Department Press Briefing - August 15, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: We’ve had a busy day here today at the State Department, starting with the Secretary announcing the International Religious Freedom Report and the rollout of that today. Earlier today, the Secretary released the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom that provides an overview of the status of religious freedom today in nearly 199 countries and territories. In his remarks, Secretary Tillerson affirmed that religious freedom is a foreign policy priority in this administration. As the Secretary said today, “No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination, because of his or her religious beliefs.”
The Secretary also called out the egregious examples of those who deny individuals their fundamental freedom to exercise or practice their religion or belief. In particular, he called out the crimes of ISIS for what those crimes are – genocide. There can be no doubt about that. ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled.
The protection of these groups and others subject to violent extremism is a human rights priority in the Trump administration. Thanks to the hard work of the men and women at the State Department and the administration’s commitment to the issue, there is no nation as dedicated or as effective at advancing religious freedom as the United States. The 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom can be found on our website, and that is a big part of our effort.
Secondly, I’d like to take the opportunity to welcome two new colleagues here at the State Department this week. First, Nathan Sales has started his work as the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism. We had a nice chat yesterday, so welcome to him. Before he joined us, Mr. Sales was an associate professor at Syracuse University College of Law. That is where he wrote in the fields of national security and counterterrorism. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, and as senior counsel at the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. Welcome, Nathan Sales.
Also, Carl Risch started this week as the assistant secretary for Consular Affairs. Carl has been serving as acting chief of staff in the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. He was previously the field office director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the American Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. He’s also a former Foreign Service officer, so we are thrilled to have him back here at the State Department. Welcome.
With that, I will take your questions. Matt, would you like to start?
QUESTION: Thank you, yes. We may get back to the Religious Freedom Report --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- which is really important, but I wanted to start with North Korea, which seems – the Secretary upstairs, when asked about the latest, said he didn’t have any comment on the pronouncement from Pyongyang on the Guam tests or plans for the Guam tests. But – and he said that you continue to be open to having a dialogue. Is it still the position of the administration that the North Koreans have to do something other than just say “we want to talk” before you’ll sit down with them?
MS NAUERT: I think so. I mean, the Secretary, I think, was pretty clear about that today. Just a couple days ago he spoke about this as well. He said, look, we’ll talk, but they have to take some serious steps. Susan Thornton, our acting assistant secretary for East Asia Pacific, who’s been very engaged with the Secretary on this issue, has said the same thing. Look, we’re willing to sit down and talk with them, but it appears that that’s not – that’s not going to happen imminently. They have to take some serious steps before we get there.
QUESTION: All right. Well, does not doing something count as a step? (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: I think they would have to be a little bit more clear.
QUESTION: So --
MS NAUERT: And again, when Kim Jong-un talked about Guam, that, again, is a hypothetical of sorts.
MS NAUERT: So they would have to do a lot more.
QUESTION: Well, okay. So just to be clear, not launching ballistic missiles towards Guam is not enough for you guys to talk with them?
MS NAUERT: I feel like that’s sort of a question that my child might propose. (Laughter.) If my child were to say, “Hey, Mom, if I don’t steal this cookie, will you then give me television?”
MS NAUERT: No. The answer’s no on that one. I think we can all relate to that.
QUESTION: Are you suggesting, then, that Kim Jong-un is a child?
MS NAUERT: No. I am not suggesting – I am not suggesting that. I’m just suggesting it’s such an extreme hypothetical to reward someone for not doing something.
QUESTION: Well, right.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But it’s – oh, okay. So what, in other words, then, do they – must they do affirmatively or positively --
MS NAUERT: And I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole. I mean, the Secretary has been clear about we will see it – they know what they need to do to get us to come to the negotiating table. We are willing to have talks about this. This is obviously a very serious matter – cookies and children aside, a serious matter. They know what they need to do, and the Secretary has said we’re not going to negotiate our way back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Okay. So just to put the finest point on it possible, you’re not going to go and sit down with them then unless they take steps that they know that they have to do? That’s – just them saying we’re open or we’re not – we’re going to hold off on sending missiles towards Guam is not going to get you interested in having a dialogue; that is correct?
