U.S. Department of State
Department Press Briefing
Briefer: Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino
Thursday, November 1, 2018
MR PALLADINO: One for the top. Today in Vienna, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States joined a coalition of 16 countries invoking the Moscow Mechanism, a rare diplomatic action reserved for serious human rights concerns. This action triggers a formal international fact-finding mission to look into reports of impunity for human rights violations and abuses in the Russian Federation’s Republic of Chechnya.
The United States and other OSCE countries repeatedly have pressed the Russian Federation to investigate disturbing reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and other violations and abuses in Chechnya. These violations and abuses targeted members of the LGBTI community, members of human rights, nongovernmental organizations, and those the Chechen regime labeled, quote-unquote, “terrorists.”
We and likeminded countries have demanded that Moscow hold accountable those responsible for such violations and abuses. Russia has failed to provide a substantive response to repeated expressions of international concern and calls for accountability. Therefore, with these actions at the OSCE, the administration will continue to work with our European partners to expose Russia’s human rights violations and abuses.
QUESTION: Thank you. Last Sunday, the Israelis killed three Palestinian boys in Gaza, and yesterday they said it was a mistake because they were doing suspicious activities and so on. Shouldn’t this stop? I mean, this has been going on now day after day, the Israelis doing this to suspicious activities. They deem all activities by Palestinians on their side as suspicious. Shouldn’t this be outrageous? I think you would be outraged if this happened elsewhere.
MR PALLADINO: Well, I guess as a parent – this is a pretty dangerous place. And as a parent I might – I guess I would say that there’s really no justification for the recklessness and cynicism that Hamas has shown in urging people to engage in violence that exposes them to this terrible risk. And —
QUESTION: But these boys were not part of any demonstrations. They were playing. They were playing last Sunday. They were playing on their side, and they were targeted because the Israelis thought they were doing something suspicious. Should that excessive —
MR PALLADINO: Israel —
QUESTION: Let me ask you this directly. Should the excessive use of force that the Israelis do day after day, should they reduce that level of excessive force?
MR PALLADINO: Israel has a right to defend itself, and Hamas continues to drive peace further away and cause more suffering.
QUESTION: What’s the meaning – I mean, you started that —
QUESTION: And how is that related to the two kids that were playing? I don’t quite make a connection – playing children, Hamas.
QUESTION: And I don’t get how you – why would you even say “as a parent.” Are you somehow holding the parents of these —
MR PALLADINO: No. I’m saying —
QUESTION: — kids responsible for allowing their children to play?
MR PALLADINO: I’m saying this is an extremely dangerous situation, and to allow teenagers into this area strikes – that is the heightened – that is cynicism at its – in its height.
QUESTION: So it’s the parents – their parents’ fault, that the Israelis shot them?
MR PALLADINO: We would call on Hamas to put the welfare and safety of the people of Gaza —
QUESTION: But you said specifically in your answer – you said “as a parent.” So I want to know what it is that you have against these Palestinian parents.
MR PALLADINO: This is a dangerous situation, and there really can be no justification for urging people, allowing people, to engage in violence in these areas that exposes them to such terrible risk.
QUESTION: But is there – but there is justification?
MR PALLADINO: This is dangerous. It exposes them to risk.
QUESTION: Tomorrow marks the 101st anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and the Palestinians have been for the past 101 year under occupation, military occupation, and so on. Isn’t it time for them to get independence, maybe with your help? I mean, you’re always championing human rights and independence and the right to sovereignty, and so on.
MR PALLADINO: We’re looking – there is a – obviously, at the appropriate time, this administration will be releasing a peace plan, and we hope that the people will judge this plan by its merits. The Palestinian people deserve leadership that will give them a chance for a way forward to end this conflict.
QUESTION: Yeah. How do you see the overall political situation in Syria now? On Saturday Turkey hosted a summit that included Russia, Germany, and France. Is there a reason you weren’t there? And what’s your view of the results of that summit?
MR PALLADINO: Our view of the results of that summit are we welcome the endorsement that occurred there regarding the Idlib deconfliction agreement between Turkey and Russia. And I’d say further about that meeting we are encouraged, frankly, on the specific commitment to launch the constitutional committee by the end of the year. And we will continue to consult with those that were present at that meeting to ensure that we continue in that regard.
