Department Press Briefing - September 28, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:49 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: How are you today?
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: Hi. Hey, Josh. All right, another packed day. It seems like they just keep getting busier and busier.
So I want to start by telling you a little bit about a terrific dialogue and engagement that we held today, earlier today at the State Department. Secretary Rex Tillerson and the Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong chaired the first U.S.-China Social and Cultural Dialogue here at the State Department today. That dialogue focused on advancing cooperation in seven areas: education, social development, science and technology, health, subnational, arts and culture, and environment and conservation. The two sides committed to safeguarding global health security and support for educational exchanges, particularly the U.S.-China Fulbright Program. The Secretary advocated for access of foreign media to Chinese audiences.
Later today, Secretary Tillerson will travel to China to meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the State Councilor Yang Jiechi – pardon me – and President Xi Jinping. The Secretary will discuss a range of issues focusing on the President’s planned travel to the region, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, also trade and investment.
In addition to that – this is building on Secretary of Commerce Ross’s visit earlier this week – we’re working with China to rebalance our trade and our lopsided relationship in that realm and ensure that China provides fair treatment to U.S. companies in ways that create U.S. jobs. Secretary Tillerson’s visit to China reaffirms the administration’s commitment to further broaden and enhance U.S. economic and security interests in the Asia Pacific region.
On Wednesday, at the direction of Secretary Tillerson, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, they will host the Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue. That’s next week. It will be co-chaired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke on the U.S. side, and State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun on the Chinese side. They will talk about increasing cooperation on repatriations, fugitives, counternarcotics, and also cyber crime. With the conclusion of the Law Enforcement Cybersecurity Dialogue, the first round of the four cabinet-level dialogues agreed to by President 3 9/28/2017
Trump and President Xi at Mar-a-Lago in April, will have been completed. The Diplomatic and Security Dialogue and the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue were held in June and July respectively.
That was a mouthful. So we were very happy to have welcomed them today.
In addition to that, I wanted to mention something about Puerto Rico today. We have seen some false reporting coming out from some members of the news media today, so I wanted to take a moment to clarify things. Reports that the State Department is evacuating U.S. citizens and charging Puerto Ricans for evacuation flights are false. The State Department is not facilitating evacuations from Puerto Rico. Reports that the State Department is confiscating U.S. passports of Puerto Ricans is also false.
Let’s go back to geography class, folks. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. Here at the State Department, we work with international countries, and therefore we are not involved in this. The State Department is not an agency in charge of relief efforts there, and for questions about relief efforts in Puerto Rico, I would refer you to FEMA. They have the lead on this.
I’d also like to thank those of you who called us to check the facts earlier today. We received phone calls, so we certainly appreciate that. We are always happy to help track those down and try to get you the information on a timely basis. So thank you very much.
And with that, I will take your questions.
QUESTION: Just a – just on that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you do – when you are part of an evacuation from a foreign country, people do have to reimburse the government for their flights, don’t they? I mean, that’s always been the case in the past.
MS NAUERT: In some --
QUESTION: It hasn’t changed, has it?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Since 1956, when we have assisted with the evacuations – and that’s not something that happens all the time, but when the State Department has assisted with evacuations, we are required by law – again, this does not pertain to Puerto Rico. But in the past instances with Irma, for example, we would then seek reimbursement to the maximum extent practicable for evacuation services provided to private U.S. citizens.
There are some times when we do not do that. An example of that would be there was a certain window of time during two hurricanes from Sint Maarten, and that is when the Secretary waived those fees. So Americans were not asked to pay those fees in that particular incident. We were trying to get as many people out as quickly as possible in between two storms. But I want to assure you that no one will be denied assistance because they cannot produce a checkbook or a credit card. Again, this only applies to international places. 4 9/28/2017
QUESTION: Right, right. So – but – and in those cases, do they have to actually surrender a passport?
MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge. I’ve never heard of surrendering a passport.
Okay. I’m getting the nod now. Okay.
QUESTION: One more question on that.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: So are you saying that people in Puerto Rico are not even being asked to sign these promissory notes, and they’re not – the answer --
MS NAUERT: I can only speak --
QUESTION: Or is it just that State is not part of this?
MS NAUERT: I can only speak to the State Department. In terms of the State Department, the State Department – and I want to be clear – is not evacuating anyone from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. FEMA may be doing other things, and if you have any questions about that, then I would refer you to FEMA. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the review of what to do about the embassy or your staffing levels there, and anything more on the investigation into the incidents?
MS NAUERT: Sure. As many of you know, we met earlier this week with the minister of foreign affairs and his delegation here at the State Department. That was a meeting that was held at their request. We were more than happy to have that meeting and to be able to ask questions and have a dialogue with the Cuban delegation.
I would describe the conversation between Secretary Tillerson and his counterparts as firm and frank. The Secretary continued to express his profound concern for Americans who are employed by the U.S. embassy in Havana.
Many of you have had questions in recent days about the timing of any potential announcements in terms of whether or not we change staffing levels or whatever. I just want to let you know that the Secretary is reviewing all of his options. We are reviewing how to best protect our American personnel.
In terms of the investigation, the FBI has the lead on that investigation. We have a lot of conversations and dialogue with the FBI and other agencies that are a part of this investigation, and that has not been concluded just yet. 5 9/28/2017
One other note. I just want to let you know that the Secretary has been monitoring this very closely. We have had a lot of meetings here at the State Department from – with various bureaus and people weighing in. The safety and security of our folks who are serving the United States down there is our top concern.
