Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Department Press Briefing
August 9, 2018
MS NAUERT: Good. A couple announcements to start before we get started with your questions today.
First, I would like to express our condolences to the victims of the recent earthquakes and also the aftershocks in Indonesia. The United States has experts and partner organizations on the ground. We’re consulting with the Government of Indonesia at this time. We’re closely monitoring the situation, and we stand ready to provide additional aid to the Government of Indonesia. Our U.S. consulate personnel are assisting affected U.S. citizens. At this time, we do not have any reports of U.S. citizen casualties associated with the earthquakes. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Indonesian people. As many of you know, we were recently on the ground in Indonesia and had some terrific meetings with government officials there.
Next, I have some staffing news to bring you now. And I’m really excited about this one, because it affects our Bureau of Public Affairs and specifically the folks that you will working with. Today I’d like to announce that Robert Palladino will be joining our press team as the State Department’s deputy spokesperson. Robert is a career Foreign Service officer and I believe known well to some of you or perhaps many of you.
Over the past year, Robert has served as director of press and acting National Security Council spokesperson. In that role he’s helped to prepare Sarah Sanders for her briefings at the White House. He was also a spokesperson to the White House press corps and worked as NSC communications lead for both Asia and Europe. Robert’s Foreign Service career has included postings in Washington, where he worked for our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy, and also on Capitol Hill. Overseas, he’s worked in Milan, Italy; Guangzhou, China; and also Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Prior to joining the State Department, he practiced law in Asia and Europe in the Army JAG Corps. His service included deployment to Rwanda. He is a graduate of Notre Dame University, Washington and Lee School of Law, the U.S. Army War College, and he also speaks Chinese and Italian. Pretty impressive.
We are delighted that he is coming back to the State Department from the White House. I know you will enjoy working with him. For those of you who have not met him, he is a terrific guy. We’ve worked closely together for the past year or so. I asked him what his children thought, because he has two young girls – I asked him what they thought of his job, and I love these quotes. His youngest daughter said, “I’m proud of America and I’m proud of you, Dad, but it sounds really boring.” And then his older daughter said this – and you’ll appreciate it – “But wait a minute, everybody yells questions and they’re angry. That’s the worst job in the world.” That actually might be the White House press corps, not you all. But we look forward to welcoming Robert when he joins us on the 20th of August. But try not to bug him between now and then; he’s on vacation with his family. So another addition to our press family.
And that’s it. With that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: All right. Let me ask you about this airstrike in Yemen, which appears to have killed dozens of children. The Saudis obviously are the ones who conducted this, but they do that with weapons supplied by the U.S., with training supplied by the U.S., and with targeting information, targeting data, supplied by the U.S. How can something like this happen?
MS NAUERT: How can something like that report happen?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think we would start by saying —
QUESTION: It’s more than a report. I mean, it’s – they admitted that it happened.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. How can situations like this happen? We don’t have the full details about what happened on the ground. We’ve certainly seen the news reports of what has been reported happened, okay? I can’t confirm all the details because we are not there on the ground.
We can say that we’re certainly concerned about these reports that resulted – that there was an attack that resulted in the deaths of civilians. We call on the Saudi-led coalition to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident. We take all credible accounts of civilian casualties very seriously. We call on the parties to take appropriate measures to protect civilians in accordance with international law and urge all parties to investigate all reported incidents of civilian casualties.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, they say – already the coalition says that they acted in accordance with international law. But if you look at the photographs, the video that come from the scene, it doesn’t look like that’s a really – that that’s a credible answer. So are you okay with the coalition on its own doing an investigation, or would you like to see some kind of an international component to it or an international investigation?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think I just answered that and we said that we would call upon the Saudi Government —
QUESTION: So you’re —
MS NAUERT: — to do a full and thorough investigation, as we always do. And we call upon all parties in any kind of situation like this to take appropriate measures to try to mitigate the risk of civilian casualties.
QUESTION: So you don’t think —
MS NAUERT: DOD and other entities put out reports on this after the fact as they all start to investigate, and so we will look forward to any information on that.
QUESTION: It’s only the latest in a huge number of civilians killed during these operations though.
MS NAUERT: I would encourage you to take a look – and that is we regret any loss of civilian life. That is something that the United States Government – in particular, any time you talk to the Department of Defense about civilian casualties, they will say the same thing —
QUESTION: Well —
MS NAUERT: — that – I’m not finished, okay? And they will say the exact same thing, that all parties take very strong responsibility and measures to try to protect against the loss of civilian life. As we have seen – and you all very rarely ask about the issue that has been unfolding and the devastation that has taken place in Yemen – let’s look at some of the things that have been happening in Yemen.
You have the Houthi rebels who continue to attack Saudi Arabia. They continue to do that with Iranian weapons, missiles, and rockets. They continue to try to attack civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, for example, and that is part of the reason why these actions are being taken.
Let me go back and remind you what I just said a moment ago, and that is we call for an investigation and we anticipate that a thorough investigation will be done. I don’t have anything more for you on that.
QUESTION: Is this – hey, Heather. Is this latest incident or the previous incidents causing the U.S. to re-evaluate in any way the role that it’s playing in the situation, in terms of its relationship with Saudi Arabia?
MS NAUERT: Look, we provide a tremendous amount of humanitarian assistance in Yemen to try to support civilians in Yemen and try to mitigate against the devastation that’s taken place there in that country. I don’t have anything more for you on that.
QUESTION: But you also supply a tremendous amount of weaponry and the data for targeting to the Saudis.
