Department Press Briefing - November 7, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: I’ve got a couple pieces of news I want to bring in, then I’d be happy to take your questions. First I want to start out with a Millennial Challenge Corporation announcement and say we are pleased to announce today that our Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Stephanie Sullivan joined the Millennium Challenge Corporation Acting CEO Jonathan Nash and the President of the Cote d’Ivoire as they signed the $525 million MCC compact. It’s a five-year grant with Cote d’Ivoire. It is a major economic, political, and cultural hub in West Africa and one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and a strong U.S. security partner in the region. Cote d’Ivoire exemplifies the MCC effect, MCC’s ability to spur reforms before a dollar of U.S. taxpayer money is spent. After passing only five of 20 policy indicators in 2013, the government adopted MCC scorecard and its roadmap for reform.
In Fiscal Year 2017 the nation passed 14 of the indicators. MCC’s Cote d’Ivoire compact is designed to spur private investment and economic growth, to reduce poverty, and support stability in West Africa. MCC’s investments will support building workforce capacity by expanding access to secondary education and training and improving the transportation infrastructure in order to facilitate trade and open new markets for goods. The MCC is an innovative U.S. Government agency created to fight global poverty in select poor countries with a demonstrated commitment to good governance. Reducing global poverty creates a more stable, secure world with more opportunities for economic growth both at home and abroad.
Secondly, I’d like to announce something pretty neat that our embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan is doing in conjunction with the city of Austin, Texas. They are now developing a platform for collaboration between entrepreneurs and startup incubators in Austin and in Pakistan. The primary goal of this program is to help incubators collaborate on projects that will strengthen and enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystems in their communities. Through a series of mentoring and networking events in Austin, Texas, U.S. and Pakistani entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to U.S. investors and venture capitalists.
As a result of the events, Austin-based venture capital firm 1839 Ventures committed $20 million venture capital fund to continue work with participating incubators. The $20 million venture capital fund will allow partnerships with U.S. incubators to continue to grow and provide U.S. investors and venture capitalists with a unique opportunity to expand into untapped markets for funding growth-stage investment in Pakistani businesses. It’s one example of how the United States is committed to working with countries to foster entrepreneurship and innovation worldwide. We’re looking forward to furthering this goal at the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India, and that takes place later this month.
Two more announcements to make, and then I will be happy to take your questions. Next, I’d like to go to Ukraine, where in eastern Ukraine two water filtration plants have been subjected to shelling in recent days. It is considered especially dangerous because some shells have fallen as close to as 50 meters from chlorine gas storage tanks at the facilities. A hit on the tanks would cause a major catastrophe, gassing people at the plant, possibly even those in nearby towns, as well as disrupting the supply of clean drinking water in the area.
The Minsk agreements call for a full ceasefire along the line of contact, a ceasefire that Russian-led forces have never fully respected. We call on the Russian-led forces to implement a genuine ceasefire and especially to cease shelling around the filtration plant and withdraw heavy weapons to the agreed-upon lines. We also urge Ukraine to show restraint and to do everything within its power to implement the Minsk agreements.
And finally, you know I like it when we have visitors in the room. We have some young ladies in the back of the room today, and they’re from the Girl Scouts. So I’d like to welcome the group of Ambassador Girl Scouts from McLean High School – they’re in Virginia. They join us at the briefing today. They are studying public policy, and I understand you’ll get a badge at the end of the day; you’ll get a public policy badge for cooperating, for participating? Great.
QUESTION: We don’t get a badge.
MS NAUERT: I know.
QUESTION: For staying awake. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) For staying awake. Oh, Matt. Is it that boring?
QUESTION: No. It was a joke.
MS NAUERT: Goodness gracious. Well, ladies, we’re so happy to have you here. You’re welcome any time. Okay. So I’ll go ahead, take your questions, and we’ll see if we can keep Matt Lee awake today. By the way, you are a big celebrity in Bangladesh. I got lots of questions about you.
QUESTION: I am?
MS NAUERT: You are.
QUESTION: Well --
MS NAUERT: The rest of you, sorry, not so much.
QUESTION: -- I’m sure not as big a celebrity as you are.
QUESTION: You get a badge today.
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Where would you like to start today?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: What is your understanding of what is going on there? Has the Secretary made any calls to find out what is going on there? Precisely, does the State Department agree with what appears to be the President’s full-throated endorsement of what’s going on?
