Department Press Briefing - November 30, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: A couple announcements I’d like to start off with for this portion of the briefing today. We have talked recently about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that is taking place in India this week. That concluded today. This year’s Global Economic Summit focused on supporting women entrepreneurs and fostering economic growth globally. For all of our progress, gender divides on access to technology, nutrition, and health, preventing women, their families, and their communities from reaching their full potential.
In order to close this gap, USAID Administrator Mark Green announced several USAID-led efforts there in India. This includes the Women Connect Challenge, which will help bridge the digital divide; a 28-team Feed the Future Competition; a $2 million commitment from Feed the Future designed to lift up and mentor female entrepreneurs in Africa; new funding to help India combat tuberculosis by increasing women’s access to diagnosis and treatment; and the launch of USAID’s first health impact bond, which is aimed at saving the lives of women and newborns in India. Administrator Green is also going to Mumbai tomorrow to participate in a World AIDS Day event, where he will reconfirm the U.S. commitment to ending HIV/AIDS.
Another matter. We talk a lot about how safety and security is – of Americans overseas and here at home is one of our top, top priorities. With that, I’d like to bring you a little bit of an update on an American who’s been held for quite some time in Venezuela, and that’s Josh Holt.
The United States calls on the Government of Venezuela to release on humanitarian grounds U.S. citizen Josh Holt, who’s been detained in Venezuela since June 30th, 2016, almost a year and a half now. Throughout his 17 months in detention, so far without charges, we’ve raised our concerns about Mr. Holt’s case, his condition, and his treatment at every opportunity. We remain extremely concerned for his health and his well-being. The decline in his health has been further exacerbated by the Venezuelan authorities’ delays in providing necessary medical treatment. Sometimes they have blocked his care altogether.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas continues to raise concerns regarding the Venezuelan Government’s repeated postponements of and refusal to transport him to scheduled hearings, court hearings. Again, we call on the Government of Venezuela to grant Mr. Holt immediate release and return him to the United States.
Another matter, and this is something that’s happening tomorrow that the Secretary will take part in, is a meeting here in Washington with the Libyan prime minister. We are pleased to welcome the Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan delegation to Washington later this week. The President will host the prime minister at the White House tomorrow. While in Washington, the prime minister and the Libyan delegation will also meet with other U.S. leaders, including Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis tomorrow afternoon.
In those meetings, we look forward to deepening the partnership between the United States and Libya. We will reaffirm the United States support for Prime Minister Sarraj and his Government of National Accord as the Libyan people seek to build a more stable, unified, and prosperous future. The Secretary looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sarraj our shared efforts to defeat ISIS and also other terrorists as well.
The Secretary and Prime Minister Sarraj will also discuss the central role of the UN Special Representative Salame’s mediation and the importance of the Libyan efforts to reach a political solution within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement.
And finally, the Secretary referenced this earlier this week, and this is his upcoming trip to Europe. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Brussels, Belgium, Vienna, and Paris December 4th through the 8th. On December 4th he will arrive in Brussels, and that’s where he’ll meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and attend the December 5th through 6th NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting. While in Brussels, he’ll also meet with senior Belgian officials as well as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the 28 European Union member-states to discuss U.S.-EU cooperation on major global issues. He will then travel to Vienna on December 7th, where he will attend the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – that’s OSCE. It’s a ministerial conference that’s hosted by the OSCE chairman in office, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.
He will then attend the opening and first plenary sessions together with ministers from the 57 OSCE participating states. He will also meet separately with Foreign Minister Kurz to discuss combating violent extremism, curbing nuclear proliferation, promoting democratic and economic reform in the Balkans, and also deepening bilateral trade ties.
Finally, Secretary Tillerson will travel to Paris – pardon me – to meet with senior French leaders to discuss our deepening cooperation on issues of mutual concern around the world. This includes Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, the DPRK, and the Sahel, in addition to other areas of bilateral interest.
So thank you for listening to all that information we have here out of the State Department. I know you have a lot of questions, especially about the news today, so I’d be happy to take those. Josh, if you’d like to start, from the AP.
