Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson
July 11, 2019
2:10 p.m. EDT
MS ORTAGUS: Good afternoon, everybody. As you know, Secretary Pompeo will host the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom next week, July 16th through 18th, here at the State Department. This year’s event will be bigger, broader, and better than last year’s groundbreaking event. The continuing and complex challenges to religious freedom demand an even greater stage, with more stakeholders working together to identify solutions.
I’d like to introduce someone that is very familiar to all of you, Ambassador Brownback, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Ambassador Brownback will provide a brief overview for this year’s MARF priorities and will take a few MARF-related questions at the end of his remarks. We will then continue with our normal press briefing. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Thanks, Morgan; appreciate that. And thank you all for being here today. As she outlined the event, this year’s event will be the biggest religious freedom event ever held in the world. There has never been one as big nor like it. We’ll have at the – and it’s really two events. The first two days will be religious actors and civil society people gathering here. It’ll be over a thousand. We’ve had over a thousand RSVPs accepting. Day three is countries coming to state their actions and the things that they hope to do in this religious freedom space. We’ve had a number invited, and we have more foreign ministers that have accepted this year than were here last year at the event.
We will highlight the people that have been persecuted. At last year’s event, as some of you may recall if you were around for it, we had a number of survivors of religious persecution that kicked off each of the sessions. This year we’ll have over 20 survivors of religious persecution will be speaking. They’ll represent many faiths. We’ll start off, the first panel will be a group from the Abrahamic faiths. We’ll have a Jewish rabbi from the San Diego synagogue shooting will be here, we’ll have a Christian from the Sri Lankan Easter bombings will be next speaking, and then a Muslim from the New Zealand mosque attack, will be back-to-back-to-back, will be the presentations of these each horrific events that took place, but really trying to state to the world these things are going on and they need to stop, and actions need to be taken. And that will be the start.
The best known of the people persecuted that’ll be here speaking will be Nadia Murad. Nadia, as many of you know, is a Yezidi Nobel Peace Prize winner for her advocacy on behalf of the Yezidis in northern Iraq and the genocide that took place against Christians and Yezidis there. And Andrew Brunson also will be here, a pastor for the United States that was held in a Turkish prison for two years.
We hope that this will stir actions. That’s what we’re after is to stir action. What we hope to see are a number of – and some of these are specific actions, but religious freedom roundtables start up around the world, where various religious actors and civil society people in various countries would come together and stand for each other’s religious freedom. So these faiths will all come together and do that. We’ve got about ten of these roundtables started around the world. I meet with the one that’s here every Tuesday that I’m in town. We hope to see a number of them started around the world as activists.
We hope follow-on meetings in various regions – we had three last year: one in Great Britain, one in UAE, one in Taiwan. We hope for a series of follow-on regional summits from this one. And then really, ultimately, we’re after a grassroots movement. I was a part of the early human trafficking effort for this country, and it’s been very pleasing to me to see this now evolve into a grassroots movement where there’s lots of different efforts in many places around the world to stop human trafficking. Unfortunately, human trafficking still goes on, but there’s lots of grassroots efforts to push back. We want one in the religious freedom space as well, and that the religious actors would stand up for each other.
We anticipate at day three of the governments together announcements by the United States and a number of other countries of specific actions that would follow on. For your note, and maybe interest as well I hope, there will be 80 – eight-zero – sidebar events taking place. And these are activists from this country and many other countries that will be hosting events that’ll go on in the margins or the sideline of this overall event. And they’ll be all over the table for as far as different groups and different items that they’ll be putting forward. If you’re interested in any of those, you can go to irfroundtable.org and see where all of those are and kind of a listing of those, and if there’s any that would be of interest to you. Again, that site is irfroundtable.org.
Because the interest is so high and we’re maxed out, we had to close registration two weeks ago. There’s going to be a second stage operated that’ll run parallel to this one at the GW University. Of course, it’s just up the street here at the Loeb Institute is hosting that, along with a youth track. So while we’ve got the stage going here and we couldn’t accommodate everybody, they will operate a second stage there of a number of speakers there as well. That’s, again, at GW University Loeb Institute.
