Department Press Briefing - June 22, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Hey, everybody.
MS NAUERT: How’s everyone today?
QUESTION: It’s Thursday, so --
MS NAUERT: Thursday, I know. I know. I hope you all have been having a good week. A couple things I want to start out with today. Two issues of great interest to us. The first is about Ukraine and the second is about Iraq.
The United States is deeply concerned about an alarming pattern of violence and harassment by Russia-led separatists in eastern Ukraine, directed at unarmed civilian members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. The latest in a series of threatening and intimidating incidents involved harassment, threats, and ultimately shots being fired at retreating mission vehicles on June the 20th. This follows the tragic death in April of a U.S. citizen who was serving as a paramedic with monitors when his vehicle struck an explosive in separatist-controlled territory.
The incidents are part of a broader effort to keep the international community from seeing what is happening in eastern Ukraine. We call on Russia to use its influence to end this campaign of intimidation and honor its commitment to allow free, full, and safe access to the OSCE monitors. More broadly, a lasting and durable ceasefire is urgently needed to relieve human suffering and create space for progress on Minsk implementation. That is the first issue.
Second, Iraq. As I’m sure you all saw yesterday, the destruction of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque yesterday is further evidence of the depravity and the desperation of ISIS and their so-called caliphate, which is rapidly evaporating. We strongly condemn this crime against the people of Mosul, which only further proves that ISIS has no respect for Iraq’s identity, culture, or its religions. For nearly 800 years, the al-Nuri Mosque, with its distinct leaning minaret, al-Hadba, stood as a testament to the faith and unity of Mosul’s residents. ISIS used the historic mosque, an edifice of a great religion, to publicly justify its criminal campaign of genocide, mass rape, institutionalized slavery, child murder, and aggressive territorial conquest.
Yesterday, Iraqi Security Forces pushed forward to liberate Iraqi civilians who are still trapped in Mosul. ISIS destroyed the mosque and the minaret. The despicable act is a crime not only against the people of Mosul in Iraq, but the world. The world has, yet again, lost an important part of our shared heritage at the hands of ISIS.
The Iraqi Security Forces, with the support of the coalition, have now liberated 70 percent of the territory that ISIS once controlled and has now freed 2.7 million Iraqis from ISIS’s brutal rule. Together, we’re accelerating the global campaign against ISIS, taking ISIS leaders off the battlefield, and depriving the group of its resources. The United States remains committed to helping Iraq drive ISIS from every inch of the Iraqi soil and ensure that the terror group cannot return. The United States and the international community supports the Government of Iraq’s efforts to support communities suffering from the effects of the brutal occupation of ISIS. The American people stand with the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people in their efforts to build a future that is filled with peace and prosperity for all Iraqis.
With that, I’ll take your questions, please.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS NAUERT: Matt, go right ahead.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I just want to make sure this is right. Are you saying that this is a broader effort by the separatists to prevent the public from seeing what’s going on and --
MS NAUERT: We believe that. The information from the OSCE monitors is really one of the reliable ways that we and the world can see what is going on and the devastation that’s taking place in that part of Ukraine.
MS NAUERT: And we believe that these monitors – it’s a repeated history now of harassment against these monitors, we think to try to prevent them from doing their jobs.
QUESTION: So the administration likes transparency when it comes to --
MS NAUERT: I think the world wants to see these OSCE monitors be able to report fairly and accurately the reality of the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Right. I just wanted to make sure that was what I was getting at.
QUESTION: Did you say --
QUESTION: And – hold on --
QUESTION: -- Russian-led separatists? Did you – Russian-led?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Or Russian-supported separatists?
MS NAUERT: Both.
QUESTION: You think they are Russian-led?
MS NAUERT: Russian – we believe they’re Russian-led, Russian-funded, Russian-trained separatists – so-called separatists.
MS NAUERT: They did.
QUESTION: Did this come up or was it mainly focused on U.S.-Russia?
MS NAUERT: They talked about a lot of issues, among them Syria. That remains a major issue. But I can’t get into the specifics of that conversation that took place today.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, would it be fair to – I don't want to assume, because we all know what that does. But would it be fair to say that the cancellation of the Tom Shannon-Ryabkov meeting was a point of discussion?
MS NAUERT: I would imagine that that was something that was discussed. I mean, we have said to Russia and we say here today that we were disappointed. This was a channel that was set up by the Secretary and also Foreign Minister Lavrov back in – I believe it was April when they were in Russia together. And they set up this separate channel, so to speak, to have these conversations to be able to go over more minor issues – irritants. And that was something that Secretary Shannon was prepared to do – to go there, have a good-faith conversation. The Secretary has talked about how we have a low-level relationship at this point with Russia, and we would like to try to find areas of cooperation to work together, and it’s difficult to find areas of cooperation to work together while there are some of these irritants that keep coming up at some of the bigger meetings. So this was a separate channel set up to try to address those things. Russia canceled it, so Russia can best explain why they chose to cancel it, but we’re disappointed in that.
