Department Press Briefing - September 7, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: I think they fixed the air conditioning. How about that? Hi, everybody. How is everyone?
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MS NAUERT: Thank you. It’s good to see you. Good to be back.
Okay. So we have a lot going on today, certainly. And I want to start out talking a little bit about Hurricane Irma. And the first thing I want to say about that is that our condolences are certainly with those who have lost so much, including their loved ones, from the destruction of Hurricane Irma. We are continuing to monitor the path and also the impact of Hurricane Irma as the situation continues to evolve. We have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens who are overseas. We’ve said that many times from this podium, and today would be no more of a perfect moment than now to mention that again.
Since Tuesday, our embassies have issued security messages and also travel warnings for the affected countries to inform U.S. citizens of the storm and to recommend that they begin making preparations to either depart or to shelter in place. The State Department has regular contact with our embassies to ensure that we have the latest information on our operations, U.S. citizen needs, and disaster assistance plans. We are communicating also with foreign authorities.
In terms of our embassy operations and travel warnings, we continue to update information for U.S. citizens on the Hurricane Irma page at travel.state.gov and also through our emergency and security messages. The Department of State has authorized non-emergency U.S. Government employees and family members to depart the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and also Cuba. We have ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency U.S. Government employees from the Bahamas. As the storm passes through the region, our embassies will continue to provide emergency consular services to U.S. citizens.
In terms of emergency contact information – and this is important for folks who have family members, loved ones, and friends who are traveling in the Caribbean. If you are in the United States and are worried about a family member traveling there – again, this is in a foreign country, not in the United States – you can inform the Department of State about U.S. citizens affected by the hurricane who require emergency assistance through our website. You can go to travel.state.gov or you can call us at the following number: 1-888-407-4747. That’s from the U.S. and Canada. If you’re calling from overseas that number is 202-501-4444.
In addition to that, our sister agency, USAID is providing some important information and some important teams on the ground, and they’ll have some additional information for you on that coming forward. We are committed to working with partners in the region to provide life-saving assistance as our neighbors in the Caribbean respond to the disaster. USAID officially activated a disaster assistance response team – many of you know that as DART – as Irma continues its destructive pass – path across the Caribbean. Disaster experts on DART were deployed to Haiti, Dominican Republic, Barbados, and also the Bahamas ahead of the storm, and they’re now coordinating with local authorities and humanitarian organizations on the ground to deliver vital assistance as soon as conditions allow.
I’d like to recognize those brave Americans who are willing to go in what is potentially harm’s way in order to save or assist others. DART is comprised of experienced disaster response officials who are conducting damage and needs assessment. They’re working with local authorities and our humanitarian partners to coordinate distribution of emergency food assistance and relief supplies. USAID will have more information on this in – sometime later today.
In addition to that, there’s a matter we’ve got a lot of questions from you recently on, and it’s something that we care about deeply here, and that is the situation taking place in Burma. I’d like to talk about this as a follow-on to the two statements that have recently been released from both the State Department and the USUN since the violence erupted there in late August.
We are deeply concerned by the troubling situation in Burma’s northern Rakhine State. There has been a significant displacement of local populations, following serious allegations of human rights abuses, including mass burnings of Rohingya villages and violence conducted by security forces and also armed civilians. We, again, condemn deadly attacks on Burmese security forces, but join the international community in calling on those forces to prevent further violence and protect local populations in ways that are consistent with the rule of law and with full respect for human rights. We urge all in Burma, including in the Rakhine State, to avoid actions that exacerbate tensions there.
We welcome the Government of Burma’s acknowledgement of the need to protect all communities and its pledge to implement recommendations of the Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State aimed at addressing long-standing challenges that predate the country’s democratic transition. We call on authorities to facilitate immediate access to affected communities that are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
The United States is working through the United Nations and other international organizations to assist tens of thousands of civilians who have fled to southeastern Bangladesh since August the 25th. We are also communicating with Burma’s neighbors and other concerned international partners on efforts to end the violence and assist affected communities there.
I would be happy to take your questions on that, but first I have one final thing. And I’d like to say we are very pleased to host the leaders of the state of Kuwait here in Washington this week. We got a late start today, as you well know, because we wanted, of course, the President and the emir of Kuwait to finish up their meetings and their press conference at the White House.
