Department Press Briefing
June 8, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing
DEPARTMENT BURMA UKRAINE QATAR IRAN NORTH KOREA/REGION CHINA FRANCE CHINA/PAKISTAN IRAQ POLAND RUSSIA IRAQ SYRIA UNITED KINGDOM VENEZUELA IRAQ INDIA AFGHANISTAN BAHRAIN ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES RUSSIA NORTH KOREA QATAR SYRIA MIDDLE EAST PEACE
2:50 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. How’s everybody today? Good. Okay. Well, welcome to the State Department. Things are busy in Washington, aren’t they? All right, we’ll start with a couple things.
First, I want to provide you with a few schedule updates related to the Secretary. Secretary Tillerson and General Mattis, Secretary Mattis, met for a regular working breakfast this morning at the State Department. Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis later joined the President at the White House in the Oval Office, and they talked about the ongoing situation on the Korean Peninsula and also in the Gulf. The President has offered Secretary Tillerson to be a mediator among the Gulf states. America’s preference, though, is for the GCC countries to arrive at a resolution of their own. The Secretary continues to be in consultation with the President and his cabinet and national security colleagues.
The Senate has also – a different piece of news – just approved the nomination of Scott Brown to be ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. The Senate is expected to soon take up the nomination of Bill Hagerty, who the President has nominated to be the ambassador to Japan.
Staying on personnel, I have another update to provide you, and it’s an important one and one we’re really excited about here as well at the State Department, and that regards our deputy secretary of state, the number two position in the State Department. John J. Sullivan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as deputy secretary of state on May the 24th, 2017. Prior to serving – assuming office, Mr. Sullivan was a partner at Mayer, Brown LLP and a co-chair of the law firm’s national security practice. From 2010 to 2016, he was a chairman of the U.S.-Iraq Business Dialogue, a government advisory committee on United States economic relations with Iraq.
In addition to his decades of experience in private law practice, Mr. Sullivan has served in two prior administrations in senior positions at Justice, Defense, and also Commerce. He served until 2009 as deputy secretary of commerce following his service from 2005 to 2007 as general counsel of that department. Previously, he was appointed deputy general counsel of the Defense Department by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In the first Bush administration, Mr. Sullivan was counselor to Assistant Attorney General Michael Luttig at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
He is a native of Boston. We are excited to have him on board. Deputy Secretary Sullivan has been here in the building hard at work since his swearing-in late last month. Secretary Tillerson will provide over a more formal swearing-in for the deputy secretary tomorrow here in the building. We’ll keep you posted on developments related to that.
In the meantime, I’m sure that many of you are aware of the loss of a military aircraft off the coast of Burma. The United States wants to extend its deepest condolences to Burma and to the families of the victims in yesterday’s tragic crash. The aircraft was carrying more than 100 passengers, including many family members of armed forces personnel. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this profound loss.
And with that, I will take your questions. Mr. Matt Lee, let’s start with you.
QUESTION: Thanks. First of all, I didn’t realize that Deputy Secretary Sullivan was from Boston. Does that mean that there’s another Red Sox fan in this building?
MS NAUERT: There is another Red Sox fan.
QUESTION: That’s lovely.
MS NAUERT: I thought someone would yell – (laughter) – for the Red Sox here. Nobody? No other Bostonians? Okay.
QUESTION: I want to – I just want to open with a plea. If you know that you’re going to be running late, like significantly, like more than 10 or 15 minutes, could you all have let us know so that we’re not --
MS NAUERT: My apologies. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks. And then just another kind of – this will be extremely brief before I want to go to Qatar, but do you have any more details on what happened at the embassy in Kyiv or outside the embassy in Kyiv?
MS NAUERT: Yes. A couple things we have to report on that. You probably are all aware of what happened in Kyiv. We can confirm that there was a security incident involving a small incendiary device shortly after 12:00 a.m. on June the 8th at the embassy compound in Kyiv in Ukraine. There was no damage to embassy property, no personnel were injured. The authorities there – we want to thank them for this – they responded quickly and appropriately.
QUESTION: You don’t know what it was, do you? What the actual --
MS NAUERT: At this time, we’re just going with small incendiary device.
QUESTION: Okay. On Qatar, it’s my understanding that – well, what exactly do you mean when you say that the President has offered Secretary Tillerson to be a mediator? What kind of – has he been – my understanding is that he’s been making a bunch of calls, but is that --
MS NAUERT: “He” being the President?
