Department Press Briefing - February 15, 2018

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 15, 2018



TRANSCRIPT:

2:53 p.m. EST

MS NAUERT: Hi. Good afternoon, everybody. I am not attempting to bribe you with chocolate, but I did bring you some of the chocolate so that we wouldn’t eat all of them in our office. So please, have at it. Valentine’s Day, hope you all had a good Valentine’s Day.

QUESTION: Happy Valentine’s Day.

MS NAUERT: Thank you. Thank you. Good to see you. Okay, starting out with a few announcements first. And the other day I was so proud of your interest in the Diplomacy Center here at the State Department, in particular the jazz display that we have out. I walked through there the other day at the Diplomacy Center and saw these wonderful pictures of these jazz musicians who had played in some very interesting places. Dizzy Gillespie – I saw a picture of him, I believe it was in Havana. So that was fantastic. Thanks for your questions about that to our expert, and I’d encourage you to head on over there and check that out.

But as you know, our expert, our historian was here to talk about Black History Month, African American History Month, and I have an announcement related to that. Tomorrow the State Department is honored to host the 9th Annual Historical Black Colleges and Universities Foreign Policy Conference. It’s organized by the Bureau of Public Affairs, which is the one I work for. The goal of the conference is to prepare the next generation of foreign policy leaders from historically black colleges and universities and also predominantly black institutions.

As a part of this, we’re looking forward to discussing U.S. foreign policy priorities and also department career opportunities. This year we have 351 students and faculty coming to the State Department from all around the country. We look forward to hosting them. We’re focusing on nontraditional paths to foreign affairs, including STEM and other majors you’d not typically expect foreign affairs careers to come from.

Several highlights of the conference include remarks by our new Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Michelle Guida. I look forward to introducing you all to Michelle at some point in the near future. We have some panel discussions, and also a keynote address from Ambassador Ruth Davis.

We’re proud that many different parts of the State Department are involved in the conference, including the U.S. Diplomacy Center, the Bureau of Human Resources, the Office of Recruitment, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, our President – our Presidential Management Fellows, PMF. You’re a PMF, right? Yes. My new colleague, Leigh, who just joined us from Burma is a PMF.

Also USAID will participate, and we’re looking forward to seeing all of the young people as future diplomats tomorrow.

I’d also like to mention we have a couple guests in the back. So welcome to our new faces who are joining us today.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: You’re all the way in the back today. (Laughter.) Nice to see you. Hi, Nazira.

Lastly, I’d like to announce that our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan is travelling to Europe. Today, the Deputy Secretary will depart on a trip to Europe that will take him to Munich, Rome, Kyiv, Riga, and also Brussels. He’ll begin the trip in Munich where he’ll lead the State Department delegation to the Munich Security Conference. At the conference, he’ll participate in a nuclear security and arms control panel discussion. He will also reaffirm the United States commitment to global nuclear security. While in Munich, he’ll also hold bilateral meetings with officials from Germany and other countries.

He will then travel to Rome where he’ll meet with senior Italian officials to discuss cooperation on priorities in Ukraine, in Libya, the fight to defeat ISIS, the Sahel, and human rights and religious freedoms around the world. He will also deliver remarks at the American Studies Center on U.S.-Italian relationship and our cooperation on security issues.

The next stop will be in Kyiv where he’ll meet with President Poroshenko, the prime minister, and also the foreign minister. He’ll stress the importance of Ukraine quickly implementing credible economic and anticorruption reforms and underscore U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and also territorial integrity.

From there, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will travel to Riga to meet with senior Latvian officials land reaffirm NATO’s Article 5 commitment.

His last stop will be in Brussels to lead the U.S. delegation to the G5 Sahel Donor’s Conference where he will discuss continued support for development, security, and political issues in the Sahel. So with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Heather, and thank you for the chocolates. Let’s start in the Gulf.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Senator Corker has written Secretary Tillerson saying he’s lifting the blanket hold that he put on military sales to the GCC countries to try to get them to resolve their dispute, basically saying, well, this clearly didn’t help because they are still at a standstill. So we might as well start selling them a bunch of weapons again. Does the Secretary agree with the assessment that that standoff is kind of locked in place and that there hasn’t really been a lot of progress in resolving it?

MS NAUERT: I think we first started talking about this in May or June of last year.

QUESTION: Right.

