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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - December 13, 2017
Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 13, 2017



Index for Today's Briefing
  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • NORTH KOREA
  • CHINA/NORTH KOREA
  • BURMA
  • IRAN
  • CUBA
  • HONDURAS
  • TURKEY
  • DEPARTMENT/MEXICO
  • IRAQ
  • YEMEN
  • DEPARTMENT
  • VENEZUELA

    TRANSCRIPT:

    3:04 p.m. EST

    MS NAUERT: So it’s great to see you on this Wednesday. I’ve got a little bit of time to go over some stuff. As you know, the Secretary is hosting his Mexican counterparts tomorrow, so he will be speaking with them, doing an event. I think it’s about 10:30 or so in the morning. So we will not be briefing tomorrow, but just wanted to let you know about that.

    I want to start out with just mentioning something. Tina had touched on Ukraine, and I’d like to mention this. It’s something that we’ve addressed before and, unfortunately, we have to address it one more time. There are continued attacks against civilian infrastructure projects in Donetsk. It’s sad that we have to address this once again. The situation in Ukraine, unfortunately, is not getting any better and so we’re talking about it once again.

    The United States continues to be deeply concerned by the escalating violence and the worsening humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. Back in November, we expressed concern about shelling near a vital water filtration plant in Donetsk. The plant remains under threat, and now a nearby coke factory has also taken fire by Russian-led forces. Coke factories assist in fuel production, energy production, as I understand it. We talked about that back in November.

    Together, the filtration plant and this coke factory help provide drinking water, electricity, and central heating to approximately 345,000 people. Threatening water supplies and also home heating in the dead of winter is simply unconscionable. Russian-led forces should immediately withdraw from their new positions surrounding the water treatment plant. We again call on Russia to stop artillery and rocket attacks against Ukrainian civilian areas and to honor the ceasefire called for in the Minsk agreements.

    The humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine is one of the – is the worst it has been now in three years and it is deteriorating. More than 1 million people in the Donbas region are food insecure, civilian casualties are up significantly over last year. We call on Russia to take immediate steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis by withdrawing its forces and agreeing to a robust UN peacekeeping mission. We also call on the Ukrainians to do more to alleviate the suffering and protect civilian populations and critical infrastructure.

    The United States remains committed to securing a lasting peace in eastern Ukraine through the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, as the Secretary said in Vienna last week, quote, “We should be clear about the source of this violence. Russia is arming, training, leading, and fighting alongside anti-government forces.” The decision to end the violence in eastern Ukraine and secure better relations with the United States and the international community lies squarely with Russia.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I --

    MS NAUERT: We usually go to – I know you’re new here. We usually go to Matt first --

    QUESTION: I’m sure --

    MS NAUERT: -- since he’s with the AP. Matt, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: I’m sure – thank you. I’m sure --

    MS NAUERT: Just kind of a tradition.

    QUESTION: I’m sure that you will – others have – will have questions about North Korea, so I’ll let others ask them. I wanted to start with the Middle East.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: You have seen Palestinian President Abbas’s comments, I’m sure. I know the White House has already responded, but only on background. I’m wondering what you make, if anything, of his comments that the United States has abdicated its role as mediator, or no longer fit to be the mediator and that the UN should take over.

    MS NAUERT: That’s it? That’s the question?

    QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.

    QUESTION: -- a response to that.

    MS NAUERT: I think, as you all well know, the President is committed to this peace process, as committed as he has ever been, and that has not changed. That type of rhetoric that we heard has prevented peace in the past, and it’s not necessarily surprising to us that those types of things would be said. We remain hard at work in putting together our plan. We believe that that will benefit both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.

    It is also important, I want to point out, to ignore some of the distortions and instead focus on what the President actually said last week. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues, and the United States would support a two-state solution – we’ve long talked about this – if both sides can agree on this.

    QUESTION: Okay. The – you talk about this type of rhetoric has never been helpful for peace. Does that mean that the U.S. does not believe that it’s possible for the – to – it’s possible to engage with the Palestinians under their current leadership?

    MS NAUERT: No. I think we hope to continue to try to work with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to try to force some sort of meaningful peace agreement so that they could sit down and have talks about this. We will continue to back that. We will continue to try to support both sides of it.

    QUESTION: Right. But I’m curious because President Abbas hasn’t made comments like that – hadn’t made comments like that for 10 months until this decision was announced. So are you – when you say that this type of rhetoric in the past has not helped, you’re talking about under previous administrations?

    MS NAUERT: Well, just talking about the general body of it. There has been inflammatory rhetoric, as we have seen, that has come from the region. We want to sit down and we want to be able to help bring both sides of the table together.

    QUESTION: But you’re not ruling out being able to work with him and his --

    MS NAUERT: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all. I have not seen that come out of the U.S. Government.

    QUESTION: All right. Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And then the last one on this is: As you know, some of the criticism of the administration’s move on this has been that it does, in fact, prejudge at least part of one final status issue. You will have seen that in addition to President Abbas’s comment today, the OIC meeting that he was at recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. Can you explain to me what the administration’s thinking is about that? Is it willing to do that? And if not, why not?

    MS NAUERT: The administration is committed to final status negotiations, and in those final status negotiations, that’s when we believe the best – those parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians, are best suited to be able to establish their own boundaries, their own borders, and issues of sovereignty. That’s not something that we are taking a position on as this administration. Simply, the administration determined that Jerusalem, based on where buildings are, based on where the government is, that Jerusalem is the capital.

    QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand why --

    MS NAUERT: (Clears throat.) Excuse me.

    QUESTION: What’s the difference between recognizing – you guys are recognizing Jerusalem, an undefined Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. How is it any different that the OIC is recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine?

    MS NAUERT: I think this would be the difference – and I’ve not spoken to OIC about this – but we are not making any calls on borders, we’re not taking – making any calls on sovereignty, we’re not making any calls on boundaries. That is up for both parties to decide in final status negotiations.

    QUESTION: Well, then but – so why – then what’s --

    MS NAUERT: We’re not drawing any geographic boundaries and we don’t think that that is our position to do that.

    QUESTION: Well, then why – so why can’t you say – then why can’t you say that you would regard East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state?

    MS NAUERT: I think that that will all be up to final status negotiations --

    QUESTION: Well, then why --

    MS NAUERT: -- and I’m not – I’m certainly not going to get ahead of any of those negotiations.

    QUESTION: Well, then why wouldn’t calling – why wouldn’t Jerusalem being the capital of Israel --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to have anything more for you on this. That would be subject to final status negotiations --

    QUESTION: Well – I get it. I just don’t – I guess --

    MS NAUERT: -- and our policy is not going to change on that.

    QUESTION: I don’t understand how it’s consistent logically if – one, if recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestine is prejudging something that should be done in final status negotiations, why isn’t also Jerusalem --

    MS NAUERT: I think we’re taking a position on --

    QUESTION: What’s the administration’s logic on that?

    MS NAUERT: -- how we view – on how we view Jerusalem. I think it’s up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to decide how they want to view the borders. Again, final status negotiations.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MS NAUERT: Elise, do you have something on this?

    QUESTION: I just want --

    QUESTION: I just – I don’t get --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to have anything more for you on this.

    QUESTION: Well, I understand, but can you find out --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- what the – and get back to us on what the reasoning is, what the difference is here? I have a good idea of what you might say, but --

    MS NAUERT: I will certainly see what I can do.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Just one quick one on this --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- and then I have one on North Korea. All of this stuff from the OIC and the Palestinians, are you just seeing this as kind of an emotional response to the President’s decision? And do you think that cooler heads will prevail and they’ll come back to the idea that there should be peace talks? Or do you think that this is kind of an irreparable chasm?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to assume why they came to this determination, why they came to that judgment. But again, our – I think our position is clear: final status negotiations.

    QUESTION: Well, I understand, but do you think that this is kind of a temporary anger that will dissipate or are you just hoping --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. All I can say is that with Mr. Kushner, Mr. Greenblatt, our ambassador, we look forward to continuing communications, to try to pick up communications, and try to have conversations about a peace process. That’s something that’s important to the President and that hasn’t changed.

    QUESTION: Has anyone in the Palestinian – in the CG’s office or anyone here talked to the Palestinians?

    MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness.

    QUESTION: Okay. Just --

    MS NAUERT: I know as of last week, there were conversations. I’m just not sure about this week.

