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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - October 17, 2017
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 17, 2017

Index for Today's Briefing
  • CUBA


    2:47 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. How are you?

    QUESTION: Hello.

    QUESTION: Doing good.

    MS NAUERT: Getting a little bit of a late start today as we welcomed the Greeks and the prime minister of Greece to the White House earlier today where Secretary Tillerson was and joined in on some of those meetings.

    I’d like to start today talking a little bit about our Deputy Secretary’s travel to Tokyo, Japan. Deputy Secretary John Sullivan held some bilateral meetings in Tokyo today with his counterpart, the Japanese vice foreign minister, as well as the national security advisor. In both of those meetings, the Deputy Secretary and his Japanese counterparts underscored the importance of close cooperation to place maximum diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on the DPRK to abandon its nuclear and missile development. The deputy also reiterated the importance of trilateral cooperation with Japan on the Republic of Korea to address the DPRK’s threat and range of other pressing regional and global issues.

    The deputy enjoyed the chance to meet in person with American and local mission staff at a town hall meeting at our U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to convey the department’s appreciation for their vital contributions in advancing U.S. interests in Japan. I know they’ve been very hard at work in preparing for this trip as well as the President’s trip next month.

    In addition, the deputy engaged business leaders and representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan to discuss concrete ways to advance U.S-Japan economic ties. The deputy’s meetings today will be followed by trilateral meetings with the ROK and Japanese counterparts in Seoul tomorrow to further enhance coordination in addressing the critical DPRK threat and other issues of mutual interest.

    Next, I’d like to go over to Somalia, where we want to extend our deepest condolences to all Somalis, especially those who lost their friends and family in the senseless and barbaric attacks, including at least two U.S. citizens who were killed. We further wish for a speedy recovery for all of those who were injured. On October the 17th, a U.S. military C-130 carrying medical and other supplies landed in Mogadishu. The supplies are being distributed to hospitals and trauma centers there. USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance provided immediate disaster assistance, arranging for the delivery of emergency medical supplies and also the deployment of emergency medical teams. Thank you to them as always for their good work.

    Next, I’d like to mention I think something that will be important to all of you as journalists: the murder of a journalist in Malta. Many of us have followed her stories quite closely. Her name was Daphne Galizia, and we want to condemn here at the State Department the appalling violence that took place against her in the strongest terms.

    It was a cowardly attack that took the life of a talented and brave young reporter who dedicated her career to fighting the rule of law and shining a light on corruption. We’ve responded quickly to the prime minister’s request for assistance. The Government of Malta and Malta police force have been in contact with the FBI about the investigation, and the FBI is providing specific assistance as it has been requested. We call for a thorough, transparent, and independent investigation into the circumstances behind Ms. Galizia’s death. For specific information about that investigation, though, we would refer you to the Maltese investigators.

    And finally, a story we’ve heard a lot about today, and that is Raqqa, coming out of Syria. I know a lot of you have reported on that today, so I wanted to give you some of the latest information that we have on our campaign to defeat ISIS there. As some of you have seen, the coalition spokesperson Colonel Dillon gave a briefing in Baghdad earlier today and said that we estimate that Raqqa is now 90 percent cleared and we are continuing to support our Syrian Democratic Forces to pressure the few areas where pockets of ISIS fighters now remain.

    Over the past few days we’ve seen significant progress in the city, and many civilians have been assisted to safety by the SDF, bringing the local – the total to just under 3,000 civilians rescued in the last week alone. The liberation of Raqqa from ISIS’s brutal control is near, and this now represents an important milestone in our campaign to defeat ISIS. It is rapidly losing control of its so-called caliphate.

    The United States and our allies have prepared for next steps and will continue to work with partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need and support the stabilization efforts in Raqqa and other liberated areas to include the removal of explosives left behind by ISIS, restoring basic services, and supporting local governing bodies.

    ISIS had more than three years to prepare its defenses in Raqqa. It used women and children as human shields, it forced civilians and its own fighters to become suicide bombers, it mined schools and homes and drove vehicles loaded with explosives at our partners working to liberate their fellow Syrians. But in the end, it remains on the verge of losing its grip on Raqqa. We will work with our partners to finish the job in Raqqa until all Syrians and Iraqis are free from ISIS and the brutal terrorists are no longer a threat to the United States or the international community.

    And with that, I will gladly take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Matt.

    QUESTION: Hello. Before going back to Syria and Iraq and Raqqa, I just – you’re not going to have anything on this, I’m pretty sure, because it literally just happened.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, try me.

    QUESTION: But to put it on your --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- put it on your radar screen and maybe we can get an answer to this taken – and I don’t expect much of an answer because it’s a court case.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: But a federal judge in Hawaii has just issued a nationwide injunction against the travel ban, the new travel ban 3.0, and so I want to know how exactly the department is going to deal with that in terms of its visa operations.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, that --

    QUESTION: But I know that you won’t have anything and --

    MS NAUERT: You were correct on that. I don’t have anything for you on that. It must have just happened moments ago. We’ve been tracking it. I thought it might be coming down tomorrow, but let me take a look at that and I’ll get you something when we have it.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Now, on – unless someone wants to try on that issue, I want to go to Raqqa.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: So you’re not prepared to say that the entire city has been liberated. Clearly, you said 90 percent, citing the --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Not just yet. We want to be cautious about that.

    QUESTION: So what is it, then, that you would like to see in place of – to replace the whatever kind of governance that the Islamic State had put in there? How is it that you want to see that? And is it still your intention just to, with your money, restore the very basic infrastructure and then kind of hit the road and leave it to others to rebuild in the longer medium term?

    MS NAUERT: So let me start with the first part of your question first, and that is where things stand right now in Raqqa. The Pentagon has addressed this today. We are estimating it’s about 90 percent liberated. So I want to express caution because there could still be fighting and skirmishes and fighters there as well. So this is not over just yet, but this is a great step. We’re on the right path. We’re on the right track.

    Once Raqqa is liberated and we, the United States along with its coalition partners – the 73 coalition partners have been working very hard on this for months and months now – what we would then next do is work on some of the demining. Eventually, we would get to the point where we would start to remove some of the rubble, get to the point where we would get the electricity going once again, providing clean water. The same types of things that the U.S. and coalition partners were able to do in Mosul – first in eastern Mosul and then in western Mosul. All of this takes time, but we have committed people who are willing to do this very difficult work to get the basics back for the people of Syria specifically in the area of Raqqa.

    You then next asked the question what would the U.S. role be with the U.S. funding. And part of that is to restore basic services. That is our plan. It’s not the sort of the nation building that the U.S. Government previously engaged in in other countries. Right now we see our role as getting the basics up and running, and then eventually turning it over to some – to other countries and to that host country, if you will.

    Up at the United Nations we had quite a few meetings that the Secretary participated in. The likeminded meetings of countries that were interested in this matter in Syria specifically, and some of the things that those countries expressed interest in was taking on a role in doing some of the bigger building projects. So we’re certainly welcoming other countries’ participation in that.

    QUESTION: Right. But in terms of – but you see your role ending once the rubble is removed, once electricity is restored, once people have an adequate supply --

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think --

    QUESTION: -- of clean drinking water? Or do you see a role extending beyond that to setting up or standing up a kind of local authority that can run the place?

    MS NAUERT: One of the things that we’ve called for is for local officials to take over responsibility for the post-liberation security. We are certainly there right now. Our goal and mission right there in Syria is to defeat ISIS. That is exactly why we are engaged – the U.S. Government is engaged in Syria. And that’s really it, to defeat ISIS.

    But we will assist and take essentially the lead in bringing back the water, electricity, and all of that, but eventually, the governance of the country of Syria is something that I think all nations remain very interested in. We have seen the people of Syria being put through horrific things. You see the video coming out of Syria. These towns have basically been decimated by ISIS, by what ISIS has brought upon them.

    And we’re committed to the Geneva process. We’ve talked about that extensively here, where we support a credible political process for the future of Syria, where we see the Syrians being governed by Syrian people who are respectful of human rights. So that is something that we remain focused on. We have had some of our colleagues engaged in various meetings in other parts of the world to discuss this type of thing, so we’re not backing away from that. I just want to make it clear where we are and what our role is going to be.

    QUESTION: Last one.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Just – and this really isn’t intended to be snarky, although you’re going to take it that way, and – but it shouldn’t be and it’s not meant to be. But what kind of confidence should the people of Raqqa, or Syria more broadly, have in your ability to remove – in the U.S. Government’s ability to remove rubble, to restore electricity, to supply clean drinking water, when the – you seem to be having a very hard time doing that in Puerto Rico and in the Virgin Islands in your own country.

