Department Press Briefing - October 19, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Thank you for coming in today. Sorry we’re getting a late start. We had General Kelly at the podium over at the White House and wanted to give him an opportunity to, of course, finish before we got started. So thank you so much for your patience today. Make yourselves comfortable, because I have quite a few toppers I want to get through today, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
First, I want to start out with an announcement about the Secretary’s travel. The Secretary will travel to Riyadh, Doha, Islamabad, New Delhi, and Geneva October 20th through the 27th. In Riyadh, Secretary Tillerson will take part in the inaugural Coordination Council meeting between the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Secretary will also meet with various Saudi leaders to discuss the conflict in Yemen, the ongoing Gulf dispute, Iran, and another – other important regional and bilateral issues.
Secretary Tillerson will then travel to Doha, where he will speak with Qatari leaders and U.S. military officials to discuss joint counterterrorism efforts and the ongoing Gulf dispute and other regional and bilateral issues, including both Iran and Iraq.
Secretary Tillerson will then make his inaugural visit to South Asia as Secretary of State, following up on the President’s August the 21st speech outlining the administration’s comprehensive strategy toward the region. In Islamabad, the Secretary will meet with senior Pakistani leaders to discuss our continued bilateral cooperation, Pakistan’s critical role in the success of our South Asia strategy, and the expanding economic ties between our two countries. In meetings with the prime minister, foreign minister, and senior military officials, Secretary Tillerson will discuss our joint efforts to fight terrorist groups that threaten regional peace and stability and how Pakistan can support our effort to reach a peaceful solution in Afghanistan.
At the invitation of Indian Minister on External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, Secretary Tillerson will then visit New Delhi. He will hold consultations with the ministry of external affairs and other government leaders from India to discuss the implementation of the ideas he outlined yesterday in his speech at CSIS defining our relationship with India for the next century. He will also pay his respects at the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi.
In Geneva, the Secretary will meet with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan and also a number of current global humanitarian crises, such as Burma and also Syria.
Second thing: I’d like to give you an update on the deputy secretary’s travel to Asia. Deputy Secretary John Sullivan continued his official bilateral engagements with the Republic of Korea on October the 19th. He met with the National Security Advisor Chung to discuss concrete ways to address the DPRK threat, improve U.S./ROK economic ties, and coordinate on other important regional and global issues. The deputy also exchanged views with a group of DPRK defectors and also to learn more about life and perspectives inside of North Korea. Deputy Secretary Sullivan enjoyed engaging staff at the U.S. embassy in Seoul. He also spoke with our people at the U.S. consulate in Busan. He addressed U.S. foreign policy priorities in the region and wanted to convey a deep appreciation to the American and local staff who had advance those priorities.
Additionally during his visit, he went to the Yongsan Garrison and the demilitarized zone with U.S. Forces Korea Commander General Brooks. The deputy saw firsthand the acute threat posed by North Korea, and he also enjoyed exchanging views with our U.S. forces who are stationed there.
Next I’d like to bring you a little new information on Raqqa and the pending liberation of Raqqa. On Wednesday, our Department of Defense colleagues announced that Raqqa had been 90 percent cleared. They have now upped that estimate to more than 95 percent, and we continue to see progress every day. We’re continuing to support the Syrian Democratic Forces to pressure the few areas where pockets of ISIS fighters still remain. The SDF’s deliberate approach to liberating Raqqa took tremendous sacrifice and professional patience, but at the end, it saved countless lives. Over the past few days, we’ve seen significant process in the city, and thousands of civilians were assisted to safety by the SDF, which allowed them to accelerate their efforts to clear what remains of ISIS’s weakening grip on the city.
The State Department, along with the Department of Defense and USAID, has been planning for ISIS’s defeat in Raqqa for more than a year now, and we are already working with local partners to provide assistance in areas liberated on the road to Raqqa, including Ain Issa and also Tabqa. Although extremely dangerous due to extensive damage and remaining explosive remnants of war, we are working with the partners and the coalition to address immediate priorities.
The priorities include providing for the urgent humanitarian needs of internally displaced persons – IDPs – who have fled the city to the surrounding areas; clearing the explosive remnants of war, such as IEDs and mines, from critical infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, and schools; support efforts to establish basic security; re-establish essential services such as water, electricity, health services, infrastructure rehabilitation to stabilize and promote a return to normalcy and ultimately create the conditions to allow the voluntary safe return of Syrians to their homes.
We are also engaged in efforts to support local officials, such as the Raqqa Civil Council and the Tabqa Civil Councils, and their efforts to take over responsibility for post-liberation security and also governance, on the condition that they are representative, civilian-led, and credible in the eyes of the people they serve.
While we’re on the verge of victory in Raqqa, it’s important to remember that we will have a lot of work left to be done to defeat ISIS, both in Syria and Iraq, and to defeat ISIS’s global network.
Beyond Iraq and in Syria, the 73 partners of the global coalition are working to deny ISIS safe haven among its branches and affiliates and sever its ability to recruit, move foreign fighters, transfer funds, and spread false propaganda over the internet and social media. We will continue to stand together in our shared fight against ISIS until the barbaric organization no longer poses a threat to the international community. And I have answers for you if you have specific questions about Raqqa and some of the groups that we’re working with there.
