Department Press Briefing - September 18, 2018

Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 18, 2018


3:29 p.m. EDT

MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Good afternoon. Okay. Just a couple of remarks to start before we take your questions.

First, I’d like to say that our thoughts and prayers are with the many, many Americans who’ve been affected by hurricane and storm Florence in the south. We’re keeping a close eye and our thoughts and prayers are with them. In addition to that, we’ve talked about this over the past few days, and that is the storm Mangkhut, which has affected both China and the Philippines, and want to say that we are saddened by the loss of life and we are keeping a close eye on that situation as it continues to unfold.

Back here at home, we are getting ready for the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly. It opened today. And as you all know, next week is high-level week, and we look forward to being a part of that here at the State Department.

In terms of the schedule, I can tell you the Secretary intends to arrive in New York on Sunday the 23rd. He will, of course, join the President in many of the President’s meetings. Secretary Pompeo will also have a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings. And that schedule is still being put together at this hour, so we’ll get you more information on that as we have it.

One event I’d like to announce today, though, is the – that Secretary Pompeo intends to chair a UN Security Council ministerial on North Korea on Thursday, September the 27th. That meeting will give the Secretary a chance to update the Security Council on our efforts toward the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as well as underscore the need for all member states to enforce existing sanctions. USUN and Ambassador Haley’s team will share more information with you on the schedule soon. I would anticipate that in the next day or so, before the end of the week, so please stay tuned for any upcoming information on that.

In the meantime, our UN – excuse me – our North Korea Special Representative Steve Biegun recently returned from Asia. He traveled to the Republic of Korea, China, and Japan last week to discuss the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as agreed to by Chairman Kim. On his trip, Special Representative Biegun emphasized the importance of continued coordination on denuclearization, pressure, and also diplomacy. During his productive talks, the ROK, China, and Japan all stressed the common objective of denuclearization and the path forward on achieving that objective. The trip allowed Special Representative Biegun to build strong rapport with his counterparts, which will pave the way for strong cooperation on our mutual and truly the world’s objective of denuclearization. I know a lot of you are anxious to get to know Steve Biegun, and I look forward to introducing you to him in the coming days.

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

QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Can I ask you a logistical question?


QUESTION: So does that – when you said that USUN and Ambassador Haley would be sharing additional information about the schedule, does that mean that you’re not – there’s no – you’re not planning a logistical briefing here or a trip --

MS NAUERT: We may have something. It may also be in conjunction with USUN, so we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Okay. And – but you expect that soon, because people have to make plans.

MS NAUERT: I know. Well, we look forward to seeing you on Sunday, and we’ll have a very busy week, so --

QUESTION: Yes, I’ll be there after the football game.

MS NAUERT: -- plan on being there for about a week or so. Okay. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: All right. On substance now, I wanted to ask you a couple things, though they’ll all be brief, about yesterday’s announcement on the refugee admission ceiling.


QUESTION: Shortly after the announcement was made, you put out a statement for Constitution Day, which had the line, “America was built by,” – I’m quoting – “America was built by immigrants who left everything behind to start a new life on our shores, because they saw something special in our country.” I’m wondering if you don’t see that as being in any way hypocritical, considering the fact that you have, over the course of – since the life of this administration – reduced the refugee ceiling intake by 72 percent, and taken actions to reduce legal immigration as well as the protected statuses for people from various at-risk countries.

MS NAUERT: I think if you ask anyone who comes to the United States through all of the proper channels – and you hear so many stories about families who have waited many, many years to get through the paperwork and get through the process – those are the people who aspire to come to America. And acknowledging our Constitution Day, also known as Citizenship Day, is a way to recognize those people and also recognize the Constitution, and recognize the many years that people have gone through in attempting to come to America.

Now when you talk about refugees, that’s a very different situation. Those are people who, by and large, do not want to come to the United States. Those are people who, for whatever reason in their home countries, are not able to be there. You look at Syria, for example, and people who are forced into refugee camps because of the disasters and conflicts taking place there. Those are people who, by and large, are not choosing or desiring to come to the United States.

