Department Press Briefing - October 2, 2018

Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 2, 2018


3:15 p.m. EDT

MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you today? Courtney, welcome to the front row. Nice to see you all.

I’d like to start out with a couple announcements this afternoon. The first is about the earthquake and the tsunami that took place in Indonesia. On September the 28th, an earthquake and tsunami stuck – struck central Sulawesi, Indonesia, leaving more than 1,200 people dead, many injured, and it displaced thousands. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by the natural disasters.

Our mission in Indonesia immediately reached out to the Government of Indonesia to offer assistance. We have provided an initial tranche of funding and deployed USAID disaster experts to conduct damage assessments, identify priority needs, and coordinate U.S. response efforts with the Government of Indonesia. We’re working with USAID and our counterparts at other government agencies to determine what additional help the United States Government can provide.

Several U.S. citizens have been safely evacuated. There have been no reports of U.S. citizens who’ve been killed or injured. Our mission in Indonesia is ready to provide all possible consular assistance to affected U.S. citizens. We urge U.S. citizens in the affected areas who are safe to contact their loved ones directly and update their social media status. If you are in the affected area and need immediate emergency services, please contact local authorities.

The United States and Indonesia are strategic partners and friends, and we stand together with the people of Indonesia at this challenging time. I can also share with you that our president, President Trump, spoke with the Indonesian president earlier today to express our condolences on behalf of the U.S. Government. The White House will provide a readout of that phone call.

Next, I would like to thank the Senate Foreign Relations Committee again for continuing to meet with our well qualified nominees and move them a little closer to taking up their posts on the field. Right now, we have more than 60 nominations that are awaiting confirmation. The majority of those nominees are Foreign Service officers, who bring instrumental skills and decades-long experience to critical posts around the globe, places like Bangladesh, Kenya, Mozambique, Yemen, Uzbekistan, and many others – missions critical to advancing our U.S. leadership and our foreign policy priorities.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee agrees that these are good, solid candidates. And as I have been saying, we still have too many vacancies here at the State Department, from ambassadors to our folks serving at the assistant secretary level, also at the under secretary level. Today, once again, we call on the Senate to act so that these candidates can take their place alongside the finest diplomats in the world.

While we’re talking about those confirmations, I would then like to announce that we have a new under secretary who started here at the State Department, and I want to extend a warm welcome to Eric Ueland, who started this week as the director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources. He comes to the department from the Millennium Challenge Corporation and was previously the staff director for the Senate Budget Committee. Look forward to seeing him around the building.

Last thing I’d like to announce is that the Secretary will be traveling later this week to four countries. He’s headed to Asia. Secretary Pompeo will travel to Japan, North Korea, the Republic of Korea, and China from October 6th to the 8th. In Tokyo, October 6th and 7th, the Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Kono. In Pyongyang on October the 7th, the Secretary will meet with Chairman Kim. In Seoul on October 7th and 8th, the Secretary will meet with President Moon and Foreign Minister Kang. In Beijing on October the 8th, the Secretary will meet with his Chinese counterparts to discuss bilateral, regional, and global issues.

With that, I’d be happy to take your questions. We’ve got a lot going on today. Matt, do you want to start?

QUESTION: Yeah. I wasn’t expecting that trip announcement so --

MS NAUERT: Well, there you go.

QUESTION: -- I’ll defer to someone else first.

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Courtney, I’ll start with you.

QUESTION: Thanks. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison mentioned today to reporters that Russia continues to violate the INF Treaty, and that while the U.S. would prefer a diplomatic solution it would be pursuing a potential capability to take out a missile that could hit any of the – any of our country, she said. Is this a change in policy? What does that mean, exactly?

MS NAUERT: Well, we have said for quite some time that Russia has not been in compliance with the INF Treaty. We’ve been saying this for four years now. Russia has not taken any steps to return to compliance. Instead, they’ve just levied specious accusations about U.S. compliance. And yes, we do believe that we are in compliance with the INF Treaty.

