1:53 p.m. EDT
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, I’ve got three things to start off today for all of you, so we’ll go through that, and then we can get to questions. First, Venezuela. The United States supports the desire of the Venezuelan people to recover their democracy and to bring the illegitimate Maduro regime to an end. We take this opportunity to point out that progress towards Venezuelan constitutional democracy continues. We note the talks in Norway. As we have repeatedly stated, the United States believes the only thing to negotiate with Nicolas Maduro is the conditions of his departure. While previous efforts to negotiate have failed, because the regime has used them to divide the opposition and gain time, we hope that the talks in Oslo will focus on the departure of Maduro as a precondition for progress.
Additionally, as many of you saw earlier today, the U.S. delegation walked out of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva during the first plenary presided over by illegitimate Maduro officials from Venezuela. We will boycott the conference for the remainder of the four-week Venezuelan presidency, because to participate in this conference under this presidency would lend credibility to this illegitimate, profoundly corrupt, and inhumane regime.
Finally, when Maduro isn’t censoring the internet and broadcasts, the world can see that the Venezuelan people continue to fill the streets in support of Interim President Guaido and a peaceful democratic transition. This Sunday, we saw huge numbers of Venezuelans rallying in support of Guaido and democracy in the state of Lara. As Secretary Pompeo said just a month ago, “At the end of the day, this change will be driven by the Venezuelan people… I’m convinced that the tide of history is with them, that they’re going to demand that. We stand ready to help.”
Also, we congratulate Malawi on their presidential elections. They have been re-elected to a second term, the president has, and we look forward to strengthening our mutually beneficial relationship under the leadership. The United States commends the candidates, the Malawi electoral commission, and the Malawian people for a peaceful and credible election. We agree with international observers’ preliminary statements, which deemed the elections well managed, inclusive, and transparent. The United States urges all political parties to continue to uphold their parties’ commitment to nonviolence and to handle any challenges through the judicial system.
Finally, we’re going to talk about northwest Syria. The United States continues to be alarmed by ongoing Russian and regime airstrikes in northwest Syria. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians and public infrastructure, such as schools, markets, and hospitals, is a reckless escalation of the conflict and is unacceptable. The relentless violence is generating massive civilian displacement in Idlib. Almost 300,000 innocent men, women, and children have been forced to flee from their homes. Equally disturbing, according to reports from partners on the ground, the recent offensive has claimed the lives of over 200 civilians, including dozens of children, and injured hundreds more since it began April 26. The violence must end. We will continue to highlight publicly and in diplomatic channels the dangerous effects of these acts.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: — is this something that you guys are prepared to do in other organizations? Because I just wonder what the impact is this – of this is going to be at the COD, as we like to call it. Because frankly, this conference hasn’t agreed on anything in like 30 years. I mean, nothing.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: It accomplishes very little. So I’m just wondering what the impact of your walking out and staying out for a month will be since – given that history. And also, is it something that you’re prepared to do at other – in other fora where —
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: — Maduro’s people —
MS ORTAGUS: So I think we’ll take that on a case-by-case basis. I mean, we wanted to announce the walkout today, because while it is symbolic, we think it’s an important symbol to show that the United States does not stand with an illegitimate regime and that we won’t be party to it. So we think it’s a really important statement. We continue to stand with Interim President Guaido, but more importantly we stand with the Venezuelan people and with their constitution, and we think this is an incredibly important symbol today.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just very briefly on a different thing, I just wanted to ask about the State Department’s role in the visit to the – Morocco, Jordan, and Israel by Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. I know that Brian Hook is part of this; I know that he was part of the last – the trip that they took the last time. What – why is the Iran envoy going on this mission for – these missions that seemingly have to do with the peace plan that’s supposed to be unveiled? And other than him, is there – what’s the State Department component?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, so this trip is led by the White House, and I’ll have to get you more details on Brian Hook’s involvement. He was an invited guest. And I’ll just let the White House and the NSC answer for Jared’s – Kushner’s participation.
QUESTION: Could I —
QUESTION: You can’t say anything about his role?
