2:47 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. How are you?
QUESTION: Doing good.
MS NAUERT: Getting a little bit of a late start today as we welcomed the Greeks and the prime minister of Greece to the White House earlier today where Secretary Tillerson was and joined in on some of those meetings.
I’d like to start today talking a little bit about our Deputy Secretary’s travel to Tokyo, Japan. Deputy Secretary John Sullivan held some bilateral meetings in Tokyo today with his counterpart, the Japanese vice foreign minister, as well as the national security advisor. In both of those meetings, the Deputy Secretary and his Japanese counterparts underscored the importance of close cooperation to place maximum diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on the DPRK to abandon its nuclear and missile development. The deputy also reiterated the importance of trilateral cooperation with Japan on the Republic of Korea to address the DPRK’s threat and range of other pressing regional and global issues.
The deputy enjoyed the chance to meet in person with American and local mission staff at a town hall meeting at our U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to convey the department’s appreciation for their vital contributions in advancing U.S. interests in Japan. I know they’ve been very hard at work in preparing for this trip as well as the President’s trip next month.
In addition, the deputy engaged business leaders and representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan to discuss concrete ways to advance U.S-Japan economic ties. The deputy’s meetings today will be followed by trilateral meetings with the ROK and Japanese counterparts in Seoul tomorrow to further enhance coordination in addressing the critical DPRK threat and other issues of mutual interest.
Next, I’d like to go over to Somalia, where we want to extend our deepest condolences to all Somalis, especially those who lost their friends and family in the senseless and barbaric attacks, including at least two U.S. citizens who were killed. We further wish for a speedy recovery for all of those who were injured. On October the 17th, a U.S. military C-130 carrying medical and other supplies landed in Mogadishu. The supplies are being distributed to hospitals and trauma centers there. USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance provided immediate disaster assistance, arranging for the delivery of emergency medical supplies and also the deployment of emergency medical teams. Thank you to them as always for their good work.
Next, I’d like to mention I think something that will be important to all of you as journalists: the murder of a journalist in Malta. Many of us have followed her stories quite closely. Her name was Daphne Galizia, and we want to condemn here at the State Department the appalling violence that took place against her in the strongest terms.
It was a cowardly attack that took the life of a talented and brave young reporter who dedicated her career to fighting the rule of law and shining a light on corruption. We’ve responded quickly to the prime minister’s request for assistance. The Government of Malta and Malta police force have been in contact with the FBI about the investigation, and the FBI is providing specific assistance as it has been requested. We call for a thorough, transparent, and independent investigation into the circumstances behind Ms. Galizia’s death. For specific information about that investigation, though, we would refer you to the Maltese investigators.
And finally, a story we’ve heard a lot about today, and that is Raqqa, coming out of Syria. I know a lot of you have reported on that today, so I wanted to give you some of the latest information that we have on our campaign to defeat ISIS there. As some of you have seen, the coalition spokesperson Colonel Dillon gave a briefing in Baghdad earlier today and said that we estimate that Raqqa is now 90 percent cleared and we are continuing to support our Syrian Democratic Forces to pressure the few areas where pockets of ISIS fighters now remain.
Over the past few days we’ve seen significant progress in the city, and many civilians have been assisted to safety by the SDF, bringing the local – the total to just under 3,000 civilians rescued in the last week alone. The liberation of Raqqa from ISIS’s brutal control is near, and this now represents an important milestone in our campaign to defeat ISIS. It is rapidly losing control of its so-called caliphate.
The United States and our allies have prepared for next steps and will continue to work with partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need and support the stabilization efforts in Raqqa and other liberated areas to include the removal of explosives left behind by ISIS, restoring basic services, and supporting local governing bodies.
ISIS had more than three years to prepare its defenses in Raqqa. It used women and children as human shields, it forced civilians and its own fighters to become suicide bombers, it mined schools and homes and drove vehicles loaded with explosives at our partners working to liberate their fellow Syrians. But in the end, it remains on the verge of losing its grip on Raqqa. We will work with our partners to finish the job in Raqqa until all Syrians and Iraqis are free from ISIS and the brutal terrorists are no longer a threat to the United States or the international community.
And with that, I will gladly take your questions.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Matt.
QUESTION: Hello. Before going back to Syria and Iraq and Raqqa, I just – you’re not going to have anything on this, I’m pretty sure, because it literally just happened.