I think what Ambassador Hutchison was talking about was improving our overall defense and deterrence posture. The current situation, where Russia is just blatantly violating our central tenet of the INF Treaty, is untenable. Our goal is Russian compliance. We go back and say that time and time again, that Russian compliance is what we are seeking. We’ve taken diplomatic, we’ve taken military, research and development, and also economic measures to increase the costs on Russia and ensure the security of the United States and our allies if Russia chooses not to return into compliance with its treaty obligations.

So these are a series of ongoing conversations that are being had right now. The United States is committed to upholding its arms control obligations and expects Russia to do the very same thing. Ambassador Hutchison said our goal is Russian compliance, and we’re in close consultation with our allies on this issue.


STAFF: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

STAFF: She did tweet about it.

MS NAUERT: Oh, thank you. Apparently, Ambassador Hutchison just tweeted about it, so I’d encourage you to take a look at her tweet for any further questions.

Okay, hi.


QUESTION: Wait. You’re referring us to a tweet for further questions? A hundred and forty characters?

MS NAUERT: Well, sometimes yes, because Ambassador Hutchison spoke to that herself in her tweet.

Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. On the trip you just announced, so the Secretary will meet with Chairman Kim. Can you tell us who else he will be meeting, if you know that already? And also, what do you concretely expect from this trip to move on? There has been a bit of stall on the negotiations. Now what are the steps you expect from North Korea? And the last thing is --

MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t – let me just pause you right there --


MS NAUERT: -- because I wouldn’t agree with your characterization that there has been a stall. I would say that there has not been. As you know, the Secretary met with the foreign minister last week --

QUESTION: I was saying before that, because the President canceled last trip, saying there wasn’t progress enough--

MS NAUERT: -- in North Korea, and we continue – I see, okay. We continue to have these conversations.


MS NAUERT: And I think it shows forward progress and momentum that the Secretary is making his fourth trip back in less than a year. The first, of course, was as CIA director. This will be his third as Secretary of State. And that shows the President’s commitment to the agreement that he and Chairman Kim came to at the Singapore summit – the Secretary going on for follow-on conversations. As we often say, the conversations continue.

Of course, we have quite a ways to go, but we look forward to the next steps in this conversation.

QUESTION: Which steps?

MS NAUERT: Next steps in continuing the conversation.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

MS NAUERT: Yeah. And a lot of these things, as you well know, are not things that we’re going to discuss publicly. These are private diplomatic conversations, as we work toward our goal of full denuclearization of North Korea.

QUESTION: And does the Secretary still stick from – to his date of January 2021, since the President said after that that it wasn’t a good idea to have timelines and --

MS NAUERT: So I would encourage you to go back and look at the transcript. The Secretary said he was hopeful that that could happen, hopeful that that could happen, recognizing that there is still a long way to go. The President said and the Secretary – and the Secretary --

QUESTION: I think it was for the denuclearization to be completed by.

MS NAUERT: And the Secretary and the President said we’re not going to set arbitrary deadlines in the interim. We’re hopeful. We’re working toward that goal. Everyone recognizes that we have a way to go, a ways to go and a lot of work that is left to be done. I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s meetings that he’ll have in Pyongyang, but I know he looks forward to continuing the conversation.

QUESTION: Is it still the administration’s position that you are not willing to consider any easing of sanctions until denuclearization has been – full denuclearization has been verified, but that you are wiling to consider something short of – to do things, confidence-building steps, that are short of sanctions, along the lines of what the Secretary himself talked about when he was in Tokyo a little after the last time he --

MS NAUERT: I don’t have his remarks in front of me from Tokyo at that time, but among the things that the Secretary discussed were security assurances, things of that nature. So the United States has not changed its policy. Nothing has changed in that regard over the past few months.

QUESTION: So you still are – you’re willing to do that short of – you’re still willing to take steps that are short of sanctions relief?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it that way. Sanctions remain in full effect – not just the United States sanctions. UN Security Council resolutions and the other countries that fully backed those Security Council resolutions, all of that remains in effect. We are not easing the pressure in that regard at all.

