U.S. Department of State
Department Press Briefing
Heather Nauert, Spokesperson
July 24, 2018
MS NAUERT: So I will give you one example that we have seen reports about, and that is about refugees. And I’m not going to be able to comment on everything the Russian Government has said, but the Secretary addressed this on Friday, that there is some sort of proposal regarding refugees in Syria. That’s obviously a very serious situation. Our State Department policy continues to be and will not change: We support refugees going home under these conditions – safe, voluntary, dignified returns at the time of their choosing and when it is safe to do so. I don’t think the situation, as UNHCR backs up right now, allows for that at this time. Hopefully, someday people will be able to be – to head back home. There have been some parts of Syria where we have seen people slowly be able to return home, but in other parts of country that clearly is not safe.
QUESTION: So the President today said he’s ready to make a real deal on Iran. Given his tweet this week that seemed to stir – to make one wonder whether he’s pushing for regime change, this seems to backtrack a little bit as to – that he’s ready to make – negotiate a follow-up on the JCPOA.
MS NAUERT: Lesley, I’m going to be very cautious about not parsing the President’s words. I’d have to refer you to the White House for anything that the President said on that.
QUESTION: No, no, no. But this is it – is that – given that the State Department has been in front of the pushing – making sure that countries reimpose these sanctions and stuff, is it your understanding that officials from the State Department are also prepared to engage in a negotiation on a JCPOA?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any – engage in negotiations on the JCPOA? We’ve been talking with our counterparts all around the world about the re-imposition of sanctions and holding the Iranian Government responsible for the horrible acts that his government – its government has been involved with in many parts of the world. And beyond that, I’m just not going to have anything else for you.
QUESTION: It’s the Secretary, though, who suggested that the United States stands with the Iranian people –
MS NAUERT: Yes, we do.
QUESTION: — but their regime is a mafia kleptocracy.
MS NAUERT: Yup, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So there are certainly suggestions of support for regime change.
MS NAUERT: The Secretary’s been very clear about that. He has said the only change we want is a change of behavior. I would say anything beyond that is an interpretation that is coming from whatever individual is saying that.
QUESTION: Well, who would the –
MS NAUERT: That is not what the Secretary has said.
QUESTION: And you don’t think that the President’s remarks today, that Lesley was just citing, are in any way a conflict with the tone and with the tenor of the Secretary’s remarks?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think so.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. I have a very quick question on the Palestinian issue. Last week, Israel passed a controversial nation state bill with no mention of equality to minority rights and so on. I wonder if you are concerned that such a law would make some citizens of Israel less equal than other. Do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: We hesitate to respond – or to answer questions about other country’s legislation, much like we don’t comment on pending legislation. We are certainly aware of that new law. I’d have to refer you to the Government of Israel for the specifics of that law and their position on that. But I can tell as a general matter, and as it pertains to this, that we believe in equality of all persons before the law.
QUESTION: Do you feel that such a law could compromise Israeli democracy, that you highlight all the time?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment from that. That would be a question for Israelis. Please.
QUESTION: Really a couple quick other questions –
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: — with your indulgence. One, there was a meeting today at the Security Council regarding the situation in Gaza and in the Palestinian territories. And of course, it calls for preventing war, another war in Gaza. It also talks about aid, the humanitarian situation. And could you update us on the status of, let’s say, this Gaza aid package that you or that the administration has worked on for the past few months?
MS NAUERT: In terms of when we look at –
QUESTION: It terms of (inaudible) –
MS NAUERT: When we look at the situation in Gaza, we remind folks why the situation there is as terrible as it is, and that’s largely because of Hamas. And that’s because Hamas continues to foment disagreement and discord among its own people. Hamas doesn’t spend the money that it needs to on some of its own programs, such as electricity, food, clean water, all of those things. So this government has been behind trying to find alternatives and to try to create a better life for the people living in Gaza. You’ve certainly seen Jason Greenblatt and also Jared Kushner talk a lot about that. I believe it’s 13 trips or so that they’ve made over to the region to discuss these issues. I’ll see if we have anything new for you on that. I’d be happy to bring it to you when we do.