QUESTION: So related – just related to that.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: It seems to have crept into some kind of conventional wisdom that you are now – have determined that 25 Americans were – instead of the 21 which you have repeatedly confirmed and denied the 25. And yet the 25 continues to appear in a variety of reports.
MS NAUERT: It does.
QUESTION: Is there a reason for that? Or is it – is it still wrong?
MS NAUERT: Here’s what I – here’s what I can tell you. We have had – and I want to be clear about this as well – 21 medically confirmed cases. We have always been clear about saying that number could certainly change. We have people who are undergoing medical evaluations. People’s symptoms have changed, and some of them are different from one another. So they continue to undergo medical evaluations. I certainly hope that no one else is diagnosed, for lack of a better word, by the medical community. We certainly hope that that won’t be the case. But if that changes, I’ve always been very forthcoming in bringing you the numbers as we get them as we can confirm them.
QUESTION: Last one --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to put a fine – just to put a fine --
QUESTION: On that point --
QUESTION: Hold on. This is on that point. Right now --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: All you can confirm is 21?
MS NAUERT: Correct.
QUESTION: The 25 figure that’s out there is just wrong?
MS NAUERT: I have no idea – I have no idea where the number 25 came from.
QUESTION: It’s wrong. Right? 6 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: All of the briefings I have sat in with our top people have all indicated 21 is the number. However, that number could certainly change as we continue to evaluate our U.S. staff who served down there.
QUESTION: Twenty-one diagnosed cases.
MS NAUERT: Twenty-one medically confirmed.
QUESTION: Confirmed incidents related to the sonic --
MS NAUERT: That they’ve – I’m not characterizing it that way. That’s your word. That’s not mine. Twenty-one medically confirmed to have experienced health effects.
QUESTION: Directly related to the same specific incident?
MS NAUERT: We don’t – we don’t know what it was. We don’t know who’s done it. We’ve been very clear about that from the beginning.
QUESTION: No, but I’m not – I’m saying, like, there could be more than 21 people who have reported kind of health symptoms that you believe are unrelated?
MS NAUERT: Elise --
QUESTION: But when you say 21, do you mean they’re all related to the same --
MS NAUERT: There are a lot of questions that we still have. That’s why we have such a vigorous investigation that is underway. We have the best medical professionals here on the mainland helping our people and helping with the evaluations. Those evaluations are ongoing last I had heard, which was just a few hours ago. Twenty-one people have been medically confirmed to have experienced health effects. Okay.
QUESTION: Why two months since this has been – this has been reported for the past two months and so on? Why does it remain such a mystery? And since this was your first meeting with the foreign minister of Cuba, did they in any way explain what’s going on, or did they come clean? How did they respond to all these inquiries?
MS NAUERT: I wish I could get – I wish I could get into some of that conversation with you. Unfortunately, I cannot. We had the conversation with them. We made it very clear Cuba has a responsibility, as does every country that hosts U.S. and other officials where we have posts, they have a responsibility to ensure that our embassy personnel are kept safe. That’s under the Vienna Convention. That obviously was not done. Our people were certainly put in a very precarious situation. And let me again just say the safety and security of our folks is our top concern.
Anything else on Cuba?
QUESTION: You said -- 7 9/28/2017
QUESTION: So it sounds --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Michele.
QUESTION: It sounds like in the investigation and in terms of you leaning even one way or another as to what this was – was it an attack or not? Who did it? It doesn’t sound like it’s moved in any way or --
MS NAUERT: I can’t say that. I cannot speak to the investigation. I cannot speak to the details of the investigation. I’m not one of the investigators. That is held – handled by a separate agency, separate group of folks, so I’m not able to answer your questions about that. And even if I did have the answers to that, I probably wouldn’t be able to bring it to you, because we don’t know who is responsible; we don’t know what is responsible. We want to bring in all the facts and have those facts sussed out before I can bring it to anybody. Okay?
QUESTION: But there’s – I mean, you must have concerns that this could – because you don’t know what this was even or who did this, this could potentially happen to any diplomat anywhere.
MS NAUERT: We have never seen this anyplace in the world before. As far as we know, this is just something that’s limited to Cuba.
QUESTION: Heather, can you confirm it? You said people or person --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- were put in danger, past tense. Are you sure that the incidents have stopped?
MS NAUERT: The last incident that has been reported was in August, okay?
QUESTION: And I know none since then, but are you confident that there will be no more future incidents?
MS NAUERT: I – goodness, I would certainly hope not. I would certainly hope not.
QUESTION: But you can’t rule that out?
MS NAUERT: We are working hard to try to get to the bottom of this. We’ve tried to extend every possible assistance available to our people, who are amazingly serving in Cuba, despite the situation. And frankly, a lot of our folks really want to be down there. They are happy and proud of the work that they’re doing. And despite these concerns, our folks are still doing their jobs every day. 8 9/28/2017
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if people still want to work down there and serve down there.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: And you’re not aware of any – well, obviously not aware of any future incidents. No idea what’s really happening. But what does drawing down the diplomatic presence achieve?
MS NAUERT: I have – there is – I don't have anything to announce for you on that, okay?
QUESTION: And based --
MS NAUERT: If that changes, I will let you know.
QUESTION: Based on this last high-level conversation, you’re still calling this an incident, right?
MS NAUERT: I do. Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s not appropriate to call it an attack, or is it?
