2:15 p.m. EST
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody.QUESTION: Hello.
MS NAUERT: How are you today? Hi, Nick.
MS NAUERT: I saw some very old pictures of you the other day.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. (Laughter.) Yeah. From you in Afghanistan.
MS NAUERT: Yes, very old. You looked like a little boy. (Laughter.) Still do, for that matter.
QUESTION: More like a bearskin rug.
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) He was working. He was working hard on behalf of our country. I didn’t know you had served in the Navy. So thank you for your service.
Good afternoon, everyone. Great to see you again. Welcome back, those of you who went to Vancouver and also to California. A couple things I want to start out with today. First, providing some of the deliverables that came out of the Vancouver meeting.
As you all know, on January 16th – pardon me – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Canadian foreign minister cohosted foreign ministers and representatives of 20 countries from around the globe in Vancouver to demonstrate global solidarity in opposition to North Korea’s unlawful and dangerous development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Participants in Vancouver emphasized the urgency of addressing the current instability precipitated by the DPRK’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development. In order to persuade North Korea to abandon its current course and create conditions conducive to dialogue, they stressed their collective resolve to undertake the following concrete actions in a co-chair statement that was issued.
Among the things they agreed to: Support progress in the inter-Korean dialogue in hopes that it leads to a sustained easing of tensions; maintain readiness to support a political solution, and recognize China’s special role and responsibility to contribute to the effort; work closely with partners in the region and globally, including China and Russia, to ensure full and effective implementation of existing sanctions on North Korea, particularly through enhanced information sharing and expanded support to the UN Panel of Experts, to combat sanctions evasion; to further strengthen the international pressure campaign through diplomatic advocacy with states that lack the political will to implement the sanctions; help build global capacity to effectively implement sanctions and prevent proliferation financing, including from criminal activities and cyber operations; sever financial lifelines for all of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs, including through enhanced coordination within the region and internationally; counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling in accordance with relevant UNSC resolutions, including measures to stop its unlawful use of ship-to-ship transfers; agree to consider taking steps to impose unilateral sanctions and further diplomatic actions that go beyond those required by the UN Security Council resolutions; finally, undertake preparatory efforts to outline principles and requirements for a verification mechanism sufficient to guarantee the complete and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs and related delivery systems.
I can work to get you a copy of this, if you all would like that, on paper.
Secondly, our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan will be traveling to New York tomorrow to represent the United States at a ministerial-level United Nations Security Council session on building regional partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a model to link security and development. That session will be chaired by Kazakhstan, which currently holds the Security Council presidency. The deputy secretary will also hold bilateral meetings with participating ministers from UNSC member-states, and also the region.
And then finally, I’d like to announce the Secretary’s upcoming travel next week to Europe. Secretary Tillerson will travel to London, Paris, Warsaw, and also Davos, Switzerland, January 21st to the 27th. On January the 21st, he’ll arrive in London, where he will meet with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill to discuss our cooperation on issues of mutual concern around the world, including Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, and also Ukraine.
While in Paris, on January the 23rd, he will meet with senior French officials to discuss global issues of mutual concern, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, DPRK, and Ukraine, in addition to other areas of bilateral interest. He’ll attend the launch of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. The Secretary will then travel to Davos, Switzerland, from the 24th to the 26th. He will participate in the 2018 World Economic Forum. During the forum, he will follow President Trump’s schedule of meetings.
Finally, the Secretary will travel to Warsaw on January the 26th, where he will meet with senior Polish officials to discuss a range of issues in the strong U.S.-Poland bilateral relationship, including global challenges, regional security, and economic prosperity.
And after all that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
MS NAUERT: Where would you like to start?