QUESTION: No, the Secretary.
MS NAUERT: So --
QUESTION: So I – but I’m just curious as to – because you say that your preference is for them to work this out amongst themselves.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So what exactly is the Secretary doing? And is the – does the President – do you know if the President’s offer to host the leaders at the White House – does that still stand, or is this offering of the Secretary his --
MS NAUERT: So that in – that piece in particular, I’d have to refer you to the White House on, but the President did speak about this yesterday. He issued a readout of his call with the crown prince of the UAE, and in that they talked about Secretary Tillerson providing mediation, essentially.
The Secretary is excellent at that. He is good at bringing parties together and speaking with them. I think the President provided that as a opportunity to help facilitate and bring all parties together on this matter. Whether or not that happens and they take this up – us up on that, we just don’t know, but we’re prepared to help out.
QUESTION: Okay. And so what has he been – what, if anything, has he been doing in trying to bring them together?
MS NAUERT: I know that the President has spoken. He’s had --
QUESTION: No, no, no, not the President --
MS NAUERT: -- at least three phone calls – hold on. The Secretary has been meeting not only with Secretary Mattis but also with the President on this matter. I know a series of phone calls have gone back and forth between the White House and Secretary Tillerson today talking about this very matter. I don’t want to get ahead of what ultimate conversations could potentially come out of this, but these are ongoing. This is going to be a process in which we try to work to bring these countries back together.
QUESTION: Well, has he been in touch with any of his counterparts in the – in the Gulf?
MS NAUERT: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of what the Secretary’s schedule is going to be, but he’s working closely with the President to come up with a game plan to handle this.
QUESTION: You may have seen – you have seen that the Qatari foreign minister said today that he wouldn’t – that the emir would not be able to attend any meeting at the White House if one was arranged --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- that he needs to stay in the country. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS NAUERT: I do not, no.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a question about the White House statement on the terrorist attacks in Iran --
MS NAUERT: Okay, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- that were claimed by ISIS. The State Department, obviously, issued its own statement, but do you think that the tone and the content of the White House statement was appropriate after an attack that killed 12 people?
MS NAUERT: I think that the State Department and the White House both offered their condolences to the Iranian people. Terrorism is something that we have experienced, as we all know, here at home, that many nations have experienced; and putting out a statement that expressed our condolences is just a normal course of business. This is another example of why our country and other countries need to unite and work together to defeat terrorism.
QUESTION: But you know what I’m referring to in terms of the additional statement that the White House put out, basically implying that Iran is a state sponsor of terror and therefore states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote, basically implying that they deserved this attack. I mean, does the State Department think that that’s an appropriate thing to say in the wake of a tragedy?
MS NAUERT: I think the State Department and the White House – and I don’t want to speak for the White House – but that we were both expressing our concerns and our condolences to the people of Iran. I think it’s (inaudible).
Miss. There. Hi. Tell me your name please, again?
QUESTION: I’m Janne Pak with USA Journal Korea.
MS NAUERT: Nice to see you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nice to see you too. On North Korea, what is the Secretary Tillerson’s reactions about North Koreans’ multiple missile launch yesterday?
MS NAUERT: So we are aware of what took place. We continue to call on the DPRK to refrain from what we consider to be provocative actions and destabilizing actions in that arena that only serves to undermine the situation in the Korean Peninsula. We continue to call on them to stop those destabilerizing – destabilizing activities. We hope at some point that talks could resume, but we are nowhere near that point.
QUESTION: Did you --
QUESTION: Also on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Nike.
QUESTION: Right. On North Korea, does the increasingly frequent missile launch from North Korea make it more difficult for the resumption of talks? And then because this launch came a day after South Korea’s decision to suspend the deployment of the THAAD, was United States informed prior to their decision? In particularly, I want to know if last Thursday, when the national security council advisor of the newly elected President Moon was here, was this being discussed at all? Thank you.
MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that, if that was discussed. But North Korea’s actions just prove – and you brought up the Republic of Korea – that something along the lines of THAAD is something that’s important to not only protect U.S. forces, to protect our alliance, and also to protect – help to further strengthen the region.
QUESTION: Wait a second. On that point though, does that mean that you’re disappointed in the South Korean decision to delay the --
MS NAUERT: I don’t want to characterize it as that, but that’s something that is incredibly important to the U.S. Government. This is a conversation that’s taken place at the highest level. We are committed to our South Korean ally. That commitment remains ironclad. We are aware, certainly, of the situation and the suspension of additional launchers, but – and we would continue to say that THAAD was an alliance decision at the time, and we continue to work closely with the ROK throughout the process.