MS NAUERT: I mean, that has been such a tremendously long period of time for this dispute to have gone on. Senator Corker sent in his letter. I took a quick glance at it earlier today, so I can confirm that we did in fact receive that letter from Senator Corker. I think Secretary Tillerson, a while ago, said, look, we’re here to help. We have said to all the parties in the dispute that we’re happy to assist you in any way, but at some point you all have to sit down together and work out your differences. We can’t do it for you. So I think the Secretary just backed off and let those countries take the lead. I can’t speak for Senator Corker and why he sent his letter and exactly what was contained within that letter because, again, I just took a quick glance at it. But I think those countries have to be willing to resolve all of this themselves. And hopefully they eventually will because, as you can see, it starts to take – and many of our national security advisors and others have said this as well, that it can start to take a toll or an effect on the fight against ISIS.

QUESTION: Well, that’s actually exactly what I was going to ask you about next --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- which is that, at the time, Tillerson and others said in the immediate sense this doesn’t have an impact, we’re still using Al Udeid, et cetera. But that if this was a – became a prolonged thing, that it could actually impede the fight against the Islamic State group. So given that this has been going on as long as it has, as you pointed out, are we at that point where it is actually impeding the fight against ISIS?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I would have to refer you to the Department of Defense because, as you talk about Al Udeid, that’s the base there that hosts many of our flights and our personnel who are fighting in the battle against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. So I’d have to refer you to them on that. I’m not sure exactly where this stands right now and how it’s impacting it, but I know that our folks were very, very concerned about that.

Okay, all right.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MS NAUERT: Shall we move on to something else?

QUESTION: Yes. Can we move on?

MS NAUERT: Hi, Said. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. Heather, I just wanted to follow up on a couple of questions that I asked on Tuesday.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: One, regarding the Israeli law that basically puts the Israeli academic institutions in the settlements under civil law, which is creeping annexation as per Israel’s terminology. Do you have any comment on that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, just a little bit of information. It’s not too incredibly new from what you’ve heard before, so let me answer your question before I get to your next one. Just hold on.

I think the President has been clear on his views regarding settlements that settlement activity, especially unrestrained settlement activity, does not advance the cause for peace. My understanding is that some of these settlements are governed under Israeli military law, but I think the President has been clear in his position on this issue, and Israel has also come back to the United States and said to the President we will take your views into consideration before we engage in this.

QUESTION: All right, but that is extending civil law. That is – in effect, that is really annexation, which is like a prelude to annexing.

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to – I’m not going to be able to characterize it in the way that you are, but I think we’ve been clear about our position on settlements.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Let me just follow up on something that you also said. You said “unrestrained.” Is that – does that mean that you are okay with somewhat restrained settlement activity?

MS NAUERT: Look, our – we’ve had a lot of conversations with the Israeli Government. We’ve had a lot of conversations with Palestinians. Obviously, you know this is such a sensitive matter. With regard to matters that are so sensitive, we like to tread lightly. We don’t want to cause damage to the prospects for peace; we want the parties to be able to work it out. I will go back to saying I think the President has made his position on this clear. Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner have spent a lot of time in the region; our folks have as well. I believe David Satterfield was just in Israel just last week talking about some of these issues. So let me just let the diplomats and the experts work those things out.

QUESTION: I promise, two more --

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: -- if would indulge me.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. The first one is that Palestinian President – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is coming to the United Nations next Tuesday. Is there anything that you want him not to say or say before the international community, because he is going to call on the international community to be involved, and not just the United States?

MS NAUERT: I think if anything, and I’m not going to speak for him, but I know that we want to sit down and have some talks about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, recognizing that it will be difficult for both parties to come to some sort of consensus and agreement. And ultimately, whatever is agreed to has to be agreed to by both parties, because they have to be willing to work on it and concede. We would love to see him sit down and say let’s start some peace talks. That would be optimal. Are we going to get that? I don’t know. But that’s as far as I’m going to go on that.

QUESTION: And lastly --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- I promise. Lastly, today Congress placed Hamas – recommended that Hamas be brought – condemned by the international body and so on because it has used Palestinians as human shields. Now, to the best of my recollection, no Palestinian, no organization, no NGO, has ever complained that Hamas was using Palestinian as human shields, except the Israeli Army, which was attacking them basically to give cover to attacking civilians --

MS NAUERT: Said, I’m afraid I don’t have any information --

QUESTION: -- I mean, do you have any --

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on what you’re referencing right now about this comment that was made by a member of Congress, so I’m just not going to – I’m not going to go there.

Okay, anything else on that? Okay.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to jump back to the first question, actually.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: Josh was asking about Qatar. It reminded me of something. I’ve just checked it. Secretary Tillerson actually spoke about this at the launch of the Qatar-U.S. Dialogue two weeks ago. I think it’s two weeks, three weeks ago. And he was in the presence of Secretary Mattis when he said it. He said, “As the Gulf dispute nears the eight-month mark, the United States remains as concerned today as we were at its outset. The dispute has had direct negative consequences, economically and militarily, for those involved as well as the United States.” And he said, “The united GCC would bolster our effectiveness countering terrorism and defeating ISIS.” So he kind of answered Josh’s question.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. Well, he did.

