Department Press Briefing - March 27, 2018
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you today?
QUESTION: Good. Happy Tuesday.
MS NAUERT: Happy Tuesday. Nice to see you all again. Come on, Abbie, grab a seat.
I’d like to start out with an announcement about our Under Secretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, his travel. He is leading a U.S. delegation to the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan’s Peace Process, Security Cooperation, and Regional Connectivity for its regional leadership, hosting 27 countries and international organizations in a show of solidarity for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. Building on the successful Kabul Process conference on February 28th, each of the delegations endorsed Afghan President Ghani’s offer to the Taliban to join a peace and reconciliation process to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The international community agrees that the Taliban have a responsibility to end their campaign of violence and demonstrate that they are ready to discuss peace with the elected government of Afghanistan.
At the close of the conference, the delegations adopted the Tashkent Conference Declaration. Under Secretary Shannon had excellent bilateral meetings with the president and foreign minister of Uzbekistan. They have showed great leadership and hospitality as well as with the president of Afghanistan and several other delegations. The United States is committed to supporting the Government of Afghanistan in its pursuit of peace and commends the Afghans’ Central Asian neighbors’ leadership.
More for you on that when we get it, but I just wanted to bring that to you today.
Secondly, before we get started with your questions, I wanted to offer our condolences to the people of Russia on the incredible tragedy that they are facing there now. The tragedy I’m referring to is the one that occurred in the mall in Kemerovo. As a mom, it’s hard for me to even imagine the pain that people are experiencing over there, the loved ones who died, and all that they are going through right now.
Our Ambassador Huntsman to Russia, our U.S. ambassador to Russia, visited a church in Moscow earlier today to offer a prayer for all of those affected by the tragedy, and we will hold the Russian people in our thoughts at this difficult time. While our relations with the Russian Government are difficult at this point, this is a human tragedy and our hearts are with the Russian people.
With that being said, I’d like to recap where we are after yesterday’s announcement of the expulsion of dozens of Russian intelligence officers who were operating under diplomatic cover here in the United States, and also talk about the closure of our Russian – the Russian consulate in Seattle, Washington.
Following discussions with members of the cabinet and our Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, the President personally ordered the action to demonstrate our unbreakable solidarity with the United Kingdom after Russia used a military-grade nerve agent to attack a British citizen and his daughter, and to impose serious consequences on Russia for its continued violations of international law. In addition to the 48 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover, they have been declared persona non grata. We have also separately initiated the process of expelling 12 Russian intelligence officers also operating under diplomatic cover from Russia’s Mission to the United Nations in New York for abusing their privilege of residence under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement.
Together, these steps constitute the largest single expulsion of Russians ever ordered by the United States. It is a mark of how seriously we take the threat that Russia poses, and an indication of our readiness to impose further costs to respond to this and other reckless and destabilizing actions.
Alongside our own announcement, you’ve seen the unprecedented wave of similar actions and expulsions taken by other governments, our global partners, and our allies. The United States, the United Kingdom, NATO, and now 25 other countries have so far announced the expulsions of 151 Russian personnel. To highlight for you – and I can provide you this list, and I’ll just read a few of those countries who, in concert with the United States and the UK, of course, are working together on this: Ukraine deciding to expel 13; NATO, we learned this morning, 7; France, 4; Germany, 4; Poland, 4; Canada, 4; Lithuania, 8; the Czech Republic, 3; Moldova, 3, we just learned about that today; the Netherlands, 2; Denmark, 2; Albania, 2; Italy, 2; Spain, Australia, both 2; Romania, Estonia, 1 each; Latvia, Croatia, Sweden, Macedonia, Norway, Hungary, Finland, and Ireland, 1 each for those countries; and we’ve just most recently learned of Belgium deciding to kick out 1. The United Kingdom, of course, deciding to expel 23.
Our Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell, and many others in the building across the interagency process have worked tirelessly over the past three weeks to achieve this unprecedented level of cooperation and also coordination. The end result – 151 Russian intelligence personnel sent home to Moscow – is a testimony of how seriously the world takes Russia’s ongoing global campaign to undermine international peace and stability, to threaten the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and to subvert and discredit Western institutions.
