SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So what do you want to talk about?
QUESTION: Can I – I’ve got a couple things. I’ll try – I’ll make them very brief. One, is there anything that you can say on the record, preferably, but even on background about the verdicts in the Khashoggi case? And then I just – then I want to ask about Lebanon, but it’ll be brief.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Listen, I – we think the – these are, once again, on background. You’re going to hear variations of the same sort of statement from a lot of administration officials, I’m sure. Today’s verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for the terrible crime accountable. We’ve encouraged Saudi Arabia to undertake a fair and transparent judicial process, and we will continue to do so. We’ve urged for the full accountability for Khashoggi’s murder since day one. These verdicts are, as I said, a step – an important step in that process and this is a process – a judicial process that continues.
I know that there are some who would say that this hasn’t touched everybody responsible in the kingdom. We will continue to encourage transparency in that regard. I can say what we have done, which is we were the first country to designate individuals under the Global Magnitsky Act and similar authorities – 17 individuals – right after – very shortly after this happened. We – and have designated others including senior Saudi officials, and Qahtani, by the way, is one of those who we have designated.
QUESTION: Right, but Qahtani and Otaibi, the former consul general, were both basically acquitted, and you have found reason to believe that they have done something that warrants these sanctions being put on them. So is that not a disappointment to you, that people that you found to be somehow culpable have been exonerated?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we encourage them and continue to press them to hold those responsible.
QUESTION: If I could follow up on asking about Khashoggi. Would you release – you have called for transparency and accountability. Would you – you had someone from the embassy who attended almost every day. Can you tell us – surely you know the names of the five who were sentenced to death and that the reason —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, we do know the names. I’ll leave that up to the Saudis to release those names, but we do – yes, we do know the names.
QUESTION: Well, Agnes Callamard is one person who has said that it was the hit men who were sentenced and not the masterminds. Do you know – do you share that concern at all? Any details you can give us about the trial itself since that was closed?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let’s say I – we will get you more information on the trial when we’re prepared to talk about that. I think we will at some point be prepared to talk about that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Have there been any direct discussions between State Department officials and the Saudi Government since these revelations have come to fruition?
MODERATOR: Which revelations?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So since the trial verdict?
QUESTION: Since their verdict. Yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know.
MODERATOR: The trial was, what, this – when did they release it?
QUESTION: It was just released this morning.
QUESTION: This morning.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This morning. Yeah, I don’t – I don’t know —
MODERATOR: So that would have been afternoon – it would have been late afternoon Saudi time.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, so it’s – yeah. I mean, I don’t know – I haven’t – today’s my first day back in the office in a week. I was traveling. But yeah, I can’t tell you whether that – whether we’ve engaged with them in any way since then.
MODERATOR: We need to talk to the ambassador.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
MODERATOR: I mean, it wouldn’t – I would assume that they have, but we’d have to talk to the ambassador to confirm that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: On the same topic, you —
MODERATOR: And then this is the last one on this topic, because he’s not going to change the answer, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, maybe we can try. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: We get paid to try.
QUESTION: Well, we – you said it’s an important step, but the way —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. These are the first —
QUESTION: — the way it was presented by the Saudis seem to be, “Okay, that’s done. We have the responsible, we have the exonerated, and it was not premeditated. Done. Done deal.” Do you call them to do what?
MODERATOR: Did they say “done deal”? I didn’t hear that.
QUESTION: No, but it seemed to be as a —
MODERATOR: That’s your inference. That’s how you interpreted.
QUESTION: I do.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, we can take —
MODERATOR: I don’t know that we’d interpret it the same way as you do.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, that’s essentially the answer. We continue to press them for full transparency. We’ve said all along that we thought that the – that this – that the process was necessarily imperfect, but we’re pressing them for more transparency and for holding everybody accountable.
QUESTION: And it’s your assessment too that it wasn’t premeditated? The U.S. —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s not something – I don’t – I’m not going to comment on my assessment of that.
