U.S. Department of State
Department Press Briefing
Thursday, Month Day, 2018
Briefer: Spokesperson Heather Nauert
3:16 p.m. EST
MS NAUERT: Okay. A couple announcements to bring you before I take your questions.
First, I’d like to address a meeting that I was able to have yesterday with some incredible women who are from the Committee to Protect Journalists. They were the winners of the International Press Freedom Award and they joined me here at the State Department yesterday to share some of their stories. These women were incredible representatives of your profession. They were from Venezuela, Vietnam, and the Philippines. I spoke with them about some of their experiences they have faced and also that their family members have faced as a result of their chosen professions.
They shared with me their stories of harassment, the threats that they have received, the intimidation, the detention, and their kidnapping, all faced and that they suffered just simply for doing their jobs. For many of these journalists, this kind of treatment is ongoing. One of the awardees was named Maria Ressa. She’s from the Philippines. She was unable to travel to the United States because of legal challenges to her website by the government. We also discussed the threats to journalists and human rights defenders in other countries including Tanzania and also Egypt.
As I’ve said from this podium many times before, my colleagues and I at the State Department believe very deeply in the right to a free press. That is essential to transparency and also accountability. I appreciate working with you most days. (Laughter.) No, each and every day. It is a real honor, and I think you know I mean that very sincerely. I know some of you had an opportunity to meet these ladies earlier today, so thank you for taking your time to meet with them and hear about their stories, and I know that they were very grateful for that.
Next thing, our Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International, Environmental and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber and the Libya Ambassador Wafa Bugaighis marked the 10-year renewal for the U.S.-Libya Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement with a signing ceremony that took place here yesterday at the State Department. That renewal provides a framework to strengthen the bilateral cooperation in STEM fields. It ensures open data practices, extends U.S. norms and principles, and also protects Americans’ intellectual property. The State Department will continue to support programs that provide new opportunities to talented youth and STEM leaders in Libya, including through the Fulbright Student Program, the Professional Fellows Program, the TechWomen Scholarship, and the U.S.-Libya Space Camp Scholarship. Since the signing of the original agreement in 2009, the department has supported the participation of more than 75 Libyans on exchange-focused STEM subjects, so we’re pleased to welcome them.
Last thing is a staffing announcement, and we’ve had – we’ve been hard at work getting our team on the field, as we often say here. I have two additional staffing announcements to bring you today. The first is our new assistant secretary for legislative affairs. Her name is Mary Elizabeth Taylor. She has now started and has been sworn in. Ms. Taylor comes to the State Department from Legislative Affairs at the White House. Previously, she served in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She worked on the Senate floor as a senior cloakroom assistant and also as the – acting as liaison between the minority and the majority leadership in order to negotiate agreements on legislative and executive matters.
Next I’d like to announce the addition of Mary Kissel. She has joined us from The Wall Street Journal. Many of you may have known Mary during her 15 years at The Wall Street Journal, and we could not be more thrilled to have her on board as well. Mary will be working for the Secretary as a senior advisor to the Secretary for policy and strategic messaging. While at the Journal, she also served as a member of the Journal’s editorial board. So we’re thrilled to have her on board. She’s also an expert on Asia, and we look forward to introducing you to both of them in the near future.
QUESTION: No, I wanted to change the subject before. Can I ask you about the sanctions on – that were imposed on the 17 Saudi officials today?
MS NAUERT: Yes, you may.
QUESTION: So the reaction to this from various members of the Hill – sorry, members of Congress – has been well, okay, this is a good first step, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. And I realize that the Secretary in his statement said we’re going to continue to uncover the facts and as we do we’ll act appropriately. But can you say – are you able to say now that this is not the end, that there will be something more substantive – I don’t want to say – these are substantive, but something more that will come as the case against these people and perhaps others in the future continue?
MS NAUERT: We rarely preview sanctions or other activities. You all are well aware of that. The Secretary has addressed this in a general sense and has said that this is not the last that you have heard from the U.S. Government on this very issue, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Today, in conjunction with the Department of the Treasury, we put out a statement, as did Treasury, imposing sanctions on 17 Saudi Arabian individuals for serious human rights abuses resulting from their roles in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey on October the 2nd. That action was taken under the authority of Executive Order 13818, which implements and builds upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. As a result of that action, all of the individuals’ assets within U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with these individuals.
