Press Gaggle - January 9, 2018

Special Briefing
I. Steven (Steve) Goldstein
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Washington, DC
January 9, 2018

Gaggle Index:



UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: So let me start with the statement that is issued under the name of Heather Nauert, the spokesperson – some of you have seen it – regarding the talks between South Korea and North Korea on the Winter Games.

The United States welcomes the January 9 meeting between the Republic of Korea and North Korea aimed at ensuring a safe, secure, and successful Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The United States remains in close consultations with ROK officials, who will ensure North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics does not violate the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over North Korea’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

As the President said to ROK President Moon on January 4th, a meeting that Secretary Tillerson sat in – a call for which Secretary Tillerson sat in, the United States is committed to a safe and successful Winter Olympic Games, and the United States will send a high-level presidential delegation to the games. During the same conversation, the two leaders also agreed to continue the campaign of maximum pressure on North Korea toward the goal of complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Secretary Tillerson continues to closely consult with Foreign Minister Kang.

The other – I also wanted to add to that: North Korea is sending an officially recognized delegation of athletes, fans, and support staff to the 23rd Olympic Winter Games, to be hosted by South Korea in Pyeongchang next month. We are confident the Republic of Korea will host a safe, secure, and successful Winter Games. Anything that lowers tensions on the Korean Peninsula is a positive development. We’re in close consultation with the Republic of Korea to ensure North Korea’s participation in the Olympics does not violate UN Security Council sanctions, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions regarding that.


QUESTION: A word that we’ve heard from the State Department a lot lately regarding these talks is skepticism. So do you still hold that, or do you feel like having seen some of these talks completed with at least this outcome takes away some of your skepticism?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, clearly, this is a positive development and we are encouraged that North Korea has agreed to send athletes and other supporters to the South Korean Games. But the Secretary has been insistent upon complete, verifiable, and irreversible, and our words haven’t changed.

QUESTION: So this has nothing to do with – I mean, because this is just about the Games, does this do nothing to take away your skepticism regarding nuclear talks that obviously haven’t happened yet?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We would like nuclear talks to occur. We want denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is a good first step in that process.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Just following up on that, the South Koreans said that they wanted to broach the topic of North Korea’s nuclear program, but North Korea rebuffed them. Do you have – has the Secretary spoken to his South Korean counterpart? Do you have any sort of prognosis on whether those talks – are you more optimistic that nuclear talks would happen, saying that you want them?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, we always remain optimistic. The Secretary believes and has stated from the beginning that talks are vital, and we would hope that that would occur. But it has to occur with the conditions that we outlined. What’s important is that there will be a safe, secure, and successful Olympic Winter Games and it will have full participation by North Korea and other nations of the world.

QUESTION: One more on this?


QUESTION: You have – the administration has made very clear that its fundamental policy toward North Korea is to isolate it and to reinforce its isolation. Agreeing to or welcoming their taking part in the Olympics is hardly isolation. Why wouldn’t it – I mean, you’ve gone around the world asking other countries to shut down the North Korean embassies in their capitals. If you want them to feel isolated, why don’t you exclude them from the Olympics?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, the Olympic Committee and the notion of the Olympics itself is to bring all the countries of the world together to participate in sport. And if North Korea is interested in participating in that, then we would encourage them to do so. And they’ve indicated today – or last night in these talks – that they want to do so. And South Korea has welcomed that, and we have welcomed that too.

QUESTION: But why, if you’re trying to isolate them, why not exclude them or at least say that you’re opposed to having them? Are they now welcome to send people to sporting events all over the world, for example?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The Olympics are a completely different event. We are encouraged by the fact that North Korea wants to participate. They have athletes who are going to compete in the Games. North Korea is going to march in the Games with the other countries – the other nations. They’re going to send fans in support. And we’re – I’m glad that they’ve chosen to do that, and we appreciate South Korea welcoming them to the Summer – to the Winter Olympic Games. That’s as far as I can go on that point.

