United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green will travel to Davos, Switzerland, as part of the Presidential Delegation, to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting January 23-26.
United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green will travel to Davos, Switzerland, as part of the Presidential Delegation, to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting January 23-26.
Well, first off, my impression is as we drove through Raqqa was really the incredible human spirit. And, for me, it’s a reminder of what you’ve all been talking about: that if we can play a role in helping to restore essential services, people can go home, people can go to work, and Raqqa can become what, I think, can be a great city.
Today, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green traveled to Raqqa, Syria with General Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command. Administrator Green is the highest-ranking civilian from the U.S. Government to visit Syria since the conflict began in 2011.
Press Release: Statement from CIA Director Pompeo on Former DCI Admiral Stansfield Turner
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green met today with the Honorable Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Chair of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development to discuss how donors can more efficiently and effectively identify and respond to the world’s most-pressing development challenges, including the effects of large movements of people.
The United States welcomes the arrival of four mobile cranes at Yemen’s Hudaydah port. Upon installation, these cranes, purchased by the World Food Programme with U.S. Government funding, will offload essential supplies for the people of Yemen. We expect that the additional capacity of these cranes will cut the typical unloading time for ships in Hudaydah from one week down to three to four days — which means food, medicine, and other necessities will reach people in need more quickly.
“‘Bea’, as everyone called her, was a remarkable volunteer, who was admired by the students she taught and the members of the community where she lived,” said Acting Director Crowley. “Bea shared her love of museums with the students who joined the Junior Explorer’s Club she started. They and Peace Corps will miss her dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family as we mourn this tremendous loss.”
Bernice served as an Education volunteer in Comoros, an island nation along the east coast of Africa. She taught English at the public junior high school in the community of Salimani, on the island of Grande Comore. She also started a Junior Explorer’s Club and worked to secure funds to conduct field trips to the National Museum of Comoros, a botanical garden and other historical sites on the island. Through the club, Bernice introduced its members to sites they had never before visited in their own country. In addition, Bernice worked closely with the curator of the National Museum to help create written descriptions for artifacts on display there.
At the certificate ceremony for the Junior Explorers, Bernice said, “I am so proud of my kids. They have enjoyed the explorations and I am happy to see them grow and become great leaders.”
One month prior to beginning her Peace Corps service, Bernice received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois at Chicago. While living in Chicago, Bernice was a Discovery Squad volunteer at the Field Museum, where she was a photography assistant and shared her knowledge and interest in the museum’s historical artifacts with visitors.
She is survived by her parents, Julie C. and William Heiderman, her sister, Grace Heiderman, and brother, Billy Heiderman.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have agreed to increase assistance to Iraqis, particularly religious and ethnic minorities, to enable them to return to their homes in areas liberated from ISIS.
Yesterday, the Department of State announced the Secretary of State’s re-designation of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern for infringing upon religious freedom. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.
The following is attributable to Deputy Spokesperson Tom Babington:
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green met today with the Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom, the Right Honourable Penny Mordaunt, M.P., to discuss increasing coordination in areas of shared interest, including humanitarian assistance and civil-military cooperation.
The two officials voiced mutual concern about the alarming level of humanitarian need around the world, and discussed urgent advocacy and action to support the world’s most vulnerable people, including in East Africa and in Yemen, where the United States and United Kingdom are actively working to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The following is attributable to Deputy Spokesperson Tom Babington:
Today, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green spoke over the phone with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The two officials discussed pressing global health challenges that are facing the world, including the outbreak of pneumonic plague in Madagascar and the ongoing cholera epidemic in Yemen, which has had over one million suspected cases since April 2017.
– President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate Dr. Josephine
(Jody) K. Olsen as Director of the Peace Corps. Currently, Dr. Olsen is visiting
professor at the University of Maryland-Baltimore School of Social Work and director
of the school’s Center for Global Education Initiatives.
confirmed, Dr. Olsen will return to the Peace Corps, where she served as Acting
Director in 2009, Deputy Director from 2002-2009, Chief of Staff from
1989-1992, Regional Director, North Africa Near East, Asia, Pacific from 1981-1984,
and Country Director in Togo from 1979-1981. Dr. Olsen also served as a Peace
Corps volunteer in Tunisia from 1966-1968.
Olsen served as senior vice president of the Academy for Educational
Development from 1997-2002 and executive director of the Council for
International Exchange of Scholars from 1997-2002.
Olsen received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and a master’s
degree in social work and a doctorate from the University of Maryland. A native
of Utah, Dr. Olsen currently lives in Maryland.
Index for Today’s Briefing
2:32 p.m. EST
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Happy New Year.
QUESTION: Happy New Year.
MS NAUERT: How’s everyone today?
MS NAUERT: Good. We have some visitors in the back. Hi, welcome to the State Department. Hope you’re all doing well. Where are you visiting from today?
QUESTION: I’m from UVA. I’m a virtual intern.
MS NAUERT: Oh, great.
MS NAUERT: Well, welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Virtual intern.
QUESTION: Virtual intern.
MS NAUERT: I didn’t know we had those things.
QUESTION: We’re virtual correspondents.
MS NAUERT: That means you can wear your pajamas and drink beer and work at the same time.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.
MS NAUERT: Yes. Okay. Well, welcome. Glad to have you.
The United States – and this is what we’d like to start out with today on – we’d like to congratulate the people of Liberia and the President-elect Weah on the peaceful, well-executed final round of voting on December the 26th. Many people around the world know that the president-elect is one of Africa’s most talented soccer stars, and we want to wish him much success in this new role, just as much success as he had during his playing days. We also would like to thank Vice President Joseph Boakai for his positive campaign and for his years of honorable service to Liberia.
This election represents a milestone in Liberia’s democracy. It marks the first peaceful transition from one democratically elected leader to another in over 70 years and further solidifies democratic trend in West Africa. The National Elections Commission managed an orderly, transparent elections process, while Liberia’s political parties, security forces, civil society organizations played a critical role in ensuring a peaceful, fair, and credible contest.
We remain committed to our longstanding partnership with Liberia and look forward to working with the President-elect to advance our mutual interests and expanding trade and economic growth, ensuring continued security, including combatting terrorism, and promoting global health security.
I know you have a lot of questions, so let’s get started. Hi, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. Hello. Happy New Year.
MS NAUERT: Happy New Year. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: The ambassador to the United Nations just gave a press conference at which she said that the U.S. is calling for an emergency meeting of the Security Council on the situation there. Can you explain exactly why? What do you – what would you like the Security Council to do or to say about the situation in Iran?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think that many nations around the world are watching what is happening in Iran and watching it very closely. The United States is. Certainly our allies and partners are – France, Germany, the UK. You’ve heard a lot from them in recent days expressing their concerns, just like we’ve expressed our concerns about a crackdown on human rights. We are keeping an eye closely on that. That includes arresting people for peacefully protesting.
So that is an area of major concern of ours, and I think that that is a concern of the United Nations. I don’t want to get ahead of what might happen at the United Nations and what Ambassador Haley and her counterparts will be calling for, but I think it’s an issue that the world shares a concern about, and that is the ability for people to be able to speak openly and freely without fear of imprisonment.
In addition to that, the government had claimed that the JCPOA was basically the elixir, the fix for its economic problems. We have not seen that fix made. We have seen the economy stagnant there; in some situations, for some families, it has become worse than it was before. Many people there will complain that their paychecks have not been made, that they’ve not gotten a paycheck, that their paychecks are late – all of that. So people have a right to be concerned about the government’s treatment of its citizenry, and so they’re speaking out, and they’re brave in doing so.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then never mind about the UN, if you’re going to leave that to them as to what actually the Security Council will do. What is this administration in Washington – what is this administration doing?
MS NAUERT: Well, we’re watching the situation very closely. We are expressing our support, as we have many occasions before, for the Iranian people, understanding that it is brave, that they are courageous in speaking out and speaking out publicly and forcefully. And these are folks who are the working class. You’re seeing this in many towns across the country, people going out at their own risk, at their own peril, speaking out about their concerns. And as Americans, we can all support the right of a freedom of expression, something we support, and they – we are watching them do just that.
We’re talking with our allies as they express their very same concerns about the situation there.
QUESTION: When you say that you’re watching it very closely, monitoring, as everyone knows quite well, the U.S. doesn’t have an embassy in Iran, it doesn’t have any – at least no publicly known presence there. So how exactly are you following the situation? News, social media?
MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, this would go back to how we watch many nations when things are going on, especially when we don’t have a presence there. We get our information from a variety of sources. Some of that can come from NGOs. Some of that can come from media reports. Obviously, that’s a little more difficult right now because the government has clapped – clamped down not only on media but, as we’ve seen, social media too. We expect and we certainly hope that people will be able to access social media and speak freely there, just like we’ve seen them speak on the streets.
QUESTION: Right. Last —
MS NAUERT: So we’ll get that from a variety of sources. Some of that will include intelligence, our partners on the ground, and many other nations as well.
QUESTION: Last one. So you are, in fact, calling on the Government of Iran to restore any social media that has been – that may have been blocked?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think that would certainly be an important thing for them to do. We support a freedom of the press here in the United States. We support the right of voices to be heard. And when a nation clamps down on social media or websites or Google or news sites, we ask the question, “What are you afraid of?” What are you afraid of? We support the Iranian people and we support their voices being heard.
QUESTION: And are you considering sanctions?
MS NAUERT: We don’t get ahead of sanctions, but that is one toolkit, a couple things that we have in a very broad and wide toolkit. It’s – there are a range of options that we certainly have going forward. And that’s why I say we are watching reports very carefully of any potential human rights abuses of these protesters who are protesting peacefully.
Okay. Hi, Andrea. Nice to see you.
QUESTION: Hi, Happy New Year to you.
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
QUESTION: Is there – first of all, is there anything that the U.S. can do to help restore access to social media to the Iranian people?
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. I mean look, I’m not a tech expert. There are lots of ways that people can get information through different sources and different apps and all of that, but I’m not aware of anything particularly that we as a government are able to do. But we’re watching it carefully.
QUESTION: And speaking of social media, one of the President’s first tweets on this was – he said change is needed.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is he calling for regime change?
MS NAUERT: No, I think what the President is talking about is exactly what the Iranian people are saying, that they want change. They want the government to start taking care of them. We’ve heard from some of the protesters their concerns about that nation’s money being spent on exploits in other countries – Syria, Iran’s support for Hizballah, Iran’s support for weapons being sent around the world – as opposed to spending that money on its own people. So I think when the President calls for change, he’s calling for the Iranian Government to make changes for its own people and the same thing that the Iranian people are calling for.
QUESTION: And is there a risk that some experts are expressing about modulating the tone in that the President’s tweets, if they are too strong in solidarity with the protesters, could backfire, could support the hardliners, could lead to a crackdown?
MS NAUERT: The Iranian regime is always going to come up with reasons to try to claim that other governments are responsible for some of their own problems at home, that other governments are responsible for their own people speaking out. This is not the first time that we’ve seen the Iranian people speak out, speak out about their concerns of their treatment under their regime. We saw that almost 10 years ago. We’re seeing it once again – the issues slightly different, but they remain the same.
QUESTION: So when you say that the U.S. has expressed support for these protesters, what is it that the U.S. wants them to do or accomplish?
MS NAUERT: This is largely the same as we would say in any country, whether it’s Venezuela and people conveying their concerns about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, in other countries where people protest. We want them to have the right to speak freely, to peacefully protest, just as people do in the United States, and to be able to do that without fear of retribution.
QUESTION: So does the U.S. want them to continue to protest?
MS NAUERT: Look, that’s up to the Iranian people. We are not going to tell the Iranian people what to do. But we do believe that if Iranian people are going to peacefully protest that they should be allowed to do so.
QUESTION: Could you explain something —
QUESTION: You mentioned working with allies but in the —
MS NAUERT: Okay, last one there.
QUESTION: — in the past couple of days I know that there has been this work among several to craft this strongly worded joint statement condemning Iran. But that hasn’t happened yet, and it seems like there were a number of problems. Can you talk about the status of that? And if there can’t even be consensus on a strongly worded statement —
MS NAUERT: Michele, I think you’re getting way too far ahead on this one, okay? A lot of people want to see statements. We’re having very good conversations with our allies. We have seen that we are in agreement with our allies – with France, with Germany, with the UK as well. You’ve read their statements. Boris Johnson, for example, calling on all concerned to refrain from violence and international obligations on human rights to be observed. The French foreign minister, a number of victims of arrest, tremendous concern of theirs, “The right to protest freely is a fundamental right.” Those are the same things that we are calling for.
I’m not going to adhere – I don’t think the U.S. Government and the other governments are going to adhere to any kind of arbitrary timeline for getting something on paper. I have to remind you all yesterday was a holiday. This is our first day back from a holiday. There is no disagreement where we stand.
QUESTION: You talked about —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Arshad.
QUESTION: Hey. You talked about your concerns about human rights. Are you calling for the Iranian security forces to exercise restraint in their treatment of protesters?
MS NAUERT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, anytime you have people out there who are protesting peacefully – and that’s what we’ve seen. We’ve seen people holding up signs. We’ve seen people walking through the streets. That has been the primary kind of protests that we have seen. Security forces – we would always urge them to use restraint, use restraint, to not overstep the bounds and harm protesters unnecessarily.
QUESTION: And do you think that they have – because you’re aware, obviously, of the number of deaths and the increasing number of deaths – do you believe that they have – any of the Iranian security forces have used excessive force thus far?
MS NAUERT: Arshad, I’m obviously not there on the ground, so I’m not at liberty to characterize what has actually happened and whether there are instances of excessive force that were used or not. But I can tell you, we’re following this carefully.
QUESTION: And one more for me on this. You mentioned 2009. One of the challenges that the administration faced, that the former U.S. administration faced in 2009 after the elections, was one of not tarnishing the protesters by too warm an American embrace. Do you see any concerns that in your statements of support for peaceful protest, you may in fact be hurting the protesters themselves by ginning up government opposition to them? And might it be better to be more restrained in your own comments?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think any time you look at people who are protesting in any nation around the world, who are protesting because they want greater economic freedom, because they want to be paid on time, because they want their government to stop spending money on terrorism and start spending their money at home – any time that people are willing to stand up in the face of an oppressive regime and have that conversation publicly, have that conversation publicly despite the potential threat, despite potentially being thrown in jail, we ought to support them. That is the right thing to do.
But to put this solely on America is not correct. You see France, you see the U.K., you see Germany and other nations standing up to support those protesters. I’m not aware of any other place in the world where we would actually look at it and say, oh, United States, don’t support those people; don’t support those people who want your encouragement. We hear from around the world other countries – Venezuela is a perfect example – when we have spoken out on their behalf or – let me back up – not on their behalf, but when we’ve spoken out in support of their voices being heard, they have said to us, “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, United States. We appreciate that support.”
QUESTION: Could you (inaudible) on —
QUESTION: Heather, one more question about this. You said that the nuclear agreement had not been the economic fix that the government said it would be. But Iranians – many Iranians say part of the reason for that is because the Trump administration has thrown the certainty of the deal in doubt, and so that contributes to economic confidence in the deal. And therefore, the support that the —
MS NAUERT: I can only point to many European —
QUESTION: Just – let – can I just finish question?
MS NAUERT: — many European country – companies —
QUESTION: Yes. Let me just —
MS NAUERT: — are still doing business with Iran, so —
QUESTION: Okay. I just want to finish my question —
MS NAUERT: — they are able to do those deals.
QUESTION: So my question is: This sort of weakens the support they see from the United States on this factor. Is this going to – is this going to have any effect on the decision this month about whether to weigh the sanctions again, whether to decertify again?
MS NAUERT: This administration looks at Iran through a much broader lens than just the JCPOA. The administration is taking steps to fix its flaws. I’m not going to get ahead of what Congress is working on, but those conversations are taking place. And some of those negotiations are taking place between Republicans and Democrats and the White House to fix the fundamental flaws of the JCPOA so we can look at Iran through a broader lens than just the JCPOA and look at its destabilizing activities, as we talked about with Syria, in places like Yemen, you name it – Iran involved in some of those nefarious activities.
QUESTION: Can – can I take you to another place where there are protests and so on?
QUESTION: Wait, can we finish —
MS NAUERT: Wait.
QUESTION: — finish Iran?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: I have a question related to what you’ve been saying about Syria, Yemen, Iranian intervention in – outside its borders and its aggression. An envoy of Ayatollah Khamenei met yesterday with the head of the al-Nujaba militia in Iraq. It’s an Iraqi – part of the Hashd al-Shaabi, and Khamenei’s envoy praised its role in Iraq and Syria. What is your comment on that, particularly as you’ve just condemned Iranian involvement in Syria?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not aware of that meeting, so I don’t want to comment – if that did even take place, so I just don’t want to comment on that.