QUESTION: This dispute does hurt the fight against ISIS.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the Secretary’s quote on that issue right in front of me. Dave, do you want to take Robert’s job? (Laughter.) We could use you right now. No – love you, Robert. But Dave, thank you for clarifying that. So I think the Secretary spoke to that. There you go. All right, thanks.

Laurie, hi.

QUESTION: Yes, I’d like to ask you about Turkey since the Secretary is there today.

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: I just --

MS NAUERT: Which – let me add on that issue, the Secretary and President Erdogan just finished up their meeting a short while ago. I don’t have the details about that meeting. That was a one-on-one meeting. Last I had heard is they were going into it. So we’re working on getting all of you a readout, and I’ll get you details on that just as soon as I can. Robert may have a few while we’re out here talking.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I --

MS NAUERT: And he’ll alert me if we have anything.

QUESTION: I’d like to write a – ask about a piece that Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian, had yesterday in The Hill. And he said you need more leverage, more sticks in your dealings with Ankara, and suggested that you consider a range of sanctions if you can’t reach some agreement now. Are you considering any sanctions against Turkey? Because there are many issues that you have in dispute.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, we certainly do have issues in dispute. As you know, the Secretary is on the ground there, so I’m not going to detail too much about what we may or may not do. But sanctions are always on the table with regard to different nations and areas that we may have difficulties with, but you also know we don’t preview sanctions.

QUESTION: Okay. And if I could ask another, a second question. Is Turkey threatening to deny you, the U.S., access to any bases such as Incirlik?

MS NAUERT: Not that I am aware of. We are operating there. Turkey is a part of the D-ISIS Coalition, in addition a NATO ally, so we continue our operations out of there. I’m not aware of any disruptions or any threats regarding disruptions.

Okay, shall we move on? Okay, Nazira, hi.

QUESTION: Hi, Heather. As you know, Afghanistan situation Mr. Atta Noor, the former governor in Mazar-e Sharif, has a problem since like month ago or more than that. Still he said to the unity government not able to solve the problem between him and unity government, and he is – he always announced for 15 provinces in Afghanistan to do the demonstration. Do you think this demonstration, if happen, doesn’t make destabilize all Afghanistan?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of this demonstration that you’re mentioning. I think we would probably regard that as an internal matter, but let me take a – take a look at it and get back with you with some sort of a more fulsome answer. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: A follow-up? Afghanistan?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure. Hi, how are you?

QUESTION: Hi. What do you expect from the Kabul reform process next week? Ambassador Wells was in Kabul this week. What other talks were held there? Do you have --

MS NAUERT: Sure. So let me start out with our Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells. She was just in Afghanistan, so I’ll provide you a little bit of a readout of that trip, because one of the things that she’s doing is previewing the Kabul process, which is coming up in a couple weeks.

Our PDAS, as we call it, for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells traveled to Kabul this week to meet with Afghan partners in advance of the February 28th Kabul Process conference. She met with several top Afghan officials, including President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, National Security Advisor Atmar, as well as with prominent Afghan political, business, and media representatives, to highlight the longstanding U.S.-Afghan partnership.

Ambassador Wells also met with Resolute Support and U.S. Forces Afghanistan Commander General Nicholson and U.S. Special Representative for the Secretary General for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto to discussion ongoing U.S. and international community support for efforts to bring peace and security to Afghanistan and the region.

And now – and then we have the Kabul process coming up. I’m not able to give you any details about who from the U.S. Government may or may not be joining. We just don’t have that kind of information yet. But I can tell you that we look forward to at least – Robert, I don’t know if it’s we’re observing or if we will be participating, but nevertheless we look forward to that process because we see it as a way to reiterate the U.S. commitment toward the Kabul process to bring together so many of our international partners who are going to have some candid discussions, we believe, on a range of issues, from peace to development to humanitarian aid and other issues. So we’ll look forward to that, and as we get closer I’ll try to bring you some more information.

Okay?

QUESTION: Something else in the region?

MS NAUERT: Okay, something else in the region. Hi, go right ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Jahanzaib from Ary News Pakistan.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: For the last couple of days there is a news in the town that United States has put forward a motion to place Pakistan on a global terrorist financing watchlist with an anti-money-laundering monitoring group, the FATF. Is that true?

MS NAUERT: So what you’re talking about is – it’s called the FATF. There’s a plenary session that’s planned for that. This is basically the international community has this sort of longstanding, well, concern when it comes to the Government of Pakistan about what we consider to be deficiencies in the implementation of anti-money laundering, counterterrorism, and other types of issues similar to that.

