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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – July 25, 2017

Heather Nauert


Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

July 25, 2017

Index for Today’s Briefing

  • IRAN


    2:30 p.m. EDT

    MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you? Hi, Said. Good to see you. One second.

    Okay, good to be back with you. Happy Tuesday. Hope you’re all having a great day.

    QUESTION: It’s like 20 degrees in here. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: Usually it’s a little high. It’s under the lights it gets hot, so it feels nice to have it a little cooler.

    QUESTION: Brisk.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I want to start out by telling you sort of a theme week that the administration is having, and they’re calling it “American Heroes Week.” And so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk with you a little bit about the terrific work that so many of our colleagues are doing here at the State Department, and also USAID. So bear with me here; it’s a little lengthy.

    American Heroes Week – the administration is bringing attention to the work that so many Americans are doing to help others around the world. In my time at the State Department, I’ve been impressed by the hard work and the service of Foreign Service officers and civil servants at the State Department and also USAID, and I want to highlight some of that work for you.

    Around the world, the Department of State and USAID are leading efforts to fight disease, feed the hungry, and reduce instability, all of which makes us safer here at home. America’s proactive and decisive leadership is saving lives by mitigating public health crises such as the spread of Ebola and Zika viruses, and staving off famine as the world faces the worst food security crisis since World War II.

    When I was a reporter, I saw firsthand the dedication of USAID staffers and its pride that they felt when I visited Sudan in 2004. I remember the pride that I felt when I first saw the slogan “From the American People” stamped on a bag of wheat that was distributed in South Sudan and also Darfur.

    The United States also remember – remains a leader in global health, working daily to drive advances in the prevention, the care, and the treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculous, and malaria, while saving millions of preventable diseases like cholera and polio. In the last 15 years, our government-funded interventions have contributed to a 45 percent decrease in maternal deaths and a 51 percent decrease in deaths of children under five.

    We also support U.S. citizens abroad. In the past eight months, we’ve provided emergency assistance to or helped coordinate travel to safe locations for U.S. citizens who are in South Sudan, in Russia, in Belgium, Peru, New Zealand, and other places in the wake of natural disasters or civil unrest. In 2016, we assisted 5,461 international adoptions – I know how happy those families are to have those little babies – and we enrolled 3,821 children in a program that’s aimed at preventing international parental child abduction.

    We support the security of U.S. borders while also facilitating legitimate travel. In fiscal 2016, we issued non-immigrant visas to more than 10 million foreign nationals to study, visit, and do business in the United States. International visitors contribute more than $240 billion to the U.S. economy, supporting more than 1 million U.S. jobs.

    As many people will note during the summer travel season, we help Americans see the world. Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017, we’ve issued 15.6 million passports for U.S. citizens and nationals in order to travel abroad. If a storm could disrupt your vacation plans or if you get sick from drinking the water or anything else, we alert you to our Travel Warnings, the alerts, and country-specific information. That is always a good reminder that regardless of wherever you’re traveling, go to our State Department website and let us know where you will be. In the case of an emergency, we’ll be able to reach you, and you can reach us.

    Lifesaving and tireless work of our diplomats and aid workers embodies America’s dedication to creating a safer and more prosperous world. Our assistance abroad is a testament to the generosity and the goodwill of the American people, and I’d like to thank my colleagues here at the State Department for doing such incredible work around the world.

    And with that, I will gladly take your questions.

    QUESTION: Thanks. Can I just ask, though, this American Heroes Week and the sentiments that you just expressed —

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, yeah.

    QUESTION: — are an administration-wide – this is an administration-held sentiment?

    MS NAUERT: That is correct.

    QUESTION: So if the State Department and its employees do so much good work, why does the administration want to slash the budget by a third and cut thousands of jobs?

    MS NAUERT: The administration believes that it has to do more with less, and that is part of it. We’re striving to become more efficient. Part of that is taking a look at the reorganization. But when all of this is said and done, we will still remain the largest and most generous leader in humanitarian response around the world, and that will not change.

    QUESTION: Okay. I guess if you say so. The – I think that there are probably people in this building and elsewhere who disagree with you. But anyway, let’s move on to —

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think everybody can agree we will still remain —

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: — the most generous donor of any country around the world.

    QUESTION: Can I ask you just a – very briefly two things about the Secretary?

    MS NAUERT: Of course, yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: One, is it – is it true or false that he’s thinking about resigning or leaving the administration early?

    MS NAUERT: That is false.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: We have spoken with the Secretary. The Secretary has been very clear he intends to stay here at the State Department. We have a lot of work that is left to be done ahead of us. He recognizes that. He’s deeply engaged in that work. We have meetings scheduled. He has meetings scheduled for the rest of the week here in Washington. He does, however, serve at the pleasure of the President, just as any cabinet official would.

    QUESTION: Okay. And so that means you spoke to him today? Because this seems to be gaining new life every hour.

    MS NAUERT: Well – well, I know everyone loves —

    QUESTION: So have – was it recent that —

    MS NAUERT: Everyone loves to report on palace intrigue stories. The Secretary is committed to staying, and I’ll leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Right. But you talked to him today? Because —

    MS NAUERT: I have not seen him today. The Secretary is out for travel for a few days.

    QUESTION: Yeah. No, no, I understand that. But I’m just wondering, that leads into my second question, which is, if you did speak to him today or someone did, did he have any thoughts about the speech that the President made to the Boy Scouts last – yesterday?

    MS NAUERT: So the Secretary, as you well know, was very involved in the Boy Scouts, and he was out there on Friday speaking to the group. The Secretary is aware of the President’s comments. I think when all is said and done, those Boy Scouts, what they will remember from the Jamboree in West Virginia is that the President showed up, and that’s a pretty incredible thing that the President went there. Other presidents have as well, but for the President to show up, that’s a big honor for these young boys. And if anyone has any questions or concerns about the President’s remarks, I would leave it for the parents to characterize those remarks, not me from the State Department.

    QUESTION: No, I’m not asking you to characterize them at all.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But the Secretary didn’t have an issue, a problem with it, given his – given his past experience with the Boy Scouts?

    MS NAUERT: My understanding is that the Secretary had invited the President out himself personally —

    QUESTION: To the Jamboree?

    MS NAUERT: To the Jamboree.

    QUESTION: Knowing that he wasn’t going to be there? That the Secretary wasn’t going —

    MS NAUERT: I don’t see that as being an issue.

    QUESTION: No, no, no, no, I’m just curious.

    MS NAUERT: I mean, the Secretary went when he was able to go, and the President went when he was able to go.

    QUESTION: Okay. But he —

    MS NAUERT: And that’s – I think that’s the takeaway.

    QUESTION: But he did not – the Secretary did not express any opinion one way or another on the – what the President said?

