Department Press Briefing - October 26, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
3:33 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: And thanks again to DRL for the good work that you do. Thank you.
Okay. A couple pieces of news before we get onto your questions. First, I’d like to start out with mentioning something about USAID Administrator Mark Green. He is traveling in Mexico City today. He’s meeting with Mexican officials to discuss greater development cooperation in Central America. The enhanced cooperation in El Salvador, Guatemala, and also Honduras aims to tackle the drivers of irregular migration by advancing prosperity and good governance, tackling corruption, and reducing crime and violence. We are working to help the people of Central America have hope and a future in Central America.
The administrator’s trip to Mexico was a follow-up to discussions between the United States and Mexico at the Conference on Security and Prosperity in Central America that was cohosted by the two governments in Miami in June of earlier this year. While in Mexico City, Mr. Green will also visit the sites where USAID assisted in urban search and rescue efforts and conducted structural assessments following the devastating earthquake on September 19th, 2017.
A bit about Secretary Tillerson. As many of you know, he was in Geneva today, and that is where he met with the U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. He conducted a press availability – you all should have the transcript of that by now – and he also stopped by our mission in Geneva to meet with some of our embassy employees and their families. I know it’s something that he always looks forward to doing.
In addition to that, he made his inaugural trip to India as Secretary of State yesterday, and that is where he met with Prime Minister Modi, Minister of External Affairs Swaraj, and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. U.S. and Indian officials discussed strengthening U.S.-India partnerships, India’s leadership on peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, and India’s vital role in the administration’s South Asia strategy. The Secretary also highlighted the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which will be cohosted by the U.S. and India in Hyderabad in November.
In all of his meetings, the Secretary emphasized that U.S. and Indian relations are strengthened by the core bond of our two countries, the values of individual liberty and rule of law. And our President has said, quote, “The future of our partnership has never looked brighter.”
Finally, an issue I know you all are very interested in, and that is with regard to legislation going to Capitol Hill on Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017. So I have an announcement for you on that today and want to provide you with an update. Our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan just had a good conversation with Senator Corker. This took place at 2:30 this afternoon today. He updated him on our progress, and so I want to let you know where we are right now.
In accordance with Section 231 of the act, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has authorized the department to issue guidance to the public specifying the persons or entities that are part of or operating on behalf of the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation. What that means is that Secretary Tillerson has signed off on this and is now with – being held by Capitol Hill.
The department is currently informing Congress, key U.S. industry stakeholders, and our allies and partners of our Section 231 guidance. We expect to post the full public guidance on state.gov shortly. I don’t have a lot of more detail to provide you right now that I can share at this point, because a lot of these conversations are still ongoing between Congress, industry allies, and also partners. I know there’s a lot of interest in the issue, so just wanted to come out today and provide that update for you.
With that, I would be happy to take your questions. Josh, you want to start?
QUESTION: Yeah. Why don’t we start right there?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So correct me if I’m wrong, but what I read from what you were just saying is we’ve talked in the past about how there were concerns about how our partners and certain businesses could run afoul of these sanctions because of the requirement that they not do business with the intelligence or defense sector. So basically, you guys are laying out: Here’s a list of the ones you need to worry about in advance so that our allies and businesses could take preemptive measures to make sure that they don’t run afoul of U.S. sanctions. Is that right?
MS NAUERT: Well, what this is – and I want to be as clear as possible about this because we want to be able to get the details all very precise and correct – it’s a complex piece of legislation right now. Many companies have a lot of questions about this. A lot of you had had questions about why the delay, why it’s taken a bit of time for the State Department to deliver this information to Congress, and that is because it’s complex, complicated, and industry needs to know what will happen if they engage in certain activities.
So some of this information is still being delivered to them, so I’m not going to be able to provide you a lot of details of the specifics right now, but what I can tell you is that we’re having a lot of conversations with the industry, with members on Capitol Hill, providing them those – that guidance that is so well needed. And when we have the specifics for you, to give that you, we’ll be able to provide that to the public.
QUESTION: Are they – aren’t they saying --
QUESTION: But this public guidance that you’re going to put out --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- with a list of who these people are who are associated with these two sectors – when that list is released, are those people then under U.S. sanction, or this is just guidance on people who eventually would be under sanction?
MS NAUERT: So under the act – and some of this has to do with legislation, so I’d have to refer you to the Hill for some of this. But beginning January 29th, 2018, the act requires the Secretary to impose certain sanctions on persons or entities that knowingly engage in significant transactions with a person or entity that’s named on the list. So we’ve not provided that list publicly. We will do that after we have a chance to communicate with our partners and allies and the companies and also Capitol Hill on that, and when we have that list, we’ll be sure to let you know what it contains – what it contains.
