Department Press Briefing - October 30, 2018
Index for Today's Briefing:
Department Press Briefing
Today's briefing was held off-camera, so no video is available.
2:15 p.m. EDT
MR PALLADINO: Hi, guys. A couple things for the top. We have an update on – for you all on the Global Engagement Center and their efforts to counter foreign disinformation. At the end of September, the Global Engagement Center obligated 40 million to support initiatives to counter disinformation and propaganda spread by foreign countries abroad. That funding included an extra 20 million provided to the Global Engagement Center by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus spending bill and 20 million from the Department of Defense transferred to the State Department.
This funding will support a variety of efforts to counter Russian, Iranian, and Chinese disinformation and propaganda directed to foreign audiences. These initiatives include deploying technology to provide early warnings of foreign disinformation, analyzing those foreign audiences that are most susceptible to disinformation, developing partnerships with key local social media influencers to produce content to reach critical audiences, and building the technical skills of civil society organizations, nongovernmental organizations, local influencers, and journalists to shed light on the spread of disinformation.
The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act extends the Department of Defense’s authority to transfer funding to the State Department for these efforts through fiscal year 2020. This will allow the Departments of State and Defense to continue developing new joint initiatives to counter foreign disinformation.
Second, happy birthday. Combatting international crime, including drug trafficking, transnational gang activity, and corruption is one of the key ways that the State Department keeps America safe, and the bureau here at the State Department that leads these efforts is the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau, or as we call it, INL. And they are celebrating their 40th anniversary this month. After an initial focus on halting cocaine trafficked from the Andes – that was back in the 1990s – or that was back – in the 1990s, INL expanded to what we have today, and that is global diplomacy and foreign assistance platform to fight crime and strengthen justice sectors at every level.
In 2018 stopping the flow of opioids into the United States is INL’s highest drug control priority, and last month at the United Nations President Trump launched a global call to action on the world drug problem, with 130 countries joining that effort. The State Department, via our INL Bureau, is at the forefront of such work, including diplomacy to increase international restrictions on synthetic opioids and supporting Mexico’s ability to eradicate poppy and take down clandestine labs. INL will continue to fight to keep Americans safe into the future, meeting new drug and crime threats as they emerge.
Third, we welcome – the United States welcomes the visit last week of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Oman, where he was received by Sultan Qaboos and senior members of the Omani government. We commend the Sultan’s initiative in issuing this invitation and opening this dialogue. This marked a helpful step in all of our efforts to strengthen relationships across the region and build a brighter future for Israel, the Palestinians, and all of their neighbors.
Last one. The United States once again strongly condemns the release of convicted terrorist Dimitris Koufodinas on a six-day reprieve from his imprisonment in Greece, his fifth and longest furlough in the last year. Koufodinas is a terrorist who has been convicted of multiple murders, including United States mission personnel. These furloughs are a shameful injustice to his many victims’ families and serve as an incentive for his anarchist followers to commit further violent and destructive acts in his name. Our embassy in Athens has conveyed our serious concerns about this decision to the Greek government.
With that, I’ll – happy to take some questions.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR PALLADINO: Matt.
MR PALLADINO: Right.
QUESTION: Is there something that is new in that that you were trying to highlight? Because if there was, I missed it. I apologize.
MR PALLADINO: The transfer has taken place and the money has been obligated. And I reviewed some of the --
QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. Well, but I thought the money was transferred and --
MR PALLADINO: At the end of September.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s now the end of October, though.
MR PALLADINO: Right. And we are announcing it today. We haven’t done it previously. We’re providing you with a recent update on that. That’s right.
QUESTION: Okay, a month after it happened. Is that correct? Did the money just get there today? I’m just trying --
MR PALLADINO: The money has now been obligated, so the money was received and it’s now all been obligated. And we’ve pushed that forward on several very large projects, and that’s some – the overview that was provided.
QUESTION: Right. I want to start on something that I don’t usually start on here, Sri Lanka. What is your understanding of the situation with the prime minister and the government there? Do you consider the former prime minister to still be the legitimate prime minister? And if you do or if you don’t, do you believe that his ouster was an unconstitutional change in government, which would require – which would be a coup, which would require U.S. action?
