Department Press Briefing - September 14, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Well, hello. Nice to see you. Hi, everybody. How are you today?
QUESTION: One day away from Friday.
MS NAUERT: One day away from Friday. Can’t wait. And then we’re all going to be together next week, or at least a lot of us will, right? Looking forward to that.
I’d like to start out today by mentioning the terror attack that took place – got a little bit of an echo in here – terror attack that took place in Iraq, and we’d like to condemn that in the strongest possible terms, the barbaric attacks that took place in Nasiriyah, Iraq. They’ve been claimed by ISIS – the attacks have. The brutal attacks demonstrate, once again, the savagery of the enemy that so many of our nations face. We want to extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and hope for a speedy recovery for those who’ve been wounded. The attacks are a reminder that all Iraqis must remain focused on defeating ISIS. The U.S. reaffirms its commitment to support the government and the people of Iraq in their struggle against ISIS.
The second thing I’d like to announce is the democracy – Community of Democracies ministerial, which will take place here in Washington tomorrow. I know there was a little bit of reporting on that earlier in the year, but that will, in fact, happen. Secretary Tillerson will host the ninth Community of Democracies Governing Council Ministerial here at the Department of State tomorrow. The United States is hosting this ministerial as we complete our two-year presidency of the Community of Democracies and will bring together more than 90 governments and more than 50 representatives from civil society groups around the world.
The ministerial will focus on current challenges and the enduring connection between democratic principles and economic development. Participants will also discuss strategies to counter authoritarian actions by countries, including North Korea and Iran, and will seek to condemn the ongoing human rights abuses in Venezuela. They will also consider ways to support civil society that is under threat around the world and share lessons learned in countering terrorism while still protecting human rights.
In hosting the ministerial, the United State affirms that standing up for human rights and democracy is both a moral imperative, grounded in the best traditions of our country, and a strategic priority vital to our national interests. We will continue to work with members of civil society and our partners worldwide to strengthen democratic governance, promote the rule of law, and defend individual liberty for all.
QUESTION: This is the Community of Democracies that Secretary Tillerson didn’t want to have, right?
MS NAUERT: This is the Community of Democracies that some reporters wrote about that wasn’t happening, and it is certainly happening. We’ve got it going. It’s not as long as it has been in years past, but we have it, and we’re proud to host that.
A couple more things I’d like to address before I get to your questions. The U.S. State Department is pleased to announce a groundbreaking $25 million award to the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. It’s a transformational three-year program with a goal to reduce the prevalence of modern slavery, human trafficking in specific countries or regions around the world. The State Department would like to thank Congress for its support and in particular the leadership of Senator Bob Corker, who’s championed this effort.
The initiative reflects the United States broad and bipartisan commitment to increase U.S. and global funding to reduce the prevalence of modern slavery globally. Its goal is to leverage U.S. funds to build a significant resource base with contributions from other governments and private donors and develop a global platform of data, analysis, and lessons learned to inform and improve global efforts to combat modern slavery.
Reducing the prevalence of human trafficking globally should be a joint effort with other governments and civil society around the world. The initiative will seek to raise commitments of $1.5 billion in support from other donors. The funds will be used to combat all forms of modern slavery that align with the three Ps of the global anti-trafficking framework: prosecution, protection, and prevention. At the same time, the program will ensure that survivor voices are integrated throughout the project design and implementation.
And then finally, a note about the UN General Assembly next week. As you know, it will be high-level week for the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. It opened on Tuesday, and I’d like to start off by letting you know that Secretary Tillerson and the department have identified a few key goals for our engagement with the international community. We have five overarching priorities this year. The first is taking bold steps on UN reform; the second, broadening multilateral and counterterrorism efforts to defeat ISIS and other terror organizations; humanitarian assistance, in particular for refugees and the communities that host them; de-escalating the Syrian conflict; and finally, addressing the threat to global peace and security posed by North Korea.
The State delegation will be led by Secretary Tillerson. He will be joining the President and other senior leadership from the White House, the State Department, and USAID Administrator Mark Green will join us, as will participants from other agencies. On the larger question related to the President’s schedule and high-level events during the week, I will ask you to hold off on some of your additional questions for the White House. They will be announcing part of the schedule in conjunction with Ambassador Haley and also National Security Advisor McMaster. They will talk about that at the White House tomorrow.
And with that, I will take your questions.
QUESTION: Right. Speaking of the White House, since they have not yet, and apparently may not now, put their names to the sanctions waiver extension that were – extensions that were granted to Iran today, could you talk about that?
MS NAUERT: Sure. So the Secretary in London today – and he made an announcement a couple hours ago in which he started talking about that. So I want to first, in case you missed it, cover some of what the Secretary had to say. And he laid that out saying – reminding us that, first of all, the Iran policy review is still underway. So while that is ongoing, we had a deadline. That was today.
“The Trump administration is continuing to review and develop its policy on Iran,” said the Secretary. It is still underway. There have been several discussions internally among the NSC, the White House, and also the State Department, but no decisions have been made just yet. He said, “I think it’s worth noting that...the administration continues” to review the JCPOA and that President Trump has “made...clear to those of us who are helping him develop this policy that we must take into account the totality of Iranian threats, not just Iran’s nuclear capabilities; that is one piece of our posture toward Iran.” And I think if one revisits the preface to the JCPOA, the preface needs – reads this – and we have talked about this here a lot – that Iran would need to contribute positively to international peace and security.
