes in this building.

    They are taking every necessary precaution to ensure that the asbestos abatement is done according to environmental safety standards, and that does include having to temporarily remove the portraits of the legions of previous spokespeople that have graced this podium before me. But I can assure you that they will be restored in all their glory. They’re not being consigned to the trash heap of history. And, look, it’s really for you all to lobby, but – granted I’ve only been acting spokesman, but I have briefed up here more than any other spokesperson in history, with the possible exception of Boucher.

    With that little self-aggrandizement, I will turn it over to you, Matt Lee.

    QUESTION: Well, I just want to make sure the asbestos situation is going to be under control. We’re not going to be quarantined or anything?

    MR TONER: No, I can assure you you won’t be, but it’s the reason why they have to put up those scary warnings. Anyway, what’s up?

    QUESTION: All right. And when the new photos go back – well, when the old photos go back up, will there be a new one?

    MR TONER: I have nothing to announce at this time. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying to get a --

    MR TONER: I know you are. I know you are.

    QUESTION: -- just get a – and on-the-record response to --

    MR TONER: And we will keep you informed.

    QUESTION: -- whether or not this is the last – your last briefing.

    MR TONER: My last briefing? I never say never, so I’ll withhold on that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: And I’ll send out commentary later if it does turn out to be my last briefing. No, just kidding.

    QUESTION: Well, no, because if – you’re not going to get away with not having some words said about you when that does happen.

    MR TONER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

    QUESTION: Anyway, let’s start with real news.

    MR TONER: Of course. Yeah.

    QUESTION: On Russia.

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: I wanted to clear up one logistical thing and then ask a policy type of thing. One, the logistical thing is: To the best of your knowledge, was there ever any indication that over the course of the last week that the Secretary’s meeting with President Putin would not happen?

    MR TONER: So – (coughing). Excuse me. Was there – sorry, let me make sure I got the question right. Was there ever any indication that it would not happen? So routinely – and I think others opined on this yesterday – it is the case that the president will see a visiting secretary of state, and that’s been the case in the past. It’s also pretty routine that they’re not formally announced until the day of or even hours before. And that’s ultimately something for the Kremlin and President Putin himself to announce, which is part of the reason why we were being mum on it. I think it’s something we expected all along and were planning on, but --

    QUESTION: Right. But did you ever get any indication from the Russians that the meeting might be off?

    MR TONER: We were never given any indication that there --

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR TONER: -- that there might not be a meeting. Yeah.

    QUESTION: And then there seemed to be a line of commentary that Secretary Tillerson had been kept waiting by President Putin. The meeting, I believe, was scheduled and had been long scheduled for 5:30 local time, and the way I understood it, the Secretary was running about half an hour late after his meetings with the foreign minister. So the meeting began less than half an hour after it was – or about half an hour after it was supposed to have been – is that correct?

    MR TONER: I can assure you he was not – I double-checked on this, and he was not kept waiting.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. Now on the --

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: Onto the substance.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: The Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov both announced that they would be creating working groups – I think Foreign Minister Lavrov used the word “special envoys,” but I don’t know if that was a translation issue or not, but let’s say working groups – to look at various irritants and see how they – can you be more specific about what those areas are that these working groups, or if it’s just one working group, what it will be looking at and what you hope to achieve?

    MR TONER: So a couple thoughts on that. And I – if I’m shy on specifics, I apologize. But first of all, both in his bilateral meeting, but also in his meeting with – sorry, with his – in his bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but also in his bilat with President Putin, there was, I think, an acknowledgment that there are almost historical low level of trust – levels of trust between our two countries. And I think Secretary Tillerson said right out of the bat in his press avail yesterday that’s a problem.

    I think in his – certainly in his meeting with President Putin they went over the history of why we’re where we’re at, and I think it allowed the two of them to both appreciate and better understand why each country is frustrated with the other on certain issues. And I think by the end of that, they were able to acknowledge that with this understanding in place there’s a way for the two countries to find ways to rebuild some of that trust, find opportunities. And with that respect, I think that’s – the idea of this working group is to look at – look for those opportunities or ways to kind of rebuild a trust or --

    QUESTION: So it’s singular? It’s not multiple?

    MR TONER: It’s my understanding it is a singular group at this point.

    QUESTION: Okay. And --

    MR TONER: And sorry, just in terms of the working group’s mandate, that’s still being worked out, the exact details. There’s been some speculation this is kind of a return to the bilateral presidential commission. That’s not the case. But I think this is a group that’s going to focus on looking at some of these irritants and looking at ways that we can possibly find opportunities to cooperate.

    QUESTION: When you say mandate is being looked at, does that include the membership of it? Like, who would be on it?

    MR TONER: I believe so, yeah. And who will be on it, yes.

    QUESTION: All right. And then you said that they went over the history of why we’re at where we’re at? Was this like the airing of grievances or something? I don’t – I mean, how far back did they go?

    MR TONER: I don’t know. I was told a short history. I don’t know.

    Look, I think – I think it was helpful to hear – for both sides to hear each other’s perspective on why we’re where we’re at. I mean, none of this is going to come as news to anybody in this room who’s followed how we’ve gotten to where we are, but I think it’s important in any kind of bilateral situation like that to hear the other side’s point of view. He did that – Secretary Tillerson. And again, it’s part of an effort to appreciate their perspective. It’s not one we agree on, but it helps us understand so that we can find a way to work forward.

    QUESTION: Right. But I mean, is the idea that they would focus on smaller issues of – and not huge differences like Syria, or NATO expansion, or missile --

    MR TONER: I wouldn’t even – I wouldn’t necessarily even qualify it that way. I think they’re looking at where we can find common ground. I mean, look, even out of Syria there was the common ground that they found that we’ve all agreed to what end state we want to see in Syria, which is a Syria whole and with all religious groups and minorities represented. But how we get there, that’s a difficult – I get it. That’s a difficult challenge.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s been the common – that’s been the common goal since Geneva I.

    MR TONER: You’re right. And – but it’s the getting there that’s difficult. But I think it’s --

    QUESTION: So what’s the point of agreeing to something that you previously agreed to and then – I mean, I just – was there any – if there’s no progress on the means to get to the end, then I don’t understand what – why it’s so productive to – for the two sides to run down a list of what pisses you off about the other side. I don’t get it.

    MR TONER: Well, I think, again, I’ll just say as part of this effort to find common ground, find areas of cooperation – not common ground, but areas of cooperation, there was a good-faith effort for each other to listen to the other’s grievances.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up? Yeah?

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Lesley.

    QUESTION: Just to come back, so you don’t know when the working group is going to start?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I don’t. If I get more on that, I will let you know, but I think it’s TBD.

    QUESTION: Okay. And I know this – was there maybe a discussion about a follow-up meeting between the two, between Lavrov and the Secretary?

    MR TONER: Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson?

    QUESTION: Are you aware of anything?

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of any physical meeting. Of course, they’ll obviously follow up on – by phone, I expect. I have nothing to announce in that regard too, but I have no expectation yet of a follow-up meeting.

    QUESTION: Do you – you probably saw that the AP had an interview today with Assad.

    MR TONER: Saw that.