QUESTION: But do you know if there are discussions going on to try and reschedule? And --
MS NAUERT: That I don’t know. That I don’t know.
QUESTION: Okay. And the other – the last thing on this is that the Russians also say that Foreign Minister Lavrov complained about the military strikes in Syria as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, and also complained about the sanctions, which is what they said was the – or the latest maintenance of sanctions that – which is what they said was the reason for canceling the Shannon thing.
MS NAUERT: So the issue of sanctions was never on the table for this meeting that was canceled. This meeting was about more minor issues. Sanctions can be dealt with a very separate way. Russia knows exactly why sanctions are placed on that country, and it’s directly as a result of their actions in Crimea and their actions in the eastern part of Ukraine. If they want those sanctions removed, they have to address those issues. They have to live up to the Minsk accords.
QUESTION: And on the – this violation of Syria’s sovereignty, you guys obviously reject that charge, yes?
MS NAUERT: Those are – those were defensive actions that the United States took, and the only reason that the United States is in Syria is to address ISIS.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: And I think Russia knows that.
Okay. Hi, Dave. Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that one directly, so this – the Shannon-Ryabkov channel was to discuss the minor irritants, and even that was canceled, so what kind of situation are we in in terms of U.S.-Russia ties now?
MS NAUERT: I mean --
QUESTION: It’s already very low. Now what is it?
MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not going to characterize it exactly, but I certainly can say that we’re disappointed in that, that we wanted to have this dialogue so that we could clear the table, clear the air, so to speak, of some of these smaller issues. This is something that we wanted to see happen, so Russia can best explain why it was canceled. They know why. They know why they canceled it.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, say that again. The French president said what?
QUESTION: Said that Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria – they don’t condition the end of the civil war in Syria with the removal of Bashar al-Assad as president of Syria. Do you agree with this or do you see it as a major --
MS NAUERT: Eventually that would be up for the people of Syria to decide.
QUESTION: Right. But – so do you think that France is sort of shifting its position?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on the position that France has taken on this.
QUESTION: And second, the Turkish defense minister, Fikri Isik, said that he was assured by Secretary Mattis that once the – that once ISIS is defeated, they will – that the United States will retrieve the arms that they have given to the YPG. Do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: So that would be a DOD matter, and you could certainly speak to the Department of Defense about that. That’s all I have.
QUESTION: Another Syria --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, let’s stick with Syria for a bit. Sir, go right ahead.
QUESTION: James Bays from Al Jazeera.
MS NAUERT: Hi, James.
QUESTION: Earlier on this week, the chairman of the joint chiefs was asked about Raqqa after it has been freed of ISIL. He said the State Department had a plan for governance. I wonder if you could expand on that plan. Who do you plan to put in charge of Raqqa? Does it become a safe zone? Will you protect it from the air as a no-fly zone?
MS NAUERT: So we aren’t completely there yet. The fight for Raqqa is still underway and still taking place. The United States will never determine who will take control or take charge in terms of its government. That will be up for the Syrian people to decide.
QUESTION: They’ll fight it out?
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Fight it out or --
MS NAUERT: No, that will be up for the Syrian people to decide. To answer your --
QUESTION: So there will be an election or --
MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on, hold on – for the Syrian people to decide who will ultimately end up leading individual areas. And we have talked about that. We’ve talked about that here at the State Department, that it should be locally led, and that’s something that we’ve not moved away from.
Syria. Anything else?
QUESTION: A follow-up if I can. Sorry, I don’t come here very often, but I cover Syria a lot.
MS NAUERT: Well, welcome.
QUESTION: And I still – you’re nearly six months into this administration. I still don’t quite understand the administration’s overall strategy with regard to Syria. I understand ISIL entirely and the fight against ISIL, and I understand they’re brutal and abhorrent, but most of the deaths in Syria haven’t come from ISIL. What’s your overall strategy in ending the war and in terms of governance in Syria in the future? I can’t – I’m not even clear from reading everything that this administration has put out as whether you support the continued rule of President Assad, for example. Could you --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, anything with regard to the military would have to be a DOD --
QUESTION: No, I’m asking about the final political solution.
MS NAUERT: Hold on – could you just hold on for a second, please? Okay. DOD can handle the military issues, okay? In terms of the future for Syria, we continue to support a UN-backed system. We – the UN – Staffan de Mistura has been very involved in this process. We support something that would bring eventual peace to the people of Syria. This is going to be a long campaign, a long effort, and it’s not going to be resolved overnight, certainly.
QUESTION: But the specific part of my question about whether Assad can be part of that final settlement in Syria?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that that is going to be the future of Syria. I think the Syrian people will end up figuring that out. Assad has been responsible for horrific crimes against his own people. We know that. We have all talked a lot about that, and that remains a major concern. But this is something that the Syrian people ultimately, once there is peace brought to that area, will have to decide.
QUESTION: How will they decide it?
