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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

State Department Spokesperson Briefing at Foreign Press Center

Heather Nauert
Department Spokesperson

The Washington Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
January 25, 2018




MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you all? Thank you so much for coming today, and thank you for your patience. I’m so sorry to have been delayed so much. We had a lot of stuff going on at the State Department. We are redoing some of our press briefing room with some new lights there, and so hopefully government lights will be more like private sector television lights in the future. But we’ll see.

So we’re glad to be back here with you today. I did a little gaggle with our bullpen, our press at the State Department earlier, so that’s what delayed me. So my apologies.

A few announcements I’d like to make at the top, so get comfortable, because this might take a little bit. First, I’d like to read out part of the Secretary’s travel to Europe. This is his fourth day on the trip. He’s in Davos today accompanying President Trump as part of the U.S. delegation. As you all know, when the Secretary travels with the President, he pretty much follows the President’s schedule. I know the White House put out a schedule of the President’s events, so I’m going to have to refer you to the White House for most of the details about the specific schedule today.

But I did want to let you know about two bilateral meetings that the Secretary conducted in addition to the schedule that he has with the President. Shortly after arriving in Davos, Secretary Tillerson was able to sit down with Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. And then in the evening, the Secretary met separately with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. I don’t have the details of that readout, but if we get them, I’ll be sure to pass them on along to you.

The Secretary will remain in Davos tonight before he heads to Warsaw tomorrow afternoon. In Poland, he’ll meet with senior Polish officials to discuss a range of issues on the strong U.S.-Poland bilateral relationship, including global challenges, regional security, and economic prosperity. On Saturday, the Secretary will lay a wreath at the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Later Saturday, we expect he will return to Washington after what we see as a very productive trip.

In addition to that, I’d like to mention something that was of concern to the United States. We’ve seen some new troubling media reports that Russia intends to sell Su-30 fighter jets to the Burmese armed forces. The reports, if confirmed, serve as another reminder of Russia’s continued efforts to arm militaries that flagrantly violate human rights. While the majority of the world is seeking a peaceful resolution to conflicts in Burma, the Russian Federation is actively taking steps that may lead to greater suffering and instability. It is longstanding U.S. policy not to provide Burma’s military with training, weapons, or other military technology. This is a consensus that is shared by the majority of the international community, and that’s been in place for decades.

During the most recent crisis in Burma’s northern Rakhine State, ethnic cleansing and other abuses involving security forces prompted the flight of 680,000 ethnic Rohingya to Bangladesh. That’s just since the month of August of 2017. The United States has provided nearly 95 million in humanitarian assistance since the start of the Rakhine State crisis, and many other governments have contributed to that effort as well.

Russia could demonstrate its support for peace by providing humanitarian assistance rather than aggravating the situation with weapon sales. While the Russian Federation has said it favors constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis in Burma, the reports of plans to sell advanced military technology, if true, show otherwise. We urge the governments of both Russia and Burma to reconsider a further buildup in arms and fully commit their efforts to finding a peaceful and stable solution to that crisis.

Since you’re all journalists, I wanted to touch on this issue in particular. We are committed to protecting and promoting the exercise of freedom of expression by advancing and advocating for a free press around the world. We continue to engage governments to address specific cases of abuses against journalists and on laws and practices that unduly restrict freedom of expression. At the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, the United States sponsors and supports resolutions calling for the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and the safety of journalists both online and offline. We continue to engage with and support the mandate for the UN special rapporteur and freedom of opinion and expression. We are a leading voice in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, in defense of freedom of expression -- both online and offline -- and support the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media.

In Burma, for example, we have repeatedly raised our concerns at the highest levels of that government with plans to charge two Reuters reporters under the Official Secrets Act. We urgently call for their immediate and unconditional release.

In China, we have repeatedly called on authorities to unblock U.S. media websites, eliminate restrictions that impede the ability of journalists to practice their profession, and allow all individuals in China to express their views without fear of retribution.

In Turkey, we remain seriously concerned about the widespread arrest and pretrial detention of journalists critical of the Turkish Government. We urge Turkey to end its state of emergency, respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence and other human rights and fundamental freedoms, and release those journalists and others who are held arbitrarily under emergency rule.

In Pakistan – and this is something new that’s taking place now – we are very concerned about the Pakistani Ministry of Interior’s decisions to close the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty’s[1] Radio Mashaal in Islamabad on January 19th. We have conveyed our concerns to the Government of Pakistan and we urge Pakistan to swiftly and unequivocally revoke the closure decision and restore Radio Mashaal’s operations.