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, Matt, these are very different situations, obviously. Okay?

    QUESTION: Clearly, they are. But I mean --

    MS NAUERT: And from the State Department, we would not comment on what is taking place in Puerto Rico. What I can tell you is that we have infrastructure, we have partners on the ground, and we have 73 coalition members who are all a part of the D-ISIS coalition who are engaged in helping to defeat ISIS, not only in Iraq and Syria as well, but also to get things improved for the folks there. So I hope that answers your question.

    QUESTION: Heather, just to follow up --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- on this very point, but you do recognize that Raqqa is part of the Syrian state, correct?

    MS NAUERT: Well --

    QUESTION: I mean, until now you do recognize the state of Syria, the government of Bashar al-Assad as the legitimate government in Syria, and Raqqa is part of the Syrian state, correct?

    MS NAUERT: I would not accept your characterization, as you put it. But we are aware, as you are aware – and we’ve talked about it here – the U.S. has certainly had talks with Russia – we won’t deny that – about the ceasefire, for example, that has held for the most part since about the 2nd of July, and that’s significant. That ceasefire has allowed coalition partners to go in there in that area, where the fighting has by and large stopped, and help bring in humanitarian assistance, and that is huge, to help bring in people who can remove the rubble, who can turn on the electricity again, who can get the clean water flowing, and eventually get children back into school.

    So that is significant, and when we look at our overall relationship with the country of Russia, one of the things we intend to do is look for areas where we can see eye-to-eye. And where we can see eye-to-eye is defeating ISIS. And so that ceasefire has been successful, and we hope that it will continue to be so.

    QUESTION: I understand, but you have always maintained your commitment to the unity of Syria. You want to keep Syria as a united country and not see it fragmented into small state-less kind of a thing, something that could happen in Raqqa, correct?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, Said, I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals about that, what could --

    QUESTION: But could – you could --

    MS NAUERT: -- could happen. What we are – where we are today: 90 percent liberated according to our estimates. That is some terrific news. So I don’t want to take the focus off this terrific, hard-fought news that so many people – our U.S. forces, coalition forces – have incredibly hard to get to this point. They have seen success. I don’t want to take the focus off of the success that they have had at this point.


    QUESTION: I’m Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: To follow up on Said’s point, Syria is in the middle of a civil war. It is still an intact state, as far as the United Nations is concerned, and there is a legitimate concern that now that the city is being liberated, the same fighters who originally took up arms against the Assad government may now find themselves being targeted by the Syrian regime. How does that go toward the U.S.’s larger goal of maintaining a unified and rebuilt Syria?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t --

    QUESTION: And then similarly --

    MS NAUERT: Hold – let me answer.

    QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. And similarly – let me finish.

    MS NAUERT: Let me – excuse me, let me answer your first question first --

    QUESTION: Similarly, in Iraq --

    MS NAUERT: -- because I won’t --

    QUESTION: -- the Iraqi Government has had difficulty --

    MS NAUERT: I can’t even hear you. I’ll answer your first question first.

    QUESTION: No, this – no, it’s the same point. In Iraq, we just saw this in Kirkuk.

    MS NAUERT: You know what? I’ve already forgotten what you’ve said as you’ve gone on on your thing.

    QUESTION: Well, you can be – you can – well, you can be dismissive, but the fact is --

    MS NAUERT: No, I’m not. I would like to answer your first question first.

    QUESTION: -- this is a civil war inside Syria and it’s not fair --

    MS NAUERT: Can anyone recall her first question? Otherwise I’ll just move on.

    QUESTION: -- and it’s not fair --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I’ll just move on then.

    QUESTION: -- for this to be – it’s not (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Does anyone else have a question about Syria?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Syria, about Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s stick with Syria if you have it. Hi, sir. How are you?

    QUESTION: Thank you. You just said, Heather, that you support a credible political process.

    MS NAUERT: I’m --

    QUESTION: You said you support --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- after liberating Raqqa, you would support a credible political process.

    MS NAUERT: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: Do you mean Astana process? Geneva? Which one?

    MS NAUERT: So the Geneva process is something that we --

    QUESTION: And not Astana?

    MS NAUERT: We have certainly been on the – not the outskirts, but we have been there while Astana talks have taken place. We’re not a participant in that, but we would support Geneva conversations about the future. Okay? All right.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else?

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Laurie. Let’s go to Iraq.

    QUESTION: On Iraq --

    MS NAUERT: Oh, and by the way, may I just say when I ask you all to please just give me one question at a time rather than having to respond to a litany of two or three or four questions at once, it helps me to be able to answer your questions succinctly. So pardon me. I’m sorry our journalist from Al Jazeera decided to leave the briefing room. I would have been happy to have answered her questions one by one, but she didn’t want to do that. So, okay, let’s move on. We’re – Laurie, you wanted to talk about Iraq.

    QUESTION: On Iraq, individuals like Senator McCain and Senator Rubio and institutions like The Wall Street Journal have criticized you over Kirkuk, saying that you let Iranian-dominated forces directed by Qasem Soleimani attack a valuable ally, namely the Kurds, and this is the exact opposite of the tough new Iran – policy against Iran that the President just announced on Friday. What is your response to that?

    MS NAUERT: Look, as we watch the situation unfold in Iraq, we continue to call for calm, to call for calm on the part of the Kurds, on the part of the government in Baghdad as well. We have made no bones about that. The Secretary is making calls to the region, I believe set for today. I know that this is something that he is watching very closely. The whole of the U.S. Government is watching the situation closely. Our U.S. forces have fought side by side with those in Iraq, whether it’s the north or whether it’s in the south, okay. We care deeply about what happens in Iraq. We continue to monitor the situation very closely.

    We have monitored the movements of various vehicles and personnel in that. We see these as what has happened to be what I’ll call coordinated movements. I know some have reported it as attacks. We look at it from the standpoint of coordinated movements. Our advisers are not supporting the Government of Iraq and we’re not supporting the Kurdistan Regional Government activities. We’re trying to stay – we’re trying to get the situation calmed as best as possible.

    QUESTION: Could you --

    QUESTION: It’s not --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Could you tell us who Secretary Tillerson is calling? Does that include Kurdish leaders?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of exactly who he is calling. I know he is making calls to the region, and so I just want to leave it at that. I’m not sure he’s – who they’re going to be able to get on the phone.

    QUESTION: So --

    QUESTION: Okay, if I --

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Yeah.

    QUESTION: My final question. You say coordinated movements, and I understand that. But the complaint is that these movements were coordinated by Qasem Soleimani after he suborned the PUK leadership. Does that bother you?

    MS NAUERT: Look, we’re not taking friends – I mean, we’re not taking sides. We are – excuse me. (Laughter.) We are not taking sides in that. I want to be clear about that. Look, that is why we continue to say, please, calm. We’re watching this situation very closely.

    QUESTION: Can you say – has the offer that was in the statement that you put out yesterday – there was a suggestion that the offer to mediate or offer to help was out there on the table. Do you know, has that been taken up by anyone?

    MS NAUERT: We – look, an actual offer to sit down and do something of that sort, I’m not aware of that. I can tell you, in addition to the Secretary making calls, our Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk is on the ground in Iraq right now. He’s holding meetings. Our ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador Silliman, is also engaged in a lot of meetings and conversations. So we are very engaged, heavily engaged in this. We want to see a unified, democratic Iraq.

    QUESTION: Do you – where is Brett, in Baghdad or is he --

    MS NAUERT: He’s in Iraq. I don’t – I --

    QUESTION: You don’t know where?

    MS NAUERT: Beyond that, I don’t know where exactly.

    QUESTION: And then secondly – and I think this gets to the broader long question that Roz was trying to ask you – are you concerned about an Iranian --

    MS NAUERT: What are you looking at over there?

    QUESTION: The map.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, the map. Okay.

    QUESTION: It helps me focus if I look at Iraq on the map.

    MS NAUERT: The blue blob map. (Laughter.) Okay. Yes.

    QUESTION: Well, I – my geography’s good enough. I know where Iraq is.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: Now, you made me forget my question. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: We’ll come back to you on that. Dave. Dave, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll pass.

    QUESTION: It was Iran or Iranian influence.

    QUESTION: Did the Government of Iraq inform you of its intentions to secure Kirkuk before the act?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m not aware of that.

    QUESTION: Would you have dissuaded them, had they done so?