MS NAUERT: Let me start with the situation over there. We continue to encourage Saudi authorities to pursue the prosecution of people they believe to have been corrupt officials. We expect them to do it in a fair and transparent manner. We call on the Government of Saudi Arabia to do that. I’m not going to have a lot for you on this matter. In terms of the President’s comments, I would just have to refer you to the White House and to the President for his comments on that. And that’s about all I’m going to have for you.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary been in touch with the foreign minister or anyone else?
MS NAUERT: I will check on that for you. I just returned last evening from my trip, so I will check on whether or not the Secretary has been in contact with his Saudi counterparts.
QUESTION: But many of those, they have had long relationships with the State Department, with --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- in fact, with Secretary Tillerson before he was Secretary Tillerson. So how does that impact him in any way? I mean --
MS NAUERT: I guess I would just say that we have a good relationship with many Saudi officials. We have a close cooperation with the Saudi Government. As you know, Secretary Tillerson and the President were in Riyadh earlier this year. We had a lot of areas of agreement. Among the things that the Secretary and the President were pleased to announce was the counterterrorism center, the more moderate sort of type of Islam center that was set up in Saudi Arabia. So we have lots of things that we can work on together. We encourage them – and I just want to say this one more time – to pursue any possible prosecution or corruption cases in a fair and transparent manner.
QUESTION: Does the increased rhetoric that we hear from Saudi Arabia and Iran – does it concern you that maybe we’re headed towards some sort of confrontation between the two powers in the region?
MS NAUERT: I think I would just have to refer you back to the White House for that portion of it. We’re watching the situation very closely, very carefully. We’ve had a longstanding good relationship with the Government of Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: And my last one, I promise. There has been a news item that President Hadi of Yemen has been placed under house arrest with his sons and so on in Saudi Arabia. Are you aware of that?
MS NAUERT: I have not seen that report.
Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are the Saudis pursuing this in a fair and transparent manner?
MS NAUERT: Go – just hold on. Michelle. Hold on.
QUESTION: Are you still with Saudi?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. So did the U.S. get any heads-up on this?
MS NAUERT: We did not.
QUESTION: Even though Jared Kushner was on his trip there recently? I mean, did he have any discussion about this?
MS NAUERT: I have not spoken with Mr. Kushner, nor have I spoken with his office to ask that question. I know we did not have a heads-up that that was going to happen, though.
QUESTION: Okay. And I know that – so we’ve heard the support from the President on the corruption. We’ve heard his support in the past even on the situation towards Qatar. But now when we hear Saudi say that they’re going to treat Lebanon as if it’s declaring war and they’re going to see this Houthi missile as potentially an act of war by Iran, what is the U.S.’s stance on those kinds of statements?
MS NAUERT: Well, in terms of what happened, in terms of a launch into Saudi Arabia, that is a situation that we’re continuing to assess right now. We don’t have a full determination on who is responsible for that.
QUESTION: So the State Department is not in agreement with your – the UN ambassador, or --
MS NAUERT: Let me pull up Nikki Haley’s quote here, because – Ambassador Haley’s quote, pardon me – because she didn’t ascribe full responsibility. She said the one that was shot down over Riyadh on November 4th “may also be of Iranian origin.” In that comment she was referring to a earlier Iranian missile that was shot back in July of 2017. We’re just not there yet, and she didn’t say that either. We just don’t know who is responsible for that yet.
QUESTION: Well, if it is – I mean, and there are some who believe that it definitely was based on the evidence that’s there --
MS NAUERT: Sure. It very well may be.
MS NAUERT: We’re not there yet. We haven’t made that determination.
QUESTION: But if it was an Iranian missile, for Saudi Arabia to be saying that this was an act of military aggression on the part of Iran and that it could be an act of war, what – how does the State Department view this? I mean, would you support --
MS NAUERT: I think I would go back to what I frequently say about hypotheticals, and it’s a hypothetical, so I’m just not going to get into that at this point. But we’ll keep watching this. As we learn more information, we’ll have more for you on it.
Okay. Arshad, go right ahead. Do you have something on this?
QUESTION: Yeah. Is – does the State Department regard – does the State Department believe that Saudi Arabia is pursuing its anticorruption actions, including those – the detentions over the weekend, in a fair and transparent manner?
MS NAUERT: I think if they choose to go ahead and prosecute these cases, we expect – we certainly anticipate that they would do it in a fair, just, and transparent manner.
