Department Press Briefing - December 7, 2017

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 7, 2017



TRANSCRIPT:

2:56 p.m. EST

MS NAUERT: All right, thanks, everybody. We have the rest of the world to cover, don’t we?

QUESTION: Well, I still have some questions on Jerusalem.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay, a couple things I’d like to start out with right now. First, I’d like to mention our co-hosting of a global forum on asset recovery and the run-up to International Anticorruption Day.

As a part of a U.S. Government-wide effort to combat corruption around the world, the United States co-hosted the inaugural Global Forum on Asset Recovery earlier this week at the World Bank in Washington. This major international event, which took place in the immediate run-up to the global commemoration of International Anticorruption Day, was co-hosted by the United Kingdom. In a signal of U.S. commitment to this cause, our top law enforcement official, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, took part in the forum. The forum’s goal was to facilitate the continued recovery of stolen assets from four focus countries: Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Ukraine. The United States will remain committed to fighting corruption internationally by building partner nations’ capacity to investigate and prosecute graft by cooperating with foreign partners, to trace and recover public assets stolen by kleptocratic regimes, and by strengthening institutions to prevent corruption.

The second matter is that Secretary Tillerson, as you all know, is still on travel, on his Europe travel. Yesterday, Secretary Tillerson continued his engagements in Brussels, participating in the NATO-Georgia Commission meeting and the North Atlantic Council Foreign Ministerial. He also held meetings with his British and Turkish counterparts. In the meetings, the Secretary once again reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to our NATO allies and the security of Europe, and he welcomed the growing number of NATO allies who are meeting their burden-sharing commitments. If you haven’t done so already, I’d suggest you review the transcript of the Secretary’s press conference at NATO.

Today in Vienna, Secretary Tillerson participated in the OSCE ministerial and highlighted ways to deepen cooperation on regional and global security challenges. He once again called for the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity through the implementation of the Minsk agreements and reiterated the United States commitment to seeing the peninsula return to Ukrainian control. The Secretary also held individual meetings with his Swedish, Austrian, Russian, and Ukrainian counterparts, as well as with the OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger.

Finally, Secretary Tillerson will round out his trip tomorrow in Paris, where he will meet with senior foreign French – French officials to discuss deep cooperation on a range of global, regional, bilateral issues of mutual concern.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions, but I think our acting assistant secretary handled everything that we’re going to cover on Israel and the President’s decision today.

QUESTION: Really? Because I’m more confused than I was before he started. (Laughter.) I don’t understand what the practical implications of this recognition are. It sounds to me from what Ambassador Satterfield said – or didn’t say, in a very, very careful way – that there are no practical implications as it relates to day-to-day diplomacy or operations of the consulate and embassy, and that what you have in fact done or what the President has done has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but not recognized what Jerusalem actually is. In fact, Ambassador Satterfield wasn’t even able to say that you believe that Jerusalem is in Israel. It might as well be an amorphous blob that just shows up on kind of a map if you’re not willing to talk about the specifics of what that actually means, what you mean when you say “Jerusalem.” And I’d just like to know: Is Jerusalem in Israel?

MS NAUERT: We recognize Jerusalem as the capital of --

QUESTION: That is not my question.

MS NAUERT: We recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I’m not going to go on and on and --

QUESTION: President Trump --

MS NAUERT: Excuse me, let me finish.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: – and continue to answer the same things that he just answered for 20 minutes or so for all of you.

QUESTION: Surely you --

MS NAUERT: There are some questions that you will rightfully have about passports, for example, about maps. Some of those things we are still working out. You will have questions about what happens with our consulate and our embassy. Some of those things we will still be working out. So I’m not going to have all the answers for you that you’re looking today, but I think the President and his announcement was clear and I think the assistant secretary was clear.

QUESTION: Well, this seems like a very easy question to answer. When President Trump visited the Middle East and he went to the Western Wall and prayed, what country was he in? (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: I’m sure you think this is very cute, but --

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s very cute. I think that you guys don’t understand – I don’t – I don’t understand – I don’t understand what it means to say that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel without saying what Jerusalem – what you believe Jerusalem to be.

MS NAUERT: Well, I think it – I think it also recognizes that the center of government is there and has been there since the founding of Israel.

QUESTION: That’s absolutely 100 percent factual and correct. What country was the President in when he prayed at the Western Wall?

