Department Press Briefing
June 6, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing
DEPARTMENT SECRETARY AFGHANISTAN CHINA DEPARTMENT QATAR/REGION SAUDI ARABIA/REGION DEPARTMENT CHINA RUSSIA QATAR/REGION UNITED KINGDOM UNITED NATIONS QATAR/REGION UNITED KINGDOM SAUDI/QATAR/REGION DPRK/RUSSIA CHINA MIDDLE EAST PEACE QATAR/REGION UNITED KINGDOM QATAR/REGION CHINA DPRK/RUSSIA SYRIA/ISIS/REGION AFGHANISTAN DEPARTMENT
2:41 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everyone. Wow, what a crowded room we have today. Thank you so much for coming in, and welcome to the State Department. It is a true honor to be here with all of you serving at the State Department. There have been so many incredible Foreign Service officers and civil servants who have dedicated their careers to this country who have helped me to prepare for this role, so I’d like to thank all of you.
I’d like to thank you, the press corps, for your patience and the job that you do each and every day in covering the State Department and our foreign policy. I’ve met many of you, have had a chance to talk with many of you, and I know how passionate you are about the issues as well as press coverage. You’re well-informed, and I look forward to working with you more closely every day.
There are some new faces in the room here today, even to the old hats here – you’ll recognize some new people. Some of them have taken great personal risks to be here and to do their jobs. They’ve been forced to leave their countries, including Syria and Afghanistan, because they’ve been threatened with physical harm or worse. And that is a good reminder: They’re an inspiration for all of us about why we’re here talking about foreign policy. We see how it inspires and affects others around the world.
As a former journalist, I pledge to work with you to get you answers in a timely fashion and advocate for greater access to information. I’ve been here a little more than a month, and many of you have graciously understood how long it takes to prepare for this role. So thanks to some of you who provided me with those – that patience.
During this time, we’ve tried to fulfill your insatiable appetite for news with other news items of great interest. We have brought in some of our acting assistant secretaries to speak about Venezuela, to speak about North Korea, to speak about Syria, and other issues. Some of these have been on camera, as you know; others have been phone briefings. One of the phone briefings had nearly 100 reporters on that call, so thank you for your participation in that. We look forward to bringing you more, as news warrants, with those events.
A couple things I want to get to that are happening today. The Secretary is returning to Washington, D.C. tomorrow from the annual AUSMIN meeting. This time it was held in Australia and they stopped in New Zealand. In Australia, the Secretary and Secretary Mattis met with their counterparts to talk about cooperation in the Asia Pacific and beyond, and also rolling back North Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs. They also talked about defeating ISIS and the work our forces will perform shoulder to shoulder in places like Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan today, the United States participated in the Kabul Process for Peace and Security conference that was convened by the Afghan Government. That brings together nearly 30 international partners to hold candid conversations about methods to advance peace, security, and connectivity for Afghanistan and the region. The conference also reaffirms our shared commitment to our Afghan friends, to regional security, and the fight against terrorism and extremism. The United States was represented at that meeting by Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser for South and Central Asian Affairs at the National Security Council Lisa Curtis; also, the Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Laura Miller; and the U.S. Embassy Kabul Charge d’Affaires Ambassador Hugo Llorens.
The fact that this meeting took place less than a week after that horrific terror attack took place in Kabul – attack, I should say – that killed 150 and injured many more shows just how resilient the people of Afghanistan are. They forged ahead in defiance of terror and they are working to promote peace. We continue to stand by our Afghan partners.
And with that, I will take your questions.
By the way, I’ve met many of you. I don’t know all your names. So if you would be kind enough to please give me your names and your news outlet, please.
Matt Lee, I’ll start with you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather, and thanks for your opening remarks.
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
QUESTION: It’s really great to have someone back up on the podium again.
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
QUESTION: As you know and will come to know in the weeks and months and maybe years ahead, this is a – it’s a very important and a really valuable platform in this town and around the world for you guys to get your message out, for us to dig deeper into that message so that we can explain it to the American and foreign publics, and also for foreign governments so that they can understand the policy direction. So I hope that we’ll see a lot more of you up there.
