Department Press Briefing - February 06, 2018

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 6, 2018



TRANSCRIPT:

2:40 p.m. EST

MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you? Good to see you. I didn’t know that you were here today. I thought there was no one from the AP, and I thought, where do we start when we don’t have somebody with the AP? And here you are. (Laughter.) We were just having that debate back there.

Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us. Great to see you all. I’d like to start this briefing today with a colleague of mine from the Department of Defense. Amber Smith is over here, and she has some information to bring you, and then we’ll take a couple of your questions, if you do have questions, about this particular initiative that she’s going to be announcing.

She is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for outreach. She’s joining us today to discuss the DOD’s campaign called This is Your Military. It’s a new DOD initiative aimed at connecting the American public with the military by showing them a unique view into the lives of those who are currently serving our country.

We will highlight, and she will highlight, the hard work of the 7,000 veterans who currently are employed by the Department of State. The initiative will focus on our Marine security guards who protect our embassies worldwide, the National Guard and the reservists, and the approximately 7,000 veterans that the State Department employs around the world. DOD will produce videos to be released as part of an initiative that showcases the National Guard, reservists, veteran success stories who work with the Department of State.

Amber is a senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense for matters related to strategic outreach, community relations, stakeholder engagement, entertainment series, and special outreach events. She also coordinates digital and social media. She’s also very humble; she was a Kiowa pilot, and she served in both Iraq and Afghanistan for our country. So she was in the military; now she serves as a civilian, much like many of our State Department colleagues who serve here in a civilian capacity. And of course, then we have our colleagues who serve in the Marine Corps protecting our embassies.

So with that, I’ll introduce you to Amber, and then we’ll go ahead with the regular briefing. Amber, thanks.

MS SMITH: Thank you, Heather. Good afternoon. Today, fewer Americans have a direct connection to those who serve in the military. Research shows that the civ-military divide is continuing to expand, which threatens the viability and the sustainability of the all-volunteer force, which poses some long-term national security risks. This Is Your Military is a Department of Defense outreach initiative that will educate and inform the American public while introducing them – the less than 1 percent of Americans who are currently serving in the military – to the 99 percent who are not.

We also want to show how the military is relevant to Americans in their daily lives and for future generations, as well as how we are a force for good. We look forward to collaborating with the Department of State by highlighting the Marine security guards that protect our embassies worldwide, the National Guard, the reservists, and the nearly 7,000 veterans that the department employs around the world, who are all a part of the This Is Your Military story.

The initiative will showcase the real lives of those who are serving in the military and correct common misperceptions that exist today. We will encourage Americans to learn about the military’s missions, our capabilities, who is serving, and why they serve. Each month will focus on specific themes. We will release 10 to 15 videos per month on social media that give a behind-the-scenes look into military life. We will have increased coverage of live events as they relate to the military and will collaborate with our external partners to reach an audience that is not normally connected to the military.

We hope you will follow along at #KnowYourMil, @DoDOutreach, and knowyourmilitary.osd.mil.

I’ll take any questions if anybody has anything.

MS NAUERT: Any questions?

QUESTION: What’s the budget for this (inaudible)?

MS SMITH: So we’re using existing resources out of the Department of Defense public affairs outreach office. So we’re just realigning our efforts and tailoring our products to reach a different audience. So it’s all a part of the existing outreach office within the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: What are you going to spend on it?

MS SMITH: We don’t have a specific number. It’s existing resources as we use – that we get given in the budget every year.

QUESTION: And you’re working for Afghanistan? Could you please give me some details? Because Heather mentioned Afghanistan’s name, a program for Afghanistan.

MS SMITH: I think she was mentioning that I served in Afghanistan in the Army, but we’ll be highlighting service members who have served in Afghanistan or will serve in Afghanistan in the future as well.

MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody.

MS SMITH: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Thanks, Amber. Thanks for coming across the river.

Okay. I’d like to start now by giving you an update on the Secretary’s trip to Latin America and also the Caribbean. The Secretary is in the region to promote a safe, prosperous, energy-secure, and democratic hemisphere. He’s also advocating for increased regional attention to the crisis in Venezuela. This morning in Peru he met with the president and also the foreign minister to discuss our strategic partnership, support for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela, and preparations for the 2018 Summit of the Americas.

The Secretary is now in Bogota, Colombia – he just landed a few minutes ago, as a matter of fact – where he will be meeting with the president and also the foreign minister and other senior officials from the government.

