Today in South Africa, the deputy secretary held meetings with a range of stakeholders, during which he discussed South Africa’s business climate, IBM’s investments in entrepreneurship and innovation in Johannesburg, and the value of U.S. Government exchange programs. In addition, he will tour the Zola Community Health Centre and meet with beneficiaries of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Program.
During his visit, the deputy secretary will also meet with South African Government officials to discuss bilateral trade and regional multilateral priorities, including with respect to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
In these meetings, the deputy secretary will stress the importance of prioritizing economic partnerships based on mutual respect that help African nations take control of their economic destinies.
In Angola, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will meet with President Lourenco to discuss a range of global economic and security issues. The deputy secretary will co-chair a session of the United States-Angola Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Minister Augusto. They plan to discuss the ways for our partnership to grow in areas such as economic engagement, security cooperation, and development programs, as well as efforts to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches the Venezuelan people.
While in Luanda, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will also deliver remarks on the administration’s Africa strategy to members of the business community and meet with representatives from civil society, youth leaders, and the United States mission personnel to underscore the depth and breadth of United States engagement in Africa.
QUESTION: And they’ll be (inaudible) that in Chinese, right?
MR PALLADINO: We are focused. I also want to highlight two important announcements that were made today by Secretary Pompeo’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement Ambassador Jim Jeffrey. This was done at the third Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.
Today the United States announced more than 397 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria as part of the United Nations Syria response plan. This reflects our commitment to providing critical, lifesaving support to any Syrian impacted by the conflict no matter where they live, both inside Syria and vulnerable refugee communities in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. U.S. humanitarian assistance is now more than 9.5 billion since the start of this crisis, and we appreciate all donors who have stepped up and we encourage others to help meet the growing need as well.
Ambassador Jeffrey also announced, at the direction of the President and subject to Congressional approval, the United States intention to provide additional 5 million to support the vital, lifesaving operations of the White Helmets in Syria and the United Nations International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism, the IIIM. The United States strongly supports the work of the White Helmets. They have saved more than 114,000 lives since the conflict began, including victims of Assad’s vicious chemical weapons attacks. And we stand firmly with them against attempts to delegitimize their work.
The IIIM is charged with assisting the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in Syria since March 2011. We’re proud to support these efforts. These contributions demonstrate the United States commitment and ongoing support for justice and accountability in Syria.
And with that, I’d be happy to take some questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Robert. Can we start with Venezuela briefly and the return or the departure of the remaining American diplomats from Caracas? In the statement that the Secretary put out announcing that they had left, it ends with we – the sentence, “We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins.” When, in the administration’s view, is – does the transition to democracy begin? Is that when Maduro leaves? When he accepts or agrees to new elections? When does the transition to democracy begin?
MR PALLADINO: Hopefully soon, and —
QUESTION: Well, what is the trigger for – not the date, although I note that —
MR PALLADINO: We will define it when we see it, and I’m not going to specify exactly how it looks, but —
QUESTION: So it’s possible, then, that diplomat – that you could reopen or restaff your embassy while Maduro remains de facto in power, at least as you —
MR PALLADINO: No. That’s a hypothetical, and I’ll —
QUESTION: I want to know what your definition of hypothetical is, because it’s not —
MR PALLADINO: Yeah, you’re saying “if.” You’re saying if this were to happen.
QUESTION: No, it’s not. In fact —
MR PALLADINO: That’s – that is the definition of a hypothetical, actually.
QUESTION: No, no, Robert, except I didn’t use the word “if.”
MR PALLADINO: All right.
QUESTION: How about this? Can you foresee a situation in which U.S. diplomats return to Caracas while Maduro is still the – what you would consider the de facto or the – is still running the government? It’s not the word “if.” It does not exist in that sentence. That’s not a hypothetical.
MR PALLADINO: We are looking forward to the day when they can return to witness firsthand a transition to democracy, so I have a very hard time with that formulation. But just to catch you up on where we are, all diplomats that had remained in Venezuela have now departed the country. They were and they continue to be fully dedicated to the mission of supporting the Venezuelan people’s democratic aspirations and desire to build a better future. They will now carry that mission forward from other locations.
The United States remains firm in our resolve and support for the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly, and Interim President Juan Guaido. We look forward to returning our presence to witness firsthand Venezuela’s transition to democracy.