The Sudanese Government must improve its performance in protecting fundamental freedom of expression. The United States condemns the recent harassment, the arbitrary detention, and attacks on journalists in their country simply for doing their jobs. The negative trends reflect continued actions by governments to stifle dissent and increase government control over free expression in print and online. The United States supports freedom of expression, including for members of – freedom of the press, and fundamental to any democracy. We reiterate that the same rights that individuals have offline must also be protected online – in particular, freedom of expression. Thank you for allowing me to do that. I’m proud of the work that all of you do.

One more thing I’d like to mention, and that is a private partnership that the United States Government has with – between USAID, one of our sister agencies, and also the company Mastercard. Yesterday, the United States Agency for International Development, USAID – the administrator, Mark Green, and Mastercard Executive Vice President of Public-Private Partnerships Tara Nathan co-launched – co-chaired the launch of the Smart Communities Coalition at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s a new coalition that will address technology challenges that refugees and host communities face and increase their internet connectivity, digital payment capabilities, and energy access within refugee settlements. Power Africa – that is a U.S. Government-led initiative coordinated by USAID – will spearhead efforts to provide energy access to refugees in a more cost-efficient manner, and USAID’s Global Development Lab and other partners will increase internet and mobile connectivity. I’d be happy to connect any of you who are interested in that with some of my USAID colleagues, who will be able to provide greater detail on that, but we’re proud of that partnership.

With that, I’d be happy to take your questions. And we’re going to go by region again today; that just makes it all go a lot more smoothly.

MODERATOR: If I can very quickly remind everyone, please wait for a microphone and then please do identify yourself by name and outlet.

In the gray shirt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Hi, sir. Where would you like to start today?

QUESTION: Philippe Gelie with Le Figaro, France. I have two questions, if I may, one on Syria. Is it the case that the United States sees the Euphrates River as a red line not to be crossed by Turkey?

Secondly, on the peace process in the Middle East --

MS NAUERT: Okay, let me get to your first question first. I’ll come back to you for the second question, because I’d like to break it down by region. That’s typically how we --

QUESTION: It’s not far.

MS NAUERT: -- typically how we handle things, okay?

So in terms of the Euphrates River, the vast majority of our engagement in Syria has been in areas where ISIS is extremely prevalent, and that would be east of the Euphrates River. That is where the United States and coalition partners are working in conjunction with the Syrian Democratic Forces. Those forces are comprised of multi-ethnic groups, including Arabs, including Kurds, including Christians, Turkmen, and we’re working very hard with them to prevent ISIS from coming back.

But ISIS is still a threat. The Department of Defense put together a press statement – I believe it was today or yesterday – that referred to 150 ISIS fighters being detained or killed. So that shows just how serious the situation is. That is where the most – the vast majority – of the work is being done, east of Euphrates, and I’d be happy to come back to you again on Israel. Okay?

QUESTION: Can you say if that’s a red line or not?

MS NAUERT: Look, people love to use that term, “a red line.” I’m not going to go there and say anything about a red line. I’m just telling you where the vast majority of the work is being done. And we are there – and let me remind you, we are there, the United States along with the coalition – we are there to defeat ISIS. We are there to fight ISIS and to prevent ISIS from coming back once it is defeated.

Okay, go ahead.

MODERATOR: Staying with Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. I have two questions. The local authorities in Afrin canton in Syria asked the Syrian regime to go to the area to protect the area from Turkish aggression. What’s the U.S. view on that?

And the second, did U.S. propose a safe zone to Turkey? And Turkey’s claiming it was proposed, but Turkey is rejecting. What was that about and – if you can give us anything.

MODERATOR: If you could give your name and outlet, sir.

QUESTION: Sorry. I’m Roj Zalla with Rudaw.

MS NAUERT: Right. The United States has had a lot of conversations recently with the Turkish Government. As you know, the President had a phone call yesterday with President Erdogan. Secretary Tillerson was on that call. The White House provided a readout of that call, and it was a very firm and I would say a stern call, because we’re extremely concerned about the situation in Afrin. We believe that everyone should keep their eye, the focus on ISIS, and not get distracted by other things.