His focus is on the UN support – U.S. support for a just and lasting peace in Colombia, our partnership to address the surge in coca and cocaine production, and the peace accord. In addition, he’ll discuss the growing number of migrants from – pardon me, from Venezuela who fled due to humanitarian, political, and economic crisis in their country.

Tomorrow the Secretary will meet with the prime minister and foreign minister in Kingston, Jamaica, where he will be headed next. He will underscore the U.S. commitment to the Caribbean 2020 strategy and discuss energy security and Jamaica’s successful economic reform efforts.

In addition to that, the Vice President, as many of you know, is on his way to Japan today. The Vice President will lead the U.S. presidential delegation to the Winter Olympics in Korea to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the universal values of the Olympic Games and the values that they promote. Vice President Pence will attend the Opening Ceremony on February the 9th along with the Second Lady of the United States Karen Pence, Congressman Ed Royce, General Vincent Brooks, General James D. Thurman, our charge d’affaires from our embassy in Seoul Marc Knapper, and 2002 Olympic Gold Medalist Sarah Hughes. The Vice President looks forward to cheering on Team USA and the athletes and also the para-athletes representing our country and making America proud. He looks forward to personally congratulating the many young athletes who will bring medals back to their families and friends across this great land. His visit will further demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-ROK alliance and underscore the importance of the maximum pressure campaign all around the world against the DPRK and the regime. He will also remind the world of the humanitarian rights abuses – the humanitarian rights abuses that are well-documented.

We encourage all Americans traveling abroad to enroll in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – that is our STEP program – by visiting travel.state.gov, where they can also find useful travel information for the Olympics or in any other international destination they may be visiting.

And finally, I’d like to turn to Turkey, and that is where we’d like to say that the United States is deeply troubled by the February 1 rearrest by Turkish authorities of the Amnesty International Turkey chairman, Taner Kilic. He’s been in pretrial detention since June of 2017. We’re closely following his case along with those against other respected human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, and opposition politicians whose ongoing prosecution under the state of emergency has chilled freedom of expression and raises serious concerns about respect for judicial independence and the due process protections enshrined in the Turkish constitution.

We call on the Turkish Government to end the protracted state of emergency, to release those detained arbitrarily under the emergency authorities, and to safeguard the rule of law consistent with Turkey’s own domestic and international obligations and commitments.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. I guess why don’t we start on the North Korea issue. Both the Secretary and the Vice President have suggested that if something sort of came about spontaneously in PyeongChang that it’s possible there could be some type of dialogue. And I’m curious; given that there’s not a State Department presence on that trip, what would that look like? How – how prepared is the Vice President – how far is he prepared to go, and what would be sort of the limitations for what they would discuss, if that were to happen?

MS NAUERT: So I can’t speak for the Vice President. I can’t speak for the White House. I can only say – well, a couple things. One, our charge d’affaires will be there as a part of the official delegation. Marc Knapper will be there. But there are no plans to meet with any North Korean officials during or after the Olympics; I want to be clear about that. There are no plans to do so. The Secretary and the Vice President said we’ll see what happens when we get to the Olympics and when he’s in the – when the Vice President is in the region.

There is no shift in U.S. policy regarding this. North Korea must, once and for all, abandon its desire for nuclear weapons and also for ballistic missiles. Do away with that desire, stop, and then perhaps we’d be willing to come to the table and have a conversation with them about it.

QUESTION: So when you say --

QUESTION: I have something else, but if you want to do North Korea, then we can circle back.

MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: But when you say we’ll see what happens, what does that dependent upon? Is it dependent upon North Korea’s behavior while at the Olympics? Or when you talk about a sustained show of no provocation, that seems like that would span a greater time than the Olympics anyway. So what are you waiting and seeing?

MS NAUERT: I can just tell you that that is what the Vice President said and that’s what the Secretary said, and we’re on the same page. So I’m not going to get ahead of any of the Vice President’s meetings that he’ll have in Japan or in South Korea or any of that. I’ll just let his words stand for themselves.

QUESTION: Well, could you explain maybe, like are they – what is it based on? “We’ll see what happens.” What happens with what?

MS NAUERT: Yep, I’m going to leave it. I’m going to leave it at that with what the Vice President, also the Secretary, had to say. Okay.

QUESTION: But Heather, do you mean that the U.S. and the Vice President would consider a demand from the North Koreans to have a meeting?

