Department Press Briefing - July 20, 2017

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 20, 2017



TRANSCRIPT:

2:20 p.m. EDT

MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS NAUERT: Good to see you all today.

QUESTION: Is it?

MS NAUERT: It is. It’s always good to see you. I do enjoy this.

QUESTION: Let’s see how long that lasts.

MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) All right. Ask me in a few weeks.

QUESTION: How about a couple minutes?

MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Hey, now. Okay. I got a couple things I want to start out with today, and – one second. You know what I don’t have? I don’t have our news on our top thing we’re talking about.

QUESTION: No topper?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have a topper. Give me just a second, everybody. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: Show tunes?

MS NAUERT: You don’t want to hear me sing and dance. How’s everybody? Good? Good. Sorry about this.

QUESTION: Can you do the second thing first?

MS NAUERT: What’s the second thing first? Questions?

QUESTION: I don’t know.

MS NAUERT: We don’t have any guests today. I have that to announce. Hey, I mean you, but you’re our regulars. You’re our peeps. Thank you so much. Sorry about that. Okay. Ah, Ukraine.

So I have one announcement at the top, and you’ve probably followed some of the news coming out of Ukraine recently. The United States says it wants to condemn the latest violence in eastern Ukraine. The last 24 hours were considered the deadliest one-day period in 2017. In this time period, eight Ukrainian soldiers have now been killed, including five deaths in an attack which appears to have been initiated by Russian-led forces. We call again on Russia and the forces that it arms, trains, and leads in the east to immediately observe the ceasefire. To comply with the Minsk agreements, those forces must withdraw all heavy weapons, disengage from the line of contact, and allow full, safe, and unfettered access to the OSCE monitors to the international border.

I also want to take the opportunity to mark a sad anniversary. One year ago today, Ukrayinska Pravda journalist Pavel Sheremet – pardon me – was killed in a car bombing in Kyiv. Regrettably, no one has been accountable for his murder. We want to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends and urge the Government of Ukraine to use all available resources to bring those responsible to justice. The United States commends the efforts of the courageous journalists like him who expose corruption and promote a free and open exchange of ideas. We underscore the importance of protecting journalists and ensuring that the perpetrators of this murder face justice.

And I’ll start with your questions. I know we have a lot today.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Matt, where would you like to begin?

QUESTION: Well, let’s stay with Ukraine.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: I find it a little interesting that you chose to top with that given other events of the day. So just to get the legal stuff out of the way first, the Secretary, when he became Secretary, pledged to recuse himself from any kind of – anything having to do with Exxon --

MS NAUERT: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- and the government. I presume that is the case with Treasury and the OFAC announcement today? He had nothing --

MS NAUERT: That is correct.

QUESTION: -- nothing to do with --

MS NAUERT: The State Department was not involved with the announcement --

QUESTION: At all?

MS NAUERT: -- from Treasury, correct.

QUESTION: So not anyone – not even anyone lower was --

MS NAUERT: That --

QUESTION: -- consulted or was involved in this decision?

MS NAUERT: No. This was a – this was simply a Treasury action.

QUESTION: Do you – well, does he – what does he think about this?

MS NAUERT: The Secretary – we’re not going to have any comments today for you on some of the alleged facts or the facts underlying the enforcement action. Treasury is going to have to answer a lot of these questions for you. I’m not going to have a lot for you on this today. The Treasury Department was involved in this. They were the ones who spearheaded this. And so for a lot of your questions, I’m going to have to refer you to Treasury.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, this is a question specifically related to him.

MS NAUERT: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: And you’re going to refer me to Treasury?

MS NAUERT: Well, Treasury has a lot of the details, but beyond this --

QUESTION: Well, I want to know what he thinks.

MS NAUERT: Yes. I’m not going to comment on that at this time. The Secretary recused himself from his dealings with ExxonMobil at the time that he became Secretary of State. This all predates his time here at the Department of State, and so --

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS NAUERT: -- I’m going to refrain from giving any comment on that at this time.