So the Secretary spoke to that a short while ago. Overall – in terms of the overall administration, we did a lot today. The administration enacted tough new Treasury sanctions against 11 entities and individuals, some of whom – or some of those entities were responsible for cyber attacks on U.S. financial institutions. The Department of Treasury has more information about those specific sanctions.
But the point is that we continue to look at some of the reckless, malign behavior of the Iranian regime. I want to continue to point that out. That’s one of the reasons that we are here talking about this. We consider it to be reckless. We consider it to be dangerous. And I think it’s always worth reminding folks just how bad that government can be – not the people, the government.
A full range of their malign activities – let’s remember what it includes: ballistic missile development; material and financial support for terrorism and also extremism, not just within their own country but around the globe; complicity in the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people; an unrelenting hostility to Israel; consistently threatening freedom of navigation, especially in the Persian Gulf – we have seen that, as our – have – have our U.S. Navy sailors; cyber attacks against the United States, ergo the sanctions today; human rights abuses; arbitrary detention of foreigners, including U.S. citizens. The Iran policy from this administration will address the totality of what the Iranian regime is doing.
I mentioned the 11 new entities that were sanctioned. In addition to that – and I know that this is what you’re most interested in perhaps, Matt – the administration did approve waivers in order to maintain some flexibility as we support on Capitol Hill and among allies and partners to address the flaws in the JCPOA and additional time to develop our policy to address the full range of Iranian malign behavior.
Now, waiving some of those sanctions should not be seen as an indication of President Trump or his administration’s position on the JCPOA, nor is the waiver giving the Iranian regime a pass on its broad range of malign behavior. Again, no decisions have been made on the final JCPOA. We still have some time for that.
QUESTION: That’s all very nice, and it was – what was that, about a five-minute response?
MS NAUERT: Excuse me.
QUESTION: No, it’s all right. But I’m just wondering why you feel the need or the obligation to go through the litany of complaints before getting to the – getting to the actual answer and the interesting – the most interesting news of the day?
MS NAUERT: I think it’s always important to remind the world --
MS NAUERT: Okay. And we’ve talked here quite a bit. The JCPOA covers a certain section --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Of activities that Iran is responsible for, and that is to try to contain its nuclear program. If I may finish. There are a lot of things that the JCPOA does not handle, does not mention, and that is a concern of this administration that we feel is important to highlight. There have been many years in the past in which you didn’t hear a lot about the bad things that Iran has done. Many would argue that since the JCPOA was signed – and I’m not making the JCPOA responsible for this – but Iran has upped its bad behavior in many instances. We’ve seen the harassment of our sailors. We’ve seen what they’ve done in Syria. We’ve seen Hizballah going into Syria causing more problems. We’ve seen Iran continuing to supply weapons to other fighting forces.
They are doing a whole lot of bad things, and I think it’s also worth reminding the American public, folks watching, folks listening, folks who read your newspapers and publications, exactly why we are here at this point, exactly why there are concerns about the JCPOA, and why we’re looking at our Iran policy in totality. Because the fact of the matter is Iran is about a lot more – the Iranian Government, I should say, is about a lot more than this nuclear program. They’re doing a lot of bad things, and we want to address and highlight those things.
QUESTION: Heather, just to be clear on one thing. May I follow up? You talked about how we waived some sanctions. Can you be precise? Are the sanctions that were waived today the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 Section 1245 sanctions? And were there any others other than those?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: So you’re not aware of what?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if there were any others.
QUESTION: But it was those?
MS NAUERT: I don’t – I don’t have that information in front of me right now.
QUESTION: So you don’t know what sanctions were waived?
MS NAUERT: I know that some sanctions were waived. I don’t have that specific information in front of me at this time.
QUESTION: Can you take that and put it out for everybody so that everybody knows what sanctions were waived?
MS NAUERT: I will look. I will see if I – I will look and I will see if I can get that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Thanks.
QUESTION: I understand what you’re saying about Iran’s other behavior being – needed to be highlighted, but what do you say to those who charge that you’re moving the goal posts on the actual criteria for Iran to be in technical compliance of the actual JCPOA?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think that’s the case at all. I mean, in the preface to the JCPOA it talks about what Iran’s responsibilities are for that. And that’s why when we look at this, we say that Iran is not in compliance – not in compliance with the spirit of the law. And we’ve talked about that extensively.
QUESTION: Heather, can I --
QUESTION: Can I ask about the --
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Hold on. Settle --
QUESTION: Well, but does the --
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: Does the deal itself --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Does the deal itself call for Iran to be in compliance of the spirit or the letter?
MS NAUERT: We have talked about how we believe that Iran is not in compliance with the spirit of the law. Okay.
QUESTION: No, I understand that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But in terms of, like, certifying or not certifying, so, in fact, do you feel that you could certify that Iran is not in compliance because of the spirit as opposed to the legal letter of the law?
MS NAUERT: Last I checked, we have until October the 15th to handle that.
QUESTION: Well, you’re certainly kind of – between now and then, like, it does seem as if --
MS NAUERT: Well, look – and I’m not going to get ahead of that. I’m just not going to get ahead of where we end up. All of this is under review. I think the Secretary was clear about that today. The administration has spoken about this. It’s all under review, and so I’m not going to get ahead of what – of what’s going to happen in the end in that review.
