Department Press Briefing - July 27, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Hi. Hi, everybody. How are you?
QUESTION: In a supposedly good mood --
MS NAUERT: You may be wondering why you all have cookies today. And I can assure you if I were trying to bribe a bunch of journalists, I would bring booze and cigarettes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Money. Money is fine.
MS NAUERT: Or money. You all probably make enough money, though. So today is – for historians in the room, anyone know what today is?
In 1789, the first Congress established the Department of Foreign Affairs on this day. It succeeded the department that had existed under the Articles of Confederation. The name of the department was changed to the Department of State in September of that year, in recognition of the domestic duties assigned to the department which have been reallocated over the succeeding years. Our mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world, and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.
Two hundred and twenty-eight years the department remains strong and relevant and dedicated to U.S. national security, economic prosperity, and the safety and security of our citizens as it has ever been.
Earlier this year, the Secretary asked all employees of the department to share their opinions of the department and its activities with him. The report compiled from the listening tour survey showed that the department employees – more than 36,000 of them who responded – view their work as a calling, a duty, and an obligation to represent what is best about America to the world. Department employees experience their work with great pride, with honor, and a calling on behalf of our country.
I can tell you that that has been my experience as I’ve gotten to know my colleagues from every part of the building and the world over the last few months. I’m personally honored and humbled to have the opportunity to join them here every day and speak on their behalf at this podium.
So Happy 228th Birthday to the Department of State, and I hope you like the cookies.
Okay, now a little bit of news for you. The Secretary spoke with the foreign minister of the Republic of Korea, Foreign Minister Kang, earlier today to reaffirm the strength of the U.S. and ROK alliance. The Secretary told Foreign Minister Kang that the United States remains firmly and fully committed to the defense of the ROK and other allies in the region. The leaders agreed to continue our close coordination in response to North Korea’s destabilizing violations of UN Security Council resolutions and hold North Korea accountable for its unlawful actions. The two pledged to work closely together to strengthen U.S.-ROK cooperation, and they reaffirmed our joint commitment to a stable, peaceful, and denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Hey, Josh.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- with the Temple Mount. I wanted to get your take on the latest outbreak of violence and what you think might be behind that. And also, specifically on this decision to remove the cameras that had been put up, does the U.S. support that decision to take down those cameras as the Muslim worshipers had wanted?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, let me start out by mentioning to you that our special presidential envoy, Jason Greenblatt, still remains in the region. He is there today as he continues to conduct meetings with people from both sides on this issue. We continue to monitor that situation very closely. I’m going to again be cautious in what I say. Our firm position is that we don’t want to do or say anything that would escalate tensions in the region. We all know that it’s a fragile part of the world, and we want to be very careful and cautious about that.
Israel’s security is our top priority – among our top priorities. We would never pressure Israel, to get to your question, into making a security decision for political purposes. So the Trump administration has been and will remain engaged in that situation as Mr. Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, backed by our State Department folks, will remain involved. And we also recognize that it’s going to take some space and some time to get this to a better place.
QUESTION: So are you saying that they did make that decision for political purposes?
MS NAUERT: No, did not. We would not – we would not do that for – we would not get involved in a decision like that. It’s their decision. We recognize that the sides have to be willing to work together on this.
QUESTION: So how is that working out for you? I mean, for the last few weeks or so, the U.S. has really been trying to keep some distance from the situation, and it doesn’t seem like us giving them room to do that is leading to this resolving in any more effective of a way. Is there any consideration about the U.S. trying to --
MS NAUERT: I think we have all seen in this part of the world that there have been ebbs and flows, developments where there has been more tension and where there have been periods of less tension. So we’re taking the long view on this and recognizing that it’s going to take some time for both sides to be able to work together to start to rebuild trust in perhaps a smaller fashion, and then try to build upon that. And that’s what Mr. Greenblatt is there for, so that he could help facilitate that.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS NAUERT: Certainly. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. But you do adhere to your own principle that the status quo must be maintained. So you will push for that, without – without applying any political pressure.
MS NAUERT: We have not --
QUESTION: What position is that, the status quo must remain the same?
MS NAUERT: We have not changed our position on that.
MS NAUERT: And that the status quo must be maintained.