MS NAUERT: I think they would have to do quite a bit more.
QUESTION: All right, thanks.
MS NAUERT: Hi. Dave, hey.
QUESTION: Hi. If they know what they have to do, what’s the problem in us knowing what they have to do?
MS NAUERT: Some of these would involve private diplomatic conversations that we have with our friends in the region. I think the main point here is that the U.S., along with our partners and allies – we’re all on the same page. We’re talking with a whole lot of countries about this pressure campaign, and nothing has changed.
QUESTION: So if they know what they have to do and our allies in South Korea and Japan know what they have to do, it’s only the U.S. people and our readers who don’t know what they have to do?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, Kim Jong-un, we would like to have talks with him when the time is right, when they show that they are serious, serious about an effort to move toward denuclearization. We have not seen that yet. Remember – and let me go back to this again – two nuclear tests last year, two anti – ICBM tests in a month alone. We have not seen that they’ve been serious at this point.
QUESTION: So --
MS NAUERT: Hi, Said.
QUESTION: If they – hi. If they say that we will no longer launch missiles over Guam or into that area into the Pacific, that would not be enough? I just want to understand you correctly.
MS NAUERT: I think I answered that question. Again, this can get into --
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MS NAUERT: -- extreme hypothetical situation, and I don’t want to get into that.
QUESTION: Because they said that --
MS NAUERT: I understand.
QUESTION: They were very specific. They said, we’re going to launch a missile on that region or in that area. So if they say we will no longer do that, that is not --
MS NAUERT: And I think we’re not going to respond to every single threat and every single hypothetical.
QUESTION: So with everybody assuming that North Korea has nuclear weapons, and some say in fact put a figure on it, like 50 or 56 or something – so do they have to say okay, this is what we have, we want to denuclearize it, before you could talk with them?
MS NAUERT: They would have to show some serious steps and some serious indications that they would be willing to sit down for talks. Okay? All right.
QUESTION: One on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: Nice see. Kim Jong-un’s bad behavior has been going on for a long time, so what United waiting for? Why didn’t do anything act to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry? Why what?
QUESTION: Why didn’t do military actions immediately when they threating U.S. and our --
MS NAUERT: Why didn’t we undertake military actions to do so? Well, we believe that diplomacy deserves a chance. This is still a new administration, six – actually eight months now into this administration. The Secretary, Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, penned a joint editorial that ran in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal in which they talked about that, that they’re on the same page, believe firmly that diplomacy can solve this; however, we’re prepared, as we are in every situation around the globe, to switch to another plan if that is absolutely necessary. That’s a DOD issue so I’m going to stay away from that, but we believe that diplomacy is the solution here.
QUESTION: Yeah, one more on South Korea. Yesterday, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said that remark that no one can military action on the Korean Peninsula without the South Korean Government permissions. What is U.S. position on this statement?
MS NAUERT: We have a good relationship, as you know, with the Republic of Korea. We have constant, ongoing conversations with that government. What you propose there is another hypothetical situation which I’m not going to get into, but we continue to have conversations with the Republic of Korea on a near-constant basis.
QUESTION: What if North Korean Kim Jong-un sudden attack South Korea? Can the United States engage in this military action?
MS NAUERT: As you know, South Korea is an ally of ours; and as we do with our allies and friends, we pledge to protect them as well. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: But then, that’s a hypothetical. I don’t want to get into that beyond what I’ve said. Okay, anything else on DPRK?
QUESTION: On China?
MS NAUERT: Okay, hi. Hold on one sec.
QUESTION: Right. In the – in your assessment, does the United States see a gradual change of China’s attitude toward North Korea? Do you think they see it, North Korea, more of a liability than asset?
MS NAUERT: I think – and we saw this about a week – pardon me, a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, when China voted in support of the UN Security Council resolution. We were really pleased to see them take that step. The Secretary and others have had frequent conversations with the Chinese. As you know, President Trump spoke with President Xi over the weekend, and they talked about our mutual agreement that DPRK is up to no good, and that is a security risk, not for the region but the world.
