Department Press Briefing - May 3, 2018
Index for Today's Briefing:
MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s great to see you all. I hope everyone’s doing all right.
A few announcements to start out today. First, I’d like to start with recognizing all of you. As many of you journalists know today, today is the 25th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. Journalists shine a light on many issues around the world, keeping citizens informed, prompting robust debate and discussion – we certainly face that here – and holding governments accountable. We honor the many journalists and media professionals who have dedicated their lives to the profession. We see all too often that journalists continue to take great risks to pursue this important work. We saw this earlier this week, certainly, in Afghanistan.
Journalists have been detained for their reporting in Burma, Cuba, Egypt, Turkey, and in China. The family members of Uighur journalists have been detained as a result of their relatives reporting on China’s widespread crackdown of Uighurs and other Muslims. Authorities have shut down or have attempted to shut down media outlets critical of the respective governments in Tanzania, in Cambodia, in the Philippines, and many other places as well.
In mid-April, the Nicaraguan Government ordered five television stations off the air during nationwide protests, and many journalists continue to be threatened, censored, or intimidated. We urge accountability for the murder of journalists in Malta, Mexico, Russia, and Slovakia, and the apparent assassination of a BBC Pashto reporter in Afghanistan on Monday. We are also outraged by Monday’s savage attack in Kabul claimed by ISIS that killed nine journalists and media professionals, including some, I know, from some of your organizations and from Radio Free Europe as well. We want to express our deepest condolences and sympathy for the loss of those brave reporters.
While these examples clearly demonstrate that the safety and independence of journalists and media outlets remains precarious in many environments, we’d also like to underscore the vital importance of credible news reporting to free and open democratic societies. Censorship and disinformation are common tactics for eroding press freedom, and we encourage people in all regions of the world to think critically about their sources of news and information.
Earlier this morning, the department hosted an interactive web chat to discuss the importance of media literacy in today’s evolving news and information landscape. Healthy and robust public debates based on facts, evidence, and reason are integral to civic engagement. With on-camera participation from a viewing group in Nairobi and more than 30 other viewing groups at posts around the world, the panelists highlighted ways that educators and students can develop their skills in analyzing and understanding the credibility and the biases of media sources. You can review the discussion at our DRL, at our Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s Facebook page at State DRL.
Next, I’d like to discuss our Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell’s travel to Georgia and Ukraine. Today, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell is wrapping up his travel to Georgia and Ukraine. While in Tblisi from April 29th to May the 1st, he met with senior Georgian officials, including the president and the prime minister, to talk about our strong bilateral relationship and Georgia’s democratic and economic reforms. He reaffirmed the United States support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity with its – in its internationally recognized borders. He also reiterated that the United States stands by NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Declaration that Georgia will become a member of NATO. He also visited the administrative boundary line with the Russian-occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where are currently occupied by Russian forces in violation of the 2008 ceasefire agreement.
On May 2nd, secretary – Assistant Secretary Mitchell arrived in Kyiv, where he met with President Poroshenko, the prime minister, and other senior Ukrainian leaders. The assistant secretary affirmed our unbending support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of ongoing Russian aggression. He emphasized the importance of Ukraine adhering to the conditions of the IMF loan package that includes establishing a credible anticorruption court in line with the Venice Commission recommendations. He also announced an additional 5 million in cyber security assistance for Ukraine.
Finally, Assistant Secretary Mitchell reaffirmed our commitment to supporting Ukraine as it continues on the path to NATO and Euro-Atlantic integration, including the importance of adopting an appropriate law on national security.
Just a couple more. Next, I would like to highlight one of our colleagues here, and that is Felicia Schwartz. Felicia is a tremendous journalist with The Wall Street Journal. I say that not for your benefit, but her parents or her grandparents may be watching today.
Felicia, we are so excited for your new opportunity when you’ll be going to Tel Aviv to be the bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. That is not an insignificant job, as you well know, and I just want to say how proud we are of you for doing that. You are an excellent reporter, you are a tough reporter, you are a fair reporter, and you’ve been a joy to work with.
