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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - August 18, 2017
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 18, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:21 p.m. EDT

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

    QUESTION: Friday.

    QUESTION: Tired.

    MS NAUERT: I know, Friday – ready for the week to be over, right? Okay. But it has been a busy couple days, certainly.

    Let me start out by first addressing what happened in Spain yesterday and overnight. The United States wants to strongly condemn the terror attack that took place in Barcelona, Spain. We extend our condolences to the family and loved ones of the victims and the people of Spain, as well as our hopes for a quick recovery for those who have been wounded. The United States stands in solidarity with Spain. Crimes like this cowardly attack only reinforce our shared resolve to stop these senseless attacks that target the innocent.

    The U.S. consulate general in Barcelona continues to work with local authorities to identify and provide assistance to U.S. citizens affected by the terror attacks in Las Ramblas and in Cambrils. As Secretary Tillerson said earlier today, we can confirm that one American citizen was killed in that attack, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and his friends. We can also confirm that there was a injury of another U.S. citizen. It was a minor injury, we’re told. Out of respect for the family’s privacy and in their time of grief, we have no further comment on that matter.

    Spanish authorities report that there are still several casualties who have not yet been identified. The U.S. consulate in Barcelona continues to issue emergency and security messages to update U.S. citizens in the area. U.S. citizens are advised to maintain security awareness and monitor media and local information sources. We also strongly encourage U.S. citizens in Barcelona to contact their family and friends back here in the United States to directly inform them of their safety and their security. President Trump spoke with President Rajoy today to – and said to him that we stand ready to offer any assistance necessary to Spanish authorities as they pursue their investigation.

    As a second matter today, I’d like to bring this up. It’s something that takes place tomorrow, actually, and that is World Humanitarian Day. It is a time to protect aid – or recognize, rather, aid workers who have lost their lives to protect the world’s most vulnerable people. We come together as an international community on August the 19th to honor the brave men and women who heroically risk everything to serve those who are in need around the world. Nearly 300 aid workers worldwide were killed, injured, or kidnapped in 2016 alone, a particularly dangerous year for humanitarian staff. Providing humanitarian assistance and saving lives is growing harder as crises and conflicts grow in complexity and also strain scarce resources.

    Violations of international law put aid workers in grave danger. The numbers tell a pretty tough story. An unprecedented number, 141.1 million people across 37 countries, are now in immediate need of assistance. Just this week the United Nations confirmed that the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda has topped 1 million people as the conflict in South Sudan has created the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. The United States has a long and distinguished history of helping people in need as a result of conflict and natural disasters. The United States and our humanitarian partners are responding to crises around the world, providing life-saving assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. In 2016 the United States, the world’s leading humanitarian donor, contributed more than $7 billion to humanitarian efforts around the globe. This World Humanitarian Day we remain committed to saving lives and recognize the tremendous service of all humanitarian heroes, including our brave aid workers and partners on the ground. And we want to thank them for their bravery and their work.

    With that, I will take your questions.

    QUESTION: Just very quickly --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Matt.

    QUESTION: -- on Barcelona --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- before I get to something – can you at least – I realize you can’t give details about the two casualties, but were they killed in – were they in Barcelona or in the other place?

    MS NAUERT: They were in Barcelona.

    QUESTION: Okay, and in light --

    MS NAUERT: The one American who was killed was in Barcelona.

    QUESTION: Do you know about the injured?

    MS NAUERT: The other injury – I believe the other injury was in Barcelona as well. I can double check that for you.

    QUESTION: Okay. And was the injured person you referred to – his family, for the person who died, it – can you be more specific about the sex of the injury? Man or woman?

    MS NAUERT: Two males. Two men.

    QUESTION: Two men. Okay. All right. And then I just wanted to go to – my understanding is that your email system is back up. Is that correct?

    MS NAUERT: Temporarily back up. So our email system – so if any of you had emailed us this morning and did not get a response, that was not intentional. Our email system has been down since --

    QUESTION: Not necessarily intentionally.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) I would never not get back to you all.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) She says speak for yourself. Carol texted me. (Laughter.) Nevertheless, it has been quite a headache today. Our email system has been down. It was brought up just a short while ago. I understand they’re still working through some of the details. It’s something that was a technical glitch – that’s how our folks are describing it, right?

    STAFF: Internal issue.

    MS NAUERT: We literally got off the phone with them 20 seconds ago. A little longer than that. And so it was – what was – remind me.

    STAFF: Internal issue.

    MS NAUERT: It was just an internal issue, so if there’s anything different on that, we’ll bring that to you.

    QUESTION: Well, when you say “internal issue,” can you – can – you can rule out that this was, like, kind of a sabotage or an outside hacker? Because – I just remind you, this was well before your time, but in 2014 we had this issue, and we were basically given false information that this was – that the system was shut down for routine maintenance, when, in fact, it was shut down so that the technicians could go in and do battle with hackers who had infiltrated it. So you’re assuring us that there’s nothing like that?

    MS NAUERT: To my awareness, there’s nothing – that is not the case.

    QUESTION: And it’s just the unclassified system?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, thank you. Unclassified system.

    QUESTION: Okay. But – so when you say temporarily back up, you don’t expect it to go down again, do you?

    MS NAUERT: I would hope not. There are some glitches that they’re still working out. I got a big batch of emails in about 10 minutes ago, and then didn’t. So we’re kind of sharing with you how the sausage is being made right now. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: So it’s like everyone else’s email system – it goes up, and then goes – when it goes down, it comes back sporadically.

    MS NAUERT: I think so.

    QUESTION: Okay. That’s all I have.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I mean, I have other stuff, but other people --

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Would anyone like to talk about email or Spain? Let’s try to stick to a more organized system of regions today.

    QUESTION: Spanish email.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Spain? Yeah, hi.

    QUESTION: Just generally, Heather, on Spain, is the fact that an American was killed, does that change the U.S. involvement in the investigation at all, or the U.S. response at all?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we have a very close partnership and collaboration with the Spanish authorities and with the Spanish Government. The President just talked to their president a short while ago. Secretary Tillerson spoke to this yesterday, as did Mike – Vice President Mike Pence. Among the things that we have said to the Spanish Government is that we are standing by and willing to offer any assistance that they might need in the investigation or with resources in terms of helping out their folks on the ground there. That hasn’t changed; we still stand by that, and are willing – the entire body of the U.S. Government – willing to stand by to help the Spanish.

    QUESTION: Actually, on Spain, do you – I mean, apparently it was a much more complex attack and a more dangerous attack was planned using butane explosives or something like that, and then there was a couple of weeks ago a plot in Australia that the Australian authorities disrupted, and they said it was very sophisticated and was supposed to involve some sort of chemical agent. Do you see that ISIS is stepping up its attacks as it’s losing territory?

    MS NAUERT: You raise a good point about how ISIS is losing territory. And we know that coalition partners, backed by the United States in Iraq and also Syria, have taken back much, much of that territory that ISIS held in the first place. As that continues to happen, as they lose ground – they’ve lost like 70 percent of the ground that they had initially taken in Iraq, more than 50 percent of the ground that they had initially taken in Syria – they become more desperate. We do know that other European attacks that happened in the last year were plotted out of Raqqa, Syria. That is one of the reasons that the coalition has focused so much on the city of Raqqa and taking back Raqqa from ISIS, because some of those plots were hatched from Raqqa. We know that as a fact.

    What has happened now may just be an instance where they are trying to show that they may still hold some relevancy as we continue to take back ground from them.