As you know, the President just met with His Highness Emir al-Sabah at the White House. And tomorrow, here at the State Department, we will host the second annual United States-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue, which is co-hosted by Secretary Tillerson and the first deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Kuwait. Kuwait is a strong regional partner, and we look forward to tomorrow’s meeting on education, trade, investment, homeland security, and also military cooperation. We also want to continue to thank Kuwait for its strong diplomatic efforts in trying to resolve the ongoing Gulf dispute.
And with that, I would be happy to take your questions. Who’d like to start today?
QUESTION: So why don’t we go right back to Myanmar? You said in your statement just now that the U.S. welcomes the call from the Government of Burma for the need to protect all different communities. That certainly hasn’t been the predominant message from Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in the last several weeks. Do you – does the U.S. have confidence or faith at this point in the efforts or desire of the Government of Myanmar to protect the Rohingya community?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think there are a few things going on there. As you all as journalists who are passionate about foreign affairs well know, that it is a difficult place to get information from. It’s difficult to get access to. We’d like to certainly call on the Government of Burma to allow better, greater access for reporters and journalists to be able to enter that country and be able to provide accurate information about what’s going on on the ground. There also remains a humanitarian situation, where it is very difficult for humanitarian aid groups to be able to get in and provide the supplies and the support that is necessary. We are continuing to have conversations with the government, not only about the violence there, but also about those issues of journalists and also, perhaps more importantly, the humanitarian aid situation.
Our ambassador over there, he and I – Ambassador Scot Marciel – exchanged emails earlier today to talk a little bit about the situation. He’s been on a plane and has met numerous times with the government – three times, in fact – in I believe it was just this week alone. So we remain very engaged in that.
QUESTION: So the U.S. does have tools at your disposal. Obviously, we had a pretty broad sanctions regime against Myanmar; some of that has been lifted in recent years. Is the U.S. considering putting back sanctions or adding new sanctions to try to push back on these allegations of human rights violations that you were just describing?
MS NAUERT: I think – and I don’t want to sound like a broken record on the issue of sanctions, but it’s something that we don’t want to get ahead of the conversations that we’re having. We’re having diplomatic conversations at this point; any potential sanctions are just not something that I could comment on this time. Either – assuming that they might happen, or might not happen.
QUESTION: Heather, the leader --
MS NAUERT: Let’s stay on this issue before we switch to the next one.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Burma.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The leader claims, Aung San Suu Kyi – she claims that this started by fake news. Is --
MS NAUERT: She – say that again? She what?
QUESTION: This whole crisis --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- is stoked by fake news and the trading of fake news and so on. Now, the U.S. – has the U.S. been able to authenticate the calamity that is taking place and the size of it on its own?
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s exactly why I mention how difficult it is. I mean, there – it is a difficult country to get into. It is a difficult country to get around. It doesn’t have the roads and infrastructure that many other countries do have. So it’s a difficult terrain in order to be able to get the facts on the ground that are accurate. That’s why we certainly call on that country to help facilitate journalists being able to come in, aid groups to be able to come in. We work with those organizations, the aid groups, very closely and carefully in order to try to best assess the situation. It’s a complicated situation. It’s a complicated country and the situation going on there. We don’t want to do anything that would inflame tensions. But we hope that we can get more solid information from the ground there.
Okay. Hey, Michelle.
QUESTION: Hi. What kind of engagement has Secretary Tillerson himself had on this issue in the last two weeks? Have there been phone calls? How has he been involved?
MS NAUERT: This is something that I know the Secretary cares about. This is something where we have phone calls and diplomatic conversations that have certainly been had at various levels. I don’t have any calls to read out for you right now. But as we do, I will certainly let you know. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MS NAUERT: Hi, Elise.
QUESTION: Hi. It seems as if – we haven’t really heard from Secretary Tillerson about any diplomatic efforts going on. Is that because you don’t feel like you want to discuss them right now, or is that because the administration is leading with more of a kind of deterrent message on the North --
MS NAUERT: On this specific issue, you’re talking about Burma?
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
MS NAUERT: Are you talking about Burma, or are we moving on to North Korea?
QUESTION: Sorry. We’re moving on to North Korea.
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Okay. Elise, wake up this morning.
