Department Press Briefing - January 2, 2018

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 2, 2018



TRANSCRIPT:

2:32 p.m. EST

MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Happy New Year.

QUESTION: Happy New Year.

MS NAUERT: How’s everyone today?

QUESTION: Good.

MS NAUERT: Good. We have some visitors in the back. Hi, welcome to the State Department. Hope you’re all doing well. Where are you visiting from today?

QUESTION: I’m from UVA. I’m a virtual intern.

MS NAUERT: Oh, great.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Well, welcome.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Virtual intern.

QUESTION: Virtual intern.

MS NAUERT: I didn’t know we had those things.

QUESTION: We’re virtual correspondents.

MS NAUERT: That means you can wear your pajamas and drink beer and work at the same time.

QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.

MS NAUERT: Yes. Okay. Well, welcome. Glad to have you.

Happy 2018, everyone. Great to be back here with you again; looking forward to working with you for another year.

The United States – and this is what we’d like to start out with today on – we’d like to congratulate the people of Liberia and the President-elect Weah on the peaceful, well-executed final round of voting on December the 26th. Many people around the world know that the president-elect is one of Africa’s most talented soccer stars, and we want to wish him much success in this new role, just as much success as he had during his playing days. We also would like to thank Vice President Joseph Boakai for his positive campaign and for his years of honorable service to Liberia.

This election represents a milestone in Liberia’s democracy. It marks the first peaceful transition from one democratically elected leader to another in over 70 years and further solidifies democratic trend in West Africa. The National Elections Commission managed an orderly, transparent elections process, while Liberia’s political parties, security forces, civil society organizations played a critical role in ensuring a peaceful, fair, and credible contest.

We remain committed to our longstanding partnership with Liberia and look forward to working with the President-elect to advance our mutual interests and expanding trade and economic growth, ensuring continued security, including combatting terrorism, and promoting global health security.

I know you have a lot of questions, so let’s get started. Hi, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Hello. Happy New Year.

MS NAUERT: Happy New Year. Thank you.

QUESTION: Let’s start with Iran.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: The ambassador to the United Nations just gave a press conference at which she said that the U.S. is calling for an emergency meeting of the Security Council on the situation there. Can you explain exactly why? What do you – what would you like the Security Council to do or to say about the situation in Iran?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think that many nations around the world are watching what is happening in Iran and watching it very closely. The United States is. Certainly our allies and partners are – France, Germany, the UK. You’ve heard a lot from them in recent days expressing their concerns, just like we’ve expressed our concerns about a crackdown on human rights. We are keeping an eye closely on that. That includes arresting people for peacefully protesting.

So that is an area of major concern of ours, and I think that that is a concern of the United Nations. I don’t want to get ahead of what might happen at the United Nations and what Ambassador Haley and her counterparts will be calling for, but I think it’s an issue that the world shares a concern about, and that is the ability for people to be able to speak openly and freely without fear of imprisonment.

In addition to that, the government had claimed that the JCPOA was basically the elixir, the fix for its economic problems. We have not seen that fix made. We have seen the economy stagnant there; in some situations, for some families, it has become worse than it was before. Many people there will complain that their paychecks have not been made, that they’ve not gotten a paycheck, that their paychecks are late – all of that. So people have a right to be concerned about the government’s treatment of its citizenry, and so they’re speaking out, and they’re brave in doing so.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then never mind about the UN, if you’re going to leave that to them as to what actually the Security Council will do. What is this administration in Washington – what is this administration doing?

MS NAUERT: Well, we’re watching the situation very closely. We are expressing our support, as we have many occasions before, for the Iranian people, understanding that it is brave, that they are courageous in speaking out and speaking out publicly and forcefully. And these are folks who are the working class. You’re seeing this in many towns across the country, people going out at their own risk, at their own peril, speaking out about their concerns. And as Americans, we can all support the right of a freedom of expression, something we support, and they – we are watching them do just that.

We’re talking with our allies as they express their very same concerns about the situation there.

