Department Press Briefing
August 10, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing
NORTH KOREA CHINA/REGION NORTH KOREA/REGION CUBA SYRIA/REGION CHINA/INDIA INDIA AFGHANISTAN
2:34 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: Hey, Dave.
MS NAUERT: Welcome back.
MS NAUERT: How was France?
QUESTION: I’ve just been to Manila.
MS NAUERT: You’ve been to Manila. Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, but before that there was France and Scotland and all --
MS NAUERT: And all those long European vacations.
QUESTION: Five weeks was all.
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Just five weeks. Hi, everybody. How is everyone doing today? Good.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: A little bit of an echo in the room here. Before we get down to business – and I know you have a lot of questions – I want to point out, we have a group of interns here in the back. You know the summertime, we have a lot of interns who come in to your companies and into the State Department as well, and I just want to recognize them. Thank you all for being here. I understand one of you attends the Naval Academy. Which one? Great, fantastic. Go Navy. Glad to hear it. Got some family there. Anyway, welcome, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your internship and that you’ve been treated well here and that you’ve enjoyed it. That’s all I have for that, so I’ll just take your questions right away.
Matt, would you like to start?
QUESTION: (Laughter.) You already – you’re not going to update us on the AGOA Conference in Togo? (Laughter.) I was really hoping you --
MS NAUERT: You’re going to make some real enemies in Togo, I will have you know.
QUESTION: I – I love Togo. Let’s start again with North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: The President has just come out in New Jersey and said that perhaps his comments of the other day – are you – this is news to you?
MS NAUERT: Did the President just say this?
QUESTION: Just – yes.
MS NAUERT: Oh, no, I’m not aware of that yet.
QUESTION: He said --
MS NAUERT: What did the President say?
QUESTION: Said that his “fire and fury” comment from the other day maybe wasn’t strong enough. I’m just wondering if you have any comment about that, but I understand if you don’t since you just said that you haven’t --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not aware of the President’s comments. I have not heard those comments myself. Matt, I trust you. You’re an excellent reporter, you always get it right. I will say this.
QUESTION: I’m going to remember that.
MS NAUERT: Our position and our policy and our strategy hasn’t changed --
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: -- one bit.
QUESTION: So does the Secretary, who you speak for, believe that he is part of the national security team that advises the President on national security issues and contributes to making policy?
MS NAUERT: I – I’m wondering where you’re going to go with this, but yes, absolutely. Without a doubt. As you know, the Secretary, the President, Secretary Mattis, along with the National Security Council, General McMaster, they meet frequently, they meet often to have conversations about national security issues.
QUESTION: So – so then I’m curious about your reaction to some comments that an aide to the President made – Dr. Gorka – to the BBC. When he was asked about the apparent differences in tone between various officials, he said, “You should listen to the President. The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical. It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, to talk about the military options, and he has done so unequivocally. That is his mandate, and Secretary Tillerson is the chief diplomat of the United States and it is his portfolio to handle those issues.” Does the Secretary, one, or does this building agree with comments like that, which would seem to suggest that the Secretary is – this is not the Secretary’s lane and that he should kind of – he should butt out and keep his mouth shut on things that relate to the military matters?
MS NAUERT: Well, the Secretary, as you know, he has a close relationship with Secretary Mattis. Our Secretary, Secretary Tillerson, talks a lot about our diplomatic strategy and our diplomatic policy. That has not changed. The Secretary has been very robust in that, just having returned, as we talked about yesterday, from the ASEAN Conference where he met for three days with a lot of foreign officials. As I was coming out here, I heard about Sebastian Gorka’s comments. I didn’t hear them myself, so I don’t want to comment on exactly what he had to say, but I can say that I speak for Secretary Tillerson and this building. Our Secretary has been very clear, as has Secretary Mattis, that our diplomatic and military means are both strong and capable, and in the face of the threats that we face against the DPRK or other nations.
QUESTION: Right, but does the Secretary believe that diplomacy – that diplomacy should be combined with the – with military options and that – to produce a successful result, and does he – I take it then he – he would reject the suggestion that he doesn’t have any business talking about this?
MS NAUERT: I would say that Secretary Mattis oversees the U.S. military, and he and Secretary Tillerson have a good, close, cooperative relationship. And one part of our U.S. Government is, of course, the State Department and we do diplomacy here out of this building. Secretary Tillerson has not spoken about U.S. military capabilities. You all hear me very often from this room when you ask me about U.S. military assets or plans, I refer you to DOD.
QUESTION: Right, but the suggestion that was made is that the – that basically the Secretary – Secretary Tillerson shouldn’t be involved or shouldn’t be listened to as it relates to policy towards North Korea. Is that a – is that something that you agree with?