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that, please, real quick?
MS ORTAGUS: No. Let’s go – I promised Michelle next. Sorry. Thank you.
QUESTION: First of all —
QUESTION: We’ve got to stay – same topics.
QUESTION: We should, I think – yeah, I was going to change topics, because we were previously on Venezuela. So since we’re on Kushner now, let’s just stay on Kushner.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you, Michelle.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nice seeing you behind the podium.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you. Nice to be here.
QUESTION: My name is Said Arikat. I wanted to follow up on this very issue. What is the involvement of Secretary Pompeo? Because last week, when he spoke at the Israeli embassy, he said that it is not true that the plan that would be revealed during the Manama summit or Manama conference in Bahrain next month, it will not only be economic, as there was a political component to it. Could you reaffirm that? What is the involvement of the Secretary of State on this issue and what are we likely to see in terms of a political plan in parallel with the economic plan? Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. I understand your question. I think the Secretary’s statement speaks for itself. I certainly don’t have anything to relay about the political plan here from the podium. I understand your question, and I think the Secretary, as he said at that event – I was at that event; I guess you were as well – and he’s reiterated many times that Israel has no greater friend than this administration. And so there’s nothing to read out from this podium as it relates to specifics of the plan, nor, by the way, do I think there ever will be.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up?
QUESTION: So should we expect that there won’t be —
QUESTION: Wait, wait. There won’t be any specifics in the plan? Aha, I knew it.
MS ORTAGUS: No, no. Not until the plan is released.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS ORTAGUS: When the plan is released.
QUESTION: So should we expect that at the same time we would have something that is – that has political parameters for the plan?
MS ORTAGUS: I just don’t have anything to announce on the plan. I understand your question.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about the Secretary’s position on the UN resolutions regarding North Korea. Does the Secretary believe that resolutions that ban holding or firing short, intermediate, or long-range missiles is debatable, given the President’s comments in Tokyo which suggest ambiguity on resolutions that have not been subject to interpretation? And I’d like to follow up.
MS ORTAGUS: So I think that the entire North Korean WMD program – it’s in conflict with the UN security resolutions. But what the U.S. is focused on here – what the Secretary’s focused on, where he’s trying to support the President – is in trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the North Korean WMD program. And we have said many times and will continue to reiterate that the economic sanctions will remain in place until we are there. We want to eliminate the threat entirely from the North Korean WMD program and that’s what Secretary Pompeo is focused on.
QUESTION: But the —
QUESTION: The President said in his comments and in his tweets that he disagrees with those in the – in his administration and others who suggest that these tests violated a UN resolution. So that’s in conflict with stated UN resolutions, and just wondering how the Secretary reconciles that position. Does he agree with the President or with the national security advisor on this?
MS ORTAGUS: So I don’t think it was lost on any of us that the launches were an attempt to send a message to the administration. And again, I’d point at that we take this – and we talked about this I believe last week from this podium – as one of the most important national security issues of our time. And we want these talks and discussions to remain ongoing. The Secretary often talks about how Kim Jong-un has said to his face on multiple occasions that he will denuclearize. And so that’s our focus here. That’s what Steve Biegun’s focused on, what the Secretary’s focused on.
QUESTION: And one more about the trip, if you may – if you can talk about the President’s trip.
MS ORTAGUS: Which trip? The President’s trip? Okay.
QUESTION: Because a lot of norms were broken on that trip, in terms of campaigning – political campaigning on a state visit. And I just – I’m wondering whether the Secretary of State believes that that is an acceptable norm.
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I think that the Secretary is incredibly supportive of the President and his foreign policy. He was – I know it was quite an honor to be the first foreign leader to meet the Japanese emperor, and the Secretary is fully in step with the President on all major foreign policy issues and serves —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) enough to campaign against a former vice president and —
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think I have anything further than that.
QUESTION: One more on North Korea.
MS ORTAGUS: BBC?