MS NAUERT: Okay, try me.
QUESTION: But to put it on your —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: — put it on your radar screen and maybe we can get an answer to this taken – and I don’t expect much of an answer because it’s a court case.
MS NAUERT: Okay, go right ahead.
QUESTION: But a federal judge in Hawaii has just issued a nationwide injunction against the travel ban, the new travel ban 3.0, and so I want to know how exactly the department is going to deal with that in terms of its visa operations.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, that —
QUESTION: But I know that you won’t have anything and —
MS NAUERT: You were correct on that. I don’t have anything for you on that. It must have just happened moments ago. We’ve been tracking it. I thought it might be coming down tomorrow, but let me take a look at that and I’ll get you something when we have it.
QUESTION: Thanks. Now, on – unless someone wants to try on that issue, I want to go to Raqqa.
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: So you’re not prepared to say that the entire city has been liberated. Clearly, you said 90 percent, citing the —
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Not just yet. We want to be cautious about that.
QUESTION: So what is it, then, that you would like to see in place of – to replace the whatever kind of governance that the Islamic State had put in there? How is it that you want to see that? And is it still your intention just to, with your money, restore the very basic infrastructure and then kind of hit the road and leave it to others to rebuild in the longer medium term?
MS NAUERT: So let me start with the first part of your question first, and that is where things stand right now in Raqqa. The Pentagon has addressed this today. We are estimating it’s about 90 percent liberated. So I want to express caution because there could still be fighting and skirmishes and fighters there as well. So this is not over just yet, but this is a great step. We’re on the right path. We’re on the right track.
Once Raqqa is liberated and we, the United States along with its coalition partners – the 73 coalition partners have been working very hard on this for months and months now – what we would then next do is work on some of the demining. Eventually, we would get to the point where we would start to remove some of the rubble, get to the point where we would get the electricity going once again, providing clean water. The same types of things that the U.S. and coalition partners were able to do in Mosul – first in eastern Mosul and then in western Mosul. All of this takes time, but we have committed people who are willing to do this very difficult work to get the basics back for the people of Syria specifically in the area of Raqqa.
You then next asked the question what would the U.S. role be with the U.S. funding. And part of that is to restore basic services. That is our plan. It’s not the sort of the nation building that the U.S. Government previously engaged in in other countries. Right now we see our role as getting the basics up and running, and then eventually turning it over to some – to other countries and to that host country, if you will.
Up at the United Nations we had quite a few meetings that the Secretary participated in. The likeminded meetings of countries that were interested in this matter in Syria specifically, and some of the things that those countries expressed interest in was taking on a role in doing some of the bigger building projects. So we’re certainly welcoming other countries’ participation in that.
QUESTION: Right. But in terms of – but you see your role ending once the rubble is removed, once electricity is restored, once people have an adequate supply —
MS NAUERT: Well, I think —
QUESTION: — of clean drinking water? Or do you see a role extending beyond that to setting up or standing up a kind of local authority that can run the place?
MS NAUERT: One of the things that we’ve called for is for local officials to take over responsibility for the post-liberation security. We are certainly there right now. Our goal and mission right there in Syria is to defeat ISIS. That is exactly why we are engaged – the U.S. Government is engaged in Syria. And that’s really it, to defeat ISIS.
But we will assist and take essentially the lead in bringing back the water, electricity, and all of that, but eventually, the governance of the country of Syria is something that I think all nations remain very interested in. We have seen the people of Syria being put through horrific things. You see the video coming out of Syria. These towns have basically been decimated by ISIS, by what ISIS has brought upon them.
And we’re committed to the Geneva process. We’ve talked about that extensively here, where we support a credible political process for the future of Syria, where we see the Syrians being governed by Syrian people who are respectful of human rights. So that is something that we remain focused on. We have had some of our colleagues engaged in various meetings in other parts of the world to discuss this type of thing, so we’re not backing away from that. I just want to make it clear where we are and what our role is going to be.
QUESTION: Last one.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just – and this really isn’t intended to be snarky, although you’re going to take it that way, and – but it shouldn’t be and it’s not meant to be. But what kind of confidence should the people of Raqqa, or Syria more broadly, have in your ability to remove – in the U.S. Government’s ability to remove rubble, to restore electricity, to supply clean drinking water, when the – you seem to be having a very hard time doing that in Puerto Rico and in the Virgin Islands in your own country.