The entire event will start Monday, July 15th, at the Holocaust Museum. We are going there with the survivors that’ll be speaking, the group of survivors. It’s a solemn place that reminds us of “never again,” and yet you still get people persecuted for their faith. Last year’s kickoff event at the Holocaust Museum was really a profound, profound event. I remember talking with one individual that had experience, and they’d look at a picture from the Holocaust and they see a uniform that was the like – like the one they were in. Here was a modern survivor of religious persecution seeing the uniform like one of the people that were in the Holocaust, then they just said, “That’s the kind of uniform I was in.” And then another person said that evil is just not very imaginative and just keeps repeating the same thing. And that’s an unfortunate truth when we have the level of religious persecution and a number of people being killed around the world today for their faith.
And at the African American Museum, a reception there on Thursday evening. I’m delighted that they’re willing to host the final summation event there.
So it’ll be a full week of activities. We hope you’ll be interested in covering some of it. And this is a big deal. It’s a big deal to this administration. It’s a big deal to the people of the world. The world has not paid enough attention to what’s taking place here and the plight of so many people that have been injured, and over 70 percent of the world lives in a religious-restrictive environment, and many cases, unfortunately, a deadly environment. So we hope to really push back and start this grassroots movement seriously to push back against it.
We’re happy to take questions for the – with the time we have.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Sir.
QUESTION: I’m just curious. In terms of participation, official government participation in the conference, do you know, can you say, are there going to be officials from governments of countries that you – well, not you personally – but that have been singled out by the administration, this administration or previous ones, for being Countries of Particular Concern when it comes to religious freedom? In other words –
AMBASSADSOR BROWNBACK: Yes.
QUESTION: — are the Chinese going to be represented? Are the Turks or the Saudis, those countries that have been —
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Right.
QUESTION: — that have perhaps less than stellar records in this area?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: The conference is centered around like-mindeds and aspirational countries. That’s been our model that we’ve gone for. So like-mindeds are ones that agree with us, and aspirational ones are ones that we hope are moving this way. There is a former CPC country that was invited last year that will be invited again this year, Uzbekistan, but here’s a country that’s been trying to move a positive direction, let 13,000 political and religious prisoners out of jail and has registered some churches and done a number of things.
But sadly, we don’t have a lot of countries like that that are trying to be different in this space. A number of them just continue to operate; and if they’re going to continue to operate that way, we’re going to continue to cite the problem that they are and the things that they’re doing. We hope it gets more costly to them for them being on the outside of the global community’s stand for religious freedom.
MS ORTAGUS: Lesley.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Are there any of these activists that have not been allowed to attend the conference from their own countries, meaning that their own countries are barring them from attending the conference?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Not that I know of. We have – we always struggle with visas getting into the United States. I mean, you’re getting visas, and that’s been one of the bigger issues we’ve wrestled with. And there are people who, unfortunately, whose category are literally stateless, and it makes that even more complicated to get them here to get a visa when you’re in a stateless situation.
But we’re trying to bring them here to show the world there are people that are pushed out of their country because of their faith, so they don’t have a nation that they’re a part of, but they should be heard. And so we’re working, and I think we’re going to be able to get them here. But I don’t know of any that are being blocked by their own country. I could – if there is a correction on that, we’ll try to get it to you, but I don’t know of any.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Shaun.
QUESTION: Following up a little bit on Matt’s question, in terms of participation, you mentioned some foreign ministers.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Could you tell at this point in terms of the participation that you find at that level and at what level other like-minded countries be represented? And do you expect some sort of joint declaration at the end? What do you expect in terms of setting the agenda forward?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Well, we had 24 minister-level last year participants, 19 foreign ministers and then another series of ministers of their – some countries have a minister of religion or of various areas that came. We have more registered than that this year of foreign ministers that have stated they’re coming. We’re not putting a number out because you don’t know – okay, I’ll tell you a number, and then somebody doesn’t show because of last minute or we get a bunch more that are registering, which is what’s taking place right now. But we have more registered foreign ministers this year than came last year already. And is that – and is that – what was the —
QUESTION: Do you expect at the end some sort of formal joint statement of action?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yes. Last year, we put out the Potomac Declaration, which was a U.S. statement of here’s where we’re following on. We also put forward a series of statements of concern, and then we asked countries if they were interested in to sign onto these. We had I think eight of those last year, and a number of countries signed on to some, and it was kind of a smorgasbord. Some – I’ll do this one; I’m not interested in that; don’t want this one. And we’ll do a similar process this year.