Lastly, today, along with many of my colleagues here at the State Department, including members of our LGBTI community, in association with GLIFAA, we are – many of us are wearing purple today to celebrate Spirit Day. On Spirit Day, we speak out against bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and intersex persons and stand with LGBTI youth who disproportionally face bullying and harassment because of their identities.
Around the world, LGBTI individuals face increasing physical attacks, arbitrary arrests just because of who they are or who they love. Our global policy is to oppose violence and discrimination targeting LGBTI persons, including from governments and non-state actors. Spirit Day is about the freedom to be oneself without fear of violence or intimidation. Dignity and equality for all persons are the founding constitutional principle of U.S. democracy and they will continue to drive our diplomacy.
And with that, I’d be happy to take questions.
QUESTION: I --
MS NAUERT: That was a lot.
QUESTION: I missed the Spirit Day memo. Did it go out to --
MS NAUERT: Otherwise you should wear some purple.
QUESTION: Well, I didn’t know.
QUESTION: Yeah, no one told us.
QUESTION: I mean, we could have --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, so it is Spirit Day and we were celebrating that with a colleague.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and on the council. It – would it be okay or acceptable if whatever local government – governance emerges includes pro-Assad figures?
MS NAUERT: I – we have continued to say that whoever eventually would run local governments should be representative of the people, should embody and believe in fundamental human rights and protection of those civilians in the area.
That’s a bit of a hypothetical that you’re asking me right now. One of the groups that we’ve been working with in Raqqa is a Raqqa Civil Council, and they’ve been helping to get some of the initial work that is done completed there, such as starting to work to get the clean water, to get the rubble removed, those types of things that we’ve talked about. But what you’re asking about is way down the road. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s talk about it.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about the immediate then.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, if the civil council had – and I don't know if it does or not – but would it be okay if there were regime elements that went in and were assisting in the short – in the immediate term on these reconstruction issues? I mean, you – I realize that you --
MS NAUERT: Well, I highly doubt that that would be the case --
MS NAUERT: -- in part because the U.S. Government, along with the coalition partners, have worked to stand up this Raqqa Civil Council. We refer to it as the RCC. There’s a template for this. This is something that was done down in Tabqa, where there was a city council of sorts – or a civil council, I should say, of sorts – that was brought in. It’s a group that is a part of the local population right there. And that is the organization that the U.S. helps to fund, along with coalition partners, to help do some of this important stabilization work, including the clean water, the rubble removal, the demining.
We are a long way off, to your first question, from dealing with the political process. This is something – where we are right now – we’ve been planning for about a year to handle this. How do we handle the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS? We’re just about at that point right now. We’re very happy with that. We’re not there yet. It’s still going to be a long road. I know a lot of you will have questions about what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. What’s next I can talk about right now is some of the stabilization efforts.
QUESTION: And these are Syrian citizens. I mean, they have other issues. How will they coordinate their personal issues, such as passports or education or maybe health insurance provided by the government and so on, which still does. Somebody --
MS NAUERT: Wait. Are you asking about how these people are going to have health insurance?
QUESTION: No, I’m saying --
MS NAUERT: Our immediate needs --
QUESTION: No, no, I am saying that they have official business to do with the government, the central government in Damascus on issues like passports, other issues, education and so on. How will someone --
MS NAUERT: Said, I’m not – we are so far off from the luxury of Syrians --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS NAUERT: -- having to concern themselves with passports and documentation and health insurance. We are nowhere near that point, unfortunately. We wish we were at the point where we could deal with things of that nature. But right now we’re dealing with basic human needs. There are still some pockets of fighters, as I understand it, in Raqqa. The priority will be clearing those people out. We know that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are in IDP camps outside of Raqqa. That is being in funded in part by the UN and various countries that – obviously, that participate in that. Getting them the health – I mean, excuse me, getting them the health care, getting them the food and all of the things that they need. We’ve got demining ahead of us. That’s going to take at least a month or so to get through. And then we’ll eventually be able to get to that point.
QUESTION: Really quick follow-up: Will there be – will they be allowed any amount of coordination with the central government in Damascus?
MS NAUERT: That’s a hypothetical question. We’re not even anywhere near that point. I mean, we’re at the point where people are not living – except for maybe a few – are not living in Raqqa. They’re in IDP camps in that country. We know that many refugees – millions, in fact – were forced to leave that country, so we’re a long way off from that point.
Anything else on Syria?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, Carol.
QUESTION: How do you assess the prospects for starting peace talks in Geneva, for resuming them in the next couple of weeks?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So, as you know, the Secretary is heading up to Geneva. At this time, that is not on his schedule, dealing with that. But we remain committed to the Geneva process and Geneva talks for the – eventually being able to help facilitate some sort of a political transition.
QUESTION: Do you think that’s realistic in the next couple of weeks?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Do you think it’s realistic they may resume in the next couple of weeks, by the end of the --
MS NAUERT: Oh. I don’t know. I’m not going to forecast what those meetings – what meetings may or may not happen. But I can tell you when we were in New York at the United Nations with the coalition of the likeminded countries, and also the D-ISIS coalition, that there was a lot of support for the UN-led Geneva process. That was something under UN Security Council resolutions to call for a political process to ultimately resolve the political future of Syria. But one of the things that we call for is the future of Syria to be decided by the people of Syria, and one that promotes human rights, one that has an extreme focus on that; the understanding that property belongs to individuals. There are a lot of components to that, and that’s why we continue to go back to the UN process.