MS NAUERT: I’ve just said we have --

QUESTION: I mean, they’re not asking --

MS NAUERT: We have no plans to do so, and our policy hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: But they would consider a demand from the North Koreans to meet?

MS NAUERT: I have no specifics and we’ve been given no specifics on any individuals. Okay.

QUESTION: Heather, if I’m not mistaken, if Vice President Pence were to have some kind of dealings with the North Korean on this trip, he would be the second-highest U.S. – serving U.S. Government official ever to have done so. The highest was Bill Clinton in the fall of 2000. Why on Earth would you want the second-ranking official in the U.S. Government to meet with a country with which you have so many disagreements? Why would you start with your number-two official; why wouldn’t you just rule that out?

MS NAUERT: We have no plans to meet with North Korea during the Olympics or after the Olympics. We have no plans to do so.

QUESTION: Right, but you haven’t ruled it out. In fact, you very clearly dangled the possibility by failing to rule it out. And I still don’t understand why you would want or even be willing to entertain the possibility of the number-two official in the U.S. Government meeting with North Koreans, given how many disagreements you have.

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of the Vice President and his meetings. The Vice President has a full series of meetings both in Japan and in the Republic of Korea, and I’m not going to get ahead of those. So I’ll leave it at that. Okay?

Okay. Go right ahead. Hi.

QUESTION: Say, Heather, given that it appears to be a message since both gentlemen said – used exactly the same wording, is the State Department considering sending out someone from EAP just to have someone on site to give advice just in case it could come in handy in any way?

MS NAUERT: Not that I’m – not that I am aware of. Okay.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: South Korea.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Let’s – what did you have? Anything else on DPRK, South Korea, something?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

QUESTION: South Korea.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment or reaction to the video posted by Sol Kim, the son of Tony Kim, one of the Americans who’s been detained in North Korea? And also, do you know that his family is saying that the last contact had with them was in June? Can you confirm that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So the video that you’re referring to is of an American who’s been detained in North Korea. And this is a good reminder to all Americans that you should not go to North Korea; it is not a safe place to go to. The safety and the wellbeing of American citizens is one of our top, top issues at the State Department. You may recall last year that our Ambassador Yun, Ambassador Joe Yun, had visited with three Americans when he was in North Korea and was able to visit them. Mr. Kim is one of them that he was able to see. That is the last time that we have made contact with Mr. Kim. From our understanding here, that is the last time that either the United States or Sweden, our protecting power there since we don’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, has been able to see these three Americans who are being detained. Okay.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah, sure. Hi, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, sure. On Gaza. I know I asked you last week, but the situation has deteriorated so bad since then. There is a disturbing article in today’s Post that says, who’s responsible for electricity in Gaza? And they’re suggesting that the regional powers – Israel, Egypt, including the PA, including you – should supply a direly needed power supply, because 10 hospitals have been basically closed or to a bare minimum. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. We’ve certainly seen those reports about the situation and the electricity problems, which we’ve addressed here --

QUESTION: Right.

MS NAUERT: -- in this briefing room before where people have had difficulty getting electricity for sustained periods of time, including hospitals, which, obviously, they desperately need that electricity. It’s a topic that Jason Greenblatt, the President’s special envoy handling Middle East peace negotiations, discussed at length just about a week ago when he was visiting Brussels.

We are calling upon the international community to sit down and have conversations about this to come up with some sort of a resolution, because it’s clear that the people of Gaza continue to suffer and it’s largely of the hands of Hamas, because Hamas has the authoritarian rule over that area. They’ve consistently prevented the development of major electricity and water projects in Gaza. That has been a persistent problem. They’ve been refusing to pay the Palestinian Authority for services that it already provides. Obviously, a tremendous problem.

We’re glad that the Palestinian Authority has decided to restore previous levels of electricity to Gaza, but the electricity is simply not enough. So it’s something we’re watching carefully and that Jason Greenblatt spoke to about a week ago.

QUESTION: I understand, but the power is supplied by Egypt and Israel. Would you call on them to perhaps supply more power as needed?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not going to speak for those other governments, but we do see that there needs to be some sort of an international solution to this because, clearly, the way it’s working right now is just not working.

QUESTION: Now, on Israel and Egypt, one last question. There were reports this past weekend that the Israeli Air Force has been active bombing along ISIS bases and so on in Sinai. Do you have – can you confirm that they are?

MS NAUERT: I can’t. I’d have to refer you to the Israeli Government for that. Okay? All right.

