U.S. Department of State
Department Press Briefing
Thursday, October 11, 2018
Spokesperson Heather Nauert
QUESTION: Can we start with the whole Jamal Khashoggi case?
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: One, is just generally, is there anything new that you can report to us on what your understanding of what happened to him is? And then secondly, the President, in some kind of an interview this morning, said that you guys did have investigators on the ground, and then a Turkish official came around and said no, that’s not correct. Can you fill – what’s the story here?
MS NAUERT: Sure. So to take the second part of your question first, whether or not there are investigators on the ground.
MS NAUERT: The United States Government has offered its support to the Turkish Government to provide law enforcement assistance to the Turkish Government. In terms of whether or not we have people on the ground, that’s not something that I can address here from this podium. That’s not something that the State Department does. I’d have to refer you to some of our other government agencies that could or would be involved with that, such as Department of Justice and others.
QUESTION: Right. But there are regional security DS officers on the ground already.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: They’ve been – they’re always there. Do – you can’t say if they’re —
MS NAUERT: We do have that. Our Diplomatic Security officers, to my knowledge, don’t handle those types of investigations. They handle State Department matters only.
QUESTION: And then the first part of the question. Is there anything —
MS NAUERT: Anything new on —
QUESTION: — new in terms of your understanding or lack of understanding of what happened to —
MS NAUERT: Yeah. And I think it’s something that’s really important to keep in perspective. As we have said from the beginning, we are not certain about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. The Secretary released a statement earlier this week. The Vice President has talked about this. The President has talked about this. We are all concerned about his whereabouts. We don’t have any information on his whereabouts right now or what happened to him. As you can see, anytime you turn on the news or you open the newspaper there is a lot of speculation, and there are a ton of rumors out there. We are making determinations and watching this for facts. We don’t have the facts yet. And so we are going to hold back on our comments until we have concrete information that the U.S. Government can share. We don’t have that information at this point right now. An investigation, as our understanding is, is underway, and we’re not going to get ahead of that.
QUESTION: Okay. Last two, but they’re part – the same, kind of the same question. The Turks and the – Turkey has announced that they’re going to join in or take part in a – some kind of working group with the Saudis to shed light on what happened. Is this something that you might be involved in or is it something that you would welcome? And then secondly, I just wanted to follow up on a question I asked Robert yesterday.
MS NAUERT: Well, let me just take that part, because we welcome a thorough and transparent investigation, and we’ve been extremely clear about that. I can also add another piece of information, that we have communicated with the Saudi ambassador to the United States. It’s my understanding that he is on his way back to Saudi Arabia. We have said to him that we expect information upon his return to the United States. When and if we have additional information to bring you, we will bring it to you right away.
QUESTION: But he’s on – is your understanding – did you tell him that he better get his —
MS NAUERT: We absolutely did not. That was not at our —
QUESTION: But you’ve told him not —
MS NAUERT: That was not at our direction. I can’t speak on behalf of that government, but I can tell you that I’m told that he’s headed back to that – to his home country, and we expect some information when he gets back.
QUESTION: Have you told him not to bother coming back unless he has an explanation?
MS NAUERT: Matt, no. No.
QUESTION: All right. And then —
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of things. I mean, look, the U.S. Government is extremely concerned about this situation. This has the highest attention at the highest levels of the United States Government.
QUESTION: I’m not trying to make light of it. I just want to know, have you told him that, look, when you get back here you better have a – you better have an explanation for —
MS NAUERT: We would like some information. We certainly would, and I don’t think we’ve been shy about that.
QUESTION: All right. And then last one, and I’ll shut up. Yesterday I asked Robert and other people did too about this – reports about intelligence that you guys may or may not – or reports that you did have intelligence that there would be some – there might be some harm that came to him. He gave a kind of cryptic answer at first, said that you had no advance notice of his disappearance. And then when I pushed him and said does that mean you didn’t have any advance notice that anything bad might happen to him, not disappearance necessarily, he said we had no advance notice. So I just want to clarify. Does that you mean you had no advance notice of – or no intelligence or any information about anything that might or possibly could happen to him at the consulate?
MS NAUERT: Almost never do you hear us talk about matters of intelligence here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Yeah. But —
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into those matters of intelligence. An investigation is underway.