QUESTION: But are – but is the detention of these people in and of itself, leaving aside the question of subsequent prosecution – is the detention of these people being handled in a fair and transparent manner?
MS NAUERT: I can only go back to what the Saudi Government has said, and the Saudi Government – and I can’t speak on their behalf, but they have laid out a case that these officials were guilty of corruption of – alleged corruption of some sort. So I’m not going to go beyond what the Saudi Government has said. We’re not there on the ground to assess the cases of these individuals, so I’m not going to have any more for you on that.
QUESTION: But you are there on the ground. I mean, you have an embassy; you have contacts with this. Can I finish?
MS NAUERT: Well, we certainly do, but we’re not there involved with those cases, Arshad. So I’m not going to have a lot for you on this.
QUESTION: I understand.
MS NAUERT: We are continuing to monitor the situation. They have assured us that any prosecutions that take place will be done in a fair and transparent manner, and we hope that they will hold up to that.
QUESTION: And then following up on Michelle’s question, is it helpful for the Government of Saudi Arabia to assert that it regards actions by two different --
MS NAUERT: Sorry, actions by --
QUESTION: -- by two different countries or players in two different countries as acts of war – is that helpful? Is it helpful for it to say that it regards unspecified actions by Hizballah as acts of war, and similarly, to regard the missile as an act of aggression? Does that help?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, I think we have to look at the region in which they live. When we talk about concerns about terrorism and destabilizing forces in the region, there’s no one that knows that better than some of the countries in that backyard. And so I think it’s natural. I mean, imagine this: There was a missile shot into Saudi Arabia. The believed target was the airport or somewhere close by the airport. Imagine if that had happened here in the United States. It’s shocking. I don’t think it should surprise any of us that the government would consider that to be a potential act of terrorism. But beyond that, I don’t have anything more for you, okay?
QUESTION: My question, though, is about whether it’s helpful. Let’s take the case of Lebanon. Is it helpful for the Saudis to say they regard unspecified actions by Hizballah as acts of war from – you talk about the region; it’s a region with a lot of ferment. Is that helpful, from the U.S. Government’s point of view, to hear that rhetoric?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think we also know the kinds of activities that Hizballah has been responsible for. I mean, as Americans – and we have talked about this here before – the Marine barracks bombing, responsible for killing hundreds of Americans. Our Vice President went out to one of our Marine barracks here not too long ago to honor those that were killed. So it should be no surprise that Hizballah is a terror organization. It should be no surprise that Saudi Arabia is upset when a missile gets launched into its territory. That’s all I have for you on that, okay?
QUESTION: If Hizballah is a terrorist organization, what about Kata’ib Hizballah in Iraq, headed by a man who the U.S. authorities had imprisoned at Camp Cropper for killing Americans? Isn’t that also a terror organization?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, Laurie, I know. You and I, we covered this about a week and a half ago. I’d just have to refer you to back to what we said at that time, okay? I don’t have anything new for you on that.
QUESTION: Sorry, Heather, you – in one of your responses to Arshad --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you said “they have assured us” that they will handle these cases in a fair and transparent manner.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Who did they – when did they give you this assurance and who offered it?
MS NAUERT: I have been told – I don’t know who, but I’ve been told that that has been their pledge.
QUESTION: So there has been some kind of contact at a senior level or some level since --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know at which level, but I know that there have been conversations that have --
QUESTION: -- since the arrests or since the detentions.
MS NAUERT: I know that there have been conversations. Conversations have taken place.
QUESTION: All right. And then just last one: Do you have any thoughts at all about the rather interesting location of detention that these people are being held?
MS NAUERT: No, I have nothing for you on that.
QUESTION: One of the --
QUESTION: Heather, on --
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Heather, on --
MS NAUERT: Shall we move on? Hi.
QUESTION: Just on Saudi Arabia really quick --
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: -- when it comes to the internal problems going on or the – or whatever is going on in Saudi Arabia on top of Yemen, Lebanon, with Iran, does this Secretary, the State Department believe that this provides a greater incentive or bolster the case for the issue with Qatar to be settled, for --
MS NAUERT: Well --
QUESTION: -- Saudi Arabia to come to the negotiating table?
MS NAUERT: -- I certainly think it – I think it – certainly think it brings home to many players in the region that there are some very serious issues that they’re dealing with, that we’re dealing with. We have followed the GCC dispute since – when did it first begin, May or so? How many months has this gone on? We still call upon all the parties to sit down and work out some sort of an arrangement because we see that if they’re not fully cooperating and working together, that the region can become further destabilized. So perhaps what is going on now will be sort of a wakeup call for the nations to work together and come to sort of a --
QUESTION: And (inaudible) --
MS NAUERT: -- get some sort of resolution.
