Department Press Briefing - October 31, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Hope you all are doing well today. I hope that all of you had a nice trip, some of you who went with the Secretary on his most recent trip overseas. And I know some of you are getting ready to go on the next trip, so hopefully you’re well rested and that none of you will be too grumpy to turn off the lights and not answer the door for trick-or-treaters tonight. (Laughter.) Because those folks are never fun, the ones who pretend they’re not home.
In any event, I’d like to start with a couple things today. First is the issue of Burma and I want to announce some travel that is underway right now. Simon Henshaw, who’s our Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, is currently leading a U.S. delegation to Burma and Bangladesh to discuss the humanitarian and human rights concerns stemming from the Rakhine State crisis. The delegation is close to completing the first leg of its trip in Burma. They have met with Rohingya and Rakhine State community leaders, including a visit to a camp for those who’ve been internally displaced, as well as holding meetings with government and civil society members.
The delegation will next travel to Bangladesh, where they will have the chance to visit affected communities in Cox’s Bazar. Cox’s Bazar, for those of you who do not know, is an enormous refugee camp that is serving as temporary home, we certainly hope – to somewhere between 800,000 and a million refugees. About 600,000 of them have come from Burma alone, so it is an enormous place.
The Acting Assistant Secretary Henshaw is accompanied by the bureau – excuse me – by the Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby of the Bureau of Democracy, Human rights, and Labor. Those of you who were here last week had the chance to hear from Mr. Busby, who spoke about the DPRK and human rights abuses there. Also joined – they are joined by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Vajda of the Bureau of SCA and Office Director Patricia Mahoney of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Secondly, I want to talk about Cuba for a second. As many of you are probably aware, tomorrow is the annual Cuba embargo resolution vote at the United Nations. For 26 years, Cuba has introduced a resolution for the General Assembly, calling for the end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. We’ve historically voted against that resolution. Last year the United States abstained. And Matt, if I’m not mistaken, you and the AP broke that story last year.
QUESTION: We – I think so, yeah.
MS NAUERT: You think so. So many you can’t remember. (Laughter.) Okay. Well, a little bit of news for you on that front. Ambassador Haley will be reversing last year’s abstention and will vote against the resolution this year. It will be the first vote since President Trump announced our new Cuba policy. We plan to vote against the resolution to underscore this new approach to Cuba. The Trump administration policy gives greater emphasis in advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba, while maintaining engagement that serves U.S. national interests, maintains engagement on areas of U.S. national interest, ensures U.S. engagement benefits the Cuban people, and ensures compliance with the statutory ban on tourism to Cuba.
And lastly, I’d like to mention something that was incredibly important to many people who serve here at the State Department. Yesterday, as many of you are aware, the White House announced the arrest of Mustafa al-Imam, one of the perpetrators of the September 11, 2012 attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including two of our State Department colleagues. The two State Department colleagues, of course, were Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and also Sean Smith.
Many of you here know, as you walk into the foyer of our building, you will see the names of those who served the State Department who died in service of the State Department and the American people. Those who’ve not been to this building in Washington before, it is an incredible sight to see the names of those who have died in service of our country.
On behalf of the State Department, we would like to express our gratitude to the U.S. military, to law enforcement, to the Intelligence Community for their relentless efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of those attacks. Today, I spoke with some of my colleagues who served with these men. They described the news of the arrest as, quote, “emotional,” saying that it marked an important day. They told me that the memory of Ambassador Stevens and the other men drives them and provides an ongoing tribute to the work that they are still engaged in in Libya and around the issues involving Libya today.
I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just before I took this position. He said to me about Ambassador Stevens, that he died doing exactly what an ambassador should be doing – serving in the field, working with locals in places that are not always safe. And I’ve never forgotten what Admiral Mullen said to me. It is a good reminder that the 75,000 people who work for the State Department around the world often serve in dangerous locations and they make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our country. We continue to mourn the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods, and we will spare no effort to ensure that justice is served for these dedicated Americans and public servants. Our colleagues today continue the work that they started not only in the same spirit, but also in their honor.