    MS NAUERT: No.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Could I just follow up on —

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on that issue?

    QUESTION: — on the Secretary?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, before we go to Israel-Palestinian stuff, let’s clear this —

    QUESTION: No, no. On the Secretary. I want to ask you about the Secretary.

    MS NAUERT: You have a question about this?

    QUESTION: Of course.

    MS NAUERT: All right, Said. Let’s go.

    QUESTION: Well, according to —

    QUESTION: He’s a man of many interests.

    QUESTION: I mean, it’s related.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: I ask about everything. So it is related. According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the Zionist Organization of America called on the Secretary to resign because of the Human Rights report, because there is a passage in the report —

    QUESTION: Terrorism report.

    QUESTION: On the – I’m sorry. The terrorism report. Thank you, Matt. On the terrorism report of last week, because they say there is a passage where the Secretary was – or the report says that exacerbating the situation in the past, that the Palestinians have no hope, that there is increased of settlements, and so on. And in fact, they called the report that – they quote, “bigoted, biased, anti-Semitic, Israel-hating, and error-ridden.” Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So what you’re referring to is the counter terror report that the State Department puts out.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: This is something that State Department puts out every year —

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MS NAUERT: — as mandated by Congress, and then that gets delivered to Congress.

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MS NAUERT: So in that report we consistently highlight terror attacks perpetuated against Israelis – and I’m just talking about the Israel portion – because this is a worldwide report. Those terror attacks that are perpetuated against Israelis by Hamas and others. There is no justification – and we will say that time and time again – there is no justification for any acts of terrorism. The Secretary of State is staying here, he will remain here, and that will not change.

    QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t really have a comment on an organization calling for his resignation?

    MS NAUERT: I – look, there are —

    QUESTION: Has he been —

    MS NAUERT: There are —

    QUESTION: Has he been made aware of this?

    MS NAUERT: There are organizations around the world who will take issue with certain things that the State Department does.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: And so I’m not going to get into commenting or characterizing every single one of them.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Can I get back to the beginning? How are you? It’s Michele.

    MS NAUERT: Hi. How are you? Nice to see you, Michele.

    QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the reform plan, since you’ve said he’s – he’s here to work on the reform plans? There’s been a lot of rumors out there from moving consular services to DHS to closing the war crimes office —

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, let me stop you right there.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Because Consular Affairs, which is a huge part of what we do here – as you know, they help adjudicate visas. It’s an important part of the work, and that’s one of the things that the Secretary has said, that he believes the State Department is the rightful home for Consular Affairs. There’s been some inaccurate reporting on that, that it would move to the Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary intends to have it stay here.

    QUESTION: Okay. Are there other – there’s a lot of rumors out there around a lot of different offices.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. No, no, and that’s why I want to correct them.

    QUESTION: Can you give us —

    MS NAUERT: So let me just say, in any case when you have questions about a story, you don’t need to go ahead and just report it without check – and I’m not speaking to you personally. Just as a general matter, please feel free to email us, to call us, so that we can try to set the record straight and make sure that you have the most accurate and up-to-date information. I’m seeing too many stories out there these days that are inconsistent with that, but go right ahead.

    QUESTION: And can you give us – so can you give us an update on when he expects to have this reorg done and some timing of that and how many jobs or offices he’s expecting to close down? Is there any —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So overall, the reorganization is – the redesign – reorganization, redesign, whatever you want to call it – is underway. We’re looking at a lot of different departments. There are a lot of functions that are handled here at the State Department. My understanding is that September 15th, I believe it is – correct me if I’m wrong, guys – September 15th we have to provide a report to the Office of Management and Budget. And there will be some information that will be submitted to them. And again, jump in if I’m wrong here, because we haven’t talked about this in a few days. But that is something that OMB will then have an opportunity to take a look at.

    There are steering committees that have been put together here at the State Department that head up five different components or five different areas. Let me try to find what exactly each one is for you. Okay. So they’re working groups, actually. Overseas operations is one; foreign assistance operations is number two; human capital planning is another; IT platforms; and also administrative services. So we have asked our employees, not just here in Washington but around the world, to take part in that. We’ve put together some working groups. People can provide us information and we’ll figure out best practices and how we should change things to alter the State Department, to keep it in line with the 21st century.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on that, Michele?

    QUESTION: That’s okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Sure.

    QUESTION: So my understanding is that there are about a dozen people working in each of those working groups. So is it their full time job now to be working on the restructure of the State Department? And if so, who’s filling their daily – what they were doing daily before that?

    MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you on that. I don't believe that that is the case. I believe that they are also involved in their existing projects as well. But let me get back to you, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on our redesign here?

    QUESTION: On Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on redesign?

    QUESTION: Russia?

    QUESTION: Slightly – slightly related to the Secretary —

    MS NAUERT: Just hold on. Just raise your hand if you have anything else on the redesign. We’ll move on.

    QUESTION: — to Matt’s questions about the Secretary though?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: You said he was traveling today.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: His public schedule said no available appointments today. It said the same thing yesterday. Last Thursday, it listed nothing, and we know he was on Capitol Hill briefing the House. He was at the Pentagon with the President. Can you say why we’re not being told where he is?

    MS NAUERT: Well, he does have the ability to go away for a few days on his own.

    QUESTION: So he’s just on vacation right now?

    MS NAUERT: Just taking a little time off. He’s got a lot of work. He just came back from that mega-trip overseas, as you all well know. Many of you were there with the G-20 and his other travel as well. So he’s entitled to take a few days himself.

    QUESTION: Of course. I don't think anyone is arguing against that. But why not just say he’s on vacation then?

    MS NAUERT: I don't know what is standard for secretaries of state, how they actually list private days. I can check to see what the prior arrangements were. Matt Lee probably knows, as our State Department historian. But that I’m not aware of.

    QUESTION: That’s pretty standard.

    MS NAUERT: That’s pretty standard? Okay.

    QUESTION: But a public event like on Friday, as we’ve discussed, is not.

    MS NAUERT: Understood. Understood. Okay.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s move on there. Hi, there.

    QUESTION: Hi, Heather. So Secretary Tillerson said of the Senate bill that he had concerns about limiting his flexibility, the Russia sanctions bill.

    MS NAUERT: You’re talking about Russia sanctions?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: The administration has kind of signaled that it’s supportive, I guess, of the House version. What is the Secretary’s position on the House bill?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’ll say this again, and I’m sorry to disappoint you with something I’ve said many times.

    QUESTION: Right, but he has commented on the Senate.