    QUESTION: Who called it – who called the accusations of a chemical attack a fabrication. You saw earlier this morning the Syrian Army statement, which the U.S. then put down, saying that the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS that hit a chemical weapons depot by ISIS. What’s going on? A day after these meetings, there seems to be pushback. This doesn’t look like somebody who looks like he’s about to change course.

    MR TONER: Well, it’s – sadly, it’s vintage Assad. It is an attempt by him to throw up false flags, create confusion. Frankly, it’s a tactic we’ve seen on Russia’s part as well in the past. There can be little doubt that the recent attacks and the chemical weapons attack in Idlib was by the Syrian Government, by the Syrian regime, and that it wasn’t only a violation of the laws of war but it was, we believe, a war crime.

    QUESTION: Mark, I just want to follow up on this.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But before that, I want to ask you about Russia.

    MR TONER: (Sneezes.) Excuse me.

    QUESTION: The President said that – basically sort of toned down the rhetoric. And he said that ultimately, everybody will come – the President --

    MR TONER: Who? President Putin?

    QUESTION: No. The President of the United States, President Trump --

    MR TONER: Sorry. I apologize.

    QUESTION: -- said that everybody will come back to their senses and they are going to have better relations and so on. Is that a result of the conversation between Secretary Tillerson and the president? Is that the outcome? Because that up and down – or more hopeful about the future relations with Russia than it was yesterday.

    MR TONER: Well, certainly I’ll let the President’s tweet stand for itself. I’d just say that the President also made this point in his press avail with the NATO secretary general yesterday, and it’s simply that the world is a complicated and difficult place, and there’s enough hard challenges out there that we would like to be able to have a constructive relationship with Russia. But we’re not there. And I think – but I think our ultimate goal is to find, as I said, areas – small at start, but areas where we can rebuild that trust that’s sorely lacking.

    QUESTION: And on the Assad interview, now he keeps saying that you have refutable evidence. I mean, today, the United States is saying that they intercepted some communications between the pilot and some chemical scientist and so on on how to do this. I mean, that is – that seems to be the evidence. I find that difficult – I mean – or isn’t it a bit odd that the pilot would be talking to whoever the scientists are and so on to drop this bomb? Is that the only evidence you have?

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of that report. What I --

    QUESTION: But that --

    MR TONER: What I am – sure.

    QUESTION: That’s what CNN said.

    MR TONER: What I – sure.

    QUESTION: Because they were told by a high official and so on.

    MR TONER: Well, what I am aware of – and I think there was a backgrounder done on this by some of the – of our intelligence officials who looked at and analyzed this data, what went into our analysis and our ultimate conclusion that this was a chemical weapons attack that was carried out by the Syrian regime and that was laid out, I think, in some articles the other day. They briefed on background, given their status as intelligence officials. But it’s pretty clear-cut in our book.

    Look, that said, as I think Secretary Tillerson said, there are – we have the joint investigative mechanism. We have other mechanisms. The OPCW has these mechanisms to investigate, conduct an impartial investigation into these allegations. We know what happened. We have reached our own conclusion. We carried out the airstrikes.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: But by all means, those independent mechanisms should be allowed to carry out their investigations. But again, what we saw yesterday was – what did Russia do? It vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have allowed those investigations to move forward.

    QUESTION: There is a lot to go through there. But if – let’s say you have an investigation, and the investigation somehow concludes that there was no Syria chemical strike. I mean, you already struck. You already destroyed that airbase. So how would that be dealt with?

    MR TONER: I can only say that we are – we undertook that action with the utmost confidence that it – this – that we were hitting the airstrip and the airbase, rather, that carried out that strike.

    QUESTION: And lastly --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- I just want you to clarify something, because I don’t understand it. What – isn’t it that the U.S. Army, who was supposed to dispose of these chemical weapons and, in fact, they did; they destroyed something like 600 tons, which is all the chemical weapons that was at least declared by Syria at the time? Isn’t that true? Would you clarify that for us? Because you keep – or you keep hearing that Russia was responsible to guarantee that these weapons are destroyed or accounted for and so on.

    MR TONER: Right. Well, they were, in fact – as signatories to that agreement, Russia pledged to assure that the Assad regime – and the Assad regime also pledged to ensure that it would give up its declared chemical weapons. There were – I don’t have the exact amounts in front of me, but there was a massive amount of chemical weapons that were, in fact, taken out of Syria and neutralized. So you can’t say that that effort was in vain. It wasn’t. It got chemical weapons out of that conflict area. But that said, clearly either they remained their capacity to produce additional chemical weapons or they didn’t declare all their chemical weapons.

    Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: You said the Security Council resolution the Russians vetoed yesterday would have allowed an investigation. My understanding was that the agreement back in – that you just referred to, that that allowed for investigations. So is it actually correct that --

    MR TONER: Sorry. It sought – I apologize. It sought to hold the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack accountable, called on the regime to cooperate with an independent international investigation. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Right. But an investigation – the – yesterday’s resolution was not required for there to be an investigation.

    MR TONER: Right. These – my understanding is that these bodies – I mean, that’s what they exist for, is to carry out these investigations.

    QUESTION: So it didn’t need – it didn’t need --

    MR TONER: But they – it did not need to pass.

    QUESTION: They don’t – they didn’t need a new authorization from the Security Council to conduct an investigation.

    MR TONER: That’s my understanding. Yeah.

    Go ahead, sir. And then I’ll get to you, Goyal.

    QUESTION: I have a question about yesterday’s meeting with – in Moscow --

    MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: -- but in frame of Ukraine issue. So yesterday, Secretary of State said in Moscow that he discussed Ukraine and Minsk agreement with Foreign Minister Lavrov. However, there was no acknowledgment that Mr. Tillerson talked about it with Mr. Putin. So could you give more detail on that? And was the Ukraine issue raised during the meeting with Russian president?

    MR TONER: So I can – as you noted, I can say that he did raise Ukraine in his bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I don’t have the details, full details, of his bilat with President Putin or his meeting with President Putin. I can’t confirm – I’m sorry – that Ukraine was raised in that setting. I think it probably was, since they went through the range of issues where we don’t see eye to eye with Russia on. And as Secretary Tillerson was very clear, that on those issues that we don’t see eye to eye on, he’ll continue to raise those in his meetings with Russian officials. I just can’t confirm absolutely that it was raised in that meeting. I just don’t have that level of clarity.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Still on Russia, but kind of a pivot.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: Russia is hosting multination consultations on Afghanistan tomorrow.

    MR TONER: Oh, sure. Yeah.

    QUESTION: What, if any, role will the U.S. play in those talks? And is there concern that through those talks, Russia is trying to expand its role and influence in Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Good question. So first of all, we don’t plan to participate in these regional talks. I think they’re April 14th, which is tomorrow. They have been organized by the Russian Government. We do generally support regional efforts that work with the Afghan Government to build support for a peaceful outcome in Afghanistan, and I think we – going forward, we do plan to work with Russia and other key regional stakeholders to enhance dialogue on Afghanistan. It’s been – long been our argument that all countries in the region need to form a unified front with respect to Afghanistan and make it very clear that the only way to end that conflict definitively is through peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government. And we’ve said – also made it perfectly clear that Taliban have no viable alternative but to enter into direct talks in order to achieve their goals.