Hi, Laurie.

QUESTION: Hi, how are you? Iraqis – prominent Iraqi figures are calling now for the U.S. to leave. One was a spokesman for the Badr Organization, which includes the head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and they said this should be done as a collaboration between the Iraqi and U.S. Governments. The Kata’ib Hizballah, one of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and headed by a terrorist, has threatened force against U.S. troops to make them leave. What is your response to that?

MS NAUERT: We are in Iraq to defeat ISIS. We are also there, in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi Government. We will stay there as long as the Iraqi Government wants us there to not only continue to help maintain the peace, but also assist with stabilization projects. So threats aside, we’re there at the invitation of the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that political pressures could cause the Iraqi Government to ask you to leave?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of the situation. We have a very good relationship with both the prime minister and also with those in the north as well.

QUESTION: And if I could follow up on your comments on Turkey --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- when you called for – you’re troubled by the Turkish arrests and you called for an end to the state of emergency. The – a – the co-leader of the Democratic Regions Party in Diyarbakir, a prominent political figure, criticized Turkey’s assault in – on Afrin, and he was arrested today. What is your comment? He would be included among these arrests that you deplore?

MS NAUERT: Laurie, I’m not aware of the details of that, so I just don’t want to comment on something I don’t have any information on.

QUESTION: But in general, you oppose any arrests for free speech?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I don’t have the information on that, but you know, I think, our position on the importance of free speech is well documented. But I hesitate to comment on your particular question because I don’t know the details.

Okay, anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: Follow-up?

QUESTION: Syria?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Let’s go to Syria. Hi.

QUESTION: Hi. Just to follow up on your statement about the chemical weapons, Syrian chemical weapons. Given that Russia is blocking the U.S. attempts at the United Nations for a unified international reaction, what are the – your options? What other options are there?

MS NAUERT: Well --

QUESTION: And is there a military option on the table, as General Mattis hinted last week?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m never going to get into potential military options. We have a lot of options, certainly, that are on the table. What you are referring to is Russia’s continued steps to foil attempts at the United Nations Security Council to be able to hold parties responsible who are responsible for chemical weapons attacks. We’ve seen Russia time and time again stand in the way of producing a new forum or a new group, like the Joint Investigative Mechanism, that assigns blame, that assigns culpability for a chemical weapons attack. So Russia has been a real problem on this. You saw that the United States put out a statement – we did just yesterday evening, as did Ambassador Haley – on the very same matter.

This is part of the reason why Secretary Tillerson went to Paris just over a week ago. Secretary Tillerson and 25 or 26 other countries signed on to a document that is – would establish or would work to potentially establish a new mechanism that could assign culpability, assign blame for the use of the chemical weapons attacks. So I think we’re going in two parallel – two parallel movements, one with the international community – that meeting that came out of Paris – and then two – and we’ll wait for the French; I believe they have the lead on setting up any additional meetings in the future, but we anticipate that there will be meetings sometime in the near future. And then there’s the path at the United Nations.

So I don’t want to get ahead of Ambassador Haley and anything that she’s working on there, but I know that the Russian attempts to step in the way or the – Russia’s stepping in the way has been a major problem and has caused incredible concern on the part of the United States Government and many others as well.

QUESTION: You said that --

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: -- assign culpability. How would you do that? How? I mean, what, you would rely on evidence, collected evidence, there would be an international body? I mean, how would you do it?

MS NAUERT: Those are the types of things that were suggested before, that there be an international, unbiased group of people who would be able to go in, collect evidence when it’s safe to do so – that has been part of the problem in the past – and they can – they will work all of that out.

So I don’t have all the details on what proposals might come forward. I think they’re still working through some of them themselves. But I know that Russia, one of the plans that it had tried to advance is giving them the ability to actually veto any results that would come out from this body. So that obviously doesn’t make sense. We need to have an international and impartial group.

Okay? Anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: Just one on South Korea.

QUESTION: Syria.

QUESTION: As you point out in that statement, there have been six of these incidents in a month’s time. So obviously the threat of action, say, at the UN or elsewhere hasn’t been working. The U.S. says in this statement that these incidents must stop. So is this to be seen as a warning of, say, military action being the next step?

MS NAUERT: We have taken military action before. You are all very familiar with the steps that our government took to do that, and this is something – we’re watching the situation. We’re very concerned about it. When you have six attacks in a month, that is a tremendous concern not just to the United States, but the entire world as well. But I’m not going to – I’m not going to forecast any action that may or may not be taken.