    QUESTION: I just – on North Korea, I think there’s a lot of discussion about whether Secretary Tillerson’s comments yesterday, saying that there were no preconditions for talks, are in opposition to the White House policy. You saw that a White House official, I guess, is saying that now is not the time for talks. Could you clear up whether the Secretary was making some kind of new policy or if he was just sticking to something that he’s said before?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary was not creating any new policy. Our policy remains exactly the same as it was, the very same policy that we’ve talked about in this room for months and months now. First and foremost, diplomacy is our top priority. We have worked very hard on our maximum pressure or peaceful pressure campaign. We continue to work on that every single day. The second thing is the policy has not changed. I just want to be very clear on that. We remain open to dialogue, and we’ve long said this. We remain open to dialogue when North Korea is willing to conduct a credible dialogue on the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

    We are not seeing any evidence that they are ready to sit down and have those kinds of conversations right now. Some of you may say, well, that sounds like it it’s without preconditions. No. We would say that’s actually in accordance to international norms. When somebody is shooting off ballistic missiles, when someone is conducting advanced nuclear tests, they’re not showing any kind of interest or seriousness about wanting to sit down to talk. At some point we would like to do that, but our policy has not changed.

    QUESTION: So that is – I mean, I know he said that there are no preconditions on what would be discussed at the talks, but I think he used the word “caveat,” which is the same, I think, as a precondition, isn’t it? The precondition is they have to stop testing for some while to demonstrate their willingness to come to the table. Is that correct?

    MS NAUERT: Look, North Korea has been choosing to --

    QUESTION: Well, I understand. Just --

    MS NAUERT: -- regrettably to show that they are serious about talking. Our policy has not changed. We have long said that at some point we would be willing, when the time is right – and clearly the time is not right right now – when the time is right to sit down and have conversations with them. But we are not seeing that they are interested in doing that, and so our policy hasn’t changed. We are on the same page at the White House and at the State Department on this.

    QUESTION: But I just want to, like, make clear – like, in effect, that is a precondition. The precondition is that they stop testing. Is that right?

    MS NAUERT: Look --

    QUESTION: As a show of good faith.

    MS NAUERT: I think as a show of good faith, to not test would certainly be a smart idea and I think everyone in this administration would agree with that.

    QUESTION: No, but you – he said that there are no – and I just want to, like, get at this. Everyone is saying that he, like, said he’s ready to talk with no preconditions. Doesn’t he have a precondition? The precondition is no testing.

    MS NAUERT: Look, all of what the Secretary has said and the administration has said in the past is that we are willing to sit down and have conversations with them, but now is not the right time. Our policy has not changed. Our policy has not changed. I can’t be any more clear than that.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead, Nick.

    QUESTION: I mean, you just mentioned – you said that what you want is a credible dialogue on the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that’s the policy. That’s not what he said yesterday, though. He said that he – he’s happy to get in the room for that first conversation to talk about the size of the table. So --

    QUESTION: Or the weather.

    QUESTION: Or the weather. So that seems to be a discrepancy.

    MS NAUERT: Look, he – the Secretary then went on to say, “I think they clearly understand that if we’re going to talk” – I’m quoting here – “we have to have a period of quiet. We’ve got to have a period of quiet or it’s going to be very difficult” to have any kind of discussions. We would need a period of quiet, and we certainly haven’t seen anything of that sort.

    QUESTION: Just a quick – I just have two quick follow-ups on that. I mean, that’s separate from the issue of talking about denuclearization. So what you said now is that he is willing to have a credible discussion about denuclearization, but what he said yesterday is the administration is willing to talk about other things.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I can tell you our policy has not changed. If you mention talking about other things, we do happen to have some Americans who are still being held in North Korea. That would be an area – that would be a fertile ground to have conversations about. I’m not aware of any conversations taking place, but that would be an example of some kind of conversation that could take place right now.

    QUESTION: So is he willing to get in the room and talk about the size of the table, as he said yesterday?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I think our position is clear that – that he is not – by “he” I mean Kim Jong-un – is not showing any level of seriousness about sitting down and having conversations right now.

    QUESTION: Okay, and just one more follow-up. Joe Yun is going to – he’s in Asia now. He will be in Thailand. Is he meeting with North Korean officials in Chiang Mai?

    MS NAUERT: He is not. So a little bit about Ambassador Yun, and I know there’s always a lot of interest in Ambassador Yun. He will be in Bangkok December 14th and 15th. Our special representative on North Korea policy – that is his official title – he’ll meet with a variety of Thai Government officials. The Thai Government – and I know you ask about this a lot, Alicia – has been one of those governments that has pledged to be helpful on our maximum pressure campaign. That will be the topic of discussion between Ambassador Yun and Thai officials. They will continue to talk about the international threat posed by the DPRK. Ambassador Yun will not be meeting with the DPRK on that trip. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Anything else related to North Korea? Hi.

    QUESTION: On North Korea?

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) India?

    QUESTION: I – not to belabor the point, but the Secretary said yesterday, “It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it. And the President is very realistic about that as well.” So how is that not a change in policy when previously it was denuclearization of the peninsula?

    MS NAUERT: Well, that still remains our policy goal: denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That has not changed either. But the point is that we could only sit down and have talks when they’re showing a seriousness about being ready to sit down and have talks. And when you’re firing off ballistic missiles and you’re doing advanced nuclear testing, no one is showing that they’re serious about talking. But the overall policy on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is something we continue to support.

    QUESTION: But after --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: -- a period of calm, you can sit down without asking that the goal of this first meeting is denuclearization – I mean --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, say that again?

    QUESTION: You said – in August the Secretary said a condition of those talk is there is no future where North Korea holds nuclear weapons. Yesterday he said we can have a first meeting without speaking about denuclearization.

    MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary is on the same page as the White House, so – okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: But isn’t that a change – I mean, that’s – regardless of the period of quiet, whether or not they’re willing to denuclearize, would you be willing to meet with them if they’re not?

    MS NAUERT: If they’re not willing to denuclearize? No. That remains our goal. Our overall goal is denuclearization. It’s not something that --

    QUESTION: But regardless of the overall goal. But for the first meeting.

    MS NAUERT: -- is just the United States that agrees with that; it’s China, it’s Russia, it’s many other countries, it’s the Korean Peninsula --

    QUESTION: For the first meeting --

    MS NAUERT: -- that wants the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

    QUESTION: -- do they have to agree to denuclearization before you will hold that discussion?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary on any additional comments that he might make, but I just want to say that our policy, we are on the same page as the White House.

    QUESTION: Do you see the – do you see the problem --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: So he’ll turn down --

    QUESTION: People – people intensely parse every – this is like --

    MS NAUERT: I know, I know. And --

    QUESTION: -- one of those things, like Taiwan-China; like – and so when you have two things – you’re talking about two different things here. One is a precondition to actually sit down at the table, and then the second thing is a precondition for the – that talks that eventually happen. Okay? So what you’re saying is that there has to be a period of calm before you even sit down at the table, which is a – which is a precondition.

    MS NAUERT: There would – there would – if you want to call it that, go right ahead --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- but I’m not going to call it that. That’s --

    QUESTION: But then when --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think that that’s the case.

    QUESTION: Okay. But then --

    QUESTION: A caveat is a precondition, isn’t it?

    QUESTION: But then – but then – but then --

    MS NAUERT: Guys, I’m not going to – I’m not going to --

    QUESTION: But then there is --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to do the verbal gymnastics kind of thing.

    QUESTION: But then there’s also --

    MS NAUERT: You all asked to hear --

    QUESTION: This whole briefing is about verbal gymnastics, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: You’re not – you all asked to hear more and more from Secretary Tillerson. We gave a lot of him to the public yesterday.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: You certainly heard from him at the town hall meeting. I know many of our – my colleagues were really happy to have heard from him at that. He was gracious enough to have spoken and accepted the invitation to the Atlantic Council where he spoke to that, and now you all are complaining about a couple of words.

    QUESTION: Why did the Secretary --

    MS NAUERT: Come on, guys.

    QUESTION: We’re not complaining about it.

    QUESTION: Why did the White House feel compelled, then, to come out like two hours later and issue a statement that appeared to contradict the Secretary?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think that it did; I think it was just clarifying what our policy positions were. I know we were getting a lot of questions from --

    QUESTION: Heather, on North --

    MS NAUERT: I know we were getting a lot of questions from all of you, so we just wanted to make sure that everybody knew our position on that. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) Heather --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to have a lot more for you on this.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: One more.

    MS NAUERT: If you want to spend all our time on this, we can certainly spend all our time on this --

    QUESTION: Heather, on North --

    MS NAUERT: -- but there are other things going on in the world. Yeah. Hi.