MS NAUERT: Look, I would --

QUESTION: What country was he in?

MS NAUERT: Some of these things- okay, perhaps – and we’re not taking any position on the overall boundaries. We are recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Perhaps that’s not enough of an answer that you were looking for, but I can assure you that an entire administration, backed by the entire interagency process, which included not just the White House but the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the National Security Council – the entire interagency process, okay. You may think you’re smarter than them, Matt Lee, but the entire interagency process fed into this, made its recommendations, and the President made his decision.

QUESTION: Well, the entire interagency process appears to have come up with something that means absolutely nothing.

MS NAUERT: Matt, that is your opinion. That is your opinion, but the President announced his policy, and we are pushing ahead with that policy.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Heather, I have an issue that actually touches myself and my family and others and so on.

MS NAUERT: I understand.

QUESTION: Because on our passport, where it says “place of birth,” “country of birth,” it says Jerusalem. I mean, we don’t have a country to say, I was born in Jordan, or I was born in Palestine. The Palestinians of a certain age are not allowed to state Palestine as their place of birth on their American passport. So what they should do? I mean, how will they handle such an issue?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. And that --

QUESTION: Myself included.

MS NAUERT: That is a fair question. As you well know, this policy was just announced yesterday, okay. We all like to get ahead of ourselves and ask a lot of questions that are complex; of course, that is understandable. A lot of these are part of the interagency discussions. Lawyers have to weigh in. A lot of government officials have to weigh in. And some of this stuff is just, frankly, still being worked out. At this time, I can tell you there are no changes to our current practices regarding the place of birth on consular reports of birth abroad and also U.S. passports. The decision, we believe, will ultimately rest with the President.

Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: So do you think that given it’s still being worked out, does the Secretary feel --

MS NAUERT: On the issue of passports, you mean?

QUESTION: And other aspects of this, including what is Jerusalem exactly. But is the --

MS NAUERT: The capital of Israel. I think we established that. Okay?

QUESTION: Oh my gosh, thanks. Okay. I’m done now. Does --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Draw it on a map.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary feel, then, that this just adds confusion to the issue and adds tension in the region?

MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. Look, this administration is committed to working toward peace in the region. We have had Mr. Kushner and also Mr. Greenblatt and also our ambassador hard at work, backed by the State Department, on this issue since day one of this administration. That will not change; that is continuing.

QUESTION: Can you say what progress they’ve made? How would the State Department characterize any progress that they have been able to make?

MS NAUERT: Well, a lot of those are diplomatic conversations that are taking place.

QUESTION: Have they made progress?

MS NAUERT: They have all – and yes, when you talk with them, and I talked with them very often – as does – as do other people at the State Department – they say that they have made progress. Some of this stuff we are not going to reveal; they are hopeful. Obviously, it has taken decades and decades of work by very many good people of both parties, Republicans and Democrats, who have tried to bring peace to the Middle East. For many years, that has failed. This administration is recommitted to trying to achieve that, and those conversations are ongoing. Some days are better than others, but the conversations are ongoing and we will continue working at that.

QUESTION: How does the Secretary feel about the reaction that we’ve seen in the region, both on paper and now on the street?

MS NAUERT: Reaction in terms of what?

QUESTION: To this decision in the region.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think – look, I think overall, while there have certainly been – and we believe in the right of free speech – while there certainly have been people who have not been pleased with the overall decision, we have had many conversations, the U.S. Government has, with our counterparts overseas. The President has, the Vice President has, Secretary Tillerson has, as have staff members here in Washington as well. We have conversations. The foreign governments know exactly where we stand. We’re not always going to see eye to eye with every government around the world, but the President made his decision. He made this decision, and that is what it is, and that’s what we’re going forward with.

QUESTION: Heather, U.S. --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: And then we’re going to switch onto another topic.

QUESTION: U.S. – excuse me --

MS NAUERT: We’re going to switch onto another topic --

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: Just one clarification.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Just one --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: You’ve asked a lot of questions already.

QUESTION: U.S. --

MS NAUERT: Hi, Elise.

QUESTION: Hi. There were European allies that the Secretary met with over the last couple days – most of them, including their leaders, have come out against this decision. The EU foreign policy chief also said that this kind of delegitimizes the U.S. in terms of being an honest broker. How much of the Secretary’s time over in Europe right now is being kind of sucked up by this?