MR PALLADINO: Yeah. What we would say that we believe – the United States believes the determination should be made in accordance with the Sri Lankan law and due process. But to step back from that, we are following developments in Sri Lanka with concern, and we are – we urge all sides to respect due process. We call on the president, in consultation with the speaker, to reconvene parliament immediately and allow the democratically-elected representatives of Sri Lanka to fulfill their responsibility to affirm who will lead their government.
We expect the Government of Sri Lanka to uphold its commitment to human rights, rule of law, reform, accountability, justice, and reconciliation regardless of who occupies that leadership position.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Your first answer there – the determination will be made by them? You mean the determination of whether this is a coup or not? What determination?
MR PALLADINO: Leadership in Sri Lanka. We call for it to be made in determination with Sri Lankan law and due process.
QUESTION: But it’s your responsibility – the U.S. government’s law – that says that you have to – I realize the previous administration found a crazy way around this in Egypt. But if you determine – and you should make that determination – whether the government was changed unconstitutionally, there should be some kind of consequence legally.
MR PALLADINO: We call on the president of Sri Lanka, again, to reconvene his parliament and to allow the democratically elected representatives of the Sri Lankan people to fulfill their responsibility in accordance with Sri Lankan law and due process to determine the leadership of their government. And I have no further information on this subject.
QUESTION: So in other words, you have not made a determination one way or another?
MR PALLADINO: We call – this determination needs to be made in accordance with due process and Sri Lankan law. That’s the United States’ position.
QUESTION: I’m not talking about the determination of who leads the country. I’m talking about the U.S. determination on whether what happened was an unconstitutional change in democratically elected government.
MR PALLADINO: We’re following it closely with concern, and I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Can we have a follow-up on it?
MR PALLADINO: AFP. And I don’t have much more than this. I’m sorry, Shaun, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. On the role of China, at least one member of parliament in Sri Lanka has accused Beijing of contributing to the ouster of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Does the United States believe in that assessment, and what has the U.S. role been in dealing with the two sides there?
MR PALLADINO: I would just say that we would call on all sides to respect the law and due process and refrain from intimidation and leave it at that.
QUESTION: Okay, can I just have another?
MR PALLADINO: Okay, one follow-up.
MR PALLADINO: Last one.
QUESTION: Yeah. So there are thousands have rallied for the sacked prime minister, and the Chinese ambassador was the first one who went and congratulated the incoming prime minister. And do you have information about this, chances or – of violence, and have you – your embassy, your consulates – have you increased your security? Are you looking – what are you looking for the security for the – because of the violence that is expected? And there is already a little bit of violence going on.
MR PALLADINO: Yeah, I don’t have anything specific for you on that today. I don’t, all right.
QUESTION: It is correct, though, Robert, that you are concerned, and you talked about it in Latin America before, creeping Chinese influence all over the place. This is a case where you have a similar situation, or at least allegations of a similar situation. What is the embassy in Colombo doing? I would point out that this is yet another place where there’s a current crisis going on that you talk about from the podium in which the United States does not have an ambassador.
MR PALLADINO: Yeah, we’ve got our Charge, Robert Hilton, as currently in charge. And our ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives last week was sworn in and arrives tomorrow. So as of tomorrow we will have an ambassador at the helm.
QUESTION: Okay. But what’s the embassy’s involvement, which is the main part of it?
MR PALLADINO: They’re engaged on this issue. We continue to follow it extremely closely, and we’re concerned. I’ll stop there. Let’s --
QUESTION: Well, Robert, can I just ask if there have been any calls by senior State Department officials to try to --
MR PALLADINO: Nothing to announce today on that, no.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MR PALLADINO: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: You never imagined so many questions about Sri Lanka.
QUESTION: Well, actually this is not about Sri Lanka.
MR PALLADINO: Okay.
MR PALLADINO: I have nothing to announce today.
