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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - February 22, 2018

ven, 02/23/2018 - 00:58
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 22, 2018


Index for Today's Briefing
  • MONTENEGRO
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
  • DEPARTMENT
  • NIGERIA
  • SYRIA/REGION/RUSSIA
  • TURKEY/SYRIA
  • RUSSIA/SYRIA
  • TURKEY/IRAN
  • IRAQ
  • PALESTINIANS/ISRAEL
  • SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA
  • HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
  • NORTH KOREA
  • BAHRAIN

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:55 p.m. EST

    QUESTION: I suppose just this once. Just this once.

    MS NAUERT: Just this once what?

    QUESTION: That I’m allowing Abigail to sit next to me.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, yeah. There’s a real pecking order to this front row, I’ve learned. I’ve seen some of you get booted out if you sit in what other reporters think are the wrong seats. So Abby, welcome to the front row.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: If I had my choice, I’d say you’re welcome there any time, any of you. Just go on up and grab a seat.

    Good afternoon, everyone. I have a couple of announcements I’d like to make at the top before taking your questions, but first I’d like to address a serious situation that happened last night overnight, and I spoke with some of you over the phone last night about this very thing. And that is what happened at our U.S. embassy in Montenegro.

    The U.S. embassy in Montenegro is working closely with the law enforcement officers there regarding the attack on our embassy compound shortly after midnight on Thursday, February the 22nd. We can confirm that the assailant was killed at the scene, apparently by his own explosive. I’ll refer you to the Montenegrin law enforcement officers for questions regarding the investigation itself, because they are handling that. Our embassy has no indication that the attack is part of an ongoing threat, although the investigation continues into the motives of the assailant.

    Out of an abundance of caution, consular operations have been closed for the day today, although the U.S. embassy remains open for emergency services for U.S. citizens. For Friday, February 23rd, the consular section will continue to be open for emergency services only. Visa appointments canceled today will be rescheduled in the near future. The United States wants to express its gratitude for the close cooperation with our ally and longstanding partner, the Government of Montenegro. We want to thank local law enforcement officials for their quick response on the scene and their professionalism for the ongoing investigation.

    The U.S. embassy has no changes to its standing travel advisory instructing U.S. citizens to exercise normal precautions when visiting Montenegro. For more information, you can go to travel.state.gov.

    QUESTION: Was there anyone in – actually in the embassy when this happened?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we typically have people in post – at our post 24/7.

    QUESTION: Other than security.

    MS NAUERT: Other than security, that I’m not aware of.

    Second issue: I’d like to address something that took place in Ukraine. And as many of you know, our deputy secretary was just in Ukraine yesterday. I’d like to turn your attention to that matter, where Russia continues to perpetuate a conflict that has now claimed more than 10,000 lives. Yesterday we received new reports that a 23-year-old Ukrainian medic was killed while he was trying to aid civilians near the line of contact. The incident is a reminder that the conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to rage on. Civilians and first responders face real dangers every day.

    It’s also worth repeating that Russia manufactured this conflict in 2014 and continues to control its proxy forces in Donbas. Russia has demonstrated repeatedly that it can stop the violence whenever it chooses. The United States once again calls on Russia to order its proxy forces to implement a complete ceasefire, to withdraw its forces and heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine, and to agree to a robust UN peacekeeping mission.

    I mentioned our deputy secretary was just there, and I’d like to read a quote from an address that he gave yesterday in Kyiv. Quote, “Given the high stakes, it’s important to be clear about U.S. policy toward the conflict: Crimea is Ukraine. The Donbas is Ukraine. We will never accept trading one region of Ukraine for another. We will never make a deal about Ukraine without Ukraine.”

    I just mentioned the deputy secretary’s travel, so I’d like to give you a bit of a readout on some of the places that he’s visited so far. He arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday morning toured the Heavenly Hundred Memorial and the War Dead Wall of Honor, which memorialize those who lost their lives during the 2014 Euromaidan protests and thousands of soldiers who died as a result of Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine.

    While in Kyiv, he held meetings with the foreign minister, the prime minister, and also President Poroshenko, with whom he discussed the importance of Ukraine continuing to implement reforms – in particular, establishing an independent anti-corruption court – as well as the United States support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also gave a public speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Academy to underline the United States commitment to stand behind Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and he also pressed Ukraine’s leaders to redouble their efforts on critical reforms and renew their commitment to weed out corruption.

    Early today in Latvia, the deputy secretary held meetings with the president, the – and the foreign minister. He congratulated Latvia on celebrating 100 years of independence in 2018, and announced President Trump’s invitation to host a U.S.-Baltic Centennial Summit on April 3rd this year. He also reiterated the U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article V. He expressed appreciation for Latvia fulfilling its NATO defense investment pledge from the Wales summit, and discussed threats facing the transatlantic community, including corruption, and U.S. support of Latvian efforts to establish a well-regulated banking sector. Later, he joined a group of U.S. and Latvian soldiers and children from a local orphanage for a tour of a local museum.

    Tomorrow, he’ll be in Brussels, where he will lead a U.S. delegation to participate in a G5 Sahel donors conference to discuss the support of development security and political goals in the Sahel. And finally, I’d like to bring your attention to Africa and something that took place in Nigeria. We’re still trying to get all the details about that, but I wanted to mention that we condemn in the strongest possible terms the terror attack on a school earlier this week in northeastern Nigeria. The choice of targets, including schools, markets, and places of worship, reflect the brutality of terror organizations. The victims in the attack were girls who were simply seeking an education. We want to extend our condolences to the students and to their families affected by these terrorist attacks and are concerned that some of the students are still not accounted for. We continue to support Nigerian efforts to counter the terror groups. We also support Nigerian efforts to enable more than 2 million displaced in the Lake Chad region to return home safely. The United States continues to provide humanitarian assistance to those who were affected by the violence.

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

    QUESTION: Thanks. I want to start in Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: In both the Damascus suburb – suburbs and up north in Afrin. I’m just – and the developments at the UN, such as they are.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything new to say about the situation in Eastern Ghouta today, where attacks seem to be continuing, first of all?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think this is a good reminder as we watch what has unfolded in Eastern Ghouta over the past few days. More than 400 or so civilians have been horrifically killed by the Syrian regime, and as we all know, they are backed by not only Russia but also Iran. It is a good reminder that Russia bears a unique responsibility for what is taking place there. Without Russia backing Syria, the devastation and the deaths would certainly not be occurring.

    This also brings to light something that we have discussed many times, but – although not recently, and that is also the Astana talks, the Astana progress or process. And that was something a lot of you asked questions about: Where are you on Astana? Is the United States participating in Astana? Is Astana a good thing? This shows the failure of the Astana process, and that is precisely why the United States Government and so many other nations stand by the Geneva process as the best way forward to eventually bring peace and eventually bring about a political solution in Syria.

    Now, remember what Astana was about: Russia and Iran were guarantors for that. They developed de-escalation zones. One of those de-escalation zones was Eastern Ghouta. So much for that de-escalation zone. They have starved people there; they have prevented humanitarian aid from getting in. We have seen innocent civilians killed. We’ve seen barrel bombs. We’ve seen this devastation and destruction. That is certainly no de-escalation zone. They can get back to trying to create a de-escalation zone, but we want them to get back to the Geneva process, and it shows what a farce this de-escalation zone has become.

    QUESTION: So both – the conflicts, then, from what you just said, in both Ukraine and Syria are all Russia’s fault. Is that the idea?

    MS NAUERT: Not all Russia’s fault, but Russia is a guarantor of Astana. We’ve talked about this many times before, that Bashar al-Assad was back on his heels, and in 2015 Russia came in, swooped in and saved him. Now we see reports of Russian military potentially – although I can’t confirm this – coming in to provide additional air equipment to bolster the Syrian regime once again. We would say that Russia is certainly responsible for enabling.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Enabling is what they’re doing.

    QUESTION: And then up north in the Afrin area, in your comments about Ukraine, you took note of the 20 – 20-something-year-old who was killed. There is a situation – there’s some video out now of FSA troops killing a civilian farmer, apparently; stealing his tractor. I’m just wondering if – what you’re – if you have any comment on that. These are your partners up there. If – do you have any comment on that, and also, do you have any comment on just the broader situation with the Turks?

    MS NAUERT: To your first question about video, I’ve not seen that video, so I’m not aware of it. I’m not familiar with that situation that you’re describing, so I can’t comment on that.

    Overall, as you all well know, we are not operating in Afrin. We don’t have U.S. forces on the ground there, so we don’t have a whole lot of visibility in terms of what is going on in Afrin. We continue to have conversations with the Turkish Government. The Secretary had constructive meetings with his counterpart as well as with the president of Turkey last week in which we talked about how we both agree that we need to get back to the focus on ISIS. What is going on in Afrin is taking away from the fight against ISIS. It is a distraction, as Secretary Mattis had called it. It is certainly not helpful to have people take their eye off the ball of ISIS. We’ve talked about that numerous times before.

    Some of the forces that we are working with in the east – and as a reminder, we are there to fight ISIS; that’s exactly why we’re in Syria – some of the forces that we’re working with in the east we are seeing starting to go to Afrin. They have familial relations, familial ties there; perhaps that’s part of the reason why. That again becomes a distraction, because we can longer fight ISIS the way that we would fully like to be able to do that when we do have that type of distraction. So in terms of who was operating there, Matt, I can’t get into any of those details. But what I can say is that the more participants that get involved in that region, the far more complicated this entire situation becomes, the further we get from being able to solve this crisis and to solve the situation there.

    QUESTION: Okay. Last one. The – when the Secretary was in Ankara, as you know, he announced that – or both he and the foreign minister announced the creation of this working group --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- that’s supposed to meet by the mid – or before mid-March, which is rapidly approaching, as you know. February is a short month. And I’m just wondering – it’s been almost a week since that announcement was made. Are you aware of any – has that progressed at all towards scheduling an actual meeting of this working group that was to focus on Manbij?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we have people who – we have our colleagues who are in touch with the Turkish Government every day not just on the ground in Turkey, but also here at the State Department. So they’re working to set up some times and dates and locations --

    QUESTION: But that hasn’t --

    MS NAUERT: -- for those meetings. I don't have anything to announce formally at this point. But I can tell you that we are in touch with them to have conversations about when we – when exactly those meetings will be held and what the topics of the meeting will be. It will be a mechanism, and all the specifics of what the Secretary and what his counterparts – his counterpart agreed to will be further defined.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Could you comment on – do you have any comment on the apparent coordination in Afrin between your allies and the Syrian Government forces?

    MS NAUERT: No. No. No.

    QUESTION: You don’t have any comment on that? Is that --

    MS NAUERT: And here – and let me go back to this once again, because we are not operating there, so we are limited --

    QUESTION: I understand, I understand.

    MS NAUERT: -- in terms of what we can say about the situation in Afrin.

    QUESTION: I mean, do you --

    MS NAUERT: Certainly all of this going on, the conflict that is going on --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- is taking the fight away, taking the emphasis off the entire reason that the United States is there, and that is for the defeat of ISIS.

    QUESTION: Okay. My question: Do you frown upon the apparent cooperation between your allies, the Kurdish forces, and the Syrian regime?

    MS NAUERT: I think you’re trying to pin me into a corner, and I’m not going to --

    QUESTION: Okay. No, I’m not. I’m not doing --

    MS NAUERT: -- step into that corner.

    QUESTION: Okay. And one more last question regarding the 30-day ceasefire, I think that is being discussed at the UN.

    QUESTION: Oh, I forgot about that.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: I’m glad you brought that up. I forgot to mention that too.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So could – yeah. Could you update us? What is happening with that? Is that something that you would support and on a 30-day interval, so to speak, all throughout the country or in east Ghouta?

    MS NAUERT: We would very much like to see this 30-day ceasefire that is being discussed at the United Nations. We put out a statement a couple days ago, in which we called for that ceasefire. That is the only way we could start to get supplies and humanitarian aid into eastern Ghouta to try to help the people there. That has not yet come to fruition. We will continue to call for that and to put pressure on that.

    I would urge all of you as journalists – there’s no one who has a bigger megaphone than each of you. I know many news organizations are interested in other things right now. I know you all are passionate about foreign affairs. You’re all passionate about world events and humanitarian situations across the world. There is no better advocate for what is going on and shining a spotlight on the horrors that are taking place in eastern Ghouta than each of you. If I can implore you – and I know you do this anyway as part of your jobs – talking to your editors, talking to your producers, saying this is important, this is something we’ve got to cover. Now is the time to cover it. So many people have come to us saying, “What is the United States doing about the situation in eastern Ghouta?” What can we do? The answer to that is we can shine a spotlight on that. That is what I’m attempting to do right now; that is what the government is attempting to do. And I hope you will be a part of that, shining the spotlight on that.

    I want to thank Elise. Last night, she had included me in seeing a documentary. I’m not supposed to encourage people to go see things or do some things, but I don’t care. I’m going to break that rule, because I think it’s just that important. A documentary last night called the “Last Men in Aleppo,” and it was about the situation in Aleppo, Syria. And in there you saw the humanitarian disaster. You saw the selfless men who were leaving their families every day to go try to save those who were buried in the rubble or who had been victims of attacks. That situation is being replicated today in eastern Ghouta. We don’t have to see this happen this way. Shine a spotlight on it. Let the world know exactly what is happening. We will back you in this. I will assist you in any way I can in helping you to shine a spotlight on this important issue.

    Elise, go right ahead. And I’d also like to mention one of your other colleagues, who moderated the panel yesterday from Al Arabiya. So she did a great job.

    QUESTION: Point well taken, and thank you. I’m just wondering specifically what Secretary Tillerson is doing to try and negotiate some kind of – you talked about the failure of the Astana process. But it’s obvious that the kind of Geneva process has lost its way as well.

    MS NAUERT: Well, the Geneva process hasn’t lost its way, and here’s why.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MS NAUERT: There are so many countries who have signed on to the Geneva process.

    QUESTION: But the Geneva process is something like in terms of working towards a political transition, specifically in terms of trying to negotiate some kind of ceasefire or some kind of new de-escalation zone. Specifically, what is the Secretary doing to try and alleviate the situation?

    MS NAUERT: Well, first, I can tell you we are – have regular meetings in Jordan and with the Jordanians as we review our ceasefire zone in southwestern Syria. Remember, that’s the one that’s worked; that’s the one that the United States put together with the Jordanians and handful of other countries on this de-escalation zone, ceasefire zone. That’s held since July, okay? That’s is a terrific model. If we could get that model elsewhere in other parts of the country, we not only think that that would save lives, but help bring in humanitarian aid and help settle the – help to better settle the situation. That’s one of the things we need to do.

    The Secretary just had a meeting, of course, with the Turks, as you well know. The Secretary has meetings and conversations with many of our partners and allies all around the world to discuss this situation.

    QUESTION: But specifically, when it came time – when it – when we were talking in terms of Aleppo --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- a lot of the negotiations were between the State Department and the Russians, and I know this – there’s a new Secretary of State, but specifically, the Russians are the ones that have – that not only are in terms – in some ways parties to what’s going on there, but also --

    MS NAUERT: We have conversations with the Russian Government and reach out to the Russian Government to implore them to stop enabling the Syrian regime, to do what it’s doing to its own people. Is Russia listening? I’m not sure that they are. But I would encourage each of you to ask Russia – take these questions to Vladimir Putin. Take these questions to RT, to Sputnik. Ask them those very questions. What are they doing to stop the devastation, the deaths, and the murders that are taking place in Syria? I’d be curious to hear their answers. They could do a lot more. They certainly bear a unique responsibility. We’d like to see them do more.

    QUESTION: Well, are there any – are you considering any more action at the UN Security Council? I mean, what is the diplomatic path forward, in terms of trying to negotiate an end to this? Because whether the Russians are a party to it or they’re just supporting the Syrians, clearly, they’re the power brokers in terms of the influence right now.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, they have their weapons; they have their personnel down there --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- that are participating in this. I have a list of 11 UN actions that Russia has blocked specifically on Syria, right here. I’d be happy to share a copy with all of you. Russia needs to cut this out. The Secretary has made that clear; the Secretary put out a statement. The White House put a statement out the other – just last night on this. This is something we are following carefully. Russia needs to step up; Russia needs to cut it out.

    QUESTION: I hear you, but beyond kind of statements and asking them are there – is the Secretary going to go meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov and try and negotiate something? I mean, we saw with Secretary Kerry a lot of those efforts did not bear fruit, but there was a hardy effort in terms of trying to negotiate.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think that anyone could argue that we have not made very strong efforts, stronger efforts many would argue than the previous administration, on the issue of dealing with Syria. And that is – we’ve talked about that many times before. So the Secretary is fully committed to this. This is something that he is highly focused on and the conversations and the diplomatic discussions will not stop. But I’m not going to be able to read out every single diplomatic discussion or conversation that takes place on this.

    QUESTION: Well, could you just – I mean, can you at least characterize what his discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the last week have been on this issue?

    MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not going to pin the Secretary down to reading out all of the diplomatic conversations. You know --

    QUESTION: Well, is he talking to the Russian foreign minister about it?

    MS NAUERT: -- very well we are having lots of conversations with many other countries. We are calling out Russia for its responsibility that it has. I would encourage you to also ask these very same questions of the Russian Government: What is it doing to try to prevent the deaths of civilians in Syria? The Secretary is committed to this, and that’s – I’m just going to leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Well, if you could take the question, because specifically --

    MS NAUERT: I --

    QUESTION: No --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. What is the question to take?

    QUESTION: The question is: Specifically, what are the discussions with the Russians right now about trying to negotiate an end to this? Because it’s – I’m not saying that there --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure that they are – based on their actions, I don’t think that they appear to be interested in ending this. However, I will go back and point to the President and Vladimir Putin’s joint statement that they put out in Vietnam late last year, and that is where they agreed to the Geneva process. Let me go back and quote some of this for you, as soon as I can find it.

    The Presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They confirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process, pursuant to UNSCR 2254. They also took note of President Assad’s recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections that’s called for under UNSCR 2254. Okay? Those are commitments that the Russians made; they’ve not lived up to those commitments.

    QUESTION: Okay. The question, if you could take it, is beyond having conversations with partners and allies, specifically what is being done today --

    MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not going to have an answer for you on that, because the Secretary continues to have conversations. Some of those are private diplomatic conversations with the Russian Government and with other governments as well. That is my answer. Okay. Anything else on this issue?

    QUESTION: Well I’m just – the previous administration also tried this tactic of calling Russia out, and saying they’re on the wrong side of history, they’re not doing – and it had zero impact. In fact, it – in fact, when it started in 2014 or even earlier, I mean it turned into a full-scale military operation from Russia in 2015, as you noted. So what makes you think this time this administration’s calling out of Russia is going to make the situation any better?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t know what some of you expect us to do. We have a full range of options, through the interagency, that are available to us if we want to, or if we should need to use those. Our best tool, what we do out of this building, is an attempt at diplomacy, an attempt to shine a spotlight on things that are taking place around the world. That’s what I’m doing; that’s what many of my colleagues are doing all around the globe right now.