About six weeks ago I got a call from Felicia. I was overseas somewhere, and it was the first hint that there might be something going on here at the State Department. Her sources are excellent. Congratulations to you, Felicia. We’ll certainly miss you and look forward to your next person coming in. Big shoes to fill. (Applause.)
Two more personnel things. And Michelle, I’d like to say congratulations on Best Dressed at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. (Laughter.) She had a beautiful yellow dress that was really stunning, so I’d like to highlight that.
Lastly, we have a real personnel announcement here at the State Department, and I would like to announce that we are pleased to announce the acknowledgment and the arrival of Mr. Ulrich Brechbuhl, who will be serving as counselor to the State Department. Mr. Brechbuhl joins the department after having recently served as president of Appenseller Point – it’s a family investing and consulting business – and executive chairman of Avadyne Health. Mr. Brechbuhl began his career in public service as a student at the United States Military Academy – West Point – where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree with Highest Distinction. During his six and a half years of active duty with the Army, her served as a cavalry officer, he worked on a wide range of assignments, including leading troops patrolling the Iron Curtain with the 2nd Cavalry and served as a general’s aide and working as an operations officer during the Persian Gulf War.
I had a chance to meet him the other day and spent a little bit of time with him earlier today. Part of what he will be doing here at the State Department is helping our new Secretary, Secretary Pompeo, get our team staffed up. The Secretary has acknowledged and highlighted the importance of filling vacant positions. As many of you know, we have a lot of them, and so he will be working very hard in filling up those positions. As the Secretary would say, we’re planning to get our team on the field.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Just one quick one on World Press Freedom Day.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: And then I want to talk about North Korea. You mentioned the deaths of journalists in Russia, Malta, Slovakia, of course Kabul. Would you also condemn the recent deaths of journalists, Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean look, there are, unfortunately, a lot of journalists who die all around the world. I’m not going to be able to list every single death of a journalist around the world, although that is certainly important and significant.
In terms of what you’re referring to, we are always saddened by the loss of life. I want to highlight that: We are always saddened by the loss of life. In terms of Israel, we would say the bigger issue is that the violence has to stop, and we understand that Israel has a right to defend itself. We are very firm here at the State Department and others in the administration about the right and the importance of a free press.
QUESTION: But you do acknowledge that these guys were reporting the news; they were not threatening the Israeli soldiers in any way, shape, or form?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have --
QUESTION: And they were --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have all the details on an investigation, but I will say we always are saddened by the loss of life and that Israel does have a right to defend itself. They are conducting an investigation. I am not going to speak to that investigation.
QUESTION: Okay. There are also – they also wounded four. There are 17 Palestinians in prison today as we speak. Would you call on the Israelis to let them go --
MS NAUERT: I do not have information about all of the specific cases. There are --
QUESTION: Would you – could you find – could you find out if we could --
MS NAUERT: I will see what I can find out for you, Said. But when there are cases that we are very familiar with, such as reporters who were detained in Burma, for example, when I do have specific information on people’s cases and we can speak about it, I’m certainly happy to do so. I think you know that very well.
QUESTION: But you do recognize that they were willfully killed by the Israelis, right, the two journalists?
MS NAUERT: Said, I don’t have any information on that. Okay?
QUESTION: Could you find out, please?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information on that. I would refer you to the Government of Israel on that.
I meant actually to go to Felicia for the first question today. My apologies, Josh. But Felicia, if you have a question, I’ll go to you after Josh and I finish up.
QUESTION: Well, I assume my North Korea question is the same as Josh’s, which is: What can you say? There’s been a lot of information swirling about the fate of the three Americans who are being held.