So we are asking them to do more, as we have. They’re North Korea’s primary trading partner. We believe that they have unique leverage to put pressure on North Korea. And they’ve committed to us that they’re going to follow through with those UN Security Council resolutions and making sure that those are adhered to from their endpoint. And so we look forward to having them hold up their part of the bargain. Okay.
QUESTION: So do you see their action in the United Nations Security Council as an indication of their gradually, slowly change of action?
MS NAUERT: I think it’s trending in the right direction. It’s trending in the right direction. And then President Trump and President Xi had a nice conversation over the weekend, discussing that very thing as well.
QUESTION: And then finally, you just mentioned there’s a lot more North Korea can do to resume the talk. Just for a good sound bite, could you – what else – what allowed work they should do and then not to do?
MS NAUERT: Well, North Korea would have to take some very serious steps and show us that they are serious about its interest and intent in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. They would have to do a lot more of that. Secretary Tillerson has talked about that extensively. He’s also said: I’m not going to negotiate my way back to the negotiating table, and North Korea knows exactly what it needs to do. Let’s get serious about it.
QUESTION: It’s not really a hypothetical. What do your agreements with South Korea say? Do you have to get their permission to launch any sort of strike?
MS NAUERT: Some of those things are diplomatic conversations and some of those would involve the Department of Defense, so I just don’t want to get into that. Okay.
QUESTION: But I mean if he says you can’t without his permission, you’re not going to respond to it?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into that. Okay? I’m not a part of that conversation that the U.S. military may be having with South Korea on that part. But they are a valuable ally of ours, as you well know, and we defend our allies.
QUESTION: Press very --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- very confuse about President Moon remark yesterday, because U.S. and South Korea is alliance. But he not want to be war in Korean Peninsula, but however U.S. supposedly involved with war when the North Korean Kim Jong-un attack the South Korea. But why he discourage it, but --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. I didn’t understand the last part.
QUESTION: President Moon doesn’t want a war in the Korean Peninsula, but --
MS NAUERT: Well, no one does.
QUESTION: Nobody want it --
MS NAUERT: No one does. We don’t want that.
MS NAUERT: President Moon doesn’t want that. Japan doesn’t want that.
QUESTION: Exactly, but --
MS NAUERT: No one wants that. And that is why we are so, pushing hard on this diplomacy campaign. I mean, the number one thing you hear me talk about here, the number one thing you hear Secretary Tillerson talk about, is goals and efforts to try to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, getting Kim Jong-un to give up those illegal weapons, getting him to stop with his destabilizing activities. It’s a priority, obviously, at the United Nations and the UN Security Council, where they had the unanimous vote on that matter. It’s a top issue for our friends and allies and partners around the world.
QUESTION: But this is not at all between U.S. and North Korea problem. This is – the actually problem is that the South Korea, in fact. But Moon thought this is your guys’ problem. That’s not – how did you think about – this --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Is this our problem?
QUESTION: I mean --
MS NAUERT: I’m not understanding the question.
QUESTION: -- between the U.S. and North Korea problem. Do you think this is between the U.S. and North Korea problem?
MS NAUERT: Is this issue between the United States and North Korea? No. This is between North Korea – this is between North Korea and the world. It is not the United States standing here alone expressing concern about the activities of Kim Jong-un’s regime.
And by the way, it’s a good opportunity to remind people what it’s like for North Koreans to live under that regime. Okay. That is not a free and fair country. It is not a country where people have ample food, opportunity. It’s not a country where people can come and go as they please. It’s a country where they’re starving their own people; they’re engaged in forced abortions. Pardon me for talking about that, but that is a very grim reality there, where people are living in labor camps, it’s under horrific situations.
This is not between the United States and North Korea. It is the world looking at North Korea and condemning North Korea and that Kim Jong-un – this is not about the population there, the regular folks. This is about what Kim Jong-un is doing not only to the world but to his own people.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Anything else on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: There are reports suggesting the rocket engines powering the recent successful ICBM tests in North Korea came from a state-owned Ukrainian factory. Is the State Department aware of that – or those reports? And do you have any comment on it?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. We’re certainly aware of those reports that have come out. That’s an issue that we would take very seriously, if that were to be the case. One of the things I do want to mention about this is that no single country has done more to curtail these ambitions of North Korea than the United States. There have been a lot of UN Security Council resolutions, and they obligate all nations, including Ukraine, to prevent transfers of sensitive technology to the DPRK.