    MS NAUERT: Pending legislation – and so that would be considered pending legislation. It’s something that has not – that is still in draft form, is my understanding. So I’m not going to get ahead of that and I’m also not going to comment on any pending legislation. But the Secretary, I think, has been firm about sanctions on Russia. We’ve talked a lot here about the issues facing Ukraine, how we expect and we intend, fully intend, those sanctions to remain in place until Russia stops the provocative actions that caused those sanctions to be placed in the first place in Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Do his comments about the Senate bill that he made a month ago still stand?

    MS NAUERT: I think that’s for the Secretary to speak to himself. I don't want to get ahead of the Secretary on that. I know he has remained concerned; he has followed the situation in Ukraine very closely and feels that Russia needs to do a lot more before we’re going to – if we were to ever change something related to that.

    QUESTION: And then just very quickly on Russia saying yesterday or earlier today that it – almost telegraphing that it wants to get involved in the GCC issue. Is it something the U.S. welcomes?

    MS NAUERT: I think – first what I would say about GCC is that we hope that all the sides will get together and have a meeting and sit down face-to-face. We’re still waiting for that to happen, and think that that could help advance the prospects for a resolution. That has not happened yet. We hope that that will happen sometime soon. If Russia can play a role – and by the way, Kuwait is still the technical mediator of sorts holding that – if Russia can play a role in helping to bring the sides to the table, I think we would welcome that. We might be skeptical of whether they’d be able to do that or not, but we would certainly welcome that if anyone were – be able to help bring those sides together.

    QUESTION: On the Secretary —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: — there has been reports that the President has taken the Secretary out of the Iran deal certification process. Do you have any comment on those reports?

    MS NAUERT: We have been incredibly, as you all know —

    QUESTION: Right, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: — very, very involved throughout —

    QUESTION: I understand.

    MS NAUERT: — that entire process.

    QUESTION: It has been a State Department thing, but now, it seems that —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. And that has not changed.

    QUESTION: — the President wants to change policy —

    MS NAUERT: Well, this has —

    QUESTION: — and he —

    MS NAUERT: This has not changed.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: The State Department will remain just as involved as it always has in the Iran situation.

    QUESTION: Right. So do you expect that in three months, the Secretary of State will either certify or not certify —

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going —

    QUESTION: — that the Iranians are doing —

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of what may happen over the next three months. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: But what if we just —

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Michele.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: I mean, I think his question kind of went back to what we had been asking before about the Secretary’s role vis-a-vis the White House. Is he happy with the amount of freedom he has to make the decisions that he wants to make at this point?

    MS NAUERT: So I would say that this is a deliberative process. The Secretary, as do all other Cabinet officials, meets with the President and the President’s National Security advisors and Cabinet members. That is something that’s normal, that’s customary. They sit down; they have a healthy dialogue and conversations about the heaviest and the weightiest foreign policy issues. Sometimes, people may – and I’m not saying this as it pertains to Iran, but in general – they may agree, they may not agree on different situations. And that is what’s healthy in a democracy, to have those conversations. Ultimately, the President is in charge of this country. He decides. He’s the boss. And I’ll just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Okay. And since we’re on Russia, if you don’t mind, in talking about sanctions you always – or I would say you generally specify that the Secretary is committed to these sanctions over Ukraine.

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

    QUESTION: What about his stance on the penalties on Russia over meddling in the U.S. election?

    MS NAUERT: To my knowledge, nothing has changed on that, in terms of that. I think the Secretary has been clear in his position that Russia meddled in the election. I know you’ve asked me a lot about that particular issue, and we continue to have concerns about it.

    So anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: But one of those —

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: Yeah. One of those penalties is the —

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: — is – was the seizure of the two compounds —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: — and that is up for negotiation with the Russians to actually return them.

    MS NAUERT: Well, that actually would not be considered a sanction.

    QUESTION: Well, I said penalties.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, okay. So regarding the dachas – and everyone is so obsessed with the dachas – but regarding that, those conversations are ongoing. As you know, Mr. Shannon here – Tom Shannon – has been engaged in conversations with his counterpart. No decisions have been made on that whatsoever. And so I can’t get ahead of what’s going to happen, but we do know that they were involved in some nefarious activities here in the United States. And we had the right and the ability to – Russia still owns them, by the way; I want to be clear about that – but we had the ability to have people leave from that facility and contain those facilities because of activities that were taking place there.

    QUESTION: You know who is the most obsessed about the dachas?

    MS NAUERT: Who?

    QUESTION: The Russians.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, of course they are. I mean, when you talk to the Russians —

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MS NAUERT: — and they have conversations, you —

    QUESTION: But it’s not us.

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. Yeah, well that —

    QUESTION: Not us who are obsessed about it.

    MS NAUERT: You’re – that is a fair point, Matt. But when you talk to the Russians about things like civilian deaths in Syria, it seems that they often want to talk about dachas more.

    Okay. Anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan? Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: The Ukraine?

    QUESTION: One on Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Hold on, Nazira. Let me come back to you. The Ukraine. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So —

    MS NAUERT: How you doing, Josh?

    QUESTION: Good. How are you? So Ambassador Volker was in eastern Ukraine on his first trip to that region. He gave some interviews to international media while he was there. Do you have any details on what was accomplished during his visit and any kind of timeframe for a decision on whether to provide lethal weaponry to the rivals there?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, okay. So regarding the dachas – and everyone is so obsessed with the dachas – but regarding that, those conversations are ongoing. As you know, Mr. Shannon here – Tom Shannon – has been engaged in conversations with his counterpart. No decisions have been made on that whatsoever. And so I can’t get ahead of what’s going to happen, but we do know that they were involved in some nefarious activities here in the United States. And we had the right and the ability to – Russia still owns them, by the way; I want to be clear about that – but we had the ability to have people leave from that facility and contain those facilities because of activities that were taking place there.

    QUESTION: You know who is the most obsessed about the dachas?

    MS NAUERT: Who?

    QUESTION: The Russians.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, of course they are. I mean, when you talk to the Russians —

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MS NAUERT: — and they have conversations, you —

    QUESTION: But it’s not us.

    MS NAUERT: No, no, no. Yeah, well that —

    QUESTION: Not us who are obsessed about it.

    MS NAUERT: You’re – that is a fair point, Matt. But when you talk to the Russians about things like civilian deaths in Syria, it seems that they often want to talk about dachas more.

    Okay. Anything else on Russia?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan? Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: The Ukraine?

    QUESTION: One on Russia.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Hold on, Nazira. Let me come back to you. The Ukraine. Hi.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So —

    MS NAUERT: How you doing, Josh?

    QUESTION: Good. How are you? So Ambassador Volker was in eastern Ukraine on his first trip to that region. He gave some interviews to international media while he was there. Do you have any details on what was accomplished during his visit and any kind of timeframe for a decision on whether to provide lethal weaponry to the rivals there?