QUESTION: But I – okay. I think that’s a vast generalization, but --

MS NAUERT: I think if you were to ask any of them, they would prefer to be able to go home, and this is what any of our refugee experts will tell you.

QUESTION: All right. Well --

MS NAUERT: They would prefer to go home as soon as it is safe to do so, rather being – rather than being transported to --


MS NAUERT: -- no offense – to Buffalo.

QUESTION: That – (laughter) – well, offense taken.

MS NAUERT: Nothing against Buffalo.

QUESTION: Offense taken, because we do have a lot of refugees in Buffalo. But the – I mean, I don't think that you have actually spoken to every single person who’s in the refugee camp, and I don't think – I don’t even think the UN has gotten around to doing that, so I’m not sure how you can make that generalization. But it is --

MS NAUERT: Well, actually, Matt, there are many people who interview refugees in the camps there, and that’s what they come back with and consistently tell us.

QUESTION: I understand that. But --

MS NAUERT: The number of refugees – let me give you this fact. The number of refugees from around the world who are resettled in third countries – that number is less than one percent.


MS NAUERT: Now, I’m not talking about just coming into the United States. I’m talking about going into all countries around the world.

QUESTION: That’s fine. But --

MS NAUERT: So let’s keep that in perspective when we talk about refugees. We’re talking about a number of less than one percent.

QUESTION: Have you seen any statement in support of the new number, the new ceiling, from any group that has had – worked with refugees or refugee admissions at all?

MS NAUERT: I don’t recall having seen any statements, although I’ve seen a lot of your news reports. And I do want to point out one thing. There were a lot of headlines that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, mischaracterized this as a new ceiling. This is simply a proposal that was put forward to Congress on the part of the administration. It was an administration proposal that Secretary Pompeo announced yesterday. We will have – the administration will have consultations with Congress. After those consultations with Congress, the President will then be able to make his determination.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that was --

MS NAUERT: So the number that was announced yesterday may not be the final number. I just want to make that clear.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that was actually going to be my next question. Because although you say it’s a proposal, Secretary Pompeo repeatedly referred to it as the new ceiling. He said, quote, “Some will characterize the refugee ceiling as the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world.”

MS NAUERT: You will see throughout the statements it says proposal.

QUESTION: “This would be wrong.”

MS NAUERT: Maybe there was one sentence where it didn’t say proposal. But nevertheless --


MS NAUERT: -- it is a proposal that goes to Congress. An appropriate person from the administration will brief Congress, have those consultations with Congress, as is required by law, and then the White House will make the final determination on that number.

QUESTION: Okay. But the rest of this – he said that the proposed – okay, I’ll add it – proposal is the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world. This would be wrong.” Okay, fair enough then. Let’s take the other things. The reduction of temporary protected status for people from war-torn countries, the elimination of --

MS NAUERT: Temporary protected status – and I want to get --

QUESTION: Or for natural disasters.

MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on – can be for things like natural disasters. And there are some people who’ve been granted temporary protective status, and that is exactly what that term means – temporary. It’s supposed to be temporary. They were never intended to be in the United States forever. So the U.S. Government – and this primarily out of Department of Homeland Security – but looks at a situation on the ground and then makes a determination as to whether or not it may be safe for people to go back home again. I know some folks here in the United States don’t like the idea of that. Some folks here think that we should be simply open borders and allow anyone to come in anytime they want. But when we determine as a U.S. Government that something should be temporary, that has a meaning. Temporary means temporary.

QUESTION: Well, that’s fine. But I don't think the people you’re trying – talking about sending people back to a war at one point, talking about sending people back to Yemen, back to Syria, back to places that are clearly not safe to go back to. So temporary or not, it’s not – you’re trying to get rid of it. And whether it’s DHS, it doesn’t matter, because it’s the entire administration. This refugee proposal is the entire administration.

Anyway, let me go on, because you – so there’s that. Reduction of TPS --

MS NAUERT: Can I come back to you so we’re not just talking – let me come back to you on this. Go to Leslie.

QUESTION: Hold on a second.