QUESTION: Are you issuing a warning to the Syrians?

MS NAUERT: Look, I think I – I think I’ve been clear.

QUESTION: No, I’m --

MS NAUERT: We put out two very strongly worded statements about the use of chemical weapons, and I’ll just leave it at that. Okay? I think I’d refer you back to those statements.

QUESTION: Heather, the kind of body that you’re describing that we’re in discussions to try to form sounds very similar to the joint investigative mechanism that clearly failed, and clearly was susceptible to Russia’s influence at the end. So I realize it’s still in discussion, but is there something that is fundamentally different that would prevent just that situation repeating itself?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think what would be different is that we have 25, 26 countries signing on to this agreement. But again, that – the French are spearheading this, so I just have to refer you to the French for more information.

QUESTION: Well, so these strongly worded statements, should they be seen as some kind of final warning by Syria or by --

MS NAUERT: Those would be your words, “final warning.” I’m not going to go there. I’m not going to parse the words about that, but the United States is tremendously concerned about this as is the world. Okay?

All right, let’s move on.

QUESTION: Iran?

QUESTION: South Korea?

QUESTION: To Poland?

MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s go on to Afghanistan. We’ll come back to you. Hi.

QUESTION: Hi Heather. After the Pakistan attack, Afghan delegation prepared some documents on evidence to show to Pakistan authority. And for the first time, Pakistani authority accepted that – they are – they blamed themselves almost. And after that, Pakistan delegation came to Afghanistan to discuss about peace process or something like that, but still it didn’t work. Pakistani army shooting rockets against – towards Afghanistan. What do you think – although President Trump said they are not able to talk again with the Taliban regarding peace process in Afghanistan?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think what the President was saying – and our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan was just on Capitol Hill where he was testifying about our strategy along with one of his DOD counterparts about our strategy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. What the President was talking about, what our Deputy Secretary was talking about, is that clearly there are elements of the Taliban that are not willing or not interested in sitting down to have successful peace negotiations right now. When you’ve seen the horrific terror attacks that have taken place, specifically in Kabul, what – 130 people or more died within the last two weeks alone. Civilians, including Save the Children – an attack taking place there is despicable and deplorable.

In terms of those attacks, I just want to say that it illustrates how barbaric the Taliban can be. And we hope that Afghanistan will get to the point where the Taliban wants to sit down and have a talk – have talks for peace and reconciliation, but it has to be an Afghan-led peace process.

QUESTION: Iran?

MS NAUERT: All right. Let’s move on to Poland.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Poland. I saw the statement the Secretary issued just before the briefing. In this statement, you don’t repeat the warning about consequences and impact on U.S.-Polish strategic relations that you issued last week. Does it mean that you don’t see this legislation having such kind of impact anymore?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. The legislation is something that we’ve been following very carefully. Our Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell has been engaged in a lot of conversations over the past week with his counterparts in Poland. We are disappointed by the president – President Duda’s announcement that he intends to sign that legislation that would impose criminal penalties for attributing Nazi crimes to the Polish state. The law, which we understand will be referred to Poland’s constitutional tribunal once signed, adversely affects freedom of speech and also academic inquiry.

The United States wants to reaffirm its position. Terms like “Polish death camps” we understand are both painful and they’re also misleading, but we also believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom to have academic freedom so that people can learn about what really happened. Historical inaccuracies, such as calling things “Polish death camps,” they affect our ally Poland greatly, but that has to be debated and handled in a manner in which you have free and open education and discussion and dialogue about that. But we continue to have conversations with the Polish Government about all this.

QUESTION: And do you think that this legislation could have impact on the U.S.-Polish relationships or not?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of what could happen in the future.

QUESTION: Yes, but this is last week.

MS NAUERT: But look, I just want to say that we’ve made our concerns clear.

QUESTION: Heather, what message --

MS NAUERT: Hi, Marcin.

QUESTION: -- are you trying to send to Warsaw now, because there was this warning from last week, the Secretary is talking about his disappointment or the disappointment of the United States now. So what is the message you are trying to send, and what is the next thing you would expect from the authorities in Warsaw?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. And some of these will fall under private diplomatic conversations. Some of these conversations could be firm because there is a very real concern on our part, and I think we’ve made our concerns very clear. But some of these are going to be private conversations because we see that we can best effect change when we have those types of private conversations.