Hey, Rich.

QUESTION: Any consideration of a peace declaration of any type, Heather?

MS NAUERT: We are not – nothing has changed with regard to our policy. We’ve discussed that a lot of times before.


QUESTION: So the fact that –


QUESTION: -- hi – that the Secretary is going, should we take that to mean that North Korea has done something or shown something in particular to make him feel that this is going to be productive?

MS NAUERT: Well, I haven’t been privy to all the letters and the communications that have gone back and forth, but obviously these conversations are going in the right direction, and we feel confident enough to hop on a plane to head there to continue the conversations.

QUESTION: And China – now, I’m not changing the subject, just based on this trip. Are these going to be high-level meetings? I mean, is the Secretary satisfied that the Chinese are going to produce the people in the meeting that he wants to meet with and they’re not – I mean, this is going to be – when you say his counterparts or his counterpart, this is going to be the foreign minister level and high-level meetings, right? They’re not just producing junior ministers for these?

MS NAUERT: I think when the Secretary goes, there’s the expectation that he meets with someone who’s his appropriate counterpart. I don’t have anything beyond what I provided you just now. Okay?



QUESTION: North Korea. Can I follow on North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Okay, hold on. I’ll come back to you, Janne.

QUESTION: So in China is the Secretary attending the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue? Is that a purpose of the travel?

MS NAUERT: The trip is, as far as I understand, to have conversations about North Korea and other issues of bilateral concern. I don’t have anything beyond that right now. This is something that we just got confirmation on, so I’m going to hesitate to comment anymore on – beyond what I have right here.

QUESTION: So is the DSD still happening? Is the Diplomatic and Security --

MS NAUERT: We’ve never confirmed anything. DOD’s never confirmed anything. If I have any additional trips or any information about China travel, I’ll bring it to you as soon as I can. Okay? Hey, Barbara.

QUESTION: Heather, the statement of the President recently, how he was in love with Kim Jong-un, does that help or hinder Mr. Pompeo’s trip? One would’ve thought that it reduces pressure on Mr. Kim to take some of the steps that Mr. Pompeo wants him to do.

MS NAUERT: I think if our leaders have relatively friendly relations that that’s a good thing, that that can only help us to achieve our final goal.

QUESTION: But the President has also said a timeline doesn’t matter. I mean, he keeps saying things which makes it sound as if the pressure’s being eased off of the --

MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I mean, if you look at --

QUESTION: Well he did say the timeline doesn’t matter.

MS NAUERT: If you look at our policies, our policies have not changed one bit. We got behind the maximum pressure campaign. The United States Government still stands firmly behind the sanctions put in place. The world stands behind those sanctions that have put in place. We’ve not eased that one bit. In fact, every chance we have the opportunity to discuss, whether it’s with China or Russia or any other country around the world, we’re talking about keeping the sanctions in place and not easing those sanctions on North Korea until we see --

QUESTION: That’s not what they said in the Security Council last week.

MS NAUERT: -- until we see the full, final, fully verified denuclearization.

QUESTION: That isn’t what the Chinese and the Russians said in the Security Council last week, is it? They said that there should be easier sanctions.

MS NAUERT: They are standing by the sanctions. Now, we do always say they can do more, they can do more. But they stand by those sanctions. Okay? Hi, Janne. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Do you know that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said last week at the UN, he said that the United States must first have corresponding measures before North Korea denuclearizations. What is your position of this and what is the corresponding measures of North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Could you repeat the last part? I’m sorry, say the last part again?

QUESTION: Corresponding measures of North Korea. So what kind of that? Do you have anything (inaudible) Secretary, when he --

MS NAUERT: I can tell you our policy has not changed. Our policy has not changed, things stand firmly in place, such as the sanctions remaining in place. We continue to coordinate very closely, as we will on this upcoming trip, with our South Korean and also our Japanese counterparts, and we’ll continue to move ahead and continue with the conversations.