    I think just to end it, we just felt that these talks – it was unclear to us what the purpose was. It seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region that we felt wasn’t constructive at this time.

    QUESTION: Just following up on --

    QUESTION: Staying on Afghanistan.

    MR TONER: Goyal, and then I’ll get –

    QUESTION: Thank you. Follow on Afghanistan.

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: As far as – thank you very much, Mark.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: As far as U.S. bombings in Afghanistan is concerned, it’s not a big surprise to the high-level Afghan officials because they were here – the advisor to the president of Afghanistan and also foreign minister of Afghanistan were here and speaking with the reporters and also at the think tanks. What they were saying that the terrorism problem in Afghanistan is being created by Pakistan, and all the terrorists are coming into Afghanistan and back and forth and back and forth because there is no – there is no check and balance and they are not holding them.

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: My question is here that as far as this bombing to eliminate those ISIS and Talibans – is this because of those high-level official who also met somebody here at the State Department? Also, recently, you just issued a travel warning to Pakistan.

    MR TONER: When you say “this bombing,” you’re – I think you’re referring to the bombing that took place just a few hours ago. Is that --

    QUESTION: That’s right. Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: The mother of all bombs.

    MR TONER: The mother of all bombs.

    QUESTION: Yeah, White House announced just at the briefing.

    MR TONER: No, okay. I just wanted to make sure I was on the – look, a couple points. One is I’ll refer you to what’s already been said about this airstrike that was taken – that took place in Afghanistan. I think it was aimed at a network of tunnels that was being used by terrorist organizations. I can’t say that this was an immediate outcome of any conversations we had with the Afghan Government. I think it’s part of our ongoing efforts to take the fight to the Taliban, to take the fight to ISIS affiliates that are operating in that territory, al-Qaida affiliates that are operating on Afghan soil, and that’s going to continue.

    You spoke about Pakistan and their role in this. We’ve been very clear, while we understand that Pakistan has made efforts to confront terrorism and terrorist organizations on its own soil, that there are still what we call safe havens that exist for terrorist groups to operate from and carry strikes out on Afghanistan. That’s a problem. Again, it’s in Pakistan’s interest to work with – constructively with Afghanistan to address those security concerns.

    QUESTION: I have one on India, please.

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you, I promise.

    QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

    MR TONER: Michele, go ahead.

    QUESTION: I have a question on Turkey --

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: -- and the Pastor Brunson case.

    QUESTION: Can we stay on Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Let me just get to her and then I promise I’ll come back to you. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Vice President Pence has written a letter to the family talking about how this is a top priority for the Trump administration, so I’m wondering what specifically the U.S. is doing to win his release. And then I have a follow-up.

    MR TONER: Sure. You’re talking about --

    QUESTION: Andrew Brunson.

    MR TONER: Yeah, of course. So we can confirm that Turkish authorities detained Andrew Brunson on October 7th, 2016. Since his arrest, I can tell you that consular officers have been able to visit him regularly. We continue to provide appropriate support, consular services, to both – to Mr. Brunson as well as his family. It goes without saying that we take very seriously our obligation to assist any U.S. citizen, but certainly in this case, who is – who are arrested abroad. With respect to his legal case, I’d have to refer you to Mr. Brunson’s attorney.

    QUESTION: So the – when Tillerson was in Ankara, he was asked and Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, was asked about it, and he said that we’re about to finalize the charges against him. And I wonder if there’s been any movement in that case. I mean, as you say, he’s been held since October.

    MR TONER: Excuse me. Well, we have asked Turkish officials to consider releasing Mr. Brunson from custody, subject to whatever judicial conditions or controls may be appropriate while his legal case is resolved. Agree he’s been in detention far too long, and this has been done with other individuals under investigation. And of course, we call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case in a timely and fair manner, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the protections of a fair trial guarantee that are necessary for his defense.

    So our position in this is we’ve made clear our concerns to the Turkish Government; we’re going to continue to offer whatever support we can to Mr. Brunson and his family; and again, our desire to see this resolved as quickly as possible.

    QUESTION: Staying on Turkey?

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MR TONER: Sure thing. Let’s stay on Turkey, and then we’ll get back to Syria, because I know Tejinder was looking at me.

    QUESTION: Turkey.

    QUESTION: Can I have another one after that?

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: On Turkey. Just today, UN experts issued report regarding referendum on Sunday, and they concluded that if the constitution amendments pass on Sunday, then will be existing major violations of social and cultural rights in Turkey will even increase. Not only UN, but also EU, other international watchdogs, witness commissions, and many other experts basically conclude same: If the constitutional changes pass, Turkey’s democratic standards, separation of powers, and many other values will be basically wiped out. What is your conclusion? I am sure you have seen the proposal so far.

    MR TONER: The proposals of – I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Proposal of the constitutional changes that will be voted.

    MR TONER: Look, I’d just say we’re obviously following this issue very closely. As I said the other day, we are concerned about the quality of Turkey’s democracy. These are discussions that we have on a somewhat regular basis with the Turkish Government. Because we’re strong allies and partners, we can have those kinds of conversations.

    I don’t think I have much to – much to say beyond what I said the other day, which is that we’re – you spoke about the OSCE’s final report. We’re looking at that and studying it very closely, but we’re going to, obviously, watch this very closely and – as it moves forward, the referendum, and hope that it’s carried out in such a way that guarantees and strengthens democracy in Turkey.

    QUESTION: Certainly. But so far, the standards and the conditions already – don’t you think the fairness of the freeness of the elections already under huge questions, since we have seen severe limitations on the campaigning in Turkey?

    MR TONER: Several limitations?

    QUESTION: Severe --

    MR TONER: Limitations, okay.

    QUESTION: -- limitations in Turkey.

    MR TONER: I mean look, we never want to see, in any case, as part of any kind of free and fair electoral process, any kind of limitation on all sides to express their viewpoints peacefully. So again, we’re watching this very closely.

    In the back, and then --

    QUESTION: And aren’t you concerned about the environment in which the referendum is going to be held? I mean, hundreds, if not thousands, of dissidents, including the leader of the main Kurdish opposition party, are in prison. How can they campaign for the no voters? I mean, is this referendum not going to be really a fair referendum, according to the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I – there are election observers on the ground. We’re going to let them look at and analyze this referendum as it – and that’s going to include in the lead up to it – and pronounce their judgment of whether it was free and fair. I’m going to withhold comment beyond what I have said already, which is, of course, we’re watching this. We’re monitoring it very closely.

    QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MR TONER: Sure. But let me – I’ll get back to you. I promise. I’m just – in the middle there. Sorry. You.

    QUESTION: Right here?

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. So I want to go to Asia. So --

    MR TONER: We can go.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thanks.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Not too long ago, Prime Minister Abe said that North Korea may have the capacity to deliver missiles with sarin nerve gas. And I know sarin nerve gas is in the news a lot recently, so first, I want to ask: Do you agree with that assessment? And then I have a follow-up.