MS NAUERT: But Matt, this is – we – you and I have been talking --

QUESTION: Let me just finish. This is my last one.

MS NAUERT: Last one, and then I’m moving on, okay.


MS NAUERT: I will be happy to come back to you, but this is not the Matt Lee show today.

QUESTION: And I don't want it to be.


QUESTION: TPS and the elimination of all funding for Palestinians. You would agree that Palestinians are vulnerable too, right? So if you take all those into account, how do you characterize – what is the barometer of America – how committed is America to vulnerable people around the world?

MS NAUERT: America is the most generous nation in the entire world. All of you and anybody out there watching should be confident in that. Our pockets are not unlimited. We do not have the ability to give every amount of money that some may view that the United States Government should give. One of the things that this government has asked other countries to do is step up and do more. The burden should not rest on our shoulders alone through those many types of programs that you discuss. We now see other countries stepping up to the plate and providing more money, not only in their region but in other regions. And we think that is important, we think that is necessary, and we’re not ashamed of that, to expect that the United States will not be the sole person paying the tab for other people. We continue to be the most generous nation on this planet. We are proud of that. In terms of humanitarian assistance, the U.S. Government alone provided $8 billion last year in humanitarian assistance. That is significant. Much of that money goes into some of these refugee programs, Matt, that you are sort of poo-pooing that we provide overseas.


MS NAUERT: What we are providing – clean water, health care.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I didn’t poo-poo anything. (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: Things of that nature that are very important --

QUESTION: If I poo-pooed anything, it was the explanations that you guys have put forward.

MS NAUERT: -- close to home. That is the way that people prefer to receive that money – close to home, not necessarily by being brought over here to the United States.

Let me move on to somebody. I’d be happy to come back to you. Hi, Lesley.

QUESTION: Can I follow up, just one quick thing?


QUESTION: Is that you said this is not the firm number, the final number. Is the Secretary then – be prepared to go up to as many as 45,000 at --

MS NAUERT: Well, let me clarify once again, this is an interagency number that after a significant number of meetings and consultations among the various departments and agencies that make up the interagency, they arrived at this number. And this was something that the Department of State then sent up to Congress.

We will have – when I say we, the U.S. Government – will have consultations with Congress, and then it will go back to the White House. The White House will make the final determination.

QUESTION: So there is flexibility then?

MS NAUERT: I can’t get ahead of what the President – what the President will decide. That is ultimately his choice. But the advice of the administration was sent up to Congress, and that’s the number that we proposed yesterday.

QUESTION: And the Secretary proposed that number?

MS NAUERT: No, this was, again, the interagency proposal. The Secretary was the one who just announced that figure.

Said, go right ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to pick up on something that Matt mentioned, cutting off the programs, the people-to-people programs over the weekend, $10 million. It was for Israeli and Palestinian kids to come to summer camps in Maine and do girls soccer and so on. Why was it necessary to cut that out? Why is that – was that such a big burden on the --

MS NAUERT: Some of these programs – and I’ll just say broad-based on this, some of these programs have been under review for some time. Some of these programs came from a pot of money that was set to expire on September 30th. So as you know, we’ve talked about this a lot, Said.

QUESTION: Sure. Because this only came out over the weekend.

MS NAUERT: This is no surprise to you that these programs were under review for quite some time.

QUESTION: Okay. All right, let me just move on. I wanted to ask you about the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem. In the past, it operated independently. Does it still have that distinction? Is it still operating independently? When people, let’s say – when, let’s say, the delegation comes to UNGA next week, do they get their visa as they have done in the past? Has there been any changes? Can you --

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any changes that have been made with regard to the visa process for that, okay? I’d have to look into that and get back to you. But I can tell you that our consulate general in Jerusalem continues to operate as an independent mission. That is something that has not changed. There has been no change to that mission status.

QUESTION: And lastly, does the consul general, Ms. Karen Sasahara, does she maintain any kind of dialogue with any Palestinian Authority representatives or anything like that?

MS NAUERT: And I can’t detail the specifics about who they engage with on a daily basis, but yes, I can tell you that they are responsible for having conversations and dialogue with the Palestinians.


