Department Press Briefing - February 13, 2018
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:52 p.m. EST
QUESTION: Thanks. Good to be here.
MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everyone. Great to see you again. I’d like to start out today by introducing you to a colleague of mine. I assume by now many of you have been over to the U.S. Diplomacy Center, which is over on the 23rd Street[i] side, that beautiful building over there, which is meant to eventually house a lot of historical items about the State Department and the work that we do here.
I’d like to introduce you this afternoon to Dr. Alison Mann. She is the public historian at the Diplomacy Center. So think about all the interesting stuff that she gets to learn about and research in line with her job. She’s here today to talk about American – African American History Month and an event that is taking place at the Diplomacy Center tomorrow. It is open press, so we’d like to invite you, and Dr. Mann is going to tell you a little bit about it, take a few questions if you have questions, and then I’ll take over from there.
Dr. Mann, go right ahead.
MS MANN: Thank you. Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you, Heather, for giving us the opportunity to present this exciting event to you. So just a little background about the Diplomacy Center. We are located at the State Department’s 21st Street entrance. And the United States Diplomacy Center will be the first museum and education center dedicated to telling the story of American diplomacy, the history of American foreign policy, and illustrating the importance of American diplomacy for our nation’s security and economic prosperity.
Through exhibits and artifacts, we aim to inspire our visitors to explore the history, practice, impact, and challenges of diplomacy, and to honor our nation’s diplomats. The center is made possible through public-private partnerships which raise private funds in support of the center’s construction, programs, and exhibits.
Some exhibits will be open to the public in late 2019, and in the meantime we’re actively engaged with the American public through our education programs, social media outreach, and public programs.
Tomorrow, on the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth, we are delighted to present a program commemorating two of our nation’s first African American diplomats, Ebenezer Bassett and Frederick Douglass. Next slide, please. I have pictures.
In this lithograph behind me, this is from 1883. It’s titled “Distinguished Colored Man.” And in the period after the Civil War, African American intellectuals entered high-level positions in the federal government, serving as senators and governors, congressmen, and U.S. ministers. Back then they weren’t referred to as ambassadors; they referred to them as ministers. And please note Douglass in the center. He’s probably recognizable to you. Ebenezer Bassett is below, and he is surrounded by many more accomplished men – former enslaved African Americans, the first graduate from Harvard, abolitionists, and writers. Next slide, please.
This is a photograph of Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, our nation’s first African American diplomat. He was born in Connecticut. He studied at the Connecticut Normal School, and he also did pursue classes at Yale. And he was a scholar and educator, also an abolitionist, but he was also an internationalist, and he was appointed by President Grant as minister to Haiti in 1868. He was already then fluent in French. And the U.S. had established diplomatic ties with Haiti in the midst of the Civil War, in 1862, and you may say, oh, well, that was coinciding with the Emancipation Proclamation. So he was not the first minister to go to Haiti, but he was – he went there in 1868. Next slide, please.
We’ll also have two panelists speaking with me at the event tomorrow. This is Christopher Teal. He is a career Foreign Service officer. He’s an expert on Ebenezer Bassett, and this is a picture of him talking at Yale University about the research that he’s done. He published a book on Ebenezer Bassett called Heroes of Hispanola, and he is currently doing a documentary about the life of Ebenezer Bassett. Next slide, please.
And have you ever been across the river to Anacostia to Frederick Douglass’ home? Some of you have. This parlor is very interesting. Frederick Douglass became minister to Haiti in 1889; he spent two years there. And his interaction with the Haitian people, he developed a great love for them and their culture, and you can very much see this in the Douglass house when you go. The wallpaper is Haitian-inspired, and there are several artifacts there that also talked about Frederick’s time in Haiti. So it’s really interesting to go visit. It’s operated by the National Park Service, and they are partnering with us on this event. So that’ll be our third speaker that we’ll have there tomorrow. And the final slide, please.
This is one of the exciting things that you’ll be able to see – some of the items belonging to Frederick Douglass. This was the Panama hat that he wore when he was in Haiti and brought back with him. So we’ll have a few more items for folks to look at. So please do, if you can, join us tomorrow as we commemorate the diplomatic service of these very two distinguished African Americans.
And I also wanted to mention that we have a new exhibit – it’s just being installed today – about jazz diplomacy. And several prominent African American musicians engaged in jazz diplomacy, particularly during the Cold War, and so they’ll be featured there as well. And if you’d like a tour of that, please do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in looking at the exhibit. So thank you for your time, and I’ll take a couple questions.
MS NAUERT: That’s fascinating. Thank you so much. Any questions here? Laurie.
QUESTION: Could you explain a little bit more about jazz diplomacy and what that event is about?
MS MANN: Yes. So jazz diplomacy was musicians who the State Department – they’re citizen diplomats, essentially. And so they were going over into Soviet bloc countries. It was soft diplomacy, promoting jazz through music and a way to combat Soviet propaganda.
QUESTION: And you’ve got, like, a museum or an event?
MS MANN: So we have photographs showing them there, and they’re in the Diplomacy Center at the 21st Street Entrance. If you leave today – I mean, I just walked through so a lot of the photographs are already up, but we’re happy to give you a tour if you wanted to do a story on it.
MS MANN: Please do contact us.
MS NAUERT: And go right behind. Radio Marti.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS MANN: Hi.