QUESTION: The Secretary said that in a recent interview that there would be a meeting a week – that was a week and a half later – earlier, and that he would meet North Korean officials a week and a half later, which basically puts it at this week or next week. Have those plans been changed, then?
MR PALLADINO: We have nothing new to announce, and nothing beyond what the Secretary previously has said. I have no new travel, no new meetings to announce at this time.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR PALLADINO: Okay, please. North Korea, continue.
QUESTION: So Steve Biegun in Seoul was quoted as saying that he was eager to begin working-level negotiations with the North Koreans. Is that confirmed, that working-level negotiations have not begun? And if so, what’s the holdup?
MR PALLADINO: He was – he traveled to Seoul on the 29th and 30th, as you point out. And as part of that trip, he was meeting with Republic of Korea counterparts in the Blue House, in the ministry of foreign affairs, and the ministry of unification. And the purpose of the trip was to discuss diplomatic efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.
As part of that, the two governments agreed on establishing a new working group that would further strengthen our close coordination on our diplomacy, on our denuclearization efforts, on sanctions implementation, and inter-Korean cooperation that comply with the United Nations sanctions. So this is an additional step that we’re taking that Special Representative Biegun and his team will be leading.
QUESTION: And the status of the working-level negotiations with North Korea?
MR PALLADINO: It was – oh, with North Korea. I’m sorry. I have nothing new to announce at this time on meetings between Special Representative Biegun and others.
MR PALLADINO: Yes. Is this on topic? Sure, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. What are the disagreement between the South Korea and the United States? Do you have any disagreement?
MR PALLADINO: The United States and the Republic of Korea are closely coordinating on our joint approach, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: Do you think South and North Korea relations are going too fast rather than denuclearizations?
MR PALLADINO: We are – we’re closely coordinating on an almost daily basis with our Republic of Korea ally as well as with our Japanese ally, and that’s at all levels of government. Going forward, we’re going to continue this close coordination, because it’s been so key to the success that we’ve had thus far in moving this forward. And that’s going to continue.
QUESTION: But Moon Jae-in government are offering cash support to North Korea for $10 million recently. They are reopen a U.S. – I mean, open South and North Korea’s liaison office. So how do you think about this case? Do you think that South Korea is violations of sanctions?
MR PALLADINO: No. What I would say is we expect all nations to take their responsibilities seriously to help end North Korea’s illegal nuclear missile program. And sanctions are what got us to where we are today, to this point, were a success, could be possible to moving this forward for a brighter future for the North Korean people. And with our allies and with our partners, we’re going to continue to closely coordinate on our unified approach to this.
QUESTION: Sorry --
MR PALLADINO: More on North Korea?
MR PALLADINO: Let’s go right here, please.
QUESTION: Yeah. Follow-up on Lesley’s question. Do you have anything on the veracity of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un’s sister is coming to the United States to meet with Secretary Pompeo? Can we rule in or rule out on that?
MR PALLADINO: I don’t have anything to announce on that today.
QUESTION: And then what is the U.S. position on the request from South Korea to exempt sanctions on inter-Korean economic projects, including allowing South Korean businessmen to visit Kaesong industrial complex?
MR PALLADINO: Yeah, I don't have anything specific on that. I’d have to get back to you on that. All right?
QUESTION: Can I move on to Tibet? Tibet?
MR PALLADINO: Let’s move on. Let’s go right here, please.
QUESTION: One more question --
MR PALLADINO: Go ahead, Laurie.
QUESTION: Since June, Iraq has been exporting oil from Kirkuk to Iran. Now that’s ending and Baghdad and the KRG are negotiating a return to using the pipeline to Turkey to export that oil. Were you involved in making Baghdad switch its operations regarding the Kirkuk oil? And are there other major outstanding issues with Iraq in regard to Iran sanctions?
MR PALLADINO: What I’d say, Laurie, is we’ve seen that report, and I would defer to the Government of Iraq to address any discussions that it may have had with other nations. What we’re going to continue to do is discuss our Iran policy with our partners around the world and the implications of our re-imposition of sanctions that were previously lifted or waived under the Iran deal, the so-called Iran deal. Now, we’ve given the same message to all countries around the world that the President has said previously, and that is the United States is fully committed to enforcing all of our sanctions.