QUESTION: Can I just add to that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi, Barbara.

QUESTION: To ask again about the Jerusalem Hospital Network, I think you’ve addressed this already, but I still didn’t understand why that has to be cut as well. The Palestinian Authority doesn’t run the hospitals; they’re under Israeli jurisdiction. The money isn’t that big. So to say that it needs to be appropriated elsewhere, it doesn’t sound very convincing. It makes a big difference where it’s at. It provides care that the Palestinians can’t get elsewhere. What’s – what’s the reasoning why everything has to be cut, including something like that, which in previous times was recommended even by those who wanted to cut money to the Palestinians? They always made this caveat – no, but we should keep the Jerusalem Hospital Network.

MS NAUERT: Understood. I don’t have anything additional for you on that issue other than what I provided to you last week. If I can get anything more, I certainly will.

Hey, Francesco.

QUESTION: Hi. What do you expect from the summit going on in Pyongyang between Chairman Kim and president of South Korea? And if the two countries advance towards a declaration of peace or end of war, would you be ready to join them, and on what conditions?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think I don’t want to get ahead of their meetings, and certainly that --

QUESTION: But definitely speaking about that --

MS NAUERT: -- that sunroof was something that was interesting to see. We’ll have to work on whether or not we can get a sunroof next time we are there, if we do go there a next time.

In terms of our sort of an analysis of that summit while it is going on, it is still ongoing, so we will continue to consult very closely, carefully, and regularly with the South Koreans as they continue to have their meetings in North Korea.

In terms of what we hope to come out of the summit, we hope to see meaningful, verifiable steps toward the denuclearization of North Korea. It is the third inter-Korean summit between President Moon and also Chairman Kim. It represents in our view a historic opportunity for Chairman Kim to follow through on the commitments that he made to President Trump at the Singapore summit, but also the commitments that he made in Panmunjom, with meaningful and verifiable actions toward the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.

And when I have more for you, I’ll certainly let you know. Their meetings are ongoing.

Hi. How are you, Maggie?

QUESTION: Heather, just a follow-up: In your assessment, do you see the progress in CVID denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula follow the same speed as the advancement of the inter-Korean relations? And separately, I will like to follow up, pardon me if you have already addressed it: Do you have more details on the participants of next Thursday’s ministerial?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything for you on next Thursday’s ministerial. I will check with our folks to see if we have the breakdown of who exactly will be attending. That’s something that’s important to Secretary Pompeo. One of the key things that we’ll be talking about at the UN, and that is the fully, final, -- the final, verified denuclearization of North Korea. So that will be a priority. I’ll work to get you more information on that.

In terms of the speed of things, the Secretary has talked about how this will be a process. We recognize this; we go into this eyes wide open. We think that there is progress being made when the South Koreans are sitting down with North Korea, when the United States has the opportunity to sit down with North Korea, when other countries that are likeminded – frankly, those countries that have all supported UN Security Council resolutions that have called for the denuclearization of Korea.

So we continue to have those conversations, to consult with those other countries closely. And we think it’s certainly a good thing that we’re sitting down and having conversations and having regular negotiations.

Hey, Laurie.

QUESTION: Hi, how are you? Yesterday’s summit between Presidents Erdogan and Putin seems to have great results. Were you involved in any way, perhaps coordinating with Turkey or pressuring Russia?

MS NAUERT: We were not. I can confirm for you, however, that the Secretary spoke with the Turkish foreign minister earlier this morning. I don’t have a readout of that call. I haven’t had a chance to talk with the Secretary about it, but I can confirm that they spoke.

QUESTION: Presumably about this, right?

MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Presumably about this.

MS NAUERT: I don’t have a readout for it, so I’m not going to assume that it’s about anything at this point without having consulted with the Secretary.

QUESTION: And the new speaker of the Iraqi parliament has denounced the anti-Iran sanctions and invited his Iranian counterpart to Baghdad. What’s your comment?