And with that, I have two extremely brief things before we get to the major news of the day, which is obviously the birth of George Clooney’s twins. (Laughter.) But I want to --
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. (Laughter.) Congratulations.
QUESTION: Well, that’s because you were busy. You were busy preparing. I wanted to ask you, one, if this building has anything to say about the rather abrupt resignation of Mr. Rank in Beijing?
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So you’re talking about the charge d’affaires in --
MS NAUERT: -- in Beijing, in China. And his decision was a personal decision, and if you all will give me the grace as I go through my book here, because this is a pretty meaty book. That was considered a personal decision. We know that he spoke to staff there. Give me a second. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department, and for anything more on that, I’d just have to refer you to Mr. Rank as to his decision, why he decided to --
QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, late last night there was a statement that went out in your name about the death of the head of the UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, in which you said that “Dr. Babatunde was a tireless advocate for the health of women and girls, pressing for stronger, more affordable and accessible maternal health and reproductive health care services for millions of women in the developing world.” If that is the position of the administration and the position of this building, that Dr. Babatunde and the UNFPA have done all this good work, why are you cutting all funding for it?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, we sent out that announcement because he passed away, and he has done a lot of good work over the years – work over the years on behalf of the United Nations in that arena, so we wanted to express our condolences to his family and thank him for the time that he has performed that work.
In terms of the administration’s priorities, women’s health is an important matter, but the President has had to look at our budget, at the nation’s budget, and decide some of its priorities. And some of the priorities of this President remain first and foremost our national security and protecting the interests of Americans first.
QUESTION: Right. But you still believe, then, that the UNFPA does good work. Is that correct?
MS NAUERT: Well, I – I’m not going to characterize whether it does good work or does not do good work, but I will say that the President had to look at, as had this – has the State Department, had to look at budget priorities and make some tough decisions.
MS NAUERT: And not all things are going to be funded the way everyone would like them to be funded in the public.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Now, major news of the day, which would be Qatar – surprise, I’m sure. I think a lot of us, including probably people in the Gulf, are trying to figure out what exactly the President’s tweets about this mean in terms of U.S. position as it relates to not just Qatar but also to the whole Gulf region and Iran and whether or not the Secretary’s kind of informal offer to mediate or to help reduce tensions – does that still stand?
MS NAUERT: So one of the things that is important to us – we recognize that Qatar has made some great efforts to try to stop financing of terror groups, including prosecuting suspected financiers, freezing assets, and introducing stringent controls on its banking system there. However, let me make this clear: They have made progress, but they still have work to do. More work needs to be done.
QUESTION: So the President’s tweets don’t – do or do not signal some kind of shift or any kind of shift in policy in the region away from them and towards, perhaps, the Saudis and the UAE?
MS NAUERT: I think our relationship with Qatar is one that’s strong. It’s one that we continue to cooperate with Qatar and other countries in the region in the fight against terrorism. The Secretary talked about this today. He said every country in the region has their own obligations and they need to live up to terminate their support for terrorism and extremism however it manifests itself anywhere in the world.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: One – can I do a follow-up --
MS NAUERT: Barbara.
QUESTION: Just a few follow-up questions to that. Did you get any advance warning from the Saudis or Emiratis about this decision to cut ties to Qatar? And you’ve just said you recognize that Qatar needs to do more work in terms of stopping finances to terrorists. Would you say that the Saudis also need to do more work, or have they done everything they need to do? Thank you.
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize what the Saudis have done or what the Saudis have not done. The United States is – in just general terms, continues to talk to our partners, especially our partners in the D-ISIS coalition, about things that they can do better. The Secretary talked about that very thing – all countries can find areas in which they can improve their cooperation.
To your question about were we informed of that decision, the answer is yes, we were informed of that decision, but it was only immediately prior to that announcement being made.
QUESTION: Heather, Qatar – welcome. Good to see you again, on the podium.