QUESTION: I want to get to policy questions in a minute, but first, I have to ask about the preparations for a potential government shutdown and the impact on the State Department. Most Americans only – have only one interaction with the State Department, and that is when they apply for a passport. Most foreigners have only one interaction with the State Department, and it’s when they apply for a visa. Will either of these two processes become victim to a shutdown, if one happens?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, well, first let me start off by mentioning to everyone here the current continuing resolution expires at midnight tomorrow, January the 19th. We are putting in place prudent management of this. Our Secretary’s office right now is reviewing all the available options as to how we should handle some of the decision-making going forward, if this were to happen, if there were to be a government shutdown. We will be prepared for all contingencies – I want to make that clear – including the possibility of a lapse. That would mean a government shutdown.
OMB, the Office of Management and Budget, has requested that all agencies determine ways to minimize the impact on the American people. Matt, I think that would fall under visas and passports and the like. This is what we’re doing here from the State Department. Some of those decisions are still being made, exactly what services we will be able to provide and which ones we will not.
QUESTION: So there has not been a decision made on either —
MS NAUERT: We have not made a decision on that just yet. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And what about the Secretary’s travel plans? You’ve just announced that he’s going to Europe next week. If he’s – would he still go?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’ve spoken with the Secretary’s office about this and what I was told is that the Secretary will follow the regulations very carefully. He’s someone who does that. He likes to adhere to agreements and rules and all of that, so he will follow the regulations carefully, but we’re not going to make any decisions until we need to.
QUESTION: One question about that —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: — about the trip next week. Unless I missed it, did you say anything about whether the Secretary will participate in London in any kind of ceremonies associated with the new embassy?
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. So as many people know, we opened our new embassy earlier this week. I think it was January the 16th, on Tuesday. That was official – the official opening date of our new embassy there. Our staff members are still transitioning from the old building to the new building. A lot of people are there in the new building right now, but there are still some people who are working out of the old building. The bulk of our staff did transition over. We do not have a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as some might expect at this point, but we don’t have anything on the schedule right now, but if we decide to put something on the schedule, then we certainly will let you know.
QUESTION: On the Secretary’s travel.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: I think you mentioned a number of Middle Eastern countries he was going to discuss there, including, if I heard correctly, Iran, Syria, and Libya. But I note that I did not hear Iraq. And he’s talking about those countries, like Iran to the east of Iraq, and Syria to the west of Iraq, but not the country in the middle?
MS NAUERT: I imagine it will come up, certainly, Laurie. There probably aren’t many discussions that take place surrounding the countries in that region without mentioning Iraq as well. Okay?
QUESTION: So on the – thanks – on the possibility of a shutdown, how much guidance is the State Department getting from the White House on some of these decisions?
MS NAUERT: Well, it’s really the Office of Management and Budget, and then the Secretary is given – my understanding; this is my first time through it, so forgive me if I’m stumbling a little bit coming from the private sector. I have not had experience in this personally before. My understanding, though, is that the Secretary has quite a bit of leeway in which he can decide how to implement certain things, what things to keep open, how to determine where staff goes and all of that. And so that’s something that the Secretary is currently reviewing: how we will handle that.
My understanding is also, though, that our embassies have a lot of discretion over how they will handle their staffing. One of the things that we will not pull back on, though, however, is areas of national security and areas of our own staff’s security. That will all stay in place fully.
QUESTION: Is there a potential number that you’re looking at in terms of furloughs if this happens at this —
MS NAUERT: No, we’re – I’m not going to get ahead of what the Secretary may be looking at. Right now we’re just – we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: But if these decisions are still being made and we have 24 hours, I mean, there has to be some kind of structure in place preemptively, right?
MS NAUERT: I think it’s – I think it’s 36 hours. MSNBC had a big time clock tracking this whole thing. I’m sure you did too at CNN.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but less than two days.
MS NAUERT: Okay. So look, we still have time. We’re taking a lot of direction from OMB. They’ve been very clear that they want us – and we intend to do this – to minimize the disruptions on the American public. We will also fully communicate with our staff and let them know what it is we will be doing and how we will handle the situation, but we just don’t have – we’re not there at the point where we’re going to make determinations, and we’re not at the point where we’re facing a government shutdown at this time.