MS NAUERT: And let me just pause by saying I’m sorry, I have allergies, and so I’ve got a little bit of a cough today. So go right ahead.
QUESTION: No problem, sure.
MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.
QUESTION: The White House officials are telling many news organizations represented here that Secretary Tillerson is on his way out, he’s going to be replaced by CIA Director Pompeo. Is that accurate? Is – has the Secretary spoken to Trump about this today? And how long does he expect to remain in his role?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So here’s what I can tell you: You saw the White House statement earlier today. The White House statement confirmed that there will be no personnel changes. It is a fact that Secretary Tillerson serves at the pleasure of the President, as we all do, as does every political appointee and cabinet member. Secretary Tillerson enjoys this job. He has a lot of work to do. We started out this morning together when he had a series of meetings. In addition to his regularly scheduled meetings with Washington officials and phone calls, he had a meeting with a foreign minister, Foreign Minister Gabriel of Germany.
The Secretary and I spoke at that time. We talked a little bit about Burma, we talked a little bit about the DPRK. The Secretary had a successful meeting, which I’d like to get to a little bit later and tell you a little bit about what came out of that bilateral meeting, and then he was off to the White House. We heard about the news. He went off to the White House with a regularly scheduled meeting with Bahrain and the President, returned here for a short while, and then he headed back to the White House for an additional meeting which was a preset meeting, a small principals group meeting. The topic of that is Syria.
The reason I’m telling you about sort of all these comings and goings of the Secretary is that he remains, as I have been told, committed to doing this job. He does serve at the pleasure of the President. This is a job that he enjoys. He is continuing with his meetings. He’s continuing with his calls. He has spoken not only with Foreign Minister Gabriel, but also with the – pardon me – with the UN secretary-general earlier today, and so he’s continuing with a full schedule.
QUESTION: Now, how does he go about doing his job with this hanging over him? I mean, he’s going to go off to Europe on Monday. What reason would foreign governments have to believe that he speaks on behalf of President Trump when the White House is letting it be known publicly that they don’t have confidence in him anymore?
MS NAUERT: The Secretary is someone whose feathers don’t get ruffled very easily. He kind of brushed this off today. He’s heard these kinds of stories before. These stories have come up through his tenure here at the State Department and he’s just going on about his business. In terms of how he will handle the meetings next week, he has a very robust schedule. These are matters that he’ll be discussing that he is passionate about, from our relationship with the Europeans to NATO and asking various NATO countries for additional commitments in Afghanistan, something we view as being important to addressing the good and solid relationships we have with European partners. So he has a big agenda. That agenda has certainly not changed.
He remains the Secretary of State. As long as he is serving at the pleasure of the President, he will continue to do that job.
QUESTION: But you’re not saying that these rumors are groundless. Are you saying that they are completely false and groundless?
MS NAUERT: Here’s what I know. I don’t work at the White House.
QUESTION: Right, right.
MS NAUERT: But what I can tell you is that Chief of Staff Kelly called our department this morning --
MS NAUERT: -- and said that the rumors are not true, that those reports are not true. That is what I’ve been told, that’s what we’ve been told. And you heard from the White House today that they have no personnel changes to announce.
QUESTION: So wouldn’t it be the right thing to do to for the White House to issue a statement on the eve of the Secretary’s departure on such a major trip to say that these rumors are groundless, if that is the case?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to tell the White House how to conduct its business. The – excuse me, the chief of staff has spoken to reporters. I believe he did a gaggle earlier today in which he spoke to reporters and said that this report is not true. Sarah Sanders has spoken to reporters as well. I believe she has a briefing a little bit later today. I’m sure many of you want to cover that as well. So I’d have to let the White House speak for itself from – but from our standpoint here at the State Department we remained committed to our job. As you saw, Ambassador Birx was here talking about the successes of our Global AIDS Program, and we’re just continuing with business as usual.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary discussed this with the President when he was over at the White House?
MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: -- how would you characterize the chemistry between Secretary Tillerson and Mr. John Kelly?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I – oh, between Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly, or Chief of Staff Kelly?
QUESTION: Chief of staff. Chief of Staff Kelly.
