Category Archives: Defense & International Relations

Topics such as military news, the GI bill, Peace Corps stories, and international relations news.

The Son Also Rises: Jack Hemingway

Feature Story: Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, had a son named Jack. Jack grew up surrounded by some of the most fascinating men and women of the 20th century: artists, poets, musicians, and writers. He was fluent in French, English and Austrian. It was his language skills that would later earn Jack a position with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Peace Corps Announces Top Volunteer-Producing States and Metropolitan Areas in 2017

2017 Top States

Peace Corps Announces Top Volunteer-Producing States and Metropolitan Areas in 2017

WASHINGTON
– The Peace Corps today released its 2017 rankings of the top volunteer-producing
states and metropolitan areas across the country. New York-Northern New
Jersey-Long Island is again the largest metropolitan-area producer of
volunteers, after losing that designation to current No. 2
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria in 2016.

 For
the second straight year, Missoula, Montana, holds the No. 1 spot for top metro
areas per capita, followed by No. 2 Charlottesville, Virginia, which last made
the annual rankings in 2011. Ithaca, New York (No. 3), Fort Collins, Colorado
(No. 5), and Ann Arbor, Michigan (No. 9), also returned to the per capita
metros list in 2017.

 The
District of Columbia became the No. 1 state per capita while California retained
its No. 1 position on the total volunteer-producing states list. Washington
State, Virginia, and Maryland appear in all four ranking categories.

 “Peace
Corps volunteers come from all corners of our nation to create grassroots level
change in our world,” said Peace Corps Chief Executive Officer Sheila Crowley.
“Volunteers share their hometown values and perspectives with the host
communities they serve, an intercultural exchange that leaves a legacy of peace
and friendship. We are deeply grateful to the extraordinary communities in the
U.S. which produce citizens with such a strong sense of purpose.”

The
Peace Corps is unique among service organizations because our volunteers live
and work at the community level. Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining,
hands-on leadership experience that offers volunteers the opportunity to travel
to the farthest corners of the world and make a lasting difference in the lives
of others. Applicants can apply to specific programs by visiting the Peace Corps website and connecting with a
recruiter
.

Below
find the nation’s top 10 volunteer-producing states and metropolitan areas for
2017. View the list of volunteer numbers from all 50 states here.

 2017 Top
States – Per Capita (# of volunteers per 100,000 residents)

1. District
of Columbia – 8.8

2. Vermont–
6.7

3.
Montana – 4.9

4. Oregon
– 4.3

4. Rhode
Island – 4.3

6. Virginia
– 4.2

7.
Maryland – 4.1

7. Washington
– 4.1

9. Maine
– 4.0

10. Colorado
– 3.9

10. Minnesota
– 3.9

 2017 Top
States – Total Volunteers

1.
California – 873

2. New
York – 485

3. Florida
– 355

4. Virginia
– 352

5. Texas
– 327

6.
Illinois – 325

7. Washington
– 300

8. Pennsylvania
– 296

9. Michigan
– 266

10. Maryland
– 250

 2017 Top
Metropolitan Areas – Per Capita (# of volunteers per 100,000 residents)

1.
Missoula, MT – 11.9

2. Charlottesville,
VA – 9.9

3. Ithaca,
NY – 9.8

3. Boulder,
CO – 9.8

5. Fort
Collins-Loveland, CO – 9.7

6. Burlington-South
Burlington, VT – 9.5

7. Olympia,
WA – 7.9

8.
Madison, WI – 7.4

9. Ann
Arbor, MI – 7.3

10. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria,
DC-VA-MD-WV – 7.2

 

2017 Top
Metropolitan Areas – Total Volunteers

1.
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA – 418

2.
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV – 403

3.
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA – 273

4.
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI – 258

5.
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH– 182

6.
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA – 175

7.
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI – 174

8.
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD – 154

9.
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA – 147

10.
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA – 126

 

*Peace
Corps data current as of September 30, 2017. The metropolitan area data used to
determine Peace Corps’ rankings are derived from the most current U.S. Census
Bureau “Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area” data. Volunteers
self-report their home city and state on their Peace Corps application.  

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – December 13, 2017

Heather Nauert

Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

December 13, 2017


Index for Today’s Briefing

  • UKRAINE/RUSSIA
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
  • NORTH KOREA
  • CHINA/NORTH KOREA
  • BURMA
  • IRAN
  • CUBA
  • HONDURAS
  • TURKEY
  • DEPARTMENT/MEXICO
  • IRAQ
  • YEMEN
  • DEPARTMENT
  • VENEZUELA

    TRANSCRIPT:


    3:04 p.m. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Can I —

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

    QUESTION: I’m sure —

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Just kind of a tradition.

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

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

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

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

    QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.

    QUESTION: — a response to that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: All right. Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

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

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

    QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand why —

    MS NAUERT: (Clears throat.) Excuse me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Well, then why —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Well —

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

    QUESTION: I just want —

    QUESTION: I just – I don’t get —

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

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

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Just one quick one on this —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness.

    QUESTION: Okay. Just —

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Well, I understand. Just —

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Look —

    QUESTION: As a show of good faith.

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead, Nick.

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

    QUESTION: Or the weather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

    QUESTION: On North Korea?

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) India?

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

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

    QUESTION: But after —

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: For the first meeting —

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: So he’ll turn down —

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

    MS NAUERT: I know, I know. And —

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

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

    QUESTION: Okay.

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

    QUESTION: But then when —

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

    QUESTION: Okay. But then —

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

    QUESTION: But then – but then – but then —

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

    QUESTION: But then there is —

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

    QUESTION: But then there’s also —

    MS NAUERT: You all asked to hear —

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

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

    QUESTION: Yes.

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

    QUESTION: Why did the Secretary —

    MS NAUERT: Come on, guys.

    QUESTION: We’re not complaining about it.

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

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

    QUESTION: Heather, on North —

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

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) Heather —

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

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: One more.

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

    QUESTION: Heather, on North —

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

    QUESTION: Heather, one more.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) period of calm —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah?

    QUESTION: — how long is a —

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

    QUESTION: Heather, on North Korean Government —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

    MS NAUERT: No. No.

    QUESTION: No?

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

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    QUESTION: Yes.

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

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

    QUESTION: The UN.

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

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: And are they planning to meet?

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

    QUESTION: So —

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

    QUESTION: North Korea and the United States —

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So 60 days has passed since President —

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

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

    QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, wait. Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Yeah.

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

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

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

    QUESTION: That is a real —

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

    QUESTION: That’s a really helpful referral.

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Right.

    QUESTION: Under what circumstances is he talking about —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Never mind then. Sorry.

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

    QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. My fault.

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

    QUESTION: Just one more on —

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Okay.

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

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

    QUESTION: One more North Korea.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on —

    MS NAUERT: We already covered Jerusalem.

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

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

    QUESTION: I have left over one more.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

    QUESTION: Do you have any response to the arrests?

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

    QUESTION: Nicely planting your own questions.

    MS NAUERT: No, it’s not.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) I’m just —

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

    QUESTION: Indeed. It is true.

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

    QUESTION: He’s right there.

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

    QUESTION: He probably would have.

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Yes. On Iran.

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

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

    MS NAUERT: It’s the what?

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Same region?

    MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

    QUESTION: Honduras, please.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

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

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I —

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

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

    QUESTION: She.

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

    QUESTION: Not about the violence or anything?

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

    Hi, sir.

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

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

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

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

    QUESTION: What, we’re (inaudible)?

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

    Okay. Okay. Anything else? Hey, Abbie.

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

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

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Hi, sir.

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

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

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

    Okay, sir.

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

    MS NAUERT: Let me take your first question first —

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: — because everybody here knows if we —

    QUESTION: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Hold on.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

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

    QUESTION: And then there was a second one too?

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

    QUESTION: With appropriations.

    QUESTION: With appropriators.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Correct.

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

    QUESTION: Any update on Josh Holt?

    QUESTION: Because there used to be just specific —

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Okay, I will certainly.

    QUESTION: Any update on Josh Holt —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

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

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

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

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

    Thanks, everybody.

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

    DPB # 71



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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – December 12, 2017

Heather Nauert

Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

December 12, 2017


Index for Today’s Briefing

  • DEPARTMENT/THE GAMBIA
  • YEMEN/REGION
  • AFGHANISTAN/REGION
  • DEPARTMENT/THE GAMBIA
  • DEPARTMENT
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • DEPARTMENT
  • SYRIA/REGION
  • RUSSIA
  • POLAND
  • RUSSIA/DEPARTMENT
  • VENEZUELA
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:


    2:39 p.m. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

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

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: I believe so, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    On the Secretary’s town hall —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

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

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

    QUESTION: Well, that’s – I just —

    MS NAUERT: That’s it? Okay. So —

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

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

    QUESTION: What about resignations?

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

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

    MS NAUERT: I saw one news article about —

    QUESTION: — disappointment.

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

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

    MS NAUERT: She resigned; pardon me.

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I —

    QUESTION: Will you have a mission to UNESCO?

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

    QUESTION: Can we move to China?

    QUESTION: Can we move on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: A couple more.

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

    QUESTION: Absolutely, yeah.

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

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi.

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

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

    QUESTION: Okay.

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this —

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Syria?

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

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

    QUESTION: Syria?

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

    QUESTION: Syria? Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Hey, Arshad.

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

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

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

    MS NAUERT: He being?

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

    MS NAUERT: I see.

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

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

    QUESTION: Was he fired in the intervening time?

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

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Syria? Syria?

    QUESTION: Heather —

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Off the mark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you have any —

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

    QUESTION: Heather?

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

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather? Heather?

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

    MS NAUERT: No, I can’t —

    QUESTION: Or a number of their troops.

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Not done. I understand.

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Hey, John.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Thanks so much.

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

    QUESTION: Sameera Khan.

    MS NAUERT: And you’re from?

    QUESTION: RT.

    MS NAUERT: Uh-huh.

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

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

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) House of Representatives —

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

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

    QUESTION: The only one.

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

    QUESTION: It’s Sputnik.

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

    QUESTION: Right, but —

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

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

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

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi.

    QUESTION: Heather, how do I —

    QUESTION: A couple —

    QUESTION: On this issue —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

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

    MS NAUERT: Well —

    QUESTION: — that you speak for the entire administration —

    MS NAUERT: — I think —

    QUESTION: — in your support for —

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: — free and fair debate.

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

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

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

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, targeted?

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

    MS NAUERT: The FARA Act —

    QUESTION: Right.

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

    Hi, yeah.

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

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

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

    STAFF: (Off-mike.)

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

    STAFF: 3:15.

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

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

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

    MR GREENAN: Employee[i] Professional Associate Program.

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

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

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

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

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

    QUESTION: — a question to take on Honduras?

    MS NAUERT: Yes. Yes.

    QUESTION: The election —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

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

    MS NAUERT: Can I have my colleague here —

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: — Robert take that one?

    QUESTION: Yes.

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

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: — go get the bus.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks.

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


    [i] Expanded Professional Associates Program

    [ii] Expanded Professional Associates Program



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USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Michelle Bekkering on the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and the Launch of New Women’s Empowerment Initiatives


Undefined
Friday, December 8, 2017

 Today it’s my great honor to present Michelle Bekkering from USAID. She’s going to be talking on a very important topic not only to her, but to the Foreign Press Center and to the Department of State. Every single year we have supported the annual campaign, the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, so this is a topic that’s relevant for all of us no matter what country you come from.