QUESTION: And when do you expect to have a decision on this and to communicate about it?
MS NAUERT: Look, I think it just depends. It depends on how things unfold. I mean, Congress may come to some sort of an agreement before we know it, and so I’m just not going to get ahead of some of the things that they’re deliberating right now.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the trip, in Europe, do you expect to have some multilateral meetings on Syria, or just bilateral meetings with the different countries?
MS NAUERT: I believe just bilateral meetings, but if I have anything more for you on that I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: But you sounded —
QUESTION: You sound very reassuring, like the Secretary has lots of leeway, the embassies have some leeway. It sounds very peaceful in your view. But does the State Department view this looming prospect as dangerous to national security on its face?
MS NAUERT: Look, national security, and keeping the security and the safety of Americans is always a top priority. We will not pull back on that in any way, shape or form. We will continue to follow those things. We’re not going to get all excited about what may or may not happen. We will have contingency plans that we put in place, and we will adhere to those. Okay.
QUESTION: Another query on the —
QUESTION: Just to turn back on the embassies —
MS NAUERT: Sure.
QUESTION: On the building —
MS NAUERT: Hold on.
QUESTION: In the event that there’s a shutdown, I mean, how’s – is this building affected in any way if there’s a partial shutdown?
MS NAUERT: Well, certainly it could be. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. I mean, a lot of folks in this building have been through this before. Matt Lee asked a question about what will happen to passports and all of that. Legitimate questions. Some of that is still being decided, but we will communicate fully with our staff, so they will know exactly what we are doing, okay?
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: — U.S. embassy in London. So you don’t have any ribbon-cutting or other ceremony now scheduled. You might add one. Is there any squeamishness on the part of the Secretary to do anything about the embassy given the criticism that the President has made of its location and cost and so on?
MS NAUERT: No, not at all. The Secretary has a very busy schedule when he goes to London, has a lot of people that he wants to meet with. The embassy is – even though a lot of our people are over in the new embassy location, we still have a lot of people, or quite a few people, who are in the old location. We pushed to get this embassy opened pretty quickly, so it’s almost a miracle that it’s open on time. Many of you have probably done additions on your homes, or built houses, or watch buildings as they go up. They always take a lot longer than you anticipate.
So we’re just not at the point where we’re going to have this big celebration of that, but we’re certainly happy that our folks are in place there, and it’s open, it’s a beautiful building and – we’d love to host you over there if you’re in London. Okay?
QUESTION: So – but – hold on. So you just said the Secretary has a lot of people he wants to see when he’s in London?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: You named only two, I think. Is that – is it —
MS NAUERT: Well, he has a busy schedule when he’s over there.
QUESTION: Two is a lot now?
MS NAUERT: Matt —
QUESTION: Is two a lot?
MS NAUERT: — some of the schedule is still developing and still underway.
QUESTION: So you would expect additional events in London?
MS NAUERT: Possibly. I’m not going to get ahead of what the Secretary is planning, but we –if any of this changes, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay? All right. Let’s move on to something else for now.
QUESTION: Can I ask you —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: — one more question on that?
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any numbers you can offer us? I’m new to covering shutdowns as well, so like – my understanding is that last year, if not all of the money was used, then the State Department has some money that they can still use going forward? Do you have any numbers to offer us —
MS NAUERT: I do not, no.
QUESTION: — in terms of that?
MS NAUERT: Nope.
QUESTION: Okay, and then one follow-up question on Deputy Secretary Sullivan. Is he going to meet with Lavrov tomorrow?
MS NAUERT: I don’t have any additional meetings to announce for you, okay?
MS NAUERT: Hi. Carol.
QUESTION: The OMB directives from December said that consular affairs would be a hundred percent operational throughout the world as long as the money’s available. Do you know if money has been set aside —
MS NAUERT: I do not know that.