QUESTION: When you say that you’re watching it very closely, monitoring, as everyone knows quite well, the U.S. doesn’t have an embassy in Iran, it doesn’t have any – at least no publicly known presence there. So how exactly are you following the situation? News, social media?

MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, this would go back to how we watch many nations when things are going on, especially when we don’t have a presence there. We get our information from a variety of sources. Some of that can come from NGOs. Some of that can come from media reports. Obviously, that’s a little more difficult right now because the government has clapped – clamped down not only on media but, as we’ve seen, social media too. We expect and we certainly hope that people will be able to access social media and speak freely there, just like we’ve seen them speak on the streets.

QUESTION: Right. Last --

MS NAUERT: So we’ll get that from a variety of sources. Some of that will include intelligence, our partners on the ground, and many other nations as well.

QUESTION: Last one. So you are, in fact, calling on the Government of Iran to restore any social media that has been – that may have been blocked?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think that would certainly be an important thing for them to do. We support a freedom of the press here in the United States. We support the right of voices to be heard. And when a nation clamps down on social media or websites or Google or news sites, we ask the question, “What are you afraid of?” What are you afraid of? We support the Iranian people and we support their voices being heard.

QUESTION: And are you considering sanctions?

MS NAUERT: We don’t get ahead of sanctions, but that is one toolkit, a couple things that we have in a very broad and wide toolkit. It’s – there are a range of options that we certainly have going forward. And that’s why I say we are watching reports very carefully of any potential human rights abuses of these protesters who are protesting peacefully.

Okay. Hi, Andrea. Nice to see you.

QUESTION: Hi, Happy New Year to you.

MS NAUERT: Thank you.

QUESTION: Is there – first of all, is there anything that the U.S. can do to help restore access to social media to the Iranian people?

MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. I mean look, I’m not a tech expert. There are lots of ways that people can get information through different sources and different apps and all of that, but I’m not aware of anything particularly that we as a government are able to do. But we’re watching it carefully.

QUESTION: And speaking of social media, one of the President’s first tweets on this was – he said change is needed.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is he calling for regime change?

MS NAUERT: No, I think what the President is talking about is exactly what the Iranian people are saying, that they want change. They want the government to start taking care of them. We’ve heard from some of the protesters their concerns about that nation’s money being spent on exploits in other countries – Syria, Iran’s support for Hizballah, Iran’s support for weapons being sent around the world – as opposed to spending that money on its own people. So I think when the President calls for change, he’s calling for the Iranian Government to make changes for its own people and the same thing that the Iranian people are calling for.

QUESTION: And is there a risk that some experts are expressing about modulating the tone in that the President’s tweets, if they are too strong in solidarity with the protesters, could backfire, could support the hardliners, could lead to a crackdown?

MS NAUERT: The Iranian regime is always going to come up with reasons to try to claim that other governments are responsible for some of their own problems at home, that other governments are responsible for their own people speaking out. This is not the first time that we’ve seen the Iranian people speak out, speak out about their concerns of their treatment under their regime. We saw that almost 10 years ago. We’re seeing it once again – the issues slightly different, but they remain the same.

Okay.

QUESTION: So when you say that the U.S. has expressed support for these protesters, what is it that the U.S. wants them to do or accomplish?

MS NAUERT: This is largely the same as we would say in any country, whether it’s Venezuela and people conveying their concerns about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, in other countries where people protest. We want them to have the right to speak freely, to peacefully protest, just as people do in the United States, and to be able to do that without fear of retribution.

QUESTION: So does the U.S. want them to continue to protest?

MS NAUERT: Look, that’s up to the Iranian people. We are not going to tell the Iranian people what to do. But we do believe that if Iranian people are going to peacefully protest that they should be allowed to do so.

QUESTION: Could you explain something --

QUESTION: You mentioned working with allies but in the --

MS NAUERT: Okay, last one there.