We’d really – what you’d like to do is to have kind of a big negotiated statement, but there’s just so many that we’re inviting to it. And the statements of – the clarity of the position is really there in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which we’ll have posted all over, that’s very clear on religious freedom. So it really – now we need to get this into the action level. We need to really push countries. Hey, look, you signed up with the Declaration of Human Rights, and you’re not doing this. This needs to change and there needs to be global pressure to cause this.
MS ORTAGUS: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to understand the points that were raised, for instance, will there be representatives of the Rohingya in the camps in Bangladesh and so on to present their viewpoint? On the other hand, will be any representatives from the Myanmar Government to talk – to explain their own point of view?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: There will be Rohingya here. There will not be representatives of the Myanmar Government invited.
QUESTION: Are they not invited?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Not invited.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: They – we wouldn’t put them in either the category of like-minded or aspirational at this point in time. I hope that changes.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Last question, Courtney.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, you said you’re hoping for a grassroots movement —
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yes.
QUESTION: — to be generated after this. Is there a plan for the U.S. to support, material or otherwise, any movements that emerge in these countries?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: I couldn’t – there – we’ll see what comes out of it. The United States has been the forerunner in this space since this law creating this position was created 20 years ago. I say a forerunner in that the right was created long ago in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and it’s been in our Constitution and in most constitutions for centuries or decades at least. What hasn’t take placed is the action to push it to happen. And that’s the thing that I’m really hopeful that you’ll see more of our action and other countries’ actions to push. Now whether that takes place – what form all that takes I think is really yet to be seen.
But this – action is – you’ve got – there’s a British report out last week. Level of Christian persecution is highest ever in the world. Their report was just on Christians, but you can go – you can list any number of places and any number of faiths. Almost every faith that’s a majority somewhere is a minority somewhere else and often gets persecuted where they’re a minority. So that’s why a big part of our effort is to get the faiths to come together and to stand for each other and to stand for each other’s religious freedom. We’re not talking common theology here. Nobody agrees on theology. We’re talking about a common human right that we’re asking the faiths to come together and to stand for.
And religion is often upstream from politics, so we think if we really can get a number of the religious leaders coming together to stand for each other’s religious freedom, no matter where they are, anywhere in the world, that that will really help us within the governmental and the political community downstream from that thought.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Appreciate you all. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks, Ambassador.
Okay. I have a number of things for you today so be patient with me here at the beginning. How’s everyone doing? Is it still raining?
MS ORTAGUS: Oh. Oh, good. Okay.
First to Iran. The Department of State condemns the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy’s attempt to unlawfully harass and interfere with the passage of the UK-flagged merchant vessel British Heritage yesterday near the Strait of Hormuz. We commend the actions of the Royal Navy in ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce through this critically important waterway. We will continue to work closely with the United Kingdom and our allies to ensure that Iran’s regimes – the Iranian regime’s malign activities do not further disrupt international law, maritime security, or global commerce.
Moving on to the South China Sea, tomorrow, July 12th, marks three years since a tribunal found that China’s claim of historic rights in the South China Sea was unlawful. The tribunal’s decision rejected China’s Nine-Dash Line maritime claim. The tribunal further made clear that drawing baselines around island groups in the South China Sea would be unlawful. Additionally, the tribunal found that China’s activities relating to the construction of artificial islands and the practices of Chinese fishermen violated the Law of the Seas Convention requirements for the protection of the maritime environment. The tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties subject to this arbitration, China and the Philippines.
By advancing the peaceful settlement of these disputes, the decision is a victory for the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific. It is in the shared interest of the United States and other countries across the region to sustain the rules-based order so that each nation can reach its potential without sacrificing its national interest or its autonomy.
China’s militarization of disputed outpost in the South China Sea betrays President Xi’s 2015 commitment not to engage in such activity. It is provocative, complicates the peaceful settlement of disputes, threatens the security of other nations, and undermines regional stability.