QUESTION: Thanks. How great is the State Department’s concern that Maduro or his supporters might try to arrest Guaido at this point?
MR PALLADINO: What I would say is we hold former President Maduro and those who surround him fully responsible for the safety and welfare of Interim President Guaido and his family, and it would be a terrible mistake for the illegitimate Maduro regime to arrest Interim President Guaido, and it would provoke an immediate reaction from Venezuelans and the international community.
MR PALLADINO: Lesley.
QUESTION: I have two questions. Can you tell us a little bit how the diplomats got out? There were reports that it was a military plane. We’ve had U.S. officials say it wasn’t. Can you just – and what time?
And number two, who have you appointed a protecting power or powers?
MR PALLADINO: All right. It – I confirm that it was a civilian charter. It was not a military plane.
And as far as an interim power goes, we’re working to identify a country to act as our protecting power in order to provide limited services to any remaining United States citizens in Venezuela, and we expect to make an announcement quite soon.
QUESTION: So who’s protecting the property at – is there anybody protecting that property right now, or – and was part of the civilian charter also bringing out equipment and other things?
MR PALLADINO: Yes. Let’s just say we had things that weighed quite a bit that would require a civilian charter plane.
MR PALLADINO: Is there going to be more on Venezuela? Please.
MR PALLADINO: Equipment. Some of our equipment.
QUESTION: Like —
MR PALLADINO: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Like what?
MR PALLADINO: Any more on Venezuela?
MR PALLADINO: Please, go ahead, Abbie.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Hold on, wait. But, like, what weighs a lot? (Laughter.) Like desks?
MR PALLADINO: Equipment. Not quite – I’m not going to go into details, but we had enough that —
MR PALLADINO: — United Airlines is not going to be happy with us. Please, go ahead, Abbie. (Laughter.) All right.
QUESTION: Please speak a little bit about the Americans who are still there, American citizens, and what it is that the State Department is doing or suggesting as far as their own efforts to leave the country.
MR PALLADINO: Right. As far as American citizens that remain in Venezuela go, we will hold former President Maduro and the Venezuelan military and security services directly responsible for the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens in Venezuela. U.S. citizens residing in Venezuela or traveling to Venezuela or traveling in Venezuela should strongly consider departing Venezuela. We – there are limited commercial flights that remain available, and you saw our travel advisory that we updated – I think it was two days ago now. We remain at Level 4 with the strong warning, “do not travel.” That hasn’t changed. Our embassy does not have – is not able to provide consular services at the moment, as our personnel have departed. And as to Reuters’ earlier question, we expect to be able to announce more details soon on what provisions we’ve been able to arrange.
MR PALLADINO: More on Venezuela?
MR PALLADINO: Sure. Let’s go EFE, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. In the statement, the Secretary said that these diplomats, they are going to continue to work from other locations. Are they going to work from Colombia, from Brazil? And if you are discussing this with these countries, and also when do you estimate that this work will resume, when they will continue working? Thank you.
MR PALLADINO: Well, we have a task force here in the State Department that is operating pretty much around the clock and has been operating since the beginning of this. Many of these personnel will join that effort, and as the special representative mentioned on Tuesday, much of his efforts that he is spearheading is benefiting from a lot of the talent that we’ve had to – that has had to withdraw from Caracas.
As far as where else and how else we are looking to affect change and continue to work on these issues, I’m not going to go – be able to go into detail on that effort. But there is a lot that remains to be done. And for example, the United States continues to impose visa restrictions on corrupt individuals who enable Maduro’s theft of Venezuela’s assets for their own personal gain. And we are applying this policy to numerous Maduro-aligned officials and their families. Since this Monday, this past Monday, March 11th, we have revoked 340 visas, 107 of which include visas of Maduro’s former diplomats and their families.
QUESTION: Sorry, a hundred and how many?
MR PALLADINO: A hundred and seven of which.
QUESTION: And the overall?
QUESTION: And the rest?
MR PALLADINO: Three hundred and forty since Monday, 107 of which include visas of Maduro’s former diplomats and their families. This action brings the total number of revoked visas to more than 600 since late 2018. Additional visas are being considered for revocation.