QUESTION: Sorry. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s stick with Burma before we move on to something else, please. Anybody else on Burma? Hi there.
QUESTION: So are you saying the Secretary hasn’t spoken to anyone on --
MS NAUERT: No, I just don’t have any calls to read out for you at this time. This is a subject that has come up a lot. A lot of people are talking about this here at the State Department. You all are focusing on this now. Our ambassador has made three trips to the capital this week alone. And so it’s something that we just continue to focus on, and we will continue to monitor it.
QUESTION: Do you have any – do you think Aung San Suu Kyi is doing enough to prevent the violence?
MS NAUERT: Look, there is access – very, very limited, if any, access to humanitarian needs and equipment and supplies. That would be one of our top concerns. We’re concerned about the violence there – that includes allegations of violence conducted by both security forces and civilians. We would like all sides to try to calm the tensions. What we’ve seen there has been very concerning to the U.S. Government as we care about what is happening to the population there. The U.S. Embassy is following the developments very closely. And let me just again mention that it’s very difficult to verify some of the reports in light of the security situation there. I’ll just – I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Obviously, we all would like to have more access for journalists in Myanmar, but you guys have an embassy in Nay Pyi Taw. You’re not saying that the U.S. can’t determine whether or not the allegations are fake news unless there’s more --
MS NAUERT: There – some of these areas are areas of open conflict, which we can’t necessarily get out there and get on the ground as State Department employees when there is open conflict there.
QUESTION: Have American diplomats been in Rakhine State to try to look at this?
MS NAUERT: I can look into that for you. I don’t know if we’ve had anybody exactly right there.
Okay, let’s move on to – let’s move on to something else.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say on whether you think Aung San Suu Kyi should keep her Nobel Peace Prize?
MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t have anything to comment on that. That would be up for the prize – yes.
QUESTION: Do you urge Bangladesh authority to allow Rohingya refugees in their country as thousands of Rohingya refugees in the border to get into Bangladesh?
MS NAUERT: I know it is a difficult situation for Bangladesh, as it is for any country, to absorb refugees. We have provided – I believe it’s about $55 million this year in – to Burmese refugees not only in Burma, but I believe also in Bangladesh. If I have anything more for you on that, I’ll get that to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Janne.
MS NAUERT: You know I’m going to say this. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?
MS NAUERT: We’re never going to forecast sanctions. I think what you’re referring to is what many are talking about at the United Nations, and that is a situation I’m just not going to forecast right now.
QUESTION: They’re not talking about it. It’s a draft resolution that’s been released to the council for a vote.
MS NAUERT: So that is a detail of a draft resolution, and that’s something – we don’t go into the details of a draft resolution on current diplomatic conversations. But you’ve all read the news, you’ve seen the reports, and so I’ll just leave you with that.
QUESTION: What about Russia’s --
MS NAUERT: Hold on, we’re not going to Russia just yet.
QUESTION: No, no, no, Russia’s comment pre-emptively opposing any type of sanctions against North Korea or additional --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Look, we have had Russia’s cooperation at the U.N. Security Council in the past. What the DPRK has done and its – we all know what happened on Sunday night. We all have not yet been together since those activities occurred.
QUESTION: You mean the nuclear tests?
MS NAUERT: I’m talking about the testing that took place, yes. What I want to say about that is that this is not just a security situation for the United States. It’s not just a security problem for the United States. This is a security problem for the world. China recognizes that. I think Russia recognizes that. We’re getting different levels of cooperation. We were certainly happy when Russia backed the last round of U.N. Security Council resolutions. China did certainly as well.
QUESTION: What is the administration assessment of the pressure campaign given that you’ve had the intelligence assessment come public that they’ve miniaturized a warhead, you’ve had a missile fly over Japan, and you’ve had a hydrogen test. Is it working?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, that’s a fair question. I mean, a lot of people look at the recent events that have occurred, especially on Sunday night, and ask: Is the pressure campaign, is your diplomatic campaign working? It’s a legitimate question. It is what we do here at the State Department. We look at pushing and continuing the conversation about the pressure campaign and putting pressure on the DPRK to denuclearize. China shares that concern with us. They also support denuclearization, as does virtually every country across the globe. It is an important issue for us, and it’s an important issue for them.