    We will continue to do that. We will continue to take action at the UN Security Council. We will continue to have our people there on the ground, frankly. We have Americans who are there, who are assisting Syrians try to get back to a normal life. I don’t know what more you expect us to do. You have seen this government, this administration, go hard after ISIS. They have done that at a level that the previous administration did not do. We are --

    QUESTION: We’re not – no one’s saying that, though.

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. We are succeeding there in the fight against ISIS, okay? And that is the whole reason why we’re there. And then there’s this other issue, right?

    QUESTION: No, that’s not the – I mean, that’s not the whole reason why this conflict started, I’m sorry.

    MS NAUERT: No, I said the reason we are there is to defeat ISIS. That is the reason that U.S. forces are there. That is the U.S. Government policy. You may disagree with that, but that is what our policy is. We’re there to defeat ISIS. Okay.

    QUESTION: No one’s saying that you didn’t make significant efforts and progress even in defeating ISIS. The question on the table is: What are the diplomatic efforts that this administration is --

    MS NAUERT: Elise, I just described --

    QUESTION: You haven’t – I’m sorry, you haven’t described.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry you disagree with me, okay? I would encourage you to go talk to the Russian Government and see what they’re trying to do to save some lives. Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, can I just turn that – just flip it slightly? If the U.S. mission is to defeat ISIS, is that another way of saying it’s not the mission to deal with the violence and that this is Russia’s responsibility, which you stressed?

    MS NAUERT: No. Russia has a unique responsibility.

    QUESTION: But does the U.S. have --

    MS NAUERT: Russia has a unique responsibility when Russia has air assets --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: -- in the air.

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. see it as part of its mission?

    MS NAUERT: When Russia is bolstering the government of Bashar al-Assad, they have a responsibility. We are not providing weapons and material to the government of Bashar al-Assad. We are not aiding in the killing of innocent civilians as Bashar al-Assad is doing. Our --

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. think --

    MS NAUERT: --forces are there in the east.

    QUESTION: -- it has a responsibility to help ease the violence?

    MS NAUERT: And our forces are fighting ISIS.

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. feel like it has a responsibility to help ease the violence and what’s happening in east Ghouta? Is that seen as part of the mission?

    MS NAUERT: Some of these things are things that we will not be able to talk about, okay? Some of these things will become intelligence matters and other issues as well.

    QUESTION: Sounds like a no.

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: That sounds like a no.

    MS NAUERT: No, you cannot take that as a no. You cannot take that as no.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: One more on this --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Last week, I asked you – I’m sorry.

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I asked whether or not you had a responsibility --

    MS NAUERT: Conor, hold on. Go --

    QUESTION: -- to protect civilians --

    MS NAUERT: Conor, excuse me.

    QUESTION: -- in Syria though.

    MS NAUERT: Excuse me. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry. I’m Paul Handley from AFP. You said that we have a whole range of options, and then you said, “I don’t know what else you expect us to do.” So, those don’t square up, and there’s like 400 people who have been bombed, who have been killed over the past few days, and --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, we do have a range options.

    QUESTION: What are those range of options?

    MS NAUERT: When I say – hold on.

    QUESTION: Or what can you do?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Hold on. When I say I don’t know what you expect us to do, I don’t know what you expect me to do here, from this podium.

    QUESTION: We expect you to tell us what the diplomatic efforts are.

    MS NAUERT: Elise, and some of these are private diplomatic conversations, okay? I’m not – enough of this already, because I already said UN Security Council resolutions – I’ve detailed those; I’ve detailed some of the conversations we’ve had with other governments; I’ve detailed our statements that we have provided, not just here at the State Department, but also the White House as well. So we are fully engaged. We have, as you know, a very large government with a lot of various departments, and we have a full range of options before us and ahead of us that we can use. It is not my position, not my role, to be able to say what we will do. Some of those can be defined by other agencies that I can’t speak to.

    QUESTION: Okay. Can I follow that up? Can you say – can you give us any information about whether there’s a possibility at the UN to reach a ceasefire? What the Russians --

    MS NAUERT: I certainly hope there would be.

    QUESTION: But what are the Russians asking for? What are they standing up – standing this up for?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have all the details about what precisely the Russians are asking for in UN actions, but we have seen when Russia has tried to develop its own mechanism, like when they tried to develop their own mechanism for the equivalent of a joint investigative mechanism, they throw a wrench into it. With the joint investigative mechanism, for example, they wanted to give themselves the ability to veto it, to veto the decision by the new version of the joint investigative mechanism. So we’re a little skeptical that Russia is going to be an honest broker in a UN-led ceasefire. We want a UN-led ceasefire; we’ll continue to call for that.

    QUESTION: One final thing. The – Raj Shah just referred to the Assad government with Russian backing as guilty of war crimes, but not in this specific case. In the case of eastern Ghouta, do you find that Russia – that Assad is guilty of war crimes?

    MS NAUERT: Last I checked, I’m not a judge. That would be up for a court to decide. But, certainly, the crimes that he is accused of committing could potentially meet that standard.

    QUESTION: Do you think he needs to be pursued to a court?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not – that would be me creating policy, and I’m not in the position to create policy on behalf of the U.S. Government. Okay. Laurie.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to follow-up on a topic Matt raised about Turkey. And The Wall Street Journal had a big report about how you’re concerned that Turkey is drifting towards Iran and Russia. Is that correct? Are you concerned about Turkey’s drift towards Russia and Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Well, Turkey is a NATO partner of ours. They are a NATO ally of ours. We certainly have disagreements with the Turkish Government. You know those disagreements just as well as I do, but we think that we have a relatively strong alliance with them and that we are NATO allies and partners. It is going to be natural that they will want to have relationships with other governments and we’re not going to step in between that, but I think we’re confident in our relationship with Turkey.

    QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you about Iraq. It’s getting – you’ve described the terrible things that Russia is doing in Syria, whether Russia’s activity in Iraq would be deny – benign. Iraq recently received Russian tanks, T-90 tanks, and it’s reportedly considering the purchase of the S-400 air defense system. What is your comment on that and would those transactions make Iraq susceptible to CAATSA sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: Well, first of all, we are communicating with governments all around the world, such as Iraq and others, about the CAATSA law, and making those governments aware of how they could run afoul of the CAATSA law and the potential repercussions as a result. So we made it clear to all of those – all of – many of the countries that we work with – information about our new law. So let me – I just want to be clear about that.

    Secondly, I don’t know if this deal that you speak of is a done deal or not, so I’m not going to get ahead of what that may be, but I can just tell you that we make it clear with our partners and allies.

    QUESTION: So it sounds like, from what you’re saying, if this S-400 deal were to go ahead and be concluded, they could be in violation of CAATSA?

    MS NAUERT: Look, that’s a hypothetical, but we have made it clear to countries around the world this is our law, this is what will cause your country, your government to run afoul of the law, and countries then need to make a choice.

    QUESTION: Can we move on for the – yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Said. Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Very quickly on --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli issue. First of all, yesterday, the Palestinians said that they would like to see the Quartet expand to include countries like China and maybe India and other major countries. Do you oppose that?

    MS NAUERT: I think we discussed this the other day --

    QUESTION: I understand, but --

    MS NAUERT: -- that the United States and – we missed you the other day, by the way --

    QUESTION: Well, thank you, I wasn’t there (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: -- but the United States is committed to trying to assist with the peace process. That will require the Palestinians and the Israelis coming together to work together on this. If it could be helpful, when the time is right, perhaps other countries could participate and help bring countries – help bring those two sides to the peace process. In terms of any kind of formal mechanism, I’m just not going to be able to address that today.

    QUESTION: And one other --

    QUESTION: Heather, is that because you don’t -- because you like the Quartet at four and don’t want to make it an octet – (laughter) --

    MS NAUERT: And we’d have to rename the whole thing.

    QUESTION: Octet or --

    QUESTION: -- or a septet?

    MS NAUERT: Then we’d have to rename the whole thing.

    QUESTION: A nonet?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to box in some of our people who are negotiating on these very things.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: I have one more question. I have one more question.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Actually, let me just finish here. Today, the Israeli – the Israelis arrested a Palestinian man, Yasin al-Saradih, and they literally beat him to death after him being arrested. And earlier in the day, they demolished the homes in East Jerusalem. Is that, in your opinion, falls under war crimes? Is that – could that be considered a war crime considering that it is conducted by a military occupying force?

    MS NAUERT: No, look, I’m not – I’ve seen a report.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: I just glanced at it. I have not seen the video, is that – same answer as Matt earlier today. I’ve not seen the video.

    QUESTION: I mean, but even the Israeli army --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not a judge. I’m not going to be able to make a determination about what happened.

    QUESTION: But even the Israeli army acknowledged that – that he died in their custody, they beat him to death. So is that extrajudicial execution, in your opinion?

    MS NAUERT: Look, Said, any issue where excessive force is used is always a concern of ours. I’m not saying it was. I’ve not seen the video. I’m not an investigator. I’m not involved in that process.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    MS NAUERT: We continue to call on the Israelis and Palestinians to do things that are constructive that can help bring both sides back to the peace table.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: On South Korea and North Korea --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- I hope you answer these questions for me.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I will do my best.

    QUESTION: Okay. North Koreans’ military commander, his name is Kim Yong Chol, reportedly comes to South Korea for Olympic Closing Ceremony. He’s the man who had lead Cheonan navy ships and also Yeonpyeong province Island in South Korea, he – the provocations. So – and Kim Yong Chol is currently subject to sanctions by United States and United Nations and South Korea. Will the U.S. allow this terrorist guy enter South Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think first, we would hope that he would take the opportunity to go to that memorial, to go to the memorial and see what he is believed to have been responsible for. I think that was part of your question. Secondly, we have a close relationship, as you know, with the Republic of Korea. The Republic of Korea has worked with the United Nations to have various sanctions waived, to have certain individuals be able to visit their country during the Olympics. Our role in this is working as a close partner and ally with the South Korean Government, also in supporting and ensuring a safe and good and positive Olympics. We’ve been very pleased with the Olympics, although we are rooting for our athletes to continue to try to grab on some of those golds.

    I don’t have anything more for you on that, but I would just have to refer you back to the Government of Korea on that matter (inaudible).

    QUESTION: But you have sanctions. United – have sanctions. What your opinions – I mean, U.S. position of these guys coming to the --

    MS NAUERT: This would be – we are in close coordination with the Republic of Korea, and this would fall under that, just as it did when Kim Jong-un’s sister came to South Korea for the beginning of the Olympic ceremonies and other – and when other officials are.

    QUESTION: But that’s different. This military guy. This is military guy who is a terrorist guy. It’s more – so U.S. say that U.S. never negotiation with any terrorist peoples.

    MS NAUERT: We’re not involved in any conversations with the Government of North Korea on this, okay?

    QUESTION: On Iraq. On Iraq.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: I can refer you to the Government of Korea, and I – and if I get anything more for you, I’ll let you know, okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: On Iraq.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, Abby, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: This is on the report that came out regarding the upcoming Human Rights Report.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I’m just trying to understand whether or not some of the reporting that people within the bureau were asked to cut back on references discussing women’s reproductive rights and removing sections specifically describing a country’s societal views on family planning and access to contraceptions and abortion. Is that something that occurred? Were they asked to cut back on those references?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let me start by sort of trying to explain this from the very beginning.

    QUESTION: Well, not from the very beginning.

    MS NAUERT: From the very beginning, back 60-some years. The Human Rights Report is required every year by Congress, so the State Department, we have lots of people – our embassies across the world are involved in compiling information, asking questions in all countries to pull together this Human Rights Report. The Human Rights Report here is something that’s constantly being edited and worked on. It’s not complete just yet. The Secretary has not signed off on the Human Rights Report at this point, so I’m not going to have a ton of information that I’m able to provide until the Secretary gets a final report and then signs off on a final report.

    The legislation or the law that we have to adhere to from Congress requires the report to address state action or state inaction on human rights issues. Every year, that report is edited by various bureaus that all have input into this. It is all under the leadership of our Bureau DRL, Democracy, Labor, and --

    QUESTION: Democracy, Rights --

    MS NAUERT: Democracy, Rights, and Labor, right? Yeah, there we go. Got it. Then it’s submitted to the Secretary once they’re finished with that. Those edits are still ongoing at this moment. We want to make sure that the report that is provided to the Secretary is clear, that it’s readable, and that it’s usable, and that it uses language that is in keeping with the statutory requirement, what is required of us.

    I should point out that this over the years, including in the past administration, the report has been reformed and revised. Things have been pulled out of the report; things have been edited out of the report. A couple examples of those in the past have included labor and prisons and some of those things have been pared back in the report. This year, we are changing some of the terms that are being used in the report, but not our commitment to women’s rights, women’s health, or to human rights whatsoever. Make no mistake: Human rights is a top priority here. This is something that the Secretary finds to be incredibly important, and it’s a value that my State Department colleagues value here as well.

    So nothing is being substantively stripped out of this report. There are some instances in which this report has become duplicative of other reports, such as the Trafficking in Persons Report or the Religious Freedom Report. In some instances, some information has been trimmed and then you can get it in those other reports. So we want to make this as readable and as simple and adhere to the actual statutory requirements of what is required of us.

    QUESTION: Can you explain a little more about the --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on.

    QUESTION: Sorry – a little more about the change in language, moving from the idea of using reproductive rights to coercion and population control. Is there – what is the reasoning behind switching that language?

    MS NAUERT: Sure. This gets a little legalese, so I’ll do my best to try to answer it. So the requirement of the U.S. law – it’s Section 502b (b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 – the requirement is that we report on coercive family planning practices such as coerced abortion and involuntary – pardon me – sterilization. Beginning in 2009, the wording of that – the nomenclature – was actually changed and reporting on that issue was placed under a subheading that was entitled “reproductive rights.” That also incorporated a lot of data that was drawn from various UN websites and other government websites. So we continue to report on the issues required under U.S. law regardless of the words or the phrasing or the title used within the reports. We have not changed our commitment to human rights, okay?

    QUESTION: So this is not representative of a policy shift.

    MS NAUERT: No, there is not a policy shift. There is not a policy shift. This is simplifying the report. The information is still available. This is truly about human rights issues and what a government is or isn’t doing to advance or to stop human rights abuses.

    QUESTION: So where will one find the reproductive rights information?

    MS NAUERT: I will – I will go --

    QUESTION: Is that going to be in the trafficking report, the terrorism report?

    MS NAUERT: I will go back – well, no, I will go back and see what more I can find for you. But again, the report has not been signed off on by the Secretary.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: It is still being edited.

    QUESTION: Does the administration believe that there is such a thing as reproductive rights? Is that a human right? Is it?

    MS NAUERT: I think you can define reproductive rights in a lot of different ways. It is something that the United States certainly hotly debates. We’ve had Supreme Court cases; we still have ongoing court litigation. We have litigation between the private sector and the government and individuals on this very matter. If the United States is certainly having these kinds of conversations here at home, they will be having those conversations abroad as well.

    QUESTION: But, I mean, it seems like if this in fact correct – and I’m just reading over – I haven’t seen this, so I’m reading over Abby’s shoulder here – if it’s changing from reproductive rights to coercion and population control, that seems to suggest that the only right that this administration believes that there is in reproduction is to actually reproduce, and to – not – and not to reproduce is not necessarily a right. Is that correct? I mean --

    MS NAUERT: Here is the requirement under U.S. law, okay: that we report on coercive family planning practices such as abortion and involuntary sterilization. So that is actually the language that is used in the statutory requirement; we are adhering to that. And I’ll leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But I mean – so – but I’m asking you, though, it’s – since it was changed at one point to include presumably access to contraception and access to abortion --

    MS NAUERT: It had also --

    QUESTION: -- if --

    MS NAUERT: It had also included things like the size of a prison space, a prison cell. It had also included things like labor issues. Over the years, under many administrations – and this is like a piece of legislation in Congress; you have a different congressman who will come in and he’ll add things on or she’ll add things on. A lot had been added to the Human Rights Report over the years.

    QUESTION: Right. So --

    MS NAUERT: So we’re paring it back and getting back to basics of the original intent of the law.

    QUESTION: Right. But things are added into it to show certain administrations’ emphasis on or their particular interest in something. And so when you change something like this, it suggests – or maybe more than suggests, it demonstrates that you don’t think that reproductive rights is a priority or may not --

    MS NAUERT: Human rights is a priority for this administration and for this Secretary. I’m not going to get ahead of what the Secretary’s ultimate determination is or the editing of this. So that’s all I’m going to have for you on that. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: All right, so – okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Go ahead. We’ve got to wrap --

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. You just mentioned that the report would change some of the terms, but not commitment to women rights, in the Human Rights Report. Could you please elaborate on that?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

    QUESTION: You just mentioned that in this report would change some of the terms, but not the commitment to women rights.

    MS NAUERT: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: Would you please elaborate on that? What terms has been changed? And then is there any change in the terms against the LGBT people’s rights?

    MS NAUERT: No, no. Nothing has been stripped with regard to LGBT rights at all. In terms of the other things, I think I addressed those questions and said that some of this is being edited, and so I’m going to wait until a final – we have a final product, and the Secretary will sign off on that final product and it’ll be presented, okay?

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Let me just do one other question on another --

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on Afghanistan, Nazira.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Okay. So going back to North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So it was reported in The Washington Post that Vice President Mike Pence, while he was there, was going to meet with the North Koreans, which when we were discussing with you the potential for meetings before the Olympics happened, you were saying that there was no plan to meet. So why was that not announced? Was it just diplomatic secret? And then second thing is: Why did the U.S. agree to – I mean, the meeting was canceled eventually because the North Koreans decided to cancel it. But, like, why did the U.S. agree to go to the meeting when we’ve previously said that we would only talk to them if denuclearization was on the table?

    MS NAUERT: The Vice President, Vice President Pence – and I can’t speak for the Vice President, but I can tell you what his intent was, and his intent was to discuss and lay out our requirements – and it’s not just U.S. requirements; it’s the world requirements, denuclearization – and make that very clear, make that very crystal clear, that that is our policy goal and that is a goal that’s shared by many around the world.

    The North Koreans apparently didn’t like that. I’m not going to speak on behalf of their government, but apparently they didn’t like that. They chose, unfortunately, to cancel that meeting. I think a lot of people would have been happy if that meeting had gone off and we had been able to deliver that message to them in a very strong way face to face.

    Okay. I’ve got to go, guys. Thanks.

    QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait. Can I get you to comment, because you did on Tuesday – I asked you about Bahrain and Nabeel Rajab --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and he was about to be sentenced. And on Wednesday he was in fact sentenced to five years. So I’m wondering if you have anything to say about the sentencing.

