MS ORTAGUS: Good afternoon.
MS ORTAGUS: All righty. Got a couple of things to give all of you up front. Happy Thursday. It is Thursday, yeah?
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, good. Good, good, good. So first of all, the presidents of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia had a historic meeting with President Trump on Tuesday of this week. They also met with Secretary Pompeo on Tuesday, Secretary Interior on Monday, and Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan on Tuesday. All three presidents laid a wreath at Arlington Cemetery with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Wilkie on Monday that honored their citizens’ service in the U.S. armed forces.
These meetings highlighted the unique and special partnership the United States has with these countries, who are critical partners in creating a free and open Indo-Pacific region. After the meeting with President Trump, we released a joint statement with all three countries that reaffirmed our commitment to a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific and the Compact of Free Association, and to partnering on maritime security, combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and strengthening the rule of law.
And I would also like to offer congratulations to Prime Minister Modi and his National Democratic Alliance on their decisive victory in India’s national elections. India’s elections, as I said yesterday, are the world’s largest exercise in democracy, a marvel of logistics and planning with 900 million people, an eighth of the world’s population, eligible to vote. We applaud the high turnout, estimated at around 66 percent or roughly 600 million people, and the Government of India for their excellent execution of this incredible event. The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected government to continue to accelerate our strategic partnership, which includes cooperation on a range of critical issues, such as counterterrorism and ensuring a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. As President Trump has said, the U.S.-India partnership has never been stronger and never been better, and we certainly expect it to reach new heights in the coming years.
And with that, Mr. Lee.
QUESTION: Thank you. I actually don’t have anything that is worthy —
MS ORTAGUS: Is this a record? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — of opening – no, no, it happens occasionally.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: I don’t have anything that I think is worthy of opening because – at least anything that you’ll have an answer to, so I will defer to —
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: A question about Venezuela.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: So the administration has been saying that Maduro should step down and there should not be negotiations, and now there are negotiations between the opposition and the Maduro government.
MS ORTAGUS: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What is the view of that? Do you think that’s a mistake or do you think something can be achieved?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, we don’t view that decision as – to send – for Guaido to send people to Oslo as a concession. We are not the Venezuelan people nor their government. This is their negotiation. But I think that we – and I think the Secretary has been clear that we do not support any kind of, quote/unquote, “democracy” under Maduro. We know that’s false. We know Maduro is not stronger today than he was one year ago, and I think our position remains the same.
QUESTION: And do you think those negotiations will be able to lead to the end of Maduro, if that’s your goal?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t want to speculate. We’re not a part of them, but we’ll leave that to the Venezuelan people.
QUESTION: Hi. Welcome.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you.
QUESTION: A question about Iran.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: There’s a German delegation in Tehran.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if there is any effort to work through the Europeans to send messages of restraint or otherwise to the Iranians.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. The Secretary actually talked about this a little bit in the past week, in the sense of his broader discussions with the Europeans. We met with the E3 foreign ministers when we were in Brussels last week. And he said that he appreciates any and all efforts to de-escalate tensions in Iran – with Iran, and of course, I think both he and Acting Secretary Shanahan have continued to talk about how our main goal and everything that we’ve pursued over the past few weeks is deterrence. We’re not seeking a war with Iran, and we certainly understand that Germany has diplomatic relations with Iran. They have for a long time. They’re clearly still a part of the JCPOA, so we think that this is normal behavior between two states, and we appreciate any efforts by the Germans to help de-escalate the situation.
QUESTION: And could I just follow up very briefly?
MS ORTAGUS: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The ayatollah gave a very harsh speech —
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: — criticizing both Zarif and Rouhani for the first time, calling them out by name for signing on to the JCPOA. Do you see this as continued escalation, given that this is the first time he has been —
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think I want to – yeah, sure.
QUESTION: — talking about a Hizballah government.
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think I want to step in the middle of Iranian politics. I’ll let them do that for theirself. But I think that we have been clear that the regime should be aware that the only way out of this is negotiations for a new and more comprehensive deal for the 12 steps that the Secretary has outlined for Iran to turn to the path of the behavior of a normal nation. And we continue to hope that they will see the light and pursue that.
MS ORTAGUS: I’m sorry, remind me of your name again?
QUESTION: Francesco Fontemaggi, AFP.
MS ORTAGUS: That’s right, Francesco. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. So more broadly than the German delegation —
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: — the Iranian officials have said that there are many foreign delegation these days traveling to Tehran on behalf of America. So can you confirm that you are sending some messages to Tehran by the German or the Oman – or other delegations? And if yes, what is the message?
