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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - March 8, 2018
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 8, 2018

Index for Today's Briefing
  • ISIS
  • CUBA


    2:46 p.m. EST

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

    QUESTION: Good.

    MS NAUERT: Good. I’d like to start with today – I think we mentioned this to you that, once again, we’re lucky enough to be joined by Ambassador Deborah Birx, who’s going to talk with us.

    As you all know, the Secretary is in Africa this week. I’ve invited Ambassador Birx, who serves as our global AIDS coordinator at PEPFAR, to join us to say a few words about the progress that the administration has made in supporting countries – many of those countries are in the African continent – toward achieving control of HIV and AIDS. This weekend during the Secretary’s visit to Kenya, he will visit a PEPFAR-supported site to see firsthand some of the incredible lifesaving work that is being done there. Our deputy secretary had also visited a PEPFAR program when he was on the continent not that long ago.

    So with that, I’ll turn it over to Ambassador Birx. And let me mention, she just returned from South Africa and also from Rwanda --


    MS NAUERT: -- where you were taking a look at some of the programs taking place there.

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: Absolutely. Thank you, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: So welcome. She will take a few of your questions, and then I’ll take over from her.

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: Great. Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here. We are having a very exciting week with the Secretary traveling throughout Africa. Just to remind you, 15 years ago – this is our 15-year anniversary. PEPFAR was begun by President Bush and has been in three administrations, all supported by the President and the Secretary of State through three administration with bipartisan support from our Congress.

    So I think you also know we talked about a year – about last September, the Secretary announced a new aggressive strategy to increase our efforts to actually control the pandemic. And what do I mean by that? I mean to create a time and space where the epidemic is no longer growing and that the epidemic starts to decline. This would be historic. No epidemic in the world has been controlled without a vaccine or a cure. And although we need a vaccine and a cure to eliminate and eradicate HIV, we could actually get to a point where the epidemic around the globe is no longer increasing year over year.

    And so when we talk about Africa today – and I’ll highlight that a bit – there are places in the world, like Africa, where we’re beginning to see evidence that this epidemic can be controlled. And there are other places in the world where the epidemic is dramatically expanding. That includes Eastern Europe and primarily Russia, where the epidemic has continued to expand and new infections are on the rise.

    Just to outline briefly about this historic opportunity with the Secretary this Saturday going to one of our DREAMS sites. DREAMS stands for determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored, and safe young women. And it’s the International Day of the Woman so it’s a perfect day to be talking about this program. He’ll be going to the St. John’s Community Center, where young women are receiving comprehensive programming under DREAMS to actually prevent HIV infections by surrounding them with community and financial empowerment, learning skillsets, where they can go grow up not only empowered but also AIDS-free and in command of their own health. And we’re excited about this visit.

    Just to take you back to where we were 15 years ago before PEPFAR and before the United States historic and continued historic contribution to the Global Fund – the United States is the largest contributor to the Global Fund for HIV, TB, and Malaria, and we’re a third of the contribution each year. But 15 years ago in Sub-Saharan Africa, child mortality had tripled; maternity – maternal mortality had doubled; a life expectancy had decreased by 20 years. And this was in the face of our large programs working on immunizations and improving nutrition and health, and that was all due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And I think you know that less than 15 – 50,000 individuals on the entire continent of Sub-Saharan Africa had access to treatment.

    Fast forward 15 years – 13.3 million on treatment because of PEPFAR alone. Importantly, 2.2 million babies born HIV-free, and 6.4 orphans thriving today. But I think it comes down to the individual level – and again, because it’s the International Day of the Woman – pregnant women now are thriving with HIV because their virus is under control and they’re no longer transmitting the virus to their child. And so families are growing up whole and complete at a time when almost a third of adults in whole sections of Sub-Saharan Africa were succumbing to HIV/AIDS. So I think it’s a very proud moment for us and a very proud moment for the American people. It is their generosity, their taxpayer dollars that we get to translate into these high-impact programs.

    We just got back from two weeks in Africa, going through every single country – 23 countries – in deep, deep detail, looking at performance of every single partner down to the site level, where the services are being provided, to make sure that our programs are reaching individuals with the highest quality of care and interventions that you would receive anywhere in the world. And this is what’s possible when we work together with countries and communities for success.

    So I’m happy to stop there, take your questions, and see if you have any comments.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, we’ll start with you.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I’d like to know – given you’re just back from two weeks surveying every single site, I’d like to know what, if any, impact you observed from the re-imposition and the expansion of the Mexico City rules, what critics call “the global gag rule,” on PEPFAR programs, notably prevention. And main reason I ask this is because last month the people who were in charge of the review said that only four organizations had opted out and seven subcontractors, and yet groups that are involved in this say the actual numbers are quite bigger and that – and then just today PAI, who I’m sure you’re familiar with, released two reports, one on Nigeria, one on Uganda, that says that PEPFAR programs are suffering and are likely to continue to suffer under this. So I’m just wondering what impact you have seen.

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: Yeah, that’s a great question. So our money comes to us – so remember, that was approved in May. Our money goes out to countries in the fall. So we will have the first complete quarter of execution just now from October, November, December. We collect data quarterly and analyze it. We did not see a – we look at quarter by quarter, and we compare this first quarter of this fiscal year to the last quarter of the last fiscal year. I love talking about data, so I could make this a very long answer, but I won’t. But we can compare this quarter to the quarter last year country-by-country and site-by-site and partner-by-partner. And we have not seen a change in the performance and the achievements down to the site level in the first quarter. But remember, our money just went out, so we’ll be looking in the second and third quarter. And I think you know the Secretary is very interested in the PEPFAR data, to be able to look at this.

    In addition, we are sending individuals – we do site-level monitoring, where we send U.S. Government personnel actually out to sites to look at both the high performers and the low performers to ensure that everybody’s performance increases. We will have that data also within the next six months. So we will have quarter-by-quarter data. Our quarter-by-quarter data is up on our website – So we really – I think when you talk about accountability, transparency, and impact you really have to make yourself accountable, looking at the data, but also provide it transparently so the communities can see the information as well as governments. And I think if you go to, you’ll be able to see the quarter-by-quarter data and really understand how it’s being collected. We have not seen an impact at this time, but that doesn’t mean we’re not monitoring very closely.

    QUESTION: Well, would you expect one, based on what you had seen?

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: Because we have not heard of a significant number of partners that have not signed to date – I think we have three --

    QUESTION: But it’s impossible to say, right, because you haven’t – you got – you have no data and your money just went out, right?

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: Right. I can tell you that this quarter, October to December, performed better than the quarter last year.

    QUESTION: Well, is it a concern of yours --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, we’re going to have to move on to the next question.


    QUESTION: I’m sorry. The question should be answered, right? And --

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: I’m telling you, we are watching the data very carefully to see if there is an impact. And because we have data down to the site level – in other words, last year we tested 85 million people.

    QUESTION: Right. I get --

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: We know what sites they came from and whether they’re still receiving those services.

    QUESTION: I understand that. I’m wondering if you at all – because other NGOs that do work in this field are concerned that there’s going to be a significant impact, particularly in prevention of this. You don’t share that concern? Is that --

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: I hear their concern. I’m data-driven.

    QUESTION: Gotcha.

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: So until I see an evidence base for that concern, we’re continuing to execute our program.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Dave.

    QUESTION: Hi. As I understand it, the 2019 Fiscal Year budget that the department has proposed would involve a 23 percent cut to global health programs, including PEPFAR. Can you absorb that kind of a cut and continue to have the success you’ve just described?

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: I think everybody always gets to resources. I will tell you, over the last four years we doubled the number of services that we’re providing in a flat budget. And I think it’s – I think if the President and the Secretary wasn’t completely supportive of PEPFAR, we would have actually seen programs zeroed out. I think it’s a wakeup call to all of us to make sure that we’re as effective and as efficient that we can be with the taxpayer dollars. And that’s my job, to translate the resources we’ve got and we were given into the most effective program that we can execute that has high impact. And I think that’s what we’re – as you know, we’re committed to controlling this pandemic and having a different future not only for Africa but around the globe.

    QUESTION: So you’ve been wasting this money up ’till now?

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: Not ever wasting. There’s always a way to focus.

    QUESTION: There’s room for a 23 percent cut without scaling back?

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: I didn’t say that. I said we will focus the resources that we have in the most impactful way.

    QUESTION: Before it was in a less impactful way?

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: In the most impactful way.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Time for one more question.

    Okay. Ambassador Birx, thank you so much for your time.

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: Great. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Get some rest from your jet lag. Thank you.

    AMBASSADOR BIRX: (Laughter.) I know.

    MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody.

    Okay, a couple announcements that I’d like to start with first this afternoon. Tomorrow is the opening ceremony for the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea. So we’re looking forward to that. As the Paralympic Games commence, we celebrate the world’s elite athletes with disabilities who ascend to the pinnacle of sports competition. Sports have the ability to capture the imaginations of people and to inspire all of us to excel. They also transcend the boundaries of gender and nationality, race, and creed. The Paralympics exemplify both of these ideals.

    Promoting and protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms is a priority of this administration. More than one billion people around the world have disabilities. Earlier this week, the department hosted an interactive web chat called “Athletes Without Limits,” featuring three accomplished Paralympic athletes, including one of our own diplomats. I encourage everyone to take a look at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s Facebook page at State: DRL. You can take a look at some of the athletes and some of the folks who will be competing there and who are a part of that.