    MS NAUERT: Because I’m not aware of that, that would be a hypothetical. So if I have something on you – if somebody in the building has an answer on that, I will certainly let you know.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Go ahead. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Quickly on the calls. I know you can’t say who he’s calling today, but has he spoken to President Barzani since the referendum occurred?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, I believe he spoke with Barzani last – I think it was a week ago – you know what, let me check on that for you, okay? Let me just check. I – don’t go with that yet. I want to check. I want to be certain on that, okay?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Iran?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re wrapped up with Iraq. Let’s --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Afghanistan.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. One more on Iraq and then we’ll go to Afghanistan. Hi, Nazira. I hear you back there. Hi.

    QUESTION: Heather there’s – just The Wall Street Journal editorial that --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- a lot of allies are feeling abandoned. You kind of see this feeling widely shared among the Kurds in social media. They say they fought alongside U.S. troops to topple Saddam Hussein. Kurdistan is – has been the place where no U.S. soldier has been killed or kidnapped or even wounded. And they say they even helped retake Arab territory such as Mosul because the United States asked them to do that and – but when they needed the United States, you basically tell them you’re on your own, you abandon them.

    MS NAUERT: I would disagree with the last part of your assessment. Okay? We – and that’s why I wanted to say I recognize that our U.S. forces have fought alongside, have died alongside those from the south, those from the north, all Iraqis. We see it as a federal, unified, democratic Iraq. That is what we would like. The United States had cautioned against this referendum many months ago because we saw it as taking the focus off of the fight against ISIS, a entity that has so brutally decimated the people of Iraq. Doesn’t matter if they’re Kurds, Arabs, Shias, Sunni, doesn’t matter. They have hurt the people of Iraq. Iraqis are our friends and that’s why I want to go back to what we call for, which is a unified, democratic Iraq. Okay?

    QUESTION: But this force that has taken Kirkuk, I mean, you can see their flags. They are Shia militias led by – like Qasem Soleimani was seen in pictures with them and --

    MS NAUERT: My understanding – my understanding is that this had been – that this had been coordinated, that the Kurds were aware of the movements as they were taking place. I’m not the military expert, so I’d have to refer you to DOD beyond that. Okay? But that is my understanding.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Let’s just move on to Afghanistan now. Hi, Nizira. How are you?

    QUESTION: Nizira Karimi, Afghan independent journalist. Heather, I – of course, you know that today in Afghanistan, three part of Afghanistan was in a big attack and so many people injured and has been killed and – first question. Number two: What do you think about the meeting between U.S., Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan? (Inaudible.)

    MS NAUERT: So the meeting you’re talking about is the Quadrilateral – Quadrilateral – pardon me – Coordination Group, and that took place in Oman, right? That’s – that is what you’re referring to?

    QUESTION: Yes, Oman, yeah, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So that group is an established format that allows the U.S, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and assess some of the steps that the countries can take to try to resolve that conflict through a negotiated political settlement. So the meetings took place – I believe it started on October the 15th. That meeting was attended by our Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, Ambassador Alice Wells. She participated in some of those meetings.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: And what was the second part of your question, then?

    QUESTION: About the attack in Afghanistan.

    MS NAUERT: About the attack in Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: Yes. Lack of security increased.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Unfortunately, I do not have any of the details on that actual attack in Afghanistan. I know we’ve been monitoring it. I saw it sort of cross some of our wires earlier this morning. I think that just goes to further underscore the very difficult security situation in Afghanistan. That is one of the reasons that the President decided to do his overall Afghan review policy which included other countries in the region as well, recognizing that the U.S. has now been engaged in Afghanistan for 16 years now. The people of Afghanistan by and large, as you well know this – you’re from there – want peace. Too many people have seen the effects of the Taliban, of al-Qaida, of others, the Haqqani Network. We would like to see peace brought to that country and remain committed to try to see that get done.

    Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Heather.

    QUESTION: Turkey? Turkey?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Rich.

    QUESTION: Hi, Heather. On Turkey --

    MS NAUERT: All right, you get Turkey.

    QUESTION: Turkey, there you go.

    MS NAUERT: There you go.

    QUESTION: Has there been any communication over the weekend and early part of this week with the Turkish Government regarding U.S. embassy employees who are held there, family members of U.S. employees who are held there?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let me give you a little bit of an update, and I don’t have a lot for you on that, but two members of our locally employed staff, as you may recall, were taken into custody not too long ago. They are still in custody today. They have still – the Government of Turkey has still not provided us the evidence. The Government of Turkey claims that they were engaged in some sort of terrorist-type activities. That’s obviously a very serious charge. We’d like to see the evidence on that. We have yet to see that evidence. If they have evidence, by all means, please do provide it, but we have yet to see it, and they are still in custody.

    Our Deputy Assistant Secretary Cohen is on travel right there – there right now. It was a long-planned trip – that’s my understanding – but this is a subject that he certainly plans to bring up with local officials up there.

    QUESTION: What we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, and really, honestly throughout the administration thus far – was it the assessment of the U.S. that Turkey is acting like an ally?

    MS NAUERT: I think our relationship is – no surprise about this – it’s complicated at some times, as are many of our relationships with countries around the world. This certainly complicates matters. I hope and I think we all hope, as a strong NATO ally, as a NATO partner, that we will get through this. We’re optimistic. Secretary Tillerson has talked about being a diplomat, you have to be the nation’s top optimist, and I think that probably applies here as well. We’re concerned. We’re following it closely. We would certainly like to see the evidence. We certainly don’t want to have the people we employ be detained in this fashion, and especially detained without evidence, so we will continue to just watch it very closely.

    QUESTION: And any plans for the Secretary to call his counterparts soon on this?

    MS NAUERT: I’ll have to check the latest call list. I know he spoke with his counterpart in the – late last week, so I don’t have anything beyond that, though. Okay?

    QUESTION: Don’t you see – don’t you see any progress in resolving the crisis? Because as far as I understand, the Turkish Government allowed – or at least the Turkish justice minister said that the Turkey staff member had met lawyers, his lawyers. Because when this thing started --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, my understanding is that one of our locally employed staff did finally have a chance to have a lawyer come visit him. Beyond that, we have not seen much action. We would like to see more of that. We would like to see the evidence and we would like to see our other locally employed staff member see an attorney as well. Okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: And that’s all I have on that.

    QUESTION: On Iran.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: How about UNESCO pulling out? This move was a part of larger pattern of Trump administration to leave the international organization unilaterally. Are you concerned about the ramification of this withdrawal pattern to the U.S. global reputation and soft power in the longer term?

    MS NAUERT: We covered this issue, actually, last week. Pulling out of UNESCO was something that the United States Government has looked at for a very long time, finally made the determination last week, and I would just refer you back to the transcript from last week.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Ms. Nauert, please. I would like to ask you about the situation in Catalonia. Yesterday --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Tell me your name and you are from where, please?

    QUESTION: Sorry. This is Eugenia from Cataluyna Radio. Nice to meet you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Welcome.

    QUESTION: Yesterday the Spanish Government put in prison the two main leaders of the civilian independence movement. They are two pacifist figures who have lead and represented thousands of people in the streets. I would like to know, what is the position of the United States about Spain having political prisoners because of the political conflict with Catalonia?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. First, let me just say we’re certainly aware of the press reports of those arrests that you just mentioned. I would have to refer you to the Government of Spain for information regarding the criminal investigations and/or prosecutions. Overall, we’re confident that Spain will act in accordance with its constitution and also its international commitments to address that issue. The United States continues – and our position on this has not changed – to support a strong and united Spain, and beyond that I’d just refer you back to the Government of Spain. Okay?

    QUESTION: Tomorrow, the Catalan – the Catalan president --

    MS NAUERT: Let’s move on to DPRK, right?

    QUESTION: Okay, yes. Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: So yesterday in response to North Korea saying that they want to be able to have the security of having an ICBM that can reach mainland U.S., the State --

    MS NAUERT: That’s security?

    QUESTION: Yeah. The State Department put out something of a response to that, saying that the Secretary calls on North Korea to show that it’s serious about wanting to have talks, and a way of starting that would be to stop missile and nuclear tests. So at what point – I mean, what do you guys consider being serious about talks, then? I mean, what are the benchmarks? Would it be just not having a test for a given period of time? How does the world know when North Korea’s ready for talks?

    MS NAUERT: I feel like we’re a little bit – a flashback to two or three months ago, where that was a big topic of conversation – what would they have to do? It is very clear and apparent to the whole of the U.S. Government that North Korea is not interested in sitting down for any kind of talks right now. That would certainly be our preference. Diplomacy is our preferred approach. We’re not giving up on that. Secretary Tillerson has been clear about that, as has Secretary Mattis and many others throughout the national security team.