MS NAUERT: Sure. We’ve certainly been following their cases for quite some time. You and I and we all spent a lot of time in this room talking about the case of Otto Warmbier certainly last year. In terms of the reports – and there have been a ton of media reports; I’ve gotten so many calls and questions from all of you – I can just say we can’t confirm the validity of those reports at this point. As you all know, the safety and the welfare of U.S. citizens abroad is our top issue. We want to see our American citizens brought home. We have been asking that and we’ve been calling on that – the North Korean Government for that for quite some time. We want them to come home as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Do you know if --
QUESTION: Is this --
QUESTION: Is it the – I know that you don’t know if they were going to be released.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But as far as them being moved out of a prison into a hotel, is that information the U.S. has --
MS NAUERT: I just can’t confirm anything on that at this point. I don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: And then can you tell us when Mayor Giuliani, who is now – works for President Trump, is talking about this on television, is he speaking on behalf of the U.S. Government?
MS NAUERT: I would just have to refer you to the White House on that, because I’ve not spoken with Mayor Giuliani about his role or his comments.
QUESTION: But in general, I mean, if in the future he appears on television and he makes comments about a major foreign policy issue, whether it be North Korea or --
MS NAUERT: Josh, I would say that’s a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Well, it’s not really, because it happened last night.
MS NAUERT: No, but you said if he does in the future.
QUESTION: Should we take that as a position --
MS NAUERT: That’s why I would say it’s a hypothetical, okay? I don’t have any information about what exactly his role is going to be, other than being a legal advisor to the President. So I’d just have to refer you to the White House on that.
QUESTION: And the fact that we started hearing these reports about the detainees – I think it’s been more than 24 hours now, so given that there has been so much communication and seemingly goodwill leading up to a summit, does the fact that we don’t really know if these reports are even true at this point say anything about the level and efficacy of communication between the U.S. and North Korea at this point?
MS NAUERT: Michelle, I can just say we can’t confirm at this time the validity of those reports. We certainly think it would be a very good sign if North Korea – and a wonderful gesture of goodwill – if North Korea were to release our three Americans who’ve been detained there.
QUESTION: So is communication really not working between these two countries at this point?
MS NAUERT: Michelle, I just can say that I can’t confirm the validity of those reports.
QUESTION: The President in his tweets seems to be more optimistic, seems to have more information. Do you share this optimism about the --
MS NAUERT: I think we’re always cautiously optimistic when dealing with certain countries. North Korea would certainly --
QUESTION: Including on the detainees?
MS NAUERT: North Korea would certainly be one of them. This is obviously a priority for this administration. A week into the President’s term in office, he turned to our previous secretary of state and said, “Bring home Americans who are being held overseas.” The secretary, the President, the entire administration through the interagency worked on that very hard, and we’ve had some real successes in bringing home Americans who’ve been detained in Egypt and in elsewhere. This still continues to be a tremendous priority for the President and for Secretary Pompeo as well. I can’t comment further on the status of things. I can just say it would be a great step in the right direction for our people to be brought home.
QUESTION: You don’t have any sign that this is going on?
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: You don’t have any signs that this is going in the right direction?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any additional information on that, okay?
QUESTION: Heather --
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hey, Janne.
QUESTION: Heather, are you aware of the video of the Iranian foreign minister in which he says they won’t be renegotiating --
MS NAUERT: We’ll come back. Let’s finish up anything on North Korea before we come back to Iran.
Hi. Go ahead. Hi, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. Otto Warmbier’s father and his family filed a complaint against the North Korea in federal district court, I think last week. What is the comment you --
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, I can share with you that I know Otto Warmbier’s family is in a tremendous amount of pain. How could you not be? The loss of your son in such a brutal fashion. My understanding is that his family is meeting with Ambassador Haley today in New York, I believe. I think they met just a few hours ago. I have not been a part of those conversations so I’d have to refer you to USUN for additional information on that.
I can tell you that there was a follow-on meeting between the Japanese, the United States, and others, where they were talking about abductions in a general sense regarding North Korea. But that is all I have for you. I’ve not spoken with the Warmbier family.
QUESTION: President Trump at the table – he going to mention about it, Warmbier’s issues or the human right abuse issues, at the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. I don’t want to get ahead of the President and what he intends to discuss with the North Koreans. I can tell you that human rights abuses – that is an issue that we always bring up with countries who are abusing human rights. You may recall a few weeks ago we released our Human Rights Report, and we were very clear in our description of North Korea and other countries, and we’ve certainly not backed away from that.
