Department Press Briefing
MS NAUERT: Okay. Got a lot of the other world to cover now. I want to mention one thing to you coming out of Liberia today: There was a historic election taking place in Liberia. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself noted that – this as she steps down from the presidency. She said, “For the first time in three generations Liberians will be transferring presidential authority democratically and peacefully from one elected leader to another.” As a longstanding friend of the United States, the United States wants to congratulate Liberians for exercising their democratic right to vote. We are proud to stand with them today in support of their efforts to continue building their country, its democracy, and its future. And I’d be happy to take your questions. Where’d you like to start?
MS NAUERT: It’s high.
QUESTION: Is it?
MS NAUERT: Anybody who can put – put things together as an engineer —
QUESTION: But you don’t have a —
MS NAUERT: It’s high.
QUESTION: You don’t —
MS NAUERT: I don’t. I don’t have it, Matt.
QUESTION: You don’t have exact score —
MS NAUERT: I’m afraid I don’t.
QUESTION: Has he ever taken the test?
QUESTION: — what he might have gotten on his SATs? Anything like that? No?
MS NAUERT: Do you have a real question?
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: The situation between you and the Turks does not seem to be particularly happy at the moment. It appears to be – instead of de-escalating, as you probably wanted it to —
MS NAUERT: Right.
QUESTION: — it has escalated instead. What’s the latest and – on that? And is there any sign that tensions can calm down?
MS NAUERT: Well, we certainly hope so. We were very disappointed by the Turkish Government’s arrest of two of our locally employed staff. As many of you know, the State Department relies significantly on locally employed staff all around the world. We would not be able to do our jobs at the State Department without all these folks who are citizens of other countries, who assist the State Department in their activities. Turkey had arrested this year two of our locally employed staff in different locations, and then had called in a third staff member just over the weekend of the United States. So we can confirm over the weekend that a third embassy staff member was summoned by Turkish authorities. That staff member, though, has not been formally arrested.
These actions were deeply – are deeply disturbing to us. Ambassador John Bass, who’s our U.S. ambassador to Turkey, addressed this extensively over the weekend. We remain very concerned with the situation over there, and just to – for some folks who perhaps haven’t followed this as closely, I want to read you a little bit of what Ambassador Bass had to say about that over the weekend.
He said, “Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities. Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exist against the employee. The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.” He went on to say, “Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job. The arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the longstanding cooperation between Turkey and the United States.”
And that remains our – one of our chief questions for the Turkish Government: What’s going on here? What are they trying to accomplish by this behavior toward our locally employed staff? Our locally employed staff in this case in Turkey worked on law enforcement cooperation issues. We know that the Turkish Government has basically rounded up about 200,000 people accusing them of not only fomenting a coup, but also supporting the Gulen movement. Our locally employed staff, part of their jobs at least here, these three individuals, was working with law enforcement. And in – as a part of their job, that would require them to be on the phone with law enforcement officials and other investigators. And when the Government of Turkey starts to question our locally employed staff’s ability to do that, we have some very serious questions about it.
QUESTION: Well, what do you think of their literally word for word response to the initial announcement from the embassy apart from the kind of snark of it? Do you think that they have reason to doubt the U.S. Government’s commitment for the safety and security of their properties here?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, I’m not following that part.
QUESTION: Well, so you guys in your statement said that you had questions about the commitment of Turkey to protect your diplomatic facilities and employees. They turned around and said —
MS NAUERT: And by the way, I’d mention we have not seen any evidence that indicates that our staff members were involved of what the government is accusing them of doing. I just want to make that clear.
QUESTION: Right. I understood. But they turned around, they took that statement, interchanged the U.S. —
MS NAUERT: Ah, yes. Okay.
QUESTION: — or Turkey for the U.S. and said the exact same thing about you guys here, and they questioned the commitment of the U.S. to protect their facility.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think that there’s any merit to that allegation?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I think their facilities are probably quite safe, as are their people here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Elise.
QUESTION: A couple more on this?
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: First off, you saw that President Erdogan said that he doesn’t recognize – the Government of Turkey is not going to recognize Ambassador Bass because he did not take this – he took this decision unilaterally and not in – in concert with the rest of the U.S. Government. Can you say that the State Department knew about what he was doing, and this was not like a unilateral decision that was not part of U.S. policy?
MS NAUERT: Our ambassadors tend to not do things unilaterally. We have a very close coordination and cooperation with our ambassadors, and particular Ambassador Bass. He and I have exchanged phone calls, meetings with one another, on numerous occasions. He’s always been incredibly responsive. He is one of the best ambassadors that we have out there, proud to have him serving in Turkey and looking forward to having him in his next post. This was coordinated with the State Department, it was coordinated with the White House and coordinated with the NSC.