QUESTION: — to keep it open?
MS NAUERT: I do not know that. The Secretary is reviewing all of this right now. I know it’s on his desk, and so when we have something to announce, we’ll let you know. Okay?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Hi. In December, the comptroller sent a note to UNRWA saying the U.S. would honor it’s – or would commit to 45 —
MS NAUERT: Oh —
QUESTION: That was me.
MS NAUERT: Oh, that was you, okay. It sounded like it was coming from you. Okay, go right ahead. You want to talk about UNRWA.
QUESTION: He’s a ventriloquist.
QUESTION: The U.S. pledged 45 million for UNRWA as part of – in response to its West Bank and Gaza funding appeal. What’s the status of that funding?
MS NAUERT: The other day we announced that we were sending a voluntary contribution to UNRWA – $60 million. We announced on Tuesday, also, that there was an additional tranche of money – $65 million – that was being held at that time that we could choose, in the future, if reforms are met, if UNRWA agrees to undertake reforms, if other countries agreed to pitch in and provide money, then we could provide a $65 million tranche. You mention a $45 million figure, and that was for food aid. That was something that we had planned to make – a contribution in early 2018 for that $45 million, for the West Bank Gaza emergency appeal, and that was simply for food aid.
We routinely provide them with that type of forecasting. At the time, though, when we provided that note, that information, to UNRWA, we made it clear that it was a pledge, it was not a guarantee, and that it would need to be confirmed later. At this time, we will not be providing that, but that does not mean – I want to make it clear – that does not mean that it will not be provided in the future.
QUESTION: So I just want to be clear. When – so the commitment that was made in that letter – you’re saying was not a formal commitment? It was just a promise that —
MS NAUERT: It was a pledge, and it was a pledge that we made very clear that we would need to confirm later. And so upon reviewing that, we’re not able to provide that at this time, but that doesn’t mean that that money may not be paid out later on.
QUESTION: So what changed – sorry. So what changed between the time that letter was written on December 17th and when the decision was made not to —
MS NAUERT: I’ll see what I can find for you, okay? Yeah.
QUESTION: Wait a second, are you serious? What changed between —
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: No —
MS NAUERT: Said, hi.
QUESTION: Hold on, you – but you just – that’s – you have no other response than “I’ll see what I can get”?
MS NAUERT: I’ll see what I can get for you. I mean, at least I’m trying to provide – offer to give – getting you an answer.
QUESTION: But here’s the issue with this: I mean, it’s my understanding that this 45 million is – would have been a part of the total contribution for 2018 in the 300 million, 350-something million range. Is that correct? And also, is it – if the 65 million that’s being withheld now is actually released, could the 45 million come out of that? Could – could you have used the 45 —
MS NAUERT: We have not designated exactly how that $65 million would be spent. I mean, some of this is subject to reforms taking place and other countries stepping forward and agreeing to provide money as well.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, one of the big complaints that you guys have had with international organizations and pledging, donors’ conferences, is that people go and they make these pledges and then they never pay up. Isn’t that exactly what you guys are doing here?
MS NAUERT: Look, Matt, we said that the —
QUESTION: I mean, this is a —
MS NAUERT: We said that the pledge would later need confirmation.
MS NAUERT: And upon review, we are not able to confirm that and provide that at this time. But that does not mean that we won’t provide it in the future.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, this is a complaint that successive administrations have had about donors’ conferences, about people ponying – anteing up their contribution —
MS NAUERT: Look, we’re – we are reviewing it.
QUESTION: — and now you’re guilty of doing the same thing.
MS NAUERT: We are reviewing it.
MS NAUERT: I said we are reviewing it.
QUESTION: Isn’t this doing exactly the same thing —
MS NAUERT: We are reviewing this, Matt.
QUESTION: — that you’ve criticized other countries for? Isn’t it?
MS NAUERT: Matt, we made it very clear that we would have to take a look at it and that it would later need to be confirmed. I’m not saying anything beyond that.