Thank you. I’d be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Let’s start with the Cuba vote. The Secretary and other senior members of this administration have repeatedly said that the Trump administration’s slogan, “American First,” does not mean America alone. I’m sure you’re aware of the previous years’ votes in the UN General Assembly on the Cuba Embargo Resolution. It’s 191 to 2, you and Israel being the only ones to vote against it, or, as in the case last year, you both abstained. You lost the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau in 2012 to 2013. How is this not America alone?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think when we talk about America First, this is a global issue where we’re putting Americans first and the concerns and interests and the safety of secure – and security of American people first. I think this administration regard – would regard that for far too long Cuba has engaged in human rights abuses, human rights abuses that perhaps past administrations have turned and looked the other way, and this administration continues to call upon Cuba to improve – to improve in terms of human rights, and also open up to where they would have better media access, better access to the things that we enjoy here.
QUESTION: Do you – does this decision have anything to do with the attacks that have happened on – that you guys have talked about?
MS NAUERT: No, no. Look, we undertook – this administration undertook a very broad Cuba policy review, something that the President outlined and underlined and underscored earlier this year. So I’d just refer you back to what – the President’s comments on that, but that is where things stand.
QUESTION: No, but I mean, the decision on this – the decision to vote against this resolution doesn’t have anything to do with those --
MS NAUERT: No. That would be a separate matter altogether.
QUESTION: All right. And then just lastly, have you talked to the Israelis? Are they going to vote with you again?
MS NAUERT: I have not spoken to the Israeli Government about this.
QUESTION: Well, do you know if any – anyone has?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that answer offhand.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just the last thing on this. Does it – the United States’ position as well as Israel’s position on boycotts of countries is that they are – particularly when it comes to Israel, is that they are opposed to them. Is it still the administration’s policy that boycotting countries such as the BDS movement is something that you oppose?
MS NAUERT: Do we oppose --
QUESTION: Boycotts of Israel?
MS NAUERT: Boycotts of Israel. Yeah. I mean --
QUESTION: I’m just trying to figure out if you see --
MS NAUERT: Look, we’ve --
QUESTION: If you see that there’s a --
MS NAUERT: We’ve had an example where there have been blacklists that have put – been put together of companies --
QUESTION: Right. I just want to --
MS NAUERT: -- that have been working in what some would consider to be disputed areas. We tend to think that that is not a good idea.
QUESTION: Right. I just want to make sure that I understand correctly. The administration does not see it as inconsistent to support its embargo on Cuba, which is opposed by every other country in the world with the exception of one, and its opposition to embargoes or boycotts of Israel? That’s not inconsistent, right?
MS NAUERT: We look at the Cuban Government and some of the activities that it’s done, some of the things that it’s done to its very own people, and see that as problematic. The President believes very firmly in focusing on human rights issues in Cuba among any other things, and I think that that is a testament to the tremendous value that we place on human rights and dignity. And other countries don’t want to call out nations like Cuba for that kind of activity, but we do.
QUESTION: I get it. But you don’t think that – you don’t see an inconsistency in the position?
MS NAUERT: I don’t. No.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Iraq. Iraq. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: And I have several questions. The Iraqi Government seems to have a campaign against journalists. A Kurdistan TV reporter, Arkan Sharif, was killed yesterday in Kirkuk apparently by hostile Shaabi. Today, the prime minister said Kurdish channels were guilty of war crimes just by reporting on the fighting, and Kurdistan 24 and other Kurdish channels have been banned in areas of Iraq that are controlled by Baghdad. And an Arab journalist – so it’s not just Kurds – Samir Obeid, who was critical of Abadi, was arrested. What’s your comment on all that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I have not heard of all of that, Laurie. I’m aware of the murder that took place of the journalist in Kirkuk. We’ve seen that story. Some of this information is just coming in to us, so I can’t confirm all of these stories that you’re mentioning. We are certainly aware of media reports based in the – based on the government having issues with the central government of Iraq. And media issues overall – I mean, our position has not changed. We support freedom of the press. We believe that more voices, not fewer voices, is good for democracy, is good for people of various countries. We would mourn the arrest – I mean, excuse me. We would mourn the death of any journalist covering this, trying to bring additional information to the people of Iraq.