QUESTION: I understand this predates his time as Secretary of State, but now he is in a position in which he is part of a team that is supposed to enforce sanctions, not violate them or allow others to violate them. So I think it’s relevant to know what he thinks about this decision today.

MS NAUERT: I think I will say this: The Secretary continues to abide by his ethical commitments, including that recusal from Exxon-related activities. The action was taken by the Department of State – excuse me, the Department of the Treasury, and State was not involved in this.

QUESTION: Right. Well, Exxon seems to – well, not seems to; Exxon says in its statement that it thinks that it’s being treated unfairly by OFAC and that it was led to believe that there was a difference between dealing with Mr. Sechin in a professional rather than a personal manner – in other words, that dealing with him professionally was okay; dealing with him personally was not. Does the – clearly --

MS NAUERT: You mentioned OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

QUESTION: Clearly – clearly the Secretary --

MS NAUERT: That is under Treasury, so I can’t comment on anything from that.

QUESTION: Clearly the Secretary, who was the CEO of Exxon at the time, would have known that, and in fact, OFAC in its ruling says that Exxon’s senior-most executives knew of Sechin’s status as an SDN when they did – went ahead and did these deals anyway. So that suggests – or it doesn’t suggest, it says that Exxon didn’t think – Exxon knew he was a sanctioned person, but didn’t think that what it was doing was a violation. Does the Secretary still think that?

MS NAUERT: Matt, I hear your question. I’m not going to have any comment on the specifics that have come out of Treasury at this point. Exxon could perhaps best answer some of those questions, and Treasury can answer them as well.

QUESTION: Your – okay. Your opening statement about the Ukraine and the deteriorating situation there --

MS NAUERT: Correct.

QUESTION: -- the OFAC announcement says that ExxonMobil caused significant harm to the Ukraine-related sanctions program objectives by engaging in this by signing not one, two, three, four, but eight different contracts – or its subsidiary did. Is the Secretary committed to the sanctions program --

MS NAUERT: I think --

QUESTION: -- and the objectives of the sanctions programs?

MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary has been very clear not only about his support for the Government of Ukraine, the support for the president, Mr. Poroshenko. I think that’s incredibly evident by the fact that he just recently traveled over there. The Secretary had appointed Ambassador Kurt Volker to be a special envoy to handle Minsk and to handle the situation in eastern Ukraine. That’s something that’s extremely important to this building, the Secretary, Ambassador Volker as well --

QUESTION: Right.

MS NAUERT: -- and the overall administration.

QUESTION: But if --

MS NAUERT: So I think our support of the Ukrainian Government is clear. We had a good series of meetings as the President Poroshenko was here in Washington not that long ago, and had a really good series of meetings when they were in Kyiv.

QUESTION: Right. And all of what you just said is true, which makes it all the more surprising that something like this would happen. I mean, did he not support the objectives of the U.S. Government when he was the chairman --

MS NAUERT: Again --

QUESTION: -- of Exxon?

MS NAUERT: I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: And can you assure us that he does now?

MS NAUERT: I can’t speak to that in particular. I can tell you, additional questions you can speak with ExxonMobil; they would best address them. The Secretary has recused himself. He’s living up to his ethical commitments that he agreed to when he took this position as Secretary of State. I know some of these answers may not be satisfying to you, but that’s what I can give you right now.

QUESTION: And does – can you tell us if the Secretary believes in the objectives of the Ukraine-related sanctions programs?

MS NAUERT: I know that we have remained very concerned about maintaining sanctions. That will continue. We’ve been clear that sanctions will continue until Russia does what Russia needs to do.

QUESTION: Right, he said that.

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: But I want to make – but he said that while he was in Ukraine. It was a very powerful statement.

MS NAUERT: We have – we have no --

QUESTION: Which is why something like this is all the more surprising.

MS NAUERT: We have no change in policy.

QUESTION: So you can assure us that he remains committed to the objectives of the sanctions program?