As we said yesterday, the door to dialogue with the Russian Government remains open; but if Russia wants to improve relations, it needs to first acknowledge its responsibility for this attack and cease its recklessly aggressive behavior.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. On that.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you – first of all, are you expecting or do you think there may be more actions still to come from other countries?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that. We have certainly spoken with a lot of countries over the coming days, but I’ll leave it for those countries to announce.
QUESTION: Secondly, you referred to Deputy Secretary Sullivan and Assistant Secretary Mitchell working tirelessly over three weeks to get this – to help coordinate this unprecedented series of expulsions. Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov said earlier today that the only reason that you were able to get these other countries on board was because you were using blackmail – you, meaning the United States. I’m just wondering if you have a response to that.
MS NAUERT: I would say that that’s ludicrous. This was an effort started by the UK because we know what happened there, the attempted murder of a British citizen and also his daughter, on British soil. We came – the United States did, as did many others – to the defense or standing in solidarity with our ally. That is a ridiculous comment that he made.
QUESTION: Okay. By far, the U.S. – this administration – took the biggest in terms of numbers and action. Is that – that is reflective of what? Of just the size of the total Russian delegation in the United States? Or is it because you felt – I don’t know – strongly that you had to do more than everyone else?
MS NAUERT: I think it was the size of the mission. The United States obviously – they have a large presence here, a larger presence in the United States than they would in some smaller countries.
QUESTION: Okay. And then of the 60 that you kicked out, can you give us any kind of example of what these people were doing that made them not real diplomats, that made them – that allow you to call them spies, intelligence --
MS NAUERT: Operating under diplomatic cover.
MS NAUERT: That’s how we refer to it. So this is a broad interagency process. It included the weigh-in of other agencies, including the FBI and others in the United States Government. So some of the stuff, I don’t have access to that kind of information. But I can tell you these were people operating under diplomatic cover. We believe our country is safer by making these Russians go home. We know that they were not here to do good, but rather they could have done something potentially bad.
QUESTION: And how do you know that? Or how do we know that?
MS NAUERT: Well --
QUESTION: Diplomats operate under diplomatic cover as well.
MS NAUERT: Look, I think if you look at the actions that took place against the British citizen and his daughter, it’s clear that perhaps our citizens were not safe based on what happened in the UK.
QUESTION: Are you saying that what happened in the UK was done by Russians operating under diplomatic cover?
MS NAUERT: I am not saying that. I will – I will leave that for the Brits to say that. But we certainly know that Russia is responsible for that attack. That is something that is not in question. That is something that the Brits and many other countries have said as well. And so we stand with our ally, the UK, and many other countries in recognizing the security issues by having so many Russian spies operating here in the United States.
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that there aren’t Russian spies operating in the United States. I mean, that’s ludicrous. There clearly are. How do you know these specific 60 people were –
MS NAUERT: That would be --
QUESTION: -- spies?
MS NAUERT: That would be an intelligence matter.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, how do you come up with the names of them, their names?
MS NAUERT: We provided – we provided names to the Russian Government. This was put --
QUESTION: Right. And did you provide them –
MS NAUERT: This was put together through the interagency process --
QUESTION: Okay. So –
MS NAUERT: -- with the weigh-in of many other U.S. Government partners.
QUESTION: So did you provide to the Russians – did you say, “Diplomat X, this is – we’re PNGing him because he or she was seen, or did the following?”
MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t think we would provide that level of detail to the public. But if Russia wants to provide that, they’re certainly welcome to provide it.
QUESTION: No, no, no. Did you tell the Russians that?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you that we provided Russia with the names of that, and I’m not going to go any further beyond – beyond that.
QUESTION: All right, last one. Have the Russians responded to you directly yet?
MS NAUERT: Well, as you know, the Russian ambassador to the United States was brought into the State Department on Monday. And so we informed them in a professional fashion of our decision.
QUESTION: No, no, I mean since then.
MS NAUERT: We have not heard anything –
QUESTION: In other words –
MS NAUERT: We have not heard anything formally from them.
QUESTION: Can you explain the 12 diplomats in the UN? I mean, how – I thought the – sorry about that.