    QUESTION: So you think it’s too early to say there’s any pattern of escalating attacks?

    MS NAUERT: I can’t say – I can’t say that. I don’t want to draw any conclusions. Spanish authorities are investigating that; I don’t want to get ahead of any of their investigations.

    Anything else on Spain? Okay, let’s move on to something else. Go right ahead, Rich.

    QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. On today’s announcement on diversity, and the Secretary’s comments on race relations in the country. It seems obvious, but just to ask: How much did Charlottesville play into the timing and the content of the Secretary’s remarks, and the announcement for this new diversity initiative? And how long has he been constructing this or thinking about it?

    MS NAUERT: Sure. So let me take you back quite a few months. The Secretary’s first day on the job, when he came in here and he went into the main hallway at the front where all the flags are at the State Department, he looked out across the crowd, and one of the things that he said to our employees is, “When people see you, they see America.” Meaning, looking at the minorities, looking at all the different faces, the different types of names and everything – that is America, and that’s what we represent, not just here in America but also overseas. And that’s a priority for him.

    Let me take you to about two weeks ago, and that’s when Deputy Secretary Sullivan spoke at our town hall meeting. One of the things that he said – it was closed press, but one of the things that he did share with the people at our town hall meeting, and who were also watching overseas who work at the State Department, was we have a commitment to diversity, and we can do a whole lot better than we currently do as a State Department.

    And so that was really the genesis of the Secretary’s comments today, in bringing in some of our interns and our – those who are involved in our fellowship programs here, Pickering and Rangel – we’ve talked about that program that intends to bring in diverse applicants into our Foreign Service program. So that’s one of the things that the Secretary focused on today, bringing them all in and addressing the issue of diversity.

    This also takes place as we undergo the redesign of the State Department, and in undergoing the redesign of the State Department, this is something that we’ll consider. We look at our overall mission and we look at our overall objectives and the scope of what we do, and this is one way to reflect on that. So the Secretary is making this a big priority of his.

    QUESTION: But certainly, he was aware of the timing of this just a few days after Charlottesville?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, and I think one would be remiss if they didn’t touch on what had happened in Charlottesville over this past week. And that’s a good reminder for all of us, not just here but Americans serving abroad, that what happened last week in Charlottesville is not representative of America. Yes, we have freedom of speech. Yes, that is something that we embrace. Hatred is not something we embrace. It’s not who we are as a people. That’s not what we want to show overseas. But it reminds us that there is still a battle that can go on internally within our own country, and it’s something that we’re working to address and to try to fix.

    QUESTION: Can I --

    QUESTION: So what’s --

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure. Hey, Elise.

    QUESTION: Hi. Well, it seemed as if it was a not-so-subtle repudiation of the President’s declaration that both sides were to blame, and kind of equating the hate speech protesters and those that were protesting the statue with the peaceful protesters. And when he also brought up – when he invoked George Washington at a synagogue, kind of indirect – antithetical to President Trump’s remarks that George Washington was no different than Robert E. Lee.

    MS NAUERT: I think what the Secretary was stating is what we all think about America and what we represent as Americans, and those are the best ideals. And we represent diversity as Americans. We represent hope. The Secretary talked about this today, where we’re the kind of country where it doesn’t matter where you came from, it doesn’t matter what your parents did, it doesn’t matter what your last name is, that you too can succeed. And I think he’s hoping to not just underscore those ideals but to help promote them across the country and across the world as well.

    QUESTION: Well, would it be wrong of us to infer from his remarks that he does not believe that both sides were to blame for last week’s incidents?

    MS NAUERT: I have not asked him that question, but I think he was very clear, and I will restate some of this for you. Those who embrace poison in our public discourse, they damage the very country that they claim to love. We condemn racism. We condemn bigotry in all of its forms. Racism is evil. It is antithetical to American values. It’s antithetical to the American idea. So I think the Secretary was clear in his personal beliefs about that.

    QUESTION: On this?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: He mentioned that you would be keeping in place the Pickering and Rangel fellowship programs, which we – you had said before. I know that. But he said – he said all fellowship programs. Does that include the Presidential Management Fellows?

    MS NAUERT: I believe so. Let me double-check that part of it for you, though.

    QUESTION: So when exactly is the – I mean, the hiring freeze, with the certain exceptions that have been made already for the two A-100 classes, is in – is still in place, correct?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. So the – there’s a department-wide hiring freeze. The Secretary touched on that this morning. That hiring freeze was put in place earlier this year so we could kind of get a better temporary – it was a temporary hiring freeze.

    QUESTION: So --

    MS NAUERT: But to get a better sense as to who we have here, what our folks are doing, and what current jobs are open and what current jobs are perhaps duplicative.

    QUESTION: Right. So it is still not being lifted and it won’t be lifted until after the reorganization is complete?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not certain about the time in which it will be lifted. All I can tell you is that it’s temporary. I think that’s something that’s still under consideration.

    QUESTION: Okay. Because there’s a lot of angst and stress among this building and among former officials who think – or who have been under the impression that these programs are going away and that the Secretary was not committed to having a full – a full and effective complement of diplomats in the Foreign Service. Is that incorrect?

    MS NAUERT: Well, here’s what I can tell you. The Pickering and Rangel fellows program is staying. We have a new class that’s incoming. I talked with some of the fellows this afternoon and asked them what they thought about the speech and asked them how they’re enjoying the program, and they gave it all a thumbs up. So I know that they’re pleased with it. Of course they’re very happy that the program is remaining and we are as well, and talking with a lot of Foreign Service officers in the building, even the white guys, they all said, “We love this. We love this program. We’re so pleased that it’s staying.” So I think building-wide I can speak for that – the importance of diversity, and kidding aside. But the importance of diversity to the programs here.

    QUESTION: Well, so do you have any idea how quickly the Secretary envisions building the Foreign Service up to a point where it does reflect the face of America or it does reflect the diversity of America?

    MS NAUERT: So part of the program here – and this is something that he kind of outlined in broad brush strokes earlier today – to build a recruiting team, to go out to some schools in different places around the country so that people don’t necessarily have to seek us out – and I’m not talking just about Foreign Service officers, but this would also apply to civil servants as well, according to my understanding of it – but where we would try to build up relationships with various institutions, where we would go out and basically do recruiting, talk to different students on different campuses and so forth. One of the things that they want to do is hold minority-focused job fairs and see that as a way of helping to introduce the State Department to people who may not normally know about the State Department and know about careers available here.

    Another interesting idea the Secretary brought up was looking to our veterans, our veterans across the country, many of whom are getting out of the military and are looking for a civilian career now. They are a talented, important work pool, a workforce that knows how to get things done and knows how to get things done in difficult circumstances, and that really mirrors what we do here at the State Department. So the Secretary has talked about how he wants to try to recruit veterans and bring in veterans. So those are just kind of among the big toplines that we would focus on here.

    QUESTION: Right, but for the students that’s clearly a multiyear process, because you’re not going to be able to get these people in and then get them into senior positions where, if the stat is correct that he mentioned, only 12 percent of the senior Foreign Service is non-white, which is far more pale, male, and Yale than I actually ever thought it was, but – and I’ve been here for quite a long time.

    MS NAUERT: I know.