QUESTION: Now, a quick follow-up also on Mr. Greenblatt’s meeting. Now, today it is – the Israeli press is saying – or the 10th Channel on Israeli television – saying that Mr. Netanyahu informed Mr. Greenblatt that they want to keep all the settlements on the West Bank in exchange for the Wadi Ara. I don’t know if you know the area, but in exchange for Wadi Ara. Is that something that you can confirm or refute or deny?
MS NAUERT: I cannot. I have not spoken to Mr. Greenblatt. Again, he’s in the region. If I have anything for you from those meetings, I’ll certainly bring it to you if I can.
QUESTION: So your position remains on the settlements that these settlements are illegal and they should be taken down?
MS NAUERT: I think I’ve been clear about our position on settlements and the administration’s position on the settlements, so I don’t want to get into that all over again, okay? Okay.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the --
MS NAUERT: Hi, how are you?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, good to see you.
QUESTION: Fine, thanks. So to go back to the – to Aqsa Mosque, is the mediation to de-escalate limited between you as the State Department and the Israelis and the Palestinians, or is it expanding to other Arab countries like Jordan, for example, or Saudi Arabia? Has it been in contact with you trying to de-escalate the situation?
MS NAUERT: So I know that other nations have been in contact with us. I know we’ve spoken to some other countries. In terms of the specifics of those countries and the exact words that were exchanged in those calls and meetings, I can’t get into those specifically. But I know there have been a lot of countries that have expressed their concern, and we’ve expressed our concern as well.
QUESTION: Were there any specific demands, especially to remove these gates from the --
MS NAUERT: I just can’t get into that right now. Okay? Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the tactics that were employed by, I guess, the crowds in this particular incident? There have been a lot of – like hundreds of thousands of people have – hundreds and thousands of people have shown up to pray in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem using basically nonviolent tactics, and it seems to me like this may have been the first. And is this the first time that those kinds of tactics were effective in changing an Israeli policy?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure about that. That’s a good question. I’m going to, again, be cautious about this against – cautious about weighing really in on too much on that matter. We want to keep things as calm as possible.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the tactics in general, though?
MS NAUERT: I do not, no. Anything else on Israel right now?
QUESTION: But you’re not opposed to protesting and so on at --
MS NAUERT: Sorry?
QUESTION: You are not opposed to people protesting what they perceive to be a grievance, correct?
MS NAUERT: In terms of --
QUESTION: I mean, they have – people have a right to protest --
MS NAUERT: We --
QUESTION: -- any kind of grievance that is perceived.
MS NAUERT: As the American Government long recognizes the power of peaceful protest, and we would not back away from something like that. But again, I’m going to be cautious. Our priority is not escalating tensions. We want both sides to be able to work together, all parties to be able to work together on this and come to some sort of eventual agreement and some sort of peaceful situation.
Anything else on Israel?
MS NAUERT: No?
MS NAUERT: Okay, all right. Shall we go to North Korea? Okay. Hi, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. North Korea threatened to destroy United States with merciless missile strikes this morning. The comment come after CIA Director Michael Pompeo said Kim Jong-un needs to be separated from his weapons. What is your comment?
MS NAUERT: Well, that would combine two things that we wouldn’t comment on. And one would be threats, and the other would be potential intelligence. I’ll leave it at that. Okay?
QUESTION: So how did you respond to his threatening with that weapons, like their new ICBM missile test?
MS NAUERT: That’s an intelligence matter. If that were to be the case – and I’m just not going to get into that – but it’s, again, a hypothetical and a threat, and we just aren’t going to get into that.
Okay? Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: During – yes, thank you. So during the meeting this morning between Secretary Tillerson and his counterpart from Korea, was this addressed, the potential ICBM test, this afternoon? I mean it’s – the source – information saying that it could be done around 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Again, that would be an – and I know you all have a lot of questions about this type of thing. That would be a matter for – two issues – one, intelligence; and then that would be considered just a private diplomatic conversation, and some of those I’m not going to comment on. Okay?
QUESTION: Is it still the position --
MS NAUERT: Hi, Carol.
QUESTION: -- at least of the – hi. Is it still the position of the State Department that the United States does not seek regime change in North Korea?