QUESTION: It was in the Iranian press. I’d be happy to share it with you, because —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, I’m not going to necessarily believe the Iranian press, but I just am not going to comment on something —
QUESTION: How about the Iraqi press? You don’t see Iranian aggression in Iraq, like in Kirkuk?
MS NAUERT: Look, we have discussed many times our concerns about Iran’s activities. Okay.
QUESTION: Heather —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: One of the social media platforms that’s not available in Iran is Signal, and that’s a useful one because that’s an encrypted one. It’s one that activists or journalists, including myself, can use to communicate secretly. It’s not available in Iran not because it’s been blocked but because Google doesn’t provide one of the platforms which services this to Iranians because of the sanctions. Is Google overinterpreting the sanctions, or —
MS NAUERT: Dave, I have —
QUESTION: It’s an American company that could be providing a helpful tool to them.
MS NAUERT: I’m going to answer you as honestly as I can: I have no idea. I can connect you with some of our sanctions experts who might know more about Google and Signal and their relationship and how they operate or don’t operate in Iran. I’m afraid I just don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: Without asking you to speak on behalf of the protesters, you do support their aims?
MS NAUERT: We support peaceful protest in Iran, in Venezuela, in other places.
QUESTION: Yeah, but – you – yeah, but do you support what these specific protesters are protesting?
MS NAUERT: Well, I can’t comment specifically on what every protester is calling for —
QUESTION: Well, the general theme.
MS NAUERT: — but in general, when they ask for their voices to be heard, when they ask for a better economy, when they ask for the government to spend money on their own country as opposed to terror exploits overseas or in other countries, sure, we would certainly support that.
QUESTION: So when they say death to Khamenei, you would support that?
MS NAUERT: I – Matt, I’m not going to go – I’m not going to – see, that’s why you’re trying to trap me into something like that. I’m not going to go there.
QUESTION: No, I’m just trying to figure out, because —
MS NAUERT: That is not our policy, but we hear what the Iranian people are saying. And just like people in the United States can say things that are very inflammatory – and they’re allowed to say that here; the right to free speech – people say that in other countries as well. They have a right to have their opinions on that matter.
QUESTION: But one of the administrations – and this – not just this administration – a longtime U.S. policy goal has been for Iran to stop supporting Hizballah in Lebanon and, at least going back to 2014, to stop intervening in Syria. So when the protesters say get out of Lebanon, stop supporting Hizballah, get out of Syria, stop supporting Assad, you do agree with that, right?
MS NAUERT: Well, we certainly have expressed – and you know this – we’ve expressed our concerns many times about Iran’s activities in Syria, in Yemen, elsewhere. I mean, you’ve asked me numerous times here name the countries of concern that Iran is involved with and I have named those for you on many occasions. Iran, Yemen, Syria, you name it, where they’re —
MS NAUERT: Thanks, Laurie.
QUESTION: So as long as what the protesters are protesting – or as long as their message lines up with this – with the administration’s policy position, you support them?
MS NAUERT: Matt, I think you’re wrong there, and here’s why: because as a general matter we support peaceful protest, protests and conversations that may not always be convenient to the United States, that may not always be convenient to that host country. We talk about that. We talk about the right to free speech. We believe that that is a fundamental human right. Whether it’s here, whether it’s in Iran, whether it’s in Russia. You name the country – we support that free speech. You know that.
QUESTION: Can we – can I take you just a bit further on what you’re saying? Do you support free —
MS NAUERT: All right, then we’ll move on, because we’re starting to get —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: We support free speech. You know that.
QUESTION: And their right to protest?
MS NAUERT: And a right to protest.
QUESTION: And you get appalled when 15 and 16-year-old girls are taken in the middle of the night and punched and kicked and stand before a military court – do you condemn that?
MS NAUERT: Teenagers, young people, yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: Yes. I am talking about a very young teenage Palestinian, Ahed Tamimi, who was taken in the middle of the night. She stand – she stood before a military court yesterday with 12 charges and so on. Do you urge the Israelis to release the young teenager?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Said, I’m not going to have as much for you as you want on this particular situation. I’m a mom, you know, of small children. I think any parent watching could relate to concerns about the treatment of children. We believe that all individuals, especially children, should be treated humanely. They should be treated with respect for their human rights, their individual rights. I’m not going to have anything more for you on that. I’d have to refer you to the government.
QUESTION: But you support in principle that the Israelis ought to release 300 kids who are under the age of 16?
MS NAUERT: Said, I don’t have any information on that, so I just can’t confirm that that is the actual case.
QUESTION: Let me ask you a couple things on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. There was an – there is an article in The New York Times that says that the Israeli Government was emboldened by the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem, by all that transpired in the last couple weeks, to basically do what they did yesterday and basically annex the West Bank. What is your —
MS NAUERT: I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that at the —
QUESTION: You don’t have a position on this?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that particular report, okay?
QUESTION: And do you feel – okay.
MS NAUERT: I can get back to you and see if I have anything more.
QUESTION: On the – also, there was a vote on Jerusalem in the Knesset where they basically prevented – or they prevent the – any future government that would – that – there was a bill to prohibit any future government from ceding any parts of Jerusalem, contrary to international agreement. Do you agree with that?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Are you aware of that?
MS NAUERT: Restate it. Yes, I’m aware of that – of that Knesset vote.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the Jerusalem vote in the Knesset?
MS NAUERT: Yes, I am aware of that.
QUESTION: That actually prohibits any future Israeli government from ceding any parts of Jerusalem?
MS NAUERT: Okay, one of the most important things for this administration is to have – is to have peace talks between the various sides to get them to a place of peace. That has not changed. That position remains the same. And those conversations and those talks will continue. I’m not going to get ahead of some of those conversations.
QUESTION: Okay, my last question on this. Do you believe that Jerusalem ought to be a final status issue, as it’s always been?
MS NAUERT: We have always talked about final status negotiations and that being a part of the final status negotiation.
Okay, let’s move on.
QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Well, hold on. Just one more on this issue. It has to do with this report about the ambassador in Tel Aviv, who is reported to have wanted the administration to stop calling the West Bank occupied. Without getting into internal government deliberations, does the administration still believe that the West Bank is occupied?
MS NAUERT: I can’t confirm that conversation or what —
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to. But do you still – does the administration believe that the West Bank is occupied by Israel?
MS NAUERT: I can only say that our position has not changed. Our position on that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean that – does that mean that you still regard the West Bank as being occupied?
MS NAUERT: Matt, I can just tell you our position hasn’t changed. I’m going to be very careful with the words because anything related to this region, as many others —
MS NAUERT: — is extremely sensitive.
MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed, and I won’t budge from that.
QUESTION: Okay. At some point it would be nice to find out exactly what that position is. You shouldn’t be afraid – precisely because it is so sensitive, you shouldn’t be afraid, unless you’re embarrassed by what the policy is. Not you personally, but whoever. You shouldn’t be afraid to say what it is instead of just saying it hasn’t changed.
MS NAUERT: I don’t think – Matt, as you have seen, when America speaks about a matter, it is taken very seriously.
QUESTION: I know.
MS NAUERT: And so that is why it’s important for the United States to be careful with its words. And you may not get all the words that you were hoping to get, but I’m going to be careful with the words. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Well, does that include tweeting stuff about “little Rocket Man” and things like that?
MS NAUERT: Matt.
QUESTION: Be careful with your words? Or “fire and fury” is going to rain down on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: I’m not even going to go there, Matt. Okay?
QUESTION: If you’re saying that the position hasn’t changed, why won’t you just state the position?
MS NAUERT: Michele, the position hasn’t changed. I’m not going there, okay? You’ve got all —
QUESTION: Just – okay.
MS NAUERT: That’s it on that. Okay? Let’s move on.
MS NAUERT: North Korea.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to the idea of direct talks between North and South Korea that have been raised, given that there’s the explicit idea that they would happen without preconditions, that they would just sort of – the South Koreans would be willing to talk about anything that North Korea wants to talk about?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you this: that we are close allies with the Republic of Korea. If ROK wants to sit down and have a conversation with the DPRK, that is certainly their choice. We look forward to our participation in the Winter Olympic Games. That certainly hasn’t changed. Our policy hasn’t changed. We are working toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. Our policy remains the same. If the Republic of Korea and if the DPRK want to have a conversation, that’s fine, but we aren’t going to necessarily believe that Kim Jong-un is sincere and is credible in his talks.