QUESTION: Okay. When you say that – so this is something the Secretary has been involved in?
MS NAUERT: Those were parts of the conversations that he had today with Secretary Mattis and also at the White House.
QUESTION: No, I’m sorry. With the South Koreans.
MS NAUERT: That – I cannot get into anything more than that.
QUESTION: Syria? Can I ask a question on Syria?
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Can we – do you want to stick on the region? Anybody else?
QUESTION: I’ve got one on China.
QUESTION: Can we stick in the region, in China?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, let me just go to Felicia. Hi, Felicia.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks. So Jerry Brown met with Xi Jinping about efforts to implement the Paris climate agreement. You had --
MS NAUERT: Jerry Brown from California?
QUESTION: Yes, Governor Jerry Brown.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: He was in China to meet with Xi Jinping about the Paris climate agreement. You had Dave Rank resign from the embassy over the President’s Paris decision. There seems to be some sort of – there seem to be efforts to kind of go around the Trump administration’s stance on the Paris agreement.
MS NAUERT: Well, Jerry Brown is not a part of the Trump administration.
QUESTION: No, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
MS NAUERT: I would just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any reaction or comment to these efforts to --
MS NAUERT: This is the first time – this is the first I’m hearing about it. I’ll refer you to the governor’s office for that.
QUESTION: Sticking with the Paris accord --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the French Government has launched a website to attract scientists to move to France from the U.S. And they’re explicitly linking this to the decision to leave the Paris accord. Does this seem like a hostile act, to try and drain your scientists away?
MS NAUERT: Trying to recruit our scientists away to France? Would that be a hostile act? I don’t think that would be a hostile act. We like our tax dollars here. We prefer that they keep their tax dollars here. I’ll just leave it at that.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS NAUERT: Nike, last one.
QUESTION: Staying in China. Right. In China. So two Chinese language teachers were killed today while reportedly --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, they were what?
QUESTION: Two Chinese citizens were killed by ISIS in south – in Pakistan, according to reports. First, I would like to know if the United States ever get – receive any inquiry from Chinese Government to help understand the details of this particular case. And then secondly, I understand cooperation between U.S. and China on fighting ISIS has been marginal. Given the first round of Diplomatic and Security Dialogue is going to kick off in two weeks, what is the plan for Washington to expand cooperation with China on anti-terror?
MS NAUERT: Nike, I’m going to have to get back with you on the question of the Chinese personnel. It’s a fresh story, so we’re just looking into that right now.
MS NAUERT: Sir, back there. Sir, with the glasses. Your name is, please?
MS NAUERT: Namo.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. So in Iraqi Kurdistan, the president on Wednesday – President Barzani on Wednesday announced that Iraqi Kurds are going to hold an independence referendum on September 25th. So what is the United States reaction to this Kurdish independence move?
MS NAUERT: The United States – and we have talked about this one before – we support a unified, stable, democratic, and a federal Iraq. We understand and appreciate the legitimate aspirations of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. We have expressed our concerns to the authorities in the Kurdistan region that holding a referendum, even a nonbinding resolution at this time, will distract from urgent priorities – and that would be the defeat of ISIS, the stabilization, the return of displaced people, managing of the region’s economic crisis, and resolving the region’s internal political disputes. We would also encourage the regional authorities to engage with the Government of Iraq on a full range of important issues between the future of relations between Baghdad and Erbil.
QUESTION: So is the United --
MS NAUERT: Our first and foremost task, we believe, as coalition partners, is to ensure the defeat of ISIS.
QUESTION: So in other words, are you against the Kurdish independence --
MS NAUERT: That’s as far as I’m going to go with that.
QUESTION: Wait a second, though.
QUESTION: You said “the legitimate aspirations of Iraqi Kurdistan.” So you do – so you believe that independence is a legitimate aspiration for the Kurds?
MS NAUERT: We believe that this is an internal Iraqi matter, first and foremost. What the U.S. Government cares about – and of course we have our friends in the north, we have our friends in the Government of Iraq – but first and foremost we have to defeat ISIS. Once that is done, this is something that they can then address.
QUESTION: Okay. But once it’s done, can – maybe you can take the question as to whether you believe that independence is a legitimate aspiration or just – for the Iraqi Kurds.