What this group does is it promotes better measures to crack down on counterterrorism or to work against terrorism and also money laundering as well. Some of those deliberations, I can’t confirm what took place because those are considered to be private.

QUESTION: Pakistan introduced a new bill, kind of an ordinance, that all individuals or organizations designated as a terrorist by the United Nations will be considered as a terrorist in Pakistan too, and Pakistan are going to take stern actions against them. So it looks like Pakistan now start implementing on the U.S. strategy for South Asia.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I’ll see if some of our experts from our SCA Bureau can get you more on that, okay? All right.

Let’s move on. Hi, Cindy. How are you?

QUESTION: Hi. Good, thank you. Sorry, going back to Turkey, if I may.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: The Turkish foreign minister has said that relations with the U.S. are at a critical point and has called for specific steps to restore trust. Would you characterize it that way?

MS NAUERT: I don’t want to characterize it one way or another because – for a few reasons. One, the Secretary is on the ground there. The Secretary is doing what he does best, and that’s diplomacy, talking with other countries, talking with his counterparts. And so we have a productive series of meetings going on in Turkey. We have other individuals who are involved as well. Secretary Mattis, for example, is meeting with some of his Turkish counterparts, I believe yesterday and also today, but taking place elsewhere.

Certainly, we have a lot to work on. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. There are certainly some tensions there. But we have a lot of areas where we can agree to work together. An example of that would be our – we have bases in Turkey. That is an issue or a matter that continues obviously to this day, as we were talking about a few minutes ago. They’re a member of the D-ISIS Coalition, and so that’s important. But I’m not going to get ahead of some of the Secretary’s meetings.

Okay.

QUESTION: Can we turn to Iran?

MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. --

QUESTION: Libya?

QUESTION: Does the U.S. see eye-to-eye with Turkey on Syria?

MS NAUERT: There’s a what?

QUESTION: Does the United States see eye-to-eye with Turkey on what they are doing in Syria?

MS NAUERT: Well, we have said to Turkey – and we’ve talked about this a lot here so I don’t want to go over --

QUESTION: But you --

MS NAUERT: -- an old road once again. But we’re encouraging everyone to stick to the fight against ISIS. We understand Turkey’s legitimate security concerns. Of course, we do. And the Secretary has been very clear about that, as has Secretary Mattis. We understand those security views. We value our NATO ally and respect those views about security; but let’s keep the eye on the ball, and that is ISIS.

Hey, Abbie.

QUESTION: I know that you probably don’t have this necessarily yet because you don’t have a readout from the meeting, but was one of the subjects the Secretary intended to talk about with President Erdogan the purchase of Russian weapon systems which were going against the CAATSA legislation?

MS NAUERT: Right, so you’re talking about the proposed purchase of S-400s. I don’t think that that has been signed at this point. I don’t know exactly what the status is of that or if that would actually be a violation of CAATSA because it’s not happened yet. I can look into it and see if I can get something more.

But we have long said to Turkey that, one, any kind of weapons purchases under NATO agreements have to be interoperable. My recollection is that S-400s are not considered to be anti – interoperable, basically meaning that other nations would be – in NATO would be able to work with that kind of equipment. My understanding is that they would not be operable. But in terms of CAATSA and all that, we’ll look into that.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

QUESTION: I have one follow-up on --

MS NAUERT: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- on the CAATSA legislation.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know that January 29th was the first day that you were able to implement or enforce any of the sanctions that came forward from the CAATSA --

MS NAUERT: Have you been gone since January 29th? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Maybe. And --

MS NAUERT: Yeah? So we’re going back a ways. All right. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: So I just wondered if since that day there had been any movement towards enforcing some of those sanctions against people who were still in violation and engaging with the Russian military or intelligence entities from the late October list.

MS NAUERT: So let me step back to that first date, which was January the 29th. And the State Department piece of that was that that was the first day that we could begin to impose sanctions that would meet a certain threshold. It wasn’t just a financial threshold. It has a – there were a lot of factors that would weigh into this. So we didn’t have that – we didn’t have sanctionable activities on that first day. That was just the start date for which we could begin sanctioning companies and entities.

We have hundreds of people around the world, not just here at the State Department in this building but at our missions elsewhere, whose job it is to comb through lots and lots of foreign transactions – sales, things of that sort – to determine if it meets that threshold of being above a certain level. Again, that’s not just financial. It takes a lot of things into consideration, and our sanctions people could perhaps get you some more information on that.

So we continue to go through that. We continue to go through that process, and it’s just the beginning of that. Okay?