    We’re wishing the best of luck to Team USA and all Paralympic athletes over the next two weeks, and we certainly look forward to watching that.

    Next, today is International Women’s Day. And the Secretary put out a statement earlier today which I’d like to read for all of you: “As we commemorate International Women’s Day on March the 8th, the United States renews our steadfast commitment to addressing inequalities between women and men at home and abroad, and reaffirm the importance of having – advancing the status of women and girls globally.

    “We will continue to implement measures to strengthen the economic empowerment of women and girls through policies and programs that promote entrepreneurship as well as broad and equal access to finance, work, training, and also learning opportunities. We’ll build upon the success of women who have paved the way for more equality in the fields of defense, peace building, and good governance, and also work to solidify gains in those areas. We would like to see more girls be able to aspire to their full potential and to ensure that they live in safe, healthy, and secure environments. Thus, we strive to create and invest in opportunities and enable girls to attain the education and the freedoms that they deserve.

    “The United States is committed to working with governments and partners around the globe to ensure that countries everywhere enable women to thrive and girls to realize their rights. In the 21st century, it is unconscionable that about one in three women has experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Far too many societies still deprive women of their human rights, discriminate based upon sex, pose obstacles to women’s ability to contribute to economic development, or fail to uphold the laws intended to protect them. Such conditions deprive individuals, families, and communities of the contributions that empowered women can provide.

    “As the U.S. National Security Strategy has asserted, governments that fail to treat women equally do not allow their societies to reach their full potential. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we recognize the leadership, the contributions, and the courage of women who have made sacrifices in the past over many generations to make the world a more safe, prosperous, and peaceful place. We pledge to ensure that such progress continues.”

    I’d also like to add that earlier today I spent some time over at USAID with Administration Mark Green and also Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump. We met with USAID, State, Commerce, and other government agencies and departments to launch something called the WomenConnect Challenge. We had touched upon that in the fall when Ambassador Mark Green – I believe it was when he was in – on the African continent.

    This initiative will identify and support solutions to increase access of women and girls to digital technology, to drive positive health education and livelihood outcomes for them and their families. 1.7 billion women in low and middle income countries still do not own mobile phones, and the gender gap around internet usage has grown steadily over the past three years. We will work to change that, and this program will be open for submissions from March 8th until May the 31st. For more information, we’d encourage you to visit – it’s the WomenConnect Challenge. They’re also looking to bring more STEM, science and technology, to young women around the world.

    And lastly, I’d like to address the Secretary’s visit to Africa. The Secretary is currently in Ethiopia, the first stop in his trip to Africa. He met with African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki today to reaffirm the United States’ and the African Union’s mutual respect and strong commitment to the shared goal of a stable and prosperous Africa. The Secretary applauded the role of the AU countries that they play in South Sudan and in Somalia as well as in the fight against corruption and promoting transparency. Their conversation builds upon the momentum created by the previous meeting that was held in Washington in November on the margins of the annual U.S.-AU High-Level Dialogue.

    Secretary Tillerson also met with both the Ethiopian prime minister and the foreign minister. In both meetings they discussed a broad range of shared interests in security, economic growth, and governance. The Secretary emphasized that the United States stands ready to support Ethiopia as it addresses its goal of advancing reforms to broaden political space. The Secretary will depart tonight for his next stops – those will be in Djibouti – and then he will head to Kenya.

    And that is it. Matt, would you like to start today?

    QUESTION: Thanks. Yes, please.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I just ask you a very brief logistical question before getting to the Secretary’s trip?

    MS NAUERT: I’ll see what I can do. Yes.

    QUESTION: Well, it has to do with your first – well, semi-related to your first announcement on the Paralympics.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: But just on the Olympics, do you know – and because it’s Women’s Day – remember the event that was supposed to happen here with the women’s hockey team?

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: And it was canceled because of Windmageddon.

    MS NAUERT: That would be the weather.

    QUESTION: Has that been rescheduled? Do you know? Or --

    MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge. As many of you know, we had talked about this and were so excited to have the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team come here to the State Department for a reception. We were excited to honor them. I was excited to meet with them, and our deputy secretary was going to host them at a reception.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: So we had to cancel that because the government was closed that day. A lot of folks had trouble getting into work. So I hope we can reschedule that, but I just don’t have any – have that on our schedule.

    QUESTION: Okay, all right. Now on to the – on to the Secretary’s trip. What is going on with this feud between you and the Russian foreign ministry and the Russian embassy over a meeting between – or a potential meeting between Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov? Whether or not he got an invitation engraved or otherwise, the Russians did publicly say several times in several different fora that they were looking to have a meeting happen. Did you guys just simply reject that out of hand? Did you decide that it was inconvenient or inappropriate given the current tension in the relationship?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary addressed this from Ethiopia earlier --

    QUESTION: Yeah, I know he did. But --

    MS NAUERT: -- earlier today. He said that – he mentioned that he and Foreign Minister Lavrov have met many times. I went back and took a look at the number of the – of times that the two of them have met in less than a year. They’ve met in person at least nine times. In the last three months alone they’ve spoken by phone on four occasions. The ambassador, Ambassador Antanov, has had substantial access to U.S. Government officials.

    We never received a formal invitation. I said that the other day and I stand by that today. We never received a formal invitation.

    QUESTION: Well, does it have to be a formal invitation? And given what the situation right now – especially your – the administration, not just you from this podium, but the administration’s very harsh criticism of Russia both for its actions in Syria and in Ukraine, did – was there just no – was it deemed not to be useful to have a meeting? It seems like that’s the time when things are at their – at a low point --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- that you would want to have a meeting.

    MS NAUERT: Secretary Tillerson has a very tight schedule, and just because the two of them happen to be in the same country at the same time does not necessarily mean that they are going to carve out time to have discussions about world events.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well --

    MS NAUERT: We have been very forceful, as have many other countries in their criticism about Russia’s activities not only in Ukraine but also in Syria. We’ve been very clear about that. I’d like to mention just overnight alone 63 civilians have been killed. That’s in addition to, I believe, it’s nearly 900 or so who have been killed in recent weeks since this latest round of attacks has started taking place in Eastern Ghouta. Let’s remember the horrors that are taking place there in eastern Syria – excuse me, in Eastern Ghouta, and I think that reminds us of where things stand.

    QUESTION: Well, okay. It’s not just that they were in the same country on the same continent. They were in the same hotel.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, let me ask you --

    QUESTION: I mean, you could --

    MS NAUERT: -- do you think --

    QUESTION: I’ve been to that hotel before. It’s not that difficult to run into someone.

    MS NAUERT: -- that Russia seems willing to make progress on any of these issues around the country?

    QUESTION: I don’t know. But --

    MS NAUERT: I pose that question to all of you.

    QUESTION: I don’t know. But is that --

    MS NAUERT: Do they seem willing to listen to the world?

    QUESTION: Is that the reason --

    MS NAUERT: Do they seem willing --

    QUESTION: Presuming --

    MS NAUERT: to listen to the United States Government? Let me remind you, folks, that it was about two weeks ago that the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution, 15 countries signed onto that resolution, including the Russian Government. That resolution called for a nationwide ceasefire around the country. That nationwide ceasefire would help save the lives of innocent civilians in Eastern Ghouta. Overnight alone, 63 innocent civilians were killed. We have seen the aid convoys which were supposed to get in, yet they can’t get in. They can’t provide the aid that they need to from the UNHCR and also the Red Cross. All of that needs to change. If Russia wants to be a responsible partner to the international community, to the United States, and to the world and to humanity, they know what they need to do. They need to stop.

    QUESTION: But does that mean that that’s like a condition now, for them --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not saying that. I would just ask --

    QUESTION: I mean, was this an – I’m trying to figure out if this is an intentional snub.

    MS NAUERT: I would ask that all of you take a look at the activities and see if you think that they are being a responsible partner to the world, and I will leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Presuming your answer to that question is no, they’re not being a responsible partner, is that the reason that you guys basically ignored this Russian invitation, whether it was formal or not?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I can tell you – and maybe some of you think this is cute, but we received no formal invitation, and I won’t go beyond that, okay?

    QUESTION: Does it --

    MS NAUERT: Let’s move on to something else.

    QUESTION: Can I --

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Said. Go right ahead, Said.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah, let me – yeah. Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: On the occasion of the International Women’s Day --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- there are – the Israelis extended the detention of a woman journalist for another year, 45 others. There are many, many women – there are dozens of Palestinian women who are being held year after year without charges, administrative charges. Do you call on the Israelis to either charge these women or let them go?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with their particular cases. And I know you often will come to me with these questions about individual cases or a group of cases, that it’s not appropriate for the U.S. Government to weigh in on these particular situations, so I’d have to refer you to the Israeli authorities on that. I’m sure you’ll have more questions about Israel and Palestinian issues. I’d be happy to get back to you, but let’s stick with this first.

    QUESTION: Okay --

    MS NAUERT: I’ll come back to you. I’ll come back to you.

    QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we were done. I apologize.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay. Dave, you had a question about this.