    MS NAUERT: So Special Representative Volker – I’m not sure where he is at this hour, right now, but – spent time in the eastern part of Ukraine. As many of you know, that’s considered a fairly dangerous area. We’ve seen a real uptick in violence recently. Thirteen or more Ukrainian soldiers have been killed as a result of that Russian-led attacks on those soldiers.

    One of the things that our special representative did, he went out with the OSCE monitors. They are the people on the ground who are monitoring the situation. We have continued to have very serious concerns. We have talked about this from the podium about the monitors’ ability to do their jobs. They are the eyes and ears on the ground to be able to assess and give us good reporting about the situation there.

    So he went out with the OSCE monitors to see, unfortunately, just how dangerous their job is right now. I know that’s one of the things that he was doing. He wanted to start to get the ground truth. His job will be trying to bring the parties from the Normandy format back to trying to negotiate something so that we could get closer to adhering to the Minsk accords. I don’t have any readouts for particular meetings with you, but when Mr. Volker comes back, I’ll see if I can get him back in here to give you all a good – a better debrief.

    QUESTION: And on the arms for Ukraine?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So there was a BBC report headline. Sometimes the headline writers – you all would know this – will get ahead of the story. So there was a headline that implied that we were in the process of doing what you just described. We are not there yet. Let me take out the word “yet.” We are not there. The United States has not provided defensive weapons nor have we ruled it out to provide to the Ukrainians.

    Okay. All right. Anything else on Ukraine?

    QUESTION: On Russia?

    QUESTION: On Russia?

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s talk Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: As we are approaching the end of July, do you have any update on the policy review? Why is it delayed?

    MS NAUERT: This is something – gosh, we’ve been in Afghanistan for 16 years now. It’s something that I know the administration cares deeply about. I know General McMaster, General Mattis, and others care deeply about this matter. It is a complicated situation in Afghanistan. The policy review is still underway. It will be underway until they make a determination for the best way forward.

    There are other reviews we’ve talked about that are still underway as well, including Pakistan and others, and so I don’t want to get ahead of that. I’m not going to say when this is going to happen. It could happen soon, but it may take longer as well.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan —

    QUESTION: What tools does the Secretary envision to turn around the conflict in Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think one of the things that the Secretary feels very strongly about is trying to develop – get to a place where we can have some sort of a peace process. And that means actually sitting down and talking with members of the Taliban and starting to facilitate that kind of dialogue.

    Ultimately, like in many situations in many other countries, military options or our military strategy is not necessarily going to win those countries and put peace back together. It’s part of it. It’s part of it. But in the long run, you have to bring both sides to the table or multiple sides to the table together to determine their future.

    QUESTION: So am I reading correctly he’s not pro the military option?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not – I mean, that’s a piece of it. Of course, the military option is a piece of it. But the Secretary of State is not going to advocate or is not going to work on General – on Mr. McMaster’s behalf or on General Mattis’s behalf. That is their piece of it to decide at the Department of Defense and as the National Security Advisor. Our piece of it to work on is more from the diplomacy standpoint and humanitarian assistance.

    QUESTION: And a follow-up on —

    MS NAUERT: Okay?

    QUESTION: On the Korean Peninsula —

    MS NAUERT: Hi, Nazira. Hi, nice to see you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: She’s our Afghan journalist. So welcome back.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much. Nazira Azim Karimi. Now I’m working as a independent journalist.

    You might know about yesterday’s – yesterday big attack in Afghanistan, so many people has been killed and injured, and Taliban took the responsibility. On the other side, Defense Secretary General Mattis also not satisfied about Pakistan pressure toward the Haqqani Network and Taliban. And also, Pentagon spokesman said that $50 million will not deliver to Pakistan; Pakistan supposed to bring more pressure to Taliban and Haqqani Network.

    Do you have any comment about it?

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Well, first, let me start out by talking about the attack in Kabul —

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: — July 24th, took place yesterday, that killed at least 35 people and wounded many, many more. We want to send our condolences to the family of – the families of those who were killed and also those who were injured. Afghanistan is a good friend of the United States. That is something – you all have experienced some terrible, terrible terror attacks in your country, and our hearts go out to you and your people. I know your family has been affected by this as well —

    QUESTION: Sure.

    MS NAUERT: — and that is something we care deeply about.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: The latest attack targeted civilians and public servants. My understanding is that one of our guards, a local Afghan, was killed in the blast as well, so our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family. We’re aware that members of the Taliban have claimed responsibility. We know that the Taliban has become more dangerous and more deadly and has been involved in the kinds of attacks that perhaps previously they have not been involved with, and that remains a major concern of ours.

    QUESTION: So you’re optimistic about peace process with the Taliban, although they show every day negative —

    MS NAUERT: I think it’s premature to say that, but when we can get to the point where we might be able to help facilitate along with Afghanistan to get people to sit down and talk together, then that would certainly be a step in the right direction. Until then, we will continue to support our Afghan partners.

    QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Hi. How are you?

    QUESTION: Israel-Palestine regarding the —

    MS NAUERT: Sure. Okay. Wait, you have one on Afghanistan?

    QUESTION: Yeah. What do you say to critics who say you don’t have enough people working in the State Department to even pursue a peace process?

    MS NAUERT: So we – we have a wonderful lady, Ambassador Alice Wells, who has come over to lead for the time being. And I think a fault of ours here from this podium is that we’ve not done enough to talk about the people we’ve put in place to do the good work. And some of that has kind of gotten pushed by the sidelines because we’ve had so much going on with the DPRK and Russia and all of that. Alice Wells – we were thrilled to have her come back here at the State Department. She had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Jordan and numerous other places. So she has remained very engaged in the process. She’s a terrific leader. We’re looking forward to having her a part of that. She has taken on for – at least for the time being the duties of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    And so these issues – these will still be addressed. We still have a team of people. I met with three or four of our Afghan-related people today to talk about some of the policy issues, and so they’re engaged and they’re working hard at it. It’s something they care passionately about. It’s something I know they’re very invested in, so that has not gone away. That won’t go away.

    QUESTION: Even —

    QUESTION: So the office – the office is still there and has not been disbanded? And if it hasn’t been, why would the previous holder of that job do a on-the-record interview with – and say that the entire office has been closed down?

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, we believe in free speech. You’re referring to Laurel Miller. I’ve met with Laurel and she did some fantastic work here. She’s entitled to go out and talk to reporters about her time and concerns and all that —

    QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re saying that what she said was flat-out wrong.

    MS NAUERT: Well, no. We have Alice Wells, who’s in position. She’s in the position to handle the SRAP duties for now and for handling that bureau.

    QUESTION: If I walk downstairs to the —

    MS NAUERT: I haven’t walked down there lately. I don’t know what the status is of that office.