    QUESTION: But the issue that – or the question I have is: Previous Secretaries have tried to do exactly the same thing, and this veterans idea is not new, and in fact, veterans get preference for hiring in all federal civilian jobs. But there was a particular push in this building years ago, and it still doesn’t seem to have worked. So I guess my question is what exactly is going to be different this time around, because we had Secretary Powell notice this and see it, Secretary Rice too, and so --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’d have to go back and look – I’d have to go back and look at the numbers, the recruiting numbers and then the number of people who actually joined the State Department, the Foreign Service, and other programs that we have here, to see where it is now compared to where it was five, 10 years from now. So I’d have to go back and actually look at the data and compare the program that the Secretary has outlined – again, broad brush strokes, but outlined now – compared with the programs before. If you want me to do that, I can take a day or so to dive into that and try to figure it out, but I know that this is something that the Secretary --

    QUESTION: If I say yes, you’ll never talk to me again, right?

    MS NAUERT: No, of course I will. But it would take me some time to figure all that stuff out. That would be data-driven. But I know – I can tell you that this is important to the Secretary and this is something that he really wants to do.

    QUESTION: Right. But I – well, I – I mean, you don’t have to personally do it. Perhaps there is some way to quickly find out whether the numbers of the – minority numbers have been going up or going down or have been static over the course of the years despite these programs.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to promise you that today, but we can certainly look into it. Okay? Okay. And you reporters out there, don’t start writing this and give me a deadline of 5 o’clock today, because it’s going to take a while to hunt down those numbers.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Thank you, Matt.

    Okay. Sir, hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: China.

    MS NAUERT: China. Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I ask one more question on Charlottesville?

    MS NAUERT: Sure, of course.

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary ever plan to publicly address what he thought of President Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville? And do you know if – since they speak so frequently, do you know if he has had a private conversation with him telling him what he thought of – specifically about his remarks? Not just the incident itself, but the reaction.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. A couple things. I know the Secretary has spoken with the President this week – not in person, but he’s spoken with him by phone. I’m not aware of whether or not it was a one-on-one call or whether it was just a group call, like a principals’ call or something of that sort, but I know he has spoken with the President this week. As you know, right now he’s at Camp David, and that’s where we’re – they’re having conversations, so that conversation may be going on at this time. I know that the Secretary has spoken out on two occasions about race this week alone: one as he was meeting with the foreign minister from Canada, in which he addressed what happened in Charlottesville; and then I think his overall views on race and diversity and the place in America that it properly holds today. So I think the Secretary has spoken a fair bit about that.

    Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Do you have any more on how the ambassadors are going to be – the pool is going to be selected, how that – having a minority in that group with the --

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I’m glad you asked that. One of the things the Secretary mentioned today is that when we look at our ambassadorial candidates at that pool, that the Secretary wants to have someone who represents a minority represented in those interviews to be interviewed for the job. And the Secretary said perhaps if that person is not ready yet for that position, that gives us a good opportunity to know who that person is and have that person on our radar and help bring that person along into the future. So it helps to identify a quality base of candidates and helps the State Department to better work with them to get them to that position which they aspire to.

    QUESTION: Is that effective immediately?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. I don’t know. I didn't get a chance to ask him that. Okay.

    Hi, Laurie.

    QUESTION: There are reports that Turkey is attacking the Syrian Kurdish city of Ephraim. Is that what’s going on? And if so, what is your reaction? What is happening in Ephraim?

    MS NAUERT: So I’ve seen that report, and I – I’m afraid I just don’t have anything for you on that right now.

    QUESTION: Well, then, I have another question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Iraq has requested – has formally requested the UN’s help in investigating ISIS for war crimes. Can you give us some idea of what the next steps are going to be and what your role is going to be in that?

    MS NAUERT: So one of the things we’ve addressed here before is the amount of aid that we’ve helped to provide to Iraq, I believe also through the United Nations as well. I would need to double check on that. I have it in my notes somewhere. And part – what that is – the aim of that is to help the Iraqi Government and to help the United Nations to be able to identify some of those who have been involved in these – what we can call war crimes, genocide, and all of that.

    So the United States is putting financial aid so that they can – they can kind of better handle that situation.

    QUESTION: So how does this request to the UN change things, does it get more parties involved, make it formal?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah – I’m not sure exactly. So I’d have to just look into that further and get back to you on it. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. Hi. What’s your name?

    QUESTION: Omur Sahin from BirGun, a Turkish newspaper.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I’m going to ask about the Reuters interview with Syria Democratic Forces spokesperson, that he said --

    MS NAUERT: An interview with who?

    QUESTION: With Syria Democratic Forces spokesperson.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: He said the U.S. will remain long after ISIS is defeated. I’m going to ask if you have a comment on that. And also, are you having some discussions with Syria Democratic Forces about your further plans in the region?

    MS NAUERT: Are we having conversations with who?

    QUESTION: With Syria Democratic Forces.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, with the Syrian Democratic Forces --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: -- about – okay. So the United States and coalition partners work with the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the main goal in working with that entity, that group, was to take back Raqqa. We know that they are tried and true and tested, battle tested, battle ready, to take out ISIS, and they’ve done a good job of that. That operation, of course, is still underway to take out ISIS from Raqqa. So we have worked with them. We see that as something that’s being done in a very focused fashion and not in broader fashion.

    In terms of what you are referring to – that interview – I’m familiar with that interview, and let me just kind of point back to what one of our colleagues, someone over at Department of Defense, was talking about and that is our overall mission. And our overall mission, and we’re not taking our eye off the ball in this regard, is to defeat ISIS. Whether it’s in Iraq or in Syria, that is our intent, to defeat ISIS and not do anything more than that. We want Syria governed by Syrians, not by the United States, not by any other forces, but by Syrians.

    QUESTION: So you say you’re not planning to stay after defeating ISIS?

    MS NAUERT: Look, that is not our plan. Our intent is to defeat ISIS, and we’re keeping our focus on that.

    Okay, hi.

    QUESTION: China?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: Oh, wait. By the way, anything else on Syria?

    Okay, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary believe that U.S. is at economic war with China?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Does the Secretary believe that the U.S. is at economic war with China?

    MS NAUERT: I have not asked him that question. I think what you’re probably referring to is our – Mr. Lighthizer, who handles trade for us. Is that – is that what you’re trying to get at?

    QUESTION: But does China pose any kind of economic national security --

    MS NAUERT: I have not – I have not asked the Secretary that. I know the Secretary continues to recognize China as a country we can have close cooperation with on many issues, on many fronts. They’ve been extremely helpful to us now in dealing with DPRK and – but again, I haven’t asked him that question.

    I know that the administration overall looks at China and looks at some of its trade practices and has concerns about it, and that’s a matter that other institutions are going to take up within the U.S. Government.

    QUESTION: I don’t think he was referring to Mr. – the trade representative, Mr. Lighthizer. I think he was referring to a view of China expressed by the until-several-hours ago chief strategist of the White House in an interview --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- in an interview with a magazine in which the – this now former official also went after a career State Department official who handles China.

    MS NAUERT: Now I understand what you’re --

    QUESTION: Do you have --

    MS NAUERT: Now I understand what you’re talking about. My apologies, sir.

    QUESTION: Do you – or do you know, does the Secretary have a view on those comments? He said yesterday that he had seen them. I’m wondering if he does have a – if he – does he share the view of China that the former chief strategist of the President evinced?

    MS NAUERT: That he what?

    QUESTION: Evinced. That he spoke about to the magazine, that the --

    MS NAUERT: Which one – which part – portion of those comments in particular are you referring to?

    QUESTION: The – that the United States is at – in an economic war with China.

    MS NAUERT: I have not asked the Secretary that question. He’s not here right now. He mentioned that he’s aware of the comments, but we’ve been focused on a lot of bigger things – bigger things meaning DPRK, and bigger things in terms of what’s going on today and their meeting with the President today.

