Department Press Briefing - February 20, 2018

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 20, 2018



TRANSCRIPT:

2:47 p.m. EST

MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you today?

QUESTION: Hello.

MS NAUERT: I hope you all had a great long weekend. Matt, welcome back from your trip.

QUESTION: Thank you. I feel like I’ve been gone for weeks.

MS NAUERT: I feel like you’ve been gone for weeks too. (Laughter.) Nice to see you all, and we have a AFP stand-in today, so hi, sir. Welcome.

QUESTION: Thank you so very much.

MS NAUERT: Nice to see you here.

Start out with a couple announcements this afternoon. First is about the deputy secretary’s travel. On Friday and Saturday, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan led the State Department’s delegation to the Munich Security Conference. He participated in a panel discussion with a number of world leaders and reaffirmed the United States commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and also arms control. While there, the deputy secretary conducted some bilateral meetings with senior officials from China, Germany, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, and also the Vatican to discuss a range of issues of mutual concern.

The deputy secretary traveled to Rome on Sunday the 18th for meetings with senior Italian officials, including the foreign minister, the minister of economic development, and the interior minister, to discuss our shared priorities in Ukraine, Libya, Iran, and the Sahel, as well as our cooperation in the fight against ISIS. He also met with local journalists and think tank representatives and spoke to a group of students, members of civil society, and the media about the importance of the U.S.-Italian alliance and our cooperation on security issues around the world at the Center for American Studies. In both Rome and in Munich, the deputy secretary met with our mission staff and thanked them for the important work they do to advance U.S. policy.

Today and tomorrow, the deputy secretary will visit Kyiv. He – his visit will fall just one day after Ukraine celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity. There, in addition to meeting with President Poroshenko and other senior government officials, the deputy secretary will deliver a public speech to an audience of civil society leaders, students, and media at the ministry of foreign affairs diplomatic academy, where he will underline the United States commitment to stand behind Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and press Ukraine’s leaders to continue progress on critical reforms and renew their commitment to uproot corruption.

Following his trip to Ukraine, he will go to Latvia and then Brussels, and I’ll provide you with updates on that as the week goes on.

In addition to that, I’d like to highlight something that’s very troubling that’s taking place in Syria right now. The United States is deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the Damascus suburbs of East Ghouta. Recent reports indicate airstrikes directly targeted hospitals and what little civilian infrastructure remains, resulting in more than 100 civilian deaths in less than 48 hours. The escalation is exacerbating the already grave human suffering of nearly 400,000 people. It also increases the number of individuals who require urgent medical evacuation, which already stood at approximately 1,000.

The Assad regime’s siege-and-starve tactics are creating a humanitarian disaster – or I should say are adding to the humanitarian disaster there. The horrors of East Aleppo are being repeated in East Ghouta with the ongoing slaughter of trapped civilians and woefully inadequate access for humanitarian actors. In such a dire situation, we should express our admiration and our deep appreciation to the medical workers and also the first responders in East Ghouta who both risk and lose their lives every day trying to help civilians.

We call on all parties to commit to the unconditional de-escalation of violence. Russia must end its support of the Assad regime and its allies. They are responsible for the attacks, for the dire humanitarian situation in East Ghouta, and for the horrendous civilian death toll. The United States supports the United Nations demand for a month-long cessation of violence to allow for the unfettered delivery of humanitarian supplies and the urgent medical evacuation of civilians in East Ghouta. The cessation of violence must begin now, and those needing emergency assistance should be allowed to evacuate immediately.

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

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks.

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: I want to start in Syria, but further north first. What’s your understanding of the situation in Afrin right now? And coming on the heels – well, let’s start with that.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, let me add this: The United States is not operating in Afrin. The United States is not equipping anyone in Afrin. So our knowledge in terms of what is going on in Afrin is somewhat limited because we’re not operating, because we’re not equipping there, because U.S. forces are not there.

