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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - May 17, 2018
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 17, 2018

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ
  • IRAQ
  • IRAN
  • IRAN


    3:24 p.m. EDT

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

    QUESTION: Freezing.

    MS NAUERT: It is cold. It’ll keep you awake. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Put on a sweater, as Jimmy Carter would say. (Laughter.) Good afternoon, everyone. Hope you’re well. I do actually remember the warmer days in here when people – I won’t name any names – would fall asleep because it was so warm in here, so we try to keep you awake.

    All right. Good afternoon. A couple of announcements I’d first like to make.

    QUESTION: Are you talking about Matt?

    QUESTION: It was not me.

    MS NAUERT: It was definitely not Matt. It was not Matt. (Laughter.)

    I’d like to start with this, and that is the Secretary welcomed the president of Uzbekistan earlier today here at the State Department. This is President Mirziyoyev’s first trip to Washington and will raise the strategic partnership between the United States and Uzbekistan to a new level. We applaud the president’s ambitious reform program to improve the human rights situation in his country. These efforts have created the conditions for increased economic, political, and security cooperation between our nations. We recognize that Uzbekistan has an important role in making Central Asia a stable and prosperous region through initiatives like the C5+1 framework and in supporting international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

    As part of the visit, Ambassador Alice Wells, the senior bureau official for South and Central Asian Affairs, signed agreements to promote U.S.-Uzbekistan cooperation in the field of education. Agreements were also signed with other U.S. Government agencies to intensify cooperation on energy, agriculture, law enforcement, two-way trade, and also investment.

    Next, I’d like to address a very concerning situation following a riot that took place at a prison in Venezuela just yesterday. It is called the Helicoide prison – it’s in Venezuela – and that is where U.S. citizens, including U.S. citizen Joshua Holt from Utah, are being held right now. You may have seen Joshua Holt’s Facebook videos and the tweets issued last night by our U.S. Embassy in Caracas. We continue to have serious concerns about the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens who are being held there. The Venezuelan Government is responsible for the safety of all detainees in its prison system, including U.S. citizens in detention. We hold the government responsible for their safety and well-being.

    We observed Mr. Holt through his video and he has confirmed that he is still safe. Last night, our chief of mission in Caracas, Todd Robinson, went in person to the ministry of foreign affairs and made repeated requests to the highest levels of the Venezuelan Government for information about the situation at that prison. Venezuelan authorities refused to meet with our chief of mission at that time. Prior to yesterday’s events, our Acting Assistant Secretary Palmieri called in the Venezuelan charge once again to ask for the release of Mr. Holt on humanitarian grounds.

    The U.S. embassy and the Department of State continue to press the Venezuelan authorities for their assurances of the safety of U.S. citizens who are detained in Venezuela.

    Lastly – pardon me – I would like to mention our deputy secretary will travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina for the G20 foreign ministers meeting. I believe he leaves on Saturday. At the G20 meeting, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will address global economic, political, and security issues, including sustainable development. The conversations will set the stage for the G20 Leaders Summit that will take place in Argentina this November.

    On the margins of the G20 ministerial, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will meet with foreign ministers for bilateral discussions including the Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie. Following the G20, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will travel to Brasilia, Brazil, and that’s where he’ll meet with the Deputy Foreign Minister Galvao and launch the U.S.-Brazil security forum. That’s a bilateral law enforcement initiative that will address transnational crime.

    While in Brasilia, the deputy secretary will discuss our joint economic growth agenda and global and regional issue, including the crisis in Venezuela. The deputy secretary will also meet with Embassy Brazil staff and members of Brazilian civil society.

    With that, I’d be happy to take your questions, but not before recognizing some of our colleagues in the back. We have some information officers, some press officers, who are just getting ready to head out to their posts. I have a list of where you all are going. It’s an impressive array, so congratulations to all of you. And they’ve ranged from going to places from Afghanistan to – let’s see, where else? I remember that one. Afghanistan – come on, somebody say something. Don’t be shy. Where else are you going?

    QUESTION: Guatemala.

    MS NAUERT: Guatemala, okay. Where else?

    QUESTION: The Vatican.

    MS NAUERT: Vatican. Oh, that’s a tough one. (Laughter.) Okay, nice. Rome. Sir, where are you going?

    QUESTION: Beijing.

    MS NAUERT: Beijing, all right. Well, thank you so much for your service. Godspeed and good luck to you out there. Let us know if you need anything.

    Matt, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thanks, Heather. Before moving on to North Korea, and I’m sure the Middle East, I just want to ask you one brief one about the statement that the Secretary – was released in the Secretary’s name this morning --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- about the LGBTI discrimination, anti-discrimination day, basically. It says in there, “The United States firmly opposes criminalization, violence, and serious acts of discrimination such as in housing, employment, and government services, directed against LGBTI persons.” And I’m just wondering how it is that you guys can say this – or say it and expect to be taken seriously – when this administration’s stated policy is to discriminate against transgender people by not allowing them to serve in the military.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, let me first start out by saying the Secretary released a statement earlier today. This is a matter that’s important to the State Department. Promoting, protecting, and advancing human rights, including the rights of LGBTI persons, has long been and continues to remain the policy of the United States Government. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights.”

    In terms of what you’re addressing with regard to the Department of Defense and its policies, it’s a matter that’s being handled in multiple courts right now. I’m not going to get ahead of the court process, but DOD will continue to comply with the court rules.

    QUESTION: But I --

    MS NAUERT: And I don’t speak for the department of Defense --

    QUESTION: I know.

    MS NAUERT: -- but that’s all I have for you there.

    QUESTION: I get that. But I mean, it’s – but that’s what the policy is. Whether or not the courts rule on it or not, the President has tweeted that that is his policy. And on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia for the United States – I don’t understand how it’s consistent for the U.S. to stand with LGBTI people when the stated policy is to discriminate against it, at least one section of it.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, again, that’s before the courts. I’m not going to address that. That is a Department of Defense issue. One of the things that we stand for here at the State Department proudly – and we continue to do so – is the respect for human rights. And that includes the right to love anyone you want, to spend time with anyone that you choose, and we stand firmly behind that and that hasn’t changed.

    QUESTION: Okay. Very briefly on North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: The President, in remarks made just a few minutes ago with the NATO secretary general, seemed to confuse or conflate the quote-unquote “Libya model,” which, as the national security advisor referred to and as has been generally understood I think everywhere in this town except for one person maybe, that model is the ’03 – the Bush administration’s ’03, ’04 pact with the Libyans that saw them get rid of all of their weapons of mass destruction, and not the next administration, the Obama administration’s, military intervention in 2011 that – so I just want to make sure. The State Department understands the difference between these two things, correct?

    MS NAUERT: In terms of what the President said in his remarks, I would just have to refer you to the White House. I have not had a chance to speak with the White House since the President spoke. We’ve been really busy here today. In terms of using any sort of so-called Libyan model, our model is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and we stand firmly behind that, and that hasn’t changed.

    QUESTION: Okay. But there is still enough institutional knowledge left in this building, right, that understands what the ’03, ’04 Libya deal was?

    MS NAUERT: I can tell you that we have Libya desk experts and we have people here staffed up in the building who are experts --

    QUESTION: Okay. All right. Okay. So if there is --

    MS NAUERT: -- on the entire history, but I don’t want to get into a history lesson here with all of you.

    QUESTION: Fair enough. I’m not going to ask you for the details of the history. But I just want to make sure, even if people up the street on Pennsylvania Avenue don’t understand the difference, the people who work for the department does.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to go there. I’d refer you to the White House if you have any specific questions about his comments. Okay?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: On North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Lesley.

    QUESTION: Hello. Given that the Secretary has been the contact with Pyongyang, has he personally reached out to anyone in North Korea regarding the summit?

    MS NAUERT: I will go back to what the President said, and what the President said earlier today is that we’re making arrangements for the meeting. The Secretary has said to me – and I spent time with him this morning having this conversation about this very issue. Chairman Kim had asked for a meeting with the President of the United States. He addressed this with our Secretary. We are continuing to push ahead and plan in our preparations. Those continue at this time for a meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un in June.

