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2:10 p.m. EDT

MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Good afternoon.


MS ORTAGUS: I’ve got a lot of stuff up front for all of you, so thank you for having me for our first on-camera briefing. I think this is our fourth. It’s an honor to be with all of you. I appreciate everything you do around the world.

Okay, first of all, Ramadan Kareem. As we look ahead to the end of Ramadan and the Eid Holiday, it is important to speak up for the victims of China’s massive campaign of repression against Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The United States is alarmed by the arbitrary and unjust detention of more than 1 million people; widespread reports of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment; ever-present, high-tech surveillance; and coerced practices contrary to people’s faiths.

Throughout this campaign, the Chinese Government aims to force its own citizens to renounce their ethnic identities and their Islamic faith. The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding, but even so the repression of Chinese Muslims stands out as particularly cruel and inhumane during the Holy Month.

The human rights abuses in Xinjiang must end, and they must end now. We call on the Chinese Government to release all Uighurs and other Muslim minorities arbitrarily detained throughout Xinjiang so that they may return home to celebrate the Eid Holiday with their loved ones.

Next, moving over to Iran, and we should have some graphics for you on this one. Our maximum pressure campaign on Iran is designed to deny the Iranian regime, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, the means to conduct its destructive foreign policy. Our campaign is working. The campaign is starving Iran’s proxies of the funds they rely on to operate on behalf of the regime. For the first time ever, Hizballah, Iran’s top beneficiary, has been forced to publicly appeal for financial support. The Washington Post reported this month that our sanctions have forced Hizballah to make draconian spending cuts.

The images behind me depict Hizballah’s desperate plea for public donations via billboards, posters, and collection cans. Hizballah’s desperation is evident not only on the streets and in grocery stores, but also on the battlefield. Iran is withdrawing Hizballah fighters from Syria and cutting or canceling their salaries. A fighter with Iranian-backed militia in Syria told the New York Times in March the golden days are gone and will never return.

Hizballah isn’t the only Iranian-supported force feeling the pinch of our sanctions. Hamas has enacted what it calls an austerity plan to deal with the lack of funds from Iran. The IRGC has told Iraq Shia militia groups that their bankroll will dwindle and they must find new sources of revenue. The Assad regime now faces a fuel shortage crisis, having been cut off from the one to three million barrels per month since supply – once supplied by Iran. And the IRGC cyber command is short on cash.

We will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime to deny it the means to conduct its destructive foreign policy and compel the regime to negotiate a comprehensive new deal that addresses the full scope of its malign behavior.

Now on to some better news. I would like to take a moment to congratulate two of the journalists who received Pulitzer Prizes yesterday in New York, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, for their investigative reporting that uncovered evidence of extrajudicial killings of the Rohingya by soldiers in Burma. We were pleased that they could do so in person, having been recently released from prison after more than 500 days.

The United States continues to call on the Burmese authorities to drop charges against journalists and others for simply exercising their human rights, including freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is essential to any democracy. In Burma and around the world, the United States advocates for an end to violence against journalists and for the release of journalists imprisoned for their work.

Finally, one more, some breaking news here. We welcome the news that Serkan Golge has been released from prison today. We will continue to follow Mr. Golge’s case closely, along with those involving our own locally employed staff at Mission Turkey. We take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens arrested abroad seriously, and we will continue to provide all appropriate consular services to Mr. Golge, including making sure he can return home as soon as possible. Out of respect for the family, we don’t have any additional details to share.

Welcome back, Lesley.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS: Shall we start with you or Matt today?

QUESTION: Well, I want to ask you something about the Pulitzers. (Laughter.)

MS ORTAGUS: I guess that answers it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think the name was Lesley, but I will give it to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. There – yes, the two reporters were there from Reuters. There was a – but since you’re on the subject of Pulitzers and people being able to accept or – their awards in person, there was one winner who was denied a visa.


QUESTION: A colleague of mine. What, no words about —


QUESTION: You have nothing to say about that? Why would – why would you laud to who you allowed in, gave visas to from Burma, but not for someone who won a Pulitzer for very – for pretty astounding coverage of the war in Yemen?

