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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 19, 2018

ven, 04/20/2018 - 01:04
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 19, 2018

Index for Today's Briefing
  • CUBA
  • CUBA
  • IRAQ
  • IRAN


    2:53 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everyone. How are you today?

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: Sorry we’re getting a late start. I got a couple announcements to start out with today.

    The first is an announcement looking ahead to Monday. On Monday, April the 23rd, the State Department and the Business Council for International Understanding will cohost a business roundtable with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss opportunities for U.S.-Japan collaboration on infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region. Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh will lead the event that will include approximately 100 U.S. and Japan private sector representatives.

    The main aim is to advance common interests raised during the U.S.-Japan Economic Dialogue and public-private partnerships that support best-value solutions to most effectively meet third-country economic and global sustainability goals. Both governments will seek to identify opportunities for further collaboration on financing for infrastructure projects, business-to-business relationships, infrastructure investment policies, project implementation, capacity-building assistance, in order to support quality infrastructure development. Infrastructure sectors will include energy, transportation, telecommunications, smart cities, water and sanitation systems.

    That will take place here on Monday. If anyone has any interest on that, let us know and we’ll see what we can do to assist you with that.

    Second, on Cuba. Today, the Cuban National Assembly appointed Miguel Diaz-Canel to be the next president of Cuba. Cuban citizens had no real power to affect the outcome of this undemocratic transition process. We are disappointed that the Cuban Government opted to silence independent voices and maintain its repressive monopoly on power rather than allow its people a meaningful choice through free, fair, and competitive elections. Cuba’s new president should take concrete steps to improve the lives of the Cuban people, to respect human rights, and to cease repression and allow greater political and economic freedoms. We urge the new president to listen and respond to Cuban citizens’ demands for a more prosperous, free, and democratic Cuba.

    On Saturday, our Acting Secretary Sullivan will travel to Toronto to lead the U.S. delegation to the G7 foreign ministers meeting. The agenda for the ministerial is centered around building a more peaceful and secure world, and will address matters of shared concern, including counterterrorism, nonproliferation, North Korea, and also the situation in Syria. The conversations will set the stage for the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Charlevoix, Canada, which takes place in June of this year.

    On the margins of the G7 ministerial, Acting Secretary Sullivan will meet with a number of his counterparts for bilateral discussions. I look forward to sharing more information about the meetings as his schedule is still being finalized.

    And lastly, you may see that we have more guests than usual, and our guests are sitting here in the front today. And I couldn’t be more honored to have him – them here at the State Department. They are Uighur journalists. They report for Radio Free Asia. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with them for about close to an hour yesterday, where I heard many of their stories. Many of their stories are incredibly heartbreaking – what they have been through, and what their families have been through – most importantly, perhaps – as a result of their work to report the facts of the world into their home country.

    So I’d like – with that, I’d like to announce that the United States has become increasingly concerned by the increasing levels of repression in Xinjiang, China. Just yesterday, I met with these six U.S.-based reporters whose Uighur family members have been threatened and dozens of their family members have been detained, simply because they were doing their jobs – the jobs that you all can do freely every day here in the United States, most of you without repercussions to your families overseas, those of you who do have overseas family members.

    I’d like to recognize them today. First, we have Mamatjan Juma. Is Mamatjan – he’s here. With Radio Free Asia, Uighur service journalists. Next we have Shohret Hoshur. Shohret, please stand up. Thank you. Also from Radio Free Asia. Next we have Alim Seytoff. And you’re all in order, too. Thank you. (Laughter.) That makes it easier. So organized. And Rohit Mahajan. Thank you so much.

    Our State Department officials – one of our State Department officials, our deputy assistant secretary, was in China earlier this week, and she reported a little bit about what is going on in this situation that paints a very disturbing picture in China. We are increasingly concerned about excessive restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of beliefs in China. We are also concerned about China’s efforts to pressure other governments into forcibly returning Uighurs to China or to coerce family members. And finally, we are concerned about the widespread detentions and the unprecedented levels of surveillance.

    We are grateful to these brave Radio Free Asia journalists for their work. We want them to know that we will continue to raise our deep concerns with the Chinese Government. We call on China to end their counterproductive policies and freely – and free all of those who have been arbitrarily detained.

    I’d like to mention that one of their colleagues – who’s not here today, I spoke with yesterday – shared with me that 23 members of her family have been round up in recent years. Imagine that. You’re here doing your jobs in the – your job in the United States, and 23 members are round up as a result. It was a very illuminating conversation, and I would like to be able to introduce any of you who are interested into these brave – to these brave Radio Free Journalists after the briefing, or whenever you’re available and they’re available too.

    So thank you for honoring us with your presence, and we’re proud to be here raising attention to your cases. Thank you.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Matt.

    QUESTION: Hey, Happy Thursday. I just want to ask you one brief question about your Cuba comment.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: When you said that you were disappointed that the Cuban Government went about choosing its new president in the way it did, surely you weren’t surprised? I mean, it was no secret this was the way they were going to do it.

    MS NAUERT: We were not surprised.

    QUESTION: Okay

    MS NAUERT: No, we were certainly not surprised.

    QUESTION: Can I --

    MS NAUERT: But nevertheless disappointed.

    QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on Cuba?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Today Donald Trump said, “We love Cuba. We’re going to take care of Cuba, we’re going to take care of [it].” Does that mean that the U.S. believes that it can actually work with the new president in trying to --

    MS NAUERT: Well, as you know, we maintain diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government, so that – that continues. But we can certainly be disappointed with an election that we don’t see to be free, as fair. We also recognize that there are strong people-to-people ties between Cuban Americans and some Cuban families who still live back home, and also there are some businesses that take part in the Cuban economy as well.

    QUESTION: So this doesn’t mean that the Trump administration is going to roll back any kind of decisions or --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not – I’m not aware of any changes on our policy. I think the President was just recognizing some of the work and people-to-people ties that we have.

    QUESTION: What are some of the steps that you think that Cuba could take immediately to improve relations with the U.S.?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think Cuba could do a lot of things. Among the things that it could do – and I don’t want to get into a deep, long conversation about our investigation into the health attacks against our U.S. diplomats – but we believe that Cuba could certainly better facilitate that. They have allowed for our investigators to go down and do their jobs, but as we have said many times before at the White House and also here, that in a very small country like Cuba they may know more than they are sharing with us. So I think that would certainly be a step in the right direction.

    Allowing greater access to the internet, to the radio, to telephones – all of those things would be a step in the right direction on behalf of the Cuban Government.

    QUESTION: So would you expect the U.S. to reach out to the new president?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any phone calls or anything that are scheduled between anyone here at the State Department or at the White House, but I can’t comment on that. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Can I go to --

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Syria, to pick up on where we were on Tuesday with the OPCW still not having gotten access to Duma and apparently still that situation is still the same. One, do you have anything to say about that? And secondly, you and I had a little bit of a conversation about potential – your belief that the Russians and/or Syrians are tampering with any evidence of the chemical attack. Does the continued delay give you more concern that that might be the case?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So to address both your questions, we can confirm that the OPCW team has still not been able to enter Duma in Syria. It is now 12 days since the attack took place on men, women, and children, those innocent civilians, in Syria. We have credible information that indicates that Russian officials are working with the Syrian regime to deny and to delay these inspectors from gaining access to Duma. We believe it is an effort to conduct their own staged investigations. Russian officials have worked with the Syrian regime, we believe, to sanitize the locations of those suspected attacks and remove incriminating evidence of chemical weapons use.

    We have also watched as some people have seemingly been pressured by the government to change their stories about what actually occurred that night. We have reports from credible people on the ground who have indicated that they have been pressured by both Russia and Syria to change their stories, to try to change their stories so that it doesn’t appear that Russia and Syria are responsible for those attacks. We certainly know that Syria is responsible for those attacks.

    QUESTION: Okay. So the delay then does make you – increase your concern that – or not? I mean, we understand that they were shot at with --

    MS NAUERT: Well, the delay certainly increases – on a few levels. One, the longer that those sites are not able to be investigated by OPCW fact-finding mission experts, the more that the evidence can certainly deteriorate, and that’s a great concern to us.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MS NAUERT: We also believe that it gives them additional time to try to clean up and sanitize those sites.

    QUESTION: Okay. And when you say that you have – you said at one point, “We have also watched as people have been pressured into changing their story.” Does that – is your evidence that they’re attempting to sanitize the area of the alleged attack – is that also something that you have, quote-unquote, “watched”, which suggests that you have --

    MS NAUERT: We have credible information and intelligence that leads us to believe that.

    QUESTION: Okay. And do – has it been successful, do you know?

    MS NAUERT: That I do not know. That I do not know. We just know that they are attempting to sanitize it.

    QUESTION: The people who are being pressured to change their stories, who were they giving the stories to? Was that people interviewed by media or by OPCW?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve seen – we – oh, in fact, I’ve seen some people interviewed on international media. We’ve seen some reports run on Syrian state media. So that – perhaps that’s of no surprise, but just a reminder that those are – that would not be a credible outlet, Syrian state media, nor would, in our view, Russian television on this matter, because they have a vested interest in making it seem like they are not responsible for the attacks.

    QUESTION: Sorry to – this will be my last one on this.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So do you believe that now with the delay, that eventually, if and when the OPCW team gets in there, that their investigation is going to be necessarily compromised?

    MS NAUERT: It might be. It might be.

    QUESTION: But it might not be?

    MS NAUERT: But that is certainly – that is what – that would be the goal of Syria. That would be the goal of Syria, to compromise that information.

    QUESTION: So are you – but are you saying then that if – so if they go, if and when they get there and they do their tests and it turns out negative, that that means that the Russians are guilty of sanitizing it? But if they get there and they do their tests and they find evidence of --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, that’s a lot of “ifs.” That’s a lot of “ifs.” They’re not there yet.

    QUESTION: But there’s also a lot of “ifs” in the – they are – they may be trying to sanitize or they may have attempted --

    MS NAUERT: We believe they’re trying to sanitize. We believe they’re trying to sanitize.

    QUESTION: I know, but that’s a hypothetical question too, right?

    MS NAUERT: No, it’s not, because we have credible information and intelligence that leads us to believe that.

    QUESTION: But does it follow then that if they get – if and when they get there, do their testing and determine that there’s no traces of sarin or chlorine, then – then you will conclude that it has been --

    MS NAUERT: I am not a chemical expert.

    QUESTION: -- that it has been tampered with?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not an expert on how long sarin and chlorine can remain on soil, on building walls and all of that. So I’m not even going to – I’m not going to wade into that conversation.

    QUESTION: Okay. It just – it seems like you’re setting the stage for them to get there, do their testing, find no evidence of something, and then you can – then you’ll be all teed up to say, well, here’s proof that they tampered with the --

    MS NAUERT: Well, we will have to wait and see, Matt. We will have to wait and see. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can I move on? Can I --

    MS NAUERT: Said, hello. How are you?

    QUESTION: Thank you. How are you? I have a couple questions on the Palestinian issue.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Anybody else have anything on Syria before we move on? Okay.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Kylie, go ahead, then we’ll – I’ll come back to you then. Kylie, go ahead.

    QUESTION: One more thing. Just back to the stabilization efforts that are on hold right now, can you explain to us exactly your perspective on the U.S. now withholding all funding for the White Helmets, given that you just had them here last month and showered positive praise for the work that they’re doing?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So as we talked about the other day, the stabilization funding is under review at this time. We recognize and appreciate and are very grateful for all the work that the White Helmets continues to do on behalf of the people of their country and on behalf of the U.S. Government and all the coalition forces. They’re doing incredible work in rescuing in some cases, and in other cases it’s recovery efforts. They’re an incredible group of individuals. But I just don’t have any additional information for you on the funding yet.

    QUESTION: But if the funding for them stops, does it mean that their work has gotten less good?

    MS NAUERT: Their work stands for itself, and that is excellent work. Leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Is the premise of her question correct? Has funding --

    MS NAUERT: Which part?

    QUESTION: -- for their – for programs that support them --

    MS NAUERT: No, their – that all continues right now. They – I’ve just exchanged emails with him the other day. My understanding is that their work is still going on, and we’re proud to work with them.

    QUESTION: No, no, not – the U.S. funding for them, any funds that the U.S. was giving them --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Has the funding – any funding that the U.S. was providing to this group ended because of the pause?

    MS NAUERT: The – as far as I’m aware, all of the work still continues. Peoples’ bills are still being paid. If there’s anything that’s a change to that, I’ll certainly let you know.

    QUESTION: But the U.S. contributions are still flowing?

    MS NAUERT: As far as I know, that all – is all still in play.

    QUESTION: Can you just check that, though? Because there is an internal State Department document that says on April 15th that funding would have ended.

    MS NAUERT: I will double – I will double --

    QUESTION: And I understand you’re not going to comment on that, but --

    MS NAUERT: I will double-check on that. If it’s an internal document, I can’t – you know I don’t – we don’t comment on internal documents. But I’m not aware of one floating around, if there is one, that says that. Okay? Are we moving on?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah. UNRWA is saying that it is suffering a $300 million financial deficit. So in view of this situation, will the administration reconsider its freezing of about $100 million earlier this year?

    MS NAUERT: Many of you will recall earlier this year that we announced the $60 million that went to UNRWA – I believe that was in January – and that went to pay the salaries of teachers and doctors. So that’s sort of one of the first things I want to bring to your attention.

    No decision has been made at this point about additional U.S. funding for UNRWA. Secretary Tillerson said – and this is still the policy that we are operating under, and that is concern about UNRWA coming back to the United States and to other countries with emergency funding requests. At the end of the year, they will, often for many, many years, come back and say, “We urgently need more money.” So the United States and other countries, for that matter, would like to see them come up with a more fair and equitable and more predictable type of funding mechanism for UNRWA so that UNRWA doesn’t need emergency funding every single year. So I just don’t have any decisions or announcements on possible U.S. funding, but that is still an option, that we may be making additional contributions.

    QUESTION: Okay. There’s also been a spike in settler attacks on Palestinian villages and so on, vandalizing and so on. Would you call on the Israelis to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that specific case.

    QUESTION: All right. Well, let me ask you a couple more. There is a war of words between the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and the President’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt. Do you have any comment on that? Can you update us on what is going on, perhaps, behind the scenes and so on?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I would just say that some of this is just another example of unhelpful rhetoric, which only harms the ability for both sides to come to the table and sit down and start to have some sort of peace negotiations, so it’s certainly not helpful. We’ve talked about that before, and not having an escalation into what he refers to as the war of words. It’s unhelpful. We don’t consider it to be that.

    QUESTION: And finally, my last one: All human rights organizations are saying that Israel has used excessive force in quelling the demonstrations in Gaza. There’s going to be one tomorrow. There is likely to be violence and so on. Do you have any stand on this issue? Are you going to issue a statement?

    MS NAUERT: Said, I know you’ve asked me that in the past. We don’t issue a statement --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) weeks?

    MS NAUERT: We – yeah, we don’t always issue statements on world events, no matter how difficult they may seem to people. Sometimes we don’t – we’re not always doing that. I understand that Israel is in the process of reviewing whether or not excessive force was used in certain instances, and I’m not going to go any further than that.

    QUESTION: Sorry. On that, have you seen that the Palestinian protest camps, the tents that they have – they’re moving them closer to the border fence. Do you have any comment on that ahead of tomorrow?

    MS NAUERT: I have not seen that. Sorry.

    QUESTION: All right. And then just a last one related to this: How has the USAID investigation into its vetting and approval of the Palestinian journalist who was killed – how is that going? Have you determined --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any updates on-- you. I can double-check on that and see if we have anything new on it.

    QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to continue to ask about this because --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- either – one of two things happened here: Either the vetting is – was not good or the Israelis killed a journalist who was clearly identified as one. And I know that press freedom and – is important to you. You just began the briefing introducing us to --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, with our colleagues here, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- to these journalists whose families --

    MS NAUERT: You’re right.

    QUESTION: -- have been – this guy, if he was a legitimate journalist, was killed. You’ve talked about the Reuters journalist in Myanmar, talked about journalists detained in Turkey, and I think that it is incumbent on you, if you really do – the country – the administration really cares about working journalists and their protection, that if it turns out that USAID was correct, that their vetting was correct, this guy didn’t have anything to do with Hamas, then I really think you should say something. So I’m going to continue --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: I will look into that and see what I can get for you.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you for the question.

    QUESTION: Just to follow up directly --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- on that, even if this guy was a Hamas operative, the sniper didn’t know he was when he shot him. It was just a guy in a press vest.

    MS NAUERT: I was not there. I’m not aware of all the specifics, the details. I have not seen the scene myself, only the television reports and some still photographs.

    QUESTION: But the Israelis themselves aren’t claiming it was an extrajudicial assassination. They’re saying that they found out after the --

    MS NAUERT: Understood. When I have more details for you, I will certainly bring it to you. And thank you for reminding me about that case, Matt.

    Laurie, hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. The New York Times has a major story that Iraq is churning out death sentence for alleged involvement with ISIS. It cites 14 women convicted and sentenced to death within two hours – “a judicial assembly line” was their term. What is your comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: I think overall, let’s step back and take a look at Iraq and the tremendous number of issues that they’re trying to deal with to get the country back on track after ISIS had controlled large swaths of that country, and all that they have certainly been through. We view this as, overall, an Iraqi process. However, we certainly recognize concerns about free and fair trials, and that’s something that we continue to have conversations with the Iraqi Government all of the time about ensuring those kinds of free and fair trials. So we have shared that, we have shared our concerns and our principles and our beliefs with the Iraqi Government on that matter.