    QUESTION: But he has not been in touch with him?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into all of the details. I can tell you we’ve been closely coordinating with our allies. We provided – or at least confirmed our call with the Republic of Korea, just yesterday I believe it was. And we continue with our – excuse me – we continue with our preparations for that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Uh-huh. Yeah. Hey, Rich.

    QUESTION: On North Korea, Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton discussed the idea of a big down payment at a Wall Street Journal conference in Tokyo. To that, Senator Marco Rubio said that this is the reason he would prevent her confirmation, because that position undermines the President and is essentially a gradual back-and-forth – North Korea does something, the United States rewards it. Is the State Department seriously considering that or what is --

    MS NAUERT: I think, first, what I would encourage everyone to do – and our Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton was speaking through a Wall Street Journal panel in Tokyo. I would encourage all of you to go back and read our comments. If you have not seen them yourselves, we can certainly provide them to you. The headline in that Wall Street Journal article – and we’ve reached out to the Wall Street Journal about this – is, frankly, inaccurate and overblown. What Susan Thornton was talking about is very similar and the same thing to what Secretary Pompeo spoke about, and that is that we would like to see a bigger, bolder, different, faster deal than the kind of deals that have been proposed before.

    Susan said – and I’ll read part of her quote for you, because it was a lengthy panel in which she provided information on – she said, “There is an expectation that he’s already committed to complete denuclearization.” She’s referring to Kim Jong-un there. “And in his conversations with the South Koreans that there will be a big down payment, a big, upfront demonstration of his intention to do that, not just words and statements but also actions.” Our policy remains the same. It’s complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. What she said is completely in line with what Secretary Pompeo has said.

    QUESTION: Are you going to have this gradual back-and-forth that the Secretary is (inaudible) about?

    MS NAUERT: No. And you all can appreciate this. Headline writers sometimes take your pieces and they kind of change those pieces and they go their own direction with things. So we’ll be in contact with them to have some conversations about that.

    QUESTION: Just to follow up on that --

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: -- two questions. One is the tweet from Marco Rubio suggested that Susan Thornton was somehow undermining the President with her statements there.

    MS NAUERT: Not at all. Not at all. Look, Susan Thornton has – and continues to be a very valued, hardworking member of our diplomatic community. Susan Thornton has had the opportunity to meet with the President. They spent time together. I think it was in Beijing, quite a few months ago, when they were traveling. Susan Thornton had been nominated for her position by the White House. Susan Thornton has a great deal of respect among people here in the building. She has professionally – just as our other Foreign Service officers in the building – pushed forward the agenda of this administration.

    One of the things that has impressed me the most about our Foreign Service officers here is whether or not they like the policy – and I’m not speaking to Susan; I’m speaking in general terms – whether or not they like the policy, they push it out. They’re professional. They do their jobs, and they’re patriots. So Susan has continued to work hard on behalf of this administration, the American people, and the State Department.

    QUESTION: And just one follow-up on this.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Or slightly different, but also North Korea. The Secretary’s comments over the weekend about U.S. offering the full weight of trade and investment in North Korea were met in the North Korean statements – essentially they said they don’t want U.S. investment. Was he surprised by that? Has that changed his thinking or tactics or --

    MS NAUERT: I think one of the things that the Secretary had addressed with Chairman Kim is the idea that North Koreans could have a brighter future, and by a brighter future that means economic investment. That does not mean – some news organizations misreported this – that does mean U.S. tax dollars going to support the regime of Kim Jong-un, not at all. That means if they denuclearize we could see – we could envision a future for North Korea where there’s private investment, where private money goes into North Korea, whether it’s building hotels or cinemas or whatever. That could be a future that North Korea could have, if they choose to denuclearize. And I think that’s an exciting opportunity. I think it’s something that – I can’t speak for the North Korean Government, but I think that’s something that was certainly at least somewhat appealing to them. Who doesn’t want a brighter future for their own people?

    Hi, Barbara. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Libya model, which the essence of it is to remove the nuclear program from top to bottom and then there’s compensation, which I believe is what Mr. Bolton was talking about – that falls along the lines of what Secretary Pompeo has been saying as well, right?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get ahead of what the President and what Secretary Pompeo and all of our colleagues throughout the interagency are planning to discuss with the North Korean Government. Those meetings will all take place. We’re having meetings in the meantime where we talk and discuss how meetings in June will be structured and how those conversations will go, but as far as those plans are, we are not ready to reveal those at – right at this point.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: The President also said that if there’s a deal, Kim Jong-un can have very strong protections. Can you give more details --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to get into the --

    QUESTION: -- or is part of a peace treaty or --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into the security situation there. But as you would imagine – I think we talked about this just two days ago, that governments have concerns, especially countries like that, that something could happen to their leader. That is it. I will leave it at that, that of course countries are certainly going to be concerned about such things. But I’m not going to get into details of that.

    Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Heather. But it seems North Korea does not want to open Western styles, so why they going offer the United States – offer economically, provide all kind of investment or make a (inaudible)?

    MS NAUERT: You’re asking what the motivation would be --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: -- for the private sector to invest in North Korea someday?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think it’s like any country, right? Any country wants to have or perhaps would want to have that kind of private investment so they can grow their economy. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in North Korea. Electricity is not readily available throughout large parts of that country. That’s one potential opportunity. I’m sure there are very many U.S. corporations that would certainly welcome being involved in helping to bolster its infrastructure, whether it’s electricity, roads, or whatever. So that’s the incentive for the private sector.

    Again, U.S. taxpayers would not be financing this. We’re a long way off from that point, of course, because the country hasn’t denuclearized, but the point is we’re just talking about what could be a brighter future for that country and for its people.

    QUESTION: But Kim Jong-un concerned about if --

    QUESTION: There’s a big market for Gap and McDonald’s, I think.

    QUESTION: Yeah, McDonald’s go there.

    QUESTION: You sure the North Koreans want that?

    QUESTION: But if Kim Jong-un is concerned about even open their country, their people is the freedom to saying or freedom to watch WIFIs or whatever they use in electricity. He’s concern about human right issues in North Korea, so the best (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: Certainly, and human rights issues is something that we bring up very often with governments all around the world. We talked here just a few weeks ago about our Human Rights Report, in which we were very clear about our concerns, our very real concerns, about human rights issues in North Korea. Not that long ago, the President hosted a group of North Korean defectors who spoke about their experiences and why they chose to leave the country. They’ve spent time here at the State Department as well. I don’t have much more for you on it, other than to say that that is an issue that we continue to raise with many countries around the world.

    QUESTION: Can I change the topic very quick?

    QUESTION: Hold on, hold on. Something on the Susan Thornton – your explanation. You said that she talked about how this deal – the administration wants this deal to be bigger, bolder – did I hear this right? – bigger, bolder, faster, stronger? Is that like the motto here? Because I don’t – because that sounds like the intro --

    MS NAUERT: No, she did not. She did not use those words, no.

    QUESTION: That sounds like the intro to The Six Million Dollar Man, but --

    MS NAUERT: You’re dating yourself, Matt.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: No, Susan --

    QUESTION: But what did she say?

    MS NAUERT: Susan did not use those words.

    QUESTION: What did she say? Bigger, bolder --

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: You --

    MS NAUERT: Let me find it, hold on.

    QUESTION: Well, maybe it wasn’t – maybe it wasn’t her.

    MS NAUERT: She said, “There is an expectation, as he’s already committed to complete denuclearization, and in his conversations with the South Koreans, that there will be a big down payment, a big up-front demonstration of his intention to do that – not just words and statements, but also actions.” That’s what she said. I said that that is in line with the Secretary and what he had said over the weekend when he talked about how this program – we’re hoping that this deal would be bigger and different and faster.

    QUESTION: Different and faster, okay. Sorry.

    MS NAUERT: I can find the exact quote for you.

    QUESTION: Could I move on?

    QUESTION: Heather.

    QUESTION: Heather, could I move on to Human Rights Watch, please?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, certainly. Okay, yes.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on. One more on this before – I’ll come over to you next, I promise.


    QUESTION: Thank you. The President also said that the model of “decimating,” quote, Libya would be the model if we don’t make a deal with North Korea. Is that the choice that the U.S. is giving North Korea, either come to the summit or be so-called decimated?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into the details of that. I’d just refer you back to the White House for anything more on that.