QUESTION: But at the point when that’s published, is there a period of time in which people could stop doing business with them?
MS NAUERT: I would have to go back and double-check with you. I’m not our sanctions expert. I believe that this goes back – dates back a few months. But again, I don’t want to get further into that. I just have to double-check for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Just last question on this is that whenever we ask you about potential sanctions in the future, you rightfully point out that we don’t want to preview who we’re going to sanction because then it gives people an opportunity to shift money and evade the sanctions. So why, in this instance, does it seem like you’re providing a public list of people who could be associated with sanctions in the future?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think part of this is to say to the companies – and many of these are big multinational companies – put them on alert that these are the types of things that they can’t – these are the types of entities that they can no longer do business with. So it helps them to at least make their business decisions and be able to decide on the best course of action going forward.
QUESTION: And so --
MS NAUERT: Hey, Michelle.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks. The Secretary has signed off on guidance to the public or guidance going to companies, or both? Like, what’s coming out right now?
MS NAUERT: So as I understand it, under the legislation, the Secretary had to provide this information to Capitol Hill. The information was delivered to Capitol Hill, and that is when our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan spoke with Chairman Corker a short while ago and told Chairman Corker that the information had been compiled and they would now have it going forward. Conversations are ongoing, then, with the companies, the various countries, our allies and partners, and so forth.
QUESTION: So when do we expect to see this information publicly?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure just yet, but as soon as we get it, I’ll be sure to let you know.
QUESTION: And as far as the delay that has happened on this with multiple other entities pointing the finger at the State Department and then you explaining, well, it’s complicated, it’s taking a long time, we’ll provide that guidance when --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, now, all of a sudden, the Secretary has provided that guidance.
MS NAUERT: Well, this is --
QUESTION: Did he need to rush the process or --
MS NAUERT: This is something that’s been in the works for quite some time. So when Capitol Hill said to the State Department, “Provide us this information,” we were given about two months to pull it together, which is a relatively short period of time to be able to work through all of this, work across the interagency, to determine the types of entities, the type of industry that would be affected, and to work out all those details. The Secretary is very hands-on in these types of things, so when information is initially provided to him, he may have additional questions that he wants to ask of our folks here internally – this in addition to all the other world issues that we have to deal with.
So the Secretary would then go back and ask additional questions of our staff, and then we provided it to Capitol Hill. So it took a little bit of time. The Secretary himself said that these are complex matters and we want to make sure we get it right.
QUESTION: It just seemed like a few days ago, when we talked about this, it sounded like it was going to take much more time. And then bam, all of a sudden, it’s done today?
MS NAUERT: That was people’s assumption --
MS NAUERT: -- and we didn’t want to get ahead of the Secretary on that, but it is – it has been teed up --
MS NAUERT: -- for some time. Okay?
QUESTION: In the Secretary’s meeting with de Mistura --
QUESTION: Heather, can I --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Hold on. Let’s get it --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Russia (inaudible) sanctions?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: So the date, the list, that – is “shortly” like today or “shortly” is this week? Should we expect --
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to put a timeline on it, but I would not anticipate it today.
QUESTION: Okay. So the list that’s being provided to Congress today, that – and industry, that is the list that was supposed to be delivered by October 1st, and then the January 29th date that you gave, that is when those people and entities on that list will be subject to penalties? Is that --
MS NAUERT: So I can’t confirm that. That is what I said to Josh --
MS NAUERT: -- that I had to go back and just confirm. I want to make sure I get you the correct information on that.
MS NAUERT: So at one point, your question is: Would sanctions potentially kick in?
QUESTION: Right, like --
MS NAUERT: Would it be at some date in the future, or would they be retroactive? I just don’t know the answer to that, so let me look into that and get back to you.
QUESTION: And then second, in terms of the process, Treasury said that they had taken the requisite steps and that it was up to the State Department to finish that process. So from this building, you were looking at people and trying to figure out – like, what was happening? Like, Treasury just had, like, some sort of – because --
MS NAUERT: I don’t want to – I don’t want to speak on behalf of Treasury. I haven’t been over there to ask --
QUESTION: Well, not with Treasury – but what – what was the process here? Like, what kinds of things were you cross-referencing --
MS NAUERT: Well --
QUESTION: -- if they do the technical --
MS NAUERT: It’s a complex process. A lot of these involve internal conversations, and you know we don’t divulge a lot of our internal conversations or our processes. It would bore you to death probably.
QUESTION: I hope not.