QUESTION: No, the U.S. assessment.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, I think the Secretary has made several comments on this, I think there’s —
QUESTION: Maybe I missed – what —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — senior U.S. Government officials on the record.
QUESTION: What’s the status of the U.S. investigation?
MODERATOR: That’s – that wouldn’t be with us; that would be with DOJ, I assume, if there is anything. I don’t know if – there’s not – I don’t think that’s with us. But we do – I mean, we had GloMag last week, or the week before. It’s all starting to run together. No, week before last, on the 9th. Tenth.
MODERATOR: Whatever it was, we had it.
QUESTION: Or it was —
MODERATOR: And we would certainly call on everybody around the world to join us in over 68 designations around the world. We remain the only country that’s taken serious action in places like Burma. We continue to hold the Iranians accountable where they – we’ve held Saudis accountable.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, you saw news that – so Khashoggi was awful, right? I knew Khashoggi, as all of you probably did. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that 1,500 people have been killed during recent weeks in Saudi Arabia, according to Reuters – sorry, in Iran, according to Reuters. I’m not changing the subject, but there’s a lot of atrocities that happen.
QUESTION: But I am. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s a lot of atrocities that occur around the world on a daily basis.
MODERATOR: Including China.
QUESTION: Whether or not – how many people were killed in Iran really has no bearing on a guy being killed in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. This —
MODERATOR: We – but this administration has been very outspoken on it.
QUESTION: I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the Saudis.
MODERATOR: Just within the past few weeks, the Chinese have overtaken the Turks as jailing more journalists than anyone in the world.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Really?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: My God.
MODERATOR: I know. You’d think people would report that. But anyway, we’re done with Khashoggi.
QUESTION: Can I ask about just Lebanon? And I’ll make it really brief.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Lebanon’s fine.
QUESTION: So how seriously jeopardized are – is their money or is their aid now from the U.S. since we are seeing – we’re seeing the beginning of the formation of a new government? If he’s not Hizballah, he’s Hizballah’s choice of who’s going to be the prime minister. And there was a report that Hale told them that if they’re – if they have any government ministries, presumably including the health ministry that they had in the last couple of – that they’re done.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we had – so I think there’s a number of questions in that question, right. We have worked before – the United States Government has worked before with the Lebanese governments that have had Hizballah. Hizballah’s been a partner in the last government, right, and Saad Hariri as prime minister has sat in coalition partners with Hizballah several times. We find a way to work with the Lebanese Government that is productive within certain constraints. And we have done so in the past.
Our principles on Lebanon, notwithstanding who may or may not be the next prime minister – because although we have a prime minister-designate, it’s unclear whether they will be able to find a government, be able to form a government – is that this government must be capable of and committed to pursuing reform and fighting corruption. We are highly skeptical that a government led by Hizballah would be capable of or committed to fighting corruption. This is an organization that depends greatly on corruption for its survival and funding its criminal enterprise and terrorist activities.
So – but if by chance they do – are able to form a new government, we will look at it and see how – whether they are committed to reform, and we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you say you found a way in the past to work with the government of Lebanon, and it’s been —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, yeah, we’ve – we’ve had to – we’ve had foreign ministers of Lebanon —
QUESTION: Well, let me – yeah, yeah, yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — who have been Hizballah, and we have still had diplomatic relations with Lebanon.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that hasn’t come against the backdrop of the mounting amounts of pressure on the Hill that you’re well aware of that is being directed your way, and these people are now going to the White House, directly to the President, telling him that the deep state is screwing around here and pushing this military money – military assistance —
MODERATOR: Did (inaudible) give you your questions?
QUESTION: No, I just – (laughter). I read – I read him in The Free Beacon under someone else’s byline. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Okay, what was the question?
QUESTION: Well, the question is that you found in a way in the past —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’m not going to comment. We’re not talking about the deep state – we’re not talking about the deep state here, all right? We’re talking about our policy on Lebanon. And we have interagency support for this. We just went to France to participate in the – I just went to France for the ISG, Iraq’s international support group, and we came up with a consensus, surprisingly, with the French, with the British, with the Italians, with the Russians, with the Chinese, that nobody is going to consider bailing out Lebanon financially to have – for a government that is not committed to reform, that is not committed to fighting corruption. They have to do something, and so we will see what they can do.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Lebanon?