    We want North Korea to understand that it can choose a different path. It can choose a different path. It’s up to North Korea to change its course of action if they want to return to credible negotiations. They are not showing that they’re anywhere near desiring to have talks at this point with testing ballistic missiles, with doing advanced nuclear tests. They are not showing any kind of indication that they are interested and are willing in talking.

    QUESTION: Right, but you guys brought it up and said that a start towards that end would be to not have tests. So --

    MS NAUERT: Well, certainly that would be – that would certainly be a start. It would be a nice start if they would stop doing these illegal nuclear and ballistic missile tests. That would be a great start. We would certainly like to see that happen, but we haven’t really seen that take place yet.

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    QUESTION: So why is that the response then? It seems like that was the response to what they had said, but you say that they are nowhere near that point. So why put it out there? Like, I’m confused as to when – when the U.S. is going to say, “Okay, this is a serious move.” Like, what would a serious move toward talks be?

    MS NAUERT: I think we continue to watch, we continue to monitor the situation. We know that North Korea is feeling the squeeze of not only sanctions but our overall peaceful pressure campaign. We have had some very welcome news earlier this week with – just yesterday when the EU decided that it would ban some activities and some actions that would take place with North Korea. Last week we highlighted what the Government of Italy did in its decision to kick out the North Korean ambassador. We’ve seen lots of news reports about the overall pressure campaign working. So we know that that is starting to choke off the money supply of North Korea. That money supply they use to fund their programs. They use to threaten and undermine international peace and security with that money too.

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    QUESTION: Can we stay on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Follow-up?

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Can we go onto Cuba?

    MS NAUERT: North – anything else on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Heather. United States has said that it will resolve the North Korean nuclear issues diplomatically. Is it diplomatic pressure or diplomatic negotiations, or what is it, like both of them, or negotiation and pressure?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think it’s diplomatic pressure, as we’ve seen with our pressure campaign. We have our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan in the region now holding trilateral meetings tomorrow with the Republic of Korea and also Japan. That’s an important step; it’s an important way to further cement our strong relationship with our allies and also highlight to the world the effects of the pressure campaign in starting to choke the money off that is going into North Korea.

    Susan Thornton, our acting assistant secretary for East Asia Pacific, she’s in the region now. She’s not there; I believe she’s actually in Manila. But one of the things that she’s talking about is our pressure campaign as well.

    So we’ve got sort of this whole-of-government approach where a lot of different individuals and different departments and agencies are focused on this, doing what they can to try to push for the eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s our goal. You’ve seen that on the part of Treasury where the secretary Steven Mnuchin has implemented various sanctions against North Korea. We see Ambassador Nikki Haley talking about that as well. She just gave a speech where she talked about 90 percent of the trade has – or exports have stopped going out of North Korea.

    So we see this as being successful. We hope that this diplomatic approach will be successful in the end. And just to go back to something that Secretary Tillerson said again not too long ago, he’s got to be the most optimistic guy in the U.S. Government.

    QUESTION: So when diplomatic options fail, is military options always possibility?

    MS NAUERT: We have those kinds of options available for pretty much every eventuality around the world, so we’re always going to do that. And we continue to stress to our allies, especially those in the region who are perhaps most nervous about North Korea – Japan and the Republic of Korea – we’ve got your backs. We’ve got your backs; we will support you and defend you. U.S. citizens over there, of course, same thing. We have a lot of U.S. forces who are serving over there. We always have that option. But what we talk about here from this room and this building is diplomacy, and we’re remaining focused on that.

    And we’re going to have to – we’re going to have to leave it at that, guys.

    QUESTION: Just, I only have one question --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah,

    QUESTION: -- on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, got it. One last --

    QUESTION: It’s really, really quick. I promise.

    MS NAUERT: You get one last thing, Said, and then we’ve got to go.

    QUESTION: And this just happened.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The Israeli mini-cabinet just announced that they will not hold any talks with the Palestinians until Hamas recognizes Israel. And since any talk would happen under your auspices, what is your view on this?

    MS NAUERT: Okay --

    QUESTION: Do you --

    MS NAUERT: I have not – I have not seen that report.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: So I’m hesitant to comment on it without having read it --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MS NAUERT: -- read through it or the information myself. But I do have something I want to tell you about in the region --

    QUESTION: Yes. Go ahead.

    MS NAUERT: -- if you’ve got a sec to spare.

    QUESTION: No, I have all the time in the world.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. So one of the things that we have talked about quite a bit is about bringing clean water to the West Bank and also to Gaza. We have talked about it for purposes of people’s daily use but also for agricultural reasons. Something that went sort of unnoticed over the weekend is a step that this administration took in trying to improve the daily lives of Palestinian people and what we believe could potentially enhance the prospects for long-lasting peace, and that is the U.S. Government, through USAID, announced a $10 million investment over the weekend to increase Palestinian access to that agricultural water. The – it was an expansion of what was called the Jericho Waste Water Collection System. It provides water to about 10,000 additional residents. So that may not seem a lot – like a lot to folks back here, but over there significant, right?

    QUESTION: Very significant.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. “Very significant,” Said said. All right, Said.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) Puerto Rico. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: So let me just mention who was there for that. Presiding over that launch was our U.S. Consul General Donald Blum and also James – Jason Greenblatt, who is the President’s special representative for international negotiations. One of these days I look forward to bringing him over here so you can meet him.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: Ms. Nauert, one quick --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I just talk quickly about the Cuba attack?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The President answered yesterday a question about whether or not he believes that Cuba is responsible for the attacks on U.S. personnel in the affirmative. And he said, “It’s a very unusual attack, as you know, but I do believe Cuba is responsible, yes.”

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: That runs counter to what you have told us so far, that the investigation is ongoing and that while you hold Cuba responsible for the safety of these diplomats you don’t hold them responsible for the attacks. Does the President know something --

    MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve been clear in saying that an investigation is ongoing. I think what the President was saying and also what his Chief of Staff General Kelly was saying last week is the same thing that we have been saying, in that Cuba is responsible for protecting our U.S. embassy personnel, our diplomats who are serving down there, under the Vienna Conventions. That has been very clear all along. They have that responsibility. That is what they are supposed to do. They have not ensured the protection and the safety and security of our personnel down there, and that position hasn’t changed. That’s where we stand.

    QUESTION: But with all due respect, that’s not what the President said.

    MS NAUERT: Well, that’s what the intent was. We’ve not changed our view on that. The administration has not changed its view on that. The investigation remains ongoing. But we’ve also been clear about this, and at the State Department we tend to be super, super, super, super cautious about some of the things we say. But to anyone who knows anything about the Cuban Government and the past of the Cuban Government, it’s hard to imagine that certain things wouldn’t be known that were taking place on that island right there. Okay.

    QUESTION: But you do acknowledge, though, that the President --

    QUESTION: Regarding the (inaudible), Ms. Nauert.

    QUESTION: -- that the President’s comments caused some confusion. I mean, otherwise why did the department feel it necessary to send a cable to all the embassies and consulates around the world titled, “Clarifying the Cuban Stance,” after the comments were made --

    MS NAUERT: Well, we always --

    QUESTION: -- and in which that cable says specifically that we have not assigned --

    MS NAUERT: We always do send out cables that explain any kind of changes in U.S. policy, and my understanding that that cable was anticipated. That was something that we had --

    QUESTION: Just coincidence that it was (inaudible)?

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. That is something that we had planned for in working on a cable that would go out across the world to alert people to some of the health concerns and areas and symptoms that people were experiencing. Okay, guys?

    QUESTION: But still --

    MS NAUERT: We got to leave it there. Thank you.

    QUESTION: But hold on. That was – but that last thing you said, though --

    MS NAUERT: Yes?

    QUESTION: -- and it’s something that you said last Thursday for the first time that it’s a small island and there’s no way that the regime wouldn’t know --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Are you now at least implicating that they’re complicit somehow in the attacks?

    MS NAUERT: I am not saying that. An investigation is underway, but I will just highlight that people who know about the background of the Cuban Government, it would be hard to imagine that folks wouldn’t know exactly what would be going on with them that’s on borders. Okay?

    QUESTION: But that sounds like you’re saying you have someone in Cuba, in the Cuban Government --

    MS NAUERT: Guys, I’m going to leave it at that. Okay? Thank you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Good to see you all.

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

    Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:01:46 EDT

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

    Index for Today's Briefing
    • CUBA
    • RUSSIA
    • IRAQ
    • TURKEY
    • IRAN
    • IRAN


      2:58 p.m. EDT

      MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. So quiet today.

