Department Press Briefing - June 15, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the State Department.
A lot of news, first, to get to at the top, and I know you’ll have a lot of questions today. I want to start by telling you that the Secretary is in Miami, Florida today. He is participating in the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America. The conference is hosted by the United States and also Mexico. It brought together a diverse group of government and business leaders from the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and other countries to address the economic, security, and governance opportunities and challenges in El Salvador, Guatemala, and also Honduras.
On the U.S. side, Vice President Pence is leading a delegation that includes not just Secretary Tillerson, but also Homeland Security Secretary Kelly and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The Secretary will participate in a press avail at the later – at the close of today’s session, so you’ll hear more from him about that meeting.
In a further sign of our robust engagement in the Western Hemisphere, I can announce today that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Cancun, Mexico on June 19th and 20th. He’ll lead the U.S. delegation to the general assembly of the OAS, the Organization of American States, the Western Hemisphere’s multilateral organization. The Secretary will meet and consult with general regional counterparts on issues of shared interest. The U.S. delegation will include Francisco Palmieri, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, and Kevin Sullivan, the interim U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS.
I also want to mention, the Secretary, a short while ago, sent in a note to give his thoughts about the charges related to the Turkish protest beatings. He sent this – quote: “The charges filed against 12 Turkish security officials send a clear message to the United States that it does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression. The State Department will continue to work with law enforcement and the relevant legal authorities in the case. When an outcome is reached, the department will determine if any additional steps will need to be taken.”
QUESTION: Sorry, can you – there was a little garble there. At the top – was there – did anyone else notice that?
QUESTION: You might want to read it again.
QUESTION: “To the U.S.”
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MS NAUERT: You all noticed my garble, okay.
QUESTION: “To the U.S.,” right?
QUESTION: To the – yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay – send a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence. Want me to start it over again?
QUESTION: Well, if you want to. I mean, I just --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Just to be clear, the Secretary wrote a while ago: “The charges filed against 12 Turkish security officials send a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression. The State Department will continue to work with law enforcement and the relevant legal authorities in the case. When an outcome is reached, the department will determine if any additional steps will need to be taken.”
QUESTION: Does that mean you’ll try and seek their extradition to be tried here in the United --
MS NAUERT: I know we have a lot of questions on that. Do we want to start with Turkey today?
QUESTION: Well, never let it be said that we don’t listen very carefully to what you’re saying.
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) You certainly do. Welcome back, Elise.
QUESTION: So is that – are we beginning?
MS NAUERT: We can begin. Okay. We start with that?
QUESTION: Okay. So let – I second Elise’s question. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: All right. So a lot of questions about extraditions.
QUESTION: It’s been a while since I asked – (laughter) --
MS NAUERT: So --
QUESTION: Is there anyone that doesn’t want to ask that question?
MS NAUERT: Okay. We’ll start with Turkey; we’ll start with the question of extradition. A lot of people are asking about that. So we are taking a look and examining the investigation’s findings. We will weigh what additional steps will need to be taken. Our actions will be responsive and proportional to the charges. Our focus is to work with law enforcement officials to ensure that those who are responsible for the violence are held accountable for those actions.
QUESTION: Right. But they’re not here.
MS NAUERT: Correct.
QUESTION: And so if they’re to be held accountable, they must get here. And frankly, the D.C. police chief’s comment that they – he hopes that they present themselves so that they can face the charges – that’s frankly wishful thinking, if it’s even – I mean, it’s just not a serious proposal. These guys are not going to come here to be tried. So --
QUESTION: And he also seemed to suggest that the State Department would take action to try and get them --
QUESTION: So the question is --
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on what he actually said, because that’s --
QUESTION: Well, that’s what he – well, right. I understand that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But the only way they’re going to be held accountable is that you get them here. And the only way you’re going to get them here is if you seek and get the – Turkey’s – seek their extradition and Turkey agrees to it. So the question is – even though the Turks are unlikely to agree to extradition, unless perhaps you extradite one of their citizens who might be living here in this country --
QUESTION: Well, for one – (laughter) --
QUESTION: -- are you going to bother to ask?
MS NAUERT: So --
QUESTION: And the other thing is, is can you talk about Ambassador Bass being summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay. So a couple things. Let me start with Ambassador Bass for a second. So he attended some meetings at the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs today in Turkey. So we’ve been told from the staff there that they’re not going to get into additional details about what happened, but we can say that he did go over to the ministry of foreign affairs today. Okay.
Now as to the next part, that really gets into, I know, another word that you all love to use, and that is immunity, right? Everyone wants to hear about immunity. So there’s something that I know can be somewhat controversial, and it’s basically this: There’s customary international law that affords heads of state with certain protections, in the United States referred to as head of state immunity. You’ve heard of this before. Members of the entourage of the heads of state are said to have derivative head of state immunity. Now, the minute those members of the entourage leave the United States, they lose that derivative head of state immunity, and they then become subject to legal action, such as an arrest or a subpoena.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So they lose that, now that they’re over there. They had immunity while they were there --
QUESTION: So they’re fugitives now?
MS NAUERT: So if they were to come back to the United States – a lot of this is a law enforcement issue, okay, so I’m not going to get too into what Department of Justice has purview over.
MS NAUERT: But if they were to come back to the United States, they would have – they have warrants.
QUESTION: Right. But --
QUESTION: Well, but not only about the United States, but what about if they travel outside Turkey, to a country where the U.S. has an extradition treaty?