    Okay, hi.

    QUESTION: And then also on that, the President suggested that Kim Jong-un perhaps no longer wants to have a summit because he spoke with China. Previously you have said that China has been helpful. What is your assessment now? Has China been helpful, or would you like for them to do something differently?

    MS NAUERT: We have always said – and we’ve been consistent about this – that China can always do more. China, as the key trading partner with North Korea, has an incredible amount of leverage with the North Korean Government. And so we continue to say to China that you can certainly do more, and I’ll leave it at that. Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I ask one more on --

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Said. No, we’ve got to – let’s move on.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I have a quick question on the Israelis last week expelled or ordered – issued an order to expelling the head of the Human Rights Watch in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Omar Shakir. He’s an American citizen. They gave him 14 days to leave. I wonder if you are raising this with the Israeli Government and how would you view this. This guy is doing his job.

    MS NAUERT: Said, I can just tell you we’re certainly aware of the report. I’d have to refer you to the Government of Israel for any questions about that. I’m not aware if we’re having any conversations with the Government of Israel about his case.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but would you call on the Israelis to allow him to do his work?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I don’t have the specifics of that case or the situation, so I’m not in the position to call on any government to do anything on that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Because this comes in after – the week before the Israelis disallowed the two – a Columbia law professor and a constitutional center official from entering the country. They were there held for 14 hours and then they were deported. So this – there is a pattern right there. Are you concerned that American citizens who might be speaking about Israeli abuses of human rights are being sort of intimidated or not allowed in because of their views?

    MS NAUERT: Said, I don’t have any information on that, and I’m not going to accept that premise. I don’t have any information on that. Countries certainly have a right to allow in individuals that they choose to allow in. The United States does. Every country around the world as sovereign nations have the ability to make some of those decisions, and I’m saying that in general terms. I don’t have any specific information on his particular case.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) at least on --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) criticize all kinds of human rights situations around the world.

    MS NAUERT: What, Matt? What, Matt?

    QUESTION: I’m just wondering, are you looking in at least to the – asking the Israelis about the case of the Human Rights Watch guy?

    MS NAUERT: I think I just answered that. I’m not aware if we are or not.

    QUESTION: Well, can you find out? Because I mean, when --

    MS NAUERT: I will – I will certainly look into it.

    QUESTION: As you are – you are correct that every country has the right to allow in who it wants to, but if an American citizen is unjustly deported or prevented from going into a country, it is certainly within the remit of this building to inquire and – as to the details and to complain, sometimes even loudly, if they see --

    MS NAUERT: I will certainly see if I can find something for you on it.

    Hi, Laurie.

    QUESTION: Hi. There have been major complaints about fraud in the Iraqi voting, and the UN Mission there has called on Iraq’s Electoral Commission to investigate them, quote, “immediately and fully.” What is your position on this?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we spoke about this a little bit the other day. The vote tally is still underway at this time. We’re certainly aware that there have been some challenges with that. We agree with the UN special representative who – the individual has called on the Independent High Electoral Commission to immediately and fully investigate those complaints, the complaints that you’re referring to, concerning the overall electoral process in Iraq. We call for the release of final election results just as quickly as possible and just as quickly as they’re ready. We understand the concerns that some people have had about that, and that’s why we call on them to quickly do this and resolve it.

    QUESTION: Okay, and a question on Turkey. The foreign minister has said that there was a preliminary agreement about Manbij that was reached under Secretary Tillerson. At that time, you said that there was no such agreement. Is it still your position that there’s no agreement between the U.S. and Turkey on Manbij?

    MS NAUERT: That’s correct. The talks about Manbij are ongoing, and nothing has been concluded. This is something that we addressed at NATO when the Secretary had met with his counterpart in Brussels as well, and so we just don’t have any new updates for you on that.

    QUESTION: On Iraq --

    MS NAUERT: And I will also point out that we do have a new Secretary, and so he has the ability to have conversations with the Government of Turkey, and then they can decide a new way forward if they should want to.

    QUESTION: Sorry, Heather, a quick question on the election in Iraq because --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Are you disappointed in the level of turnout because it was very low? I mean, I worked back during the civil war and the turnout was much, much bigger. Are you disappointed? Do you think that people have lost faith in the democratic process in Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t see it as that at all. We have seen from time to time when we’ve had higher or lower election turnouts in the United States, and many other countries have experienced that as well. But what is significant here is that the Iraqis held this successful election. The election went off with very, very limited violence. That is a tremendous success. And if we just wind back the clock to where Iraq was just a few years ago, when ISIS had controlled large swaths of that country, and now here people are turning out to vote and the biggest complaint we can find is a low turnout? Well, I’d say congratulations to the Iraqi people for pulling off a successful election.


    QUESTION: Thank you. Back to Turkey, please?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: As you know, Turkey has recalled its ambassadors to – from the U.S. and Israel. Can you give us an update? Is this straining U.S.-Turkish relations? And also on Pastor Andrew Brunson, please.

    MS NAUERT: Sure. So first, in terms of Pastor Brunson, his case is one that we watch very carefully, very closely, not just here at the State Department. I know the Vice President has been keeping a close eye on it. Our colleagues at the State Department have been able to spend time in the courtroom with Pastor Brunson and having conversations with his family. This is also something that the President has watched very closely and carefully. It’s something that this administration continues to bring up in its bilateral meetings with the Government of Turkey, and at the next opportunity, I would not be surprised that this comes up yet once again. Congress is also following this very carefully and very closely. I don’t have an update for you on his case. I can check with some of our experts who are following this on a day-to-day basis and see if I can find anything more out for you on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: India?

    MS NAUERT: And then you had a second question? Sorry.

    QUESTION: Yeah, about the reaction to the embassy move and Turkey recalling its ambassador.

    MS NAUERT: Look, we’re aware that Turkey has recalled its ambassador. That is within Turkey’s right to do so. And I don’t see that as diminishing our relationship with the Government of Turkey. We – they continue to be an important NATO ally. That is being maintained and we look forward to our next conversations with the government.


    QUESTION: On India?

    QUESTION: On Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yes. So we are now just seeing those big companies in Europe who are just pulling their business out of Iran, and the European countries, they are just about to protest their companies. So I’m just wondering, how is your negotiation with the European countries, or do you just consider some exemptions for the European companies for their business in Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Well, first, I can tell you that companies have time to wind down their activities, and that in part gives them the ability to decide what business decisions that they want to make. This administration has been very clear since day one its concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities, whether it is ballistic missile tests, terrorism around the globe, supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, firing off rockets and missiles into our strategic partner’s territory in Saudi Arabia, to all that they’re doing in Syria to bolster and prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, also doing things in Israel as well.

    So Iran has a very well-documented litany of bad behaviors that it’s continued to be involved with. This administration has been clear about that. We’ve explained that to our European partners and others around the world.

    Earlier this week, we hosted about 200 ambassadors here at the State Department, where many of our assistant secretaries or at least several of our assistant secretaries had a chance to talk with them about our real and serious and grave concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activity. That’s one thing that we’ve been doing. The Secretary has been having phone calls with his counterparts from the E3 expressing our concerns. These concerns are not a surprise to those countries, but the Secretary continues to talk with them about those concerns, but also the way forward. And that’s why we are happy and thrilled that the Secretary’s first foreign policy address will be about that very thing, about Iran and the way forward.

    The United States will be working hard to put together a coalition not unlike the D-ISIS coalition, where we bring together a lot of countries from around the world with the specific goal of looking at the Iranian regime through a more realistic lens – not just through the lens of the nuclear deal, but rather through all of its destabilizing activities that aren’t just a threat to the region, but are a threat to the broader world.

    QUESTION: So it means that there won’t be any exemptions for the European companies --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not --

    QUESTION: -- or their businesses, with Iran?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into all of the details of that. The Secretary will provide his speech. Also I can tell you Treasury and other agencies are involved as well, and they may have some decision making in all of that. Okay?

    QUESTION: India?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Sir, why don’t – what do you have on India today?

    QUESTION: Two quick questions, please.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I’ll see if I can answer them.

