QUESTION: Good morning.
MODERATOR: I think everyone has met [Senior State Department Official]. He is going to be speaking this morning on background, attribution to a senior State Department official. And I’ll turn it over to him to make an initial statement, and then we’ll field your questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good morning. I’m going to read you guys something first, some of my thoughts from this week, a wrap-up of UNGA. It’s clear from the E3 statement, and the meetings with our interlocutors, that Iran is responsible for the attacks on Saudi Arabia. We welcome the statements and will continue the maximum pressure campaign until the Iran regime ceases its destabilizing behavior that threatens not only the Middle East but freedom of navigation and global energy flows.
We worked with the UN to advance the political process in Syria with the announcement by Secretary-General Guterres of an agreement between Syrian parties to form a constitutional committee. As the Secretary stated in his remarks yesterday, the Assad regime’s atrocities, including the use of chemical weapons on May 19th, will not go unchallenged. The U.S. will continue to pressure the Assad regime to end its brutal violence against Syria civilians. Ambassador Jeffrey briefed you all yesterday evening, I believe, on our Syria policy objectives.
So on other fronts – on Yemen, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the UN OCHA co-hosted a multilateral conference on Yemen humanitarian assistance on the margins of the UN – UNGA. The conference addressed the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and encouraged donors to fully fund the 2019 U.S.-Yemen – UN-Yemen humanitarian response plan. During the event, the Saudi foreign minister finalized plans for Saudi Arabia’s disbursement of $500 million of the funds it pledged for Yemen’s humanitarian assistance. He basically went out there with a publisher’s clearinghouse check for 500 million and turned it over to the UN.
The U.S. is also one of the largest donors to the Yemen humanitarian crisis and has provided more than 2 billion since 2015. We continue to work with our partners to achieve a political solution to the conflict.
At the GCC ministerial, the President and the Secretary brought together key partners to discuss the important – the importance of regional coordination to confront the regional challenges, including Iran. If there is a bloc of nations in the UN that it has been able to count on over the years, it’s these countries.
In Iraq, the Secretary and the President both had productive meetings with Iraqi President Barham Salih. The Iraqi delegation also joined a meeting with the GCC and Jordan to discuss a range of regional concerns, including the integration of Iraq’s electric grid with those of its GCC neighbors to ensure more reliable power for Iraqi customers and less direct reliance on Iranian energy.
And finally, on Libya, the U.S. is actively engaged to support international efforts under UN auspices to de-escalate the conflict there and facilitate a return to the political process. As a part of this effort, U.S. officials have in the last two weeks underscored in multiple meetings with key Libyan, regional, and European leaders the need for all actors to respect the UN arms embargo, de-escalate the conflict, adopt a ceasefire, and move forward toward a political process. There is no durable military solution in Libya, as nearly six months of fighting in an effort to take Tripoli demonstrate. The conflict is destroying the country’s infrastructure, leading to thousands of displaced families, opening space for terrorist resurgence, especially in the south, and threatening Libya’s vital oil infrastructure and production.
The United States looks forward to ongoing discussions facilitated by Germany in the coming weeks to advance Ghassan Salame’s efforts to reopen political dialogue among Libyan stakeholders that will lead to a reunification of state institutions, transparent and fair distribution of oil wealth among all Libyans, and secure the political stability.
I’m done reading. Anyone have any questions?
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], just a quick couple questions. One is on the Saudi announcement from DOD, the announcement of the 200 forces and the additional Patriots. Are those forces in addition to the 500 Americans who were in Saudi, or is it swapping out for new forces? Is the number increasing, and then —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, the number is increasing.
QUESTION: The number is increasing, okay. And then the —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And there’s more than – and there’s more than 500 currently on the ground.
QUESTION: How many —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not going to give you a number.
MODERATOR: Go to DOD for details on that.
