Department Press Briefing - April 17, 2018

Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 17, 2018



2:51 p.m. EDT


MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody.


MS NAUERT: How are you? Okay, couple quick announcements to start off our briefing with today. Hi, Nadia. Nice to see you again.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: As many of you know, our Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan traveled to Mar-a-Lago in Florida today, and that’s where he will join President Trump for his meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. The acting secretary will support the President as the United States and Japan seek to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, and continue their close coordination on the global maximum pressure campaign toward the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

While at Mar-a-Lago, Acting Secretary Sullivan will participate in the President’s bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Abe and will meet separately with members of Japanese leadership to underscore the President’s priorities. The summit will also include a discussion of our shared priorities across the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan and the United States working together to promote high-quality trade and investment standards, freedom of the seas, respect for human rights and also international law. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Japan Julie Chung also traveled to Mar-a-Lago to accompany the Acting Secretary.

Last thing I’d like to announce, this week we are welcoming more than 80 law enforcement and security officials from around the world to take part in the Toward a More Safe and Secure World initiative. Participants from more than 50 countries, including Argentina, France, Bangladesh, and Kazakhstan, include judicial, law enforcement, security, and defense officials, also criminologists and other professionals who work within the spheres of transnational crime and terrorism. The department has partnered with the National Defense University to provide a two-day plenary in Washington, D.C. with top public and private sector security experts.

Participants of the International Visitor Leadership Program, IVLP, will also travel to communities across the United States and meet up with federal, regional, and local law enforcement officers to discuss closer international cooperation to address key security issues facing the global community. They will travel to cities including Montana – Helena, Montana – lucky – Reno, Nevada; Los Angeles; and also Des Moines, Iowa to explore methods to neutralize global criminal activity such as drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, money laundering, and countering extremism.

The intuitive will conclude with a counterdrug task force training in Tampa – whoever wrote this doesn’t understand alliteration; thanks a lot – followed by the annual Global Security Conference sponsored by the State Department and also the FBI’s New York field office in New York City. The program is another example of how the United States and other countries are working together to enhance efforts to combat transnational crime.

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

QUESTION: So there’s a lot of transnational crime in Helena, Montana?

MS NAUERT: Apparently there is. But they’re lucky. They get to go to Montana, your home state.

QUESTION: Well, not quite.

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: Close but not quite.

MS NAUERT: Well, okay. Where do you want to start?

QUESTION: Syria, please.


QUESTION: What is your latest understanding of the inspection team, the OPCW inspection team, and their access or lack thereof to the site of the attack? And then yesterday, your representative at the OPCW said, I think the first time that an official has said this publicly, at least on the record, that you’re concerned that Russia and Syria may have tampered with the site in order to try to cover up whatever evidence there might be of a chemical attack.


QUESTION: Can you explain what – why you have that concern?

MS NAUERT: Sure. So first off, let me ask you all, if anyone did not get a copy of our permanent representative’s statement on the OPCW as it pertains to Syria, please let us know, because we do have a copy of that we’d be happy to provide you. So let us know that.

Part of the concern, Matt, is the longer that it takes to get OPCW inspectors in to take a look at soil samples and other information that they can get on the ground, that delay further degrades any evidence that’s on the ground. So that is our chief concern. We want them to be able to get in as quickly as possible, as safely as possible, but we also want that evidence to be as pure as possible for their investigation.

We are certainly aware that Syrian state media was reporting earlier today that the team has been able to enter Douma. We can’t independently confirm that at this time. Our sources, which we consider to be reliable, indicate that the team has not yet been able to enter Douma. So that is our understanding of the situation, at least as of right now.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean then that they’re still in Damascus or that they may have gotten to the town but they just haven’t gotten to the site or what?

MS NAUERT: I can just say our understanding is that the team has not entered Douma.

QUESTION: All right. And then the other thing is, in answer to my question about the tampering, you just talked about degradation.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: That’s a little bit different than --

MS NAUERT: Right. And that’s – I was addressing the longer it takes for teams to be able to get there the better the chances are that the evidence will deteriorate. So that’s part of it. I was talking about time. As it pertains to tampering, to your question, let me go back to our permanent representative’s comments from yesterday and just read a portion of this, because it was put out by Ambassador Kenneth Ward. He said, “It is our understanding that the Russians may have visited the attack site. We are concerned that they may have tampered with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission to conduct an effective investigation. This raises serious questions about the ability of the fact-finding mission to do its job.” So I think in his statement – that’s just a few sentences from it – I think it’s clear the concerns that U.S. and other officials – the French came out and basically said the same thing earlier today that we have about that.