QUESTION: And did South Korea check with this administration before making that proposal to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if they did or not.
Okay, anything else on North Korea? Hi.
QUESTION: So will the U.S. be playing any sort of role if these border talks do happen?
MS NAUERT: Well, that would be a hypothetical, but I highly doubt it. Okay.
QUESTION: Also on North —
MS NAUERT: Tell me your name again.
MS NAUERT: And you’re from?
QUESTION: Shenzhen Media Group.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Nice to see you again.
QUESTION: Nice to see you. So Kim Jong-un gave a New Year’s speech and he mentioned that the nuclear button will be used if North Korea’s security is threatened. So do you think it’s a signal of asking for peace, which meaning no threat, then no nuclear war at all?
MS NAUERT: We’ve heard his kind of rhetoric before, so it’s really nothing new. I often don’t comment on the comments of specific foreign leaders, so I’m not going to comment on that. But we’ve heard that kind of thing before and our policy remains the same. We remain committed to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and we hope that at some point we can get there.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Do you —
QUESTION: See, there’s a policy you don’t have a problem saying what it is even if it hasn’t changed, right? (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: You get an eye roll. Hi. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Do you think – does the administration think it is a good thing that President Moon has responded and is willing to hold talks with the North and that those talks will not include the United States? Are direct talks between North and South a positive or a negative?
MS NAUERT: This is a situation we’re still just assessing right now. The comments were just made yesterday. So I don’t want to get ahead of any official position that we might take on that, but we’re assessing the situation.
QUESTION: Well, yesterday is a long – I mean, 24 hours is a long time to assess whether —
MS NAUERT: It’s a long time in TV news.
QUESTION: — whether —
MS NAUERT: That’s where it – that’s where it’s a long time.
QUESTION: No, it’s a long time in diplomacy to assess whether direct talks between North and South are a good thing or a bad thing.
MS NAUERT: Well, look, I stated our position so far, and right now, if the two countries decide that they want to have talks, that would be certainly their choice. We have a very strong relationship with the Republic of Korea, as we do with Japan. We have had a strong alliance with them for many, many decades. That hasn’t changed. Kim Jong-un may be trying to drive a wedge of some sort between the two nations, between our nation and the Republic of Korea. I can assure you that that will not happen, that will not occur. We are very skeptical of Kim Jong-un’s sincerity in sitting down and having talks. Our policy hasn’t changed, the South Koreans’ policy has not changed, that we both support a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, as, frankly, does the world.
QUESTION: But is this successfully driving a wedge in that these bilateral talks will not include the U.S.?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think so, Andrea. And again, I’m not going to get ahead of that. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Hi, Rich.
QUESTION: Can I just – could I just get a follow-up on the —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Go ahead. Hi, Dave.
QUESTION: — on North Korea, though? The goal of your maximum pressure campaign was the diplomatic and economic isolation of the North. Now the North is sitting down with its neighbor and your close ally —
MS NAUERT: Well, they’re not. They’re not. I mean, that’s an idea that’s being discussed.
QUESTION: Well, that both sides have discussed.
MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to get too into that, but —
QUESTION: If they do sit down, that’s a blow for maximum pressure, no?
MS NAUERT: Again, that is a hypothetical. What I can tell you that the United States – and we just saw the UN Security Council resolution that passed a week or so ago. I’m losing track of time with the holiday. But the third —
QUESTION: It’s 2018. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: — the third unanimous UN Security Council resolution where countries agreed to sanction North Korea, concerns about North Korea, and concerns about the money and what it’s doing and its activities of ballistic weapons, and also advanced nuclear tests.
So we’re all on the same page. We’re all still working toward and working forward with our maximum pressure campaign. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I ask about Yemen?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we stay here real quick on —
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Ambassador Haley said that you’re – I forget exactly how she phrased it – hearing signals or suggestions that the North may be preparing for another ballistic missile test. Is that an ICBM test?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: So you’re not hearing those same signals?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. Some of that might – may be an intelligence matter. She’s the ambassador to the United Nations, I am not, so I am not aware of any of that personally. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. So if now is not the time for the U.S. to be directly talking to North Korea, does that mean that it’s not the right time for a U.S. ally like South Korea to be talking to them?
MS NAUERT: I think I’ve answered that question, okay. Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?
QUESTION: Yemen, real quick.
QUESTION: Yes. A couple weeks ago, the United States called on the coalition led by Saudi Arabia to ease their blockade and their siege of ports and airports and so on. But the last week has seen an intensification in bombing and more civilian deaths and so on. I wonder what – where are you with that? Because that’s been – two weeks have passed, or more than that, since you called on the Saudis and the Arab coalition to ease their blockade.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So not only have we called on them to ease the blockade, we continue to call on them to be very judicious in their use of airpower – also, though, however, understanding that they have – the Saudis – have a legitimate concern about their own security at home. So it’s a delicate balance of sorts.
You know – you and I have talked about this many times – that Yemen is an area that we are deeply concerned about. The medical crisis there, the humanitarian crisis there. The State Department, USAID, and others have put a lot of money, time, and resources into the problem there and into trying to improve the situation there. I’ll check with some of our experts to see if I have anything more for you on that, though.
Okay? Okay. Pakistan.
MS NAUERT: Actually, no, we didn’t. That was an announcement that came out back in August, and for some reason, people got interested in it again. But that is not a new announcement that we would hold back on that money.
QUESTION: What is the condition of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship right now, do you think?
MS NAUERT: Pakistan is an important partner. We have a lot of issues in that region. Pakistan knows that, we all know that, and we try to work carefully together on some of those issues, but Pakistan – I don’t want to say that Pakistan can do more, but Pakistan knows what it needs to do. We expect Pakistan – and we’ve made clear, and the President has made clear in the past also through his new strategy that was announced back in August about the Asia – the new Asia strategy – that the United States expects Pakistan to take decisive action against the Haqqani Network and other militants who are operating from its soil. And they need to better – to earn, essentially, the money that we have provided in the past in foreign military assistance, they need to show that they are sincere in their efforts to crack down on terrorists.
QUESTION: The President made that speech in August. Between the August speech and today, what has – has there been any change in Pakistan’s posture, or has there been any movement towards the President’s goals?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think Secretary Tillerson and also Secretary Mattis spent some time over there in Pakistan not too long ago. And they shared with the Pakistani Government and their counterparts our concerns. We would like Pakistan to do more through cooperation. They have a lot; it’s not just us. We’re not the only ones who benefit from it. But they have a lot to gain through additional cooperation on the issue of terrorism. So we expect them to take greater actions.
QUESTION: And would you say they’ve done anything additional in the last four and a half months, or —
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it that way, but I think the President’s tweets and his comments were very clear that we expect Pakistan to do that.
QUESTION: And the President said that $33 billion, or $35 billion in aid. The Pakistani Government has disputed that. Are the President’s figures correct from his tweet of yesterday?
MS NAUERT: You mean in the overall aid number —
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Fifteen years, yeah.
MS NAUERT: — that the United States has provided over a certain period of time? Let me double check that. But I would go with what he said.
What we are now talking about, the President is talking about, is the $255 million for Fiscal Year 2016 in the Foreign Military Financing. That’s what the President was specifically referring to. Okay?
QUESTION: Can you confirm that Pakistan —
MS NAUERT: We’re going to have to wrap it up.
QUESTION: — has recalled its ambassador? They’re saying that —
MS NAUERT: Yes. Yes, our ambassador did meet with the Pakistanis – I believe it was last evening – in Pakistan, and he described that meeting with me that – pardon me – he described that meeting to me as a professional meeting. A professional meeting, professional in tone.
QUESTION: But did they recall the ambassador to Washington?
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Did the Pakistanis recall their ambassador from Washington?
MS NAUERT: Not that I – not that I’m aware of, but I’d have to refer you to the Government of Pakistan for that.
QUESTION: Heather, since you raised the President’s tweet about this, he also called the Pakistanis deceitful, having two – being two-faced —
MS NAUERT: I think Rich actually raised that, but okay.
QUESTION: Well, you – you mentioned it.
MS NAUERT: Oh, I commented that. So therefore, I’m not going to comment on some of these things, because then you all will use that as an excuse.
QUESTION: Well, yeah.