QUESTION: Heather, to understand, the 45 million is different than the 65 million, correct? So altogether we’re talking about 65 million to UNRWA?
MS NAUERT: We have not designated how $65 million would be spent. We’ve not made any decisions about that. That’s a tranche of money that could possibly go – end up going to UNRWA.
QUESTION: Right, okay. So —
MS NAUERT: So we haven’t determined how that would be spent.
QUESTION: — the 45 million was designated to be given to UNRWA in the past? Is that what happened?
MS NAUERT: That was for the food assistance.
QUESTION: That’s for food assistance, but not particularly to UNRWA. Who was to distribute it?
MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know literally who would actually distribute the food. I believe it was through UNRWA.
QUESTION: The other day you said that this is purely organizational, it’s not political in any way, you want to see UNRWA do some reform, and you’d like to – you’d like other countries to sort of pony up and give some more contributions. Well, Belgium did that yesterday. They – I think they pledged or provided —
MS NAUERT: They announced that they would?
QUESTION: — $23 million. Is that the kind of thing that you’d like to see other countries do? Is that it?
MS NAUERT: That’s right. I hesitate to comment on what Belgium had said it will do. If what you tell me is correct, if other countries are agreeing to step in and provide additional money, that would be the – exactly the kind of support that we would be looking for, that we would hope go for UNRWA.
QUESTION: Okay. But you are aware that the money that the United States gives to UNRWA – really, it’s not a charity, it’s a commitment. It’s a pledge that they made back in 1950, since the Truman administration. So is it something that the U.S. can back away at will? Is that —
MS NAUERT: Look, one of the things that needs to be done – and we talked about this the other day – reforms need to be made. Currently there are a lot more refugees in the program, covered by that program, than in years before. That number has increased. The money coming in from other countries needs to increase as well to continue paying for all those refugees, including many countries in the Arab world as well. So we’re asking countries to do more. Fundamentally, we just don’t believe that we have to be the chief donor to every organization around the world. We are looking for other countries to step in.
QUESTION: Why not?
QUESTION: Well, there was a provision for – there was a provision for —
MS NAUERT: Why not?
QUESTION: Well, this is the richest country in the world, is it not? We can —
MS NAUERT: Yeah, and we are the most generous country on the planet. We continue to be, okay?
QUESTION: And now you’re doing something with this 45 million that you complain that other countries do, or don’t even make the commitment. I mean, what’s worse, not – making the commitment and then pulling back on it or not making it in the first place?
MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m sorry that you’re offended by this decision at this point.
QUESTION: No, no, I’m not. I —
MS NAUERT: Okay, I’m sorry that you are. But fundamentally, the United States believes that it doesn’t have to be the top donor to every single program around the world that helps people.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine.
MS NAUERT: We are the most generous nation, and any American out there will certainly know that about the United States and the American people. When something happens, the America people, the U.S. Government, is often the very first to step up and to do the most. That hasn’t changed. We have not backed away from that, but we will also ask other countries to do more. We’ve asked that with NATO, we’ve asked that with many other countries around the world that the U.S. Government is involved with, and I don’t think we’re going to apologize for that.
QUESTION: Can I just —
MS NAUERT: Oh, wait. Hold on. I can’t —
QUESTION: Let me just say one thing.
MS NAUERT: We can’t do three people at a time.
QUESTION: Let me just say one thing. I am not offended by this. I don’t know why you think I am, but I think that – but it is, I think, a legitimate question to ask why it is that you’re pulling back on something – excuse me – why you’re doing something that you’ve complained about when other countries do it. And I think that Nick’s question is – excuse me – pertinent as well, which is what changed between when the commitment was made and the decision not to send it? Because it seems to —
MS NAUERT: Look, we said that we would —
QUESTION: — if you look at the —
MS NAUERT: We said that we would have to review it.