QUESTION: The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned this. Do you expect if these things continue you will also be condemning this?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think that’s just – that’s a hypothetical, so I don’t want to get ahead of anything. But certainly, that would be a concern of ours if there are attempts to squash the voices of those who are trying to just bring more information to the people.
QUESTION: My next question has to – is a continuation of our discussion last time, when you Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was a terrorist. There’s another Hashd al-Shaabi commander, Qais al-Khazali, a prominent figure who was detained at Camp Cropper for killing U.S. troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom. And the Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji, has longstanding ties to the IRGC, whom you just named as a terrorist organization, and he was also detained by the U.S. during OIF. What is your comment on these people? Are they terrorists, in your view?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, Laurie, I don’t want to get too much into that because our focus is on trying to get Iraqis, the Kurds to come together and have some sort of dialogue. I fully understand and appreciate your question. I know well who those men are that you speak of. We are very familiar, as the United States Government is, in the acts that they are believed to be responsible for. And that, of course, is a tremendous concern to us.
You mention Mr. Muhandis. He was designated by the Department of Treasury back in 2009 for threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and also the Government of Iraq. We are well aware of that, but I just don’t want to get too into the details of what you’re asking.
QUESTION: Let me give you a softball question then. The Iraqi parliament --
QUESTION: You can’t get better than that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, right. Thanks.
QUESTION: The Iraqi parliament voted today to criminalize the display of the Israeli flag and what it called other Zionist symbols inside Iraq. What is your comment on that one?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, look, you know very well that we have a close relationship with the Government of Israel. That, however, would be an internal Iraqi matter.
QUESTION: You’re not going to condemn this sort of thing?
MS NAUERT: Look, if they choose to do that, that is certainly their place to do that. That would be an internal Iraqi matter. But I think the Israelis very well know how much we support them and what a strong relationship we have with the Government of Israel. Okay?
QUESTION: New topic?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: New topic. On the KRG, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Right. Just a follow-up on some of the Kurdish question. We saw the statement yesterday regarding Barzani’s announcement to step down. Now, as Washington is encouraging the reconciliation process between the Iraqis and Kurds, what role does the United States play in the negotiation process? As a facilitator, or does the U.S. play any role at all? Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve had a series of conversations previously with Mr. Barzani, as well with Prime Minister Abadi. The Secretary has had conversations with both men. Our ambassador has been extremely engaged not only with the Kurds, but with the Iraqi regional government. Our ambassador has had lots of conversations with people on the ground. As you know, we have a lot of people who are serving there as well.
So those conversations continue. We would like both parties to sit down and have a dialogue together, and we’re hopeful that they’ll eventually be able to work it out.
QUESTION: Now, does the United States still consider the Kurds as a good ally in the fight against ISIS in Iraq?
MS NAUERT: Absolutely, without a doubt. I mean, we are grateful for the hard work and the bravery of the Kurdish Peshmerga. That has not changed. We’ve always believed that, and we will still consider them to be a strong fighting force. Okay?
QUESTION: And finally, could you please address some of the questions from the Kurdish people that some heavy weapons provided by the United States are used by the Iraqi armies to use against the Kurds?
MS NAUERT: So as you all know, we have provided weapons to the Iraqi Government – let me see where – pardon me one second. Yeah, I mean, we’ve certainly trained, as you well know, alongside and with the Kurds and the Iraqi regional government. We don’t provide – perhaps there’s been some questions about this. We don’t provide support to groups or forces that are designated terror organizations – I think we’ve been very clear about that – some believed to be responsible for gross violations of human rights that do not fall under the government – under the control of the Government Iraq. Okay?
QUESTION: Is it a violation of U.S. regulations if a – an entity that to whom you have provided weapons transfers those weapons to a terrorist organization?
MS NAUERT: I know there’s something called the end-use law, I believe it is, which regulates what different parties are allowed to or not allowed to do with weapons that the U.S. provides that. Some of that is a DOD – in DOD’s lane, so I don’t want to get too much into that, because I’m not an expert on the matter, but I know that there are those guidelines that are put into effect.