Okay. Anything else on Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah, can I – quick one on Syria?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Can you rule out – hi – the possibility of any kind of a meeting between Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any meeting that is scheduled or that is pending such as that. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Hold on. If you all are interested, I do have a lot of information that I’d be happy to go through on Raqqa and some of the work that our folks are doing. As many of you know, although we’ve not talked about this a lot, we have some of our State Department individuals, we have civilians who are serving over there in the region. What brings that to my mind is having just listened to General Kelly. And General Kelly at the White House spoke about the tens of thousands Americans who are serving our country all across the world. In addition to traditional U.S. forces, we have civilians who are serving in very dangerous places and civilians that are doing terrific work to try to represent what we stand for here as Americans, but to do the good work of helping out others. Syria would be one of those places where there are civilians serving, and part of the role there is to tend to the humanitarian needs of many of those IDPs.
So I just want to, if I may – humor me – and go over a few things for you because I think it’s so important. And I’m, as somebody who works here, tremendously proud of the work that our folks are doing over there.
Let me just add a couple of things to that, that there are some of the areas that are outside Raqqa where people have actually started to return, not to the internal city of Raqqa but to the outside of Raqqa, and I think that’s significant and that gives us a lot of hope. Dealing with this area in Raqqa has been very different from dealing with the situation in Mosul that we talked about a few months ago, or a month or two ago. One of the key differences is that in Iraq, for example, you had a central government; you had a government, you had people who were closer to home. In Mosul, not everybody left – the civilians. Raqqa is very different. So this is going to be a longer situation. It’s going to take additional time, and you all are going to get frustrated and you’re going to ask what’s next, what’s next, what’s next and try to push the envelope and push for answers about what’s next, and that is why I will come back to say we are not near that point just yet to be able to jump ahead and determine a political process and all of that because there’s so much work left to be done.
The demining, as I’ve mentioned, is something that the U.S. Government is very involved with through our partners, through our NGOs; the United Nations is a huge, huge part to that and they’ve done so much good work right there.
So thousands, I’m pleased to report, have been able to move back into the outskirts of Raqqa. Additionally, I want to mention once Raqqa is liberated, we see it up – as up to the locals to decide their future. We’re working with a range of local partners, including some of the local councils, early recovery teams, and also civil society groups to try to meet the needs of those civilians who will eventually be returning.
The fight there has been incredibly, incredibly complex. We have seen what ISIS has done to the communities there. We’ve seen the bombs that they’ve strung up. We’ve seen the IEDs. We’ve seen the booby traps. This is going to take a lot of time and dedication on the part of our folks who are serving over there and also the good work of many of the NGOs.
Our people, as I was speaking with them today and I spoke to one of our colleagues serving in the region earlier today, said to me that there is no place in the world that is more complex than Syria right now. What is achieved will be all the more remarkable, she said. It’ll be months if not longer before Raqqa is safe for residents to return home and before life as normal can eventually resume.
A couple other things I want to mention, just some statistics about some of the humanitarian assistance. So far UN agencies have delivered food assistance to more than 260,000 people in northeastern Syria affected by the Raqqa campaign. UN agencies continue to pre-position supplies using overland access. In the month of June more than 207 trucks successfully arrived with humanitarian supplies in Qamishli – I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly. The UN has food stocks ready to feed more than 50,000 people for one month once Raqqa city is accessible. In terms of the demining, there is a U.S.-funded demining effort that has surveyed and cleared more than 196,000 square meters in Tabqa. And they have now trained more than 110 Syrians in order to help build a local capacity. Five demining teams are ready to deploy into Raqqa city to begin important clearance work to facilitate humanitarian access, the safe and voluntary returns, and also stabilization assistance. We are also funding efforts to coordinate, de-conflict, and map demining activities in liberated areas, and provide real-time information on improvised explosive device contamination locations in addition to hotlines for returnees and local official use. U.S.-supported demining has now cleared more than 45 priority sites for follow-on stabilization assistance, including schools, healthcare facilities, bridges, and water plants.
QUESTION: Sorry, that’s in Raqqa or around it?
MS NAUERT: Some of this is in Raqqa and some of this is in Tabqa. That part was in Tabqa. I mentioned the State Department-led team of stabilization efforts, and we will eventually be able to successfully get through Raqqa and do the – some of the additional demining. Hi.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how big the stabilization team is? How many people, what their specialties are?
MS NAUERT: I cannot. Some of that – just the numbers of personnel we won’t be disclosing, but we do have people who are involved in these processes.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything – anything else on Syria?
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. We’re done with Syria.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we ask about the coordination council?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the coordination council? What does that do? And then could you elaborate on U.S. efforts to reduce influence of Iran in Iraq by --
MS NAUERT: Okay. So you’re – but your first question is about Syria and that? The --
QUESTION: No, I think she’s talking about the meeting in Saudi Arabia --
QUESTION: The meeting, yeah.
QUESTION: -- with the --
QUESTION: No --
MS NAUERT: I thought you were talking about the --
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS NAUERT: -- the Raqqa Civil Council. You’re not talking about the Raqqa Civil Council?