    QUESTION: Heather, one more.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) period of calm --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah?

    QUESTION: -- how long is a --

    MS NAUERT: And that’s something we will never say. We will never put a period of time on that, whether it’s weeks, months, I don’t – I just don’t know. We just won’t put a timeframe on that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Heather, on North Korean Government --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- respond on the Secretary Tillerson’s yesterday comment about North Korea without any preconditions, but they – North Korea has a condition – preconditions for dialogue with the United States that – will the United States recognize North Korea as a nuclear state?

    MS NAUERT: No. No.

    QUESTION: No?

    MS NAUERT: We will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Heather, just one on under secretary – sorry, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Feltman, has he been in contact with the Secretary since his return from North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: The – and that – he’s from the UN?

    QUESTION: The UN.

    MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness. I just don’t have anything for you on that.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: And are they planning to meet?

    MS NAUERT: And I don’t know what his travel schedule or even when he would be back. I’d just --

    QUESTION: So --

    MS NAUERT: I’d have to refer you to the UN on that.

    QUESTION: North Korea and the United States --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So 60 days has passed since President --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, say that again?

    QUESTION: Sixty days has passed since President Trump just decertified the Iran’s compliance to the JCPOA --

    QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, wait. Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Yeah.

    QUESTION: I just had one more on Secretary’s --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: What did the Secretary mean specifically when he said that the Chinese were looking at or preparing to secure – or either accept an inflow of refugees or secure North Korean nuclear – secure North Korean nukes in the event that something happened?

    MS NAUERT: I think one of the things that the Secretary was referring to is taking steps to prepare – that China would be, and I’d have to refer you to the Chinese Government for more on this --

    QUESTION: That is a real --

    MS NAUERT: I know, I know. But I can’t speak on behalf of the --

    QUESTION: That’s a really helpful referral.

    ,S NAUERT: I can’t speak on behalf of the Chinese Government, so that is why I say that, Matt. But I think the Secretary’s point was that they are taking some steps to prepare for various eventualities. He went on to say he thinks it’s something they can manage when he was talking about potential refugees if refugees were crossing the border. He said, “I don’t think the threat is as significant perhaps as others view it. I don’t want to be dismissive of it, but it’s not an unmanageable situation. And they’re already taking preparatory actions for such an event.”

    As you all well know, various governments prepare for many eventualities, things that may sound very extreme, things that may never come to fruition, but it’s a government’s responsibility to try to plan for those types of things.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing he alluded to was that if the United States was to go in to North Korea for any reason, it would – he had assured the Chinese that they would – whatever forces would – that went in would return south of the 38th parallel, south of the DMZ.

    MS NAUERT: Right.

    QUESTION: Under what circumstances is he talking about --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think part of that is a hypothetical situation, but he did address it so I’m happy to entertain this with you. One of the things that the Secretary has identified are his four nos, four nos with North Korea: We are not seeking the collapse of the North Korean regime; we are not seeking regime change; we are not seeking the accelerated reunification of the Korean Peninsula; and we are not seeking an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel.

    In the Secretary’s comments – so those are the four nos. In the Secretary’s comments yesterday he spoke about conversations that he has had with the Chinese. He said, quote, “We have had conversations that, if something happened and we had to go across that line” – meaning the 38th parallel – “we have given the Chinese assurances that we would go back and retreat back to south of the 38th parallel when whatever the conditions that caused that to happen. That is our commitment we made to them.”

    I think he’s just talking about reality. Yesterday he used the word – pardon me – “if something happened and we had to, we would go back and retreat back.” So I think he is just planning for various potential situations.

    QUESTION: Okay. And forgive me – forgive me, the four nos, is this a formulation that you’ve just come up with now? The term for it, it’s very, very Chinese in --

    MS NAUERT: Is that – no. In fact, this is something the Secretary has talked about quite a lot.

    QUESTION: He – yeah, and phrased it like that, the four nos?

    MS NAUERT: The four nos. The four nos. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Because that’s the first I’ve heard of it. Have you heard of it?

    MS NAUERT: That’s the first you’ve heard of it?

    QUESTION: Oh, he has. Sorry, never mind.

    MS NAUERT: You’ve heard it before though, Nick.

    QUESTION: Never mind then. Sorry.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, Matt, get on the airplane and come along.

    QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. My fault.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, shall we move on? Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: Just one more on --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The Secretary is a very deliberate person who chooses his words very carefully. Was he intending to send a signal yesterday, or was it just an off-the-cuff remark?

    MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary was talking for a long time, sharing information, entertaining hypotheticals, and talking about different situations. But our policy overall has not changed and the Secretary remains firm on that. Okay? Let’s move on.

    QUESTION: Can I ask you one more question about his comments specifically?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, last one, and then we’ll move on.

    QUESTION: Okay. He was referencing if North Korea did build up a nuclear arsenal that they were able to use, he – his understanding is it wouldn’t just be used for deterrence, that it would also be used for commercial purposes.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And that there have been elements that they’ve seen of that. Was he referencing elements that North Korea is already trying to sell what they have, or something else?

    MS NAUERT: I think one of the things that he has made clear with our colleagues here in the past is that we believe that if North Korea has this technology that they would only be so happy to share it with other rogue regimes and they would make money off of that. We see that as a very dangerous thing.

    In terms of what has or maybe hasn’t been sold, I just can’t comment on that, I’m afraid. I know the Secretary alluded to it, but I’m not in the position to be able to dig down deeper into that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Let’s move on from North Korea. What do we want to talk about next?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: One more North Korea.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on --

    MS NAUERT: We already covered Jerusalem.

    QUESTION: I know, but I – but you moved on to North Korea too quickly.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Nope, we’re – I’ve got nothing more. I’ve got nothing more on Israel. I have nothing more on North Korea. So let’s move in. We’ve got a big world out there. Does anyone want to ask me about the reporters who were arrested in Burma? Anybody from Reuters here?

    QUESTION: I have left over one more.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s ask about that.

    QUESTION: Do you have any response to the arrests?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, a couple things. One – and this is important --

    QUESTION: Nicely planting your own questions.

    MS NAUERT: No, it’s not.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) I’m just --

    MS NAUERT: But you know what? I know in a room full of reporters, that you all care about the detention of reporters.

    QUESTION: Indeed. It is true.

    MS NAUERT: I don’t see any of our – your colleagues here from Reuters today, so --

    QUESTION: He’s right there.

    MS NAUERT: You’re – why are you not asking me about your colleagues?

    QUESTION: He probably would have.

    QUESTION: I know that you issued a statement from the embassy. Do you have anything more to say?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can tell you it’s a situation we’re watching very carefully. Any time reporters who are trying to do their jobs to try to bring information to the people are detained is an area of concern for us. I can tell you our ambassador, Ambassador Marciel, had a conversation with the Government of Myanmar yesterday. He asked them about this. He spoke with two government officials about this. He said that they seemed genuinely unaware of the situation. We are following this closely. I want you and your colleagues to know that not only is the safety and the security of Americans, although I don’t believe your colleagues were Americans, but we care about the safety and security of international reporters who are simply just trying to do their jobs.

    So we’re going to continue to try to stay on that. If I have anything more from our post overseas – it’s in the middle of the night over there – I’ll certainly get back with you on that.

    Okay. Yeah, thanks. Let’s talk about something else. What --

    QUESTION: Yes. On Iran.

    MS NAUERT: You wanted to talk about Iran. Okay.

    QUESTION: So 60 days has passed since President Trump just decertified Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. And yesterday the White House just said that there was actually no deadline to act by the Congress by this week. So my question is that: Is there any kind of deadline for the Congress to act or for the Trump – for the administration to do something about it? Or we’ll just wait until the mid-January for President Trump to decide that – on whether he will waiver or not the sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: I believe the next deadline comes up in January, so I don’t think that we would do anything prior to the deadline.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much. This week was the migration talks between the United States and Cuba.

    MS NAUERT: It’s the what?

    QUESTION: The migration talks took place here in the department between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban Government is now saying that because Washington requires a third country where people should go to to get the visas, it’s – this is disrupting family connections and family unity. Your comments, please?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. We’ve talked about this before. While I’m sympathetic to family reunification and the fact that people want to visit their family members, I’m also sympathetic to the fact that our diplomats were targeted in Cuba and that people have faced some serious health consequences. Some are still receiving medical treatment. That situation has – is still unresolved. We have an investigation that is still underway. We were forced to have to draw down the size of our embassy, the size of our embassy personnel. The mere fact that we had to reduce the size of our embassy personnel means sorry, not every Cuban is going to be able to get their visa handled in Cuba; you’re not going to have all the conveniences that perhaps you did in the past when we’re forced to draw down the size of the embassy.