    MS NAUERT: Certainly. A couple things, and I don’t know if many of you have been following this, but it’s certainly an important matter. Nabeel Rajab, Matt has asked about him before. Let me just reiterate who he is. He’s a long-time Bahraini human rights activist. He frequently uses his international following, he has a broad international following; his social media platforms, he tweets. He uses those platforms to talk about nonviolent methods of bringing attention to human rights causes around the Gulf. Bahrain’s high criminal court sentenced him to five years in prison on February the 21st for comments that he posted on his Twitter account. There was an unrelated case, and the Bahraini Court of Cassation upheld a verdict that sentenced him to two years in prison on January the 15th simply for criticizing the Government of Bahrain during foreign television interviews. U.S. representatives were able to attend both of those – the hearing and the sentencing – the hearing on January the 15th and the sentencing on February the 21st.

    I want to make it clear that we are disappointed by both of those decisions. The United States Government wants to reaffirm our previous calls for his release. We’ve repeatedly expressed our concern about those cases. We continuously – continue to strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to abide by its international obligations and commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression. We understand that he may, Matt, be able to appeal the decision of the February 29th[1] sentencing. If he is able to do that, we call upon the government to conduct an appeal in a fair way that provides him his fair trial.

    QUESTION: Right. I actually think that he has opted not to appeal and has instructed his lawyers not to --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: -- go take it further. But more broadly, so Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet. Then you have in Turkey, the Secretary goes, he leaves. Within hours, they sentence six journalists to life in prison. Turkey is a NATO ally. What does this say, if anything, do you think about your leverage with countries that you are very close with both militarily and politically?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Certainly with these countries, we have areas where we agree, but we also have areas of disagreement. And those are two good examples. The example of what has happened to Mr. Nabeel Rajab in his case, and the instances of what has happened to journalists. And I can’t speak to their specific cases but in Turkey. We have those types of disagreements all around the world with many nations and those conversations about our viewpoints are brought up often privately. Sometimes, I’ll speak about them here; sometimes my colleagues will speak about them publicly. Sometimes the Secretary will, but other times he handles those situations privately because he feels that that’s most effective.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

    MS NAUERT: Not every time. That’s the reality of this. Not every time do we get our way. Not every time do governments listen and comply with what the United States asks them to do.

    QUESTION: That’s true.

    MS NAUERT: It’s unfortunate, but it is certainly – it is certainly their right. All we can do – and this gets back to something that we were talking about earlier – all we can do is shine a light on some activities that are taking place around the world. And that is where – and I’m not asking you this as a – well, I’ll say this to you as journalists: You have the ability to make a difference. You have the ability – and I’m not being – don’t take this in a condescending way; you know how much admiration I have for what all of you do – but you have the ability to appeal to your editors, to your producers, to your colleagues to get these stories out there; to get the stories out there about what is happening in Eastern Ghouta, to get the stories out there about what is happening to the human rights activist in Bahrain and other places around the world. The Rohingya Muslims. I would encourage you – and there’s nobody better than you all to do it. You know foreign policy, you love this stuff. I’d just encourage you to keep on pushing. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Can you take one on Pakistan?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: No. I’ve got to go. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)

    DPB # 12

    [1] February 21st


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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - February 20, 2018

mar, 02/20/2018 - 23:04
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 20, 2018 Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • SYRIA/REGION
  • IRAN/IRAQ
  • SYRIA/REGION
  • INDIA
  • ETHIOPIA
  • RUSSIA
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • HONDURAS
  • DPRK/REGION
  • PAKISTAN
  • TURKEY
  • BAHRAIN

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:47 p.m. EST

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you today?

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: I hope you all had a great long weekend. Matt, welcome back from your trip.

    QUESTION: Thank you. I feel like I’ve been gone for weeks.

    MS NAUERT: I feel like you’ve been gone for weeks too. (Laughter.) Nice to see you all, and we have a AFP stand-in today, so hi, sir. Welcome.

    QUESTION: Thank you so very much.

    MS NAUERT: Nice to see you here.

    Start out with a couple announcements this afternoon. First is about the deputy secretary’s travel. On Friday and Saturday, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan led the State Department’s delegation to the Munich Security Conference. He participated in a panel discussion with a number of world leaders and reaffirmed the United States commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and also arms control. While there, the deputy secretary conducted some bilateral meetings with senior officials from China, Germany, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, and also the Vatican to discuss a range of issues of mutual concern.

    The deputy secretary traveled to Rome on Sunday the 18th for meetings with senior Italian officials, including the foreign minister, the minister of economic development, and the interior minister, to discuss our shared priorities in Ukraine, Libya, Iran, and the Sahel, as well as our cooperation in the fight against ISIS. He also met with local journalists and think tank representatives and spoke to a group of students, members of civil society, and the media about the importance of the U.S.-Italian alliance and our cooperation on security issues around the world at the Center for American Studies. In both Rome and in Munich, the deputy secretary met with our mission staff and thanked them for the important work they do to advance U.S. policy.

    Today and tomorrow, the deputy secretary will visit Kyiv. He – his visit will fall just one day after Ukraine celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity. There, in addition to meeting with President Poroshenko and other senior government officials, the deputy secretary will deliver a public speech to an audience of civil society leaders, students, and media at the ministry of foreign affairs diplomatic academy, where he will underline the United States commitment to stand behind Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and press Ukraine’s leaders to continue progress on critical reforms and renew their commitment to uproot corruption.

    Following his trip to Ukraine, he will go to Latvia and then Brussels, and I’ll provide you with updates on that as the week goes on.

    In addition to that, I’d like to highlight something that’s very troubling that’s taking place in Syria right now. The United States is deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the Damascus suburbs of East Ghouta. Recent reports indicate airstrikes directly targeted hospitals and what little civilian infrastructure remains, resulting in more than 100 civilian deaths in less than 48 hours. The escalation is exacerbating the already grave human suffering of nearly 400,000 people. It also increases the number of individuals who require urgent medical evacuation, which already stood at approximately 1,000.

    The Assad regime’s siege-and-starve tactics are creating a humanitarian disaster – or I should say are adding to the humanitarian disaster there. The horrors of East Aleppo are being repeated in East Ghouta with the ongoing slaughter of trapped civilians and woefully inadequate access for humanitarian actors. In such a dire situation, we should express our admiration and our deep appreciation to the medical workers and also the first responders in East Ghouta who both risk and lose their lives every day trying to help civilians.

    We call on all parties to commit to the unconditional de-escalation of violence. Russia must end its support of the Assad regime and its allies. They are responsible for the attacks, for the dire humanitarian situation in East Ghouta, and for the horrendous civilian death toll. The United States supports the United Nations demand for a month-long cessation of violence to allow for the unfettered delivery of humanitarian supplies and the urgent medical evacuation of civilians in East Ghouta. The cessation of violence must begin now, and those needing emergency assistance should be allowed to evacuate immediately.

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

    QUESTION: Hi. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: I want to start in Syria, but further north first. What’s your understanding of the situation in Afrin right now? And coming on the heels – well, let’s start with that.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, let me add this: The United States is not operating in Afrin. The United States is not equipping anyone in Afrin. So our knowledge in terms of what is going on in Afrin is somewhat limited because we’re not operating, because we’re not equipping there, because U.S. forces are not there.

    QUESTION: So – okay, so you don’t know at all what’s going on there? You don’t know that – whether or not – I mean, fine, you may not have people there, you might not have people who you’re supporting there, but you have eyes in the sky and other ways of finding things out. So – but you don’t know whether or not it’s true that Syrian troops have gone in with the permission of the Kurds and – or – and/or with the --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’d have to refer you to DOD on that. Perhaps they have something that we’re not able to provide on that matter. I can tell you that the Secretary had some productive meetings with his counterpart and also with President Erdogan in Turkey, where they talked a lot about the overall situation in Syria and our concerns about that, in which we continue to stress for a de-escalation of violence, for people to not take actions that would escalate and exacerbate tensions there, and to keep – keep an eye out for not striking civilians is certainly something that we’ve stressed.

    QUESTION: Right. So when he was in Ankara, there was this agreement in principle, I suppose you could say, to calm things down, to repair the U.S.-Turkey relationship, but – and start – and to start to do that in northern Syria, Manbij in particular, but that would include the whole thing. And that seems to have kind of collapsed, has it not? I mean, it didn’t – it doesn’t seem to have lasted much longer than the – even over the entire weekend.

    MS NAUERT: Well, let’s look back at this. The Secretary just days ago sat down and met with his counterpart and also with President Erdogan. They recognize that perhaps we haven’t (inaudible) working well enough together over the past few years. That was a commitment that the Secretary and President Erdogan made to one another. As NATO allies and partners who both share in the interest and the shared goal of defeating ISIS, we are now going to start to work together in a better fashion so that we can achieve those mutual goals.

    QUESTION: But that – so that does not include dealing with the Afrin situation?

    MS NAUERT: Look, some of these are private diplomatic conversations that I’m not going to be able to get into for you. But I can tell you they agreed to sit down and have a series of meetings, some working groups that they put together, where we can look at determining ways that we can better confront the situation there.

    QUESTION: Okay. But it sounds as though, then, that you’ve entirely separated off this one situation from the rest of it, that – and I get that you’re not there and you’re not supporting anyone that’s there. But the Turks are involved here, and not so far away there are U.S. forces, so I’m just wondering if they decided to intentionally leave the Afrin situation out of this new working group dynamic, or if --

    MS NAUERT: Perhaps that is in the working group dynamic. I don’t know that. These are some of the private diplomatic conversations. As you well know, the Secretary firmly believes that sometimes he can achieve the best results, get the best results for Americans and for others where we’re engaged, in having private conversations behind the scenes.

    QUESTION: All right. Then the last thing, going back to Eastern Ghouta, you said Russia must end its support for the Assad regime and its allies. This has been something that the – that has been called – the last eight, nine years the U.S. has been calling for it. Do you have an answer to the question that follows that declarative statement “Russia must end its support,” the question being, “Or what?” Is there an answer? Does this administration have an answer?

    MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, you well know, as do many others, that we don’t forecast some of the actions that the United States Government may or may not take. So we want to reserve the right to engage in certain activities if we feel the need to do so. This has been a tremendous concern not just on the part of the United States but many other countries as well: the activities that Syria has been engaged with with the backing of Bashar al-Assad. So we are not going to forecast those and not going to announce anything that may take place or may not.

    QUESTION: With the backing of Russia?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Did I not say – that’s what I meant. If I – I misspoke then. Pardon me.

    QUESTION: All right, thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Laurie, hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. In Afrin, would you – do you think it’s reasonable to suggest that Russia has acted very cynically; they gave Turkey a green light to attack the Kurds in Afrin and then a stalemate developed, and they used that stalemate then to try and extent Syrian regime control over the area?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, I’m not going to get into that. I’m not going to speak about – about what Turkey may be – what Russia may be doing to Turkey, and what Turkey may be doing to Russia. I’m just not going to get into that.

    QUESTION: You’re not going to --

    MS NAUERT: One of our goals is to de-escalate tensions and try to get the parties refocused on the fight against ISIS.

    QUESTION: But you’re not going to say that the Russians are cynically using their leverage in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I think it’s clear that they have been using their leverage in Syria. They have been backing, as we just talked about, Bashar al-Assad’s regime. How many times have we talked about it here that they were on the brink of collapse, and who came in and who saved them back in 2015? Russia did. Russia bears a unique responsibility for the suffering and the plight of the Syrian people.

    Russia has also committed to the Geneva process, so we expect Russia to be helpful in that front. We have yet to see that, but we hope they will be.

    QUESTION: And if I could ask you a question about the recent visit of Iran’s Ali Akbar Velayati to Baghdad, who went there for an Islamic conference, and he met with various figures, including the deputy speaker of parliament, who said that he agrees with the Iranians in rejecting any U.S. – continued U.S. presence in the region. What’s your comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I certainly heard about those remarks and those comments and some of those reports. It would be natural for Iraq and Iran to want to have conversations. I mean, they’re neighbors, right? As we talked about South Korea, as we talked about North Korea – having certain conversations because they are neighbors. That is something just natural, and it is a fact of life that different countries may want to talk to – talk with one another.

    The question of their foreign relations is something that gets back to Iraq. We are fully comfortable and confident in our relationship with the Government of Iraq as key strategic partners in the region. As you well know, we are there for the defeat of ISIS, but we are also there at the invitation of the Iraqi Government. We value Iraq’s independence, we have confidence in the Iraqi Government, and are highly skeptical that they would bow down to Iran. So we feel comfortable with them. And that would just be largely an internal matter if they want to have those conversations.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Anything else related to Iraq?

    QUESTION: Afrin.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Iraq.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Iraq.

    MS NAUERT: Go right --

    QUESTION: Russia? Russia?

    MS NAUERT: Sorry. Go right ahead, sir.

    QUESTION: So as to the – for the upcoming election, is U.S. doing anything with that to help Iraqis? And if I also ask a question about Syria-related. Lavrov recently said that --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hold on. One question at a time, please.

    In terms of the elections, if we’re doing anything in support of the elections, I am not aware of that. We tend to promote democracy and other things, but I’d have to just check to see if there are any specific programs that we are involved with.

    And back to your last question, and then we’ll move on to another region.

    QUESTION: Lavrov recently said that – accused the U.S. of supporting establishing a local authority for the Kurds and creating an autonomy for the Kurds. Do you have --

    MS NAUERT: Creating a what?

    QUESTION: An autonomous region – well, an autonomous region for the Kurds --

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: -- and saying that this is --

    MS NAUERT: The United States supports a secure, independent Syria with current borders. We’re not changing it, we’re not supporting the changing or the addition of any kind of autonomous region, so --

    QUESTION: But is U.S. doing anything to kind of fight that misconception? I believe that misconception is also fueling some of the Turkish aggression.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I think that’s what some nations do. There are certain countries out there, certain actors out there – you know well who they are – who foment, who come up with mistruths, put out disinformation, and they put that out there. And I’m not going to be able to respond to every single one of them, okay?

    QUESTION: You don’t want to identify any of those countries?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I mean, you know all the countries. We talk about them here. Certain countries do that, I don’t feel like really getting into – getting down to that level today, but we’ve talked about them before. And I’m sure you know exactly who I’m talking about. Okay.

    QUESTION: On Maldives. The emergency in Maldives has been extended by another 30 days. How do you see the developments there?

    MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you on that with regard to the Maldives. I’ll check with our experts. Hi, Lalit.

    QUESTION: Different subject.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam. Two questions, please. According to the Indian website, Indian embassy and Indian Americans are troubled. This may be the first time that somebody is using the embassy, threatening calls, and they are telling that your visa will be canceled, your passport will be canceled unless you bring certain amount of money. And this is – a letter has been issued by the Indian embassy that they are saying they are – somebody using their number, but not the physical location, the Indian embassy. So they are not making these phone calls. What my – my question is: Have you received any requests from the Indian embassy about this problem?

    MS NAUERT: I have not. I can certainly reach out to our officials at our embassy there, and see if they are hearing anything about that. Okay?

    QUESTION: And you want to say anything about this?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with it myself, so I’ll have to check with some of our folks in the region. Anything else related to India?

    QUESTION: And may I ask – second question on Afghanistan, please.

    MS NAUERT: Let’s get back to Afghanistan. I’d like to sort of stick in the region.

    QUESTION: Oh, I got an India question.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: The President’s son is – one of the President’s son is – sons is in Delhi now. I believe he just arrived. Does – is the embassy there supporting this trip in any way? He’s supposed to give a speech at an event that the prime minister is also supposed to be at. Is the embassy involved in that in any way?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not aware of who exactly is attending this speech. We certainly are aware that Mr. Trump is in the region, that he’s there as a private citizen, not as a official U.S. Government in any capacity. The U.S. embassy is in touch with the Secret Service, as we would be, because he is afforded Secret Service protection. And so any time we have an official or someone who would go over there who does have Secret Service protection, there is some amount of coordination and conversation. But overall, the United States embassy does not have any kind of role in that visit.

    QUESTION: So there was no booking of hotels or transportation or anything like that?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of the specifics. I can just tell you that our embassy has been in touch with the Secret Service, as we would when other people who are afforded Secret Service protection are traveling overseas.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, I guess the question is: What exactly has that contact been, what does it involve, and is there any taxpayer money, other than the Secret Service protection, that’s involved?

    MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. Okay. Anything --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: One more, Heather.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but I said can we – can someone look into that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, certainly.

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, that’s what that means.

    QUESTION: Related. He’s – the --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- the President’s son is giving a speech entitled “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: A New Era of Cooperation.” There’s been no coordination with State Department on what that reshaping is going to look like?

    MS NAUERT: No. I’m not familiar with what is going to be in the content of his speech, or how it was put together. Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I just – a follow up on that, then.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah.

    QUESTION: Are there any concerns in this building that he appears to be representing the U.S. Government, that it’s being sort of taken as a major foreign policy address and it could be interpreted that way?

    MS NAUERT: He is there as a private citizen and I don’t have any comment beyond that regarding his trip. Okay?

    QUESTION: And do you know if anyone was consulted on the speech itself?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I think I just answered that question: Not that I’m aware of. Okay, let’s move on to something else. Hi.

    QUESTION: One on India. One small one on India.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you have dates for the 2+2 dialogue?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any meetings to read out right now, or any new travel. Okay?

    QUESTION: If I could follow up on the --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: Here?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: To Ethiopia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything on Ethiopia and its decision to impose a state of emergency for six months? Is the United States concerned of the restriction of fundamental rights?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we certainly would disagree with that agreement, the agreement to decide to go to a state of emergency. It restricts freedom of speech and freedom of expression, which in any part of the world is a concern of ours. We are – we consider Ethiopia to be a dedicated partner for Ethiopia’s long-term success and prosperity. We’ve been a long-time friend of the Ethiopian Government. We aim to engage both frankly and constructively with that government. But we do not see their recent step as being helpful.

    QUESTION: What is the U.S. vision of a generally inclusive political process in Ethiopia?

    MS NAUERT: I’ll check with our Africa bureau and see what I can get for you on that, okay?

    QUESTION: Russia?

    QUESTION: Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Yeah.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the indictment that came out Friday against the 13 Russians and some entities, since we haven’t had a chance to talk about that here yet. The special consul laid out in exquisite detail some of what happened in the meddling in our election. I was curious whether that information has increased the sense of urgency here at the State Department to take some actions in response to that, perhaps to use some of those sanctions authorities that we’ve discussed, became available to you in the recent weeks.

    MS NAUERT: This is something that has been on our radar ever since the Secretary came into his position as Secretary of State. I think the number of questions that we’ve gotten about Russia and Russia’s meddling in our elections has sort of ebbed and flowed. We’ve had times where reporters and the outside world has been very interested in this; other times where they have not. The Secretary has spoken very openly about his opinion that Russia meddled in our elections. He’s been very clear about that. The Secretary just spoke to Fox News within the last week or two and spoke to the fact that we believe that they are interested in becoming entangled in our overall elections process. That is no secret.