MS NAUERT: Well, look, Matt, these are very different situations, obviously. Okay?
QUESTION: Clearly, they are. But I mean —
MS NAUERT: And from the State Department, we would not comment on what is taking place in Puerto Rico. What I can tell you is that we have infrastructure, we have partners on the ground, and we have 73 coalition members who are all a part of the D-ISIS coalition who are engaged in helping to defeat ISIS, not only in Iraq and Syria as well, but also to get things improved for the folks there. So I hope that answers your question.
QUESTION: Heather, just to follow up —
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: — on this very point, but you do recognize that Raqqa is part of the Syrian state, correct?
MS NAUERT: Well —
QUESTION: I mean, until now you do recognize the state of Syria, the government of Bashar al-Assad as the legitimate government in Syria, and Raqqa is part of the Syrian state, correct?
MS NAUERT: I would not accept your characterization, as you put it. But we are aware, as you are aware – and we’ve talked about it here – the U.S. has certainly had talks with Russia – we won’t deny that – about the ceasefire, for example, that has held for the most part since about the 2nd of July, and that’s significant. That ceasefire has allowed coalition partners to go in there in that area, where the fighting has by and large stopped, and help bring in humanitarian assistance, and that is huge, to help bring in people who can remove the rubble, who can turn on the electricity again, who can get the clean water flowing, and eventually get children back into school.
So that is significant, and when we look at our overall relationship with the country of Russia, one of the things we intend to do is look for areas where we can see eye-to-eye. And where we can see eye-to-eye is defeating ISIS. And so that ceasefire has been successful, and we hope that it will continue to be so.
QUESTION: I understand, but you have always maintained your commitment to the unity of Syria. You want to keep Syria as a united country and not see it fragmented into small state-less kind of a thing, something that could happen in Raqqa, correct?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, Said, I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals about that, what could —
QUESTION: But could – you could —
MS NAUERT: — could happen. What we are – where we are today: 90 percent liberated according to our estimates. That is some terrific news. So I don’t want to take the focus off this terrific, hard-fought news that so many people – our U.S. forces, coalition forces – have incredibly hard to get to this point. They have seen success. I don’t want to take the focus off of the success that they have had at this point.
QUESTION: I’m Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English.
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: To follow up on Said’s point, Syria is in the middle of a civil war. It is still an intact state, as far as the United Nations is concerned, and there is a legitimate concern that now that the city is being liberated, the same fighters who originally took up arms against the Assad government may now find themselves being targeted by the Syrian regime. How does that go toward the U.S.’s larger goal of maintaining a unified and rebuilt Syria?
MS NAUERT: I don’t —
QUESTION: And then similarly —
MS NAUERT: Hold – let me answer.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. And similarly – let me finish.
MS NAUERT: Let me – excuse me, let me answer your first question first —
QUESTION: Similarly, in Iraq —
MS NAUERT: — because I won’t —
QUESTION: — the Iraqi Government has had difficulty —
MS NAUERT: I can’t even hear you. I’ll answer your first question first.
QUESTION: No, this – no, it’s the same point. In Iraq, we just saw this in Kirkuk.
MS NAUERT: You know what? I’ve already forgotten what you’ve said as you’ve gone on on your thing.
QUESTION: Well, you can be – you can – well, you can be dismissive, but the fact is —
MS NAUERT: No, I’m not. I would like to answer your first question first.
QUESTION: — this is a civil war inside Syria and it’s not fair —
MS NAUERT: Can anyone recall her first question? Otherwise I’ll just move on.
QUESTION: — and it’s not fair —
MS NAUERT: Okay. I’ll just move on then.
QUESTION: — for this to be – it’s not (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: Okay. Does anyone else have a question about Syria?
QUESTION: Syria, about Syria.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s stick with Syria if you have it. Hi, sir. How are you?
QUESTION: Thank you. You just said, Heather, that you support a credible political process.
MS NAUERT: I’m —
QUESTION: You said you support —
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: — after liberating Raqqa, you would support a credible political process.
MS NAUERT: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Do you mean Astana process? Geneva? Which one?
MS NAUERT: So the Geneva process is something that we —
QUESTION: And not Astana?