Yes, I can say that the pressure campaign is working. Now, when you see a test that took place on Sunday, you may think, goodness, that is not working. But that is not the case, and here’s why. It can take a long, long time for sanctions to work. It can take a long time for a pressure campaign to work. It is not an overnight thing. It’s not a big, sexy military operation. This is handled very, very differently.
We will continue to push forward with this campaign. We are having success. One of the best areas of success that we can point to are all of the countries that we’ve had diplomatic conversations with where we have asked those countries and discussed with those countries, and they frankly support it as well, closing down the size of – or excuse me, not closing down the size – limiting the size of DPRK missions in their own countries, limiting the number of guest workers. We’ve seen some recent success in Spain, in Peru, also Kuwait, with regard to that, just to name a few. There are also the independent sanctions that other countries have been willing to do. We’ve seen that with Australia and many other partners in the region as well.
This all will take time. It will take time to help remove that money that the DPRK is getting and we believe is going to its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It’ll take time to get that money out to really force that regime to come around.
QUESTION: And just real quick --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- when you said China shares the U.S. concerns, is it concerned enough?
MS NAUERT: We’ve always said this: China has – China can certainly do more. It’s also a country that is willing to do some things behind the scenes, and we’re happy with that. We don’t need to be so public; we don’t need to take the credit; we don’t need countries to thump their chests in order to show exactly what’s going on. This is what diplomacy is. Sometimes it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s not so fun for people who are covering it because you may not have much to publicly point to. But there are things going on behind the scenes, I can assure you, that is giving us cause to be hopeful for the future. Again, this is something that will take quite some time. It’s not going to happen overnight, but that’s what we do here. We’ll keep pushing forward.
QUESTION: Can I --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Isn’t it, though, like – isn’t it a little bit of a race against time? Because if you’re saying that it’ll “take a long, long time,” in your words, and some of the commanders have estimated that by the end of the – in a year – in less than a year’s time, North Korea not only could have – they’ve already demonstrated the ICBM --
MS NAUERT: Well, I think, Elise, that’s --
QUESTION: -- but also married it and so --
MS NAUERT: That’s why I think we have – this U.S. Government has a multipronged approach. Diplomacy is just one part of that. You heard Secretary Mattis talking about the military piece of it. You’ve heard Secretary Mnuchin talk about the Treasury portion of it. We have Ambassador Haley who’s talking about the UN Security Council portion of it. So we’re all working in concert together. I’m just speaking to our one piece of it, and we’re plowing ahead. We’re moving forward.
QUESTION: But I mean, if you’re hoping for a diplomatic solution, I mean, can you --
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s always the preferred --
QUESTION: Do you have the – I know. I understand.
MS NAUERT: That’s always the preferred approach.
QUESTION: I understand. Yeah, exactly.
MS NAUERT: The diplomatic solution.
QUESTION: So are – do you think you have enough time? If the sanctions are going to take a really long time, do you think you have enough time to let a diplomatic solution play out?
MS NAUERT: We are going ahead with the diplomatic solution. We are asking countries, our allies, our friends, our neighbors, you name it – anybody we’ll sit down and talk with, we are asking them to assist us. And it’s not just assisting the United States. It’s not, hey, help the United States here. It’s help the world. Because the world has joined in condemning the United Nations – excuse me, the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, all of these nations and entities are coming together condemning DPRK for its activities. So it’s not just us. We’re all helping out one another.
QUESTION: Just one last one. The President didn’t answer when asked today whether part of a solution would be accepting North Korea’s nuclear status. What does the administration, and particularly Secretary Tillerson --
MS NAUERT: Our administration’s view has not changed. We have long called for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: I understand.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But if you – part of the problem is that even before this administration, North Korea’s program has grown considerably, as you can see (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: Well, let’s point out it’s taken many, many years to get here. Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, I understand, but at some point, do you have a choice but to accept them as a nuclear state?
MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed.
QUESTION: Which is?
MS NAUERT: We want the denuclearization of North Korea. That is what we want; that is what we are pushing for. We will not accept, as Secretary Tillerson has said, a nuclearized North Korea.
QUESTION: Heather, what if the diplomatic solution did not work?
MS NAUERT: What if it doesn’t work?
MS NAUERT: Well, we have a – we have the whole-of-government approach.