    MR TONER: You know what, I – to be perfectly honest, I have not seen those reports. Obviously, we’re concerned about North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver those nuclear weapons in the region, and even to the United States. And that continues to be a major concern or a primary concern, but – excuse me – it also goes without saying that North Korea has shown itself willing to pursue other weapons of mass destruction. So I can’t say whether those reports are valid or not. I just don’t know, but it’s something we would take very seriously.

    QUESTION: And then – so then just the other day as well, Sean Spicer said that there’s no evidence that North Korea has the capacity of a nuclear strike at this time. And, of course, a lot of eyes are on the country this weekend because of the holiday. So are you saying that either both with sarin gas and nuclear weapons – like, the country doesn’t have capacity for either, or both?

    MR TONER: Well, they’re clearly pursuing ballistic missile testing. They’re clearly trying to – I mean, we’ve seen this multiple times, that they’re – in the past six months alone, that they’re trying to test out systems that can deliver whatever, whether it’s a nuclear weapon or something else, in the region. And that’s why, frankly, we are so utterly seized with the threat that North Korea now poses. And it’s also one of the reasons why – and this was made very clear in the President’s meetings with Chinese leadership last week – that the time for action is now, and by that, we need to look at ways to put increased pressure on North Korea in order for it to recognize the reality that it needs to pursue denuclearization, that it needs to answer the international community’s very real concerns about its ongoing efforts to pursue nuclear weaponry and the means to deliver those in the region.

    QUESTION: Mark?

    QUESTION: Stay on the topic?

    QUESTION: Also on North Korea.

    QUESTION: I have a follow-up.

    MR TONER: We’ll stay on North Korea, sure.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Let’s kill – let’s go through all these questions and then --

    QUESTION: Yes, North Korea.

    MR TONER: Kill this topic, sorry.

    QUESTION: Thank you. The last time Secretary Tillerson said that the strategic patience is over and need a new approach to the North Korea. What is the United States new approach toward North Korea? What specifically included?

    MR TONER: Well, good question. I think that, as I just said, provocations from North Korea have grown, frankly, too common, too dangerous to ignore anymore. So we’re working with the international community, and that includes our partners in the region – certainly Republic of Korea, Japan are among those stalwart partners and allies that we’re working with to address this concern. But we’re looking at how we hold the Kim Jong-un regime accountable for its reckless behavior. And the way we’re doing that is pursuing right now efforts to isolate, to cut off North Korea from the rest of the world, and that’s being done through diplomatic efforts, but it’s also through security and economic measures as well. All of this is with the aim of persuading North Korea that its pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them is only going to take it farther from what it professes to want, which is a prosperous, engaged role in the world.

    Please.

    QUESTION: Another one on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Really? But has it ever said that it wanted an engaged role in the world?

    MR TONER: Well, I think there’s been some – there’s been lots of talk --

    QUESTION: That North Korea wants to be --

    MR TONER: -- or lots of discussion within the Six-Party Talks that --

    QUESTION: The Six-Party is done at the working level.

    MR TONER: -- that they want – sorry, I’m answering two questions at one time – that they want prosperity, that they want to be heard. That’s what I’m talking about.

    QUESTION: Yeah --

    QUESTION: What do you mean by saying it’s too dangerous to ignore anymore? Is this administration’s position that the previous administration and the ones before it ignored North Korea?

    MR TONER: I think it’s a – no, but I would say that there’s – look, I think in the past several months, we have seen only an acceleration of North Korea’s efforts to – as I said, to pursue nuclear weaponry, but also the means to deliver it. So I think there’s a realization that the time for talk, the time for some of this – if I could put it this – kind of long-term negotiation strategy and engagement is past. We --

    QUESTION: Well, it’s a crowd-pleasing line, isn’t it, to say that, like, it’s too dangerous to ignore anymore. But, like, it’s one thing, as the Secretary has said, that the policy of strategic patience or such has failed, but that doesn’t mean that previous administrations, whether it’s the Clinton administration, Bush Administration, or Obama administration, ignored the problem. They just didn’t deal with it in a way that has been able to abate it, wouldn’t you say?

    MR TONER: I would say that the --

    QUESTION: Are you saying that strategic patience is akin to ignoring North Korea?

    MR TONER: No, no, and that’s a fair point. What I would say is that we can no longer, I think, engage in that kind of longer-range approach to North Korea, that we need short-term solutions. And that’s not to – look, the Secretary was also very clear we’re not looking to – for regime change here. We’re looking at denuclearization.

    QUESTION: Well, do you need short-term solutions, or do you need – I understand – it sounds like you’re mixing your metaphors a little, because yes, you need – I understand what you’re saying about not looking --

    MR TONER: That’s what we spokespeople do.

    QUESTION: -- for a long-term – thinking about long-term negotiations, but a short-term solution is not going to deal with the North Korean problem in the long term. Don’t you think?

    MR TONER: (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: A short-term solution is a short-term solution.

    MR TONER: I understand what you’re saying. Look, let me try to --

    QUESTION: You don’t want to curb the --

    MR TONER: Right. So --

    QUESTION: That’s just --

    MR TONER: Okay. So there is an urgency to the situation that wasn’t necessarily there in the past because of the actions that they’ve taken over the past six months. And so I think that’s been made very clear by Secretary Tillerson, by President Trump, and we’ve made that clear to the Chinese as well, as well as our other allies and partners in the region.

    QUESTION: President Trump said that if China is not help to resolve North Korea nuclear issues, the United States will take its own actions. What do you expect from China to do so?

    MR TONER: Well, I think we expect China to – obviously to assert its leverage that it has. I think just today it was talking about even though it’s enacted all of the UN Security Council resolutions – or UN Security Council sanctions, rather, regime against North Korea, it’s also got a very robust trading program with North Korea. So clearly, it has economic influence over North Korea. We’re looking at it to leverage its unique relationship with North Korea to persuade the regime in Pyongyang to reconsider.

    QUESTION: Mark, can I change the subject?

    MR TONER: Yeah, let’s change subject. Sorry, I’ll get back to you.

    QUESTION: Yeah, let’s finish this. So --

    MR TONER: I’ll get back to you when I have time. I’ll get back to you when I have time.

    QUESTION: There is an internal memo that went around as well as something that was updated online that even though the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the federal hiring freeze, that the Secretary Tillerson, that the State Department was going to maintain its hiring freeze. Do you know what led to that decision?

    MR TONER: Sure. So OMB --

    QUESTION: And what is it about?

    MR TONER: Okay. So the OMB on Wednesday announced the lifting of the hiring freeze, as you noted, and provided also extensive further guidance to all the various federal agencies on the implementation of and requirements pursuant to the OMB memorandum which is called, I think, Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, which is a mouthful. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: And this document, this memo, provides guidance on new requirements on the presidential memorandum that was initially issued on January 23rd.

    QUESTION: Correct.

    MR TONER: This was the one that issued the hiring freeze, as well as the executive order issued on March 13th that required a comprehensive plan to reorganize all the executive branch departments and agencies.

    So as part of that process, the department and this Secretary are going to be undertaking a reorganization later in the year, and the decision was taken that the hiring freeze will continue until that plan is fully developed and agreement is reached on its implementation.