MS NAUERT: No, not you, Felicia. Not you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s not –
MS NAUERT: Well, many people it would bore to death. So, I mean, these are just things that take some time to put together, the questions to ask about what industries would be affected, how they might be affected, and then be able to determine all of that going forward.
To your question about the January date, let me just reiterate this again: Beginning January 29th, 2018, the act requires the Secretary to impose certain sanctions on persons or entities that knowingly engage in significant transactions with a person or an entity that is named on the list – and that is the list that we will publish shortly. Again, I don’t have a timeline on that, but when I have more for you, I’ll let you know. Okay?
QUESTION: But the people on the list --
QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow-up on --
QUESTION: -- they’re not already on sanctions list, right?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: Okay. These are, like --
MS NAUERT: I’m just not --
QUESTION: -- new people sanctioned, and then sanctions on people who do business with those --
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, so --
MS NAUERT: -- I’m not – I’m not aware of whether they are currently under sanction or not. If I can get that answer for you, I certainly will. Anything else on Russia?
QUESTION: And what should companies --
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: -- be doing once they see they list? Like, stop --
MS NAUERT: I’m not in the position --
QUESTION: -- talking to those people?
MS NAUERT: -- to advise the companies on this. I know they will have a lot of lawyers, I know they’re going to be in conversations with the State Department as a part of this, so I don’t want to get ahead and tell them --
QUESTION: Or I mean --
MS NAUERT: -- advise them what to do.
QUESTION: It’s our job to explain to them what (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: No, I understand that. I understand that. And I imagine that they will be in conversations with the State Department going forward. Again, I don’t have a lot more information to provide you right now, but this is the new piece of information today that the Secretary signed off on it, it now lives on Capitol Hill. When I get you more information to you, can – when I get more information, I promise I will bring it to you. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I have (inaudible)?
QUESTION: May I ask one more question?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on.
QUESTION: Heather, one clarification on that?
MS NAUERT: Yes?
QUESTION: The guidance that is going to be provided to Capitol Hill, I think Felicia suggested it would be provided to Capitol Hill and to industry. Is that right or is it just going to Capitol Hill now, and it will be provided publicly at some later date?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know if it’s being done simultaneously with industry and Capitol Hill or exactly how that – which will come first if – or if it’s happening simultaneously. When it’s publicly available, that will be in the near future. Okay?
QUESTION: Can we go to the --
QUESTION: Does Congress have to --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Dave.
QUESTION: -- approve the list or is that just the list they get?
MS NAUERT: I’m not – I don’t know. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Heather, can I ask you --
MS NAUERT: Again, I can try to get more information from some of our experts on this type of thing, but this is all very new. We’re just unrolling that today.
QUESTION: Let’s bring --
QUESTION: Can we move on to the Secretary’s --
QUESTION: Can we bring those experts in here to give more, like, today?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Can I – can I just move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Are we --
QUESTION: So when you --
MS NAUERT: Conor.
QUESTION: On the Russian part, when you say he was hands-on in the process, is that --
MS NAUERT: Yes?
QUESTION: -- in developing the guidance or is that in the naming of particular individuals?
MS NAUERT: I don’t – I think the Secretary is – was involved in the overall process. I highly doubt that he would be pulling names out of a hat and defining certain – naming certain individuals.
QUESTION: And the other part of the legislation called for sanctions on Russia – sorry, on North Korea and Iran. Do you know if those – if that guidance has been created already?
MS NAUERT: I – that I am not aware of. I am only aware of the Russian part today. Okay? Let’s move on.
QUESTION: Can we move on to the Secretary’s meeting with Mr. de Mistura?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Yeah?
QUESTION: -- is that a new position?
MS NAUERT: No.
QUESTION: Because the position in the past has been that it’s a Syrian business, that was --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, what – we have – the Secretary has consistent – I see. Hi, Nicole. I see your question. Hold on.
The Secretary has consistently said that we do not see a Syria in the long run with the Assad regime running it. He’s been very clear about that. Now – let me finish – nothing about that has changed, but ultimately, that will be a Syrian-led decision. We are strong supporters of the Geneva process. The Secretary was engaged in conversations with Mr. de Mistura earlier today about that very process. We are a long way off from getting that – getting to the table with that, but we continue to support that process. We do not believe that the Syrian people will want Bashar al-Assad, the killer of women, of children, of innocent civilians, over and over again, who gassed his own people – we do not believe that the Syrian people in the end will find that they want that man, that family, that regime to continue running its country.
