Department Press Briefing - July 18, 2018

Heather Nauert
Spokesperson
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 18, 2018



TRANSCRIPT:

3:13 p.m. EDT

MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS NAUERT: Hope everyone’s doing well. Let me start out with a couple of announcements this afternoon. By the way, it’s a little chilly in here. I can see that.

QUESTION: Noticed.

MS NAUERT: I know. I see you all have your blankets on and everything. Okay.

First, I’d like to start off talking about Nicaragua, and yesterday the Ortega government sent police and government-aligned armed groups to the town of Masaya in a deadly attack on its own citizens. Reports suggest that at least three people have been killed and dozens have been wounded. The Ortega government’s brutal campaign of violence against their own people must stop immediately. Yesterday’s assault on Masaya is another glaring example of Ortega’s efforts to cling to power no matter the cost to the people of Nicaragua. Since April, attacks on university students, journalists, clergy, have killed hundreds and the international community is uniting in its condemnation of the heinous act.

We welcome recent statements by the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and well over 100 – excuse me, well over a dozen countries condemning the government-sponsored violence. We urge others to join the international call for peace. We continue to support the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua’s efforts to advance negotiations to resolve the current conflict, restore respect for human rights, and achieve a better, more democratic future for all Nicaraguans. We appreciate the church’s critical role as a mediator. However, we are concerned that those officials seeking to bring an end to the crisis are coming under physical and reputational attack by the Ortega government and its supporters. The path to peace for the Ortega government remains through early, free, fair, and transparent elections. We urge the Ortega government to take concrete actions now and to negotiate in good faith.

Next, I’d like to mention that today, USAID Administrator Mark Green is wrapping up his visit to Colombia, and that’s where he met with President Santos and President-elect Duque, as well as members of the Colombian congress, to reaffirm our strong partnership with the people and the Government of Colombia. Administrator Green also visited the Colombia-Venezuela border during his trip to the region to meet with some of the more than two million Venezuelans who have fled the crisis in their home country, which was created by the Maduro regime. While there, Administrator Green announced an additional $6 million in U.S. funding to provide food and health assistance to the thousands of Venezuelan migrants crossing the border every day, and for the Colombian communities that are hosting them.

Lastly, I’d like to announce that Secretary Pompeo will travel to New York on Friday, July the 20th, to meet with Ambassador Nikki Haley and members of the United Nations Security Council, the Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Kang, and Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations Koro Bessho, to discuss the latest on North Korea. The Secretary will also meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss a range of issues, including preparations for the UN General Assembly high-level week in September and also UN reform.

The Secretary will then travel to Simi Valley, California, on Sunday, July the 22nd, to deliver remarks on supporting Iranian voices at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs as part of his visit with members of the Iranian-American community in the United States. Secretary Pompeo will travel to Simi – from Simi Valley to Palo Alto, California, where he and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will host the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and also the Minister for Defense Marise Payne for this year’s Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations, otherwise known as AUSMIN. That takes place at the Hoover Institution at Stanford on July 23rd and 24th. This AUSMIN celebrates 100 years of mateship. It marks the U.S. and Australian forces fighting side by side in a battle for the first time. It’s been 100 years.

QUESTION: I think you have to say mateship with an Australian accent.

MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) I don’t think I could pull that off very well. That dialogue will focus on deepening our strategic alliance and developing initiatives to promote our shared vision of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. The United States and Australia have held strategic talks annually since 1985.

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

QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. I want to start with some stuff that comes out of Helsinki.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: I’ll be really quick because I think there are probably going to be a lot about it. I wanted to ask you a broad question first, but since this question came up at the White House briefing just now and your colleague over there gave a rather unusual answer to it when she was asked about whether or not the administration would support or would help Russian investigators interview former American officials – or American citizens in general, but also former American officials, including a former ambassador to Russia. She said that this is something the President was going to take under advisement to talk about with his team. Why is this just not simply a – is this just not a non-starter to begin with?

MS NAUERT: Well, I --

QUESTION: Why are you even considering it?