QUESTION: Robert, just before we leave Venezuela, can I – I’m still intrigued by what it is that weighs so much that you had to get out of the embassy. I mean, was it like office supplies or computers, or is it like (inaudible) —
MR PALLADINO: Matt, I don’t have details. I don’t have details.
QUESTION: Well, can you find out? Because I mean, that’s just kind of interesting. Anyway, the other thing I just wanted to ask is when you say we will hold former President Maduro and the security services responsible for – isn’t that – when you say former – when you insist on calling him “former president” and then you also say that he’s responsible, aren’t you conceding that your effort to promote or to push Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader has failed? Because you – you call this guy a former president and yet you still – you accept that he has responsibility over – or you insist that he has responsibility for the safety and security of American citizens.
MR PALLADINO: He still has de facto control over – issuing orders to colectivos and the overall just complete deterioration of the situation that has taken place. That deterioration, as the Secretary and the special representative have spoken about it – but the driving – one of the driving forces why we – was no longer sustainable.
QUESTION: Right, but so you don’t see that as a concession that your attempts to promote —
MR PALLADINO: No.
QUESTION: — Guaido have come to naught so far?
MR PALLADINO: No.
MR PALLADINO: No. We take the opposite lesson. We are quite pleased at the – at the overall global effort that has been undertaken, and we – our policy is going to continue to support democracy in Venezuela. We’re going to continue to support the interim president; the only democratically elected institution in the country, the National Assembly; and we are going to continue on our policy of using sanctions and diplomatic pressure to pressure the illegitimate regime to end its – to end. I’ll stop there.
MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Washington Post.
QUESTION: What’s the status of the local staff there? Are they still employees? And do you have any concerns for their safety?
MR PALLADINO: The – our locally employed staff continue to be employed by the United States Government. They continue to receive their salaries and they continue to work for us. For security reasons, I’m not going to go much beyond that.
QUESTION: Are you going to make any of Jim Story’s remarks that were made before the flag was lowered – are you going to make any of those remarks available to us?
MR PALLADINO: Yes, we are. Okay.
MR PALLADINO: Please.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PALLADINO: Please, let’s go ahead. Sure.
MR PALLADINO: I don’t think we have that, do we? But I can talk about Yemen a little bit if that would be of use. Okay.
QUESTION: If you have any update on that and whether you blame the Houthis whether it’s a – you – whether you’re blaming the Houthis for not implementing the Hodeidah agreement —
MR PALLADINO: Okay.
QUESTION: — that Mr. Griffiths criticized them for —
MR PALLADINO: Right.
QUESTION: — yesterday at the UN.
MR PALLADINO: So the Secretary is meeting with Mr. Griffiths I believe at 3:00 today, right. So I think that’s right about now. So I don’t have a readout.
QUESTION: At 1:00.
MR PALLADINO: I don’t know what time it is.
QUESTION: At 1:00 it was.
MR PALLADINO: Oh, was it 1:00? I apologize then. Okay. I don’t have a readout yet to provide.
QUESTION: Can we get a readout as soon as you —
MR PALLADINO: Hope so, hope so. Yeah.
MR PALLADINO: We’ll try to get that to you, okay? Our focus hasn’t changed in Yemen. We’re focused on supporting a comprehensive political agreement that will end the conflict. So towards that end, we are – we continue to support the United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, and we encourage Yemenis to swiftly implement agreements that were made in Sweden so that the political process can move forward.
And you had a question about —
QUESTION: The Hodeidah agreement.
MR PALLADINO: Okay.
QUESTION: If the Houthis continue to not implement it, and you calling for them to swiftly —
MR PALLADINO: We continue to urge all parties to adhere to the commitments that they made in Sweden, particularly the ceasefire and the redeployment of forces in Hodeidah. We strongly support the UN Redeployment Coordination Committee as it works to implement the Hodeidah agreement and to translate momentum from Sweden into real de-escalation on the ground.
MR PALLADINO: Please.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hello, Robert?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PALLADINO: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert. Yesterday Ambassador Kozak suggested that the term “occupied” carries legal parameters, and the West Bank and Golan Heights were listed as geographically. We don’t know what that means. I wanted to ask you: What is your official designation of the West Bank now, today? What is – how do you designate it?