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I thought the UN, like they have a UN – I don’t know how it is determined for UN delegations to function diplomatically in the U.S.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So the rules at the UN, at the United Nations, are a little bit different. Hold on a second. Let me see where I find that here. Bear with me. I’ve got a lot of information here on this.
QUESTION: You have a lot. You didn’t have the answer to my question. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: I didn’t have the answer. You wanted intelligence information, Matt. I can’t give you that.
QUESTION: Well --
MS NAUERT: Okay. But I can talk with you about process. Said, to answer your question, so in expelling 12 intelligence officials – intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to the United Nations in New York, we did that because they were abusing their privilege of residence under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement. This is Section 13 of the UN Headquarters Agreement. The action is considered separate from the decision to expel 48 Russians accredited to their bilateral mission and to close the consulate in Seattle. So there are basically different kinds of rules that govern what takes place at the Russian mission to the UN versus their other facilities and properties.
QUESTION: And for doing this, do you have to provide the UN some evidence of what you’re accusing them of, proving that they are abusing of their privilege of residence or --
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. We can look into that and see what I can find for you. Okay?
QUESTION: Well, yeah.
QUESTION: And another --
QUESTION: But this is the thing. I mean, you don’t have to tell them or anybody what exactly they did to abuse their – I mean, what, were they jumping the subway turnstiles or something? I mean, what exactly is --
MS NAUERT: Matt, okay. I get it. You’re being funny.
QUESTION: No. I’m trying to figure out what exactly --
MS NAUERT: My understanding is that the Secretary of State has the ability – and Robert, step in and correct me if I’m wrong here – but the Secretary of State has the ability to declare somebody persona non grata at any point --
MS NAUERT: -- when they are operating in this country. We don’t have to give them all the reasons why we don’t want them in the country. And I think as evidence of what happened in the UK, that’s reason enough to not want all these spies operating in the United States.
QUESTION: But it’s different with the UN. I’m told it’s different with the UN. Don’t you have to provide evidence to the UN that those people --
MS NAUERT: I think I just answered that, that I don’t know the answer to that. If I can get an answer for you, I would be happy to provide it.
QUESTION: Okay. Just something else. The Russian already said that they will respond to all those sanctions. We might have some U.S. diplomats expelled from Russia. Will you answer – respond to the response? Will – is this the beginning of a new war of sanctions saying --
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical. What Russia should do: Russia should apologize for its actions that it took in the UK. Russia should stop and cease that kind of activity. While they’re at it, by the way, they should stop bombing innocent civilians who are suffering so horribly in Eastern Ghouta and throughout the rest of the country in Syria. There’s a lot that they can do, and I would suggest that they start there.
QUESTION: But if they expel 60 U.S. diplomats, will you answer to that and then expel more?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to go there. I’m not going to go there with a hypothetical. We’ll wait and see what happens.
QUESTION: Hey, Heather. Who did the ambassador meet with on Monday? Can you tell us anything about that conversation, about the Russian reaction to it? And are there any plans for the deputy secretary to speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this?
MS NAUERT: We have no meetings, no calls to announce regarding possibly discussing things with Foreign Minister Lavrov. It was our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan who met with the ambassador to Russia on Monday.
QUESTION: Anything – do you know how the Russians reacted? Could you tell us how they reacted?
MS NAUERT: Oh, I think they were not surprised but certainly not happy at the same time. Okay.
QUESTION: Can you clarify just one point?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: That – how many Russian diplomats are left in the country? And do they have a clearance now, like these are the bad apples out? The rest of them are okay?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into the number of people that we believe are here in the United States.
Conor, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you clarify whether or not the 48 who were expelled from the bilateral mission – were they from Seattle? The Russian ambassador said that they were from D.C. and New York. But how did you close the consulate without expelling --
MS NAUERT: We believe it was a mix. The consulate is still operating. They have some time before they still have to vacate the consulate.
QUESTION: But they will be the ones to be expelled, the ones from the --
MS NAUERT: No. They come from a mix of areas. My understanding is that they come from around the United States, could come from the mission, could come from the consulate and other places. And – Matt.