QUESTION: Heather --
QUESTION: Heather, Heather, my publication --
QUESTION: Can I ask --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and others have reported today that there’s a U.S. --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, you’re with --
QUESTION: Betsy Woodruff with The Daily Beast.
MS NAUERT: Hi to you. Hi, Betsy.
QUESTION: Nice to see you. Thanks for a first-time – a first-time visit.
MS NAUERT: Oh. Well, welcome.
QUESTION: I’ve been a longtime viewer.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: My publication and others have reported today that there’s a U.S. citizen who was recently apprehended, in custody of U.S. troops, who was fighting alongside ISIS.
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Hold on.
QUESTION: Can we stay with Iran?
MS NAUERT: Betsy, we’re going to stay with Iran first, and then we’ll move on to that. Okay? Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I just ask --
QUESTION: Heather, how about --
QUESTION: You made a --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on.
QUESTION: You made an allusion to or a reference to the fact that you – that over the course of the past couple of years there hasn’t been much talk about Iran’s bad behavior.
MS NAUERT: I think in the view of many in this administration that we haven’t highlighted as a U.S. Government – if you were to ask anyone in our U.S. military, I’m pretty sure that they would agree with this as well. All of the bad things that Iran has done – think of the U.S. forces, the U.S. troops that have been killed in Iraq by Iranian-led militia. Think of that. We haven’t talked about that. We haven’t addressed that a lot as a U.S. Government. And now, under this administration, that’s something we want to put a focus on some of the bad things that Iran has done, and not just keep our relationship or our conversations about Iran related to the nuclear activities. They’re responsible for a whole lot more bad activity around the world.
QUESTION: I get that. But the suggestion was that the previous administration didn’t call out Iran for ballistic missile tests or its anti-Israel stance or support for Hizballah --
MS NAUERT: I think --
QUESTION: -- or support for Assad.
MS NAUERT: I think many in this administration would view that the previous administration – and I don’t talk about that a lot, but the previous administration did not do enough to highlight and make the American public and folks around the world aware of just how bad the Iranian regime is and the horrible things that they’ve done to people, including our U.S. military.
QUESTION: Okay. Because I and others have sat in here over the course of the last eight years – in some cases even longer – and that’s – many in the administration might not think that the previous one was talking about Iran’s behavior, but you can go back and look at transcripts of your predecessors talking about malign Iranian behavior outside of the nuclear arena. So I just want to – just because many people in this current administration don’t think that the previous administration talked about it, that’s not entirely the case.
MS NAUERT: Well, perhaps next time I bring it up then, Matt, you won’t kind of turn up your nose at it, because it is an important fact that --
QUESTION: I’m not turning my nose up at it. I just think that --
MS NAUERT: -- that people need to be made aware of. Okay. A few more --
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: A few more questions on Iran, and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Related to the preface --
QUESTION: -- on Iran, guys? I just – I got one --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Said, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. The list that you laid out is really a long list. Is it conceivable that Iran can actually adjust to these demands without having a total regime change?
MS NAUERT: Our issue is with – our --
QUESTION: I understand. I understand --
MS NAUERT: The Secretary addressed --
QUESTION: -- your issue is with the government and not the people. And that’s what I’m saying.
MS NAUERT: The Secretary addressed the election, his re-election, and one of the things he said about that is that we have a new opportunity. And if he chooses to change the way that he handles some of the activities of his government, we would certainly welcome that. It’s a new opportunity.
QUESTION: Can I ask about --
QUESTION: Will the Secretary meet on the margins of the General Assembly with the Foreign Minister Zarif?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have a schedule for the Secretary’s --
QUESTION: Could it happen?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have a schedule for the Secretary’s sideline meetings. One-on-one meetings – that is highly doubtful. I’m not aware of anything like that that would occur. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I ask you --
MS NAUERT: Hey.
QUESTION: -- in London earlier today, the Secretary said that Iran was clearly in default of the preface – he quoted the preface of the JCPOA. So, I mean, you also were saying that the administration has not made a decision yet. Can you clear that up? Does the State Department believe that being in default of the preface of the JCPOA does not constitute being in default of the JCPOA?
MS NAUERT: Look, the JCPOA – and the deadline for that is October 15th, okay.
MS NAUERT: So we have that time, okay. I’m not going to get ahead of where we’re going to end up standing on the JCPOA at this time. The Secretary talked about, under the JCPOA, Iran is supposed to positively contribute to regional and international peace and security. I think we’ve been clear that we believe that they’re in default of – excuse me – that they are not in compliance with the spirit of that, and I’ll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I ask --
QUESTION: But I mean, just one quick follow-up. I mean, it’s --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Not asking you to get ahead of it --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- but he did say in that – in those remarks that they are in default of the sentence of the preface, the JCPOA.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So how does that not constitute a determination that they’re in default?
MS NAUERT: I think he said not in default of these expectations, and he said that immediately after he spoke about how, under the JCPOA, Iran is supposed to positively contribute to regional and international peace and security. Saying that they are in default of that, because of all of the other things that they’re doing, is not inconsistent.