MR PALLADINO: As we stated last year, we retitled the Human Rights Report to refer to commonly used geographic names in the area that the report covers: Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Gaza. And this is in line with our practices generally.
QUESTION: Right. I’m not talking about the Human Rights – in particular – Report in particular, but what is your designation for the West Bank? I mean, by dropping the term “occupied,” you are a signatory to Resolution 242, 373. Does that compromise the moral standard of the United States when it drops its commitment – or its signature, actually, on these resolutions?
MR PALLADINO: Yeah. Our view on the status of Golan Heights, West Bank, Gaza Strip, that has not changed, and I don’t have anything to add beyond that.
QUESTION: And one last question: Last week on Friday, Mr. Jason Greenblatt, the envoy to the peace process, whatever it is, spoke at the UN and basically sided with Israel on confiscating the tax money. Now – and he, in subsequent tweets and so on, he alluded to the Taylor Force law that was passed here, but that pertains to American money. This money that Israel is taking is Palestinian money and it is enshrined in agreements between the two sides in the Paris accord and the Oslo Accords. So explain to us why – first, why do you support the Israeli decision? And second, isn’t that a breach of an agreement that you oversaw?
MR PALLADINO: As far as Mr. Greenblatt’s words and tweets and whatnot, I would refer you to the White House for the —
QUESTION: But that’s now U.S. policy. I mean, he’s not speaking by himself.
MR PALLADINO: As far as the Taylor – I mean, we’ve – we have said clearly many times before that the United States condemns the abhorrent practice of the Palestinian Authority’s payments to imprisoned terrorists and the families of terrorists. It’s – the Taylor Force Act addresses this practice.
QUESTION: But that’s —
MR PALLADINO: That’s why it’s relevant, and by restricting United States economic assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority until it ends those payments. So this is something the United States continues to press the Palestinian Authority on to discontinue this reprehensible program that incentivizes terrorism. We strongly urge the Palestinian Authority not to reward terrorist violence.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
QUESTION: Robert, on Iraq?
MR PALLADINO: Iraq.
MR PALLADINO: We’ll start – Iraq. Go ahead, Laurie, please, let’s see.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Popular Mobilization Forces figured prominently as abusers in your report yesterday on human rights in Iraq, particularly in the north, and Ayatollah Sistani said that pretty much to Iran’s president yesterday as well when they met. So do you think security and stability can be regained in Iraq without addressing this problem or aren’t the Sunni Arabs, as long as they’re being subject to abuse by sectarian militia, going to keep turning to a group like ISIS just to get away from this abuse?
MR PALLADINO: I guess I’d point out, as the Human Rights Report itself indicates, we are deeply concerned about any abuses committed by sectarian armed forces. Many of those armed groups are aligned with Iran, which shares in the blame for their abuses, and which has used those groups to undermine Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty. Qasem Soleimani and his Qods Force actively seek to use these armed groups to intimidate the Iraqi people and undermine the legitimate authority of Iraq’s elected government.
The deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu al-Muhandis, is on video declaring his loyalty not to Iraq and Iraq’s duly elected leaders, but to Qasem Soleimani. And this disregard for Iraqi sovereignty undermines the will of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Well just on al-Muhandis, who is a particularly nefarious character because he is indicted for the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait a long time ago, indicted for it, would you consider issuing a criminal arrest warrant or doing something particular against al-Muhandis?
MR PALLADINO: I’m not going to preview anything today. I would just say that Iraq can achieve security and stability only if Iran respects Iraq’s sovereignty and ceases to subvert the central government’s ability to rein in these ill-disciplined armed forces.
QUESTION: Robert, on the Iranian president visit to Iraq, he met with tribes leaders and he signed several agreements with the Iraqi Government. Do you have any comment on these agreements? And how can they help the U.S. sanctions on Iran?
MR PALLADINO: We respect Iraq’s sovereign right to conduct its foreign relations for the benefit of the Iraqi people. I guess we’d say we also – we think it’s a shame that Iraq’s neighbors don’t necessarily see it the same way. The Iranian regime speaks of cooperation with Iraq, but as the Secretary noted just yesterday, its actions are aimed at subverting Iraqi sovereignty, making Iraq dependent upon Iran, and turning Iran into a vassal state.