      QUESTION: It’s cold.

      MS NAUERT: Compared to the White House, too. Did you all watch the briefing there? We’ll get that fixed. Put on a sweater, Andrea. (Laughter.)

      Good afternoon. No, it was actually – it was nice to watch the White House briefing today and see General Kelly out there, and I especially appreciated the kind remarks that he made about the State Department and the work that we do here in – that we do here each and every day. So – and then it gave me a greater appreciation for all of you and how calm and respectful we try to keep the briefings here. So wanted to just say thanks to all of you for doing that.

      QUESTION: You’re welcome.

      MS NAUERT: Start with a couple things today. First, I’d like to talk a little bit about

      Venezuela. We’ve not talked as much about Venezuela recently, but as many of you know, there is a gubernatorial election set to take place this Sunday, October the 15th. The United States and the international community are paying close attention to this vote. The United States calls on the regime to hold free and fair elections.

      We note with great concern that the regime will not permit the presence of independent, international electoral observers. We call on the Government of Venezuela to permit independent domestic observers to fully monitor the election and the tabulation of its results.

      The United States is concerned that a series of actions by the National Electoral Council calls into question the fairness of the electoral process. We continue to support the Venezuelan people as they work toward a democratic, peaceful, and hopefully prosperous future. We continue to

      think of them. We know it’s a difficult time, certainly, down there.

      In addition to that, I’d like to announce some travel. Our Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will travel to Tokyo and Seoul October 16 through 19. He will be in the region to participate in the October 18 vice foreign minister level U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral meeting, which is hosted by the Republic of Korea in Seoul. The trilateral meeting will focus on strategic coordination related to the urgent threat from the DPRK’s nuclear ballistic missile program. The three leaders will also discuss regional and global areas of cooperation.

      The Deputy Secretary will be in Tokyo October 16 and 17 for bilateral meetings there. He will then travel to Seoul October 18 and 19 for bilateral and trilateral meetings. During his visit to both Tokyo and Seoul, the Deputy Secretary will also meet with U.S. embassy staff, members of our U.S. forces, as well as representatives from the business community and civil society as well.

      And with that, I will gladly take your questions.

      QUESTION: Great. Thanks. I’m going to start with the situation in Pakistan --

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: -- and the rescue of the – this family. The Secretary’s statement on this – he made a large reference to the work of the ambassador, Ambassador Hale, and the staff at the Islamabad embassy. And I’m just wondering if you could be a little bit more specific about what their role was. What is it that he is being so appreciative for, specifically?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I think one of the things the Secretary likes to do here is to highlight the work that our colleagues at the State Department do each and every day. That work would not be possible without the facilitation of – on the part of our folks on the ground.

      In terms of getting too into specifics about who did what when, I’m just not going to be able to provide that today. But we always want to thank our colleagues who were involved in this, involved in helping to facilitate the return of any Americans.

      QUESTION: Well, the Pakistani officials say that the family was rescued and flown by helicopter from where it was that they were rescued to the embassy in Islamabad. Can you confirm that?

      MS NAUERT: I cannot confirm that. I can say that the Pakistani military, acting on information that we provided, were able to secure the release of this family. We are tremendously happy to have these folks returning, coming home.

      That is one of the things that the President had said at the very beginning of this administration. He gave this assignment to Secretary Tillerson and others in the national security community, to say, “Let’s bring our Americans home.” You saw the President do that with the return of Aya Hijazi from Egypt back in April, I believe it was. We saw that happen with Otto Warmbier, sadly, in the condition that he was. But nevertheless, that was a priority the President set in bringing Americans home, and now we’ve seen it with this family of five coming home. We are pleased that Caitlan Coleman and her family have done that. The family has been – her family back here in the United States has been hoping and praying for this for many years now. But I want to be clear on saying how grateful we are to the Government of Pakistan. Without their assistance, this would not have been made possible. It was critical, and we will certainly not forget that.

      QUESTION: Okay. And you say – you repeated several times “coming home.” Where exactly is the family now and are they, in fact, coming back to either the U.S. or Canada?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to be able to confirm any of that for you. I know the family had asked for some privacy at this time, and some of that will be up to the family to be able to explain where they decide to go and when they decide to go there.

      QUESTION: Okay. But when you say “coming home” it doesn’t literally --

      MS NAUERT: I just mean -- QUESTION: Okay. All right. MS NAUERT: -- out of captivity. QUESTION: Gotcha.

      MS NAUERT: I mean, the family, obviously, was in a very dire situation. You all had seen the videos of the family, and they were in distress. So when I say “coming home” it doesn’t mean --

      QUESTION: Fair enough.

      MS NAUERT: -- here necessarily. Andrea, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Question on Cuba. Our colleagues --

      MS NAUERT: Let’s – can we stick region first?

      QUESTION: Okay.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Then I’ll come back to you on that, certainly.

      QUESTION: There are some reports that the couple doesn’t want to go on a U.S. plane, that they have concerns about the future of mainly Joshua Boyle because of his past, being married to a woman who has been held – whose brother has been held in Guantanamo. Is it true? Do you have confirmation of this hesitance?

      MS NAUERT: I appreciate that a lot of people will want the details, especially details that sound pretty salacious. I’ve seen some of those media reports, and I can only say that we’re grateful that the family has been released; we’re grateful to the Government of Pakistan as well as the Government of Canada. We’re looking forward to having those folks go home, where

      they choose to go. And beyond that, I’m not going to be able to comment on the details.

      QUESTION: Salacious?

      QUESTION: Can you confirm that the --

      QUESTION: I’m not sure that --

      MS NAUERT: Well, it sounds – I mean, you tell a good story there. It sounds pretty interesting.


      QUESTION: Can you confirm that the husband declined to board an American --

      MS NAUERT: I cannot. I cannot.

      QUESTION: And was there an exchange of gunfire or injuries --

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any of that.

      QUESTION: Okay.

      QUESTION: The President said that this action was a sign of respect from the Pakistani Government. Does the administration believe that prior to this the Pakistani Government wasn’t respecting the U.S. and was maybe withholding information about where these Americans – where the family was?

      MS NAUERT: What I can tell you is that we are very pleased with the Government of Pakistan’s response. This would not have been possible without the Government of Pakistan. With information that we provided them, they were able to secure their release. So I’m afraid I’m just not going to have a lot beyond that.

      A lot of you have asked about our overall relationship with Pakistan. We’ve certainly had points where that relationship has had some challenges. That relationship isn’t going to just turn around overnight, but this is a terrific step in the right direction.

      Okay? Anything else on Pakistan? Okay. Andrea, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: On Cuba. Matt’s colleagues at AP have obtained an audiotape. We have not been able to independently authenticate it, but in any case, is – are there continuing health issues? Do you – does the State Department – does the United States Government believe that this an acoustic weapon? There have been reports or suggestions of another cause. And General Kelly said that the Government of Cuba could stop it, a view that I think you’ve already expressed here, that the government could stop it if they wanted to. But are we at the stage of accusing the Government of Cuba of being complicit, or of causing it?

      MS NAUERT: Here’s where we are, exactly where we are right now. An investigation is still underway. We don’t know who or what is responsible for it. You labeled the attacks a certain way, and I’m just not going to label it that way, because we still don’t know exactly what the cause or what the source is.

      General Kelly, when he said we believe that they can stop the attacks, I think what he was referring to was, one, we have the Vienna Convention. And under the Vienna Convention, that government, the Government of Cuba, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of our diplomatic staff. That didn’t happen. But there’s also another well-known fact, and that is that in a small

      country like Cuba, where the government is going to know a lot of things that take place within its borders, they may have more information than we are aware of right now.

      But I want to be clear: the investigation is still underway. We don’t know what is causing it and we don’t know who is responsible for it.

      QUESTION: And have you been able to authenticate anything regarding the audio that has been distributed by the Associated Press?

      MS NAUERT: I saw that. I’ve not heard the tape. We cannot authenticate that tape in any way. But an investigation is aggressive and it continues.

      QUESTION: And is the investigation presumably into the cause of the medical problem as well as who might have perpetrated it? Is there another government that might be involved?

      MS NAUERT: We don’t know. We don’t know who or what is responsible for it?

      QUESTION: Is there anyone beyond the numbers that you already gave us who have still been

      – who have been affected by this? Is it continuing?