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
QUESTION: Qatar is one of the closest allies of the United States. They have – the U.S. maintains one of the largest bases – in fact, is used today in the strike in Raqqa and so on. I think U.S. airplanes took off from there. What do you want them to do? What is it exactly that you would ask them to do? If they are tamping down on, let’s say, finances already, if they are abandoning rhetoric that they have adopted in the past, what else do you want them to do to get back in the good graces of the United States and Saudi Arabia?
MS NAUERT: Well, first I would say the United States and its coalition, we’re grateful to the Qataris for their longstanding support of our presence there in that nation. They have helped to provide us with an enduring commitment to regional security. The Department of Defense has talked about this. We have no plans to change our posture in Qatar and we would encourage all of our partners to try to work together to reduce tensions. That’s something that the Secretary spoke to as well.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, Andrea.
QUESTION: And welcome.
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
QUESTION: We’re really glad to have you here --
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
QUESTION: -- as you know. A couple of questions. On the subject of the Riyadh summit, if the President and the Secretary were in Riyadh and had no warning from the Saudis that this was about to happen, what does that say about the depth of the relationship and the transparency of the relationship? And secondly, on that subject of the Riyadh summit, a blog from a very well known former national security and CIA analyst, who’s worked closely with many administrations over decades, Bruce Riedel, suggests that of the $110 billion military package, none of it – it’s in the form of contracts, none of it has been notified to Congress, that it is basically rhetorical and not real. Can you address that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: And then I follow-up question on --
MS NAUERT: So one of the things you’re talking about is the weapon sales package --
MS NAUERT: -- which was announced in Riyadh. The President and the Secretary attended that signing ceremony, $110 billion worth of foreign military sales, via letters of offer and acceptance for future defense capabilities under development. Now, the package of defense equipment – and I’m not an expert on defense equipment; I have to admit that. You can certainly speak to the Department of Defense for more on that – but I can say this: It’s a – in support of a long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region as they face threats in Iran. We see it as bolstering the Kingdom’s ability to contribute to counterterrorism efforts and operations around the region, which would reduce the burden on U.S. military to conduct some of those operations.
So we see that certainly as a good thing. We want to encourage our partners and our friends in the region to do more so that we are not necessarily having to carry the heavy load all the time. That package demonstrates, in the clearest terms possible, the United States commitment to its partnership with Saudi Arabia and our Gulf partners, while also expanding opportunities for American companies in the region.
QUESTION: That statement is not inconsistent with it being notional and prospective rather than a real, concrete deal.
MS NAUERT: There are lots of companies involved. I can get you, certainly, a list of the companies who have been listed, and you can certainly reach out to them for details about their specific deals.
QUESTION: And as to Riyadh having given any – I mean, the fact is we did not know about Qatar until just before the announcement.
MS NAUERT: My understanding is that we learned about it from the UAE just prior. Next question --
QUESTION: Let me just --
MS NAUERT: Go --
QUESTION: Let me just follow-up the other --
MS NAUERT: Last one.
QUESTION: -- the other aspect I wanted to ask you --
MS NAUERT: We have a lot of people in the room we need to get around to.
QUESTION: -- about criticism from people on the Hill, quietly in both parties, that the nomination process is stalled here at the State Department. At the – at all levels, nominations have not gone forward. This is not a case, as has been suggested by some briefers elsewhere in this city and by some tweets, that the Democrats are holding up nominees for the State Department. Is it a deliberate decision now to wait to nominate people until after the study is completed? And is that --
MS NAUERT: I would take issue first with the premise of your question. There are people who are moving through the pipeline. We have just seen, for --
QUESTION: Two quick – have the nominations been sent?
MS NAUERT: We have just seen, for example, Terry Branstad will become the next ambassador to China, and we expect that soon. There are lots of people in the pipeline. And as I’m sure you can understand, in the private sector, human resources – we can’t always --
QUESTION: How many are in the pipeline --
MS NAUERT: May I finish, please? We can’t always give you all of the information you want about each of the candidates. That’s something we need to keep closely held in some instances. But we can say this: The Secretary has been very pleased with the deep bench of people we have had here at the State Department. I’ve been working in this building for the past five weeks and have met many of these people, who have been fantastic ongoing representatives of this body. They have been professional, from the career civil servants to the Foreign Service officers on down.
