2:33 p.m. EDT
MS ORTAGUS: Hello. We’re going to start the briefing off today with USAID Administrator Mark Green. He has an announcement for all of you, and then we’ll take a couple questions when he’s done, and then I’ll go into the regular briefing. Go ahead.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great, thank you. Thanks, Morgan. Thanks, everyone. As you may know, earlier this week I traveled to the Bahamas, which is recovering from Hurricane Dorian, the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record. While parts of the islands were only modestly impacted, the islands that took the main brunt of the storm – namely Abaco and Grand Bahama – were severely damaged. In some cases, that damage is absolute.
First and foremost, on behalf of the administration and the American people, I want to extend sincere condolences to the people of the Bahamas. But the U.S. is mobilizing, as it always does. The outpouring of compassion from so many people and so many places I think is truly inspiring to all of us.
On the government side, as the world’s single-largest humanitarian donor, the United States Government has responded to the request for assistance from the Bahamian Government and has been providing life-saving assistance to address acute humanitarian needs. On Sunday, I myself visited Abaco and met with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team – or DART, as we call it – which is leading our government’s humanitarian response in the Bahamas. There are now more than 100 members of that DART on the ground in the Bahamas. This team on the ground is providing urgently needed aid, including basic food, shelter, and health support. USAID is working across the interagency, including with Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Coast Guard for logistical support and to augment search-and-rescue operations.
To date, more than 47 metric tons of USAID supplies have arrived from our warehouse in Miami. In addition, the Bahama’s Red Cross, a USAID partner, is distributing USAID-funded relief items, including hygiene kits and portable stoves to people affected by the hurricane. And earlier this week, 5,000 USAID shelter kits arrived in the Bahamas from Haiti, where they had been prepositioned. To be clear, this response in the Bahamas does not affect ongoing response efforts in the United States for U.S. residents impacted by the storm.
Following my visit to Abaco, I traveled to the capital, Nassau, where I met with Prime Minister Minnis and reiterated the U.S. support for the Bahamas. We also discussed our partnership with the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency and our efforts to fully leverage the capabilities of all response partners to deliver emergency supplies and address acute humanitarian needs of the Bahamian people. With the tireless support of the U.S. embassy, our efforts are part of a broader international response, including 15 other countries, including Caribbean partners so that the Bahamian Government can provide that life-saving and life-sustaining care to their people.
In my meeting, I was very impressed with the prime minister and his pledge to collaborate with our team on the ground. He made it very clear that if we come across any barriers, any logjams, any red tape, he stands ready to clear the way. I also introduced to the prime minister USAID’s most senior humanitarian response official for the Latin American and Caribbean region, Tim Callahan. I have asked Tim to serve as the leader of the USAID response on the ground. In fact, shortly before coming here, I received a telephone update from Tim.
As part of our continuing response, today I am announcing nearly $4 million in new humanitarian assistance. This additional funding will support emergency shelter, health, water, sanitation, and hygiene, and psychosocial support for people who have been impacted by the hurricane. We’ll also provide critical logistics and emergency telecommunications to support response operations. This announcement brings the total U.S. Government funding for this response to more than $10 million to date.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m truly humbled by the surge in generosity of Americans who are trying to help with relief efforts in the Bahamas. This is especially evident in the state of Florida. On my way to the Bahamas last week, I traveled to Miami and met with Miami-Dade County Mayor Gimenez and City of Miami Mayor Suarez, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, as well as congressional staff from nearly the entire Florida delegation. I also spoke with Governor DeSantis yesterday.
I thanked all of these leaders for their assistance and leadership as they seek to help their neighbors in need. I made clear that USAID will coordinate with those communities that are seeking to help.
This is obviously a very difficult time for the people of the Bahamas and the Government of the Bahamas. The journey ahead is a long one, but the United States will stand proudly with our neighbors.
For the latest updates on the response, as well as more information on how the public can help during this crisis, I would encourage all of you to go to our website, usaid.gov/dorian, and that can show different ways that people can help out. It also gives our latest updates.
So thank you for this opportunity, Morgan, and I’m ready to address questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, sir. I’m wondering if you or USAID as an agency have or had any position on giving TPS status to people from the Bahamas. And if not, why not? And if so, what do you make of the decision not to do so?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So for that I would defer to – I guess to Morgan. That’s not something that USAID is involved with.