QUESTION: And then just a quick – on the Patriot battery, do you know when that will arrive? And do you think that if that battery had been there, it would have been able to stop those sprays?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not going to speculate on whether it would or wouldn’t. It’s pretty hard to track these light cruise missiles that are flying very low to the ground. So let’s say that if there are more Saudi assets and our assets pointed north, that would be a good thing that will better protect Saudi Arabia. Right now, and because of recent months and years, understandably, Saudi assets were pointed mostly toward the south. So more assets will enable them to have better coverage necessarily.
QUESTION: And what’s the —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have a timeline for you. Go ask DOD. I would think weeks rather than months.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I had a question on Egypt.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Good morning.
QUESTION: Okay. Demonstrations are continuing in Egypt and authority has fired tear gas on demonstrators. Do you have anything to – any comment on that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I do. The United States supports the right of Egyptians to express their political views freely, the right to associate, the right to political protest, peaceful political protest. We’re following developments on the ground. We understand there have been a number of arrests, and we call upon the Government of Egypt to protect citizens’ ability to exercise these rights peaceably.
QUESTION: It’s over 2,000 arrests so far.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I don’t have the current figure. I saw from last week or earlier this week, and I saw 1,900. But —
QUESTION: Today The Guardian said over 2,000. Do you think these protests will end by toppling Sisi or not?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We support the right of Egyptians and all people to demonstrate peaceably.
MODERATOR: Okay, next question, right there.
QUESTION: Hi. Can I have a follow-up on Egypt? Were there any discussions about the American nationals that have been detained in Egypt? And then on Iran, can you address the comments that President Rouhani made this morning about the lifting of all sanctions in exchange for talks?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, we’re monitoring the situation closely in terms of U.S. – and keeping U.S. citizens informed of the situation on the ground. But I’m unaware of – what was the exact question about? Dual-nationals being arrested in Egypt now during these protests?
QUESTION: There have been a number of dual-nationals who have been detained in Egypt for months and months under purportedly —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s – well, I wasn’t in the meeting with the President and Sisi, but this is something the Secretary routinely raises with his counterparts.
QUESTION: And then on the Iran question, Rouhani’s comments about lifting sanctions, can you address those?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, I think the President answered it pretty clearly. The answer is no.
MODERATOR: Next question, right there.
QUESTION: My name is Ryo Nakamura working for Nikkei, Japanese media. My question is on Iran. There are some countries such as Japan or France who are – to help play the intermediary role between U.S. and Iran. Then can you give us your assessment on their effort, and what would you expect them to do from now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, sure, thank you. I mean, I think the United States Government appreciates the efforts of Japan and France to play a positive and mediation role. Certainly we recall back a few months ago what happened with Japan with Prime Minister Abe going and delivering, I think, a message of openness of the United States to engage with Iran in negotiations, and the Iranian Government responded by blowing up a Japanese vessel in the Gulf.
I think these efforts can only go so far. We don’t need mediation; we need the Iranians to accept direct talks with the United States, and we are willing to do so. But that’s up to the Iranians. So we thank you for your efforts on our behalf.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Next question, Matt.
QUESTION: Can I just go to Lebanon? Was there any Lebanese component to this week that you were involved in, and what’s the – if there was, what was it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, actually, I didn’t see the Lebanese delegation here, but only a week and a half ago I was in Lebanon, or two weeks ago, and met with the president, the speaker of the parliament, the prime minister, the foreign minister, and had dinner with 50 Shiite businessmen who are anti-Hizballah. But there was no senior U.S. Government engagement, I don’t believe, certainly not from NEA, with the Lebanese here.
QUESTION: Well —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Although I did see people from Lebanon here, but not official engagement.
QUESTION: Okay, I’m just curious if there is any movement on the assistance to the LAF.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s in the works – the assistance. We have – I believe the money has been obligated, has been notified, so I don’t know if it’s been disbursed yet. I can get back to you on that – the latest tranche.
MODERATOR: All right, in the back, if you could identify yourself for the transcript.
QUESTION: Right. Atsushi Takemoto with Kyodo. Thanks for doing this.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: Could you give us a number, the latest number, of countries that will join the maritime security —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The maritime security – I’ll get back to you. I don’t have the number on that.