QUESTION: I get that, but that statement that you just read from him is very heavily qualified. There’s two “may haves” in there. Why do you think that – why do you say “may have?” What is the information that you have to – that leads you to say the Russians and the Syrians may have? I mean, we can say the same thing about --

MS NAUERT: I want to be sensitive about this, and I hope you will understand. The situation on the ground is extremely volatile there. We have organizations that we work closely with on the ground, who are under threat each and every day. Some of these people – some Syrians, some from other countries – take their lives into risk. Their lives are at risk each and every day that they could potentially provide any information to – whether it’s an NGO or another country. So we want to be extremely sensitive and careful about this. We don’t want anyone to risk their lives further than they already are. So some of this stuff is just going to – we’re going to be very cautious about providing it and some of it will just be intelligence information.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking for like photographic evidence, although I’m sure some people would like photographic evidence. But I – what kind of activity have you been told about on the ground that leads you to make statements like the Russians and the Syrians may have done things in Douma to try to tamper with --

MS NAUERT: Matt, I can only say some of this would just be intelligence information that I’m not permitted to get into here. I’d be happy to try to connect you with our OPCW permanent rep’s office to see if they have any additional information that they can provide, but I hope that you’ll be understanding of the sensitivities.

QUESTION: Okay. But – so – but you’re just saying then – because the bottom line here is you’re saying, “Just trust us.”

MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, I think we’ve seen that the Russian Government and the Syrian Government – their whole goal in this is to try to cover up. Their goal is to try to deflect attention. So if they could put this back on us, they would certainly like to do it. But the fact of the matter is that Bashar al-Assad is responsible yet again for gassing and killing innocent men, women, and children. And so if people want to put the focus on what information the U.S. has, that’s fine, but the U.S. – backed by its allies, the Brits and the French – took action because Bashar al-Assad continues to kill his own people.

QUESTION: I get that, but are you saying then that the delay in getting to the site is part of a scheme to tamper or to have the evidence --

MS NAUERT: Matt, if you want to have an off-the-record conversation about this, we can have an off-the-record conversation about this, but I’m not going to state this from this podium.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, Heather?

QUESTION: If you care so much about --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead, Leslie.

QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about why do you think – I mean, a little bit from what – why do you think they are not preventing – why do you think they are preventing or what’s stopping the OPCW going in?

MS NAUERT: I don’t think the – the OPCW wants to get there, okay? I don’t speak on behalf of the OPCW, so you’re asking me a question that I can’t really answer. Certainly the inspectors and the investigators want to get there. They started – I believe they landed last Thursday or Friday or maybe it was Saturday at the latest, so they want to be there. They’re not going there because they’re hanging out – or they’re not delayed in getting there because they want to hang out in a cafe. They want to do their jobs and they want to be able to present the facts. In terms of what exactly is happening on the ground to prevent them from getting there in a quicker time frame is not something that I can discuss or get into.

QUESTION: And then the U.S. has said that you still haven’t found – you still believe there’s one agent that was used in that chemical attack, but you have not named --

MS NAUERT: We have information that leads us to believe that two agents were used. I think this was discussed in our State Department and NSC background briefing the other day. The United States continues to look at all of that information.

QUESTION: But you’ve not mentioned sarin. You’ve – or has that actually been --

MS NAUERT: In that background briefing, that was mentioned. We have information that leads us to believe that both chlorine and sarin were used in the attack.

QUESTION: And you still stand by the --

MS NAUERT: Hi, Michelle.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. You still stand by the proof that you say the U.S. has on this, right? You --

MS NAUERT: I certainly do, yes.

QUESTION: And there was one more thing I wanted to ask you about that, but it slipped my mind. Give me one second.

MS NAUERT: It’s okay. We can come back to you.

QUESTION: Oh, yes. Does the U.S. have its own sample at this point?

MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on that.

Okay, Nadia.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you --

MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. I have two questions about Syria. I’m not going to ask you about the strategy because you’ve been asked many times, and objective – the declared objective is to defeat ISIS.

MS NAUERT: Correct.

QUESTION: But in the aftermath of this attack that was limited in scope to the CW site, is this any talks with the Russians to deliver Assad, in terms of to going back to the negotiation table? Is this anything that’s been happening diplomatically to say that the final solution is political and because of this attack was not targeted anybody else, not even the regime forces, that in return there is a bigger strategy? Is this any talks with the Russians on that front?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can tell you that high-level individuals from other departments in the U.S. Government have been speaking with the Russians on a – on a variety of matters. What you mention in particular is not something that I can comment on because it’s not coming out of the State Department, but I can tell you that others have been in conversations and discussions with the Russians on that.

The United States, the State Department, has been in conversations with the Russians over the past day but about something altogether different, which I understand some of you were interested, and that involves Russian overflights. Another topic; we can talk about that later – overflights for commercial aviation over their own country.