Peace Corps to Phase Out of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau

WASHINGTON
– Peace Corps announced it is officially phasing out of the Federated States of
Micronesia (FSM) and Republic of Palau after many years of partnership.
The phase out is due to operational and infrastructure challenges in areas
ranging from vast geographic distances, medical care and transportation, and
recurring staff vacancies.

 Peace
Corps will phase out its volunteer operations in FSM, where there are currently
25 volunteers serving in the education sector, by June 30, 2018. This timeline
will allow the volunteers to complete their primary assignments through the end
of the school year and transfer knowledge to their communities and counterparts.
Peace Corps remains fully committed to supporting the volunteers during this
time as they complete their service. 

 The
last class of volunteers departed Palau in July 2017, having completed their
assignments.

 Peace
Corps is grateful to the people and governments of the Federated States of
Micronesia and the Republic of Palau for their partnership and friendship.
Since 1966, more than 4,300 volunteers have served in the region of Micronesia,
working to address the need for trained men and women in agriculture,
education, health, youth development, and community economic
development.

 Long
after the last volunteer’s departure, the most essential component of these
nations’ cooperation with Peace Corps will remain in the fellowship
between volunteers and their host families, colleagues, and friends.
Returned volunteers’ ongoing contributions as informal citizen ambassadors for
FSM and Palau will serve as a lasting legacy of mutual collaboration. Many
former volunteers have remained in these countries, continuing to contribute in
a personal capacity to the development of the region.

In
the Pacific, Peace Corps will continue to operate programs
in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

USAID Administrator Green’s Call with The Right Honourable Penny Mordaunt, M.P., the United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development


Undefined
Thursday, December 7, 2017

On Wednesday, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green called United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt to congratulate her on her recent appointment.  Noting the strong relationship between USAID and the UK’s Department for International Development, the Administrator welcomed opportunities for increased cooperation with the UK, especially in addressing mounting humanitarian crises around the world. 

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – December 5, 2017

Heather Nauert

Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

December 5, 2017


Index for Today’s Briefing

  • SECRETARY TRAVEL
  • DEPARTMENT
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA/REGION
  • IRAQ/REGION
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE/DEPARTMENT
  • IRAQ/FRANCE/REGION
  • NORTH KOREA/SOUTH KOREA/JAPAN/REGION
  • UKRAINE/GEORGIA/REGION
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA/REGION
  • RUSSIA
  • NORTH KOREA/RUSSIA
  • SYRIA/RUSSIA/REGION
  • CUBA
  • HONDURAS
  • BAHRAIN
  • DEPARTMENT
  • NORTH KOREA/CANADA/SOUTH KOREA/JAPAN/REGION
  • HONDURAS
  • IRAQ/SYRIA/LATVIA/ESTONIA/LITHUANIA/REGION
  • YEMEN/REGION

    TRANSCRIPT:


    2:55 p.m. EST

    MS NAUERT: A couple of items I want to start out with today before getting to your questions. And the first I’d like to start with: The Secretary’s travel on his European trip in Brussels. In Brussels today, Secretary Tillerson held meetings with the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, European High Commissioner Representative Federica Mogherini, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He also participated in the NATO foreign ministerial meeting at a special meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, composed of the foreign ministers of 28 European Union member-states.

    In each of the engagements, the Secretary reinforced President Trump’s message of mutual responsibility in the global agenda that we share with the EU, NATO, and our European partners, and also reaffirmed the United States unwavering commitment to European security. Our shared agenda covers a wide range of joint objectives, including the denuclearized Korean Peninsula, the global defeat of ISIS, support for UN-led Geneva process in Syria, and the restoration of Ukraine’s full sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    The Secretary’s discussions with his counterparts highlighted again the close and positive bond between the U.S. and Europe in addressing some of the global challenges. After Brussels, Secretary Tillerson will travel to Vienna and Paris, where he will continue to raise these and other areas of mutual interest. And our colleagues we’re missing today, hope they’re having a good time on that trip.

    Second thing: I would like to welcome our new Under Secretary of Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy, Mr. Irwin Steven Goldstein, to the Department of State. Mr. Goldstein – I mentioned this to you last week; by the way, you can call him Steve – was sworn in yesterday at noon and has now started meeting with our colleagues at all levels in the department to learn more about the work that we do here, especially in PA and in Public Diplomacy. In particular, he’s interested in helping the department speak with a clear, consistent, and compelling voice. He brings to the State Department a unique blend of public and private sector experience, including more than 25 years leading corporate communications and branding for companies, including TIAA-CREF, AllianceBernstein, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal.

    I’d like to mention that I spent some time with him. He has a ton of energy. He will put all of us through our paces. He says that he is committed to having a good, positive working relationship with the press. He believes fundamentally in the right of a free press and has committed to working on even – improving our relationship even more. I feel that I have a good relationship with all of you, and I know he’s committed to doing that as well. He understands your jobs, he respects your jobs, and I look forward to introducing you to him very soon now that it’s his second day on the job. His public sector experience includes serving as an assistant secretary and director of public affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and eight years as a press secretary and chief of staff to several members of Congress.

    So on behalf of the department, I’d like to warmly welcome him to Foggy Bottom.

    A couple more items. Some of you have started to ask about the President’s national security strategy. The President has now approved a basic framework for the national security strategy. The White House is expected to release that strategy in the coming weeks. It will explain the President’s national security vision and set the direction for all U.S. Government departments and also agencies. It’s led by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and his deputy, Dina Powell, and also his team at the National Security Council. The development process over the course of the past several months has been highly collaborative. It’s been an effort across the federal government. The State Department, in concert with our interagency partners, including the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and the Intelligence Community, among others, has conducted an analysis of key policy issues and provided input at the National Security Council through the entire development process.

    It should be noted that the development and the release of the national security strategy is just the beginning of that process. The State Department and our interagency partners will continue to collaborate as we implement recommendations from that strategy. So we’ll have more on that for you in the coming weeks.

    A couple more items. The United States has been following this very closely out of Syria, and we’d like to strongly condemn the recent attacks and the continued siege on the people of Eastern Ghouta in Syria by the Assad regime with support from Russia. Deliberate tactics to starve Syrian civilians, including women and children; block humanitarian and medical aid; bomb hospitals, medical personnel, and first responders in eastern Ghouta – we consider that to be deeply troubling. The lives of Syrian children and families are not political tools, and we call on the international community to swiftly condemn those horrific acts.

    We also call on Russia to live up to its obligations to uphold the de-escalation zone in eastern Ghouta and to end all further attacks against civilians in Syria. The atrocities reveal the Assad regime’s utter disregard for its own people and the extent to which it will go to retain its grip on power. Acts such as these clearly demonstrate the need for the international community to vigorously support the UN-led Geneva process for a political resolution to the conflict that respects the will of the Syrian people. They also emphasize the urgent need for unhindered humanitarian access and renewal of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2165 on humanitarian access.

    And lastly – Laurie, this one’s for you, because I know you’re so interested in Iraq, as are many of you – yesterday, our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan met with Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Nazar Al-Khairallah. I hope I got that right. The deputy secretary congratulated the foreign – the deputy foreign minister on the battle against ISIS and discussed future cooperation on economic, commercial, cultural, and humanitarian initiatives. During the meeting, the deputy secretary emphasized our commitment to the long-term partnership between the United States and Iraq, which is grounded in the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. You want to start, Matt?

    QUESTION: Right. Yes, please. Thank you. I want to start with I’m sure what a lot of people are going to have questions about and I’m sure you’re probably not going to have too many answers, but let’s try anyway. On the – this impending announcement regarding Jerusalem —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: — whether it is the status of the city itself or the disposition of the embassy, either way, from what you have seen, what Secretary Tillerson has heard in Europe, the reports of the phone calls that the President has had, is there any world leader who has come out in support of the U.S. making a unilateral – taking a unilateral step with regards to the city?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, as you know, I’m not going to get ahead of the President on any of this. I know a lot of you have questions about the status there. I don’t want to speculate on what the President’s announcement will be and don’t want to get ahead of the President. The issue rests with the President. The President will address all of this when he is ready. I can tell you that some calls have certainly occurred, as you well know, between the U.S. Government, including Secretary Tillerson, including the President and also the Vice President, but I’m just not going to be able to characterize what has come out of those conversations. I know that’s not very satisfactory, but I’m just not going to go there.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking what the decision is. I’m just wondering – I’m wondering if you can say that he’s gotten the support of anyone for any decision that he might make.

    MS NAUERT: So again, I’m not going to characterize those conversations and some of those calls. I can tell you that the conversations both in person and over the phone, at least on the Secretary’s part, have been a frank exchange of ideas. That’s it. I’m going to leave it at that. The President will speak when he’s ready to.

    QUESTION: All right. Moving out of the realm of the hypothetical —

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: — last week, cables went out from the department to embassies abroad, warning them about the possibility of violence, of protests in anticipation of this announcement. Today already the consulate general in Jerusalem has put out a security message. These are not in the realm of the hypothetical; these are things that are actually happening. How concerned are you that what happens tomorrow could pose a significant security risk for U.S. embassies – official Americans as well as private American citizens?

    MS NAUERT: What I can tell you is that we’re watching the situation very closely. There have obviously been scores and scores of media reports over the past few days that have discussed concerns about the security situation. Because of that, we continue to watch the security situation there. We have put out information to not only our personnel but also the American public through some of our embassy websites as we would with a lot of other matters. We – but just – I just want to be clear that we take the situation seriously and we’re closely watching it. As we often and very frequently say to you, the safety and security not only of U.S. personnel but American citizens at home and abroad is the top issue here.

    QUESTION: Are you saying that these warnings have been put out in response to report – to media – news reports about what might be happening tomorrow?

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, this has been so broadly reported. We are not as a government going to speculate about the President’s decision. Many in the media —

    QUESTION: But you’re already —

    MS NAUERT: Many in the media have speculated about the President’s decision.

    QUESTION: So you’re suggesting that it’s the reports that are causing this anxiety and this fear of unrest?

    MS NAUERT: The U.S. Government at this point has not formally announced its decision, so I’m not going to get ahead of that, but we keep an eye closely on the security situation, as we always do.

    Andrea, hi.

    QUESTION: At the same time, after the President made several calls – or has been making several calls and talking to leaders and met with the king last week – statements have come from King Abdullah, from Erdogan and others today, and Federica Mogherini spoke to the Secretary of State’s face today about not doing anything that would undermine peace in the region. How does the Secretary and how does the State Department feel about concerns – global concerns – that U.S. policy is about to undermine peace in the region?

    MS NAUERT: Well, that would be assuming – that would be assuming the President’s decision, and I’m just not going to assume the President’s decision at this point.

    QUESTION: Why would the Jerusalem consulate – to follow up on Matt, why would they issue this warning not to travel to the West Bank, not to hold meetings in the Old City, not to go to Bethlehem?

    MS NAUERT: Because we know what has been reported. We know what’s out there in the public sphere, that there are some concerns about a decision that will be made by the White House. I’m not saying what that decision is. It is not my place or my role to say that.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Let me finish. We will always keep the safety and security of Americans paramount. We often put out these kinds of messages to U.S. citizens all around the world. Sometimes the messages – well, the messages are often different based on what’s going on in any particular region. So we want to be able to keep the American public up to speed, share with them our concerns about any announcements that could be made. And this is also a good reminder, as I will say anywhere in the world, to sign up for the State Department STEP Program. Again, I always say that. This is not anything that is just for the President’s decision when that is made, but we always encourage Americans to do that. That way we can always get in touch with you if we need to.