MS NAUERT: We have certainly been on the – not the outskirts, but we have been there while Astana talks have taken place. We’re not a participant in that, but we would support Geneva conversations about the future. Okay? All right.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Anything else?
MS NAUERT: Hi, Laurie. Let’s go to Iraq.
QUESTION: On Iraq —
MS NAUERT: Oh, and by the way, may I just say when I ask you all to please just give me one question at a time rather than having to respond to a litany of two or three or four questions at once, it helps me to be able to answer your questions succinctly. So pardon me. I’m sorry our journalist from Al Jazeera decided to leave the briefing room. I would have been happy to have answered her questions one by one, but she didn’t want to do that. So, okay, let’s move on. We’re – Laurie, you wanted to talk about Iraq.
QUESTION: On Iraq, individuals like Senator McCain and Senator Rubio and institutions like The Wall Street Journal have criticized you over Kirkuk, saying that you let Iranian-dominated forces directed by Qasem Soleimani attack a valuable ally, namely the Kurds, and this is the exact opposite of the tough new Iran – policy against Iran that the President just announced on Friday. What is your response to that?
MS NAUERT: Look, as we watch the situation unfold in Iraq, we continue to call for calm, to call for calm on the part of the Kurds, on the part of the government in Baghdad as well. We have made no bones about that. The Secretary is making calls to the region, I believe set for today. I know that this is something that he is watching very closely. The whole of the U.S. Government is watching the situation closely. Our U.S. forces have fought side by side with those in Iraq, whether it’s the north or whether it’s in the south, okay. We care deeply about what happens in Iraq. We continue to monitor the situation very closely.
We have monitored the movements of various vehicles and personnel in that. We see these as what has happened to be what I’ll call coordinated movements. I know some have reported it as attacks. We look at it from the standpoint of coordinated movements. Our advisers are not supporting the Government of Iraq and we’re not supporting the Kurdistan Regional Government activities. We’re trying to stay – we’re trying to get the situation calmed as best as possible.
QUESTION: Could you —
QUESTION: It’s not —
MS NAUERT: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Could you tell us who Secretary Tillerson is calling? Does that include Kurdish leaders?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of exactly who he is calling. I know he is making calls to the region, and so I just want to leave it at that. I’m not sure he’s – who they’re going to be able to get on the phone.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: Okay, if I —
MS NAUERT: Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: My final question. You say coordinated movements, and I understand that. But the complaint is that these movements were coordinated by Qasem Soleimani after he suborned the PUK leadership. Does that bother you?
MS NAUERT: Look, we’re not taking friends – I mean, we’re not taking sides. We are – excuse me. (Laughter.) We are not taking sides in that. I want to be clear about that. Look, that is why we continue to say, please, calm. We’re watching this situation very closely.
QUESTION: Can you say – has the offer that was in the statement that you put out yesterday – there was a suggestion that the offer to mediate or offer to help was out there on the table. Do you know, has that been taken up by anyone?
MS NAUERT: We – look, an actual offer to sit down and do something of that sort, I’m not aware of that. I can tell you, in addition to the Secretary making calls, our Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk is on the ground in Iraq right now. He’s holding meetings. Our ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador Silliman, is also engaged in a lot of meetings and conversations. So we are very engaged, heavily engaged in this. We want to see a unified, democratic Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you – where is Brett, in Baghdad or is he —
MS NAUERT: He’s in Iraq. I don’t – I —
QUESTION: You don’t know where?
MS NAUERT: Beyond that, I don’t know where exactly.
QUESTION: And then secondly – and I think this gets to the broader long question that Roz was trying to ask you – are you concerned about an Iranian —
MS NAUERT: What are you looking at over there?
QUESTION: The map.
MS NAUERT: Oh, the map. Okay.
QUESTION: It helps me focus if I look at Iraq on the map.
MS NAUERT: The blue blob map. (Laughter.) Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: Well, I – my geography’s good enough. I know where Iraq is.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Now, you made me forget my question. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: We’ll come back to you on that. Dave. Dave, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll pass.
QUESTION: It was Iran or Iranian influence.
QUESTION: Did the Government of Iraq inform you of its intentions to secure Kirkuk before the act?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: Would you have dissuaded them, had they done so?