MS NAUERT: I can’t answer that for you right now. Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: But you have an extradition treaty with Turkey.
QUESTION: Well, no, but one that actually could be enforced.
QUESTION: So are you going to try --
MS NAUERT: You two sound like a bickering married couple, you know that?
QUESTION: Well, we’ve been together a long time.
QUESTION: We’ve been together for a long time. It is true. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Elise, I can’t answer that question. I’m sorry. I --
QUESTION: So you can’t – you don’t – the --
MS NAUERT: Well, she asked the question if they go to another country that has an extradition treaty with the United States would we --
QUESTION: But in this – but for Turkey, strictly between U.S. and Turkey, is it the case that you have not made a decision whether to ask to seek their extradition? It sounds as though you’re saying that you don’t need to ask the Turks to waive their immunity, because they no longer have it.
MS NAUERT: They no longer have the immunity, now that they are not here.
QUESTION: So then you could, if you were truly interested in holding them accountable, seek their extradition. That would be the logical next step. Is – are you saying that that decision hasn’t been made yet?
MS NAUERT: We will weigh additional actions.
QUESTION: Well, that’s --
MS NAUERT: This is an ongoing process.
QUESTION: So in other words, you haven’t decided yet whether you’re going to ask for their extradition.
MS NAUERT: I can say we will weigh additional actions for the remaining named individuals.
QUESTION: I’m still – but does that mean you have not asked for or decided to ask for extraditions?
MS NAUERT: I can’t get into the specifics of --
QUESTION: Well then, I’m sorry, but how can you say that you’re committed for – that these people are held accountable for their actions if you won’t say that you’re committed to bringing them here to face trial and prosecution and --
MS NAUERT: Well, this is not over yet. This is not over yet. We will hold those responsible for the violence on May the 16th.
QUESTION: All right. Last --
QUESTION: Well, you --
MS NAUERT: And we’ll continue to look at this.
QUESTION: Are you saying that you’ll hold those people responsible or you’ll hold the Turkish Government responsible? Because the only way you can hold those people responsible is if they come here and face trial. You could also institute reciprocal measures to Turkey. Like, there’s a difference between holding them accountable and holding Turkey accountable.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. We are taking a look at different options. And additional questions about the investigation itself, DOJ can answer some of those.
QUESTION: So my last one on this: Is the conversation or the meetings that Ambassador Bass had at the foreign ministry in Ankara – are those the only contacts that you’re aware of between the U.S. and Turkish governments on this issue today?
MS NAUERT: No. We had a conversation with the Turkish Government as well.
QUESTION: What does that mean, “we”?
MS NAUERT: The U.S. did.
QUESTION: Well, I – right, but was that it? Bass and --
MS NAUERT: No.
QUESTION: -- the Turks?
MS NAUERT: Bass – Ambassador Bass met in Turkey.
MS NAUERT: We had some form of communication here in the United States.
QUESTION: Can we – with the embassy?
QUESTION: Did you call the ambassador --
MS NAUERT: I can’t get into that.
QUESTION: Why not?
MS NAUERT: Because I just can’t.
QUESTION: But was it --
QUESTION: Well, I think you did say a couple of weeks ago that you brought the ambassador here to talk about when the incident happened. So why would this be a different issue why you couldn’t talk about who you talked to?
QUESTION: Anyway, as far as you know, it was between the embassy here and the State – and this building?
MS NAUERT: It was --
QUESTION: Or was it --
MS NAUERT: My understanding --
QUESTION: -- New York or --
MS NAUERT: No. My understanding is that communication went from the State Department to the Turkish representatives in the United States.
MS NAUERT: Exactly who that conversation was between, that I’m not going to get into at this time. If there’s a point in which I can share that information with you, I will.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Turkey?
QUESTION: Heather, was Secretary Tillerson involved in speaking with any counterparts? And I know you won’t discuss the details of the meeting with Ambassador Bass, but prior to the meeting, was he scheduled to go over there, or was he summoned? Or how did he get there?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I have not spoken with him.
QUESTION: And the Secretary as well? You don’t know if he’s personally had engagement with his Turkish counterparts on this?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into – I don’t have any meetings or any conversations to read out on behalf of the Secretary related to this.
QUESTION: Also --
MS NAUERT: Any Turkey? Sir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s Ilhan Tanir from Turkish Press, Washington Hatti.
MS NAUERT: Welcome.
QUESTION: There are a number of steps taken by the U.S. Congress over the last 10 days. One of them, a resolution passed about 10 days ago, and also about 40 congressmen and congresswomen wrote a letter to U.S. State Department. Are you going to take any kind of action for those letters and the demands by the U.S. Congress?
MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with these letters that you’re speaking of. Just as a matter of course, we don’t talk about pending legislation or what’s going on in Capitol Hill. So I’d just have to refer you to those members of Congress, and they can perhaps best answer that.
QUESTION: Speaker Ryan also asked for a full apology from Turkish Government, as well as many U.S. congressmen. Are you also asking apology from Turkish Government for this?
MS NAUERT: Speaker Ryan’s comments – I think they stand for themselves. And so I could just refer you back to Speaker Ryan’s office to get any additional information on that. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Who else is Turkey?
MS NAUERT: Okay, sir. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: So in September, President Erdogan is expected to be in the UN for the UN General Assembly meeting. Because of this – these charge, he’ll have to bring in an entirely – almost entirely new security detail. Is that correct?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know if he would have to bring an entirely new security detail. Presumably – and I don’t want to get into hypotheticals, but visa applications would have to come through for those security personnel who would be brought --
QUESTION: But they will not be issued visas, right, by the State Department? That’s my question.