QUESTION: So presumably also would welcome a decision like that, which would put Iraq more in compliance with the Iran sanctions, if it’s not exporting oil to Iran but sending it to Turkey instead. You’d welcome that?
MR PALLADINO: I would say that the United States – we are committed to exerting maximum pressure against the Iranian regime in reducing oil to zero. That said, Iraq is a friend, an important partner of the United States, and we’re committed to ensuring their stability and prosperity.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask --
MR PALLADINO: That’s all I’ve --
QUESTION: Can I ask about Iran?
MR PALLADINO: Iran?
MR PALLADINO: All right. Stay on Iran.
QUESTION: Can we – has the administration decided to give any waivers to countries importing Iranian oil?
MR PALLADINO: Our goal remains to get to zero oil purchases from Iran as quickly as possible. That’s not changed. And we are determined to implement our policy of maximum pressure on Iran, and that’s our strategy. But we are prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis. The United States government currently is in the middle of an internal process to consider significant reduction exemptions for individual countries.
QUESTION: Can you tell us which countries those are?
MR PALLADINO: Nothing to announce today.
QUESTION: The 180-day review period for those SREs relief comes to an end on November 4th or 5th. So can we expect an announcement of some sort on that date? Do you have a congressional notification requirement for how those SREs are unveiled?
MR PALLADINO: I have nothing further on that right now.
QUESTION: And tied to --
QUESTION: You don’t know --
MR PALLADINO: Toward Iran?
QUESTION: -- or we just – you don’t know or --
MR PALLADINO: I just have nothing further for you on that right now.
QUESTION: And tied to that, Robert, yesterday the Secretary spoke to his South Korean counterpart. The ministry – the South Korean foreign ministry did a readout of it; this building didn’t. So the South Koreans have asked the United States for maximum flexibility on its request for a waiver regarding the U.S. sanctions against Iran. Can you give us – tell us what that discussion, whether that actual discussion took place, and what was the Secretary’s answer to that?
MR PALLADINO: Yeah. I don’t have a readout of any call that may have taken place yesterday.
QUESTION: Would this waiver for an ally like South Korea be something you would be considering?
MR PALLADINO: I mean, our goal is to get to zero oil. That is our strategy and that’s what we are pursuing. We are prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis, and I would leave it at that.
QUESTION: You can’t say whether the call happened?
QUESTION: Can you clarify one point?
MR PALLADINO: I can confirm that the call happened, but I don’t have a readout of that call. I haven’t spoken to the Secretary.
QUESTION: Can you clarify one point?
MR PALLADINO: Any – yes, please.
QUESTION: You said that it is going to be a country-by-country basis and you are in talks with them, but – and the countries are reducing, but India has recently signed an agreement to import oil from Iran and there is no sign of, as they say, reducing. So where do they stand on the 4th of November?
MR PALLADINO: Our strategy is to encourage zero omissions and that’s across the board. I don’t have any further specifics and I’m not prepared from the podium to give – provide an analysis country by country.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you, Robert. I appreciate this. I want to move to the Palestinian issue --
MR PALLADINO: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, yesterday, the PLO central committee took a decision to suspend recognition of Israel and withdraw from the Oslo Accord, but left it in the hand of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. First of all, are you aware of this decision?
MR PALLADINO: We are aware of the reports.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. And do you think that the principle of mutual recognition is a good principle in this case between Palestinians and Israelis?
MR PALLADINO: What I would say is we’re aware of reports that the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s central committee voted in support of suspending recognition of Israel. We’d also point out that we’re aware this is not the first time that the PLO central committee has made such a recommendation to President Abbas. For more information on that, I would refer you to the Palestinian Liberation Organization or the Palestinian Authority. The United States position is we continue to urge all parties to engage constructively on how to build a brighter future for the Palestinians and Israel.