MS NAUERT: I was told – I was not at the White House today, I was here. I was told that it was normal, the same as usual, that the Secretary was treated the same as he always is. That’s what I was told.
QUESTION: Who did John Kelly speak with when he called this morning? And – I mean, you said not to your knowledge that there was any discussion between the President and Secretary, so there was no personal assurance during his time over at the White House today --
MS NAUERT: Again, I was not there. So I hesitate to say too much, because I was not there to see it myself. But some of that would be a private – considered private discussions, but I don’t believe that that conversation took place.
QUESTION: Okay. And the call to the department today from John Kelly?
MS NAUERT: The call to the department came into the chief of staff this morning. There may have been --
QUESTION: To Margaret Peterlin?
MS NAUERT: Correct. There may have been subsequent calls that have taken place. If so, if something’s happened since we’ve been in this briefing room, I’m not aware of it. Okay? Hi. Hi there.
QUESTION: Hey. Does the Secretary want to keep this job? Does he feel that he’s doing a good job? He’s come under incredible pressure from outsiders, from Congress. Does he want to keep the job?
MS NAUERT: The – the Secretary is somebody who is unflappable. I mean, you’ve seen him here before. He’s somebody who is committed to his job. He is someone who is very passionate about speaking with world leaders and advancing U.S. foreign policy goals. He continues with his schedule and the schedule that we have put out, and that schedule hasn’t changed. So I believe that that is something that he’s committed to doing.
QUESTION: Will he fight to keep the job should they decide that they’re going to go on with someone else?
MS NAUERT: That would be just speculation; a hypothetical that I’m not going to get into. Okay? Conor.
QUESTION: But does he feel pressure from the White House? I mean, given this leak – and we’ve done this now for a couple months of people at the White House leaking unflattering stories about him and his relationship with the President – does he feel pressure to resign from the White House?
MS NAUERT: I think what he feels is that Washington can be a tough game of politics. You have heard him reference that before, that he’s not from Washington, he’s not a person of Washington, and he doesn’t always understand and accept exactly how Washington works with anonymous sources, things of that nature. That’s not who he is, that’s not the world that he comes from. Okay?
QUESTION: May I please stick with --
QUESTION: Follow-up on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, go right ahead.
QUESTION: How would you characterize his relationship with the President? Some of these reports, it’s been reported that it has soured over the last couple of months in particular.
MS NAUERT: Well, certainly they will have areas of disagreement when it comes to policy. I mean, that’s no doubt. And – I mean, that’s very clear. The Secretary has spoken to that himself and has said that’s part of the reason that the President hired him, so that he could have different opinions being given to the President and the President could ultimately make his decision on various policy issues. So they have had areas of disagreement when it’s come to policy. I know that the President certainly respects Secretary Tillerson. I know that they’ve had a certainly a cordial relationship. Where that relationship is today, I can’t speak to that. Okay.
QUESTION: That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement there.
MS NAUERT: Well, I have not personally been in the room with the Secretary and the President at the same time. So there’s not too much that I can really say about that other than the Secretary serves at the pleasure of the President, and the Secretary had two meetings with the President today. Okay? Go ahead, Nike.
QUESTION: It had been mentioned that Secretary Tillerson and President have some areas of disagreement on policy --
MS NAUERT: Well, they have in the past certainly on things like climate change and all that. You know that.
QUESTION: Does that also include the latest retweet on anti-Muslim video, and has the State Department warned the White House that such retweet may cause repercussion?
MS NAUERT: One of the things we will always say is the safety and security of our American personnel and of U.S. citizens abroad is our top concern. The State Department has continuous conversations with the White House and the National Security Council about anything that could affect any American’s safety and security abroad. When it comes to specific conversations, you know all too well that I can’t comment on our sort of private internal conversations, but it wouldn’t be unusual for us to have those kinds of conversations about any matter in the world. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Has the State Department warned the White House such retweet may put U.S. embassies abroad at risk?