QUESTION: Do you – one more question on this.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: When they are accusing your – some of your Foreign Service Nationals of being associated with the Gulen movement, do you see this as part and parcel of any effort to kind of make the U.S. tacitly supporting the Gulen movement? Because I know that they have been – they’re trying to get him extradited to the United States. Do you think there i’s a bigger issue involved than these – than certain individuals and more of a U.S. —
MS NAUERT: I’m not —
QUESTION: — trying to taint the U.S. with it?
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure exactly what the Turkish Government’s motives were. Let me just be clear we were disappointed in their actions. Being able to have close security cooperation, especially with a NATO partner, is incredibly important. And when they start arresting, detaining our people, our people who are responsible for law enforcement coordination, that is a huge – that is a major concern of ours, and so that is why we took these steps.
QUESTION: Can I have a go on Turkey?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah, sure. Hi, Nick.
QUESTION: Just in July, the Secretary, when he was in Istanbul, said, “I think our relationship [with] Turkey, which has been under some stress for some time, I hope we are beginning to put [it back] on the mend.” Does he stand by that statement, or is he concerned that the relationship is taking a turn for the worse now?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think the Secretary would like to see our relationship improve with Turkey, as we would with other countries. If you look at Russia, that’s another country where we would like to improve the relationship. But right now, that is being called into question with the actions that the Turkish Government took.
QUESTION: So that – he would not characterize the relationship the way he did in July?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that, if he would characterize it exactly the same way, because situation – the situation has changed somewhat with the arrest of two of our locally employed staff, plus summoning – summonsing – summoning one of our other individuals is a huge concern of ours.
Anything else on Turkey?
QUESTION: On Turkey.
QUESTION: I got Turkey.
MS NAUERT: Okay, hi. Hi, Dave.
QUESTION: Hi. Obviously, there’s been some tension between the Turkish Government and the ambassador. Has anyone from this building been on the phone to the Turkish authorities? Has the Secretary spoken to Erdogan or Mr. Cavusoglu since this immediate – it’s in the past few days?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I know we’ve had some conversations with the Government of Turkey. The Secretary, I do not believe, has spoken to his counterpart over there.
Okay. Hey, Rich.
QUESTION: Does this —
QUESTION: He hasn’t? The Turks said that they talked on Saturday. No?
MS NAUERT: I don’t believe – I don’t believe we have a readout of anything.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: Rich.
QUESTION: Heather, would you say that in the few months that the administration has been in power that this is a low point in U.S.-Turkish relations?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think it’s my job to be able to characterize it that way. This is obviously a huge concern of ours, though. We’ve had – we’ve had some difficulties with members of the Turkish Government this year, as you all well know. We’ve talked about that an awful lot. But I’m just not going to characterize it that way.
QUESTION: Also, The New York Times reported that there were a dozen American citizens who were swept up in these recent arrests in relation to the failed coup attempt from last year. Can you confirm that?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any reports on that. I’m sorry. Okay. Anything else on Turkey?
QUESTION: One more on Turkey.
MS NAUERT: Hi. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Part of the retaliation was basically to stop issuing visa to American citizens. Can you confirm that? And what does it mean technically? Because you can arrive at the airport and you can get a visa in the airport. Does that mean the Turkish authorities can stop an American citizen from entering, or if you have to go to the embassy, you think?
MS NAUERT: I think some of that – my understanding is that this was all implemented yesterday, so some of this we are still figuring out. We have temporarily suspended visas for new visa applicants for Turkish nationals wanting to come to the United States. If somebody has a valid visa, they are certainly welcome to come over here under the terms of that visa. We’re temporarily suspending it as we take a look at all of this, but —
QUESTION: But the other way around?
MS NAUERT: I know. The other way around, I’m just not exactly sure how it – how that is working just yet. This was just put into effect, I believe it was just yesterday, so let me see what additional information I can give to you. Okay.
QUESTION: Because this is an important for American —
MS NAUERT: Of course it is. It is a very important issue.
QUESTION: I don’t know I’m going to enter or not.
MS NAUERT: Yes. I understand. I agree. Let me see what I can get for you. Okay? Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Dave’s question, was there any plan to summon Turkish ambassador to United States, or has he been summoned? Because the reason I ask you is: Do you want to respond to the direct and blunt attack from President Erdogan toward Ambassador John Bass?
MS NAUERT: Do I want to respond to what?
QUESTION: To the direct and blunt attack from President Erdogan.
MS NAUERT: Well, to my knowledge, he only said that he wouldn’t recognize Ambassador – our ambassador there, correct? Is there something beyond that?