MS NAUERT: I can’t answer on behalf of the White House with regard to that, but what I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian Government are absolutely absurd – the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian Government is making about those American citizens. We do not stand by those assertions that the Russian Government makes. The prosecutor general in Russia is well aware that the United States has rejected Russian allegations in this regard. Those have been refuted by, among other things, the Southern District Court of New York in other cases that are somewhat related. Instead, we continue to urge Russian authorities to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue those in Russia who in fact perpetrated the fraudulent scheme that Russia refers to. That targeted not only Mr. Browder, but also his company and others, and also the Russian people as a whole.

QUESTION: So does that mean that at least speaking for the State Department, that you would object to, oppose, and not allow or not grant a Russian request or demand to interview a former ambassador, someone who worked – used to work for this building?

MS NAUERT: And I believe some of that would fall under the Department of Justice, so I’d have to loop in the Department of Justice on this. This is something that just came out.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS NAUERT: I didn’t get a chance to see the entire White House briefing a short while ago, so I will just tell you --

QUESTION: Well --

MS NAUERT: -- that Russian assertions are absolutely absurd at this point.

QUESTION: Well, I get that. But I mean, is this something that’s just out of the question that you’re not going to allow? Because her response has, frankly, caused a great deal of concern not just among members of the previous administration, but among former officials going back (inaudible).

MS NAUERT: What I’ve provided you right now is all that I have for you on this, but I will be sure to look into it --

QUESTION: All right.

MS NAUERT: -- and understand that it would be a grave concern to our former colleagues here.

QUESTION: Secondly, the Russian Government has spoken several times over the course – since Helsinki about how it’s ready to “implement the agreements,” quote-unquote, that the two presidents reached in Helsinki. As far as I can tell, there weren’t any agreements, and no one seems to know exactly what they are other than in very broad terms like agreeing to assist with North Korean denuclearization and --

MS NAUERT: And I think broad is the correct term to use here.

QUESTION: Okay. So there were no specific agreements reached?

MS NAUERT: There were sort of three takeaways from the meeting, three proposals that we are currently assessing. Again, we’re still digging into the details. I know some of you have had a lot of questions about it – understandably so. It’s a little too fresh to be able to provide all the details.

Among the things that were proposed: a high-level working group with business leaders from both countries. That’s one of the things. Another thing that’s been proposed is convening some sort of an expert council which would include political scientists from the United States and from Russia, diplomats, former diplomats, former military officials. The U.S. and the USSR many years ago did something very similar to this, so it’s not entirely a new concept, but it’s just something that was proposed. Also another proposal was that our NSC meet with the Russian NSC to discuss follow-up meetings. Anything on that, I’d have to refer you to our NSC for questions about that.

These are certainly all modest proposals. The President had said going into this that we wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems in one meeting, in one conversation with the Russian Government, but we think it’s a pretty good place to start.

QUESTION: He was right about that. But would the – so these aren’t even agreements yet. They’re just proposals.

MS NAUERT: They are proposals, yes.

QUESTION: All right. And then lastly, on this whole – this MH17 question. Does the U.S. Government still stand by its previous statements and positions that – in support of the Dutch investigation team that held that Russia was responsible for downing it?

MS NAUERT: We certainly do. The United States Government has long said that Russia is without a doubt responsible for shooting down MH17. As recently as May, we put out two statements, and I’d like to read a bit from those statements. The first one came out on May the 24th. It said, “The United States has complete confidence in the findings of the joint investigation team as presented today by the Dutch public prosecutor. The missile launcher used to shoot down Malaysia Airline Flight MH17 originated from the 53rd anti-aircraft brigade of the Russian Federation stationed in Kursk.” It goes on to say, “MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired from the territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia and Russian-led forces.” That was May 24th.

May 25th we put out another statement that said, “We strongly support decisions by the Netherlands and Australia to call Russia to account for its role in the July 2014 downing of the Malaysia flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine and the horrific deaths of 298 civilians. It’s time for Russia to acknowledge its role in shooting down the plane and cease its callous disinformation campaign.”

We stand by those statements.

QUESTION: So why no statement yesterday on the anniversary?