QUESTION: So can I ask about the --
QUESTION: Can we go to that --
MS NAUERT: Excuse me. Mr. Arshad in the first row, could you just hold on please? Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to – it’s on the preface, though.
MS NAUERT: Excuse me. I’m taking --
QUESTION: By all means.
MS NAUERT: -- The Guardian’s question first. Okay?
QUESTION: By all means, by all means.
MS NAUERT: Let’s wait our turn, please.
Go right ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Yeah. In the preamble, it says that the signatories anticipate that the deal would contribute to the peace and security of the regime, not that the individual signatories would do it. So it was an expectation doing the deal would make things better. How can it be said that Iran – that that somehow, Iran is in default of the spirit of that? I don’t understand.
MS NAUERT: I think the malign activities speak for themselves. Okay.
Now I would be happy to take your question. Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: My question is very similar. I mean, the language actually says “they anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.” They say nothing about Iran committing to contributing to international peace and security; they just say that the full implementation, they expect, will generally – so I don’t even see how Iran is in – not in compliance with that. You’re saying that – all that’s said in the preface is that carrying out the deal will help lead to peace and security.
MS NAUERT: I don’t have the full quote of the – of that deal in front of me, and I can look and bring in that next time.
QUESTION: Well, I just read it to you.
QUESTION: Just one --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s move on from Iran onto something else.
QUESTION: Can I have just --
MS NAUERT: Elise, last question on Iran. Thank you.
QUESTION: Super quick one. Are you looking to have a meeting of the JCPOA countries, signatories in New York next week? And has Iran agreed to such a meeting?
MS NAUERT: So there is a ministerial that’s under discussion at this time. We don’t have any meetings set on that, but as soon as we do – if that were to happen, that would be – actually be an EU meeting, so they would have to confirm any of that. But I know that is one of the things that is under discussion.
QUESTION: And would you like or prefer that Iran is not part of that meeting?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have an answer to that. I just – I’m not aware.
Okay. We’re moving on. Who wants --
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS NAUERT: We’re moving from Iran now. I think we’ve covered it sufficiently.
QUESTION: Heather, can I ask about --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: -- can I ask an ISIS question?
QUESTION: So do you have a readout of Ambassador Yun’s meetings in Moscow? And how – if – how receptive were the Russians to U.S. efforts to put pressure on North Korea? And is he back in the U.S. now?
MS NAUERT: Let me check for you on Ambassador Yun’s schedule. He was in Moscow I believe it was for two days. I’m not sure if he’s just back in the United States right now or not. I believe he will be back at least by tomorrow.
I don’t have a readout to provide you from that meeting that he had with some of his counterparts in Moscow, but the agenda was to talk about the DPRK. And we were very happy and pleased that Russia signed on to the UN Security Council resolution this time once again, as they did to the UN Security Council resolution last month. We think that that is a step in the right direction. The fact that we were able to sit down and speak with some of Ambassador Yun’s Russian counterparts and have this conversation and recognize the activities that the DPRK is involved with and that it’s a threat to international and regional security I think is a terrific step in the right direction.
QUESTION: And are there plans for a ministerial or meeting on DPRK? How big of a focus will this play at the UN General Assembly?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think when the Secretary came in and became Secretary of State, when the President brought him in to do that, the President said to him, “Top issue I’d like you to work on is North Korea.” And the Secretary has taken that on in a very robust fashion. There is not a meeting – there’s virtually not a meeting that he has with his overseas counterparts where he does not discuss the issue of North Korea, not only its destabilizing activities, not only its provocative actions, but – we’ve talked about this a lot – the number of guest workers that they have, the money that’s taken from those guest workers that goes back into the pockets of the Kim Jong-un regime, not to its people, that gets used for its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs. So we are very concerned about that and that’s why it is such a top priority. Of the issues – and there are so many important issues that they’re going to be speaking about at UNGA – DPRK, I can assure you, will be the top if not – the top.
QUESTION: Heather, follow-up on --
MS NAUERT: Hi, Janne.
QUESTION: Hi. South Korea – today, South Korean Government announced that it would give North Korea $8 million in aid to North Korea.
MS NAUERT: South Korea said that it would give --
QUESTION: $8 million.
MS NAUERT: $8 million.
MS NAUERT: Okay, I’m unaware of this. Okay.
QUESTION: Oh yeah. How can this affect sanctions against North Korea?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know. I haven’t seen that report, so I just – I don’t want to comment on it since I haven’t seen it.
QUESTION: They reported it this morning.
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: They – South Korea reported this morning, so – yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. I just have not seen that myself, so I don’t want to comment on that. Okay?
QUESTION: But this money going to nuclear development for the – I mean, Kim Jong-un’s --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I – look, I don’t know – I don’t know if that’s – I believe you if you say it, but I haven’t seen it myself, so I just don’t want to comment on it. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi, Heather. On the lack of an oil embargo in the UN Security Council resolution, the Secretary said this morning that he’s hopeful that China will take it upon themselves to disrupt North Korean oil supplies. Is there an expectation that China will do that?
MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary was clear in what he said, that he hopes that they will. We’re not going to – we can’t force the Chinese to do anything, certainly, but I think that that would be a strong show of support if they were to do that. I mean, we’re happy with their vote in the UN Security Council. This vote, the last vote, they’ve been taking some steps in the right direction. That would be another step that they could take. We will continue to use all available options on the table if we were to impose additional unilateral sanctions, but we’ll keep having conversations with the Chinese and other nations about that.