QUESTION: Does that mean that not – potentially not all of the diplomats who were at the consulate, in the now-closed or soon-to-be-closed consulate in Seattle – don’t have to leave?
MS NAUERT: I would have to refer you to Russia on that one. I’m not sure. I’m not sure the entire mix – how many spies they had operating in Seattle versus in Washington versus New York. I don’t have that breakdown.
QUESTION: Can Russia send 48 – sorry.
QUESTION: Can Russia send 48 other diplomats to replace those who were recalled?
MS NAUERT: I don’t believe so, but let me double-check on that.
QUESTION: Do they have to just --
MS NAUERT: Let me – I will double-check on that.
QUESTION: -- have 48 minus --
MS NAUERT: I will double-check on that and get back with you.
Laurie, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Actually on Russia, it’s a public figure the number of diplomats they have here, since they ordered you to reduce your diplomatic number of diplomats to what they had in the – what they had here, which was 455 – that was last summer that figure came out, that they told you you must reduce your number of diplomats in Russia to the number of diplomats we have in the United States, and the number given was 455. That’s – so that’s in the press, and so – okay. And so yesterday --
MS NAUERT: That may be in the press, but I’m not going to confirm that, so.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, for people to – so, but yesterday, senior administration officials complained that 100 of Moscow’s diplomats were intelligence agents. So that suggests that something like a quarter of the Russian diplomats here were intelligence agents operating under diplomatic cover. Is that a reasonable estimate of the situation?
MS NAUERT: Laurie, I appreciate the question and I understand the interest in asking it. I’m just not going to confirm anything that has to do with intelligence.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Does that mean you don’t want to confirm the estimated 100 figure?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: Well, how about putting it this way: Do you think this expulsion clears out all of the Russian intelligence agents who are operating under diplomatic cover, or there’s some --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have the answer to that. What I do know is that we’ve decided to expel 60 from the United States. Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Just one more on Russia?
QUESTION: North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Conor, go ahead, and then we’ll move on.
MS NAUERT: Well, I think when we look at countries, whether it’s China, whether it’s Russia, there’s certainly more that they can do to help with our maximum pressure campaign. Russia, like China, voted in – unanimously for UN Security Council resolutions, three or four of those UN Security Council resolutions that really put the pressure on North Korea. We say that certainly countries can do more. Russia would be in that bucket and China would be in that bucket as well. But beyond that, I don’t have any more.
QUESTION: Heather, I’m just curious.
MS NAUERT: Hey, Laura. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the efforts by Sullivan and Mitchell to enlist other countries, was that limited to Europe?
MS NAUERT: I know that we provided information to other countries to make them aware of the decision. This was not just something that was an idea of the United States. This was something that the United Kingdom – and I’m not going to speak on their behalf, but this was an initiative that was put together in concert with the United Kingdom.
MS NAUERT: Well, I just read some of those countries. They were all European countries. But we did inform our counterparts at other nations what we were doing.
QUESTION: Other regions --
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- Middle East or whatever, okay.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: One last question. You said that the country’s going to be safer after this expulsion. Does that also mean that the 2018 elections are going to be safer in defending against Russian meddling?
MS NAUERT: Well, I don’t know what these guys were actually up to who have been operating here in the United States. We have long said that Russia remains a country that is interested in fiddling with other people’s elections. The United States – that is not unique to the United States. We’ve seen that in Mexico; we’ve seen that in France. European countries that have elections coming up, we’ve seen Russian attempts at meddling, and also with the – with propaganda as well. So we can’t say that the United States is going to be any safer from its election as a result. Russia has long arms; Russia has lots of tentacles. We imagine that they will continue to have an interest in our elections but also many other nations’ elections as well. Okay.
QUESTION: Arms and tentacles?
MS NAUERT: Arms and tentacles, that’s right.
QUESTION: This is quite a beast it’s got going.
MS NAUERT: It’s like a – it’s – (laughter) --
QUESTION: Can you just – I just want to --
MS NAUERT: It’s a beast from the deep sea.
QUESTION: I just want to make an appeal. Can you – you just said, in answer to her question, “I don’t know what these guys were up to.” Can you ask --
MS NAUERT: I’m saying I don’t personally know --
QUESTION: I know. I know.