MS NAUERT: Well, as you all know, the Secretary has had a very robust grouping of meetings as he’s been in Europe. He has talked about many issues, including Ukraine, including JCPOA and Iran. He has also talked about this issue with his foreign counterparts. In terms of a percentage, I’m not going to put a percentage of his time that he has spent on this.

QUESTION: But it must have dominated --

MS NAUERT: But he did have some face-to-face conversations with some of his counterparts about this issue, but there are many important issues facing the United States. We have a whole world to deal with.

Okay? Let’s switch onto something else because I don’t have anything else for you on this.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MS NAUERT: We’ll go to Iraq. Hi.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Just a quick clarification – just --

MS NAUERT: Excuse me? Okay. Last one, then we’ll go onto Iraq.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Thank you.

QUESTION: I have one on this, and it’s important.

QUESTION: President Putin just spoke to President Erdogan of Turkey. And in their subjects of talk, the one was promoting the resumption of Palestine-Israeli talks. Where does U.S. stand on this?

MS NAUERT: On whose talks? Between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians?

QUESTION: No, the Russians and Turkey, they talked and they decided that they’re going to promote the resumption of peace talks. So what is your reaction to that?

MS NAUERT: That Russia and Turkey would engage in talks? I would just refer you to those governments, then. Okay?

QUESTION: No. What is your reaction to that, that – where do – where does the U.S. stand so far as the peace talks are concerned?

MS NAUERT: As far as peace talks are concerned between the United States talking with the --

QUESTION: Palestinian and Israelis.

MS NAUERT: Between the Palestinians and – I think I’ve answered that with Michele already, that we have people who are hard at work on that issue every single day, from Jason Greenblatt to Jared Kushner to our Ambassador Friedman, always backed by the State Department. Those conversations are ongoing. They will continue. We are optimistic about those conversations. We know that other countries and some of our partners overseas may have a different point of view on this, but we are committed to peace, and that has not changed. Okay?

Let’s move on to something else. Go ahead, Iraq.

QUESTION: No double standard --

MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Iraq.

QUESTION: No double standard question, please --

QUESTION: The German --

QUESTION: -- if I may. It’s related to this and you --

MS NAUERT: I’ll come back to you, then.

QUESTION: The German foreign minister and the French president have both called on Baghdad to reduce the role over time of the Popular Mobilization Forces with an eye to eliminating them over time. What’s your position on that issue?

MS NAUERT: So in Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces are administered by or fall under the prime minister. So the prime minister controls those forces under Iraqi law. So whether or not other countries like that or don’t like it, it is Iraqi law and we believe in sovereignty.

QUESTION: So you don’t see the possibility that they may formally be under Iraqi law but really subordinate, following direction from Iran and Qasem Soleimani in particular?

MS NAUERT: I think that that would be an internal Iraqi matter. We’ve talked about this before. The prime minister knows how to best manage his security forces, but under Iraqi law they fall under the prime minister.

QUESTION: And am I correct, then, to understand that there’s a difference of opinion on this issue between you on the one hand and the French and Germans on the other?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any conversations that the United States has had between France and – you said Germany also. I’m not aware of any conversations that we’ve had about the status of the PMF. Okay? Hi.

QUESTION: No double standard? Can we go back to --

MS NAUERT: Okay, anybody else – oh. Anything else on Iraq? Okay.

QUESTION: On Yemen, President Trump --

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, can we go back on no double standard or not?

MS NAUERT: Okay, yes. Yes. I – yes.

QUESTION: Because it was related to the Israeli-Palestinian stuff.

MS NAUERT: I understood, okay? I had called --

QUESTION: And you tend to like --

MS NAUERT: Hold on.

QUESTION: You tend to like to keeping things together.

MS NAUERT: I do, I do. I called on Laurie and – so just hold on. I’ll call on you now. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: So a cable went out to all U.S. diplomatic and consular missions yesterday that asked State Department officials to defer all nonessential travel to the entirety of Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Normally when you are discouraging American officials from going to a particular area, under the no double standard rule, you make that public to all U.S. citizens so that they have the same information. I read through the Travel Warnings on Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza yesterday, both in the middle of the day and then at the end of the day after the worldwide caution, and I saw no similar warning to U.S. citizens or advice to U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to those areas. Why did you say one thing in private to U.S. officials and another thing – and not say the same thing in public to U.S. citizens?