QUESTION: Heather, can you see – are there – have there – have they determined that there are sales that are happening but have not met – that do not meet that threshold? In other words, sales with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors that the U.S. is going to permit to proceed without us slapping them with CAATSA sanctions because it’s --

MS NAUERT: Because maybe it would be too small? Is that the question? Are there some that --

QUESTION: Well, there’s a criteria that a senior State Department official said was if it’s adverse to national security interests, which basically means you could take anything like, say, a multibillion-dollar sale to Turkey of the S-400 and say, “Well, we really don’t want to upset Turkey right now, so that’s okay.”

MS NAUERT: Well, one of – remember, let me go back to one of the NATO agreements or pledges – perhaps I’m using the wrong word here, but – is that systems purchased by NATO members – pardon me – have to be interoperable. My understanding is that S-400s do not meet that standard.

QUESTION: Right, but they don’t care and want to do it anyway.

MS NAUERT: So because – because of that, we would oppose the purchase of that. But I don’t know what the status is of any proposed purchase. But in terms of your question, I mean, it would just be a hypothetical. I don’t know that we have a particular deal that we have spotted and said, “You know what? That doesn’t meet the threshold. Let’s let it pass.” This is all still fresh – a fresh piece of law, a fresh – that we started to be able to impose and implement and our people are still going through all this stuff.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

QUESTION: On Iran?

MS NAUERT: So I would anticipate, though – and as you know, we don’t forecast sanctions, but I would be very surprised if there weren’t sanctions in the future. Okay?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Rich, hi.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

MS NAUERT: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Heather. Does the Secretary believe he has the support of regional allies for – and full support of regional allies for further sanctions against Venezuela? And how much does the environment within, the humanitarian crisis within Venezuela weigh into the U.S. and others’ decisions on how exactly to apply pressure on the regime there?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. When we – first off to the humanitarian situation, I’m sure many of you, like I, have seen the horrific stories coming out of Venezuela. You’ve seen what families are having to choose to do – to leave their children in some instances in orphanages and on the streets because they don’t have the food or the necessary medical supplies to care for their own children. Sometime last year when I started this job, I remember reading a story about a child who was a few years old but just weighed 11 pounds, which is basically a heavy newborn weight.

There is clearly a humanitarian situation that I would just phrase as a dire situation there. It is something that seems to be worsening. I know it has the attention of the region. You were just down there with Secretary Tillerson in the region in which that was one of the top conversations among many of the countries in Latin America. We discussed that issue in the Caribbean when the Secretary was in Jamaica, in Peru, in Argentina, and others. So they share our concerns. But when we impose sanctions and when other countries impose sanctions, the idea is to never have it harm the regular population. It’s to put the squeeze on the government so that the government will change its ways because we’ve seen this government does not seem to care about its people, but rather it cares about keeping itself in power.

QUESTION: And for any further measures, is there anything left to ensure that you are targeting the Maduro regime as opposed to exacerbating this?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not going to forecast sanctions, but that is something that our people, when they look at imposing sanctions and structuring sanctions activities, take a very close look at. I know we talk with various groups, NGOs, different government – departments of our government to try to make sure that these things are targeted – targeted. And we always talk about targeted sanctions, so it’s affecting the individuals or companies or entities and not the people themselves.

However, let me say this, and this applies to North Korea as other places: Governments can decide how they choose to spend their money. And if they choose to – and some – and I’m not saying this about Venezuela, but if they choose to spend all their money on weapons – illegal ballistic missiles, a nuclear program – that is that government’s choice. It’s wrong, but that is that government’s choice. Again, that’s not Venezuela, that’s – I’m referring obviously to North Korea on that matter.

I can tell you that I know there are many aid groups and other entities like that that are prepared to go in to provide humanitarian aid when that is needed and when we’re able to get in and provide that in Venezuela.

QUESTION: Just finally, is there – does the administration feel any type of time pressure to try to get any further measures out ahead of the elections that the regime’s holding?

MS NAUERT: I think we’re looking at all kinds of options. Okay?

All right. Let’s move on.

QUESTION: On Iran?

MS NAUERT: Hey.

QUESTION: Staying in the region?

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: A question on Cuba. The Journal of the American Medical Association released this report yesterday detailing the symptoms and experiences of 21 of the American personnel who have been affected by these health attacks, as you guys call them. Does the State Department support the release of this report? And do you find it consistent with your own internal investigations?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let me start out by saying safety and security of Americans is always our top issue. That includes our own colleagues. We have seen the Journal of American Medical Association report that was put out just yesterday, JAMA as many people refer to it. Our embassy – and I want to make sure folks are aware of this – released a health alert. It is posted. I believe it’s on our U.S. embassy in Havana’s website. That basically alerts people to the fact that this JAMA report exists, this JAMA report exists, so that we could provide information not only to our personnel, but so that information can be provided to the general public who may still be choosing to travel to Cuba.