MS NAUERT: We have the Department of Defense. We have the Treasury Department. We have the United Nations and the United Nations Security Council. And we have our piece here at the State Department. So we’re just going to keep pushing forward. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, but we’re going to keep pushing forward and that will not change. We are committed to this. When this President first came into office, his top national security priority, he said, is this, the DPRK, and put Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in charge of that, and that’s what we are pushing forward with.
QUESTION: So the U.S.A. has all options on the table, so you --
MS NAUERT: All options are still on the table. That’s why we have this multipronged government approach.
Okay, I think we’ve exhausted this. Let’s move on.
QUESTION: One more on that?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: I understand that you won’t talk about the draft resolution --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- at the UN, but is there any way you can discuss how the State Department feels in terms of cutting off oil to North Korea? Is that something that you guys think is imperative? Where does that fall on the list of diplomatic pressure?
MS NAUERT: It could be something that would be potentially a very big deal if that were to happen, and that’s all I will say about that.
QUESTION: Is Tillerson making calls to other countries specifically on that topic?
MS NAUERT: He’s made a lot of calls. I don’t have a readout or a list of all the calls that he has made recently, but he has been on the phone a lot since Sunday night, as he – well, he always is, as a matter of fact.
QUESTION: And talking about oil?
MS NAUERT: Well, talking specifically about the DPRK. Whether it’s been oil in that, that I’m not aware of, but we continue to have a full, robust approach to our – to what we’re looking at with the DPRK.
Okay, let’s move on to something else.
QUESTION: I have one.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Yeah, China is saying that sanctions can only be part of the package with some kind of dialogue. So is some dialogue, direct talks with North Korea still a goal for you after the latest test?
MS NAUERT: Well, it certainly – we would always like to be able to sit down and talk, but North Korea is showing the world that it is not serious and it is nowhere near the point where it wants to talk. What they did over the weekend and what they’ve done recently is a tremendous security concern to the world. When they’re willing to show us that they are serious about sitting down and having conversations, we will know it. We think we will be watching for the signals, and we’ll just go from there.
QUESTION: What did they do over the weekend? Was it a hydrogen test?
MS NAUERT: I believe there’s a very specific term that we want to call it, and I think it’s an advanced nuclear test. I think that’s what we’re referring to it as the U.S. Government. Okay? Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) anything like North Korea another nuclear test soon or missile test?
MS NAUERT: That, I’m not going to forecast into what could or could not happen in the future. Okay, let’s move on from North Korea.
Said, hello. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you. Welcome back.
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
QUESTION: Very quick questions, first pertaining to press freedom. The Palestinian Authority arrested a Palestinian peace activist. Twenty-five members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson --
MS NAUERT: Say the last part again about --
QUESTION: Twenty-five members of Congress sent a letter.
MS NAUERT: Ah, yes. Okay.
QUESTION: To Secretary Tillerson. Are you aware of that letter calling on him to use leverage so to have this person released today? Nine more members of Congress sent a letter to President Abbas. So do you --
MS NAUERT: I’m aware of that letter that was sent to Secretary Tillerson, and we’ve certainly seen the reports of the arrest that you mentioned. In general, and I’ll say this again, it’s important that governments protect the freedom of expression, the freedom of speech, and be able to create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.
QUESTION: And my other question pertaining to Ambassador David Friedman, he gave us an interview to the Jerusalem Post last week, last Friday.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: And he termed the Palestinian territories as allegedly occupied. Has there been any departure from the standard U.S. position that these territories are occupied?
MS NAUERT: Our position on that hasn’t changed. The comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy.
QUESTION: Okay. But he is the ambassador of the United States of America.
MS NAUERT: His comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy. Okay?
QUESTION: Can we just go back to the journalist that was jailed for a second?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, Matt.
MS NAUERT: What are you doing over there? You two are confusing me. You switched sides.
QUESTION: Well, I had to finish up writing about the Kuwait press conference, so I was late.
MS NAUERT: Got it, okay. You may be excused.
QUESTION: Just you are talking about Issa Amro, right?
QUESTION: That’s who --
MS NAUERT: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: And do you take a position on the extended detention that a judge ordered today and the fact that this likely means that – I mean, he was supposed to come to the United States later this – I believe later this month. And it’s – so if you have anything more to say about --
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of the announcement of an extended detention. If we have anything for that, I can see what I can find out for you. Okay?