MS NAUERT: I can’t say whether or not they would be issued visas because that’s something that’s considered to be confidential, but visa applications are not always granted for a variety of reasons.
QUESTION: But that raises an interesting question, because if they – if he keeps the same team and comes back, then they have – then they get the immunity again.
MS NAUERT: They would have to apply first for a visa.
QUESTION: Yeah, but – yes.
MS NAUERT: And in order to get a visa --
QUESTION: But visas have been given to people who --
MS NAUERT: -- you would have to apply for a visa. I will just say we know that they have warrants out for their arrest.
Okay. Let’s move on to another topic.
QUESTION: Turkey? One more on Turkey, please?
QUESTION: Can I move on to a different topic?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Very quickly.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: On the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson told Congress the other day that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or the authority have agreed not to make payments to the families of prisoners and martyrs, as they call them. And then yesterday he basically backtracked. Could you clarify this for us?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I would not say that he – I wouldn’t characterize it the way that you did.
We have and the Secretary has repeatedly raised concerns about payments to prisoners and so-called martyrs with the Palestinian Authority. President Abbas and other senior Palestinian Authority officials have assured us that they are working to address that issue, but they have not stopped those payments.
The Secretary addressed this yesterday, and he said this type of thing is not acceptable to the American people; it is certainly not appropriate. I think those are very clear comments. We have a certain set of expectations, and the expectation is that that should, in fact, stop. Last month the Palestinian Authority announced that it was stopping payments to some Hamas-affiliated prisoners, but this step we consider to be inadequate to talk about – to address our concerns.
QUESTION: Most of these prisoners are civilians, really, and they’re stone throwers or administrative and so on.
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into a conversation about that.
QUESTION: Okay. Very quick on another issue. Today the Palestinian Authority closed like 11 websites because they were critical of Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Do you have any comment on that? I mean --
MS NAUERT: Just as a general matter, we support freedom of the press and we encourage websites and information to stay open so that people can have their freedom of speech.
QUESTION: So you being their biggest sponsor, would you call on them to --
MS NAUERT: I have not seen that report myself, so this is the first time I’m hearing of it. If I have anything more to add, I will.
QUESTION: Just back on the payments --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- is the Secretary – does he have the impression from his – or did he get the impression from President Abbas in their conversations that this – cutting off the payments to the Hamas people was like a first step, and that it would --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer – I don’t know the answer to that, Matt. I can certainly ask. As you know, the Secretary is away right now. But we will continue to pressure Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to stop those payments. The United States is serious about that.
Miss, go right ahead.
QUESTION: On Qatar. Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya.
MS NAUERT: Nice to see you again.
QUESTION: Nice to see you too. On Qatar, the countries who severed diplomatic relations – which, as you know, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates – apparently they presented a list of individual Qataris who supports extremists or terrorist organizations.
MS NAUERT: And they presented that list to?
QUESTION: To the United States. Has they presented this list to the United States, and do you agree with the list that they have given to you?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any list that was allegedly given to the United States, so I can’t comment on that.
QUESTION: So apparently some of the individuals has already been on a list that are on your – the website of the wanted people, so I’m just wondering if the list has been expanded or if you’re aware that names have been added.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m not aware of what you’re --
QUESTION: Are you – can you look into it to see if --
MS NAUERT: We can certainly look into that and see if we can find something out for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Great, thanks.
MS NAUERT: Sir, hi.
QUESTION: Hi. Dmitri Kirsanov from TASS.
QUESTION: One quick one on Qatar? Just a quick follow-up?
You’re on – you’re not on Qatar?
QUESTION: Sure. I’m not on Qatar. I’m on Russia. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: Can you just bring us up to date on the latest on the Secretary’s diplomatic efforts on Qatar and whether some Qatari officials said that there might be a meeting coming up in the next week to 10 days hosted by Secretary Tillerson?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So I don’t have any meetings to read out about that. The Secretary obviously has been very involved in this. He’s had a lot of ongoing conversations. He’s had more than a dozen phone calls back and forth between the United States and many of those countries. Those conversations, as I understand it, are ongoing. As you know, earlier this week he’s had a series of meetings here in Washington with Saudi Arabia, for example; UAE, for example, last night. So we continue to --
QUESTION: And he’ll be meeting with the Qatari on Monday? Is that --
MS NAUERT: I don’t – I don’t have any meetings to read out for you at this time. When I do, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Although – I understand that you said nothing is scheduled, but is it his goal or his desire to bring everyone together for some kind of mediation --
MS NAUERT: I know that a lot of reporters are talking about this idea of a summit, a so-called summit. And as far as we can tell around here – and we’ve checked with many of the departments, with the Secretary, you name it – as far as we know, there is no summit taking place at this time.
QUESTION: Well, a summit would suggest kind of the leaders of the states, but some of the countries have said that Secretary Tillerson is trying to get the ministers together for some kind of session.
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. If I had any meetings to read out that I could, I would certainly tell you about that.
QUESTION: But when you say that you don’t have any meetings to read out, does that mean you can’t offer us anything about the dinner last night?
MS NAUERT: I don’t. I can’t. No, I’m sorry. If I --
QUESTION: I had a very quick follow-up on this meeting.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: You know on Friday the President basically called Qatar a sponsor of terrorism, and yesterday they signed a $12 billion deal to give – to sell them F-15s. How – how do you juxtapose this against that?