      MS NAUERT: The last numbers that I provided – I believe it was 22 – still holds, but I want to be cautious on that and remind you all – and I say this every single time – we continue to investigate. We continue to monitor the health and the health status of our staff. People are still able to avail themselves to testing. We unfortunately cannot rule out that there may be additional people who have been affected. As soon – if that were to happen, if we have additional people, I will certainly bring that to you as soon as I can, but it would have to be medically confirmed.

      But right now that number stands at 22.

      QUESTION: Heather, has the position of the United States Government changed since it made its most recent announcement on staffing in Cuba? I mean, General Kelly seemed to imply that

      – I mean, I know you’re talking about the Vienna Convention and protecting American diplomats there, but it seemed as if he were saying that Cuba has the ability or its government has the ability to stop these attacks, not just protect Americans. Has something changed since the U.S. announcement?

      MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness, no. Okay. Anything else on Cuba?

      QUESTION: Cuba.

      QUESTION: Can we move on?

      MS NAUERT: Cuba. All right. Did you have Cuba? Okay.

      QUESTION: That sound that the AP released --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: -- is that still a sound that diplomats who are there are hearing?

      MS NAUERT: I would never confirm that sound. I have not heard it. I read a – an article printed out online. I’ve not heard anything. I can’t confirm any kind of sounds that some alleged to take place.

      QUESTION: And the existing --

      QUESTION: Can you confirm that they’re hearing anything still in --

      MS NAUERT: I cannot confirm that, no.

      QUESTION: We exist in a multimedia environment now, so you don’t have to just print it out. You can go online and click.

      MS NAUERT: At least it wasn’t in an old newspaper. (Laughter.) QUESTION: You can click on the – click on it and listen to it, if you so choose. MS NAUERT: All right. Anything else on Cuba?

      QUESTION: Yeah.

      QUESTION: Can we go --

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead, Michele.

      QUESTION: I’m a little confused because Kelly today said that the U.S. believes Cuba can stop these attacks. So the State Department – I mean, is that the State Department’s position as well?

      MS NAUERT: Look, there is no space in this administration on this issue of Cuba. We know for a fact that our diplomats were injured. We know for a fact that somebody or something was attempting to hurt our diplomats. The Secretary made the difficult decision to bring our people home even though we have a small staff who still remain there. All of that is the case. This is something we take extremely seriously. The investigation is aggressive. It is underway. It has not stopped. We will continue to look for the source and for the party that is responsible for this, and that’s all I’m going to have on that.

      QUESTION: Okay, but you can’t – so if now the U.S. Government is saying we believe Cuba has the ability to stop this, there must be some reason to believe that.

      MS NAUERT: I think I addressed that already. Cuba has a responsibility under the Vienna Convention to protect our diplomatic staff. That has not changed. It is also a well-known fact that in a small country like Cuba that has the type of regime and government it does, they tend to know things that are going on within its own borders, and I’ll just leave it at that. Okay?

      QUESTION: Can we move on to --

      MS NAUERT: You want to move on? Okay.

      QUESTION: Yeah, to the UNESCO --

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: -- withdrawal. I know you sent out a statement and it’s quite clear, but I just wanted to ask you to understand better: Is the reason basically what you call – that it has always had some sort of bias against Israel or the membership of the Palestinians, or are there other reasons? Are there other reasons? Because you cite the organization and so on.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. So stepping back about 20 years or so – Said, you and I were teenagers then, right?

      QUESTION: Oh, yeah.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. (Laughter.)

      QUESTION: I beat by at least 30 years or so.

      MS NAUERT: As many of you know, Congress passed a law, and as a part of that law, any UN entity that accepts Palestinians as a member state, the U.S. Government cannot provide funding for it. The U.S. Government has looked at that. This has been a long time that the U.S. Government – that predates this Trump administration – has been taking a look at it. It’s been a long and deliberative process. That decision was finally made. A couple things went into that decision-making. One of them was a look at the cost-benefit analysis. As many of you know, we were in arrears to the tune of $550 million or so. And so the question is do we want to pay that money, and do we want to pay more money going forward, when there is actually a law that says the UN entity that accepts Palestinians as a member state can no longer receive U.S. funding. So that’s part of it financially, okay?

      The second part of it is we’d like to see overall UN reform, and as a part of that, I will – I’ll just include this in that. Ambassador Nikki Haley has talked a lot about the importance of reform at

      the United Nations and in entities such as this. We’d like to see the politics kept out of it, and we see with this anti-Israel bias that’s long documented on the part of UNESCO that that needs to come to an end. So the United States made the decision after a long, deliberative process to pull out.

      QUESTION: But why is – things that are of historical value, things that – like in Hebron and Jericho and places like this that are thousands of years old, why would that be an anti bias to Israel for UNESCO to recognize this as a site or place worthy of recognition?

      MS NAUERT: We have seen some political statements of certain sorts made on the part of UNESCO. If UNESCO wants to get back and wants to reform itself and get back to a place where they’re truly promoting culture and education and all of that, perhaps we could take another look at this, but we haven’t seen that taking place. Israel, my understanding, has also

      made the decision, but I’ll refer you to the Israeli Government on that, to do the very same thing. And let me just remind you, Bashar al-Assad from Syria was one of the people who was on the Human Rights Committee at UNESCO. I mean, does that seem to make a whole lot of sense to you? Probably not.

      QUESTION: Well, I mean, I will stick with heritage. But moving forward, will the United States withdraw from every UN organization that the Palestinians can become a member of?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I only have the information on UNESCO today. Anything else on that?

      QUESTION: Heather, as you’re probably aware, the Bush administration – W. Bush – when it rejoined UNESCO in 2003 I think it was, they made the case that having a seat at the table, being present in the debate and discussion would actually be beneficial to Israel and would tamp down some of the anti-Israel bias that you’re talking about here. Does – this administration doesn’t share that belief?

      MS NAUERT: Look, all I can say is that this administration and the previous administration had been taking a long look at whether or not the United States should remain a member of UNESCO, and they made the determination that we were going to pull out.

      QUESTION: Well, in fact, previous --

      MS NAUERT: And previous administrations I just can’t comment on.

      QUESTION: Well, the previous – the immediate previous administration was actually looking at ways to work around the congressional mandate on funding.

      MS NAUERT: I understand. I understand.

      QUESTION: That is something that --

      MS NAUERT: But I just want to be clear that this review of sorts --

      QUESTION: I – yeah, right.

      MS NAUERT: -- has been underway for quite some time.

      QUESTION: But it’s – is it fair to say that this current administration is no longer trying to find a way to work around the congressional prohibition on funding?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I think we’ve made our determination, and that is to pull out of UNESCO at this time.

      QUESTION: Right. So in other words, they’re never going to get their money unless – that you owe unless they reform and you rejoin. Is that --

      MS NAUERT: I – I’ll leave it at that. Okay.

      QUESTION: Can we go to Russia?

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: Still on UNESCO.

      QUESTION: I have one quick follow-up on that.

      MS NAUERT: Oh, sure. Go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Your statement said that you wanted to be sort of an observer member so that

      U.S. views could be – could be included. How does that work? I mean, how – have they agreed to let you --

      MS NAUERT: I can put you in touch with some of our UN international organizations experts who could probably do a deeper dive on exactly how that would work as an observer. That I just don’t have the information on.

      QUESTION: One follow-up?

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes.

      QUESTION: But why now to pull out? Is it related to the selection of new chief to UNESCO?

      MS NAUERT: My understanding is that even though this has been going on for quite – quite a long time, this review, that the review was just finalized.

      QUESTION: But it’s not related to the selection of the new chief?

      MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness, no. Hi, Arshad. QUESTION: So the Secretary apparently had a -- MS NAUERT: What do you want to talk about?

      QUESTION: Russia.

      MS NAUERT: Thank you.

      QUESTION: As I said, the Secretary had a conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov apparently. Can you give us a readout on that? And can you address the Russian foreign

      ministry’s statement that Lavrov told the Secretary that the removal of the Russian flags from Russian buildings in the United States is inadmissible, is reiterating that they’re planning to file lawsuits against this, and his stating --

      MS NAUERT: File lawsuits against the removal of the flag from their facilities?

      QUESTION: No, over the seizure of the properties, not over the removal of the flags. Yeah.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me back up a little bit and say our actions in – when it comes those facilities we believe is perfectly legal. This is going back a few weeks now. We did this with a lot of thought in place, and we did it in a judicious fashion. When it comes to the flags, and I’ve certainly seen what Russian media has reported and you so clearly listed that out now, the way that the Russian Government and Russian media is reporting this. I can tell you this: the flags at the former Russian consular properties in San Francisco were respectfully lowered. They’re

      safely stored within each of the buildings. I think there’s no country in the world that pays greater respect to its own flag and to the flags of other nations. That is something that we take seriously. I can tell you the flag that flew here in Washington, D.C. was also taken down and is safely stored within the building right now. Russian authorities have been told that we would be able to return those flags certainly at their convenience.