QUESTION: He said that he will boycott – well, the Turkish official will boycott meetings with him and he will not recognize him as an envoy.
MS NAUERT: I see. Okay. Well, I’m not going to respond to that, but I can say that Ambassador Bass has our full backing not only here at the White – at the State Department, but also at the White House as well.
QUESTION: And can you say exactly how many hours he has left before he moves to Kabul? How many more hours in Ankara? Is it like 10, 20?
MS NAUERT: Well, if you talk – if you talk to our folks —
QUESTION: Does he have any – does he have any meetings —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: — with Turkish officials scheduled?
MS NAUERT: I’m not certain of that. If you talk to our folks in the SCA Bureau, I know that they are really looking forward to getting him to Afghanistan. So —
QUESTION: Which is going to be very soon, right? I mean —
MS NAUERT: My understanding is that it will be —
MS NAUERT: My understanding is that it will be soon, but Ambassador Bass has done a terrific job in Turkey.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Certainly a top posting.
QUESTION: Turkey? Turkey?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Miss, hi.
QUESTION: Hi. So what does the U.S. expect Turkey to do to resume the visa services in Turkey? Are you expecting those two nationals – Turkish nationals, like, local employees at the UN – U.S. missions to be released? What is the expectation?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think —
QUESTION: What is the complete expectation?
MS NAUERT: I think a good start would be to allow them access to their attorneys. To our knowledge, they have not had access to legal counsel as of this point. We have not seen any evidence that backs up what the Turkish Government accuses them of, so that would be a good start. Okay?
QUESTION: Another question on Turkey?
MS NAUERT: Let’s – go ahead. Barbara.
QUESTION: It’s – I’ve got a question on Iran, actually.
MS NAUERT: Oh, okay. Turkey.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Turkey.
QUESTION: Turkey. Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Said. Sorry.
QUESTION: I want to move on, so —
MS NAUERT: Oh.
QUESTION: — if you – somebody has a question on Turkey.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a question on Turkey. My name is Ragip Soylu, I work for Turkish newspaper Sabah. Nice to meet you finally. Turkish officials complain about the fact that the U.S. officials didn’t communicate their decisions to Turkish officials and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu had a phone call with Rex Tillerson on Saturday, according to his statement, the Turkish Cavusoglu —
MS NAUERT: I don’t have a readout of that conversation —
QUESTION: Yes, I know, but he —
MS NAUERT: — if that did take place.
QUESTION: The Turkish officials tells me that the Secretary Tillerson didn’t tell them that they were going to suspend the visa services in Turkey in advance, and also Turkish President Erdogan today said that they had hardship to reach American officials, top officials in Washington. I know that it was Columbus Day yesterday, but it’s kind of awkward, I guess, for everyone that Turkish officials complain about the fact that they can’t communicate with the American officials.
MS NAUERT: Well, I know there have certainly been calls that have gone back and forth not only between Washington and Turkey, but also our folks on the ground in Turkey. So that I can tell you and I can assure that some of those calls and conversations have certainly taken place. And I —
QUESTION: But did you —
MS NAUERT: And I’ll leave —
QUESTION: Did you —
MS NAUERT: I’ll leave it at that. Thank you.
QUESTION: But did you let Turkish officials know before the —
MS NAUERT: I don’t – I don’t have a readout of anyone’s particular conversation in front of me right now, so I can’t answer that question. If I can get you an answer for that, I certainly will.
Okay? Let’s —
QUESTION: But didn’t Secretary Tillerson talk to the foreign minister?
QUESTION: Can we move on to another question?
MS NAUERT: I can’t – I don’t recall. That I don’t recall. I’ll check on that – double check on that, okay?
Said, go right ahead. Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, the Israeli Government announced its plans to build 4,000 settlement housing units and amazingly enough, the State Department remains silent on this brand-new settlement. What did – what is your comment on —
MS NAUERT: Remain silent? Said —
MS NAUERT: Said, how many times have you and I talked about this issue?
QUESTION: No. I understand, but I mean this is —
MS NAUERT: In fact – in fact, I pulled it. I pulled —
QUESTION: Okay, great.
MS NAUERT: I’ve pulled all the transcripts and I know you and I —
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: — have talked about settlements —
MS NAUERT: — at least 15 times, about 3 times a month.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MS NAUERT: We talk about the issue of settlements. An important one, okay?
MS NAUERT: So I’m always happy to entertain your questions on that. President Trump has spoken about this repeatedly, and I’ll repeat it once again.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: He has been clear, both privately and publicly, that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace. He has also said this, that they – the administration recognizes that past demands for settlement freezes have not necessarily worked. They have not helped advance the prospects for peace in the past. The Israeli Government has told us that it is adopting a policy regarding settlement activities that takes the President’s concerns into account.