QUESTION: The declaration of the end of the war that the President Moon pressured to United States, are you agree with that?

MS NAUERT: We are closely coordinating with the Japanese and the South Koreans, and we look forward to having meetings with them when we go on this next trip. Okay?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Hold on. Said, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, hold on. This is on North Korea. Is it still --

MS NAUERT: I can come back to you, Matt. Hold on. Let’s go to Said.

QUESTION: I thought we wanted to stay with North Korea, no?

MS NAUERT: It’s okay. We’ll come back to it, then. Said, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, Matt. I wanted to ask you about Israeli action in Gaza. I mean, in the last few days they have turned Gaza into a free fire zone. They killed 10 Palestinians, including four children. Today alone, 63 people were injured. Yesterday, the same thing. Are you okay with that? Are you not upset? Are you not concerned that the civilians are being basically just shot at at will by the Israeli army?

MS NAUERT: We’ve addressed this before when these types of things have happened, and I’ll go back to saying what I’ve always said, and that is we are always concerned about credible reports of excessive use of force. I imagine that the Israeli Government will be taking a look at this. We always look forward to governments taking a look at their own actions.

Let’s remember in large part what has gotten the Israelis and Palestinians to this point, and that is Hamas. And Hamas bears the ultimate responsibility for the misery of the people living in Gaza and in some of the surrounding areas. Hamas is reckless when it encourages people to show up, when it encourages people to fight, when it encourages young people to try to engage in violence. That is a very dangerous situation. There was an extremely tense situation, you recall, back in the spring. And we’d say don’t take your children to the area. Leave your children at home. But remember, Hamas is the one that bears ultimate responsibility for this.

QUESTION: But these kids get shot at at about four – 300 meters away. I mean, they are in their own closed area. I mean, they’re not basically jumping over the fence, they’re not going to the Israeli side and so on. They are in their open prison territory.

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to grossly – I’m not going to characterize everything as being far or close, Said. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of the situation, but I think I just laid it out, that we’re always concerned with the credible use of force. And then we go back to saying that Israel does have a right to defend itself. That’s U.S. policy and that hasn’t changed either.

QUESTION: Okay, I wonder if you would address the Khan al-Ahmar village, the Bedouin village, because all your allies have objected to it. Do you object to the demolition of this Palestinian bedroom village at Khan al-Ahmar?

MS NAUERT: My latest understanding is what it was not too terribly long ago when you had asked me this very same question. The impending evacuation of the Bedouin residence in that village follows a lengthy legal process I believe that’s gone on for eight years or so, and I’d just have to refer you back to the Government of Israel on that one. Laurie, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. The UN, which monitored the elections in the Kurdistan region, has described them as successful. Is that a position you’d agree with?

MS NAUERT: That the elections in the Kurdistan region --

QUESTION: Yeah, that were just out.

MS NAUERT: That was just the – yeah, okay. We congratulate the people of Iraq from the Kurdistan region for participating in the election on the 30th of September. Voting is obviously a critical part of any democratic society. We look forward to the final certification of those – the results of that vote. My understanding is that it has not been certified just yet, so we will certainly keep a close eye on that. And we would encourage the quick formation of the new Kurdish Government. And while you’re standing there, let me just congratulate your friend behind you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Yes. We all heard you at the press conference asking the President questions. Laurie, I’m sorry you weren’t there to ask those questions yourself. But as I heard you in the – I was sitting in the back of the room – I said, “There he is. There’s our guy.”


MS NAUERT: Meaning our friend here from the press briefing room asking a question. And I also saw – was it your editorial in The Wall Street Journal today?

QUESTION: It was an imposter’s editorial.

MS NAUERT: No. Oh it was – okay, okay. It was my – Majeed’s editorial.

QUESTION: Yes, yeah.