Carol. Dave, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Other than the telephone conversation that the Secretary and the President had, did the United States play any other role? Did it have anything at all to do with these talks? Can you outline what involvement the United States had in these talks, if any?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The Secretary has spoken frequently to the prime minister[1], but this was a decision made between North Korea and South Korea. We’ve been – we have made our views clear to the Republic of Korea where we stand, and they share our view. And the Secretary has not changed from what he said before. We want to negotiate. We believe negotiation is appropriate, but North Korea has to come to the table and agree to dismantle the nuclear – the nuclear – and agree to ensure that the complete, verifiable, and irreversible process occurs. But it doesn’t change our view that we want the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. These are steps --

QUESTION: Did you try to talk --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: These are – these are small steps that occur over time.

QUESTION: Did you try to talk them out of it?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Try to talk them out of what?

QUESTION: The Republic of Korea, talk them out of encouraging them to come to the Olympics?



QUESTION: On a different point, the statement that you’ve just made addresses the Olympics element of these talks, but they also agreed to reopen their – a hotline and to hold military-to-military talks going forward. Do you also welcome that aspect of the meeting that took place?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We do. We welcome any conversation that occurs as long as there is an understanding that they do not violate the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over North Korea’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But each step forward allows us to hopefully get to where our ultimate goal is.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. and South Korean military drills remain frozen while these military-to-military talks take place?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, we’ll check on that.


UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Thanks. Yes, ma’am. Can you just say – tell me your name? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, Janne Pak with USA Journal.


QUESTION: You mentioned that South Korea is not in violation of the UN sanctions, but the North – South Korean Government invite North Korea to Pyeongchang Olympics for payment of various expenses to North Korea. Do you think that is the values of North Korean sanctions, UN sanctions?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let me get back to you on that question.

QUESTION: Because it is cash payment.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I understand your question.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’ll get back to you. But thank you very much.

Yes, ma’am, if you could tell me your name. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yes, Kylie Sertic, Kyodo News.


QUESTION: (Laughter.) I think we’ve met briefly.


QUESTION: Yes. So with the military-to-military talks, will the U.S. be involved at all, and if not, is there any particular direction that your department would like the ROK to go in those talks?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We would be – we speak frequently to South Korean leaders. President Moon spoke on the fourth. Secretary spoke to the prime minister, and I think will speak to the prime minister again within the next few days. And we would – our view is quite clear on what should occur.


QUESTION: So the United States is okay with South Korea moving beyond the Olympic issues, but for the United States to join in any capacity, there needs to be preconditions. Is that –


QUESTION: Does that create separate paths among allies?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I don’t think so. I mean, our preconditions have always remained the same. We’ve not changed that. And so this is a – in the 1-to-10 process, this is sort of – this is – we’re moving forward, and if the Olympics provide an opening to allow that – those conversations to occur, then that’s all the better for the people of South Korea and also for the people of North Korea who no doubt want to see their athletes participate and want to be part of the community of nations.


QUESTION: Thanks, Steve. Could you flesh out a little bit this issue about the – making sure that their participation doesn’t violate Security Council resolutions? Obviously, we’re not going to lift those requirements, so is there – is it like we’re carving out, like, a one-time exception? What are the – what are the things that we have to avoid that could possibly be violated during their participation in the Olympics?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, I think we’re going to assume that they’re going to participate in the Olympics in full faith, the same way all nations participate in the Olympics, and with an eye towards sport and using sport as a way to bring people together, which is a great cultural effort. We’re excited about the Olympics. We are confident that South Korea will host a safe and secure Olympics Games and it will be very successful. And so – but we’re clear out about DPRK’s track record when it comes to negotiations. So time will tell as we move forward.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can I ask you --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Tell me your name again. I’m sorry, we – I’m sure we met.

QUESTION: Sure. My name is Dmitry Kirsanov.


QUESTION: I’m with TASS, the Russian wire service.


QUESTION: I was hoping to shift gears and move to U.S.-Russian relations.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Would you mind if we just did a couple more questions on this --

QUESTION: Sure, absolutely.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: -- and I’ll come right back to you, Dmitry.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Yeah, sorry, I just wanted to follow up on the earlier question on the violation of UN sanctions.