QUESTION: No, but you might have an opinion one way or the other.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Again, I would defer to the State Department.
QUESTION: All right. Well, then let me phrase it differently. Do you think that the denial of TPS status in any way reflects on what you said was this tremendous outpouring of American response to the victims of the hurricane?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So USAID is the operational part of our presence there, and so that’s what our focus is, and how we deliver relief and coordinate with our partners, first off in the Bahamian Government but also our international donor partners, and that’s really where I’d confine my remarks.
MS ORTAGUS: Christina.
QUESTION: Thanks. Christina with CBS. You said you visited Abaco. Is it – what is your assessment of the situation there? Would you say it’s uninhabitable at the moment? And a little bit to Matt’s question, is – if that’s the case, is the U.S. taking any additional measures to help evacuees get out of what seems like an unsafe area? And then if you could update us on the status of the USAR teams. Are they still operating? Are they done? Are they – are more going to go in? Just let us know what’s going on with the search and rescue.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So let me – I’ll answer the last part of that first. The way that we’re responding – first off, we mobilized our DART within 24 hours, and we had, in fact, already prepositioned some personnel and relief supplies. We responded immediately.
The first and most important thing we do is assess the needs and make sure that as we provide assistance and as we coordinate with other donors that we are responding to actual needs and how we can deliver that assistance most effectively to where it’s most needed, so there’s no duplication and that we don’t see problems of bureaucracy.
On the first part, my personal assessment, and I had a chance to visit Mozambique not so long after the cyclones that hit there – what was striking about the storm, this storm, Dorian, particularly on Abaco, is how it was sort of combined fury and devastation, if you will. As you fly over the Bahamas, there are parts of the Bahamas that are only modestly impacted. But the areas where it did hit, in some cases the devastation is absolute. I was quoted as saying it was like a nuclear bomb was dropped. I stand by that.
You look at some places and you see things completely wiped out and devastated, and there’s a lot of hard work that lies ahead. So we’re working closely with the government’s NEMA, their National Emergency Management Agency, to help prioritize what we do, and we’re getting wonderful support, as always, from our brothers and sisters at DOD, from the Northern Command, obviously also the Coast Guard, and that’s helping us in the efforts.
In terms of specifics, I’d refer you to our website. One of the things that’s very clear is the situation changes rapidly, and so I want to make sure we always get you the most accurate information. I pledge to you 100 percent transparency, and that’s the best way to get the latest information.
QUESTION: Thank you. And can you say if you’re stepping up anything to help people evacuate? Any – any —
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, what I can tell you, one of the issues that we are hearing about, or one of the items to be addressed, is as people have – some people have evacuated from Abaco, they have moved to other parts of the Bahamas, and that’s obviously particularly relevant to us, as we make sure that those relief supplies get to where they’re most needed and that those who have moved get shelter, get support, those things that are necessary. So it does create additional challenges, and that’s part of the work that we’re doing.
MS ORTAGUS: Anything final for him? Go ahead.
QUESTION: You mentioned that USAID is coordinating with international partners. I was wondering if you could explain a little bit more about that, and specially looking a little bit into the – the medium or longer term. There’s been some reporting, for example, that China has an interest in – eventually in the reconstruction. Is that something that the U.S. would embrace, some role of countries that may not have always the best of relations with the United States? How do you see that going forward?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So the way that we approach humanitarian crises like this is at the request of the Government of the Bahamas, which obviously we’ve received that request, and we support their relief efforts. We work closely with their national emergency management agency, and that’s our focus. Our focus is entirely humanitarian and making sure that we do everything we can to provide relief and help them in their recovery.
To be clear, there’s a long road ahead. I think it is very clear that the U.S. – both private sector, charitable, for-profit, and the public sector – stands with the people of the Bahamas, and we’re there to help out. We will be for some time.
