Department Press Briefing
April 13, 2018
Index for Today's Briefing
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO DEPARTMENT DEPARTMENT/ACTING SECRETARY TRAVEL DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO DEPARTMENT DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO SYRIA ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS NORTH KOREA DEPARTMENT RUSSIA IRAN
2:49 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: Hi everybody.
MS NAUERT: How are you today?
QUESTION: Happy Friday the 13th.
MS NAUERT: Yes, exactly. Promise not to – to try not to do these on Friday afternoons too often, so bear with us. Given direct --
QUESTION: Especially on such nice Fridays.
MS NAUERT: I know, it’s a beautiful Friday.
Okay, so let’s get started. First I’d like to bring you some news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today the United States is pleased to announce nearly $67 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The new assistance is providing urgent food, shelter, health care, and other urgent aid for vulnerable Congolese and refugees in the DRC. The funding is also supporting the humanitarian response for Congolese refugees in the region. Intensifying conflicts have left more than 13 million people in need of urgent humanitarian aid, many of whom are facing acute food insecurity. The United States is the largest single donor supporting this humanitarian response. With the new announcement, we are providing nearly $277 million since Fiscal Year 2017 in critical assistance to the people in need in the DRC and for Congolese refugees in the region.
We urge more donors to provide resources now to help those suffering in the midst of these terrible conflicts and the Government of the DRC to take steps to address the underlying causes of insecurity that have given rise to the displacement and conflict that have fueled the humanitarian crisis. We welcome the pledges from other donors at the conference that took place in Geneva today, which total approximately half a billion dollars. To put that success in perspective, the amount raised in one conference today is on par with the entire amount raised in 2017. Eight countries more than doubled their support, and major pledges came in from the United States, the EU, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, and Canada. So we thank those countries for their assistance.
Next, I know many of you are interested in the Global Engagement Center, so I wanted to bring you an update on that. I’m pleased to offer an update on the Global Engagement Center, specifically on a funding opportunity that we launched several weeks ago to solicit proposals to counter state-sponsored disinformation. This program is called the Information Access Fund. The notice of funding opportunity closed on Wednesday night and we’ve received approximately 150 proposals from around the world. The response shows the active interest that civil society groups have to play a role in countering foreign disinformation. The GEC will now begin its review of the proposals for technical merit. We intend to move quickly to support the top proposals after the anticipated transfer of funds from the Department of Defense is completed. For organizations that missed the deadline but are interested in working with the GEC, they have another opportunity to apply for funding opportunities posted on grants.gov, and that doesn’t close until April the 23rd. So we’ll keep you posted with any updates on that.
Lastly – pardon me – Acting Secretary John Sullivan is in Lima, Peru today for the Eighth Summit of the Americas. Yesterday he met with members of Venezuelan independent civil society, and acknowledged their efforts to document and raise awareness about repression in Venezuela. He also met with members of the Cuban independent civil society and recognized their work to promote a more open, free, and prosperous future for their country. Additionally, the acting secretary joined Secretary of Commerce Ross’s meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister. The leaders discussed our joint economic growth agenda, security cooperation, and global issues.
Today, the acting secretary met with the Haitian president and thanked him for his leadership as chairman of the Caribbean community, and urged consensus to promote and defend democracy in the region. The acting secretary, together with Mexican Foreign Secretary Videgaray, co-hosted a meeting with leaders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. They discussed ways to enhance the cooperation on security and also prosperity in the region.
Tomorrow, the acting secretary will meet with the heads of the delegation of the Governments of the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia. They will underscore the commitment to increasing engagement of the Caribbean partners as envisioned in the Caribbean 2020 strategy.
International gatherings such as the Summit of the Americas are a great opportunity to bring people together to discuss shared interests, challenges, and opportunities. Women’s economic empowerment is vital for our shared economic prosperity and global stability, which is why it’s specifically identified as a priority action in the President’s National Security Strategy.
Over the past year, the administration has launched several new initiatives to expand opportunities for women both domestically and globally. Today, Acting Secretary Sullivan, Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, and President and CEO of OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Ray Washburne, launched 2X Americas. It uses a new U.S. Government initiative which will commit $150 million, mobilizing a total of $500 million to provide women in Latin America with access to capital, jobs, and opportunities to innovate and prosper. This further demonstrates the administration’s commitment to women’s economic empowerment globally. When women rise, it’s good for their families, their communities, and their businesses.
Lastly, on a related note, later today Vice President Pence will arrive in Lima, and he’ll make an important humanitarian assistance announcement at the Summit of the Americas alongside USAID Administrator Mark Green and the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Paco Palmieri. So we hope you will stay tuned for that announcement coming out from them later today.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Before I get to Syria, I have three extremely brief ones on your top – each one on each of your – these announcements.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: One. As you noted, this conference for DR Congo was in Geneva not in Kinshasa.