QUESTION: What specifically are you concerned about in North Korea violating UN sanctions?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I think we’ve been clear on where we stand, and I – and we want to make sure that North Korea – that – I’ll leave it at that. We’ve been clear on where we stand. And if you want to go further, I’ll talk to you afterwards.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Thank you. Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.


QUESTION: My name is Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.


QUESTION: Now the United States and South Korea agreed to delay the military drills to create a better environment and also de-conflict, but previously China also proposed the freeze-for-freeze or suspension-for-suspension proposal. Now what’s the difference? Because that’s exactly what China called for, to suspend the military drill in order to create a dialogue with North Korea.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right, but let’s not read more into this than there – than it is. Right now, North Korea has agreed to send athletes and participate in the 23rd Olympic Winter Games. That we should be encouraged about, and we are pleased that the figure skaters and – who are participating and other athletes possibly are able to go and join the community of nations and compete. That is positive.

And so we welcome that and we’re excited for South Korea because they will have – just one second, John – we’re excited for South Korea and we’re happy that – and we’re confident that they’re going to host a safe and secure Olympic Games.

John Hudson.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. given South Korea any – has it ruled out any topics to be discussed? Are any topics forbidden to be discussed at --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No, there are no topics that are off limit.

Yes, ma’am. Tell me your name. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yes. I’m Chen Liu from China’s Xinhua News Agency.


QUESTION: And my question is that since the U.S. has preconditions for the talks with the DPRK and now South Korea and the DPRK is going to have the military-to-military talks. So is there any specific signs that you are looking for to say that, well, it’s ready for you to talk to the DPRK?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We would like North Korea to come to the table willing to negotiate.



QUESTION: Yes. I am Said Arikat from Al Quds daily newspaper. Pleasure meeting you, sir.


QUESTION: I want to change topics if at all possible.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, can we – can I just finish on North Korea?

QUESTION: Oh, absolutely.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Can we just do two more questions on North Korea and then we’ll go to the next. Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Nike Ching with Voice of America.


QUESTION: Yes. Steve, quick question. So U.S.A. will send a delegation to Winter Olympics.


QUESTION: Same thing with North Korea.


QUESTION: What is the --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Same thing as most countries of the world.

QUESTION: Right. So – and officials will be there, I assume.


QUESTION: So what is the prospect of direct contact between officials of U.S. and DPRK in Winter Olympics? You just mentioned that sports will bring people together.


QUESTION: Will that be happening? You will look at --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: That’s not planned currently, but we’ll see how this progresses. I do believe that as the athletes participate in the games, they will obviously interact with people from other nations, and there will be an exchange of ideas and exchange of views, and that’s all positive.

QUESTION: Can you rule out the possibility of contact between North Korean and U.S. officials at the Olympics?


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But you can’t rule it out?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, it’s not planned at the current time.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. decided any list of high-level delegation sending?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We are going to – we are sending a high-level delegation to the Olympics, as the United States has done previously. The President plans to make that announcement tomorrow.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we shift gears?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, okay. Let’s do one more question and then we’ll shift gears. Okay? I promise.

QUESTION: Hi, this is Tianyi from Shenzhen Media Group.


QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up with Bingru’s question about what’s the difference between the current frozen situation and the China-Russia proposed freeze-for-freeze suspension. You haven’t clarified that. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, what I have clarified is the fact that North Korea and South Korea met, that North Korea has agreed to send people – send athletes and fans and to participate in the walk of nations as a – and we’re encouraged by that, and that we’re – we have been and remain strongly supportive of South Korea and we’re confident that the Winter Olympic Games will be highly successful.

Now, let’s move to one other – to another topic and we’ll come back to it. There was a woman first that I said I would come right back.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Go ahead, sir. I’m sorry. Oh, the – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, I am Said, and good to see you behind the podium.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Thank you very much. Don’t get used to it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. Good. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.


QUESTION: Israel over the weekend blacklisted 20 organizations, six of which are American organizations, including the American Friends Services Committee, Code Pink, Jewish Voices for Peace, and so on, and many, many others. Now, what is your position on disallowing these American organizations, who actually participate in nonviolent activities and so on, from – disallowing them from entry into Israel?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: The administration has strong opposition to boycotts, divestitures, and sanctions of the state of Israel, and that’s well known. We value freedom of expression even in cases where we do not agree with the political views espoused. We also respect the right of sovereign nations to decide to – who enters their country. Beyond that, I refer you to the country of Israel.