    QUESTION: One will be on India. Two-plus-two was postponed because we didn’t have the Secretary of State. Now we have the new Secretary of State, congratulations, so when are we going to have this now two-plus-two because Secretary of Defense is ready?

    MS NAUERT: Ah, yes, okay. You’re – the Indian secretary of defense is ready, you’re saying?

    QUESTION: No --

    MS NAUERT: Our secretary, okay.

    QUESTION: -- yeah – two-plus-two, right, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I don’t have any information for you on that. Obviously, we have a very strong relationship with Prime Minister Modi’s government. We have strong, strong people-to-people ties with the Indian population, and so I know when we get a chance to schedule something on that – I know we’re looking at the Secretary’s schedule right now to see what he has on his plate and what we’re going to schedule in the near future – I’ll let you know. Okay?

    QUESTION: And second, madam, one strange thing is going on on Pakistani television is that former prime minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, he told the Pakistani television and – that Pakistan was behind the Mumbai attacks in India. Now, this also asserted that last year, General Musharraf said that Pakistan is favoring terrorism against India.

    MS NAUERT: Say the last part again.

    QUESTION: General Musharraf also said last year that Pakistan is supporting terrorism against India as far as Kashmir is concerned, and we are making it public that we will be supporting terrorism against India.

    MS NAUERT: So --

    QUESTION: And now it’s the prime minister of Pakistan who just stepped down.

    MS NAUERT: Look, the only thing I can – I have to share with you about that in terms of the Mumbai attacks, and we’ve been – we’ve addressed this on numerous occasions from this podium here, and those would be our concerns about the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. And he’s a Lashkar-e-Tayyiba guy who was being held in Pakistan, and he was eventually let out on house arrest, and we have a reward out for – I believe it’s for his arrest – not information leading to his arrest, but his arrest. I don’t recall off the top of my head the award amount, but that person out in the open is a tremendous concern to the United States. In terms of your other question, I’d just have to look into that for you. Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Just back to – just back to the Secretary’s speech on Monday --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and this new anti-Iran coalition that you’re --

    MS NAUERT: No, I – let me correct you on that. It’s not an anti-Iran coalition.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: We stand firmly behind the people of Iran and make a very significant distinction between the Iranian population – a very proud, historic population; a rich, incredible society – to what the Iranian regime is doing to its country. And when Iran pledged that it would bring some of its money back home – because they’ve done quite well for themselves as a result of the JCPOA and businesses, as she mentioned earlier, coming into the Iranian marketplace – they’ve done very little to share that money with their people and the overall economy, and people are frustrated with that, and they have a right to be angry with that. So this isn’t an anti-Iran thing, this is the Iranian regime and the bad actions that it’s doing, nothing with the Iranian people.

    QUESTION: Okay. I wasn’t intending to mean that it was about the Iranian --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Whatever you’re going to – what are you going to call the coalition, then?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know, Matt. Do you have any suggestions?

    QUESTION: The anti-Iranian regime – I don’t know, whatever it’s being called, whatever it’s going to be called.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay, I get your point.

    QUESTION: Even if it – I don’t know if it’s even going to have a name. Well, whatever. Do you – has --

    MS NAUERT: Maybe a government acronym.

    QUESTION: Has – yeah, (inaudible) --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sure it will be fabulous.

    QUESTION: Maybe it could be called IRAN, I-R-A-N. You can figure out when it comes up – anyway, is there – been any interest in countries other than Israel and Saudi Arabia, the other gulf Arab states, in joining your coalition?

    MS NAUERT: I can just tell you that in the Secretary’s calls that he’s had with his counterparts, they are fully understanding and appreciative of our concerns about Iran’s malign activity. These are countries that understand that. They’re not turning a blind eye to these things, and we continue to coordinate very closely with them.

    QUESTION: Are you talking about the Europeans here?

    MS NAUERT: Many countries, many countries, as we --

    QUESTION: Has he spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov at all since --

    MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness, but I can look into that and see if we have anything for you on that.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) coalition --

    MS NAUERT: But the point is – the point is, these countries around the world understand – no one is ignorant to all the bad stuff that the Iranian regime has been involved with. And countries have an interest in joining us because we have a lot more work that we can do together, and recognizing that Iran needs to be addressed in a more comprehensive fashion.

    QUESTION: They do, but I’m just wondering if you get this – if there is a high level of enthusiasm given the fact – for joining the U.S. given the fact that this administration has thus far not exactly been a joiner, but rather a withdrawer of international coalitions and – from international agreements and – so I’m trying – just trying --

    MS NAUERT: Well, that – that’s kind of funny that you say that as the President was just hosting the NATO secretary general. That is an example of something that we stand firmly behind and continue to do so.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I get that, but the TPP, the climate accord, the Iran deal --

    MS NAUERT: Look, I know that’s a narrative that people would like to believe, but there were previous agreements --

    QUESTION: By – yes, okay.

    MS NAUERT: -- that the United States has made the decision, and this administration has made the decision that it’s not in the best interests of the American people to do that.

    QUESTION: I --

    MS NAUERT: When you talk about --

    QUESTION: I get it.

    MS NAUERT: -- certain trade agreements – let me finish – when you talk about certain trade agreements, the President believes, and he firmly believes, that we can sometimes get a better deal when we conduct, when we develop bilateral trade agreements rather than these multilateral trade agreements.

    QUESTION: Understood, but other countries --

    MS NAUERT: That is a not a bad thing when we’re looking out for the American people.

    QUESTION: I’m not saying it is. I’m just saying, when other countries have – they have not been silent about their disappointment, anger, upset, whatever that the administration has removed the U.S. from these kinds of agreements. So I’m just curious if you can gauge their – the level of interest in joining the U.S. in a new coalition that is aimed at --

    MS NAUERT: I can just tell you we’ve had conversations with them about it, they understand the threat that the Iranian regime poses, and we look forward to having more meetings and conversations with them along the way. Okay.

    QUESTION: Would it include --

    MS NAUERT: I’ve got to go.

    QUESTION: Would it include the Iranian groups like Mujahedin-e Khalq?

    MS NAUERT: Said, I have no information on that for you on that. Okay, thanks.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:59 p.m.)

    DPB # 28

    Thu, 17 May 2018 19:32:09 EDT

    Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - May 15, 2018
    Heather Nauert
    Department Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    May 15, 2018

    Index for Today's Briefing
    • TURKEY


      3:08 p.m. EDT

      MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How is everyone today? Good. First, I’d like to start out by welcoming some guests that we have in the back of the room. We have nine journalists who are visiting from Ecuador, so I’d like to say welcome. We have a lot of journalists up here. I’m sure they’d be happy to chat with you a little bit afterwards about some of the challenges in the United States, and likewise I’m sure you have some as well that you could talk about in terms of reporting.

      Good afternoon, everyone. First, I want to start out with some personnel updates that we have here to announce at the State Department. I’d like to take a moment to recognize some of the new people who have just been recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate. First, we have a new under secretary, Andrea Thompson. She is our new Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Under Secretary Thompson is a former military officer who recently served as special advisor in the Office of Policy Planning at the State Department. She also served as deputy assistant to the President and national security advisor to the Vice President of the White House. And I should say, because Robert Greenan is from South Dakota, she’s also from South Dakota. So we’re thrilled to have her on board.

      In addition to that --

      QUESTION: Yay South Dakota.

      MS NAUERT: Exactly, yay South Dakota. In addition to that, we have a few new assistant secretaries. Yleem Poblete is one of them; she’s the Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance. Also Kirsten Madison is an Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Her first day in the building was just yesterday, so it was great to meet her.

      A few details about some of our new colleagues: The Assistant Secretary Poblete recently served as a senior advisor at the State Department. She also served for more than two decades on the staff of the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the House of Representatives, including as chief of staff and staff director – the first Hispanic female to serve in that post. Assistant Secretary Madison had been deputy director and resident fellow for foreign defense policy at American Enterprise Institute. She had a 25-year career in foreign and national security policy. She’s worked on issues related to governance and counternarcotics for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the Coast Guard, the State Department, and she is now at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

      The Secretary has said that the department’s workforce is our most valuable asset. Those officials, along with many others, are hard at work to execute our mission of diplomacy and development on behalf of the State Department and the American people.