MS NAUERT: The United States seeks – and this is the top thing that we look for there – a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. That is a priority that the United States shares not only with our regional partners such as the Republic of North – excuse me, the Republic of Korea in that phone call today, but also people from around the globe – other nations that understand the importance of trying to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and get North Korea to a place where we could potentially have some kind of a better situation with them.
QUESTION: What did he say about regime change?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on that, okay?
QUESTION: Has the geographical travel restriction gone to the Federal Register yet?
MS NAUERT: So, yeah, I know a lot of people are very curious about that. And that’s something we’ve given our guidance to the – to prepare for the Federal Register. That then goes to OMB. It’s a legal process. It takes a little bit of time to get from here to there and get all the paperwork and everything in order. So I don't have an exact date for you as to when that will be delivered. I know a lot of people were expecting that soon – today, in fact, some were. But I don't know that that’s going to happen today, but it will happen soon.
QUESTION: And can you give us any more details on the humanitarian or special purposes, other purposes, that Americans could use as a reason to travel there?
MS NAUERT: I know we touched on that a little bit. Again, this is still new. Some of this stuff is still being worked out. People have the ability to apply for waivers to be able to travel to North Korea once this new system or the travel restriction is put in place. That will – journalists can apply, for example; certain people under humanitarian – on humanitarian grounds can apply as well. Again, we don’t encourage you to go to North Korea. That is the reason that we have this travel ban that is going into effect. But we also recognize that journalists need to get the ground and need to be able to report the facts on the ground. But we certainly caution you. It’s not considered a safe country to go to.
Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: Staying in the region?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: So --
MS NAUERT: Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: There’s been media reports that State Department officials are removing the word “genocide” in documents --
MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you on that. I mean, ask me that later. Let’s stick on North Korea for now, and I’ll get back --
MS NAUERT: -- I’ll call on you again for that.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. So Japanese Defense Minister Inada announced her resignation earlier. And there’s been a U.S.-Japan 2+2 dialogues that has been expected to take place this summer or fall, a major topic of which is supposed to be North Korea. Are you concerned that her resignation is going to impact the timing of the dialogue or more generally discussions over North Korea with Japan?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Regarding that, as you know, we have a close relationship with Japan and we have talked about having meetings. And I just don’t have any meetings or any travel to read out for you at this time. When I do, I will let you know though. But I can’t see that our relationship with Japan would change based on the political change there.
Okay. Anything else on DPRK? Hi. How are you? Good to see you.
QUESTION: So on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton said the secondary sanction on Chinese company will be coming very soon. Are you still talking to China so they can avoid this announcement coming? Or are you going to announce anyway?
MS NAUERT: So we regularly have conversations with the Chinese and other countries about secondary sanctions. Susan has the ability to speak more to those things than I do. We don’t forecast sanctions, but we retain the right and the ability to impose sanctions, whether it’s secondary sanctions or primary sanctions. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on DPRK?
QUESTION: Just quickly out of curiosity --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- did they talk about the possibility of talks between North and South Korea on the call today? And if so, can you give a sense of what input the Secretary gave?
MS NAUERT: So in terms of the call today, what I provided you as the readout is what I can give you right now. My understanding is that when the Republic of North Korea said that it would be potentially willing to meet with the DPRK, my understanding is that the DPRK has not gotten back to South Korea at this point. But that question would have to be answered between those two nations.
QUESTION: Just a quick clarification on what you said.
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: You don’t forecast sanctions. Does that mean you don’t expect them or that you don’t expect them to be implemented?
MS NAUERT: Good – we don’t look ahead and predict sanctions, and we usually don’t talk about sanctions, if it’s something on the horizon or if it’s not something on the horizon. That’s what I mean.
QUESTION: So you just don’t talk about them?
MS NAUERT: That’s what I mean by that. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. There are some reports that Yemen is facing problems, the worst humanitarian disaster right at the present time, and it seems to be completely off your radar screen. What is your position on Yemen? What should be done? What are you doing in terms to end the violence in Yemen?
MS NAUERT: So, Said, you know that we have talked about Yemen. We’ve talked about food insecurity in African nations here in this briefing room and elsewhere. That is something that is a top priority for USAID. I’ve recently talked about the amount of money that the United States and its taxpayers have provided in humanitarian assistance to Yemen. So I would disagree with your characterization that it is off our radar. If more of you want to ask me about Yemen or any of the other countries affected by food insecurity, I’d be more than happy to answer those questions. I’m glad that you brought it to our attention today. So again, it is not off our radar, as you well know.