    QUESTION: — and knock on the door, will someone answer?

    MS NAUERT: Here is what is important, and I know people are obsessed with —

    QUESTION: Or are there movers in there?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. I know people are obsessed with, “Are you shutting down this bureau? Are you shutting down that bureau? Are you shutting down the global office of whatever, whatever?” All of those functions will still remain here at the State Department. That is not changing. A different person may handle it. In some instances, it may get combined with an existing bureau. That doesn’t mean that the priority goes away and that doesn’t mean that the functions of that job or its duties will go away. I want to be very clear about that. There’s been a lot of reporting on that. Those functions will still remain here at the State Department, okay, and that’s all I’m going to have for you on that. Okay.

    QUESTION: Will the – those who’ve been the staff work for the ambassador now?

    QUESTION: Given the fact —

    QUESTION: Does Laurel’s staff now work for the ambassador? Is the staff still there?

    MS NAUERT: I – let me get back to you on that. I know maybe there have been a couple departures, but for the most part, the people I see every day handling Afghanistan and Pakistan and India issues are all the same.

    QUESTION: Given the fact that Alice Wells is both the acting special rep for the office of Afghanistan SRAP and she’s also acting for the SCA, what is the – in the future, will the office reporting to SCA bureau?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, what was the last part? In the future —

    QUESTION: Yeah. What is the plan? Would the special – SRAP be reporting to the bureau of SCA?

    MS NAUERT: So my understanding is that she will be working on both issues right now. She’s hard at work. She was here when the Afghan girls arrived to meet them at the airport – just one small example. She remains very passionate and engaged in these issues. Where that title of special representative goes in the long term, I’m not sure just yet. We have 70-some special representatives here at the State Department. Some are congressionally mandated; others are not. But what I can tell you is that every single function of a special representative of this or that, all of those issues will still be addressed. We’re not going to stop caring about Afghanistan, for example, if there’s not a special representative. The functions will still be done. I don’t think I can say that more strongly or more clearly than that.

    QUESTION: Turkey.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: Afghanistan?

    MS NAUERT: Hi, hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s talk about North Korea. Hi.

    QUESTION: Couple more on Afghanistan.

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea – on the North Korean travel ban —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: — and that if you violated the travel prohibition to the North Korea, what are the specific details of penalties?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t want to get ahead of that just yet. Let me get back with you on what the exact penalties will be. The travel ban will go into effect 30 days after it is listed in the Federal Register. We’ve talked a lot here about the dangers of traveling to North Korea. I saw in one major newspaper today where people were talking about, oh, there are neat experiences in North Korea, which makes it sound like it’s a fantastic place to go. Let me use this as an opportunity to remind people: It is not safe for Americans to go to North Korea. Let me remind you, we still have Americans who are being detained in North Korea. We don’t want to see any more people go to North Korea and be detained, and that is why we put that travel ban in place. That travel ban had been under consideration for quite some time.

    Important to note – Matt, I know you had this question earlier – people will be able to apply to go to North Korea. Journalists may be able to apply, for example, some —

    QUESTION: May, or will?

    MS NAUERT: Well, you certainly can. You certainly can.

    QUESTION: So you have —

    MS NAUERT: And it’s adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. You know all of that, so if you have important work to do there that is really necessary – and the work that journalists do is important, to have that on-the-ground, accurate information; we certainly value that – you’ll still be able to apply for that kind of thing.

    QUESTION: So —

    MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you, though, with the specifics on what the penalties would be for Americans to travel there, okay?

    QUESTION: On Pakistan?

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. We’re going to stay in Asia now.

    QUESTION: Yeah, Korea?

    QUESTION: Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: So yeah, I was just – I was curious about the humanitarian classification as well. Like, how many U.S. citizen —

    MS NAUERT: On North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: How many U.S. citizens actually go to North Korea for those kinds of purposes?

    MS NAUERT: I wish we knew that number, but that’s not a kind of government number that – it’s not a number that we would track.

    QUESTION: Not yet. It will be soon.

    MS NAUERT: You think so?

    QUESTION: So you —

    QUESTION: In – once this takes effect, they’re going to have to get special permission, so then you’ll know.

    MS NAUERT: So we don’t keep track of that.

    QUESTION: Okay. And —

    MS NAUERT: And nor do we keep track of the number of Americans who – the government doesn’t keep track of the number of Americans who travel to the UK or Australia or any other place. We just don’t track in that fashion.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay, anything else on Asia?

    QUESTION: Korea?

    MS NAUERT: Asia? (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: Yeah, Korea question.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: But first, I actually want to follow-up from last Thursday. Is there now a statement or is there a statement yet about the Secretary’s relationship to the allegations against ExxonMobil regarding Russia sanctions?

    MS NAUERT: Are there – what’s the first part of your question?

    QUESTION: Has the Secretary had the opportunity to put together a statement regarding his tenure at ExxonMobil during the period where these allegations of sanctions violations took place?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re not in Asia any longer —

    QUESTION: No, but I – my follow-up is about Asia.

    MS NAUERT: Your follow-up is Asia, okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: So I think I was clear on Thursday, and I’m not going to have a ton for you on this.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: Treasury and its Office of Foreign Assets Control was clear, I think, in their – in laying out their case. The Secretary went through great effort to not only resign from his company, retire from his company, but also recuse himself from anything related to ExxonMobil. So the Secretary has firmly remained – taken – continued to have that position. He’s not going to weigh in on all of that. You could talk to Exxon or you could talk to Treasury if you want more information.

    QUESTION: Sure. And that makes sense with regards to the Russia sanctions, but —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: — my question regarding North Korea: Does it at all undermine the department’s ability to urge China to adhere to DPRK sanctions when it’s still not clear about the Secretary’s involvement in sanctions violations during his tenure at Exxon?

    MS NAUERT: Not at all. I mean, look, China and countries all around the world recognize the threat of North Korea. They recognize a threat when they see an ICBM fired on July the 4th, when they see actions from that regime advancing nuclear weapons and testing. So it’s not just in the United States’ interest to try to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula; it’s in the interest of the world. And the world recognizes that. And one good way to try to encourage Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles program is to apply the pressure campaign, and that was one of the top priorities for the administration when Secretary Tillerson came in. And I’ve sat there in the meetings and I’ve listened to him as he’s talked with countries around the world about the importance of that pressure campaign and keeping up that pressure campaign to try to remove the money that is enabling North Korea to keep going with its program.

    QUESTION: Sure, but still, doesn’t – doesn’t that pressure become somewhat undermined if the messenger has a sort of conflict?