So I can just tell you that we have conversations with the Russians – I’m not going to say every day, but very, very frequently at top levels.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And one more question. It’s been reported, at least in one publication, that the administration is looking to form an Arab force to replace maybe the U.S. Today the Saudi foreign minister said that actually they’re willing to send Arab forces to Syria to fight terrorism. Is this something that you want, you welcome, you consulted with the Saudis, or any other Arab countries?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I saw the report about the Saudis’ interest in doing that. I can tell you just overall the administration’s approach is – whether it’s in Syria or Iraq or other countries – we would like other countries to do more. The United States, in being an extremely generous country not only in terms of our humanitarian aid and our willingness to step up and do what we think is right to try to help people, want other countries to step up and do more. An example of that would be NATO and having more countries pay in the 2 percent of their GDP into defense. So that’s another example.

But I think in terms of would we be willing to accept other partners on the ground, I think that’s probably something, but that is not something that’s in discussions at this time, from my understanding.

QUESTION: And one very last one.


QUESTION: Since I don’t come here very often --

MS NAUERT: I know.

QUESTION: On the Iranian targets, is this kind of division of labor now, this undeclared policy between the U.S. and Israel that you attack the CW sites, but the Israelis attack the Iranian sites inside Syria?

MS NAUERT: I would just have to – I can’t – I can’t confirm anything that Israel may or may not have done in Syria, or any other place for that matter, so I’d just have to refer you back to the Government of Israel. Okay? Okay.

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: Hi, Said.

QUESTION: Could I ask – hi. Could I ask you to square to – square for us your desire to have the inspectors go in and establish the veracity of evidence on the one hand, but on the other hand your rush to attack and strike Syria? Could you square that for us?

MS NAUERT: I’m not --

QUESTION: I mean, on the one hand you want – before --

MS NAUERT: I’m not sure anyone has accused us of rushing to attack Syria.

QUESTION: You did not rush? I mean --

MS NAUERT: I mean, we have seen far too many --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MS NAUERT: -- far too many strikes against Syria’s own people over the past 15 months, over the past seven years since this has – since there was a civil war in Syria. So we’ve seen that for far too long.

In terms of your question why, look --

QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to understand --

MS NAUERT: Said, there’s this thing we have --

QUESTION: And because they are arriving there that day, right?

MS NAUERT: Pardon me. There’s this thing we have, it’s called intelligence gathering.


MS NAUERT: The United States has excellent intelligence gathering. Other countries do as well. We do not take these decisions, we do not make these decisions, lightly. As we saw what happened with information that led us to believe that sarin and chlorine gas were used in this most recent attack, the United States, the UK, and France got together, had conversations about telling Bashar al-Assad that this has to stop. And we believe in the efforts that took place on Friday night that we showed them that we are very serious about this, and that the world will stand up, the world will act together, and we will not tolerate the use of these illegal chemical weapons to kill innocent men, women, and children.

QUESTION: Right. I am trying to understand that the inspectors, the OPCW inspectors, were supposed to go in on Saturday, and the strike happened Saturday morning. I mean, they could’ve waited, like 20 hours, 24 hours, to ensure that the whole world can see that evidence.

MS NAUERT: Okay, Said, once again, we have our own intelligence. We have our own intelligence. The OPCW is something that we back strongly, but it can also take quite a bit of time for the OPCW to gather its information and compile a report. If we look back to last year – and I can have my colleagues double check this right now – I think it took quite a few months, at least several months, before the OPCW was able to come out with its official report about what substance was used on the ground in Khan Shaykhun.

So I would ask you: Should the United States and her allies wait around for Bashar al-Assad to use more chemical substances on his people? Should we wait around for that formal investigation that could take months and months when we have seen nine chemical attacks take place this year alone? I think the United States was right in its decision, backed by our allies, to take action and show Bashar al-Assad that he will be held to account.


MS NAUERT: Laurie, go right ahead.

QUESTION: On the question of the Saudis, which Nadia mentioned, and talking about an Arab force in Syria, has that been accompanied by any – any movement on the request for the – which comes from this building as well as the White House, that the Saudis should pay more money?

MS NAUERT: I think we think everybody could probably kick in a little bit more, recognizing that not – this is not just a regional problem, it’s a global problem. But certainly, those who are living in the backyard of Syria should recognize that perhaps better than anyone else. And so we would like to have countries contribute more, certainly.

QUESTION: Have the Saudis made any indication that they --

MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that if they have.

QUESTION: And they just hosted an Arab summit in which Jerusalem was a big issue, and they called it the Jerusalem summit. Do you think the Saudi position was helpful by putting so much focus on the Palestinian question at that summit?

