Department Press Briefing - April 19, 2018

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 19, 2018



TRANSCRIPT:

2:53 p.m. EDT

MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everyone. How are you today?

QUESTION: Hello.

MS NAUERT: Sorry we’re getting a late start. I got a couple announcements to start out with today.

The first is an announcement looking ahead to Monday. On Monday, April the 23rd, the State Department and the Business Council for International Understanding will cohost a business roundtable with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss opportunities for U.S.-Japan collaboration on infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region. Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh will lead the event that will include approximately 100 U.S. and Japan private sector representatives.

The main aim is to advance common interests raised during the U.S.-Japan Economic Dialogue and public-private partnerships that support best-value solutions to most effectively meet third-country economic and global sustainability goals. Both governments will seek to identify opportunities for further collaboration on financing for infrastructure projects, business-to-business relationships, infrastructure investment policies, project implementation, capacity-building assistance, in order to support quality infrastructure development. Infrastructure sectors will include energy, transportation, telecommunications, smart cities, water and sanitation systems.

That will take place here on Monday. If anyone has any interest on that, let us know and we’ll see what we can do to assist you with that.

Second, on Cuba. Today, the Cuban National Assembly appointed Miguel Diaz-Canel to be the next president of Cuba. Cuban citizens had no real power to affect the outcome of this undemocratic transition process. We are disappointed that the Cuban Government opted to silence independent voices and maintain its repressive monopoly on power rather than allow its people a meaningful choice through free, fair, and competitive elections. Cuba’s new president should take concrete steps to improve the lives of the Cuban people, to respect human rights, and to cease repression and allow greater political and economic freedoms. We urge the new president to listen and respond to Cuban citizens’ demands for a more prosperous, free, and democratic Cuba.

On Saturday, our Acting Secretary Sullivan will travel to Toronto to lead the U.S. delegation to the G7 foreign ministers meeting. The agenda for the ministerial is centered around building a more peaceful and secure world, and will address matters of shared concern, including counterterrorism, nonproliferation, North Korea, and also the situation in Syria. The conversations will set the stage for the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Charlevoix, Canada, which takes place in June of this year.

On the margins of the G7 ministerial, Acting Secretary Sullivan will meet with a number of his counterparts for bilateral discussions. I look forward to sharing more information about the meetings as his schedule is still being finalized.

And lastly, you may see that we have more guests than usual, and our guests are sitting here in the front today. And I couldn’t be more honored to have him – them here at the State Department. They are Uighur journalists. They report for Radio Free Asia. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with them for about close to an hour yesterday, where I heard many of their stories. Many of their stories are incredibly heartbreaking – what they have been through, and what their families have been through – most importantly, perhaps – as a result of their work to report the facts of the world into their home country.

So I’d like – with that, I’d like to announce that the United States has become increasingly concerned by the increasing levels of repression in Xinjiang, China. Just yesterday, I met with these six U.S.-based reporters whose Uighur family members have been threatened and dozens of their family members have been detained, simply because they were doing their jobs – the jobs that you all can do freely every day here in the United States, most of you without repercussions to your families overseas, those of you who do have overseas family members.

I’d like to recognize them today. First, we have Mamatjan Juma. Is Mamatjan – he’s here. With Radio Free Asia, Uighur service journalists. Next we have Shohret Hoshur. Shohret, please stand up. Thank you. Also from Radio Free Asia. Next we have Alim Seytoff. And you’re all in order, too. Thank you. (Laughter.) That makes it easier. So organized. And Rohit Mahajan. Thank you so much.

Our State Department officials – one of our State Department officials, our deputy assistant secretary, was in China earlier this week, and she reported a little bit about what is going on in this situation that paints a very disturbing picture in China. We are increasingly concerned about excessive restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of beliefs in China. We are also concerned about China’s efforts to pressure other governments into forcibly returning Uighurs to China or to coerce family members. And finally, we are concerned about the widespread detentions and the unprecedented levels of surveillance.

We are grateful to these brave Radio Free Asia journalists for their work. We want them to know that we will continue to raise our deep concerns with the Chinese Government. We call on China to end their counterproductive policies and freely – and free all of those who have been arbitrarily detained.

I’d like to mention that one of their colleagues – who’s not here today, I spoke with yesterday – shared with me that 23 members of her family have been round up in recent years. Imagine that. You’re here doing your jobs in the – your job in the United States, and 23 members are round up as a result. It was a very illuminating conversation, and I would like to be able to introduce any of you who are interested into these brave – to these brave Radio Free Journalists after the briefing, or whenever you’re available and they’re available too.

So thank you for honoring us with your presence, and we’re proud to be here raising attention to your cases. Thank you.

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

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS NAUERT: Hi, Matt.