MS. ORTAGUS: Great. Thank you, sir.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Appreciate it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Got a few announcements today. Yesterday, the administration announced its formal notification to Congress of a proposed sale for the 32 – for 32 F-35A Lightening II joint strike fighter aircraft to Poland, worth $6.5 billion under the Foreign Military Sales program overseen by the U.S. Department of State. The F-35A Lightening II joint strike fighter will enhance the Polish air force’s contributions to NATO and other coalition operations, improve Poland’s self-defense capabilities, and contribute to Poland’s goal of modernizing its military capabilities while further enhancing interoperability with the United States, NATO members, and other allies. The sale of the F-35A Lightening II joint strike fighter to Poland will provide a key NATO ally with the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft, improve its ability to provide collective and self defense, and to reduce its dependence on legacy Russian equipment.
This week, we have seen reports that the Iranian vessel Adrian Darya, formally Grace 1, remains anchored off the shores of Syria, which we’ve been saying was its intended destination all along. Now we’ve seen firsthand the Iranian regime renege on its assurances to the EU that the vessel would not transport oil to the murderous Iranian regime – Assad regime, excuse me. The Iranian regime broke its word and appears intent on fueling the Assad regime’s brutally – brutality against the Syrian people, who continue to face widespread violence, death, and destruction. The ongoing Assad regime assault on Idlib is yet another example.
This fits into the web of lies perpetrated by the Iranian regime for 40 years. Their deception and broken promises are not just aimed at the international community, but the Iranian people too. Despite the revolutionary promises of a better society, the thugs in Tehran have consistently repressed women, minorities, and human rights advocates. On Tuesday, an Iranian activist, Sahar Khodayrari, known as Blue Girl, who faced a long prison sentence simply for protesting women’s attendance at a sporting event, died from self-immolation. Today we honor her, and we support the God-given rights of all Iranian women. No one should fear discrimination and imprisonment for attending a sporting event.
Moving on, today I have the pleasure of announcing our new Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Cherrie Daniels. Cherrie, who is a career member of the senior Foreign Service, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this role. Most recently, she served as director of the executive secretariat staff in the Office of the Secretary of State. Established in 1999, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues works to provide a measure of justice for Holocaust victims and their families by developing and implementing U.S. policy to return Holocaust-era assets to their rightful owners, ensuring the Holocaust is remembered and commemorated in a historically accurate manner, and promoting Holocaust education and research. As special envoy, Cherrie will contribute to the department’s mission of combating anti-Semitism in all its forms and promoting the rule of law. Her assignment underscores the Secretary’s commitment to the importance of resolving outstanding issues of the past.
Tomorrow morning, Secretary Pompeo will welcome an official delegation from Brazil, led by the foreign minister, for the first U.S.-Brazil Strategic Partnership Dialogue between our administrations. When President Trump and President Bolsonaro met at the White House in March, they committed to expand and strengthen our strategic partnership. This dialogue is a direct result of that commitment, and reflects the close relationship between our countries based on mutual respect.
Tomorrow’s discussions with the Brazilian delegation will focus on a range of topics important to our countries, including supporting democratic government – governance, pursuing economic prosperity, strengthening security and defense cooperation, and promoting peace and the rule of law. The dialogue reflects the high value we place on our partnership with Brazil. We look forward to warmly welcoming the foreign minister to the Department of State tomorrow to further enhance U.S-Brazil cooperation.
Lastly, the United States joins Venezuela and 10 other nations in invoking the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, also known as the Rio Treaty. This treaty will facilitate further concerted action to confront the threat posed by the former regime of Nicolas Maduro to the Venezuelan people and to the region. This is the first time since 2001, in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks against the United States, that TIAR states will come together under this treaty. The signatories of this treaty are committed to protecting and defending democracy in this hemisphere. This action demonstrates the international resolve to stand beside the Venezuelan people and their struggle for freedom and a future of peace and prosperity. This region collectively recognizes that Nicolas Maduro is the cause of the suffering of the Venezuelan people. He is threatening the peace and stability of the region. Maduro must step aside and allow a transitional government to create the conditions for a free and fair election so that people – so that the Venezuelan people can chart their own future.
Before I go to you, Matt, on that, a fun little mini-announcement here: Many of you who have been covering the State Department for a very long time have seen this really big, thick book that all of the State Department spokespeople have. I’ve forced the State Department to go digital, so we now have it all on an iPad. Now, saying that —
QUESTION: That’s pretty impressive.