MS NAUERT: Look, I prefer to call it an incident, because we still do not know what the cause was and we don’t know who’s responsible for it.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the investigation, like how many FBI agents may be down there?
MS NAUERT: Did you just walk in here? Michele just asked me that same question --
QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: -- about the investigation. Hi, Carol.
QUESTION: Sorry. I misheard. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) No. The answer is no, I can’t tell you anything about the investigation, okay? If I can, I’ll certainly bring it to you.
QUESTION: Heather, this might be a way to get at what --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead. Hi, Josh.
QUESTION: -- Elise was asking about. Can you offer any insight into what criteria the State Department is using to determine if a diplomat in Havana comes forward and says, “I have a headache,” whether that is a medically confirmed incident versus just a headache or an unrelated physical ailment? 9 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: We have – when I say we have top medical staff – people, not staff working for us, but people elsewhere – who are involved in this at different medical facilities in the United States. In addition, we have a medical representative there on the ground in Cuba, who’s there 24/7. We also have a bureau here that’s our medical bureau. So they’re all involved in tracking this. In terms of the kinds of tests that people are going – I just can’t speak --
QUESTION: I just have a question --
MS NAUERT: I can’t speak to that part.
QUESTION: If you – given that you don’t know what is causing this, how could it be that you could medically confirm that these cases are or are not related?
MS NAUERT: I think that’s a question for the medical staff, and a lot of that would just be confidential. I’m sorry. I don't have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- Tuesday’s meeting with the foreign minister.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: The Cuban Government called this meeting. It was scheduled, I believe, for a half hour. It went much longer than that. Why did they say they scheduled the meeting? Did they come with information? Did they come trying to avoid any type of U.S. reprisals, to insist that they weren’t doing anything? Why were they here?
MS NAUERT: I don't want to ascribe any motivations to that – their request for the meeting. We have had conversations with them on the ground in Cuba, and I know they were heading back to Cuba from New York, from having been at the United Nations, and so they stopped down here to have a conversation with us.
QUESTION: And they’re investigating this in conjunction with the FBI?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, any country would have to basically sign off on U.S. investigators being on the ground. So when I’ve talked about their cooperation, they gave us and our investigators the permission to head to that country to conduct investigations. Okay? Lets --
QUESTION: So did the meeting yesterday further that cooperation, or did it kind of put – make it harder to continue --
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize that. I’m just going to say the meeting was frank and firm, and we had a – it was good to have a chat. Okay?
QUESTION: A grand old time.
MS NAUERT: Yes. Yeah. 10 9/28/2017
QUESTION: By saying that, that sounds --
MS NAUERT: Let’s move on from Cuba. I don't have anything more for you on Cuba.
QUESTION: One more. But one more.
MS NAUERT: As I have more information for you on Cuba, I will bring it to you, okay?
QUESTION: Can we just get your reaction to one – there was one report that said the U.S. had ruled out that Cuba was responsible. Can you confirm or deny that?
MS NAUERT: When I say that the investigation is ongoing --
QUESTION: So you haven’t ruled anyone out.
MS NAUERT: -- the investigation is ongoing.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Let me leave it at that.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s move on. Okay. Let’s move on to Iraq.
QUESTION: As you know, a couple of days after the Kurdistan referendum, the relations between Baghdad and Erbil is getting complicated, as you and many others expected. Kurdistan now is almost besieged by Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, and there is a feeling among the people in Kurdistan that the United States is keeping silent and that’s – means giving the green light to Iraq to do whatever they want to do.
MS NAUERT: “Keeping silent” would be a mischaracterization of the U.S. position on this. We have been very clear from the beginning that we oppose that referendum because we thought it would be destabilizing. As we see some of these reports in the media, unfortunately, that has been borne out. This is destabilizing. We want Kurdistan – we want the Kurds, we want Iraq – the central government of Iraq to remain focused on the fight against ISIS. We have concerns that this will take the focus off the fight against ISIS.
That being said, I want to be very cautious about inflaming tensions. We understand the concerns that many in the region have, and the United States Government doesn’t want to do anything to inflame tensions in that arena. We want to avoid anything that would contribute to any additional instability.
QUESTION: So does that mean that --
QUESTION: So you are not part of any dialogue currently between Baghdad and Erbil? So there is no dialogue, but are you not working on -- 11 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve had lots of conversations, both with Erbil and with Baghdad as well. The Secretary had conversations with both of his counterparts over the past few days. I have said this, and we’ve talked about this. You and I talked about this, right? The United States, if asked, would be willing to help facilitate a conversation between the two, but I want to be clear about that: if asked.
If we are asked to assist in any way – look, we’re friends with the Kurds; we are friends with the central government of Iraq. We have fought – our American forces have fought side by side with your folks, okay? We want to have a stable, unified Iraq. We want that more than anything. We want ISIS out of Iraq. We want to see them decimated and to never wreak terror on your communities again.
QUESTION: One more thing on that.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: That’s just the Iraqi Government – it seems that the parliament asking the Iraqi Government to ask all of the foreign consulates and representatives in Erbil to close. Have you received any warning or any message from the Iraqi Government to close your embassy?
MS NAUERT: Our embassy – our consulate, rather, in Erbil remains open.
QUESTION: Can I follow this, Heather?
MS NAUERT: Okay? I’m not aware of any requests on the part of --
QUESTION: Heather --
QUESTION: One more on that --
QUESTION: One more on that. Heather --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on, hold on.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Elise.