QUESTION: So do you expect the Palestinians to reach out and maybe re-enter negotiations even if the settlement activities are ongoing at this pace?
MS NAUERT: I think we certainly hope – and as Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Kushner have done a lot of traveling supported by the State Department over to the region, we certainly hope that both parties will sit down and have conversations about this. We’ve been clear on our position of settlements. The Secretary and the President had very productive conversations with both Mr. Abbas and Netanyahu up at the United Nations in New York not long ago, and they were feeling optimistic. And they were saying that they thought that now, more than any time in recent years, that they have felt that they would have a good chance of getting some sort of a peace settlement. So we’re hopeful. We’re optimistic. We’re not giving up.
QUESTION: And last point on this.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you consider 4,000 housing units to be unrestrained settlement activity?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize the number. I’ve seen different reports out there, and I’m not sure exactly what would be – what would be correct in that.
Okay. Anything else on – hi, Felicia.
QUESTION: Hi. Different topic.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you —
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Israel-Palestine.
MS NAUERT: All right. Hold on.
QUESTION: So just to clarify —
MS NAUERT: Felicia, I’ll get right back to you. Barbara, go ahead.
QUESTION: And then I have a question about Iran that I had before as well. So you’re saying the Israelis are taking the concerns of the Trump administration into account on settlements. Is this an example of it, the announcement of the 4,000?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize that one as such. Okay? I’ve seen the numbers. I’ve seen different reports about the numbers. I’m just not certain if those numbers are accurate or which ones are official numbers or not. But I can tell you that we repeatedly have conversations with the Israeli Government about our concerns regarding settlements.
QUESTION: Just a question about Iran as well, if I may?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Does anybody have anything else on Israel? Hold on.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: When the President met with Prime Minister Netanyahu he did talk about a freeze on settlements. So when did you switch to we don’t think demands for a freeze are helpful? Because he did ask for him to pause it, I think were his words.
MS NAUERT: The President has said that past freeze arrangements have basically not worked. So that is why they continue to go back and talk about unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.
QUESTION: So you don’t think Israel should freeze settlements?
MS NAUERT: Look, this is not my position. This is just – I’ m stating what our State Department position is on this and the kinds of conversations that the State Department and also Mr. Kushner and Greenblatt have had with the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: So do you know when it switched? Because I’m pretty – I remember the President saying to Netanyahu, we hope you’ll hold off on that for a while.
MS NAUERT: Okay. I don’t have a quote from the President in front of me on that, so I’m not just – I’m just not going to comment on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, just very quickly. So the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson put out a strong statement today in support of the nuclear deal with Iran and is urging the – encouraging the U.S. to consider the security implications of the deal and keeping the deal. How’s – what are – what is the response and can you give us a readout from the call he had with Mr. Tillerson?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So the call did take place. I can certainly confirm that that did occur. I don’t have a readout of that call, and I’m certainly not going to get ahead of the President and his announcement. The President has said that he’s made a decision and we’ll expect an announcement sometime in short order.
QUESTION: Regardless of what the – well, first of all, you can confirm that Boris Johnson called, but you can’t confirm the Turkish call?
MS NAUERT: I just can’t remember if the Turkish called.
MS NAUERT: So my colleagues are going to look into that for me. Okay?
QUESTION: All right. On Iran, though, regardless of what the President’s decision is, and I’m not asking you to get ahead of it, but the – one of the things that people – that officials have talked about and the President has in fact talked about is the IRGC and its quote/unquote “malign activities.” And their malign activities, as we just heard from the two previous speakers up here, are very much connected with Hizballah. So this is something that the administration has not made a secret of. So with that preface, to try and not give you an out to say let’s wait for the President to make this announcement, with all that in mind and the fact that this is going to be a broad Iran policy review announcement when the President does make it, the IRGC commander has warned that any move against the IRGC will be met with a response and that – and one specific instance, that any American forces going within two kilometers of Iranian territory – presumably this is in the Gulf – will be met with Iranian resistance, shall we say. Do you have any response to that – the threats from the IRGC?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’m not going to respond to any threats from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. We hear threats from countries all around the world, and I just don’t want to dignify that one with a response.
MS NAUERT: Okay? Anything else on Iran? We’ll go to Felicia finally. Hi, Felicia.
MS NAUERT: So the Secretary was at the White House today for a series of three meetings. He attended a meeting in the Situation Room with the President and the national security team. One of the topics they discussed was North Korea. The Secretary then had lunch with the President and also Secretary Mattis. They also talked about Turkey and Iran as well. Sarah Sanders had addressed this a little bit earlier, and she talked about how the President and the Secretary are working hand in hand to move the agenda forward. In speaking with some of our folks who were over there with the President – pardon me, the Secretary and the President, that – the meetings were described as positive.