QUESTION: I have --
QUESTION: Where exactly would you recommend that we go to talk to a Palestinian Liberation Organization official in Washington these days?
MR PALLADINO: We have – we still have an embassy in Israel, right? And so we are able to talk.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: Can we stay on the embassy?
QUESTION: No, no, no. You referred us to the PLO. I want to know where I can go in Washington to talk to the PLO. And if you’re referring the Palestinians to the embassy in Israel, I mean, that – is that – the whole idea of the consulate in Jerusalem, which is about to be no longer, was that that was the liaison for the Palestinians to go to – go through. Are you saying now that the Palestinians, if they want to talk to an American official in their region, that they have to talk to Ambassador Friedman?
MR PALLADINO: I would say – first of all, I would dispute. We had a merger of our diplomatic facility in Jerusalem and that is – it’s still a fully functioning diplomatic mission that we have, and that remains in touch.
QUESTION: Okay. So there’s a consul general there? My understanding is the consul general position is being --
MR PALLADINO: We announced our intent – we announced our intent to merge.
QUESTION: It’s being --
MR PALLADINO: And that has not taken place yet.
QUESTION: It’s being – but that position of consul general is being eliminated, which means that the Palestinians no longer have a senior --
MR PALLADINO: We have a Palestinian – our – we have an intent to create a Palestinian affairs unit that would provide full services.
QUESTION: But you’re saying, then, that Palestinian officials, if they want to speak to American officials over there, they have to go to the Israeli – the – your embassy to Israel and ambassador, the – who is currently Ambassador Friedman. Is that correct?
MR PALLADINO: We have – it’s possible for us to have diplomatic discussions in a variety of places, but of course our embassy in Israel is – takes the lead.
QUESTION: Yeah, Robert.
MR PALLADINO: Said.
QUESTION: May I just follow up on the issue of the embassy? I know when you announced the merger, you said that it’s to facilitate peace talks and so on. This consulate has been around since the 1800s, like 1860. It’s been around for a long time and it’s always functioned independent of any other embassy. Don’t you think that you are basically shooting the whole paradigm in this process that has been conducted over, like, 150 years or so?
MR PALLADINO: Our decision is driven by our global effort to improve efficiency and effectiveness of our operations, and this in no way signals a change to United States policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.
QUESTION: And I promise this is my last question.
MR PALLADINO: All right.
QUESTION: Ambassador Friedman the other day said that he was, and I quote, “an unapologetic right-wing defender of Israel.” Does that – is that, like, diplomatic protocol? Does he clear these statements by you? Are you okay with that?
MR PALLADINO: Said, I believe that was part of a very long speech that he delivered, and I believe – don’t take it out of context. Please take a look at the full speech.
QUESTION: I did not take it out of context. That’s what he said.
MR PALLADINO: He’s referring to his willingness to speak to people, to have – share different points of view, and to approach these kinds of conversations out of respect. So I would just refer you back to the totality of his remarks and the spirit in which they were offered, and I’d leave it at that.
QUESTION: I can assure you that I did, but that was the headline in the Israeli press. So I’m just conveying to you what was written in the Israeli press, and my question to you: Is this fine with you guys? Is this in accordance with DOS diplomatic protocols? I mean --
MR PALLADINO: I would refer – yeah, nothing further on – I would refer you back to the totality of his remarks and the spirit in which they were offered.
QUESTION: Can I follow up briefly?
MR PALLADINO: We have more on Israel?
QUESTION: Just briefly.
MR PALLADINO: Yes, Shaun.
QUESTION: The first response on the PLO vote – you said that you’re aware of this. Is there a particular message that you’re giving to Palestinian Authority President Abbas on how to move forward?
MR PALLADINO: Not regarding this vote, other than to say we would continue to urge all parties to engage constructively on how to build a brighter future for both Israel and the Palestinians, and I would refer you to the PLO or PA for any more information on that particular vote.
MR PALLADINO: I’m sorry?
MR PALLADINO: The White House press secretary addressed this question yesterday, and we’re not going to comment on matters of intelligence from the State Department.