In the past, I know that Ukraine has prevented the shipments of some sensitive materials to nations that we would be certainly very concerned about. We have a good, solid relationship with Ukraine. As you know, President Poroshenko was over here a couple months ago, meeting with the President, also meeting with Secretary Tillerson. As a general matter, we don’t comment on intelligence reports. Ukraine, though, we have to say has a very strong nonproliferation record and that includes specifically with respect to the DPRK. Okay.
QUESTION: Just directly a follow-up on that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Ukraine today have confirmed that the rockets did come from the factory, but they say they were made before --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Who confirmed this?
QUESTION: The Ukrainian Government confirmed it did come from their factory, but before 2001, when they were part of the Soviet Union. And they said those rocket motors were transferred to what is now Russian control. Do you have any --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have any information about that particular report. I’m not aware of what you said the Ukrainian Government has just said. If I have anything on that for you, I’ll get it to you, but I’m not familiar with that.
Okay. Anything else on this?
QUESTION: North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s stick with North Korea, clean out North Korea, and then we’ll go somewhere else.
QUESTION: We just --
MS NAUERT: Meaning, let’s finish that topic before we move on to something else. Okay. I just want to be clear.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) We just talked about --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Go – hi.
QUESTION: -- China’s support for the latest UN resolution. China has supported past UN sanctions resolutions on North Korea, but the actual enforcement of those sanctions has been wanting. How much time would the U.S. sort of allow to pass before you kind of reassess whether China is actually serious about this resolution this time, and before you may start to consider secondary sanctions on Chinese companies, which I think Secretary Tillerson has hinted at, Susan Thornton hinted at as well?
MS NAUERT: Secondary sanctions have been put in place against some Chinese companies, as you’re well aware, and I believe individuals as well. This is going to be an ongoing conversation. It took many, many years to get to this very concerning point with North Korea. It’s going to take some time to try to resolve this as well. We’ll continue the conversations with China.
Let me read you a little bit about one of the things that Secretary Tillerson said in some meetings in Manila just about a week ago. He said – he talked about China and Russia being helpful on the issue of North Korea. He said, “I know that they are having talks as well with representatives from North Korea. I think that is evidence that they have a very good, open channels of communication to be able to talk with the regime of North Korea, and we hope that they will be encouraging them to stand down their program and abide by UN Security Council resolutions, which both China and Russia have voted for in the past. So I’m hopeful that they will use their influence – and they think they do have influence with the regime – to bring them to the point of dialogue, but with the right expectation of what that dialogue would include.”
So again, these are ongoing conversations, and I don’t want to put a timeline on it. But we’re having a lot of those conversations.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Stay on North Korea.
QUESTION: Could I move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS NAUERT: DPRK.
QUESTION: One more on North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hey.
QUESTION: When North Korea spoke yesterday of watching U.S. behavior, they appeared to point specifically to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Is there any consideration of making changes of U.S. behavior in that manner?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I think what you’re talking about is some sort of a double freeze, as we look at it here. There is no equivalency between what the DPRK has been engaged in – the ICBM missile tests in July, the two of those, the nuclear testing. Compare that to the legal activity that the U.S. and South Korea is engaged with in terms of its military – joint military exercises. Those joint military exercises have taken place for a very long time. They’re carried out in the spirit of the October 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty. They’re carefully monitored by the international community to ensure full compliance with the armistice agreements. So that so-called double freeze, that’s not going to change. We’re allowed to do it. We’re allowed to do it with our ally, South Korea. We will continue to do that and that’s just not going to change.
QUESTION: Well, just because you’re allowed to do it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do in a period of very heightened --
MS NAUERT: There – but there’s – people are --
QUESTION: I understand your --
MS NAUERT: There’s no moral equivalency whatsoever --
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting – I’m not --
MS NAUERT: -- in the U.S. and South Korea doing joint military exercises.