QUESTION: Okay. Just to clarify there was a couple of back-to-back op-ed pieces by Mr. Greenblatt, Kushner, and Ambassador Haley.
MS NAUERT: Right.
QUESTION: There seems to be a backtracking from this aid to Gaza first as a way to, let’s say, put forth the deal of the century. Is that the case now? Are we back to –
MS NAUERT: I would have to refer you to them for specifics about their op-eds.
QUESTION: On India?
MS NAUERT: Hi Laurie.
QUESTION: Hi. Human Rights Watch has issued a –
QUESTION: Just – can we just go back to this law –
MS NAUERT: Matt –
QUESTION: — (inaudible) Israel for a second? I –
MS NAUERT: Well, Matt, I will come back to you. Laurie, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Human Rights Watch has issued a report about the Iraqi suppression of protests, criticizing the excessive, unnecessary lethal force, particularly from the Badr Organization and the Interior Ministry. What is your comment on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we’re certainly aware of that Human Rights report that was issued on July the 24th. It’s something that we’re watching carefully. Our understanding is that the Iraqi Government is conducting an investigation into this. That is something that we would certainly support, that the U.S. Government does. But I’d also like to say we support the right of the Iraqi people to peacefully protest, as we do all around the world. The Iraqi Government has said that it will take measures to try to safeguard both the right and security of both public and private property. And I would just like to say I’d like to express our – the loss of life. There’s certainly been a loss of life in this and injuries as well.
QUESTION: Would you be willing to say that some elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, like the Badr Organization are more thuggish than other parts?
MS NAUERT: Laurie, I’m not going to characterize that. (Laughter.) I think that’s – that would be an unfortunate trap.
QUESTION: Okay, and may I ask you about the Lavrov – the discussion between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Pompeo. Your readout said they discussed ideas on implementing counterterrorism process coordination. What might those ideas be?
MS NAUERT: Well, I’m not going to be able to get into the specifics of that, because some of that is private diplomatic conversation. But our government has spoken numerous times about how there are ways that we could work together with other governments on issues of counterterrorism. Terrorism is not something, obviously, unique to the United States. It’s also something that other countries have experienced as well. And if we could find some small places in which we could work together with the Russian Government on certain elements, on certain things, that would certainly be a good thing. And that’s part of what the President has talked about.
QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Two question. One question regarding General Abdul Rashid Dostum returning back to Afghanistan, how much he is useful or maybe not, or yes. What’s your comment? Election is close.
The other question is Abu Dhabi meeting for country Emirate, Afghanistan, United States, Saudi. Do you know the result, how much is going to be (inaudible)?
MS NAUERT: So first thing, I can tell you that our senior bureau official for SCA, Alice Wells, is returning today from Doha, Qatar, and that’s where she’s been meeting with the – she met with the deputy prime minister. She also met with other government officials to talk about their contributions to the situation in Afghanistan. Qatar has been an important and valuable partner in that. They have helped with training and equipping, they have helped with supplies, things of that nature that are obviously needed by coalition partners to help facilitate what is going on right there. So Alice is returning. She’s had good meetings. And part of the reason she went there was to commend the government for their ongoing support for peace in Afghanistan.
To your second question with reports about General Dostum returning to Afghanistan, we would see that largely as an internal matter for the Government of Afghanistan to handle. We’re certainly aware of the reports. But while we are on the subject, I just want to say how gravely sorry the United States Government is for the loss of life that took place in the terror attack on – I believe it was on Sunday that killed about 14 people, I believe it was.
MS NAUERT: We want to send our deepest condolences to the government. And Nazira, since it’s been a while since I’ve seen you, we had a good, productive trip to Afghanistan, and it was really incredible to meet with President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah and have conversations with their cabinet officials about the President’s overall strategy in Afghanistan and what the United States Government sees as hope – possible hope for Afghanistan. I know some folks in the media and around the world have pooh-poohed that ceasefire that lasted a few days, but our view on this, if you can get a ceasefire that lasts a few days, perhaps you could get another one that lasts a little bit longer, and that gives the people of Afghanistan hope.