QUESTION: But he did yesterday.
MS NAUERT: I have nothing to add beyond what Robert said yesterday here from that podium. But we are going to let this investigation take place. The United States Government will continue to offer its support. We will provide information based on facts, based on information that we have. And when we don’t have facts, we won’t bring them to you. I would just be mindful of the speculation and a lot of rumors that are out there, and let’s wait until we can get some solid information.
Okay. Lesley, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I just want to come back to the Saudi ambassador. He’s gone with a message from Washington back to Riyadh? Or was he recalled?
MS NAUERT: No. And that’s what I just said. My understanding is that he’s on his way back there. We said when you come back we’d like to hear – get a report from you.
QUESTION: Right. And so the message from the U.S. is like – is from him – bring us what the Saudis know or the outcome of an investigation or —
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of an investigation.
QUESTION: I’m just a little confused.
MS NAUERT: No, there’s no reason to be confused about this, okay.
MS NAUERT: Because there is an investigation underway.
MS NAUERT: We’re not going to get ahead of that investigation. We will let that investigation play out. I know there are a lot of people who want answers at this point, understandably so. But we’re not going to get ahead of those investigations. And so bring us whatever information you have when you return, and we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: Is that above what the Secretary as well as Bolton then discussed with the crown prince yesterday?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Is that “above”? What does that mean?
QUESTION: Meaning so yesterday Bolton – two institutions in the government spoke to MBS yesterday, the Crown Prince. Were they not satisfied with what they were told and therefore the ambassador’s got to come back?
MS NAUERT: I wouldn’t assume that at all. Look, obviously we have multiple agencies and departments in the United States Government that are paying close attention to this issue. So I would not make the assumption that we didn’t get satisfactory answers and therefore required another level of communication to go in.
QUESTION: Another level, correct.
MS NAUERT: Okay. This is an – obviously an interagency effort. Okay?
Said, go right ahead.
QUESTION: I want to move on.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: I have another question, though.
MS NAUERT: Hold on. Okay. Goodness gracious.
QUESTION: Okay. Because I wanted to move on, they want – yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: I want to talk about —
MS NAUERT: Look, I don’t have much more for you on that, and we’re not going to let this go on and on, because we’re sticking to the facts here and I’m not going to speculate.
Said, I’ll be happy to come right back to you. Rich, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Heather, do you know if the Saudi ambassador left because of this incident, or was he planning on going —
MS NAUERT: Okay, third time.
QUESTION: This —
MS NAUERT: Third time. We did not request that he would go.
QUESTION: Okay, but —
MS NAUERT: He went over there – my understanding, he’s going over there, but any additional information on that I’d have to refer you to the Saudi Government. We simply said: When you come back, provide us a report, provide us a readout of what you’ve learned.
QUESTION: And who spoke with him from State?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any information for you on that. But we’ve had exchanges at multiple levels at the State Department.
QUESTION: He asked just one part of my question, but the other question was: Reporters Without Borders requested or asked that the UN step in to have an investigation into this. Is that something that the U.S. would support?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of it. You’re telling me about that. That’s the first I’m hearing of it, so I don’t have any comment on it.
QUESTION: Generally speaking do you have any comment on the UN —
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to comment. I’m just not aware of that.
QUESTION: Heather, just the reaction on the Hill? There have been some calls on the Hill already saying that arms assistance, for example, defense assistance should be at risk because of this. The President spoke about that today. Is it the position of the State Department that that’s not on the table, that —
MS NAUERT: I think you’re jumping to conclusions. This is entirely a hypothetical situation at this point. We don’t know what happened. We don’t have the facts of the case. We want to learn what happened. The President has said that. The Secretary of State has said that. Ambassador Bolton has said that as well. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Understandably, it – it’s understandable that Congress and others are concerned, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves on that point. Okay?
QUESTION: But it’s not entirely hypothetical. I mean the guy’s missing.
QUESTION: So the Senators yesterday —
MS NAUERT: No, absolutely. We don’t know what happened, okay. Let’s wait and determine what happened.
Barbara, go ahead.