MS NAUERT: With the weapons, or with the --
QUESTION: Right, with the F-15s.
MS NAUERT: The F-15s, rather? Yeah, okay, let me get to that because that was – that was a deal that was a long time in the making. That is not a brand new deal that just came out. We continue to work with the nation of Qatar and the government and other partners in the region.
These are necessary actions to not only support U.S. interests in the Gulf but also keeping that region as safe as is possible. So the agreement has been years in the making. We see it as a tangible show of support for our defense relationship and their commitment to the United States. So the F-18 aircraft will increase what we consider to be the interoperability between the Air Force and the U.S. allied and partner nations.
QUESTION: On that?
QUESTION: So this administration supports the sale even though it was concluded under the previous administration?
MS NAUERT: This was – the sale was notified to Congress a while back and --
MS NAUERT: -- and we consider that a part of continuing to strengthen security in the Gulf.
QUESTION: Right. So you – it’s a good thing, you think? You support it.
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it one way. It’s not my place to characterize it whether it’s a good thing or not. I can just say it is going forward; it has been in the works for a long time.
QUESTION: Well, presumably, if you – if the deal went ahead, then the U.S. thinks it’s a good thing.
MS NAUERT: No, I’m saying I’m not going to characterize it as that. I mean, don’t ask me.
QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, we’re not asking your personal opinion on whether you think --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Maybe you like a different kind of fighter jet and you don’t think they should get F-18s. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: She’s a compact F-14 kind of a girl. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But no, I – I’m --
QUESTION: But you know that means that Qatar is in good stead with the United States, right? I mean, they don’t have to worry about --
MS NAUERT: Okay, sir, so go right ahead.
QUESTION: Switching gears, Germany and Austria sharp – have sharply criticized the U.S. Senate today for moves aimed at advancing a new legislation packaging new sanctions against Russia, which tangentially deal with European countries as well. Austrian federal chancellor and German foreign ministry released a joint statement, and I wanted to read one line from it to get your response to this particular line: “The draft bill of the U.S. is surprisingly candid about what is actually at stake, namely selling American liquified natural gas and ending the supply of Russian natural gas to the European markets.”
MS NAUERT: Sorry, back up for a second? What did you say about the liquified natural gas?
QUESTION: That the bill is trying to basically peddle U.S. LNG to the – to the European markens – markets instead of the Russian natural gas. The bill aims to protect U.S. jobs and the natural gas and petroleum industries. So what’s your response to that?
MS NAUERT: Well, first, I’m not going to comment on anything that those nations said and their criticism of anything going on on Capitol Hill. We would see it – and we talked about this last week – we welcome the shipment of liquified natural gas to Poland, to countries in that region, if that were to come – become available to them, because it helps give them another option, another option to get natural gas from other countries that are perhaps more stable or other countries that can perhaps provide a regular flow of natural gas. Much of the natural gas in Poland, as I understand it, comes from Russia, and that can be inconsistent. Russia has the ability, as you well know, to turn off that natural gas, and that puts the Polish people in a very difficult situation. So the U.S. provided another option. A regular source of natural gas, especially in the winter months, we see as important for the United States and for our allies.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia just for a --
MS NAUERT: Certainly.
QUESTION: Very briefly, because the Secretary raised something the other day in his testimony that raised some eyebrows, which was that the – he was asking for flexibility in this sanctions bill because – particularly on demands for Minsk to be – the Minsk agreements to be fulfilled. And he said that it might be possible for Russia and Ukraine to reach Minsk-like or Minsk – the Minsk goals or Minsk-like goals in another --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Not his actual words, but I know what you’re – I know what you mean.
QUESTION: -- in another forum. What was he talking about?
MS NAUERT: So we remain committed to the Minsk agreements. The various parties signed on to that, and so we continue to call upon those parties to honor those commitments. We are not satisfied with the progress in implementing the agreements. We are deeply disturbed by the escalating violence in Donbas. Now, the Secretary is somebody who consistently around this building talks about results. We just have not seen results that we would like to see from the Minsk agreements. We would like to see those countries honor and fully implement those agreements.
QUESTION: Well, has he proposed some alternate format for getting to the Minsk goals?
MS NAUERT: I would say overall, our objective on that matter remains the same. The objective is peace. We are not seeing that happen. We have some numbers, the United Nations has some numbers and some statistics about how the number of civilian deaths are up. We remain very concerned about the situation there. But to your question, the parties, if they were to come to some sort of an agreement on their own through some sort of different mechanism, and those parties could adhere to it and agree to it and it would be successful, I think that would be something that we would be open to supporting that.
QUESTION: Right, but he’s --
MS NAUERT: However, we still --
MS NAUERT: -- remain committed to Minsk.
QUESTION: No, no, no. I get that, but – I mean, I’m trying to figure out if he – is he proposing some kind of a U.S. – the U.S. is not involved in Minsk; it was the French and the Germans.
MS NAUERT: Correct. Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: So is – are you suggesting that the U.S. might take a lead now in trying to get to the Minsk goals?
MS NAUERT: I have not heard that the United States --
QUESTION: No? Okay.
MS NAUERT: -- is going to be leading any new kind of plan.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I go back for a second?
MS NAUERT: Conor, go ahead.
QUESTION: Heather, is the U.S. any closer to securing the release of the other three in North Korea? And can you tell us anything further about the engagement on Otto Warmbier?