QUESTION: So – okay, so you don’t know at all what’s going on there? You don’t know that – whether or not – I mean, fine, you may not have people there, you might not have people who you’re supporting there, but you have eyes in the sky and other ways of finding things out. So – but you don’t know whether or not it’s true that Syrian troops have gone in with the permission of the Kurds and – or – and/or with the --

MS NAUERT: Matt, I’d have to refer you to DOD on that. Perhaps they have something that we’re not able to provide on that matter. I can tell you that the Secretary had some productive meetings with his counterpart and also with President Erdogan in Turkey, where they talked a lot about the overall situation in Syria and our concerns about that, in which we continue to stress for a de-escalation of violence, for people to not take actions that would escalate and exacerbate tensions there, and to keep – keep an eye out for not striking civilians is certainly something that we’ve stressed.

QUESTION: Right. So when he was in Ankara, there was this agreement in principle, I suppose you could say, to calm things down, to repair the U.S.-Turkey relationship, but – and start – and to start to do that in northern Syria, Manbij in particular, but that would include the whole thing. And that seems to have kind of collapsed, has it not? I mean, it didn’t – it doesn’t seem to have lasted much longer than the – even over the entire weekend.

MS NAUERT: Well, let’s look back at this. The Secretary just days ago sat down and met with his counterpart and also with President Erdogan. They recognize that perhaps we haven’t (inaudible) working well enough together over the past few years. That was a commitment that the Secretary and President Erdogan made to one another. As NATO allies and partners who both share in the interest and the shared goal of defeating ISIS, we are now going to start to work together in a better fashion so that we can achieve those mutual goals.

QUESTION: But that – so that does not include dealing with the Afrin situation?

MS NAUERT: Look, some of these are private diplomatic conversations that I’m not going to be able to get into for you. But I can tell you they agreed to sit down and have a series of meetings, some working groups that they put together, where we can look at determining ways that we can better confront the situation there.

QUESTION: Okay. But it sounds as though, then, that you’ve entirely separated off this one situation from the rest of it, that – and I get that you’re not there and you’re not supporting anyone that’s there. But the Turks are involved here, and not so far away there are U.S. forces, so I’m just wondering if they decided to intentionally leave the Afrin situation out of this new working group dynamic, or if --

MS NAUERT: Perhaps that is in the working group dynamic. I don’t know that. These are some of the private diplomatic conversations. As you well know, the Secretary firmly believes that sometimes he can achieve the best results, get the best results for Americans and for others where we’re engaged, in having private conversations behind the scenes.

QUESTION: All right. Then the last thing, going back to Eastern Ghouta, you said Russia must end its support for the Assad regime and its allies. This has been something that the – that has been called – the last eight, nine years the U.S. has been calling for it. Do you have an answer to the question that follows that declarative statement “Russia must end its support,” the question being, “Or what?” Is there an answer? Does this administration have an answer?

MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, you well know, as do many others, that we don’t forecast some of the actions that the United States Government may or may not take. So we want to reserve the right to engage in certain activities if we feel the need to do so. This has been a tremendous concern not just on the part of the United States but many other countries as well: the activities that Syria has been engaged with with the backing of Bashar al-Assad. So we are not going to forecast those and not going to announce anything that may take place or may not.

QUESTION: With the backing of Russia?

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Did I not say – that’s what I meant. If I – I misspoke then. Pardon me.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Laurie, hi.

QUESTION: Hi. In Afrin, would you – do you think it’s reasonable to suggest that Russia has acted very cynically; they gave Turkey a green light to attack the Kurds in Afrin and then a stalemate developed, and they used that stalemate then to try and extent Syrian regime control over the area?

MS NAUERT: Laurie, I’m not going to get into that. I’m not going to speak about – about what Turkey may be – what Russia may be doing to Turkey, and what Turkey may be doing to Russia. I’m just not going to get into that.

QUESTION: You’re not going to --

MS NAUERT: One of our goals is to de-escalate tensions and try to get the parties refocused on the fight against ISIS.