QUESTION: But this conversation will continue, as I understand?

MS NAUERT: Yes, this will continue. What’s your name? Hi.

QUESTION: Magda Sakowska.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Nice to see you. Yes. Okay.

QUESTION: Iran, going back to --

MS NAUERT: Let’s move on.

QUESTION: Syria.

QUESTION: China, Egypt.

QUESTION: Caribbean.

QUESTION: Syria.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Caribbean?

QUESTION: Sure.

MS NAUERT: Oh, let’s go to the Caribbean.

QUESTION: All right.

MS NAUERT: It’s February. Let’s go to the Caribbean.

QUESTION: You’re going to regret that.

MS NAUERT: I know, right? (Laughter.) That’s what I’m wondering. Oh, wait a minute.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Leandro Rizzuto, Jr., the ambassador nominee to Barbados who has a history of spreading baseless conspiracy theories about Senator Ted Cruz’s wife, among others. Senator Ben Sasse is suggesting very strongly he will try to block that nomination of someone that he says wears tinfoil hats. Does the administration stand behind his nomination?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I know he was a nominee put forward by the White House. I’ve not had the opportunity to meet him at this point. I’m not sure what process he is in the overall nominee process, but he hasn’t been through the Senate yet, hasn’t been through confirmation. And when there is a nominee who’s named, we try not to comment on that because that person is a nominee.

QUESTION: It seems like this is kind of a trend right now, between him and the nominee for the UN’s migration agency, who has said that Islam teaches its followers to perpetrate terrorist attacks; the nominee for the deputy perm rep at the UN who has praised far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos; and of course, we remember our situation with Ambassador Hoekstra. I mean, the State Department is obviously intimately involved in vetting some of these people as they’re being considered. Is there a problem with the vetting process?

MS NAUERT: I think there’s probably always more that can be done when we look at individuals, and I’m speaking just broadly. There’s probably always more that can be done but --

QUESTION: Like extreme vetting, maybe? (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: Cute, Michele.

QUESTION: I don’t recall similar things coming up for the vast majority of nominees in prior administrations. You don’t generally --

MS NAUERT: I wasn’t working – I wasn’t working in this kind of position before that --

QUESTION: No, but you --

MS NAUERT: -- so I can’t comment on that.

QUESTION: But you would have probably heard – you probably would have heard of them if there had been, and there have not been a lot of them. So the question isn’t whether more can be done. The question is why doesn’t this administration do more? Or is it in fact the administration’s desire to put forward people who have a record of saying such things to represent the United States abroad?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on that, Arshad. I’m sorry. I can just refer you back to the White House for some of its nominees. Okay?

QUESTION: More Caribbean?

QUESTION: Can you tell us what – does Tillerson currently get, like, veto authority over nominees for ambassadorships the President wants to put forward?

MS NAUERT: I think the White House will put forward names. Sometimes we will have our career people, as you well know. Sometimes we have our charges who are in charge who conceivably could become the next ambassador to a particular post. But the White House and the State Department work on these matters, and they always work in conjunction with one another on that.

QUESTION: But do things like this – I mean, this guy was tweeting things to Mitt Romney like “Satan has a hold of you,” and “God will not forgive you what you did.” Doesn’t this embarrass the State Department?

MS NAUERT: Michele, I don’t have anything for you on that, okay? I don’t have everybody’s tweets under the sun in front of me. Okay?

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: Iran?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.

QUESTION: Thanks. Baquer Namazi was sent back to jail today in – they cut short his medical leave and his family says that it’s tantamount to a death sentence. I wonder what your reaction is and whether the Trump administration – it wants to have a dialogue with Iran about these hostages.

MS NAUERT: We were incredibly disappointed to have learned the news that the Iranian Government put him back in prison. Let me just remind people, or perhaps if some of you haven’t heard about his case before, he is an 81-year-old American citizen. His son also sits in Iranian prison – in the notorious Evin prison. We have been alarmed for some time at his declining health. We know that he’s in urgent need of sustained medical care. We’re deeply disappointed in the fact that he has been returned to prison. We’re concerned about his health. We call for his unconditional release from his unjust detention in Iran, and that renews our calling for all Americans who are being held in Iran and being held unjustly to be returned to the United States. That includes his son Siamak and Xiyue Wang and also Robert Levinson, who has been there for more than a decade.