MS NAUERT: I certainly saw that that was the theme of the summit, and I really don’t have much to say about that other than that was the theme and that’s their right to be able to design any theme that they want for that summit.

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: And Bruce Riedel, who served in many administrations --

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Who?

QUESTION: Bruce Riedell. He was a --

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- big figure from --



QUESTION: -- from Clinton through --

MS NAUERT: I couldn’t hear you. I have allergies, and so my apologies.

QUESTION: Okay. From Clinton through Obama, he says that the reason why the Saudis took a position which might be understood as unfriendly to the United States at the summit was they have – they’re losing confidence in your policy to counter Iran. Do you think that there’s something to what Bruce is saying?

MS NAUERT: This administration has taken a tougher stance on Iran than recent administrations, certainly than the last administration, where we look at Iran through the totality of its bad and malign actions that it takes, that it is involved with, not just in the region but also around the world. So if anything, people are accusing us of being too overly broad in looking at Iran through a much more accurate lens than previous administrations have.

QUESTION: Okay, if I could ask you a last question.

MS NAUERT: Okay, final one. We’re going to move on, Laurie.

QUESTION: Okay. About Iraq.


QUESTION: There are elections coming up in May. Does the U.S. support any particular candidate?

MS NAUERT: Nope, we don’t. We will work with whatever candidate the Iraqis choose, and we wish them the best of luck in their elections.

QUESTION: Even if it’s a pro-Iranian guy?

MS NAUERT: Look, Laurie, I have confidence in the Iraqi people. I think the Iraqi people will have confidence in themselves, too.

QUESTION: Even if his title was ayatollah? (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: Okay, very funny. Go ahead. Syria.

QUESTION: On that? On Iran?

QUESTION: When you – you just talked about a potential NATO buy-in in Syria. Do you think there’s enough --

MS NAUERT: No, no, no, no, no, no, I did not.

QUESTION: You did not? Okay.

MS NAUERT: No. I was saying, for example, the United States, in general terms, believes that NATO countries, the NATO countries, should all contribute 2 percent to --

QUESTION: Right, right. Gotcha.

MS NAUERT: -- to defense. And I was giving that as an example of the overall administration policy, so I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that. Our position is we want countries to do more in many areas around the world.


MS NAUERT: Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: And was there ever a conversation to make Friday night strikes more of a NATO mission, or it was just the three countries? And if not, should NATO have been more involved?

MS NAUERT: I think that would be a – probably a DOD question. I think we are very pleased with the countries who participated alongside one another in this mission.

QUESTION: And just, I guess, getting into – I know you said you didn’t want to make NATO about Syria. Is there a role for NATO in Syria? Is there cohesion there?

MS NAUERT: I’m not – I have – that’s not a question that I’ve asked. I will now hesitate to give other examples from other countries in case you all want to wrap it in. But not that I am aware of. Perhaps it’s under discussion. It’s not a question I’ve asked.

Okay. Hi, Dave.

QUESTION: Is it – Nadia referenced a Wall Street Journal article, and on this one specific element of that article, apparently there was a call made to Egypt to request that they send troops. Are you able to confirm that call took place?

MS NAUERT: I am not, no. No.

QUESTION: On Russia?

QUESTION: And I have a follow-up.

MS NAUERT: Hold on. Let’s stick with Syria and then we’ll go on.

QUESTION: On Syria? On Syria?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Conor, go ahead.

QUESTION: Israeli media were citing some Israeli officials saying that their intelligence shows that Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles were not given a sort of fatal blow in the air strikes. I know the administration has talked about how the chemical weapons stockpiles were degraded effectively.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you share their intelligence assessment?

MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on their intelligence assessment. I can only say that our goal was to significantly degrade their chemical weapons – not only their testing but their stockpile. I think we achieved that, at least in degrading it. Did it do away with it altogether? I don’t know the answer to that offhand.

One of the things we do say, though, is that Syria should declare if it has any additional chemical weapons. They can declare that, they should declare that, and they should stop attacking their people right now. I’ve hope – I hope that they have heard from us loud and clear that the United States and her allies will not tolerate this kind of use of --

QUESTION: But when you say significantly, though, what is that? If not totally, what does that look like?

MS NAUERT: I think I just described it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Syria. Do you want the Gulf states to pay money to rebuild Syria or to support the American presence there or to send troops to Syria?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on the specifics of it. We have a lot of various diplomatic conversations that take place each and every day. But as a general matter, we would like to see other countries do more and contribute to the overall cause.

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on Syria?

QUESTION: Do you have --

MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- an update on the stabilization funding that was halted by the White House a few weeks ago?

MS NAUERT: So all of that is under consideration at that time – at this time.

QUESTION: And so do you have a date for when the first program will run out of money this year for funding --

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I can just say it’s under review at this time, as we have other programs that are under review in other parts of the world.