MS NAUERT: I think that everyone has clearly heard what Secretary Tillerson’s forceful comments have been and continue to be on the issue of DPRK and on other countries as well.
QUESTION: And they should be paid attention to, correct?
MS NAUERT: I would think so, yes.
QUESTION: All right, so the idea that --
MS NAUERT: I mean, he’s a Cabinet Secretary. He’s the fourth in line to the presidency. He carries a big stick.
QUESTION: And Dr. Gorka is where in that line of succession?
MS NAUERT: I don’t work with Dr. – with Sebastian Gorka. I have known him from a previous life and a previous career, but I have not spoken to him about the comments that he made.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: And let me just leave it at that. Okay? All right, while we’re on DPRK, let’s stick to that. I’d like to stick to regions if we can today, so any questions on DRPK? Okay. Hi, Rich.
QUESTION: Hi, Heather. And this is in the diplomatic lane, talking about China – South China Sea, freedom of navigation. China says that the recent U.S. freedom of navigation operation harms Chinese sovereignty. This is an issue and a response that we’ve seen before. But do issues like freedom of navigation, some of the economic issues – do they make for a more difficult campaign on North Korea with China?
MS NAUERT: Freedom of navigation operations happen all around the world. They tend to get the most attention when they have been in the South China Sea. They happen off the coast of Canada; they happen in the waters off-shore of our major allies, friends, partners all around the world. That’s why we’re focusing on it right now. That’s why you’re asking me that question, because of the issue of DPRK.
As you know, Secretary Tillerson coming back from the ASEAN conference, where there was a joint statement that was issued about the South China Sea – we talked about that pretty extensively yesterday. As you all know, U.S. forces will operate in the Asia Pacific region. They do that on a daily basis, including the South China Sea. The operations are conducted in accordance with international law. And the point of that is to demonstrate that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. It’s true in the South China Sea; it’s true in other places around the world as well.
QUESTION: And when the U.S. deals with China – negotiates, speaks with China – does it view these issues as compartmentalized or as one big issue?
MS NAUERT: We have lots of ongoing conversations, as you know. We had the four-way dialogue with China. We’ve had two of the four meetings that are set to take place. I believe the next two are set to take place later this year. We discuss all kinds of issues. Secretary Mattis was over here not too long ago, having spoken with Secretary Tillerson and our Chinese counterparts about many of these issues. Among the issues we talk about with the Chinese – South China Sea, of course, but we also talk about DPRK and other matters as well.
QUESTION: And so it doesn’t hamper the pressure campaign, you don’t think?
MS NAUERT: We have – look. You know what happened at the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed the new UN Security Council resolution on the DPRK. China was one of those countries that voted along with that. So that means that China has to enforce its sanctions. They have said that they would. We look forward to and expect them to enforce those sanctions as well.
QUESTION: A follow-up? A follow-up?
MS NAUERT: Okay. And welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Congratulations on the UN Security Council sanctions. It has been suggested you could’ve given them longer to bear fruit before threatening “fire and fury.” It – was it – how long do you think it’ll take before we see some – we see North Korea backing down, thanks to these sanctions?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, I can’t speculate as to what North Korea is going to do. We talked yesterday about our pressure campaign and how the pressure campaign is, in our opinion, working. We’ve had many countries – countries that we are close friends with and countries that we aren’t as close with – help participate in that pressure campaign, and that is because the world recognizes the severe threat that the DPRK faces, not just to the United States but to the entire world.
QUESTION: An element of the pressure campaign --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- is to seek the diplomatic isolation of North Korea. North Korea obviously attended the ASEAN Regional Forum and has been invited to attend next year’s regional forum by the hosts. Was that a failure in an attempt to isolate them diplomatically, or is there some utility in meeting them again next year?
MS NAUERT: My understanding, that in terms of invitations like that, the conversations are ongoing. We are not a part of ASEAN so we do not have the ability to extend or rescind an invitation, so we would leave that up to ASEAN itself. But those nations all joined us in a pretty condemning statement of the activities on the part of the DPRK.
QUESTION: Okay. And is it your understanding that the warning that the President issued about fire and fury being visited on North Korea was if they were to test another missile, perform some kind of provocative action, or simply if they resume their normal belligerent rhetoric?
MS NAUERT: I’m just not going to get into any hypotheticals. Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: How do you see the pressure campaign worked --
QUESTION: Actually, it wasn’t a hypothetical.