    QUESTION: Right.

    QUESTION: On that issue – sorry --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi.

    QUESTION: -- it was pretty well-known when he said it in the interview that Mr. Bannon opposed the role that Susan Thornton was playing. Now that he’s removed – and it’s quite well-known that Secretary Tillerson favored Ms. Thornton to be the actual assistant secretary for East Asian affairs as opposed to acting – does the Secretary now see the way clear for her to take that position officially?

    MS NAUERT: Susan Thornton is fantastic. A lot of us have worked here quite closely with Susan. Susan’s been a part of the tip of the spear in dealing with the DPRK and she’s done it – she makes it look like it’s effortless and I cannot imagine that it is. But she handles herself very, very well, and she happens to be a very smart and accomplished woman as well. The news about Mr. Bannon broke about 11 o’clock today. The Secretary landed – or arrived at Camp David sometime after that or not long thereafter, so we have not had a chance to talk about this in particular.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hey, how are you?

    QUESTION: Thanks. I want to go over the meetings that happened yesterday --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- the 2+2. First, I just wanted to know if you had, like, a readout about how the meetings went. Did they go as expected? And then also, within the joint statement, I noticed that THAAD was never mentioned. And I didn’t know, was that never brought up during these meetings, or what’s the situation with that?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. A couple things: For the meeting that took place yesterday between the two-by-two – excuse me, the 2+2 between the Secretary and his counterpart, and also Secretary Mattis and his counterpart as well, they defined their shared roles, their missions, their capabilities, under the alliance that was going forward.

    As you know, the Secretary then met later on in the afternoon with his counterpart and their staffs as well. They talked about the strong trade and investment relationship between the United States and Japan, they talked about the administration engaging Japan to reduce barriers to trade and investment, they talked about enhancing economic and job growth in the United States and the region. They also touched upon DPRK. I was sitting in the meeting and I don’t recall the topic of THAAD coming up, but if one of them isn’t going to raise it, then they’re not going to raise it.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Kono?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I hope that answers your question. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yesterday during the press conference, both sides actually raised their concern in East and South China Sea. So today the Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson said United States and Japan, which are not parties in South China Sea, should respect the effort made by countries in the region to solve the issues peacefully with their – through coordination and negotiation. I wonder if you have a response to that.

    MS NAUERT: So in terms of the South China Sea, our position remains the same. Nothing has changed with regard to that, and we’ve talked about it many times here and so I’d just prefer to leave it at that.

    QUESTION: And particularly in the joint statement, there was this line mentioned that both sides recalled the incidents in 2016 August. I wonder, because it has been a year – I’m referring to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – and I wonder what’s – since it’s been a year, what’s the urgency and need for United States and Japan to bring this – brought up this issue again? And also, they both highlighted the article of the mutual defense treaty between Japan and United States and they also especially emphasized Article 5. So what’s the reason behind it? I wonder if you could elaborate.

    MS NAUERT: So in terms of the Senkaku Islands, our position on that is – has not changed, and that has been clear, I think, all along. They’ve been under Japanese administration since the reversion of Okinawa back in 1972. They fall within the scope of Article 5, so that’s the – the technical definition or what encompasses the governing of that – of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. So we oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of those islands.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Can we move to North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: So a couple of days ago, Foreign Minister Lavrov in a statement to TASS made a very interesting statement basically saying, we cannot support the ideas that some of our partners continue to put forward and that literally aim to economically strangle North Korea. Now, it seems that the United States position is to economically strangle North Korea until they come to the denuclearization and stop their missile programs. So how do you square that? What do your – what’s your response to this?

    MS NAUERT: And remind me, you work for who again?

    QUESTION: Yomiuri Shimbun, Japanese newspaper.

    MS NAUERT: Japanese. Okay. So I just ask that because you’re reading the Russian talking points – (laughter) – so that’s why I wanted to know about that.

    Look, it’s not just the United States. The DPRK would like to paint this as a conflict or as a stressor between the United States and the DPRK. It is hardly that. The entire world looks at what North Korea has been doing in terms of its illegal nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, and see – the entire world sees that as a threat. We saw that at the UN Security Council through its resolution.

    One of the ways that we believe that we can help get Kim Jong-un to the table to start negotiate is by showing him the repercussions of his actions, and the repercussions of his actions – he can – we will increasingly make the situation difficult for him. By that, I mean they get their money, they bring their money in, and it funds their weapons programs. By tightening the belt on North Korea, by ensuring that they don’t take in as much money as they have in the past, that helps to reduce the amount of money going into their weapons program. That we see as a key threat. The Secretary has talked about that; Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis in their op-ed earlier this week. That’s one way that we can address the issue. And Kim Jong-un can see how isolated he will become – not just from the United States, but the world – if he maintains that.

    QUESTION: Was that really just earlier this week?

    MS NAUERT: I know.

    QUESTION: It seems like – (laughter) --

    MS NAUERT: I know. That was Monday.

    QUESTION: It seems like a long time ago.

    MS NAUERT: It does feel like a long week, doesn’t it?

    QUESTION: Time has no meaning anymore.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, I’m sensing everybody’s a little sleepy here on a Friday. It’s a summer Friday in August, so thanks, everybody, for coming in. We sure appreciate it.

    QUESTION: Isn’t no briefing on Fridays an August old tradition?

    MS NAUERT: I would – (laughter) – but you know what, Elise? So many of you wanted to do more. Okay?

    QUESTION: It’s true. It’s why we’re all here.

    MS NAUERT: So look, look, let’s just – but wait, let’s just back up for a second.

    QUESTION: That’s why we’re all here.

    MS NAUERT: Let’s just back up for a second and take a look at this week. Okay? So Tuesday, we had our briefing, right. Wednesday, I went over to the Foreign Press Center and spent some time with just a couple of you but some other folks, so that was fantastic to be over there. Yesterday, we had the 2+2 with Secretary Tillerson and his counterparts. And then today, we had the briefing and, by the way, brought in Mark Green, the new USAID administrator, to speak with many of you.

    QUESTION: Can I ask --

    MS NAUERT: So – hold on – thank you all for all the engagements that you’ve been involved with, and we’ve been trying to bring as much as we can.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: A Russia question real quick? So the – (laughter) --

    MS NAUERT: We said goodbye already.

    QUESTION: This is a little sudden. So the drawdown is in process; it has to be done by September 1st. Do you all have any sense yet of which of the – there’s three consulates and an embassy – which posts you’re removing people from, what the mix is?

    MS NAUERT: I – look, I don’t have anything for you on that. I know that we have agreed to provide a response to the Russian Government by September the 1st, and we so we plan to adhere to that, and that’s all I have.

    Okay. Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Have a great weekend.

    QUESTION: You too.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)

    DPB # 45

    Fri, 18 Aug 2017 18:24:43 EDT

    Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - August 15, 2017
    Heather Nauert
    Department Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    August 15, 2017

    Index for Today's Briefing
    • IRAN
    • INDIA


      2:52 p.m. EDT

      MS NAUERT: We’ve had a busy day here today at the State Department, starting with the Secretary announcing the International Religious Freedom Report and the rollout of that today. Earlier today, the Secretary released the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom that provides an overview of the status of religious freedom today in nearly 199 countries and territories. In his remarks, Secretary Tillerson affirmed that religious freedom is a foreign policy priority in this administration. As the Secretary said today, “No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination, because of his or her religious beliefs.”