QUESTION: Hi. Have you had this jazz diplomacy taking place anywhere else?
MS MANN: I’m sorry? In the exhibit?
QUESTION: No, no. In other parts, in other areas, in other countries.
MS NAUERT: She’s from Cuba.
MS MANN: Oh, I see. I don’t know. If you can – if you can be in contact with us, I can give you an exact list of countries that the museum has visited. I know, for instance, there’s a very famous photograph of Louis Armstrong sitting on a camel when he was in Egypt.
MS MANN: Yeah, it’s a great photo. It’s an awesome photo. But I can find that information out for you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anybody else? All right.
MS MANN: All right,
MS NAUERT: Thank you so much, Dr. Mann.
MS MANN: Thank you. We really appreciate it.
QUESTION: Just one quick one?
MS MANN: Yeah.
QUESTION: Obviously, I can contact you if I wanted a tour as a journalist. But if I’m just a tourist, when do I come – I’m just wondering – to see – can members of the public just come in?
MS MANN: To the event tomorrow or to see jazz diplomacy.
QUESTION: To see jazz diplomacy or the African American exhibit.
MS MANN: Because we’re not fully open to the public yet, we’re asking that the public contact us via our website so that we know that they’re coming in.
MS MANN: Yeah. So it’s mostly just groups that we’re doing now.
QUESTION: What’s the website?
MS MANN: Our website is diplomacy.state.gov.
QUESTION: So is this like a one-day event?
MS MANN: The event is tomorrow about African American diplomats. Yes, it’s a one-day event. Jazz diplomacy will be up for about two months.
QUESTION: I’ll be there.
MS MANN: Excellent. We look forward to it. Thank you. Thank you so much again. Bye.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: And we get a lot more questions from these all about you than we do about – (laughter) --
MS MANN: Oh, I’m sure not. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: -- some of the more dramatic things in the world. Thank you so much, Doctor. We sure appreciate it. If anybody has any additional questions or needs any information about the event, the time, et cetera, please just let us know and we’re happy to help you out. But love to have the opportunity to bring you some of our experts here.
A few announcements I’d like to start off with before taking your questions today, and the first starts in Pakistan, where we’d like to say that we’d like to join the Government of Pakistan and others around the world in mourning the passing of a Pakistani human rights and democracy advocate. Her name was Asma Jahangir. For years Ms. Jahangir courageously defended the rights of those who did not have a voice. She championed the rule of law, democracy, and human rights around the world, including in Iran.
As a global icon in human rights, she founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She served as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. Most recently, she served as UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, tirelessly fighting on behalf of the Iranian people as they demanded freedom, dignity, and human rights. Her passing is a great loss to the world, and she will be missed as a champion in her country, its people, and millions more around the world.
Secondly, I’d like to bring to your attention something that’s coming from our INL Bureau. They handle drugs and all that stuff. And as a part of U.S. efforts to bolster Central America’s fight against transnational crime, the State Department and the U.S. Coast Guard partnered to refurbish and donate two Coast Guard cutters to the Costa Rican Coast Guard. U.S. and Costa Rican officials are commemorating the partnership today in Baltimore, Maryland, where the Costa Rican Coast Guard is now receiving 10 weeks of training with the U.S. Coast Guard.
The cutters will provide Costa Rica with its ability to effectively patrol to the full extent its Pacific waters, a prominent transit zone for illicit drugs coming to the United States. Costa Rica ranks as the second-highest in the Western Hemisphere for transshipment of cocaine, following the country of Mexico. Through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, INL, and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the State Department partners with Costa Rica to improve border security, strengthen rule of law, and also fight transnational crime.
Next, I’d like to talk a little bit about the Secretary’s trip in the Middle East. Earlier today, Secretary Tillerson attended a minister-level meeting of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS. This took place in Kuwait. The coalition now continues to grow, and we welcome its newest member today, the Philippines, which has now become the 75th member of the D-ISIS Coalition.
The Secretary discussed the incredible progress that has been made in the fight against ISIS, but he also emphasized how the fight is not over. The Secretary was pleased to announce that the United States intends to provide nearly $200 million in additional funding to further support critical stabilization and early recovery initiatives and areas liberated by ISIS – from ISIS in Syria.
He probably noted that 98 percent of the territory once held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria has now been liberated, approximately four and a half million Iraqis, and 3.2 million Syrians have now been freed. The fact that ISIS still poses a serious threat to our homeland and other parts of the globe cannot be stressed enough. The fight against ISIS has evolved, and now so has the coalition. We welcome the Philippines.
And then finally, as many of you know, the Secretary took part in an Iraq reconstruction conference just a short while ago. That conference seeks to bring together the donor community, civil society, and the private sector to help address – Iraq address its reconstruction needs following the devastation from ISIS. It’s a three-day forum to showcase private sector investment opportunities, and it also serves to generate interest about Iraq as a good business and investment opportunity.
At the event today, the Secretary was pleased to announce that the United States is committed to supporting the U.S. private sector in Iraq through the work of the Export-Import Bank, Ex-Im, and also the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC. To signal its strong commitment, the Ex-Im Bank and Iraq’s Ministry of Finance will today sign a $3 billion memorandum of understanding. It will set the stage for future cooperation across key sectors of Iraq’s economy, including oil and gas transportation, and also commodities.