QUESTION: And you expect this will be a central part of those conversations?
MS NAUERT: It certainly could be, but I don’t want to get ahead of any additional conversations.
QUESTION: Does that line, we can’t force the Chinese to do it – does that apply to other countries and other issues or is it just on China and North Korea?
MS NAUERT: We’re just talking about China right here.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Thanks.
Okay, anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: Kim Jong-un did not accept UN sanctions against North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Does that surprise you? That doesn’t surprise me.
QUESTION: Well, that’s what we’re always --
MS NAUERT: Of course not. Of course not.
Okay, let’s move on. Betsy, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. My publication, Daily Beast, and others, including Fox News, have reported that there’s a U.S. citizen who traveled to Syria, was fighting there along ISIS – alongside ISIS – when he was apprehended by the Kurds and handed over to the U.S. military. My question is: Is he currently in Syria or Iraq, and has the Red Cross had access to him? Do you have any information about just where he is?
MS NAUERT: So I don’t have a lot for you. I can tell you that we’re aware of that report that a U.S. citizen was detained. Beyond that, I just don’t have any specifics on that. Let me check to see if I have anything additional, but I don’t. This is early on. We just learned about this issue a couple hours ago – to my awareness, at least – and I believe that that is all we have.
QUESTION: Well, it seems that he surrendered to Kurdish elements of the SDF in Syria.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you saying you don’t know, or you can’t say because of privacy --
MS NAUERT: Look, we don’t have a lot of information on that. That is what is being reported; that is what somebody said. I just can’t – I can’t confirm that.
QUESTION: But the DOD statement that they initially gave us said that we needed to ask the Government of Iraq about it. Is there – do you have any information on who --
MS NAUERT: That who would ask the Government of Iraq about it?
QUESTION: That our publication, when we were reporting this out --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: We reached out to CENTCOM and they said we – they said they were deferring to the DOJ and the Government of Iraq. Just from your post at the State Department, do you have any sense of why the Government of Iraq could be involved in this issue with a U.S. citizen fighting with ISIS in Syria?
MS NAUERT: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know. Look, perhaps the Government of Iraq – I mean, this is a hypothetical in a sense, in that perhaps the Government of Iraq has him. I don’t know where this man is. I can only tell you that we are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was fighting for some sort of a terror group. Whether it was ISIS or not, I do not know.
It serves as a good reminder that in a nation of 330-some million people, some people will be dumb enough to go to Iraq and Syria to try to fight for ISIS. We encourage people not to do that. As the U.S. Government, we say don’t go do that. I mean, you can’t be very bright if you’re going to go over there and do that. Beyond that, I just have no information. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I – just one more thing on this? The CENTCOM statement, the most recent one, says, “The coalition defers questions pertaining to captured ISIS fighters to their relative nations’ departments of state or equivalent agencies.” And --
MS NAUERT: I’d say thanks, DOD.
QUESTION: Yeah. And they’ve been --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information for you.
QUESTION: And in fact – and in fact, the Pentagon – it’s not just CENTCOM in Baghdad or wherever.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s also the Pentagon.
MS NAUERT: Look.
QUESTION: Everyone’s throwing this to you guys and --
MS NAUERT: We don’t have any information on this.
QUESTION: Well, then call them out right now and say, “Stop referring questions to the State Department.”
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Thanks, DOD. Stop referring questions --
QUESTION: There we go, okay.
MS NAUERT: -- to the State Department when we don’t have any information --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: -- about who this person was. But it is a good opportunity to remind American citizens, do not go to Iraq or Syria. It is not safe. And if you go there to Iraq and Syria, very bad things could happen to you. Leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can we stay with Iraq?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on that?
QUESTION: Just because you don’t have any information on it, does that lead us to believe that --
MS NAUERT: Guys --
QUESTION: -- the U.S. Government doesn’t actually have this person in custody and that --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know. Look, I don’t have any information about this. Okay? This is getting to be a bit much now. When I tell you I don’t have any information about it, I am telling you I don’t have any information about it.
QUESTION: But I’m just asking if – if you did have someone, would Consular Affairs make us aware, or is that something that you guys wouldn’t necessarily --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer. I don’t know the answer to that.
MS NAUERT: I’d have to check on that.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Today, the president’s office of the northern – the KRG, the --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the Kurdistan Region – issued a statement that he’s looking at alternatives as a result of his meeting with Mr. McGurk and a high-level UK person.
MS NAUERT: He’s looking at alternatives to what?
QUESTION: To the – to the referendum that is scheduled for the 25 of this month.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. So I would – could you share with us if you have any idea as to what that alternative might be to the referendum which would conceivably result in an independent Kurdistan?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not aware of that. I believe that Brett McGurk is still over there in the region, and I’m just not aware of what meetings he had and what came up in those conversations. But the U.S. Government, as we have told you, we don’t support the planned Kurdish referendum on September 25th because we feel that that takes the eye off the ball of ISIS and that we should all remain focused on ISIS. And when I topped at the beginning of this briefing with that most recent attack that took place in Nineveh province, that’s a good reminder why we can’t take our eye off the ball, which is ISIS.