MS NAUERT: So, nicely done. Just wanted to say that. Laurie, go ahead, you had another question.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: I’ll come right back to you. Laurie, did you have another question?

QUESTION: Well, I had two more questions briefly. On Friday, the Russian foreign minister strongly criticized your position on Iran, saying there’s no proof that it backed terrorism and you can’t keep Iran in a cage within its borders. What is your response to that?

MS NAUERT: I think I would go to something that the French just announced today, and there’s probably no one who has felt terrorism stemming from Iran perhaps more than – well, the Syrians – that has felt it more than some Europeans. As we just learned today that the French Government announced that it has seized assets from Iran’s ministry of intelligence and security services, and the assets of two Iranian officials. This was after there was a disruption in plans to bomb a political rally near Paris just this June. So we have seen that as Americans, our Marine barracks bombings back in 1983. We’ve seen those types of attacks that Iran has been solely responsible for. We’ve seen this type of thing that I just mentioned, the news coming out of France today. We’ve seen what Iran has done in Syria, we’ve done what Iran has done in other countries. We see Iran’s devastation that it causes around the world as the world’s top sponsor of terrorism. So whatever the Russians said about that, we’re not buying it. Okay.

QUESTION: Okay, and final question, somewhat related to that: The Pentagon today, they suggested that the closure of the consulate in Basra, which you announced, hasn’t yet begun. Could you give us an update on that?

MS NAUERT: Sure, so we ordered – the Secretary made the decision late last week to announce ordered departure of our diplomats who were serving in Basra in southern Iraq. In terms of the timing of that and all the details of our colleagues’ movement, I’m not going to get into that for obvious reasons. But just – I can tell you that the Secretary obviously made that decision, and it’s not a decision that one would make or take that decision lightly. It’s something that a lot of thought and planning and preparation goes into that. Okay. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Heather, since you --

MS NAUERT: Hold on, hold on one sec.

QUESTION: Today, Iraqi parliament elected for presidency, and that means Iran has more influence than you over there. And they tried divided the Kurds, and before State Department has statement and support strong and unite Iraqi Kurdistan in federal and democratic of Iraq. Any comments about that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I just – we just saw this announcement maybe within the last hour or so. So I don’t have any comment on that specific selection. I can tell you we respect Iraq’s democratic process. As you well know, we have a very strong relationship with the government, and we believe the people, of Iraq. That relationship is firm, it is friendly, and we are committed to the country of Iraq and also Iraq’s sovereignty. And that’s something important that this administration discusses the importance of sovereignty, and certainly Iraqis can understand that and appreciate that and respect that as well. We don’t support any particular party or any particular candidate, but we support a fair and transparent process.

Okay, go right ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: There are some reports of fraud in the province of Sulaymaniyah, and two major opposition parties have rejected the outcome of the election. Have you heard those complaints? Are you --

MS NAUERT: I have not heard that complaint. But I think as I just mentioned a moment ago that the results would have to be certified, so I’ll just hold off comment until that takes place.

Cindy, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. I know the Pakistani foreign minister may still be here in the building. Are there any updates on attempts to reset the relationship? And he hinted on Fox News that there might be a compromise on the fate of the Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. find Usama bin Ladin.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think they’ve been saying that for quite some time that there could be some movement on that. We have yet to see that. I can confirm with you that the – confirm to you, pardon me, that the Secretary did meet with his counterpart at the State Department today. I’m not sure exactly when that was. It was sometime this afternoon. I don’t have a readout of that meeting just yet. If I have one to bring for you, provide to you, I certainly will. But we had a good trip when the Secretary went to Pakistan and had good, fruitful meetings with the Pakistani Government.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on one second, let me go (inaudible). Abbie, hey there.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up. I know that there have been some comments out of the State Department on this, but is there any reason for concern for same-sex partners who currently hold U.S. visas working at the UN that they may no longer be able to stay in the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: Short answer, no. We just did a background briefing for reporters about less than two hours ago. I haven’t had a chance to take a look at that transcript. I wasn’t on that call, so I don’t want to get too into the details because our technical experts who are the experts on visas and all that were involved in that call. So I just have to refer you back to that, and if you have any additional questions, I’d be happy to try to get an answer for you.