MS NAUERT: Let me state the kinds of communication that we have put out to American citizens and also to U.S. Government officials. And one of the things we often say here is that the safety and security of Americans is our top priority. There are top policy priorities, but that is our overarching, most important thing, the safety and security of Americans.

We put out a security message to U.S. citizens on the 5th of December – on Monday, I believe it was. We put out a security message to our U.S. citizens that day – that was Tuesday? Okay, thank you – on the 5th of December. We put out another one on the 6th of December as well, expressing our concerns. We want to alert people to any possible security situations out of an abundance of caution. That information was put, as I understand it, on the State Department website, but it was also issued by many of our posts overseas in areas where we thought there could be something that could come up.

In addition to that, there is a Travel Warning that goes out regarding this region. That is something that is updated every six months, I believe it is. This Travel Warning for the region has been in effect for several, several years, so that is nothing new. In addition to that, we put out a worldwide caution. That is updated every six months. We had a worldwide caution in place for several years, but yesterday, out of an abundance of caution, we updated it. As far as I’m aware of, and I won’t comment on any of our internal communications to say whether or not there were any of these internal communications because we just don’t do that on any matter, but I think that we’ve been very clear with Americans, whether they work for – work for the U.S. Government or whether they’re citizens traveling somewhere, about their safety and security. This is also a great reminder for any Americans traveling anywhere around the world to sign up for the State Department’s STEP program, which enables us to contact American citizens wherever they are traveling in the case of an emergency if we need to communicate with them.

QUESTION: But why did you tell your officials not to travel to those areas between December 4th and December 20th, and not tell American citizens the same things? Because you didn’t tell that to American citizens in all of the messages that you put up on the embassy website, on the consulate website, nor did you tell American citizens that in a Worldwide Caution, nor did you tell them that in the link to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza that was put out by the State Department in the Worldwide Caution yesterday. You’re telling your people inside one thing, and you’re telling American citizens a different thing, and under your own rules, you are – there is supposed to be no double standard. Why didn’t you tell U.S. citizens the same thing you told the U.S. officials?

MS NAUERT: Again, unfortunately, just as State Department policy, we don’t comment on official – whether or not there was an official communication regarding --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: – regarding this. But I can tell you as a general matter, I think we have been very clear about the security concerns regarding Americans. We have put out those three various subjects or types of communications to American citizens who are traveling in areas that could be affected.

QUESTION: I’m going to ask you –

MS NAUERT: In terms of the U.S. Government, when we talk about the U.S. Government deferring non-essential travel, I would hope that people would not travel for non-essential reasons just as a general matter anyway.

QUESTION: But why – I’m going to ask you a hypothetical, which I would ask you to entertain, if you’ll listen to it.

MS NAUERT: I’ll listen to it. I’d be happy to listen to it.

QUESTION: If there were such communication, and you know and every U.S. diplomat who gets an ALDAC, which means every other person who works at the State Department knows that this communication went out – so if there were such communication, why would you say one thing to your own officials and a different thing to American citizens --

MS NAUERT: As our --

QUESTION: – which is what the law and your own rules require?

MS NAUERT: As you well know, we have a no “double standard.” And for folks who aren’t familiar with what that means, it’s when we tell our staff something about a particular area or a security threat, we also share that same information with the American public. I would find it hard to imagine that our lawyers have not gone through things to try to make sure that we are all on the same page with the information that we provide to U.S. Government officials as well as American citizens. And that’s all I have for you on that. Okay? Let’s move on to something else.

Yeah. Yemen?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

QUESTION: President Trump yesterday instructed the administration to ask the Saudis to let humanitarian aid immediate access to Yemen. Did you at State Department talk with the Saudis? And if yes, what was their answer and what are the results of these conversations?

MS NAUERT: I can tell you that the U.S. Government has had a series of conversations with the officials in Saudi Arabia. Let me start by saying – and I want to raise this issue with everyone because we have all followed the death of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen.

Let me start by saying that we are extremely concerned about the increase in violence in Yemen. That has not gotten a ton of coverage in the news recently, although I know you are all interested in it. I want to be clear in stating that we call on all parties there to reject the use of violence against their political opponents. I will get back to your humanitarian aid question in just a minute, but I wanted to highlight this because the situation is so dire, and the more that we see violence take place, the worse the situation can become for civilians, in particular for women and children.