QUESTION: But you’re not going to say that the Russians are cynically using their leverage in Syria?

MS NAUERT: Look, I think it’s clear that they have been using their leverage in Syria. They have been backing, as we just talked about, Bashar al-Assad’s regime. How many times have we talked about it here that they were on the brink of collapse, and who came in and who saved them back in 2015? Russia did. Russia bears a unique responsibility for the suffering and the plight of the Syrian people.

Russia has also committed to the Geneva process, so we expect Russia to be helpful in that front. We have yet to see that, but we hope they will be.

QUESTION: And if I could ask you a question about the recent visit of Iran’s Ali Akbar Velayati to Baghdad, who went there for an Islamic conference, and he met with various figures, including the deputy speaker of parliament, who said that he agrees with the Iranians in rejecting any U.S. – continued U.S. presence in the region. What’s your comment on that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I certainly heard about those remarks and those comments and some of those reports. It would be natural for Iraq and Iran to want to have conversations. I mean, they’re neighbors, right? As we talked about South Korea, as we talked about North Korea – having certain conversations because they are neighbors. That is something just natural, and it is a fact of life that different countries may want to talk to – talk with one another.

The question of their foreign relations is something that gets back to Iraq. We are fully comfortable and confident in our relationship with the Government of Iraq as key strategic partners in the region. As you well know, we are there for the defeat of ISIS, but we are also there at the invitation of the Iraqi Government. We value Iraq’s independence, we have confidence in the Iraqi Government, and are highly skeptical that they would bow down to Iran. So we feel comfortable with them. And that would just be largely an internal matter if they want to have those conversations.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS NAUERT: Okay? Anything else related to Iraq?

QUESTION: Afrin.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Iraq.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Iraq.

MS NAUERT: Go right --

QUESTION: Russia? Russia?

MS NAUERT: Sorry. Go right ahead, sir.

QUESTION: So as to the – for the upcoming election, is U.S. doing anything with that to help Iraqis? And if I also ask a question about Syria-related. Lavrov recently said that --

MS NAUERT: Okay, hold on. One question at a time, please.

In terms of the elections, if we’re doing anything in support of the elections, I am not aware of that. We tend to promote democracy and other things, but I’d have to just check to see if there are any specific programs that we are involved with.

And back to your last question, and then we’ll move on to another region.

QUESTION: Lavrov recently said that – accused the U.S. of supporting establishing a local authority for the Kurds and creating an autonomy for the Kurds. Do you have --

MS NAUERT: Creating a what?

QUESTION: An autonomous region – well, an autonomous region for the Kurds --

MS NAUERT: No.

QUESTION: -- and saying that this is --

MS NAUERT: The United States supports a secure, independent Syria with current borders. We’re not changing it, we’re not supporting the changing or the addition of any kind of autonomous region, so --

QUESTION: But is U.S. doing anything to kind of fight that misconception? I believe that misconception is also fueling some of the Turkish aggression.

MS NAUERT: Look, I think that’s what some nations do. There are certain countries out there, certain actors out there – you know well who they are – who foment, who come up with mistruths, put out disinformation, and they put that out there. And I’m not going to be able to respond to every single one of them, okay?

QUESTION: You don’t want to identify any of those countries?

MS NAUERT: Well, I mean, you know all the countries. We talk about them here. Certain countries do that, I don’t feel like really getting into – getting down to that level today, but we’ve talked about them before. And I’m sure you know exactly who I’m talking about. Okay.

QUESTION: On Maldives. The emergency in Maldives has been extended by another 30 days. How do you see the developments there?

MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you on that with regard to the Maldives. I’ll check with our experts. Hi, Lalit.

QUESTION: Different subject.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam. Two questions, please. According to the Indian website, Indian embassy and Indian Americans are troubled. This may be the first time that somebody is using the embassy, threatening calls, and they are telling that your visa will be canceled, your passport will be canceled unless you bring certain amount of money. And this is – a letter has been issued by the Indian embassy that they are saying they are – somebody using their number, but not the physical location, the Indian embassy. So they are not making these phone calls. What my – my question is: Have you received any requests from the Indian embassy about this problem?