QUESTION: It’s your job to comment.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Exactly. So does the – do you agree with the characterization of the Pakistanis being deceitful, devious, two-faced about the – that they’re playing a double game for far too long?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think the President – and the President’s —
QUESTION: Well, why don’t you just read the tweet?
MS NAUERT: The President’s concern – I don’t have it in front of me, but the President’s concern —
QUESTION: Well, I’ll get it. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: The President’s concern about Pakistan not taking enough action about terrorism is nothing new. The President had expressed that concern months ago. He expressed this at the beginning of the administration, as have many officials in the United States Government.
QUESTION: Right. Well, the – but he and a lot of other officials in the United States Government also expressed great happiness when – pleasure with the Pakistanis when they managed to – when they – after the rescue of the Canadian-American couple who were being held.
MS NAUERT: Certainly.
QUESTION: So that doesn’t count anymore?
MS NAUERT: Look, we were pleased with their cooperation. We certainly were. We —
QUESTION: But then —
MS NAUERT: — have addressed that. But they can do more.
QUESTION: And they haven’t.
MS NAUERT: They can do more. I’ll leave it at that. Got to go, guys. Thanks. Have a good day.
QUESTION: Heather, a similar topic? Just that the President also weighed in on the release of Huma Abedin’s emails, and he said that he believes that she disregarded basic security protocol. Does the State Department agree with that? And if so, are there any repercussions for an action like that?
MS NAUERT: Some of that is a hard matter for me to address here because I wasn’t here at that time, a previous administration. So I don’t know exactly what protocol she went through. I’m not aware of what potential ramifications there could be, if any. I can only say that we take our records management very seriously at the State Department. Records were released as a part of a FOIA request. The information was released last Friday. We are working to get through a backlog of FOIA requests. Some of that just takes time. Some of this is a matter of litigation and we can’t comment on matters that are ongoing litigation.
QUESTION: Do you know if there is an ongoing investigation on whether or not she broke any protocol?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. Okay? All right. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)
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Statement CIA Director Mike Pompeo addresses interest in holiday message to the workforce.
Blog Post: The 2017 Operation Santa Claus campaign was a great success. The Agency collected 27 boxes of toys that will be gifted to children in need. This year, CIA continued a long tradition of being one of the largest donors to the Toys for Tots Foundation in the Washington area.
Feature Story: The OSS was composed of elite, highly intelligent, ambitious patriots. Counted among their ranks is Eero Saarinen, the prodigious Finnish American architect and industrial designer known for his neo-futuristic style. He lent his services to the spy agency before achieving world-wide fame as one of the masters of American 20th-century architecture.
The United States welcomes the announcement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that all humanitarian and commercial goods, including fuel, will be allowed to pass freely through the port of Hudaydah. We also welcome the news that four U.S.-funded cranes will be installed at this port, which are vital to moving life-saving goods into Yemen efficiently. We encourage the Saudi-led Coalition to keep this policy in place – access to vital humanitarian and commercial supplies must be separated from negotiations on security and political conditions. We also call on the international community to fully engage with the Coalition and all parties to the conflict to improve the flow of essential supplies to the Yemeni people.
Index for Today’s Briefing
3:25 p.m. EST
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody.
MS NAUERT: How are you?
MS NAUERT: Hi. How have you been?
QUESTION: I’ve been good.
MS NAUERT: It’s been a while. Nice to have you back. Okay. I’d like to start with mentioning the Secretary’s trip to Ottawa, Canada today. As you know, Secretary Tillerson is in Ottawa making his first trip to Canada as the Secretary of State. Secretary Tillerson is joined on this first trip by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Paco Palmieri. Many of you know him. And they were welcomed by Ambassador Kelly Craft.
While in Ottawa, the Secretary is meeting with Foreign Minister Freeland and several other senior Canadian officials as part of our ongoing and close relationship between our two countries. During the meetings, they discussed a range of issues, including mutual prosperity, defense and security, and our shared concerns on global issues, including North Korea and the ongoing situation in Ukraine.
On North Korea, the Secretary and foreign minister talked through upcoming plans to convene the United Nations Commanding Sending States meeting in January. We still don’t have the specifics nailed down, so I won’t have anything additional for you on that. But as soon as I do, I will certainly bring it to you. That group will include South Korea, Japan, and other key affected countries to discuss how the global community can address North Korea’s threat to international peace. Lastly, they spoke about the importance of border security and our mutual economic relationship.
In addition to that, I want to draw your attention to something that we addressed last week, but unfortunately, the situation has not improved in Ukraine. I want to draw your attention to the dire humanitarian situation and the spiraling violence in eastern Ukraine. Last night, Russian-led forces shelled the town of Novoluhanske with Grad rockets, wounding eight civilians and damaging dozens of homes, a school, and also a playground. Fighting also resumed today around the Donetsk filtration station and its system of pipes carrying poisonous chlorine gas. This is considered extremely dangerous. If those were to go off in this area, which is close to where people live, it could be potentially devastating.
Employees of the filtration station are trapped in the station’s bomb shelter at this time, we are told. Previously, a Russian-Ukrainian military body has organized ceasefires to allow civilians in similar situations safe passage. However, the Russian Government has unilaterally withdrawn from this deconfliction mechanism. This happened yesterday. So those trapped in the filtration station will remained stranded, under fire, until Russian-led forces stop the attack.
Russia and its proxies are the source of violence in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian Government continues to perpetuate an active conflict and humanitarian crisis through its leadership and supply of military forces on the ground, as well as its direct control over proxy authorities. The conflict in eastern Ukraine is not an organic civil war. The so-called “republics” that Russia created are not legitimate entities.
The United States calls on Russia to put an end to the attacks in eastern Ukraine, withdraw its forces and heavy weapons from the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and agree to a robust UN peacekeeping mission. And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
Oh, one more thing. I’d like to – many of you joined us yesterday for our public affairs holiday party, and I just wanted to thank you so much for coming up and spending time with our front office and the front office of many of our bureaus here at the State Department. We love having you. And I think it’s just another example of how we can certainly disagree over some things, but we can hang out and have a good couple of drinks together. So thanks for showing up.
QUESTION: Will there be one for the New Year or —
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s a good idea. (Laughter.) That’s a good idea. And we’ve got a little surprise for you coming up in Robert’s office in the new year. So – especially on a tough day.
But, Josh, go ahead. Good to see you.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. You too.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Why don’t we just start right on there. Is the – do you have any update for us on the status of trying to work out a UN peacekeeping deal for Ukraine? How’s that going?
MS NAUERT: That’s something that’s still under discussion. One of the things that we consider to be important about that is having it be a not only a real UN peacekeeping mission, but the line of conflict is something that would have to be agreed upon. We have some concerns about how that would work out. Russians are pushing for one side of things, and we’re pushing for another side of things. But it’s still something that we are looking at seriously.
QUESTION: And then I wanted to follow up on the National Security Strategy that the administration released yesterday. One piece of that brought up the issue of STEM visas that are issues in the context of intellectual property and the allegation that other countries are sending students here who then steal trade secrets basically and bring them back to their foreign governments. And it says that the U.S. will consider restricting those STEM visas from designated countries. What are those designated countries?
MS NAUERT: So the National Security Strategy which the President rolled out yesterday is a broad-based document that looks at and highlights our national security priorities. It’s not meant to be a piece of legislation; it’s not intended to provide extremely specific guidance to various government agencies, entities, and departments. So some of this we will take back from the National Security Strategy, take a look at the State Department in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security. We have the ability to take a look at these things and decide what needs to be done from there.
So we don’t have anything specific for that yet. I can tell you, however, that our U.S. embassies and consulates are continuing to process visa applications as we normally would. So there has been no change at any point yet. No changes have been made. Security screening and vetting is something that you all know well that is constantly reevaluated; it’s constantly evolving and changing within various environments.
So if I have anything new for you on that, I’ll certainly bring that to you.
QUESTION: Sure. New visa steps aside then, can you tell us which countries are considered at a larger risk for that kind of problem?
MS NAUERT: To my knowledge, that has not been determined in any kind of way. Perhaps I missed something. But in that document, I don’t recall having seen any specific countries mentioned. So I think some of that will just – the U.S. Government will take a look at that.