At the time of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, these individuals occupied positions in the royal court and at several ministries and offices of the Government of Saudi Arabia. The United States Government goes on to list the names of those sanctioned individuals. If someone has not received this notice, you can certainly contact our Press Office for this or the Treasury Press Office.
Global Magnitsky Act empowers the United States to take significant steps to protect and promote human rights and combat corruption around the world. Our action today is an important step in responding to Jamal Khashoggi’s killing. The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts. We will continue to consult Congress and work with other nations to hold accountable those who were involved in his killing.
QUESTION: Very brief, last one from me.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: But can you say that you’re satisfied that the – in terms of the seniority of officials that it stops where it stops and – or is it still an open question? It could still – those to be punished or to be sanctioned could be higher level than what has already happened? Is that —
MS NAUERT: So let me respond to your question this way, because the Saudi Government made an announcement today. We regard the announcement that they made as a good first step. It’s a step in the right direction. It is an initial investigation finding. It is important that those steps continue to be taken toward full accountability. We will continue to work diligently to ascertain the facts. The Secretary has talked about the importance of gathering data from various sources. That’s something that the U.S. Government continues to do. That data will then help inform the decisions that we end up making and taking in the future, and that’s in part how we arrived in conjunction with Treasury at the Global Magnitsky sanctions of those Saudi individuals.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the findings of the Saudi prosecutor —
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s why I say that this is an important first step and that this is also an initial finding of its investigation. We expect that the investigation will continue, not only in Saudi Arabia but in Turkey as well, as we continue to develop facts, a fact set, and make determinations from here on out.
QUESTION: Sorry. So this explanation today seems to contradict earlier explanations by the Saudis. Today, they seem to be saying that this was a rendition gone bad. Before, they agreed that it actually was a premeditated murder. The administration even seemed to agree with that earlier premeditated murder explanation. Where are you on the – is this a rendition gone bad? Was this a premeditated murder? And can you tell us whether —
MS NAUERT: I think it’s still too early for us to be able to answer that question. We continue to get the information and we’ll analyze and make determinations as we get additional information.
QUESTION: And the announcement today about the sanctions – was that at all coordinated with the Saudis? These two announcements came today within an hour of each other, one from Saudi Arabia about its conclusions, the other from the United States about its sanctions.
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: Did – was the timing a coincidence?
MS NAUERT: It was not. It was not. It has been no secret – even though we don’t forecast sanctions, it has been so secret because many of you had emailed me all hours of the day asking me when these sanctions would be announced. So the U.S. Government and some officials have spoken to this, so it was no surprise that something of this sort was coming out and would be announced today.
QUESTION: You’ve explained repeatedly in the past that sanctions take weeks, months, and even years. In fact, we just had —
MS NAUERT: It depends on the level of complexity, and I’m not a sanctions expert, so I’m not going to try to be one. But in having talked to a lot of my colleagues who are more technical experts on this matter – for example, when we talk about CAATSA. CAATSA, very different kind of instrument of sanctions.
MS NAUERT: That type of sanction can take a very long time to dig down into all the details, because they can involve very complex, large conglomerates, businesses overseas. Today Treasury and the State Department announced individuals. Individuals – unless there may be an oligarch – can be a little bit easier to drill down onto the facts of their portfolios, their holdings, and all of that. So that is why that may not take as long as when we deal with something like CAATSA.
QUESTION: And one other thing: In a related matter, NBC News reported today that the administration was actually thinking about some sort of getting Fethullah Gulen to the Turks in some way, even though this administration has yet to even start any kind of judicial extradition process. Can you help us understand that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let’s back up a little bit.
MS NAUERT: Because over the past year and a half, since I’ve been in this role, we’ve talked a fair bit about the Turks’ interest in Fethullah Gulen, who’s in the United States. We have received multiple requests from the Turkish Government, at least over the time that I’ve been here, related to Mr. Gulen. We continue to evaluate the materials that the Turkish Government presents requesting his extradition.