OPIC, which supports development through a model of investment rather than aid, has five active projects in Iraq, totaling $250 million, right now. It’s currently reviewing more than $500 million worth of new project proposals in Iraq. The projects are helping to increase the supply of affordable housing in the country, and helping entrepreneurs and small businesses access financing to start and expand their businesses. This will create jobs and opportunity in the region.
As the Secretary wraps up his participation in the D-ISIS ministerial and also the Iraq reconstruction conference, I want to take a moment to address some of the negative reports on the Iraq reconstruction conference that have come out today. The reports mischaracterized the conference as a pledging conference. This was never intended to be a pledging conference. That is a false premise. The idea is to show some of the companies and some of the other countries that are participants in this conference Iraq’s plan, which was just rolled out yesterday, its financial plan. Companies and also countries can take that plan home, they can take a look at it, and determine what is best for them.
So again, this was never intended to be a pledging conference, but rather the initial rollout on behalf of the Iraqi Government. The Government of Iraq has just rolled out its 10-year reconstruction program. The Iraq Government understands, along with experts who work that these issues within the international community will take years for Iraq to recover from the devastation that was caused by ISIS. ISIS terrorists took a scorched-earth approach to their occupation of Iraq. They left behind tens of thousands of IEDs and other explosive devices in homes and schools and hospitals – you name it. This requires a long-term commitment not just from the United States. We will continue to support that, but from many other countries as well, as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Iraqi people.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. And thank you for your patience.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Why don’t we start in the Middle East.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: First of all, just briefly, I imagine you probably don’t have a lot on this, but does the U.S. have any reaction to the Israeli police recommending that Prime Minister Netanyahu be indicted on corruption and other charges?
MS NAUERT: Thank you for that question. The only thing I have to say about that is that the United States has a very strong relationship not only with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also the Israeli Government. We’re certainly aware of it, but we consider it to be an internal Israeli matter.
QUESTION: And then the Palestinians over the last few days seem to have slightly walked back their earlier declaration that the U.S. was disqualified as a mediator in this. They’re now suggesting the U.S. can’t be the only mediator, but that maybe if there were some type of expanded Quartet situation with other countries involved that the U.S. could retain some role in that. Is the U.S. open to being only one of a number of folks trying to mediate the resolution the President’s talked about?
MS NAUERT: This is a policy priority for the President and this administration. I think the ultimate goal that we’d like to see is peace in the Middle East. Part of that will be resolved – or a big part of that will be resolved through the Israelis and the Palestinians sitting down together to have a conversation. I think if other countries can encourage that to happen, that that would certainly be helpful, but I’m not aware of any specific proposals, so I would hesitate to comment on that further.
QUESTION: What about the role of the Russians vis-a-vis Israel right now? I mean, it seems like Putin has been pushing Netanyahu to back off on some of the recent Israeli actions in Syria. I mean, are you concerned that we may be ceding some leverage with Israel to Russia, like we have in Syria?
MS NAUERT: I feel like this question comes up a lot, how we feel about Russia trying to have better relations, stronger relations, or brand-new relations with another country. I’m fully confident, and this government is fully confident, in its relationship with Israel, with the Government of Israel, and with the prime minister. And I don’t think that anything is going to come between our relationship and the Israeli Government’s.
QUESTION: Heather, if I may follow up?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, certainly. Hi, Said.
QUESTION: Look, you have a framework. It’s the Quartet. I mean, the Quartet is Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations. So there is a framework to negotiate a settlement. So it’s there. What is your comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Look, I would just say, Said, I’m not going to ahead of any potential new types of negotiations or phone calls or meetings that may come in to play.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you on the settlement issue a couple questions.
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday the White House denied that they were in talks with the – with Mr. Netanyahu over the annexation of the settlement blocks. Very strongly denied it. But other than that, this administration has not really condemned or taken a very strong position against settlement building. I mean, we have seen in the last few days – just allow me for a second – over the last few days, we have seen building expansion settlements outside Nablus. Then today, the Israeli Knesset basically extended civil law over academic institutions inside the settlements, which basically makes them part of Israel and a part to annexation by other means.
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of the last point that you brought up --
MS NAUERT: -- but we have been very clear about this, that additional settlement activity, unrestrained settlement activity, does not advance the prospect for peace. We have also had numerous conversations with the Government of Israel where the Government of Israel has said that it would take into consideration before making decisions the President’s concern about unrestrained settlement activity. So we’ve talked about that a lot, we’ve covered that quite a bit, and so I think we’ve been clear about that.
QUESTION: So you would oppose any measures that would be annexation by other means, like, extending civil law over institutions in the settlements?
MS NAUERT: Look, I can be clear and very clear about this, that the idea of what you just mentioned is not something that came up between the U.S. and the Government of Israel.
QUESTION: And I promise one last one. There is a Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamimi, who is – today was brought before a military court – nobody knows what’s going on behind closed doors. She’s there because she slapped an Israeli soldier who was raiding her home in the middle of the night back in December. Do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m certainly aware of that report. Many of us here at the State Department are. I would say we’re always concerned about the use of force, about any credible reports of excessive use of force. All individuals, especially children, should be treated humanely and with respect and in accordance of the law. Okay?
QUESTION: Would you call on the Israelis to let her go?
MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get in the middle of what is going on over there with regard to this. But just let me make it clear one more time: We are always concerned about excessive use of force, about reports of excessive use of force, especially as it pertains to children. Okay? All right. Shall we move on?
QUESTION: Yeah, just a follow-up on the --
MS NAUERT: Hi, Dave.
QUESTION: -- not on the Tamimi case, but broad – well, broadly on Israel.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Obviously, the White House has taken the lead on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but there’s a lot of other elements to the U.S. alliance with Israel. In particular, Israel is very deeply implicated in what’s going on in Syria. Why isn’t Secretary Tillerson going to make a stop in Jerusalem during this trip in the Middle East?
MS NAUERT: Look, putting together these trips is very complicated. You have to pull together a lot of different people’s schedules at the same time, and make sure that they are completely in sync. As you well know, we have a very strong relationship with Israel. We have a strong relationship with the Israeli people and the Government of Israel. There is no question about that.
The Secretary had a 21-minute phone call with the prime minister on Saturday not long after we learned about the incident that happened with the Israeli jet. I kind of liken that to my relationship with my best friend from junior high school, Julie. She lives in the Midwest. Every time I go to the Midwest, I don’t get to see my friend Julie. Every time that Secretary Tillerson is going to go to the Middle East, he’s not going to be able to hit every single country. But there is no doubt in the mind of the Israeli Government officials or our government officials that our bond is strong. And had the prime minister asked Secretary Tillerson to join him there, which he never did, I imagine if our schedules coincided, that we would have done that, but we were not asked to do so. Okay? Any other questions related to this? Okay, Laurie, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday a senior State Department official told reporters that Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi would disband the Popular Mobilization Forces, yet the deputy commander of those forces, Al-Mohandis, was a terrorist involved in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait, has vowed not to do so. Do you really believe that Abadi has the will and ability to disband the Popular Mobilization Forces?
MS NAUERT: First, let me say that Secretary Tillerson, in his meetings in Kuwait today, spent a little bit of time with Prime Minister Abadi. I can give you a partial readout of that in just a minute if you’d like that. Let me address your question, though, first.
We have every confidence in the prime minster of Iraq. He has clearly demonstrated not only his leadership; he’s demonstrated his capability, his competence, and his ability in our shared fight against ISIS. I just want to be very, very clear about that.
The PMF, by law, are supposed to be under the governance of the prime minister of Iraq and falling under the central government of Iraq. There are some what we would call undisciplined PMF forces that aren’t always following the rules, and that’s a tremendous concern of ours. So we certainly acknowledge that. All armed actors should operate within Iraq’s state security framework and answer to the prime minister. We hope they will. Okay.
QUESTION: So, but the senior State Department official in the transcript that you put out said that these forces, they would either be incorporated into the Iraqi Army or that they would go home, as if the PMF structures would no longer exist. Do I understand correctly?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure, I’d have to dig down further into the details on that of what our – what my colleague meant by that exactly. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Hold on one second. I just want to try to find Laurie the readout of that, because the Secretary had quite a few pull-asides, if you all are interested on any specific country. I can certainly provide you that. Okay, so the Secretary actually sat down for a bilat with Prime Minister Abadi, and it’s a little lengthy so let me just read this to you:
After participating in the Defeat ISIS ministerial in Kuwait, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with the prime minister of Iraq. The Secretary congratulated Prime Minster Abadi and the Iraqi people on the retaking of all territory previously held by ISIS and acknowledged their sacrifices in the shared fight against ISIS.
The Secretary expressed his support for a unified, democratic, federal, and prosperous Iraq, and a stable and viable Iraqi Kurdistan region as part of the Iraqi state. He commended the prime minister for his leadership and for its efforts to improve the Baghdad-Erbil relations. The leaders discussed ways to accelerate the critical work of stabilization and help bring millions of displaced Iraqis safely back home.
Both recognize that Iraq is at an important juncture in its history. They discussed the U.S.-Iraq relations in the post-ISIS era and the important role that the Strategic Framework Agreement will play to strengthen and deepen our strategic cooperation with Iraq, especially in the areas of trade and finance.
Finally, the Secretary conveyed that the Iraq reconstruction conference would provide an important opportunity for the Government of Iraq to showcase attractive investment opportunities for foreign investors, including many American companies, and to demonstrate, in the Secretary’s words, that ‘Iraq is open for business.
Okay. Hi, Barbara.
MS NAUERT: Not that I am aware of. But if I recall correctly, I think the Brits took away their citizenship, if I recall correctly. So I’m not sure where that leaves them in terms of status. I can see if I can find out something more for you. That, however, might be something that falls under the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Yes, because the administration seems to have made it pretty clear it wants countries of origin to repatriate and try or deal with them, but --
MS NAUERT: I know that Secretary Mattis was talking about that today. I’ve not had a chance to review Secretary Mattis’ comments, so I don’t want to step on anything that he potentially said or change that in any way.
QUESTION: Do you know whether it’s an area of contention?
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. But again, I can look into this and try to get you some information on that.
Okay. Where would you like to go next? Hi. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: One on Pakistan, please. Pakistan has recently made an amendment in its law to automatically add individuals and groups sanctioned by the UN Security Council as banned in the country, and this comes after a U.S. push to add Pakistan on a global terrorism finance watchdog list. Would the U.S. consider taking back its motion or softening its stance now that Pakistan is also changing its --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, Cindy, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to get back to you on that. Let me look into that.