MS NAUERT: Pertaining to Ukraine.

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MS NAUERT: Yes, that is correct.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MS NAUERT: That is correct.

QUESTION: Heather, (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Just to follow up --

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on, let – hold on, hold on. Let’s continue on this issue, if anybody has any questions, and we’ll move on to something else. Carol.

QUESTION: For the record, will he come down and talk with us --

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m sorry, who --

QUESTION: -- talk about this? Just for the record, will he come down and talk about this to us himself?

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m here to speak on his behalf and on behalf of the building. There’s not a whole lot that we can say about this right now. Again, you can talk to Treasury or to Exxon about this. Okay.

QUESTION: Heather, did --

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: In his confirmation hearing, under questioning, he was asked what he would do in situations where – I believe it was referring to an Iran deal that had been signed between an Exxon subsidiary. But he was asked what he would do in a situation like that as Secretary of State, and he said, “I would certainly be open to having the folks at the State Department contact companies and inquire as to whether they’re aware of the actions that they’re taking in the State Department’s view.” So has he, as Secretary of State, been in touch with Exxon to caution them about their actions?

MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been – not to my knowledge. I can tell you this, that he has been extremely clear in his recusal of anything having to do with Exxon. When this information come to us here at the State Department, it did not come to the Secretary himself. It came to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. The Secretary has taken this very seriously, that Exxon-related activities are not something that he is involved with here as Secretary of State.

QUESTION: So is the deputy secretary involved in some way? Is he communicating with Exxon, or does he plan to?

MS NAUERT: He – I don’t know if he’s communicating with Exxon. I just know that we were informed of that decision. I believe it came from the Treasury Department.

Okay?

QUESTION: Was the Secretary aware that this guy was on the sanctions list and that he was signing it --

MS NAUERT: Carol, I can’t answer that question for you right now. Okay.

QUESTION: Regarding the violence --

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: -- is there – are there any new proposals before the, I guess the State Department and the White to provide more lethal aid to Ukraine? And does this violence that happened, is that more under consideration now because of what’s been happening there?

MS NAUERT: I can’t answer that for you at this point. I know that violence was concerning enough that it was brought to everyone’s attention here. We had conversations about that. That’s why I wanted to alert you all to it and underscore the importance and the level of concern that we have regarding that. Ambassador Kurt Volker will remain very engaged in the activities, trying to push both parties and also other countries who are involved in working on the Minsk accords to try to get Russia to fulfill what we’ve asked them to fulfill.

Okay? Is that it?

QUESTION: Yeah, but the violence has turned more lethal --

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

QUESTION: Just given that the Secretary and Exxon violated these sanctions, is there any consideration that he would recuse himself --

MS NAUERT: I think that’s an unfair way of phrasing it. You say that he did that. This involves the company, and that’s why the company will have to speak to that, not --

QUESTION: And the senior-most executives in that company.

MS NAUERT: We don’t know who was involved in that. At least I don’t know who was involved in that at the time. Again, I’m not going to have a lot of information for you. Exxon could best answer that or Treasury Department.

QUESTION: Hold up.

QUESTION: But – go ahead.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, I was just going to say just last week the Secretary, speaking to reporters who were lucky enough to be on his plane with him, said that his life as Secretary is a lot different than being CEO of Exxon because, quote, “I was the ultimate decision maker.” It seems to me that if the company was aware that this guy, Mr. Sechin, was an SDN and decided to go ahead with the deals anyway because it thought that dealing with him professionally as opposed to personally was okay, that that would go to the ultimate decision maker of the company.

MS NAUERT: Matt, I think that’s a hypothetical, a hypothetical type question. You are assuming that he was involved with that decision making. I don’t know if that was the case or not.

QUESTION: Well, either he was the ultimate decision maker at Exxon or he wasn’t.