    MS NAUERT: Not at all, because this isn’t about the United States. The Secretary remains firmly committed to pressuring countries and remains fully committed to the sanctions. And every country around the world, for the most part, that we’ve spoken to is in agreement with us on that and the dangers of North Korea. And you could talk to any of our allies and they would agree on that.


    QUESTION: Could you get to Anne’s question on —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: — Israel-Palestinians?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: There was a time that that would have led the briefing, but —

    QUESTION: Right.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, Anne. What happened to your question earlier?

    QUESTION: We went to Korea. So —

    MS NAUERT: How did – how did we do that? Okay, okay. Sorry.

    QUESTION: So – well, a couple things: Has the Secretary been directly involved in any of the outreach to any of the parties – Israel, Palestinians, Jordanians? Could you detail any of that for us and then walk us through what Ambassador Friedman is doing? I know he’s been making a lot of calls and moving around.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So Ambassador Freeman and – Friedman, excuse me, and also the President’s Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt have spent a lot of time on this. This is an issue we care deeply about. Mr. Greenblatt is over there right now. On Sunday, and as we watched the tensions escalate over the weekend and the past few days, Mr. Greenblatt jumped on a plane and he went over there. And he has spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he went to Israel, he’s also spending time in Jordan, and he’s working very hard to try to de-escalate the tensions there, and that’s really our priority – talking to both sides to de-escalate those tensions.

    This is something – an initiative, if you will – that is backed by the State Department. The Secretary of State, along with so many of my colleagues here, are involved in this process. When Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Friedman go to meetings, they’re backed by our staff members, and when they return, they debrief us. I met with Mr. Greenblatt about a week or so ago and we talked – this was before some of this had occurred – but we talked about the importance of that, the importance of that rule, and I think there’s very close cooperation between the State Department and the White House on that matter.

    QUESTION: Was there any direct U.S. engagement in helping the Jordanians get to a place where the diplomatic standoff in Amman could be resolved, which was followed pretty quickly by removal of the metal detectors?

    MS NAUERT: Specific to the issue of Amman, I’m not aware if we were involved personally. I think that would be an issue between Jordan and Israel. As it pertains to this situation in Israel itself, that’s something that we have been involved with in trying to de-escalate those tensions, and Mr. Greenblatt was directly involved in that.

    QUESTION: And the Secretary, did he make any of these calls?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I don’t have any calls for you – to read out for you right now, but if I have anything for you on that, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Can you guys – we talked a little about this last week, although I was unable to pry an answer from you.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, okay.

    QUESTION: Maybe I can now —

    MS NAUERT: Okay. I think I know where you’re going.

    QUESTION: — and that has to do with the metal detectors and their replacement.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: So did you guys think that it was a – or do you think that it is a good idea for the Israelis to remove the metal detectors?

    MS NAUERT: I think – and I’m going to repeat this again – anything that serves to de-escalate tensions —

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: — and pave the road for the two sides to come together and have conversations not only about this, but also about the peace process moving forward, we would certainly support that. As you know, we support the maintenance of the status quo at that site and we welcome all sides and their commitment to the status quo.

    QUESTION: Well, right. So the Israelis say that they’re going to take the metal detectors away but replace them with these —

    QUESTION: Cameras.

    QUESTION: — high-tech, high-definition, high-resolution cameras. This is something that I spent hours with your predecessor, because the previous secretary of state got an agreement between the Jordanians and the Israelis for cameras similar to this that never were put in place because the Palestinians objected.

    Do you think that this new arrangement with cameras is a step in the right direction —

    MS NAUERT: Well —

    QUESTION: — and does it change the status quo?

    MS NAUERT: I think that we would leave it to those parties to determine what works for them. Ultimately – and as it goes with the peace process, ultimately, it’s their decision to make. Both parties have to be able to live with it and be able to work with it. We are merely here as a supporter, a facilitator of peace, and that’s not going to change, but they have to be able to work together.

    QUESTION: So this isn’t something that you would advocate? You would not – this administration would not say to the Jordanians, the Palestinians, and the Israelis, look, we think that these high-tech cameras are the way to go?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that conversation taking place. What I do know is that tensions seem to be lessening a little bit. We’re pleased with that. It looks like it’s going in the right direction right now. Obviously, a very fragile region, so I don’t want to add to anything there that could potentially heighten concern. We’re happy that Mr. Greenblatt’s there, and let me just leave that at that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Very quickly —

    QUESTION: One last very brief thing —

    MS NAUERT: And then we have to go.

    QUESTION: — on Israel.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And this has to do with – I don’t know if you’re aware of this, I’ve pointed it out earlier, but the – a small group of pro-Palestinian activists were prevented from getting on a flight to Israel in – at Dulles because they said that they were – the airline said that they had a letter from the Israeli Government saying that they would not be admitted to the country. This is under their new law, the Israelis’ new law, which allows them to bar supporters of the BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement – from entering. These people were American citizens. Do you guys have any issue with them being denied the plane ride?

    MS NAUERT: We’re certainly familiar with that report. We’re aware of that. We have a strong opposition to the boycotts and sanctions against Israel. I think we’ve made that position very well known. As a matter of general principle, as many of us know as Americans – I know not everybody here in this room is an American – but we value freedom of expression, and that’s something that is very important to us, even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views of others. But for more information on that, I’d ask you to talk to the Israeli Government about that decision.

    QUESTION: Well, but is this something that you would raise with the Israeli Government as a – to say, hey, look, we have a problem with this or we don’t have a problem with this?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of whether or not we will bring that up with the Israelis. I think our focus right now will be on de-escalating tensions in the Middle East. If this does come up and if it’s something that I can discuss with you, I certainly will.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Can I go —

    QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Friedman.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re going to have to go, guys. I’m really sorry.

    QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Ambassador Friedman.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: Just really quick.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Last one, because —

    QUESTION: Because I know he was active behind the scenes and so on. Was he freelancing or was he coordinating with the Secretary of State?

    MS NAUERT: Freelancing?

    QUESTION: I mean, was he doing it on his own?

    MS NAUERT: There’s no freelancing in – (laughter) —

    QUESTION: Okay. So he was coordinating —

    MS NAUERT: There is no freelancers.

    QUESTION: Was he coordinating all his efforts with the Secretary of State, his boss?

    MS NAUERT: The efforts that the White House is engaged with as it pertains —

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: — to Israel and all of this, we are aware of those efforts. We stay in close contact. I was speaking with Mr. Greenblatt’s colleagues earlier today. My other colleagues have spoken with Mr. Friedman’s folks. So we remain in close contact with all this. There’s no freelancing going on, okay?

    QUESTION: If I could just clarify what you said earlier —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: — you said that the Secretary was taking a little time off.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Was that something that has been planned for a while, or was that time he’s taking off in response to the speculation of his future?