    Let me remind you the U.S. Government and the State Department has done a lot when it’s come to holding Russia accountable for its actions back in the 2016 elections. We’ve talked a little bit about CAATSA. A lot of you have said, “Oh my gosh, you haven’t imposed those sanctions just yet.” Remember, January 29th was the first day that we could impose sanctions. Among the things that we have done – and I’ll have other things I want to talk about in addition to CAATSA. But among the things that we have done, we have sent out ALDAC cables to all of our posts around the world, where those posts have been instructed to speak with their host governments about the new CAATSA law. In explaining to those countries, here’s what you could face if companies, if individuals are involved in these sorts of activities that meet a certain threshold that would contribute positively to Russia’s defense and intelligence and other sectors that are similar to those.

    So we’ve been communicating with our posts. We’ve been communicating with likeminded governments. We have hundreds of people around the world who are working on sanctions activity each and every day not just at the State Department, but also at Treasury and other departments as well.

    So this is something we continue to comb through those transactions. I know you all want to see results overnight. We don’t have sanctionable activity just yet, but we are working every day to try to determine if there is something that is taking place. If there is something taking place, we will sanction those countries, those individuals, and those entities. That is something we continue to look at doing very, very carefully.

    In addition to CAATSA, though, when we talk about election interference and how the U.S. Government has responded as a result, we have other sanctions that have taken place. Please make that clear in your reporting. The sum of our actions as it pertains to Russia and Russia’s meddling in our elections is not CAATSA. We have done a lot more than just CAATSA. There have been other sanctions that have taken place. You may recall the previous administration kicked the Russians out of their dachas. We have kept them out of their dachas. We have closed a consulate in San Francisco. People seem to forget about that. We have closed facilities in Washington, D.C. and also New York. That certainly upset the Russians. That is partly because of what they did in our 2016 elections.

    You may recall last month – or maybe it was late December – that we expanded the list of individuals who were sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act. We also had the Global Magnitsky Act, in which there were Russians who were named – at least one Russian or two who were named under that. In addition to that, we have the sanctions that are put in place because of Russian activity in Ukraine.

    Our government is engaged on an interagency level, where we are talking with one another and we are putting forth actions, activities related to Russians’ malign activity as it pertains to our 2016 election. So please, this is not just CAATSA. It’s a whole lot of other things that people tend to forget about.

    QUESTION: So that’s a really good list of steps the U.S. has taken --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- to essentially punish Russia for what happened in the last election. Anything that you can add, as far as conversations Tillerson or others have had with the Russians to try to prevent them from doing it in future elections?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So they are well aware of our position on this. Secretary Tillerson has said to the Russians – and he said this publicly – it has to stop. We’re watching what you’re doing. The issue of bots – we’re still seeing bots out there. This is not just a U.S. Government approach, but the private sector needs to do something as well. We are somewhat limited in terms of what we can do. We don’t regulate Facebook. We don’t regulate Google. Some of these private sector companies need to stand up and they need to be good American citizens and help us to prevent this. The FBI is involved with this; DHS is heavily involved with this.

    And the Secretary has asked and has spoken to Congress about setting up a new bureau here at the State Department that would handle cyber activity. You all have talked and you’ve asked me in the past about our special envoy for cyber. Well, we’re changing that. The goal is to change that to make it a cyber bureau that would be headed up by an assistant secretary. So if anything, we’re elevating the importance of cyber activity and cracking down.

    QUESTION: Heather, two very brief things on that.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.

    QUESTION: When you said – first of all, I just want to make sure that I understood this. You said – in his interview that you referenced just now, you said the Secretary said it’s his opinion that the Russians did interfere or meddle or however you want to say it --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- in 2016. Is it – is that his opinion or is that just – is that a fact?

    MS NAUERT: He views that as a fact. I mean, look, I don’t need to go over this again --

    QUESTION: Okay. No, no, no.

    MS NAUERT: -- but the Intelligence Community --

    QUESTION: Got it.

    MS NAUERT: -- has put together its reports and the Secretary has reviewed those reports.

    QUESTION: I just – I just wanted to make sure I got that right.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And then when you say we don’t have sanctionable activity right now --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- you’re referring to things --

    MS NAUERT: Under CAATSA --

    QUESTION: -- related to 2018, related to the 2018 elections? Not that – you’re talking about stuff that --

    MS NAUERT: I was talking about CAATSA.

    QUESTION: -- is happening --

    MS NAUERT: Sanctionable activity under CAATSA is something that we continue to take a very close look at.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: This is not going to be done overnight. Let me remind you these are – there are transactions that the U.S. Government and our colleagues have to comb through, so that will continue to take some time. We are pleased, however, that some countries have stopped the purchase of certain Russian materials and supplies. We believe somewhere north of $3 billion – we’ve been able to stop those transactions. Stopping transactions like that is, in effect, a punishment. Why? Because that means less money goes into Russian coffers. So that is considered a part of what we view as a success in holding Russia accountable.

    QUESTION: Well, when you mean – when you say we don’t have sanctionable activity, you mean you haven’t discovered any or you --

    MS NAUERT: We haven’t --

    QUESTION: -- discovered things that might have been, but you stopped them?

    MS NAUERT: We – I’m not going to get into any of those – into some of those details, but we are continuing to look very closely for sanctionable activity.

    QUESTION: All right. And then when you say – you make this appeal to private sector companies like Google and Facebook and Twitter, I guess, and whoever else, but when you say – when the Secretary goes to – and tells the Russians it has to stop, does he tell them that that kind of thing, that this bot activity or whatever it is, the misinformation, disinformation, that that has to stop too?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know if he has specifically raised the issue of bots with that government, but I know he’s raised that issue of bots publicly. So perhaps he has privately as well. I know his conversations are very broad with them in terms of this. Okay?

    QUESTION: On this subject --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Hey, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Welcome. Congratulations on your – on your job.

    QUESTION: Thanks, I appreciate it.

    MS NAUERT: Are you here as a part of The Washington Post today, or are you here with BuzzFeed?

    QUESTION: I’m here as BuzzFeed.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On March 5th I start at --

    MS NAUERT: March 5th you start, okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Well, congrats.

    QUESTION: Thank you. The – that list of tough administration actions against the Russian Government, it seems like another data point might be the decision to send Javelins to Ukraine. Has that happened yet? Just in terms of timing, like, are those in Ukraine now?

    MS NAUERT: I’d have to look into that. I’m not sure. And even if they were, I’m not sure we’d be able to confirm that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I ask another follow-up question?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. Regardless of Russia’s stance on extraditing people, what’s the State Department doing to follow up with the indictments issued by Mr. Mueller? There’s 13 people he’s charged. Does the State Department take action to actually try to help engage those people or encourage the Russian Government to arrest them?

    MS NAUERT: Well, the United States Government wouldn’t be engaged with those individuals in any way. I’d just have to refer you back to the Department of Justice for anything more on that. Okay?

    QUESTION: And is there any way of considering sanctions on those since they’ve been --

    MS NAUERT: Sanctions is something we typically don’t forecast, but we could potentially take a look at that. Okay?

    Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, sir. How are you? Go right ahead. Hi.

    QUESTION: In his speech today before the Security Council, the Palestinian president called for an international conference as a substitute for the U.S. role in the peace process. Do you have any comment?

    MS NAUERT: So the President has made it a priority, as has Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, to try to bring Middle East peace. This is something that they have not backed away from. As you may know, Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Kushner were up at the United Nations earlier today to hear what Mahmoud Abbas had to say in front of the UN Security Council.

    I’d like to just note that he kept his remarks constructive, and that was something that we certainly noticed. We hope the Palestinians will come to the negotiating table. We are not backing away from peace. That is something that is important to this administration. And I think their presence just reaffirms that we are willing to listen to both sides, to the Palestinians and the Israelis, and we’re willing to commit to hearing all sides.

    QUESTION: But you do not support the international conference as a frame for this, do you?

    MS NAUERT: Look, if at some point we believe that other countries could be helpful to the peace process, we would certainly be willing to bring them in. Is the time right for that right now? I’m not sure we’ve decided that, but that is something that could certainly happen in the future. Okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, go ahead. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Over the --

    MS NAUERT: No, the gentleman right behind you.

    QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But how can you maintain both things at the same time, that you have a special relationship with Israel and you want to be the mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, to have --

    MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve covered this numerous times before. This administration looks back at the many – numerous decades of inability to bring peace to the Middle East. So the administration is determined that it wants to look at things perhaps a little differently. And that may confound some people --

    QUESTION: But --

    MS NAUERT: Let me finish. And that may confound some people, and that’s fine. But the administration is still saying that we are willing to sit down and have peace talks, and both sides are going to have to give a little, and that’s something that they’ve not – we’ve not backed away from in terms of our standpoint.

    QUESTION: I’m not saying that you’re unique in this respect.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Multiple administrations have said we have a special relationship with Israel and we’re going to be the mediator, and it hasn’t worked out well. So aren’t you actually sort of doing the same thing that past administrations have?

    MS NAUERT: No, I think the administration is handling this – handling this differently. And there are a lot of examples that I could think of that --

    QUESTION: Can I ask about Honduras?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure I’m going to have anything for you on Honduras today, but you can --

    QUESTION: Well, perhaps --

    MS NAUERT: -- take a stab at it.

    QUESTION: Thank you, for next time. On January 27th, the AP published a report based on Honduran Government documents describing the involvement of a new national police chief in assisting a drug cartel leader in transporting, quote, “nearly a ton of cocaine.” Subsequently, the Honduran police have formally requested a criminal investigation, quote, “preparatory to a complaint,” not into the police chief, but into the AP reporters who broke the story. It seems a clear attempt to retaliate and intimidate a U.S. media outlet. Is the State Department doing anything on this, especially considering that the revelations are about the police chief Jose David Aguilar Moran’s involvement and that the U.S. Government provides assistance to the Honduran police?

    MS NAUERT: I will certainly have to take a look into that. I was not aware of that story. I’ll check with our experts in Honduras and at our Western Hemisphere Bureau as well. Okay, thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

    QUESTION: Thank you (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: And I’m sorry, which publication are you with?

    QUESTION: Sam Husseini with The Nation.

    MS NAUERT: The Nation, okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, thank you. Hi.

    DPRK" name="DPRK">QUESTION: Just over the weekend in a CBS interview, Secretary Tillerson said that China would have an important role to play once we get to the negotiating table. So does the U.S. support a return to the Six-Party Talks or some other sort of multilateral framework?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to commit to any kind of framework in which the United States would sit down and have talks. I know everybody’s anxious to talk about talks and all that. We’re not there yet. China obviously has unique leverage over the DPRK because it’s its primary trading partner. In terms of China, we’ve had many frank conversations with Chinese officials, saying that they can certainly do more to help us and to help work with the maximum pressure campaign. They – and let me remind you – signed on to the four unanimous UN Security Council resolutions to crack down on the DPRK.

    QUESTION: If there were to be some sort of multilateral framework, what other countries would be at the table?

    MS NAUERT: You think I’m going to answer that question? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Possibly.

    MS NAUERT: You – no. No, we’re not going there. We are not at that point yet. I know some of you like your hypotheticals, but I’m not going to jump into that, okay?

    QUESTION: Still on North Korea, but not (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hi – yeah.

    QUESTION: So the South Korean defense minister said that the U.S. and the ROK will announce plans before April of resuming the postponed joint military exercises. What is the U.S. position? Are we planning to go ahead with them starting in April?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, so some of this would be under – some of would be under DO – Department of Defense. I have no reason, though, to believe that they – that we wouldn’t restart some of our – some of our exercises that we do. We’ve done those for many decades. As you well know, the Republic of Korea is our strong, staunch ally, but again, I’d have to have you talk to DOD about that.

    QUESTION: One more question --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- on North Korea still.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: So the North Korean state media released a statement recently saying that North Korea is ready for both dialogue and war. I believe that’s a direct quote. What is the U.S. response to that?

    MS NAUERT: They said they’re ready for both dialogue and war.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: I guess countries have to be ready for every eventuality, don’t they?

    QUESTION: So your response is we are too?

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) That doesn’t sound too dissimilar from the United States policy. Our preferred approach is diplomacy. That is something that the Secretary in his interview over the weekend and many times has talked about, the importance of diplomacy, and there are so many countries that have signed on and are backing our diplomatic approach as well. However, if that should fail, and we certainly hope it would not, the United States Government is prepared to respond in that type of way. Things like that always have to be backed up by a credible military response if at all necessary, but what we do here in this building is diplomacy.

    Okay, all right.

    QUESTION: One on Korea.

    QUESTION: One small one on FATF. Pakistan’s foreign minister --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay.

    QUESTION: -- had just tweeted that there was no consensus in the FATF meeting in Paris today, and he also said that the motion was sponsored by U.S. Can you confirm that?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t because my understanding was that the final decision on that was due later this week, so I don’t want to get ahead of what that final decision would be. So I don’t have just independent confirmation that a decision was made early. We’re anticipating that the final decision would be made on Thursday of this week. What he’s asking about is this Financial Action Task Force, and it’s where a lot of countries have come together and they look at various nations who we believe and those other countries believe are not doing enough to crack down on terror financing, counterterrorism and the like. Pakistan is one of those countries that they’re taking a close look at, and they may be making – they’ll be making an announcement sometime soon.

    QUESTION: It looks like, from his tweet, that at least three countries are opposing your motion.

    MS NAUERT: I see. Okay. Well, I think we have been very clear with Pakistan. Our concerns about terror financing – how many times have we talked about the person who’s – Pakistan let out of house arrest, who was responsible for the Mumbai attacks back in 2008 that killed so many people, including Americans too.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Just a quick --

    MS NAUERT: We’re going to have to wrap it up, everybody.

    QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

    MS NAUERT: We – we already did something. Let me – sir, you in the back.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you – from Turkish media. U.S. media suggests that Secretary Tillerson offered three things in Ankara last week. One is joint patrol by Turkish-U.S. forces in Manbij, and the other one is a buffer zone in Afrin, and the third one is cutting U.S.-YPG relations gradually. Can you confirm this report?

    MS NAUERT: I cannot confirm that report. Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, we’re going to have to go.

    QUESTION: Really quickly, and you might have to take this.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Tomorrow, a court in Bahrain is scheduled to sentence Nabeel Rajab, who I – case I’ve raised before. I’m just wondering if you have anything to say to the Bahrainis ahead – ahead of this sentencing, and whether or not you’ll be – have a presence there.

    MS NAUERT: We were at the last – a representative from our embassy was at the last hearing. We know that they ejected – rejected his appeal on January the 15th, a little over a month ago. We’re very disappointed by the court of cessation that’s – or cassation, rather – that they made the decision to uphold the verdict sentencing Nabeel Rajab. He’s a prominent human rights activist. The sentencing would be, we understand, up to two years in prison, and I understand there’s this separate sentencing that could take place for some of his Twitter activity. So we continue to have conversations with the Government of Bahrain about our very serious concerns about – about this.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: All right, thanks everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)


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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - February 15, 2018

ven, 02/16/2018 - 00:51
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 15, 2018


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • COUNTERTERRORISM
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • TURKEY
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • PAKISTAN
  • TURKEY/RUSSIA/REGION
  • VENEZUELA
  • CUBA
  • IRAQ/REGION
  • IRAN
  • NORTH KOREA
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • INDIA/REGION

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:53 p.m. EST

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Good afternoon, everybody. I am not attempting to bribe you with chocolate, but I did bring you some of the chocolate so that we wouldn’t eat all of them in our office. So please, have at it. Valentine’s Day, hope you all had a good Valentine’s Day.

    QUESTION: Happy Valentine’s Day.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you. Thank you. Good to see you. Okay, starting out with a few announcements first. And the other day I was so proud of your interest in the Diplomacy Center here at the State Department, in particular the jazz display that we have out. I walked through there the other day at the Diplomacy Center and saw these wonderful pictures of these jazz musicians who had played in some very interesting places. Dizzy Gillespie – I saw a picture of him, I believe it was in Havana. So that was fantastic. Thanks for your questions about that to our expert, and I’d encourage you to head on over there and check that out.

    But as you know, our expert, our historian was here to talk about Black History Month, African American History Month, and I have an announcement related to that. Tomorrow the State Department is honored to host the 9th Annual Historical Black Colleges and Universities Foreign Policy Conference. It’s organized by the Bureau of Public Affairs, which is the one I work for. The goal of the conference is to prepare the next generation of foreign policy leaders from historically black colleges and universities and also predominantly black institutions.

    As a part of this, we’re looking forward to discussing U.S. foreign policy priorities and also department career opportunities. This year we have 351 students and faculty coming to the State Department from all around the country. We look forward to hosting them. We’re focusing on nontraditional paths to foreign affairs, including STEM and other majors you’d not typically expect foreign affairs careers to come from.

    Several highlights of the conference include remarks by our new Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Michelle Guida. I look forward to introducing you all to Michelle at some point in the near future. We have some panel discussions, and also a keynote address from Ambassador Ruth Davis.

    We’re proud that many different parts of the State Department are involved in the conference, including the U.S. Diplomacy Center, the Bureau of Human Resources, the Office of Recruitment, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, our President – our Presidential Management Fellows, PMF. You’re a PMF, right? Yes. My new colleague, Leigh, who just joined us from Burma is a PMF.

    Also USAID will participate, and we’re looking forward to seeing all of the young people as future diplomats tomorrow.

    I’d also like to mention we have a couple guests in the back. So welcome to our new faces who are joining us today.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: You’re all the way in the back today. (Laughter.) Nice to see you. Hi, Nazira.

    Lastly, I’d like to announce that our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan is travelling to Europe. Today, the Deputy Secretary will depart on a trip to Europe that will take him to Munich, Rome, Kyiv, Riga, and also Brussels. He’ll begin the trip in Munich where he’ll lead the State Department delegation to the Munich Security Conference. At the conference, he’ll participate in a nuclear security and arms control panel discussion. He will also reaffirm the United States commitment to global nuclear security. While in Munich, he’ll also hold bilateral meetings with officials from Germany and other countries.

    He will then travel to Rome where he’ll meet with senior Italian officials to discuss cooperation on priorities in Ukraine, in Libya, the fight to defeat ISIS, the Sahel, and human rights and religious freedoms around the world. He will also deliver remarks at the American Studies Center on U.S.-Italian relationship and our cooperation on security issues.

    The next stop will be in Kyiv where he’ll meet with President Poroshenko, the prime minister, and also the foreign minister. He’ll stress the importance of Ukraine quickly implementing credible economic and anticorruption reforms and underscore U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and also territorial integrity.