QUESTION: And then on that issue – and one of the countries that comes to mind for a lot of people because of its focus in the NSS was China – China’s Government reacting pretty angrily to that strategy today, saying it’s part of a new Cold War kind of phenomenon. Do you have any response to the Chinese reaction?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think what we would say is no, it’s not that. It’s not what they called it out to be. We have a broad relationship with China, as we do with many nations around the world, where we have areas where we have mutual cooperation and get along great. As you know, the President has a very warm relationship with President Xi. But we also have areas of disagreement, and some of the areas of disagreement include human rights, some trade issues, and all that. So we can have that kind of broad-based relationship like yesterday. We all hung out and we had a good time together and celebrated the holidays, but sometimes we duke it out here as well.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Does – first of all, does anyone else want to cover DPRK or China?
MS NAUERT: Oh, a lot of you do. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead. Hi, Carol.
QUESTION: McMaster today gave an interview in which he said now is not the time for talking, and he seemed to suggest that the United States may have to forcibly denuclearize the Korean Peninsula if North Korea does not denuclearize itself. It seemed to be an implicit rejection of the diplomacy that the Secretary has been doing.
MS NAUERT: I heard —
QUESTION: I was wondering what the State Department —
MS NAUERT: I heard General McMaster – I heard General McMaster’s interview this morning. I don’t recall him saying how you just characterized it. I know our official administration policy, our administration policy, is we would certainly like to sit down, be in the place where we can have talks with North Korea, but we are nowhere near that point yet. Our administration policy has not changed. We continue to push for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. There are many, many other nations around the world that agree with us on that front. We would like to have the opportunity to talk with North Korea when the time is right, and I want to be clear about that; the time is not right, right now.
QUESTION: Just on China.
MS NAUERT: Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Good. South Korean President Moon said —
MS NAUERT: Can we come back to South Korea, stick with North Korea?
QUESTION: This is also North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. They said that the U.S. and ROK are considering postponing military exercises until after the Winter Olympics. So – and obviously, part of this reason would be North Korea. So my question is: How seriously is the U.S. considering this proposal?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think that would be a DOD issue, but I can tell you that we have joint exercises that are legal. We do them around the world. We do them with many other countries. And those are to maintain our readiness and to be able to make sure that we are ready in the event of a worst-case scenario. But that’s something that would just be handled by DOD.
Okay. Anything else on ROK?
MS NAUERT: Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay, hold on. Hi, Conor.
QUESTION: Just something that a White House official said. Tom Bossert, the Homeland Security Advisor, said that “President Trump has used just about every lever you could use, short of starving the people of North Korea to death, to change their behavior. So we don’t have a lot of room left to apply pressure to change their behavior.” If that is the case, how much more room do you have then, and how can you achieve results with this peaceful pressure campaign, especially again, as you say, now is not the right time to meet, but H.R. McMaster also said recently that we’re running out of time.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So look, diplomacy is what we do in this building and that’s not going to change. We will continue to push ahead with the peaceful pressure campaign, the maximum pressure campaign. Every day we’re speaking with other countries about having those countries do more to try to stem the tide of money going into North Korea. So that hasn’t changed. We’re pushing ahead. We had some good news come out of Thailand. They’re doing less in conjunction with North Korea than they had in the past. I’d have to look at the specific details.
But my point is there are a lot of countries doing a lot to contribute to this. Last week at the United Nations, Secretary Tillerson called on countries to go beyond the scope of the UN Security Council resolutions and agreements to do their part to choke off that money supply to North Korea. So regardless of what others in the U.S. Government say, we’re pushing ahead with peaceful diplomacy, maximum pressure.
QUESTION: So you think there is more – you would disagree? You think there is more room?
MS NAUERT: I think there is more that we can do, yeah. And that’s just like we call on Russia and China every single day to do more, to do more to put pressure on North Korea.
Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MS NAUERT: Hi. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: So Bossert was talking specifically about the cyber attack.
MS NAUERT: Oh, he was. Okay.
QUESTION: And so —
MS NAUERT: I did not see his comments. I read a couple of them.
QUESTION: No, that’s fine. I just – I’m just trying to – so the pressure campaign, is that just targeting North Korea for its nuclear program and its missile activity, or is it also trying to tamp down on them for what they’re doing in the cyber sphere as well?
MS NAUERT: If it is with regard to cyber, I’m not familiar with that. One of the things we focus on here in that building – and cyber, I think, would be handled out of DHS or Department of Justice, perhaps even DOD – but we focus here on the money that goes into North Korea that North Korea then ends up using to fund its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs, so that’s what we stay focused on.
QUESTION: So the State Department won’t be involved in any unilateral consequence —
MS NAUERT: What I said is I’m just not familiar with that part of it. I’d just have to refer you to DHS at this point. If we have anything more, an angle that the State Department is specifically involved with, I’ll certainly let you know. Okay?
MS NAUERT: DPRK.
QUESTION: Yeah. And on that —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Janne, hi.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. As you already know that five Chinese combat airplanes flew over in the South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zones. How do you comment on this?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Tell me —
QUESTION: Five Chinese combat airplanes flew over in South Korean Air Defense Identification Zone, so how do you comment on this?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, I just don’t have anything for you on that. I’d refer you back to South Korea or to the Government of China.
QUESTION: Do you think this action is, like, threatening South Korea and China?
MS NAUERT: I just – I don’t have any specifics on that for you, so I don’t want to comment on that, because I just don’t have any specifics for you, okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hey, how are you? Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we stay on DPRK, please, for just a second longer.
MS NAUERT: Wait, Afghanistan?
QUESTION: North Korea. North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Oh, North Korea. Okay. Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary Tillerson pretty much signaled a willingness to have talks with North Korea recently, saying as much as, hey, you want to talk about weather, let’s talk about weather. I wanted to ask if you reached out to the North Koreans directly via diplomatic channels either in New York or someplace else to suggest having talks, other than making those public announcements.
MS NAUERT: First, let me tell you our U.S. Government policy has not changed. We are not going to be sitting down for talks with North Korea at this time. They are showing no interest, they’re showing no willingness to sit down and have conversations with the U.S. Government.
In terms of your question about whether or not any U.S. Government official or representative sat down and had a talk with North Korea while at the United Nations, the answer is absolutely no. The Secretary did address publicly the North Korean permanent representative, and he said to him, among other things, any notion that the source of tensions on the peninsula are the fault of one party – because some have blamed the United States for the deplorable conditions in North Korea – there is one party that has carried out illegal detonation of nuclear devices; there is only one party that continues to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, overflying other sovereign nations – Japan – threatening civil aviation security because these launches are undertaken with no notification.
So the Secretary addressed him publicly, but the U.S. Government has had no other conversations.
Okay. Shall we move on to another issue?
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: So just calling China and Russia the rival powers in the —
MS NAUERT: Start your question again, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: I mean, my question is that just calling China and Russia the rival powers in the national strategy reports. So does it signal any policy change from the U.S. Government towards the countries?
MS NAUERT: About the national security strategy?
MS NAUERT: I think I would just go back to the President and his team and our folks at the National Security Council outlined four pillars, four pillars of our national security strategy. And among those are just what we’ve talked about already – taking a look at other nations and determining other nations and where we have areas of agreement, and where we have areas of disagreement, and how we will – it may seem messy to some people, but we’ll work together with some countries in areas where we have agreement, and we will continue to call out countries and – in areas where we have disagreement. So I think I’ve stated that already, and the President’s comments were clear.
Okay? Let’s move on. Hi, Said.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you. I want to ask you about the American-Palestinian relations. First of all, at the vote yesterday at the Security Council, 1421, and Ambassador Haley said that this is to help the process of peace. Could you explain to us, what is – how could that possibly – your vote, your no-vote, your veto, could help the cause of peace?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I don’t want to speak on behalf of Ambassador Haley. She has a very capable team up there who handle that for her. But I can say this: We exercised our veto power because we view that that resolution would do more harm than good. The United States wants to not add to any additional strife. We feel that that resolution vote causes additional strife in the area. The President has long called for the two sides to sit down and have peace talks. They’re not there yet; we continue to work on those peace talks, however.
QUESTION: Yeah, but this is a position that the United States has long held. I mean, we can go back all the way to the late ‘40s, but most recently – more recently in the ‘80s, Resolution 478; last year, 2334, which basically was saying that Jerusalem is occupied territory, and we consider whatever Israel has done is null and void. Why would this suddenly be contrary to the American position?
MS NAUERT: I think what we would say is that the President took great care in his decision that he made about recognizing Jerusalem as the capital. We are not making any decisions about boundaries or borders; we see that as being up to final status negotiations, and they’re not there yet.