MS NAUERT: I will tell you again, we have lots of communications with the White House and NSC about a variety of security issues. I don’t know that yesterday or today is any different than it was in the past. Okay? Carol, hi.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: Has the Secretary --
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: On this --
QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with Secretary Mattis today? I know they speak frequently. And did they discuss this in particular or --
MS NAUERT: I believe – let me double-check the schedule, but I seem to recall that Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson met early this morning.
QUESTION: And did they discuss this in particular, these rumors that --
MS NAUERT: Again, let me take a double – double-check the schedule about that, but I believe it was early this morning that they met.
QUESTION: And --
MS NAUERT: And early this morning, that was before this news broke.
QUESTION: Okay. Could you check also to see if Secretary Tillerson spoke with General Kelly when he was at the White House?
MS NAUERT: I told you they did speak when they were at the White House.
QUESTION: At the White House? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Heather, (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Hold on. Okay. Hold on.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Josh.
QUESTION: Can you tell us whether based on the divestiture agreement that the Secretary entered with the Government Ethics Office whether he would face any tax or financial implications if he were to leave, particularly if he were to leave before the one-year mark?
MS NAUERT: I’ve seen that story. I’m certainly aware of that report. People have started to ask about that. I have no knowledge of how that financial situation would work. I can certainly look into it. I’m not sure I’m going to have an answer for you. However, I have spoken with various reputable news organizations – I won’t name them – but some of them are in the room today, who have all said that they’ve run down that story and have found no basis in fact for that. But again, that’s based on what reporters here in the room have told me about that story.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS NAUERT: Hold on, let’s stay – we’re going to stay with this before we go on to that. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s a follow-up on the embassies.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: At some embassies in some Muslim countries enhanced their security protocols since yesterday and those tweets.
MS NAUERT: We would never address security protocols that either have or have not changed at our embassy. That’s something that we keep close to the vest here at the State Department. We have a – talked about this the other day – a brand new assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security, who has a very big job not only overseeing our more than 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents who work for the State Department but also our locally employed staff who are security officials who help protect our embassies, and by the way, we have the Marines out there as well. In terms of changing our security posture, that’s just not something we’re going to get into.
Okay. Anything else on that? Okay. Hey. Hey, Gardiner.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Josh’s – hey.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Josh’s point. Don’t these rumors and these stories, which have now been reported widely by many different outlets, don’t they make the Secretary’s job very challenging, because won’t his counterparts in Europe next week be asking themselves who Tillerson is speaking for? Because these stories suggest that he no longer speaks for the President or has the President’s confidence.
MS NAUERT: Look, I can tell you this. After meeting with the foreign minister of Germany today, and then the story broke as we were emerging from that meeting with the German foreign minister; fast-forward a couple hours and I see an AFP report that talks about one of the issues that came up in the meeting with the foreign minister of Germany, and that is Germany’s decision to reduce its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang and require North Korea to reduce its presence in Berlin. That is a subject that came up today between the Secretary and the foreign minister. That is something that is a part of our maximum pressure campaign to take money out of North Korea, to try to choke off the money that goes into North Korea, that goes into its ballistic and nuclear programs.
The reason I mention this, Gardiner, is that this story came out after that meeting. This story came out a few hours later. That is important and that is significant because the foreign minister made this decision, put that information out there after this news broke. What I am saying is that the Secretary has his position, he is the Secretary of State, he will continue with that position, continue doing his job, continue doing his duty and serving the American public until the President, if and when the President decides that he no longer wants to keep the Secretary in his position.
QUESTION: Yes, one more clarification on this.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: That you keep mentioning that you cannot share with us the diplomatic conversations, but if you see the top level, President and the prime minister of the UK are talking directly on the Twitter. And so what else is left to – not to be shared with us?
MS NAUERT: Well, that would be between those – the governments. You mean the President and the UK. I can’t speak for the President, and I certainly can’t speak for the British prime minister.
QUESTION: No, what else is left – at what level there is – there are more talks?
MS NAUERT: I’m sure I’m not following your question. Are you suggesting that the only conversations that take place between world leaders is on Twitter?
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the department is – are the departments having a conversation to do the damage control?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, I’m not understanding your question.
