Department Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
3:04 p.m. EST
Briefer: Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino
MR PALLADINO: Hello, everyone. Sorry we’re running a little later today.
A couple for the top. I want to highlight today the department’s newly published report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, which I believe has been passed out already – it is in front of you – and which we posted today to our website. This annual report highlights the United States’ enduring commitment to making post-conflict communities safer and setting the stage for their recovery and development.
Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $3.2 billion for the securing and safe disposal of excess small arms, light weapons, and munitions, as well as the safe clearance of landmines and other explosive hazards in more than 100 countries, making the United States the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction. Working in close cooperating with the Department of Defense and the United States Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund, the Department of State has helped numerous countries to declare themselves mine-free.
And secondly, we welcome the recent statements issued by France and the European Union parliament and the resolution presented by Canada at the United Nations that was adopted by a clear majority yesterday, drawing the world’s attention, once again, to the Iranian regime’s sickening human rights record. Such statements underscore the international community’s grave concern regarding the regime’s daily violations of the human rights of the Iranian people.
We join others around the world in demanding an investigation into the senseless death of the arbitrarily detained activist Vahid Sayadi Nasiri as well as into the uninvestigated suspicious deaths of numerous others while they were in the custody of the Iranian regime. We call – we join others around the world in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Nasrin Sotoudeh and all other arbitrarily detained individuals currently languishing in Iranian jails, including Farhad Meysami.
The United States will continue to support the Iranian people and to call for their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, religion, and belief, to which they are entitled and justly deserve.
QUESTION: I want to ask you just briefly – and I know you won’t be able to say a lot – but about this woman, this Yemeni woman who was trying to get here to see her dying son out on the west coast. I understand visa records are confidential, but my question about this is: Why does it always seem to take a public outcry for you guys to do what a lot of people think is the right thing, the humanitarian thing to do?
MR PALLADINO: What I’d say, Matt, is – I mean, I’ve read these reports, and it is a very sad case, and our thoughts go out to this family in this time, this trying time. But I would also add we – that we are governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act, and visa records are confidential. For the latest, they could share information as they see fit, and that’s not something that we’re going to be able to do here from the State Department.
QUESTION: No, I’m not asking you – I’m not – we know what the – that the decision has been made and that she has gotten a waiver, at least according to the family’s lawyers. My question is: Why does it always seem to be – and this is not just this administration. This goes back previous administrations as well, is that in cases like this, it always seems that you guys don’t do what most people think would be the right and humane and humanitarian thing to do until there’s a public outcry about it. What is it about the visa process that makes it so harsh when it comes to situations like this?
MR PALLADINO: These are decided on a case-by-case basis, and we are committed to following United States administration law and ensuring the integrity and security of our country’s borders, and at the same time making every effort to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States. These are not easy questions. These are – we’ve got a lot of Foreign Service officers deployed all over the world that are making these decisions on a daily basis, and they’re trying very hard to do the right thing at all times.
QUESTION: I want – well, I want to ask you about the meeting today with Iran and Turkey and Russia – if the U.S. – and on Syria. It appears that they failed to agree on the makeup of this constitutional body that would oversee a political process in Syria. Does the U.S. have a comment on this? And would you see any – I mean, can you see any further progress happening until – I mean, basically the UN envoy has to step – steps down at the end of the month.
MR PALLADINO: We believe that the only path to a political solution in Syria remains the United Nations-led political process in Geneva, and that includes constitutional reform, as you point out, and United Nations-supervised elections in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.
United Nations Special Envoy de Mistura has long worked to launch a credible and balanced constitutional committee under the United Nations auspices. We look forward to de Mistura’s assessment of this process and – at the United Nations Security Council council, which is going to take place on December 20th.
Now, the establishment and convening by the end of the year of a credible and balanced constitutional committee in Geneva is an important step to lasting de-escalation and a political solution to this conflict, and this goal has broad international support from the quadrilateral summit in Istanbul. Russia and Turkey joined the call to convene the committee by December. So we fully support the work of the special envoy to facilitate the political process, and that empowers the United Nations to convene the Syrian Government and opposition representatives for political talks. And we’re going to remain engaged.
QUESTION: But Robert, once again there’s another delay until next – early next year. Does this mean that – I mean, this delays – these delays have been going on for quite a while.
MR PALLADINO: We’re going to remain engaged with the United Nations and with other parties, including Russia, and we are going to continue to encourage all possible efforts be taken to advance the political track, as called for in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.
QUESTION: Syria. President Erdogan claimed yesterday that President Trump had given him a nod for a Turkish attack on Syria east of the Euphrates. That is a misstatement, isn’t it, that President Trump had told President Erdogan that they could attack east of the Euphrates?
MR PALLADINO: Yes. The United States and Turkey are coordinating actively on all issues affecting both Turkish security and the situation in northeast Syria, where, of course, as you know, U.S. forces are present in the campaign to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. We’ve made significant progress recently in the campaign, and – but the job is not yet done.
And President Trump and President Erdogan had discussed these issues in their telephone call last week, as did Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu in a separate call. Both of our countries remain focused on coordination to counter the threats that terror poses to Turkey, the region, and beyond, and we believe we’re making progress with Turkey.
QUESTION: Sure. Afghanistan, Abu Dhabi. Representative Khalilzad is, of course, there. The Kabul government has now announced that they’re sending a delegation there as well. Is there a sense of optimism in what’s going on in Abu Dhabi? Where do you sense where you are now in terms of finding a negotiated way out in Afghanistan?
MR PALLADINO: I’ve seen some of the reports and characterizing things. I mean, the meetings in Abu Dhabi are part of United States efforts to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in Afghanistan. And this is part of our South Asia strategy, and we have long said that war in Afghanistan will only end when Afghans sit together with mutual respect and acceptance, discuss a political roadmap for their future. So our efforts and those of our partners are focused on this objective right now.
Now, Special Representative Khalilzad, he is in the region, and he has in the past been meeting and will continue to meet with all interested parties to support a negotiated settlement to this conflict. And so others are coming together, and we continue to push this forward.
QUESTION: Robert, can I – a follow-up to that.
QUESTION: Are there any – is there any validity to reports that there’s a proposal to postpone the April election so that the Taliban can participate in future elections?
MR PALLADINO: No. Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Yeah. According to – Taliban sources have told Reuters that the U.S. is discussing a proposal for a six-month ceasefire in Afghanistan and a future withdrawal of foreign troops. Can you confirm that?
MR PALLADINO: Well, I’m not going to be able to discuss details of private diplomatic conversations. But the United States military presence in Afghanistan remains conditions-based, and that’s the cornerstone of the administration’s strategy. The special representative continues to work with all interested parties in close coordination with the Afghan people and the Afghan Government to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.
Let’s move on. Let’s go to TASS, Dmitri.
QUESTION: Thank you, Robert. I wanted to go back for a second to Geneva and Syria. Is the list that the Russians, the Iranians, and the Turks came up with so far acceptable to you? And do you support their intention to convene a Syrian constitutional committee early next year, as they announced today?
MR PALLADINO: We support the United Nations here. We support the work of United Nations Special Envoy de Mistura and what he is doing to facilitate the political process that the Security Resolution 2254 calls for. And we’re going to remain engaged with the United Nations and other parties, including Russia, to encourage all possible efforts to advance the political track in furtherance.