QUESTION: -- in the past couple of days I know that there has been this work among several to craft this strongly worded joint statement condemning Iran. But that hasn’t happened yet, and it seems like there were a number of problems. Can you talk about the status of that? And if there can’t even be consensus on a strongly worded statement --

MS NAUERT: Michele, I think you’re getting way too far ahead on this one, okay? A lot of people want to see statements. We’re having very good conversations with our allies. We have seen that we are in agreement with our allies – with France, with Germany, with the UK as well. You’ve read their statements. Boris Johnson, for example, calling on all concerned to refrain from violence and international obligations on human rights to be observed. The French foreign minister, a number of victims of arrest, tremendous concern of theirs, “The right to protest freely is a fundamental right.” Those are the same things that we are calling for.

I’m not going to adhere – I don’t think the U.S. Government and the other governments are going to adhere to any kind of arbitrary timeline for getting something on paper. I have to remind you all yesterday was a holiday. This is our first day back from a holiday. There is no disagreement where we stand.

QUESTION: You talked about --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Arshad.

QUESTION: Hey. You talked about your concerns about human rights. Are you calling for the Iranian security forces to exercise restraint in their treatment of protesters?

MS NAUERT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, anytime you have people out there who are protesting peacefully – and that’s what we’ve seen. We’ve seen people holding up signs. We’ve seen people walking through the streets. That has been the primary kind of protests that we have seen. Security forces – we would always urge them to use restraint, use restraint, to not overstep the bounds and harm protesters unnecessarily.

QUESTION: And do you think that they have – because you’re aware, obviously, of the number of deaths and the increasing number of deaths – do you believe that they have – any of the Iranian security forces have used excessive force thus far?

MS NAUERT: Arshad, I’m obviously not there on the ground, so I’m not at liberty to characterize what has actually happened and whether there are instances of excessive force that were used or not. But I can tell you, we’re following this carefully.

QUESTION: And one more for me on this. You mentioned 2009. One of the challenges that the administration faced, that the former U.S. administration faced in 2009 after the elections, was one of not tarnishing the protesters by too warm an American embrace. Do you see any concerns that in your statements of support for peaceful protest, you may in fact be hurting the protesters themselves by ginning up government opposition to them? And might it be better to be more restrained in your own comments?

MS NAUERT: Look, I think any time you look at people who are protesting in any nation around the world, who are protesting because they want greater economic freedom, because they want to be paid on time, because they want their government to stop spending money on terrorism and start spending their money at home – any time that people are willing to stand up in the face of an oppressive regime and have that conversation publicly, have that conversation publicly despite the potential threat, despite potentially being thrown in jail, we ought to support them. That is the right thing to do.

But to put this solely on America is not correct. You see France, you see the U.K., you see Germany and other nations standing up to support those protesters. I’m not aware of any other place in the world where we would actually look at it and say, oh, United States, don’t support those people; don’t support those people who want your encouragement. We hear from around the world other countries – Venezuela is a perfect example – when we have spoken out on their behalf or – let me back up – not on their behalf, but when we’ve spoken out in support of their voices being heard, they have said to us, “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, United States. We appreciate that support.”

Hi. Barbara.

QUESTION: Could you (inaudible) on --

QUESTION: Heather, one more question about this. You said that the nuclear agreement had not been the economic fix that the government said it would be. But Iranians – many Iranians say part of the reason for that is because the Trump administration has thrown the certainty of the deal in doubt, and so that contributes to economic confidence in the deal. And therefore, the support that the --

MS NAUERT: I can only point to many European --

QUESTION: Just – let – can I just finish question?

MS NAUERT: -- many European country – companies --

QUESTION: Yes. Let me just --

MS NAUERT: -- are still doing business with Iran, so --

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to finish my question --

MS NAUERT: -- they are able to do those deals.

QUESTION: So my question is: This sort of weakens the support they see from the United States on this factor. Is this going to – is this going to have any effect on the decision this month about whether to weigh the sanctions again, whether to decertify again?

MS NAUERT: This administration looks at Iran through a much broader lens than just the JCPOA. The administration is taking steps to fix its flaws. I’m not going to get ahead of what Congress is working on, but those conversations are taking place. And some of those negotiations are taking place between Republicans and Democrats and the White House to fix the fundamental flaws of the JCPOA so we can look at Iran through a broader lens than just the JCPOA and look at its destabilizing activities, as we talked about with Syria, in places like Yemen, you name it – Iran involved in some of those nefarious activities.