    That’s just a reality. There are other posts where people can go out of country to try to get the documentation that they need, and they’re just going to have to do that for now. Okay? All right.

    QUESTION: Same region?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

    QUESTION: Honduras, please.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Thank you. You guys haven’t really said much since the certification, and 14 people have been killed, and the violence continues, the elections results still not calculated. But your charge has been appearing in public with the government’s side and seems to have, in the eyes of many, taken the government’s side. Do you have anything to say about that? And you’re willing to criticize Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, but not Juan Orlando Hernandez, who’s been a good ally of the White House.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I --

    QUESTION: There’s a lot of question about why you’ve not been more vocal about what’s going on in Honduras.

    MS NAUERT: I can tell you – well, first let me say I’m not aware of our charge’s schedule. So I don’t know and I can’t confirm if he had the --

    QUESTION: She.

    MS NAUERT: -- she, pardon me; thank you – if she had the meetings or showed up at certain places that you mention. It’s obviously a post-election situation there. We know that monitors have covered it. The election observers are still evaluating that situation. So I think until we know more about the results of all that, we’re just going to refrain from commenting on it.

    QUESTION: Not about the violence or anything?

    MS NAUERT: Well, any time that there is violence from any side, we would always encourage people to not act violently. We would call for peaceful demonstrations, if people were to demonstrate; that is an area that is a huge concern of ours. But in terms of commenting on the elections and the results, we’re just going to hold off until we can get that better figured out. Okay?

    Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) Voice of America, Turkish service.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: During Zarrab’s trial in New York, this Iranian-Turkish gold trader case that’s still going on, a former Turkish police officer who was sitting in the witness chairs, he said that FBI gave him $50,000 and also FBI is still paying his apartment lease in U.S., and he is – he got his working permit in return of his cooperation with the FBI. And after that news, the Turkish media reports that the FBI officer in Istanbul was invited to Turkish police headquarters to answering the questions about these allegations. So do you have any comment on this?

    MS NAUERT: On the case and the details that you out – that you laid out, I would just have to refer you to the Department of Justice on that. We are not involved in the case. The Department of Justice is handling that.

    In terms of one of our colleagues, it’s actually in – pardon me. Give me a second here. (Coughs.) By the way, I learned something new about all you the other day.

    QUESTION: What, we’re (inaudible)?

    MS NAUERT: Bluegrass music. (Laughter.) Pardon me. We have an FBI attache to our embassy there who was brought into the Turkish ministry. I don’t have any additional information for you on that, but I can confirm that that in fact did take place.

    Okay. Okay. Anything else? Hey, Abbie.

    QUESTION: Hey. Do you have any information or comment on a report out that the OIG has opened an inquiry into the State Department’s handling of some cases in Mexico regarding tainted alcohol and other incidents associated with the tainted alcohol in Mexico?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I know that the tainted alcohol issue, especially from our Western Hemisphere Bureau, is something that we followed closely. Over the summer, maybe it was spring break time, we put out a travel warning, a travel alert, a travel notice – which was it? I’m trying to remember. But it was an area-specific piece of information that we provided to alert Americans the fact that this was happening. I know at the time that we were not able to definitively say that it was from alcohol, from tainted alcohol, but I know that that was something that the Mexican Government was looking into. It certainly seemed that those were very credible reports. That concerned us and so just out of an abundance of caution and awareness that many Americans travel to Mexico, in particular that region, we put out that warning. But I don’t have anything on the – on a potential OIG report. If I do, I will certainly let you know.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Iraq. Yesterday, Secretary Tillerson, he said that they stand with the Kurds and they support the full implementation of the Iraqi constitution, which he said hasn’t been fully implemented yet. Can you talk about some of the ways that you are willing to take in order to support both Baghdad and Erbil and make sure the Iraqi constitution is fully implemented?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think that’s ultimately up to the Iraqi people. What we can do here from our perch, if you will, is try to encourage that. The Iraqis passed that constitution. It’s the constitution of the country. We would certainly expect and would hope that when a country formulates a new constitution, that they adhere to it.

    In terms of dialogue, we have a lot of conversations with the Iraqi Government, also with the Kurds as well, good relationships with both. One of the top Iraqi officials was just here at the State Department meeting with our deputy secretary just last week. And so those conversations continue. We continue to encourage Erbil and Baghdad to sit down and have a better dialogue. They’ve had military-to-military talks, but in terms of government-to-government, face-to-face talks, we hope that that’ll happen soon.

    Okay, sir.

    QUESTION: Okay. Do you have anything on the incident in Yemen where 30 people were killed in a Saudi-led strike? And I wanted to, if I may, go back to what the Secretary said in Paris last week.

    MS NAUERT: Let me take your first question first --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- because everybody here knows if we --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- stick too many together, I get lost. In terms of the airstrikes that you had mentioned, we’ve certainly seen those reports. We’re – it’s something that we’re following closely about Saudi – alleged Saudi airstrike on a Houthi police base. We continue to take all credible accounts of civilian casualties very seriously. We call upon the parties to take appropriate measures to diminish the risk of civilian casualties. That’s something that’s important to us. We talk about it a lot here. We urge the parties to investigate reported violations.

    Let me go back to say that an enduring solution to the crisis in Yemen is not one, in the end, that is military-based; it’s one that’s politically based. We continue to support the work of the U.S. – UN special envoy to Yemen. Certainly a tough job, especially given the very grave humanitarian situation that is taking place there.

    Ambassador Mark Green, our USAID administrator, spoke a little bit about that humanitarian situation. Yesterday we were happy to announce on behalf of USAID a new pool of money going into the humanitarian situation in Yemen. We announced $130 million in emergency food assistance to Yemen through USAID, and that brings the amount in fiscal year 20 – since 2016 to 768 million.

    And now to your point about – your question about the Secretary.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, how much of a sore point has Yemen become in relations with – between Washington and Riyadh?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know it’s a topic of conversation. The Secretary addressed this last week in Paris, saying that he hoped that the government could moderate some of its moves. I don’t have the exact comments right in front of me. But I think that that’s certainly something that we would call for. We want to get the humanitarian aid in, and we’ve seen that that’s been difficult to get the humanitarian aid in. You saw a statement on the part of the White House. It’s something we’re just tracking carefully. Okay.

    QUESTION: And as you know, the – what the Secretary said in Paris regarding the Saudi positions on Yemen, the blockade of Qatar, and Lebanon, they’re being interpreted by a lot of people in the Middle East as basically reflective of much more profound differences between Washington and Riyadh. What’s your reading of that?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think we have a close relationship with the Government of Saudi Arabia, but there are also instances, whether – many countries around the world, where we may have disagreements, where we may have areas where we encourage them to do more or less on any given issue. And I think this would just be another example of that.

    Okay, we’ve got to wrap it up. Robbie, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Just one last question on the Vacancies Act. There’s this Vacancies Act that has a 300-day statutory threshold for acting officials, and after that threshold ends it opens the administration to lawsuits, I think saying that acting officials don’t have authority to carry out and make new policy. So I’m wondering if this is on the State Department’s radar given how many acting officials are in place now and if there’s any reaction to it.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can confirm that the Vacancies Act has affected some of our colleagues here. I believe – and I’d have to double-check this for you, but I believe their duties can largely remain the same and that it is simply a title shift for now. But let me try to get some more information for you on that and we’ll get back to you.

    Okay, we’ve got to go, guys. Sorry.

    QUESTION: Hold on.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: You’re going to have to take one of these, I think. But do you have anything on the Secretary’s meetings on the Hill earlier today?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I know the Secretary went before the House Foreign Affairs, Ed Royce’s – Congressman Ed Royce’s committee. He was up there briefing the committee for about two hours on the redesign. That was the topic. I don’t know what time it started, but it went for about two hours.

    QUESTION: And then there was a second one too?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not – I’m only aware of one that took place --

    QUESTION: With appropriations.

    QUESTION: With appropriators.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Any – the same thing? Budget? Reorg?

    MS NAUERT: I believe so. I believe it’s all about the redesign. Yeah.

    QUESTION: All right. And then – okay. So on that, yesterday you – the Secretary ad then you clarified that the EFM – the hiring freeze on EFMs has been lifted.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: My question is: Is there any change to the kind of jobs that the EF – that EFMs can get? In other words, can they – are they now being allowed to take positions that there were Foreign Service officers already in line to get?