MS NAUERT: We believe that that process will take care of itself through a political process when we can finally get there. First, we need to keep pushing for a de-escalation of the conflict, and we’ve been somewhat successful in that. And of course, just to underscore once again the significance of taking away Raqqa from ISIS.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah. I’m not broaching the subject of moral crime.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m saying that the Geneva process calls for a transition and calls for negotiations and so on, and the government – the Syrian Government is part of that. There has been no backing away from that process, is there – has there?
MS NAUERT: There has been no backing away from the Geneva process?
QUESTION: From – from – yeah. The points that were articulated in Geneva I, I believe, which calls for a transition and negotiation under the auspices of the international community.
MS NAUERT: We remain fully committed to the Geneva process, as do many other countries as well.
MS NAUERT: Okay? All right.
QUESTION: You’ve – on Iraq.
MS NAUERT: Hey, Laurie.
QUESTION: You’ve called for an end to the fighting between Iraqis and Kurds, and the Kurds have accepted that, Baghdad has ignored you, and today it launched a major attack. The Security Council then called for immediate dialogue, but Secretary Tillerson in Geneva in the press conference you referred to only offered to assist the two parties in negotiating. So the UN statement is stronger than yours. Does that bother you? Do you think you’re doing enough?
MS NAUERT: I have not seen the UN statement. What I can tell you is that we are close friends, as you well know, Laurie. I know you are very passionate about – about our Kurdish friends. We are good friends with the Iraqi Government; we are good friends with the Kurds. I’ll once again say that our men and women have fought and died alongside both. They are all Iraqis, Iraqi Kurds and Iraqis from the – from the federal government, if you will.
In terms of the skirmishes and the activities that are taking place, I just want to say one more time, as we have said for months now, we want them to come together to have conversations. We believe that the time is now. We would like to see them commit to a timetable for sitting down and having talks. It is a shame to see the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqis fighting, fighting one another. They had fought so hard together to try to decimate ISIS. They have been successful in that. That is why we cautioned against the referendum, because we knew that both of these groups of individuals would be taking their eye off the true fight right there, and the true fight is ISIS. And so we would call upon both parties right now – Mr. Barzani, Mr. Abadi – to come together and have those conversations about coordinating military activities and trying to restore calm.
I want to mention to you today that the Secretary did have a conversation with Mr. Barzani. You know in the past he has visited with Mr. Abadi; that took place earlier this week. He’s had recent phone calls with him as well. The Secretary in Geneva referenced his call with Mr. Barzani today.
QUESTION: Could you give us any more details about that call?
MS NAUERT: Unfortunately, I – the Secretary doesn’t always provide all the details of his calls, the diplomatic conversations. But based on previous conversations, I can tell you that he certainly would have said coordinate your military activities, restore calm, sit down, and have some talks together.
QUESTION: I think that’s a message for Mr. Abadi, but I have a second follow-up question. It has to do with what’s going on in Kirkuk.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: One of the things is that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of Kata’ib Hizballah, whom Treasury designated a terrorist in 2009 for attacking U.S. and Iraqi troops, has just opened a recruiting station in Kirkuk. Do you have a comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I saw that you’re – that report earlier. You’re correct; he is a terrorist. I cannot confirm that report, but I would have to say, if that report is correct, we hope his recruitment efforts fail miserably.
QUESTION: Does it bother you that he is part of the PMF and technically part of the Iraqi Government and otherwise supported by Iran, and maybe the Iraqis should take action against him?
MS NAUERT: He is a terrorist, and beyond that – I’m just not going to go beyond that, okay? It’s clear that he is a terrorist, okay?
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. In the clashes that you’ve just regretted, American military equipment is being used. Both sides have been armed by America in the past. If these – if this continues, will it have any implications on your willingness to continue supplying this kind of --
MS NAUERT: Dave, I can’t confirm myself if that’s taking place. I would just have to refer you to DOD on that, okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Laurie’s first question.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: In what manner is the Secretary talking about helping to assist conversations between the two leaders?
MS NAUERT: Well, we --
QUESTION: Does he want to facilitate --
MS NAUERT: We have said this before. If we’re asked to do something, we will take part in that. If Iraqis, if the Kurds, ask us to sit down and help facilitate that kind of dialogue, we would certainly do that if asked. We’ve not been asked at this point, at least not to my knowledge.
We have a lot of ongoing conversations with Mr. Barzani, also with Mr. Abadi. And by the way, our folks at the embassy there, our ambassador, has been engaged in conversations virtually every day about this issue. So those conversations are ongoing, and just one more time let me just say we would like to see calm.