QUESTION: And I have one more about today, because today in the General Assembly, there was a vote on the right to self-determination. And 176 countries voted for the right of Palestinians for self-determination. You and Israel and the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau voted against. I mean, the right to self-determination is basically an American concept. It is an American principle. It was – it has been put forth by – pioneered and put forth by the United States. Why would you oppose the right to self-determination of the Palestinians?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think we would support – in terms of that, the United States is supporting something that both sides have to be able to live with and be able to agree with, the Israelis and the Palestinians. So when we get to the final status negotiations – when I say “we” I just mean the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we’re happy to help support and facilitate those talks, and we have people hard at work at that, but they have to decide; they have to come up with something that’s going to work for both sides.
QUESTION: And I promise, my final question – sorry, Michele – my final question.
MS NAUERT: She shares.
QUESTION: You can ask all my questions. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you if there is any ongoing talks or contacts with the Palestinian leadership at the present time.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I could just tell you that we look forward to having additional talks with the Palestinians. We were at a hopeful point with Mr. Abbas at the United Nations earlier this year. We had positive conversations about the peace process. Relationships between the United States and other nations have their peaks and their valleys. Some days are better than others, but we look forward to continuing those talks and we’re confident that we’ll be able to do that.
Okay. Laurie, you want to talk Iraq?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, Michele, did you have a question about this?
QUESTION: It’s okay. Yeah, quickly.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Sorry.
QUESTION: So we heard —
MS NAUERT: She’s been so patient.
QUESTION: It’s okay, I don’t care. We heard Ambassador Haley say that this resolution was an insult that won’t be forgotten. How does the State Department view that statement? Do you agree with that? And it kind of sounds like a threat of some kind.
MS NAUERT: I don’t have Ambassador Haley’s comments directly in front of me, so I don’t want to – I don’t want to speak on her behalf. I know that one of the things we’ve been extremely focused on today is the Secretary’s travels up to Canada to handle issues related to North Korea. We have a whole world in front of us. That’s just not something I have anything for you on.
QUESTION: Okay. And so when you say that the resolution itself does more harm than good and causes more strife, well, those parties feel like the U.S. declaration does the same thing. So if the U.S. is going to make a statement like that that many feel, including the U.S.’s closest allies, causes more harm than good at this time, why would the U.S. have such a problem with a resolution —
MS NAUERT: Well —
QUESTION: — a resolution that simply expresses the opposite opinion?
MS NAUERT: They’re certainly – other nations are certainly welcome to support resolutions, just as they did, and that’s sort of – they have the right – the right to their free speech; they have the right to make the votes and choose the votes that they decide to put forward and vote for; and we have the right to vote the way that we choose, and we made that decision.
QUESTION: But calling it an – for the U.S. side to call it an insult that won’t be forgotten, it kind of seems like the U.S. has something in mind or some kind of retaliation for that.
MS NAUERT: That – I don’t have anything for you on that.
MS NAUERT: I would just have to refer you to USUN.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS NAUERT: Okay? Laurie, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Dutch prime minister recently called on Baghdad to end its ban on flights to and from Kurdish airports, saying that it was getting in the way of Dutch military operations. Do you agree with that position? Do you think the ban should end, whether for military or humanitarian reasons?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I was looking into this and talking to some of our experts who cover Iraq about this very issue earlier today, and I think this goes back to something that, for a couple months now, we’ve been calling for Iraq and Erbil to sit down and have talks. And I feel like we say this about a lot of nations, but it’s really a perfect example in Iraq. That is a situation where they need to work it out themselves. I understand under the Iraqi constitution that the central Government of Iraq has sort of management over the airports throughout the country. That’s my understanding of the Iraqi constitution – not only the airports but also the borders. But for that very reason, it’s even more important for Erbil and Baghdad to sit down and have talks about the status of its airports.
QUESTION: And you’ve been saying that for so long and that – I’ve got a different understanding of the airports, but anyhow.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: I’ve been – I think it’s joint operations, but whatever. You’ve been saying that for so long. The Iraqis do nothing. In fact, they increase the punitive measures on Kurdistan and show no regard whatever – whatsoever for your calls for dialogue. Don’t you think it’s time to publicly pressure Iraq? For example, the German foreign minister, when the prime minister of the Kurdistan region just visited there, said, “We’re going to make our aid to both of you, Baghdad and Erbil, contingent on a dialogue.” Are you inclined to up your pressure because, so far, nothing has happened?
MS NAUERT: Well, we have spoken about this a lot here. I think you’ve asked me about it at every briefing.
QUESTION: And I get the same answer and nothing happens.
MS NAUERT: At every briefing since this happened. We continue to talk with the countries – I mean with Erbil and Baghdad. We continue to talk with them and urge them to sit down and have conversations. In terms of punitive measures such as withholding money or anything, we never forecast that. I’m not saying we would do it at all, but we just continue to ask the countries to sit down and have a conversation. It’s ultimately hurting themselves by not sitting down. We hope that countries would see the wisdom in that.
QUESTION: If in a month from now we have this same conversation, is there anything you’re prepared to do to put more pressure on Baghdad?
MS NAUERT: Laurie, I think that’s a hypothetical. We’ll just follow it and see what happens then.
QUESTION: A month from now? Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: A new topic?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So there are a couple entities which have looked at that election and they’ve come up with a little bit of different information about how they regard the election. We’re continuing to look at both of their responses, the OAS and the European election commission, I believe it’s called, to determine our position on this.
I can tell you Honduras’ supreme electoral council, it declared the incumbent presidential candidate, Juan Hernandez, as the winner. The process overall is underway. There’s that five-day period in which – that’s established under Honduran law, and that’s when people can present challenges that they might have to the election result. One of the things that we’re doing is having conversations with both sides, the opposition and the incumbent, to ask them to refrain from any provocative talk. We’re calling on both sides to not commit any kind of violent acts. I can confirm for you that our deputy assistant – excuse me – our deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere, John Creamer, met with the opposition alliance’s Salvador Nasralla yesterday. Yesterday was December 18th, right? But I want to point out and be clear about this that we regularly meet with many individuals from the government in Honduras. Since the election we’ve met with candidates on both sides regularly.
QUESTION: I have one —
QUESTION: Do you support a call to have the election counted once more?
MS NAUERT: Well, there are two different electoral bodies, if you will, that have looked at this. My understanding is that they’ve come up with different results at this point. We’re just taking a look at all that. We’re not ready to make a call right now. They’re in that five-day period and so we’re going to wait and see what happens then, okay?
QUESTION: I have one other question —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, go right ahead.
QUESTION: — on another topic – on Egypt, because there was a woman here who came to the State Department a couple weeks ago. Her parents are both green card holders and jailed in Egypt. There are about 20 other Americans who are jailed in Egypt, and many were hoping that Pence would raise that on his trip, though he’s postponed it for now. What’s the State Department doing on that front, on the American citizens?
MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with that case. I can just look into it and get back with you. I don’t recall that individual you mentioned having been at the State Department, but let me see what I can find for you about that, okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, Senator Tim Kaine sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson and Mattis expressing his concern that U.S. forces and coalition forces in Syria are switching from an anti-ISIS mission to an anti-Iran and proxies mission. What would be your answer to that?
MS NAUERT: You said that Senator Kaine sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson about this?
QUESTION: And Mattis.
MS NAUERT: I have not seen this letter supposedly going to Secretary Tillerson. I’m just not familiar with it. Okay? Hi.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Wanted to talk about the – ask you about the two Reuters journalists who have been detained there. In the past, the State Department has suggested that the civilian government is not fully in control of events and it has focused its criticism on the military. Is it therefore a concern to the United States that the civilian president, Htin Kyaw, should have given approval for the case against them to proceed?
MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with him giving approval for their case to proceed. I don’t have the details on that. What I can tell you is that we’ve been covering – following the cases of the two reporters, the Reuters reporters, very closely. We are deeply concerned about their detention. We do not know their whereabouts. That is of concern also. They’ve now been detained for, what, a week – about a week now, right? And today I want to make it clear that we’re calling for their immediate release. We call for the release of these two reporters.
As you all know, I was recently in Burma and had a chance to meet with a lot of reporters, and despite the status of the government – some very difficult things happening in that country – they have reporters who are working hard to tell the story and to try to accurately tell the story about what is happening in the northern Rakhine State. I met reporters who represent a free and fair press over there. Not all of them do; some of them have a state component to them or are heavily influenced by the state. But I met a few reporters who have the courage to report openly and freely, and we applaud those efforts. And so it is tremendously concerning to us when we hear that reporters have not only been detained but they’ve been detained and we don’t know their whereabouts. I can just tell you we’re covering this – following this very closely.
