U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Department Press Briefing
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Briefer: Robert Palladino, Deputy Spokesperson
QUESTION: Yes. On Russia, the President said he won’t be meeting with President Putin at the G20. Does the Secretary have any plan to meet with Lavrov at the G20 or in the next days, or – and did he talk with Lavrov about what’s going on in – with Ukraine?
MR PALLADINO: The Secretary’s schedule at the Group of 20 Summit in Buenos Aires will follow that of the President’s, and I have no new – nothing new to announce for the Secretary.
QUESTION: No conversation with the Russians?
MR PALLADINO: Not a word. I have nothing – I am not aware of any of that, no.
QUESTION: So Mr. Pompeo spoke to the Senate yesterday and made a very pointed case to continue military assistance to Yemen, after which the senators voted on the first procedural step to withdraw military assistance. Does the Secretary of State have a reaction to that since it seems quite a failure of his attempt?
MR PALLADINO: I think the Secretary spoke quite a bit yesterday and made the case that the timing is not right for that, and he made the case quite forcefully that what we’re trying to accomplish vis-a-vis Yemen we are on the cusp, and hopefully in December we’re going to be supporting Special Representative Griffiths as we push towards that.
QUESTION: But does he have a reaction to the vote that followed shortly after his —
MR PALLADINO: I haven’t spoken to the Secretary. And as you know, he’s on his way to Buenos Aires. Please, anything further?
QUESTION: Why is the time not right? He said that the time is not right to end the war in Yemen. Is there —
MR PALLADINO: Absolutely not. The Secretary spoke on this yesterday, and he was clear the time is right for us to end this violence. And so we don’t want to give Iran any further cause to continue to fund and supply arms, so we are pushing in support of Special Representative Griffiths.
QUESTION: Well, if you could draw that out a little bit further, Robert, when would the time be right for Congress to act on ending support for the Saudi campaign?
MR PALLADINO: We are —
QUESTION: Ever? Is there – would there ever be a good time in this administration’s view for Congress to weigh in on this matter, or is this something that you think the Congress should have no business in?
MR PALLADINO: Absolutely not. We welcome the views of the Congress in this matter.
QUESTION: So you welcomed the vote, the procedural vote yesterday?
MR PALLADINO: We welcome the views of the Congress. The Secretary has made quite clear that for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to be able to establish something akin to what Lebanon’s Hizballah has done in Lebanon in the Arabian Peninsula would be destabilizing, damaging to American interests and to our allies and partners in the region.
QUESTION: I get that. But you say you welcome the views of Congress, and yet you’re – you made – the administration has made clear that the President will veto this —
MR PALLADINO: We appreciate the views of Congress, of course, and we work closely.
QUESTION: I find that highly – no, you don’t. I mean, the op-ed that the Secretary wrote in The Wall Street Journal that was published yesterday was extremely harsh, went after the members of the Washington salons and whatever the experts of the foreign policy community – foreign policy experts, or not experts, but the community at large. So it’s pretty clear that you don’t – I mean, he called it “caterwauling.” It’s pretty clear that you don’t welcome a different opinion or opposing views to what you have, so I’m just curious as to how you can get – say with a straight face that you welcome this.
MR PALLADINO: We – the Secretary has made clear our position on the violence and the humanitarian disaster that has taken place in Yemen, and we’ve just announced additional measures to help alleviate some of that situation.
MR PALLADINO: And it’s actually quite significant. It’s worth mentioning. A hundred and thirty-one million in emergency food assistance to the people of Yemen, and we – and this —
QUESTION: I agree it’s significant.
MR PALLADINO: And that is why we support the special representative and we think the timing is right and we are on the cusp, and so —
QUESTION: Let me just – I’ll point out that yes, it is significant. I’m sure that it is appreciated. But that does not answer the question of how you can say you welcome Congress’ views on this and then just ignore it and then essentially insult —
MR PALLADINO: We consult with the Congress. Please. Janne, please.
QUESTION: Hi. The head of the Iraqi militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which is backed by Iran, recently said that the Hashd al-Shaabi should have a role in security along Iraq’s border with Syria. What’s your comment on that?
MR PALLADINO: The security of Iraq and its borders is the responsibility of the Government of Iraq, and I would defer to the Iraqi Government for comment.
QUESTION: Iraqi Government. Okay. And Secretary Pompeo condemned statements that Iranian President Rouhani made in an Islamic Conference in Tehran recently when he called for Israel’s destruction. Iraqi Vice President Nouri Al-Maliki was at the same conference, and he spoke and said that Hizballah, the Houthis, and the Hashd al-Shaabi, which is Iraqi militias, will liberate Palestine soon. What’s your comment on Maliki’s statement?