QUESTION: What was the third one?
QUESTION: Did the Secretary have any assurances on his job security?
MS NAUERT: Hold – hold on one second. Hold on, Carol. We have Iran, Turkey, and DPRK.
QUESTION: That was two. That was the lunch and the Situation Room. You said there were three meetings.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, three. I have in my notes from my colleagues over there that there were three meetings and perhaps —
QUESTION: But —
MS NAUERT: I had in my notes there were three meetings from somebody who was sitting there.
QUESTION: Was there a third meeting —
QUESTION: Did they have a third in private?
QUESTION: The third meeting was with the HR department or something like that?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know. (Laughter.) I don’t know. But I can tell you that the – that the meetings were positive.
QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay, anything else?
QUESTION: Did he get any – did he get any assurances on his job security in these meetings?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think the President had talked about this earlier today in which the President said that he has complete confidence in Secretary Tillerson. He was asked that question by reporters. The President said yes. The President has a strong relationship with Secretary Tillerson. I think that was made clear last week after their conversations.
QUESTION: On DPRK?
MS NAUERT: Okay, anything else?
QUESTION: Specifically on that point, this issue of a potential rift was addressed last week by yourself and by Secretary Tillerson in his press availability. Was he disappointed that it was kind of revived by the President’s interview in Forbes, where he made his joke about their relative IQ levels?
MS NAUERT: I think the President’s allowed to joke. He’s allowed to have a sense of humor, as we all are.
QUESTION: Is that all it was – is that all it was seen at – it wasn’t seen as kind of a dig or —
MS NAUERT: No. I mean, look, the President is entitled to make jokes. It’s a heavy world; it’s a tough world. And the Secretary is more than fine with that.
QUESTION: Heather, Secretary Tillerson said yesterday —
QUESTION: But the President wasn’t joke – sorry. Sorry, Said.
MS NAUERT: Conor, go right ahead.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: But the President wasn’t joking on Saturday night when he said that he wishes Secretary Tillerson would be tougher. What did the Secretary make of those remarks?
MS NAUERT: I think I’ve sat in plenty of meetings with the Secretary, and I’ve seen him be very tough on situations. So —
QUESTION: So he disagrees?
MS NAUERT: — exactly what the President was referring to, I don’t know. I don’t know. But I can tell you firsthand that the Secretary can be very, very tough.
QUESTION: Can – one more question, though.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary agree with his ally and friend, Bob Corker, that the President’s tweets on foreign policy have undermined and hurt the United States credibility?
MS NAUERT: Senator Corker is certainly allowed to have his own opinions. We can certainly look at some of the work that this administration has done and we can see – we’ve seen success. We’ve seen success on the issue of North Korea, as we’ve been moving toward our peaceful pressure campaign. We continue to forge ahead on that. We are seeing success elsewhere around the globe, success against ISIS. So Senator Corker is allowed to have his own opinions, and I’m just going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: And Secretary Tillerson —
QUESTION: Senator Corker said that he spoke to Secretary —
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Senator Corker said he spoke to Secretary Tillerson yesterday at length. Can you confirm that they did speak and that the Secretary relayed that he doesn’t agree with Senator Corker?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have a readout of that call.
QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson said last week that they are working on some options for the President in case – as an alternative to staying in the Iran deal. Is it safe to assume, five days before the certification, that the Secretary has submitted his alternatives to the President?
MS NAUERT: Well, I know that there are a few plans that have been discussed and a few different options and arrangements, as any president would have his national security team weigh in with some different arrangements about how certain things could be constructed and how certain things would work.
QUESTION: Can I just go ahead and ask a few things?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: One thing, does the Secretary feel the need to prove, with some kind of metric, how smart he is? Does he feel like he’s in competition with the President or other members of the cabinet as to who’s smarter?
MS NAUERT: No, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I go to DPRK?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I go to – just back over —
MS NAUERT: Hi, Alicia.
QUESTION: Hi. Former President Jimmy Carter offered to go to North Korea to speak with Kim Jong-un. Is the State Department planning to help facilitate such a meeting? And if or if not, will you grant him a waiver to go to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. One would certainly need a wavier to go to North Korea. That is for sure. Former President Jimmy Carter has been there on numerous occasions, not behalf – not on behalf of the U.S. Government, but he has held talks and he is not – if he were to go over there, it’s not with the sendoff of the U.S. Government.
QUESTION: But you would grant him a waiver?
MS NAUERT: I – that I don’t know. I don’t want to forecast or get ahead of that. I’m just not sure.