QUESTION: Okay, and then a quick question on Haley over the weekend.


QUESTION: Can you give us just a better understanding as to why she said there would be Syria-based sanctions on Russians on Monday, and then we didn’t see anything come out. Like senators are saying there’s confusion in the White House. Can you describe what happened there?

MS NAUERT: Sure. I mean, I can just say that additional sanctions are under review at this time. Additional sanctions on Russia, on Russia entities, are under review. That is often the case. You all know that very well because we talk about this stuff practically nonstop. About 10 or 11 days ago, we announced those sanctions against Russian oligarchs. I’d like to highlight that there were two Russian oligarchs’ companies that were involved in selling equipment and material to Syria, including some components for the S-400 system. Those companies and individuals were sanctioned under the oligarch sanction. The United States has been involved; we’re actively looking at this. Sanctions are not off the table. I want to be clear about that. Sanctions are not off the table. We just don’t have anything to announce at this time.

QUESTION: So she got ahead of the administration?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment on anything that she said or didn’t say. She’s obviously a very valued and well-respected member of our foreign policy team. We stand firmly behind Ambassador Haley in what she does every day. She’s an incredible advocate for people who have been suffering around the world. She’s spent time in many refugee camps, looking at situations on the ground firsthand. She’s an effective spokesperson for this administration. We strongly back her, but in terms of sanctions we just have nothing to announce.

Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: Because you guys have been working on this for such a long time, and you --

MS NAUERT: On this, meaning what?

QUESTION: On sanctions, and these particular sanctions, and --

MS NAUERT: Well, various types of sanctions.


MS NAUERT: We have sanctions --

QUESTION: -- I mean, yesterday the State Department briefed U.S. allies on these particular sanctions.

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that, Michelle.

QUESTION: Well, there was a briefing. Anyway, it goes back to the question --

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not aware of any briefing that Michelle is referring to --

QUESTION: Yeah, there was a meeting.

MS NAUERT: -- that took place on this.

QUESTION: No, that’s okay.

MS NAUERT: Oh, I guess --

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean --

MS NAUERT: -- you know more than we do, but okay.

QUESTION: Well, that’s all right. Anyway --

MS NAUERT: That does happen sometimes, but we’ll check on this right now.

QUESTION: Well, because you guys have been working on this, and various parties or potential parties to this had some knowledge of sanctions coming down the pike, so it once again gives the appearance --

MS NAUERT: Michelle, I’m not sure what you mean by various parties had knowledge of this coming down the pike. I’m --

QUESTION: Because I’m talking about the meeting – U.S. allies being included in this, and they felt that something was coming, so --

MS NAUERT: Michelle, I’m not aware of some meeting that you’re talking about, so I’m going to have a hard time answering this question because --

QUESTION: Okay. It’s – well, listen to the end of the question and then --

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: So what has just happened involving Haley, and there being knowledge out there that these sanctions were being worked on – I mean we’ve known that because of what Haley said and what others have said. So when it doesn’t happen, it raises the question, again, of why. And the implication is that the President didn’t want to go forward with this for whatever reason. So how does the State Department respond to that?

MS NAUERT: I would just say, Michelle, as we’ve talked about before, sanctions are always under consideration. That is something that the administration at the interagency level has under consideration. And that is still under consideration at this time, but we have nothing that we are ready – nothing that we are set to announce at this time.

QUESTION: And does the State --

MS NAUERT: If and when that changes, I will certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that, in the last round of action against Russia – the expulsion of diplomats – does the State Department believe that U.S. allies and Europeans did enough on that front?

MS NAUERT: We were very closely coordinated with all the partners and allies, not just European. I believe Canada did some things as well, as did a lot of other countries. I think the final number was what, 27, if I recall exactly.

QUESTION: I know that there was coordination, but --

MS NAUERT: So it was close coordination, and every country is of a different size obviously. Our population of the United States, because we’re a larger country, we would tend to have more of these quote-un-quote diplomats --

QUESTION: Understood.

MS NAUERT: -- were really spies. So there were more of them here because they have larger missions in the United States --


MS NAUERT: -- than they would in other countries. So it would only make sense that more would be kicked out of the United States than would be kicked out of other countries.

QUESTION: So the State Department was satisfied with the response of other countries in this?

MS NAUERT: We were very satisfied. We’re closely connected with our allies and our partners on this. This was a global effort in which countries stood together and they said to Russia, “We are not going to tolerate your use of a chemical weapon on our ally’s soil.” We stood together firmly on that. We kicked out the spies; many other countries kicked out that – the spies. And I’m not aware of any controversy surrounding that, other than you asking me about it.