QUESTION: Turning Iraq into a vassal —
MR PALLADINO: Turning Iraq into a vassal state. The Iraqis are a proud people. They value their independence and sovereignty, and they have long memories. Their skepticism about Iran’s intentions is understandable. Stop there.
QUESTION: But they signed the agreements that might undermine the U.S. sanctions on Iran.
MR PALLADINO: I haven’t seen that yet, and I’d have to – I’d take a look. I don’t want to speak on it.
QUESTION: Robert, do you also respect Iran’s sovereign right to conduct foreign policy the way it sees fit?
MR PALLADINO: Iran’s malign influence is well noted, its lack of respect for the sovereignty of its neighbors is well demonstrated, and that is a malign influence that the United States will continue to counter.
QUESTION: Right. But do you believe that Iran has a sovereign right to conduct foreign policy, or is it only if their foreign policy is something that you don’t object to?
MR PALLADINO: Absolutely not. We’re talking about —
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I’m just asking, do they have a sovereign right to their own foreign policy?
MR PALLADINO: We respect each nation’s right to conduct foreign policy, absolutely.
QUESTION: Robert, India? India? India?
MR PALLADINO: We’ve – I already asked on you —
MR PALLADINO: Afghanistan.
MR PALLADINO: I think we should probably do Afghanistan, okay?
MR PALLADINO: Okay? Do we —
QUESTION: Ambassador Khalilzad’s comments, please —
MR PALLADINO: Do you have communal —
MR PALLADINO: Afghanistan.
QUESTION: What about the comments of Ambassador Khalilzad?
MR PALLADINO: All right.
QUESTION: Robert, (inaudible).
MR PALLADINO: Is there a question? What was the – who wants to ask the question?
QUESTION: Conor, Conor.
QUESTION: All right, (inaudible).
QUESTION: I believe Conor – Conor —
QUESTION: Okay. Okay.
MR PALLADINO: Conor, Conor, please, let’s go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert. The Afghan national security advisor is in town and gave comments this morning that I’m sure you’re aware of, really blasting Special Representative Khalilzad, accusing him of weakening the Afghan Government so that he could one day become the viceroy, saying that the U.S. talks with the Taliban are the wrong approach and have undermined the government’s legitimacy. Would you care to expound to that?
MR PALLADINO: To the comments themselves, we don’t believe that they warrant a public response, but I would add that our Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale is meeting with him as of 20 minutes ago, 3 o’clock this afternoon, to communicate the United States Government’s displeasure.
We remain in close consultation with President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and other senior members of the Afghan Government on all matters involving peace in Afghanistan. And at every available opportunity, often multiple times during a single trip abroad, Special Representative Khalilzad has traveled to Kabul for updates and consultations. Khalilzad and President Ghani also speak regularly by telephone. In addition, Ambassador Bass, our ambassador in Kabul, and his team – they’re in touch with President Ghani on a near daily basis. So there is no lack of coordination.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up.
MR PALLADINO: Sure.
QUESTION: The follow-up is so do you still – does the U.S. Government still have confidence in the government of Ashraf Ghani? And number two, if the Taliban is refusing to meet with the Afghan Government, can you guarantee that there will be no troop pullout until that time?
MR PALLADINO: To the first question, yes. To the second question, an intra-Afghan dialogue must be a part of any final package. Such a dialogue must include the Taliban, the Afghan Government, and other Afghan stakeholders, including women and youth.
Now, Special Representative Khalilzad returned yesterday and he’s currently in consultations here at the State Department and around Washington as well as meeting with representatives from other partner countries. And the last round of talks saw meaningful progress. We have moved to an agreement in draft on the first of the two core issues, specifically counterterrorism assurances and troop withdrawal. And when the agreement in draft is finalized, the Taliban and an inclusive Afghan negotiating team that includes the Afghan Government and other Afghans will begin their work on the other two core issues: intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire.
QUESTION: Follow-on, Robert.
MR PALLADINO: Sure. Francesco.
QUESTION: One question is – is Ambassador Khalilzad part of the meeting with David Hale and the Afghan NSA?
MR PALLADINO: I don’t have that information.
QUESTION: And the other one is have you got any acknowledgments or agreement from the Taliban that some kind of intra-Afghan talks will happen after their recent agreement on the two first pillars?