QUESTION: Well, when you say “sendoff” do you mean that —
MS NAUERT: We’re not —
QUESTION: — you’re not — they’re not going – he’s not going on behalf of the U.S. Government.
MS NAUERT: Correct. He’s not going on behalf of the U.S. Government, if he were to be going.
QUESTION: But that – but if he were to be going, would you oppose such a visit, or do you think he could have – he could – he does have – as you pointed out, he does have relations and has talked to them in the past. So would you kind of lump this in the Americans shouldn’t be going, or this is a former president that might be able to do something —
MS NAUERT: I think – I think —
QUESTION: — even if it’s not on behalf of the U.S. Government?
MS NAUERT: — the ultimate decision about that would be above my pay grade, so I just – (laughter) – I don’t want to weigh in on that one. And part of that would be the whole granting of the visa waiver —
QUESTION: Legitimate —
MS NAUERT: — and so we wouldn’t be – I would not be involved in that. That would be another department. Okay?
QUESTION: Heather, more on North Korea.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: You’re way back there today.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m late today. If the United States will open to military options against North Korea or do you think military options are not possible? What is —
MS NAUERT: Democracy is a – excuse me, not democracy – diplomacy – pardon me.
QUESTION: Democracy is very different from —
MS NAUERT: We like democracy too. Diplomacy is the preferred approach. Pardon me. A few days off, so getting – trying to get back into the swing of things. But diplomacy is the preferred approach. Secretary Tillerson has talked about that repeatedly. Secretary Mattis has as well. So has the White House. That’s our first line. We’re continuing with that. We’ve had numerous conversations in recent days with some of our friends and allies around the world, where they have said to us even that they feel that our pressure campaign is starting to have an effect. And so we’re pleased with that. Felicia, I don’t want to embarrass you, but Felicia Schwartz wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend that ran Saturday – Friday?
MS NAUERT: Monday. Was that Monday?
QUESTION: Weekend for you. Weekend for you.
MS NAUERT: Oh, weekend for us. It was Monday. Yes, yes, yes. It talked a little bit about some of the successes in the peaceful pressure campaign, so I could certainly refer you to that.
QUESTION: But Secretary Mattis, he mentioned about yesterday, Heather, that they’re open about military options and this —
MS NAUERT: Well, of course, we always have those options.
MS NAUERT: Okay. As the Secretary of Defense, we have military options. But diplomacy is the first approach. That is what we want. Okay? No one wants to go to war with another country. We want diplomacy. We want North Korea to give up its illegal nuclear ballistic missile weapons and testing and all of that. We want a peaceful Korean Peninsula, and the world agrees with us on this. It’s not just the United States; it’s many countries around the world who are all working together on this one.
QUESTION: Yeah. One more. Senators have sent a letter to —
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Who?
QUESTION: Yeah. Twelve senators sent letters to Secretary Tillerson asking for North Korea to be reappointed as a terrorist country. Will the United States reappoint it, North Korea as a terrorist —
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that letter.
QUESTION: You didn’t know?
MS NAUERT: I’m personally not aware of whether —
QUESTION: Okay. But can you –
MS NAUERT: — or not we received a letter to that effect from U.S. senators.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you take question?
MS NAUERT: I’ll see if I can find out for you.
QUESTION: All right.
MS NAUERT: Okay?
MS NAUERT: Yes. Hi.
QUESTION: But there was legislation on the Hill that required the department to come back on North Korea and give an assessment if it should be determined a state sponsor of terror or not, and that’s due in the next month. So can you give us an update as to where the department is on that? If —
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I just wouldn’t get ahead of that at this point.
QUESTION: But are you undertaking a reassessment?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that right now. We may be, but I’m just not aware of it. Okay?
QUESTION: Heather, you talk about the preferred option being diplomacy, but the President has talked about only one thing will work. Is that diplomacy? Or what was he referring to of his —
MS NAUERT: The President has talked about diplomacy and he has talked about how the Secretary has been pushing ahead with that, and Secretary Mattis is as well. So no one prefers the military response, but that is there to back us up if our allies would need it or if we would need it.
QUESTION: So but on Saturday he talked about how 25 years of agreements have not worked with North Korea —
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — and that he adds only one thing will work.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So does that mean it’s diplomacy, which he seems to be disparaging in his comments?
MS NAUERT: I think what the President was talking about is some of the past actions have not worked, where we have just talked and talked and talked and talked, and North Korea hasn’t lived up to some of the things that it was supposed to. We would give things to North Korea in exchange for good behavior and that good behavior, in fact, never really materialized. So I think I don’t want to interpret the President’s comments. I could refer you to the White House for more on that. Okay?