MS NAUERT: All right, let’s move on to something else. Hi.
MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s --
QUESTION: Russia President Putin says Russia reserves right to out more U.S. diplomats. So if U.S. and Russia talked about full parity, it’s not 455 U.S. diplomats in Moscow but minus 155. Do you have any comments about that?
MS NAUERT: I don’t want to speculate on any potential Russian actions. We have talked for some time here about how our relationship with Russia is at a low point. We would like that relationship to improve. We don’t want to continue this kind of diplomatic tit-for-tat. There are far too many areas where we can, we hope we can, cooperate with Russia. One of them would be Syria, for example, where that ceasefire is now – what are we at, two months now? Six weeks? Something like that. But we’re pleased with that.
So my point is I’m not going to speculate. I’m not going to get into forecasting any potential Russian reaction to that. But we hope that the relationship can improve, and we hope we’ve hit the low point and can just improve things from here on up.
QUESTION: At the same time, we can see Russian-released video showing U.S. law enforcement agencies conducting unknown activities inside a building of Russia consul generals.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry? You work for?
QUESTION: I work for China Central Television.
MS NAUERT: Oh, CCTV. Okay, got it.
QUESTION: Yeah. The thing is, this kind of issue arouse lots of attention at the moment. Do you have any explanation?
MS NAUERT: So I think what you’re talking about is when our officials went through some of the facilities with the Russians. There were two places – first of all, let me just say that Russian officials were invited to come along with us as we toured those facilities last weekend. They chose not to accompany us on the New York walkthrough for whatever reason. I simply do not know. It is certainly in our authority to be able to look around, and I’ll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: So wait a second. You --
QUESTION: I’m just curious --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: You describe these as a tour?
MS NAUERT: Well, what do you want? What do you call it? What would you call it? A search?
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. Did they open closets? Did they --
MS NAUERT: I would assume they opened closets, but I haven’t talked to any of the people who did that.
QUESTION: Well, that’s not really a tour. A tour sounds like it’s like a sightseeing thing, like you walk in and say oh, look at that, there’s a nice painting. There’s – this is – there was a search?
MS NAUERT: This is a very serious activity.
QUESTION: Right. No, but there was --
MS NAUERT: It was a very serious activity.
QUESTION: There was a search, right?
MS NAUERT: And if I used the word “tour” and that seemed too light in fitting of the activity that took place, then pardon me for that.
QUESTION: But – well, Heather --
QUESTION: What part of --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on.
QUESTION: Is this normal protocol? Is this normal diplomatic protocol?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, sir? What’s your name?
QUESTION: Bill Jones with Executive Intelligence Review.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Bill.
QUESTION: Is this normal diplomatic protocol when you ask a country to leave? They usually can gather their stuff, destroy whatever they have which is sensitive, and leave. The FBI doesn’t barge in and look at everything they’ve got, and it seems in the case of the trade mission this is exactly what they did. President Putin said he would take a suit, a lawsuit, against it.
MS NAUERT: I’m sure – I’m sure he did. Welcome to the American legal system.
QUESTION: Is it normal for the (inaudible) --
MS NAUERT: Mr. Putin has apparently met the legal system, then, in the United States. Look, I don’t know exactly what is the FBI’s protocol, but I do know that our inspections, whatever you want to call it, going through the properties was something that we conducted lawfully.
QUESTION: And the searches in --
QUESTION: So according to – according --
QUESTION: The searches in the other cities, San Francisco and D.C., the Russians did accompany the Americans on those?
MS NAUERT: Yes. They only chose not to accompany us on the New York walkthrough.
QUESTION: And on those two that they did accompany, did they complain or did they protest it when the agents or whoever it was, the U.S. security, went through closets and cupboards and --
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. I can try to find out from our folks who were along for the ride, but --
QUESTION: I mean – I mean, was this like a police search? Did they rip open mattresses and, like, upholstery off chairs or something?