QUESTION: When the President tweets and the UK prime minister replies and then the President replies --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- there is a level of conversation going on. And then you say that there is – there are also conversations at the lower levels or other levels which you cannot share with us because they are private.
MS NAUERT: Sir, nothing has changed. Often, we do not discuss the contents of our diplomatic conversation. I mean, you’ll hear many of your colleagues here complaining about that. There are some things that we choose to keep private. That hasn’t changed. But I can’t comment on the conversations that the White House is having with other nations.
QUESTION: All the way in the back, please.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. What are you doing all the way back there?
QUESTION: Well, I came in late, so I didn’t want to disturb things.
MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay. Well, that’s very polite of you. Good to see you.
QUESTION: So could you give us a little more detail about the call that was taken from General Kelly? And you say that he – he told, I guess, the Secretary of State that these reports aren’t true. Could you talk about what else he said, how he explained the fact that every major news organization was reporting this out of the White House today?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize what Chief of Staff Kelly – what exactly he said. I think that would be for General Kelly to explain himself. But I know that he did place a phone call this morning and said that there was nothing to that report of having a plan in place.
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: He spoke with who?
QUESTION: He spoke from here.
QUESTION: He spoke with --
MS NAUERT: I told you that. I already told you that. He spoke with our chief of staff this morning. Yes. Okay? Okay. Hi, sir.
QUESTION: I have a question about Nord Stream 2.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Deputy assistant --
MS NAUERT: Why don’t we do this? Let’s get through these stories and then I will come back to you, okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you. Anything else on this issue?
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS NAUERT: Okay. We’ll change topic, then. Okay, we’ll go to Nord Stream 2.
QUESTION: About Nord Stream 2.
QUESTION: I’m Marek Walkuski, Polish Public Radio.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Nice to meet you. Welcome to the State Department.
QUESTION: Deputy Assistant Secretary McCarrick told a group of European journalists that, I quote, “We don’t see the possibility that Nord Stream 2 is going to be built. That is not something that we are going to assume is going to happen.” Could you explain what is the statement based on? And I’m wondering if the topic has been discussed during the meeting between Secretary Tillerson and German foreign minister and what’s the conclusion of their discussion if, in fact, it was one of the topics.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can tell you that that conversation did not come up. The Secretary and the foreign minister had a very positive meeting in which they talked about the DPRK, North Korea. They talked about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the importance of Saudi Arabia opening additional ports and ways that we can get humanitarian aid into Yemen. They talked about a few other matters as well. Nord Stream 2 was not one of the topics that came up in my presence. Now, they may have had a separate sideline conversation that I did not witness, so that may have come up.
In terms of where exactly we are on Nord Stream 2 – pardon me one second – another topic related to that is the multi-line Turkish Stream, as I understand it. So our position on this would be that Europe is certainly working to try to diversify where it gets its energy. I’ve spoken with some of your colleagues before, people from that part of the world as well, and recognizing that there should be and could be more sources of energy. We have seen in the very cold winter months where Vladimir Putin – which is where a lot of your energy comes from in particular in Poland – where he will turn down, turn off those energy supplies, causing costs to go up and causing people to lose heat on occasion. So we know that Europe is working to diversify its energy sector overall. It’s also assessing projects that would undermine some of these efforts.
We agree with many of our European partners that Nord Stream 2 and a multi-line Turkish Stream would reinforce Russian dominance in Europe’s gas markets. It would reduce opportunities for diversification of energy sources. It would pose security risks in an already tense Baltic Sea region and it would advance Russia’s goal of undermining Ukraine – that’s a particular concern of ours – by ending Ukraine’s role as a transit country for Russian gas exports to get to Europe. Construction of Nord Stream 2 would concentrate about 75 percent of Russian gas imports to the EU through a single route, creating a potential checkpoint that would significantly increase Europe’s vulnerability to a supply disruption. So we believe that these two projects would enable Gazprom to cut off transit via Ukraine and still meet demand in Western Europe, which would economically undermine Ukraine by depriving it of about $2 billion in annual transit revenue. Okay?