MS NAUERT: -- exactly what they were up to.
QUESTION: But can --
MS NAUERT: But we can say --
QUESTION: Can we --
MS NAUERT: -- they were spies. We’re kicking them out. The nation will be safer.
QUESTION: Can we --
MS NAUERT: We will be better off as a country with 60 less spies here in the United States.
QUESTION: Can you just find out, ask, if, from this building, we can get someone to give us even a general idea of whatever bad stuff these guys were doing? Not like – it doesn’t have to be completely specific, but just some idea? Because frankly, just saying, “That dude’s a spy. Get out,” I mean --
MS NAUERT: Matt, these are things that are tracked closely by --
QUESTION: I’m sure they are. A lot of things --
MS NAUERT: -- certain departments and people here in --
QUESTION: -- the WMD in Iraq was tracked closely as well, so --
MS NAUERT: -- Washington.
QUESTION: Heather --
QUESTION: Can we move on? Can I move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a very quick question for you on the Palestinian issue. On Friday, the President signed into law the Taylor Force Act, cutting off aid to the Palestinians. Could you share with us the mechanics? What are the machinations on how you go about doing this – how, when and where? And if it is underway, have you cut aid to the Palestinian Authority already or is that – I mean, just share with us what you know on this issue.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So this past – as part of the omnibus spending bill, the Trump administration has strongly supported – it also had bipartisan – strong bipartisan support for the Taylor Force Act. When we were recently in Tel Aviv, we walked by the spot where that death occurred, so that brings to mind what this legislation, what this piece of legislation was all about.
The legislation passed Congress not long ago. It put out a clear expectation to the Palestinian Authority and also the Palestinian Liberation Organization that the policy where they would give so-called martyr payments – those payments to terrorists and their families have to stop. The United States has been clear about that. Those kinds of compensation schemes incentivize violence against Israeli but also American citizens as well. We as an administration and Republicans and Democrats find that simply unacceptable.
I don’t have a copy of the omnibus spending bill in front of me, so I’m afraid I can’t read for you all the details about that legislation.
QUESTION: I understand your position.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m saying the mechanics of this thing. How do you – how do you decide where to cut aid?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, it’s the State Department that’s going to do this, but is there like a committee that is --
MS NAUERT: Said, this is something – this is something that was just signed.
QUESTION: My question is technical. How do you --
MS NAUERT: Hold on. This was just signed not long ago. I haven’t had a chance to review it. I’ll get with our lawyers and see what I can get to you on that, okay?
QUESTION: So you have like a committee that is working on this?
MS NAUERT: Said, I don’t have the information on that. I’ll see what I can get.
QUESTION: Yeah. Both Kurdish and Iraqi officials – both Kurdish and Iraqi officials have publicly expressed their concern about ISIS re-emergence in areas like Kirkuk and Hawija. Do you share that concern?
MS NAUERT: We have said all along that ISIS remains a serious threat, not just in Syria but also in Iraq. It is something that we have talked about a long time. We continue to cooperate with Iraqi Security Forces to try to root out those terrorists, to try to stop them in their tracks, but this will continue to be an issue and we continue to keep a close eye on that.
QUESTION: Do you think there should be more --
MS NAUERT: Just hold --
QUESTION: Do you think there should be more coordination between the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga, and that that would help address this problem?
MS NAUERT: I – Laurie, I don’t know the answer to that, but we always as a general matter feel that if the Peshmerga and the Iraqi general – and the Iraqi Government can work more closely together, that would be the – for the benefit of Iraqi citizens overall.
Okay. Okay, go ahead.
MS NAUERT: Well, we stand strongly with our ally, with the UK. And when the UK tells us that they have proof that they know Russia was responsible, we have every reason to believe them.
QUESTION: North Korea?
QUESTION: You haven’t seen their – their evidence, their proof?
MS NAUERT: I’ve not seen personally seen their proof.
QUESTION: Not you personally.
MS NAUERT: That would not come over to the State Department. That would most likely go to another building, so I’d refer you to any of those other intelligence departments that deal with this.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I mean, you’re – are you going on just what they said, or have they shown you?