MS NAUERT: Yes. Yes, it was in Geneva.
QUESTION: Yeah, I know.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, one of the reasons for that is Congo actually boycotted this meeting. I just – because they said that --
MS NAUERT: Yes, we’re – yeah, we’re certainly aware of that episode, that real disappointment. Yeah.
QUESTION: Because – okay. Do you have anything more to say? I mean, they say that the crisis is overblown and that the need is not that big, but --
MS NAUERT: Well, I think if you look at all the money that was raised at that conference, there certainly is a need and that it’s not overblown.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, on the GEC proposals. These are a hundred from 150 different companies or are they --
MS NAUERT: Various proposals, 150 proposals from countries around the world.
QUESTION: From countries or companies?
MS NAUERT: Well, not from governments themselves but from individuals, NGOs, things of that nature.
QUESTION: And – okay. And so like – I don’t want to be --
MS NAUERT: So someone may have an idea, an organization somewhere in the world may have an idea about how we can best handle or best combat state-sponsored disinformation. And so they will submit their proposals, and we’ll take a look at them and find the ones that have the best merit and look at engaging with those.
QUESTION: You don’t happen to know if, like, Cambridge Analytica was one of the --
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, no.
QUESTION: No, okay. And then last one on Sullivan’s meetings. This things that you mentioned with the – Ivanka Trump, the 2X thing – this is XX, like chromosomes?
MS NAUERT: I am not sure. I am not sure where the name came from.
QUESTION: I mean, why is it --
MS NAUERT: It’s some sort of clever name that somebody came up with. I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: All right. I think --
QUESTION: Before you go to Syria --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- can I follow up on Congo?
QUESTION: Yes. Sorry.
QUESTION: Just on the Congo thing, the government says that the West is exaggerating it, and what is your --
MS NAUERT: Well, it’s not just the West that was a participant in the Geneva meeting. I think I answered that with Matt’s question. There were many other countries involved that all pulled together to raise some money and additional awareness for the crisis there. So when you have refugees and others leaving their country for other places, when you have people who are forced out of their homes, that’s clearly a crisis.
QUESTION: And then the money that is raised, how – what has the U.S. said about that money, where it has to go?
MS NAUERT: Well --
QUESTION: And surely you would not want any of it to go through the budget of the government.
MS NAUERT: We don’t do that. When we provide humanitarian assistance, as a course of matter, that assistance does not go to a government. This is the same way it works all across the world in different crises across the world. We provide that money to NGOs and different groups. It never goes into government coffers.
QUESTION: Sometimes it does, because if you want to stabilize a government that you would support --
MS NAUERT: I’m talking about humanitarian aid. Okay.
QUESTION: So – and then on the other thing on – the U.S. has been pushing for an election in Congo. Does this emphasize the need for one?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m – this is specifically about humanitarian aid.
QUESTION: So on Syria, I’m sure you have seen the rather – I don’t know – surprising assertion by the Russians that this suspected, presumed apparent chemical weapons attack in Duma was facilitated by the British. What --
MS NAUERT: I saw that.
QUESTION: What do you have to say about it?
MS NAUERT: I think this is one of a long list of instances in which Russia takes information and they try to turn it upside down. We’ve seen a long history of the Russian Government sow discord, whether it’s in our own election process, other countries. We see it through state-sponsored disinformation campaigns. We see what happened today at the UN Security Council where they try to completely change the story when the facts become just a little too inconvenient for them. They try to change the story. But the facts are exactly what they are. Russia has changed the story once again because it’s simply become – the facts have become too inconvenient for them.
QUESTION: But can you say – can you just come and flat-out say that you know, you have evidence that it was the Syrian Government that was behind this and that Britain had nothing to do with it? Is that something that you are --
MS NAUERT: The U.K. I’m confident in saying had absolutely nothing to do with it. It is the assessment of the U.S. Government, the British Government, the French Government – I cannot speak on their behalf, but we’ve all been having conversations and sharing information, intelligence included, and we can say that the Syrian Government was behind this attack. We talked about this the other day. The White House has addressed this as well.
QUESTION: What does “assessment” mean?
MS NAUERT: Hi Michelle.
QUESTION: What does “assessment” mean?
QUESTION: So I think it was on Tuesday when we last had a briefing, right?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So it was on Tuesday when you said – when you were asked about the OPCW --
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and is the administration or should the administration wait to get those findings. And you emphasized the fact that there’s already intel that chemical weapons were used.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So what can you say on the state of that? Has the State Department’s knowledge of what this was, or that it was chemical weapons, increased since two days ago? How has it – how would you say the level of proof has changed? And --
MS NAUERT: Well, let me start by addressing the OPCW. My understanding is that the OPCW arrived – it was either yesterday or today – oh, tomorrow, pardon me – tomorrow in Syria to try to collect some information.