QUESTION: Heather, you said there were recent conversations in the past few days. Can you – do you have any readouts of such recent conversations?
MS NAUERT: I do not, but I know that those conversations have been taking place, so —
QUESTION: With which countries?
MS NAUERT: Let me get back to you on that, okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Heather, please —
MS NAUERT: Hi.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Can we go to Venezuela? Are we done with North Korea?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. We’re going – where do you want to —
MS NAUERT: Venezuela.
QUESTION: Are we ready to go there?
MS NAUERT: Certainly. Yes. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Can we? Right. Do you have anything on the visa denial of the ousted attorney general Luisa Diaz? She said that she has proof of corruptions at the highest level of the Maduro administration.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So visa applications – and those are confidential, so no matter who it is or what the cause is, that’s something that we don’t comment on. I think we’ve talked about that before. They’re confidential under a federal law.
Overall though, corruption in Venezuela – and we haven’t talked about Venezuela much recently – human rights abuses, economic, financial mismanagement in North Korea, the move away from democracy has been a tremendous concern to ours. The humanitarian situation in Venezuela is horrific. It’s something that our folks are following very closely. The Maduro regime continues to impose needless suffering on the Venezuelan people. Secretary Tillerson and Vice President Pence have been extremely focused on this situation, so we continue to monitor and watch it. Okay?
QUESTION: She’s also seeking political asylum in the United States.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the State Department in communication with other federal agencies on this?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information for you on that. Okay?
QUESTION: And then her allegation was quoted in the Human Rights Report by the State Department in the past, but not in this year’s. Why is that change?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that. Okay? Sorry.
QUESTION: Can I follow –
MS NAUERT: Felicia, go right ahead.
QUESTION: We have a Wall Street Journal reporter who was convict – are you – I don’t know if you’re familiar with the case, but she – I can explain after if not, but she was convicted by a Turkish court of – oh, engaging in terrorist propaganda for an article she wrote two years ago for The Wall Street Journal.
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of this. Why – Ilhan and I have talked quite a bit about – Ilhan’s a Turkish reporter over here – about reporters that he knows and has knowledge of who have been detained.
QUESTION: So the charges – yeah.
MS NAUERT: We haven’t talked about this one before, so this is —
QUESTION: The – because this —
MS NAUERT: — new to me.
QUESTION: She was convicted today. The charges were just —
MS NAUERT: Oh, she was convicted today?
QUESTION: The charges were just made public. I can circle back with you offline.
MS NAUERT: And —
QUESTION: I don’t know —
MS NAUERT: Yeah, let’s talk about that after.
MS NAUERT: Is she an American citizen?
QUESTION: She – I think she’s Turkish-Finnish.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: But she’s employed by the paper.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: I’m not 100 percent sure.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks for bringing that to my awareness, but let me see what we can get for you on that. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Cuba and –
MS NAUERT: Last – okay, last topic.
QUESTION: Please? Please? Please?
MS NAUERT: We’ll go to Cuba.
QUESTION: Cuba? One on Cuba?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi.
QUESTION: Hi, Heather. So do you have any updates about Cuba’s attack? And I think last week maybe the Cuban embassy has just leave – all of those officials, the diplomats that you asked them to do, so what’s the next move that the U.S. Government is thinking about?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of what the U.S. Government may or may not do. We have an ongoing investigation that’s being spearheaded out of the United States with our best investigators on that, so they continue to move ahead with that investigation. We still don’t know who is responsible and we still don’t know what is responsible for the injuries of our American staff.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Steve?
QUESTION: Please —
MS NAUERT: You want?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Cuba. CBS News, of course, spoke with one of the victims in the attacks, who claims the State Department handled this, quote, “poorly.” Do you think the majority of the victims are satisfied with the way the State Department has offered them initial care and has responded to this?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I was just speaking with one of our colleagues who served down there in Cuba and is recently back here in the United States. And I asked this person that very question: “How do you feel that we responded?” And I’ve asked numerous of my colleagues that very question. I mean, we all care deeply about how our folks are doing down there. And I asked the question, “Do you feel supported by us? Do you feel that we were quick enough to respond?” And the answer I got back was yes. As soon as the State Department knew what was going on, as soon as the State Department started to figure out a pattern – because as you recall, we talked about this before – we didn’t know what was – well, we still don’t know what is affecting people. But it took a while to put this together, because the symptoms were so different.
But this person said to me once we figured out a pattern, yes, the State Department was extremely responsive. This person said to me that they – I’ll say “they” so it’s not a he or she – never felt the pressure to stay in Cuba, although they wanted to make it clear that they wanted to serve down there. These folks love what they’re doing, they feel a real dedication to the mission – to our mission down there in Cuba, the activities that they were involved with on behalf of the U.S. Government with local Cubans, and they were encouraged by the State Department to come forward, please get tested if you feel like you’ve had some sort of symptoms or something.