QUESTION: Robert, last week you said that you were continuing to gather all facts but you wanted the investigation to be over as soon as possible. Where would you say that the U.S. is in its assessment of facts, and have you gotten any facts out of, say, the Saudis?
MR PALLADINO: We continue to call for a complete, transparent investigation into this matter, and we continue to gather information both at – in our own data set that the United States has the capabilities to gather as well as to call on our Turkish and Saudi Arabian authorities who are conducting an independent investigation as well. We are going to gather a – full information first.
QUESTION: But in that process, would you say you’re nearing the end of it, or where does it stand? Because --
MR PALLADINO: I’m not going to put a timeline on that. We want to know what happened first, and we will know. We’ll be able to judge. We call for transparency. We’ve already taken some actions, and when more is understood and we get to the bottom, we’ll make judgments based upon that as well.
QUESTION: You’ve condemned very rightly the murder of Khashoggi, but do you also think that Turkish President Erdogan is using the information that Turkey has to – for political purposes of his own?
MR PALLADINO: Turkish investigation is ongoing, and we look forward to receiving a full accounting of what’s transpired. We’ll continue to consider additional measures to hold those responsible accountable – what I would say.
QUESTION: Robert --
MR PALLADINO: Please, Carol.
QUESTION: Robert, could I ask, considering that you and Secretary Pompeo, the State Department has repeatedly called for this thorough, complete, and thorough investigation, and the Saudi story keeps changing, are you satisfied that the Saudis at this point have met their commitment to the Secretary, and have you ever asked them in clear language, “We expect you to tell the truth?”
MR PALLADINO: Purpose of the Secretary of State’s visit two weeks ago was to convey that message and to make sure that our Saudi and Turkish partners understood just how seriously the United States takes this and how we do expect a thorough accounting of what’s transpired.
QUESTION: And they changed their story after that, so are you considering --
MR PALLADINO: More information continues to emerge, and we’re going to judge it in its totality when we have complete information.
QUESTION: Robert, global opprobrium on the Khashoggi murder resulted in part because he is a journalist. The President this week discussed how journalists are enemies of the people. People up on the podium up there have for decades said that a free press is vital for democracy. Can you help us understand? Those two things seem in conflict. Is a free press vital to democracy, as this department has been saying for decades and decades? Or are members, people in this audience – and perhaps you can point them out – are they enemies of the people? Do you have a list? Because Sarah suggested yesterday that she actually has a list of journalists and institutions that are enemies of the people. Do you have that list? Can you share it with us?
MR PALLADINO: From this podium we have spoken often about a free press, and from the State Department we’ve done the same, and we will continue to advocate for a free press. And this murder that took place is horrible, and we’ve spoken out about that, and we continue to call for a full accounting so that those responsible will be held to justice.
And guys, I’m going to wrap it up. Last one. Last one.
MR PALLADINO: What’s the question?
QUESTION: I have a question about an American who’s been killed in Cameroon.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PALLADINO: Cameroon. Okay.
QUESTION: There are reports that he was killed by Cameroonian security forces. I understand that the State Department is aware of his death, but can you provide us any more information, particularly because he may have been killed by another government?
MR PALLADINO: Let me see if I’ve got anything. I can confirm the death of a United States citizen in Bamenda, Cameroon. And at the Department of State we extend our sincere condolences to family and friends, and we are providing all appropriate consular services. But out of respect for the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further on that right now.
QUESTION: Cameroon is a recipient of U.S. aid, and this was the – of security assistance specifically, and the reports are that this man was killed by the Cameroonian troops. So do you have a message for the government?
MR PALLADINO: I’ll have to take that question, and we can get you more on that.
QUESTION: One question, Robert.
MR PALLADINO: Last one. This is it. Go.
MR PALLADINO: We continue to work. We’re in close --
QUESTION: That’s not my question. Is it an invasion?
MR PALLADINO: We’re in close coordination with the Mexican government. We continue to support their efforts. We welcome their decision to work with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. And this is something we’re in together from the State Department perspective, and we’re going to continue to work with our partners.
Guys, that’s it. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)