MS NAUERT: I saw that. You’re referring to the new speaker in Iraq. At some point, we will be speaking with him and look forward to having a conversation with him to congratulate him on his new position. As you know, we have a good working relationship with the Government of Iraq and look forward to working with him in the near future.

QUESTION: By “we” you mean someone besides the ambassador in Baghdad? You mean someone here in Washington?

MS NAUERT: I would imagine that at the appropriate point, somebody at a high level – perhaps it’s the Secretary, perhaps it’s someone else – would be speaking with him.

QUESTION: And final question. The White House has rolled out its National Biodefense Strategy, but the State Department wasn’t mentioned very much in this. Are you involved in this?

MS NAUERT: I saw a headline pop up on my screen about that. I didn’t get to that piece of information for you before coming out here today. But let me see what I have for you, and I’ll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Hi, Nick.

QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Can I just follow up on the refugee issue? And then I have a separate question.


QUESTION: So just to clarify, when the Secretary spoke yesterday, his intention at that time when he spoke was that that number was only a proposal for Congress to – and the – for the White House to submit to Congress?

MS NAUERT: This – and again, this is an interagency decision. This is an interagency proposal that went up to Congress. That number that was said – and let me just read a bit of this for you since you asked: “The United States anticipates processing up to 310,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Fiscal Year 2019. We propose resettling up to 30,000 refugees under the new refugee ceiling as well as processing more than 280,000 asylum seekers. They will join the more than 800,000 asylum seekers who are already in the United States and awaiting adjudication of their claims.”

That is something that is a proposal, and we’ll see what happens from here.

QUESTION: Just because it’s interesting – I mean, obviously it’s notable that in that statement there was none of that language that “we look forward to working with Congress on settling this figure.” And there was a huge backlash from Congress yesterday where they apparently were under the same impression all of the media were that this was a final --

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I can’t speak for Congress and Congress’s reaction. I can just tell you that we followed the guidelines; we followed the law in presenting the information, the interagency report to Congress. And then we will have – when I say “we,” I mean the U.S. Government, the administration will have those consultations as required under the law with Congress, and I’m not going to get ahead of some of those conversations that take place.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the 280,000 that you will process are not yet here?

MS NAUERT: Matt, I’d have to look into that --

QUESTION: They are expected?

MS NAUERT: -- and get back to you on that.

QUESTION: And just last one: The 800,000 asylum-seekers who are already here, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to be granted asylum, is there?

MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, that’s the number, the approximate number of people who are reflected in the overall backlog between asylum-seekers and refugees who haven’t made their way through the final vetting or court system. And those people can languish, unfortunately, in the system for many years because we simply don’t have the people, the courts don’t have the time on the docket to be able to process those people. So we’re taking a look, a realistic look at the numbers and a realistic look at the numbers that DHS, Department of Justice, and others can process and figuring out what we can process annually and trying to come up with a number that can better match our capabilities.

QUESTION: Fair enough, but there’s no guarantee that these people will actually get asylum, right?

MS NAUERT: I don’t think that there would be. I don’t want to get ahead and speak to that because all of that is up to the adjudication system and through final vetting procedures.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more question?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure, then I’ll go over to Abbie.

QUESTION: All right, just on a different issue. The schedule for the Value Voters Summit this Friday lists Secretary Pompeo as speaking. That’s an event that normally secretaries of state have shied away from because of its overt political nature. Why did the Secretary decide to participate this year?

MS NAUERT: Well, we haven’t released our final schedule just yet, but if the Secretary chooses to participate in that, he would be speaking about an issue that he’s very passionate about, religious freedom, and the importance of human dignity around the globe. And I want to point out that human dignity is not limited, of course, to any specific race, ethnicity, sex, or religion, for that matter. You all were here as the Secretary held the first-ever religious freedom ministerial. It was an event that he was very proud of with more than 80 delegations from around the world coming. There were people who stood up who had been persecuted back at home, whether they be Uyghurs, whether they be from Iraq, whether they be Jews, Muslims, Christians, you name it, all people who had been subject to religious persecution.