QUESTION: -- when yesterday, Kim Jong-un laid out – first, he ridiculed the President of the United States, then he laid out the plans for --
MS NAUERT: Kim Jong-un is welcome to --
QUESTION: -- for attacking Guam.
MS NAUERT: He can certainly say what he chooses. Okay? I can’t affect that in any kind of way. But in terms of the pressure campaign, when we talk about it working, part of that from the UN Security Council resolution that we believe will help remove about a billion dollars’ worth of exports, money that would go into the pockets of the North Korean regime. That money, by the way, does not get used to feed its own people. We know people in that nation – North Koreans are starving. The money there that goes into North Korea does not go to the people; it goes to the government and its very expensive, illegal nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs.
QUESTION: And on that point, one of the points of the sanctions is to curtail imported labor from North Korea --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- to certain countries and so on. Kuwait, a country that is an ally of the United States, Kuwait, said that it will continue to host North Korean workers and laborers and so on. Do you have any comment or reaction to that?
MS NAUERT: I do, yeah. What you’re talking about is a Associated Press report that came out – I believe it was overnight – that indicated that Kuwait was going to continue hosting North Korean guest workers. That would obviously be a concern to us. There are North Korean guest workers in place around the world.
A big part of our pressure campaign, as many of you know, has been saying to those countries through a series of bilateral meetings that Secretary Tillerson here at the State Department has had with many of his counterparts asking other nations to reduce the number of North Korean guest workers. Those guest workers who are working in construction and in other industries and countries around the world are getting that money; that money is going straight back to North Korea into its weapons program; that money does not go to the North Korean individuals themselves; it does not go to the North Korean civilians and citizens and family members.
What you’re referring to in terms of Kuwait, we are certainly aware of that report. It was brought to our attention. I would have to refer you to the Government of Kuwait for more information on that; however, we understand that the Government of Kuwait will be issuing a statement on those reports and their overall DPRK policy imminently. We are in close contact with the Government of Kuwait. They recognize the serious nature of this issue and the serious nature of that report that did come out.
The Government of Kuwait will be taking further measures in response to the dangerous and provocative behavior of the DPRK regime within the coming days, we are told. We are, again, told to expect a statement on that matter.
QUESTION: So do you know when? Because this – I mean, I’m looking at the statement that they sent to us right here, and it’s very straightforward. Two questions. Question one: Did Kuwait stop issuing new working visas to North Koreans last year? Answer: No, the state of Kuwait did not stop issuing working visas to North Korean laborers. And then secondly: How may remaining North Korean laborers work in Kuwait? And does the country have any plans for expelling them? Answer: The number of North Korean laborers in the state of Kuwait is 6,064 and there are no plans --
MS NAUERT: That’s a lot.
QUESTION: There are no plans to expel North Korean laborers.
MS NAUERT: If they have 6,064 North Koreans, that is why it’s an issue that’s been brought to our attention. I can’t get into the details of any possible private diplomatic conversations, but I am told – and I think if you look at the time stamp on whenever they sent that to you – I’m told as of about 40 minutes ago or so that an announcement would be forthcoming.
QUESTION: Announcement – do you have any reason to believe that the announcement will be the same as what – what I’ve just read to you?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you that it’s an issue of big concern, and I can’t get into private diplomatic conversations.
MS NAUERT: So I hope that helps answer it and clarify it. But look --
QUESTION: But we’ll look for their statement.
MS NAUERT: We will look for their statement and we will see what happens on that. Obviously, the export of labor, as I have mentioned, enables the development of the illicit nuclear and missile program. The Government of Kuwait has been a good friend to the United States. You know the emir of Kuwait has been extremely supportive, has been helpful – very helpful – as the moderator and mediator in handling the GCC – the Qatar dispute. We continue to work with that government and work with the emir in that dispute as well.
Okay. Anything else on this issue?
QUESTION: Yeah, North Korea.
MS NAUERT: On this issue of Kuwait – yes or no?
MS NAUERT: Okay, all right. Anything else on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead. Hi, miss.
QUESTION: Yes, about the new UN resolution --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and also sought resumptions of the Six-Party Talks. So we are just wondering that is the U.S. really preparing for the talks and making some contacts. And the second question is about the China’s proposal of the --
MS NAUERT: Let me get to your – let me get to your first question first. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Will the United States return to talks with North Korea? And the answer to that is – and the Secretary has talked about this a lot – he has said he’s not going to negotiate his way back to the negotiating table. Okay? He has said that months ago. He has not moved away from that position one bit. There have been headlines that have been inaccurate that have alluded to the opposite of that.