We are particularly concerned by the reports of Houthi actions in Sana’a, including the unlawful killings, the mass detentions, and the violent suppression of peaceful protests. An enduring solution to the conflict and the dire humanitarian situation will not be reached militarily. We have said that again and again. All sides must agree to immediate cessation of hostilities and return to UN-mediated negotiation toward a comprehensive political agreement. A political solution is the only way to advance long-term stability in Yemen.

The President issued a statement yesterday. He had directed administration officials to call on the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request what they completely – that they completely and immediately allow food, fuel, water, and also medicine to reach the Yemeni people who need it so desperately. The Secretary has consistently expressed his concern about Yemen’s humanitarian crisis to the Saudis, and the administration will discuss the President’s message directly with Saudi leadership in the near future.

I don’t have any calls or readouts to provide to you on this time, but this is something I can tell you when I’ve sat in the meetings with Secretary Tillerson related to that region, it’s always been an issue that he has brought up, the humanitarian situation, and he’s called upon leaders in the region to use whatever influence they have to help with the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

QUESTION: But since yesterday’s statement there has been no new conversation on --

MS NAUERT: Not – I don’t have any additional calls or any meetings or anything to read out for you on that, but the President issued his statement and I think that that was pretty strong. Okay? Anything --

QUESTION: Have the Saudis --

MS NAUERT: Anything else on Yemen?

QUESTION: Have the Saudis responded to you on the President’s (inaudible) or do you know --

MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge. If I have anything for you on that, I can certainly check.

QUESTION: So is it the assessment that the Yemeni civil war has completely gone out of control?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think we’re really concerned about the level of violence. I mean, we have talked since day one on my job here about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and that the humanitarian crisis there is one that is manmade. You have men, women, and children starving – a tremendous food insecurity there. You have a cholera problem. You have the fighting, and now, since the killing of the former president, you’ve seen additional civil unrest. It’s a dire situation. We’re tremendously concerned about that violence. But if we can get more humanitarian aid – more humanitarian aid in there, that that would be certainly a step in the right direction, and we’re trying to push for that. Okay?

QUESTION: Libya.

QUESTION: DPRK.

MS NAUERT: Let’s move on to something else.

QUESTION: DPRK.

QUESTION: Korea?

MS NAUERT: Hey, there.

QUESTION: Cuba.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have an update for us on the situation of the health attacks against diplomatic personnel? And the ranking Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Engel, said that the Trump administration is leaving Congress in the dark.

MS NAUERT: Well, I can tell you this. We have – the State Department – in addition to the U.S. Government, from the FBI, department of – you name it, we have been engaged in having conversations with members of Congress. Some of those have been in a classified setting. Some have been in a more open setting. So I’m not sure which members have complained that they’ve gotten – not gotten enough information, but we have provided consistent briefings to Capitol Hill on this issue.

Our investigation is still underway. Our Diplomatic Security division is a part of that, along with DOJ as well. That investigation is still underway. The latest I can bring you – and I always tell you that I will bring you the latest updates on numbers – the numbers, thankfully, have not changed in terms of our colleagues and employees who have been affected by those health attacks. Twenty-four – that’s where it stands right now. We continue to have people assessed and looked at. Those numbers could change, and I always say to you, and we tell folks on Capitol Hill this as well, when those numbers – if those numbers, God forbid, change, then we will bring you the new numbers. Okay?

QUESTION: Quickly on --

QUESTION: Korea?

MS NAUERT: Okay, anything else on Cuba?

QUESTION: Cuba.

QUESTION: On Cuba.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Cuba. Hi, yeah.

QUESTION: Korea?

QUESTION: On Cuba, I wanted to ask you, please: You mentioned there is a diplomat who’s the charge d’affaires, and I wanted to ask you about the former ambassador who has been traveling all over the world but now he’s in Cuba, Mr. Goldberg. He’s been meeting with members of the civil society there. In what capacity is Mr. Goldberg there in Havana?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on Mr. Goldberg’s schedule. I can’t confirm that he is there right now. So I’m afraid I just don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Anything else, though, related to Cuba, while we’re talking Cuba? Do you have any other questions related to Cuba?