      I’m sure you’ve all seen by now also that the Secretary made the decision and sent out a note today announcing the end of the hiring freeze. So we’re tremendously happy in the building as a result of that today.

      In addition to that, I would like to recognize Peace Officers Memorial Day. As many of you are aware, flags at the Department of State are at half-staff today, by presidential proclamation, to recognize Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week. We were especially humbled to honor those U.S. and partner nation law enforcement professionals who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to protect American diplomacy around the world. Here at the department we remember our four Diplomatic Security special agents who have given their lives protecting diplomacy, as well as their 140 colleagues from around the globe who’ve died in service to Diplomatic Security. They are honored at the DSS Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

      As for the U.S. state and local police honored during National Police Week, those officers put themselves in harm’s way to pursue justice across our nation, and we at the State Department are fortunate to be able to call quite a few of them and their police organizations our partners. Through 22 formal police department partnerships with the department managed by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, we leverage world-class expertise of U.S. police to build foreign nations’ ability to fight crime.

      Just this month, through the State Department partnerships, Miami-Dade police are now training Mexican counterparts in Miami, the Texas Department of Public Safety is conducting a field officer training in Morocco, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office hosted Haitian law enforcement for training there.

      This Peace Officers Memorial Day we reflect upon the men and women who protect us and who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Their watch may have not ended, but our gratitude for their service will not.

      And lastly, I’d like to mention that our USAID administrator, Mark Green, is visiting Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh on a USAID trip. He announced today more than 44 million in new humanitarian assistance to support Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and other vulnerable groups affected by the conflict in Burma. This now brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for displaced people in and from Burma to more than 299 million since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017. The new funding will provide emergency food and nutrition as well as shelter, safe drinking water, life-saving medical care, and other critical aid.

      Today, Administrator Green met with representatives from UNHCR, the World Food Program, and with newly arrived refugees who are now among the 700,000 Rohingya who have fled violence and conflict in Burma’s Rakhine State since August, and they’ve crossed the border into Bangladesh.

      The United States calls on the Government of Burma to allow for immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to reach people in need and create conditions that would allow for the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of those refugees.

      Later this week, Administrator Green will be here – will be in Burma on behalf of Secretary Pompeo. He will meet with the governor of Burma – Burmese officials to discuss urgent steps needed to end the crisis in the Rakhine State and address violence in other parts of the country. And I know the Secretary looks forward to speaking with him when he gets back to get a full report.

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

      QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Before you get a barrage of questions about this latest – these reports coming out of North Korea, I want to start – to which I don’t think you’re going to have an answer, other than we’ve seen the report and --

      MS NAUERT: Well, that’s your preface always. Yes, okay.

      QUESTION: Well, I just suspect that it’s going to be – the answer is not going to be very solid. Anyway.

      MS NAUERT: You could’ve saved that for the end then, Matt, if it’s going to that boring of a leadup.

      QUESTION: Sorry. I want to start with the Mideast.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: You’re obviously aware of what happened yesterday and what’s been happening over the course of the last month along the Gaza border. Today your – Ambassador Haley at the UN said that the Israeli Government had acted with restraint in dealing with the protests along the border. And I’m just wondering, is that really – is that the position of the government, that the Israeli – that Israel has acted with restraint in dealing with these protests?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have her comments right in front of me to be able to put those into the proper context. I think what the ambassador was referring to is compared to how other countries in other situations handle certain things. But I’m not going to parse her comments. I’d have to refer you up to the USUN for additional information on that.

      QUESTION: There was a – the United States Government was notable for being one of the few, if not the only, who did not at least call on the Government of Israel to take restraint. Other governments went much further. They condemned the – their actions and the deaths of almost 60 people just yesterday. Are you in a position to be able to say that – to criticize or to otherwise say that Israel might not be acting in a proportionate way?

      MS NAUERT: Well, first let me say we regret the loss of life. We regret the loss of all life. Ambassador Haley said that as well. White House officials have addressed that in addition to that. But let’s go back to something that we have covered extensively here, and let’s go back to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. We have had many Gazans who have suffered at the – from the loss of medical care, not being able to have access to enough medical care, not having access to consistent electricity, food, jobs, and many other things as well. The misery that is faced by people in Gaza is because of a result of Hamas. That is something that we come back to. People want to blame Israel for all of this that is going on over the past few weeks. Let’s take a look at the dire situation that people in Gaza are facing, and that is a result of Hamas’s governing. Let’s not forget that. People like to lose sight of that.

      QUESTION: I don’t think --

      QUESTION: Is that what the --

      MS NAUERT: Michelle, go ahead.

      QUESTION: I don’t think anyone’s necessarily not blaming Hamas for part of this. But the point is so many U.S. allies are also just at the very least saying the words Israel should use some restraint. Why does the U.S. seem to not want to just even make that simple statement?

      MS NAUERT: Michelle, I said we regret the loss of life. That is very clear. The administration has said that consistently. We’ve said that --

      QUESTION: But that’s not (inaudible) restraint.

      MS NAUERT: Hold on. We’ve said that on numerous occasions. We have seen how Hamas continues to incite violence. The actions, the activities that are taking place there that you’re all referring to, would certainly stop if violent protests were to stop and if Hamas were to stop inciting violence, encouraging people to go up to the border fence, encouraging people to cut through the border fence, encouraging people to run down that border fence and into Israel, sending these kites over the fences – all of those activities. They’re encouraging people to do those activities, and might I remind people that is not a safe place to go. It is not a safe place for people to bring their children. If that were to stop, then certainly the violence would stop.

      QUESTION: So when the UK calls for an independent investigation of the killings that have happened there, would the U.S. support that?

      MS NAUERT: That’s a hypothetical. I’m just not going to get into it. Okay?

      QUESTION: Yesterday --

      MS NAUERT: Said, go right ahead. Hi, Said.

      QUESTION: Thank you. Hi. Yesterday the White House said that all the blame rests with Hamas, no blame on Israel whatsoever. So do you agree with that statement that Israeli soldiers that shot these people, killed 60 people, six of them are children, are not responsible whatsoever by any degree?

      MS NAUERT: Israel has a right to defend itself. When people are being sent to the border, they are bringing weapons, they are threatening to cross through the fence, they are throwing Molotov cocktails – Israel has a right to defend itself. But I want to be clear about this also that we do regret the loss of life. Ambassador Haley addressed that today. She called the loss of life deplorable. And let’s once again get back to why the situation is so miserable. The United States would like to see peace. That is a priority for this administration. We would like to see – we would like to see both sides be able to come back, sit at the table, and have conversations about a good and peaceful solution. Unfortunately, we’re not there at this point, but we hope that we will be soon.

      QUESTION: I fully understand what you’re saying. Now, according to all reports, there has been no firing from the Gaza side by anyone so far since the – since the 30th of March. But I just want to ask you once again: There is absolutely no blame whatsoever that should fall squarely on Israel?

      MS NAUERT: Said, I’m not --

      QUESTION: Or Israeli snipers?

      MS NAUERT: -- going to parse every single event that happens. But let’s remember why the situation has become so troubling. Let’s remember how Hamas continues to incite violence. If they really wanted peace – if they really wanted peace, they would call for peace, and we don’t see them doing that.

      Lesley, you had a question.

      QUESTION: I want to ask --

      QUESTION: Do you really believe that the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem had nothing to do with inciting some of this violence?

      MS NAUERT: Look, we have seen the demonstrations, and we have watched the demonstrations over the past six weeks. These demonstrations are nothing new. Our embassy was set to open for quite some time when the President announced it late last year. There have been other countries as well that have announced that they’re opening their embassies as well. If Hamas wants to use that as an excuse to rile people up and to encourage violence, that is their choice. It’s an irresponsible choice.

      QUESTION: And then the Palestinian representative was withdrawn today from Washington. Was there any kind of protest letter or communication with the State Department regarding this?

      MS NAUERT: I’m just – I’m not aware of that, myself, if there was. The PLO office though remains open in Washington. You’d have – I’d have to refer you to the Palestinians for more information on that.

      QUESTION: So Heather --

      QUESTION: Heather --

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Barbara.