QUESTION: So are we --
MS NAUERT: They are simply the body – the OPCW – the one that collects some of the information and determines the exact substance that was used. On Tuesday when we last met, I talked about how we know that this was a chemical weapon that was used in Syria. The exact kind or the mix, that we are still looking into.
There are some television shows out there in the United States that have started to ask, “Well, why aren’t we releasing all of this intelligence information right now?” A lot of this stuff is classified at this point, so those things we’re going to hold pretty close to the vest.
QUESTION: Well, would you – based on the words that you said on Tuesday, would you say that that’s when the U.S. knew that this was Syria? I mean, would you – would you say that there was proof on Tuesday?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to – I’m not going to say which day we absolutely knew that there was proof. The attack took place on Saturday. We know for a fact that it was a chemical weapon. We know that there are only certain countries – like Syria – that have delivery mechanisms and have those types of weapons.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, would you say today though that the U.S. has proof that this was the Syrian regime?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
MS NAUERT: And we continue to look at the information. We continue to gather information and further assess it. We don’t have the information to be able to provide. We don’t – we aren’t able to provide all of this publicly at this point because it’s sensitive.
QUESTION: So were we --
QUESTION: Are we waiting --
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Okay, last one.
QUESTION: Are we waiting for the OPCW, then, to – before there’s --
MS NAUERT: I had – we had said before – and this has been the position of the U.S. Government; Sarah Sanders has said this as well, as has the President and others – that we believe we know who is responsible for this. We believe we know that chemical weapon was used. We will still wait for the OPCW – not wait. The OPCW will still formulate its facts and its findings, but that still does not determine – the OPCW does still not determine the responsibility. They just determine the substance.
QUESTION: But there won’t be any action taken --
MS NAUERT: I’m not – we covered this on Friday – on Tuesday extensively.
QUESTION: Well, sort of.
MS NAUERT: No, we did. We can go back to the – to the --
QUESTION: Heather, just a quick follow-up, just a quick follow-up.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Even the Secretary of Defense was not conclusive in pointing the finger at the Syrian regime.
MS NAUERT: I can tell you this: Syria is responsible; we are all in agreement. I have also seen the Secretary of Defense’s remarks as well. We are assessing various sources. Different government agencies and departments have different types of sources by which we gather information. So DOD has certain kinds of sources, State Department has different kinds of sources, and other agencies and departments have various sources. We will take a look at all of this information as it comes in. And we have to remind you that this is a dynamic situation and it’s ongoing, but we’re continuing to look into everything. Okay?
Elise, go right ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: At what level – but at what level of confidence are you that Syria was responsible? I mean, there’s having proof and believing that they did it, and then there’s incontrovertible proof and a high level of confidence and assurance.
MS NAUERT: A very high level of confidence.
Okay. Hi, Barbara.
QUESTION: Does that mean you’ve independently verified the intelligence coming in?
MS NAUERT: I am not – I am not going to be able to give you information about the intelligence that we’re gathering on that.
QUESTION: But you’ve got your own – you’ve independently verified that there is a --
MS NAUERT: The United States Government has its own sources of information. We have been assessing this thoroughly since this took place on Saturday.
QUESTION: Heather, can you say – so we saw that President Erdogan of Turkey spoke to President Putin. He kind of seemed to suggest that there was some kind of discussions behind the scenes. Then we saw President Macron speak to President Putin. Are there discussions, like either directly or indirectly, with the Russians about next steps and what the U.S. is planning and deconfliction or anything --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any conversations on the part of the State Department to read out regarding Russia, so I’m not aware if we’ve had conversations with Russia at a high level. Perhaps we have at a lower level.
QUESTION: But even if it’s not direct with the United States --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But is it fair to assume that discussions are going on with the Russians about how the U.S. and its allies will have to respond to this? Because it definitely seems as if initially there was no conversations, and now there seem to be messages being passed back and forth.
MS NAUERT: Well, look, I think it’s obvious that this is a messy region of the world. That country is very complex. There are lots of actors and things going on in it. We’ve had numerous conversations with the French, the British, the Saudis, the Israelis, and others, and so what information exactly is contained in those conversations I’m not aware of. I know the White House had issued a readout – I don’t happen to have that handy – on the conversation between the British and also the U.S. and the French.
QUESTION: But could you just talk about the involvement of Turkey? Because it does seem as if President Erdogan spoke to Putin. He also spoke to Trump. He’s talking about how the Russians feel about the United States. It definitely seems like there are messages being passed.