Since you asked, let me just give you a little bit of updated information on that matter. Yemen is facing the world’s largest cholera outbreak at this time. The recent resurgence of disease has now resulted in nearly 1,900 deaths since April 27th of this year alone – 409,000 suspected cases of cholera. The UN estimates that more than 75 percent of Yemen’s entire population is in need of aid. Children are also falling victim to the cholera. The rates of malnutrition in children under five are rising throughout that country; 1.8 million children are now experiencing acute malnutrition, 400,000 experience severe, acute malnutrition. That’s according to UNICEF.
The United States so far has provided more than $467 million to date this fiscal year to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and in the region. And if we have any updates on those numbers – I believe those numbers are the most up to date, but if any of our USAID folks write in and say that they have a more recent update, please do let me know during the briefing.
QUESTION: Are there any diplomatic efforts by the State Department, by Secretary Tillerson himself, to see that somehow the situation ends up – it’s not a political solution?
MS NAUERT: So Said, what I can tell you – without getting too much into some of the diplomatic conversations, I can say that I’ve been in the room with the Secretary when he’s spoken with other foreign ministers about the importance of that issue there. It’s something that he consistently raises with other foreign ministers around the world. Among the issues there – not just cholera, but also food insecurity. And part of the problem with that is not for any weather-related reason, but rather the military situation, the fighting on the ground there. And being able to get food and aid in and out of the port there has been a major issue. That’s something that the Secretary has talked about a lot.
Anything else related to Yemen?
QUESTION: Go to Iran?
QUESTION: So the Iranians say they launched a satellite into space on a rocket. Does the U.S. consider that long-range rocket to be essentially an ICBM that would violate UN resolutions prohibiting such activity by the Iranians?
MS NAUERT: So we would consider that a violation of UNSCR 2231. We would consider it that. We saw the reports that Iran launched a rocket into space early this morning Eastern Time. So we’re looking into the nature of those reports; some of the specifics I’m not going to be able to confirm or address with you here today. Perhaps in the future, but as of right now, this is still considered sort of a developing situation, but we consider that a violation of a UN Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: So it’s just about (inaudible)? So you consider what took place this morning a violation of that resolution, or if it turns out that it is what it’s purported to be, then it would be a violation?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Good point. We consider that to be continued ballistic missile development. We’re – also remain very concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism. We consider this to be a provocative action, and a provocative action that undermines the security, the prosperity of those in the region and around the world as well.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: On Russia?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Iran?
QUESTION: Just real quick on Iran. Is the administration entering a new phase on the JCPOA where it’s asking for stricter enforcement of the JCPOA? And in the larger context of the Iran review, is the administration taking action on – even though the review’s not completed yet, is the administration moving in a different direction than, let’s say, the previous administration?
MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to get ahead of the President and the overall review of that, so I’m going to be careful on that matter. Again, we believe that what happened overnight and in the early morning hours here in Washington is inconsistent with the Security Council resolutions.
You mentioned the JCPOA. Even though the JCPOA was put together to address nuclear issues, not necessarily ballistic missiles, we believe that what happened overnight and into the morning is in violation of the spirit of the JCPOA. So that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: But separately – separately from the launch, just in general with the JCPOA, is the U.S. looking for stronger enforcement of – within the current framework?
MS NAUERT: We have a lot of respect and regard for the IAEA, and the IAEA has done a terrific job of working toward inspections. And we value what they have done in that fashion. So we respect what they have; I’m just not going to forecast where we’re going from there. Okay.
QUESTION: No, but the suggestion from the White House is that more inspections are needed, so beyond, I guess, what is the amount of inspections that are taking place now.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. On that matter, I would just refer you to the White House on that. Okay? Anything else on Iran? Okay. Let’s --
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday the Secretary met with the foreign minister of Qatar, and was not much in the statement that we saw.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are we – is this any development in terms of mediation of ending this crisis? Is there any point of view that the Qataris has brought to you? And is any new contact with the other four countries?
MS NAUERT: Let me just mention, sometimes when we provide information on the meetings, there isn’t always a ton of detail in that, and that’s largely because these are private conversations and we don’t want to – we just don’t want to provide too much because they’re private, sensitive diplomatic conversations.