    QUESTION: Yeah, no, on Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: So there’s a Czech general – well, a NATO general from Czechoslovakia in town, Petr Pavel. He says that Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 missile system will expose NATO operations inside its partner Turkey to intelligence gathering by the Russian technicians that will install it. And simultaneously, a U.S. NATO general, Mr. General Scaparrotti, is saying he doesn’t believe there’s effective unification across the U.S. interagency with the energy and focus that we should attain in confronting Russia’s aggression in Europe. Is it time for you to review your decision that CAATSA is a sufficient deterrent without actually applying any of the sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I would reject the premise of the last part of your question, okay? We implemented the CAATSA – or implemented that law on January 29th – or rather in the fall, but January 29th was actually the first day that the United States Government could begin imposing sanctions under the CAATSA law, a congressional piece of legislation. I have spoken to this before, that we have many U.S. Government officials around the world who are working on this. You cannot rule out sanctions in the future. Just because we didn’t do it on day one does not mean that that is not something that will be done in the future. We are continuing to look at that. We take it very seriously. We’ve had lots of conversations with our partner governments around the world. Our posts have reached out to other governments to explain this legislation and what could cause certain governments or corporations to run afoul of that legislation.

    QUESTION: The – when you – as you say, in January when you rolled it out, you said that it’s your conclusion at that point that it was acting as a sufficient deterrent.

    MS NAUERT: Well --

    QUESTION: Does it still seem to be a sufficient deterrent to you?

    MS NAUERT: Let me say this, okay? At that point, we had found – and were pleased with this – that there were a certain number – we believe it was somewhere between $3 and $4 billion – worth of deals that were going to be done that were then turned off, okay – turning off those details because other governments and companies around the world realized that they would lose money, that they would then be sanctioned under CAATSA. So those governments and companies decided to stop doing those deals. That deprived the Russian Government and governmental structure, defense structure to not get money that it had wanted. That is a form of a punishment. So we were pleased with that amount.

    As it pertains to employing sanctions on different companies and governments and individuals, that’s something we still reserve the right to impose sanctions upon, and that’s why I say it’s a whole-of-government approach that we have many people who are experts in sanctions around the world who are looking at different government – different activities that could fall under sanction law, okay?

    QUESTION: Do you have any response to General Scaparrotti, who says that the whole-of-government approach you describe has not been effective?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have his full quote. I don’t have the context of what exactly he was talking about, so I’m not going to comment on that. Okay?

    Hi, Rich.

    QUESTION: Can I have North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Russia?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Laurie, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. There was an attempt to assassinate the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in the UK with a nerve agent, and Russia is the most obvious candidate for having been behind that. If it turns out to be Russia, would you apply sanctions as you did regarding North Korea’s use of VX to assassinate a political opponent?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, I can say I’m not going to comment on a hypothetical. We don’t know who was responsible for that attack at this point. The British Government, we have an incredible amount of respect and gratitude for the kind of work that they do in terms of their investigations. That investigation is underway and I’m just not going to get ahead of that investigation. I’ll let the Brits figure that out and then we’ll follow on from there.

    QUESTION: So I’d like to know, if it turns out to be Russia, Russia would be in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention --

    MS NAUERT: And we did just impose sanctions on North Korea for the attack on Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. So I will mention that, but Laurie, I’m not going to get ahead of this investigation or be able to state today what we would do if what you say was the case. Okay?

    QUESTION: When you --

    QUESTION: Now, can we go back to --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: In your – when you said that North – on Tuesday, I think it was – that North Korea would be subject to sanctions --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- that was an automatic thing because of the determination. You had determined that they were guilty of a chemical weapons attack --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not --

    QUESTION: -- and therefore, these sanctions follow. I read the act, they do follow.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not an expert on that specific line of sanctions. I know far more about CAATSA than I do about that one in particular. I can connect you with our folks in our ISN bureau to ask additional questions about that.

    QUESTION: Well, the point is it’s not a hypothetical to say, “If a government is found to have conducted a chemical weapon attack,” they would (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: And I think I’ll just go back to the answer that I did just give you, and that is I’m not exactly certain how that sanctions structure as it pertains to that works, and so I’m going to decline to answer on that for you. I can put you in touch with our sanctions experts from ISN.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Can we talk about this – this is something – another logistical thing, we can talk about it afterwards – is this announcement was actually made public on Friday, not on Tuesday, and I don’t understand why you guys put it out in a statement on Tuesday.

    MS NAUERT: It went into the Federal Register and I think there’s --

    QUESTION: On Friday.

    MS NAUERT: It went in the Federal Register and then we put it out at a later time.

    QUESTION: On Friday.

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure what the – I’m not sure what our --

    QUESTION: Anyway, we can talk about --

    MS NAUERT: -- internal – what our internal --

    QUESTION: We can talk about it – we can talk about it afterwards.

    MS NAUERT: -- structure is with regard to when something gets posted in the Federal Register and when somebody hits that send-button here at the State Department.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Hey, Rich.

    QUESTION: Could I go back to --

    QUESTION: Heather, on the South Korean delegation here today --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- can you tell us who came, who they met with, what message they brought with them?

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. So first, I can tell you that meeting is taking place, I believe, right about now. I think it started about 2:30 p.m. today over at the White House. So a lot of this I’m not going to get ahead of those meetings and I’m not, obviously, sitting in those meetings right now to be able to tell you any of the deliverables or what kinds of conversations are taking place right now.

    I can tell you that from the State Department perspective, our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan is over there at the White House and he is engaged with those meetings. This is something we are pleased to support and pleased to host the Republic of Korea here to have those conversations about what the next steps will be.

    QUESTION: Anybody else from the State Department or the administration who’s there?

    MS NAUERT: No, just Deputy Secretary Sullivan. He may be staffed by a staffer or two from his office, but the principals in those policy meetings here from the State Department – Deputy Secretary Sullivan.

    QUESTION: And can’t speak to any other administration officials who are in that meeting?

    MS NAUERT: I cannot, no. I --

    QUESTION: President and Vice President?

    MS NAUERT: I am familiar with who was there, but I’m not at liberty to say, so I’d have to have the White House, because it is their meeting, provide you that information.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Janne.

    QUESTION: Heather, thank you. Chung Eui-yong, who is the special envoy for the North Korea, he is also currently national security advisor in South Korea --

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, who?

    QUESTION: Chung Eui-yong, his name is.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: From the South Korean delegation?

    QUESTION: Yes, yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Also he visit North Korea for the special delegations.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. He was part of the delegation that went to Pyongyang. Okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah. What – he said that Kim Jong-un understood the U.S. and South Korea joint military exercises, okay, but today, what the – Kim Jong-un said today, North Korean Kim Jong-un insisted on the legitimacy of, precision of nuclear weapons and refused South Koreans’ remarks. What do you think about this message Kim Jong-un said that didn’t – we did not say that, we didn’t – never mentioned about the nuke --

    MS NAUERT: Janne, I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with the remarks that Kim Jong-un allegedly made nor am I familiar with the remarks that the South Korean official made in response to that, so it’s hard for me to comment on something. I haven’t heard it from either one of them. I’m hearing that from you. I trust you, but --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: -- I can’t comment on that. Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: But can you tell us the authenticity of what the South Koreans bring the message to President Trump?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I can tell you this: We are closely coordinating with the Republic of Korea. I mean, it is no surprise that we are so closely linked in this and that they left Pyongyang and came to Washington, D.C. to brief us. That shows how closely coordinated and connected we are with our allies and partners in our ironclad relationship that continues very strongly today. So we look forward to the meetings that were – are underway right now. When I have something to provide you that has come out of those meetings, I would certainly be happy to bring it to you, okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Hey, how are you?

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.) So there – I’ve heard reports that the delegation is going to be here through Saturday. Are there any planned meetings either here at the State Department or any of – anyone besides Deputy Secretary Sullivan planning to meet with the delegation while they’re still in Washington?

    MS NAUERT: So I can’t rule out what might come out of the meeting that’s taking place right now. Who knows? They could come up with something and decide to all go out for pancakes together on Saturday morning. That I just don’t know, but do we have any formal meetings planned out of the State Department or for our deputy secretary? Nothing that I have to read out for you. If that changes and if I learn about it, I’d be happy to get back with you.

    Anything else on --

    QUESTION: Same issue, same --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: Will – hi. Will Sullivan – Deputy Secretary Sullivan be the point man on these conversations as they go forward – Sullivan – or will you have someone else? Will you ask Joseph Yun to stick around as someone with more expertise in the – in the field? What will the State Department be doing to participate in these (inaudible)?

    MS NAUERT: Well as you well know, Ambassador Yun retired. He has left his service in the U.S. Government. I hope he’s on a beach somewhere enjoying a life with his family.

    QUESTION: I wish we all were.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Especially after having dealt with the North Korean issue. I can tell you that Deputy Secretary Sullivan is a very – a very shrewd man. He is a ferocious leader – reader, and leader. He is hard at work. I am fully confident that if he were the one who was chosen to lead these conversations from here on out, that he would be excellent at it. Other than that, we have our acting assistant secretary, our nominee to head EAP, Susan Thornton, who will remain extremely engaged in this, in any potential dialogue down the road. And we have other individuals here at the State Department who are more than capable of handling that as well.

    QUESTION: So will Secretary Tillerson play a direct role, do you think?

    MS NAUERT: Absolutely, without a doubt, the Secretary would. I’m sure the Secretary would be the one in that meeting today were he not on his Africa trip.


    QUESTION: Heather, (inaudible) --

    QUESTION: Can I go back to the Palestinian issue?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure, Said. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Heather, (inaudible).

    QUESTION: Thank you, I appreciate it. Just going --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on.