QUESTION: No, no. Not that. The Riyadh – the Saudi meeting.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me – give me time to find where I’ve got that, because that’s all under my trip stuff. So we’ll come back to that. Okay? I --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. North Korea secretly operate Kaesong Industrial Complex for six months and export its product to China. Is this a violation of UN sanctions against North Korea?
MS NAUERT: I – I’m not aware of that, so I’m just not going to be able to answer that question.
QUESTION: Because they product to China and this --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m just not aware of the report that --
QUESTION: -- export --
MS NAUERT: -- at Kaesong they’re developing things that are being sold back to North Korea through China. I just don’t have anything on that.
QUESTION: Okay. One more – thank you. One more --
QUESTION: India? India?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about North Korean officials and U.S. delegation talks in Russia?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware --
QUESTION: Two-track talks.
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any of that. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on DP --
MS NAUERT: Hold on. We’re going to stay in regions. Anything else on DPRK? On North Korea?
MS NAUERT: No? Okay.
MS NAUERT: All right. Let’s go to China.
QUESTION: Thank you. In an interview earlier today the Secretary continued to call out China, today saying he wants to see more progress from them on issues like North Korea, South China Sea, and trade. The exact quote was, “I think it’s important China knows we’ve been having these conversations now for about six months. We’re expecting to see some change.” Has he relayed specific benchmarks on exactly what he’s looking to see and when the United States wants to see it?
MS NAUERT: So I think that would fall under sort of some of the diplomatic conversations. I was speaking with the Secretary earlier about that very issue because that caught the attention of some folks that he addressed China in the speech yesterday. One of the things that the Secretary said is that comment that he made yesterday is of no surprise to China. We’ve had those conversations in private previously. This is the first time we’ve really discussed them publicly. So China is well aware that we have concerns about trade, we have concerns about the South China Sea, we have concerns about North Korea. We’ve continued to ask China to do more on the issue of North Korea. They, of course, supported the UN Security Council resolutions, the back-to-back resolutions, and we were very pleased with that. And we continue to anticipate that they will – they will enforce those sanctions.
QUESTION: Do you --
MS NAUERT: Anything else on – anything else on China?
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, hi.
QUESTION: Hi. Was there any response from China after the Secretary’s speech at CSIS?
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: So he hasn’t spoken with his Chinese counterpart since then?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any – I don’t have any calls to provide you on that. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I go to Iraq?
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Can I go very quickly to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Are we done with China? Anything else on China? Okay. Go ahead. All right, miss.
QUESTION: On the --
QUESTION: I was wondering on – regarding U.S.-China strategic relations, will the Trump administration continue to the 301 investigation?
MS NAUERT: Will we have a what?
QUESTION: The 301 investigation.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. I don’t understand.
QUESTION: 301 investigation, the --
MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that, so could you --
MS NAUERT: Oh, from USTR?
QUESTION: USTR, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Then I would refer you to our Trade Representative on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. And also about the Under Secretary John Sullivan’s meeting in Asia, can I have some details about the meeting?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I provided those at the top about his meetings and who he met with and what they discussed.
MS NAUERT: So perhaps you missed that. If not, I can get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Iraq, Heather?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: To a neighbor, India?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Hold on. Let’s go to Said.
QUESTION: Very quickly. This morning, American envoy Jason Greenblatt issued a statement saying that if Hamas is to be a member of the Palestinian government, the unity government, it has to recognize the state of Israel, it has to disarm, it has to abide by all international agreements. Now, this was not conditions that were placed by the United States in the past. They were placed by – most recently by Prime Minister Netanyahu. So is this a new position? Is it?
MS NAUERT: Well, there is nothing new about what he addressed. These are the Quartet principles and they’re the principles that I’ve addressed many times right here --
QUESTION: Yeah, I understand.
MS NAUERT: -- and among that, it includes that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence --
MS NAUERT: -- recognize the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including to disarm terrorists and also commit to peaceful negotiations. So none of that is new. That’s something that Representative Greenblatt in his trip announced in a statement. For some reason, some people thought it was incredibly new, but it’s not.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: Well, then why did --
QUESTION: But Mr. Netanyahu --
QUESTION: Why did – sorry, why did he make it, then?
MS NAUERT: I have not spoken with him, but I think it’s laying out our principles --
QUESTION: But --
MS NAUERT: -- and it’s always good to, just as you get annoyed with me when I go back and reiterate points that I’ve made in the past, I imagine he was simply doing that --
QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right.
MS NAUERT: -- reiterating the points. And for some reason, some people had been asleep and didn’t realize that we had stood behind those points previously.
QUESTION: Well, then you – why don’t you just --
QUESTION: But this is one day – yeah.
QUESTION: -- randomly say “one China” policy just for no reason at all? I mean, why --
MS NAUERT: No. Look, they were talking about the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, so --
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: -- I think this plays very well into that.
QUESTION: So you’re saying --
QUESTION: If I – go ahead.
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: If I may follow up, Mr. Netanyahu said that resumption of talks must be conditioned on that with the Palestinians. So that is something new. I mean, in the past, there were kind – all kinds of negotiations shepherded by the United States of America without having this as a precondition.
MS NAUERT: Well --
QUESTION: So since you are likely to oversee any negotiation --
MS NAUERT: Said, all I can tell you --
QUESTION: -- is that a condition for you?