MS NAUERT: We joined – and perhaps some of you haven’t seen it, but we joined our G7 colleagues and put out a foreign ministers statement – I believe it was Monday of this week. And I can read for you a bit of that statement. It says, among other things, “We, the G7 foreign ministers” – Canada, France, Germany, et cetera, along with the European Union – “are united in condemnation, in the strongest possible terms, of the downing of Malaysia Air Flight MH17, a civilian aircraft flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur July 17th, 2014.”

It goes on to say – I’m skipping down a few paragraphs – “In a rules-based international order, those responsible for unacceptable actions such as the firing or launching of a missile of Russian origin which intercepted and downed a civilian aircraft must be held accountable. To this end, we call on Russia to immediately engage with Australia and The Netherlands in good faith and to address all relevant questions regarding any potential breaches of international law. We once again express our deepest condolences to the family and the victims of that flight.”

QUESTION: Right. I --

MS NAUERT: Our position on Russian culpability for this has not changed. Our policy on this has not changed.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m aware of that statement and I’m aware of what you just said.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: But why no statement from either you or the Secretary yesterday on the anniversary?

MS NAUERT: Matt, we have put out three statements in two and a half months and we think that that covered it. We preferred to go with the G7 statement and I hope the decision that the United States made this time to go with the G7 statement doesn’t cloud anyone’s judgment about our steadfast conviction that Russia stands responsible for the shoot-down of MH17 and we stand behind the Dutch investigation.

QUESTION: Okay. But it’s just that you guys put out statements on anniversary – I’ve counted 14 that have been issued this year – Srebrenica, Tiananmen Square, death of an OSCE – an American working for the OSCE, the Good Friday Agreement, Rwandan genocide, any number of things. The Secretary puts out a national day statement a day, basically. Eighteen – there’s been 18 days in July, there have been 18 so far. I mean, countries like Comoros, Solomon Islands, Maldives. I just don’t understand --

MS NAUERT: I get it.

QUESTION: -- why, for the first time in four years since --

MS NAUERT: I get it.

QUESTION: Well, why is it less a priority that --

MS NAUERT: You seem to think there’s something nefarious going on here.

QUESTION: No, no, no. I’m – no, I’m not. That’s --

MS NAUERT: I’ve just pointed to --

QUESTION: I don’t think there’s something nefarious.

MS NAUERT: -- three statements that we’ve put out on this and I want to just say it one more time again before we --

QUESTION: It’s just that people notice when things don’t happen.

MS NAUERT: I get it. People seem to notice things. Let me just underscore one more time: The United States holds Russia responsible for the shoot-down of --

QUESTION: All right.

MS NAUERT: -- MH17 and let me leave it at that. Okay?

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: Lesley.

QUESTION: -- I have a follow-up: Given the whole drama that’s gone on after the President’s visit to Helsinki, a lot of the allies – U.S. allies have believed that something – that the Secretary should have said something about it afterwards, specifically that the Secretary --

MS NAUERT: The Secretary should have said something about --

QUESTION: -- should have reacted afterwards to placate the allies over concerns they have on what the President said. What was the Secretary’s view of the President’s --

MS NAUERT: Well, let me just pause you right there and address that. I think what you’re referring to is the Secretary held a bilateral meeting after the President’s press conference – is that what you’re referring to? And after the bilateral meeting, a few reporters shouted questions. Is that what you’re referring to?

QUESTION: No, no, I’m not referring to that.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m just saying – I’m asking what is the – what is the --

MS NAUERT: You’re saying you think that the Secretary should have spoken earlier.

QUESTION: I’m asking whether --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- what was the Secretary’s feelings about what the President said? Does he believe that there is – that there was damage done to allies?

MS NAUERT: Well, it’s – what’s interesting about that is many folks in the Beltway seem to think that our phones have been ringing off the hook from diplomats around the world calling to complain. No, that is not the case that we are seeing here. The Secretary stands by his previous statements, as does the President, that Russia did indeed meddle in the 2016 election. The Secretary has made that clear many times before in congressional testimony and in interviews with many of you as well. The President indicated that very same thing yesterday, the day before, and I believe earlier today.

The Secretary spoke at the cabinet meeting earlier today. I have a few quotes for you I can certainly read to you in case some of you missed that. The Secretary also has full confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies. That is the very same thing that the President said. They both stand by their confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies. Our policy and our overall positions have not changed and we will continue to hold Russia responsible for its malign activities.