MS ORTAGUS: We – visa records, as you know, are confidential under U.S. law, so I’m not going to have any further comment about that case. But we do think in the case of the two journalists that were able to receive their Pulitzers in New York that they – the work that they did and these prizes are laudable, and I think that that’s a positive and happy thing that we can say here from the podium today.

QUESTION: Well, be that as it may, not everyone who won was able to attend in person. And the reason that the just one person couldn’t attend was that you denied them a visa, so I just think that should be pointed out.


QUESTION: Secondly, on China, unless you want to go to the Pulitzers.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: If you’re calling for this end – to end – it must end – it must end now for the Uighurs, for the Muslims, why have you been – or why have you not invoked Magnitsky sanctions which would really make the case to the Chinese authorities that what they’re doing is something that you disagree with?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, we think that the weight of the words from the Secretary and the weight of the words from this podium have meaning. We, of course, don’t preview any sanctions, but I think you’ve seen over the past few months the Secretary, and now me, giving a number of public interviews in which we have called out this behavior towards ethnicities and to other Muslim minorities – excuse me – in China. And we think that that’s appalling behavior, especially, as we said, as we end – get near the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and we continue to call out that behavior. We, of course, have the Human Rights Report that came out in – the State Department’s Human Rights Report that came out on March 13th, and it goes into detail about the – these human rights records as it relates to these camps.

So I think it’s quite important that we call this out, both the Secretary and I. And we’re not going to preview any sanctions here from this podium, but we’re watching these actions incredibly closely.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: I have a – not to do with that. Actually it’s the follow-up on the NASA scientist that was released. Do you think – do you believe that this is an indication by Turkey in any way to make good on the relationship – on what has been a tense relationship between the U.S. and Turkey since – over this issue? And do you think that it could lead to – do you think they’d try to score some points ahead regarding the weapons issue?

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t want to —

QUESTION: The S-400s, sorry.

MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Yes, I understand. I don’t want to speculate on the intentions of the Turkish authorities, but we want to commend them for doing the right thing today by releasing him. We think it’s welcome news, and that should be done full stop because it’s the right thing to do.

QUESTION: Are there any others – are there any other – I think there’s one more, or there’s a couple more Americans that are detained, is it?

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t know how – how many specifically, but we take the safety and security of all Americans to be the most important thing that the Secretary deals with. He raises it with leaders around the world every time he has these meetings, and we will continue to do so.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, and welcome, Morgan.

MS ORTAGUS: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s great to be – to have you here.

MS ORTAGUS: It’s intimidating to be in front of you, but thank you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no. It’s great for all of us to have you here. Defense – Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan has —


QUESTION: — now said that the firings from North Korea were in violation of UN resolutions because they were short-range missiles.


QUESTION: Does the State Department have a position on that?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, this sort of thing would be under the purview of DOD in any of these situations to make the call. That’s not a call that the State Department would make. I’m aware of the Secretary’s remarks. I think they happened right before we came out. And again, I would refer you back to my comments yesterday that the entirety of the WMD program that North Korea possesses is in violation of UN sanctions. And we’ll let our DOD colleagues handle those technicalities, but we remain focused on diplomacy.

QUESTION: But the fact that they are in violation – whether it’s a redline or another aspect of the President’s policy – the UN resolutions really do command the situation, do they not?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, again, they have – they have been defined, these UN resolutions, for quite some time. But our focus here at the State Department is on eliminating this threat entirely. I think the President has worked diligently, the Secretary has worked diligently to try to present an option to Kim Jong-un and his leadership team for a brighter future for the North Koreans. And so I don’t think I have a ton of follow-up from yesterday other than that’s something that the Secretary and Steve Biegun, who I talk to on a daily basis, remain committed to.

QUESTION: And are there any talks scheduled at the Biegun level at this point with their counterparts?

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t have anything publicly to forecast.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead. Oh, sorry. What are you – are you going to ask on the same topic or different?


MS ORTAGUS: On Iran. You have one on North Korea?

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Ambassador —

MS ORTAGUS: And then I’ll go to you next, then we’ll go to Iran. I don’t have a ton else on North Korea today, but this can be the last one.