    And this is just part of prudent planning. We can’t be onboarding people when we don’t know what our reorganization is ultimately going to look at – look like. But until then – and this is an important point – the Secretary does retain authority to waive the ruling – or the hiring freeze and will do so in instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission and responsibilities require. So he does --

    QUESTION: So it doesn’t break any federal law that he’s done this?

    MR TONER: It does not. It’s his decision to maintain this hiring freeze.

    QUESTION: Even though that – even though the Congress has – the appropriations has approved money for it, or even if the Congress has said that that’s fine to lift it. So there is a law, a federal law, that if appropriations has moved on some kind of spending or whatever --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- and he says, “No, I’m not going to touch that,” isn’t that against a law?

    MR TONER: My understanding is that he has the jurisdiction to – basically to keep this freeze in place as we go about this presidentially mandated reorganization.

    QUESTION: Are we talking about Civil and Foreign Service officers, political appointees? What --

    MR TONER: Across the board.

    QUESTION: So he’s – wait a minute. So he’s not going to hire any political appointees --

    MR TONER: I --

    QUESTION: -- before the reorg?

    MR TONER: I believe it’s a hiring freeze across the board. I don’t know about political appointees. I’ll check on that.

    QUESTION: Could you check on that? So what are you – yeah, I mean --

    MR TONER: I can check on that.

    QUESTION: That would – essentially, if that’s true, what you’re saying, that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, that you would not be hiring any assistant secretaries --

    MR TONER: I will check on political appointments. I’m not sure about political appointments.

    QUESTION: -- under secretaries, a deputy secretary of state.

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’m not sure about political appointments.

    QUESTION: That can’t be right.

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll check on that.

    QUESTION: So effectively he’s put this on, the freeze, until he’s done the reorganization. Have those plans actually started? And how are they going to be fleshed out? Does --

    MR TONER: I believe they have started. As to how they’re going to be fleshed out, I don’t have any more details.

    QUESTION: I mean, it’s going to go on for the rest of the year?

    MR TONER: I don’t know if there’s a time, date. I don’t have any kind of timeframe for you. If I get one, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: And I gather that he would have got White House or congressional approval for this?

    MR TONER: Yes, I would imagine he would.

    QUESTION: I just want to point out something that --

    MR TONER: On the political appointees, though, it’s a good question.

    QUESTION: Yeah, no, because I mean Foreign Minister Lavrov even said yesterday that – I mean, we can consider the source, but other diplomats from other --

    MR TONER: No, I’m not responding, I’m just --

    QUESTION: I understand, but other diplomats from other countries have also said that the lack of staff at the State Department has become an impediment to having interlocutors to deal with, whether it’s long-term foreign policy cooperation, short-term foreign policy crises. So I mean, I would really like some clarification on that. Because if you’re saying that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, I really would say that suggests that that will continue to be a problem.

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question.

    QUESTION: Related to this, though, Mark, you said that he has the – he retains authority to waive it, right?

    MR TONER: Yeah, authority. Thank you. Yes, he does. Yeah. In instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission --

    QUESTION: Has he?

    MR TONER: -- responsibilities – I would assume that political appointees in high positions would fall under the department’s core mission responsibilities.

    QUESTION: Do you think that would apply to the – do you think that would apply to the newly nominated deputy? You think he’d get away with it?

    MR TONER: I would think that would apply.

    QUESTION: Mark, can I --

    QUESTION: So – hold on a second; I’m not done.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Back in February, two months ago tomorrow --

    QUESTION: Sorry, Matt.

    QUESTION: -- the department sought and received a waiver from the – what was then the hiring freeze. You were given permission by OMB to bring on 175 new staff – 70 entry level, 80 mid level, and 25 consular fellows. Did those people actually come on board? And has the department – did the department seek additional exemptions between February 14th and Wednesday?

    MR TONER: I’ll check on both. Yeah, I’ll check on both. I’ll take those questions.

    QUESTION: Can I --

    QUESTION: Another subject?

    MR TONER: Yeah, we can change the subject, but I haven’t gotten to – I’ll get back to you, I swear to God.

    QUESTION: Regarding Venezuela.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: Thousands of protesters are demanding new elections in Venezuela. And opposition leaders consider that the government of the President Nicolas Maduro, it’s no longer respecting democratic institutions and it’s sliding toward authoritarian practices. Can you comment on that, please?

    MR TONER: Sure. First of all, we’re – I want to start with some of the reports of violence against protesters during demonstrations in Venezuela. We’re aware of those reports. We obviously regret any loss of life. We call, once again, on the Government of Venezuela to conduct full, fair, and transparent investigations into this violence. We also call on the government and security forces to respect the freedom of assembly – peaceful assembly – as a universal human right, which the Venezuelan authorities should respect. We, as I said, also urge the demonstrators to express themselves nonviolently.

    With respect to your broader question, we urge the Maduro government to reconsider its decision this past week, I believe, or past weekend, to bar Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles and – from participating in the country’s public life for I think some 15 years. It’s something we view with grave concern. It’s absolutely vital that Venezuelans have the right to exercise their – and elect their representatives in free and fair elections in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution and consistent with international instruments. And that includes the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

    We firmly support as well the consensus of the Organization of American States Permanent Council, which affirms it is essential that the Government of Venezuela ensure the full restoration of democratic order.

    Thanks. Please.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: You mentioned the need to work with South Korea and Japan --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- on North Korea. And Vice President Pence is about to travel to that region and will be visiting both South Korea and Japan. I was wondering if you could discuss what message he’ll be sending to leaders in the region and what he’ll be discussing in those meetings, and then I have a --

    MR TONER: Well, look, I would have to refer you to the Vice President and his office to talk about the specifics about his trip. But, obviously, I think that it’s very clear given Secretary Tillerson’s travel to the region, given that both leadership from Republic of Korea and Japan have been here for high-level meetings, that we are very concerned, primarily concerned with North Korea and its actions and how to deal with North Korea. And in that regard, I think he’s going to be sending a very clear message, certainly in Seoul and elsewhere, of our steadfast, ironclad support for our allies and partners in the region. And that stands absolute.

    So I’ll let – I’ll leave it to him to speak in greater detail. Please.

    QUESTION: Okay, and then also --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: -- in Japan, he’ll --

    QUESTION: Couple questions about Syria.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: So Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about – he offered to reinstate this de-confliction channel, and – but there were terms, and I was wondering, this thing about the de-confliction in the airs – in the air, between airplanes in – that was suspended, and Secretary Tillerson didn’t say anything about whether he accepted the terms that Lavrov set. So we’re wondering, where does that stand, how important is that channel, and what’s the plan when it comes to preventing any mishaps in the air over Syria?

    MR TONER: Frankly, my understanding was that that does remain intact. There was some question that it was going to be pulled down. That was a Russia claim, at least. Look, we consider that de-confliction channel to be very important, because it helps ensure that neither our pilots nor Russia’s pilots are unduly or unnecessarily put in harm’s way when we’re carrying out military missions in the – in that region.

    So I can’t speak to how it may change. My understanding is that it does remain in effect.