    MS NAUERT: No. I’m glad you asked that question. This is – my understanding is that this was time that he had planned for quite some time. Okay? Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Is the State Department alarmed by these reports out of Mexico, all these allegations that the tourists down there have been drugged or – I mean, there have been these incidents where they’re getting injured or worse, and it seems like it’s either poor quality alcohol or druggings or something. I mean, it’s a mystery. Is that something that you’re alarmed about or watching?

    MS NAUERT: I think – let me get back to you with that in particular. But I know that we are concerned with travelers. We give travelers warnings about places that they might go, and we do that in Mexico as well as other countries. So if I have anything more for you, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)

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Location Is Everything: The Pollutants in Yellowfin Tuna Depend on Where It’s Caught

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  • Published: 25 July 2017

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Related EHP Article

Geographic Differences in Persistent Organic Pollutant Levels of Yellowfin Tuna

Sascha C.T. Nicklisch, Lindsay T. Bonito, Stuart Sandin, and Amro Hamdoun

Fish is a highly nutritious food, but it can also be a dietary source of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).1 In a new study in EHP, researchers investigated the extent to which contaminant levels within a single commercially important fish species varied depending on where the fish was caught.2 Their results suggest that capture location may be an important yet overlooked variable when assessing the risk of exposure to POPs from eating wild fish.

Governmental fish consumption advisories suggest limiting intake of certain fish species to reduce human exposures to POPs.3 These potentially harmful chemicals accumulate in body fat, and larger animals farther up the food chain tend to have higher levels. That is why characteristics, such as a fish’s species, fat content, body size, and trophic level, are used as predictors of pollutant load.4

Photo of a yellowfin tuna on a dock.
A fisherman unloads yellowfin tuna at a market in Semporna, Malaysia. Because these large predators do not migrate widely, their body burdens of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a good indicator of how polluted their home waters might be. © shahreen/Shutterstock.

However, pollutant levels are not uniform across the world’s oceans. Instead, POPs form a patchy distribution. Many of the fish species widely consumed in the United States, such as tuna, are harvested throughout the world’s oceans, says the study’s senior author Amro Hamdoun, a professor of biology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Geographic variation in pollutant levels in ocean waters could therefore affect the safety of fish that people eat.

Researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, led by Sascha Nicklisch, analyzed POPs in the dorsal muscle fillets of 117 wild-caught yellowfin tuna from 12 capture locations in the Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Indian oceans. These commonly eaten fish are found around the world, but they do not travel far,5 making them a likely sentinel of geographic variation in POP levels.2

The authors found that levels of pollutants in tuna varied between sites by a factor of 36. Fish caught in the offshore waters of North America and Europe had pollutant levels that were, on average, more than an order of magnitude higher than fish caught in the waters of Asia and Oceania. The 10 most contaminated fish, which were found in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, had POP levels of 20–29 ng/g wet weight of fish. The 10 least contaminated fish, taken from the Northwest and Southwest Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean, had pollutant levels of 0.2–0.4 ng/g wet weight.2

The researchers also measured specific POPs belonging to a group of chemicals they have dubbed transporter interfering compounds (TICs). In earlier work, they identified TICs as compounds that may interfere with transporter proteins, hampering their ability to eliminate foreign substances from the body.6 In the current study, the researchers found that the concentrations and distribution of TICs reflected those of total POPs. Hamdoun says, “TICs could help explain why certain chemicals are so persistent in body tissue,” although future research is needed to better understand the connection.

To assess the impact of geographic variation on risk-based consumption advice, the researchers calculated monthly meal recommendations based on POP levels in individual fish. Based on their estimates, most of the yellowfin tuna they caught would have been safe to eat in unlimited quantities, says Hamdoun. However, 9 of the 10 fish captured in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean and 5 of the 8 fish caught in the Gulf of Mexico contained POP levels that would trigger health advisories even for people who eat less fish than currently recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA dietary guidelines suggest that people eat 12 ounces of cooked fish per week,7 while the AHA recommends two 3.5-ounce servings of cooked fish each week.8

The new findings expand on earlier studies that pointed out that capture location might be an important factor in the contaminant load in fish. In one study, researchers used skipjack tuna to assess the distribution of POPs, including polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine pesticides in different parts of the Pacific Ocean.9 In another, farm-raised salmon from Europe had higher levels of organochlorine pesticides than those raised in North or South America.10 However, these studies were limited geographically, compared with the current study.

Unlike previous studies of farmed and wild-caught fish, Hamdoun and colleagues did not always find that POP levels correlated with the size or body fat percentage of the fish; in many cases, he says, fatty fish from a clean site were found to have lower levels of POPs than lean fish from a more polluted site. Based on these findings, Hamdoun concludes that lipid content alone is not enough to predict pollutant load when comparing fish from different sites.

According to David Carpenter, a public health physician at State University of New York at Albany who has studied POPs in farmed and wild-caught salmon and Great Lakes fish, these results are unexpected, since POPs accumulate in lipids. Carpenter, who was not involved in the current study, says it is possible that too few fish were captured at each location to suss out statistically significant differences between bigger and smaller fish at each site.

Overall, says Carpenter, the new study adds to mounting evidence that “where a fish comes from is an important factor to consider in determining likely contaminant loads and fish consumption advisories.” Unfortunately, he adds, the new findings are likely to frustrate consumers who seldom receive information about capture location when purchasing seafood at supermarkets and restaurants.

Lindsey Konkel is a New Jersey–based journalist who reports on science, health, and the environment.


1. Schecter A, Haffner D, Colacino J, Patel K, Päpke O, Opel M, et al. 2010. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and hexabromocyclodecane (HBCD) in composite U.S. food samples. Environ Health Perspect 118(3):357–362, PMID: 20064778, 10.1289/ehp.0901345.

2. Nicklisch SCT, Bonito LT, Sandin S, Hamdoun A. 2017. Geographic differences in persistent organic pollutant levels of yellowfin tuna. Environ Health Perspect 125(6):067014, PMID: 28686554, 10.1289/EHP518.

3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2000. Guidance for assessing chemical contaminant data for use in fish advisories. In: Risk Assessment and Fish Consumption Limits, Vol 2. 3rd edition. Washington, DC:Office of Science and Technology, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/volume2.pdf [accessed 21 February 2017].

4. Elskus A, Collier TK, Monosson E. 2005. Interactions between lipids and persistent organic pollutants in fish. In: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Fishes, Vol. 6. Mommsen TP, Moon TW, eds. San Diego, CA:Elsevier, 119–152.

5. Block BA, Jonsen ID, Jorgensen SJ, Winship AJ, Shaffer SA, Bograd SJ, et al. 2011. Tracking apex marine predator movements in a dynamic ocean. Nature 475(7354):86–90, PMID: 21697831, 10.1038/nature10082.