MS NAUERT: -- is that our negotiations, at least between the Israelis and the Palestinians --
MS NAUERT: -- are ongoing. We continue to have a lot of conversations. That remains, as you well know, one of the President’s top priorities, one of his top ambitions when it comes to foreign policy – to try to bring Middle East peace. Mr. Greenblatt has spent a lot of time in the region, as has Mr. Kushner, just finishing up – Mr. Greenblatt is, I believe, just finishing up a trip there right now. And so they’ve done some great work and we remain optimistic that something could get done.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: On this subject --
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: On that – actually, on the region, it sounded like the Secretary was more pessimistic than he’s been in a long time on sorting things out with Qatar. So can you tell me what his plan is or what leverage he intends to use given that his outlook seems darker than before?
MS NAUERT: Well, I mean, this goes back to, I think, some of the first days that I was briefing with you all, and that’s when the dispute really started, although these were long-simmering issues. We’ve seen this kind of problem crop up, these kind of little skirmishes crop up between the countries before. That was very discouraging to us. We want to see these countries keep their focus on the areas of mutual cooperation that we have, and that includes the fight against terrorism and other things of that nature.
So I think the Secretary is certainly discouraged that nothing has been resolved just yet. He’s talked pretty consistently – although folks haven’t paid much attention to it recently – about the disappointment that the nations haven’t been able to solve the GCC crisis. We hope that they will. We hope that they’ll sit down and have talks. But it seems like they’re not ready to do that yet.
QUESTION: But as he’s going there, what is his plan for trying to jumpstart this?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think he will probably encourage the countries to sit down and have a conversation, and who is best to work it out but themselves? At some point, there’s only so much that we can do other than encourage them to sit down and resolve it themselves. We would like to see that done and hope at some point they will do that.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary’s frustration with the lack of progress on this extend to both sides of it? He gave an interview today where he said essentially the Qataris are ready and willing to sit down and that he’s disappointed that the other parties in this dispute have not moved forward. But that – so is it fair to say --
MS NAUERT: I didn’t hear him – I didn’t hear him say that --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then --
MS NAUERT: -- disappointed in the Qataris. I did not hear him say that.
QUESTION: No, no, precisely the opposite, that the Qataris are willing – are ready to sit down at the table.
MS NAUERT: Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, I --
QUESTION: So is it fair to --
MS NAUERT: I didn’t hear him say that.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, I guess that – I mean, that aside, the question is valid. Who – which side of this does the Secretary see as holding up progress on it?
MS NAUERT: I think he sees all sides. In order to resolve a dispute, the sides need to sit down and work together. And those are really the top lines where we are on this right now; we would like the countries to sit down and work together and work this out.
QUESTION: Is he likely to preside over a summit?
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t have any information on any particular meetings. Okay? Shall we --
QUESTION: What leverage does he think – when he sits down in Saudi to try to sort this out, which has been his goal from the start, what kind of position of strength or leverage --
MS NAUERT: So --
QUESTION: -- do you think he comes from?
MS NAUERT: -- there are a lot of issues that we have to talk about in various meetings. Among the issues that the Secretary will be addressing will be Iraq with the Saudis, for example. So it’s not just the GCC crisis that will come up --
QUESTION: Right. Right, but on this subject, yeah.
MS NAUERT: -- although we would like – although we would like to see that resolved. Okay?
MS NAUERT: But look, you’re not going to be able to force governments to come together and work together if they’re not willing to do so, so there’s only so much leverage that one has. We can encourage them to continue to work together, we can encourage them to say, hey, keep your eye on the ball. You’re losing ground when it comes to cooperating on terrorism and other areas of mutual interest. We can encourage them, but we can’t force them to do something that they’re not willing to do --
QUESTION: Can I go to Iraq?
QUESTION: Can I go to Iraq?
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just two questions: The United Nations has published a report documenting lootings and burning down dozens of houses belonging to the Kurdish people in Diyala province and parts of Kirkuk.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you seen that report by the United Nations --
MS NAUERT: I saw a headline about that. I don’t have any details on that. I think I would go back to saying that we call upon all sides to refrain from violence. We would like to see a unified, democratic Iraq. We’ve been engaged in this process. We recognize that the Kurds have some legitimate complaints and concerns. We recognize the Iraqi constitution and that Iraqis have worked with the Kurds on a coordinated effort to start moving north. This has gotten an awful lot of attention. What you’re referring to specifically, I don’t have any information on that for you, but we would just continue to call on all sides for calm.
QUESTION: But there’s one side that seems to be perpetuating --
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of who allegedly started these attacks, so I just – I can’t comment on who supposedly started that.
QUESTION: The – my second question is on the arrest warrant which was issued by a court in Baghdad for the Vice President of Kurdistan, Kosrat Rasul, who was also a senior Peshmerga commander. Would you condemn that court --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. All I can tell you is that that report, we’ve certainly seen that, and we just have to refer you to the Government Iraq and the Kurds for that – to that.
QUESTION: So you have nothing to say about --
MS NAUERT: Look, we continue to work with officials in the federal government and also in the regional governments to try to promote peace and stability and reduce tensions and to encourage dialogue, but – we’re aware of these reports, they’re fairly fresh, so I’d have to just ask you to speak with the governments. Okay?
QUESTION: But --
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Iraq?