QUESTION: That’s it. Thank you.

MS NAUERT: No, we’re done. Okay. Okay.

QUESTION: Korea?

QUESTION: North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Let’s go on to DPRK, then.

QUESTION: Korea. Yeah. Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Hi. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. On Korea. South Korean President Moon said that he could not tolerate the United States if preemptive strike against North Korea. How do you respond on this?

MS NAUERT: He said we – he could not tolerate what?

QUESTION: Tolerate the United States preemptive strike against North Korea.

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any that have taken place.

QUESTION: So – but if North Korea continue to threaten the United States with missiles and/or in a nuclears, that is the U.S. decisions --

MS NAUERT: Okay. I’d go --

QUESTION: -- whatever their action to North Korea.

MS NAUERT: I’d go back to what I often say, and that is a hypothetical. I can tell you we have a --

QUESTION: This is not a --

MS NAUERT: -- very strong relationship with the Republic of Korea. It is an alliance relationship, as we do with Japan as well. That relationship is ironclad. If we should need to, we will always defend our allies.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: And one more on this.

QUESTION: Korea?

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Russian --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: Can you explain what is going on with this chatter from people about the Olympics? Last – yesterday Ambassador Haley at the UN made some comment about it. This afternoon Sarah Sanders at the White House made another comment about it. She later then clarified that comment. But is there any discussion that you’re aware of the U.S. not or potentially not participating in this – in the upcoming Winter Olympics?

MS NAUERT: Here’s what I can tell you. Ambassador Haley spoke or issued a statement of sorts earlier today, and she further expanded on her remarks that she made yesterday in an interview about the Olympics. I can tell you the Republic of Korea has a long history of successfully hosting many major games. That will also – that also includes the Olympics back in 1988, when you were, what, 15? Fifteen? You were fifteen in ’88?

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. We have a longstanding and successful relationship with the Republic of Korea. We are confident that the government’s commitment to hosting a safe and successful winter games will take place. We support their efforts in that and that is all I have, Matt.

QUESTION: But so there is no discussion that you’re aware of potentially not participating, because you didn’t --

MS NAUERT: We --

QUESTION: That’s the question and your statement – what you have there doesn’t answer that question. It just talks about how the Koreans are wonderful hosts.

MS NAUERT: Well, they are certainly wonderful hosts --

QUESTION: Which they are, but --

MS NAUERT: Yes, they certainly are.

QUESTION: -- that’s not my question. You can be a wonderful host and still not RSVP.

MS NAUERT: I think – I think Ambassador Haley and the White House further clarified our position on this. We look forward to being a part of the Olympics --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: -- in the Republic of Korea. Okay?

QUESTION: But you know – but North Korea is a terrorist country --

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- but they – South Korea Government invited this terrorist country, it’s Kim Jong-un’s regime, but they threaten – continue to threaten with the nuclear missiles.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: How you going to ensure --

MS NAUERT: I will go back to say this --

QUESTION: -- their security?

MS NAUERT: -- the safety and security of Americans is our top security priority. If for some reason we felt that Americans were in a dire danger in any place around the world, we would be very concerned about that and we would take appropriate action. I don’t have anything else for you on the Olympics.

QUESTION: On DPRK.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: Just the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov, told media that he had passed on the words about Pyongyang’s desire to directly talk to the United States to Mr. Tillerson. So what is the answer from Mr. Tillerson?

MS NAUERT: Okay, that is something that Foreign Minister Lavrov said took place as a part of the conversation. I don’t have anything on that particular part of the conversation and I cannot confirm if that came up in the Secretary’s conversation with Mr. Lavrov.

I will say, though, as a general matter the issue of direct talks with North Korea is not on the table until they are willing to denuclearize. It is something that Russia has said it agrees with. It is something that China has said it agrees with and many other nations around the world as well. DPRK is not showing any interest in sitting down and having any kind of serious conversations when they continue to fire off ballistic missiles. Period.

QUESTION: Something – something else that was supposed to come during the Tillerson-Lavrov meeting that the Russian – your counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry made mention of at one of her briefings this week is this allegation by the Russians that U.S., the FBI, and other police organizations are attempting to – are harassing and attempting to recruit Russian journalists. Do you know anything about this?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: Can you take a look at – I’ll send you something. The comment – the allegations are pretty odd and --

MS NAUERT: That – that doesn’t --

QUESTION: -- your counter – your Russian counterpart --

MS NAUERT: That doesn’t surprise me. Often they are.