QUESTION: Will you – okay, so you said that this was a destabilizing vote.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: You don’t agree with it. Does that mean that you will not recognize an independent Kurdistan?
MS NAUERT: That would be a hypothetical situation.
QUESTION: Why? If you didn’t think it was a good idea for them to vote on independence -- 12 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- then how is that not --
MS NAUERT: Our relationship with the Kurds, in our view, will not change. Okay?
QUESTION: Would you like to see the referendum nullified?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that that’s – I don’t know that that’s a --
QUESTION: Is that doable? Is that --
MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with the law or the specifics under which this was held, so I’m hesitant to get into that kind of a hypothetical.
QUESTION: You said the Secretary has talking to Iraq and Kurdistan.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Was that after the referendum or before?
MS NAUERT: In the days before. I’m not aware if he’s had any conversations with them since, and he’s now on his way to Beijing.
QUESTION: And don’t you have any reaction to what Kurdistan considers a collective punishment, the suspension of the flights? Almost all the airlines have canceled their flights for tomorrow, and we have actually learned from sources within Iran – our network has learned from sources within Iran and Turkey that Iran and Iraq are trying, maybe tonight, to take the border crossings by force. Isn’t the United States really doing anything to stop what seems --
MS NAUERT: We would oppose any violence, if that were to take place. We want to be very strongly – our voice – we hope our voices will be heard in a very strong fashion that we oppose violence on any side of this. Okay?
QUESTION: And just one more question: Turkey, the Turkish Government, has taken a number of Kurdish stations off air, including Rudaw – like, our network. Are you concerned about this decision by the Turkish Government?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. This is the first I’ve heard of it, so we can certainly look into it and see if I can get you anything on that, okay?
QUESTION: The former ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said today on CNN it was a mistake for the U.S. to come down so hard against the referendum once it was clear it was going to happen and that it probably emboldened Baghdad to take a harsher posture than it otherwise 13 9/28/2017
would have. And he also stressed the importance of managing the tensions that now exist in the region. What is your response to that?
MS NAUERT: The only thing I will respond to – and I’m always hesitant to respond to other officials or world leaders who specifically have a comment or an opinion on something – but he does bring up – that last point is a valid one, and that is we would like to see some calm on all sides. The United States does not want to do anything that would inflame tensions. That’s why I’m going to be very cautious with my words. We will continue to offer our assistance to help facilitate any dialogue, if we are asked. Okay?
QUESTION: But “if we are asked” – you have influence in Baghdad; you have influence in Erbil, influence in Ankara. Crocker stressed the importance of the U.S. being proactive on this --
MS NAUERT: I think we have been very proactive. We’ve talked about Iraq and we’ve talked about this referendum a lot from this briefing room. Okay, let’s move on --
QUESTION: Just one more?
QUESTION: On Iraq?
MS NAUERT: Let’s move --
QUESTION: One more on al-Baghdadi.
MS NAUERT: Okay. One more on Iraq. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Has the State Department got any response to this apparent message from him – the fact that he’s still standing at this point?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, first of all, the --
QUESTION: Or the possibility that he’s still standing.
MS NAUERT: -- the tape that was released that is allegedly of Baghdadi, I’m certainly aware of that tape. We have folks who will take a look at it. When I say “we,” I don’t necessarily mean the State Department. Somebody out there in the U.S. Government is taking a look or a listen at that tape to try to confirm its authenticity. I’m not in the position to confirm the authenticity of that. Okay?
QUESTION: Can we go to the Middle East?
MS NAUERT: Sure, okay. Are we good? Anything? Okay.
MS NAUERT: So I’ve also heard about this report, and when you mention that figure of two percent, I don’t know where that came from. That came from some report. I have no idea which report that came from. 14 9/28/2017
QUESTION: It was in the interview. It came from his --
QUESTION: It came from his own mouth.
QUESTION: It was from David Friedman’s mouth.
MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay, okay. I thought he was citing a report or something. Okay, okay. So I’m aware of what he said. His comments – and I want to be crystal clear about this – should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the U.S. would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians. It should also not indicate a shift in U.S. policy.
QUESTION: Well, do they reflect – oh. So it does – so his comments by the U.S. ambassador to Israel do not reflect U.S. policy?
MS NAUERT: I just want to say it should not be read as a change in U.S. policy.
QUESTION: Did he go rogue?
QUESTION: This is --
QUESTION: So is this --
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. That’s --
QUESTION: This is at least the second time that from this podium you’ve had to sort of clean up Ambassador Friedman’s remarks when he had upped the alleged occupation. Is this becoming an issue? I mean, even if it’s not a change of position, is the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the U.S.?
MS NAUERT: I guess what I would say to that is we have some very effective leaders and representatives for the U.S. Government, including Jason Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, who are spending an awful lot of time in the region trying to get both sides together to have talks about a lasting existence side by side. The President has made that one of his top priorities. And when we talk about top priorities here, we talk about the nuclear threat of North Korea, but also – the nuclear and ballistic missile threat of North Korea, but we also talk about this. And I think it indicates just how important this is to the President that he has put those two in charge of negotiating that.
In terms of the ambassador, I can’t comment any more for you on that other than to say our policy here has not changed.
QUESTION: Well, it sounds --
QUESTION: But when you say that – Heather, when you say -- 15 9/28/2017
QUESTION: It sounds to me like you’re saying – that you’re telling – you’re telling the Palestinians and the Israelis don’t bother listening to the ambassador, listen to Greenblatt and Kushner.
