U.S. Department Of State
Department Press Briefing Index
Briefer: Spokesperson Heather Nauert
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
QUESTION: Yemen and the UN report that was out this week that detailed possible war crimes there. I’d just like to get your view on this report, and the Secretary’s view. And I was interested if this is something that you expect will inform U.S. policy moving forward.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. Give me one second. I’ve got Yemen back here, and it takes a bit to get to.
Okay. First, let me start by saying that Secretary Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General – Chairman Dunford addressed this to great extent yesterday in their press briefing, so I would just add on to their comments that they made yesterday. In terms of the UNHCR report that you ask about, we’ve seen that report to the Human Rights Council. The possible violations of international law as outlined in that report are very concerning to the United States Government. We believe that if such crimes have taken place, that there is simply no justification for those types of crimes. We take the report seriously. We’re certainly taking a look at the report and urge all parties to the conflict to do the same.
This serves as a good reminder that all parties to the conflict need to comply with their obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict to thoroughly investigate alleged violations of the Law of Armed Conflict and take necessary measures to prevent such violations. And that report I think gets us back to something that we have long supported, and that is a political solution to take place in Yemen. Martin Griffiths, who represents the United Nations as its special envoy, has a meeting coming up – I believe it’s within the next week or so. So we’re hoping to have some additional information and possibly some progress coming out of those meetings. And I’d be happy to bring you more when we do have it on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but do you expect that this could maybe cause the U.S. to reevaluate support for the Saudi-led coalition?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to get ahead of that. I think that Secretary Mattis addressed that yesterday. And so I would just urge you to go back and read his comments. Saudi Arabia is obviously a strong strategic partner of the United States and we work with Saudi Arabia on a host of issues because we have a very broad relationship with that government. As we have discussed for the past several weeks, they are conducting an investigation; that’s something that the U.S. Government has encouraged them to do so, and they have accepted that and they have given us assurances that they will conduct that investigation fully.
Okay. Hey, Lesley.
QUESTION: Yeah, I do have a follow-up on that one. Does that mean – you said you were reviewing the report. Does that mean that aid or any kind of assistance could be implicated depending on whatever your finding is? Or, I mean, I’m trying to find out what the – what the endpoint could be on that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not going to get ahead of any of the decisions that may or may not be made in the future with regard to that, but just want to say that we take those findings seriously and we’re urging parties to the conflict to do the same thing.
QUESTION: And then how long will your review take? Or you don’t have a deadline for that?
MS NAUERT: I don’t. I don’t know if there is a deadline on that or how long that that will necessarily take, but I think we will spend the time necessary to review it as appropriate.
Okay. Okay. Hey.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that?
QUESTION: I have a question on Palestinian aid.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can you confirm reports that a decision was made to cut the whole U.S. funding to the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees?
MS NAUERT: No, and we have covered this extensively here in this briefing room. That issue is – the funding is still under review and we have no announcements to make at this time.
QUESTION: If I could stay with the Palestinian issue for a –
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: — minute. Also, the – an Israeli court ruled yesterday that settlements that are deemed illegal by the United States on private Palestinian land, which you have complained about in the past and in fact protested with the Israelis, that now they are legal depending on good faith. I don’t know what that means, if the land was taken from Palestinians in good faith then they can build settlements. Do you have any reaction to that? Do you plan on protesting, as you have done in the past, on these particular settlements?
MS NAUERT: The only thing I can tell you is that the President has made his position on settlements very clear, and I’ll state that position once again, and that is that the Israeli Government has made it clear to the U.S. Government that its – it tends to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that is in line with the President’s overall concerns, and that the Israelis will take that into consideration, and that’s something that we certainly welcome. What we want to get to is a comprehensive peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we’ll keep pushing ahead for that.
QUESTION: But on the issue of this privately owned Palestinian – you have taken a very strong stance in the past every time it happened that you object to this. What – do you plan on doing the same for this particular –
MS NAUERT: Well, we have said in the past –
MS NAUERT: — about unrestrained settlement activity, and we have made our position very clear with the Israeli Government. We’ve spoken about that. They have made it clear that they intend to adopt a policy concerning settlement activity that is in line with the President’s concerns and that they will take that into consideration. Okay.
