U.S. Department of State
Department Press Briefing
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
QUESTION: Okay. I want to ask you about a phone call the Secretary had yesterday with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. They seemed – the readout of the call mentioned several topics, but it didn’t say specifically whether the Secretary had raised with the Crown Prince the attack in Yemen, for which – that we talked about last week, which the death toll of children has now risen to, I believe, 50, nor did it mention the whole dispute between the Saudis and Canada. I’m wondering if you can elaborate a little bit on the readout and say whether either of those two items came up.
MS NAUERT: Yes, both of those issues did come up in the Secretary’s call with his counterpart. We put out a readout of that call, but as you will notice in the readout, it says that we also discuss other issues of mutual concern. We don’t always, as we’ve talked about here before, list every single thing, every single item, that has been discussed in the phone call, but I can confirm for you that those two issues were, in fact, raised.
QUESTION: Those two? All right. So I mean, because they were like relevant items, and thank you for confirming that they were, but it would have been super helpful had it been mentioned in the – it’s not like – we’re not talking like zombie apocalypse as a mutual item of —
MS NAUERT: I think we have a new job for you, Matt Lee. You can come in and you can do our readouts on our phone calls.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you –
QUESTION: Can I ask you to be a little bit more explicit in what exactly they – I mean, did the Secretary say we’re concerned about this attack, this bombing in Yemen, and we’d like you really to find out what happened? I notice that General Mattis has said that there’s going to be a U.S. general going over to Saudi Arabia to – I don’t know what, but to have something to look – overlook or do this. And on the Canadian dispute, did he say anything to suggest that the United States agrees with the Canadian position that these rights activists should be released?
MS NAUERT: Let me take your second question first, and that is to the issue of the dispute – or whatever you want to call it – between Canada and Saudi Arabia. The Secretary believes that this is an issue for the Canadians and for the Saudi – and for the Saudis to resolve themselves. We said that last week. I think we’ve been clear about that. We believe that other countries have the ability to pick up the phone and have conversations with one another about issues that are important. The United States does not have to get involved or interfere in every issue that’s out there before countries.
As to the second issue, we addressed this last week. We have called for a Saudi-led coalition to investigate the civilian causalities that took place as a result of that airstrike. Secretary Mattis has spoken about this. The Secretary dispatched a three-star general to Saudi Arabia to discuss the incident with the Saudi Government and encourage them to look into the situation. As of a few days ago, the Saudis have said that they would, in fact, conduct an investigation, and so we will let them certainly conduct that investigation. We’re not going to get ahead of that, but I can confirm for you this was an issue that the Secretary did raise, but I’m not going to get into the private details of their diplomatic conversation.
QUESTION: May I have a follow-up?
MS NAUERT: Hi, Andrea. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Hi. Two questions. First of all, since last week, the Canada-Saudi issue has escalated with Saudi taking retaliatory action against investments in Canada. So I’m wondering whether there is a further response from the U.S. to that, because it’s no longer being resolved between two friends; it’s not at all being resolved between two friends. And on Yemen, what would make us think that the Saudis could credibly lead an independent – lead a coalition-led investigation –
MS NAUERT: Well, they’ve done it in the past.
QUESTION: — rather than an independent investigation?
MS NAUERT: They have done those investigations in the past. We call upon them –
MS NAUERT: We call upon them to hold an investigation. Secretary Mattis sent out a three-star general. That three-star was there – my understanding – today, in which he was having conversations with the Government of Saudi Arabia and coalition partners. And so I’ll leave it to that investigation to take place, and part of this would be – have – would require having DOD weigh in.
QUESTION: You don’t think the UN should step in and –
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to make policy here from this podium. That is not my role to do so. I can tell you – I can state our current position, and our current position is for an investigation to take place. And that is all I have on that matter.
QUESTION: And one question to follow up on Matt, though, is: Was there an attempt to obfuscate the subjects in that readout? Because the readout notably did not mention the two very newsworthy and very controversial issues now involving the kingdom.
MS NAUERT: Look, there is – you’ve been around long enough to know that every single issue – and we’ve discussed this here before – that is discussed in a phone call between two world leaders does not make it into a readout. That is part of the reason that I am here today, to take your questions, and I can confirm that those issues did, in fact, come up. And I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi has said that Iraq will continue trading with Iran, but it won’t use the dollar. What is your response to that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I mean, we’ve certainly seen that report. That’s something that was just brought to my attention a short while ago. Overall I can tell you were continue our efforts by the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to resolve the issues between the government and Baghdad. You know our concerns about Iran and about trading with Iran, and we will continue to hold countries accountable for any violation of sanctions.
QUESTION: But is his statement acceptable to you?
MS NAUERT: Laurie, you know – we’ve been here long enough together – that we don’t comment on every foreign leader’s comments that a foreign leader will make.
QUESTION: There was a report that came out on Friday after the briefing where it said that basically the United States cut off all aid to the Palestinians. Could you please just explain to us the situation, the status of U.S. aid to the Palestinians of all kinds?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can just tell you that much of this is under review and we have no decisions to announce, no new initiatives or anything to announce at this time.
QUESTION: So do you confirm that everything is frozen, most everything is frozen –
MS NAUERT: That –
QUESTION: — with the exception –
MS NAUERT: — funding, such as for UNRWA, was under a review. That remains under review at this time. Okay. I don’t have anything more on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Saudi? Can we go back there? A couple of people had questions. When you call for an investigation, why does the United States think it’s enough for this ongoing problem for Saudi Arabia to do the investigation?