      The Secretary also called out the egregious examples of those who deny individuals their fundamental freedom to exercise or practice their religion or belief. In particular, he called out the crimes of ISIS for what those crimes are – genocide. There can be no doubt about that. ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled.

      The protection of these groups and others subject to violent extremism is a human rights priority in the Trump administration. Thanks to the hard work of the men and women at the State Department and the administration’s commitment to the issue, there is no nation as dedicated or as effective at advancing religious freedom as the United States. The 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom can be found on our website, and that is a big part of our effort.

      Secondly, I’d like to take the opportunity to welcome two new colleagues here at the State Department this week. First, Nathan Sales has started his work as the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism. We had a nice chat yesterday, so welcome to him. Before he joined us, Mr. Sales was an associate professor at Syracuse University College of Law. That is where he wrote in the fields of national security and counterterrorism. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, and as senior counsel at the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. Welcome, Nathan Sales.

      Also, Carl Risch started this week as the assistant secretary for Consular Affairs. Carl has been serving as acting chief of staff in the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. He was previously the field office director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the American Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. He’s also a former Foreign Service officer, so we are thrilled to have him back here at the State Department. Welcome.

      With that, I will take your questions. Matt, would you like to start?

      QUESTION: Thank you, yes. We may get back to the Religious Freedom Report --

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: -- which is really important, but I wanted to start with North Korea, which seems – the Secretary upstairs, when asked about the latest, said he didn’t have any comment on the pronouncement from Pyongyang on the Guam tests or plans for the Guam tests. But – and he said that you continue to be open to having a dialogue. Is it still the position of the administration that the North Koreans have to do something other than just say “we want to talk” before you’ll sit down with them?

      MS NAUERT: I think so. I mean, the Secretary, I think, was pretty clear about that today. Just a couple days ago he spoke about this as well. He said, look, we’ll talk, but they have to take some serious steps. Susan Thornton, our acting assistant secretary for East Asia Pacific, who’s been very engaged with the Secretary on this issue, has said the same thing. Look, we’re willing to sit down and talk with them, but it appears that that’s not – that’s not going to happen imminently. They have to take some serious steps before we get there.

      QUESTION: All right. Well, does not doing something count as a step? (Laughter.)

      MS NAUERT: I think they would have to be a little bit more clear.

      QUESTION: So --

      MS NAUERT: And again, when Kim Jong-un talked about Guam, that, again, is a hypothetical of sorts.

      QUESTION: Right.

      MS NAUERT: So they would have to do a lot more.

      QUESTION: Well, okay. So just to be clear, not launching ballistic missiles towards Guam is not enough for you guys to talk with them?

      MS NAUERT: I feel like that’s sort of a question that my child might propose. (Laughter.) If my child were to say, “Hey, Mom, if I don’t steal this cookie, will you then give me television?”

      QUESTION: Right.

      MS NAUERT: No. The answer’s no on that one. I think we can all relate to that.

      QUESTION: Are you suggesting, then, that Kim Jong-un is a child?

      MS NAUERT: No. I am not suggesting – I am not suggesting that. I’m just suggesting it’s such an extreme hypothetical to reward someone for not doing something.

      QUESTION: Well, right.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: But it’s – oh, okay. So what, in other words, then, do they – must they do affirmatively or positively --

      MS NAUERT: And I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole. I mean, the Secretary has been clear about we will see it – they know what they need to do to get us to come to the negotiating table. We are willing to have talks about this. This is obviously a very serious matter – cookies and children aside, a serious matter. They know what they need to do, and the Secretary has said we’re not going to negotiate our way back to the negotiating table.

      QUESTION: Okay. So just to put the finest point on it possible, you’re not going to go and sit down with them then unless they take steps that they know that they have to do? That’s – just them saying we’re open or we’re not – we’re going to hold off on sending missiles towards Guam is not going to get you interested in having a dialogue; that is correct?

      MS NAUERT: I think they would have to do quite a bit more.

      QUESTION: All right, thanks.

      MS NAUERT: Hi. Dave, hey.

      QUESTION: Hi. If they know what they have to do, what’s the problem in us knowing what they have to do?

      MS NAUERT: Some of these would involve private diplomatic conversations that we have with our friends in the region. I think the main point here is that the U.S., along with our partners and allies – we’re all on the same page. We’re talking with a whole lot of countries about this pressure campaign, and nothing has changed.

      QUESTION: So if they know what they have to do and our allies in South Korea and Japan know what they have to do, it’s only the U.S. people and our readers who don’t know what they have to do?

      MS NAUERT: Well, look, Kim Jong-un, we would like to have talks with him when the time is right, when they show that they are serious, serious about an effort to move toward denuclearization. We have not seen that yet. Remember – and let me go back to this again – two nuclear tests last year, two anti – ICBM tests in a month alone. We have not seen that they’ve been serious at this point.

      QUESTION: So --

      MS NAUERT: Hi, Said.

      QUESTION: If they – hi. If they say that we will no longer launch missiles over Guam or into that area into the Pacific, that would not be enough? I just want to understand you correctly.

      MS NAUERT: I think I answered that question. Again, this can get into --

      QUESTION: Yeah, but --

      MS NAUERT: -- extreme hypothetical situation, and I don’t want to get into that.

      QUESTION: Because they said that --

      MS NAUERT: I understand.

      QUESTION: They were very specific. They said, we’re going to launch a missile on that region or in that area. So if they say we will no longer do that, that is not --

      MS NAUERT: And I think we’re not going to respond to every single threat and every single hypothetical.

      QUESTION: So with everybody assuming that North Korea has nuclear weapons, and some say in fact put a figure on it, like 50 or 56 or something – so do they have to say okay, this is what we have, we want to denuclearize it, before you could talk with them?

      MS NAUERT: They would have to show some serious steps and some serious indications that they would be willing to sit down for talks. Okay? All right.

      QUESTION: One on North Korea?

      MS NAUERT: Hi, how are you?

      QUESTION: Nice see. Kim Jong-un’s bad behavior has been going on for a long time, so what United waiting for? Why didn’t do anything act to North Korea?

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry? Why what?

      QUESTION: Why didn’t do military actions immediately when they threating U.S. and our --

      MS NAUERT: Why didn’t we undertake military actions to do so? Well, we believe that diplomacy deserves a chance. This is still a new administration, six – actually eight months now into this administration. The Secretary, Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, penned a joint editorial that ran in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal in which they talked about that, that they’re on the same page, believe firmly that diplomacy can solve this; however, we’re prepared, as we are in every situation around the globe, to switch to another plan if that is absolutely necessary. That’s a DOD issue so I’m going to stay away from that, but we believe that diplomacy is the solution here.

      QUESTION: Yeah, one more on South Korea. Yesterday, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said that remark that no one can military action on the Korean Peninsula without the South Korean Government permissions. What is U.S. position on this statement?

      MS NAUERT: We have a good relationship, as you know, with the Republic of Korea. We have constant, ongoing conversations with that government. What you propose there is another hypothetical situation which I’m not going to get into, but we continue to have conversations with the Republic of Korea on a near-constant basis.

      QUESTION: What if North Korean Kim Jong-un sudden attack South Korea? Can the United States engage in this military action?

      MS NAUERT: As you know, South Korea is an ally of ours; and as we do with our allies and friends, we pledge to protect them as well. Okay?

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      MS NAUERT: But then, that’s a hypothetical. I don’t want to get into that beyond what I’ve said. Okay, anything else on DPRK?

      QUESTION: On China?