    QUESTION: Is the Secretary of State on board with this?

    MS NAUERT: I —

    QUESTION: Whatever “it” is, is the Secretary of State of the United States of America on board with a decision that could be putting U.S. citizens and troops at risk in the region?

    MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary has communicated clearly, as have all the members of the interagency who have a role in making this decision or being a part of the decision, he’s made his positions clear to the White House. I think the Department of Defense has as well. But it’s ultimately the President’s decision to make. He is in charge.

    Okay? Hi, Said.

    QUESTION: Let me just quickly follow up on a couple of things. If and when this happens, that removal of the embassy, if it happens, technically how – what is the role of the State Department in this case? What do you do?

    MS NAUERT: Said, that —

    QUESTION: Would you pack up and leave —

    MS NAUERT: You know what I’m going to say to that one. It’s simply a hypothetical. We’re not there yet.

    QUESTION: I understand, but —

    MS NAUERT: We’re not there yet.

    QUESTION: What are the machinations for the – what – how do you do it?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have an answer for you —

    QUESTION: You just move personnel —

    MS NAUERT: — because we are not there just yet.

    QUESTION: Okay, all right. Let me ask you about something else. Are you aware of the letter of assurances that Secretary of State James Baker gave to the Palestinians back in 1991?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t have that information.

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, I —

    MS NAUERT: I think I was in college then.

    QUESTION: It’s a letter of assurances that – it says they – that —

    QUESTION: Hold up. Surely you were in high school?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, right. Right. (Laughter.) Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you said – yeah. But it’s – it is – it is still a letter of assurances by the Government of the United States and then Secretary of State James Baker in which he says on the issue of Jerusalem that we do not recognize Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem or the extension of its municipal boundaries, and we encourage all sides to avoid unilateral actions, and so on. Are you breaking your own word in this case? I mean, isn’t that a word that the United States —

    MS NAUERT: I can’t speak back to 1991 and —

    QUESTION: But that —

    MS NAUERT: — Mr. Baker’s comments or pledge at the time.

    QUESTION: Are you suggesting that the U.S. Government changes its position from one administration to the other?

    MS NAUERT: I can say that the President is going to make a decision. The President will make his announcement when he is ready.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: But you certainly agree that the United States must adhere to its —

    MS NAUERT: I’m not agreeing with anything. I’m saying I’m not going to get ahead of the President.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. I mean, let me ask you about something else. I mean, you want to reach a peaceful settlement for the Palestinians. Today, I think either the House voted or it is voting on Taylor Force, for instance, to cut off aid for the Palestinians. Should this go on, this beating up on the Palestinians that are probably one of the hapless communities on Earth, under occupation for a hundred years? Do you think that the position of the United States ought to be on the side of those who are being brutalized by occupation?

    MS NAUERT: Said, I’m just not familiar with the congressional legislation that you’re mentioning right now, so I’m not going to comment on that as we typically don’t comment on things coming out of Congress.

    I can tell you that there will be a backgrounder call, I believe it is being put together by the White House. It should take place later today, and so perhaps some of your questions will be answered on that one.

    QUESTION: And finally, I just want to follow up on Andrea’s question on – is the Secretary on board on this? Has he consulted with the President in any way, let’s say in the last 24 hours, and so on?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know if the Secretary has spoken with the President within the past 24 hours, but I can tell you that the Secretary and the State Department have sent in a lot of information to the White House. The Secretary, as you well know, has had a lot of bilateral meetings recently, including some of those face-to-face in Europe right now. He has had a lot of calls over the past few days and some meetings in person here in Washington last week. So whatever he learns out of those meetings, calls, and conversations, he certainly passes that off to the White House, and the President can make his decision. I imagine that the Department of Defense has done the same thing.

    Okay? Any —

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Shall we move on? Okay.

    QUESTION: One more on that.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: On the technicalities, the waiver wasn’t signed as – well, on the due date last night. What is the status of it now (inaudible)?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to confirm that. That’s all – that’s all in the hands of the White House, because that’s something that the President would be handling.

    Okay? Let’s —

    QUESTION: Sorry, Heather —

    MS NAUERT: Let’s move on.

    QUESTION: North Korea?

    QUESTION: Are you – are you sending anyone to the PLO Bethlehem Christmas party tomorrow on Capitol Hill?

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

    QUESTION: I think the State Department was invited —

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know.

    QUESTION: — so you really should look into that. Okay.

    MS NAUERT: I hadn’t – I had not heard of it.

    QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: Actually, speaking about that party, is it your understanding that a holiday party would be among the things permitted for the PLO office to do after you closed it and then didn’t close it?

    MS NAUERT: Well, to my understanding, it never fully closed —

    QUESTION: Right. But —

    MS NAUERT: — or anything of the sort.

    QUESTION: But —

    MS NAUERT: They’re still actively engaged, and we have asked that they stay engaged in the peace process. Now, perhaps – and now I will get into a hypothetical – if our Palestinian friends want to open up the office and invite – invite Christians and invite Israelis, then perhaps why not have a party?

    QUESTION: Oh, that’s okay? All right. So if they have a sign that says, like, “Peace on Earth,” that’s okay?

    MS NAUERT: Peace on – perhaps it is. Yes.

    QUESTION: That means that – that means that (inaudible) —

    MS NAUERT: Yes. And I say that – I say that in a teasing fashion.

    QUESTION: Half of the Palestinian community in this area is Christian. I mean, they come and they celebrate these events and they invite everybody.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right, let’s move on. Laurie, do you have something more?

    QUESTION: Iraq, yes.

    MS NAUERT: How about that? I had a special topper just for you today.

    QUESTION: That’s a first. I appreciate it a lot. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: We try.

    QUESTION: Okay, and I want to follow up on that topper. The Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani complained today that the talks with Baghdad which you, the KRG, they’ve all – you’ve repeatedly called for, have not even started. So in the deputy secretary’s meeting with the Iraqi deputy foreign minister, was there any discussion of when those talks would begin?

    MS NAUERT: Well, those talks would have to be agreed to between the Iraqi central government and also between the Kurds. So I’m not sure that they would commit to us that those talks will begin on a certain date, but we continue to call upon the Government of Iraq to sit down with the Kurds and have a conversation about this.

    QUESTION: But the prime minister of the government of Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, said we want these talks to begin and Baghdad is doing nothing now. Are you – what are you going to do about this?

    MS NAUERT: We feel – first of all, it’s not – it’s not the place of the U.S. Government to force these talks to happen. But we do firmly believe that that is the right thing to do and it should happen. So we just continue to call on the Government of Baghdad and also the Kurds to sit down and have a conversation together. We are willing to certainly help facilitate talks, but we would have to be asked by the governments to do that.

    QUESTION: Has the Iraqi Government asked you yet?

    MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge.

    QUESTION: Oh. So what is your view then? The Kurdish leadership, Prime Minister Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Talabani visited Paris. They met with the French president. What is your view of that diplomacy? Do you regard that as helpful?

    MS NAUERT: Well, I think all diplomacy of a sorts is helpful. Certainly, France has a responsibility and forces serving in the region. They are a part of the D-ISIS coalition. I think it’s certainly important that the Iraqi Government would sit down and talk with Mr. Macron.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    MS NAUERT: Janne, hi.

    QUESTION: Hi, thank you. On North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: North Korea reportedly will negotiation with United States if the United States say it recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Start that over again?

    QUESTION: North Korea reportedly will negotiation with the United States if United States recognize North Korea as a nuclear state. What —

    MS NAUERT: They will talk with us if we recognize them —

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: As a North Korea – as a nuclear state?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: That’s the question?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Our policy is very clear. It’s a policy that Russia and China happen to agree with as well. We believe in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is something that the Republic of Korea believes in firmly and also Japan. So we’re not changing our view. We’re not going to backtrack on this. We believe – and that is our top priority – the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

    QUESTION: So you don’t have any further negotiation with North Korea without any —

    MS NAUERT: We certainly don’t. We remain open to talks if – if – they are serious about denuclearization. The activities that they’ve been engaged in recently have shown that they are not interested, that they are not serious about sitting down and having conversations.

    Anything else on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Okay. Please, I have another with —

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    QUESTION: Yes, North Korea.

    QUESTION: Please?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: Hi, this is Tianyi.

    MS NAUERT: What’s your name?

    QUESTION: Hi. Tianyi.

    MS NAUERT: And you’re from where?

    QUESTION: From Shenzhen Media Group.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: My first time. New face.

    MS NAUERT: Yes, welcome.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: I hope everybody is nice to you here.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So starting from today, the UN Under Secretary General Jeffrey Feltman will visit North Korea and meet with several North Korean officials. And he also stopped by China and met with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong yesterday. Does the State Department have any particular expectations for this visit, especially considering that Mr. Feltman was previously a high-ranking State Department official?

    MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, and that’s a good question. We’re certainly aware of his travels under the auspices of his role with the United Nations to North Korea. He is not traveling on behalf of the U.S. Government and he’s not traveling – I want to make this clear – with any kind of message from the U.S. Government.

    QUESTION: Is he communicating or is he —

    MS NAUERT: I think —

    QUESTION: Is he checking in advance or communicating back or working as an intermediary without carrying a message?

    MS NAUERT: I think by saying that he is not delivering any kind of message on our behalf and he’s not traveling on our behalf, I think that answers the question.

    QUESTION: But is this considered a hopeful step in that it’s the first time since 2010 that we know of someone of his rank from the UN going and he has such long and deep relationships in this building?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t know. He’s going on behalf of the UN, not the U.S. Government.

    QUESTION: But is the U.S. in communication with the UN about his visit?

    MS NAUERT: That I don’t know.

    QUESTION: One more on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Presumably he’s traveling on a diplomatic passport.

    MS NAUERT: I would assume so. Yes.

    QUESTION: But he would, if he for some reason was traveling on an American passport, would need to have the special validation?

    MS NAUERT: Correct, correct. Okay. Anything else on North Korea?

    QUESTION: North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Hi.

    QUESTION: So there’s reports coming from Japan that the Japanese Government proposed an allocation of funds in their 2018 budget towards the purchase of missiles that have the ability to strike North Korea from Japan. The idea behind this is if North Korea were to launch a missile, Japan would destroy that missile site post-launch. Does the State Department have any kind of comment on this?

    MS NAUERT: I think that would be under Department of Defense, so I would refer you to the Department of Defense on that. But overall, as you know, we have an alliance, and part of what the United States does is agree to protect our allies. That includes Japan and South Korea. But anything beyond that, Department of Defense would have to answer that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Anything else on – anything else on North Korea?

    QUESTION: Yes. Would the U.S. be open to some kind of hotline like there’s been with Russia to prevent the risk of war – conflict by accident?

    MS NAUERT: That is not a question that I have asked. I have – I know that our military is constantly in communication with our allies’ military, including the Republic of Korea and also Japan. If anything were to be set up like that, and that’s totally a hypothetical, that – I think that would be under their view. Okay?

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Let’s – hold on. Hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. I’ve got Ukraine/Georgia, I guess.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s move there.

    QUESTION: As you know, Ukrainian security forces stormed and searched the apartment and then arrested the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. He was released a short while ago. What is the State Department’s overall assessment of the allegations against him? Could these be politically motivated? And even if this is an internal matter, what is at stake for Georgia?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I would have to say overall, we’re closely monitoring that situation and what happened in Kyiv. We are in close contact, as you know. We have a good relationship with the Government of Ukraine. It doesn’t mean that we agree with them on absolutely everything, however. We would urge the authorities in Ukraine to de-escalate that situation. We have certainly seen reports of various activities in the streets there. We would call on all sides to avoid violence and follow the rule of law and their international commitments as well.

