Department Press Briefing - November 21, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:56 p.m. EST
Okay. A couple pieces of news I want to go over before ready to take your questions today. And I have an announcement of a death of a family member of ours here at the State Department, and that is with profound sadness that the Department announces the death of our retired Ambassador Howard Schaffer. Ambassador Schaffer served for 36 years in the Foreign Service, including as ambassador to Bangladesh and as political counselor in both India and also Pakistan. He served twice as a deputy assistant secretary for South Asian Affairs.
After retiring from the Foreign Service, Howard Schaffer went on to teach at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and served as a director of studies at the Institute for Diplomacy. He wrote several books on Pakistan and South Asia, and one he co-authored with his wife, Ambassador Teresita Schaffer. And that is now, in fact, used by the Department in area studies, of course, for diplomats who are assigned to Pakistan. Anyone, by the way, go to Georgetown School of Foreign Service here? No? Okay. Well, great school nevertheless.
Ambassador Schaffer was a generous mentor to generations of Foreign Service officers and is remembered by many in the building as a wise counselor and a true friend. An expert on South Asia, he influenced U.S. policy in the region both inside and outside the government for many years. We extend our deepest condolences to his family, including his wife, the former ambassador to Sri Lanka, Teresita Schaffer.
Lastly, our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan returns today from a three-country trip to Africa. Yesterday he was in Nigeria, where he led our interagency delegation to the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, which is our annual high-level dialogue with the Government of Nigeria. At the Binational Commission, Deputy Secretary Sullivan reaffirmed U.S. support for Nigerian leadership’s fight against Boko Haram and ISIS, West Africa terrorist groups, that continue to kidnap and kill innocent civilians and destabilize the Lade Chak – Lake Chad region, and fuel one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
While there, he met with the Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, interfaith and civil society leaders, human rights activists, and American and Nigerian business leaders. He emphasized that the U.S.-Nigeria relationship is both broad and deep, and we are committed to expanding our cooperation as we look to the future. The deputy secretary called for transparent and credible investigations into allegations of human rights abuses and mechanisms for accountability. He emphasized that fighting corruption and ensuring free and fair elections will make the Government of Nigeria more accountable and better equipped to secure its citizens and grow the economy.
The deputy secretary also announced that through USAID the United States will contribute an additional $45.5 million to support stabilization and early recovery efforts in Nigeria’s northeast region. He also visited a U.S. – an HIV/AIDS treatment center that was supported with U.S. assistance, and met with UN Mission Nigeria employees and also their families. And finally, he announced a commercial and investment dialogue to further develop business networks with the country of Nigeria.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. Hi, Josh. You want to start?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: What’s your thoughts on the resignation of President Mugabe in Zimbabwe? And at this point, do you consider it to be – have been a coup that removed him? And what do you make of the ruling party’s move to put the vice president into power, at least on an interim basis, within the next day or so?
MS NAUERT: So certainly what we saw today, the resignation of Robert Mugabe, is a historic opportunity and historic moment for the people of Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe have firmly voiced their desire for a new era to bring an end to Zimbabwe’s isolation and allow the country to rejoin the international community.
The future of Zimbabwe, though, has to be determined by the people of that country. We look forward to and hope for free and fair elections. What they will do in the meantime is what we hope. We continue to urge unwavering respect for the rule of law and for established democratic practices.
Whatever the short-term arrangements that the government may set up, we are not entirely certain just yet. But we anticipate that it will lead to free and fair elections.
QUESTION: Are there any changes to U.S. policy or assistance or other relationship with Zimbabwe that you’re aware will be changing as a result of the way he was – exited power?
MS NAUERT: Not that I am aware of. I can tell you that last year we provide $220 million or thereabouts in assistance to Zimbabwe. That was for their health systems, food, nutrition, democratic governance, and others. I’m not sure if that number – or if that will change, but we’re certainly looking forward to the future for Zimbabwe.
Okay. Anything else on that?
QUESTION: Can we stay with that?