    QUESTION: Are you concerned that the – these are all Sunnis – that it deepens the very sectarian strife which led to the rise of ISIS in the first place?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, I can – I can just tell you we’ve had conversations with the Iraqi Government about the importance of this and importance of a strong judicial system.

    QUESTION: Okay, and Brett McGurk has been in Erbil. Do you have a readout on those meetings?

    MS NAUERT: I do actually, hold on one second. I can confirm that Brett McGurk and also our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Andrew Peek visited Iraq earlier this week. They met with senior Iraqi Government security officials and they went there to see the progress that was being made in Iraq after the liberation of its territory from ISIS. They were in – let’s see, they were in Mosul, they were in Baghdad, and they were also in Erbil. They met with – if you all are interested, I can continue. There’s more here.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. They were accompanied by our U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Doug Silliman. McGurk and Peek met in Baghdad with Prime Minister Abadi, the speaker of the parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, and other senior political religious and security officials. In Erbil, the delegation met with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani.

    Meetings focused on ensuring the enduring feat – defeat of ISIS, including through enhanced security measures on Iraq’s border with Syria, and plans to defeat the remaining ISIS havens on the Syrian side. During their visit, the delegation had the opportunity to see first-hand the progress made in stabilizing the city of Mosul as well as the magnitude of the remaining challenges in returning normality to Iraq’s second-largest city. McGurk and Peek visited a reopened market in east Mosul. They toured areas devastated by ISIS in west Mosul and visited Mosul University, where U.S.-funded work to clear explosive hazards continues today.

    The United States and 25 other donors in the global coalition have pledged or contributed more than 34 – excuse me, $834 million to UNDP funding facility for stabilization in order to support the critical stabilization activities in areas liberated from ISIL control. McGurk emphasized the importance of partners fulfilling their pledges to ensure the UNDP stabilization projects are fully funded this calendar year. McGurk and Peek also welcomed the nearly $30 billion for Iraq’s longer-term reconstruction pledged by 24 partners last month in Kuwait under the sponsorship of the EU and the World Bank.

    The United States is committed to continued security, political and economic cooperation with Iraq within the framework of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement. The United States supports a unified, democratic, federal, and prosperous Iraq with a stable and viable Iraqi-Kurdistan region.

    How about that for a readout? Usually our readouts aren’t that detailed, but --

    QUESTION: Thank you very much.

    MS NAUERT: Way to go to NEA.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Okay anything else on Iraq?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike)

    MS NAUERT: Elise, hi. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: It’s a new topic; it’s kind of a random one. But it’s about this story about the U.S. embassy in Germany, who paid a couple of speaker – or one of them was the embassy in Berlin and another one was the consulate in Frankfurt – that have paid, as speakers, people that have been public critics of President Trump, one of them calling – comparing his rhetoric on ISIS to – comparing his rhetoric to ISIS. Do you – can you confirm that these people have been hired by the U.S. embassy, and why – why haven’t they been vetted? I just think it’s really weird.

    MS NAUERT: This has been subject of quite a deal of conversation here in the building over the past few days. I’ve certainly read the reports, and I’m familiar with what you’re talking about. The person who was brought over to our embassy in Germany is someone who was a Holocaust survivor, and had been a outspoken person on the subject of extremist groups. And he was brought to our embassy to speak in that capacity. And so it was believed, I’m told, by our folks at the embassy, that his background carried particular weight in talking about ISIS and extremist activity with the German public who would come in. This was a part of one of our speakers programs where in Germany they host 70 to 80 speakers every single year, and our people will look through their backgrounds and decide who to invite on behalf of the embassy on the basis of their credentials, but we don’t look at their politics when we’re inviting those people over. Our embassy was not aware of this individual’s comments that he had made, inflammatory comments that he had made in the past, and I can just say that he was brought over in accordance with the speakers program that the United States Government hosts at many embassies around the world. The person’s air travel was covered and then also received some sort of a stipend.

    QUESTION: I mean, we’ve spoken a lot – you’ve spoken a lot from this podium – about how the Foreign Service is completely apolitical and serves administrations Republican and Democrat, and is there a concern that something like this could have a negative light on the Foreign Service, that they’re not supportive of the President’s agenda?

    MS NAUERT: And let’s make sure that we are splitting this out. We have the Foreign Service here at the State Department, and I have found every single Foreign Service officer that I’ve worked with to be highly, highly professional, and apolitical, for that matter.

    QUESTION: So was this person hired by --

    MS NAUERT: I can’t – I don’t know this person’s identity. I believe this person was a locally employed staff working in concert with some of our other colleagues at the embassy in Germany. We also have our civil servants. Look, this is a 75,000-member organization. My understanding – and we’ve been dealing with this today and yesterday – is that this person – that we were not aware of this person’s comments that the person has said in the past, and certainly that puts the – in my view – the State Department – people are right to ask questions about did you look at this person’s background. In my personal view, yes, people should take a look at the types of things that people have said to not put the State Department or our embassies in an embarrassing light. Obviously this was an oversight on the part of the embassy – that’s my personal view, an oversight, because I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing, to bring in somebody who would make those types of comments – but on the other hand, we also believe in free speech. So there’s a sort of a delicate balance there.

    QUESTION: But isn’t it – I understand what you’re saying about free speech, but isn’t it kind of self-defeating when an embassy would have a guest that’s publicly critical of --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I happen to agree with that. I happen to agree with that completely. Would I have that person speak at a party that I’m hosting, where it come back and make me look poorly? No, absolutely not. But this person was selected based on the person’s credentials, that this person had been a Holocaust survivor, that this person was some sort of an expert on violent extremist groups, and that was the topic of the conversation that he was brought in to discuss. I have been told by all my colleagues that we were not aware of this person’s comments that he had made that were derogatory of the administration.

    QUESTION: Wait, hold on a second. This seems – sounds like you’re about to head down a really slippery slope. I’m not familiar with this story, I don’t know what these inflammatory comments were, but are you suggesting --

    MS NAUERT: You can Google it there. (Laughter.) Just Google it, Matt. I know you like to look things up. Or Dave Clark, he’s the one who’s the expert --

    QUESTION: There’s no wifi in here and the service is really bad.

    MS NAUERT: He’s the expert of looking things up while we’re doing this.

    QUESTION: Anyway, I’ll take a look at whatever it is, but this seems – are you suggesting that the U.S. embassies abroad will now disqualify anyone who has been critical of the administration from speaking?

    MS NAUERT: People are brought in – I gave you my personal opinion, okay – people are --

    QUESTION: But you went further. You said you wouldn’t invite someone to a party so you would make it look bad. I mean, is there some kind of purity test going on? (Laughter.) Loyal – you have to swear allegiance to --

    MS NAUERT: No, Matt, I’m just – simply mean as sort of a public entity, okay. At your company or any company of that sort, you’d have to – you have to think about appearances and how things look.

    QUESTION: Well, yeah, but --

    MS NAUERT: So people are brought in to speak on behalf of our – at our embassies.

    QUESTION: But he’s not speaking on behalf --

    MS NAUERT: Let me finish, please

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Regardless of their political affiliations.

    QUESTION: Okay. And that’s a good thing, you think, right?

    MS NAUERT: I typically think that that is a good thing, yes. That is a very good thing.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, if these comments were so outrageous and extreme --

    MS NAUERT: Because we believe in different types of voices.

    QUESTION: -- then maybe that’s something, but --

    MS NAUERT: Would I have made that choice? No, I personally would not have made that choice, and that was my point.

    QUESTION: But this – these speakers do not speak on behalf of the administration.

    MS NAUERT: Understood, yes. Yes.

    QUESTION: Presumably they speak on behalf of themselves, so I’m not sure what – I mean, so if – are you saying – advocating the idea that if someone has been critical in the past – just critical, saying “I think policy X is not a good idea” – that they wouldn’t – that they would then be disqualified from being invited?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t think we really enjoy --

    QUESTION: I don’t know what the guy said, so --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t --

    QUESTION: I’m just asking if it’s a good public diplomacy stance for one of your speakers to – talking about ISIS and comparing the President’s rhetoric to ISIS. That’s all I’m asking.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: There you go. Enough said.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: I had an immediate follow up to this one. Is this the same --

    QUESTION: Oh, go for that, and then I’ll --

    QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry. The --

    MS NAUERT: So much cooperation today. Very – cooperating nicely.

    QUESTION: We have a friendship. It’s nice.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, exactly.

    QUESTION: You’ve just given us your personal opinion about an act of public diplomacy. You’re under secretary of state for public diplomacy. Could you give us your opinion as the under secretary of state for public diplomacy on this decision? Are you admonishing the Berlin embassy?

    MS NAUERT: I would have to speak to the person who made the decision and have that conversation myself and better understand all of the details and how those decisions were made before making further comment on that. Okay.

    QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks. Hey.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: Was there anybody from the State Department who accompanied Director Pompeo to North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: Would it be then fair to characterize that as largely an Intelligence Community endeavor? And I mean in the broader sense of planning the summit between the two leaders.

    MS NAUERT: I can just say I’m not going to be able to get into the details of Director Pompeo or U.S. Government preparations, in terms of the preparations for the summit that President Trump intends to have with Kim Jong-un. So there’s not a lot I’m going to be able to say about that.

    QUESTION: Heather, can --

    QUESTION: Did he need to get a special permit from the State Department to travel to North Korea? Because there’s a travel ban, and only special permit --

    QUESTION: Good question. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: That is a good question. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I’m sorry to --

    MS NAUERT: I – look, I can’t get into the details of all of that. If there is, was –

    QUESTION: He has some (inaudible.)

    MS NAUERT: I’d just refer you over to the agency there for that. Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: But was the State Department aware of that, or did you --

    MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to be able to get into the details. Obviously, our conversations and negotiations with North Korea, which we’ve shared with you, have been happening at a high level, that we have had direct contact with the Government of North Korea. For specifics, I’m not going to refer to that. I’m not going to get into those details. But I can tell you we are having constant conversations and communications with our other agency and department partners in preparation for this.

    QUESTION: What – Lynette’s question was --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: -- actually a good one.

    QUESTION: It’s a good one.

    QUESTION: Can you check to see if diplomatic – presumably he has an official or diplomatic passport.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know.

    QUESTION: Well, can you look to see if --

    QUESTION: Yeah. It’s a State Department passport question.

    QUESTION: -- they’re covered by the passport ban? Because --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of what --

    QUESTION: -- if they are covered --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know what kind of passport he has.

    QUESTION: Well, but if it – if they are covered by this, then it would have been illegal for him to go unless he got the special provision, in which case the State Department would have been aware, right?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: So just – so the question is not about him specifically, it’s whether official or diplomatic passports also require the special validation.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get into the details of all the preparations for this, okay?

    QUESTION: I’m not asking for details of preparation.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Kylie, go ahead.

    QUESTION: I’m asking for someone to look at the – look into it and find out whether – whether all passports, including official and diplomatic, have to have the special validation for use to go to North Korea. That’s all.

    MS NAUERT: Kylie, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Quick question on denuclearization, which you bring up all the time. Is there any reason for the State Department to believe that the U.S. definition of denuclearization is the same as North Korea’s definition of denuclearization at this point?

    MS NAUERT: I think we’ve covered this before, that Kim Jong-un has said that he is willing to denuclearize and is committing to do so, and we expect that as well on the part of the U.S. Government. That is our policy. Our policy has not changed in any way.

    QUESTION: But he’s --

    QUESTION: Heather --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But he’s said he’s willing to talk about denuclearization. So your understanding is that is – that is for sure North Korea saying that they will completely denuclearize their country.

    MS NAUERT: Some of the – obviously, these formal talks between the President and Kim Jong-un have not happened at this point, and so we’ll wait for those meetings to take place for further talks.

    QUESTION: But could you just say what your – what the U.S. definition of denuclearization is and --

    MS NAUERT: Elise, we went over this two days ago; we went over this last week. I’m not going to get into it again, but --

    QUESTION: But Kim Jong – the North Koreans have said that they’re willing to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s quite different than them committing to fully denuclearize.

    MS NAUERT: We look forward to having our conversations with North Korea about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    MS NAUERT: And that – our policy hasn’t changed in any way.


    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. What?

    QUESTION: But that’s different than – talking about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a much different prospect than just the North Koreans denuclearizing.

    MS NAUERT: Look, we look forward to having those conversations with --

    QUESTION: So is the U.S. willing to look at its nuclear posture?

    MS NAUERT: Elise, we look forward to having our conversations with the Government of North Korea --

    QUESTION: Heather --

    MS NAUERT: -- on this subject.

    Yeah. Hi, Oren.

    QUESTION: So on North Korea, the North Korean and South Korean --

    QUESTION: Heather --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Wait for Oren, please.

    QUESTION: Thanks. The North Korean and South Korean Governments are getting ready to have their own summit next week. And I’m wondering whether – what does the State Department sort of – the Trump administration’s concerns about – what are their concerns regarding this, the talks that the North Koreans and the South Koreans are having?

    MS NAUERT: We don’t have concerns about those talks. We understand that inter-Korean dialogue is something that is important. They have a lot of internal issues that those governments have to discuss, and I know it’s very important to their citizens there too. So we support improved inter-Korean relations, but we also recognize something that President Moon has said, and that that can’t advance separately from denuclearization. So that is a goal that President Moon has – still holds, as do we, and he has made that very clear that that’s a big part of the conversation too.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah. Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: Thank you. South Korean Government is preparing for declaration of the end of the war with North Korea April 27 when South-North talks. Should denuclearization be the first priority, or what is the U.S. position?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I can’t name the priorities for those two governments sitting down and having their conversation and their meetings. I can just say that we would certainly like to see an end, a formal end, to the armistice, and that’s something that we would support.

    QUESTION: Well, wait. You’d like to see a formal end to the armistice in a peace treaty, right, not an end to the armistice and a return to hostilities?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    QUESTION: But Kim Jong-un’s goal is the peace treaty and the withdrawal U.S. troops from South Korea.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, repeat that again?

    QUESTION: Kim Jong-un’s goal, final goal, is the peace treaty and withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea. Is that – how did --

    MS NAUERT: I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves then. We are set to have our first meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un, and we’ll see what comes out of that meeting. But I can – I think folks are getting ahead of themselves when they start talking about U.S. forces.

    Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) time frame that you’re thinking is going – this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un – I mean, it’s great they’re having this meeting and they’re – whatever they decide to do. What’s the time frame that is being considered for how long it will to accomplish the ultimate goal of denuclearizing the peninsula?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have the answer to that. That will be a lot of people, including our nuclear experts and people from the Department of Energy, people from the Department of State, from the agency, from the DOD. A lot of folks will have to be involved in those kinds of conversations to figure --

    QUESTION: But that’s got to be one of --

    MS NAUERT: -- to figure that out.

    QUESTION: That’s one of the parameters that they’re bringing to the table, isn’t it?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. Those – the conversations are ongoing between in the interagency about what we will – what we will ask for and how those meetings will work – how the meeting with the President will work. And beyond that, I’m just not going to get ahead of those meetings.

    Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Can we go to --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Let me just – let me get to some other people who haven’t – who haven’t asked questions yet. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: So kind of going a bit back to our, like, North and South Korean conflict, President Moon said that North Korea in their preliminary talks didn’t demand withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. And can the U.S. confirm that? Has North Korea said anything along those lines to you in the negotiations?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into conversations that we’ve been having ahead of that meeting. Okay?

    QUESTION: On Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On Iran?

    QUESTION: Can I please --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: I’ve got a few more questions on that --

    QUESTION: Hi. Iran handed a death penalty to Ramin Hossein Panahi, a Kurdish prisoner. And UN human rights experts called it a unfair sentence. He was mistreated in prison and didn’t have a fair treatment. Do you have a comment on that, first?

    MS NAUERT: I’ll have to look in that case for you and see if I have something for you on that.

    QUESTION: Okay. And also Iran and Russia and Iraq and Syria had a intelligence-sharing summit in Baghdad. Does that concern U.S. now Iraq is sharing intelligence with all those countries?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know exactly what Iraq shared with them. Certainly, Iraq and other countries have a right to get together and have meetings of this sort. This is not the first time this has happened, that this type of meeting --

    QUESTION: And also on the Iraqi airstrike in Syria, were you aware of that airstrike in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can tell you that the U.S. Government was aware of that. The Iraqi Government announced that that airstrike took place. We – they have reported it today – the Iraqi Air Force conducted that airstrike, and we were certainly aware of that. Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, can I follow up on --

    MS NAUERT: Let me get – excuse me, I’d like to get to other people before we come back. And we’re going to have to wrap it up in just a second.

    Ilhan, hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. On Turkey. Yesterday Turkish President Erdogan declared these early elections, what opposition parties call it as ambushed elections due to very short term. Are you – do you have any confidence in Turkish Government and the situation in Turkey which has been going under the state of emergency for about two years? Do you have any confidence that Turkey is going to able to hold elections in fair and free manner?

    MS NAUERT: I think first this gets back to the issue of the state of emergency which has been in effect, as you point out, for about two years now or so. During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair, and transparent election in a manner that’s consistent with Kurdish – or, excuse me, with Turkish law and also Turkey’s international obligations. So we are aware of that. We are following this very closely. We have concerns about their ability to hold it during this type of state of emergency. We would certainly like to see free and fair elections, but there’s a concern here.