MS NAUERT: Because I’m not aware of that, that would be a hypothetical. So if I have something on you – if somebody in the building has an answer on that, I will certainly let you know.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Quickly on the calls. I know you can’t say who he’s calling today, but has he spoken to President Barzani since the referendum occurred?
MS NAUERT: Yes, I believe he spoke with Barzani last – I think it was a week ago – you know what, let me check on that for you, okay? Let me just check. I – don’t go with that yet. I want to check. I want to be certain on that, okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re wrapped up with Iraq. Let’s —
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. One more on Iraq and then we’ll go to Afghanistan. Hi, Nazira. I hear you back there. Hi.
QUESTION: Heather there’s – just The Wall Street Journal editorial that —
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: — a lot of allies are feeling abandoned. You kind of see this feeling widely shared among the Kurds in social media. They say they fought alongside U.S. troops to topple Saddam Hussein. Kurdistan is – has been the place where no U.S. soldier has been killed or kidnapped or even wounded. And they say they even helped retake Arab territory such as Mosul because the United States asked them to do that and – but when they needed the United States, you basically tell them you’re on your own, you abandon them.
MS NAUERT: I would disagree with the last part of your assessment. Okay? We – and that’s why I wanted to say I recognize that our U.S. forces have fought alongside, have died alongside those from the south, those from the north, all Iraqis. We see it as a federal, unified, democratic Iraq. That is what we would like. The United States had cautioned against this referendum many months ago because we saw it as taking the focus off of the fight against ISIS, a entity that has so brutally decimated the people of Iraq. Doesn’t matter if they’re Kurds, Arabs, Shias, Sunni, doesn’t matter. They have hurt the people of Iraq. Iraqis are our friends and that’s why I want to go back to what we call for, which is a unified, democratic Iraq. Okay?
QUESTION: But this force that has taken Kirkuk, I mean, you can see their flags. They are Shia militias led by – like Qasem Soleimani was seen in pictures with them and —
MS NAUERT: My understanding – my understanding is that this had been – that this had been coordinated, that the Kurds were aware of the movements as they were taking place. I’m not the military expert, so I’d have to refer you to DOD beyond that. Okay? But that is my understanding.
MS NAUERT: Let’s just move on to Afghanistan now. Hi, Nizira. How are you?
QUESTION: Nizira Karimi, Afghan independent journalist. Heather, I – of course, you know that today in Afghanistan, three part of Afghanistan was in a big attack and so many people injured and has been killed and – first question. Number two: What do you think about the meeting between U.S., Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan? (Inaudible.)
MS NAUERT: So the meeting you’re talking about is the Quadrilateral – Quadrilateral – pardon me – Coordination Group, and that took place in Oman, right? That’s – that is what you’re referring to?
QUESTION: Yes, Oman, yeah, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So that group is an established format that allows the U.S, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and assess some of the steps that the countries can take to try to resolve that conflict through a negotiated political settlement. So the meetings took place – I believe it started on October the 15th. That meeting was attended by our Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, Ambassador Alice Wells. She participated in some of those meetings.
MS NAUERT: And what was the second part of your question, then?
QUESTION: About the attack in Afghanistan.
MS NAUERT: About the attack in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Yes. Lack of security increased.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Unfortunately, I do not have any of the details on that actual attack in Afghanistan. I know we’ve been monitoring it. I saw it sort of cross some of our wires earlier this morning. I think that just goes to further underscore the very difficult security situation in Afghanistan. That is one of the reasons that the President decided to do his overall Afghan review policy which included other countries in the region as well, recognizing that the U.S. has now been engaged in Afghanistan for 16 years now. The people of Afghanistan by and large, as you well know this – you’re from there – want peace. Too many people have seen the effects of the Taliban, of al-Qaida, of others, the Haqqani Network. We would like to see peace brought to that country and remain committed to try to see that get done.
Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Rich.
QUESTION: Hi, Heather. On Turkey —
MS NAUERT: All right, you get Turkey.
QUESTION: Turkey, there you go.
MS NAUERT: There you go.
QUESTION: Has there been any communication over the weekend and early part of this week with the Turkish Government regarding U.S. embassy employees who are held there, family members of U.S. employees who are held there?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let me give you a little bit of an update, and I don’t have a lot for you on that, but two members of our locally employed staff, as you may recall, were taken into custody not too long ago. They are still in custody today. They have still – the Government of Turkey has still not provided us the evidence. The Government of Turkey claims that they were engaged in some sort of terrorist-type activities. That’s obviously a very serious charge. We’d like to see the evidence on that. We have yet to see that evidence. If they have evidence, by all means, please do provide it, but we have yet to see it, and they are still in custody.