MS ORTAGUS: I understand. So I think that we’ve been quite overt in our messaging to Iran, actually. And the Secretary said this on the Hill as well. We clearly went to Baghdad a couple of weeks ago. Some of you – we talked about this yesterday – were on that trip in which we spoke to our counterparts in Iraq about the threats. We went to Brussels where the E3 was meeting, met with our counterparts there, with others in the European Union and NATO, and we have said very publicly that we want people – anyone who is – has a vested interest in this situation to urge Iran to de-escalate this behavior. And then, of course, we’ve taken our own steps to deter it.
So I don’t think that there is any sort of private signaling going on here. I think we’re actually quite public and quite overt about our intentions.
QUESTION: But it is true that one of these delegation is – or more are traveling with a message on behalf of America?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think I have anything – anything specific on that. I’m not aware of the reports that you’re referring to, but I would say that we’re very overt in our public messaging, that we appreciate any efforts by any of our allies that would like to help us de-escalate the tensions with Iran.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary taking binary talks on Iran?
MS ORTAGUS: Can I ask all of you a favor? Just while I’m learning faces and names, do you mind just saying your name and your publication, and that will help me? Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry. David Brunnstrom from Reuters.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you. Yes. Thanks, David.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary taking part in talks on Iran today? Is he – they’re hearing maybe there’s a White House meeting of principals today. And what is the Secretary’s view of the sending extra troops to the region?
MS ORTAGUS: So I don’t have anything specific to say on the Secretary’s schedule today. Of course, when there’s meetings with his counterparts, we always read those out; we’ll be happy to do so. I would say that the Secretary was asked this question this morning. He did a few television appearances, so I’d always recommend that everyone go to his remarks first. And in his remarks, when he was asked this question, he said “the threat is real,” it’s very credible, and he also echoed what the President has said, was that we “will ensure that we have all the resources necessary to respond” in the event that there is some sort of attack – we hope not – from the Islamic Republic of Iran. And I think the Secretary addressed that this morning.
Hey, Nick. Yeah.
QUESTION: Hey, Morgan. As you mentioned, the Secretary did a couple of television interviews up in New York today. Did he have any other meetings there at the UN or non-media-related events while he was in New York?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t have anything further to read out on his public schedule in New York.
QUESTION: I want to raise a question about scheduling —
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: — and all this year.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: In my experience, when the Secretary is traveling and doing public events, we – it’s on the schedule. And if anything had happened anywhere in the world overnight, we would not have known he was in New York. Could we respectfully ask that when he’s doing something that public that we know when he’s out of the city?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Absolutely. I’ll check with the team on the proper procedures for that, and we’ll make sure it’s addressed. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.
QUESTION: Hi Morgan. In those interviews this morning, Secretary Pompeo touched on something he’s actually spoken about a few times in the last couple weeks, saying that Secretary Kerry – former Secretary Kerry and as well as Wendy Sherman and Ernie Moniz may have violated the Logan Act by talking with the Iranian diplomats. And he said that Kerry had asked them not to – asked the Iranians not to call this administration. Secretary Kerry’s people have denied that; they say that you are getting the substance of any conversations they may have had wrong, and that you are also misreading the act.
So I wanted to ask if you have any evidence that that is, indeed, what he told them to do, not to call or negotiate with the Trump administration, and how that’s a violation of the act.
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think – I don’t have anything further to say beyond what Secretary Kerry and the Secretary said in his interviews, both today and recently. So I think I’ll leave it there. I’d just say that we would hope that every American would support American foreign policy, and I think the Secretary’s remarks have been consistent there, so nothing more on that.
QUESTION: Hi. Nick Kalman from —
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that —
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to get a fine point on that, when he says that he believes that these former officials violated the Logan Act, that’s a – is that a personal opinion, or is that a legal determination that the lawyers in this building agree with?
MS ORTAGUS: So I’m looking at the transcript here, which – what I believe is a transcript, and we can double-check. He did not actually say – he did not – what you just characterized it, that’s not what he said. So we can pull the transcript and get it for you.
QUESTION: Well, what did he say?
MS ORTAGUS: Let’s pull the transcript and give it to you. I think that’s better. But I think the way you just characterized it is not actually what he said verbatim.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just taking it from what Carol’s question —
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: He has in the past, though. He has in the past, though, suggested this would be a violation —
QUESTION: I don’t know. I didn’t read that part of the transcript. But I just assumed since you didn’t object to Carol’s – the premise of Carol’s question, that he had said that. So – but, I’ll —
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I think he’s made a lot of public statements over the past two weeks, so if it’s okay with all of you, I’ll just refer you to his statements.