QUESTION: But Barzani expressed his acceptance of – to freeze the result – I mean, his willingness --
MS NAUERT: To what? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Barzani expressed his willingness to freeze the results of the referendum that was held last month, but it was turned down by the Iraqi Government as well as by the Turkish Government. So what is your position?
MS NAUERT: Again, we would like --
QUESTION: Is freezing – they said it was not enough.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not going to get into the specifics of that. What I will go back to say one more time is that we would like to see them sit down and have a conversation together and work all that out.
Okay. Hey. How you doing?
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. So I’ll just remind you of the Amnesty International report. I asked you about it in a previous briefing.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have something about that?
MS NAUERT: Remind me. It was an Amnesty International report on --
QUESTION: About Tuz Khurmatu, where the tens of thousands of Kurds have been displaced by the – because of the clashes.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m afraid I don’t think I do have anything for you on that today, but let me – we’ll talk about it after the briefing and I’ll see if I can get anything for you on that, okay?
QUESTION: Okay, just one more question. I know you welcomed the decision by the Kurds to freeze the results of the referendum. Do you think that is – that provides the basis for negotiations between Baghdad and Kurdistan? In other words, do you think the ball is in Baghdad’s court now to respond?
MS NAUERT: I think some of that is up for them to decide themselves. We ask for them to sit down and have a conversation. We would like to see a timeline for those conversations to begin. I’m not going to comment on some of the internal debates that they are having. I’m just not going to go there. But we hope that they’ll sit down and have a talk soon. Okay? Okay.
MS NAUERT: Let’s --
MS NAUERT: Sorry.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you sure?
QUESTION: Of course.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay, thanks.
MS NAUERT: You two just looked like a married couple there. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: We’ve known each other a long time.
MS NAUERT: Are you sure? (Laughter.) Okay, sorry, Michelle. What did you want to talk about?
MS NAUERT: That would totally be in DOD’s lane or an intelligence-related matter. I’m not aware of the State Department having any equity in that.
QUESTION: But this department – yeah, I mean, isn’t – I mean, the State Department said days ago that this is like a collaborative process and a close partnership in determining what the footprint of each is there.
MS NAUERT: A collaborative partnership between?
QUESTION: Between State and DOD. And when there is a dispute that – or a disagreement, it’s elevated to both secretaries. So can you say whether there were --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Was there a statement that came out related to that?
MS NAUERT: Okay, I’m not – I don’t have that in front of me. I’ve not seen that. But what I can tell you is that we obviously – Secretary Tillerson has a close relationship with Secretary Mattis. They coordinate closely on things. But whether or not the State Department has a role in determining whether or not drones should be armed or not, I don’t think that’s in our lane and that’s why I’d just refer you to DOD.
QUESTION: Well, respectfully, there is like a collaboration there. So we were told by the State Department that when there’s a disagreement, when State disagrees with something that DOD wants when that request is made and they don’t agree on it, then that issue is elevated to the secretaries of both the State Department and Defense. So do you know whether --
MS NAUERT: Michelle, I’m just not – I’m going to be frank with you.
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. So I can look into that for you and see if I can get you an answer.
MS NAUERT: I’m just not personally aware --
MS NAUERT: -- of any conversations taking place between the State Department and DOD on that particular matter. If you have another question in Niger, I can try to answer it for you.
QUESTION: No, that’s fine, thanks.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Can I ask – I have a question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, really quickly.
MS NAUERT: Okay, wait. Anything else on Niger? Okay, let’s move on. Let’s go on to Israel then.
QUESTION: Very quickly, the Israeli cabinet is set to approve annexing settlements, about 19 settlements in all, which will render the possibility of a two-state solution almost completely impossible. That is set to take place next week. Are you aware of that?
MS NAUERT: This is – what is set to take place next week?
QUESTION: They are – they’re going to vote on the annexation of some 19 settlements --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- including the largest --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- settlement, Ma’ale Adumim, to Jerusalem, which will basically bisect and dissect the Palestinian territories.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So my understanding is that piece of legislation is in the early stages of development. Some of these would be internal matters that I wouldn’t want to comment on the debating of legislation there, just like we don’t comment on the debate of legislation here in Washington. I know that it has to go through several steps before it would even become law.
As a general matter though – and I will say this, Said, to you once again – we continue to encourage both sides to take appropriate actions to ease tensions and build an environment that would support concluding a conflict-ending peace agreement.
Okay? Anything else on --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: So Vice President Pence last night said that President Trump has ordered the State Department to, quote, “stop funding ineffective UN relief programs,” and that from this day forward – this day actually being yesterday – that the U.S. support for persecuted communities will go through USAID as opposed through the United Nations. Can you tell us what that means, what agencies that affects, and how that will be carried out?