Our Deputy Assistant Secretary Cohen is on travel right there – there right now. It was a long-planned trip – that’s my understanding – but this is a subject that he certainly plans to bring up with local officials up there.
QUESTION: What we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, and really, honestly throughout the administration thus far – was it the assessment of the U.S. that Turkey is acting like an ally?
MS NAUERT: I think our relationship is – no surprise about this – it’s complicated at some times, as are many of our relationships with countries around the world. This certainly complicates matters. I hope and I think we all hope, as a strong NATO ally, as a NATO partner, that we will get through this. We’re optimistic. Secretary Tillerson has talked about being a diplomat, you have to be the nation’s top optimist, and I think that probably applies here as well. We’re concerned. We’re following it closely. We would certainly like to see the evidence. We certainly don’t want to have the people we employ be detained in this fashion, and especially detained without evidence, so we will continue to just watch it very closely.
QUESTION: And any plans for the Secretary to call his counterparts soon on this?
MS NAUERT: I’ll have to check the latest call list. I know he spoke with his counterpart in the – late last week, so I don’t have anything beyond that, though. Okay?
QUESTION: Don’t you see – don’t you see any progress in resolving the crisis? Because as far as I understand, the Turkish Government allowed – or at least the Turkish justice minister said that the Turkey staff member had met lawyers, his lawyers. Because when this thing started —
MS NAUERT: Yeah, my understanding is that one of our locally employed staff did finally have a chance to have a lawyer come visit him. Beyond that, we have not seen much action. We would like to see more of that. We would like to see the evidence and we would like to see our other locally employed staff member see an attorney as well. Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: And that’s all I have on that.
QUESTION: On Iran.
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: How about UNESCO pulling out? This move was a part of larger pattern of Trump administration to leave the international organization unilaterally. Are you concerned about the ramification of this withdrawal pattern to the U.S. global reputation and soft power in the longer term?
MS NAUERT: We covered this issue, actually, last week. Pulling out of UNESCO was something that the United States Government has looked at for a very long time, finally made the determination last week, and I would just refer you back to the transcript from last week.
MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: Ms. Nauert, please. I would like to ask you about the situation in Catalonia. Yesterday —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Tell me your name and you are from where, please?
QUESTION: Sorry. This is Eugenia from Cataluyna Radio. Nice to meet you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Welcome.
QUESTION: Yesterday the Spanish Government put in prison the two main leaders of the civilian independence movement. They are two pacifist figures who have lead and represented thousands of people in the streets. I would like to know, what is the position of the United States about Spain having political prisoners because of the political conflict with Catalonia?
MS NAUERT: Okay. First, let me just say we’re certainly aware of the press reports of those arrests that you just mentioned. I would have to refer you to the Government of Spain for information regarding the criminal investigations and/or prosecutions. Overall, we’re confident that Spain will act in accordance with its constitution and also its international commitments to address that issue. The United States continues – and our position on this has not changed – to support a strong and united Spain, and beyond that I’d just refer you back to the Government of Spain. Okay?
QUESTION: Tomorrow, the Catalan – the Catalan president —
MS NAUERT: Let’s move on to DPRK, right?
QUESTION: Okay, yes. Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: North Korea.
QUESTION: So yesterday in response to North Korea saying that they want to be able to have the security of having an ICBM that can reach mainland U.S., the State —
MS NAUERT: That’s security?
QUESTION: Yeah. The State Department put out something of a response to that, saying that the Secretary calls on North Korea to show that it’s serious about wanting to have talks, and a way of starting that would be to stop missile and nuclear tests. So at what point – I mean, what do you guys consider being serious about talks, then? I mean, what are the benchmarks? Would it be just not having a test for a given period of time? How does the world know when North Korea’s ready for talks?
MS NAUERT: I feel like we’re a little bit – a flashback to two or three months ago, where that was a big topic of conversation – what would they have to do? It is very clear and apparent to the whole of the U.S. Government that North Korea is not interested in sitting down for any kind of talks right now. That would certainly be our preference. Diplomacy is our preferred approach. We’re not giving up on that. Secretary Tillerson has been clear about that, as has Secretary Mattis and many others throughout the national security team.