As far as our coordination goes, we supported the four-party summit. We supported this, and we consulted extensively with the representatives of all four participants prior to it taking place. In the end, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 is what we advocate and what we want everyone behind. This meeting helps us drive towards that as well, so we would welcome that. And our engagement on the issue certainly continues. Ambassador Jeffries* was – is in the region – or he’s in Europe currently. He just participated in a small group meeting this past Monday, and that’s just an example of our engagement. And we’ll continue to push forward on that.
QUESTION: Robert, can you say as the administration goes through that process and is set to re-impose the JCPOA sanctions that the regime that will be in place will be at least as strong as the one that was lifted in 2015?
MR PALLADINO: We’re quite confident moving forward. And then we’re – if we look at what’s already taken place, we see businesses making business decisions and leaving Iran. We’re tracking around 100 major companies that have already made their business decisions to leave Iran and choose business with the United States over business with Iran. We are going to continue to push forward and we’re quite confident.
QUESTION: There are some – on the enforcement side, though – on the enforcement side, though, there are some concerns. We talked about the waivers that you say you’re looking at a case-by-case basis, but also when it comes to processing transactions through SWIFT, that perhaps the enforcement regime won’t be as strong as it was years ago.
MR PALLADINO: For any questions on SWIFT, I’d have to refer to the Department of Treasury. We are – we’re quite confident moving forward that the actions that are being taken are going to help us exert maximum pressure against the Iranian regime and this leading state sponsor of terrorism is going to see revenues cut off significantly that will deprive it of its ability to fund terrorism throughout the region.
QUESTION: Thank you. The State Department’s Twitter feed and social media has been focusing a lot on human rights abuses and corruption in Iran in recent weeks and days, and I wonder if that’s meant to encourage protesters to rise up, to make sure that Iranians don’t blame the U.S. for economic hardships once the economic sanctions goes in. Can you just describe a little bit about what you’re trying to do there?
MR PALLADINO: What I would say is the Iranian people are the ones who have suffered greatly thanks to the misuse of funds by the Iranian regime to fund proxies and malign activities across the globe. I would say the United States has at its disposal diplomatic information and economic avenues, and from the State Department that’s something that we – we look at the realm of what we can accomplish and something that we pursue.
QUESTION: So just, right off bat, if the U.S. believes that Iranian human rights negative actions have increased under this policy by this administration, is that not a negative side effect of the pressure that you’re trying to impose, and self-defeating if the actual actions of the Iranian regime are going in the opposite direction you’re trying to achieve?
MR PALLADINO: We’re going to continue to exert maximum pressure against this regime. We ask that it modify its behavior, and the Secretary has been clear frequently on what we expect from the regime and human rights are certainly an important aspect of that. It’s – this is something that we’re going to ask others to help us with and we’re going to maintain this pressure on this regime. There is much more that it’s going to need to do.
QUESTION: Just the specifics on the secondary sanctions. Bolton said yesterday a number of countries may not be able to go to zero immediately, we want to achieve maximum pressure, we don’t want to harm friends or allies either. So just on what you were saying before, who are those friends and allies that you’re negotiating with? And have there been any decisions made – I know you said you’re in the middle of it, but any decisions made about specific countries on exceptions to Iranian oil sales?
MR PALLADINO: I would just say that we’re prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis, and our goal remains to get to zero.
QUESTION: But you are interested in working with countries not necessarily to get to zero so long as they’re showing progress?
MR PALLADINO: We’re prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis. We have an internal process to consider significant reduction exceptions for individual countries and we continue to discuss that. And I’m not going to go into detail, any further detail on what that would constitute.
QUESTION: So it goes by – this was actually announced and the determination was announced on August 8th, not – the determination may have been made on August 6th, but it wasn’t – but Congress wasn’t notified until August 8th. So are you sure that it’s November 6th and not November 8th, as I suggested it might be yesterday?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Whether it’s the 6th or the 8th, do you believe that you have to announce on the 6th or the 8th your decision?
MR PALLADINO: Nick, we talked about this yesterday a little bit, and so November 6th is the deadline by which the State Department certifies to the Congress that Russia has met the conditions in the Chemical and Biological Weapons Act.