MS NAUERT: I have not. I can certainly reach out to our officials at our embassy there, and see if they are hearing anything about that. Okay?

QUESTION: And you want to say anything about this?

MS NAUERT: I’m not familiar with it myself, so I’ll have to check with some of our folks in the region. Anything else related to India?

QUESTION: And may I ask – second question on Afghanistan, please.

MS NAUERT: Let’s get back to Afghanistan. I’d like to sort of stick in the region.

QUESTION: Oh, I got an India question.

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: The President’s son is – one of the President’s son is – sons is in Delhi now. I believe he just arrived. Does – is the embassy there supporting this trip in any way? He’s supposed to give a speech at an event that the prime minister is also supposed to be at. Is the embassy involved in that in any way?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not aware of who exactly is attending this speech. We certainly are aware that Mr. Trump is in the region, that he’s there as a private citizen, not as a official U.S. Government in any capacity. The U.S. embassy is in touch with the Secret Service, as we would be, because he is afforded Secret Service protection. And so any time we have an official or someone who would go over there who does have Secret Service protection, there is some amount of coordination and conversation. But overall, the United States embassy does not have any kind of role in that visit.

QUESTION: So there was no booking of hotels or transportation or anything like that?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of the specifics. I can just tell you that our embassy has been in touch with the Secret Service, as we would when other people who are afforded Secret Service protection are traveling overseas.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I guess the question is: What exactly has that contact been, what does it involve, and is there any taxpayer money, other than the Secret Service protection, that’s involved?

MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. Okay. Anything --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: One more, Heather.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I said can we – can someone look into that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, certainly.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, that’s what that means.

QUESTION: Related. He’s – the --

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: -- the President’s son is giving a speech entitled “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: A New Era of Cooperation.” There’s been no coordination with State Department on what that reshaping is going to look like?

MS NAUERT: No. I’m not familiar with what is going to be in the content of his speech, or how it was put together. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I just – a follow up on that, then.

MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Are there any concerns in this building that he appears to be representing the U.S. Government, that it’s being sort of taken as a major foreign policy address and it could be interpreted that way?

MS NAUERT: He is there as a private citizen and I don’t have any comment beyond that regarding his trip. Okay?

QUESTION: And do you know if anyone was consulted on the speech itself?

MS NAUERT: Again, I think I just answered that question: Not that I’m aware of. Okay, let’s move on to something else. Hi.

QUESTION: One on India. One small one on India.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have dates for the 2+2 dialogue?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any meetings to read out right now, or any new travel. Okay?

QUESTION: If I could follow up on the --

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: Here?

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: To Ethiopia.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Ethiopia and its decision to impose a state of emergency for six months? Is the United States concerned of the restriction of fundamental rights?

MS NAUERT: Well, we certainly would disagree with that agreement, the agreement to decide to go to a state of emergency. It restricts freedom of speech and freedom of expression, which in any part of the world is a concern of ours. We are – we consider Ethiopia to be a dedicated partner for Ethiopia’s long-term success and prosperity. We’ve been a long-time friend of the Ethiopian Government. We aim to engage both frankly and constructively with that government. But we do not see their recent step as being helpful.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. vision of a generally inclusive political process in Ethiopia?

MS NAUERT: I’ll check with our Africa bureau and see what I can get for you on that, okay?

QUESTION: Russia?

QUESTION: Korea?

MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Yeah.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the indictment that came out Friday against the 13 Russians and some entities, since we haven’t had a chance to talk about that here yet. The special consul laid out in exquisite detail some of what happened in the meddling in our election. I was curious whether that information has increased the sense of urgency here at the State Department to take some actions in response to that, perhaps to use some of those sanctions authorities that we’ve discussed, became available to you in the recent weeks.