Okay. Anything else related to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. So not on detainees, but – so at the Inter-Korean Summit, both Moon and Kim said that they want to make an effort to end the Korean war. So what’s the U.S. position on that? And then if, like, a peace treaty comes to happen, what is the position? Like what change, if any, will happen with U.S. troops in ROK and Japan?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think we covered this about a week and a half ago, when I was last briefing you all here in this room. And it would certainly be a wonderful thing to have the war formally brought to an end. That’s something that the President has said that he firmly supports. We would certainly support that as well. In terms of U.S. troop presence, I guess I’d refer you to President Moon’s comments from yesterday, or perhaps it was earlier today, which he said the U.S. military presence in South Korea is a matter of the U.S.-Korea alliance. It has no relevance to any peace treaty. Beyond that, I’d just have to refer you to the Department of Defense for any discussions about that.
QUESTION: Heather, one more.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Last one.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo yesterday during swearing-in ceremony said that he seeks permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s WMD. He actually said this several times during his nomination hearing, when he was in Jordan with the Japanese foreign minister. So this is quite different from the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement, so is this a higher bar for North Korea, or is it essentially the same?
MS NAUERT: We’re calling it CVID now. So because the State Department, the government likes acronyms so much, we’ve got a new one: CVID – complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. That is our policy and that is the policy of Secretary Pompeo.
Okay. Let’s --
QUESTION: Wouldn’t that be PVID? You add another addition of PVID.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I don’t have anything on that for you. I don’t have anything on that for you today.
QUESTION: You don’t have – what’s the difference, CVID and PVID? Permanently --
MS NAUERT: I think our government policy has been very well known and explained a lot of times on how we are approaching negotiations with North Korea, the importance of that. Look, we would not be at this place where we are today without the maximum pressure campaign. If anything, if there’s – I’ve spoken more about our maximum pressure campaign than anything else in the past year-plus since I’ve been doing this job.
QUESTION: PVID means permanently --
MS NAUERT: We are seeing tremendous progress. We’ve gotten to this point where we can sit down and have conversations – we certainly hope and are looking forward to it – between the President of the United States and Kim Jong-un. And we are looking forward to what they have pledged, which is exactly that, denuclearization. Let’s move on to something else.
QUESTION: Heather --
QUESTION: Sorry, one more on --
MS NAUERT: Hi, Laurie.
QUESTION: Hi. On Turkey, Turkey’s carrying out ethnic cleansing in Afrin, replacing the Kurdish population, much of which fled when Turkey attacked, and now they’re not allowed back to their homes. They’re being replaced with Arabs, who are themselves displaced from Ghouta and elsewhere. What’s your comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Laurie, we’ve been watching this situation very carefully in Afrin. We spent a lot of time covering this about a month or two ago, as you well know. 140,000 people have been displaced from Afrin, and as we can tell – as far as we can tell, they are not being allowed back in to their homes and communities. We have expressed grave concern about the humanitarian situation in Afrin over recent weeks and months. That remains a concern of ours today.
We call on all relevant sides, all relevant actors operating in the northwest – that includes Turkey, that includes Russia, that also includes Syria – to provide access for international humanitarian aid organizations and to allow for people to come home. When people go home – and this is something we always find important to highlight, is that it needs to be safe and it needs to be voluntary. They can’t be forced back in their homes, but we would like for them to be brought home or to be able to head home safely and as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Pompeo is to meet the Turkish foreign minister shortly. Do you think this will be an issue when the two men meet?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you we have a lot of things to discuss with the Turkish foreign minister. As you know, they just met at NATO less than a week ago, where they had conversations about a wide range of issues. We have a lot of things to discuss with them, NATO-related and otherwise, so I imagine that that could be a part of the conversation.