QUESTION: But if you look at the calendar, what happened was —
MS NAUERT: We can spend all the time today if you want on that, but I’m not going to have anything additional for you on it. I will see what kind of information I can get you in addition to what I’ve already provided. Okay?
QUESTION: Just —
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on —
QUESTION: If I can – just the last thing —
MS NAUERT: Guys.
QUESTION: I think some of the confusion is also that the Secretary in his town hall remarks at the end made a big show about how he ascribes to the Code of the West, where your word is your bond and a handshake suffices, and then that’s all that’s needed. And, I mean, that letter seems like a pretty clear case where the U.S. says we will give – we plan to give you this money. And the Secretary is now saying no, sorry, our word was not our bond.
MS NAUERT: No. Decisions are still being made about this, okay? I am not ruling out that this won’t come in the future. Okay? Let’s move on.
QUESTION: Another —
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything more for you on this —
QUESTION: One more about the Jordanians —
MS NAUERT: — and we have – listen, listen.
MS NAUERT: I don’t have anything more for you on this, Said.
QUESTION: Do you have anything —
MS NAUERT: I’m going to have to move on to other people because we have a lot of other topics to cover, okay?
MS NAUERT: Said, another time.
MS NAUERT: Laurie, let’s – I know you probably want to talk —
MS NAUERT: Whoa, guys.
QUESTION: The Turkish foreign minister has said that your comment, your position on an SDF border force in Syria remains unsatisfactory. What’s your response to his statement?
MS NAUERT: He did say that, that that is unsatisfactory?
MS NAUERT: I —
QUESTION: After the Secretary spoke.
MS NAUERT: I was not aware of that, but the Secretary I think addressed that very clearly yesterday in which he said it was unfortunate. Someone clearly misspoke about the activities taking place. This is an internal security force that the United States is involved with. The main reason we are there in Syria is to fight ISIS. That has not changed, that is our main focus there. I’m sorry that the Turkish individual feels that way, but let me just remind you some of what the Secretary said about this. Quote, “We are not creating a border security force at all. We’ve shared with the Turks what we are doing. We are trying to ensure that local elements are providing security to liberated areas.” He goes on to say, “This is just [one] more training and trying to block ISIS from their escape routes.”
In addition to that – and I think the best place to point you is to the Department of Defense. They put out a note yesterday in which they clarified some of the activities taking place and additional details about that. So I’d have to refer the Turks to the DOD – the DOD memo that went out.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the – Turkey also looks like it is about to invade the Kurdish canton of Afrin in the West. Is that how you see it? And what’s your comment on those apparent preparations for an attack?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. We certainly don’t know that that would be the case. We would call on – certainly on the Turks to not take any actions of that sort. We want everyone there to keep their eye – I’ll go back to something I said when we were talking about Iraq and the referendum – to keep their eye on the ball. And the focus needs to be on ISIS. So we don’t want them to engage in violence, but we want them to keep focused on ISIS.
QUESTION: So you oppose any Turkish attack on Afrin?
MS NAUERT: Look, I – at this time, we want people to stay focused on ISIS. Okay? So —
QUESTION: Heather, on this, it isn’t clear about what —
QUESTION: — about what exactly Secretary Tillerson is pushing back on in this. I mean, clearly the State Department doesn’t like this being characterized as some type of new thing where we are emboldening the Kurds to do anything beyond fighting ISIS like we’ve been helping them do for a long time now. But – I mean, is he saying that when the Pentagon says we’re going to try to come up with a force of 30,000 people, that – that that’s wrong, or is he just disputing the label of —
MS NAUERT: Look, I would have to refer you to the Department of Defense on that. I think they were clear in the statement that they put out, so let me just refer you to them on that. Okay?
QUESTION: But what –but what part – but I’m asking you about Tillerson’s comments yesterday where he said there’s no border security force.
MS NAUERT: That’s – that’s not what it is. This is a – an internal security force. Its mission is to focus on ISIS, not to do anything else of the sort. To maintain —
QUESTION: Does the – the word “border” is the one that he is taking issue with?