Now, in terms of ambassadorships and appointees, I want to address some of that, because I know a lot of you have questions about that. We have both career and non-career candidates who have been identified, and they are going through the clearance process. Now, many of you have not been through the clearance process before. I went through a smaller version of the clearance process, and it takes months. Ambassadors have to go through even more. They need their – not just their interim security clearances; they need their full security clearances. So it’s going to take these things longer. Financial vetting, they have to go through. This just takes time; that is a matter of fact.
There are plenty of people in the pipeline for not just ambassadorships, but also – I’m going to throw out an acronym; I know you folks love acronyms – PAS, the presidential appointments with Senate confirmation. They’re also going through the extensive clearance process. It just simply takes time.
Andrea. We’ve got to move on. Thank you.
QUESTION: But that’s not – but just to get an answer to this, it’s not new to this administration --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think I answered that. There are lots of people in the pipeline right now, and we will expect more names coming forward.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Quickly, just follow on David Rank. Should we expect more resignation to follow suits for the same reason, to voice opposition to the withdrawing of the Paris Agreement? And secondly, I have another question on Russia.
MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m not aware of any personnel decisions at this time. Go ahead, second ask.
QUESTION: Should we expect more to come?
MS NAUERT: Again, I’m not aware of any personnel decisions at the time. There are 75,000 people who work here at the State Department. I don't have any more information to give you on that.
QUESTION: On Russia, quickly, Secretary Tillerson said in New Zealand that President Trump has asked him to begin – quote, “begin a reengagement process with Russia,” end quote. Would Secretary Tillerson like to see the United States sanctions against Russia lifted to improve relations?
MS NAUERT: One of things the Secretary talked about in New Zealand today – or perhaps it was yesterday, prior to flying back – he talked about the low level of trust between the United States and Russia and that it is at a low level. The President asked the Secretary to begin a reengagement process with Russia to first stabilize that relationship and look for areas where we can cooperate together. An example of that includes ISIS. We are going to identify areas of mutual interest where we can work together, but it’s important to note in areas where we do not see eye-to-eye with Russia we will continue to stand up for our interests and our values and the values of our partners.
QUESTION: So --
MS NAUERT: There was another part to your question?
QUESTION: Does the United States – does the State Department share concerns from the Congress over allegation of Russia’s interference on the U.S. democratic process? What should the U.S. do to stop the Russia from doing that again?
MS NAUERT: So the Secretary has talked about this himself. He’s spoken about it in various interviews. And he said this, so I can’t do any better than quote from what the Secretary said himself: “It’s been well-documented. I don't think there’s any question that Russians were playing around in our electoral process. The real impact here is that it serves, yet again, to undermine the trust between the United States and Russia.” So we have a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: Michele. Thanks, Heather. We heard the Secretary talk about the Qatar situation and then we saw a tweet from the President on it that seemed to be at least a bit at odds with that, and that’s not the first time we’ve seen that dynamic in foreign policy. How does the Secretary feel about the President’s tweeting?
MS NAUERT: This is, again, something that the Secretary has addressed. And among the things that he has said about it is that this is serving the President pretty well. The Secretary says, “I don’t intend to advise him on how he ought to communicate. That’s up to him.” So I think we’ll let that stand for itself.
QUESTION: And how does the Secretary feel about the way London has handled its most recent attack, in particular the mayor of London?
MS NAUERT: Well, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our British friends and allies. We have no stronger, no greater ally than the British. We certainly have experienced terrorism, as have they, in particular with two attacks in the past week or so alone. So we will continue to stand by and support the British Government as they do that, and I think that’s firm and that’s clear.
QUESTION: Are the President’s tweets making the relationship more complicated?
MS NAUERT: I don't think so. We will always be a strong ally with the British Government and with the British people.