QUESTION: Hey, Happy Thursday. I just want to ask you one brief question about your Cuba comment.

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: When you said that you were disappointed that the Cuban Government went about choosing its new president in the way it did, surely you weren’t surprised? I mean, it was no secret this was the way they were going to do it.

MS NAUERT: We were not surprised.

QUESTION: Okay

MS NAUERT: No, we were certainly not surprised.

QUESTION: Can I --

MS NAUERT: But nevertheless disappointed.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on Cuba?

MS NAUERT: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Today Donald Trump said, “We love Cuba. We’re going to take care of Cuba, we’re going to take care of [it].” Does that mean that the U.S. believes that it can actually work with the new president in trying to --

MS NAUERT: Well, as you know, we maintain diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government, so that – that continues. But we can certainly be disappointed with an election that we don’t see to be free, as fair. We also recognize that there are strong people-to-people ties between Cuban Americans and some Cuban families who still live back home, and also there are some businesses that take part in the Cuban economy as well.

QUESTION: So this doesn’t mean that the Trump administration is going to roll back any kind of decisions or --

MS NAUERT: I’m not – I’m not aware of any changes on our policy. I think the President was just recognizing some of the work and people-to-people ties that we have.

QUESTION: What are some of the steps that you think that Cuba could take immediately to improve relations with the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think Cuba could do a lot of things. Among the things that it could do – and I don’t want to get into a deep, long conversation about our investigation into the health attacks against our U.S. diplomats – but we believe that Cuba could certainly better facilitate that. They have allowed for our investigators to go down and do their jobs, but as we have said many times before at the White House and also here, that in a very small country like Cuba they may know more than they are sharing with us. So I think that would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Allowing greater access to the internet, to the radio, to telephones – all of those things would be a step in the right direction on behalf of the Cuban Government.

QUESTION: So would you expect the U.S. to reach out to the new president?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any phone calls or anything that are scheduled between anyone here at the State Department or at the White House, but I can’t comment on that. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I go to --

MS NAUERT: Sure.

QUESTION: Syria, to pick up on where we were on Tuesday with the OPCW still not having gotten access to Duma and apparently still that situation is still the same. One, do you have anything to say about that? And secondly, you and I had a little bit of a conversation about potential – your belief that the Russians and/or Syrians are tampering with any evidence of the chemical attack. Does the continued delay give you more concern that that might be the case?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So to address both your questions, we can confirm that the OPCW team has still not been able to enter Duma in Syria. It is now 12 days since the attack took place on men, women, and children, those innocent civilians, in Syria. We have credible information that indicates that Russian officials are working with the Syrian regime to deny and to delay these inspectors from gaining access to Duma. We believe it is an effort to conduct their own staged investigations. Russian officials have worked with the Syrian regime, we believe, to sanitize the locations of those suspected attacks and remove incriminating evidence of chemical weapons use.

We have also watched as some people have seemingly been pressured by the government to change their stories about what actually occurred that night. We have reports from credible people on the ground who have indicated that they have been pressured by both Russia and Syria to change their stories, to try to change their stories so that it doesn’t appear that Russia and Syria are responsible for those attacks. We certainly know that Syria is responsible for those attacks.

QUESTION: Okay. So the delay then does make you – increase your concern that – or not? I mean, we understand that they were shot at with --

MS NAUERT: Well, the delay certainly increases – on a few levels. One, the longer that those sites are not able to be investigated by OPCW fact-finding mission experts, the more that the evidence can certainly deteriorate, and that’s a great concern to us.

QUESTION: Well --

MS NAUERT: We also believe that it gives them additional time to try to clean up and sanitize those sites.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you say that you have – you said at one point, “We have also watched as people have been pressured into changing their story.” Does that – is your evidence that they’re attempting to sanitize the area of the alleged attack – is that also something that you have, quote-unquote, “watched”, which suggests that you have --

MS NAUERT: We have credible information and intelligence that leads us to believe that.

QUESTION: Okay. And do – has it been successful, do you know?

MS NAUERT: That I do not know. That I do not know. We just know that they are attempting to sanitize it.

QUESTION: The people who are being pressured to change their stories, who were they giving the stories to? Was that people interviewed by media or by OPCW?

MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve seen – we – oh, in fact, I’ve seen some people interviewed on international media. We’ve seen some reports run on Syrian state media. So that – perhaps that’s of no surprise, but just a reminder that those are – that would not be a credible outlet, Syrian state media, nor would, in our view, Russian television on this matter, because they have a vested interest in making it seem like they are not responsible for the attacks.

QUESTION: Sorry to – this will be my last one on this.

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: So do you believe that now with the delay, that eventually, if and when the OPCW team gets in there, that their investigation is going to be necessarily compromised?

MS NAUERT: It might be. It might be.

QUESTION: But it might not be?

