2:41 p.m. EDT
Today the United States designated three senior Hizballah political and security officials – Amin Sherri, Muhammad Hasan Ra’d, and Wafiq Safa. They have assisted the Iranian regime in its efforts to undermine Lebanese sovereignty. These officials have exploited their positions to smuggle illicit goods into Lebanon, undermining Lebanese financial institutions to assist Hizballah and to evade U.S. sanctions against Hizballah facilitators and financiers.
Today’s designations are a part of the United States effort to counter Hizballah’s corrupting influence in Lebanon and to support Lebanon’s stability, prosperity, and sovereignty. The United States’ maximum pressure campaign against Iran and its proxies, Hizballah chief among them, already – has already succeeded in limiting the financial support Hizballah receives from the Iranian regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. As a result, this designated terrorist organization has been forced to take unprecedented austerity measures. In March 2019, for the first time ever, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah made a public appeal for financial support.
As these designations demonstrate, any distinction between Hizballah’s political and military wings is artificial, a fact that Hizballah itself acknowledges. Accordingly, we continue to call on our allies and partners to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
MS ORTAGUS: It’s my turn. (Laughter.)
Okay. The United States congratulates Ambassador Reema bint Bandar on being the first woman appointed to serve as an ambassador of Saudi Arabia. She presented her credentials to the State Department on July 3rd and participated in a credentialing ceremony yesterday at the White House, beginning her new role as Saudi ambassador to the United States. We look forward to building upon the strong U.S.-Saudi partnership and working with the ambassador on many important bilateral and regional issues, including countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activity, ending the conflict in Yemen, and advancing human rights.
We also warmly welcome His Highness Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to the United States. The President met with the amir a short while ago, and the Secretary will meet with him tomorrow. Qatar is a highly valued, strategic partner and friend of the United States.
The Secretary visited Doha in January to lead the U.S. delegation at the second U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue, during which we collaborated on regional security and defense cooperation, education and culture, law enforcement and counterterrorism partnerships, commercial and energy cooperation, and labor issues. We are building upon that dialogue and look forward to discussing these and other important areas of bilateral cooperation during the amir’s visit. We will also discuss critical regional priorities, including Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities, and the need for a united GCC on these and many other regional issues. We look forward to further deepening the U.S.-Qatar strategic relationship and advancing our cooperation.
And one more: David R. Stilwell will visit Japan, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea, and Thailand, July 10th through the 21st, in his first trip as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He will visit Tokyo, July 11th through the 14th, to meet senior officials from the ministry of foreign affairs, the ministry of defense, and the national security council to coordinate efforts on regional and global issues and to deepen the U.S.-Japan alliance in pursuit of our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific region.
In Manila on July 15, 16, Assistant Secretary Stilwell, along with Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver, will lead the U.S. delegation to the eighth U.S.-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue or BSD. The BSD is the principal forum for discussing the broad spectrum of U.S.-Philippines cooperation, including defense, economics, rule of law, and regional diplomacy.
On July 17th, Assistant Secretary Stilwell will continue his consultations in Seoul, meeting with top ministry of foreign affairs and Blue House officials to discuss further strengthening the alliance and enhancing U.S.-ROK cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Assistant Secretary Stilwell will conclude his trip in Bangkok July 18, 19, where he will engage with officials from the ministry of foreign affairs and the office of the prime minister on bilateral priorities and Thailand’s year as chair of ASEAN. He will also meet business leaders in the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.
Are you Matt Lee today? (Laughter.) Do we have the AP here?
MS ORTAGUS: No. Well, Rich, since you’re in the seat.
QUESTION: I’m Matt Lee’s seat filler.
MS ORTAGUS: You look a little bit younger.
QUESTION: I don’t know if I could even pretend to duplicate that performance —
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, hit me with a zinger.
QUESTION: — so I’m just going to pretend that I’m me today.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, good. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thanks, Morgan.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken with either Foreign Secretary Hunt or the ambassador here about his comments? And is the United States or State Department planning a diplomatic response to the UK, beyond the President saying that the U.S. will no longer deal with Ambassador Darroch?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t believe that the Secretary has spoken with the ambassador today. I would need to double-check his schedule, but I’m pretty confident of that. You know we were in London very recently and, of course, met with the foreign minister. And as it relates to this issue in its entirety, there’s clearly an election going on in the United Kingdom. We’re going to stay out of that and we will, of course, let the White House speak for the President’s tweets. And I don’t think the State Department has anything further to say about that.