MS NAUERT: I have not had the chance to speak to the ambassador, so I will hesitate at commenting too much --
QUESTION: I mean, the ambassador spoke --
MS NAUERT: Hold on – too much on what he said. I was not there. I have not heard it. I have not heard the context in which that conversation was had. But I just want to be clear that our policy has not changed.
QUESTION: Right. But the – but I mean, all that is fair enough, but the problem arises because he is the Senate-confirmed ambassador. Mr. – neither Greenblatt nor Kushner are. They’re just informal-type envoys. And ambassadors to every country are supposed to speak for and with the authority of the President of the United States. Do you not see that this is causing confusion?
And then as a purely factual matter, how much of – what percent of the West Bank does the United – does the administration believe is occupied?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that we have a map of that or that we have --
QUESTION: You’ve got a lot of maps on that.
MS NAUERT: Do we have a lot of maps?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Do we?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, see, you all pre-date me here. I’ll go pull out some --
QUESTION: Heather, do you --
MS NAUERT: -- the dusty shelves.
QUESTION: You have many, many, many, many maps.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Said, go right ahead.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on something else that he said.
MS NAUERT: Yes. 16 9/28/2017
QUESTION: He said that the two-state solution has lost its meaning. Is that your position? I mean, this is – it’s been the case of past U.S. presidents – I mean U.S. ambassadors in Israel to speak for the State Department and to report directly to the Secretary of State. Has he cleared that with the Secretary of State?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Ambassador Friedman’s current comments --
MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not going to have anything more for you on the ambassador.
QUESTION: Okay, but will you – I understand. But you just said that Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner are working on this issue.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And then you – or before that, you said that Ambassador Friedman’s comments don’t reflect a change in policy. So aren’t you a bit concerned that the ambassador’s comments are detracting or going to harm the efforts by the President’s appointed envoys on this issue?
MS NAUERT: I think I would go back to the meetings that the President held where the Secretary was last week at the UN, in meeting with Mr. Abbas and meeting with Mr. Netanyahu. And I think they know – I know they know – just how strongly we feel about trying to bring peace, peace to that region.
QUESTION: Well, they – the President told him --
MS NAUERT: And --
QUESTION: -- that last week and that yes, they came across – they came out of those meetings last week. And now this week --
MS NAUERT: And we both came out of those meetings very, very hopeful.
QUESTION: I understand that.
MS NAUERT: And they both had said something along the lines of “We have” – something along the lines of “We’ve never felt like we’re in a better position to reach this goal.” So I’m not going to tarnish that in any kind of way. I think we’re still going forward with that goal.
QUESTION: But that was last week. And this week, the ambassador is coming out and saying something completely different. Has he been -- 17 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: Well, let me just say, to my knowledge, we have not received any phone calls about this just yet. Okay?
Said, go ahead. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up very quickly. I’m sorry. I just want to follow up, because today, the prime minister of Israel told the official news channel that he discussed with Mr. Greenblatt and with Mr. Friedman and, in fact, with Mr. Dermer, the ambassador, the Israeli ambassador here, that they – they want to close – he raised with them closing the PLO embassy here in Washington. You have anything on that? Do you know anything about that? Because I told the Palestinian ambassador. He says we have not heard anything; this is something that the Israelis are just saying they’re doing.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about that?
MS NAUERT: You know what? I’m not familiar with that report. If I have anything for you on it, I will certainly get it to you, but I can refer you back to the government. Okay?
QUESTION: On a related matter --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- do you know anything about Interpol recognizing or accepting Palestine as a member-state?
MS NAUERT: I do. I do. We’re still working through some of that to try to figure out – assess the situation on that. That vote took place earlier this week. We were disappointed in the vote. It grants Palestinian Authority country status in Interpol. We believe that that vote unnecessary – unnecessarily politicizes the important law enforcement body. We believe it also complicates efforts to achieve a historic conflict-ending agreement between the parties.
QUESTION: I thought that the President’s personal and the – his administration’s primary goal in the Middle East is the defeat of ISIS and counterterrorism-type things. This is one of Interpol’s main functions. Are you saying that you’re disappointed that now, the Palestinians will be able to participate fully in the work of an international police agency who – which is dedicated, one of its primary missions, to fighting terrorism?
MS NAUERT: No. Fighting terrorism has not changed. That will not – that certainly will not change. This is --
QUESTION: So the Palestinians can do it; they just can’t do it as part of Interpol?
MS NAUERT: But this is something, by joining or belonging to some of these international organizations, unnecessarily, we believe, complicates peace between the two.
QUESTION: Well -- 18 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: And I’m just going to leave it at that. Okay?
MS NAUERT: All right. Shall we move on? Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: On Asia. Good. Thank you. Prime Minister Abe announced earlier that Japan will hold snap elections next month. Do you have any reaction? And will this affect the President’s trip to Asia in a couple months from now?
MS NAUERT: Sure. So I don’t think it will affect the President’s trip to Asia. I don’t have a full schedule for the President. I know he will be traveling to China. What countries beyond that, I just don’t know. I know the President is really looking forward to that. We had a terrific meetings – series of meetings here today with the Chinese delegation.
To your question about Japan and the snap elections, we would regard that as internal politics, so I’m not going to comment on that too much. I can just say that Japan will always remain a steadfast ally of ours. Our relationship – we’ve talked about this before one on one – our relationship with the Japanese is one that we consider to be ironclad. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Let’s see. I don’t have the exact schedule in front of me. I’m sorry. I just don’t – did not grab that. You might think so with this big book – (laughter) – but I don’t have the Secretary’s schedule. I know that he is really looking forward to that.