MS NAUERT: Hey. Hi, Ilhan. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Today, as you mentioned in the beginning, World Press Freedom Day, and you have been talking about Turkey due to severe conditions in the press freedom.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today, Amnesty International launch a new campaign for Turkey. Turkey is still the country, most jails – most journalists jailed in a country in the worldwide. My question is, first of all, do you join Amnesty International for this campaign to say free Turkey media?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think our position on the importance of a free press is very well known. In countries it is particularly important for people to be able to speak their minds. When they speak their minds, they may not always be agreeing with the government, but that is certainly no reason for a government to throw somebody in jail or a journalist in jail. You’re absolutely right, there are more journalists jailed in Turkey than in any other country around the world. That is a tremendous concern. We believe that more voices rather than fewer voices being heard helps advance a democratic society and helps give people voice to their concerns.
We support the goal of improved media freedom in Turkey; we’ve discussed that a lot here at the State Department. We raise the issue – I want to tell you – directly with the Turkish Government on many occasions. We continue to highlight that. We also do it not only face to face with our counterparts but also through various multilateral institutions. So thank you for highlighting that, and we’ll continue to raise our concerns with press freedom in Turkey and elsewhere.
QUESTION: Thank you. One more question on Turkey.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Last week, three senators proposed a bill to block F-35 fighter jets to Turkey due to some of the American citizens have been arrested in Turkey, but there are other conditions as well such as S-400 air defense system from Russia. Do you agree with this bill? Are you going to support this bill?
MS NAUERT: Well, as a matter of course, we don’t comment on pending legislation with Congress, but I can tell you that we have had serious concerns about Turkey’s potential acquisition of the S-400 system. Under NATO and under the NATO agreement, which of course, Turkey is a NATO member, you’re only supposed to buy, they are only supposed to buy, weapons and other materiel that are interoperable with other NATO partners. We don’t see that as being interoperable. We obviously, though, have a robust defense trade relationship with the Government of Turkey, and we will continue to raise our concerns with them on any kind of pending sales or anything of that nature.
QUESTION: What is the cutoff for when a pending sale falls under that or not? For instance, the Turks have been saying, well, before this CAATSA kicked in, we had this already kind of locked in place and so it’s grandfathered in. Is that consistent with the U.S. --
MS NAUERT: Well, that doesn’t – this, what we’re talking about now, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with CAATSA. CAATSA is certainly a part of it, but the interoperability is something that long predated CAATSA because that’s a NATO agreement.
QUESTION: Sure. We don’t sanction people for interoperability.
MS NAUERT: Right.
QUESTION: We’re sanctioning people for violating CAATSA.
MS NAUERT: And we have had many conversations with our partners around the world – Turkey being one of them; there are a lot of other governments that I could cite as well – where we are speaking to them about CAATSA and the restrictions under CAATSA, and if you run afoul against CAATSA what exactly is at stake. So that would be --
QUESTION: But this is a gray area here where nobody knows whether those restrictions apply to deals that were already kind of in the works.
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information for you on that. If I can get something from our Pol-Mil people, I’ll certainly look into it and see what I can bring to you. Okay?
All right. Hey, Michelle.
MS NAUERT: That is not a question that I’ve asked the Secretary. I know we’re in solid hands. We have – a lot of great people are assisting here, but his first day really in the building was just two days ago. So these are the things that I know people will be bringing to his attention. I’m sure he is well aware that that position exists. He is going to spend time – and in fact, he’s already started interviewing people here at the State Department for various positions. He shared with me this morning that he intends to interview people throughout the weekend.
So this is a priority of his. He said that in his hearings on Capitol Hill, he said that to us privately, and I know he’s alluded that to all of you publicly as well.
QUESTION: In the past two days, he’s already done interviews? Or --
MS NAUERT: He’s been talking to people already. Yes, he has. Yes, he is.
QUESTION: Do you know how many or what positions they --
MS NAUERT: I can’t say how many or characterize or what positions.
MS NAUERT: Some of these will just be private conversations. But it’s something that is important to him --
MS NAUERT: -- and he understands and recognizes the need to have not only our people hard at work, but to have our people well – to have our department well-staffed.
QUESTION: Can you --
QUESTION: And you had a whole lot to say about press freedom, basically speaking to the world on that. So when the President of the United States and those around him repeatedly say the words “fake news,” isn’t that disinformation?