MS NAUERT: But that is certainly – that is what – that would be the goal of Syria. That would be the goal of Syria, to compromise that information.

QUESTION: So are you – but are you saying then that if – so if they go, if and when they get there and they do their tests and it turns out negative, that that means that the Russians are guilty of sanitizing it? But if they get there and they do their tests and they find evidence of --

MS NAUERT: Matt, that’s a lot of “ifs.” That’s a lot of “ifs.” They’re not there yet.

QUESTION: But there’s also a lot of “ifs” in the – they are – they may be trying to sanitize or they may have attempted --

MS NAUERT: We believe they’re trying to sanitize. We believe they’re trying to sanitize.

QUESTION: I know, but that’s a hypothetical question too, right?

MS NAUERT: No, it’s not, because we have credible information and intelligence that leads us to believe that.

QUESTION: But does it follow then that if they get – if and when they get there, do their testing and determine that there’s no traces of sarin or chlorine, then – then you will conclude that it has been --

MS NAUERT: I am not a chemical expert.

QUESTION: -- that it has been tampered with?

MS NAUERT: I’m not an expert on how long sarin and chlorine can remain on soil, on building walls and all of that. So I’m not even going to – I’m not going to wade into that conversation.

QUESTION: Okay. It just – it seems like you’re setting the stage for them to get there, do their testing, find no evidence of something, and then you can – then you’ll be all teed up to say, well, here’s proof that they tampered with the --

MS NAUERT: Well, we will have to wait and see, Matt. We will have to wait and see. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I move on? Can I --

MS NAUERT: Said, hello. How are you?

QUESTION: Thank you. How are you? I have a couple questions on the Palestinian issue.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Anybody else have anything on Syria before we move on? Okay.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Kylie, go ahead, then we’ll – I’ll come back to you then. Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more thing. Just back to the stabilization efforts that are on hold right now, can you explain to us exactly your perspective on the U.S. now withholding all funding for the White Helmets, given that you just had them here last month and showered positive praise for the work that they’re doing?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So as we talked about the other day, the stabilization funding is under review at this time. We recognize and appreciate and are very grateful for all the work that the White Helmets continues to do on behalf of the people of their country and on behalf of the U.S. Government and all the coalition forces. They’re doing incredible work in rescuing in some cases, and in other cases it’s recovery efforts. They’re an incredible group of individuals. But I just don’t have any additional information for you on the funding yet.

QUESTION: But if the funding for them stops, does it mean that their work has gotten less good?

MS NAUERT: Their work stands for itself, and that is excellent work. Leave it at that.

QUESTION: Is the premise of her question correct? Has funding --

MS NAUERT: Which part?

QUESTION: -- for their – for programs that support them --

MS NAUERT: No, their – that all continues right now. They – I’ve just exchanged emails with him the other day. My understanding is that their work is still going on, and we’re proud to work with them.

QUESTION: No, no, not – the U.S. funding for them, any funds that the U.S. was giving them --

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Has the funding – any funding that the U.S. was providing to this group ended because of the pause?

MS NAUERT: The – as far as I’m aware, all of the work still continues. Peoples’ bills are still being paid. If there’s anything that’s a change to that, I’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: But the U.S. contributions are still flowing?

MS NAUERT: As far as I know, that all – is all still in play.

QUESTION: Can you just check that, though? Because there is an internal State Department document that says on April 15th that funding would have ended.

MS NAUERT: I will double – I will double --

QUESTION: And I understand you’re not going to comment on that, but --

MS NAUERT: I will double-check on that. If it’s an internal document, I can’t – you know I don’t – we don’t comment on internal documents. But I’m not aware of one floating around, if there is one, that says that. Okay? Are we moving on?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. UNRWA is saying that it is suffering a $300 million financial deficit. So in view of this situation, will the administration reconsider its freezing of about $100 million earlier this year?

MS NAUERT: Many of you will recall earlier this year that we announced the $60 million that went to UNRWA – I believe that was in January – and that went to pay the salaries of teachers and doctors. So that’s sort of one of the first things I want to bring to your attention.

No decision has been made at this point about additional U.S. funding for UNRWA. Secretary Tillerson said – and this is still the policy that we are operating under, and that is concern about UNRWA coming back to the United States and to other countries with emergency funding requests. At the end of the year, they will, often for many, many years, come back and say, “We urgently need more money.” So the United States and other countries, for that matter, would like to see them come up with a more fair and equitable and more predictable type of funding mechanism for UNRWA so that UNRWA doesn’t need emergency funding every single year. So I just don’t have any decisions or announcements on possible U.S. funding, but that is still an option, that we may be making additional contributions.

QUESTION: Okay. There’s also been a spike in settler attacks on Palestinian villages and so on, vandalizing and so on. Would you call on the Israelis to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that specific case.