    QUESTION: Because – I mean, was – my understanding is that that channel was suspended after the missile strike.

    MR TONER: I had heard that – I had seen those same reports, but my understanding was that – my understanding is that after that, it was reinstated. If that’s incorrect, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Can I --

    MR TONER: Please. Yeah, please.

    QUESTION: A fact check.

    QUESTION: I have a follow-up question.

    MR TONER: Yeah, of course, finish up. And then --

    QUESTION: Yeah, so did Secretary Tillerson meet with any members of civil society when he was – while he was in Moscow or Russia?

    MR TONER: I don’t believe he did. Frankly, it was an issue of time. He did, of course, raise our concerns, as he does in every meeting with our Russian counterparts. But I don’t believe he actually had the time to meet with any members of civil society while he was on the ground.

    QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that, and then I have a question on Afghanistan.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Do you anticipate this is something that he’ll make as a kind of regular feature of his travel? I mean, past secretaries to some extent – some more, some less – have made that a kind of staple of their --

    MR TONER: Meeting with civil society members?

    QUESTION: Of – yeah.

    MR TONER: You’re right. I mean, it’s – it has been, because it’s an – it’s a great way to send the message that it’s a matter of concern, it’s an issue of concern to us. Again, I think in any given visit, given the other demands on the Secretary’s schedule, of course, I can’t speak categorically, but I know for a fact that he does consider human rights, healthy civil society to be something that he’s going to press in all of his interactions.

    QUESTION: I have a question --

    MR TONER: Yes, sir – ma’am.

    QUESTION: -- if we could just go back to Afghanistan for a second.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: I know you kind of punted to the Pentagon on the actual strike itself, but we haven’t really heard a lot about ISIS in the kind of Afghan-Pakistan region. And I’m wondering if you could kind of bring us up to date on your discussions with those governments about the growth of ISIS. Because, like I said, we really haven’t – I mean, I know that they had some small presence, but it kind of was surprising to see the depth of which the --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- to which you have this concern.

    MR TONER: Well, and it’s a fair point to bring up. I mean, look, we’ve been very clear that, just like we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, but certainly in Afghanistan, where ISIS has attempted to co-opt some existing groups on the ground in an effort to create affiliates. And we’re going to see this, I think – and this is something that was discussed in the ministerial a few weeks ago – that as ISIS continues to get pressed in Syria and in Iraq, it’s going to seek to do that, I think, more and more. So it’s something we’re watching very closely, and we’re working with the Government of Afghanistan and our partners in the region in order to deny any terrorist organization – that includes al-Qaida as well – safe haven or any kind of material support on the ground. And as we’ve also been very clear, we’re – when we see targets of opportunity and leadership, opportunities to take out key leadership, we’re going to take those opportunities.

    QUESTION: I understand that this was a target of opportunity, but are you saying that this target was – were they working with other types of – like so-called affiliates?

    MR TONER: That’s a common practice for ISIS to – yeah.

    QUESTION: No, I understand, but I’m just saying, this particular --

    MR TONER: I don’t know the specifics. I don’t have enough specifics on this.

    QUESTION: I’m just – as opposed to, like, the actual strike and the weapon and how it was done, I’m interested in this particular target --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- and why it was chosen in terms of their threat. And given that the State Department has really been the lead in terms of the coalition against ISIS, I’d be interested a little bit more in --

    MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have a lot of detail on this particular strike and why this – I mean, other than that they were ISIS-affiliated group or ISIS --

    QUESTION: ISIS-affiliated group or members of ISIS, like official leadership?

    MR TONER: I’ll check. I’ll check.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: Couple more questions, guys. Tejinder, I haven’t gotten to you yet.

    QUESTION: I have the patience, and wishing you a quick, fast recovery --

    MR TONER: Thanks.

    QUESTION: -- because I saw you limping.

    MR TONER: I’m limping, I’m coughing.

    QUESTION: Oh, yes.

    MR TONER: I need vacation. Luckily, it’s coming up.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I have empathy, I’m coughing also.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The – one short follow-up on Afghanistan and then one on India-related. Afghanistan is that day before yesterday, after the briefing in the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary, when I asked him that – is Afghanistan on back burner, he said not at all, nothing has changed. So that’s from the Defense. On the --

    MR TONER: What he said, yes.

    QUESTION: On the diplomatic side, with Russia taking that initiative, has anything changed from this side on the diplomatic front?

    MR TONER: Not at all, and in fact, I think it was just a couple weeks ago the Afghan foreign minister, I think it was, in conjunction with the counter-ISIS ministerial was here in town, and they had a very good bilateral discussion – one of the few bilateral meetings he was able to take given his schedule, Secretary Tillerson’s schedule. But he made the point of taking that meeting because he wanted to express our firm support for the Afghan Government’s continued efforts to confront the Taliban, to confront other terrorist groups on its territory, and to solidify and continue to enact needed political and economic reforms.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: And the other --

    MR TONER: You had another – yeah, finish up, and then --

    QUESTION: I have second one.

    QUESTION: The second one is about --

    MR TONER: Okay. I’m going to do three more questions. I got to you. I got to you already. Three more questions.

    QUESTION: The second one is --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: The second one is about the diplomatic efforts from the U.S. The Indian media is flush with this hate crimes against people of Indian origin. Now, what – a kind of journalistic investigation revealed that most of these Indians were either misidentified or misunderstood because of religious symbols or other things, but when the Indian ambassador rushes to State Department and expresses his deep concerns about this, and then we find out that the Hardish Patel, the county sheriff says that it was not a hate crime. So what – how can you clarify that these incidents are not against Indians or people from Indian origin? They’re misidentified. There is – it’s not about condoning hate crime, it’s about misrepresenting the facts. If you can clarify from the podium.

    MR TONER: So a couple of thoughts on this – first of all is we obviously strongly condemn any hate crime, any crime carried out against someone based on their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, whatever. We condemn it. Secondly, though, with respect to these particular crimes, that’s really something for either local, regional, or federal law enforcement to speak to. All of these crimes need to be thoroughly investigated, and that’s why I’m very hesitant to comment on one particular case or not, because I don’t know the facts and it would be imprudent for me, except to say that, largely speaking, there are – there’s a strong Indian American community in this country. They’re a vibrant part of American culture and society and the economy here. And we, as Americans, welcome their contribution. And as I said, any crime based on – that potentially based on someone’s ethnicity or heritage should be heartily condemned.

    QUESTION: I was trying to clarify one --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: I was just trying to clarify that this crimes were even ethnicity-based were not against the Indian ethnicity. They were mis --

    MR TONER: Identified? I just don’t have the details. I apologize, Tejinder.

    QUESTION: Could we do a quick one --

    MR TONER: Said. Yeah, very quick.

    QUESTION: -- on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: A couple of days ago, you issued an advisory, a travel advisory --

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: -- to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. But you also urged American citizens to leave Gaza.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: And this coincided with the escalating tensions, and the Israelis are amassing troops. Are you concerned that there may have – there may be another war that could – may –

    MR TONER: No, I – look – sure. I’m aware of --

    QUESTION: -- which will urge the Israelis --

    MR TONER: I’m aware the timing was linked or was close to it, but this was, as my understanding of it, just a periodic update, and that the information concerning Gaza was similar to language from our previous travel warnings.