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
QUESTION: Can we stay with that?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you answer Josh’s question about whether or not the U.S. Government regarded his house arrest by the military last week as a coup or not?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think what we saw was impeachment proceedings had – they had discussed that, and he made the ultimate decision to resign. So that’s what I have. Those are --
QUESTION: So it’s a –it’s not a coup?
MS NAUERT: Those are the facts that I have before me. Those are the facts that I have to share with you.
QUESTION: So you can’t address whether or not it’s a coup?
MS NAUERT: There are certain – I’m not going to – I’m not going to take that bait.
Okay, anything else?
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Said.
QUESTION: Hi. I want to ask you about the closure of the Palestinian – the PLO mission in Washington, because the reason ostensibly is because – I mean, Congress somehow added to their appropriation bill a clause that says if the Palestinians undertake any efforts, of course, to – or to threaten to go to the ICC, then they will shut down the office.
But it’s also – there is an element of, like, it’s not clear, it’s a bit cloudy, because on the one hand they say if they’re going to negotiations then that office won’t be reopened while there are no negotiations. The administration has not even announced its peace plans. It did not ask the Palestinians to negotiate.
So what is it that you’re asking of the Palestinians? What do they need to do to have the office open?
MS NAUERT: Okay, so here’s what I can tell you where things stand right now, and there’s not a ton of information because some decisions are still in the process of being made right now. So I know this won’t be sufficient to quench your thirst for knowledge on this, but let me give it – do my best.
So under U.S. law – and you’re talking about obviously the congressional law – in order to waive statutory restrictions on the PLO and its Washington office, the Secretary has to certify that the PLO has complied with conditions that were imposed by Congress. In December 2015, Congress introduced a new condition concerning certain Palestinian actions related to the International Criminal Court. The most recent certification period ended in the month of November. We were unable – the Secretary was – to make a new certification, and we have notified the PLO accordingly.
Now, the Secretary concluded that the factual record, in particular certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the ICC – this, I’m referring to comments that were made at the United Nations – did not permit the Secretary to make a factual certification that was required by that statute. So he took a very technical look at this and determined that they were basically – the PLO had not complied with the conditions that were set by Congress.
QUESTION: Yeah, but neither – neither Israel nor the United States, for that matter, is part of the Rome Protocol that stipulates that. There is nothing in the offing. It was basically a statement done in the General Assembly about they intend to go if Israel does not cease settlement activities. You are certainly against settlement activities. They – it was very specific. It was specific to that point on settlement and so on, which you and the rest of the world considers illegal.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. So I understand that. I hear you on that. The Secretary took a very technical and a very specific look at this and determined that it was not in – not in compliance.
QUESTION: I really appreciate you indulging me on this, and my colleagues. I just have a couple more --
MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.
QUESTION: – on this. Because what are the legal ramifications? In the past, the secretary of state would go and actually make the argument that it’s a good thing and it is important because you are – you have shepherded all these peace efforts that the Palestinians were involved in, and that made the case and convinced Congress. But apparently not this State Department. They are not doing anything.
So what would be the – what is the mechanism to close down the office? I mean, I know that they are still actually operating and so on. So we don’t know what is the next step, no?
MS NAUERT: What I can – yeah, what I can tell you is that conversations will be taking place. We are in contact with the Palestinian officials about the status of that PLO office. I don’t want reporters to get ahead of themselves in reporting on this, okay, so let’s try to stick with what we are – what we are covering here.
We are in contact with them about the status of the PLO office in Washington as well as in – having conversations with them about our larger efforts on the part of a lasting and comprehensive peace process. So these conversations are underway. I saw reports earlier this morning that conversations are not. I can assure you that they are still underway. We are not giving up on the plan for peace.
QUESTION: No, I’m not --
MS NAUERT: We are not doing that. I mean, you know how important that is to this administration, to Mr. Kushner and also to Jason Greenblatt as well. They’ve spent a lot of time going over there, supported by the State Department and our efforts and the ambassador. And so we’re continuing to push ahead for a comprehensive peace plan. The Israelis and the Palestinians have both said that they want that as well.
QUESTION: So just to be crystal clear --
MS NAUERT: Yeah?
QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt –when that leadership says that communications are frozen with the U.S., that’s not true?