QUESTION: But let me ask you, sir --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Beyond that, I refer you to the country of Israel.

QUESTION: Right. I just wanted to ask you a very quick question, because the Quakers, for instance, they have been operating a school in Ramallah since 1901.


QUESTION: I mean, that will hinder their operations, so you don’t --


QUESTION: You don’t urge the Israelis to allow them in to continue their operations?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, our position is clear, and beyond that I refer you to the country of Israel.

QUESTION: And one last question.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let me – I’ll come right back to you.

QUESTION: I have – no, sir --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let’s be fair to everybody in the room.

QUESTION: I have one more question on the same issue --


QUESTION: -- so I didn’t jump around. I just want to ask you about UNRWA.


QUESTION: Now, there was a great deal of talk last Friday that there may be a cutoff in the amount of US aid to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees --


QUESTION: -- to the tune of $125 million, and so on. Now, ever since then the picture has been murky. Can you shed some light on the status of the funding, U.S. funding for UNRWA?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: So I don’t know if “murky” is the word I would use, but I appreciate your choice of words. The – there are still deliberations taking place. We have not missed the deadline, and we have not halted funding, and the decision is under review. And I – that’s where we stand at the present time.

QUESTION: Can we do one more Israel-Palestine one?


QUESTION: Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a statement today saying that Israel plans to approve the construction of hundreds of additional settlements in the West Bank. Specifically, the statement says that the authorities are due to approve tomorrow the construction of 1285 housing units to be built in 2018 and to approve advance planning for 2500 others in about 20 different settlements.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I don’t currently, but I will get back to you.

QUESTION: Can I go on UNRWA, Steve?


QUESTION: You say the deliberations are still taking place.


QUESTION: Do you have a sense for when those deliberations will be finished?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I don’t, but we haven’t made yet a decision and we don’t have a --

QUESTION: Like this week or next? I mean --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I wouldn’t anticipate a decision this week. But it is the Secretary who has the authority to determine when to provide assistance and at what level, and we’ll get back to you as soon as that decision’s made.

QUESTION: So does that mean he has decided to hold off on the funding until that decision is made? Does that mean that the Secretary --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No, it just means that deliberations are still taking place. There will be a decision.

QUESTION: You haven’t missed the deadline. You haven’t missed the deadline. When is the deadline?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We have time. I’ll get back to you on the specific date.


QUESTION: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Thank you for your patience.

QUESTION: Sure. I wanted to get back for a second to something Secretary Tillerson has said last week with – with an interview with Elise with CNN.


QUESTION: He essentially announced U.S.-Russian arms control talks --


QUESTION: -- previewing them and saying that the INF treaty, the situation around the INF treaty and what’s going to happen next to the New START, ought to be discussed. Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov went on the record yesterday saying that he expects his counterpart, Secretary Shannon, to travel to Russia for this new round of talks. So do you have anything to announce at this time? Will the secretary – will Secretary Shannon in fact travel to Russia anytime soon, and will he bring an interagency delegation with him to discuss all those issues?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: So I don’t have anything to add at this time. Ambassador Huntsman, Jon Huntsman, is in Washington this week for talks and is on the Hill today and was at the department yesterday. But when we do have something to add further to that, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Can you put any meat on what Ambassador Huntsman is doing actually here?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: He’s making – most ambassadors – ambassadors come back to Washington for a round of visits, especially someone of the significance of the role of ambassador to Russia.

Ambassador Huntsman, yesterday, had meetings in the department; I had the opportunity to meet with him, as did many others. Today, he is spending his time on the Hill. I have asked the ambassador to try to come in for a briefing on Thursday and if he can work it out on his schedule, he’s going to try to do so.

QUESTION: It’s a regular consultation --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: It’s a regular consultation.

QUESTION: Not an emergency one?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: It – absolutely not. It’s a regular consultation, and if I can get the ambassador in here on Thursday – I’m trying to do it, I was hopeful it could be today so I would be sitting over there and not standing right here – (laughter) – but he had, as Abbie knows – but he had Hill meetings today and we didn’t want him to cancel those meetings, as much as we would love for him to be here with you. So you are currently stuck with me at the present time.