MS NAUERT: We support a unified, stable, democratic, and a federal Iraq.
QUESTION: Right, but that’s why – that’s why – because the aspiration is for independence.
MS NAUERT: I understand.
QUESTION: And if you’re saying now that it’s a legitimate aspiration, that suggests that you would support it. So --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go into Syria? Syria?
MS NAUERT: One sec. Sir, I’m sorry, your name is?
QUESTION: Sarkawt Shams from NRT. It’s – you can just call me Shams so it’s easier.
MS NAUERT: Shams.
QUESTION: So – yeah, the first name is complicated.
MS NAUERT: And your question’s about Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s about that same issue. So a couple weeks ago, leaders of the Kurdish government – some of the leaders, they were here in Washington, and they met people in this building and other administration officials. So can you confirm this is the same message that you gave to them, or – because they are talking about that behind the scene, the tone is much smoother and the United States is more positive toward that Kurdish aspiration for independence. Or can you just confirm this is the same message that you gave to them?
MS NAUERT: I was not in those meetings, so I can’t confirm what took place in those meetings.
MS NAUERT: Sir, in the back row. Red tie.
QUESTION: Actually, we’re live feeding in Poland. And I have a --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Let me just go to this gentleman I called.
QUESTION: I have a question about the first ever shipment of U.S. natural gas to Central Europe, to Poland. Is this a one-time event? Are there going to be more of those? Would the U.S. Government like to encourage this type of business with Poland? And I also wanted to ask you about the geopolitical meaning of that.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So first, some of you may have seen a statement we put out earlier today about the first shipment going from the United States to Poland of liquefied natural gas. This arrived in Poland on June the 7th. Liquefied natural gas – I’ll just call it LNG for short – we see it as supporting American jobs, lower energy prices, and helping to give the Polish people more control, a more reliable stream of gas, if you will. The Polish Government currently gets about 72 percent of its natural gas from Russia; 26 percent of that comes from Germany, and most of that German gas actually does come from Russia itself.
Russia has disrupted – and this has been a major story in Europe – has disrupted gas deliveries over time. That has led to increased prices for folks over there. So there is a terminal in the United States that is now going through the process of freezing it, as I understand, and then liquefying it, and it goes over to Poland. So we’re glad to ship it to you. We like to be able to sell you our stuff. So we’re glad to have that. Your – we’re glad to be able to provide that for you. This is happening out of Louisiana. The company is called Cheniere Energy. I may be mispronouncing it. But that is the company that’s going to help facilitate the shipments.
We do not have a schedule yet as to how often those shipments will take place. I think that’s dependent on your government and what the Government of Poland would like from them. But we will facilitate as much as we can.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on that?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anybody – anything else on Poland?
QUESTION: In the region, in Russia?
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Just to – Under Secretary Shannon’s visit. Is there a possibility that the discussions about the compounds being returned is going to come up as one of the irritants that they’re going to discuss?
MS NAUERT: So I don’t have any travel to announce at this time about Secretary Shannon’s travel. But as many of you know, Under Secretary Shannon met with the foreign minister of Russia in New York back in May.
MS NAUERT: Excuse me. Yes, you’re right. Deputy foreign minister back in May. Those discussions are ongoing. That is one of the issues, the dachas, that remains an irritant and something that they have certainly asked us to address.
QUESTION: Heather, can we --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on.
QUESTION: On Russia.
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Russia?
QUESTION: Yes, on Russia.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on that.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: On the compounds specifically.
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Your counterpart in the foreign ministry in Russia today said that there would be a, quote/unquote, “mirror response” to the seizure of those compounds if the administration did not return them. Can you respond to that threat?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I’m not going to respond to a threat being delivered by Russia. I’m also not going to respond to a hypothetical.
QUESTION: But – so this is a hypothetical then. But if we are considering returning those dachas --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Conor.
QUESTION: If we’re going to return them or considering returning them under this idea of a threat, is that some sort of concession? Or does the threat change the idea that we would return them?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think that would, not at all.
QUESTION: On Iraq --
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria, please?
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I wanted to ask – I know it’s been stated there’s no agreement that has been reached by a senior communications officer in the State Department, but is it on the table, the idea of returning the compounds to them? And if so, what actions would be required for Russia to – has Russia made any moves along the lines of stopping harassment of U.S. diplomats or made any moves to correct what has been done as far as interference in the election that would allow those compounds to be returned?