QUESTION: I have one.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: I know that this was discussed a bit on Tuesday in the briefing, but wanted to follow up on reports that Soleimani and specifically Iran was – played the key role in negotiations that allowed the Iraqi forces to go in and take Kirkuk. And I wondered if – what response you had to the idea that the U.S. must have at least tacitly endorsed that plan and the feeling by a lot of Kurds that there is a betrayal.
MS NAUERT: So first let me say that we were all aware of the action that Iraq was planning to take. We were aware of that. Iraq spoke about it publicly, so this was not a surprise once this started happening. Some of this is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Some of this was agreed upon back in 2014 that eventually, once ISIS fell, that Iraq would go back to some pre-2014 lines, if you will – sort of a green line, so to speak. So some of this is not surprising. To many journalists it may have been surprising who perhaps haven’t been following this issue closely, because there’s a whole world to cover, but our folks have been following this closely. This is part of the reason we were concerned about the Kurdish referendum, calling for people to work together to defeat ISIS, but this is something that was enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. And I will go back to saying the Kurds have some legitimate complaints, of course. There were things that were supposed to be done under the Iraqi constitution that my understanding is have not been fulfilled just yet. We hope that everyone will go back to and follow through on the Iraqi constitution.
QUESTION: But following up on that, is there any concern about the role that Iran still appeared to play in this, just as far as it seeming to contradict this idea of wanting to prevent Iran’s influence in the region?
MS NAUERT: Let me say Iran is always a huge concern of ours not just in Iraq, but throughout the region. Matt likes to make fun of me and – as I talk about the Iranian regime.
MS NAUERT: And when the Iranian regime shows up, bad things tend to happen. That is a fact. We know for a fact that U.S. service members have been killed by Iranian-led militias in the past. We know that. That has always been a major concern of ours. But this operation that took place, to go north – for the Iraqi Government to go north was something that was coordinated with the Kurds. That is an – our understanding. This was not a surprise; it was coordinated. If – and I’m not aware of any Iranian involvement in that, per se. I know a lot is being made of that, but I just want to underscore what a huge concern Iran remains for us, not just there but throughout the entire region.
QUESTION: Well, it’s gotten in the way – it’s not just journalists who may not have been paying attention because they were focused on other things going on in the world. I mean, there’s – Senator Cruz has put out a statement today accusing the Government of Iraq of basically getting into bed with Iran and saying that unless they stop being – or acting as Iran’s puppet, the U.S. should re-evaluate its relationship with Iraq. So --
MS NAUERT: Well, I think we would certainly remain concerned about countries developing too cozy of ties. We have seen an increasingly good relationship between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, for example, as we saw the opening of the – not the land bridge --
QUESTION: Border, right.
MS NAUERT: -- the border crossing – thank you – that can help with commerce. We saw that a month or two or so ago. We have seen various governments in the region talk about wanting to participate in reconstruction of some of these countries, Iraq and Syria. We would absolutely support that and would certainly welcome some of those countries taking part in that. So I guess I would go back to saying there are other angles that we can certainly be a part of working when it comes to trying to balance out Iran.
QUESTION: And when you say that the advance north was coordinated with the Kurds, was it – not all the Kurds it was coordinated with, was it?
MS NAUERT: Well, perhaps there are a few people who didn’t know about it, but my understanding is that the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government were in contact about this move forward. Okay?
QUESTION: Actually, this is not true. I just want to --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Because all the --
MS NAUERT: That’s – those are the reports that I’m getting.
QUESTION: No, that’s just misinformation, to be honest. Because like almost 90 percent of the government of Kurdistan, including almost 80 percent of the officials within the PUK, from which two senior officials coordinated with Iran and Baghdad --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- only two senior officials, two security officials coordinated this, and everybody else is opposed. That’s the fact.
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on what you’re telling me. So I’m sorry.
QUESTION: That’s a fact.
MS NAUERT: I don't have any information on what you’re telling me.
MS NAUERT: Should we move on?
QUESTION: Hi, Ilhan.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Wait. Hold one. One more on this, and we’ll go to you, Ilhan. Hi.
QUESTION: Heather, Secretary Tillerson called Prime Minister Abadi on Tuesday. He still hasn’t spoken to any Kurdish leaders since the referendum happened. Is that for a particular reason?
MS NAUERT: Well, we – I can certainly say that we have plenty of people on the ground in Iraq who have been speaking with Kurdish leaders and also leaders in Baghdad, from Brett McGurk, who has been there handling a lot of this, to our ambassador, who is serving there as well. So I know those conversations have been ongoing, and so that should not be an indication that we are not interested or that we’re not – we don’t regard that as important. We have people who are having those conversations all the time.
QUESTION: And you’re – so you’re not boycotting the Kurdish government because of this referendum?
MS NAUERT: I certainly don’t think so. We – look, we would like for a unified, democratic Iraq. And we are friends with the Kurds. I mean, many of our Americans – I’ll say this again – have fought side-by-side with Kurds. Without the Kurds, ISIS would still be in many places in Iraq. They have done an incredible job, a terrific fighting force. But we continue to call for a unified, democratic Iraq, and that hasn’t changed. Okay?
QUESTION: But if the Kurds feel like they’re not getting the support that they want from the U.S. Government, why wouldn’t the Secretary make that call? Obviously, him making a call has a certain impact that Brett McGurk --
Ilhan, let’s go on to Turkey.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Two quick questions: One is that a leading civil rights activist in Turkey, Mr. Osman Kavala, and about 16 other activists and journalists arrested yesterday. If you have any comment, if you have seen those reports?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So they were detained in Istanbul is my understanding.