Yes, ma’am?

QUESTION: Laurie Mylroie, Kurdistan 24.


QUESTION: Hi. Reuters – on Iraq.


QUESTION: Reuters reported that IDPs from Anbar Province are being forced to return home, although conditions aren’t safe, there are still IEDs around, and that’s being done to hold the Iraqi elections on schedule in May.

So two parts to this question. What’s your response to the forced return of IDPs, and what about the elections, that maybe the law can be changed so that people can vote if they’re IDPs --


QUESTION: -- even without going home, or should the elections be postponed?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: So we are clearly concerned by press reports of forced returns. The United States is committed to the safe and voluntary return of all displaced people. And we defer to the Government of Iraq regarding the dates for their elections.

QUESTION: And if I could, one more question?


QUESTION: The Middle East press is reporting, based on statements that Secretary Mattis made --


QUESTION: -- that the U.S. is taking steps toward recognizing diplomatically the area of Syria east of the Euphrates that is controlled by the SDF. Could you respond to that? Is the U.S. position on that area changing in any way?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: That we support the territorial integrity of Syria and a unified and democratic Syria in which the rights of all groups are protected. It’s important that the future of Syria be decided by Syrians, consistent with the political transition and election process enshrined in the UNSCR 2254.

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t be recognizing any specific part of Syria?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We would urge all the parties – Syrian parties to work together in a manner consistent to advance the UN-led political process.

QUESTION: So would you say that report had no merit?


QUESTION: That report that those – the – these --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, I can’t speak to that report which I haven’t seen, but I’ve indicated to you what our position is.

QUESTION: Right. Thank you.




QUESTION: Or actually, before we get to that, back to Russia.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Let’s go back to that.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. (Laughter.) Is the State Department still on track for doing its part in implementing sanctions on Russia that were passed by Congress by the end of January? Is that still the timeframe you’re looking at?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: That – I don’t – yeah. That is still the timeframe. Our position has not changed on that. On --

QUESTION: Okay. And on --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, can I speak to Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah. Go for it.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Okay. So I think it’s important – so in – just so you all know for your own edification, in 2017, more than 4 million Iranians relied on the Department of State-funded anticensorship tools, including VPNs. I was very clear last week that – and encouraging the Iranian Government to open up internet access, and we were pleased that President Rouhani did indicate that Instagram is now open and that he does not believe in the permanent closure of social media.

Our internet tools increased dramatically, as much as tenfold, over the weekend of December 29 through January 2nd. One of the VPNs we support has seen – saw traffic rise fivefold from 400,000 to 2 million daily users. Social media is a legitimate form of communications and we still encourage the people of Iran, who are interested in finding more information, to go to the State Department’s Facebook page or our Twitter site. And we also encourage the Government of Iran to follow the lead of President Rouhani in keeping the social media sites open.

And I – that’s not – was not your question. So let me answer your question.

QUESTION: That’s okay. Does this – okay. Is the Secretary making a case for the signing of the waivers on Iran sanctions? And does he expect his efforts to be successful?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We – well, I – we could – would not discuss that publicly, but the Secretary is – will be meeting with the President and Secretary Mattis and other officials later this week at the White House, and we would expect a decision on Friday. And there have been – there’ve been ongoing discussions regarding this.



QUESTION: So I just want to go back to what you said to Said about the issue with the BDS movement. I want to know, does that position you outlined, that it’s up to another country to decide who to let in – does that apply everywhere and to equal circumstances? For instance, if another country said we’ll let in Republicans but not Democrats or some other ideological issue, you guys wouldn’t have a problem with a country saying we’ll only let in people with a certain ideological bent?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, of course we would, but let me – I’ll come back to you on that. I’m not clear on your question, Josh.

QUESTION: I guess the question is you said it’s up to them to decide who to let into their country, but they’re basing that decision on whether people are --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No, I said that we value of freedom of expression even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views espoused. We are – go ahead.