So that’s the purpose of that. It was written by independent medical personnel who took part in evaluating and treating some of the injuries of our people. I won’t detail what came out in the report. You can take a look at it ourselves. But we’ve shared the link to the article in order to inform U.S. citizens about what the doctors believe may be some of the symptoms and medical reactions of some of those people who were affected.

QUESTION: In the report it says that the doctors signed nondisclosure agreements in order to be able to obtain some of the information about these individuals. It also says, though, that the other doctors who evaluated as part of the peer evaluation before publication were unable to access some of that information. Is there --

MS NAUERT: Let me answer your first question first. So you’re saying the doctors signed nondisclosure agreements?

QUESTION: Right.

MS NAUERT: Okay. If that is the case – and I don’t know that that is the case – let me remind you that there’s an investigation still ongoing. So if they were asked by the U.S. Government to sign that, I would think that would be a pretty good indication that we don’t want people talking about (a) the medical symptoms of individuals, (b) the names of individuals, because that is – that is their own information and they’re our employees. But in addition, this investigation is still ongoing, so it’s extremely important for us to not disrupt that investigation so we could figure out who’s responsible for this and what’s responsible for it.

QUESTION: I think I know the answer to this question, then. But is there – are there things that you guys have determined in the investigation that were not allowed to be released in the report?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I mean, that’s like so far in the weeds with our experts talking to the medical professionals in Pennsylvania. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: Sure. And one last question on this. At the time of the evaluations of the – of these personnel, 14 of them had still not been able to return to work because their symptoms were so severe. Can you give any information, any update on that, and whether or not they have?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I don’t have any – an update for you on that. I’ll see what I can get for you if that is, in fact, even releasable information. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: On Iraq? So – yeah.

MS NAUERT: Okay, one more question on Iraq.

QUESTION: Yeah. You said in the past that the U.S. is not contributing any money to the Iraqi reconstruction. Can you tell us what other ways U.S. is contributing to that reconstruction? And also --

MS NAUERT: No, that’s not what I said. I talked about large-scale reconstruction projects. In the past, the U.S. Government, and many of you reporters who have been around for a bit remember this, that during the Bush administration and other administrations we would do these large-scale projects of building roads and building tunnels and bridges and all of that to provide that for communities in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s not what we’re doing today. We are helping with reconstruction certainly, but this administration believes that a better approach to that, instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars on that restructure or on that rebuilding, is to get other countries, the neighboring countries, involved as well.

So the United States is certainly involved. The United States participated in the Kuwaiti conference where some countries ended up providing donations, loans, things of that nature, and we were certainly happy to have seen that happen. The United States’ priority though now is stabilization and providing some of the basics. But we think it’s a wonderful thing when other countries in the region will step up to the plate. The Saudis talked about this, for example. The Turks – I believe they gave – they offered up some money. But I recall the Saudis, I mean, saying you know what, we’re interested in this, we’re interested in helping out our neighbors and seeing what we can do about reconstruction. And there were more than 2,000 people or companies who were involved in that Kuwait conference.

QUESTION: And speaking of neighbors, so today the deputy foreign minister of Iran said that Tehran will contribute to the efforts of the reconstruction.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: How do you – do you have anything on that?

MS NAUERT: Look, I know they have been. They have been trying to gain more of a toehold certainly in the region and in other places as well. I think we’ve been consistent in saying where Iran goes, trouble tends to follow. Where the regime goes, trouble tends to follow. I don’t mean the people themselves, but rather the regime. There can also be very strict regulations when you work with a nation like that. You may not be, as a country, getting all that you bargained for. It may be a lot more difficult and a lot more onerous than – than you think. So they’re certainly entitled to do that, but I would probably caution countries.

QUESTION: Can I have --

MS NAUERT: All right, Janne. Hi.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. On North Korea. Recently, right after Secretary Tillerson’s South Korea trip, the Secretary said that the United States will make stronger sanctions against North Korea. What is the stronger sanctions and how does it different from existing sanctions?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, so I hate to give you this answer again, because it’s the third time I’ve said it today. We’re not going to preview the sanctions. There is certainly more that we can do, there is certainly more sectors that we could look at sanctioning, and we continue our conversations with many other countries who may be looking at unilateral or multilateral sanctions.

QUESTION: Heather.

QUESTION: North Korea.

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: When is the sanctions effect – I mean, new sanctions. When --

MS NAUERT: When would they? I – Janne I can’t tell you that. I can’t tell you that. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay, so it’s possible --

MS NAUERT: If there are sanctions that are going to be announced, I will certainly let you know as soon as we are ready to announce those. Okay?