QUESTION: Nick from Fox News. Senator Feinstein had dinner with Foreign Minister Zarif last week. Her staff says that was in consultation with the State Department. Can you elaborate on that consultation, and did the senator report back to State after the dinner?
MS ORTAGUS: I can elaborate. I can take that and see if she did report back. I’m not aware that she did, but she may have, so let me take that back. I’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Michel Ghandour with Al Hurra Television.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: On Syria, do you have anything —
MS ORTAGUS: Syria? Is that what you said?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have anything new on the chemical weapon use by the regime and on the escalation in Idlib today?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. So as it relates to the purported chemical weapons use, we’re continuing to investigate these reports. This attack, of course, is being investigated by organizations on the ground. I think – and you know this area quite well, of course, given your prolific reporting. The location of the attack is at the frontlines, and so access – it does make access to that site limited. But we do have numerous sources, including interviews of those president – present during the attack that did report that a number of opposition fighters were taken to local hospitals and presented symptoms that were consistent with chemical exposure. We know, of course, that this is a pattern of behavior, unfortunately, by the Assad regime. But we don’t have any definitive conclusions yet, because we – as we continue to investigate.
QUESTION: When do you expect to have it?
MS ORTAGUS: I’ll let you know as soon as we do.
QUESTION: And on the escalation in Idlib?
MS ORTAGUS: What specifically?
QUESTION: The fights are escalating there between the opposition and the regime.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I mean, listen, I see that Ambassador Jeffrey has spoken about this quite a bit and he continues to call for a halt in the escalation of violence. We, of course, want a de-escalation agreement and a return to the political process, and Ambassador Jeffrey is working quite diligently to pursue those goals. And we will continue to ask and to call for a halt to the violence in northwest Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi.
QUESTION: Hi. Lalit Jha from PTI, Press Trust of India.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: Follow up on the topper on India.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: You said that you expect the relationship to reach a new height in the years to come. If you can elaborate on that, which areas do you think you would focus on and where do you want to reach there?
MS ORTAGUS: I think that I’ll largely leave that for the White House and for the President to say. I think, again, we – as we said yesterday, that we’re confident in the fairness and the integrity of the Indian elections. They are a crucial partner for us on many areas, especially counterterrorism, and we – I’ll defer you over to the White House for that, for specific policy areas that we might be able to advance. But again, I think it’s – we are certainly underscoring today a historic democratic movement of at least 600 million people voting. I think it’s pretty amazing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. Hey, Courtney.
QUESTION: A follow up on that question. The Indian ambassador told us today that the government has halted its imports of Iranian oil, but that they are still looking for alternative sources. And we’ve been told that the U.S. was working to help identify those for countries that no longer have SREs. What’s the status of that?
MS ORTAGUS: Right. And no SREs because we’re going to zero. So in terms of the specific help that we may or may not be giving the Indian Government, I’d have to get back to you on that and talk to the team. I would just say that our messaging writ large, as it relates to these is – as it relates to the oil is that we should all be getting to zero. When we withdrew from the JCPOA a year ago – I think we said this yesterday – that we said and telegraphed very publicly that that was our intention. And so that’s something that we’ve been consistent about for the past year, and we certainly appreciate the reports that we’ve seen of the countries that are complying with U.S. sanctions and getting to zero, as is mandated by our sanctions.
QUESTION: But is there a concern that —
QUESTION: Sorry. That —
MS ORTAGUS: That’s okay.
QUESTION: — that absent intervention or location of alternative sources of energy that countries could find themselves in a rough position and have to revert?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t – no, because it’s something that we’ve been talking about with our allies and partners for quite some time. This wasn’t – this was not something that happened overnight. It was something that we’ve been telegraphing quite publicly for the past year. So I don’t – I think that’s all I have on that.
QUESTION: On the SREs, when the exemptions or exceptions expired, were there any shipments in transit or about to be in transit delivered to importers after they would be covered by sanctions that were not, that didn’t – did not draw sanctions?
MS ORTAGUS: That – so this whole discussion that you’re asking for is quite technical. I’m very aware of it. I think I’d probably prefer to get a more technical expert than I am on this to answer that question for you, so happy to follow up with that.