We would need to know that North Korea is taking serious and literal steps to denuclearizing in order for the United States to even get to that point. Susan Thornton, our acting assistant secretary for East Asian Affairs who has been traveling with the Secretary en route back to Washington at this moment from that ASEAN trip – she’s been very firm at that. She said something along the lines of, look, we are nowhere near close to that point, especially after we’ve had two intercontinental ballistic missile tests within less than a month. They are not showing us – the DPRK is not showing us that they are close to sitting down and talking anytime soon.
QUESTION: Okay. And also about Ms. Thornton, just before the ASEAN trip Thornton just make a connection between the China’s trade with the U.S. and kind of DPRK’s issue. So now China just endorsed or just agree with the UN sanctions on the DPRK, so does it mean that the trade relations between China and U.S. could be kind of okay in the near future?
MS NAUERT: I would have to refer you on that trade matter to our Trade Representative and other people who actually handle that trade issue. But look, we are pleased with China voting along with the United States and others in that unanimous UN Security Council resolution, and we look forward to China adhering to its commitments on instituting and seeing through those sanctions.
Okay. Anything – DPRK?
QUESTION: Is China doing enough on --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Two related North Korea questions. The first one is just to clarify. You said sending the warship to South China Sea is no way – it’s not the way the United States is vent your frustration on not enough progress on North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Not at all. Look, what it takes to move U.S. military equipment and ships is a lot. Those things are preplanned, and DOD can really speak to that. But those things have been planned for a long, long time. The United States does these operations – the freedom of navigation operations – all around the world, many times of year. In fact, I probably have some facts and figures for you on that. But this is nothing new. We’ve done it before; we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: But given the timing, as China and ASEAN just reached the frame of code of conduct in South China Sea, isn’t this move counterproductive and actually inflame the tension in South China Sea? And as a matter of fact, the United States just endorsed the frame of code of conduct in South China Sea.
MS NAUERT: Yes, we did. And we are in compliance and adherence with that. This is a – somewhat of a complex legal matter, so I want to read for you some of this so that there’s no confusion on the part of folks across the world. We have a comprehensive freedom of navigation operations program, under which the U.S. forces challenge excessive maritime claims around the globe to demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law. All nations – that is guaranteed to the United States and to other nations as well.
That’s why I mentioned we do these freedom of navigation operations off the coast of Canada, for example, along with many other places. FONOPs, as we refer to it, are not about any one country; they’re not about making a political statement. In 2016 – and here’s the number I referred to – we conducted these challenging excessive maritime claims in 22 different coastal states, including claims of allies and partners as well. So I hope that answers your question.
Okay. Somebody had something over here about China.
QUESTION: Is China doing enough on North Korea? Are you satisfied with what they’re doing?
MS NAUERT: The Secretary has spoken to this issue a lot: Is China doing enough? And one of the things that he’s consistently said is that we see some movement on the part of China but that movement and that engagement can be uneven at times. But look, he had conversations with many partners on his recent trip to ASEAN. We think we’ve made some additional progress in there. They certainly recognize what instability in that region means for their nation. They also jumped on board with that United Nations Security Council resolution, so we’re pleased with that. But we look forward and hope that they will do more.
QUESTION: You have been saying the pressure is working, but the facts --
MS NAUERT: That the what?
QUESTION: You have been saying that the pressure on North Korea is working, but the facts speak otherwise. They have done two ICBM tests in less than a month; they have threatened to now fire missiles in Guam. So what do you say about that?
MS NAUERT: This --
QUESTION: It doesn’t seem that pressure is working on them.
MS NAUERT: Look, this pressure campaign is going to take a while. We’ve always recognized that. It took us many, many years to get to this concerning point where the United States and the world are right now with the DPRK. We can’t expect that this is going to change overnight. This pressure campaign is going to take some time.
Part of that pressure campaign is removing the money that North Korea gets for its weapons programs. We believe that through time and through talking to other countries about what those countries can do to reduce the number of guest workers, to reduce the size of embassies and missions in Pyongyang and in other places around the DPRK, that that will help remove some of the funding for that.
QUESTION: But you still believe that you have enough – there is the luxury of some – I don't want to say luxury, but you have time? Because I think what this week has shown us, in terms of the miniaturization report, that there may not be enough time to – for – to let these things play out their course.
MS NAUERT: That – I want to point out that report that you just mentioned. A lot of people have asked about that. That would be an intelligence matter that I can’t confirm and will have nothing to say from here about that.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m not asking about the report. I’m just saying that --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, you referenced it, so I just want to make that clear.
QUESTION: Right, right. But developments over the course of the last couple weeks have made it clear, I think to everyone, that time is not necessarily on your side here, that the things – that the North Koreans are progressing much more quickly than had been anticipated, expected, or theorized. And --
MS NAUERT: Look, we’re, without a doubt, concerned about that.