MS NAUERT: Okay, I will do my best to try to do that. This is a – not a new concept. This is something that people have been talking about within the administration for quite some time. The President along with the Vice President back on the campaign trail had talked about their sincere concern, their disgust at seeing the plight of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and in the Middle East certainly as well. They wanted to do something about it. Christians have been persecuted. We’ve talked about this before. The Yezidis have as well. The Secretary deemed it genocide not too long ago what has happened to the Yezidis, Christians, and some Shia in Iraq.
(Sneeze.) Bless you.
This is something they care about deeply. The Vice President announced a new initiative. Some of the details are still being worked out. What I can tell you is at the end of this the United States will remain the world’s most generous, largest humanitarian donor in the world. We will continue supporting vulnerable people all around the globe. This will also include Christians, Yezidis, other religious minorities. The President cares about this issue deeply. This administration, as have other administrations in the past, don’t want to shy away from funding religious-based NGOs. The UN will still get some of its money for this, but we will look for other avenues in which to more efficiently fund these types of religious minorities so that they can eventually return back home.
QUESTION: So it’s not a blanket, “we’re cutting of all funding to UN relief agencies”?
MS NAUERT: No. No.
MS NAUERT: So this does not apply to all UN programs. It applies to programs that address the persecuted and displaced religious minority communities. USAID will be involved in this. The State Department will as well, but again, this is still being developed. I don’t want to speak on behalf of the Vice President, but I know that this is something personally important to him and to the administration overall. So he highlighted and underscored what many of us know was a terrible problem.
When you look at Syria, for example, and they had had one and a half million, I believe it was Christians living in Syria, and now that number is half a million – actually, I think it was 1.2 million, and now it’s half a million. I mean, that’s horrible. It’s horrible that people of any particular faith would be forced out of their communities as a result of terrorism. So I think one of the ways I want to do – handle this is to efficiently be able to get the money to different NGOs and groups that the U.S. Government feels can best help them.
QUESTION: So to that end, is the focus on persecuted Christians a result of, like, some type of review that determined that Christians are disproportionately marginalized worldwide, or is there allegiance with sort of Christians in the United States and the background particularly of our Vice President?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think we have seen what has happened to the Christians, what has happened to the Yezidis and others, Yezidis being a much smaller population base. But watching what has happened there, watching the crucifixions, watching the beheadings and all of that – horrific. Horrific and unimaginable. And I think the Vice President just wanted to underscore and highlight to these communities, these persecuted communities – and you’ve all seen the videos of some of these ancient churches and monasteries and everything being absolutely destroyed. People cannot practice their faiths out in the open. That, of course, is not a problem that’s limited to the Middle East; it’s a problem that happens around the world. But this is something that the Vice President was focused on and the administration cares deeply about.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.
MS NAUERT: You’re right. You’re right. You are absolutely right. And without the Kurds, many of those families would eventually not be able to come home. Because the Kurds were a huge part of fighting alongside the D-ISIS Coalition and U.S. forces to be able to protect those persecuted communities, and we will never forget what the Kurds have done in order to do that.
QUESTION: Do you --
MS NAUERT: But Laurie, I just want to be clear why we have not supported the referendum and go back to this one more time. We saw that it would take the fight off of ISIS, and it certainly has. Because now we talk about skirmishes between the Kurds and the central Government of Iraq. We talk about those types of things, and it’s taken the focus off ISIS. We would like for those persecuted communities to be able to go back home. But I do – I just want to say one more time how much we honor the work that the Kurds have done in order to make that happen.
QUESTION: Well, to tell the Shia militias that are attacking the Kurds in the name of an extreme form of Islam to “stop it or we’re going to do X, Y, Z” – and you have many X, Y, Zs in your toolkit –
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- would be one effective way to help protect those Christians in Kurdistan.
MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary has addressed that. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Nicole, I know you’re back there, and you’ve been so patient. Nicole, how are you?
QUESTION: One Chinese --
QUESTION: I just had a small follow-up question on the Russia sanctions.
MS NAUERT: Oh, gosh. Okay.
QUESTION: It’s an easy one. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: I thought we were done with Russia sanctions. Okay.
MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that at this point. Okay.
QUESTION: Follow-up on --
MS NAUERT: Anything else? Okay. Anyone want to – let’s go to Asian region, because we haven’t done that. Okay.
QUESTION: Can we finish off with the Christians, though? I’ve got one follow-up on Josh’s question.