QUESTION: Heather, on Nikki Haley’s speech to the UN Human Rights Council, can you say whether the Secretary supports her threat to withdraw from that body? And also, did her office clear that speech with the State Department before she gave it?
MS NAUERT: So Ambassador Haley in Geneva today, before the United Nations there – and one of the things that she had made clear is her sincere interest and the administration’s interest in reform at the United Nations. She was before the Human Rights Council today, and one of the things that she has said is that the Human Rights Council needs to essentially earn its name. We should put people on the Human Rights Council who belong there, who don’t just make pledges to be there, they have records that allow them to be there. She said we have to change the elections at the United Nations so that countries are forced to make the case for their membership based on those records and not on those promises.
QUESTION: So was – did she clear that speech with the State Department before she gave it?
MS NAUERT: I am not aware if she did or not, but the Secretary – excuse me, Ambassador Haley and Secretary Tillerson work closely together, and we work closely together with the United Nations at the U.S. mission there.
MS NAUERT: Sorry, let’s get some more wire folks in here – actually, Conor, I’ll take you and then we’ll get some more folks in.
QUESTION: Just to go back to Qatar --
MS NAUERT: David, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: -- does the administration believe that the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia had any effect on their decision to cut ties?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, ask me that again.
QUESTION: Does the administration believe that the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia had any effect on their decision and the decision of others in the region to cut ties with Qatar?
MS NAUERT: I think at the meeting in there – and we’re starting to lose sight of this, folks. The meeting there was about cooperation – cooperation to fight against extremism, to fight against terrorism, and to fight against ISIS. That still holds. One of the things that was agreed upon by all the entities there is that that is a priority and that’s one thing we can work together on.
QUESTION: So that was the message, then, to those countries in the region who ended up cutting ties anyway?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think there were always going to be issues that individual countries have with one another, but what they agreed to is the top-line issue of working together to fight extremism, and I don’t think that that is going to change.
QUESTION: So just quickly on that, quickly – quickly, Heather – Heather --
QUESTION: On these issues.
MS NAUERT: Let me move on. David, go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: The President said – I’m sorry, but the President said that this shows that his trip was, quote, “paying off.” What did he mean by that, then?
MS NAUERT: I’d have to refer you to the White House on that question.
QUESTION: Thank you. In the aftermath of the attack in London, the U.S. embassy in London tweeted support for the mayor of London. The President of the United States tweeted criticism of the mayor of London. Have your missions been given guidance on how to respond to the presidential tweets? Should they regard them as reflective of administration policy? Should they promote them and use them in their own messaging? And should they defend the President’s tweets if they are criticized by foreign nationals in the places that they are? Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Those individuals who serve in our missions around the world are considered to be professionals. They are expected to use their judgment when they put together things that go out on social media, and I don’t think that that would change. They are entitled – maybe that’s too strong of a word – but entitled to use social media. They are entitled as well to communicate with folks on the ground. That is a part of their job. We expect them to use it responsibly.
QUESTION: But have they been given any specific guidance as regards to the President’s tweets? Do they represent administration policy from their own missions?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any communications going between the State Department and everyone there, but I can tell you that we are – we expect them to just use their judgment.
Okay. Let’s let folks around --
MS NAUERT: Miss, I’m sorry. Remind your name.
QUESTION: Okay. When you said – what – did they --
MS NAUERT: Patty.
QUESTION: Did the building have an issue with any of these – with the tweets that --
MS NAUERT: I am not --
QUESTION: -- were mentioned?
MS NAUERT: I am not aware of any – any issue with the tweets in particular.
QUESTION: On Riyadh, you just said the top line was that they were working together to fight extremism, so it was a success. They’re not working together at all on anything, so how is it a success?
MS NAUERT: I think – well, we have members of the D-ISIS coalition who have been contributing different components, if you will, to the fight against terrorism.
QUESTION: But you just said the top line was that they came out of it united to fight extremism, so they’re not cooperating now. These countries are not cooperating.