QUESTION: But is this statement correct, that you don’t believe that the project would be built, that Nord Stream 2 would be built? And Secretary Tillerson called recently the Nord Stream 2 unwise. What are you doing to stop this unwise project?
MS NAUERT: So, sir, I don’t have the Secretary’s comments in front of me, so I hesitate to comment on having something that I --
QUESTION: Two days ago at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
MS NAUERT: I understand. I understand. I just don’t have the exact quote in front of me.
MS NAUERT: So I’m not – I’m just not going to comment on that. And the other person who made a remark, I don’t – I’m afraid I don’t have that with me either, so – okay?
QUESTION: Can we move on? Heather, can we move on please?
QUESTION: Yesterday in a briefing you gave, you specifically called on Germany to withdraw its ambassador from North Korea.
MS NAUERT: That was misreported. I’d like to go back, and if you want to check the transcript, actually, I did not call on Germany to get rid of its ambassador. What we did and what we often do, as you have heard me many times here before, is call upon countries to do a lot more – to do a lot more, which could include kicking out an ambassador. It could include reducing the size of a footprint of that country. It could include reducing the number of North Korean guest workers. There were some reporters who misreported that, so I just want to make that clear.
QUESTION: But, I mean, the quote – I’m – maybe this is inaccurate, but you said “we would continue to ask Germany or other countries around the world to recall those ambassadors, shrink the footprint of the size of the entity that North Korea has in any given country.” I mean, so when you said --
MS NAUERT: That is nothing new. We ask all --
QUESTION: To recall those ambassadors --
MS NAUERT: We ask a lot of those countries to do that type of thing, certainly.
QUESTION: Okay. So did the Secretary today ask the foreign minister of Germany to recall his ambassador?
MS NAUERT: The Secretary did not specifically ask that, but the conversation did come up. And that’s why I mentioned that --
MS NAUERT: -- AFP story that came out earlier today that said that they would – I’ll just go back and double-check it – but that they would, I believe they said, reduce the size of their footprint.
QUESTION: So but was --
MS NAUERT: Reduce its diplomatic mission. But look, what this --
QUESTION: Was he disappointed that the Germans have not recalled their ambassador? I mean, Nikki Haley yesterday was very explicit at the UN they want countries around the world to completely cut off diplomatic ties with North Korea. Germany is saying essentially, sure, we’ll reduce staff, but we’re going to leave this embassy open.
MS NAUERT: I think – I think this is a success. The news that we have seen come out of Germany, as with many other nations – we’ve seen this with Peru, we’ve seen it with Japan, we’ve seen it with South Korea, we’ve seen it with Sudan where Sudan has recently said that it’s no longer going to buy weapons from the DPRK. That is all a part of our maximum pressure campaign.
That maximum pressure campaign, which you all probably get tired of hearing me talk about, is something that we – is our top national security priority here. Nations continue to get on board and support that. We have well north of 20 countries who have done different things to jump on board with that campaign, and I think the news that’s coming out of Germany today is altogether positive.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS NAUERT: Said. Hi.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up on North Korea.
QUESTION: On that subject --
QUESTION: Sorry --
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On that subject --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay. Hold on. Okay.
QUESTION: Just can you just sort of again be explicit? Do you want all of your allies to end diplomatic ties, withdraw their ambassadors from Pyongyang? Because we’re hearing from your allies, from U.S. allies, that they have no intention of withdrawing their ambassadors and that in their conversations with the Trump administration, the Trump administration is not asking them to withdraw their ambassadors or end diplomatic ties. So what are you asking them specifically to do?
MS NAUERT: Well, one of the things that we have talked about here in this administration is the importance of sovereign nations. Right? So nations have the ability to make the choices that are best or that they believe are best for their nations. However, we all – civilized nations – recognize the constant and pervasive threat of the DPRK. We saw what just happened two days ago with what we believe may have been an intercontinental ballistic missile launch, in addition to the other launches that North Korea has conducted and the advanced nuclear testing that they conducted just a few months ago.
So we have seen all of that. The world recognizes what a regional and global threat North Korea is, that North Korea presents. So many countries in the world are on board with this campaign, on board with the maximum pressure campaign. But countries have to make their own decisions about what will work best for them.