That being said, we understand and we share Turkey’s concerns about the PKK. The United States likewise considers the PKK to be a terror organization. Turkey is an important NATO ally and partner. However, if Turkey gets focused on what is going on in Afrin, which we’re very concerned about, that takes the eye off of ISIS. The whole reason we are in Syria, that we are engaged there – not just the United States, but everybody else in the coalition – is to take out ISIS, the very organization that was beheading people and crucifying people. That is why we are there. We have had a series of conversations. The Secretary spoke with his counterpart – I believe it was just yesterday in Europe – expressing those very same and very considerable concerns.

QUESTION: What about the Syrian regime going back to Afrin?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any comment on that. I don’t have any information on that, as well. I saw the report, but I have not seen it being any – something that’s been officially requested of the United States Government.

QUESTION: Still on Syria?

MS NAUERT: Okay.

MODERATOR: Yes, okay. Here and there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Rahim Rashidi from Kurdistan TV.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, hi.

QUESTION: Thank you. Do you think that you have done enough to stop Erdogan’s attacks on the Kurds?

MS NAUERT: Well, that’s why we’re having such serious conversations with President Erdogan and others in the Turkish Government. We are urging Turkey to de-escalate, and that’s a serious thing. When we call on a country, especially a NATO ally, to de-escalate, we hope that they’re taking that – those concerns very seriously. President Trump’s readout of his call with President Erdogan, I would characterize that as fairly stern. I’d be happy to read part of that for you. But in the call he relayed concerns about escalating violence in Afrin; it risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria.

The President urged Turkey to de-escalate, to limit its military actions in that area, avoid civilian casualties. We note that a few people were just killed as a result, a few civilians were. That is a tremendous concern of ours. We’ve also asked for them to do more to try to avoid civilian casualties, increases in displaced people and refugees. We see that people now have to flee an area that was previously considered pretty stable. I mean, what a shame that is. Think about all that this country has been through, and now we’re looking at another disruption in northwestern Syria because Turkey has taken its eye off the ball, ISIS, and going after the PKK at this time? Again, I mention we share our concerns, but we want stability in Syria and we would eventually like to be able to have a political resolution, and have people be able to come back home. So we’re not just there yet.

In addition, I’d like to mention the President also urged Turkey to exercise caution and avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces. That is obviously an enormous concern for ours. The President reiterated that both nations must focus all parties and – on the shared goal of achieving the lasting defeat of ISIS. Thank you.

MODERATOR: We’re going to take one more in the back here, and then we’ll go to New York, if you’re on Syria.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Some – what --

QUESTION: Kinana --

QUESTION: What role would a reinstated --

MODERATOR: One second.

QUESTION: -- JIM play in sort of the --

MODERATOR: You’re next.

QUESTION: -- strategy in Syria?

MS NAUERT: Oh, he can’t hear you.

QUESTION: And are there any conditions that the U.S. would accept from the Russians on reinstating the JIM?

MS NAUERT: Okay. So I’ll take his question. We’ll skip around because I think he can’t --

MODERATOR: Hear.

MS NAUERT: -- perhaps hear Benjamin. So his question is about the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which we’ve addressed this before and, as many of you probably know, the Joint Investigative Mechanism out of the United Nations was something that Russia had vetoed on three occasions. They stood in the way of the Joint Investigative Mechanism. That is the entity that puts accountability on a country or an entity who is engaged in some sort of chemical weapons attacks or attacks on people.

Not only do you have to know what has caused the deaths of people, but – and there’s another to entity that handles that – but you also need to be able to assign responsibility for that. Russia stood in the way. Secretary Tillerson put out a very clear, very firm statement on that just recently. Ambassador Haley has spoken to this as well. She said that Russia should take action to uphold existing international norms against the use of chemical weapons rather than continuing to impede action.

Now, to your question, you asked about a new Russian proposal. We believe that that newly Russia – pardon me. We believe that the new proposed Russian mechanism does not have the same standards for investigation and attribution that were included in earlier UN Security Council versions that would have extended the JIM mandate back in November. The Russian proposal would include Russia – Russia’s ability to veto it. So if you’re trying to name a country responsible, but yet you have Russia that can step in and veto it, I would think that that would be a tremendous concern to many countries around the world. It would have the ability to take away the independent authority of the JIM, making attribution determinations the responsible[2] of the UN Security Council, which obviously, as I just mentioned, Russia or other countries could veto that.

So if Russia truly cares about holding parties accountable for using chemical weapons, it should not have vetoed the three occasions the UN Security Council resolutions to extend the JIM mandate, or the UN Security Council resolution to establish a sanctions regime to designate those responsible for chemical weapons use in Syria. We also note the timing that Russia brought this up earlier this week. That is the same time that the Secretary and many other countries were announcing the French-led partnership on this very same issue. So I think what they were attempting to do is try to distract attention from the good work that was being done with many countries on the issue of weapons.