MS NAUERT: This is something that has been on our radar ever since the Secretary came into his position as Secretary of State. I think the number of questions that we’ve gotten about Russia and Russia’s meddling in our elections has sort of ebbed and flowed. We’ve had times where reporters and the outside world has been very interested in this; other times where they have not. The Secretary has spoken very openly about his opinion that Russia meddled in our elections. He’s been very clear about that. The Secretary just spoke to Fox News within the last week or two and spoke to the fact that we believe that they are interested in becoming entangled in our overall elections process. That is no secret.

Let me remind you the U.S. Government and the State Department has done a lot when it’s come to holding Russia accountable for its actions back in the 2016 elections. We’ve talked a little bit about CAATSA. A lot of you have said, “Oh my gosh, you haven’t imposed those sanctions just yet.” Remember, January 29th was the first day that we could impose sanctions. Among the things that we have done – and I’ll have other things I want to talk about in addition to CAATSA. But among the things that we have done, we have sent out ALDAC cables to all of our posts around the world, where those posts have been instructed to speak with their host governments about the new CAATSA law. In explaining to those countries, here’s what you could face if companies, if individuals are involved in these sorts of activities that meet a certain threshold that would contribute positively to Russia’s defense and intelligence and other sectors that are similar to those.

So we’ve been communicating with our posts. We’ve been communicating with likeminded governments. We have hundreds of people around the world who are working on sanctions activity each and every day not just at the State Department, but also at Treasury and other departments as well.

So this is something we continue to comb through those transactions. I know you all want to see results overnight. We don’t have sanctionable activity just yet, but we are working every day to try to determine if there is something that is taking place. If there is something taking place, we will sanction those countries, those individuals, and those entities. That is something we continue to look at doing very, very carefully.

In addition to CAATSA, though, when we talk about election interference and how the U.S. Government has responded as a result, we have other sanctions that have taken place. Please make that clear in your reporting. The sum of our actions as it pertains to Russia and Russia’s meddling in our elections is not CAATSA. We have done a lot more than just CAATSA. There have been other sanctions that have taken place. You may recall the previous administration kicked the Russians out of their dachas. We have kept them out of their dachas. We have closed a consulate in San Francisco. People seem to forget about that. We have closed facilities in Washington, D.C. and also New York. That certainly upset the Russians. That is partly because of what they did in our 2016 elections.

You may recall last month – or maybe it was late December – that we expanded the list of individuals who were sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act. We also had the Global Magnitsky Act, in which there were Russians who were named – at least one Russian or two who were named under that. In addition to that, we have the sanctions that are put in place because of Russian activity in Ukraine.

Our government is engaged on an interagency level, where we are talking with one another and we are putting forth actions, activities related to Russians’ malign activity as it pertains to our 2016 election. So please, this is not just CAATSA. It’s a whole lot of other things that people tend to forget about.

QUESTION: So that’s a really good list of steps the U.S. has taken --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to essentially punish Russia for what happened in the last election. Anything that you can add, as far as conversations Tillerson or others have had with the Russians to try to prevent them from doing it in future elections?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So they are well aware of our position on this. Secretary Tillerson has said to the Russians – and he said this publicly – it has to stop. We’re watching what you’re doing. The issue of bots – we’re still seeing bots out there. This is not just a U.S. Government approach, but the private sector needs to do something as well. We are somewhat limited in terms of what we can do. We don’t regulate Facebook. We don’t regulate Google. Some of these private sector companies need to stand up and they need to be good American citizens and help us to prevent this. The FBI is involved with this; DHS is heavily involved with this.

And the Secretary has asked and has spoken to Congress about setting up a new bureau here at the State Department that would handle cyber activity. You all have talked and you’ve asked me in the past about our special envoy for cyber. Well, we’re changing that. The goal is to change that to make it a cyber bureau that would be headed up by an assistant secretary. So if anything, we’re elevating the importance of cyber activity and cracking down.

QUESTION: Heather, two very brief things on that.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: When you said – first of all, I just want to make sure that I understood this. You said – in his interview that you referenced just now, you said the Secretary said it’s his opinion that the Russians did interfere or meddle or however you want to say it --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in 2016. Is it – is that his opinion or is that just – is that a fact?