6. Nicklisch SCT, Rees SD, McGrath AP, Gökirmak T, Bonito LT, Vermeer LM, et al. 2016. Global marine pollutants inhibit P-glycoprotein: environmental levels, inhibitory effects, and cocrystal structure. Sci Adv 2(4):e1600001, PMID: 27152359, 10.1126/sciadv.1600001.

7. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020. 8th edition. Washington, DC:U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf [accessed 21 February 2017].

8. American Heart Association. 2016. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Updated 6 October 2016. Dallas:TX:American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.WKxzwBIrLJw [accessed 21 February 2017].

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NSF Research Traineeship program makes 17 new awards

Allyson Ettinger helps lead a session at an NRT-supported workshop.

A National Science Foundation (NSF) program recently awarded 17 projects a total of $51 million to develop and implement bold, new, potentially transformative models for graduate education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program awarded projects in high-priority, interdisciplinary research areas, including six projects in NSF’s Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) research initiative

More at https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=242612&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click

This is an NSF News item.

Laboratory and field based evaluation of chromatography related performance of the Monitor for Aerosols and Gases in Ambient Air (MARGA)

The Monitor for AeRosols and GAses in ambient air (MARGA) is an on-line ion-chromatography-based instrument designed for speciation of the inorganic gas and aerosol ammonium-nitrate-sulfate system. Previous work to characterize the performance of the MARGA has been primarily based on field comparison to other measurement methods to evaluate accuracy. While such studies are useful, the underlying reasons for disagreement among methods are not always clear. This study examines aspects of MARGA accuracy and precision specifically related to automated chromatography analysis. Using laboratory standards, analytical accuracy, precision, and method detection limits derived from the MARGA chromatography software are compared to an alternative software package (Chromeleon, Thermo Scientific Dionex). Field measurements are used to further evaluate instrument performance, including the MARGA’s use of an internal LiBr standard to control accuracy. Using gas/aerosol ratios and aerosol neutralization state as a case study, the impact of chromatography on measurement error is assessed.

Estimating Likelihood of Fetal In Vivo Interactions Using In Vitro HTS Data (Teratology meeting)

Tox21/ToxCast efforts provide in vitro concentration-response data for thousands of compounds. Predicting whether chemical-biological interactions observed in vitro will occur in vivo is challenging. We hypothesize that using a modified model from the FDA guidance for drug interaction studies, Cmax/AC50 (i.e., maximal in vivo blood concentration over the half-maximal in in vitro activity concentration), will give a useful approximation for concentrations where in vivo interactions are likely. Further, for doses where maternal blood concentrations are likely to elicit an interaction (Cmax/AC50>0.1), where do the compounds accumulate in fetal tissues? In order to estimate these doses based on Tox21 data, in silico parameters of chemical fraction unbound in plasma and intrinsic hepatic clearance were estimated from ADMET predictor (Simulations-Plus Inc.) and used in the HTTK R-package to obtain Cmax values from a physiologically-based toxicokinetics model. In silico estimated Cmax values predicted in vivo human Cmax with median absolute error of 0.81 for 93 chemicals, giving confidence in the R-package and in silico estimates. A case example evaluating Cmax/AC50 values for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) and glucocorticoid receptor revealed known compounds (glitazones and corticosteroids, respectively) highest on the list at pharmacological doses. Doses required to elicit likely interactions across all Tox21/ToxCast assays were compared to estimated daily exposures (Wambaugh et. al., 2014). 199 compounds were estimated to have likely interactions across 1-32 assays for the most conservative 95th % population at doses lower than estimated daily environmental exposures. The major chemical use-categories included pharmaceuticals, chemical intermediates and dyes. Maximum fetal tissue accumulation (2nd trimester-birth) ranged from the most to least accumulated tissue: rest of body, gut, kidney, lung, brain, and thyroid. 3,3′,5,5′-Tetrabromobisphenol A and Triphenyltin acetate were among the top affecters across tissues (excluding thyroid) at concentrations disrupting nuclear receptors (PPARγ and retinoid X receptor, respectively). This approach can prioritize compounds and biological pathways quickly when no experimental data exists. Out of domain compounds, passive transport, and later developmental stage are present and need to be evaluated. This approach has shown promise toward estimating in vivo interaction concentrations for HTS data. This abstract does not reflect official NTP or EPA views.

Computational and Organotypic Modeling of Microcephaly (Teratology Society)

Microcephaly is associated with reduced cortical surface area and ventricular dilations. Many genetic and environmental factors precipitate this malformation, including prenatal alcohol exposure and maternal Zika infection. This complexity motivates the engineering of computational and experimental models to probe the underlying molecular targets, cellular consequences, and biological processes. We describe an Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) framework for microcephaly derived from literature on all gene-, chemical-, or viral- effects and brain development. Overlap with NTDs is likely, although the AOP connections identified here focused on microcephaly as the adverse outcome. A query of the Mammalian Phenotype Browser database for ‘microcephaly’ (MP:0000433) returned 85 gene associations; several function in microtubule assembly and centrosome cycle regulated by (microcephalin, MCPH1), a gene for primary microcephaly in humans. The developing ventricular zone is the likely target. In this zone, neuroprogenitor cells (NPCs) self-replicate during the 1st trimester setting brain size, followed by neural differentiation of the neocortex. Recent studies with human NPCs confirmed infectivity with Zika virions invoking critical cell loss (apoptosis) of precursor NPCs; similar findings have been shown with fetal alcohol or methylmercury exposure in rodent studies, leading to mathematical models of NPC dynamics in size determination of the ventricular zone. A key event in this determination is the plane of mitotic divisions oriented by the centriole. NPCs divide symmetrically before switching to asymmetric (neurogenic) divisions by early 2nd trimester, and a premature switching (or excessive apoptosis) results in a critical reduction in precursor population NPC pool size at the onset of neurogenesis. The putative AOP has broad applicability to the pathogenesis of microcephaly induced by genetic or environmental factors. Search of EPA’s ToxRefDB database returned 75 chemicals with relevant, nonsystemic developmental effects on brain development: 40 (51%) invoke reductions in brain size or cellular mass, 39 (52%) invoke dilated ventricles or hydrocephaly, and only 5 (6.3%) invoke both defects. Brain mimicks developed from hNPCs + iPSC-derived endothelia and microglia provide experimental models that can be used to test the key events and their relationships in the proposed AOP for microcephaly in a human system. [This abstract does not reflect US EPA policy].

Watching the Aurora From Orbit

Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA shared photos and time-lapse video of a glowing green aurora seen from his vantage point 250 miles up, aboard the International Space Station. This aurora photo was taken on June 26, 2017.