MS NAUERT: Sir, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If you want those kinds of answers, it’s going to take some time to get there.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
QUESTION: Syria. Sorry, just one more. So former ambassador for Syria, Robert Ford, has said some, like, remarkable stuff about what the United States, he believes, is going to do in Syria. He says the United – Assad is winning, the United States is going to abandon its partners, especially SDF. Do you have anything to say about your former ambassador?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of his comments. I do know that the United States, backing its coalition partners, has taken back a significant amount of territory from ISIS. I believe it’s 40 or 50 percent at this point. So that is something that we find to be encouraging. Again, this is going to be a long process. It’s not going to happen overnight.
QUESTION: But do you – are you willing to reassure your partners, especially SDF, that the United States is not going to abandon them once ISIS is defeated or before ISIS is defeated?
MS NAUERT: The SDF has been an effective fighting force, and we see the SDF as the best force to take back control over Raqqa, for example. And we’ve worked with them closely, certainly, in that arena. And they’ve done a very good job. But beyond that, I’m not going to characterize or get into hypotheticals about the future. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Syria?
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Let’s just finish out Syria first.
QUESTION: It’s Qatar.
MS NAUERT: Okay, yes. Go right ahead. Hey, Laurie.
QUESTION: Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei has spoken very sharply to the Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi. He’s warned him against weakening the Hashd al-Shaabi and relying on the U.S. Khamenei also accused the U.S., along with Saudi Arabia, of creating ISIS. And Khamenei stated his opposition to the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. What is your response to all that?
MS NAUERT: So as you all have seen here before, the statement of – statements of various foreign officials, I’m not going to comment on every single statement that comes out. So I’m not going to comment on that. But we can say that our partnership with the Government of Iraq is steadfast. They have been a strong partner of ours, and that will continue. That won’t change.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that as ISIS is defeated and there’s not really any governing authority to replace it, that Iran is exploiting that and taking advantage, and putting its allies in place?
MS NAUERT: The – Iran has continued to be a destabilizing force in the region, and throughout the world. I think many would argue that. So that would certainly remain a concern, but we have confidence in the Government of Iraq.
Okay. Anything else on Iraq? Anything else on Iraq?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Let’s go to Qatar. Hi, Felicia.
QUESTION: Hey. First, do you have any updates, any more phone calls? Secretary Tillerson said a list has been drawn up. Has he been informed that it’s been provided to anyone?
MS NAUERT: A list of --
QUESTION: Demands. He put out a statement yesterday, right?
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So then – and then I have one other question.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So the Secretary has said, and continues to say, that he believes that this dispute can be resolved with the parties themselves. The Secretary has had a series of phone calls and meetings in which this has been the top topic for them.
QUESTION: Since the list has been drawn up?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into the specifics of the list, so I won’t be able to provide you with any information about that. We do know that we believe it’s coming along, and that we have asked, and we’re optimistic, that what will be on this list will be reasonable and actionable demands that the Kuwait – excuse me, that the Qataris will receive.
QUESTION: And then – oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: Have you seen it, or does he know what --
MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on what’s in that list.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, are you going to make a judgment on whether it’s reasonable and actionable before the Qataris get it, or --
MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been really very clear with all the parties about this. If you’re going to ask Qatar to do something, and to do something differently, it has to be something that they are actually capable of doing.
QUESTION: Right. But --
MS NAUERT: It has to be reasonable and actionable.
QUESTION: Who makes that decision?
MS NAUERT: Something that they can do about it.
QUESTION: Who makes that determination, whether it’s --
MS NAUERT: All of the parties have to get together and work this thing out.
QUESTION: But I mean, is it something --
MS NAUERT: It’s – I mean, it’s not done yet. It’s not finalized yet.
QUESTION: No, no, I just – I understand. But I mean, do you guys weigh in and say, if the Qataris say, “All right, you have to block out the sun in the morning,” or something like – something that’s obviously not able to be done --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- will you tell them?
MS NAUERT: I think that they will know exactly what things are reasonable and what things are actionable.
QUESTION: And then, oh, I have one quick --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So Prime Minister Modi, I believe, is coming on the 26th. Is that right, the 26th of this month? And we are looking forward to having him come to the United States here for this meeting. I don’t have a full readout or schedule of exactly what will be taking place. If we do have something that becomes available on that, I will certainly let you know. It is June the 26th. But I do know we’re looking forward to strengthening ties between the United States and India. We have a lot of areas of mutual cooperation, fighting terrorism, we have a lot of people-to-people ties, strong people-to-people ties; so we’re looking forward to that visit.
QUESTION: And is – visas is a big issue between the sides. I think USTR has spoken about it, but is that something Tillerson is involved with or --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. I know that that is a major issue. We have a lot of visas that get granted – are granted to Indian citizens, and so I just don’t know if that’s a topic for the agenda just yet. Okay, anything else on India?
QUESTION: Just one.