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: Heather, Vice President Pence, just before he arrived – I think he was in Tokyo – announced we would soon, I think he said within several days or a week or so, be unveiling the toughest sanctions U.S. has ever put on North Korea. So I don’t understand this policy that the U.S. doesn’t preview what sanctions to – I mean, it seems like in some cases, the White House certainly does.

MS NAUERT: Well, he’s the Vice President. He’s entitled to say whatever he wants to say, and the Vice President and I are certainly in different kinds of positions. I’m not authorized to detail or forecast sanctions, but if the President or the Vice President want to do so, they are certainly more than welcome to.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. All right, who had North Korea?

QUESTION: North Korea over here.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, how are you?

QUESTION: So this is kind of a follow-up from last time, but Bob Corker – I was at the hearing today – he also was talking about talks with North Korea. So is – my question today is are there talks within the State Department about shaping, like, actual like what we would say to North Korea if we start talks with them?

MS NAUERT: Okay. So that’s – I think that’s two hypotheticals built in there, but --

QUESTION: But clearly there’s talks happening about talks at multiple levels on --

MS NAUERT: So a couple things to that effect. I think the hearing that you’re referring to – by the way, if I may mention, our acting assistant secretary for East Asia Pacific, EAP Susan Thornton, is on the Hill today for her confirmation hearings. Among the things that she said on the Hill for her hearings include this: We’re leaving the door open to engagement. We want engagement to consist of one issue, that is denuclearization. Our policy hasn’t changed; our policy remains the same. The overall goal is denuclearization. The United States and many other countries have this agreement. It is considered a worldwide agreement, not just with us but many other countries, and you’ve seen that echoed at the UN Security Council with four unanimous rounds of sanctions that they voted to pass. To pursue that, we have the maximum pressure campaign. That maximum pressure campaign exists to this day, and virtually every week we are seeing more countries participate or do new things or ratchet the pressure – ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.

Malaysia, I think I mentioned that the other day; Kuwait not that long ago; Peru, the Secretary referenced that when he was visiting Peru a week or so ago. And the Vice President, when he was just there for his travels, reaffirmed our position. The Secretary has said repeatedly that we are starting to see signs that our maximum pressure campaign is putting strain on North Korea. Now, you’re going to ask, what are those signs, what are the strain that he’s seen? That’s something that we just won’t detail, but we’re keeping a close eye on it.

If the time comes that we believe that North Korea is serious about talking about denuclearization, we will have a conversation with our partners, with our allies, with our allies in the region, about the appropriate next steps. So we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: North Korea.

QUESTION: On Egypt.

QUESTION: South Korea --

MS NAUERT: Okay, North – okay. Hold on, Janne, I already called on you. Do you have a North Korea question, ma’am?

QUESTION: Jehan al-Husaini.

MS NAUERT: Okay, let me just finish up with --

QUESTION: On Korea.

QUESTION: South Korea.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, let me – hold on. Let me finish up with North Korea and then we’ll go on to another region. Hi, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: What’s your name?

QUESTION: Ian Talley from the Wall Street Journal.

MS NAUERT: Oh hey, Ian.

QUESTION: Hi, how are you doing?

MS NAUERT: Good. Have you been here before?

QUESTION: I have been here before, not in your tenure.

MS NAUERT: Okay. In my tenure, okay. Well, welcome, thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you. So I have a follow up question on Turkey, which we – should take a later point, but on North Korea, Ms. Thornton said that denuclearization was our preference.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the U.S. would consider other options?

MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I think that the United States and this administration – and I don’t have Susan’s quote in front of me – but I think that that is what we are all working toward, that is our policy, denuclearization. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: North Korea.

MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. So Thornton also mentioned that it’s in her understanding there’s no bloody nose strategy. Could you please elaborate? Has that limited military strike option been discussed at all?

MS NAUERT: I think we’ve been over that before, or I know I’ve discussed that matter here numerous times. I don’t have Susan’s quote in front of me, so I’m just going to leave it at that. Our policy remains the same that what we’re doing here out of this building is diplomacy. Across the river, they handle other issues, but we handle diplomacy here. Maximum pressure continues and we’ll keep pushing that one.

QUESTION: Was that strategy being discussed before the Olympic?

MS NAUERT: Was what strategy?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Was the bloody nose option being discussed before the Olympic?

MS NAUERT: Oh, goodness, not – look, not that I am aware of. That is not what we do out of our building. The State Department, Secretary Tillerson, and even if you talk to Secretary Mattis, they will tell you that diplomacy is the preferred approach, but then it always has to be backed up by a credible military threat. Okay?