QUESTION: All right. Well, let me ask you a couple more. There is a war of words between the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and the President’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt. Do you have any comment on that? Can you update us on what is going on, perhaps, behind the scenes and so on?

MS NAUERT: Well, I would just say that some of this is just another example of unhelpful rhetoric, which only harms the ability for both sides to come to the table and sit down and start to have some sort of peace negotiations, so it’s certainly not helpful. We’ve talked about that before, and not having an escalation into what he refers to as the war of words. It’s unhelpful. We don’t consider it to be that.

QUESTION: And finally, my last one: All human rights organizations are saying that Israel has used excessive force in quelling the demonstrations in Gaza. There’s going to be one tomorrow. There is likely to be violence and so on. Do you have any stand on this issue? Are you going to issue a statement?

MS NAUERT: Said, I know you’ve asked me that in the past. We don’t issue a statement --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) weeks?

MS NAUERT: We – yeah, we don’t always issue statements on world events, no matter how difficult they may seem to people. Sometimes we don’t – we’re not always doing that. I understand that Israel is in the process of reviewing whether or not excessive force was used in certain instances, and I’m not going to go any further than that.

QUESTION: Sorry. On that, have you seen that the Palestinian protest camps, the tents that they have – they’re moving them closer to the border fence. Do you have any comment on that ahead of tomorrow?

MS NAUERT: I have not seen that. Sorry.

QUESTION: All right. And then just a last one related to this: How has the USAID investigation into its vetting and approval of the Palestinian journalist who was killed – how is that going? Have you determined --

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any updates on-- you. I can double-check on that and see if we have anything new on it.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to continue to ask about this because --

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: -- either – one of two things happened here: Either the vetting is – was not good or the Israelis killed a journalist who was clearly identified as one. And I know that press freedom and – is important to you. You just began the briefing introducing us to --

MS NAUERT: Yeah, with our colleagues here, yeah.

QUESTION: -- to these journalists whose families --

MS NAUERT: You’re right.

QUESTION: -- have been – this guy, if he was a legitimate journalist, was killed. You’ve talked about the Reuters journalist in Myanmar, talked about journalists detained in Turkey, and I think that it is incumbent on you, if you really do – the country – the administration really cares about working journalists and their protection, that if it turns out that USAID was correct, that their vetting was correct, this guy didn’t have anything to do with Hamas, then I really think you should say something. So I’m going to continue --

MS NAUERT: Matt, I certainly will.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: I will look into that and see what I can get for you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS NAUERT: Thank you for the question.

QUESTION: Just to follow up directly --

MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- on that, even if this guy was a Hamas operative, the sniper didn’t know he was when he shot him. It was just a guy in a press vest.

MS NAUERT: I was not there. I’m not aware of all the specifics, the details. I have not seen the scene myself, only the television reports and some still photographs.

QUESTION: But the Israelis themselves aren’t claiming it was an extrajudicial assassination. They’re saying that they found out after the --

MS NAUERT: Understood. When I have more details for you, I will certainly bring it to you. And thank you for reminding me about that case, Matt.

Laurie, hi.

QUESTION: Hi. The New York Times has a major story that Iraq is churning out death sentence for alleged involvement with ISIS. It cites 14 women convicted and sentenced to death within two hours – “a judicial assembly line” was their term. What is your comment on that?

MS NAUERT: I think overall, let’s step back and take a look at Iraq and the tremendous number of issues that they’re trying to deal with to get the country back on track after ISIS had controlled large swaths of that country, and all that they have certainly been through. We view this as, overall, an Iraqi process. However, we certainly recognize concerns about free and fair trials, and that’s something that we continue to have conversations with the Iraqi Government all of the time about ensuring those kinds of free and fair trials. So we have shared that, we have shared our concerns and our principles and our beliefs with the Iraqi Government on that matter.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the – these are all Sunnis – that it deepens the very sectarian strife which led to the rise of ISIS in the first place?

MS NAUERT: Laurie, I can – I can just tell you we’ve had conversations with the Iraqi Government about the importance of this and importance of a strong judicial system.

QUESTION: Okay, and Brett McGurk has been in Erbil. Do you have a readout on those meetings?

MS NAUERT: I do actually, hold on one second. I can confirm that Brett McGurk and also our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Andrew Peek visited Iraq earlier this week. They met with senior Iraqi Government security officials and they went there to see the progress that was being made in Iraq after the liberation of its territory from ISIS. They were in – let’s see, they were in Mosul, they were in Baghdad, and they were also in Erbil. They met with – if you all are interested, I can continue. There’s more here.

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Okay. They were accompanied by our U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Doug Silliman. McGurk and Peek met in Baghdad with Prime Minister Abadi, the speaker of the parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, and other senior political religious and security officials. In Erbil, the delegation met with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani.