QUESTION: Well —
QUESTION: And just —
MS NAUERT: So I would say, to answer your question, yes. Perhaps there’s an individual who doesn’t agree with that, but by and large our people feel supported by us.
QUESTION: And just quickly, there was a security message, obviously, that came out on Friday with specific warnings about two hotels there. Sources say these hotel attacks began as early as February. Why is this security message just coming out now?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have the actual timeline in front of me that lays out when attacks took place at different locations, and I’m not even sure that that is something that we’re making public. But once we started to figure out what this was all about and started to investigate and realized that we were not able to protect our people, that’s when the Secretary made what some would say is a tough decision. I think if you asked the Secretary, he would say it was not a difficult decision. This is a man – we’ve talked about this here before – who starts the meetings off literally every day with “Are our people safe?” And our Diplomatic Security will go around the room and talk about where our people are in certain parts of the world, and how are they doing, are they safe, has there been an attack somewhere, are people safe, was there a car accident – all of that. And so this is something that we’ve remained extremely focused on.
QUESTION: Just real quick, are the diplomats that are left in Cuba for the U.S. Government – are they safe?
MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary’s been clear about this. We have people who serve in unsafe positions all around the world. You know the countries. But that’s the job that some of these folks in the State Department do. People like to think of the State Department as a bunch of bureaucrats sitting here in Washington. No, that is not the case. We have a lot of people all around the world who are in unsafe positions, who are doing the good work of supporting others in other countries and advancing American foreign policy goals.
QUESTION: Can I – to that point? To that point?
QUESTION: Can I ask about visas, please?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are many diplomats that had to leave Cuba that did not want to leave, and in fact, I believe wrote the department that they thought that, as you said, like, they know the risks. There are plenty of diplomats around the world that have health risks, whether it’s Zika virus or malaria, or Ebola, and they felt that the way that they were kind of pulled out, their kids had to leave school, that many of the diplomats did not want to leave. Can you speak to that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I’ve – look, people – I would liken it to a police officer on the beat, okay. Are you a police officer who wants to sit behind the desk? Well, some do, but a lot of them want to be on the beat, just like you as —
QUESTION: But if they would say —
MS NAUERT: — hold on, hold on – just as you as reporters. Do you want to sit behind a desk or all day, or do you want to be out reporting stories? Our diplomats – do they want to sit here in Washington all day or do they want to be out in the field helping people? They want to be out in the field helping people.
MS NAUERT: They believe firmly in our mission and the work that we’re doing down there. However, when our Secretary looks at the situation and says, “We can’t protect you because we don’t know what is causing this, and we don’t know who is responsible,” he has to make that decision to bring our folks home.
So I understand that not everybody wanted to come home. Understand that. We gave people the option, initially: If you want to come home under compassionate curtailment, you certainly can. But when he felt that he could not adequately protect our people, he made that decision.
QUESTION: Can you just clarify, the person —
QUESTION: What about the visas, please?
QUESTION: — that you spoke to —
MS NAUERT: Yes?
QUESTION: — was a victim of the attack, or was just someone who came back under the ordered departure?
MS NAUERT: Someone who served there and someone who was tested. And we offered that testing to our folks down there.
QUESTION: Okay. Someone who is a confirmed victim?
MS NAUERT: No, no, no. No, no.
QUESTION: Oh. Well, because you do understand that there might be a difference between what someone who was a confirmed victim felt about how the State Department responded and someone who was not and who was just told to come home.
MS NAUERT: What I can say is that, without having spoken to everybody —
QUESTION: Fair enough. I just wanted to make —
MS NAUERT: — as soon as we started to identify a pattern, what was going on – and —
MS NAUERT: — the first time we all talked about this, what had happened to our folks down there, people had experienced different symptoms. And it took a while to figure out that all of these unusual symptoms had a common thread, and that there was something going on.
QUESTION: I got it. I was just trying to figure out if this was a person who was in the same category as the person that he’s talking about, who was a – is a confirmed victim. This person is not, right?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, I think I will stand behind what I said, that the —
QUESTION: I’m not – no, I just wanted —
MS NAUERT: — vast majority of folks – we’re on top of this. We’re offering them the best medical care possible, to get evaluated and assessed and reassessed, offering them the – those we had earlier, the option of coming back to the United States or going to a different post. I said to my colleague today, “Do you feel supported by us? Do our people there feel supported by us, and that we have their backs here in Washington?” And the answer I got back was yes.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks, everybody. Got to leave it there. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:44 p.m.)