QUESTION: India?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: All right. Okay. All right. We’re going to have to wrap it up in just a second. Hold on.

QUESTION: India?

MS NAUERT: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Hi. Okay. We’ll do --

QUESTION: Jehan al-Husaini from Al Hayat newspaper.

MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

QUESTION: It’s regarding to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It’s very – it’s miserable and it’s very critical. I wonder if there is any American efforts to save Gaza, to lift the siege on Gaza, and how it will be done.

MS NAUERT: Okay. So a couple things to that: We support an overall peace deal. We also recognize that the state of – that civilians are living in, the state of things in Gaza is miserable. We see that delays for medical treatment, disruptions to electricity are far too common for the people to have to face there.

We also recognize that that misery is perpetuated by Hamas. Hamas choosing to spend the money that it has – its people’s money – on – not on humanitarian aid, not on taking care of its people, but doing things like building tunnels to get terrorists in to disrupt activity and make life worse for its people. Our diplomats who work for the State Department have been advocating for an increase in Palestinian Authority referrals for Gaza medical patients to actually receive treatment outside of the Gaza strip, recognizing that not everyone is able to get the medical supplies that they need, the hospitals aren’t – hospitals facing those electricity disruptions as well. So we’ve been advocating for that. If I get any new information for you on that, I’d be – certainly be happy to let you know.

Jason Greenblatt, our international – who is handling our international negotiations on this, he’s been engaging with Israeli authorities regarding medical transfer permits, because I understand that they need permits. And that’s enabled dozens of people so far to receive some cancer treatments. So we’re doing what we can at this point. We believe that there’s no sustainable solution that will be reached until Hamas turns over its administrative control of Gaza to legitimate Palestinian authorities, and we certainly hope that will happen. We’ve seen other nations recently step up and offer additional money to help out people there and we would certainly support that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So you’re calling on the Israelis to increase the number of medical permits?

MS NAUERT: That’s one of the things that we’re advocating. That’s one of the things we’re advocating. Look, when you’re in a situation where electricity is spotty, where people can’t get the medical equipment, the hospitals can’t get the medical equipment they need and people need lifesaving treatment, we certainly think that they should be able to get that. That, we believe, is just a certain level of decency.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. I’m going to have to wrap it up, so --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: One more on India?

MS NAUERT: Okay. India, last thing.

QUESTION: A quick question – two questions, please. One, for the last two years, Prime Minister Modi has been traveling around the globe, including U.S., and recently in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and UAE. And over there, he – for the first time ever, Saudi Arabia accepted a UAE to build a – to give a land for a Hindu temple. My question is here: That – you think the region is changing as far as women’s rights and religious freedom, because Secretary has been going there, how do you think – Secretary has been talking about the same thing, religious freedom and women’s rights in the region?

MS NAUERT: Well, I know that that is a matter overall that the Secretary brings up wherever he goes, whether it’s freedom of religion, women’s rights, freedom of speech – we just saw him talk about that in Egypt. I’m pleased to hear what you’re telling me. I can’t verify it myself, but pleased to hear if that would be the case. We’re seeing lots of parts of the world open up in that regard: recent reports about the women showing up at the soccer stadium in Saudi Arabia, women driving. We think that that is a good thing and we celebrate that. Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And finally, Madam, as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, Secretary’s visit – before his visit, he spoke, of course, of U.S.-India relations at the CSIS and also he opened the door for Madam Ivanka. So where are we going now as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned? Because President spoke with Prime Minister Modi last week --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- from the White House.

MS NAUERT: Well, the President – our President, President Trump, certainly has a strong relationship with President Modi[1]. I know that his daughter really enjoyed having been over in Hyderabad late last year, and so it’s an important relationship, an increasingly important relationship. And as you see India doing rebuilding – our friend Nazira right here in front of you, she’s from Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: You’re from India. India is doing a lot of rebuilding and large-scale reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. That is a --

QUESTION: Two billion dollars.

MS NAUERT: Two billion dollars, thank you. So who knows that better than you?

QUESTION: It’s three billion.

MS NAUERT: How much?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Three billion, three billion, three billion.

MS NAUERT: Three billion, okay. So here we go. This is --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: -- a good – (laughter) – but really, this is a good example of the world coming together and working through – places that may not have – countries that may not have worked together in the past. This is an example of how that is now being done: Saudi Arabia helping out in Iraq --

QUESTION: U.S. --

MS NAUERT: -- India helping out in Afghanistan, all of these places doing that. So I think it’s nice today to leave it on a high note, so thank you very much. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday. Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:36 p.m.)


[1] Prime Minister Modi