QUESTION: Sorry, that was late question.
MS NAUERT: No, not at all. Let me look into that for you.
QUESTION: On Mexico.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: So Senator Baldwin of Wisconsin had sent a letter to the Secretary about these cases of tainted alcohol in Mexico. In her letter, she says that the State Department is creating a process for collecting and analyzing over 140 U.S. citizens’ stories of experiences – either injuries or deaths – due to tainted alcohol. Can you confirm whether or not you guy have received the letter, and whether or not you have set up such a process?
MS NAUERT: Sure. This is a story we’ve talked about for quite a few months now. I recall we first spoke about it – I think it was during spring break or sometime last summer when we first started receiving reports about American citizens who were concerned or thought that they might have been sickened by what we called tainted or unregulated alcohol in Mexico. That is a tremendous concern on the part of the U.S. Government. The safety and security of our U.S. citizens as they’re traveling overseas is one of our very top issues.
We have received Senator Baldwin’s letter. We are reviewing that letter and will respond to that appropriately. We have – the State Department – 17 reports from individuals who have shared their concerns, their belief that they may have experienced or suffered from tainted or unregulated alcohol. That’s the number that the State Department has, 17. I want to be clear to everyone who may be traveling to Mexico at some point: If something were to occur where you feel that you have come in contact with this, please contact the State Department. You all have heard us before. You can contact our embassy and we take in some of those reports. We are not able to prosecute, because it is not our country. That’s up to the Mexican Government to do that, but we’re able to at least track some of the reports.
This is also a good reminder for Americans who are traveling overseas, whether it be Mexico or any other country, to sign up on our State Department website for our STEP program. You can go to travel.state.gov for that information. That enables you to put in your phone number, put in your email address so in the case of an emergency, if something were to happen, we needed to reach American citizens to help them in some sort of way, that is how we would reach them.
QUESTION: In her letter – I know you said you obviously can’t prosecute cases in Mexico, but the senator says she believes there is a – there are systemic issues related to not only illicit alcohol but weak and corrupt law enforcement and judicial institutions and absence of the rule of law and an overall dangerous environment for U.S. citizens in Mexico. Is that a view that the State Department shares?
MS NAUERT: There is information on our website about the safety levels of different states in Mexico. It varies, so I don’t want to paint everything with one broad brushstroke. That’s why I would encourage anyone who’s interested in traveling to take a look at that. The vast majority of Mexico is safe. There are some spots where we’ve been very clear that can be dangerous, and that’s why we would encourage you to go to the website, look at those specific regions, and learn more about where you intend to go.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one last question on this?
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: She also calls on the State Department to actually do more for Americans who have been affected. Are there any ongoing analyses or investigations about what more the State Department could do, whether or not you have maybe not done enough in the past?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think we have always and often said this, that the safety and security of Americans is our top issue. We are collecting this information. We are gathering some of those reports. We represent Americans and assist Americans when they are overseas. We would urge somebody if they were sick not only to contact our embassy but to seek immediate medical attention if they feel that they have been affected by this.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: So you all have been urging – really pleading – with the Turkish Government not to move their operation eastward from Afrin towards Manbij. In response to some of those calls from the U.S., President Erdogan said to those who say if they hit us we will respond with force, it is “clear” that they “have never experienced” the “Ottoman slap.” So I guess, first of all, has the U.S. experienced the Ottoman slap? (Laughter.) I mean, do you know what he’s referring to? Do you have any thoughts on – I mean, this is a relevant question because it speaks to just the really dire situation between the U.S. and this NATO ally. Tillerson’s going to be there in a few days.
MS NAUERT: Certainly. As you all know, Secretary Tillerson is going to Turkey, and that’s where he will be meeting with our counterpart. We have had a series of high-level meetings with the Turkish Government about our concerns, about the escalation of violence in Syria, in particular in the Afrin area – which, by the way, we are not operating, but nonetheless, it is a concern of ours. I think the Secretary has been very clear with President Erdogan about our concerns, about their very legitimate security concerns. We understand that Turkey, our NATO ally, has legitimate security concerns from some operating in parts of Syria. We understand that; we would like to be able to speak with them about what would be a solution that would work not only for them but for those in Syria and the United States and others as well.
I don’t want to get ahead of some of the Secretary’s conversations, and as funny as the comment was that you explained to me, I’m not going to respond to every foreign leader’s comment, and – if you understand that.
MS NAUERT: Okay, we can stick more on Turkey. Does that – you got it?
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, I guess to your point, when you say you’ve talking with them about ways to address – I mean, it was several weeks ago when they started their operation that we were talking about some type of joint arrangement to have some stability in that part of northern Syria. I mean, has there been any progress in that? Have you been meeting with them on it?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think the – one of the bigger ways that we are making progress is that the Secretary is going there to Turkey himself. I think that shows just how serious this matter is, and how seriously regarded. General McMaster was talking with them not too long ago. I know we’ve had many of our experts who are there on the ground having daily engagement with the Turkish Government about this matter. This is one of the areas of deep, deep concern on the part of the administration and the U.S. Government. We certainly don’t want to see things further – violence further escalate there. So we’re watching it very carefully, but I’m not going to get ahead of some of the Secretary’s meetings that he’s going to have.