    So as many of you know in this room, we have to periodically update the language to ensure they remain valid and up-to-date. This was a routine update. I think the previous one was issued on August 23rd, 2016, but it contained very similar guidance. Our travel warning warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Gaza Strip and urges those present to depart as soon as possible when border crossings are open. And I think the way – by way of explanation, given the security conditions in Gaza, U.S. government personnel have been long restricted from travel to Gaza, and so that restricts our ability to provide any assistance or support to any U.S. citizen in Gaza. So it’s out of that reality, if you will, that we caution.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And this --

    MR TONER: John, last question.

    QUESTION: Yeah. And this Russia-hosted conference on Afghanistan --

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: You said that it seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region. This dropping of this massive bomb in Afghanistan that has a fairly large optical element to it, could you – could one interpret that as a unilateral attempt to assert influence in the region?

    MR TONER: No. Look, again, I’m --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: I’m not going to attempt to speak way outside my box and talk about, you know, military matters.

    QUESTION: But it does have – when it’s a bomb that large, there’s a diplomatic effect to dropping something like that.

    MR TONER: There is, John. But – I imagine, but I’m going to stay mum on that. Thanks, everybody. Thanks so much.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)

    DPB # 21


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 11, 2017

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 16:27
Mark C. Toner
Acting Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 11, 2017 Index for Today's Briefing
  • SECRETARY TILLERSON'S TRAVEL
  • SYRIA
  • HUNGARY
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA
  • SYRIA/LEBANON
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA
  • SYRIA
  • ITALY/RUSSIA

    TRANSCRIPT:
    Today's briefing was held off-camera, so no video is available.

    2:03 p.m. EDT

    MR TONER: Thank you. Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. Happy to be back among you and to do the briefing. Just in an effort to accommodate our folks from the broadcast media, I am trying to do this through a headset today, so I hope the sound quality is a little bit better so it can – the audio can be useable for some – for all of you, rather. I know that was some constructive criticism offered in some of the earlier phone briefings we did.

    I don’t have much at the top. I did want to briefly update you on the Secretary’s travels. As you’ve probably seen, Secretary Tillerson concluded meetings in Lucca, Italy at the G7 earlier today. I’d refer you to the joint communique that was issued by the participants earlier. On the margins of the G7, he was able to meet with counterparts from Japan, from the UK, from France, Italy, and others. And earlier today, there was a meeting on Syria of like-minded countries.

    The Secretary is now in Moscow, where he’ll hold meetings with his counterpart Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials starting tomorrow. With that, I’ll hand it over to our first question.

    OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, just a quick reminder, if you do have a question, please press *1 at any time. And first, we’ll have Matthew Lee with the Associated Press. Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Hi Mark. Thanks. I hope you’re feeling better. Doesn’t sound like you are 100 percent yet, but get well soon. Come back.

    My question – I have two. They’re very disparate questions, though. The first is on Syria and the Secretary’s comment at the press avail this morning, when he said, “I think it is clear to us all that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.” When I read that, I was reminded of the previous administration saying that President Assad’s days are numbered back in August of 2011 and continuing to say that his days are numbered for the next 1,983 days, if my math is correct. And I’m wondering if, when the Secretary says that now, does he – is he saying – he’s clearly referring to some kind of new strategy, or it appears to me that he should be referring to a new kind of strategy that the U.S. is going to use in terms of Assad. And I’m wondering is that simply the airstrikes that were conducted that the previous administration opted against doing, or is there something else, and what is it? What would that something else be?

    And then my second one has to do with Hungary. And I’m just wondering if you can add anything to what Deputy Assistant Yee – Secretary Yee said in Hungary today about the signing of the bill on the Central European University.

    MR TONER: Sure. Thanks, Matt. And thanks for the best wishes of my health.

    First of all, with reference to Secretary Tillerson’s remarks earlier today, look, we obviously have no interest in seeing Assad remain in Syria over the long run. I think the world is with us on that. And last week’s barbaric chemical weapons attack in Idlib province only underscored the fact that in the eyes of, frankly, most people around the world, this is a leader who has lost legitimacy and has killed and continues to kill hundreds of thousands of his own people.

    I think in terms of the strategy question, Secretary Tillerson was also clear – and others have been clear – that we’ve got a dual focus: One, without doubt, is focused on destroying ISIS. That was made crystal clear in the D-ISIS ministerial that took place a few weeks ago, and that remains this administration’s priority. But I do think you’ve seen or are seeing a recognition that we need to focus on moving forward with the political process in Geneva and also trying to strengthen, or de-escalate I guess, the violence in Syria. I don’t have anything to offer in terms of new strategies yet. I think those are still being discussed and new methods to approach that. I would just say that we’re committed to the Geneva process, to a political process that leads to a political solution to Syria. That has not changed. One of the things --

    QUESTION: But why does – why does --

    MR TONER: Go ahead. Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Why does he say it’s clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end? Why is it clear?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I think that he’s simply stating the fact that Assad is a leader in his own mind but not for the Syrian people and that his most recent actions only solidify the fact that he needs to leave and cannot govern Syria. But ultimately, Matt, that has not changed our belief that this is a process that needs to be run and decided on by the Syrian people.

    Now what was clear – and you know this from last week – is we have redlines. And one of those redlines is the use of chemical weapons. And this administration carried out a very measured strike on the facility and the aircraft that carried out that strike on Idlib last week. And that sends a clear message that we do have redlines and will enact those redlines.

    I do want to move to Hungary quickly. Sorry. I did issue a statement – I’m aware of Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee’s remarks as well. I did issue a statement on those, I think a few weeks ago, as well. We are very concerned about this legislation that was passed by Hungary’s parliament last week that was signed into law by the president this week, I think. And we believe it threatens the continued operations of Central European University, which is a leading academic institution. It’s an important conduit for intellectual and cultural exchanges between Hungary and the United States. And frankly, it’s at the center of freethinking and research. The legislation, we believe, can also similarly threaten the operations of other American universities with degree programs in Hungary, so it goes beyond just Central European University.

    I know that tens of thousands of Hungarians have been peacefully protesting in support of the CEU, and researchers and academics and others from around the world have also spoken out in its defense. And I know that – or I can say that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon met last week with the president and rector of the CEU, the Central European University, Michael Ignatieff, to discuss the effect of this law on this university. So we’re urging the Government of Hungary to suspend implementation of the law. We want to see a review and discussion in order to address any concerns through dialogue with the university itself and other affected institutions going forward.

    Next question, please.

    OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, just a quick reminder, if you do have a question please press * 1 at any time. And next we’ll go to Lesley Wroughton with Reuters. Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Hi, Mark. I’m also with Matt. Feel better soon. You sound awful.

    MR TONER: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So Mark, I’ve got a couple of questions. One is do you – will the Secretary actually raise Assad’s future during the meetings in Moscow tomorrow? I mean, will he actually want to kind of outline a plan or get from Russia some kind of commitment on what’s going to happen? Or is this kind of an open-ended something that you’ll leave till later discussions?