QUESTION: Well, hold on. There seems to be – this seem to have ignited a fair amount of outrage which the people on the call tried to tamp down and say was basically misinformed outrage, but – and just look at the headlines of one of the advocacy groups that same-sex – same --

MS NAUERT: Matt, are you saying that you believe all the headlines that you read?

QUESTION: Heather, I read – I believe everything I read, absolutely everything.

MS NAUERT: I know you do not believe the headlines that you read.

QUESTION: But it said UN – same-sex – same --

MS NAUERT: And hold on, hold on a second, though. Reporters, you’re all the ones who are telling me that you don’t write your own headlines, that there are other people who do it.

QUESTION: I was --

MS NAUERT: And you rumble as much as anyone, if not more than anyone else in Washington, about those headline writers, who will often misinterpret stories that you yourselves have written. So I just wanted to highlight that.

QUESTION: That is neither here nor there, but I was joking when I said I believe everything I read. But I just wanted you to say – I mean, some of this stuff is like same-sex people were going to be ripped from their families and if they don’t get married they’re going to be deported. The people on the call said that that was not correct, that there would be exceptions made for people who were in tenuous circumstances, but I – but they were all on background. No one was willing to put their name to it. So can you say from the podium --

MS NAUERT: Well, that’s in keeping with the State Department policy --

QUESTION: Well, I just want someone from this administration --

MS NAUERT: -- in terms of putting people on background calls, and that is something that we regularly do --


MS NAUERT: -- so that our rank-and-file colleagues and technical experts can have the freedom to express and explain policy --

QUESTION: I get it.

MS NAUERT: -- without worrying about having reporters come to them --

QUESTION: I get it. I’m not --

MS NAUERT: -- every single minute. So Matt, again --

QUESTION: I’m not looking for a defense of background calls.


QUESTION: I’m wondering if you are prepared to say on the record that what they said on background, which was that this won’t – that people are not going to be ripped – that families aren’t going to be torn asunder, that – and the other thing that they said was that this is actually a way for the administration to promote marriage equality. And while it may be, it’s an awfully odd way to do that.

MS NAUERT: That is your opinion that it’s an odd way to do that. I’m going to have to refer to the background call at this point. I’m sorry it may be frustrating for you. I haven’t had a chance to even review that transcript, so I’m sure you can appreciate that I want to bring you the most accurate information. I want to have a chance to review what my colleagues, the technical experts, have said about this. If you need something from me on the record, let me know. I’d be happy to provide it to you, okay?

QUESTION: On that call there were a number of questions that just weren’t answered, and one of them is --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Again, I was not on that call, but if you want to send me some of the questions on what you’re interested in, I’d be happy to try to get you on-the-record answers to those things.

QUESTION: Okay. So one of the questions that wasn’t answered was on the special envoy position for LGBTI rights. Is that going to be filled? Is it --

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information for you on that today. Some of those would be White House nominations, and I just don’t have any color on that today.

QUESTION: All right.


MS NAUERT: Rich, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Just very briefly on Africa, the First Lady is there, and before going she praised the work that USAID is doing. Of course, the administration has proposed very deep cuts to USAID’s budget. Are there any concerns over mixed messages in that?

MS NAUERT: I don’t think so at all. In fact, I know USAID Administrator Mark Green is proud and pleased to assist the First Lady with her trip over there. We’ve been watching from afar as we see the pictures of her with children and our colleagues on the ground who are doing such good work.

So the U.S. Government obviously has to take a look at where it’s spending its resources and the best use of taxpayer dollars. The decisions that the government makes are not always decisions that individuals will always agree with, but we decide to make those decisions based on where we think our taxpayer dollars can be best used. But the continent of Africa is one that’s extremely important to this administration, to the U.S. Government, and I think that is evident in the fact that the First Lady is making her first solo foreign trip to the African continent.