MS NAUERT: Elise, I don’t have any information about any conversations that we may have had with the Turks. If the President had that conversation, I can look to see if there’s a readout to provide it for you.
QUESTION: Heather --
QUESTION: Can I clarify something, please?
MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah.
QUESTION: You just said that the U.S. has very high level of confidence the Syrian Government is behind the chemical weapons attack. And is – I just want to – is that according to U.S. intelligence?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on intelligence, but just U.S. Government.
QUESTION: Heather, can you --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, Gardiner.
MS NAUERT: Where you been?
QUESTION: Just wandering around.
MS NAUERT: Okay. (Laughter.) Nice to have you back.
QUESTION: Yeah. So obviously we’re – we’ve been talking a lot about the – sort of the tactical what’s going to go on in the immediate aftermath of this chemical weapons attack. Can you explain what the administration’s Syria strategy is? Because there was Tillerson’s speech, which said that we’re going to be – have troops in Syria indefinitely. The President then said we’re going to get out of Syria. Now you’re talking about escalating in Syria. Are we going to be in Syria for a while? Are we escalating in Syria? What is our strategy?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think I’m not going to get ahead of the President, certainly. I’ll let – I’ll leave it to the President to announce what may or may not happen, what actions the U.S. Government may or may not choose to take.
I think it’s clear that we are obviously engaged in Syria. One of the things that’s important to us is try to encourage the parties to get back to the Geneva process. So when we look at pictures, for example, of the Turks and the Iranians and others meeting to discuss the future of Syria, some of those countries are – certainly don’t have the best interest of Syria at heart, and that I’m specifically referring to the Russians and the Iranians and others. We would like to see us get back to the Geneva process so that there could eventually be a political solution in Syria.
QUESTION: Right, but that’s not happening. So the Secretary outlined a Syria strategy in his --
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s a goal. And frankly, that’s a goal that Vladimir Putin had agreed to but yet another example of the Russian Government not living up to its agreements.
QUESTION: I understand. I’m just – he gave that speech in Stanford, what was it, January 12th? And I’m – is that the Syria strategy? Is that still alive? Because certainly the --
MS NAUERT: Well, Gardiner, I think some of the things that will be happening as we have a new national security advisor, who will be meeting with the President, presumably, on this very important topic, we also will hopefully have a new secretary of state coming in. So there --
QUESTION: So it’s all in flux.
MS NAUERT: So there could be some changes, but we as a government are going ahead and operating according to our pre-existing strategy and our pre-existing policies. And if things end up changing, that may be the case, and that’s certainly the President’s prerogative to change things.
QUESTION: So your solution is that the United States has the best interests of Syria at heart, but no one else does?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think calling for a return to the Geneva process, which is something that many countries have agreed to, has the interest of the Syrian people at heart, certainly.
QUESTION: Right, but the Russians and the Iranians have both said that, too.
MS NAUERT: I don’t think that the Russians and the Iranians have the interests, the best interests, of the Syrian people at heart when --
QUESTION: But they have called for a return to the Geneva process.
MS NAUERT: Well, they had called for that. But as we’ve talked about, Matt, I think your first question was about how Russia will try to turn facts on their head. We see that happen all the time. So we don’t think that they have the best interests.
QUESTION: You don’t think that they really want to return to the Geneva process.
MS NAUERT: I --
QUESTION: Is that --
MS NAUERT: They said they do.
MS NAUERT: We’re highly skeptical because we’ve not seen them go forward with that.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MS NAUERT: Okay, Ilhan.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Ilhan.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much. On that very meeting, yesterday Mr. Pompeo at the state – stated that that meeting was basically those three countries were there in Ankara summit to carve up Syria. Is this the position of the United States Government?
MS NAUERT: Is what the position of the United States Government?
QUESTION: Those three countries were in Ankara to carve up Syria. Was it --
MS NAUERT: Yes. To do what to Syria?
QUESTION: Carve up.
QUESTION: Carve it up.
MS NAUERT: Oh. I don’t know. I’m not going to assign the meaning behind that meeting or what they were discussing. I obviously wasn’t there and the U.S. --
QUESTION: You’re saying that --
MS NAUERT: The U.S. Government wasn’t a part of that. But we – I really don’t think that the Iranians and the Russians have the best interests of Syrians at heart.
QUESTION: On the --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on, let me just – Michelle, let me just move around the room a little bit.
MS NAUERT: Okay, but I want to move around the room a little bit so we get to touch on more people. Hi, Laurie.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Iraq’s foreign minister has spoken strongly against striking Syria. He said it would be a catastrophic defeat, put the countries of the world in jeopardy. Do you regard that as a statement of an ally? What’s your response to it?