The Secretary met with the foreign minister yesterday. They talked a lot about the situation as it unfolds there. We believe now that the dispute is at a standstill. We’ve gone between periods where we have said that it is at an impasse at one point and then there was some movement; well, now it appears to be at a standstill. So that naturally concerns us. We are urging direct talks between all of the parties because we believe that in order for the situation to be resolved – and it does need to be resolved – but they have to sit down together and have some direct dialogue about it. We are willing to help as they have called upon us for our advice and counsel. We support the emir of Kuwait and his efforts at a mediation and resolution. We’re thankful to him for doing that and taking that on, and we’re just hoping that those countries will get together and start having conversations.
QUESTION: So in other words, are you frustrated by the lack of progress?
MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t use the word “frustrated.” We would like to see this come to a resolution. We believe that all of these nations working together are going to be a lot more effective at what is one of our top priorities, and that is defeating terrorism and defeating ISIS. So we hope that they’ll come together and work this out. It may take some time. We’re hopeful that they’ll eventually be able to get it done.
QUESTION: Is there a difference between a standstill and an impasse?
MS NAUERT: Well – (laughter) – a standstill and an impasse. I don’t know. Let’s look that up and see if the definition is actually different.
QUESTION: I guess what I’m saying is do you see this as at more of an intractable place than you did a few weeks ago when you said it was at an impasse.
MS NAUERT: I think a few weeks ago it was so incredibly tense – not to say that it is not tense right now, but I think the parties are getting – and we’re hoping – getting closer to working together on this. We asked them to do it. We hope that they will do it. A few weeks ago we didn’t have Kuwait involved in the mediation efforts. This is a – not a new development, but they’ve taken a strong role. The Secretary did his trips over there in his – the shuttle, which many of you were along for as well, so we’re hoping that they will get to a point of resolution on that.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. ready to play any role in those direct talks, Heather, like --
MS NAUERT: I haven’t asked the Secretary about that. I know that we have said to the parties we’re willing to help out in pretty much whatever way they might need, but it has to work for them, and the ultimate resolution has to be able to work for all of those parties.
Okay, anything else on Qatar?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, one more, please.
MS NAUERT: Yes, hi.
QUESTION: Do you urge – I mean, you urging both parties to have a private conversation, but based on what? Did you propose any framework for the – based on what?
MS NAUERT: There have been different ideas proposed, and I’m not going to outline what exactly those are.
MS NAUERT: No, no, no, no. I’m not saying that at all. In – since this first started six weeks ago or so, there have been different proposals that have gone back and forth. Where that exactly stands now, I’m just not going to characterize that.
Okay, anything else on Qatar?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Okay, go right ahead to your question, ma’am.
QUESTION: Someone --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, your name is?
QUESTION: I’m Penny Starr.
MS NAUERT: Hi Penny, how are you?
QUESTION: Hi, nice to meet you.
MS NAUERT: And you’re from?
MS NAUERT: Breitbart. Welcome.
QUESTION: Thanks. There’s been media reports that State Department officials are removing the word “genocide” from documents. There’s been – human rights activists have spoken out about it. Can you address that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can tell you I have seen an article that indicates that the United States has allegedly taken that word – the State Department, in fact, an article said, has taken that word “genocide” out of some documents, and I can tell you that that is categorically false. We have looked through documents ourselves. The word “genocide” is in fact in there. That has not been removed. When we look at Iraq and we look at what has happened to some of the Yezidis, some of the Christians, we – the Secretary believes and he firmly believes that that was genocide, okay, and I’m – that’s all I’m going to have to say about that, okay? I hope I’ve been clear.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah. Thank you so much.
MS NAUERT: Okay, thank you. Anything else on that matter? While we’re on it, anything else on Iraq?
QUESTION: I have something kind of related.
MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.
QUESTION: This is a birthday question.
MS NAUERT: How you doing? Oh, a birthday question, okay.
QUESTION: Some former diplomats are expressing concern about the possible impact on morale of budget cuts and some offices, such as the global war crimes office, reportedly slated for closing. Could you comment on that and what is the status of that?