    QUESTION: Heather, can I go back to Mar-a-Lago for a second?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you. So the President and you just supported an end to the Korean War, but the U.S. is the head of UN Command, so what role is the U.S. going to play in seeking an end to the Korean War?

    MS NAUERT: I can just say, look, we’re not getting ahead of the conversations that the President will be having with Kim Jong-un. We would like to see a resolution to that overall, but I’m not going to get ahead of the President, okay?

    QUESTION: And the President threw the summit into question altogether by saying that he wouldn’t have the meeting if it wasn’t a fruitful meeting, so --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think he threw that into question. I think the President indicated that if it weren’t fruitful, he may not complete that meeting. I think that’s what he was saying.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then just one more on the abductee issue, if you don’t mind, but President Trump said that he promised Prime Minister Abe that he would do everything possible to bring the abductees back to Japan. So did Director Pompeo raise that when he was in North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: I – look, I can’t confirm anything about – on that issue.

    QUESTION: Detainees.

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The U.S.’s detainee issues.

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: Did Pompeo mention about – to Kim Jong-un about U.S. citizens, detainees – they’re going to release detainee before talks?

    MS NAUERT: Whenever we have conversations with the North Koreans, that is always an issue that is raised. Safety and security of Americans, including those who are being held in North Korea, is a top, top issue --

    QUESTION: Meaning it’s a priority?

    MS NAUERT: -- for this administration, yes. Okay? Thanks, guys, we’ve got to go.

    QUESTION: Can I get you to take this question, because I don’t think you’ll have an answer to it. It’s just about --

    MS NAUERT: Excuse me, that is so presumptuous.

    QUESTION: Well, because I don’t think you will.

    MS NAUERT: It’s so presumptuous, but okay.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m sorry. If you have an answer, that’ll be great, but I --

    MS NAUERT: I’ll see if I do, but gosh.

    QUESTION: It has to do with EPA Administrator Pruitt’s trip to Morocco in December. As you know, U.S. embassies and consulates often give support to --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- official delegations abroad, and I’m just wondering if either the embassy in Rabat or the consulate in Casablanca were involved or helped out with his trip.

    MS NAUERT: He went to Morocco in December.

    QUESTION: In December.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Did you have an answer?

    MS NAUERT: Of course not. It’s about Scott Pruitt. Why would I have an answer about Scott Pruitt?

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:36 p.m.)

    DPB # 25

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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 17, 2018

mer, 04/18/2018 - 00:44
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 17, 2018

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ
  • CUBA


    2:51 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: How are you? Okay, couple quick announcements to start off our briefing with today. Hi, Nadia. Nice to see you again.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: As many of you know, our Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan traveled to Mar-a-Lago in Florida today, and that’s where he will join President Trump for his meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. The acting secretary will support the President as the United States and Japan seek to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, and continue their close coordination on the global maximum pressure campaign toward the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

    While at Mar-a-Lago, Acting Secretary Sullivan will participate in the President’s bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Abe and will meet separately with members of Japanese leadership to underscore the President’s priorities. The summit will also include a discussion of our shared priorities across the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan and the United States working together to promote high-quality trade and investment standards, freedom of the seas, respect for human rights and also international law. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Japan Julie Chung also traveled to Mar-a-Lago to accompany the Acting Secretary.

    Last thing I’d like to announce, this week we are welcoming more than 80 law enforcement and security officials from around the world to take part in the Toward a More Safe and Secure World initiative. Participants from more than 50 countries, including Argentina, France, Bangladesh, and Kazakhstan, include judicial, law enforcement, security, and defense officials, also criminologists and other professionals who work within the spheres of transnational crime and terrorism. The department has partnered with the National Defense University to provide a two-day plenary in Washington, D.C. with top public and private sector security experts.

    Participants of the International Visitor Leadership Program, IVLP, will also travel to communities across the United States and meet up with federal, regional, and local law enforcement officers to discuss closer international cooperation to address key security issues facing the global community. They will travel to cities including Montana – Helena, Montana – lucky – Reno, Nevada; Los Angeles; and also Des Moines, Iowa to explore methods to neutralize global criminal activity such as drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, money laundering, and countering extremism.

    The intuitive will conclude with a counterdrug task force training in Tampa – whoever wrote this doesn’t understand alliteration; thanks a lot – followed by the annual Global Security Conference sponsored by the State Department and also the FBI’s New York field office in New York City. The program is another example of how the United States and other countries are working together to enhance efforts to combat transnational crime.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: So there’s a lot of transnational crime in Helena, Montana?

    MS NAUERT: Apparently there is. But they’re lucky. They get to go to Montana, your home state.

    QUESTION: Well, not quite.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: Close but not quite.

    MS NAUERT: Well, okay. Where do you want to start?

    QUESTION: Syria, please.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: What is your latest understanding of the inspection team, the OPCW inspection team, and their access or lack thereof to the site of the attack? And then yesterday, your representative at the OPCW said, I think the first time that an official has said this publicly, at least on the record, that you’re concerned that Russia and Syria may have tampered with the site in order to try to cover up whatever evidence there might be of a chemical attack.

    MS NAUERT: Right.

    QUESTION: Can you explain what – why you have that concern?

    MS NAUERT: Sure. So first off, let me ask you all, if anyone did not get a copy of our permanent representative’s statement on the OPCW as it pertains to Syria, please let us know, because we do have a copy of that we’d be happy to provide you. So let us know that.

    Part of the concern, Matt, is the longer that it takes to get OPCW inspectors in to take a look at soil samples and other information that they can get on the ground, that delay further degrades any evidence that’s on the ground. So that is our chief concern. We want them to be able to get in as quickly as possible, as safely as possible, but we also want that evidence to be as pure as possible for their investigation.

    We are certainly aware that Syrian state media was reporting earlier today that the team has been able to enter Douma. We can’t independently confirm that at this time. Our sources, which we consider to be reliable, indicate that the team has not yet been able to enter Douma. So that is our understanding of the situation, at least as of right now.

    QUESTION: Well, does that mean then that they’re still in Damascus or that they may have gotten to the town but they just haven’t gotten to the site or what?

    MS NAUERT: I can just say our understanding is that the team has not entered Douma.

    QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing is, in answer to my question about the tampering, you just talked about degradation.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: That’s a little bit different than --

    MS NAUERT: Right. And that’s – I was addressing the longer it takes for teams to be able to get there the better the chances are that the evidence will deteriorate. So that’s part of it. I was talking about time. As it pertains to tampering, to your question, let me go back to our permanent representative’s comments from yesterday and just read a portion of this, because it was put out by Ambassador Kenneth Ward. He said, “It is our understanding that the Russians may have visited the attack site. We are concerned that they may have tampered with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission to conduct an effective investigation. This raises serious questions about the ability of the fact-finding mission to do its job.” So I think in his statement – that’s just a few sentences from it – I think it’s clear the concerns that U.S. and other officials – the French came out and basically said the same thing earlier today that we have about that.

    QUESTION: I get that, but that statement that you just read from him is very heavily qualified. There’s two “may haves” in there. Why do you think that – why do you say “may have?” What is the information that you have to – that leads you to say the Russians and the Syrians may have? I mean, we can say the same thing about --

    MS NAUERT: I want to be sensitive about this, and I hope you will understand. The situation on the ground is extremely volatile there. We have organizations that we work closely with on the ground, who are under threat each and every day. Some of these people – some Syrians, some from other countries – take their lives into risk. Their lives are at risk each and every day that they could potentially provide any information to – whether it’s an NGO or another country. So we want to be extremely sensitive and careful about this. We don’t want anyone to risk their lives further than they already are. So some of this stuff is just going to – we’re going to be very cautious about providing it and some of it will just be intelligence information.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking for like photographic evidence, although I’m sure some people would like photographic evidence. But I – what kind of activity have you been told about on the ground that leads you to make statements like the Russians and the Syrians may have done things in Douma to try to tamper with --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I can only say some of this would just be intelligence information that I’m not permitted to get into here. I’d be happy to try to connect you with our OPCW permanent rep’s office to see if they have any additional information that they can provide, but I hope that you’ll be understanding of the sensitivities.

    QUESTION: Okay. But – so – but you’re just saying then – because the bottom line here is you’re saying, “Just trust us.”

    MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, I think we’ve seen that the Russian Government and the Syrian Government – their whole goal in this is to try to cover up. Their goal is to try to deflect attention. So if they could put this back on us, they would certainly like to do it. But the fact of the matter is that Bashar al-Assad is responsible yet again for gassing and killing innocent men, women, and children. And so if people want to put the focus on what information the U.S. has, that’s fine, but the U.S. – backed by its allies, the Brits and the French – took action because Bashar al-Assad continues to kill his own people.

    QUESTION: I get that, but are you saying then that the delay in getting to the site is part of a scheme to tamper or to have the evidence --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, if you want to have an off-the-record conversation about this, we can have an off-the-record conversation about this, but I’m not going to state this from this podium.

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, Heather?

    QUESTION: If you care so much about --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead, Leslie.

    QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about why do you think – I mean, a little bit from what – why do you think they are not preventing – why do you think they are preventing or what’s stopping the OPCW going in?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think the – the OPCW wants to get there, okay? I don’t speak on behalf of the OPCW, so you’re asking me a question that I can’t really answer. Certainly the inspectors and the investigators want to get there. They started – I believe they landed last Thursday or Friday or maybe it was Saturday at the latest, so they want to be there. They’re not going there because they’re hanging out – or they’re not delayed in getting there because they want to hang out in a cafe. They want to do their jobs and they want to be able to present the facts. In terms of what exactly is happening on the ground to prevent them from getting there in a quicker time frame is not something that I can discuss or get into.

    QUESTION: And then the U.S. has said that you still haven’t found – you still believe there’s one agent that was used in that chemical attack, but you have not named --

    MS NAUERT: We have information that leads us to believe that two agents were used. I think this was discussed in our State Department and NSC background briefing the other day. The United States continues to look at all of that information.

    QUESTION: But you’ve not mentioned sarin. You’ve – or has that actually been --

    MS NAUERT: In that background briefing, that was mentioned. We have information that leads us to believe that both chlorine and sarin were used in the attack.

    QUESTION: And you still stand by the --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Michelle.

    QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. You still stand by the proof that you say the U.S. has on this, right? You --

    MS NAUERT: I certainly do, yes.

    QUESTION: And there was one more thing I wanted to ask you about that, but it slipped my mind. Give me one second.

    MS NAUERT: It’s okay. We can come back to you.

    QUESTION: Oh, yes. Does the U.S. have its own sample at this point?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that.

    Okay, Nadia.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. I have two questions about Syria. I’m not going to ask you about the strategy because you’ve been asked many times, and objective – the declared objective is to defeat ISIS.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: But in the aftermath of this attack that was limited in scope to the CW site, is this any talks with the Russians to deliver Assad, in terms of to going back to the negotiation table? Is this anything that’s been happening diplomatically to say that the final solution is political and because of this attack was not targeted anybody else, not even the regime forces, that in return there is a bigger strategy? Is this any talks with the Russians on that front?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can tell you that high-level individuals from other departments in the U.S. Government have been speaking with the Russians on a – on a variety of matters. What you mention in particular is not something that I can comment on because it’s not coming out of the State Department, but I can tell you that others have been in conversations and discussions with the Russians on that.

    The United States, the State Department, has been in conversations with the Russians over the past day but about something altogether different, which I understand some of you were interested, and that involves Russian overflights. Another topic; we can talk about that later – overflights for commercial aviation over their own country.

    So I can just tell you that we have conversations with the Russians – I’m not going to say every day, but very, very frequently at top levels.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And one more question. It’s been reported, at least in one publication, that the administration is looking to form an Arab force to replace maybe the U.S. Today the Saudi foreign minister said that actually they’re willing to send Arab forces to Syria to fight terrorism. Is this something that you want, you welcome, you consulted with the Saudis, or any other Arab countries?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I saw the report about the Saudis’ interest in doing that. I can tell you just overall the administration’s approach is – whether it’s in Syria or Iraq or other countries – we would like other countries to do more. The United States, in being an extremely generous country not only in terms of our humanitarian aid and our willingness to step up and do what we think is right to try to help people, want other countries to step up and do more. An example of that would be NATO and having more countries pay in the 2 percent of their GDP into defense. So that’s another example.

    But I think in terms of would we be willing to accept other partners on the ground, I think that’s probably something, but that is not something that’s in discussions at this time, from my understanding.

    QUESTION: And one very last one.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Since I don’t come here very often --

    MS NAUERT: I know.

    QUESTION: On the Iranian targets, is this kind of division of labor now, this undeclared policy between the U.S. and Israel that you attack the CW sites, but the Israelis attack the Iranian sites inside Syria?

    MS NAUERT: I would just have to – I can’t – I can’t confirm anything that Israel may or may not have done in Syria, or any other place for that matter, so I’d just have to refer you back to the Government of Israel. Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: Could I ask – hi. Could I ask you to square to – square for us your desire to have the inspectors go in and establish the veracity of evidence on the one hand, but on the other hand your rush to attack and strike Syria? Could you square that for us?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not --

    QUESTION: I mean, on the one hand you want – before --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure anyone has accused us of rushing to attack Syria.

    QUESTION: You did not rush? I mean --

    MS NAUERT: I mean, we have seen far too many --

    QUESTION: Go ahead.

    MS NAUERT: -- far too many strikes against Syria’s own people over the past 15 months, over the past seven years since this has – since there was a civil war in Syria. So we’ve seen that for far too long.

    In terms of your question why, look --

    QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to understand --

    MS NAUERT: Said, there’s this thing we have --

    QUESTION: And because they are arriving there that day, right?

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me. There’s this thing we have, it’s called intelligence gathering.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: The United States has excellent intelligence gathering. Other countries do as well. We do not take these decisions, we do not make these decisions, lightly. As we saw what happened with information that led us to believe that sarin and chlorine gas were used in this most recent attack, the United States, the UK, and France got together, had conversations about telling Bashar al-Assad that this has to stop. And we believe in the efforts that took place on Friday night that we showed them that we are very serious about this, and that the world will stand up, the world will act together, and we will not tolerate the use of these illegal chemical weapons to kill innocent men, women, and children.

    QUESTION: Right. I am trying to understand that the inspectors, the OPCW inspectors, were supposed to go in on Saturday, and the strike happened Saturday morning. I mean, they could’ve waited, like 20 hours, 24 hours, to ensure that the whole world can see that evidence.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, Said, once again, we have our own intelligence. We have our own intelligence. The OPCW is something that we back strongly, but it can also take quite a bit of time for the OPCW to gather its information and compile a report. If we look back to last year – and I can have my colleagues double check this right now – I think it took quite a few months, at least several months, before the OPCW was able to come out with its official report about what substance was used on the ground in Khan Shaykhun.

    So I would ask you: Should the United States and her allies wait around for Bashar al-Assad to use more chemical substances on his people? Should we wait around for that formal investigation that could take months and months when we have seen nine chemical attacks take place this year alone? I think the United States was right in its decision, backed by our allies, to take action and show Bashar al-Assad that he will be held to account.

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: On the question of the Saudis, which Nadia mentioned, and talking about an Arab force in Syria, has that been accompanied by any – any movement on the request for the – which comes from this building as well as the White House, that the Saudis should pay more money?

    MS NAUERT: I think we think everybody could probably kick in a little bit more, recognizing that not – this is not just a regional problem, it’s a global problem. But certainly, those who are living in the backyard of Syria should recognize that perhaps better than anyone else. And so we would like to have countries contribute more, certainly.

    QUESTION: Have the Saudis made any indication that they --

    MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that if they have.

    QUESTION: And they just hosted an Arab summit in which Jerusalem was a big issue, and they called it the Jerusalem summit. Do you think the Saudi position was helpful by putting so much focus on the Palestinian question at that summit?

    MS NAUERT: I certainly saw that that was the theme of the summit, and I really don’t have much to say about that other than that was the theme and that’s their right to be able to design any theme that they want for that summit.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: And Bruce Riedel, who served in many administrations --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Who?

    QUESTION: Bruce Riedell. He was a --

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: -- big figure from --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: CIA guy.

    QUESTION: -- from Clinton through --

    MS NAUERT: I couldn’t hear you. I have allergies, and so my apologies.

    QUESTION: Okay. From Clinton through Obama, he says that the reason why the Saudis took a position which might be understood as unfriendly to the United States at the summit was they have – they’re losing confidence in your policy to counter Iran. Do you think that there’s something to what Bruce is saying?

    MS NAUERT: This administration has taken a tougher stance on Iran than recent administrations, certainly than the last administration, where we look at Iran through the totality of its bad and malign actions that it takes, that it is involved with, not just in the region but also around the world. So if anything, people are accusing us of being too overly broad in looking at Iran through a much more accurate lens than previous administrations have.

    QUESTION: Okay, if I could ask you a last question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, final one. We’re going to move on, Laurie.

    QUESTION: Okay. About Iraq.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: There are elections coming up in May. Does the U.S. support any particular candidate?

    MS NAUERT: Nope, we don’t. We will work with whatever candidate the Iraqis choose, and we wish them the best of luck in their elections.

    QUESTION: Even if it’s a pro-Iranian guy?

    MS NAUERT: Look, Laurie, I have confidence in the Iraqi people. I think the Iraqi people will have confidence in themselves, too.

    QUESTION: Even if his title was ayatollah? (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, very funny. Go ahead. Syria.

    QUESTION: On that? On Iran?