    From there, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will travel to Riga to meet with senior Latvian officials land reaffirm NATO’s Article 5 commitment.

    His last stop will be in Brussels to lead the U.S. delegation to the G5 Sahel Donor’s Conference where he will discuss continued support for development, security, and political issues in the Sahel. So with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather, and thank you for the chocolates. Let’s start in the Gulf.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Senator Corker has written Secretary Tillerson saying he’s lifting the blanket hold that he put on military sales to the GCC countries to try to get them to resolve their dispute, basically saying, well, this clearly didn’t help because they are still at a standstill. So we might as well start selling them a bunch of weapons again. Does the Secretary agree with the assessment that that standoff is kind of locked in place and that there hasn’t really been a lot of progress in resolving it?

    MS NAUERT: I think we first started talking about this in May or June of last year.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: I mean, that has been such a tremendously long period of time for this dispute to have gone on. Senator Corker sent in his letter. I took a quick glance at it earlier today, so I can confirm that we did in fact receive that letter from Senator Corker. I think Secretary Tillerson, a while ago, said, look, we’re here to help. We have said to all the parties in the dispute that we’re happy to assist you in any way, but at some point you all have to sit down together and work out your differences. We can’t do it for you. So I think the Secretary just backed off and let those countries take the lead. I can’t speak for Senator Corker and why he sent his letter and exactly what was contained within that letter because, again, I just took a quick glance at it. But I think those countries have to be willing to resolve all of this themselves. And hopefully they eventually will because, as you can see, it starts to take – and many of our national security advisors and others have said this as well, that it can start to take a toll or an effect on the fight against ISIS.

    QUESTION: Well, that’s actually exactly what I was going to ask you about next --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- which is that, at the time, Tillerson and others said in the immediate sense this doesn’t have an impact, we’re still using Al Udeid, et cetera. But that if this was a – became a prolonged thing, that it could actually impede the fight against the Islamic State group. So given that this has been going on as long as it has, as you pointed out, are we at that point where it is actually impeding the fight against ISIS?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I would have to refer you to the Department of Defense because, as you talk about Al Udeid, that’s the base there that hosts many of our flights and our personnel who are fighting in the battle against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. So I’d have to refer you to them on that. I’m not sure exactly where this stands right now and how it’s impacting it, but I know that our folks were very, very concerned about that.

    Okay, all right.

    QUESTION: Can we move on?

    MS NAUERT: Shall we move on to something else?

    QUESTION: Yes. Can we move on?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Said. Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Heather, I just wanted to follow up on a couple of questions that I asked on Tuesday.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: One, regarding the Israeli law that basically puts the Israeli academic institutions in the settlements under civil law, which is creeping annexation as per Israel’s terminology. Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, just a little bit of information. It’s not too incredibly new from what you’ve heard before, so let me answer your question before I get to your next one. Just hold on.

    I think the President has been clear on his views regarding settlements that settlement activity, especially unrestrained settlement activity, does not advance the cause for peace. My understanding is that some of these settlements are governed under Israeli military law, but I think the President has been clear in his position on this issue, and Israel has also come back to the United States and said to the President we will take your views into consideration before we engage in this.

    QUESTION: All right, but that is extending civil law. That is – in effect, that is really annexation, which is like a prelude to annexing.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to – I’m not going to be able to characterize it in the way that you are, but I think we’ve been clear about our position on settlements.

    QUESTION: Okay, great. Let me just follow up on something that you also said. You said “unrestrained.” Is that – does that mean that you are okay with somewhat restrained settlement activity?

    MS NAUERT: Look, our – we’ve had a lot of conversations with the Israeli Government. We’ve had a lot of conversations with Palestinians. Obviously, you know this is such a sensitive matter. With regard to matters that are so sensitive, we like to tread lightly. We don’t want to cause damage to the prospects for peace; we want the parties to be able to work it out. I will go back to saying I think the President has made his position on this clear. Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner have spent a lot of time in the region; our folks have as well. I believe David Satterfield was just in Israel just last week talking about some of these issues. So let me just let the diplomats and the experts work those things out.

    QUESTION: I promise, two more --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- if would indulge me.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Okay. The first one is that Palestinian President – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is coming to the United Nations next Tuesday. Is there anything that you want him not to say or say before the international community, because he is going to call on the international community to be involved, and not just the United States?

    MS NAUERT: I think if anything, and I’m not going to speak for him, but I know that we want to sit down and have some talks about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, recognizing that it will be difficult for both parties to come to some sort of consensus and agreement. And ultimately, whatever is agreed to has to be agreed to by both parties, because they have to be willing to work on it and concede. We would love to see him sit down and say let’s start some peace talks. That would be optimal. Are we going to get that? I don’t know. But that’s as far as I’m going to go on that.

    QUESTION: And lastly --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- I promise. Lastly, today Congress placed Hamas – recommended that Hamas be brought – condemned by the international body and so on because it has used Palestinians as human shields. Now, to the best of my recollection, no Palestinian, no organization, no NGO, has ever complained that Hamas was using Palestinian as human shields, except the Israeli Army, which was attacking them basically to give cover to attacking civilians --

    MS NAUERT: Said, I’m afraid I don’t have any information --

    QUESTION: -- I mean, do you have any --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on what you’re referencing right now about this comment that was made by a member of Congress, so I’m just not going to – I’m not going to go there.

    Okay, anything else on that? Okay.

    QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to jump back to the first question, actually.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Josh was asking about Qatar. It reminded me of something. I’ve just checked it. Secretary Tillerson actually spoke about this at the launch of the Qatar-U.S. Dialogue two weeks ago. I think it’s two weeks, three weeks ago. And he was in the presence of Secretary Mattis when he said it. He said, “As the Gulf dispute nears the eight-month mark, the United States remains as concerned today as we were at its outset. The dispute has had direct negative consequences, economically and militarily, for those involved as well as the United States.” And he said, “The united GCC would bolster our effectiveness countering terrorism and defeating ISIS.” So he kind of answered Josh’s question.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. Well, he did.

    QUESTION: This dispute does hurt the fight against ISIS.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the Secretary’s quote on that issue right in front of me. Dave, do you want to take Robert’s job? (Laughter.) We could use you right now. No – love you, Robert. But Dave, thank you for clarifying that. So I think the Secretary spoke to that. There you go. All right, thanks.

    Laurie, hi.

    QUESTION: Yes, I’d like to ask you about Turkey since the Secretary is there today.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: I just --

    MS NAUERT: Which – let me add on that issue, the Secretary and President Erdogan just finished up their meeting a short while ago. I don’t have the details about that meeting. That was a one-on-one meeting. Last I had heard is they were going into it. So we’re working on getting all of you a readout, and I’ll get you details on that just as soon as I can. Robert may have a few while we’re out here talking.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, I --

    MS NAUERT: And he’ll alert me if we have anything.

    QUESTION: I’d like to write a – ask about a piece that Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian, had yesterday in The Hill. And he said you need more leverage, more sticks in your dealings with Ankara, and suggested that you consider a range of sanctions if you can’t reach some agreement now. Are you considering any sanctions against Turkey? Because there are many issues that you have in dispute.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, we certainly do have issues in dispute. As you know, the Secretary is on the ground there, so I’m not going to detail too much about what we may or may not do. But sanctions are always on the table with regard to different nations and areas that we may have difficulties with, but you also know we don’t preview sanctions.

    QUESTION: Okay. And if I could ask another, a second question. Is Turkey threatening to deny you, the U.S., access to any bases such as Incirlik?

    MS NAUERT: Not that I am aware of. We are operating there. Turkey is a part of the D-ISIS Coalition, in addition a NATO ally, so we continue our operations out of there. I’m not aware of any disruptions or any threats regarding disruptions.

    Okay, shall we move on? Okay, Nazira, hi.

    QUESTION: Hi, Heather. As you know, Afghanistan situation Mr. Atta Noor, the former governor in Mazar-e Sharif, has a problem since like month ago or more than that. Still he said to the unity government not able to solve the problem between him and unity government, and he is – he always announced for 15 provinces in Afghanistan to do the demonstration. Do you think this demonstration, if happen, doesn’t make destabilize all Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of this demonstration that you’re mentioning. I think we would probably regard that as an internal matter, but let me take a – take a look at it and get back with you with some sort of a more fulsome answer. Okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: A follow-up? Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure. Hi, how are you?

    QUESTION: Hi. What do you expect from the Kabul reform process next week? Ambassador Wells was in Kabul this week. What other talks were held there? Do you have --

    MS NAUERT: Sure. So let me start out with our Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells. She was just in Afghanistan, so I’ll provide you a little bit of a readout of that trip, because one of the things that she’s doing is previewing the Kabul process, which is coming up in a couple weeks.

    Our PDAS, as we call it, for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells traveled to Kabul this week to meet with Afghan partners in advance of the February 28th Kabul Process conference. She met with several top Afghan officials, including President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, National Security Advisor Atmar, as well as with prominent Afghan political, business, and media representatives, to highlight the longstanding U.S.-Afghan partnership.

    Ambassador Wells also met with Resolute Support and U.S. Forces Afghanistan Commander General Nicholson and U.S. Special Representative for the Secretary General for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto to discussion ongoing U.S. and international community support for efforts to bring peace and security to Afghanistan and the region.

    And now – and then we have the Kabul process coming up. I’m not able to give you any details about who from the U.S. Government may or may not be joining. We just don’t have that kind of information yet. But I can tell you that we look forward to at least – Robert, I don’t know if it’s we’re observing or if we will be participating, but nevertheless we look forward to that process because we see it as a way to reiterate the U.S. commitment toward the Kabul process to bring together so many of our international partners who are going to have some candid discussions, we believe, on a range of issues, from peace to development to humanitarian aid and other issues. So we’ll look forward to that, and as we get closer I’ll try to bring you some more information.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: Something else in the region?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, something else in the region. Hi, go right ahead. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Jahanzaib from Ary News Pakistan.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: For the last couple of days there is a news in the town that United States has put forward a motion to place Pakistan on a global terrorist financing watchlist with an anti-money-laundering monitoring group, the FATF. Is that true?

    MS NAUERT: So what you’re talking about is – it’s called the FATF. There’s a plenary session that’s planned for that. This is basically the international community has this sort of longstanding, well, concern when it comes to the Government of Pakistan about what we consider to be deficiencies in the implementation of anti-money laundering, counterterrorism, and other types of issues similar to that.

    What this group does is it promotes better measures to crack down on counterterrorism or to work against terrorism and also money laundering as well. Some of those deliberations, I can’t confirm what took place because those are considered to be private.

    QUESTION: Pakistan introduced a new bill, kind of an ordinance, that all individuals or organizations designated as a terrorist by the United Nations will be considered as a terrorist in Pakistan too, and Pakistan are going to take stern actions against them. So it looks like Pakistan now start implementing on the U.S. strategy for South Asia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I’ll see if some of our experts from our SCA Bureau can get you more on that, okay? All right.

    Let’s move on. Hi, Cindy. How are you?

    QUESTION: Hi. Good, thank you. Sorry, going back to Turkey, if I may.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The Turkish foreign minister has said that relations with the U.S. are at a critical point and has called for specific steps to restore trust. Would you characterize it that way?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t want to characterize it one way or another because – for a few reasons. One, the Secretary is on the ground there. The Secretary is doing what he does best, and that’s diplomacy, talking with other countries, talking with his counterparts. And so we have a productive series of meetings going on in Turkey. We have other individuals who are involved as well. Secretary Mattis, for example, is meeting with some of his Turkish counterparts, I believe yesterday and also today, but taking place elsewhere.

    Certainly, we have a lot to work on. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. There are certainly some tensions there. But we have a lot of areas where we can agree to work together. An example of that would be our – we have bases in Turkey. That is an issue or a matter that continues obviously to this day, as we were talking about a few minutes ago. They’re a member of the D-ISIS Coalition, and so that’s important. But I’m not going to get ahead of some of the Secretary’s meetings.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Can we turn to Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. --

    QUESTION: Libya?

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. see eye-to-eye with Turkey on Syria?

    MS NAUERT: There’s a what?

    QUESTION: Does the United States see eye-to-eye with Turkey on what they are doing in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we have said to Turkey – and we’ve talked about this a lot here so I don’t want to go over --

    QUESTION: But you --

    MS NAUERT: -- an old road once again. But we’re encouraging everyone to stick to the fight against ISIS. We understand Turkey’s legitimate security concerns. Of course, we do. And the Secretary has been very clear about that, as has Secretary Mattis. We understand those security views. We value our NATO ally and respect those views about security; but let’s keep the eye on the ball, and that is ISIS.

    Hey, Abbie.

    QUESTION: I know that you probably don’t have this necessarily yet because you don’t have a readout from the meeting, but was one of the subjects the Secretary intended to talk about with President Erdogan the purchase of Russian weapon systems which were going against the CAATSA legislation?

    MS NAUERT: Right, so you’re talking about the proposed purchase of S-400s. I don’t think that that has been signed at this point. I don’t know exactly what the status is of that or if that would actually be a violation of CAATSA because it’s not happened yet. I can look into it and see if I can get something more.

    But we have long said to Turkey that, one, any kind of weapons purchases under NATO agreements have to be interoperable. My recollection is that S-400s are not considered to be anti – interoperable, basically meaning that other nations would be – in NATO would be able to work with that kind of equipment. My understanding is that they would not be operable. But in terms of CAATSA and all that, we’ll look into that.

    QUESTION: On Turkey?

    QUESTION: I have one follow-up on --

    MS NAUERT: Sure. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- on the CAATSA legislation.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I know that January 29th was the first day that you were able to implement or enforce any of the sanctions that came forward from the CAATSA --

    MS NAUERT: Have you been gone since January 29th? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Maybe. And --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah? So we’re going back a ways. All right. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: So I just wondered if since that day there had been any movement towards enforcing some of those sanctions against people who were still in violation and engaging with the Russian military or intelligence entities from the late October list.

    MS NAUERT: So let me step back to that first date, which was January the 29th. And the State Department piece of that was that that was the first day that we could begin to impose sanctions that would meet a certain threshold. It wasn’t just a financial threshold. It has a – there were a lot of factors that would weigh into this. So we didn’t have that – we didn’t have sanctionable activities on that first day. That was just the start date for which we could begin sanctioning companies and entities.

    We have hundreds of people around the world, not just here at the State Department in this building but at our missions elsewhere, whose job it is to comb through lots and lots of foreign transactions – sales, things of that sort – to determine if it meets that threshold of being above a certain level. Again, that’s not just financial. It takes a lot of things into consideration, and our sanctions people could perhaps get you some more information on that.

    So we continue to go through that. We continue to go through that process, and it’s just the beginning of that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Heather, can you see – are there – have there – have they determined that there are sales that are happening but have not met – that do not meet that threshold? In other words, sales with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors that the U.S. is going to permit to proceed without us slapping them with CAATSA sanctions because it’s --

    MS NAUERT: Because maybe it would be too small? Is that the question? Are there some that --

    QUESTION: Well, there’s a criteria that a senior State Department official said was if it’s adverse to national security interests, which basically means you could take anything like, say, a multibillion-dollar sale to Turkey of the S-400 and say, “Well, we really don’t want to upset Turkey right now, so that’s okay.”

    MS NAUERT: Well, one of – remember, let me go back to one of the NATO agreements or pledges – perhaps I’m using the wrong word here, but – is that systems purchased by NATO members – pardon me – have to be interoperable. My understanding is that S-400s do not meet that standard.

    QUESTION: Right, but they don’t care and want to do it anyway.

    MS NAUERT: So because – because of that, we would oppose the purchase of that. But I don’t know what the status is of any proposed purchase. But in terms of your question, I mean, it would just be a hypothetical. I don’t know that we have a particular deal that we have spotted and said, “You know what? That doesn’t meet the threshold. Let’s let it pass.” This is all still fresh – a fresh piece of law, a fresh – that we started to be able to impose and implement and our people are still going through all this stuff.

    QUESTION: On Turkey?

    QUESTION: On Iran?

    MS NAUERT: So I would anticipate, though – and as you know, we don’t forecast sanctions, but I would be very surprised if there weren’t sanctions in the future. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Rich, hi.

    QUESTION: Venezuela?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Heather. Does the Secretary believe he has the support of regional allies for – and full support of regional allies for further sanctions against Venezuela? And how much does the environment within, the humanitarian crisis within Venezuela weigh into the U.S. and others’ decisions on how exactly to apply pressure on the regime there?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. When we – first off to the humanitarian situation, I’m sure many of you, like I, have seen the horrific stories coming out of Venezuela. You’ve seen what families are having to choose to do – to leave their children in some instances in orphanages and on the streets because they don’t have the food or the necessary medical supplies to care for their own children. Sometime last year when I started this job, I remember reading a story about a child who was a few years old but just weighed 11 pounds, which is basically a heavy newborn weight.

    There is clearly a humanitarian situation that I would just phrase as a dire situation there. It is something that seems to be worsening. I know it has the attention of the region. You were just down there with Secretary Tillerson in the region in which that was one of the top conversations among many of the countries in Latin America. We discussed that issue in the Caribbean when the Secretary was in Jamaica, in Peru, in Argentina, and others. So they share our concerns. But when we impose sanctions and when other countries impose sanctions, the idea is to never have it harm the regular population. It’s to put the squeeze on the government so that the government will change its ways because we’ve seen this government does not seem to care about its people, but rather it cares about keeping itself in power.

    QUESTION: And for any further measures, is there anything left to ensure that you are targeting the Maduro regime as opposed to exacerbating this?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not going to forecast sanctions, but that is something that our people, when they look at imposing sanctions and structuring sanctions activities, take a very close look at. I know we talk with various groups, NGOs, different government – departments of our government to try to make sure that these things are targeted – targeted. And we always talk about targeted sanctions, so it’s affecting the individuals or companies or entities and not the people themselves.

    However, let me say this, and this applies to North Korea as other places: Governments can decide how they choose to spend their money. And if they choose to – and some – and I’m not saying this about Venezuela, but if they choose to spend all their money on weapons – illegal ballistic missiles, a nuclear program – that is that government’s choice. It’s wrong, but that is that government’s choice. Again, that’s not Venezuela, that’s – I’m referring obviously to North Korea on that matter.

    I can tell you that I know there are many aid groups and other entities like that that are prepared to go in to provide humanitarian aid when that is needed and when we’re able to get in and provide that in Venezuela.

    QUESTION: Just finally, is there – does the administration feel any type of time pressure to try to get any further measures out ahead of the elections that the regime’s holding?

    MS NAUERT: I think we’re looking at all kinds of options. Okay?

    All right. Let’s move on.

    QUESTION: On Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Hey.