    The details of the case we just can’t get into. I would have to refer you to the Government of Ukraine on that. But the Government of Ukraine – and we have said this many times before, as we do with other governments – if they are detaining someone, arresting someone, et cetera, it needs to be in accordance with the laws and regulations of that country as well as international human rights obligations, and we urge Ukraine to respect the rule of law. Okay? Thank you.

    QUESTION: Now, on Syria —

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: — you mentioned that you are talking with the Russians about the siege of Ghouta. Are you getting your own – how do you collect intelligence on what’s going on on the ground? Do you do it on your own or are you dependent on news reports? Are you dependent on NGOs and so on? What is happening in Ghouta exactly?

    MS NAUERT: Well, first of all, intelligence matters you know we can’t comment on. Those are classified. In general terms, when we’re collecting – and I can speak to general terms – when we’re collecting information on the ground from any given country, we get that from a variety of sources, and we put all that information together. Some of that, yes, may in fact come from the intelligence community. Some of that will come from NGOs. That’s – Burma is a perfect example of that, where we get information from NGOs. Some of it comes from our partners on the ground. Some of it comes from our people who are serving on the ground there. And then some of it comes from various media reports, the United Nations. Some of it can come from U.S. forces as well. All of that is combined and filtered out.

    QUESTION: Would you say that your cooperation with Russia in Syria has been strained or is at the same level as it was when, let’s say, the deconfliction took place and when the areas of quiet, whatever they call it —

    MS NAUERT: We’ve talked about our relationship with Russia many times. We have some days that are better than others. We certainly have areas of tension. You well know that. We still have an area that has had very positive developments, and that’s our ceasefire in southwestern Syria. I know I bring that up quite often, but that’s an example of a ceasefire that’s held for the most part since July. And if a ceasefire can hold, then we can start to build some sort of confidence-building measures, we can get humanitarian aid in, and we think that that is good for the Syrian people.

    When this comes to other parts of Syria, of course there are areas of tension.

    QUESTION: Have you asked the Russians to lean on the Syrians to allow humanitarian aid into Ghouta?

    MS NAUERT: We always do. We often, often call for the – well, I mean, just bottom line, humanitarian aid needs to get to the people of Syria. It needs to get to the people in other conflict zones around the world. As you know, the Secretary is meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov later this week, so I don’t want to get ahead of any of his conversations.

    QUESTION: Staying – can we stay on Russia for a second?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: In this whole thing with the FARA registration for RT and the other company, I don’t know how much you addressed this because I was gone a couple days last week. But as you are aware, they were told to register. They did. And at the time, you said that this would not affect their ability to gather information and report, and yet the standing committee of the correspondents on the Hill revoked their credentials because they are no longer eligible as a foreign agent.

    MS NAUERT: What – let me pause you right there.

    QUESTION: In – wait, wait, wait.

    MS NAUERT: I want to ask you – I want to ask you a question.

    QUESTION: In response —

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: In response, the Russian Duma has revoked the credentials of RFE/RL and VOA, and I’m just wondering if you have a response to that.

    MS NAUERT: Well, first I want to ask you a question, because you’ve been around here a long time. You are the head of the State Department Correspondents’ Association. And correct me if I’m wrong: The Capitol Hill Correspondents’ Association is similar to the State Department association, correct?

    QUESTION: I think it has a bit more power.

    QUESTION: It’s much larger. (Laughter.)

    MS NAUERT: But my point is it’s —

    QUESTION: Definitely (inaudible).

    QUESTION: It’s much more – it’s much more organized.

    MS NAUERT: It’s – I’ve not been a Capitol Hill reporter, so help describe this to me. This is not made up of members of Congress, correct?

    QUESTION: No, no, no, no.

    MS NAUERT: This is made up of reporters?

    QUESTION: Correct.

    MS NAUERT: And so the reporters would —

    QUESTION: There is congressional staff.

    QUESTION: Correct.

    QUESTION: There is congressional staff who are part of it.

    QUESTION: But the thing is, is that the intimation that you had made was that this would not affect their ability to gather information —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: — and it did. Whether or not that was a government decision or not, it did.

    MS NAUERT: Well —

    QUESTION: And so the Russians in response —

    MS NAUERT: We can’t take responsibility for the actions of —

    QUESTION: I understand that. I’m not asking you —

    MS NAUERT: — private entities, other organizations.

    QUESTION: But I’m not asking about that.

    MS NAUERT: I can only speak on behalf of the U.S. Government.

    QUESTION: I know, but so what I’m asking you is for your reaction to the Russian reaction to that, which was the Duma deciding to yank the credentials of VOA and RF – do you have anything —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, absolutely.

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: We think that that is wrong. One of the things that we talk about a lot here is the freedom of speech and the importance of that. That includes speech that other governments may find uncomfortable. That applies to our allies and partners and that applies to countries that we have tense relationships as well.

    We believe in that firmly. The Russian law that was passed is something that Ambassador Huntsman talked about earlier today, our new ambassador to Russia. He said, “We strongly urge the Russian Government [to not] allow this to stifle free speech and editorial independence on the part of those who seek to operate freely in Russia.”

    Russia’s media law, because we believe it may be applied like its NGO law, we are concerned that they could end up harassing reporters, detaining reporters, kicking reporters out of the country. That is something that we believe fundamentally, as Americans, is wrong. We believe in the right to free speech and we have serious concerns about Russia’s activities to clamp down on press freedoms. Okay.

    QUESTION: Do you want to comment on the IOC disallowing the Russians from participating in the Winter Olympics?

    MS NAUERT: Did they?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: I wasn’t aware of that. I missed that headline, so no, I don’t have anything for you on that.

    QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea for a second?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s try to stay in region. Does anybody have anything else on —

    QUESTION: Well, it has to do with Russia too.

    MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

    QUESTION: So apparently, fuel prices in North Korea have gone down recently since November and it appears to be because of an increase in supply from Russia of fuel. What’s the State Department response to that and what can the United States do about it?

    MS NAUERT: I’m afraid I just don’t have any government reports on that that proves that that is, in fact, the case, so I can’t comment on that.

    QUESTION: On Russia and Syria —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: — and I feel a little bit like I’m doing a Matt Lee imitation of his questions of John Kirby.

    MS NAUERT: Well, you do – you two do sometimes. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: But poor John Kirby always got hammered or regularly got hammered by Matt on the question of why do you think the Geneva process that you’re attached – that you’re supporting is going to work when you don’t have the forces on the ground to back up that diplomacy, whereas the Russians have a much bigger presence there and the Syrian Government’s gaining ground?

    So just now, the Syrians walked out of the Geneva talks and they’re – said they’re not coming back. Why do you think that the Geneva process is going to work if it is not fully supported by the Russians and the Syrians aren’t present?

    MS NAUERT: Well, look, I think ultimately, the Geneva process is something that many countries have agreed to; that that is the best, most workable process. Has it been successful fully yet? No, not necessarily, but more and more countries are agreeing that the Geneva process – as Russia has said – is the way to go, is the political process forward for Syria. That political process will be very long. As you know, we are still trying to – we, the United States and the coalition are still trying to stabilize that country.

    Eventually, we think that with all of the people involved in this that we will be able to get to that point. Eventually, Syrians themselves will have a voice. We believe that a democracy or some sort of more free-type society will win at the end of the day.

    QUESTION: Do you think Moscow will agree to a diplomatic process which is going to see the end of Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria?

    MS NAUERT: Well, we have long said that we don’t believe that the Syrian people ultimately will want to support Bashar al-Assad in office. One of the things that could be done is the Syrian people who have been pushed out to other countries, who are refugees elsewhere, that they could have a chance to vote. Imagine if you had all the people who are still in Syria plus the diaspora voting. Would they vote back in Bashar al-Assad, the man who is responsible for killing so many men, women, and children? I doubt that. This will ultimately be up to the Syrian people to decide once they get to that point.

    QUESTION: And Russia agrees to that process?

    MS NAUERT: I believe that Russia had said recently – and we’ll double-check this, but I believe that Russia had said just recently that they would support the Geneva process. But let me just double-check on that for you.

    QUESTION: Can you – who represented the U.S. at the last Geneva session?

    MS NAUERT: We had one of our colleagues there. I’ve not met her yet. Stephanie Williams was one of our colleagues who was represented there. We go there more as a – an observer, a handholder of sorts.

    QUESTION: Right, but that’s what the previous administration did too. They just did it at a much higher level.

    MS NAUERT: Well, we’re at a entirely different place. We are at a place where Raqqa has been liberated. We are in a much better position – and when I say “we,” I just mean the coalition – a much better position in having defeated ISIS and having a ceasefire that’s held since the summer. We are in a much better position in Syria now than I think this country has – than I think we ever have been.

    QUESTION: Wouldn’t it make sense then to leverage that much better position by sending more senior people, say the Secretary himself or the deputy?

    MS NAUERT: We have long been clear with the governments involved and our – the coalition that the United States has in large part pulled together there is no question about our commitment to the Geneva process and there is no question about our commitment to trying to get a safe, stable, and peaceful Syria. I can’t imagine anybody would actually question that.

    Okay, let’s move on. Something else. Yes, hi.

    QUESTION: Thank you so much. On Cuba, there are reports that there will be a new ambassador – U.S. ambassador – to Cuba.

    And the second question, if possible, is the ban for some U.S. Government scientists to travel there and to participate in events or even do research in Cuba – can you confirm both, please?

    MS NAUERT: I can tell you the first part, yes.[i] The second part, I don’t have any information for you on that, but I can certainly look into that. In terms of our leadership at our embassy in Cuba, we just have nothing to announce at this point. We have a charge, Lawrence Gumbiner. He is continuing to serve as the interim charge in Havana. But I’ve seen reports of an ambassador, but I just don’t have anything for you on that. That would be a White House question.

    Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather, could you update us on the situation in Honduras? What is happening in Honduras, if you have anything on that?

    MS NAUERT: Gosh, you guys are doing a ping-pong all around the world here today.

    QUESTION: Yeah, because it’s —

    MS NAUERT: I mean, you really are. Okay.

    QUESTION: I mean, they just deployed the military, and I mean, it’s —

    MS NAUERT: Let me get the latest on what I have regarding that, but just bear with me a second.

    QUESTION: While you’re going through your TQs, I have a very brief one on Bahrain. I’m sure you won’t have it. Nabeel Rajab and his court case have been – has moved up, actually, for the first time in a while. Can you —

    MS NAUERT: What do you mean, it’s moved up?

    QUESTION: Well, they – it was not supposed to resume until later, and then yesterday they announced that it would resume this morning. And I’m just wondering if you guys have any thoughts about that or were aware of it.

    MS NAUERT: Well, I —

    QUESTION: I’m sure you don’t have it now, but —

    MS NAUERT: It’s a case that we follow very closely, his case is. It’s something I know that our government has been present for some of his – some of his hearings, processes – legal processes, I’ll just call them – in the past. I just don’t have anything new for you on that.

    QUESTION: There’s a letter that went to Deputy Secretary Sullivan from the Foreign Relations Committee – bipartisan letter; Senator Cardin was the Democrat on it – asking for more transparency on the redesign, for an update on the numbers of State Department positions, and also questioning the Secretary’s comments to the Wilson Center on the likelihood or possibility that resolving conflicts would reduce the budget pressure. It’s a fairly stiff letter. Do you know if Secretary Sullivan has read it, responded to it, or do you have anything on that?