QUESTION: And the Secretary made it seem like it was up to Saudi Arabia to come to the table and discuss, that Qatar was a willing party and the others were not.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Look, Qatar has said that it’s willing to sit down and start negotiations. I don’t recall where the Saudis are on this for that matter, but I can check with our folks to see if there are any updates for you. Okay?
QUESTION: Heather, were you surprised by the resignation of --
QUESTION: But given – given the Saudi role in that --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and given the Saudi role in the war in Yemen, does the State Department not have some concerns that the current Saudi policies are themselves contributing to destabilization?
MS NAUERT: I think we know exactly where the responsibility lies in the region for much of the destabilization, and we’ve seen the activities of Iran. We’ve seen the activities of Iran in Yemen. We’ve seen the hand of Iran in Syria. We’ve seen the hand of Iran elsewhere. Where Iran – where Iran’s government – and I should be clear about saying that because we don’t take issue with the Iranian people. We take issue with the government of Tehran. Where they show up, trouble tends to follow. Okay.
QUESTION: This sounds like full support for everything Saudi is doing.
MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying let’s recognize the region that they are in. Let’s recognize the destabilizing factors that are in that region.
MS NAUERT: With what?
QUESTION: Would you comment on the resignation of Saad Hariri, the --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Lebanese prime minister, and doing it from the venue in which he did, which is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia?
MS NAUERT: Oh, in Riyadh, you said.
QUESTION: In Riyadh, yes.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, apologies. Look, we have had a good relationship with the Government of Lebanon. As you may recall, the prime minister was here meeting with the President. It was – I believe it was in the month of June that he visited the White House and did, I believe, a press conference with the President. Our relationship with the government will not change. We’ll continue to just follow and monitor the situation there. Okay.
QUESTION: Well, many of your allies would like to see a government or a future government of Lebanon that does not include Hizballah, but in fact, the facts on the ground would dictate otherwise because they represent a large portion of the Lebanese population, and in fact, they keep that formula on balance, so to speak. So what is your – what is your position on that, on --
MS NAUERT: Well, they certainly have some representation on the ground there in Lebanon. Lebanon overall is a strong partner of the United States. They have strong national state institutions in the war on terror. The United States strongly supports the legitimate institutions in the Lebanese state. We expect all members of the international community to respect fully those institutions and the sovereignty and the political independence of Lebanon.
QUESTION: Does that --
QUESTION: So you would not insist on a future government of Lebanon that excludes Hizballah?
MS NAUERT: I don’t – we strongly support the Government of Lebanon, and we do regard, as you well know, Hizballah to be a terror organization. Okay.
QUESTION: Does that statement of support mean that there is no consideration, given the current uncertainty, of any kind of reduction or pause in assistance to the Lebanese army?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any changes, but you could ask DOD if there’s something more on that.
QUESTION: Do you believe --
QUESTION: Were you guys given a heads-up on --
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: -- the resignation?
MS NAUERT: I do not believe that we were. Let me double-check that.
MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Do you believe --
MS NAUERT: Shall we move on?
QUESTION: Just to follow up --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: -- on Saad Hariri and the – actually, on that question, it overlaps a bit. As you said, he was here in June, he met with the Secretary, he met with the President; warm words were said about him in public. He has now stepped down apparently because Saudi Arabia felt that he was – that his government was a front for Hizballah and Iranian influence.
MS NAUERT: I’m not --
QUESTION: Do you think you were being taken in by this?
MS NAUERT: I’m not – I’m not going to be characterized – I’m not going to characterize why this decision was made. I could refer you to him and refer you to his government to answer that question, but I’m just not going to --
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that he didn’t give you a heads-up or the Saudis didn’t give you a heads-up?
MS NAUERT: All I can say – and I’m just checking my notes here to answer your question – no, we were not aware that he was going to resign beforehand.