QUESTION: Right. But the – so my question to you is: Are you confident that there is time to allow these sanctions and the pressure campaign to work, that you have the time for that to work before they do something rash?
MS NAUERT: I think the best thing that I can say about that is referencing something that the Secretary said yesterday, and that is Americans can sleep safely at night.
QUESTION: Okay. But that’s the thing that Dr. Gorka said not – that was pure nonsense and shouldn’t be listened to. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: I would refer you back to Mr. Gorka on that one.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on DPRK? Are we done with DPRK?
QUESTION: Can we go to Cuba?
MS NAUERT: Okay. I feel like an auctioneer. Are we done with DPRK?
QUESTION: Yeah, no. Let’s --
MS NAUERT: Is that a yes? Yes?
MS NAUERT: No. Okay. Miss, tell me your name, again.
QUESTION: Jessica Stone.
MS NAUERT: Right. Hey, Jessica. Good to see you.
QUESTION: Good to see you again. Two more questions on DPRK. First of all, Japan is moving missile interceptors in order to be in a position to intercept anything that hits Guam, and they’ve said that they’re willing to defend the U.S. in the context of what’s going – the threats that have been made by the DPRK. Can you give us some insight into whether they’re sort of overstepping their commitments under the mutual defense treaty that they have with the United States? Are they required to go to those lengths? Do you have any insight into that?
MS NAUERT: I do not. I’m sorry.
MS NAUERT: I don’t. Got something else? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. You sparked something in my head, but – I know there’s been a lot of writing – and maybe you could say ink spilled even – over the sort of dissonance between the messages on DPRK out of this building versus the sort of more synergy we’ve seen from the White House and the Pentagon. Is that strategic, that we’re seeing Tillerson push the diplomatic option and we’re seeing the President and Mattis push military consequences if the diplomatic response does not work?
MS NAUERT: This is something that we covered yesterday. Our policy across the administration is the same. The policy is: We want a denuclearization of the North Korean – or of the Korean Peninsula. We want, we expect North Korea to denuclearize. We would like them to be able to come to the global world of countries that can cooperate together. They are isolating themselves. It’s something that’s of grave concern to us, and that’s why we continue to push this as the top national security priority for the United States at this time.
QUESTION: And lastly, do you have a working estimate of how soon you think that the DPRK would collapse? (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: I do not. That is – that’s quite a hypothetical. I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that.
Okay. Are we done with DPRK?
QUESTION: Another one here --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s go to Cuba.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: I have --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead. Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: So do you have any update – I know it’s just recent – on the diplomats and the hearing loss issue? But moreover, does the State Department have any plans for reversing the Obama administration’s efforts to diplomatic ties with Cuba? In other words, reversing the --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- restoring them, reversing that action?
MS NAUERT: So I don’t have any information on that particular part for you. You mentioned particular medical ailments. That is nothing that I can confirm. I’ve certainly seen that report out in the news media. I hope that those reports would not come from any federal officials. We will not confirm the health status of any Americans, whether they’re in Cuba, back here at home, or elsewhere.
What I can tell you is that these were U.S. Government personnel who were in Cuba, in Havana, on official duty on behalf of the U.S. Government. We consider these to be incidents because we still are trying to work – determine the actual cause of their situation. They have had a variety of physical symptoms. That’s as far as I can go in describing that. We just don’t have the definitive answers yet. This is an active investigation and that investigation is ongoing at this time.
QUESTION: What about the overall diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the United States? Are there any plans to change what the Obama administration put into place?
MS NAUERT: There are – this is a situation that we’re still assessing. When I say an active investigation is underway, in part what that means is we don’t know exactly where this came from. Okay? We can’t blame any one individual or a country at this point yet. An investigation is underway. We take that very seriously. This is a U.S. Government investigation that is taking place. We’ve spoken extensively to the Cubans about this.
As you know, we had two of their Cuban diplomats leave back in late May or so. We do – and the reason that we had them leave is because we said this is the agreement that the United – United States, rather, has with Cuba, and that is that they are responsible for the safety and security of our diplomats while our diplomats are serving in that country. Our Americans were not safe; they were not secure, obviously, because something has happened to them. We take that very seriously. The safety and security of Americans at home and abroad is our top issue. We’ll continue to investigate that.
QUESTION: Global Affairs Canada --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Hold on.
QUESTION: Global Affairs Canada --
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Are you done, ma’am?