QUESTION: Just generally speaking about the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, and as – business as usual in this building?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I mean, listen, we have an incredibly special and strategic relationship with the United Kingdom. That has gone on for quite a long time and it’s bigger than any individual; it’s bigger than any government. It’s something that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Just follow up briefly on it?
MS ORTAGUS: No. (Laughter.) Go ahead. I mean, you’re not going to get anything new —
QUESTION: Well —
MS ORTAGUS: — but you can keep asking.
QUESTION: Sure. Well, I think it’s a good question.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: But just the President was saying that he won’t deal with the ambassador. Is the State Department still dealing with the ambassador and the embassy?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I mean, as I just said, I don’t speak for the President here, so I’d refer you to the White House for anything related to his comments. And we don’t have anything, any new direction to give on that. Okay?
QUESTION: Will the State Department deal with the ambassador?
MS ORTAGUS: We will continue to deal with all accredited individuals until we get any further guidance from the White House or the President, which we will, of course, abide by the President’s direction.
QUESTION: Hey. Okay.
MS ORTAGUS: Or afternoon.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I think Carol just shot that over to me. I have – I saw that right as I was walking out here. I’ve just seen your email on it. I don’t have anything new, but we can certainly make that a takeaway and we’ll look into that. I don’t have anything on that for you.
QUESTION: Can you say if there have been any meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials?
MS ORTAGUS: I highly doubt it. I think that’s something that I would know, but we’ll be certainly happy to check into that report for you.
QUESTION: Hi, Morgan. Thanks. Nice to see you.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
MS ORTAGUS: That was an interesting trip to be on.
QUESTION: Yes, I was there too.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, were you?
QUESTION: With the White House —
MS ORTAGUS: Were you at the DMZ?
QUESTION: With the White House teams, not —
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, good for you.
QUESTION: — not DMZ, but I was there that trip.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: And many South Korea or other media is so confused about this event. So what is the United States’ final destinations of denuclearization of North Korea? So —
MS ORTAGUS: Which event is confusing specifically?
QUESTION: Because they said a meeting with Biegun – he just mentions about a nuclear freeze. And is this for your U.S. goal or you have any element – any detail about how are you going to do with the denuclearization of North Korea?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. So I spoke with Steve Biegun today, actually. I speak with him on a regular basis. I have a lot of wonderful colleagues here at the State Department, Steve being chief among them. And one of the things that both he and the Secretary reiterated to me, and I think to some of you, is that, of course, this was a good meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un. I think it lasted approximately an hour.
A number of issues were discussed between the two leaders, including – of course, from our perspective here at the State Department, what was really important is that the President and Kim Jong-un agreed to appointing people for working-level negotiations. The President – as you were there that day, so you saw the President clearly has handed the baton over to the Secretary and Steve Biegun, and they will be moving forward with these negotiations. And we know that the President remains committed to resolving issues on the North Korean – excuse me, on the Korean Peninsula peacefully and through diplomacy. That’s our goal, and I don’t think anything has changed. We obviously clearly want to see the complete elimination of WMDs in North Korea. As the President has said many times, he hopes Kim Jong-un and the North Korean people see the brighter future and the brighter vision that he has for those people.
But as it relates to your comments about the freeze, that would never be the resolution of a process; that would never be the end of a process. That would – something that we would certainly hope to see at the beginning, but I don’t think that the administration has ever characterized a freeze as being the end goal. That’s – would be at the beginning of the process.
QUESTION: Yes, so still want to be FFVD or CVID for your —
MS ORTAGUS: You can use whatever acronym you would like. I get tongue-twisted when I try to use them, so I’m just going to say complete elimination of WMDs, so that way I don’t mess up the acronyms.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: What the Secretary said before he left Korea was that working-level discussions would begin by the middle of this month. That puts it about next week. Do you have any announcements on whether or not Steve Biegun will meet with his North Korean counterparts next week?
MS ORTAGUS: No, I don’t have any announcements on that. And I think all of you have been covering Steve Biegun in this process longer than I’ve been at the State Department, so I know that you know it incredibly well. And I think you all also know that one of the things that we’ll never be able to do is sort of hash out the day-in and the day-out here from the podium. I don’t think that’s constructive for Steve and his team. I don’t think it’s constructive for his North Korean counterparts.