QUESTION: Back to North Korea?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on, hold on. Sir, how are you?

QUESTION: I’m fine.

MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

QUESTION: I was going to ask – thank you, Heather, for – you mentioned earlier about Russia and its violation of the INF Treaty. The Russian foreign – the Russian defense minister recently announced that – I’ll let you get that up.

MS NAUERT: Go right ahead. Sorry, dropped something here.

QUESTION: Numerous S-300 surface-to-air missiles have been sent to Syria right now. The administration’s reaction to this.

MS NAUERT: I saw that report. I cannot confirm that that is accurate. I hope that they did not. That would be a – I think sort of a serious escalation in concerns and issues going on in Syria, but I just can’t confirm it, so I don’t have anything more for you on that right now.

QUESTION: Can you – also on Syria. Well, first of all, it would be a sort of serious escalation or a serious escalation?

MS NAUERT: It would be an escalation.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the other thing on Syria is that Secretary Mattis at a press conference in Paris today said that the number of diplomats posted in Syria has doubled. I know you don’t want to talk about your staffing policies in specifics, but is it correct that it’s doubled? And even if that’s not exactly accurate, are you in the process of boosting the number of people that you’re putting – civilians, diplomats – in Syria?

MS NAUERT: Well, as you correctly predicted, we won’t discuss the size or staffing of our posture, especially in a place like Syria, Matt, for obvious security concerns. But as you well know, we do have civilians who serve in Iraq. They’re incredibly brave – excuse me, who serve, yes, in Iraq, but in Syria as well – who are incredibly brave and do some incredible work on the part of the American people to help support Syrians. We are constantly looking for ways to enhance our effectiveness of our stabilization efforts in Syria. We consider that to be critical to the work that we do and the work in defeating ISIS. But in terms of the size of the footprint or the posture or whether we’re doubling or tripling or any of that, we just won’t get into that.

QUESTION: Well, what exactly are these people doing, or will they do? What do they do? When they get up in the morning, after they eat breakfast --

MS NAUERT: The premise of your question is that we will be changing the number of people there.

QUESTION: No it’s not. Well, let’s just say that --

MS NAUERT: Our people – I can tell you what our people have been doing.

QUESTION: Or are doing right now.

MS NAUERT: Well, I haven’t checked to find out exactly what some of my colleagues are doing today, but in general they have been involved in stabilization efforts. They’ve been involved in helping to find local Iraqi groups and other groups that have participated – excuse me, Syrian groups – that have participated in removing rubble, in helping to get electricity back on in certain towns that have lost electricity, clean water, the rebuilding of schools is something that they have been involved with. Providing humanitarian aid is a big one that our folks are involved with, but what exactly they’re doing today, today today --

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m looking at this minute.

MS NAUERT: -- on the 2nd of October, that answer – I can’t give you that answer.

QUESTION: I’m not looking for a minute-by-minute update, but this is all stuff that you guys had been funding and you’re no longer funding. So they are doing – they are working doing projects that other countries like the Saudis and the Emiratis are funding? Is that correct?

MS NAUERT: I’ll doublecheck. I’ll find out the latest on what they’re doing and see if I can bring that to you, okay?

Okay, and then we’re going to have to wrap it up pretty soon. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Chinese foreign ministry yesterday said the United States has recently expressed its intention to postpone the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security dialogue, so my question is has the United States requested to cancel that meeting, that dialogue?

MS NAUERT: I think I just addressed that, and that is we are going to Beijing. We’ll be there in just a few days. I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s meetings, and I can just tell you we look forward to heading to Beijing.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the U.S.-China diplomatic relation hasn’t been affected by the recent trade dispute and other tensions?

MS NAUERT: Look, I think in any relationship, you have your high points, you have your medium points, and in some countries you have your – with some countries you have your low points. And I’m not going to characterize our relationship with China in any one of those three ways, but relationships can ebb and flow over time. So we have a lot – certainly a lot to talk about with the Government of China and look forward to that trip.