    MS NAUERT: I do not know if he has read that letter or if he has responded. I can certainly check with his office and ask that question. I can tell you overall we are committed to more transparency with the redesign process. We are committed to better communication with the redesign process. As I mentioned at the top of the briefing, we have a new under secretary for public affairs and public diplomacy. One of the things he intends to do is work more with our press corps. He has a big job, but one of the things that he has – hold on – one of the things that he has outlined has been to create more transparency.

    We will be holding a series of town hall meetings. I know he’s speaking with some of the folks under him in the coming days about transparency and the importance of that. I know the Secretary is planning a town hall meeting on the overall redesign process. The Secretary spoke a little bit to the redesign process with members of our embassy in Brussels earlier today.

    QUESTION: I read some of those comments. But will – will this transparency extend to the Foreign Relations Committee, the oversight committee?

    MS NAUERT: I would certainly think so. I mean, look, they charge us with questions. They ask us questions. It’s our responsibility to answer those questions in a forthright manner. Congress deserves the answers to very important and legitimate questions.

    QUESTION: Let me just read from the letter.

    MS NAUERT: Well, Andrea, may I finish? Congress deserves our answers, the American people deserve our answers, and you deserve our answers. You represent taxpayers, you represent the media, as do members of Congress as well. We intend to provide them with the information that they ask for and we’re committed – we’re recommitting ourselves – to having a better process where we communicate more thoroughly and we provide as much information as we can.

    QUESTION: So I just want to put on the record what they wrote.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: That “we are deeply concerned about recent developments at the Department of State that are adversely affecting American Foreign Service and Civil Service professionals, putting our nation’s ability to carry out diplomacy at risk, including the impact of the department’s ongoing hiring freeze, proposed budget cuts, and reorganization efforts.” And they’re asking for a response to their —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, I will let the deputy secretary or the Secretary respond directly to Congress. I don’t think I’m in the position to be able to address them. But I told you that we’re committed to being transparent. The Secretary, the deputy secretary, the under secretary, Tom Shannon – they are all committed to this building. They love this building, believe firmly in what the people here do and what they stand for.

    QUESTION: Can I ask one housekeeping?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: In response to the latest ICBM test from North Korea a couple weeks ago, the State Department called for a summit, essentially a naval blockade summit, with command sending states. Is there any update at all as to when that will happen and who – what level will participate from State?

    MS NAUERT: So just to back up for those of you who haven’t been here or aware of this, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Freeland of Canada spoke about – it was about a week and a half ago or so, after the most recent ICBM test. They agreed to pull together 16 of the original sending states back from the Korean armistice. And those states consisted of 16 countries. We are also going to bring in the Republic of Korea and also Japan. In addition to that, there may be some other countries brought in as well. That originally was a military alliance of sorts. The new idea here is to bring in these countries, bring these countries together, and actually have a diplomatic alliance.

    Now, we already have that with our maximum pressure campaign. We already have that with some of the United Nations and UN Security Council resolutions that have passed. But this is a new way, a creative way to come up with additional ideas of things that might work to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. You ask about a date; I just don’t have any dates. But I know that we’re committed to doing that.

    QUESTION: And level of participation, has that been hammered out yet? Assistant secretary level?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t believe so, but I imagine – I imagine – I can only say I imagine that this would be a high-level event. Okay? Guys —

    QUESTION: Do you have a quick comment on the Honduran —

    MS NAUERT: Yes, I do. I found it in the meantime. We are certainly monitoring that situation very closely. We have a robust Western Hemisphere bureau here who are keeping a close eye on it, in addition to our embassies and posts in the region. We would urge all actors to exercise their rights peacefully and call for a transparent, impartial, and timely determination of the election results. We know that the final tabulations have not been conducted just yet. The election authorities there completed a special scrutiny process. This is an important step, we see, in achieving a final election result that accurately represents the will of the Honduran people and expressed in the November the 26th election.

    Overall, we continue to support efforts of the international election observation missions that are working with Honduran political leaders and authorities to increase the transparency and accountability there.

    QUESTION: Follow-up on Honduras?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m Luke Vargas, with Talk Media News.

    MS NAUERT: Hi. You’re new here, too.

    QUESTION: I am, yes. First —

    MS NAUERT: Welcome.

    QUESTION: Not permanently, just visiting from the UN.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: So on this November 28th certification document on the government’s human rights and anti-corruption efforts that Reuters reported on yesterday, I’m curious why that was issued during what was widely expected to be such a sensitive post-election period, if indeed it exists. And second, there are two groups – the naval special forces and the Honduran national police – that are reported to have used force against civilians. And these are groups receiving U.S. assistance.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Is the department monitoring those groups?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that part. I can certainly check with our Western Hemisphere experts to see if they are. Some of that it sounds like would be under the Department of Defense, so you could certainly check with the Department of Defense.

    I think you’re also – you’re asking me about the certification.

    QUESTION: Correct.

    MS NAUERT: Is that right? That took place on the 30th of November, so that would have been last Thursday, I believe. Under the U.S. Appropriations 2017 Act, 50 percent of U.S. foreign assistance to the central governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras can’t be obligated until the State Department certifies that each government is making progress in 12 areas. Those include combating corruption and impunity, reducing violence, protecting human rights, and supporting the role of civil society. The department reviewed and analyzed the efforts and the progress of the Honduran Government. Over the past year, we made that determination to certify based on the accumulated data. In the certification, we confirm that Honduras has met the criteria specified in the legislation.

    So I think this was just something that it was done when it was done. Okay? Guys, we have – sir, I’ll take your last question.

    QUESTION: Oleg Merkulov from media group Vesti, Riga, Latvia, and my first time here too.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, welcome.

    QUESTION: So thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Wait, who all is new here? Raise your hands. So sir, you’re new here, you’re new here, you’re new here. Okay. Welcome.

    QUESTION: So Secretary Tillerson just reaffirmed the commitment to Article 5 of the NATO alliance, which is important for a Baltic state, right.

    MS NAUERT: Of course.

    QUESTION: So only as far as Latvia along with Estonia and Lithuania are going to send troops to Syria and Iraq. So not a large contingent, but anyway, what role do you think – could this Baltic contingent play in anti-terrorist operations there? Will it be mostly symbolic, or can it really make some practical impact?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I have not seen that report that they have committed to send their forces to – you said Syria and Iraq?

    QUESTION: Iraq, basically, but —

    MS NAUERT: Oh, to Iraq. Okay. So I don’t want to comment on that too much, but to say in general terms we welcome the efforts of so many countries to have contributed in our D-ISIS coalition. There are 73 members of our D-ISIS coalition, and that includes mostly countries, but also various international organizations as well.

    We have seen – and I’ve been so impressed by the number of small countries that have been willing to step up and provide their forces, even when they’re limited forces, to places like Afghanistan, to Syria, to Iraq. So if those countries are, in fact, providing those forces, I would say thank you. Thank you on behalf of the U.S. Government. Thank you on behalf of the Iraqi Government and the Syrian people for helping to bring peace and stability. But I’d be happy to take a further look into that for you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: You’re welcome. All right. Okay – we got – we have to go.

    QUESTION: Thank you. A quick one. How concerned is the U.S. on the prospect of ending the conflict in Yemen after the death of President Saleh?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, that’s a good question. Boy, we’ve certainly followed that very closely. I spoke with our ambassador to Yemen last week or so just to get an update on the situation. The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains dire. It really does. And one of the things that we ask for when we speak with our partners in the region – when we speak with the Saudis – is, for example, to allow more humanitarian access in. We know that the people need that so desperately. We are watching very carefully what has happened with the – let me just find my additional information here. Hold on one second. And now I can’t find it. We’re just watching it very carefully and are incredibly concerned about violence there. So we continue to call upon folks in the region to refrain from violence and call for the humanitarian access to get in. I’ll see if I have anything more for you on that, okay?

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Thank you. Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:40 p.m.)

    DPB # 68

     


    [i] The White House has made no announcement on an Ambassador.



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Statement from USAID Administrator Mark Green on Yemen


Undefined
Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The United States remains extremely concerned about the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.  Over the last week, fighting in Sana’a has intensified-killing and injuring hundreds of people.  This spike in violence has brought increased suffering to a city of more than one million people who are now trapped inside their homes.

Power Africa: A 2017 Update


Undefined
Monday, December 4, 2017

Power Africa is a U.S. Government-led partnership coordinated by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Launched in June 2013, Power Africa brings together the technical capacities, capabilities, resources, and programs of 12 U.S. Government Departments and Agencies and 16 international development partners to provide market-driven solutions to advance the goals of the Electrify Africa Act of 2015, to catalyze small businesses, the power industry, and bring electricity to millions of people for the first time.

Peace Corps to Move to New Headquarters in Washington’s NoMa District in 2020

WASHINGTON –
Today the Peace Corps announced that the federal agency, which sends Americans
with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with
communities and create lasting change, will move to a new headquarters building
in Washington in 2020. The
General Services Administration (GSA) announced the award of a new lease
at
1275 First Street N.E. (One Constitution Square) on behalf of the Peace Corps.

After two
decades of occupancy in a 20th Street building in the Central
Business District, the Peace Corps will gain efficiency by joining other
federal agencies in the burgeoning NoMa district.

“The new,
modern headquarters will enhance our agency’s efficiency and productivity,”
Peace Corps Chief Executive Officer Sheila Crowley said. “The NoMa building is
Platinum LEED certified and will include much-needed conferencing facilities,
teaming rooms, and media centers to increase opportunities for communication
and collaboration across our overseas and domestic offices. The move to a
green, thoughtfully configured space will allow our dedicated staff to better
serve the public and fulfill the Peace Corps’ mission of promoting world peace
and friendship.”

The lease for
173,000 rentable square feet includes space on the second through seventh
floors which was formerly occupied by other federal agencies including GSA,
which used it as swing space during a central office renovation.

Peace Corps
will take occupancy of the space in late 2019. Headquarters staff is expected to
move into the First Street building, which will be renamed “The Paul D.
Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters,” in January of 2020.

United States and Israel Announce Partnership to Increase Energy Investment in Africa


Undefined
Monday, December 4, 2017

Today, the Government of the United States and the Government of Israel entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to advance the common goals of reducing energy poverty and increasing access to energy in sub-Saharan Africa through innovative partnerships between private enterprise, African governments, and foreign assistance.

USAID Administrator Mark Green’s World AIDS Day Speech


Undefined
Friday, December 1, 2017

Ending the AIDS epidemic will only be possible when we come together and when we collaborate. Today, India itself is shouldering the vast majority of the cost to prevent and treat HIV. And this has greatly reduced the government’s reliance upon foreign assistance, assistance from other countries. The Indian government, joined by civil society, activists, Indian leaders, committed state leadership, has helped to diminish what was once projected to be an HIV/AIDS crisis.

Statement by Spokesperson Clayton M. McCleskey Expressing Condolences to the Victims of the Violence in South Sudan


Undefined
Thursday, November 30, 2017

The U.S. Agency for International Development condemns the recent intercommunal violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei State on November 28 that resulted in at least 45 civilian deaths, including six humanitarian aid workers, as well as dozens of injuries. We extend our deepest condolences to the victims and their families.

Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing – November 30, 2017

Heather Nauert

Spokesperson

Department Press Briefing

Washington, DC

November 30, 2017


Index for Today’s Briefing

  • DEPARTMENT/INDIA
  • VENEZUELA
  • LIBYA
  • SECRETARY TRAVEL
  • DEPARTMENT
  • POLAND/GERMANY/RUSSIA/UKRAINE/REGION
  • NORTH KOREA/GERMANY/REGION
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
  • IRAQ/REGION
  • DEPARTMENT

    TRANSCRIPT:


    2:57 p.m. EST

    MS NAUERT: A couple announcements I’d like to start off with for this portion of the briefing today. We have talked recently about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that is taking place in India this week. That concluded today. This year’s Global Economic Summit focused on supporting women entrepreneurs and fostering economic growth globally. For all of our progress, gender divides on access to technology, nutrition, and health, preventing women, their families, and their communities from reaching their full potential.

    In order to close this gap, USAID Administrator Mark Green announced several USAID-led efforts there in India. This includes the Women Connect Challenge, which will help bridge the digital divide; a 28-team Feed the Future Competition; a $2 million commitment from Feed the Future designed to lift up and mentor female entrepreneurs in Africa; new funding to help India combat tuberculosis by increasing women’s access to diagnosis and treatment; and the launch of USAID’s first health impact bond, which is aimed at saving the lives of women and newborns in India. Administrator Green is also going to Mumbai tomorrow to participate in a World AIDS Day event, where he will reconfirm the U.S. commitment to ending HIV/AIDS.

    Another matter. We talk a lot about how safety and security is – of Americans overseas and here at home is one of our top, top priorities. With that, I’d like to bring you a little bit of an update on an American who’s been held for quite some time in Venezuela, and that’s Josh Holt.

    The United States calls on the Government of Venezuela to release on humanitarian grounds U.S. citizen Josh Holt, who’s been detained in Venezuela since June 30th, 2016, almost a year and a half now. Throughout his 17 months in detention, so far without charges, we’ve raised our concerns about Mr. Holt’s case, his condition, and his treatment at every opportunity. We remain extremely concerned for his health and his well-being. The decline in his health has been further exacerbated by the Venezuelan authorities’ delays in providing necessary medical treatment. Sometimes they have blocked his care altogether.

    The U.S. Embassy in Caracas continues to raise concerns regarding the Venezuelan Government’s repeated postponements of and refusal to transport him to scheduled hearings, court hearings. Again, we call on the Government of Venezuela to grant Mr. Holt immediate release and return him to the United States.

    Another matter, and this is something that’s happening tomorrow that the Secretary will take part in, is a meeting here in Washington with the Libyan prime minister. We are pleased to welcome the Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan delegation to Washington later this week. The President will host the prime minister at the White House tomorrow. While in Washington, the prime minister and the Libyan delegation will also meet with other U.S. leaders, including Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis tomorrow afternoon.

    In those meetings, we look forward to deepening the partnership between the United States and Libya. We will reaffirm the United States support for Prime Minister Sarraj and his Government of National Accord as the Libyan people seek to build a more stable, unified, and prosperous future. The Secretary looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sarraj our shared efforts to defeat ISIS and also other terrorists as well.

    The Secretary and Prime Minister Sarraj will also discuss the central role of the UN Special Representative Salame’s mediation and the importance of the Libyan efforts to reach a political solution within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement.

    And finally, the Secretary referenced this earlier this week, and this is his upcoming trip to Europe. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Brussels, Belgium, Vienna, and Paris December 4th through the 8th. On December 4th he will arrive in Brussels, and that’s where he’ll meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and attend the December 5th through 6th NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting. While in Brussels, he’ll also meet with senior Belgian officials as well as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the 28 European Union member-states to discuss U.S.-EU cooperation on major global issues. He will then travel to Vienna on December 7th, where he will attend the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – that’s OSCE. It’s a ministerial conference that’s hosted by the OSCE chairman in office, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

    He will then attend the opening and first plenary sessions together with ministers from the 57 OSCE participating states. He will also meet separately with Foreign Minister Kurz to discuss combating violent extremism, curbing nuclear proliferation, promoting democratic and economic reform in the Balkans, and also deepening bilateral trade ties.

    Finally, Secretary Tillerson will travel to Paris – pardon me – to meet with senior French leaders to discuss our deepening cooperation on issues of mutual concern around the world. This includes Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, the DPRK, and the Sahel, in addition to other areas of bilateral interest.

    So thank you for listening to all that information we have here out of the State Department. I know you have a lot of questions, especially about the news today, so I’d be happy to take those. Josh, if you’d like to start, from the AP.

    QUESTION: Sure. Thanks, Heather. Why don’t we go right to the elephant in the room? Many of our news organizations are being —

    MS NAUERT: And let me just pause by saying I’m sorry, I have allergies, and so I’ve got a little bit of a cough today. So go right ahead.

    QUESTION: No problem, sure.

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: The White House officials are telling many news organizations represented here that Secretary Tillerson is on his way out, he’s going to be replaced by CIA Director Pompeo. Is that accurate? Is – has the Secretary spoken to Trump about this today? And how long does he expect to remain in his role?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So here’s what I can tell you: You saw the White House statement earlier today. The White House statement confirmed that there will be no personnel changes. It is a fact that Secretary Tillerson serves at the pleasure of the President, as we all do, as does every political appointee and cabinet member. Secretary Tillerson enjoys this job. He has a lot of work to do. We started out this morning together when he had a series of meetings. In addition to his regularly scheduled meetings with Washington officials and phone calls, he had a meeting with a foreign minister, Foreign Minister Gabriel of Germany.

    The Secretary and I spoke at that time. We talked a little bit about Burma, we talked a little bit about the DPRK. The Secretary had a successful meeting, which I’d like to get to a little bit later and tell you a little bit about what came out of that bilateral meeting, and then he was off to the White House. We heard about the news. He went off to the White House with a regularly scheduled meeting with Bahrain and the President, returned here for a short while, and then he headed back to the White House for an additional meeting which was a preset meeting, a small principals group meeting. The topic of that is Syria.

    The reason I’m telling you about sort of all these comings and goings of the Secretary is that he remains, as I have been told, committed to doing this job. He does serve at the pleasure of the President. This is a job that he enjoys. He is continuing with his meetings. He’s continuing with his calls. He has spoken not only with Foreign Minister Gabriel, but also with the – pardon me – with the UN secretary-general earlier today, and so he’s continuing with a full schedule.

    QUESTION: Now, how does he go about doing his job with this hanging over him? I mean, he’s going to go off to Europe on Monday. What reason would foreign governments have to believe that he speaks on behalf of President Trump when the White House is letting it be known publicly that they don’t have confidence in him anymore?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary is someone whose feathers don’t get ruffled very easily. He kind of brushed this off today. He’s heard these kinds of stories before. These stories have come up through his tenure here at the State Department and he’s just going on about his business. In terms of how he will handle the meetings next week, he has a very robust schedule. These are matters that he’ll be discussing that he is passionate about, from our relationship with the Europeans to NATO and asking various NATO countries for additional commitments in Afghanistan, something we view as being important to addressing the good and solid relationships we have with European partners. So he has a big agenda. That agenda has certainly not changed.

    He remains the Secretary of State. As long as he is serving at the pleasure of the President, he will continue to do that job.

    QUESTION: But you’re not saying that these rumors are groundless. Are you saying that they are completely false and groundless?

    MS NAUERT: Here’s what I know. I don’t work at the White House.

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MS NAUERT: But what I can tell you is that Chief of Staff Kelly called our department this morning —

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: — and said that the rumors are not true, that those reports are not true. That is what I’ve been told, that’s what we’ve been told. And you heard from the White House today that they have no personnel changes to announce.

    QUESTION: So wouldn’t it be the right thing to do to for the White House to issue a statement on the eve of the Secretary’s departure on such a major trip to say that these rumors are groundless, if that is the case?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to tell the White House how to conduct its business. The – excuse me, the chief of staff has spoken to reporters. I believe he did a gaggle earlier today in which he spoke to reporters and said that this report is not true. Sarah Sanders has spoken to reporters as well. I believe she has a briefing a little bit later today. I’m sure many of you want to cover that as well. So I’d have to let the White House speak for itself from – but from our standpoint here at the State Department we remained committed to our job. As you saw, Ambassador Birx was here talking about the successes of our Global AIDS Program, and we’re just continuing with business as usual.

    QUESTION: Has the Secretary discussed this with the President when he was over at the White House?

    MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge.

    QUESTION: Heather —

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

    QUESTION: — how would you characterize the chemistry between Secretary Tillerson and Mr. John Kelly?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I – oh, between Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly, or Chief of Staff Kelly?

    QUESTION: Chief of staff. Chief of Staff Kelly.

    MS NAUERT: I was told – I was not at the White House today, I was here. I was told that it was normal, the same as usual, that the Secretary was treated the same as he always is. That’s what I was told.

    QUESTION: Who did John Kelly speak with when he called this morning? And – I mean, you said not to your knowledge that there was any discussion between the President and Secretary, so there was no personal assurance during his time over at the White House today —

    MS NAUERT: Again, I was not there. So I hesitate to say too much, because I was not there to see it myself. But some of that would be a private – considered private discussions, but I don’t believe that that conversation took place.

    QUESTION: Okay. And the call to the department today from John Kelly?

    MS NAUERT: The call to the department came into the chief of staff this morning. There may have been —

    QUESTION: To Margaret Peterlin?

    MS NAUERT: Correct. There may have been subsequent calls that have taken place. If so, if something’s happened since we’ve been in this briefing room, I’m not aware of it. Okay? Hi. Hi there.

    QUESTION: Hey. Does the Secretary want to keep this job? Does he feel that he’s doing a good job? He’s come under incredible pressure from outsiders, from Congress. Does he want to keep the job?

    MS NAUERT: The – the Secretary is somebody who is unflappable. I mean, you’ve seen him here before. He’s somebody who is committed to his job. He is someone who is very passionate about speaking with world leaders and advancing U.S. foreign policy goals. He continues with his schedule and the schedule that we have put out, and that schedule hasn’t changed. So I believe that that is something that he’s committed to doing.

    QUESTION: Will he fight to keep the job should they decide that they’re going to go on with someone else?

    MS NAUERT: That would be just speculation; a hypothetical that I’m not going to get into. Okay? Conor.

    QUESTION: Heather?

    QUESTION: But does he feel pressure from the White House? I mean, given this leak – and we’ve done this now for a couple months of people at the White House leaking unflattering stories about him and his relationship with the President – does he feel pressure to resign from the White House?

    MS NAUERT: I think what he feels is that Washington can be a tough game of politics. You have heard him reference that before, that he’s not from Washington, he’s not a person of Washington, and he doesn’t always understand and accept exactly how Washington works with anonymous sources, things of that nature. That’s not who he is, that’s not the world that he comes from. Okay?

    QUESTION: May I please stick with —

    QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: How would you characterize his relationship with the President? Some of these reports, it’s been reported that it has soured over the last couple of months in particular.

    MS NAUERT: Well, certainly they will have areas of disagreement when it comes to policy. I mean, that’s no doubt. And – I mean, that’s very clear. The Secretary has spoken to that himself and has said that’s part of the reason that the President hired him, so that he could have different opinions being given to the President and the President could ultimately make his decision on various policy issues. So they have had areas of disagreement when it’s come to policy. I know that the President certainly respects Secretary Tillerson. I know that they’ve had a certainly a cordial relationship. Where that relationship is today, I can’t speak to that. Okay.

    QUESTION: That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement there.

    MS NAUERT: Well, I have not personally been in the room with the Secretary and the President at the same time. So there’s not too much that I can really say about that other than the Secretary serves at the pleasure of the President, and the Secretary had two meetings with the President today. Okay? Go ahead, Nike.