Okay? Let’s move on. Laurie. Hi, what do you want to --
MS NAUERT: I think there are numerous ways to contain Iranian influence in the region, and one of them is a step that Prime Minister Abadi has recently taken, and if you look at the relationship, they’re strengthening the relationship with the Government of Saudi Arabia. That’s a real step in the right direction. They’re all Arabs there. You’ve seen Saudi Arabia reopen the land crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia that had been closed for many years. They’re taking steps. They’re taking steps in a positive direction. When we were at the United Nations, the Government of Saudi Arabia and others talked about helping to finance some of the big, major reconstruction projects in Iraq. We just saw a report that came out – I think it was in the news earlier today – about the level of devastation in Iraq, understandably so, because there’s been the big battle fought against ISIS over the past few years.
So there’s going to be a lot of money that’s required to rebuild Iraq, and the fact that some of those nations are willing to take that on is pretty incredible. It was just not that long ago that the United States was paying for all those big reconstruction projects. Times have really changed. We’re helping out, certainly, but governments in the area are stepping up and they’re helping.
QUESTION: Do you see the Saudis as your partner in containing Iranian influence in Iraq through things like paying for reconstruction?
MS NAUERT: I think we have – we have some shared interests, and we have some shared interests in terms of terrorism, and fighting terrorism, and recognizing the malign influence of Iran in the region and around the world and other terror groups. We would like to see peace and stability in Iraq. We’d like to see peace and stability in Syria and elsewhere. And I think to the extent that we can work together with Saudi Arabia and with other nations, then we’re better off as a result.
QUESTION: Okay, if I could just follow up then. The – on the stability in Iraq. The Iraqi – the KR – the Kurdish Regional Government has warned about – that Iraq is deploying heavy weapons, including U.S. weapons, to the front lines with Kurdish forces while the talks are continuing, and it doesn’t really look like Baghdad is so interested in a peaceful settlement. What is your – what is your comment on the deployment of weapons against the --
MS NAUERT: Laurie, I would disagree with your assertion, first of all, okay? Last time we were here together was – I think it was a week ago today. And think about the change that has come in the past week alone, where you have had the Kurds and the Iraqi central government sitting down and actually having conversations together. It was not that long ago that they were firing weapons at one another. So the fact that they’re willing to sit down and have a dialogue – something that we have been encouraging for weeks now – I think is a step in the right direction. We applaud those steps. We look forward to more conversations between them so that they can try to come to some sort of an arrangement where they can adhere to the constitution. We have had our ambassador, Ambassador Silliman – he was recently up meeting with Mr. Barzani, Nechirvan Barzani, in – just a few – I believe it was just a few days ago up in Erbil.
So I think some positive steps are being made.
QUESTION: Okay. What --
MS NAUERT: All right, Laurie, this is not the Laurie show today, okay? Some days it’s a Matt Lee show, some days it’s Laurie’s show --
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MS NAUERT: -- but let’s move on. Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go to South Asia?
MS NAUERT: Yes. So --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you think the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, the South Asia policy is no longer working?
MS NAUERT: First, I want to say the South – the South Asia policy is new. We are optimistic that we can make some progress. I mean, think about the number of years that U.S. and coalition forces have now been in Afghanistan. Think of all the lives that were lost, the blood that has been shed, the money that has been spent in Afghanistan. We are committed to trying to find a peaceful solution to Afghanistan, but recognize that the Government of Afghanistan will have to play a big part in that.
Secretary Tillerson, as have our military officials, talked about how over the past 16 years there have been 16 one-year plans, and now we see this, instead of one-year plans changing every single year, as being a solid, fortified plan to push forward in the future. So we’re optimistic about that.
Now, you asked about today’s attack in Kabul. For those of you who are not aware of it, it was an attack on a television station that was called Shamshad. It took place in Kabul. We believe a couple of its employees were killed there. This is not the first time that journalists have been attacked in Kabul.
Folks, as reporters yourselves, as a former reporter myself, we deplore any acts of violence on the media. I know some like to get snarky in here and talk about – not in this room, but in the press, The Washington Post in particular – about my support for the work that you do, my support for the First Amendment, the support that we put out for journalists across the world who are doing difficult jobs under very difficult conditions. We are so lucky here in the United States that reporters, by and large, do not face death threats; that you can write whatever you want to write even though the government may not like it. But that is not the case in many parts of the world, and we’ve seen that here in Afghanistan once again.
Remember, we saw a woman in Turkey whose throat was slashed. She had been a reporter in Syria. We don’t know who’s responsible for that, but it’s pretty clear that that was terrorism. It is disgusting; it is wrong. And we will continue from this room – I will continue to advocate for the rights of journalists, whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s in Syria, or whether it’s in Turkey. So I’m glad that you asked that question about that today. Our commitment to Afghanistan is unwavering and our thoughts and our prayers go out to those who were – who lost their lives in Afghanistan just trying to do the work of putting the word out there.