MS NAUERT: So I do have some information for you on that, so let me go to this, okay? A lot of people have asked about what is going to happen with our reorganization. As you all know, that is still under review right now. It’s something that when our note went out to our employees – 75,000 or so employees – I think it’s 40-some percent participated in this, which is a really good figure for people to have participated. And you all work in the private sector; I’ve worked in the private sector. I have never once been asked to fill out a survey at any job that I have had where my company has asked how do you feel about this, how do you feel about your position, where do you think we could cut the fat. And so what the State Department did is really incredible. I mean, you’ve never heard of a government agency, I’m willing to bet, that has actually asked its employees how it feels about their mission, how it feels about their job, and where there might be waste, or where there might be positive areas. So first, I want to start out by saying this is a really incredible feat that we undertook and that our employees were involved with.
You ask about the Global Criminal Justice Office, and that office will remain – the functions of that office will remain here at the State Department. They continue to operate and handle issues related to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and as you brought up, Penny, genocide as well. So that function is not going away. I have a little more information for you on that if you’d like me to give it to you. We have a special coordinator, Todd Buchwald. His detail to the Global Criminal Justice one will soon come to an end, but it doesn’t mean that that won’t – that function won’t be carried on by somebody else. It will. The Department remains committed to working closely with other governments, international institutions, and nongovernmental organizations, including domestic and criminal prosecutions, on all of that. So it’s important to us. That is not going to change. Okay?
QUESTION: So his position will stay?
MS NAUERT: My understanding is that he will – he will no longer be a part of that, but the position will remain. Now, whether – and we talked about this the other day – whether the office remains or not – and guys, step in if I’m misspeaking or anything – but whether the actual office – I think that is all still under review, as are many of our envoys in some of those special offices. But those functions will still remain here at the State Department. That will not change.
QUESTION: But he – so when you said the envoys are under review, that – his envoy-ship would also be under review or could it be divided up into other areas? That’s what I’m asking.
MS NAUERT: Well, some of the envoys are congressionally mandated. Others have come in over the years.
QUESTION: That’s my – I mean, my question is: There will be another person appointed to his position is what you’re saying?
MS NAUERT: I am – I am not sure, and maybe we can check on this before we finish up because I want to get you the correct information on this. The function will still remain. Whether or not that actual title will remain, I’m not sure at this moment. If I can get you anything more on this before the end of our briefing or right after, I will let you know. Okay?
Anything else on this matter?
QUESTION: A related question?
QUESTION: Yeah, a related question.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Hey.
QUESTION: Last night, the White House announced the administration’s intent to nominate Governor Brownback as the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. But that comes, as you said, as a lot of these other positions are either vacant or filled by someone in an acting capacity, including really important policy ones, including the assistant secretaries of state, Diplomatic Security. Why fill that role and leave these other roles empty?
MS NAUERT: This is all a work in progress. So there are a lot of people who are in the pipeline for assistant secretary positions. That all takes some time. As you know, they have to go through the various security screenings and Office of Government Ethics and financial disclosure forms, all of that. And then it goes to Congress and the Senate deals with those actual appointments and the hearings and all that. That takes – that takes some time.
QUESTION: So was he named first months ago internally and that’s why his name has come out first?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure about that because the White House announced his name. I can tell you that I know we’re looking forward to having him on board. He will be involved with our Religious Freedom Report and that, we anticipate, will be coming out sometime soon. I don’t have an exact date for you at this point, but we’re looking forward to having him on board.
QUESTION: What would you say to critics saying – who say it shows a lack of urgency on these other issues, whether it’s policy on different bureaus or Diplomatic Security?
MS NAUERT: I’d say we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I mean, we have the ability to have somebody fulfilling the duties of that role while we work to get other people coming in in other roles. So it’s not mutually exclusive. Okay?
QUESTION: On that Religious Freedom Report --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I believe that was due to Congress several months ago.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you know what the reason for that delay is?
MS NAUERT: I do not. I do not. I can tell you that it’s an important matter to us. We recently had the trafficking report. My understanding is that sometimes these reports don’t get to Congress on the – on a certain date, that they sometimes take a little extra time with that. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Hey. I’m sorry, just one second.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify? Back to North Korea briefly, I was just thinking that since the Secretary had prior indicated that he was not seeking or not interested in regime change in North Korea, why no comment now?