QUESTION: Do you have any objection to the Turks renaming the street on which our embassy is located to the name of the military operation that we wish that they were not doing?
MS NAUERT: I heard that. I also heard that Russia was thinking about doing the same thing. I think that would be largely an internal matter. If a city decides it wants to rename a street something, especially in Turkey or Russia, where we support freedom of speech, they can call it whatever they want. As long as it’s in accordance with their own law, we’re fine with that.
MS NAUERT: Okay let’s – hold on, let’s stick with Turkey here before we go on anywhere else.
QUESTION: And so the --
MS NAUERT: Dave, hold on, and then we’ll go to Ilhan.
QUESTION: Okay, go.
QUESTION: Thank you. There are reports that in Turkey there is another U.S. consulate worker arrested in recent weeks, and he has been under house arrest for weeks now. Do you have any information on that? Have you been --
MS NAUERT: I’m certainly aware of the situation. I don’t have any information that I can give you on that at this time.
QUESTION: One more --
MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: One more question.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, a couple weeks ago, denied that there are no work on to create border guards in Syria. Yesterday, Pentagon budget revealed that there are about 200 million – millions dollars will be spent on the train and equip Syrian border guards. Can you explain that? Are you trying to create this forces or not?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you, I had a heck enough of a time getting through the State Department budget. I certainly haven’t read the Department of Defense’s budget. I know they have a briefing on Thursday, so I’d encourage you to reach out to the Department of Defense to find out exactly what is it their budget.
I know we have tremendous security concerns about eastern Syria in particular, where we are working with coalition partners to help prevent ISIS from coming back in, and to eventually allow people to be able to go back into their homes where it’s safe enough to do so.
Dave, you had something on Turkey too. Yeah.
QUESTION: In your response to Josh’s question, you said that the United States is very concerned about the rising levels of violence in Afrin and you’d brought that up with the Turks. But do you – are you – to go to the heart of his question, I suppose, are you also concerned about the rising anti-American rhetoric from the Turkish Government?
MS NAUERT: Okay, I think we’re used to that kind of rhetoric, whether it’s from the Turkish Government or from other governments, and so that’s why we don’t get too riled up about that. We hear other governments, other foreign leaders say things about us, post things about us on social media, all of that. It’s not going to get us riled up. We’re sticking to the policy.
QUESTION: But most of the other countries that criticize you in these terms are not your allies.
MS NAUERT: It doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. We’re not going to go there; we’re taking the high road. This is something that we recognize that Turkey has legitimate security concerns. We will talk with our ally about their legitimate security concerns and also our concerns about the escalation of violence. We don’t want to see civilians killed, we don’t want to see people killed, we don’t want to see the fight move away from the fight against ISIS. That needs to be the priority.
Secretary Tillerson announcing that $200 million going to Syria to stabilization today, that is so important that we can keep ISIS out, defeat ISIS, keep ISIS out, get people back home. And the last thing we need to do is turn our attention away from ISIS and on to something else. I think folks back there want to go home, and that’s really what it should be all about.
Ilhan, if I can go back to you for one – for one second, I know that you have asked me often in the past – not very recently, but about one of your members of parliament, Mr. Berberoglu.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, and so --
QUESTION: Berberoglu, yes.
MS NAUERT: If you’re interested in that, I have a little update.
QUESTION: Would be great, thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay, I have an update for you. There have been quite a few media reports out about this member of parliament, his name is Enis Berberoglu?
MS NAUERT: Berberoglu, thank you. Okay, thank you. It’s – we consider it to be a complex case. We remain seriously concerned about the widespread arrest and pre-trial detention in Turkey on a range of individuals who are critical of the Turkish Government. He was one who was considered to be critical of the Turkish Government.
So we want to take this opportunity to remind the Government of Turkey that freedom of expression, including freedom of speech, freedom for the media to operate – I know our Turkish reporters care very deeply about that – freedom of speech, including times when that speech can become very uncomfortable for a government or a regime – that needs to be protected, that freedom of speech. More voices, not fewer voices, are necessary in some of these challenging times. We want to urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of the press, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. So Ilhan, I know you’ve taken an interest in that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: You haven’t asked me about for a while, but I had some new info so I wanted to bring you that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Egypt. Egypt.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you had any updates on Andrew Brunson. He’s an American imprisoned in Turkey --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- or any message – the last time he was able to see consular staff and any message to the Turks in advance of the Secretary’s visit there on him?
MS NAUERT: You’re referring to Pastor Brunson. He’s an American citizen; he’s been detained in Turkey well over a year now. I believe it’s – goodness, been closer to the year and a half, I believe. Secretary Tillerson, this is an issue that is important to him. I know that he has brought it up with the government, I know that the Vice President and the President have in the past brought up that issue as well.
Pastor Brunson, the last three dates that I have for him in which he was able to be seen by U.S. officials was August the 24th, 2017. He was seen by some of our embassy colleagues on September the 18th of 2017. And we just saw him on February the 6th of 2018, so that was the last time that we were able to visit him. Those are our consular officers, actually, who were able to see him. So we continue to provide appropriate consular services both to Mr. Brunson and his family, but I’d have to refer you to his attorney for any questions about the specific case. Okay.
MS NAUERT: All right. Anything else on Turkey?