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you so much.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. Global Affairs Canada, as you might know by now, says its diplomats have been experiencing the same unusual symptoms and it’s working with the U.S. and Cuba to investigate. Is the U.S. working with any other country to investigate these incidents?
MS NAUERT: I won’t comment on anything related to another country. I can’t confirm that. I can only talk about the American piece of it.
QUESTION: And let me just ask you about Congress. This news seemed to catch several key lawmakers in Congress off guard, that deal with Cuba. And at least one U.S. senator has requested a classified briefing from the State Department. Why hasn’t the State Department, if it cares so much about what’s going on with its diplomats, alerted Congress?
MS NAUERT: Oh, there have been conversations that have been going on between the interagency, and I assume – and that means Congress as well. So Congress, as certain folks have been – I can’t tell you exactly who. I don’t know off the top of my head – but have been made aware of this. This is not something that certain members of Congress are learning about for the first time.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you this: Why are we just learning about this? This – these two Cuban diplomats left on May the 23rd. This has been going on at least eight or nine months, and now we’re just learning about this. Why?
MS NAUERT: As a reporter, you’re going to ask me that question?
MS NAUERT: I mean, goodness, you could have been down there reporting on this. Look, no, the honest question is and the real answer to this is: People started experiencing ailments in late 2016. Okay? And think about it; when you have an ailment you don’t always know exactly what’s causing it. Okay? You have that ailment; you maybe decide to put it off for a while, get medical treatment, maybe not. Okay? Some of these things take time to investigate, in particular ones that are – people aren’t certain what has caused them.
So this takes time to figure out. That is why I say an investigation is ongoing. We have provided medical care and medical treatment and screening to our Americans who have asked for that. Some people have been brought home as a result. So I kind of take issue with the tone of your question, as though we don’t care about this. I think we’ve been clear in our responsibility and our – let me finish – and our concern about Americans who are serving on behalf of the U.S. Government in other countries.
QUESTION: Do you think those diplomats that have been experiencing these symptoms are satisfied with the response they’ve gotten from the State Department?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Heather, can I you ask you two semi-related?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: One, without getting into any specific country – names of other countries that might have had diplomats involved, are you aware of – that diplomats from other countries were – had suffered similar --
QUESTION: Physical --
QUESTION: -- physical symptoms?
MS NAUERT: I have seen reports, and that’s all I can say about that.
QUESTION: Okay, but so you don’t – so you’re unable to say whether or not this was only something that happened to Americans.
MS NAUERT: I just can’t confirm here from a U.S. Government post that other countries may have or have not had the same issue happen to them. I can only speak to what Americans have faced.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria next?
QUESTION: One more on Cuba.
MS NAUERT: Okay, are we – Cuba? Hi, hey.
QUESTION: You seem to leave open the possibility that another country is involved in some of this --
MS NAUERT: I didn’t. I didn’t. This guy right here next to you did.
QUESTION: Sorry, apologies. Not that someone else has been attacked, but that they seem to be – the possibility of a third country being involved in the attacks themselves, as in it might not be the Cubans who are behind the idea. So --
MS NAUERT: I know people want answers. I appreciate that. Okay? But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t have all the answers yet. So I appreciate that you want to try to push me to say something. I’m not going to get ahead of the investigators, I’m not going to get ahead of this investigation, I’m not going to create storylines for you that don’t match up with the facts as we know them right now. Okay? So I’m not going to get into that. It is an area that is under investigation that is a major concern of ours.
QUESTION: Can you say if, going back in research, that this building has seen anything similar to this in the past?
MS NAUERT: Matt, that’s a good question. I have not --
QUESTION: Whether it’s in Cuba or anywhere else.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not personally aware of that. I can certainly ask some of our folks who have been around for longer than I have about that and see what I can do for you.
QUESTION: That would be pretty much everyone in the building. (Laughter.) That’s not the --
MS NAUERT: I’ve been here three months now. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- not to be an insult. And then the last thing on this: You have seen the response or the statement that the Cuban Government put out last night saying that it does not condone any, would not allow any kind of, I don’t know --
QUESTION: -- interference with foreign diplomats, and that it takes seriously and respects its Vienna Convention obligations. Do you accept that?
MS NAUERT: I would just say this about what you mentioned: We remain in regular contact with the Cuban Government. They are providing some guidance, some assistance on this investigation as the investigation is underway. We – in that regular contact, we hope to resolve this matter in a satisfactory fashion. And let me just leave it at that. Okay?
QUESTION: Right. But I just want to – I mean, do you take at face value when they – do you accept it that they respect – I mean, you made a big point yesterday of talking about the Vienna Convention and how Cuba has obligations under it to protect foreign diplomats.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. And they talked about that, yeah. But --
QUESTION: Right. And they say that they do.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But clearly, you don’t think that --
MS NAUERT: Well, look, I think --
QUESTION: -- they do.