MS NAUERT: Matt, not that I’m aware of. Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: All right. Then the other thing just having to do with Russia is President Putin has expressed some --
QUESTION: -- disappointment or regret at having awarded now-Secretary Tillerson the Order of Friendship. I’m wondering, what does the Secretary think of that, if you know? Is he willing to perhaps return the award since --
MS NAUERT: I have not asked him that question. Very interesting comment from President Vladimir Putin. The – I’m just going to leave it at that, interesting comment. The Secretary has good friends. As America, we’re welcome – we certainly welcome our many friends and partners from Canada to Spain to our many, many friends around the world and would gladly stand up our friends to Vladimir Putin’s friends.
QUESTION: Well, is it something that he has on, like, display in his office? Is it something that he would like to now cover up and --
MS NAUERT: Did you take your silly pills today? What’s gotten into you?
QUESTION: No, I’m just – I’m just wondering. I mean, is this a big deal to him that President Putin --
MS NAUERT: I – honestly, Matt, I have not asked. I have not asked him that question.
MS NAUERT: We know that there are leaders around the world who will say sometimes humorous, sometimes sarcastic, off-the-cuff remarks, and I’ll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Is Secretary Tillerson --
QUESTION: Do you see it – I mean, do you see it as sarcastic and off-the-cuff, or do you see it as President Putin kind of saying that, like, well, when he worked with Exxon he was more friendlier than when he’s the Secretary of State?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know what Vladimir Putin was thinking. I just – I don’t – I can’t get into his head. I don’t know. Let’s move on. Let’s move on to something else.
MR GREENAN: I just want to clarify something.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MR GREENAN: The searches were not carried out by the FBI, and they were not --
MS NAUERT: Oh.
MR GREENAN: They were inspections and it was with Diplomatic Security. I don’t know if that came through clearly.
MS NAUERT: Thank you. Okay. Let’s just make that clear for everybody. Robert, our press operations director, Foreign Service officer – he’s been here many years – thank you for clarifying that. So the FBI was not involved – contrary, sir, to what you had said – not involved in those searches. Okay. That was --
QUESTION: But what was the legal basis --
MS NAUERT: Excuse me, that was Diplomatic Security agents. They are a part of the State Department. They’re trained federal agents. Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, but excuse me, what was the legal basis for entering Russian property without Russia’s consent? How can you explain this?
MS NAUERT: Ma’am, this is something that we – the Russian Government said that it wanted to get to parity. Russian Government said it wanted to get to parity. And now, our missions, this – a number of our buildings are closer to parity. Okay. And I’m just going to leave it at that. Okay.
QUESTION: I mean --
MS NAUERT: Let’s move on.
QUESTION: Okay. On Russia as well?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Go ahead. Hi.
QUESTION: On Russia, can you update on the status of visa processing at the mission in Russia? Is it still no longer going on?
MS NAUERT: No.
QUESTION: What level --
MS NAUERT: That visa processing resumed – I believe it was September 1st. Let me double-check on that. That is – yeah, that’s correct; visa processing resumed on September 1st. We still do not have the number of Consular Affairs or regular staff for that member – for that matter working in our embassy, so we’re not able to process visa applications as quickly. We know lots of Russians want to visit the United States. This is a great place to come. We support all kinds of freedoms, including freedom of – freedom of speech, free press, and all of those things. So we certainly understand that a lot of people would want to come here to visit, and we’re working on processing those through. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on something --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you just said about – about parity? What does the U.S. searching Russian property have to do with parity?
MS NAUERT: We – okay, first of all, and I guess you guys find this funny, but --
QUESTION: No, I don’t find it funny. I’m not laughing.
MS NAUERT: Some chuckles in the back here. I just want to point that out, that the whole reason --
QUESTION: No, I understand. I understand.
MS NAUERT: -- the whole reason that this occurred was because the Government of Russia said that they wanted parity.
MS NAUERT: They asked a lot of our members to leave from our properties in the – in Russia.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS NAUERT: And so here, we’re trying to get back to parity.
MS NAUERT: Okay. And these are – all of this was conducted in accordance to the Foreign Missions Act. It was all conducted in accordance with the Vienna Conventions.
QUESTION: Well, but I’m just curious, like, do you still consider that sovereign Russian property or were those properties searched because there was a concern that they were being used for intelligence purposes, which would be, like, a different issue than parity? Because the Russians kind of closed some --
MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not going to get into that right now. Okay?
MS NAUERT: I’m just not going to get into that.