QUESTION: Well, the Kurds are hoping that even if they have a referendum and you are --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- opposed to it, once they go ahead with statehood that you’ll be the first to recognize them. Could you give us – I mean, is your position firm on this non-support of --
MS NAUERT: Our position is firm that we don’t support this referendum at this time. We do not support the referendum on Kurdish independence at the time because of ISIS. Okay.
QUESTION: Moving away from Iraq, if that’s okay?
MS NAUERT: Sure.
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you have any new information to give us. I know sometimes you randomly have new details, new totals, or something. But any response to the report from the Associated Press that includes some of the details of these attacks, including that for some people, they could hear a noise and feel an attack in certain parts of a room but not others?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I certainly read the article with great interest, as did a lot of us. There’s not going to be a lot that I’m going to be able to confirm about that report. I think all of this underscores that we are, at the State Department, very deeply concerned about what has taken place and what has happened to our American personnel who have been serving at our embassy in Cuba. It’s a good reminder of the work that our people do each and every day to represent the United States in – all across the world and sometimes in very difficult situations, and this has certainly turned out to be a difficult situation for some of our people.
I don’t have any change in numbers to provide you at this time. We can certainly say that 21 people have been affected by this. We hope that that number will not increase. We certainly can’t count that out. We are having our people medically tested. We have a full-time medical officer who is there in Cuba. But as you know, and we’ve talked about this before, our staff is also able to get medical treatment and tests and everything here on what I’ll just call the mainland. They continue to undergo tests. Our folks are able to leave Havana, leave Cuba, and return back home if they wish to do so, if they wish to – I think we call it compassionate curtailment or something like that – where they’re able to switch out a job. So if they’re serving there in Cuba, they want to come home and do something else, they are certainly welcome to do so. The investigation into all of this is still underway. It is an aggressive investigation that continues, and we will continue doing this until we find out who or what is responsible for this.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: Does the number keep climbing because there have been new incidents or because more people have seen medical professionals and gotten diagnoses?
MS NAUERT: I think – so the last reported incident we have remains the same as what I told you before a few weeks ago, which was late August. We are not aware of anything that has taken place since that time, but our people continue to undergo tests. The symptoms – and I’ll be vague about this, but can be different in different people. And I’m not going to get into any specifics beyond that. But our people are continuing to be tested.
QUESTION: One more follow-up.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The incident at the end of August, you prior to that had said that there hadn’t been any incidents since the spring.
MS NAUERT: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Were there any then in between that you didn’t know about until more recently?
MS NAUERT: Not that – not that I am aware of. Not that I am aware of at this time.
QUESTION: And because more information, obviously, keeps coming in on this and the details have changed as more people have come forward – I know at one point the phrase “health attack” was used, then we’ve gone to “incident” – is there any reason to use the word “attack” at this point based on whatever new information you have or --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. The Secretary said in – back in August that our personnel in Cuba have been subject to health attacks. We have medically confirmed that our personnel’s health was affected by these incidents. So I’ve been a little bit more broad. I’ve used the terms “incidents,” but as we have learned more, the Secretary has referred to it as such.
QUESTION: So wait – well, the Secretary referred to it at that time, so --
MS NAUERT: Correct.
QUESTION: -- is it appropriate to call these “attacks?”
MS NAUERT: The Secretary called them health attacks; he certainly did. They are – the health of Americans was, in fact, affected by it.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s the word “attack” that is the issue here, so --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I understand, I understand.
QUESTION: I mean, is it --
MS NAUERT: Look, the reality is we don’t know who or what has caused this, and that’s why the investigation is underway.
QUESTION: Okay, so for the people who remain there, because nobody really knows what’s going on here, is there any kind of precaution that has been taken? I mean, I don’t know what that would be, but can you say whether they’ve been able to --
MS NAUERT: I --
QUESTION: -- identify things that they could do to --
MS NAUERT: Right.
QUESTION: -- try to avoid this?
MS NAUERT: I know that we have – certainly our Diplomatic Security and others have been able to look through people’s rooms and do searches and things of that nature. But we still don’t know who or what is causing this, and so it’s hard to do a lot – a lot more when you don’t know who or what is causing something.
QUESTION: But there’s some extra security at some of the – isn’t there? The Cubans --
MS NAUERT: I’m --
QUESTION: -- have provided extra security now?
MS NAUERT: If there is, I’m not aware of that, but we can look into it.
QUESTION: Have they changed anything about the living arrangements or the furnishings, or I mean, have they moved things out of the residences?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I can look into that and see what I can get for you.
QUESTION: Heather, beyond compassionate curtailment --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- has there been any consideration at the State Department of maybe reducing staff of those who have not been affected, as it appears, whether it’s a health attack or incident or whatever, that this is a dangerous situation and the U.S. isn’t sure what’s causing it?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, look, it obviously is a dangerous situation when our people have been affected. We are tremendously concerned about that. We still have work that needs to be done. Our folks can come back to the United States if they wish to do so. It shows the bravery, the hard work and the dedication of Americans, whether they are serving in Cuba or whether they are serving anywhere across the world. We have folks who are in – down in the Irma territories right now. We have folks in Iraq and in Syria, all across the world doing difficult jobs, and I want to recognize them and let them know that we care, we certainly have not forgotten about them, and that this investigation is aggressive. It’s a multiagency investigation and that investigation will continue till we figure out what’s going on.