QUESTION: Well, what was the snark that you’re – I mean, we can tell – tell us --
MS NAUERT: Someone in The Washington Post wrote a snarky article about how I defend reporters – free press, how I report the free press.
QUESTION: I have --
MS NAUERT: That was basically it. And I think, you know what, that is what we do here at the State Department. We support and advocate for freedom of speech.
MS NAUERT: And if somebody wants to make fun of me for that, have at it.
QUESTION: I missed it.
MS NAUERT: But that’s what we do right here. That’s what we care about. The work that you do, I value it; my colleagues value it. And that’s something that we value across the world.
QUESTION: I have another South Asia-related question.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Afghanistan today?
QUESTION: Another South Asia terrorism-related question.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Last week China blocked at the UN Security Council a U.S., Britain, and France-sponsored resolution to designate a Pakistan-based terrorist, Azhar Masood, as a terrorist. What do you have to say on that? And what’s the next step U.S. is trying to follow on it?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Remind me, this is a – he’s a Pakistani, correct?
QUESTION: Terrorist – yes, yes. China blocked that, 1267.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you. We’ve got a lot of countries involved there, so somewhere – sometimes I’m not always sure where exactly to look for my notes. Here we go.
QUESTION: Under for B for “bad guys.”
MS NAUERT: B for “bad guys,” there we go. Okay. So you were talking about the Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar, is that correct?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. We are aware of this matter. We certainly think that he is a bad guy. We would like to have him on that list. There are some committee discussions that are underway over whether to add him or the entity to the sanctions list. That list is confidential under the United Nations, so unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to comment on the deliberations at the United Nations under that. I’d have to refer you to the Chinese Government to explain why they voted the way they did, but we certainly think that this guy is a bad guy. We consider the organization to be a foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: So the administration’s decision to end protections for Nicaraguans in the country and extend those to those from Honduras – how much of a role did the State Department play in this, and why end protections for one and extend for another?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So a lot of this is under Department of Homeland Security. The State Department does have an – play an interagency role in this matter, so the State Department, other agencies all work together, but this is largely a Department of Homeland Security program. I can tell you that our Acting Assistant Secretary Elaine Duke announced on November the 6th – that was yesterday, right?
QUESTION: Acting secretary.
MS NAUERT: Acting, thank you.
QUESTION: No, no, acting secretary, not assistant secretary.
MS NAUERT: I’m used to saying assistant secretary, so pardon me. Thank you. She announced yesterday her decision to terminate the temporary protected status designation for Nicaragua. People from Nicaragua here in the United States have a year to be able to work out their situation. She concluded that additional time is necessary to assess the country of Honduras, so I’d have to refer you to her office as to why that determination was made.
Overall, I can tell you the name itself explains a lot of it: temporary protected status. This was put in place 20-some years ago as a result of some naturally – natural occurrences that took place in Nicaragua and Honduras and other places – flooding, hurricanes, that type of thing. So I believe the government looked at the situation there on the ground and assessed that it is no longer unsafe in that way and that people should be allowed to head back home. So beyond that, I’d just have to refer you to the acting secretary’s office for that.
QUESTION: And just really quickly, is this the type of situation that Secretary Tillerson himself participates in? Does this rise to the Secretary’s level?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I’m not sure, but beyond that, just in terms of the interagency stuff, I’m just not going to be able to comment on some of those deliberations. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Could I ask a follow-up on that, just --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So I know you may not be able to answer this, but was the acting secretary’s determination consistent with what the State Department recommended?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Can I move on --
MS NAUERT: Said, let me --
MS NAUERT: Let me call on some other people, okay?
QUESTION: Sure. Go ahead.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Because it’s not the Said show, either. (Laughter.) Come on, I like you.
QUESTION: That’s all right.
MS NAUERT: All right. All right, we’ll do it. Let’s go. Go on.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- who works with Amnesty International, under the pretext that he is – he does advocacy against – are you concerned that Israel may be using two different scales in terms of treating Americans? Should – do they treat all Americans the same when they enter into the country?
MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve certainly seen that report about the Amnesty International person who was stopped at a crossing last week. We are always concerned about the safety and security of Americans. My understanding is that he is a U.S. citizen. Beyond that, I’d just have to refer you to the Government of Israel for any information.