    QUESTION: When you – you just talked about a potential NATO buy-in in Syria. Do you think there’s enough --

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no, no, no, no, I did not.

    QUESTION: You did not? Okay.

    MS NAUERT: No. I was saying, for example, the United States, in general terms, believes that NATO countries, the NATO countries, should all contribute 2 percent to --

    QUESTION: Right, right. Gotcha.

    MS NAUERT: -- to defense. And I was giving that as an example of the overall administration policy, so I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that. Our position is we want countries to do more in many areas around the world.

    QUESTION: Gotcha.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, thanks.

    QUESTION: And was there ever a conversation to make Friday night strikes more of a NATO mission, or it was just the three countries? And if not, should NATO have been more involved?

    MS NAUERT: I think that would be a – probably a DOD question. I think we are very pleased with the countries who participated alongside one another in this mission.

    QUESTION: And just, I guess, getting into – I know you said you didn’t want to make NATO about Syria. Is there a role for NATO in Syria? Is there cohesion there?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not – I have – that’s not a question that I’ve asked. I will now hesitate to give other examples from other countries in case you all want to wrap it in. But not that I am aware of. Perhaps it’s under discussion. It’s not a question I’ve asked.

    Okay. Hi, Dave.

    QUESTION: Is it – Nadia referenced a Wall Street Journal article, and on this one specific element of that article, apparently there was a call made to Egypt to request that they send troops. Are you able to confirm that call took place?

    MS NAUERT: I am not, no. No.

    QUESTION: On Russia?

    QUESTION: And I have a follow-up.

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Let’s stick with Syria and then we’ll go on.

    QUESTION: On Syria? On Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Conor, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Israeli media were citing some Israeli officials saying that their intelligence shows that Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles were not given a sort of fatal blow in the air strikes. I know the administration has talked about how the chemical weapons stockpiles were degraded effectively.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: Do you share their intelligence assessment?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on their intelligence assessment. I can only say that our goal was to significantly degrade their chemical weapons – not only their testing but their stockpile. I think we achieved that, at least in degrading it. Did it do away with it altogether? I don’t know the answer to that offhand.

    One of the things we do say, though, is that Syria should declare if it has any additional chemical weapons. They can declare that, they should declare that, and they should stop attacking their people right now. I’ve hope – I hope that they have heard from us loud and clear that the United States and her allies will not tolerate this kind of use of --

    QUESTION: But when you say significantly, though, what is that? If not totally, what does that look like?

    MS NAUERT: I think I just described it.

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: On Syria. Do you want the Gulf states to pay money to rebuild Syria or to support the American presence there or to send troops to Syria?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on the specifics of it. We have a lot of various diplomatic conversations that take place each and every day. But as a general matter, we would like to see other countries do more and contribute to the overall cause.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Syria?

    QUESTION: Do you have --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- an update on the stabilization funding that was halted by the White House a few weeks ago?

    MS NAUERT: So all of that is under consideration at that time – at this time.

    QUESTION: And so do you have a date for when the first program will run out of money this year for funding --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I can just say it’s under review at this time, as we have other programs that are under review in other parts of the world.

    QUESTION: Okay, and then a quick question on Haley over the weekend.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Can you give us just a better understanding as to why she said there would be Syria-based sanctions on Russians on Monday, and then we didn’t see anything come out. Like senators are saying there’s confusion in the White House. Can you describe what happened there?

    MS NAUERT: Sure. I mean, I can just say that additional sanctions are under review at this time. Additional sanctions on Russia, on Russia entities, are under review. That is often the case. You all know that very well because we talk about this stuff practically nonstop. About 10 or 11 days ago, we announced those sanctions against Russian oligarchs. I’d like to highlight that there were two Russian oligarchs’ companies that were involved in selling equipment and material to Syria, including some components for the S-400 system. Those companies and individuals were sanctioned under the oligarch sanction. The United States has been involved; we’re actively looking at this. Sanctions are not off the table. I want to be clear about that. Sanctions are not off the table. We just don’t have anything to announce at this time.

    QUESTION: So she got ahead of the administration?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on anything that she said or didn’t say. She’s obviously a very valued and well-respected member of our foreign policy team. We stand firmly behind Ambassador Haley in what she does every day. She’s an incredible advocate for people who have been suffering around the world. She’s spent time in many refugee camps, looking at situations on the ground firsthand. She’s an effective spokesperson for this administration. We strongly back her, but in terms of sanctions we just have nothing to announce.

    Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Because you guys have been working on this for such a long time, and you --

    MS NAUERT: On this, meaning what?

    QUESTION: On sanctions, and these particular sanctions, and --

    MS NAUERT: Well, various types of sanctions.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MS NAUERT: We have sanctions --

    QUESTION: -- I mean, yesterday the State Department briefed U.S. allies on these particular sanctions.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, Michelle.

    QUESTION: Well, there was a briefing. Anyway, it goes back to the question --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not aware of any briefing that Michelle is referring to --

    QUESTION: Yeah, there was a meeting.

    MS NAUERT: -- that took place on this.

    QUESTION: No, that’s okay.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I guess --

    QUESTION: Yeah, I mean --

    MS NAUERT: -- you know more than we do, but okay.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s all right. Anyway --

    MS NAUERT: That does happen sometimes, but we’ll check on this right now.

    QUESTION: Well, because you guys have been working on this, and various parties or potential parties to this had some knowledge of sanctions coming down the pike, so it once again gives the appearance --

    MS NAUERT: Michelle, I’m not sure what you mean by various parties had knowledge of this coming down the pike. I’m --

    QUESTION: Because I’m talking about the meeting – U.S. allies being included in this, and they felt that something was coming, so --

    MS NAUERT: Michelle, I’m not aware of some meeting that you’re talking about, so I’m going to have a hard time answering this question because --

    QUESTION: Okay. It’s – well, listen to the end of the question and then --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: So what has just happened involving Haley, and there being knowledge out there that these sanctions were being worked on – I mean we’ve known that because of what Haley said and what others have said. So when it doesn’t happen, it raises the question, again, of why. And the implication is that the President didn’t want to go forward with this for whatever reason. So how does the State Department respond to that?

    MS NAUERT: I would just say, Michelle, as we’ve talked about before, sanctions are always under consideration. That is something that the administration at the interagency level has under consideration. And that is still under consideration at this time, but we have nothing that we are ready – nothing that we are set to announce at this time.

    QUESTION: And does the State --

    MS NAUERT: If and when that changes, I will certainly let you know.

    QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that, in the last round of action against Russia – the expulsion of diplomats – does the State Department believe that U.S. allies and Europeans did enough on that front?

    MS NAUERT: We were very closely coordinated with all the partners and allies, not just European. I believe Canada did some things as well, as did a lot of other countries. I think the final number was what, 27, if I recall exactly.

    QUESTION: I know that there was coordination, but --

    MS NAUERT: So it was close coordination, and every country is of a different size obviously. Our population of the United States, because we’re a larger country, we would tend to have more of these quote-un-quote diplomats --

    QUESTION: Understood.

    MS NAUERT: -- were really spies. So there were more of them here because they have larger missions in the United States --

    QUESTION: I know.

    MS NAUERT: -- than they would in other countries. So it would only make sense that more would be kicked out of the United States than would be kicked out of other countries.

    QUESTION: So the State Department was satisfied with the response of other countries in this?

    MS NAUERT: We were very satisfied. We’re closely connected with our allies and our partners on this. This was a global effort in which countries stood together and they said to Russia, “We are not going to tolerate your use of a chemical weapon on our ally’s soil.” We stood together firmly on that. We kicked out the spies; many other countries kicked out that – the spies. And I’m not aware of any controversy surrounding that, other than you asking me about it.

    QUESTION: Two really brief things on Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: One is that you seem to take offense at the fact that people are asking for some kind of proof. What makes you think that there’s tampering involved – and you said intelligence gathering.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: But the problem with this administration, as well as previous – or administrations since 2003 have had – is that you were dead confident in intelligence that turned out to be completely wrong in Iraq. And I might add that the OPCW and IAEA both disagreed with that intelligence back in 2003 that was – that led to the Iraq War. So that’s why you’re being asked. It might be unfair to you personally, but --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, some of this – OPCW – you can call OPCW. I’d be happy to try to connect you, if you don’t their phone number or their contact information.

    QUESTION: Oh, I do.

    MS NAUERT: And you can ask them. Okay.

    QUESTION: But I’m asking you --

    MS NAUERT: You can ask them --

    QUESTION: -- for your – for --

    MS NAUERT: -- what is --

    QUESTION: -- for why --

    MS NAUERT: Why they can’t get --

    QUESTION: No, no, no.

    MS NAUERT: -- to the sites that they would like to get to.

    QUESTION: I’m asking you for the grounds that lead your person and you – your person at the OPCW and you – to say that you think that there may have been tampering. Anyway, the second thing is, is that when you’re calling on other countries to do more, to step up and do more, does that mean that you think the United States has done enough or has done all that it’s going to do and it’s now up to other people?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize that, Matt --

    QUESTION: All right. Because --

    MS NAUERT: -- in any way. I can just tell you the funds that Kylie asked me about are under review. As a general matter, we would like other countries to do more, and I don’t have a problem with asking on behalf --

    QUESTION: Okay, I – but you do --

    MS NAUERT: -- of the American taxpayers for others countries to chip in too.

    QUESTION: But you – but do you believe that the people of Syria need to be protected from malicious attacks? And I’m asking this in the context of refugee admissions because since the beginning of the year, since – since fiscal year – since October 1st, the number of Syrian refugees in particular has dropped from about 6,000 to 44 from the same period, that October 1, 2016 to – where are we now – April 2017. That’s 99.2 percent decline. Why? And do – does the United States think that it’s doing enough to assist Syrian refugees --

    MS NAUERT: Well, this process is a little bit --

    QUESTION: -- with resettlement?

    MS NAUERT: -- is a little bit slower than it used to be because --

    QUESTION: A little bit? Ninety-nine point two percent slower?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me – I’m answering your question, am I not?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. The process is a little bit slower because additional vetting mechanisms have been put in place. This was something that was initially done after 9/11, where before refugees could come into the United States, the United States Government started doing more to look into the backgrounds of individuals coming to the United States. That is always being refined and changed and updated. Those things have been updated. That is, in part, what has slowed it down.

    I’d also like to remind you that even though we think the United States of America is the best place to live in the world – no offense to my foreign reporter friends in the back – but even though many Americans think that, there are many refugees around the country who don’t want to be uprooted from their home country and be sent to – no offense to Buffalo, but to Buffalo, New York, all right? Your hometown, Matt. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Well, it’s funny that you mention Buffalo because we do have a lot of refugees in Buffalo, a lot – a lot.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I know, you certainly do. I know, Matt, and I’m from Wisconsin and we do there as well, okay? And Minnesota and many other countries.

    [1] But my point is that – and what was surprising to me when I first joined the State Department, in talking with many of my colleagues who work on refugee issues and have worked for Republican and Democrat administrations – they educated me on this, and they explained to me that many refugees would rather stay closer to home than get uprooted and go to Buffalo or Wisconsin, because they would like to – when it is safe, when it is safe to do so, and that is a really important component to it, when they can do it in a dignified fashion, they would prefer to go to their own homes --

    QUESTION: That’s fine, except --

    MS NAUERT: -- not the great old U.S. of A.

    QUESTION: -- if you look – if you look at what happened during the Bush administration, which was heavily criticized for the intake of Iraqi refugees, they actually did something about it and put in place a program to ramp it up and to get more Iraqi refugees into the country. Now, there’s a slight difference because obviously, the United States was responsible for the – starting a war that caused the refugee influx. But in this case, if you think that these people need to be protected and that other countries need to step up, you don’t think that the United States should step up more in terms of the intake of refugees?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, it’s not my position to make policy here from this podium.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: You’re asking me to do so.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MS NAUERT: I’m just telling you that the U.S. is doing what it can right now, that we have additional things that we do when we vet people. That is constantly changing. It has changed since 9/11; it is continuing to be updated.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Cuba? Cuba?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, yes. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Do you have anything on Cuba since Raul Castro is stepping down? And in your vision, what would be a – U.S.-Cuba relations look like in the coming years? Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Not sure yet. That – I think that is really to be determined. As we watch what’s taken place at the Cuba national assembly, we certainly see that that’s not a democratic transition. So when we see that something is not a democratic transition, that’s of great concern to us. We would like citizens to be able to have a say in their political outcomes, and this certainly does not seem like regular folks will have a say. I mean, they basically don’t have a real or meaningful choice because it’s not a democratic process.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: We hope that Cuba’s president – Janne, hold on – we hope that Cuba’s – that Cuba’s new president will listen to the Cuban people. We’re not sure that that’s going to happen. We would like a more free and democratic Cuba. We will be watching but aren’t overly optimistic, because this isn’t a democratic process.

    QUESTION: On Cuba?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes.

    QUESTION: Yesterday, the Canadian Government matched your earlier decision and they are withdrawing the families of diplomats from their mission in Havana. Do you have any update for us on the investigation? Have you heard anything more? Is there – are there any plans to withdraw more people from your mission in Cuba or to --

    MS NAUERT: From ours, we don’t have any plans to do so at this time. We’re certainly aware of the decision that the Canadian Government made similar to a decision that the United States made last year. I can tell you our investigation is ongoing into what happened to our diplomats down there. That investigation continues.

    QUESTION: And there hasn’t been any further incidence?

    MS NAUERT: There have not been any further incidents. No new incidents since the ones that I informed you about last.

    QUESTION: Yes, but how long can we go without any incidents before we conclude they’ve stopped?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t. Okay. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike).

    QUESTION: Have you --

    MS NAUERT: Any – by the way, anybody else on Cuba?

    QUESTION: Yeah, can I ask one more on that.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: The Canadians said that there haven’t been any new incidents, but there have been continued symptoms. Have you – have diplomats – sorry, have American diplomats down there continued to experience symptoms?

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that – I was just briefed on this the other day – that we are not aware of any new attacks or incidents having occurred, so that the last time I gave you a date on when something occurred still stands. So we just don’t have any new updates on that. But as our State Department people – if anyone feels like they have any new symptoms or anything like that, they’re more than welcome to get a full medical screening, and we continue to offer that on an ongoing basis to our colleagues. Okay, anything else on Cuba?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Regarding Cuba, how does the State Department view the meetings that the U.S. delegation had with the independent Cuban civil society in the Lima, Peru conference?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I provided a readout of that, I believe it was last Thursday. I can pull that for you, and then provide that to you later. I just don’t happen to have it handy right now, okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Janne, go ahead.

    DPRKSYRIA">QUESTION: Thank you very much. On the connections – connections between North Korea and then Syria, and North Korea cooperated with the Syrians’ chemical weapons development. And regarding the U.S. precision strikes to Syrians’ chemical weapons facilities, what signals did the U.S. send to North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Janne, I know this is a report that I had seen about a month or two ago. I just don’t have anything new on that. I don’t know if that – I don’t recall offhand if that was an official report or if that was just a news report. I’d have to look into that and get back to you on that. Okay. Do you have --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Do you have something – do you have something else on North Korea? Okay, all right. Kelly, go ahead.

    QUESTION: So are you going to announce – or will the decision happen soon – as to where the summit with North Korea is going to happen? Because the President mentioned that that might be happening soon. And then I have a follow-up question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I think that’s all under discussion right now. The President of course is meeting with Prime Minister Abe at Mar-a-Lago right now. That of course, in addition to our relationship with Japan, but the DPRK talks will be a hot topic between the President and – between the President and the prime minister. In terms of where those meetings are held, we’re not ready to announce that just yet. When we are I’ll let you know, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on North Korea?

    QUESTION: And then – yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So --

    MS NAUERT: Last question, and then I’m going to go somebody else.

    QUESTION: Okay, just one. So the Republic of Korea is having their summit before – with North Korea before the U.S. summit. Will the U.S. urge the ROK to bring denuclearization to the table at their summit, especially in light of the announcement that came out about --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think it’s really important for them to do so. We are closely latched up and allied, obviously, with the Koreans. We support that inter-Korean dialogue, understanding that it’s important to people both from the North and South to be able to have these conversations. So that’s certainly a significant step, but we imagine that a big part of that conversation that they have will be our President’s upcoming meeting with – with Kim Jong-un, whenever that takes place. Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, on the inter-Korean summit, there are reports that South and North Korea are seeking an official end to the military conflict on Korean Peninsula. Have you heard this message directly from South Korea, and does the U.S. support this?

    MS NAUERT: If that’s the case, I’m not aware of it. I can look into it and see if we have anything on that.

    Okay. Hi, Rich. Last question, we’ve got to go.

    QUESTION: Russia negotiations with airspace. Do you have an update on that and has the recent action in Syria, or diplomats or sanctions or anything that’s gone on with Russia over the past month, played into those discussions?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So here’s what I can tell you. There are – and for those of you who have not followed this, in order for U.S. carriers to fly to Asia and other parts of the country – or other parts of the world that are very far away – the shortest distance is over Russian airspace, it’s called Russian overflights. Russian approvals for these overflights by U.S. carriers expires at 7:59 p.m. today, Eastern time. Some of those commercial carriers are now making the decision to reroute their flights because they’re concerned about that expiration. We held a meeting here at the State Department today with various commercial carriers and also cargo carriers – personnel carriers and cargo carriers as well – where we’re seeking to help speed this along and facilitate things so that U.S. carriers – and that passengers aren’t disrupted. So we don’t have – we don’t want that kind of commercial aviation disruption, so we’re trying to facilitate a working arrangement. We had planned to meet with Russian civil aviation officials this week in Washington. That meeting was canceled by the Russian Government. They have said to us that they will reschedule with us. We don’t have a date for that just yet, but we look forward to them working with us on a date because we don’t want to see this disruption for our U.S. carriers.