    QUESTION: Still on --

    MS NAUERT: We’ve just interrupted Said twice.

    QUESTION: No, no, it’s okay. That’s all right.

    MS NAUERT: You want to --

    QUESTION: You’ll get to me, no problem.

    MS NAUERT: -- wait for the lady? Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you so much.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Lisa.

    QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson said in Ethiopia that the first step towards negotiations is to have some kind of talks about talks, so is the U.S. seeking to schedule those talks about talks or any sort of a face-to-face meeting with North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: We are not going to schedule talks about talks or any kind of chat or anything like that at this point. We are having our meetings with the Republic of Korea to learn, to get a readout from them about what took place in their meetings in Pyongyang. So we will see what comes out of that meeting today, and then we may have announcements at some point in the future, okay?

    QUESTION: Sure, and just one follow-up on what you said about Deputy Secretary Sullivan. You said confident if he were the one that were chosen to lead. You’re not saying that he has been chosen to lead those.

    MS NAUERT: I am absolutely not saying that. He is there today as a representative for the State Department, and we are pleased to have him.

    Okay. Said, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Two quick – yeah, two questions on Jerusalem.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: On the embassy, today The New York Times reported that where the embassy’s going to be housed in the Hotel Diplomat, that’s actually no man’s land. That’s land that was conquered in 1967. So in essence, your embassy will be on land that is contested, that is – that you have agreed, in Resolution 242 and 338 and many resolutions thereafter, that this is occupied territory which should be resolved in final negotiations. Are you recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the conquered part of Jerusalem in 1967 by having the embassy there?

    MS NAUERT: Said, we addressed this question, I think it was about two weeks ago, in which we talked about how part of the embassy, part of the site is located in West Jerusalem, and part of it is in what’s considered to be no man’s land, as you just referred to that.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: That’s a zone that formerly – that formally demilitarized between ’49 and ’67. It lies in between the 1949 armistice lines. In terms of anything beyond that, borders, boundaries, all of those questions, those are all subject to final status negotiations.

    QUESTION: No, I understand you talked about this --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- early on a couple weeks ago, as you said. But also, that does not negate the fact that by having your embassy there, that is on land that is being contested, right?

    MS NAUERT: I – Said, I will tell you --

    QUESTION: That is --

    MS NAUERT: -- we did not make a determination on the borders or boundaries. That’s final status negotiation. We consider our location, where it is, to be partly located in West Jerusalem and partly located in No Man’s Land.

    QUESTION: Okay. And on – also pertaining to Jerusalem, the Israeli Knesset approved a law or – that requires residents, Palestinian residents, to swear a loyalty oath to the State of Israel or actually leave. Is that a way of ethnically cleansing Jerusalem from Palestinians?

    MS NAUERT: Is it a what?

    QUESTION: They need to swear a loyalty oath to the State of Israel if they want to stay in Jerusalem. How do you perceive that?

    MS NAUERT: I think it’s one of those instances where we’re not going to weigh in on every law that is passed, that goes into law in Israel or other places. We’re not going to weigh in to every one.

    QUESTION: But in principle, you oppose citizens or residents having to give a loyalty oath of any kind, right?

    MS NAUERT: At this point, I’m going to have to refer you to the Government of Israel. I don’t have all the details on that matter.

    QUESTION: Okay. My last question, going back to the first point on Women’s Day.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: You are – you oppose in principle administrative detention endlessly, right? That people ought to be – if they are imprisoned, they have to be charged. Do you agree?

    MS NAUERT: That would be the U.S. Government position, yes. That at some point people need --

    QUESTION: Right. But that – so you oppose administrative detention, right?

    MS NAUERT: I – I’m not going to parse out every single word of yours, but in general – in general – I will just speak this more broadly – that yes, we believe that people should be charged and have their day in court.

    QUESTION: Just back on the embassy for one second.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, mm-hmm.

    QUESTION: Do you know, has it gotten – what’s the address of the embassy going to be given that you say part of it is --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know.

    QUESTION: -- in West Jerusalem and part of it is in, quote-unquote, “No Man’s Land?” Will it be U.S. Embassy Jerusalem Israel, or U.S. Embassy Jerusalem?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I will get back to you with the exact street address, so if you like --

    QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: -- you can send our folks a postcard. Okay?

    QUESTION: I will. And I don’t want the P.O. Box at Dulles; I want the actual street address so I can put it into Google --

    MS NAUERT: And that is after you join this administration and you help us fill out the spots administration-wide. (Laughter.) Can’t wait; Matt Lee on board.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Just one quick one. Heather, as the Associated Press is now reporting, in 15 days there will be nearly worldwide tariffs on aluminum and steel. Does that complicate, or how does that complicate noneconomic negotiations or discussions that the State Department has with partners?

    MS NAUERT: So I saw a note that came out from the White House just literally as I was walking out here. I’ve not had a chance to review yet – that yet, and my understanding is that the President – which, by the way, let me know when the President goes on so that we can make sure we step down – so I’m not familiar with the details of it because I literally just got it as I was walking out here.

    As a general matter, I can say that we have conversations with a lot of countries around the world. We have conversations with our U.S. ambassadors who are serving around the world. We listen very carefully to what other countries say, in particular our allies and partners. We have a lot of work that we have to do. We have deep relationships with them where we discuss a range of issues, whether it would be tax and trade issues or various campaigns that we’re involved with around the world.

    But as specifics about this one, I just don’t have anything for you on this at this moment.

    QUESTION: As a general matter, do you find that sometimes economic issues tend to bleed into security issues and that they’re all related, or --

    MS NAUERT: No. I find that countries are pretty good at compartmentalizing some of those issues, recognizing that there are certain things where we have to work together. We may have differences on certain issues with other countries, but then we find areas of agreement where we work together on those things.

    Okay. Laurie, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah. The SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, have announced that they are pulling forces from the battle against ISIS to defend Afrin. What is your comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, we’ve talked about that before – in fact, just as recent as this Tuesday. The idea that those forces that the U.S. Government and our coalition partners have partnered with to take out ISIS in Syria – they have been a tremendous fighting force. Without the SDF, we would not have been able to achieve the success, for example, in Raqqa that the U.S. Government and coalition partners have succeeded with people now slowly – very slowly – being able to come back home. They’re a valuable partner.

    We have seen, as the situation in Afrin has taken hold, that some of those SDF forces – General Votel spoke to this the other day – have started to leave their work with coalition partners, the fight against ISIS, and head over to Afrin to handle those types of issues. That takes the eye off the ball of ISIS, which is the entire reason why the U.S. Government is there.

    That is a concern of ours. General Votel spoke to that, I’ve spoken to that in the past, as have other U.S. Government officials. It’s a concern of ours. We would like to see ISIS defeated once and for all. The best way to do that is to stay focused on ISIS.

    QUESTION: Are you willing to put more pressure on Ankara to stop the offensive in Afrin?

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, I can tell you that today is the first day that the U.S. Government and Turkish officials are meeting to discuss what was agreed to when Secretary Tillerson met with his counterpart in Istanbul a couple weeks ago. So those meetings are taking place today and tomorrow. It’s about a half day in. We obviously have a lot we have to discuss with the Turks. We have a lot of issues before us right now. I imagine that that will be one of those issues. I think that would not be a surprise.

    QUESTION: Where is that meeting?

    MS NAUERT: That meeting is taking place here in Washington.

    QUESTION: And who’s representing the U.S.?

    MS NAUERT: We have a lot of people who are a part of our delegation from the State Department, if you will, about two dozen people from the State Department. I believe about 2,000 people are --

    QUESTION: 2,000?

    MS NAUERT: Did I just say 2,000? Two dozen – pardon me. Two dozen people from the State Department --

    QUESTION: Are they having it at the Verizon Center or something?

    MS NAUERT: Two dozen people from the State Department are involved in those meetings.

    QUESTION: But led by – who’s the head of --

    MS NAUERT: Well, our Acting Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell is one of the officials who are involved. But there are a lot of people who are helping to staff this. This is an introductory meeting, where we can start to hopefully work out some of these issues. As you all know, we’ve got a lot of issues to discuss, so hope that we can make some headway at that level today. Okay?

    QUESTION: So in the event – on the same topic --

    MS NAUERT: Marcin.

    QUESTION: On the same topic --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: In the event though --

    MS NAUERT: Said, hold on. We’ve got you a bunch of questions already. Let’s go to our Polish friend in the back.

    QUESTION: I wanted to follow up. I can only ask about one issue?

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. We’ve talked –

    QUESTION: Okay. May I ask --

    MS NAUERT: You and I have had a lot of questions already. (Laughter.) Come on, let --

    QUESTION: You were talking about Syria.

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Okay. Well, I will come back to you after I get to others, okay? (Laughter.)

    Marcin, I’m sorry. He doesn’t want to share today.

    QUESTION: It’s okay. It’s okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Heather, you mentioned Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: He had a meeting this morning with the chief of staff to president of Poland, Minister Krzysztof Szczerski. Do you have a readout after this meeting? And have they reached any progress? Are their positions any closer?

    MS NAUERT: So that is correct that our Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell met with the chief of staff for the Polish president, President Duda. I also want to mention that he met last week with the Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Magierowski. I got it? All right, excellent. So he met with him last week as well.