If I can just bend your ear for a moment on the dialogue that we had today, it was terrific to have met so many foreign ministers – excuse me, so many cabinet-level officials from China. We met with the education minister, the finance minister, the equivalent of our Health and Human Services Secretary, and they were all here for a bunch of meetings with their various counterparts to talk about different forms of dialogue. This is one of the four meetings that the President, President Trump, and Mr. Xi had agreed to earlier this year. So it was a terrific exchange of ideas about how the United States can perhaps bring in more of their students. There are so many students who are coming from China every year.
I know that the Secretary looks to just reinforce the relationship with China. As two massive powers, massive populations, we want to have a good understanding and a good working relationship with China. Today was a part of that. The Secretary’s trip, where he’s – will land later today or tomorrow is a continuation of that. Part of what he will be doing on that trip is helping to facilitate the President’s travel and talk about what the President will be doing when the President arrives there.
QUESTION: But is there any particular message that he’ll be bringing on North Korea to China? 19 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: Oh, well – I mean, that is certainly a big topic of conversation that we always have. I know that the Secretary will continue his conversations with the Chinese Government about the destabilizing activities of the DPRK. China has taken some great strides in recent weeks, and we look forward to China adhering to the UN Security Council resolutions and fully implementing all those resolutions. We’ve seen some reports today about how they have committed to do just that, and so I think the Secretary will be thanking them for the steps that they’ve taken in that direction. And of course, we’re always looking for countries to do more. Okay?
QUESTION: On DPRK?
QUESTION: In your --
MS NAUERT: Yeah?
QUESTION: In your opening spiel --
QUESTION: -- on the dialogue from this morning at the top --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you mentioned – one line was about how he talked about hoping the Chinese would increase access to foreign media --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- for Chinese audiences.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Was he – was he any more specific about, like, which foreign media and --
MS NAUERT: So I was there and heard the Secretary as he was talking about that, and you know freedom of speech is an important matter for the U.S. Government. It’s what we stand for, it’s one of the things we care about most deeply. The subject came up, the Secretary brought up that issue and said that that was a – I’m trying to think of his exact words. I don’t have them in front of me, but where he said that we would like further – and I can check my notes – but we’d like further access because that – having access to U.S. media could help better – help the two countries better understand one another.
QUESTION: Okay. Could I just make a point that one way to demonstrate your commitment to --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- freedom of press and the importance of it is actually bringing more reporters with him on his trip when he shows up? Just -- 20 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: I will register that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything --
QUESTION: On China?
MS NAUERT: Anything else on North Korea, China?
QUESTION: On North Korea?
QUESTION: On China.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: In the discussions, does the United States have any indication or will the United States be pushing for China to go beyond what it’s agreed to in Security Council resolutions? Is there an indication that China might go further?
MS NAUERT: Well, I don’t want to speak on behalf on Nikki Haley and her very, very capable team up there. I don’t know what they have in mind, if there are further sanctions at the United Nations that the Security Council could undertake. We’ve been pleased that we’ve had two unanimous UN Security Council resolutions that have --
QUESTION: But China going beyond without an additional --
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Without an additional resolution --
MS NAUERT: Oh. We’re always asking countries to do more. We’re always asking countries to do more. China has said that they are implementing and adhering to the UN Security Council resolutions, and so we’re obviously very pleased with that, but we’re always asking every country to do more. We know a lot of countries can do more. We just had a good headline out of Malaysia today. Malaysia is eliminating its – my understanding – I hope I’m phrasing this properly, but their – the North Korea embassy staff, essentially, there.
QUESTION: On the dialogue --
MS NAUERT: Okay?
QUESTION: On DPRK --
QUESTION: Heather, on the dialogue today -- 21 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: Yes?
QUESTION: How --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: How do you view --
QUESTION: Can you – can you say --
MS NAUERT: Excuse me, sir.
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. How does the State Department view this discussion that’s going to go on tomorrow between North Korea and Russia? And are – is the U.S. speaking to Russia about these talks before they happen?
MS NAUERT: Well, you may recall about two weeks ago or so, our Ambassador Joe Yun had traveled to Moscow to meet with some Russian officials. And Ambassador Yun spoke with them specifically about North Korea. If you recall, Russia was one of the countries that signed on to both of those unanimous UN Security Council resolutions. We were pleased to see that. You mentioned the issue of DPRK traveling to Moscow, apparently for some meetings there. I can’t see that as a bad thing. Diplomacy is our preferred approach. If Russia can be successful in getting North Korea to move in a better direction, we would certainly welcome that.
QUESTION: And North Korea responded in sort of classic form to these allegations that Otto Warmbier has been tortured.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I know you say you don’t want to disrespect the parents or violate privacy in talking about the State Department’s view of this case and Warmbier’s treatment, but they are the ones out there saying that --
MS NAUERT: I know.
QUESTION: -- so by leaving it out there and having North Korea furiously respond and the President had tweeted it, isn’t that just exacerbating the situation? If the State Department does not believe he was tortured --
MS NAUERT: I didn’t say that. I have only said that we’re not going to comment on what may or may not have happened to him.
QUESTION: And why is that? Because obviously, the privacy issue is off the table since the parents are the ones talking about it.