QUESTION: Just the long and short of it is – because the question is: Was there activity that was sanctionable that you guys basically chose to ignore or to not respond to after these – after the expiration of the waivers?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I’m not aware of that, but I’ll certainly get back to you on it.
QUESTION: Would you say today that the eight countries are now respecting your ban on Iranian oil exports?
MS ORTAGUS: Not just the eight countries. We – yeah.
QUESTION: Because Turkey said yesterday they are. India said today they are. Is China abiding by the ban?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, I certainly don’t speak for the People’s Republic of China, but I am aware of those reports on Turkey. We welcome those reports. That’s – it’s not just these eight countries that we want to comply. We want the whole world to comply with these sanctions, and we’re grateful for our partners and allies that are respecting them.
QUESTION: Hi. Guy Taylor, Washington Times.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi, Guy.
MS ORTAGUS: This is easier to spot all of you than in the room yesterday.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to change topic to speaking of China and North Korea. There’s a big trade fair that’s going on in Pyongyang right now, and North Korean state media has said there are about 500 international companies there, and China is one of the places that has sent companies, and there are also reports of about 250 companies are from China. And I’m wondering if you have any awareness of this or comment on it, particularly because there seem to be indications that there are a lot of Chinese-North Korean joint venture companies, which are – which are explicitly banned by UN Security Council resolutions.
Do you have any comment on that? And if not, could you give us an update on the activities of North Korea envoy Steve Biegun and whether or not you have anything to announce vis-a-vis meetings that he could be having amid this moment of stalled denuclearization talks?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, “stalled” is your characterization, not mine. I was with Steve this morning, actually, by the way. And he continues to – we said this yesterday – we continue to say that talks and discussions are ongoing, and we think that this is, of course, one of the most important national security issues that we will face and that we will deal with. We have said, the President has said very publicly, that some of the more recent developments were disappointing, but we remain very open and we hope that Kim Jong-un and his government will see the path towards a brighter future that we have offered. Saying that, sanctions remain in place and they will remain in place.
QUESTION: Is there anything to announce vis-a-vis Mr. Biegun’s schedule in terms of —
MS ORTAGUS: No. No announcements.
QUESTION: What about the companies, the first part of the question?
MS ORTAGUS: I’m sorry, who’s speaking?
QUESTION: I’m Aaron from Fuji TV. I just was curious as to the first part of his question about the companies that they had met with.
MS ORTAGUS: I’ll have to look into that. I didn’t see that report, but I’ll be happy to look into it.
QUESTION: Can I ask a North Korea question?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: Ben with NHK.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi, Ben.
QUESTION: There are some reports in Japan that U.S. Government officials are telling allies that if there was another missile test by North Korea, the United States wouldn’t ignore it. I was just wondering if anyone from the State Department is sending that message to allies.
And then a second question. The North Korean envoy to the UN criticized the U.S. seizing their cargo ship, calling it a hostile act. Do you have any reaction to his comments?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, so the first question is about Japan?
QUESTION: There’s reporting that government officials —
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, right.
QUESTION: — are saying that the U.S. wouldn’t ignore another missile test.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I mean, listen, I don’t – I wouldn’t comment from here on – from this podium on any sort of negotiations or talks that the U.S. is having with our allies. When we do have meetings, we attempt to try to get – like for the Secretary’s meetings, we try to get readouts to you – to you as much as possible.
And I don’t think that we’ve ignored anything. In fact, as I just said, the President has expressed his disappointment with those actions. But again, we remain open and committed to having talks, to having dialogue. The President and the Secretary have said numerous times that Kim Jong-un has promised to denuclearize, and we are – we remain hopeful that he will keep those promises.
QUESTION: Then on the cargo ship that was seized?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, and who – what was the question about it?
QUESTION: The North Korean envoy to the UN called it a hostile act by the U.S., and I was just wondering if you have a reaction.
MS ORTAGUS: Got it. So we do everything within accordance of international law. We are incredibly respectful of that, and I’ll just leave it there.
MS ORTAGUS: Hey, Conor.
QUESTION: Hey. Since the Secretary addressed this in one of his interviews this morning, I’m wondering if you could speak to it as well. He said that Secretary – former Secretary Tillerson’s remarks were “pretty outrageous.” One of the other things that Tillerson reportedly told the House Foreign Affairs Committee was that Jared Kushner wasn’t doing enough consultation with the State Department in his dealings with foreign governments, foreign leaders. Is that a view that Secretary Pompeo shares? Has he talked to Jared Kushner about that?