We strongly oppose China’s efforts to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea. We urge all states to conform their maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention and to resolve their territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.
I would like to announce that Secretary General Luis Almagro and the Organization of American States will host a press conference tomorrow at 2:30 at the OAS to discuss the urgent and ongoing human rights crisis in Venezuela in light of continuing credible reports, including the recent UNOHCHR report, that the former Maduro regime is engaged in systemic human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, detention of political prisoners, and forced displacement to prop up his crumbling de facto hold on power.
We will hear from Venezuelan expert Tamara Suju, former senior police official and escaped political prisoner Ivan Simonovis, and Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams. Ms. Suju has studied extensively how the secret police apparatus in Venezuela uses torture. Mr. Simonovis will tell his story as a political prisoner for more than 15 years. Their testimony serve as a reminder that today in Venezuela, 614 people are political prisoners and are subject to violent physical and psychological torture, which, as we saw in the case of Naval Officer Acosta Arevalo, sometimes leads to death.
No dictatorship lasts forever. Venezuela will soon be free, and those responsible for abuses and violation of human rights in Venezuela will be held accountable. We renew our calls for all nations to condemn the illegitimate Maduro regime and stand together to fight against its willful disregard for human rights.
Free expression and an independent media are critical components of a vibrant, functioning democracy.
QUESTION: Yes, they are.
MS ORTAGUS: That’s why I brief. As a part of the United States commitment to promoting the freedom of expression, we were proud to sign on to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom today at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London. The pledge aims to increase global attention on media freedom and to increase the cost on those that attempt to undermine it.
In too many countries, journalists face the threat of violence or imprisonment for their work. In 2018, civil society groups reported that at least 251 journalists remained in jail, with Turkey, China, and Egypt listed as the worst offenders. The United States calls for the release of journalists and media workers incarcerated throughout the world for their work, including in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Vietnam, and Azerbaijan. We remain concerned by the disturbing trend of governments – government efforts to unduly restrict access to information, including by shutting down the internet or independent media outlets, even for a limited time, in places such as in China, Venezuela, Sudan, Burma, Cameroon, and Mauritania.
We are also concerned about the threats of violence against journalists, which have a chilling effect on press freedom, especially when they are not investigated or prosecuted. We call for an immediate end to threats and for violence against journalists, including in Russia and in Afghanistan. The United States believes everyone should be able to express themselves freely, both online and offline, and that media should be free to operate – should be able to operate free from harassment, threats, and violence.
The United States will continue to work with partner governments, civil society, the media, and others to promote freedom of expression and to protect journalists’ safety. We will also continue to advocate for strong and transparent accountability for all of those who commit violence or other abuses against journalists.
And then one more. It’s your lucky day, Matthew Lee. On July 11th, the Department of State issued the 2019 Investment Climate Statements. These reports provide country-specific information on the business climates of more than 170 countries and economies, and are prepared by our brilliant State Department economic officers assigned to embassies and posts around the world. They analyze a variety of economies that are or could be markets for U.S. businesses of all sizes.
As Secretary Pompeo has said, helping American companies have the opportunity to succeed around the world by ensuring markets are open and breaking down the barriers is a cornerstone of economic diplomacy. The Investment Climate Statements support this objective by highlighting reforms that level the playing field and informing U.S. businesses as they seek new markets. These statements highlight barriers that, if addressed, would support administration priorities, such as expanding high quality, private sector-led investment and infrastructure, expanding women’s economic empowerment, and facilitating a healthy business environment for the digital economy to benefit our companies and of the countries in which they do business.
Okay. Matt. We covered the world today.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Yes, indeed.
MS ORTAGUS: Just anything for you.
QUESTION: Happy belated birthday, first of all.
MS ORTAGUS: That’s very nice. Thank you.
QUESTION: You’re welcome. One housekeeping – real quick housekeeping thing before I get to Iran – and that is on your South China Sea statement.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: What was that about 20 minutes ago or so? (Laughter.)
MS ORTAGUS: I could always not brief.
QUESTION: What is – this is the – tribunal you’re referring to is the law of the Law of the Sea tribunal, correct?