QUESTION: What is the campaign? Do you want them to all close their embassies and withdraw all their diplomatic personnel from Pyongyang?
MS NAUERT: I can give you transcript and transcript and transcript of the briefings from here, Gardiner, or from the, Secretary Tillerson’s meetings about our maximum pressure campaign. I can briefly go over it once again. Sorry, you all have heard it in --
QUESTION: No, just the ambassador.
MS NAUERT: You all have heard it a million times.
QUESTION: I mean, because they’re telling us that you – they’re not hearing from you that they want – that you want their missions to be shuttered and all their ambassadors withdrawn.
MS NAUERT: I have not heard from any particular ambassadors with that question. I have not gotten that question from any particular ambassadors. If we do and I know about it, I can certainly let you know, but we’ve not gotten that question so far.
QUESTION: I just --
QUESTION: On another --
QUESTION: But you want them to all withdraw their ambassadors; is that right?
MS NAUERT: Look, I – here’s what I would say. And I’m not in the position to make policy so I am not going to do that, but a key part of our maximum pressure campaign is to ask other nations – and again, let me underscore that countries are all sovereign. Okay? They need to do what they feel is in their best interest. That is something that this administration recognizes. But we ask countries to choke off the money supply that goes into North Korea. We know for a fact that North Korea doesn’t use the money that comes in to its government or to its people for the benefit of its people. They don’t feed their people; they have people starving, malnourished. We’ve all seen that. You’ve seen the intestinal problems that the soldier who just escaped from North Korea has certainly had. All of that.
So we know the money doesn’t go to the people. We know the money goes to its illegal weapons programs. So we have called on countries across the world to join us in that maximum pressure campaign in reducing the size of their missions in North Korea. If they would be willing to close their missions in North Korea altogether, I think that that is something that we would be supportive of. We’ve also called on nations to kick out North Korean guest workers, to reduce the size of North Korean missions in their own countries. It’s a broad pressure campaign.
We also have the multilateral – the multilateral, the unilateral sanctions, and all of that in addition to the UN Security Council resolutions.
Okay? Okay, let’s move on.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Heather. Let me just ask you very quickly. Today marks the end of the six-month waiver for maintaining the – your embassy in Tel Aviv and moving it to Jerusalem. Do you have any news on that? Is the President going to likely sign another waiver for another six months? Or --
MS NAUERT: I know everyone would like to speculate about that.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, what is your position?
MS NAUERT: So I can just tell you that no decision has been made on that matter yet. My understanding is that the waiver is actually due to Congress by December 4th --
MS NAUERT: -- which would be --
MS NAUERT: -- Monday. Okay. I think you had said today. The President has said that he has given serious consideration to the matter, and we’re looking at it with great care. That’s all I have for you on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Is the Secretary talking to the President on this issue? Because in past administrations the secretary of state always presented the case as to why this would be a bad decision for the United States at this particular time.
MS NAUERT: I know that the --
QUESTION: While there’s some sort of process ongoing.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. The Secretary is talking to the White House about that matter, and I know we’re having a lot of conversations about that as well. But again, I want to underscore that no decision has been made yet.
QUESTION: And one last question, last – I mean, when you determined that the office of the PLO must remain open, you said that we want to limit their activity to the peace process. Does that include the movement of the ambassador and his staff, let’s say when they are called by the Palestinian American community in San Francisco to speak or anything? How do you limit their activity to that particular area?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that particular scenario that you outlined.
QUESTION: This is – right.
MS NAUERT: That is not one that I had heard of. But I can --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, it said – it says – it’s therefore – you’re saying that it’s optimistic, that you are optimistic in – in 90 days or in three months the situation will be such that would allow the office to remain operational fully. But also, you say that they must limit their activities to the peace process. What does that mean?
MS NAUERT: Okay. So we have advised the PLO office to limit its activities to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We’re actively involved in restarting what we consider to be substantial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We have found – and we talked about this coming out of the UN General Assembly – both parties have been cooperative; the conversations have been constructive; and we believe that both sides are prepared to engage in negotiations.