QUESTION: Two really brief things on Syria.


QUESTION: One is that you seem to take offense at the fact that people are asking for some kind of proof. What makes you think that there’s tampering involved – and you said intelligence gathering.


QUESTION: But the problem with this administration, as well as previous – or administrations since 2003 have had – is that you were dead confident in intelligence that turned out to be completely wrong in Iraq. And I might add that the OPCW and IAEA both disagreed with that intelligence back in 2003 that was – that led to the Iraq War. So that’s why you’re being asked. It might be unfair to you personally, but --

MS NAUERT: Matt, some of this – OPCW – you can call OPCW. I’d be happy to try to connect you, if you don’t their phone number or their contact information.


MS NAUERT: And you can ask them. Okay.

QUESTION: But I’m asking you --

MS NAUERT: You can ask them --

QUESTION: -- for your – for --

MS NAUERT: -- what is --

QUESTION: -- for why --

MS NAUERT: Why they can’t get --

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS NAUERT: -- to the sites that they would like to get to.

QUESTION: I’m asking you for the grounds that lead your person and you – your person at the OPCW and you – to say that you think that there may have been tampering. Anyway, the second thing is, is that when you’re calling on other countries to do more, to step up and do more, does that mean that you think the United States has done enough or has done all that it’s going to do and it’s now up to other people?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize that, Matt --

QUESTION: All right. Because --

MS NAUERT: -- in any way. I can just tell you the funds that Kylie asked me about are under review. As a general matter, we would like other countries to do more, and I don’t have a problem with asking on behalf --

QUESTION: Okay, I – but you do --

MS NAUERT: -- of the American taxpayers for others countries to chip in too.

QUESTION: But you – but do you believe that the people of Syria need to be protected from malicious attacks? And I’m asking this in the context of refugee admissions because since the beginning of the year, since – since fiscal year – since October 1st, the number of Syrian refugees in particular has dropped from about 6,000 to 44 from the same period, that October 1, 2016 to – where are we now – April 2017. That’s 99.2 percent decline. Why? And do – does the United States think that it’s doing enough to assist Syrian refugees --

MS NAUERT: Well, this process is a little bit --

QUESTION: -- with resettlement?

MS NAUERT: -- is a little bit slower than it used to be because --

QUESTION: A little bit? Ninety-nine point two percent slower?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me – I’m answering your question, am I not?


MS NAUERT: Okay. The process is a little bit slower because additional vetting mechanisms have been put in place. This was something that was initially done after 9/11, where before refugees could come into the United States, the United States Government started doing more to look into the backgrounds of individuals coming to the United States. That is always being refined and changed and updated. Those things have been updated. That is, in part, what has slowed it down.

I’d also like to remind you that even though we think the United States of America is the best place to live in the world – no offense to my foreign reporter friends in the back – but even though many Americans think that, there are many refugees around the country who don’t want to be uprooted from their home country and be sent to – no offense to Buffalo, but to Buffalo, New York, all right? Your hometown, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, it’s funny that you mention Buffalo because we do have a lot of refugees in Buffalo, a lot – a lot.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I know, you certainly do. I know, Matt, and I’m from Wisconsin and we do there as well, okay? And Minnesota and many other countries.




[1] But my point is that – and what was surprising to me when I first joined the State Department, in talking with many of my colleagues who work on refugee issues and have worked for Republican and Democrat administrations – they educated me on this, and they explained to me that many refugees would rather stay closer to home than get uprooted and go to Buffalo or Wisconsin, because they would like to – when it is safe, when it is safe to do so, and that is a really important component to it, when they can do it in a dignified fashion, they would prefer to go to their own homes --




QUESTION: That’s fine, except --




MS NAUERT: -- not the great old U.S. of A.




QUESTION: -- if you look – if you look at what happened during the Bush administration, which was heavily criticized for the intake of Iraqi refugees, they actually did something about it and put in place a program to ramp it up and to get more Iraqi refugees into the country. Now, there’s a slight difference because obviously, the United States was responsible for the – starting a war that caused the refugee influx. But in this case, if you think that these people need to be protected and that other countries need to step up, you don’t think that the United States should step up more in terms of the intake of refugees?




MS NAUERT: Matt, it’s not my position to make policy here from this podium.








MS NAUERT: You’re asking me to do so.




QUESTION: All right.




MS NAUERT: I’m just telling you that the U.S. is doing what it can right now, that we have additional things that we do when we vet people. That is constantly changing. It has changed since 9/11; it is continuing to be updated.




QUESTION: (Off-mike.)




QUESTION: Cuba? Cuba?




MS NAUERT: Hi, yes. Hi.




QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Do you have anything on Cuba since Raul Castro is stepping down? And in your vision, what would be a – U.S.-Cuba relations look like in the coming years? Thank you.