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that there is.
MS NAUERT: We do these things all around the world – joint military exercises.
QUESTION: Yeah. But I’m not suggesting that there is any equivalence at all, but it gets back to the earlier question, not doing something – in this case, on your side, you don’t think it’s this – you look at it the same way as --
MS NAUERT: These have taken place --
QUESTION: -- the North Koreans not doing --
MS NAUERT: These have taken place since 1953 --
MS NAUERT: -- or thereabouts. It is an agreement that we have with the Republic of Korea. We remain open to dialogue with the North Koreans, as you well know. We are willing --
QUESTION: But not on this.
MS NAUERT: No. Not on this. Thank you. Thank you for asking that for clarification – on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But this – there’s no moral equivalency between our interactions with South Korea and what the DPRK has done. And the international world – the world recognizes what DPRK is doing is unstable, it’s unsafe, and it’s flat-out wrong. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Are we done with DPRK? I think we should move on. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me come back to you because we already got a question. Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: Hi, good.
MS NAUERT: Hold on, you’ve got – well, let me go to somebody else, Said.
QUESTION: I did --
MS NAUERT: I don’t want to read about this online. You already asked one question. Okay. (Laughter.) Hold on. Okay. I’m teasing you. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: So North Korea has said that now is not the time to discuss American detainees. Do you have a response to this? And also, do you have an update on their situation?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we have three Americans who are being held by the DPRK. I know that our Ambassador Yun – Ambassador Joe Yun, when he was there a month or two ago, was able to take a look and meet with our Americans who are being held there. We remain very concerned about their status, about their care. This is another reminder to Americans to not go to the DPRK. It is not safe there, including things that may be considered legal here would not necessarily be considered legal there. So let me just use it as a reminder to please avoid going to North Korea until we get that so-called travel ban in place. When I have updates for you on those Americans who are being held, I’ll be sure to bring them to you, because that is something that we would certainly like to see, our Americans come home.
QUESTION: And then in that Wall Street Journal op-ed that you mentioned that was penned by Secretary Tillerson --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and Mattis, they said that an indication of good faith would be an immediate cessation of provocatory threats and also a halting of nuclear and missile tests. But what about the returning of American detainees?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think I’m just going to leave it at that – at the point. Okay? Okay. All right. Let’s move on from DPRK.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Laurie.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: On Sunday, Iran’s parliament passed legislation to increase spending on its ballistic missile program and on the IRGC, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. And today, the Iranian president said Iran’s nuclear program could be restarted within hours and it would be more sophisticated than before if there are more sanctions. What’s your response to all that?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to respond to that threat or that hypothetical from President Rouhani. The Trump administration remains committed to countering a full range of threats that Iran poses, not just to the region but also to the world, including its ballistic missile development.
QUESTION: But they said they’re going to spend more money on its ballistic missile program.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have the intelligence on that, so I’m just not going to comment on that, but that would be a concern of ours.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The administration has – members of the administration from the President on down have said that they believe that Iran is not – violating – is in violation of the JCPOA in spirit.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, the spirit of the JCPOA, yeah.
QUESTION: Have you – do you still – does the administration still believe that they are adhering to the letter of the JCPOA?
MS NAUERT: There’s a full Iran review policy that is still underway, so I don’t want to get ahead of what that review policy is going to be. In terms of where we have stood at this point, the United States has from the IAEA then recertified to Congress, so they know where we stand on that issue. But we still believe that what Iran is doing is destabilizing and that the JCPOA doesn’t fully recognize and comprehend and encompass all those destabilizing activities that Iran is engaged in.
QUESTION: Right, but you also would acknowledge, though, that the previous administration that negotiated the deal never said that it did encompass those things. Now --
MS NAUERT: Correct, correct, and that is why we look at that and see the flaws in the JCPOA --
QUESTION: Right, right. The second --
MS NAUERT: -- that it should be so much more comprehensive.
QUESTION: Where I was – where I was going with the first question was: Does the administration believe that it – meaning the U.S. – is in compliance with the letter and the spirit of the JCPOA?