MS NAUERT: He views that as a fact. I mean, look, I don’t need to go over this again --

QUESTION: Okay. No, no, no.

MS NAUERT: -- but the Intelligence Community --

QUESTION: Got it.

MS NAUERT: -- has put together its reports and the Secretary has reviewed those reports.

QUESTION: I just – I just wanted to make sure I got that right.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: And then when you say we don’t have sanctionable activity right now --

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: -- you’re referring to things --

MS NAUERT: Under CAATSA --

QUESTION: -- related to 2018, related to the 2018 elections? Not that – you’re talking about stuff that --

MS NAUERT: I was talking about CAATSA.

QUESTION: -- is happening --

MS NAUERT: Sanctionable activity under CAATSA is something that we continue to take a very close look at.

QUESTION: Right.

MS NAUERT: This is not going to be done overnight. Let me remind you these are – there are transactions that the U.S. Government and our colleagues have to comb through, so that will continue to take some time. We are pleased, however, that some countries have stopped the purchase of certain Russian materials and supplies. We believe somewhere north of $3 billion – we’ve been able to stop those transactions. Stopping transactions like that is, in effect, a punishment. Why? Because that means less money goes into Russian coffers. So that is considered a part of what we view as a success in holding Russia accountable.

QUESTION: Well, when you mean – when you say we don’t have sanctionable activity, you mean you haven’t discovered any or you --

MS NAUERT: We haven’t --

QUESTION: -- discovered things that might have been, but you stopped them?

MS NAUERT: We – I’m not going to get into any of those – into some of those details, but we are continuing to look very closely for sanctionable activity.

QUESTION: All right. And then when you say – you make this appeal to private sector companies like Google and Facebook and Twitter, I guess, and whoever else, but when you say – when the Secretary goes to – and tells the Russians it has to stop, does he tell them that that kind of thing, that this bot activity or whatever it is, the misinformation, disinformation, that that has to stop too?

MS NAUERT: I don’t know if he has specifically raised the issue of bots with that government, but I know he’s raised that issue of bots publicly. So perhaps he has privately as well. I know his conversations are very broad with them in terms of this. Okay?

QUESTION: On this subject --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: Hey, Heather.

MS NAUERT: Welcome. Congratulations on your – on your job.

QUESTION: Thanks, I appreciate it.

MS NAUERT: Are you here as a part of The Washington Post today, or are you here with BuzzFeed?

QUESTION: I’m here as BuzzFeed.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: On March 5th I start at --

MS NAUERT: March 5th you start, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS NAUERT: Well, congrats.

QUESTION: Thank you. The – that list of tough administration actions against the Russian Government, it seems like another data point might be the decision to send Javelins to Ukraine. Has that happened yet? Just in terms of timing, like, are those in Ukraine now?

MS NAUERT: I’d have to look into that. I’m not sure. And even if they were, I’m not sure we’d be able to confirm that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can I ask another follow-up question?

MS NAUERT: Yes, okay. Hi.

QUESTION: Hi. Regardless of Russia’s stance on extraditing people, what’s the State Department doing to follow up with the indictments issued by Mr. Mueller? There’s 13 people he’s charged. Does the State Department take action to actually try to help engage those people or encourage the Russian Government to arrest them?

MS NAUERT: Well, the United States Government wouldn’t be engaged with those individuals in any way. I’d just have to refer you back to the Department of Justice for anything more on that. Okay?

QUESTION: And is there any way of considering sanctions on those since they’ve been --

MS NAUERT: Sanctions is something we typically don’t forecast, but we could potentially take a look at that. Okay?

Okay. Hi.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, sir. How are you? Go right ahead. Hi.

QUESTION: In his speech today before the Security Council, the Palestinian president called for an international conference as a substitute for the U.S. role in the peace process. Do you have any comment?