Meetings focused on ensuring the enduring feat – defeat of ISIS, including through enhanced security measures on Iraq’s border with Syria, and plans to defeat the remaining ISIS havens on the Syrian side. During their visit, the delegation had the opportunity to see first-hand the progress made in stabilizing the city of Mosul as well as the magnitude of the remaining challenges in returning normality to Iraq’s second-largest city. McGurk and Peek visited a reopened market in east Mosul. They toured areas devastated by ISIS in west Mosul and visited Mosul University, where U.S.-funded work to clear explosive hazards continues today.

The United States and 25 other donors in the global coalition have pledged or contributed more than 34 – excuse me, $834 million to UNDP funding facility for stabilization in order to support the critical stabilization activities in areas liberated from ISIL control. McGurk emphasized the importance of partners fulfilling their pledges to ensure the UNDP stabilization projects are fully funded this calendar year. McGurk and Peek also welcomed the nearly $30 billion for Iraq’s longer-term reconstruction pledged by 24 partners last month in Kuwait under the sponsorship of the EU and the World Bank.

The United States is committed to continued security, political and economic cooperation with Iraq within the framework of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement. The United States supports a unified, democratic, federal, and prosperous Iraq with a stable and viable Iraqi-Kurdistan region.

How about that for a readout? Usually our readouts aren’t that detailed, but --

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MS NAUERT: Way to go to NEA.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MS NAUERT: Okay anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

MS NAUERT: Elise, hi. Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s a new topic; it’s kind of a random one. But it’s about this story about the U.S. embassy in Germany, who paid a couple of speaker – or one of them was the embassy in Berlin and another one was the consulate in Frankfurt – that have paid, as speakers, people that have been public critics of President Trump, one of them calling – comparing his rhetoric on ISIS to – comparing his rhetoric to ISIS. Do you – can you confirm that these people have been hired by the U.S. embassy, and why – why haven’t they been vetted? I just think it’s really weird.

MS NAUERT: This has been subject of quite a deal of conversation here in the building over the past few days. I’ve certainly read the reports, and I’m familiar with what you’re talking about. The person who was brought over to our embassy in Germany is someone who was a Holocaust survivor, and had been a outspoken person on the subject of extremist groups. And he was brought to our embassy to speak in that capacity. And so it was believed, I’m told, by our folks at the embassy, that his background carried particular weight in talking about ISIS and extremist activity with the German public who would come in. This was a part of one of our speakers programs where in Germany they host 70 to 80 speakers every single year, and our people will look through their backgrounds and decide who to invite on behalf of the embassy on the basis of their credentials, but we don’t look at their politics when we’re inviting those people over. Our embassy was not aware of this individual’s comments that he had made, inflammatory comments that he had made in the past, and I can just say that he was brought over in accordance with the speakers program that the United States Government hosts at many embassies around the world. The person’s air travel was covered and then also received some sort of a stipend.

QUESTION: I mean, we’ve spoken a lot – you’ve spoken a lot from this podium – about how the Foreign Service is completely apolitical and serves administrations Republican and Democrat, and is there a concern that something like this could have a negative light on the Foreign Service, that they’re not supportive of the President’s agenda?

MS NAUERT: And let’s make sure that we are splitting this out. We have the Foreign Service here at the State Department, and I have found every single Foreign Service officer that I’ve worked with to be highly, highly professional, and apolitical, for that matter.

QUESTION: So was this person hired by --

MS NAUERT: I can’t – I don’t know this person’s identity. I believe this person was a locally employed staff working in concert with some of our other colleagues at the embassy in Germany. We also have our civil servants. Look, this is a 75,000-member organization. My understanding – and we’ve been dealing with this today and yesterday – is that this person – that we were not aware of this person’s comments that the person has said in the past, and certainly that puts the – in my view – the State Department – people are right to ask questions about did you look at this person’s background. In my personal view, yes, people should take a look at the types of things that people have said to not put the State Department or our embassies in an embarrassing light. Obviously this was an oversight on the part of the embassy – that’s my personal view, an oversight, because I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing, to bring in somebody who would make those types of comments – but on the other hand, we also believe in free speech. So there’s a sort of a delicate balance there.

QUESTION: But isn’t it – I understand what you’re saying about free speech, but isn’t it kind of self-defeating when an embassy would have a guest that’s publicly critical of --

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I happen to agree with that. I happen to agree with that completely. Would I have that person speak at a party that I’m hosting, where it come back and make me look poorly? No, absolutely not. But this person was selected based on the person’s credentials, that this person had been a Holocaust survivor, that this person was some sort of an expert on violent extremist groups, and that was the topic of the conversation that he was brought in to discuss. I have been told by all my colleagues that we were not aware of this person’s comments that he had made that were derogatory of the administration.