We want North Korea to understand that it can choose a different path. It can choose a different path. It’s up to North Korea to change its course of action if they want to return to credible negotiations. They are not showing that they’re anywhere near desiring to have talks at this point with testing ballistic missiles, with doing advanced nuclear tests. They are not showing any kind of indication that they are interested and are willing in talking.
QUESTION: Right, but you guys brought it up and said that a start towards that end would be to not have tests. So —
MS NAUERT: Well, certainly that would be – that would certainly be a start. It would be a nice start if they would stop doing these illegal nuclear and ballistic missile tests. That would be a great start. We would certainly like to see that happen, but we haven’t really seen that take place yet.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
QUESTION: So why is that the response then? It seems like that was the response to what they had said, but you say that they are nowhere near that point. So why put it out there? Like, I’m confused as to when – when the U.S. is going to say, “Okay, this is a serious move.” Like, what would a serious move toward talks be?
MS NAUERT: I think we continue to watch, we continue to monitor the situation. We know that North Korea is feeling the squeeze of not only sanctions but our overall peaceful pressure campaign. We have had some very welcome news earlier this week with – just yesterday when the EU decided that it would ban some activities and some actions that would take place with North Korea. Last week we highlighted what the Government of Italy did in its decision to kick out the North Korean ambassador. We’ve seen lots of news reports about the overall pressure campaign working. So we know that that is starting to choke off the money supply of North Korea. That money supply they use to fund their programs. They use to threaten and undermine international peace and security with that money too.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
QUESTION: Can we stay on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay? Okay.
QUESTION: Can we go onto Cuba?
MS NAUERT: North – anything else on North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Janne.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Heather. United States has said that it will resolve the North Korean nuclear issues diplomatically. Is it diplomatic pressure or diplomatic negotiations, or what is it, like both of them, or negotiation and pressure?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think it’s diplomatic pressure, as we’ve seen with our pressure campaign. We have our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan in the region now holding trilateral meetings tomorrow with the Republic of Korea and also Japan. That’s an important step; it’s an important way to further cement our strong relationship with our allies and also highlight to the world the effects of the pressure campaign in starting to choke the money off that is going into North Korea.
Susan Thornton, our acting assistant secretary for East Asia Pacific, she’s in the region now. She’s not there; I believe she’s actually in Manila. But one of the things that she’s talking about is our pressure campaign as well.
So we’ve got sort of this whole-of-government approach where a lot of different individuals and different departments and agencies are focused on this, doing what they can to try to push for the eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s our goal. You’ve seen that on the part of Treasury where the secretary Steven Mnuchin has implemented various sanctions against North Korea. We see Ambassador Nikki Haley talking about that as well. She just gave a speech where she talked about 90 percent of the trade has – or exports have stopped going out of North Korea.
So we see this as being successful. We hope that this diplomatic approach will be successful in the end. And just to go back to something that Secretary Tillerson said again not too long ago, he’s got to be the most optimistic guy in the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: So when diplomatic options fail, is military options always possibility?
MS NAUERT: We have those kinds of options available for pretty much every eventuality around the world, so we’re always going to do that. And we continue to stress to our allies, especially those in the region who are perhaps most nervous about North Korea – Japan and the Republic of Korea – we’ve got your backs. We’ve got your backs; we will support you and defend you. U.S. citizens over there, of course, same thing. We have a lot of U.S. forces who are serving over there. We always have that option. But what we talk about here from this room and this building is diplomacy, and we’re remaining focused on that.
And we’re going to have to – we’re going to have to leave it at that, guys.
QUESTION: Just, I only have one question —
MS NAUERT: Yeah,
QUESTION: — on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
MS NAUERT: Okay, got it. One last —
QUESTION: It’s really, really quick. I promise.
MS NAUERT: You get one last thing, Said, and then we’ve got to go.
QUESTION: And this just happened.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israeli mini-cabinet just announced that they will not hold any talks with the Palestinians until Hamas recognizes Israel. And since any talk would happen under your auspices, what is your view on this?
MS NAUERT: Okay —
QUESTION: Do you —
MS NAUERT: I have not – I have not seen that report.