MR PALLADINO: I’m not going to be able to go get into any more details on the current negotiations, as they’re private. They’re ongoing, and we want to give the parties time to work out these issues in private.
QUESTION: So when you and Ambassador Khalilzad say after there’s an agreement on the two first pillars there will be talks, intra-Afghan talks, it’s your point of view; it’s not an agreed point of view with the Taliban?
MR PALLADINO: I would say that when the agreement on the draft is finalized, the Taliban and an inclusive Afghan negotiating team that includes the Afghan Government and other Afghans – at that point, they will begin to work on the other two core issues.
QUESTION: And the Taliban agreed to that?
MR PALLADINO: We – there’s no agreement until we have a full agreement, and we will continue to work towards that, okay?
MR PALLADINO: Another – wait, wait, wait, wait.
QUESTION: One more on Afghanistan.
MR PALLADINO: I called on you, Abbie. Let’s go – Lalit, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Before going public with his comments on the Taliban talks, did the Government of Afghanistan has reached out to U.S., the State Department, about its views of the talks? It looks like it’s quite opposite. It doesn’t want talks with the Taliban to happen. (Inaudible) Mohib said the Taliban and terrorism have the same DNA, are the same DNA.
MR PALLADINO: As I said earlier, I’m not going to – we don’t believe that the comments that were made warrant a public response. And we are in discussions with the government to express our displeasure.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up?
QUESTION: But in terms of communicating —
QUESTION: India. India, please.
MR PALLADINO: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just quickly on this.
MR PALLADINO: Okay.
QUESTION: After previous rounds of talks, though, Ambassador Khalilzad has gone directly to Kabul. He didn’t do that this time. Was there are a particular reason why he didn’t go to consult the Afghan Government immediately afterwards?
MR PALLADINO: Both Special Representative Khalilzad and Ambassador Bass are in close consultation with President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and other senior members of the Afghan Government, as well as the country’s broader political leadership, on all matters involving peace in Afghanistan. And in our talks with the Taliban representatives, we are getting to a place where the Taliban and an inclusive Afghan negotiating team can come together to discuss a political settlement that ends the conflict. This intra-Afghan dialogue must be part of any final package and such a dialogue must include the Taliban, the Afghan Government, and other Afghan stakeholders. So we are in continuous daily coordination, and I’ll stop there.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PALLADINO: All right.
QUESTION: One last question.
QUESTION: Robert, India, please. India.
MR PALLADINO: So, please, right here. Go ahead. Cindy, go ahead.
QUESTION: If the national security advisor is the one who —
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. One more just follow to that. Has the U.S. received assurances from other members of the Afghan Government that the national security advisor’s opinion is not representative of the full Afghan Government?
MR PALLADINO: As I said earlier, we’re confident in our Afghan Government partner.
Please. Yes, let’s go ahead.
QUESTION: Robert —
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. So you don’t think that he represents the Afghan Government’s position?
MR PALLADINO: I did not say that at all. We remain confident in our Afghan Government partner.
QUESTION: Okay. Well —
MR PALLADINO: And I’ve already explained that there is a meeting going on as we speak.
PARTICIPANT: And we’ll provide a readout on —
QUESTION: Oh, you will?
MR PALLADINO: We – I – well, I hope so. I don’t know. (Laughter.) I hope so.
QUESTION: Speaking of —
MR PALLADINO: I’ll try. I’m going to try.
QUESTION: Maybe about the same time that Venezuela’s transition to democracy begins.
MR PALLADINO: I’ll try.
QUESTION: Speaking of communications —
MR PALLADINO: Janne, please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert.
MR PALLADINO: Okay.
QUESTION: You are so nice.
MR PALLADINO: Well, I don’t know.
MR PALLADINO: Okay. You are referring to our deputy assistant secretary, Alex —
MR PALLADINO: United States – this is the United States-Republic of Korea working group. They held a working group meeting earlier today here in Washington. This is something that is happening routinely now, regularly, and it’s part of our comprehensive and close coordination over North Korea.
During the meeting, the United States and the Republic of Korea shared updates on efforts to achieve our shared goal of a final, fully verified denuclearization, including through the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to continue regularly hosting these close – these consultations and coordinations as alliance partners.