QUESTION: Also about the Hill. Republican senators yesterday were going and looking at U.S. intelligence related to this case, and Bob Corker said it looked – it made the Turkish accounts look quite convincing. So —
MS NAUERT: Barbara, I wouldn’t have – I would not have anything on that. We don’t do intelligence.
QUESTION: So – no. No. I’m just – I’m wondering if Secretary Pompeo has seen the same —
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Has Secretary Pompeo seen the same intelligence?
MS NAUERT: Barbara, we don’t do intelligence out of this building. We do diplomacy.
Okay, Said, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you one more question on —
QUESTION: But intelligent diplomacy.
MS NAUERT: Intelligent – we try to do intelligent diplomacy.
QUESTION: Which is one clarifying question as well. There’s been a lot of speculation or reporting on what Mr. Khashoggi’s immigration status is. Can you clarify at all whether or not he’s a lawful permanent resident, if he’s on a visa, anything like that?
MS NAUERT: I think – well, we don’t discuss visa applications. I don’t have anything additional for you beyond what we’ve already discussed on this on his status.
Okay, Said, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Very quickly on the Palestinian issue. Yesterday, Secretary Pompeo at the award dinner said that, “Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward.” What does that mean?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think it means a lot of things.
QUESTION: Yeah, what is it?
MS NAUERT: One, recognizing that we have a strong partner that is a democracy, that is prosperous. It is a country that desires peace. Something that you all will appreciate, they have a free press and a very vibrant press at that, and a free market economy. Those are all good things that we look to when we see other nations around the world that are stable that we look to as sort of a beacon of hope in that sense. And I think that’s exactly what the Secretary was referring to in his speech.
QUESTION: But Israel occupies another people —
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: It occupies another people. It imprisons them. It has checkpoints all over whole territory. It imprisons journalists. It does all kinds of terrible things – confiscates land, does all kind of things. You are telling the —
MS NAUERT: It is a fact that it is a democratic.
MS NAUERT: It is a fact that it is prosperous.
MS NAUERT: It is a fact that they have a free press. It is a fact that they have a free market economy that is strong. Those are all good things. Every nation on this globe has issues and areas where they could do a lot better. The United States included in that, okay.
QUESTION: So you would like to see, let’s say, Lebanon sort of duplicate what Israel is? Okay.
MS NAUERT: I think – I think Israel is a strong model in that regard.
QUESTION: Couple – couple more things. Couple more things. Is there any news regarding Lara Alqasem? Is there anything on that?
MS NAUERT: I believe she has a hearing that’s scheduled tomorrow. You’re referring to the American citizen.
MS NAUERT: She has a hearing that is scheduled for tomorrow. We provide consular services to American citizens elsewhere. My understanding is that we will have someone either accompany her or be present at that hearing. Beyond that, I don’t have anything more for you.
QUESTION: And I promise lastly, yesterday at the closure of the PLO office, the community was out there and their concern is that they have – as American citizens, they also are Palestinians, and they have issues of deeds, land, and so on that they used to do through this PLO office. Now they don’t know what to do about it, how they claim their land, how to get permits, how to do all kinds of things. Does the State Department – you don’t have to answer me now, but if you have an answer to this issue that where they should turn to. Like, is it a third country that the PLO can name or you can name?
MS NAUERT: So the operations were required to cease by October the 10th. That is accurate. We’re not in a position to speak about where those individuals should go to seek that advice about their deeds, their properties back home. The Palestinian Authority has – perhaps has that information, and I would encourage people to contact the Palestinian Authority.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Laurie.
QUESTION: Hi. On the Iranian sanctions, there’s a new round set to take effect in November, and Iraq has been asking for a waiver. What is your position on that?
MS NAUERT: Well, overall with regard to those sanctions that will take effect on November 4th – and you’re referring to the oil sanctions for Iran and countries that choose to continue purchasing oil from Iran – we have conversations with many partners and allies around the world about those sanctions. We make our policies very clear to those countries. We continue to have conversations with the Government of Iraq about that particular issue and the implications for the reimposition of sanctions that were previously lifted or even waived under the JCPOA.