QUESTION: But this is specifically about another country using that as criteria about whether they’re going to allow people into the country, right?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I think that individual country has to – would make that decision, but we have encouraged – go ahead. I don’t have much to add beyond that.

QUESTION: So – and that – okay. That position applies in all circumstances, that it’s up to an individual country to decide what criteria they want to use to let in outsiders?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’ll – I don’t want to go any further than what I’ve previously said.

QUESTION: Steve, if I just clarify --


QUESTION: -- because many – I understand.


QUESTION: On Josh’s --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I really appreciate it and I’m happy to talk to you afterwards, but let’s be respectful of everybody in the room, because everyone has the right to ask a question.

QUESTION: Thank you, Steve. My name is Iva Puljic. I’m from Al Jazeera Balkans, correspondent here for D.C.


QUESTION: I’d like to ask regarding Balkans two questions. First, can you confirm --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Regarding – did you say the Balkans? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Balkans, yes, sir.


QUESTION: Can you confirm that Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Brian Yee has resigned yesterday his position, please?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Hoyt Yee is completing his current assignment as deputy assistant secretary for Central and South Central Asian affairs, a position he’s held since September 2013. We’re grateful for Mr. Yee’s years of service and dedication in the position and we wish him well as he moves on to his next assignment. U.S. diplomats rotate positions every few years depending on the country as part of a normal assignment process. DAS Yee has served in his current position for over four years. We don’t have an announcement to make on what his new position will be and we don’t have any other personnel announcement to make at this time regarding who will be the new deputy assistant secretary for that region.

QUESTION: He’s staying with State Department, with – Mr. Hoyt?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We don’t have any further personnel announcement to make on that.

QUESTION: Uh-huh. And just other question, please, regarding Balkans.


QUESTION: Because everybody over there thinking that – from media to political leaders – that United States is changing policy toward Balkans. Is anything new in American policy toward Balkans right now? Are you going to – to put new ambassadors over there? Because State Department didn’t change any ambassador in the Balkans in the last one year.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I will get back to you on that, but it’s a – the process of appointing ambassadors takes time, and the majority of ambassadors are Civil Service appointees – I mean are Foreign Service appointees who – but when nominated have to go through the same confirmation process that everyone else does. And so if you’ve seen, every few weeks we do – the Senate does confirm a number of new ambassadors, and I would expect that to continue. I can’t speak directly to the question of – we have ambassadors in place there and I would – and they’re doing their job well.


QUESTION: Is Jonathan Moore – is going to replace Hoyt Yee?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Sir, I appreciate it, but I don’t have any further thing to add on that. But I’m happy to talk to you afterwards again.


QUESTION: Has the Secretary communicated his decision on whether or not to create a review board to look into Cuba – the Cuban sonic attacks? And with the FBI seemingly not able to confirm what exactly is causing these, has the State Department considered increasing again its diplomatic presence in Havana, as I believe Senator Flake and others may have suggested?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We are going to create, as we’ve said previously, an accountability review board, and I would expect that we would have the announcements of the chair and the members of the board available for release within the next week. And the – we still do not have definitive answers on the source or cause of the attacks. The investigation is ongoing. The most recent medically confirmed attack occurred August 21st, 2017. We believe that the Cuban Government has the answer to this and they should be doing more to assist us in bringing this to resolution.

Paco – Francisco Palmieri, who goes in the department as – the assistant secretary[2], he goes by Paco – testified this morning on the Hill, as did our medical doctor and I believe someone from Diplomatic Security, to this matter at 10:00, and we have – we have his testimony if you have not seen it. But we are not much further ahead than we were in finding out why this occurred, and we need to find that out, and we would expect the Cuban Government to help us in that process.

QUESTION: Is there anything specifically you want the Cubans to do that you can say that they’re not doing currently?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We believe that the Cuban Government knows what occurred, and so what we’d like them to do is to tell us what occurred so we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. And you asked me a last question about whether people could go back.

QUESTION: Whether the U.S. was considering restoring staff that had been withdrawn.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No, we’re not considering restoring staff.

QUESTION: And are you considering pulling out given that the Secretary’s comments quoted about his concerns about the safety of people? If he can’t ensure that people who’d be sent back would be safe, why are you continuing to staff the embassy? Why are you certain --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We’re providing extensive medical care to people that need it, and we have also made it clear that if people do not want to serve in that particular embassy, they do not have to.