MS NAUERT: Look, this is something – I don’t have access to that kind of information. This is a – much broader than just the State Department. This is something that’s being dealt with at the very highest levels of the United States Government.
Hey. How are you?
MS NAUERT: Good to see you.
QUESTION: Hi. Good to see you too. News reports suggest that Russia and Turkey reached a deal that would allow Turkish troops and its local allies to control the northern town of Tal Rifaat. In return, Turkey will hand over Jisr al-Shughur and Maarrat al-Nu’man in Idlib to Russia. Are you aware of this deal, and what do you think about it?
MS NAUERT: I am not. I’m sorry. This is the first I’m hearing of that report. I’ll have to look into it and see if I get you anything on that.
QUESTION: And how do you view the Russian role in exchanging territories in Syria with Turkey?
MS NAUERT: Well, we think that Syria certainly belongs to the Syrian people and shouldn’t belong to Russia, but we know that Vladimir Putin has designs on Syria. Whether it’s for military bases or whether it’s for a warm port naval base, they have a lot of interest in trying to gain and hold ground there, but we would like to see Syria go back to the control of the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Syria? Stay --
MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Yes.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any updates that you can provide us with the planned meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un? So is the State Department has already started directly contacting the DPRK’s government?
MS NAUERT: So what I can tell you – we continue to proceed with our planning to go ahead for a summit between the United States and the DPRK. This is something that, of course, that President Trump and the Republic of Korea had talked about not too long ago. We are going ahead and we are planning that. We are planning that out of the State Department, but also in close coordination with the NSC – the National Security Council – and other U.S. Government agencies and departments as well. It’s a big task, certainly, pulling off any kind of summit like this. The NSC is the main coordinator of it, and the – and the State Department is providing any assistance that is needed.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Anything else on DPRK?
QUESTION: North Korea.
QUESTION: Just --
MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is the end of May still the deadline for the summit?
MS NAUERT: That’s the timeline that we’re looking at. Whether or not that stays the official timeline, I’m just not sure yet.
QUESTION: Heather, on – Heather?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, go ahead. Hi.
MS NAUERT: So we’ve certainly seen that report. We’ve seen the report; we’ve watched the video. I know a lot of you have seen it too. There certain was a lot of fanfare. There certainly was a lot of protocol that was involved in that meeting. China hasn’t confirmed who was visiting from the DPRK. We are – we’re not familiar with who was actually there, but we look forward to hearing about it and we’ll leave it for the Chinese to announce who was visiting.
QUESTION: So you haven’t heard yet from the Chinese about this visit?
MS NAUERT: We have not had any discussions with the Chinese about this visit, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Janne, how are you?
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. This high-level – whether Kim Jong-un or North Koreans high-level visit to China. They just left from China, but do you think China is strategically using North Korea in U.S.-China trading war?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think so.
QUESTION: Well --
MS NAUERT: I don’t think so.
QUESTION: -- the – North Korea is economically right now tough situations, so why they visit --
MS NAUERT: Could you restate the question, please?
QUESTION: Yeah, North Korea is very much – economically very much tough situations.
MS NAUERT: They’re in a tough situation, North Korea.
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
MS NAUERT: Yes, they certainly are in a tough economic situation. We believe that’s one of the reasons that they came to the table and indicated that they were interested in having talks with the United States.
QUESTION: Do you think China can really help the economically support the North --
MS NAUERT: Ah, will China help North Korea?
QUESTION: Of course.
MS NAUERT: Economically, that’s the question you’re asking.
MS NAUERT: I certainly hope not. China is one of those countries, just like Russia, that signed onto the UN Security Council resolutions. We hope – and we’ve often said that China can do a lot more to crack down and adhere to those UN Security Council resolutions, in adhering to some of those sanctions. So we hope that China will not skirt those.
QUESTION: Heather, I have a question --
MS NAUERT: Nope, I’m sorry sir. Right here. Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: Thank you. Jahanzaub from ARY News TV. The United States has put sanctions on seven Pakistani companies over doubt that they have links to nuclear trade. What really are the concerns about the Pakistani, especially about the Pakistani nuclear program? They put a – Department of Commerce, I think, put sanctions on seven Pakistani companies. Are you aware of that?