QUESTION: Heather, on --
QUESTION: Just one.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary getting any closer at all to making a decision on a travel ban for travel to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: That’s something – you’re talking about DPRK?
MS NAUERT: That’s something that we’re still considering.
QUESTION: Nothing new? No updates?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything new for you on that. Okay, can we --
QUESTION: One on --
QUESTION: I have a North Korea question.
QUESTION: Sorry, can I --
MS NAUERT: Can we try to stick with regions, please?
QUESTION: One on India.
MS NAUERT: Okay, sir.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Who has a question on India? Sir, you do?
QUESTION: On India.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Madame, since this administration will be very new to Prime Minister Modi and his government also very new – three years he just completed. So he had a cordial relationship with the past president and administration, but now he doesn’t know how to deal with this administration because he never met anybody so far, and he had – he thought that things will be continuing the way it had been. But what he has seen in the last six months that a lot have changed as far as H-1B visa is concerned or also any other agreement between the two countries were initiated. So --
MS NAUERT: Well, I can tell you that --
QUESTION: -- as far as these agreements are concerned, do you think they will stand – they will – between the two countries or anything new we are looking?
MS NAUERT: That’s a hypothetical, so I’m not going to get into that. I also don’t want to get ahead of the President and what may be happening in the meetings ahead. I can tell you that we’re really looking forward to having the prime minister here. We treasure our relationship with our Indian friends and so many Indian Americans here in the United States, so we’re looking forward to having them.
QUESTION: And second, yesterday was the International Day of Yoga initiative by Prime Minister Modi --
MS NAUERT: It was?
QUESTION: -- and the United Nations – declared by the UN, International Day of Yoga every year, June 21st, which happened to be longest day. So any statements from the Secretary?
MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that, but I’m so glad to know that – next time, let me know the day of, okay? So we can try to pull something together, not – since it was yesterday. Okay.
QUESTION: Does Secretary yoga practice here?
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) He rides horses. Okay. How are you doing? Good to see you.
QUESTION: Good, how are you?
MS NAUERT: Good.
QUESTION: The Taliban released what was reportedly a video of Kevin King, an American hostage in Afghanistan. I wanted to know if the State Department has authenticated that video, and an update on his – the attempts to secure his release.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So first of all, on that video – we are aware of that video. The video itself is not something that the State Department would look at to try to determine its accuracy or if that is, in fact, him – who they purport it to be. So that would be something that another agency would handle altogether, but we are aware of that. We are – the U.S. Government will be examining it and taking a look.
Anything else on Afghanistan?
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Afghanistan?
MS NAUERT: No? Not at all? Okay, okay. Let’s head over to that region. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Han Tae Song, North Korean ambassador to Geneva, Switzerland, and he talked to press day before yesterday, and he said that North Korea is always protecting all the detainees and that they treat well, include Warmbier, in line with the international standard. Any comment on this?
MS NAUERT: No, no.
QUESTION: Do you think they would treat Warmbier in North Korea --
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize that. I’m not going to characterize that. We are saddened and disappointed. Mr. Warmbier’s family is burying him today, so let’s keep the focus on the family if we can.
QUESTION: Kenneth Bae, he was released two years ago (inaudible) by North Korea. He mentioned yesterday to press, Warmbier possibility tortured by North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Was what?
QUESTION: Tortured by North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Oh, tortured. Okay.
QUESTION: Do you believe that?
MS NAUERT: I didn’t – I’m not aware of those statements, so I’m hearing them for the first time right now that that’s what he said, so okay. Anything else?
QUESTION: North Korea.
MS NAUERT: DPRK?
QUESTION: North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Hi. So there was an incident over the weekend between members of the North Korean delegation at the UN and security officials at JFK Airport. The LA Times is reporting that the diplomats had been in Arizona trying to buy some potentially banned technology-related items. So I guess the first question here is whether that’s your understanding of the situation, and then the second question would be: Had they been approved ahead of time to travel outside of the zone surrounding New York City?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, that I’m not aware of. I know that this is still – this is not going to be the answer that you want, but it’s still something that’s being investigated and looking into that. Homeland Security has the lead on that through Customs and Border Protection, so just have to refer you to them. But it’s something that’s being looked at.
QUESTION: Are you referring to the --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- first part of the question or the second part or both?
MS NAUERT: The whole thing.
MS NAUERT: That’s something at DHS. (Laughter.) It’s nice to be able to punt occasionally to another agency or department, so --
QUESTION: Can we ask on Yemen?
QUESTION: Heather, also --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Anything else on DPRK?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So as --
MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. As you were mentioning, funeral services for Mr. Warmbier took place this morning, and Deputy Secretary Sullivan and Ambassador Yun both attended. Did they pass along any messages of condolences from the Secretary? And could you share any sentiments on behalf of the State Department?
MS NAUERT: Could I what?