QUESTION: Maybe that’s something we could pursue either here or at the State Department or with the Department of Defense?
MS NAUERT: You’re certainly welcome to ask the – I’ve seen you over at the Department of Defense in the Pentagon briefings before.
QUESTION: Yes (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: You’re certainly welcome to ask them that question. I can see if we can get anything more for you on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Question on the Sahel?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Would you like to move on now?
QUESTION: The Sahel?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Sorry?
QUESTION: The Sahel?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you explain a little bit about what that money is going to go to? And is that – is the U.S. cutting back on kind of aid to that area, with the big cutbacks of this administration?
MS NAUERT: The dollar amount that was announced yesterday, a total of $60 million for the G5 countries – those G5 countries include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – the point for that money is to try to create a joint force and also recognize that they are making progress toward operating better military and counterterrorism operating capability. Of the $60 million, not all of it comes from the State Department; $45 million comes from the State Department, 15 million comes from DOD. That, added up, is $60 million. That is being given through peacekeeping operations, so it’s not going through the United Nations; it’s going from the State Department directly to some of them. So I know the Secretary was pleased to be able to announce that kind of level of cooperation.
Okay. Anything else on that?
QUESTION: There were existing DOD programs in that area. Is this entire 60 million new funding? Obviously, there’s been train-and-assist missions in there for several years. Do you know whether this --
MS NAUERT: Well, I can’t --
QUESTION: -- replaces anything, or whether it’s 60 million on top of existing bilateral figures?
MS NAUERT: I can’t speak to the DOD’s $15 million contribution to this. I believe that this is a new pocket, or a new pot of money that is going to them, but I can double check on that. Okay?
Anything else on this issue? Okay.
MS NAUERT: What do you got? Iran, okay.
QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Thanks. Iran’s supreme leader says that he is going to put a limit on the ballistic missile program in his country to 2,000 kilometers. Does the United States view that as a concession? Does that change U.S. policy or posture at all towards --
MS NAUERT: Well, 2,000 kilometers is actually pretty far. That would certainly put other countries that are allies of ours in the range. I’m not going to comment on every statement that comes out from an Iranian official, nor any other government official from around the world, for that matter. We all know, as do our partners in the region – they know, certainly, that Iran’s ballistic missiles threaten not only the United States but our partners in the region, including many Arab countries. They recognize that. We have plenty of conversations with those governments and those countries about their concerns for Iran’s destabilizing activity. So it’s not just the United States that considers Iran to be a threat in that regard; it’s our partner nations as well.
Those Iranian-made rockets have too long been used to exacerbate some of the – and inflame conflicts in the region. And as you well know, it’s in violation, ballistic missiles are, of the UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Despite the range, the U.S. wants to see a range of zero, I assume, then, still?
MS NAUERT: We would like to see them come into compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions, and would see these in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Bless you.
MS NAUERT: Bless you. Okay. Where would we like to go now?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So administration officials have confirmed that Tillerson floated the idea of top U.S. Government officials meeting with Iranian Government officials during the UN General Assembly meetings. Can you give us some more details on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I know that that was something that the Secretary had floated. The country – the Iranian officials said no, and that was the end of it.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second. The Secretary is the most senior-ranking cabinet agency chief in this government. He met with the Iranian foreign minister. You’re talking about something other than that?
MS NAUERT: Well, they had the meeting in New York, which was a part of --
QUESTION: I know, and they sat in a room alone with their delegations for several minutes.
MS NAUERT: Which was a part of – the countries that are part of the signatory to the JCPOA. And they had a lengthy conversation, and the Secretary certainly called out, as many of you have probably read, the Iranian Government for its destabilizing activities that date back 40-plus years.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m not – my question is – her question was: Did he raise the idea of senior officials meeting with Iranian officials? And you’re saying --
MS NAUERT: I think I just answered that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but he himself met with a senior Iranian official.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you talking about he floated the idea of other administration officials meeting with the same Iranian official he met or even more senior Iranian officials?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of exactly who it was, who in the Iranian delegation would have been included in that, but I know that that idea was floated.