      QUESTION: Yeah. Just to say – you said that the misery in Gaza was because of Hamas. And of course, Hamas has not done a very good job of governing. But are you seriously saying the blockade of Gaza has not contributed to the misery? I mean, that seems to be self-evident.

      MS NAUERT: Look, we have a – not we, but there are a group of people – there is a group of people in Gaza that don’t have access to all of the things that most of us do each and every day. We have pretty much unfettered access to healthcare, to clean water, to electricity – all of those things – and that has been a problem there. And when you fail to provide people with the basics that they need, they can turn – they can become frustrated and they can certainly turn to violence, and Hamas is certainly encouraging them to do that.

      QUESTION: And when you block the borders in Israel and in Egypt and people can’t get in and out, and foods and goods can’t get in and out, the same thing happens.

      MS NAUERT: Look, I would just say that Israel has certainly concerns and they’re right to have concerns. I saw it myself – a terror tunnel that was going from Gaza into Israel, for example. They have legitimate concerns about their security and people trying to send weapons and other things through the various checkpoints. So that’s a concern of theirs.

      QUESTION: So all of the situation in Gaza is completely the fault of Hamas?

      MS NAUERT: It’s the primary responsibility – it’s primarily the responsibility of Hamas. This is the first time we’ve said this. We’ve been very clear about this all along, okay.

      QUESTION: And in terms of an independent investigation, I don't think it’s a hypothetical because it has been called for.

      QUESTION: It’s being called for right now.

      QUESTION: So what – is there any chance the Americans --

      MS NAUERT: I don't have anything for you on that, okay?

      QUESTION: Heather, I’d like to ask you –

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi.

      QUESTION: Heather, could I ask you –

      MS NAUERT: Go – hold on. I’ve already --

      QUESTION: -- a question about Ambassador Friedman?

      MS NAUERT: Hold on. I’ve already talked to you. Hold on. Michel.

      QUESTION: Can we switch to Iraq?

      MS NAUERT: Certainly.

      QUESTION: Can we --

      MS NAUERT: Okay. I’ll come right back to you. Okay. One --

      QUESTION: Very quickly, one question.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. One more for Said, and then I’ll go over to you, Michel.

      QUESTION: Thank you. I appreciate it. I asked Ambassador Friedman on a teleconference the other day whether he considered East Jerusalem to be occupied territory or whether he considered the West Bank to be occupied territory. And he said: Well, look I am – I have my own personal views. As the ambassador of Israel, I am not the ultimate policy maker, so I’m going to defer to others. I think the situation in West Bank is unique, unprecedented, and so on. What is your position on the West Bank and East Jerusalem? Is it occupied or is it not --

      MS NAUERT: Our position on that has not changed. You and I have gone around and around about this many times before. I can just tell you our position on that hasn’t changed.

      QUESTION: What is it?

      MS NAUERT: Our position on that --

      QUESTION: Is your position occupied or not occupied?

      MS NAUERT: I’m going to leave it at this. Our position on that has not changed. We’ve discussed this before. I’ll sound like a broken record. Okay, let’s --

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Let’s move on. Michel, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      QUESTION: (Inaudible) recognize the --

      QUESTION: Yeah. Heather, do you have any comment on the --

      QUESTION: Wait, before we go to Iraq – among the questions that have been asked about the whole Gaza situation for a while now is the situation – the death of the Palestinian photographer, news photographer, and then the death later of – from injuries of another Palestinian journalist. The first one to die had been a recipient of USAID funding. You guys said you were going to look into that.

      MS NAUERT: That money was never transferred over to that individual. Last I checked, that is still being investigated. I don't have anything additional for you. But when I do, I’d be happy to bring it to you.

      QUESTION: Okay, but should --

      QUESTION: Can I --

      QUESTION: When you say that you regret the loss of life just now --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: -- I mean that would include a working journalist as well, right? This --

      MS NAUERT: Matt, we’ve --

      QUESTION: Because --

      MS NAUERT: I think I can blankly say that the United States Government regrets the loss of life. Okay? Okay.

      QUESTION: But in so many flashpoints that are sensitive around the world, regularly the U.S. Government calls for restraint on all sides. It’s such a common, simple thing to say. Why in this case is it so difficult? What would be wrong with calling for restraint on the part of Israel?

      MS NAUERT: I think this is a complex region. We’re looking at exactly why protests are taking place, why Hamas is encouraging people to go out and protest, why Hamas is encouraging people to go out right up to the border fence, why they’re encouraging people to try to knock down that fence and go into Israel, why they’re sending kites with Molotov cocktails to try to burn down the fields. Michelle, this is not as innocent as it may seem to many people. Hamas is trying to encourage people to do that, and by doing that, they are putting Palestinian lives at risk. Many people are expecting or are wanting people to be sympathetic to Hamas. We are not going to be sympathetic to Hamas. Hamas does not take care of its own people and it’s inciting violence, and we’ve seen a death occur as a result, okay?

      QUESTION: Then why did the Secretary of State --

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have --

      QUESTION: -- have nothing to say on this issue?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything more for you on that, okay. I wasn’t there at the time.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Let’s move on. I don’t have anything more for you on this, okay?

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Look, guys, you’ll want to go on all day. We’ve got a big world to cover, other things going on. Nick, I’ll come back to you on something else. Michel, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Yeah. On Iraq and the Iraqi – and the parliamentary elections. Do you have any comment?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think it’s certainly notable, first of all, that Iraq held elections that were largely free of violence. Imagine, think about not long ago, ISIS had controlled large swaths of that country. And the fact that they were able to pull off elections that were relatively free of violence is certainly a pretty amazing feat and a testament to the Iraqi people. We congratulate Iraq and the Iraqi people for participating in the democratic process yet once again. Iraqis are certainly eager to build a safe and prosperous future for themselves in the context of a government that’s sovereign and stable. So we’d like to congratulate them for doing that.

      QUESTION: I have two more on this, Heather. Do you have any comment on Moqtada al-Sadr, who emerged as the big winner in these elections?

      MS NAUERT: Yes. Let me just remind folks that he wasn’t an actual candidate on any of the ballots, but yet his slate of people were candidates. Iraq is still finalizing its election results right now. They’re likely to have to form some sort of coalition government, so I don’t want to get ahead of the process and presume how things are going to look in the end. But I think the overarching theme right now is congratulations to Iraq for holding democratic and free elections.

      QUESTION: And on the formation of the new government, Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s commander Qasem Soleimani is in Baghdad to discuss the formation of the new government. How do you view this Iranian role in the formation of the government?

      MS NAUERT: We have a good relationship – bless you – with the Government of Iraq, and we believe that we will continue to do that. There have been many – in Iraq and in other countries as well – that have been concerned about Iran’s reach into many other countries. That is certainly always a concern of ours, but we have a great deal of trust and faith in the Iraqi people and whoever ends up governing, whatever the structure is, the governing of that country going forward.

      QUESTION: Is Brett McGurk – is he still --

      QUESTION: Are you concerned --

      MS NAUERT: Sorry.

      QUESTION: Is Brett McGurk there for the talks along relations to the elections?

      MS NAUERT: I can confirm he is in Iraq right now; I don’t have the details of his entire itinerary and why he’s there. I can see if I can get more for you on that. Okay. Hey, Laurie.

      QUESTION: And also some are – one more here.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: And also, some of the political parties are charging that the election was rigged by groups in – that were probably backed by Iran. Do you have any comment on that?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can just say the Independent High Electoral Commission – that’s basically the Iraqi equivalent of the Federal Election Commission – they are investigating; they are taking a close look at allegations of fraud and intimidation. There were civil society observers who were participants or who – involved in watching the process. And there were also international observers who were on the ground as well, and they have reported to us that they found the elections to be credible. Okay.

      QUESTION: What --

      MS NAUERT: Hi, Laurie.

      QUESTION: What do you see as next steps in this political process? And are you concerned that if it takes too long that there may be a resurgence of Islamic State or other insecurity?

      MS NAUERT: I’ll just say we’re not going to get ahead of that process right now. We have faith in the Iraqi Government, and so we’re just going to wait and see how this all plays out. They’re still finalizing the election results, so I don’t want to get ahead of that.

      QUESTION: And you’re comfortable that the leading two party lists include people who were opposed to the United States presence in Iraq up to 2011?