MS NAUERT: Oh, you’re saying they’re not cooperating now because of this rift between.
MS NAUERT: Look, this is a rift right now that has taken place. The Secretary and other countries have offered to get involved and help mend this rift. As you know, there have been issues with some of these nations before. We hope and we anticipate that they will be able to work together to work through this and understand that the top issue here is combating global terrorism, and so I’ll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary made any calls on this himself?
MS NAUERT: Back there. I’m sorry, your name is?
QUESTION: Alicia Rose with NHK Japan Broadcasting.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Alicia.
QUESTION: Hi. The North Korean foreign ministry sent their delegation to Moscow earlier this week, and North Korea and Russia signed a document agreeing to strengthen their relationship on June 5th. What is your response? And does this undercut U.S. efforts to put pressure on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So the question is about North Korea and --
QUESTION: North Korea and Russia, and then I have one more on China afterwards.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Give me a moment here. Here we go. Okay. So we have seen reports about Russia apparently making up for China sanctions on North Korea. I think that’s what you’re talking about. So we are asking Russia to join us in showing North Korea that the only path to a secure, economically prosperous future is to abandon its unlawful programs that endanger international peace and security. We continue to call upon all countries around the world – not just Russia, many others – to fully implement the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and we also call on countries to use whatever bilateral leverage they have to convince the DPRK to abandon its destructive path. The U.S. has consider – continued to have many conversations with countries around the world, where you may not think have an interest in North Korea, but do and we’ve called upon them to do what they can to hold North Korea’s feet to the fire and to implement sanctions and follow through with them.
Next question, please.
QUESTION: Madam, one on --
QUESTION: And I had one on --
QUESTION: -- Manbij.
QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israel conflict?
QUESTION: Ma’am --
MS NAUERT: Sorry. No, we – wait, we did – hold on, we did a question already. Washington Post, right?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about China, which has rejected the U.S. request to release the labor activists.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So given how much time and attention that you have put into improving the relationship at the highest level, I was wondering what your reaction is and what’s your next step?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Bear with me, please.
QUESTION: Don’t worry. You’re nowhere near the record time of flipping through that book. (Laughter.) Plenty of your predecessors have --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you, Matt. You’re referring to the missing human rights lawyer, is that correct? Okay. Pardon me. So we are aware that Chinese authorities formally charged the human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, with subversion of state power, who has been held in detention for six months so far.
We consider this to be another troubling sign of China’s crackdown on lawyers and human rights activists in general, so we call on the government to immediately release and drop charges against him, and for Chinese authorities to allow him to return to his family. Secretary Tillerson talked about this over the weekend. He said the United States views the protection of human rights as a fundamental duty of all countries, and we urge the Chinese Government to respect universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all of its citizens.
QUESTION: And the labor activists?
MS NAUERT: The – oh, I’m sorry, the labor activists then – hold on. We have a few issues here right now in that nation. Okay. So these are the labor rights activists plus two others, so we’re talking three total. They are missing; they are presumed to be detained by the Chinese Government. We are urging China to release them immediately and otherwise afford them judicial and fair trial protections to which they are entitled. These labor activists, as a general matter, have been instrumental in helping not just American companies understand the conditions involving their supply chains – this can be essential to fulfilling companies’ own responsibilities – but also holding Chinese manufacturers responsible and accountable under Chinese labor laws.
Okay. Next question, please.
QUESTION: Palestinian conflict, very quick.
QUESTION: Madam --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes, yes, yes. Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War and the occupation of the West Bank in Gaza. The United Nations secretary-general issued a very strong statement saying that the time has come for this occupation to end and for the Palestinians to have their state. I wonder if you have any comment on that, whether you concur with him. And if you would share with us anything that has transpired since the President made his trip to both Tel Aviv and to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
MS NAUERT: So Middle East peace is something that’s very important to this administration. The President and the Secretary have both said they recognize that it will not be easy, that both sides will be forced to compromise. The President has made this one of his top priorities, and we are willing to work with both of those entities to try to get them to come together and make some – and to finally bring about Middle East peace.