    MS NAUERT: I have not heard that. Is that something that you’ve heard?

    QUESTION: It’s something that is a concern of some people.

    MS NAUERT: That’s a concern. Okay, I’ve not heard that taking place. I can certainly try to look into it and see if that is the case.

    QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

    QUESTION: Any update on Josh Holt?

    QUESTION: Because there used to be just specific --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on, hold on.

    QUESTION: There used to be just specific categories of jobs that these people were directed to, like in terms of visas and in some consulates and stuff like that. I mean, not only, but yeah, if you can check if their job criteria has expanded.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, I will certainly.

    QUESTION: Any update on Josh Holt --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- who was ordered to stand trial yesterday in Venezuela? That was before I had asked you if any American had access to him during those proceedings or what the updated position is.

    MS NAUERT: Pardon me. Yeah. So Josh Holt, an American citizen from Utah originally, has been in – held, has been detained in Venezuela for about 18 months now. He was not – we want him to be released on humanitarian grounds. Yesterday he was charged with weapons charges. That is the first time in his 18 months of detention that he has been charged with anything.

    We are disappointed that Josh Holt has not been released on humanitarian grounds, as we have asked the Venezuelan Government. After his hearing that was held yesterday, we continue to have grave concerns about his health situation and lack of access to what we see as sufficient medical care. He’s been detained in Venezuela for nearly 18 months without a trial. Only now has he been charged.

    We are following the case very closely. Our consular officers from our U.S. Embassy in Caracas were last able to visit Mr. Holt on November the 7th. I expect that there will be more conversations and more details coming out about this. Thanks.

    Thanks, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:45 p.m.)

    DPB # 71



    Wed, 13 Dec 2017 19:26:00 EDT


    Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - December 12, 2017
    Heather Nauert
    Spokesperson
    Department Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    December 12, 2017



    Index for Today's Briefing
    • DEPARTMENT/THE GAMBIA
    • YEMEN/REGION
    • AFGHANISTAN/REGION
    • DEPARTMENT/THE GAMBIA
    • DEPARTMENT
    • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • DEPARTMENT
    • SYRIA/REGION
    • RUSSIA
    • POLAND
    • RUSSIA/DEPARTMENT
    • VENEZUELA
    • DEPARTMENT

      TRANSCRIPT:

      2:39 p.m. EST

      MS NAUERT: Good afternoon. Good to see you all. A couple announcements I have to make. And the first -- you may recall the visa restrictions that were put on the country of Gambia earlier this year. We have an announcement to make on that.

      On September 30, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security notified the Department of State that Gambia denied or unreasonably delayed the return of its nationals the United States ordered removed from the United States. Since then, the Government of Gambia has worked diligently toward addressing our concerns. We are pleased to announce that on December 8th, the Secretary certified that Gambia had met its international obligations concerning the repatriation of its citizens, and the United States has now ended visa restrictions and has resumed normal visa processing in all visa categories, effective December the 12th. Ensuring the countries facilitate the removal of their nationals who are subject to a final order of removal is a high priority for the Department of State and this administration, and we are pleased that The Gambia took proactive steps to address our concerns. So that’s a little update for you.

      Secondly, something I’d like to mention on Yemen. The United States Government announced an additional $130 million in emergency food assistance to Yemen through USAID today. This now brings the total U.S. contribution in humanitarian aid for the people of Yemen to nearly $768 million since Fiscal Year 2016. The funding announced today will support the United Nations World Food Program to distribute food aid to Yemen’s most vulnerable populations. The United States remains gravely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen. We continue to call on the Saudi-led coalition to facilitate the free flow of humanitarian aid and commercial imports, especially fuel, through all Yemeni ports and on Houthi-led militias to allow unfettered access for food and humanitarian aid to reach all areas inside Yemen. Finally, we call on all parties to protect the civilians, including humanitarian aid workers, who work at great personal risk to deliver life-saving assistance to the people of Yemen.

      And finally, many of you, I think, in the past have met Ambassador John Bass, or at least have heard of him. One, I’m pleased to announce today that Ambassador Bass has now arrived in Afghanistan over the weekend. Today he presented his credentials to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani today in Kabul. Ambassador Bass is a career Foreign Service officer with close to three decades of diplomatic service at the State Department. He most recently served as our U.S. ambassador to Turkey, which may be the reason his name is familiar to many of you. He’s also served as our ambassador to Georgia as well.

      The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is one of our largest in the world, and I can’t think of a better person to serve and be the face of the United States in Afghanistan than Ambassador Bass. His continued economic and political development – he will continue to push that, including support for the rule of law in combating all forms of corruption in that country. A main focus of his tenure will be on efforts to bring peace, security, and stability to the country and the region as part of the U.S. South Asia strategy. And so we look forward to having him serving there in Afghanistan.

      With that, I’d be happy to take your questions. Where would you like to start today?

      QUESTION: I’d – just before we go to – I want to go to the town hall.

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: But I have a very brief thing on The Gambia announcement.

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: So does this mean that all of the deportees, that they’ve accepted all of them? Or just enough to get – to meet the --

      MS NAUERT: I don’t know if it – I don’t know if they’ve taken every single one back. But they’ve taken steps in the right direction, enough so that we can remove the visa restrictions.

      QUESTION: And the visa restrictions were only in place for government officials. Correct?

      MS NAUERT: I believe so, yes.

      QUESTION: Right. And the vast majority of Gambians who might want to come to the United States --

      MS NAUERT: I believe it also included some of their family members as well. But we can double-check that.

      QUESTION: Right. But the vast majority of Gambians who might want to come to the United States probably couldn’t afford to come to the United States (inaudible). So I’m just --

      MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that, Matt.

      QUESTION: -- I’m wondering if you guys – you guys care --

      MS NAUERT: We’re always amazed by how much people want to get – not amazed, not – surprised by how much people want to get to the United States and what they’re willing to do to come to our free country.

      QUESTION: Did you – do you know – did you get assurances that these people will be treated humanely on their return to Gambia? Or --

      MS NAUERT: I would have to – I’d have to refer you to Department of Homeland Security on that because DHS was the main government body that was negotiating with the government on this one.

      QUESTION: All right. Well, I’d be curious to know if you guys care what happens to them when they get back because presumably they’re being deported here for some kind of reason. Are they going into custody there or are they just being released? If they’re being held in custody, did you guys get assurances that they’d be treated okay? Anyway, that’s that.

      On the Secretary’s town hall --

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: -- I was interested in listening to hear for updated figures, if you all have them, about retirements, resignations over the course of the past 11 months. He didn’t really address that. There was one brief mention of the size of the Foreign Service being roughly the same as it was at this point last year.

      MS NAUERT: I do have some numbers for you, some updated numbers for you. But I want you all to keep in mind that these numbers are constantly changing. As people make decisions about retiring, we may see some new changes – or some new numbers in the coming weeks. But I do have an update for you. But go ahead, finish – if you want to finish the question --

      QUESTION: Well, that’s – I just --

      MS NAUERT: That’s it? Okay. So --

      QUESTION: I’d like one more, but that’s the – but not about the numbers.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. I’ll take the numbers first and then we’ll go to your next one and get to everybody else. In terms of our career Foreign Service officers and specialists, here are some of the preliminary accounts that we have – counts, pardon me. From February the 1st to October the 31st of 2017, 274 career Foreign Service officers and specialists have retired during that time period. That is roughly on par with the number that retired in 2016. That number was 262. So 274 this year, up till October the 31st, that same time period last year was 262.

      QUESTION: What about resignations?

      MS NAUERT: Uh, let’s see. Retirements – I’m not sure that I have anything on actual resignations.

      QUESTION: Well, you’re probably aware that in recent days there’s been a flurry of new reports about the – about mid- to lower-level people resigning out of frustration, anger --

      MS NAUERT: I saw one news article about --

      QUESTION: -- disappointment.

      MS NAUERT: -- a woman who retired in Africa, or decided to step down.

      QUESTION: Well, she didn’t retire; she resigned.

      MS NAUERT: She resigned; pardon me.

      QUESTION: So I’m curious to know about numbers of resignations rather than retirements because if you look – if someone resigns rather than retires, and doesn’t have benefits, is not vested, that’s – it’s a little bit different than a retirement. So I’d be curious, if it’s possible, to get the numbers of resignations of --

      MS NAUERT: I will – I will certainly check in with our human resources people and see what I can find for you in terms of the number of resignations that we’ve had.

      QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one, which will be also very brief, was that the Secretary, in response to some question, I believe, made a mention of how staffing at posts, some posts in Europe – and I think he named London, Paris, and Rome – might go down as people are repositioned. I’m wondering if this is in any way analogous to what former Secretary of State Rice put in place with this – her concept of transformational diplomacy, where she also talked about shifting significant numbers of diplomats from European capitals to places of – India, Indonesia, Pakistan, rising places. And if it is analogous, how? Because it – her initiative was not combined with a goal of reducing staffing by 8 percent.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, first of all, I wouldn’t compare what the Secretary mentioned today to what Secretary Rice had done in the past. And I say that because the Secretary now – Secretary Tillerson – has looked at some of our posts, some of our very, very well-staffed posts in places like Paris and London and elsewhere, and certainly they do great work there. But we also have posts where perhaps more people are needed, where there are perhaps issues that are very pressing that need a lot more attention.

      So I think as the Secretary looks at some of these bigger posts in very well-off countries, industrialized countries where the issues aren’t as grave as in other places, he’s looking to maybe see if we can reconfigure things to put more people in posts where there may be more people needed.

      QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

      MS NAUERT: So that’s why I wouldn’t compare it to Secretary Rice’s. Yeah, hi, Nick.

      QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, he said that there would be no office closures. Does – is he saying now that there will be no closures of consulates in countries in Europe as part of this shift in resources?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I think – and we’ve spoken about this in the past. I think he’s just looking at it, saying, hey, look. Look at Paris. Look at London, where – I don’t know what the numbers are, and you know we don’t announce those numbers anyway. But they’re – it’s a huge staff in some of these places. And if you look at that and compare it to – and this is just me saying this – if you compare it to a place like Pakistan, they might need more people in Pakistan. They might need more people in Venezuela. They might need more people elsewhere than they have in these beautiful postings like Paris.

      QUESTION: Sure.

      MS NAUERT: And so I think it’s just taking a look at the numbers and reconfiguring that.

      QUESTION: But is he – was he making a commitment they’re not to close any consulates?

      MS NAUERT: I know that – I know that that is a question that you all have asked before. I’m not aware of any consulates that we are looking at closing. Okay?

      QUESTION: One of the embassies mentioned – oh, I’m sorry.

      QUESTION: Okay, but he’s not – he’s not saying – because he said there will be no office closures. So --

      MS NAUERT: If he says there will be no office closures, then I would take him at his word. Yeah? Hi.

      QUESTION: One of the embassies he mentioned is maybe shrinking is Paris, and Paris is a tri-mission. They – there, for example, the administration set an intent to pull out of UNESCO. You haven’t nominated the UNESCO ambassador. I assume you won’t bother since in just over a year’s time you’ll be out of UNESCO. When he says you’re not going to close any offices, is he meaning at least entire missions might go?

      MS NAUERT: I – to – back to Nick’s question, I thought your question was the same as Nick’s.

      QUESTION: It’s similar. But it’s not a physical office; it’s a concept, I suppose.

      MS NAUERT: Oh, I --

      QUESTION: Will you have a mission to UNESCO?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m not aware of anything that we’ve announced that we’re closing at this point. I think what the Secretary was referring to are actual posts or consulates, and I’m not aware of anything that’s – that we are looking at closing. Okay?

      QUESTION: Can we move to China?

      QUESTION: Can we move on?

      MS NAUERT: Sure. Hi, Said. How are you?

      QUESTION: Hi, Heather. On Jerusalem, I wanted to ask you first if you have any update as far as any possibly urgent measures or unusual measures that you are taking in your embassies worldwide, because there’s been many demonstrations since we spoke the last time? Is there any update that you can give us?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have any updates for you. Our embassies are always keeping an eye on the situation, the reality on the ground. We are in constant contact with our embassies as well to keep an eye on security situations, and we put out that information as we get new information or as it warrants.

      QUESTION: Are you surprised by the size of these demonstrations, and in fact, the scope of these demonstrations, that they cover a huge geography all around the world?

      MS NAUERT: Said, I think, one of the things as Americans we are accustomed to countries and people around the world either protesting or making their viewpoints well known. I don’t think any of this really comes as a surprise to us.

      QUESTION: Yeah. I understand, but did you figure or did you factor in that there will be such a reaction? Or are you – you expected this?

      MS NAUERT: I – Said, we have talked about this. We plan for all eventualities or virtually every eventuality and various conditions on the ground. I don’t think anything would come as any big surprise to the United States if people like or, perhaps, don’t like a policy decision that we’ve made.

      QUESTION: I have a couple more. Isn’t there any --

      MS NAUERT: Okay, but we’re going to have to move on --

      QUESTION: A couple more.

      MS NAUERT: -- because we don’t have a ton of time today. I have to get over to the Atlantic Council.

      QUESTION: Absolutely, yeah.

      MS NAUERT: So this let’s make this one the last one.

      QUESTION: A couple more. Has there been any contact between the State Department and its personnel, such as the consulate general in Jerusalem with the Palestinians and Israelis?

      MS NAUERT: As of a couple days ago, I know that we had had contact with the Palestinian Government. I know that we’ve been in conversations, but I don’t have any updates for you on that. Okay?

      QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Jerusalem, Heather?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi.

      QUESTION: So in the town hall, the Secretary was asked about whether – what the challenges were for moving the embassy, and he responded in purely operational terms about the building site and security and all that. I know what the explanation is for the decision – it’s practical and so on, that’s what they’re saying – but does he have any – does he believe there will be any challenges politically given the political controversy in terms of the credibility of the U.S. role in continuing this mediation effort or --

      MS NAUERT: I’m not sure I’m really following your question.

      QUESTION: Okay.

      MS NAUERT: How would a political challenge affect our ability to move our embassy, because some of the things that would have to be done in order to do that include talking to Congress --

      QUESTION: No, you’re right. I was thinking about the role – the – in the peace process, whether there – one of the challenges of moving the embassy would have a political consequence of making it impossible for the U.S. to mediate in a peace process. Does he feel that that is a possible challenge?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I think the Secretary addressed this previously last week on his European trip, and the President addressed it as well. And they’ve both said similar things in that when we look at the peace process over the past many decades, we have not really – despite the efforts and despite all the good work of many administrations, Republican and Democrat, have failed to make changes to the situation over there. And so the President looks at this as a new way of potentially being able to move the ball, to advance the ball to try to get the Palestinians and Israelis to come together.

      So we’re hard at work at that. We have not given up. We are still optimistic. We certainly know that some things can become complicating factors, but we look forward to sitting down and trying to advance the peace process.

      QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this --

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.

      QUESTION: -- the embassy. Last week when we were in Europe, Secretary Tillerson said that the physical move of the embassy wouldn’t be this year and probably not next year. This morning he said three years. I don’t know whether something has changed over the weekend to prolong the process or whether they’re just vague estimates. Do you – does Secretary intend that the physical move of the embassy should take place during President Trump’s first term?

      MS NAUERT: Well, look, I think the move – the moving of the embassy will be done when it is all – when it’s ready. And some of the things that have to be done include talking to Congress about the money, taking a look at the most appropriate site for it. As you all know, security is extremely important. We have to take a look at all the security things that have to be factored into that site. Is this a – is this the right space for it. So a lot of that stuff is just, frankly, going to take time, and that’s why the Secretary said it could take several years.

      QUESTION: Aren’t those things the administration could have considered before making a decision to move the embassy?

      MS NAUERT: Well look, I suppose so. But here’s where we are now, the President made his decision, and now we’re taking the position that we need to look at what next – what the next steps are.

      QUESTION: Syria?

      QUESTION: So the three-year estimate this morning is where we are, though, in terms of approximately?

      MS NAUERT: That is a number that I have heard discussed. So --

      QUESTION: Syria?

      MS NAUERT: -- I think that would – I think it would be fair, Dave, just to state that that is a number that we are looking at. It could take longer; it could take less time. Okay?

      QUESTION: Syria? Syria?

      MS NAUERT: Hey, Arshad.

      QUESTION: A couple of – just some very tight, quick ones.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: Is today Secretary Tillerson’s Senior Communications Adviser R.C. Hammond’s last day?

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: In a December the 1st New York Times article, three administration officials are cited as saying that he’ll be leaving soon, I think it said in the next couple of weeks. And he said that that was wrong, that he was not leaving soon. What changed?

      MS NAUERT: He being?

      QUESTION: He, Mr. Hammond, on the record said that.