MS NAUERT: Yes, okay, okay. Hold on. Okay. Hold on. We’ll get back to Asia. Let’s finish out with this. Arshad, so nice to see you.
QUESTION: So Josh’s question was --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- if you had conducted an analysis and if this policy was the result of such an analysis that Christians are disproportionately victimized by violence. And I didn’t hear a clear answer that – to that. Was there an analysis that made you conclude that you needed – that Christians were disproportionately victimized, and therefore you needed to find better ways to get money to them?
MS NAUERT: We know that through some of the programs for UNDP that not all of the money has efficiently been put to use to help some of those families be able to return to their homes. We recognize that this is also a global problem, not just a problem specific to this area. I don’t want to speak on behalf of the Vice President, so I would refer you to his office. But as this policy gets further put together and eventually implemented, I’ll be able to answer more questions for you on that.
QUESTION: My question is – and I think it was Josh’s question – is obviously there’s inefficiency in all kinds of things; money doesn’t necessarily get to the right people at the right time --
MS NAUERT: Right.
QUESTION: -- and the right place. The question though is whether this group of people is explicitly – and it may well be the case, but it would be good to know if the government – the U.S. Government actually made an analysis to figure out if there was a particular disproportionate unmet need here or not.
MS NAUERT: I think very clearly there is a need. I --
QUESTION: No, I said disproportionately unmet need. There are lots of needs.
MS NAUERT: Compared to what other religious groups?
QUESTION: Any other ethnic group, any other group.
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that the U.S. Government sat down and took a look at Christians versus some other group and whether there was a disproportionate need in Iraq versus another country. I will try to see if we have some kind of an analysis for you. But very clearly, Arshad, I think anybody in this room, anybody who’s even remotely curious, recalls having watched the news and recalls having watched what happened to Christian, Yezidis and other religious minorities in Iraq and in that part of the region.
And you may not like the idea of focusing on this, but it is clear that these people could not practice their faith. It is clear that they were persecuted. The Secretary, after much deliberation and our full legal process by our good folks at DRL, you heard from earlier today, they determined that those groups faced genocide. And because they faced genocide, we would like to be able to help create safe conditions so that they can eventually return to their homes. We’re trying to find the best way of going about it and have just seen a window for being able to determine that some of this money could go back to helping those people get back home safely through some NGOs. It’s as simple as that. When I get more details for you, I will certainly let you know, but we’ve got move on from this.
QUESTION: We’re good. Please don’t make presumptions about what I think with some questions that I ask.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay, okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up?
QUESTION: Also --
MS NAUERT: Let’s – hi, Nike. Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Just kind of follow up. So is this a shift of the funding only referring to Christians in the Middle East? You mentioned other minorities is also included.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Does that include other religions minorities in other part --
MS NAUERT: Well, I think different parts of the world we would look at handling different situations differently. For example, when you look at the Rohingya in Burma and how many of them are having to leave Burma and go to Bangladesh, we have provided $104 million in 2017 alone to help those people get to safety at this point. Unfortunately, they’re not at the point where they could start to return home yet, as you well know. The situation on the ground is still very unstable. We have a little bit of a better situation both in Iraq and Syria because we’re well ahead in that campaign, if you will, than folks there. So we’ll continue to look at this around the world and see how we can best make decisions and get the money out there to help the people. Okay? Let’s --
QUESTION: Can we have some idea of – how much money are we talking about would be --
MS NAUERT: I think we’re taking a look at what pots of money that we have right now and then we’ll be able to determine how much could go to that. We – I just don’t know an exact figure for you yet.
QUESTION: Hi, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Xnejiuo Wei from CCTV. Recently we know the Communist Party of China unveiled a new leadership. Xi Jinping was elected as general secretary of CPC, I mean Central Committee. Do you have any comments on that?
MS NAUERT: I mean, certainly we saw that the Communist Party Congress and the result of that was extraordinary. That’s something that the President said. We have a – obviously a relationship with China. The President I know looks forward to his visit to China. Secretary Tillerson will be assisting the President, if you will, on that trip, and we look forward to having additional conversations with China.
QUESTION: Does this podium notice that President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the start of 19th Party Congress and he said socialism with China has entered a new era. So how do you see U.S.-China relations under new – China’s new leadership?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So with every nation around the world, we don’t always have areas where we agree on everything. With regard to China, one of the things that we speak about is not only human rights and respect for that; we talk about free speech, something that is very important to us here as Americans. So we certainly have areas of disagreement. We would like China to do more on the issue of North Korea. We can have those conversations. Often those conversations are had privately, but those conversations continue. We will continue to work with China, a major – certainly a major world power. And we will have areas where we will work together – we will work together, and then we’ll have areas of differences. And an area of difference that I know – I imagine the President will be talking about with his counterpart will be trade imbalances as well.