MS NAUERT: Well, in terms of the election, I think we’ve been clear on that, that Russia did mess around with our election. The Secretary has talked about that a fair bit, so I’m not going to go beyond what he has already said. We are working to try to rebuild trust with the Russian Government. There are areas where we can work together. We talked about this the other day. ISIS cooperation would be one of them. There are areas in which we don’t see eye-to-eye, and in those we’ll continue to uphold American values and work toward that.
I don’t have anything to announce at this time regarding what agreements could eventually be made with regard to the dachas. Those conversations are ongoing, and I anticipate they will continue.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay. I – sorry, Linda, right?
MS NAUERT: Laurie, Laurie. I’m sorry, Laurie.
QUESTION: Laurie. My sister’s Linda.
MS NAUERT: Good to see you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the question of the U.S. position on the Kurdish independence referendum. ISIS is going to be defeated soon in Iraq. And are you – might you be more flexible and might you approach, say, the position of Vladimir Putin, who said in December that the question of Kurdish independence was an internal matter between – in Iraq, but – and should be decided between Erbil and Baghdad, and Russia wasn’t going to be involved in that decision, that was an internal matter? Do you think that after ISIS is defeated, the United States might be more sympathetic to that position?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to speculate, but what I can tell you is what I stated for you already, and that is that the United States supports a unified, stable, democratic, and federal Iraq. And I can give you more on that later if you like.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria, please?
MS NAUERT: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Can you update us on the latest developments with Syria? On Tuesday, then again today, American fighter jets bombed pro-regime groups or parts of the Syrian army and so on. Can you update us on this? And since you are fighting the same enemy, so to speak, they are – and why – why the escalation at this time?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So you’re talking about the strikes at At Tanf, correct?
QUESTION: At Tanf. Yes, yes, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So the Department of Defense has talked about this already. At Tanf is a training garrison where there are coalition forces right there in Syria. That was established through a mutual understanding to de-conflict our operations there to ensure that coalition forces are not endangered by other forces who are also operating in the region. It’s a dangerous and complex region, as you well know.
The coalition is focused solely on the urgent challenge to defeat ISIS. That has not changed at all. The coalition remains ready to defend itself as pro-regime forces advance toward coalition forces at At Tanf and otherwise threaten coalition forces. So we do not see this as an escalation.
QUESTION: So this is in response to some sort of an escalation on the Syrian part? They were – you felt that – threatened or the coalition forces were threatened by Syrian forces?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into any of those types of battlefield-type questions. That would have to be under DOD. But I just can tell you that this is a de-confliction operation, that the coalition is focused on the urgent challenge of defeating ISIS but needs to protect itself, and that’s what we consider that to be.
QUESTION: And lastly on this point, I wonder if you would react to the increased rhetoric by Iran and, of course, the Syrian regime in response to these attacks and so on. They’re saying that – they’re warning against more attacks and more targeting of these forces by the U.S. --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m just not going to get into that.
QUESTION: On that – on the --
QUESTION: Real quick, in the UK, it’s election day.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How closely is the Secretary following the election, given one candidate has said of his opponent that pandering to an erratic Trump administration will not deliver stability? Is there any concern about a potential Prime Minister Corbyn?
MS NAUERT: I think we’re going to leave that for the British citizens to decide how that election will go. I think the polls close maybe 5:00 p.m. Eastern time today, so we’re just going to wait and see what happens with that.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary watching, monitoring?
MS NAUERT: I would imagine he is, but he has a busy day today as well, so --
QUESTION: Venezuela, another question? Is --
MS NAUERT: Venezuela, okay. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: I’m Cindy Spang.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Cindy.
MS NAUERT: You write for?
MS NAUERT: VOA, okay.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said, quote, “The plan of U.S. imperialism and its internal lackeys is to try to prevent the people from going to the national constituent assembly,” end quote. What is the U.S. reaction?
MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to comment on what he said, but our position has been clear about the constituent assemblies, and we consider that a – basically a plan to subvert democracy. We continue to call on the Venezuelan Government to go along with what the Venezuelan Government had already agreed to, and that included upholding its constitution, and that also included holding national elections. They have stalled. They have failed to do this. We see this as a way for the government of Maduro to try to hang on to power in an extremely difficult situation down there where people are suffering. The Venezuelan people are suffering greatly. And one of the things the United States does is we continue to call upon the Government of Venezuela to release its political prisoners.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Miss, right over there in the green. Hi.