    QUESTION: Staying in the region?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: A question on Cuba. The Journal of the American Medical Association released this report yesterday detailing the symptoms and experiences of 21 of the American personnel who have been affected by these health attacks, as you guys call them. Does the State Department support the release of this report? And do you find it consistent with your own internal investigations?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let me start out by saying safety and security of Americans is always our top issue. That includes our own colleagues. We have seen the Journal of American Medical Association report that was put out just yesterday, JAMA as many people refer to it. Our embassy – and I want to make sure folks are aware of this – released a health alert. It is posted. I believe it’s on our U.S. embassy in Havana’s website. That basically alerts people to the fact that this JAMA report exists, this JAMA report exists, so that we could provide information not only to our personnel, but so that information can be provided to the general public who may still be choosing to travel to Cuba.

    So that’s the purpose of that. It was written by independent medical personnel who took part in evaluating and treating some of the injuries of our people. I won’t detail what came out in the report. You can take a look at it ourselves. But we’ve shared the link to the article in order to inform U.S. citizens about what the doctors believe may be some of the symptoms and medical reactions of some of those people who were affected.

    QUESTION: In the report it says that the doctors signed nondisclosure agreements in order to be able to obtain some of the information about these individuals. It also says, though, that the other doctors who evaluated as part of the peer evaluation before publication were unable to access some of that information. Is there --

    MS NAUERT: Let me answer your first question first. So you’re saying the doctors signed nondisclosure agreements?

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. If that is the case – and I don’t know that that is the case – let me remind you that there’s an investigation still ongoing. So if they were asked by the U.S. Government to sign that, I would think that would be a pretty good indication that we don’t want people talking about (a) the medical symptoms of individuals, (b) the names of individuals, because that is – that is their own information and they’re our employees. But in addition, this investigation is still ongoing, so it’s extremely important for us to not disrupt that investigation so we could figure out who’s responsible for this and what’s responsible for it.

    QUESTION: I think I know the answer to this question, then. But is there – are there things that you guys have determined in the investigation that were not allowed to be released in the report?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I mean, that’s like so far in the weeds with our experts talking to the medical professionals in Pennsylvania. I just don’t have that level of detail.

    QUESTION: Sure. And one last question on this. At the time of the evaluations of the – of these personnel, 14 of them had still not been able to return to work because their symptoms were so severe. Can you give any information, any update on that, and whether or not they have?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have any – an update for you on that. I’ll see what I can get for you if that is, in fact, even releasable information. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On Iraq? So – yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, one more question on Iraq.

    QUESTION: Yeah. You said in the past that the U.S. is not contributing any money to the Iraqi reconstruction. Can you tell us what other ways U.S. is contributing to that reconstruction? And also --

    MS NAUERT: No, that’s not what I said. I talked about large-scale reconstruction projects. In the past, the U.S. Government, and many of you reporters who have been around for a bit remember this, that during the Bush administration and other administrations we would do these large-scale projects of building roads and building tunnels and bridges and all of that to provide that for communities in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s not what we’re doing today. We are helping with reconstruction certainly, but this administration believes that a better approach to that, instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars on that restructure or on that rebuilding, is to get other countries, the neighboring countries, involved as well.

    So the United States is certainly involved. The United States participated in the Kuwaiti conference where some countries ended up providing donations, loans, things of that nature, and we were certainly happy to have seen that happen. The United States’ priority though now is stabilization and providing some of the basics. But we think it’s a wonderful thing when other countries in the region will step up to the plate. The Saudis talked about this, for example. The Turks – I believe they gave – they offered up some money. But I recall the Saudis, I mean, saying you know what, we’re interested in this, we’re interested in helping out our neighbors and seeing what we can do about reconstruction. And there were more than 2,000 people or companies who were involved in that Kuwait conference.

    QUESTION: And speaking of neighbors, so today the deputy foreign minister of Iran said that Tehran will contribute to the efforts of the reconstruction.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: How do you – do you have anything on that?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know they have been. They have been trying to gain more of a toehold certainly in the region and in other places as well. I think we’ve been consistent in saying where Iran goes, trouble tends to follow. Where the regime goes, trouble tends to follow. I don’t mean the people themselves, but rather the regime. There can also be very strict regulations when you work with a nation like that. You may not be, as a country, getting all that you bargained for. It may be a lot more difficult and a lot more onerous than – than you think. So they’re certainly entitled to do that, but I would probably caution countries.

    QUESTION: Can I have --

    MS NAUERT: All right, Janne. Hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much. On North Korea. Recently, right after Secretary Tillerson’s South Korea trip, the Secretary said that the United States will make stronger sanctions against North Korea. What is the stronger sanctions and how does it different from existing sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, so I hate to give you this answer again, because it’s the third time I’ve said it today. We’re not going to preview the sanctions. There is certainly more that we can do, there is certainly more sectors that we could look at sanctioning, and we continue our conversations with many other countries who may be looking at unilateral or multilateral sanctions.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on.

    QUESTION: When is the sanctions effect – I mean, new sanctions. When --

    MS NAUERT: When would they? I – Janne I can’t tell you that. I can’t tell you that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay, so it’s possible --

    MS NAUERT: If there are sanctions that are going to be announced, I will certainly let you know as soon as we are ready to announce those. Okay?

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    QUESTION: Heather, Vice President Pence, just before he arrived – I think he was in Tokyo – announced we would soon, I think he said within several days or a week or so, be unveiling the toughest sanctions U.S. has ever put on North Korea. So I don’t understand this policy that the U.S. doesn’t preview what sanctions to – I mean, it seems like in some cases, the White House certainly does.

    MS NAUERT: Well, he’s the Vice President. He’s entitled to say whatever he wants to say, and the Vice President and I are certainly in different kinds of positions. I’m not authorized to detail or forecast sanctions, but if the President or the Vice President want to do so, they are certainly more than welcome to.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. All right, who had North Korea?

    QUESTION: North Korea over here.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, how are you?

    QUESTION: So this is kind of a follow-up from last time, but Bob Corker – I was at the hearing today – he also was talking about talks with North Korea. So is – my question today is are there talks within the State Department about shaping, like, actual like what we would say to North Korea if we start talks with them?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So that’s – I think that’s two hypotheticals built in there, but --

    QUESTION: But clearly there’s talks happening about talks at multiple levels on --

    MS NAUERT: So a couple things to that effect. I think the hearing that you’re referring to – by the way, if I may mention, our acting assistant secretary for East Asia Pacific, EAP Susan Thornton, is on the Hill today for her confirmation hearings. Among the things that she said on the Hill for her hearings include this: We’re leaving the door open to engagement. We want engagement to consist of one issue, that is denuclearization. Our policy hasn’t changed; our policy remains the same. The overall goal is denuclearization. The United States and many other countries have this agreement. It is considered a worldwide agreement, not just with us but many other countries, and you’ve seen that echoed at the UN Security Council with four unanimous rounds of sanctions that they voted to pass. To pursue that, we have the maximum pressure campaign. That maximum pressure campaign exists to this day, and virtually every week we are seeing more countries participate or do new things or ratchet the pressure – ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.

    Malaysia, I think I mentioned that the other day; Kuwait not that long ago; Peru, the Secretary referenced that when he was visiting Peru a week or so ago. And the Vice President, when he was just there for his travels, reaffirmed our position. The Secretary has said repeatedly that we are starting to see signs that our maximum pressure campaign is putting strain on North Korea. Now, you’re going to ask, what are those signs, what are the strain that he’s seen? That’s something that we just won’t detail, but we’re keeping a close eye on it.

    If the time comes that we believe that North Korea is serious about talking about denuclearization, we will have a conversation with our partners, with our allies, with our allies in the region, about the appropriate next steps. So we’re not there yet.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: On Egypt.

    QUESTION: South Korea --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, North – okay. Hold on, Janne, I already called on you. Do you have a North Korea question, ma’am?

    QUESTION: Jehan al-Husaini.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let me just finish up with --

    QUESTION: On Korea.

    QUESTION: South Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, let me – hold on. Let me finish up with North Korea and then we’ll go on to another region. Hi, sir, in the back.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: What’s your name?

    QUESTION: Ian Talley from the Wall Street Journal.

    MS NAUERT: Oh hey, Ian.

    QUESTION: Hi, how are you doing?

    MS NAUERT: Good. Have you been here before?

    QUESTION: I have been here before, not in your tenure.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. In my tenure, okay. Well, welcome, thanks.

    QUESTION: Thank you. So I have a follow up question on Turkey, which we – should take a later point, but on North Korea, Ms. Thornton said that denuclearization was our preference.

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: Does that mean that the U.S. would consider other options?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I think that the United States and this administration – and I don’t have Susan’s quote in front of me – but I think that that is what we are all working toward, that is our policy, denuclearization. Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up?

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah.

    QUESTION: Yes. So Thornton also mentioned that it’s in her understanding there’s no bloody nose strategy. Could you please elaborate? Has that limited military strike option been discussed at all?

    MS NAUERT: I think we’ve been over that before, or I know I’ve discussed that matter here numerous times. I don’t have Susan’s quote in front of me, so I’m just going to leave it at that. Our policy remains the same that what we’re doing here out of this building is diplomacy. Across the river, they handle other issues, but we handle diplomacy here. Maximum pressure continues and we’ll keep pushing that one.

    QUESTION: Was that strategy being discussed before the Olympic?

    MS NAUERT: Was what strategy?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Was the bloody nose option being discussed before the Olympic?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, goodness, not – look, not that I am aware of. That is not what we do out of our building. The State Department, Secretary Tillerson, and even if you talk to Secretary Mattis, they will tell you that diplomacy is the preferred approach, but then it always has to be backed up by a credible military threat. Okay?

    QUESTION: India?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: All right. Okay. All right. We’re going to have to wrap it up in just a second. Hold on.

    QUESTION: India?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on one second.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hi. Okay. We’ll do --

    QUESTION: Jehan al-Husaini from Al Hayat newspaper.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

    QUESTION: It’s regarding to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It’s very – it’s miserable and it’s very critical. I wonder if there is any American efforts to save Gaza, to lift the siege on Gaza, and how it will be done.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So a couple things to that: We support an overall peace deal. We also recognize that the state of – that civilians are living in, the state of things in Gaza is miserable. We see that delays for medical treatment, disruptions to electricity are far too common for the people to have to face there.

    We also recognize that that misery is perpetuated by Hamas. Hamas choosing to spend the money that it has – its people’s money – on – not on humanitarian aid, not on taking care of its people, but doing things like building tunnels to get terrorists in to disrupt activity and make life worse for its people. Our diplomats who work for the State Department have been advocating for an increase in Palestinian Authority referrals for Gaza medical patients to actually receive treatment outside of the Gaza strip, recognizing that not everyone is able to get the medical supplies that they need, the hospitals aren’t – hospitals facing those electricity disruptions as well. So we’ve been advocating for that. If I get any new information for you on that, I’d be – certainly be happy to let you know.

    Jason Greenblatt, our international – who is handling our international negotiations on this, he’s been engaging with Israeli authorities regarding medical transfer permits, because I understand that they need permits. And that’s enabled dozens of people so far to receive some cancer treatments. So we’re doing what we can at this point. We believe that there’s no sustainable solution that will be reached until Hamas turns over its administrative control of Gaza to legitimate Palestinian authorities, and we certainly hope that will happen. We’ve seen other nations recently step up and offer additional money to help out people there and we would certainly support that.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: So you’re calling on the Israelis to increase the number of medical permits?

    MS NAUERT: That’s one of the things that we’re advocating. That’s one of the things we’re advocating. Look, when you’re in a situation where electricity is spotty, where people can’t get the medical equipment, the hospitals can’t get the medical equipment they need and people need lifesaving treatment, we certainly think that they should be able to get that. That, we believe, is just a certain level of decency.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m going to have to wrap it up, so --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: One more on India?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. India, last thing.

    QUESTION: A quick question – two questions, please. One, for the last two years, Prime Minister Modi has been traveling around the globe, including U.S., and recently in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and UAE. And over there, he – for the first time ever, Saudi Arabia accepted a UAE to build a – to give a land for a Hindu temple. My question is here: That – you think the region is changing as far as women’s rights and religious freedom, because Secretary has been going there, how do you think – Secretary has been talking about the same thing, religious freedom and women’s rights in the region?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I know that that is a matter overall that the Secretary brings up wherever he goes, whether it’s freedom of religion, women’s rights, freedom of speech – we just saw him talk about that in Egypt. I’m pleased to hear what you’re telling me. I can’t verify it myself, but pleased to hear if that would be the case. We’re seeing lots of parts of the world open up in that regard: recent reports about the women showing up at the soccer stadium in Saudi Arabia, women driving. We think that that is a good thing and we celebrate that. Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: And finally, Madam, as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, Secretary’s visit – before his visit, he spoke, of course, of U.S.-India relations at the CSIS and also he opened the door for Madam Ivanka. So where are we going now as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned? Because President spoke with Prime Minister Modi last week --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- from the White House.

    MS NAUERT: Well, the President – our President, President Trump, certainly has a strong relationship with President Modi[1]. I know that his daughter really enjoyed having been over in Hyderabad late last year, and so it’s an important relationship, an increasingly important relationship. And as you see India doing rebuilding – our friend Nazira right here in front of you, she’s from Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: You’re from India. India is doing a lot of rebuilding and large-scale reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. That is a --

    QUESTION: Two billion dollars.

    MS NAUERT: Two billion dollars, thank you. So who knows that better than you?

    QUESTION: It’s three billion.

    MS NAUERT: How much?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Three billion, three billion, three billion.

    MS NAUERT: Three billion, okay. So here we go. This is --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: -- a good – (laughter) – but really, this is a good example of the world coming together and working through – places that may not have – countries that may not have worked together in the past. This is an example of how that is now being done: Saudi Arabia helping out in Iraq --

    QUESTION: U.S. --

    MS NAUERT: -- India helping out in Afghanistan, all of these places doing that. So I think it’s nice today to leave it on a high note, so thank you very much. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday. Okay.

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

    [1] Prime Minister Modi


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

mer, 02/14/2018 - 00:50
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 13, 2018


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
  • PAKISTAN
  • COSTA RICA
  • DEPARTMENT/SECRETARY'S TRAVEL
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • ISRAEL/RUSSIA
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • IRAQ
  • UK
  • PAKISTAN
  • MEXICO
  • TURKEY/SYRIA
  • CUBA
  • AFGHANISTAN
  • NORTH KOREA
  • SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA
  • EGYPT
  • ISRAEL
  • EGYPT

    TRANSCRIPT:

    2:52 p.m. EST

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. How are you today? Nick, welcome back. Good to see you.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Good to be here.

    MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everyone. Great to see you again. I’d like to start out today by introducing you to a colleague of mine. I assume by now many of you have been over to the U.S. Diplomacy Center, which is over on the 23rd Street[i] side, that beautiful building over there, which is meant to eventually house a lot of historical items about the State Department and the work that we do here.

    I’d like to introduce you this afternoon to Dr. Alison Mann. She is the public historian at the Diplomacy Center. So think about all the interesting stuff that she gets to learn about and research in line with her job. She’s here today to talk about American – African American History Month and an event that is taking place at the Diplomacy Center tomorrow. It is open press, so we’d like to invite you, and Dr. Mann is going to tell you a little bit about it, take a few questions if you have questions, and then I’ll take over from there.

    Dr. Mann, go right ahead.

    MS MANN: Thank you. Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you, Heather, for giving us the opportunity to present this exciting event to you. So just a little background about the Diplomacy Center. We are located at the State Department’s 21st Street entrance. And the United States Diplomacy Center will be the first museum and education center dedicated to telling the story of American diplomacy, the history of American foreign policy, and illustrating the importance of American diplomacy for our nation’s security and economic prosperity.

    Through exhibits and artifacts, we aim to inspire our visitors to explore the history, practice, impact, and challenges of diplomacy, and to honor our nation’s diplomats. The center is made possible through public-private partnerships which raise private funds in support of the center’s construction, programs, and exhibits.

    Some exhibits will be open to the public in late 2019, and in the meantime we’re actively engaged with the American public through our education programs, social media outreach, and public programs.

    Tomorrow, on the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth, we are delighted to present a program commemorating two of our nation’s first African American diplomats, Ebenezer Bassett and Frederick Douglass. Next slide, please. I have pictures.

    In this lithograph behind me, this is from 1883. It’s titled “Distinguished Colored Man.” And in the period after the Civil War, African American intellectuals entered high-level positions in the federal government, serving as senators and governors, congressmen, and U.S. ministers. Back then they weren’t referred to as ambassadors; they referred to them as ministers. And please note Douglass in the center. He’s probably recognizable to you. Ebenezer Bassett is below, and he is surrounded by many more accomplished men – former enslaved African Americans, the first graduate from Harvard, abolitionists, and writers. Next slide, please.

    This is a photograph of Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, our nation’s first African American diplomat. He was born in Connecticut. He studied at the Connecticut Normal School, and he also did pursue classes at Yale. And he was a scholar and educator, also an abolitionist, but he was also an internationalist, and he was appointed by President Grant as minister to Haiti in 1868. He was already then fluent in French. And the U.S. had established diplomatic ties with Haiti in the midst of the Civil War, in 1862, and you may say, oh, well, that was coinciding with the Emancipation Proclamation. So he was not the first minister to go to Haiti, but he was – he went there in 1868. Next slide, please.

    We’ll also have two panelists speaking with me at the event tomorrow. This is Christopher Teal. He is a career Foreign Service officer. He’s an expert on Ebenezer Bassett, and this is a picture of him talking at Yale University about the research that he’s done. He published a book on Ebenezer Bassett called Heroes of Hispanola, and he is currently doing a documentary about the life of Ebenezer Bassett. Next slide, please.

    And have you ever been across the river to Anacostia to Frederick Douglass’ home? Some of you have. This parlor is very interesting. Frederick Douglass became minister to Haiti in 1889; he spent two years there. And his interaction with the Haitian people, he developed a great love for them and their culture, and you can very much see this in the Douglass house when you go. The wallpaper is Haitian-inspired, and there are several artifacts there that also talked about Frederick’s time in Haiti. So it’s really interesting to go visit. It’s operated by the National Park Service, and they are partnering with us on this event. So that’ll be our third speaker that we’ll have there tomorrow. And the final slide, please.

    This is one of the exciting things that you’ll be able to see – some of the items belonging to Frederick Douglass. This was the Panama hat that he wore when he was in Haiti and brought back with him. So we’ll have a few more items for folks to look at. So please do, if you can, join us tomorrow as we commemorate the diplomatic service of these very two distinguished African Americans.

    And I also wanted to mention that we have a new exhibit – it’s just being installed today – about jazz diplomacy. And several prominent African American musicians engaged in jazz diplomacy, particularly during the Cold War, and so they’ll be featured there as well. And if you’d like a tour of that, please do contact us at diplomacycenter@state.gov if you’re interested in looking at the exhibit. So thank you for your time, and I’ll take a couple questions.

    MS NAUERT: That’s fascinating. Thank you so much. Any questions here? Laurie.