MS NAUERT: Okay, hold on, hold on. Before we get to North Korea, does anybody have another question on this matter?
QUESTION: Very quickly.
MS NAUERT: (Inaudible), hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Cindy. Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Cindy.
QUESTION: I just had a follow-up on the Russia question.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Is there a reaction to the sanctions bill that was passed in the Senate?
MS NAUERT: So that’s another pending legislation matter, because the House has not voted on it just yet. So I’m just not going to comment on that at this point, okay.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: I have one on Russia.
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Russia? Okay, sir, you already went. So let me go over to you.
QUESTION: Conor and Rich.
MS NAUERT: Conor, yes. Yeah. I know, you’re sitting in a different place.
QUESTION: I know, sorry. I just – quickly. I know the --
QUESTION: We’re trying to throw you off balance. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Right. In terms of the Secretary saying that he wants more flexibility to improve the relationship with Russia, does he believe that the Russians want to improve the relationship with the United States?
MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary – we continue to look for areas in which both parties can work together. We’ve talked about this before. We’ve talked about how we believe that the United States and Russia can work together to fight ISIS. In terms of your specific question about Russia, I can’t get into how – how they see us now as a result, okay. Do we want to go to DPRK now? Mr. Warmbier? Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Mr. Warmbier.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Miss, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I had a question on North Korea. The – so – well, actually two. Do – it – given the grave state of his health – Warmbier’s health – is the United States considering what recourse it might have legally if – were he to die or were his – he to never be able to recover?
MS NAUERT: Oh my goodness.
QUESTION: Is there any --
MS NAUERT: I’m – I – I appreciate your curiosity. I’m not even going to comment on something like that.
QUESTION: And secondly --
MS NAUERT: Not our place to comment on that, and that’s a --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, the United States was instrumental in securing his release in --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- at a point in the very sad trajectory --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, that’s a hypothetical --
QUESTION: -- and his health if --
MS NAUERT: -- that I hope we never come to, and I’m not even going to go there.
QUESTION: The Secretary yesterday was asked in his testimony whether they’re – the United States would consider some kind of prohibition or change to the already fairly severe travel warnings for U.S. citizens against traveling there. He said it was under consideration, but he wasn’t specific. Can you give us any more detail about what that might look like or what he was talking about?
MS NAUERT: This is something that initially came up in this building. I believe it was about April. And so some conversations have been had about this --
QUESTION: It came up about March 2016 – like last year --
MS NAUERT: Okay, well in this – fine.
QUESTION: -- too. It’s been coming up constantly.
MS NAUERT: In this administration, it was something that came up here around the time of April. I know that that is something that’s under consideration at this point. Let me see if I have anything more for you on that, because I have a lot on North Korea.
QUESTION: You do? Why don’t you just read it all?
MS NAUERT: I do, actually.
QUESTION: No, I mean, aloud. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: So in terms of that, we haven’t come to a final conclusion. It’s something we’re still considering. And that’s a good point to remind Americans, that we strongly encourage you not to travel to North Korea. There have been too many incidents in which Americans have been held for crimes that would not be considered criminal actions here. And so --
QUESTION: Heather, it’s --
MS NAUERT: -- we can’t guarantee that we can get people back, so we encourage you not to go.
QUESTION: As a legal matter, though, is there some kind of actual prohibition that could be in --
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s – that what we --
QUESTION: -- instated?
MS NAUERT: That’s what you just asked about --
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MS NAUERT: -- if some sort of potential ban on Americans traveling there – something like that is under consideration. I’m not going to get ahead of what that could potentially look like. It may or may not happen, okay?
So Matt, you asked about this --
QUESTION: Well --
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: Go to --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Conor. Sorry.
QUESTION: Go to Rich.
QUESTION: Yeah, so --
MS NAUERT: Rich. Did I just call you Conor? Sorry.
QUESTION: That’s fine.
MS NAUERT: Sorry.
QUESTION: I’m honored to be called Conor. (Laughter.) The --
MS NAUERT: And you rhymed.
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly.
MS NAUERT: Nice.
QUESTION: Unintentionally so. Any further engagement on the three Americans who are still in North Korea, imprisoned in North Korea, and anything more you can tell us about the Warmbier case?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So the other day, I know a lot of you were frustrated that I wouldn’t and couldn’t provide more detail for you on Mr. Warmbier’s case. A couple reasons for that: One, he was still in the air flying back to the United States. Two, we did not want to get ahead of his parents. I’m sure many of you watched his parents give a press conference earlier this morning. We do know that the hospital that is treating him will offer some sort of press conference later on today in which they’ll detail his health. We didn’t want to be ahead of those folks.
Also, Mr. Yun, Ambassador Yun, who traveled to North Korea with a team of American doctors on a plane, had not yet returned to Washington, D.C. He returned to Washington yesterday. I spent close to an hour with him today talking about how all of this occurred and what exactly happened. So now I can provide you with a little additional detail. I would rather be right than fast, okay? So here we go, and this is in part a timeline with a little additional information, and I’m just going to read it, if you will. If anyone has any questions along the way or if you don’t understand something, you can feel free to stop me.
At the direction of the President, the State Department conducted quiet diplomacy to obtain the release of Otto Warmbier. There are three other Americans currently being held in North Korea. We hope that they will soon be able to return home. We’d like to thank our international partners, especially our protecting power Sweden, for their tireless efforts to assist Mr. Warmbier. The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens against travel to the DPRK.