MS NAUERT: Well, they have – Iraq has its own unique concerns, and it’s certainly okay for them to be able to address their feelings about any actions the United States Government and other governments may take.
QUESTION: So you think – well, okay, let me ask you another question which kind of relates to Iran as well, Iran and Iraq ties. The Iraqi press is reporting that Popular Mobilization Forces are fight – the Hashd al-Shaabi are fighting in Syria and they’re getting paid twice as much as the regular Hashd al-Shaabi. Do you – what’s your comment on that? Should they be fighting in Syria in the first place?
MS NAUERT: Certainly not. We are aware of those reports, though. Anyone that would leave Iraq and go to Syria to fight would certainly be – of those groups would certainly be considered an undisciplined soldier or member of any kind of militia, and we would call on the forces, whatever forces, to remain engaged on the ground in Iraq and not go to Syria.
QUESTION: Is this an issue you’re raising with the Iraqi Government?
MS NAUERT: I’m not – if we are, I’m not aware of that, but we’ve had conversations with the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: Can I move to Gaza?
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: Now, for the third Friday in a row, there has been this demonstrating and then we have the violent quelling of these demonstrations or effort by the Israeli army. There’s been, like, 3,000 casualties, maybe 35 dead. It’s happening every day. And yet we have not heard anything from the State Department on this issue. How much longer will you not issue – will you remain silent on what is going on in Gaza?
MS NAUERT: I think answering your questions is hardly remaining silent. We’ve addressed this every time that I’ve been here at this podium since this – since this started to occur.
QUESTION: So – yeah, okay, so let me ask you this follow-up: Today, Secretary-General of the United Nations Guterres said that he wanted to conduct a transparent and independent investigation of the use of excessive force by the Israelis. Would you support him in that effort?
MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with his comments. I understand that the Israeli Government, however, is conducting internal investigations.
QUESTION: So that – would that be sufficient where – as far as you’re concerned?
MS NAUERT: I think that – I mean, Said, it’s hard for me --
QUESTION: Would it be sufficient for you --
MS NAUERT: -- it’s hard for me to comment on that because that would be an Israeli Government matter.
QUESTION: Would you support an independent --
MS NAUERT: But my understanding is that they are conducting investigations.
QUESTION: Okay. My last question: Are you doing anything, perhaps, to sort of convince the Israelis or persuade them to use less force in quelling these demonstrations? Because they are likely to go on day after day.
MS NAUERT: We have been watching these demonstrations --
MS NAUERT: -- and while people certainly have a right to demonstrate peacefully --
MS NAUERT: -- we’ve seen the images coming out of Gaza and we have seen the flag burning. We have heard very heated rhetoric on the part of people there. We remain, as the U.S. Government, convinced that the best way back to peace is through de-escalating tensions. We have asked those and we continue to say, “Exercise restraint in your actions.” We would like to be able to get both sides to a point where they can sit down and have conversations.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Wait, wait. Have you gotten an answer yet to my questions from Tuesday about the journalist – the Palestinian journalist who was killed?
MS NAUERT: Well, I know we addressed some of your questions on Tuesday. I didn’t realize there were any outstanding ones, but go ahead and ask them again.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, the Israelis’ defense minister claims that he was a member of Hamas, a captain in which – something which only the Israelis have said. The Palestinians – Hamas has denied, the Palestinians have denied it, people who know him have denied it, the international journalism union says it’s not true, Palestinian journalism union says it’s not true. So – and your own U.S. Agency for International Development had vetted and approved him – or his company, at least, which he owns – for funding. So what – what’s going on here?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Matt, I can tell you – and I think we had maybe addressed this on Tuesday, perhaps we did not – these are obviously very serious allegations. We are looking into those allegations very carefully. There are updates that, when I have them, I will be happy – I will be happy to bring them to you. We have interagency colleagues who are taking a close look, both in the field, in Israel and in Washington, who are taking a look at this.
QUESTION: At what? At his death or at the allegations that he was a member of Hamas?
MS NAUERT: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Well, that didn’t answer the – which one?
MS NAUERT: The second – the second matter.
QUESTION: So the U.S. Government thinks that it is possible that this guy was actually not a journalist and was a --
MS NAUERT: Look, it’s a serious allegation. Any time an allegation of that sort is brought up, I think we look at it.
QUESTION: Well, the guy is dead.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, I think that would still be important for us to take a look at that. Okay? You’re asking questions about it. Do you think it’s important to look at it or not?
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I’m asking questions about it because nobody except for the Israelis, and now apparently some part of the U.S. Government that is not USAID, which had approved and – vetted and approved this guy, thinks – say that he was a member of Hamas. But literally nobody else says that.
MS NAUERT: Matt, I can just tell you --
MS NAUERT: -- I don’t have any updates for you, but it is something that we are looking into.