QUESTION: And floated with whom? With Zarif?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure exactly.
QUESTION: And so was Tehran correct in saying that Iran had turned down the offer for a meeting with the President Trump?
MS NAUERT: They did.
QUESTION: They did turn down a meeting with the President?
MS NAUERT: They did turn down a meeting, yes, with U.S. officials.
QUESTION: With --
MS NAUERT: I believe --
QUESTION: With President Trump.
MS NAUERT: I believe the United – I believe that the White House commented on this yesterday --
QUESTION: Did they? Okay.
MS NAUERT: -- so I’d refer you back to the White House for some of that, okay?
QUESTION: They did?
MS NAUERT: I believe they did.
QUESTION: I wasn’t aware there were any questions --
QUESTION: I don’t think that they did.
QUESTION: -- at the briefing other than certain legal activity that’s going on.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
MS NAUERT: Then you should’ve been over there talking about other things.
Okay, shall we move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay, yeah.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
MS NAUERT: Not to my awareness. I can only speak on behalf of the State Department, the State Department with our various bureaus – democracy, labor, human rights; EAP, East --
QUESTION: Burmese military officials.
MS NAUERT: Will we be meeting with Burmese military officials? I don’t believe so. Let me just check my notes. I know that the Secretary has had conversations with the--General Min from Burma. I don’t have a conversation to read out to you, but we have certainly had conversations with them, as we have Aung San Suu Kyi and many others in the government as well, so --
QUESTION: Can you take the question, I guess, whether --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Let me just try to find – see what information I have for you that I can provide.
QUESTION: Just while we’re on Burma, Myanmar, you said he’d been able to meet with – the envoy has managed to meet with the Rohingya. Has he been able to go everywhere in the country he’d like – would have liked to have done? I know before there was --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, what did you say?
QUESTION: Has he been able to travel wherever within Burma he wanted to go? I know there’s been restrictions in the past on access.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let me give you a little bit of information on where he’s at – and Conor, I’m just finding it right now. So our delegation traveled to Sittwe, to Rangoon, and also to Naypyidaw.
MS NAUERT: Naypyidaw. Thank you, Matt. They – the diplomatic mission’s primary purpose was to work with the government and other actors – I know we’ve been speaking with various aid groups in the area to learn about their experiences in trying to get equipment, material, and other humanitarian-type programs to the people of Burma who are suffering. There have been, as many of you know, more than 600,000 Rohingya who have been forced to leave their areas. Many of them have wound up in the neighboring Bangladesh, and I believe it’s tomorrow or the following day where Acting Assistant Secretary Henshaw will be in Bangladesh to take a look at – meet with some people in conjunction with their time in Bangladesh. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more question?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it the administration’s view that it’s better to work with the Burmese Government to help solve the crisis as opposed to beginning to put some pressure on the government?
MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve certainly put pressure on the government, without a doubt. I mean, many of you saw the sanctions that were released late last week. It was pretty lengthy. So I think we view this as a multi-pronged approach. Part of that is talking with the government, having conversations, but also recognizing that the government is a fledgling democracy, that they need help. Certainly, we have been very clear about expressing our severe concerns. You are all aware of the conversations that we’re having internally about the situation that has befallen the Rohingya. You also know about many travels that our team has made to the region to meet with people and get more information on the ground there. Okay?
QUESTION: So additional sanctions would be --
MS NAUERT: You know I’m not going to forecast any potential additional sanctions.
MS NAUERT: But that – those things are always an option. Okay?
QUESTION: Hey. Could we go to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the State Department going to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism?
MS NAUERT: So our Bureau of Legislative Affairs talked with us a little bit earlier today about the deadline that we have for that. There’s a congressionally mandated deadline. We’ve been working under the deadline of November the 2nd. That is something that we are certainly looking at. We’ve been looking at this for quite some time, but I just don’t have anything to announce for you today.
QUESTION: Why November 2nd instead of today?
MS NAUERT: I’m getting that from our leg. affairs people. Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: Heather, real quickly --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- has anybody at State spoken to the family of Otto Warmbier about this?