    Obviously, we have a close partnership with Poland. We have for many years as a NATO partner and ally. As you all know, we have tremendous concerns with the new law, the Holocaust law. Those concerns are not shared by the U.S. Government alone; they are shared by many other countries around the world as well.

    I want to remind you that all those reports that alleged that U.S. officials would not be meeting or have high-level dialogue with the Polish Government are completely false. And I think that’s evident by these two meetings that I’m talking about here today with the deputy foreign minister and also with the chief of staff for Poland’s president.

    In terms of meetings in the future, I don’t have any meetings on the schedule for you. Any potential meetings that may or may not happen with the White House would absolutely come out of the White House. That’s not for me to announce.

    QUESTION: How about their positions? Are they any closer than before this?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I don’t have a readout for you from the assistant secretary’s meeting at this point. But I know – I’m sure he expressed his concerns about the law. But again, our security cooperation with Poland is steadfast, and that situation will not change.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Last question --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Cuba.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Two former presidents from Latin America yesterday were expelled – were deported from Cuba.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: And the secretary general of the Organization of American States was not allowed to enter the country at a moment that they were having an event today, giving an award for a human rights activist whose daughter is also calling for a plebiscite for elections in Cuba. How does the State Department view this expulsion of such high-ranking diplomats, particularly Almagro from the Organization of American States?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I have to just tell you I’m not familiar with that situation, so this is the first I’m hearing of it. So I can’t provide you any comments on that.

    Carol, good to see you again.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about Mexico.

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the nature of the security threat in Playa del Carmen? And also what do you think about the U.S. ambassador to Mexico not being invited to join Mr. Kushner in his meeting with the president yesterday?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m glad you asked about that. As Americans start to plan or think about or start to pack for their spring break vacations, as college students as well, this is an important issue that I want to talk about. And you bring up the security situation in Playa del Carmen, which is on the east coast of Mexico, on the Gulf.

    On March 7th, our embassy in Mexico City received information about a security threat in Playa del Carmen. That is in Quintana Roo in Mexico. We released – excuse me – a security alert yesterday on March 7th to all U.S. citizens due to what we deem to be credible information that we received regarding the security threat in Playa del Carmen.

    As a result of that, we recommend that American citizens who are considering planning travel to that area consider this information. As you all know, we have directed U.S. Government officials to not travel there at this time. So the takeaway for American citizens should be that you need to consider that information before making your own decision to travel to that area.

    It is well known that there were some incidents that happened in recent months. We put out a security alert on March 1st after Mexican law enforcement discovered that undetonated explosive device on a tourist ferry. That same tourist ferry company, about a week prior to that on February 21st – there was an explosion. There was an explosion that injured several Americans who were down there on vacation; injured, I believe, it was about 27 people altogether.

    So there are these pieces of information that we are gathering. The Mexican Government has worked very hard to try to determine what the nature is of the threat that’s currently taking place down there. We’re working with the Mexican Government to learn more about that investigation. They’re in charge of it. We’re closely coordinating. Some information I will not be able to provide because it’s still considered a security situation and we don’t want to be able to provide that information to the bad guys, if you will. But I just want to caution Americans that if you’re thinking about traveling to that area, please be aware of what we are saying to our U.S. Government officials that they can’t travel. Americans are certainly welcome to travel there, but please take it into consideration. We have a lot of information up on our website, so I would encourage you to please take a look at our website.

    QUESTION: Do you think it’s terrorism, or do you think --

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to speculate as to what this is all about. I can just say that our officials at the State Department and part of the U.S. Government, other departments in the U.S. Government, are having conversations with local law enforcement officials about the nature of this threat.

    QUESTION: Does that mean that you don’t want to talk about the specific nature of the threat because that’s intelligence and it’s classified?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to say it’s classified or not. But when there is an investigation underway as to what is going on, clearly there is a threat. We’re making Americans aware of that threat so that Americans can protect their own safety and the safety of their families.

    QUESTION: I get it. But do you think that it’s related to these ferries, the explosives on the ferries? Because --

    MS NAUERT: I cannot say that right now.

    QUESTION: Or is it more broad than that?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t – Matt, I don’t know the answer to that. When I have the answer to that, if it is okay to do so and it’s not going to disrupt any kind of ongoing investigations, I will certainly give you that information.

    Okay, anything else on Mexico?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The second part of her question.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, of course.

    QUESTION: Roberta Jacobson not being invited to the meeting.

    MS NAUERT: Right. So Jared Kushner led the delegation down there. Kim Breier, who was announced not long ago, she worked – currently works in Policy Planning. She is the nominee to be the new assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere, for WHA. Kim Breier joined Jared Kushner on that trip.

    As you may recall, Mr. Kushner has a good relationship with the president of Mexico and also with the foreign minister, so it’s no surprise that he would lead this delegation. And we were pleased to be able to have our State Department colleagues, Kim Breier specifically, and U.S. embassy staff facilitate that meeting and be a part of those meetings right there.

    I don’t think the fact that Roberta Jacobson wasn’t in the actual meeting with the president and with the foreign minister is a big deal. I can tell you Jared Kushner’s first meeting when he arrived in Mexico was to meet with Ambassador Jacobson, so they did have the – have a conversation before he went into those meetings.

    QUESTION: I don’t understand. Why didn’t you think it’s a big deal?

    MS NAUERT: That she’s not there? Because I think he has a good relationship with the president of that country --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: -- and with the foreign minister of the country, and so it would make sense that they would have that high-level dialogue. The ambassador and Mr. Kushner had a meeting beforehand.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: And I think that pretty much checks the box.

    QUESTION: It does. Okay. Because she has a higher security clearance than he does, she is able to discuss things not with him but with others that he is not privy to hearing. She also has decades of experience in government – more, I presume, than your person from Policy Planning who was there. So --

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t think – I don’t – perhaps you don’t know the bio of our person in Policy Planning, so I wouldn’t be --


    MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t be so quick to disparage someone’s --

    QUESTION: I’m not disparaging anyone.

    MS NAUERT: -- someone’s bio or someone’s background without you knowing who that person is and what that person is capable of doing.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: And what that person has done in the past.

    QUESTION: Okay, but that’s not disparaging.

    MS NAUERT: So I know you think you know who everyone is here at the State Department. You certainly have many years of time covering this building. I respect that. My colleagues respect that. But I want to caution you --

    QUESTION: You’re taking offense at something that --

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: -- wasn’t intended to be offensive --

    MS NAUERT: You know what?

    QUESTION: -- and frankly, I don’t understand why.

    MS NAUERT: You know we have good people here.

    QUESTION: I’m not saying you don’t.

    MS NAUERT: They’re good at their jobs and --

    QUESTION: But you also have a good ambassador in Mexico, and it doesn’t make any sense for the ambassador in Mexico to be – it sounds like he went and met her and told her okay, I’m off but you can’t come, sorry.

    MS NAUERT: Matt, that would be your assumption, okay? And you frequently make assumptions --

    QUESTION: Until you explain it more --

    MS NAUERT: -- about who should be in a certain position --

    QUESTION: Until you explain it a little bit more --

    MS NAUERT: -- or who shouldn’t be in a certain position --

    QUESTION: Is it a fact or not that the ambassador to Mexico has a higher security clearance than the President’s --

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know what her security clearance level is.

    QUESTION: In other words, would she know the reason for the – what the specifics are of the threat in Playa del Carmen?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. That would probably be between --

    QUESTION: Was it a chief of mission determination to do that, to close it?

    MS NAUERT: That would probably be between security officials, and I don’t know the time that that information was received, okay?

    QUESTION: Is it customary for the ambassador of the United States not to attend such a meeting?

    MS NAUERT: Certainly sometimes it is. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. Okay?

    Sir, hi.

    QUESTION: Turkey. First of all, I’d like to congratulate you and our woman colleagues, Women’s Day.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you. That’s the first nice comment we’ve gotten in this entire briefing – (laughter) – so I welcome that. Thank you.

    QUESTION: You’re welcome. As you said, there is Turkish diplomats here in State Department as a meeting with the U.S. diplomats regarding the dispute issues between two countries. And the main issue looks like the role of YPG forces in Syria, because U.S. sees the YPG forces as a partner in the war against ISIS and – but Turkey names the YPG as a terrorist organization that links PKK, which is known as a terrorist organization by United States. So do you see any possible agreement or reconciliation on YPG issues after that meeting?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So the meetings just started this morning here in Washington, so there are a lot of conversations that are going to be had. I’m going to say this again: I’m not going to get ahead of those meetings. I’m not familiar with the exact conversations. We obviously have a lot of issues, a lot of ground that we have to cover --

    QUESTION: No, I mean in general.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Again, I’m not going to get ahead of it. We’ve addressed this in the past, but now there are meetings underway, and so let’s let those meetings play themselves out, okay?

    QUESTION: Do you expect to have some – any kind of a readout tomorrow after they’re done on --

    MS NAUERT: We’ll see. I hope so. I hope we will. I always try to bring you guys readouts. Go right --

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    QUESTION: In the event that the YPG coalesced with Syrian army forces in their attack against the Turks, where would your position be?

    MS NAUERT: That --

    QUESTION: Because they are – because that is what is happening.

    MS NAUERT: I think that’s a double or triple hypothetical, so Said --

    QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical, because they are --

    MS NAUERT: -- I’m not going to get into that, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. One more on Syria, on Eastern Ghouta.

    MS NAUERT: Said, you’ve had about 10 questions so far, and there are --

    QUESTION: Can I ask you on Syria, please?