QUESTION: Madam --
QUESTION: In regards to and in the context of the President’s tweet this morning regarding Qatar, is the U.S. taking sides in that issue? Does the U.S., if it is, see that as a way for Qatar to improve its record on extremism – the severing of diplomatic and economic ties? And then briefly on a different topic, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, says – has suggested --
MS NAUERT: Help me do one at a time, please. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. We’ll start there and then we’ll – yeah.
MS NAUERT: We’ll build up to those three-part questions later.
MS NAUERT: So we recognize that Qatar continues to make efforts to stop the financing of terror groups, including prosecuting suspected financiers, freezing assets, introducing stringent controls into its banking system. They have made progress in this arena, but we recognize that more work needs to be done. I’m just going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: But is the U.S. taking sides, given the President’s tweet?
MS NAUERT: Look, the Secretary has addressed this and eventually, guys, let’s move off this social media thing, because there are a lot of other important regions around the world that we need to talk about. Every country in this region has their own obligation and they need to live up to terminate their support for terrorism, extremism, however it manifests itself around the world.
QUESTION: And on London --
MS NAUERT: And the second part – second --
QUESTION: -- Sadiq Khan has suggested he does not want the President to come to London. Do you have a comment on that?
MS NAUERT: I’d have to refer you to the White House on that.
QUESTION: Heather, can you – two questions quickly. Can you explain what diplomatic outreach there has been to the Qataris, whether it was at the Secretary’s level or below him, on this issue?
MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been traveling. He has not returned yet. I haven’t had a chance to talk with him. I know some phone calls have been exchanged and I know that we have continued to offer our support of these nations working together to try to come to an agreement on this.
QUESTION: And does --
MS NAUERT: Guys, we only have a few minutes left, so --
QUESTION: Sorry, can I --
QUESTION: Who did the Secretary --
QUESTION: Yeah, that --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- can you clarify who those calls were between?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any specific calls to read out at this time, but if I get any additional information, I’ll be sure to bring that to you.
QUESTION: And are we in any way supporting this call to end Qatar’s support for Muslim Brotherhood, which the U.S. doesn’t technically consider a terrorist group?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to get into that right now, additional characterizations or what kinds of conversations are going on between the State Department and some of the diplomatic counterparts.
QUESTION: Heather, you said – in response to the previous question you said let’s move away from this social media stuff.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, we would love to, but it’s not us that’s focusing the attention on social media. It’s not us that are tweeting these things. So that’s the issue, so I think it’s --
MS NAUERT: Understood, but we have a lot of people here.
QUESTION: It is important to address. I get it, but --
QUESTION: We have a lot of people here who have a lot of different questions to ask --
QUESTION: Right, but --
MS NAUERT: -- from important regions around the world, not just focusing --
QUESTION: I totally understand.
MS NAUERT: -- on social media. Okay. So let’s go to --
QUESTION: Heather, one more?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, tell me your name again, miss.
MS NAUERT: Mariko, nice to see you.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Nice to see you again. I wanted to ask about the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue. I wanted to confirm if it was going to be held in June. If so, what would be the date? If you would be able to give me some details about it, and what do you expect to come out of it? Thank you.
MS NAUERT: So this is something that the President and his counterpart talked about, holding this dialogue, when they were meeting at Mar-a-Lago not too long ago. In terms of dates and specifics for that meeting, I don’t have any information to give you at this time. I can tell you that they agreed to undertake what they considered to be an ambitious agenda and a meeting schedule to try to show progress and demonstrate meaningful results. Beyond that, I just don’t have any scheduling information to give you, but as soon as we do, I’ll certainly let you know.
Okay. A couple more questions. Sir, red tie in the back.
QUESTION: So you answered part of the question about the Russia and North Korea doing trade – increased trade with North Korea. The question is whether – are they in violation of UN Security Council sanctions and what should the United States do about it if they are?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, so this is some new information that’s just coming out, so we’re continuing to take a look at that. We’re just starting.