And you saw as well, I’m sure, that Special Representative Biegun is in New York today and —
QUESTION: They talked also —
MR PALLADINO: I believe that was at 3 o’clock, and he’s meeting with the permanent representatives there, and they are talking about the summit as – he’s providing a briefing on the summit and what we are doing, the world is doing, to ensure the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on this matter.
QUESTION: Robert —
QUESTION: Is he taking any meetings with the North Korean representative?
MR PALLADINO: Not in New York.
QUESTION: Also, both side discussed about the sanctions lift – I mean U.S. sanctions lift against North Korea, if they did any discussion about these issues?
MR PALLADINO: He — they’re briefing – he’s providing a briefing, a readout, of what transpired at the recent summit in Hanoi and what we’re doing to ensure continued enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
MR PALLADINO: Right.
QUESTION: Robert, India. India.
QUESTION: Are you —
MR PALLADINO: Correct.
QUESTION: The NSA is claiming that they’re getting information by tweets and that they’re kept in the dark. Do you then dispute what he’s saying? I mean, are you sharing – is the State Department sharing all of its information with him, or are they getting some of the news from tweets?
MR PALLADINO: We are extremely – in extremely close coordination with President Ghani and other Afghan leaders on a – in a variety of ways – on the telephone, in person, and on a daily basis, and that’s going to continue.
QUESTION: Robert, could I have a —
MR PALLADINO: Lalit, one more. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: I have one question on China. China has a strong objections to the remarks made by Secretary Pompeo yesterday about its human rights violation. China is saying that U.S. will come out of its Cold War mentality and is also accusing U.S. of interfering in its internal affairs. How do you see that reaction?
MR PALLADINO: We spoke about this at length yesterday. This is something that we’re going to continue to speak out about. This really is an appalling situation that’s ongoing and we’re alarmed, frankly, that there’s over a million people at least being detained: Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, other members of Muslim-minority groups in these internment camps. We will continue to call on China to end these policies and to free these people that have been arbitrarily detained.
Secretary Pompeo was certainly clear yesterday, and he was certainly clear on this issue when his Chinese counterpart visited Washington for the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue that we held a few months ago. We will echo the Government of Turkey’s recent statement on this matter in which they called this a great shame for humanity. That’s well said. We are committed to promoting accountability for those who are committing these violations and considering targeted sanctions as well.
QUESTION: Considering —
MR PALLADINO: Targeted measures as well.
MR PALLADINO: And I also point out that on March 13th, the United States co-hosted an event with Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom at the United Nations in Geneva to, together, continue to raise awareness on this issue. We’ll continue to do so and we also strongly encourage the United Nations and the high commissioner for human rights to make these abuses a priority.
QUESTION: So you said that you – you said that you support the Government of Turkey’s statements of concern and complaint about Chinese treatment of religious minorities, but I never heard you support the Government of Turkey’s complaints and concerns about the Palestinians. Is there – do you just pick and choose which Turkish position you want to support?
MR PALLADINO: The Turkish Government’s February 9th statement was well said in which they stated that the reintroduction of internment camps in the 21st century and the policy of systemic assimilation against the Uighur Turks carried out by the authorities of China is a great shame for humanity. That is well said.
QUESTION: Right, but I
QUESTION: One more, Robert. Robert.
QUESTION: Right, but I know that – but you don’t agree with Turkey on everything, right?
MR PALLADINO: Of course not.
MR PALLADINO: We tend not to agree with – on everything with everyone. That is true. That’s —
MR PALLADINO: And so – let —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) something about Syria aid?
QUESTION: Robert, one more?
MR PALLADINO: Okay. Last question. Please, you got me.
QUESTION: On the Syrian aid?
MR PALLADINO: Go ahead.
QUESTION: General Dunford today in his (inaudible) in the Congress, he said that troops in Iraq would be slightly less than the number, and President Trump said in his last visit that they – that you will remain the troops there to watch in on. Is there any change in the strategy?
MR PALLADINO: No change in our strategy, and I haven’t seen General Dunford’s comments, but for anything further on that, I’d – I would refer you to the Department of Defense as well.
QUESTION: Robert, can (inaudible) the Syria aid? The Syria aid?
MR PALLADINO: Going to – we’re going to stop there, guys. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Just a clarification on the Syria aid?