Okay.

QUESTION: Kinana al-Shareef, Orient News Channel. My question is: Will the United States support Moscow’s bid for Sochi’s – Sochi success, whether a larger slice of Syrian refuse it?

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, you’re asking about Sochi?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. So I’m sorry. I thought you were referring to some news.

QUESTION: Will the United States support it?

MS NAUERT: Will we support Sochi talks?

QUESTION: Sochi – yes.

MS NAUERT: So regarding Syria, we support the Geneva talks, and that is our strong preferred approach. It’s not just ours, it’s shared by many other partners and allies of the United States. Staffan de Mistura has been hard at work on Geneva talks to resolve the crisis in Syria for about six years now. So we stand firmly behind those talks. We certainly understand that Sochi talks are taking place following that. We believe that that – the Sochi talks may be a one-time deal. Maybe something will come out of it. But we stand firmly behind the Geneva talks, which, by the way, ironically are being held in Vienna. So maybe we call them Vienna talks.

MODERATOR: Still on Syria?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MODERATOR: Okay. Sir, in the blue jacket.

QUESTION: Hello, this is Ediz Tiyansan from TRT World.

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: So I’m curious, you said – you showed tremendous concern for the civilian lives lost across the border in Syria, and you said that Turkey is being distracted. But in the past couple of days, there are several reports about people in southeastern villages and towns in Turkey being distracted by rockets and mortars that are fired by the YPG, and potentially by some of the weapons that have been provided by the United States. I’m just wondering how much of tremendous concern do you show towards the attacks coming from YPG to a NATO ally?

MS NAUERT: I think I was clear about that, that we regard the PKK as a terror group, and we share Turkey’s concerns, and as a NATO – as a NATO partner – pardon me, as a NATO ally. So we understand their concerns. But let’s keep the eye on the ball of defeating ISIS, and not get distracted by other things. So in terms of weapons, the United States has provided weapons to the Syrian Democratic Forces for use in Raqqa, okay, in Raqqa, Syria, to retake Raqqa from ISIS, and they’ve been successful in doing so. Those weapons were mission-specific. We are not providing anything to any other groups in the area. I want to be clear about that. But anything beyond that, I’d have to refer you to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Are you looking into some of these attacks at all to check whether those weapons you provided, the United States has provided, is being used by YPG?

MS NAUERT: Look, that is something that our Department of Defense is involved with, so I don’t have any additional detail to provide you about weapons use.

Okay.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one more on Syria. Sir. The gentleman in the sweater.

QUESTION: On President Trump and --

MODERATOR: Sir, can you give your name and your outlet, please?

QUESTION: Voice of America Turkish Service.

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: My name is Toroglu. On President Trump and President Erdogan call yesterday, there were deep differences between the White House readout and the accounts given by the Turkish officials. On many of the things in the White House readout, the Turks gave a different version. Can you comment on this?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me. I think the President was clear. I think the President was tough with President Erdogan. Secretary Tillerson has been as well, because we are tremendously concerned about the escalation of violence and what that could mean for Syria. So we stand by – and when I say we, at this point I can say on behalf of the State Department and also the White House – we stand by that statement. We stand by the readout and the contents of that call.

MODERATOR: Okay, why don’t we switch topics?

QUESTION: Asia?

MODERATOR: Okay, let’s do from Poland first and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Marcin Wrona, TVN Poland.

MS NAUERT: Hey.

QUESTION: You mentioned the Secretary’s visit to Poland, which starts tomorrow, and you talked what’s on the agenda. I wanted to ask you about the general message that the Secretary is coming with to Poland and then that he wants to deliver to the Polish officials. But I also understand that he will deliver some kind of remarks on Saturday, so also what’s the message --

MS NAUERT: Sure, and let me go over a little bit of the schedule with you. I have some of that, so I can provide some of that information if I can find it in this monster-size book here. Pardon me. Okay.

So the Secretary travels to Warsaw tomorrow, where he will participate in a multilateral meeting and then will – I’m sorry. He’ll meet with our ambassador there. He’ll meet with the president of Poland as well. And I can go over this with you one-on-one if you like. He’ll also meet with the Polish prime minister and the foreign minister, where they will later do a press availability. There will be a wreath-laying remarks at the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument, and then the Secretary will hold a regional chiefs of mission meeting in Warsaw and meet with some of our mission personnel at our embassy in Warsaw.