MS ORTAGUS: Saying that, all of my —
QUESTION: It could get hacked.
MS ORTAGUS: I know – well, you know, it’s fine. Thank you for that wonderful reminder. Now saying that, I have to hope that it actually works today and there’s no glitches, so be careful with me. But I think it’s kind of exciting that we’re no longer flipping through that big book, that we’ve gone digital, right? We’ve got teleprompters. This – getting snazzy here at the State Department. Okay, Matthew. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s pretty amazing, dragging a bureaucracy into this modern technology.
MS ORTAGUS: You have absolutely no idea what a – (laughter) —
QUESTION: I’m going to make it even easier on you —
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, God.
QUESTION: — because there’s so much to talk about today, I’ll just go alphabetically. (Laughter.) We’ll start with A.
MS ORTAGUS: I’m sure everyone else in this room has a question. But okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, no, no, no, no, I’m not going to ask all of them, but I’m going to start mine with A, Afghanistan.
MS ORTAGUS: (Laughter.) Okay, okay. That was not easy.
QUESTION: I don’t – well, maybe you can explain to me and to everyone else what the status is – well, what our policy currently is towards the Taliban and the peace talks, what the status of them is. The President has said several times now that the talks are dead.
MS ORTAGUS: That’s – yeah.
QUESTION: And yet the Taliban say that there are still open lines of communication, whether – can you tell us whether those lines of communication are being used at all, even if they’re not for any kind of a formal negotiation or a talk? Where is Ambassador Khalilzad? What’s he up to? And are – is there a prospect for a resumption or a new round of talks since what happened over the weekend?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure, all fair questions. So Ambassador Khalilzad is here in Washington, and so that I think answers the question for where he is. And I think going forward, as we look at what we have been heading towards for the past – I don’t know, he’s been in negotiations at least nine months, maybe a year. We’ve talked a lot about it from the podium, and I think it’s important to step back and remember that the President has said since his campaign days his goal was achieving peace in Afghanistan and bringing our troops home, and I believe that that still remains the President’s goal, and the Secretary still is trying to help serve the President’s goal there. We never indicated this would be easy. In fact, I think that we have indicated it would be just the opposite. And there’s many people in this building and our colleagues at the Department of Defense and the NSC who have been working on issues related to Afghanistan for the past 18 years.
We’ve often talked at this podium about how personal this issue is to so many people because of the loss of American life and the loss of the lives of our NATO allies. So in all of the discussions, the ones that I’ve been a part of – and I know what the Secretary and Ambassador Khalilzad have been focused on with the President is how do you honor these sacrifices that we’ve all talked about, but most importantly, how do you protect the American homeland? So in all of the negotiations – or all of the talks, excuse me – that Zal has been a part of, that has always been in the forefront of his mind, is keeping the American homeland safe. And so I know that the Secretary will continue to talk to the President and discuss what the way forward will be in Afghanistan. I know the Secretary spoke on many of your networks on Sunday. I think he did at least five Sunday shows, plus he did a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. I think it was Tuesday. All my days start to run together here. Yeah, on Tuesday, and he —
QUESTION: Tuesday runs into every other —
MS ORTAGUS: — every day that —
QUESTION: — or every other day? Nothing unusual —
MS ORTAGUS: Nothing —
QUESTION: — happened on Tuesday, right?
MS ORTAGUS: So I think that as the President looks – the Secretary said in those Sunday shows that he believed that the President was absolutely right to cancel the talks as they are, and that’s the direction that the President has given us for now. But I think that the entire national security team – I certainly only speak for the Secretary of State, but I think the entire national security team and, of course, Secretary of Defense Esper will be very focused, again, on – the goals remain the same.
How we get there obviously is going to diverge from how we thought we were going to get there two weeks ago. We will certainly have updates as it relates to new policies that the President wants to pursue, but I think – and correct me if I’m wrong – in my opinion, I think both the President and the Secretary have been pretty forthright over the past week about where they think we are, why the President felt like the talks are dead for now, and we’ll work on a path forward in Afghanistan that continues to be inclusive of the Afghan Government, of women, of civil society, of all elements in Afghanistan. That was always our goal, and anything that was asserted to the contrary was not accurate.