MS NAUERT: If one says that one is the ultimate decision maker, that would be like me saying that in my household. I’m the ultimate decision maker, implying that other people --

QUESTION: I have no doubt that you are. (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: Implying that other people in my family don’t make decisions as well. You know that that is the case, that people share in things, so --

QUESTION: Right. But one thing that --

QUESTION: I mean, in that interview --

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the idea was that the buck stops with him.

MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to split hairs or parse words with what he said in that. I mean, it’s obviously different being the CEO of a company than being the Secretary of State, and I’m just going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, he’s basically saying there that the buck stops with him, and now you’re sort of saying that, okay, well, this is not an issue --

MS NAUERT: I’m just saying I don’t have a whole lot for you on this. Treasury and Exxon can best answer your questions about it. Okay?

QUESTION: Have you asked him for his personal thoughts on this, and he has said that he doesn’t want to say anything?

MS NAUERT: We have had these conversations, and it’s been made very clear that this is something best for Exxon to handle. So I’m just going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: But as it relates to his current role as Secretary of State and his commitment to the sanctions program, the objectives of the sanctions programs, could someone please ask or have him come down here and tell us whether or not he’s completely committed to them?

MS NAUERT: I think his visits and his meetings with President Poroshenko – he made those commitments extremely clear. The fact that one of the very first envoys that he appointed or asked to take on this role, I think it’s notable that it was over the issue of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Right. Which is why, again, I’ve got to say it’s so surprising that he, as CEO of Exxon, would have countenanced or would have not been involved in a decision that – to go ahead and do this kind of business, given the damage that Treasury says it costs – caused to the sanctions regime objectives.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: That’s --

MS NAUERT: Perhaps Treasury can do – I want to finish Conor’s question. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: No, no. That’s okay. The first one just – is there any thought for the Secretary to recuse himself from any decision involving sanctions then?

MS NAUERT: Sanctions in general?

QUESTION: With these Ukraine sanctions in particular, given that there was a violation.

MS NAUERT: Oh. The sanctions are in place. We are not backing away from those sanctions. And subsequent conversations that may come down the pike, I’m not going to get ahead of what those might be. Okay?

QUESTION: So he’ll be involved in them.

MS NAUERT: I don’t know. We haven’t had that conversation just yet. Our focus today has been on the news that has come out of this. I’ll keep you posted if I have anything for you on this, okay?

QUESTION: You said the Russian-led separatists in Ukraine.

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: So does that imply that there are Russian military advisors who are actually leading these forces and particularly on the battlefield?

MS NAUERT: It does. It does. We’ve talked about this, and I underscored this a few weeks back, that we believe that they are so-called separatists. They’re not genuine separatists who are out there fighting on their own regard and their own behalf. These are Russian-led and Russian-backed. Okay?

QUESTION: So – but just to clarify that Russian military advisors --

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Is it the Russian military who are leading the --

MS NAUERT: Russian-led --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Russian-advised.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, hi, hi.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS NAUERT: Okay. And we’re going to – and then we’re going to move on. Michele, I’ll take your last question.

QUESTION: I understand that the technical side of this is with Treasury and you’re referring all of that to them. But as spokesperson for the State Department, can you say why the American public should trust that the Secretary is committed to these sanctions on Russia, when the company he led obviously did not take them seriously?

MS NAUERT: Michele, I wouldn’t go that far. This is early on in this process. We were just alerted to this yesterday. So this is all new. It’s developing right now. Treasury will have more for you, and perhaps Exxon as well. And I’m just going to --

QUESTION: Well, it’s not early on in the – the process is over, isn’t it?

MS NAUERT: Well, we’re just all learning about it. We’re all just learning about this.

QUESTION: But then his company, the company he led, violated the sanctions scheme. So how can the American people trust that he is committed to continuing with this --

MS NAUERT: I think he was very clear with President Poroshenko. The United States, this administration, the President, have all been very clear about our support for the Ukrainian Government, for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. And I’m going to leave it at that. Okay?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Let’s move on. Said, hi. How are you?

QUESTION: Thank you. I appreciate it. Can we go to the situation in Jerusalem?