QUESTION: So when journalists are imprisoned in Turkey – I’m going to ask you about the journalists that the president of Ecuador says were executed by Colombian rebels. You know about that?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, that --
QUESTION: You condemn – well --
MS NAUERT: That one doesn’t immediately come to my mind.
QUESTION: You condemn attacks against --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: You condemn attacks against the press --
MS NAUERT: Yes I do. Yes I do.
QUESTION: -- that are far less than actual death. So I just – I need to know what exactly is the – what exactly the U.S. Government position is on this, because if your friend and ally Israel did, for whatever reason, kill a working journalist, then it should be condemned, correct?
MS NAUERT: Matt, we are collecting information on the situation. We are assessing it very carefully. All of this is obviously a very serious situation. When I have an update for you, I would be happy to bring it to you.
QUESTION: But you would condemn a country no matter what it is, no matter what country it is, killing a working journalist, would you not?
MS NAUERT: Matt, I will get back to you on this, okay? This is – that’s all I have for you today.
QUESTION: I – I don’t get – I mean, look, if you want to have a policy --
MS NAUERT: Matt, it’s a – it’s a --
QUESTION: If you want --
MS NAUERT: Obviously a complicated situation --
QUESTION: If the administrations wants to have a policy that --
MS NAUERT: It’s a complicated situation; we are looking into all of this to try to assess what the person was doing. You have your sources that have certain types of information. We are looking into it as well, okay? I’m not going to go beyond that. When I have more information that I can bring to you, I will certainly do that.
QUESTION: And just in terms of the general situation, you’re calling for restraint on the part of the Palestinians or on the part of the Israelis?
MS NAUERT: I think it’s fair to call for both sides to exercise restraint in this situation. I mean, we’ve seen – it’s gone on for, as Said pointed out correctly, almost three weeks now.
QUESTION: Okay, so you see the two sides as operating equally --
MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not – I’m not going to assign an equal blame or anything to that. I’m just saying we would certainly call for those involved to exercise restraint.
QUESTION: Okay, I – it’s just – it seems to be a little bit – just a little bit problematic. I’m having a hard time understanding what your policy is towards Israel and the Palestinians. If it is “Israel can do no wrong and we will never criticize them,” then, well, okay that’s the policy. But you should come out and say that’s what the policy is. This – this – the middle ground that you – that you seem to – trying to be taking, I don’t get. So if – an answer to that question would be much appreciated. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Got it. Okay. Hi. Alisha.
QUESTION: Thank you. North Korea has said that it supports a phased and synchronized approach to denuclearization. What is the U.S. view of how the process for denuclearization should take place?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think Director Pompeo spoke to that in the confirmation hearings, and that’s been consistent with the U.S. Government policy, and that is we’re not under any illusions that a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization could take place immediately in one sitting. We have remained consistent with our calls for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is something that Kim Jong-un and his regime have told others that they are willing to commit to, and that’s exactly why we’re sitting down and talking together.
QUESTION: And in the confirmation hearing yesterday, Mr. Pompeo said that before we provide rewards, we get the outcome permanently, irreversibly, that is what we hope to achieve. Does that mean that the U.S. will not lift any sanctions until North Korea has transferred all nuclear material outside their country?
MS NAUERT: We are going ahead with our maximum pressure policy. I’m not going to get ahead of any of those meetings, but I think we’ve made our position clear on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that is the principle that we are working toward.
QUESTION: Heather, one more on North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. North Korean foreign minister Ri visit recently Russia. And --
MS NAUERT: He did what, he --
QUESTION: He visit Russia.
MS NAUERT: He visited Russia?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: And then Russian Government has recommended that U.S. and North Korea summit talks be held in Russia. Are you accept this?
MS NAUERT: I – there are a lot of countries that would like for these talks to be held there. It would certainly be a boon to their economy, and a real feather in their cap. But we’ve not decided where those meetings will take place yet.
QUESTION: So is it --
QUESTION: North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the veracity of media report that Washington is pondering to open a liaison office in Pyongyang?
MS NAUERT: No, I have nothing for you on that, sorry. We have a lot of meetings and conversations that are taking place about what our summit would look like, but I don’t have anything on that.
QUESTION: Are you denying the veracity of such reports? There’s no (inaudible)..
MS NAUERT: I’ve seen those reports. I highly doubt that that is something that we would do.