MS NAUERT: Look, we’ve discussed this as well. You and I have had many exchanges on this, and that’s part of what the beauty of a free press and the beauty of a First Amendment when people can say what they want. You don’t have to agree with it, others don’t have to agree with it, but that is certainly within his own right to do so. When we look at the absence of a free press in other countries, we look at what those countries are doing to journalists, and that’s something that we do not see here in the United States.
In Turkey, for example, some of our – some of your colleagues here, if they were to head home to Turkey, they would be arrested. Why? In part, because of the job that they are doing each and every day. One of your other colleagues from Afghanistan, if she were to return home, she would once again, without a doubt, be subject to harassment, death threats, and the like because her family’s been threatened before.
QUESTION: So because that’s not happening here, the White House lying and saying “fake news” is a better deal?
MS NAUERT: Michelle, I’m not going to get into this. Look, it’s the right of the free press, and it’s the President, and he has the right to speak his mind and has a right to be concerned about stories that he feels are inaccurate. Okay? I’ll leave it at that. I will refer you to the White House beyond that.
MS NAUERT: Hey, Lesley.
QUESTION: Can I – can you just give us a kind of flavor of what the Secretary’s been up to the last 24 hours?
MS NAUERT: Since you saw him last?
QUESTION: Yeah, right. So --
MS NAUERT: Let’s see, you saw him last on Monday night. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Did he have a meeting today with senior State Department officials --
MS NAUERT: He did, yes.
QUESTION: So give us just some kind of a flavor.
MS NAUERT: Sure. So I don’t know what time the secretary walked in the building, but as an Army guy and a former West Pointer, I’m pretty sure it was pretty early in the morning. Fortunately, he didn’t make us go on a PT run or any of that, so – but I do know he’s hard at work. He had a meeting with senior staff this morning in which he was really in listen mode, and that’s one of the things that I’ve learned about him since having traveled with him last week, and you and some of our – your other colleagues as well. He listens; he asks questions and then he listens. He wants to learn from us, and he cites this old story years ago where somebody said to him, early on in his military career, “You would be well served to just shut up and listen.” And that’s exactly what we’re finding right now. He’s asked me a lot of questions; he’s asked my colleagues a lot of questions, which is such a terrific sign, when somebody wants to hear form the experts in the building or the people who are currently doing their jobs what is working well, what isn’t working well, and what can we do better. So he’s having lots of conversations with people.
QUESTION: Can you also give a sense on – you said he’s doing a lot of interviews. Where is he looking to fill first and quickly?
MS HOLMES: I haven’t asked him his priority on which positions he wants to fill first. Obviously, senior staff is something that is important, but all kinds of jobs here are important at the State Department, so I know he’ll be looking at filling those as well.
QUESTION: What about ambassadorships, Heather? Is he meeting with the President already to talk about ambassadorships? Will he, do you expect, have a greater role than Secretary Tillerson in kind of identifying candidates for the President?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I would say without a doubt. As we all saw yesterday and the day before, the fact that the President came in here at the State Department for the first time since he was elected to office is significant. It shows the strength and the trust between the President and also our new Secretary of State. Secretary Pompeo has said that he wants to fill these positions. He recognizes the importance of filling – whether it’s State Department staff or our ambassador posts. I think that’s why you saw some of the news coming out over the past week about people being nominated to certain posts that had been not – had not been filled previously. So I expect – and he has said to the Senate, look, I’m going to bringing a lot of people before you, and I take him at his word.
QUESTION: And then one other – he had breakfast this morning with Secretary Mattis and John Bolton. I know Secretary Tillerson met with Mattis for breakfast very frequently. Do you expect that the three men will kind of make this a regular configuration in terms of meeting and kind of hashing out foreign policy?
MS NAUERT: I would anticipate that that would be the case, yeah, that we would have more regular meetings with the Secretary’s colleagues at the NSC and elsewhere.
QUESTION: Quick question, Heather --
QUESTION: On Iran.
MS NAUERT: All right, go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Are the negotiations between E3 and you and the U.S., the State Department, still going on? One week to go before the decision the President has to make.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, those --
QUESTION: Or --
MS NAUERT: Those – go ahead.