QUESTION: Wait, hold on a second. This seems – sounds like you’re about to head down a really slippery slope. I’m not familiar with this story, I don’t know what these inflammatory comments were, but are you suggesting --

MS NAUERT: You can Google it there. (Laughter.) Just Google it, Matt. I know you like to look things up. Or Dave Clark, he’s the one who’s the expert --

QUESTION: There’s no wifi in here and the service is really bad.

MS NAUERT: He’s the expert of looking things up while we’re doing this.

QUESTION: Anyway, I’ll take a look at whatever it is, but this seems – are you suggesting that the U.S. embassies abroad will now disqualify anyone who has been critical of the administration from speaking?

MS NAUERT: People are brought in – I gave you my personal opinion, okay – people are --

QUESTION: But you went further. You said you wouldn’t invite someone to a party so you would make it look bad. I mean, is there some kind of purity test going on? (Laughter.) Loyal – you have to swear allegiance to --

MS NAUERT: No, Matt, I’m just – simply mean as sort of a public entity, okay. At your company or any company of that sort, you’d have to – you have to think about appearances and how things look.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but --

MS NAUERT: So people are brought in to speak on behalf of our – at our embassies.

QUESTION: But he’s not speaking on behalf --

MS NAUERT: Let me finish, please

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Regardless of their political affiliations.

QUESTION: Okay. And that’s a good thing, you think, right?

MS NAUERT: I typically think that that is a good thing, yes. That is a very good thing.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if these comments were so outrageous and extreme --

MS NAUERT: Because we believe in different types of voices.

QUESTION: -- then maybe that’s something, but --

MS NAUERT: Would I have made that choice? No, I personally would not have made that choice, and that was my point.

QUESTION: But this – these speakers do not speak on behalf of the administration.

MS NAUERT: Understood, yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Presumably they speak on behalf of themselves, so I’m not sure what – I mean, so if – are you saying – advocating the idea that if someone has been critical in the past – just critical, saying “I think policy X is not a good idea” – that they wouldn’t – that they would then be disqualified from being invited?

MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t think we really enjoy --

QUESTION: I don’t know what the guy said, so --

MS NAUERT: I don’t --

QUESTION: I’m just asking if it’s a good public diplomacy stance for one of your speakers to – talking about ISIS and comparing the President’s rhetoric to ISIS. That’s all I’m asking.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: There you go. Enough said.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I had an immediate follow up to this one. Is this the same --

QUESTION: Oh, go for that, and then I’ll --

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry. The --

MS NAUERT: So much cooperation today. Very – cooperating nicely.

QUESTION: We have a friendship. It’s nice.

MS NAUERT: Yes, exactly.

QUESTION: You’ve just given us your personal opinion about an act of public diplomacy. You’re under secretary of state for public diplomacy. Could you give us your opinion as the under secretary of state for public diplomacy on this decision? Are you admonishing the Berlin embassy?

MS NAUERT: I would have to speak to the person who made the decision and have that conversation myself and better understand all of the details and how those decisions were made before making further comment on that. Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks. Hey.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Heather?

QUESTION: Was there anybody from the State Department who accompanied Director Pompeo to North Korea?

MS NAUERT: No.

QUESTION: Would it be then fair to characterize that as largely an Intelligence Community endeavor? And I mean in the broader sense of planning the summit between the two leaders.

MS NAUERT: I can just say I’m not going to be able to get into the details of Director Pompeo or U.S. Government preparations, in terms of the preparations for the summit that President Trump intends to have with Kim Jong-un. So there’s not a lot I’m going to be able to say about that.

QUESTION: Heather, can --

QUESTION: Did he need to get a special permit from the State Department to travel to North Korea? Because there’s a travel ban, and only special permit --

QUESTION: Good question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That is a good question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry to --

MS NAUERT: I – look, I can’t get into the details of all of that. If there is, was –

QUESTION: He has some (inaudible.)

MS NAUERT: I’d just refer you over to the agency there for that. Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But was the State Department aware of that, or did you --

MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to be able to get into the details. Obviously, our conversations and negotiations with North Korea, which we’ve shared with you, have been happening at a high level, that we have had direct contact with the Government of North Korea. For specifics, I’m not going to refer to that. I’m not going to get into those details. But I can tell you we are having constant conversations and communications with our other agency and department partners in preparation for this.

QUESTION: What – Lynette’s question was --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- actually a good one.

QUESTION: It’s a good one.

QUESTION: Can you check to see if diplomatic – presumably he has an official or diplomatic passport.

MS NAUERT: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Well, can you look to see if --

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s a State Department passport question.

QUESTION: -- they’re covered by the passport ban? Because --

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of what --

QUESTION: -- if they are covered --

MS NAUERT: I don’t know what kind of passport he has.