MS NAUERT: Yeah. Not sure yet. That – I think that is really to be determined. As we watch what’s taken place at the Cuba national assembly, we certainly see that that’s not a democratic transition. So when we see that something is not a democratic transition, that’s of great concern to us. We would like citizens to be able to have a say in their political outcomes, and this certainly does not seem like regular folks will have a say. I mean, they basically don’t have a real or meaningful choice because it’s not a democratic process.




QUESTION: Heather?




MS NAUERT: We hope that Cuba’s president – Janne, hold on – we hope that Cuba’s – that Cuba’s new president will listen to the Cuban people. We’re not sure that that’s going to happen. We would like a more free and democratic Cuba. We will be watching but aren’t overly optimistic, because this isn’t a democratic process.








MS NAUERT: Okay. Yes.




QUESTION: Yesterday, the Canadian Government matched your earlier decision and they are withdrawing the families of diplomats from their mission in Havana. Do you have any update for us on the investigation? Have you heard anything more? Is there – are there any plans to withdraw more people from your mission in Cuba or to --




MS NAUERT: From ours, we don’t have any plans to do so at this time. We’re certainly aware of the decision that the Canadian Government made similar to a decision that the United States made last year. I can tell you our investigation is ongoing into what happened to our diplomats down there. That investigation continues.




QUESTION: And there hasn’t been any further incidence?




MS NAUERT: There have not been any further incidents. No new incidents since the ones that I informed you about last.




QUESTION: Yes, but how long can we go without any incidents before we conclude they’ve stopped?




MS NAUERT: I don’t have – I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t. Okay. Go ahead.




QUESTION: (Off-mike).




QUESTION: Have you --




MS NAUERT: Any – by the way, anybody else on Cuba?




QUESTION: Yeah, can I ask one more on that.




MS NAUERT: Okay, yeah, go ahead.




QUESTION: The Canadians said that there haven’t been any new incidents, but there have been continued symptoms. Have you – have diplomats – sorry, have American diplomats down there continued to experience symptoms?




MS NAUERT: My understanding is that – I was just briefed on this the other day – that we are not aware of any new attacks or incidents having occurred, so that the last time I gave you a date on when something occurred still stands. So we just don’t have any new updates on that. But as our State Department people – if anyone feels like they have any new symptoms or anything like that, they’re more than welcome to get a full medical screening, and we continue to offer that on an ongoing basis to our colleagues. Okay, anything else on Cuba?








QUESTION: Heather.




MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.




QUESTION: Regarding Cuba, how does the State Department view the meetings that the U.S. delegation had with the independent Cuban civil society in the Lima, Peru conference?




MS NAUERT: Yeah. I provided a readout of that, I believe it was last Thursday. I can pull that for you, and then provide that to you later. I just don’t happen to have it handy right now, okay?




QUESTION: (Off-mike.)




MS NAUERT: Janne, go ahead.




QUESTION: Thank you very much. On the connections – connections between North Korea and then Syria, and North Korea cooperated with the Syrians’ chemical weapons development. And regarding the U.S. precision strikes to Syrians’ chemical weapons facilities, what signals did the U.S. send to North Korea?




MS NAUERT: Janne, I know this is a report that I had seen about a month or two ago. I just don’t have anything new on that. I don’t know if that – I don’t recall offhand if that was an official report or if that was just a news report. I’d have to look into that and get back to you on that. Okay. Do you have --




QUESTION: (Off-mike.)




MS NAUERT: Do you have something – do you have something else on North Korea? Okay, all right. Kelly, go ahead.




QUESTION: So are you going to announce – or will the decision happen soon – as to where the summit with North Korea is going to happen? Because the President mentioned that that might be happening soon. And then I have a follow-up question.




MS NAUERT: Okay. I think that’s all under discussion right now. The President of course is meeting with Prime Minister Abe at Mar-a-Lago right now. That of course, in addition to our relationship with Japan, but the DPRK talks will be a hot topic between the President and – between the President and the prime minister. In terms of where those meetings are held, we’re not ready to announce that just yet. When we are I’ll let you know, okay?








MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything else on North Korea?




QUESTION: And then – yes.












MS NAUERT: Last question, and then I’m going to go somebody else.




QUESTION: Okay, just one. So the Republic of Korea is having their summit before – with North Korea before the U.S. summit. Will the U.S. urge the ROK to bring denuclearization to the table at their summit, especially in light of the announcement that came out about --




MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think it’s really important for them to do so. We are closely latched up and allied, obviously, with the Koreans. We support that inter-Korean dialogue, understanding that it’s important to people both from the North and South to be able to have these conversations. So that’s certainly a significant step, but we imagine that a big part of that conversation that they have will be our President’s upcoming meeting with – with Kim Jong-un, whenever that takes place. Okay.