QUESTION: There’s a meeting planned before May 12th and – or is already the Secretary presenting the President with these options?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can tell you that the Secretary and the President have had a lot of conversations about this topic in general. Some of these conversations I believe predate the Secretary’s position here at the State Department because of the nature of national security issues. So he’s very well steeped in the details of Iran. We continue – the State Department does – continues to have talk with some – talks with our E3 members about our concerns with the JCPOA. I don’t have any specific details for you, but I can just tell you those conversations are happening very – happening very often.
QUESTION: One more on Iran.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s quite technical if the President decides to leave on May 12th.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, what’s the first part?
QUESTION: It’s quite technical, like, the sanctions regime, putting it back in place. I’m not asking you to prejudge the President’s decision, but since he’s left it open as a possibility that he would leave the deal, have you or people in this building been traveling – well, I don’t think you would travel to do this, but have people in this building been traveling to brief officials in Russia and China and --
MS NAUERT: Ye of little faith. Come on, you think I’m not traveling to talk about the JCPOA? I’m teasing; I’m not the technical expert, you’re absolutely right about that. I can tell you we’ve had a lot of talks. Brian Hook, on the last trip, traveling over when he was in Brussels, had conversations with his counterparts and colleagues, with other countries, talking about our concerns. And our concerns are very well known about the JCPOA. I know he’s talked about a range of options that are on the table.
QUESTION: But are your concerns just like some of the technical – like, in 2012 when they instituted this same sanctions regime that the President could snap back into place.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) air travel --
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information – I wasn’t present for those meetings, so I don’t have any information about everything that was discussed, but I can tell you overall, our concerns regarding the JCPOA have been addressed significantly, and we’ve also looked at ways of strengthening the JCPOA.
QUESTION: I just – do our allies understand how their – the businesses and banks in their countries might be affected?
MS NAUERT: I believe so. I believe so. I think we’ve been clear about the ramifications and how things would work in that nature. Okay?
QUESTION: A follow-up on --
MS NAUERT: Hi, Conor.
QUESTION: A follow-up on something you just said, that your concerns have been addressed significantly: You mean, like, they’ve been heard or things have been changed to address --
MS NAUERT: They’ve been heard.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: We’ve addressed those concerns.
QUESTION: On Iraq?
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: I had questions on Ukraine if we can --
QUESTION: Can I have --
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, Conor.
MS NAUERT: Oh, sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: So a member of parliament there and the special corruption prosecutor both confirmed to The New York Times the four investigations involving President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort have been halted. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to speak to that. Did anyone from the U.S. encourage or ask the Ukrainian Government to halt those investigations?
MS NAUERT: I can tell you in terms of Ukraine, I can speak to the sale and I know a lot of you have been very interested in the sale of Javelin missiles to Ukraine. I can tell you that that was something that was on the table for a very long time before we announced back in 2017 that the President decided to provide the Javelin missile systems to Ukraine. Those were delivered just a few weeks ago. Somehow a bunch of you missed it that those were actually delivered. So somebody did a good job of keeping that quiet.
But regarding the special counsel’s investigation, I don’t have anything for you on that. I’m not going to comment on that.
QUESTION: But – so you’re not denying it or confirming it?
MS NAUERT: No, I cannot comment on anything regarding that investigation. I’d have to refer you to the White House for that. Okay?
QUESTION: You mentioned, though, encouraging Ukraine to set up this special corruption – anti-corruption court.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Would you encourage them to pursue these cases?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the details of all of these cases, but we have very frequent conversations with the Ukrainian Government. As I noted at the top, our Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell was just there yesterday or the day before yesterday, I believe it was. And so we have a lot of conversations with them about our concerns, about corruption and other matters, and we make our points very clear with them.
Also I should add that our then-Acting Secretary John Sullivan at the G7 in Toronto, he had conversations with the Ukrainian Government as well expressing our concerns, and that’s all I have on that. Okay?
Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Can I ask --
MS NAUERT: Nice to see you again.
MS NAUERT: Correct.