MS NAUERT: To – look, I’d have to refer you to the Turkish Government about what they became so concerned about. And the fact that somebody misspoke – and I’m not going to name any names and neither is the Secretary – but somebody clearly just misstated their policy. It’s as simple as that. People make mistakes and we all make mistakes. Okay?
QUESTION: On Afghanistan?
MS NAUERT: Okay, we’re going to have to move on. Go ahead, Janne.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, do you have anything on the tensions surrounding the leadership transition in the northern province of Balkh? The reason I ask is after Vice President Pence talked to Afghanistan’s President Ghani, their supporters of President Ghani and Governor Nur have different interpretation. Is the United States taking sides? What is the message to their supporters?
MS NAUERT: I know one of the things that President Ghani has wanted to do is certainly crack down on corruption. They have indicated that this is that – what you’re referring to would be a part of that. Some of these things would just be internal – internal events that would take place within a certain country that we wouldn’t necessarily weigh in on. We support President Ghani. We have a good relationship with the Afghan Government, as you well know. But I think we regard that as an internal matter.
QUESTION: Is the fact that Vice President Pence spoke to President Ghani an indication that the U.S. is supporting Ghani’s authority to appoint a successor now —
MS NAUERT: I think I’d have to refer you to the Vice President’s office since he had that conversation. I was not a part of that conversation. Okay?
QUESTION: Can we go to Pakistan?
QUESTION: Can we go to Pakistan?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, go right ahead. Hi.
QUESTION: We have seen the assertion. What is the U.S. reaction actually to the Pakistan Prime Minister Abbasi saying that there is no case registered against Hafiz Saeed Sahib – a very – he’s called him sir, a very – with respect. So while this is a guy on whom we have $10 million on his head and all that on his arrest, so what is the U.S. reaction? Have you reached out to them?
MS NAUERT: So we’ve certainly seen the reports about this, that the Pakistani Government has said that no case has been registered against this individual, Hafiz Saeed Sahib. Many of you may recall we talked about this a couple weeks ago, about who this individual is. We regard him as a terrorist, a part of a foreign terrorist organization. He was the mastermind, we believe, of the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed many people, including Americans as well.
We have made our points and our concerns to the Pakistani Government very clear. We believe that this individual should be prosecuted. The Pakistani Government released him from house arrest not that long ago. We believe that he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He is listed by the UN Security Council 1267, the al-Qaida Sanctions Committee for targeted sanctions due to his affiliation with Lashkar-e Tayyiba, which is a designated foreign terror organization. So I just want to remind people of that, of who this individual is, and make it clear that we have addressed our concerns with the Pakistani Government.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. You have —
MS NAUERT: We have about five minutes left, so let me just move on so we can get —
QUESTION: Just a very quick one.
MS NAUERT: — so we can get some other regions. Cindy, hi.
MS NAUERT: Hi. Yeah.
QUESTION: On the diplomatic fallout over the comments about immigrants, 78 former U.S. ambassadors to 48 African countries have sent a letter to the President asking him to change his assessment on African countries and their citizens. Could you react to that and give us any update on the diplomatic —
MS NAUERT: Sure. And some of this is what we covered the other day. Let me first point out that the President has said that he did not make those comments, that there were other individuals in the room who said they certainly did not hear any comments of the sort. So there’s obviously some back and forth on this. So I’m going to refer to these as alleged comments because we’ve not been able to prove at any point that the President did, in fact, say that.
With regard to the letter that you are referring to, I think I would just say that our record of working with African partner nations is very good. We have a broad relationship with many of the African nations. We do a lot of work with them, whether it’s reconstruction, whether it’s capacity building in other countries, working on counterterrorism, PEPFAR – the program to help those who suffer from AIDS is a very important program to us. If you haven’t been over to our Diplomacy Center, we have a wonderful setup where we show the success of the PEPFAR program.