QUESTION: Jacqueline from RT.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Jacqueline.
QUESTION: Some photographic evidence, some of which I actually have with me today, has surfaced allegedly showing an elite Iraqi police force that was actually blacklisted in 2015 by Congress using torture. Will the U.S. Government acknowledge these tactics as war crimes?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, and I don’t know where the picture came from, so if you want to ask me something more about that, we can look at that later.
MS NAUERT: Sir. Yes.
QUESTION: Well, these accusations are everywhere. Will – and the U.S. is continuing to work with this group? Does the U.S. not take any responsibility with the units that they’re coordinating with?
MS NAUERT: Again, I’ve not – I’ve not seen that photograph. If you’d like to show me that photograph later, we could perhaps have a good discussion about that offline. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam. Goyal, Raghubir Goyal. I’m with the India Globe and Asia Today. My two questions: First of all, congratulations. You are already a famous name in the news.
MS NAUERT: Says my mother. (Laughter.) Only my mother. Yes.
QUESTION: Two questions, one on India and Afghanistan.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: As far as India is concerned, according to the press reports in India, India’s prime minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, will be in Washington at the end of this month. Now, a lot had been going on during his three years as prime minister of India, of course, with the previous government of President Obama.
My question is now that – under the new administration, what are we expecting when he visits later this month compared – a lot had been going on in the past, including civil nuclear agreement and all other – economic and political and social issues, among others. So what are we expecting and where do we go as far as U.S.-India relation under the new administration?
MS NAUERT: So sir, you are looking way ahead to the visit. We look forward to having the prime minister here in Washington later – I believe it’s later this month. So I’ll just have to get back with you as we get closer to that.
QUESTION: And second --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- as far as Afghanistan is concerned, of course, a lot has been going on in the think tanks, including in Carnegie, and also yesterday at the Atlantic Council there was panel discussion including the newly arrive Pakistan’s ambassador. There was a heated discussion that when Afghanistan’s – panels on Afghanistan, they said that Pakistan is favoring the terrorism or supporting terrorism into Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s newly arrived ambassador rejected the issue that – he said that his country had no Haqqani Network at work, no Taliban, no al-Qaida, no terrorism; Pakistan is totally terror free, and so this is a blame against Pakistan.
But my question that what is the future of Afghanistan if this is what the people of Afghanistan are asking, that many nations are using Afghanistan, all the people, for their political and financial benefits?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you for your question, sir. The United States sees Afghanistan in eventually a political solution to try to bring peace. A military solution would be very difficult to try to bring peace to Afghanistan. It’s been far too long that folks there have been fighting, and we continue to support the Government of Afghanistan. That’s all I have to say about that. Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Dave.
QUESTION: Hi. Do you know whether the Kosovo-born Lavdim Muhaxheri was killed in Syria by a U.S. drone strike? His family says so. He goes under the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al Kosova. He leads a 300-strong ISIS unit in Syria.
MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that. That sounds like a question that would best be directed to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MS NAUERT: Anybody else?
QUESTION: On Syria? Just – to Said’s question earlier about the pro-Assad forces that the U.S. has hit twice now this week, is Russia doing enough, because they’re aligned with those groups, to encourage them to move away from U.S. forces?
MS NAUERT: Again, I think that’s a DOD question.
QUESTION: Can I ask you Qatar-related question and then something nearby?
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: This is on Bahrain. I wanted to ask this the other day, didn’t get the chance: Since they’re involved in this whole Qatar thing and they are the hosts of the other large U.S. military base in the region, do you guys have anything to say about the closure of an opposition newspaper there, along with the banning of the last opposition political party?
MS NAUERT: In Bahrain?
MS NAUERT: Let me get to that. One second.
QUESTION: And then I want to ask you also – this is unrelated, but after that I’ll just join them together – about the new Israeli settlement announcement of 2000 new --
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Let me do Bahrain first, and then we’ll get to Israel. So this is about a week and a half ago, or so I believe. I know you --
QUESTION: With the opposition party, yeah --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- but the newspaper is relatively recent.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So I’m going to have to get back to you about the newspaper. But this seems to be – this appears to be an ongoing matter in Bahrain. The United States is deeply concerned about the decision earlier, about a week and a half ago, to dissolve the opposition party, the Wa’ad political society. So we are following that situation closely. We – we’re also concerned about – which by the way, I should mention they have 45 days to appeal that. We were concerned also in which people were killed in Diraz, in the village there in Bahrain. So we’re watching as all of this continues to develop in terms of the media website – website you said? Yeah --
QUESTION: Yeah, and it’s – yeah, it’s also a criminalization of anything that can be seen as in – being in defense of Qatar.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. That, I – without knowing the details of that particular case, I’m hesitant to comment specifically on that. But we are concerned about the additional crackdowns on what we would consider to be opposition parties in the country, in Bahrain.