MS NAUERT: In our view, communications are not frozen.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is the status of the – of the office and the ambassador?
MS NAUERT: Look, I – there are – we’re continuing to look at the situation. We’re in contact with the Palestinians. As far as I am aware, the offices – I mean, you can talk to the PLO office yourself. I haven’t driven past there to see what’s going on, what kind of activity. But as far as I know, it’s open and running right now.
QUESTION: Could you explain a little bit about what your thinking is on the strategy behind this? Because if you’re going to be cutting aid to the Palestinians and threatening to close down the office, I don’t see what kind of leverage, possible leverage you would have. And there – is there any strategy behind it thinking this could somehow help the situation instead of just making them feel their backs are up against the wall?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, as I said, we continue to have conversations with them. We have many conversations and a good relationship with both the Palestinians and the Israelis. That relationship will continue. Those conversations will continue to go on, and that won’t change.
Okay. Yeah. Hi.
QUESTION: But Heather, many people believe this is – hi – that it’s a way to exert pressure on the Palestinians since actually they didn’t go to the ICC. This is an intent, which is referring to President Abbas speech to the UN. So on one hand, you say that you wanted to keep the negotiation and the peace process alive, and the same time you’re punishing them by shutting down the office. I mean, obviously you don’t give the Palestinians any chance of entering into it.
MS NAUERT: I am not committing to the way that you are describing this as – you’re making this black and white. Shutting down an office – that’s not what we are talking about today. There are some conversations underway. The Secretary is taking a look at this and we’ll get back to you when we have more.
QUESTION: Okay, just one more. Sorry. Was this decision taken in close consultation with the White House?
MS NAUERT: There were – the State Department and the White House were in close consultation about this.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- it seems like the State Department, since this came out on Friday, hasn’t been able to explain is the office shutting down, do they have to leave the office, when is it shutting down, and sort of, like, we’re figuring that out. Wouldn’t it have made sense to sort of get all that lined up before you announce that you triggered this --
MS NAUERT: I’m not the strategist here, so there are other people who were involved in making some of those decisions. I know – I think we’d like for them to be able to keep it open. So that’s why I say let’s not make things black and white at this point.
QUESTION: Does this affect also – sorry, does this affect the U.S. citizens, American citizens, who are working at the PLO mission now?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m not – I just don’t have an answer for you on that. I think things are operating today as they were last week. I believe so.
QUESTION: Can you tell us if there is a legal team working on this now to see --
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Can you tell us if there is a legal team in the building itself, here, in this building, that are working on this at the present time?
MS NAUERT: Well, we always have teams of people that are working. I mean, you name the issue, we have teams of people who are working on it.
QUESTION: Are they looking at this, how it morphed from 1987 until now?
MS NAUERT: I would imagine so.
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right, let’s move on. What else do we want to talk about?
MS NAUERT: Laurie wants to talk about Iraq. Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you. The head of Kurdish foreign relations has asked the U.S. to appoint a special envoy to mediate between Baghdad and Erbil. What’s your response to that request?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we certainly heard about that idea to appoint a special envoy. We believe at this point that this is an issue that can be worked out internally, that it can be worked out between Baghdad and Erbil and don’t feel that it’s necessary to appoint some sort of United States envoy in some sort of new position to handle this. We have close relationships with the Kurds and with the central Iraqis. We will continue to try to facilitate conversations but we just don’t feel that an envoy is necessary to have – to appoint.
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure the Kurds do, otherwise they wouldn’t have asked, and a point in fact for example --
MS NAUERT: I’m – Laurie, I’m not aware of a formal request to appoint an envoy. I’ve heard of this report. I’m not aware of a formal request. But look, I mean, every nation, every dispute around the world could ask us to appoint an envoy. We think that countries can work out some issues on their own. There’s a very long history here. These folks have lived together, have fought together, have raised families together; we think that they can probably work it out on their own as well.
QUESTION: And one party has committed genocide against the other not so long ago. But yesterday, the Kurdistan government called on the international community to press Baghdad to lift the punitive measures that it has imposed on the Kurds, like the closure, for example, of the Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports. So what have you done in that regard to facilitate the opening of those airports, which is a necessity?