MS NAUERT: That is something that they have done in the past. We would encourage them to continue to do that. Michelle, I’m not going to have anything more for you on this issue. Does anybody –
QUESTION: Well, why do you think that’s – why do you think it’s enough was the question.
MS NAUERT: Because we take those matters seriously of civilian casualties. Our Saudi partners take those issues seriously as well. Anyone who operates from a military fashion, who is involved in actions and strikes, in strife around the world, in major countries like ours take all efforts to try to mitigate against civilian casualties. And I’ll just leave it at that.
Hi. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, so back on Saudi, the –
MS NAUERT: I think I just said I don’t have anything more for you on this issue.
QUESTION: This is not on Yemen.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: The Saudi-Canadian spat started with the arrest of Samar Badawi, who’s an activist, over her online social media posts, and her brother was arrested several years ago on the same thing. What’s the U.S. position on her arrest?
MS NAUERT: And this is something that we’ve – and good to see you back here – but this is something that we’ve addressed here from this podium before. We support the right to free speech, and that is something that we stand firmly for every time one of these issues comes up. We remain concerned about the detention of activists in Saudi Arabia and we urge the Government of Saudi Arabia and all governments to ensure that due process is done and that it’s handled in a transparent and fair manner. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s move on to something else. Hi, Jessica.
QUESTION: Another question again. I just want to kind of – the Canadian issue: What was the purpose of the call? If it’s not to offer support for one side or the other or to offer negotiation, why raise it with the Saudis?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think that was in our readout, and we have broad relationships with many countries around the world in which we are engaged in a lot of various activities, some of which you’re very familiar with that you read in the headlines every day. Some things are not as interesting, and so we have – often have broad conversations with our partners. Okay?
QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. could take a role as a negotiator going forward?
MS NAUERT: I – look, I don’t think that there’s any – it’s not necessary for the United States to have to step in between two countries that have the ability to pick up the phone and handle these issues among themselves. Okay?
Okay. Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: Hi. Probably you have seen or heard that the – that Iran’s spiritual/revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said that there won’t be any talking with the U.S., or in general he has forbidden talking with the United States. Given that the administration has expressed openness to discussions on all the subjects, would you consider this Iran’s response to that proposition?
MS NAUERT: Would we consider that to be Iran’s response? I mean, we certainly heard the response. The United States remains hopeful that the people of Saudi Arabia will continue to make their viewpoints very well known.
MS NAUERT: Excuse me, sorry. Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the people of Saudi Arabia should not continue to –
MS NAUERT: Pardon me. Okay, going on autopilot there. Thank you for that correction very much. My apologies.
Look, we saw the – we heard the statement, we saw the statement, and it’s just something where we’re not going to respond to something that every government official from around the world has to say.
QUESTION: Well, this is –
MS NAUERT: I think we’ve been very clear in terms of our policy regarding Iran and our concerns and our continued concerns about Iran’s bad behavior around the world. We are not the only nation to have seen that, witnessed that, who have been hurt by it, many other countries as well. And we remain firm in our policy of standing up against Iran, against its malign activities.
QUESTION: Is there going to be a deadline for a response from Iran?
MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not putting out any kinds of deadlines or anything. I think we’ve been very clear about our policies.
QUESTION: Heather, do you have – I’ve got two really brief things that are far afield. One is, do you have anything to say on the six-year anniversary of the disappearance of Austin Tice in Syria? And secondly, I don’t remember if you guys said anything at the time, late last week, when the Cubans returned this fugitive to the United States.
MS NAUERT: I’m afraid, Matt, I don’t have anything for you on the Cuban return of this –
MS NAUERT: — individual. I will check with our folks who handle Cuba and see if I have anything I can get for you on that. Regarding Austin Tice, some of you may know him – a citizen, U.S. citizen, and a journalist who was reporting from Syria and went missing six years ago to this day. I know his parents have been speaking publicly about how much they miss him, about the U.S. Government’s response to address his disappearance, his location, and attempts to bring him home. We believe him to be alive. We remain deeply concerned about his wellbeing and we’re actively working to bring Austin Tice home. Now, I imagine a lot of you will have questions about where we think he might be, who you think might be holding him, et cetera, et cetera. I appreciate your curiosity about that but that is not something that we will get into out of not only consideration for the family but his own safety and security. We hope that we will have a positive conclusion to his case at some point soon.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MS NAUERT: And while I raise this issue, I’d like to just mention, as some of you know, we have a special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. I think many of you have probably not met him. His name is Robert O’Brien and he will be working on this issue along with the cases of other American citizens who are missing or who have been held – are being held in other countries.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on –
QUESTION: Is he based in Washington?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: O’Brien, is he based in Washington?
MS NAUERT: He – I know he works out of Washington, yes. I don’t know where his actual home-home is.
MS NAUERT: Hi.
QUESTION: Austin Tice’s parents today have called for the United States to – for the U.S. Government to hold direct talks with the Syrian Government to bring him back home.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you willing to do that, perhaps have the new special envoy —
MS NAUERT: Sure. And I hadn’t heard about those comments that his parents had made, so that’s not – that’s not a question I asked. I can’t make policy here from this position and determine whether or not we should actually have those kinds of negotiations going forward. I would hesitate to say that I understand the parents’ pain and the emotion that they’re feeling, not knowing where their son has been for so many years. As a parent myself, I can certainly appreciate part of what that must feel like. I can assure you that we’re doing everything that we can to try to bring him home, and our conversations certainly with the family will continue.
Okay, I’ve got to go, guys. Janne, I’m sorry. I’ll see you again next time. Okay, thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:34 p.m.)