We’ve given the same message to all countries around the world, and the President has said, and that’s that the United States is committee to re-enforcing all of our sanctions. We believe that countries coming together and recognizing the malign influence that Iran has had around the world is important. We know that Iran and the Government of Iran has taken the benefits that it received under the JCPOA and they’ve poured that money not into their own population, not into the good of the people, not into its medical hospitals and things of that nature, but rather they’ve used it for its own nefarious programs.
QUESTION: That sounds like you’re saying no to the Iraqis. Is that —
MS NAUERT: I’m not forecasting anything. You know we don’t forecast that kind of stuff anyway. Okay.
QUESTION: Yes. So what is your stand with India placing fresh orders now despite the threat of these U.S. sanctions? And the U.S. has – you have said from this that you are trying to find alternative suppliers for them and all that. Because on Monday the oil minister said that the two state refineries, not the private ones, have placed orders for importing crude oil from Iran in next month.
MS NAUERT: I’ve seen that report. As you all know, we were recently in India where that was a topic of conversation with the Indian Government. The President had addressed it – I believe it was just earlier today – which he was asked about that question about whether or not India would buy oil from Iran after sanctions are reimposed. And the President said – and I’m not going to get ahead of the President, certainly – but he said we’ll take care of that. He was asked also about CAATSA sanctions and the imposition of – possible imposition of CAATSA sanctions. And he said, you know, India is going to find out. And India will find out. We’ll see. So I’m not going to get ahead of him, but certainly when we hear about things such as purchasing oil or purchasing of the S-400 systems, it’s not helpful. The United States Government just reviews that very carefully.
QUESTION: I would like you to find what – or explain what the President was saying. But when he said India will find out, or we will take care of it, do you see a threat? Do you see a friendly, like, okay, we’ll let them do it or we will take care of it?
MS NAUERT: Well, the President doesn’t like to forecast his actions. I can’t speak for the President. I’d just have to refer you back to the White House.
QUESTION: First a quick follow-up on Iran.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Has India requested for a waiver on Iranian oil?
MS NAUERT: I think I already addressed that.
QUESTION: You (inaudible). And secondly, India has – Saudis supplying additional oil to India from next month onwards. Is it part of the U.S. request to Saudis to —
MS NAUERT: Saudi Arabia sent oil to India? I wouldn’t have – I don’t have any —
QUESTION: Is Saudi Arabia releasing more oials to India next month?
MS NAUERT: I’m afraid I don’t have any information for you on that. Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. And then I have two more questions on South Asia, one on Afghanistan. Ambassador Khalilzad is in Saudi Arabia right now. Before, he was in Afghanistan, Pakistan. Has he made any headway in the peace talks?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think any time we’re there on the ground we’re making headway. And the fact that we have a special envoy whose main job is to bird-dog this issue – sort of an American term, forgive me for that – but to fight for this issue every single day, to work hard on this issue with his team, that’s important. I think that’s a step forward. He has a lengthy trip to the region. He was just in Afghanistan. He spent some time in some other countries. He will head back to Afghanistan at some point before the end of his trip, I believe to give the Afghan Government a complete readout of his entire travels.
The purpose of this entire trip is to talk about the peace and reconciliation progress. This is something that will be Afghan led, Afghan owned, but supported by the U.S. Government. So anything beyond that, I don’t have, but I can tell you that he is meeting with a wide range of folks on the ground, from – or, excuse me – from President Ghani to the Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, political groups, the High Peace Council, Afghan media, and also civil society.
QUESTION: I have one more question on the subject here at the top. Yesterday, there was a call for senators triggering the Global Magnitsky Act. Can you say what role the State Department would play in that and if there’s any comment generally on the letter that was sent by the senators saying that there was a need for this investigation.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So Global Magnitsky is a human rights legislation, a law that is imposed or goes into effect for certain countries under certain circumstances.
MS NAUERT: Bless you, Rich. That is something that – we don’t have enough information at this point. So I understand that Congress may be interested in that, in a Global Magnitsky investigation, but we don’t know the facts of this case just yet. So I think they’re getting ahead of themselves at this point. We will watch the situation very carefully, very closely, wait for the facts to come out, and then we’ll get there.
To answer your question, though, about what State Department’s role is in that, State Department, Department of Justice, and also the Department of Treasury under the Office of Foreign Assets Control would all play some sort of a role in this.