    QUESTION: Did they give a reason why they canceled?

    MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge, no.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Russia. Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Relax. Whoa, relax.

    QUESTION: Said, hold on a second.

    QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I can’t hear you.

    QUESTION: You can hear just fine. Did – does that mean that you’re working – you’re seeking to have some kind of a temporary extension with the Russians?

    MS NAUERT: So these are negotiated between U.S. carriers and the Russian Government themselves, so that’s where the negotiation happens. The United States serves as more of a facilitator, so we have been involved in some of the conversations to help facilitate this. It’s a complicated arrangement. It’s based on agreements that date back to the 1990s, agreements that haven’t fully been enshrined in law, if you will, and so this is something that we’re continuing to help out with.

    QUESTION: Well, so how is the facilitation going?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we’re working on it. That’s exactly why the carriers were here today at the State Department.

    QUESTION: But no Russians.

    MS NAUERT: Our – no, the Russian Government was not represented.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, before you think that you’re too cute, I can tell you --

    QUESTION: I would never think that.

    MS NAUERT: -- that our embassy has been speaking with Russian officials to try to facilitate this. So we have our folks in Moscow who are working on this. Normally this is done at the deputy assistant secretary level, and we’ve sort of ramped up our engagement to try to facilitate all this happening. Russia has not yet indicated whether it will extend the approvals – they would expire today – for the overflights by U.S. carriers, but the Russian Government did say to our embassy when we spoke with them, “Don’t panic, we’re not going to do anything to harm the United States aviation sector.” We certainly hope that that is the case. We’re expecting a Russian response hopefully later today.

    QUESTION: Really? You’re expecting goodwill from the Russians --

    QUESTION: Russia.

    MS NAUERT: I’m just saying, they gave us that quote.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: We hope that they will stand by it.

    QUESTION: And when you said you’ve ramped it up from the deputy assistant secretary level --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- to what level?

    MS NAUERT: Our ambassador, Ambassador Jon Huntsman, was involved in some of these conversations. Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, I need to ask a couple questions on --

    QUESTION: So you’ll have an update for us at 7:00 p.m. on that? 7:00 p.m.?

    MS NAUERT: It expires at 7:59 p.m. Eastern time today.

    QUESTION: 7:59.

    MS NAUERT: And again, so far nothing’s been canceled. Some airlines – and you can talk to those airlines yourselves – are making the – choosing to reroute. Hopefully things will be back on track so that passengers and our commercial carriers aren’t disrupted. We’re working on it. I can give you a readout of Manisha – our Assistant Secretary Manisha Singh’s meeting that she held a short while ago if you all would like.

    QUESTION: Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, we’ve got to go.

    QUESTION: I need to ask a question on the Palestinian issue, please.

    MS NAUERT: I’m all done. I took your questions already, Said. Guys, we’ve got to go. Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:32 p.m.)

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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 13, 2018

sam, 04/14/2018 - 00:47
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 13, 2018

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN


    2:49 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi everybody.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: How are you today?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Happy Friday the 13th.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, exactly. Promise not to – to try not to do these on Friday afternoons too often, so bear with us. Given direct --

    QUESTION: Especially on such nice Fridays.

    MS NAUERT: I know, it’s a beautiful Friday.

    Okay, so let’s get started. First I’d like to bring you some news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today the United States is pleased to announce nearly $67 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The new assistance is providing urgent food, shelter, health care, and other urgent aid for vulnerable Congolese and refugees in the DRC. The funding is also supporting the humanitarian response for Congolese refugees in the region. Intensifying conflicts have left more than 13 million people in need of urgent humanitarian aid, many of whom are facing acute food insecurity. The United States is the largest single donor supporting this humanitarian response. With the new announcement, we are providing nearly $277 million since Fiscal Year 2017 in critical assistance to the people in need in the DRC and for Congolese refugees in the region.

    We urge more donors to provide resources now to help those suffering in the midst of these terrible conflicts and the Government of the DRC to take steps to address the underlying causes of insecurity that have given rise to the displacement and conflict that have fueled the humanitarian crisis. We welcome the pledges from other donors at the conference that took place in Geneva today, which total approximately half a billion dollars. To put that success in perspective, the amount raised in one conference today is on par with the entire amount raised in 2017. Eight countries more than doubled their support, and major pledges came in from the United States, the EU, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, and Canada. So we thank those countries for their assistance.

    Next, I know many of you are interested in the Global Engagement Center, so I wanted to bring you an update on that. I’m pleased to offer an update on the Global Engagement Center, specifically on a funding opportunity that we launched several weeks ago to solicit proposals to counter state-sponsored disinformation. This program is called the Information Access Fund. The notice of funding opportunity closed on Wednesday night and we’ve received approximately 150 proposals from around the world. The response shows the active interest that civil society groups have to play a role in countering foreign disinformation. The GEC will now begin its review of the proposals for technical merit. We intend to move quickly to support the top proposals after the anticipated transfer of funds from the Department of Defense is completed. For organizations that missed the deadline but are interested in working with the GEC, they have another opportunity to apply for funding opportunities posted on grants.gov, and that doesn’t close until April the 23rd. So we’ll keep you posted with any updates on that.

    Lastly – pardon me – Acting Secretary John Sullivan is in Lima, Peru today for the Eighth Summit of the Americas. Yesterday he met with members of Venezuelan independent civil society, and acknowledged their efforts to document and raise awareness about repression in Venezuela. He also met with members of the Cuban independent civil society and recognized their work to promote a more open, free, and prosperous future for their country. Additionally, the acting secretary joined Secretary of Commerce Ross’s meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister. The leaders discussed our joint economic growth agenda, security cooperation, and global issues.

    Today, the acting secretary met with the Haitian president and thanked him for his leadership as chairman of the Caribbean community, and urged consensus to promote and defend democracy in the region. The acting secretary, together with Mexican Foreign Secretary Videgaray, co-hosted a meeting with leaders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. They discussed ways to enhance the cooperation on security and also prosperity in the region.

    Tomorrow, the acting secretary will meet with the heads of the delegation of the Governments of the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia. They will underscore the commitment to increasing engagement of the Caribbean partners as envisioned in the Caribbean 2020 strategy.

    International gatherings such as the Summit of the Americas are a great opportunity to bring people together to discuss shared interests, challenges, and opportunities. Women’s economic empowerment is vital for our shared economic prosperity and global stability, which is why it’s specifically identified as a priority action in the President’s National Security Strategy.

    Over the past year, the administration has launched several new initiatives to expand opportunities for women both domestically and globally. Today, Acting Secretary Sullivan, Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, and President and CEO of OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Ray Washburne, launched 2X Americas. It uses a new U.S. Government initiative which will commit $150 million, mobilizing a total of $500 million to provide women in Latin America with access to capital, jobs, and opportunities to innovate and prosper. This further demonstrates the administration’s commitment to women’s economic empowerment globally. When women rise, it’s good for their families, their communities, and their businesses.

    Lastly, on a related note, later today Vice President Pence will arrive in Lima, and he’ll make an important humanitarian assistance announcement at the Summit of the Americas alongside USAID Administrator Mark Green and the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Paco Palmieri. So we hope you will stay tuned for that announcement coming out from them later today.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Before I get to Syria, I have three extremely brief ones on your top – each one on each of your – these announcements.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: One. As you noted, this conference for DR Congo was in Geneva not in Kinshasa.

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Yes, it was in Geneva.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Well, one of the reasons for that is Congo actually boycotted this meeting. I just – because they said that --

    MS NAUERT: Yes, we’re – yeah, we’re certainly aware of that episode, that real disappointment. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Because – okay. Do you have anything more to say? I mean, they say that the crisis is overblown and that the need is not that big, but --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think if you look at all the money that was raised at that conference, there certainly is a need and that it’s not overblown.

    QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, on the GEC proposals. These are a hundred from 150 different companies or are they --

    MS NAUERT: Various proposals, 150 proposals from countries around the world.

    QUESTION: From countries or companies?

    MS NAUERT: Well, not from governments themselves but from individuals, NGOs, things of that nature.

    QUESTION: And – okay. And so like – I don’t want to be --

    MS NAUERT: So someone may have an idea, an organization somewhere in the world may have an idea about how we can best handle or best combat state-sponsored disinformation. And so they will submit their proposals, and we’ll take a look at them and find the ones that have the best merit and look at engaging with those.

    QUESTION: You don’t happen to know if, like, Cambridge Analytica was one of the --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, no.

    QUESTION: No, okay. And then last one on Sullivan’s meetings. This things that you mentioned with the – Ivanka Trump, the 2X thing – this is XX, like chromosomes?

    MS NAUERT: I am not sure. I am not sure where the name came from.

    QUESTION: I mean, why is it --

    MS NAUERT: It’s some sort of clever name that somebody came up with. I don’t know the answer to that.

    QUESTION: All right. I think --

    QUESTION: Before you go to Syria --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- can I follow up on Congo?

    QUESTION: Yes. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Just on the Congo thing, the government says that the West is exaggerating it, and what is your --

    MS NAUERT: Well, it’s not just the West that was a participant in the Geneva meeting. I think I answered that with Matt’s question. There were many other countries involved that all pulled together to raise some money and additional awareness for the crisis there. So when you have refugees and others leaving their country for other places, when you have people who are forced out of their homes, that’s clearly a crisis.

    QUESTION: And then the money that is raised, how – what has the U.S. said about that money, where it has to go?

    MS NAUERT: Well --

    QUESTION: And surely you would not want any of it to go through the budget of the government.

    MS NAUERT: We don’t do that. When we provide humanitarian assistance, as a course of matter, that assistance does not go to a government. This is the same way it works all across the world in different crises across the world. We provide that money to NGOs and different groups. It never goes into government coffers.

    QUESTION: Sometimes it does, because if you want to stabilize a government that you would support --

    MS NAUERT: I’m talking about humanitarian aid. Okay.

    QUESTION: So – and then on the other thing on – the U.S. has been pushing for an election in Congo. Does this emphasize the need for one?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m – this is specifically about humanitarian aid.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: So on Syria, I’m sure you have seen the rather – I don’t know – surprising assertion by the Russians that this suspected, presumed apparent chemical weapons attack in Duma was facilitated by the British. What --

    MS NAUERT: I saw that.

    QUESTION: What do you have to say about it?

    MS NAUERT: I think this is one of a long list of instances in which Russia takes information and they try to turn it upside down. We’ve seen a long history of the Russian Government sow discord, whether it’s in our own election process, other countries. We see it through state-sponsored disinformation campaigns. We see what happened today at the UN Security Council where they try to completely change the story when the facts become just a little too inconvenient for them. They try to change the story. But the facts are exactly what they are. Russia has changed the story once again because it’s simply become – the facts have become too inconvenient for them.

    QUESTION: But can you say – can you just come and flat-out say that you know, you have evidence that it was the Syrian Government that was behind this and that Britain had nothing to do with it? Is that something that you are --

    MS NAUERT: The U.K. I’m confident in saying had absolutely nothing to do with it. It is the assessment of the U.S. Government, the British Government, the French Government – I cannot speak on their behalf, but we’ve all been having conversations and sharing information, intelligence included, and we can say that the Syrian Government was behind this attack. We talked about this the other day. The White House has addressed this as well.

    QUESTION: What does “assessment” mean?

    MS NAUERT: Hi Michelle.

    QUESTION: What does “assessment” mean?

    QUESTION: So I think it was on Tuesday when we last had a briefing, right?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Okay. So it was on Tuesday when you said – when you were asked about the OPCW --

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: -- and is the administration or should the administration wait to get those findings. And you emphasized the fact that there’s already intel that chemical weapons were used.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: So what can you say on the state of that? Has the State Department’s knowledge of what this was, or that it was chemical weapons, increased since two days ago? How has it – how would you say the level of proof has changed? And --

    MS NAUERT: Well, let me start by addressing the OPCW. My understanding is that the OPCW arrived – it was either yesterday or today – oh, tomorrow, pardon me – tomorrow in Syria to try to collect some information.

    QUESTION: So are we --

    MS NAUERT: They are simply the body – the OPCW – the one that collects some of the information and determines the exact substance that was used. On Tuesday when we last met, I talked about how we know that this was a chemical weapon that was used in Syria. The exact kind or the mix, that we are still looking into.

    There are some television shows out there in the United States that have started to ask, “Well, why aren’t we releasing all of this intelligence information right now?” A lot of this stuff is classified at this point, so those things we’re going to hold pretty close to the vest.

    QUESTION: Well, would you – based on the words that you said on Tuesday, would you say that that’s when the U.S. knew that this was Syria? I mean, would you – would you say that there was proof on Tuesday?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to – I’m not going to say which day we absolutely knew that there was proof. The attack took place on Saturday. We know for a fact that it was a chemical weapon. We know that there are only certain countries – like Syria – that have delivery mechanisms and have those types of weapons.

    QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, would you say today though that the U.S. has proof that this was the Syrian regime?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: And we continue to look at the information. We continue to gather information and further assess it. We don’t have the information to be able to provide. We don’t – we aren’t able to provide all of this publicly at this point because it’s sensitive.

    QUESTION: So were we --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Are we waiting --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Okay, last one.

    QUESTION: Are we waiting for the OPCW, then, to – before there’s --

    MS NAUERT: I had – we had said before – and this has been the position of the U.S. Government; Sarah Sanders has said this as well, as has the President and others – that we believe we know who is responsible for this. We believe we know that chemical weapon was used. We will still wait for the OPCW – not wait. The OPCW will still formulate its facts and its findings, but that still does not determine – the OPCW does still not determine the responsibility. They just determine the substance.

    QUESTION: But there won’t be any action taken --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not – we covered this on Friday – on Tuesday extensively.

    QUESTION: Well, sort of.

    MS NAUERT: No, we did. We can go back to the – to the --

    QUESTION: Heather, just a quick follow-up, just a quick follow-up.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Even the Secretary of Defense was not conclusive in pointing the finger at the Syrian regime.

    MS NAUERT: I can tell you this: Syria is responsible; we are all in agreement. I have also seen the Secretary of Defense’s remarks as well. We are assessing various sources. Different government agencies and departments have different types of sources by which we gather information. So DOD has certain kinds of sources, State Department has different kinds of sources, and other agencies and departments have various sources. We will take a look at all of this information as it comes in. And we have to remind you that this is a dynamic situation and it’s ongoing, but we’re continuing to look into everything. Okay?

    Elise, go right ahead. Sorry.

    QUESTION: At what level – but at what level of confidence are you that Syria was responsible? I mean, there’s having proof and believing that they did it, and then there’s incontrovertible proof and a high level of confidence and assurance.

    MS NAUERT: A very high level of confidence.

    Okay. Hi, Barbara.

    QUESTION: Does that mean you’ve independently verified the intelligence coming in?

    MS NAUERT: I am not – I am not going to be able to give you information about the intelligence that we’re gathering on that.

    QUESTION: But you’ve got your own – you’ve independently verified that there is a --

    MS NAUERT: The United States Government has its own sources of information. We have been assessing this thoroughly since this took place on Saturday.


    QUESTION: Heather, can you say – so we saw that President Erdogan of Turkey spoke to President Putin. He kind of seemed to suggest that there was some kind of discussions behind the scenes. Then we saw President Macron speak to President Putin. Are there discussions, like either directly or indirectly, with the Russians about next steps and what the U.S. is planning and deconfliction or anything --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any conversations on the part of the State Department to read out regarding Russia, so I’m not aware if we’ve had conversations with Russia at a high level. Perhaps we have at a lower level.

    QUESTION: But even if it’s not direct with the United States --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But is it fair to assume that discussions are going on with the Russians about how the U.S. and its allies will have to respond to this? Because it definitely seems as if initially there was no conversations, and now there seem to be messages being passed back and forth.

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, I think it’s obvious that this is a messy region of the world. That country is very complex. There are lots of actors and things going on in it. We’ve had numerous conversations with the French, the British, the Saudis, the Israelis, and others, and so what information exactly is contained in those conversations I’m not aware of. I know the White House had issued a readout – I don’t happen to have that handy – on the conversation between the British and also the U.S. and the French.

    QUESTION: But could you just talk about the involvement of Turkey? Because it does seem as if President Erdogan spoke to Putin. He also spoke to Trump. He’s talking about how the Russians feel about the United States. It definitely seems like there are messages being passed.

    MS NAUERT: Elise, I don’t have any information about any conversations that we may have had with the Turks. If the President had that conversation, I can look to see if there’s a readout to provide it for you.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: Can I clarify something, please?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah.

    QUESTION: You just said that the U.S. has very high level of confidence the Syrian Government is behind the chemical weapons attack. And is – I just want to – is that according to U.S. intelligence?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on intelligence, but just U.S. Government.


    QUESTION: Heather, can you --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, Gardiner.

    QUESTION: Hey.

    MS NAUERT: Where you been?

    QUESTION: Just wandering around.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. (Laughter.) Nice to have you back.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So obviously we’re – we’ve been talking a lot about the – sort of the tactical what’s going to go on in the immediate aftermath of this chemical weapons attack. Can you explain what the administration’s Syria strategy is? Because there was Tillerson’s speech, which said that we’re going to be – have troops in Syria indefinitely. The President then said we’re going to get out of Syria. Now you’re talking about escalating in Syria. Are we going to be in Syria for a while? Are we escalating in Syria? What is our strategy?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think I’m not going to get ahead of the President, certainly. I’ll let – I’ll leave it to the President to announce what may or may not happen, what actions the U.S. Government may or may not choose to take.