QUESTION: And I wanted to know why in your statement you didn’t mention any country.
MS NAUERT: In the statement we didn’t mention any country? I think that’s because it is so pervasive. A big part of our conversations at NATO included talks about state-sponsored propaganda and state-sponsored disinformation. Unfortunately, there are far too many countries that participate in that, and in speaking with our allies, we were able to have conversations where we are all on the same page expressing our deep concerns about Russian disinformation, disinformation from other parts of the world. We certainly see that. I know you’re particularly interested in Cuba. Cuba, we see that happening as well.
We didn’t mention any particular countries. We just didn’t happen to do it. But we have a lot of conversations internally in the building about that very matter.
QUESTION: Will further meetings be taking place here in the State Department in this regard with other experts?
MS NAUERT: Regarding just disinformation in general?
MS NAUERT: Yes. In fact, I have quite a few meetings scheduled on that very subject. I’ve had two meetings yesterday on that subject alone. It was also included, let me mention, in the G7 communique, the communique that came out of the G7, where the countries all agreed to work on state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda and how we could best form I’ll just call it a channel, so to speak, where we can best communicate best practices and ways that we can combat that. We’ve seen that be a tremendous problem in countries all around the world. We know that the news out of Mexico today, for example, with people pushing out disinformation. So we continue to highlight those concerns, and certainly, our allies and partners are well aware of the fact that this exists.
MS NAUERT: Okay. And I’m going to have to wrap it up in – I’m going to have to wrap it up in just a few minutes.
QUESTION: Can I ask on (inaudible)?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to one more question on Iran because --
MS NAUERT: Sure.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. What was the last part of your question?
QUESTION: Iran will not renegotiate the nuclear deal.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on --
MS NAUERT: Look, I think that’s a hypothetical at this point. Some might consider it to be bluster. I’m just not going to comment on that. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Question Iraq?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead. Last question on Iraq. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. So some of the minority groups in Iraq are concerned about some political parties calling for majoritarian rule in Iraq, and --
MS NAUERT: Calling for what rule?
QUESTION: A majoritarian rule.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Excluding the Kurds and the Sunnis.
MS NAUERT: I see.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on that? And then I have a follow-up.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. First, what I’d like to say about Iraq is congratulations on the election that they are holding. May 12th – so that would be nine day or so from now – their parliamentary directions. And what is incredible about the fact that they’re holding that elections, they have 320 parliamentary seats, 7,000 candidates. I mean, imagine that. That’s – it’s a tremendous number, 50 parties. So I think we’ve just seen such incredible success with the march toward democracy in Iraq. That specific – your specific question, I don’t have any information for you on that, but I just overall want to applaud Iraqi leaders for taking part in getting them to this point.
QUESTION: Well, thank you. But about the parties and the candidates, a lot of them are not able to campaign for their candidacy in disputed areas, where U.S. has called for a joint governance in the area, but that’s not happening. And it’s under some sort of military rule now, and parties are boycotting, and ISIS is reappearing. Are you in any talks with Iraq or the government in Erbil for some sort of negotiated joint governance in that area?
MS NAUERT: We have a lot of conversations with the Iraqi Government. They’re a steadfast partner of the United States. In terms of specific conversations about your questions, I don’t have any information for you on that. I can tell you more broadly that, with regard to the election, some of our various programs at DRL – one of our bureaus here, Democracy, Labor and Human Rights – they’re partnering with the National Democratic Institute to implement a $3 million program that aims at – aimed at strengthening government – governance over all, and then boosting voter participation. USAID also has some separate programs through the Independent High Electoral Commission to try to ensure that all Iraqis – women, minority groups, and the like – all have access to the polls and to elections. If you’d like any more information on that, I’d be more than happy to get that to you.
QUESTION: But generally – the disputed areas, generally, they’re supposed to be governed together with other groups, and they are not. Do you have --
MS NAUERT: I would have to look into that; I don’t have that level of detail on the subject, okay. I’d have to look into that and back with you.
QUESTION: Getting back --
MS NAUERT: All right. We got to go. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)
DPB # 26