MS NAUERT: I know we’ve spoken with their family in the past. I’m not sure if we’ve spoken with them in recent days.
QUESTION: About this specifically?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware that we have. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi.
QUESTION: You want to go --
QUESTION: The same issue, South – North Korea --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, DPRK?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: South Korea abstained from a UN resolution condemning North Korea’s nuclear test. In this regard, South Korea rejected these issues. It seems to be not helpful for the UN sanctions against North Korea.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, Janne. Could you start that question over again, please?
QUESTION: South Korea abstained from --
MS NAUERT: South Korea abstained?
QUESTION: Yes – the UN resolution condemning North Korea’s nuclear test recently – last week, I think, that happened – United Nations.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. I’m not aware of that UN resolution vote, so I would have to refer you, then, to our --
QUESTION: Condemning North Korea’s nuclear test (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that vote having taken place. I’d just have to refer you to our USUN staff on that.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Can I ask a related – somewhat related question? Yes? Or --
MS NAUERT: Sure, yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. What’s your understanding of China’s position on the deployment of THAAD in South Korea right now?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think that China recognizes, they certainly do – well, first of all, let me start by saying we certainly welcome that China and the Republic of Korea would have a closer relationship. We tend to think that that is a good thing for the region and especially the regional instability and the worldwide instability that the DPRK poses, the threat that they pose.
In terms of THAAD, nothing has changed from our position on that. It is a – was an alliance decision on the part of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea, something that we came to together. As you well know, it’s a defensive mechanism; it’s not something that’s offensive. One of our priorities is not only keeping our own people safe, but keeping our allies safe.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s – I know why --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- what your position on THAAD is.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: I’m wondering what your position is on China’s position on it.
MS NAUERT: Our position --
QUESTION: Are you pleased – are you pleased that the Chinese seem to have kind of overcome their just absolute complete hostility toward – to it to the point where they’re ready to start high-level contacts again with the South Koreans and ease the tensions between the two?
MS NAUERT: And Matt, that’s just what I said. We would certainly welcome and we’re pleased to hear that the Republic of Korea, that our Korean friends and also the Chinese are forging a closer relationship. We see that as providing better stability, greater stability for a region that desperately needs it because of North Korea.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that some of that – the rapprochement between the two is somewhat related to the Chinese dropping their extreme objection to THAAD?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: I don’t know. I can’t answer that.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- just to follow up, do you see this as an indication that China’s recognizing that North Korea is a strategic liability and not an asset?
MS NAUERT: I think that China is coming even closer to recognizing that North Korea is a thorn in its side, and a thorn in the side of many nations. Obviously, they have a lot of trade that goes through, flows through North Korea. But it is not without significance that the Chinese backed two UN Security Council resolutions calling out North Korea for its destabilizing activities. So China, I think, is certainly coming around and recognizing the threat that the DPRK poses. Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? So while the United States is asking for cooperation on North Korea issue – but Secretary Tillerson last week gives a speech which he envisioned the U.S.-India relation for the next century, and in that speech he criticized China on many fronts like South China Sea and economic expansion. So many experts see this as a China containment strategy. Could you please clarify on it? Is it a China containment strategy?
MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary and what he said in his speech about China, in his speech about India, was something that the Secretary has said with China privately before. So some of those in the past have been private conversations, and now they’re just becoming more public conversations. But let me just say I know that the President is very much looking forward to his trip to China. It is going to be a lengthy trip, a robust trip, and one of the top issues that will be discussed with China is certainly the DPRK.
QUESTION: But if the United States --
QUESTION: -- values a strong India-United States relation, why India is not included in the first – President Trump’s first Asia trip?
MS NAUERT: I think that that would be a different kind of trip for the President, tagging India on – along to that trip. He’s got a pretty hefty schedule, but I don’t want to speak on behalf of the White House.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Well, does that mean Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Trump – Secretary Tillerson and President Trump think differently on India strategy?