    I think it’s clear that we are obviously engaged in Syria. One of the things that’s important to us is try to encourage the parties to get back to the Geneva process. So when we look at pictures, for example, of the Turks and the Iranians and others meeting to discuss the future of Syria, some of those countries are – certainly don’t have the best interest of Syria at heart, and that I’m specifically referring to the Russians and the Iranians and others. We would like to see us get back to the Geneva process so that there could eventually be a political solution in Syria.

    QUESTION: Right, but that’s not happening. So the Secretary outlined a Syria strategy in his --

    MS NAUERT: Well, that’s a goal. And frankly, that’s a goal that Vladimir Putin had agreed to but yet another example of the Russian Government not living up to its agreements.

    QUESTION: I understand. I’m just – he gave that speech in Stanford, what was it, January 12th? And I’m – is that the Syria strategy? Is that still alive? Because certainly the --

    MS NAUERT: Well, Gardiner, I think some of the things that will be happening as we have a new national security advisor, who will be meeting with the President, presumably, on this very important topic, we also will hopefully have a new secretary of state coming in. So there --

    QUESTION: So it’s all in flux.

    MS NAUERT: So there could be some changes, but we as a government are going ahead and operating according to our pre-existing strategy and our pre-existing policies. And if things end up changing, that may be the case, and that’s certainly the President’s prerogative to change things.


    QUESTION: So your solution is that the United States has the best interests of Syria at heart, but no one else does?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think calling for a return to the Geneva process, which is something that many countries have agreed to, has the interest of the Syrian people at heart, certainly.

    QUESTION: Right, but the Russians and the Iranians have both said that, too.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think that the Russians and the Iranians have the interests, the best interests, of the Syrian people at heart when --

    QUESTION: But they have called for a return to the Geneva process.

    MS NAUERT: Well, they had called for that. But as we’ve talked about, Matt, I think your first question was about how Russia will try to turn facts on their head. We see that happen all the time. So we don’t think that they have the best interests.

    QUESTION: You don’t think that they really want to return to the Geneva process.

    MS NAUERT: I --

    QUESTION: Is that --

    MS NAUERT: They said they do.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: We’re highly skeptical because we’ve not seen them go forward with that.

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, Ilhan.

    QUESTION: A follow-up on that.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Ilhan.

    QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much. On that very meeting, yesterday Mr. Pompeo at the state – stated that that meeting was basically those three countries were there in Ankara summit to carve up Syria. Is this the position of the United States Government?

    MS NAUERT: Is what the position of the United States Government?

    QUESTION: Those three countries were in Ankara to carve up Syria. Was it --

    MS NAUERT: Yes. To do what to Syria?

    QUESTION: Carve up.

    QUESTION: Carve it up.

    MS NAUERT: Oh. I don’t know. I’m not going to assign the meaning behind that meeting or what they were discussing. I obviously wasn’t there and the U.S. --

    QUESTION: You’re saying that --

    MS NAUERT: The U.S. Government wasn’t a part of that. But we – I really don’t think that the Iranians and the Russians have the best interests of Syrians at heart.

    QUESTION: On the --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on, let me just – Michelle, let me just move around the room a little bit.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, but I want to move around the room a little bit so we get to touch on more people. Hi, Laurie.

    QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Iraq’s foreign minister has spoken strongly against striking Syria. He said it would be a catastrophic defeat, put the countries of the world in jeopardy. Do you regard that as a statement of an ally? What’s your response to it?

    MS NAUERT: Well, they have – Iraq has its own unique concerns, and it’s certainly okay for them to be able to address their feelings about any actions the United States Government and other governments may take.

    QUESTION: So you think – well, okay, let me ask you another question which kind of relates to Iran as well, Iran and Iraq ties. The Iraqi press is reporting that Popular Mobilization Forces are fight – the Hashd al-Shaabi are fighting in Syria and they’re getting paid twice as much as the regular Hashd al-Shaabi. Do you – what’s your comment on that? Should they be fighting in Syria in the first place?

    MS NAUERT: Certainly not. We are aware of those reports, though. Anyone that would leave Iraq and go to Syria to fight would certainly be – of those groups would certainly be considered an undisciplined soldier or member of any kind of militia, and we would call on the forces, whatever forces, to remain engaged on the ground in Iraq and not go to Syria.

    QUESTION: Is this an issue you’re raising with the Iraqi Government?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not – if we are, I’m not aware of that, but we’ve had conversations with the Iraqi Government.

    Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: Can I move to Gaza?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Now, for the third Friday in a row, there has been this demonstrating and then we have the violent quelling of these demonstrations or effort by the Israeli army. There’s been, like, 3,000 casualties, maybe 35 dead. It’s happening every day. And yet we have not heard anything from the State Department on this issue. How much longer will you not issue – will you remain silent on what is going on in Gaza?

    MS NAUERT: I think answering your questions is hardly remaining silent. We’ve addressed this every time that I’ve been here at this podium since this – since this started to occur.

    QUESTION: So – yeah, okay, so let me ask you this follow-up: Today, Secretary-General of the United Nations Guterres said that he wanted to conduct a transparent and independent investigation of the use of excessive force by the Israelis. Would you support him in that effort?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with his comments. I understand that the Israeli Government, however, is conducting internal investigations.

    QUESTION: So that – would that be sufficient where – as far as you’re concerned?

    MS NAUERT: I think that – I mean, Said, it’s hard for me --

    QUESTION: Would it be sufficient for you --

    MS NAUERT: -- it’s hard for me to comment on that because that would be an Israeli Government matter.

    QUESTION: Would you support an independent --

    MS NAUERT: But my understanding is that they are conducting investigations.

    QUESTION: Okay. My last question: Are you doing anything, perhaps, to sort of convince the Israelis or persuade them to use less force in quelling these demonstrations? Because they are likely to go on day after day.

    MS NAUERT: We have been watching these demonstrations --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- and while people certainly have a right to demonstrate peacefully --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- we’ve seen the images coming out of Gaza and we have seen the flag burning. We have heard very heated rhetoric on the part of people there. We remain, as the U.S. Government, convinced that the best way back to peace is through de-escalating tensions. We have asked those and we continue to say, “Exercise restraint in your actions.” We would like to be able to get both sides to a point where they can sit down and have conversations.

    QUESTION: Sorry.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Wait, wait. Have you gotten an answer yet to my questions from Tuesday about the journalist – the Palestinian journalist who was killed?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I know we addressed some of your questions on Tuesday. I didn’t realize there were any outstanding ones, but go ahead and ask them again.

    QUESTION: Well, I mean, the Israelis’ defense minister claims that he was a member of Hamas, a captain in which – something which only the Israelis have said. The Palestinians – Hamas has denied, the Palestinians have denied it, people who know him have denied it, the international journalism union says it’s not true, Palestinian journalism union says it’s not true. So – and your own U.S. Agency for International Development had vetted and approved him – or his company, at least, which he owns – for funding. So what – what’s going on here?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Matt, I can tell you – and I think we had maybe addressed this on Tuesday, perhaps we did not – these are obviously very serious allegations. We are looking into those allegations very carefully. There are updates that, when I have them, I will be happy – I will be happy to bring them to you. We have interagency colleagues who are taking a close look, both in the field, in Israel and in Washington, who are taking a look at this.

    QUESTION: At what? At his death or at the allegations that he was a member of Hamas?

    MS NAUERT: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: Well, that didn’t answer the – which one?

    MS NAUERT: The second – the second matter.

    QUESTION: So the U.S. Government thinks that it is possible that this guy was actually not a journalist and was a --

    MS NAUERT: Look, it’s a serious allegation. Any time an allegation of that sort is brought up, I think we look at it.

    QUESTION: Well, the guy is dead.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, I think that would still be important for us to take a look at that. Okay? You’re asking questions about it. Do you think it’s important to look at it or not?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I’m asking questions about it because nobody except for the Israelis, and now apparently some part of the U.S. Government that is not USAID, which had approved and – vetted and approved this guy, thinks – say that he was a member of Hamas. But literally nobody else says that.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I can just tell you --

    MS NAUERT: -- I don’t have any updates for you, but it is something that we are looking into.

    QUESTION: So when journalists are imprisoned in Turkey – I’m going to ask you about the journalists that the president of Ecuador says were executed by Colombian rebels. You know about that?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, that --

    QUESTION: You condemn – well --

    MS NAUERT: That one doesn’t immediately come to my mind.

    QUESTION: You condemn attacks against --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay.

    QUESTION: You condemn attacks against the press --

    MS NAUERT: Yes I do. Yes I do.

    QUESTION: -- that are far less than actual death. So I just – I need to know what exactly is the – what exactly the U.S. Government position is on this, because if your friend and ally Israel did, for whatever reason, kill a working journalist, then it should be condemned, correct?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, we are collecting information on the situation. We are assessing it very carefully. All of this is obviously a very serious situation. When I have an update for you, I would be happy to bring it to you.

    QUESTION: But you would condemn a country no matter what it is, no matter what country it is, killing a working journalist, would you not?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I will get back to you on this, okay? This is – that’s all I have for you today.

    QUESTION: I – I don’t get – I mean, look, if you want to have a policy --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, it’s a – it’s a --

    QUESTION: If you want --

    MS NAUERT: Obviously a complicated situation --

    QUESTION: If the administrations wants to have a policy that --

    MS NAUERT: It’s a complicated situation; we are looking into all of this to try to assess what the person was doing. You have your sources that have certain types of information. We are looking into it as well, okay? I’m not going to go beyond that. When I have more information that I can bring to you, I will certainly do that.

    QUESTION: And just in terms of the general situation, you’re calling for restraint on the part of the Palestinians or on the part of the Israelis?

    MS NAUERT: I think it’s fair to call for both sides to exercise restraint in this situation. I mean, we’ve seen – it’s gone on for, as Said pointed out correctly, almost three weeks now.

    QUESTION: Okay, so you see the two sides as operating equally --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not – I’m not going to assign an equal blame or anything to that. I’m just saying we would certainly call for those involved to exercise restraint.

    QUESTION: Okay, I – it’s just – it seems to be a little bit – just a little bit problematic. I’m having a hard time understanding what your policy is towards Israel and the Palestinians. If it is “Israel can do no wrong and we will never criticize them,” then, well, okay that’s the policy. But you should come out and say that’s what the policy is. This – this – the middle ground that you – that you seem to – trying to be taking, I don’t get. So if – an answer to that question would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Got it. Okay. Hi. Alisha.

    QUESTION: Thank you. North Korea has said that it supports a phased and synchronized approach to denuclearization. What is the U.S. view of how the process for denuclearization should take place?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think Director Pompeo spoke to that in the confirmation hearings, and that’s been consistent with the U.S. Government policy, and that is we’re not under any illusions that a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization could take place immediately in one sitting. We have remained consistent with our calls for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is something that Kim Jong-un and his regime have told others that they are willing to commit to, and that’s exactly why we’re sitting down and talking together.

    QUESTION: And in the confirmation hearing yesterday, Mr. Pompeo said that before we provide rewards, we get the outcome permanently, irreversibly, that is what we hope to achieve. Does that mean that the U.S. will not lift any sanctions until North Korea has transferred all nuclear material outside their country?

    MS NAUERT: We are going ahead with our maximum pressure policy. I’m not going to get ahead of any of those meetings, but I think we’ve made our position clear on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that is the principle that we are working toward.

    QUESTION: Heather, one more on North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: Thank you. North Korean foreign minister Ri visit recently Russia. And --

    MS NAUERT: He did what, he --

    QUESTION: He visit Russia.

    MS NAUERT: He visited Russia?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And then Russian Government has recommended that U.S. and North Korea summit talks be held in Russia. Are you accept this?

    MS NAUERT: I – there are a lot of countries that would like for these talks to be held there. It would certainly be a boon to their economy, and a real feather in their cap. But we’ve not decided where those meetings will take place yet.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: So is it --

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything on the veracity of media report that Washington is pondering to open a liaison office in Pyongyang?

    MS NAUERT: No, I have nothing for you on that, sorry. We have a lot of meetings and conversations that are taking place about what our summit would look like, but I don’t have anything on that.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Are you denying the veracity of such reports? There’s no (inaudible)..

    MS NAUERT: I’ve seen those reports. I highly doubt that that is something that we would do.

    Okay. Hey.

    QUESTION: So yesterday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in his confirmation hearing that the goal of the U.S.-North Korea summit is to address the nuclear threat to the U.S., but he didn’t say that they would discuss the threat to allies like South Korea and Japan. So will the U.S. discuss the threat from mid-range missiles at the summit?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have a full readout of what exactly will be included or an itinerary of what will be included in that meeting, but one of the most important parts of our policy is to make sure that our allies are protected, our allies in Korea and Japan. As you all know, the President will be meeting with Prime Minister Abe next week at Mar-a-Lago. I think it’s the 17th and 18th of this month. That’s of course ahead of when the South Koreans will be meeting with North Korea, the following week I believe it is. And as you probably recall, John Bolton’s counterparts were just here in Washington just yesterday and the I believe the day before for their first meetings with John Bolton to discuss this meeting coming up ahead. So we are all on the same page with Japan and with the Koreans in terms of our continued commitment to our alliance with them.


    QUESTION: Can I go to the confirmation hearing yesterday.

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: There was sort of a suggestion in that hearing that Secretary Tillerson was responsible for the proposed budget cuts to the State Department. Obviously, that’s an OMB decision. Does the secretary-designate have any stance on the proposed budget which would cut State Department funding?

    MS NAUERT: I have – that is not – that is not a question that I have asked him. That is not.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: I think hopefully he will become – he will be confirmed quickly. Senator Corker said that he hoped to handle everything in an expeditious fashion. So hopefully we will get a positive vote out of the committee and then out at the full floor and have him as a new secretary of state, and then we’ll let him decide what he wants to do with regard to talking to the White House, OMB, and others about the budget.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then just another one from the hearing.

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: On Iran he mentioned that he had no evidence that Iran had been racing toward a nuclear weapon prior to the deal and he didn't think that, if the nuclear deal were abrogated, Iran would start racing for a nuclear weapon now. Is that the State Department’s policy?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I – look, I’m not going to be able to comment on everything he said at the hearing. He is the secretary-designate at this point, not the secretary of state. I don’t want to be presumptuous and go around what the Senate is doing in terms of their confirmation process.

    QUESTION: Oh, come on.

    QUESTION: You just cited his testimony as part of administration policy on --

    MS NAUERT: Well, that – that was part of it, yes. That’s fair, and I certainly did, but I’m not going to be able to parse out every single thing that he said. In terms of the JCPOA, I think the President has talked about his views on the overall JCPOA. As you know, and Nick, you and I had talked about this, the meeting of the E3 that too place here in Washington just a few days in which our Director for Policy Planning Brian Hook was meeting with his counterparts to talk about what will happen next with the JCPOA. They met for a full day here and broke down those meetings in talking about different ICBMs and different parts of that meeting and also Iran’s malign influence.

    So the President obviously has a big decision that he has to make coming up, and I’m not going to get ahead of that decision.

    QUESTION: So just to clarify, I mean, speaking more broadly about the State Department’s assessments of Iran’s capabilities and its intentions, I mean, there was a great deal of urgency around the time that the nuclear deal was signed about breakout times and wanting to keep the breakout time as large as possible, things like that. Does the State Department, regardless of what the secretary-designate said, share that assessment that it was not racing toward a bomb and would not, if the deal were broken?

    MS NAUERT: That is not a – that is not a question I’ve asked. If it’s – if I can get an answer to you, I will certainly look into that and get it – back to you.


    QUESTION: Further, on the hearing – on the hearing.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: He also said that policy around Cuba might change dramatically. He said that he wanted to open up economic efforts in terms of selling I think it was grain to Kansas from Cuba, and that he expressed an interest in increasing the diplomatic presence here. I was just wondering if you – separate from what he said, have you all gotten the reassurances you need in Havana to start sending diplomats back to Cuba? And if not, what do you need? And given the government’s transition next week, isn’t this the kind of time when you want a fully staffed diplomatic presence there?

    MS NAUERT: I think we fully want a fully staffed diplomatic presence here at the State Department. That we certainly do. Again, Director Pompeo is the head of the intelligence agency at this point. He is going through the confirmation process. Hopefully he will become confirmed soon. When he – if he becomes confirmed and he is the next secretary of state, we will have lots of conversations with him about the direction.

    QUESTION: Just one last --

    MS NAUERT: This is a question that I have not asked him. He’s been in here in the State Department, spent a lot of hours here working on his confirmation preparations. I don’t believe he would be so presumptuous as to state what he believes the policy should be going forward until and if he becomes the next secretary of state.

    QUESTION: Just separate from what he has said, where are you on Cuba and sending – and the investigation of that --

    MS NAUERT: Our investigation is still ongoing.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. That investigation has not closed.