Our relationship with Poland is very important to the United States. It’s one of our closest NATO allies. We have so many areas where we work together and where we are in close agreement. The purpose of the Secretary’s trip is really to underscore the importance and the deep alliance and friendship that we share with Poland and the Polish people, especially as one of our closest NATO allies. The President has said that Poland is one of the most committed members of the NATO alliance, and we want to use the trip as an opportunity to strengthen that strategic partnership that we have with the country. The Secretary will be speaking about issues closely tied to NATO, also bilateral issues; will work on strengthening cooperation in all of these areas in ways that improve the safety and security of the American people. And we’re looking forward to that. We also do a lot of energy exchanges, if you will, with Poland. And so we look forward to have greater discussions with them.

MODERATOR: All right. Staying in Europe for now. Other questions for Europe?

MS NAUERT: In the back.

MODERATOR: In the far back. Yeah.

MS NAUERT: In the back.

QUESTION: Yes. Hi, my name is Nikki Kazimova, and I want to stay somewhat in Russia’s neighborhood in Eastern Europe. My questions are related to Azerbaijan. So tomorrow Russian army chief of staff and NATO commander will be meeting in Baku, and do you know anything? Do you – can you share any details on what subjects they will be discussing?

Another question is, in its recently updated travel advisory, State Department included Azerbaijan in the category two, citing threat of terrorism, which surprised many in Baku. And do you have, again, any information on the specific reasons for this classification?

And the last question so far --

MODERATOR: Okay, can we limit that for right now? Just two.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just very briefly --

MS NAUERT: I’m going to have to get back with you on the meeting that you asked about in Azerbaijan and also the travel advisory. I don’t have all that specific information. But regarding the travel advisory, you can find more information on our website about Azerbaijan or any other country around the world by going on our state.gov website.

QUESTION: And also the U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group took part in the recent meeting between foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Krakow, Poland, and also they will be traveling to the region in early February. Again, do you --

MS NAUERT: You’re referring to Ambassador Kurt Volker?

QUESTION: No, the --

MS NAUERT: Oh.

QUESTION: I’m referring to the Minsk Group, the peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: And again, if there is any feedback on whether the U.S. co-chair considers those peace talks, the last round, successful or not.

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for you on that, but I’d be happy to get you an answer later.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay. My apologies.

MODERATOR: All right, let’s take one from New York, please, and then we’ll come back. Sir, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather, for this briefing. My name is Ahmed Fathi of ATN News in New York. My question is about Egypt and the development that is happening with regard to the upcoming presidential elections. Reports have confirmed that serious contenders have been either intimidated, threatened, and some have been disqualified under some made-up pretenses, and all of this leading into a direction of having a play or a theater of an election. But without real substance, we ended up with potential candidates. One is a belly dancer, and the other one is quite an animated character.

Does the U.S. and the Secretary of State feel at all embarrassed that they go to the Congress to certify that Egypt is undertaking serious reforms in areas of human rights in areas of political reform, without any real substance? You spoke earlier about U.S. position from Russia that they are intending to sell military weapons to Burma, which is violating human rights. And you spoke about the freedom of expression, which is Egypt is the third-largest jailer of journalists around the world. Yet there is no clear position, clear and concise position of the U.S. Government and about the military aid that’s going to Egypt paid, financed by the U.S. taxpayers. And again, the war against terrorism is not going into the right direction.

MODERATOR: Sir, can we respond to some of those questions?

QUESTION: The hardware that Egypt receives gets into the hands of people who are oppressing the people. Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me try to break that down just a little bit, and I thank you, sir, for asking that question. With regard to the detention of presidential candidates in Egypt, we are following that situation very closely and very carefully. We are concerned about those developments. We’re concerned about reports of detention, withdrawal, exclusion from the election process of presidential candidates amid complaints of unfairness. We support a genuine and credible electoral process and believe that this should guarantee the right and opportunity for all citizens to participate freely and fairly. Earlier this week, we had clearly stated that we support a credible electoral process, so I want to assure you that we are keeping a close eye on what is going there.

Secretary Tillerson just spoke with Egypt’s foreign minister yesterday; we provided a readout of that call. And the Vice President, as you all know, was just in Egypt a few days ago. Among the things that the Vice President said – and I can’t speak for the Vice President, but I can provide some kind of high-level detail – he said, “I leave Egypt more encouraged.” He said that they spoke significantly, as did Secretary Tillerson, about security issues. I know a major issue for Egypt – of Egyptian concern – is the situation in Syria. Secretary Tillerson had an extensive conversation with the Egyptian Foreign Minister about that very issue. I know that’s something that we are very focused on, as is the Egyptian Government as well.