QUESTION: Could you share any sentiments on behalf of the State Department?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. We talked about this earlier this week. Our thoughts and prayers and our sympathy goes out to the family. I know there were a lot of people in this building who were elated to learn that Otto Warmbier was being brought home and then crestfallen to learn when he had passed away. So it’s really been a tough time for the people, I think, who have worked on this, but this is what those folks do. We continue to express our sympathies and our prayers to the family and I think that having the deputy secretary and Ambassador Yun attend the funeral shows how much they care about the situation. I know the Secretary was deeply saddened himself by what transpired and Otto Warmbier’s passing.
QUESTION: I have a North Korea --
MS NAUERT: Anything else on DPRK?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead, sir. Hi.
QUESTION: Thank you. First, I was wondering if you had a response to the – North Korea’s envoy to India who said that they would put a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests if the U.S. halted joint military drills with South Korea. Do you have a response to that?
MS NAUERT: So I don’t have a response to that, but the DPRK knows what they need to do in order to get the United States to work with them, and they know that has to be denuclearization. The Secretary has said he’s not going to negotiate his way back to the negotiating table, plain and simple.
QUESTION: And I have one more: Just following up from Nike’s question on Tuesday, is the State --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Sorry. I don’t recall what her question was on Tuesday.
QUESTION: Oh, that’s fine. (Laughter.) So is the State Department going to look into any of these companies that are bringing, say, American tourists over to North Korea? I know recently – the Young Pioneers recently changed their name, so I know that’s changing --
MS NAUERT: Interesting little tidbit. If you want to travel to Chernobyl, you can use that travel company or you could go to North Korea, which we do not encourage in any way. As you know, that is a very serious – a very serious matter.
QUESTION: Are you encouraging travel to Chernobyl, though?
MS NAUERT: No, no, no. (Laughter.) This travel company apparently – apparently provides tourists to Chernobyl as well. In any event – sorry, just joking there – but the safety and security is something that remains one of the very top issues for folks here. We have said again and again do not travel to North Korea. It is not – it is not safe for Americans to do so. We continue to say that. That hasn’t changed. The travel companies is something that we can certainly take a look at, but that – if they were to be sanctioned, that would be something that the Treasury Department would handle, and they may be looking at that, they may not. I just don’t know. You’d have to talk to Treasury about that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Anything else on DPRK?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Wasn’t it something that – his earlier question, apologies – the discussion of possibly stepping back on military exercises in South Korea, was that something that was discussed with the Chinese during the course of the last couple of days?
MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to get into the personal, private conversations that took place with that. The joint exercises take place all around the world. They’re in accordance with the law. That’s something that will – DOD would handle that, but that’s something that will continue and it’s something that I can’t – I can’t imagine that we would give up on something as important as that, those joint exercises.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more --
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: -- along those lines? Walking away from the discussion yesterday, was there a feeling that enough progress was made to – or was there significant progress made in a way that would change the timeline on third-country sanctions? Or is that – was there any – any movement in the Secretary’s position on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So as you know, we can’t talk about sanctions. That’s something we don’t typically ever talk about, so I’m going to not address that.
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Before they’re imposed. You talk about them ad nauseum afterwards, though, right? (Laughter.) Right?
MS NAUERT: We reference sanctions, certainly. Yeah, we certainly reference sanctions. The meeting yesterday was one in a series of four meetings – more will take place – to cover other issues related to the U.S.-China relationship. This was something that the President and President Xi had agreed to in Mar-a-Lago, I believe it was back in February, when they talked about that.
So, as you all know, diplomatic conversations and discussions take time. So we never anticipated, the Chinese never anticipated being able to handle everything all in one day, so this will be a work in progress and is just going to take some time to get some places. But we consider it to be – have been a constructive, results-oriented relationship that we have with them, and we look forward to continuing the conversation and try to advance cooperation that the United States has in areas of mutual benefit to try to narrow our differences with the Chinese.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on North Korea?
QUESTION: Can I follow up on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Sure. Hey.
QUESTION: There was – President Trump tweeted --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, on China?
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Oh. Just – okay.
QUESTION: President Trump tweeted essentially that China’s efforts with North Korea had failed. The suggestion from that tweet was sort of that the U.S. was moving on from these efforts, and that contradicted the message coming out of the briefing yesterday between Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis. Is there daylight between those two? Do Secretary Tillerson and Mattis still believe that China has a role to play in pressuring North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, they certainly have a role to play in – they’re a very large economic partner with North Korea, China is. We continue to look to China and ask China to do more to fully adhere to and administer, if you will, the sanctions in place against North Korea. We call on China – as we do many, many nations – to do more. The Secretary has a series of conversations with countries – and I’ve talked to you all a little bit about this – all around the globe where we’ve said to them, hey, look, we know you have business that’s being done with the DPRK. We know you have – the DPRK has businesses and entities in your country; reduce them, shrink them to try to prevent the DPRK from getting more money that goes into what we consider it to be, its illicit weapons program; what the world considers to be.
Anything else on DPRK? DPRK. Okay. Hi, sir. Go – who – miss, in the back.