MS NAUERT: -- U.S. Government officials have been affected in some way --
MS NAUERT: -- by these incidents. Physically affected by these incidents. It is the Cuban Government’s obligation under the Geneva Convention – excuse me, under --
MS NAUERT: Vienna, thank you. Under Vienna Conventions to ensure the safety and protection of our diplomats there.
QUESTION: But, so you’re – I think what you’re saying is that despite the statement from last night, you’re still not convinced?
MS NAUERT: They have an obligation to do that, and that obviously did not happen. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Anything else? Are we done with Cuba?
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Got a tad more on that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have staffing levels at the mission returned to the levels they were before the incidents came to light?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you this: that our embassy there in Havana is fully operational, it is fully staffed, they are still involved in business. As a precaution and for concern and the well-being of our embassy staffers there, we’ve allowed a limited number of personnel to curtail their tours of duty, and what that can mean is that some of them can transfer posts, come home if they want, or try to go elsewhere.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second. If the embassy is fully staffed --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- that means that however many number left that you reciprocated by telling the Cubans they had to take two – they had to get two out, if you’re saying it’s now fully staffed, can’t – can the Cubans bring their two guys back or two diplomats back?
MS NAUERT: We brought our people home out of care and concern for their medical well-being.
QUESTION: I understand, but if they had been replaced and you’re now fully staffed and you’re back up at the number of diplomats, they should --
MS NAUERT: Well, I don’t know that we’re – this is where you guys want to get into the number of people at our embassies, and I’m not going to do that, as you know that. I mean, I don’t know if we’re down one or if we’re up one in terms of our embassy personnel. That --
QUESTION: Well, when you say “fully staffed,” that suggests that --
MS NAUERT: “Fully staffed” means we have people doing the jobs.
QUESTION: Heather, I understand that, but if you told the Cubans they had to lose two diplomats from their embassy here because – in a reciprocal manner because you lost the two from – I mean, you lost the --
MS NAUERT: I have never – I have never indicated any number.
QUESTION: -- okay, because you lost the number from there and now you say it’s fully staffed, that would suggest that however many people left from your embassy are now back.
MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get down this rabbit hole of numbers of people – yeah.
QUESTION: And that would mean then that it is no longer necessary for the Cuban embassy to be down two staffers.
MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to draw that conclusion. We are open for business.
QUESTION: Well, this is pretty standard diplomacy.
QUESTION: But is Cuba safe --
MS NAUERT: We are – we are – hold on. We are open for business. There are people there doing the work. If we’re up one, down one, I’m not going to get into those kinds of details. Okay? But just understand that the work is being done there. Okay?
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Are we – we’re done with this now. Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
QUESTION: Has the harassment stopped? Has this acoustic harassment stopped?
MS NAUERT: Some – look, I’m not going to confirm or deny what you’re saying. We’ve had a lot of leading questions here today. This remains an ongoing investigation concern and I’m not going to get into that any further. Okay?
QUESTION: It’s stopped – it’s stopped, though?
MS NAUERT: I’m done with Cuba right now.
QUESTION: Can I go to Syria? Can I go to Syria?
MS NAUERT: I’ve answered all that I can for you. Hold on. I’ve answered all that I can for you on Cuba. I know you still have questions. I’m not able to provide you all of the answers. Okay?
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS NAUERT: Investigation ongoing, period.
QUESTION: Syria? Can we go to Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s – fine, let’s go to Syria.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Heather. Yes. First of all, could you update us on what is happening in the battle for Raqqa and what is U.S. involvement? There are talks about the U.S. establishing a base near there and so on. So could you update us on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah --
QUESTION: And then second --
MS NAUERT: Look, when you mention any U.S. military facility, that would be a DOD matter, so I would not get into that.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Then let me ask you about the ceasefire. Would you characterize that U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria as remaining the same as it was when this thing started out for the ceasefire? And second, the Israelis --
MS NAUERT: Let me answer that first question --
MS NAUERT: -- then I’ll get to your next one. Okay? So what you’re referring to is the ceasefire that has been underway for about a month now. I think it was the 9th or so of July. We can double-check that. But for about that period of time in southwestern Syria, this is one that was negotiated between the United States, Russia, and other places. And the point of that was to find an area of cooperation where the United States and Russia could find – I mean, we have a low-level relationship with Russia. We all know that. That’s no surprise here.