MS NAUERT: If the Secretary had previously said that, I just didn’t have his words right in front of me. So if the Secretary has previously said that, I would just refer you to those statements.
QUESTION: Okay. So it doesn’t indicate a change in --
MS NAUERT: No, I just – I just don’t have his words right in front of me --
MS NAUERT: -- and so I don’t want to misstate something --
QUESTION: That’s okay.
MS NAUERT: -- or misquote the Secretary on that. I hope you understand.
QUESTION: Just making sure. And do you mind if we switch to Russia?
MS NAUERT: Sure. Hold on with – let’s go to Afghanistan first and then we’ll go to Russia.
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: Yeah, do you have – yeah, do you have anything on reports that the United States is considering efforts to capitalize minerals in Afghanistan and is sending envoys to meet with the mineral officials over there.
MS NAUERT: So I’ve seen the report that you are talking about, and as you know – we’ve talked about this before – the Afghan review process is still underway. So what exactly will take place in Afghanistan, the final decisions that will be made, I’m not going to get ahead of that. I’m not going to get ahead of the President. The President is still in consultations with the National Security Council as well as Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis. They’ll come to a conclusion about that, and when they do, I’ll bring you whatever I have on that, okay?
QUESTION: What is U.S. position regarding capitalizing Afghans’ natural resources?
MS NAUERT: Again, that is an issue – anything related to Afghanistan would be under review at this time, and so I’m just going to hold off until they come to a decision on that, okay?
MS NAUERT: Hi, Ilhan. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you. On Turkey, Heather, tomorrow there will be interim verdict – some kind of verdict for journalists who have been tried since Monday. These journalists from Cumhuriyet daily have been behind bars over nine months now and accused of different charges. Across the world, human right groups and press institutions have been condemning the indictment and what has been happening. I am wondering whether the U.S. Government is following the case and if – do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’ve got a bit for you on this here today. The United States remains seriously concerned about the widespread arrest and pretrial detention that’s taking place of individuals in Turkey who have been critical of that government. You mentioned the trial of 17 newspaper reporters. I know you are very familiar with this case, and many of us here have followed those cases as well. We continue to urge the Government of Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, other human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to also release the journalists and others who we believe are being held arbitrarily under the government’s state of emergency.
I spoke today with our ambassador, our Ambassador Bass, who serves in Turkey, and he’s done a wonderful, wonderful job over there. He tells me that our embassy personnel have joined colleagues from other missions to observe some of those trial proceedings. Ambassador Bass has previously visited the newspaper – I don’t want to mispronounce it – Cumhuriyet? Is that how I say --
QUESTION: Cumhuriyet. Yes.
MS NAUERT: Cumhuriyet. Thank you. He’s gone there, and that really shows our level of concern, the fact that he has gone there to express his support for journalists there, his support for our belief in freedom of expression, including freedom of expression that other governments and other individuals might find uncomfortable. So he continues to underscore our support for free, independent media, important work that they do in democratic societies. If I have anything more on you – on that for you, I will certainly bring it to you, but we are following the cases of those individuals.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Thank you. Okay. Anything else on Turkey?
QUESTION: Can I get a follow-up on that?
MS NAUERT: Yes. Hi.
MS NAUERT: Tell me your name, please.
QUESTION: Cansu Camlibel from Hurriyet in Turkey.
MS NAUERT: Oh, welcome.
MS NAUERT: Thanks.
QUESTION: So on the same case, you said Ambassador Bass went to the newspaper headquarters before, and some personnel from the embassy, I understand, followed the court case this week.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: I remember last year in a similar court case, some other diplomats, European diplomats, because they’d been to the courtroom, were personally attacked by the Turkish president. So since you said that you had a conversation with Ambassador Bass, does he have concerns that he might be subject to that kind of reaction from the Turkish Government because he – because of the U.S. mission’s close interest in the matter?
MS NAUERT: I can certainly check with him. I’m not sure I would have anything for you on that. It’s kind of a hypothetical question, and so we typically don’t get into hypotheticals. But I know that he remains committed to the ideals of freedom of speech and also democracy.
Okay. I think we’re about done.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Let me ask about Syria.
MS NAUERT: Okay. You want to ask about Syria? Okay.
QUESTION: Could you update us on the situation --
MS NAUERT: Last thing and then we’ve got to go.