QUESTION: Would you say some countries were added recently during this UNGA?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: During UNGA I’m not sure. We had just last week, I believe you had the Saudis and the Emiratis join, but I’ve not seen the latest, the latest number. And we’re still in discussions with our European counterparts who want to do something. Whether it’s part of this framework or related to this framework, they are willing to make contributions to this effort and we’re still in discussions with them.
QUESTION: What is your assessment on the counterproposal by – made by Rouhani?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Made by Rouhani?
QUESTION: Yeah. I forgot the exact name, but he brought up his peace —
QUESTION: His proposal of the —
QUESTION: He said —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — peace coalition?
QUESTION: Peace coalition, yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (Laughter.) Yeah, no. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Yeah, if anything, I think the statements from Rouhani that have been —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We don’t think it’s produced – don’t think – we don’t think it’s productive.
MODERATOR: Pretty uninteresting. Okay, next question.
QUESTION: Paolo Mastrolilli with the Italian daily La Stampa. Could you elaborate on what the United States could do in order to facilitate stabilization in Libya, if there is anticipation to reopen the embassy in Tripoli?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, well, we had I think a productive meeting yesterday, a closed meeting on Libya, and I met, as did other U.S. Government officials, with Ghassan Salame as well.
Listen, a key element going forward is some sort of enforcement of an arms embargo. This has not been – we’ve had very little traction, very little luck in getting an agreement on this and an effective enforcement mechanism of that embargo. This has turned into, I think in a way, a microcosm of regional rivalries that are playing out in Libya and it is spurring on the conflict. And as I mentioned in my previous comments, my prepared remarks, the United States has many interests in Libya – the end of the war, a unified nation-state emerging that will be a productive member-state of the United Nations, a prosperous state, an end of migration running through Libya toward Europe, and the free flow of oil. But the primary U.S. interest is counterterrorism and that is suffering greatly with this war and that – sooner or later, that will end up also being exported beyond Libyan borders. So there’s many reasons why we have to end this, but a key way of doing that is through the arms embargo.
I also saw this week Sarraj, and I think part of this effort moving forward is to, once again, get the parties back together – that is, Haftar and Sarraj. It’s going to be – it’s going to be pretty difficult. We’re moving on next week to a discussion of this I believe in Germany, so we’re moving on to next steps. But Secretary-General Guterres made remarks yesterday; he’s really focused on this issue right now.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next question. Humeyra.
QUESTION: Humeyra Pamuk from Reuters. We had the briefing yesterday on Syria, but there was talk of a reasonable response and then there was mention of maybe diplomatic and economic response, but then Ambassador Jeffrey said we don’t want to tie ourselves down in the military as well. There seems to be that —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Was that with the chemical weapons use?
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: There was a little bit of lack of clarity on what kind of response there will be and whether there will be a response. Can you sort of talk a little bit on that and when we should be expecting a response? Or like —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’d say Jim knows better than me.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ve got like 18 countries, Jim’s got one. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s a very constant —
MODERATOR: So he’s very focused. So he’s very focused. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But I would say – listen, I think Jim probably mentioned – Ambassador Jeffrey – that we’re rolling out a series of sanctions against some Russian groups that were involved in this. We are giving $4.5 million to the OPCW to continue its very important work. The British have signed on.
I don’t know what the response will be. This is still under discussion. But I think it really, in the most general sense, really highlights the sort of continued I guess really atrocious way that the Assad regime and its Russian allies continue to prosecute this war outside of any international norm.
MODERATOR: Okay. Anyone? In the back and then we’ll come back up.
QUESTION: Hiba Nasr, Sky News Arabia.
MODERATOR: Hi, Hiba.