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: Because it seems that the Israelis are deploying maybe thousands of troops for tomorrow, tomorrow’s prayer. And there are maybe hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are marching on to Jerusalem, because despite your best efforts, it seems that the Israelis are sticking to their decisions to have these metal detectors and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Are you in conversation with the Israeli Government on this issue?

MS NAUERT: First, let me say we all know that this is an extremely sensitive matter. This is something we are watching very closely here, so I’m going to be very cautious and careful in my words, because we don’t want to do anything that would potentially escalate tensions. We support the status quo and we welcome all sides continuing their commitment to maintaining the status quo. On this matter, I’m not going to have a lot for you. We have been clear and we’ve – about our encouragement of all sides to take measures to not escalate the situation there.

QUESTION: But the status quo does not include metal detectors. So you are opposed to the installation of metal detectors and having worshipers go through these metal detectors?

MS NAUERT: What – as far as I’m going to go on this is to say we support the – excuse me – we support the maintenance of the status quo.

QUESTION: Okay. Just one last question. Are you in any conversation with the Jordanians, with the Israelis, on this issue to sort of mitigate the tensions and so on, urging the Israelis perhaps not to deploy such a huge force, military force?

MS NAUERT: We are encouraging both sides to not take any actions that would potentially escalate tensions. And let me just leave it at that. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I just ask though --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is there no answer to the question of whether or not the status quo is currently being maintained?

MS NAUERT: We --

QUESTION: Or whether it – the status quo has somehow shifted over the course of the last week?

QUESTION: (Sneeze.)

MS NAUERT: Bless you. We talked about this the other day. The status quo is --

QUESTION: Yeah. You didn’t answer it then.

MS NAUERT: No. No, no. Look, this is a tense situation.

QUESTION: I understand.

MS NAUERT: We recognize that, and we don’t want to do anything that would potentially escalate tensions.

QUESTION: Right. But one way --

MS NAUERT: We continue to speak with the governments in the region to try to encourage a peace process. That peace process is supported by this State Department, also Mr. Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, and we’d just encourage both sides to maintain the status quo.

QUESTION: Right, I – I get that, but one of the ways to keep tensions from rising is to call out one side or the other if and when they do something that changes the status quo that you want to preserve so badly. So the question is: Does the introduction of these metal detectors for Muslim worshipers change the status quo in some way? Would you like to see the Israelis remove them or – not – unplug them or something, or --

MS NAUERT: We would like to see – and let me just be clear on this once again – we would like to see both parties take measures to not escalate the situation there, and I’m just going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: So you can’t give any example of what measure that might be?

MS NAUERT: I’m going to leave it at that, okay? Thanks. Hey, Barbara. How are you?

QUESTION: Can I go to Syria?

MS NAUERT: Certainly.

QUESTION: So just a question about the decision to drop support for the rebels. Why is that decision being made now given that there’s no political settlement or the political process is continuing? Because that seems – the U.S. is giving up at least the tiny bit of leverage that it might have had.

MS NAUERT: So – hold on. The premise of your question is in the affirmative, as though that is being done, okay? I get what you’re trying to do here. Okay, let me just say this is an intelligence matter. I’d have to refer you to the intelligence committee on that. I don’t have any information on I think one of the stories that you’re asking me about.

QUESTION: You can’t say anything about it?

MS NAUERT: It’s an intelligence matter.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment --

QUESTION: Does – but given that the Secretary said again during his trip that the – Assad has to go, would he support something like this?

MS NAUERT: I think we have been very clear in this building that we do not see a long-term future for Bashar al-Assad or his family to legitimately lead that country. Okay?

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the killing of 28 Syrian soldiers today, ambushed by I think elements of Jabhat al-Nusrah? Would you consider that to be an act of terrorism or genocide?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that. I’m sorry.

Okay. Hey, John.

QUESTION: Just related to Barbara’s question --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the President as a candidate said multiple times that we don’t know who the rebels are and we shouldn’t be supporting them. So is – what she’s referring to, is that reflective of his position and him following through on his promises on the campaign trail?