QUESTION: -- on Syria? I know there has been a statement by your allies, the Democratic Syria forces, that they have liberated half of Raqqa so far. Could you update us? What is the situation and how are you coordinating with the Russians on the ground?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So some of that would be a DOD matter, so I’m not going to get too much into how much ground has been taken. We know overall that the progress continues in Raqqa by the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the U.S. and its coalition partners in that. That is an area where we know that ISIS has been heavily dug in. For folks who don’t follow this that closely, that is basically one of the areas where – well, it’s not basically; it is an area where ISIS had planned some of its plots – Nice, for example; Brussels. So ISIS was dug in there. They used that location in which to come up with those plots and activate those plots from that area.
So our coalition allies have been hard at work in trying to get ISIS out of there, contain it. They have left a lot of explosive material behind. One of our missions will certainly have to be to work with our partners to de-mine some of those areas and get those explosives out so that eventually some of the civilians can come back in. Beyond that, I’d have to refer you to DOD.
QUESTION: If the – this disarming or taking out these explosives required more American technical teams and so on, would the U.S. be willing to send in more teams?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure exactly who is on the ground doing that. I know that that is part of our humanitarian support for that area so that people can get back in.
Okay, guys, we’re going to have to --
QUESTION: Can you just speak quickly to --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.
MS NAUERT: So the cases that you’re referring to – and I know Michele has asked some questions about this regarding Mexico and concerns about tainted alcohol – we’ve put an update on our website about that because we have seen the media reports and concerns that people have about tainted alcohol at some resorts and clubs and things of that sort in Mexico.
So the United States wouldn’t be involved in an investigation. That would be an internal matter for the Government of Mexico. They have a regulatory body that, from my understanding, that they are involved in in looking into some of this.
QUESTION: Can you say whether you – the U.S. Government consulted the Mexican Government before it changed the language, or is it just because of the media reports?
MS NAUERT: Well, this is because of – because of media reports, that is in part how we learned about it. I know it remains something that we’re watching carefully, but I’m just not going to get ahead of anything on that.
QUESTION: So you can’t --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: The U.S. Government hasn’t verified any of the reports? It’s just the fact that they’re out there?
MS NAUERT: We have simply – one of the things we do is we will update our website just so visitors have information that they need just so they can be aware. This isn’t an increase in any kind of travel warnings, because you know that’s actually a technical thing, a travel warning. We’re not increasing that level as a result of this, but we want people to be able to have information that this is an issue. We’re aware of that through the media reports. It is an issue, so we just want our citizens and others to be aware of that and be careful.
Okay? All right.
QUESTION: Just one more on the region, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Oh yeah, I’m so glad you asked. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just Secretary watching – the United States earlier and the Trump Administration earlier had warned against holding that vote. Before that occurs on Sunday, is there any change in position?
MS NAUERT: In terms of --
QUESTION: From the – from the U.S. or otherwise.
MS NAUERT: No, not at all. I mean, in fact, we had a really big news day yesterday, as you know, about the Treasury Department and sanctioning 13 Venezuelan individuals directly implicated in the political, economic, and also the social crises that are currently unfolding in Venezuela.
We are prepared to continue taking strong and swift economic actions if the Government of Venezuela insists on holding those July 30th constituent assembly elections. It’s an area of major concern of ours. We have asked them not to do it. They have a constitution that is in place. The United States has consistently asked the Government of Venezuela to uphold its constitution and not hold the constituent elections, because we see these constituent elections as just a way to further the Maduro regime, and we’ve seen what has happened to the people of Venezuela. We have seen food shortages. We’ve seen children and families not being able to get the medical care and attention that they need. And we’re very concerned about the situation there. Venezuela crumbles and we don’t – is crumbling right now, and we don’t want to see that happening.
Okay. Nikki Haley has also spoken out about this, as you all are very well aware, and one of the things that she has said and Secretary Tillerson has said as well, that we’ll keep our promise to the people of Venezuela, sanctions on individuals who are associated with corruption and violence against the Venezuelan people.
Okay, all right. Gotta go.
MS NAUERT: We’re – I’m done with Russia. We’re done with that for today. Thank you, everybody, and Happy Birthday to State Department.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:33 p.m.)
DPB # 40
 Republic of Korea