And so listen, as soon as we have any sort of update, we’ll be happy to bring Steve to all of you to talk to you about it, to let you know as things progress. But I think that the work now continues, and that’s what Steve and his team are working on, and we just want to give them that space to do that. And I don’t think that speculating or getting into the day-to-day from the podium is going to help Steve do that, so I just want to give him his space for that.
QUESTION: Has he had contacts, at least? Can you say?
MS ORTAGUS: Obviously, as we’ve said every time we talk about North Korea, that the contacts and the discussions are ongoing. As you saw just a couple weeks ago, it was very public. They’re not normally that public. But I know that the team remains very encouraged by the historic visit of President Trump. It wasn’t a summit, it wasn’t a negotiation; it was a meeting of two leaders. But of course, that was a very, I think, special and historic day for many people around the world, especially, I think, those of us who were in Korea and were a part of that moment. It’s certainly something that I think I’ll take with me for the rest of my life as I work in foreign policy.
QUESTION: Hi, sorry. Can I just turn back to the UK for just one brief moment and get an explicit answer? So you have not received any instruction from the White House to cut contacts with the embassy or with the ambassador?
MS ORTAGUS: No.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: On Yemen?
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Are we going to – so we’re going to go to – does anybody else have a question on Asia?
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, a lot of people. Goodness. Do you mind if I come back to you and finish just everything on Asia?
QUESTION: No problem. No worries.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hong Kong?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Do you have anything in Hong Kong where its leadership have declared the controversial extradition bill has – is dead? What is the U.S. assessment? And separately, was outgoing U.S. consul general in Hong Kong barred from making a tough speech after the leaders of the U.S. and China reached a trade truce during the G20 summit?
MS ORTAGUS: So for your second question, I believe that that was based off of anonymous reports, and that’s not something that we ever validate here at the State Department. I don’t see much truth to that.
And then on Hong Kong, I saw also the report that you read. I think we have been very vocal here at the State Department, and the Secretary has talked about a lot of the – about this a lot. Our position has remained unchanged. And of course, we were happy to see how the events progressed, and I don’t think we have anything new. I think we’ve been on record pretty clearly on Hong Kong on this issue.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Hong Kong?
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: The Secretary said before the G20 that Hong Kong would likely be brought up between the President and President Xi at the summit. Do you know if they did discuss the Hong Kong issue, and could you elaborate on what they said?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t – we’re not responsible for the readouts for the President’s meeting. That would be from the White House. I will – certainly happy to check with their press team to see if they released a readout from that meeting. I don’t know if they did, but we’ll take that as a follow-up.
QUESTION: Do you think since Kim Darroch being labeled “wacky” —
MS ORTAGUS: No, no, we’re on Asia. Sorry.
MS ORTAGUS: We have nothing new on the UK. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Takemoto with Kyodo News.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi.
MS ORTAGUS: Which news?
MS ORTAGUS: Kyodo News in Japan.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh great, fabulous.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: Special Representative Biegun is moving – traveling to Europe.
MS ORTAGUS: He is.
QUESTION: He is.
MS ORTAGUS: I think he’s there right now, actually.
QUESTION: Yeah. I wonder if you can talk about the when and where he is meeting with his South Korean counterpart, and also what will be the agenda of this round?
MS ORTAGUS: Let me see if I have details on that. I do know, because I talked to Steve about this on the plane, that his meetings do Europe had been scheduled before we all met in Seoul. So I do know this has been planned for quite some time.
It looks like he’s in Brussels July 8th and 9th, and Berlin July 10th and 11th. He’ll be meeting with European officials, with the Republic of Korea Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, and of course, we’ll be working on follow-ups from many of our conversations over the past few weeks. There is no plan to meet with North Korean officials on this trip.
QUESTION: So he’s meeting with – Lee Do-hoon from South Korea will be in Berlin.
MS ORTAGUS: It looks like it’s going to be in Berlin, yeah. Brussels – so Brussels July 8-9, Berlin July 10-11. That’s always subject to change, but that’s the agenda for now.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Yes, hi.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: And now Chinese Government urged the U.S. Government to cancel these arms sales. How would you respond to the Chinese Government?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I think everybody here in this room, especially all of you from our – from the Asian bureaus, are aware of the Taiwan Relations Act. The State Department did notify on the arms sale today, as you talked about.