If the Secretary chooses to speak at the Value Voters Summit, it would be an excellent venue for him to convey the importance of those issues within the administration, but also that falls in line with U.S. values and things (inaudible) important to the State Department. It’s not political. It’s not a Republican or a Democrat message – a Democratic message to speak about the importance of those issues.

QUESTION: Heather --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hey, Abbie.

QUESTION: -- I just wanted to follow up on Matt and as far as the backlog of 800,000 asylum-seekers. So is that something that the administration has sought additional resources on in order to take care of it? What – how – in what way are they working to address that backlog if that is a priority?

MS NAUERT: That’s a good question and a very valid question. I think some of that would fall under OMB and some of that would fall under DHS as well. So I’m sorry, I don’t like to have to refer you to another department or agency, but I just wouldn’t have those figures, so I’d refer you to them on that.

QUESTION: Heather, back to the Value Voters thing --


QUESTION: -- and I’ll be really quick. Just – you didn’t mention – you wrote the Rohingya in there. Would they be included in terms of --

MS NAUERT: I don’t know if they’re actually in the Secretary’s remarks, but of course that is something that we’ve talked about a lot here at the State Department, the plight of the Rohingya. And that’s the one of the issues that I think I’ve covered the most here beyond issues like North Korea and --

QUESTION: And – right, exactly.

MS NAUERT: -- Syria and things that – top of the issue.

QUESTION: And you visited them in Bangladesh.

MS NAUERT: I certainly did, yes.

QUESTION: So do you have faith in the Burmese judicial system to hold people accountable for what’s happened to them?

MS NAUERT: I think we would – based on the way that they treated the Reuters journalists, I think we would have very serious concerns about the judicial system in Burma. I think you’re – probably what you’re getting at is the UN report on that.


MS NAUERT: And let me just mention we’re still reading the UN report on that overall issue.

QUESTION: No, okay. That’s fine. I’m not actually getting at the UN report. I’m getting at the fact that the ICC prosecutor has decided to open an investigation into the treatment of the Rohingya. So I’m assuming from your comments that the Burmese judicial system is not good enough that you would support an ICC investigation into the Rohingya.

MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to get – I know you think you’re being cute. I’m not going to get ahead of the process, but let me point out --

QUESTION: No, no one has said that I was cute since my mother when I was about seven years old. (Laughter.) Heather, I’m not being cute. I’m asking a damn serious question.

MS NAUERT: No, but Matt, there is a serious answer here.

QUESTION: The national security advisor got up last week and trashed the ICC. He said it was basically an illegal organization that should not be allowed to have any kind of --

MS NAUERT: The U.S. Government believes that U.S. courts, as it pertains to our citizens – whether it be our civilians or our military, those cases are best handled in the U.S. judicial system.


MS NAUERT: We don’t believe that there’s any higher authority as it pertains to Americans than our Supreme Court, than our judicial system here at home.

QUESTION: That would be fine, except --

MS NAUERT: Now, to your question --

QUESTION: -- he talked about the entire institution as being illegal.

MS NAUERT: Let me finish. Let me finish. Let me finish. Now, to your question about what is the appropriate venue to handle some of these very, very delicate cases that we watch closely and are passionate about, there are different kinds of venues that are options. We have seen in the past where tribunals have been held, where tribunals have been held in the Hague, for example, but not necessarily in one’s home country. I’m not going to get ahead of some of the conversations that are being had here at the State Department and with the UN and others, but it’s something that we will certainly take a very close look at – what we believe to be the best venue for handling and adjudicating some of those cases.

QUESTION: So a – a special – an ad hoc tribunal might be okay?

MS NAUERT: We will take a – Matt, I can’t – I’m not in the position to make policy here.


MS NAUERT: I’m sure you’d like me to be right here, right now --

QUESTION: I would love to, love for you to.

MS NAUERT: -- but that is not my job, that’s not my proper role.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS NAUERT: But U.S. Government I can tell you will take a very close look at what forum, what venue we think is most appropriate for handling these types of very sensitive cases.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Hey, Jessica.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) talk about Syria for a minute?