But we want to find areas of mutual cooperation where we can work together and this is one area – that ceasefire, to my understanding, is still holding. Okay? We are pleased with that. That provides the United States and the coalition partners with the opportunity to start to get some humanitarian in – that is so badly needed in that area. And so humanitarian aid – and I have a little bit of detail for you on that – we’ve been able to start reaching some of the vulnerable Syrians without the complications of avoiding airstrikes or increases in violence. We’re continuing to work with our international partners to assess the ongoing emergency humanitarian needs throughout Syria and facilitate the delivery of vitally needed supplies.
I’m also told that people are starting to slowly come back into parts of those areas, which is – which would – we would consider to be a moderate success at this point, and we look forward to that happening eventually.
QUESTION: And my last question --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- on this very point: It seems that when the ceasefire was negotiated, it was done between the United States, Russia, Jordan, and Israel. And Israel was opposed to the ceasefire. I wonder if you’ve seen these reports. And why would the United States not take into consideration Israel’s concern with this --
MS NAUERT: I --
QUESTION: Or did they have real concerns?
MS NAUERT: I have seen that report. We’re not going to discuss our diplomatic conversations on that or on other matters. We’re committed to regular consultations with our partners in the region and that, of course, includes Israel. We talk with them very often, as you all know. The consultations have been extensive and they are ongoing.
QUESTION: Syria? Syria?
QUESTION: Afghanistan? Afghanistan?
MS NAUERT: Okay. And we have to wrap it up in just a few minutes.
QUESTION: Syria. Syria.
QUESTION: I have one on Afghanistan.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. In light of Erdogan’s public statements on Saturday about the dangers that the YPG, as he sees it, poses to Turkey and the buildup of Turkish forces in the south, are you concerned about a Turkish attack on Kurdish areas in Syria?
MS NAUERT: So what I want to say about this is, of course, Turkey is an important and valued NATO ally. The United States takes Turkey’s concerns seriously; we have a lot of ongoing conversations with the government of Mr. Erdogan. They have legitimate concerns with the PKK. We understand that. They are concerns about the region overall, and we condemn ongoing attacks committed by the UKK. We – excuse me, the PKK – and we consider that to be a terror organization. Okay.
QUESTION: But if Turkey were to move on Syria, you would oppose it completely?
MS NAUERT: I – that’s a hypothetical, and I’m just not going to get into hypothetical, okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead. China.
QUESTION: Yeah. What is the U.S. position on the ongoing – because the bilateral diplomatic efforts have failed, so what is your position on China, India? This has been seven weeks on the border, the military tensions that are going on. If you have anything --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. It’s a situation that we have certainly followed closely. And as you know, we have relationships with both governments. We continue to encourage both parties to sit down and have conversations about that. And I’ll just leave it at that, sir.
QUESTION: Okay. Just one more, and that is the Indian prime minister a couple of hours ago tweeted they look forward to Ms. Ivanka Trump presence at Hyderabad. But the point is as the leader of the U.S. delegation, and as you were earlier saying that this is the building that takes care of the diplomatic, so can you give anything about the U.S. delegation and what kind of comprised of --
MS NAUERT: I do – I hear you. And I’m hearing this for the first time that the prime minister tweeted this. Is that right?
QUESTION: Yes, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. We have a very good relationship with him and we enjoyed having him here in the United States about a month or so ago. I just don’t have any travel to give you at this time. When I do, I will make that available.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Thank you, sir.
MS NAUERT: Okay, last question. Afghanistan. Hi.
QUESTION: What’s your stand on Senator McCain’s Afghan strategy which he unveiled this morning? Have you seen this?
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. So I’m certainly aware of Senator McCain’s proposal. By the way, it was great to see Senator McCain back here in Washington just a few weeks ago, a very strong and tough man. And as someone whose own father experienced the same illness that he had, I was really proud to see him walk back into Washington.
That personal note aside, let me just say the Afghan review policy, which I know a lot of people are very curious about, is still under way. There have been a lot of conversations and negotiations with the President’s national security team. Of course, that includes Secretary Tillerson as part of that. We are looking at this as not just a solution to Afghanistan, but also a broader concern that incorporates India and Pakistan as well as a regional solution. We just don’t have that plan. And by the way, the White House will roll out that plan, but we just don’t have that done just yet. It’s still under review, okay?
QUESTION: So on your personal aside about Senator McCain --
MS NAUERT: Yeah?
QUESTION: -- it was great to see him back, you said, in Washington --
MS NAUERT: I’m so happy to see him back, yeah.
QUESTION: Right. What did you think of his vote? (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Of his vote on healthcare? I’ll leave that to Senator McCain. Thanks, everybody. Good to see you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)
DPB # 43
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