MS NAUERT: I think what you’d have to do is speak to the White House on that. I think they have a briefing going on right about now.

QUESTION: Okay, but in terms of a future and U.S. policy towards Syria, is supplying arms to the rebels part of that solution that the State Department and the --

MS NAUERT: Let’s not forget why the United States is in Syria. The United States is in Syria to defeat ISIS, and we remain committed to that. We do not think – separate from that, we do not think that Bashar al-Assad has a long-term future in that country. Okay?

Okay, anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: Syria.

QUESTION: Korea.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

QUESTION: Can you just clarify, then, which of these moderate rebel groups the U.S. continues to support, if you’re saying that you can’t confirm the CIA story and --

MS NAUERT: Well, of course I can’t confirm an intelligence matter story, okay, so perhaps --

QUESTION: Of course, but can you confirm to them – those fighters on the ground that the U.S. has been working with – that we – which ones you are still behind?

MS NAUERT: I think this would – I mean, it’s no secret that we support – the United States Government does – and back, along with the coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces. Beyond that, I’m going to have to refer you to the Department of Defense. They can best answer the questions about which various groups they might be working with.

QUESTION: And just to follow up on the ceasefire in southwest Syria, there are reports that there are Russian forces on the ground there now. Can you confirm that there are Russian forces --

MS NAUERT: I have not seen that report. Without having seen that report, I don’t want to comment on it, okay?

QUESTION: And so there’s no one actually monitoring yet? You have no update for us?

MS NAUERT: I cannot say that no one is monitoring it. We have lots of sources that can keep an eye on situations, and I’m just going to leave it at that, okay?

QUESTION: Do you know, on the ceasefire, whether or not the Secretary or deputy or – and someone – any people have talked to the Israelis in – since Sunday, maybe it was, I think, that they --

MS NAUERT: Well – yeah, I know the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

QUESTION: But since then, you --

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if he’s had any calls with him at this point --

QUESTION: Different subject?

MS NAUERT: -- since that. Okay. Okay, hold on. Are we done with Syria?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Syria-related.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Okay. Hi, Janne.

QUESTION: North Korea --

MS NAUERT: Yeah, thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather.

MS NAUERT: I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. On the list --

MS NAUERT: You said North Korea, right?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: But we’re still on Syria.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday, State Department released on the list of the terrorism countries. Why did the list exclude the North Korea from sponsor of terrorism?

MS NAUERT: The question is why is North Korea not on the --

QUESTION: Not on the list, yeah.

MS NAUERT: -- state sponsor of terror?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: And thank you to any of you who joined our call yesterday on that matter. So as I understand it, as a matter of law, for any country to be designated as a state sponsor of terror, the Secretary of State has to determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. The designations are made after careful review of all available evidence to determine if a country meets the statutory criteria for that designation, so that was the assessment.

QUESTION: But Heather, do you know that Kim Jong-un killed his brother? Is not this terrorism?

MS NAUERT: We – that was --

QUESTION: That’s an excellent question.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Why isn’t assassination terrorism?

QUESTION: Yes, that’s an issue.

MS NAUERT: Let me look into that to see if we have an official position on that, and I’ll get back with you, okay?

QUESTION: All right.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. How are you?

QUESTION: Hi, yeah. Yeah, just staying with Korea, yesterday the South Korean Government said that it will designate a national day to commemorate the victims of Japanese sexual slavery. Can you comment on that plan? And also, do you have any updates on either U.S. or UN sanctions against North Korea?

MS NAUERT: So I’ve – as – folks who are here a lot know that I’m not going to preview any potential upcoming sanctions. I know the United Nations and the UN, the Security Council, that is something that people are discussing up there. So I’m just going to hold off on commenting on that. In terms of your other question, I was not aware of the fact that they were talking about making a – tell me – explain that again. It was an international --

QUESTION: A national day commemorating the victims of sexual slavery.