    MS NAUERT: There are a couple people – there are a couple people --

    QUESTION: I want to ask you to confirm --

    MS NAUERT: -- who have not had a chance so far.

    QUESTION: I’d like to ask you on Syria.

    MS NAUERT: You can email me later, okay? You know I always take your questions, all right?

    QUESTION: Please, I want to ask you on East Ghouta, because in --

    MS NAUERT: It’s not the Said show.

    Sir, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: It’s not my show, but I’ve got to ask these questions.

    MS NAUERT: And so – you know what, go ahead, tell that to our friend from Bangladesh back there, okay? To our friend from Poland right behind you. They have questions as well. Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Today is Women Day --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- International Women Day, and I want you to draw your attention on Bangladesh. A distinguished woman in Bangladesh is in prison, who has been struggling for democracy more than decades. And the government is trying to disqualify for the next upcoming election for – that’s why she’s in prison. Media reported and the political party reported that. Few – last week, the deputy assistant to the President Donald Trump and senior director Lisa Curtis visited Bangladesh and she met with the government official, foreign minister, and she met with the Begum Khaleda Zia, party leaders and to resolve political issue peacefully, though our government is attacking peaceful demonstration today. They attack peaceful demonstration in the capital city, in Dhaka. So what is your present position on Bangladesh issues, as Bangladesh political situation is very turmoil and government is not giving any space to demonstrate the opposition and their voice?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I – we have a good relationship with the Government of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a democracy. They’ve done – got – a lot of good work with the United States. Certainly know that there is an election coming up. The – what you have just mentioned in particular, I’m not familiar with all the details. I do know that Lisa Curtis from the NSC was over – was in Pakistan not too long ago. I was not aware that she was also in Bangladesh, so if I can get any readouts from you on that meeting, I will certainly do my best to do so.

    We’ve got to wrap it up. I believe the President is up right now. So thank you, everybody. We’ll see you real soon.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)

    DPB # 16

    Thu, 08 Mar 2018 18:58:29 EDT

    Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - March 6, 2018
    Heather Nauert
    Department Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    March 6, 2018

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


      3:11 p.m. EST

      MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone.

      QUESTION: Hi.

      QUESTION: Hello.

      MS NAUERT: Hope you’re all well. Hi. Good to see you. I’ll start out with a few announcements today. I don’t know if any of you caught the Secretary’s speech at George Mason University, but as a preview to his trip to Africa in which he leaves today.

      Today Secretary Tillerson announced 533 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, as well as countries in the Lake Chad region, where millions of people are facing life-threatening food insecurity and malnutrition as a result of ongoing conflict and prolonged drought. With the new funding, the United States is providing life-saving assistance, including emergency food and health care. The United States is the single-largest donor of humanitarian assistance for these crises. We encourage others to increase their share of funding to meet the growing urgent needs. And as the Secretary underscored in his remarks earlier today, there is an effort to overall break the cycle, meaning providing opportunities for all people in the African continent, both humanitarian and also enabling them to engage economically, and our work with governments there.

      Secondly, the Secretary yesterday had a really terrific meeting with the Estonians, the Latvians, and the Lithuanians. Sir, you’re from Lithuania, right?

      QUESTION: Latvia.

      MS NAUERT: Latvia. Pardon me. Okay. Well, your folks were there as well, and we were certainly happy to host them here at the State Department. I’d like to provide you with a readout from that meeting.

      Secretary Tillerson engaged in counter – his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in a productive discussion Monday. The four NATO allies agreed to deepen their cooperation to combat Russia’s disinformation efforts and malicious cyber activity. They discussed strategies to address the threat Russia poses to European security and Russia’s lack of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors. They also made preparations for the Baltic Summit that President Trump will host in Washington that is in April, as well as the NATO Summit later this year in July.

      In addition to that, I’d like to turn to Iran right now, where we are saddened to hear that yet another prisoner of conscience has passed away while in custody. It’s being reported that Mohammad Raji, a member of the Gonabadi dervish community, passed away while being interrogated in custody in Iran. We also continue to receive disturbing reports of the Iranian regime’s ongoing forceful crackdown on the Gonabadi dervish community across the country, in which hundreds have been reported arrested and some have been hospitalized. We call on the Iranian regime to respect the rights of its citizens and to release all prisoners of conscience who are unjustly imprisoned.

      And lastly, an update to bring you on the situation in Syria, particularly Eastern Ghouta. Brutal airstrikes by Russia and the regime continue, especially in Eastern Ghouta, despite the unanimous UN Security Council vote on February 24th to demand an immediate cessation of hostilities throughout Syria. The strikes on Eastern Ghouta in recent days have demonstrated the farcical nature of Russia’s proposed humanitarian corridor. Russia is clearly attempting to feign implementation of UNSCR 2401 while showing complete disregard for the ongoing humanitarian disaster that still unfolds.

      There have been no meaningful pause – there has been no meaningful pause in the slaughter in Eastern Ghouta. Bombs and artillery are still falling on civilians and medical facilities in the Damascus suburbs. The long-delayed and insufficient aid finally allowed in yesterday was reported to have been looted by regime forces and stripped of emergency medical supplies that are so desperately needed there.

      Russia’s unwillingness to adhere to its numerous commitments was fully demonstrated again by the fact that trucks carrying much needed aid were forced to withdraw from the area due to pro-regime attacks which killed dozens of innocent civilians. And let me remind you, this was backed by Russia.

      Russia has agreed to unhindered humanitarian access in numerous UN Security Council resolutions, including UNSCRs 2165, 2254, and 2401; yet humanitarian convoys have been chronically delayed or barred by the Syrian regime, and those that do get through are wholly insufficient to meet the needs of the Syrian people.

      Russia has not only failed to follow through on delivering regime adherence, but it continues to conduct airstrikes in Ghouta with its own air force. Russia and Assad regime continues to ignore the terms of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. Russia repeatedly delayed the adoption of the resolution, and it’s pretty clear now why they were reluctant to vote for it: They had no intention of following it.

      Let me repeat what the White House said over the weekend: The Assad regime along with its backers in Moscow and Tehran should adhere to UNSCR 2401, should cease hostilities, and allow unfettered humanitarian access, in particular in Eastern Ghouta, where nearly 400,000 innocent civilians are in critical need.

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

      QUESTION: Thanks.

      MS NAUERT: Hi. Hey, Matt.

      QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll get back to Russia and Syria, but I want to start with Korea.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: And the announcement by the South Koreans that I’m sure you’re aware of that the North Koreans are apparently willing to talk. I know the White House has kind of taken the lead on this. I’m just wondering what the State Department’s role in any such talks will be. Are you involved, or is this something that has bypassed this building?

      MS NAUERT: Sure. So first I can say we are closely coordinated with the Republic of Korea on efforts, conversations, and everyday activities that affect our country and theirs as significant allies. The State Department has been speaking with the White House about the proposed upcoming meeting later this week. We’ve been in constant communication with the White House on this.

      In terms of the meeting with South Korea and also with the DPRK, we don’t have a play-by-play of that just yet. We will wait for the Republic of Korea to come to Washington and to be able to brief us on those meetings.

      As you can well imagine, any phone call that takes place from Pyongyang to Washington, D.C., would have a lot of ears listening to that, so we prefer to have those conversations in person in a secure environment.

      We look forward to meeting with our South Korean allies when they do come to Washington to get a full brief on that conversation.

      QUESTION: So you’re saying that you’re not interested, or the administration’s not interested in a telephonic conversation? Any conversation that you would have with the North Koreans would have to be done in person?

      MS NAUERT: No, Matt, you’ve completely misunderstood what I said.

      QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right.

      MS NAUERT: What I said was --

      QUESTION: Did anyone else misunderstand that? (Laughter.)

      MS NAUERT: What I said was, as you were asking about our conversations --

      QUESTION: Right.

      MS NAUERT: -- coming out of this meeting, and our understanding is that the South Koreans are still in North Korea at this point.

      QUESTION: Oh, I see.

      MS NAUERT: We aren’t going to get a readout of that meeting --

      QUESTION: Gotcha.

      MS NAUERT: -- from the South Koreans while they are in Pyongyang. We look forward to having them come to Washington, where they can fully brief us in person in a secure environment on all the details of that meeting.

      QUESTION: Right, okay. Sorry, I did misunderstand that. Well, the Secretary, as you mentioned, is going to be leaving and will be in Africa. So clearly, he wouldn’t be able to be involved in such a conversation unless it was by secure video or something like that. Is he planning to be --

      MS NAUERT: As we determine who will be coming to the United States from the Republic of Korea, I think the White House will then assemble a list of people who would be appropriate to invite. Obviously, if the Secretary were here in Washington, I think that would be at the top of the President’s list; however, the Secretary will be in Africa at this point.

      As you all know, there’s a lot of protocol that’s involved in putting together these meetings. Officials oftentimes like to be matched. The certain numbers of people from the United States, from South Korea is typically matched. So we’ll look for the White House for an actual invitation list and to learn more about who will be attending that meeting.

      QUESTION: Okay. Well, one person who would be an obvious choice would be the special representative or special envoy for North Korea. How is the – and you don’t have one at the moment. That’s vacant. How is the search for his replacement going, and is it possible that person could be selected in time for whatever meetings?