Back to the Vice President – they’ve talked about areas of great concern to the United States and people who care about freedom. Among those things, Egypt’s NGO law, which is of concern to us. He also spoke about religious freedoms, as we’ve seen attacks – that horrific attack on a mosque that took place late last year. That was something that the Vice President expressed his condolences. The attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt – horrific. So we’re paying close attention. You may not hear our comments all the time. Frankly, we don’t get that many questions from the press about Egypt. I’m glad you’re asking today and I’m glad to be able to address some of these, so I hope that answers some of your questions. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, and we spent a lot of time in the Middle East, so I do want to move around a little bit, and I heard DPRK.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

MODERATOR: Okay. DPRK?

QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Chen Liu from China’s Xinhua News Agency. And since the start of this new year, we’ve seen some positive momentum going on in the Korean Peninsula – the high-level talks between DPRK and South Korea, and the DPRK’s delegation to the Winter Olympic Games. So there are just – seeing that it’s kind of a window of opportunity for all the parties concerned to sit down and have a serious political talk. So China has already just proposed to restart the Six-Party Talks. So I’m just wondering that – what is the response from the U.S. side?

MS NAUERT: I think we’re not there yet. The United States’s position has not changed on the matter of North Korea. We want a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. That is our goal for North Korea and we keep pushing ahead with that goal with many other countries from all around the world. We are willing to have talks with the North Korean regime, but the time is not right, not right now. Not right now. They know what they need to do. They need to be serious about denuclearization and we are not seeing that they are serious about denuclearization.

In terms of the Republic of Korea and also North Korea having conversations about the Olympics, we certainly would support those kinds of contacts and conversations. We think it’s good to have conversations and be able to pick up the phone and have a conversation with your neighbor. So that we support, and we look forward to having a terrific Olympics in Seoul – or in Korea.

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

MODERATOR: Can I – we – get a few more people --

MS NAUERT: Let’s just try to – let’s just try to move around a little bit.

MODERATOR: In the far back, red – red blouse, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Heather.

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: Haye-ah Lee with South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. There are concerns that the Trump administration’s attacks on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement could actually play into North Korea’s hands and help them drive a wedge in the bilateral alliance. Could you address those concerns?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So, I could refer you to our trade office for more information about the Korea alliance, but what I can say overall is that we have a very strong alliance, partnership, and friendship with Korea. That will not change. I can’t imagine that anything with regard to change is going to – or is going to deteriorate or lessen our bond with the Republic of Korea.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one more on DPRK. Sir.

MS NAUERT: Oh. Oren, I’m going to have to – we’ll have to talk later. I mean, we were trying to keep this limited to foreign press.

QUESTION: So I wasn’t at the gaggle because I didn’t know about it.

MS NAUERT: We don’t get a chance to talk to the foreign press, but I’d be happy to talk with you one-on-one later, okay?

QUESTION: All right.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

MODERATOR: Okay. Still on DPRK. We’ll go in the back, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Heather.

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: Francesca with the Yomiuri Shimbun. Is the U.S. looking to verify for itself the photos taken by Japan of a ship making a delivery to a North Korean tanker? And if so, what actions are you going to take? It’s allegedly a Dominican ship.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we’re aware and certainly following those reports very closely. Some information, just as a general matter, can come in from satellite photos, some from other countries, and all of that. So it’s something that the U.S. Government takes a very close look at those types of photos of ships that could be false-flagged ships, for example. In terms of any kind of intelligence matters, I just can’t get into those on that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: North Korea?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s do Latin America, and then we’ll take one more.

MS NAUERT: Are we done with Asia?

MODERATOR: Are we done with the DPRK?

QUESTION: DPRK.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.

MODERATOR: Okay. One DPRK here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ben, and thank you, Heather. Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. Yesterday, Secretary Tillerson had a phone conversation with Mr. Lavrov, and they discussed Vancouver North Korea conference. I wonder if Secretary Tillerson also discussed with his Chinese counterpart on this meeting, as the United States said they going to do it before.

And also on this topic --

MS NAUERT: Let me answer your first – the first part of your question first. DPRK is always an issue that we are speaking about with the Chinese Government. That is our top foreign policy priority. The things that we always say – safety and security of Americans, our top concern; our top foreign policy priority is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula because we see that as such a incredible international threat, and frankly, so does the world.