QUESTION: The chairman of that committee, Marco Rubio, had some harsh words for the State Department regarding how long it took to put the accountability review board in place. Do you have any response to some of his statements that it’s against the law that it took, rather than 60 or 120 days, almost a year to stand that up?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. Well, I – we have great respect for the senator, and he shares our concern about trying to reach resolution on this matter. It took time to set up the accountability review board because we were hopeful that we would be able to know what occurred. We were – the investigation has taken longer than we anticipated, and – but it is now time to go forward. And again, we would expect the – I would expect the names to be announced over the next several days. I do have the names, I just can’t – I’m not – I want to make sure that the people have been notified.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on --


QUESTION: -- Abbie’s question. The senator basically claimed that the State Department had violated the law --


QUESTION: -- by failing to announce or create this review board back in July, that the – that you had confirmed that people were seriously wounded by March or May, that the law requires if you know that a State Department personnel is seriously wounded, that you create a review board within 60 days or tell Congress why you’re not doing so. That is the clear letter of the law. You did not follow it. That’s what he claims. What is your response to that?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. We don’t agree with that. The assistant secretary today made clear, and we have said too, that it took us time to get the investigation in place. The investigation is continuing, and we believe that we have the – had the authority to determine when the accountability review board should be set in place. I think let’s not lose focus here. There’s 24 people that had injuries, and those people are receiving treatment, and we’ve had over 20 conversations with the people of Cuba. We’ve – the government investigators have been down four times; they’re going down again within the next few weeks. And so our primary goal at the present time is to find out why this occurred, to prevent it from happening again in Cuba and the embassy of Cuba or in any other place where American citizens are located.

Tell me your name. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: My name is Cristina Artia with the Spanish news wire EFE.


QUESTION: My question is also on Cuba. I was at the hearing at – Assistant Director for Diplomatic Security Todd Brown said that the State Department is not sure that the attacks suffer – that the attacks are sonic. Do you have any update on this? Because until now, you have been repeating that the attacks was like sonic attacks.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: No, I don’t believe we used the word – I’d have to check on that. But no, we’re not sure why – what occurred and why it occurred. But we do know it did occur, and there’s no question about that.

And – yes.

QUESTION: Is Secretary Tillerson having a meeting today with Senate Majority Leader McConnell and with Senator Graham? And if so, what’s the subject?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I will check on that for you. He was there this morning because he came out of his office and said, “Hi, Steve.” So – (laughter) – I will check. I will check with you what happened after that.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Tatiana Kalmykova. I am with Russian news agency Ria Novosti.


QUESTION: I have a question on Syria. Are you going to discuss the establishment of new de-escalation zones in Syria as, like, we saw before with Russians and Jordan?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: In terms of the Geneva process, or what are you referring to?

QUESTION: No, de-escalations zones in Syria on the ground.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’ll get back to you on that question.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.



QUESTION: If I may --


QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.) Switch --


QUESTION: Switch the gear to Pakistan. Do you have anything on the claims that Pakistan is suspending the military and intelligence cooperation with the United States after the State Department announced it will suspend security assistance to Pakistan?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We stand ready to work with Pakistan in combatting all terrorists without distinction, and we hope to be able to renew and deepen our bilateral security relationship when Pakistan demonstrates its willingness to aggressively confront the Taliban network, the Haqqani Network, and other terrorist and military groups that operate from its territory. And we’ve been clear on that to the country of Pakistan.

QUESTION: It seems to be a unilateral suspension by Pakistan to suspend its military intelligence cooperation with U.S. Has the embassy received any official communication from the Pakistan officials, or they are just the announcement (inaudible) --



UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We have notified the American embassy of our position.

QUESTION: No, my question is after the U.S. announcement --


QUESTION: -- to suspend security assistance to Pakistan --


QUESTION: -- I think earlier this week a Pakistan senior official, which – who is the defense minister of Pakistan, unilaterally announced that they have suspended military aid --


QUESTION: -- and intelligence cooperation with the United States in retaliation.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We would like – we would like Pakistan to come to the table and assist us in this effort. There will – this is a suspension and not a cutoff. No funds have been reprogrammed, and we’re hopeful for future cooperation from Pakistan.