MS NAUERT: Okay. If Commerce did that, I don’t have any information on that for you today. I’d have to refer you back to the Department of Commerce.
QUESTION: Okay, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Tehmina Janjua, was in the town like a couple of weeks ago, and she told a press conference in Pakistan embassy – actually, first time a top Pakistani official admits that Haqqani Network leaders are in Pakistan, and Pakistan are asking them to go back to Afghanistan and start a peace process with Afghan Government. How do you see this comment? Because the first time that Pakistan admits there are leaders of Haqqani Network in Pakistan.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m sorry, I have not heard those comments until now, so I typically hesitate on commenting on things that I haven’t heard or seen myself. Thanks. I don’t have anything on Cuba for you today, I’m sorry. Miss.
MS NAUERT: I would say that’s an intelligence matter, and we look forward to the OPCW completing its investigation. We also hope, at the same time, that Russia will return to the UN Security Council and will agree to some kind of mechanism like the Joint Investigative Mechanism that they had stood in the way of, and in fact defeated numerous times. We have tried – the United States and many other countries have tried – to stand up an equivalent to the Joint Investigative Mechanism that would assign culpability to those who had used chemical weapons on other – on individuals. Russia has thwarted that in the past; we hope they’ll get back to that in the future. That would certainly be a good start for them.
QUESTION: And the U.S. would fully support a mechanism in that?
MS NAUERT: Well, the United States had supported the Joint Investigative Mechanism. We would support what the UN agrees to go along with in putting something together that is just as strong as the Joint Investigative Mechanism. One thing I’d like to point you all today – I don’t know if anyone saw Ambassador Haley’s comments at the United Nations today – she made some very strong comments and expressed her sincere concerns – and our grave concerns over the humanitarian crisis taking place in Syria, as large – a large result coming from Russia and Iran, and their responsibility for the horrible actions that are being taken upon the civilians in Syria. So let me refer you to her comments; she was very clear about Russian responsibility for that.
QUESTION: Can I just make a point --
QUESTION: Can I ask --
QUESTION: -- that you – not just you, but all spokespeople in this town – your predecessors routinely comment on things that you haven’t seen yourself personally, right?
MS NAUERT: So let me ask you as a journalist. If someone comes up to you and says, “Hey Matt, I heard that someone said X, Y and Z.” Are you going to give a quote on something you’ve heard secondhand?
QUESTION: I don’t know the answer to that.
MS NAUERT: Probably not, probably not.
QUESTION: But you didn’t --
MS NAUERT: Exactly.
QUESTION: -- see the poisoning of the ex-spy in Russia, right? So just – let’s – I mean --
MS NAUERT: Me personally? No, I wasn’t there for it, Matt.
QUESTION: No, okay.
MS NAUERT: I get the word games that you want to get into today.
QUESTION: It’s not a word game.
MS NAUERT: And that’s fine and everything, but it is not good policy to comment on a quote that I haven’t seen, haven’t heard, and have no awareness of myself.
MS NAUERT: Okay. . . .
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah, go right ahead.
QUESTION: You want to comment on the Egyptian election today, the third day of the election? There seems to be very, very low turnout and so on. So what is your comment and how are you going to react to the results?
MS NAUERT: Well, my understanding is that today is day two of the three-day elections --
MS NAUERT: -- that it won’t be certified, the results won’t be certified, until April the 2nd. So as – as far as we are concerned, those elections are still ongoing, and so I don’t want to comment on the elections themselves while they are – while they continue to unfold. But I can tell you, and we’ve talked about this here before – we are following those elections very closely, the results of it. We have long emphasized the importance of a transparent and credible election process in Egypt. We believe that citizens should have the right and the opportunity to participate freely and fairly in those elections. We have expressed our concerns about reports of detention of political figures leading up to the elections process, but overall, we’re following it closely and it’s still underway. So I’d get back to you with an answer after that election is over and after the results are certified.
QUESTION: But you don’t have any concerns about the fact that there really isn’t any credible opponent to --
MS NAUERT: Look, Matt, I think I was just clear about – we emphasize the importance of a transparent and credible election process. As we have watched that some opposition figures have been detained, we have noted that here in our press statements.