QUESTION: But Ambassador Bolton said over the weekend —


QUESTION: — the U.S. hadn’t heard very much from North Korea, and that Steve Biegun in particular has not had a response from North Korea. Is that an accurate statement?

MS ORTAGUS: Say the first part again of what you said.

QUESTION: That Steve Biegun hasn’t had a response from North Korea.

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think that – I don’t think that Biegun would characterize it that way. I mean, I think the talks and the communication are ongoing, and that’s how he has described it to me.

Okay. Let’s go to Iran.

QUESTION: One more North Korea question?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS ORTAGUS: No, we’re done on North Korea. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the administration has warned the Europeans that their mechanism to circumvent the U.S. sanctions on Iran, INSTEX, could be itself subject to U.S. sanctions? And if yes, what was their response? Are there discussions ongoing on this?

MS ORTAGUS: So your – and I think this story is a few months old. You’re talking about the —

QUESTION: The INSTEX mechanism.

QUESTION: Special purpose —

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, yeah. We wouldn’t – we would not be supportive of anyone evading U.S. sanctions, whether it’s the Europeans or anyone in the world. We clearly have a difference of opinion as it relates to the JCPOA with our European allies, but we work with them incredibly closely on a number of issues. We have – the Secretary has been on, I’m trying to remember, at least two or three trips in the past month that I have been on with him. We have more coming up, which some of you are aware of, and we’ll give more detail on tomorrow.

And so we work with them on a range of issues, but as it relates to U.S. sanctions, whether it’s on Iran or related to Venezuela or relating – related to North Korea, we expect all countries, allies, friend or foe alike, to comply with U.S. sanctions.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS ORTAGUS: Hi, Said. Oh —

QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan. Thank you for taking my question.

MS ORTAGUS: Are you going to do Iran?

QUESTION: No, ma’am. I’m going to do —

MS ORTAGUS: Can I go to Christina and then to you on Iran?

QUESTION: Sure, absolutely. Yes, by all means.

MS ORTAGUS: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. So with the waivers – we talked about oil waivers a lot, but we’ve got this Iraq energy waiver. It was granted a 90-day waiver to keep importing energy from Iran. That waiver runs out on June 16th at 12:01 a.m. I’m wondering if the Secretary plans to renew that waiver. Iraqi officials have said it’s going to take them up to two years to try to make up the difference if they lose that ability to import that. And does the U.S. have any kind of alternative for Iraq if they say they can’t import the energy anymore?

MS ORTAGUS: So the Secretary has not made a decision on this yet. On March 18th, he did grant a 90-day waiver, as you said, to engage in financial transactions. I think it’s important to note that those were related to electricity, not to gas, from Iran. But he has – the Secretary has not made a decision yet. I’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: An Iran question?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Can we move on to a different topic?

MS ORTAGUS: Yes, sir.


MS ORTAGUS: It’s fine with me.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question.


QUESTION: Tonight – by tonight, by midnight, maybe in a couple hours, we will know whether the Israeli Government, the current prime minister, will continue to be in his post or not, or there will be a call for a new election.

My question to you is: In the event that there is a call for a new election, will the conference in Bahrain scheduled for the 25th and 26th of June – is it likely to go on as scheduled? Or how will that impact – in your opinion, how will that impact the conference?

MS ORTAGUS: Yes, I understand. So Israel is certainly a thriving, vibrant democracy, and I’m not going to step my toe in the middle of their coalition-forming process. As it relates to Manama, of course you know the White House does have the lead on that. They have not told me of any changes related to Manama and I’m not anticipating any.

QUESTION: Okay. And one quick question on the Palestinian issue.


QUESTION: Last week the – I think it was reported by the Associated Press that the State Department was following the deportation case of a human rights activist in Israel, Omar Shakir.


QUESTION: I wanted to follow up whether – how are you following up on this case? Is there anything? He’s a U.S. citizen.

MS ORTAGUS: Well, the embassy has continuously engaged on this case. Of course, we’re all waiting for the Israeli supreme court’s decision, and I don’t think that we will have an update until we see the outcome of that decision. But we have discussed this case with the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: A follow-up?