The statute that you reference provides that if, after 90 days, the President determines that the Palestinians are engaged in direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel, restrictions on the PLO and its Washington office may be lifted. You reference this also: We remain optimistic that at the end of that 90-day period the political process may be sufficiently advanced and that the President will be in the position to allow the PLO office to resume full operations.
QUESTION: If there’s not been a decision yet on what we’re going to do on the embassy waiver, why has the State Department informed diplomatic posts in Muslim countries that they need to be on edge for violence around this?
MS NAUERT: I think that is something we would never discuss – any conversations that our State Department is having with our posts around the world, so I just can’t give you anything on that.
Okay? All right.
QUESTION: Can I just follow on that, though?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Vice President has said it’s not a matter of if but when. So this could be the time when it comes, so are you making contingency plans at all?
MS NAUERT: We would never discuss any potential security contingency plans, at least not that I am – certainly not that I’m aware of. You know that that’s something – we talked about that earlier – that we keep pretty closely held.
Okay? A last question. We’re going to have to wrap.
MS NAUERT: Laurie, hi.
QUESTION: Hi. The Chaldean archbishop of Erbil has been here seeking financial support because Baghdad has said it has no money for reconstruction. Did anyone here in this building meet with him, and is the administration going to assist with the reconstruction for the 100,000 Christians who have refugees from Nineveh province?
MS NAUERT: In terms of the meeting, I’m not aware of any actual meetings that were held between the Chaldean archbishop and anyone at the State Department. So I’m not aware of any of that taking place. I can tell you as a general matter we are deeply committed, deeply committed – and we’ve talked about this before – to the world’s most vulnerable people. That includes ethnic and religious minorities. We’re particularly concerned with people who are suffering in conflict-affected areas, and we are steadfast in our resolve to ensure that those communities get the assistance that they need.
We are a generous nation. We have provided a lot in terms of humanitarian assistance to Iraq and other nations around the world. We have also, however, said that we are no longer in the building – or in the business of nation-building. What we’ve been doing in Iraq and Syria is stabilization, helping to get the water turned back on, the electricity flowing, kids back in schools. But in terms of building roads and bridges and large-scale reconstruction projects like we saw the United States engaged in 10-plus years ago, that’s something that the U.S. Government is no longer involved with.
We instead will look on – look to other nations to assist with that as well. We are continuing to assist with those programs, but other nations will help pick up the tab also.
QUESTION: So you don’t know of any specific funds that – for what --
MS NAUERT: Look, I can tell you that we are exploring different initiatives with various NGOs in order to assist. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. And one more question: Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, had said that U.S. troops must leave Iraq once ISIS is defeated. What’s your comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Overall, the United States, as we are in other countries as well, we’re there at the request of the government. We are there at the request of the Iraqi Government. We are there to defeat ISIS. That’s all I have for you on that. Okay?
QUESTION: So if – his plan is to use the parliament to put pressure on the Iraqi Government to ask U.S. forces to leave. If that happens, you’ll just pick up and leave?
MS NAUERT: Laurie, I just don’t have anything more for you on that. We are there at the request of the Iraqi Government. Okay?
QUESTION: Heather, you said --
MS NAUERT: I’ll take one last one. Alicia, go ahead.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: -- could you comment on the U.S. decision to not send its ambassador to attend the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony this year honoring the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons?
MS NAUERT: I have a few notes on that one right here, as a matter of fact. So the United States was not the only country to not send its ambassador. The United Kingdom, France, and the United States agreed on our attendance with the Nobel Institute. The United States will be represented, instead of by its ambassador, by the acting deputy chief of mission to the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony on December 10th in Oslo. The United States is overall committed to preserving peace and creating the conditions for nuclear disarmament. That’s a goal, of course, we share with many other nations. Okay?
QUESTION: And could you comment on whether this is indeed an ideological decision to not attend because ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year?
MS NAUERT: Look, I don’t have anything more for you on that. It was a decision that was made on the part of the U.S. Government and other governments as well, not just the United States.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:37 p.m.)
DPB # 67