QUESTION: Yesterday at the dialogue, the Chinese – after the dialogue yesterday, the Chinese said they called United States for an early resumption of talks on North Korea issue. Is that something you would consider now? And given Otto Warmbier’s death, would that actually draw the United States further away from talks with North Korea?
MS NAUERT: In order to have talks with North Korea, North Korea needs to take some serious steps, and they know that, and we’ve talked about that a lot. They have to begin the process of denuclearization, and our position on that has not changed one bit.
QUESTION: Just one more.
MS NAUERT: Next – new topic? Okay. Hi.
MS NAUERT: Hey there. How are you? In the back. Hi, Michele.
QUESTION: On Sudan, the administration has to make a decision in the next couple of weeks about what to do with sanctions, and I’m wondering (a) who’s running this review, since there’s no U.S. envoy on Sudan right now, and (b) if you’ve seen anything that Sudan has been doing in Darfur, in Blue Nile state, other – in the Nuba Mountains that – are they giving more humanitarian access? Are they abiding by ceasefires? Do you see any positive steps?
MS NAUERT: So I don’t want to get ahead of what will be announced, because that we just don’t know yet. We’re not sure what is going to happen with the sanctions. The State Department is monitoring whether or not Sudan has sustained positive actions that gave rise to the executive order that was put in place earlier this year. So the State Department will make the final determination, but I just can’t get ahead of what that is right now.
I can tell you one thing, and that is the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terror will remain.
Okay. Okay. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yemen – very quickly on – two quick questions on Yemen. First of all, about two weeks ago, the World Health Organization said that there has been at least 1,000 deaths in Yemen as a result of cholera. I wonder if you have any comment on that, or is the United States doing anything to alleviate the situation?
MS NAUERT: So we are very concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The recent resurgence of cholera has resulted in about 1,100 or so deaths since April 27th. There are an additional 170,000 estimated suspected cases. The United States Government has provided more than $276 million to date this fiscal year in order to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and in the region. The United States remains the largest donor to Yemen and we foresee that that will continue.
QUESTION: And another quick question on Yemen also. An ABC News international report says that in a secret prison, the United Arab Emirates tortures the --
QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.) That is not an ABC News report.
QUESTION: Not ABC --
MS NAUERT: That was an AP report, right?
QUESTION: Yes, it was.
QUESTION: No, that’s your report. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Not to take anything away from ABC.
QUESTION: No. Yeah, you’re right. Okay. I take it back.
But anyway – (laughter) – the UAE --
MS NAUERT: There might be a little battle going on here between --
QUESTION: Apologies, apologies. Okay.
Anyway – the – says that the United Arab Emirates tortures the prisoners while the United States interrogates them. Do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: I’ve seen the report. I’ve seen the article that came out. DOD would have to comment on that. That wouldn’t be an issue that the State Department would take over. Okay?
QUESTION: Really? Human rights?
MS NAUERT: That’s --
MS NAUERT: The accusation --
QUESTION: Well, the – no, but --
MS NAUERT: -- is something that DOD would handle.
QUESTION: I realize that they responded and they’re quoted in the story as saying that, but I mean, the State Department speaks out about torture and human rights and conditions in prisons all the time.
MS NAUERT: You are correct on that thought.
QUESTION: You’re talking about in terms of this --
MS NAUERT: This is an initial report or news stories. We haven’t been able to confirm anything at this point, to my knowledge, so that’s why DOD – I’d have to just refer you back there. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Heather, last week you were asked about jailed Turkish MP Enis Berberoglu, and you said that you are going to look into it, kind of a complex issue. Have you had the time to look at his jail decision, sentence?
MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to have a lot new for you on that because we’re still trying to gather information on that case of the jailed opposition politician. We’re concerned about the greater pattern of what we see as Turkish official actions that we believe appear to target people whose views differ from the views of certain members of the government. So that’s an area of concern, and that’s something that we just continue to talk to that government about. But when I get more for you, I will let you know.
QUESTION: Just follow up this subject, there are right now over 170 journalists jailed in Turkey, about a dozen – more than dozen MPs in the jail. Many media organization have been shut down, and Turkey still has been on the state of emergency almost a year. What’s your general view of Turkish democracy at this moment? Do you see Turkey still as a democratic country?
MS NAUERT: To your first point about the jailing of reporters, we continue to talk about this, and that is freedom of expression. We believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the media, even speech that some nations and some leaders find to be uncomfortable. So that’s something that the United States will continue to push for. We believe that that strengthens democracy and that that needs to be protected, whether it’s in Turkey or in other nations as well. And we continue just to urge the Turkish Government to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trials, a judicial independence, and other human rights and functional freedoms. So we continue to say that to them.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the arrest warrants that were issued for the Turkish security guards, whether or not any of them have presented themselves for prosecution in the United States?
MS NAUERT: Have any of them showed up in the United States? Not that I’m aware of.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, we just have time for a couple more questions. Hi, sir.