QUESTION: Well, your Russian counterpart said that foreign – said that Foreign Minister Lavrov – that they took them seriously enough that Foreign Minister Lavrov was going to raise this specific issue with Secretary Tillerson.

MS NAUERT: Look, I can tell you what information I got out of the Secretary’s meeting with Mr. Lavrov today. I exchanged emails with a colleague of mine who was in the room at the time, and she told me this, quote, “In plain-spoken language the Secretary told the Russian foreign minister that his country’s invasion of Ukraine sovereign territory needs to be resolved before the two countries will ever be able to take steps to improve relations.” If they talked about any other matters, I don’t have that in my notes. Okay?

QUESTION: Did he talk about Syria?

QUESTION: Okay, could --

QUESTION: Did they --

MS NAUERT: Look, this is just what I have in my notes that was sent to me. There’s a time change, obviously, between here and there. I got this note just as I was coming out here, so I wanted to bring you that information that I have. Okay? Kylie, hi.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I know this is a little bit forward-looking, but we won’t see you till Tuesday. There is a climate change summit next week in Paris and it’s the celebration of the two years of the Paris agreement.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. sending anyone from the State Department?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. This is the first I’m hearing of the climate change summit taking place next week.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: I can look into it and see if we’re sending anybody. Okay?

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Anybody else? Hey, sir, how are you?

QUESTION: On Latvia.

MS NAUERT: Good to have you back.

QUESTION: It’s very – yeah, hi. It’s very rare when political demonstrations in Latvia can even gather a few hundred people, but three weeks ago in Latvia there was a political rally in Riga protesting the plans of Latvian Ministry of Education to close down Russian-language schools, and it gathered about a few thousand people. So the organizer cited Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

So just two days ago, the Government of Latvia confirmed the plans to abandon the Russian language from educational process at schools. So the new political protests are being gathered right now – organized in Latvia, where around 40 percent of population actually Russian-speaking, in fact. So it might lead to creating one more point of instability in the world. What is the State Department’s position on this issue?

MS NAUERT: Well, I can tell you we certainly don’t want any more areas of instability in the world. We have enough right now to last us for quite some time. In terms of your specific question on what’s going on in Latvia right now with the language, I know we’ve seen that in other parts of the world. We’ve seen that certainly in Ukraine where there’s been a debate about that; in Hungary, as well. I just don’t have any information for you at the moment on Latvia, but I’d be happy to look into that and get back to you. Okay?

Miss, last question. Hi.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Mounira Al Hmoud, i24 News.

MS NAUERT: Hi. I’m sorry, where’s i24 News based?

QUESTION: It’s an Israeli-based international news channel.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Nice to meet you.

QUESTION: Thank you. So going back to the security of Americans being your top priority, the State Department has issued a worldwide caution for U.S. citizens traveling.

MS NAUERT: We already covered this, I’m afraid.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you just tell us how did you choose these countries and why is it happening now?

MS NAUERT: Let me go back to my notes here and see if I can clarify this for you. So we updated our worldwide caution on December the 6th, yesterday. It was updated with information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions, political violence, criminal activity against U.S. citizens and interests abroad. This is something that is updated every six months on the part of the U.S. Government. It is a worldwide caution. We know that American citizens can be targets in many places around the world. In some instances, we’ve seen this time of year be a – one in which Americans have been attacked, at the holiday times.

The worldwide caution message is part of the Department of State’s continuous efforts to provide U.S. citizens traveling abroad with information about safety and security events. A worldwide caution warns U.S. citizens to exercise a heightened level of caution and security awareness and is generally reviewed and updated at least every six months. We strongly encourage U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad to enroll their travel plans in the STEP Program. I mentioned that a little bit earlier; that’s where you can register with the State Department to let us know where we can reach you if we should absolutely need to. Okay? Thanks.

QUESTION: Heather.

MS NAUERT: Okay, final question.

QUESTION: Just real quick, do you have a response to this Reuters report that a Palestinian official says that Vice President Mike Pence is unwelcome in Palestine?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. We have comments from officials all around the world, and I’m just not going to comment on every one there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:31 p.m.)