QUESTION: Right. But you would expect Israel to treat all Americans the same way, right?
MS NAUERT: Would I expect – I would expect Israel to treat Americans in --
QUESTION: All Americans who travel there, at least, anyway.
MS NAUERT: -- accordance with the law, certainly. Okay? All right.
MS NAUERT: On climate. Okay.
QUESTION: Government from France said today they have invited 100 head of states and government to their conference summit in December in Paris, but not President Trump.
MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: And the same day, we learn that even Syria is to join the Paris Agreement. So do you think that United States and their President should be present at such an event? And don’t you fear that America is more and more alone on this topic?
MS NAUERT: Well, first of all, I find it ironic that the Government of Syria, okay, would say that it wants to be involved and that it cares so much in climate and things like CO2 gases. If the Government of Syria cared so much about what was put in the air, then it wouldn’t be gassing its own people.
As some of you may know, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon will be joining a meeting later this month in Bonn, Germany, in which we will – right, in Bonn? Is it this week? Okay. Sorry, I’m off on my dates a few – a little bit. But he’ll be joining that meeting, representing the U.S. delegation in Bonn. And – pardon me?
MR GREENAN: Next week, sorry.
MS NAUERT: Next week. Okay, okay. So I’m not totally crazy on my time. That is the Conference of Parties, the COP 23, at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Under Secretary Tom Shannon is leading the U.S. delegation on that.
In terms of our overall position on the Paris Agreement, as you may well know, nothing has changed in our position. We will still follow the President’s decision on that matter. The United States looks at that, and we intend to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as we’re eligible to do so, unless the President – and he’s been very clear about saying this – unless he’s able to identify terms of engagement that he feels are more favorable to American businesses, workers, and taxpayers.
QUESTION: Do you know – is that something that Under Secretary Shannon is going to be exploring while he is leading the U.S. delegation?
MS NAUERT: I don't know. I haven’t asked him. I saw him – he was in Bangladesh. We spent a little time together there, but we did not talk about this issue.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: I can certainly see if I have something on that.
QUESTION: And because he’s leading the U.S. delegation, so this is a State Department delegation, essentially. I mean, are there other agencies represented?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I’ll find out.
QUESTION: Because I’m just curious, because not only did the Syrians say that they would join, and whether or not you think it’s ironic or ridiculous, whatever, but --
MS NAUERT: I mean, seriously, come on. Syria joining? Syria really cares?
QUESTION: Well, it is another indication of America First being America alone, is it not?
MS NAUERT: No, Matt. No.
QUESTION: You had a vote in the UN last – two weeks ago. It was --
MS NAUERT: I mean, if you want to put in some kind of moral equivalency between Syria and the United States, that’s just --
QUESTION: It’s not a – okay.
MS NAUERT: -- frankly, laughable.
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MS NAUERT: And I’m not even going to go there.
QUESTION: It’s not that it’s Syria that happened to be the last country, other than the U.S., to join it. It’s – it could be – it could have been any country. The point of the matter is – the fact of the matter is, you’re the only country that’s not in it anymore.
MS NAUERT: Look, the President has said that he is going to assess this situation.
MS NAUERT: If we could get a more favorable deal for American businesses, American workers and taxpayers, then we will look at that. But we can – we continue to go forward with the plan of pulling out of the Paris accords. But there are other accords that we may still remain in.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain why exactly the administration thought it would be appropriate to host an event promoting coal use at the Conference of Parties meeting?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. There may be people who do not like coal, but the reality is that coal powers about 30 percent or so of the electricity and the power here in the United States. Coal is a reality. Whether people like it or not, it is a reality. It heats our homes. It – as electricity --
QUESTION: It also – some argue that it heats the planet as well, so --
MS NAUERT: Okay. But the fact is coal is a reality.
QUESTION: -- you’re – but you’re going --
MS NAUERT: Whether people like it or not, it’s a reality.
QUESTION: But you’re going out --
MS NAUERT: And so it’s a reality that we have to deal with. And so the United States is holding some conversations in which the United States will talk about coal. The United States will also talk about nuclear power. That is a reality. Some countries don’t like it, but it is reality. And we’re dealing with that right now.
QUESTION: So you went after the Syrian Government for allegedly caring about CO2 emissions. And yet, this country – your – the United States is hosting this event that promotes the use of coal, which produces CO2 --
MS NAUERT: So now you’re comparing coal to gassing civilians in Syria.