    The other question I have is if the administration ultimately believes that the Geneva process is the way to negotiate a political transition, how quickly – I mean, do you think that these attacks mean that you’d like to have those discussions brought forward more quickly and to start something quite soon?

    And then I have a Ukraine question, if I might have a follow up.

    MR TONER: Great. I’m sorry. Just one more time, Lesley, your first question. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Okay. Is the Secretary going to raise Assad’s future during the meetings tomorrow in Moscow? (Long pause.) Hello? Mark?

    MR TONER: I am so sorry, Lesley. I was --

    QUESTION: You don’t like the question?

    MR TONER: No. I apologize. I had the mute button on. I apologize.

    QUESTION: No worries.

    MR TONER: No, I – that’s too bad, because I was really articulate there. Anyway --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: No, look, without getting ahead of the meetings tomorrow, I have no doubt that they’ll discuss Assad and his future, and certainly in light of the actions that he undertook last week, or his regime did. But I think also Secretary Tillerson has been very clear that he’ll raise the question of where Russia stands and whether it’s going to remain supportive of a regime that is carrying out such brutal humanitarian – or brutal attacks on innocent civilians. And I think he posed the question very succinctly earlier today: Which side of history does Russia want to be on? And I think that’s a decision it needs to make.

    With respect to – I think you asked a question about whether this adds momentum to the Geneva process. Staffan de Mistura is here in town today. He’s having meetings at the White House. State Department officials are there at those meetings. We’ll see if we can get a readout or the White House can give a readout of those meetings later. But I think it underscores the sense of urgency that we all feel in light of last week’s brutal attacks to really reinvigorate the Geneva process. It’s a – and we all know this who have watched this issue over the years now. It’s partly – you need a de-escalations of the violence so you can get the political negotiations back up and running in Geneva, and that’s our focus and remains our focus with respect to the political process and the civil war in Syria.

    You had a question on Ukraine?

    QUESTION: Yeah, on Ukraine. Yeah. So the Secretary today – according to the French foreign minister, the Secretary in Italy asked his European counterparts why American voters should care about the conflict in Ukraine. What was behind that question? I mean, does – and I know that Poroshenko of Ukraine today, I think he spoke to the Secretary, it might have been today, to ensure that the U.S. remains committed to supporting Ukraine. Why did he actually ask that question of the – of his European counterparts, given that the U.S. has given at least 3 billion in loan guarantees and other kinds of support for Ukraine?

    MR TONER: To be honest, Lesley, that’s a question I think Foreign Minister Ayrault is going to have to answer. I – look, I mean, Secretary Tillerson has been abundantly clear with respect to our position, the U.S. Government’s position, on Ukraine and his support for the Minsk process and his support for sanctions until Russia and the separatists that it backs meet their commitments through Minsk. He made that very clear. He spoke with President Poroshenko earlier today and made it very clear to him that the U.S. position on Ukraine remains the same and is very strongly in support of the Ukrainian Government, and, as I said, the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.

    With respect to, as I said, what was reported out about this question, I’m not going to discuss the internal deliberations, but I have no idea of what Foreign Minister Ayrault was referring to.

    Next question, please.

    QUESTION: We’ll go to Anne Gearan with The Washington Post. Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Hey, Mark. Glad to hear your voice, even scratchy. So one question on the discussions in Lucca and one on Moscow. On the G7, can you frame for us the U.S. response to the fact that there wasn’t the kind of unified statement about Russia and Syria that the Secretary had hoped for coming out of those meetings? Does that diminish his leverage going into Moscow? And during his meetings in Moscow, what is the current state of play of whether or not he will meet with President Putin, given that Putin himself had said he expected that meeting as recently as when Putin was at the Arctic meeting? Thank you.

    MR TONER: Sure, thanks, Anne. (Coughing.) Excuse me, I apologize.

    QUESTION: Oh gee, you sound awful.

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) Sorry. With – I’ll answer your – well, hopefully the antibiotic will kick in.

    With respect to his Moscow – I’ll start with the second question first. So as I said, he is going to – plans to meet with Secretary – or with Foreign Minister Lavrov and other officials tomorrow. If there is an invitation for him to meet with Putin, of course, he’ll do so. I think that’s a decision for the Kremlin to make and to announce, and up till now we’ve not seen such an offer extended. Now, it could come tomorrow. So as I said, he’s – he’s certainly willing to meet with President Putin to discuss all of these issues.

    Your first question was, I think, about the G7 --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: -- and your concern that it wasn’t quite enough or strong enough on Russia and Syria? Is that --

    QUESTION: Right. I mean, what is – what is your view of how strong it was and whether the fact that it doesn’t fully back the U.S. view at this point hinders the Secretary’s leverage when he meets with the Russian officials?

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t necessarily think it was – it hinders his efforts by any means, and I think it was actually quite strong on – with respect to the attack, as I said, in – it took place in Idlib province last week, the chemical weapons attack, and it also condemned Syria’s use of chemical weapons. And I think it very clearly shined a light on the fact that – that Russia and Iran and others are – I’m talking about the joint communique – are on the wrong side on this.

    And it also expressed full support for the OPCW investigation into the incident and into whether this attack constituted a war crime.

    I think you’re probably asking about the issue of sanctions. And look, that’s something that was up for discussion. I don’t have any great insights about – as to why it – as to why it came out the way it did. But I think that Secretary Tillerson is going to Moscow, I think, bolstered by the support of his G7 partners and allies. The fact that – with respect to Syria, Russia is on the wrong side on this. I mean, it has been supporting a regime that is now guilty of crimes against humanity in terms of carrying out chemical weapons attacks, and that’s inexcusable and intolerable. And so I think he’s going to come back – come to – he’s going to – or he’s in Moscow, rather, to deliver a very tough message, but one that needs to be heard by Russia.

    Next question, please.

    OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, again, if you have a question, please press *1 at any time. And we’ll go to Conor Finnegan, ABC News.

    QUESTION: Hey Mark, welcome back. Hope you’re feeling better as well. I just had a quick question. President Trump, Vice President Pence, and some other administration officials have all said that this administration wants to work with Russia more broadly against terrorism – something Sean Spicer actually repeated just now in today’s briefing at the White House. So does the administration still think that they can work with Russia on that front given – given not just the chemical weapons attack last week but also what the White House said was a campaign by Russia to mislead and obfuscate about the attack, and while Russia has been aligning itself with another terrorist group, Hizballah?

    MR TONER: Right. Excuse me. That’s a big, complex question, but I’ll try to break it down and answer it. (Coughing.) Excuse me, I apologize. And I think it’s going to be somewhat of a nuanced answer, because look, we obviously would welcome if Russia were to seriously commit itself to going after ISIS in Syria. We would welcome such a move. But we’re nowhere near that, and so you’re absolutely right that Russia has, up until now, aligned itself with Assad, with the Iranians, and with Hizballah.

    And as Secretary Tillerson asked the question earlier today is what does that in the long-term alliance – how does that serve Russia’s interest? The question is whether Russia – and this is a strategic decision that Russia needs to make, is whether it would instead prefer to align with the United States and other countries in working to constructively resolve the crisis in Syria.