MS NAUERT: Sure. We have lots of conversations to try to facilitate some sort of an agreement on the part of Baghdad and Erbil. Brett McGurk was just there; I believe it was late last week. He met with both Barzani and also with the prime minister, Abadi, both in Baghdad and in Erbil last week. He made calls over the weekend. Secretary Tillerson was on the phone over the weekend. He spoke with both Mr. Barzani and Abadi over the weekend. So, I mean, that’s a very high level of support that we have trying to help facilitate things – for things to improve in Iraq. I don’t know that there’s that much more that we can do. But we call on the governments to sit down and have a conversation together and work this out.
QUESTION: As a result of all that talking, has Baghdad made any commitment on when those airports will be reopened?
MS NAUERT: The last thing that I have on that is just we’re going to work to continue to press for the opening of any remaining airports that are closed.
QUESTION: Hi. The decision on the Palestinian mission, as you said, was a technical one made by the Secretary.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah. No, on a technical basis really. He made the decision after considering – let me back up for a second. When these designations are made there’s a lot information that comes in. It’s information that comes in from NGOs, sometimes from post, sometimes from the Intelligence Community, a lot of different – sometimes open source material. A lot of information flows in and we take a look at it all and try to make sure it’s all accurate and credible.
I want to be clear about the importance of using the Child Soldier Prevention Act. And we announced our list earlier this year, in the summer. We all know why it’s in the news. It’s in the news because there was a dissent memo. That’s why it’s in the news today. But essentially this is an incentive – the act is itself – for governments to prevent the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. No one in the United States Government likes the idea of the use of child soldiers. It is abhorrent, okay? We will not designate to – we will not hesitate to designate any country as ineligible for assistance if a statutory standard for listing would be met in the future. Okay.
In June, the Secretary determined that there were eight countries that met the statutory requirement to be identified under the Child Soldier Prevention Act, and let me list those countries, if I may: Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. That’s both South Sudan and Sudan. So those countries all were put on that list because we know that they use child soldiers. When it came to looking at Burma and also Iraq and also Afghanistan, the Secretary made the decision to not have those countries on the list because he considered the credibility of all the information that was available to him from all of those multiple sources. He reviewed all the facts and he felt that he made the decision to not have those countries on the list as justified pursuant to law.
QUESTION: Now, as you know – well, maybe I shouldn’t ask this one since it was yours. Did you want to ask this one?
MS NAUERT: Go ahead and follow up before --
QUESTION: Well, just a quick question on the credibility thing.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Both the human rights report issued by the State Department and the trafficking report, I believe, argued that they do use and recruit child soldiers. So why did the Secretary not find his own institution’s reports lacking credibility in this regard?
MS NAUERT: I think part of it has to do with the numbers in the reports, and I’m not going to be able to say much beyond that. There are countries that use lots and lots of children. There are countries where, just as a general matter, where you may have heard from one source, among the many sources that I mentioned, where maybe one source might say that they heard a child had been a border guard. I’m just making that up, but something of that sort. And if we can’t corroborate that information and it is a child who’s listed under a certain government, that government wouldn't necessarily make the list. If we can’t back up that information, if it is a report that only lists one or two, the belief was on the Secretary’s part to not put those types of countries on this list.
QUESTION: Isn’t one too many?
MS NAUERT: It’s a good question. That’s a fair question. Look, I can tell you that he took a technical look at that and that’s the decision he made.
QUESTION: The reason that I asked --
QUESTION: He’s recently visited the three capitals concerned.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: He’s recently visited three capitals concerned, Kabul, Baghdad, and Naypyidaw.
MS NAUERT: Right.
QUESTION: Did he bring up this issue with the leaders of those countries?
