Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Department Press Briefing
October 31, 2018
DPB # 54
(On the Record Unless Otherwise Noted)
QUESTION: — I want to ask about yesterday’s statements on Yemen, and then to – from both Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mattis. And then I’m a little bit curious why he did two interviews this morning and he didn’t mention Yemen at all, after what appeared to be such a concerted combination one-two punch, shall we say, delivered by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State yesterday. Why? What’s going on here?
MR PALLADINO: Well, as you point out, the Secretary did issue a statement last night about ending the conflict in Yemen. And the statement goes through in detail some of the sequencing that we expect, and we’re calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities. We’re calling that the Houthis must cease missile and UAV strikes into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates immediately. And as soon as this happens, the Saudi-led coalition must cease airstrikes in all populated areas.
As far as the political process goes, we are calling on all parties to support the United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict based upon the agreed references, and that’s the national dialogue, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216, and the Gulf and the GCC initiative as well.
Now, as far as the Secretary’s interviews this morning, I listened to them and he was responding to questions asked by the interviewers, so I would say –
QUESTION: Well, it was a function of the questions he was asked not the function of this having dropped off or dropped lower down on his radar screen in the past 12 hours.
MR PALLADINO: This is incredibly important to the United States Government and to the Secretary of State, absolutely.
QUESTION: And then just one more thing and I’ll stop. When you say that as soon as the Houthis stop their missile strikes then the coalition should stop its airstrikes in populated areas, does that mean, one, that while airstrikes continue you’re okay with them continuing to bomb populated areas in which there have been – it’s been well documented that these have caused major numbers of civilian casualties? And then two, even if that’s not the case, does it mean then that after the – if and when the Houthis stop, that you’re okay with the coalition bombing quote/unquote “unpopulated areas” and continuing this, because – and how do you define a populated area? Is that just places where – a place where people have a residence?
MR PALLADINO: What we’re calling for is an immediate cessation of hostilities. We want to see the parties engaging in the United Nations special envoy’s consultations in good faith, and we believe that the cessation of hostilities will provide the best basis for that. And as far as the specific conditions go, the – that’s something for the United Nations special envoy to speak to and I don’t want to get ahead of what he’s able to do during his November consultations.
QUESTION: Well, fair enough. But you didn’t answer either of my questions. Are you okay with the Saudis continuing to bomb populated areas of Yemen if the Houthis have not stopped all their missile strikes?
MR PALLADINO: We are – our goal here has been consistent for some time, and that is specifically to work with international partners, our international partners, to bring peace, prosperity, and security to Yemen. And we have been consistently and continuously urging all sides to work towards a political settlement that ends the conflict in this dire humanitarian situation. We’ve always said that an enduring solution will only come through a comprehensive political agreement, and that’s going to require compromise. We’ve also always supported comprehensive peace negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, and we’ve supported the United Nations special envoy’s efforts to restart talks of those parties.
Now, as far as the timing goes, the United Nations special envoy has continued to make progress in laying the groundwork for these peace negotiations, and I would point to last week. Based upon our meetings here at the State Department – well, with the Deputy Secretary of State, his meeting with him last week, we believe that the climate is right for both sides to come to the table. And what the United States is reiterating and trying to state clearly at this time is our support for a cessation of hostilities and the UN special envoy is important, and this cessation and a vigorous resumption of political talks, that’s what’s going to help us end this humanitarian crisis.
So our message is end the conflict, replace the conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction.
QUESTION: I’ll let it go, but can you just acknowledge that you’re not answering my question? (Laughter.)
MR PALLADINO: We’ve been – we have called for cessation of hostilities —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) yes or no.
MR PALLADINO: — for a long time now.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Move on.
MR PALLADINO: Excellent.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this very point?
MR PALLADINO: Yes, Said.
QUESTION: You’re saying that, first of all, cessation of bombing in populated areas which you allude to, which means that they will continue selective bombing. But second, forces on the ground can’t remain exactly where they are? Is that what you’re saying?
MR PALLADINO: What I would say is we continue to support the right of Saudi Arabia and our Emirati partners to defend their borders. And as far as – I don’t want to get ahead of consultations that are led by the UN special envoy’s agenda. But I would understand that his consultations would include topics such as implementing confidence-building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, demilitarization of the borders, and concentration of all large weapons under international observation.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that (inaudible)?
MR PALLADINO: Okay, let’s try – let’s go right here. Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Your critics would say that the U.S. could stop this war almost immediately by pulling support, military support for the coalition. If you are interested in ending the war, why not do that?
MR PALLADINO: The timing right now, we’ve come – we’ve seen progress being made on the ground, and we continue to make progress on laying the groundwork for peace negotiations. We – the deputy secretary of state’s meeting last week has brought this fresh to the fore, and the climate is right. We’ve come to the assessment that the climate is right at this time to move forward.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) right now versus —
MR PALLADINO: I’m not going to be able to go into detail on the – on private conversations. This – let’s go right over here, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR PALLADINO: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
QUESTION: Can you stay on Yemen?