QUESTION: You – no. That’s not at all, and I don't think anyone in this room thinks that’s what I’m doing.
MS NAUERT: Well, then --
QUESTION: You talked about CO2 emissions and Syria.
MS NAUERT: I’m saying, look, if Syria cares so much about the environment – I mean, this is a ridiculous conversation, Matt. But – Syria cares so much about its environment, it’s not gassing and killing innocent civilians, including women and children, okay? Let’s move on from there.
QUESTION: I – this – you’ll have to take this, I think. It’s very quick. It’s on Bahrain.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.
QUESTION: I asked you about these people who were arrested. It was your last briefing.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Since – in between then and now, there’s been some letters that have been written on their behalf to the Secretary and the department.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can you – I know that you probably don’t, and I forgot to ask earlier --
MS NAUERT: I do not have anything new for you on that.
QUESTION: Can you check?
MS NAUERT: I can check in a follow-up, okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Ilhan, hi.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi. On Turkey, visa situation – yesterday it seemed like there was some progress on the visa. And the U.S. statement came out from your office that the U.S. received some high-level assurances from Turkey, then the Turkish embassy here in Washington issued another statement and basically said that they denied and said that Turkish Government cannot provide any assurances and also your statement does not reflect the real – do not reflect the truth and consider it odd. So what is the truth?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So where – what is the situation right now?
MS NAUERT: I think that’s the question. So we were able to announce – I believe it was just yesterday – that a limited number of appointments are now being taken for all nonimmigrant visa classes. So people who want to obtain visas are now able to do so in both Istanbul and Ankara. That is based on what we consider to be improved security conditions at our U.S. Mission in Turkey.
We are prioritizing – we’re only able to do this on a limited basis right now, but we are prioritizing medical, humanitarian, and also student visas in those cases. We’ve had a series of what I would describe as fairly positive conversations with the Government of Turkey. This is certainly a step in the right direction. It’s a positive step. We have received limited assurances that if something should happen with our staff, if Turkey wants to detain our staff, that we will be given a heads-up. That’s among the things that we were assured. We were told that they wouldn’t arrest our people simply for doing their jobs.
We still have two of our locally employed staff members who have been detained. In terms of Turkeys’ questioning of our previous statements, I can just show you – I can tell you that the safety and security of our folks is a top issue. The people who were detained as a natural course of their business had to engage with law enforcement, with the Turkish Government. That is something that is an appropriate part of their job. It is a part of their job description. And for Turkey to put people in jail and claim that they are involved in activities when they’re simply doing their jobs we think is incorrect. But nevertheless, we’ve taken – they’ve taken some steps in the right direction, and we’ve taken some steps in the right direction.
QUESTION: So limited services means students, just three --
MS NAUERT: We are prioritizing certain types of visas because it’s still somewhat limited: medical, humanitarian, and also student visas for now.
QUESTION: That’s not – there’s not a quantity, like a number or --
MS NAUERT: No, there’s not a number. It’s just we have limited people who are able to work on that, and so we’re pushing forward.
Okay, we’re going to have to wrap it up, so I’ll take – I’ll take one last question.
QUESTION: On Cuba?
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Look, I’ve already – so hey. Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: So last week Cuban foreign minister just held a press conference here in Washington and claiming that there was not at all any attacks just in the U.S. embassy in Havana. So what is your response to that?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have his comments directly in front of me, so I hesitate to comment on something that I have not seen myself. I’m sorry.
Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: And please, regarding again the situation with the visas, has there been any change given the difficulty for Cubans to travel abroad, like to Bogota to access their visas to come to the United States?
MS NAUERT: Last I’ve heard, that’s where we’re still processing visas for people who want to come to the United States.
QUESTION: One last thing, please.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: The Cuban Government said that Cuban Americans can now travel if they wish to Cuba to dock in tourist areas with recreational vessels. How does the State Department see this?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, so I’m sorry; I don’t have an answer for you on that.
Okay, thanks, guys. We’ve got to go.
MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah.
MS NAUERT: From where?
QUESTION: From UCLA who were arrested in China.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Have you confirmed that? Have you been in touch with Chinese authorities?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. Did that – did that just happen?
QUESTION: It happened, I think, overnight then – today.
MS NAUERT: Okay. I don’t have any information on that, but I can look into it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Thanks. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:51 p.m.)
DPB # 62
 The Spokesperson mischaracterized here. We encourage the Saudis to prosecute all cases in a fair and transparent manner.