MS NAUERT: On that I would refer you to the Department of Defense that is involved with that, but as you know, Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner in the region to the United States.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. Hey. So obviously, there’s growing concerns in Congress about the toll this war is taking within Yemen. It’s the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet. Aren’t you concerned that incidents like this will further erode congressional support and lead to further support for legislation that could cut off Saudi Arabia from arms sales and the rest?
MS NAUERT: I mean, I think that is an entirely hypothetical question and we don’t comment on congressional proposals in any event, but I would ask – all of you have been very silent on the issue of Yemen, and times —
QUESTION: Hi. On Iraq, the road between Erbil and Kirkuk, which was cut as a result of fighting last October, is being rebuilt, but Baghdad has said that it will establish a customs border on that road and collect revenues. Is that consistent, a customs border in the middle of the Erbil-Baghdad road, in which one party, the Iraqi Government, is going to collect revenues? Is that consistent with your view of a unified Iraq?
MS NAUERT: I would – there are other countries that have done this in the past, including our own country years ago in which this type of thing has been done. I think this is largely an internal matter for the Government of Iraq, between Iraq and Erbil, to try to work out. We do encourage them to resolve any remaining issues between Baghdad and Erbil.
QUESTION: You don’t have a position beyond that?
MS NAUERT: Look, we believe that a strong KRG government within a unified and federal Iraq is something that’s essential to Iraq’s long-term stability and the enduring defeat overall of ISIS.
QUESTION: Okay, if I could ask you about Turkey. So the deputy foreign minister was here; it seemed there was no progress. Is that the case? And was pastor – were the American hostages the only issues that were discussed or were there other questions like the Turkish purchase of the S-400 discussed as well?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, obviously you all know that we have a very broad relationship with Turkey and a host of issues that we talk about with the Turkish Government whenever we do meet. Yesterday we had a wide-ranging conversation with Turkish Government officials. We made it clear that Pastor Brunson needs to be returned home. Much of this, though, we’re not going to negotiate in public.
QUESTION: Can you tell us if you made any progress about the situation of Pastor Brunson?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I would say we would define progress as Pastor Brunson being brought home.
QUESTION: There is an escalation as we speak of Israeli bombardment of Gaza. They said that they killed a 23-year-old woman, pregnant, with her toddler. Do you have any comments on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, overall we’ve been watching this as it has been unfolding, and it’s a very concerning situation that has taken place in Gaza. Overall, we condemn the launching of missile attacks into Israel and call for an end to the destructive violence. We’ve seen reports that 180 or so rocket attacks have taken place, shot from Gaza into Israel, and we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself and to take actions to prevent provocations of that nature.
QUESTION: But this last round of bombardment, Israeli bombardment, actually began by the Israelis. It was not Hamas that started this latest round.
MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get into how this thing started. Let’s not forget that Hamas bears ultimate responsibility for the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. It’s a tremendous concern of ours.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you about the peace efforts that are taking place. Now, there are reports that the unveiling of the plan, the deal of the century, has been pushed back. Can – do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: I would object to the premise of the question, your statement in that question. We have not unveiled the peace plan at this time. That will be unveiled by Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt when it is ready. And when it’s ready to be unveiled, they will unveil it.
QUESTION: So you – in the case of Iran, you have this 12-point plan of what behavior you want the government to implement in order to lift sanctions. You have a whole series of sanctions that are now revolving around Russia having to do with CAATSA, Magnitsky, now weapons. Can you give us some global sense of what these sanctions are trying to achieve from an American foreign policy perspective? What are you looking for from Russia? Why do we have sanctions on them? What’s your goal? And when’s the – when’s the periodicity of these things?
MS NAUERT: Sure. I think I would start by answering that question with this: That we approach every country very differently. Every country that we have a relationship or even countries that we don’t have relationships with are viewed through a separate lens. So what may be appropriate for one country is maybe not necessarily appropriate for another country.
The United States Government has determined that sanctions can be a very effective tool in trying to bring various governments to the table to negotiate with us or try to encourage countries to comply or to return to a better set of behaviors. So this is one tool that we have in a very big toolkit. The State Department works closely with Treasury and OFAC and other entities to implement, study, and enforce sanctions, and that is part of what you’ve seen yesterday. Let’s remember that one of the things that has brought North Korea to the table is sanctions. And we have found sanctions to be very effective in many cases around the world. So the U.S. Government looks at that as an overall tool.
QUESTION: Right, so North Korea is a great example. Sanctions – as a result, you want to get rid of their nuclear program. Again, Iran, you’ve got a list of 12 things. Venezuela, you’ve got sort of a clear list. I’m trying to understand what your policy is with Russia. You’ve got a variety – myriad now of sanctions. What’s your goal?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think the President has addressed this and so has Secretary Pompeo. We’d like to have a better relationship with the Russian Government, recognizing that we have a lot of areas of mutual concern. It is a major country; we are a major country as well. And so when you have that, you are forced to have to have conversations with other governments. And sanctions is a way that we can try to encourage better behavior on the part of government. Now, I’m speaking in a broad-based sense, but that’s one way that we can encourage better behavior. Okay.
QUESTION: And then just on the other point on the second tranche, and I don’t mean to get you into hypotheticals, but yesterday at the briefing they did say that if Russia doesn’t do certain things, including sort of admit wrongdoing and say that they weren’t going to do it again, that there would be second tranche. And today, Russia said this is ridiculous, we didn’t do that. So if they keep that position for the next 90 days, won’t there – won’t there, under the law, have to be a second tranche?
MS NAUERT: And that’s why I would go back and say that we will comply with the law. We are well aware of what the law contains; we will comply with the law. But I’m not going to get ahead of what could happen 90 days from now. Okay.