QUESTION: Yeah. Just a follow up on the Kushner visit. So Brian Hook is a State Department official. Can you really not tell us anything about his role going with the Middle East envoys? I mean, are they tying together the Iran policy with the Middle East policy, or is it a completely separate thing and he’s tagging along? It just seems that you might have a little bit more insight into his program than Mr. Kushner’s perhaps.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I think that that’s a perfectly legitimate question, and I apologize for not having more for you today, but I’ll get the answer to that for you. We’ll follow up before the end of the day.
QUESTION: On the conference in Manama, in Bahrain, the Russian and Chinese foreign ministries have both said that they weren’t invited. Do you have – do you know who’s been invited actually to this conference? Russia, China – have they been invited? And also do you know if Qatar, which obviously has difficult relations with its Gulf neighbors, whether it’s been invited and whether you expect its attendance?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, so this conference or workshop in Bahrain, as you know, is being led by Jared Kushner and his team. I don’t have the list of invitees but I do think it’s early to talk about specific invitations, so I would refer to the White House on anything related to who’s invited and who’s coming.
MS ORTAGUS: North Korea.
QUESTION: So to be clear, it is the State Department’s view that those launches violated UN resolutions, is that right?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, again, I go back to what I said. The entire WMD program violates UN security resolutions.
QUESTION: Okay, I’m just making sure. Just wanted to be clear on that.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: When Iran’s foreign minister visited Iraq on Sunday, the Iraqi foreign minister said, quote, “We oppose the unilateral actions taken by the United States. We stand with the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He also dismissed the Iranian sanction as ineffective. What’s your response?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, we wouldn’t agree that they’re ineffective at all. We appreciate the close partnership that we do have with the Government of Iraq, but our sanctions are working and I think that you’ve heard the Secretary, Brian Hook, and myself go through a litany of ways in which we know that the sanctions are quite effective for Iran. So we just do not agree with that statement.
QUESTION: Does it bother you that he said he stands with Iran against the U.S.?
MS ORTAGUS: No, we wouldn’t respond to every allegation or alleged remark made by a foreign official here. So we believe the sanctions are working. We know the sanctions are working. So —
MS ORTAGUS: Nadia, yeah?
QUESTION: Thank you. Just a follow-up on Iran. The President, from Japan, said that his administration policy is not regime change in Iran. He also said that they are willing to negotiate with the Iranians. Yet you always stated that Iran should never have nuclear weapons. So if the Iranians refuse to negotiate, as they say publicly, how are you going to achieve that and how do you square all these statements together?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, the economic sanctions and the maximum pressure campaign will remain in place. When it comes – when there is time to talk, whenever the Iranian leadership would like to speak – excuse me – the President and the Secretary have said they’ve been – they will be willing to do so. But until then, we remain unwavering and unflinching in our sanctions campaign and our maximum pressure campaign. That’s been our policy; that remains our policy. And it’s not just about a nuclear weapon, as you know. It’s about support – it’s about Iran’s support of terrorism in the region, their malign behavior throughout the region. I think that you’ve probably heard us go through that quite a bit from this podium.
MS ORTAGUS: I think I do, if you could just give me a second. So you’re right, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Satterfield is in the region. He’s traveling to Lebanon and Israel to meet with senior officials. They will of course, as always, review a range of bilateral and regional issues, and moving forward, any discussions as it relates to any disputes between the two of them, we stand ready to mediate and we urge both sides to work towards mutually agreeable solutions for both parties.
QUESTION: Will there be any role for the UN in this mediation too?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think that we have anything to announce on that front. If there is, I will certainly follow up with you and let you know.
QUESTION: Morgan, on Iran, last – as you know, when the new government came in, you guys expressed some serious concerns about Hizballah choosing the health – taking the health ministry portfolio, and there was some question about whether aid to that ministry would continue. The minister of health, who is not actually a member of Hizballah but who was chosen by the group, said recently in an interview that he thinks the U.S. concerns about his ministry are – have been dealt with and that there won’t be an issue. Is that correct?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t know. I’ll – but can you say that again, Matt? I just want to make sure I have that down.