Hi, Said.

QUESTION: Can – can I take you to another place where there are protests and so on?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Wait, can we finish --

MS NAUERT: Wait.

QUESTION: -- finish Iran?

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: I have a question related to what you’ve been saying about Syria, Yemen, Iranian intervention in – outside its borders and its aggression. An envoy of Ayatollah Khamenei met yesterday with the head of the al-Nujaba militia in Iraq. It’s an Iraqi – part of the Hashd al-Shaabi, and Khamenei’s envoy praised its role in Iraq and Syria. What is your comment on that, particularly as you’ve just condemned Iranian involvement in Syria?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not aware of that meeting, so I don’t want to comment – if that did even take place, so I just don’t want to comment on that.

QUESTION: It was in the Iranian press. I’d be happy to share it with you, because --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, I’m not going to necessarily believe the Iranian press, but I just am not going to comment on something --

QUESTION: How about the Iraqi press? You don’t see Iranian aggression in Iraq, like in Kirkuk?

MS NAUERT: Look, we have discussed many times our concerns about Iran’s activities. Okay.

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: Just a very specific technical point on the sanctions and on the social media.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: One of the social media platforms that’s not available in Iran is Signal, and that’s a useful one because that’s an encrypted one. It’s one that activists or journalists, including myself, can use to communicate secretly. It’s not available in Iran not because it’s been blocked but because Google doesn’t provide one of the platforms which services this to Iranians because of the sanctions. Is Google overinterpreting the sanctions, or --

MS NAUERT: Dave, I have --

QUESTION: It’s an American company that could be providing a helpful tool to them.

MS NAUERT: I’m going to answer you as honestly as I can: I have no idea. I can connect you with some of our sanctions experts who might know more about Google and Signal and their relationship and how they operate or don’t operate in Iran. I’m afraid I just don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: Without asking you to speak on behalf of the protesters, you do support their aims?

MS NAUERT: We support peaceful protest in Iran, in Venezuela, in other places.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – you – yeah, but do you support what these specific protesters are protesting?

MS NAUERT: Well, I can’t comment specifically on what every protester is calling for --

QUESTION: Well, the general theme.

MS NAUERT: -- but in general, when they ask for their voices to be heard, when they ask for a better economy, when they ask for the government to spend money on their own country as opposed to terror exploits overseas or in other countries, sure, we would certainly support that.

QUESTION: So when they say death to Khamenei, you would support that?

MS NAUERT: I – Matt, I’m not going to go – I’m not going to – see, that’s why you’re trying to trap me into something like that. I’m not going to go there.

QUESTION: No, I’m just trying to figure out, because --

MS NAUERT: That is not our policy, but we hear what the Iranian people are saying. And just like people in the United States can say things that are very inflammatory – and they’re allowed to say that here; the right to free speech – people say that in other countries as well. They have a right to have their opinions on that matter.

QUESTION: But one of the administrations – and this – not just this administration – a longtime U.S. policy goal has been for Iran to stop supporting Hizballah in Lebanon and, at least going back to 2014, to stop intervening in Syria. So when the protesters say get out of Lebanon, stop supporting Hizballah, get out of Syria, stop supporting Assad, you do agree with that, right?

MS NAUERT: Well, we certainly have expressed – and you know this – we’ve expressed our concerns many times about Iran’s activities in Syria, in Yemen, elsewhere. I mean, you’ve asked me numerous times here name the countries of concern that Iran is involved with and I have named those for you on many occasions. Iran, Yemen, Syria, you name it, where they’re --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Thanks, Laurie.

QUESTION: So as long as what the protesters are protesting – or as long as their message lines up with this – with the administration’s policy position, you support them?

MS NAUERT: Matt, I think you’re wrong there, and here’s why: because as a general matter we support peaceful protest, protests and conversations that may not always be convenient to the United States, that may not always be convenient to that host country. We talk about that. We talk about the right to free speech. We believe that that is a fundamental human right. Whether it’s here, whether it’s in Iran, whether it’s in Russia. You name the country – we support that free speech. You know that.