QUESTION: His brother says that – I mean, Babak Namazi says his brother has been tortured in Iranian jail. He let that news out today. I wonder if you have heard that or have --

MS NAUERT: I had not heard that. I’m – that’s heartbreaking to hear that.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. ready to have some kind of dialogue with Iran about this?

MS NAUERT: Look, if we have the opportunity to have conversations, then we always bring up the safety and security of our Americans, especially our Americans who are being detained. We raise it with Iran at every opportunity. We will continue to do so until their cases are resolved. Okay.

QUESTION: Heather, do you think this suggests that maybe the State Department needs to have a more direct channel, something more than at the meetings of the – to discuss the JCPOA? Perhaps Secretary Tillerson emailing, speaking frequently with Mohammad Javad Zarif? Is there some problem here --

MS NAUERT: Well, Carol, I’m not going to make policy or make commitments on behalf of the Secretary. He will handle it the best way that he sees fit. But I think it’s pretty obvious that we have a number of Americans who have been detained there for quite some time, and we would like for them to come home. Iran should release those Americans. If Iran wants to be considered a part of the world, if they want to be respected by the world, that would be a good way of doing it.

QUESTION: And when you say you raise it at every case, I mean, the only contacts that I’ve seen have been at the JCPOA meetings.

MS NAUERT: Well, our contacts are extremely limited, as you well know. You all would be the first ones knocking on my door if you heard about any contacts. But when we do have the opportunity, we raise the issue of Americans who are being detained.

QUESTION: Heather, it’s been reported that Tom Shannon brought this up, spoke with the Iranians about this in Vienna in December. Can you confirm that that --

MS NAUERT: I’ve seen those reports. I can’t confirm any of that. Okay, all right.

QUESTION: Heather, a question about Russia, the START Treaty.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Let me just go to Ilhan right over here. Ilhan, hi.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Heather. Just to follow up your topper on Turkey, a very strong-worded statement. There are reports today that Secretary Tillerson might go to Turkey. Do you think – first of all, if you can confirm it; and secondly, should we expect from Secretary Tillerson to voice similar concerns if he goes to Turkey?

MS NAUERT: If the Secretary were to go to Turkey – and we haven’t announced any travel or any plans just yet. When we do, I will certainly let you know if Turkey is on the itinerary. But if the Secretary were to go to Turkey, yes, that would be an issue that he would bring up, as we do on every occasion like that.

Okay, anything else? Okay.

QUESTION: On South Korea.

MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just since the drop of the Mr. Victor Cha as the candidate for the ambassador of the U.S. to the South Korea, do you have a new candidate for this post, and how far we still have to wait until that you announce that?

MS NAUERT: Well, first somebody has to be identified, and then they have to be vetted, and then they have to be nominated, and that can be sometimes a lengthy process. So I’d just have to refer you to the White House for any additional information on any appointments right now. But as I’ve said before, we have a terrific charge who’s in charge right there right now, and he’ll be there with the Vice President at the Olympics.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) within weeks or within months that we’ll be --

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to put a timeline on it. We have to identify a candidate first.

Okay, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I wonder if you would comment on yesterday the START Treaty, START III, expired. The relations between the United States and Russia seem to be really – or tensions are very high, probably the worst they have been. I was wondering whether the Secretary of State has spoken to his counterpart, Russian counterpart, of late. The United States has decided to supply Finland, who’s not a NATO country but very close to Russia, with rockets and so on, so could you just update us on this relationship?

MS NAUERT: I can’t confirm what you just suggested about Finland. I don’t have any information on that. But February 5th – that was just yesterday – marked the date that the New START Treaty central limits would actually take effect. The United States and Russia have implemented New START for seven years now. We talked about this just last week. We met the treaty’s central limits in August of 2017, and we anticipate that Russia will meet its limits as well – for its agreements, I should say.

Okay. All right, guys, we’re going to have to wrap it up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead, in the glasses.

QUESTION: Thank you. So yesterday China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Secretary Tillerson has invited China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi to visit the United States later this week. Do you have any detailed information on that? What kind of people will Mr. Yang meet with, and what concrete topics will they address? Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay. I can confirm for you that the Chinese Government has announced and we can confirm that the Chinese state councilor will visit Washington, D.C. later this week. He’s meeting with the Secretary and with other U.S. officials. I don’t have a full readout of who will be in that meeting or a manifest of who will be in that meeting, but they’ll be discussing many areas of mutual interest, including trade, human rights, and also the DPRK.

Okay. And we’re going to have to leave it at that, everybody. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)