QUESTION: Hi. NBC reported yesterday – this is on North Korea – that Ambassador Joseph Yun has been frustrated with communications with the White House in communicating the urgency of diplomacy, and I was wondering if you have a comment on this. He reportedly said that the White House has handicapped diplomacy, and so what does this mean? Is the State Department on the same page with the White House?
MS NAUERT: The State Department is on the same page with the White House. Ambassador Yun has served here at the State Department with great distinction. Ambassador Yun has been advancing our peaceful pressure campaign since the very day that the President took office – since January 20th or 21st. Ambassador Yun is highly regarded by the Secretary of State, as many in this building. You all recall that Ambassador Yun was the one who was called upon to fly over to North Korea to bring home Otto Warmbier. So since day one he has advanced administration priorities, the priorities and our peaceful pressure campaign, something that was set by this administration, by the President, and we’ve been pushing forward just to implement that. So Ambassador Yun has our full backing. Okay?
QUESTION: And then one more --
QUESTION: -- on the Asia trip.
MS NAUERT: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said that President Trump will not be attending the East Asia Summit this year, so doesn’t this contrast with the administration’s goal to remain engaged with East Asia?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that. I’d have to refer you to the White House for anything on the President’s specific schedule, but I can sure tell you we have spent a lot of time in the region. The President is going over there next week – next week, I believe it is – the Secretary will be accompanying the President on that as well. Our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan just returned from South Korea as well as Japan. It’s an area we have spent an awful lot of time, we’ve invested a lot of time in that, and we have a strong relationship with many of those countries, as you well know. Okay?
QUESTION: And I know you might not have it, but if you --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- get a chance, can you tell us who will be leading the U.S. delegation instead of the President if he won’t be attending?
MS NAUERT: Again, I’m not confirming if the President is or isn’t going. I just don’t have the information on that. I’d have to refer you to the White House. If the State Department has a significant role in that, I’ll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: Follow-up on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Hey, how are you?
QUESTION: Good. The State Department has till next Wednesday to report to Congress on whether North Korea should be re-designated state sponsor of terror. Has any determination been made on that, and if not, what information is the Secretary still debating to make that determination?
MS NAUERT: I know a lot of people are interested in that issue: Will North Korea be designated as a state sponsor of terror? Secretary Tillerson had addressed this somewhat when we talked about Otto Warmbier. He said that we will hold North Korea accountable for his unjust imprisonment and – as we of course extended our condolences to the family and always do every time we talk about this. Just to be clear, as a matter of law, for any country to be determined to be a state sponsor of terror, the secretary of state has to determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for the acts of international terrorism.
This is a very technical legal thing. I think you’re all aware of that. The designations are made after careful review of all the available evidence to determine if a country actually meets that statutory standard. It’s a statutory standard. I know we are constantly reviewing all information on countries of interest such as that, but I just don’t have any specific decisions for you just yet. It’s an ongoing process. Okay?
QUESTION: Do you anticipate, though, that by that congressionally mandated deadline, one way or the other, there will be a decision?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not sure. I just don’t want to get ahead of any decisions the Secretary could potentially make. We’ve got to wrap it up, guys. Hold on. Ilhan, you got something?
QUESTION: On Turkey.
MS NAUERT: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Quick question. There are reports on the pro-government media in Turkey that the Turk-U.S. consular officer or worker now, there is some kind of arrest warrant for him. Do you have any information to – confirmation for this Turk worker?
MS NAUERT: On --
QUESTION: U.S. consulate in Istanbul.
MS NAUERT: He’s one of our employees – one of our locally employed staff, is that what you mean?
MS NAUERT: So I don’t think I have any fresh details on that, if that is, in fact, the case. Give me just one second here. I’m afraid I don’t believe I have anything new for you on that, unless I’m just missing it. Robert, do you know if we have anything new on that? No. Okay. Okay, we do not. Sorry, Ilhan.
QUESTION: There is a letter from 14 senators from Congress about this visa suspension with Turkey. They are asking some kind of alteration for that. Do you have anything for visa suspension policy going forward?
MS NAUERT: I can only tell you with regard to the suspension of visas with Turkey that we continue to consult with the Government of Turkey. We’ve had a lot of conversations with them about this sort of visa impasse, if you will. I just don’t have any new developments for you on that. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Guys, we’ve got to go. Thank you. I’m sorry. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:15 p.m.)
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 U.N. Special Envoy for Syria