      MS NAUERT: I see.

      QUESTION: What changed? And in the intervening eight or nine days, because I think the pool report said on Friday that he was leaving on the 12th, and you’ve just confirmed it. So what changed in that period between December 1 and today that he wasn’t leaving, and he said he wasn’t, and now he is leaving?

      MS NAUERT: I would just have to refer you back to him. I’m sorry. You certainly know how to reach him. I’m not going to speak about somebody’s personal career plan. So I’d have to refer you to --

      QUESTION: Was he fired in the intervening time?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on his career. He served this administration for about a year now, and I’d just have to refer you to him on that.

      QUESTION: Okay.

      QUESTION: Syria? Syria?

      QUESTION: Heather --

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay, let’s go to Syria.

      QUESTION: According to Robin Wright in The New Yorker, you’ve reconciled yourself to Bashar al-Assad’s remaining in office until the next Syrian elections in 2021 because there aren’t many other options now. And in fairness to you, this was really set by the previous administration and it’s evidenced by Matt Lee’s repeated interrogations of John Kirby. So, I mean, is what she wrote basically correct? Can you confirm it?

      MS NAUERT: I would say her reporting’s off the mark.

      QUESTION: Off the mark.

      MS NAUERT: Off the mark. We remain committed to the Geneva process. We believe that the future of Syria will not include Bashar al-Assad, but that is ultimately up to the Syrian people and the Syrian voters to decide. It could take a period of time before the Syrian people are able to get to the process by which they can actually turn out to vote. We’ve talked about this a little bit before, trying to include the diaspora in that voting. We remain committed to the Geneva process. Russia has said that it would help bring the regime to the Geneva process. They did part of that for a time. They chose to leave while the opposition stayed. We were – we noticed that and thought that was a very good thing that the opposition stayed during some of the Geneva talks that just took place over the past few days. We expect that Russia will continue to try to bring the regime to the table. But the Geneva process is something we stand firmly behind.

      QUESTION: Do you have a timeframe in mind for this?

      MS NAUERT: Look, I think we are still at the place where U.S.-backed organizations and coalition-backed organizations are removing the rubble. We’re still involved in the demining process. So I’m afraid we’re just not there to the electoral process just yet, but we’re having a lot of conversations with the UN and other like-minded countries about the importance of the Geneva process.

      QUESTION: So what was off the mark in the story?

      QUESTION: Can you comment on the withdrawal of Russian forces?

      MS NAUERT: In her story, she said that the U.S. had accepted that Assad will be in power until 2021. We’ve not accepted anything of the sort. It could take some time, but we’ve not just accepted that. And by the way, it’s not up for the United States to ultimately decide, that is up to the Syrian people.

      QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you have any --

      QUESTION: So there’s no 2021 goal or idea?

      QUESTION: Heather?

      MS NAUERT: Not that I have seen. In talking with all of our experts on ISIS and in Near Eastern Affairs, no one here has seen that number in paper or spoken about.

      Okay.

      QUESTION: Heather? Heather?

      QUESTION: On the withdrawal of the Russian forces from Syria yesterday, as was announced by President Putin. First, do you have a comment? And second, is this in any way – did you know in advance that the Russians were moving their troops out of Syria?

      MS NAUERT: No, I can’t --

      QUESTION: Or a number of their troops.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can’t speak to any alleged Russian troop movements. So I’d have to refer you back to the Government of Russia on that one. But it’s interesting, Russia may consider its job in Syria to be done. Our job in Syria is not done. And when I say “our,” I don’t just mean the United States, I mean the entire coalition. There are still pockets of ISIS. The country still needs to be stabilized. We were just talking about rubble removal and we were talking about demining. If Russia chooses to pull out, certainly, that is its choice to do so, but we continue to work through all our partners to try to stabilize the country.

      QUESTION: So if the job is not done as you – you don’t consider it done. The --

      MS NAUERT: The job is not – the job is not done.

      QUESTION: Not done. I understand.

      MS NAUERT: It’s not – done in Iraq, even though Iraq has declared victory over ISIS. It’s not – it’s still not done there because there are still individuals there who belong to ISIS, who will take part, undoubtedly, in terrorist activities. Syria, the job is far from done there, unfortunately.

      QUESTION: So is it the expectation that the United States will continue to have a presence there in military terms? I mean, it has like 2,000 personnel. Is it likely to increase (inaudible) its position?

      MS NAUERT: Look, I can’t comment on the number of U.S. personnel there. That would be under the Department of Defense. But the job is not done yet. There are – there’s a lot of work left to be done in Syria. We wish that weren’t the case, but it is the case, and we’ve made a lot of progress on this. And again, when I say “we,” I don’t mean the United States, I mean the entire coalition has made a lot of progress. But it’s not finished yet.

      QUESTION: Heather?

      MS NAUERT: Hey, John.

      QUESTION: Hey. I wanted to follow up on the Trump administration’s rejection of a Russian proposal on noninterference in each other’s internal affairs. Are there any things that Russia can do so that the United States might reconsider a noninterference agreement, given concerns about potential meddling in light of the 2018 midterms being on the horizon?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. It’s funny that some are indicating that we rejected a deal with Russia and that that’s a bad thing that we rejected the deal. Let me – let me remind you that Russia is not an honest broker when it comes to deals. I can point you to a few things, from INF treaties which they are not in compliance with but yet they are supposed to be. Okay, that’s one example of an area that they can’t – they’re not holding up their end of the bargain. Minsk, that’s another area. Anti-doping, that is another area. So Russia has a history of this. So I think it’s – I would be very skeptical when Russia comes to you, when Russia comes to the United States saying, “Okay, here’s our agreement.” I’m not certain it’s worth the paper that it’s actually printed on.

      So I’d be very suspicious of any kind of deal, any kind of story that says, “Oh, Russia, they wanted you to agree to this but bad America, bad America wouldn’t agree to it.” They have a record of the noncompliance with the INF; I just mentioned on arms control, other key agreements, a failure to honor commitments on Minsk, denials of its ongoing support of violence in eastern Ukraine. We haven’t talked about this in an awful long time: the cover-up of the shoot-down of MH17, which happened over eastern Ukraine back in, what was that, 2015 or so? The denials of interference in our election. So I find their claims to just be laughable. Okay?

      QUESTION: Yeah, and I take your point on those. It sounds like, given that rundown, that there is quite a low level of trust, and we probably shouldn’t expect an array of new sort of agreements between the U.S. and Russia. Is that right?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to forecast any potential agreements. But I’m just saying on that one matter that you asked me about, I think we’d be pretty suspicious about signing anything. Okay?

      QUESTION: Let me congratulate you early on the – your “bad America” soundbite, which will be probably very popular in certain parts of the world.

      MS NAUERT: It might be. It might be. (Laughter.)

      We’ve got to get moving on pretty quickly. Hi, Marcin. How are you?

      QUESTION: Thanks so much.

      MS NAUERT: Wait, hold on. Let me go to our friend Marcin back in there, from Poland. Hi.

      QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. There have been quite a lot of changes in Poland recently, including the last changes over judiciary that are taking place tonight. Could you comment on all of the recent developments in Poland?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. As you know, Poland is a close ally of ours, a NATO member, also a fellow democratic country. We have a good relationship with that country. But we’ve been watching very carefully some of the developments that have been taking place in Poland over the last 11 months, over the last year or so. In terms of some of the recent judicial reform legislation that’s been moving through Polish parliament, we are following that very closely. We are aware of the president’s new judicial reform proposals and recent amendments that have been introduced in the lower house of parliament. We continue to follow that closely, the upper house of parliament’s deliberations on that legislation. We are relying on our allies to maintain strong democratic institutions, economies, and defense capabilities. The United States has stressed that judicial reform should be in line with Poland’s constitution and the highest standards of international law, and respect judicial independence and separation of powers.

      Another thing that we are following very, very closely is what is happening to some news organizations in Poland. And as a democratic country, you tend to have a free and fair press. We’re tremendously concerned about the direction that the country seems to be going in. We’re concerned about Poland’s national radio and television broadcasting council’s December the 11th, yesterday’s, decision to fine the private TV broadcaster TVN for so-called biased reporting of demonstrations that occurred between December 16th and 18th. A lot of you have – probably saw those demonstrations here on the news. A free and independent media is a fundamental pillar of democracies. Poland would certainly be one of those. The decision appears to undermine and interfere with media freedom in Poland. They’re a close ally and a federal – and a fellow democracy. So we’re watching that one carefully.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi. What is your name?