QUESTION: So yesterday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in his confirmation hearing that the goal of the U.S.-North Korea summit is to address the nuclear threat to the U.S., but he didn’t say that they would discuss the threat to allies like South Korea and Japan. So will the U.S. discuss the threat from mid-range missiles at the summit?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have a full readout of what exactly will be included or an itinerary of what will be included in that meeting, but one of the most important parts of our policy is to make sure that our allies are protected, our allies in Korea and Japan. As you all know, the President will be meeting with Prime Minister Abe next week at Mar-a-Lago. I think it’s the 17th and 18th of this month. That’s of course ahead of when the South Koreans will be meeting with North Korea, the following week I believe it is. And as you probably recall, John Bolton’s counterparts were just here in Washington just yesterday and the I believe the day before for their first meetings with John Bolton to discuss this meeting coming up ahead. So we are all on the same page with Japan and with the Koreans in terms of our continued commitment to our alliance with them.
QUESTION: Can I go to the confirmation hearing yesterday.
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: There was sort of a suggestion in that hearing that Secretary Tillerson was responsible for the proposed budget cuts to the State Department. Obviously, that’s an OMB decision. Does the secretary-designate have any stance on the proposed budget which would cut State Department funding?
MS NAUERT: I have – that is not – that is not a question that I have asked him. That is not.
MS NAUERT: I think hopefully he will become – he will be confirmed quickly. Senator Corker said that he hoped to handle everything in an expeditious fashion. So hopefully we will get a positive vote out of the committee and then out at the full floor and have him as a new secretary of state, and then we’ll let him decide what he wants to do with regard to talking to the White House, OMB, and others about the budget.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just another one from the hearing.
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: On Iran he mentioned that he had no evidence that Iran had been racing toward a nuclear weapon prior to the deal and he didn't think that, if the nuclear deal were abrogated, Iran would start racing for a nuclear weapon now. Is that the State Department’s policy?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I – look, I’m not going to be able to comment on everything he said at the hearing. He is the secretary-designate at this point, not the secretary of state. I don’t want to be presumptuous and go around what the Senate is doing in terms of their confirmation process.
QUESTION: Oh, come on.
QUESTION: You just cited his testimony as part of administration policy on --
MS NAUERT: Well, that – that was part of it, yes. That’s fair, and I certainly did, but I’m not going to be able to parse out every single thing that he said. In terms of the JCPOA, I think the President has talked about his views on the overall JCPOA. As you know, and Nick, you and I had talked about this, the meeting of the E3 that too place here in Washington just a few days in which our Director for Policy Planning Brian Hook was meeting with his counterparts to talk about what will happen next with the JCPOA. They met for a full day here and broke down those meetings in talking about different ICBMs and different parts of that meeting and also Iran’s malign influence.
So the President obviously has a big decision that he has to make coming up, and I’m not going to get ahead of that decision.
QUESTION: So just to clarify, I mean, speaking more broadly about the State Department’s assessments of Iran’s capabilities and its intentions, I mean, there was a great deal of urgency around the time that the nuclear deal was signed about breakout times and wanting to keep the breakout time as large as possible, things like that. Does the State Department, regardless of what the secretary-designate said, share that assessment that it was not racing toward a bomb and would not, if the deal were broken?
MS NAUERT: That is not a – that is not a question I’ve asked. If it’s – if I can get an answer to you, I will certainly look into that and get it – back to you.
QUESTION: Further, on the hearing – on the hearing.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: He also said that policy around Cuba might change dramatically. He said that he wanted to open up economic efforts in terms of selling I think it was grain to Kansas from Cuba, and that he expressed an interest in increasing the diplomatic presence here. I was just wondering if you – separate from what he said, have you all gotten the reassurances you need in Havana to start sending diplomats back to Cuba? And if not, what do you need? And given the government’s transition next week, isn’t this the kind of time when you want a fully staffed diplomatic presence there?
MS NAUERT: I think we fully want a fully staffed diplomatic presence here at the State Department. That we certainly do. Again, Director Pompeo is the head of the intelligence agency at this point. He is going through the confirmation process. Hopefully he will become confirmed soon. When he – if he becomes confirmed and he is the next secretary of state, we will have lots of conversations with him about the direction.
QUESTION: Just one last --
MS NAUERT: This is a question that I have not asked him. He’s been in here in the State Department, spent a lot of hours here working on his confirmation preparations. I don’t believe he would be so presumptuous as to state what he believes the policy should be going forward until and if he becomes the next secretary of state.
QUESTION: Just separate from what he has said, where are you on Cuba and sending – and the investigation of that --
MS NAUERT: Our investigation is still ongoing.
MS NAUERT: Okay. That investigation has not closed.