MS ORTAGUS: Yes, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What’s the administration’s position on the Convention on the Law of the Sea? Do you think that the Senate should ratify it?
MS ORTAGUS: So I know what you’re getting at because we’re not signed to it, but we have —
QUESTION: I know.
MS ORTAGUS: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Yeah, I know.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. So we think that all parties that are a part of this have an obligation to comply with this decision. They should, of course, exercise restraint.
QUESTION: So it’s similar to the Iran nuclear deal. Even though you’re not a part of it, the other parties to it —
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, Matt.
QUESTION: — including Iran should still abide by it. Is that right? Yup? Okay.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. What’s your next question?
QUESTION: The Iran question is: Yesterday, your colleague Lea Gabrielle was on the Hill and testified —
MS ORTAGUS: Ah, yeah.
QUESTION: — about the – she was asked about the IranDisinfo Twitter feed, the project that —
MS ORTAGUS: From May, right.
QUESTION: She said that it had been terminated.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: And I’m just wondering – so – we’re wondering if you can give a few more details on that. How much was the funding that has been terminated? And is there a review going on into other projects that this same group, this same implementer or contractor may have been involved in?
MS ORTAGUS: What was that second part of the question? Sorry.
QUESTION: Are you guys looking at other projects that this contract, this outside party had been – had done for you to see if their – to see if they – those projects didn’t exceed or go beyond the scope of what they were supposed to be doing?
MS ORTAGUS: So I think we briefed around the end of May – I think it was May 29th – that the project had been suspended —
MS ORTAGUS: — following some of those reports. And at this – and at that suspension date, the implementer is not permitted to incur any new commitments. And I believe Lea testified yesterday that the process to begin terminating the award began on July 1st. This was by mutual agreement. That process is ongoing because, of course, there’s a technical process for termination – notification, funds, et cetera. And so in the meantime, the award remains completely suspended. In terms of if this contractor has any contracts with the State Department outside of the GEC – is that the question?
QUESTION: No, within the GEC. Well, either within the GEC or outside the GEC.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I’ll have to double check with the GEC, but my understanding is that they’re – any contract with the GEC has been terminated.
QUESTION: All right. And do you have a dollar figure for how much —
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t.
QUESTION: Could – is that possible to get?
MS ORTAGUS: Let me see if that’s something that’s we can give out. Oh, yeah.
QUESTION: All right.
MS ORTAGUS: But again, my understanding was that it was suspended May 29th. The termination process by mutual agreement started on July 1st.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask you —
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Shaun.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up on the readout that you had this morning of the phone call between the Secretary and the South Korean foreign minister?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. Give me a second to find that one.
MS ORTAGUS: We issued that, right?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In the statement, of course, it calls for cooperation among the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The South Koreans said that they raised concerns about Japan’s decision to restrict exports of – related to – of – to technology to South Korea. Was that raised? Does the United States have viewpoints on whether Japan should be taking that action against a fellow ally?
MS ORTAGUS: So I’m not going to go beyond the readout in terms of what was presented in the call, but I would say that Japan and South Korea are, of course, not only friends, they’re allies. And the United States – and of course here at the State Department, we’re going to do everything we can to pursue ways to strengthen our relationships between and amongst all three countries, both publicly and behind the scenes. It’s an incredibly – both relationships are incredibly important. We all share – face shared regional challenges and priorities in the Indo-Pacific and around the world, and so we will continue to do that – to work with both Japan and South Korea both publicly and privately.
QUESTION: What type of measures could that be? I mean, for example, ASEAN is coming up. Would a three-way meeting be something that would be in the cards?
MS ORTAGUS: I’m not going to preview what sort of media that we’ll do at ASEAN, but we will, of course – I mean, we are in communication with these countries via our embassies and, of course, via the State Department on a daily basis. These are some of the closest relationships that we have in the world, and we’ll continue to work with both countries to strengthen the relationship between all three of us.
QUESTION: And I know you said you’re not actually going beyond that, but I mean, has there been contact with Japan about their decision to —
MS ORTAGUS: I’m not going to go beyond that.
QUESTION: Morgan, I just was – I’m going to stick with South Korea, I think.
MS ORTAGUS: South Korea, okay.