      QUESTION: Sameera Khan.

      MS NAUERT: And you’re from?

      QUESTION: RT.

      MS NAUERT: Uh-huh.

      QUESTION: Yes. So when RT was forced to register as a foreign agent, you said that it wouldn’t inhibit our ability to report. However, just a couple weeks ago, our press credentials were revoked. So doesn’t this contradict your earlier statements?

      MS NAUERT: I think press credentials may have been revoked by Congress, and not necessarily the members of Congress, but rather the association of reporters that handles who gets to come in and cover Congress. The – FARA, the act that you’re speaking of, only requires that organizations register with the federal government. That is it. The United States does not tell any Russian news organization what to report or how to report it. We don’t tell Turkish ones, we don’t tell Polish ones. In fact, the fact that you’re here as a representative of the Russian Government is a perfect example of how we do not restrict any type of freedom of the press. You come in, Sputnik comes in, all the Russians come in here and you are more than welcome, and the reason why you’re more than welcome --

      QUESTION: (Inaudible) House of Representatives --

      MS NAUERT: Hold on. The reason that you are more than welcome is because we have freedom of the press here in the United States. We support the First Amendment. We wish that the Russian Government would give us the same opportunities to report freely in Russia as we provide you all here.

      Any of you listen to bluegrass? All right. Laurie, you listen to bluegrass. My understanding is that one of the bluegrass stations, I think it’s 105.5 here in Washington – is that right? You’re nodding. You’re nodding too.

      QUESTION: The only one.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, it used to be bluegrass and now it’s Russian radio. Right?

      QUESTION: It’s Sputnik.

      MS NAUERT: Now it’s Sputnik Radio. So that is a perfect example, on the free airwaves here, where people don’t have to pay for it. But they can get Russian news, if you will.

      QUESTION: Right, but --

      MS NAUERT: And by the way, may I just mention that Russian Government itself has talked about how it will influence RT and Sputnik, how it will influence how it reports and what it reports on.

      QUESTION: Yes, but back to the original question: We can’t go to the House of Representatives or the Senate to report, so that restricts our ability to report on that.

      MS NAUERT: I would encourage you, then, to talk to the congressional correspondents association. You are more than welcome here at the State Department anytime you like, but that would be up for the State Department’s Correspondents’ Association to handle.

      QUESTION: Heather?

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi.

      QUESTION: Heather, how do I --

      QUESTION: A couple --

      QUESTION: On this issue --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: -- Heather, how – that was a very nice, full-throated support of freedom of the press you just gave, but how comfortable are you doing that and how comfortable are you that you can speak for the entire administration given the fact that you just went off on the – you heavily criticized Poland for this – going after a TV station for biased reporting, but we’re hearing the same thing coming out of the White House every day. Criticism, yes, not legal action, at least not yet. Are you comfortable --

      MS NAUERT: Well --

      QUESTION: -- that you speak for the entire administration --

      MS NAUERT: -- I think --

      QUESTION: -- in your support for --

      MS NAUERT: I think that – I think these instances are night and day. The administration is rightfully concerned about some erroneous reporting that’s come out. I have said to some of you here before – although I think you are all terrific reporters here at the State Department. We are very lucky to have a professional group of reporters who take the issues as seriously as you do. There have been in the past mistakes that have been made. Whether or not they have been intentional or not on the part of reporters, I cannot speak to because I’m not involved in that. But there have been times in the past where reporters have just frankly gotten it wrong, and I understand that members of the administration would be concerned about reporters getting things wrong.

      But I am not going to back away from my defense of a free and fair press that reports responsibly and accurately. That is something that we stand for here in the United States. We like to set an example for other countries and talk about how we can have uncomfortable conversations here in this room. You’re asking me that very question. That is what we stand for. You from the Russian Government, you were asking me those questions too. You are welcome here anytime. That is what we stand for here in the United States --

      QUESTION: So what’s the definition of “free and fair press?”

      MS NAUERT: -- free and fair debate.

      QUESTION: Any network that’s funded by a state government? Or what’s your definition?

      MS NAUERT: We have many news organizations that are funded by state governments who are welcome to come here. That is an example, no better example.

      QUESTION: So it’s just the Russian Government – any network funded by the Russian Government, those are the only ones that can be targeted?

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, targeted?

      QUESTION: Are targeted, cracked down on, restricted in reporting.

      MS NAUERT: The FARA Act --

      QUESTION: Right.

      MS NAUERT: -- will ask entities to have to sign up for the FARA Act. That’s it. I’m pretty sure that there are other ones on there as well. We’re going to have to move on. You’re welcome back anytime.

      Hi, yeah.

      QUESTION: Quickly, thank you. A couple weeks ago from here you called on the Venezuelan Government to release Josh Holt, an American held in Venezuela for more than a year now, on humanitarian grounds. Since then – I believe yesterday – audio purportedly of him has been released indicating he is not well. Have you heard that audio tape and are there any developments on securing his release?

      MS NAUERT: Here’s what I can say: Josh Holt, an American citizen, has now been detained in Venezuela for nearly 18 months. He has never formally been charged with a crime. We have consistently called on the Government of Venezuela to release Josh Holt on humanitarian grounds due to his ongoing health concerns. I am certainly aware of that tape. I know that some of my colleagues have listened to a tape. We can’t independently verify that that is his voice. However, we have no reason to believe that it was not his voice. For those who have heard the audio recording, it certainly describes his dire medical condition. We believe that he is in extremely poor health, which is why we continue to call on the government to release him.

      He had preliminary hearings in Venezuela, and as many of you know, some of those hearings had been delayed. Some hearings have not been held at all. He had hearings on October the 10th and October the 24th. He has a hearing that is set to take place sometime today in Venezuela. We’ve had a representative at the previous two hearings – excuse me, is there something you need right now?

      STAFF: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re leaving at 3:30, so I’m good, right? We’re leaving at 3:30.

      STAFF: 3:15.

      MS NAUERT: Oh, 3:15. Okay, so I’m going to have to wrap it up. He’s in extremely poor health. We want him to be brought home. I don’t have an update for you on how his hearing today went. We expect that somebody from our embassy was able to join him for that. If I get anything more for you on – I’ll share that, okay?

      Okay, and as you can see, my colleagues are standing in the back, telling me I have to go. I do want to clear up one thing, clarify something on the hiring freeze which was announced earlier today, and there’s been some misreporting on that. Some have reported that the State Department hiring freeze altogether has been lifted. I want to be clear: The hiring freeze as a whole has not been lifted. The hiring freeze as it applies to eligible family members is being lifted.

      Now, that is not insignificant, because the few times that I’ve been at our embassies overseas and have talked to my colleagues there, we’ve asked what are the top issues, what are the top concerns for you here at the – as you work for the State Department overseas, and that is one of the things that they mentioned, eligible family members. Let’s just say a Foreign Service officer goes over and is serving at a post in Bangladesh, where I just was, and they have a spouse. They will often – Bangladesh is a bad example, but let’s say Burma – bring a spouse over there to live with him or her. Often those people are professional people who can contribute a lot to our embassies while they are serving overseas. During the hiring freeze, they were not able to work for the State Department, although there had been some exemptions that the Secretary had made. Now we are happy to announce that we are lifting that hiring freeze so those spouses, eligible family members, can rejoin work and can work at the State Department. So we’re happy that, but I just want to clarify that it only applies to the eligible family members and EPAPs, which stands for --

      MR GREENAN: Employee[i] Professional Associate Program.

      MS NAUERT: -- Employee[ii] Professional Associate Program. That falls under EFM.

      QUESTION: When are you going to lift the wider total hiring freeze?

      MS NAUERT: That – the wider hiring freeze will be a decision that the Secretary will make. I’m just not sure. I know he wants to get through the redesign.

      QUESTION: Can I give you a – give you a question --

      MS NAUERT: I’m going to have to run or I’m going to miss my bus.

      QUESTION: -- a question to take on Honduras?

      MS NAUERT: Yes. Yes.

      QUESTION: The election --

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: -- and whether you guys accept the results, as your senior diplomat down there seemed to say a couple days ago?

      MS NAUERT: Can I have my colleague here --

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: -- Robert take that one?

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: Sorry we have to cut it short here, guys. I have to --

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      MS NAUERT: -- go get the bus.

      QUESTION: Thank you, Heather.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks.

      (The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)


      [i] Expanded Professional Associates Program

      [ii] Expanded Professional Associates Program



      Tue, 12 Dec 2017 18:01:04 EDT