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR PALLADINO: All right. One more. One more. Let’s go on Yemen. All right. All right.
QUESTION: To what extent do you think that the Khashoggi matter gives the U.S. more leverage in solving problems like this one?
MR PALLADINO: The two are unrelated. Over here, Michelle. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Can I follow up on that, please?
QUESTION: Can you say what the consequences there will be? You’re calling for a 30-day ceasefire, but if that doesn’t come through, if the Saudis don’t support that, what are the consequences? What does the U.S. plan to do? Has there been any threat given?
MR PALLADINO: We’re going to focus on what’s right immediately in front of us. We’re not going to get into hypotheticals. We’ve made our call clear. We’ve made clear what we’re urging all sides to do and we’re going to support the United Nations.
Last one on Yemen. Right there. Go.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, the question about Khashoggi? I understand you said that they’re unrelated, but this is not the first concern you’ve had about Saudi Arabia and this government. And so to what extent is this incident, the coverup, the way the Saudis have dealt with it, part of a larger conversation going forward about the actions of this government and the need for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to move forward working collaboratively in a new spirit?
MR PALLADINO: We’ve – the Secretary spoke about what we expect related to the Khashoggi investigation this morning again, and we – and that hasn’t changed. We will hold those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. We’ll hold them responsible, and we want all the evidence, we want to get all the facts first, before we make a determination on what our response to that is going to be.
QUESTION: It’s not in a vacuum, though, in terms of some of the larger concerns that you’ve had about the adventurism, some might say, of the government, of their actions in Yemen, of their actions vis-a-vis Qatar. I mean, this is part of a larger concern, isn’t it, that you’ve had with this government?
MR PALLADINO: I would say that our call for a cessation of hostilities is something that we’ve been doing for some time right now in Yemen. This is consistent, and we are raising it again now at this time because the time is right. We’ve been calling for this throughout the conflict, the cessation of hostilities, and now is the time for both sides to come to the table.
QUESTION: And you don’t feel like – just one more on this – and you don’t feel right now that the kind of Saudi desire to not placate, but smooth over relations with the United States in the wake of this incident gives you a little bit more of an opportunity, a open door, an open ear if you will for them to hear these concerns about Yemen, Qatar, or other things?
MR PALLADINO: They’re unrelated. Let’s go to North Korea. Right here, please.
QUESTION: Okay. The other thing is that in response to the question on human rights, you said the administration’s focus now is on the denuclearization, whatever words you want to put in front of “denuclearization,” and that once that – you get that, that will allow further vehicles to engage the North Koreans on other subjects. How is that any different than what the Obama administration said it did with Iran? I mean, it seems to me that that was exactly their argument for why they were only focused on the nuclear question in the negotiations with Iran because once they got that, that would open up, to use your words, other vehicles so they could address human rights, they could address missiles, they could address the malign activity. Now, this administration, after criticizing the previous one for doing that, you’re adopting – you seem to be adopting the exact same approach with North Korea. So how is it different?
MR PALLADINO: Iran’s malign influence has expanded credibly since that deal was enacted under the previous administration
QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly. Yesterday the secretary general of the PLO, Saeb Erekat, accused Israel of plotting to separate Gaza from the whole Palestinian issue with your help. Are you committed to the unity of the Palestinian issue, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as you were in the past?
MR PALLADINO: I would quote our Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt on this subject. He’s been quite clear, and what he’s said is that Gaza and the West Bank have been separated for 10 years, not only physically but politically, between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and it’s absurd to deny that reality. In contrast, our peace plan intends to bring them together. Make no mistake, we are in this to help all Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza. The type of disinformation being spread by some parties who have not even seen the plan yet wish to be spoilers and does nothing to benefit ordinary Palestinian lives.
QUESTION: So independent of, let’s say, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, you believe that the Palestinian issue ought to be resolved as one issue?
MR PALLADINO: We have made it clear that the final boundaries of Israeli sovereignty and Jerusalem remains to be decided through negotiations.
QUESTION: Robert, no one’s seen the plan. Have you? No one’s seen it, so in the absence of people not seeing something that the administration keeps saying is wonderful and great and is going to be the deal of the century, but there is no there there, I mean, how do – what are people supposed to – how are people supposed to understand or accept your explanation that these — this misinformation is not true if there’s no way to prove that it’s misinformation?
MR PALLADINO: Well, decrying a peace plan that has not yet been seen does nothing to advance the cause of peace or to lead the Palestinian people to a better future.
MR PALLADINO: And when – we will – what we will – we will release the plan at the appropriate time and we hope that people will judge it on its merits.
QUESTION: So promoting a plan that no one has seen before doesn’t do the same thing?