QUESTION: Yes, I’m Michael Ignatiou from Mega TV Greece.
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: The president of Turkey wants to turn the Saint Sophia Church in Istanbul to a mosque. Yesterday they hold Muslim prayers in the church, and some government officials attended these services. And I wanted to know the State Department position on this.
MS NAUERT: The site, Hagia Sophia, is a site of extraordinary significance, and we understand that and we respect that. So we call on the Turkish Government to preserve the Hagia Sophia in a way that respects its complex history.
QUESTION: So does that – does that mean you’re opposed to the idea of turning it into a mosque?
MS NAUERT: I’m not saying that at all. It’s a complex history, and we recognize that it is of great significance to other faiths, many faiths. And so we would just encourage the Turkish Government to do that, to preserve it.
Okay. Anything --
QUESTION: South Korea? One question on South Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else? We’ve got one more question.
QUESTION: Yeah, South Korea --
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Miss, I haven’t called on you yet. Yeah. Hi, go right ahead.
MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay. Tell me your name again – Jessica. Hi.
QUESTION: Yeah. My question was just, of course, President Moon Jae-in is coming to Washington at the end of next week, and he has been supportive of what this – my colleague up here was describing, which is the dual-track approach which China has proposed, giving up the military exercises in exchange for freezing the nuclear program in Pyongyang. Given that Moon Jae-in is now supporting a Chinese proposal, what kind of position does that put the U.S. in if it doesn’t, trying to find a solution that both the ROK, the DPRK, the Chinese, and the other parties in the Six-Party Talks can agree to?
MS NAUERT: Again, our position hasn’t changed. It hasn’t changed one bit. We want North Korea to denuclearize. And we’ve been very clear about that, and that position will not change. And the Secretary has talked about not negotiating his way back to the negotiating table, so we’ve been firm on that. And a new administration is coming in, and we look forward to having President Moon here in the United States, and --
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the agenda for the end of next week yet, or --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I don’t have a specific schedule yet as to what will be happening. I know we look forward to having him visit. We announced that visit, I believe it was a couple weeks ago or so. I can tell you that Secretary Tillerson had a phone call today with the South Korean foreign minister. They talked a little bit about President Moon’s visit and some other issues in the area, but --
QUESTION: So you do not agree with Moon’s statement?
MS NAUERT: Which Moon? Because then there’s another Moon in the news --
QUESTION: Yeah --
MS NAUERT: -- who’s been making some statements related to this.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) recently --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Yeah. Recently, Moon Chung-in, he’s the special advisor for the South Korean president --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- also for unification and national security affair. He is Moon Chung-in. He mentioned if North Korea freezed its nuclear program, South Korea will reduce the U.S. and South Korean military exercises and strategic --
MS NAUERT: So as far as I’m going to go with that answer is that the person, the advisor that you’re speaking of --
MS NAUERT: -- not to confuse matters, but his name is also Moon – he was speaking in a --
MS NAUERT: He was speaking in a personal capacity, and that is something that the Government of South Korea has said to us, that he was speaking in a personal capacity, and that that doesn’t reflect the overall government’s position. I imagine that these conversations will – types of conversations will continue when the President meets with him.
QUESTION: Heather, I’ve got two really --
QUESTION: Do you expect to have a readout of the phone call, Heather?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: -- really quick ones.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: One on Venezuela and then a housekeeping matter.
MS NAUERT: All right. Okay. Are you going to admonish me again, the housekeeping matter?
QUESTION: No. No, no, no, no.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: It has to do with a new regulation. I’m not going to admonish you.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Very much so.
QUESTION: Are you – in light of that, and in light of the fact that you were unable --
QUESTION: In light of the fact that you were unable to get the contact group or this group of friends proposal at the OAS General Assembly proposed, are you disappointed in the results of the conference, given the depth of your concern about the situation in Venezuela?
MS NAUERT: And we have continued to talk about how concerned we are about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and the freedoms that we see as being lost and taken away from the Venezuelan people. Our deputy secretary, as you know, was down there, at a part – as part of the meetings, representing the State Department there. The good news out of this, as we would see it, is that the majority of the countries involved in the OAS expressed their grave concern over the humanitarian situation and the entire situation in Venezuela. So those countries represent about 93 percent of the population in Latin America, so we’re all in agreement. That’s the good news on that.
There were some countries that would not agree --
MS NAUERT: -- with the position of the OAS. We remain committed to engaging with the OAS. We still see the OAS as being the best entity in which to work to encourage Venezuela to live up to what they’ve already committed to do, and that is hold free and fair elections – you know the whole drill --
QUESTION: But apart from --
MS NAUERT: -- release political prisoners and all that.
QUESTION: Apart from, though, Venezuela and its friends, its allies, who are going to vote with them or vote against this anyway, there were a number of Caribbean countries that abstained.
MS NAUERT: Correct.