QUESTION: Okay. Israel?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Israel, yes. Thank you. Okay. So you wanted to ask about the settlements, right?
MS NAUERT: The settlements? Okay. So we are aware of the announcement that the government made about 2,500 units in the West Bank. President Trump has talked about this consistently, and he has said, in his opinion, unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance the peace process. He’s been pretty clear about that. It doesn’t help the prospect for peace. That is something that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is important to this administration, and they will keep promoting that.
QUESTION: But there is no peace process at the moment, so are you --
MS NAUERT: At the moment, you’re right.
QUESTION: Yeah. But --
MS NAUERT: They remain optimistic.
QUESTION: They do?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think so. I think so.
QUESTION: Well, that’s news to me. But anyway, does it – are you saying that it hurts the – doesn’t help the prospects for resuming a peace process? Is it that that’s --
MS NAUERT: Again, and this is something that I’m going to be very careful about, okay, because the President has talked about this. And the President has said, and he has said numerous times, unrestrained settlement activity does not help the prospect for peace.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Now, a follow-up on this point. In the past, it’s been the practice in this building to issue a strong statement when such announcements are made. Are there any plans to issue a statement in the name of the department that this does not help with the process and so on?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any statements, but I’m just not sure what might come up on it.
QUESTION: Now somewhat related, also the Israeli press is reporting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying that he’s willing to go to the talks even before Israel makes a commitment to end all settlement activities. Has there been any discussion with Abbas or with the Palestinians on this issue to restart talks even without a commitment by the Israelis to end settlements?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any diplomatic conversations about that very topic.
QUESTION: Just a little bit of quick housekeeping.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Back to Russia. The foreign ministry said today that they see hacking attempts from the U.S. every day.
MS NAUERT: They say what?
QUESTION: They see hacking attempts from the U.S. every day.
MS NAUERT: Russia said this?
QUESTION: Yeah. And I’m just wondering if I could get a reaction.
MS NAUERT: That does not surprise me. I think that would be some propaganda, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
QUESTION: And a quick follow-up on the North Korea issue. You said that earlier North Korean missile launch is a provocation act. But what kind of immediate actions will the United States take?
MS NAUERT: What kind of immediate actions will the United States take on --
QUESTION: To the North Korea.
MS NAUERT: On North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think our position has been clear all along. We are putting pressure on other nations around the world, not just in that region of the world but all around the world, to get them to not only fulfil sanctions, to continue to press upon sanctions, but also to get them to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.
QUESTION: So you’re not --
MS NAUERT: Some countries, for example, have unique leverage. China is one of them. Other countries have North Korean businesses operating in them. We ask them to ratchet up.
These conversations are ongoing. We continue to do that. This is the beginning of what will undoubtably be a long process to get North Korea to come to the realization that its provocative actions and by continuing with its missile tests is destabilizing not just for the region; it will cut off that country long-term globally, but it’s destabilizing for the world as well. So we’ll just continue to work on that.
QUESTION: But you have already 2356 UN sanctions, existing sanctions. But is this bring to United Security Council again?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to look ahead to what sanctions could come down the road, because we don’t comment on that. But we’re continuing to put pressure and to ask our partners around the world to put pressure on North Korea as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Miss.
QUESTION: Anar Virji with Al Jazeera English. Today the Qatari foreign minister said that mediations in the --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Whose foreign minister?
QUESTION: The Qatari foreign minister said that mediations in the Gulf crisis have stalled. Does that change the possibility that the U.S. might mediate in this dispute?
MS NAUERT: The United States has said, and the President has made phone calls, Secretary Tillerson is very involved in this matter, as is Secretary of Defense Mr. Mattis. So they will continue to remain involved in this, and I don’t anticipate that that would change in any way.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Tillerson spoken with his Qatari counterparts directly?
MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on any private diplomatic conversations at this time.
MS NAUERT: If I have any calls to read out or anything, I will get that to you.
Sir, in the back row.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Going --
MS NAUERT: Hi. Your name?
QUESTION: Matthew from Orient News.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Matthew.