QUESTION: Hi. On Syria.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: There’s a report out there that a U.S. delegation met with members of the Assad regime in Damascus recently. I was told you might have something.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So we have seen that report. When I say “yeah,” that’s a figure of speech. That is not a yes. We’ve seen that report. It doesn’t reflect any reality that we are certainly aware of, so that is all I have on that. We’ve seen that report; it doesn’t reflect anything that the U.S. Government is tracking at this point.
QUESTION: Well, are you saying that you don’t know of a meeting between U.S. Government officials and Assad regime officials?
MS NAUERT: I am not aware of any meeting to that effect.
QUESTION: Yesterday you mentioned – you warned against any possible chemical weapons attack in – by the Russians or the Syrian Government, and in – afterwards I had in my mind – I was like, where did this come from? And do you – is it that the U.S. believes that there is an offensive about to happen in Idlib or –
MS NAUERT: I think what we are concerned about is not just a potential chemical weapons attack, but we’re concerned about the threat, any kind of escalation of violence in Idlib. That would put civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib at risk. We have shared the concerns that we have about any potential offensive taking place. We’ve shared those concerns with the Russian Government at many levels, from Secretary Pompeo to his counterpart, to Chairman Dunford, also to Secretary Mattis, National Security Advisor Bolton and others. So we’ve make our position on that very clear. In addition to that, our new Syrian envoy, Ambassador Jim Jefferies*, has discussed that as well with some of his counterparts.
QUESTION: But you – it’s not that you have evidence of chemical weapons or of them assembling chemical weapons, just a warning?
MS NAUERT: Nothing that I can – nothing I can share with you at this point, so I wouldn’t want you to jump too far ahead and jump to any kind of conclusions on that. That of course is a concern of ours. We know those types of things have been used in Syria in the past.
QUESTION: Two things on that. First of all, when you say that Ambassador Jeffrey has been discussing it with his counterparts, do you mean his Russian counterparts or is he in – is he empowered with kind of sending message directly to the Syrian regime?
MS NAUERT: I – no, I’m talking about Russia here.
MS NAUERT: Ambassador Jeffrey and Ambassador David Satterfield met earlier this week with the Russian ambassador to the United States, in part to raise concerns about what could happen in Idlib.
QUESTION: Okay, just – and on that, I mean, obviously if they’re kind of – mention this warnings about what can happen, are you looking at the situation on the ground and you’re – and you see some indications that there’s going to be an offensive underway?
MS NAUERT: We’re concerned about it. I mean, you’ve seen the – you’ve read the Russian reports, you’ve heard their rhetoric, and so we’re concerned about what could potentially happen.
QUESTION: Well, it’s not just rhetoric. I mean, aren’t there indications that the Syrians are moving some equipment around?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can’t comment on that in particular. That would be more of an intelligence matter or a Department of Defense matter, but we’ve seen the reports about that and of course we’re concerned, concerned about the potential impact on civilians and also infrastructure as well, in a country that has been through so much.
QUESTION: When you say that Ambassador Jeffrey talked to his – and Ambassador Satterfield talked to their Russian counterparts, was this about – in general about an escalation in Idlib or specifically about the use of chemical weapons?
MS NAUERT: Well, it talked about the situation in Syria. They covered that, with a particular focus on U.S. indications of an impending Syrian regime offensive. So that’s obviously supported by Russian forces and Iranian forces, and that is something that is of concern to them and to us.
QUESTION: So you do say that there are indications of an offensive. Does that mean including the use of chemical weapons?
MS NAUERT: Elise, I don’t have anything more for you on that. If I do, I will certainly let you know, but that is a concern of ours. We have all seen what the Syrian regime, backed by the Russian Government, has done in the past. That should not be a surprise to anyone that that would be a concern of ours once again.