QUESTION: Yeah, but is the channel of communication open, whether or not it’s being used? Or is it being – is there an open channel of communication and is it being used, and if not, why not?
MS ORTAGUS: Are you referring to with the Taliban?
QUESTION: Well, yeah. I mean, is it still – given what the President has said, is Zal still able to pick up the phone and – or fly to Doha or whatever and talk to these guys? Or is that just out of the question until a decision is made?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to the – or tried not to get into the tit for tat of talks. I mean, we’ve had – before Zal – I think we were in the ninth round of talks whenever Zal had concluded the last round, and I’ve tried not to get into the tit for tat, the back and forth of – I know that that’s the parlor game that everybody loves in Washington – I get it – who talks to whom when. I think what we’re focused on here from a policy perspective is how the President would like to move forward in achieving these goals in Afghanistan, and clearly, the Secretary will be at the forefront of helping the President make those decisions.
QUESTION: All right. Well, it’s just – it’s not a parlor game. I mean, we’re talking – you’re saying who talks to who. I mean, that’s a question of whether there are negotiations or whether you’re willing to have negotiations, willing – there’s an open channel to have them at all. So I’d just make that point. So it’s not a parlor game. It’s —
MS ORTAGUS: I mean, I think the President has made clear that, for now, they’re dead. That’s the President’s directive, and I don’t think that there’s any reason for me to go beyond that.
Anything else? No? Okay.
QUESTION: On that point, I just want to clarify, Morgan. So has the President directed you or the Secretary to tell Ambassador Khalilzad not to speak to the Taliban anymore? Is that a forthright directive: do not engage with them at all in communication?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, the President doesn’t communicate directly with me.
QUESTION: Or the Secretary.
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t know, maybe he’s watching the briefing, but he doesn’t normally – I mean, I take my orders from the Secretary.
The Secretary hasn’t characterized it to me that way, but listen, I don’t think that there’s a lot to read into here. It’s – the President said that the talks are dead, and now we have the high-level goals that the President would like to achieve, and Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper and the entire national security team that’s represented in – here at the White House will find the best way forward.
I think in any of these, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq, or any of these conflicts, you’re going to have a lot of people on the national security team – General Dunford, others – that are going to have opinions about the best way forward, and now is the time for the interagency to get together and make those policy assertions to the President.
QUESTION: And do you have any insight on what made this attack and this casualty different from the other, I think, 15 U.S. service members who have been killed in Taliban-claimed attacks this year? I mean, the Secretary himself said after two of those deaths that this was exactly why these talks needed to go forward. What made this one different?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, that’s fair. I think we’ve talked about this before from the podium, and I know that General Miller has been asked this question about the level of fighting that we’re – that was taking place during the entire part of this negotiation process, and General Miller had said something along the lines of we can fight and talk at the same time.
And it’s hard for me to really go beyond that, because I thought that the general described it so well. I think that you were at a point in time that, as the President indicated, that we were close to what we all thought was an agreement and that we were in the right place, and that was seen as – the way that the President described it was not a good-faith effort, obviously, by the Taliban.
But also, I think when you’re that close to the end of what – of an agreement and the Taliban does something like that, it was – the President thought that they, according to his statements, were trying to build maybe some sort of leverage at the end of the negotiation, and the President thought that was intolerable.
I’m not saying anything new here. These are all – this is all what’s in the President’s tweets, and so I think it’s really easy to look at the President’s tweets from Saturday night and see what he said about why he believes the talks are dead. I don’t have any insight beyond that, because I think that our President speaks very directly to all of us, to the American people, to the world about what’s on his mind, and that – I think he was very forthright to the American people about where we are in the process and why he got there and why he made the decision that he did.
QUESTION: Does Zal still have a job?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, he’s in the building today, as far as I’m aware. Yeah, no – I mean, there’s been no announcements —
QUESTION: It’s not like clean out your office, you’re done? He’s still hanging around?
MS ORTAGUS: No, I wouldn’t – no.
QUESTION: Can we go from A to I? On Iran —
MS ORTAGUS: Yes. What’s your name? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Arshad Mohammed with Reuters.
MS ORTAGUS: Are you – you’re the new Reuters?