QUESTION: Was any of that discussion to do with a report out overnight from outlets – Asian outlets based here that the U.S. is considering offering 12 to 18 months suspension of certain sanctions against North Korea?
MS ORTAGUS: So while we don’t preview any sort of sanctions from the podium, whether it’s adding new ones or taking them away, I will say that I did actually speak to Steve Biegun about that, and he categorically denied that. He said that report is completely false, so there is no truth to that.
QUESTION: A follow-up on North Korea?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: The South Korean representative of (inaudible) from Blue House has come to meet the U.S. representative yesterday here. Do you have anything on this? How the U.S. (inaudible)?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t have anything extra on that meeting. I’m sorry. I’ll look into that. Does anybody – let’s stick with Asia for a little bit, and then we can switch to —
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: South Korea is saying they would like the U.S. to mediate the dispute between Japan and South Korea. Is that something the U.S. is considering doing?
MS ORTAGUS: With all due respect, I just answered three questions from Shaun on that subject, and I think that I gave a sufficient answer.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. I am (inaudible), Nikkei newspaper, Japan. Let me clarify your comment on North Korea. In the last briefing, you said the nuclear freeze would be at the beginning of the process for denuclearization.
MS ORTAGUS: Right. I did say that.
QUESTION: So does this mean the U.S. would give some benefits to North Korea once North Korea agrees on the nuclear freeze at the beginning of the process?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I mean, you’re just talking about negotiations that we’re not going to preview from here. I think I actually gave on Tuesday a pretty lengthy discussion on what Steve Biegun and Secretary Pompeo and the team are doing. I refer you back to my statements on Tuesday. And when we have another update, we’ll certainly let you know.
Asia or something else?
QUESTION: No, Iran.
MS ORTAGUS: Anyone else on Asia? No? Okay, Iran.
QUESTION: I have two questions, one on Iran and one on Syria. On Iran, you’ve been working on the creation of a new coalition to protect the freedom of navigation in the Gulf. Do you have any update on this? When do you expect it to be born?
MS ORTAGUS: No. When we were – not this past trip, but – let’s see, this past trip when we were in Saudi and UAE, I believe that we gave a backgrounder on that. And we can – I don’t think anything has changed since that – since we gave out that information. If you don’t have that, we’ll be happy to get that to you.
QUESTION: We have it. I have it.
MS ORTAGUS: You have it, okay.
QUESTION: But there is no update on it?
MS ORTAGUS: No. I can check with the team and get back to you and see if there’s anything new that we would share publicly.
QUESTION: And on Syria, do you have any readout on Ambassador Jeffrey’s visit to northeastern Syria, and do you have any commitment from any country to send troops to Syria?
MS ORTAGUS: I don’t have a readout from any of his travel. Let me get back to you. Is there something specific that you’re looking for? I don’t think that we put out a readout.
QUESTION: No. Ambassador Jeffrey went to Syria and he met with —
MS ORTAGUS: Right.
QUESTION: — the Kurds and the other – other groups. If there is any readout for – on his meetings, why he’s there, and what did he achieve?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I think it’s obvious why he’s there, but no, we’ll check. I’ll check into a readout for you.
QUESTION: And if there is any country committed to send troops to Syria too.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I mean, he – the ambassador is obviously working incredibly diligently on that cause with many of our European allies as well as this Turkish safe zone, a number of issues. And when he gets back, I’ll be happy to have a conversation with him and get back to you on what we can share publicly.
QUESTION: Thanks, Morgan. Is the administration considering any measures to address China’s importation of Iranian oil?
MS ORTAGUS: I mean, we have said very publicly, the Secretary has said it here from this podium, that we’re going to zero and that countries that don’t abide by U.S. sanctions will face repercussions for not abiding by U.S. sanctions. That goes for China or any other country in the world.
QUESTION: So the U.S. would conceivably sanction those imports?
MS ORTAGUS: We expect all parties – we expect all countries to abide by U.S. sanctions. We have gone – as the Secretary said here from this podium and has talked to many of you about it several times, we’ve gone to zero as it relates to that. And we expect every country to abide by that.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Iran?