And here’s the timeline: February 2017, Secretary Tillerson briefed President Trump on the situation. The President directed the Secretary to take all appropriate measures to secure the release of American citizens detained in North Korea. The Secretary began the effort and routinely updated the President. In May of 2017, U.S. State Department Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joe Yun met with high-level representatives from the North Korean ministry of foreign affairs on the margins of separate track-two discussions in Norway to talk about detained American citizens. Again, that took place in Norway.
Then on June 6, 2017 in New York, Special Representative Yun met in New York City with North Korean diplomats. During the meeting, Mr. Yun was told about Mr. Warmbier’s medical condition for the first time, so we were made fully aware of his medical – let me back up. We were made aware of his medical condition. The extent of it, I’m not sure that we had the full extent until our doctors were on the ground. Now, just as a reminder, the last time that someone representing the United States, the Swedish protecting power, saw Mr. Warmbier was March of 2016, okay? So now we’re back to June 2017.
During the week of June 6 to the 11th, after consulting the President, Secretary of State Tillerson instructed Special Representative Yun to travel to North Korea to negotiate the release of Mr. Warmbier from North Korea. Ambassador Yun traveled to North Korea with a medical team and a private aircraft to begin the negotiation. On June the 12th after arriving in Pyongyang, Special Representative Yun and two doctors visited Mr. Warmbier. The visit was the first since his sentencing in March 2016 that the United States was able to confirm, in person, Mr. Warmbier’s condition.
After several hours of discussions, the North Koreans agreed to his release. Immediate arrangements were made for Mr. Warmbier to leave North Korea and return home. On June 13th, Mr. Warmbier touched down at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio and was met by his parents at the airport.
QUESTION: May I?
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you – okay, so the story that the North Koreans are offering is that he contracted a case of botulism, took this sleeping pill, and went into a coma for a year. Based on what you know, does the U.S. take that story at face value that he was in a coma for a full year? There’s – as you said, there’s been no sighting of him or such, but it – the timing that he was released in the last few months, do you have any reason to believe that he contracted this illness and fell into a coma in the last few months and then --
MS NAUERT: I think, Elise, what we would do is wait for the medical professionals to fully check him out. I imagine – and they’ll be talking at some point today, at least that was my last understanding, and so I would leave it to the doctors to be able to talk about their testing if they are able to.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay. But are you --
MS NAUERT: I mean, this involves medical privacy issues, so --
QUESTION: But are you taking the North Koreans at face value that the – their accounting of how he got sick is true?
MS NAUERT: I think we would rely on the medical professionals for a lot of specific information about that.
QUESTION: There was also some reporting that perhaps he was beaten. Do you have any reason to believe that that’s true?
MS NAUERT: I just can’t get into that, for no other reason other than I just don’t know. I don’t have that information.
QUESTION: When Ambassador Yun and the other – and the doctors saw him in Pyongyang, were they in a hospital? Were they in a prison?
MS NAUERT: Yes, it was in a hospital.
QUESTION: It was in a hospital. And was it a – I mean, I’ve never – I’ve not been to a North Korean hospital ever, so I don’t --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. That’s a good question. I didn’t ask Ambassador Yun to characterize that hospital. If I see him later, I can certainly ask for more information.
QUESTION: Can you – I’d just like to know if you believe that he was getting adequate care for his condition when in North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m afraid I just don’t --
QUESTION: And then, is --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not going to be able to provide some of these answers. Again, Mr. Yun just back. I just saw him --
QUESTION: And then the second thing is that in the press conference, his father, today, gave the distinct impression that he did not think the previous administration had been doing enough to get his son freed. I’m not going to ask you to speak to – for the previous administration, but in terms of this building, what changed in the way that the – that your – that Ambassador Yun, say, or anyone else in this building – what was different about how this was handled by the – this time as opposed to for the past year?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think, Matt, that’s hard for me to get – to answer that question, not having been here that long, not having seen all that our staff did to try to get his release. Over the past few days, I’ve heard and seen a lot of that and have seen the incredible dedication that people have had. I’m under no impression that --
QUESTION: But clearly, that --
MS NAUERT: I’m under no impression that people did not care about getting him back a year ago. Certainly, I know our consular affairs officials have been extremely concerned about his case and the case of other Americans too.
QUESTION: Well, right. No, it’s not a question of not caring.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering what changed. How is this --
MS NAUERT: Well, I – I mean, I know that the President, not long after inauguration, said that this was going to be a priority, and he authorized the Secretary to get this done. But beyond that, I really can’t get into that.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Could I just --
QUESTION: Heather, just real quick on --
MS NAUERT: We just have a few more minutes. Miss, with the laptop right there. Hi.
QUESTION: Yes. So there are reports that Ambassador Yun, while he was in Pyongyang, also met with the other three detained Americans. Can you confirm that? And also, are there any details on their condition? And what is the U.S. doing to try and get them released?
MS NAUERT: I know that we would like to see them come home. I can confirm that Ambassador Yun did make contact with the three Americans who are being held there. We are happy that he was able to make that contact. In terms of their medical condition, that’s something I cannot comment on. The other day, I said I won’t comment on personal health matters, and so I’m going to stand by that.
QUESTION: When you say, “made contact,” do you mean he was able to see them?
MS NAUERT: He saw them. He did see them. Yes.
QUESTION: Heather, China.