MS NAUERT: So the President has made it a priority, as has Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, to try to bring Middle East peace. This is something that they have not backed away from. As you may know, Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Kushner were up at the United Nations earlier today to hear what Mahmoud Abbas had to say in front of the UN Security Council.

I’d like to just note that he kept his remarks constructive, and that was something that we certainly noticed. We hope the Palestinians will come to the negotiating table. We are not backing away from peace. That is something that is important to this administration. And I think their presence just reaffirms that we are willing to listen to both sides, to the Palestinians and the Israelis, and we’re willing to commit to hearing all sides.

QUESTION: But you do not support the international conference as a frame for this, do you?

MS NAUERT: Look, if at some point we believe that other countries could be helpful to the peace process, we would certainly be willing to bring them in. Is the time right for that right now? I’m not sure we’ve decided that, but that is something that could certainly happen in the future. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, go ahead. Hi, sir.

QUESTION: Over the --

MS NAUERT: No, the gentleman right behind you.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: But how can you maintain both things at the same time, that you have a special relationship with Israel and you want to be the mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, to have --

MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve covered this numerous times before. This administration looks back at the many – numerous decades of inability to bring peace to the Middle East. So the administration is determined that it wants to look at things perhaps a little differently. And that may confound some people --

QUESTION: But --

MS NAUERT: Let me finish. And that may confound some people, and that’s fine. But the administration is still saying that we are willing to sit down and have peace talks, and both sides are going to have to give a little, and that’s something that they’ve not – we’ve not backed away from in terms of our standpoint.

QUESTION: I’m not saying that you’re unique in this respect.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: Multiple administrations have said we have a special relationship with Israel and we’re going to be the mediator, and it hasn’t worked out well. So aren’t you actually sort of doing the same thing that past administrations have?

MS NAUERT: No, I think the administration is handling this – handling this differently. And there are a lot of examples that I could think of that --

QUESTION: Can I ask about Honduras?

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: I’m not sure I’m going to have anything for you on Honduras today, but you can --

QUESTION: Well, perhaps --

MS NAUERT: -- take a stab at it.

QUESTION: Thank you, for next time. On January 27th, the AP published a report based on Honduran Government documents describing the involvement of a new national police chief in assisting a drug cartel leader in transporting, quote, “nearly a ton of cocaine.” Subsequently, the Honduran police have formally requested a criminal investigation, quote, “preparatory to a complaint,” not into the police chief, but into the AP reporters who broke the story. It seems a clear attempt to retaliate and intimidate a U.S. media outlet. Is the State Department doing anything on this, especially considering that the revelations are about the police chief Jose David Aguilar Moran’s involvement and that the U.S. Government provides assistance to the Honduran police?

MS NAUERT: I will certainly have to take a look into that. I was not aware of that story. I’ll check with our experts in Honduras and at our Western Hemisphere Bureau as well. Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Thank you (inaudible).

MS NAUERT: And I’m sorry, which publication are you with?

QUESTION: Sam Husseini with The Nation.

MS NAUERT: The Nation, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay, thank you. Hi.

QUESTION: Just over the weekend in a CBS interview, Secretary Tillerson said that China would have an important role to play once we get to the negotiating table. So does the U.S. support a return to the Six-Party Talks or some other sort of multilateral framework?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to commit to any kind of framework in which the United States would sit down and have talks. I know everybody’s anxious to talk about talks and all that. We’re not there yet. China obviously has unique leverage over the DPRK because it’s its primary trading partner. In terms of China, we’ve had many frank conversations with Chinese officials, saying that they can certainly do more to help us and to help work with the maximum pressure campaign. They – and let me remind you – signed on to the four unanimous UN Security Council resolutions to crack down on the DPRK.

QUESTION: If there were to be some sort of multilateral framework, what other countries would be at the table?

MS NAUERT: You think I’m going to answer that question? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Possibly.

MS NAUERT: You – no. No, we’re not going there. We are not at that point yet. I know some of you like your hypotheticals, but I’m not going to jump into that, okay?