QUESTION: So you don’t want to make a judgment yet because it’s not over yet on whether it’s credible?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to do that while there is an election process in place, okay?
All right, sir, go – and then we’re going to have to wrap it up.
QUESTION: A quick question on the – Ambassador Haley’s comment.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, so what is the question?
QUESTION: The – Ambassador Haley’s --
MS NAUERT: Ambassador Haley’s statement, yes.
QUESTION: -- statement was like a UN Security Council – a responsible UN Security Council would condemn the offensive into Eastern Ghouta by Syrian and – its forces. My question is: Would that also be true for condemning the Turkish invasion into Afrin and into villages in northern Iraq or Kurdish region?
MS NAUERT: Well, I have not seen one that’s been brought before the UN Security Council on that matter, so I just don’t want to comment on a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Okay. One other question on the Future Party in Syria. Are you – do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Yes. So we’ve been tracking that, and what you’re referring to is – pardon me here – the Syrian Future Party. And I think overall we would welcome any party that’s committed to UNSCR 2254, seeing a solution as not a military solution and the end for Syria, but actually a political solution to what will hopefully be the end of a horrific situation in Syria. So we would certainly support a group that’s committed to those kinds of principles to end the destruction that’s taking place there.
QUESTION: So is Syrian Future Party part of PYD or --
MS NAUERT: Look, my understanding is that it is multi-ethnic and that it is representative of the people who are living in that area.
Okay, we’re going to have to leave it at that, guys.
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- last night I saw that you were at an event at the Chilean embassy.
MS NAUERT: Yes, I was.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Equal Rights Coalition. I’m just curious. You were – this was to support LGBT rights, and your – the tweet said the U.S. “fully supports the Equal Rights Coalition’s efforts to defend universal human rights of LGBTI persons and to reduce violence and discrimination around the world.” I’m just curious if anyone at this event asked you about the administration’s ban on transgender troops serving in the military that came out late Friday, and if they didn’t, I’d like to ask you how it is that you can make a statement like that – not you personally, necessarily, but the administration can say that it fully supports the Equal Rights Coalition’s efforts to defend the universal human rights of LGBTI persons, to reduce violence and discrimination around the world, when this ban is in – has taken effect.
MS NAUERT: So the decision that you’re referring to is a decision that came out of the White House in consultation with the Department of Defense.
MS NAUERT: So I’m not going to speak about their policy decisions that they made as a combination of those two. As a general matter, at the State Department and as I did last night, spoke about the value of human rights, of being able to have people who want to have freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and the importance of that. We have talked here many times about the discrimination that LGBTI people have faced in places like Chechnya and places all around the world. We believe it is a human right to be able to associate freely and to be able to love the person that you want to love. I was proud to have been asked to speak on behalf of the State Department there, and no, I was not asked that question last evening.
QUESTION: Okay. But I’m just wondering, I mean, do you not think that this policy that went into – or is going to – that was announced on Friday is discriminatory?
MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to comment on that. That was a decision that was made. There were other complicating factors involved to my understanding and that’s a decision that was made by the White House in consultation with the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, if you’re --
MS NAUERT: It’s nothing that I’m going to weigh in on right here.
QUESTION: Well, but I don’t understand how you can say that the U.S. fully supports the idea of reducing discrimination and violence or eliminating it from the LGBTI community and then --
MS NAUERT: Matt, I would just say that there are other --
QUESTION: -- specifically on the T --
MS NAUERT: -- there are other factors. I don’t work for the Department of Defense, but there are other factors that come into play --
QUESTION: Well, I know you don’t, but you – but if you’re --
MS NAUERT: -- with regard to members of the military. Beyond that, I’m not going to comment. That is not my lane.
QUESTION: But if you say that the U.S. supports equal rights for LGBTI people and at the same time, the administration discriminates against LGBTI people, that would seem to be not consistent, and – unless the administration somehow believes that barring a certain type of person based on the T in their identity is not discrimination – and that’s what I just want to know – I mean, how do you square the two?
MS NAUERT: I think I’ve answered that. Okay. Thanks, everybody. We got to go.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)