QUESTION: The – Senator Corker has invited the Secretary – he asked the Secretary to come and testify on Russia next week. Has he agreed to do that?

MS NAUERT: So the Secretary and members of Congress have, for a few weeks now, been going back and forth to find a time that works for all of them for the Secretary to brief on North Korea. There was a tentative date – I believe it was a few weeks ago – and that had to be pushed. This is, in fact, that meeting. Our legislative affairs team have been – has been working with the Hill to try to find a date that works for both. So that is the general topic for the conversation.

The Secretary will also read out his most recent trip, or actually two trips ago I should say, because we’ve been around a lot of places, in which he went to obviously North Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, and then we ended up in Brussels. So the Secretary will read out his conversations regarding all of those trips. I imagine, as Senator Corker and others are interested in asking about Russia, the Secretary would certainly be happy to answer their questions. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, Nick.

QUESTION: Hi, Heather. There was a lot of frustration in the – Senator Corker said he – it – it had been a, quote, “pain in the back side” in getting the Secretary and other senior State Department officials up to testify. Do you have any response to that?

MS NAUERT: I guess I would just say the Secretary’s had a really busy schedule. I haven’t briefed here recently. That’s because I’ve been on the road along with the Secretary. And if I think my schedule is busy, his is really something else. So he’s been gone a lot. Every minute of the day as I look at that schedule, this guy is working. He’s working hard. Whether he’s on the phone or he’s traveling or conducting meetings, there’s a lot going on. So we’ve been working hard to try to find a mutually exclusive time to brief Capitol Hill, and I know Secretary Pompeo looks forward to doing that.

QUESTION: So that – to – that Wednesday date has not yet been confirmed? They said Wednesday at 2:30.

MS NAUERT: I don’t have a specific time for that, but I can double-check and get back to you on that. Okay?

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: Just one quick – can I just --

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- have one quick follow-up on Russia? So when you said these were proposals that had been discussed, these three proposals, Vladimir Putin characterized them as agreements, and you’re saying --

MS NAUERT: I’m sure he did, and that is something that certain governments will do sometimes where there will be something that’s under discussion and a government says that it is an agreement. Those are proposals and we are – we will certainly take a look at that. Okay?

Hi, Barbara.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Just in terms of what Mr. Pompeo said today about the remains of the American service people coming back in the next couple of weeks, we know that there are going to be forensic tests when the remains are returned, but what do you know about the nationalities of those remains already? Are you quite certain they are Americans?

MS NAUERT: Barbara, I don’t have an answer for you on that. I can tell you we had two meetings this week. One was on Sunday the 15th – sorry, I’m going to get off on my dates here. Right, Sunday was the 15th?

QUESTION: No, Monday.

MS NAUERT: Monday was the 15th, the – Monday and Tuesday in which the United States had meetings with the North Koreans. And so those conversations continue. There’s a lot of work that has – is left to be done on a lot of different levels, and I’ll let you know when we have something more.

QUESTION: And then just a quick question about his meeting on – or his speech on Sunday addressing Iranian Americans. In a previous notice you mentioned that he would be meeting with members of the Iranian American community, and I didn’t see that on the latest notice that went out. Is that still happening? And if it is, who’s organizing that? Is the State Department organizing that?

MS NAUERT: Well, I can tell you the Secretary’s giving his speech. I haven’t looked at the full travel schedule just yet. I know that there are some members of the Iranian-American community who will be at that speech. Perhaps that’s what you’re referring to, but I just have to --

QUESTION: It was mentioned (inaudible).

MS NAUERT: -- I just have to go back and take a look – a closer look at the schedule. I don’t have an answer for you on that. We will be holding a background call at some point tomorrow, Thursday, and so we’ll be able to get you some more information about the specifics of that trip.

QUESTION: A follow-up on North Korea.

MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.

QUESTION: On the denuclearization of North Korea, the President yesterday said now there is no rush, there is no time limit for the denuke, which seems to be different from what was said before and just after Singapore and --

MS NAUERT: Well, we have not put timelines on this.