Listen, our interest in Taiwan, especially as it relates to these military sales, is to promote peace and stability across the straits, across the region. And so our – there’s no change, of course, in our longstanding “one China” policy. That’s based on the Three Joint Communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act.
So I don’t see our notification here as anything other than complying with the Taiwan Relations Act. The law specifically, of course, requires these sorts of – requires us to help Taiwan maintain their defense, self-sufficient defense capabilities. But our “one China” policy remains the same, and so there’s no new policy announcements for today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the human rights advisory board?
MS ORTAGUS: Why not?
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, and just to be clear, by the way, it’s called the Commission on Unalienable Rights.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. He talked about how the commission was created in part to examine new categories of rights, and he said that interest groups are creating new rights, there’s “loose talk” of new rights. Could you give us some sense of what —
MS ORTAGUS: Loose – yeah, what that is?
QUESTION: — rights he was referring to, the sort of new categories of rights that —
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Listen, I think when you start to look around the world, and you look at how authoritarian regimes have subverted human rights, when you look at the UN, the Human Rights Commission, and sort of how in many ways it’s become a laughingstock, one of the reasons that we withdrew – look at what China produced on December 12th. The Chinese produced a white paper on human rights. It talked about 40 years of reform as it relates to human rights. That’s obviously something that we would take issue with. Mohammad Zarif – I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime within the past year has called himself a human rights professor. He may think he is, but I think there’s a lot of people in the human rights community that would have a problem with him using that label.
We certainly remember – I mean, not necessarily – maybe within the beginning of my lifetime, but we remember the Soviet Union used to talk about human rights. And you see – we talk about this actually quite extensively in the Human Rights Reports. Ambassador Brownback, who we just had up here a few weeks ago, was talking to all of you about his International Religious Freedom Report.
So we have seen troubling examples around the world, again, of these authoritarian regimes subverting this human rights context.
And so I think it’s important to note here – and I don’t want to really go too far beyond what the Secretary said and what he wrote, because I think that those pieces certainly speak to themselves – but we think unalienable rights are the ultimate individual right. They are something that every community enjoys, and we really want to – part of this commission, which is going to be very public, by the way – nothing’s going to be hidden, all of you can feel free to attend and can have the readouts. This is something that all of Washington and all of the world can enjoy. But we are going to use this to really ground our understanding of human rights. And this philosophical debate is incredibly important because of how we see these authoritarian regimes subverting human rights around the world.
QUESTION: So is this – it’s directed then more at authoritarian regimes and concepts of human rights outside the United States? I mean, as I know you’re obviously aware, when this commission was set up earlier, there was a lot of concern about the use of quote-unquote “natural law,” and there was some criticism that this would be aimed at curtailing rights in the U.S., like marriage equality, right to an abortion —
MS ORTAGUS: I think if you – again, if you go back and reread what the Secretary said in his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal and also what he said here at the podium, what you’re referring to are political rights granted by governments. That’s not what this commission is about. The Secretary actually had talked about how he has studied human rights; it’s something very personal to him.
And again, we think that human rights are a bipartisan issue. This is not a commission that is set out to create new policy on human rights. That’s not the point of this. Nor, if you look at the people who we mentioned, who we announced yesterday that will be a part of the commission, you can see that this is not a partisan political exercise about rights granted by government. So we’ll all have to take a breather and get outside of the day-to-day politics in Washington, because that’s not what this is about.
QUESTION: So it won’t discuss those issues?
QUESTION: Martin Griffith was in the building today. Did he meet with the Secretary?
MS ORTAGUS: I apologize. I don’t have any information on that. I will – we’ll get back to you right away on that.
QUESTION: And another thing on Yemen: Any comment on the UAE withdrawal from Yemen?
MS ORTAGUS: No. I’m sorry, I don’t have much – yeah.
QUESTION: They are taking out their troops from Yemen. Do you have any comment?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t. I’ll get something for you as soon as we’re out of this briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: And according to Turkish press reports that were repeated in the Russian press, that is happening today. So what – how will those consequences be implemented? What steps, concrete steps do you expect to take?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I think, to be fair, we have a report almost every other day in some newspaper around the world that Turkey is taking control of the S-400 today, so that’s not sort of – that’s not very new. I think we all read that quite a bit in publications around the world.