QUESTION: I have a question about Syria, but first, if I can just follow up what Francesco was asking: So has the U.S. warned the Europeans that INSTEX, the mechanism itself, is – could be subject to sanctions?

MS ORTAGUS: I would need to check with the Secretary on that specific mechanism. I think that any mechanism that violates U.S. sanctions will not be tolerable.

QUESTION: And then about Syria, when the —


QUESTION: — Secretary was in Russia, he said that he had reached some understandings with Foreign Minister Lavrov about northwestern Syria or Idlib, and yet we see the Russians and the Syrians bombing civilian targets. So were those understandings – well, did he misunderstand Mr. Lavrov or did they fall apart or what happened there?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, I think it’s an ongoing discussion that we have with our Russian counterparts. Ambassador Jeffrey is in New York today discussing the political situation in Syria. He’s meeting at the UN Security Council. He also has met with UN Special Envoy Pedersen, who you all know, to discuss the political process, and of course the situation in Idlib. We spoke about this from the podium yesterday. We of course condemned these regime and Russian airstrikes. I think we have at least 300,000 displaced already, at least 273 civilians killed. This situation has deteriorated. We think it’s alarming. And I think the Secretary will continue to have ongoing discussions with his Russian counterparts. None of this is going to be solved overnight, but we clearly take note of this, we’re alarmed by it, and we’re going to call it out.


QUESTION: Turkey’s defense minister has said that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400 and Russian personnel may come to Turkey.


QUESTION: What’s your view of that, and can you tell us if the recent report that you’ve given Turkey a deadline very soon to cancel the S-400 deal is accurate?

MS ORTAGUS: I think it’s important to remember that Turkey is a longstanding NATO ally. They were certainly crucial to us in the fight to defeat ISIS. And so we appreciate that. However, I think I have been very candid and clear from this podium, and the Secretary has as well, we’re willing to engage with the Turkish Government but our position remains the same that Turkey will face very real and very negative consequences if it completes the delivery of the S-400. This includes suspension of procurement and industrial participation in the F-35 program, and also, because of CAATSA, exposure to sanctions. These are very serious, these are very real, and I think our position remains quite consistent on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS: Thank you.

QUESTION: Morgan, Japan?

QUESTION: Has there been a deadline?

MS ORTAGUS: Not that I’m aware of.


QUESTION: Can I go to Qatar? The prime minister of Qatar is going to Saudi Arabia for an emergency meeting there, and there’s been some speculation that —

MS ORTAGUS: Are you talking about the GCC meeting?

QUESTION: Correct.


QUESTION: There’s been some speculation that that indicates there may be an end to the GCC crisis and that Qatar may be being brought back into the fold. Does the State Department have any insight into whether there has in fact been some sort of a breakthrough or progress on this standoff?

MS ORTAGUS: We don’t have anything to announce on that front. I mean, listen, I can certainly tell you from personal experience, many of you know I was Treasury’s attache in Saudi for a year and a half and dealt very closely with the Gulf, and I know from my own perspective having worked within the Gulf, and of course this department’s perspective is that Gulf unity is essential to confronting Iran’s malign influence, it’s essential to countering terrorism, and of course in securing a prosperous future.

So it’s imperative for – in our view for the GCC to be united against regional threats and united on a number of issues, and so we are hopeful that there will be good news out of this meeting.

QUESTION: Can I follow on – just on that real quick?


QUESTION: Did we, the Secretary, or anyone in this department play a role in trying to broker this?

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: Because I know he was very actively engaged when it first broke out.

MS ORTAGUS: Great question. I’ll get the answer for you.


QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?

QUESTION: Thank you. Has the department determined that Russia is in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? And has the U.S. contacted the Russians through diplomatic channels to discuss concerns over Russia’s reported low-level nuclear testing?

MS ORTAGUS: I am aware, and I think what you’re referring to is probably the speech or the comments that were given from some NSC officials, or perhaps some DOD officials – excuse me – at the Hudson Institute today. So that was DIA analysis, Defense Intelligence Agency, so I refer you to them for further comments on theirs.