QUESTION: Well, but if it – if they are covered by this, then it would have been illegal for him to go unless he got the special provision, in which case the State Department would have been aware, right?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: So just – so the question is not about him specifically, it’s whether official or diplomatic passports also require the special validation.

MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get into the details of all the preparations for this, okay?

QUESTION: I’m not asking for details of preparation.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m asking for someone to look at the – look into it and find out whether – whether all passports, including official and diplomatic, have to have the special validation for use to go to North Korea. That’s all.

MS NAUERT: Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: Quick question on denuclearization, which you bring up all the time. Is there any reason for the State Department to believe that the U.S. definition of denuclearization is the same as North Korea’s definition of denuclearization at this point?

MS NAUERT: I think we’ve covered this before, that Kim Jong-un has said that he is willing to denuclearize and is committing to do so, and we expect that as well on the part of the U.S. Government. That is our policy. Our policy has not changed in any way.

QUESTION: But he’s --

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: But he’s said he’s willing to talk about denuclearization. So your understanding is that is – that is for sure North Korea saying that they will completely denuclearize their country.

MS NAUERT: Some of the – obviously, these formal talks between the President and Kim Jong-un have not happened at this point, and so we’ll wait for those meetings to take place for further talks.

QUESTION: But could you just say what your – what the U.S. definition of denuclearization is and --

MS NAUERT: Elise, we went over this two days ago; we went over this last week. I’m not going to get into it again, but --

QUESTION: But Kim Jong – the North Koreans have said that they’re willing to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s quite different than them committing to fully denuclearize.

MS NAUERT: We look forward to having our conversations with North Korea about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: And that – our policy hasn’t changed in any way.

Hi.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. What?

QUESTION: But that’s different than – talking about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a much different prospect than just the North Koreans denuclearizing.

MS NAUERT: Look, we look forward to having those conversations with --

QUESTION: So is the U.S. willing to look at its nuclear posture?

MS NAUERT: Elise, we look forward to having our conversations with the Government of North Korea --

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: -- on this subject.

Yeah. Hi, Oren.

QUESTION: So on North Korea, the North Korean and South Korean --

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: Hold on. Wait for Oren, please.

QUESTION: Thanks. The North Korean and South Korean Governments are getting ready to have their own summit next week. And I’m wondering whether – what does the State Department sort of – the Trump administration’s concerns about – what are their concerns regarding this, the talks that the North Koreans and the South Koreans are having?

MS NAUERT: We don’t have concerns about those talks. We understand that inter-Korean dialogue is something that is important. They have a lot of internal issues that those governments have to discuss, and I know it’s very important to their citizens there too. So we support improved inter-Korean relations, but we also recognize something that President Moon has said, and that that can’t advance separately from denuclearization. So that is a goal that President Moon has – still holds, as do we, and he has made that very clear that that’s a big part of the conversation too.

QUESTION: Heather?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah. Hi, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. South Korean Government is preparing for declaration of the end of the war with North Korea April 27 when South-North talks. Should denuclearization be the first priority, or what is the U.S. position?

MS NAUERT: Well, I can’t name the priorities for those two governments sitting down and having their conversation and their meetings. I can just say that we would certainly like to see an end, a formal end, to the armistice, and that’s something that we would support.

QUESTION: Well, wait. You’d like to see a formal end to the armistice in a peace treaty, right, not an end to the armistice and a return to hostilities?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

QUESTION: But Kim Jong-un’s goal is the peace treaty and the withdrawal U.S. troops from South Korea.

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, repeat that again?

QUESTION: Kim Jong-un’s goal, final goal, is the peace treaty and withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea. Is that – how did --

MS NAUERT: I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves then. We are set to have our first meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un, and we’ll see what comes out of that meeting. But I can – I think folks are getting ahead of themselves when they start talking about U.S. forces.

Okay? Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) time frame that you’re thinking is going – this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un – I mean, it’s great they’re having this meeting and they’re – whatever they decide to do. What’s the time frame that is being considered for how long it will to accomplish the ultimate goal of denuclearizing the peninsula?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have the answer to that. That will be a lot of people, including our nuclear experts and people from the Department of Energy, people from the Department of State, from the agency, from the DOD. A lot of folks will have to be involved in those kinds of conversations to figure --

QUESTION: But that’s got to be one of --

MS NAUERT: -- to figure that out.

QUESTION: That’s one of the parameters that they’re bringing to the table, isn’t it?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. Those – the conversations are ongoing between in the interagency about what we will – what we will ask for and how those meetings will work – how the meeting with the President will work. And beyond that, I’m just not going to get ahead of those meetings.