Okay.

QUESTION: Can we – can I take you just a bit further on what you’re saying? Do you support free --

MS NAUERT: All right, then we’ll move on, because we’re starting to get --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you support free speech for the Palestinians?

MS NAUERT: We support free speech. You know that.

QUESTION: And their right to protest?

MS NAUERT: And a right to protest.

QUESTION: And you get appalled when 15 and 16-year-old girls are taken in the middle of the night and punched and kicked and stand before a military court – do you condemn that?

MS NAUERT: Teenagers, young people, yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Yes. I am talking about a very young teenage Palestinian, Ahed Tamimi, who was taken in the middle of the night. She stand – she stood before a military court yesterday with 12 charges and so on. Do you urge the Israelis to release the young teenager?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Said, I’m not going to have as much for you as you want on this particular situation. I’m a mom, you know, of small children. I think any parent watching could relate to concerns about the treatment of children. We believe that all individuals, especially children, should be treated humanely. They should be treated with respect for their human rights, their individual rights. I’m not going to have anything more for you on that. I’d have to refer you to the government.

QUESTION: But you support in principle that the Israelis ought to release 300 kids who are under the age of 16?

MS NAUERT: Said, I don’t have any information on that, so I just can’t confirm that that is the actual case.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a couple things on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. There was an – there is an article in The New York Times that says that the Israeli Government was emboldened by the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem, by all that transpired in the last couple weeks, to basically do what they did yesterday and basically annex the West Bank. What is your --

MS NAUERT: I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that at the --

QUESTION: You don’t have a position on this?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that particular report, okay?

QUESTION: And do you feel – okay.

MS NAUERT: I can get back to you and see if I have anything more.

QUESTION: On the – also, there was a vote on Jerusalem in the Knesset where they basically prevented – or they prevent the – any future government that would – that – there was a bill to prohibit any future government from ceding any parts of Jerusalem, contrary to international agreement. Do you agree with that?

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Are you aware of that?

MS NAUERT: Restate it. Yes, I’m aware of that – of that Knesset vote.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the Jerusalem vote in the Knesset?

MS NAUERT: Yes, I am aware of that.

QUESTION: That actually prohibits any future Israeli government from ceding any parts of Jerusalem?

MS NAUERT: Okay, one of the most important things for this administration is to have – is to have peace talks between the various sides to get them to a place of peace. That has not changed. That position remains the same. And those conversations and those talks will continue. I’m not going to get ahead of some of those conversations.

QUESTION: Okay, my last question on this. Do you believe that Jerusalem ought to be a final status issue, as it’s always been?

MS NAUERT: We have always talked about final status negotiations and that being a part of the final status negotiation.

Okay, let’s move on.

QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Well, hold on. Just one more on this issue. It has to do with this report about the ambassador in Tel Aviv, who is reported to have wanted the administration to stop calling the West Bank occupied. Without getting into internal government deliberations, does the administration still believe that the West Bank is occupied?

MS NAUERT: I can’t confirm that conversation or what --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to. But do you still – does the administration believe that the West Bank is occupied by Israel?

MS NAUERT: I can only say that our position has not changed. Our position on that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean that – does that mean that you still regard the West Bank as being occupied?

MS NAUERT: Matt, I can just tell you our position hasn’t changed. I’m going to be very careful with the words because anything related to this region, as many others --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS NAUERT: -- is extremely sensitive.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed, and I won’t budge from that.

QUESTION: Okay. At some point it would be nice to find out exactly what that position is. You shouldn’t be afraid – precisely because it is so sensitive, you shouldn’t be afraid, unless you’re embarrassed by what the policy is. Not you personally, but whoever. You shouldn’t be afraid to say what it is instead of just saying it hasn’t changed.

MS NAUERT: I don’t think – Matt, as you have seen, when America speaks about a matter, it is taken very seriously.

QUESTION: I know.