    QUESTION: It had been mentioned that Secretary Tillerson and President have some areas of disagreement on policy —

    MS NAUERT: Well, they have in the past certainly on things like climate change and all that. You know that.

    QUESTION: Does that also include the latest retweet on anti-Muslim video, and has the State Department warned the White House that such retweet may cause repercussion?

    MS NAUERT: One of the things we will always say is the safety and security of our American personnel and of U.S. citizens abroad is our top concern. The State Department has continuous conversations with the White House and the National Security Council about anything that could affect any American’s safety and security abroad. When it comes to specific conversations, you know all too well that I can’t comment on our sort of private internal conversations, but it wouldn’t be unusual for us to have those kinds of conversations about any matter in the world. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can I —

    QUESTION: Has the State Department warned the White House such retweet may put U.S. embassies abroad at risk?

    MS NAUERT: I will tell you again, we have lots of communications with the White House and NSC about a variety of security issues. I don’t know that yesterday or today is any different than it was in the past. Okay? Carol, hi.

    QUESTION: Can we change topics?

    QUESTION: Has the Secretary —

    MS NAUERT: Hold on.

    QUESTION: On this —

    QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with Secretary Mattis today? I know they speak frequently. And did they discuss this in particular or —

    MS NAUERT: I believe – let me double-check the schedule, but I seem to recall that Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson met early this morning.

    QUESTION: And did they discuss this in particular, these rumors that —

    MS NAUERT: Again, let me take a double – double-check the schedule about that, but I believe it was early this morning that they met.

    QUESTION: And —

    MS NAUERT: And early this morning, that was before this news broke.

    QUESTION: Okay. Could you check also to see if Secretary Tillerson spoke with General Kelly when he was at the White House?

    MS NAUERT: I told you they did speak when they were at the White House.

    QUESTION: At the White House? I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Heather, (inaudible).

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. Hold on. Okay. Hold on.

    QUESTION: Can we change topics?

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Josh.

    QUESTION: Can you tell us whether based on the divestiture agreement that the Secretary entered with the Government Ethics Office whether he would face any tax or financial implications if he were to leave, particularly if he were to leave before the one-year mark?

    MS NAUERT: I’ve seen that story. I’m certainly aware of that report. People have started to ask about that. I have no knowledge of how that financial situation would work. I can certainly look into it. I’m not sure I’m going to have an answer for you. However, I have spoken with various reputable news organizations – I won’t name them – but some of them are in the room today, who have all said that they’ve run down that story and have found no basis in fact for that. But again, that’s based on what reporters here in the room have told me about that story.

    Okay, Said.

    QUESTION: Can we change topics?

    MS NAUERT: Hold on, let’s stay – we’re going to stay with this before we go on to that. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah, it’s a follow-up on the embassies.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: At some embassies in some Muslim countries enhanced their security protocols since yesterday and those tweets.

    MS NAUERT: We would never address security protocols that either have or have not changed at our embassy. That’s something that we keep close to the vest here at the State Department. We have a – talked about this the other day – a brand new assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security, who has a very big job not only overseeing our more than 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents who work for the State Department but also our locally employed staff who are security officials who help protect our embassies, and by the way, we have the Marines out there as well. In terms of changing our security posture, that’s just not something we’re going to get into.

    Okay. Anything else on that? Okay. Hey. Hey, Gardiner.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Josh’s – hey.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Josh’s point. Don’t these rumors and these stories, which have now been reported widely by many different outlets, don’t they make the Secretary’s job very challenging, because won’t his counterparts in Europe next week be asking themselves who Tillerson is speaking for? Because these stories suggest that he no longer speaks for the President or has the President’s confidence.

    MS NAUERT: Look, I can tell you this. After meeting with the foreign minister of Germany today, and then the story broke as we were emerging from that meeting with the German foreign minister; fast-forward a couple hours and I see an AFP report that talks about one of the issues that came up in the meeting with the foreign minister of Germany, and that is Germany’s decision to reduce its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang and require North Korea to reduce its presence in Berlin. That is a subject that came up today between the Secretary and the foreign minister. That is something that is a part of our maximum pressure campaign to take money out of North Korea, to try to choke off the money that goes into North Korea, that goes into its ballistic and nuclear programs.

    The reason I mention this, Gardiner, is that this story came out after that meeting. This story came out a few hours later. That is important and that is significant because the foreign minister made this decision, put that information out there after this news broke. What I am saying is that the Secretary has his position, he is the Secretary of State, he will continue with that position, continue doing his job, continue doing his duty and serving the American public until the President, if and when the President decides that he no longer wants to keep the Secretary in his position.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Yes, one more clarification on this.

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: That you keep mentioning that you cannot share with us the diplomatic conversations, but if you see the top level, President and the prime minister of the UK are talking directly on the Twitter. And so what else is left to – not to be shared with us?

    MS NAUERT: Well, that would be between those – the governments. You mean the President and the UK. I can’t speak for the President, and I certainly can’t speak for the British prime minister.

    QUESTION: No, what else is left – at what level there is – there are more talks?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sure I’m not following your question. Are you suggesting that the only conversations that take place between world leaders is on Twitter?

    QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the department is – are the departments having a conversation to do the damage control?

    MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, I’m not understanding your question.

    QUESTION: When the President tweets and the UK prime minister replies and then the President replies —

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: — there is a level of conversation going on. And then you say that there is – there are also conversations at the lower levels or other levels which you cannot share with us because they are private.

    MS NAUERT: Sir, nothing has changed. Often, we do not discuss the contents of our diplomatic conversation. I mean, you’ll hear many of your colleagues here complaining about that. There are some things that we choose to keep private. That hasn’t changed. But I can’t comment on the conversations that the White House is having with other nations.

    Okay? Okay.

    QUESTION: All the way in the back, please.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. What are you doing all the way back there?

    QUESTION: Well, I came in late, so I didn’t want to disturb things.

    MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay. Well, that’s very polite of you. Good to see you.

    QUESTION: So could you give us a little more detail about the call that was taken from General Kelly? And you say that he – he told, I guess, the Secretary of State that these reports aren’t true. Could you talk about what else he said, how he explained the fact that every major news organization was reporting this out of the White House today?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize what Chief of Staff Kelly – what exactly he said. I think that would be for General Kelly to explain himself. But I know that he did place a phone call this morning and said that there was nothing to that report of having a plan in place.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Hold on.

    QUESTION: He spoke with who?

    QUESTION: He spoke from here.

    QUESTION: He spoke with —

    MS NAUERT: I told you that. I already told you that. He spoke with our chief of staff this morning. Yes. Okay? Okay. Hi, sir.

    QUESTION: I have a question about Nord Stream 2.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Deputy assistant —

    MS NAUERT: Why don’t we do this? Let’s get through these stories and then I will come back to you, okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you. Anything else on this issue?

    QUESTION: Can we change topics?

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. We’ll change topic, then. Okay, we’ll go to Nord Stream 2.

    QUESTION: About Nord Stream 2.

    MS NAUERT: And – I’m sorry, you’re with who, sir?

    QUESTION: I’m Marek Walkuski, Polish Public Radio.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Nice to meet you. Welcome to the State Department.

    QUESTION: Deputy Assistant Secretary McCarrick told a group of European journalists that, I quote, “We don’t see the possibility that Nord Stream 2 is going to be built. That is not something that we are going to assume is going to happen.” Could you explain what is the statement based on? And I’m wondering if the topic has been discussed during the meeting between Secretary Tillerson and German foreign minister and what’s the conclusion of their discussion if, in fact, it was one of the topics.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can tell you that that conversation did not come up. The Secretary and the foreign minister had a very positive meeting in which they talked about the DPRK, North Korea. They talked about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the importance of Saudi Arabia opening additional ports and ways that we can get humanitarian aid into Yemen. They talked about a few other matters as well. Nord Stream 2 was not one of the topics that came up in my presence. Now, they may have had a separate sideline conversation that I did not witness, so that may have come up.

    In terms of where exactly we are on Nord Stream 2 – pardon me one second – another topic related to that is the multi-line Turkish Stream, as I understand it. So our position on this would be that Europe is certainly working to try to diversify where it gets its energy. I’ve spoken with some of your colleagues before, people from that part of the world as well, and recognizing that there should be and could be more sources of energy. We have seen in the very cold winter months where Vladimir Putin – which is where a lot of your energy comes from in particular in Poland – where he will turn down, turn off those energy supplies, causing costs to go up and causing people to lose heat on occasion. So we know that Europe is working to diversify its energy sector overall. It’s also assessing projects that would undermine some of these efforts.

    We agree with many of our European partners that Nord Stream 2 and a multi-line Turkish Stream would reinforce Russian dominance in Europe’s gas markets. It would reduce opportunities for diversification of energy sources. It would pose security risks in an already tense Baltic Sea region and it would advance Russia’s goal of undermining Ukraine – that’s a particular concern of ours – by ending Ukraine’s role as a transit country for Russian gas exports to get to Europe. Construction of Nord Stream 2 would concentrate about 75 percent of Russian gas imports to the EU through a single route, creating a potential checkpoint that would significantly increase Europe’s vulnerability to a supply disruption. So we believe that these two projects would enable Gazprom to cut off transit via Ukraine and still meet demand in Western Europe, which would economically undermine Ukraine by depriving it of about $2 billion in annual transit revenue. Okay?

    QUESTION: But is this statement correct, that you don’t believe that the project would be built, that Nord Stream 2 would be built? And Secretary Tillerson called recently the Nord Stream 2 unwise. What are you doing to stop this unwise project?

    MS NAUERT: So, sir, I don’t have the Secretary’s comments in front of me, so I hesitate to comment on having something that I —

    QUESTION: Two days ago at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

    MS NAUERT: I understand. I understand. I just don’t have the exact quote in front of me.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: So I’m not – I’m just not going to comment on that. And the other person who made a remark, I don’t – I’m afraid I don’t have that with me either, so – okay?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Can we move on? Heather, can we move on please?

    MS NAUERT: Thanks. Yeah, North Korea.

    QUESTION: Yesterday in a briefing you gave, you specifically called on Germany to withdraw its ambassador from North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: That was misreported. I’d like to go back, and if you want to check the transcript, actually, I did not call on Germany to get rid of its ambassador. What we did and what we often do, as you have heard me many times here before, is call upon countries to do a lot more – to do a lot more, which could include kicking out an ambassador. It could include reducing the size of a footprint of that country. It could include reducing the number of North Korean guest workers. There were some reporters who misreported that, so I just want to make that clear.

    QUESTION: But, I mean, the quote – I’m – maybe this is inaccurate, but you said “we would continue to ask Germany or other countries around the world to recall those ambassadors, shrink the footprint of the size of the entity that North Korea has in any given country.” I mean, so when you said —

    MS NAUERT: That is nothing new. We ask all —

    QUESTION: To recall those ambassadors —

    MS NAUERT: We ask a lot of those countries to do that type of thing, certainly.

    QUESTION: Okay. So did the Secretary today ask the foreign minister of Germany to recall his ambassador?

    MS NAUERT: The Secretary did not specifically ask that, but the conversation did come up. And that’s why I mentioned that —

    QUESTION: Sure.

    MS NAUERT: — AFP story that came out earlier today that said that they would – I’ll just go back and double-check it – but that they would, I believe they said, reduce the size of their footprint.