    QUESTION: One other thing: He didn’t sort of directly insult Secretary Tillerson, but throughout his testimony, he made clear that he believed that the State Department was in a bad place. Senators on the panel made clear that they thought the State Department was in a bad place. They talked about positions not being filled, the place being shot full of holes. And one of the senators said that the place is in a blue funk. How do you – do you agree with that assessment of the – where the State Department is at this point?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I think I --

    QUESTION: Did Secretary Tillerson --

    MS NAUERT: I think I addressed that back in the fall and acknowledged that the State Department has had a morale issue, of course. We would like to see more people in positions in the assistant secretary role and in the under secretary role. Everybody wants to have a staffed-up building. People are working hard. I mean, some people are doing two or three jobs and people are very busy here. But that being said, we would still like to have more people in their positions.

    I think that we can look forward to, if Director Pompeo becomes the next secretary of state, a more invigorated, a reinvigorated State Department. And I think I share my colleagues’ assessment of that, that we look forward to him hopefully becoming the next secretary of state.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, on --

    QUESTION: And just to stick with the staffing issues for a moment --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- some State Department employees, 32 of them, have been sacked in Cambodia for sharing pornography. Can you give us an update on that?

    MS NAUERT: I can only tell you that – hold on one second. We can’t comment on internal personnel matters.

    QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Boom.

    MS NAUERT: Sorry. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hey, Rich. Just a couple more and we got to go.

    QUESTION: I’m looking into the administration saying that it now might re-engage on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Has something prompted that?

    MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. The President continues to assess various trade – trade deals, bilateral deals and larger deals like the TPP and try to – tries to figure out the best way forward for the American people, for American companies, and I think the President just continues to look at those. I understand that our USTR Lighthizer is involved with this, as is Larry Kudlow, so they’re taking a look at that. That’s my understanding, but I have not spoken with them personally about it.

    QUESTION: Does the United States think it needs an economic counterbalance in the Asia Pacific region to China’s growing influence?

    MS NAUERT: Well, certainly, China does have a growing economic influence. That is – that is certainly the case and I imagine this will be one of the conversations that’ll come up between the President and Prime Minister Abe when they meet next week.

    QUESTION: Did you have anything to say --

    MS NAUERT: Martin.

    QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

    MS NAUERT: I keep promising I’ll go to Martin.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Heather. It’s about energy and Russia and Nord Stream 2. A few weeks ago, you said that the United States Government opposes this project.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, we do.

    QUESTION: But if I recall, the Russian companies that were involved or are involved in the project were not targeted by the recent wave of sanctions. So is this project going to become a target of sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: So I can tell you with our sanctions activity – specifically CAATSA, for example – January 29th, you may recall – gosh, it seems like forever ago; I guess it wasn’t that long ago – that under CAATSA, January 29th was the first day that we could begin imposing sanctions. We’ve been communicating with other countries, companies and the sort about what CAATSA looks like and what the guidelines are for CAATSA.

    I’d like to note for you something that Angela Merkel said earlier this week, which was in the agreement with the United States, and that is Nord Stream 2 and how we are – both share very grave concerns about how Russia can easily use Nord Stream 2 as a political weapon against other countries – countries in Eastern Europe. Ukraine, for example, is certainly one of them; Poland and others are other examples of that.

    So I think we’re in pretty good agreement with Angela Merkel on that as we continue to oppose Nord Stream 2. In terms of sanctions --

    QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

    MS NAUERT: -- for those companies – bless you – I think we’ve been clear with the companies that work in that realm that those who work in Russian energy export pipeline business, that they’re engaging in a line of work that could subject them to sanctions. We have addressed this many times here that we won’t preview our sanctions activity, but those companies and those entities that have been involved in that sector of the business have been made aware that they are exposing themselves to the risk of sanctions.

    QUESTION: Is there any hope on your side that they will delay, stop this project?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure of that, but we certainly oppose it.

    QUESTION: Heather, on Tuesday, you were asked about Pakistan, if there’s any travel restriction on Pakistani and Indian diplomats traveling in the United States. So I would like to know if there is any discussion for the United States to impose a travel restriction on diplomats.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I have nothing for you to announce. Nothing to announce. Okay. And last question, we’ve got to go. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yes, just about the JCPOA. I just want to clarify that what you are saying is that we are just waiting for President’s decision next month, and before that there won’t be any updated or fixed version for the deal to be provided or --

    MS NAUERT: Well, we had – no, I did not – I did not say that. I said I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s final decision that he does make. However, we just had a meeting here in Washington earlier this week where our policy planning director, Brian Hook, was talking with his counterparts from the E3 about strengthening some provisions within the JCPOA. We’re having conversations about that; we’re making some progress on some fronts. We also had conversations about our agreements about Iranian malign activity around the world. And so there may be some decisions that could come out ahead of the JCPOA. Okay?

    QUESTION: So do you expect that you just contact Iran before the next deadline, or --

    MS NAUERT: I have – I have nothing for you on that. Okay, we gotta go. Everybody have a terrific weekend, we’ll see you next week.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:31 p.m.)

    DPB # 23

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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - April 10, 2018

mer, 04/11/2018 - 03:00
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 10, 2018

Index for Today's Briefing
  • CUBA


    3:01 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Good afternoon.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: It’s nice to see you all.

    QUESTION: Welcome back.

    MS NAUERT: Do you notice anything different? No? No? Look at this little book. I went on vacation, and the book went on a diet. I thought you all would enjoy that. So we’ll see how this works today.

    QUESTION: So quality has replaced quantity?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know about that. It’s kind of like when my kids go to school and I use that opportunity to clean their rooms, and they don’t notice. (Laughter.) That’s exactly what went on the past week.

    QUESTION: The optimism.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah. So great to see you all again. Hope you’re having a terrific day. A couple announcements to bring you. First, as many of you know, the Qatari emir is in Washington today. We warmly welcome him, His Highness Qatari Emir Al-Thani, to the United States. The President met with the emir a short while ago, and Acting Secretary Sullivan will meet with him this afternoon.

    Qatar is a highly valued strategic partner to the United States and also a friend. You may recall that we held the inaugural U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue here at the State Department on January the 30th, during which we collaborated on defense, counterterrorism, human rights, trade, aviation, and also investment. We’re building upon that dialogue and look forward to discussing these and other important issues of bilateral cooperation during the emir’s visit. Since the dialogue and building on our July 2017 counterterrorism MOU, Qatar has continued to advance its counterterrorism and counterterror financing efforts.

    In addition to that, I’d like to announce that Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan will travel to Lima, Peru tomorrow, from April 11th to the 14th, to accompany the Vice President at the Eighth Summit of the Americas. We strongly support Peru’s ambitious summit agenda, focusing on democratic government – governance against corruption. During the summit, the United States will promote priorities of mutual interest to the region, including supporting democracy, addressing political and humanitarian crises, and restoring democracy in Venezuela. Also, they’ll discuss stemming corruption and transnational crime, promoting economic prosperity, and also women’s empowerment.

    While in Lima, the acting secretary will meet separately with leaders from Peru, Brazil, Haiti, and Mexico. He also will meet with the heads of delegation of the governments of the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia, as well with leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As you may know, civil society will have a vital role in ensuring summit priorities reflect the practical needs of the citizens and businesses of the Americas. The acting secretary will engage with members of the Cuban and Venezuelan independent civil society groups to underscore some of those priorities. So we look forward to providing readouts and information from the acting secretary’s trip as it goes forward.

    Lastly, we have some students in the back, I understand, from Georgetown. Welcome. We’re always happy to have students join us here. And that kind of gets into my last announcement. This week, the State Department is proud to announce the inaugural list of U.S. higher education institutions that sent the most students overseas on Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship Program in the academic year 2016 to 2017. Were any of you Gilman scholars by any chance? No. Well, we’re happy to have you here anyway.

    The Gilman Program broadens U.S. student population that studies and interns abroad by providing scholarships to outstanding undergraduate students who, due to financial constraints, might not otherwise be able to participate. Since the program’s establishment in 2001, more than 1,300 U.S. institutions have sent more than 25,000 Gilman scholars to 145 countries around the globe. We especially want to congratulate the University of California Berkeley, Georgetown, Spelman College, Portland Community College, and San Antonio College for heading up the top of their respective categories. Congratulations.

    The State Department is committed to helping the next generation of diverse American leaders foster mutual understanding and develop important skills in support of our national security and economic prosperity. Congratulations to all the Gilman Program students and institutions. The full list and additional information about these scholarships is available at gilmanscholarship.org. So I would encourage you to take a look.

    And finally, as many of you know --

    QUESTION: Wait a second. You said that was the last one.

    MS NAUERT: No, this is more of a personal note.


    MS NAUERT: And you will be all happy to hear about this. For the past year, I’ve been doing this job with the assistance of our fantastic press team and with Robert as – you all know Robert very well. But I am more than thrilled to announce that we have an acting deputy spokesperson now, and that is my colleague Elizabeth Fitzsimmons. Many of you will get the chance to meet her in the coming days, but this has been a long work in progress. Elizabeth, would you please stand up?

    For those of you who have not met Elizabeth – and many of my colleagues around the world will know Elizabeth – she is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. That’s significant here at the State Department. She served as deputy executive secretary to Secretaries Kerry and also to Secretary Tillerson, and she served as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asia. She’s served overseas in Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, and also Bulgaria. She, by the way, is married to a DS officer, and she is a mother of five children, and she’s also – doesn’t look it – she’s a grandmother. (Laughter.)

    So we’re thrilled to have Elizabeth joining us and look forward to having her take your calls, too.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MS NAUERT: Or I could just hand them over to Elizabeth. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Welcome back.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    QUESTION: And Hoya Saxa to our guests in the back.

    MS NAUERT: Did you hear that?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Let’s start with Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Oh, actually, just on Acting Secretary Sullivan’s trip.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: You mentioned that he was going to meet with Cuban and Venezuelan civil society.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: I notice that you guys put out a statement critical of the Cubans --

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: -- for blocking or frustrating or interfering somehow with civil society getting there. Are there any plans to meet with actual members of those delegations, if they’re going to be there?

    MS NAUERT: I believe that some may be headed to Peru for those meetings, but not all. Let me double-check on that and get back with you.

    QUESTION: Okay. But are there – are there going to be Cuban and Venezuelan officials at the summit that he might meet with, or no?

    MS NAUERT: That I am not sure of. Hold on, let me check his schedule right here and see if I have anything for you on that.

    QUESTION: Is he going to meet with anybody from the Cuban official delegation?

    MS NAUERT: Let me check and see what I have for you on that schedule, which has still been coming together.

    QUESTION: It can wait. It’s not a – it’s not an urgent question. It’s just --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to hand his schedule off to my colleagues. They can take a look at it and we can come back to this.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Let’s start with – on Syria. What can you tell us regarding the – any latest contact between the acting secretary and foreign officials? Has there been any on a possible response?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. So this is obviously an interagency process. The United States, through the White House, through the State Department, and others of well – as well, have been having conversations with our allies and partners overseas. Deputy Secretary – pardon me. Acting Secretary John Sullivan spoke on two occasions with Foreign Minister[1] Boris Johnson of the UK yesterday. I believe a readout was provided of that call.

    We are looking for a coordinated response, whatever that response might be, to the situation in Syria.

    QUESTION: Has he spoken to anyone other than Foreign Secretary Johnson?

    MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness. I have spoken with him on two occasions today. I don’t have any additional --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- calls to read out for you.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you expect him to? Because, I mean, the President has spoken now twice to President Macron and at least once to Prime Minister May.

    MS NAUERT: Yes. So the President spoke with Prime Minister Theresa May. The President also spoke with Macron. I’m not sure if Acting Secretary Sullivan was on that call or not, but we are closely linked up with the White House, with the NSC, and other partners and departments on this.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Do you believe that – so a lot of the European officials believe that you can’t really do anything at against the Syrians and the Russians until you’ve got some kind of evidence. What is the U.S. point of view as far as collecting that evidence, and do you believe that evidence would be – we had Russians in at the site yesterday. Do you believe that that is enough evidence to make a move either through the UN or directly?

    MS NAUERT: Well, the OPCW, I believe it was just yesterday or earlier today, announced that it would be on the ground gathering evidence. We see the OCPW[2] as the impartial body to be able to collect this kind of evidence. Let me remind you how difficult it is to get. To get to these – first of all, you’re in a war zone. This is a very dangerous environment for anyone to go into. So for these people to be able to go into these environments to collect samples, perhaps through partner organizations that they work with and also themselves – I understand they have their own inspectors who go about doing this – collecting that information and then analyzing that information.

    So that’s an important role. They’re the gold standard in collecting this type of information, and we would certainly rely upon them, as we have in other instances, to take a look at that.

    QUESTION: So you’re first waiting for the OPCW to come back with something before you can make any kind of --

    MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not saying that. The United States Government has its own mechanisms to be able to look into things. Some of these would be intelligence matters that I’m not going to get into. You know full well why. The United States has been sharing information with its allies and partners, as have our allies been sharing information with us. But the OPCW we recognize and are pleased to see that they are able to get to the area or eventually be able to get to the area, we hope as soon as possible, to be able to collect samples.

    We have talked about before the Joint Investigative Mechanism that Russia thwarted, and the United Nations today is looking at a vote to come up with a new form of a Joint Investigative Mechanism. And that is something that we would strongly support, because not only do you need that body to investigate what exactly was used, but you need a body to be able to determine who was responsible for it, and that’s exactly what the Joint Investigative Mechanism did.

    Now, we do know that some sort of a substance was used, a chemical was used. We’re just not sure at this point today exactly what was used. Okay?

    Andrea, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Following up on the forensics of this, you know something was used. You don’t know exactly what or by whom. But absent hard evidence, which may take a long time, if ever, is it possible that there would not be some kind of response? Is there a threshold for taking action if it’s clear that some kind of chemical was used, and that there are only certain players who have access to such chemicals?

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, we know that only certain players, to use your word, have access to these kinds of chemical weapons. We know that it requires certain kinds of delivery mechanisms to use those types of weapons. Not everyone out there has access to those delivery mechanisms. So we have that information; we’re familiar with it. I’m not going to get ahead of the President and the White House and what the interagency determines is the best route going forward, but I can tell you that we are in close coordination with our allies and partners on this.

    QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But given the pace of phone calls and our own reporting in different capitals, it does seem likely that this will be a multilateral response; if there is a response that it will be different from what happened on April 6, 2017.

    MS NAUERT: I can just say –

    QUESTION: Is that a fair conclusion?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to confirm that for you. I think our calls are certainly obvious, that we stand strongly with our allies. We’ve had calls with the French and with the British. We’ve had information sharing and also are in conversations with people, as you would expect.

    QUESTION: And could I ask if you could take a question? NBC News reported today – one of my colleagues, Courtney Kube – that the Russians have been jamming the GPS of our drones, which may or may not be one reason why it’s been difficult to collect photographic evidence, and that this has been going on for several weeks.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, Andrea. I’ll see if I can get something for you. Some of that may fall under intelligence, and we may not be able to answer that. But I can’t even confirm the premise of your question. This is the first I’m hearing of it.

    QUESTION: Heather, can I just ask very quickly --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Are you saying, in response to both Lesley and Andrea, that even absent a determination from the OC – OP – OPCW or this JIM, the joint investigative message that is likely to be --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. The new type of JIM, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- vetoed today – even without any conclusion from them, the administration believes it has the – it can act?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of anything that the White House may announce. That’s not my roll to do that. I can just say it’s very clear that some sort of chemical weapon was used, and that is a tremendous concern to the United States.

    QUESTION: That’s a certainty, right?

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Hi, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: As the United States is coordinating with allies on this, there’s a move in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to write a new authorization for the use of military force. What kind of input has the State Department had, as this sort of come up as the Secretary had left – Secretary Tillerson has left? Where’s the administration on an AUMF? It could be moved in the committee as early as next week or so.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we haven’t changed our position. Our position remains exactly what it was. Director Pompeo and I have not had a chance – perhaps he’s discussed this with other colleagues here at the State Department to review his opinion and how he envisions it. Also our lawyers obviously would play a strong role in that, so we just have not had those conversations yet. But as it stands right now, our policy remains exactly the same.

    QUESTION: So as the U.S. considers a response, it believes it has the authority to act as it can and should?

    MS NAUERT: I would defer to the White House on that, but yes.

    Okay. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: While you coordinate with the U.S. allies, do you also have – or do you plan to have contact with the Russian officials, government to avoid any escalation if there is to be a response by the Western countries?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any calls or meetings to read out on the Russians at this point. Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I move on?

    MS NAERT: Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: Could I –

    MS NAUERT: Oh, wait. Hold on.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Michel.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. And we’ll come back to you.

    QUESTION: Sure.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Michel.

    QUESTION: Hi. How are you?

    MS NAUERT: Nice to see you.

    QUESTION: Nice to see you, too. Will the U.S. be waiting for the OPCW investigators to come back from Syria to react, or you have enough proofs or – to react?

    MS NAUERT: I think I answered that question. That is something we believe we know, that some form of a chemical weapon was used in that attack in Syria that has killed at least 85 people that we are aware of so far. So the United States is convinced and knows that some sort of a chemical weapon was used. We also recognize the importance of the OPCW, and we don’t know their timeline for being able to get in, collect information. We have our intelligence and then they have their information from the ground, so we have different kinds of information.

    QUESTION: The President, though, was pretty clear that there was going to be a price to pay. I mean, he literally said that. Why – since April 6th of last year, when he – when they ordered the missile strikes in Syria, and now – or until this last incident – there have been numerous uses of chemical weapons that have been alleged in Syria. What makes this one hit that threshold that a price has to be paid?