MS NAUERT: I think – I’m not sure what – I don’t have the entire readout of the meetings in Afghanistan and also in Iraq. As you well know, I was not there. In the meetings in Burma, there are huge issues to be discussed. Not that this is not important, okay, but some of the things that they have to do is talk about the biggest issues at hand, and that is the more than 600,000 Rohingya who have been forced to flee that country because they’ve been pushed out, because women have been raped, because children have been killed, and all of that. You know the story. Perhaps he did bring it up in some of the conversations; I can’t get into the details of all the diplomatic conversations. But these are the types of things that come up regularly in our diplomatic conversations with various countries around the world.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up, if I may. I asked a question about isn’t one too many not just rhetorically, but according to the memo which we have, which my colleagues obtained and published --
MS NAUERT: Which memo?
QUESTION: The memo unanimously from the State Department staff, including all the clearances on it, said that the statutory standard was that – was met by even one child soldier, and therefore I don’t – if you doubt your own reports, I can’t argue with that, but if you have sufficient credibility in your reports to publish them and to find that there are, in these cases, at least one, and if the statutory requirement, according to your own internal memo, says one is too many and triggers the requirement, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t go ahead and do it, partly because you also have the ability to issue waivers afterwards to spare countries the consequences of it.
MS NAUERT: That’s the President’s decision, waivers are.
MS NAUERT: I don’t have the statutory language in front of me, so I don’t want to quote from that or read that back to you, because I just don’t have it.
QUESTION: But you said that it was a technical decision. So --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, and that was the decision that the Secretary made. Okay.
QUESTION: The question of --
MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not an expert on this matter. Admittedly, I am not an expert on child soldiers, and nor am I a lawyer. I can do the best to give you the information that I have.
QUESTION: The question on this also is that he disregarded the recommendation, I mean, as Arshad said, by essentially all of the bureaus that would have sort of equity in this; they all recommended that these countries be on the list, and he disregarded their recommendations. So what was it that he felt made it worthwhile for him to disregard the recommendations of all the bureaus?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think getting more to the point is that when people disagree here in this building, there is a channel for that, and that is the dissent cable memo. Four or five of them, to my understanding, are issued every year when – and that is where people in the building who have a different point of view than the Secretary can write up, and that information goes into his office, and he can review that and decide to take that into consideration, he can go along with it and agree with it, or he can decide to go his own – or he can decide to make his own decision. The Secretary did that. He made his own decision on this, but it was not without reviewing the information that came from all the various bureaus and individuals. Okay.
QUESTION: Heather, can I just clarify? Are you saying that they were left off the list because they have a smaller number or --
MS NAUERT: I’m not – I’m not saying that. I’m just saying --
QUESTION: -- or is it because they’re making improvements, which was noted --
MS NAUERT: Well, and that’s another thing where improvements can be made. For example, we have a close working relationship with Prime Minister Abadi in Iraq. We were just talking about that. Prime Minister Abadi has taken great strides in not only making the military more and more professional, holding people to account, and trying to ensure or ensuring that there aren’t child soldiers serving in their various militias and militaries. So we look to those governments as taking – as they take better steps in the right direction.
QUESTION: But in the law, it doesn’t say if they’re taking those steps that they can left off the list.
MS NAUERT: Again, I don’t – I’m sorry, I don’t have the law in front of me. I should have it in front of me, and unfortunately I don’t. So --
QUESTION: Just one last on this particular issue?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: You started off this briefing by mentioning that you got a senior official in Nigeria working very closely with them in their fight against extremism.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: You’ve also just mentioned that Nigeria’s on the list for child soldiers. Do you have any concerns about working so closely with the Nigerian military?
MS NAUERT: Well, look, I – I don’t have any information on that in front of me right now. We have a working relationship with the Government of Nigeria. You know that we do counterterrorism operations with that government. That is a huge problem that they face right there. We have tried to assist with that, with our training and capacity building with that nation. But beyond that, I can’t comment specifically on this.
QUESTION: They also have huge problems with human rights abuses by their own soldiers, or don’t they?
MS NAUERT: And we certainly encourage governments and try to hold militaries and governments accountable when those things do take place. Okay.
QUESTION: So if the Secretary made this decision, then, against the recommendations of top State Department officials who obviously have a lot more experience on this issue and in the State Department than he does, what does that say about his value of their expertise?