QUESTION: Can I just, like, clarify one thing?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you – in the answer – your answer to the first question said you weren’t able to confirm the detail – any of the details that were in the report, but you’re not disputing anything in the report, are you?
MS NAUERT: I’m not confirming – I’m not confirming anything in the report. That wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do so, because some of what was reported was very detailed and it would certainly go beyond anything that we would be able to comment on.
QUESTION: I understand that, but you’re not taking issue with any, like, specific parts of the story, are you? No?
MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to confirm, I’m not going to deny pieces of the story. It just wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do that because then that is akin to the State Department saying, “Yes, this happened. No, this happened,” certain things about that.
QUESTION: Have residences been changed at all?
MS NAUERT: I – Michelle, not that I’m aware of, but I will certainly look into that for you. I think that that is a good question. It’s a question that deserves to be asked, and I will be sure to follow up with our Diplomatic Security folks about that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Is Cuba still cooperating with the U.S. investigation?
MS NAUERT: Last I heard, yes, they have been.
Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Madam --
MS NAUERT: Anything – okay. Let’s talk Burma.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a couple of quick questions. The timing of summoning the ambassador.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Was there anything that that hinged upon? I mean, why this week as opposed to last week?
MS NAUERT: So let me clarify one thing about that. And I know you had reported that the ambassador to Burma was brought in here to the State Department yesterday to have a conversation with our Deputy Assistant Secretary Patrick Murphy. Patrick Murphy is the one who – well, has been very active and very engaged on this. Deputy Assistant Secretary Murphy will be heading to Burma sometime this weekend for a trip next week, and that’s when he’ll be meeting with government officials. Among the things that he will be pressing for will be additional humanitarian access, reporter access, and expressing concern about the state of the Rohingya.
I just want to clarify though, so we’re clear, we didn’t call him in as in the official call-in. They agreed to a meeting. The ambassador came here and then they had what was described to me as a tough conversation, obviously, about a tough situation.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
QUESTION: And did --
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: -- that ambassador deliver any kind of – I mean, did they come in prepared to deliver any assurances or --
MS NAUERT: If they --
QUESTION: -- what did they give towards --
MS NAUERT: If they did, I am not aware of that. But I think it’s a good sign that we have had a very highly engaged dialogue with the government there, between the ambassador – our U.S. ambassador who is serving in Burma – he’s had a lot of conversations with representatives of the government there. Our deputy assistant secretary has as well. This is an issue we are very passionate about and we continue to work on it.
QUESTION: And some senators want to not expand military-to-military cooperation anymore with Burma. Does the Secretary feel that that’s a good idea? Or is he one who thinks more engagement is better?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of what those members of Congress are asking us to do or not to do, so I would just have to refer you back to those members of Congress. I have not asked the Secretary that specific question.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Burma?
QUESTION: Just a follow-up, quick follow-up.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: Is he also planning to go to Bangladesh because of the Rohingyas refugees are there?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if he’s going to Bangladesh. I know for a fact he’s going to Burma. We have been pretty clear in thanking the Government of Bangladesh for accepting so many of the Rohingya into their country to provide them at least a safer place. The United States has provided $63 million or so to internally displaced people as well as externally displaced people. I know that the country has received some of that money themselves in that assistance. But I don't know if he’s traveling beyond Burma.
QUESTION: And also, has Secretary spoken to Aung San Suu Kyi on this issue?
MS NAUERT: Not at this point.
QUESTION: And next week at UNGA, the Bangladeshi prime minister is coming. Does the Secretary have any plans to meet her?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that on his schedule. Okay?
QUESTION: The Secretary was pretty forceful today in his comments --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- about the situation there. And he kind of gave a nod to comments by other officials that have called it ethnic cleansing. And what is the position of the State Department? I know it’s a very, like, legal term.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. It’s a very technical thing.
QUESTION: Is there a review going on with the State Department lawyers in terms of trying to determine whether this constitutes any type of effort towards genocide or ethnic cleansing?
MS NAUERT: I can only say that we are assessing the situation on the ground. There is still – I mean, despite the horrific pictures that you’ve seen and the reporting and some of the harrowing details that you’ve read about, there’s still not a lot of information that, as a government, we’ve been able to independently verify, in terms of from our own people being able to ask those questions and getting enough good answers, solid answers that are verifiable.
In addition to that, we’ve been working with a lot of partners on the ground. But as you know –well know – the humanitarian situation has been difficult. While there are some people there, there are certainly not enough. We work with a lot of those humanitarian organizations on the ground to try to get additional information, but we just don’t have enough just yet. But I know that that is all being assessed and reviewed.
QUESTION: So – okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m struggling with this. The government – the Trump administration keeps saying “if” ethnic cleansing or “if” this sort of catastrophe is unfolding. 250,000 people – are they all lying? I mean, you have satellites; you have intelligence. How this many days, this many weeks later do you not know what’s going on?
MS NAUERT: I think we want to make sure that we are right in that assessment. As Elise mentioned, it is a technical issue. When it comes to assessing that, there are a lot of things that need to be met. It’s not as simple as you want to make it right now, but I can tell you it’s under review. We are passionate about this issue; we care about this issue. We have had folks engaged in this for many years. This has not just started all of a sudden. This has been unfolding for decades now. But we are certainly focused on it now, as we were before, and we’ll continue to work on this, okay.