So why I am telling you this is that our relationship with African nations is much broader than any one alleged comment that was made. I think the people on the ground that we work with in the African nations know very well of our commitment here at the State Department and the United States Government that we have a commitment and a value for – we value those relationships.
QUESTION: Have you given – have embassies been given talking points to – for if and when they’re asked about this by their host governments? And if they have been, do they – are they – have they been instructed to refer to these comments as alleged comments —
MS NAUERT: I’m not —
QUESTION: — and suggest that they might not have been said?
MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not aware of that, but it is a fact – it is a fact that the President has said he didn’t make those comments, and it is a fact that there were individuals in the room who said that he did not as well. That is why I refer to them as alleged. Okay?
QUESTION: Right, I know, but I mean, I just want to know if people – if State Department employees are asked about this by foreign governments, are they —
MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not aware of any guidance that went out to our embassies. Again, let me say I’m not aware. Perhaps something did go out that I’m not – not aware of. I know you asked that question the other day. I was not here last week. I would assume that if something were to have gone out, it would have been last week. Okay?
QUESTION: On the —
QUESTION: And has the Secretary personally had conversations with his counterparts in some of those countries over these comments specifically?
MS NAUERT: I believe that the Secretary – let me double-check this, but I believe he addressed this to reporters yesterday on the plane coming back, and I believe he said that it did not come up in a gaggle of sorts that he did with reporters on the plane coming back from Vancouver. Okay?
QUESTION: Is he still planning to go to Africa shortly?
MS NAUERT: Pardon me?
QUESTION: Is he still planning to go to Africa in the first quarter?
MS NAUERT: That is the plan. We are planning to go there some – I think within about two months or so. Okay?
QUESTION: Heather, can you —
MS NAUERT: Janne, and then we’re going to have to leave because we have – we are hosting the Jordanian foreign minister upstairs.
MS NAUERT: Yes.
QUESTION: And was there any discussions about blocking the sea against North Korea?
MS NAUERT: In terms of a blockade of sorts?
QUESTION: Yes, a blockade.
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of that being a part of the conversations, but I know that one of the things we were talking about is how we can best use the UN Security Council resolutions that call for certain things – there might be a way that we can and other nations can prevent ships from entering various ports. I know that’s something that a lot of the countries are looking at. That’s not something, though, that they came to – necessarily came to an agreement on. Okay?
QUESTION: They don’t have any or completely any agreement with that?
MS NAUERT: No, and I think part of that would – Department of Defense would be involved in that as well. Okay? We have time for one last question.
QUESTION: Heather, I have one.
MS NAUERT: And, sir, tell me your name again. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up on China.
MS NAUERT: Well, I’ve got one last question because I have to be upstairs. Otherwise, I’m in trouble. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. The President, President Trump, in his tweet calls for tough actions against Pakistan while the CENTCOM Commander General Joseph, in a telephone talk with the Pakistani general, General Bajwa, says that these problems in the relations are just temporary and U.S. forces has no intentions to act against terrorists in the Pakistani territories.
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: I’m just – I’m just wondering, the question is that: Is the White House, State Department, and the U.S. military are on the same page regarding relations with Pakistan?
MS NAUERT: Obviously we have had some challenging times with the Government of Pakistan. We expect that Pakistan should do a lot more to address terrorism issues. That’s something that we’ve been very clear about all along. You know the news that we had that came out a couple weeks ago about our decision to withhold some of the security funding for Pakistan. Any comments, however, that were made by members of the Department of Defense, I can’t comment on those, so I’d have to refer you to the Department of Defense. But I would say, administration-wide, that we were all on the same page with our relationship.
QUESTION: And as far as Pakistan, Alice Wells is in Pakistan, so is there a kind of new message delivered to the Pakistani authorities on that?
MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of any new message that she’s delivering; probably the same messages we have for some time.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. We’ve got to go. I’m sorry we have to cut it short today.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)