This is wholly handled out of the Department of Justice, so I’d have to refer you to the Department of Justice for information on that, but I can tell you these issues are unrelated. I’ve seen some news reports where people are trying to conflate the two, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with Khashoggi and Gulen, and there is no relation. So let’s pull those two issues apart and keep them discrete just as they are. Let me also add, because I’ve spoken to some of my White House colleagues about this, the White House has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen.
QUESTION: Sorry. Discussions with the Turks or interagency discussions?
MS NAUERT: With the Turks. Yeah – with the Turks.
QUESTION: Thirty years ago, the Palestinians recognized Israel and its right to exist and as a state, but they have been waiting for Israel to recognize a Palestinian entity of some sort for the past 30 years. And meanwhile the occupation goes on, the settlements go on, the arrests go on, and so on. Don’t you think that the time has come for Palestinian self-determination and statehood?
MS NAUERT: I think the time has come for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We have a team that’s very hard at work trying to get the two sides together. When we talk about a two-state solution, Said, we need both parties to sit down and have direct negotiations to do that. You can’t do this through an intermediary. You can’t do this through headlines and fights in the press related to that. You have to sit down and you have to be willing to compromise.
The President has repeatedly said and we’ve repeatedly said the two sides are probably going to have to give a bit to develop a lasting peace. We hope we are – we hope that we can get to this point. We’ve got a deal that is still in the works, and when we’re ready to announce that deal and unveil that deal, I’ll be thrilled to bring it to you, okay.
QUESTION: On this very point, today Mr. Jason Greenblatt actually published an op-ed or an opinion piece in my own newspaper. And he talks at length about the need to normalize with the Arab countries and so on, but he hardly talks about whatever points the plan might have and so on. He is not reaching out to the Palestinians. I suggest that you read the whole article. It’s a lengthy and very thorough —
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’ve taken a look at Jason Greenblatt’s editorial. I think it was posted in your paper, right?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, I’m glad that you ran that. Look, our relationship with Israel is not simply about a peace plan. Israel’s relationship with many other countries around the world is extremely broad. They do a lot of great work in the areas of finance, manufacturing, desalination of water – there are a lot of things. It is a broad relationship that they have with a lot of countries. Commerce is in part what Jason Greenblatt addressed in his editorial, and there’s nothing wrong with discussing those issues, and not simply every time he writes to talk about Israeli-Palestinian peace, as important as that issue is. So he has other work to do, and that’s part of it as well.
QUESTION: He’s charged with that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: He’s charged with that. And I’m just asking whether you have shifted the fulcrum or the center of your emphasis or your focus.
MS NAUERT: No. I mean, he knows these issues, he knows the country very well, and I’m glad just seeing him put pen to paper and share his expertise with others.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last thing. Last week, the Israelis arrested 45 Americans that were planting flowers and so on, and they released them. I wanted to ask you whether you had anything to do with their release so quickly. They were released right after two hours and so on. Or are you aware of the situation?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, that’s one of the situations where there are privacy considerations, so I just can’t comment on that due to that, okay.
QUESTION: Hi. Earlier this month you tweeted that one of the 12 conditions for lifting sanctions on Iran is that the regime, quote, “must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias,” end quote. Is that still your position?
MS NAUERT: Nothing has changed with regard to our position on that.
QUESTION: Even though Iraqi politicians have said you’re interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think we’re interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. That’s something – we take great pains to not do that. We respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government. Sovereignty is an important element of what this U.S. administration stands for. You can read that in our National Security Strategy. We have a great relationship with the Iraqi people, but we believe that Iraq is a sovereign nation.
QUESTION: And on Syria’s Kurds, last month, Secretary Pompeo said they were, quote, “great partners,” and will ensure them, quote, “a seat at the table.” Is that still your position?
MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed.
QUESTION: Yeah. On the sanctions announced by Treasury today, Senator Tim Kaine has said that, “I am disturbed that following repeated Saudi lies about what happened to Jamal, the administration appears to be following the Saudi playbook of blaming mid-level officials and exonerating its leadership.” Do you have any reaction to that?
MS NAUERT: No. Typically we wouldn’t comment on things that congressional leaders have remarked, nor do we comment typically on what foreign leaders would say about a situation. So I’m just not going to comment on that.