      MS NAUERT: Matt, you well know that we have plenty of experts in this building, led by Susan Thornton, led by Marc Knapper, led by our other colleagues, Mark Lambert, who is an expert on North Korea. We have plenty of people who are more than qualified to have these types of conversations with the White House and also the Republic of Korea, our ally. So when the White House decides to determine who will be invited to this meeting and who will be represented on the South Korean side, we will look forward to providing our best complement of people to address that.

      QUESTION: You know that there is a person, a currently serving senior diplomat, who used to do this job. And I don’t know if he would do it again, but he’s currently the ambassador in Thailand. Is there any thought given to him?

      MS NAUERT: Matt, I – if you want to join our White House PPO team and help find people to join this administration and the State Department, you sound like you know a lot about that, so I could certainly put forward your name. Okay.

      QUESTION: For the envoy position? (Laughter.)

      MS NAUERT: I can put forward your name for the envoy position or if you want to come work for the State Department in recruiting.

      QUESTION: Heather.

      MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Hi, Michele.

      QUESTION: What is the State Department’s take on the language that came from North Korea on this subject via South Korea? They actually used the word “denuclearization,” talking about if security could be assured and if the threat was removed to North Korea. So what’s your assessment of that language that’s coming out?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think what we’re going to do, we’re not going to parse that language. There were obviously meetings that just took place in Pyongyang. We will sit down with the Koreans; we’ll have a conversation about what next steps we want to take. I mean, I certainly think that this is a step in the right direction. The President addressed this a short while ago. Many people didn’t think that this day would come where we would be at this point. The President tweeted about this earlier today when the President said that possible progress is being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The President was realistic but also recognizing that we are at, I think, what is a fairly good point when we are having conversations with our allies about the next steps. But I’m not going to characterize everything that the – that North Korea said.

      QUESTION: Well – okay. But just a few weeks ago you were characterizing the fact that South Korea and North Korea were starting to talk, and you expressed skepticism on the part of the State Department.

      MS NAUERT: Well, and I think the President did too in his tweet earlier today, where we have – obviously recognize that talks have not gone as well as we would like – have liked them in the past, where North Korea has pulled back on promises that it has made in the past. So that’s why I say I think the President is appropriately realistic in this. But I don’t want to box in the White House, the State Department, or any other government entity of ours in going into these conversations. We want the United States and South Korea to be able to have full conversations about the next steps.

      QUESTION: Why – I mean, the State Department – it seems like on virtually everything to do with North Korea and a number of other matters, it’s always a referral to the White House, or it’s quoting the President’s tweet, or the Secretary himself says you’re going to have to ask the White House about that. Why is there no --

      MS NAUERT: I – Michele, I disagree with that assertion completely. If you look at the amount of time that – out of the State Department that we have talked about the issue with North Korea, it is probably about 70 percent of our time has been spent on North Korea. The Secretary – and I’ve witnessed this on many occasions – this is his top issue that he will bring up with not just our allies, our partners, other countries all around the world. The Secretary has spent a tremendous amount of time on trying to handle the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and pushing that forward as a part of our maximum pressure campaign. The White House – of course, an important part of it – the White House will be hosting this meeting, and we look forward to being a part of that.

      I’ll move on. Janne.

      QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. North Korea demands compensation for the nuclear freeze. Would the United States compensation for that, or --

      MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with that, but no, I can’t imagine that we would be.

      QUESTION: But the U.S. --

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that. Okay?

      QUESTION: Okay. But the other one.

      MS NAUERT: Let me get to somebody else, because we’re going to stick to North Korea --

      QUESTION: One more. One more, please.

      MS NAUERT: -- and then I’m going to go to another issue. Sir, do you have a question about North Korea? No? Okay. Okay.

      QUESTION: North Korea.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Yes. The DPRK just said that it will freeze all the weapon testings before the summit next month. So I’m just wondering that is the South Korean officials had just contacted the U.S. side to say that probably we could consider freeze the military drill that is just scheduled this month. Is there any contact or they just assess something about that to the U.S.?

      MS NAUERT: I can tell you that our principle and our policy of denuclearization and working toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has not changed. It’s something that we share with Japan, with South Korea, and many other countries in terms of getting in conversations about what will come out of our meeting with the Republic of Korea. I’m not going to get ahead of those conversations, okay. Let’s let them play out.

      Laurie. You want to talk about Iraq?

      QUESTION: How’d you guess? (Laughter.)

      MS NAUERT: Well, sometimes you ask me other questions.

      QUESTION: It’s about Iraq.

      MS NAUERT: Okay.

      QUESTION: The Iraqi budget that the parliament just passed drastically cut the share for the Kurdistan region. And the Kurdistan regional leadership is very disappointed, and it’s even disappointed in the United States. It says you said you do the right things, but nothing happens. It says you want – you say you want a strong Kurdistan region. How would you define a strong Kurdistan region?

      MS NAUERT: Laurie, I think some of these issues – and we cover them a lot – that Kurdistan and the Government of Iraq and Baghdad have to work together. We have a lot of areas that you and I have spoken about in the past where they still have not come to an agreement. That is important. You recognize that; the folks in Baghdad certainly recognize that as well, as do we. We have a good relationship with the Kurds and also with the Iraqi Government. We encourage them to work out their issues.

      In terms of the overall budget that was passed over the weekend, that would largely be an internal Iraqi matter, which we would not weigh in on, but we have clearly demonstrated our support for the Government of Iraq and specifically for the Kurds as well. That’s an important ally of ours, as you know. Or partner of ours, I should say.

      QUESTION: Maybe – if I might suggest this --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: You need to take a page out of the President’s playbook. He called for tariffs and says that trade wars, easy to win, and everyone goes, “Oh, horrors,” but then it turns out that maybe this is a bargaining position, and he is creating leverage. Maybe you need more leverage with Baghdad, because it seems that Baghdad is the one who is not ready to compromise with the Kurds.

      MS NAUERT: I think the Kurds and Baghdad both need to do more to get it – to have these conversations and resolve some of these issues.

      QUESTION: And you’re not looking for ways to create more leverage?

      MS NAUERT: Look, we look for opportunities to have these conversations and help facilitate these conversations. I think our position is well known, okay.

      QUESTION: Poland?

      MS NAUERT: Hi, Dave.

      QUESTION: Hi. The Polish press is reporting that Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell has informed their government that they will have no meetings with the prime minister and the president of Poland until they have reformed their Holocaust law. Are you able to confirm this conversation took place? And if not, could you just generally characterize what the U.S. Government’s position is on Poland’s recent Holocaust law?

      MS NAUERT: Certainly. We have very clearly – and we have one of our Polish friends in the back here. Marcin, great to see you as well, always. We have clearly articulated our concerns with that legislation. Statements from Secretary Tillerson, statements from me, information that we have put out from our European Bureau as well. We also had a video message that went out from our ambassador, Ambassador Jones, on this matter.

      The reports that allege any kind of a suspension in security cooperation or high-level dialogue – all of that is simple false. NATO – excuse me – Poland is a close NATO ally. That will remain; that hasn’t changed. That does not mean that we don’t have disagreements about the legislation that has taken effect. We have made our position on that very well known. We believe that being able to have full and honest conversations – we believe in being able to have the media report in a free manner, even in a way that countries may not agree with. That is important. That is how people learn from things of the past. And so we would encourage the government to listen carefully to our positions that we have clearly stated.

      QUESTION: But on the specific issue of can the president of Poland meet the President of the United States before this is --

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any meetings that are being discussed or scheduled at that time. But I can tell you there has been --

      QUESTION: Imagine they’ll both be at the NATO Summit.

      MS NAUERT: There has been – the NATO Summit in July? Yeah. Oh, nothing’s been announced on the NATO Summit in July. A lot of things can happen, certainly, between now and then. But we are not going to abandon our security commitment to Poland. Poland is a close NATO ally. But I want to be clear that we have concerns about that legislation and we have made our concerns very clear.

      Marcin, go ahead.

      QUESTION: Heather, so I understand, that the conversations are ongoing between Warsaw and Washington?

      MS NAUERT: As far as I know, yeah, certainly, that our ambassador has been deeply engaged in this. I just spent quite a bit of time with our Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell yesterday. We did not talk about the Poland matter. We were talking about our friends from Latvia and Estonia and Lithuania as well. But I can certainly go back and ask. If I have anything new, I’d be happy to bring it to you. Okay.

      QUESTION: Is there a – is it possible that there were just suggestions from the U.S. side, from the State Department, that there may be a problem with such high diplomatic meetings?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to speculate, but I’ll just tell you we’ve made our concerns clear. But our security posture, as it pertains to our ally, Poland, is not changing. People are trying to find distance or space between our longstanding relationship, and there is no space there, okay?

      QUESTION: So the foreign minister of Poland is welcome at the State Department?

      MS NAUERT: I have no meetings or no plans that I can – I am able to announce at this time from this position, okay? Okay.

      QUESTION: Sorry. You just said there is no distance or no space --

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: -- but there is.

      MS NAUERT: Well, on this matter. On the matter, and we’ve made our disagreements or our disappointment with that legislation clear.

      QUESTION: All right. When you talk to Wess Mitchell about it, can you ask him what he thinks that he could have said that could have given the Poles the impression that they were being – I don’t know –

      QUESTION: Shunned.

      QUESTION: -- shunned or would be shunned by --

      MS NAUERT: I will see what I can find out. No guarantees, okay?

      QUESTION: -- by the President, Vice President. Okay. Thank you.