QUESTION: The health minister says that he believes that the U.S. concerns about his ministry being, quote/unquote, “controlled” or run by Hizballah have been assuaged. Is that —
MS ORTAGUS: I understand. Okay.
QUESTION: So it’s not an issue.
MS ORTAGUS: I understand the question. Let me get back to you on that. I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Back to Iran?
QUESTION: Morgan, is the Secretary hopeful that in his discussions in upcoming days and weeks, particularly his trip to Europe upcoming, is he doing anything to lay the groundwork for direct negotiations between the United States and the Iranians?
MS ORTAGUS: I think that we have been – we talked about this a little bit last week. We’ve been pretty overt in our signaling to the Iranians, our willingness to talk. Of course, as we just said, the maximum pressure campaign, economic sanctions remain on the table. And if they would like to take a serious look at the 12 points that the Secretary laid out over a year ago, we’ll be ready to talk about that. And I think that the President and the Secretary mean that sincerely.
In meeting with the Europeans, we will have – we will be discussing a range of issues. Of course, we’ve been to Europe several times in the past month, and I know one of the – one of the main things that we will continue to talk to our European partners and allies are – is the imminent threat from Iran that is faced in the region. We’ll continue to ask (inaudible) to help us de-escalate, and more importantly, we’ll continue to ask our European allies to help us get Iran to see this path towards normalization, to see and understand this path towards a 12-step process that the Secretary has laid out.
QUESTION: Did you convey that through a private channel, like Switzerland, Moscow?
MS ORTAGUS: No, I think we’re – we say it publicly from this podium. The President says it, tweets it. I think our messaging to Iran is as overt as possible. They can read this transcript and know that we’re willing to talk if they’re serious.
QUESTION: Iran? On Iran?
MS ORTAGUS: Hi. Yes.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. I want just to make sure about something.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: Hiba Nasr from Sky News Arabia. There – you are assuring that there is no back channels with the Iranians right now?
MS ORTAGUS: There’s none that I’m aware of.
MS ORTAGUS: Right.
QUESTION: If this is the case, and if it was proven, what kind of action are you going to take?
MS ORTAGUS: So I’ll leave that up to the President and the White House to discuss that. That decision would be made by the President. We certainly talked about the potential chemical weapons use in Syria last week from this podium. I don’t have anything new to report on that today. We continue to work with our partners on the ground to investigate, and we do take all of these allegations incredibly seriously.
MS ORTAGUS: Iran? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Reports from Delhi suggest that India and Iran are negotiating to bypass the U.S. sanctions and start the oil trade. Do you have any update on that?
MS ORTAGUS: No, except I would just say that the Secretary has been very clear since April 22nd that we are going to zero. We have stated that there are no new exemptions after May 2nd as it relates to importing Iranian oil. The U.S. position there remains quite firm.
QUESTION: Thank you, ma’am. Nice to meet you.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks. Good seeing you, too.
QUESTION: Janne Pak with the USA Journal. On this —
MS ORTAGUS: I’m sorry, say that again?
QUESTION: I’m Janne Pak, USA Journal.
MS ORTAGUS: Great, thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. North Korea, one more. President Trump also said that at the Japan, and he said that he believes that Kim Jong-un will keep his promise. What makes him believe Kim Jong-un? Why he mentions this word (inaudible)?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, one of the things I want to be careful of here is that I speak for the Secretary of State. I speak to the State Department. And so I think it’s best left to my colleagues at the White House to speak for the President. I will say as it relates to why the Secretary – Secretary Pompeo continues to work diligently with the President on this, and Special Representative Steve Biegun as well, and I think it’s – I think they have hope in these talks because they have had face-to-face conversations with Kim Jong-un in which they felt like they had a real commitment from him to denuclearize. And given that this is such an important national security challenge and the implications of this not going well could be reverberated around the world, that’s why we continue to work, to have talks, to have discussions, because of how important it is.
And most importantly, it’s important for the North Korean people. I think the Secretary believes with the President that there is a brighter future to be had for the people of North Korea, and that’s something that I think we all can hope for, and so you have to have faith in those talks.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi.