    QUESTION: So but was —

    MS NAUERT: Reduce its diplomatic mission. But look, what this —

    QUESTION: Was he disappointed that the Germans have not recalled their ambassador? I mean, Nikki Haley yesterday was very explicit at the UN they want countries around the world to completely cut off diplomatic ties with North Korea. Germany is saying essentially, sure, we’ll reduce staff, but we’re going to leave this embassy open.

    MS NAUERT: I think – I think this is a success. The news that we have seen come out of Germany, as with many other nations – we’ve seen this with Peru, we’ve seen it with Japan, we’ve seen it with South Korea, we’ve seen it with Sudan where Sudan has recently said that it’s no longer going to buy weapons from the DPRK. That is all a part of our maximum pressure campaign.

    That maximum pressure campaign, which you all probably get tired of hearing me talk about, is something that we – is our top national security priority here. Nations continue to get on board and support that. We have well north of 20 countries who have done different things to jump on board with that campaign, and I think the news that’s coming out of Germany today is altogether positive.

    Okay.

    QUESTION: Can we move on?

    MS NAUERT: Said. Hi.

    QUESTION: I have a follow-up on North Korea.

    QUESTION: On that subject —

    QUESTION: Sorry —

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: On that subject —

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay. Hold on. Okay.

    QUESTION: Just can you just sort of again be explicit? Do you want all of your allies to end diplomatic ties, withdraw their ambassadors from Pyongyang? Because we’re hearing from your allies, from U.S. allies, that they have no intention of withdrawing their ambassadors and that in their conversations with the Trump administration, the Trump administration is not asking them to withdraw their ambassadors or end diplomatic ties. So what are you asking them specifically to do?

    MS NAUERT: Well, one of the things that we have talked about here in this administration is the importance of sovereign nations. Right? So nations have the ability to make the choices that are best or that they believe are best for their nations. However, we all – civilized nations – recognize the constant and pervasive threat of the DPRK. We saw what just happened two days ago with what we believe may have been an intercontinental ballistic missile launch, in addition to the other launches that North Korea has conducted and the advanced nuclear testing that they conducted just a few months ago.

    So we have seen all of that. The world recognizes what a regional and global threat North Korea is, that North Korea presents. So many countries in the world are on board with this campaign, on board with the maximum pressure campaign. But countries have to make their own decisions about what will work best for them.

    QUESTION: What is the campaign? Do you want them to all close their embassies and withdraw all their diplomatic personnel from Pyongyang?

    MS NAUERT: I can give you transcript and transcript and transcript of the briefings from here, Gardiner, or from the, Secretary Tillerson’s meetings about our maximum pressure campaign. I can briefly go over it once again. Sorry, you all have heard it in —

    QUESTION: No, just the ambassador.

    MS NAUERT: You all have heard it a million times.

    QUESTION: I mean, because they’re telling us that you – they’re not hearing from you that they want – that you want their missions to be shuttered and all their ambassadors withdrawn.

    MS NAUERT: I have not heard from any particular ambassadors with that question. I have not gotten that question from any particular ambassadors. If we do and I know about it, I can certainly let you know, but we’ve not gotten that question so far.

    QUESTION: I just —

    QUESTION: On another —

    QUESTION: But you want them to all withdraw their ambassadors; is that right?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I – here’s what I would say. And I’m not in the position to make policy so I am not going to do that, but a key part of our maximum pressure campaign is to ask other nations – and again, let me underscore that countries are all sovereign. Okay? They need to do what they feel is in their best interest. That is something that this administration recognizes. But we ask countries to choke off the money supply that goes into North Korea. We know for a fact that North Korea doesn’t use the money that comes in to its government or to its people for the benefit of its people. They don’t feed their people; they have people starving, malnourished. We’ve all seen that. You’ve seen the intestinal problems that the soldier who just escaped from North Korea has certainly had. All of that.

    So we know the money doesn’t go to the people. We know the money goes to its illegal weapons programs. So we have called on countries across the world to join us in that maximum pressure campaign in reducing the size of their missions in North Korea. If they would be willing to close their missions in North Korea altogether, I think that that is something that we would be supportive of. We’ve also called on nations to kick out North Korean guest workers, to reduce the size of North Korean missions in their own countries. It’s a broad pressure campaign.

    We also have the multilateral – the multilateral, the unilateral sanctions, and all of that in addition to the UN Security Council resolutions.

    Okay? Okay, let’s move on.

    QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Heather. Let me just ask you very quickly. Today marks the end of the six-month waiver for maintaining the – your embassy in Tel Aviv and moving it to Jerusalem. Do you have any news on that? Is the President going to likely sign another waiver for another six months? Or —

    MS NAUERT: I know everyone would like to speculate about that.

    QUESTION: Well, I mean, what is your position?

    MS NAUERT: So I can just tell you that no decision has been made on that matter yet. My understanding is that the waiver is actually due to Congress by December 4th —

    QUESTION: Right.

    MS NAUERT: — which would be —

    QUESTION: Monday.

    MS NAUERT: — Monday. Okay. I think you had said today. The President has said that he has given serious consideration to the matter, and we’re looking at it with great care. That’s all I have for you on that.

    QUESTION: Okay. Is the Secretary talking to the President on this issue? Because in past administrations the secretary of state always presented the case as to why this would be a bad decision for the United States at this particular time.

    MS NAUERT: I know that the —

    QUESTION: While there’s some sort of process ongoing.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. The Secretary is talking to the White House about that matter, and I know we’re having a lot of conversations about that as well. But again, I want to underscore that no decision has been made yet.

    QUESTION: And one last question, last – I mean, when you determined that the office of the PLO must remain open, you said that we want to limit their activity to the peace process. Does that include the movement of the ambassador and his staff, let’s say when they are called by the Palestinian American community in San Francisco to speak or anything? How do you limit their activity to that particular area?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that particular scenario that you outlined.

    QUESTION: This is – right.

    MS NAUERT: That is not one that I had heard of. But I can —

    QUESTION: Okay. Well, it said – it says – it’s therefore – you’re saying that it’s optimistic, that you are optimistic in – in 90 days or in three months the situation will be such that would allow the office to remain operational fully. But also, you say that they must limit their activities to the peace process. What does that mean?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. So we have advised the PLO office to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We’re actively involved in restarting what we consider to be substantial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We have found – and we talked about this coming out of the UN General Assembly – both parties have been cooperative; the conversations have been constructive; and we believe that both sides are prepared to engage in negotiations.

    The statute that you reference provides that if, after 90 days, the President determines that the Palestinians are engaged in direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel, restrictions on the PLO and its Washington office may be lifted. You reference this also: We remain optimistic that at the end of that 90-day period the political process may be sufficiently advanced and that the President will be in the position to allow the PLO office to resume full operations.

    Okay?

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    QUESTION: If there’s not been a decision yet on what we’re going to do on the embassy waiver, why has the State Department informed diplomatic posts in Muslim countries that they need to be on edge for violence around this?

    MS NAUERT: I think that is something we would never discuss – any conversations that our State Department is having with our posts around the world, so I just can’t give you anything on that.

    Okay? All right.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    QUESTION: Can I just follow on that, though?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The Vice President has said it’s not a matter of if but when. So this could be the time when it comes, so are you making contingency plans at all?

    MS NAUERT: We would never discuss any potential security contingency plans, at least not that I am – certainly not that I’m aware of. You know that that’s something – we talked about that earlier – that we keep pretty closely held.

    Okay? A last question. We’re going to have to wrap.

    QUESTION: On Iraq?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, hi.

    QUESTION: Hi. The Chaldean archbishop of Erbil has been here seeking financial support because Baghdad has said it has no money for reconstruction. Did anyone here in this building meet with him, and is the administration going to assist with the reconstruction for the 100,000 Christians who have refugees from Nineveh province?

    MS NAUERT: In terms of the meeting, I’m not aware of any actual meetings that were held between the Chaldean archbishop and anyone at the State Department. So I’m not aware of any of that taking place. I can tell you as a general matter we are deeply committed, deeply committed – and we’ve talked about this before – to the world’s most vulnerable people. That includes ethnic and religious minorities. We’re particularly concerned with people who are suffering in conflict-affected areas, and we are steadfast in our resolve to ensure that those communities get the assistance that they need.

    We are a generous nation. We have provided a lot in terms of humanitarian assistance to Iraq and other nations around the world. We have also, however, said that we are no longer in the building – or in the business of nation-building. What we’ve been doing in Iraq and Syria is stabilization, helping to get the water turned back on, the electricity flowing, kids back in schools. But in terms of building roads and bridges and large-scale reconstruction projects like we saw the United States engaged in 10-plus years ago, that’s something that the U.S. Government is no longer involved with.

    We instead will look on – look to other nations to assist with that as well. We are continuing to assist with those programs, but other nations will help pick up the tab also.

    QUESTION: So you don’t know of any specific funds that – for what —

    MS NAUERT: Look, I can tell you that we are exploring different initiatives with various NGOs in order to assist. Okay?

    QUESTION: Okay. And one more question: Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, had said that U.S. troops must leave Iraq once ISIS is defeated. What’s your comment on that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Overall, the United States, as we are in other countries as well, we’re there at the request of the government. We are there at the request of the Iraqi Government. We are there to defeat ISIS. That’s all I have for you on that. Okay?

    QUESTION: So if – his plan is to use the parliament to put pressure on the Iraqi Government to ask U.S. forces to leave. If that happens, you’ll just pick up and leave?

    MS NAUERT: Laurie, I just don’t have anything more for you on that. We are there at the request of the Iraqi Government. Okay?

    QUESTION: Heather, you said —

    MS NAUERT: I’ll take one last one. Alicia, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you. On the Nobel Peace Prize —

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: — could you comment on the U.S. decision to not send its ambassador to attend the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony this year honoring the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons?

    MS NAUERT: I have a few notes on that one right here, as a matter of fact. So the United States was not the only country to not send its ambassador. The United Kingdom, France, and the United States agreed on our attendance with the Nobel Institute. The United States will be represented, instead of by its ambassador, by the acting deputy chief of mission to the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony on December 10th in Oslo. The United States is overall committed to preserving peace and creating the conditions for nuclear disarmament. That’s a goal, of course, we share with many other nations. Okay?

    QUESTION: And could you comment on whether this is indeed an ideological decision to not attend because ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year?

    MS NAUERT: Look, I don’t have anything more for you on that. It was a decision that was made on the part of the U.S. Government and other governments as well, not just the United States.

    Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:37 p.m.)

    DPB # 67



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USAID Administrator Mark Green’s Remarks on Ending Tuberculosis in India


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Thursday, November 30, 2017

India’s drive to conquer and eliminate TB is an inspiration to all of us, and it’s a great example of a country and a cause that we hope to lift up. We are excited to see so many across India making the fight against TB their own fight, from those at the top of the government down to the private sector and even into the world of popular culture. Take Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan — I did my very best — who, after his own battle with TB, took up the cause and now is a great and powerful champion. He is a champion for the importance of early detection and appropriate treatment. He saw that taking steps early to address the disease saved his life. And today, he is out to show all of us that any person, even the most famous entertainer, but also the most remote villager, is vulnerable to TB, but also with early detection, can stop this global killer dead in its tracks.

Statement from USAID Administrator Mark Green on World AIDS Day


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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Tomorrow, on World AIDS Day, the United States reaffirms our commitment to ending HIV/AIDS. This day also serves as a remembrance of the millions who have lost their lives to this disease.  Nevertheless, we remain encouraged by the tremendous progress made by the global health community in controlling HIV/AIDS.