    QUESTION: Could you explain a little bit more about jazz diplomacy and what that event is about?

    MS MANN: Yes. So jazz diplomacy was musicians who the State Department – they’re citizen diplomats, essentially. And so they were going over into Soviet bloc countries. It was soft diplomacy, promoting jazz through music and a way to combat Soviet propaganda.

    QUESTION: And you’ve got, like, a museum or an event?

    MS MANN: So we have photographs showing them there, and they’re in the Diplomacy Center at the 21st Street Entrance. If you leave today – I mean, I just walked through so a lot of the photographs are already up, but we’re happy to give you a tour if you wanted to do a story on it.

    QUESTION: Sure.

    MS MANN: Please do contact us.

    MS NAUERT: And go right behind. Radio Marti.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS MANN: Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. Have you had this jazz diplomacy taking place anywhere else?

    MS MANN: I’m sorry? In the exhibit?

    QUESTION: No, no. In other parts, in other areas, in other countries.

    MS NAUERT: She’s from Cuba.

    MS MANN: Oh, I see. I don’t know. If you can – if you can be in contact with us, I can give you an exact list of countries that the museum has visited. I know, for instance, there’s a very famous photograph of Louis Armstrong sitting on a camel when he was in Egypt.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS MANN: Yeah, it’s a great photo. It’s an awesome photo. But I can find that information out for you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anybody else? All right.

    MS MANN: All right,

    MS NAUERT: Thank you so much, Dr. Mann.

    MS MANN: Thank you. We really appreciate it.

    QUESTION: Just one quick one?

    MS MANN: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Obviously, I can contact you if I wanted a tour as a journalist. But if I’m just a tourist, when do I come – I’m just wondering – to see – can members of the public just come in?

    MS MANN: To the event tomorrow or to see jazz diplomacy.

    QUESTION: To see jazz diplomacy or the African American exhibit.

    MS MANN: Because we’re not fully open to the public yet, we’re asking that the public contact us via our website so that we know that they’re coming in.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS MANN: Yeah. So it’s mostly just groups that we’re doing now.

    QUESTION: What’s the website?

    MS MANN: Our website is diplomacy.state.gov.

    QUESTION: So is this like a one-day event?

    MS MANN: The event is tomorrow about African American diplomats. Yes, it’s a one-day event. Jazz diplomacy will be up for about two months.

    QUESTION: I’ll be there.

    MS MANN: Excellent. We look forward to it. Thank you. Thank you so much again. Bye.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: And we get a lot more questions from these all about you than we do about – (laughter) --

    MS MANN: Oh, I’m sure not. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: -- some of the more dramatic things in the world. Thank you so much, Doctor. We sure appreciate it. If anybody has any additional questions or needs any information about the event, the time, et cetera, please just let us know and we’re happy to help you out. But love to have the opportunity to bring you some of our experts here.

    A few announcements I’d like to start off with before taking your questions today, and the first starts in Pakistan, where we’d like to say that we’d like to join the Government of Pakistan and others around the world in mourning the passing of a Pakistani human rights and democracy advocate. Her name was Asma Jahangir. For years Ms. Jahangir courageously defended the rights of those who did not have a voice. She championed the rule of law, democracy, and human rights around the world, including in Iran.

    As a global icon in human rights, she founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She served as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. Most recently, she served as UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, tirelessly fighting on behalf of the Iranian people as they demanded freedom, dignity, and human rights. Her passing is a great loss to the world, and she will be missed as a champion in her country, its people, and millions more around the world.

    Secondly, I’d like to bring to your attention something that’s coming from our INL Bureau. They handle drugs and all that stuff. And as a part of U.S. efforts to bolster Central America’s fight against transnational crime, the State Department and the U.S. Coast Guard partnered to refurbish and donate two Coast Guard cutters to the Costa Rican Coast Guard. U.S. and Costa Rican officials are commemorating the partnership today in Baltimore, Maryland, where the Costa Rican Coast Guard is now receiving 10 weeks of training with the U.S. Coast Guard.

    The cutters will provide Costa Rica with its ability to effectively patrol to the full extent its Pacific waters, a prominent transit zone for illicit drugs coming to the United States. Costa Rica ranks as the second-highest in the Western Hemisphere for transshipment of cocaine, following the country of Mexico. Through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, INL, and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the State Department partners with Costa Rica to improve border security, strengthen rule of law, and also fight transnational crime.

    Next, I’d like to talk a little bit about the Secretary’s trip in the Middle East. Earlier today, Secretary Tillerson attended a minister-level meeting of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS. This took place in Kuwait. The coalition now continues to grow, and we welcome its newest member today, the Philippines, which has now become the 75th member of the D-ISIS Coalition.

    The Secretary discussed the incredible progress that has been made in the fight against ISIS, but he also emphasized how the fight is not over. The Secretary was pleased to announce that the United States intends to provide nearly $200 million in additional funding to further support critical stabilization and early recovery initiatives and areas liberated by ISIS – from ISIS in Syria.

    He probably noted that 98 percent of the territory once held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria has now been liberated, approximately four and a half million Iraqis, and 3.2 million Syrians have now been freed. The fact that ISIS still poses a serious threat to our homeland and other parts of the globe cannot be stressed enough. The fight against ISIS has evolved, and now so has the coalition. We welcome the Philippines.

    And then finally, as many of you know, the Secretary took part in an Iraq reconstruction conference just a short while ago. That conference seeks to bring together the donor community, civil society, and the private sector to help address – Iraq address its reconstruction needs following the devastation from ISIS. It’s a three-day forum to showcase private sector investment opportunities, and it also serves to generate interest about Iraq as a good business and investment opportunity.

    At the event today, the Secretary was pleased to announce that the United States is committed to supporting the U.S. private sector in Iraq through the work of the Export-Import Bank, Ex-Im, and also the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC. To signal its strong commitment, the Ex-Im Bank and Iraq’s Ministry of Finance will today sign a $3 billion memorandum of understanding. It will set the stage for future cooperation across key sectors of Iraq’s economy, including oil and gas transportation, and also commodities.

    OPIC, which supports development through a model of investment rather than aid, has five active projects in Iraq, totaling $250 million, right now. It’s currently reviewing more than $500 million worth of new project proposals in Iraq. The projects are helping to increase the supply of affordable housing in the country, and helping entrepreneurs and small businesses access financing to start and expand their businesses. This will create jobs and opportunity in the region.

    As the Secretary wraps up his participation in the D-ISIS ministerial and also the Iraq reconstruction conference, I want to take a moment to address some of the negative reports on the Iraq reconstruction conference that have come out today. The reports mischaracterized the conference as a pledging conference. This was never intended to be a pledging conference. That is a false premise. The idea is to show some of the companies and some of the other countries that are participants in this conference Iraq’s plan, which was just rolled out yesterday, its financial plan. Companies and also countries can take that plan home, they can take a look at it, and determine what is best for them.

    So again, this was never intended to be a pledging conference, but rather the initial rollout on behalf of the Iraqi Government. The Government of Iraq has just rolled out its 10-year reconstruction program. The Iraq Government understands, along with experts who work that these issues within the international community will take years for Iraq to recover from the devastation that was caused by ISIS. ISIS terrorists took a scorched-earth approach to their occupation of Iraq. They left behind tens of thousands of IEDs and other explosive devices in homes and schools and hospitals – you name it. This requires a long-term commitment not just from the United States. We will continue to support that, but from many other countries as well, as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Iraqi people.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. And thank you for your patience.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Why don’t we start in the Middle East.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: First of all, just briefly, I imagine you probably don’t have a lot on this, but does the U.S. have any reaction to the Israeli police recommending that Prime Minister Netanyahu be indicted on corruption and other charges?

    MS NAUERT: Thank you for that question. The only thing I have to say about that is that the United States has a very strong relationship not only with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also the Israeli Government. We’re certainly aware of it, but we consider it to be an internal Israeli matter.

    QUESTION: And then the Palestinians over the last few days seem to have slightly walked back their earlier declaration that the U.S. was disqualified as a mediator in this. They’re now suggesting the U.S. can’t be the only mediator, but that maybe if there were some type of expanded Quartet situation with other countries involved that the U.S. could retain some role in that. Is the U.S. open to being only one of a number of folks trying to mediate the resolution the President’s talked about?

    MS NAUERT: This is a policy priority for the President and this administration. I think the ultimate goal that we’d like to see is peace in the Middle East. Part of that will be resolved – or a big part of that will be resolved through the Israelis and the Palestinians sitting down together to have a conversation. I think if other countries can encourage that to happen, that that would certainly be helpful, but I’m not aware of any specific proposals, so I would hesitate to comment on that further.

    QUESTION: What about the role of the Russians vis-a-vis Israel right now? I mean, it seems like Putin has been pushing Netanyahu to back off on some of the recent Israeli actions in Syria. I mean, are you concerned that we may be ceding some leverage with Israel to Russia, like we have in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: I feel like this question comes up a lot, how we feel about Russia trying to have better relations, stronger relations, or brand-new relations with another country. I’m fully confident, and this government is fully confident, in its relationship with Israel, with the Government of Israel, and with the prime minister. And I don’t think that anything is going to come between our relationship and the Israeli Government’s.

    QUESTION: Heather, if I may follow up?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, certainly. Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: Look, you have a framework. It’s the Quartet. I mean, the Quartet is Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations. So there is a framework to negotiate a settlement. So it’s there. What is your comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I would just say, Said, I’m not going to ahead of any potential new types of negotiations or phone calls or meetings that may come in to play.

    QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you on the settlement issue a couple questions.

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Yesterday the White House denied that they were in talks with the – with Mr. Netanyahu over the annexation of the settlement blocks. Very strongly denied it. But other than that, this administration has not really condemned or taken a very strong position against settlement building. I mean, we have seen in the last few days – just allow me for a second – over the last few days, we have seen building expansion settlements outside Nablus. Then today, the Israeli Knesset basically extended civil law over academic institutions inside the settlements, which basically makes them part of Israel and a part to annexation by other means.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of the last point that you brought up --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: -- but we have been very clear about this, that additional settlement activity, unrestrained settlement activity, does not advance the prospect for peace. We have also had numerous conversations with the Government of Israel where the Government of Israel has said that it would take into consideration before making decisions the President’s concern about unrestrained settlement activity. So we’ve talked about that a lot, we’ve covered that quite a bit, and so I think we’ve been clear about that.

    QUESTION: So you would oppose any measures that would be annexation by other means, like, extending civil law over institutions in the settlements?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I can be clear and very clear about this, that the idea of what you just mentioned is not something that came up between the U.S. and the Government of Israel.

    QUESTION: And I promise one last one. There is a Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamimi, who is – today was brought before a military court – nobody knows what’s going on behind closed doors. She’s there because she slapped an Israeli soldier who was raiding her home in the middle of the night back in December. Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m certainly aware of that report. Many of us here at the State Department are. I would say we’re always concerned about the use of force, about any credible reports of excessive use of force. All individuals, especially children, should be treated humanely and with respect and in accordance of the law. Okay?

    QUESTION: Would you call on the Israelis to let her go?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get in the middle of what is going on over there with regard to this. But just let me make it clear one more time: We are always concerned about excessive use of force, about reports of excessive use of force, especially as it pertains to children. Okay? All right. Shall we move on?

    QUESTION: Yeah, just a follow-up on the --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Dave.

    QUESTION: -- not on the Tamimi case, but broad – well, broadly on Israel.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Obviously, the White House has taken the lead on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but there’s a lot of other elements to the U.S. alliance with Israel. In particular, Israel is very deeply implicated in what’s going on in Syria. Why isn’t Secretary Tillerson going to make a stop in Jerusalem during this trip in the Middle East?

    MS NAUERT: Look, putting together these trips is very complicated. You have to pull together a lot of different people’s schedules at the same time, and make sure that they are completely in sync. As you well know, we have a very strong relationship with Israel. We have a strong relationship with the Israeli people and the Government of Israel. There is no question about that.

    The Secretary had a 21-minute phone call with the prime minister on Saturday not long after we learned about the incident that happened with the Israeli jet. I kind of liken that to my relationship with my best friend from junior high school, Julie. She lives in the Midwest. Every time I go to the Midwest, I don’t get to see my friend Julie. Every time that Secretary Tillerson is going to go to the Middle East, he’s not going to be able to hit every single country. But there is no doubt in the mind of the Israeli Government officials or our government officials that our bond is strong. And had the prime minister asked Secretary Tillerson to join him there, which he never did, I imagine if our schedules coincided, that we would have done that, but we were not asked to do so. Okay? Any other questions related to this? Okay, Laurie, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yesterday a senior State Department official told reporters that Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi would disband the Popular Mobilization Forces, yet the deputy commander of those forces, Al-Mohandis, was a terrorist involved in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait, has vowed not to do so. Do you really believe that Abadi has the will and ability to disband the Popular Mobilization Forces?

    MS NAUERT: First, let me say that Secretary Tillerson, in his meetings in Kuwait today, spent a little bit of time with Prime Minister Abadi. I can give you a partial readout of that in just a minute if you’d like that. Let me address your question, though, first.

    We have every confidence in the prime minster of Iraq. He has clearly demonstrated not only his leadership; he’s demonstrated his capability, his competence, and his ability in our shared fight against ISIS. I just want to be very, very clear about that.

    The PMF, by law, are supposed to be under the governance of the prime minister of Iraq and falling under the central government of Iraq. There are some what we would call undisciplined PMF forces that aren’t always following the rules, and that’s a tremendous concern of ours. So we certainly acknowledge that. All armed actors should operate within Iraq’s state security framework and answer to the prime minister. We hope they will. Okay.

    QUESTION: So, but the senior State Department official in the transcript that you put out said that these forces, they would either be incorporated into the Iraqi Army or that they would go home, as if the PMF structures would no longer exist. Do I understand correctly?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure, I’d have to dig down further into the details on that of what our – what my colleague meant by that exactly. Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on one second. I just want to try to find Laurie the readout of that, because the Secretary had quite a few pull-asides, if you all are interested on any specific country. I can certainly provide you that. Okay, so the Secretary actually sat down for a bilat with Prime Minister Abadi, and it’s a little lengthy so let me just read this to you:

    After participating in the Defeat ISIS ministerial in Kuwait, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with the prime minister of Iraq. The Secretary congratulated Prime Minster Abadi and the Iraqi people on the retaking of all territory previously held by ISIS and acknowledged their sacrifices in the shared fight against ISIS.

    The Secretary expressed his support for a unified, democratic, federal, and prosperous Iraq, and a stable and viable Iraqi Kurdistan region as part of the Iraqi state. He commended the prime minister for his leadership and for its efforts to improve the Baghdad-Erbil relations. The leaders discussed ways to accelerate the critical work of stabilization and help bring millions of displaced Iraqis safely back home.

    Both recognize that Iraq is at an important juncture in its history. They discussed the U.S.-Iraq relations in the post-ISIS era and the important role that the Strategic Framework Agreement will play to strengthen and deepen our strategic cooperation with Iraq, especially in the areas of trade and finance.

    Finally, the Secretary conveyed that the Iraq reconstruction conference would provide an important opportunity for the Government of Iraq to showcase attractive investment opportunities for foreign investors, including many American companies, and to demonstrate, in the Secretary’s words, that ‘Iraq is open for business.

    Okay. Hi, Barbara.

    QUESTION: Heather, has the U.S. asked Britain to take back the two British ISIS members that the Kurds have captured?

    MS NAUERT: Not that I am aware of. But if I recall correctly, I think the Brits took away their citizenship, if I recall correctly. So I’m not sure where that leaves them in terms of status. I can see if I can find out something more for you. That, however, might be something that falls under the Department of Defense.

    QUESTION: Yes, because the administration seems to have made it pretty clear it wants countries of origin to repatriate and try or deal with them, but --

    MS NAUERT: I know that Secretary Mattis was talking about that today. I’ve not had a chance to review Secretary Mattis’ comments, so I don’t want to step on anything that he potentially said or change that in any way.

    QUESTION: Do you know whether it’s an area of contention?

    MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. But again, I can look into this and try to get you some information on that.

    Okay. Where would you like to go next? Hi. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: One on Pakistan, please. Pakistan has recently made an amendment in its law to automatically add individuals and groups sanctioned by the UN Security Council as banned in the country, and this comes after a U.S. push to add Pakistan on a global terrorism finance watchdog list. Would the U.S. consider taking back its motion or softening its stance now that Pakistan is also changing its --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, Cindy, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to get back to you on that. Let me look into that.

    QUESTION: Sorry, that was late question.

    MS NAUERT: No, not at all. Let me look into that for you.

    Conor, hi.

    QUESTION: On Mexico.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So Senator Baldwin of Wisconsin had sent a letter to the Secretary about these cases of tainted alcohol in Mexico. In her letter, she says that the State Department is creating a process for collecting and analyzing over 140 U.S. citizens’ stories of experiences – either injuries or deaths – due to tainted alcohol. Can you confirm whether or not you guy have received the letter, and whether or not you have set up such a process?

    MS NAUERT: Sure. This is a story we’ve talked about for quite a few months now. I recall we first spoke about it – I think it was during spring break or sometime last summer when we first started receiving reports about American citizens who were concerned or thought that they might have been sickened by what we called tainted or unregulated alcohol in Mexico. That is a tremendous concern on the part of the U.S. Government. The safety and security of our U.S. citizens as they’re traveling overseas is one of our very top issues.

    We have received Senator Baldwin’s letter. We are reviewing that letter and will respond to that appropriately. We have – the State Department – 17 reports from individuals who have shared their concerns, their belief that they may have experienced or suffered from tainted or unregulated alcohol. That’s the number that the State Department has, 17. I want to be clear to everyone who may be traveling to Mexico at some point: If something were to occur where you feel that you have come in contact with this, please contact the State Department. You all have heard us before. You can contact our embassy and we take in some of those reports. We are not able to prosecute, because it is not our country. That’s up to the Mexican Government to do that, but we’re able to at least track some of the reports.

    This is also a good reminder for Americans who are traveling overseas, whether it be Mexico or any other country, to sign up on our State Department website for our STEP program. You can go to travel.state.gov for that information. That enables you to put in your phone number, put in your email address so in the case of an emergency, if something were to happen, we needed to reach American citizens to help them in some sort of way, that is how we would reach them.

    QUESTION: In her letter – I know you said you obviously can’t prosecute cases in Mexico, but the senator says she believes there is a – there are systemic issues related to not only illicit alcohol but weak and corrupt law enforcement and judicial institutions and absence of the rule of law and an overall dangerous environment for U.S. citizens in Mexico. Is that a view that the State Department shares?

    MS NAUERT: There is information on our website about the safety levels of different states in Mexico. It varies, so I don’t want to paint everything with one broad brushstroke. That’s why I would encourage anyone who’s interested in traveling to take a look at that. The vast majority of Mexico is safe. There are some spots where we’ve been very clear that can be dangerous, and that’s why we would encourage you to go to the website, look at those specific regions, and learn more about where you intend to go.