MS NAUERT: And so that is why it’s important for the United States to be careful with its words. And you may not get all the words that you were hoping to get, but I’m going to be careful with the words. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. Well, does that include tweeting stuff about “little Rocket Man” and things like that?

MS NAUERT: Matt.

QUESTION: Be careful with your words? Or “fire and fury” is going to rain down on North Korea?

MS NAUERT: I’m not even going to go there, Matt. Okay?

QUESTION: If you’re saying that the position hasn’t changed, why won’t you just state the position?

MS NAUERT: Michele, the position hasn’t changed. I’m not going there, okay? You’ve got all --

QUESTION: Just – okay.

MS NAUERT: That’s it on that. Okay? Let’s move on.

QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea?

MS NAUERT: North Korea.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to the idea of direct talks between North and South Korea that have been raised, given that there’s the explicit idea that they would happen without preconditions, that they would just sort of – the South Koreans would be willing to talk about anything that North Korea wants to talk about?

MS NAUERT: I can tell you this: that we are close allies with the Republic of Korea. If ROK wants to sit down and have a conversation with the DPRK, that is certainly their choice. We look forward to our participation in the Winter Olympic Games. That certainly hasn’t changed. Our policy hasn’t changed. We are working toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. Our policy remains the same. If the Republic of Korea and if the DPRK want to have a conversation, that’s fine, but we aren’t going to necessarily believe that Kim Jong-un is sincere and is credible in his talks.

QUESTION: And did South Korea check with this administration before making that proposal to North Korea?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if they did or not.

Okay, anything else on North Korea? Hi.

QUESTION: So will the U.S. be playing any sort of role if these border talks do happen?

MS NAUERT: Well, that would be a hypothetical, but I highly doubt it. Okay.

Hi, sir.

QUESTION: Also on North --

MS NAUERT: Tell me your name again.

QUESTION: Tianyi.

MS NAUERT: And you’re from?

QUESTION: Shenzhen Media Group.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Nice to see you again.

QUESTION: Nice to see you. So Kim Jong-un gave a New Year’s speech and he mentioned that the nuclear button will be used if North Korea’s security is threatened. So do you think it’s a signal of asking for peace, which meaning no threat, then no nuclear war at all?

MS NAUERT: We’ve heard his kind of rhetoric before, so it’s really nothing new. I often don’t comment on the comments of specific foreign leaders, so I’m not going to comment on that. But we’ve heard that kind of thing before and our policy remains the same. We remain committed to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and we hope that at some point we can get there.

Okay, Andrea.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Do you --

QUESTION: See, there’s a policy you don’t have a problem saying what it is even if it hasn’t changed, right? (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: You get an eye roll. Hi. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Do you think – does the administration think it is a good thing that President Moon has responded and is willing to hold talks with the North and that those talks will not include the United States? Are direct talks between North and South a positive or a negative?

MS NAUERT: This is a situation we’re still just assessing right now. The comments were just made yesterday. So I don’t want to get ahead of any official position that we might take on that, but we’re assessing the situation.

QUESTION: Well, yesterday is a long – I mean, 24 hours is a long time to assess whether --

MS NAUERT: It’s a long time in TV news.

QUESTION: -- whether --

MS NAUERT: That’s where it – that’s where it’s a long time.

QUESTION: No, it’s a long time in diplomacy to assess whether direct talks between North and South are a good thing or a bad thing.

MS NAUERT: Well, look, I stated our position so far, and right now, if the two countries decide that they want to have talks, that would be certainly their choice. We have a very strong relationship with the Republic of Korea, as we do with Japan. We have had a strong alliance with them for many, many decades. That hasn’t changed. Kim Jong-un may be trying to drive a wedge of some sort between the two nations, between our nation and the Republic of Korea. I can assure you that that will not happen, that will not occur. We are very skeptical of Kim Jong-un’s sincerity in sitting down and having talks. Our policy hasn’t changed, the South Koreans’ policy has not changed, that we both support a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, as, frankly, does the world.

QUESTION: But is this successfully driving a wedge in that these bilateral talks will not include the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: I don’t think so, Andrea. And again, I’m not going to get ahead of that. Okay?