MR PALLADINO: As you point out, it was – the Secretary was speaking to President Rouhani’s comments, and we have no further comment beside that.
QUESTION: Even if the vice president of an allied state of yours —
MR PALLADINO: Laurie, we’re not going to react to all world leaders’ comments here. Please.
QUESTION: Rob, could I stay on that region? Very quickly, I have a very quick question there for you. Thank you. Yesterday, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations circulated a draft resolution to condemn Hamas because of the rocket firing, but of course it begins by saying violence against all civilians is rejected and so on, but does not mention Israeli or Israel in any way, shape, or form. I want to ask you first what is the status of this draft resolution. What’s going on? Did you gather enough support? Because I think you need something like 90 member-states to support it for it to be voted on.
MR PALLADINO: Said, we don’t comment on draft resolutions.
QUESTION: But it was circulated. I mean, I have a copy.
MR PALLADINO: We don’t comment on drafts, yeah.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what is going on in terms of talks among —
MR PALLADINO: I can’t. What I would say is the root of destabilization and violence in Gaza is Hamas. And beyond that, the world is growing tired of Hamas’s violence and the violence of other bad actors in Gaza that prevents any real help for the people of Gaza.
QUESTION: Today being the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, do you think the world has grown tired of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, 51 years on?
MR PALLADINO: I would say that Hamas’s activities continue —
QUESTION: That – I’m not talking about Hamas.
MR PALLADINO: — to prove that they don’t really care about the Palestinians of Gaza.
QUESTION: You were hoping that the constitutional committee would be held by the end of December. Today Astana group has failed to agree on a list of members, and you are blaming Russia and Iran for continuing to use the process to mask the Assad regime, as you said in your statement. What’s the alternative now?
MR PALLADINO: Well, Michel, as you point out, the meeting did not yield to an agreed list of members for the Syrian Constitutional Committee and it again ended in stalemate, so it failed to produce progress towards advancing the political process, which is, of course, one of our goals.
We believe that establishing and convening a constitutional committee in Geneva is vital to a lasting de-escalation and a political solution to the conflict, and that has broad international support. We are going to continue to work to achieve the goals laid out in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, and that includes de-escalation and a reinvigorated political process, but we believe success is not going to be possible without the international community holding Damascus fully accountable for the lack of progress in resolving the conflict.
QUESTION: How can you hold Damascus —
MR PALLADINO: We’re going to support the work of the United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to convene the committee by the end of the year and his efforts in Geneva as well to broker a political process. And we’re going to remain engaged.
QUESTION: Isn’t he leaving?
MR PALLADINO: We’re – he – there’s a successor. We’ll work with both, correct. We’ll remain engaged with the United Nations on this and other parties. That’s the way forward, including Russia.
Please. Right here.
QUESTION: Do you still hope that Russia will push the regime to nominate the members? And since you are blaming Russia and Iran for not coordinating and masking the Assad regime, what hope do you expect from Russia?
MR PALLADINO: We’re going to remain engaged. We’re going to support the UN process, and we’re going to keep engaged.
QUESTION: Thanks. Just – so we had this briefing this morning on Iran’s missile program and so on. Given this discussion about Yemen, could you just take a step back? Because the administration, from the first day it came into office, said it would roll back Iran’s influence across the region. This was a top priority. We’ve had an array of sanctions imposed, sanctions reimposed, we had this briefing about the missiles. Has the administration succeeded in rolling back Iran and Yemen and Syria and Lebanon, or is it time to review the approach?
MR PALLADINO: We’re going to continue to push. Our approach to Iran’s malign influence has many, many, many factors, and this administration is committed to stopping what Iran is attempting to do both across the region and globally.
QUESTION: Is there an example of a successful case where you’ve managed to do that?
MR PALLADINO: We have gotten out of the failed JCPOA, something that is going to allow us to finally confront the totality of Iran’s malign influence and to preserve American interests and peace both in the region and globally, and that’s it. I’m going to end it there. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to the failed JCPOA? I mean, the administration’s position is that even if it was succeeding, it wasn’t good enough, and that’s why you had to withdraw. But the IAEA continues to say that Iran is complying with the JCPOA, so I don’t think that —
MR PALLADINO: While they continue to proliferate —
QUESTION: So “failed JCPOA” – but wait a second.
MR PALLADINO: — as your colleague points out today from —
QUESTION: Look, I understand that – your reasons for withdrawing from it, but you didn’t withdraw from it because it had failed. You withdrew from it because you said it didn’t go far enough and because —
MR PALLADINO: We —
QUESTION: — even if it was succeeding, it wouldn’t work, right?
MR PALLADINO: We withdrew because it failed to counter the totality of what Iran is up to. Thanks, guys. I’ve got to go. All right.