So I can tell you our Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton was recently in Mongolia, Indonesia, and also China, and that was one of the issues that she discussed there. Beyond that, I don’t have any new updates for you. Okay.

QUESTION: And the recent --

MS NAUERT: I want to get around to as many people as possible, so.

MODERATOR: Okay. So let’s take the Latin America question, and then we’re going to come back to Middle East.

MS NAUERT: Oh, are we – are we done with Asia, though?

QUESTION: No.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s do a couple more on Asia, and then we’ll go on to it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Hi.

QUESTION: I have a question about --

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, your outlet is?

QUESTION: Chia Chang from United Daily News Group Taiwan.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: I have a question about Taiwan that we recently noticed that the Taiwan flag on State Department and USTR was removed. Can you tell us the reason to remove it? And if it’s a technical mistake, will you put it on – put it back on? Thank you.

MS NAUERT: So I can tell you our policy regarding Taiwan has not changed. The United States remains committed to our “one China” policy based on three joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. We consider Taiwan to be a vital partner, a democratic success story, and a force for good in the world. Taiwan shares our values and has earned our respect and continues to merit our strong rapport – our strong support. That’s all I have for you on that. Thank you. Okay.

MODERATOR: Okay. So back to Asia, or can we move on?

MS NAUERT: All right. Nope, we can move on.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll take this question here. And then I know we have a bunch of Middle East that we haven’t answered, and we’re going to swing back.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Cristina Garcia with Spanish Newswire EFE. So Peruvian foreign affairs minister said when he visited Washington that Secretary Tillerson is planning a trip to Latin America early this year, and that he’ll visit Peru among other countries. Could you confirm this?

And also, is he going to attend the Americas Summit in Lima this April? Thank you so much.

MS NAUERT: I can confirm you that – for you that the Secretary is planning a trip to the region. I know he looks forward to it. It’s coming up in a few weeks.

Do we have all the specifics for a readout on that?

MR GREENAN: Soon. A couple days.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay, we’ll have something for you in just a couple days. This will be Secretary Tillerson’s first trip as Secretary of State to the region. I know it’s long overdue, and I know he’s really looking forward to that.

Okay. Anything else Latin America?

MODERATOR: Okay. Anything else Latin America?

MS NAUERT: Okay.

MODERATOR: And we’ll finish that and then we’ll go back to Middle East.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

MODERATOR: Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Oh, right. What did you – sir, what did you want to ask about?

QUESTION: Thank you. On the Middle East peace process, I listened to Ambassador Nikki Haley this morning. I really wonder what exactly does the U.S. diplomacy intend to achieve by systematically blaming one side, aligning entirely with the other. On what ground would you argue that the U.S. remains an honest broker?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, I wouldn’t accept the premise of your question. I can tell you that one of the top priorities for the President is Middle East peace, and that is the reason why he put people that he trusts and is very close to, and who are passionate about the issue in charge of handling Middle East peace. It is something that we are committed to.

The United States recognizes that achieving Middle East peace will, in fact, be difficult. We have gone decades and decades without seeing Middle East peace work thus far. Hopefully now things will change. We would like to bring both sides to the table to have conversations about that and we’re optimistic about it going forward in the future. Sure, talk can sometimes be tough, but look, I think the administration views it this way: that things haven’t worked for so many years; we’re going to try a slightly different approach.

MODERATOR: Okay. Still in Middle East, we’ll take one back --

QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Mounira Al Hmoud, i24 News. The PLO ambassador to Washington spoke actually this morning for the first time after the U.S. decision was made on Jerusalem, and he said he does want – he doesn’t want to remove the U.S. as negotiator, but he wants an international framework which, first up, would be the UN Security Council. I’m just wondering if the State Department has any reaction to this.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not aware of his comments, so I would hesitate to comment on that without having seen them myself and having our experts take the opportunity to review them.

MODERATOR: To Laurie.

QUESTION: Yeah, Laurie Mylroie, Kurdistan --

MS NAUERT: Hi, Laurie.

MODERATOR: Wait for the mike, please.

QUESTION: Oh. Laurie Mylroie, Kurdistan 24. I wonder if you’re confident that Turkey has gotten your message. The Turkish deputy prime minister said today that those – talking about the United States, “Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in this battle,” and “The U.S. needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists.” What is your response to that, and do you still have a continuing concern about a possible conflict around Manbij between U.S. and Turkish troops?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think that’s exactly why the President and the Secretary urges Turkey to de-escalate and make sure that they’re not coming into contact with U.S. and other coalition forces. I think the Secretary and the President have been very clear with President Erdogan and with the Secretary’s counterpart about that matter.