We have said, and I think we say this continually, that Russia routinely disregards its international security and arms obligations. We’ve talked about this quite extensively as it relates to INF. They’ve been in material breach of INF. Our European allies have concurred with us on this. They’ve been in breach for several years and they have tested, produced, fielded INF weapons. So I’m going to let DIA speak on behalf of that, the particular comments that they made today, but we are certainly alarmed that they continue to disregard their international obligations as it relates to arms control.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam. India.


QUESTION: Two quick questions, please.


QUESTION: One, that was – this was the second time the U.S. asked India to cut off Iranian oils. First it happened during President Obama. Any alternative for the energy needs of India?

MS ORTAGUS: Any alternative? Is that what you said?

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS ORTAGUS: So we work – we coordinated closely, of course, with them to minimize any negative impact. And our goal and what we’ve said quite a bit from this podium, the Secretary and I have as well, is for everyone to cease importing Iranian oil entirely. And we appreciate everyone who has worked with us steadfastly to get to zero.

QUESTION: And second, madam, quickly, if anybody’s going tomorrow – Prime Minister Modi’s inauguration – from the U.S.?

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t have anything to announce from there, but thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.



QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan. On North Korea, human rights issue in North Korea. There are —

MS ORTAGUS: Excuse me.

QUESTION: — more than – are you ready?

MS ORTAGUS: See what I do to get ready for all of you? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, are you ready?

MS ORTAGUS: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, good. There are 100,000 of North Koreans —


QUESTION: — trapped in North Korean political prisoner camps now. What is the U.S. final destination of the North Koreans human rights abuse in North Korea?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, we clearly do not stand or stand by any of these sort of human rights abuses in North Korea, and I think what we’re really focused on – I think these things have been detailed, we’ve talked about it in our Human Rights Report probably almost every year. I’d have to go back to see how many years going back to date. So I think that we have a very detailed record on how we feel about those human rights abuses.

But what I think is important to point out is that we do see a bright future for the North Korean people. There is a path out of these economic sanctions. They do remain, of course, and they will remain in effect, but there’s – they’re not forever. By the way, the same thing goes for other countries that may be under U.S. economic sanctions. There’s a path forward, there’s a way out, and we welcome Kim Jong-un and his leadership to see the bright future that we believe is possible for his people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on North Korea?


QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Biesan Abu-Kwaik from Al Jazeera. Thank you for taking my question.

MS ORTAGUS: Absolutely.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about a colleague of ours, Mahmoud Hussein. He has been detained in Egypt for over two years without any charges against him. And a few —

MS ORTAGUS: Could you say the name for me one more —

QUESTION: Mahmoud Hussein.


QUESTION: And just a couple of days – a few days ago, he was told that he was going to be released, and they actually moved him to a police station from Tora prison, and then this was reversed. Just yesterday they were told by a judge that a case – a new case is against him now. So we just wanted to see if you have any comments on this issue.

MS ORTAGUS: Thank you for that question. I don’t have a comment for you today, but we’ll follow up, you by – by the end of the day on that.

QUESTION: Morgan, China? Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.

MS ORTAGUS: Say it one more time, sorry.

QUESTION: My name is Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.


QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo has talked to Fox Business News extensively about Huawei in China.


QUESTION: And so the accusations of the United States against Huawei about intellectual property theft and espionage, et cetera. Huawei’s chairman has asked the United States to provide evidence to support this accusation. So I’m wondering if there is any concrete evidence to support the accusation.

MS ORTAGUS: So you’re, of course, aware the defense authorization was passed as it relates to effectively banning these sorts of technology used for procurement by the U.S. Government, the U.S. military especially, and that was predicated on quite a bit of evidence. I will double-check into, of course, what’s been made public, but I think what we see the underlying issue here is that is – it is within Chinese law that these – all of these companies, these networks, these technology companies, they are subservient to this authoritarian regime. So if the regime – excuse me, if the government, if the Chinese Communist Party asked for this technology or asked for this information, it’s required by law for them to give it to their government. And then of course in addition to that, technology experts have said that Huawei’s products are found – have been found to contain hundreds of security vulnerabilities, many of which remain that are not remedied.