QUESTION: Let’s go back to the refugee question. One of the points that the Secretary made during the thing was that the U.S. is going to focus on delivering aid to people closer to their homes and in areas where – or to reduce the drivers of displacement, and yet if you look at the situation in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. has canceled stabilization funding for the Syrians and they have diverted a lot of the stabilization funding in Iraq to minority groups. So how is the U.S. working towards resolving these drivers?

MS NAUERT: Well, let me pause you right there, because the reason that we are in Syria – what we are doing in Iraq right now is fighting and defeating ISIS. The President just referred to this a short while ago in his comments with President Duda of Poland, where he talked about the success that we are having in pushing back, defeating ISIS. We hope at some point, some point soon, that people who have been displaced from their homes in Syria, for example, can eventually be able to go back home.

You are correct in that some of our stabilization funding has been reprogrammed, but that is only because we have been able to get other countries to kick in some money for that. In fact, some of the other countries, including the Saudis and others, who have contributed money to – let’s just take Syria for example – have agreed to contribute more than the U.S. Government had ever expected to put into that pot of money. So we are pleased with that if we can get other countries in the region to kick in and help us out. Should the United States, as generous as it is already, be the only country or the chief country to contribute those funds? We think that the concept of burden-sharing is not a bad thing, and some of these disagreements, some of these battles, some of these restructuring and reconstruction can happen best when folks in the region are personally involved and willing to kick in some money.

QUESTION: But in terms of the funding to Iraq, the UN stabilization fund is very short of money now that the U.S. has pulled out because nobody has stepped in. The Saudis might have contributed about a hundred million as they did in Syria, which is half of what the U.S. withdrew, but the UN stabilization fund which is providing electricity, water in places like Mosul, where you would think getting people back to their homes is a priority --

MS NAUERT: Jessica, there is no country that has contributed more to Iraqis, whether they’re Iraqi civilians or the Iraqi Government – Laurie’s right there in front of you, I’m sure she can back me up on this – than the United States Government. And we did a heck of a heck of a job in helping to clear out ISIS that had been entrenched in Mosul, that had been trenched in the old city of Mosul, in clearing out the old mines, doing the demining, bringing in sanitation, rebuilding schools and all of that. I’m tremendously proud of the work that we have done. Is there more work that needs to be done there? Yes, but we’re in a much different place today than we were in a year ago.


MS NAUERT: Okay, I’ve got to wrap it up, guys. Last question.

QUESTION: Very quickly on Syria. I have a follow-up on the agreement that happened yesterday. What do you see happening next? That’s one, and second, the Russian representative at UN cast a shadow on the credibility of the Syria envoy, Mr. Staffan de Mistura. I wonder if you have any comment on that too.

MS NAUERT: What was the last part? What did you say – the – Russia’s what?

QUESTION: No, saying that the Russia representative at the UN today basically dissed the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, and he said that he was meddling. So do you have any comment on that?

MS NAUERT: Well, that’s funny. I have not heard those comments, but I will remind people that Russia is one of the countries that committed to the Geneva process.


MS NAUERT: And that commitment was made face-to-face between President Putin and also President Trump. I believe it was in Vietnam less than a year ago. The commitment to the Geneva process – I think one of the things that you will increasingly see from the United States Government in the coming weeks and months ahead is a recommitment to the Geneva process. We see that as the only way forward. A military solution is not the solution long-term in Syria. We see it as a political solution. And that falls in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, something that the Russians and many other governments have agreed to as well.

I know that our Special Envoy Jim Jeffrey was just at the UN Security Council today, in which he was speaking there. He had a meeting last week with Staffan de Mistura to talk about how we could advance the Geneva political process and said this has to be our focus. There is no alternative to this. By the way, I should mention Turkey and other countries have agreed to the Geneva process as well. Ambassador Jeffery referred to sticking to the roadmap for a new constitution and also elections, also in line with 2254. And he talked about convening a constitutional committee and keeping with that overall mandate.

Okay, I’ve got to go.

QUESTION: Heather, a question on Afghanistan.

MS NAUERT: I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you on that today, okay? We’ll see you soon. Bye, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:01p.m.)