QUESTION: Heather, just very quickly on the --

MS NAUERT: I’m going to – let me just move on to Nick all the way in the back there. Hey, Nick.

QUESTION: Thanks. I do want to go back to North Korea. Going back to Michelle’s question, last time, obviously, the Secretary was supposed to go, you canceled his trip last minute. What’s changed now? Yesterday, KCNA, North Korean media, said the U.S. was “spouting rubbish” by forcing North Korea to declare its inventory, dismantle Yongbyon, in exchange for a declaration of the end of the war. How is that kind of rhetoric helpful, and how is that different from the letter that caused you to cancel your last trip? And is that your policy, by the way? Are you going to declare the end of the war in exchange for declaration of inventory?

MS NAUERT: I think – your last question, I think I answered that already. In terms of North Korea’s policy, that is something that North Korea had agreed to, that Chairman Kim had agreed to with the President, and that is denuclearization. And that is a policy that we are working toward. Nothing has changed in that regard. Other countries sometimes will say things that are more colorful than the United States will, and that’s just fine too. We’re – we have a meeting scheduled. We’re looking forward to that and pushing ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: Really? More colorful than the President?

QUESTION: This is specifically the rhetoric from North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Pardon me?

QUESTION: This is specifically the rhetoric from North Korea yesterday compared to the rhetoric that was in that letter that caused you to cancel the last trip?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into what was in that letter between Chairman Kim and also the President of the United States. So I can’t get into that, okay?

I’m going to have to wrap it up. Michel, go right ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea --

QUESTION: News reports coming from Turkey said that Pastor Brunson will be – may be released in mid-October. Do you have any information?

MS NAUERT: I cannot confirm that. We certainly would like Pastor Brunson home right away. It’s long overdue. Pastor Brunson has a hearing, I believe it’s October the 12th. We last saw him, I believe it was about a week and a half ago or so, where we provided consular access to Pastor Brunson and will continue to maintain close contact with the Turkish Government. But anything beyond that, I’d have to refer you to his lawyer for the latest on his case. Okay.

QUESTION: Heather, just back on North Korea for two seconds.


QUESTION: It still is the administration’s position that the – that North Korea is basically a gulag state, that Kim Jong-un presides over a government that jails thousands and thousands of political prisoners, jails people for their religious beliefs, including Americans, routinely violates people’s human rights. That is correct, correct?

MS NAUERT: You’ve seen our Human Rights Report.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS NAUERT: Our Human Rights Report is very clear about the concerns that we have not just about North Korea but many countries, frankly, around the world --

QUESTION: So what does it --

MS NAUERT: -- and countries that can do a lot better. Our priority in North Korea, though, right now is denuclearization.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MS NAUERT: And that is something that we are focused on.

QUESTION: So human rights aren’t a priority anymore?

MS NAUERT: Human rights, Matt – we can go around again and again and again about this. Human rights is always important.

QUESTION: Well, I just wondered --

MS NAUERT: Whether we’re talking about North Korea, whether we’re talking about many other countries around the world, we raise those issues and those are important issues, and we’re not afraid to raise those issues.

QUESTION: So Secretary Pompeo will raise --

MS NAUERT: However, I will tell you that we are working on denuclearization, and that is our focus right now.

QUESTION: So Secretary Pompeo, during his denuclearization talks, will raise human rights with Kim Jong-un?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into their private diplomatic conversations, but that is our policy.

QUESTION: All right. Well, what does it say to you then, if you still believe that this regime is a horrible violator of human rights, kills people wantonly, jails them for their religious beliefs and political beliefs, what does it say to you that the President of the country, this country, says that he is in love with the leader?

MS NAUERT: I’d say peace is worth the effort. Okay, we’ve got to leave it there.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary is love --

MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary in love with him?

MS NAUERT: Peace is worth it.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:50 p.m.)