MS NAUERT: And that is something that we, by and large, condemn. We’ve talked – I mean, we very clearly condemn that, and we’ve talked about that matter before. It’s an area of major concern of ours, and I’ll just – I’ll leave at that. I know it’s a very sensitive issue for the matter.

QUESTION: Heather?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up, again, North Korea.

MS NAUERT: Sorry?

QUESTION: Do you have any information on North Korea preparing to another ICBM test?

MS NAUERT: So I’ve seen that report, and I’m just not going to comment on that at this time, okay?

QUESTION: Did you --

MS NAUERT: That’s an intelligence matter and an area of concern would be an intelligence leak.

QUESTION: Well, we have to know that.

MS NAUERT: Well, and – well, hold on a second. There are people who work for the government who take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. When that is done – I did it myself – I stand in front of an American flag, you put your hand up, and you take that oath to protect the Constitution. Leaking classified intelligence information harms our national security and harms our Constitution. And let me leave that at that.

QUESTION: Egypt?

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Hold on. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

MS NAUERT: Yeah?

QUESTION: How does – there – what about authorized leaks of classified information? There are times when this administration, previous administrations, have authorized officials to – or to give information that otherwise would be classified --

MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not familiar with the release of – an authorized release of intelligence information at this point that’s classified, okay?

QUESTION: You’re not, ever?

QUESTION: Egypt?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of anything, okay? Thanks.

QUESTION: Hold on.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Just one question about --

MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead. We’ll stay in Asia.

QUESTION: So on the U.S.-Japan-Korea trilateral policy planning dialogue yesterday, can you give us any readout? And also, was the proposal for North-South Korea talks discussed then?

MS NAUERT: And what was the second part of the question?

QUESTION: Was the proposal for inner-Korean talks discussed as a part of that trilateral?

MS NAUERT: So we don’t have a fulsome readout of that meeting, but I know that Brian Hook, our head of policy planning, was in that meeting – that trilateral meeting that took place here yesterday. The issue of North Korea certainly did come up – concerns about all working together to work to the eventual goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and that was one of the topics of conversation, along with South China Sea and other matters.

QUESTION: Egypt.

MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Go right ahead, sir.

QUESTION: So when we asked about the South and North Korean talks on Tuesday, we were referred to talk to the South Korean Government. And now it’s arguable that the talks are even going to happen, but I’m just wondering why the reluctance to comment on that.

MS NAUERT: Well, we would never comment on another country’s correspondence or meetings. If South Korea and North Korea want to sit down and meet, they will work out those meeting arrangements together. We wouldn’t be involved in that process; therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the State Department to speak about meetings that could potentially happen between two nations. Does that --

QUESTION: You consider that a domestic issue, then?

MS NAUERT: That – we don’t, by and large, comment on conversations that take place between two separate nations. You could ask me a lot – about a lot of regions of the world, and I would give you that very same answer.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay. Hi. (Inaudible), how are you? Nice to see you.

QUESTION: Hi. Heather, are you at all watching the recent developments in Poland around or surrounding judiciary? And if so, what is your comment?

MS NAUERT: Give me just a second here. The – we have followed that issue very closely about what’s happening with the parliament there, and let me try to find my information here today. Give me just a second. Tricky book sometimes.

QUESTION: Under P.

MS NAUERT: No, it’s not under P. Not every country has its own tab, which I’m sure will cause a lot of questions.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Don’t blame me for that. (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to blame you for it whatsoever. Could somebody help me find this?

STAFF: EUR 1.

MS NAUERT: And where is EUR 1? Here we go. Very sorry. Yes, okay.

So the question was about the Polish parliament. They recently passed a law that fundamentally changed the way that the supreme court justices are appointed. As you know, the President and the Secretary of State not long ago – or rather, the President – was in Poland. One of the things that is important to us is our relationship with the people of Poland. Poland is a fellow democracy and a close ally of the United States. We care deeply about that nation and the people there. We are concerned about Polish Government’s continued pursuit of legislation that appears to limit the judiciary and potentially weaken the rule of law in Poland. So we continue to watch that situation very carefully. We continue to have conversations at the highest level with the Government of Poland and express our concerns about that.