MS NAUERT: We certainly are. We believe that we are in compliance --
QUESTION: Do you believe that --
MS NAUERT: -- with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: You – your position is that you are not in – you’re not violating the spirit of it by not encouraging European companies or other companies to do business with Iran?
MS NAUERT: I know that we have ongoing conversations with many other countries to discuss this. I know that other countries also share our concerns about what I’ll just broadly call the destabilizing activities. We know what they do in the region. We know what they do to some of our U.S. Navy ships. I mean, that’s just one – one example of some of the things that they do.
QUESTION: So in other words, you – the administration believes that the sanctions relief that it continues to provide to Iran is in keeping with your commitments under the JCPOA?
MS NAUERT: And we continue to have some of these conversations with other nations as well and keep an eye on those things.
QUESTION: No, right. But as far as sanctions relief is concerned, you – the administration believes that it is fully complying with the terms of the agreement?
MS NAUERT: We don’t believe that they are complying with the spirit of the law --
QUESTION: No, you. Do you believe that the United States is fully complying?
MS NAUERT: Oh, are we complying?
MS NAUERT: Yes, yes, yes, we are complying.
QUESTION: So in terms of sanctions relief, they’re getting everything that they deserve, nothing less?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it that way. I’m just going to say that the United States is in compliance with its end of the bargain. Okay?
QUESTION: Today, the United Nations secretary-general said that we should not walk away from the JCPOA under any condition. Do you agree with that?
MS NAUERT: It’s not my place to agree or not agree with him.
Okay? Anything else. Okay, all right. Let’s move on to another subject.
MS NAUERT: Who’s got anything else?
MS NAUERT: Okay, Said.
QUESTION: -- peace process or – first of all, could you update us? There is an upcoming visit or a delegation will be going to the region. They will go to the Gulf region then they will go to Israel and Palestine – Mr. Kushner and Mr. Jason Greenblatt. Is the State Department involved in this process?
MS NAUERT: Yes, we are. We are always involved in that process. What you’re referring to is an upcoming trip. I don’t have an --
QUESTION: An upcoming trip, but we don’t know exactly the time --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I don’t have an exact date for you on that. When I do have that, I would be more than happy to provide it to you. There was a statement that was put out – my understanding – from the White House about Mr. Greenblatt’s travel. He will be accompanied by Jared Kushner as well as Dina Powell on this trip, so I know we are looking forward to supporting them as we always do on their constant travels over to that region.
Typically, when they travel to talk about Middle East peace and other issues, we provide backup assistance with them and attend meetings with them. Our ambassador, our charge will also attend those meetings. The State Department helps to set up some of those things, and then upon their return we do a debrief and have conversations about what they learned and where things stand.
So it’s a close cooperating relationship between the State Department and also the White House on this. We recognize it is a big issue. This has failed a lot of past administrations, and we feel that this is a good new effort, a fresh effort to put forward, to have the White House and the State Department working in concert on this.
QUESTION: Today, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that – refuting – I mean he was refuting some Israeli reports suggesting that the PA is walking away from its enthusiasm for the Trump initiative, but he’s saying that the U.S. ought to, as preceding – as its predecessor – this administration, as its predecessors, commit to the two-state solution. Has there been any statement by the State Department, by – to the best of your knowledge – by this White House committing to the two-state solution?
MS NAUERT: One of the things that we have said is that both parties need to be willing and need to be able to agree to something. And if they’re willing to negotiate and agree to that, they are the ones that have to live with that day in and day out, and we will support them in those efforts.
QUESTION: But the whole Oslo process, which the United States is really the shepherd of, is predicated – premised – on the two-state solution, correct?
MS NAUERT: Look, both parties have to be willing to live and to work with this, and we will help support them in that. I think that is ultimately up for those parties to decide.
QUESTION: And I have one last question, I promise --
MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.
QUESTION: -- on this issue. Yesterday – or today, the daughter of the American ambassador to Israel, Talia, immigrated to Israel, and she’s – presumably will be joining the Israeli army. Is that a good practice for the American ambassador to have his daughter join the Israeli army there that is perceived as an occupation army?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware – this report is news to me. I’m not aware of that report, but I’ll certainly look into it. I’m not sure we would have a comment on it, but I can certainly look into it.