QUESTION: That’s right.
MS NAUERT: Is that right? Okay. I guess I would go back to it’s just another example, right, of a lot of things taking place, of respected civil society leaders, human rights defenders, journalists – we’ve all followed this story closely – academics, also activists detained in that country. The detentions are often made without – very little evidence, very little transparency, and we consider that to be a very alarming trend in that country. We’ve expressed to the Turkish Government our concerns on many occasions about this trend – the trend of curbs on free speech, detentions, the overall erosion of democratic society there. So it remains a major concern of ours. We also believe that it – a detention such as his chills the public debate. And when you chill the public debate and you prevent people from speaking freely and communicating freely, that that harms that society. So it’s something we’re watching very closely and is a concern of ours.
QUESTION: Thank you. Second question: There are visa talks going on in Turkey and the State Department yesterday stated that there is substantial progress. I was wondering what’s the latest on that.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Our deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, Jonathan Cohen is his name, he traveled to Turkey. He recently met with Turkish officials there. Those talks were described to me as productive, that they made substantial progress in the overall agenda. We will remain engaged as a matter of priority to address the relevant issues with a view to restore normal visa procedures swiftly. So that’s good; that is some good progress. We also talked about the composition and the terms of reference regarding the proposed joint working committee and agreed that the decision would be finalized soon.
QUESTION: Anything on the release of those two workers?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything new for you on that. I can just tell you that they are still being detained – our locally employed staff.
QUESTION: Is it – is – and they still haven’t presented you with the evidence that they --
MS NAUERT: We have not – we have yet to see any evidence.
QUESTION: So is it possible to resolve this visa thing without their release or without them providing you with some evidence that they might actually – that they should actually face trial?
MS NAUERT: The simple answer is I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not going to get ahead of some of the discussions that we’re going to have.
QUESTION: No, I understand that, but you’re --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But it sounds as though – or it sounded as though at the beginning when this began, when this started, that until and unless the Turkish Government stopped doing this – arresting your employees – or provided some proof that they – that what they were doing was legitimate law enforcement activity, that you could not – you questioned their commitment to the safety and security of the embassy and its staff --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yes.
QUESTION: -- and that – and so that was contingent on --
MS NAUERT: Yes. I – we do not want any more people arrested. We have lots of questions, but --
QUESTION: No – right, but the guys who are – but the two people are in there now, is their freedom or the Turks presenting some kind of evidence that shows that they should be brought to – brought to a trial, is that – is that a requirement for you guys to restore the visa issuance?
MS NAUERT: I – all I’m going to say, because we want to be able to make progress on this –additional progress – is that some substantial progress on the overall issue has been made and I’m just not going to go beyond that. Sorry, Matt. Okay, okay.
MS NAUERT: And we’ve got to --
QUESTION: Visas --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Oh, I know you’re so anxious about that. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MS NAUERT: Good to see you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. The question is please, given the visa arrangements now with Colombia to be able to access visas for families who wish to reunify here with – from Cuba in the United States, they would have to remain – the Cubans requesting this – a few days in Colombia. That’s pretty costly for a Cuban family. Is there any other way that they could arrange to have their visas processed, not necessarily in Colombia? And in that sense, has the United States already spoken with Colombia to facilitate the processing of the visas? Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that. I understand that it is a convenience – an inconvenience for people to have to go elsewhere, to go to another country to try to get a visa. I get that. Families want to be together. The reality of the matter is that we have people who are serving in Cuba who have needed to come home. We have very limited staff there at our embassy in Cuba, even though we still do have diplomatic relations there, and the staff that remains there has to be dedicated at this time to American citizens who may need their assistance. And I’m sorry, we’re just not able to help at our embassy beyond that now.
QUESTION: Ms. Nauert, and there is a case – there’s a report of a U.S. citizen who has been arrested in Cuba by the name of Lopez Miyares, and accused of spying.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have any information?
MS NAUERT: I have – this is the first I’m hearing of it. I’m sorry. I don’t --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that. Okay? We’ve got to wrap it up then. Hi.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: If you have any – do you have anything to add on the recently declassified documents which show the United States had knowledge of the mass killing in the mid-1970 – 1960s?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I don’t have a ton of information on that, but I can tell you the organization that issued – that put out that information is not affiliated with the U.S. Government. That’s a part of George Washington University. They posted those declassified documents. The State Department, we work with the National Archives in order to release declassified documents that are of interest and import to the American public. We have introduced – my understanding is that back in 2015 we released a lot of documents pertaining to this exact incident. We sent out or provided publicly a large number of documents to try to shed light on the foreign relations of the United States in Indonesia. This all occurred back in the 1960s, so a lot of this predates us, but we’ve made that information public.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: All right. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, wait, just hold on.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, it doesn’t predate all of us. Let’s just say that – one. But --
MS NAUERT: A lot of us.
QUESTION: But secondly, are you suggesting that the report from the National Security Archive is somehow misleading or erroneous?
MS NAUERT: I’ve not read through that report, so I’m not – I don’t --
QUESTION: It’s a pretty damning report.
MS NAUERT: I’ve not heard anyone here dispute the contents of any report.
MS NAUERT: That’s not something that I’ve heard.