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right, let’s move on ahead to --
MS NAUERT: Syria.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on.
QUESTION: Syria. Syria.
MS NAUERT: Let’s go ahead on just – go --
QUESTION: Cuba. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Cuba. We’ll take Cuba.
QUESTION: Thank you. I – regarding the budget.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: The assistance given to human rights and pro-democracy groups, supporting human rights and pro-democracy groups within Cuba has been halved from 20 to 10 million in this proposal for the budget. Given the treatment of, for example, religious people in Cuba, the persecution, the increase in harassment to religious groups, et cetera, how can you – what is the judgment made to be – to halve that type of assistance to the human rights groups?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think as we look at putting the budget together and our numbers come from OMB, and then we negotiate and work with Congress, so we’re not an endpoint; we’re at sort of a middle to a starting point phase right now as we look at our overall budget.
As it pertains to Cuba, to your question, last year for the year 2018 – right now, we’re looking at the budget for 2019. So last year for 2018, it was actually zero for democracy promotion in Cuba. The President then undertook his Cuba Policy Review and made some changes about how this government views the Government of Cuba and how we want to handle our relations with Cuba. This year, we’ve come with the number of $10 million for democracy promotion, so up significantly from zero last year. Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: But Heather, when (inaudible) – when you were discussing the – the Cubans had raised some complaints about the Cuba Internet Task Force that held a meeting here recently, saying that basically that the State Department is trying to subvert Cuba’s government. I think you called that ridiculous and maybe ludicrous, but I mean, if we have money built into our budget to promote a different system of government in a country than what the system they currently have – I mean, how can you say that that’s not attempt to subvert their government?
MS NAUERT: Well, the internet task force that you’re talking about was a pulled-together group sponsored here at the State Department – a group of NGOs, but also people from the private sector, because we believe that the Cuban people should have free and full and unfettered access to the internet. They don’t. It’s cost-prohibitive in many places; people don’t have the access that a government should give them. So we’re doing what we can with the budget that we have, and determining where we can best use our resources. And some folks putting that together felt that that was the right dollar amount for that. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Afghanistan. Let’s go right ahead. Hi.
MS NAUERT: That we are? Okay.
QUESTION: That’s what they said.
MS NAUERT: All right. No, no. Absolutely not. However, I can tell you that in the Secretary’s D-ISIS coalition ministerial – it’s not the Secretary’s; it’s the coalition D-ISIS ministerial, which contains 75 countries. As they were meeting today, the Secretary and some of the other nations were encouraging the partner states and entities to take a broader look at ISIS. This coalition was formed together first to go after ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.
We are now seeing ISIS crop up in other places around the world. You’ve seen the news reports about terror attacks in other countries. Unfortunately, we are seeing evidence – and the Secretary spoke to this today – of ISIS popping up in places like Afghanistan, in Southeast Asia, and other countries. So the coalition is now saying let’s keep the focus on the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but let’s also keep an eye on ISIS popping up elsewhere so that we don’t have even more of a global threat so we can try to contain that.
But is the U.S. responsible? Absolutely not. Okay.
QUESTION: So there was a report that Pence has – there was this kind of interview with Josh Rogan in The Washington Post. So just questions about potential talks with North Korea – is the U.S. ready to talk with North Korea without precondition, and then if there are preconditions, what would those be?
MS NAUERT: So let me lay this out: The Vice President, in just having made his trip to South Korea and also to Japan to not only stand with our allies but also to celebrate with our Olympians – and by the way, Chloe Kim last night, how great was she? Aren’t these girls amazing, what they can do on the snowboards? So we’re certainly cheering them on and I know the Vice President was as well.
In regard to the DPRK, let me just reiterate something that the Vice President had said: The pressure does not come off “until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization. [The] maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.” He also said maximum pressure and engagement can be done at the same time.
So I hope that is clear. We remain in close contact with the Republic of Korea. They’re a close ally of ours. We are in lockstep with the Republic of Korea, as we are with Japan on these matters. At some point, we may sit down and talk. It has to be about we are willing to get to the point of nuclear – denuclearization. It’s not at that point just yet.
Okay, anything else on North Korea? Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: Korea, Korea.
MS NAUERT: Okay, sorry, who’s North Korea?
QUESTION: Korea here. Korea.
MS NAUERT: Hey. How you doing?
QUESTION: So you said that – so seems to be a change in our policy, because you’ve said many times before we’re not going to talk to them at all until denuclearization’s on the table. So how does that – is that a change?
MS NAUERT: No. No. I think part of the conversation is, look, to realize the – to be able to set the agenda for what you’re going to talk about, and that would be denuclearization, you may have to have a preliminary chat about what that discussion would look like.
QUESTION: But wasn’t it before you’re saying no chats at all?
MS NAUERT: I think we’ve always been clear about our policy of denuclearization, and that has not changed and we hope to be able to get there. And it’s not just our policy, it’s many other countries’ policies as well.
QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up to where we began this conversation, on the Netanyahu question.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Can we come back to that so we can stick with the issue of North Korea and everything before we move on to something else?
Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: On the comment that Pence made on maximum pressure and engagement at the same time, can you walk us through what that would look like?