MODERATOR: Go ahead, Nadiya.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Lebanon with Matt’s question, but kind of a different angle. Were you saying that in the past you managed to work with the Lebanese Government even if they were in partnership with Hizballah? Now we have a historical demonstration that people will not accept even a nominee like this guy, Hassan Diab, that he’s affiliated or is considered as a Hizballah candidate. So if you manage to find a way, won’t you be seen as —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We – so we’ve also – we’ve also said that we support the legitimate demands of the people of Lebanon and we support the protestors’ demands. So, like I said, it’s not even clear to me that he’s going to be able to successfully form a government. Right? Much of that depends on the Lebanese people.
QUESTION: Right, but it is already – as you know Lebanon very well, there’s already talks that Ambassador Hale’s meeting with Gebron Khalid – with Gebron Bassil for over two hours, is being given as the wrong message that the Americans are actually supporting this current government. So how do you respond to that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: First of all, we meet with everyone. Gebran Bassil happens to be the leader of the largest Christian political party in Lebanon. Now, are you recommending that we don’t meet with the – with a —
QUESTION: I’m just giving you the impression that people are saying.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. No, I understand. Like, I understand. I’ve heard feedback from – from the trip. You read all sorts of stuff. I just read An-Nahar some of the craziest stuff, talking about a prisoner exchange between the United States who would, in hopes of freeing an American citizen who is being detained wrongfully, we believe, according to Lebanese law, because the statute of limitations ended – what they’re accusing him of occurred more than 20 years ago – in exchange for Tajideen, right, the convicted terrorist and Hizballah financier. And I can read this in a mainstream Lebanese newspaper. It is not true.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s patently false. Right? So don’t believe everything you read.
MODERATOR: Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about your talks in Egypt? Iraq and Libya came up.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: They seem to be boosting their support for Hiftar. What message did you convey to them? Is that a concern for you? Can you talk a little bit about that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That is a – Libya is an enormous concern for us. As you know, we are following closely and been participating in this Berlin process, which may end up with a summit in January or some sort of ministerial or some sort of high-level meeting. The situation is escalating. It’s – you point out the increased Egyptian support for Hiftar, but I am most concerned about increased Russian support for Hiftar, increasing numbers of Russian mercenaries on the ground, increasing number – amount of violence, shelling of civilian areas in Tripoli, and of course, the prospect of increased Turkish involvement on behalf – on the side of the GNA. We have intervened with both parties, with both the GNA and the LNA, and have expressed to them our concerns and have asked some of the major foreign partners to stay out.
QUESTION: What was their response to that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We continue to press for an end of this foreign intervention, which is, as I think I told you guys a couple months ago, incredibly destabilizing and I think is leading one party or the other to believe that they can win, they can win militarily, something that we believe would come at substantial civilian casualties and just not a positive – a positive result. So we continue to advocate for political talks, a negotiated solution, and are backing the Berlin process.
MODERATOR: We both have meetings so I’m going to let Jessica go last.
QUESTION: Just a quick question. The Western-backed government has asked the U.S. for help. Is that something that you would actively consider if the situation were to deteriorate really fast in Tripoli?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Military assistance? Right now, we continue to push the diplomatic and negotiated solution. You had Victoria Coates who had a meeting with Hiftar not long ago. We’re in constant contact with him. We’ve met with Sarraj and his representatives recently. We will continue to do so at senior levels, and we’ve got a full-court press on the allies, and I expect the partners of both the GNA and the LNA will be there in Germany for this conference later in January.
QUESTION: But also isn’t the U.S. committed to the arms embargo of Libya, so you cannot give military assistance?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We are – it’s a joke, but I think the United States is the only country in the world —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: — that is abiding by the arms embargo. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: And on that happy note —
QUESTION: Wait, what’s a joke? That you’re abiding by it or that – (laughter).