QUESTION: I’m just curious as to why you --
MS NAUERT: There could be someone who is disputing that. I just want to make it clear that we released much of this information a few years ago, and I want to make it clear that the George Washington University declassified documents that they released, that’s their own thing. We don’t --
MS NAUERT: That has no affiliation with the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: I understand that, but you’re – the separation of the government from the Security Archive at GW, you’re not intending to suggest that what they – the documents that they used are somehow not valid or fake or something, right?
MS NAUERT: I have not heard that. I have not heard that.
Okay. Last – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday Mr. Tillerson just said at CSIS that U.S. is going to have dramatically deepened relationships with India, and he also said – I quote – that “security issues that concern India are concerns” of the U.S. So does it mean that next time when India is in conflict with other countries, like Pakistan, India will get full support of the U.S. or --
MS NAUERT: Wow. Okay, I don’t think I’d go that far. The Secretary gave a speech yesterday in which he talked about so many of the common interests that we share with the Indian people and also the Indian Government. As you know, we had a terrific meeting, the President did, with Prime Minister Modi earlier in the year, and they talked about how they’re committed to our partnership. There’s a lot of work that we can do together with India, whether it’s military exercises, as you’ve seen earlier this year that we conducted with India and a few other countries as well, to intelligence and counterterrorism, to infrastructure work that they are participating in in Afghanistan, which we are very grateful to. There are a lot of economic ties. We have a lot of Indian Americans here in the United States and we have so many Indian students who are studying here in the United States.
So I think the Secretary was really trying to underscore the importance of that relationship with India and recognizing that we have a lot of areas where we can – where we have mutual cooperation.
QUESTION: But (inaudible) frequent exchange of fires between India and Pakistan. So when it happens next time, does it mean that the U.S. have to take sides or things like that?
MS NAUERT: I think that we are always very cautious about addressing those issues, not wanting to contribute to any additional tensions.
Okay. Last question. Hey, Cindy.
QUESTION: Thanks. On Yemen, a bunch of lawmakers have – also expressing concern about the humanitarian situation and putting together a resolution to limit U.S. military activities there to just targeting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Could you give us an update on the diplomatic work that is going on there? And I know that the Secretary will be discussing that also.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So that is a major – an area of major concern. I mean, we have seen Yemen, the crisis there, as being one that’s manmade. We have seen the world’s worst cholera outbreak in Yemen – 842,000 suspected cases of cholera; 21 million people, 75 percent of Yemen’s population, in need of humanitarian aid. This is an issue that I know the Secretary, when he sits down in many of his bilateral meetings, will bring this up. How do we solve this problem? How do we get the aid to the ports there so that we can get that aid to the people? How do we address all those things? So I can assure you those conversations are ongoing. In terms of specific meetings or calls, I just don’t have anything to provide you, but I can look into it and talk with our folks and see if I can get an additional update for you.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, obviously, the Saudis being a major party to the conflict, I would assume that this would be a big issue when the Secretary goes to --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, and I read out at the top today --
MS NAUERT: -- that that was one of the issues that the Secretary would be discussing with the Saudis.
QUESTION: When you say it’s a manmade situation --
MS NAUERT: Well, through this conflict. Through this conflict. And when we look at food shortages, when we look at the cholera, when we look at the humanitarian disaster that has unfolded in Yemen, it’s not because of Mother Nature. It’s not because of drought. It’s because of the crisis there. It’s because of the manmade crisis there. And so I just wanted to underscore and highlight that.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more question quickly --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- about the --
MS NAUERT: And then we’re done. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes, about the – something that the Secretary said yesterday about Myanmar.
QUESTION: He said that what’s most important to us is that the world can’t just idly – stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities. Does that mean that the U.S. will be more involved in trying to resolve this crisis? And can you update us at all on – weeks ago you had said that there was an ongoing review whether or not this was ethnic cleansing. Is there any update to that review?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Those types of reviews take a lot of time. I’ve spoken with our people who are involved in those types of things, and they explained the process in great detail to me. Part of that process is getting information from people on the ground. As many of you as reporters know, it’s difficult to get information on the ground there. You hear reports. Certainly some journalists have been able to be fortunate and get there and report on things, but not enough. And part of what we do is collect information from various aid groups, partners, our embassy, people on the ground. We collect all that information and we assess it. That kind of thing just takes time. It’s a very serious reporting criteria that we undergo when we make those types of assessments. So I’m not ready to go any further than that on it.
But I can tell you we have been extremely engaged in what has been going on there. We – I believe we provided a call readout when the Secretary spoke with Aung San Suu Kyi on I believe it was September the 19th. I know that we have had many conversations, not just with our Ambassador Marciel but also one of our DASes, one of our deputy assistant secretaries, Patrick Murphy was recently over there and he was able to tour through parts of the northern Rakhine State and take a look at some of what’s going on. We’ve provided I think 96 – no, excuse me -- $104 million. Last time I briefed you on this, it was – it was 96; now it’s $104 million in humanitarian assistance for displaced people both in Burma but also in neighboring Bangladesh.
So the United States Government has been incredibly committed to this. We continue to call upon the government to allow in more humanitarian aid groups and to allow in more reporters so that we can more accurately get information on the ground. Okay. If I have anything else for you, I’ll let you know.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:18 p.m.)
DPB # 58