QUESTION: Yes, but --

MS NAUERT: You know that. We’ve been very clear about not projecting any timelines, saying --

QUESTION: -- but Secretary Pompeo said it had to happen without delay before the summit.

MS NAUERT: We have said --

QUESTION: And after that he said – they said it will happen quite quickly – very quickly. And --

MS NAUERT: We have said there’s a lot of work left to be done. The conversations continue. I’m not going to get ahead of those conversations, and I’m not going to be able to read out every single conversation that we have on this matter. But we’re working on it. We have teams in place that are working very hard on this issue every day.

QUESTION: And just a quick one on NATO: After the summit and after Helsinki, there were some criticism about some comments the President made about Montenegro, called it a very tiny, little country with very aggressive people, and the fact that he could question again the fact that the U.S. could defend NATO allies in case of an attack. So what --

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I – I would have to refer you to the White House to comment on the President’s comments about Montenegro. I can tell you that the President reiterated our ironclad commitment to NATO’s collective defense last week. The summit declaration that came out at the end of the summit stated clearly that any attack against one ally will be regarded as an attack against all as set out in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. But beyond that, I’d have to refer you over to the White House.

QUESTION: Well, but he also said in this interview last night that Montenegrins are aggressive and they could cause World War III. What are the allies supposed to make of comments like that?

MS NAUERT: Matt, to my awareness --

QUESTION: I mean, is this a bad – an attempt at a bad – or a bad attempt at a joke?

MS NAUERT: Look, to my awareness we have not received any calls on this issue.

QUESTION: Do you remember how many Montenegrins, if any, were – troops were at Bagram when the Secretary visited the coalition forces there?

MS NAUERT: I don’t. I recall there being Polish troops there, and we thank them for --

QUESTION: No, Montenegrin. You’d know if there were any Montenegrin --

MS NAUERT: I am not aware of that.

QUESTION: And then just --

MS NAUERT: I know there were Polish forces there --

QUESTION: And then just --

MS NAUERT: -- and let me just while we’re talking about it, thank you for your contribution.

QUESTION: Just a last thing, in terms of the Hill, there is – some leading Democrats are demanding that the interpreter from the State Department who was the translator for President Trump in Helsinki testify. It’s my understanding that this kind of – that’s pretty much an unprecedented request and that has never happened before. Do you guys have a position on whether staff should be hauled in to testify before --

MS NAUERT: Yeah, we – and that’s the question that I asked, is there any precedent for this. We’ve not been able to find that just yet. I can tell you there’s no formal request to have the interpreter appear before any congressional committees at this point. Overall, as a general matter, you know we always seek to work with Congress, and that’s all I have on this.

Okay. All right. Hey, Rich.

QUESTION: Hey, Heather. Thanks. Was the Secretary involved in urging the President to make his statement yesterday or --

MS NAUERT: He was not.

QUESTION: He was not?

MS NAUERT: He was not. There were reports that he was; those were inaccurate reports. That was the President’s decision and his team’s decision to go out. The Secretary did not weigh in with the President on that matter.

QUESTION: And really quickly on the trip to the United Nations, is there any room in the schedule or any potential for a meeting with any North Korean officials while the Secretary is there?

MS NAUERT: I will be up there with the Secretary. I’ll be the first to tell you if there are any North Koreans up there.

QUESTION: Why didn’t he weigh in with the President?

MS NAUERT: It was the President --

QUESTION: I mean, his job is the top foreign policy advisor --

MS NAUERT: It was the President’s decision. I know that the Secretary met with the Vice President at the – over at the White House compound overall earlier this week, and that’s it. That’s it.

QUESTION: But he didn’t feel the need to talk with the President – I’m just wondering.

MS NAUERT: Matt, I wouldn’t read too much into this. I think the President has a ample staff that he consults with regularly, plenty of people, and he made that decision on his own. I’d refer you back to the White House. I think Sarah Sanders covered that one well.

QUESTION: Iraq. Iraq.

MS NAUERT: Hey, Laurie.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. The UN has responded to the protests in Iraq by calling on the government to fully respect and address the people’s legitimate concerns. What’s your comment on those protests?

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, the overall protests – you mean about the electricity and all the --

QUESTION: And the corruption is a big part of it.