QUESTION: I’m with Reuters.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, for now? Or – I heard this —
QUESTION: I’m well known to the people behind me.
MS ORTAGUS: Nice to meet you. Yeah.
QUESTION: Two things.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, we’re talking about Iran?
QUESTION: Yeah. That’s why I started by saying can we go from A to I, on Iran.
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.
QUESTION: There are a lot of Is, though.
MS ORTAGUS: Fair. Iraq.
QUESTION: The British foreign ministry – well, I said Iran, but the British foreign ministry said that it had offloaded some of its oil. The State Department statement that came out that day didn’t squarely address that question. Do you have evidence that it has offloaded oil for Syria?
And then question two: The President the other day, when asked if he would consider some kind of easing of sanctions for Iran, said we’ll see what happens, and many people noticed that he didn’t say no. And so question two is: How could you square the possibility of any kind of easing of sanctions on Iran with your maximum pressure campaign?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Well, welcome back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Obviously, I look forward to working with you. I’ll go with the second question first. The maximum pressure campaign continues. I would refer to you to Secretary Mnuchin, who was – I believe he was gaggling at the White House this morning. I caught his gaggle, and he also asserted this as well. He also talked about how the maximum pressure campaign continues.
The Secretary laid out 12 demands over a year ago for ways in which he thinks that the Iranian regime needs to behave in order to be brought back into the community of nations. The Secretary – I was with him at the White House on Tuesday, and he was asked the question about would the President meet with Rouhani, and the President has said on multiple occasions – I think for at least six months, but at least in the past couple of months we’ve heard him talk about it – but the President has said that he’s willing to meet with anyone, including Rouhani, as it relates to talking about the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region, their ballistic missiles, their path towards a nuclear weapon.
So the President doesn’t rule out diplomacy, and the Secretary will, of course, continue to support him in whatever decision that the President makes. But the – there has been – there’s been no statement from the Secretary of State about any chance in policy to Iran. In fact, I would just look at what Secretary Mnuchin said this morning and what Secretary Pompeo continues to say. Our maximum pressure campaign stands.
QUESTION: So – and just one follow-up on that.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: Maximum pressure stands unless and until the Iranians meet the 12 demands that the Secretary made last May, a year ago in May?
MS ORTAGUS: I think maximum pressure stands until the President Trump tells us that it doesn’t stand. And so the 12 demands that the Secretary made – we’ve talked about this quite a bit from this podium – were 12 ways in which we have asked Iran to behave like a normal nation and have asked them to come back into the community of nations, to stop terrorizing the region. And so there is nothing, in my opinion, unreasonable about those demands, and so if the Iranian regime would like to meet with the President, they should go back and look at those 12 issues that the Secretary laid out, because I think that’s a good guidepost for the conversation.
QUESTION: Morgan, can I —
QUESTION: And then – sorry – then the other question.
MS ORTAGUS: I think – hold on a second, I asked – you asked about the —
QUESTION: Which was on the ship, yeah. Do you have evidence that it has offloaded crude oil that has made its way to Syria?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, I think that this is very simple, and we talked about this in the topper. The Iranian regime delivered oil to Syria, and that fuel goes straight into the tanks of troops that are slaughtering innocent Syrians, and that’s something – again, the Iranians lied about this. It should be no surprise, but they lied about this to the EU and they lied about this to the international community. Despite their assurances, we never believed them. We have been calling it out for quite a bit. We don’t believe them for good reason.
And so what have we done? As U.S. Government, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC, identified Adrian Darya as blocked property according to EO 13224 on August 30th. The captain of the ship – we announced this here – was designated also under 13224. We also – the U.S. has filed a civil complaint against the vessel. We’ve also announced here sanctions – or excuse me, the revocation of visas for the crews. Not something that we have tried – that Brian Hook has talked about in an interview to the Financial Times and other news organizations. He stood here at the podium last week to talk to the maritime community about the ramifications for participating in this sort of activity.
So I think the importance here to our friends around the world and the international community is to note that, once again, you have been lied to and misled by the Iranian regime, and this illicit oil again goes to the Assad regime. And the thing that is incredibly troubling about that is we know exactly what the Assad regime is using that for. They’re using it to slaughter Syrians.