MS NAUERT: I think we try our very best not to talk about people’s health concerns, health situations, health status. We try to be strong and clear about that, and so I’m not going to do that. Look, his parents are in terrible mourning. We did everything we could to bring their son home. 22 9/28/2017
Some pretty heroic efforts on the part of our staff. We were all incredibly heartbroken when he was brought home and we learned about his fate, certainly. But I’m just not – I’m not going to comment on that. I know you’d like me to, but I’m not going to comment on that. Okay? Okay.
Marcin. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Heather, I have a question about the judicial reform in Poland. You said about two months ago that you’re watching the situation there closely. And the president of Poland this week proposed two bills written by his administration. So do you have any comment about them?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. We certainly do. So we’ve been watching the situation unfold in Poland very closely. Poland, of course, an important friend of the United States. We believe that a healthy and strong democracy in Poland is a vital component of U.S.-Polish relations. You all well know there are a lot of Poles who live here in the United States; I grew up with a lot of Polish families where I’m from in the Midwest.
We have expressed our concerns about the rule of law and the developments there in Poland. I want to be clear about that. Poland has every right to enact judicial reform, but reforms should be in line with Poland’s constitution and the highest standards of international law. It should also respect judicial independence and the separation of powers. We are aware that President Duda’s new judicial reform proposals – we are closely following the parliament’s upcoming deliberations on them. I don’t have the date for them, but I’m sure you’re well aware of that. We rely on our allies to maintain strong democratic institutions, economies, and also defense capabilities. We’ll continue to watch that very carefully, but just want to express how important it is to have a strong and healthy democracy in Poland. Thanks.
QUESTION: Just to go back to China here. Can we not leave that topic?
MS NAUERT: Well, actually --
QUESTION: In the meeting today --
MS NAUERT: I think we’ve closed out on China, so --
QUESTION: No. On the meeting today, the initial reports were that Secretary Chao was also going to be a part of this. But as I understand, it was Secretary Tillerson, Secretary DeVos. Were there any other high-level representatives from the U.S. side?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have the full schedule on what took place. I believe that – my understanding is that Secretary Chao was meeting with them later today. When exactly, I don’t know; I would just have to refer you to her department for that, okay. But Secretary DeVos was here, and of course, Secretary Tillerson as well.
Hi, Ilhan, how are you?
QUESTION: Turkey. Today, President Erdogan once more talk about American pastor who has been jailed in Turkey almost a year, Brunson. And President Erdogan said – suggested 23 9/28/2017
openly that there should be some kind of swap between Fethullah Gulen, who is Turkish national and lives in U.S., and American pastor. What is your view on this?
MS NAUERT: In terms of Fethullah Gulen, who is here in the United States, we have received several requests for his extradition from the Turkish Government related to him. Though – that is something – we haven’t talked about this for a while. We continue to evaluate it, take a look at the materials that the Turkish Government has provided us. I don’t have anything new for you on the subject of that.
In terms of Pastor Brunson, that is a very important issue for us, to try to get Pastor Brunson home. It is something that the President had raised with Mr. Erdogan not too terribly long ago. The State Department has been in as close of contact as we can be with Pastor Brunson. We last were able to visit him on September the 18th. That’s a new bit of news. The last time that we had visited him was – let’s see, it was August the 24th. And we just – we continue to advocate for his release. He was wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey, and we’d like to see him brought home.
QUESTION: Just one more question.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: We don’t usually hear this kind of prisoner swap or hostage diplomacy between the allies, Turkey’s ally. We hear about Iran or North Korea. What’s your view that this kind of offer, coming from your ally?
MS NAUERT: Look, I can’t imagine that we would go down that road. We have received extradition requests for him. I have nothing new for you on that. We continue to call for Pastor Brunson’s release.
Okay? We’ve got to wrap it up there.
QUESTION: All right, hold on.
MS NAUERT: Thanks.
QUESTION: No one from this administration has yet spoken on the record about the refugee numbers, so I want to ask you about that.
MS NAUERT: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: But I also want to ask you: Can you take the question about what percentage of the West Bank the administration sees as occupied?
MS NAUERT: I will see if I can find something for you on that.
QUESTION: Because there are plenty of maps. 24 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: I will see if I can find something for you on that, Matt. That may be a situation where there are different reports that have different information, and so --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, there are --
MS NAUERT: That I’m just not aware.
QUESTION: There’s one thing that there is not a shortage of in this area, it’s maps.
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: On the refugee numbers.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: If you look at the last 40 years of refugee admissions, or since 1975, essentially --
MS NAUERT: Since you started reporting, right?
QUESTION: -- you notice – (laughter) --
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) I’m just teasing.
QUESTION: Ooh, ouch.
MS NAUERT: I’m just teasing, you know, right?
QUESTION: Not that old yet.
QUESTION: It’s funny.
QUESTION: Whenever – historically --
MS NAUERT: Said thinks it’s funny.
QUESTION: -- there’s a trend that whenever there is a bump in the number of refugees worldwide, the number – the admissions numbers for the United States have gone up. This has been true in the late ’70s and ’80s with the Vietnamese and Cambodians. In – then again, the – with the Soviet Union and the fall of the Soviet Union, the numbers shoot up. You can see it in the way – in the stats that you guys have compiled, and then again with the Iraq War, the number of refugees worldwide went up because of them and your numbers went up, and then again with Syria.
MS NAUERT: Did you get a map there?
QUESTION: No, I don’t have a map. I can check -- 25 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: You have a chart.