MS NAUERT: I think it says that people had a different opinion on this particular matter, and the Secretary weighed that opinion and thought about it and decided that he wanted to have a technical compliance with the law in the way that he read it, and that was the decision he made. But look, ultimately this is democracy – people weigh in, but then ultimately the leader has to make a decision.
QUESTION: But he could have made the decision to just work with the White House and deal with the waiver. I mean, why the urgency, I guess, to do it this way?
MS NAUERT: I get it. The TIP Report is – excuse me, this report, which is the – part of the Trafficking in Persons Report – is something that’s required every year. It was something that came out in the summer. Why the decision was made when it came out months ago, that I don’t know. I just don’t recall it from that time.
QUESTION: Does it – I guess if there is a process and there is a technicality and there is input from within the State Department, and he I guess you could say bypassed all of those, then the question is there: Why even have this law? I mean, what’s the point if --
MS NAUERT: Well, I guess I would go back to saying that there are those eight countries who did meet the statutory requirements to be identified under that: Congo, Mali, Somalia, et cetera, et cetera.
Okay? Let’s move on to something else.
QUESTION: I just have one quick follow-up.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any thought about going back to the list or – and revising his decision, or is this closed in his mind?
MS NAUERT: Well, this was a decision that was made months ago.
MS NAUERT: It’s a decision that was made months ago.
QUESTION: But it’s --
MS NAUERT: The only reason we’re talking about it now is because a memo got leaked somehow to the media, and so you all have lots of questions about that.
QUESTION: Maybe because people felt strongly about it.
MS NAUERT: Well --
QUESTION: Maybe that’s why things get out.
MS NAUERT: That’s fine. That’s fine. We believe in free and open press here.
QUESTION: But so there’s no --
MS NAUERT: What’s that?
QUESTION: But there’s no thought about --
MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge. There is not to my knowledge. Okay? Let’s move on to something else. Hey, Cindy.
QUESTION: Can we change topic to India?
MS NAUERT: Cindy, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Moving over to Yemen, David Beasley of the World Food Program says the Saudi-led coalition is using food as a weapon of war. What is the State Department’s stance on that? Is there any consideration of pressuring the Saudis to open up, with the threat of famine that’s very real?
MS NAUERT: Right. A horrific situation that is going on in Yemen. It is something that our team has watched very closely. The ambassador to Yemen and I were exchanging emails just yesterday about the situation on the ground there. He is not in Yemen right now because we don’t have that operation there, but he recently visited to take a look himself.
I can tell you we’re working very closely with the Government of Saudi Arabia – as you well know, we have a good relationship with the Government of Saudi Arabia – to try to encourage better humanitarian assistance.
We recognize the food and the aid and the supplies that are needed in Yemen. The Government of Saudi Arabia has assured us that all the ports under control of the Government of Yemen have been opened to humanitarian aid and access. We have concerns, certainly, that that’s not moving quickly enough. I mean, you saw the pictures on 60 Minutes – many of us did – about the dire situation, especially for young, young children, and how terrible that is.
So we’ll continue to have conversations, and those conversations, I can assure you, are happening between our government and the Government of Saudi Arabia to try to facilitate better and faster humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Yemen?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. As you know, yesterday President Trump announced that designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. What is the State Department’s actions on this?
MS NAUERT: So the Secretary, as you all well know, and you saw and heard from him yesterday, designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terror. It’s a question that you have asked a lot. You’ve been bugging me every day about that one – is that going to happen, when is that going to happen? Yes. So the Secretary announced that.
It involves a couple of things. As you know, the United States has put a series of sanctions on North Korea. We’ve been involved in a series of secondary sanctions as well. The United Nations has taken its steps in passing and then implementing sanctions from the UN Security Council.
We’ve had our maximum pressure campaign, where we’re asking governments all around the world to do their part to choke off the money supply that goes into North Korea. All that we view as successful. The Secretary was happy to be able to announce some other countries just yesterday that are taking new steps to choke off that money supply. I believe it was Malaysia and a few other Asian countries that have stepped in, that are doing more.
Deputy Secretary Sullivan was just in Sudan, where the Government of Sudan has now said that they will stop buying military weapons from North Korea. We look forward to them adhering to that commitment and we’re very pleased to hear that.