MS NAUERT: Right. Overall I can just tell you we support people’s rights to peacefully protest. We certainly understand when there are electricity shortages, when there are oil shortages and things of this sort, that that is something that would be certainly upsetting to people. The Iraqi Government has said that it safeguards the right of its citizens to protest. They also have the right to maintain the security of public and private property in Iraq. They’ve expressed an intent to do more to address protesters’ grievances, including the lack of services of electricity and also economic opportunity. Overall, though, this would be an internal Iraqi matter of this.

QUESTION: Corruption is a big part of the problem. Are you – is the embassy there prepared to help the Iraqi Government deal with its corruption issue, find ways to improve that situation?

MS NAUERT: I – we have a excellent relationship with the Government of Iraq. We are in constant contact with areas that we may have concerns about. Some of that, Laurie, would be covered under our private diplomatic conversations, so I’m not going to get into that, but I can just tell you we have a lot of conversations with the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: And if I could ask you a question about Turkey today, that the Turkish court rejected Pastor Andrew Brunson’s appeal to be released from prison – what’s your response to that?

MS NAUERT: I can tell you we have obviously been very closely engaged in Pastor Brunson’s case and with the Turkish Government on that case in particular. We’ve not seen any credible evidence against Pastor Brunson that he’s guilty of the crimes that the Turkish Government accuses him of. The case against him is built on anonymous sources, accusations, and a lot of speculation. It’s a concern of ours. We believe that he is innocent. We continue to call on the Turkish Government to quickly resolve his case in a timely and transparent and fair manner. I can tell you that our charge, Phil Kosnett, was – as well as other U.S. embassy officials – were present at the proceedings on the 18th for Pastor Brunson. If we have anything more for you, we’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Wait, so you’re not calling for him to be – for his release?

MS NAUERT: Well, we always call for the pastor’s release. We would certainly like that to happen.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, at the NATO summit just last week, the President of the United States fist bumped President Erdogan and said keep up the good work and all this kind of thing. How is this --

MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to be able to answer for everything that every – whether it’s the President or whether it’s Secretary Mattis or somebody else, I’m not going to be able to answer for that. I don’t --

QUESTION: Well, then I just wonder if that plays into the kind of kid gloves treatment that you’re giving to the Turks right now. Previous statements have been very hard.

MS NAUERT: I don’t think so, Matt. We have followed this case extremely closely.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS NAUERT: Members of Congress are also following this closely. I can tell you it’s something that the Secretary cares deeply about, especially one’s religious freedom. We do have a religious freedom ministerial that’s coming up next week that is important to the Secretary. This is something we are actively involved with and care deeply about. You may not see all the actions, activities, conversations the United States Government is having on behalf of American citizens, so I’m not going to be able to say anything more to you on that. Okay.

And last question. Abbie, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: There have been reports out over the last week that the U.S. is engaging or seeking to engage in direct talks with the Taliban. Do you have a response to that? Is that what the U.S. is doing?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Abbie, I can just tell you that we’re exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Government of Afghanistan. Our position on this hasn’t changed. Any peace and reconciliation talks have to be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned. We stand by that position, and that is something that we’ve not backed away from.

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: So the U.S. would not engage in direct talks?

MS NAUERT: Abbie, that’s all I’m – all I’m going to say to you right now. We’re exploring all avenues to advance a peace process, but that peace process has to be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned. That’s very important in order to make it – in order to make it a long-term success. Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Elise, and then we’ve got to go, last question. Hey.

QUESTION: Can I – sorry, I had to run out for live shot. Can you --

MS NAUERT: Are you going to ask me something that somebody already asked me?

QUESTION: No, I already made sure that no one asked you this.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.

QUESTION: Can you please fill us in on the kind of phone calls and meetings that the Secretary has had to do follow-up on the NATO summit or provide allies any kind of readout of what happened this week in Helsinki?

MS NAUERT: I can tell you that there was a readout provided with Ambassador Huntsman and Ambassador Hutchison from the NATO summit. Beyond that, I’m not aware of any particular high-level calls or engagements that we’ve had. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: All right, guys. We’ve got to leave it there. Thank you so much; we’ll see you soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)