      MS NAUERT: Okay, hi. Hold on one sec.

      QUESTION: Right. In the – in your assessment, does the United States see a gradual change of China’s attitude toward North Korea? Do you think they see it, North Korea, more of a liability than asset?

      MS NAUERT: I think – and we saw this about a week – pardon me, a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, when China voted in support of the UN Security Council resolution. We were really pleased to see them take that step. The Secretary and others have had frequent conversations with the Chinese. As you know, President Trump spoke with President Xi over the weekend, and they talked about our mutual agreement that DPRK is up to no good, and that is a security risk, not for the region but the world.

      So we are asking them to do more, as we have. They’re North Korea’s primary trading partner. We believe that they have unique leverage to put pressure on North Korea. And they’ve committed to us that they’re going to follow through with those UN Security Council resolutions and making sure that those are adhered to from their endpoint. And so we look forward to having them hold up their part of the bargain. Okay.

      QUESTION: So do you see their action in the United Nations Security Council as an indication of their gradually, slowly change of action?

      MS NAUERT: I think it’s trending in the right direction. It’s trending in the right direction. And then President Trump and President Xi had a nice conversation over the weekend, discussing that very thing as well.

      QUESTION: And then finally, you just mentioned there’s a lot more North Korea can do to resume the talk. Just for a good sound bite, could you – what else – what allowed work they should do and then not to do?

      MS NAUERT: Well, North Korea would have to take some very serious steps and show us that they are serious about its interest and intent in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. They would have to do a lot more of that. Secretary Tillerson has talked about that extensively. He’s also said: I’m not going to negotiate my way back to the negotiating table, and North Korea knows exactly what it needs to do. Let’s get serious about it.

      Okay. Hi.

      QUESTION: It’s not really a hypothetical. What do your agreements with South Korea say? Do you have to get their permission to launch any sort of strike?

      MS NAUERT: Some of those things are diplomatic conversations and some of those would involve the Department of Defense, so I just don’t want to get into that. Okay.

      QUESTION: But I mean if he says you can’t without his permission, you’re not going to respond to it?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into that. Okay? I’m not a part of that conversation that the U.S. military may be having with South Korea on that part. But they are a valuable ally of ours, as you well know, and we defend our allies.

      QUESTION: Press very --

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: -- very confuse about President Moon remark yesterday, because U.S. and South Korea is alliance. But he not want to be war in Korean Peninsula, but however U.S. supposedly involved with war when the North Korean Kim Jong-un attack the South Korea. But why he discourage it, but --

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. I didn’t understand the last part.

      QUESTION: President Moon doesn’t want a war in the Korean Peninsula, but --

      MS NAUERT: Well, no one does.

      QUESTION: Nobody want it --

      MS NAUERT: No one does. We don’t want that.

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: President Moon doesn’t want that. Japan doesn’t want that.

      QUESTION: Exactly, but --

      MS NAUERT: No one wants that. And that is why we are so, pushing hard on this diplomacy campaign. I mean, the number one thing you hear me talk about here, the number one thing you hear Secretary Tillerson talk about, is goals and efforts to try to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, getting Kim Jong-un to give up those illegal weapons, getting him to stop with his destabilizing activities. It’s a priority, obviously, at the United Nations and the UN Security Council, where they had the unanimous vote on that matter. It’s a top issue for our friends and allies and partners around the world.

      QUESTION: But this is not at all between U.S. and North Korea problem. This is – the actually problem is that the South Korea, in fact. But Moon thought this is your guys’ problem. That’s not – how did you think about – this --

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Is this our problem?

      QUESTION: I mean --

      MS NAUERT: I’m not understanding the question.

      QUESTION: -- between the U.S. and North Korea problem. Do you think this is between the U.S. and North Korea problem?

      MS NAUERT: Is this issue between the United States and North Korea? No. This is between North Korea – this is between North Korea and the world. It is not the United States standing here alone expressing concern about the activities of Kim Jong-un’s regime.

      And by the way, it’s a good opportunity to remind people what it’s like for North Koreans to live under that regime. Okay. That is not a free and fair country. It is not a country where people have ample food, opportunity. It’s not a country where people can come and go as they please. It’s a country where they’re starving their own people; they’re engaged in forced abortions. Pardon me for talking about that, but that is a very grim reality there, where people are living in labor camps, it’s under horrific situations.

      This is not between the United States and North Korea. It is the world looking at North Korea and condemning North Korea and that Kim Jong-un – this is not about the population there, the regular folks. This is about what Kim Jong-un is doing not only to the world but to his own people.

      QUESTION: Thank you very much.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Anything else on North Korea?

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Hi.

      QUESTION: There are reports suggesting the rocket engines powering the recent successful ICBM tests in North Korea came from a state-owned Ukrainian factory. Is the State Department aware of that – or those reports? And do you have any comment on it?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. We’re certainly aware of those reports that have come out. That’s an issue that we would take very seriously, if that were to be the case. One of the things I do want to mention about this is that no single country has done more to curtail these ambitions of North Korea than the United States. There have been a lot of UN Security Council resolutions, and they obligate all nations, including Ukraine, to prevent transfers of sensitive technology to the DPRK.

      In the past, I know that Ukraine has prevented the shipments of some sensitive materials to nations that we would be certainly very concerned about. We have a good, solid relationship with Ukraine. As you know, President Poroshenko was over here a couple months ago, meeting with the President, also meeting with Secretary Tillerson. As a general matter, we don’t comment on intelligence reports. Ukraine, though, we have to say has a very strong nonproliferation record and that includes specifically with respect to the DPRK. Okay.

      QUESTION: Just directly a follow-up on that.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: Ukraine today have confirmed that the rockets did come from the factory, but they say they were made before --

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Who confirmed this?

      QUESTION: The Ukrainian Government confirmed it did come from their factory, but before 2001, when they were part of the Soviet Union. And they said those rocket motors were transferred to what is now Russian control. Do you have any --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have any information about that particular report. I’m not aware of what you said the Ukrainian Government has just said. If I have anything on that for you, I’ll get it to you, but I’m not familiar with that.

      Okay. Anything else on this?

      QUESTION: North Korea.

      QUESTION: China.

      QUESTION: Iran.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s stick with North Korea, clean out North Korea, and then we’ll go somewhere else.

      QUESTION: We just --

      MS NAUERT: Meaning, let’s finish that topic before we move on to something else. Okay. I just want to be clear.

      QUESTION: (Laughter.) We just talked about --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. Go – hi.

      QUESTION: -- China’s support for the latest UN resolution. China has supported past UN sanctions resolutions on North Korea, but the actual enforcement of those sanctions has been wanting. How much time would the U.S. sort of allow to pass before you kind of reassess whether China is actually serious about this resolution this time, and before you may start to consider secondary sanctions on Chinese companies, which I think Secretary Tillerson has hinted at, Susan Thornton hinted at as well?

      MS NAUERT: Secondary sanctions have been put in place against some Chinese companies, as you’re well aware, and I believe individuals as well. This is going to be an ongoing conversation. It took many, many years to get to this very concerning point with North Korea. It’s going to take some time to try to resolve this as well. We’ll continue the conversations with China.

      Let me read you a little bit about one of the things that Secretary Tillerson said in some meetings in Manila just about a week ago. He said – he talked about China and Russia being helpful on the issue of North Korea. He said, “I know that they are having talks as well with representatives from North Korea. I think that is evidence that they have a very good, open channels of communication to be able to talk with the regime of North Korea, and we hope that they will be encouraging them to stand down their program and abide by UN Security Council resolutions, which both China and Russia have voted for in the past. So I’m hopeful that they will use their influence – and they think they do have influence with the regime – to bring them to the point of dialogue, but with the right expectation of what that dialogue would include.”