QUESTION: So – and just so I’m clear, you have evidence that oil went from the Adrian Darya to the Syrian Government?
MS ORTAGUS: I wouldn’t say that if we didn’t.
QUESTION: Pardon me?
MS ORTAGUS: I wouldn’t say that from this podium if we didn’t.
QUESTION: Yeah, no, I just wanted to make sure. Good. Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Morgan, could I just follow up on that – on the Iran —
MS ORTAGUS: Hi. Go ahead, Nadia. Yeah.
QUESTION: I just wanted —
MS ORTAGUS: I’ll get to you next after Nadia.
QUESTION: Sorry, thanks. I’m just following up on the Iran thing because initially that was my question. So if you’re referring to the 12 demands that the Secretary, I believe, spoke at the Heritage Foundation, does not contradict exactly what he said two days ago from the White House, that the President is willing to negotiate with the Iranians without conditions? How come you have 12 demands and yet he’s willing to sit down with them with no conditions?
MS ORTAGUS: We – the 12 demands, we – again, we’ve talked about all of these things from this podium before. We never said that they were preconditions, and the President has often said, not just in relation to Iran but in North Korea – I mean, you could go around the world – the President puts diplomacy first. He puts peace first. He always says that all options are on the table in whatever conflict that he has to deal with or whatever resolution he is working on. But even when it relates to Afghanistan, the President always seeks peace and diplomacy and talks first in any instance.
So the sanctions remain on many countries, of course including the Iranians. And again, the 12 demands are – this is not something mythical, this is just something that’s actually quite easy for the Iranian regime to follow. It’s a guideline for how they are going to need to act and behave if they want to be accepted back into the community of nations. And so everyone should, I think, take a new Google search and look at those again and refresh our memories because that was our guide.
QUESTION: I see. So this is just to lift the sanctions and not as precondition to negotiation.
MS ORTAGUS: Right, yeah.
QUESTION: Also just on Iran, there were some reports today that the Kuwaitis wants to play a mediator role just like the Omani did in the past, hosting a summit in Kuwait that include the Europeans, the Iranians, and the United States. Are you aware of that? Have they extended an invitation to you? Would you accept the mediation from the Kuwaitis?
MS ORTAGUS: So I haven’t – I’m not aware of the report about Kuwait, but I would say in general, we were asked this quite a bit whenever the Japanese – whenever Abe went to Iran. We were asked this about some of our European allies – the French and Germans and others. I feel like every few weeks, I answer this question, but a different country, and the answer remains the same that we would love our friends and allies to help bring Iran to a place where it wants to act like a normal nation, where it wants to come into the community of nations and behave responsibly. So if the Kuwaitis can convince the Iranians to stop terrorizing the region, to stop doing things like what they’ve done, give oil to the murderous Assad regime, to stop ballistic – I mean, we can go through the litany of UN Security Council resolutions that they are (inaudible). If the Kuwaitis think that they can have more success than Abe, the French, or the Germans, or whoever else has tried recently, like, be my guest.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Turkish courts recently ruled that the Kurdish politician and former member of parliament Selahattin Demirtas’ pretrial detention of nearly three years was illegal and —
MS ORTAGUS: Who’s – sorry, who is this?
QUESTION: Selahattin Demirtas. The Turkish courts said that his pretrial detention of nearly three years was illegal. The European Court of Human Rights earlier called for his release. So would you encourage the Turkish Government to do that, to release him?
MS ORTAGUS: I apologize. I don’t have anything on that for you today. I’ll follow up afterwards and make sure that you get something.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, Turkey.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi. Oh, someone wants to stay on Turkey?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. Who?
QUESTION: Me? (Laughter.) I’m sorry.
QUESTION: There are two of them back here.
QUESTION: You just said yes, so —
MS ORTAGUS: The spotlight’s on you guys.
QUESTION: I’ll go ahead and then —
MS ORTAGUS: Have fun. One of you go.
QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan. Since this past week, a growing number of Kurdish families and mothers of children been abducted by PKK terrorist group have been sitting and protesting in front of Peoples’ Democratic Party, aka HDP, headquarter in Diyarbakir province of Turkey. And the mother accused party of encouraging youth to join PKK terror group and asking their children back. I’m wondering if you’re aware of this and have anything on – as a comment.