    QUESTION: Can I just ask one last question on this?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: She also calls on the State Department to actually do more for Americans who have been affected. Are there any ongoing analyses or investigations about what more the State Department could do, whether or not you have maybe not done enough in the past?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I think we have always and often said this, that the safety and security of Americans is our top issue. We are collecting this information. We are gathering some of those reports. We represent Americans and assist Americans when they are overseas. We would urge somebody if they were sick not only to contact our embassy but to seek immediate medical attention if they feel that they have been affected by this.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: On Turkey?

    QUESTION: Egypt?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: So you all have been urging – really pleading – with the Turkish Government not to move their operation eastward from Afrin towards Manbij. In response to some of those calls from the U.S., President Erdogan said to those who say if they hit us we will respond with force, it is “clear” that they “have never experienced” the “Ottoman slap.” So I guess, first of all, has the U.S. experienced the Ottoman slap? (Laughter.) I mean, do you know what he’s referring to? Do you have any thoughts on – I mean, this is a relevant question because it speaks to just the really dire situation between the U.S. and this NATO ally. Tillerson’s going to be there in a few days.

    MS NAUERT: Certainly. As you all know, Secretary Tillerson is going to Turkey, and that’s where he will be meeting with our counterpart. We have had a series of high-level meetings with the Turkish Government about our concerns, about the escalation of violence in Syria, in particular in the Afrin area – which, by the way, we are not operating, but nonetheless, it is a concern of ours. I think the Secretary has been very clear with President Erdogan about our concerns, about their very legitimate security concerns. We understand that Turkey, our NATO ally, has legitimate security concerns from some operating in parts of Syria. We understand that; we would like to be able to speak with them about what would be a solution that would work not only for them but for those in Syria and the United States and others as well.

    I don’t want to get ahead of some of the Secretary’s conversations, and as funny as the comment was that you explained to me, I’m not going to respond to every foreign leader’s comment, and – if you understand that.

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, we can stick more on Turkey. Does that – you got it?

    QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I guess to your point, when you say you’ve talking with them about ways to address – I mean, it was several weeks ago when they started their operation that we were talking about some type of joint arrangement to have some stability in that part of northern Syria. I mean, has there been any progress in that? Have you been meeting with them on it?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think the – one of the bigger ways that we are making progress is that the Secretary is going there to Turkey himself. I think that shows just how serious this matter is, and how seriously regarded. General McMaster was talking with them not too long ago. I know we’ve had many of our experts who are there on the ground having daily engagement with the Turkish Government about this matter. This is one of the areas of deep, deep concern on the part of the administration and the U.S. Government. We certainly don’t want to see things further – violence further escalate there. So we’re watching it very carefully, but I’m not going to get ahead of some of the Secretary’s meetings that he’s going to have.

    QUESTION: Do you have any objection to the Turks renaming the street on which our embassy is located to the name of the military operation that we wish that they were not doing?

    MS NAUERT: I heard that. I also heard that Russia was thinking about doing the same thing. I think that would be largely an internal matter. If a city decides it wants to rename a street something, especially in Turkey or Russia, where we support freedom of speech, they can call it whatever they want. As long as it’s in accordance with their own law, we’re fine with that.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay let’s – hold on, let’s stick with Turkey here before we go on anywhere else.

    QUESTION: And so the --

    MS NAUERT: Dave, hold on, and then we’ll go to Ilhan.

    QUESTION: Okay, go.

    QUESTION: Thank you. There are reports that in Turkey there is another U.S. consulate worker arrested in recent weeks, and he has been under house arrest for weeks now. Do you have any information on that? Have you been --

    MS NAUERT: I’m certainly aware of the situation. I don’t have any information that I can give you on that at this time.

    QUESTION: One more --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: One more question.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, a couple weeks ago, denied that there are no work on to create border guards in Syria. Yesterday, Pentagon budget revealed that there are about 200 million – millions dollars will be spent on the train and equip Syrian border guards. Can you explain that? Are you trying to create this forces or not?

    MS NAUERT: I can tell you, I had a heck enough of a time getting through the State Department budget. I certainly haven’t read the Department of Defense’s budget. I know they have a briefing on Thursday, so I’d encourage you to reach out to the Department of Defense to find out exactly what is it their budget.

    I know we have tremendous security concerns about eastern Syria in particular, where we are working with coalition partners to help prevent ISIS from coming back in, and to eventually allow people to be able to go back into their homes where it’s safe enough to do so.

    Dave, you had something on Turkey too. Yeah.

    QUESTION: In your response to Josh’s question, you said that the United States is very concerned about the rising levels of violence in Afrin and you’d brought that up with the Turks. But do you – are you – to go to the heart of his question, I suppose, are you also concerned about the rising anti-American rhetoric from the Turkish Government?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, I think we’re used to that kind of rhetoric, whether it’s from the Turkish Government or from other governments, and so that’s why we don’t get too riled up about that. We hear other governments, other foreign leaders say things about us, post things about us on social media, all of that. It’s not going to get us riled up. We’re sticking to the policy.

    QUESTION: But most of the other countries that criticize you in these terms are not your allies.

    MS NAUERT: It doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. We’re not going to go there; we’re taking the high road. This is something that we recognize that Turkey has legitimate security concerns. We will talk with our ally about their legitimate security concerns and also our concerns about the escalation of violence. We don’t want to see civilians killed, we don’t want to see people killed, we don’t want to see the fight move away from the fight against ISIS. That needs to be the priority.

    Secretary Tillerson announcing that $200 million going to Syria to stabilization today, that is so important that we can keep ISIS out, defeat ISIS, keep ISIS out, get people back home. And the last thing we need to do is turn our attention away from ISIS and on to something else. I think folks back there want to go home, and that’s really what it should be all about.

    Ilhan, if I can go back to you for one – for one second, I know that you have asked me often in the past – not very recently, but about one of your members of parliament, Mr. Berberoglu.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, and so --

    QUESTION: Berberoglu, yes.

    MS NAUERT: If you’re interested in that, I have a little update.

    QUESTION: Would be great, thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, I have an update for you. There have been quite a few media reports out about this member of parliament, his name is Enis Berberoglu?

    QUESTION: Berberoglu.

    MS NAUERT: Berberoglu, thank you. Okay, thank you. It’s – we consider it to be a complex case. We remain seriously concerned about the widespread arrest and pre-trial detention in Turkey on a range of individuals who are critical of the Turkish Government. He was one who was considered to be critical of the Turkish Government.

    So we want to take this opportunity to remind the Government of Turkey that freedom of expression, including freedom of speech, freedom for the media to operate – I know our Turkish reporters care very deeply about that – freedom of speech, including times when that speech can become very uncomfortable for a government or a regime – that needs to be protected, that freedom of speech. More voices, not fewer voices, are necessary in some of these challenging times. We want to urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of the press, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. So Ilhan, I know you’ve taken an interest in that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: You haven’t asked me about for a while, but I had some new info so I wanted to bring you that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: On Egypt. Egypt.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you had any updates on Andrew Brunson. He’s an American imprisoned in Turkey --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- or any message – the last time he was able to see consular staff and any message to the Turks in advance of the Secretary’s visit there on him?

    MS NAUERT: You’re referring to Pastor Brunson. He’s an American citizen; he’s been detained in Turkey well over a year now. I believe it’s – goodness, been closer to the year and a half, I believe. Secretary Tillerson, this is an issue that is important to him. I know that he has brought it up with the government, I know that the Vice President and the President have in the past brought up that issue as well.

    Pastor Brunson, the last three dates that I have for him in which he was able to be seen by U.S. officials was August the 24th, 2017. He was seen by some of our embassy colleagues on September the 18th of 2017. And we just saw him on February the 6th of 2018, so that was the last time that we were able to visit him. Those are our consular officers, actually, who were able to see him. So we continue to provide appropriate consular services both to Mr. Brunson and his family, but I’d have to refer you to his attorney for any questions about the specific case. Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: All right. Anything else on Turkey?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right, let’s move on ahead to --

    QUESTION: India.

    QUESTION: Egypt.

    MS NAUERT: Syria.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on.

    QUESTION: Syria. Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Let’s go ahead on just – go --

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: Cuba. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Cuba. We’ll take Cuba.

    QUESTION: Thank you. I – regarding the budget.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: The assistance given to human rights and pro-democracy groups, supporting human rights and pro-democracy groups within Cuba has been halved from 20 to 10 million in this proposal for the budget. Given the treatment of, for example, religious people in Cuba, the persecution, the increase in harassment to religious groups, et cetera, how can you – what is the judgment made to be – to halve that type of assistance to the human rights groups?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think as we look at putting the budget together and our numbers come from OMB, and then we negotiate and work with Congress, so we’re not an endpoint; we’re at sort of a middle to a starting point phase right now as we look at our overall budget.

    As it pertains to Cuba, to your question, last year for the year 2018 – right now, we’re looking at the budget for 2019. So last year for 2018, it was actually zero for democracy promotion in Cuba. The President then undertook his Cuba Policy Review and made some changes about how this government views the Government of Cuba and how we want to handle our relations with Cuba. This year, we’ve come with the number of $10 million for democracy promotion, so up significantly from zero last year. Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: But Heather, when (inaudible) – when you were discussing the – the Cubans had raised some complaints about the Cuba Internet Task Force that held a meeting here recently, saying that basically that the State Department is trying to subvert Cuba’s government. I think you called that ridiculous and maybe ludicrous, but I mean, if we have money built into our budget to promote a different system of government in a country than what the system they currently have – I mean, how can you say that that’s not attempt to subvert their government?

    MS NAUERT: Well, the internet task force that you’re talking about was a pulled-together group sponsored here at the State Department – a group of NGOs, but also people from the private sector, because we believe that the Cuban people should have free and full and unfettered access to the internet. They don’t. It’s cost-prohibitive in many places; people don’t have the access that a government should give them. So we’re doing what we can with the budget that we have, and determining where we can best use our resources. And some folks putting that together felt that that was the right dollar amount for that. Okay.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Afghanistan. Let’s go right ahead. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. Heather, there was a report that Russian and Iran claim that the U.S. is sending Daesh militants from the Middle East to Afghanistan to destabilize the region. That was --

    MS NAUERT: That we are? Okay.

    QUESTION: That’s what they said.

    MS NAUERT: All right. No, no. Absolutely not. However, I can tell you that in the Secretary’s D-ISIS coalition ministerial – it’s not the Secretary’s; it’s the coalition D-ISIS ministerial, which contains 75 countries. As they were meeting today, the Secretary and some of the other nations were encouraging the partner states and entities to take a broader look at ISIS. This coalition was formed together first to go after ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

    We are now seeing ISIS crop up in other places around the world. You’ve seen the news reports about terror attacks in other countries. Unfortunately, we are seeing evidence – and the Secretary spoke to this today – of ISIS popping up in places like Afghanistan, in Southeast Asia, and other countries. So the coalition is now saying let’s keep the focus on the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but let’s also keep an eye on ISIS popping up elsewhere so that we don’t have even more of a global threat so we can try to contain that.

    But is the U.S. responsible? Absolutely not. Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: All right. Okay, North Korea.

    QUESTION: So there was a report that Pence has – there was this kind of interview with Josh Rogan in The Washington Post. So just questions about potential talks with North Korea – is the U.S. ready to talk with North Korea without precondition, and then if there are preconditions, what would those be?

    MS NAUERT: So let me lay this out: The Vice President, in just having made his trip to South Korea and also to Japan to not only stand with our allies but also to celebrate with our Olympians – and by the way, Chloe Kim last night, how great was she? Aren’t these girls amazing, what they can do on the snowboards? So we’re certainly cheering them on and I know the Vice President was as well.

    In regard to the DPRK, let me just reiterate something that the Vice President had said: The pressure does not come off “until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization. [The] maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.” He also said maximum pressure and engagement can be done at the same time.

    So I hope that is clear. We remain in close contact with the Republic of Korea. They’re a close ally of ours. We are in lockstep with the Republic of Korea, as we are with Japan on these matters. At some point, we may sit down and talk. It has to be about we are willing to get to the point of nuclear – denuclearization. It’s not at that point just yet.

    Okay, anything else on North Korea? Anything else on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Syria.

    QUESTION: Korea, Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, sorry, who’s North Korea?

    QUESTION: Korea here. Korea.

    QUESTION: Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Hey. How you doing?

    QUESTION: So you said that – so seems to be a change in our policy, because you’ve said many times before we’re not going to talk to them at all until denuclearization’s on the table. So how does that – is that a change?

    MS NAUERT: No. No. I think part of the conversation is, look, to realize the – to be able to set the agenda for what you’re going to talk about, and that would be denuclearization, you may have to have a preliminary chat about what that discussion would look like.

    QUESTION: But wasn’t it before you’re saying no chats at all?

    MS NAUERT: I think we’ve always been clear about our policy of denuclearization, and that has not changed and we hope to be able to get there. And it’s not just our policy, it’s many other countries’ policies as well.

    Hey, Michele.

    QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up to where we began this conversation, on the Netanyahu question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Can we come back to that so we can stick with the issue of North Korea and everything before we move on to something else?

    Hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: On the comment that Pence made on maximum pressure and engagement at the same time, can you walk us through what that would look like?

    MS NAUERT: Well, as you well know, we don’t forecast sanctions. The Vice President mentioned that there may be sanctions coming forward. Maximum pressure is something that is the key part of our policy with regard to North Korea. We just noticed today that Malaysia Government said it would take more steps to work to cut ties with North Korea. Thank you, Malaysia, for doing that. That is just the latest in – another of many countries that has cooperated or has agreed to cooperate with the world, with many other countries to put that maximum pressure on North Korea. In terms of forecasting any additional sanctions, I’m just not going to go any further than that, but that’s something that we’re always consistently looking at.

    QUESTION: But what about the engagement portion of that?

    MS NAUERT: I think I addressed that already.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. How does the State Department view South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s mediating role between the United States and North Korea to start talks?

    MS NAUERT: As I said just a minute ago, we have an ironclad relationship with President Moon, but not only with President Moon, also with Japan as well. I’d like to read for you a quote from him in which he consistently will say himself that denuclearization has to be the goal. I don’t have it in front of me right now, but he’s been very consistent about saying that. So we’re on the same page and we’re very closely linked up with the Republic of Korea.

    Okay, I’ll take one more question on Egypt and then we’ve got to go. Who had Egypt? Who had Egypt?

    QUESTION: Egypt.

    QUESTION: Egypt, please.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, you two. Both of you. Okay, go ahead, sir. What’s your name?

    QUESTION: Mohamed el-Ahmed from Al Jazeera.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Mohamed.

    QUESTION: Hi. So today the Egyptian authorities arrested the prominent former anti-corruption chief Hisham Geneina, who was in charge of the elections campaign of the former military chief of staff Sami Anan, who was arrested as well. Do you have any comment on that? And also there was a sort of criticism towards Secretary Tillerson because of the – his – because the issue of human rights abuses and violations in Egypt were not top priorities during his meetings with Egyptian officials. How do you respond to that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, first I would dispute that characterization. Secretary Tillerson, in his meetings with his counterparts and also with President Sisi, brought up issues of human rights. He brought up issues of detention. He brought up the importance of holding free and fair elections where everyone is free and able to participate if they wish to do so. That is something that we discuss with the Egyptians; that’s something that we discuss with many other countries around the world. The fact that we discuss it with other countries around the world does not make it less important in the country of Egypt.

    As you all know, our Vice President was there not too long ago, in which he held meetings with top Egyptian officials and talked about the NGO law in Egypt, which is tremendously concerning to the United States. I know Secretary Tillerson and the Vice President share an incredible level of concern with regard to some of the terror actions that have taken place not only at mosques, but also Christian churches and other places of worship in Egypt. That’s something that they’ve kept a very close eye on and are tremendously concerned about.

    Secretary Tillerson, when he met with the Egyptians here in Washington not that long ago, also talked about the issue of ISIS and the fight against ISIS, and I can assure you that when you have that many lives at stake with the fight against ISIS, that may very well be the top issue – regional stability, and the safety and security of civilians all around that part of the world, but also in Syria and Iraq. Elections, I can reassure you, were an important part of the Secretary’s conversations in Egypt.

    QUESTION: What about the rest of the former chief --

    MS NAUERT: That is Hisham --

    QUESTION: Geneina.

    MS NAUERT: -- Geneina, thank you. He was the former head of an anti-corruption --

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MS NAUERT: -- right, entity there, right? We’re following that case closely. We’re certainly aware of that. We support a transparent and credible process with regard to the electoral process, and that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary spoke about the importance of having full, unfettered access to the polls, so that people can vote. Okay.

    QUESTION: And speaking the same – on Egypt and North Korea, it seems that North Korea was on the top of Secretary Tillerson’s agenda with the Egyptians.

    MS NAUERT: That is something we discuss with many countries around the world when we meet with them. North Korea was certainly something that came up as well.

    QUESTION: What about the ties between Egypt and North Korea? Did Secretary Tillerson receive any promises to sever ties between Egypt --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have any specific information on any assurances that were provided, but I just know that that issue came up. We raise that issue with many countries around the world.

    And I’m going to have to go, but Michele, I want to take your last question.

    QUESTION: Quick question on the – I know you said the Netanyahu matter was an internal matter, but it does involve this building. The Israeli police are saying they’re looking into Netanyahu’s contacts with John Kerry and a former ambassador over a visa issue.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So I wonder if this building is cooperation at all in the investigation.

    MS NAUERT: This is the first I’m hearing about it. I don’t know if notification was sent to the State Department, or if so, when. But we can certainly look at it. I don’t know that I’ll have anything for you, though, on that right away.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. And sir, you – I’m going to take your last question, because – yeah, tell me your name, and you’re from where?

    QUESTION: My name is Andre. I work for an affiliate channel with Al Jazeera Arabic.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: That’s a follow-up on Egypt as well.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Today, 14 --

    MS NAUERT: Sorry, Robert. I know we’re over on time. We just – okay.

    QUESTION: Sorry, Robert.

    MS NAUERT: Had to be in shortly. We have two new faces here, so --

    QUESTION: So we have 14 international organizations that have condemned the presidential elections and called it not fair, not free, and they called specifically the U.S. and the European Union to take actions against the Egyptian president. Among these organizations is Human Rights Watch. Do you believe that the U.S. is going to take any action in this regard?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know what kind of action we would take. I think the Secretary --

    QUESTION: They specifically mentioned halting the aid to Egypt.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any plans to look at doing that. I know the Secretary made it a priority to talk about concerns on the election. A week or so ago we spoke about your former equivalent to our chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who had been detained.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: So yeah, it’s something we’re certainly familiar with and we’re watching closely.

    Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)

    DPB # 9

    [i] 21st Street


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