QUESTION: One other thing: He didn’t sort of directly insult Secretary Tillerson, but throughout his testimony, he made clear that he believed that the State Department was in a bad place. Senators on the panel made clear that they thought the State Department was in a bad place. They talked about positions not being filled, the place being shot full of holes. And one of the senators said that the place is in a blue funk. How do you – do you agree with that assessment of the – where the State Department is at this point?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think I --
QUESTION: Did Secretary Tillerson --
MS NAUERT: I think I addressed that back in the fall and acknowledged that the State Department has had a morale issue, of course. We would like to see more people in positions in the assistant secretary role and in the under secretary role. Everybody wants to have a staffed-up building. People are working hard. I mean, some people are doing two or three jobs and people are very busy here. But that being said, we would still like to have more people in their positions.
I think that we can look forward to, if Director Pompeo becomes the next secretary of state, a more invigorated, a reinvigorated State Department. And I think I share my colleagues’ assessment of that, that we look forward to him hopefully becoming the next secretary of state.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Heather, on --
QUESTION: And just to stick with the staffing issues for a moment --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- some State Department employees, 32 of them, have been sacked in Cambodia for sharing pornography. Can you give us an update on that?
MS NAUERT: I can only tell you that – hold on one second. We can’t comment on internal personnel matters.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Sorry. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Hey, Rich. Just a couple more and we got to go.
QUESTION: I’m looking into the administration saying that it now might re-engage on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Has something prompted that?
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. The President continues to assess various trade – trade deals, bilateral deals and larger deals like the TPP and try to – tries to figure out the best way forward for the American people, for American companies, and I think the President just continues to look at those. I understand that our USTR Lighthizer is involved with this, as is Larry Kudlow, so they’re taking a look at that. That’s my understanding, but I have not spoken with them personally about it.
QUESTION: Does the United States think it needs an economic counterbalance in the Asia Pacific region to China’s growing influence?
MS NAUERT: Well, certainly, China does have a growing economic influence. That is – that is certainly the case and I imagine this will be one of the conversations that’ll come up between the President and Prime Minister Abe when they meet next week.
QUESTION: Did you have anything to say --
MS NAUERT: Martin.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
MS NAUERT: I keep promising I’ll go to Martin.
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Heather. It’s about energy and Russia and Nord Stream 2. A few weeks ago, you said that the United States Government opposes this project.
MS NAUERT: Yes, we do.
QUESTION: But if I recall, the Russian companies that were involved or are involved in the project were not targeted by the recent wave of sanctions. So is this project going to become a target of sanctions?
MS NAUERT: So I can tell you with our sanctions activity – specifically CAATSA, for example – January 29th, you may recall – gosh, it seems like forever ago; I guess it wasn’t that long ago – that under CAATSA, January 29th was the first day that we could begin imposing sanctions. We’ve been communicating with other countries, companies and the sort about what CAATSA looks like and what the guidelines are for CAATSA.
I’d like to note for you something that Angela Merkel said earlier this week, which was in the agreement with the United States, and that is Nord Stream 2 and how we are – both share very grave concerns about how Russia can easily use Nord Stream 2 as a political weapon against other countries – countries in Eastern Europe. Ukraine, for example, is certainly one of them; Poland and others are other examples of that.
So I think we’re in pretty good agreement with Angela Merkel on that as we continue to oppose Nord Stream 2. In terms of sanctions --
MS NAUERT: -- for those companies – bless you – I think we’ve been clear with the companies that work in that realm that those who work in Russian energy export pipeline business, that they’re engaging in a line of work that could subject them to sanctions. We have addressed this many times here that we won’t preview our sanctions activity, but those companies and those entities that have been involved in that sector of the business have been made aware that they are exposing themselves to the risk of sanctions.
QUESTION: Is there any hope on your side that they will delay, stop this project?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure of that, but we certainly oppose it.
QUESTION: Heather, on Tuesday, you were asked about Pakistan, if there’s any travel restriction on Pakistani and Indian diplomats traveling in the United States. So I would like to know if there is any discussion for the United States to impose a travel restriction on diplomats.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I have nothing for you to announce. Nothing to announce. Okay. And last question, we’ve got to go. Hi.
QUESTION: Yes, just about the JCPOA. I just want to clarify that what you are saying is that we are just waiting for President’s decision next month, and before that there won’t be any updated or fixed version for the deal to be provided or --
MS NAUERT: Well, we had – no, I did not – I did not say that. I said I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s final decision that he does make. However, we just had a meeting here in Washington earlier this week where our policy planning director, Brian Hook, was talking with his counterparts from the E3 about strengthening some provisions within the JCPOA. We’re having conversations about that; we’re making some progress on some fronts. We also had conversations about our agreements about Iranian malign activity around the world. And so there may be some decisions that could come out ahead of the JCPOA. Okay?
QUESTION: So do you expect that you just contact Iran before the next deadline, or --
MS NAUERT: I have – I have nothing for you on that. Okay, we gotta go. Everybody have a terrific weekend, we’ll see you next week.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:31 p.m.)
DPB # 23
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