Okay, what else do we have today?
QUESTION: Can you go to --
MS NAUERT: We done?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you. How are you?
So a delegation of the Kurdistan Regional Government went to Baghdad yesterday to start a negotiation on a possible breakup from Iraq. Would the United --
MS NAUERT: On a possible what? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Breakup from Iraq or declaration of independence. So would the United States support these negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad?
MS NAUERT: I mean, certainly if Erbil and Baghdad want to sit down and have a conversation with one another, that is certainly fine. As you know, we have expressed very serious concerns about holding a referendum, even a referendum that’s considered to be an unbinding referendum. What we would like to see is a stable, secure, and unified Iraq.
As we talk about the referendum that the Kurds want to hold in September – late September, I believe it is – we look at that and say we understand what you’re going for, we understand what the goal is, but let’s not take our eye off the ball. Let’s not take our eye off of ISIS. And ISIS is the major serious threat in Iraq right now, and we’re concerned about a referendum at this time that that referendum would be further destabilizing.
QUESTION: According to the KRG presidency’s website, Mr. – in the phone call between Mr. Tillerson and Barzani, Mr. Tillerson encouraged Erbil to negotiate with Baghdad. Do you – is that the case? What else did Mr. Tillerson think --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have a readout of that conversation.
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just for clarification --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- your objection is to the timing of the referendum --
MS NAUERT: We’ve talked about that. Yeah. I think I’ve been clear about the concerns related to the timing of the referendum.
QUESTION: But it’s not about the referendum itself. It’s the timing?
MS NAUERT: And ultimately this is going to have to be worked out with the Iraqi people, but I just want to be clear, ISIS is the main fight that Iraqis have been fought – fighting for years now, hoping to get people back into western Mosul as they’ve started to come back in. There are operations taking place up in the north in Tal Afar. We haven’t talked about that a whole lot, but there are a lot of concerning activities on the part of trying to get ISIS out of Iraq. And we see that as the sole focus where we need to stay – where we need to keep the eye on the ball. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary spoke to the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today? Do you have a readout of it?
MS NAUERT: I believe – you know what? I’d have to double-check on that. I’d have to double-check on that schedule. I know that we’re celebrating a couple independence days; yesterday with Pakistan and today with India. So I know we’ve put out some comments on that.
QUESTION: And also there was announcement about a 2+2 meeting between – meeting between India and U.S. – ministerial meeting. Do you know what’s the time and venue for that?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that to give you at this point. I’m not aware of any scheduling yet.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Have you seen the open letter by the Taliban to President Trump asking him to withdraw from Afghanistan?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I certainly have. So I’m not going to comment on any statements put out by the Taliban on that. Let’s not lose focus here, that the – what I’ll – I’ll say this about another country: destabilizing activities. What is going on in Afghanistan is a result of the Taliban. We’ve seen, and there was a report out not that long ago, about the increase in attacks on civilians, which largely included women and children. That is being perpetrated by members of the Taliban. Let’s not lose focus that the Taliban is behind many of those attacks, many of the increase in civilian casualties. That undermines the Afghan population and also the Afghan Government as well, so let’s not lose focus of that.
I’ve got to leave it there, you guys.
QUESTION: Withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an option at all?
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Withdrawal from Afghanistan is no option --
MS NAUERT: That’s not my position. I know that – that is not my place to talk about that whatsoever. I know there are a lot of various options on the table that the U.S. Government is considering as it reviews its Afghan policy. I think it – they will be considering a lot of different options and would never rule out any – absolutely everything. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Just that we are encouraging both parties to sit down and have direct dialogue.
QUESTION: There was another round of skirmish and (inaudible) from India and China --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. What?
QUESTION: There was another round of tension --
QUESTION: There was an actual skirmish, I think, today, earlier.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: If you can update us on that, please?
MS NAUERT: If I have anything new for you, I will be certain to get it for you. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody. Good to see you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:26 p.m.)
DPB # 44