      QUESTION: And do you regard the respectful lowering and storage of the flags as perfectly legal? I just want to make sure that that’s legal in your eyes. I can’t imagine you would --

      MS NAUERT: Taking down a flag from a property that they’ve had to vacate – is that legal or not?

      QUESTION: Yep.

      MS NAUERT: That’s a real question?

      QUESTION: Yeah, I asked it.

      MS NAUERT: I think that’s actually a respectful thing to do, to take down the flag, to fold it up


      QUESTION: Sure.

      MS NAUERT: -- to hold on to it for that government and offer it back to them. There are many governments around the world who wouldn’t take that care of another nation’s flag.

      QUESTION: And how do you address their – the foreign ministry’s reported contention that Lavrov, they said, conveyed to the Secretary that your, quote, “lawless behavior,” closed quote, runs counter to the United States stated desire for a normal relationship with Russia?

      MS NAUERT: I’m a little surprised at this line of questioning because it comes right out of exactly what Russia would say. Okay?

      QUESTION: Well, I’m asking you to respond to what Russia said. I think that’s kind of self- evident.

      MS NAUERT: I hear you just parroting sort of Russian – Russian talking points. The actions that the United States Government --

      QUESTION: I’m asking you a question which is to respond to what the Russians said.

      MS NAUERT: The actions that the United States Government has taken with regard to Russian consulates and facilities has been perfectly legal. I want to be clear about that. We’ve talked about this for many months now. There is nothing that was inappropriate or done wrong in any kind of fashion.

      QUESTION: So can you just – I mean, why take them down? Why not just leave them there? Do you know? I mean --

      MS NAUERT: I don’t know. I don’t know. I think that’s actually – my understanding is that part of our responsibility is to keep an eye on – and Robert, maybe we can get an answer on this by the end, but I believe our responsibility is to close up the facilities, make sure that they have been vacated, and make sure that the properties are maintained to a certain degree.

      QUESTION: Right.

      MS NAUERT: I believe that’s our responsibility under the Foreign Missions Act. Is that correct?

      QUESTION: Okay. I mean, if they --

      MS NAUERT: Okay. So that – and so I would consider that – and I can double-check with our experts on this who would know a lot more about it than I would, but that that would be a part of it.

      QUESTION: Okay. Well, if it is, then that’s the explanation.

      MS NAUERT: You’re probably not going to let weeds grow out of the place, you’re probably not --

      QUESTION: You’re going to take in the mail, get the newspaper? MS NAUERT: Probably get the mail and get the newspaper -- QUESTION: Take --

      MS NAUERT: -- and taking down the flag and --

      QUESTION: Right. I just --

      MS NAUERT: Guys, beyond that, this --

      QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious if that is – no, I know, but I’m just curious --

      MS NAUERT: -- conversation is just going to get silly.

      QUESTION: -- is that standard – SOP for when something like this happens? Do you remove all, like, ornaments or whatever decorations that may be up?

      MS NAUERT: Christmas tree lights or something like that?

      QUESTION: Yeah. I just --

      MS NAUERT: Matt, I will check on that for you.

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: Another -- QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq? MS NAUERT: All right. Hi, Laurie. QUESTION: Hi. How are you?

      MS NAUERT: I’m well, thanks. How are you?

      QUESTION: Good. I have two questions. One is: Do you have any clarification or comment on reports yesterday that the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq and other Iraqi forces were

      mobilizing for an attack in the Kirkuk area? That’s my first question.

      MS NAUERT: So we’ve seen those reports. We’re certainly monitoring that situation very closely. We have consistently called on the various parties to oppose violence of any sort. We do not want to see any destabilizing activities take place and distract from the fight against ISIS.

      We’ve been clear about that all along. We have noted that the Iraqi Government’s prime

      minister’s spokesperson has confirmed that the Iraqi Security Forces, in its positions, are only focusing on targeting ISIS. We take them at their word and would certainly hope that no violence would occur beyond going after ISIS. Okay.

      QUESTION: Thank you. And my second question has to do with your general policy towards Iraq, Kurdistan in the context of Iran. And you’ve argued that a unified Iraq is a way to contain Iran, but Iran itself is very opposed to Kurdish independence. So how can it be that you and Iran are on the same side of something – you said by keeping the Kurdistan part of Iraq that’s going to contain Iran – when the Iranians evidently feel the opposite?

      MS NAUERT: Laurie, I think our continued position on Iraq and a unified, stable, democratic Iraq where the – we need to keep the eye – an eye on ISIS and focusing on ISIS, and that is where our sole focus is right now: taking out ISIS, the group that has been responsible for so many horrific things, and trying to maintain some sense of stability. We were concerned all along about destabilizing activities, and now once the referendum was held, certainly it has proven to be destabilizing. So we call upon all sides to restrain from violence.

      QUESTION: So just for clarification, your position as, say, opposed to the White House is not really that this is a way to contain Iran, but it’s a way to fight ISIS?

      MS NAUERT: Look, our – our mission in Iraq has been, as a part of the D-ISIS Coalition, to support that coalition and the 72 or 73 members to take out ISIS. And that is why we had opposed the destabilizing activity, which we saw as the referendum in destabilizing the region and destabilizing Iraq. We’d like folks to keep their eye on the ball, and that is ISIS. Okay?

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: Iraq?

      MS NAUERT: All right. Hi.

      QUESTION: Turkey?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: Quickly, a follow-up on the readout from yesterday, Secretary Tillerson’s phone call with the Turkish foreign minister, where the case of detention of several American citizens were discussed. Could you confirm that if the case of the jailed American pastor was discussed by Secretary? And then – and then secondly, could you give us a number of American citizens being held in connection of last year’s coup attempt by --

      MS NAUERT: Oh, goodness. I don’t know if we actually have a number of Americans who’ve

      – who have been detained or held at some point on behalf of the Government of Turkey. We know that somewhere close to 200,000 have been rounded up; people who had different types of occupations and all of that. But your question – your first question was what?

      QUESTION: The first one -- MS NAUERT: Pastor Brunson? QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. So Secretary Tillerson spoke with his counterpart – I think it was just yesterday? Yes, yesterday. And that’s one of the issues that’s consistently brought up, the safety, the welfare, the well-being of the American pastor, Pastor Brunson. I know the President has spoken about this with his Turkish counterpart on numerous occasions. It is something that we’ve followed extremely closely. We would like to see Pastor Brunson brought home. The State Department – or members of our State Department had visited him; the last time was sometime in mid-September. The time before that was in late – late August or so. So we’re continuing to follow that story very closely, that case very closely, and would like to see him brought home.

      QUESTION: Very quick follow-up?

      QUESTION: Follow-up?

      QUESTION: Is there any indication that the --

      QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?

      QUESTION: -- diplomatic crisis or tension between Turkey and U.S. being resolved soon?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I think we’d certainly hope so. We would certainly like our relationship to improve. This is a – very much tension on our relationship right now, and I think there’s no question about that.

      QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

      MS NAUERT: Okay, anything else -- QUESTION: Yeah, follow-up on Turkey. MS NAUERT: Turkey?

      QUESTION: Turkey? QUESTION: Can we go to Iran? QUESTION: Turkey?

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. QUESTION: I have follow-up. QUESTION: Turkey.

      MS NAUERT: Yes, Turkey. Okay. Oh, Ilhan. Hi.

      QUESTION: Hi. On Turkey, today Turkish President Erdogan actually talk about Pastor Brunson as well as other stuff from the U.S. consulate. And this is his words – he said, it’s clearly he – they have linked both pastor and a consulate – staff at the consulate have links to FETO, which is the Gulenist organizations. Have you been presented any kind of evidence showing they are linked to this group?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. So one of the things that we’ve asked the Government of Turkey do – to do is to provide evidence. So we have two of our locally employed staff in Turkey – we talked about this the other day – who have been detained. We would call upon the Government of Turkey to please provide us that evidence if there is evidence that they were involved in what Turkey alleges, and that is terrorism. Turkey is an important NATO ally of the United States. If they feel that these individuals were involved in that type of activity, we would certainly like to see the evidence of that.