MS NAUERT: Well, as you well know, we don’t forecast sanctions. The Vice President mentioned that there may be sanctions coming forward. Maximum pressure is something that is the key part of our policy with regard to North Korea. We just noticed today that Malaysia Government said it would take more steps to work to cut ties with North Korea. Thank you, Malaysia, for doing that. That is just the latest in – another of many countries that has cooperated or has agreed to cooperate with the world, with many other countries to put that maximum pressure on North Korea. In terms of forecasting any additional sanctions, I’m just not going to go any further than that, but that’s something that we’re always consistently looking at.
QUESTION: But what about the engagement portion of that?
MS NAUERT: I think I addressed that already.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
MS NAUERT: As I said just a minute ago, we have an ironclad relationship with President Moon, but not only with President Moon, also with Japan as well. I’d like to read for you a quote from him in which he consistently will say himself that denuclearization has to be the goal. I don’t have it in front of me right now, but he’s been very consistent about saying that. So we’re on the same page and we’re very closely linked up with the Republic of Korea.
Okay, I’ll take one more question on Egypt and then we’ve got to go. Who had Egypt? Who had Egypt?
MS NAUERT: Okay, you two. Both of you. Okay, go ahead, sir. What’s your name?
QUESTION: Mohamed el-Ahmed from Al Jazeera.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Mohamed.
QUESTION: Hi. So today the Egyptian authorities arrested the prominent former anti-corruption chief Hisham Geneina, who was in charge of the elections campaign of the former military chief of staff Sami Anan, who was arrested as well. Do you have any comment on that? And also there was a sort of criticism towards Secretary Tillerson because of the – his – because the issue of human rights abuses and violations in Egypt were not top priorities during his meetings with Egyptian officials. How do you respond to that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, first I would dispute that characterization. Secretary Tillerson, in his meetings with his counterparts and also with President Sisi, brought up issues of human rights. He brought up issues of detention. He brought up the importance of holding free and fair elections where everyone is free and able to participate if they wish to do so. That is something that we discuss with the Egyptians; that’s something that we discuss with many other countries around the world. The fact that we discuss it with other countries around the world does not make it less important in the country of Egypt.
As you all know, our Vice President was there not too long ago, in which he held meetings with top Egyptian officials and talked about the NGO law in Egypt, which is tremendously concerning to the United States. I know Secretary Tillerson and the Vice President share an incredible level of concern with regard to some of the terror actions that have taken place not only at mosques, but also Christian churches and other places of worship in Egypt. That’s something that they’ve kept a very close eye on and are tremendously concerned about.
Secretary Tillerson, when he met with the Egyptians here in Washington not that long ago, also talked about the issue of ISIS and the fight against ISIS, and I can assure you that when you have that many lives at stake with the fight against ISIS, that may very well be the top issue – regional stability, and the safety and security of civilians all around that part of the world, but also in Syria and Iraq. Elections, I can reassure you, were an important part of the Secretary’s conversations in Egypt.
QUESTION: What about the rest of the former chief --
MS NAUERT: That is Hisham --
MS NAUERT: -- Geneina, thank you. He was the former head of an anti-corruption --
MS NAUERT: -- right, entity there, right? We’re following that case closely. We’re certainly aware of that. We support a transparent and credible process with regard to the electoral process, and that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary spoke about the importance of having full, unfettered access to the polls, so that people can vote. Okay.
QUESTION: And speaking the same – on Egypt and North Korea, it seems that North Korea was on the top of Secretary Tillerson’s agenda with the Egyptians.
MS NAUERT: That is something we discuss with many countries around the world when we meet with them. North Korea was certainly something that came up as well.
QUESTION: What about the ties between Egypt and North Korea? Did Secretary Tillerson receive any promises to sever ties between Egypt --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any specific information on any assurances that were provided, but I just know that that issue came up. We raise that issue with many countries around the world.
And I’m going to have to go, but Michele, I want to take your last question.
QUESTION: Quick question on the – I know you said the Netanyahu matter was an internal matter, but it does involve this building. The Israeli police are saying they’re looking into Netanyahu’s contacts with John Kerry and a former ambassador over a visa issue.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: So I wonder if this building is cooperation at all in the investigation.
MS NAUERT: This is the first I’m hearing about it. I don’t know if notification was sent to the State Department, or if so, when. But we can certainly look at it. I don’t know that I’ll have anything for you, though, on that right away.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. And sir, you – I’m going to take your last question, because – yeah, tell me your name, and you’re from where?
QUESTION: My name is Andre. I work for an affiliate channel with Al Jazeera Arabic.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Today, 14 --
MS NAUERT: Sorry, Robert. I know we’re over on time. We just – okay.
QUESTION: Sorry, Robert.
MS NAUERT: Had to be in shortly. We have two new faces here, so --
QUESTION: So we have 14 international organizations that have condemned the presidential elections and called it not fair, not free, and they called specifically the U.S. and the European Union to take actions against the Egyptian president. Among these organizations is Human Rights Watch. Do you believe that the U.S. is going to take any action in this regard?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know what kind of action we would take. I think the Secretary --
QUESTION: They specifically mentioned halting the aid to Egypt.
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any plans to look at doing that. I know the Secretary made it a priority to talk about concerns on the election. A week or so ago we spoke about your former equivalent to our chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who had been detained.
MS NAUERT: So yeah, it’s something we’re certainly familiar with and we’re watching closely.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)
DPB # 9
[i] 21st Street