QUESTION: Going back to Syria, can you comment on any updates on the operations towards Raqqa as well as the activities of the 10th Special Forces Group?
MS NAUERT: I can’t get into any conversations about any military units. That would best be direct to – directed to the Department of Defense. But I can talk with you a little bit about Raqqa.
So Syrian Democratic Forces continue to make progress. They first started truly advancing, more completely advancing, on Raqqa earlier this week. They continue to put pressure on ISIS. The Syrian Democratic Forces launched this on the so-called “capital” of ISIS, the – part of their “twin caliphate,” their so-called “caliphate.”
We consider this to be a long a difficult fight. We are confident in the end that our partners on the ground will prevail. Once Raqqa is liberated – and this is an important point – it’s critical that local officials from the area will take over. They will take over responsibility for post-liberation security, and also government – governance. We continue to work intensively with our partners on the ground to prepare for this transition.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that a bit?
MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Dave, go ahead.
QUESTION: If the local authorities that take charge in Raqqa afterwards choose to work with the Damascus government, is that a problem for the coalition, or is that just their decision?
MS NAUERT: I think what happens in Syria – and they’re a long way off from that, okay. And we see this, again, as a political solution down the road, not a military solution. But one of the fundamental principles of coalition operations is that Raqqa, or any other part of Syria for that matter, once it’s liberated, should return to civilian governance that is representative, accountable to the people there.
Okay. Sir, in the back.
QUESTION: Jiafei Lei from Xinhua News. Going back to Palestinian and Israeli issues, this year is the 50th anniversary of 1967 War, and Mr. Trump has say pretty much things about the Middle East process. And he also visited Israel and the Palestinian territory during his first overseas trip. So is the United States working on any plan, any initiative, to solve this issue at this moment?
MS NAUERT: To solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue?
MS NAUERT: We talked about this a little bit the other day. Israel is one of our closest friends and one of our closest allies. Our commitment to Israel is unshakable. The President has made Middle East peace one of his top priorities. There’s obviously a lot going on in the world, but he has identified certain people to go over there to facilitate the process. The President has spoken about this very clearly. He has continued to say Middle East peace is not going to be easy. Both sides are going to have to work together, and both sides are going to have to compromise. The United States is willing to help facilitate those conversations as they see fit, but the ultimate solution is going to have to be one that both parties can agree to and live with.
Okay? I think that’s it for question. Hi, Josh. A last question.
QUESTION: Sure. The administration has talked about seeing – the fact that a lot of these countries in the Middle East are now united in their views about Iran as possibly a catalyst to actually getting a resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. So do you see the fact that they now have this huge crisis that in part derives from them feeling like Qatar is too friendly to Iran as an obstacle to getting that peace process in Israel relaunched that you’ve been talking about?
MS NAUERT: I think – sort of a multipronged effort. The countries in the region recognize that ISIS, that terrorism, is a problem. They still are in agreement that that is something that’s going to be tackled. That is something that they agreed to in the meetings in Riyadh. That has not changed. They issued the joint communique, and that is something that we don’t anticipate anybody is going to back away from.
So while that takes place and we all continue to recognize that terrorism is something that we have to defeat – and that’s best defeated together, but we can operate and handle different parts of it – another important part of what we will be prioritizing as the United States is Middle East peace. And we’ll continue to work toward that on a separate track. Okay?
QUESTION: To follow up on that?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Last one.
QUESTION: So you said that the countries recognize that they need to work together to fight ISIS, to fight terrorism, and that hasn’t changed. Have they informed the President, who’s been talking to these countries, that that is the case?
MS NAUERT: Have they --
QUESTION: Because this --
MS NAUERT: -- informed the President of the United States that --
QUESTION: Yeah, in these conversations, considering he’s the one leading these conversations. And this Qatari issue happened after that joint communique was signed and agreed upon.
MS NAUERT: So the President – and I don’t want to say – I can’t speak for the President. I’m here at the State Department; I’m not at the White House. But I can tell you this: This was something that everyone had agreed upon at this time, and the United States will take that very seriously, that we agreed to – a lot of effort went into coming together and working through the arrangements and the agreements in Saudi Arabia, and we expect that everyone will fulfill their obligations, and understanding that terrorism is a threat that faces us all – not just the region, all of us. And I don’t see any of the countries eventually backing away from that high-level priority of defeating terrorism.
Okay. I’ve got to go. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:33 p.m.)
DPB # 27
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