So that certification would basically be us – the State Department saying that Russia has taken steps to get back into compliance, and that would include Russia having ceased and ensured that it’s not going to use chemical weapons again, that it has allowed international inspectors to verify those assurances, et cetera. So if we can’t make such a certification by that time, then we are required to impose a second round of sanctions by the law after consultations with the Congress.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you called on both sides, Turkey and SDF, to de-escalate the situation in Syria. I just want to know if any senior State Department official has reached out to his or her Turkish counterparts on this.
MR PALLADINO: Let me – yes, the answer is yes. We have been in touch with our Turkish counterparts on this.
QUESTION: Yes. Parents and families of Jamal Khashoggi are asking for his remains or at least part of his remains to be returned so that he can be given the burial that he wanted in Medina. Would you call on the Saudis to please turn over his remains to his family?
MR PALLADINO: Give me a second, please. Excuse me.
QUESTION: That would seem to be a question that could be able to be answered relatively quickly.
MR PALLADINO: I would say yes.
MR PALLADINO: The United States would say that Mr. Khashoggi’s remains should be located and returned to his family for a proper burial as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Is it your feeling that the Saudis know exactly where the remains are?
MR PALLADINO: We continue to work diligently to ascertain all facts involved in this murder. We’re going to hold accountable not only those who executed the murder but also those who led, were involved, and were connected to it. Any further —
QUESTION: Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to begin a repatriation of Rohingya refugees beginning in mid-November. There are a lot of concerns, though, that the conditions are not right and that Rohingya could be forcibly returned to Myanmar. Does the United States Government share those concerns?
MR PALLADINO: We – it’s important to us that our efforts remain focused on steps that would improve the situation for the Rohingya refugees and to hold accountable all those responsible for this. And our goal here is to ease human suffering and to address the root causes of conflict, violence, and abuse. We continue to call for accountability for those that were responsible, and we would look closely at any plans to ensure that it is in fact voluntary.
QUESTION: Do you have any updates on your calls for cessation of hostilities and anything that’s reducing the humanitarian crisis that’s going on? Has anybody from the State Department has reached out to either side?
MR PALLADINO: I would say that we talked a little bit about this yesterday. The deputy secretary of state met with Special Representative Griffiths just last week. We – based upon conversations that we have been having – diplomatic conversations, as well as intelligence, as well as other things that now – there is positive movement and we think that there is a – now is a good time to push forward on this.
QUESTION: But you in your statement day before yesterday and yesterday – you asked the rebels to stop and then the coalition will stop. Like, is there any change? Have you talked to either side? Have you reached out to either side?
MR PALLADINO: We are having dialogue with a wide range of Yemeni interlocutors and international partners on this, and we are engaged.
QUESTION: Why the sequencing? If you’re calling for a ceasefire, shouldn’t you call for a mutual cessation of hostilities? Why does one have to stop before the other, and the one that doesn’t have to stop is the one that’s bombing population areas?
MR PALLADINO: A little good faith up front I think would be a good thing as we move forward. We’ve got to focus on what the goal here is, and we are – now is the time that we want to push forward the political solution, so first thing is stop – cessation in the hostilities and then push forward on the political engagement. And that’s what in the long run is going to be what reduces the – just the tragedy of human suffering that has transpired.
QUESTION: Sure, sure, but why isn’t it a mutual cessation of hostilities? Why does one have to end before the other?
MR PALLADINO: Our Saudi and Emirate partners, it’s – they have a right to defend their borders. We continue to support that right, and we call on the Houthis to cease missile and UAV strikes into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates immediately, and then the rest of the progression can continue.
QUESTION: Robert, are you confident that both sides are interested in speaking, that they’re ready to come and actually engage in the way that you want them to?
MR PALLADINO: We – the climate is right based upon conversations that have taken place with our partners, with Yemeni interlocutors, and we have got a team very focused on this. And we are – we take – we do think that now is the time. There is a change.
QUESTION: Let me ask you to clarify on Yemen: Now, the Yemeni – the Houthis are saying that part of your plan is actually to divide Yemen. You don’t support as part of a political solution dividing Yemen again, do you?
MR PALLADINO: Martin Griffiths will take the lead on the political settlement, and I’m not going to get ahead of anything that he will be – that he’ll be tackling in that regard. That’s not something that I would want to address.
QUESTION: You’re expecting another meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Paris. Are there any meetings between Secretary Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov planned before or during that event?
MR PALLADINO: I do not have anything to announce in that regard today, but thank you for the question and thank you all.