MR PALLADINO: We – let’s, at the appropriate time, let the people judge it on its merits.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Turkey’s president again threatened Syria’s Kurds, and it has begun shelling Kurdish cities. In turn, the Syrian Democratic Forces led by the Kurds have announced today a temporary halt in their offensive against ISIS. What is your comment on this situation?
MR PALLADINO: Unilateral military strikes into northwest Syria by any party, particularly as American personnel may be present or in the vicinity, are of great concern to us. Coordination and consultation between the United States and Turkey on issues of security concern is a better approach. We have been in touch with Turkey and the Syria defense forces to emphasize the need to de-escalate the situation. Turkey is a NATO ally and a key partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and we are fully committed to our ally’s border security.
QUESTION: And Erdogan also accused you of supporting, quote, “all terrorist organizations indiscriminately,” end quote, including ISIS. What’s your response to that?
MR PALLADINO: We – coordination and consultation with our Turkish ally on issues of security is the better approach. We have seen such cooperation with our – with Turkey in – with our Manbij roadmap, for example, and that’s an example of our full commitment. It’s on schedule. It’s something that Secretary Pompeo and the foreign minister of Turkey agreed to. You can see American and Turkish forces actively training side by side. That’s a critical mission, and we’re confident that that kind of cooperation is what is needed here.
Now, ISIS – that campaign is not over and that fight remains difficult. And our Department of Defense colleagues are working closely with the Syrian defense forces who are in the midst of an offensive operations against ISIS and we’re still committed to the Syria defense forces.
QUESTION: Robert, the Russian military said that the coalition – as a result of the coalition airstrikes in eastern Syria, 120 civilians were killed last month alone. Are you keeping – how do you track casualties and so on on the ground in the areas where the coalition is targeting ISIS?
MR PALLADINO: I saw that report in RT, I believe, right?
MR PALLADINO: Okay. We – I would say first off, of course we deeply regret any civilian casualties that are a consequence of coalition operations in Syria. Secondly, I would say we defer to the Department of Defense on the matter of the airstrikes that you mentioned. And I would finally say that we have not seen any information to suggest that such claims are accurate and anything more than additional Russian propaganda.
MR PALLADINO: Let’s stick with Iran. Let’s go with Iran. Go ahead. Go ahead with Iran, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. The second round of sanctions are going into effect on Sunday. Which sanctions will be going into effect and which specific industries will they target? And then second, has Secretary Pompeo discussed with Secretary Mnuchin sanctioning Iran’s access to SWIFT?
MR PALLADINO: Okay, I’ll start with the second question, and the questions on SWIFT I would refer to the Department of Treasury and I’m not going to be able to go into dialogue between the two secretaries at this point. But on November 5th, 12:01, as you point out, sanctions that were lifted under the Iran nuclear deal will come back into full effect. And the sanctions that are reimposed on November 5th will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as energy, shipping and the ship-building sectors, as well as the provision of insurance and transactions involving the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions.
Now, the Iranian regime is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, and these sanctions are meant to cut off revenues that the Iranian regime uses to conduct terrorism and fund terrorist groups around the world, and that includes Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Kata’ib Hizballah and the Taliban. These groups foment global instability, they use these funds to support their nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and these funds are used to line corrupt Iranian leaders’ pockets rather than help the Iranian people, who are the longest-suffering victims. I’ll stop there.
QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up. Will there be a third round of U.S. sanctions on – or will all sanctions that have been lifted under the JCPOA have been reimposed by November 5th?
MR PALLADINO: I have nothing – I can’t forecast anything beyond that at this time.
MR PALLADINO: I’m sorry, to – Saudi Arabia. Go ahead. And Turkey. There we go.
QUESTION: Secretary Mattis said last night that so far, everything that the Turks have said about the case has turned out to be true. This morning, the Turkish prosecutor said that Mr. Khashoggi was brought to the consulate, strangled, his body was dismembered, and that the Saudis haven’t been able to produce a body so far. Is that true? Is that your understanding?
MR PALLADINO: We’ve got to see where the facts ultimately fall. We’re still in that. We are still calling for a full accounting of what’s transpired. There’s more that we want to learn first. And what we acquire will come from both the Turkish and Saudi investigations as well as what we are able to gather on our own.
QUESTION: So —
MR PALLADINO: And we will form – we will form an assessment and make determinations about future actions based upon this full accounting. We have – I’ll stop there.
QUESTION: Do you see it as a problem that the Saudis won’t extradite these people that they’ve already identified as being responsible or involved to Turkey?
MR PALLADINO: We are – we want all the facts first, and we are going to remain focused on getting a full accounting of what’s transpired. The Secretary of State has spoken repeatedly to Saudi leadership – to the king —
QUESTION: Right, so —
MR PALLADINO: — to the crown prince, to the foreign minister. We have made clear the seriousness to which the United States attaches to what’s transpired, the unacceptability of what’s taken place, and at the same time we recognize the importance of protecting American interests as well.