I spoke to the ambassador on Saturday morning, and he is hopeful – Ambassador David Hale – that Pakistan will join us in this effort. They’ve – the Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism, and its security forces have been effective in combatting the groups that target Pakistanis’ interest. So it’s to their benefit to join with us in helping resolve this matter.


QUESTION: Yeah, on Pakistan. One of the key concerns has been that if the Pakistanis get angry enough about what we’ve done here that they will cut off our resupply routes to Afghanistan, and particularly the lethal aid which is difficult to get in other ways. Is this – is the U.S. talking with the Central Asian countries or Russia about trying to expand resupply – like northern resupply routes to have alternatives if Pakistan cuts that off?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: We always look at that; but again, it’s a suspension and not a cutoff. We haven’t reprogrammed the funds. We’re hopeful that Pakistan will come back to the table and do what they told us that they would do.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Also on Pakistan. So two days ago, a senior --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Tell me your name. I’m sorry.


UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Nice to meet you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Pleased to meet you again. (Laughter.) So --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, it’s okay. I’m from Nashville, Tennessee; it’s sort of what we do. (Laughter.) Originally.

QUESTION: Two days ago, a senior White House official said that Washington is seeking to work with Beijing to convince Pakistan about the need to crack down the – on terror groups. Is the State Department involved in those efforts? What would be some of the concrete measures?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I will get back to you on that, but we’ve been very clear on the fact that all – that the Pakistani Government needs to take decisive action. And that’s as far as I can go on that point.

Who else? Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Hi. Can I just move back a little bit to the Iran nuclear deal? And I just want to know that is the State Department still in contact with the European countries and other parties in this deal? Do you just – in contact with them, or did they just contact you to give some suggestions or what their view on this deal?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Well, we always take the view of other countries. We are open to listening to what our allies --

QUESTION: Did they --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: -- and others have to say.

QUESTION: So did they express some concerns about the decision that President --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Those are not conversations that would be made public, but ultimately, it’s a decision that we have to make. And I will tell you we continually – we continue to monitor the situation in Iran carefully regarding the protesters. We reiterate our support for the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. And we condemn the arrest of peaceful protesters and any violence against them is not acceptable and not appropriate.

Yes, Dmitry.

QUESTION: May I ask on the JCPOA?


QUESTION: Has the Trump administration had any direct interaction with the Iranians over its new position on the JCPOA – essentially, a need to renegotiate – to renegotiate the agreement? And how the Iranians reacted to that?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: So your question is has the administration --

QUESTION: Has there been a direct interaction between you and the Iranians over this?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I just don’t have anything to add to that.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if I could – if I may, to use the same word, revisit the issue that was raised by Josh on the issue --

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: You may revisit, but I’m not – cannot go any further than what I’ve previously said, but I’m happy to have you revisit.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay, great. But we are talking about American citizen. I mean, I understand the issue of sovereignty and sovereign countries have their own way and their own sovereign decisions and so on.


QUESTION: But these are U.S. citizens. They are Americans that have offices in Washington, in New York, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem. They need to go back and forth. Their operations hindered. Many of them are aided like – or they are aided by USAID or facilitated by them, by you guys and so on. So you have no position on how Israel ought to address these American organizations, these American citizens when they want to go there?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’ve been very clear on our position, but I appreciate your question.

Robert wants me to cut this off. I’ll go a few more minutes, just because when people tell you to cut it off --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I’ve done this to so many people that I’ve worked for in my life that now that I’m in the position, I finally get to say no, let’s do a few more, and now I know what my bosses used to always feel like when I’d go, “That’s enough, sir,” or ma’am.

Who else? Wow.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: I will be here. Again, I’m happy to – if you need a --

QUESTION: Come back.

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Come back. Well, I’ve only got one “Come back,” so I don’t know about that.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)

# # #

[1] Foreign Minister.

[2] Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. Mr. Palmieri serves as the Senior Bureau Officer for Western Hemisphere Affairs.