MS ORTAGUS: We are aware. I spoke to our EUR desk this morning about the protest of the mothers that you just referred to. And when we are asked these questions in general about people protesting, I’d just reiterate that the United States fully support freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peacefully protest. We believe that right is fundamental to any democracy.
QUESTION: One more question on Turkey?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, hi. No, I think – oh, I’m sorry. I promised him. Okay.
QUESTION: Just one more.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: A State Department official said —
MS ORTAGUS: You’re next.
QUESTION: — earlier that the U.S. was still considering sanctions, putting sanctions on Turkey for them buying the —
MS ORTAGUS: Who said this?
QUESTION: It was —
MS ORTAGUS: It wasn’t a State Department official.
QUESTION: It was R. Clarke Cooper.
QUESTION: R. Clarke Cooper.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, oh, oh. Clarke.
QUESTION: Yeah, so —
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, are you talking about the Defense One Writers this morning?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I mean, it’s – there’s nothing new to – there’s no new updates to give on the S-400. I think Clarke was referring to what the – I believe he was referring to what Secretary Mnuchin was asked a few days ago – I think it was on Monday – when Secretary Mnuchin was asked and said that it’s something that we’re still continuing to discuss. There’s – we don’t preview sanctions ever from this podium, and so we obviously note in this context or any other that we need to comply with U.S. law, and I think that there’s a lot of policy discussions that are going on. So as soon as we have any sort of update on moving forward on S-400 sanctions, we will certainly let you know. But there’s nothing to announce. I’m sorry about that.
Yeah, go ahead.
MS ORTAGUS: I’m just so happy that this is working —
QUESTION: We haven’t – ‘I’, we stay on ‘I’. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: North Korea. So North Korea has expressed a willingness to restart nuclear talks with the United States. But just hours later, they fired several projectiles. Do you have anything on that? And are the talks between North Korea and the United States on the margins of UNGA being arranged? Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: So we have no meetings to announce as it relates to that. The United States – and I think, importantly, the international community as well – we have been united in sending the message to North Korea that the provocations like the missile launches are not helpful, and that we want the North Koreans to return to negotiations to achieve denuclearization. The goal still remains the same.
We’ve seen earlier this week, as you mentioned, that there – have said publicly that they have some – that there’s an indication at least that they’re willing to return to negotiations, and that statement is something that we welcome.
In the meantime, again, if you look at this holistically, our goal for North Korea to be denuclearized final and fully and is verified and – making sure I get all of the right words before Matt pings me if I miss one – is still our goal, as it relates to North Korea. So it was an encouraging sign that they would like to return to negotiations, and that’s something we welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Follow-up, North Korean issue again.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: Recently North Korean foreign ministry ask for – to United States for the new conditions of negotiations. What is the new conditions of negotiations for the – what the North Korea want? Is – are you – U.S. ready for the talks with North Korea with that new conditions?
MS ORTAGUS: So I did see the statement that you’re referring to that they made. And I would just say any negotiations or discussions, or any parameters that we would have that might be new or different with the North Koreans, would be something that Representative Biegun and the Secretary would work on with them directly. I would just reiterate that our goal has not changed and will not change for North Korea, and that is a denuclearized North Korea. And so we are committed to talking and negotiating with the North Koreans, and with – and for Steve Biegun, with his counterpart. We’re committed to those negotiations. But no matter what negotiations or talks we have, the goal still will remain the same.
QUESTION: National Security Advisor John Bolton resigned. What is the effect the next negotiations between U.S. and North Korea? Is it will be better, or it’s U.S. policy changing to – policy change to North Korea, what?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I would – listen, I don’t speak for the NSC, so I think that you’ll need to talk to the NSC or White House. I would just say from my perspective and being in Seoul with the Secretary and the President, the Secretary and Steve Biegun were with the President at the DMZ when the President had the historic meeting with Kim Jong-un, and of course crossed the line. And so I think you – the American people can remain confident that Secretary Pompeo and Steve Biegun will continue to execute the President’s desires and negotiations on North Korea.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks, everybody. See you next week.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)