Sanctions can be put in place. You saw some come out from – additional sanctions can be – can be put in place. You saw that come out from the Treasury Department earlier today.
So all of these things sort of working in harmony we believe are having an effect. Part of what this does – it further isolates North Korea. North Korea is certainly a pariah state. We wish that weren’t the case. But I think it brings the international world, it calls attention to the horrific things that North Korea has been engaged in, and it calls to the attention – calls to the world that level of attention to it. When we call a country a state sponsor of terrorism, that means something. That means something. People will notice, and we believe that that’s just another part of the overall campaign.
Now, the reason it was done was because of efforts, activities on the part of the North Korean Government, and assassinations. That is why they were designated that. But all of this pulls together and puts pressure on North Korea. Okay.
QUESTION: So – regarding North Korea, please.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: There is an influence also extending to Cuba. While President Trump has designated Korea as a nation sponsoring terrorism, the North Korean foreign minister visited Havana yesterday. So its influence is quite close to – physically – the United States. How does the State Department view this?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I haven’t asked our top officials about how we view North Korea apparently visiting Cuba. They’re certainly welcome to fly to Cuba and have conversations with the Cuban Government. I’m just not aware of any conversations that we’ve had with the Cuban Government about that.
Okay? Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: What about --
MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Special envoy from China in Xi Jinping’s – Song Tao; he is special envoy to North Korea. He doesn’t meet – he didn’t meet Kim Jong-un. What do you – did you feel --
MS NAUERT: The special envoy from China did what?
QUESTION: They did not meet Kim Jong-un.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So what do you --
MS NAUERT: I would have to refer you to that government to answer that question.
QUESTION: Did you hear from China about that trip? Did you hear from China about --
MS NAUERT: That was a topic of conversation, I believe, between – and I would refer you to the White House on this, but I believe the White House has been very clear and upfront about the President speaking with President Xi about not only the importance of our maximum pressure campaign with North Korea, but also about having conversations with North Korea as well. Okay.
QUESTION: But Kim Jong-un acknowledged him – I mean, China’s got maybe very frustration about this because Kim Jong-un ignored Xi Jinping’s envoy, his special envoy.
MS NAUERT: I think that North Korea – and I imagine the Chinese would be very upfront in saying this as well – has become a bit of a thorn in their side. So I’ll just leave it at that. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: So this building didn’t communicate with China after --
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: So this building didn’t communicate with China after Chinese envoy is back from North Korea yesterday?
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. I could check with our people.
QUESTION: So, Heather, you were talking about the maximum pressure campaign --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and how the Secretary was mentioning Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Sudan yesterday.
MS NAUERT: Thank you; you’ve got the list. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can you speak more on how many countries have agreed to put additional diplomatic and economic pressure --
MS NAUERT: Sure. After – as of about a month and a half ago – don’t quote me on the exact date, but about that time frame, it was at least 20 countries around the world that had done different things with that maximum pressure campaign. Now, that would exclude countries being involved in UN Security Council resolutions and various sanctions, but just countries that we’ve had conversations with alone where we have said reduce the size of the North Korean – number of North Korean guest workers in your country, reduce the footprint of their embassy, kick out North Korean guest workers, that type of thing. So it – as of a month and a half ago, it was around the number of 20.
QUESTION: So is that --
QUESTION: Is that how many have taken action?
MS NAUERT: Who have taken actions, yeah. Yes. Okay.
Hi, Ilhan. Hi.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Actually, can I follow up on --
MS NAUERT: Hold on. We’re going to Turkey.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Ilhan, do you mind if I just --
QUESTION: Sure, of course.
MS NAUERT: One last one on North Korea. Okay.
QUESTION: The sanction Treasury Department announced today included four Chinese companies. Have you talked to China about this sanction ahead of time? And also, Chinese foreign ministry, since they cast doubt on President Trump’s announcement yesterday, are you concerned this may jeopardize your talk and to put pressure on North Korea with China’s help?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think it jeopardizes anything. Look, I think the world is – the world has come together behind this issue recognizing how destabilizing the activities are on the part of Kim Jong-un’s regime. We have a good relationship with China; that’s not going to change because we’ve made this designation. The Secretary looked at the facts behind the case, looked at the intelligence behind it, and made the determination that they’re a state sponsor of terror.