      MS NAUERT: We are very well aware of Moqtada al-Sadr and his background and his positions now, yes.

      QUESTION: And as well as the Conquest list, which includes figures like Qais al-Khazali?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on the so-called list that you mentioned.

      QUESTION: They were number two.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. I don’t have any information on that, Laurie. I’ll see if I have anything more.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s switch on. So North Korea? Okay.

      QUESTION: Okay. I guess you saw just before the briefing the reports that North Korea threatens to cancel its participation in the summit in Singapore because of the joint exercises, military exercises with South Korea. We were told by South Korea that they were okay with these exercises. What has changed? Did --

      MS NAUERT: Well --

      QUESTION: -- Secretary Pompeo spoke about that --

      MS NAUERT: So I just saw that report as I was coming out here.

      QUESTION: -- when he was there?

      MS NAUERT: So we haven’t had a whole lot of time to dig into that. I will say that Kim Jong-un had said previously that he understands the need and the utility of the Untied States and the Republic of Korea continuing in its joint exercises. They’re exercises that are legal; they’re planned well, well in advance. We have not heard anything from that government or the Government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un next month.

      QUESTION: So they didn’t tell you anything about --

      MS NAUERT: We have no information on that whatsoever. What we have to go on is what Kim Jong-un had said before, that he understands and appreciates the importance to the United States of having these joint exercises. The Republic of Korea has as well. We’ve received no formal or even informal notification of anything.

      QUESTION: So you continue to plan the summit as --

      MS NAUERT: Absolutely. We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

      QUESTION: Isn’t a report on the official North Korean news agency at least an informal notice or --

      MS NAUERT: Did it actually go out on there? Because I got this just as I was walking out here, so I haven’t had a chance to fully sit down and investigate. But this is – that would be news to me.

      QUESTION: It did.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Great.

      QUESTION: They’re calling the exercises provocative and they’re calling them --

      MS NAUERT: Well, they’re certainly not provocative. These are things that we do all around the world with many of our partners and allies. These are things that have occurred for decades and decades. Again, I’ll say this for a third time, Kim Jong-un had said that he understands the importance to the United States that we conduct these joint exercises, these joint exercises continue to go on, so okay.


      QUESTION: Hi. In addition to saying that they might cancel the U.S.-North Korea summit, they’ve also canceled high-level talks with South Korea over the military drills. Do you have any comment on that?

      MS NAUERT: I can’t confirm that. I would just have to refer you to those respective governments.

      QUESTION: Heather --

      QUESTION: But would you see that as an unwelcome sign?

      MS NAUERT: I – guys, I would not get ahead of ourselves here. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This news just came out. We need to verify it, get additional information on that, but we’re going forward and planning our meetings next month, okay?

      Hi, yes.

      QUESTION: Still on North Korea but not on that.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: So Secretary Pompeo said on Sunday that the U.S. would have to provide security assurances to the Kim regime. Is that what he told Chairman Kim when he was in Pyongyang meeting with him, and if so, what was the response?

      MS NAUERT: So some of those would certainly fall under private diplomatic conversation. I was not there in the room when the Secretary spoke with Chairman Kim at the time. I – what I would go on is what the Secretary said in interviews in which he had talked about security assurances. Obviously, governments like that are concerned about their principals’ security, and I’ll just leave it at that, okay?

      Okay. Hi. Yeah.

      QUESTION: So Secretary Pompeo has said that having a ambassador to South Korea is one of the high priority. Now that the – with the freeze of hiring, should we – what does the timetable look like? Should we expect a U.S. ambassador to South Korea before June 12th?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I would refer you to the Senate, first of all. Let’s see what they have to do, let’s see what they can do to help speed this up. We look forward to having an ambassador in South Korea just as soon as we can get one. I don’t know what the timeline is on that or the timeframe is on that, but we look forward to having him in place.

      QUESTION: Heather.

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: Can you confirm that Harry Harris --

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Hold on. Yes.

      QUESTION: Heather, no Secretary --

      MS NAUERT: Hold on a sec. Janne, go ahead.

      QUESTION: Thank you. In order to – me go?

      MS NAUERT: Yes. Please, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: In – on North Korea. In order to – (coughs) – excuse me. In order to dismantle of North Korean’s Punggye-ri, North Korean nuclear test site, on I think May 22nd – between the 22nd and 25 – only the reporters were invited to ceremony, but not – expert were not invited. Will the U.S. need verification or not? Do you have any comment on this?

      MS NAUERT: First I would say the United States and our allies look forward to getting some more information about that event that North Korea has said they would destroy that facility. I don’t know if any of you are planning to go or hope to go over, but I’m sure our Consular Affairs people would be okay with taking your calls, certainly. We look forward to learning more about that and seeing exactly what they have planned.

      QUESTION: You should have verification, that site, because they five times in a nuclear test. So why – you had to verify --

      MS NAUERT: I can just say our people will be all over this type of thing, whether it’s now or in the future when our people can go in and start to verify. Hopefully we’ll be in the position to be able to do that, but again, I don’t want to get ahead of that process.

      Hi, Nick.

      QUESTION: Heather, do you have – you mentioned the Senate would have a role to play in that. Has the administration formally nominated anyone for --

      MS NAUERT: I’d have to double check on that. I’m not sure if they’ve actually formally nominated Admiral Harris to be the ambassador of South Korea, but I’ll just double – take a look at it.

      QUESTION: But he is the nominee?

      MS NAUERT: I – I’ll double check on that.


      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      QUESTION: So wait a second. Just to make sure I got this right, you’re inviting all reporters to call Consular Affairs to ask them about traveling to North Korea?

      MS NAUERT: I’ll get in trouble with Consular Affairs. I’m being lighthearted in that. I understand that the Government of North Korea has invited reporters. I’ve not heard from any of you about that just yet.

      Kylie, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Will Secretary Pompeo be reaching out to North Korea to encourage them to carry through with this meeting with South Korea?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t think he’s picking up the phone and begging anybody to do anything at this point. We are operating under the idea and the notion that the President’s meeting is going forward with Chairman Kim next month.

      QUESTION: And if this meeting doesn’t happen, will you still go forward?

      MS NAUERT: That’s a hypothetical. That’s a hypothetical. Look, this news just came out. I can’t verify it just yet. It’s very early on in the process, but we’re planning ahead for our meetings. Okay.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      QUESTION: How does that affect your confidence on North Korea?

      MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

      QUESTION: North Korea making such announcements through state media ahead of the summit, how does that affect U.S. confidence on North Korea in pushing ahead with this summit – planned summit?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I would say that we’ve seen some pretty good indications from them so far. It was just one week ago that we had three Americans who were being held prisoner in North Korea for far too long. The Secretary was able to bring home those Americans, and now they’re home and reunited with their families.

      So they have taken some steps in the right direction in having us and inviting this United States delegation to go to North Korea and saying that they’re willing to meet with us, and they have said that we will commit to denuclearization. I think those are all good signs. I don’t want to get ahead of this announcement that everybody’s all worked up about until we have some time to take a look at things, okay? Okay.

      Michel, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Heather, on the Gulf dispute, Secretary Pompeo has emphasized yesterday to UAE foreign minister the President’s desire to see the Gulf dispute eased and eventually resolved.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: And his hope that parties will engage constructively ahead of the U.S.-GCC summit. Was he trying to put a deadline for the GCC to resolve their dispute?

      MS NAUERT: Initially, the GCC summit was supposed to be sometime this spring. I’d have to double-check this --

      QUESTION: September?

      MS NAUERT: -- but it’s now been moved to September.

      QUESTION: Yeah.

      MS NAUERT: I can’t remember the date exactly, but it’s been moved. This is something that’s important, though, for the President, and the President has talked to many of those countries. When Secretary Pompeo was recently in Saudi Arabia, he had conversations with the government there, also spoke with the Jordanians about this as well since they are our strategic partners in the region, about the importance of solving this dispute. The dispute’s been going on now for, oh, 10 months or so. It’s gone on far too long. So the President has said enough is enough, let’s put an end to this and move forward.

      QUESTION: Is September a deadline?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t know if it’s a deadline, but last I had heard that that is when we have a meeting scheduled on GCC. Okay.