QUESTION: So if you find it’s ethnic cleansing, what is the responsibility that the U.S. has in that situation?
MS NAUERT: I – it’s a – that’s a hypothetical. I’m just not going to get into that. Okay?
QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. I mean, it’s actually --
MS NAUERT: She said – just said “if.” That’s a – it’s a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Well, but --
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into that.
QUESTION: I understand, but if you’re trying to assess --
MS NAUERT: Yeah?
QUESTION: -- whether – well --
MS NAUERT: What?
QUESTION: The practice of trying to assess whether ethnic cleansing took place, when there is a determination, that definitely triggers a policy response --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and you’re making an effort to assess that.
MS NAUERT: We are making an effort to assess this, okay. And that --
QUESTION: So not as it – not as it applies to Myanmar --
MS NAUERT: Look --
QUESTION: -- what does the State Department do in situations where ethnic cleansing has been found?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think you’ve seen our action in the past. I think you’ve seen how much we care about issues such as that in the past. It’s under review, and that’s all I can say about it, okay.
QUESTION: How long do you think the review will take?
MS NAUERT: I will never preview how long a review will take. You could ask me that about the previous Afghan review; you could ask me that about our Pakistan review; you could ask me that about our Iran review.
QUESTION: Well --
MS NAUERT: I’m never going to give you a timeline on how long a review will take. We will do a review until we have sufficient information and until we can provide good solid information with evidence – that is backed by evidence. Okay?
Thank you, everybody.
QUESTION: Before you walk away could I ask you two really brief and very disparate things?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: One, on the latest escalation – or what appears to be escalation in your ongoing diplomatic spat with the Russians – they seem to have removed some of your parking spaces. (Laughter.) Are you guys going to retaliate? What’s next here? Are you going to be forcing Russian diplomats in Washington to ride bicycles, or what’s the deal?
MS NAUERT: A lot of people around here ride bicycles. That’s not --
QUESTION: I know.
MS NAUERT: -- such a bad idea. Someone was lobbying me on that in the garage the other day. We can confirm that the parking spaces that were previously designated for our consulate personnel in Russia were recently removed, so we can confirm that that happened. We will plan to raise that issue with Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss that with them.
But I don’t want to characterize that as any sort of retaliation. I think we want to forge ahead with our relationship with the Government of Russia. And we had a good meeting. Under Secretary Shannon had a positive meeting with Mr. Ryabkov, and we’ll go from there in our relationship.
QUESTION: All right. But so in other words, you don’t intend – there doesn’t – you don’t intend to respond to this. Has it --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information to provide on that. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you know – just offhand, do you know if it has caused major inconvenience for people in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: We have fewer people there, so --
MS NAUERT: -- maybe a few --
QUESTION: And then lastly at – I mean, to – I understand that the administration’s thinking on the Taylor Force Act and that – and Palestinian aid has evolved. What’s the latest? Is the administration prepared to support the Taylor Force Act now, which as you know, would cut off aid to --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the Palestinians if they don’t stop payments to the families of --
MS NAUERT: You know what? This was something that was just brought to my attention as I was walking out here, and I didn’t get a chance to go through it all. So I just don’t have any – an update --
MS NAUERT: -- for you on that right now, but I can get that for you in just a little bit.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: Okay? Thank you, everybody.
MS NAUERT: We got to go.
QUESTION: Just a practical one. You – do you have a rough estimate for how much smaller your footprint will be at UNGA this year than in past years?
MS NAUERT: So what I can tell you is that we have a very robust agenda. We have our diplomats and folks who are on their way up there. The Secretary heads up there on Friday, as I mentioned. We have a full schedule of meetings that we are still working out right now.
Some folks like to focus on the overall size of the footprint, and I can tell you that diplomats are still going. We are still doing all of the work that is necessary and important to the State Department. In terms of a smaller footprint, there will be some support staff who will not be going this year, because we recognize that there is this thing called technology. There’s this thing called email, which some people are able to provide support staffing to our colleagues who will be in New York by emailing information in.
So we don’t feel that this year we need the bodies that we have had in years past. The Secretary firmly believes, coming out of the private sector, that he needs to – and that we all need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. And by not having as large of a footprint in New York the week of UNGA – by the way, have you checked hotel rates?
QUESTION: I --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’ve --
QUESTION: -- have for many years. Yes.
MS NAUERT: I found a hotel right down the street – and it’s not a great hotel, by the way – it’s $1,400 a night.
MS NAUERT: So I mean, the hotel rates alone are ridiculously expensive. So by cutting back and cutting back the number of support staff going, we feel like we’ll still be able to do our job. We’ll still be able to conduct diplomacy, but some of our folks will be back here in Washington --
QUESTION: Sure. Sure.
MS NAUERT: -- or working from elsewhere.
QUESTION: And do you have an estimate on the savings?
MS NAUERT: I’m – I do not. Nope. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Were you quoting – that’s the government rate? $1,400?
MS NAUERT: That was just the regular rate. I don’t know what the government rate is.
QUESTION: Be careful about extolling the virtues of email from this podium.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, right? Oh my gosh. Good point.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:39 p.m.)
DPB # 50