MS ORTAGUS: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does – is it the Secretary’s or the State Department’s current position that the UN Security Council should invoke snapback sanction measures given that Iran appears to be violating some elements of the JCPOA now?
MS ORTAGUS: What was the start of the question? Is it – you said something about the Secretary.
QUESTION: Is it the Secretary or the State Department’s view that sanctions should be snapped back under the terms – the Security Council resolutions?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, I think what you’re asking of me would be, again, to preview actions that we are not ready to discuss publicly. I think as it relates to Iran in general, I think that we have been very vocal about our position. We talked about in the topper at the beginning about what the British navy was able to do in terms of the harassment yesterday. I mean, as you know, the Secretary – you’ve been on some of the trips – the Secretary’s been all over the world dealing with this issue, talking to our allies. The President has said that he will meet with the Iranians without preconditions. So we seek a diplomatic solution. We have asked our allies many times – we’ve talked about this from the podium – that we’ve asked our allies to ask Iran to de-escalate the situation, not harass American allies and our interests, not terrorize the region. I feel like that this is stuff that I’ve talked about – quite a bit about from this podium that you guys are well versed on.
QUESTION: Sure, but the – I mean, the actual notion of the formal invocation of snapping back sanctions at the Security Council —
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. Well, when we have any sort of announcements on policy positions that we’re going to take, we’ll – you will be the first to know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: All right, all right, all right.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Can that be all of us (inaudible)?
MS ORTAGUS: I’ll let you – you did tell me happy birthday today, so —
QUESTION: You in the general sense, Matt.
QUESTION: The Kurdistan Regional Government announced the formation of its new cabinet yesterday. How do you see that development?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, give me just one second on that. I clearly have too big of a book. I have a written statement for you on that. I just can’t find it at the moment, so let me get that – can I get that to you in writing? Do you need it on camera?
QUESTION: It’s nice if it’s on camera. I’m sure people would appreciate it. But if you can’t find it, then —
QUESTION: Is it under Iraq?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I know, but I can’t find my Iraq tab. I wouldn’t read into – oh, because it’s right in front of me. That’s why.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, you’re ready. It’s on camera for you now. We congratulate the prime minister and the Kurdistan Regional Government on their successful government formation. We of course enjoy a close partnership with the prime minister and with the Kurdistan Regional Government. We work on important issues including regional security, economic reform, and repairing relations between the KRG and the Government of Iraq. We are of course confident that we will remain a close partner on these priorities moving forward. And I think —
QUESTION: Can I have a question or two?
QUESTION: Can I have a —
MS ORTAGUS: Let me go to Abbie. She hasn’t had a chance.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. This is on Afghanistan.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Okay.
QUESTION: There was a report out that the U.S. was questioning that elections in Afghanistan would go forward. Does the U.S. believe that they will occur as planned in September? And also —
MS ORTAGUS: Can I – just to clarify on that, because I saw that so I checked into that right before we came – that was a tweet from a journalist, and I confirmed with our embassy that journalist was not a part of any sort of meeting from our side, and actually that journalist has taken down that tweet. So I don’t think that that report is any – is timely anymore.
QUESTION: Can I have one more question on Afghanistan?
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you provide any update on the latest discussions between U.S. and Taliban? And do you still believe that a peace deal will happen by September 1st?
MS ORTAGUS: Well I mean, listen, the – Ambassador Khalilzad is working obviously incredibly hard. He’s been around the world. I think he has one of the – he and Steve Biegun have two of the toughest jobs here. But he has made substantial progress. I believe we are now in our seventh round of talks with the Taliban. The Secretary has said when asked about this that after almost two decades of war in Afghanistan, the hour has come for peace. This is also something that the President has talked about quite a bit. And I know that the ambassador was – was or is in China today for a pre-scheduled meeting, but throughout this latest round of Taliban talks, which was – the ambassador described it to me when we communicated briefly as being one of the most productive rounds that he’s had to date. So when we have anything specific to read out, we certainly will, but this is something that Ambassador Khalilzad, Secretary Pompeo, and most importantly the President of the United States takes incredibly seriously after almost two decades of our men and women being in Afghanistan.
This has gone on pretty long, so I will see all of you soon. Thank you very much, appreciate it.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)