QUESTION: On this —
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Burma?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead, sir. Hi.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. My name is Mushfiqul. I’m representing Justnewsbd. Right groups —
MS NAUERT: You know what, let me pause you for one second. I just want to add one more thing to that. It is our understanding that the families do not know about their loved ones’ whereabouts. I mean, imagine that. You’re a family member. Your child, your husband, your brother is reporting, and you’re just trying to tell the story. You’re reporting, you’re detained, and you don’t know where that loved one was. I cannot imagine, as a mom and a former reporter, what that would feel like. And so I hope that the Government of Burma will let us know how they’re doing and let the families know how they’re doing.
Sir, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Human Rights Watch was – has claimed satellite images shows that dozens of Rohingya villages were burned the week Myanmar signed an agreement with the Bangladesh to repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees. The evidence that villages were still being damaged as late as 2nd December contradicted assurance by the Burmese Government that violence had ceased and that the Rohingya could safely return to Myanmar, the watchdog said. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement on 23rd November to begin the proceed of repatriating some of the estimated 6,500 – 6,500 – thousand refugees who fled Myanmar in the past four months.
Do you think, with this reality, it will really work for repatriating the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to their homeland?
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s one of the things that we hope for eventually. We hope that the refugees will eventually be able to go home, to go home to Burma. More than 600,000 of them have been forced across the border since August alone and now it’s December. Bangladesh has been so generous in accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees. The U.S. Government has provided significant financial assistance to help with that. I want to be clear that that financial assistance goes directly to aid groups. That financial assistance does not go to the individuals. I want to be clear about that.
In terms of the repatriation plan, we’d like to see the plan. We’ve heard about it in concept. But one of the things that would be important to be in that plan is the voluntary, safe, and dignified return. So it has to be voluntary. People have to feel like it’s safe to go home. If they don’t feel like it’s safe to go home, it’s probably not going to be safe to go home. They have to have a dignified return. That means treating the people well as they decide to return home. It also needs to be voluntary. They can’t be forced to leave one country to go to another country. They have to feel safe and ready to go home. We don’t think that that situation calls for it just yet.
Unfortunately, I think it’s probably not safe for them to go home at this point, but we’re continuing to assess the situation and continuing to have our conversations not only with the Bangladesh Government, but also with the Burmese Government. Okay.
Anything else on Burma and Bangladesh? Okay.
QUESTION: On Mexico?
MS NAUERT: Oh, yeah. Hi.
QUESTION: There was just a bus crash involving cruise ships in Mexico. Are you guys hearing anything about that and the possibility that there could be American casualties?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I have some notes on that because I heard about that not long before I went out – before I came out here to talk with all of you. There was a bus crash. And it was an accident, I would say, involving a bus that was contracted by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. It was in Quintana Roo, Mexico, which, as I understand, is close to —
MS NAUERT: — Cancun, thank you. We’ve heard certainly about that. We’re following it very closely. We would want to express our condolences to all of those who have been affected by that. It’s certainly a tragedy. We know that lots of families and individuals are traveling this time of year when people go to have fun and they get a few days off, certainly, for vacation at the holiday time. We’re continuing to monitor that situation. We’re working with local authorities. Some of our officials from our U.S. embassy, or our – perhaps it’s our mission – are on their way there to better assess the situation and to speak with government officials to see how we can help and try to determine if there are any U.S. citizens who were involved. That we just don’t know yet.
QUESTION: Okay. You don’t know that Americans are involved at this point?
MS NAUERT: I do not at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: Could I ask a question on Yemen?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
MS NAUERT: We’re all over the map today, aren’t we? Yes.
QUESTION: I know, sometimes. It’s the end of the – midweek. Yesterday, both the Government of the United States and United Kingdom called on the Saudi coalition to let up and allow humanitarian supplies and aid to go through to Sana’a and other places. Could you explain to us what you are doing in terms of talking to the Saudis to convince them or to allow this aid to go through?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, and I’m glad you asked about it. It’s an area that we care a lot about. We have had many conversations with the Saudi Government. We’ve put out numerous statements from the State Department. The President has as well. The President put one out about a week ago on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Just last Friday, our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, along with USAID Administrator Mark Green, held a meeting with humanitarian aid groups to try to get more information about what’s happening. When we talk about where we get our information, part of that is from our people on the ground in any given country, but part of that is also talking with aid groups. And we hear from aid groups about the situation on the ground.
The situation is certainly dire there, and that’s why we’ve been very clear and we’ve increasingly called on the Saudi Government to open up humanitarian aid. We have not seen enough aid getting through the ports, we have not seen the fuel supplies coming in that are necessary to get that aid in. And you’ve all seen the pictures on television; you’ve seen the pictures in the newspaper that people are in crisis. You see the women, you see the children there, they need help. I certainly hope the Saudi Government will listen to us and that they will try to open up that aid as we have called for.
QUESTION: But the —
QUESTION: So the – go ahead.
QUESTION: The Saudis say that the reason that they are not able to allow more aid in is because they’re – they have these concerns about those ports being used to smuggle in missiles and other weapons that are being shot at them.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.S. has been giving —
MS NAUERT: And we’ve just seen that report about a – what they believe is a ballistic missile, which I can’t confirm that, but being fired into Saudi Arabia. So they do have every right to be concerned about their sovereignty and about their security. We are sympathetic to that. We’ve been attacked here in the United States too, so every country has a right to be concerned about that. But you also see the humanitarian situation and you see the horrific situation that people have put – been put in for several years now. And so we are asking the Saudis to open up the ports and allow humanitarian aid to come in.
QUESTION: So how – I mean, is there some advice that you’re providing to the Saudis about how they can let in just the humanitarian aid but better keep out the weapons? Because it seems like they’re working at cross purposes.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I would assume we are. Some of those conversations might be between DOD and the Saudi Government. We have a good relationship with the Saudi Government; you all know that. I would imagine some of the conversations would include tips to figure that out.
Okay, we’ve got to wrap it up, but —
QUESTION: Well, just on that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Given the Saudis’ restrictions, is it the U.S.’s view that Saudi Arabia is in part responsible for the famine and for the deaths of these civilians?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to go as far as saying that, but what they can do is that they can open up humanitarian aid and they can allow it to get through to the people who need it most. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Lalit, then we’ve got to wrap it up.
QUESTION: Yeah. About a month ago, U.S. issued a statement asking Pakistan to re-arrest Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e Tayyiba leader. He’s still freely roaming around the country. What do you have to say on that? Has U.S. – has Pakistan listened to U.S. asks?
MS NAUERT: I don’t – for those of you who – I’m not sure if we’ve talked about this here in this room before. I think we may have on one other occasion. And who Lalit is referring to is the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks – remember those – where the guys drove up on the boat, they went into the hotel, they shot up hundreds of people, killed I believe it was hundreds, including some Americans. That happened a few years back. He’s asking about the mastermind of those attacks, a man who is affiliated with LeT, Lashkar-e Tayyiba, one of the terror groups. It’s a group that the United States Government considers to be a terror organization.
We have many conversations with the Government of Pakistan. One of the things that happened recently is that this guy was held on house arrest. Pakistan released him from house arrest, and now there is word that he may be running for some sort of office. I want to remind folks we have a $10 million Reward for Justice program that would reward for information that would bring him to justice. So I want to make that clear so that everybody knows, $10 million out for this guy, and we would certainly have concerns about him running for office. So I’m glad you highlighted that.
QUESTION: But Pakistanis are saying they don’t have enough evidence against him. Has the U.S. provided evidence as well?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you that his organization – his organization that was responsible for those attacks – is considered a foreign terror organization. It’s considered a foreign terror organization by the U.S. Government for a reason and for a good reason. I would imagine that if we had any intelligence – and that’s not an area that I can discuss, anyway – but we would certainly share it with the Pakistanis on that front. I hope they’ll do the right thing.
QUESTION: But what implications Pakistan has if he’s – continues to move freely?
MS NAUERT: I can’t —
QUESTION: That was a pretty strong statement U.S. issued.
MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that. I would just have to refer you back to the Government of Pakistan and hope that they will do the right thing and remind folks across Pakistan we have a $10 million reward for this guy. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you soon.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:02 p.m.)
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