QUESTION: So had the Secretary informed China before the announcement yesterday?
MS NAUERT: I – we have close – a close relationship and close conversations with them very often. I’m not sure if we called them to give them – to send them this message ahead of time. That I just don’t have the answer to.
Okay, Ilhan. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Turkey. There is a gold trader whose name is Reza Zarrab who has been arrested for 18 months, and his case – his trial is about to start next week. It’s a judicial process, but Turkish President Erdogan and many of leading figures from the governing party have been talking about it. And just today Turkish president said it is a plot against Turkey, and he said that this is something – this case – something cooked the same trick up in United States as it happened in Turkey. There’s a court action case. Are you trying to cook a plot against Turkey? What’s your response?
MS NAUERT: We’ve heard that story, that old same song and dance from Turkey before, and I would have to give you the same answer as last time they accused us of trying to foment some sort of a coup. And I would say that is ridiculous. We are not engaged in that. Anything related to that particular case, I’d just have to refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: On that --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Heather, can I have a follow-up with you?
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Turkey is a NATO ally. At what point do these sort of statements and this war of words – I mean, you yourself said this was ridiculous. At what point does that lead the U.S. to sort of reassess its relationship and its alliance with Turkey and set out some sort of change in that relationship?
MS NAUERT: Well, as we’ve seen this year, there are some countries where we have – our relationship with these countries can ebb and flow sometimes. You have – like a marriage. You have a good day and sometimes you have a bad day, right?
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: And so somebody may say something that later they regret saying. They are a NATO member. They are a valued ally of the United States. We have had a strong relationship with Turkey. But really, just making comments about the United States trying to foment a coup is just – is simply ridiculous. And I think they recognize – I think they recognize that as well.
QUESTION: And your report on racial discrimination?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Our report?
QUESTION: You issue a periodic report on racial discrimination.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: And you submit it to the UN. It was due yesterday, I believe. Do you know --
MS NAUERT: This is a State – this is a State Department product?
QUESTION: The State Department, yes.
MS NAUERT: Okay, I’m sorry; I’m not aware of that report that you just mentioned. I will ask our folks and see what the status of that is.
QUESTION: Was the Secretary on this call between Trump and Putin today?
MS NAUERT: My understanding was yes, he was.
QUESTION: Okay. And what can you say about what was discussed there, and what came out of the prior conversation between Trump and Assad?
MS NAUERT: So, Michelle, unfortunately a lot of this I’m going to have to refer you to the White House on because it’s ultimately the President’s – ultimately the President’s call.
QUESTION: We just actually read the readout.
QUESTION: Well, can you --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you say what the Secretary thought of this call, what did he take away from it?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So look, the President has – things are obviously complicated with Russia. I mean, we’ve all seen that picture where he’s hugging Bashar al-Assad, where President Putin is that. You know how we feel about the chemical attacks that were launched on innocent civilians in Syria. I think we all feel the same way about that as human being and certainly as Americans as well.
I think that hug is proof that Vladimir Putin bears a certain responsibility for trying to help out Syria, for trying to get Bashar al-Assad to – well, trying to get that government – to put pressure on Bashar al-Assad so they don’t do something like that again. We strongly support the Geneva process and the Geneva talks. We’ve not backed away from those.
I think the President’s call today and the readout for the call will have to just speak for itself. I don’t want to speak on behalf of the President. But I think it was – is very clear what – what was outlined, what that conversation was that was had in that readout today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay, I’ve got to leave it there, you guys. I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to a meeting. Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) quick one on – on Keystone. Can you do Keystone? Just --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the State of Nebraska’s decision to approve a different route from the one that State studied trigger a new review by State, or does it not require a new review?
MS NAUERT: I think that’s something we can’t comment on because it’s all under – it’s all in the courts right now. So I don’t have anything for you on that. Okay.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:36 p.m.)