QUESTION: I have the charts, the figures.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So is this administration comfortable for the first time, being the first administration, Republican or Democrat – because there were Republican administrations that bumped this up as well – is this administration comfortable actually reducing the number – the cap when the refugees situation worldwide is the worst that it has been since the Second World War?
MS NAUERT: When it comes to refugees, we have a couple different ways of handling a refugee population. I’ve spent a lot of time with our bureau that handles that, our refugee and migration bureau. Those folks have been here for many years and are dedicated to what they do, and they do a terrific job.
One of the things they said to me at the very first briefing I had with them when I came into this position was they explained to me that refugees, by and large – well, refugees, not by and large, but this is a fact – prefer to stay closer to home. Okay. We all may think as Americans that everybody wants to come here to the United States. But as a matter of fact, these refugees often want to stay closer to home so that it’s – when it’s safe and practical for them to be able to return home to their communities, they can.
One place we are starting to see that trickle in – talked to the Government of Turkey last week – we are starting to see that in parts of Syria as places start to become safer. Of course, in Syria, that’s a relative thing, but in general, people like to stay closer to home. The United States remains – when we bring people over here to the United States, the refugee population, and that’s what you’re talking about now – remains the largest acceptor of refugees in the world. There are only about 37 countries across the world that accept refugees. How many countries are there in the world? Two hundred, close to two hundred? So we’re one of 37 and we’re the top.
So we continue to bring in refugees. We have a very strong program that, once refugees are brought into the United States, we, the United States, along with partners and NGOs, help facilitate their integration into their communities. I mentioned to you I grew up in Wisconsin. A lot of Hmongs came over in the 1970s and have established farms and still living there. So this is --
QUESTION: Hmong from Laos --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- or monks --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- or both? 26 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: From Laos.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. And are still living there, and --
QUESTION: Right. And they did not prefer to stay close to home, which is not really the point of my question.
MS NAUERT: But that’s a different – that’s a different situation. But by and large --
QUESTION: My – but this is – my – point of my question is --
MS NAUERT: -- people want to stay close to home so they can return home when they’re ready.
QUESTION: But my question is – the fact is that the United States has traditionally, has historically been a leader when the global population of refugees --
MS NAUERT: We still are a leader in that, Matt. We still are a leader in that. We accept more refugees than any other country around the world.
MS NAUERT: And when we accept those refugees, we provide them with services in the United States to help them out. We have a tremendous network of not just State Department officials, but also NGOs, church groups – the Lutherans up in Minnesota who volunteer their time and effort to help these families.
QUESTION: All of which is wonderful. My – that’s not my question, though.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: My question is that traditionally, historically, when the global population of refugees has spiked, has gone up in these incident – instances that I have mentioned here, the U.S. acceptance of – the number admitted to the United States has also gone up because those administrations decided that it was important for the U.S. to take a leadership role to bump its numbers up in acceptance to get other countries to do the same.
MS NAUERT: Look, I --
QUESTION: Is this administration comfortable not doing that in this case when we have the record level of refugees --
MS NAUERT: Matt, you’re wrapping in – you’re wrapping in opinion into this question. The fact is we have --
QUESTION: No, I don’t think so. 27 9/28/2017
MS NAUERT: -- are accepting, for Fiscal Year 2018 45,000 – okay – 45,000 refugees coming from all around the world. We are assisting those families. It is something where we have come up with some more stringent, if you will, procedures for allowing people to come in. Having more stringent procedures for allowing people to come in, asking additional questions, that type of thing requires more work to vet those refugees. We feel, this government feels that that is the number that we can practically bring here into the United States and handle. These people, once they come in, will in fact be receiving more types of services, better types of services than those in the past. Additional English training is one example, additional job services. So I would argue, in fact, that these refugees may, in fact, be better off with fewer refugees here in the United States than those in the past.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s an interesting way to look at it, I guess. I’m not sure it’s going to win you a lot of praise from the refugee advocate community. The discussion on the conference call that I was not able to be on yesterday was all about the number one issue is safety and security for the United States and the fact that you need to increase the vetting of these people, and that that can reduce the – that that makes sense that it would reduce the number you’re able to take in.
I’m curious though now, months after as this review has gone in – gone on, what deficiencies did the administration discover in the vet – in the vetting process that was used by the previous – by previous administrations?
MS NAUERT: See, I would take issue with that as well, because as technology changes, as situations on the ground changes, we need to constantly be revamping our security procedures. And that is something – our procedures are strong now, but we’re always working to improve those procedures. We’re starting to get in the territory of Department of Homeland Security. They have a great press staff, so they can best answer those questions.
QUESTION: But you don’t think that – you don’t think that previous administrations also did that and were able to increase the number of --
MS NAUERT: They were – huh? Of course, they were. I imagine they were constantly revising their procedures.
QUESTION: Okay. So what specifically was deficient about the previous vetting process?
MS NAUERT: Look, all I can say is that there are some new standards in place, there will be some new standards in place. I know that DHS is working on those. Details about that, I’d just have to refer you to DHS.
QUESTION: So they don’t know what they are yet? They’re still being worked on?
MS NAUERT: That – I don’t want to speak for DHS.
MS NAUERT: So on that part, I just – I want to refer you to them. 28 9/28/2017
QUESTION: Because if they’re still being worked on, I’d like to know how it is that you’ve determined that you can’t take more than 45,000 if you don’t what they are yet.
MS NAUERT: Okay, all right. Thanks, everybody. Good to see you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:39 p.m.)