QUESTION: Well, no. But I --
MS NAUERT: Let’s move – let’s move – let’s move on to something else right now.
QUESTION: No, I want to know what – whether it’s because a concern about the property itself, because I’m not sure that an issue of parity --
MS NAUERT: Some of these matters I’m not going to get into and debate with you here from the podium. When I can give you additional information, I certainly will be happy to.
QUESTION: Could you take a question, though, maybe, perhaps, or consider taking a question? Are you aware of, in Russia or any other country where U.S. missions that have been vacated, have been searched by the host government, whether it’s their version of the FBI or their version of Diplomatic Security or --
MS NAUERT: You know what? I don’t know if you all are working for RT today or what, but --
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Come on.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no. (Inaudible.)
MS NAUERT: See I can be funny too, Matt. Come on. You’re joking around. No, look.
QUESTION: No, but I mean there’s a broader – there’s a broader issue here.
MS NAUERT: I will ask that question. I don’t know. I’ve been here four months. I don’t know the normal process.
QUESTION: Right. That’s why I’m --
MS NAUERT: Thank you for asking. I don’t know the normal process for going through those facilities, but I will look into that. Okay?
QUESTION: But specifically about the Russian property – about the U.S. properties in Russia that you had to close because of the parity issue. Were they searched by Russia?
MS NAUERT: Elise, I don’t know the answer to that question. I will look into it and see what I can get for you. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Does anybody have anything else on other issues?
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS NAUERT: Hi. Syria.
QUESTION: On Syria, really quick, the Israelis bombed a target in Syria, saying that it was a factory for chemical weapons. But apparently the message that is being sent – one to the Russians and one to the Syrians and Iran and a third one to the United States of America – because it seems that they have been left out of the process that you spoke about, the ceasefire that took place a couple of months ago. Is that how you see it? Have you spoken to them about the reason for this attack and whether it is actually – the message is that they should not be left out of any agreement?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that. Okay. I’m aware of the report. I just don’t have anything for you on that.
MS NAUERT: I saw that. Yeah.
QUESTION: What does this Secretary think about that?
MS NAUERT: It’s a situation where we are in the process – or the Senate, I should say, is in the appropriations process. I certainly saw that that number would take – that number was suggested. We certainly look forward to continuing to answer questions from members of the Senate and also the House. We have two officials who are testifying. Our Ambassador for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales I believe is before the House Foreign Relations Committee today. Is that right? He’s House Foreign --
QUESTION: Sales is at --
MS NAUERT: Where – yeah, he’s at House Foreign – yeah, where he’s testifying on the budget. And Ambassador Alice Wells, who is the acting assistant secretary of SCA, she is – she’s on the Hill testifying on the budget as well. So we’ll just wait as that appropriations process works its way through.
QUESTION: What should we expect? Because next week, I guess, is the deadline, the 15th, for the redesign. Or is that – are we going to see the whole redesign by then, or are you still in the process?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure where that stands today. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. One more question.
QUESTION: Just on the budget, one --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Aside from the numbers, the comments made by, in particular, Senator Graham but also a Democratic senator who I – name escapes me at the moment – are a pretty stark repudiation of not just the White House, the budget director, his earlier comments on this, but also the President and the Secretary’s own comments about the utility of soft power, in other words, diplomacy. Do you guys have anything to say about the fact that the lawmakers seem to hold it in higher regard than the current occupants or the current leadership of the --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that that’s really the case, Matt.
QUESTION: No? Okay.
MS NAUERT: I mean, we take our job here and our mission here very seriously, as does Secretary Tillerson. The President asked Secretary Tillerson to do this job many months ago because he felt that he was the best person for this job. So just because a budget reflects a smaller number on the part of the administration does not mean that diplomacy is not important. This administration values that. We all value that. The 75,000 people who work here each and every day here and around the world value that, and we keep pushing forward with it. Okay?
MS NAUERT: All right, guys. Leave it there. Got to go. We’ve got to go.
QUESTION: Heather, can you give any more information on that (inaudible) incident that happened last (inaudible)?
MS NAUERT: I cannot, other than to say the investigation is ongoing. We anticipate that whenever we have new information on that and we can bring it to you, we certainly will. Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:44 p.m.)
DPB # 48