      QUESTION: Can I ask about the hiring freeze?

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Do you have a number for – the number of positions that were left unfilled because of the freeze and then how quickly you expect there to be movement on those jobs?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have any numbers for you just yet. We are all very happy, as you all have worked here long enough to have known how frustrating it was for many people who wanted to get jobs at the State Department who were told no, I’m sorry, we’re not hiring as a result of the hiring freeze. This is something that the Secretary looked at very early on when he came on board. In fact, before he came on board, he had been briefed on this when he was briefed about the various issues that had to be resolved or various difficult issues at the State Department, and that was one of the things very early on that he wanted to take a very close look at, a careful look at, and has made this decision to lift that hiring freeze.

      I don’t have any numbers for you just yet. This is all pretty fresh and pretty new, but if I can get some numbers, I’ll let you know.

      QUESTION: So can you, as you’re checking that, also find out if this is going to affect the intake of new – of A-100 classes?

      MS NAUERT: I believe that it does help facilitate, because we’ve been getting some phone calls from young people asking if they can now get in, so I believe this helps sort of pave the road for some of those younger people to get in.

      QUESTION: Okay. But could you find out a hundred percent --

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: -- for sure if it was --

      MS NAUERT: I will find out 100 percent.

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: On Turkey?

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Hey, Abbie.

      QUESTION: Can I go back to the Middle East for a moment?

      MS NAUERT: We’re done with the Middle East. I got nothing left for you. Yeah.

      QUESTION: This is a separate question not related directly to the Gaza, but --

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: And then we’ll move on.

      QUESTION: Do you have any further explanation for why it was that Pastor Jeffress was chosen to participate in the ceremony given his past controversial comments?

      MS NAUERT: I can just tell you that Ambassador Friedman, I know, was looking at a variety of people to be a part of the service or the ceremony, and that’s who was invited. I don’t have anything more for you on that.

      QUESTION: Was the State Department aware of some of his past comments regarding specifically Mormonism, Islam, Muslim, and --

      MS NAUERT: We certainly would not agree with --

      QUESTION: -- Jewish --

      MS NAUERT: -- his assertions. We would certainly not agree with the pastor’s remarks, some of his controversial remarks that he has made about various religious groups, but he was chosen by Ambassador Friedman, who was certainly welcome to do so, and made that decision.

      QUESTION: Well, wait, so that means that if not – even though you don’t agree with those comments, you might say that they’re wrong or what – I don’t know what term you would use --

      MS NAUERT: I think I was just pretty clear. I said we do not agree with his opinion.

      QUESTION: But – so that’s not disqualifying to be – I mean, does this – is this the embassy of the United States of America or is it basically Ambassador Friedman’s embassy?

      MS NAUERT: As we have seen before – I seem to recall not too long ago that there was another embassy that made some decisions – embassies certainly have their free will sometimes to make decisions about who they want to bring in as guest lecturers or people to lead a ceremony or some sort of a celebration. To my knowledge, we did not have any role in making that decision, but --

      QUESTION: Okay.

      MS NAUERT: Not that we asked to. I just – I’m not aware if we had any decision-making --

      QUESTION: Okay. So I just want to make sure I understand. So this is the equivalent – you’re saying it’s kind of like the equivalent of the Berlin situation?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that embassies and people around the world bring in lots and lots of people who have various opinions. Okay?

      QUESTION: And speaking of going – going back to that, when the U.S.’s allies and eight European countries call for restraint on the part of Israel --

      MS NAUERT: Michelle, I think we’ve already --

      QUESTION: -- and they --

      MS NAUERT: I think we’ve already covered this.

      QUESTION: And they asked for – but my question is different.

      MS NAUERT: I think we’ve covered this already.

      QUESTION: Are they wrong in asking for that?

      MS NAUERT: Michelle, listen, we’ve covered this already. I don’t have anything more for you.

      QUESTION: But there’s still questions. I mean, the questions don’t end just because you say that they do.

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything more for you on this. I think we’ve covered it extensively. Okay. Go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Thank you so much. A little bit closer to home.

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: I wanted to find out the status of the visas for Cubans and also the preparations in Georgetown, Guyana for those Cubans who may wish to come to live in the United States and obtain their visas. Do you have any update on this?

      MS NAUERT: I will take a look. I’ll get in touch with our people in Western Hemisphere and see if I can get you some specific details on that. Okay? Okay, thank you.

      QUESTION: On Russia?

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: You may have already seen the video that Russia President Putin drove the truck himself --

      MS NAUERT: Oh, I did.

      QUESTION: -- across a new bridge connecting the mainland Russia to the Moscow-annexed Crimea today, and which we note Ukraine has condemned such annexation. Would you have – would you like to comment, or did you have a reaction on that?

      MS NAUERT: Yes, we certainly do. We saw as Vladimir Putin hopped in that truck and drove that truck from Russia into Crimea. We saw the construction and the partial opening of that bridge. It’s over a strait. One of the things I want to mention about it is that the construction of that bridge certainly limits the ability to bring in goods via ship, so it’s affected people – it’s affected Crimea, it’s affected Ukraine – in that way. The bridge represents not just an attempt for Russia to solidify its unlawful seizure and occupation of Crimea, but it also impedes that navigation that I just mentioned. So that’s something we’re watching carefully and is a concern of ours. Okay.

      QUESTION: Do you have anything on the raid today by Ukrainian authorities on these two Russian news outlets and the arrest of a reporter?

      MS NAUERT: I do. Yeah, that’s another situation that we’ve watched. And you all have heard me talk here about the importance of free speech. The arrests of journalists or searches taken of media outlets, if that is done, it has to be done in accordance with the law. It is something that includes international human rights law. We take those actions seriously. We hope that the government takes those actions very seriously. We understand that Ukraine, like a lot of other countries, has been concerned about intense propaganda. Goodness, when we talk with a lot of our allies and partners overseas, they certainly have fallen victim and understand the influence and the reach of Russian propaganda. So we do understand Ukraine’s concerns about that. But overall, these are very serious actions that have to be taken in accordance with the law.

      QUESTION: On Turkey?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead.

      QUESTION: The pulling of the ambassador from the U.S. and Israel – do you have any sense of how long this is going to be, and how would you say that it affects the relationship between Turkey and the U.S.?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t know how long it’s going to be. I’d have to ask you to speak with the Turkish Government of that. We’re certainly aware of Turkey’s decision, and I think it’s their decision and they’re the best ones in the best position to be asked that.

      QUESTION: You don’t have a reaction to it?

      MS NAUERT: Look, Turkey made that decision. That is their decision to make. Okay.

      QUESTION: And is Secretary Pompeo still planning to receive his Turkish counterpart here in D.C. in the next days or --

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any meetings that we have fully solidified with really many governments at this point. When I – if I have those meetings, I’ll be sure to bring them to you when I can.

      Okay, and we’re going to have to wrap.

      QUESTION: How is it not justification for killing – for Israel killing when you say Israel has the right to defend itself?

      MS NAUERT: Okay, we’re done with this.

      QUESTION: Israel has a right to defend itself --

      MS NAUERT: We’ve already been there.

      QUESTION: -- and there are no Israeli casualties --

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: -- and there are literally tens of – there’s over ten thousand --

      MS NAUERT: I think we’ve covered this extensively already.

      QUESTION: -- Palestinian casualties in the – and a hundred dead.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Go on, one last question?

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: Do you have something else?

      QUESTION: Yes. On the Lebanese.

      QUESTION: Excuse me. Excuse me. No, no, no. That requires a response. And furthermore, I mean, the U.S. isn’t mowing down people along the U.S.-Mexican border.

      MS NAUERT: We --

      QUESTION: Isn’t that accurate?

      MS NAUERT: We are done with this issue. We’ve covered it extensively already. I’ve taken many questions on this, and we’ve --

      QUESTION: So Israel is off the hook again. Israel is off the hook again.

      MS NAUERT: Sir, thank you for your question. I think we’ve covered this already, okay? I’m sorry; I’ll get back to you another time, okay?

      QUESTION: That’s okay.

      MS NAUERT: Thank you.

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

      Tue, 15 May 2018 19:21:05 EDT