QUESTION: Heather, can I follow-up on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. North Korea. Go right ahead. Hi, Abbie. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you so much. It seems the way you’re describing the discussions that Yun was having that he was negotiating for the release of the hostage – calling it quiet diplomacy. Do you think --
MS NAUERT: That Ambassador Yun was?
QUESTION: Ambassador Yun.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you think that this is a change in policy that the administration is willing to negotiate for hostages or prisoners?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure where you’re – a negotiation implies that we are willing to give up something in exchange for something in return. That – this was not a negotiation. This was bring back; we want to come get our guy.
QUESTION: So you would not characterize this as a negotiation?
MS NAUERT: No. I would not.
QUESTION: So then – but so can you answer the question that I had yesterday – whether or not they knew that they were going to get him and be able to come back with him when they left?
MS NAUERT: The North Koreans – I’m afraid I know the answer to that, but that’s not something I can divulge. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: That’s all right.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. That’s a little bit of a teaser.
MS NAUERT: I’m still getting used to this role. So, Matt, I’m sorry. It’s – some of these, as I hope you can try to understand, are sensitive, diplomatic matters. As we’ve talked about, we still have three Americans over there. We are grateful to have Mr. Warmbier home. The work that Ambassador Yun has done has been nothing short of incredible, and the team surrounding him has been nothing short of incredible.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
QUESTION: One more on North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay. One more on North Korea.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday, Secretary Tillerson mentioned about sanctions against North Korea. Is the United States satisfied with the Chinese law in resolving North Korean nuclear issues? Or what if there is not satisfactory of China --
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, but I know that we believe that China and other nations could do a lot more to try to put additional pressure on North Korea. China has unique pull and leverage with North Korea, because of the economy, because of some of that trade and their economic reliance, if you will. So we just continue to call on China to do more, as we do with many --
QUESTION: But U.S. is --
MS NAUERT: As we do with many other nations. Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Do you think --
QUESTION: One more on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Last question.
QUESTION: One more on North Korea?
QUESTION: North Korea --
QUESTION: One on Pakistan?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead. North Korea.
QUESTION: Yes --
MS NAUERT: And then I’ll take you on Pakistan, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed support for talks with North Korea in exchange for them halting any provocative action, given sort of the --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, start your question over again.
MS NAUERT: President Moon, yeah.
QUESTION: -- has indicated that he’s willing to negotiate with North Korea in exchange for them halting any provocative actions. Do you support this? Is that sufficient for the U.S. to return to the negotiating table, especially given sort of the climate now?
MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed. For the DPRK – for us to engage in talks with the DPRK, they would have to denuclearize. And that is not something we’re seeing them take any steps to do so. We remain very concerned about their provocative actions that they continue to take. We continue to call on them to de-escalate those types of actions, but we are nowhere close to that.
Okay. Sir. You had a Pakistan question, sir.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Koreans going into negotiations, though?
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the policy review that the State Department is doing on Pakistan. Can you give us some more details about it? Why you are doing it, a country-specific policy review? What do you want to achieve it? Who all is doing it? And what is the timeline for it?
MS NAUERT: Goodness, I should show you our list of policy reviews taking place, because there are plenty. There’s the Iran policy review; there’s the Afghan policy review; Pakistan policy review is one of them. We are beginning an interagency review toward our policy on Pakistan right now. It’s part of an ongoing broader review of our national strategy for South Asia, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries.
The United States and Pakistan have a close partnership on regional peace, security, prosperity, and stability. And we continue to work with the Government of Pakistan on areas – many areas of mutual interest, including counterterrorism. Thank you.
Miss, in the back.
QUESTION: One on – first on Turkey, please?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: On Turkey?
MS NAUERT: On Turkey. Go right ahead. Not – you know what, I feel like we’ve done Turkey.
QUESTION: It’s a different – it’s not about the – you didn’t take my question. It’s not about the security details. It’s about an arrested politician yesterday.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Certainly.
QUESTION: So are you aware that an elected politician from the main opposition in Turkey is arrested yesterday on the charges of leaking state secrets for 25 years? He happens to be a former journalist for 36 years. Is the U.S. Government concerned about this in any way? And is the deputy assistant secretary, Jonathan Cohen, is going to raise the issue in his upcoming visit to Ankara in any ways?
MS NAUERT: Ma’am, I’m going to have to take that question from you, because I’m not aware of the arrest of the person that you mentioned. So if I can get some additional information for you – I know as a general matter, we tend to be concerned about anything that has something to do with any restrictions on free speech. On the other hand, we certainly acknowledge that Turkey has the right and ability to detain people who are legitimately involved with the coup attempt from last year. But again, I’m not familiar with who that politician is that you mentioned. I’ll take a look and see if I can get some more information for you.
MS NAUERT: Oh, budget. Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. And there are a lot of questions.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: And you’ll get them rolling out over the next couple weeks I think, but I’ve got one today.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: The Secretary, to put it mildly, got an earful in four separate hearings on the Hill over the course of the past two days from senators and congressmen and women who say that this budget proposal is dead on arrival; it’s not going anywhere. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said it was a waste of time to discuss it, because this isn’t the budget – this might be the proposed budget, but it’s not the budget that you’re going to end up with.
But I wanted – there’s a lot of things to ask about it, but for the sake of brevity, I just want to ask about these Pickering and Rangel programs --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- because it’s something that a number of lawmakers expressed concern about, and I didn’t understand the Secretary’s responses to them. Is it not correct that people who are supposed to be entering the A-100 class of the Foreign Service under these programs have been told that they are – that they can’t?