    MS NAUERT: I think, Matt, to answer that question, we have to look at the number of attacks that have taken place, the pace, how quickly these attacks are now taking place. This will be the ninth attack using some sort of chemical substance this year alone. It used to be that when attacks would take place the world would stand up and take attention and it has become, in the view of the U.S. Government and many others as well, far too common. So I think it’s taken the world to stand up and say this is unacceptable; this is horrific, and we can’t stand for this anymore.

    QUESTION: But why if those – if that figure is correct, if this is the ninth this year alone, since – what makes this different than the sixth or the fifth, that you would now say there has to be a price to be paid and you didn’t before?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I would just say that a lot of this has been based on conversations with our allies and partners overseas. And beyond that, I’m not going to be able to get into it.

    QUESTION: Can I move on?

    QUESTION: Another part of Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Said. Okay. Then I’ll go to Said. Laurie.

    QUESTION: Okay. This has to do with Iran. And Israel struck Iranian targets at Syria’s T-4 Airbase on Sunday, which is the second time in as many months. Do you share Israel’s concern about Iran’s presence in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: We have talked about this a lot, that Iran supports Hizballah. Iran has sent not only fighters but also equipment into Syria. Iran has been a bad actor in Syria and other parts around the world. They have further destabilized the country of Syria. They have also bolstered the regime of Bashar al-Assad, enabling the regime to be able to commit attacks against innocent civilians, not just in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere, but around the country as well. Of course we’re absolutely concerned about Iran’s presence or meddling, whether it be through proxies, in the country of Syria.

    QUESTION: So it’s possible, when President Trump talks about everyone will pay a price involved in this, that the United States could also strike Iranian targets in Syria as a response?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of what – if we were to take any kind of action, I’m not sure what our targets would be.

    Okay. Said, go ahead. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Can I move on to Gaza?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Last Friday, the Israelis killed a Palestinian journalist. He was – he had a vest that was clearly marked press. I wanted your reaction and comment on that, if you have one.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can say we’re certainly aware of reports that a journalist operating in Gaza was killed in the clashes in Gaza. I don't have the specifics on his particular case, but I can tell you we’re looking into it.

    QUESTION: So you’re not sure that he was targeted and that the marking was clear, that he was wearing a vest that said --

    MS NAUERT: I’m just saying I don't have the specifics on this case.

    QUESTION: Do you have --

    MS NAUERT: But I can assure you, we are looking into that.

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the fact that the Israelis are targeting the press?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I can say that we would call for renewed emphasis on having peaceful dialogue, trying to get two parties back to talk about the future of peace for the Israelis and Palestinians. And certainly the events of the past week and a half or so have been very troubling.

    QUESTION: Okay. But you know, you have not even --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: One at a time.

    QUESTION: You have not issued a statement and so on. I remember, I raised on the 29th of last month that there was going to be such a thing the following day --

    MS NAUERT: I know you – you did say that. And I said, “Said, I hope you are wrong.”

    QUESTION: -- and I – well, I hope I am, but my hope just withered away.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So – but they did use excessive force. Do you think that the Israelis are using excessive force to close these demonstrations that are really far? I mean, the reports show that Mr. Jason Greenblatt suggested that they keep away 500 feet. This journalist, Yasser Murtaja, was hit at like 350 meters, which is almost 1,000 feet. So they are demonstrating in their own enclave basically. You are not calling on the Israelis to stop targeting civilians?

    MS NAUERT: What – Israel, from my understanding, has just announced that it will conduct an internal investigation into the use of force, and so we will stand by and we will watch what comes out of that, okay?

    QUESTION: Heather, I’m sorry. You said you were aware of reports that a journalist was killed.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: You haven’t been able to confirm? The guy was buried over the weekend at a funeral that was quite – it was attended by a lot of people.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. And I’m aware of that, yes.

    QUESTION: But not just of reports. I mean, you know that this guy was killed.

    MS NAUERT: That is correct. Yes.

    QUESTION: And I think you might know a little bit more – maybe, maybe not – but because this – the company that he worked for, that he cofounded and co-owned had last month gotten – been vetted and was approved for a grant from USAID. Now – okay, well first of all, can you say that that is true, that that is correct?

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that he was vetted according to U.S. Government guidelines, but I don't have anything more for you on that.

    QUESTION: Okay. So would – the U.S. Government guidelines would allow for a member of Hamas to get funding – funding from USAID?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t know the specifics of the case. I’ve not been involved in any of that, but --

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, if you could --

    MS NAUERT: -- if I get anything for you on that, I’ll be happy to bring it to you.

    QUESTION: The Israeli defense minister has said that although he was wearing a journalist’s bulletproof vest with the word “press” clearly emblazoned on it, he was a member of Hamas, a member of Hamas’s armed wing, and with the equivalent rank of captain, and that he was disguising himself as a journalist. And I want to know – I mean, if he was in fact vetted and approved for USAID for a U.S. taxpayer grant, either the USAID vetting process is not very good or it allows for a potential – possible Hamas militant to get U.S. funding, or the Israeli defense minister is wrong or worse.

    MS NAUERT: All I can say is that we’re looking into that, okay? We’re looking at all of this.

    QUESTION: Let me ask just one last --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Allow me just one – one last –

    QUESTION: Heather.

    QUESTION: One last question.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Please. Today, the Israeli minister of defense, Lieberman, said – told The Jerusalem Post, an Israeli newspaper, that there are no civilians in Gaza. Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: I do not. I do not.

    QUESTION: Would you look into that, please?

    MS NAUERT: If I have an answer, I will give it to you, certainly.

    Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather. Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Leslie, did you have something else?

    QUESTION: Because you keep saying you’re looking into it, I’m trying to figure out, is that – are you talking to the Israelis about their – the way this happened, or – I mean, what kind – are you doing an independent --

    MS NAUERT: That’s typically what we do. We talk to other governments, we talk with officials and sources on the ground from different sides, and gather information and facts.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, that’s all I have. Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. When the United States and North Korea summit talks on May or June, will the North Korea human right issue be raised at the talks?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, typically when we have the opportunity and talk with countries where we have tremendous differences, that is something that does come up. I imagine that that would come up as well. However, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is something that Kim Jong-un said that he is willing to abide by and willing to work toward – I think that is obviously the top conversation. Other things may come up as well.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: On the same topic?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: So Kim Jong-un has said he’s willing to work towards denuclearization, but is the U.S. Government confident that both your definition and his definition match up? Like, does he agree to complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, or does he have a different definition in mind?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t speak for him; I can’t speak for his government. I can --

    QUESTION: But can you speak to does the U.S. feel confident that you both mean the same thing when you’re talking about that?

    MS NAUERT: And that is something that the President has determined, that – and I can’t speak for the President, but I can say that when they say they are ready to denuclearize and we will have conversations about that, we go into those meetings in good faith, hoping for the very best, and so we look forward to having those conversations.

    Okay, Josh. Hi.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. The – on Qatar, the --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: I’ll come back to you, Abbie. Okay.

    QUESTION: In the Oval Office this morning, the President had a very different assessment of Qatar’s status on terror funding than he did a year ago. Ironically, his – today seemed to line up more with the secretary of state that he recently fired, and I’m wondering if it’s accurate to say that at this point Qatar has resolved U.S. concerns as expressed by the President last year about funding for terrorism.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I think a lot of this is a work in progress. They have made some progress, certainly. On March 21st, less than a month ago, they publicly announced designations of 20 terrorist financers and six entities under its new domestic designations authority, so that’s certainly a step in the right direction. We continue to call on all sides of this GCC dispute to come together, to refrain from the type of rhetoric that would make it difficult for them to come together. We have long talked about how this can affect our overall war on terror and efforts in the Middle East, and some of those countries have had to pay a price as a result of their eye being taken off the ball. So we continue to have those conversations with the Qatari Government.

    QUESTION: As far as resolving that dispute, basically all sides of this dispute say we’re dug in, there’s been essentially no progress, this isn’t going anywhere. But the President put it very differently today. He said, “We’re working on unity in that part of the Middle East and I think it’s working out very well. There are a lot of good things happening.”

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Are there any examples of good things that are happening as far as resolving the Gulf crisis that you can point to?

    MS NAUERT: I wasn’t in those meetings, so I don’t have a full readout of exactly what took place. I can tell you that our Acting Secretary John Sullivan will be meeting with the Qataris later this afternoon in a meeting here at the State Department, so we’ll see what comes out of that. I hope that we’ll be able to provide you a readout.

    QUESTION: But the rhetoric has been elevated between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both of them are your allies, now they are talking about building a canal that will turn Qatar into an island and so on.

    MS NAUERT: I think the rhetoric, if you all remember, is better now than it was last summer. Not where it needs to be, but we’re certainly – I think we’re in a better spot.

    QUESTION: I don’t know. I mean, if I look at – look at the Arab press, I think it’s heightening.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m saying some of the projects would be a canal that would cut off Qatar, turn it into an island. I don’t know if you saw this.

    MS NAUERT: I’ve certainly seen that – yes, I have – and that would --

    QUESTION: So is that something that you would --

    MS NAUERT: That would be something that we don’t think benefits the dispute. That only exacerbates the dispute.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: So talk like that, suggestions like that only serves as a setback, and I think we’ve been clear with those countries about that kind of rhetoric. (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: In what way have we been clear with the Saudis that we think the embargo should be lifted? Has that – where – when and where has that taken place?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have readouts of any of those meetings right now, but I know that we’ve made those – made that clear.

    QUESTION: But we’re confident enough that the Qataris have done enough that I believe the State Department, yesterday or last night, announced an intention to sell advanced weapons --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything --

    QUESTION: -- to Qatar?

    MS NAUERT: -- for you on that.

    QUESTION: Three hundred million dollars in --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I’ll take a look into that. Sorry.

    QUESTION: India.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Can we stay in Asia?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi, a quick question on China and Taiwan. Do you have any information and the timing of the second U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue? Separately, are the tensions between --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me answer your first one first, and I think you’re referring to the dialogue that we had last year, the four-part dialogue with President Xi and other members of his government. I don’t have any meetings, any plans to be able to provide you today about that, so I’ll let you know when we have something to announce.

    Okay. Your second part is?

    QUESTION: Are the trade tensions between Washington and Beijing have any repercussion on the four annual high-level dialogue between U.S. and China?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think so, and I think the President spoke about this yesterday and then just a short while ago today, talking about how we will continue to have conversations with the Chinese Government, in particular with President Xi. The President not long ago said, “[I’m] very thankful for President Xi of China’s kind words on tariffs and automobile barriers…also, his enlightenment on intellectual property and technology transfers. We will make great progress together.”

    So I think what we may be seeing is China coming to terms with some of our concerns about unfair trade practices and the United States saying, “We stand by to engage with you, the Government of China and President Xi, on that matter.”

    QUESTION: Do you know what --

    QUESTION: India?

    QUESTION: On Taiwan, today is --

    QUESTION: -- the President meant by “enlightenment”?

    MS NAUERT: My best estimation of that – and I have not spoken with the President today – but my best estimation of that is basically what came out of President Xi’s speech. And in President Xi’s speech that he gave at the – at a forum recently, he spoke about economic reform, he spoke about market opening. Those are the types of suggestions that China has made for some time, but if they are willing to make progress on that and step in the right direction, we certainly remain open to engaging them.

    QUESTION: So – but he believes that President Xi has been enlightened?

    MS NAUERT: Possibly.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: He used that word, so – okay.

    QUESTION: India?

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Taiwan, what – today --

    MS NAUERT: Nike, let me go on to somebody else. Hi.

    QUESTION: Just – the same topic. So do you see the risk of the trade war between United States and China has been reduced, if not diminished?

    MS NAUERT: I think we’re at a good point where we’re having conversations. We’ve been clear with the Chinese Government areas that are of concern to U.S. workers, U.S. companies, and the overall trade balance. We have had those conversations with them, so I think we’re looking like we’re in a better place.

    QUESTION: But the Chinese Government officials actually saying there’s no negotiation going on right now. So I wonder – I’m wondering if you could confirm if there are talks between the two sides about trade issue right now.

    MS NAUERT: We have had conversations government to government. As you all know, our Ambassador Branstad was meeting with Chinese officials just about a week or so ago, so those conversations and talks continue.


    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: There have been reports that a team at the CIA has been in communication with North Korea regarding the upcoming summit. My question is what the role of the State Department is in these preparations.

    MS NAUERT: I can only confirm that the U.S. Government is engaged in talks with North Korea about our upcoming meeting. I can’t get into the specifics in terms of who is doing that, but this is a broad interagency process.

    QUESTION: And then also yesterday, the President extended the timeline to May and early June. Why was the timeline extended?

    MS NAUERT: I’d have to refer you to the White House for an answer on that.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Madam --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) North Korea?

    QUESTION: -- India?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Hi. Cuba.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Can you tell us, in this meeting in Peru, when it is that the U.S. delegation would be meeting with the exile community or the representatives of the exile and civil society from Cuba? Do you have a date?

    MS NAUERT: My colleagues over here have my schedule right now, and so I will defer to them. When is Acting Secretary Sullivan set to meet?

    MR GREENAN: On Thursday.

    MS NAUERT: On Thursday with Venezuelan --

    MR GREENAN: With opposition and Cuban NGOs.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you, with Cuban NGOs and opposition leaders.

    QUESTION: What about Raul Castro?

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: What about any meetings scheduled with Raul Castro or anybody in the --

    MS NAUERT: Robert, is there anything on the schedule regarding that?

    MR GREENAN: No other officials planned.

    MS NAUERT: No, okay.

    QUESTION: India?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. And we’re going to have to wrap it up soon. Hi, Lalit.

    QUESTION: India --


    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Thank you. I have one question about a news report appearing in the Pakistani press --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- which says that the U.S. has imposed travel restrictions on Pakistani diplomats based in Washington, D.C. Is that the case?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.

    QUESTION: Madam --

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Hi, thanks a lot.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, tell me your name again.

    QUESTION: Sure, Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. I wanted to ask you about Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Matt Lee, the other Matt Lee?

    QUESTION: Yeah, I know, the other Matt Lee. Matthew Russell Lee.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So I wanted --

    MS NAUERT: Nice to meet you.

    QUESTION: All right. I’m glad to be here. I wanted to ask you, this is maybe – I don’t know if it’s in your binder or not, if – two things I wanted to ask. One has to do with Syria’s set to the president of the Conference on Disarmament of the UN.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, I saw that.

    QUESTION: And Robert Wood, your – yeah, your ambassador said --

    MS NAUERT: Ironic, right?

    QUESTION: Yeah, highly ironic that they’re un – not qualified. I wanted to know: Do you have any ideas yet what that will mean? Will the U.S. walk out? Will they not participate? And I have one other question for you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m certainly aware of that story and that story taking place. That would be an outrage if Syria were to take control of that. We have seen these types of things happen at the United Nations before where suspicious countries, which countries that run against everything that an individual committee should stand for, will then head up that committee. I haven’t spoken to Ambassador Haley about that and what she may or may not do, so I don’t want to get ahead of any decisions she might make.

    QUESTION: Sure. And I just – it’s something that I haven’t seen the department comment on. Maybe you’ll have – maybe it’s in your binder, or maybe it isn’t. But there’s been 47 Cameroonians were in Nigeria and they were picked up and sort of illegally returned, or refouled, back to Cameroon. And it’s been – it’s been months that people haven’t seen them. And I’m wondering: Is the U.S. aware of this? Are they aware of this conflict, the conflict or tensions in the Anglophone zones of Cameroon, and what do they intend to do about it?

    MS NAUERT: I’ll have to take your question on that and get back with you. And there are things that are not contained in the binder that we are aware of as well. Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Madam, India, please? India?

    MS NAUERT: All right, last question then. India.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much, madam. Two questions, please. One, as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned on social and cultural affairs, there are thousands of cases in India at the external affairs ministry and home ministry as far as filed by the battered women by NRIs or non-resident Indians who go from here to marry them and ask for large amount of sum of amount and what they call dowry. And then they promise them to bring them to the U.S., but they abandon them there, and then after that they asking more dowry, then they file for divorce. This is recently one case from New York Supreme Court.

    Not – the Indian Government is not doing enough than these women, what they said international woman rights, and also they said that we talk about trafficking or human rights for women, and many of these women did knock the doors of U.S. embassy in Delhi and consulates in India, but they don’t get any response or justice because they have letters in their hand signed by the magistrates and their lawyers, but the U.S. consulates or – what can you do for them? Because somebody should do something for those battered women.

    MS NAUERT: I am not familiar with this story. This is the first I’m hearing of it, so let me look into it, find out what the process is. What you’re describing sounds like a terrible situation for those women, but I don’t have the facts on that, so let me see what I can find out for you. Okay?

    QUESTION: And these people are U.S. Indian Americans, U.S. citizens or Indian citizens? My --

    MS NAUERT: I’ll see --

    QUESTION: My second question, please.

    MS NAUERT: I will see what I can find out for you on that.

    QUESTION: My second question, quickly.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: What they call honest dialogue between U.S. and India --

    MS NAUERT: Hey, you all ask multiple questions, too. So give him a break.

    QUESTION: Honest dialogue between U.S. and India took place recently, but it was all secret. Anything you can talk about? What is the – what is the future of U.S.-India relations?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we have a strong relationship with the Government of India. I think you know that very well. A lot of issues that we have in front of us that we talk about consistently, including Indo-Pacific, free trade, all of that. So I don’t have any specifics for you on anything coming out of meetings, but when I do I’ll let you know. Okay?

    QUESTION: Madam, thank you very much.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)

    DPB # 22

    [1] Secretary

    [2] OPCW

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