MS ORTAGUS: Listen, I’m going to refer you to former Secretary Tillerson and to his office for any comments that he may have made there. We obviously were not president – were not present, but I do not think that Secretary Pompeo would share those views.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, related to that, the – in his – in the opening statement that Chairman Engel released yesterday, former Secretary Tillerson’s opening statement, he said that he had consulted with State Department lawyers before this appearance. Can you tell us why he or what – why and what he would have discussed with the department before going to the Hill?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I think, well, first of all, largely the conversation between the former secretary and the Congress, I would refer you to their offices, both to the Congress and to him. I do not know if he consulted with our lawyers.
QUESTION: He said he did.
MS ORTAGUS: I’m sure; he may have. I’ll be happy to check into it.
QUESTION: He did. He did say that. And I want to know, because I don’t think it’s particularly – I mean, I’ll ask his office as well, obviously.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: But it’s not like you guys were completely unaware that this was happening, and so I’d just like to know what he felt the need, or was it required, that he talk to State Department lawyers before making this appearance.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure, yeah. Totally understand the question. I’ll have to ask.
QUESTION: One more thing on that is that Secretary Pompeo said today, when asked about some of Tillerson’s reported remarks, that’s why he’s no longer secretary of state. I think he said “pretty outrageous” and (inaudible.)
MS ORTAGUS: He did say that, and I will let his statement stand.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. From Voice of America. Can I please ask about China? It’s about Hikvision, a Chinese video surveillance company.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: Is the State Department weighing in any interagency discussion on whether or not to put Hikvision on the entity list? I mean, from the human rights point of view, would State Department support to put Hikvision on the black list regarding its – the role it plays in the surveillance and mass detention in the Uighurs? Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes, totally understand your concern. Thank you for the question. But the State Department, we do not comment on potential sanctions, investigations, or actions, and so I would refer you to the Department of Commerce, who actually keeps additional information on the entity list.
QUESTION: Is the State Department consulted?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, the interagency is always consulted in these matters, but I can’t speak to particular cases that may – potentially may happen. When we have an announcement, we’ll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: Hi, Deirdre Shesgreen with USA Today.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi, Deirdre.
QUESTION: I think Paul Whelan is set to have another detention hearing in Moscow tomorrow. I know that Secretary Pompeo generally raised the issue of Americans detained in Russia when he was in Sochi, but did he specifically ask about Mr. Whelan’s case and the validity of the charges against him? And is there any kind of progress in that case?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. So the Secretary often says, as I say as well, that the highest priority that this administration places is on the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens. The Secretary did say on – I believe it was on May 14th that he raised the issue of U.S. citizens who have been detained in Russia and making sure that our citizens are not unjustly held abroad. He also reiterated to Foreign Minister Lavrov that this is one of the – it is one of President Trump’s highest priorities to protect American citizens.
We do have a recent visit by Ambassador Huntsman about a month ago on April 30th to Mr. Whelan. And we, of course, remain concerned by the lack of evidence in his case, and the Secretary is committed to continue to raise this at the highest levels.
QUESTION: Can I ask a Israel question?
MS ORTAGUS: Israel?
MS ORTAGUS: Why not?
QUESTION: I am wondering if you guys have weighed in with the Israelis at all on the, quote, “ordered deportation” of the Human Rights Watch researcher Omar Shakir.
MS ORTAGUS: What was the – tell me the name again?
QUESTION: Omar Shakir.
MS ORTAGUS: Sorry, give me one second.
QUESTION: He’s been ordered deported —
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: — for allegedly activity – activities that they say support BDS.
MS ORTAGUS: Right. You’re stumping me, Matt, today with your questions. I don’t have an answer, but I’ll get one for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Hi, Jennifer Hansler, CNN. There was a report earlier in the week that —
MS ORTAGUS: Last question, by the way, if that’s okay.
QUESTION: — the U.S. has repatriated a family that may have ties to ISIS from a Syrian camp back to the U.S. I was wondering if you could confirm that, and more broadly, if you have any numbers on those repatriations.
MS ORTAGUS: Can you give me just a second? I don’t think I have any numbers to give you. I’ll check into that and see if that’s possible to give you. I mean, we think the best solution for these foreign family members, especially the children, is voluntary repatriation. Those who have broken the laws of their country through their connection with ISIS or its affiliates should, where appropriate, be subject to criminal prosecution, but just looking here, I don’t think I have any specific numbers for you, but we can certainly get that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. What about – Matt, anything final?
QUESTION: No, no. That’s it. Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Thanks. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks, Morgan.