Okay? Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Let me just – let me get to some other people who haven’t – who haven’t asked questions yet. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So kind of going a bit back to our, like, North and South Korean conflict, President Moon said that North Korea in their preliminary talks didn’t demand withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. And can the U.S. confirm that? Has North Korea said anything along those lines to you in the negotiations?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into conversations that we’ve been having ahead of that meeting. Okay?

QUESTION: On Iran?

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: On Iran?

QUESTION: Can I please --

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ve got a few more questions on that --

QUESTION: Hi. Iran handed a death penalty to Ramin Hossein Panahi, a Kurdish prisoner. And UN human rights experts called it a unfair sentence. He was mistreated in prison and didn’t have a fair treatment. Do you have a comment on that, first?

MS NAUERT: I’ll have to look in that case for you and see if I have something for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And also Iran and Russia and Iraq and Syria had a intelligence-sharing summit in Baghdad. Does that concern U.S. now Iraq is sharing intelligence with all those countries?

MS NAUERT: I don’t know exactly what Iraq shared with them. Certainly, Iraq and other countries have a right to get together and have meetings of this sort. This is not the first time this has happened, that this type of meeting --

QUESTION: And also on the Iraqi airstrike in Syria, were you aware of that airstrike in Syria?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can tell you that the U.S. Government was aware of that. The Iraqi Government announced that that airstrike took place. We – they have reported it today – the Iraqi Air Force conducted that airstrike, and we were certainly aware of that. Okay? Okay.

QUESTION: Heather, can I follow up on --

MS NAUERT: Let me get – excuse me, I’d like to get to other people before we come back. And we’re going to have to wrap it up in just a second.

Ilhan, hi.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. On Turkey. Yesterday Turkish President Erdogan declared these early elections, what opposition parties call it as ambushed elections due to very short term. Are you – do you have any confidence in Turkish Government and the situation in Turkey which has been going under the state of emergency for about two years? Do you have any confidence that Turkey is going to able to hold elections in fair and free manner?

MS NAUERT: I think first this gets back to the issue of the state of emergency which has been in effect, as you point out, for about two years now or so. During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair, and transparent election in a manner that’s consistent with Kurdish – or, excuse me, with Turkish law and also Turkey’s international obligations. So we are aware of that. We are following this very closely. We have concerns about their ability to hold it during this type of state of emergency. We would certainly like to see free and fair elections, but there’s a concern here.

Okay.

QUESTION: Heather, can I go back to Mar-a-Lago for a second?

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you. So the President and you just supported an end to the Korean War, but the U.S. is the head of UN Command, so what role is the U.S. going to play in seeking an end to the Korean War?

MS NAUERT: I can just say, look, we’re not getting ahead of the conversations that the President will be having with Kim Jong-un. We would like to see a resolution to that overall, but I’m not going to get ahead of the President, okay?

QUESTION: And the President threw the summit into question altogether by saying that he wouldn’t have the meeting if it wasn’t a fruitful meeting, so --

MS NAUERT: I don’t think he threw that into question. I think the President indicated that if it weren’t fruitful, he may not complete that meeting. I think that’s what he was saying.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just one more on the abductee issue, if you don’t mind, but President Trump said that he promised Prime Minister Abe that he would do everything possible to bring the abductees back to Japan. So did Director Pompeo raise that when he was in North Korea?

MS NAUERT: I – look, I can’t confirm anything about – on that issue.

QUESTION: Detainees.

MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: The U.S.’s detainee issues.

MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Did Pompeo mention about – to Kim Jong-un about U.S. citizens, detainees – they’re going to release detainee before talks?

MS NAUERT: Whenever we have conversations with the North Koreans, that is always an issue that is raised. Safety and security of Americans, including those who are being held in North Korea, is a top, top issue --

QUESTION: Meaning it’s a priority?

MS NAUERT: -- for this administration, yes. Okay? Thanks, guys, we’ve got to go.

QUESTION: Can I get you to take this question, because I don’t think you’ll have an answer to it. It’s just about --

MS NAUERT: Excuse me, that is so presumptuous.

QUESTION: Well, because I don’t think you will.

MS NAUERT: It’s so presumptuous, but okay.

QUESTION: Well, I’m sorry. If you have an answer, that’ll be great, but I --

MS NAUERT: I’ll see if I do, but gosh.

QUESTION: It has to do with EPA Administrator Pruitt’s trip to Morocco in December. As you know, U.S. embassies and consulates often give support to --

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: -- official delegations abroad, and I’m just wondering if either the embassy in Rabat or the consulate in Casablanca were involved or helped out with his trip.

MS NAUERT: He went to Morocco in December.

QUESTION: In December.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Thanks.

QUESTION: Did you have an answer?

MS NAUERT: Of course not. It’s about Scott Pruitt. Why would I have an answer about Scott Pruitt?

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

DPB # 25