QUESTION: Now – and my understanding is that you guys were under the impression that they weren’t going to abstain, that they were going to vote for, and – but in light of the fact that they did abstain and in light of the fact that the resolution failed, do you --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that we ever believed fully that the Caribbean nations that you’re referring to would get on board.
MS NAUERT: I mean, each nation’s going to decide what it believes is in its best interests.
QUESTION: Right. But there’s been some criticism leveled at the administration more broadly that you didn’t do enough diplomacy here.
MS NAUERT: Okay. That’s --
QUESTION: And I’m not suggesting that the Secretary not going was the reason for that, but you don’t have ambassadors in a lot of these places. There was --
MS NAUERT: We have been incredibly – and by the way, we still have – our embassy is still operating --
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: -- down there and our folks down there are hard at work. So this has been a major priority for this administration --
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well, then --
MS NAUERT: -- and I would argue the top issue in the Western Hemisphere. This is something that we talk about every single day, and our folks are tremendously engaged on this matter.
QUESTION: So then you don’t see it as a failure of U.S. diplomacy; you see it rather the failure of the resolution as --
MS NAUERT: Well, the United States – the United States --
QUESTION: -- you see it – the glass as half full.
MS NAUERT: -- is just one of the --
QUESTION: I understand, but --
MS NAUERT: -- one of the parties there.
QUESTION: -- you’re looking at the glass as half full, because you got a majority. But it’s also half – you can see that it’s also half empty because the resolution didn’t fail, right – I mean, didn’t pass. Is that correct?
MS NAUERT: We certainly wish that it had passed, yeah, without a doubt, because we would like to see the world – this part of the world come together to do more to encourage Venezuela and the Maduro government to do what it has already committed to doing. They are disappointing their own people and they are disappointing the world. And you’ve seen some of the pictures of children. You’ve had a one-year-old child weighing far, far less than he or she should. So it’s a shameful situation that’s taking place down there and we hope that the world will do more on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Now housekeeping, and it’s not an admonishment.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.
QUESTION: Last night, kind of late last night, the White House put out a revision to an executive order on visa – I don’t – and you can take this question if you don’t have an answer to it. But basically what it did was it removed from – it removed a requirement that had been put in place by the previous administration that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applications would – had to be interviewed for their visa within three weeks of them applying. And this revision that the White House put out last night removes that. And I’m just wondering what the impact of that is going to be. I mean, are we going to see people having months and months of delays before they can get their interviews or people who are never – the wait is indefinite and you can just sit on visa applications without ever having to schedule them for an interview?
MS NAUERT: So I’m – I’m looking at --
QUESTION: If you don’t have an answer --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I’m happy to take --
MS NAUERT: I do have an answer for you on this. I’m just going to try to – I’m trying to find it.
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) That’s --
QUESTION: I told you that’s the problem with that book.
MS NAUERT: That is the issue, yes, but every person at this podium has had a big book, so --
QUESTION: I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. If you want to – if you’re – if we want to save time, you want to get down, you can email it to us.
MS NAUERT: Got it.
QUESTION: If the answer --
MS NAUERT: Got it.
QUESTION: Could you email me (inaudible)?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hold on, I got it. I just found it. I found it.
QUESTION: Okay. But --
MS NAUERT: Ye have little faith, Matt Lee.
QUESTION: -- I have an additional question to that.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: I understand, for example, at the moment, in Moscow, the wait is 55 days, which is already obviously more than the three weeks. So is this --
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, but okay.
QUESTION: Is this – does the statement just clear up what was de facto already a long delay?
MS NAUERT: Part of what rescinding this executive order – we see it as allowing the department the additional flexibility that it needs to determine when longer processing times may be appropriate in order to accomplish the mission. And the – this can include allowing additional time for screening, the screening of people who are applying for visas to the United States. When our Consular Affairs officers meet with folks, national security is the top priority. We’ve never hesitated to take more time if that time is needed to fully vet our people who are applying for visas, and that’s not going to change because the top issue is making sure that the people who come into the United States are going to help keep America safe.
QUESTION: Well, I get that, but this is before the interview, so this is the period between the application and the interview. So if they’re identified for – I mean, it’s not after – it’s not – it’s not what happens or the timeline after the interview takes place. It’s the timeline – it’s the time between the application and the interview, so --
MS NAUERT: I’m just not going to have any more for you on that.
QUESTION: All right. Well, I’d like to – because the – one of the reasons that this was put in place, this requirement, was because of major issues with Brazil and China, two countries that I don’t believe have been – they’re not in the travel – or the executive order on the travel thing. But there were massive delays there for people and it was having a reciprocal effect on U.S. citizens applying for visas for those countries. So I’m just wondering if that – if you can – could you find out if this is going to affect or if you believe that there’s going to be an effect --
MS NAUERT: I’ll see what I --
QUESTION: -- a reciprocal effect on U.S. citizens?
MS NAUERT: I’ll see what I can find out for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay, folks? We got to wrap it up. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:40 p.m.)
DPB # 31