      So again, these are ongoing conversations, and I don’t want to put a timeline on it. But we’re having a lot of those conversations.

      QUESTION: Thanks.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks.

      QUESTION: Stay on North Korea.

      QUESTION: Could I move on?

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: Can we move on?


      QUESTION: One more on North Korea.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hey.

      QUESTION: When North Korea spoke yesterday of watching U.S. behavior, they appeared to point specifically to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Is there any consideration of making changes of U.S. behavior in that manner?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I think what you’re talking about is some sort of a double freeze, as we look at it here. There is no equivalency between what the DPRK has been engaged in – the ICBM missile tests in July, the two of those, the nuclear testing. Compare that to the legal activity that the U.S. and South Korea is engaged with in terms of its military – joint military exercises. Those joint military exercises have taken place for a very long time. They’re carried out in the spirit of the October 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty. They’re carefully monitored by the international community to ensure full compliance with the armistice agreements. So that so-called double freeze, that’s not going to change. We’re allowed to do it. We’re allowed to do it with our ally, South Korea. We will continue to do that and that’s just not going to change.

      QUESTION: Well, just because you’re allowed to do it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do in a period of very heightened --

      MS NAUERT: There – but there’s – people are --

      QUESTION: I understand your --

      MS NAUERT: There’s no moral equivalency whatsoever --

      QUESTION: I’m not suggesting – I’m not --

      MS NAUERT: -- in the U.S. and South Korea doing joint military exercises.

      QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that there is.

      MS NAUERT: We do these things all around the world – joint military exercises.

      QUESTION: Yeah. But I’m not suggesting that there is any equivalence at all, but it gets back to the earlier question, not doing something – in this case, on your side, you don’t think it’s this – you look at it the same way as --

      MS NAUERT: These have taken place --

      QUESTION: -- the North Koreans not doing --

      MS NAUERT: These have taken place since 1953 --

      QUESTION: Yeah.

      MS NAUERT: -- or thereabouts. It is an agreement that we have with the Republic of Korea. We remain open to dialogue with the North Koreans, as you well know. We are willing --

      QUESTION: But not on this.

      MS NAUERT: No. Not on this. Thank you. Thank you for asking that for clarification – on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But this – there’s no moral equivalency between our interactions with South Korea and what the DPRK has done. And the international world – the world recognizes what DPRK is doing is unstable, it’s unsafe, and it’s flat-out wrong. Okay?

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Are we done with DPRK? I think we should move on. Okay.

      QUESTION: Can I move on?

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me come back to you because we already got a question. Hi, how are you?

      QUESTION: Hi, good.

      MS NAUERT: Hold on, you’ve got – well, let me go to somebody else, Said.

      QUESTION: I did --

      MS NAUERT: I don’t want to read about this online. You already asked one question. Okay. (Laughter.) Hold on. Okay. I’m teasing you. Go right ahead.

      QUESTION: So North Korea has said that now is not the time to discuss American detainees. Do you have a response to this? And also, do you have an update on their situation?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we have three Americans who are being held by the DPRK. I know that our Ambassador Yun – Ambassador Joe Yun, when he was there a month or two ago, was able to take a look and meet with our Americans who are being held there. We remain very concerned about their status, about their care. This is another reminder to Americans to not go to the DPRK. It is not safe there, including things that may be considered legal here would not necessarily be considered legal there. So let me just use it as a reminder to please avoid going to North Korea until we get that so-called travel ban in place. When I have updates for you on those Americans who are being held, I’ll be sure to bring them to you, because that is something that we would certainly like to see, our Americans come home.

      QUESTION: And then in that Wall Street Journal op-ed that you mentioned that was penned by Secretary Tillerson --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: -- and Mattis, they said that an indication of good faith would be an immediate cessation of provocatory threats and also a halting of nuclear and missile tests. But what about the returning of American detainees?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think I’m just going to leave it at that – at the point. Okay? Okay. All right. Let’s move on from DPRK.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Laurie.

      QUESTION: Hi.

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, you want to talk about what? Iran?

      QUESTION: Iran.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: On Sunday, Iran’s parliament passed legislation to increase spending on its ballistic missile program and on the IRGC, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. And today, the Iranian president said Iran’s nuclear program could be restarted within hours and it would be more sophisticated than before if there are more sanctions. What’s your response to all that?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to respond to that threat or that hypothetical from President Rouhani. The Trump administration remains committed to countering a full range of threats that Iran poses, not just to the region but also to the world, including its ballistic missile development.

      QUESTION: But they said they’re going to spend more money on its ballistic missile program.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have the intelligence on that, so I’m just not going to comment on that, but that would be a concern of ours.

      QUESTION: Heather?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: The administration has – members of the administration from the President on down have said that they believe that Iran is not – violating – is in violation of the JCPOA in spirit.

      MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, the spirit of the JCPOA, yeah.

      QUESTION: Have you – do you still – does the administration still believe that they are adhering to the letter of the JCPOA?

      MS NAUERT: There’s a full Iran review policy that is still underway, so I don’t want to get ahead of what that review policy is going to be. In terms of where we have stood at this point, the United States has from the IAEA then recertified to Congress, so they know where we stand on that issue. But we still believe that what Iran is doing is destabilizing and that the JCPOA doesn’t fully recognize and comprehend and encompass all those destabilizing activities that Iran is engaged in.

      QUESTION: Right, but you also would acknowledge, though, that the previous administration that negotiated the deal never said that it did encompass those things. Now --

      MS NAUERT: Correct, correct, and that is why we look at that and see the flaws in the JCPOA --

      QUESTION: Right, right. The second --

      MS NAUERT: -- that it should be so much more comprehensive.

      QUESTION: Where I was – where I was going with the first question was: Does the administration believe that it – meaning the U.S. – is in compliance with the letter and the spirit of the JCPOA?

      MS NAUERT: We certainly are. We believe that we are in compliance --

      QUESTION: Do you believe that --

      MS NAUERT: -- with the JCPOA.

      QUESTION: You – your position is that you are not in – you’re not violating the spirit of it by not encouraging European companies or other companies to do business with Iran?

      MS NAUERT: I know that we have ongoing conversations with many other countries to discuss this. I know that other countries also share our concerns about what I’ll just broadly call the destabilizing activities. We know what they do in the region. We know what they do to some of our U.S. Navy ships. I mean, that’s just one – one example of some of the things that they do.

      QUESTION: So in other words, you – the administration believes that the sanctions relief that it continues to provide to Iran is in keeping with your commitments under the JCPOA?

      MS NAUERT: And we continue to have some of these conversations with other nations as well and keep an eye on those things.

      QUESTION: No, right. But as far as sanctions relief is concerned, you – the administration believes that it is fully complying with the terms of the agreement?

      MS NAUERT: We don’t believe that they are complying with the spirit of the law --

      QUESTION: No, you. Do you believe that the United States is fully complying?

      MS NAUERT: Oh, are we complying?

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: Yes, yes, yes, we are complying.

      QUESTION: So in terms of sanctions relief, they’re getting everything that they deserve, nothing less?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it that way. I’m just going to say that the United States is in compliance with its end of the bargain. Okay?

      QUESTION: Today, the United Nations secretary-general said that we should not walk away from the JCPOA under any condition. Do you agree with that?