QUESTION: Still on North Korea, but not (inaudible).

MS NAUERT: Okay, hi – yeah.

QUESTION: So the South Korean defense minister said that the U.S. and the ROK will announce plans before April of resuming the postponed joint military exercises. What is the U.S. position? Are we planning to go ahead with them starting in April?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, so some of this would be under – some of would be under DO – Department of Defense. I have no reason, though, to believe that they – that we wouldn’t restart some of our – some of our exercises that we do. We’ve done those for many decades. As you well know, the Republic of Korea is our strong, staunch ally, but again, I’d have to have you talk to DOD about that.

QUESTION: One more question --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on North Korea still.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the North Korean state media released a statement recently saying that North Korea is ready for both dialogue and war. I believe that’s a direct quote. What is the U.S. response to that?

MS NAUERT: They said they’re ready for both dialogue and war.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: I guess countries have to be ready for every eventuality, don’t they?

QUESTION: So your response is we are too?

MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) That doesn’t sound too dissimilar from the United States policy. Our preferred approach is diplomacy. That is something that the Secretary in his interview over the weekend and many times has talked about, the importance of diplomacy, and there are so many countries that have signed on and are backing our diplomatic approach as well. However, if that should fail, and we certainly hope it would not, the United States Government is prepared to respond in that type of way. Things like that always have to be backed up by a credible military response if at all necessary, but what we do here in this building is diplomacy.

Okay, all right.

QUESTION: One on Korea.

QUESTION: One small one on FATF. Pakistan’s foreign minister --

MS NAUERT: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: -- had just tweeted that there was no consensus in the FATF meeting in Paris today, and he also said that the motion was sponsored by U.S. Can you confirm that?

MS NAUERT: I can’t because my understanding was that the final decision on that was due later this week, so I don’t want to get ahead of what that final decision would be. So I don’t have just independent confirmation that a decision was made early. We’re anticipating that the final decision would be made on Thursday of this week. What he’s asking about is this Financial Action Task Force, and it’s where a lot of countries have come together and they look at various nations who we believe and those other countries believe are not doing enough to crack down on terror financing, counterterrorism and the like. Pakistan is one of those countries that they’re taking a close look at, and they may be making – they’ll be making an announcement sometime soon.

QUESTION: It looks like, from his tweet, that at least three countries are opposing your motion.

MS NAUERT: I see. Okay. Well, I think we have been very clear with Pakistan. Our concerns about terror financing – how many times have we talked about the person who’s – Pakistan let out of house arrest, who was responsible for the Mumbai attacks back in 2008 that killed so many people, including Americans too.

Okay.

QUESTION: Just a quick --

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

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

MS NAUERT: We – we already did something. Let me – sir, you in the back.

Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you – from Turkish media. U.S. media suggests that Secretary Tillerson offered three things in Ankara last week. One is joint patrol by Turkish-U.S. forces in Manbij, and the other one is a buffer zone in Afrin, and the third one is cutting U.S.-YPG relations gradually. Can you confirm this report?

MS NAUERT: I cannot confirm that report. Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay, we’re going to have to go.

QUESTION: Really quickly, and you might have to take this.

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: Tomorrow, a court in Bahrain is scheduled to sentence Nabeel Rajab, who I – case I’ve raised before. I’m just wondering if you have anything to say to the Bahrainis ahead – ahead of this sentencing, and whether or not you’ll be – have a presence there.

MS NAUERT: We were at the last – a representative from our embassy was at the last hearing. We know that they ejected – rejected his appeal on January the 15th, a little over a month ago. We’re very disappointed by the court of cessation that’s – or cassation, rather – that they made the decision to uphold the verdict sentencing Nabeel Rajab. He’s a prominent human rights activist. The sentencing would be, we understand, up to two years in prison, and I understand there’s this separate sentencing that could take place for some of his Twitter activity. So we continue to have conversations with the Government of Bahrain about our very serious concerns about – about this.

Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: All right, thanks everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)