      We would also like for these individuals to be able to see their lawyers. We certainly hope that they will be able to be represented by lawyers and visited by lawyers, and we hope that the Turkish Government will fulfill its pledge that it will do so. We’ll keep an eye on that one for sure. Our – the other locally employed staff who had been summoned by the Turkish Government, we’d like to see the evidence on him as well. We have not seen any evidence that the Turkish Government says that it has.

      QUESTION: Follow-up on --

      QUESTION: Today, again, President Erdogan’s long speech was pretty much about U.S., and he was talking about how U.S. policy has basically made Turkey and put Turkey in a very difficult position, whether in Syria or some of the Turkish nationals arrested in this country.

      Have you seen this speech? It’s very aggressive against the U.S. as far as it can --

      MS NAUERT: I have not – I’ve not seen the speech. I have heard some of the comments that have come out of it. One of the things that we would like to do is we would hope for some calm, and we would hope that we can have a dialogue with the Government of Turkey. As I

      mentioned, the Secretary had spoken with his counterpart just yesterday. We’ve had lots of areas, conversations, and meetings that have gone back and forth between our government and theirs.

      But we also have some very real concerns about whether or not Turkey intends to cooperate with the United States in terms of its investigations. The three American – excuse me – the three locally employed staff at our embassy, at our consulates in Turkey, had all been involved in some sort of a law enforcement type role. So we are – we hope that Turkey is not trying to create some distance between us and them in that. We need to have good law enforcement cooperation between our government and theirs. And by detaining our people, that certainly calls into question where they are in this.

      QUESTION: My final question: Washington Post had editorial today or yesterday, and basically saying that not all of citizens of Turkey should be punished by visa suspension, but it should be targeted officials from the AKP government or close allies, businessmen of the AKP government. Would you --

      MS NAUERT: I’ve not seen that article. I’ve not seen that editorial. I’d just have to say that we don’t take an action like this lightly. It is something we certainly don’t prefer to do. People who have valid visas are still more than welcome to come to the United States. This is a suspension right now until we can further assess exactly what’s going on.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.) QUESTION: (Off-mike.) MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.

      QUESTION: Isn’t it true that President Erdogan is increasingly using a more belligerent language towards the United States of America?

      MS NAUERT: Is he?

      QUESTION: Is he? Yeah, I’m asking you.

      MS NAUERT: Well, I haven’t monitored and compared --

      QUESTION: I mean, that’s what I’m reading.

      MS NAUERT: I haven’t monitored and compared all the language that he’s used now to language that he has used in the past, so I’m not going to get into characterizing that. Okay?

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: Iran?

      MS NAUERT: Sure.

      QUESTION: Turkey? Turkey?

      MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

      QUESTION: Okay. On Iran, the – has the United States communicated its decision to its JCPOA partners?

      MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been a busy guy on the phone today. He’s been making a lot of phone calls to many of our European partners to talk a little bit about the decision that the President will announce tomorrow. So I’m not going to be very careful and not give you a whole lot on that, because the President is going to unveil his decision tomorrow.

      QUESTION: But not regarding his decision in specific, but regarding the conversation, has – does – has the Secretary communicated the details of that proposal to those partners today?

      MS NAUERT: So this is very close-hold at this time, as I’m sure you can imagine. I can tell you who the Secretary has spoken with, at least today. I don't have a lot of information to provide you, but I can tell you in recent days he’s spoken with the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. I know today he spoke with Chinese State Councilor Yang. He also spoke with the French minister of foreign affairs. And he had a call with Sergey Lavrov of Russia. And the calls – I would describe them as listening calls, consulting calls, and having conversations about the overall rollout, if you will, of the plan --

      QUESTION: Does he --

      MS NAUERT: -- which the President will announce tomorrow.

      QUESTION: Did they express their satisfaction?

      MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

      QUESTION: Did they express their satisfaction in the contents of the plan?

      MS NAUERT: The Secretary’s literally been on the phone all day long. I know he’s been working about 22 of the last 24 hours, so I’ve not had a chance to ask him all the specifics about those calls.

      QUESTION: Can you take a couple of questions on Pakistan?

      QUESTION: Do you know if he plans to call the Germans and the EU High Commissioner Mogherini --

      MS NAUERT: Oh, I’m --

      QUESTION: -- who are also involved in --

      MS NAUERT: I believe so, yes.

      QUESTION: So in other words, he’s basically talking to everyone who’s party --

      MS NAUERT: He’s still --

      QUESTION: Everyone who’s a party to the deal, he’s trying to talk to.

      MS NAUERT: That is my understanding. Yes, yes. Okay.

      QUESTION: Does that include the Iranians themselves?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I’m not aware of that.

      QUESTION: And can you readout any of his meetings with members of the Senate or the House as well?

      MS NAUERT: No I can’t.

      QUESTION: You can’t confirm --

      QUESTION: Can you --

      QUESTION: -- he’s met with anyone?

      MS NAUERT: I know that he has had some meetings, as has the White House and other representatives of the Executive Branch, but I just don’t have any specifics on that. Okay?

      QUESTION: A follow up on Iran, on the Iran deal.

      QUESTION: Can you take a question on Pakistan, please?

      MS NAUERT: Wait, wait, wait. Okay. I’m sorry, what, miss?

      QUESTION: Yes. I just need a quick clarification, is that after Trump – the President Trump decertifies this deal and if Congress --

      MS NAUERT: Well, first I would take issue with --

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: -- the premise of your question, okay? Because the President will announce his strategy --

      QUESTION: Yes, I know.

      MS NAUERT: -- and announce the overall – our Iran posture tomorrow.

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to comment on what it contains or what it doesn’t contain, because I’m not going to get ahead of what the President has to say.

      QUESTION: This is just kind of a technical thing. I mean, if the Congress just after 60 days’ review decided to – in favor of this deal, does it mean that the President can veto the Congress regulation – the Congress resolutions?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to jump ahead of what exactly is going to happen tomorrow --

      QUESTION: This kind of a --

      MS NAUERT: -- and that would be a hypothetical, so I’m just not going to get into a hypothetical. Okay, guys?

      QUESTION: Couple of questions on Pakistan, please?

      MS NAUERT: We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much.

      QUESTION: Hold on. Wait, wait, wait. This is something you’re going to want to talk about.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah?

      QUESTION: UAE breaking ties with North Korea. Do you have anything on that?

      MS NAUERT: Oh. That – I’m learning that for the first time.

      QUESTION: And?

      MS NAUERT: Hold on one second. Hold on, everybody. Don’t go anywhere.

      QUESTION: And then – and then also, do you have any thoughts on the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation?

      MS NAUERT: Yes. So first of all, UAE kicked out their – its ambassador to --

      QUESTION: And said they would not hire any more --

      MS NAUERT: -- the ambassador to North Korea. Very happy to hear that.

      QUESTION: -- North Korean workers.

      MS NAUERT: That brings to mind the Government of Italy, which did – just did the same thing about a week ago. There are many countries that are taking those steps that we have asked those countries to take. This is something that is a key part of Secretary Tillerson’s pressure campaign, which General Mattis – excuse me, General Kelly referred to today as well, the diplomacy. The diplomacy that is a huge part of that campaign to try to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. So, thrilled that the UAE has taken that step to do that.

      And then your second question was, Matt?


      QUESTION: Oh, just if you had anything – thoughts on the Hamas-Fatah latest attempt at reconciliation or (inaudible)?


      MS NAUERT: Yes. So we certainly saw that today and we would welcome the effort for the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume responsibilities in Gaza. We see that as potentially an important step into getting the humanitarian aid in to the people who live there.

      We’re going to watch those developments very closely. We’ll press forward with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and also international donors to try to get that – improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

      QUESTION: Right. And then you mentioned several times here how appreciative you are of General Kelly’s comments over at the White House.

      MS NAUERT: We’ll welcome him over here any time.

      QUESTION: One of the things that he also said that you didn’t mention is that – when he was asked about the administration placing – what kind of value it placed on diplomacy and the State Department, he said that he agreed with General Mattis and others that if you don’t properly fund the State Department, they’re going to have to buy more bullets.

      MS NAUERT: Right.

      QUESTION: Do you – does the Secretary agree with that?

      MS NAUERT: I caught that. So General Kelly was giving his remarks about 20 minutes or so before I came down here, so I haven’t had the chance to talk to the Secretary about that. But I think it is a budget that we were given and we will work within the budget to the best of our ability, and one of the things we will continue to do is push ahead with diplomacy, push ahead with all the activities that our 75,000 people do around the world. That certainly won’t change.

      QUESTION: All right.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody. (The briefing was concluded at 3:35 p.m.)


      Fri, 13 Oct 2017 07:57:54 EDT