QUESTION: Heather, on the inter-Korean summit, there are reports that South and North Korea are seeking an official end to the military conflict on Korean Peninsula. Have you heard this message directly from South Korea, and does the U.S. support this?




MS NAUERT: If that’s the case, I’m not aware of it. I can look into it and see if we have anything on that.




Okay. Hi, Rich. Last question, we’ve got to go.




QUESTION: Russia negotiations with airspace. Do you have an update on that and has the recent action in Syria, or diplomats or sanctions or anything that’s gone on with Russia over the past month, played into those discussions?




MS NAUERT: Yeah. So here’s what I can tell you. There are – and for those of you who have not followed this, in order for U.S. carriers to fly to Asia and other parts of the country – or other parts of the world that are very far away – the shortest distance is over Russian airspace, it’s called Russian overflights. Russian approvals for these overflights by U.S. carriers expires at 7:59 p.m. today, Eastern time. Some of those commercial carriers are now making the decision to reroute their flights because they’re concerned about that expiration. We held a meeting here at the State Department today with various commercial carriers and also cargo carriers – personnel carriers and cargo carriers as well – where we’re seeking to help speed this along and facilitate things so that U.S. carriers – and that passengers aren’t disrupted. So we don’t have – we don’t want that kind of commercial aviation disruption, so we’re trying to facilitate a working arrangement. We had planned to meet with Russian civil aviation officials this week in Washington. That meeting was canceled by the Russian Government. They have said to us that they will reschedule with us. We don’t have a date for that just yet, but we look forward to them working with us on a date because we don’t want to see this disruption for our U.S. carriers.




QUESTION: Did they give a reason why they canceled?




MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge, no.




QUESTION: (Off-mike.)




QUESTION: Russia. Russia.




MS NAUERT: Hold on. Relax. Whoa, relax.




QUESTION: Said, hold on a second.




QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I can’t hear you.




QUESTION: You can hear just fine. Did – does that mean that you’re working – you’re seeking to have some kind of a temporary extension with the Russians?




MS NAUERT: So these are negotiated between U.S. carriers and the Russian Government themselves, so that’s where the negotiation happens. The United States serves as more of a facilitator, so we have been involved in some of the conversations to help facilitate this. It’s a complicated arrangement. It’s based on agreements that date back to the 1990s, agreements that haven’t fully been enshrined in law, if you will, and so this is something that we’re continuing to help out with.




QUESTION: Well, so how is the facilitation going?




MS NAUERT: Well, we’re working on it. That’s exactly why the carriers were here today at the State Department.




QUESTION: But no Russians.




MS NAUERT: Our – no, the Russian Government was not represented.








MS NAUERT: Matt, before you think that you’re too cute, I can tell you --




QUESTION: I would never think that.




MS NAUERT: -- that our embassy has been speaking with Russian officials to try to facilitate this. So we have our folks in Moscow who are working on this. Normally this is done at the deputy assistant secretary level, and we’ve sort of ramped up our engagement to try to facilitate all this happening. Russia has not yet indicated whether it will extend the approvals – they would expire today – for the overflights by U.S. carriers, but the Russian Government did say to our embassy when we spoke with them, “Don’t panic, we’re not going to do anything to harm the United States aviation sector.” We certainly hope that that is the case. We’re expecting a Russian response hopefully later today.




QUESTION: Really? You’re expecting goodwill from the Russians --








MS NAUERT: I’m just saying, they gave us that quote.








MS NAUERT: We hope that they will stand by it.




QUESTION: And when you said you’ve ramped it up from the deputy assistant secretary level --








QUESTION: -- to what level?




MS NAUERT: Our ambassador, Ambassador Jon Huntsman, was involved in some of these conversations. Okay.




QUESTION: Heather, I need to ask a couple questions on --




QUESTION: So you’ll have an update for us at 7:00 p.m. on that? 7:00 p.m.?




MS NAUERT: It expires at 7:59 p.m. Eastern time today.








MS NAUERT: And again, so far nothing’s been canceled. Some airlines – and you can talk to those airlines yourselves – are making the – choosing to reroute. Hopefully things will be back on track so that passengers and our commercial carriers aren’t disrupted. We’re working on it. I can give you a readout of Manisha – our Assistant Secretary Manisha Singh’s meeting that she held a short while ago if you all would like.








MS NAUERT: Okay, we’ve got to go.




QUESTION: I need to ask a question on the Palestinian issue, please.




MS NAUERT: I’m all done. I took your questions already, Said. Guys, we’ve got to go. Thank you.




(The briefing was concluded at 3:32 p.m.)




[1] states