MS NAUERT: That they can’t what?
QUESTION: After having signed a contract and spent three years planning to enter the Foreign Service under these programs, is it not correct that they have been told that that is no longer an option?
MS NAUERT: No. I have not seen any letters or any of the – anything of the sort that has gone out to – or maybe have not gone out to – the individuals in the fellowship program. The fellowship program is something very important to folks at the State Department to help bring in additional diversity into the Foreign Service corps.
The fellows that you are speaking of right now, because of under budget constraints – we are offering them different kinds of positions at this point. And I want to try to explain this. I’m still new here, so I want to try to explain this in the best way possible. We have hiring constraints right now. You all are aware of that. There’s a hiring freeze. But we are keeping our commitment to these fellows --
QUESTION: Well, that hiring freeze – the government-wide hiring freeze is over. This is a personal – or a building decision by the Secretary that applies to this building only, correct?
MS NAUERT: Well, we are able to staff up, for example, if there were a national security issue. You’re all aware of that. So there are hiring constraints in this building right now. We are keeping our commitment to these potential Foreign Service officers – I’ll call them the fellows – by offering them an alternative Foreign Service opportunity in the short term. We remain committed to offering these fellows the next available career conditional tenure track Foreign Service appointments.
So what does that mean? That means that they are welcome, if they would like, to join the Consular Fellows program. That is something where these fellows would serve as consular adjudicators at posts around the world, so they would basically be going through visas, they would be working with passports. That’s something that our other Foreign Service officers are involved with. That’s a routine course of duty for them.
So these individuals, these fellows, were they to take the position, would hold limited non-career appointments of up to five years and have nearly the same responsibilities and duties and salary – which is important to mention – and pay scale as entry-level Foreign Service officers. So we are offering them a slot in that.
QUESTION: Right. But what they signed up for and what this government agreed to, this building signed – had contractual obligation with them, is not to spend five years stamping no on visa applications in, I don’t know, Ouagadougou. These people --
MS NAUERT: That is, though, an important service.
QUESTION: And --
MS NAUERT: So I don’t want to look down our noses at that --
QUESTION: And you’re right. No, no, you’re right.
MS NAUERT: -- because that’s something that every Foreign Service officer --
QUESTION: You are – you’re absolutely right.
MS NAUERT: -- is required to do in his or her time.
QUESTION: But no one aspires to that job in any embassy. And people in the Foreign Service who do it in CA and then it’s – it is a thankless job, but they have a prospect of going beyond that and becoming a political or a commercial or some other kind of officer.
MS NAUERT: So those who do go through --
QUESTION: So these minority students --
MS NAUERT: Let me finish. The consular fellows who do choose to take on those roles would then have the opportunity to join the next A-100 class --
QUESTION: So you’re saying --
MS NAUERT: -- of Foreign Service officers when a class becomes available.
QUESTION: So are you saying that they could drop out of these Consular Fellows program and join the A-100? I’m not sure that’s --
MS NAUERT: My understanding is that they would have to – and Mark’s a Foreign Service officer here, so I may have to defer to him somewhat on this. But my understanding is that they would complete their time in the Consular Fellows program --
STAFF: Two years.
MS NAUERT: Two years. Thank you. And then they would have the opportunity to enter the A-100 program when an A-100 program becomes available.
QUESTION: So these also --
QUESTION: But it’s – but it’s a five-year thing?
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: These --
QUESTION: Not two years.
MS NAUERT: They would have to serve two, two years. Yes.
QUESTION: They would have to serve – so they would have to serve two years as a Consular Fellow and then if you --
MS NAUERT: And they get paid for it. They get paid for it.
QUESTION: Oh, no one is saying that this is like slavery here.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah. And their housing and all of that. Look, it’s not an ideal situation. I don’t think anybody here views it as an ideal situation.
QUESTION: No, clearly it’s not. But the problem is that these people – these people signed contracts with their government, and those contracts are now being broken. And they planned and spent – they planned their lives around this. And now, all of a sudden, because of the – just because you guys have decided that you want to slash the staffing of the Foreign Service --
MS NAUERT: Matt, to be fair – and again, this is --
QUESTION: -- you’re breaking a contract with these people.
MS NAUERT: This is not an ideal situation trying to work within difficult budget constraints right now. I don’t think that this would be – hold on, Elise. I don’t think that this would be anyone’s preference.
They are, however, being provided with full payment, or up to $34,000 a year I believe it is, to their Master’s education. So they do have the two years of that Master’s degree that the government fully pays for.
QUESTION: All right, I get it.
MS NAUERT: We are investing in these people, and they are investing in us. We are doing our best to provide something to them.
MS NAUERT: And that is offering them a space because we need it. There are some embassies across the world that are very, very busy; have lots of visa applications, lots of passport applications. It’s a routine job that our current Foreign Service officers are required to do. And by the way, when I talk to these Foreign Service officers, looking back on it, a lot of them will say, “You know that, that job was really meaningful to me and I really learned a lot about it.”
QUESTION: Some of these posts that they’re being offered, aren’t these the posts that used to be filled by the family – by the spouses of some of the kind of more senior diplomats?
MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: Because some of these visa adjudication posts are being – have been filled by these kind of – this issue about the families that are being – the spouses that --
MS NAUERT: I can look into that for you.
MS NAUERT: But I’m not aware that there’s a one-in/one-out situation.
Okay? Guys, we have to leave it there, okay? Thank you so much. We --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:50 p.m.)
DPB # 29