QUESTION: Hi. My question is on Iran. The Secretary said the Europeans now are more convinced that the framework of the JCPOA – the existing one – is not working. If the Iranians refuse to negotiate now, do we expect multilateral – sorry – yeah, sanctions from the Europeans?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I mean, there’s just been enormous progress this week. I mean, I think – the Iranians, I think they – who would have imagined that attacking a sovereign nation-state the week before UNGA would be a bad thing for Iran? That’s sarcasm. It doesn’t translate well. No, I mean, I think it just pulled the – us together with our European partners, the – how brazen this attack was, that the Europeans have sort of signed on to it, also understand that the JCPOA, that – many of them see that the JCPOA is not something we should be returning to, that that has to be fixed. And it also has to – any future agreements have to encompass a wider, broader sort of purview that includes also the regionally destabilizing behavior and ballistic missile development. And I think this is a good thing. The administration is committed to this multilateral approach, and hopefully that will result – and we’re working on getting a more multilateral, international approach from our partners, who will join with us in trying to isolate Iran for this type of behavior.
QUESTION: Was it your impression that that attack in – the Aramco attack – was the galvanizing thing that tempered the European enthusiasm for trying to arrange something between the President and Rouhani? Or —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, well I – yeah, I don’t – listen, I – it’s my belief – and then – so just one guy out there. I think the French want to be as helpful as possible, and even after this, I think they were making efforts to set a meeting. But I think it really was an eye-opener for many of our European partners of what the Iranians are actually capable of, right. It’s not only how advanced and sophisticated the attack was and how accurate the missiles were, but it’s how brazen that they would do this. It was unimaginable I think to many of them that the Iranians would until this point pursue things that had elements of plausible deniability, that that was maybe how far they would go. But this, I think it changed things for many of our European allies. Yeah, yeah, it’s a galvanizing —
MODERATOR: Back up front.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) a follow-up about Libya. You mentioned talks in Germany.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to be there, and who’s going to be representing the U.S.? And on more specifically the talks, only the arm embargo or the political solution?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it’s going to cover the broad range of Libya-related issues. It’s probably going to be a working-level meeting, so whether this is – probably at the DAS level, office director level, both, I – our ambassador will attend, our ambassador to Libya will attend.
QUESTION: The United States – President specifically spoke with Haftar, but he did not speak with Sarraj, internationally recognized leader over there. Is there anything that coming up?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: By the way – so I met with Sarraj with our political director, Under Secretary David Hale, so we are – it’s a pretty high level in the U.S. Government. I can’t speak to the President’s schedule. He’s a pretty – pretty busy guy. So I don’t think that’s an intended slight at all. We had a very good meeting with Sarraj.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Sudan?
MODERATOR: Okay, no, sorry. The – moving on.
QUESTION: One more on Iran. Were there any face-to-face meetings between members of the U.S. delegation and the Iranian delegation (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was some tweet from Rouhani that suggested that. It’s my understanding that no current U.S. administration officials met with Rouhani.
QUESTION: Were there former administration officials that met on behalf of you?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think – no, I – listen, I’d say that my understanding is that Rouhani went to CFR. I think he met – I think he saw Bill Richardson there, maybe Jim Flaherty, maybe John Kerry, but – so those count as former administration officials, but not former Trump administration officials.
QUESTION: So no one on behalf of the administration met with anyone from Iran?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I can’t – I can’t speak for the whole U.S. Government (inaudible).
MODERATOR: We’ve answered the question. We’ve answered the question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah.
MODERATOR: Last one, in the back.
QUESTION: Shaun Tandon with AFP. Just wanted to see if there are any engagements this week on – with the Palestinians. Obviously, the situation there is – but —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, the – there was a couple UN events that the U.S. Government did attend.
QUESTION: And in terms of the nature of the talks, was there anything discussed about – Abbas in his address said that he was quite concerned, of course, over Netanyahu’s threat about annexation. Was that something that was discussed at any level?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t even know. I know that there were UN events that related to sort of humanitarian issues in the Palestinian areas that U.S. officials, senior U.S. officials attended. But I don’t know what was said there. I haven’t gotten the readout yet.
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. Appreciate everyone being here today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.