Our position here at the State Department as it relates to Turkey and the S-400 has not changed. We – again, everybody knows – the Turkish authorities know – the legislation that has been passed in Congress as it relates to CAATSA, and all of that remains the same. We have said that Turkey, as you pointed out, will face real and negative consequences if they accept the S-400. Those consequences include participation in the F-35 program. I think that the Secretary and this department have been incredibly consistent about that over – at least since I’ve been here and over the past year since the Secretary has been here, so there is nothing that I’ve said or that the Secretary has said that has changed as it relates to that.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: Very quickly, are you aware of any plan to resume operations by USAID in the West Bank and Gaza this summer that you can share with us? Is there such a thing?
MS ORTAGUS: Give me a little bit more color on what you’re talking about. Sorry.
QUESTION: These operations ceased – okay. Well, USAID ceased its operations some months back in the West Bank and Gaza – scaled it back dramatically – and somebody asked me whether they’re going to be resuming operations soon.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, right, right.
QUESTION: There is talk of that. Are you aware of any of that you can share with us?
MS ORTAGUS: Have a very – I have a very big book to get here through, Said. You’ll have to forgive me. We’re going to go digital at some point, so I’m not going to be thumbing through all of this.
I’m going to double check on this to you. I was talking to the team right before we come out. We don’t have anything new to announce on this, and my latest information from our team is that we’re not taking any steps to close the USAID West Bank and Gaza mission. And so if there’s anything new on that, I promise to get it back to you right away.
QUESTION: And a quick follow-up on – I know I asked you about Ambassador Friedman before, but he seems to always take some measures that could be construed as controversial, like doing the tunnel thing and so on. Is he charting his own policy, or does he clear that with the Secretary of State every time he does something like this?
MS ORTAGUS: It’s – yeah.
QUESTION: Because I read in an article today that described Ambassador Friedman as being “rogue,” quote-unquote.
MS ORTAGUS: I didn’t read that, and I would say that we have a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach as it relates to the Secretary, the ambassador, Advisor to the President Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt. These are teams that work incredibly closely together on all of these issues, and again, we look at this issue as something that obviously is incredibly challenging but that we see – we look at this as a whole-of-government approach, not something where people are operating in silos.
QUESTION: I understand, but being the ambassador and his boss directly is Secretary Pompeo, does he clear these things with the Secretary of State, as other ambassadors would do?
MS ORTAGUS: Which things are you talking about?
QUESTION: Such as participating in this tunnel opening, things – the statement that he’s making about annexing parts of the West Bank, other statements that he’s made that are really not – they are not in tandem with or not parallel to U.S. stated policy.
MS ORTAGUS: Well, so, we all work at the pleasure of Secretary Mike Pompeo and ultimately the President of the United States. It’s a tremendous honor to work for both of them, and I know that I share that as well as, I think, Ambassador Greenblatt does as well.
I’m – I have one more. I didn’t call on anyone in the back, so —
MS ORTAGUS: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a few quick scheduling updates from you. Pakistani leader Imran Khan is coming to the U.S. later this month. What are the meetings scheduled here? Anything that you can give us on that?
MS ORTAGUS: To my knowledge, that has actually not been confirmed by the White House. I know that I have read the same reports that you have, but I would reach out to the White House to confirm or not confirm that visit, but that’s – we don’t have anything to announce here from the State Department.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: How many —
MS ORTAGUS: It’s next week, actually.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, sorry, yeah.
MS ORTAGUS: We hope you attend.
QUESTION: And any – can you give us any prominent nations that are not coming? India did not come last month – last year, so have they confirmed they are coming or not coming so —
MS ORTAGUS: So two things. One, we did have Ambassador Brownback at the podium a couple weeks ago right before we left for the Middle East and Asia. I believe that I’m going to be bringing him back. So he would be best to answer the details of those questions. I know that I will be attending it. The Secretary and of course many – obviously, people from the department who remain very committed to this. I’ve gotten a little bit of feedback from him yesterday. I spent some time with the ambassador yesterday talking about this ministerial, and it sounds like it’s going to be an incredibly exciting event. It’s not something that I participated in last year, so I’m really looking forward to it this year. And so any details that you need, the ambassador will be best to answer those in terms of what countries will come. I just don’t have the list in front of me, but we’re happy to follow up and get that for you.
Again, sorry, guys that I’ve been a few weeks since I’ve briefed because of all the travel, but we’re here until I think the end of next week. So we’ll see all of you very, very soon. Thank you so much for having me.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:08 p.m.)