      MS NAUERT: Hi.

      QUESTION: Heather, when we last gathered, the Venezuelan Government had announced that it had moved its election back one month. Does that change the administration’s calculus at all on its next steps on how to (a) deal with the crisis and (b) deal with the government there?

      MS NAUERT: I – look, just moving an election, which we don’t consider to be a fully fair and democratic election, because we’ve seen the hand of the Maduro regime; we have seen the repeated elections that have had – where the regime has pushed people to vote a certain way, provided monetary encouragement to vote a certain way. Just pushing back the election doesn’t make it any more free, doesn’t make it any more fair. Our concerns still remain about the erosion of democracy in that country.

      QUESTION: And the refugee crisis ongoing there, was that something that the Secretary discussed when he was in the region last month?

      MS NAUERT: I would ask you to ask him that question, because you were there. You were tagging along with him. But that is an issue that always comes up with many of our – the countries in the Western Hemisphere. It’s an issue of concern between the United States and Colombia, as Colombia has seen more and more Venezuelans cross their border because they’re in need of food and medical supplies. We’ve seen terrible stories about children who’ve been abandoned on the streets because their parents feel that they are not able to care for them or feed them. This is a tremendous concern of ours, the humanitarian situation. We’re continuing to watch it and we’re engaging closely.

      QUESTION: And considering any other further assistance or anything to that government – Colombian Government to help with the Venezuelan crisis?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I don’t have anything specific to provide you with regard to Colombia right now.

      Okay, hi.

      QUESTION: On U.S. embassy in Ankara.

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: Is there any update on the security – the closure? And the Turkish police arrested four Iraqi nationals as – after the closing the embassy, saying that was the security threat. Can you confirm was that the security threat?

      MS NAUERT: So some of the security issues with – particular to this investigation I’m not going to be able to address. I’d have to refer you back to the Turkish Government on that and their police forces. We did put out a security alert. As you well know, our embassy had been closed today for consular and visa visits. Tomorrow, our embassy will be fully open. I can refer you back to the security alert, but today our embassy was open but remained closed for the consular and visa services, and I just want to make sure that we thank the Government of Turkey – the police and also the security services – for facilitating this investigation.

      QUESTION: But these are the same police and security services that detained your consulate staff?

      MS NAUERT: Yes, I suppose so. I suppose so, but you know what? If it helps thwart something that could have happened, we would certainly thank them for that.

      QUESTION: Okay, but you’re not giving them a clean bill of health for everything, are you?

      MS NAUERT: Matt, I mean – really, do you have to parse everything? Something positive happened --

      QUESTION: Yes.

      MS NAUERT: -- in our relationship where they provided assistance to a NATO ally.

      QUESTION: Okay.

      MS NAUERT: What would be – have been a concern and they addressed a legitimate security issue. There is – we are fully in right to be able to thank the Turkish officials for having done a job well done.

      Hi, how are you?

      QUESTION: Good, thank you. One question on Turkey and Afrin. Today, Turkish president once more stated that Turkey or Turkish-led forces are going to – very soon will get in Afrin center. We know – we are aware that American forces are not operating in Afrin, but do you have any position with regards to Turkish forces planning to take over the city center in Afrin in upcoming days?

      MS NAUERT: Sure. We have real concerns about that because of an escalation of violence. We have called for however long this has been going on – a month or so – for a de-escalation of violence. The more that we would see Turkish forces enter into Syria proper, deeper into Syria, the more that it stands to create a potential humanitarian crisis. We’ve also seen the reports of the Turks needing to set up IDP camps as a result of people possibly having to leave their homes. So I think this further underscores the importance of the UN Security Council resolution that calls for a nationwide ceasefire. Having a nationwide ceasefire would certainly help to stabilize the situation.

      There’s another issue here, and that is the fight of – against ISIS, the entire reason why the United States is operating in Syria at all. And we would like to see the focus stay on the fight against ISIS, but as has been reported and as I’ve spoken about and others in the administration have as well, there’s a concern about some of the forces that the United States and coalition partners are working with not being solely focused on the fight against ISIS because, for familiar reasons and other reasons, they’re being – heading over to the Afrin area.

      Laurie, do you have something more on that?

      QUESTION: Yeah, follow-up on that. Do you have any idea about how many of the SDF forces have gone to Afrin?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to be able to characterize that, but we have long said that that wouldn’t be helpful and that we want the focus to stay on the fight against ISIS.

      QUESTION: And the SDF said today that it was withdrawing 1,700 of its men to go to Afrin. Do you have a comment on that?

      MS NAUERT: I’ve seen that number. We would encourage everybody to stay focused on the fight against ISIS. Okay. But I do want to add that we also understand that Turkey, a NATO ally, has some legitimate security concerns, but we want the overall de-escalation of violence, whether it’s in Afrin or whether it’s in Eastern Ghouta.

      Okay, something on --

      QUESTION: Yes, regarding the Cuban diplomat, Fernandez de Cossio, he said just recently that the decision to lower the number – or keep it permanent, the number of employees at the embassy in Havana – is really a political decision. How does the State Department view this case?

      MS NAUERT: Sure. I addressed that in a on-the-record comment not long after the Cubans said that. I wish that the Cuban Government would remember why the United States and why Secretary Tillerson made that decision to go to ordered departure, and now our State Department employees are no longer able to bring their family members to Cuba because of the health concerns.

      So I’d like to remind Cuba the entire reason why we went to that, because we could not ensure the safety and health of U.S. diplomats who are working in Cuba. So that remains a concern of ours. We still have an investigation that’s underway, so I hope Cuba would focus instead on helping us with the investigation and be less concerned about claiming this is political. This is entirely about the health and the safety and the well-being of Americans.

      Okay. All right. We’re going to have to wrap it up pretty soon. Sir, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: When President Trump’s – Trump meets Latvian President Vejonis next month, are they going to discuss the issue of rising internal tensions in Latvia over the new law which, in effect, eliminates all Russian-language schools and all Russian-language education?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not sure, sir. I know when Secretary Tillerson spoke with his counterpart yesterday, one of the big conversations was talking about the safety of that country and many other countries in the region, reaffirming our position on Article 5 NATO, and also having conversations about Russia’s malign influence in elections around the world.

      QUESTION: But internal --

      MS NAUERT: Yes. I don’t know. I’m not the President of the United States, so I’m not going to get ahead of his conversations, okay?

      QUESTION: No, I know.

      MS NAUERT: All right. I’m going to have to wrap it up.

      QUESTION: Can I ask – I’ve got one more.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah.

      QUESTION: It was suggested by – after the Russians canceled the Shannon-Ryabkov meeting, I guess Deputy Minister Ryabkov suggested that it might be possible for the Secretary and his boss, Foreign Minister Lavrov, to meet while they’re both in Ethiopia at the same time later this week. Is that anything that’s being considered?

      MS NAUERT: We have not received a request for a meeting from the Russian Government to meet with anyone while – with the Secretary, and we have no meetings to announce at this time.

      QUESTION: And is it still true that the U.S. has no plans to meet or hear out this Russian woman that’s detained in Thailand?

      MS NAUERT: So let me – I have a little bit of information on this for you but not a whole lot. She is not an American citizen. We’re certainly aware of her arrest. The Russian authorities may have more information on her case. Certainly, the Thai or Thai law enforcement may have additional information, but we’re limited in terms of what we have.

      QUESTION: Well, I’m just interested to know if U.S. embassy people are – have any plans to talk to her.

      MS NAUERT: Not that I am aware of. Look, we support and assist American citizens. She is not an American citizen.

      QUESTION: No, but she has offered information – what she says is information about alleged Russian activity during the 2016 election as – I realize that you’re not Special Counsel Mueller, but is – but you just talked about – with the Baltics talked about combating Russian – alleged Russian interference. So I’m just wondering, I mean, is the administration interested in at least – in hearing her out, or do you give no credence to her story at all?

      MS NAUERT: Look, I don’t know. This sounds like a pretty bizarre story. The woman has been detained there. I’m sure if there is anything of great interest that we need to be aware of that our Thai officials would inform us of that. Okay?

      QUESTION: Speaking of Russian influence, there has been murder in Salisbury, in – an alleged murder, a mysterious poisoning of a Russian double agent who was transferred to the UK as part of a spy swap with 10 sleeper agents that was – that were caught here. He’s been poisoned similar to the Litvinenko case when the, obviously, polonium was used to murder a Russian defector on UK soil. Has the U.S. got any reaction to it yet? The Brits have said they will take strong action, whatever they can do, if it’s confirmed to Russian --

      MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, yeah. We’ve certainly seen Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s comments on this. We’re listening to that. We’re aware of the report, and I just have to refer you to the Brits on that.

      QUESTION: And as part of the spy swap, three agents that had been working for the Americans allegedly were brought back here. Are you looking after them?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I don’t have any information to provide you.

      Okay. Thanks, everybody.

      QUESTION: Just on this possible Lavrov thing, is it – you’re not – are you open to such a meeting if it --

      MS NAUERT: Look, we have – our relationship with Russia is not at a point where it looks like it is going to be normalized anytime soon. I can tell you we have not received an invitation or a call or anything to meet with the Russians while the Secretary is on his trip in Africa, and I’ll leave it at that. Thanks.

      QUESTION: Thank you.

      (The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)

      Tue, 06 Mar 2018 18:24:22 EDT