MS NAUERT: So I’m hesitant to comment on it without having read it —
MS NAUERT: — read through it or the information myself. But I do have something I want to tell you about in the region —
QUESTION: Yes. Go ahead.
MS NAUERT: — if you’ve got a sec to spare.
QUESTION: No, I have all the time in the world.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. So one of the things that we have talked about quite a bit is about bringing clean water to the West Bank and also to Gaza. We have talked about it for purposes of people’s daily use but also for agricultural reasons. Something that went sort of unnoticed over the weekend is a step that this administration took in trying to improve the daily lives of Palestinian people and what we believe could potentially enhance the prospects for long-lasting peace, and that is the U.S. Government, through USAID, announced a $10 million investment over the weekend to increase Palestinian access to that agricultural water. The – it was an expansion of what was called the Jericho Waste Water Collection System. It provides water to about 10,000 additional residents. So that may not seem a lot – like a lot to folks back here, but over there significant, right?
QUESTION: Very significant.
MS NAUERT: Okay. “Very significant,” Said said. All right, Said.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Puerto Rico. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: So let me just mention who was there for that. Presiding over that launch was our U.S. Consul General Donald Blum and also James – Jason Greenblatt, who is the President’s special representative for international negotiations. One of these days I look forward to bringing him over here so you can meet him.
QUESTION: Heather —
QUESTION: Ms. Nauert, one quick —
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I just talk quickly about the Cuba attack?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The President answered yesterday a question about whether or not he believes that Cuba is responsible for the attacks on U.S. personnel in the affirmative. And he said, “It’s a very unusual attack, as you know, but I do believe Cuba is responsible, yes.”
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: That runs counter to what you have told us so far, that the investigation is ongoing and that while you hold Cuba responsible for the safety of these diplomats you don’t hold them responsible for the attacks. Does the President know something —
MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve been clear in saying that an investigation is ongoing. I think what the President was saying and also what his Chief of Staff General Kelly was saying last week is the same thing that we have been saying, in that Cuba is responsible for protecting our U.S. embassy personnel, our diplomats who are serving down there, under the Vienna Conventions. That has been very clear all along. They have that responsibility. That is what they are supposed to do. They have not ensured the protection and the safety and security of our personnel down there, and that position hasn’t changed. That’s where we stand.
QUESTION: But with all due respect, that’s not what the President said.
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s what the intent was. We’ve not changed our view on that. The administration has not changed its view on that. The investigation remains ongoing. But we’ve also been clear about this, and at the State Department we tend to be super, super, super, super cautious about some of the things we say. But to anyone who knows anything about the Cuban Government and the past of the Cuban Government, it’s hard to imagine that certain things wouldn’t be known that were taking place on that island right there. Okay.
QUESTION: But you do acknowledge, though, that the President —
QUESTION: Regarding the (inaudible), Ms. Nauert.
QUESTION: — that the President’s comments caused some confusion. I mean, otherwise why did the department feel it necessary to send a cable to all the embassies and consulates around the world titled, “Clarifying the Cuban Stance,” after the comments were made —
MS NAUERT: Well, we always —
QUESTION: — and in which that cable says specifically that we have not assigned —
MS NAUERT: We always do send out cables that explain any kind of changes in U.S. policy, and my understanding that that cable was anticipated. That was something that we had —
QUESTION: Just coincidence that it was (inaudible)?
MS NAUERT: No, no, no. That is something that we had planned for in working on a cable that would go out across the world to alert people to some of the health concerns and areas and symptoms that people were experiencing. Okay, guys?
QUESTION: But still —
MS NAUERT: We got to leave it there. Thank you.
QUESTION: But hold on. That was – but that last thing you said, though —
MS NAUERT: Yes?
QUESTION: — and it’s something that you said last Thursday for the first time that it’s a small island and there’s no way that the regime wouldn’t know —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you now at least implicating that they’re complicit somehow in the attacks?
MS NAUERT: I am not saying that. An investigation is underway, but I will just highlight that people who know about the background of the Cuban Government, it would be hard to imagine that folks wouldn’t know exactly what would be going on with them that’s on borders. Okay?
QUESTION: But that sounds like you’re saying you have someone in Cuba, in the Cuban Government —
MS NAUERT: Guys, I’m going to leave it at that. Okay? Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Good to see you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:26 p.m.)