So we think as – we think countries should think about this as it relates to critical infrastructure. If you think about everyone is moving to smart cities – I worked on this issue for a while in the private sector. And so when you think about who controls your electricity, who controls the water – all of these things, the 5G network which can revolutionize the way we do business around the world, the way governments function, the way cities function, it’s definitely an incredibly exciting technological advancement that we see going around the world. However, the big red flag that we’re holding up is that when you think about what sort of technologies you’re putting into – as it relates to 5G, as it relates to running the critical infrastructure in your city, in your state, in your province, wherever you may be in the world, you have to remember that those technologies are subservient to authoritarian regimes. We have, of course – the U.S. Government – has alleged that Huawei has stolen U.S. intellectual property, violated U.S. laws, and taken actions that reflect quite negatively on our national security, and that’s why I think we have such a hard stance.



MS ORTAGUS: I think I gave you a long answer on that, so I’m going to move on to the next one.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just a quick question —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Back to Iran. You may have seen the comments by Iranian President Rouhani saying that the road is not closed to negotiations, and with President Trump —

MS ORTAGUS: I concur. Agreed.

QUESTION: — also saying that he would like to negotiate, do you see any way forward that there might be, with help of perhaps somebody else arbitrating or negotiating any way forward on that?

MS ORTAGUS: I see 12 ways forward. I think that we have been very explicit here: We do not want a war with Iran. We want to de-escalate with Iran. We do not seek any of the things that have been alleged over the past few weeks. In fact, what we seek is to end economic sanctions, to end the maximum pressure campaign. That’s where we want to get.

We want the Iranian regime to see these 12 things that Secretary Pompeo laid out and to come to the table to talk to us, to behave like a normal nation. Stop with the assassination plots in Europe. It’s intolerable. We will not stand for it. Stop supporting terrorism, stop malign regional behavior, stop trying to control Manama – excuse me, Beirut, Damascus, Sana’a. There is a path forward and we will talk tomorrow if they would like to see the bright future that we believe is there for the Iranian people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And can I ask —



QUESTION: Are you willing to talk to them about anything other than the 12 points that the Secretary is —

MS ORTAGUS: Well, I think that would be a part of a comprehensive discussion that the Secretary would certainly be willing to have. I mean, we think that those – taking a realistic look at those 12 points – stop being the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. Behave like a normal nation, come into the international fold. We’re willing to help you get there.

QUESTION: Right, I know. But I – well, if you’re willing to help them get there, are you willing to talk to them to get to the point where you’re able to talk about those things? So what I mean is that are you willing to discuss confidence-building measures, something short of any of the 12 steps if that’s on the road to talks about the 12 points?

MS ORTAGUS: I think that the Secretary has made his position very clear, that there is a path forward as it relates to these 12 steps. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for for them to stop trying to assassinate people on European soil.

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that it’s not too – that it is too much.

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I don’t think I’m —

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if —

MS ORTAGUS: No, I understand your question.

QUESTION: — if you’re willing to talk to them about lesser issues of importance to you on the way to those discussions.

And then secondly, do they have to be direct talks? Are you willing to begin the process in an indirect, through a third party as suggested?

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think – there are no plans or discussions of that that I’m aware of, and I don’t think – indirect talks. I think that there’s no discussions or plans, again, that I’m aware of and I would say that the Secretary has made it quite clear the mechanism by which he would speak to the Iranians. I think that we have discussed a very overtly – I think all of you are probably tired of hearing me say the same thing, but we keep saying it because we think it’s important.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on that. Just a quick —

MS ORTAGUS: Can we go to somebody who hasn’t gone yet? Sorry.

QUESTION: Just a minute.

MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS: Thank you. Sure.

QUESTION: I am (inaudible) Nakamura, Nikkei Japanese correspondent.


QUESTION: Thank you. The Japanese prime minister is considering a visit to Iran. Do you think that Japan would work as an intermediary to ease the tension between U.S. and Iran? And do you want an intermediary in the first place?

MS ORTAGUS: So the question is about the Japanese relationship with Iran. Is that the question?