      MS NAUERT: It’s not my place to agree or not agree with him.

      Okay? Anything else. Okay, all right. Let’s move on to another subject.

      QUESTION: India?

      MS NAUERT: Who’s got anything else?

      QUESTION: Can we move to the Palestinian-Israeli --

      MS NAUERT: Okay, Said.

      QUESTION: -- peace process or – first of all, could you update us? There is an upcoming visit or a delegation will be going to the region. They will go to the Gulf region then they will go to Israel and Palestine – Mr. Kushner and Mr. Jason Greenblatt. Is the State Department involved in this process?

      MS NAUERT: Yes, we are. We are always involved in that process. What you’re referring to is an upcoming trip. I don’t have an --

      QUESTION: An upcoming trip, but we don’t know exactly the time --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah, I don’t have an exact date for you on that. When I do have that, I would be more than happy to provide it to you. There was a statement that was put out – my understanding – from the White House about Mr. Greenblatt’s travel. He will be accompanied by Jared Kushner as well as Dina Powell on this trip, so I know we are looking forward to supporting them as we always do on their constant travels over to that region.

      Typically, when they travel to talk about Middle East peace and other issues, we provide backup assistance with them and attend meetings with them. Our ambassador, our charge will also attend those meetings. The State Department helps to set up some of those things, and then upon their return we do a debrief and have conversations about what they learned and where things stand.

      So it’s a close cooperating relationship between the State Department and also the White House on this. We recognize it is a big issue. This has failed a lot of past administrations, and we feel that this is a good new effort, a fresh effort to put forward, to have the White House and the State Department working in concert on this.

      QUESTION: Today, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that – refuting – I mean he was refuting some Israeli reports suggesting that the PA is walking away from its enthusiasm for the Trump initiative, but he’s saying that the U.S. ought to, as preceding – as its predecessor – this administration, as its predecessors, commit to the two-state solution. Has there been any statement by the State Department, by – to the best of your knowledge – by this White House committing to the two-state solution?

      MS NAUERT: One of the things that we have said is that both parties need to be willing and need to be able to agree to something. And if they’re willing to negotiate and agree to that, they are the ones that have to live with that day in and day out, and we will support them in those efforts.

      QUESTION: But the whole Oslo process, which the United States is really the shepherd of, is predicated – premised – on the two-state solution, correct?

      MS NAUERT: Look, both parties have to be willing to live and to work with this, and we will help support them in that. I think that is ultimately up for those parties to decide.

      QUESTION: And I have one last question, I promise --

      MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: -- on this issue. Yesterday – or today, the daughter of the American ambassador to Israel, Talia, immigrated to Israel, and she’s – presumably will be joining the Israeli army. Is that a good practice for the American ambassador to have his daughter join the Israeli army there that is perceived as an occupation army?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware – this report is news to me. I’m not aware of that report, but I’ll certainly look into it. I’m not sure we would have a comment on it, but I can certainly look into it.

      Okay, what else do we have today?

      QUESTION: India?

      QUESTION: Can you go to --

      MS NAUERT: We done?

      QUESTION: -- Iraq?

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. How are you?

      QUESTION: Thank you. How are you?

      So a delegation of the Kurdistan Regional Government went to Baghdad yesterday to start a negotiation on a possible breakup from Iraq. Would the United --

      MS NAUERT: On a possible what? I’m sorry.

      QUESTION: Breakup from Iraq or declaration of independence. So would the United States support these negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad?

      MS NAUERT: I mean, certainly if Erbil and Baghdad want to sit down and have a conversation with one another, that is certainly fine. As you know, we have expressed very serious concerns about holding a referendum, even a referendum that’s considered to be an unbinding referendum. What we would like to see is a stable, secure, and unified Iraq.

      As we talk about the referendum that the Kurds want to hold in September – late September, I believe it is – we look at that and say we understand what you’re going for, we understand what the goal is, but let’s not take our eye off the ball. Let’s not take our eye off of ISIS. And ISIS is the major serious threat in Iraq right now, and we’re concerned about a referendum at this time that that referendum would be further destabilizing.

      QUESTION: According to the KRG presidency’s website, Mr. – in the phone call between Mr. Tillerson and Barzani, Mr. Tillerson encouraged Erbil to negotiate with Baghdad. Do you – is that the case? What else did Mr. Tillerson think --

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have a readout of that conversation.

      QUESTION: Okay.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Yeah.

      QUESTION: Just for clarification --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: -- your objection is to the timing of the referendum --

      MS NAUERT: We’ve talked about that. Yeah. I think I’ve been clear about the concerns related to the timing of the referendum.

      QUESTION: But it’s not about the referendum itself. It’s the timing?

      MS NAUERT: And ultimately this is going to have to be worked out with the Iraqi people, but I just want to be clear, ISIS is the main fight that Iraqis have been fought – fighting for years now, hoping to get people back into western Mosul as they’ve started to come back in. There are operations taking place up in the north in Tal Afar. We haven’t talked about that a whole lot, but there are a lot of concerning activities on the part of trying to get ISIS out of Iraq. And we see that as the sole focus where we need to stay – where we need to keep the eye on the ball. Okay.

      QUESTION: I have one question on India.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes.

      QUESTION: Did the Secretary spoke to the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today? Do you have a readout of it?

      MS NAUERT: I believe – you know what? I’d have to double-check on that. I’d have to double-check on that schedule. I know that we’re celebrating a couple independence days; yesterday with Pakistan and today with India. So I know we’ve put out some comments on that.

      QUESTION: And also there was announcement about a 2+2 meeting between – meeting between India and U.S. – ministerial meeting. Do you know what’s the time and venue for that?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that to give you at this point. I’m not aware of any scheduling yet.

      QUESTION: I have one more on Afghanistan.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: Have you seen the open letter by the Taliban to President Trump asking him to withdraw from Afghanistan?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I certainly have. So I’m not going to comment on any statements put out by the Taliban on that. Let’s not lose focus here, that the – what I’ll – I’ll say this about another country: destabilizing activities. What is going on in Afghanistan is a result of the Taliban. We’ve seen, and there was a report out not that long ago, about the increase in attacks on civilians, which largely included women and children. That is being perpetrated by members of the Taliban. Let’s not lose focus that the Taliban is behind many of those attacks, many of the increase in civilian casualties. That undermines the Afghan population and also the Afghan Government as well, so let’s not lose focus of that.

      I’ve got to leave it there, you guys.

      QUESTION: Withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an option at all?

      MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

      QUESTION: Withdrawal from Afghanistan is no option --

      MS NAUERT: That’s not my position. I know that – that is not my place to talk about that whatsoever. I know there are a lot of various options on the table that the U.S. Government is considering as it reviews its Afghan policy. I think it – they will be considering a lot of different options and would never rule out any – absolutely everything. Okay?

      QUESTION: Do you have any updated guidance on the situation with India and China?

      MS NAUERT: Just that we are encouraging both parties to sit down and have direct dialogue.

      QUESTION: There was another round of skirmish and (inaudible) from India and China --

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. What?

      QUESTION: There was another round of tension --

      QUESTION: There was an actual skirmish, I think, today, earlier.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

      QUESTION: If you can update us on that, please?

      MS NAUERT: If I have anything new for you, I will be certain to get it for you. Okay?

      QUESTION: Okay.

      MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody. Good to see you.

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      (The briefing was concluded at 3:26 p.m.)

      DPB # 44

      Tue, 15 Aug 2017 18:22:38 EDT