QUESTION: Yemen?

MS NAUERT: Hi, Rich.

QUESTION: Can I just – could I just get a follow-up on the --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Go ahead. Hi, Dave.

QUESTION: -- on North Korea, though? The goal of your maximum pressure campaign was the diplomatic and economic isolation of the North. Now the North is sitting down with its neighbor and your close ally --

MS NAUERT: Well, they’re not. They’re not. I mean, that’s an idea that’s being discussed.

QUESTION: Well, that both sides have discussed.

MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to get too into that, but --

QUESTION: If they do sit down, that’s a blow for maximum pressure, no?

MS NAUERT: Again, that is a hypothetical. What I can tell you that the United States – and we just saw the UN Security Council resolution that passed a week or so ago. I’m losing track of time with the holiday. But the third --

QUESTION: It’s 2018. (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: -- the third unanimous UN Security Council resolution where countries agreed to sanction North Korea, concerns about North Korea, and concerns about the money and what it’s doing and its activities of ballistic weapons, and also advanced nuclear tests.

So we’re all on the same page. We’re all still working toward and working forward with our maximum pressure campaign. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I ask about Yemen?

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we stay here real quick on --

QUESTION: On North Korea.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: Ambassador Haley said that you’re – I forget exactly how she phrased it – hearing signals or suggestions that the North may be preparing for another ballistic missile test. Is that an ICBM test?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: So you’re not hearing those same signals?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. Some of that might – may be an intelligence matter. She’s the ambassador to the United Nations, I am not, so I am not aware of any of that personally. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. So if now is not the time for the U.S. to be directly talking to North Korea, does that mean that it’s not the right time for a U.S. ally like South Korea to be talking to them?

MS NAUERT: I think I’ve answered that question, okay. Anything else on North Korea?

QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?

QUESTION: Pakistan?

QUESTION: Yemen, real quick.

MS NAUERT: Okay, we’ll go to Yemen.

QUESTION: Yes. A couple weeks ago, the United States called on the coalition led by Saudi Arabia to ease their blockade and their siege of ports and airports and so on. But the last week has seen an intensification in bombing and more civilian deaths and so on. I wonder what – where are you with that? Because that’s been – two weeks have passed, or more than that, since you called on the Saudis and the Arab coalition to ease their blockade.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So not only have we called on them to ease the blockade, we continue to call on them to be very judicious in their use of airpower – also, though, however, understanding that they have – the Saudis – have a legitimate concern about their own security at home. So it’s a delicate balance of sorts.

You know – you and I have talked about this many times – that Yemen is an area that we are deeply concerned about. The medical crisis there, the humanitarian crisis there. The State Department, USAID, and others have put a lot of money, time, and resources into the problem there and into trying to improve the situation there. I’ll check with some of our experts to see if I have anything more for you on that, though.

Okay? Okay. Pakistan.

QUESTION: Heather, why did the administration choose this week to announce it’s withholding aid from Pakistan?

MS NAUERT: Actually, no, we didn’t. That was an announcement that came out back in August, and for some reason, people got interested in it again. But that is not a new announcement that we would hold back on that money.

QUESTION: What is the condition of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship right now, do you think?

MS NAUERT: Pakistan is an important partner. We have a lot of issues in that region. Pakistan knows that, we all know that, and we try to work carefully together on some of those issues, but Pakistan – I don’t want to say that Pakistan can do more, but Pakistan knows what it needs to do. We expect Pakistan – and we’ve made clear, and the President has made clear in the past also through his new strategy that was announced back in August about the Asia – the new Asia strategy – that the United States expects Pakistan to take decisive action against the Haqqani Network and other militants who are operating from its soil. And they need to better – to earn, essentially, the money that we have provided in the past in foreign military assistance, they need to show that they are sincere in their efforts to crack down on terrorists.