MS NAUERT: No. I mean, they have the same position on that, the same – the same concerns, the same foreign policy goals and all of that, but I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s trip and why certain countries are on his schedule and why others are not. That would be under the White House’s purview. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Yes. And just in Tillerson’s speech, he also talked about more involvement of the United States for the infrastructure investment in the Asia Pacific and more connectivities for that region. So can we say that this is kind of a U.S. substitution for China’s Belt and Road Initiative? Or – he also talked about an agreement between the U.S. and Nepal. Is there any other agreements or – or the negotiations that is going on you could just – you could just tell us?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can’t forecast any agreements or negotiations, especially nothing before a trip.
QUESTION: And about the Belt and Road Initiative, do you think that’s a U.S. version of that, so there’s a competition?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you – I can tell you that we have a close relationship with India, that we have a lot of areas of common interest including we’re both democracies, we’re both large countries. They are an enormous country. India can bring so much not only to the region but to the world. In addition, many American jobs through greater trade and cooperation with that country, and I’m just not going to get beyond that. The Secretary gave a very lengthy speech on India and I can just refer you back to the text of that speech. Okay? All right.
Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question on Syria. Yesterday Secretary Tillerson, he said, quote, that, “We are working on establishing additional de-escalation zones in Syria.” So what are the areas, and are they, like, the de-escalation zone that was established in July with Russia and Jordan?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we’ve talked about this here before, that there is an area where the United States and Russia have had an area of mutual interest, and that is to try to bring some peace and some stability to parts of Syria. The goal would be to build upon that, to create some better trust between our countries, and to be able to develop other areas where we could have a ceasefire.
The ceasefire that you’re talking about, in other words de-escalation zone, has been in effect since July the 9th. That’s held pretty well, and that has been successful. We’ve been successful in being able to help get humanitarian aid and other supplies into that area. If we can build upon that in other regions, then that would be a move that we would very much support. In terms of the Secretary’s conversations in particular about that within the past few days, I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Work is going on now according to Secretary Tillerson.
MS NAUERT: I can’t confirm that that work is going on, but I know that that remains a shared goal, at least on the part of our administration, that we would like to see that, because ultimately we’d like to see peace and stability, and we’d like to see so many Syrians be able to come back home. Okay? We’re going other have to wrap it up, guys.
QUESTION: All right, Heather?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Yesterday, a Bahraini court sentenced three relatives of a U.K. British-based human rights activist to three years in prison for various insults. Both – this was condemned by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which is not surprising, but I’m just wondering if you guys have any comment on it as well since you’ve been quite outspoken on other Bahraini – other cases in Bahrain about this.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So you’re referring to Bahraini activist Mr. Sayed Nazar Alwadaei. So we understand and we’re certainly aware that he was sentenced to three years in prison along with some family members who are living in Bahrain, but he’s based in London, according to my understanding. He alleges that the convictions on the part of the Bahraini Government were reprisals for his activities in London. That I can’t – I can’t personally confirm that. But we understand that there are also allegations that he confessed under duress.
We always will say this, that we urge the Bahraini authorities to investigate allegations thoroughly and also impartially. And I just don’t have anything more for you on that.
MS NAUERT: Where is Said?
QUESTION: It wouldn’t be a question – it wouldn’t be a briefing if there wasn’t an Israel-Palestinian question.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided not to have a vote on annexing some of these settlements to the city of Jerusalem, and the reason that he gave was that the U.S. may be presenting a peace plan and he doesn’t want to do anything without consulting the – in terms of this law without consulting the U.S. What’s he talking about?
MS NAUERT: I think we would certainly like to see a peace plan.
QUESTION: Yes. But are you getting ready to propose one?
MS NAUERT: Our people have been – our people have been very hard at work with a lot of trips over to the region. As we have said many times before, there will be a lot of trips. There will be a lot of trips to the region, a lot of meetings, and all of that, but ultimately, for any kind of peace agreement to work, both sides have to be willing to agree to it. It can’t be something that we impose; both sides have to be willing to – and able to live with it.
QUESTION: Right. But he seemed to suggest that something might be imminent. Are you aware of anything that --
MS NAUERT: I’m not. I don’t have any – I don’t have anything to announce.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
MS NAUERT: All right, thanks everybody. I’ll see you later.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)