And miss, right there. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Staying inside the region?
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Heather. My question is about the Raqqa operation. I heard that it started today, and I wanted to know about the rumors that we’ve heard from Russia forces, Iran, and Assad regime forces talking about them being part of it, or wanting to participate in this part of the operation. What is the United States position on that, and do they have any presence in these areas?
MS NAUERT: I’m glad you asked about Raqqa, Matt – (laughter) –
MS NAUERT: -- instead of focusing on social media.
QUESTION: Oh, you know (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: Raqqa and Syria is incredibly important. That is a top national security priority for this administration in defeating ISIS. Raqqa, for folks around the globe who have not followed this incredibly closely, is considered to be one of two capitals for ISIS. Attacks in Europe have been plotted from Raqqa. Raqqa is a ground zero for ISIS. The attacks were plotted for Nice and also in Brussels as well.
So the – this operation was launched today by the Syrian Democratic Forces. We expect the fight for Raqqa to be long and difficult, but we are confident in the ability of the coalition backed by the United States to be able to take out ISIS from this stronghold and eventually be able to return the city of Raqqa back to the people to which it belongs.
QUESTION: Now --
QUESTION: What about that Russia (inaudible) regime?
MS NAUERT: Miss, in the back. Let me just – go ahead.
QUESTION: Was that me?
MS NAUERT: No.
MS NAUERT: Nazira, thank you.
QUESTION: My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. I am a correspondent for Ariana Television from Afghanistan. Congratulation on your new position, first of all.
MS NAUERT: Welcome.
QUESTION: You mentioned about the Kabul Process. What do you think, what is the State Department expectation for the Kabul conference for today? Do you think that it’s going to be useful for the peace process?
MS NAUERT: Okay, and thank you. Thirty international partners, including the United States, attended the Kabul Process on Peace and Security. This was taking place today in Kabul, Afghanistan. We welcome that conference. It’s being sponsored by President Ghani from Afghanistan and also his national unity government.
We are hopeful – and the U.S. was representative at this meeting – that the outcome of that conference will be one that is positive. The discussion today served as a platform for the international community to support Afghan efforts to achieve security, peace, reconciliation, and economic development. That, I believe, underscores our support in having two officials from the State Department join in this Kabul Process, and we stand and continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Afghan partners. More than 8,000 U.S. troops currently serve in Afghanistan and we continue to thank them for their service to our country.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A question from Reuters.
QUESTION: Heather, on Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Last question.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.
QUESTION: So first of all, I want to dispute your characterization of the media’s obsession with social media. These are presidential statements that happen to be made on Twitter and they’re important. He is the leader of the free world, some would say the most powerful person in the world. He may say these statements on Twitter, but they are presidential statements, and that’s how we are going to treat them as.
You said earlier that Secretary Tillerson believes – I think you quoted something he said, saying that these tweets serve the President. Does he believe that they serve U.S. foreign policy or U.S. interests given that these seem to be sort of made in a very freewheeling style that don’t necessarily come out of a interagency process that ensures a lot of coordination between the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House? Does that – the contradiction that that opens U.S. officials up to, does that serve U.S. foreign policy and serve U.S. credibility around the world?
MS NAUERT: The Secretary has spoken to this, so I’ll go back to it again. He spoke to this this morning in New Zealand. The President has his own unique ways of communicating with the American people and that has served him pretty well. I don’t intend to advise him on how we ought to communicate. That is up to him.
QUESTION: Does it serve the United States and U.S. foreign policy, though?
MS NAUERT: I think what the – what the Secretary said was clear.
QUESTION: Can I get a question?
MS NAUERT: Folks, we’re going to have to end here, okay?
QUESTION: Do you have any --
MS NAUERT: Thank you so much for coming today. I look forward to working with you again. I sure appreciate it.
QUESTION: Is this going to be twice a week on camera? What is the plan?
MS NAUERT: So the plan is right now we’re going to do twice a week on camera and I look forward to talking with you all otherwise, okay? We’ll see you again real soon.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)
DPB # 26
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