QUESTION: The President made that speech in August. Between the August speech and today, what has – has there been any change in Pakistan’s posture, or has there been any movement towards the President’s goals?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think Secretary Tillerson and also Secretary Mattis spent some time over there in Pakistan not too long ago. And they shared with the Pakistani Government and their counterparts our concerns. We would like Pakistan to do more through cooperation. They have a lot; it’s not just us. We’re not the only ones who benefit from it. But they have a lot to gain through additional cooperation on the issue of terrorism. So we expect them to take greater actions.

QUESTION: And would you say they’ve done anything additional in the last four and a half months, or --

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it that way, but I think the President’s tweets and his comments were very clear that we expect Pakistan to do that.

QUESTION: And the President said that $33 billion, or $35 billion in aid. The Pakistani Government has disputed that. Are the President’s figures correct from his tweet of yesterday?

MS NAUERT: You mean in the overall aid number --

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Fifteen years, yeah.

MS NAUERT: -- that the United States has provided over a certain period of time? Let me double check that. But I would go with what he said.

What we are now talking about, the President is talking about, is the $255 million for Fiscal Year 2016 in the Foreign Military Financing. That’s what the President was specifically referring to. Okay?

QUESTION: Can you confirm that Pakistan --

MS NAUERT: We’re going to have to wrap it up.

QUESTION: -- has recalled its ambassador? They’re saying that --

MS NAUERT: Yes. Yes, our ambassador did meet with the Pakistanis – I believe it was last evening – in Pakistan, and he described that meeting with me that – pardon me – he described that meeting to me as a professional meeting. A professional meeting, professional in tone.

QUESTION: But did they recall the ambassador to Washington?

MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Did the Pakistanis recall their ambassador from Washington?

MS NAUERT: Not that I – not that I’m aware of, but I’d have to refer you to the Government of Pakistan for that.

Hi, Conor.

QUESTION: Heather, since you raised the President’s tweet about this, he also called the Pakistanis deceitful, having two – being two-faced --

MS NAUERT: I think Rich actually raised that, but okay.

QUESTION: Well, you – you mentioned it.

MS NAUERT: Oh, I commented that. So therefore, I’m not going to comment on some of these things, because then you all will use that as an excuse.

QUESTION: Well, yeah.

QUESTION: It’s your job to comment.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Exactly. So does the – do you agree with the characterization of the Pakistanis being deceitful, devious, two-faced about the – that they’re playing a double game for far too long?

MS NAUERT: Look, I think the President – and the President’s --

QUESTION: Well, why don’t you just read the tweet?

MS NAUERT: The President’s concern – I don’t have it in front of me, but the President’s concern --

QUESTION: Well, I’ll get it. (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: The President’s concern about Pakistan not taking enough action about terrorism is nothing new. The President had expressed that concern months ago. He expressed this at the beginning of the administration, as have many officials in the United States Government.

QUESTION: Right. Well, the – but he and a lot of other officials in the United States Government also expressed great happiness when – pleasure with the Pakistanis when they managed to – when they – after the rescue of the Canadian-American couple who were being held.

MS NAUERT: Certainly.

QUESTION: So that doesn’t count anymore?

MS NAUERT: Look, we were pleased with their cooperation. We certainly were. We --

QUESTION: But then --

MS NAUERT: -- have addressed that. But they can do more.

QUESTION: And they haven’t.

MS NAUERT: They can do more. I’ll leave it at that. Got to go, guys. Thanks. Have a good day.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Heather, a similar topic? Just that the President also weighed in on the release of Huma Abedin’s emails, and he said that he believes that she disregarded basic security protocol. Does the State Department agree with that? And if so, are there any repercussions for an action like that?

MS NAUERT: Some of that is a hard matter for me to address here because I wasn’t here at that time, a previous administration. So I don’t know exactly what protocol she went through. I’m not aware of what potential ramifications there could be, if any. I can only say that we take our records management very seriously at the State Department. Records were released as a part of a FOIA request. The information was released last Friday. We are working to get through a backlog of FOIA requests. Some of that just takes time. Some of this is a matter of litigation and we can’t comment on matters that are ongoing litigation.

QUESTION: Do you know if there is an ongoing investigation on whether or not she broke any protocol?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. Okay? All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)

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