QUESTION: I mean, Japan is making efforts to ease the tension between U.S. and Iran.

MS ORTAGUS: I see what you’re saying.

QUESTION: Do you support this action?

MS ORTAGUS: So we welcome the efforts by any country, whether it’s Japan, whether it’s our European allies to help deescalate the situation. We encourage all of our allies, including Japan, to remind Iran that we do not want to see them get a nuclear weapon, that we do not want to see them fomenting terrorism and paying for terrorism around the world. And so if the Japanese would like to reiterate that message on our behalf, we certainly welcome it.


QUESTION: Morgan, can I just ask you quickly —


QUESTION: These 12 steps, are they an ultimatum or are they an opening position to start talks?

QUESTION: Precondition to any talk or —

QUESTION: Yeah, preconditions or are they just the opening statement to get talks going?

MS ORTAGUS: I think it’s the open – I think we’re – let me just say, I think we’re reading a little bit too much into this. I think that it’s the opening statement —

QUESTION: Well, you keep saying the 12 steps are necessary.

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, because I think that this is very, very – things that we are asking every country to behave by. We’re asking them not to terrorize the region, and we just don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

Ben, NHK.

QUESTION: Could you just —

MS ORTAGUS: No, we’re going to go to Ben.

QUESTION: Well, are you interested in getting —

MS ORTAGUS: Matt, we’re going to go to Ben.

QUESTION: — Americans detained in Iran out of Iran?

MS ORTAGUS: We’re going to go to Ben.

QUESTION: Are you interested in getting Americans detained in Iran —

MS ORTAGUS: Ben, you can ask it if you want or you’re going to lose your opportunity.

QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan. I just want to get a comment from State Department. North Korea is criticizing the U.S. for these – for a nuclear test that was conducted back in February by Lawrence Livermore Labs. Do you have any comment?

MS ORTAGUS: What did the North Koreans say? I didn’t hear you.

QUESTION: They said that the U.S. is acting in bad faith because they just conducted a sub-critical nuclear test back in February.

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t – that would probably be a DOD question. I don’t think I have an answer for you on that.

Hi. How are you?

QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan.


QUESTION: Some critics say that the arms sale to Saudi Arabia undermines U.S. values, and that there is no emergency for this deal. Do you have any comment on that?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, I believe that you are referring to the arms sales that were to the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Saudi that we announced on Friday?


MS ORTAGUS: And the question, do I have a comment about it?

QUESTION: Yeah, because some critics say that the arms sale to Saudi Arabia undermines U.S. values.

MS ORTAGUS: So listen, we see this – we see the authority that the Secretary used under section 36 to be a one-time event. We’ll continue to, of course, work with Congress on this – on these, but we, due to the deteriorating situation that we saw in the region directly related to Iran of course, and their regional threats, we thought that we had to take this action because it helps our partners better defend themselves. And given this crucial period that we’re in, delaying any of these shipments any longer – they’ve been delayed I believe for about a year and a half – it could cause degraded systems, lack of necessary parts, and maintenance concerns. And we certainly can’t have our allies in that position whenever we’re under heightened threat from the Iranian regime.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS ORTAGUS: One more, in the back.


MS ORTAGUS: What’s your name?

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MS ORTAGUS: Oh yes, hi. Nice to see you. You ended up in the back this time.

QUESTION: Yeah. I had live before this. Okay. The 12 demands – the 12 conditions that you —

MS ORTAGUS: Oh God, we’re still on that, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah – that you are asking the Iranians. If they say now, “We are ready to debate; we are ready to discuss these 12 conditions,” are these 12 conditions debatable? Are you ready to discuss these 12 conditions?

MS ORTAGUS: Question for you, back at you. Have you met Mike Pompeo?


MS ORTAGUS: Do you think these 12 are debatable?

QUESTION: No, I don’t think. But I’m asking —

MS ORTAGUS: Thanks, guys. I’ll see you tomorrow. See you tomorrow.

QUESTION: Morgan, can you just answer the question if the administration wants Americans detained in Iran out of Iran?

(The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)

U.S. Department of State

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