QUESTION: And do you have any specific response to that statement threatening U.S. troops?

MS NAUERT: Look, a lot of countries will say outrageous things, leaders will say outrageous things. I’m not going to comment on any comment – on every comment by a world leader.

Okay.

MODERATOR: Okay. Still in --

QUESTION: China?

MODERATOR: -- still in Middle East. Middle East?

MS NAUERT: Okay. We’re done with the Middle East. Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Thank you for coming back. Nadia Tsao, Washington correspondent for Liberty Times. I think in last phone conversation, President Trump and President Xi talk about this year they should resume the four dialogue they established last year. Just wondered, do you have any agenda about the U.S. and the Chinese dialogue? Besides DPRK, are there anything else to talk about?

MS NAUERT: Well, this past year, or 2017, I should say, we had the Strategic Dialogue, which was started at Mar-a-Lago in March or April of last year, and that was one of the President’s, I believe it was – this predates my time at the State Department, but I believe that was the President’s first real formal sit-down with another world leader. I think that shows the importance of our relationship with the Chinese Government. I don’t know if we have another one planned for this year, but I know we view last year’s Strategic Dialogue as having been successful. We talked about a range of issues. The last one, I believe, was about our – strongly about our people-to-people and cultural ties with the Chinese.

So there were different issues. There was the security dialogue as well that was held, I think, a month or two prior to that, and so we cover a range of topics. I just don’t have any meetings or schedules to provide you right now.

MODERATOR: Okay. I think we have time for one more and let’s stay with China, then.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: China?

MODERATOR: Okay, China.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Wait, you already got a question.

QUESTION: Yes, on China.

MODERATOR: Okay.

QUESTION: Just on Tuesday, Chinese Ambassador to United States Cui Tiankai just said in an interview that he characterized current China-U.S. relations like the partner and saying that maybe the two countries will – just will never run out of problems or questions, but the relationships – the relationships will still going on, just in the process of this problem-solving.

So I’m just wondering that how would you characterize the current bilateral relations and – yeah, that.

MS NAUERT: Look, China is obviously an important regional and world power. We work closely with China on issues related to North Korea, on issues related to trade, and many other issues as well. It’s an important relationship. It’s a broad relationship. We don’t seek an adversarial relationship with China. We simply identify actions China has taken that we view as undermining rules-based order that has been fundamental to the success of the overall Indo-Pacific region as well as China’s own economic development. So our relationship with China hasn’t changed. It’s a broad relationship. But similar to other countries, when we have areas of disagreement, we will have conversations, and we will have frank and firm conversations, but we also have areas of cooperation.

As it pertains to the DPRK, one of the top issues that we discuss with China, we always say China can do more. We expect China to do more.

MODERATOR: I think that’s it for time.

PARTICIPANT: Qatar (inaudible).

MS NAUERT: Oh, yes, some information for you on a strategic dialogue that we are holding here in Washington next week which was just announced right before I came over here.

The U.S. is hosting a U.S.-Qatar strategic dialogue next week. I’m happy to announce that we will hold that at the State Department on Tuesday, January the 30th. Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis will co-chair the opening session of the dialogue jointly with their Qatari counterparts. We’re pleased to be hosting the senior Qatari officials at an event that reaffirms our close ties and our commitment to cultivating a strategic relationship with the state of Qatar.

They are a strategic partner and we will use the dialogue to deepen our collaboration with Qatar. We look forward to discussing many important areas of cooperation between our countries, including trade and investment, defense, security and law enforcement, counterterrorism, and also aviation. We’ll also focus on the critical regional issues on defeating ISIS, the Gulf dispute which is still ongoing, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Asia?

MODERATOR: And that is probably time.

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.

MODERATOR: Yeah, it’s --

MS NAUERT: We got to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: We’re at time. Thank you very much.

MS NAUERT: We got to go. Sorry, guys.

MODERATOR: I’m sorry we couldn’t get around to everyone.

MS NAUERT: We got to go. I’ll see you at the State Department another time.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

MODERATOR: All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS NAUERT: And if any American journalists have any questions, you can come on up, but this is the Foreign Press Center, so we are trying to cater to foreign press today.


[1] Radio Liberty

[2] responsibility