QUESTION: Will you be asking the president of Poland to veto the bill?

MS NAUERT: I am not aware if we will ask him to do that. But I can’t get too much into what some of the private diplomatic conversations are, so let me just leave it as we are concerned about that legislation.

QUESTION: But you are in touch with the Polish authorities, right?

MS NAUERT: We have good relationships with the Poles. I know we have been in close contact with them over a lot of issues, and I imagine this would certainly be one of them.

QUESTION: Egypt, please.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Egypt.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Hi. Hi.

QUESTION: Can you talk to us a little bit --

MS NAUERT: Miss, hi. What’s your name?

QUESTION: I’m Rana and I’m with Al-Hurra TV. I’m subbing for Michel. You probably know Michel, but yeah.

MS NAUERT: Nice to meet you. Welcome.

QUESTION: Nice to meet you. So I am – I want to ask about the Travel Warning that you issued about traveling to Egypt, basically. Do you have more to say about that, and did you get any info about the dissatisfaction of the Egyptian Government regarding this decision?

MS NAUERT: Let me see what I have. Let me get back to you on that, okay?

QUESTION: Not now?

MS NAUERT: Not now. I’m sorry. Let me get back to you. Okay.

QUESTION: Did you --

QUESTION: There is more in Egypt.

QUESTION: Do you have anything – did you get any call from the Egyptian Government today regarding this decision? Because that’s what the government is saying, that they contacted the State Department.

MS NAUERT: I see. Not that I’m aware of. I can look into that and get back to you. Okay, okay.

QUESTION: Did you share the information with the Egyptian authorities?

MS NAUERT: Again, I’m not aware of any calls that have taken place with the Egyptian Government. I’ll look into both of – both of those items for you, okay? Thank you.

Hi. How are you?

QUESTION: I have few India and related questions.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: There was election of a new Indian president. Do you have anything on that?

MS NAUERT: Yes. We were very pleased to see and want to welcome him on his election to the presidency – or the president-elect, now that he is. Your election was just today, right?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS NAUERT: Were you able to get in and vote?

QUESTION: It’s not for us. It’s for the member of parliament and assemblymen to vote for that. It’s indirect elections for the president, not a direct election.

MS NAUERT: Oh, it’s an indirect, okay. Pardon me. So we want to congratulate the President-elect Ram Nath Kovind – I hope I’m saying that correctly – on his victory in India’s presidential elections that was held today. The United States and India have a deep and growing strategic partnership. We look forward to working with the president-elect on regional and global issues. That partnership is obviously underpinned by our very close people-to-people contact with the Indian Government and our shared democratic values.

We got to go, gang. Thanks.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I want to ask you on China – India-China border standoff. It has been more than a month now. Media reports say that Chinese foreign ministry briefed diplomats in Beijing. Was the U.S. briefed on this issue by the Beijing?

MS NAUERT: We – this is something we’ve been following. We spoke to this – I believe it was on Tuesday this week. This is a situation that we are following closely and carefully. I’d have to refer you to the governments of India and China for more information on that. See, there we go. I’m not --

QUESTION: I have one more on China.

MS NAUERT: They’re talking those issues. They’re going to talk to one another. We would encourage them to direct – engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tensions.

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: Have you spoken to Indians and Chinese on this?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if we have or not. Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Guys, we got to go. We --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Why do you have to go?

QUESTION: One more on China, on the --

MS NAUERT: We have to go today.

QUESTION: I need to ask you about two of your NATO allies, Turkey and Germany, who are at each other’s throats. Do you have any concerns about that?

MS NAUERT: I – Matt, I’m going to have to get back to you on that, okay?

QUESTION: Just one more on China – U.S.-China --

MS NAUERT: Sorry. I’m sorry, guys. We got to go.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:54 p.m.)