QUESTION: Here, please.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: — its new president. Do you have anything on that?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, we would say we enjoyed a close relationship with him, of course, when he was Kurdistan Regional Government’s prime minister. We’ve worked with him on many important issues, including regional security, economic reform, and repairing relations between the KRG and the Government of Iraq, and we are confident that he will remain a close partner on these priorities moving forward, and we congratulate him.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Hey, Nick.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: Does – is it the State Department’s assessment that the short-range missile launches that occurred earlier this month from North Korea were ballistic missiles?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t have anything to report on that. I don’t think that the administration has said publicly what we found those launches to be. I would say that, again, we’re focused on the relationship between President Trump and Kim Jong-un and continuing talks and dialogue in order, again, to find this bright path forward for the North Korean people.
QUESTION: Okay, so —
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: — just – sorry, just quickly. So there was no – there was no assessment on whether those launches specifically were violations of UN Security Council resolutions?
MS ORTAGUS: No, I didn’t say there wasn’t an assessment, just not one that we’ve shared publicly.
QUESTION: Thank you, madam. First of all, congratulations.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you, I think.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: — so much had been going on between U.S. and India, and still going on. Now he is the – he has come like a lion, or in a big win in India, and there is a mandate from the people of India – more than one billion people. Now, what are we expecting during the second term of Prime Minister Modi between the U.S. and India? Anything new coming up?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, we talked about this extensively last week, because we said at the beginning of I think it was Thursday’s press conference about what a historic achievement this was, as we saw – I think we have at least 600 million people, I believe was the number, that voted in the Indian elections, which was historic, incredibly impressive.
So we, of course, will work closely with Modi, as we have many times. We’re confident in the fairness and integrity of the elections, and I think that Secretary Pompeo will have a very robust discussion on a range of issues. India is a great ally and partner of the United States.
QUESTION: On India. Mine is on India.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi, yes. No, I think that’s it for on India. Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Have you received any information about the circumstances of the death of Eddy Montes – he’s a U.S. citizen who was shot in prison there – and if there has been any conversations with them, the military or government, about the other people that are in prison because of protesting?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think – I will follow up for you and make sure that I get you information on that specific case. You know that the priority of the Secretary always, first and foremost, is the safety and security of Americans, so I will make sure at a priority to follow up for you on that.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: In it you mention the need to avoid a further escalation of the situation in Libya. I was wondering, considering that Egypt in particular is a strong supporter of Haftar, I was wondering what you’re looking for. Do you want a ceasefire right now? What are you looking for on the part of Haftar?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Well, we’ve all – urged all parties in Libya to continue a – or to look towards a peaceful political process. We obviously have supported the UN process in Libya. And Haftar, we believe, we can play an important role in, again, getting to a peaceful resolution.
And of course, as it relates to Egypt, you know we work with them in a variety of regional issues. They are important and crucial to the stability of the Middle East. They’re important to us on counterterrorism efforts, Middle East peace, countering the Iranian regime and their dangerous activities. And so I will let the Secretary’s readout, of course, stand for itself, and we always continue on Libya to urge all parties to work towards a peaceful solution and continue to work through the UN through that political process as we are supporting it.
QUESTION: Just briefly, do you think that does entail a ceasefire? Is that something – do you think that violence – continued violence is consistent with seeking a peaceful solution?
MS ORTAGUS: No, yeah. And we clearly are supportive of a peaceful process.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, last one.
QUESTION: Yeah. Ben with NHK.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Could I just ask – I know State Department put out a fact sheet on the President’s trip to Japan, but could you just say overall the State Department’s assessment of how you guys felt the trip went?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, as I said earlier when we were talking about Japan, it was an incredible honor for this administration and this President to be invited – the first foreign leader to meet the new emperor. I think many of us saw the pageantry on display over the weekend between the two countries.
And there’s always a variety of issues that we have to work on as it relates to regional security with the Japanese. They are one of our most important allies, and we are always appreciative of being there, and we’ll continue to have a close relationship.
And I will see all of you tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)